The events of
Nothing that I or anyone in the Chamber can do or say will undo the wrong done to my community. Nothing can, perhaps nothing should, ever erase the memory of those events. The west Cumbrian community will be defined more by its response to those events-indeed, it is already being so defined-than by the events themselves. The collective response that is sweeping across west Cumbria is, I believe, to those in many other parts of the country, an enviable response.
A number of lessons are to be learned from the events of
I have touched on the fact that the purpose of today's debate is not to rake over the facts. They are not yet exhaustively understood, and will be examined in due course. However, given what we know at the moment, I wish to learn what the lessons of the tragedy are for my community and our country. There may be lessons for the police, the emergency services, local authorities, and Members of Parliament as legislators-but it does not necessarily follow that there will be.
Parliament will not serve my community or the country well by rushing to make judgments because of the need to be seen to be doing something in response to the tragedy. Equally, should clear lessons require us to act, in the form of new legislation or practices, the House would betray my constituents and the people of this country by not acting swiftly, decisively and in concert.
My community has shown itself at its best in recent weeks-in truth, we usually do at such times-and it is time for Parliament to follow our example. That means acting with solemnity, dignity and purpose. As Tony Parsons, the author and Daily Mirror columnist put it, my community is trying to "understand the senseless". So, too, must the country. In trying to reach that understanding, we must learn from the destructive behaviour demonstrated by so many in the print and broadcast media over recent weeks.
Communities dealing with the aftershock of seismic tragedies such as that which took place on
I return to Tony Parsons, and to reflecting on the piece to which I referred earlier. It was printed under the headline "The haven of decency that will remain unbroken". He wrote that west Cumbria
"feels like an England that many of us remember from our childhoods...An England that we thought had disappeared into the mists of history. It is not a flashy place. It is not a place that ever gets much attention. But it is still out there. And among all the horror, we are reminded that it is still real. And that it represents all that is best about this country and our people. No place was less built for violence, and madness, and the mayhem of the modern world. No place deserves it less."
I cannot describe the effect that those words have had on my community, how grateful we were that we had been seen as we see ourselves, and that our culture and our values had been recognised. How fitting it was. It was a small way of remembering those who had been taken from us. I can only hope that those words helped to fetch some comfort for the families of those who lost family members.
Parsons observed that when Cumbria
"gets attention from the leering outer world, it is seen through a prism of prejudice and ignorance...It is not too much to say that the communities of Cumbria could teach a lesson to us all."
"While we hear so much about the ugly face of the modern world, we forget that there is a Britain that is emphatically unbroken. And where all those old virtues-decency, tolerance, kindness, innocence and goodness-still prevail and thrive."
I wholeheartedly endorse the sentiments that my hon. Friend expresses. In Barrow and Furness in southern Cumbria-I have the huge privilege of being the new Member for that constituency-I see that spirit every day. Barrow and the surrounding area was once considered part of Lancaster, and many in the area still retain a great affinity with Lancashire. Indeed, if we were to ask, some would say that they would like to move back to being part of it. Does my hon. Friend agree that the tragedy and the many difficulties that the Cumbrian people have experienced in recent months underline the fact that there is a Cumbrian spirit and a Cumbrian community? Indeed, such ties bind my constituency with his and the people of that great region.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. He has been a Member for only a short time, but I know of the huge esteem in which he is held by his constituents. I am personally grateful to him for making the trip to Whitehaven on the weekend after the shootings to pay tribute, on behalf of his constituents and everybody in the Furness region, to people 40 miles to the north. We were standing shoulder to shoulder. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to talk about community spirit and community values. One of the lessons that we need to learn is that that spirit and those values do not come about by accident; there is a deep cultural purpose to those values, but they are supported, helped and strengthened by policy decisions taken by the House. There will be a time to address such matters, but it is not now. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments.
Tony Parsons continued his article by saying:
"No, this Britain is not broken."
That is the spirit to which my hon. Friend alluded. Perhaps most fittingly, Parsons gave us-or at least me-a simple phrase that encapsulates not simply the area but those whom I represent. Home to England's deepest lake and tallest mountain, he wrote that we have
"a beauty that is beyond landscape."
When that was read out in church on the Sunday after the tragedy, I am told that it had a remarkable effect on a usually stoic congregation. It certainly had a remarkable effect on me, and I will always be grateful. Why is it important? It is because the media, perhaps the most important force in our society-more so even than politics and politicians, even those in the Chamber today; we kid ourselves if we say that that is not so-have the ability to achieve so much good. We all know that the truth will set us free-it is a well-known phrase and a cliché, but it is true-so why do the media turn their collective back when they have the capacity to achieve so much good, so readily and so often?
The media local to the tragedy-the Whitehaven News, the News & Star, the North West Evening Mail, Border television, BBC Radio Cumbria and "Look North"-reported the tragedy with a care and diligence entirely different from that of the national media. That is because they are rooted in the area and care about the people about whom they are reporting. They understand the power of their roles and the effects of carrying them out in particular ways. The Whitehaven News was particularlyimpressive, as just one week before, it had reported the tragic deaths of Kieran Goulding and Chloe Walker, constituents who were killed in the Keswick bus crash. Like the News & Star, the Whitehaven News understands the role that it plays in my community and how it can help the community's healing process-not the families' healing process, perhaps, but certainly the community's. To give a parallel-I know that this is a difficult issue-certain national newspapers have elicited feelings in my community similar to those that were elicited in Liverpool by the way that the Hillsborough tragedy was reported.
The first lesson of the tragedy is that communities such as mine have a lot to teach other parts of the country about the power of community, cohesion, social justice, compassion and solidarity. Social policy must protect and strengthen those values and virtues. The second lesson is not to seek to curb the freedom of the press or broader media, but to seek a better, enforceable code of conduct for the media. Certain desperate, spiteful journalists have written some dreadfully inaccurate copy simply because members of the community would not speak to them on learning that they were journalists. That reflects badly on those journalists; naming them would surprise nobody and so serves no purpose today.
I come to the second lesson. One price we pay for a free press is its freedom to write such misleading and opinionated bile. However, press intrusion is not a price anyone has ever agreed to pay. Nobody ever agreed to have journalists camped on their doorsteps while they were in the immediate aftermath of bereavement; to have friends and family members offered money if they spoke to, or obtained a photo of, a distraught relative of one of those who died; or to have six-figure sums paid for exclusives, or smaller sums paid to them if they could tell the whereabouts or movements of certain individuals, even if those individuals would be going to school that day.
