Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

The Earl of Lauderdale: My Lords, will the noble Baroness kindly answer one or two short questions? The first concerns the oil embargo. Are we to understand that oil is reaching Yugoslavia through the Adriatic port of Bar, and also through Thessalonika? If there is to be an embargo enforced by naval power, will that also apply in the Aegean Sea as well as the Adriatic? Also, can the noble Baroness tell us anything about Mr. Djukanovic's statement reported in this morning's press--after all, he is number two to Milosevic--pleading for Russian endeavours to obtain a compromise? Finally, the noble Baroness talked about a forum for south-east Europe. Is that something that will take account of the many territorial claims of those countries--Greece has claims on Albania, Bulgaria has claims over Romania and so forth--or will it ignore all the current and outstanding territorial claims that have beleaguered that part of the world for the past 50 or 60 years?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, as I indicated earlier when answering the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, the proposals for the maritime blockade are being discussed today. They will be

26 Apr 1999 : Column 42

discussed with a view to making that blockade as complete as we possibly can. We do not want to be in the position, so eloquently described by the noble Lord's noble friend Lord Moynihan last week, where there is a possibility of British servicemen risking their lives in bombing expeditions only to find that oil is getting into the FRY through other means. The purpose of my right honourable friend's discussions today will be to make that blockade as clear and solid as we possibly can.

The noble Lord asked about the comments made by Mr. Draskovic. That was an interesting development. I am sure that all noble Lords who heard about it were extremely concerned as to what was happening. It is clear that only Mr. Milosevic can take the decision about ethnic cleansing and NATO's demands. Mr. Draskovic's remarks demonstrate that Mr. Milosevic at the moment does not appear to be in a position to reason with anyone, even members of his own government. But we were interested in that development and, if I can put it this way, we shall keep a watching brief.

The noble Earl also asked about the stability pact in south east Europe. The OSCE and the EU have proposed this pact which would build on existing regional initiatives and open the door for a long-term political and economic stabilising process. Details still have to be worked out, but it is hoped that NATO and the international financial institutions would be involved as well as the EU and the OSCE.

The Earl of Lauderdale: My Lords, perhaps I may point out to the Minister that Mr. Djukanovic was the man who made the statement. He is now Mr. Milosevic's number two in government and was leader of the opposition until a few years ago.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, in that case, let us hope that some of the wisdom in his words will prevail. However, I do not believe that the noble Earl should have any confidence that that will necessarily be the case, given Mr. Milosevic's record.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, although we on these Benches would quite support the use of ground troops to enable refugees to return to Kosovo, if that is the only way by which they will be able to go home, can the Minister say whether there have been any discussions on the use of depleted uranium shells? This is the main armament for the A10 anti-tank aircraft and it would be unfortunate if the Kosovan refugees were to go home only to find that this significantly environmentally unfriendly ammunition had been used.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the questions of environmental degradation raised by many people are matters which Her Majesty's Government wish to keep in the frame as we consider the way forward. NATO is making every effort to ensure that only facilities of specific military value are targeted for that very reason. I will have to write to the noble Lord on the particular question that he raised. It is my understanding that we are taking every precaution that we can not to degrade the natural environment and not to cause any long-term environmental damage.

26 Apr 1999 : Column 43

However, the noble Lord raised quite a specific point. If I am able to respond, given the other strictures on some of my answers, I shall of course do so.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, perhaps I may return the Minister to the appalling question of the refugees who have been driven out of Kosovo. Like many people in this country, I am becoming a little bemused by the numbers involved. Can the Minister tell the House how many Kosovan Albanians were estimated to be within Kosovo when the campaign began, how many are still there and, therefore, by subtraction, how many have either been driven out or killed? Does the Minister agree that that will show up the enormity of the problem with which the surrounding countries will have to deal?

The noble Baroness mentioned the non-NATO countries in the area and the discussions that NATO is having with them. However, is NATO having any discussions with them about the huge economic damage which has been done to their economies by the bombing of bridges over the Danube, bearing in mind the fact that the Danube is no longer an important economic artery for those countries? That will mean very serious consequences for them; indeed, they are not rich countries.

