HL Deb 22 October 1984 vol 456 cc27-31

4.10 p.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Elton)

My Lords, with the leave of the House I shall now repeat a further Statement about the bombing at the Grand Hotel, Brighton, which is now being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. The statement is as follows:

"The House will be well aware of most of the circumstances of the explosion, the purpose of which was no less than to strike a blow at the heart of our democracy by killing the majority of the Cabinet. The gravity of this outrage is reflected in the full-hearted condemnation expressed from all parts of the House and the country at large, as well as from overseas.

"I know that the whole House will wish to join me in expressing our deepest sympathy to the families of our late colleague Sir Anthony Berry, Mrs. Jeanne Shattock, Mr. Eric Taylor and Mrs. Roberta Wakeham, who lost their lives. We wish a speedy recovery to the 32 people injured, of whom six are still in hospital. I know that the thoughts of all the House will be with them, including, of course, our colleagues, the right honourable Member for Chingford and the right honourable Member for Colchester South and Maldon. I also take this opportunity to pay tribute here to all those in the emergency services who responded so magnificently, some of them in conditions of great danger, immediately following the explosion.

"The Sussex police immediately commenced a full, urgent investigation of this crime and this is proceeding. They are receiving assistance from the Metropolitan Police Anti-Terrorist Squad and forensic, technical and computer assistance from the Home Office. I stand ready to provide whatever further resources and help may be required.

"The task of obtaining evidence about the bomb itself is a formidable one. So far, 31 skips and 750 dustbins full of debris have been removed from the scene. Two hundred and twenty eight police officers are engaged in this operation. High winds and the dangerous state of the hotel structure has made their task more difficult. In addition, more than 200 police officers are engaged in the pursuit of other inquiries. The police are not yet in a position to describe more fully the device itself beyond the fact that it is believed to have comprised about 20 pounds of commercial explosive.

"A number of measures have been set in hand since the explosion. The Chief Constable of Sussex decided to ask the Deputy Chief Constable of Hampshire, Mr. Hoddinott, to conduct an inquiry into the security arrangements in place at Brighton at the time of the party conference. I will receive a copy of that report. At this stage, it would be wrong to anticipate its conclusions. I shall, however, to the extent that this does not prejudice security, report them to the House in due course.

"With regard to the wider implications for security of the events at Brighton, in the first place immediate attention has been given to the assessment of other potential targets and the provision of proper protection for them. I shall not, of course, give details of the changes that have been made and the measures involved. I can, however, assure the House that after appropriate discussions the House authorities have already set in hand new measures to improve security in the Palace of Westminster.

"The Brighton bombing also demonstrates the vulnerability of party political engagements. This applies locally as well as nationally. Local party organisers should be careful to contact the police about arrangements well in advance; and the police service is co-ordinating advice to local forces about how they can best respond. I shall also shortly be in touch with the national party organisations.

"In addition, I have set in hand new arrangements centrally for countering the Irish terrorist threat. The aim is to bring to bear the widest range of experience in assessing Irish terrorist intentions and capabilities, and to advise on, and co-ordinate, the counter-measures required to meet them. These measures will supplement the continuing role of the Metropolitan Police Special Branch as the focal point for the collection and evaluation of intelligence and for police operations against Irish Republican terrorists.

"Total security is impossible in a free, democratic society. Political and other leaders are vulnerable because they must be accessible. Everything which can be done will be done to prevent such outrages and to protect their targets. But we will not be bombed into boltholes by terrorists. Those who believe that terror can prevail against democracy understand neither the Members of this House nor the British people".

My Lords, that concludes the text of the Statement.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, we are most grateful to the noble Lord the Minister of State for repeating the Statement. On 16th October, in terms that were so acceptable to this House when this House alone was sitting, the noble Viscount the Leader of the House made a Statement on this outrage. My noble friend the Leader of the Opposition when speaking for the Opposition, and also in most acceptable terms for the whole House, used these words: In a free society, a criminal attack upon one political party is an attack on all other parties".—[Official Report; 16/10/84; col. 885] It is in that spirit that we receive the Statement which has been repeated this afternoon.

We on these Benches again join in the expressions of deepest sympathy to the families of the four who lost their lives. We are also at one in hoping that the 36 who were injured have a speedy recovery. Especially in our thoughts, as the noble Lord the Minister said when repeating the Statement, are the right honourable Member for Chingford and the right honourable Member for Colchester South and Maldon, whose personal courage meets with the admiration of us all.

To turn to other matters, I believe the House will have been interested to hear that the Sussex Police are receiving assistance from the Metropolitan Police Anti-Terrorist Squad and forensic, technical and computer assistance from the Home Office. This will be very useful. To go further into the kind of inquiries which are to be made would be, in our judgment, neither suitable nor of aid to anybody but the enemies of our people. Therefore we do not intend to try to probe for details. We have the utmost confidence that the Government will investigate this matter with great ability and with all the expedition that they can.

