Terrorist Incidents (The Netherlands)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 3rd May 1988.

Alert me about debates like this

3. 30 pm

Photo of Mr George Younger Mr George Younger , Ayr

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about two incidents involving the savage murders on 1 May of three Royal Air Force personnel serving in RAF Germany.

Shortly after I am local time on Sunday 1 May, an attack was made with an automatic weapon on three Royal Air Force personnel sitting in a private car near the King George public house at Roermond, in the Netherlands, close to the border with the Federal Republic of Germany. Senior Aircraftsman Ian Shinner, a gunner with 16 Squadron of the Royal Air Force Regiment based at RAF Wildenrath, was killed, and his companions, SAC Lewis and SAC Garth, were injured.

Very shortly afterwards a powerful bomb destroyed a car in the car park of the Baccus discotheque in Nieuw-bergen, killing SAC John Baxter and SAC John Reid, both serving at RAF Laarbruch, and seriously injuring SAC Andrew Kelly, their companion.

The Provisional Irish Republican Army has admitted responsibility for these atrocities.

The whole House will join me in sending condolences to the relatives of the dead and injured, and condemning this further manifestation of the callous barbarism, to which the IRA and its supporters and sympathisers are prepared to stoop. The victims were off duty, non-operational, in civilian clothes and were in the Netherlands for purely recreational purposes. They posed no threat to anyone and their murder is nothing short of a crime against decency and humanity.

Immediate steps have been set in hand by the Netherlands police to identify and trace the culprits. The British authorities are in close touch with the Netherlands and German authorities and members of the Metropolitan police are assisting the Netherlands police at the latter's request.

Our security procedures are kept under constant review and extensive measures are already in hand to guard against terrorist attacks of this kind. All service personnel, wherever they are serving, are reminded continuously of the need for vigilance and of the wisdom of taking appropriate precautions in the light of the threat. We have already taken steps to strengthen still further the security of British forces in Germany and the Netherlands in the immediate aftermath of these attacks and we are considering what further security measures might be appropriate in the longer term, both there and elsewhere. Other British overseas representatives are also maintaining a high state of vigilance at the present time.

The fact remains that, even given the murders and injuries to which our service men have been subjected this last weekend, normal life for our service men, and indeed for all other British representatives overseas, must continue as far as practicable. They, like us, must be able to enjoy the benefits of the way of life that they are dedicated to maintain on behalf of the nation as a whole.

Photo of Mr Denzil Davies Mr Denzil Davies , Llanelli

May I express for myself and on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends our total condemnation of the murder and maiming of six Royal Air Force service men in the Netherlands in the early hours of last Sunday. May I also express our sympathy to their families and friends, and our hope and trust that those who, fortunately, survived will fully recover. Murder cannot be justified or condoned wherever it takes place, and there can be no shred of justification for the criminal attacks on those young men, who were doing no harm to anyone.

The right hon. Gentleman has stated that security is being constantly reviewed and that he is looking at security in the longer term. First, will he ensure that consideration will be given to security surrounding the married quarters of our service men and their families in the Federal Republic of Germany? Secondly, we ask that the consideration includes the security of military establishments here in Britain.

Thirdly, it has been suggested that the distinctive number plates on the cars of British service men abroad make them easier to identify. Would it not be possible to replace those distinctive plates with personal identity cards which would be carried by the driver and which could contain all the necessary legal and fiscal information, thereby enabling the plates to be neutral? Fourthly, when security is being considered, could the right hon. Gentleman and those in other Departments consider the effect of proposals for 1992 whereby freedom of movement of people and goods throughout EEC countries will be allowed? Will not those proposals make it more difficult to detect, to control and to deter terrorists?

Ultimately, the best tribute that can be paid to the six young men and their families is to apprehend those who have committed these crimes, to bring them to justice and to punish them in accordance with the due processes of the law.

Photo of Mr George Younger Mr George Younger , Ayr

I am sure that not only me but the whole House and those concerned will be very grateful to the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) for his very sincere expression of sympathy and his support for the armed forces in the difficult work that they undertake.

I assure the right hon. Gentleman that we shall be taking into account the question of security in married quarters in the Federal Republic of Germany as well as elsewhere, and of course in all military establishments, whether they are in Western Germany or the United Kingdom.