Finally, can the Minister help us with what seems to me to be a contradictory statement? At the beginning of the campaign it was made absolutely clear that we were ruling out the deployment of ground troops in any kind of war situation. In my view, that sent Milosevic a pretty clear signal. Some of us who have been listening to the noble Baroness are puzzled. Is she now actually dulling that signal and suggesting that we may well send in ground troops? If that is so, does she not think it is time that we made it a little clearer so that Milosevic understands?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, for the avoidance of any doubt, perhaps I may point out to the noble Lord that nothing is ruled out in terms of ground troops. I have told the noble Lord as much as I am able to tell him in this respect. I should also emphasise that the advice that I have been given over what to say to your Lordships on this point is the advice of those who are in a better position than I--and indeed, the noble Lord--to judge the best way to protect our troops. I have given the noble Lord the best answer that I can; namely, that nothing is ruled out. I hope that that is a clear enough signal to the noble Lord and perhaps also to Mr. Milosevic.

The noble Lord asked about refugees. It is very difficult to obtain any firm figures as regards the numbers of displaced persons within Kosovo. Indeed, it is extremely difficult. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development has the major responsibility in this area. I know that she is keeping a daily record of what is happening in so far as she is able to do so. I could give the noble Lord the running totals as regards where refugees are in Albania, Macedonia and Montenegro, but I am sure that the noble Lord can probably obtain those figures himself.

26 Apr 1999 : Column 44

However, we calculate that there are still some hundreds of thousands of displaced people in Kosovo, although they are moving towards the borders and many of them are crossing over into the neighbouring states. We still believe that there are considerable and very worrying numbers of refugees who have yet to find any degree of safety.

The noble Lord raised the most important point about what is being done to help those countries which are affected by this military action. The Statement from my right honourable friend made clear that, in the discussions with the front line neighbouring states, a number of issues had been discussed about the ways in which to rebuild economies in the future. I believe that both my right honourable friend and indeed NATO allies recognise that a number of neighbouring countries are having to absorb some fairly difficult economic problems which arise from the military action that is being undertaken. They also recognise that those countries of NATO which are in a position to do so are prepared to do what they can to help those countries in the future financially to rebuild those parts of their economies that have been damaged. However, these discussions are continuing at present, as I hope the Statement made clear.

London Bombings

5.17 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I should like to repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary in another place. The Statement is as follows:

    "With permission, Madam Speaker, I should like to make a Statement about the bomb explosions in Brixton and Brick Lane.

    "Last week on Saturday 17th April, the explosion in a busy market street in Brixton injured 39 members of the public and three police officers. This Saturday, at about the same time, another improvised device exploded in Brick Lane in East London, injuring six people. In both cases no warnings were given.

    "I know that I speak for the whole House in expressing my deep sympathy for those injured in these blasts, for their families and friends and our admiration for the very prompt way in which the police, fire and ambulance services responded.

    "Sir Paul Condon, the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis, made it clear yesterday that the investigation into these evil acts is the number one priority for the whole of the Metropolitan Police Service. A huge effort is going into the investigation which is being led by the anti-terrorist branch. The branch has a great deal of experience of this kind of outrage but the perpetrators are only likely to be brought to justice with the help of all sections of the community. I urge anyone who believes that they have information which might help the police to contact them immediately.

26 Apr 1999 : Column 45

    "Sir Paul Condon has already stated that he considers that the bombings were racially motivated. Brixton is at the heart of London's African-Caribbean community. Brick Lane is at the heart of the Bangladeshi community in Britain. I want to make clear that any attack on these communities is an attack on all British people and the whole of British society. We will not tolerate racism of any kind, still less this pernicious violence.

    "Ours is a country, which can be proud of its achievements in race relations. Because of that it is a better and stronger society. Of course, there is much more to be done to make Britain a truly multi-racial and multi-cultural society; but the overwhelming public support for the recommendations of the Lawrence inquiry shows the strength of our commitment to achieve this.

