HL Deb 18 January 1979 vol 397 cc1206-11

5.12 p.m.

The MINISTER of STATE, HOME OFFICE (Lord Boston of Faversham)

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now repeat a Statement being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. The Statement is as follows:

"At 2240 hours last night a bomb exploded at a Texaco oil terminal on Canvey Island, producing an 18 inch diameter hole in a tank containing aviation fuel. The fuel escaped from the tank into a safety moat and did not catch fire. The Essex police had received no advance warning that a bomb had been planted.

"At midnight a caller told the Press Association that the Provisional IRA had planted a bomb on Canvey Island and another bomb in the Blackwall Tunnel, both of which were to explode at midnight. This message was passed immediately to the Essex police and the Metropolitan Police, but the explosion at Canvey Island had already taken place. The Metropolitan Police searched the Blackwall Tunnel and while they were doing so, at 0040 hours, a bomb exploded at a gas holder near the south exit of the tunnel, causing an explosion and fire. At 0130 hours a second gas holder caught fire. By 0315 hours both fires had been extinguished and a secondary fire at 0415 was quickly dealt with.

"There were no injuries as a result of these explosions. In addition to the two bombs which exploded, a further explosive device was discovered yesterday lying partly covered at the side of the M60 in Leicestershire. Army bomb disposal experts were called and safely defused the device.

"The police are carrying out detailed investigations into all these incidents. The debris from the bomb which exploded and the unexploded device will be carefully examined for any evidence which may help the police to trace those responsible for these and the earlier incidents.

"It was fortunate that no one was either killed or injured by these explosions, but their potential danger cannot be overstated. No estimate has yet been made of the damage caused to property.

"I am sure that the House will join me in condemning these attacks and will support the Government in their determination not to be swayed by such methods. The vigilance of the public and co-operation with the police are of the utmost importance as the threat of further attacks remains high."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

5.16 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure the House is grateful to the noble Lord for repeating this Statement, and his doing so gives me the opportunity of saying two things which really have nothing to do with the Statement. The first is that we are very sorry not to have the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, any longer facing us on the Front Bench. I see him sitting in his new position, and think he would agree that our relationship has always been a particularly happy one. I and my noble friends Lord Mansfield and others have debated many matters with him in the course of the last three years, and we wish him the best of good fortune in the new career which he has chosen for himself. I am only sorry that we shall perhaps be seeing him a little less often.

The second thing I wanted to say was that we welcome to his new position the noble Lord, Lord Boston, who was known to some of us in the other place for some years. Perhaps I may say to him not only that he is a very welcome addition to the Front Bench but that one recognises that a member of the Bar— and he has been a practising member of the Bar—does make a certain sacrifice, especially in this House, by assuming public duties. I think this fact should be underlined. I think he should be not only welcomed and congratulated but also commended for what he has done. I hope that his disappearance as, I believe, head of chambers will not cause too much disruption, as my own certainly did shortly after the disappearance of the noble Lord, Lord Diplock, when I became First Lord of the Admiralty. I wish the noble Lord, Lord Boston, and his former colleagues in chambers great good fortune in their endeavours.

I am glad that the Statement has been repeated because it is important that this House should be kept in touch with these really rather disquieting events. The noble Lord can be quite sure that on this side we do respond to his call to condemn what has been done; but the language of vituperation and condemnation on the subject of the Provisional IRA has almost been exhausted and I do not think it improves with repetition. I shall therefore not repeat it.

I would just say this: I would underline what is said in the last sentence of the Statement, where it calls for vigilance on the part of the public and of course on the part of the authorities. This side of the House reiterates and supports what the Government have said about this and I would only add this banal but none the less important point—I hope those who are responsible for these outrages realise what they are doing to the population of Irish extraction in this country. I suppose there are very few people in this House who are neither Irish nor have Irish blood in their veins or who are not closely related by marriage or otherwise to persons who are. I myself am: my late wife was from Galway and my own family comes from Lisburn in Northern Ireland. We happen to be Protestants but we have always been proud of our Irish connection, and so, I suppose, have been many Members of this House who happen to share this origin. Also, an immense number of people living in the Irish Republic and in Ulster have British blood in their veins.

I hope that those who are responsible for these outrages do realise what they are doing to us and to the Irish population, who are very welcome additions to our workforce in our great cities. They are making life more difficult for us and more difficult for them, and they are performing a very bad service to Ireland by doing this. I have more than once in this House responded rather sharply to any criticism of Irish people in our cities. They are very welcome people, indeed. But they would be performing a real service to themselves and to other people by noting what the Government have said about the vigilance of the public, co-operating with us all in seeking out the offenders and treating them as they deserve to be treated.


My Lords, may we on these Benches also express the warmest of welcomes to my learned friend the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, on his appointment? Those of us who know him anticipate with confidence that he will always display the same unfailing courtesy, and the same extremely high level of competence, as was invariably displayed by his predecessor in the position which he now occupies.

May I make only two observations on the Statement. First, would the noble Lord find a way of expressing what, I am sure, is the feeling of the whole House, which is our admiration of the very conspicuous bravery that is always shown on these occasions by the bomb disposal experts, the fire-fighting services and the police? Secondly, may I echo what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, has said, about the extreme importance of maintaining the highest possible standard of security in the coming months? It has been, I suspect, the experience of many of us that high standards are imposed immediately after every incident, and they gradually become more and more relaxed as the weeks go by, till eventually there is a further incident which might have been avoided if only the standards had been maintained. That is particularly important in relation to Government and public buildings, and I am sure that the Government will want to see that the highest possible standards are maintained in the weeks to come.


My Lords, may I first thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, and the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, very warmly indeed for their personal remarks. They are very greatly appreciated, indeed. Perhaps I may thank the noble and learned Lord for what he has said about my chambers, and it may well be—who knows?—that some of those members of chambers will perhaps see this as an opportunity for some of them. So I want to thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, and the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, very much indeed for what they have been very kind enough to say about me personally, and about my chambers as well.

Perhaps I may also take this opportunity to join them both in what they have said about my predecessor, my noble friend Lord Harris of Greenwich, whom I am very pleased to see in his place today. I must say that I think it is felt in all parts of the House, as indeed has been said by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, and by the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, that my noble friend achieved a consistently high standard of competence in his performance at this Dispatch Box. I can only say that if I can manage to approach that high level of competence on even a few occasions, I shall certainly be very much encouraged in that.

Turning now to the matters which have been mentioned by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, I wholly support what he has underlined on the question of vigilance. It cannot be said too often that the police, who, of course, have sources of information open to them, rely a tremendous amount on information being provided by members of the public, and in this kind of operation this is of immense value to them. So I am immensely grateful to the noble and learned Lord and the noble Lord who have mentioned the question of co-operation.

Perhaps also I might be forgiven for taking this opportunity, especially as I was not there with my noble friend and my right honourable friend the Home Secretary when that operation took place, to pay a very warm tribute to the police for what can only be described as a magnificent exercise over the Christmas period, which they carried out with expertise and diligence and with a sense of self-sacrifice.

May I also join the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, in what he has said about the bomb disposal experts? They face an immense task, as we know, and achieve our warmest admiration. So far as the question of relaxation is concerned, I also join with the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, in emphasising this again. Of course, this once more comes down to the question of co-operation with the public. The police and all the authorities seek to maintain this close co-operation, and also seek to ask the public not to relax when there is a gap between one incident and another. Again, the observations of the noble and learned Lord and the noble Lord are very much appreciated.