House of Commons
Thursday 14 March
met at half-past Two o'clock
14 Mar 1996 : Column 1102
Engagements - Question
Q1. Mr. Booth: To ask
the Prime Minister if he will list his official
engagements for Thursday 14 March. 
The Prime Minister
(Mr. John Major): This morning, I
presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial
colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House,
I shall be having further meetings later today.
Mr. Booth: Will my right
hon. Friend join me and others in the House
in expressing our outrage and horror at the appalling deaths and killings
in Dunblane yesterday?
Minister: Yesterday was an event of almost unimaginable
horror. We can only begin to guess at the impact it will have
upon the families and the whole community. I know that the whole
House will wish to join me in extending our
sympathy to the families of the children and their teacher who were
killed and to the children and the other teachers who were injured in
yesterday's attack. Many questions will have to be addressed and
my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland
will make a fuller statement at the end of Question Time.
May I agree with what the Prime Minister has
said and simply add this: Britain today is a nation in mourning. Our
senses are in a state of shock, bewildered at the sheer horror of what
happened. Not war, nor a catastrophe of nature, nor human error
was this, but a Massacre of innocents without
cause and without reason. How many parents last night will have
clutched their own children to them, looking at them differently and
imagining the pain which, for others, is all too real?
Politics is silent today.
We grieve. We hope that this dark shadow can in time be lifted.
We stand in solidarity with the community of Dunblane
and we pay our respects.
14 Mar 1996 : Column 1103
Minister: Sometimes, after a tragedy,
there is little we can say that we feel will bring comfort to the people
concerned. After yesterday's tragedy,
I believe that that is a feeling that everyone in this House
will understand. Words seem inadequate; I feel that today.
The right hon. Gentleman's
words will find a echo in the heart of every parent in the House
and right across the country. What happened yesterday cannot be
understood and must not be forgotten. It was an act of wickedness
beyond imagination and I do not believe that anyone can be unmoved by
that, either now or at any time in the future. What we must now
do is look to the interests of the children, their families and the
others who were injured and see what external help can be given--perhaps
by this House, but by others as well--to try
to play some part in putting that community together again.
Q2. Mr Evennett: To ask
the Prime Minister if he will list his official
engagements for Thursday 14 March. 
The Prime Minister:
I refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave some moments ago.
Mr Evennett: In the wake
of the appalling tragedy in Dunblane
yesterday, will my right hon. Friend urge the media to exercise the
maximum possible restraint to allow that community to grieve in private?
Minister: I certainly join my hon. Friend in that request. There
is a code of practice on privacy for such occasions. I hope very
much that that code of practice will be rigorously observed on this
Q3. Mr Wigley: To ask the
Prime Minister if he will list his official
engagements for Thursday 14 March. 
The Prime Minister:
I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.
Mr Wigley: As someone
who, before entering the House, lived in the
borough of Merthyr Tydfil not far from Aberfan,
may I convey the sympathy of Wales to the
people of Dunblane and to all the families
who have suffered loss? Does the Prime Minister
accept that playing with guns can at times mean playing
with lives? It should always be a certainty that neither personal
indulgences nor vested interests come before assuring the safety of
communities and the avoiding of tragedies such as the tragedy
that happened yesterday.
Minister: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's early words
will be well received everywhere. On the subject of gun
control, clearly my right hon. and learned Friend the Home
Secretary will wish to consider the implications of the
incident for any future changes in firearms
control. [Ed. ~ The departure from the real issues
had already begun!] There is of course a Firearms
Consultative Committee that, as a statutory body, constantly keeps legislation
under review. Its purpose is to review the Firearms
(Amendment) Act 1988. I know that it issued a statement this morning
saying that it does not propose to express a view on the matter in
14 Mar 1996 : Column 1104
advance of the conclusions
of the fatal accident inquiry, but that it
will want to consider the implications for future firearms
legislation or practice.
Q4. Mr Patrick Thompson:
To ask the Prime Minister if he will list
his official engagements for Thursday 14 March. 
The Prime Minister:
I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave some moments ago.
Mr Thompson: Speaking
as a former teacher and in the aftermath of the awful tragedy
yesterday, may I ask my right hon. Friend to reinforce the tributes
that are rightly paid to head teachers and teachers who put the welfare
and safety of their children above all else?
Minister: It is not very many weeks ago that the House
and the country were mourning the death of another teacher, Mr. Lawrence,
who was murdered outside his school by being stabbed to death. My
right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary
has told me, both last night and this morning, of the courage of teachers
at the school. I particularly single out the courage and performance
of the headmaster, Mr. Taylor, who had appalling circumstances to deal
with yesterday, but, I am informed, dealt with them with the greatest
possible courage in every respect. I am happy to join my
hon. Friend, himself a former head teacher, in that tribute.
