HC Deb 26 June 1990 vol 175 cc185-8 3.30 pm
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Waddington)

With permission, Mr. Speaker. I should like to make a statement about the explosion at the Carlton club, St. James's street last night. In view of the fact that that matter was raised on the Floor of the House last night, when the Lord President indicated that I would consider whether I should make a statement today, I thought that this was the right thing to do.

The explosion occurred at the Carlton club, 70 St. James's street, London, at 8.39 pm yesterday evening. Seven persons were injured by the blast and were taken to Westminster and St. Thomas's hospitals for treatment. None is in any danger, and three were discharged without being detained overnight. The injured include the porter of the club, a former Member of this House and now a Member of the other place, and two uniformed police officers. Our sympathies go to all the injured and their families and we wish them a speedy recovery.

The explosion has caused severe damage to the premises, the extent of which has yet to be fully assessed. Forensic examination of the scene is under way. The police believe that a large explosive device had been left in or near the doorway of the club. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, but it appears to have been the work of the IRA.

The emergency services reacted with great speed, arriving within minutes of the explosion. I pay tribute to them. It should always be remembered that they face the additional hazard of injury or death from secondary devices designed to kill those who come to save life.

The House is united in condemning the attack. Following the recent one on Lord McAlpine's former residence, it does appear as though the IRA is being driven to attack different sorts of target. Whether it strikes at military or civilian targets, barracks or private homes, it is attacking democracy itself and it does not care who is killed or injured in the process.

The apparent change of tactics requires renewed vigilance on the part of everyone. The police, for their part, are constantly reviewing the means by which the threat, as it varies, can be met. I have this morning discussed developments with the commissioner and there is absolutely no doubt about the determination of his force, and other police forces in the United Kingdom, to continue to do everything possible to prevent such outrages and to track down the perpetrators. The House should be aware that much is done every day of the week to prevent, to deter and to combat terrorist activity, and most of it cannot be safely revealed. However, terrorists operate by stealth, surprise and with a callous disregard for life, and from time to time they may register what, by their perverted standards, they regard as a success. It is not something against which, in a free society, anyone can provide an absolute guarantee.

What is needed to support the efforts of the police is renewed and constant vigilance on the part of every citizen. I ask people to report any packages left in public places and suspicious behaviour by individuals. They must not be worried about troubling the police unnecessarily.

We have been here before with the bomb attacks against the public in the 1970s. They did not succeed then, nor will they now.

Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)

The Opposition utterly condemn the outrage at the Carlton club last night. We express our relief that no one was killed, and we offer our sympathy to those who were injured and our congratulations to the emergency services. We join the Government in making it plain that those who perpetrate such acts have no hope that their savagery will result in a change of policy. The more they use the bomb and the bullet in attempting to achieve their aims, the less likely is it that their campaigns will succeed. We support the Home Secretary's plea that while such threats remain we should all be more vigilant. In a free society it is never possible to provide complete protection against indiscriminate terrorism, but clearly we must do all that we can to reduce the chances of such criminal lunacy killing and maiming innocent men and women.

I have a question for the Home Secretary that he may regard as more contentious. Last night's outrage, like those which have gone before, was in part designed to achieve publicity for the cause that the perpetrators support. May I suggest to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that all of us—politicians, journalists and broadcasters—consider ways in which publicity can be reduced for people who are prepared to kill and to maim in order that their murderous deeds should be reported in our newspapers and on our television screens? Does the Home Secretary agree that we should be careful not to play into their hands in that regard?

Mr. Waddington

I agree entirely with the right hon. Gentleman's closing remarks. I thought long before making this statement, but the matter was raised on the Floor of the House last night and, as a result of the intervention of the Leader of the House at 10 pm, if I had not risen to make a statement today I think that many people would have wondered why. None the less, the point made by the right hon. Gentleman is extremely valid. We must be extremely reluctant to give unnecessary publicity to the perpetrators of such outrages.

I agree entirely with the right hon. Gentleman that we must stress throughout that, whatever the terrorists do, it will not lead to a surrender of democracy and a change in the policies agreed upon in this democratically elected House. The need for vigilance is obvious and there is much that every individual citizen can do to help the police.

Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)

The whole House will endorse what my right hon. and learned Friend said in response to the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) about publicity for such mindless events. I am sure that the House will also join in the sympathy that my right hon. and learned Friend expressed to those involved, and his tribute to the police and to the ambulance and emergency services.

Is not the real tragedy of such terrorist outrages the fact that they are utterly pointless? They cannot possibly achieve their objective in a democratic society. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree with the speaker on "Thought for the Day" on the BBC, who said that the only effect of such incidents is to put the terrorists outside the ranks of humanity?

Mr. Waddington

I think that such events harden our resolve in this place to stick to the policies that we believe to be right. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to stress that point.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends I express our sympathy with those who have been injured and our admiration for the security services on their prompt and helpful intervention.

I reaffirm that the only news worthy of promulgation following such an episode is that of steadfastness of the British people—in keeping with the sterling lead set by those in the Province of Northern Ireland through 23 years of terrorism—in rebutting any suggestion that we should change our policies in the face of such outrages.

Mr. Waddington

I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman. Such barbaric acts have not forced on a democratically elected Government a change in policy in Northern Ireland and they certainly will not have that effect here. A statement of this sort serves another purpose, however—to remind individual citizens of the contribution that they can make. That also makes my statement today worth while.

Mr. Robert Banks (Harrogate)

The whole House will be pleased to know that Lord Kaberry, whom I saw a short while ago, is making a remarkable recovery from his ordeal with his usual courage and undaunted spirit. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that this despicable act only serves to strengthen the resolve to defeat terrorism in all who value human life, freedom and justice? Will he look into the measures that can be taken to improve devices to detect bombs and see that they are made as freely available as possible?

Mr. Waddington

I shall reflect on what my hon. Friend said in the last part of his supplementary question. As each month and year goes by, one sees the development of new devices that help to prevent outrages of this sort. My hon. Friend echoed the sentiments of other hon. Members in saying that what has happened in the past 24 hours, and what has been happening in recent months, only reinforces our resolve.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for mentioning that our noble Friend, Lord Kaberry, has made a very good recovery. The porter at the club, Mr. Charles Henry, had an operation last night—he suffered head and other injuries from flying glass—and was put in an intensive care ward. Everyone will be glad to hear that he has since been moved into an ordinary ward and that his condition is stable. We wish him a speedy recovery.

Mr. Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh and South Tyrone)

On behalf of my party, I wish to express relief that nobody was seriously injured or killed in the explosion. Having said that, I hope that I shall not be misunderstood—I echo what the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) said about getting things in perspective—when I say that I do not remember a statement being made in the House when Corporal Maheshkumar Islania and his six-month-old child were killed, or when Private William Robert Davies was killed at Litchfield, or when Heidi Hazell, the wife of a British soldier serving in Germany, was killed. There are many occasions when our soldiers, policemen and civilians are killed in Northern Ireland.

It is important that we do not, because an incident such as this happens on our own doorstep, get things out of proportion. The terrorist is not a mindless animal. He calculates carefully the effect that his violence will have on the community. He never seeks justification. He seeks only to add terror to the community that we represent. We must not assist him by overreacting to his actions.

Mr. Waddington

I have a certain amount of sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman said. Before deciding to make this statement, I reflected on it, and it has given me an opportunity to warn. My officials looked up the precedents and I discovered that in 1986, my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Sir G. Shaw) made a statement in the House when there was an explosion in central London in the British Airways office which resulted in an injury. It seemed to me that in view of the request made in the House last night, and that statement in 1986, it would not be entirely improper for me to make this statement today.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I sense what the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) said meets the mood of the House. I shall take one more question from each side of the House and then we must move on.

Sir Peter Tapsell (East Lindsey)

Is it not, nevertheless, significant that the last organisation to bomb the Carlton club was Nazi Germany?

Mr. Waddington

Indeed, I think that one can bracket members of the IRA who perpetrate such outrages with some of the worst villains of history.

Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough)

As you, Mr. Speaker rightly interpreted the mood of the House and the needs and wishes of Parliament and the British people that today, tomorrow and the rest should be business as usual and we shall not be influenced by any bomb or bullet on the mainland or elsewhere, will the Home Secretary confirm that there was no warning of the bomb? Does that not add to the mindlessness of the event?

Mr. Waddington

So far as I know, no warning was given. If one had been given, I think that I should have learnt about it by now.