If the west Cumbrian community demonstrates just how far from being broken Britain really is, then behaviour like that from certain sections of the media demonstrates just how dysfunctional and broken the media's values are, and that their attempts to infect decent society with their values are iniquitous and wrong. I know journalists who have had their stomachs turned by the actions of some in their fold-they are far from being all the same-but surely such behaviour cannot be sanctioned and must be stopped. To that end, I will write to the National Union of Journalists and the Press Complaints Commission to seek meetings, and to discuss how the issue can be taken forward and how professional codes of practice can be improved significantly. I have spent so much time talking about the media because the activities of certain sections of them have weighed particularly heavily on the community in recent weeks. They have caused particular distress, anger and concern, and I feel duty-bound to articulate those concerns today.
The third lesson, so far, of the Cumbrian tragedy will be to review gun law; that is now essential. It does not necessarily mean that gun law can, will or should change; we must await the full facts of the case before we can assess them through the prism of the gun ownership laws. If any changes to the law could have prevented this tragedy, reduced its chances of happening or mitigated its effects, then it is a reasonable proposition to expect those changes to be made. Certainly, those are the views of some of the family members of those who lost their lives on
The fourth lesson-this is imperative-is that the Government should release the £100 million pledged by the previous Labour Government to rebuild the West Cumberland hospital in Whitehaven. The cheque for the new development was in our hands on election day but taken from us when the new coalition Government were formed. The hospital is the fulcrum of my community and the entire west Cumbrian community, and demonstrated its worth again and again in the days and weeks that followed
Demolition of the old hospital has commenced in anticipation of the new-build programme, and any delay beyond September will have serious consequences for the project, for service configuration and for the entire community. Please return to my community the money given to us by the previous Government. The Government must acknowledge the importance of the matter and act in the only human, compassionate way imaginable by returning this money as soon as possible.
There will be other lessons-about the value of GP practices, retained fire fighters, the civil nuclear constabulary, the Church and the essential role played by voluntary agencies. Those lessons need to be brought before the House, and I expect that they will; that should happen soon. I am grateful to the Home Office for the interest it has shown and the time that it has taken to address the issues so far. I expect a full and frank inquiry, the terms of which should be determined principally by my community and the families of those affected.
I expect that the Select Committee on Home Affairs will want to undertake its own investigations, too. I am particularly grateful to the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, my right hon. Friend Keith Vaz, for visiting my constituency earlier this week to speak with Cumbria constabulary and Copeland borough council about their experiences in recent weeks. That was extremely beneficial and welcome. For the benefit of all those affected, inquiries should probably be undertaken sooner rather than later, but not in an immediate rushed sense.
It is imperative that no inquiry should begin with the purpose of attributing blame. The conclusions of the Association of Chief Police Officers investigation that is currently under way should be placed in the public domain as soon as it is completed. The Cumbrian constabulary has nothing to hide and is a source of pride among my community. It performed fantastically on
Finally, none of us will ever forget Michael Pike, Garry Purdham, David Bird, Kevin Commons, Susan Hughes, Kenneth Fishburn, Jane Robinson, Darren Rewcastle, Jennifer and James Jackson, Isaac Dixon and Jamie Clark, and this House owes it to their memories, their families and my community to understand and act on the lessons of
Before I call the next speaker, I point out for the benefit of new Members that if they have not already made their maiden speech, they may speak here, but they then forgo their right to a traditional maiden speech in the Chamber. I am sorry, but that is the rule, and I thought that I ought to point it out. At least hon. Members are now aware of that and can keep it in mind.
I endorse the comments of Mr Reed. All of us who represent rural communities-I represent one on the west coast of Wales-can only imagine how dreadful an experience the event that we are discussing must have been. Everyone in the House and elsewhere will be reflecting on the things that the hon. Gentleman put so eloquently, and on the measured response that he and other professionals in his area have so diligently delivered for the rest of us. I should declare a bit of an interest, in that before coming into the House I represented an organisation that had rural communities at its heart. I have been lucky enough to travel to many isolated areas, including the hon. Gentleman's.
It is sometimes quite difficult to articulate to the wider public exactly what a rural community is-what its strengths are and why we are so passionate about it. It is also sometimes difficult to articulate what a blow an event such as this can be. Of course, it would be a blow to any community, but purely because of where I have worked and where I live, I feel that I understand where the hon. Gentleman is coming from. For that, I am extremely grateful.
The hon. Gentleman made his strongest point when he said that we should proceed from here on the basis of the facts. In the past, there have been occasions when the instant reaction to a dreadful event has been a little too knee-jerk, political and shy of the facts. That has meant that the problem has not been dealt with and that people who should not have been caught up in the aftermath have been punished or penalised. The hon. Gentleman's approach to this matter has been absolutely right, and has been generally endorsed across the House.
I absolutely endorse the sentiments expressed by the hon. Gentleman and echo his call for our response to be fact-driven, but may I ask him whether he has any examples of knee-jerk and political responses to tragedies and of when the right outcome has not followed on from events?
Yes, I have. Responses such as the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 and legislation passed by a Conservative Government in relation to handguns did not achieve the objectives that this place and the public wanted, which is why there has been an ongoing debate about their effectiveness. There are also plenty of examples of people who have been adversely affected by the passing of that legislation. People at whom the legislation was aimed have hardly been touched at all, which is why a private Member's Bill on dangerous dogs is starting its process in the House of Lords as we speak. There are probably more examples, but those are two with which I am familiar.
I want to cover just one area of the four that the hon. Gentleman mentioned. Due to my previous interest in countryside activities, I should like to focus on the shooting community. I must be very careful about that because I do not want to underplay the seriousness of the situation or give any impression that those who shoot, either recreationally or as part of their daily lives, are not sympathetic to the points that the hon. Gentleman made. Moreover, those who shoot are not unrealistic about the fact that many things will need to be reconsidered in the near rather than the distant future by this House and the other place. There is a real awareness that these are important issues, and nobody I know who possesses a shotgun or firearm certificate-professional or otherwise-is in any doubt about the need to get right to the heart of the problem.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is in no one's interest to have a knee-jerk response? He is talking about the shooting fraternity, but it is not in the interests of the community of west Cumbria, or anywhere else, to have a knee-jerk reaction. What we need, and what my hon. Friend Mr Reed was asking for, is a thorough inquiry into the matter. I repeat: no one-but no one-wants a knee-jerk reaction.
