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Security at the National Assembly
Security at the National Assembly, in the broadest sense of the word (i.e. the security of the institution and the safety of property and people) falls under the authority of the President of the National Assembly. The latter is thus in charge of the security staff of the National Assembly (security guards and porters), reinforced by a detachment of fire-fighters, officers from the National Police Force and a military presence which are all under his command. The external or so-called “peripheral” security is under the responsibility of the Prefect of Police of the City of Paris (Interior Ministry). This includes the public streets running between the various buildings of the National Assembly.
I. – GENERAL ARRANGEMENTS
According to article 3 of ordinance no. 58-1100 of November 17, 1958 concerning the running of the parliamentary assemblies, “the presidents of the parliamentary assemblies are responsible for overseeing the internal and external security of the assemblies over which they preside. They may, in so doing, call upon all armed force or any authority they may deem necessary. This call may be addressed directly to any officer or public servant and the latter are obliged to answer it immediately or face the penalties set down by the law.”
“The presidents of the parliamentary assemblies may delegate such a power of summons to all or one of the Questeurs.”
This ordinance thus provides that the President of the National Assembly is responsible for both the internal and external security and safety of the Assembly. In so doing he has a general and permanent power of decision.
In order to carry out his responsibilities in the security field, the President of the National Assembly has, at his disposal, the security staff of the Assembly, military forces and a group of firemen seconded from the Fire Brigade of the City of Paris. These are all under the authority of either the Secretary General of the Questure or of the military commander. These two authorities continually work together in very tight collaboration.
The checking at reception of people coming from outside the Assembly is carried out by two departments: the General Secretariat of the Questure (Reception, Security and Safety Unit) and the Communication and Multimedia Information Department (for the press and people attending the plenary sitting).
1. – The Reception, Security and Safety Unit
The Reception, Security and Safety Unit, which is under the authority of the Secretary General of the Questure and the Director General of Administrative Departments, includes, in particular, the “Reception/Meetings” Team and the Security Service.
- The former, which is in charge of the reception of individual visitors, is made up of around fifty porters. It carries out security checks using metal detection gates and X-ray machines for bags, issues temporary identity passes in exchange for passports and national identity cards and provides permanent identity passes for the various staff working at the National Assembly.
- The Security Service is made up of former non-commissioned military officers who have spent, at least, 15 years in the armed forces and who are recruited by competitive examination. They are responsible for security checks at the gates and monitor the access of vehicles. The security guards maintain a 24-hour watch on all the buildings of the National Assembly from a central operations room.
2. – The military detachment
A detachment of Gendarmes from the Republican Guard, under the command of a Colonel, who is the military commander of the Palais Bourbon, is at the disposal of the President of the National Assembly.
The military commander is appointed by order of the President of the National Assembly and is thus directly under his command in the exercise of this position. He is assisted by a second-in-command and a military staff. It should be noted that amongst other tasks, he is responsible for military surveillance and intervention. He has authority over the permanent detachment and the services provided by the Republican Guard to whom he gives orders. He is in charge of liaising with the civilian and military authorities in charge of law and order in matters concerning the external security of the Palais Bourbon. Along with the Secretary General of the Questure, he draws up the security plans. In addition, he fulfils the role of military advisor to the President of the National Assembly.
The military detachment carries out, when necessary, internal security operations including, in particular, bomb detection.
3. – The police officers
Three police officers, of the rank of inspector or chief inspector, are also at the disposal and under the authority of the President of the National Assembly who appoints them. Their main task is to liaise with the national police force, in particular, in the event of disturbances in the area of the Palais Bourbon. They also ensure that those attending the plenary sittings do not disturb the proceedings.
4. – The detachment of fire-fighters
This detachment is made up of around twenty fire-fighters under the authority of an officer who also acts as a fire-prevention advisor to the Director General of Administrative Services. The detachment mans a security command room which is independent of the operations room and which oversees all fire prevention measures.
II. – MEASURES CONCERNING THE SECURITY OF THE CHAMBER
A special security cordon has been set up around the Chamber and extends to the floors below and above. The galleries are under particular surveillance. Military sniffer-dog teams periodically check the basement as well as the Chamber itself. Explosive detection checks are carried out on all materials which enter this cordon and similar checks are systematically made during the daily cleaning of the Chamber. The stocking of material or equipment is severely restricted in this area and is particularly supervised.
Access to the Chamber is strictly prohibited outside of sitting times. The number of identity passes granting permanent access is limited to the strict minimum and anyone belonging to an outside company may only enter with the permission of the department responsible for the room’s maintenance and if accompanied by an authorized public servant.
III. – CHECKS
The risk of attacks or malicious acts against state institutions has led the authorities of the National Assembly to strengthen security checks at the entrance to the various buildings of the Assembly. Security precautions are based on the principle of separating those in possession of a permanent pass allowing them to access through specific entrances equipped with automated security systems from those without such passes. These visitors are thus systematically screened by the reception staff.
1. – Pedestrians
These precautions apply to the security, identity and visitor-processing checks carried out at entrances accessible by pedestrians as well as by drivers and passengers in vehicles which have been authorized to enter the Palais Bourbon.
