Security

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 2 April 1979.

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Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South 12:00, 2 April 1979

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement.

I should like first to repeat to the House the tribute that you have made. Mr. Speaker, 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 both with 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 was 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 that 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 himself 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 matters 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 that they were taking for his protection.

Secondly, 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 recieved 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 its possession and that it therefore 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.

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. Its 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 hon. or hon. 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.

Photo of Mr David Howell Mr David Howell , Guildford

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has already expressed all our feelings of grief and outrage at the murder of my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave). Is the Home Secretary aware that all steps to tighten security that he is taking now or proposes to take have our fullest and strongest support? Is he aware also that, like him, we believe—indeed, we insist—that neither bombs nor murder can change policy and that nothing attempted by terrorists can be or will be allowed to interfere with the proper operation of our democratic elections in the coming weeks? Is he aware, finally, that we greatly welcome the offer of police guidance to candidates and agents? I am sure that this is valuable and that, combined with common sense, which clearly must be used in the coming election operations, this will help to increase security.

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that we wish to reinforce his view that however much the police may do—the burden on them is heavy, and will become heavier—it is up to each individual to stay alert and vigilant to protect the freedom which belongs to us all?

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South

I am grateful to the hon. Member for what he said. His concluding remarks ought to be said by us all. People who think that they can change policy by the bomb and the bullet are elitists of the worst sort, who think that they know better than the electorate. It is the electorate who eventually decide, and that is what we are about now. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Mr Arthur Bottomley Mr Arthur Bottomley , Teesside Middlesbrough

As the last person to see Airey Neave alive, may I be allowed to express my sympathy to Mrs. Neave and her family?

Is my right hon. Friend aware that when I was coming into the House on Friday morning I was stopped by the police at the main entrance, and that on entering the car park I was checked again by one of the attendants?

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. I know that the information that he has given is of the greatest value to the police in their investigation.

Several hon. Members:

Several hon. Members rose

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

I shall limit questions to those hon. Members who have already sought to catch my eye. Those who were here for Prayers will know that the House paid with the utmost respect its tribute to our late colleague.

Photo of Mr John Biggs-Davison Mr John Biggs-Davison , Epping Forest

Acknowledging the neighbourly sympathy expressed to our people and to this Parliament from across the Irish Sea, may I ask the Home Secretary whether Her Majesty's Government are in full and continuous contact with the Government in Dublin about the security of the whole of the British Isles against the common enemy of constitutional democracy in the United Kingdom and in the Republic alike?

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South

I can assure the hon. Gentleman about that. It is not a matter of the Government's being in contact. There is full contact at all times. I pay tribute to the co-operation that takes place.

Photo of Mr John Lee Mr John Lee , Birmingham Handsworth

Last Friday's episode was not the first, although it was incomparably the worst outbreak perpetrated in the House in the last few years. Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that adequate alarm arrangements exist for the protection of members of the staff? I understand, although I have not been able to verify, that when this incident occurred the alarm sirens did not sound, and secretaries on the lower ground floor did not know what was amiss for a considerable time afterwards. That may not have mattered in this instance, but since we cannot rule out the possibility of repetitions we need the clearest guidance for the protection of people besides Members of Parliament.

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South

Mr. Speaker spoke about what is needed in Parliament. I believe that any information possessed by my hon. Friend should be passed to the proper quarter.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

I appeal to those hon. Members whom I intend to call, who have already stood, to realise that all of us want to be as brief as possible and not to extend exchanges more than is absolutely necessary.

Photo of Mr Eldon Griffiths Mr Eldon Griffiths , Bury St Edmunds

On the wider question of security about which he has spoken, will the Home Secretary give the House his personal assurance that he is ensuring that sufficient trained personnel are available to the various specialists of the armed squads of the Metropolitan Police to do this job? Will he also give an assurance that he is aware of the potential danger from precision—guided munitions that may fall into the wrong hands from both the NATO and Warsaw Pact armies? Finally, will he ensure that the disparity between the potential threat and the resources available to the police is his constant pre-occupation?

