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 Charles Kennedy Charles Kennedy Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Leader of the Liberal Democrats 9:35 am, 4th October 2001

We welcome this further parliamentary recall and the Prime Minister's statement that has accompanied it. Let me make it clear from the outset that, as he knows already, the Liberal Democrats fully support the Government's efforts to protect our own citizens and the interests of our military personnel—their families are anxious—and, with that, to root out international terrorism. In all that, he has our support.

It is surely correct that today Parliament stands united against the threat to the security of our citizens and to global interests generally. Obviously the Government are facing profoundly serious decisions and, those decisions once arrived at, must be subject to proper democratic scrutiny. That is parliamentary patriotism and it is a key distinction between all of us and the foe that we face.

We are all here to give calm and, we hope, cogent and effective voice to the legitimate aspirations and apprehensions of those citizens and constituents whom we all seek to represent. Of course, significantly, they include many members of the Muslim community throughout the United Kingdom. The evidence that will be published later today, and which I welcome, will make their apprehensions better understood and make it possible for them to be better addressed. I hope that as time goes by it will be possible, on both sides of the Atlantic, to publish more evidence. There must be no doubt that the evidence to hand is persuasive—persuasive as to culpability and breathtaking criminality and, further, potential criminality.

Will the Prime Minister reflect upon the overarching need to work within the broad framework of the United Nations? Specifically, does he agree that gaining UN support on the strength of the evidence against bin Laden would help to reassure world opinion about the justice of impending military action? For example, as part of that would he consider the case for making available to Kofi Annan and the Security Council the full extent of the intelligence information that is now available?

There are several specific aspects. Does the Prime Minister concur that any forthcoming legislation must meet two tests? First, is it likely to impact directly on the clear terrorist threat and the campaign against it? Secondly, can we satisfy ourselves that it does not compromise civil liberties to such an extent that the terrorist is seen to win by default? We will certainly support moves on extradition, as we have already with our colleagues in the European Parliament.

On religious hatred, an extension of existing discrimination law should be supported, although a longer-term, fuller equality act might prove to be the best way forward in days to come. Those are all matters for later, but what of the immediate military concerns? Is the aim to remove the Taliban regime from power? What analysis has been made of the possible political and humanitarian consequences if they are driven out of power and, ultimately, what shape or form of regime are we striving to see established in Afghanistan? What advanced planning is under way to deal with the humanitarian crisis that is already growing as each day passes? The more attention we can give to that, the more we can build upon the sound strategic patience of recent days and help to build a better state of future peace.