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1974: Striking the heart of government
Former Labour MP Tam Dalyell was in the Houses of Parliament when the IRA's bomb exploded on 17 June 1974.

During his 32 years at Westminster, Mr Dalyell has witnessed many breaches of security - including having horse manure thrown at him from the public gallery while he was speaking in the Commons in 1978.

Despite these scares, and current fears of an attack, he firmly believes politicians should be accessible to the people they govern.

It came out of the blue. No one expected in those days that the House of Commons would be a target. Security was extremely casual and I don't blame anyone. Hindsight is a marvellous thing.

I was in the central lobby and heard this huge bang and of course we all rushed to where the noise was coming from. What I remember about it was the fire that had broken out in one corner of Westminster Hall.

When politicians are personally affected, they tend to take an interest

Soon after we were all ushered outside and smoke was rising from the roof.

There was concern and caution about a second attack. I don't remember any panic. I was considerably concerned about that wonderful roof that goes back to the 13th century. It's wood that has often been replaced, but always from the same place in Sussex.

I felt consternation more than affronted. Absolute consternation and a feeling of a plague on all the Irish.

Did the bomb shape my views? No, because I was one of those MPs who had been to Northern Ireland at the time of the Ulster Workers' Strike. I was taking a deep interest in the affairs of Northern Ireland and knew a lot about it.

I think the bomb probably did change attitudes. It certainly shook some of my colleagues who'd shown no interest whatsoever in the affairs of the North of Ireland.

When politicians are personally affected, they tend to take an interest.

Foreign policies

I'm deeply concerned about the question of public access. I'm very unhappy when it comes down to glass screens. I'm uncomfortable about special protection for my colleagues and me.

I suppose it's got to be done for government ministers, but there are a lot of other people in society - in banks and offices and Tube stations - who can also say: why aren't we going to be protected?

My attitude is also that it's better to get to the causes of the problem.

It's very much a question of the policies of nation states. In France and Germany there isn't the need for security because they showed some sense about going to war in Iraq.

Once Pandora's Box had been opened and an Arab country had been attacked like this - as it turns out, for no good reason - then people can scarcely be surprised at violence and retaliation.

We've now got ourselves into a position where certainly cameras are necessary and I suppose there have to be men with guns [protecting Parliament].

But this is very much a matter of foreign policy decision making and those who are vehemently against the war in Iraq might say, "What on earth did you expect?"

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Fire fighters tackle the blaze caused by the bomb
The bomb caused a major fire in Westminster Hall


Tam Dalyell, 2004
Tam Dalyell says no one expected an attack on Westminster
In Context
Tam Dalyell was first elected as Labour MP for Linlithgow, Scotland, in 1962.

He became Father of the House - the title given to Britain's longest serving MP - on the retirement of Edward Heath in 2001.

The old Etonian has carved a reputation as a fierce campaigner, especially in opposition to war. He has never been afraid to speak his mind, to the frequent frustration of spin doctors and party whips.

Mr Dalyell stepped down as an MP at the 2005 general election.

Horse dung drama
"I was standing on my feet waxing eloquent about the details of Scottish education and suddenly all this dung showered down.

"Being a sort of stiff-upper-lipped cavalryman - what the infantry call a donkey-walloper - I was determined to go on speaking, much to the approval of my colleagues.

"Shortly afterwards I went out of the chamber and said to one of the badge messengers, with whom I was friendly and whom I knew to be a former Corporal Major at Horse Guards, 'Where on earth did they get that manure?'

"His reply I will remember to my dying day: 'Not us, sir. Too loose.' So it certainly didn't come from the Horse Guards or the Life Guards.

"It was thrown by Miss Mintoff, the daughter of the Maltese Prime Minister, whom I knew. This was all about Malta rather than Scottish education. I didn't take it personally."

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