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"I should like to make a short Statement in respect of the bomb blasts in Istanbul this morning. The House will, I am sure, understand that as information is coming in all the time, it has not been possible to make copies of the Statement for distribution to honourable Members in the usual way. Copies will be placed in the Vote Office as soon as possible.
"There was a series of explosions this morning in Istanbul, one of which was targeted at the headquarters of the HSBC bank and another at the British consulate-general building. It is too early to establish all the details, but these are clearly appalling acts of terrorism. It is sadly already clear that a number of British, Turkish and other people have been killed in the explosions. Latest reports are that 17 have died and that more than 300 have been injured. A number of members of the British consulate-general staff are still unaccounted for and, in addition, a number are injured. We are obviously working very hard to establish the full scale of the tragedy to British consulate-general staff, staff of HSBC and all others caught up in it. I know that I speak for the whole House in my utter condemnation of these atrocities and in expressing my condolences to the families of those killed and sympathy to those who have been injured.
"I spoke about an hour ago to the Turkish Foreign Minister, Abdullah Gul. I expressed to him my sincere condolences to the Turkish Government and people for the Turkish casualties, and I stressed our solidarity with Turkey and the Turkish authorities. I also spoke to Peter Westmacott, our ambassador in Ankara, who is travelling right now to Istanbul in the company of the Turkish Interior Minister, Mr Aksu. The Foreign Office will this afternoon be sending out a consular rapid deployment team to join staff travelling there from the embassy in Ankara. We have opened emergency units in London to co-ordinate our response.
"Following the horrific attacks on synagogues in Istanbul last Saturday, which killed people of both the Jewish faith and the Muslim faith, we have already revised our travel advice to take account of those attacks and to warn of a significant threat from terrorism. We are revising the travel advice again in the light of these explosions to warn against all but the most essential travel to Istanbul. Although it is too early to say precisely who was behind the explosions, they have every hallmark of the cowardly and indiscriminate acts of terrorism of Al'Qaeda and its associates.
"These attacks are an affront to democracy and to the entire civilised world. They are an affront to people of every faith and religion in the world. We shall stand united with the international community in the fight against this appalling global terrorism".
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, the House will be as grateful as I am to the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement on this ugly tragedy, the details and size of which are still not fully apparent and are unfolding as we speak. We of course join wholeheartedly and totally in the condolences and sympathies to the relatives of the bereaved and the hundreds who have been injured. We realise that there may be more bad news yet to come and that it is difficult at this early stage to confirm the details. We pray and hope that our consulate staff and nationals—and, indeed, all those involved—were spared as much injury as possible and that the news is not quite as bad as some of the early Reuters reports and others have suggested. But that may be wishing in the wind because this was clearly a horrific event involving targets with a British connection, most obviously the consulate and the HSBC bank.
Turkey is a strong and valued ally of ours in NATO. We admire Turkey and the way in which the Turkish people and society are seeking to bring themselves fully into the modern world and to prepare for membership of the European Union—which I, for one, would like to see as soon as possible—and thus help bring about the emergence of the grand union of the future. I hope that we can indicate the warmth of that support in this hour of tragedy for the people of Turkey and the people of Istanbul.
There are one or two questions that I should put to the Minister about the situation as it unfolds. Was there any pre-warning at all after the synagogue horrors on Saturday? Is there any solid news that Istanbul will be particularly targeted, or is it an emerging pattern that encompasses Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries? Were extra precautions taken at the British consulate, which, as many noble Lords will know better than I, is a magnificent building? It was originally our embassy, given to Queen Victoria by the Sultan, and is even now being refurbished.
Has this horror led instantaneously to warnings to all our embassies and consulates around the world? They are all in the front line now. Indeed, there are some who say that these attacks on Istanbul, the bridge into Europe, are a message and a warning that the Al'Qaeda brigade, or a franchise, or those acting in related terrorist groups, are trying to move back into the European landmass. Clearly we have more than ever to be on our guard, totally and absolutely, against these evil people.
I agree with the noble Baroness and the Foreign Secretary about the broader scene. There can be with these terrorists—and one defines "terrorists" as those who deliberately target civilians, women and children; not those who fight wars for freedom but those who deliberately set out to kill the innocent—no appeasement and no negotiation.
Finally, I observe that this is a sad note on which to end this parliamentary Session. But it is a reminder that this is an age of terrorism. I believe I am right in saying that we began this Parliament with debates on the same subject. It will clearly be a long, hard haul and we will need the steeliest of resolve to see us through these dark times.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement from the Commons. We all appreciate that it is not helpful at this time to ask for further details from the Government when information is still coming through. We extend our condolences to the families of the members of the consulate staff who have clearly lost their lives and to the families of many others who have been killed and injured in the middle of Istanbul.
