I welcome the fact that we are having a debate here today, but we should be slightly careful about parading British democracy all around the world, when this Parliament is almost unique in having no right to vote on the deployment of British forces anywhere in the world. That is done through the royal prerogative, by the Prime Minister. We should look a little more to our own parliamentary procedures.
I listened with care to the speech by the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth), and recalled that he had rather strongly opposed General Pinochet being brought to trial anywhere in the world under any kind of international procedures, and then mounted quite a severe attack on the British judicial system. We should be careful. For good historical reasons, we have a separation of powers between Parliament and the judiciaryand that separation should remain. We in this Parliament have knowingly, freely and deliberately passed a Human Rights Act that brings the conventions on human rights into British law. I fully support and understand that. That includes in our law the prohibition of the death penalty, and it means that we should not deport anyone from this country to anywhere where they would face the death penalty. The same applies in any other country that has abolished the death penalty. It does not help our cause in opposing any terrorist act if we reduce our own standards and diminish our own laws.
We should be careful about how we label organisations. Last week, as I came away from the Muslim welfare centre in my constituency, I was asked to do an interview for the South African Broadcasting Corporation. They asked me what my concerns were about civil liberties in this country. My reply was that I was concerned about the easy way in which organisations and people inconvenient to the current British need are labelled terrorists and condemned as such. I recalled that less than half a mile away stood, for the best part of 25 years, the offices of the African National Congress and the South West Africa People's Organisation. Successive Prime Ministers, and one in particularalthough never Labour Prime Ministerslabelled those as terrorist organisations, but they now form the Governments of Namibia and South Africa, and President Mandela is now, rightly, a revered figure throughout the world.
I attended Friday prayers at the Seven Sisters mosque in Finsbury Park last week, and there were 1,500 people there. Many of them were terrified of the abuse that they had received on the streets, and that their shops had received. They were terrified of the bottles thrown through windows and the way in which women had been abused on the streets for wearing Islamic clothes. Their whole religion had been denigrated because President Bush started off on 11 September saying things like,
No one among the 1,500 people at the mosque in Finsbury Park did anything other than condemn what happened to the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, and they did not want any more deaths. I had the impression that they were also concerned about launching a military attack on Afghanistan, which would not bring back any of those who tragically died in New York or Washington, but would result in civilian casualties and could unleash a chain of events in which this country would be sucked into an Afghan civil war.
We have to think a little more carefully about the history of Afghanistan, including the west's support of the mujaheddin against the Soviet-backed Government in the late 1970s and early 1980s, its funding of the mujaheddin, the mujaheddin's spawning of the Taliban and the CIA's funding of the bin Laden organisation. Bin Laden used that money to build bunkers throughout Afghanistan. For all we know, he could have done the same in many other places. What goes around comes around. I hope that people in the United States, in their terror and understandable desire to see an end to any terrorist threat, think also about some of the regimes and friendships that they have spawned over the years, and the production and financing of the phalanx of organisations that currently exists.
In the construction of a global alliance against terrorism, we should think a little more carefully about the human rights records and perceptions of some of the countries that are involved. When the Prime Minister travels to MoscowI imagine that he is already on his way thereand meets President Putin this evening, I hope that he will convey the condemnation of millions of people around the world of the activities of the Russian army in Chechnya and of what it is doing to ordinary people there. When images of what is happening are translated into other parts of the world, many people are horrified, just as we are horrified by what happened to the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon on 11 September. If we are serious about the rule of law and human rights, we must be very careful to condemn abuses of human rights, whoever commits them, whoever they are committed against and however uncomfortable or inconvenient it is for us to do so. If we are not consistent, we will, understandably, receive the charge of hypocrisy.
