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Osama bin Laden — Statement

– in the House of Lords at 3:46 pm on 3rd May 2011.

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Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster 3:46 pm, 3rd May 2011

My Lords, I hope that this is a convenient moment to repeat a Statement made by the Prime Minister in another place on the death of Osama bin Laden and counterterrorism.

"Mr Speaker, the death of Osama bin Laden will have important consequences for the security of our people at home and abroad and for our foreign policy, including our partnership with Pakistan, our military action in Afghanistan and the wider fight against terrorism across the world. Last night, I chaired a meeting of COBRA to begin to address some of these issues, the National Security Council has met this morning, and I wanted to come to the House this afternoon to take the first opportunity to address these consequences directly and answer honourable Members' questions.

At 3 am yesterday, I received a call from President Obama. He informed me that US special forces had successfully mounted a targeted operation against a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Osama bin Laden had been killed, along with four others: bin Laden's son, two others linked to him and a female member of his family entourage. There was a ferocious firefight and a US helicopter had to be destroyed, but there was no loss of American life.

I am sure that the whole House will join me in congratulating President Obama and praising the courage and skill of the American special forces who carried out this operation. It is a strike at the heart of international terrorism and a great achievement for America and for all who have joined in the long struggle to defeat al-Qaeda. We should remember today in particular the brave British service men and women who have given their lives in the fight against terrorism across the world, and we should pay tribute especially to those British forces who have played their part over the past decade in the hunt for bin Laden. He was the man responsible for 9/11, which was not only an horrific killing of Americans but remains to this day the largest loss of British life in any terrorist attack: a man who inspired further atrocities, including in Bali, Madrid, Istanbul and of course here in London on 7/7; and, let us remember, a man who posed as a leader of Muslims but was actually a mass murderer of Muslims all over the world-indeed, he killed more Muslims than people of any other faith.

Nothing will bring back the loved ones who have been lost, and of course no punishment at our disposal can remotely fit the many appalling crimes for which he was responsible; but I hope that, at least for the victims' families, there is now a sense of justice being served as a long, dark chapter in their lives is finally closed. As the head of a family group for United Airlines Flight 93 put it, we are,

"raised, obviously, never to hope for someone's death', but we are,

'willing to make an exception in this case ... He was evil personified, and our world is a better place without him'.

Britain was with America from the first day of the struggle to defeat al-Qaeda. Our resolve today is as strong as it was then. There can be no impunity and no safe refuge for those who kill in the name of this poisonous ideology. Our first focus must be on our own security. While bin Laden is gone, the threat of al-Qaeda remains. Clearly there is a risk that al-Qaeda and its affiliates in places such as Yemen and the Maghreb will want to demonstrate that they are able to operate effectively; and, of course, there is always the risk of a radicalised individual acting alone-a so-called lone-wolf attack. So we must be more vigilant than ever, and we must maintain that vigilance for some time to come.

The terrorist threat level in the UK is already at severe, which is as high as it can go without intelligence of a specific threat. We will keep that threat level under review, working closely with the intelligence agencies and the police.

In terms of people travelling overseas, we have updated our advice and encourage British nationals to monitor the media carefully for local reactions, remain vigilant, exercise caution in public places and avoid demonstrations. We have ordered our embassies across the world to review their security.

Let me turn next to Pakistan. The fact that bin Laden was living in a large house in a populated area suggests that he must have had a support network in Pakistan. We do not currently know the extent of that network, so it is right that we ask searching questions about it, and we will. But let us start with what we do know.

Pakistan has suffered more from terrorism than any other country in the world. As President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani said to me when I spoke to them yesterday, as many as 30,000 innocent civilians have been killed. More Pakistani soldiers and security forces have died fighting extremism than have international forces killed in Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden was an enemy of Pakistan. He had declared war against the Pakistani people, and he had ordered attacks against them.

President Obama said in his statement that,

'counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan helped lead us to bin Laden and the compound where he was hiding'.