Mrs Bridget Prentice:
Dunblane is a small, close-knit community
and no doubt that closeness will stand it in good stead as it grieves
over the appalling slaughter of innocent children and their dedicated
teacher. Will the Prime Minister convey
to the people of Dunblane that their grieving
is shared by the whole country; every parent in the land is grieving
with them? In particular, will he convey to the people of Dunblane
the horror and sadness of my constituents and Londoners across our capital
city who feel today that they are part of that small, close-knit community?
The Prime Minister:
I shall happily convey the hon. Lady's thoughts when I have the opportunity
of visiting Dunblane tomorrow. She
speaks for the attitude of every parent in the country. For
a small number of parents, yesterday was a day of horror that they could
never have imagined. The thought has flitted across the minds
of every other parent in the country that it might have been their son
or their daughter on that occasion.
Q5. Mr Butler: To ask the
Prime Minister if he will list his official
engagements for Thursday 14 March. 
The Prime Minister:
I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave some moments ago.
Mr Butler: In
common with many colleagues in the House,
I went home last night to see my own children for exactly the reasons
given by the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr Blair). I
associate myself with everything that has been said. May I congratulate
my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on
his sense of priorities, which led him to take a day out this week to
attend the conference against terrorism in Egypt? Terrorism
so often--and deliberately--causes the sort of grief,
14 Mar 1996 : Column 1105
slaughter and horror that
was caused by one evil mad man yesterday. May I urge my right
hon. Friend to do all that he can to play a full part in the international
war against that most evil of activities?
The Prime Minister:
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I think that the summit in Sharm el-Sheikh
was a very useful and worthwhile occasion. It was the first time
that I can recall when so many Heads of Government
from different parts of the world met specifically to deal with the
problems of terrorism and how to curtail and
defeat it. The summit not only condemned terrorism
in very strong terms but, more practically, laid the foundations for
a programme of international co-operation in anti-terrorist
activities. I think that everyone will welcome that.
The first meeting to follow
yesterday's summit will take place within the next fortnight, and I
hope that we shall see practical and worthwhile co-operation that will
make the terrorist's life much more difficult
than it has been hitherto. That is the determination of the Governments
who met yesterday, and I look forward to seeing it carried into practice.
Q6. Rev Martin Smyth: To
ask the Prime Minister if he will list his
official engagements for Thursday 14 March. 
The Prime Minister:
I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply I gave some moments ago.
Rev Martin Smyth: Further
to the Prime Minister's answer to a previous
question, I too share the grief of the mourning families in Dunblane.
Does he share my concern that journalists and other pundits have spent
much time, recently, blaming Israel for its attitude to the Hamas terrorists,
just as they blamed the Prime Minister for
holding back the peace in Northern Ireland,
when they should put responsibility on the terrorists
who continue the terror?
Minister: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I
agree, without qualification, with everything that he has said.
Mr Clifton-Brown: Does
my right hon. Friend agree that the rule of law should always prevail
in a democracy? On this day, above all others, as we discuss the
Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions)
Act 1989, does he agree that the House should
agree unanimously to the measures? Does he agree also that terrorism
and violence by the gun or by the bomb should
be rooted out wherever they occur?
Minister: I think that that would be the unanimous view
in dealing very severely with terrorists.
The Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions)
Act 1989 has proved indispensable as part of our armoury against terrorism.
It is vital that its powers are continued by the House.
Mr Norman Hogg: The Prime
Minister's decision to visit Dunblane
will be deeply appreciated by everyone in
14 Mar 1996 : Column 1106
he accept my assurance that we shall all co-operate to give the fullest
support to that community in whatever action is necessary in view of
this tragic and terrible event?
The Prime Minister:
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for those remarks. I hope
that everyone will understand that I visit Dunblane
as a representative of the House: it is in
that spirit that I conduct my visit.
Mr Robert G Hughes: Does
my right hon. Friend agree that the terrible tragedy
will focus the prayers of the nation on mothering Sunday this weekend?
Does he agree that it would be a proper mark of respect if people observed
a period of silence on Sunday to remember the children and their teacher
and to pray together as a nation?
Minister: I believe that, now and up to and beyond Sunday,
many people will remember the events at Dunblane. Perhaps
it would be particularly appropriate if the churches were just a little
more crowded on Sunday.
Sir David Steel: As one
who was married in Dunblane cathedral and
who therefore regards it as a place of particular happiness and serenity
cruelly shattered, I support the Prime Minister's
decision to visit Dunblane tomorrow on behalf
of the House. I add the thanks of the
House to the Secretary of State
for Scotland and the shadow Secretary of State,
the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr Robertson),
for the way in which they represented the interests of the House
yesterday to that grieving community.
