HL Deb 26 June 1990 vol 520 cc1457-62

4.4 p.m.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, with the leave of the House I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary about the bombing of the Carlton Club last night. The Statement is as follows:

"With permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the explosion at the Carlton Club, St. James's Street, last night. In view of the fact that this matter was raised on the Floor of the House last night, and 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 W 1 at 8.39 p.m. 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 tile injured and their families, and we wish then- 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 this attack, but it seems 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 risk of injury or death from secondary devices designed to kill those who come to save life.

"The House is united in condemning this attack. Following the recent one on Lord McAlpine's former residence it looks as if the IRA are being driven to attack different sorts of targets. Whether they strike at military or civilian targets, barracks or private homes, they are attacking democracy itself and they do not care who is killed or injured in the process.

"This apparent change of tactics requires renewed vigilance on the part of everyone. For their part, the police 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 and deter and to combat terrorist activity and most of its cannot be safely revealed. But 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."

4.9 p.m.

Lord Mishcon:

My Lords, the House will be grateful to the Leader of the House for repeating that sombre Statement. Perhaps I may at once, on behalf of every single person sitting on the Benches behind me, register our sympathy with noble Lords opposite. On an occasion such as this there are only physical divisions in your Lordships' House.

We should also like to extend our sympathy to those who were injured and to wish them a speedy recovery. At this moment we are thinking especially of the noble Lord, Lord Kaberry. I have it on very reliable authority that he is doing well, and we are all delighted to hear that. Perhaps I may sound a personal note. Exactly 40 years ago the noble Lord, Lord Kaberry, was my political opponent in north-west Leeds in the 1950 election. I should like your Lordships to know that apart from his political views and the fact that he won, he has always had my unstinted admiration.

Rightly, the noble Lord the Leader of the House repeated the Home Secretary's praise for the auxiliary services. Not only did they arrive promptly on the scene but they were magnificent in freeing people from the debris. We on this side of the House admire and praise them.

As was said by the head of Scotland Yard's anti-terrorist squad this morning, the Statement indicates that the tactics of the IRA appear to have shifted from attacks on soft military targets to attacks on private subjects. It is right that admonition and warnings should be given. It is also right that the public should be advised to assist the authorities where possible by reporting anything of an extraordinary nature such as a suspect package or suspicious behaviour. Perhaps the noble Lord the Leader of the House and those responsible for such matters can think of a way of bringing them closer to the attention of the public without creating a feeling of panic or giving the impression, which none of us wishes to give, that the IRA is disrupting the whole of our affairs. It is not, and it will not.

During the course of reading the Statement the Leader of the House said that no one has claimed responsibility for the attack. The word "claimed" appears to indicate that someone is out to claim merit for something that has been done. If, unfortunately, we have to announce a similar incident in the future I suggest that we should use the words "admitted responsibility" and not "claimed".

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord the Leader of the House for repeating the Home Secretary's Statement. On behalf of Members on these Benches, I express regret for the injury caused to the noble Lord, Lord Kaberry, and to others by this despicable attack.

Is the noble Lord aware of our admiration for the work of the emergency services—the ambulancemen, the firemen and the policemen? Last night they entered the building despite the ever-present risk of a second explosion. I understand that some American visitors were injured. I am sure that I express the hope of all Members of the House in saying that those in the United States who give financial support to the Provisional IRA should consider the character of the organisation that they are backing. It is deplorable that after attacks on innocent citizens in this country a fund-raising organisation remains in existence in the United States and is generously supported by many American citizens. Is the Leader of the House aware of our strong approval of the words of the United States ambassador in describing as contemptible the acts of the Mayor of New York who has seen fit to name a street in New York after a convicted IRA terrorist?

Is the noble Lord further aware of our agreement with the Home Secretary? It is essential that the public should inform the police immediately of any suspect packages or suspicious behaviour by anyone. In the light of the increasingly vicious campaign by the IRA, those responsible for the security of buildings which may be seen by the IRA as being soft targets should immediately review their security arrangements.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords for their reception of my right honourable friend's Statement. I am particularly grateful for the sympathy they expressed and the mention of my noble friend Lord Kaberry. It will take more than this to get him down and I am sure that he will be back among us.

The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, is right to ask whether the Government can think of ways to encourage greater vigilance. I content myself by saying that that is one of the reasons for the Statement being made this afternoon. I hope that members of the public will think along the lines suggested by the noble Lord, as indeed will the Government. I take his point about the word "admitted". This was a cruel attack which will not alter our resolve to combat terrorists in the United Kingdom until terrorism is no more.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, for his comments about fund-raising abroad. He rightly quoted the condemnation of such activities by the United States ambassador. I cannot improve upon the noble Lord's concluding words about the need for eternal and active vigilance.

