HC Deb 05 March 1976 vol 906 cc1811-3

Order for Second Reading read.

3.53 p.m.

Mr. Carol Mather (Esher)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Any private Member who is fortunate enough to draw a place in the Ballot faces something of a dilemma in deciding what kind of measure to bring forward—whether it should be entirely non-controversial and accepted by the Government, or whether he wants simply a public relations exercise. In this case I have chosen a measure that is important and urgent. It is non-controversial, it is very simple, and it will cost the taxpayer no money. As for the Bill being important and urgent, one has only to glance at the headlines in today's Press. They read: Terrorists strike again in London as police launch search for bombers of commuter train and 13 minutes save hundreds on 7.49 from Sevenoaks". Another headline in the same paper says Mother taught IRA terrorist to make bombs". There is also a report about the five targets hit by bombers in South Armagh yesterday.

There is therefore no doubt that this is an extremely important and urgent measure. A detonator is about half the size of the cartridge of a ball-point pen. It is very small and easy to conceal. There can be no explosion without it. It is highly lethal, it is anonymous, and it is freely available. When I say "freely available", I have in mind that the number of detonators which have been recovered so far—this is from about 1970—from terrorist arms caches or bombs which have been defused is 16,000. Those detonators must have come from somewhere, but we do not know from where, because we have not got a proper system. It is not as though there were several manufacturers making these devices in this country. There is only one manufacturer in the British Isles. These things cannot be home-made.

Briefly, my Bill makes it necessary, by law, for each detonator to bear a destination mark—that is, the area in the British Isles to which it is going—and the name of the customer. The Bill also brings in a statutory system of accounting down the distribution chain. At the moment there is no system of accounting by law by which everyone has to abide. Nor is it mandatory to report a loss. These are simple things, which my Bill seeks to achieve.

The question may be asked: why was this not done before? Why was this measure not introduced by the previous Government, for instance? I should point out, without going into all the security aspects of the marking of detonators, that there is already a partial marking system, but it is not comprehensive. It is fairly easy to make it comprehensive.

The security forces, particularly in Northern Ireland, have been pressing for a measure such as this for some years. The Home Department, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Explosives—this is his domain—the Defence Department and the Northern Ireland Office are involved. Therefore, one is in deep water administratively.

The point about Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Explosives is that his remit is on safety and health grounds only. He does not really deal with the question of security. His terms of reference do not lead him directly to consider security matters. Basically, he goes back to the Explosives Act 1875 and the Health and Safety at Work Etc. Act 1974. Those two Acts specifically deal with safety and health.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

Is it right that there is no way of finding out whether detonators have been stolen from firms which do not keep proper records because they are not required under the law to do so?

Mr. Mather

My hon. Friend is right. It is not mandatory to report a loss. The figures that we see reported in Hansard relating to how many detonators have been lost during the last year, the year before, or whatever it is, do not cover losses that have not been reported, they relate only to reported losses.

We should look ahead at the likely course of events. This is a widespread problem. There have been 53 explosions in I ondon during the last two years, for which no one has yet been detained. There were 90 bomb outrages in Wales at the time of the Caernarvon Investiture. In Scotland, between 20 and 30 explosions have been caused by the so-called Tartan Army. There were petrol bombs in London following the Birmingham outrages. There have been many explosions in Northern Ireland as well. It is also an international problem and it has got to be dealt with eventually by international means. In Britain during the period 1973–75 there were 274 incidents—

It being Four o'clock, Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER interrupted the business.

Second Reading deferred till Friday 30th April.