HC Deb 14 September 2001 vol 372 cc604-16 9.37 am
Mr. Speaker

Before I call the Prime Minister I should like to inform the House that at 11 am I shall invite colleagues to rise and observe three minutes silence in memory of those who lost their lives in the tragic events in the United States this week.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair)

I am grateful, Mr. Speaker, that you agreed to the recall of Parliament to debate the hideous and foul events in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania that took place on Tuesday 11 September.

I thought it particularly important in view of the fact that these attacks were not just attacks upon people and buildings; nor even merely upon the United States of America; these were attacks on the basic democratic values in which we all believe so passionately and on the civilised world. It is therefore right that Parliament, the fount of our own democracy, makes its democratic voice heard.

There will, of course, be different shades of opinion heard today. That again is as it should be, but let us unite in agreeing this: what happened in the United States on Tuesday was an act of wickedness for which there can be no justification. Whatever the cause, whatever the perversion of religious feeling, whatever the political belief, to inflict such terror on the world; to take the lives of so many innocent and defenceless men, women, and children, can never ever be justified.

Let us unite too, with the vast majority of decent people throughout the world in sending our condolences to the Government and people of America. They are our friends and allies, and we the British are a people who stand by their friends in times of need, tragedy and trial, and we do so without hesitation now.

The events themselves are sickeningly familiar to us. Starting at 08.45 US time, two hijacked planes were flown straight into the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York. Shortly afterwards at 09.43, another hijacked plane was flown into the Pentagon in Washington. At 10.05 the first tower collapsed; at 10.28 the second; later another building at the World Trade Centre. The heart of New York's financial district was devastated; carnage, death and injury everywhere. Around 10.30 we heard reports that a fourth hijacked aircraft had crashed south of Pittsburgh.

I should like, on behalf of the British people and, I hope, on behalf of the House, to express our admiration for the selfless bravery of the New York and American emergency services, many of whom have lost their lives. As we speak, the total death toll is still unclear, but it amounts, we know, to several thousands.

Because the World Trade Centre was the home of many big financial firms, and because many of their employees are British, whoever committed these acts of terrorism will have murdered at least a hundred British citizens, maybe many more. Murder of British people in New York is no different in nature from their murder here in the heart of Britain itself. In the most direct sense, therefore, we have not merely an interest, but an obligation to bring those responsible to account.

To underline the scale of the loss, we can think back to some of the appalling tragedies that the House has spoken of in the recent past. We can recall the grief aroused by the tragedy at Lockerbie, in which 270 people were killed, 44 of them British. In Omagh, the last terrorist incident to lead to a recall of Parliament, 29 people lost their lives—each life lost a tragedy; each one of these events a nightmare for our country.

But the death toll that we are confronting here is of a different order. In the Falklands war, 255 British service men perished, and during the Gulf war we lost 47, so in this case, we are talking about a tragedy of epoch making proportions. As the scale of the calamity becomes clearer, I fear that there will be many a community in our country where heartbroken families are grieving the loss of a loved one. I have asked the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to ensure that everything that they need by way of practical support is being done.

Here in Britain, we have instituted certain precautionary measures of security. We have tightened security measures at all British airports, and ensured that no planes can take off unless their security is assured. We have temporarily redirected air traffic so that planes do not fly over central London. City airport is reopening this morning.

We have also been conscious of the possibility of economic disruption. Some sectors, such as the airlines and the insurance industry, will be badly affected. But financial markets have quickly stabilised. The oil producers have helped keep the oil price steady. Business is proceeding, as far as possible, as normal.

There are three things that we must now take forward urgently. First, we must bring to justice those responsible. Rightly, President Bush and the US Government have proceeded with care. They did not lash out. They did not strike first and think afterwards. Their very deliberation is a measure of the seriousness of their intent. They, together with allies, will want to identify, with care, those responsible. That is a judgment that must and will be based on hard evidence. Once that judgment is made, the appropriate action can be taken. It will be determined, it will take time, it will continue over time until this menace is properly dealt with and its machinery of terror destroyed.

But one thing should be very clear. By their acts, these terrorists and those behind them have made themselves the enemies of the entire civilised world. Their objective we know. Our objective will be to bring to account those who have organised, aided, abetted and incited this act of infamy; and those who harbour or help them have a choice: either to cease their protection of our enemies or be treated as an enemy themselves.