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South

On matters of protection and the solving of these many murders in Northern Ireland as well as over here—they have been going on for a long time—I have no doubt that all that is required is being done. I have complete confidence in the police in this matter, as in many others.

Photo of Mr Clement Freud Mr Clement Freud , Isle of Ely

My right hon. and hon. Friends and I would like to associate ourselves with the remarks made about Mr. Airey Neave. I served with him at Nuremberg. He was a kind and honourable man, much loved by all those who came into contact with him and immensely respected by those who did not have that privilege. Regarding the security arrangements and the statement by the Conservative spokesman about all efforts being made to tighten up security, I would like to tell the Home Secretary and the House that on Saturday morning the security department of the House telephoned a constitutent of mine who had arranged a party for 80 people and told him to cancel the walk through the House of Commons and the lunch, without telling me. As a result of that discourtesy, there is lunch for 80 people downstairs—

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. The hon. Gentleman, I believe, misjudges the atmosphere of the whole House. I hope that we can pass on without complaints being made about security personnel, who are doing a superb job.

Photo of Mr Clement Freud Mr Clement Freud , Isle of Ely

Today, Mr. Speaker, my car was examined by a security man who had a lighted cigarette in his mouth. I would like to suggest that such panic measures are no help—[HON. MEMBERS: "Sit down."]

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. I would say to the House that we are undertaking commonsense precautions. I deprecate the remarks of the hon. Gentleman about the security forces.

Photo of Mr James Kilfedder Mr James Kilfedder , North Down

On behalf of the Ulster people, may I convey heartfelt sympathy to the wife and family of Airey Neave, a gentle, wise and courageous man who lived and died a patriot, in the best sense of that word? With regard to security in the Palace of Westminster, will consideration be given to stopping the public going into the Members' Lobby when the House is sitting? Two weeks ago, a young woman made a dash for the door when walking up to the Public Gallery.

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South

With regard to anything that takes place in this House and in Parliament, I would tell the hon. Gentleman that this House is independent. These matters should be brought to the Joint Security Committee. I would suggest that it is better done that way.

Photo of Mr Philip Goodhart Mr Philip Goodhart , Beckenham

As so many leaders of opinion in the Irish Republic have been quick and eloquent in their praise of Airey Neave's fight against terrorism, will the Government make a fresh approach to the authorities in Dublin to see whether we can combine to improve the co-ordination of our joint struggle against a joint enemy?

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South

Replying to that generally and making no assumptions about what caused the tragic death of our colleague, the answer is "Yes. We are always doing that."

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

I propose to call three more hon. Gentlemen.

Photo of Mr Gerry Fitt Mr Gerry Fitt , Belfast West

As an Irishman who believes in the unity of Ireland, I should like to express my revulsion and horror at the terrible tragedy that took place last Friday. I would like to say, from the Floor of this House—again as one who believes in a united Ireland—that I will not live in a united Ireland brought about by the commission of such terrible crimes. Can my right hon. Friend give any indication of the identity of the INLA, which would appear to be responsible? Has it a political association with any political organisation in Northern Ireland?

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South

On that point, and on the question of the investigations that are taking place, both my hon. Friend and myself know where that party and its associates stand. I think that it would be better if I said nothing about it.

Photo of Mr Winston Churchill Mr Winston Churchill , Stretford

Will the Home Secretary explain why, in the case of the late member for Abingdon, despite full security precautions at his country home and whenever he visited Northern Ireland, no similar provisions were made for his security while in London?

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South

Any judgment on that would not be for me. I made my statement deliberately. I stick by that.

Photo of Mr John Stokes Mr John Stokes , Halesowen and Stourbridge

Can the Home Secretary assure the House that the punishment for convicted terrorists is a sufficient deterrent, bearing in mind that life sentences do not always last for life?