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11.50 am

Mr. Mohammad Sarwar (Glasgow, Govan): It is hard to comprehend or to come to terms with the tragic and staggering death toll that has been inflicted upon the American people and those of other nations. Our hearts and our thoughts are with all those who have lost friends and family. People of all nationalities and faiths have perished in this meaningless atrocity.

I speak on behalf of my constituents, and undoubtedly on behalf of the Muslim community in this country and beyond, when I say that this barbaric and inhumane

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terrorist atrocity must be condemned unreservedly. We would solidly support all legitimate efforts to bring the perpetrators to justice. Whoever the culprits turn out to be, it is critical that we send a clear message that they cannot possibly claim to represent the true interests of any religious or ethnic group.

In the recent past we have seen how hysteria can be whipped up at times of tragedy and the corrosive effect that that has on society. It is for that reason that I support the Prime Minister in his clear message about the danger of stereotyping communities, particularly the Muslim community. With those words, my right hon. Friend has given comfort to people in this country and across the world. It is critical that, in giving support to any action, we do so observing the principles of justice and within the framework of international law. We must naturally give our support to our American allies, but we must counsel against unilateral action. We must avoid action that could result in the deaths of thousands of other innocent civilians, thus perpetuating the cycle of violence.

We cannot afford to isolate any of our allies in finding solutions, and in particular, if there is evidence that Osama bin Laden is responsible, our allies who recognise the Taliban Government—namely, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates—will be crucial to influencing the situation.

It is a difficult time, but I believe that it is the right time to examine more deeply our role and responsibilities in the world. We must attempt to understand why some extremists feel driven to the abhorrent madness that we have witnessed in New York and Washington. There can be no justification for this vulgar terrorist atrocity, but we cannot be blind to the plight of oppressed people who look to Europe and the USA for support.

As a former colonial power we have a special responsibility. We should use our influence with the Americans and other allies to redouble our efforts in search of a just solution to the outstanding issues in the middle east and other parts of the world. This brutal terrorist attack is profoundly contrary to the doctrine of Islam and has been strongly condemned by Muslim states, Muslim clerics and individual Muslims throughout the world. I can only reiterate that condemnation and, on behalf of all my constituents, express my hope that the international community can achieve justice for the innocent victims and their grieving families.

11.55 am

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury): The Government, in their response, have followed in the courageous tradition of Clement Attlee when he put our war-weary and almost economically destitute country firmly behind America at the onset of the Korean crisis. When speaking to my many American friends I have expressed admiration as well as grief, admiration particularly for the heroes of the New York emergency services and for those, among others, who fought on the fourth plane to prevent a fourth major tragedy from taking place.

There will be two critical pillars involved in building a successful coalition to see this business through. The first will be among moderate Arab and Islamic opinion. I remember that when I was working in Bahrain a single smartly dressed guard with his bayonet fixed stood at the door of every service of mass at the church that I attended. He was the Emir's personal guarantor of religious freedom. We must carry with us the moderate Islamic and Arab world and I can think of nobody better placed to build and

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solidify that coalition than Colin Powell. Central to that challenge will be convincing the Arab leaders that we in the west are as concerned about the plight of the Palestinian people as we are about the right of the Israeli state to exist in peace.

The second crucial pillar will be the relationship with Moscow. We barely said "thank you" for the generous support that the Russians gave us at the end of the Kosovo crisis in defusing what could have otherwise become a bloodthirsty war. Russia's history in Afghanistan before the fall of communism is an extremely unhappy one, and my 20-year support for an Afghan charity goes back to those evil days. That was long ago, however, and we must acknowledge President Putin's generous and immediate response to this, and thank him for it. Russia must be seen as a crucial part of the process.

I shall turn now to the military aspects. I urge the Government in the strongest and most non-partisan way to go back to our very assumptions on defence policy. I make no secret of the fact that those assumptions grew out of the views of almost the whole of the younger defence establishment; assumptions that the whole of our defence capability should be vested in an expeditionary capability, itself vital, but that we could marginalise, except on a small scale, considerations of home and civil defence.

As we look across at the United States, we see not just the courage of the New York emergency services, but their co-ordination, regular rehearsal and planning, elements so lacking here under Governments of all descriptions in recent years. In my county, as in so many others, the software and frequencies of our various emergency services are not even compatible. Our control centres cannot even talk directly to one another, let alone to the military.

There are some 2,000 national guard units and sub-units in America, representing nearly 400,000 men and women, many of which have been mobilised, while others are waiting to be mobilised. For all its problems, the American military can not only mount a huge expeditionary force and reinforce it, but it can also defend its home base with vast numbers of part-time local personnel in a range of functions, from infantrymen through to nuclear, biological and chemical specialists and engineers.