Secondly, this is a moment when every difference between nations, every divergence of interest, every irritant in our relations, should be put to one side in one common endeavour. The world should stand together against this outrage.

NATO has already, for the first time since it was founded in 1949, invoked article 5 and determined that this attack in America will be considered as an attack against the alliance as a whole. The UN Security Council on Wednesday passed a resolution which set out its readiness to take all necessary steps to combat terrorism. From Russia, China, the EU, from Arab states, Asia and the Americas, from every continent of the world, has come united condemnation. This solidarity must be maintained and translated into support for action.

We do not yet know the exact origin of this evil. But if, as appears likely, it is so-called Islamic fundamentalists, we know that they do not speak or act for the vast majority of decent law-abiding Muslims throughout the world. I say to our Arab and Muslim friends: "Neither you nor Islam is responsible for this; on the contrary, we know you share our shock at this terrorism, and we ask you as friends to make common cause with us in defeating this barbarism that is totally foreign to the true spirit and teachings of Islam."

I would add that, now more than ever, we have reason not to let the middle east peace process slip still further, but if at all possible to reinvigorate it and move it forward.

Thirdly, whatever the nature of the immediate response to these terrible events in America, we need to rethink dramatically the scale and nature of the action that the world takes to combat terrorism.

We know a good deal about many of these terror groups. But as a world we have not been effective at dealing with them. Of course it is difficult. We are democratic. They are not. We have respect for human life. They do not. We hold essentially liberal values. They do not. As we look into these issues it is important that we never lose sight of our basic values. But we have to understand the nature of this enemy and act accordingly.

Civil liberties are a vital part of our country and of our democratic world. But the most basic liberty of all is the right of the ordinary citizen to go about their business free from fear or terror. That liberty has been denied, in the cruellest way imaginable, to the passengers aboard the hijacked planes, to those who perished in the trade towers and the Pentagon, to the hundreds of rescue workers killed as they tried to help.

We need to look once more, nationally and internationally, at extradition laws and the mechanisms for international justice, at how these terrorist groups are financed and their money laundered and the links between terror and crime, and we need to frame a response that will work and hold internationally. For this form of terror knows no mercy, no pity and no boundaries.

Let us make this reflection too. A week ago, anyone suggesting that terrorists would kill thousands of innocent people in downtown New York would have been dismissed as alarmist, yet it happened. We know that these groups are fanatics, capable of killing without discrimination. The limits on the numbers that they kill and their methods of killing are not governed by any sense of morality. The limits are only practical and technical. We know, that they would, if they could, go further and use chemical, biological, or even nuclear weapons of mass destruction. We know, also, that there are groups of people, occasionally states, who will trade the technology and capability of such weapons.

It is time that this trade was exposed, disrupted, and stamped out. We have been warned by the events of 11 September, and we should act on the warning.

There is a great deal to do and many details to be filled in, and much careful work to be undertaken over the coming days, weeks and months. We need to mourn the dead and then act to protect the living.

Terrorism has taken on a new and frightening aspect. The people perpetrating it wear the ultimate badge of the fanatic: they are prepared to commit suicide in pursuit of their beliefs. Our beliefs are the very opposite of theirs. We believe in reason, democracy and tolerance. These beliefs are the foundation of our civilised world. They are enduring, they have served us well, and as history has shown, we have been prepared to fight, when necessary, to defend them. The fanatics should know that we hold our beliefs every bit as strongly as they hold theirs, and now is the time to show it.

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green)

I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for giving us the opportunity to speak on this matter. On behalf of the official Opposition, I thank the Prime Minister for his statement. He is to be congratulated on responding to this crisis quickly and resolutely, and on giving a lead to other nations that value freedom and democracy.

We are party politicians in a stable democracy, and we are used to the cut and thrust of political debate, here and outside, yet we are also, as the Prime Minister said, the guardians of a set of values that are underpinned by that democracy and the rule of law. It is those values that were attacked with such callous and brutal ferocity, and contempt for human life, in New York and Washington on Tuesday. That is why we are united in the House in our determination not only to extend our genuine and heartfelt sympathy to the United States but to defend civilised values against those who seek to bring them down by violence.