I was in Istanbul four weeks ago. I walked around that area and I had dinner with a number of members of the Istanbul Jewish community. I am very conscious that this brings us quite close to home. It is a part of our world.
The Turkish Government represent the moderate face of Islam. It is one of the best developments that Turkey has seen for many years. Clearly there are those within Turkey who do not wish the Government to succeed. That is part of the attack. It is not only an attack on us and the Turkish Jewish community, it is an attack on the reconciliation of Islam with democracy that the AKP happily appears to represent. This has to be the future development of Turkey. We must do everything that we can to help the Turkish Government resist this counter movement.
I make one small criticism of the Statement. Whatever one may say about suicide bombers, they are not cowardly. They take their own lives and those of others because they have a very deep but mistaken faith in resisting the world in which we want to live. We must understand the nature of what is now a clear, long-term threat to our open secular society in those terms. We have discontented youths—often discontented middle-class youths—across the Muslim world from Singapore to Sheffield, who feel that they have a calling to go out and commit these dreadful atrocities at the cost of their own lives. There has to be a broad and long-term response to what we must now recognise is a long-term threat.
We have to be tough on terrorism but also tough on the causes of terrorism. That means that we have to consider not only Western policy across the whole of the Middle East and Western policy towards education in the third world, particularly in the Muslim world, but also about better relations with our own British Muslim community. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Howell—no appeasement, no negotiation—but we also need to have a clear understanding of what mistakenly motivates these young men. We need to consider how we can remove those causes and find a bridge towards helping them to come to terms with our world.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, and the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, for their responses. I thank them also for their expressions of condolence.
The Statement made clear that the position is changing all the time in terms of the news we have available. I thank both noble Lords for their commendable restraint in not pressing me too hard at the moment on matters that I cannot answer in detail or with any certainty because news is still coming in.
It is clear that diplomats and locally engaged staff—and we should not forget how faithfully we are served overseas by people who are locally engaged and have worked for many years in our consulates-general, consulates, embassies and high commissions—employees of HSBC, Turkish citizens and others may have lost their lives or been hurt in this morning's explosions. We are doing everything that we can to get a clear picture.
The Statement made clear that my right honourable friend had spoken to Her Majesty's ambassador in Ankara, Sir Peter Westmacott, this morning. I have spoken to Sir Peter since that conversation. He had not then arrived at the consulate-general in Istanbul but was preparing himself for a very difficult situation on the ground when he gets there. I can think of no diplomat able to deal with such a situation better than Sir Peter.
I also thank both noble Lords for what they said about the attack being an attack on Turkey, too, as the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, made clear. The noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, quite rightly drew our attention to the fact that Turkey joining the EU and the Turkish accession is something to which we very much look forward. We believe that as well as being an attack on British interests, this was an attack on Turkey. My right honourable friend made that clear in his discussions with his opposite number, Minister Gul, this morning.
The noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, asked specifically about warnings. There have been general warnings to our interests in Turkey. The travel advice was changed earlier this week as a result of the bombings of the synagogues, referred to in my right honourable friend's Statement. The travel advice at the time of the explosion made it clear that there was a significant threat from terrorism. A number of recent terrorist incidents, including the major attacks in Istanbul on the 15th November, urged us to say to those travelling that they should be vigilant in all parts of the country, especially in the vicinity of potential terrorist targets. Among the examples referred to was the possibility of attacks on United Kingdom or United States diplomatic missions.
I believe the travel advice warned of significant threats from terrorism and pointed specifically at United Kingdom and United States diplomatic missions. Of course, the advice has changed this morning in the light of these further attacks—it advises against all but the most essential travel to Istanbul. As your Lordships will know, the travel advice is kept under constant review. The Foreign Secretary takes a very close interest and the travel advice is often referred to him from various parts of the world where we believe there is a high threat.
The noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, also asked about extra precautions. Extra precautions were taken; I am not prepared to go into details about what they were, but there is still a very difficult security position on the ground. The bombs were on a vehicle; I do not know what the vehicle was, and I am not aware of the extent of the damage. Those of your Lordships who have been to the consulate-general in Istanbul, as I have, will know that there is a perimeter wall. If that wall has been breached in any way, going into details about the security within the wall would be a mistake at the moment.
As you would expect, after the synagogue bombings there was liaison with the Turkish authorities and additional precautions were taken. I agree with what has been said about the beautiful building that has been so sadly defaced today.
