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Libya

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:12 pm on 16th April 1986.

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Photo of Mr Cranley Onslow Mr Cranley Onslow , Woking 5:12 pm, 16th April 1986

If the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan) intended to include my intervention in the speech of the right hon. Member for Isiwyn (Mr. Kinnock) in his strictures on my Conservative colleagues which I would reject, perhaps I may tell him that when I told the Leader of the Opposition that I had no wish to destroy his speech I was speaking no less than the truth. I sought to bring home to the right hon. Gentleman—I hope that the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) will bring this home to his leader—that on two occasions he had been guilty of a most serious misquotation of President Reagan's comments.

Yesterday the Leader of the Opposition asked: Will the Prime Minister further accept that, far from bringing down a 'curtain on Gaddafi's reign of terror', as the President put it last night and as he claims, his adventure against Libya has failed to achieve the objective of terminating terrorism?"—[Official Report, 15 April 1986; Vol. 95, c. 731.] As I tried to remind the right hon. Gentleman today, and as he would have seen if he had taken the trouble to check his sources, President Reagan said: I have no illusion that tonight's action will bring down the curtain on Gaddifi's reign of terror. That could scarcely be more different from the words which the right hon. Gentleman has twice tried to put into President Reagan's mouth. However unsatisfactory the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth may find that, I hope that he will accept that no hon. Member should be required to sit in silence while such a travesty of the truth is perpetrated on us.

I do not wish to speak at length, and I am aware, not merely that a great many right hon. and hon. Members wish to speak, but that we are speaking while events may be developing in Libya about which we should like to know more. When my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary replies, I hope that he can update us a little.

It is worth reflecting that the public remain surprised by the events. It is not in the least surprising that many of my hon. Friends have had constituents ringing up and searching for answers to questions. We should like some questions, about the details of what happened and why, answered clearly—not the questions about the evidence on which America thought it right to take action, because they must have been disposed of. I cannot claim to have seen the original texts, but I hope that the right hon. Gentlemen who have can confirm that they are satisfied.

It would be useful to have an authoritative answer to a question which one of my colleagues asked me; that is, why it was necessary for F-111 aircraft from the United Kingdom to be used in attacking Tripoli while it was apparently adequate to use aircraft from a United States' carrier against Benghazi. I think it is because some F-111 aircraft have an electronic counter-measure capability which was absolutely essential to allow any of the aircraft to penetrate to their targets. It would be valuable to have that information confirmed and in the public domain. It will certainly confirm what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister rightly pointed out that, had those F-111 aircraft not been available, the risk of failure of the enterprise would have been greater and the number of civilian and military casualties larger. None of us could have wished for that through our fault, as it would have been.

There is a peripheral question about which I hope my right hon. and learned Friend can say something. We know what the Libyan people's bureau in Berlin has been up to. We should like to know what action is likely to be taken against it. [AN HON. MEMBER: "In East Berlin".] There may also be contacts in West Berlin.

Equally important is the question how we can minimise the likelihood of our being asked for the use of the F-111 aircraft again. That must be an objective, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that she had reserved the United Kingdom position on that, and rightly so. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary can follow up the remarks of the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth about Europe, because both sides of the House must share a feeling that Europe as a whole does not come out of this affair with great distinction. When we are confronted with disappointments of European policy in many other areas, we and our people should be given some evidence that Europe genuinely exists as an international force for good. Europe must respond to this opportunity, and I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will agree that we should give a lead.

The right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel) asked whether we were more in the line of fire since Tripoli than previously. It must be difficult to give a categorical answer, but we can analyse the question for ourselves. After all, if the Libyan terrorists were preparing to machine-gun and bomb a queue of innocent people waiting for visas at the American embassy in Paris, they might equally have chosen to do the same in Grosvenor square. We must not suppose that we were ever in the comfortable position of not being a target for Libyan terrorism.

We should look back to the incident in St. James's square as well. It is worth asking ourselves why WPC Fletcher was murdered. She was there because a peaceful demonstration was being held outside the Libyan people's bureau. Why was that demonstration being held? As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn) has reminded me, it took place because a protest was being made by Libyan exiles living in this country against the public hanging in Tripoli by the Gaddafi regime of a 14–year-old boy. It is just as well to get some of these facts in perspective when we consider why we were targets. It was because people in our country were exercising the freedoms we cherish by daring to protest against that atrocity.