Security . . . what security?

THE purple flour "bombs" attack in the Commons on Wednesday is quite rightly causing a major review of what seems glaring gaps in the security throughout the Palace of Westminster.

THE purple flour "bombs" attack in the Commons on Wednesday is quite rightly causing a major review of what seems glaring gaps in the security throughout the Palace of Westminster.

What seemed like a harmless publicity stunt from Father 4 Justice could in reality have been a terrorist outrage which would have wiped out most of the Cabinet and killed or maimed opposition leaders and hundreds of MPs, not to mention the officials, public and members of the media.

I was sitting above and to the left of the Prime Minister when shouting started, purple dust erupted, and Tony Blair was hit by what looked like a missile.

The "bombs" were actually condoms, which are undetectable in the Commons x-ray scanning equipment, filled with flour.


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The demonstrators were the guests of Baroness Golding, who had raffled two tickets at a charity auction. As such, they were no behind the £600,000 glass screen erected over the Easter recess which is intended to protect MPs from such public assaults.

Security has improved since the 9/11 attacks in the United States. But there are glaring loopholes in the system.

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I am a pass holder for the Palace of Westminster, one of 200 journalists who have virtually unrestricted access to the corridors and rooms of the Commons and the Lords.

The pass was issued after security clearance – but it seems totally ridiculous that there is an assumption on the part of the authorities that just because seven years ago I was given grade one status, I might not have deep seated malice aforethought which one day might cause me to join a terror cell.

On production of the pass – which has to be renewed every three years at Canon Row police station – I can by-pass the public x-ray equipment at the St Stephen's entrance to the building. I can use the restricted gate from Westminster underground station and also enter the Palace through the House of Lords entrance.

I can arrive in a taxi, flash the pass at the police, and be driven straight into the Commons courtyard and walk in through the Members' entrance or the Star Chamber.

There are no security checks. My briefcase could contain toxic sarin or any other biological compound. It could also be wired for a bomb.

The same goes for thousands of other passholders – chefs, cleaners, secretaries, political assistants, postal workers and building maintenance staff and contractors. We're all nodded through.

I arrived with 10 minutes to spare on Wednesday for Prime Minister's Questions because once again the Circle Line was having massive delays. Walking through the Members' Lobby, the Commons Library, and the Speaker's office, I opened the door leading to the staircase to the Press Gallery and bumped into Tory leader Michael Howard.

Anyone with evil intent and a knife in the pocket and that would have been that.

It would not be beyond possibility to cause mayhem to the Prime Minister's entourage. Cabinet ministers – and one in particular – walk through the corridors unescorted.

What's the point of having anti-tank concrete blocks outside Parliament and policemen with sub machine guns patrolling the main entrance when passholders are not subjected to security checks.

There has been one crackdown this year. I can no long take my wife's aunt's octogenarian mother-in-law into the Press gallery and claim she is working for the Los Angeles Times.

Journalists are not allowed guests any more to watch the proceedings. It was a useful method of impressing contacts, but the facility has been withdrawn. Sad, but necessary.

MPs were yesterday warned that the "old-fashioned culture" in the Commons will have to go. The Leader of the Commons, Peter Hain, said that the condom "bomb "incident, in the middle of Prime Minister's questions, had come as a "very dramatic wake-up call" for the House authorities.

"Everybody wants to be in touch with voters – voters should still be allowed to come into Parliament and guests allowed – but we are living in a very different world, a world of suicide terrorists, not a world in which these things didn't exist.'

The security review will look at why Commons Speaker Michael Martin breached security protocols by clearing the chamber, instead of sealing it, in case the powder was poisonous.

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