HC Deb 18 December 1973 vol 866 cc1156-60
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Robert Carr)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement.

At about 8.50 this morning a bomb exploded in Thorney Street, which leads off Horseferry Road. The bomb was planted in a car which is known to have been stolen in London last night, and was parked outside Horseferry House, a building occupied by my Department, and opposite Thames House, which is mainly occupied by the Department of Trade and Industry. Both these buildings, and others nearby, were extensively damaged.

I regret to say that a considerable number of people were injured, and about 40 received treatment in Westminster Hospital. Two of these were seriously injured and required operative treatment, although I am glad to say that I understand that their condition is now satisfactory. When I visited the hospital at midday a further seven were still detained for treatment for cuts, shock and other minor injuries.

I am sure that the whole House would wish to express our sympathy to those who have been injured. I would also like to pay tribute to the hospital staff, who treated the injured with such speed and sympathy, and to the police, who coped so well and speedily with the whole situation.

Two warnings were given of this morning's bomb. The first was by means of an anonymous telephone call to the offices of the Evening News at 8.22 a.m. The caller said that there was a bomb in Horseferry Road and Marshall Street and that these streets should be cleared immediately. It is presumed that the caller must have meant Marsham Street and not Marshall Street. The police were informed and started their search in these streets. While the search was in progress there, the bomb exploded in Thorney Street.

The second warning, also anonymous, was received by the telephone operator in Horseferry House at 8.45 a.m., saying that there was a car bomb outside, timed to explode in half an hour. Precautionary action was being taken when the bomb exploded only about five minutes later.

I should also report to the House that two postal bombs were delivered in London yesterday. The first was received by British Home Stores in Marylebone Road. A member of the staff was suspicious, and called the police, who dealt with the bomb successfully. The second was received by the Chief of Staff, London District, at his home. It exploded and injured his hand. He is still in hospital, where his condition is described as comfortable.

The Metropolitan Police issued public warnings last night about the need for care in dealing with suspect mail. And I should like to reinforce these warnings very strongly.

The police are doing their utmost to apprehend those responsible for these outrages.

Mr. Roy Jenkins

The House will have heard with deep regret of the incident this morning and of the other incidents, and I join the Home Secretary in expressing our sympathy to the victims and hoping for the speedy recovery of the injured. I also join in expressing our gratitude to the hospital authorities and the police for the expeditious way in which they have dealt with these problems, and in expressing the hope that those responsible for these outrages will be speedily apprehended.

Mr. Tugendhat

It is conventional on these occasions that the Member of Parliament for the constituency in which outrages of this sort occur should also ask to be joined in sympathy with speakers from the two Front Benches. Although it is a convention, its importance is in no sense diminished, nor is the strength of one's feelings diminished when incidents such as this occur.

My constituency, for obvious reasons, has been singled out during the course of this year for bomb outrages of every sort in streets and in stations.—[AN HON. MEMBER: "What about Northern Ireland?"] My constituency is not in Northern Ireland, it is not a party to the disputes that have been taking place there, and my constituents are innocent of what has been happening there.

We join the two Front Benches in expressing our sympathy to those who have been injured, and in expressing our admiration of the police and the emergency services and on this occasion, too, of Westminster Hospital. We are confident that the police will apprehend the wrongdoers in the way that they did at the time of the Old Bailey bomb. I am sure that the Home Secretary can give my constituents the assurance that no energy will be spared on that account.

Mr. Carr

I certainly give that assurance to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Beith

Like many hon. Gentlemen, I heard the explosion and feared the worst and, as it happens, more people have been injured. My hon. Friends and I share in the expression of sympathy. But I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman can indicate to what extent the police were successful in clearing Horseferry Road after the warning. I also wonder whether there are any features of the postal bombs which will be helpful to people all over the country in watching for bombs. Are there any new distinguishing characteristics which people could watch for? If the right hon. Gentleman can help us on those points, it will be appreciated.

Mr. Carr

I am satisfied that the police coped remarkably well in seeking to discover the bomb beforehand and in controlling traffic, as well as in dealing with the injured and so on afterwards. They were frustrated in the search for the bomb by the fact that what appeared to be precise information turned out to be very vague information about the general area, and of course they started their search from a point which they hoped would be precise.

I think it would be rather foolish of me to try to give the House and the public any description of the postal bombs because they can vary from one packet to another. I understand that the latter two were more of the nature of a book and less of the nature of a small package than the earlier bombs, but that does not mean that people should be suspicious only of books. They must be suspicious of all sorts of packages which arrive in their homes or offices and about the identity of which they are not certain.

Mr. Gardner

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that, after the previous IRA attacks by cars loaded with explosives, speedy restrictions were imposed on the parking of cars near Government buildings, and can he say whether any of those restrictions were later lifted? If they were lifted, can he assure the House and the country that they will be reapplied and maintained until dangers of this kind have passed?

Mr. Carr

The full severity of the parking restrictions imposed last March has since been reduced, although more than usual care has been taken compared with previous practice, but I will, of course, consider whether parking arrangements ought to be even further restricted in obvious target areas. Of course, such consideration is offset by the pressure at the moment from a greater number of people needing to park their cars in the centre of London. But this is a matter to which I will give urgent consideration and I assure my hon. and learned Friend that we shall take all reasonable steps.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

While appreciating what the police did and paying tribute to them on this occasion, may I ask the Home Secretary whether, if I give him details of several occasions when there has been a possibility of such incidents and the police have refused to take action, he will ask the police to do what the public expect them to do in such cases? I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that I have details of several cases, and if he will have a word with me afterwards I will supply them.

Mr. Carr

If the hon. Gentleman has such details he should submit them to me. Indeed, I would say that he should already have submitted them to me.

Mr. Mather

Will my right hon. Friend consider whether the restrictions should apply to unattended parked cars near Government buildings? Will he also reconsider the proposal, put to him last summer, that the IRA should be declared an illegal organisation in Great Britain, as it is in the countries of the two other members of the Council of Ireland? Will my right hon. Friend also institute travel documents between Britain and Ireland?

Mr. Carr

Of course I will give close consideration to the whole question of parked cars and to what it is best and, indeed, practicable to do. On the question of proscribing the IRA and related matters, as I have made clear several times the Government have given these the most careful consideration. I should like to repeat that we shall not hesitate to take any steps which will, in our opinion, assist both in preventing such outrages and in catching the perpetrators of them if, alas, they have occurred. I have confirmed in consultation with the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police this morning that, in his opinion and that of his senior officers, such additional powers would not be helpful to them in present circumstances. But I repeat that this is a matter which I keep under constant review, and there is nothing final or definite about it.

Several hon. Members rose——

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am afraid that we must move on to the next business.