London: Terrorist Attacks

– in the House of Lords at 4:00 pm on 11th July 2005.

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Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office) 4:00 pm, 11th July 2005

My Lords, I should like to repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. The Statement is as follows:

"With your permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on last Thursday's terrorist attacks in London. The number of confirmed dead currently stands at 52; the number still in hospital 56, some severely injured.

"The whole House, I know, will want to state our feelings strongly. We express our revulsion at this murderous carnage of the innocent. We send our deep and abiding sympathy and prayers to the victims and their families. We are united in our determination that our country will not be defeated by such terror but will defeat it and emerge from this horror with our values, our way of life, our tolerance and respect for others, undiminished.

"I would also like us to record our heartfelt thanks and admiration for our emergency services. Police, those working on our Underground, buses and trains, paramedics, doctors and nurses, ambulance staff, firefighters and the disaster recovery teams; all of them can be truly proud of the part they played in coming to the aid of London last Thursday and the part they continue to play. They were magnificent.

"As for Londoners themselves, their stoicism, resilience and sheer undaunted spirit were an inspiration and an example. At the moment of terror striking, when the eyes of the world were upon them, they responded, and continue to respond, with a defiance and a strength that are universally admired.

"I will now try to give the House as much information as I can. Some of it is obviously already well known. There were four explosions. Three took place on Underground trains—one between Aldgate East and Liverpool Street; one between Russell Square and King's Cross; one in a train at Edgware Road station. All of these took place within 50 seconds of each other at 8.50 am. The other explosion was on the No. 30 bus at Upper Woburn Place at 9.47 am.

"The timing of the Tube explosions was designed to be at the peak of the rush hour and thus to cause maximum death and injury. It seems probable that the attack was carried out by Islamist extremist terrorists, of the kind who over recent years have been responsible for so many innocent deaths in Madrid, Bali, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Kenya, Tanzania, Pakistan, Yemen, Turkey, Egypt and Morocco; of course in New York on September 11, but in many other countries too.

"I cannot obviously give details of the police investigation now underway. I can say that it is among the most vigorous and intensive this country has ever seen. We will pursue those responsible—not just the perpetrators, but the planners of this outrage—wherever they are and we will not rest until they are identified and, as far as is humanly possible, brought to justice.

"I would also like to say this about our police and intelligence services. I know of no intelligence specific enough to have allowed them to prevent last Thursday's attacks. By their very nature, people callous enough to kill completely innocent civilians in this way are hard to stop. But our services and police do a heroic job for this country day in and day out, and I can say that over the past years, as this particular type of new and awful terrorist threat has grown, they have done their utmost to keep this country and its people safe. As I saw again from the meeting of COBR this morning, their determination to get those responsible is total.

"Besides the obvious imperative of tracking down those who carried out these acts of terrorism, our principal concern is the bereaved: the families of the victims. It is the most extraordinarily distressing time for them and all of us feel profoundly for them. Let me explain what we are trying to do.

"The majority—although I stress not all—of the victims' families now have a very clear idea that they have lost their loved ones. For many, patterns of life and behaviour are well enough established that the number of potential victims can now be brought within reasonable range of the actual victims.

"Some 74 families now have police family liaison officers with them. In addition, we have established—with Westminster City Council, the Red Cross, police and others—the Family Assistance Centre. This is presently at The Queen Mother Sports Centre. Tomorrow it will move to a more suitable site at the Royal Horticultural Halls in Westminster. I would like to thank the many organisations involved, including the Salvation Army, the Women's Royal Voluntary Service, the Red Cross, Westminster City Council and all those counsellors who are helping to staff the centre.

"In this way, we are doing our level best to look after the families. My right honourable friend the Culture Secretary has taken charge of this aspect, as she has done before.

"More difficult is the process of formal identification. The police are proceeding here with some caution. In previous terrorist attacks of a similar kind in other countries, mistakes have been made that are incredibly distressing. The effect of a bomb is sometimes to make identification very hard and harrowing. There is now a process in place, involving a group chaired by the coroner, which will in each case make a definitive pronouncement once the right procedures are gone through. I wish it could be quicker, but the only wise course is to follow precisely the advice of the coroner and police, and that is what we will do.

"At some time and in consultation with the families, we will be ready to join in arrangements for a memorial service for the victims. Her Majesty the Queen has kindly said she will attend. Two minutes' silence will be held at noon on Thursday. This will be an opportunity for the nation to unite in remembrance.

"There is then the issue of further anti-terrorist legislation. During the passage of the Prevention of Terrorism Act earlier this year, we pledged to introduce a further counter-terrorism Bill later in this Session. That remains our intention. It will give us an opportunity, in close consultation with the police and the agencies, to see whether there are additional powers that they might need to prevent further attacks.