Continued co-operation will be just as important in the days ahead. I believe that it is in Britain's national interest to recognise that we share the same struggle against terrorism. That is why we will continue to work with our Pakistani counterparts on intelligence gathering, tracing plots and taking action to stop them. That is why we will continue to honour our aid promises, including our support for education as a critical way of helping the next generation of Pakistanis to turn their back on extremism and look forward to a brighter and more prosperous future. Above all, it is why we were one of the founder members of the Friends of Democratic Pakistan, because it is by working with the democrats in Pakistan that we can make sure the whole country shares the same determination to fight terror.

I also spoke yesterday to President Karzai in Afghanistan. We both agreed that the death of bin Laden provides a new opportunity for Afghanistan and Pakistan to work together to achieve stability on both sides of the border. Our strategy towards Afghanistan is straightforward and has not changed. We want an Afghanistan capable of looking after its own security without the help of foreign forces. We should take this opportunity to send a clear message to the Taliban; now is the time for them to separate themselves from al-Qaeda and participate in a peaceful political process.

The myth of bin Laden was one of a freedom fighter, living in austerity and risking his life for the cause as he moved around in the hills and mountainous caverns of the tribal areas. The reality of bin Laden was very different: a man who encouraged others to make the ultimate sacrifice while he himself hid in the comfort of a large, expensive villa in Pakistan, experiencing none of the hardship he expected his supporters to endure.

Finally, let me briefly update the House on Libya. In recent weeks we have stepped up our air campaign to protect the civilian population. Every element of Gaddafi's war machine has been degraded. Over the last few days alone, NATO aircraft have struck 35 targets including tanks and armoured personnel carriers, as well as bunkers and ammunition storage facilities. We have also made strikes against his command and control centres, which direct his operations against civilians. Over the weekend there were reports that in one of those strikes Colonel Gaddafi's son, Saif al-Arab Gaddafi, was killed. All the targets chosen were clearly within the boundaries set by UN Resolutions 1970 and 1973. These resolutions permit all necessary measures to protect civilian life, including attacks on command and control bases.

This weekend also saw attacks on the British and Italian embassies. We utterly deplore this. The Gaddafi regime is in clear beach of the Vienna convention to protect diplomatic missions. We hold it fully to account, and we have already expelled the Libyan ambassador from London. The British embassy was looted as well as destroyed, the World War Two memorial was desecrated, and the UN has felt obliged to pull its people out for fear of attack. Gaddafi made much of his call for a ceasefire, but at the very moment Gaddafi claimed he wanted to talk he had in fact been laying mines in Misrata harbour to stop humanitarian aid getting in and continuing his attacks on civilians, including attacks across the border in neighbouring Tunisia. We must continue to enforce the UN resolutions fully until such a time as they are completely complied with, and that means continuing the NATO mission until there is an end to all attacks on and threats to civilians.

Bin Laden and Gaddafi were said to have hated each other, but there was a common thread running between them. They both feared the idea that democracy and civil rights could take hold in the Arab world. While we should continue to degrade, dismantle and defeat the terrorist networks, a big part of the long-term answer is the success of democracy in the Middle East and the conclusion of the Arab-Israeli peace process. For 20 years, bin Laden claimed that the future of the Muslim world would be his, but what Libya has shown, as Egypt and Tunisia showed before it, is that people are rejecting everything that bin Laden stood for. Instead of replacing dictatorship with his extremist totalitarianism, they are choosing democracy.

Ten years on from the terrible tragedy of 9/11, with the end of bin Laden and the democratic awakening across the Arab world, we must seize this unique opportunity to deliver a decisive break with the forces of al-Qaeda and its poisonous ideology, which has caused so much suffering for so many years. I commend this Statement to the House.

