Osama bin Laden — Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:03 pm on 3rd May 2011.

Alert me about debates like this

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.