US Terrorist Attacks: Developments

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:25 am on 4th October 2001.

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Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Conservative 10:25 am, 4th October 2001

My Lords, once again, as on 14th September, I thank the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House for repeating this comprehensive Statement and for making his earlier statement on security in the Palace of Westminster.

As he well knows, the Government have the full support of this side of the House in their war on terrorism. The Prime Minister spoke well on this subject earlier this week. I have no difficulty in saying that. The Prime Minister must know that whatever doubts there may be among some around him, we will support him in pursuing the machinery of terror, wherever it may be found, with vigour and persistence.

So I welcome the assurance that the Government are prepared to prosecute this fight for the rest of this Parliament, if need be. But in the event of armed action taking place, will the noble and learned Lord undertake to inform the House at the earliest opportunity? Furthermore, given the large number of speakers in today's debate, will he soon offer a day for a further debate to which Home Office and international development Ministers can reply?

Perhaps the noble and learned Lord could go further than the Statement by telling the House what are our aims in Afghanistan. On Tuesday afternoon the Prime Minister told the Taliban, "Surrender bin Laden or surrender power". On Tuesday night, the Foreign Secretary said that we were not aiming to unseat the Taliban. I now understand that if they do not surrender bin Laden, it is our objective to force the Taliban to surrender power. If that is so, with what is it to be replaced? What are the Government's thoughts on the future of the government of Afghanistan? I believe that it is important to send clear signals in such circumstances.

I agree, and it is right, that the Government cannot share with the House information that would compromise our security and intelligence sources or those of any other country. I know that my right honourable friend the Leader of the Opposition is convinced by the evidence that was yesterday shown to him by the Prime Minister and that there is unequivocal evidence linking Al'Qaeda to these atrocities. I hope that the vast majority of Muslims across the world will be equally convinced.

However, I know that there is one thing on which we can all agree: there is no quarrel here with the faith of Islam. This is about terrorism and those who make apologies for it. I agree with what was said by Pope John Paul II and Muslim leaders during the Pope's visit to Kazakhstan:

"Terrorism profanes the name of God".

All people of all faiths will agree with that. We oppose root and branch hostility to Muslims, Christians or Jews on the grounds of their faith. On domestic matters, I wonder whether the noble and learned Lord can tell the House if a Cabinet committee has been formed to prosecute the war and to advise the Government on the effects of such a war in this country. How often has it met so far? Can he also tell us what limits, if any, have been set in assisting Afghan refugees not only in the event of conflict, but also--as we can all see increasingly on our TV screens--in dealing with the very real problems now being caused in Pakistan by the massive influx of people fleeing from the problems of climate, starvation and fear of war? There is an unfolding humanitarian disaster in the making and we must seek to avoid it. Action taken now will avoid disaster later.

The Prime Minister has stated that the machinery of terror is worldwide. Last month the noble and learned Lord agreed with me when I spoke of the links between international terror and international organised crime. There are reports that the Government have frozen £60 million worth of funds which they believe are connected to the Taliban and related Afghan organisations. That is a disturbingly large sum for this country. Can he shed any light on what type of accounts they were? Were they personal accounts or those of organisations? Have any of the holders of the accounts been resident in the United Kingdom? Have the Government frozen accounts relating to any other terrorist or criminal networks? Is the noble and learned Lord satisfied, for example, that no funds in Great Britain are at the service of Kosovo or Albanian organised crime?

Many will ask where the war against terrorism begins and ends. As a result of these new circumstances--this is a very important question--will there be any change in policy towards the IRA? Has the noble and learned Lord considered his response to my suggestion on 14th September that we revisit the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act in order to close the loophole deliberately left open to allow overseas funding of Sinn Fein/IRA?

Like others in this House, we are ready to look positively at whatever measures the Government may judge necessary to improve security at home in the present dangerous situation. However, I hope that the noble and learned Lord will give an undertaking that time will be given for full and proper consideration of any such measures so as to give noble Lords time to reflect and consult on the details of these measures. I believe that it would be helpful if the noble and learned Lord could give the House an indication of how much legislation he expects to be generated by the response to the crisis. Will new Bills, or new clauses of Bills already before Parliament, be introduced? The Home Secretary made a number of announcements to the Labour Party conference yesterday. I wonder whether the noble and learned Lord can now clarify the Government's policy on identity cards.

I appreciate that I have asked the noble and learned Lord a number of questions. I know that he will understand and recognise that the issues are important. They are a signal that this House will expect to be fully engaged and informed in the weeks, months and possibly even years ahead. I am sure that he will have no difficulty in giving and following through an undertaking that we shall be able to debate these matters in future.

I close by repeating our wholehearted support for the strong backing rightly given by the Prime Minister to the American people at this time. I know that the noble and learned Lord and the whole House will join me in expressing our respect for the wise and statesmanlike way in which President Bush and the coalition created by him and his allies have responded thus far to this inhuman atrocity.