Photo of Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Shadow Leader of the House of Lords, Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow Spokesperson (Northern Ireland) 3:57 pm, 3rd May 2011

My Lords, I am grateful to the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement made by the Prime Minister in another place. I join him in strongly endorsing the sentiments expressed by President Obama yesterday. This side of the House wholeheartedly supports the action taken by the United States to bring Osama bin Laden to justice. We are grateful to President Obama for taking the decision and to the US Special Forces who carried it out. At this time, we remember the harrowing scenes of death and destruction on 9/11 and we remember too all the other atrocities carried out by al-Qaeda before 9/11 and since, including in Nairobi, Dar es Salaam, Bali, Istanbul, Madrid, Amman and, of course, the 7/7 bombings here London.

So, my Lords, the world is a safer and better place without bin Laden commanding or inciting acts of terror and we should never fall for the idea that he somehow stood for a particularly community of faith. In each case, the objective was the same: to kill and maim as many innocent men, women and children as possible of all faiths and all backgrounds. Our response now must be to seek to use this moment not to claim premature victory in the fight against terrorists but to heal the divisions that he sought to create. We should do that by rooting out the perpetrators of terror, by reaching out to all those willing to accept the path of peace and at the same time by ensuring continuing vigilance here at home.

All sides of the House will welcome the co-operative and calm response of the Pakistani Government over the past 48 hours, but there remains, of course, a great deal of uncertainty about who was aware of bin Laden's presence and location in Pakistan, especially given his proximity to Pakistani military bases. As the Leader of the House said, it is right that we ask searching questions, but it is also right that we continue our aid promises. Can the noble Lord shed any light on how long it is believed that bin Laden was based in Abbottabad and who contributed to the support network that allowed him to hide there? Pakistan's leaders continue to take a brave stance against terrorism. Will the Leader of the House say whether, when the Prime Minister talked to President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani, he discussed the need to ensure that the security apparatus fully supports Pakistan's anti-terrorist efforts?

The developments of this weekend remind us of why we took military action in Afghanistan, which under the Taliban gave shelter to bin Laden and al-Qaeda. But they should also reinforce the need for a lasting political settlement in Afghanistan as the only long-term guarantee of peace and security. Does the Leader of the House agree that we need a greater urgency in the search for a political solution and that we should engage with those parts of the Taliban that are ready to renounce violence? Will he tell the House whether he thinks that there are ways in which we can sharpen the choice facing the Taliban, including by deepening the political process in Afghanistan?

Turning to Yemen and al-Qaeda's remaining strongholds, we must do everything we can to combat terrorism and increase pressure on their supporters. We must also support movements that make it less likely that terrorism will take root. It is clear that the most effective long-term answer to al-Qaeda's ideology of hatred is being provided by the peoples of North Africa and the Middle East. During the Arab spring they have not been turning to an ideology of hate but are demanding the right to control their own destinies with democratic reform and economic progress. We welcome that wholeheartedly.

I should be grateful if the Leader of the House could update the House on progress that has been made in consolidating the democratic gains in Egypt and Tunisia. Will he also say what is being done to ensure that those Arab leaders who have promised reform stick to their commitments and to force those still resorting to violence and repression, as in Syria, to stop?

Where Libya is concerned, it is clear that we cannot abandon the Libyan people to Colonel Gaddafi's revenge. Will the Leader of the House take this opportunity to reassure the House that in our words as well as our actions it will be clear that in all steps we take we are acting within the terms of UN Security Council Resolution 1973? Does the noble Lord agree that doing so is right in principle and essential to maintaining regional support for action to enforce the will of the UN Security Council?

Turning to Israel-Palestine, does the noble Lord agree that the reaction of Hamas calling the killing of bin Laden an example of American oppression is deeply regrettable? Does he agree that we should continue to make efforts to restart the Middle East peace process with those willing to endorse the quartet principles? Will he say what discussions the Government have had with President Obama and the other leaders on this important area?

Finally, I support the call made in the Prime Minister's Statement for UK citizens to show increased vigilance at this time. Al-Qaeda has suffered a serious blow but it remains a threat. I therefore offer thanks to the police and the security services which work tirelessly in public and behind the scenes to keep us safe.