As for warnings to other embassies, there is of course a very high level of threat to British interests in many parts of the world at the moment. Our Foreign Office travel advice, as I have indicated to your Lordships, is reviewed constantly. So, too, are aspects of security for our staff when they serve overseas. I see reports about the judgments drawn by those from a number of different agencies who visit our embassies, high commissions and consulates in different parts of the world and make recommendations about any additional security that is necessary. I am afraid, as has been demonstrated all too well today, that these are very difficult times for many of our staff overseas. We are absolutely aware of our responsibility to do what we can for the safety of the staff, both diplomats and locally engaged staff.
Of course I agree that terrorism has to be fought; I agree that this will be a long haul and that steely resolve will be necessary. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, made various observations on the nature of cowardice which we may want to debate on another occasion, as we have debated the nature of terrorism. What we can say, however, is that this was a wicked act, carried out with an absolutely indiscriminate desire to kill as many people as possible and hurt as many people as possible.
Much as we have to look at some of the causes of terrorism around the world, as I know the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, would be the first to agree, that should in no way diminish our resolve to fight these appalling acts of terrorism and do everything we can to counter them.
My Lords, I would like to associate myself fully with the unanimous shock and horror in this House at this appalling act of indiscriminate violence. It has been a sad week for violence and terrorist activities against both coalition and Jewish targets. I totally support what the Minister has said about our need for continuing resolve in opposing, fighting and, if I may say so, understanding these acts of violence.
This has also been a week in which there has been striking evidence of public opposition in this country to United States policy in the Middle East and on Iraq. I pay tribute to what I have read of President Bush's reported remarks about the Arab-Israel dispute this week. But these have been remarks, and I hope the Minister will agree that the only way in which we can reduce opposition to United States policy in this country and, more importantly, reduce these appalling continuing acts of violence is if the United States Administration are prepared to put those remarks into action.
President Bush gave Mr Blair some very firm promises in Belfast that he would put as much personal energy into trying to resolve the Arab-Israel problem as Mr Blair had put into helping to resolve the Northern Ireland problem. It is time that the United States lived up to that promise. Most of us know that even the middle-ranking delegate who was sent to Palestine and Israel on behalf of the United States Administration was withdrawn. As far as I know, there is no evidence whatever that the United States is doing anything practical at the moment to help resolve that disastrous issue which lies at the bottom of much of the resentment of not only those who demonstrated in London this week but, more importantly, the Muslim world.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, for what he has said. I am particularly grateful, given that his remarks come from such a distinguished former Permanent Secretary at the Foreign Office. I know that his words will be read with great gratitude by a number of diplomats and locally engaged staff around the world.
I also thank the noble Lord, whom I know has very strong and well known views about the situation in Palestine-Israel, for what he said about the remarks of President Bush this week. I returned from Beirut only this morning. I cannot help observing that Beirut was a byword for terrorism and criminality 10 or 15 years ago. Now it is a city which, for all its difficulties—and there are so many difficulties in Lebanon—demonstrates that some of the causes of terrorism can be overcome and some of the long-held vicious, cruel hatred can also be put to one side.
When news came through, as it did yesterday evening, of the unanimous passing of the United Nations Security Council resolution on the road map, there was, among the group of Lebanese people whom I was with at the time, an enormous feeling of upliftment. They felt that there was at least some way in which the world had tried to pull together on the crucial issue of Palestine and Israel.
The noble Lord exhorts us to keep reminding the President of the United States that he has to live up to the remarks he made at Hillsborough. I remind your Lordships that this is not just a role for the United States of America. Yes, of course the US has a particular role and a particular relationship with Israel, but we all have our responsibilities in this matter. The quartet is a group of four that signed up to the road map, not just the United States, as it is so often described in our media. There were four signatories, and it behoves the United Nations, the EU and Russia to play their part in this.
My Lords, we all perfectly understand that the Minister cannot go into any sort of detail about security measures which have been taken with regard to our embassies, high commissions and consulates around the world. She spoke a little earlier about recommendations which have been made on a continual basis with regard to improving security. Does she think it would be wise at this stage to look at those recommendations for improving security which have not been followed up or not yet implemented? Having that urgent review might avoid a similar occurrence elsewhere.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, as I know that he wants to be as helpful as possible. These issues are taken very seriously. On the very few occasions when I have felt that some security issues may not have moved as fast as I would have liked them to move, and have followed up the situation with officials, I have found them extraordinarily responsive. I would like the noble Lord to put out of his mind any thought of what he suggested, given the circumstances of what we know so far of what happened in Istanbul this morning. This was a brutal act of terrorism, and those who perpetrated it did so in an indiscriminate way that would probably have resulted in some loss of life in any case.