The Statement also dealt very properly, in view of the context in which it was made, with the vulnerability of party political engagements. One noted with sympathy and approval the statement that there will be contact with the national party organisations. I am sure that in the formal or informal contact which is made the senior officers of those organisations will be only too pleased to co-operate in order to ensure that those discussions bear useful fruit.

The Statement ended with words which I thought were very appropriate. They were: Those who believe that terror can prevail against democracy understand neither the Members of this House nor the British people". That is equally true of the Members of this House, on whatever Benches they may sit.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that we on these Benches would wish to be associated in every respect with the Statement made by the Home Secretary in another place? I do not want to add to that Statement because my noble friend Lady Seear dealt with this matter at length last week and it would be pointless for me to go over the same ground—except to say that this was a dastardly attack. It was an attack on British democracy and it must be responded to in the most vigorous fashion.

Having said that, perhaps I may ask the noble Lord, Lord Elton, one or two questions. I do not want to press him vigorously for obvious reasons, but I will be grateful if he could give some indication of what the Home Secretary meant by his reference to new arrangements which are going to be created centrally to counter the Irish terrorist threat. I only want to press him on this particular point: does that imply that police forces other than the Metropolitan Police are to be associated with these new arrangements? It would be helpful if we could be told that. Secondly, does the noble Lord not accept that the Statement he has repeated today once again emphasises the heavy additional burdens which will inevitably be placed upon the Metropolitan Police, who are responsible in the first instance for dealing with the terrorist threat in these islands?

That being so, may I ask him—and this is a wider question than that covered by the Statement—whether he is not aware of the increasing burdens on the Metropolitan Police in terms of their manpower? Would he and his right honourable friend not be prepared to consider at some stage—but not, I hope, in the too distant future—the question of the establishment of the Metropolitan Police, which many of us feel does not recognise the heavy additional burdens which are now being placed upon that force?

Lord Elton

My Lords, the reception given to my right honourable friend's Statement so far in this House has revealed absolute unanimity on a number of points; an attack on one is an attack on all, and an attack on all is an attack on democracy and will be repulsed.

I welcome the support which noble Lords have given. As to the questions put by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, concerning both the role of and the burden carried by the Metropolitan Police, the role of the Metropolitan Police Special Branch under the new arrangements will be substantially unchanged. The objective of the new arrangements is to provide readier access between them and the various departments and agencies concerned, to discuss and interpret information available in relation to other information—including political developments—which could have a bearing on the security situation.

The question of the establishment of the Metropolitan Police for purposes other than those under discussion now is another matter but I am sure that the noble Lord's views will not go unnoticed.

The Lord Bishop of Chichester

My Lords, may I add a few words from these Benches? The Bishop of Rochester was able to express some of our feelings last week, when I myself was unable to be here. Brighton is in my diocese and I was privileged to be able to share in the service held yesterday morning, and in the afternoon to visit in hospital the two Members of the other House who have been mentioned. I should like to add my tribute to their bravery and courage in facing not only their own physical condition but also the great anxieties which they naturally have about their families.

I would like to pay tribute also to the Sussex Police and particularly to the chief constable, because I believe that they have been placed in a very difficult position and subjected to some unfair criticism. We should realise that the chief constable had to provide the policing of two major conferences within a matter of a very few weeks—each or which might be likely to cause a good deal of controversy and certainly demonstrations of one kind or another. A great strain was placed on his force, and then to have this disaster occur at the very end of it all is something which should call out our sympathy for the chief constable as well as for many others, of course. I know from what the chief constable said to me yesterday that he is very anxious that the whole matter of security should receive the most thorough investigation.

I should like to repeat something that I said yesterday morning in church, and recall again that the terrorists could not have the success which they do were they not supported and sheltered by very large numbers of ordinary people who, we may think misguidedly, have nevertheless been brought up with a certain view of history and of culture and who believe that they are ministering to that view. It will take a very long time to break through that, but we must work away at doing so. As we know, there are groups in Northern Ireland—the Corrymeela community and others—who are trying to build bridges, and I hope that we can give them renewed support as a reult of this terrible and outrageous thing that has happened so close to us here.

Lord Elton

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate has added the praise of the Church to the praise of the state for the emergency services, and we are grateful to him for that. I am equally grateful to him for his kind words about the Sussex Police, who have been subjected to one or two unfounded criticisms. I would like to dispel the idea that there is bad feeling between them and the Metropolitan Police, because there is not; there is perfect co-operation, and that is borne out by both parties. We welcome as always—and, I suspect, could not get far without—the prayers of the Church in the resolution of our problems, and the gesture of the churches on Sunday was a heartening gesture of unanimity of all the faiths in pursuit of the defence of democracy and of life.

The right reverend Prelate rightly said that those who give shelter to these assassins do a more evil thing than they realise. There is much yet to be done in explaining to people the extent of that evil and the extent to which it is being combated—not only by the methods available to the state but also by the reconciliatory offices of others in the country where it really matters.

I return to the substance of the Statement. It was a terrible deed. Your Lordships stand against it four square and together; and I am grateful to your Lordships.