The people of the United Kingdom, who have themselves stood firmly against terrorism for so many years, will expect nothing less of us than to rise above party politics. I have absolutely no hesitation in giving the Prime Minister my party's full support for his immediate pledge to stand shoulder to shoulder with our strongest friends and allies in the United States. Together, we must ensure that the perpetrators are hunted down and brought to justice, as he said.

Over the coming days and weeks, there may be some who counsel caution over the full measure of support that the Prime Minister has already declared. By contrast, I assure him that he will have our total backing throughout in maintaining his position of unflinching support for the United States in its search for the perpetrators and its subsequent actions.

The NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson, rightly said that an attack on one is an attack on all. I want to put on record how strongly I congratulate him on invoking article 5 of the North Atlantic treaty. We now have an opportunity to support the United States in the defence of freedom and democracy, as it has supported us in the past.

I join the Prime Minister in sending our heartfelt condolences to the American people, and specifically those whose loved ones have been killed or injured in this terrible and sickening series of atrocities. The thoughts and prayers of the entire House and, I believe, the entire nation, are with all those who are suffering.

The sheer horror of what took place on Tuesday is virtually impossible to comprehend, as is the evil of people who would commit such acts against fellow human beings—indeed, against humanity itself. For me, that was brought starkly home when I learned that not only those in the planes and buildings had perished but hundreds of emergency workers, as they selflessly sought to save the lives of others.

One of the most moving and poignant images in today's press is of a fireman running up the stairs as others were running in the opposite direction, fleeing for their lives. Sadly, it seems that he may well have lost his life, but nothing better illustrates the courage and unfailing sense of duty that he and so many others showed on that day.

It is likely to be some time before the final toll of casualties is known, but we know that it will run into thousands and include people of many nationalities. We know, too, as the Prime Minister said, that it appears that as many as one in 10 of those who died may well have been British, making this the worst terrorist atrocity ever against our own country.

Let me also say how much we admire the response of the American people, who have shown a steely determination to carry on with their everyday lives. As the Prime Minister said, by their example they will have demonstrated to the world once again why such cowardly acts of evil will never succeed.

What has been highlighted in the most graphic and awful way possible is the changing nature of the threat to freedom and democracy that we face. I agree with the Prime Minister that we need urgently to assess how we respond, individually and collectively, and I welcome his commitment to review the laws against terrorism, taking account also of the worrying links with organised crime.

Furthermore, have not Tuesday's attacks also shattered the dangerous notion that, after the end of the cold war, the United Kingdom and others would no longer face any direct threats? Tuesday's events showed that, whether rogue states or terrorists, there is no limit to what those who are prepared to carry out such threats will do. There are no weapons they will not use and no life they will not sacrifice. For them, terror has become an end in itself.

For the rest of us, as one leading British Muslim said, the loss of one innocent life is the equivalent of the loss of humanity. I want to take this opportunity to associate myself with the Prime Minister's assertion that Islam is not responsible for this barbarism.

Some have said that Tuesday changed the world for ever, but what should not have changed is our way of life, based on our cherished freedom and democracy and the strength of our resolve to defeat those who seek to destroy it.

Tuesday's terrorist outrages have shaken the entire world. It is now the responsibility of civilised countries everywhere to do whatever is necessary to prevent such attacks from ever happening again. On many occasions in the past, Britain and the United States have stood resolutely together in the defence of freedom and democracy. That is testimony to the shared values and friendship between our two countries. We stand by the people of the United States not because of article 5 but because they are our allies and our friends.

President Bush described Tuesday's outrage as an act of war. He was right. The message needs to go out loud and clear: those Governments who harbour terrorists will have to learn to live with the consequences of their actions. Today, sombre yet determined, we affirm once again our solidarity and our unity of purpose. Terrorism, wherever it rears its evil head, will never succeed, and democracy must always prevail.

The Prime Minister

I congratulate the Leader of the Opposition on the position that he has attained in his party, and welcome him to the Dispatch Box. I think that, like me, he would have preferred that this had not been the first occasion on which we faced each other here, but I sincerely congratulate him. I thank him unequivocally for the support that he has given us today. It is both important and immensely welcome.

