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11.55 am

Mr. John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington): I shall try to deliver my speech in five minutes. I congratulate the Leader of the House on her appointment. I was one of those who supported her in her bid to become deputy leader of the party--never mind Leader of the House.

I again draw the House's attention to the case of Diarmuid O'Neill. Some hon. Members will recall that, on the morning of 23 September 1996, radio and television news bulletins reported that an IRA suspect had been shot dead in west London. As the news developed, there were reports that the man had been shot in a gun battle and that there had been a bomb factory in the house. The man was Diarmuid O'Neill. It later transpired that Diarmuid was not armed; that no weapons were found on the premises; that the shots had come only from police weapons; and that there had been no explosives on the premises.

The case raises many serious questions about the role of, and reasons for, police media briefings. It also transpired that Mr. O'Neill had been shot six times; that CS gas canisters had been fired at his back; that, with blood pouring from him, he was dragged down the house steps; and that he was denied medical treatment for 25 minutes. Curiously, a similar operation had been carried out at another house that morning, the O'Neill family house, where his brother Shane was arrested, although he was later freed. There were no shots fired at that house and no one was injured. The matter was referred to the Police Complaints Authority and is still with it.

When the issue was raised in the House, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary reported that the progress of the inquiry had been delayed by court proceedings which were about to take place. Those proceedings were held in October, and at them taped evidence confirmed that Diarmuid O'Neill and the people who were with him were seeking to surrender while they were being shot. Six bullets were pumped into Diarmuid O'Neill, although the taped evidence made it clear that his hands were up and that he had informed the police officer that he had no weapons.

The tape-recorded evidence draws out questions that need to be considered by the Police Complaints Authority. For example, why were six bullets pumped into Mr. O'Neill? Why was the action allowed to continue after the officer in charge had left the premises? Why was

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there no deputy in command of the operation? Why was it decided to shoot Diarmuid O'Neill, and who was responsible for the decision? Why did the police give a false briefing when it was quite clear that morning, soon after the house was examined, that there were no arms or weapons on the premises? Why was Mr. O'Neill carried into the street for medical treatment when paramedics were on hand outside and could have treated him where he lay? Why was medical treatment delayed for so long? Why was it decided to effect the arrests in the manner that has been described, and who was responsible for that decision? Why was CS gas used in breach of the operational plan to use it only to cover withdrawal? In fact, it was used almost as an offensive weapon. Another key question is this: why did a marksman of--as we now gather from the trial--seven years' experience shoot Diarmuid O'Neill six times?

There are questions about the Police Complaints Authority inquiry itself. Why is it that the Metropolitan police itself constitutes the inquiry team? Why is it examining its own actions? That is unusual for a PCA inquiry. In addition, why has there been such a huge delay? PCA inquiries have a service standard: they should report 120 days after an issue is first referred to them. It is now nearly two years since the issue was first referred to the inquiry on 24 September 1996. Why was the officer originally carrying out the PCA inquiry selected when he was about to retire, the discovery being made that he would have to be replaced?

We have now discovered that the PCA team has not so far interviewed the officers who were also in the house at the time of the arrest. This inquiry, the inquiry in relation to my constituent Mr. Ricky Reel and the Lawrence inquiry demonstrate the need for the PCA system to be reviewed. We should go towards a new system of separate professional inquiry teams that produce public inquiries and public reports. I hope that the Leader of the House will be able to take that matter back to the Home Secretary.

12 noon

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): I welcome the right hon. Lady to her new position as the Leader of the House and, in doing so, echo many hon. Members in all parts of the House. She is not entirely unacquainted with that responsibility, although the previous time, she was the shadow Leader of the House. During the time that she held that office, she showed that she had a high regard and affection for this place and we look forward to enlightened leadership under her.

It would also be remiss of me not to pay a brief tribute to the right hon. Lady's predecessor, who is now the Government Chief Whip, a rather interesting transition. It is a bit like going from being lord of the manor to gamekeeper, but I am sure that she will bring great distinction to her new role; she certainly brought distinction to her previous one. I know that I speak for hon. Members in all parts of the House in paying tribute to her for the way in which she sought to discharge what is, by any standard, a very difficult job.

I have referred to it before as a schizophrenic job because the Leader of the House is the Leader of the House of Commons and, in that sense, has a responsibility second only to the Speaker, but, at the same time, the Leader of the House is also a pivotal member of Her

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Majesty's Government with responsibility to get legislation through. To balance the two duties is not easy. Although we were, from time to time, critical of the previous Leader of the House, I think that, without exception, we felt that she discharged her duties with good faith and real conscientious endeavour.

I hope that the summer Adjournment debate, which is a feature of our proceedings, will never be modernised out of existence because it gives hon. Members in all parts of the House an opportunity to raise matters of particular concern to them. Today, we have ranged from a pet called Penny to Cyprus, an issue of great global importance. Indeed, the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) was an omnibus speech in itself. He has just about snatched the Amess award for omnibus speeches. He certainly supplied enough headlines for his local paper to last him through the recess.

Mr. Maclean: That was the object of the exercise.

Sir Patrick Cormack: My right hon. Friend certainly discharged it very faithfully.

I refer, alas not in great detail, to each of the speeches that we have heard. The hon. Member for Clydesdale (Mr. Hood) talked about dignity at work and the problems of bullying. He raised many a wry smile when he talked about career assassination in the context of some of this week's developments, but he made a serious point point I am sure that the Leader of the House will wish to address, if not in detail today, at least in correspondence later. Whether she will wish to deal, especially bearing in mind what has happened to her predecessor, with his call for the abolition of whipping is another matter entirely, but, in the spirit of bonhomie at this time of the year, if the Government do decide to abolish whipping, we shall carefully consider whether we can do the same.

