HL Deb 02 April 1979 vol 399 cc1718-26
The MINISTER of STATE, HOME OFFICE (Lord Boston of Faversham)

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now repeat a Statement being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. The Statement is as follows:

"With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a Statement.

"Mr. Speaker, I should like first to repeat to the House the tribute you have made to the life and work of Mr. Airey Neave, and to join my voice and that of the Government in offering our deep condolences to his wife and family.

"In your statement, Mr. Speaker, you have dealt with the facts of his tragic and violent death last Friday afternoon and with the security arrangements for the Palace of Westminster.

"On the general issue of security during the forthcoming campaign, I have myself maintained continuing contact with both the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis and Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary. I met them on Friday afternoon when the news of the bomb attack was known and again this morning. I have discussed with them the reports over the last few months that the IRA were planning an offensive campaign on the mainland to coincide with a General Election. The House can be fully assured that the general and specific protective measures undertaken by the police have been enhanced and will remain so. The police are in touch with a number of those who may be particularly at risk; but the House would not expect me to go into the detail of the arrangements being made either here in London or at the ports.

"Also this morning I met the organisers from the major political parties and discussed with them the precautions that need to be taken, by and in consultation with the police, to do everything possible to protect party leaders, candidates and the public during the coming General Election campaign. As the House knows, the responsibility for maintenance of law and order rests with the chief officers of police concerned. I am sure they will take all the necessary steps they can to maintain the highest possible level of protection, but I should also like to emphasise now that it is equally a matter for each individual, whether an election candidate or anybody else, to be fully conscious of the need for increased vigilance themselves at the present time. Arrangements are in hand for all candidates and agents to receive police guidance on these matters.

"With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to turn briefly to two other points which relate to Airey Neave's tragic death. First, the House should be aware that for a number of years the police have been in regular contact with Airey Neave, and I understand that he expressed himself satisfied with the steps they were taking for his protection. Second, I should like to take this opportunity to refer to some newspaper reports, including one this morning, that the police in Northern Ireland were two weeks ago in possession of a new list of targets and that they passed it to the Metropolitan Police, who failed to act upon it. I want to make it plain to the House that this is untrue. I received confirmation from the Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary this morning, after he had seen today's reports, that no such "death list" was in their possession and that it could not have been passed to the police on the mainland. Perhaps I could also add that unsubstantiated and mischievous rumours of this kind are not just a disservice to those who seek to protect their fellow citizens, but they also divert them from their essential tasks.

"Mr. Speaker, I mentioned at the beginning of my statement the claim that the IRA would introduce a new terrorist campaign in Great Britain to coincide with a General Election. Their objective and that of others who may be involved is both vicious and divisive, but they and their supporters should know that they will not succeed in their objective. I am sure that no right honourable or honourable Members of this House will allow the forthcoming General Election campaign to be distorted by terrorist threats. They will serve only to reinforce the resolve of the British people not to be divided in the face of violence."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.44 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord for repeating the Statement. Certainly it was a grave Statement, one which, in years gone by, few noble Lords would have anticipated having to hear. That there was talk of an offensive being deliberately started by these evil people comes as no surprise, since many noble Lords will have read of this in the newspapers for some time past.

Clearly it is quite right that in the Statement no mention should have been made of specific details. The Statement refers to arrangements being made either here in London or at the ports, but I trust that it goes without saying that these arrangements should not be limited only to London and the ports. There are other places at which, I am sure, suitable arrangements for security must and will be taken. Secondly, it is said that security is a matter for each individual. Anybody who has had experience of government in Northern Ireland since 1969 must know that this is very true. Sometimes people are too self-conscious over matters affecting security when it is very important that they should take them seriously.

The reference to Mr. Airey Neave is what one would have expected: that of course he would say that he was satisfied with the police arrangements which had been made for him. He was a very brave man. I am sure that he felt that he wanted nothing to prevent him from doing all that he could in the public service which he was carrying out. On behalf of noble Lords on this side of the House, I should like to repeat and emphasise what the Minister has said about these evil men forcing us to do that which we should not do. This country has faced graver threats from equally evil men, but with greater strength behind them. Never have they succeeded, and I agree that they will not succeed now.


My Lords, on behalf of my noble colleagues may I join in thanking the noble Lord for repeating this Statement. Very fitting, eloquently worded tributes have already been paid to Airey Neave. It is not necessary for me to repeat them, except to say how deeply I concur with what has been said. We have also had the Statement on security in the Houses of Parliament, and we now come to the general issue of security.

If I may make a personal comment, I have had the privilege of serving in this building, either at one end or the other, for just on 30 years—that is no record; there are many who have served for a longer period than that—but throughout that long period I cannot recall any occasion when, on one day, we have paid tribute to a distinguished Member who has lost his life, when we have had a discussion on the security of the building and when we have had to discuss the security of the nation.

It is a complex issue, and I shall ask only two questions. Does the noble Lord agree that it is important that the country—and through the country generally the leaders of public opinion—should not become rattled or give way to emotional reactions because of the events which have occurred? Neverthe- less, the position is extremely serious. Secondly, arising out of this Statement, does the noble Lord agree that it would be helpful if the Government could give some more advice as to how to reconcile increased vigilance with the avoidance of alarmist rumours? It is not only candidates and agents who may have to report matters that they think are disturbing; we are asking the general public to do so. On the other hand, we do not want the security forces to be flooded with rumours. May I ask the noble Lord whether we have the personnel to cope with reports of something that is suspected to be dangerous but which may prove not to be? How do we reconcile those two aims?


