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Westminster: Security

Volume 795: debated on Tuesday 5 February 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to review security in the vicinity of the Palace of Westminster.

My Lords, the Government provide a wide range of advice and guidance to the public about threats and how they can be mitigated. It is a matter for the owners and operators of crowded places to consider this advice and take forward appropriate security measures.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her Answer. Security is vitally important not only around Westminster but across the whole country. My concern is about bridges and the plight of pedestrians, as described by Athena in Country Life this week. The solid security barriers along bridges could be potentially dangerous for pedestrians trapped in these pens. Would the Minister agree that it is unacceptable for hundreds of pedestrians to be forced—kettled like demonstrators—along bridges, funnelled through the too narrow spaces created by what was probably meant to be a temporary measure but is now a permanent one?

These barriers present a new crush risk, with huge selfie-taking crowds rambling across the bridges. Should there be any accident, there is no escape. Can the Minister look into suggestions that these security barriers be replaced by security bollards which are far less obtrusive and would avoid many of the security barrier problems?

My noble friend will appreciate that the physical intervention in a specific place is based on both the threat and protection of the public. The measures—known as hostile vehicle mitigation measures—were put in place after the terrorist attack in London. It cannot be forgotten that the public need to be protected, even if they might undergo some temporary inconvenience. The hostile vehicle mitigation measures are temporary although they will stay until permanent solutions, which are being looked at, are in place.

My Lords, has there been a security assessment of the full implications of the new Holocaust museum, particularly its learning centre, which will occupy the bulk of the Victoria Tower Gardens site? If there has, what does it mean for additional policing and congestion in the region?

The noble Lord raises an important point in the light of the various anti-Semitic incidents that have taken place recently. Ministers have agreed to fund security measures on an exceptional basis, as part of the Westminster ceremonial streetscape project. I am not entirely certain whether that project extends down to the Victoria Tower Gardens, but I shall find out for him. However, it is important that such places are fully protected. Assessments of the threat in and around Westminster are of course carried out every day.

My Lords, we have all seen the ugly scenes outside Parliament of parliamentarians being subject to abuse. The worrying thing about the enhanced security in the vicinity of Parliament is the number of officers who are being taken away from policing their local communities, or having yet more days off cancelled, to provide the security necessary because of the mishandling of Brexit by this Government. Will the Home Office reimburse the Metropolitan Police for dealing with these problems, which the Government have created?

My Lords, I think that is a bit of a low blow. It is certainly understood that any protective measures needed will have to be paid for by the authorities which commission them. If the Metropolitan Police is needed, its time and effort will therefore have to be paid for. I have seen many demonstrations outside the Houses of Parliament on a range of issues and I thank the police, who stand ready to protect the public and Members of Parliament from them.

Will the Minister take this opportunity to thank the staff of both Houses and those in the Metropolitan Police, who work incredibly hard to keep us, our guests and the visitors to this building safe? They deserve full credit.

The noble Lord is right and I thank them again, because they provide an absolutely fantastic service to us in such a courteous way. I do not know whether the noble Lord was at the excellent security briefing yesterday for Members of your Lordships’ House; it was a very good occasion at which to raise some of our concerns.

My Lords, I join the Minister in paying tribute to the police and everybody else who protects us and the staff of the House. I know that she agrees with me that Members of both Houses, their staff, other officials and members of the public have the right to come in and out of Parliament free from abuse, harassment or intimidation—along with the right of people to protest peacefully. Will the Minister agree to keep the situation under urgent review with the relevant authorities and report back to Parliament on any measure deemed necessary to protect these important freedoms?

The noble Lord raises a really important point about the right to protest. I think I am known by name by some of our friends standing across the road, voicing their support for—or against—Brexit. There are updates every day about the threat to this estate and the vicinity, and I am certainly happy to update noble Lords about any emerging threats.

My Lords, does my noble friend accept that we all have a duty and responsibility to help the security staff as much as we can? One of the first pieces of information we are given on entering the building is that we should make sure we are wearing our ID passes. Looking along the Labour Front Bench, I am not sure I can find many that are actually visible—they may be very well hidden. Do we not all have a duty to help the staff protect us?

I have got mine too. There should be none of this, “Do you not know who I am?”; I have never heard people say that in this House. The only reason we are ever asked is in order to protect us.

My Lords, it used to be a cardinal democratic principle that elected representatives of our people had the right to attend Parliament and voice opinions on behalf of those constituents. Is that still the case?