Previous SectionIndexHome Page

5.11 pm

Linda Perham (Ilford, North): On 11 September, I was in my office in Portcullis House when my husband rang me to say that his head of department had just called him out of his classroom to ask him in which city in the United States our 20-year-old daughter was studying, because he had heard that two planes had flown into the World Trade Centre and that the Pentagon had been hit. I remember saying to him, "Well, of course, she's on the west coast, so she's not affected", and then putting the phone down, thinking that the whole thing was completely unbelievable. Then someone came into the office and said, "Put on the television—this thing is really happening." That shows my reaction of disbelief.

My other daughter is 22, the same age as the youngest British victim of the atrocities, Vincent Wells, born on 17 September 1978. I went to his memorial service last Sunday, which 600 people attended. He worked for Cantor Fitzgerald on the top floor of the World Trade

16 Oct 2001 : Column 1077

Centre north tower, so he had absolutely no chance of getting away. He was a football fan who both played and watched, and he was one of three people with Redbridge connections in the World Trade Centre that day.

Michael Cunningham, who was 39 and a former pupil of the same Catholic school as Vincent Wells, was working for Eurobrokers on the 84th floor of the south tower. He was the father of a three-week-old baby and had just returned a couple of weeks before to work in New York again.

Richard Duncan, who was 54, was the father of a son of 19 and a daughter of 14. He was a former local hockey and cricket player who had celebrated his silver wedding anniversary a month before the tragedy. He was working for the US firm Aon on the 99th floor of the south tower.

My local community is mourning those three hard-working and enterprising men, ranging in age from my daughter's age to my own. They were part of an area of London that has, in general, seen a peaceful move to a multicultural community over the years. My constituency has one of the largest Jewish populations in western Europe, but also now has an increasing number of people of other faiths and none, from south Asia, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, as well as people from Greece, Turkey, China and many other countries.

On 12 September, on the advice of the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, my local borough commander called a meeting of groups representing the local community, the council, Redbridge Refugee Forum, Redbridge Racial Equality Council, the Jewish Community Trust, the League of British Muslims and others. Not long after that, a statement was issued bearing the names of many organisations and individuals, including all four borough Members of Parliament—including the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith)—local council leaders and many organisations. The statement read:

These are testing times indeed, and there are opportunities to unite. I join my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) in paying tribute to our armed forces. This time last year, I—along with the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) and my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West (Rachel Squire)—was on HMS Cumberland in the Arabian sea, travelling from Bahrain to Kuwait. I would recommend that experience to other hon. Members, who would learn what our armed forces have to go through and the training that they receive.

I want to emphasise the importance of talking as well as acting in such a crisis. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, Colin Powell and others have gone around the

16 Oct 2001 : Column 1078

world building alliances and maintaining the international coalition against terrorism and for humanitarian support for Afghanistan and other poor countries in the world.

For my sins, when I entered this House I quickly became involved with groups seeking settlements in Cyprus and the middle east and I visited Cyprus and Israel. Those who took part in the delegations talked to all sorts of people on different sides of communities and from different political parties, as well as human rights workers and academics. When we went to Israel in 1998, we were told that there was an opportunity to meet Yasser Arafat. Before and after we met him, there were those who wondered whether the Labour Friends of Israel group should meet Yasser Arafat. However, we felt that it was important to talk to him yesterday—as other right hon. and hon. Members have done during his visit—to get another side of the argument. We cannot rely on hearing only one side.

Talking and acting together to tackle international terrorism and to fight world poverty is the best thing that could be done. Some good may come out of those dreadful acts if the global community can join together to confront those twin evils. If so, the twin towers will not have been vaporised in vain and our three local lost sons will have a worthy memorial.

5.19 pm

Mr. Francis Maude (Horsham): I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Linda Perham), who has made a valuable point that sometimes escapes attention—what happened on 11 September was not just an attack on America and Americans; we could not find another two buildings in the world that contained a greater variety of people of different nationalities, faiths and backgrounds. It remains the case that more Britons died in that attack than have died in any single terrorist attack on mainland Britain. When we say that the attack was not just on America but on us all, it is a literal truth, and the hon. Lady did a service to the House by reminding us of that.

It is right that a debate on a matter of such gravity should not follow a pattern of slavish adherence to a consensus viewpoint. That would be a negation of the democracy and values for which we are fighting. It is proper and desirable that Members of Parliament should use the opportunity of such a debate to question whether military action is necessary, whether it is proportionate and whether it is likely to be effective. We should not suggest that those who ask such questions should be condemned as unpatriotic or cowardly, because that would be wrong. We should have a proper debate, because that is what a democracy stands for. It is proper to question the propriety of what our Government and others, especially that of the United States, have embarked upon.

On the question whether the military action is necessary, several hon. Members have suggested that it is not. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), whom I greatly respect, is not in her place, because she suggested that people could tolerate short-term action but that they would not have an appetite for longer-term action. She compared the current action with what was done in Kosovo some two years ago. With respect, that is a false comparison. There was much questioning of what was done in Kosovo. My party

16 Oct 2001 : Column 1079

rightly supported the action that was taken, but widespread concern was expressed about whether British forces should be engaged in such action. That was for the simple reason that no direct British interest was involved, although we had plenty of indirect interests.

The current action is different. What happened on 11 September was on a different scale of gravity and immensity from anything that we have seen before. I was in New York 10 days ago and I visited the site of the World Trade Centre. We have all seen the television pictures and read the stories, but when one sees—and, frankly, smells and tastes—the devastation that was wrought on that day, one understands that what happened was of a different magnitude to anything of that nature that has happened before.

Is military action necessary? Yes. The hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) talked earlier of the desirability of parallel action in the international court to bring an indictment against bin Laden and he was chided by the Foreign Secretary for suggesting that as an alternative to military action. However, I do not think that the hon. and learned Gentleman was saying that. He was making the point that it would look politically more attractive to the wider world, especially those sceptical about what is being done, if we went through the motions—if I can put it that way—of criminal proceedings against someone whom we all believe, with good reason, to have been responsible for what was done, although the Foreign Secretary was right to say that no international tribunal exists today that could undertake that activity.

Mr. Marshall-Andrews: What the Foreign Secretary said on that was completely misconceived. Of course there is not an International Criminal Court, although we have been trying to establish one for a long time. However, two international criminal courts, now sitting at the Hague and Arusha, were set up by the United Nations Security Council to act retrospectively under article 29 of the UN charter. I think that the Foreign Secretary knew and understood that it was precisely such a court to which I was referring.

Next Section

IndexHome Page