I do not wish to be drawn into detailed considerations now, but the possibility of issuing German number plates to British forces personnel serving in Germany has been reviewed on several occasions. The solution is not, however, quite as simple as it seems. Indeed, German number plates would not necessarily make British service men's cars as inconspicuous as people might think. I agree, however, that anything that can sensibly and legally be done, or any advice that can be given to avoid drawing attention to British service men's private cars, needs most careful consideration.

With regard to 1992, it is worth pointing out that, in accepting the provisions of the Single European Act, the United Kingdom and other member States have expressly reserved their right to take such measures as they think necessary to combat terrorism. The provisions of the Single European Act will not, of themselves, require the abolition of immigration controls at the Community's internal frontiers by the end of 1992; nor do they provide any fresh rights of free movement to European Community nationals. The Government are determined to take any measures that are necessary to ensure security within the United Kingdom.

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that our greatest priority is to find the culprits and apprehend them. I can assure him that all possible will be done to achieve that.

Photo of Mr Antony Buck Mr Antony Buck , Colchester North

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is gratifying to find that the whole House can unite to condemn what has happened? Will he ensure that there is a NATO initiative to help us to ensure that the IRA does not have any safe haven and that an international campaign is mounted against the terrorists?

Photo of Mr George Younger Mr George Younger , Ayr

I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend. I agree that there is absolute unity among all the parties and other people about the matter. I also entirely agree that, at the end of the day, international co-operation is the only way to make an impact on terrorism.

Photo of Mr James Molyneaux Mr James Molyneaux , Lagan Valley

As a foundation member of the Royal Air Force Regiment, may I echo the sympathy already expressed to the injured and bereaved? Is it not a sobering thought that, if those young men had been armed, and if they had shot any of their assassins, they would by now have been branded as murderers in advance of any court hearing or inquiry? In the circumstances, is it any wonder that the security forces sometimes wonder whether they will ever be able to win the battle against terrorism?

Photo of Mr George Younger Mr George Younger , Ayr

I greatly appreciate the right hon. Gentleman's sympathy, especially given his background in the RAF Regiment. As to his other remarks, I do not believe that those considerations will be lost on many people in the country.

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

Does my right hon. Friend recall that it is some time since the Provisional IRA, in common with other terrorist organisations on the continent with which it has relations, decided that it would attack NATO installations and personnel—and indeed has done so? May we be assured that there will be the fullest co-operation with other NATO powers and forces so that there can be a common campaign to defeat terrorism on the continent?

Photo of Mr George Younger Mr George Younger , Ayr

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I assure him that we shall do all that we can to involve our NATO allies in co-operation to defeat terrorism. We are enjoying excellent co-operation from our friends in the Netherlands, which we greatly appreciate.

Photo of Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Mr Dale Campbell-Savours , Workington

Is it not clear that the IRA is now planning a long-term and determined campaign of violence throughout Europe? Since that is its intention, may we have an assurance that the Prime Minister does not feel locked in by undertakings that she has previously given to the House on the question of proposals for the future of Northern Ireland?

Photo of Mr George Younger Mr George Younger , Ayr

I do not believe that that question has a direct relevance to this matter—a deliberate and organised terrorist campaign against innocent people. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, myself and I believe all Members of the House will join in repudiating that campaign absolutely.

Photo of Mr James Kilfedder Mr James Kilfedder , North Down

Will the right hon. Gentleman condemn those politicians in Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic as well as in this country who equate the killing of those young, innocent service men, who were off duty, with the killing of the three IRA terrorists in Gibraltar, who were intent on the murder and slaughter of hundreds of people there?

Photo of Mr George Younger Mr George Younger , Ayr

I sympathise with the hon. Gentleman. I see no link with anything else. The murder of an innocent person by a terrorist is an event on its own, which should be condemned absolutely on its own.

Photo of Mr Robert Maclennan Mr Robert Maclennan Joint Leader, Social & Liberal Democrats, Leader of the Social Democratic Party

Will the Secretary of State accept on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends our detestation of those foul crimes and our sympathy for the bereaved? We understand the feeling of the parents of one young Scot, who have said that his murder was an utterly futile act. Will he also accept that, at this time, it is right to repudiate the talk that has come from some sources in Northern Ireland about the containment of violence at an acceptable level? Does he recognise that there is no acceptable level of organised violence and that we are engaged in an international attack upon a vile force? Does the right hon. Gentleman propose to treat the matter in that way when he next meets the Trevi group?

