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Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire): Although the hon. Gentleman is right to say that there is more than a little confusion and frustration about such matters, especially on the Unionist side, does he also accept that the other lesson for us from Northern Ireland is that it is necessary to enter into a dialogue to address the motives that drive terrorism? Indeed, a former Conservative Prime Minister was instrumental in creating that dialogue.
Mr. Baron: I could not agree more with the hon. Gentleman. Dialogue is terribly important, but in Northern Ireland we have a democratic process by which people can engage in dialogue through the ballot box. There are parties, politics and everyone has a vote. There is no excuse whatever for taking up arms in Northern Irelandor, indeed, in the whole island of Ireland.
I want briefly to raise two other related issues, the first of which relates to defence spending. I am concerned that defence spending now represents about 2.5 per cent. of gross domestic productthe lowest level in real terms probably since the Napoleonic wars. This year's allocation represents yet another cut in real terms. My concern is that that approach not only puts our own security at risk, but adds to the risks to our own troops on the ground. We all know that our troops in Kosovo, for example, did not have enough boots and that their radios were not up to sufficient standard so mobile phones had to be used. We know that the SAS has yet to receive its new Chinook helicopter. I ask the Government to realise that they cannot penny-pinch when it comes to the cost of defending the realm.
Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield): Not only were the events of 11 September appalling and devastating, but in the days and weeks that have followed all of us, whether or not we are politicians, have had to question many things as we try to come to terms with the way in which the world needs to respond. In the military sphere, there is now talk about having to come to terms with asymmetrical warfare. In many ways, we will have to come to terms with issues involving asymmetrical politics as well, as we face often contradictory pressures, all of which will have to inform our actions in the days, weeks and months ahead.
As we rightly commit ourselves to stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of the USA, we know that the events in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington were attacks not only on the USA, but in a very real sense on us all. For that reason, the response must be international. The Government have contributed a great deal to the emerging coalition, but there are still real issues to address about how the coalition functions and its relationship to institutions such as the United Nations. I certainly welcome the Foreign Secretary's comments today on that matter. I emphasise to my right hon. Friend that if international confidence in the coalition is to be maintained over months, not just weeks, a real sense of international ownership must be brought to bear as well. Given the changed situation, in the coming months I look forward to greater emphasis being placed on the demand that we have supported in the House for the International Criminal Court. Perhaps we will now have some allies among those who so far have resisted that.
The contradictory pressures are nowhere more evident than in Afghanistan, where we are considering the likelihood of military action while simultaneously trying to address a humanitarian disaster of mammoth proportions. I am not opposed to a military response, and if we expect our military forces to operate in Afghanistan they have to have the means to do so. However, the targeting of any such action is vital to minimise civilian casualties. A successful humanitarian effort will not only save lives, but will be as important as military action in isolating support for the Taliban in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
In the brief time that I have available, I want to raise two issues. The first is on the meaning of terrorism and the second relates to the situation in the middle east, our response to which will have huge significance for the prospects of building the different world to which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister rightly referred in his speech to the Labour party conference this week.
I very much agreed with my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) when he said that there was a danger of talking about terrorism as having one definition or about terrorists as an undifferentiated group. For the families and friends of innocent victims of terrorist acts, it makes no difference who or what the terrorist is and whether their loved one has been killed in a hijack, by a bomb or by a bullet. That is why, for my constituents and others in Birmingham, the twin towers outrage brought back many memories of the pub bombings of the 1970s. The circumstances and the scale are very different, but the pain and loss felt by loved ones is the same.
Determining the response of the international community to terrorism is more complex, however. No single response is appropriate in all situations. In truth, there never has been an international consensus on what should be defined as terrorism. At one of the spectrum is al-Qaeda, which has global objectives and a strategy of hate in which means and ends are intertwined in a cycle of violence. It is a fanaticism that has grotesquely distorted Islam and has rightly been condemned by Muslims world wide. In the light of recent events it is not clear whether any level of violence would be regarded as unacceptable by groups such as that. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary observed recently, there really is no diplomatic alternative to confronting such groups.
We also know that innocent civilians have died in attacks born not out of a distorted global strategy, but out of despair, poverty and oppression, which all too often we in the west have allowed to continue for decades. We should not underestimate the anger that such apparent double standards has engendered in many parts of the world. While it is right for the international community to say that the deliberate targeting of civilians or the use of terror for political ends is wrong whatever the cause, the fact remains that ultimately it will not be the suppression of such acts that defeats them, but solving the injustices that causes them.
That is why finding a solution to the situation in the middle east has moved centre stage and Britain's contribution is vital. It is important to state and restate that Israel has a right to security and Israelis have a right to live in peace. Internationally, we can help to safeguard those rights. I was pleased when on Tuesday and again today my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister emphasised that the rights of Palestinians must also be recognised as, to use his words, "equal partners with Israel" in shaping their common future. We need to understand what equality means in that part of the world.
I have had an interest in the middle east for many years, but it was only when I saw for myself the squalor of Gaza that I was able to comprehend the scale of inequality that has been tolerated for more than half a century. I began to appreciate a bit more how daily inequality felt when I was in a car that was stopped at a checkpoint between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Apparently, we were stopped and turned back for no other reason than the fact that the driver was Palestinian. Even though things are much worse now, at the height of the peace process I began to understand how ordinary Palestinians felt when the world was applauding the progress being made while their homes were being expropriated, apparently without a murmur of international opposition.
In that part of the world violence and terror has been used on both sides, and it needs to be condemned on both sides. Bin Laden has little interest in the Palestinian question. Indeed, the continuation of that tragedy suits him down to the ground. However, if we are to defeat Bin Laden and his ilk we need to address it. Given our relationship with the middle east, we are in a unique position to take initiatives there. Now, in this new situation, the United States has a great deal of power to do something and Europe has a significant role to play. Ensuring that Israel has the security that its people deserve and need and that Palestinian rights are no less precious and the Palestinians have their own state will not only make the world a safer place, but I hope that Israel and Israelis will also understand that it will contribute perhaps more than anything else to something that they cravepeace and security in their own land.
Many people have asked whether some good can come out of the tragedy of 11 September and in some ways it is difficult to see how it can, but if we are resolute in our determination to outlaw terrorism and bring the likes of bin Laden to justice, and if we can begin to tackle the causes of despair, oppression and poverty that have been clearly revealed in the middle east, just maybe some good will come out of it and those 7,000 people will not have died entirely in vain.