London: Terrorist Attacks

– in the House of Lords at 1:45 pm on 7th July 2005.

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Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office 1:45 pm, 7th July 2005

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.

"I begin by expressing on behalf of the whole Government our sympathy for the friends and families of those who have died or been injured. I am not in a position at this time to give details.

"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.

"Overground services are subject to substantial delays. Most stations are open, but some mainline stations are closed. We will try to reopen them later today. Airports are operating normally.

"People are strongly advised not to travel into central London. The emergency services must be allowed to do their jobs.

"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.

"I will continue to keep the House fully informed".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Spokespersons In the Lords, Foreign Affairs, Deputy Leader, House of Lords, Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords 1:47 pm, 7th July 2005

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 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 prompt—necessarily so—but 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 response—as it has been—as a result of this tragedy today, it is clear that we have to be still more careful in the future.

Photo of Lord Dholakia Lord Dholakia Deputy Leader, House of Lords, Spokesperson in the Lords, Home Affairs 1:51 pm, 7th July 2005

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 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.

We value our liberty. Let the message go out from your Lordships' House that freedom, liberty and democracy are very precious to us and we shall not allow any act of terrorism to take them away.

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office 1:54 pm, 7th July 2005

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.

Photo of Lord Williamson of Horton Lord Williamson of Horton Crossbench 1:55 pm, 7th July 2005

My Lords, I thank the Government and, from these Benches, congratulate the Metropolitan Police and the public services on their swift and effective response. I saw it myself. I was at Edgware Tube station when the bomb went off this morning. It is still ringing in my ears, but it is going.

I ask the Minister again, subject to the protection of the public, to try as much as possible to minimise the disruption to the life of this great city and nation. As he said himself, we have to show that those who explode bombs have not succeeded.

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

My Lords, I am grateful for the comments of the noble Lord. We will give as much accurate information as we can, as quickly as possible.

Photo of The Bishop of Leicester The Bishop of Leicester Bishop

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the prayerful concern, sympathy and support from these Benches for all the casualties, and our absolute support and appreciation for the work of the security services? Will the Minister join me in assuring our friends and partners in other faith and minority communities in the cities of this country that we will do all in our power to ensure that nothing disrupts or undermines the trusting relationships that we have established, and the social cohesion that is so vital to all our people in the days ahead?

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

My Lords, I am grateful for the remarks of the right reverend Prelate. It is quite clear that, as we sit here, in parts of London there are people working to save lives in Underground stations. We know what is going on. We send them, and all the families who are incredibly worried, our best wishes.

On this point, however, the perpetrators are going to find out that we are not many communities: we are actually one community. That is the message they will get from this.

Photo of Lord Carlile of Berriew Lord Carlile of Berriew Chair, Draft Mental Health Bill (Joint Committee)

My Lords, in sharing the sentiments which have already been expressed around the House, I invite the Minister to share the opinion that we must digest any lessons of this incident with care and calm, and not in a hurry.

Above all, I invite the Minister to agree, on behalf of the Government, that any legislative response to what has occurred—and there may well have to be one—should be considered rather than hasty, and founded on evidence rather than reaction.

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

My Lords, I am grateful for the remarks of the noble Lord. Whatever we do will be proportionate to what is actually needed to combat the threat.

Photo of Lord Bhatia Lord Bhatia Crossbench

My Lords, it is always very distressing to hear about terrorist attacks, no matter where they take place or who carried them out. Innocent lives being lost must be distressing to all of us, in Britain and elsewhere.

I should like to share with your Lordships what I have gone through since this morning. As I was driving through Westminster, I heard on the radio that there was a terrorist attack. The first news came in that it was at Liverpool Street station. I have an office in the City, right opposite Liverpool Street station.

My first concern was for my staff. I know that three of my staff members were coming into Liverpool Street station at about that time. My staff is composed of non- ethnic and ethnic minorities working in my office. It took me an hour to track them down. One had arrived, two others could not be found. My telephone was engaged for one hour. While that was going on, a number of calls from my family had been made to me on my mobile phone. My daughters and my son-in-law were all concerned about my safety, and they could not get me on the phone.

Once I had finished talking to my office, I finally telephoned my family members and was told that all was well. The first concern after that was to send my staff back home as quickly as possible and close the office. As I speak, I hope that that has taken place.