The arrangements apply to:
- People on tours of the Palais Bourbon;
- Visitors invited by M.P.s, political groups or a department of the National Assembly;
- People holding invitations to attend a plenary sitting;
- The “first ten people in the queue” without an invitation but wishing to attend a plenary sitting (with the exception of sittings given over to special current affairs which are not accessible to this category);
- People invited to attend or participate in meetings held at the behest of one or several M.P.s in one of the rooms or offices of the Assembly;
- Guests at a reception held in the questeurs’ apartments;
- People invited by one of the members of the President’s staff;
- Guests invited to a reception held in the Presidency;
- Non-accredited journalists;
- People working for sub-contractors (building workers and maintenance staff).
a) Security Checks
There are two types of security check:
- Entrance through a security gate which may be followed by an examination using a manual metal detector;
- Checking of hand-baggage and personal effects by X-ray machine.
These checks are carried out on all visitors.
b) Identity Checks
Identity checks are carried out systematically. They require the presentation of a photographic identity document (identity card, veteran’s card, press card for journalists and for foreigners, a passport, residence permit or work permit). A professional identity card with a photograph may also be accepted, notably that of French civil or public servants. However, it should be noted that identity passes issued by public authorities or companies are not accepted nor are driving licences.
c) Checking the purpose of the visit: the implementation of the rules concerning participation in meetings organized by M.P.s (article 26, XII of the General Instructions of the Bureau)
In cases concerning meetings or receptions, the personal invitation presented by the participant is checked against a list of guests provided by the body which is inviting or organizing. The actual presence of the M.P. or his representative is required for the admission of the visitor(s).
People whose name does not appear on the list cannot be admitted without the agreement of the M.P who is organizing the event or of his appointed representative. If neither of these people is present, then the visitor cannot be admitted.
In cases concerning individual visitors wishing to go to an M.P.’s office, to a department or to a political group’s office, admission is always dependent upon explicit confirmation by telephone that the person(s) is/are indeed expected.
d) Issuing of Identity Passes
In exchange for his identity document, each visitor is issued with an identity pass which must be clearly worn. The colour of the pass and its specific annotations detail the places or the areas which the visitor is entitled to visit. This particular measure does not concern people invited to a reception held at the Hôtel de Lassay, the Petit Hôtel, or the apartments of the Hôtel de la Questure nor does it concern those people attending the plenary sitting or on a guided tour of the Palais Bourbon (a photocopy of the identity document provided by these people is nonetheless made).
2. – Vehicles
The following measures apply to security and identification checks carried out on vehicles not having access permits issued by the Assembly (2). Checking vehicles is the task of the security staff.
a) Security Checks
These are random checks carried out on the boot, trunk, inside and underneath of all vehicles entering the premises of the National Assembly.
b) Checking the Purpose of the Visit
The permit, signed by the relevant authority, including the vehicle registration, driver and passengers is checked.
c) Identity Checks and the Issuing of Identity Passes
The driver and, if necessary, the passengers must present an identity document which is checked.
Drivers not possessing a pass issued by the National Assembly must park outside and go to the reception office(3) to receive their pass before they may bring their vehicle inside. This pass is issued in the same way as for pedestrians. There are several types of pass:
- Delivery pass. This is for delivery drivers who must also have their delivery
- Slip signed by the person who receives the delivery;
- Building site or temporary pass. This is for service-providers and depends upon the nature and the length of the job.
IV. – THE AREA SURROUNDING THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY
As regards matters concerning external security, no President of the National Assembly has, as yet, used all the powers provided for by the ordinance of 1958.
The responsibility for the maintenance of law and order outside the limits of the National Assembly is in the hands of the Minister of the Interior and thus, by delegation, in those of the Prefect of Police of the City of Paris. This principle was not changed when the National Assembly bought several buildings as annexes to the Palais Bourbon, the historic seat of the National Assembly. Thus the authority of the Prefect still applies today in the streets which separate these buildings from the Palais Bourbon itself.
Nonetheless, the President of the National Assembly still has the power to directly call upon, at any time, the Prefect of Police and his departments in order to take the necessary measures to ensure the external security of the Palais Bourbon or to keep its entrances accessible.
1. – Demonstrations
In accordance with the decree of October 23, 1935 which lays down the rules concerning the strengthening of the maintenance of law and order, any demonstrations which take place in Paris must receive the authorization of the Prefect of Police. A prior statement must be completed detailing their assembly points and their route. Failure to abide by these provisions is punishable by article L. 431-9 of the Criminal Code.
Generally speaking, demonstrations are confined to certain broad Parisian avenues and are prohibited in the vicinity of the buildings of the National Assembly and in particular, in the streets leading to the entrances of the Palais Bourbon.
However certain smaller gatherings may be authorized on the Place Edouard Herriot. Several representatives of such demonstrators may even, upon request, be allowed to meet with M.P.s or political group secretaries (each such delegation is made up of five people at the most).
2. – Vicinity measures
A network of CCTV cameras has been installed both by the Paris Police Department, in order to monitor the neighbouring streets and by the Security Department of the National Assembly in order to check the areas around the buildings. The National Assembly and the Police Department can – and do – share pictures. In addition, the paths, gardens and courtyard on the River Seine side of the Palais Bourbon, are protected by railings. Police and Republican guards patrol both day and night in order to maintain the security of these places which face onto the public highway.
(1) This is a diplomatic “courtesy” dispensation which only applies to the diplomat himself and not to the members of delegations or groups accompanying him
(2) Those possessing access permits are the vehicles of the National Assembly’s car pool, vehicles driven by M.P.s and cars owned by parliamentary civil servants and political group assistants who have been issued with parking authorizations for one of the Assembly’s car parks.
(3) The pass is issued by the security guard if the reception office is closed.