After two embarrassing security breaches, an uncomfortable revelation. From The Guardian, with thanks to Jeff Lastname:
The Commons leader, Peter Hain, today admitted for the first time that al-Qaida had been “focusing” on parliament and reiterated his call for an urgent security review after two embarrassing security breaches in 24 hours.
Today’s Sun revealed how one of the paper’s reporters, working as a waiter at Westminster, smuggled in a fake bomb just 24 hours after the storming of the chamber by five hunting campaigners.
Speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, Mr Hain reiterated his call for an overarching security director to protect MPs and peers, and revealed details of briefings he had received from MI5 about “extremely disturbing” intelligence. He accused parliamentary authorities of failing to improve security despite this intelligence.
Mr Hain said: “The security service briefed me some time ago about some intelligence that they had about al-Qaida operatives in Britain focusing on parliament.” He would not go into the detail of the briefing but said the security services had told him they had been trying “for some months” to persuade the authorities to be much more vigilant.
He added: “When I was briefed and I probed and I spoke to the director general about that intelligence I was very determined to act upon it. I was horrified about the potential threat” The incident underlined the need for better security, Mr Hain said.
Mr Hain added that the latest breach of security by the Sun reporter had “done us a favour” by exposing serious lapses. The reporter used bogus references to get a job as a waiter, then – filmed by the paper for its exclusive today – smuggled fake bomb-making equipment into the building.
A turf war over parliamentary security appears to be developing between the government – led by Mr Hain and the home secretary, David Blunkett – and the Commons, led by Speaker Michael Martin, who controls the current security set up led by the Serjeant at Arms.
Speaking on BBC Breakfast, Mr Blunkett said: “I’m in charge of security for the nation as a whole and what’s happened here undermines confidence in the security service and counter-terrorism branch who, like me, have absolutely no control over the decisions of the House of Commons and the House of Lords.”
He endorsed Mr Hain’s call for a security director, saying Britain needed “not medievalism but modernity”
The office of Serjeant at Arms – currently held by Sir Michael Cummins – has responsibility for security in the Commons. The Serjeant and his staff of ushers and doorkeepers – known as the “men in tights” because of their traditional dress – are responsible for maintaining order in the Commons chamber, galleries, committee rooms and precincts, and the control of access to them. They have been criticised as farcically inadequate in the era of suicide bombers.