HL Deb 05 February 1974 vol 349 cc709-11

2.45 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have any statement to make on the massacre of eight Servicemen, a soldier's wife and two children by a bomb explosion on an Army bus near Batley yesterday.


My Lords, as the House is well aware, early yesterday morning, near Batley, in Yorkshire, an explosion occurred in the rear of a coach taking Servicemen and their dependants from Manchester to Catterick after the weekend. Eleven people were killed and 14 were injured, but the majority were discharged from hospital the same day. The coach did not belong to the Army but to a private firm who have for many years run a service catering mainly, but not exclusively, for Servicemen. The police forces concerned initiated immediate investigations; and Army bomb disposal experts are also giving assistance. I understand that no terrorist organisation has so far claimed responsibility for this ghastly atrocity. I am sure your Lordships will join me in condemning this despicable attack on off-duty Servicemen and their families, and in extending our heartfelt condolences to the relatives of the dead and the injured.


My Lords, may I welcome the noble Earl who has just answered the Question on coming to the Dispatch Box for the first time? He bears a distinguished name, and we wish him well. I am sure the whole House echoes his feeling of revulsion and endorses the message that should go out to the relatives of those who perished yesterday morning.

I should like to ask the noble Earl, first, what security checks will in future be made on all vehicles that Servicemen use. Secondly, how long does the Minister think will elapse before identity cards will be required to be carried by travellers to and from Ireland and the United Kingdom? Also, will the Government make it clear that we as a nation are not going to be browbeaten and blackmailed, even by outrages like this, which are totally abhorrent to human dignity and decency?


My Lords, in answer to the first of the noble Lord's supplementary questions, Servicemen naturally make use of privately-owned vehicles for transport when they are not on duty, and there are limits to the precautions that can be taken. But advice has now been given on ways to minimise the risk to Service personnel when privately-owned transport is used. Security checks that can be made on vehicles used by Servicemen of course depend on whether the vehicle is under Army control or whether it is a commercial vehicle, as in this case. But I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Rhodes, that whatever security precautions are desirable and practicable will be taken.

In answer to the second of the noble Lord's supplementary questions, so far the Government have judged that measures such as proscribing the I.R.A. or imposing formal control on movement between Ireland and Great Britain, or the introduction of identity cards, will not, on balance, aid the police in their primary task. With regard to the noble Lord's final supplementary question, Her Majesty's Government attach the highest importance to measures to counter the threat of terrorist acts of all kinds, and these measures are kept constantly under review.


My Lords, as one who knows the car park in Manchester where the coach was reputed to have been left, may I ask the noble Earl whether it is true, according to a newspaper report, that a coach which was customarily used by troops was left in an open car park with, as the report said, the boot open? Is it not a crazy situation that such a coach could possibly be there at this time, and is this real security?


My Lords, I imagine that foolproof security precautions cannot be taken in every case, and we do live in a fairly liberal country. I imagine that steps will be taken from now on, by the drivers themselves, perhaps, to make sure that each piece of baggage is claimed by passengers before they board the coach.


My Lords, in view of this outrage, might it not be wiser for the Army to provide their own transport, which can be properly looked after in every way?


My Lords, I think quite a number of people make their commercial living by transporting soldiers from one place to another, but I shall certainly look into that point for my noble friend.


My Lords, will the noble Earl ensure that, in future, in the case of any civilian coach which is being used for these purposes a notice is sent or a directive is given to the driver to the effect that he must ensure adequate examination before he embarks any passengers?


My Lords, I think the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, has made a very good point, and I will look into that, too.