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The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, I never expected a debate on contemporary forms of slavery to draw such a large audience. Long may it continue. I hope that all noble Lords heard the words of our very conscientious new Minister who gave such an excellent reply and laid out some of the many areas in which the Government are active.
I realise that we are waiting for an important Statement and that sad events have occurred, so I shall not pick up the points that I had intended to pick up. There was a nice tension betweennot so much the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, and others, which I understand in an academic contextthe noble Lords, Lord Joffe and Lord Avebury, who need to go on discussing the question of whether slavery or poverty should be abolished first. That is a subtle debate, which I hope will continue.
I also single out the noble Baroness, Lady Howells, as others have done, because the mere mention of Jean Rhys and Wide Sargasso Sea brings back chilling memories. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.
Lord Rooker: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made a short while ago in the other place by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. The Statement is as follows:
"As the House will know, there has this morning been a number of terrorist attacks in central London. The situation is unfolding and I am not yet in a position to give a conclusive account of all that has happened, but I wanted to keep the House as fully informed as possible.
"Four explosions have been confirmed: one on a tube train between Aldgate East and Liverpool Street; the second on a bus in Woburn Place; the third on a tube train between Russell Square and Kings Cross; and, fourthly, on a tube train at Edgware tube station. As yet we do not know who, or which organisations, are responsible for these criminal and appalling attacks.
"Of course, our first responsibility is to protect and support the public at this time. The Metropolitan Police are in operational command, using well established and tested procedures. The health services are providing first-class care.
"The Underground is closed and will remain so for some time. It will certainly be closed today. There are no buses in central London. Transport for London will decide when to resume services later today.
"The Cabinet was informed this morning and I have chaired a COBRA meeting to ensure that the whole Government commitment is properly co-ordinated and any necessary support provided. The Prime Minister is returning to London from Gleneagles to chair a COBRA meeting later today.
Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, all of your Lordships will be grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement on this tragic occasion. It is of course much too early to speculate on what lies behind it and why it happened. As the Minister reminded us, four bombs have been reported, although at some stage
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there were reports of a higher number. News is still coming in and we still have to learn about some of those trapped in the Tube.
We strongly join Ministers in offering our deepest sympathies to the bereaved, those who have been injured and to all the families of those who have lost their lives. We salute the police, fire, ambulance and hospital services, who as usual have been superb. They have been wonderful, as we expect and as they always are. We give the Government unqualified support in carrying through the necessary duties in both trying to find out what happened and in managing the situation to bring things back to normal. Normal is where this country is and intends to remain, despite these horrible challenges.
The closing of the public transport service has, as the Minister indicated, been promptnecessarily sobut we must face the fact that it leaves thousands of people stranded and unable either to get home, get in, join their families or get to or from work. If the Government could get news to us as soon as possible of when the transport systems will open again, that would be very helpful. For instance, Network Rail stopped trains up to 50 miles away from London, barring people from getting into London. That obviously creates problems that are made worse by the fact that the mobile telephone system has rightly devoted half of its networks to the emergency services. That has means that the other half has had to carry an enormous load of anxious telephone calls, few of which have got through. So all this is creating strains to which we must adjust. The sooner we know how the system will return to normal the better.
This is a reminder that in an open society we are all very vulnerable. We know our intelligence has been very good and assiduous but, obviously, what has been perpetrated, required the most careful planning and co-ordination. It was a co-ordinated and carefully planned set of attacks on innocent people. I believe and assume that we shall hear more on Monday, when we shall also receive a Statement on the G8 and its views on the situation.
That reminds us that we are part of a globally exposed system. We have to work very closely together with all our allies and friends all round the world, even though what has happened today has happened in our capital city. Whoever are the perpetrators, we are dealing with an enemy who is sophisticated, patient, disciplined, lethal and with limitless hostility towards us and our values and who makes no distinction at all between civilian and military targets. However careful our preparations and however brisk and effective our responseas it has beenas a result of this tragedy today, it is clear that we have to be still more careful in the future.
Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I associate those on this side of the House with the sentiments already expressed. I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement to your Lordships' House. I agree with the Home Secretary that it is far too early to build a total
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picture of what has happened, other than that we accept that terrorism has raised its ugly head in this country. There is evidence of fatalities and our condolences go to the families of those who have suffered.
At this stage, it is important that we supply as much information as possible to the public to ensure that they are aware of the threats facings us, but more importantly to seek their co-operation to ensure that safety measures are taken and that any suspicious activities are reported to the police.
We cannot stress more forcefully the need for reliable information to be supplied as soon as possible. We wish to know how the contingency plans are working in London and in other parts of the country. We wish to know whether air traffic is adequately monitored as regards flights into and over London.
I am delighted that the Prime Minister is returning to this country to chair the meeting of COBRA and I hope that he will take the opportunity to address the nation to ensure that public confidence is maintained and that fear does not grip vulnerable and older people.
Will the Minister confirm the latest breaking news that al-Qaeda has claimed responsibility for these attacks? I also ask him to ensure that there is no backlash on our law-abiding, diverse community as a result of what has happened today. We have always maintained that terrorism must be defeated. What has happened today will have repercussions for our society for a very long time to come. We have to be vigilant and we should be grateful that the police, ambulance and other services are playing their important parts in the protection of the public. We thank them for that.
Lord Rooker: My Lords, I am very grateful for the messages from both Front Benches who speak for the whole House. I shall not speculate. I cannot comment on anything that might be breaking or otherwise, as the Home Secretary did not. On behalf of the Government, I can say that we shall keep both Houses fully informed. It is important that the public are given accurate information, and that we do not feed speculation. Quite clearly, as indicated, there needs to be accurate announcements of the transport situation as early as possible, and we shall seek to ensure that that takes place.
We do not know any of the details about the casualties, but on speculation about who might be responsible, the only message we have to give is one given by the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister early this morning: it does not matter who was responsible. The one thing they will learn from this, if they did not understand it before, is that our will to carry on as normal with our way of life, at our choice, is much greater than their will to disrupt it.
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