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Mr. George Robertson (Hamilton): I thank the Secretary of State for his statement, and join him in thanking Lord Cullen for his report, and for the patient, thorough and painstaking way in which he conducted this important and sensitive exercise. The wide-ranging issues that he has examined and has made recommendations on emphasise the wisdom of holding this sort of inquiry, and I look forward, with my colleagues, with more time available, to examining in detail what he says.

I also express my personal gratitude and thanks to the Secretary of State for Scotland for the genuine kindness and consideration that he has shown to myself and to my wife during and after the tragedy--a tragedy that took place in the small town of Dunblane, which he represents and where I and my family have lived for over 20 years.

On 13 March, we were two rival politicians with politics utterly forgotten in the shadow of unspeakable evil and tragedy; two fathers united in total grief at the horror that we were to witness, and perhaps recall for ever, in a school that we both knew so well; two men, members of the human family, united then and now in an overriding conviction that this massacre, involving 16 tiny children and their brave, dedicated teacher, or anything like it, must never, ever, happen again.

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That must, of course, remain the starting point for approaching any of the recommendations in Lord Cullen's report today and in the days ahead. Let me make it clear that I fully appreciate the feelings that the Secretary of State for Scotland must have experienced in these past seven months as he tried, as indeed I had to do myself, to reconcile strong personal feelings with an obligation to make the right decisions on changes to the law of the land.

I now turn to the detailed recommendations in the report. As the Secretary of State has said, Lord Cullen deals in some detail with the handling of the incident on the day, and, as he acknowledges, there was here an incident of unprecedented scale, involving such horrifying carnage that no one could have been fully prepared to deal with it, still less one of Britain's smallest police forces.

Mistakes were clearly made, the most serious one of which was the treatment on the day of the parents of the dead and of the injured. Lord Cullen says that this was unacceptable. Central Scotland police and the chief constable have acknowledged the fault, and have apologised to those who were concerned, but it is a lesson in human handling which must never be lost.

Is the Secretary of State aware, though, that what comes through from the harrowing description in this report of the events of 13 March is the remarkable, indeed inspirational, performance of the school staff--especially the head teacher, Ron Taylor--and the whole range of medical services, emergency services, and indeed individual police officers, all of them local, all of them traumatised and all of them emotionally connected to the victims? Their heroism and professionalism in the face of the most terrible events imaginable should never be forgotten by us.

Lord Cullen deals in his report with the circumstances whereby Thomas Hamilton continued, in the face of rising concern about him, to get his gun licences renewed; this is a matter of real importance to those, like myself and the Secretary of State and many others, who long campaigned against Thomas Hamilton. Lord Cullen makes the point:


    "should have been acted upon",

but he goes on, pointing up the need for serious reform in this area, to say that the eventual outcome would have depended on the outcome of the appeal to the sheriff, which he had no doubt that Thomas Hamilton would have taken. Lord Cullen's conclusion, setting aside the great wisdom of hindsight, is:

    "It is not certain that an appeal would have been unsuccessful."

Certification changes are now being proposed, and the means by which Thomas Hamilton got his gun licences and continued to hold them must not be used again. Deputy Chief Constable McMurdo, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary, has today taken responsibility for what he did. His resignation is an example of honour, but the system has to change.

On school security, Lord Cullen makes the valid point:

We agree with that, and with the point that varied school layouts and geography do not easily lend themselves to a simple formula. The recommendation of an action plan for each school on the points that Lord Cullen identifies

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is right. I commend the right hon. Gentleman's announcement, both on its speed and on the promise of funding for that recommendation.

On the vetting and supervision of young people, I welcome Lord Cullen's recommendations and the Government's acceptance of them. Lord Cullen underlines the sadly deficient present situation when he says:

The establishment of a new registration body will be a major step in the direction of placing hurdles in the way of future Thomas Hamiltons, without deterring genuinely motivated people from helping with youth clubs. The Secretary of State has our support for the new qualification in that area and for the procedures on police information.

Decisions about how we deal with the lessons of Dunblane are helped immeasurably by Lord Cullen's wise analysis and recommendations--but the buck stops here, with the lawmakers of this country. It is up to us to make the final judgment, and then to be judged on that. We have to act decisively and urgently, and the Opposition will co-operate fully in what needs to be done.

I know that firearms are to be the subject of a separate statement, but I feel it necessary to make one point. I warmly welcome the shift by the Government to an almost complete ban on handguns. They were right to listen with care to the force of public opinion.

Given that they have already come that far, I urge the Secretary of State and the Government to take that final but fundamental step towards the eradication of handguns in our country. There is no place in any decent civilised society for handguns of any sort. Let us therefore resolve that the lasting legacy of the evil that visited Dunblane on 13 March will be the complete outlawing of handguns, so that that sort of atrocity can never, ever, happen again.

Mr. Forsyth: I am extremely grateful to the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) for his kind words. I echo the tribute that he paid to the performance on that day of the emergency services and--although there have been criticisms of the police--of individual police officers, which was inspiring.

I agree that there are issues relating to the appeal to the sheriff for refusal of licence certificates. Those issues are addressed in the Cullen report, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary will respond on that.

I also agree that we must do what we can to make schools secure, but we must not turn them into fortresses. They are schools--they are places where our children should be safe, but they should feel as open as possible to the wider community.

The hon. Gentleman referred to a shift in the Government's position. I have been determined that the Government's position should be decided only when we had the Cullen report. The Government's position was decided yesterday at a meeting of colleagues, where a paper was presented jointly by me and by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary. There has been no shift in our position--which represents our considered view, having considered Lord Cullen's recommendations. It is important that the House should be aware of that.

I agree that it is important that we should be seen to act speedily, and I welcome the hon. Gentleman's support.

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I believe that the package of measures that will be presented to the House today represents the right answer. The package represents a proper, balanced response, and I very much hope that all hon. Members will be able to deal with it quickly and with as much unity as possible.

Sir Hector Monro (Dumfries): Will my right hon. Friend accept that he has gained tremendous respect and praise across Scotland--as has the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson)--for his handling of this tragedy since that fatal day last March? I warmly accept Lord Cullen's recommendations--although, obviously, we have not had a chance to examine them in detail.

From the evidence and from what my right hon. Friend said, it seems likely that, had the proper procedures been carried out, Hamilton would never have had a firearms certificate. Will my right hon. Friend tell us how he hopes to improve co-ordination between the police, the procurator fiscal, social workers and others, so that doubtful cases can be vetted and this type of incident never happens again?

Mr. Forsyth: I agree with my right hon. Friend. The report details the shortcomings in how the licence application was granted and renewed. It also points out, as the hon. Member for Hamilton said, the difficulties that arose because of the uncertainty surrounding the possibility of a refusal being overturned on appeal to the sheriff.

The report contains specific recommendations dealing with the presentation of information and the tests that should be applied on appeal, which go a long way towards meeting my right hon. Friend's concerns. As I have already said, we have accepted all of the recommendations, including those relating to the matters about which my right hon. Friend is concerned.

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