Coalition against International Terrorism

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:35 am on 4th October 2001.

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Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Conservative Party 9:35 am, 4th October 2001

The Opposition are grateful to the Prime Minister for his statement. He is correct to condemn attacks on British Muslims wherever they take place, and on their places of worship. I join fully in supporting him in that statement. Furthermore, our support should also be stated for those who have lost loved ones, as the Prime Minister said. We watched their dignity in their suffering and were not only impressed but took it as a lesson to us all. I hope that it is one we will never lose.

It is just over three weeks since the terrible events of 11 September in New York and Washington. Although the initial shock may well have subsided, our outrage remains, our anger is constant and our determination to bring the terrorists to justice must remain undiminished. The Prime Minister said that he would put before the House some of the evidence that shows that Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda planned and carried out the atrocities on 11 September, that they have the will and resources to carry out further atrocities, that the United Kingdom and its citizens are and could be targets and that bin Laden and al-Qaeda were able to commit those atrocities because of their close relationship with the Taliban regime. What bin Laden did before 11 September made shameful reading—what he did on 11 September adds to the existing list of charges.

I agree with the Prime Minister that there are good reasons why it would not be possible to release all the intelligence that he has. To do so could put lives at risk. The right hon. Gentleman has shared with me more than he is able to present here today and on that basis I am convinced that Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda and the Taliban are guilty as charged. Any war against these people is a just war. We must stand ready to fight for our democracy and for civilised values everywhere. Our prayers and our support, however, will also go out to our armed forces and their families for what they may be called upon to do in whatever may follow.

The events of 11 September show that terrorists such as bin Laden now accept no limits and that the rogue states harbour and nurture such terrorists, using them as instruments of their twisted purpose. In so doing, they place themselves outside the family of civilised nations. To defeat terrorism will require action on all fronts, as the Prime Minister rightly said. We need to strike at the terrorists themselves and to neuter the threat from the rogue states that give them succour. We also need to tackle the links between terrorism and the organised crime that helps to finance and sustain it.

I agree with the Prime Minister that the immense task ahead requires unprecedented levels of international co-operation. He is to be congratulated on his efforts in conjunction with those of President Bush to build a coalition of such diverse nation states. It is the clear responsibility of every civilised country to do what it can to stamp out this evil that threatens us all.

Some people may worry about the effect that military action could have on the survival of that coalition. Does the Prime Minister agree that it has been assembled for a purpose, which is to eradicate the threat of terrorism and the apparatus of terror as well as to bring those responsible for 11 September to account? It is a means to an end, not an end in itself. Therefore, will he consider carefully the role that Iraq may well have played and any threat that it continues to or might pose as a sponsor of such international terrorism?

Some people have genuine and understandable anxieties that British involvement is more likely to make Britain a direct terrorist target. Surely our response must be to remind them of the hundreds of Britons who died in the World Trade Centre. Britain is already a target: it has already been attacked and could be attacked in the future.

We recognise too, however, that any action against Afghanistan will almost certainly increase the exodus to refugee camps in surrounding countries. Millions of Afghans have already been driven to them by a combination of drought and the collapse of existing aid programmes, as the Prime Minister said. Therefore, I welcome his statement about the increased level of aid. Will he also undertake to ensure that the money allocated to the refugee crisis is spent to ensure that the camps meet as closely as possible internationally agreed standards and respect for basic human rights and that if possible no one country should bear a disproportionate responsibility for housing them? Finally, after taking whatever action may be required, we must plan for the millions of refugees to be able to return swiftly to a homeland that will be able to sustain them in their normal lives.

The Prime Minister spoke of measures to be proposed by the Home Secretary. In the context of 11 September we will certainly give our support to whatever measures are justified and we will scrutinise them in the usual way.

The Prime Minister rightly emphasised that this is not a war against Islam, but a war against terrorism—all terrorism, as he said. That has been recognised in Muslim countries such as Pakistan and others and by the majority of Muslims in the United Kingdom, many of whom I have met to discuss this issue, as has the Prime Minister. However, a small number of totally unrepresentative groups and individuals remain, to whom the Prime Minister referred as abusing the freedoms that we enjoy to voice support and raise money for terrorism, and in some cases to plan acts of terrorism overseas. When Sheik Omar Bakri Muhammad can claim from the safety of this country that the Prime Minister is a legitimate target for assassination if he visits a Muslim country, we need to review our anti-terrorism laws as a matter of urgency.

The Home Secretary ought to be able to prevent individuals entering Britain and to deport them on the grounds of national security without the threat of his decisions being overturned as a result of the Human Rights Act 1998. The Government must not let the Act stand in the way of extradition to the United States of individuals facing terrorism charges. That would be the wrong route. Where the law is ineffective or inadequate, it needs to be remedied and I agree with the Prime Minister. I repeat our offer that the Opposition will co-operate with the Government in any way possible to ensure that that can be done.

The Prime Minister said in his speech to the conference on Tuesday that the structures of terrorism should be attacked everywhere. Does he agree that this means not just waging war in a distant land but that, as he has said before, it applies as much here in the United Kingdom as it does in Afghanistan and Colombia?

As I have pointed out before, terrorist groups, including the IRA, the UDA, the UVF and others, raise the vast majority of their finance through criminal activity such as intimidation, racketeering, smuggling and—worst of all perhaps—drugs. What plans does the Prime Minister have to wage war on the Mafia sub-culture and criminality that have grown up alongside 30 years of terrorism in Northern Ireland and to ensure that the rule of law is upheld?

At the weekend, the Sinn Fein president described terrorism as "ethically unjustifiable", yet words alone will not be enough. The people of Northern Ireland require deeds. Surely in the aftermath of 11 September, people everywhere will fail to understand why terrorists even in Northern Ireland do not demonstrate once and for all that violence is in the past and that they are now unequivocally committed to peaceful and democratic politics. I hope and believe that the Prime Minister will use this opportunity to place maximum pressure on those on both sides of the fence to stand by their agreements and to decommission their weapons as agreed.

Finally, we believe that the Prime Minister was right to recall Parliament today. It is important, given the gravity of the situation and the likelihood of British involvement in any future action, that we keep the situation under short-term review. Yesterday the Home Secretary made a number of important announcements to the conference regarding the domestic response to the terrorist threat. Surely, given the importance of that speech yesterday, there is now a strong case for the House to be recalled again—perhaps on Thursday and Friday of next week—so that that some of those measures can be debated and discussed.

This is not about revenge and it is not about retribution, and it is not only about justice against one man; it is about standing up for what is right against what is wrong. It is about upholding civilised values against anarchy and it is about defending good against the evil of terrorism. So today we should reaffirm our single and collective purpose in this House. No excuses can be made, no justification sought and no help offered to those who would carry out such deeds. Simply put, let right be done.