Previous SectionIndexHome Page

5 pm

Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow): Three weeks after New York, I do not believe that there has been any change in the feeling of horror at what happened and the feeling that the people who carried out the attacks were absolutely despicable. However, there have been some changes since the last debate when many hon. Members were concerned that there would be an over-hasty reaction and a lashing out. That has not happened and everyone should be thankful. The actions of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister certainly contributed to that not happening and to that fear diminishing, but many fears remain about innocent people being killed and the longer-term consequences of any military action.

Although I accept and believe that there would be public support for military action against bin Laden, many people would not support sustained bombing. They would certainly not support indiscriminate bombing. Support is fragile and could very easily melt away if the wrong action were taken.

It seems that there will be military action and I am concerned about what will happen if the first strikes do not lead to bin Laden being captured or killed or to the Taliban handing him over or changing their views, so I would still urge caution on military action.

My constituency has the largest Pakistani community of any London constituency and I would echo much of what has been said today about the fears of Pakistani and

4 Oct 2001 : Column 781

other Muslim communities in Britain. They are concerned about what could happen here, and I have heard stories and seen people who have been abused, threatened or even attacked. We should also recognise that many of them have fears about their country of origin. They are telling me and, I am sure, other hon. Members of their fear that the conflict could spill over into Pakistan. Let us be under no illusion: many people in Pakistan support the Taliban and have had associations with them. There is a real danger that the conflict could spill over the border into Pakistan. We must be extremely careful and try to ensure that it does not happen.

We now have a broad and unusual coalition of states all saying that they will co-operate to deal not just with bin Laden but with international terrorism. We should try to ensure that any action that we take—even if it appears on the surface to be successful—does not lead to that coalition disintegrating, as if it does it will be impossible in the long term to deal with international terrorism.

Everyone accepts that it will be a long haul and a long process and that we will need a variety of tactics dealing with money laundering, improving intelligence services, sharing intelligence and so on.

Like other hon. Members, I believe that one of the most important features of that long-term strategy has to be cutting off the sources of support for the terrorists. That means looking at our foreign policy and the effects of British and American foreign policy. I do not believe that it is remotely possible to change the minds or win the hearts of the bin Ladens of this world. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that there is no common agenda possible with such people, and that is absolutely right. What we have to do is to win other hearts and minds. Our actions must not be focused solely on the recruitment of hijackers and bombers; we must consider also what conditions allow terrorists to operate successfully for a long time.

Terrorists are able to count on a variety of support: some provide tacit support—they are not prepared to give up terrorists; some provide papers or safe houses; and some give active support. Active support is merely the tip of an immense iceberg, and it is on melting the base of that iceberg that we should concentrate our efforts. That is where changes in foreign policy really matter.

The middle east has been mentioned by several Members, and I shall not repeat things that have already been said, but my experience of visiting the middle east and talking to refugees in the camps of the west bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria is that everyone can tell visitors about the United Nations resolutions and what they say. Everyone knows what their rights are and what their rights should be.

Such people also want to talk to visitors from other countries about the double standards of their country. If a visitor says, "Of course we are in favour of the UN resolutions. We support them. Of course we want a Palestinian state," he will be asked in return, "What have you done about it? What action have you taken to put pressure on the likes of Ariel Sharon? What have you done to tell him, not just that settlements should not be expanded, but that every single settlement that currently stands in the occupied territories is illegal under international law and UN resolutions say that they should

4 Oct 2001 : Column 782

not be there? What have you done to deal with that?" The people point to the fact that we have taken action in other cases to enforce UN resolutions.

We have to answer such questions; otherwise, individuals will continue to have the gut feelings that generate both tacit and active support for terrorists, and states that might have helped to deal with terrorists will feel unable to do so because they fear the reaction of their own population.

My final point is that the issue is an international one, and it should remain so. Other Members have mentioned the role of the United Nations. We must not reach a position where the perception is that the United States and the United Kingdom are the sole arbiters of what is right or wrong and of what can or cannot be done in the conflict. It is tremendously important that the international coalition is kept in being.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order.

