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Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con):
I am grateful to the Prime Minister for giving me advance sight of his statement. I want to begin by paying tribute to him for the calm, resolute and statesmanlike way in which the Government responded to last Thursday's attack on our capital city, on our citizens and on our way of life. The Prime Minister has movingly articulated the profound sorrow that we all feel following this atrocity. On behalf of all my colleagues, I want to join the Prime Minister in extending our deepest
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sympathy to the families and friends of those who have lost their lives. Nothing will make up for their loss. We share the grief of those who were nearest and dearest to them and we mourn with them. We feel also for those who have been injured and wish them a full and speedy recovery. I welcome what the Prime Minister said about the help given to the families that have been so dreadfully affected.
The faceless killers behind last Thursday's attack brought death and tragedy to many innocent families. They have tried with the fires of hate to destroy the bonds of love. Yet since their attack, we have seen compassion and self-sacrifice prove themselves stronger than fanaticism and evil. The emergency services, the police, the ambulance service, paramedics, firefighters, doctors and nurses, as well as the bus drivers and the tube workers have all shown quite exemplary dedication. They have been joined by many others in the rescue operation. Those people have had to carry out, and are still carrying out, some dreadful work in what are often horrific conditions and they have responded with a professionalism that has won praise the world over.
This single act of evil has inspired numerous acts of private heroismfrom the bus drivers who carried on their work on a day of fear and mourning to the charity workers, like the Salvation Army and the others to which the Prime Minister referred, who brought comfort to the grieving and offered a listening ear to the bereaved. Thousands played a notable part in the events of a terrible day. We all have cause to feel pride in the response of our fellow citizens. Any who doubted that, 60 years on, this generation of Britons had retained the resolve to stand united against the threats we face have found their answer.
Although those who perpetrated last Thursday's outrage may think that they succeeded in their aims, they failed to achieve what they would have wanted most. They failed to cause panic in our capital city. Instead, we went about our business, determined to show that we would not be defeated. They failed to undermine the institutions, the democracy and the values of which we are all so justly proud. Instead, our Government, our citizens and our way of life proved once again resilient in the face of evil. And the terrorists failed to divide us, one from another. They failed to incite one group in our national community to blame another. The very societymultifaith and multiculturalthat stands as an affront to the warped ideology of the terrorists is a source not of weakness, as they suppose, but of strength. In our great capital city and beyond, the terrorists have united Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, those of all faiths and those of none in our contempt for those who want to destroy that diversity and our democratic and liberal way of life.
It is clear that one of the challenges now will be to achieve the right balance between that liberalism and the security that we all want. The security services in Britain are some of the finest in the world. They are, alas, very experienced in dealing with the threat of terrorism. We know that they have thwarted recent attempts to attack our nation, and we appreciate that it is in the nature of their work that we cannot be aware of all they have done to protect us.
I should like to pay tribute to the Prime Minister and to the Government for all their efforts since 11 September to safeguard this country from terror.
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I know how heavy that responsibility is, and I understand the difficulty of the decisions that Ministers must take when they are given information about threats that, by their very nature, cannot be openly broadcast. I assure the Prime Minister that we Conservatives wish to give the Government our full support as they face difficult decisions in future. We wish to play our part by making constructive suggestions that we hope will help establish a durable consensus on the best measures to safeguard us all.
Now is not the time for a discussion on detail. What I do hope, however, is that in the weeks ahead we can all gain from a sober assessment of the systems that we have put in place to deal with the terrorist threat. I have no doubt at all that the Prime Minister wishes to learn all the appropriate lessons that can be learned. We emphatically do not believe that after Thursday's events there is any place for finger pointing or for the allocation of blame. There is only one group of people who should be blamed, and that is the evil terrorists who carried out the deed.
We are all in this together. In due course, I believe that we may be able together to identify even better ways of providing the security our citizens deserve. A limited inquiry could in due course provide a calm and dispassionate forum for learning appropriate ideas, helping to quell unhelpful speculation and equipping us to respond even better in future. Its precise form would, rightly, be a judgment for the Government. We have no preconceived ideas about its timing or composition, and of course we recognise that nothing should be done to distract the police or the security services from the immediate task in hand, which is to bring to justice the perpetrators of last week's atrocity. We wish only to identify how best we can provide our police and our security services with the support they deserve in future.
The eyes of the world were on London last Wednesday for the best of reasons. They were drawn to our capital city again on Thursday by scenes of unimaginable horror. But our citizens and our Government have responded in a way of which we can all be proud. In the days ahead, that spirit of defiance, resolution and determination should not be lost. We owe it to the victims of last Thursday's bombs to remember that terrorists should never profit from their embrace of evil.
