HC Deb 24 April 1986 vol 96 cc453-6

5.1 pm

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Giles Shaw)

I will, with permission, make a statement about the explosion in Oxford street earlier today. At about 4.45 am this morning a small device exploded outside the side entrance of the British Airways office on the corner of Oxford street and Lumley street. The remains of the device are being examined by forensic experts.

The explosion damaged the office of British Airways, which is shared by some other travel companies, and it started a fire. The flats above and opposite the offices were evacuated. They suffered blast damage, but were not damaged by the fire. There has been some damage to glass in the surrounding buildings. One woman from the flats was taken to hospital suffering from shock, but has since been released. There have been no other injuries. Oxford street was closed for a time, but was re-opened to traffic at 10 am.

I understand that the Press Association received calls claiming responsibility from the Scottish National Liberation Army and the Angry Brigade but it is not possible at this stage to attribute responsibility to any individual or to any group.

Although the police issue warnings whenever there is evidence of a specific threat, the public should, as ever, remain on their guard and report to the police anything suspicious which attracts their attention.

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)

Is it not ironic that the Home Secretary is not present to make this statement because he is in The Hague attending a meeting about terrorism? May I offer our sympathy to those who have suffered loss as a result of this bomb attack, and especially to the woman who was injured? I congratulate the fire service on its swift and efficient action, especially in the light of the possibility of a second bomb. What additional resources are the Government making available to the police to shoulder extra burdens such as this, especially if there is to be any intensification of terrorist activity?

We in Her Majesty's Opposition condemn this new outrage and say quite plainly that the British people will not be intimidated by terrorist acts, as has been shown by the finn reaction to IRA activity. At the same time, the British people will not accept that they should gratuitously be exposed to terrorist activity. Will the hon. Gentleman now answer the question that the Home Secretary failed to answer when I put it to him on Tuesday: what advice did the Home Secretary give to the Prime Minister, in advance of the American bombing of Libya, about the internal security implications for Britain of those raids?

Mr. Shaw

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for offering his sympathy to the lady who was injured in this attack. Happily, she has now been released from hospital. Quite rightly, I take note of his strong views that we shall not be intimidated by terrorism. He asked about additional resources for the police. He will know that the Metropolitan police and the various specialist departments within the police have our full support about resources. He will also know that resource applications have recently been made by the Metropolitan police. Those applications are being considered.

The right hon. Gentleman paid special attention to my right hon. Friend's visit to The Hague. I trust the right hon.

Gentleman will say how good it is that my right hon. Friend should currently be discussing with our European partners the improvement of anti-terrorist operations. I hope that the outcome of that meeting will be a strengthening of the attitude towards terrorism in general and Libyan terrorism in particular.

Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)

Is my hon. Friend aware that we on this side are well content that he should make this statement? We are equally content that our right hon. Friend should be at this important meeting in The Hague. In response to what the Shadow Home Secretary said, may I ask my hon. Friend whether it is the case that there is nothing whatever to link the explosion in the early hours of this morning with any Arab organisation of any kind?

Mr. Shaw

My hon. Friend is quite right. Contrary to reports appearing in the press, neither we nor the police have any information that would firmly link this incident with a Libyan or any other group.

Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery)

I join in the condemnation of this outrage by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) and also the sympathy he expressed for the lady who was injured. Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that it is his view that by far the best measure against terrorists within our shores is good police intelligence and constant vigilance by the police and the public? Is he satisfied with the level of police intelligence about terrorist groups that are formed and are situated within the shores of Great Britain?

Mr. Shaw

It would never be wise to say that one is satisfied with the level of intelligence that is available at any given time. I give the hon. and learned Gentleman my assurance and that of my right hon. Friend that the police, and especially the specialised departments that deal with terrorism, have real knowledge of what is going on in the United Kingdom. Perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman will remember the events of last summer, which resulted in the interception of a major bombing campaign planned for resorts in the United Kingdom.

Sir Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

Is it not highly irresponsible for people to try to relate this or any of the other terrorist incidents that we have experienced over the past 10 years or more to the incident that took place recently in Libya? Will my right hon. Friend welcome the statement by the Shadow Home Secretary that we shall not be intimidated and the statement by the Leader of the Opposition during business questions that tourists should come to our country because it is far safer than most other countries? In welcoming those things, will my hon. Friend bear in mind that throughout East Anglia members of the Labour party are saying that our air show should be cancelled because we are frightened of what is happening? How can the Opposition square those two approaches to the same problem?

Mr. Shaw

My hon. Friend is right. There is certainly no question that the incidents of recent weeks should cause us to suggest that Britain is less safe than it was. My hon. Friend is equally right that, throughout the country, people should go about their normal business in their normal way. I ask, as the police would wish me to ask, that everybody should remain vigilant at this time.