Although I do not suggest
that anything could have prevented the madness of yesterday, will the
Prime Minister ask his relevant ministerial
colleagues to look again at the report of the Firearms
Consultative Committee and see whether further steps can be taken in
response to its recommendations without relating it to yesterday's episode?
Minister: As to the right hon. Gentleman's second point,
those matters will need to be examined, and I assure him that we shall
do so with an open mind. On his first point, I echo the tribute
to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland
and the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr Robertson)
who, together, visited Dunblane yesterday. That
was appropriate, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he
did on that occasion.
Mr Nicholas Winterton:
While we contemplate this horror, is it not wonderful that the love
of children has brought the House together?
I pray that it will do so more often.
Minister: Sometimes our political disputes, whether they
involve great or small matters, seem very petty beside human matters. I
think that this is one such occasion.
I think that we will take the statement now.
14 Mar 1996 : Column 1107
of State for Scotland (Mr Michael Forsyth):
It is with profound sadness that I have to report on the tragic event
that took place at Dunblane, which is in my
constituency, yesterday. Hon. Members will understand the deep
shock and distress afflicting the people of Dunblane,
and our first thoughts must be with the families of those who were killed
and injured. Our deepest sympathies go out to them at this terrible
will appreciate that police inquiries into
the matter are continuing; therefore, I shall confine my remarks to
the facts surrounding the incident, so far as they have been established. [Ed
~ Central Scotland Police were implicated
in providing Thomas Hamilton with gun
licences, despite words to the wise from DS
Paul Hughes, yet they were the very force assigned
to conduct the investigation!]
At approximately 9.15 am
yesterday, an armed man, identified by the police
as Thomas Hamilton, entered Dunblane
primary school and opened fire on children and staff who
were in the school gymnasium. Fifteen of the children who were
shot and their teacher died within the school. One child died
later in hospital. Three adults and 12 other children were wounded. The
himself and died within the school.
As soon as I was informed
of this dreadful event, accompanied by the hon. Member for Hamilton
(Mr. Robertson), I went to Dunblane,
where we were joined by my hon. Friend the Scottish Education Minister,
the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Robertson).
What we witnessed there encompassed both the worst and the best of which
humanity is capable. In contrast to the stark evil of the crime,
doctors, teachers, police, ambulance personnel
and other caring professions, Church leaders and volunteers worked unsparingly
to save life and console the bereaved.
In particular, I want to
pay the highest possible tribute to Mr. Ron Taylor,
headmaster of Dunblane primary school, for
his heroic efforts to save the lives of his dying pupils in circumstances
too harrowing to be recounted in detail. Hon. Members will
wish to join me also in a tribute to Mrs. Gwen Mayor,
the dedicated teacher who was gunned down in the midst of her charges. Mrs.
Mayor was an exceptionally gifted teacher,
who had given10 years' service to the school, and our heartfelt sympathy
goes out to her husband Rodney and their two daughters.
I would also like to extend
the sympathy of the House to Aileen Harild,
the PE teacher, and to the teaching assistants, Mary Blake and Gwen
Tweddle, who were all injured. Our teachers carry the immeasurable
responsibility of moulding the character of the next generation. In
this tragic case, a teacher lost her life in the course of fulfilling
I would also like to pay
tribute to the chief constable of central Scotland,
William Wilson, and his officers, to the procurator fiscal at Stirling,
and to the medical teams supervised by Dr. Jack Beattie, as well as
the staff in the hospitals at Stirling, Falkirk and Yorkhill, who carried
out their duties superbly in the most distressing circumstances. All
the public services involved deserve the praise of the House,
and our recognition of the trauma that will continue to live with them. [Ed.
~ How could Michael Forsyth, in his position
as Secretary of State for Scotland, congratulate
the first two lots of people named, in the face of all the foregoing
evidence that should have left them conscience-stricken?]
The Lord Advocate
and I believe that this terrible tragedy should
be thoroughly and fully investigated. [Ed.
~ Why was Thomas Hamilton's background not
full investigated to discover who created all the loopholes for him
over many years?] We believe that it is desirable
and necessary that an inquiry should be undertaken
by a Senator of the College of
14 Mar 1996 : Column 1108
Justice--a senior Scottish
judge. Lord Cullen, who conducted the public
inquiry into the Piper Alpha
disaster, has agreed to undertake that responsibility. The Lord
Advocate plans to meet him and the Lord President
of the Court of Session tomorrow to discuss
the procedures that the inquiry should follow.
