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Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:47 pm on 16th April 1986.

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Photo of Mr Ian Gilmour Mr Ian Gilmour , Chesham and Amersham 6:47 pm, 16th April 1986

Virtually the whole House accepts that the evidence alluded to by the Prime Minister this afternoon of Colonel Gaddafi's complicity in terrorist actions or attempts, past and future, is overwhelming. I certainly do. The Leader of the Opposition, with his gift for the unfortunate phrase, said that we should not judge solely by the evidence. If he meant that the evidence that Colonel 'Gaddafi has been guilty of such crimes does not necessarily justify what the Americans did, I certainly agree with him. What has been done is damaging and ill-judged. It may well be that Colonel Gaddafi has been overthrown. We do not know what is going on in Tripoli at the moment. My right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) seems to think that that would end the matter. In my view, it would not. In a moment I shall give my reasons for thinking that.

Everyone also agrees that the Prime Minister had a difficult decision to make. I see the point about the accuracy of the F111s. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Colchester, North (Sir A. Buck), with whom I normally agree, made a good deal of that point. However, the F111s appear to have hit no fewer than four or five foreign embassies. It is difficult to believe that the A6s from the American Sixth Fleet would have hit any more. I therefore find it hard to agree that there is much in the accuracy argument. If the denial of the F111s to the Americans had meant that they concentrated their attacks on purely military targets, and not on military targets that were surrounded by and next to civilian houses, that would have been a gain to everyone concerned, not least, of course, to the innocent civilians who were killed.

I believe that, difficult though the decision was, my right hon. Friend made the wrong decision. I believe that when an ally does something wrong, it is the right and the duty of a good ally to try to persuade them not to pursue that course of action. If they continue to pursue it, we should dissociate ourselves from it. My hon. Friend the Member for Beverley (Sir P. Wall) talked about "Our country right or wrong". The idea of "My ally right or wrong" is not a concept that we should follow.

Contrary to what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said earlier, I believe that this action will create considerable difficulty for our moderate friends in the Arab world, but she may be right. We shall soon see what happens. That is not the chief consideration. The chief consideration, as anyone with the smallest knowledge of the history of the middle east in the past 20 years must understand, is the utter futility of opposing terrorism with counter-terror. Israel has proved that repeatedly during the past 20 years and we have always condemned it. Has Palestinian terrorism been eradicated by the countless raids that Israel has carried out on Arab refugee camps? Of course, it has not. They have led to escalation and to worse atrocities. From the rubble of Beirut and the massacres in the refugee camps come new terrorists determined to revenge themselves on the world. The victims of past atrocities become the perpetrators of new ones, and so it continues.

Colonel Gaddafi encourages Arab terrorism, but he did not invent it. The most extreme groups were founded before we ever heard of Gaddafi and still exist today without his support. They exist not because they are sponsored by an irresponsible dictator, but because the grievances which drove them to fanaticism have not been settled. The murderous methods of these terrorists should be wholeheartedly condemned, but we shall not stop them if we forget the just grievances of the Palestinian people. A third generation of them is being born in the refugee camps and there is little doubt that they will also turn to violence unless a solution to their problems is found. Israel's disastrous colonisation of the West Bank and its continued occupation of southern Lebanon merely creates more potential terrorism.

I hope that my right hon. Friends will continue to impress on the American Government the fact that this terrorism will continue until they are prepared to endorse and enforce a just settlement in the middle east. We should also impress upon them the fact that military force is no substitute for a coherent policy. There is no coherent American policy in the middle east; in so far as there is any policy, it is wrong. Instead of merely denouncing Colonel Gaddafi, although he is eminently denounceable, and broadcasting self-righteous announcements, the Americans should look to their policies and their actions.

I hope that I know a little about the middle east. I do not know much about central America, but some of the people being financed by the Americans there are heavily involved in terrorism. The Americans should examine their policies before they talk about worldwide terrorism. It is no good being a sheriff in the middle east and a rustler in central America, especially since the sheriff in the middle east has got it wrong anyway.

The United States policy has been the root cause of terrorism during the past 20 years because American politicians have pandered to their electorate to get votes and have not considered the needs and interests of the people in the middle east. My right hon. Friend the Member for Pavilion said that America had been much provoked. That is true, but, equally, America has provoked terrorism for many years. Until American policy seeks and enforces a measure of justice in the middle east and allows the Palestinians self-determination, which is the key, terrorism will continue and no amount of incompetent bomb attacks will stop it.