Security at Westminster and in Constituency Offices

Update: 16 December 2010
Fully revised: 29 March 2009

Update 16 December 2010:
Have a look at the information we have put together about the
Fixated Threat Assessment Centre (FTAC).


As you’d like to hope, Parliament has about the best security and emergency planning of any place to work in the country. This Guide can’t tell you everything (for security reasons of course!) but can point security-cleared staff in the right direction if you’d like more information on the procedures in place to keep our workplace safe.

There are well developed mechanisms to deal with all kinds of events, not only terrorist attacks, but incidents such as floods and fires of varying seriousness. The main objective of these contingency plans is to ensure safety and security, and business continuity plans also exist to ensure that Parliament can continue to sit even if it’s not possible to do so in the Chambers. It’s also very important that proceedings continue to be broadcast so that the public can see business carrying on as usual.



  1. Threat Levels
  2. What to do in the event of:
    Losing your pass;
    Suspect packages;
    Seeing something/someone suspicious;
    Receiving a bomb threat.
  3. Contingency Planning and Business Continuity 
  4. Communication
  5. A Note on Security in Constituency Offices
  6. And finally….


1. Threat Levels

National Terrorism Threat Levels – decided by MI5 and the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre

  • Low – an attack is unlikely
  • Moderate – an attack is possible, but not likely
  • Substantial – an attack is a strong possibility
  • Severe – an attack is highly likely
  • Critical – an attack is expected imminently (used after 2001 attacks on the US, 2005 London bombings and the attempted car bombings in London and at Glasgow airport in June and July 2007).

The annunciators will tell you what the current threat level is, as will the Intranet

Response Levels here in Parliament

  • Normal – Routine protective security measures appropriate to the Parliamentary Estate
  • Heightened – additional and sustainable protective security measures reflecting the broad nature of the threat to the Parliamentary Estate combined with specific vulnerabilities and judgements on acceptable risk
  • Exceptional – Maximum protective security measures to meet specific threats and to minimise vulnerability and risk


2. What to do in the event of …..

Losing your pass – immediately report this to the Pass Office, who will cancel it straight away to ensure it can’t be used by anyone else. The Pass Office will issue you a new pass.

While we’re on the subject of passes, wear your pass in the Parliamentary precincts but take it off as soon as you leave the Estate and put it somewhere safe where it can’t be seen for the journey home.

Also, avoid new interns working on visitors’ passes – they must be security cleared before they start.

Of course, this can be frustrating if clearance is taking a while, so if this is the case the intern can supply two personal references to the Serjeant at Arms who may be able to authorise the issue of a pass (pending clearance) as an interim measure.  One can be a university lecturer, or similar, and the other needs to be from someone of ‘social standing’ in the community e.g. a doctor, a JP, police etc.  Both references should be on headed notepaper, personally signed, and your MP will also need to write a covering letter to vouch for the person.

Suspect packages – all packages are scanned on their way into the Estate, but all staff who are required to open mail in the course of their work should bear in mind the possibility of receiving dangerous items or substances. For example, in 2005, packages were detected addressed to Ministers in their Commons offices which turned out to contain a mixture of sugar and weed killer. Look out for:

  • grease marks on the envelope or wrapping
  • an unusual odour
  • visible wiring or tin foil
  • if it feels very heavy for its size
  • delivered by hand or from an unknown source, or posted from an unusual place
  • excessive wrapping
  • too many stamps for the weight of the package

In the event of receiving a suspicious package or letter:

  • do not attempt to open it, bend it, squeeze it or tamper with it in any way
  • do not place it in anything (including water) or cover it
  • put it down gently on a dry, flat surface and walk away from it
  • evacuate the immediate room or area and call security on x3333

Seeing something/someone suspicious – immediately contact security on x3333

Receiving a bomb threat

  • Do not put the handset down or cut off the conversation.
  • If possible, try and alert someone else to alert Security Control while you stay on the line.
  • Obtain as much information from the caller as you can and try and keep them on the line. For example, pretend it’s a bad line and ask the caller to speak up.
  • On page 5 of the telephone directory there is a form for you to complete as you talk to try and obtain useful information – if you can’t get to the form, try and remember the message and ask the following about the bomb threat – Where is it? What time will it go off? What does it look like? What kind of bomb is it? Who are you and why are you doing this?
  • Once you’ve got info on time and place, try and get as much detail about the caller as you can.


3. Contingency Planning and Business Continuity

There are plans in place to deal with all kinds of events, not just terrorist attacks but incidents such as floods and fires of varying seriousness. The main objective of these contingency plans is to ensure safety and security. Rehearsals for MPs, for example what to do in the event of a chemical attack in the Commons Chamber, take place every so often and you should encourage your MP to attend!

Business continuity plans are an even bigger job and are vital to ensure that Parliament can continue to sit even if it’s not possible to do so in the Chambers. There are temporary locations to which Parliament would reconvene if the Palace were to be unsafe, where facilities such as the Table Office and Vote Office could be set up.

It’s also very important that proceedings continue to be broadcast so that the public can see business carrying on as usual.


4. Communication

In the event of an emergency, alerts will be shown on the annunciators, a prolonged division will ring and the voice-over system will give advice. MPs will be paged, and email will be used for updates but not for immediate instructions.


5. A Note on Security in Constituency Offices

To help Members to meet the costs of measures taken in the constituency to safeguard their staff, their equipment and themselves, there is a Scheme for Central Contributions towards Members’ Security Costs.

This might cover, for example

  • Minor building works to the office/surgery venue
  • Purchase, lease, installation, monitoring and/or maintenance of security equipment for use in the office/surgery – e.g. alarm systems, shutters, CCTV, personal alarms for staff

The first £1000 of the costs of any project should be met from the Incidental Expenses Provision, as all Members receive £1000 in the IEP towards security costs.

To apply, your MP needs to obtain a report from your local police crime prevention officer and forward it to the Operations Directorate  in the Resources Department,  together with an estimate of costs from a reliable contractor/supplier. The police should be asked to prioritise their recommendations.

The Resources Department publishes a factsheet on the Scheme which can be found on the Intranet

In the meantime, a useful measure can be for staff to have an ‘office code’ for a potentially dangerous or disruptive situation. A constituency office I worked in has a code for calling the police in the event of a violent visitor – the Secretary would call to the caseworker in the back room, “could you get the Blue File please?!”

[Editor’s note: There is more information available relating to this section on the intranet but it will need amending following the decisions by IPSA in March 2010:]


6. And finally ….

If you’d like more info on what the Contingency and Business Continuity Plans are, contact the Serjeant at Arms who is happy to give talks to staff groups.

Please remember that security is a matter for all of us.  If you see someone or something suspicious, contact the police or security staff.  Better a well intentioned mistake than ignoring something potentially disastrous.

Make sure you get a House of Commons Emergency Card, your Whips’ Office should have a stock of these. It shows a phone number which, in the event of an emergency, will issue a recorded message of advice which will be constantly updated as the situation changes. There is also a website which will be activated to which you can log in for advice and updates.

Last but not least, the security staff are here to ensure our safety and so please be nice and polite to them, especially at times of heightened security measures when getting in and out of the buildings can take a bit longer.


This note has been prepared with the assistance and approval of the Serjeant at Arms.

DR/March 2010
CD/January 2009