Her Majesty the Queen
yesterday sent her condolences to all those affected by this unspeakable
deed. The Queen and the Princess
Royal have both expressed a wish to visit Dunblane
as soon as circumstances make that appropriate, and I can tell the House
that they will be going there on Monday. [Ed
~ As Secretary of State for Scotland, Michael
Forsyth was simultaeously President
of the Board of Her Majesty’s Commissioners at Queen
Victoria School in Dunblane,
which carried a legal responsibility for the custody and care of the
children at QVS who were subjected to a paedophile
ring (known as "Friends of QVS")
in which Thomas Hamilton was involved. Hamilton
had almost unlimited access to QVS during
that period. Spec member and Mason,
Prince Philip, was a Patron of the Centenary
Appeal at QVS, so why
did he not accompany the Queen
when she visited Dunblane with his daughter,
Hon. Members will share
my sense of the inadequacy of any attempt we make in this House
to offer consolation to the families devastated by this vile crime. The
cold-blooded slaughter of tiny children is beyond atrocity. I
know that I speak for the whole House when
I say to the stricken families of Dunblane:
"Our deepest sympathy and our prayers are with you and for you. You
have the support of countless people around the world in your grief."
Tomorrow night, the people
of Dunblane will be holding a vigil for their
dead, their injured and their bereaved. I know that I speak for
the whole House when I say that the prayers
and thoughts of all hon. Members will be with them. The whole
Robertson (Hamilton): I am grateful to the Secretary
of State for his statement, and for his consideration
and kindness in inviting me to join him in Dunblane
yesterday. I agree with every word that the right hon. Gentleman
said. I warmly welcome the fact that Her Majesty the Queen
will visit the town next Monday. [Ed
~ As Under-Secretary of State for Scotland,
George Robertson was potentially the next
President of Queen Victoria School in Dunblane.]
There will not be a single
person in this country who would not have wakened this morning hoping
beyond hope that yesterday was just a bad dream; so there will be nobody
today who will not experience huge sadness and dismay on realising that
it did all happen.
One does not need to have
lived in the town of Dunblane or to have seen
three children go through Dunblane primary school
to share the grief, horror and sheer desolation that our town feels
today--one just has to be a fellow human being. It was that worst
of all possible nightmares that any parent can think of--and for it
to happen to so many of the littlest and most innocent makes the tragedy
one of unspeakable misery.
I have to say that Dunblane
today is worse than yesterday in its mourning, and tomorrow will probably
be worse still, as the enormity of the Massacre
comes home in the shape of real children gone, real families afflicted,
and a whole community scarred and tortured.
I join the Secretary
of State's tributes to headmaster Ron Taylor,
whose composure and self-control--which we witnessed yesterday--in the
face of the most traumatic events was an inspiration. To act with
speed and calmness as tiny pupils die in one's arms cannot be described
as ordinary professionalism--it was heroism. The staff of the
school also deserve great praise and thanks. We deeply mourn Gwen
Mayor, the truly dedicated teacher who died with her charges
in the gymnasium.
The Secretary and I met,
spoke to and thanked--and I do so again--members of the emergency services,
police, ambulance staff and medical teams
from a supremely dedicated health service, who acted with superlative
dedication and skill, even when their own emotions were
14 Mar 1996 : Column 1109
tested to the limit. We
must be so grateful for the caring services of the local councils, Church
leaders and members of the whole community, who poured in to help. Naturally,
there are questions to be asked--with the nation, let alone the local
community, needing answers. The worst service that we can do to
the infant victims is to rush to instant judgment. Therefore,
I strongly welcome the decision to appoint a High Court judge of the
calibre of Lord Cullen to investigate all
the circumstances of yesterday. [Ed
~ Why did he strongly welcome the appointment of a Masonic
"Spec" member to investigate the
Those of us who met and
distrusted Thomas Hamilton--I argued with
him in my own home--in truth could have had no inkling to guide us to
his final act of wantonness. Of course, we expect a thorough examination
of and any necessary action on the present gun laws,
which enabled such a man to own such a lethal armoury. School
security, too, will need looking at, but we should not pretend to ourselves
that even a fortress would have kept an armed, crazed, suicidal killer
at bay. That is not for today.
Today, the nation stands
beside and with a community devastated by a unique and terrible act
of evil. We here, and all of us who would root out the sickness
that spawns such an awful act, stand together in mourning and sympathy
with those whose loss today is beyond repair.
Forsyth: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his
welcome for the inquiry to be headed by Lord
Cullen. I fully understand the hon. Gentleman's
comments about Thomas Hamilton. I, too,
had some contact with him, as his constituency Member of Parliament,
and I agree that there could have been no inkling that he would be capable
of such a terrible act.