We must be very careful in considering what we are doing to protect not only British lives but also other lives around the world. Let us not lose sight of the stark and terrible fact that the people responsible for these deaths are the terrorists. No effort to spread blame around among others should be indulged in by any of us. I know that the noble Lord was not doing that—but it is important to keep our focus on the fact that those who take life in that indiscriminate fashion are the ones responsible for the loss of that life.
My Lords, nobody would dissent from that. I subscribe to all the views expressed by noble Lords of horror and revulsion about what has happened. However, we have to look at the wider picture, and this is part of a series, which is not concluded, of violent activity that is going to kill a lot of people. We have already heard of one causative factor from the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond.
I ask the noble Baroness and her colleagues to consider another, which was raised in the debate on Cancun and again yesterday in a Question from the noble Lord, Lord Judd. I refer to the extraordinary disparity, not only in trade but also in wealth, between different parts of the world. We live as members of a very small minority of the world's population who enjoy a very large majority of its wealth. It is not just compassion that is needed; self-interest says that we have to address that disparity if the world is not to be a ready recruiting ground for terrorists. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, referred to disaffected youth, and that is one reason why they are disaffected.
I repeat what I said before—that merely adjusting terms of trade is not going to be enough to alter such a gross imbalance. If anything is going to be effective, it is going to cost us. That will be a subject of political contention. I still believe that political parties in this country must agree a wise programme that will not be competitively reduced over successive general elections.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for his remarks of horror and revulsion for what has taken place this morning. I agree with much of what he says about the nature of terrorism; indeed, when we have had more leisure to discuss the matter in debates on the nature of terrorism, the point that he raised has been made on all sides of your Lordships' House.
Of course, poverty disaffects. Poverty very often provides the fertile soil in which terrorism flourishes. That is true.
My Lords, I am advised that, on a Statement, the noble Lord's intervention is not in order. However, as I was agreeing with him, I am not sure what he wanted to correct me on. I do believe that poverty provides the fertile soil. I do not, however, believe that we should overlook the fact that many millions of poor people around the world lead decent, law-abiding lives and would never dream of being drawn into this sort of carnage and horror.
There is a great deal to be said about the nature of poverty and trade. However, I honestly believe that at this stage a broader view on that would be more appropriate on a different day.
My Lords, this has been terrible news. I would like to associate myself, as, I am sure, would many of my colleagues, with a sense of real feeling for those who have suffered, their families, and the rest. Would my noble friend agree that, in refusing in any way to begin to excuse what has been done, or the ruthlessness and manipulation of those who have done it, we must remember—as she herself has just said—that extremism and terrorism breed in an atmosphere of injustice? Therefore, it is essential that, in our response to terrorism, we constantly redouble our efforts to demonstrate that we have the highest commitment to human rights and justice in all that we do. Unfortunately, situations such as that in Guantanamo Bay add fuel to the arguments of extremists who want to recruit terrorists.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Judd for his condolences. Of course, I agree that we cannot in any sense begin to excuse those who perpetrated the terrible act this morning. When faced with terrorism, I believe that there are some very interesting questions about human rights and civil rights to be considered. It is a very difficult question, and it is not enough simply to say that we must uphold those rights at all costs, if, in doing so, we allow terrorists to circumvent the human rights of others. We may allow a situation to develop in which terrorists find it very easy to take other people's lives.
The question is difficult, and we must consider it realistically. Sometimes something has to give, particularly on civil rights, to ensure that the fundamental right to life for citizens going about their normal everyday business is upheld. Of course, I agree with my noble friend that such issues all hang together. However, when we assess those positions, we have to be very careful not solely to consider one side but to take into account the effect that that will have on the vulnerability of citizens who are simply going about their normal daily lives.
My Lords, the Minister's noble friend asked her whether it was essential that we should have a clear understanding of what motivates the young people who commit these terrorist acts. We have had three different explanations, from the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and the noble Lord, Lord Judd, of what underpins the motivation of those young people.
Does the noble Baroness recall that, in a recent debate on religion and terrorism, it was suggested that the Government should conduct research on those matters? In particular, it was suggested that they consider the ideologues of the Salafist school of Islam and its two principal ideologues, Qutb and Maudoodi, to see whether anything in the literature might give us a clue to the intentions or habits of those who commit these acts. Has the Foreign Office, or have the Government, undertaken any such research? If so, could they refer your Lordships to the analysis made of it?
My Lords, it is always important to get behind the motives for attacks such as the one that took place this morning. The fact that we have had three different points of view does not mean that the analysis of those who put them forward is mutually exclusive. Very often, these are all threads that come together in the motivation of those who carry out such outrages.
