US Terrorist Attacks: Developments

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:38 am on 4th October 2001.

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Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords 10:38 am, 4th October 2001

My Lords, I am very grateful for the support given by both party Leaders. I was particularly grateful for the very generous remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. I believe that everyone who was able to hear the Prime Minister's speech at Brighton, whether in the hall or on television, genuinely considered, without any question of partisan politics, that, as a country, we were extremely fortunate to have a national leader of that quality in these very harsh times. He is, of course, entirely supported by a wholly united Government.

A number of detailed questions were raised, and I shall trespass on your Lordships' time because I believe that they are too important not to be answered as fully as possible. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, as, I believe, did the noble Baroness, made the point that Parliament must be fully informed, engaged and consulted. I agree entirely with that. I have no doubt that it was right to have been recalled on these two occasions. We are a parliamentary democracy. That is why, if I may say so without appearing patronising, we are better than Afghanistan. It is important to remember that. I hope that your Lordships will not find me derelict in doing all that I can to keep this House fully informed within the sensible parameters which both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness recognised. I repeat that, on a Privy Council basis, the leaders of both Opposition parties in the House of Commons have been fully briefed.

The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, inquired about having a Home Office international development debate. I shall certainly give attention to that through the usual channels, as he would expect. He also inquired about our aims during these times. I know that the Statement was lengthy and full of material so I shall repeat the part of it which says,

"our immediate objectives are clear. We must bring bin Laden and other Al'Qaeda leaders to justice and eliminate the terrorist threat they pose . . . If the Taliban regime will not comply with that objective, we must bring about change in that regime to ensure that Afghanistan's links to international terrorism are broken".

I cannot put our aims more clearly or more succinctly than that.

The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, asked about Cabinet committees. I know that COBRA met last night at six o'clock. Obviously, all matters necessarily appropriate to the security of our country and people are kept under constant review, as the House would expect.

The noble Lord and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, inquired about the humanitarian aspect of the work upon which we are engaged. The Prime Minister said quite unambiguously, and I am happy to repeat on his behalf just as clearly, that he regards the humanitarian effort of which we are rightly in the vanguard as being just as important as the other objectives that I mentioned a few moments ago.

Questions were asked about the freezing of bank accounts. I am sorry to say that in the context that the noble Baroness mentioned, my experience--that is, my vicarious experience--is that £63 million hardly begins to scratch the surface. Whether in my previous incarnation or my present one, I have always been of the opinion that we do not do sufficient to follow the money. I believe that everyone who has had anything to do with the prosecution of crime is of that view. To poach on the lawful patch of the Attorney-General, I say that we have not equipped ourselves with sufficient determination, sufficient intelligent reflection or sufficient weapons to attack what we all know is a vast subterranean industry that extends world-wide and which deals in billions, not the £63 million that was mentioned. The Pashtany bankers had six accounts frozen, the Banke Millie had 11 accounts frozen, the Da Afghanistan Bank had 13 accounts frozen, Ariana Airlines had two accounts frozen and Khalid Al-Fawwaz had one account frozen; that totals £63 million. I stress that that is hardly a beginning.

A question was raised about the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act. That will obviously be kept under careful review. On identity cards, what the Home Secretary said remains the position. He does not want to rush foolishly or inappropriately into introducing a measure unless he is satisfied about its purpose, cost and effectiveness. That is a prudent way to approach the matter.

The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, asked about future debates. If I repeat what I said to him personally I am sure that he will not mind. My attitude is that we should be as accommodating as possible when the House is troubled and wishes to have debates on subjects that are of great national and public importance, even if that means that we sit outside our normal hours, as we are doing today and as we did on the first occasion of our recall.

I entirely and respectfully endorse what the noble Lord said about the proportionate response of the United States of America. As the Prime Minister said in the Statement that I repeated on his behalf the previous time that we met, we have not lashed out and we have not acted without reflection. Every member of the United States Administration pointed out--they did so at a very early stage, when it was unpopular to do so--that we are in for a long struggle and a long haul. There are no quick or immediate responses. Those who believe the contrary are not, I am afraid, living in a world that I recognise.

The noble Baroness asked about the provision of materials to the Security Council. I refer to the material that is available today in the Libraries of both Houses. I entirely agree with her. The difficulty, as she said, is that if one has intelligence one cannot disclose it, not least because the originators of that intelligence would be likely to be murdered if they were discovered. I think that we have done our best. All those Ministers who have seen the evidence have been convinced. I repeat that the leaders of the Opposition parties in the House of Commons were fully engaged by the Prime Minister, as the House would expect.

Much is being done about following the money. The financial action task force has done a good deal. I am aware of this matter from my own experience in the overseas territories and in the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. I have to say that they have produced financial legislation that, speaking objectively, in some ways may well be more rigorous and effective than some of the legislation--we must be cautious--that we have within our own domestic jurisdiction. We should bear carefully in mind that the mote and the beam is quite a useful principle upon which to operate.

The noble Baroness's final observation involved sounding a word of caution. On bringing in legislation too quickly she said that we should not lose sight of the fact that the reason for our fortunate existence in this country is that we live in a civil society that is governed by law. I entirely endorse that.

I said that that was the noble Baroness's final question but it was not. Her final question raised specific matters about the other countries in the same general part of the globe. I entirely take her point. I repeat that the Prime Minister is leaving today to consult President Putin and to keep other appropriate leaders fully informed. He will also seek to engage them in a co-operative struggle, which I repeat--I do so, I am afraid, with a gloomy heart--is going to be a very, very long one.