Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Speaker: As the hon. Lady knows, the Serjeant at Arms is responsible for security, and I believe that he will contact every hon. Member and give advice to staff, both in the House and in constituency offices. I hope that that is of help to the hon. Lady and other hon. Members.

16 Oct 2001 : Column 1053

Coalition against International Terrorism

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Jim Fitzpatrick.]

3.38 pm

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): This is the fourth time since 11 September that the House has had the opportunity to debate the international community's response to the threat of global terrorism. It is right that that should be so; whenever the country and the world face as grave a threat as they do now, the House should more than ever exercise its two central roles as the voice of the nation and as the means by which the Executive are held to account.

In the three prime ministerial statements and the three debates so far, there has rightly been much questioning of the decisions taken by Government, but the proceedings as a whole have been characterised by the widespread bipartisan support for our comprehensive approach. The breadth of that support has been a great source of strength to the country, those of us with responsibility for government and, above all, our armed forces. We in the House may sometimes put our reputations on the line in pursuit of a policy; those in our Army, Navy and Air Force put their lives on the line. They do it readily, they accept orders. They are the finest forces in the world, but the fact that the whole nation is backing them in their endeavours is hugely important to them and their families.

The last statement and debate in the House took place on Monday last week, which was 8 October. The military action had commenced the night before. It has continued for the past nine days. Cruise missiles were launched from a Royal Navy submarine on the first night and again on 13 October. We have continued to be involved in the military action through the provision of refuelling and reconnaissance aircraft and the use of our facilities at Diego Garcia. Our best assessment of the strikes so far is that we have severely damaged elements of the Taliban regime's military capability. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence will say more about that later.

However, few conflicts are resolved by military action in a matter of days. This was never going to be one of them. As both President Bush and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made clear from the outset, the terrain, weather and complexity of the targets mean that we can expect no early conclusion to this campaign. It will take months, not days or weeks. During this period, again as the President and Prime Minister have underlined, we will be considering a range of military options.

Mr. John Taylor (Solihull): Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise, in the course of his coalition building, any limits to the maxim, "My enemy's enemy is my friend"?

Mr. Straw: I do not believe that that maxim is particularly appropriate in the current circumstances. I understand the implications of the hon. Gentleman's

16 Oct 2001 : Column 1054

question, but we are being careful, especially in respect of military coalitions, to ensure that we are dealing with our friends' friends.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): Can the House be clear about the exact and precise objective of continued bombing after nine days?

Mr. Straw: Yes. If my hon. Friend will wait 30 seconds, he will hear me refer to a document—I am placing it in the Library—that sets out in detail our campaign objectives.

The strategy is clear. It is to ensure that the terrorism that the world saw on 11 September and the capacity to deliver it in future are eliminated. For the benefit of hon. Members, my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Defence and I are, as I said, today publishing a document that sets out in detail the campaign objectives. In short, acting in self-defence, our aims are to dismantle the terrorists' network; to break the power of those who harbour the terrorists; and to end the threat to security at home. We will achieve those aims by a combination of military, political and humanitarian means.

The military action has been carefully calibrated and every effort has been made to ensure that it is proportionate to the task and within our obligations in international law. All of us in the Government, the House and our armed services would have wished for a different path to the resolution of this terrorist threat. A peaceful and achievable path was laid out very clearly by the President of the United States and our Prime Minister from an early date: an ultimatum to the Taliban regime to hand over Osama bin Laden and his associates and to close down the al-Qaeda network and terrorist camps, and enable us to verify that. That cannot be emphasised frequently enough, and neither can the response of the Taliban. This is a regime that, for years, has ignored international standards of human rights, fairness and respect for innocent life. Then the same people, the Taliban, for whom justice for others means show trials or no trials, brutal imprisonment and summary execution, suddenly demanded the evidence against bin Laden.

As the House knows, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister published the evidence. It was incontrovertible, but just as conclusive have been the damning admissions from the mouths of bin Laden and his associates themselves. How else are we to take their hollow warnings, which have been broadcast on television, that Muslims

Bin Laden has killed before; his victims included many Muslims. As his warning shows, he will kill again if left to himself.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): I take it that the document that the Foreign Secretary is placing in the Library is entitled "Defeating International Terrorism: Campaign Objectives." The Prime Minister's press secretary briefed the press about it last Thursday afternoon. Given the huge interest of hon. Members and the wider public, especially in the extent of the military aspect of the campaign, is there any reason for the delay of five days before placing the document in the Library?

Mr. Straw: No. It should have been placed there earlier. I am now rectifying the error.

16 Oct 2001 : Column 1055

When military action is taken, some say that it is neither necessary nor proportionate and that there is another way. The response of those who hold an alternative view is that we should follow the example of Milosevic and take bin Laden to an international court. My answer is yes; let us follow the example of Milosevic, who now awaits trial before an international court. However, he stands trial not as an alternative to military action but because we took such action.

Milosevic engaged in repression on a massive, brutal scale against tens of thousands of men and women who happened to be Muslims. Like bin Laden, Milosevic was not open to negotiation, pleas of common humanity or United Nations injunctions. He believed that he was impregnable. If the world had not followed the decisive lead of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and agreed to military action, including 78 days of continuous bombing, Milosevic would still be in power, there would be no trial and many tens of thousands of Kosovo Muslims would be dead or living in abject deprivation.

If we will the end, we are obliged to will the means. Bin Laden, like Milosevic and other tyrants before them, has forced us to will the only effective means that we can: targeted, proportionate military action. Without war in the Balkans in the 1990s, we could not have established peace with justice and security there. Again, there will be no peace, justice or security for the people of Afghanistan or the world unless we take military action against the terrorist threat.

There is only one caveat to my comparison with Milosevic. The tribunal for former Yugoslavia, where he faces trial, was established to try cases that no states are able or willing to try in their courts. In the case of bin Laden and the al-Qaeda network, there is a state: the United States of America. Bin Laden committed crimes of mass murder against the USA and its people. He should therefore be tried under US law if he becomes available for trial.

The House must face the reality that bin Laden and his associates will not deliver themselves up. Those who call for him to go on trial are not so much whistling in the wind as evading the clearest and only choice: to indulge and appease bin Laden by doing nothing or to defeat his evil by taking effective military action within a comprehensive political strategy. I know of no other choice.

Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews (Medway): We are repeatedly and rightly told that the events of 11 September constituted a crime against civilisation and the international community. Does the Foreign Secretary not agree that there are enormous advantages to setting up an international court now to draw the indictment and subsequently to try bin Laden in his absence or in his presence, and for it to represent international jurisprudence and include one or two Islamic judges? We could thus send the international community the clearest message that we regard the matter as an international crime to be tried internationally.

Next Section

IndexHome Page