In the Foreign Office at the moment we are considering ways in which we might have outreach into a number of communities. We are looking at ways through which we might understand how a number of different cultures work, so as to create a world in which we can all live where there is better mutual understanding. Clearly that is not just work for the Foreign Office; there is work to be done in a number of different government departments. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, made very important points about trade, the way in which we deal with each other and poverty. When something arises on those issues that can usefully be shared I am sure that the various departments that have carried out that work will do so. For the moment we have a very difficult and immediate threat to the United Kingdom's interests around the world. I very much hope that the resources of the Foreign Office are concentrated on dealing with those who have suffered so much today, and on considering some of the immediate issues that arise there from.
My Lords, first, in the light of these horrendous and tragic events, will the Government renew their representations to countries such as Pakistan, Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia, within whose boundaries there may be terrorists, or organisations supporting terrorism, that they should intensify their action against them? Secondly, can the Minister at this early stage give any indication at all whether the terrorists who perpetrated this awful crime are Turkish nationals or came from outside that country?
My Lords, I cannot give the noble Lord any further details over and above those given in the Statement by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary, who said that the attack had some of the characteristics of the Al'Qaeda terrorist organisation or its close associates. We shall have to await further information on that. The Statement made clear that a rapid reaction group from our consulate division will travel to Turkey later today. I understand that that will also comprise some police officers who we hope will be able to deploy their expertise. Sadly, there is a great deal of expertise in this country regarding terrorist outrages. We hope that they will be able to add their expertise to that on the ground on the part of the Turkish authorities.
As regards renewing representation, the fact is that representations on these issues are constant, not only with the countries that the noble Lord enumerated but also with many other countries around the world. As the Minister with responsibility for the Middle East, I talk about counter-terrorism on virtually every overseas trip that I make. We exchange information, expertise and new ways of trying to gather human and other forms of intelligence about terrorist organisations around the world. Those organisations are becoming better and better organised and the international community itself must become much better organised in the way that we deal with them.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a past chairman of the HSBC group. I have spoken to staff at the bank today who are bemused by the whole situation. The bank has a record of over 100 years' service in the Middle East through HSBC and its various subsidiaries. Like the Minister, at present they have no firm figures on casualties; all they have said is that they will not be frightened out of the area by such terrorist acts.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for making that important point. HSBC is a flagship organisation, almost an institution, in this country and overseas. Of course our condolences extend to that organisation. Over the next few days we shall stay in constant touch with it. The staff that we are sending to Istanbul will deal not only with our consulate staff but naturally also with those HSBC staff who have suffered in the attack.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that although it is right that we should condemn these atrocities and express horror at them, that will not have much effect on those who carry them out? As a famous Russian once said, the object of terrorism is to terrorise. That is what these people are trying to do. The fact that we deplore what they do and express horror at it may to some extent salve our own consciences but it will not have much effect on the people who carry out the terrorism.
When we consider what motivates these terrorists we should remember that perhaps the main threat of terrorism to our way of life comes from Islamic extremists. They are motivated by one simple thing—hatred of our way of life, our religion and our culture. While it is true to say that poverty is a breeding ground for terrorism, the Minister will probably agree that whatever we do to cure the conditions in which terrorism breeds, one thing we must do is to recognise that we have to meet force with force. We must be as ruthless with terrorists as they are with us. Although we may rightly say that there are certain breeding grounds for terrorism, even if we solve all those problems, the threat will not be removed. Islamic fundamentalism or Islamic extremism will persist whatever we do about those other matters.
My Lords, of course the noble Lord is right that condemnations such as the one that I made from the Dispatch Box today on behalf of my right honourable friend, and the one that he made in another place in which all your Lordships joined, will not have much effect on terrorists. However, if I may say so, I do not believe that is the point. It is to the point to offer what comfort we can by way of sympathy and condolences to those who have suffered. Those are important messages. It is important that they understand that this country's Parliament has sent that message to them at a terrible time.
That also gives us the opportunity to say very clearly that we do not intend to give in to this kind of terrorism. The noble Lord is right to say that we must meet force with force. Of course, we do. Some people will never understand any message except the stark and terrible message that if they use that kind of force they can expect to be met with brutal and terrible force in return. However, there is another message. There is another message for the young people of whom the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, spoke and for the people about whom my noble friend Lord Judd is so concerned; namely, that we must address some of the real problems in the world at present that allow the evil people who perpetrate these kind of horrors to recruit others to their ranks. We have to look at both sides of the question.