There must be an all-party reconsideration of the matter in which the excellent Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence, my close friend the right hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), will no doubt play a critical role. Three years ago, he made a remarkable speech, which there is no time to quote from now, predicting this sort of problem.

We are in for a long, ugly haul. The matter will not be resolved by the pressing of a few missile buttons or the sending in of bombers. This will be a long, difficult, agonising process. The Government, my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench, and almost all hon. Members who have spoken today have started our nation on the best, most resolute and most sensible course of action.

12 noon

Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South): I thank the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) for his kind comments. I hope that he does not think that I am patronising him in any way by congratulating him on his courage in speaking today.

We were all willing voyeurs of a catastrophe, rushing to our television sets and pinning our eyes on something quite surreal. I thought that the pictures of planes flying into the

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towers were computer generated. We are so used to seeing simulated death on television that I could not believe that they were real. I half expected King Kong to appear on top of one of the towers. We had to remind ourselves that a catastrophe was unfolding before our very eyes.

When the towers imploded, for every second of the few seconds that it took them to disappear downwards we knew that thousands of people had died. We were spared too-real television. Perhaps in future television cameras will be inside an aircraft about to penetrate concrete so that we can see the grief and terror in people's eyes as they face inevitable death. What we saw will be with us for ever. We all have images, positive and negative, that we will recall for ever, but with the globalisation of television the world saw, in grief or ecstasy, what was unfolding before its collective eye.

There can be few reasonable people, whatever their backgrounds, who were not filled with horror, anger and disbelief at the fallibility, stupidity and malice of fellow human beings who not only derive political happiness from participating in such an outrage but foolishly believe that their god will reward such barbarity with instant entry to some higher form of afterlife.

There must be a reaction. I am amazed that the Americans, who are a volatile people, have not demanded instant gratification for their anger. When I heard on television that very evening that bombs had apparently been heard in Kabul, I trembled at the prospect of the catastrophe becoming an even worse catastrophe. I was relieved and, in a way, surprised at the response of the United States President, a man of limited experience in international relations. He did not take to his bunker out of cowardice. He was away from the action for a while. What further catastrophe would it have been had the White House and the President been taken out simultaneously? I deprecate some of the remarks that have been made.

It is right that our Prime Minister has had almost unanimous support. The Chamber is configured to encourage an adversarial approach. It is thought not just helpful but compulsory to be adversarial, and our political culture encourages us even further, but every now and again we rise above that.

I do not attack homogeneity and consensus. I thrive on them. We rose above the heat of battle in 1939, 1940 and 1982, and in the Gulf war, the bombing of Bosnia and the Kosovo crisis. Of course there were dissenters. I support their right to dissent from the consensus.

Not everyone is grieving. Those who watched David Dimbleby's programme last night will have seen clearly the depth of anti-Americanism that exists among a minority in this country and elsewhere. I represent Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and people of many other religions. I hope that, without indulging in gesture politics, we can publicly empathise with and support the Muslims in our constituencies who are not a party to this. I shall certainly visit a mosque and explain to Muslims, who may disagree with my views, that I do not consider them a part of this crime. No cause should precipitate actions such as those that we have seen and condemned.

There will be action by the United States and others. In 1998, the Defence Committee said that an article 5 NATO action might well be activated by terrorism. We were prophetic. If NATO is informally involved, it could provide a brake on the United States. We will have a voice, if not a veto. I am satisfied that George Bush will want to do what his old man did and build up a consensual approach to resolve an enormous crisis. If the action is seen

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as unilateral, it will be condemned and people will regard it as one obscenity being matched by another. The response must be proportionate and identify the perpetrators.

There is a wonderful book by a journalist about the earlier bombing of the twin towers. The investigation took a long time and ranged from Swansea to Baluchistan, but the villains were apprehended. We should not expect instant fixes. We watch too much television and think that a crime that begins in minute one can be solved by the time we get up to make the tea or the takeaway arrives. Life is not like that. The US should be cautious. When it has proved a case to its own people and to a sceptical world, it can act.

What are the lessons to be learned? Intelligence manuals will have to be rewritten. Those who are complacent about their aviation security will have to think again. I have been to the Federal Aviation Authority in Washington and seen reports of appalling security at some airports. Those who brought about the dilution of the commission headed by Al Gore will now be feeling sick, and perhaps their companies' share values will be plummeting, because they put commercial pressures before the security of their passengers.

To have one's security penetrated once in a decade is a disaster. To have two major airlines' security penetrated four times simultaneously borders on criminal negligence. However sophisticated the technology, a system is only as good as the security guard on the ground. We cannot—

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