§ 3.47 p.m.
THE MINISTER OF STATE, HOME OFFICE (VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS)
My Lords, I wonder whether it would be for the convenience of the House if I were now to repeat a Statement which is being made by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary in another place, technically there in answer to a Private Notice Question, the terms of which are wide enough to include some data which are relevant to this matter. I apologise to noble Lords opposite that in view of the time scale I have been unable to supply them with copies of the Statement. The Statement is as follows:
"I regret to inform the House that within approximately the last hour there have been two bomb explosions in Central London, one at the Old Bailey and the other off Whitehall in Great Scotland Yard. There have, I am afraid, been casualties but I cannot yet say how many or how serious, although I know that at least ten people have been taken to hospital. There has also been widespread damage. "I would like to inform the House that the Metropolitan Police had in fact been taking additional precautions in Central London in anticipation of possible action times to coincide with the Border Poll in Northern Ireland. As a result, in the course of a special vehicle check police officers, 1298 shortly after 8.30 this morning, found a bomb containing about 175 pounds of explosive in a car parked near New Scotland Yard. This bomb was safely defused, its timing device being set to go off at about three o'clock this afternoon. As a result the police then further intensified their searches for suspicious vehicles and incidents. A number of vehicles have been investigated and some are being checked at this moment. Full-scale police activity is continuing".
My right honourable friend was, I know, wishing to conclude his Statement —though I cannot now repeat his actual words—by paying tribute to the anticipation and diligence and vigilance of the police in discovering those devices which they did discover in time, to their continuing assistance in the case where the explosions took place and to the great assistance and assiduity of the ambulance and other emergency services in dealing with those who were hurt or in any other way damaged or inconvenienced. I am afraid that I can only paraphrase that part of my right honourable friend's Statement, but I feel sure that I have the support of the House in saying what I have.
§ 3.50 p.m.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Viscount, and I fully understand that it was not possible for him to have a properly prepared Statement in these circumstances. The entire House echoes without any hesitation the sympathy he expressed for those who were injured. Let us hope that there are not too many seriously injured people. Those of us who remember the I.R.A. outrages before the war in London will remember that innocent people were killed on those occasions.
One is glad to hear the noble Viscount's tribute to the police authorities. No doubt we shall hear news—or perhaps for security reasons we shall not—of the extent to which a much greater disaster might have occurred had there not been this vigilance. I take it that in deciding that this was the time for particular vigilance the police have probably been able to mitigate a worse disaster, appalling though the news is to us that this kind of occurrence has happened in London. We have all been very impressed by the security arrangements made for 1299 the Houses of Parliament. It is quite clear that it is almost impossible to obtain 100 per cent. certainty. I do not know whether the noble Viscount can say anything about any steps that have been taken around the Houses of Parliament? If he would rather not, I would not press him on that.
May I ask the noble Viscount what steps the Government might think it wise to take—in a way that will not alarm people—to warn them of the circumstances in which they should be alert, and whether it is desirable that people should always especially lock their cars and their boots? Again I ask whether there should be some simple guidance about warnings on parcels and other security steps. If this is felt to be too alarmist, it may be that the Government would decide not to do it.
We have not suffered here in London as they have in Belfast and throughout Northern Ireland, and even in Dublin, and we can only pray that we shall not have to face this type of outrage, the awful effect of which is that essentially it is innocent people who are injured and harmed. It is a blind terrorist act without a clear target, and the only intention is to try and achieve ends by methods which are totally repugnant to civilised people.
§ 3.53 p.m.
§ LORD BYERS
My Lords, we on these Benches should very much like to be associated with what the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has said, and particularly to express our sense of shock at this outrage and our sense of admiration for the way in which the police have handled it. The last few days have been a particularly difficult period for the police, especially in the metropolitan area, and nothing could have been worse than this occurrence, but we do wish to be associated with the tributes that have been paid.
VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS
My Lords, that reaction from the two noble Lords is one that I can do nothing but acclaim with great enthusiasm, because I agree with everything that they have said. I hope that in what I said I expressed the Government's sympathy for those who have been hurt, and for their relatives and friends. The noble Lord.
1300 Lord Shackleton, asked whether the disasters had been mitigated. Well, I think that they have, but unfortunately not all of them. As for the Houses of Parliament, they have certainly been very carefully checked and scrutinised. I very much hope that the security precautions will prove to have been adequate, but they have certainly been taken very seriously.
As for the assistance that the public can give to us and to the police, that is a matter upon which the Government place very great importance. We would ask that the public should support the police in their activities. They should report to them anything suspicious that they see, whether it is a parcel or something in a car, or anything of that sort. They should certainly report stolen cars, and, above all, if there is anything suspicious they should exercise caution themselves, and tell the police rather than try to do something on their own account.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, that not since some while past have we, on this side of the Irish Sea, ourselves been the subject of this sort of activity. I shudder to think, considering the reaction of this House to-day, what it must be like to be in Northern Ireland, and to be subjected day after day, week after week, month after month, to senseless, totally intractable violence and demolition and slaughter. I know that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary feels this outrage very strongly indeed. I am sure that he is not alone in that among the Government, or among all right thinking people in this country.