"As to timing, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary pledged to publish the Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny in the autumn with introduction in spring 2006, so that Parliament had time to digest the report on the operation of control orders produced by the independent reviewer, Lord Carlile. I do not currently see any reason to depart from that timetable.

"However, that is subject to this important caveat. If, as the fuller picture about these incidents emerges and the investigation proceeds, it becomes clear that there are powers that the police and intelligence agencies need immediately to combat terrorism, it is plainly sensible to reserve the right to return to Parliament with an accelerated timetable.

"Finally, I would like to record our deep appreciation of the huge outpouring of international support for London and for Britain over these past days. The G8 leaders demonstrated complete solidarity and also commented with an awe that gave me a lot of pride in Britain, on the courage of our capital city and its people. The UN Security Council passed a unanimous resolution of condemnation of the terrorists and support for Britain. The IOC sent a resolution of support.

"Messages have been received world-wide. There have been immediate offers of help from all the world's main intelligence agencies. An emergency meeting of the EU JHA Council will take place later this week.

"7 July will always be remembered as a day of terrible sadness for our country and for London. Yet it is true that, just four days later, London's buses, trains and as much of its Underground as is possible, are back on normal schedules. Its businesses, shops and schools are open. Its millions of people are coming to work with a steely determination that is genuinely remarkable.

"Yesterday we celebrated the heroism of World War II, including the civilian heroes of London's blitz. Today, what a different city London is. It is a city of many cultures, faiths and races, hardly recognisable from the London of 1945. It is so different and yet, in the face of this attack, there is something wonderfully familiar in the confident spirit that moves through the city, enabling it to take the blow but still not flinch from reasserting its will to triumph over adversity. Britain may be different today but the coming together and the character are the same.

"I say to our Muslim community that people know full well that the overwhelming majority of Muslims stand foursquare with every other community in Britain. We were proud of your contribution to Britain before last Thursday. We remain proud of it today. Fanaticism is not a state of religion but a state of mind. We will work with you to make the moderate and true voice of Islam heard as it should be. Together we will ensure that although terrorists can kill, they will never destroy the way of life we share and which we value, and which we will defend with such strength of belief and conviction that it is to us and not to the terrorists that victory will belong".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the Opposition In the House of Lords, House of Lords 4:11 pm, 11th July 2005

My Lords, on behalf of this side of the House, I thank the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement. Of course, the correct response to such events is resolve: resolve on the part of this House and of Parliament; of our Government and Opposition united; and of the people of London and of Britain as a whole. The past few days have shown that common and unswerving resolve. I hope that the noble Baroness will take to the Prime Minister the sense of the whole House that his leadership in these days has been secure, purposeful and effective.

I ask the noble Baroness to reflect to Her Majesty the Queen the courage that we drew from her inspirational personal words to hospital workers. Those workers were a representative sample of the many, many thousands of emergency workers, security services and agencies, police, fire-fighters, paramedics, medical staff, transport staff, the British Red Cross and others who have been and still are doing their duty tirelessly and honourably. I know that the noble Baroness will convey our thanks to all those fine public servants for the courage and commitment that they have shown in the most trying and testing conditions.

Was it not also inspiring, against that background, to see at the weekend the gathering in Whitehall of remarkable and brave women, led by Her Majesty, who recalled the courage, sacrifice and service of millions of women in a truly great time of trial? If those who perpetrated the foul and cowardly crimes witnessed that peculiarly British event, would they not realise how great and unsinkable is the spirit of this city and this country and how futile is their pathetic and perverted cause? The past few days have brought out the abiding dignity, humanity and quiet courage that is the true British character.

I also thank the Home Secretary for his wise words on the subject of identity cards. I believe that it is wise to conduct constant appraisal of the background of these events, although for the moment, surely the House feels that the full attention of all those involved must be given to bringing the murderers to justice. As we carry out that continuing process of appraisal, we need to reflect on what will actually help in defeating terrorism and what will not.

When we have concluded that and not before—I welcomed the Prime Minister's words on this—we need to focus legislative time and the taxpayers' resources on those things that unite, not divide, and on those initiatives that really help towards a solution. It would have been tempting for some to seek to exploit these events to justify further erosion of our ancient liberties. It is to the credit of the Home Secretary that he did not. The only ones who win when democratic liberties are lost are the enemies of democracy themselves. We should take stock and proceed together.

I do not expect the Government to fail in their duty to protect the citizens of this country, but equally I do not expect the House to flinch in its duty of protecting our liberties and of scrutinising the Government's legislation.

Will the noble Baroness also express the thanks of the House to the world leaders at the G8 who stood shoulder to shoulder with Britain at this time? Food may divide us, but freedom unites us all. These events have reverberated around the world, but where they have been felt most keenly is in hundreds—thousands, indeed—of ordinary homes.

