Coalition against International Terrorism

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:12 pm on 8th October 2001.

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Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang Labour, Edinburgh East and Musselburgh 9:12 pm, 8th October 2001

Richard Ottaway will understand if I do not follow his remarks, but he was right to point out that this could be the easy stage. It is helpful that all the parties have given such support to the Government. The support given by the Leader of the Opposition was reiterated today by Mr. Jenkin. They have provided sterling support to the Prime Minister who has made such a great contribution to taking these matters forward so far.

The enormity of the situation is hard to comprehend. About 6,000 people lost their lives on 11 September. The fact that the terrorists were able to carry out such atrocities is a terrifying demonstration of the power that a terrorist organisation can wield. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, if the terrorists had had the capacity to kill more innocent US citizens, who could doubt that they would have done so?

As the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, said, if the terrorists had had access to nuclear or chemical weapons, they could have killed many more people. I should like to take this opportunity to appeal to my right hon. Friends to work to step up international efforts to prevent the ingredients for such weapons from getting into the hands of terrorists. It is clear that the current security arrangements leave a lot to be desired. I will not elaborate on that, but the Ministry of Defence has issued documents in recent years setting out the problems in that regard.

The atrocities of 11 September were a dreadful wake-up call. It is true that the world has changed, and from the ashes new alliances are being made. The United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Germany and France have pledged forces to the military operation, and the Secretary of State for Defence added to that list earlier today.

President Bush has said that more than 40 countries in the middle east, Africa, Europe and across Asia have granted air transit or landing rights, and he said that many more have shared intelligence.

As hon. Members have said, there is no doubt that it is important for the United Nations to be involved in these matters. If today's alliance is to be sustained—I congratulate Ministers, particularly the Prime Minister, on helping to build it—it has to be on the basis of an institution that can underpin it. As Mr. Salmond said, the UN is the only institution that can do that.

As the weeks and months go by, there are bound to be strains and splits arising within the alliance. The only international institution that is sufficiently recognised and respected to resolve those disputes is the UN. The United Nations Security Council has a military staff committee made up of the five permanent members—the United States, UK, China, France and Russia. Those are the five official nuclear powers. There are, of course, what might be described as unofficial nuclear powers: Pakistan and India come to mind in the current situation, as well as Israel.

I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to look to the work of the UN in the weeks and months to come because it will have to play a vital role. It will be important in the humanitarian efforts, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development will deal with that, but the Security Council and the military committee will also be important.

As I have said, about 6,000 lives were lost on 11 September, and we should assume that others have been or will be killed during the current military action. A life is a life whether it is in Afghanistan or the United States. The world community must rise to the challenge of international terrorism. Yes, we have to resolve these issues effectively, but I believe that the House is united in its desire to see them resolved in a way that minimises additional suffering and loss of life.