Coalition Against International Terrorism

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:42 pm on 1st November 2001.

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Photo of Mr Donald Anderson Mr Donald Anderson Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee, Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee 2:42 pm, 1st November 2001

My hon. Friend Ann Clwyd made a powerful speech about the humanitarian crisis. We should all listen carefully to and read what she says. Mr. Jack spoke about the big picture, and I shall seek to follow that. In doing so, I shall build on the points that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made to the Welsh Assembly on Tuesday. He had two themes: first, remember; secondly, be patient.

We must remember why the conflict is happening—because of the atrocity of 11 September. We should remember 11 September and also the two United Nations Security Council resolutions that provide us with ample justification in international law. We should remember also the way in which bin Laden has exulted in the deaths that were caused on 11 September. He has made blood-curdling threats about his readiness to use even worse weapons, be they biological, chemical or even possibly nuclear. These are the things that we must remember when people may be inclined to wobble as we get into the three-week syndrome of saying, "Tragically, there have been some civilian deaths. Tragically, there have been certain mistakes." The big picture is that of 11 September, international justification and the continuing threat that we must bear in mind.

The second theme of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was the need to be patient. Clearly there are problems as the campaign progresses. I re-read de Tocqueville's "Democracy in America", where he questions whether a democracy can continue a foreign policy consistently for any length of time.

When we read our press and see the debates of retired generals on how they would wage the war, alongside the tragic pictures of individual citizens in Afghanistan who have lost their children, there are many temptations to wobble. However, let us remember what happened in Kosovo. Yes, the circumstances were different, but the bombing lasted for 78 days, the refugees have now returned and Milosevic is before the International Court of Justice at The Hague. Yes, it is worth while viewing what is now happening in its proper perspective of 11 September, as well as remembering the theme of patience. I believe that our goals are clear and that if we wobble now, it will be tantamount to giving a form of victory to bin Laden and his associates.

My next point is this: where are we now domestically and internationally? I want to raise three issues of detail. First, in the past few days questions have been asked about the small number of British Muslims who are going to fight in Afghanistan. I should preface my comments on the matter by saying how much I welcome the statements of the many responsible Muslim leaders in Britain who have made it clear that bin Laden does not speak for the Muslim community. I welcome also the statement by Muslim parliamentarians on 18 October, in which they made it clear that taking military action and countering terrorism are essential.

There is encouraging poll evidence in The Daily Telegraph showing that the British people, with their usual good sense, are not allowing the conflict to damage their relations with British Muslim citizens. Clearly, however, some British Muslims are leaving the country to fight abroad against our own service men. No doubt, the numbers reported in the press are exaggerated, but even if there is only a handful of such individuals, we need to take the matter seriously and ask how our law is equipped to deal with the problem. Of course, there must a due process of law—but which law? The Foreign Enlistment Act 1870 is not relevant, as it deals with states and not non-state parties. We may have to consider updating it. I suspect that the Terrorism Act 2000 may not be wholly appropriate because of the question whether the Taliban are a terrorist organisation. We need to consider the Green Paper on mercenaries that the Government are about to publish. Indeed, they have been about to publish it for the past two years.