Coalition against International Terrorism

– in the House of Lords at 6:08 pm on 8 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 6:08, 8 October 2001

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I wish to repeat a Statement being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister.

"Mr Speaker, thank you for agreeing to the third recall of Parliament since 11th September.

"At 5.30 p.m. British time yesterday a series of air and cruise missile attacks began on the terrorist camps of Osama bin Laden and the military installations of the Taliban regime. These were carried out by American and British Armed Forces with the support of other allies. There were 30 targets. Twenty-three were outside the main cities. Three were in Kabul and four were in the vicinity of other large settlements. In all cases, the utmost care was taken to avoid civilian casualties. British forces were engaged in this action through the use of submarine-launched Tomahawk missiles fired against terrorist training facilities.

"It is too early to report back fully on the effect of last night's action. However, we can say that initial indications are that the coalition operations were successful in achieving their objective of destroying and degrading elements of the Al'Qaeda terrorist facilities and the Taliban military apparatus that protects them. These operations will continue. I can tell the House that a second wave of attacks is now under way.

"In time, they will be supported by other actions--again carefully targeted on the military network of the enemy.

"We took almost four weeks after 11th September to act. I pay tribute to President Bush's statesmanship in having the patience to wait. This was for three reasons. First, we had to establish who was responsible. Secondly, once it was clear that the Al'Qaeda network planned and perpetrated the attacks we then wanted to give the Taliban regime time to decide its own position: would it shield bin Laden or yield him up? It was only fair to give it an ultimatum and time to respond. It is now clear that it has chosen to side with terrorism.

"But thirdly, we wanted time to make sure that the targets for any action minimised the possibility of civilian casualties. Our argument is not with the Afghan people. They are victims of the Taliban regime. They live in poverty, repressed viciously, women denied even the most basic human rights and subject to a crude form of theocratic dictatorship that is as cruel as it is arbitrary.

"We are doing all we can to limit the effect of our action on ordinary Afghans. I repeat: we will not walk away from them once the conflict ends, as has happened in the past. We will stand by them and help them to a better, more stable future under a broad-based government involving all the different ethnic groupings. That is our pledge to the people of Afghanistan.

"The strength of the coalition remains. In addition to Britain, France, Germany, Australia and Canada have all pledged military support. We should also remember the contribution that Germany is already making, under Chancellor Schroder, by taking over leadership of the NATO mission in Macedonia, and thus freeing up other allied resources for use in Afghanistan. I spoke to Prime Minister Aznar of Spain last night. He pledged his full commitment and indicated his readiness to provide military support. We greatly value and welcome the Spanish support, as we do that of Italy. And of course NATO is giving its full support. Today the North Atlantic Council agreed the redeployment of five AWACs aircraft to free up US assets so that they can participate in this operation. We anticipate that NATO will shortly agree the redeployment of standing naval forces upon the same basis.

"The EU is fully supportive. Russia has issued a strong statement calling for decisive action against the evil of terrorism. China has encouraged efforts to combat terrorism, calling for military strikes to be targeted at specific objectives. The Japanese Prime Minister has given his strong support.

"President Musharraf of Pakistan has described the military strikes as,

"an action against terrorists, terrorism and their sanctuaries and supporters".

Pakistan is providing help in terms of intelligence, logistic support and air space.

"On Saturday, I met Prime Minister Vajpayee of India, who assured me of the Indian Government's robust support for efforts to combat international terrorism.

"In the Arab world there has been widespread condemnation of the 11th September atrocities and acceptance of the need to take action against the Al'Qaeda network.

"Of course, Al'Qaeda and the Taliban regime will be eager to spread false propaganda. Already, their lie machine is putting out false claims about United States planes being shot down. There will be much more of this kind of thing. And of course they lie about our motivation. We know their aim. It is to foment conflict between Islam and the West; it is to present themselves as champions of the Muslim world against the United States of America; it is to say that we are anti-Islam. That is a lie. Let us expose it once and for all. We are in conflict with bin Laden and the Taliban regime because the terrorists killed thousands of innocent people, including hundreds of Muslims and women and children; and because the Taliban regime, in return for financial and other support, gives them succour.