Photo of Mr George Younger Mr George Younger , Ayr

I am grateful, and I am sure the relatives will be, for the hon. Gentleman's expression of sympathy, which is greatly appreciated. I am sure that the whole House will agree that there is no acceptable level of violence anywhere—we are all united upon that.

Photo of Mr Alastair Goodlad Mr Alastair Goodlad , Eddisbury

Does my right hon. Friend accept that great sympathy is felt in all parts of the House for the bereaved relatives of those who died in this cowardly attack, one of whom was my constituent? Will he reassure the House that all possible resources will be mobilised and sustained by all European Governments—including that of the Republic of Ireland—to ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice?

Photo of Mr George Younger Mr George Younger , Ayr

I particularly appreciate my hon. Friend's sentiments, as one of his constituents was involved. I certainly agree that all Governments throughout Europe, and further afield, will, I have no doubt, join in condemning this violence.

Photo of Tom Clarke Tom Clarke Shadow Minister (Disability)

Is the Secretary of State aware that the town of Lenzie, which he knows well, was stunned and greatly saddened by the news of the death of SAC Millar Reid and of the deaths of and injuries to others? Does he accept that, even in her hour of distress, Mrs. Reid spoke for many when she talked of the "pointless and futile" nature of these events? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that those who perpetrate this sort of activity are gravely mistaken if they think that violence and terrorism do any good to any cause?

Photo of Mr George Younger Mr George Younger , Ayr

I very much appreciate what the hon. Gentleman says, particularly because the person affected in this tragic event came from Lenzie which I, too, know. I entirely agree about the futility of this. It is worth recording that there can be no political belief for which it is worth killing a wholly innocent life. That is something that we all believe.

Photo of Mr Anthony Grant Mr Anthony Grant , Cambridge South West

In view of the need to bring the perpetrators of this crime to proper trial, will my right hon. Friend make the strongest possible representations to the television authorities that they should not put out any programme whitewashing the IRA in anticipation of any due legal process?

Photo of Mr George Younger Mr George Younger , Ayr

I appreciate what my hon. Friend says. I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary will have noted it, as television matters are very much in their responsibility.

Photo of Mr John Cartwright Mr John Cartwright , Woolwich

As the IRA is clearly dedicated to continue this callous targeting of off-duty service men and their families, is the Secretary of State satisfied about the present level of European co-operation in intelligence gathering of information about the movements of suspected terrorists, and about the necessary monitoring of what they get up to?

Photo of Mr George Younger Mr George Younger , Ayr

I could never be satisfied with intelligence gathering until it was virtually perfectly able to tell us what is likely to happen. I can say only that any shortcomings in intelligence are not due to lack of co-operation from our friends in other Governments, all of whom have expressed considerable sympathy for us.

Photo of Mr Winston Churchill Mr Winston Churchill , Davyhulme

I join my right hon. Friend in expressing sympathy to the families of the murdered young service men. I note that this is a matter which has been considered on earlier occasions, but will my right hon. Friend take up with the Federal German Government as a matter of the greatest urgency the issue of licence plates for British service personnel in West Germany? It is unacceptable that they should be identifiable by the licence plates that their vehicles bear, and it is urgent that the system should be changed.

Photo of Mr George Younger Mr George Younger , Ayr

I accept that this matter should be examined urgently, and I confirm that it will be.

Photo of Martin Smyth Martin Smyth , Belfast South

I join my right hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) in sympathising with the relatives of the bereaved and injured. I also welcome the Minister's assurance that it is not the Government's policy to have an acceptable level of violence—a concept first propounded by a former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Will the right hon. Gentleman acknowledge that those—the hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder) referred to them—who have compared the shooting in Gibraltar with this incident either suffer from amnesia when they suggest that this was in retaliation for Gibraltar, given that these events have been going on for a long time, or, far worse, are acting as spokespersons defending the activities of the IRA?

Photo of Mr George Younger Mr George Younger , Ayr

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's remarks, but those people who mention retaliation should bear in mind that this is one of a long series of atrocities in various places and it should be seen in its perspective.

The hon. Gentleman has expressed his sympathy and he might like to know that my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces is today going to see those affected and their families and will consult the security authorities about improvements in security.

Photo of Mr John Browne Mr John Browne , Winchester

Does my right hon. Friend accept that this latest incident, which, as he says, is just one in a long series, highlights the fact that, in the minds of millions of people in this country, the death penalty should be available to the courts as punishment for such incidents? Will he also have strong words with the Home Secretary to see whether we can have a debate on the subject?

