MI5 officer to overhaul security at Westminster

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A senior MI5 officer is to be invited to overhaul security in Parliament to prevent responsibility being wrested from "the men in tights".

A senior MI5 officer is to be invited to overhaul security in Parliament to prevent responsibility being wrested from "the men in tights".

A new body overseeing the safety of MPs and peers that includes a representative of the security service is among the recommendations in a review to be finalised next week.

Crucially, however, the existing authorities - the men in tights - want the MI5 officer to report to them and not the Government. Ministers are demanding changes to "antiquated" arrangements following the storming of the chamber by hunting supporters last week. Peter Hain, the Leader of the House, also seized on a tabloid exposé in which a reporter smuggled a fake bomb into Parliament to press the case for reform.

David Blunkett is backing the appointment of a new director of security to take control from the Serjeant-at-Arms and Black Rod, currently Sir Michael Cummins and Sir Michael Willcocks. The Home Secretary said that in the age of suicide bombers "not medievalism but modernity" is needed.

The authorities hit back this weekend, insisting that a new Commons security director was unnecessary. A senior official told The Independent on Sunday that while the need for a "formal linkage" with the security service was readily acknowledged, "the thing we don't need is another layer of bureaucracy. It was tried in the 1970s to tackle the IRA and it didn't work then and it won't work now."

The Metropolitan police already has a 500-strong force guarding the Palace of Westminster. It polices 500,000 visitors each year as well as 15,000 pass-holders.

An urgent task of the incoming security chief will be to review who is given passes as well as to which parts of the palace are accessible by whom. A Tory MP yesterday admitted that his researcher led one of the Commons protesters on a reconnaissance tour of Parliament two days before the invasion. Although Eleanor Harris insists she was duped by Otis Ferry, the 21-year-old son of Bryan Ferry, it seems certain she will be interviewed by police over her role in the affair.

Security measures further afield are already responsible for spiralling bills. The cost of securing British embassies abroad from terrorist attack will reach a £250m in the next four years after a "vulnerability audit" found that many will have to be abandoned completely.

Dozens of new embassies and consulates are to be built around the world at an estimated cost of £60m a year, MPs have been told. The bill comes on top of the existing security costs, also around £60m, of bodyguards, armoured cars and other protection at Britain's 230 diplomatic posts abroad.

The terrorist attack on the Australian embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia, earlier this month underlined how vulnerable Western diplomats have become. Britain's post in the city is one of those already identified as at risk together with those in Yemen, Uganda, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

The money will come from Gordon Brown's contingency reserve fund. Although the Chancellor has not yet formally agreed the work, Sir Michael Jay, the most senior civil servant at the Foreign Office, told MPs he expected it to be authorised.

An initial review of security following the bombing of the British consulate in Istanbul found that British posts were at risk partly because terrorists were deterred from attacking more secure US facilities. "There is a serious risk of threat displacement to British targets if they appear much softer than the Americans in particular," it said.

Although MPs are to support the huge security upgrade in their report this week, the committee will deliver a withering verdict on Foreign Office attempts to play the international property market.

Blunders uncovered include the loss of several hundred thousands of pounds on a deal in Manhattan that saw the Consul-General's residence moved from a prime location on Fifth Avenue to a far less prestigious address.

Even more embarrassing is the tale of the Dublin residence occupied by Britain's ambassador to Ireland. The old residence was sold to buy a new £6.35m property, deemed more suitable. It was found that the new acquisition had asbestos and required extensive renovation. The Foreign Office's solution was to buy back the original house.

One MP on the Foreign Affairs Committee said: "You can be sure that we will be pointing out that this was not their finest hour."

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