My Lords, may I be so bold as to ask the Minister one question which touches upon the point raised by our Front Bench Oppositon? The Minister said that Mr. Airey Neave was satisfied with the protection given to him. As our Front Bench speaker has said, a modest, brave man would, of course, say that, since he would not wish to give unnecessary or avoidable trouble to the authorities. My question is this: Is the satisfaction of a candidate, or a Minister or a speaker as to his security to be the yardstick by which security is governed? Surely it is necessary for the security people to impose upon an individual the security which they consider to be necessary, irrespective of the individual's bravery of opinion?

3.50 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Rawlinson, and to the noble Lord, Lord Wade, for their general observations on the Statement which has been made. So far as Mr. Airey Neave himself is concerned, perhaps I may just add this to what has already been said. He was a courageous fighter for freedom all his life and we share in the terrible grief of his wife and of his family, but also I think we take comfort in the privilege of having known him.

So far as the protection measures are concerned, which were mentioned by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Rawlinson—and I am grateful to him for not pressing me on the details, for the reason which he himself validly gave—it might be helpful if I were to supplement, to some extent, what has already been said about the general advice which it is possible to give both to parties and to noble Lords and to people generally. So far as the election campaign itself is concerned, and security matters related specifically to that, I can inform your Lordships of certain arrangements which were made after a discussion which took place this morning, which was held under the chairmanship of my right honourable friend the Home Secretary and at which I was also present; discussions with the police and with representatives of the main party organisations, including the noble Baroness, Lady Young. Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary will be advising chief constables to contact regional and local party organisers, to give advice and guidance and to encourage independent and minor parties to seek such guidance. The chief inspector and the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis will contact the newspaper conference about Press accreditation during the campaign and chief constables will be contacting editors in their own police areas. It may be of help to your Lordships to know that arrangements are in hand, as a result of a decision taken by the Commissioner, for sufficient copies—1,500 per party—of the guidance booklet prepared by the police to go to the three main party headquarters for distribution to agents and candidates and other essential users.

Turning to other more personal protective measures, and again without going into detail for the obvious reasons stated, I am sure your Lordships would agree that it would not be in the interests of protection if I were to go further into detail than this. The police have stepped up their efforts, but much must depend on public vigilance and I cannot stress that too strongly. I would advise noble Lords themselves—and perhaps this is advice which should be passed on to others—to take certain basic precautions: to make their homes secure against unauthorised entry; to make sure that callers at their house identify themselves; to avoid predictable patterns of travel which would enable a terrorist to plan an attack; to look all round and underneath a car before starting or moving it and so far as possible to leave it in a secure place, and to watch out for letter bombs. I should add that the police themselves are in a position to give more detailed personal advice. Some of these matters may seem all too obvious; it would be better if they were fully followed by all of us in the future.

I completely agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Wade, has said about the dangers of alarmist measures. In the past this country has shown that it will not be rattled and I am confident that we are all of us capable of ensuring that we shall not be rattled in this situation, just as we have not been in other situations. With regard to his specific query concerning suspicions, there the police advice is that they would always welcome knowledge of any suspicious circumstances so that they can follow it up. The point has already been made to your Lordships about mischievous rumours, which is a rather different matter.

Certainly, in answer to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Wade, as to whether or not the police could cope, I have—as indeed have the Government—complete confidence in the ability of the police in London and throughout the country to cope with this or any other situation. I am grateful to the noble Lord for mentioning them and I take this opportunity to pay tribute to them and the other services for the work that they do, often in circumstances of very great danger.

With regard to the other point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, I quite appreciate the point, but I think that this matter of personal protection is one which is best left for the police to go into themselves, so that they and those concerned may be satisfied about the protection measures offered. I do not feel that your Lordships would wish me to spell out these matters in any further detail this afternoon.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that I agree with everything that has been said by everybody today, except one thing? I hope that we are not going to be troubled about conducting the election in a normal fashion. I hope that we are not going to do anything slightly to intimidate people from holding or addressing meetings or voting when it comes to polling day. I can understand the need for security, particularly for those high-ranking people, naturally, who have to be protected, but the election has to be conducted and we must not allow anybody to interfere with it, whether they are terrorists from Ireland or anywhere else, and that should be clearly understood.

Baroness VICKERS

My Lords, before the noble Lord replies, I should just like to say that, during the 1959 election campaign, I had two bombs in my office, one of which went off and the other fortunately did not. I should like him to say whether the police or somebody designated to do so could go round and tell the agents what apparatus one should keep in the office in order to take preliminary action until somebody else can come.


My Lords, if I may say so my noble friend Lord Shinwell is absolutely right and his remarks really crystallise the point here. The democratic process in this country is established, and whatever happens that must continue. On the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, in the course of my earlier remarks I mentioned the general advice to be given, and I am quite sure that the police would welcome hearing from any particular people of the kind mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, as to particular advice to them, either at the offices from which they are operating or at their homes. I think that the guidance booklets to be sent out will be of considerable assistance in this direction, and certainly follow-up action will be taken by police officers elsewhere. But, if there are particular problems which people wish to have answered or wish to have guidance or advice about, I am quite sure that the police would be happy to hear from them and to provide it.


My Lords, in view of the very important and impressive series of measures which the Minister has just been good enough to explain to us, and in view of the fact that it must cause this subject to pass through all our minds, does the Minister happen to be in a position to give information as to the extent to which the police, both in the metropolitan area and in the country as a whole, are still under strength?


My Lords, I think that raises rather different matters from those which are before your Lordships this afternoon. I can only say that in recent weeks there have been some encouraging signs in that direction.

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