Mr. Chris Smith (Islington, South and Finsbury)

In view of disturbing reports that in the immediate aftermath of the tragic incident this morning a considerable number of armed United States marines were seen in Providence court in the vicinity of the explosion, can the Minister tell the House whether the United States Government have permission to maintain what is effectively a private army on the streets of London?

Mr. Shaw

Frankly, I find the observations by the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) quite amazing. As far as I am aware, there is no connection between this incident—the relatively small size of which I have described to the House—and any of the hon. Gentleman's remarks about armed personnel or about the United States or anything else.

Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton)

What credence do the police place on the claims made by these so-called organisations? What credence do they attach to the claim made by the so-called Scottish National Liberation Army? Is that the same body which allegedly sent a postal bomb to the Secretary of State for Scotland recently? What are we doing to try to arrest these persons and put them behind bars?

Mr. Shaw

My hon. Friend is quite right; the organisation that claims responsibility for this incident also claims responsibility for the device which was sent to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. We will do everything possible to ensure that those guilty of offences of this kind are brought to the courts and, one hopes, convicted.

Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge)

Can the Minister help to clear up the matter of definition? While I accept what he has said about the possibility of the connection—or possibly there is no connection—between what happened today and what happened last week, we have had some arguments about definition on the Public Order Bill recently. Can he define a terrorist act? I agree that the precise placing of this device this morning in a shop doorway, obviously with the knowledge of the perpetrators as to what damage would be caused, is a terrorist act. If that is so, how much more of a terrorist act is it actually to drop such devices from an aeroplane, which, no matter how sophisticated, cannot be as precise as placing a device in a doorway?

Mr. Shaw

The hon. Member's question goes extremely wide of my statement. There is all the difference in the world between explosive devices, which try to trap individual citizens, and a Government who are seeking to impose terrorism as an act of policy. That is what the Libyan Government are seeking to do and it was in order to act against that that my right hon. Friend took the course she did.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington:)

My hon. Friend said that, so far as he knows, the perpetrators of this latest outrage were not directed from Libya. Will he tell us what has happened to the 21 Libyans recently arrested?

Mr. Speaker

Order. That question is particularly wide.

Mr. Ron Brown (Edinburgh, Leith)

While the House is pleased to hear that there is no Libyan or other link to this latest bombing outrage, will the Minister investigate the possibility that the CIA may be involved in terrorist activity in this country?

Mr. Shaw

No, Sir.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

Since only the White House or Israel could possibly welcome any renewed excuse for further attacks on Libya, will the right hon. Gentleman and his Department carefully consider the possibility of CIA involvement or Mossad involvement not only in this attack but in any other attacks that may occur?

Mr. Shaw

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman's observations are sufficiently serious to be given further credence.

Mr. David Sumberg (Bury, South)

Will my hon. Friend ignore the ridiculous allegations of the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds)? Will he accept that terrorism is international and that it will be combated only by international action? That is why it is quite right that our right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is in Europe today and not in this House.

Mr. Shaw

I entirely endorse my hon. Friend's remarks.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Crawley)

While I appreciate that it is still early for my hon. Friend to assign blame for this scandal, will he take time to condemn the Labour party in my constituency, which since the Libyan outrage, since the bombing by the Americans of Libya, has said that Crawley is now a prime target for attack because of its proximity to Gatwick airport? Will he deplore such scaremongering?

Mr. Shaw

I do indeed. The United Kingdom is party to the policy of seeing that terrorist organisations are refused access to this country and that we bring people to justice, and suitably convict them of the offences with which they are charged. It is stupid for people to suggest that these activities make this country more or less at risk.

Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)

Can I press the Minister for a more specific response to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman)—the amount of consideration given by the Prime Minister to any representations made by the Home Secretary on the need for tighter security, prior to the permission being given for the Libyan raid? Did such consultation take place, and what note was given to that consultation by the Prime Minister, prior to giving permission?

Mr. Shaw

The hon. Gentleman—

Mr. Speaker

Order. That has nothing to do with this question.

Mr. Peter Bruinvels (Leicester, East)

In acknowledging that this act has been cowardly and despicable, has my hon. Friend looked at the situation for all airline offices throughout this country and the need for extra vigilance and more police at those particular offices, in view of the fact that in other countries, particularly in the middle east, there are bombing outrages on middle east airline offices?

Mr. Shaw

My hon. Friend will be aware that airlines, particularly those operating international routes, are fully conversant with the problems associated with terrorism, and are well aware of the various levels of tension, which cause them to make special arrangements.