I absolutely agree. We cannot proceed without the facts. We cannot proceed sensibly until we have had the results of the inquiry by the Association of Chief Police Officers and of other investigations that may be associated with, or just on the fringes of, this particular incident. Yes, of course I endorse what the hon. Gentleman has said.
There is increasing evidence that, in many areas, gun crime is coming down while weapon ownership is going up, and interesting statistics on Scotland have recently been published on that score. Fewer than 0.5% of crimes involving weapons that have resulted in death or injury have involved licensed weapons-shotguns, in particular. As for the safety of the activity across the EU, target-shooting activities are among the safest for members of the public to take part in. If there is a lesson to be drawn from that, it is that any changes in legislation should be about the people who possess and use weapons rather than the weapons themselves. I mentioned the error that the Conservative Government made in relation to handguns. In that instance, they focused too much on the weapon, and not enough on the people who were ultimately going to be using it.
Moreover, there is not much evidence to suggest that shortening the certificate period for weapon ownership would have made much difference in these or other circumstances. Likewise, it is uncertain whether any evidence supports the theory that it is acceptable for people to keep no more than a certain number of guns.
I recognise the hon. Gentleman's comments about the media. The distinction in approach between the national and regional media resonates with rural communities. The idea that people would have to show a good reason for owning a weapon would be unlikely to make much difference, although I am not talking about this specific incident.
Lastly, let me turn to the thorny issue of mental health checks for people who wish to acquire and use weapons. The shooting community is particularly conscious of the matter and is inclined to investigate it further. Those checks have to find a way of safely predicting dangerousness, and that will be a very complicated medical judgment. GPs, who could be the final arbiters in applications, might be put in a very tricky position as far as potential liability is concerned if it emerged that someone they certified as safe to own and use a weapon subsequently turned out not to be. There may also be GPs who have a fundamental dislike of weapon ownership and shooting-related activities; that might put them and the applicant in a difficult position.
From the perspective of both a rural community and an urban community that has access to and enjoys weapons for whatever purpose, there is a real willingness to engage in the debate that has emerged from this tragic event. I do not think that anybody is under any illusion about the changes, but what I hope we can do is strike a proper balance between the safety of the public and proportionality as far as our freedom to own and use weapons is concerned. If we can achieve that balance as a consequence of the hon. Gentleman's efforts, we will have made sensible progress.
It is a pleasure to be in a debate under your chairmanship, Mr Benton; I think that this is the first such occasion for me. I am pleased to be following Simon Hart. One of the great values of this House is that Members come from so many different backgrounds. They are able to give the House their experience and expertise in areas of policy of which some of us have absolutely no experience. I represent an urban constituency, which does not have anything like the open space and rural background of the constituencies of many hon. Members here this afternoon.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Mr Reed for the way in which he has conducted himself as Member of Parliament for the area where the event that we are discussing took place. It must have been a 24/7 experience, the like of which none of us would ever want to be involved in. Of course, we are always there to represent our constituents every moment we are in the House, but what he had to go through was exceptional. He conducted himself with enormous dignity, and he is a credit to his constituency and to this House.
I just want to endorse what my right hon. Friend has said about my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland. However, there is one word that he did not use that I should like to add-it is "leadership". That is what communities would always want to see in their MP in such difficult circumstances. Throughout this entire tragedy, my hon. Friend has shown real leadership and he is to be commended for that.
Indeed; my hon. Friend is absolutely right to say so. As we are in the business of acknowledging hon. Members, I should say that all the other Members with Cumbrian constituencies who are here today also played their parts in responding to this tragedy-Rory Stewart and my hon. Friends the Members for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock) and for Workington (Tony Cunningham). Those constituencies were just names to me until I went to Whitehaven on Monday. As I went down the motorway, I saw all those constituency names; I am sorry that I did not have a chance to notify the Members that I was driving past, as is the convention, but I tried my very best.
I will speak very briefly as I know that other hon. Members who represent Cumbria wish to be involved in the debate. I was in Whitehaven in Copeland on Monday, at the invitation of my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland, as I had expressed the view that it was important that we not only looked at the overall area of policy that is paramount in this particular case, but recognised, following statements made by the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary, that it was important that Parliament itself should look at the events that had occurred in this tragic set of circumstances.
Of course, those of us who live outside Cumbria send our condolences to the families of those who have died; it must be an awful experience for those families. On Monday, I met the vicar of Egremont and he told me about the funerals that he had conducted and the fact that it is a very close-knit community-everyone knows everyone else. The tragedy is taken very personally.
The hon. Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire and my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland are absolutely right: the reaction of politicians, including the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary, was spot on. There was no rush to judgment. There was a careful and measured approach, as was demonstrated by my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland here in Westminster Hall today. That approach was also reflected in the statement of the Prime Minister when he went to Cumbria and by the Home Secretary in her statement to the House, which she made very soon after this tragedy.
It was right to say that we have to wait and see. There must not be a rush to judgment. Let us look at the facts, see exactly what happened and consider, in a careful and measured way, how to proceed. I think that that is what will happen in this particular case.
Nevertheless, I feel that it is important that there should be an urgency about getting to the facts. My hon. Friend and I had a meeting with the deputy chief constable of Cumbria, Stuart Hyde, who talked about a series of inquiries that were taking place. Clearly, the police do not want to leave things in a position where people have any further questions to ask, so there are a series of inquiries. There is the inquiry into the issuing of the gun licence, the inquiry into the circumstances of the day itself and another internal inquiry that the police are conducting. Those inquiries are all very important and very relevant.
At the end of the day, however, judging from the limited time that I spent in Cumbria, the interests of the constituents of my hon. Friend and other Cumbrian MPs will not be served until all the facts of the case come out, so that people know precisely what happened. That is important, although not so much for us to guard against this tragedy happening again-because, although we do not know the full facts yet, we think that this tragedy could have happened anywhere in the country at any time; this was not a premeditated series of events. It is important because it is right that the public should know about the full sequence of events. So I hope that when the Minister responds to the debate, he will tell us something about the timetable that has been placed on the local police force in Cumbria.