We then had a very good speech from my hon. Friend the Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin), the shadow Deputy Chief Whip. He raised what has happened to the man charged with thinking the unthinkable. All I will say is that we look forward to many distinguished contributions from the Back Benches from the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field); there is no more distinguished Member of the House.

My hon. Friend's main argument was a powerful plea for the retention of magistrates courts in those delightful Derbyshire towns of Ashbourne, Bakewell and Matlock. As one who also comes from a largely rural area where we have magistrates courts, I say that this is a serious matter. I hope that the Leader of the House will draw the attention of the Lord Chancellor to my hon. Friend's speech. I hope that the Lord Chancellor will, in turn, take those points carefully into account and, as he does so, bear in mind the origin of the magistracy and how important it is that it should have a local base.

The hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Cunliffe) is a great expert on horse racing. He made a powerful plea that Ladbrokes and Coral should not be allowed to merge. He talked about the need for total deregulation, but, throughout his speech, he was casting himself in the role of the punter's friend. I am sure that the punter could have no better friend, other than, perhaps, the Foreign Secretary.

The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow) was eloquent on the subject of the chihuahua called Penny and talked about pets and old people. All I will say is that

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he made an important point and I hope that it will always be regarded with sensitivity, but there are issues, such as hygiene, which those who have charge of local authority dwellings and other such places must always take carefully into account.

The hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox)--I am glad to see him here--who has worked indefatigably for the Cypriot cause, made a speech that was no surprise to any of us, but was none the less powerful. The underlying tensions in Cyprus are crucial to NATO as a whole. The thought of having two NATO countries at war with each other should fill us all with grave foreboding. It is crucial that efforts to achieve an honourable settlement in Cyprus, as he called it, should be pursued. We must all hope that that honourable settlement, which has so long evaded those who have pursued it, will be reached sooner rather than later.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border made so many pleas that I cannot refer to them all, but I was interested in his talk about the politburo in Cumbria. I totally support his general lines on grammar schools and on the Territorial Army. I hope that the Fourth Battalion King's Own Border Regiment is indeed reprieved and that it will not be reduced to the sort of numbers where it can supply merely the three members that he wanted for the rural development board.

My right hon. Friend talked of the many needs of rural areas and made a powerful point about the loss of farm incomes--46 per cent. down--and the particular plight of hill farmers. They cannot have a more doughty champion than him.

The hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle), a veritable chip off the old block of his noble father, talked about the car industry and raised the point about the incredible discrepancy in price. His plea should certainly elicit a good response from the right hon. Lady. We are told that the Labour party was elected by Mondeo man and as the Mondeo is apparently 58 per cent. more expensive here than in any other country, the right hon. Lady will wish to respond positively, if only to maintain the garnering of votes.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) talked about the need for passports for pets and quarantine laws. None of us should lose sight of the crucial importance of making sure that the United Kingdom is rabies-free. However, few hon. Members are not persuaded that there is an extremely strong case for careful reconsideration and I hope that we shall soon have a definitive announcement from the Government.

My neighbour, the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) talked about the need for a long service medal for prison officers. As one who also has an important prison in his constituency, I echo his request. For some time, I have paid a quarterly visit to Featherstone. Indeed, I have been visiting that prison since before it had any inmates and I am always impressed by the dedication of the staff. There is no more difficult job than being a prison officer, and the plea that prison officers should have a long service medal similar to that for the police should not fall on deaf ears. I trust that we shall have a sympathetic response from the right hon. Lady and that she will add her considerable powers of advocacy to the plea made by the hon. Gentleman.

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The hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell) would doubtless support that plea as he is a distinguished holder of the OBE. Today, he talked about modernisation. I understand his impatience, but I hope that he will not hassle the right hon. Lady and that she will have a chance to look at the papers. In particular, I hope that she will have the chance to take most carefully into account the considered comments of Madam Speaker on the recent proposals by the Modernisation Committee.

The comments of the hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint)--who could not be bewitched by her appearance or her arguments?--should be taken carefully into account, but she was a little dismissive of the thoroughness with which the Administration Committee has looked at the issue that she raised. Although she is right to campaign for something in which she believes so strongly, she should realise that hon. Members have looked at the matter sympathetically, as was demonstrated by the report of the Administration Committee.

The speech of the hon. Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard) made classic use of the debate in an eloquent and moving plea for the establishment of proper skin banks. Nobody listening to his speech could fail to have been deeply touched by the account of the tragedy that afflicted the family of Stephen Kirby. Although I had never considered the donor card point that he made, I hope that the Secretary of State for Health will consider it carefully.

My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) was not quite up to his mammoth performance before Christmas when his speech ranged from world peace to the palace of varieties at Southend, but still contrived to raise four or five subjects and to make passing reference to two others. I was interested in what he said about standards in schools and the qualifications needed for school inspectors. His points about pre-school playgroups and consumer protection are also important.

The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell) raised a disturbing case. I could not begin to comment as I am not familiar with it. Although it would be uncharitable to hope that the right hon. Lady could give a definitive response, it is perhaps a subject that would lend itself to a specific half-hour Adjournment debate when we return in the autumn, and I would advise the hon. Gentleman to apply for one. Obviously, it is important that a Home Office Minister should have a proper opportunity to place on record the official response to the disturbing questions that he raised.

We are approaching the end of a fairly long, gruelling time--not the end of the Session because we have a spillover period in the autumn--and it is good that, once again, we have had the opportunity of this debate. As I said at the outset, I very much hope that it is a tradition that will be maintained under the right hon. Lady's leadership of the House.

Finally, I hope that right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House will take a little time off from the constituency duties that inevitably occupy us for most of the recess to have a good holiday and I wish you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and all in the House a very pleasant summer.


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