When President Bush talks about bringing bin Laden or whoever else to justice, I try to work out what sort of justice he means. Successive United States Administrations have specifically ignored or condemned decisions of the world court that were inconvenient for them. For example, the United States refused to accept views on the mining of harbours in Nicaragua and questions about the validity of nuclear weapons. Specifically, it refused to sign up to the International Criminal Court conventions, which is one of the reasons
Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk): However else we define this act of terrorismMinisters, other hon. Members and the media have used a wide variety of definitionswe must be aware that it has a political objective. The terrorists might be motivated by the desire to hurt people and there may be a criminal element, but if hon. Members fail to recognise that there is a political purpose, they will underestimate what these people are trying to achieve.
A number of hon. Members have spoken about the failure or inadequacy of the western intelligence services. I shall not speak about those issues in detail, although many lessons must obviously be learned. Far more important is our underestimation of the international terrorists. These people were not idiots or some form of militant headbangers on cocaine. They carefully planned what they were going to do and achieved their objective. If they had not done so, we would not be here today. Let us not underestimate what they achieved. Without praising their actions in any way, I remind the House that they achieved a stupendous and successful first, as far as they saw it. They co-ordinated widespread international activity to crash two American airliners in the centre of New York and to bring down a world symbol, and they managed to land an aircraft on the centre of American military power, the Pentagon. Without the bravery of the passengers and crew on another airliner, they might well have taken out the White House. The international repercussions are enormous. Although many people are prepared to condemn these acts, we should all be aware that some men and women around the world are not only toasting what happened but thinking that the west is incredibly vulnerable.
It gives me no pleasure to flag up my suspicion that the United States Government, the British Government and those of Germany and other countries were in full and absolute panic after what happened on 11 September. They had every reason to panic. Our national security had been directly breached in an unimaginable way and we could do nothing about it. It is a sobering thought that an American President has devolved huge responsibility and given to two senior American air force generals the right to shoot down any American or international airliner that might present a major terrorist threat, if they think that such action is required.
We must rethink our approach to the problem. I believe that the Americans are rightly in a state of shock. For the first time, the United States of America itself has come under direct attack. Yes, it has had terrorist incidents before, but it has now been attacked directly and in the most appalling way. It is no longer an island that is isolated from the rest of the world, and that will have a major impact on American foreign and defence policy. As a by-product, casualty limitation, which has become an honourable principle of war in the United States and in NATO, has now disappeared entirely. The United States is determined to bring the culprits to book and is now prepared to tolerate military casualties for the simple reason that 6,000-odd civilians died. Whether we like it or not, it will be acting in a more robust manner.
One of the major lessons that we are learning is that, whatever the arguments in terms of morality, international relations and everything else, all western Governmentslet me say that I endorse the actions taken by our Governmentmust not only think about how to stop what happened on 11 September from happening again, but hunt down the people who did it. If the perpetrators are not brought to international or national justice, other organisations will repeat the attacks. They will either commit a copycat crime, although that is probably unlikely, or do what other hon. Members have talked about and use chemical, biological orGod forbidnuclear weapons. It is the task of our Government and security forces not to refight the last battle, but to think in conjunction with others about how to prevent any repetition of the attacks.
Amid all the consequences of 11 September, an impact has been felt in the House of Commons on the two days on which it has sat during the recess. Not only have party politics on the whole disappeared and domestic politics been put on a back burner, but the Prime Minister rightly invited to No. 10 the leading members of the main Select Committees that are directly involved. I urge the members and Chairmen of those Committees to take the initiative. In the pastI speak as a former special adviser under Lady Thatcher's GovernmentSelect Committees have all too often been seen merely as talking shops with little influence and impact. They were almost "annoying, but irrelevant". However, I believe that, following the Prime Minister's invitation, they have an important role to play, not least because I think our own public are worried about the future. They are not just worried about the fact that we may find ourselves involved in widespread military action; they are deeply apprehensive about future terrorist acts. With the best will in the world, our Government and the American Governmentapart from taking some defensive stepshave not come up with a foolproof answer, and I do not expect them to.
When Parliament returns, we shall need a major debate. As I have said, however, we should be in no doubt about this: 11 September was a major terrorist success, there are some very nasty people out there who wish to do a copycat, and it is our task to make certain that we support our Government to ensure that that does not happen.