Tags: British | Parliament | Eyes | Security | Review

British Parliament Eyes Security Review

Thursday, 16 September 2004 12:00 AM

He called on House authorities to appoint a director of security, who would work directly with Britain's domestic security service MI5 and London's Metropolitan Police.

House of Commons Speaker Michael Martin said a joint committee of peers and lawmakers would discuss the invasion when they return from a three-week recess that begins Thursday.

``There are serious questions arising from that incident,'' he said. ``But I don't want questions of security to be discussed publicly on the floor of the House today.''

During rowdy pro-fox hunting demonstrations Wednesday, eight young men conned their way into the ornate neo-gothic Palace of Westminster posing as building contractors and holding a forged letter.

They walked through the central lobby, a splendid stone-carved circular hallway, and along a committee corridor off limits to the public.

Officials said a security-pass holder - either a journalist, lawmaker or political researcher - probably helped them navigate the labyrinth of corridors to the Commons chamber.

``We have some reasons to believe there was an inside job in terms of how they got into the Palace of Westminster and how they got on to the floor of the Commons itself,'' said Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens.

Stunned lawmakers sitting in green leather-padded pews looked on in disbelief as five of the men managed to burst in before doormen wrestled them to the ground. The deputy sergeant at arms, Mark Harvey, lay sprawled on his back, his sword dangling uselessly at his side, clutching the legs of one protester.

Prime Minister Tony Blair's official spokesman said ministers expressed ``deep concern'' at the weekly Cabinet meeting Thursday. It was up to Parliament's authorities to decide what steps to take, he said.

``The prime minister is confident these issues are going to be treated with the seriousness which they deserve,'' he said, briefing reporters on customary condition of anonymity. ``Lessons need to be learned in a calm way.''

All aspects of Parliamentary life ooze with medieval tradition. An official known as the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod summons lawmakers to hear the monarch's annual address by banging on the chamber's doors with an ebony rod surmounted with a gold lion - but only after the door has been slammed in his face.

Lawmakers do not call each other by name, but by the constituency they represent during debates. A box of snuff is available for them at the chamber entrance should they wish to indulge in the outdated habit.

Although the perimeters of Parliament are patrolled by armed police with handguns and machine guns, inside, the sergeant of arms - an office dating back to 1415 and the reign of Henry V - is responsible for security. He has 33 doorkeepers, dressed in white bow ties and black tailcoats, at his disposal.

The present officer holder, former army officer Sir Michael Cummins, will retire later this year.

Martin, praised the actions of the quaintly dressed doorkeepers Wednesday in stopping three of the demonstrators and quickly clearing the chambers of the other five.

But Hain's comments Thursday were more critical.

``We need to accept that the management of the House is outdated. There are too many fiefdoms and committees. It is time for reform,'' he said.

Security has been under scrutiny since May, when two activists seeking improved child visitation rights for divorced fathers showered Blair and the chamber with purple powder from an overhead gallery.

The resulting report by the Metropolitan Police commissioner and the director general of MI5, Britain's domestic security service, is imminent.

In March, two anti-Iraq war protesters scaled the clock tower that houses the Big Ben bell, part of the legislative complex.

``What we have witnessed is something which puts a large number of people at risk, not just in the House of Commons,'' Conservative law and order spokesman David Davis told BBC radio. ``It will encourage terrorists elsewhere.''

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He called on House authorities to appoint a director of security, who would work directly with Britain's domestic security service MI5 and London's Metropolitan Police. House of Commons Speaker Michael Martin said a joint committee of peers and lawmakers would discuss the...
British,Parliament,Eyes,Security,Review
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2004-00-16
Thursday, 16 September 2004 12:00 AM
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