My Lords, 9/11 was one of the most horrific events of our generation. For the victims and their families, including in this country, nothing can remove the pain. But the death of Osama bin Laden sends out a clear message that in the face of terrorist acts the world will not rest until justice is done.

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster 4:03 pm, 3rd May 2011

My Lords, I thank the Leader of the Opposition for what she has said. Over the past 10 years, there has been much agreement between the Government, the Opposition and both sides of the House-if I can put it like that. That support, which the noble Baroness gave today, does not stop the Opposition from offering effective scrutiny of the Government and their actions. I welcome the strong support she gave for the Statement and her fulsome support for the presence of the United States and American Special Forces with their particular courage and clearly very careful planning of this extraordinary operation.

The noble Baroness was also right to remember 9/11, which was almost 10 years ago, and so many of the other atrocities that took place, very often in the name of bin Laden and organised by al-Qaeda. It is equally right that all sides of the House have welcomed the calm response of the Pakistani Government to what has happened. Naturally there is still uncertainty about who knew what and when about bin Laden's presence in what is, by all accounts, a well-to-do area in Pakistan not far from one of its key military academies. The noble Baroness asked how long bin Laden was present in his villa. We do not as yet know exactly when he arrived there but there is real speculation that he could have been there living in Pakistan for some years.

The noble Baroness also asked whether Pakistan, and particularly its security forces, fully supported the counter-terrorism effort. Unequivocally the answer is yes. There is a great deal of realisation about the harm and damage that terrorism has inflicted on the people of Pakistan. There is a real desire across the Government, working with the army and the internal security forces, to achieve a solution. The removal of bin Laden from the equation will be of substantial support in reaching that conclusion.

The noble Baroness was also right to say that there needs to be a political solution to the problems of Afghanistan. We have never believed that the problems of Afghanistan could be dealt with purely by the military. Indeed, the fundamental reason why we are in Afghanistan is to safeguard our national security. Our involvement in the ISAF mission is helping to deny terrorists a safe haven from which to plan attacks against us. We want the Afghanistan Government to be in control of their own security and there is now an opportunity for the Taliban to divorce itself from the work of al-Qaeda and to work towards a political goal and a political dialogue with the Afghanistan Government for the long-term interests of their people.

The noble Baroness also asked about Yemen. It is a sign, in all of the countries she mentioned, of just how much the "Arab spring", as it is increasingly called, has spread right across North Africa and the Middle East. We welcome the Gulf Co-operation Council initiative in Yemen and we encourage the Government and the Opposition to seize the opportunity and to work hard towards finalising an agreement. The UK Government are ready to support a comprehensive national dialogue which would allow for a peaceful transition of power. We support the sovereignty of Yemen and the unity and democracy which its Government have built up in the past 30 years. Now is the time for real and credible change and the creation of a more open political system.

The noble Baroness asked whether I would confirm that everything that is being done in Libya is in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 1973. I can confirm to her that that is our complete understanding of everything that has been done. Military command and control centres have been targeted and all loss of life is to be regretted. However, we cannot be responsible for those who put themselves in harm's way. We are trying to defend and protect the interests of the civilian population in Misrata, who are being attacked by Gaddafi's forces.

The noble Baroness asked about an Arab-Israeli resolution. She is aware of how hard in recent years all Governments have been working to try to reach a resolution to this conflict. With the death of bin Laden and the uprisings in Syria and other countries in the Middle East, it may well be that instability may also paradoxically create the right conditions to seek a more peaceful solution. We are all working together with the United States and other countries to bring that about.

Finally, the noble Baroness asked about increased vigilance. She is right: if there is one message to take out of this Statement it is that, even with the death of bin Laden, we have not defeated terrorism. Terrorism will continue and there may well be those inside al-Qaeda or other terrorist organisations who will see this as an opportunity to demonstrate that they are still active and have the ability to react in an appalling way. Vigilance will be key. I join the noble Baroness in congratulating British police and security forces on the work that they do, very often unsung, for the protections that have already taken place. I very much hope that they will succeed in doing so in the future.