Our deepest sympathy goes to the families and friends of those who have died and those who have been maimed and scarred by the experience and memory of these events. We mourn with them. We share their grief. Nothing will ever console them, but nothing would fail them more than that we should lack resolve.

I will not ask the noble Baroness to give more details than those she has given. I know that she, as our Leader, will always ensure that the House is fully informed. Will she join me in one thing? There are those who are saying in the Arab world that Britain is seeing this as an attack by Islam against Britain. Will she repudiate that, and does she share my view that this was not an attack by Islam, but an attack on Islam—on the image of a great religion; on the innocent Muslim people who died, were bereaved or were injured; and on a city of London that is not only a great Christian city but a Jewish and Hindu city and a Muslim city, where so many Muslim Londoners make their home?

The world needs to understand the totality of the failure of these criminals to divide, to destroy or to sow despair. Rarely has this city or this country been more united. In the coming days, we look forward with hope and expectation to a growing chorus of voices from British Muslims calling for these criminals and their fellow travellers to be cast out and unequivocally condemned. Truly, they are the enemies of right-thinking and God-fearing people everywhere. Their murderous identities may still be unknown to us, but, with our combined resolve, justice will soon inexorably be upon them.

Photo of Lord Dholakia Lord Dholakia Deputy Leader, House of Lords, Spokesperson in the Lords, Home Affairs 4:17 pm, 11th July 2005

My Lords, from this side of the House, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. First, I pay tribute to the resilience of the people of London, which has been widely reported by the international press. The most powerful weapon that we have against the terrorist is the strength of our diverse society, which exists in one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world. We also associate ourselves with the sentiments expressed by the Prime Minister and extend our sympathy to all those who have suffered.

We need to thank the police and MI5, who, according to the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, former Metropolitan Police Commissioner, have foiled at least eight terrorist attacks in Britain. Much of their work is secretive and often goes unreported. We do not support the call for an inquiry into intelligence failings. An internal inquiry is inevitable at the appropriate time, but we see no case at present either for a public or a judicial inquiry. It will deflect resources at a time when the priority is to catch the perpetrators of such vile crimes.

We must not allow terrorism to erode our civil liberties. We must not hand a victory to the terrorists by giving in to the temptation to legislate to remove freedoms. The Prime Minister helpfully made the same point in his initial statement from Gleneagles. Let me confirm that my party would accept the need for a new prevention of terrorism Act. A new offence of acts preparatory to terrorism is now due. We should also reopen the debate on lifting the ban on the use of telephone taps and intercepted e-mails in court.

I should like to put some questions to the Minister. The Commission for Racial Equality is now monitoring the tensions that may arise as a result of the bombings. What discussions have taken place with the Muslim community and what policing resources are directed to preventing attacks on Muslims and others of Asian appearance?

We support the Government's desire to push for a decision in the length of time that communication service providers should hold telephone and Internet data. The current system is voluntary, confused and ineffective.

Will the Government publish their views on the report of the European Parliament's Committee on Civil Liberties of May this year? There is always a temptation after such terrible events for the Government to rush through new legislation curtailing freedoms. That would be a mistake. We shall support a proportionate measure, arrived at after a slow and careful process of assessing the evidence. The priority must be to catch the perpetrators. If that means more resources for the police and the intelligence services, we should provide them.

There should be a relentless campaign to apprehend and prosecute those who have challenged our way of life. They have shown no mercy to the law-abiding citizens of London. We, on our part, will deal with them according to the democratic values that they have denied to those who were injured or who lost their life.

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office) 4:23 pm, 11th July 2005

My Lords, I first thank the noble Lords, Lord Strathclyde and Lord Dholakia, for their comments and, in particular, for the unity of purpose that has been demonstrated across the Chamber this afternoon.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that these terrible incidents have demonstrated the importance of the nation working together. I thank the noble Lords for the positive things that they said about the leadership of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and of the Government, but we should thank all our political leaders for the dignified way in which they have responded to this terrible tragedy. We should thank our faith communities and faith leaders, who yesterday made an important joint statement from Lambeth Palace, and of course our emergency services. We have all thanked them. We should also thank the people of London and of Britain, who have responded magnificently. I will of course relay the message from the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, to Her Majesty the Queen.

On future legislation, I thought that I had made it clear that the timetable that was set out for future anti-terrorist legislation was the timetable that we would like to follow. That includes pre-legislative scrutiny, but, if the police and the security services require more powers more quickly, we would want the option of bringing that to the House. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister made it absolutely clear that we would seek consensus, if it is possible.

I hear the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, about the importance of not curtailing freedoms. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has responded in a dignified way over the past few days to those issues.