"Forgive me for repeating this, but my visit to Pakistan convinced me that these sentiments cannot be repeated too often. To kill in this way is utterly foreign to all the teachings of the Koran. To justify it by saying that such murder of the innocent is doing the will of God is to defame the good name of Islam. That is why Muslims the world over have been appalled by this act. This was made clear to me once more at my meeting earlier today with leaders of all the religious faiths in Britain.

"For those who doubted bin Laden's wickedness or his murderous intent, just listen to his television broadcast yesterday. He said:

"God Almighty hit the United States at its most vulnerable spot. He destroyed its greatest buildings and filled the country with terror. Praise be to God".

Sitting next to him was Ayman al-Zawahiri, leader of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, which was itself involved in Al'Qaeda's attacks on the US embassies in East Africa in 1998.

"I would also remind people that when hundreds of thousands of Muslims were subject to ethnic cleansing by the hated Milosevic regime in 1999 in Kosovo, we took military action in Serbia against Milosevic. We were not acting then against Milosevic because Serbia is an Orthodox Christian country, or in favour of the Kosovars because many are Muslims. We acted against Milosevic because what he was doing--the humanitarian catastrophe he was inflicting on them--was unjust. We helped the Kosovars because they were victims of his injustice.

"It is justice, too, that makes our coalition as important on the humanitarian side as on the military. We have established an effective coalition to deal with the humanitarian crisis in the region, which, of course, existed before 11th September. Our priority has been to re-establish food supply routes into Afghanistan. Some 5,000 tonnes of food went in during the past fortnight, thanks to the efforts of the UN and other international agencies.

"At the UN meeting in Geneva over the weekend, donors pledged 600 million dollars, including the United Kingdom's own commitment of 55 million dollars. We will do all we can to help refugees from the Taliban. All we ask them to do is not to stop that help getting through.

"We must safeguard our country too. Our first responsibility is the safety of the public. Since 11th September, every one of our arrangements has been under scrutiny. We have extensive contingency planning in place in Britain. We are doing all we reasonably can to anticipate the nature of and thwart any potential reprisal. As yet, there is no specific credible threat that we know of against Britain, but we would be foolish to be anything other than highly vigilant, though, as the experience of the United States of America shows, it is not an easy task. Contacts between the United Kingdom, the United States and other governments and agencies are good, and expertise and planning are being shared.

"I am aware of the anguish for the families of the aid workers held in Afghanistan and of the journalist Yvonne Ridley. Yvonne Ridley is now in the care of Pakistani officials.

"We are in this for the long haul. Even when Al'Qaeda is dealt with, the job is not over. The network of international terrorism is not confined to it. It is essential, therefore, that we reflect on why it is so necessary that we stand with the United States and other allies in this fight.

"It is that this attack was an attack not on the West or the United States alone. It was an attack on civilised values everywhere. It was an attempt to change by terror what the terrorists knew they could not do by reasoned argument. It was an attempt to substitute terrorist atrocity for deliberative policy; to see the world run by the chaos consequent on terrorist outrage rather than by disciplined and calm debate.

"We in Britain have the most direct interest in defeating such terror. It strikes at the heart of what we believe in. We know that if not stopped, the terrorists will do it again, this time possibly in Britain. We know that it was an attack on economic confidence, trying to destroy the strength of our economies and that eradicating this threat is crucial to global economic confidence. We know that the Taliban regime is largely funded by the drugs trade and that 90 per cent of the heroin on British streets originates in Afghanistan. We know that the refugee crisis, 4.5 million on the move even before 11th September, directly impacts on us here.

"So this military action we are undertaking is not for a just cause alone, though this cause is just. It is to protect our country, our people, our economy and our way of life. It is not a struggle remote from our everyday concerns; it touches them intimately.

