HC Deb 28 July 1988 vol 138 cc527-8
1. Mr. Flannery

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what assessment he has made of the repercussions to date in Northern Ireland of the killings of three suspected terrorists in Gibraltar.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Tom King)

I am aware of the interest in Northern Ireland in the deaths of three Provisional IRA terrorists in Gibraltar earlier this year. The inquest will be held in September by the Gibraltar coroner. It will address matters of substance and it is therefore not appropriate for me to comment any further at this stage.

Mr. Flannery

In view of the seriousness with which the inquest is rightly regarded, and assuming that proper precautions will be taken in the interests of safety, may we have an assurance that the Government will not intervene to stop the SAS soldiers who carried out this operation from attending the inquest?

Mr. King

My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and I have already made it clear that we hope that the fullest evidence can be given at the inquest. It is in everyone's interests that that should be clear, not least so that no one is in any doubt about the appalling outrage that would have been committed in Gibraltar had the terrorists' plans not been interdicted.

Mr. Cormack

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his latter remarks are those that should go out from the House? Two things are not in dispute: that those people were terrorists, and that they were planning the most brutal and dastardly outrage in the history of the IRA.

Mr. King

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend, and it cannot be said often enough. What might have happened on that occasion if more than 60kg of Semtex had gone off in that confined space in the centre of Gibraltar would have been outside the realms of any previous outrage. As my hon. Friend said, the IRA has admitted that they were its members engaged on active service.

Mr. McNamara

We are all agreed that it would have been the most terrible atrocity had those 60 kg of Semtex gone off in the centre of Gibraltar. That is why we want to know why the Government were prepared to allow a car, which had been checked through Spain, across the border and into the centre of Gibraltar, to be left alone for two and half hours when it was believed that it might contain such explosives. Why did the Government take the action that they did in relation to the car when they believed that the explosion would not take place until the procession on Tuesday——

Mr. Harris

Weasel words.

Mr. McNamara

They are not weasel words. From that decision and those deaths in Gibraltar came the deaths at Milltown and the tragic deaths of two British soldiers. They were a direct result. The Government should be concerned about maintaining peace and respect for the law in the British Isles and in Northern Ireland. That is at risk, and that is why I ask the right hon. Gentleman to ask the Secretary of State for Defence to withdraw the reply that he gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East (Mr. Young) about the restrictions that will be placed on the amount of evidence that can be given by the SAS soldiers, if they attend the inquest. Will we get all the facts, or only the circumscribed facts that the Secretary of State is suggesting?

Mr. King

The first thing that I can do in response to the hon. Gentleman is simply to say, as I said in my answer, that the inquest will address matters of substance. The issues that the hon. Gentleman has raised are not for bandying across the Floor of the House. They are extremely germane to the inquest. No doubt they will have to be thoroughly examined, and will be, I have no doubt, by those concerned and the counsel representing them. In the interests of the proper proceedings that will now take place, that is the procedure that should be followed.