Although the deputy chief constable of Cumbria did not ask for additional resources, there may be a resources issue. As a second point of clarification, I seek an assurance from the Minister that, if those additional resources are necessary, they will be provided.
The deputy chief constable spoke intelligently about the fact that Cumbria does not own a helicopter, for example. He also said that, in his view, Cumbria does not need one. A deal had been done with another force-the Greater Manchester force, or perhaps the Merseyside force-to provide a helicopter when it was required. Obviously, not all police forces can have their own helicopters, but there may well be resource implications that need to be examined in the cold light of day.
I hope that in the meantime, before we get to the conclusion of the inquiries, whatever Cumbria's police ask for and whatever hon. Members feel is appropriate is provided. I know that the Prime Minister has said to my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland that he is keen to know the views of local people; I know that, because my hon. Friend told me so on Monday. If the local people ask for something, I hope that it will be granted.
As we all know, we are in something of a limbo situation. As we speak, there are elections for the membership of the Home Affairs Committee, so that Committee has not yet been formed. However, at our first meeting I will certainly recommend to members of the Committee that we should look at this area, because I think that it is important that Parliament itself should examine the wider issues. We should not necessarily examine the detail of what happened, although of course we will need to take evidence from those involved, but we should examine the wider area of the policy issues that emanate from what has happened.
As I am sure the hon. Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire will remind us, we have some of the tightest and strictest gun laws in the world and people will find it amazing that anyone should have been able to do what this person did to the citizens of Cumbria and then to himself. However, the fact is that we will have to look at the issue of gun law in the round. It would be very odd if we did not look at it.
I think that that is what my hon. Friend is talking about; he is not saying that there should be an instant revision of firearms legislation, but that we need to look at firearms legislation in context. The Home Affairs Committee last looked at this issue 10 years ago, when we made certain recommendations about having people on the national register. Immediately, the issue of data sharing is important too. When a gun licence is applied for and the data about that application are held locally, what happens to them? Are they available to others?
So broad issues need to be raised, without our getting into the finer detail of this case, because that is what the people will require. Of course, it is up to the Committee to decide on the inquiries that it carries out. It is not up to the Chairman, even in these days of electing Chairmen and having independence and accountability to Parliament. But I very much hope that this is an issue that we will look at when we have the opportunity to do so.
My hon. Friend mentioned a number of other issues concerning the media and his local hospital. On the media, I think that he has made some very valid points. It is important that we look at how these matters are reported and he is absolutely right to want to write to broadcasters and the Press Complaints Commission asking them to look at the overall handling of this situation.
My hon. Friend is also right to praise his local media, as we all do, because they have a better feel for local people. They are unwilling to trample on the lives of people, either the living or the deceased, because they know that they will be meeting them again. For the national media, it is something of a visit; they may be there 24/7 during the rolling period of a crisis, but they then go away quite swiftly to the next story. My hon. Friend's concern is about how the story was reported at the time and I was certainly told about examples of cheque-book journalism and other issues of that kind, which really ought to be explored. He is right to raise this whole issue of the media; it is one of the lessons of Cumbria and one of the points that we need to remember.
As for my hon. Friend's local hospital, I am sure that he makes his case more powerfully than anyone else here can, and I am sure that that case has been heard by Ministers. I wish him well in what he seeks to achieve.
In conclusion, the people of Whitehaven, its local Member of Parliament and the other Members of Parliament who represent the region desperately want to return to normality. I had never been to Whitehaven before Monday. It sounds odd, but I think that the furthest north that I had travelled in England previously was to Carlisle; of course I had been to Scotland before, including to the western isles many years ago on parliamentary business.
On my visit to Whitehaven, I saw a very beautiful place; it was absolutely stunningly beautiful. Local people, including the excellent leader of the local Labour group, Elaine Woodburn, and the local vicar, Richard Lee, wanted to return to normality. They want Whitehaven and Cumbria to be remembered for the beautiful places that they are, rather than for any other reason. We have a duty to ensure that they are able to return to that position. We also have a duty to ensure that all the facts come out. I hope that the Minister will assure us that the Government are also keen that that should happen.
I was not intending to make a maiden speech today, but I can think of no better example of what Parliament is about than the issue that Mr Reed has brought us. There is a precision, a compassion and a sense of dialogue and openness in this room that I wish was more present on the Floor of the House, so I am proud to be making my maiden speech. The hon. Gentleman's contribution was immensely deeply felt and measured. He balanced the kind words of Tony Parsons with the horror of cheque-book journalism. His commitment to the West Cumberland hospital really came across, and I very much hope that our Government will be able to sustain the hospital. As the hon. Gentleman said, the Prime Minister was very impressed by his visit.
As John Woodcock pointed out, Cumbria is a dense and complex web, which stretches across the artificial boundaries created by the Boundary Commission. Grandchildren of constituents in Brampton were in the hon. Gentleman's constituency when the shots were fired. In all that we do, I hope that we reflect that dense web of Cumbrian culture in two specific ways. I hope that we look at the lessons of the tragedy in terms, first of distance and secondly of the way in which we conduct the inquiry. Both should reflect Cumbrian approaches.
In terms of distance, we need to understand the sad but powerful lesson that we represent a county defined by its sparse population and long distances. That is why the West Cumberland hospital matters and why we in Penrith and The Border think all the time about what would have happened had some terrible tragedy occurred in Kirkby Stephen, which is an hour and a half from the Carlisle hospital.
In this time of potential budgetary cuts, we need to fight hard to make sure that the police services that got 47 armed officers on the ground within an hour continue to be able to do that. We should also remember that recent events are an argument against hasty amalgamations, against closing our cottage hospitals and turning them into big hospitals, and against amalgamating the Cumbrian police with the Lancashire police. As we have seen, local services are much more responsive and flexible, and they can draw on services available in other parts of the country and make them operate more effectively.