We are fully in agreement on the points that the hon. Gentleman has raised. What is important now is to see the issue in two parts, the first of which is the immediate response to the act of terrorism that has been carried out and how we bring those who are responsible to account. Then, there is the further work to be done over time to draw up for the international community an agenda of action that can be taken in our individual countries and collectively at international level to defeat terrorism around the world.

It is important that we as a country—not only the Government but people of all political persuasions—work together on that agenda so that we can provide the necessary details on matters such as extradition, financing, money laundering and so on. We are well aware that there is a network of complicity in the work of terrorism around the world. Quite apart from the immediate response, it is necessary now to use the outrage to devise the right agenda to tackle terrorism, wherever it is in the world. The hon. Gentleman's support today is much appreciated in that respect.

Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Inverness, West)

On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I wholly associate the Liberal Democrats with the proper sentiments that have been expressed so well by the Prime Minister and by the new leader of the Conservative party—whom I congratulate despite the sad circumstances that coincide with his election—about the breathtaking nature of the savagery that we have witnessed in the United States. Many of our constituents and communities throughout our land, never mind the United States and the wider international community, will have been affected.

We all have a heavy heart today. As I listened to the Prime Minister, I thought back into history. Speaking in the House of Commons in very different circumstances, John Bright spoke of the sense that the angel of death was floating above the Chamber. There is no doubt that the angel of death is very much with us today.

I spent one of the happiest years of my life as a student in the mid-west of the United States, in Indiana, and I have been a fairly regular visitor back and forth to New York in the 20 years since then. Until I became a student in the United States, I did not understand how mid-west America feels divorced from east coast and west coast America. Speaking to friends—including one who once worked in one of the buildings that were attacked but who, just before the summer, was transferred further down Wall street and was therefore not afflicted by this terrible tragedy—I was struck by the remarkable extent to which middle America, east coast America and west coast America have become united as never before. We, a country on the other side of the Atlantic, must not underestimate that. We have to understand the scale of the shock and the unity that it has brought about in that great country and on that great continent.

Yesterday afternoon, in common with the Conservative party leader, the Prime Minister, the former Conservative party leader and other Members of Parliament, I went to sign the condolence book in Grosvenor square. It was remarkable to read the sentiments expressed there. There was a bouquet of flowers from a Polish ex-service man in the second world war, now domiciled in London. A family from Dagenham who had no connections with the United States wanted to say how sorry they were. American tourists here in London are bereft because they do not know what has happened to people they know, family or loved ones: they are without information.

The scale of the tragedy is, in itself, a great opportunity. The Prime Minister is absolutely correct: this is the moment for the international community to get its act together in a better way—certainly in a different way. I agree that this is not the occasion for party political debate, but I want to ask the Prime Minister how he envisages the international bodies to which we are such a significant subscriber beginning to organise their decision making and their capacity to govern the intelligence services and act against the people who would perpetrate such dreadful deeds in a way that will be more efficient and effective. Does he envisage that happening through, for example, the G8 with its intelligence capacity, or through the United Nations? What role might the European Union have to play in such a welcome development?

I strongly underscore the comments of the Prime Minister and the leader of the Conservative party about the importance of all of us sending the correct and legitimate signal to the Muslim community in Britain. There is no argument to be had here, and woe betide anyone in a position to influence public opinion who tries to suggest that there is. Over the past couple of days, I have become concerned about the emergence of a strand of comment and sentiment that mixes those horrific acts with legitimate differences between the parties and so on about asylum seekers, immigration and the position of various ethnic communities within our countries. It is not about that. The House of Commons must send that signal defiantly.

It seems almost inevitable that there will be some sort of military response at some point—although at the moment we do not know where, when, or against whom. Will the Prime Minister confirm that he does not rule out a further recall of Parliament, especially if, as I imagine they will be, British service people are to be involved in such action?

An American writer once observed that the terrorist attempts to wash an impure world clean with the blood of innocent victims. The impurity here is the dreadful deed of the terrorist. On that, this House stands shoulder to shoulder in full support of our American cousins.

The Prime Minister

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his support. I think that to people here, in America and around the world, the message sent by the sight of the main political parties standing together on this issue will be welcome and immensely reassuring.

As for the methods that we will attempt to devise at international level to deal with terrorism, the agenda will be taken forward in every international forum. Discussion is under way on a new convention on terrorism on which we have been working with other countries for some time. The G8 will of course have a role to play, as will other bodies of which we are a member.