    "The criminals who committed these attacks will not succeed. As in Brixton last week, the whole community in Tower Hamlets has come together to assist the police in every way possible.

    "As my honourable friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow, Oona King, has said,

    "'History shows we do not tolerate this type of racism, however violent. If anything, I hope that some good will come out of this because both the black and the white community will strengthen so it will be overcome'.

    "Whilst the perpetrators of this violence remain at large there is plainly a risk that they may strike again. We must meet that threat with vigilance, but without panic.

    "The police are pursuing the investigations of these bombings and the protection of the public with the utmost vigour. I have every confidence in them. I know that the whole House will share their determination and condemn these mindless crimes".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

5.20 p.m.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, I am sure the whole House will agree with every paragraph of the Home Secretary's Statement. These are appalling outrages committed by evil people which none of us can tolerate. I entirely endorse what has been said, and particularly the expressions of sympathy to those who have been injured and affected in other ways.

As the House knows, I had some Ministerial responsibility for fighting terrorism in Northern Ireland a few years ago. We can of course in no way relax in that connection. I have visited bombed sites and bombed communities and I have reason to know a good deal about threats. The threats that have been made are threats to us all. I also endorse what the Home Secretary said in that respect.

The House will not expect the Minister to give any details that he may have either of the investigations or of the protective measures which are being taken. To do so would obviously be counter-productive. However, he assured the House that both the Metropolitan Police, and I am sure all our police forces, are working as hard as

26 Apr 1999 : Column 46

possible with the fullest possible backing to identify these criminals, to bring them to justice and to prevent further outrages of this kind.

5.21 p.m.

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, we on this side of the House welcome the Government's Statement and also the sentiments expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley. Innocent people going about their daily business have been hurt and dastardly acts have been perpetrated against members of ethnic minorities. Sooner or later, some people, irrespective of their race or colour, will be maimed or killed simply because they are in the wrong place at the wrong time.

We welcome the actions that the police have taken. They have been thorough and efficient and that has assured local people that police activities will be stepped up. This confidence-building exercise is important, particularly when the community is scared and frightened. Those of us who have lived here for a long time have never before seen such an unprecedented level of hatred directed at law-abiding citizens. The perpetrators are small in number and would even kill or maim simply to generate publicity for their race-hate propaganda.

A number of Right-wing organisations have claimed responsibility. A common thread running through all of them is their hatred of the black, Asian and Jewish communities. Coming so soon after the Lawrence inquiry, the extremists have found that the British public are not prepared to tolerate racism in this country. This is a credit to the British people. The extremists have continued to lose ground in the political process for a long time. It is no wonder that they are now hell bent on intimidating people by means of planting bombs that cause major damage.

This morning I spoke with a representative of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. They, like other communities, have been advised that the police are stepping up security for their community. In addition, the board has sent messages to schools, synagogues and others to be extra vigilant. The same message has gone out from other community leaders. The protection of temples, mosques and gurdwaras is vital. These are the focal points of community activities and must be protected at all costs.

I wish to put a number of questions to the Minister. Will he use the Asian and black media--that is, television, radio and the newspapers--to assure ethnic communities of the actions the police are taking to protect them? Will he ensure that extra precautions are taken to protect the places of worship of the different communities? Will he ensure that posters and publicity materials are printed in various languages explaining what to do if a suspicious package is found? Will the Minister examine the provisions of legislation dealing with incitement to racial hatred to ensure that racist propaganda has no place in our society? Will the Minister ensure that key areas such as Southall, Ealing, Birmingham, Bradford, Leicester, and a number of areas where minorities have settled, have additional resources so that adequate policing is possible? Will the Minister

26 Apr 1999 : Column 47

thank the police at the Palace of Westminster for their prompt action in informing many noble Lords that they have received racially offensive literature in their mail?

All of us abhor racist crimes. The present actions are designed to destabilise our record of good community relations. We must not give comfort to racists who perform such dastardly acts. I quote from the Commission for Racial Equality. This quotation supplements the sentiments which have been expressed by the Home Secretary. The commission states,

    "The bomb attacks in Brixton and Brick Lane are an assault on the whole of British society. The sense of outrage and revulsion felt across all communities reflects growing support for decisive action to eliminate all threats to a multiracial society".