4.17 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, to his enormous regret my noble friend Lord Whitelaw, who is chairman of the Carlton Club, is unable to be present. He has asked me, as his predecessor, to say a few words on behalf of the club. I too thank my noble friend for repeating the Statement. To members of the Carlton Club it is important, and in its wider implications it is probably a Statement of considerable national importance. On behalf of my noble friend and the members of the club, I too express gratitude to the police and the fire service who responded with great speed and their habitual courage in order to rescue injured people and to do what they could to rectify the situation.

I am glad to be able to confirm from fairly recent information that my noble friend Lord Kaberry is making good progress. I have similar good news about the porter, Mr. Henry, who is the other seriously injured person. Recent reports of both are excellent.

The club has no intention of being put down in any sense—except the purely physical and structural—by any episode of this kind. Curiously enough, it is almost 50 years since the Carlton Club in its premises in Pall Mall was bombed by another enemy of this country. As your Lordships know, it recovered from that seemingly complete disaster and in circumstances which involved the safety of half of the Cabinet of the day, although I suppose that there may be differing views in this House. The club will not be deterred by the incident. The building will be repaired and the club will continue to serve the causes that it has served during the years. It will provide a home and a friendly meeting place for many members of the public as well for those who are politically interested.

Although it will be some time before the necessary physical repairs can be effected, the club has every intention of continuing as a living and active entity. We hope that members of the public and those who are inconvenienced by the situation will understand and that they will be as helpful as possible. For many of us this is a tragic episode. It was wholly unnecessary: it is impossible to express the depth of one's feelings about it.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter for his intervention, and on behalf of the Government I should simply like to offer sympathy not only to members of the club but also to its staff. I suggest that this is an occasion when the whole House will say that we are pleased that rebuilding is to take place.

Lord Mason of Barnsley

My Lords, I should like to echo the sentiments expressed by the noble Lord the Leader of the House and by my noble friend Lord Mishcon regarding those who have been injured in this barbarous act. I am personally sorry to hear of the injuries sustained by my friend the noble Lord, Lord Kaberry. I hope that he, together with all others affected, will fully recover.

The killing of civilians by the Provisional IRA is no charge of policy: the Grand Hotel at Brighton, Enniskillen and the Australians in Europe are all proof of that. Your Lordships will perhaps be aware that the old Irish Republican Army contained Irish rebellious elements and their battle was versus the British Army. They regarded the battle as a form of traditional warfare. But when the Provisional IRA broke away from the Official IRA they embarked upon killing the RUC and prison officers—that is, the supporters of the security forces—and thereafter they killed civilians who were building prisons or police stations. So killing civilians by the IRA is not new.

What is different, in my opinion, is the type of Irish terrorist who is now recruited and involved. In place of what might be regarded as the old traditional army terrorist, with the occasional attack on the established authority which caused some civilian casualties, we now have a younger breed of mindless, adventurous militants, addicted to the adventure and thrill of bombing and killing and taking on unguarded establishments. They do not have to be trained or to be sophisticated: thrill of the kill is sufficient. That, in my opinion, is a distinct change. A small band of reckless terrorists of that kind can create havoc in any of the cities in our land. I believe that is their goal. Therefore eternal vigilance is absolutely necessary by everybody at all times, with special attention being given by those who are in a position of surveillance and concerned with the security of persons, enterprises and local and government establishments.

Finally, it is imperative that the public should be totally aware that these terrorists are in their midst, and suspicious activities of any kind such as Irish people hiring cars, booking short-term stays in guest houses, using lock-up garages for short periods at a time, and so on, must be reported to the police. Harassment pays, and although some innocents may be perturbed and affected, chasing the terrorists will certainly pay. On the whole they have been harassed and chased out of Northern Ireland. Now that they are here, we have to do the same in Great Britian.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Mason of Barnsley, with his background of very distinguished service as Secretary of State in Northern Ireland, has thought it right to intervene. I agree with him that attacks on the civilian population by the IRA are not new. I only add that I believe they have no friends of any credibility.

Perhaps I may say on behalf of the Government that the Statement deliberately was not too long and could not accommodate the kind of advice which the noble Lord gave in his intervention. Therefore it was very valuable that he should do so. Eternal vigilance is the watchword and so also are the necessary powers for the police in that connection. Again I say on behalf of the Government that I believe the Prevention of Terrorism Act remains an essential part of our armour. However, perhaps we ought not to pursue these matters too far now. I should like to thank noble Lords for their responses to this sombre Statement.