We need to fight for such things. That is partly because although Cumbria is one-although we are a dense web-the needs of people in Copeland are very different from those of people in Penrith and The Border. Although we are one, we are also divided in very sad ways. The life expectancy figures on the west coast are nearly 20 years shorter than those in the east of Cumbria. Those are the kinds of things that we need to work together to overcome. They are also the reason why all our specific services-the police, the fire service and social services-need to be local, adept, flexible and focused on specific communities and to be pragmatic in responding to them.
That brings us to the inquiry. The hon. Member for Copeland talked about Cumbrian virtues. As he said, the fundamental element of Cumbria and of the whole border is people who are slow to react and slow to anger, but who, when they are determined, are resolute and focused. Let us hope that the inquiry reflects those values. As the hon. Gentleman said, we should not rush into anything, but once a decision is made we should stick with it and push it through.
We should not have some grand commission based in London, with people who know nothing about Cumbria, guns or mental health pontificating in an abstract fashion. We need the very virtues that the hon. Gentleman saw in the local newspapers to be part of a local inquiry and a local commission. Those involved should include mental health professionals, the police and, above all, Cumbrians. Too often, our farmers and our teachers are ignored in favour of distant bureaucrats. Let the commission and the inquiry reflect Cumbrian values; let those involved be slow to anger and resolute, but also precise, pragmatic and focused on the exact events of the day of the shootings.
On that point, let me end my maiden speech by saying that it is a great honour to stand in this room with the hon. Gentleman, who is an impressive leader. It is also a great honour to participate in a debate that shows the precision, level of inquiry and openness that I hope can characterise the House as a whole.
If this was the Floor of the House of Commons, I presume that the tradition would be for me to pay tribute to the maiden speech that we have just heard. I know that this is not the Floor of the House, but with your permission, Mr. Benton, I would like to pay tribute to Rory Stewart. I congratulate him on his excellent and moving maiden speech and thank him for his genuine concern, which was heartfelt. It was very much appreciated by myself and, I am sure, by my hon. Friend Mr Reed.
I pay tribute to the emergency services and the wider community. We can only imagine what the emergency services-the police, the hospital staff, the doctors and the nurses-had to face, given the severity of the gunshot wounds; it must have been absolutely awful for the police officers and the doctors and nurses who looked after people.
The majority of the armed response officers who were involved were not police officers, but Civil Nuclear Constabulary officers. They are not the Minister's responsibility, although the Home Office often believes that they are. However, I ask the Minister to take a personal interest in the Civil Nuclear Constabulary, which would like a number of issues to be looked at. I pay tribute to its officers, as well as to the police, because they did a fantastic job.
One group that we sometimes forget is the Churches. They were in evidence in huge amounts, as was the desperate spiritual need that the community felt. Whatever the denomination, the Churches played a significant part, and I pay tribute to them.
For a couple of weeks after the shootings, I carried around the article that Tony Parsons wrote in the Daily Mirror on the Saturday. I would be in the pub and I would tell people who were talking to me about the tragedy to read it. Not a single person who did was not wiping away a tear when they had finished-it was so moving. We should compare that article with what I can only describe as some of the rubbish that was written. I sent a little handwritten note to Tony Parsons-I hope that he got it-telling him what we in the community felt about his article.
On West Cumberland hospital, I spoke to a senior member of the community, who simply asked, "How on earth could anyone ever dream of not giving us the money?" We should think of what the hospital has been through. We had the floods last November, the terrible tragedy of the Keswick coach accident and then the shootings. How could people even think of not giving the area the money that has been promised? I do not think that they can, but we will continue to fight to make sure that the money is made available and that we get a brand-new hospital.
The weekend after the tragedy, I was standing at the bar in my local pub talking to a friend. We were talking about how awful, difficult and tragic the shootings were and about the enormity of what had happened. My friend looked at me and said, "We'll get through this though. You know why? Because we're west Cumbrians." On that note, I would like to finish.
It is a pleasure and a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Benton. I thank and pay tribute to Mr Reed-I will call him my hon. Friend-for bidding for and getting the debate. I also pay tribute-not out of form, but out of sincerity-to my neighbour, Rory Stewart. He has stepped out of line in a courageous way and made a maiden speech in an unconventional place and an unconventional manner on an issue that genuinely matters. I am sure that that will be noted by many.
There are not words to describe the horrors of
There has been talk about London journalists. I am more used to reading Tony Parsons's comments about 1970s pop culture than what he writes about modern tragedy in west Cumbria. However, he and other journalists who went there, whose conduct we will perhaps talk about in a moment, came away staggered by the strength of the communities and their response. London journalists make it their business in their line of work to visit the scene of dreadful tragedies. I am not trying to create a league table of community response, but without a doubt they have been staggered by the tremendous solidarity shown in the communities of Cumbria-not just those that were directly affected, but communities throughout the county.
Craig Mackey, the chief constable of Cumbria, who has been a policeman for 25 years, said that the event was by far the most hideous thing he had ever had to deal with-and he has seen some pretty hideous things. As has been mentioned by the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border, NHS staff and experienced police officers had never seen a gunshot wound, never mind several of them in one day. It needs to be said that they dealt with things with stoicism, compassion and professionalism. We expect the emergency services to be outstanding, and they were, under extreme pressure. In many cases they put themselves in harm's way to provide assistance to stricken people. They dealt with physical and emotional traumas on that hideous day. The police, national health service staff-ambulance drivers, paramedics, doctors and nurses-mountain rescue teams, volunteers and others put themselves in harm's way to provide assistance when it was important.
My constituency was not touched directly by the shootings, although the towns and villages of Ambleside, Coniston, Grasmere and Hawkshead were put on lockdown for much of that day, as it was feared that the gunman could arrive on the streets at any time. Cumbria is a huge county, but it feels small after such an incident. Connections emerge all over the place. My 25-year-old brother-in-law will not mind my saying that he is a rookie policeman, and for him it has been a baptism of fire; and a close friend of mine happened to be on the campsite at Boot where the final shootings took place. Even aside from such personal connections, if you kick one Cumbrian we all limp; and there is a sense of solidarity and standing together that shines through.