Photo of Baroness Falkner of Margravine Baroness Falkner of Margravine Liberal Democrat 4:12 pm, 3rd May 2011

My Lords, from these Benches I join the Leader of the Opposition in congratulating President Obama and US special forces on closing the chapter that started on 11 September 2001. That chapter shook the Muslim world to its very core, as well as obviously affecting the United States and other countries. We need to recall that Pakistan is an extremely fragile state. As its friend, we may not wish to question its commitment to countering terrorism but we must be clear about its capability to do so. In that context, I am extremely pleased to hear in the Statement that we will resist siren calls in the media today about maintaining our aid, practical assistance, intelligence co-operation and so on. I hope the Government will continue to be steadfast in that aim.

We must not allow friendship to withhold candid conversations about the role of the ISI and defence intelligence. My father was a member of that community so I well know that it would have been pretty impossible for Mr bin Laden to live there undetected for as long as he did. We must also work to improve relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Peace in Afghanistan will not come if al-Qaeda or the Taliban are simply displaced to Pakistan. I hope that our Government will continue their efforts to bring the two countries into a constructive working relationship. Can my noble friend tell me if we are also working towards a resumption of dialogue between Pakistan and India? All three countries are essential if regional peace and security is to be secured in that most dangerous region.

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for her intelligent and thoughtful observations and questions. She is right that Pakistan is a fragile state. It also needs a great deal of support. With that support, there is no reason why in the long term Pakistan should not become a more stable and prosperous country in what has been a difficult part of the world for some years. The noble Baroness is also right that we firmly reject any siren calls about cutting our aid to Pakistan. If anything, this makes our aid programme even more important and significant. It is aimed largely at education and we believe that one way at least to improve governance and quality for people in Pakistan is to raise the standards and quality of education. Many hundreds of millions of pounds are being spent on that.

There is another reason: links between Pakistan and the United Kingdom are extremely strong. There are family groups extending between Pakistan and the United Kingdom. Thirdly, there is the whole problem of what we have seen in the past as radicalisation and the growth of home-grown terrorism in the United Kingdom. All these reasons lead us to believe that aid to Pakistan is extremely justified. I also agree with the point about India. The answer to that question is, yes, we are actively involved in trying to improve relations between India and Pakistan. Anybody who knows anything about world affairs over the past 50 years will recognise just how difficult that is but there are some causes for optimism, which I hope will grow.

Photo of Lord Clinton-Davis Lord Clinton-Davis Labour

Would the noble Lord indicate in outline the instructions which have been given to the police, especially the Metropolitan Police? A great deal of uncertainty exists at present about the review which the Government propose to carry out into the numbers of the police. Do they not have an especial duty at present and is it not right that the review should be curtailed, because interference with their duties is a dereliction of duty to us?

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

My Lords, I do not follow the noble Lord at all. It is true that the police have a number of challenges to face up to. They will always have those but I am extremely confident that they are able to carry out their duties. We carried out a strategic defence and security review to set out our security priorities in full; the resources allocated to the UK's security and intelligence agencies reflect that assessment of priorities. That includes the work by the police, most importantly the Metropolitan Police.

Photo of Lord Thomas of Swynnerton Lord Thomas of Swynnerton Crossbench

My Lords, it is difficult to think of a precedent for this action, carried out so successfully and competently by the American special services; I suppose there was Entebbe, carried out by the Israelis so many years ago. Bearing that in mind, were there to be similar circumstances in future with the desire to finish off an enemy in a foreign country, as there well may be, would the Government support the idea of capturing the person concerned and keeping him to be tried and brought to justice in a different way, as has happened with some war criminals in the past?

