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Libya

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:21 pm on 16th April 1986.

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Photo of Sir Ian Percival Sir Ian Percival , Southport 7:21 pm, 16th April 1986

I agree with one thing said by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition—this should not become a competition in condemnation of terrorism. We all loath it. But having listened to the debate, it seems to me that we would do well now and again to remind ourselves of the features common to the kind of terrorism that we are talking about. The methods employed are desperately evil, the purpose is to frighten people into doing what they do not want to do, or into not doing what they want to do, and terrorism thrives on the difficulty or unwillingness of its victims to fight back.

I listened with interest to two former Prime Ministers telling us that we must look to the root cause of terrorism. In the long term, of course they are right, but I hope that neither of them was saying to us that, whatever the root cause is, it can justify the kind of conduct with which we are now having to cope. I hope that neither of them would suggest that we could ever permit ourselves to be diverted by the long-term pursuit of the root cause from fighting to our utmost to protect our people from what is happening now.

I said that terrorist methods are desperately evil, and they are in two respects—the nature of the acts, and the indiscriminate nature of those acts. If I had to pick out one, I would say that I could not think of a more evil act than tossing a bomb into a crowded public house, not caring how many people are killed, who they are or how many families are destroyed. That is the kind of terrorism we are dealing with. It is a good thing to remind ourselves of that, because we have had so much of it that we tend to forget.

Hon. Members have spoken about what happened to the TWA plane. In that incident a grandmother, a daughter and a baby were killed. The evilness of that beggars description, and its purpose was quite deliberately to frighten people. That is why these acts are so evil. The right hon. Gentleman the leader of the Liberal party said—and I took it to be criticism—that by agreeing to this course of action we have exposed ourselves to attack. I do not doubt that that is true, and of course we must never do that without cause—without very good cause indeed. But, by the same token, when there is very good cause we must not be put off from doing what is right because it will expose us to attack. That is exactly the purpose of terrorism, and to be put off would be to succumb to terrorism and to let it succeed.

Thirdly, terrorism thrives on people doing nothing, and the people who engage in it rely on people being either unable or unwilling to do anything about it. It must be music to the ears of such terrorists to hear people say, "We must not get involved."