To echo the comments of most of the hon. Members who have spoken, a knee-jerk response from legislators would not be sensible. That does not mean that there should be no response; but hard, tragic cases make bad law, without a shadow of a doubt, and the laws passed in response to previous tragedies have clearly not prevented subsequent ones. We should not jump to conclusions. There is always a sense-which I share-that something must be done; we feel powerless. For now, at least, that something is to support the community and help it to recover. Lessons must be learned thoroughly. It goes without saying that there will be no trial, and that is why a full-and I would say public-inquiry is crucial, on terms set, as has already been said, by the community. That should not be to point the finger at anyone other than the culprit-not the emergency services or anyone else-but an inquiry is necessary to enable us to learn lessons from the tragedy.
There are some lessons that we should not learn. Like John Woodcock, whom I welcome to the House, I represent a good chunk of what is rightly Lancashire, but some of the patronising stuff written in the media focused on Cumbria being a pitifully small county with a police force that cannot deal with its problems. That is nonsense. Recently there was a proposal to merge Cumbria and Lancashire police forces; that would be the wrong lesson to learn. It would not help the grieving communities to put their police headquarters in Preston rather than Penrith.
Finally, I endorse the comments of the hon. Member for Copeland about the reaction of elements of the media. The media must leave families to grieve and to recover in dignity and peace. We must not, in future, allow them to turn such tragedies into a mawkish circus.
I want briefly to add to what has been said, and to pay tribute to an excellent and unconventional maiden speech by Rory Stewart, which was quietly powerful. I also want to add to the comments on how my hon. Friend Mr Reed has conducted himself. All new Members come here wanting to represent our communities in the best way, and we look for examples of ways to do that; my hon. Friend has been an inspiration to me and others by his leadership in such difficult times, speaking out and representing a community in great pain. That will always stay with me.
My constituency is south of my hon. Friend's, and like that of Tim Farron, it was not directly affected, although the town of Broughton was put under lockdown when no one knew where the gunman was going. Also, about 700 people a day travel to Sellafield to work, so there are deep ties, including family ties, there. Everyone knows someone who has moved down from Whitehaven, or moved up, and the family bonds between those areas are incredibly strong. I know that my constituents see the hurt and suffering of their west Cumbrian neighbours, friends and colleagues, and are at a loss to know how to help, but they stand ready, as we all do, to try to help the community through.
I do not want to add to the comments on the national press, because a powerful case has been made about what people have seen at first hand, and the effect on the community. However, I want to mention the local press. I fully endorse the huge value of the community role that it plays throughout the year, in community events big and small-and never does it play that role more fully than in such circumstances as we are debating. The local press and media are going through difficult times; part of that is due to reforms that they are undertaking to try to ensure that they are financially viable at a time when technological change makes that increasingly difficult. However, the Government must continue to look for ways to support local papers and media. I hope that they will think carefully when they consider their policy on public advertising, for example, which has the potential to take out a vital income stream from the local press. That would make things far more difficult. It is so important that we keep such institutions able to serve the community.
I endorse the case that has been made for continued investment in the police and the hospital in the area. They are early examples-there will be so many more of them as the weeks and months go by-of cases where the need to ensure the sustainability of the public finances nationally runs hard against local communities' needs for continuation of services. No one can pretend that this Government will not face difficult choices, or that any party that had won would not have done so. That is why it is essential that the efficiencies that we make are not driven beyond what is ultimately best for the economy, and do not damage our local communities to such an extent that it will be difficult for them to recover. I am not making a party political point; I simply urge Members on both sides of the House to bear that in mind.
On the inquiry, it is clear that looking at mental health provision in respect of firearms licensing is absolutely necessary, as is a review of mental health provision in the community generally. We do not know-we can never fully know-but it is extraordinarily unlikely that a person would flip overnight from being completely mentally stable to committing such dreadful atrocities. It may be that we are talking about something that it simply was not feasible to have picked up, but that is a point to consider when we look at mental health provision in the wider community.
Finally, I endorse what everyone has said about the need to look at gun licensing thoroughly in the round, and to not make a knee-jerk response, but I urge the Government to come to the matter with an open mind, and not a preconceived idea that legislation to restrict guns is not the way to go; that would steer them on to another path.
We may review the matter and decide that the laws are as tight as they feasibly can be and that, given the balance of risk, the restrictions that would have to be imposed for further tightening would be disproportionate, but it would have been far less likely that a man who had a licence to use firearms for sport would have gone on a lethal killing spree if he had not had access to those guns. That does not prejudge any review of the balance to be struck and the consequences of further tightening, but it is essential that the matter is looked at as a separate question. Clearly, in rural areas such as mine and across the whole of Cumbria, farmers have a real need for firearms, but we must be prepared to take an open-minded look at guns for sport, and all the pros and cons.
I simply want to pick up on the issue of the review of mental health provision, which the hon. Gentleman rightly raised. Most people would be open-minded about such a review, and I agree that it should proceed on the basis of evidence rather than anything else, but surely there can be no distinction between people who own weapons for sport and people who own weapons as part of their livelihood when it comes to mental health assessment.
That is a good point. I was not thinking of that specifically when I spoke about a review of mental health provision, although those issues must form part of it. As I said, it may be impractical to say that guns that are held for sport should not be kept at home but in some kind of secure premises, but it is right that we examine the matter and look at whether a distinction can be made between guns that are needed by farmers, which clearly need to be kept at home, and guns used for sport, which one cannot say need to be kept at home. It may be disproportionately difficult to put in place other arrangements, but I hope that the issue will be properly examined as part of the Government's inquiry.
It is customary on such occasions to congratulate the Member who secured the debate, but I know that on this occasion my hon. Friend Mr Reed, like me, wishes that we were not here and that the events had not happened-but they did. He spoke movingly and with great dignity and bravery. I want to place on the record the high regard in which I hold him, as a result of not just what has happened in the past few weeks but the work that he has done on behalf of his community and the leadership that he has shown, which has also been shown by my hon. Friends the Members for Workington (Tony Cunningham) and for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock) and, indeed, all hon. Gentlemen from that part of the world, as their local communities faced such tragedy. Our condolences go to the friends and families of those whose lives were taken.
I wish to pay tribute, as many speakers have, to the emergency services in the affected communities and also from across the north of England as additional resources were brought to bear on these terrible events. I want to place on the record our thanks to the Sellafield police, who have been referred to previously, who played an important role.
