|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): I was one of a group of hon. Members who were in Washington DC on Tuesday morning. In fact, we were in the Capitol building when the events took place. It was a perfect morning in Washington and we all remarked on the cloudless blue sky, but that blue sky was perhaps one of the triggers for the day's events.
We were in the old Senate building, the cradle of American democracy, when police officers ran in screaming and shouting, "Get out, get out." We realised that something serious was happening. We sprinted out of the building and looked behind us to see smoke rising from the Pentagon, across the Potomac river.
Like every other person in Washington that morning, we were stunned and scared by the death that seemed to be arriving from the sky. We also shared the great astonishment that a crime of such proportions could take place in mainland America. We could only agree with many American commentators that day who echoed the words of President Roosevelt after Pearl Harbourthat this was a day that will live in infamy. It was a shocking experience.
Although Americans in Washington and, apparently, New York went about their business with a calmness that was extraordinary under the circumstances, we shared their deep shock. I hope that we also shared in the unity that they expressed immediately afterwards. The American people have a great ability to come together at times of trauma, and we saw that demonstrated in the debate in Congress when representatives from every part of the United Statesfrom California to Maine, from Washington state to Florida and from American Samoa and Hawaiiall said the same thing: "We are Americans. We believe in the principles that made our country and we shall not be deflected from those principles by these events."
The shock turned to outrage and anger that such a crime could have been committed. Such anger is understandable. We need to understand the anger felt by many people in the United States and the loss of innocence. America is not the safe place that they had always imagined it to be.
We watched the television and read the newspapersI read the Washington Post and The New York Timesand looked at the long list of people who had lost their lives and the circumstances in which they had started their day. They were the ordinary, mundane stories of people who had caught planes or gone to work in New York or the Pentagon and were then no longer there. They included people from all walks of life and professions and of all ages, including a child who until that morning had never been on an aeroplane and now will never do so again. It was only then that the enormity of the crime began to hit home. As we watched the television, a litany of names was scrolling across the bottom of the screen. Many of those people will have been our constituents and many British people will be deeply affected by the tragedy.
It may be a cliché but it is desperately important to say that one of the casualties of those events should not be freedom and openness in our society. Of course we need to consider our security procedures and to put the apparatus in place to guard as well as we may against such events happening again, but in that process let us not lose the freedoms that make the liberal democracies what they are.
I do not believe that there should be a knee-jerk change in foreign policy, even though there are foreign policy areas on which I profoundly disagree with the American Government, and indeed our own. Any change that we make should be a response to the inequities of the world situation, and not to the action taken by some lunatics on Tuesday.
Many people have referred to this as an act of war, and indeed it has the characteristics of an act of warthat is how it felt when we were in Washingtonbut it was not: it was a massive crime that killed innumerable people. We cannot imagine how many died, but I suspect that it may be as if every man, woman and child in my town of Frome
I was, frankly, surprised by the maturity of the approach taken by Senators and Congressmen immediately after the incidents. I had expected their anger to give rise to calls for immediate retribution, which would have been understandable, but we heard mature reflection from the people we talked to: they realised that it is difficult to identify the culprits and frame an appropriate response. We talk about a proportionate response, but what on earth could be proportionate to what was perpetrated? It is most important to concern ourselves with justice, which is the prerogative of the free nations.
We no longer have fortress America or fortress Europe. We must deal with this as an international community. We must bring in the Russians, with whom, ironically, we now have common cause in facing a common foe. We must share intelligence and
Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): Many of us who listened to the firm resolve of the Prime Minister will also have reflected on the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Kelvin (Mr. Galloway). Many of us hope that their sentiments are compatible. We should reflect soberly on the views that my hon. Friend gave with great candour.
Following our brief period of pause and prayer earlier today, I was reminded of the fact that, about 60 years ago, Wendell Willkie brought a letter from President Roosevelt to Winston Churchill containing the words of Longfellow, which also seem appropriate today:
Sail on, O Union, strong and great!
Humanity with all its fears,
With all the hopes of future years,
Is hanging breathless on thy fate!"
I hope that the Defence Secretary will assure us that overflying of central London will not be resumed. Many hon. Members have long considered it crazy that successive Governments have allowed overflying of London, almost uniquely among the capitals of western Europe. There was always the danger of major technical failure in or collision between aircraft having catastrophic consequences. I hope that the Government here will not bend to the same airline industry that prevailed on the United States Government not to do the right thing in terms of domestic air travel safety.
I want the Government to consider the inquiry being conducted by the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions into the policing of our ports. Most sensible countries have a dedicated ports police force, but only a few ports in this country's massive industryincluding my local port of Tilbury, and Felixstowe, Tees and the port of Liverpoolhave their own police force. A dedicated police force in all our ports would complement our immigration services, Customs and Excise and Home Office police forces. I hope that no decision will be made on that inquiry until this matter has been considered, especially in the light of the growing terrorist threat.
In the coming weeks, it will be the duty of the House of Commons to monitor, scrutinise, encourage and sometimes criticise the stewardship of affairs during this terrible crisis. We must carry out that duty with resolve, if necessary by returning sooner than we planned.