Photo of Mr George Younger Mr George Younger , Ayr

As my hon. Friend knows, the question of capital punishment for terrorists is very much a matter for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who will have noted what has been said. However, what my hon. Friend said earlier is very important. There can be no division between people in the battle against terrorists. Whatever cause terrorists purport to represent, terrorism is an enemy of all civilised societies and there can be no division in the fight against it.

Photo of Margaret Ewing Margaret Ewing , Moray

On behalf of my hon. Friends in the Scottish and Welsh National parties, may say that we also extend our deepest sympathy to the families of those involved. To those representing constitutional nationalists, it is clear that, far from advancing the cause of constitutional change, terrorists and those who perpetrate acts of violence set it back.

Photo of Mr George Younger Mr George Younger , Ayr

I agree completely with the hon. Lady and greatly appreciate her remarks. It seems particularly obtuse if, when terrorism does not advance the causes that it purports to support, people are killed in such a pointless and futile process.

Photo of Mr Bill Walker Mr Bill Walker , North Tayside

Will my right hon. Friend accept that the Royal Air Force parliamentary group would wish to be associated with his expressions of sympathy and condolence to the dependants of the service men who have died? Will he also bear in mind the fact that all experience in dealing with terrorists shows clearly that they go for soft targets in the hope that that will persuade democracies to change their attitudes and views and that, when democracies adopt such an attitude, they end up with a worse situation? Does he agree that there is only one way to deal with terrorism, and that is the way constantly stated by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister?

Photo of Mr George Younger Mr George Younger , Ayr

I agree with my hon. Friend, and I appreciate those remarks on behalf of the Royal Air Force parliamentary group. As I have said, there is no division in the fight against terrorism.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , Linlithgow

Speaking as a contemporary of the Secretary of State—I did my national service in the British Army of the Rhine, rather than, like the Secretary of State, in Korea—it is a formidable task that the forces face in maintaining personnel security in West Germany. The Secretary of State says that there is no link between what happened there and what happened in Gibraltar. Some of us believe that, whether one likes it or not—it may be very unpleasant—there is a link. As Secretary of State for Defence, did the right hon. Gentleman know about the SAS operation before it happened?

Photo of Mr George Younger Mr George Younger , Ayr

I agree with the hon. Gentleman's first point. It is indeed a formidable task, but that does not mean that we should not do everything we can to improve security and protect our service men whom, after all, we ask to do a job for us.

On the hon. Gentleman's second point, I, like anyone else, should not anticipate the results of an inquest.

Photo of Mr Tony Marlow Mr Tony Marlow , Northampton North

Will my right hon. Friend tell those few friends of terrorism on the Opposition Benches—and there are some—that, in this democracy, the vast majority of people—[Interruption.]

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. I do not think that that remark should be made in the House. Every Member is an honourable Member of this House and should not be associated with that remark.

Photo of Mr Tony Marlow Mr Tony Marlow , Northampton North

I did not say that they were not honourable Members——

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw that allegation about Opposition Members.

Photo of Mr Tony Marlow Mr Tony Marlow , Northampton North

I withdraw that remark, but those hon. Members on the Opposition Benches who, by their actions, give support and assistance to terrorism——

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. That is almost as bad. The hon. Gentleman would not wish that allegation to be made about Members on his side of the House, and I ask him to withdraw it.

Photo of Mr Tony Marlow Mr Tony Marlow , Northampton North

The hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) brought into the House a member of the IRA——

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. I ask the hon. Gentleman not to take issue with me. Will he please withdraw that comment?

Photo of Mr Tony Marlow Mr Tony Marlow , Northampton North

I withdraw that, but I ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence to point out to those hon. Members on the Opposition Benches who perhaps inadvertently by their actions give support to terrorists that in this democracy the vast majority of people, aware that three young airmen have been gunned down without warning and in cold blood, are not over-squeamish about the way in which IRA murderers meet their end.

Photo of Mr George Younger Mr George Younger , Ayr

I certainly very much hope that the tragic events that took place on Sunday will convince anyone who is not absolutely convinced of the evil of terrorism.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North

Leaving aside the disgusting smear against the Opposition made by the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow), what evidence is there that the continued killings and slaughter of innocent people by the Provisional IRA will change the minds of the British people about terrorism? If the British people have not changed their minds in 17 years and in four or five general elections—and the same applies to people in the Irish Republic—why should the Provisional IRA leadership believe that if they continue to kill and carry out atrocities there will be any change of mind on the part of the British electorate?

