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Libya

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:20 pm on 16th April 1986.

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Photo of Mr Eldon Griffiths Mr Eldon Griffiths , Bury St Edmunds 8:20 pm, 16th April 1986

My right hon. Friend spoke of the Americans bombing cities, and I am bound to reject that.

I come now to the effectiveness of the attacks. My constituents would be prepared to support them only if they achieved their purpose. Of course, all eyes are on the civilian damage. We understand that, because the correspondents can see only the civilian damage. However, in military terms the Americans accomplished their mission.

At Tripoli airport, at least three, and possibly five, Ilyushin 76s—the large transport aircraft that Gaddafi has used to ferry his commandos on aggressive forays into other parts of Africa—were badly damaged or destroyed. At Benina airport near Benghazi, at least five and probably 12 MiG 23 fighter aircraft were badly damaged or destroyed. The commando training centre at Sidi Bilal was severely hit, halting the training of Gaddafi's underwater demolition squads, which have been used in terrorist acts. The control and command post at the barracks in Tripoli was badly knocked about too. It is a great pity that during the attack one stick of bombs went astray, with the consequential casualties which all in this House regret, as does the American air force.

It needs to be said that if the Americans had wanted to destroy the whole of the Libyan air force they could have done so. But that was not their objective. On the contrary, they were under orders to carry out a very limited and essentially low-cost strike, whose essential purpose was political—to warn Gaddafi, in the only fashion that he appears to understand, that he no longer can count on being able to organise, finance and execute terrorist attacks with impunity from his safe sanctuary.

I conclude by referring to the statements made by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. I listened very carefully and found myself in agreement with a deal of what he said. But I would find more convincing his suggestion that there are other ways and other places in which the problem that I have lived with for a long time could be tackled if he would say one more thing to the House, namely, that in future he will not apply a three-line Whip and lead his party into opposition to such things as the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1984. How can Members of the Labour party expect the country to believe that they are sincere in their opposition to terrorism when on a three-line Whip they vote against the Prevention of Terrorism Act, which was brought in by one of their own Members to deal with the problem?

There is always risk in dealing with terrorism. There will always be casualties, too, which all of us should regret. But surely we must take our stand where free people ought to be. The simple motto of Edmund Burke bears repeating, for over the last few years good men have done nothing and the evil of terrorism has gone on triumphing. The time has come to stop it.