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4.44 pm

Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby): I speak from the left and this is my first opportunity to express publicly in the House my heartfelt sympathy with the American people, among whom I have personal friends, for the barbaric attack that took place on 11 September. It was probably the worst act of terrorism in world history and it deserves a very firm response from us all.

I am pleased that the Prime Minister and President Bush have embarked on attempts to develop diplomatic contacts with many different countries to combat terrorism. Economic and financial actions have been taken, and I happen to believe that we cannot exclude military action. However, I would support military action only on the condition that it is very carefully targeted. I do not want to return to the House in two or three weeks time and find that we are debating whether it was right for the international community, in taking military action, to have used depleted uranium or cluster bombs, as were so disgracefully used against the people of Yugoslavia.

The greatest danger that confronts us is the use of biological weapons. Thousands of people lost their lives in New York and Washington DC, but the use of a very

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small quantity of germs—that is what they are—could kill not thousands but millions. That is the perspective from which I speak. I see that as a considerable danger. The people who were willing to do what they did in New York and Washington would be willing to use any means to wipe out whole populations.

Apart from the war against terrorism, we have to consider the problem of poverty, and I am glad that the Prime Minister addressed that issue at the Labour party conference. Poverty is the lubricant that oils the wheels of terrorism. I have no doubt about that. Many of the problems in Northern Ireland, for example, would disappear if there were a more equal distribution of wealth among the people in the Province. That is true of the world as well, and I say to the Prime Minister that poverty cannot be eradicated by the existing economic world order.

The real cause of poverty is, in fact, the dependence on a economic system worldwide in which a relatively few people have wealth and the vast majority are poor. It is a difficult problem to solve, because many people have been won over to the idea of market economics and free trade. It is not free trade but planned trade that we want if we are to help the people of Afghanistan and other parts of the world. That will not be easy to provide, but we must do it.

Arms have been used in Afghanistan, Rwanda and in the Congo—the Prime Minister referred to such places in Brighton—but there is no arms industry in Afghanistan, Rwanda or the Congo. We know where the arms come from: we sell them ourselves. On the very day that the disaster happened in the United States, there was the obscenity of a London international arms fair. There should be no more arms fairs in this country and we should work for a convention that will ensure that the arms trade is very tightly controlled.

An opportunity can arise from all this. I am glad that the Prime Minister is visiting President Putin this afternoon. The Russians have suffered, but they have received scant sympathy. We have tended to see only one side of the argument over Chechnya. The Russians have suffered the bombing of apartment blocks killing hundreds of people in Moscow, a blast in a shopping arcade and a bomb in a subway. They have had terrorism on their doorstep. I am pleased that Russia and the former Soviet republics of Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan are involved with us in getting at the core of the terrorist threat that is facing us.

Let us not be hypocritical. I am opposed to terrorism, all terrorism. I was opposed to the KLA terrorists in Kosovo—Madeleine Albright said that they were terrorists. I understand that it is possible to find information on the internet which suggests that bin Laden was helping the KLA terrorists for whom we provided air cover. The KLA bought their arms from the proceeds of the drugs trade, and I will guarantee that a considerable quantity of those drugs came from Afghanistan. Bin Laden was an agent of the CIA during its fight with the Soviet forces and has now come back to hit the people who fed him.

If we are to be opposed to terrorism, it must be all terrorism. America has involved itself elsewhere. It has supported terrorists in trying to overthrow the Government of Cuba as well as the use of terror to subvert the democratically elected Government in Chile. Since the

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second world war, no country in the world has bombed as many other countries as the United States. We must address the foreign policies of the United States and Britain. Thank God it was a Labour Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, in the 1960s and 1970s who kept us out of the Vietnam war.

We must fight terrorism and embark on a military expedition in Afghanistan. My thoughts will go out to the people who have to fight that war and their relatives in this country. When it is over, let us have no more talk of expanding NATO without including Russia and let us have no more talk of a national missile defence capability. That is for the past—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Time is up.

4.53 pm

Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe): I wish to declare an interest of a kind. According to the Muslim Council of Great Britain at the time of the general election, my constituency has the highest proportion of ethnic minority members of any Conservative-held seat. According to the 1991 census, which is now 10 years out of date, up to 7,000 people of Pakistani and Kashmiri descent were living in High Wycombe, and I hope that the House will indulge me if I refer to them.

Traditionally, compared with some other parts of the country, race relations in High Wycombe have been good. It is worth noting that they have remained good since 11 September, as they have in most of the country. I have been up and down my constituency, speaking to members of the ethnic community. Their perception of the situation is rather different from that of others. As soon as the atrocities occurred in America, the Mosque committee declared to the local media its horror at the loss of so many lives, including the lives of about 600 Muslims. Those on the committee are as horrified at what happened as any other constituent of any other colour. They have made that point forcefully to me and to other people locally. However, they are bound to consider the situation in a way that is perhaps rather different from those who live in the more prosperous, countryside parts of the constituency that surround the town.

To a very few members of what I shall call the majority community in my constituency and elsewhere, Islam seems like a great threat. When some members of the majority community saw the television pictures of the atrocities in America, as other hon. Members and I did, they would have viewed Islam as a great, murderous, monstrous, armed, irrational threat to what has, I note, been called western civilisation. To members of the Asian community in my constituency and to me, Islam does not seem like that at all.

I would in no sense want to stereotype my constituents, and it should be noted that many of my Asian constituents are proceeding at great speed through schools to good jobs, but it is the case that that community tends to form one of the poorer parts of the whole community in the constituency generally. Rather than being part of a powerful group that perceives itself as having great strength, they see themselves as a vulnerable, threatened minority, and they consider events differently. Again, I emphasise that local race relations have been good.

Whereas the white majority in the country naturally feels itself emotionally bound up with the United States because of our long historical and cultural involvement

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with it, my Asian constituents tend to consider things rather differently. They have forcefully told me that they believe that much of American foreign policy is mistaken. In relation to Kashmir especially, they believe that the world has not behaved with the urgency that it has sometimes shown in other cases, such as in the middle east and Northern Ireland. Of course, they are especially concerned about the current situation in Pakistan. I do not agree with every part of that point of view. I like to think of myself as a staunch supporter of the United States.

I merely point out all that to show that, although there have been some despicable verbal and physical racist attacks throughout the country, race relations are good at the moment and the situation has been relatively peaceful. None the less, I am slightly concerned that in the longer term we could end up with two communities who consider things rather differently. I hope and believe that the majority community in High Wycombe is striving mightily to understand that people who come here, or even those who were born here with origins elsewhere, will not always look at the world in the way that they do.

I certainly think that it is worth taking a lot of trouble to understand how the Asian community in my constituency feels, and that is true of many people locally and of those in my Conservative association. It is also worth those in the Asian community trying to understand—again, I believe that they are making a great effort to do so—why those cultural links with the United States are so strong and why many people here who saw the atrocious events of 11 September felt such outrage, horror and shock. After all, at this time, when so much of our attention lies elsewhere and as the threat of conflict lies before us, it is worth remembering that we in modern Britain, with all the diverse communities that it contains, are all in this together—or perhaps that we should be—and I hope that communities of all kinds will work together to bring about that happy conclusion.


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