Photo of Mr George Younger Mr George Younger , Ayr

I very much appreciate what the hon. Gentleman has said. I agree that there is no sign of anyone's opinion changing. That makes it all the more awful that young lives should be lost in so pointless a manner.

Photo of Mr Anthony Beaumont-Dark Mr Anthony Beaumont-Dark , Birmingham, Selly Oak

Will my right hon. Friend accept that in these grievous times it is sad to hear a leading spokesman for the Opposition on Northern Ireland affairs say that two wrongs do not make a right? Does not that mean that someone has judged that those who shoot down those who want to blow up other people are guilty and that those who commit these heinous offences are adjudged right? Have we come to the time when Opposition Members say that those who defend justice are wrong and that those who do wrong are right?

Photo of Mr George Younger Mr George Younger , Ayr

I do not believe that such a link can be drawn. It could be drawn only if this was an isolated, single instance, the like of which had never been seen before. Unfortunately, we must all admit that this is part of a long series of such attacks, all of which are pointless and result in the loss of completely innocent lives.

Mr. John D. Taylor (Strarigford):

In joining my right hon. and hon. Friends from Northern Ireland in extending sympathy to the families in England and Scotland—where many of our kith and kin from Northern Ireland live—may I ask the Secretary of State whether he is aware that changing car plate numbers is no answer to the problem of security for service personnel? Does he understand that there has been a significant increase in IRA terrorism in Northern Ireland and in Europe during the past two and a half years? Will he sit back and reflect on what political message Her Majesty's Government gave to the IRA two and a half years ago?

Photo of Mr George Younger Mr George Younger , Ayr

I note with interest what the right hon. Gentleman has said about number plates. I have said that we will look carefully at that question, but, as I said earlier, the solution is not quite as simple as it seems. However, we will certainly look at that possibility. The other issues raised by the right hon. Gentleman are principally matters for my right lion. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Photo of Mr Richard Holt Mr Richard Holt , Langbaurgh

Would my right hon. Friend care to contemplate with me that if the SAS had been on hand and had shot those terrorists who killed our Air Force personnel they might have found themselves condemned as they were condemned in a speech made by an Opposition Front-Bench spokesman over the weekend on May day in the north-east of England who described the Gibraltar killings as official state execution? Is not that the language that supports the IRA?

Photo of Mr George Younger Mr George Younger , Ayr

I appreciate the point made by my hon. Friend which will not have escaped the notice of many people who read the press in this country.

Mr. Eric S. Heller:

As someone who spent four and a quarter years in the Royal Air Force during the second world war, and who served with people from Northern Ireland and southern Ireland, may I state that no one in this House can possibly accept the shooting down of ordinary, young, basic and—I would imagine—working-class people in the armed forces who were there because they felt that it was right to join the forces?

None of us who believe in a peaceful settlement to the problems of Ireland can accept that violence is the answer. Those of us who argued that: we did not agree with state violence cannot accept any other violence. The answer is to get people around the table and to talk in terms of solving the problems of Northern Ireland by political means and not by violence.

Photo of Mr George Younger Mr George Younger , Ayr

I appreciate the sentiments that lie behind the hon. Gentleman's comments. He is making the point that, when those young airmen were on duty, they were simply doing their duty; and that when they were enjoying their recreation, they were enjoying it as anyone else might do. The hon. Gentleman's remarks underline the fact that violence is not likely to help the ultimate causes at which those who run the terrorists think they wish to aim.

Photo of Mr Anthony Favell Mr Anthony Favell , Stockport

Have the Government received any offers from the Irish Government to help to bring the perpetrators of this appalling crime to justice?

Photo of Mr George Younger Mr George Younger , Ayr

I noticed that the Irish Government made a statement deploring the crime very shortly after it was committed.

Photo of Mr Jonathan Sayeed Mr Jonathan Sayeed , Bristol East

International co-operation has rightly been identified by my right hon. Friend as being essential for the defeat of the scourge of terrorism. Is he satisfied that agreements such as the Trevi agreement are fully and effectively implemented by their signatories?

Photo of Mr George Younger Mr George Younger , Ayr

There is under the Trevi agreement a willingness to make progress, but we have not yet achieved sufficient co-operation to be sure that we are being effective against terrorism.