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Mr. Maude: That is a perfectly fair point. There is no doubt that it would be legally and physically possible to establish a court that would have retrospective jurisdiction, just as the international criminal tribunal for the Balkans has had. However, the Foreign Secretary makes a good point. I confess to being a sceptic about the International Criminal Court. I doubt whether it would be effective and I think that there are some dangers involved in setting it up.
The terms of the statute that establishes the International Criminal Court do not permit criminal proceedings to be brought against someone who is accused of war crimes unless there is no national court that is able or willing to bring proceedings against him. However, the Foreign Secretary rightly said that the national legal system in the United States has jurisdiction in this matter and that that country is very willing indeed to bring proceedings. Establishing an international tribunal is therefore not really a practical possibility. However, the Foreign Secretary's point is a fair onethat it is not a question of taking military action for the sake of military actionand it is important that that point is widely conveyed. I have no doubt that military action
That brings me to the question of whether what is being done is proportionate. In previous debates, when Parliament was recalled last month and earlier this month, a number of hon. Members expressed surprise that the Administration in Washington were so measured in the way in which they responded, with no instant fireworks and no knee-jerk, immediate sending-off of cruise missiles. That none of that happened should not have been a surprise to those who know the members of that Administration. They are very serious, experienced people, who would not have had any sympathy for the kind of gesture politics that might have been involved in instant reaction, but who have a completely steely determination to ensure that the terrorism that inflicted such brutal damage on so many tens of thousands of lives is rooted out.
Is the response proportionate? Yes, I think that it is. What was done on 11 September was an act of enormous scale, savagery and immensity, so a proportionate response to that is one that is savage and relentless and which has to be made effective. We should have no doubt about that.
Mr. Harold Best (Leeds, North-West): I was interested in what the right hon. Gentleman said about proportionality and about rooting out those who are alleged to be responsible for the offences that have taken place. No one in this House or anywhere in this country would dispute that those events were horrendous, but they raise serious questions about when a policing actionwith such force as is necessary for the arrest of the perpetrators of the crimediffers from the force that is being used right now. That force is being describedquite accurately, it seems to meas war, and is a qualitatively different process. Will the right hon. Gentleman comment on those differences?
Mr. Maude: Indeed I shall. We should not try to persuade ourselves that what is going on is a process analogous to sending for the constable to apprehend the villain and sit on his head until help arrives. That is not what is going on here, because we are not operating in a law-abiding environment where there is help of that sort to hand. A widespread criminal gang or network is being harboured in a state that gives it active support and receives active support from it.
The only way to exterminate or eradicate the source of that evil and terrorism is to take military action, and that is being done. We cannot send in the international constables to clap handcuffs on people and feel their collars. Military action must be taken. We all know that the chances of bin Laden being led away by the scruff of his neck are not high. The chances are that he will be killed in the military action, and that is probably a pretty good thing.
The analogy with law enforcement is confusing. Terrible harm is being done and all of ushere, in America and elsewherelive in daily fear that further great damage will be done. It has to be stopped. Whatever needs be done should be done, and I hope that it will attract widespread support. The point was made by the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife
Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington): The right hon. Gentleman calls for effective military action to bring the terrorists to book. The whole House would agree that there should be effective military action. However, for military action to be effective it has to be sustainable. The Americans had to withdraw from Vietnam not because they could not out-gun the Vietnamese, but because their action was not sustainable in the face of world opinion. How long does the right hon. Gentleman think that world opinion, especially in Muslim countries from Nigeria to the middle east, will support the inevitable rising civilian death toll in Afghanistan?
We all accept that the utmost care will be taken to protect civilian lives, but they cannot be completely protected. However, to tailor military action to such an extent that no civilians were ever put at risk would make it ineffective. That would be wrong. Nothing could be better calculated to erode public support in the westand more widelythan the sense that the action was unnecessarily protracted and becoming ineffective. The more effective the action is the quicker it can be taken and the less difficulty there will be in sustaining public support. I accept that public support outside the west is not nearly as extensive as we would like.
The building of the coalition has been crucial. Many right hon. and hon. Members have spoken about that. I commend the Government, and the Prime Minister in particular, for the part that they have played, with America, in assembling the coalition. It is crucial that it continues to be sustained. The Prime Minister's role has been important, and it illustrates what some of us have been saying for some timethat although Britain has not been a superpower for many decades, we can none the less exercise influence and make a big difference by dint of who and what we are, what we have been and what we can be. We do not have to be a pale shadow of the United States, nor do we have to allow our diplomatic effect to be subsumed within a European Union common foreign policy.
The Prime Minister and the Government are rightly illustrating daily the fallacy that some people seem to believethat because we are no longer a superpower and cannot pretend to do everything, we cannot do anything. Britain can do and is doing a great deal and I am delighted. It has played a great role in assembling and sustaining the coalition.
In assembling the coalition, it is right that an opportunity has been taken to take steps on the crucial issue of middle east peacethe Israel-Palestine issue. The Prime Minister was right to take the opportunity to progress that. Again, Britain can make a serious difference. We will never have the clout of the United States in the middle east, but that does not mean that we can do nothing. Britain has credibility with Israel. We have rightly been a long-time supporter of its right to exist in safety and security. At the same time, we have ancient links and friendships with much of the Arab world which enable us to play an intermediary, facilitating role in the promotion of peace. The British Government should be heavily engaged in that process. The coalition has not only to be built but to be sustained. No one would claim that the propaganda battle has been won outside the west and it must continue.
The hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Singh) pointed out in an intervention that many Muslims inside and outside Britain deeply oppose the military action. That is an observable fact. However, we should not just accept it, say that it is difficult and leave it at that. That is where political leadership comes in. I hope that the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members who have some influence with the Muslim community here will use all their powers of persuasion to make the case that what was done on 11 September was a defamation of Islam. The present action is not in any sense opposed to Islam. The events of 11 September and the fact that they were done in the name of Islam were as damaging as it was possible for them to be to public perception of Islam.
That propaganda battle is by no means wonperhaps it has not even been properly embarked upon. All political leaders should do all that they can inside the country and beyond to make the case that this action is not about Islam.