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Swynnerton, raises an entirely legitimate question which many people will ask, particularly on the precedent for this. My view is that this was a brilliantly planned and executed operation and my understanding at this stage-no doubt we will get more information-is that there was an opportunity to surrender. It is not always possible to capture people alive. Notwithstanding that, there is of course the whole question of jurisdiction, a place of trial, et cetera. In the event, what the noble Lord suggested is not what happened and we have to live in the world as we find it. No doubt there will be questions of legality for the United States, but those are between the Pakistani authorities and the United States and I am not in a position to comment.

Photo of Lord Anderson of Swansea Lord Anderson of Swansea Labour

The Leader is right that we should rejoice at this great achievement but the focus has perhaps now moved to the Yemen. What is our view about the role of al-Qaeda in the overthrow of President Saleh and the likely degree of co-operation that we shall receive from any successor regime in the fight against it? On Libya, France has already recognised formally the new authority in Benghazi. Are we and other EU countries considering that same action? Finally, on the Palestine-Israel question, the noble Lord will know that Palestinian statehood and recognition is very much on the agenda and will reach the General Assembly of the UN in September. What preliminary consideration are we giving of our position at that time?

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

On that last question, my Lords, no doubt there will be much debate and discussion internally and at the Foreign Office about what our position should be in the debate that takes place in September. However, we have been an integral part of the process for many years now; it is something to which the British Government attach great importance. We wish to see a resolution, and there is an opportunity for such a resolution. The United Kingdom Government will leave no stone unturned in playing a full part in the dialogue.

The noble Lord was also interested in the question of Yemen. The UK Government are fully committed to a united Yemen with a stable and prosperous future. We continue to encourage the international community to focus its attention there. Indeed, we are one of the largest bilateral donors to Yemen and in August 2007 we signed a 10-year partnership agreement to try to help to improve the quality of life within that country.

We are deeply concerned about the growth of al-Qaeda in Yemen. The Government of Yemen have committed publicly to combating terrorism, both inside and outside Yemen, and have conducted successful operations, including against members of al-Qaeda in Yemen. We must do everything that we can to encourage that process and that success, because it is an extremely dangerous part of the world and al-Qaeda there has almost succeeded in inflicting terrorist outrages outside Yemen.

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Conservative

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for repeating the Statement. Like many in this House and beyond, I welcome the removal of an individual who preached hate and promoted the taking of innocent lives by hijacking a noble faith. I think Muslims around the world welcome his removal from the face of the earth.

I ask my noble friend to reflect and perhaps comment further on the point that, while the Pakistani nation-indeed, the Pakistani Government themselves-has taken steps to address terrorism and the breeding of terrorism, our Government must implore that it continues to take more stringent steps to stop those terrorist camps, including those that allegedly go under the guise of educational institutions, from nurturing further terrorists who then breed not just discontent but terror around the world, indeed the kind of terror that we ourselves suffered from in this very country on 7/7.

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

I thank my noble friend for what he has said. I agree with his words about Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda promoting hate. I also agree with his comment that the Government of Pakistan need to be encouraged to take all steps to deal with terrorism, terrorist education and terrorist camps. Above all, the Pakistani Government are aware of the damage that terrorism has inflicted on their own country and on their own people-their civilians and their armed forces-who have worked extremely hard over the past few years and have suffered terribly.

There is an opportunity today and in the next few months for the Pakistani Government to use the death of Osama bin Laden to turn the page on the past, redouble their steps to eradicate terrorism and co-operate with international organisations and with neighbouring countries to remove this scourge from the region.

Photo of Lord Hannay of Chiswick Lord Hannay of Chiswick Chair, EU Sub-Committee F - Home Affairs

My Lords, will the Minister accept my welcome for the Statement, which indicates that there could be an opportunity now to bring the Taliban into a political process, which will be valuable for all concerned in Afghanistan? In that context, will he give some study to a panel report from Mr Brahimi- he helped to set up the present Government of Afghanistan-and Ambassador Thomas Pickering, which was submitted in the United States a few weeks ago? It suggested that a key element in a political process could be appointing a facilitator who was not NATO, the US military or President Karzai, and who could help to move the process forward, perhaps under the aegis of the United Nations. I think that that is a genuinely sensible idea; it is one which Mr David Miliband has supported on a number of occasions. I hope that the Government will give that some consideration in the phase ahead.

