HC Deb 08 November 1974 vol 880 cc1393-8
Mr. Cartwright (by Private Notice)

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will make a statement on the bomb explosion in a Woolwich public house last night.

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

The explosion occurred at about 10.15 yesterday evening at the King's Arms Public House in Woolwich. I am sorry to have to inform the House that one man was killed and 35 people were injured, some of them seriously. Of the casualties, 26 are Service personnel. Extensive damage was caused to the premises. There is no indication that a warning was given. It seems likely that the bomb was thrown through a window. The amount of information I am able to give at this stage is inevitably limited. On behalf, I am sure, of the whole House I wish to express my deepest sympathy with the victims of this further outrage, and also to express our thanks for the extremely prompt response, which we have come to expect, from the emergency services.

Mr. Cartwright

I thank my right hon. Friend for that statement. On behalf of my constituents, I join with him in the sympathy he has expressed and the thanks he has indicated. I would also on behalf of my constituents express my condemnation of this senseless, cowardly, cold-blooded and quite indiscriminate attack on innocent people.

Can my right hon. Friend tell me whether there is at this stage any evidence to link this attack with the Provisional IRA? Can he further say what considerations are to be given to preventing repetitions of such attacks? Is my right hon. Friend aware that the sad thing about this case was that so many people in my constituency feared this would happen in view of the close links between Woolwich and the military services?

Can the Home Secretary say whether, in view of the similar attack at Guildford, there appears to be a clear pattern of attacks upon public houses frequented by Army personnel? While I recognise the difficulty of the police in trying to prevent these things, may I ask my right hon. Friend to initiate discussions with the military authorities to see whether any sort of deterrent security arrangements can be provided, at least at peak times, to ensure that these public houses do not present such inviting targets?

Mr. Jenkins

I am sure that the House will agree with my hon. Friend's opening remarks. It would be wrong for me to indicate at present what evidence there is or is not as to the source of the attack. As for the vulnerability of public houses much used by military personnel and the suggestion of a pattern following the Guildford attack, I can assure my hon. Friend that there has been an awareness of the danger which exists in such places. The police give a great deal of advice to many of the local licensees at Woolwich, including the licensee of the King's Arms, about the need for special vigilance against bombers. Inside the public house the landlord had posted a notice drawing attention to the fact that customers should not bring in parcels. Everything that we can do to step up security we will do. It would be wrong to think that there was a blithe feeling that this could not happen. Precautions had been taken with regard to public houses.

Mr. David Howell

While we all recognise that there is no foolproof and certain way of preventing these maniacal killings which have taken place in hon. Members' constituencies, and of which my own constituents have some recent, bitter and bloody experience, may I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman would accept that there may be a case for far more systematic and greater encouragement to the public to be vigilant in an habitual, regular way? Will he consider the idea, through either the Government information services or the police information services, of mounting a campaign of regular and systematic warnings to people to be vigilant and to be on their guard? Will he accept that in this situation a million pairs of alert eyes are by far the best protection and reinforcement of the police that we have against this kind of underground terrorism?

Mr. Jenkins

I very much agree with the hon. Gentleman's approach. Indeed, in Birmingham a week ago I endeavoured to express very much the same thought, with words similar to those which he has used. Habitual vigilance is what we very much want. Habitual vigilance is a difficult state to maintain. People can be vigilant for a short time, under the shock of an incident, and then the vigilance rather slips away. But it should be habitual, and we shall do everything we can on the lines which the hon. Gentleman suggests to ensure that, compatible—I am sure that the hon. Gentleman takes this view too—with the need to carry on with normal life in this country, for if the terrorists felt that they could disrupt the patthern of life they would feel that they had got a great triumph, and that we must avoid.

