MPs reject plan to modernise security

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The speaker and senior parliamentary figures will reject radical changes to Commons security including moves to downgrade the 600-year-old role of the Serjeant at Arms.

The speaker and senior parliamentary figures will reject radical changes to Commons security including moves to downgrade the 600-year-old role of the Serjeant at Arms.

Sweeping changes to the way security is run at the Commons after last week's purple "flour bomb" attack on the Prime Minister in the chamber won little support yesterday at a meeting of the cross-party security commission chaired by the Speaker, Michael Martin.

Radical proposals were supported by Peter Hain, the Leader of the House. The changes were seen by Mr Hain's allies as an opportunity to beef up the traditional Commons security officers in "Gilbert and Sullivan fancy dress'' with modern counter-terrorist measures. One minister said: "It is time we got rid of the Dad's Army."

However, the traditionalists last night said they would reject the proposals, drawn up by MI5 in an interim report for the commission and discussed with Mr Hain. The options included allowing bodyguards to protect the Prime Minister in the Commons chamber.

The long-serving MPs are also ready to reject the most controversial reform for the Serjeant at Arms, who wears tights and carries a sword, to be replaced by a head of security answerable to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir John Stevens, and the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, instead of the Speaker and his cross-party security commission of the most senior MPs in the House.

The Serjeant at Arms has been responsible for stopping fighting in the Commons for centuries. At a private meeting yesterday, the idea of downgrading his role to ceremonial duties received little support. One MP said: "There is no chance that these proposals are going to be accepted."

The Speaker will make a holding statement to MPs today but senior figures at Westminster last night said he would win the battle to avoid security in the House of Commons becoming more intrusive.

There could also be radical changes outside the Commons to improve security. MPs are looking to the Mayor of London to carry out his plan to pedestrianise Parliament Square to prevent car bombers posing a threat to the Palace of Westminster. MI5 is also concerned that bombers could target St Stephen's Tower, which houses Big Ben.

Buckingham Palace has recently appointed a former senior army officer as the head of security. He will be answerable to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner and the Home Secretary rather than the Queen.

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