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Libya

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:34 pm on 16th April 1986.

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Photo of Mr Geoffrey Howe Mr Geoffrey Howe , East Surrey 9:34 pm, 16th April 1986

It is not a question of a publishable agreement. I am describing the series of exchanges between my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the President of the United States, to which my right hon. Friend referred in her statement yesterday.

We have no wish to go down the road of force—far from it. We have no quarrel with the Libyan people; our quarrel is with the deliberate sponsorship and practice of terrorism by the present Government of Libya. The question that we must now consider is what else must be done to bring to an end that conduct of terrorism; what else must be done to rid the world of a growing scourge that leads to nothing but bloodshed and misery for victims and perpetrators alike.

That is why the Government have been consistently pressing their European partners for non-military measures. I was grateful to the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth for his acknowledgement that we had been active in that sphere. We took our own measures in May 1984. We and our European partners have repeatedly condemned terrorism, most explicitly in our statement of 27 January.

However, we have not so far provided the necessary reinforcement for collective action by putting peaceful, moral and political pressure on Libya. I agree with those hon. Members who said that we can and should look for a more active response from our friends in Europe. The hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) and my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris)—although critical of the Government in other respects—made great play of that point.

What we now need from Europe, among others, is a concerted programme of measures designed to choke the supply of arms to the terrorists, to close their command centres, and to limit their freedom of movement in and out of countries. On Monday the Foreign Ministers agreed on such a framework, but alas too late. When the House rises tonight, I shall be going to Paris for a meeting at eight o'clock tomorrow morning, when I shall invite my colleagues once again to face the challenge that I believe they must meet.

Despite the differences of opinion created by the United States' use of military force earlier this week, the task now is to agree urgently on steps that will make the policy effective—strict implementation of the ban on arms exports from Europe to Libya; strict monitoring to prevent arms from reaching terrorist hands; a reduction in the staff of the Libyan peoples bureaux—if we cannot agree to close them altogether, we can at least reduce them to a level at which they can no longer do any effective harm —the tightening of restrictions on the movement of Libyans in those bureaux, whose role in the campaign of terror has been proved beyond any possibility of doubt—the bureaux are the main sinews of state-directed terrorism, where messages are passed to and fro and where commands are given—and the tightening of visa requirements for Libyans entering our country.

There is no doubt that the most effective step of all will be to close all the Libyan peoples bureaux throughout Europe. I understand the problems that that would cause to some European countries. Nevertheless, I shall continue to advocate that step and the others that I have outlined with all the force at my command. Tomorrow morning, I shall be reviewing that matter with my European colleagues.

I do not believe that further escalation of violence is unavoidable. On the contrary, now that the Americans have shown their willingness and ability to use force, our aim must be patiently to persevere in a collective and coherent policy of pressure and persuasion—a policy bringing our fellow Europeans, the moderate Arabs and the United States into line. The United States has resorted to the use of military force under extreme provocation; it is for us to lead in trying to find a way to ensure that the circumstances that brought the Libyans to act as they did are never repeated.

We must show the Libyan Government and any other Government or organisation involved in terrorism that we are not going to tolerate the continuing abuse of our freedoms at the expense of our citizens.

I invite the House to vote in support of the Government tonight.