"We did not choose this conflict. We do not lightly go to fight. We are, all of us--the nations involved in this action--peaceful peoples who prefer to live in peace. But a desire to live in peace should never be interpreted as weakness by those who attack us. If attacked, we will respond; we will defend ourselves, and our very reluctance to use force means that when we do, we do so with complete determination that it shall prevail.

"That is why we were there last night in action and why we will be there again with our allies. It is why we shall continue to act with steadfast resolve to see this struggle through to the end and to the victory that would mark the victory not of revenge but of justice over the evil of terrorism".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Conservative 6:23, 8 October 2001

My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement. I appreciate the clear and open way in which he stated that when our forces--and, potentially, one must regretfully say, ordinary British citizens--are in the way of danger, he will ensure that the House is regularly informed. I believe that the position of any national leader is immeasurably strengthened when he has the considered assent of a strong and free Parliament behind him. I welcome the Statement on the nature of the strikes and on the British role in them. We wholly support the action taken and the involvement of the United Kingdom.

If I do not ask the noble and learned Lord about future plans, perhaps he will appreciate that that is not because we are not concerned, but because we are concerned that no information that may be of service to our enemy should be unwittingly given. Does the noble and learned Lord agree that government, Parliament and our Armed Forces have the right to expect the same restraint from some sections of television and the media?

Our first concern now must be for the safety of the young men and women in our Armed Forces and those in the other nations of the coalition. Our thoughts and prayers are with them and their families, now and in the future. We have total confidence in their professionalism and pride in their courage and devotion to duty.

Does the noble and learned Lord accept that we on this side of the House have no doubts about the legality of this action, taken in self-defence by the United States and its allies in response to the most evil act of mass murder by terrorism that has been seen in modern times? However, for the more technically-minded, will the Minister explain the precise legal basis of the campaign and answer the question of whether or not we are now at war?

Some comments seem to indicate that people are losing sight of the horror of 11th September. Everyone prefers peace. However, will the noble and learned Lord join me in condemning a moral relativism that equates our just strike on Al'Qaeda terrorists with the butchery of thousands of innocent sons, daughters, fathers and mothers on 11th September? Furthermore, does he accept that however hard we try, as we shall, to avoid civilian casualties, regrettably there will be such casualties? We must not waiver, if and when such tragedies of war occur. They will not alter the justice of our cause.

Can the Minister tell the House a little more about the War Cabinet that has rightly been set up? How often will it meet? Can he confirm that, regrettably, no Members of this House will serve on that Cabinet? Further to my question of 4th October, can the Minister confirm that now that conflict has begun, it is our aim to overthrow the Taliban regime if it continues to shelter bin Laden and assist terrorism?

There is much media talk of the opponents of the Taliban being rebels. Is it correct that there is only one government in the world who recognise the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan? Can the Minister remind the House who we ourselves recognise as the government of Afghanistan and how they relate to the Northern Alliance and other anti-Taliban forces in the field? What is the Government's vision of a future administration of Afghanistan? I wonder whether the British Government have had any contact with the exiled monarch, Mohammad Zahir Shah.

We have all heard the news that has just been announced of the release of Yvonne Ridley. Our thoughts are with her and her family, who will surely be rejoicing.

The noble and learned Lord is aware of the concern on this side of the House, which I know is shared by many other noble Lords, on the issue of humanitarian aid. What assessments are being made on the ground to avoid a humanitarian disaster?

Does the Minister share my disappointment at the emphasis given by BBC News this morning to reporting opposition to actions of the British and US Governments, which included film of the burning of a US flag in Italy and film of protesters in New York? I do not begin to think that such films are representative of public opinion in Italy or the United States, least of all in the brave city of New York. We must hear differing points of view; that is why we are here today. However, when our forces are at war we expect more weight to be given to reflection of the overwhelming support for this action, not only from governments but from ordinary people in every part of the world who hate terrorism. That support is certainly given by this party in this House.