The Prime Minister: First, let me thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman very much, not only for his words today, but for demonstrating such unity and dignity in the face of such evil. That is an important message to send out from this country. The fact that he has responded in that way is another reason why we will succeed and the terrorists will fail. I thank him for that most sincerely.
I entirely agree with the points that the right hon. and learned Gentleman made and I just want to make one point. It is important, if we possibly can, that when we come to look at any future legislation, we try to establish it on the basis of a consensus. If it is possible to do that, we should, and I assure him that I will work to see that that is done. It may be easier in these circumstances, with everyone coming together with good will, to ensure that that is done.
I certainly agree that we have to analyse carefully what can be learned from this. There may be ways that that can be done in the future. The priority at the
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moment, obviously, is not to do anything to distract from the job in hand, but we would be foolish if we were not continually assessing how we can make our provision work better. I think, too, that there are other things that we need to do when we look at co-operation internationally. We will look, together with other countries, at how we can improve that. It was very heartening to see the immediate response of virtually every major intelligence service in the world. They wanted to help and they are now helping. In the wake of something terrible such as these events, there is information that can come to light. There is much that we are doing, both within our intelligence services and in co-operation with others to work on that.
I repeat my thanks to the right hon. and learned Gentleman and to his colleagues, who have behaved so well and demonstrated such necessary unity. It also brings a certain reassurance to our country in difficult times.
Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Lochaber) (LD): May I associate entirely my right hon. and hon. Friends with the sentiments that we have just heard from both the leader of the Conservative party and the Prime Minister? May I express also our profound sympathies to those who have lost their lives or suffered injuryin many cases, serious injuryand to their families and friends? May I also express the wish that the perpetrators of the mass murder in our capital city a few days ago are hunted down by the relevant authorities and brought to justice, so that an example is shown not just within our own shores, but to the rest of the world, of the efficiency and dependability of the British system of justice in dealing with an outrage such as this?
May I also pay tribute to the emergency services? Last Thursday, as we moved around the capital near some of the problem areas where the bombs went off, many of us were able to see the heroism of all involved, and not just in the immediate response, despite the terrible loss of life that was recorded. Heaven knows how much worse it would have been had the emergency services, on the hour and at the time, not been prepared in many casesas we know from the horrific accounts that have emergedto risk their own lives to save other lives.
I also wish to pay tribute to the work of the security services. It is easyand we all hear it from time to time through the mass mediato criticise the security services. By definition and given the nature of their work, nine times out of 10 we never learn about the success stories. They may come to light, if at all, only years and years after some dreadful event has been successfully thwarted. Opposition party leaders have found it very helpful over the past few days to receive briefings from some of the Prime Minister's senior advisers. We very much appreciate that.
I was glad that the Prime Minister, in his peroration, drew attention to the role of the Muslim community in our country. As he has reflected, last week was one of unbelievable contrasts for London. One of the many aspects that made London such an attractive and successful option for the Olympicsits multi-ethnic, multicultural diversity, which is in the main a cause for celebration not just for our country but worldwideequally makes it a magnet for people who want to perpetrate wicked deeds. Has the Prime Minister been able to hold any discussions with leaders of the Muslim
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community, who are, as he knows, deeply troubled and concerned about a spate of attacks on mosques in various parts of the country over the past few days? Will he again underscore the determination of all of us, as community representatives in the House, to emphasise that the overwhelming majority of those of Muslim faith in Britain completely condemn the people who commit deeds such as those perpetrated on communities in London?
Does the Prime Minister agree that another image from yesterday was most encouraging? We saw our Church leaders standing shoulder to shoulder in Lambeth palace to make the point that, irrespective of faith, all right-thinking people of faith do not countenance in any way the desperate approach of those people, whoever they prove to be, who carry out bombing and terrorism.
Even in these early days after the events, has the Prime Minister received further requests from the Metropolitan police for a strengthening of their numbers, given the sheer volume of assessment and sifting and revisiting of old evidence that they have to carry out? Would the Government look favourably on such a request?
I very much welcome the Prime Minister's comments in reply to the leader of the Conservatives about the need for close consultation with the police and agencies, particularly where further legislation may be involved. Will that close consultation also involve the other political parties? As the Prime Minister knows, we have argued for the introduction of a new offence, acts preparatory to terrorism, and we would feed such suggestions constructively into such discussions.
The Home Secretary will convene an important meeting in Brussels on Wednesday. Can the Prime Minister give a further indication of what the Government may be examining to widen the scope for access to e-mails and the role of the telecommunications agencies in that respect?
A mature parliamentary democracy must react as exactly that in the light of such events. We have heard measured and determined statements from the Government and the Prime Minister over the past few days, and the whole country is grateful for that. As long as the Government continue to adopt that tone and approach, they deserve and will certainly receive wholehearted support.
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