HC Deb 20 May 1974 vol 874 cc28-32

Mr. Prior (by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement about a possible further wave of bomb outrages in London, following the incident at Heathrow and the discovery of a bomb in Lambeth.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Roy Jenkins)

At 11.17 a.m. on 19th May there was an explosion on the third level of a multi-storey car park at No. 1 Terminal at London Airport. The explosive, between 50 and 100 lb., was contained in a BMC 1100.

The Press Association received a warning in general terms at 11.05 that a car bomb was due to go off between 11.10 and 11.20 a.m. in a Heathrow car park. At 11.09 the informtation reached the police, who were engaged in clearing operations when the explosion took place. Four people suffered minor injuries and a number of vehicles were destroyed and others damaged.

At 10.25 p.m. another warning was received about a bomb at the NAAFI headquarters in Kennington Lane. After a police search of the area a bag containing about 30 lb. of explosive was found at the rear of the building. The area was evacuated, and the bomb was defused at 11.20 p.m.

These are the bare facts of which most of the House will already be aware. The police are pursuing inquiries vigorously.

It would be prudent to assume that we have not seen the last of such activities in Great Britain and to maintain at a high level of vigilance our preventive and precautionary measures. That we are doing.

Mr. Prior

I thank the Home Secretary for his statement. I should like to ask him two brief questions. The first relates to the need for early legislation to hand over the control of London Airport to a unified police force under the Metropolitan Police. When will the legislation required for that be introduced? Does the Home Secretary appreciate that we shall give him full support for that legislation, and that we hope to see it at the earliest possible moment?

The second question relates to the inquiry that my right hon. Friend had under way into tightening up security at explosives stores. Will the Home Secretary assure the House that security at such stores is being brought to as near absolute as is humanly possible?

Mr. Jenkins

I announced on, I think, 29th April that we were going ahead with that legislation. What regrettably occurred yesterday has underlined the desirability of such legislation. In a sense, some part of its benefit has already been achieved. Commander Payne, the Metropolitain Police officer who will take over at London Airport, was in charge yesterday. Naturally, we shall press ahead with the measure as soon as we can, and I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his offer of support.

As for the right hon. Gentleman's second question, the only query is whether there is such a thing as absolute security. However, I assure him that we shall take note of what he has said and take every possible action.

Mr. Strauss

Is my right hon. Friend aware that those of my constituents to whom I have spoken about the bomb threat in Kennington Lane have expressed great appreciation of the very prompt action by the police in diverting traffic and warning and evacuating people, using loud speakers, and doing everything else possible to minimise the extent of the disaster that might have taken place?

Mr. Jenkins

I am grateful for what my right hon. Friend has said, and I am sure that the police will take note of his expression of the gratitude of constituents. We all have reason to be grateful to the police for their action and for the cooperation that they received from my right hon. Friend's constituents.

Mr. Beith

Does the Home Secretary agree that, however diligent and however thorough the efforts of the police and the other security services, there is no way in which to guarantee that car bombs will not be placed and go off? Does he not agree that that places a heavy premium on public co-operation in reporting incidents, and calls for public tolerance of a greater degree of inconvenience and checking and other security measures than in the past in order that these things may be dealt with?

Mr. Jenkins

In general I agree with the hon. Gentleman. The public can certainly make a vital contribution by being alert for suspicious signs, by informing the police at once, and by not being nervous about being thought to be unduly apprehensive in doing so; it is common sense, not apprehension. On the other hand, we have to continue with normal life in these circumstances, as everyone would wish. For instance, it would not be practicable to search cars going into London Airport without rendering the airport unusable and producing a total blockage of the tunnel

Mr. Harry Ewing

As my right hon. Friend is responsible also for broadcasting, may I raise with him the manner in which the incident at Heathrow yesterday was reported by BBC television? I refer to the interview with the commander from Scotland Yard. Obviously unknown to the commander, there was a further interview with the officer in charge of the airport police. It was plain from the two interviews that the two officers were speaking at cross-purposes. Will my right hon. Friend speak to Scotland Yard about this matter and use his influence with the television authorities to see that such an incident does not take place again if, unfortunately, we are faced with similar circumstances?

Mr. Jenkins:

I take note of what my hon. Friend says. I did not myself see the interviews. No doubt Scotland Yard will take note of what my hon. Friend has said, but Scotland Yard does not have responsibility for the BBC or other television networks. As the House knows, although I have a general responsibility, I do not issue, and would not wish to issue, directions to the broadcasting companies about particular programmes, but no doubt what my right hon. Friend has said will be noted.

Mr. John Page

In view of the recent statement by the Master of the Rolls, is the Home Secretary considering the reintroduction of capital punishment for acts of terrorism? If not, can he think of any conjunction of terrorist circumstances and acts of hijacking that would induce him to do so?

Mr. Jenkins

I do not wish to speculate in those terms, and it is not for the Master of the Rolls, or even the Home Secretary, to decide the policy about capital punishment. It is a matter of legislative process and it has been decided in the House on a number of occasions. None the less, I would express my own extreme doubt about whether in the present difficult circumstances having people here convicted of terrorist activities under sentence of death would contribute to the diminution of the perils facing us.

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