Previous SectionIndexHome Page

11 Mar 2003 : Column 185—continued

Patrick Mercer (Newark): The Minister mentioned the possibility of small numbers of extra British troops being deployed to Afghanistan. I assume that they will extend the international security assistance force-type mandate into other cities and regions. Will he comment on the possibility of deploying greater numbers of British troops if the position deteriorates further?

Mr. O'Brien: I must decline that invitation. Obviously we hope that the situation in Afghanistan will remain relatively stable. All these things are relative, and despite the civil war, the difficulties that have afflicted Afghanistan for 25 years, the number of terrorist incidents and the fact that the writ of the central Government does not run throughout a country that remains unsafe, a certain level of stability exists relative

11 Mar 2003 : Column 186

to what existed before. We hope that that level can be raised, and that therefore no further commitment of British troops will be necessary. We hope that as things develop we can show that the central Government are capable of delivering, with international help, and that that can bring about the change of attitude that we seek in Afghanistan.

The Bali atrocity confirmed that the divide in the modern world is not, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East suggested, a clash of cultures between Islam and the west, but rather a clash between order and chaos. As he said, we must tackle the mistrust and misapprehensions that bedevil relations between the Islamic world and the west, and in turn allow the terrorists to secure new recruits to their cause. We are determined to work towards that, and we believe that we can do it. We will put in every effort.

We are grateful for the assistance, advice and wisdom of the Foreign Affairs Committee. We will certainly take on board substantial parts of its report, which makes a significant contribution to the development of British foreign policy.

1.51 pm

Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk): I pay tribute to the Chairman and members of the Foreign Affairs Committee. They have produced an impressive document, which we debate at a crucial and tense time. In some ways the report's title, "Foreign Policy Aspects of the War Against Terrorism", does not do justice to the wide range of issues covered by the Committee; but we should recognise that the issues of global terrorism, Iraq, Afghanistan and the middle east peace process which are dealt with in the bulk of the document—albeit indirectly in some instances—are interrelated, and that their impact on international security and stability is vastly important.

Conservative Members welcome the Government's dedication and, in particular, that of the Prime Minister, who managed to build an international coalition after the terrible events in the United States involving the twin towers and the Pentagon. As the Committee says, that has helped to build on the special relationship that has proved so valuable in securing resolution 1441, which outlines the dangers presented by Iraq. It has also built a degree of international consensus on actions in Afghanistan.

In the aftermath of the horrendous terrorist attack on Bali, to which the Minister referred, the Foreign Secretary took up a number of suggestions from many Members—including Conservative Members—about facing down terrorism and ensuring the security of British citizens abroad. We welcome the Government's response, which symbolises an approach to the threat that transcends party political considerations.

The continued need to root out terrorist groups is as urgent as the need to expose Saddam Hussein. It is not a question of either/or; we must strive to do both. The problems are not mutually exclusive, in that both have resulted in the death of thousands of innocent people.

The Committee was right to conclude that any military action against the Iraqi regime must be justified on grounds other than its past or current involvement with the al-Qaeda network. That is exactly the approach that the Security Council's members have adopted by

11 Mar 2003 : Column 187

unanimously agreeing to resolution 1441. Iraq's biological and chemical stockpiles and its illegal weapons remain the reason for international action, as does its refusal over 12 years to disarm willingly and transparently. I fully support the Foreign Secretary's statement that we must

The possession of weapons of that kind by a man such as Saddam Hussein always leaves open the possibility that they will fall into the hands of terrorist groups. They are united in one respect: both hate the west and western values.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): Is not one of the strangest and most naive arguments that we have heard during the debate on Iraq and al-Qaeda the suggestion that because they have sometimes been politically opposed they could not co-operate in precisely the way my hon. Friend described? Often, a common enemy brings people with diametrically opposing views together. They want to destroy that common enemy, even if they hate each other as well.

Mr. Spring: I entirely agree. As my hon. Friend knows, the Iraqis have already used their resources to finance terrorist groups, including those involved in suicide bombings in Israel.

Mr. Savidge: I entirely accept that it would never have been predicted that, for example, Hitler and Stalin would get together at the start of the second world war. When we discuss the concept of pre-emptive war, however, is it not rather frightening to suggest that because at some stage two people who completely oppose each other might get together we should attack them?

Mr. Spring: My point is that there is already evidence of the Iraqis' supporting terrorist groups. The possibility of a marriage at some time is entirely likely given the desire of organisations such as al-Qaeda to obtain these weapons, and their wealth. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman read a speech made in the other place by Lady Nicholson about the horrific attacks on Iraqis—particularly Marsh Arabs—by Saddam himself, using these atrocious weapons of mass destruction. It has been a wicked act of genocide, which underlies the reasons for our concern about Saddam's position in the world.

