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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 September, 2004, 18:47 GMT 19:47 UK
Hain criticises 'antiquated' security
One of five protesters in Commons
A protester in white T-shirt points a finger at MPs in the Commons
Parliament urgently needs a new security director to update its "antiquated" arrangements, says Cabinet Minister Peter Hain.

The Commons leader spoke out in the wake of Wednesday's invasion of the Commons chamber by pro-hunt protesters.

Eight men are being questioned over the incident, which London's police chief says looks like an inside job.

One MP has suggested police ignored warnings a huntsman was covertly trying to enter the Commons.

Oct: Lords debate
Nov: Bill forced through using Parliament Act
Feb 2005: Hare coursing ban
July 2006: Fox hunting banned
All dates assume Lords votes against

Armed police are guarding the Commons for the first time on Thursday.

But Mr Hain is calling for a new director of security to take over responsibility from the serjeant-at-arms and his staff, who wear tights and knee breeches.

In a statement, he said: "We have had three stark breaches of security - Greenpeace climbing Big Ben, Fathers 4 Justice throwing a flour bomb in the chamber in May and yesterday's hunters invading the chamber for the first time since the 17th century...

"The blunt truth is that the House of Commons is operating as if in a bygone age.

"This is the age of the suicide terrorist and our security arrangements are antiquated."

Police hunt

It is understood Mr Hain agreed his statement with the Cabinet and intended to deliver it to MPs before Commons speaker Michael Martin barred discussion on security questions.

The call for reform was echoed by Metropolitan Police chief Sir John Stevens, who urged a review of the rule banning police from entering the Commons chamber without being invited by the serjeant-at-arms'.

Meanwhile, police are searching for the MP, researcher, journalist or member of Commons staff thought to have helped Wednesday's protesters.

Sir John said: "We have some reasons to believe there was an inside job in terms of how they got into the Palace of Westminster and how they got on to the floor of the Commons itself."


Five protesters burst into the chamber during the hunting debate while another three men were overpowered at the entrance.

Sir John said all eight men had entered Parliament dressed in suits and some had worn tabards, clipboards and hard hats.

He confirmed they had used a letter, suspected of being forged, inviting them to a meeting on the Commons committee corridor.

Serious questions need to be asked about how secure our major institutions are
Tory chairman Liam Fox

Liberal Democrat MP Paul Keetch said one of his constituents had seen a well-known huntsman heading towards the Commons dressed in a suit and a builder's hat half an hour before the protest.

His constituent had told police three times about his suspicions including a 999 call - but nothing appeared to have happened, he added. Scotland Yard has yet to respond to the claim.

The eight protesters are being questioned by police on suspicion of forgery, burglary with intent to commit criminal damage and violent disorder.

Officers were given on Thursday evening 12 more hours to question those detained.

Scotland Yard said those arrested over Wednesday's Commons protest were aged between 21 and 42.

'Not criminals'

Amongst those understood to have been arrested are England polo player Luke Tomlinson, 26, a close friend of Prince Harry, Otis Ferry, 21-year-old son of rock star Bryan Ferry, and point-to-point jockey Richard Wakeham.

The men are being held at Charing Cross police station, where their solicitor, Matthew Knight, said they should all be released.

This protest seems to be the start of an anti-democratic campaign
Peter Head, Edinburgh, UK

"They are not criminals and they were not caught doing anything," he said. "They did not hurt anybody, they did not do any damage, they didn't force an entry."

Mr Knight said there was a "political dimension" which would affect events.

It has emerged the BBC was tipped off about the planned intrusion on Wednesday morning by one of the protesters and told of a "dry run" carried out on Tuesday.

The BBC said it had not been certain the incident would take place and no violence had been threatened.

The Conservatives say the incident could encourage terrorists.

Meanwhile, the police watchdog is to examine claims of police misconduct at the hunt rally outside Parliament.

Police and protesters clash in Parliament Square
The government has chosen the path of prejudice and spite - the reaction it unleashes will be entirely its own responsibility
Simon Hart
Countryside Alliance

Thirteen people are being held in connection with clashes with police in Parliament Square. The police deny being heavy handed.

It is understood 19 people, including two police officers, were injured, none of them seriously.

Despite the protest, MPs backed a ban on hunting in England and Wales by 339 to 155 votes.

However, a ban, which will be debated in the Lords next month, is not due to come into force until July 2006.

The Countryside Alliance says some of those who went into the Commons were its members, but it condemned the demonstration, saying it had detracted from the actions of 20,000 law-abiding protesters.

1: Eight protesters come through public entrance, dressed as builders, carrying a forged letter inviting them to a meeting
2: They go upstairs to Committee Corridor where building work is taking place
3: The protesters somehow pass through a door which has a swipe card lock and head downstairs
4: Four protesters enter chamber from 'No' voting lobby, three are detained outside the door
5: Another one comes in via main chamber entrance

The BBC's Andrew Marr
"The Palace at Westminster is ringed by armed police"

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