5.8 pm

Mr. Tony Banks (West Ham): I thank the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Goodman) for speaking on behalf of the Muslims in his constituency. The fears that he articulated on their behalf are echoed among my constituents in the east end of London.

No cause on earth can justify the outrages of 11 September, but matters were made worse—if such a thing is possible—by hearing claims that those who carried them out would go to heaven. That struck me as larding terrorism with religious obscenity—it was a perversion of religion to make such a claim. What sort of heaven would welcome mass murderers—killers of innocent men, women and children? If such a grotesque place exists, Hitler, Pol Pot and Vlad the Impaler must already be there. I am one of those who believe that religious fundamentalism, be it Jewish, Christian or Islamic, is a curse. History reveals that religious fanaticism ranks with poverty and disease as one of the biggest killers of human beings.

I add my voice to those who have congratulated the Prime Minister and the Government on the stand that they have taken thus far, and I welcome the stand taken by President Bush, who has surprised and amazed people in this country and in the United States of America, but I feel compelled to echo some of the caveats. I was a Member of Parliament when we were busy arming Saddam Hussein in the war against Iran. We said that he was a despot who killed his own people, but we still supplied him with arms.

We have already heard about the western support that was given to bin Laden. We know that the Taliban were heavily supported by the CIA. I say that not to be recriminatory, but to remind people that all of this is based on the bankrupt, dangerous policy of saying that my enemy's enemy is my friend. We should remember that before we jump into bed with the Northern Alliance.

Like the hon. Member for Wycombe, I wish to say a few words on behalf of my thousands of Muslim constituents in West Ham and tens of thousands of Muslims in Newham, as well as the hundreds of Afghan refugees in my constituency. I echo the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) when I say that all those people are apprehensive and many are frightened about what will happen next. Many have family and friends in Afghanistan and the bordering areas

4 Oct 2001 : Column 783

of Pakistan. Action, which I agree must be taken, must be proportionate and, at all costs, avoid loss of innocent civilian lives. It is pointless to bomb the rubble of Afghanistan or to cause the destabilisation of Pakistan. Yes, action should be taken but we do not want to import a conflict in Afghanistan to the streets of the east end or to our towns and cities. I trust that Ministers are aware of these dangers. They cannot repeat often enough assurances to our Muslim constituencies that they are aware of those concerns and will act accordingly.

In that context, I must join others in deploring the reported words of Baroness Thatcher, who spoke of Muslim terrorism as though somehow the sins of bin Laden belong to Islam and all the different groups in the Islamic world. It is insulting to law-abiding Muslims. We do not refer to terrorism in Northern Ireland as Christian terrorism although there are underlying religious currents in the actions of the nationalist and loyalist groups there. A period of silence from Baroness Thatcher can only help the situation; so far, none of her words has helped.

On a light-hearted and personal note, speaking as Chairman of the Works of Art Committee, I have just taken delivery of an 8 ft tall marble statue of the Baroness that weighs just under two tonnes. I am looking for a location for it. Already, I am having difficulties, and clearly I must now cross off all the mosques as possible locations.

I am looking forward to the Home Secretary's proposals to tighten laws against terrorism. People who use the language of terrorism to incite hatred and murder should be treated as terrorists. I am also looking forward to proposals to allow refugees and economic migrants to work. It is scandalous how we treat these people. They want to work but are told that they cannot. We are forcing them into areas of uncertain employment and we are inflicting poverty on them. It is unacceptable. I look forward to a proper immigration policy. We are lucky to live in a democratic, free society, but we need always to protect our freedoms against those who exploit and abuse them, and I am not talking just about terrorism.

I listened to my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) make points about identity cards. I have opposed them in the past and still need to receive assurances on how they might be used, if we are to introduce them. We need that debate, but if identity cards can be used in France, I see no reason why we should fear them here.

There is a justifiable case for a mandatory national DNA data bank. It would be helpful not only against terrorism but against crime and in identification following cataclysmic accidents. Most of those who died in the twin towers will never be identified because there is no way to do so. A compulsory DNA record is essential in this country, as it could be elsewhere.

We rightly cherish our personal freedoms in this country, but the world has changed and we should not shrink from taking action that balances our personal freedom with the safety of all our people.

Next Section

IndexHome Page