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Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:08 pm on 16th April 1986.

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Photo of Tom Clarke Tom Clarke , Monklands West 6:08 pm, 16th April 1986

Time is not on my side, so I cannot give way.

Surely any use of force must be directed at preventing or lessening the impact of future events, not as retribution for past events, or are we seeing a new concept? Can there be any doubt that to satisfy international law the force used must be proportionate to the threat, or is there a change in that interpretation as well?

In its report on the phrase "armed attack", as used in the North Atlantic treaty and article 51 of the United Nations charter, the Foreign Relations Committee of the United States Senate gave a clear interpretation when it said: The words 'armed attack' clearly do not mean an incident created by irresponsible groups or individuals, but rather an attack by one state upon another". How then can we regard recent events as fitting into those principles?

The House is then entitled to ask, and will ask, whether that action on the part of our Government and the United States would put an end to terrorism. I think that few hon. Members are convinced that it will. The folly of the United States Administration, and our Government's compliance, will simply lead to tit for tat. Even if Colonel Gaddafi were removed, there would still be Abu Nidal or somebody else to take over and there is not a shred of evidence that their attitude to such matters would be different from his. Indeed, if he is removed it may well be because some people regard him as not being militant enough, and all of us would deplore that.

This kind of response will not lead to an end to international terrorism. It will not end terrorism in Syria, the Lebanon, Nicaragua or even Belfast. More than anything else the lesson of this outrage is that terrorism is not defeated by undertaking acts which offer the greatest possible prospects for sympathy and even martyrdom to the terrorists, and who would doubt that that has been the result?

Instead of avoiding future terrorism—we are told that that is what the Government seek to achieve, and in that we have failed miserably and disappointed many in the world who would like to see that objective achieved—we have done something else. We have minimised our influence in the middle east at a critical time. We have given a boost to Arab fundamentalism at a time when prospects were greater than they now are. We have also done something else which the House and the British people will deplore. At a critical time in international relations and developments between East and West, we have given an excuse to the Soviet Union to take action which all of us would regard as being unhelpful.

Therefore, on reflection, as the Government's action has gained such little support, why should not they have the modesty to accept that they might just have been wrong on this occasion and might have done better to tell President Reagan that it was not possible for us to go along the path along which he was inviting us to go? If the Government accept that, despite the setbacks that we have endured, it is not too late to learn the lessons of recent history. If the Government ignore that, they ignore it not only at their own peril, but at the expense of genuine peace, not only within NATO countries but well beyond.