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Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:40 pm on 16th April 1986.

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Photo of Mrs Margaret Thatcher Mrs Margaret Thatcher The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party 3:40 pm, 16th April 1986

Had the hon. Gentleman been listening, he would have realised that I was trying to tackle that argument in part, when I said that terrorism thrives on a free society. The terrorist uses the feelings in a free society to sap the will of civilisation to resist. If the terrorist succeeds, he has won and the whole of free society has lost.

We are most grateful for the work of the Italian authorities, as our protecting power, on behalf of the British community in Libya.

In this country, we have to be alert to the possibility of further terrorist attacks—so, too, do our British communities abroad. Our security precautions have been heightened, but it is, of course, the technique of the terrorist not just to choose obvious targets. Members of the public should therefore be ready to report to the police anything suspicious that attracts their attention. We have also taken steps to defend our interests overseas, seeking from foreign Governments enhanced protection for British embassies and communities.

The United Nations Security Council met twice yesterday and resumes today. With some significant exceptions, first international reactions have been critical, even to this carefully limited use of force in self-defence, but I believe that we can be pretty certain that some of the routine denunciations conceal a rather different view in reality.

Concern has been expressed about the effects of this event on relations between East and West. The United States informed the Soviet Union that it had conclusive evidence of Libyan involvement in terrorist activities, including the Berlin bomb, that limited military action was being taken and that it was in no way directed against the Soviet Union.

We now hear that Mr. Shevardnadze has postponed his meeting with Mr. Shultz planned for next month. I must say that that looks to me rather like a ritual gesture. If the Soviet Union is really interested in arms control it will resume senior ministerial contacts before long.

Right hon. and hon. Members have asked me about the evidence that the Libyan Government are involved in terrorist attacks against the United States and other Western countries. Much of this derives, of course, from secret intelligence. As I explained to the House yesterday, it is necessary to be extremely careful about publishing detailed material of this kind. To do so can jeopardise sources on which we continue to rely for timely and vital information.

I can, however, assure the House that the Government are satisfied from the evidence that Libya bears a wide and heavy responsibility for acts of terrorism. For example, there is evidence showing that, on 25 March, a week before the recent Berlin bombing, instructions were sent from Tripoli to the Libyan people's bureau in East Berlin to conduct a terrorist attack against the Americans. On 4 April the Libyan people's bureau alerted Tripoli that the attack would be carried out the following morning. On 5 April the bureau reported to Tripoli that the operation had been carried out successfully. As the House will recall, the bomb which killed two people and injured 230 had exploded in the early hours of that same morning.

This country too is among the many that have suffered from Libyan terrorism. We shall not forget the tragic murder of WPC Fletcher by shots fired from the Libyan people's bureau in London just two years ago tomorrow. It is also beyond doubt that Libya provides the Provisional IRA with money and weapons. The major find of arms in Sligo and Roscommon in the Irish Republic on 26 January, the largest ever on the island, included rifles and ammunition from Libya.

There is recent evidence of Libyan support for terrorism in a number of other countries. For instance, only three weeks ago intelligence uncovered a plot to attack with a bomb civilians queueing for visas at the American embassy in Paris. It was foiled and many lives must have been saved. France subsequently expelled two members of the Libyan people's bureau in Paris for their involvement.