It is entirely right that investigations are taking place into what happened in west Cumbria on
We also heard about the West Cumberland hospital. I hope that these matters can be dealt with sensitively. I know that the Minister, who I welcome to his post-I wish that it had been under other circumstances, but I do welcome him-is a decent man, and that he will fight the Home Office corner. I would expect that his colleagues in the Department of Health would do the same. Members of Parliament from that part of the country are fighting the corner on behalf of their constituents, and I expect Ministers to do the same, because public services in this context-the emergency services-are synonymous with public safety.
The Government were entirely right not to rush to legislation, but it would be wrong to dismiss the positive effects of the earlier legislation which was referred to, particularly that following Hungerford and Dunblane. As Tim Farron said, it may not have prevented this tragedy-it did not-but it may have prevented tragedies in other circumstances.
We have one of the strictest gun control regimes in the world, but if there are lessons to be learned we must learn them, and if changes need to be made we must make them. We should await the outcome of the Association of Chief Police Officers peer review of what happened in Cumbria, but there are already existing concerns. I do not want to prejudge that inquiry in any way, but as Simon Hart said, questions must be asked, and in the fullness of time we should try to answer them. He and I may have slightly different views, although I am by no means against people using guns as part of their jobs or sporting activities, but was it right, with hindsight, to move from three-year to five-year licences? Is there not a danger that when applying for a licence by post or, heaven forbid, by iPhone, as a media report suggested this week, the police will not make a visit? Such visits are not a statutory obligation, but might keep gun owners on their toes and allow their families to raise any concerns.
Reference was made to health care professionals, but if data protection concerns can be overcome, it would be sensible for health care professionals to be able to flag up any concerns. I accept that such issues might have had little bearing on what happened in west Cumbria, where police checks are carried out, but those concerns are legitimate, and we should discuss every aspect of them. I have looked back at earlier debates on gun control, and much was said about the cost of the bureaucracy that checks might bring, but we must keep people and communities as safe as possible, so we must have a balanced approach.
We await the outcome of the peer review, and I welcome the Government's commitment to a debate in Parliament. However, I ask, as have many contributors to the debate, that the Government do not close the door to a wider, independent debate and a review of the events in west Cumbria and of gun laws generally. The hon. Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire referred to balance and proportionality, which is subjective in this context, so from time to time we need learned and wise but, most importantly, independent voices to bring their views to bear.
I want to hear what the Minister has to say, so I shall finish by saying that in the months and years ahead, the people and communities affected will want to get on with their lives-that is probably happening already-and as far as possible not to be constantly reminded of what happened on
At around this time three weeks ago, we were all feeling a real sense of shock as the full horror of events in Cumbria became apparent. The last funerals took place on Friday, and I join other hon. Members this afternoon in expressing condolences to the families and friends of all those who were killed or injured. Our thoughts are also with all those who were caught up in some other way in the tragic events. We should remember in particular the police and emergency services, who had to deal with the immediate consequences of the shootings, and who did so with professionalism.
I also want to join the many others who have praised the resilience of the people of Cumbria, who, with true community spirit, have pulled together in their efforts to come to terms with this and other recent tragedies. They are surely an example to all of us.
I thank Mr Reed for providing this opportunity to debate the lessons that might be learned from the tragic shootings in his constituency on
I fully recognise the depth and range of feeling on the matter and the need for a broad debate. We have started that process today. A range of issues were touched on and, as the hon. Gentleman rightly said, many fall outside my specific ministerial responsibility, but I know that my ministerial colleagues outside this Chamber will read the debate and reflect on the comments that he and others have made this afternoon, particularly about West Cumberland hospital and its funding. I will draw them to the attention of my colleagues in the Department of Health.
An issue that came through strongly is the sense of community among the people of Cumbria. It was made clear in many speeches, including the measured contribution from John Woodcock, who may not have been in the House long, but has shown clearly how he seeks to represent his constituents. My hon. Friend Tim Farron also referred to the strength of the community and emphasised its sense of purpose. The hon. Member for Copeland talked strongly about solemnity, dignity and purpose, and his comments will resonate clearly.
I pay tribute to the maiden speech by my hon. Friend Rory Stewart. It was considered and eloquent, but also passionate. I got a sense of my hon. Friend's constituency and of his priorities as a Member of this House, and that is what new Members of Parliament seek to give in their maiden speeches. He made his extremely well, and I well understand why he chose this debate in which to make his first contribution to the House. In doing so, and in his actions as an MP, he demonstrated why he will be a fine champion for his constituents and those whom he serves. The way he conducted himself during his maiden speech demonstrated the values that he spoke about.
I have been particularly struck by the perception of many people that it is difficult to have in place proportionate controls to deal with those rare occasions when, for no apparent reason, someone suddenly embarks on a series of horrific killings. There has been ready recognition, both this afternoon and earlier, that a knee-jerk response is unlikely to provide a lasting solution, or the one that people seek, and that has been reflected in the contributions this afternoon.
Alongside that, however, there is a strong wish to ensure that we do all we can to learn lessons about both how we respond to future incidents and what we might reasonably do to prevent them, which is what we all fervently wish to do. That approach has been characterised today, and the debate has raised much for us to reflect on. Above all, we should listen carefully to what the local communities are saying. The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, my right hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert), who has responsibility for policing and criminal justice, will return to Cumbria in the near future to talk to local groups about what happened, and to hear more about any concerns that persist.
Cumbria police are busy conducting a huge, complex investigation involving 30 crime scenes, 12 deceased victims, one offender and 11 seriously injured victims. Each incident requires a major investigation of its own-Cumbria is running more than 20 at same time. In the initial phase of the investigation, 100 detectives were working on the case and they searched 225 sq km of the country from land and air. Witnesses are still coming forward and the investigation will take many months to complete. I recognise the desire for answers and the points made by Keith Vaz, who I understand was not able to stay for the wind-ups-I pass my congratulations to him on being elected Chair of the Select Committee on Home Affairs-but it is important that the investigation takes its proper course. The Association of Chief Police Officers peer reviews-I will talk more about them in due course-are anticipated to report by this autumn.