I entirely endorse the
hon. Gentleman's point about not rushing to judgment, and of course
he is right to highlight questions such as gun law
and the security of schools, which will need to be considered in the
context of the findings of the inquiry.
I will ensure that the Lord Advocate does
everything possible to ensure that the inquiry
is conducted speedily, so that those matters can be quickly laid to
Sir Hector Monro (Dumfries):
The whole House shares the grief of the people
of Dunblane at this horrible Massacre.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Dumfries and Galloway regional
council has considerable expertise in counselling and support, following
the Lockerbie air disaster, and is very anxious to help in any way if
Will my right hon. Friend
accept that I am glad that he has set up an inquiry
by Lord Cullen? I hope that it reports
as soon as possible, so that action can be taken subsequently.
I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend for the offer of assistance.
May I use this opportunity to thank all the local authorities which
offered help and support, including Strathclyde, which provided tremendous
support through the police, and the many authorities
which have offered expert support with counselling, which has been taken
up by the community? I will certainly try to ensure that my right
hon. Friend's request is met.
Mr Michael Connarty (Falkirk,
East): The Secretary of State will be aware
of my long association with the
14 Mar 1996 : Column 1110
district in which the community
of Dunblane lies. When I spoke to my
friends in Dunblane about attempting to make
a statement here, they said, "How can one put into words the silent
scream that went through the community of Dunblane
yesterday?" Like the Secretary of State
and my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton
(Mr Robertson), I have often shared
in the joys of that dynamic community in the past. I am certain
that I speak for everyone in the House when
I say that we attempt to reach out to the people of Dunblane
to offer to share some of the burden that has now been laid upon them.
In particular, I ask the
House to send our condolences to families
who have lost children and grandchildren, to the family and colleagues
of the teacher who was murdered yesterday, and to the community which,
as one of my friends from Dunblane said, has
had the heart and soul torn from it in this terrible and violent tragedy.
I have been in constant
contact with my friends and former colleagues in Dunblane
yesterday and today, and they are already deeply touched by the messages
sent by many people from all round the country, including those in Aberfan
who have faxed messages to them.
Will the Secretary
of State pass on to the Prime Minister
the community's thanks that he will visit the town tomorrow, in a non-political,
all-party manner, to carry the wishes of the House
to them for a speedy recovery from this terrible tragedy?
The hon. Gentleman and I are sparring partners of old, but today we
are united in our grief. I am sure that the people of Dunblane
will appreciate his words today. In the Scottish Office, we have
received telegrams and messages from all over the world. This
is a tragedy that has struck a chord with
parents everywhere, and the hon. Gentleman's remarks will be much appreciated
by the people of Dunblane.
Mr. Phil Gallie (Ayr):
Will my right hon. Friend accept the great concern and good wishes of
my constituents, from whom, over the past 24 hours, I have taken a number
of calls? One of them, Mrs. Ray of Ayr, has asked me to suggest
to the House that we stand for one minute's
silence. Whether that is possible under the rules of the
House, I am not sure; if not, perhaps what
the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr Robertson)
suggested might be considered at a later date.
I am sure that all of us will find our own ways of recognising this
tragedy--some in prayer, some by keeping silences, some by contemplating
what has happened. I believe that the message from this House
could not be clearer to the people of this country: we all share the
grief that the parents who have lost children in Dunblane
feel, and in their grieving we stand as one with them.
Wallace (Orkney and Shetland): The moving expressions
of tribute by the Secretary of State and the
hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr Robertson)
could not be bettered. They have spoken for the whole House,
and I will not elaborate on them. I merely hope that what cannot
be said will itself speak volumes. Many of us cannot put into
words what we actually feel.
I welcome the appointment
of such a distinguished judge as Lord Cullen. [Ed.
~ Does Jim Wallace QC still share these sentiments
or is he scratching
the back of a fellow suspect lawyer?] Can
the Secretary of State confirm that his inquiry
will have a wider remit than a fatal accident inquiry
14 Mar 1996 : Column 1111
we want the investigation to be as thorough as possible. Will
it be possible to commence the inquiry in
the not too distant future?
of State has said that anything we say will be inadequate,
but will he relay to his constituents on behalf of my right hon. and
hon. Friends and of the people of the United Kingdom the thought that,
although our words may be inadequate, we shall give the people of Dunblane
what we can in terms of our love, support and prayers?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman's last sentiment. The hon. Gentleman
is a lawyer, and as such he has the advantage of me, but he will know
that, under Scots law, there has to be a fatal accident inquiry,
usually led by the sheriff in the area concerned. The Lord
Advocate and I felt that the circumstances surrounding
this tragedy were so serious that it was right to have a senior and
judge of Lord Cullen's rank to
carry out the inquiry. We were extremely
grateful to him for agreeing to do it so promptly.