It is most important not to forget the sheer horror of the events. Let that inspire us to take the action that is now necessary. We must realise that other methods and other forms of terrorism could become increasingly open to terrorist groups. Now is the time to put in place the measures that will give us the best chance of stopping them.

Obviously, I agree with the right hon. Gentleman's remarks about the Muslim community, and I certainly do not rule out the further recall of Parliament in circumstances in which that becomes necessary.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Does the House have the assurance that in no way will we ourselves inflict terror on innocent people? If we do so, we simply recruit more terrorists.

The Prime Minister

Of course, we as a country will always act in accordance with the beliefs that we hold dear. Those beliefs are to try to defeat terrorism and to ensure that, as far as possible, we stand up for the rights of democratic and civilised people everywhere to go about their business free from terror. However, it is also the case that this act of terrorism demands a response to bring those responsible to account. That is something that we must pursue, and not simply in the interests of America.

From the outset of this terrible event, which should be brought home to us because of the large numbers of our own citizens who have been killed, I have tried to make one thing clear. We can only imagine what would happen if 100 or many more of our own people were killed by an act of terrorism in this country; yet it makes no difference whether such an act happens in New York, Britain or anywhere else. Our interests are directly engaged. I believe that in order to protect the world from further terror it is necessary to take action. We will, as we always do, take action in a considered, calm and careful way, but action will have to be taken.

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)

On behalf of my colleagues in the Ulster Unionist party and, I think, of the people of Northern Ireland in general, may I first associate myself with the Prime Minister's comments expressing our condolences to the American people and to all those who have been bereaved and injured in the events of the past few days? May I also underline and agree with the Leader of the Opposition's comments, in which he pointed out that we have seen the worst act of terrorism inflicted on the British people since the last war? It is quite right, therefore, that, along with our allies, we should seriously contemplate what the appropriate action is.

One other comment comes very much to mind. I recall reading in the media after the event a number of commentators quoting the rather macabre words issued by an Irish Republican spokesman after the IRA had attempted to wipe out the Cabinet, when he said, "You have to be lucky all the time; we only have to be lucky once." I found it unfortunate that some people were quoting that as if it were an accurate comment, which of course it is not. It was a deliberately crafted statement intended to amplify the terror and to give people the sense that they were helpless and that terrorism would inevitably succeed. That is quite wrong and it is important, in all we say and do, that we underline the fact that it is wrong.

Terrorism will not succeed. It can be beaten, although not easily. It requires careful intelligence. The Father of the House was right to point out that, as far as possible, we want to avoid inflicting injury on any innocent people, and that is why intelligence is crucial. However, we need the correct application of that intelligence, which has to be taken over time. We will, of course, entirely support the Government when we come to take what the Prime Minister calls appropriate action. He is right to underline the fact that that action has to be determined, and that it will take time and be continued over time. There will be no quick fix, but it is important that the menace be dealt with properly and, as he says, that the machinery of terrorism be destroyed.

I want to underline one other specific aspect of the statement—the need for us to look again at how we deal with terrorism and, in particular, at how terrorist groups are financed and their money laundered. We need to consider the links between terror and crime and between terrorist organisations. We will have to examine that closely and carefully. If we can somehow take out the sinews of this terrorist conflict, we will make the task of defeating terror that much easier.

The Prime Minister

I agree wholeheartedly with everything that the right hon. Gentleman says and I thank him for his support. We shall ensure that terrorism will not succeed.

Mr. Khalid Mahmood (Birmingham, Perry Barr)

Will the Prime Minister accept my unreserved condemnation of the atrocities carried out in the United States? Will he also accept that that terrible act of terrorism claimed the lives of many people of many faiths, including Muslims? In addition, will he assure the House that it would be quite wrong for British Muslims to be tarred with the same brush following that dreadful act of terrorism?

The Prime Minister

I thank my hon. Friend for his words. He speaks on behalf of many Muslims in this country when he says that they share the shock and horror at this outrage. The fact that the Muslim Council of Britain issued a statement of such strength and so quickly indicates what we know to be true: that those who truly follow the religion of Islam are decent, peaceful and law-abiding people. Like us, they have often been victims of terrorism and, like us, they want it stamped out.