We all recognise what a huge amount of work the investigation is for Cumbria police, but I have spoken to chief constable Craig Mackey and he has assured me that the force has the necessary resources and expertise to cope with the task. However, if it becomes necessary, the Government will support any bid from Cumbria police for a special grant to help meet exceptional costs on the force budget. Cumbria police have already received some specialist support from neighbouring forces, including police helicopters and scenes of crime officers. I would like to take this opportunity to formally thank Dumfries and Galloway, Lancashire and the civil nuclear constabulary for all the help that they have provided so far-a point made by Tony Cunningham. Local forces stand ready to help should further assistance be required as the investigation progresses.
May I ask for an assurance that there will be proper collaboration between the two relevant Departments? Obviously the police are the responsibility of the Home Office, but the civil nuclear constabulary is the responsibility of the Department of Energy and Climate Change. I would like to make sure that the connection is there and that, when the inquiry takes place, there will be collaboration.
Certainly there is a wider point of discussion on policing and cross-border assistance, and the hon. Gentleman has made an important point about the need for any consideration of the issues to take into account other police forces. He has rightly highlighted the case of the civil nuclear constabulary, and other forces, such as the British transport police, sit within the Department for Transport. When considering policing issues, we need to factor in services that might sit within other Departments, too. He makes his point very effectively.
The hon. Member for Copeland has made a significant contribution to the learning process by securing and leading the debate today. There are, as we know, other reviews in hand that will add to our knowledge. I refer to the peer reviews that ACPO has set up at the request of the chief constable of Cumbria, Craig Mackey. Those reviews will cover firearms licensing procedures, the tactical and strategic police firearms response, and any aspect of the incident that may require further national or local guidance.
The ACPO lead on firearms licensing, Assistant Chief Constable Adrian Whiting, will review the file and the procedures adopted in relation to the award of a firearms licence and shotgun certificate to Mr Bird. He will also consider whether there are any significant gaps or risks in the licensing process. The question of the armed police response and the resources that were available for deployment to the scene will be addressed by the ACPO lead on the police use of firearms, Assistant Chief Constable Simon Chesterman.
Following the conclusion of the first two reviews, there will be an examination of firearms tactics and the ACPO manual to see whether any accumulated learning should lead to changes. I should confirm at this point that the firearms response review will cover the issues previously raised by the shadow Home Secretary about the possible need to absorb lessons from counter-terrorism policing. In picking up the lessons from Stockwell, the police service has already put in place systems to ensure that any tactics developed to deal with counter-terrorism are not developed in isolation, but are picked up by authorised firearms officers across the country. The peer reviews are being led by senior police officers who take the professional lead in their areas of expertise and who are therefore uniquely placed to identify the issues. We expect the findings of both reviews to be published in the autumn.
On firearms licensing, the shootings in Cumbria bring home all too starkly just how dangerous firearms can be in the wrong hands, and it is inevitable that questions will be asked about the UK's firearms licensing laws. It is widely acknowledged that we already have some of tightest legislative controls in the world when it comes to civilian access to, and possession and use of, firearms. Any firearms held must be accompanied by a certificate that is issued following extensive checks by local police, who must satisfy themselves that an applicant is fit to be entrusted with a firearm and will not present a danger to public safety. Local police must be satisfied that an applicant has a legitimate reason for wanting a firearm-for example, target shooting or deerstalking. The police will visit applicants at home to interview them about their application and to check security. They can seek a medical report from the applicant's GP if they have concerns about any medical condition.
On that point, I would like to come on to an issue raised by my hon. Friend Simon Hart. Applicants for firearms certificates must give details of their GP, from whom the police can seek a medical report. That is not limited by time, and the police can approach the GP at any time during the life of a certificate. It is also open to a GP to approach the police at any time to pass on information or possible concerns. However, ACPO is working with medical associations to ensure that any medical concerns are not missed. It is discussing the possibility of placing a marker on NHS patient records, so that a GP will know whether a patient has access to firearms and can notify the police of any concerns about the suitability of that. We are following this process closely and we will feed the outcomes into subsequent work on gun controls as required.
It is only right that we should reflect on whether more might be done in that context to ensure public safety. In doing so, we have to look carefully at the balance between the maintenance of public safety and the legitimate expectations of the vast majority of firearm owners who use their guns safely and responsibly, and who totally condemn those who misuse them. The control of firearms is a complex area that requires careful consideration, a point rightly made by Mr Campbell. I thank him for his kind comments and assure him that we will consider all the issues extremely carefully. As he pointed out, we plan to hold a full debate on the issue of firearms before the summer recess, which will provide an opportunity to air in greater depth some of the issues raised today about existing controls.
As I said at the outset, this is the start of a process, and the debate that I just mentioned will provide an opportunity for people who wish to make more detailed comments about firearms legislation to do so. Even then, we should not draw conclusions precipitately. It is important to wait until we have the results of the police investigation and the peer reviews before we decide whether we need to take specific further action, either by issuing further guidance, introducing new procedures or, potentially, changing the law. I reassure the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness that we go into this process with an open mind.
We will also consider at that stage whether there is need for any further inquiry. The Government are committed to supporting the affected communities in this terrible situation, and we want to find out from them how we can best help them. The Department for Communities and Local Government has already asked its emergencies management team, which offers support to local authorities that have suffered disasters and emergencies, to contact the local authorities involved to see what support they require and what assistance they may need. The local authorities were confident that they had the resources available to cope, and that no further assistance was required.
I understand that the Government office for the north-west has contacted Cumbria county council and Copeland district council to offer assistance. Again, no further assistance has been requested at this point in time. We are confident that the local authorities will make immediate contact with the Government office for the north-west should any further assistance be required at a later date. The Government office stands ready to broker mutual aid support with the voluntary sector, should that be necessary.
Copeland and Cumbria councils are working to understand the needs of the families and communities affected, and have put in place arrangements to provide counselling and personal support. In addition, my hon. Friend Mr Hurd, the Minister with responsibility for Civil Society, will be visiting Cumbria tomorrow to meet the local authorities and the council for voluntary service to see what extra support or assistance they need.
In conclusion, this is the start of considering the issues that we have debated this afternoon. We have heard much about the spirit of the people of Cumbria and how they have been supporting each other. Such community spirit is truly priceless. For our part, we shall continue to liaise with the Cumbria constabulary to follow up any areas that require further or wider consultation. The learning from the reviews, which is expected in the autumn, will be shared with the public, the wider police service and, of course, the House.