I have a bigger concern, however, for all of us. We have seen and heard what happened after 9/11. There was a terrible backlash on the ethnic minority communities and the Muslim community, which is part of the ethnic minority communities living in this country. We have lived with this for the past three years. Those attacks, verbal and physical, have abated slightly, but there is still a flavour of what goes on in the wider society. There are extremists in our communities, in our country, who will take the first opportunity to attack ethnic minorities if they can.

The Prime Minister was quick to deal with terrorism from Islam immediately after 9/11. I give credit to the Government and to the Prime Minister for having probably saved quite a few lives immediately after 9/11. I hope that the Government this time round will also send a powerful message to the white communities in this country to make sure that the ethnic minorities in the UK are properly protected and looked after by all necessary forces of law. I also hope that the Government will able to track down these terrorists, few that they are, and take them to law and that all processes of law are taken against them.

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

My Lords, I am grateful for the noble Lord's contribution, but I repeat what I said: it is best not to feed the speculation. We do not know who is responsible. Whoever is responsible will find out that they will not disrupt our way of life. They will not divide us. We are one community in this country: it is our way of life. That is the key thing: we are not divided on this, but we should not feed the speculation about who or which organisations might have been responsible.

Photo of Baroness Falkner of Margravine Baroness Falkner of Margravine Spokesperson in the Lords (Communities & Local Government), Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

My Lords, I associate myself with the sentiments of the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia, in expressing complete outrage at the fact that we have suffered terrorist incidents in this city. I completely concur with the Minister's views on the fact that we are one community. We are indivisible as we extend our heartfelt condolences to all people of all faiths and communities who live in London, many of whom are among the very emergency services that are saving lives as we stand here today.

I concur with the Minister in not encouraging speculation and I wonder whether the Government have used such influence as they have with the media to encourage them not to do so in order to reduce any possibility of intercommunal tension at this difficult time.

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

My Lords, it is seductive, but part of our free society is that the Government do not tell the media how and what to report. They are responsible; they are doing their job informing people, but we must not feed the speculation or change our way of life because of that.

Photo of Lord Tunnicliffe Lord Tunnicliffe Labour

My Lords, I declare an interest as a former managing director and chairman of London Underground. I join the whole House in extending my sympathy to members of the public and the emergency services, but also ask that we think of the men and women in London Underground today and over the next days and weeks. They would have been present when the bombs went off and would have been expected to move into carefully prepared programmes of reaction. At every level from the most junior level upwards they would have been expected to show leadership, initiate the evacuation and take the people out of the system. It would be their command and control systems, integrating with the emergency services, that would be put into action to mitigate the effects.

It is also the men and women of London Underground and their suppliers who, as we speak, will be meeting in groups and planning the recovery of the system. It will be a tough job, because not only will there be direct physical damage but there will certainly be additional collateral damage to systems because of the various shocks the system has had.

It is essential that we get the system back working quickly. Today is unprecedented, but nevertheless a terrorist campaign is not. We fought one in the 1990s and we won it by exhibiting the resilience of the system and the resilience of Londoners to carry on in a terrorist campaign and run the city. It is important that we do that quickly. We can help as parliamentarians by not overreacting. We must be careful not to seek assurances about security that are impossible. We must recognise that the authorities and the police will do all that is reasonably practical, which is the most that they can ever do.

If we over-react, we may throttle the city and hand the terrorists their victory. Reaction to this tragedy must be mature. We must work together as a whole city to help to get business back to normal as quickly as possible and to deny the terrorists a victory.

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

My Lords, the whole House will be grateful for what my noble friend said about the Underground workers. As my right honourable friend Frank Dobson said in the other place, it is right to remind people in his constituency that in situations such as this the emergency services, the doctors, the nurses and the workers in the transport undertakings are going towards the area of trouble while the rest of us are trying to get away from it. We must pay tribute to their resilience and their training in dealing with these situations.

Photo of Lord Condon Lord Condon Crossbench

My Lords, I hope the Minister will accept that the words of encouragement and support in this House for the emergency services will be very well received, as no doubt will be the words of support from the other place. I add my support.

