HC Deb 04 February 1974 vol 868 cc878-82

Mr. Kitson (by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Defence and Minister of Aviation Supply if he will make a statement on the explosion on the coach carrying Service personnel to Cat-terick on Monday 4th February.

The Secretary of State for Defence and Minister of Aviation (Mr. Ian Gilmour)

Shortly after midnight this morning, near Batley in Yorkshire, an explosion occurred in a privately-owned coach taking Service men and their dependants from Manchester to Catterick after the weekend.

Of the 53 people on board, 11 were killed—eight soldiers and the wife and two children of one of the dead soldiers. A further 14 were injured, one of them seriously, but the majority are expected to be discharged from hospital today.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army is in Yorkshire at this moment visiting the injured.

The police forces concerned have initiated an immediate investigation. Army bomb diposal experts are also on the scene.

It is not yet known who was responsible for this despicable attack on off-duty Service men and their dependants and upon other civilians. I understand that no terrorist organisation has so far claimed responsibility, but whichever persons or organisations were responsible, nothing could justify this appalling crime. The indiscriminate taking of innocent life has unqeustionably caused utter revulsion throughout the country.

I am sure that the whole House will join me in condemning this atrocity and in extending our heartfelt condolences to the relatives of the dead and injured.

Mr. Kitson

May I, too, express my sympathy to the relations and friends of those killed and injured in this appalling and cowardly outrage? Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that he will review the security arrangements to safeguard both Service and civilian personnel connected with Service establishments and that he will swiftly implement any safeguards he may think necessary?

Mr. Gilmour

As my hon. Friend knows, the security arrangements at Catterick have recently been intensified, but I certainly give him both the assurances that he seeks. However, I should perhaps emphasise that it was a civilian bus service, operating from civilian ground in Manchester.

Mr. Peart

May I on behalf of the Opposition convey our sympathy to the relatives of those who have lost their lives. We, too, strongly condemn and abhor those who were responsible for such a dastardly, cowardly, callous act.

I believe that this is not just a constituency matter, although I appreciate the views of the hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Kitson), who raised it. It is of national concern, for it affects the security and support of the Services. Our Services have a difficult task on behalf of all of us, and we must sustain, defend and protect them.

I am glad that security has been mentioned, because in today's Evening Standard there is a statement by one of the soldiers who was on the coach commenting about security. I hope that this matter will be taken up by the Secretary of State, and that he will give us a report on it.

Mr. Gilmour

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. This is a matter of national concern. I should perhaps say that the constituency Member concerned, my hon. Friend the Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Proudfoot), has been at the scene today, and he commented very strongly on the extraordinary skill of the driver in keeping the coach on the road under the most difficult possible circumstances.

I have not seen the Evening Standard report, but of course any comments that have been made will be investigated urgently.

Sir R. Cary

I join in expressing sympathy for those who have been concerned in this ghastly deed. Will my right hon. Friend be at pains to consult the Chief Constable of Manchester, which was the starting point of the coach journey, because it is a matter of importance where the bomb was put into the coach?

Mr. Gilmour

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. We are already in touch with the Manchester police.

Mr. Hooson

May I on behalf of the Liberal Party express our deepest sympathy for the victims of what can only be described as a cold-blooded murder. Am I not speaking for all hon. Members when I say that we in this country feel that it is time these dastardly acts were brought to a halt? There has been an escalation of this kind of murder, justified sometimes on political grounds, and there is now a feeling in the country that every civilian and every soldier owes it to the community to report anything that can bring the criminals to justice.

Mr. Gilmour

I am sure that the House will agree entirely with the hon. and learned Gentleman. I think that he is right in saying that this is a new escalation of violence, at least in this country.

Mr. Goodhart

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the next-of-kin of the victims of this despicable outrage are eligible for the same improved terms of compensation as are paid to the next-of-kin of soldiers killed in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Gilmour

Yes, Sir. Dependants of Service men killed or injured in this incident will be eligible for the greatly improved Service pensions that I announced last year. However, the exact details cannot be known without further investigation.

Mr. Rose

May I express the deep horror and revulsion that must be felt by the people of Manchester, where the bomb was planted, at this act of wanton and indiscriminate murder of people who have nothing whatever to do with any political situation that may exist in any part of the United Kingdom, people using a bus on which many of my friends and, indeed, my brother used to travel when in the Forces? Will the right hon. Gentleman pay particular attention to a matter I have raised previously—security at provincial airports, which are particularly vulnerable to people flying in, planting bombs such as that in last night's explosion, and then possibly escaping in the same way? Will the right hon. Gentleman note that the incident reinforces those of us who have always supported those people who have trodden the path of reconciliation in one part of the United Kingdom rather than the path of violence?

Mr. Gilmour

I give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that all our security procedures will be tightened up, if necessary, and will certainly be investigated at provincial airports and elsewhere.

Mr. Wilkinson

I join in the expression of sympathy made from both sides of the House. I wish to add a note of congratulation to the emergency services in West Yorkshire which dealt with this desperately difficult situation. Will my right hon. Friend agree that this incident has shown, yet again, that no woman is too vulnerable and no child too defenceless or too innocent to be a victim of these merciless murderers? Will my right hon. Friend consult the Home Secretary about identity cards being issued for all United Kingdom citizens as well as passports being required for persons travelling to this country from the Republic of Ireland, as such action might help the overall situation?

Mr. Gilmour

I agree with my hon. Friend's comments about the behaviour of the emergency services. Both my hon. Friends the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army and the Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Proudfoot) have confirmed what my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Wilkinson) says. As my hon. Friend knows, the other matters which he raised are under review.

Mr. Ginsburg

Services in my constituency have been involved in the rescue work. May I therefore join in expressing sympathy with the families of the dead and injured. Will the Government tighten up security measures and will they, as requested by the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Wilkinson), seriously consider the introduction of identity cards in this country, which I believe would meet with widespread approval?

Mr. Gilmour

As I said, the second point is under review. We shall intensify our security precautions but when dealing with people who are prepared to go to any lengths of depravity or degradation to commit crimes, it is impossible to devise absolutely foolproof precautions.