On the issue of democratic liberties, which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, I cannot think of any other country in the world where the demonstration that is going on right outside Parliament this afternoon—right outside my window—would be going on. We should take immense pride in that.

Reference was made to the messages of support that we have received from world leaders and others. I can also report that we have received messages of support from other parliaments, and I am sure that the House would like me to respond to them on its behalf. Of course, I undertake to keep the House fully informed of progress.

The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said that it was not an attack by Islam against Britain, and of course I agree. We can be immensely proud of the diversity of our city. Strong signals have been sent by the Muslim communities in the United Kingdom expressing their horror at the attack. We all need to work together at this point. There is no more important thing to do. As the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, said, we need to focus on catching the perpetrators and bringing them to justice. I confirm to the noble Lord that there have been discussions with the Muslim communities. They will be ongoing, and we have had a very positive outcome.

On policing resources and communication service providers, I hope that the noble Lord will forgive me if I do not answer his questions now. It is part of an ongoing process. Of course, we have to learn from these experiences, but our resources at the moment are entirely focused on finding those responsible.

Photo of Lord Davies of Coity Lord Davies of Coity Labour 4:25 pm, 11th July 2005

My Lords, I welcome the Statement repeated by my noble friend about the atrocity that occurred last Thursday. We all know that atrocities have occurred in the past, and there have been more than enough apologists for those actions, unfortunately. I am pleased to hear that my noble friend has confirmed that further anti-terrorism legislation will be introduced to the House in the near future. Will my noble friend confirm that the Government expect all-party support for that legislation?

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, I can only repeat what my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said in another place. In speaking of the importance of us all coming together to fight this issue, he reiterated the importance of trying to seek consensus on that legislation. That is what we will seek to do.

Photo of Lord Campbell-Savours Lord Campbell-Savours Labour

My Lords, will my noble friend assure us that, if the Government are forced to concede or decide to concede an inquiry into these matters at a later stage, the intelligence aspects of that inquiry will be dealt with by the Intelligence and Security Committee, not by some other Whitehall-inspired committee, which could lead to the same kind of criticisms as were made on a previous occasion?

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, my noble friend will be aware that, at this point, we do not think it helpful to divert the resources that need to be focused on finding the perpetrators into having an inquiry. Of course, the ISC, which was re-appointed today as part of its ongoing work, will have a role in reviewing what has happened to date. That will happen without a doubt. However, with respect to any future inquiry, we need to put that question on one side for the moment and focus on finding those who perpetrated these terrible outrages against our capital city and then take it from there.

Photo of Baroness Park of Monmouth Baroness Park of Monmouth Conservative

My Lords, I strongly support what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours. If, at any time, there has to an inquiry, it should be completed by the ISC and no-one else. Otherwise, we are simply making a present of knowledge to our enemies. I need hardly say that this is no time for inquiries. People are working on a major issue, and they should not be diverted.

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, I totally agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Park, that there should be no diversion of resources to an inquiry. However, we had the re-appointment of the ISC today. As is normal, it will of course look at the issues and incidents and make a full report.

Photo of Baroness Harris of Richmond Baroness Harris of Richmond Spokesperson in the Lords, Northern Ireland Affairs, Spokesperson in the Lords (Police), Home Affairs, Whip

My Lords, is the noble Baroness the Leader of the House able to tell us at this stage how many other countries, police forces or security forces are helping us with the inquiries that are ongoing?

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, as I said in the Statement, we have had offers of help and support from all the major intelligence services throughout the world. Some of that help and support has already happened. Of course, as our inquiries deepen, we may well look at others for help and support. It has been offered, and it will be taken up where needed.

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, many Muslim Members of your Lordships' House spoke on the issues on Thursday, in response to the Home Secretary's Statement, so I will not dwell on those matters. I will ask the Minister whether she would agree that, when factual information is imparted by the Government in their search for the identities of the terrorists, it would be wise to make a clear distinction between those who may be Muslim but are foreign citizens and those who are Muslim and British citizens. I say that in a spirit of friendship to the Government, but, as the Minister will know, the Muslim Council of Britain is recording a large number—thousands—of low-level incidents, but incidents nonetheless, directed against the Muslim community in the UK. My suggestion would be in order to deal with the situation in a calmer framework.

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, of course we abhor any incidents against the Muslim community in the UK. As the Prime Minister and others have made absolutely clear, we know that the majority of Muslims in the United Kingdom—and, indeed, elsewhere—are moderate. This is not about Islam. It is clearly a terrorist attack and an attack not only on our way of life. Looking at the countries that have been attacked, noble Lords may recall that the first attack on the World Trade Centre was as far back as 1993.

It is important that the Muslim community in the United Kingdom, which has played such an important role in the development of our country, feels safe and secure and does not feel under attack from the leadership of this country. We have made our support for them absolutely clear.