Mr. Michael Mates (East Hampshire)

Referring to what the Prime Minister said about future co-operation, does he agree that it is almost inconceivable that intelligence or security agencies somewhere in the world did not have wind of an event in which so many people were involved and which took so long to plan? Are we not, here in Britain, with our historical ties with the middle east, the far east and the Indian subcontinent, perhaps uniquely placed to lead a crusade for better co-operation among all the security and intelligence organisations in the free world? They must realise that every country is as much at risk as we have been and the Americans are now.

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman has a great deal of experience in these matters. I cannot comment on the speculation in his first question, but his point is absolutely right. One thing that has been brought home to people as a result of this atrocity is the need for far better co-operation between countries. There is also, I think, a recognition of the fact that the threat to the world today has changed since some of the sharp ideological divisions of the cold war declined. The threat comes from new forms of terrorism and fundamentalism. On one level, such terrorists might appear to be utterly irrational in what they do, but on another, the methods that they pursue appear coldly rational. There needs to be far better co-operation between nations, and not just in terms of intelligence and security. It has been interesting to see the reaction to this from every corner the world and every nation with an interest in order and stability, rather than disorder and chaos. We need to build on that now.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside)

Does the Prime Minister accept that, when the initial horror of the atrocities subsides, sophisticated attempts will be made to limit the action that can be taken by trying to link what some regard as just causes with the atrocities? Does he agree that such approaches will ignore both the fanaticism of those who have carried out these grotesque acts and their unlimited objectives?

The Prime Minister

I agree strongly with that. There is something against which we must guard from the outset. We are speaking a few days after the event, when the memory of it is fresh in our minds and its consequences are seen daily in our newspapers and on our television screens, but we must not let the passage of time dull our determination, in any shape or form, to carry out the agenda that we have set out today—to bring those responsible to account and to ensure that we take the action necessary to deal with this new phenomenon in our world. My hon. Friend is absolutely right.

One value for which we fight is the democratic right to disagree. People are perfectly entitled to have their causes and feelings about any regime, Government, system or way of life, but it is up to us to ensure that they are not allowed to pursue those causes in anything other than a peaceful and democratic way. When we are under threat—and we are under threat from these events—it is important that we react and do not allow the passage of time to make us weak in the face of that threat.

Sir Brian Mawhinney (North-West Cambridgeshire)

Does the Prime Minister accept that he is to be congratulated on the instinctive and robust way in which, on behalf of his Government, the House and the nation, he has stood with the Americans, and that he has the full encouragement of the House to continue to do that? He mentioned the number of British people who will have been killed, maimed and hurt as a consequence of this terrible atrocity. Will he make arrangements for his Government to be as generous as possible, because families may have to go to the United States to identify bodies, estates may have to be wound up and possessions brought back, and people will need medical care and assistance? I suspect, in the circumstances, that that will be his instinctive reaction, and it would be helpful if he could confirm that.

The Prime Minister

That is a good point and we are indeed making arrangements to do what the right hon. Gentleman has suggested.

Mr. John Hume (Foyle)

I join the House in expressing the deepest gratitude to the Prime Minister for bringing us together to speak, as we rarely do, with one clear voice about the terrible atrocities in the United States, and in expressing our deepest sympathies with the families of victims in the United States. We must utterly condemn those who carried out those atrocities and must work with the United States to bring them to justice.

I reiterate the Prime Minister's important point that although it appears likely that those acts were carried out by so-called Islamic fundamentalists, we know that those people do not speak for the vast majority of decent, law-abiding Muslims throughout the world.

As one who comes from a region that has experienced terrorism, I say that we must come together with the United States Government and others across the world to put a stop to its development. Statistics from my small part of the world show that one in 500 people have lost their lives—the equivalent of 100,000 on this side of the Irish sea. One in 50 people have been maimed or injured, which is the equivalent of 1 million people on this side.

That is how serious the developments of recent years have been. As we move into a new century and millennium, in which we had all hoped to leave behind the conflicts and wars of the past, every possible positive action should be taken by all democratic Governments to put an end to the carry-on called terrorism.

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman's point is correct. I hope that one consequence of what has happened will be that Governments around the world will work more closely together to deal with what is clearly perceived—as has not always been the case—as a common threat.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

The House is united in condemning the atrocity in the United States, as was the Scots Parliament on Wednesday. I associate the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru with the remarks that the Prime Minister has made, particularly about those who have been so devastatingly bereaved this week.

