Tower of London (Explosion)

Orders of the Day — Finance Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 17th July 1974.

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7.18 p.m.

Photo of Mr Roy Jenkins Mr Roy Jenkins , Birmingham Stechford

I have been asked to make a statement about the explosion at the Tower of London this afternoon. I am naturally, very willing to accede to the request, although at this stage there is inevitably very little I can add to the news which has been published. I very much regret to say that this was one of the more serious incidents we have experienced.

At 2.04 this afternoon a bomb, which is estimated as weighing between 10 lb. and 14 lb. exploded at the White Tower. No warning was given. I am sorry to have to inform the House that 37 people, of whom five were children, were injured, a number of them seriously. One young woman has since died. Ten of the 37 have been discharged from hospital. There was little damage to the structure of the Tower, although considerable damage to the contents.

On behalf of the whole House, I am sure, I wish to express our deepest sympathy with the victims of this further horrible outrage.

Photo of Sir Keith Joseph Sir Keith Joseph , Leeds North East

My right hon. and hon. Friends will wish to be associated with the Home Secretary's expressions of horror.

I know that it is very early to ask the right hon. Gentleman any questions, but will he undertake to study whether perhaps the incident is a new departure? He tells us that there was no warning. We have experienced an attack upon this palace and an attack upon military headquarters. Here is a wanton attack on something that has no connection with the Government or official apparatus. Will the right hon. Gentleman undertake to study whether this is a new departure, and to study its implications?

I had a lesser point about co-operation between the City Police and the Metropolitan Police, but I cannot ask it because the right hon. Gentleman has told us that there was no warning. Therefore, I rest on the one question I have put to him.

Photo of Mr Roy Jenkins Mr Roy Jenkins , Birmingham Stechford

I gladly undertake to study urgently the point which the right hon. Gentleman has put to me. The absence of warning was unusual, and led to the attack being more indiscriminate than we have mostly experienced, and this, together with the choice again of a historic, almost unique building today for the attack, raises the question of a possible new pattern. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that we shall study it as urgently as we can.

With regard to the question the right hon. Gentleman half raised, co-operation in that sense did not arise, but the emergency services were able to be on the spot very quickly and to fulfil the rôle they always fulfil magnificently on these occasions, for which we are all so indebted to them.

Photo of Mr Jeremy Thorpe Mr Jeremy Thorpe , North Devon

May we be associated with the sense of horror and shock, and share in the expressions of sympathy that the right hon. Gentleman has expressed. It is perhaps not a question to put to the right hon. Gentleman, but it is one that the House would like him and perhaps everybody to put to the people who perpetrate these horrors: what political objective do they think they are likely to achieve in bombing innocent children on holiday? Does he agree that if one thing has become quite plain it is that the succession of outrages is not likely to change our views on any political objective? In fact, it is likely to be self-defeating. The sooner that is realised by those concerned, the better.

Photo of Mr Roy Jenkins Mr Roy Jenkins , Birmingham Stechford

I agree. It is impossible to imagine what rational political motive could conceivably be thought to be served by such attacks.

Photo of Mr Christopher Tugendhat Mr Christopher Tugendhat , City of London and Westminster South

May I, too, associate myself with the expressions of grief and condolence of the Home Secretary? In this I should like to associate the right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore), as he cannot speak on these occasions and his constituency is as much affected as mine, if not more.

Does the Home Secretary know whether the casualties included tourists, as one might expect in the Tower of London, as well as local people'? Secondly, is the right hon. Gentleman convinced—and I do not expect a definitive answer now—that in view of the grave dangers to which the people of London and perhaps those visiting London are at present subjected, the security forces are of adequate strength, or might not consideration need to be given to bringing in reinforcements from provincial forces during the height of the tourist season?

On my own behalf, and on behalf of my constituents and those of other constituencies in the middle of London, I should like to express our deep sense of gratitude to the police, the security forces, the hospitals, ambulance services and everyone else who helped.