Mr. Beith

With Remembrance Sunday only two days away, does not the right hon. Gentleman feel that the nation should well remember that British Service personnel and those who live and work with or near them are still exposed to risk to life and limb? To take further the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell), does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that we have, though temporarily we hope, entered a period in which our traditional attitudes towards observing and being vigilant of the behaviour of others have to change and that, as members of the public, we must rethink our approach whenever we see suspicious behaviour or events which do not follow the normal pattern?

Mr. Jenkins

I am glad to echo the hon. Gentleman's remarks about the threat to British Service personnel and those with them. We owe a great debt to them in present circumstances. I echo also a great deal of what he said in the latter part of his question.

Mr. Molyneaux

Will the Home Secretary take it that my party most sincerely endorses his expressions of sympathy to all who were involved in this most regrettable incident, and will he be assured that we, who perhaps have suffered most from terrorism, will support any measures designed to stamp out terrorism in ail parts of the United Kingdom?

Mr. Jenkins

I note what the hon. Gentleman said.

Mr. Hamling

I associate myself with the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Cartwright). As the Member for Woolwich, West, in which the barracks of the Royal Artillery are situated, I associate myself with my right hon. Friend in expressing sympathy with the relatives and family of the man who was killed and with the Service people who were injured. I am sure that my right hon. Friend is aware that the Royal Regiment of Artillery has suffered considerably as a result of the emergency in Northern Ireland, and that a great many of its men have been killed already.

One notes that the explosion probably came as the result of a bomb thrown through the window, which perhaps makes difficult the normal precautions which my right hon. Friend mentioned. In situations such as this and in areas where incidents are likely to occur, would it be possible to institute some sort of patrol so that strangers in cars or cars left unattended would come under the eye of the authorities, with a view to trying to prevent the sort of hit-and-run raid which was the probable cause of last night's outrage?

Mr. Jenkins

My hon. Friend will probably agree that the hit-and-run raid is a difficult raid to prevent. But, of course, these matters will continue to be actively considered, as they are being the whole time, by the police and the security services, and any new methods of protection which can be given will certainly not be ignored.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I must tell the House that I have a long list of hon. Members wishing to speak in the debate on the Southern Rhodesia order, and most of those who are rising now, I believe, will be among those who wish to catch my eye later. I shall allow only a few more questions.

Mr. Buck

Will the Home Secretary take it that the whole House is united in supporting him and the Service authorities in anything which can be done to prevent such happenings in future? Those of us who represent garrison towns are, of course, most sensitive on this issue. Will the right hon. Gentleman consult the Secretary of State for Defence, or the Minister of State, about bringing up to strength the Ministry of Defence police, at present somewhat under strength? I think that, as there is room here for improvement, something could he done to help in that direction.

Mr. Jenkins

My hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence is on the Government Front Bench, and I am sure that he will have taken note of what the hon. and learned Gentleman has said.

Mr. Hal Miller

The right hon. Gentleman has pointed out the difficulty of guarding against attacks of this kind. Will he accept that there is a genuine feeling of concern, not in any sense a revengeful feeling, among people in the country that something must be done to provide a more adequate deterrent for those responsible for such outrages? Will he reconsider the legal penalties available for dealing with such cases?

Mr. Jenkins

I keep all these matters under review. They were debated in the House in a full debate last July, when varying views were expressed. No doubt, they can be debated again. If I thought that an increase in penalties would assist, I should, of course, have to consider that very carefully. But, as I pointed out on the previous occasion, and as the House knows, the right hon. Member for Penrith and the Border (Mr. Whitelaw), who has more experience of terrorism than anyone else, went out of his way 15 months ago to remove a particular penalty in Northern Ireland because he thought that it actually increased the risk to soldiers and the security services while it was being carried out.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Is the Home Secretary satisfied that all that is possible is being done in the control of fertilisers and other commonly available materials which may be used for making bombs?

Mr. Jenkins

When explosions take place one should never say that one is satisfied with what is being done. I believe that in conditions of great difficulty and great strain the police and security services are doing everything they can. We are constantly trying by all possible means to step up the security which we are able to provide.

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