§ Madam Speaker
The House will be aware of press reports about an intrusion last Friday into the suite of offices of the Leader of the Opposition. I have made inquiries into this matter and I understand that the intruders concerned were two research assistants and a guest. I am satisfied that there was no malice whatsoever in their action, which resulted from an excess of seasonal spirit and a mischievous walkabout.
Nevertheless, it must be understood that it is a privilege to work in, and have access to, the Palace of Westminster and I do not expect that privilege to be abused. In this instance, it has been abused. I have therefore given instructions that the researchers concerned should have their passes withdrawn with immediate effect and until 1 February.
§ Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. This relates directly to your statement. I understand that the Administration Committee is currently reviewing the arrangements for the issuing of passes to the House of Commons. It appears that, at the moment, anyone who is nominated by a Member of the House for a pass is automatically issued with one unless anything is known on security grounds. In addition, there appears to be a very long list of organisations whose employees are issued with passes. Indeed, the list is so long that the Administration Committee has been unable to supply me with it.
My point of order is this: as it appears that virtually any Tom, Dick or Harry can be issued with a pass to this place, and undoubtedly a very large number of people have passes which give them access to the House, I wonder whether arrangements can be made to invite hon. Members to submit evidence to the Administration Committee so that more sensible criteria can be devised before passes are issued.
§ Madam Speaker
That is a matter for the Administration Committee and for the Serjeant at Arms. I will ensure that the point raised by the hon. Gentleman is referred to that quarter.
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. May I refer you to page 380 of "Erskine May", which states:Opprobrious reflections must not be cast in debate on heads of state or governments of independent Commonwealth territories or countries in amity with Her Majesty, or their representatives in this country"?You will recall, Madam Speaker, that yesterday, in answer to questions on the recent European Union summit, the Prime Minister said:Indeed, I must say that some of my fellow Heads of Government could scarcely find their way to their Parliaments with a guide dog."—[Official Report, 12 December 1994; Vol. 251, c. 625.]That is an opprobrious reflection on the Heads of Government of countries which are in amity with Her Majesty.
Is it little wonder, with the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) referring to our partners as collaborators, warmongers and beggars, and with the Prime Minister now suggesting that some of his fellow Heads of Government are visually challenged, that the British Government are seen on the continent and in the 788 European Union as a bunch of exceedingly rude whingers? Would it not be appropriate for the Prime Minister to apologise and, perhaps, to offer a suitable donation to the appropriate guide dog charity?
§ Madam Speaker
The Prime Minister is responsible for his own remarks, as are all other members of the Government and Members of Parliament. I remind the House of the words of "Erskine May", and I add to them that not only good temper and moderation but tolerance of other people, whether in this country or abroad, are equal characteristics of parliamentary language.
§ Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Will you authorise the House authorities to release the names of the three men who intruded into the office of the Leader of the Opposition? Can you establish why they were not searched when they left the office?
Many hon. Members find it difficult to understand—indeed, we do not believe that it is credible—that three men should walk the length of the Palace of Westminster and just happen to enter the Leader of the Opposition's office. It is not a credible story. We believe that their motive was deliberate—that is, to enter that office, knowing that they had no right to enter, and to do whatever they set out to do. We understand that no checks have been made.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. Our suspicions would not have been so great had it not been for the recent memorandum from the vice-chairman of the Conservative party, Mr. Maples. Bearing in mind the distance to the office of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, it seems almost incredible that those three people claim that it was simply a mistake on their part. What would have been the position if the person in charge of the office at the time did not take the necessary steps to identify the three concerned and to call in the authorities?
There is a feeling among Labour Members at least that this is a minor Westminstergate—a deliberate attempt unofficially to find out information from the office of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. Therefore, I urge you, Madam Speaker, to consider it appropriate that further steps should be taken to look into the matter.
§ Madam Speaker
I have made extensive inquiries into the matter. I even went to the offices of the Leader of the Opposition very early this morning to refamiliarise myself with their geography. I am totally satisfied that, as I have said in my statement, no malice was intended. I gave my reasons why I thought that those three people—they were not all males; there were two males and one female—were there. A thorough police inquiry has been carried out, too. The police tell me that they are satisfied that nothing was taken and that nothing was disturbed. In all seriousness—we must be serious about such matters—I am sure that that would be the view of the Leader of the Opposition himself.
§ Mr. Skinner
It is on security. During the past five years, and increasingly lately, there have been questions about the reduction in the number of police and security people positioned around this building. Most of the time the matter has been ignored, and we have been assured by Ministers that everything is all right. It is apparent to many people who are in this building on Fridays in particular and to the security people that there is not sufficient manning to cover all areas. I suggest that it is time that we looked at the number of people who have been removed from security and police positions, so that in future police and security officers are able to do their job effectively. I think you will find, Madam Speaker, that there has been a severe reduction in their number.
§ Madam Speaker
I am in touch with police and security figures not monthly but on a weekly basis. I do not discuss security matters across the Floor of the House, but if the hon. Gentleman would like some details about those matters I know that the Serjeant-at-Arms will be happy to place them in front of him.