US Terrorist Attacks: Developments

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:32 am on 4th October 2001.

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Photo of Baroness Williams of Crosby Baroness Williams of Crosby Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords 10:32 am, 4th October 2001

My Lords, I also thank the Leader of the House for the Statement that he has made. Perhaps I may add that I found it extremely impressive. Rather like the Prime Minister's speech yesterday, it rose to the occasion on a most remarkable scale. I believe that many of us respect and admire the visionary and, indeed, synoptic approach that the Prime Minister has taken to the issues that face us.

The Leader of the House referred again to the terrifying increase in the estimate of the number of people who lost their lives as a result of the tragedy on 11th September. He told us that the figure was now approaching, and might even exceed, 7,000, including a microcosm of the whole world: Muslims, Christians and Jews; people of all races and all religions; and people from many different nations. I believe that that sums up the fact that terrorism is a challenge to us all and not to any particular nation or group of people.

I also very much commend the Leader of the House on the details that he gave us about the evidence that is emerging with regard to the links with bin Laden. However, perhaps I may ask him the following questions. He told us--I believe that many of us are very satisfied--that the Prime Minister, the members of the Cabinet and the members of NATO have all accepted the evidence provided to them. Indeed, the Secretary-General of NATO gave a ringing statement about the extent to which he had been convinced by the evidence that he had seen.

However, tragically that particular evidence, seen by NATO and by British, American and other Governments, will not necessarily carry quite the same strength with some other countries in the world. Therefore, I wonder whether the Government will consider the possibility of placing such evidence as they can, without risking intelligence sources, before the Security Council in view of the remarkable strength of Resolution 1373. That resolution, as the Leader of the House said, was passed by the Security Council only a short while ago. I know that that may sound a rather radical suggestion, but we on these Benches believe that it is extremely important to identify the United Nations with the attack on terrorism in every possible way.

My second question to the Leader of the House concerns the matters that he raised with us with regard to new measures to be taken to deal with terrorism. Some points that he mentioned are obviously extremely encouraging; for example, the measures taken to deal with the terrorist network. However, together with many in this House, I believe that there is a considerable weakness in the structures of attacks on terrorism. I refer in particular to control of the funding of terrorism, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, in the context of the IRA and other terrorist organisations.

Perhaps I may take that point one step further. Some in this House on all Benches have tried to press for detailed studies to be carried out of the laundering of money owned by certain developing countries, in particular Nigeria, Indonesia and others. I believe that we have found the machinery extremely inadequate. Now that we face a much more serious crisis with regard to the funding of terrorism, can the Leader of the House assure us that every possible step is being taken by the Government to tighten up on the illegal laundering of funds which, as he rightly said, is now occurring on an absolutely incredible scale? It includes drug funding, terrorist funding and, as we have already said, the funding of money taken from developing counties at extreme cost to poverty-stricken countries.

My fourth question to the Leader of the House concerns the humanitarian crisis. We on these Benches, as, I am sure, will those on all other Benches, welcome very much the urgent measures being taken to bring food into Afghanistan. However, the Leader of the House will be aware that the crisis goes even further. It affects, among others, most of the countries of central Asia, which we are now trying to bring within the coalition as essential staging areas for any counter-attack on terrorism. Many people in this House will be aware that Tajikistan and Uzbekistan now have more than 1 million refugees. In some cases, thousands of people are on the edge of starvation. As the noble and learned Lord said, it is a regional crisis. Perhaps he can tell us something about the steps that the Government propose to take with regard to central Asia.

Finally, I turn to the proposal put forward by the Home Secretary and others to bring forward legislation on issues concerning internal steps against terrorism in this country. We on these Benches certainly welcome the attempt to tighten up extradition procedures. As I have already said, we certainly welcome the measures to tighten up the laundering of illegal funds. However, we would want to look very closely at any measures that may affect basic human rights. We on these Benches believe that conceding to the terrorist the very heartland of our own democracy would be a tragic step to take.