HL Deb 17 June 1974 vol 352 cc751-5

3.49 p.m.


My Lords, with the permission of the House, I should like to repeat a Statement which has been made in another place by my right honourable friend the Lord President of the Council. The Statement is as follows:

"Just before 8.30 this morning a bomb, which is estimated as weighing 15 to 20 lb., exploded near the North end of Westminster Hall. Six minutes' warning was given by a telephone call to the Press Association and officers from New Scotland Yard were already in the precincts when the explosion took place. But the warning related to the House of Commons and was quite unspecific.

"It is too early to say how much damage was done but most of it results not directly from the bomb, but from a fractured gas main. Some damage was done to the Grand Committee Room in Westminster Hall and to the staff canteen. More serious damage was done to two Members' desk rooms and two Secretaries' typing rooms in the Westminster Hall Annexe.

"Unfortunately five members of the staff of the House and one fireman were injured. One of the members of the staff is being treated in hospital for a broken leg. I know that the whole House would wish me to offer her our best wishes for a speedy recovery and to express our very great sympathy to all those who were injured.

"Police investigations are being continued but it is not yet clear how the explosive device was placed in position.

"I am sure the House would wish me to conclude by paying a warm tribute to all those involved, and especially to the firemen, for the splendid work they have done."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.


My Lords, I am sure the House is grateful to the noble Lord for repeating that Statement. We are all relieved to know that the casualties are so light and would like to join the noble Lord in what he has just said about expressing sympathy to those who were injured. I understand that several Department of the Environment personnel, especially those on the staff of the Director of Works, were quick in their responses to this incident and in handling the risks attached to the fractured gas main. Our thanks are due to them. I should also like to endorse what the noble Lord said in his closing sentence about the London Fire Brigade and the speed, efficiency and courage with which they acted. It is reported that there were over 20 appliances and 100 men at Westminster Hall and some of them are still there, seven hours later. If the noble Lord could find an opportunity to pass on these tributes to the Chief Fire Officer for what his men have done in conditions which are dangerous and always very unpleasant, the House would welcome it.

My Lords, we are relieved that the damage to the historic building of Westminster Hall does not seem to have been too severe or too permanent, and I believe all noble Lords will want to join in condemning the futility and wantonness of this attack.


Hear, hear!


My Lords, I should like to associate my colleagues and myself with the expressions of sympathy with the injured and of thanks to those who acted so promptly in the defence of their colleagues and the building. I have no questions. I only wanted to endorse what the noble Lord has said.


My Lords, we are very grateful to the noble Lords for what they have said and we will certainly pass on to the Fire Officer the tributes to the firemen, and not only at this incident but at others in which they have participated.


My Lords, is the noble Lord satisfied with the security arrangements? When one comes to your Lordships' House through the other place one finds all sorts of people coming in without any difficulty whatsoever, nobody stopping them. Are we satisfied that the security arrangements are as they should be?


My Lords, I suppose no one could ever be satisfied with the security arrangements of this building. It is a difficult matter to keep the balance between a House of Parliament, where people have the right of access to Members, and the provision of security. I understand that the Committee responsible in another place is meeting this afternoon to consider the security aspects so far as the House of Commons is concerned and I hope that the Chairman of Committees will see that this matter is raised urgently with the Administration Committee, which is the responsible authority here. I think we need to take particular care at this moment and I have no doubt at all that the officials directly responsible are now doing so.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the important B.B.C. film on "Secrecy in Environmental Health Services" which was to have been shown in the Grand Committee Room, at 5.30 to-day will now be shown in your Lordships' Committee Room No. 3A?


My Lords, that is one way of getting a plug.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that those of us who have had any experience in dealing with security matters would regard the security in the Palace of Westminster as little better than a joke, and will he give an assurance that the advice of the security service on this important matter will be sought and that some action will be taken? Any action inevitably means a great deal of inconvenience, but we in this country are virtually in a state of war with certain elements and I am sure some inconvenience would be put up with by a great many people. It means that everybody, including the most eminent Members of your Lordships' House, would have automatically to show passes and that type of thing but I am sure many of us would be prepared to put up with that.


My Lords, I accept the point that the noble Lord has made, but I do not think I could accept that our security arrangements are a joke. We have now been in a state of danger for some five years and the security arrangements have at least protected us up to this moment from attack on the building or the persons within it. Having said that, we are not in any sense taking it easy but we will look at this matter. But I should not like it to be thought, particularly bearing in mind the many hours in which many of our staff undertake security duties, that their service has been regarded as a joke.


My Lords, is it not to some extent, without seeming in any way complacent, reassuring that when this attack took place it took place on the periphery of the building, apparently underneath or near the Grand Committee Room, and not in any of the substantial work places in the Palace? One hopes, of course, that any lessons to be learned will be learned, but I think it would be unjust to our security services not to make that point.


My Lords, I am very grateful for what the noble and learned Lord has said.


My Lords, does not the noble Lord think that once again the B.B.C. gave an altogether too alarmist report on this in the 10 o'clock news—that St. Stephen's Chapel had been practically destroyed and that Westminster Great Hall was thoroughly on fire? I heard it all and I felt terribly upset about it, and I am quite sure that hundreds of thousands of people had exactly the same feelings about what is possibly the finest building in the country being in effect destroyed. The B.B.C. ought to be much more careful before they put out alarmist reports of this kind.


Hear, hear!


My Lords, it is not for me to spring to the defence of the B.B.C., but I think the same news will be found on the tape in the corridor outside. That is one of the dangers of what is called, "instant news".