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Security: State Procession

Volume 764: debated on Thursday 9 July 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the potential security risks posed by converting former government buildings into privately owned hotels along the State Procession route between Buckingham Palace and the Palace of Westminster, including along Whitehall.

My Lords, the former government buildings to be converted into hotels along the state procession route are Admiralty Arch and the Old War Office. The freeholds remain under government ownership in perpetuity and continued oversight and security measures will be implemented as part of the commercial arrangements with the private sector. Long-term protocols and operating procedures are agreed and built into both schemes. The security and intelligence services and the Metropolitan Police are closely involved in this process.

My Lords, does the noble Lord recall that when President Bush made a state visit to London, the entire Whitehall area was cordoned off, including to Members of Parliament? Does he also recall that the IRA, from within the area of Whitehall, managed to mortar No. 10? Further, he will remember that the bombing of the Brighton hotel, which affected Mrs Thatcher and others, was placed in the hotel some time in advance of the incident? Do the security services intend to vet positively all the staff of these hotels; has that been agreed? Will the hotels be closed to all visitors during state visits or will the visitors be vetted as well?

The noble Lord has raised interesting questions based on his own experience. I have looked into the clauses of the leases for both the Old War Office and Admiralty Arch and I am satisfied that they allow for appropriate access for both security and ceremonial purposes. The hotels will employ their own staff, and while the Government have not insisted on security clearances for each member of staff, it is obviously in the hoteliers’ interests to take their security checks on their staff into consideration. Furthermore, I should point out that both the Metropolitan Police and the security services are very involved, as always, in ceremonial processions and major events, and will continue to be so to make sure that security is upheld.

My Lords, this is privatisation gone mad. Does the noble Lord really think that selling off the Old War Office building, just up the road from the Cenotaph, to a private foreign company for use as a hotel and private apartments will not cause major security risks? Of course it will. There will be Remembrance Day services and the Queen coming to open Parliament; it is extremely dangerous. Surely he must think again.

My Lords, I would take the noble Lord’s advice a lot more seriously if his own party had not recommended that we sell Inn the Park, the Civil Service Club and Marlborough House at the last general election. However, putting that to one side, I also point out that once again the Labour Party seems to be in a state of sleep as regards the deficit, as the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, seems to have suggested. We do actually need to bring down the deficit—

I am sorry that noble Lords shake their heads but, as my right honourable friend the Chancellor pointed out yesterday, we need to do it. Since 2010 the Government have generated £1.4 billion in land and building sales while the running costs of the estate have fallen by £647 million compared with 2009-10. Moreover we have done that while ensuring that security is upheld, as I have explained to the noble Lord.

My Lords, as someone who sought to buy the Curtis Green building for parliamentary use rather than as a luxury hotel, I commend the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, for raising this issue. It is extremely important that a full formal CPNI security assessment is given to Ministers in the case of each building. I ask the Minister to bear in mind that many of these buildings are connected underground. I also ask him to ignore the siren voices which suggest that security can be assured simply by sealing tunnels. It cannot; ask anybody in Hatton Garden.

There are service ducts under many buildings for electricity, telecommunications and other services, and any security risks in relation to them, as with any other part of the buildings, have been assessed and taken into account in the sale of the leases. I need to repeat that the security agencies are involved in all disposals of government property and their advice is always taken into account.

My Lords, I must say with some regret to the Minister, who has not long arrived in his post, that I thought his answer to my noble friend Lord Foulkes was not only unsatisfactory but bordering on the disgraceful. He said in his previous answer that it was in the interests of the new private owners to ensure security. National security is a matter for the Government, not for new private owners. As to the reduction of the deficit, while obviously we want to do that, if the cost of reducing the deficit by a couple of hundred million pounds is to put our national security—not to mention the monarch—at risk, it is not a price worth paying. Whichever Government made the decision, will he come back to the House with a more satisfactory answer as to the national security aspects of this particular sell-off?

I apologise if I have caused offence but I was being accused of privatisation. I would, however, beg to differ. I do not believe that these decisions have put the national security at risk and I have been assured that they have gone through the appropriate processes. The properties were designated surplus to requirements, following a thorough review which concluded that the buildings could not within the bounds of costs and internal planning be updated to deliver an acceptable, efficient standard of office accommodation for use in government. The commercial arrangements with the private sector allow for government to incorporate security measures, alongside the Metropolitan Police.

Has my noble friend denoted a massive security risk from the Royal Horseguards hotel, which is just round the corner from the Old War Office?

My Lords, I cannot comment on particular aspects of security but I assure your Lordships that all matters of security within the Westminster area are always taken under review.

My Lords, will the noble Lord refer this matter to the appropriate Joint Select Committee of both Houses, which looks into these matters? I think that would give a great deal more confidence.

My Lords, let me take that concept away with me. I have looked into this matter over the last few days and I am assured that the relevant security matters have been addressed, and that we have balanced those matters with the need to deliver savings in government.

My Lords, on a slightly less serious point, are the new owners responsible for ensuring that all the various flag-staffs, with flags and all the things that are flown on state occasions, will be dealt with correctly? There is a strict format for this and a cost involved. Is that their liability?

The flags for ceremonial events will remain on Admiralty Arch. This is a provision in the lease arrangements. Should the hotel wish to use its own flags, a proposal will have to be made to government to consider how that will be done.