I know that the Minister shares my respect for the leadership of President Bush. The Prime Minister has rightly and admirably stood at the President's side. However, does the Minister agree that it is an insult to the American leader to suggest that he must somehow be restrained from foolish and reckless action? Thus far the response of the US Government has been justified, measured, proportionate and wise. I have every confidence that it will continue to be so. Like the Prime Minister, we are happy to support it.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Liberal Democrat 6:29, 8 October 2001

My Lords, on behalf of those on these Benches, I, too, thank the Government for the Statement. We hope and expect that as the campaign goes on there will be regular and repeated consultations with both Houses. We therefore expect a number of Statements to be repeated as the campaign proceeds.

All of our thoughts go to the British Armed Forces who are involved in one way or another in the conflict and to those other British citizens who are caught up on the edges of the conflict. We are glad to hear that Yvonne Ridley is safe but we are conscious that people in this country may be at risk as the campaign goes on.

We very much welcome the Statement's careful wording. It referred to carefully targeted actions, to strategic patience, to a proportionate response and to the need to avoid civilian casualties as far as possible. I am sure that the Government are aware that there is united support in this country for such action but that there is much caution about any suggestion of a wider war, which would play into the hands of the terrorists. We also welcome the emphasis placed throughout the Statement on assembling and maintaining the widest possible international coalition and--again, as far as possible--on placing that coalition within the authority of the United Nations.

The Statement insisted that we are here for the long haul. We also welcome the suggestion that there is no intention to walk away from Afghanistan at the end of the military action. I therefore ask the Government to say a little more about their view of the way in which the international coalition will assist with humanitarian aid and construct the more broad-based government in Afghanistan that must result from the campaign.

On the long haul, we also ask the Government to inform both Houses a little more in the not too distant future about other related matters. I refer to progress in limiting money laundering in offshore financial centres, to closer international police and intelligence co-operation among countries in Europe and others, to attempts to tighten controls over the international drugs trade, to the need to limit the profits that that trade generates and to concerns about civil emergencies in Britain and the state of our civil defence if there were further attacks on Britain.

Finally, we on these Benches particularly welcome the emphasis on the defence of civilised values. We are an open society and, happily, we have an open media that do not always do what governments want. We are therefore unavoidably vulnerable to such terrorism. However, in our vulnerability we also have several underlying strengths. Civilised values are universal and secular, although they are informed by the principles of enlightened religion, whether Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu or Sikh. We should be very careful not to pitch our aims too highly. We are engaged in the defence of the principles of an open and global society; that effort is not intended to be too much of a moral force that constructs a great new international order.

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 6:33, 8 October 2001

My Lords, I am grateful to both party leaders, who struck a true note that will have been appreciated in all parts of the House.

The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, rightly said that the Government derive and gratefully accept moral support from the assent of a strong and free Parliament. That is why I hope that noble Lords think that the Prime Minister has been careful and scrupulous in requesting the Speaker and my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor to recall Parliament on no fewer than three occasions. It was right to do so.

As noble Lords know, I believe that the House should be as fully informed and engaged as possible. However, I also believe that a strong and free Parliament cannot subsist in a vacuum--another part of our civil society is a strong, free and independent press. As the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, said, that is the case even when that press is sometimes irritating, mischievous and, I am sorry to say, plain wrong. That is one of the prices that we should happily pay for the sort of free society that we--I use this word carefully--enjoy and are lucky to live in. A last minute amendment to the Prime Minister's Statement, as noble Lords will have noticed, enabled me to read out the news about Yvonne Ridley. She is a journalist working in a free press. That is perhaps also worth bearing in mind.