Historically, London has shown its resolve in the face of terrorism and attacks on its transport systems by getting them back into full operation as quickly as possible. Decision makers around the capital will today be faced with the very hard decision of when to go live again with the transport system. I hope they will not delay a minute longer than is necessary because, by getting the system back up and running as soon as possible, the terrorists will not have the oxygen of publicity for a second longer than they deserve.

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

My Lords, I am absolutely certain that the words of the noble Lord will be listened to. They are a tribute to the Metropolitan Police—who, as I said in the Statement, are in operational command of the situation—and all of their colleagues in the emergency services. They know that one of the ways in which we have previously been successful in fighting off terrorism has been by getting the system back to normal as quickly as possible. We must carry on with our ordinary lives while seeking out those responsible for this dastardly deed.

Photo of Baroness David Baroness David Labour

My Lords, can the Minister assure us that we will be kept informed regularly about what is available so that the public do not clutter up the streets and the services, and so that we know what to do?

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

My Lords, information will be given, statements will be made to Parliament and Ministers will make statements through the media and Parliament, but on the basis of giving the public accurate information and not of feeding speculation, which would be of no service whatever. As I have said, we will get the transport system back to normal as quickly as possible. Information on that will be given to the public as soon as possible later today.

Photo of Baroness Uddin Baroness Uddin Labour

My Lords, I share the condemnations of the barbaric act that London has faced today. I express my deep sympathy and condolences to the bereaved families and those who have been injured by this horrific attack.

I do not need to remind your Lordships of the previous attacks on Liverpool Street which crippled the City of London for a considerable time. I am pleased to see the enormous amount of good wishes that have been expressed by this House and the other place today. I extend my congratulations on the speedy way in which the emergency services have reacted.

I share the deep concern expressed so eloquently by the noble Lords, Lord Dholakia and Lord Bhatia, and the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner. I am reassured by my noble friend's comments that we are all one community. We have a tremendous record of good relationships between all sections of the community and I accept his reassurance.

I am sure that if the Government require any assistance it will be provided by all sections of the House. I hope that we will be able to work together and outlive this terrible tragedy.

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

My Lords, I am very grateful for my noble friend's words. She speaks for all of us in her comments on various communities and the emergency services. Together we will defeat this, as we have done in the past.

Photo of Baroness Masham of Ilton Baroness Masham of Ilton Crossbench

My Lords, is the blood supply adequate, as there have been many serious injuries? I am sure that many noble Lords would give blood, if needed.

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

My Lords, I am in no position whatever to comment on any specific issues. I have heard comments made on those issues in the media. I shall not repeat those as that would add to speculation based on information that I do not have.

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Labour

My Lords, in the televised statement that the Prime Minister made earlier today, he indicated that in his view these attacks were deliberately designed to coincide with the beginning of the Gleneagles Summit. I am sure we all welcome the fact that the Prime Minister is returning to London today for briefing from COBRA and others who have been dealing with the morning's events. However, I hope we can also agree that it is entirely right that the Prime Minister should then return to the Gleneagles Summit and that he should continue to argue his case on important issues concerning Africa and climate change. We should all support the Prime Minister in the judgment that he has made that the Gleneagles Summit should continue as planned.

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely spot on. I believe that the House is with her on that. As the Prime Minister said, these events will not disrupt the summit or interfere with the summit's agenda. In view of the summit's agenda on poverty and the future climate of the planet, it is outrageous that any attempt should be made to disrupt it. As I understand it, the Prime Minister will, indeed, return to Gleneagles to continue with the G8 Summit. The other members of the summit will, of course, continue with the programme.

Photo of Lord Patel of Blackburn Lord Patel of Blackburn Labour

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the Government and the Minister on not speculating on who the culprits are and on reminding us that we are one community. I express my personal view that no faith, whether Hinduism, Islam or Christianity, permits this kind of barbaric terrorism. As a Muslim, I condemn these kind of terrorist activities by anyone in any part of the world.

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

My Lords, I believe that the whole House is grateful for my noble friend's words and the way that he expressed them.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Transport

My Lords, I pay tribute to the efforts of Ministers and the Government regarding the contingency plans that they put in place some time ago.

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

My Lords, I am very grateful. The public will see from today's events that an enormous amount of planning has gone on in recent years. Much of it cannot be boasted about. It is tested from time to time. Today it has been put into use.