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Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:03 pm on 16th April 1986.

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Photo of Mr Neil Kinnock Mr Neil Kinnock Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee 4:03 pm, 16th April 1986

It is obvious that the case for sanctions goes way beyond the House and any affiliation that the Labour party may have. Yesterday, I listened to a most persuasive interview given by Sir Anthony Parsons, a former adviser to the Prime Minister, who recommended precisely that course of sanctions as the most directly appropriate to the present circumstances.

The right hon. Lady was wrong to give support for the actions of reprisal that arose from the instincts of rage and outrage of the American President. That is not merely our view; it is the view of international law. The Prime Minister gave us her interpretation of international law and of self-defence yesterday, and she repeated it today. We have listened and we are not convinced. Much as the Prime Minister clearly believes in her interpretation, she can find no recognised authority outside the immediate ranks of the Conservative party to support her view of international law.

In the past 24 hours, we have heard from scholars of international law, from the lawyers who plead in the international courts, from the specialist political analysts and from experienced diplomats who have dealt with quesions of international law throughout their professional lives. None of them upholds the right hon. Lady's view of international law.

There are, of course, people who now say that international law as it is presently conceived was intended for a different age and that the age of terrorism means that the law must be stretched to embrace new sets of circumstances. I counsel against that, not from any reluctance to act directly against terrorism, but simply because of the impracticality of hitting back at terrorism with military force and because of the inhumanity which results from killing and maiming the innocent neighbours of terrorists.

I am not alone in that view. At the beginning of this week, the Secretary of State for Defence told the listeners of Radio Clyde: My colleagues and I are very dubious as to whether a military strike is the best way of doing this. It is liable to hit the wrong people. It creates other tensions in the area. No one could have put it better than that.

We need only ask ourselves, "Where are the modern terrorists?" They are found in their hideaways in the farms, villages and tenements of Ireland, Beirut, the Punjab and even some of the cosiest suburbs of European cities. They are scattered throughout the people, and that is what makes the idea of retribution by mass military force so impractical and such a dangerous course for future action.

If we set our hand to a strategy of reprisals, it will provoke, not prevent, terrorism and any subsequent pause in such a strategy of reprisal would be seen as irresolution and weakness by the terrorists and would encourage them to commit further atrocities. If we pursued the strategy of reprisal, we should be caught in a trap of either doing too much or never doing enough. We could never get such a strategy right. It is not a strategy; it is a snare. British Governments have long known that, and that is why they have avoided such snares.

I strongly urge the right hon. Lady to resume that course of common sense and legality. There is only one policy that she can effectively pursue now. She can return to our European allies and partners and urge them to adopt the comprehensive sanctions that are essential to the isolation of Gaddafi. I know that that is very difficult. It will be especially difficult because the Prime Minister has a Foreign Secretary who, at the same time as he was agreeing in The Hague on Monday a communiquÉ which urged "restraint on all sides", knew that the Americans had already unleashed their dogs of war. The reaction of allies such as Leo Tindemans, Bettino Craxi, the Germans and the French testifies to that difficulty. The fact that it will be difficult does not mean that it will be impossible.

The right hon. Lady can repair the damage which she has caused, and if she pursues that course of securing combined and co-ordinated sanctions she will have strong support. It is essential that she makes that change, for she has not been strong, she has been supine, in her support for the American President. She has not acted in the interests of Britain. She has caused us to be more isolated from our allies and she has damaged our long-standing and wise anti-terrorist policy. She has not defended British citizens; she has put them in greater jeopardy. That is why the Prime Minister's policy has been and will be rejected by the British people. They know that she can have neither justice nor effectiveness on her side. They know that her might is not right.