Osama bin Laden — Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:57 pm on 3rd May 2011.

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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.