Does the Prime Minister accept that no level of security in a democratic society can offer total protection against suicidal fanatics intent on mass murder? That being so, an international effort to dismantle such organisations is justifiable, necessary and welcome.

Does the Prime Minister also agree, however, that there must be an attempt to dismantle the hatred which breeds terrorism? He mentioned a renewed effort for peace in the middle east. Can he give the House any comments on the time scale, structure, hope and expectation for that international effort; and when it will take place?

The Prime Minister

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his words of support. It is always important to try to do everything that we can to minimise the causes of such hatred throughout the world. We must, however, never get into the position—I know that the hon. Gentleman never has—of believing that one can ever justify acts of terrorism such as those that we have seen.

I do not at present have a specific set of ideas to offer on the way forward in the middle east peace process, although we remain willing, as always, to work with the parties there and with others to ensure that whatever possibilities exist for peace are properly developed. As one part of our response to what has happened, it is important to redouble our efforts in the middle east.

When we contemplate what happened earlier this week, one point that has come across graphically to us all is the absolute importance of understanding that we are more interdependent and interlinked in today's world than ever before. However, if we are increasingly interdependent in terms of the threats that we face, there is also more that we can do together to try to push forward the process of peace and understanding needed in difficult parts of the world. That is true of the middle east, and of elsewhere.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Does the Prime Minister agree that there is a world of difference between standing shoulder to shoulder with the American people in their fight for justice and hanging on to the coat tails of an American President whose first act when firefighters stood 10 ft tall in the rubble of the World Trade Centre was to scurry off to his bunker?

Hon. Members


The Prime Minister

I disagree strongly with my hon. Friend. In my conversations with President Bush, I found him absolutely focused, calm and determined, and mindful of the devastation caused to his people. It is important to stand together with America at this time of need and trial, and that is what we shall do.

Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Mid-Bedfordshire)

Terrorism is a hydra-headed monster. While the exercise of military might is right, does the Prime Minister accept that that alone will not be enough? There must be some understanding of why there is such hatred for so many institutions in the United States. Unless we deal with some of the deep-seated causes, more terrorists will come to the fore.

The Prime Minister

It is important to analyse some of the hatred of which the hon. Gentleman has spoken and to see what we can to do minimise it. We must never, however, find ourselves in a position of moral ambiguity. Nothing can ever justify what has taken place. Some comments from around the world have worried me on that score. People are perfectly entitled to dislike the American way of life. That is their democratic right. We do not share that feeling, but people are entitled to feel it if they wish. However, they must pursue whatever changes they want in a proper and democratic way.

We must also make common cause with decent, law-abiding peoples in the Islamic world in combating the threat of terrorism, of which they, too, are the victims. In so far as we can, we must move forward the process of peace in the middle east. A balanced and sensible view must be taken, but we can never take any position other than to say that what happened in the United States of America can have no conceivable shred of justification. It was a barbaric act, and action must be taken. We have to consider how to push forward the process of peace and understanding in the world, but that should not draw us back in any way from pursuing those responsible for the atrocity.

Mr. Paul Marsden (Shrewsbury and Atcham)

I share the sense of shock and outrage felt by every Member of Parliament about the despicable acts of terrorism that have occurred. I praise my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for his determination.

That said, may I strike a note of caution? American sources are indicating that NATO bombings may occur in Sudan, Iraq, Iran, Syria and Afghanistan. The whole middle east could become a tinder box if we are not careful. I urge my right hon. Friend to talk to President Bush and to find the right targets and culprits. Ultimately, we must act not out of revenge, but out of a sense of justice.

The Prime Minister

I agree entirely that we act out of a sense of justice. I simply say to my hon. Friend and others that they should not pay too much attention to some of the wilder pieces of speculation that inevitably are made at a time like this. It is important to recognise that the way in which the United States of America has proceeded so far is exactly right: in a calm and considered way, and in close consultation with allies such as ourselves. We have been in the closest consultation and co-operation with the United States, which is acting in exactly the right way. It is important that we recognise that the United States, like us, wishes to make sure that we base our identification of those responsible on proper evidence, but then that we are relentless in our pursuit of those responsible and in bringing them to justice.