The noble Lord asked for my view of the legality of our action. In my opinion, the United States, the United Kingdom and all of our allies are exercising our legitimate right to self-defence pursuant to Article 51 of the United Nations charter. We are further grateful for the endorsement of our NATO colleagues, who unanimously declared the assumption of Article 5 of the NATO treaty. It is sometimes forgotten that international law is not a toothless beast. We are not required to remain passive and subservient if we are attacked. However, we have the corresponding duty, which the Prime Minister reiterated time and again--not least in the Statement that I repeated on his behalf a few moments ago--to act in a way that is proportionate, measured and legitimate. We should also do our utmost to abide by the constraint that maintains that civilians are not pawns and that they should not be injured, their property should not be damaged and their lives should not be endangered simply by inconsiderate and ill-considered action. Everything that the Prime Minister has said since the very first instant on 11th September has demonstrated his absolute adherence to the norms that I have set out.

I agree with the condemnation that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, made of moral relativism. I see no equivalence between the acts that he described. I believe that all noble Lords are friends and admirers of the United States not because she is a wholly perfect society but because in many ways she has been--we should all remember this--for all of us the shining city on the hill.

The noble Lord asked about the War Cabinet. Of course the Prime Minister consults his colleagues as appropriate--he does so regularly and throughout. We had a full Cabinet meeting and a full discussion at 4 o'clock this afternoon so that we might be fully prepared for any questions that might be put to us. A rather more formal arrangement, which noble Lords will probably think prudent and appropriate, will be established. It will include certain specified Ministers. One needs the flexibility of a small group that can take decisions on a rapidly changing basis. There will be no Member of this House specifically on that committee. Equally, the Prime Minister takes advice from all his ministerial colleagues as he thinks appropriate--that is, appropriate in particular circumstances.

The question was put: what are our aims in Afghanistan? I repeat what I said in answer to the noble Lord's question a few days ago: our legitimate aim is self-defence. We are entitled to respond proportionately because we act lawfully. I repeat what the Prime Minister has said so often: if the present Government of Afghanistan are not willing to change their internationally unlawful behaviour, they must abide by the consequences.

Some of the questions that were put went a little too far into the future, including the question about exactly what regime will be put in place in Afghanistan when the hostilities are over. I simply repeat what the Prime Minister said: he is consulting as widely as possible and he has consulted the Governments of the neighbouring regions in the central Asian republics. Moreover--again, I do not make a partisan point--I do not think that any human being as a national leader could have done more to engage in and bring about a wide coalition and consensus than our present Prime Minister.

Noble Lords:

Hear, hear.

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

My Lords, of course, the humanitarian question is extremely important. As I said the other day in answer to a specific question, the United States Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, has appointed Mr Brahimi as his representative and of course we continue to monitor closely the humanitarian requirements. But I stress, those requirements are not there because of any military action we took with our allies. Four-and-a-half million people were on the move--to use that terrible phrase--in that bitter, inhospitable land not because of anything the western powers had done, but because of the cruelties and the Neanderthal views of the present claimed government of Afghanistan.

I have never suggested that President Bush acted in a rushed or intemperate way. The calendar demonstrates the opposite, as the Prime Minister said in his Statement. It has been prudent; it has been proportionate and it has been thoughtful. And all those attributes are what national leaders need at times like this.

I agree with the thrust of what the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, said. We have to remind ourselves constantly as to why we started this journey in the first place. It was because we believe our values to be important; because we know that we can justify them in reasonable and reasoned argument. That is why I agree with him again, and I repeat: if the press, whether it is the broadcast media or the print media, sometimes have a different view, sometimes want to sensationalise, we as a country, we as a nation are big enough to say, "We disagree with you. We can put our argument". That is why the Prime Minister recalled Parliament on three separate occasions.

Photo of Lord Carter Lord Carter Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Lords Chief Whip (HM Household)

My Lords, before we move the debate I draw your Lordships' attention to the italic note which appears at the bottom of today speakers' list. The note makes it clear that the debate is not time-limited. It points out that if Back-Benchers restrict their speeches to a maximum of 10 minutes, we should be able to conclude tonight's debate by 10 pm. The usual channels agreed to put this note on the speakers' list in view of the unusual hour at which the House is sitting today. They also agreed that the usual four-minute time limit for speaking in the gap will not apply. I hope your Lordships will agree that that is a reasonable arrangement.