Photo of Mr Roy Jenkins Mr Roy Jenkins , Birmingham Stechford

I note what the hon. Gentleman has said, and I am sure that the members of those services will also note it. I am glad the hon. Gentleman specifically mentioned my right hon. Friend the Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore), in whose constituency the incident occurred. My right hon. Friend is sitting beside me, and would particularly have wished to use words of his own if he had been able to speak.

I understand that a number of tourists, including some from overseas, were, I regret to say, among those injured.

We shall give the fullest consideration to the security point, but I should not like to pretend that it is easy to provide absolute security in a wide range of buildings throughout London and in the country which are visited by large numbers of the public on a day-to-day basis.

Photo of Mr William Molloy Mr William Molloy , Ealing North

I am sure that my right hon. Friend is aware of the feeling of utter revulsion and protest in the House against those filthy people who have perpetrated this abominable act, and that he will acknowledge that the calculated and filthy mind that has organised an amount of explosives and placed it in a public place to harm and destroy innocent people will gain no support from any part of the House or the British people, nor shall we be intimidated into giving support. Does not my right hon. Friend agree that the time has come when, strenuous though it may be, we must look at every public building in the land to defend ordinary people against the vulgar activities of those who are alleged to be human beings but can perpetrate such abominable acts on innocent folk?

Photo of Mr Roy Jenkins Mr Roy Jenkins , Birmingham Stechford

We all agree with my hon. Friend's expressions of revulsion. I assure my hon. Friend and the House that we shall do everything we can to see that the best possible security measures are taken.

Sir Harmar Nicholls:

The whole House will support the Home Secretary in his expressions of sympathy. We recognise his sincerity, as we do that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph). But the nation is becoming angry, and I believe that it will start to look for something more than words from Parliament. It could well be that the nation will insist that Parliament insist that the slaughter of innocents which is going on so relentlessly should rank for the death penalty. No one would want to quarrel with those who have sincere convictions on the matter, but the nation could well demand the death penalty for such actions, and Parliament should prepare itself to meet that demand.

Photo of Mr Roy Jenkins Mr Roy Jenkins , Birmingham Stechford

The hon. Gentleman is entitled to express his views. The House has considered these matters. What I think is more important is to try to prevent these incidents from happening, which we are all determined to do. I and my predecessor have made it clear that we shall take all measures that we think necessary and desirable to that effect. But I do not think that the House would wish to rush into an opinion, on a matter on which it has already reached a decision, at a moment of this sort, under the emotional shock of this horrible incident.

Photo of Mr John Lee Mr John Lee , Birmingham Handsworth

Has my right hon. Friend any information to indicate who are the people behind this outrage? Presumably he will make another statement as soon as he has more information. Will my right hon. Friend take up with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House the question of a debate on internal security? I believe that many hon. Members on both sides of the House now regard it as a matter of importance that it should take place before the House rises for the Summer Recess.

Photo of Mr Roy Jenkins Mr Roy Jenkins , Birmingham Stechford

That is not a matter for me. I am not sure that we should necessarily solve the questions of security by debating them. However, I take note of what my hon. Friend says and if I have new information to give the House I shall, of course, endeavour to give it.

Photo of Mr William Deedes Mr William Deedes , Ashford

In the emotions that are bound to be aroused by this event, will the right hon. Gentleman bear firmly in mind the point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph), that on first reports the incident appears to be an attack of a new character, and that at this season and in such public places it carries grave implications which should receive immediate attention?

Photo of Mr Roy Jenkins Mr Roy Jenkins , Birmingham Stechford

Yes, Sir. As I indicated I shall bear that fully in mind.

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack , Staffordshire South West

The whole House will naturally respect the way in which the Home Secretary has made his statement and his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Sir H. Nicholls). But as it is obvious that no motive anywhere at any time can conceivably justify this sort of outrage, will he give calm and careful reconsideration to all the penalties available for acts of terrorism and sabotage? I ask no more. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will promise no less.

Photo of Mr Roy Jenkins Mr Roy Jenkins , Birmingham Stechford

I do not think it right in making a statement within a few hours of an incident of this sort to make any policy statement or to give any indication of a policy statement about matters which require very mature consideration.

Photo of Mr Walter Harrison Mr Walter Harrison , Wakefield

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.