We need only consider the arrest of a senior al-Qaeda leader last week to recognise the important work—much of it necessarily behind the scenes—being done by our intelligence services. It is often dangerous and often unrecognised, but it helps to keep us safe. I pay tribute to those men and women in our intelligence agencies, whose work is often unsung.

As the Committee says, much remains to be done in the tackling of terror, but with the international community united in the task, we can minimise the threat. What assessment has the Minister made of the likelihood that Osama bin Laden is still alive, given reports that the recently arrested Khalid Sheikh Mohammed met him, or was in contact with him, not long ago?

11 Mar 2003 : Column 188

Terrorism of the sort that we have seen in America, Bali, Kenya and off the coast of Yemen is a scourge that we must be resolute in tackling. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), the shadow Foreign Secretary, said back in September 2001,

He spoke with all his experience as a former Northern Ireland Minister who understood the phenomenon all too well.

Such horrific attacks are bound to receive publicity, but we must show by fighting terrorism and never appeasing it that it cannot succeed. Along with the international community, we must make sure that in territories where terrorist boltholes exist, those boltholes are blocked; and we must work with countries where terrorists hide to ensure that the terrorists can find no comfort or shelter from international pursuit and justice. There simply cannot be a hiding place for such people.

Let me now deal with a number of specific topics covered by the Committee's report. As the report says, the Government must show that the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Committee is effective in the long run, and continues to foster international co-operation and good will. In their response, the Government set out many ways in which they intend to do this. However, during his wind-up I hope that the Minister will be able to restore the Government's commitment to the CTC, recognising its important co-ordinating work under the chairmanship of Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the UK representative at the United Nations. What evaluation has the Minister made of its success to date in achieving what the Foreign Secretary describes as

especially with regard to legislation and countering the financing of terrorism?

We welcome the passage of the chairmanship, in April, to the Spanish permanent representative, given Spain's strong support for resolution 1441 and for the war against terrorism, and given its role as a close EU and NATO ally. Of course, cutting off the funding of terrorist groups is one of the most effective ways of hitting these organisations, and of causing their operations to wither. The report recommends that the Government set out what further measures they will take to encourage and assist Governments, particularly those in the middle east and Gulf region, to stem the flow of terrorist financing.

I hope that the Minister will agree with me that we must maintain a constructive but robust and critical dialogue with countries that allow money to be funnelled to such groups—whether those groups are characterised by different Governments as terrorists, or as freedom fighters. We welcome the Government's commitment to Security Council resolutions 1373 and 1390. What is the Minister's latest estimate of assets frozen under those resolutions, and has this initiative been judged a success?

It is also, as the report says, important that Britain work constructively with our EU partners on some critical aspects of foreign policy. In the first debate after

11 Mar 2003 : Column 189

11 September, my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary welcomed the way in which the EU had

I urge it to maintain that commitment. The EU's work with Iran is particularly important, but we must also be realistic—this point has already been alluded to—about the limits of effective EU co-operation. It must never be at the expense of undermining our historic and valuable relationship with the United States, which is of itself such an asset to Europe.

NATO is an organisation that has proved effective in the past in meeting our defensive security needs. At Prague, it showed a willingness to change and to adapt to those needs, as those needs themselves change. The safeguarding of NATO is crucial, given existing tensions within the alliance. As the Foreign Affairs Committee concluded, the Government need to illustrate more clearly how the new focus of NATO, as outlined at Prague, will be implemented to make the organisation relevant in the modern world. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) will want to return to this aspect of the report when he winds up, given his particular knowledge of defence matters.

The Foreign Affairs Committee also concluded that

As foreign policy has evolved to meet this increased threat, as well as the threat posed by rogue states, the doctrine of pre-emption has been much debated. Such a doctrine as it is applied today raises many questions and challenges, in terms of how it fits in with international law. Does the Minister have any suggestions as to how international law can be changed to meet this specific challenge? Has this issue been discussed with any other interested international parties? In particular, will he outline how the Foreign Secretary intends to

as noted?

Of course, much of this debate will inevitably revolve around Iraq, which features prominently both in the report and in current public debate. On Friday, Dr. Blix told the UN that Iraq had failed to produce evidence that tonnes of chemical and biological stockpiles have been destroyed. His comments support the Committee's conclusion that

Dr. Blix outlined areas in which Iraq had not shown "immediate and full" co-operation. Again, this supports the Committee's conclusion that the difficulties facing the UN weapons inspectors in Iraq "are formidable". It is a depressing picture in terms both of weapons, and of non-co-operation in their removal.

Next Section

IndexHome Page