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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

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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."

Mr. Forsyth: 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.

Mr. Forsyth: 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 from it.

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 did.

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.

Mr. Forsyth: 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

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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?

Mr. Forsyth: 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 in future.

Mr. Forsyth: 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.

Mr. Dennis 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 Taylor?

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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?

Mr. Forsyth: 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.

Lord Cullen 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. 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.

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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.


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