If the House
will permit me to, I should like to make a further statement on how
the inquiry will be carried out once the Lord
Advocate has had an opportunity to discuss with Lord
Cullen his views on the matter, which are an important
aspect of any consideration.
Rev Ian Paisley (North
Antrim): Great grief is never great at talking; it is not words, but
tears and a sob and a heartbreak. This House
has today reflected that more than I have ever seen in the many years
I have sat in it. When I heard about the tragedy,
I thought of the text of scripture that says:
"Rachel weeping for
her children refused to be comforted . . . because they were not."
Today I think of those who weep for their children and cannot be comforted
because they are not. That text comes from Old Testament prophecy
and it holds out a great hope.
Over against the wickedness
of this crime I hear the words of the Saviour, who said:
"Suffer the little
children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the Kingdom
I trust that that faith
and that hope will cast a beautiful rainbow over this terrible valley
I would associate the people
of Northern Ireland in sympathy with the people
of Dunblane. We have walked our valleys;
we too have known the anguish; we too have felt the pain. Deep
today calls unto deep from Northern Ireland
to those who sorrow in Scotland.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his remarks. If there
is one hope for the future, it lies in the nature of the community of
Dunblane. It is a strong, God-fearing
community, well served by voluntary organisations. I am sure that
they will rally round to meet this tragedy;
but nothing we can say or do, or they can do in Dunblane,
can remove what was done yesterday. I hope that there will never
be another day when this House has to contemplate
such an act.
Sir James Molyneaux (Lagan
Valley): As one who had the privilege of visiting Dunblane
only a few months ago, may I associate my hon. Friends with what has
been said already? As the Prime Minister
rightly said, at such
14 Mar 1996 : Column 1112
a time words can be extremely
inadequate. But we would all want the grieving families and all
who have suffered to know that they will be very much in our thoughts
and prayers in the coming days and weeks.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. Yesterday, the hon.
Member for Hamilton and I found that we could
not find adequate words. We could only show solidarity with the
community by being there and showing the people that we felt for them,
as the hon. Gentleman and the House have done
Mr Allan Stewart (Eastwood):
My right hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Hamilton
(Mr Robertson) have told the House
that it and the country have united in horror and grief at what happened.
On a practical point, is my right hon. Friend able to assure the House
that he will tell us as soon as possible what the approximate timetable
will be for the welcome inquiry by Lord
Yes, I am happy to give my hon. Friend that assurance. I am sure that
he will understand that it is necessary for us to consult Lord
Cullen before being in a position to do what my hon. Friend
Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow,
Maryhill): May I convey the deep sorrow of the Scottish all-party children's
group for the families and people of Dunblane?
It is not that long since all the parties in this place co-operated
in legislating for children in Scotland. The
group very much welcomes the Secretary of State's
promptness in instigating an inquiry, and
Lord Cullen's acceptance of the task.
I can only say now that I am sure that we shall all co-operate in any
necessary future legislation or action that seems to be helpful following
any of Lord Cullen's recommendations.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady. I am aware of the interest that
she takes in matters involving children's policy. I must say that
it is hard to think of legislation that we could pass that would in
its implementation act against the sort of irrational act of madness
which we saw carried out yesterday.
Mr Sam Galbraith (Strathkelvin
and Bearsden): I have three young daughters of primary school age, and
my heart goes out to those who have been devastated by what happened
yesterday. The Secretary of State will
probably not be aware that that man Thomas Hamilton
was running a youth club for primary children in Bishopbriggs in my
constituency. I would be grateful if the Secretary
of State were to ensure that Lord Cullen's
inquiry will examine Hamilton's
activities in my constituency.
I am sure that all Members, including me, will want to make available
to the inquiry any information they have. I
am sure that the proper place or stage at which these matters should
be examined is during Lord Cullen's inquiry. I
am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for drawing the matter to my
Mr David Wilshire (Spelthorne):
Although my constituency is a long way away from Dunblane,
the loss of my 12-year-old daughter 15 years ago makes me feel extremely
close. May I ask my right hon. Friend to convey yet another message
to his bereaved constituents? It is simply this: "Although
you will feel utterly alone, you are
14 Mar 1996 : Column 1113
not. All of us who
have been through a similar hell are willing you on and praying for
you. There is hope--really, there is. Although, as
the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson)
said, it will go on getting worse every day and you, the people of Dunblane,
will never get over it, please believe me that it really is just possible
to rebuild a life of some sort."