We should ensure that we are vigilant against those extremists who have no concern for men, women or children of any race. They should be told that they will not be allowed to destabilise good community relations of which we are all proud.

5.26 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the noble Lords, Lord Cope of Berkeley and Lord Dholakia, never disappoint me or, I think, your Lordships' House in the generosity and decency of their responses on these occasions. The noble Lord, Lord Cope, with his extensive knowledge, was scrupulous in saying that he would deliberately refrain from asking me details about investigations or protective measures. I am most grateful to him once again for taking that course. The Home Secretary is in close contact with Sir Paul Condon as Commissioner for the Metropolis.

The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, quite rightly said that the people involved were innocent people going about their daily business. The people who perpetrated these offences are criminals. That is foremost in my mind. I was about to say that they have planted these bombs because they had lost the moral argument, but they have no moral argument that can be detected.

The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, asked a number of questions. I agree with him that it is important fully to involve our friends and colleagues in the Asian and black communities, particularly as regards their willingness to provide media opportunities in languages that are more familiar and more appropriate to some of them. I very much take the noble Lord's point about precautions at places of worship and poster dissemination about what to do if a suspicious package is found. I believe that is well in hand.

The noble Lord mentioned the excellent service that is given--as always--to your Lordships by the police in the Palace of Westminster. I know that all your Lordships would want me to reaffirm the great gratitude that we feel for that service. The noble Lord also referred to legislation. As your Lordships know, under the Public Order Act 1986, prosecutions for incitement to racial hatred require the consent of the Attorney. I shall give a little background to this.

From 1988 to 1998 there were 54 applications to the Attorney and 45 were granted. Therefore he and his predecessors have been diligent in this regard. As your

26 Apr 1999 : Column 48

Lordships also know, the recent Crime and Disorder Act instituted nine new racially aggravated offences with increased penalties. It is also a requirement under Section 82 of the Act that, where there is evidence of a racial motive or racial hostility in connection with any offence, the court should consider that as an aggravating factor meriting an increased sentence within the maximum available. That is an extremely important measure which the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, supported when we discussed it in your Lordships' House.

I now refer to the up-to-date material that I can provide without trespassing on unsafe areas. At 8.3 p.m. on Saturday last, the explosion having occurred at about 5.55 p.m., a call was received by a 999 operator from a man who claimed to be a member of a group which chooses to call itself Combat 18 and which claimed responsibility for the bombing. That was traced to a phone box in south-west London and, I repeat, Sir Paul has plainly stated that this was a racially-motivated attack and the police have linked it to the Brixton bombing on 17th April.

5.30 p.m.

Baroness Flather: My Lords, perhaps I may first of all apologise for being overeager in my attempt to say a few words.

I was a victim of a very serious and potentially lethal racial attack in the early 1980s. I know something about the fall-out, so to speak--apart from nails--which takes place after such an event. It is important that we tell Londoners to be robust in their response. It is not a good thing to give in and do fewer of the things that one normally does. When Northern Ireland terrorists were active in London, Londoners were extremely robust in their response. There is a lesson to be learnt. We should not let the perpetrators of such dreadful deeds win. We should not let them change the quality of life in London. I hope that the Minister will make that plain.

Secondly, it is very important that we should be open about what happens to us. If we do not speak up, no one will. Certainly in the 1980s very few people were willing to speak up and say, "Yes, we have been victims of such attacks".

Thirdly, in the past we have discussed proscribing groups. The main argument against that is that a group will simply change its name and become another group. But if the machinery is put into motion, then why not continue to proscribe each group as it becomes known? That would make the job of the police in detecting these people much easier. Usually information comes from the less right-wing right-wing groups--if there can be such a thing. These are groups which are not particularly violent but are right-wing in their thinking. They are the ones that do not like others carrying out this kind of violence. I hope the Minister will consider the question of proscribing groups.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page