The security services do a remarkable job and have managed to prevent a number of attacks on Parliament. There is always the danger that one or more will succeed. Wednesday saw such an attack, with a tragic loss of lives. Whenever such attacks happen – the Palace has witnessed IRA bomb attacks as well as the assassination of MP Airey Neave within the precincts – there is a review of security, but with the recognition that Parliament has to continue operating as a Parliament and be accessible to the public. There is the obvious concern not only with the Palace itself, but also the surrounding area. One aspect to be considered is pedestrianizing the area around the Palace, not least St Margaret’s Street and part of Parliament Square. As for immediate changes, these will be operational matters for the security services.
I had a fairly packed programme lined up for the week. On Tuesday, I had my students down to Westminster for the principal field trip of the year. It encompassed a range of events. It is an annual event and for as long as I can remember I have organised it for a Wednesday. This year I decided to switch it to a Tuesday as it reduced clashes with other events. By the end of Wednesday, I was more than relieved that I had made the switch.
On Wednesday morning, the Constitution Committee took evidence from the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas. His comments attracted considerable media attention. (You can watch his evidence here.) After lunch I had a meeting of the Executive of the Association of Conservative Peers and then a meeting of the Association.
It was when I got back to my office after the ACP meeting that I saw on the TV screens the events unfolding outside. We got instructions to remain in our present location. There were three of us in the office, soon joined by a fourth colleague. We were in lock down for about four hours. We were told to stay away from the windows, though given the size of the windows one didn’t need to be near them to see outside. Eventually, armed police arrived to escort everyone on our floor to Westminster Hall. A good many parliamentarians, staff and visitors had been taken there much earlier and then to Westminster Abbey. (I kept getting text messages from a friend in the Abbey.) I anticipated we may be in the Hall until late in the evening and was just planning to send messages cancelling classes in Hull the following day when we were told it was possible to leave. It was just in time to enable me to get to the station in time for the last train. I decided to travel back, though did wrestle with whether that was the right decision and whether it would be more appropriate to stay, not least to be in the chamber for the following morning.
Parliament is obviously an iconic target and needs protecting. PC Keith Palmer gave his life protecting it. Three others died not because they were in Parliament, but because they were making their way across Westminster Bridge. We have to do what we can to prevent such attacks and that obviously entails changes, but at the same time we have to try to ensure that we do not make them on such a scale that it means that those who seek to terrorise succeed in their aims.