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for those words of comfort, which are
based on his own tragic experience. The Leader of the Opposition
said that every family with children must have had such thoughts last
night; such thoughts went through my mind. I am sure that my hon.
Friend's experience will provide some comfort. It is difficult
for people with children to imagine what it must be like to have to
cope with the loss of a child.
Mr. Andrew Welsh (Angus,
East): May I ask the Secretary of State to
convey our heartfelt condolences to the people of Dunblane;
their sorrow is shared by all of us. Will he, please, thank
the emergency services, teachers, police and
the health and other organisations for the outstanding work they have
done? I welcome the inquiry, and
I ask that it also examines the general issues of gun
legislation and school security. I hope that the inquiry
will be able to get to the truth of the matter. I thank
the Secretary of State personally for the
way in which he has conveyed the feelings of the House
to the people in his constituency.
Clearly, it will be a matter for Lord Cullen
to decide which issues he will want to examine in the context of this
incident, but I am sure that the points made by the hon. Gentleman about
the rules governing gun control and the issue of school security will
feature among them. As my right hon. Friend the Prime
Minister has pointed out, those matters are kept under
constant review, and the Firearms Consultative
Committee, which has been established for that purpose, has said today
that it will want to take full account of any issues arising from the
inquiry, and any recommendations following
I do not wish in any way
to pre-empt any of the inquiry's conclusions,
but, having been to the school yesterday, I think that it is very hard
to see how it would have been possible to have security around the school
that would have prevented a man armed with four guns
from being able to carry out that terrible deed, which we now know he
Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee,
West): Will the Secretary of State convey
to the people of Dunblane the sincere condolences
of the people in Dundee? Some years ago, an armed gunman broke
into St. John's high school in my constituency, and Mrs. Nanette Hanson,
a teacher there, lost her life protecting her pupils. So--in a
small way compared with the horrifying scale of what happened yesterday
in Dunblane--the people of Dundee have experienced
the actions of a deranged gunman. In that experience, we are with
the people of Dunblane in their hour of sorrow.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. The loss of a teacher's life
yesterday in protecting the children in her charge, as in the case of
the hon. Gentleman's
14 Mar 1996 : Column 1114
constituent, perhaps underlines
very graphically the debt we owe to the teaching profession, which serves
us so well throughout the United Kingdom.
Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock
and Port Glasgow): May I tell the Secretary of State
that some of my constituents have told me that this is a moment for
commiseration and deep condolences for the families in Dunblane;
hence, my constituents appreciate the decision to postpone tomorrow's
meeting of the Scottish Grand Committee. May I tell him how much
I welcome his promise of a statement to the House
on the terms of reference of Lord Cullen's
inquiry? Will he give serious thought
to the idea of giving a statement to the next meeting of the Scottish
Grand Committee on the licensing of firearms,
and the criteria by which they are issued?
I said that I would inform the House. I
am not sure whether it is necessary to make a statement to the House
about the terms, but I shall certainly be happy to discuss that matter
with the hon. Gentleman.
As for making a statement
to the next Scottish Grand Committee on the issue of firearms,
it might be more appropriate to allow the inquiry
to get under way--I hope that it will be conducted speedily. Once
we have the inquiry's conclusions, we will
be in a position to decide what, if any, action should be taken.
I think that the hon. Member for Hamilton's
words--that we should not rush too quickly to judgment at this time,
of all times--are very wise, and I am sure that all hon. Members will
think them worthy of being heeded.
Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick,
Cumnock and Doon Valley): May I thank the Secretary of State
and my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton
(Mr Robertson) for speaking so sympathetically
and eloquently for all of us in the House and in Scotland?
I add my voice to those of my colleagues and others who would
welcome Lord Cullen examining the question
of firearms and their use. If he is
not to do so, we would welcome some other examination of the issue.
There have been a number
of other incidents and, although they were not as serious and tragic
as this one, firearms are a cause for concern. I
hope that the Secretary of State will include
their use in the terms of reference of Lord Cullen's
inquiry, or give rapid further consideration
to how the law can be changed. I know that this incident might
not have been prevented, but it might make similar situations less likely
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. The Firearms
Consultative Committee keeps the legislation under review. I
shall certainly ensure that the hon. Gentleman's comments are drawn
to its attention. As I said, it has said that it will wish to
examine such matters in the light of the inquiry's
findings, but I shall certainly make sure that the committee is aware
of what the hon. Gentleman has just said.