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

My Lords, I have not read this report, but I am sure that my colleagues in the Foreign Office have. I agree with the noble Lord that there is an opportunity facing the region to use this point in time to do things differently. It is particularly an opportunity for the Taliban to cast itself away from the programme of violence of al-Qaeda and to involve itself in a political process.

The report that the noble Lord mentioned strikes me as having a very sensible objective. I shall make sure that the Foreign Office examines it.

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative

My Lords, reverting to the very reasonable point made by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, does my noble friend not agree that Osama bin Laden in prison could have been an even greater danger than Osama bin Laden in hiding? Is it not entirely right, and a great relief, that he has been killed, and that he was buried in such a seemly manner so that his body cannot be the centre of a shrine?

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

Given that there was not much time to plan these events, I entirely agree with what my noble friend says about the burial of bin Laden's body. It was done, I understand, fully in accordance with the teachings of Islam, and it was done quickly and effectively. As my noble friend pointed out, there is the added advantage that there is no shrine to visit for those who regard bin Laden as a leader.

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

My Lords, can the Leader of the House add to the Statement in relation to Syria? The Statement did not, I think, refer to Syria, where over the weekend there have been some very alarming reports not only about the targeting of unarmed civilians on the streets of its towns but also, just as alarming, about the arrest of young men between the ages of 15 and 40 who seem to have been taken away and put in places without their families being given any information about what has happened to them.

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

My Lords, I welcome the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean. She is right to mention Syria, where there is an immensely serious and developing situation. We call for an immediate end to attacks against civilians by the Syrian security forces. The Syrian authorities and their forces should comply with their obligations under international law, international humanitarian law and human rights law, including protecting civilians and meeting their basic needs. We ask President Assad to order his authorities to show restraint and to respond to the legitimate demands of his people with immediate and genuine reform, not with brutal repression. We really do want to see acts of genuine reform and not repression. We are keeping a very close eye on developments in what is clearly a fast-moving picture. There is every opportunity, and time, for President Assad to change the direction of his forces and try to seek an opportunity for genuine reform in Syria, which is an extremely important country.

Photo of Lord Maples Lord Maples Conservative

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that our aid programme and friendly relationship with Pakistan must continue. However, these events will alter that relationship and that of the United States with Pakistan, which is perhaps more important. First, I suspect there will be turmoil in Pakistan over what has happened and the death of Osama bin Laden, which may well lead to the fall of the Government.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly from an American or British point of view, my noble friend said that we will get to the bottom of what happened. However, it seems inconceivable that, without at least the tacit approval of some elements of the Pakistani state, Osama bin Laden could have survived for so long, living in the way that he did in a town less than 100 miles from Islamabad. When we get to the bottom of that, it will almost certainly confirm what many of us have suspected for ages-that elements of the Pakistani state are extremely friendly to the Afghan Taliban. They may want to fight the Taliban operating in Pakistan, but they make a distinction for the Afghan Taliban and are more friendly to it. This will be caught red-handed. Pakistan, whatever its Government, must now be confronted with this problem if we are to continue our friendly relationship with it in an effort to exterminate terrorism from that part of the world and from our own.

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

My Lords, because of the problems that my noble friend pointed out, it is vital for the United Kingdom to maintain and increase the closeness of the relationship between our country and Pakistan. After all, this is a shared fight-a fight against global terrorism in which Pakistan finds itself on the front line. It is right to record that the Government of Pakistan have formally welcomed the news of the death of bin Laden. The question of who knew what will unfold over the next few weeks and months. With that clarity, no doubt different people will take different views. What does not change is that Pakistan needs a great deal of support, which the United Kingdom is happy to give.