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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

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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: Shame!

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

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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

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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.



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International Terrorism

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Caplin.]

Mr. Speaker: I must inform the House that there is an eight-minute limit on Back Benchers' speeches.

10.30 am

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): Like my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who offered congratulations to the new Leader of the Opposition in these appalling circumstances, I offer my congratulations to the new shadow Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), and express my appreciation of the co-operation that I received from his predecessor, the right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude).

The whole House, as we have heard in the past 55 minutes, has been united in shock and grief at the events in the United States on Tuesday morning. Today, as so many times before in our shared history, we find ourselves in complete solidarity with our friends and allies in the United States. Our peoples are inextricably bound together by close ties of family, friendship, language, culture and, above all, values. We all remember that this country's freedom, and Europe's freedom, which so often we take for granted, would not exist today without the direct support that the United States gave us twice in the space of 25 years. The close interconnection between our two societies has been tragically underscored by the large number of British casualties.

Many right hon. and hon. Members present will know of homes in their constituencies where families wait, with fading hope, for news of loved ones. Tributes have already been paid to the work of the emergency services in New York and Washington who, even now, are trying to save lives, having lost many of their own.

I regret to say that we have no certainty at this stage about the exact identity or total number of British casualties, but it is likely to run to hundreds. With a catastrophe on this scale, it is crucial not to diminish individual tragedies behind the awful aggregate figures. Like everybody else in this House, I have tried to imagine the intense agony of the thousands of people who still wait to hear the fate of their loved ones. We, too, are frustrated that, as yet, there is so little information to give, but we all understand why that is so. I can assure the House that the Government are doing everything possible to get information to families as soon as we can.

Our crisis unit in London—run from New Scotland Yard, and staffed 24 hours a day—has dealt with thousands of calls reporting people missing or safe. Response units in our diplomatic posts in the United States have been working day and night. A crisis centre set up at our consulate-general in New York is taking calls and contacting companies with offices in or around the World Trade Centre, and is passing on all information on British nationals to our staff in London.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister answered an intervention from the right hon. Member for North–West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney) about the assistance that we have already offered those who have been bereaved and that we stand ready to offer. Some UK citizens in the United States will have no medical insurance to pay for the

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treatment of their injuries. Given the exceptional nature of the circumstances, the Secretary of State for Health and I have agreed that the Government will bear their hospital costs. We are already working on arrangements for the repatriation of bodies and for flights for relatives to go to the United States.

These attacks have shocked the world; they have also changed the world. This massive tragedy is an event of huge and almost unparalleled historical significance. Comparisons have been made with the attack on Pearl harbour, but, unlike Pearl harbour, Tuesday's attacks were directed against thousands of unarmed, innocent civilians, and at the very heart of the continent of the United States. They were launched by an enemy who, as yet, remains unseen.

It is plainly too soon to reach firm conclusions about the consequences of these acts for the global order, but history has presented us with such decisive moments before. Over the past two centuries, each time a conflict has ended people have come together to try to ensure that the last war really would be the last war.

After the first world war, US President Woodrow Wilson worked for a new world order to try to establish a lasting peace, yet within a generation the world was again at war. The structures established after 1945 have in every respect been more successful in preventing global conflict for half a century, but those structures—political, military and legal—were laid down to deal with the last threat: of war between states. Our challenge now is to make sure that they are equal to this and to the next threat.

In considering the approach we now take, we would do well this week to draw lessons from the experience of the 1930s. Our predecessors then were so desperate to avoid further military action that they made a huge, if understandable, mistake. They thought that they were dealing with adversaries who shared the same values, basic rules and assumptions about how humans, even in times of conflict and war, should behave towards one another.

It was not until it was too late that our predecessors realised that the aggressors were in the grip of a sort of collective political psychosis and that they did not accept the norms and decencies that the rest of us took for granted. We all know the consequences of what followed.

We have to acknowledge that the people who plotted, organised and carried out Tuesday's attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania do not accept any of the rules or values that we in the rest of the world would recognise. They have no respect, however minimal, for human life—not even for their own lives.

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made clear, there must be a response. As he said, the United States, rightly, is proceeding with deliberation and care. Equally, to turn the other cheek would not appease the terrorists, but would lead to a still greater danger. We need to acknowledge that overwhelming, if dismal, truth if we are to prepare ourselves and our societies in the months and years ahead for the possibility—unpalatable as it may be—of further attacks.

This is not a conflict in which nation state is pitted against nation state. Instead, this is a deliberate act of war by calculating groups formally outside states against the rest of the civilised world. Indeed, the rise of the warlord and the terrorist funded by conflict, drugs and other criminal activity is one of the growing threats that we have faced, particularly since, paradoxically, the fall of the Berlin wall.

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NATO has recognised the unprecedented nature of the threat. As we have heard, for the first time in the history of the alliance, it has invoked article 5 of the Washington treaty, which states that an armed attack against one or more of the allies in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all. There is no clearer signal that we could send to the perpetrators of these attacks than that they face a determined and united response by the international community.

In many ways, however, the unanimous decision taken on Wednesday by the United Nations Security Council was more important still. The Security Council resolved that not only those directly responsible for what happened at the World Trade Centre but those indirectly responsible for

will be held accountable. It expressed its readiness to take "all necessary steps" to respond to the terrorist acts and to combat all forms of terrorism. In making such a resolution and a similar one in the General Assembly, the whole international community showed itself to be united in its determination to respond.

We must develop our defences against a repeat or copycat attack—it would be deeply irresponsible not to do so—but we must also focus our attention on where the next threat to our collective security will come from. It should now be obvious to everyone that people who have the fanaticism and the capability to fly an airliner laden with passengers and fuel into a skyscraper will not be deterred by human decency from deploying chemical or biological weapons, missiles or nuclear weapons or other forms of mass destruction if they are available to them. We must therefore redouble our efforts to stop the proliferation and the availability of such weapons.

At the same time, we must intensify our traditional methods of diplomacy to bring some good out of this evil. We must not be deflected from our attempts to resolve conflicts, to defuse tensions and to work for peace in the troubled regions of the world, whether those be the Balkans, the middle east or elsewhere, for it is the terrorists, above all, who want all such efforts to fail.

It is no longer tolerable that any states should harbour or give succour to terrorists. The international community must unite as never before to take determined collective action against the threat that failing and failed states pose to global security. We can no longer allow the borders between democratic nations and the gaps between our domestic jurisdictions to be exploited so ruthlessly in courts of law by those who reject the rule of law.

With my European Union colleagues, I have this week agreed the first steps towards a common policy on terrorism. We need to consider what further action we can take collectively on issues outlined by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, such as extradition, proscribing terrorist organisations, as we have done in the United Kingdom, and thwarting the planning and funding of terrorist organisations.

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