Canavan (Falkirk, West): As the Member of Parliament representing
a neighbouring constituency, may I join in the expression of sympathy
for the parents, relatives and friends of the victims of this horrific
Massacre? As a former teacher in Central
region, may I also pay tribute to the heroism of the class teacher,Mrs
Gwen Mayor, and the head teacher, Mr Ron
Mar 1996 : Column 1115
Without prejudging the
findings of Lord Cullen's inquiry,
could the Secretary of State please tell the
House at this stage whether the perpetrator
of this evil crime did in fact have a firearms certificate? If
so, will he ensure that Lord Cullen's inquiry
will be a full investigation of how on earth an infamous character such
as Thomas Hamilton could apparently obtain
a firearms certificate that apparently enabled
him to carry four lethal handguns and how,
according to some reports, he was apparently running a gun
club at some stage? [Ed. ~ Dennis
Canavan asked this question of primary import just one
day after the Massacre, yet to this day none
of the real issues have been addressed.]
I confirm that it is my understanding that Mr. Hamilton
had a firearms licence for the weapons concerned.
It is also my understanding that he had no criminal convictions, and
that he had had licences for many years. The hon. Gentleman began
his question by asking me not to prejudge the findings of Lord
Cullen's inquiry; he will therefore
forgive me if I do not draw conclusions, which I felt that he was beginning
to do. [Ed. ~ Apart from his other
connecting interests in Dunblane, by dint
of being Scottish Secretary and President
of the Board of Her Majesty's Commissioners at Queen
Victoria School, this tragic town was in Michael
Forsyth's constituency. He personally knew Hamilton
and had one time congratulated him, so why the surprise that someone
might be drawing conclusions?]
was responsible for the inquiry following
the Piper Alpha disaster, and I think it is
common ground that he did a thorough and excellent job in inquiring
into the circumstances of that disaster and making recommendations.
[Ed. ~ Oh yeah? One man with a spanner was
blamed for causing all the damage and so saved the oil and insurance
companies a king's ransom!] I am sure that the same skills
and abilities will be deployed in considering all the issues
that concern the hon. Gentleman. I think that we would do well
to wait until he has produced his findings before reaching any conclusions.
Several hon. Members rose--
Madam Speaker: I think
that we should come to a close. But I believe that we have not
heard from anyone representing Wales.
Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore):
The reason I waited until the end was that I thought Scottish Members
and others should have preference. Some of the constituencies
of Wales were directly involved with the disaster
at Aberfan, so perhaps we can share even more
closely the feelings that have been expressed this afternoon.
Given our experience with
parents who suffered the loss of their children, and in view of the
remarks expressed this afternoon about the reaction of parents, might
I ask the Government to ensure that there
is adequate finance for counselling, because many people in the area
will need a great deal? I plead with the Government
to ensure that ready money is available immediately, so that counselling
can start straight away.
14 Mar 1996 : Column 1116
The experience that the
Government could gain from people who were
or who still are involved in counselling in Aberfan
could give the Secretary of State and my hon.
Friend the shadow Secretary of State a great
deal of assistance in helping the grieving parents.
Not just the parents, but the children in the school as well, who will
have been traumatised by this experience.
Of course resources will
be made available. Yesterday, when the hon. Member for Hamilton
and I were in Dunblane, we had an opportunity
to discuss these matters with the local authorities and others.
They have been overwhelmed by offers of support and help, and of course
we shall ensure that the resources are available for that.
All the evidence is that
the counselling has already begun, and people are doing everything they
can to lend help and support. But, if I may say so, I think that
it is a mistake to believe that counselling can wipe things away or
undo the harm that has been done. It is an important prop. It
is an aid. When we visited the school yesterday, people were already
very much involved in that.
I am most grateful to the
hon. Gentleman for his offer of Celtic support
from Wales. We Scots and the Welsh have
much in common and the hon. Gentleman's words will be very much appreciated
Madam Speaker: I wish
to call one more hon. Member. Mr. Martyn Jones.
Mr. Martyn Jones (Clwyd,
South-West): As a lay member of the Firearms
Consultative Committee, which by pure chance met this morning, I wish
to convey its great concern over this incredibly evil act. We
have heard so many hon. Members in the Chamber expressing views that,
in truth, are inexpressible.
I am pleased, as I know
is the Firearms Consultative Committee, that
a full inquiry is being instituted.
If there is any chance that something has gone wrong in administration,
or if the committee could suggest further legislation, will Government
time be given for that at the earliest opportunity?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, I cannot commit legislation without having
a specific proposal, and without the support and agreement of my right
hon. Friends. But what I can say is that the committee is there
in order to keep the firearms legislation
under review, and I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend the
Home Secretary and I would consider carefully
any proposals that are put forward in the light of consideration of
the circumstances and any recommendations which might come from the
14 Mar 1996 : Column 1117
- End of Dunblane