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11 Mar 2003 : Column 248—continued

6.10 pm

David Burnside (South Antrim): My experience of terrorism, although big to me, is parochial and small in worldwide terms. It related only to Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom more generally until the mid-1990s, when I flew to Beirut for the first time. It was just at the end of the war there, and I saw what terrorism had done to a society that had been civilised for almost 20 years. That was part of an international conflict in the middle east, but it was also terrorism from all quarters. It was terrorism mixed with religion and fundamentalism from every sect and sector of society in Lebanon. That conflict in the middle east still exists in a combination of nationality and religious fervour, much of which those of us who come from a country with a great deal of religious fervour find distasteful and alarming.

My experience at the end of the war in Lebanon in the 1990s led me, after the attack on the twin towers on 11 September, to ask myself many times what changed because of that event. In the House, many of my colleagues and I have often asked—perhaps we have been misleading ourselves—whether there is any difference between international terrorism of that size and magnitude of evil and the terrorism of the individual bomb, whether in Harrods, Canary Wharf, Enniskillen or the nightclub in Colombia only a few weeks ago. There is no difference in the degree of evil—all those acts are terrorism, justified in some way by the organisations behind them, but still terrorism.

I believe, however, that there was a fundamental change after the tragedy of the twin towers: the world has changed in its fight against terrorism. That is why we

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can now win. In the '60s, '70s and '80s, Members would argue in the House about whether individuals were freedom fighters or terrorists. The days of terrorists calling themselves freedom fighters are well and truly over. If, in the world order in the United Nations and the national order in the United Kingdom, we can have a set of conditions and criteria that define terrorism, and if we can maintain a national and international fight against it, proscribe it, ban it, stop terrorists being armed and put them out of business through intelligence and, if necessary, military action, good will have come out of the evil that took place in that massive act of international terrorism in the United States. That is why the world has changed.

In addition, we now live in a different world order in which we no longer have a conflict between east and west in which terrorism is justified between western democracies and the eastern communist bloc. That is a major and fundamental change, which means that the world order, whether in western democratic countries or emerging democratic countries in eastern Europe, Africa and the middle east, can act internationally against terrorism. That is why 11 September changed things.

I have at times been very pessimistic about the willpower of our Governments, Labour and Conservative, to defeat the terrorism that affected my small part of the UK for over 30 years and, I hope, is slowly but surely coming to an end. However, I think that international opposition from the world order, expressed, hopefully, through the United Nations, will defeat terrorism.

That brings me to the current fear and uncertainty. If I belonged to a terrorist organisation in Iraq or Afghanistan, I would like the disunity and division that I see in the United Kingdom press and on CNN and BBC reports. In the past week, newspaper front pages have revealed major divisions in the Government, the media and the international community, with France—I believe that it has declared this—and Russia going for a veto. That is no way to run a world order, and the credibility of the UN institution is up for grabs in the next couple of weeks. Unless the UN stands by the United States and the United Kingdom, and hopefully a strong and united world order, terrorists, rogue states and the Saddam Husseins of the world will think, "Divide, rule and conquer." As they read the papers and watch the television, they see a weakening world order—we are not sending out a good message. Saddam Hussein poses a threat, as do international terrorists such as bin Laden and others. The world order should be united and stand together.

I believe that good can come of evil, and I am optimistic that both fundamentalist terrorism and terrorism of the type perpetrated in Europe from the late 1960s by the Baader-Meinhof gang—we experienced the dreadful continuation of that for 30 years in the Provisional IRA—can be defeated. However, it can be defeated only by national unity in this country, a great deal more unity in the House than there has been in the past week, and much more unity in the United Nations, an organisation that should be a world policeman putting international terrorists out of business. I hope that we will have great unity in the House in the coming

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days, weeks and months—if we send that message to terrorists, both at home and abroad, we will defeat them.

6.17 pm

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot): Before I speak about the Select Committee report, it is appropriate to point out that we are debating estimates that provide for a substantial grant of further resources, in this case to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to cover the excess expenditure that it has incurred on foreign policy aspects of the war against terrorism. The eighth motion on estimates, which cannot be debated, calls for the provision of more than £600 million of excess expenditure by the Ministry of Defence to be authorised by the House tonight. I am sorry that we are not going to have that debate; perhaps the Minister will convey to his colleagues in the Ministry of Defence the message that it would have been sensible for Parliament to have had such a debate, as we believe that some of that expenditure is the result of the withdrawal of the Sea Harrier, which is an important part of our defence system and maritime capability.

We have had an excellent debate. The universal consensus is that the report of the Foreign Affairs Committee is comprehensive, thoughtful and, in the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie), outstanding. In some respects, it is the counterpart of the Defence Committee's equally impressive report on defence and security in the United Kingdom, which was published last July. I, too, congratulate the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee and his colleagues on a first-class piece of work. Both reports illustrate some of the extremely impressive parliamentary work of Members who strive to reach a consensus across the political divide. Consequently, unless that work attacks the Government, it commands little or no press coverage.

One merit of the Foreign Affairs Committee's report is that, despite the turmoil of recent weeks, it has in most respects stood the test of experience. That is no mean feat. The Committee raised a number of fundamental issues that the Government have failed to address in their response, and on which I wish to press the Minister. Before doing so, however, let me agree with the Committee's conclusion that the Government's decision to align themselves closely with the United States in the war against terrorism has enhanced Britain's influence over current policy decisions and helped to foster the special relationship in the long run. The United Kingdom has proved itself to be a real and valuable ally.

British Ministers are now in a strong position to secure better terms of trade with the United States, but they need to take advantage of that position and to capitalise on it. My hon. Friend the Member for Chichester said that we deserved a privileged dialogue with the United States as a consequence of our stalwart support—particularly that given by the Prime Minister. I make no apologies for raising a defence issue in this debate, because defence has frequently been mentioned in connection with the report. The United States should be pressed very hard to provide British industry with greater access to its programmes, not as subcontractors but as full partners. That is the very least that the United

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States owes to an ally that has been so staunch when many countries on which it was entitled to rely for support deserted it.

I am sure that I am not alone in expressing concern at the reports that I heard on the radio this morning about the construction contracts for the post-conflict reconstruction of Iraq being closed to all but United States companies. I hope that the Minister will make representations to his counterparts in the United States that British companies, at least, should get a look-in. I remember what happened in the Gulf war last time. The then Chief Secretary to the Treasury, David Mellor, wanted money from the Kuwaitis to bolster the United Kingdom's Exchequer, and the French wanted the contracts. If there are any contracts arising in the future, the United Kingdom should be the beneficiary of them.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring), who so ably opened for the Opposition in the debate, referred to the need to strengthen NATO. The Committee has called for the Government to set out how NATO's new military concept for defence against terrorism will be implemented. In their reply, the Government stated that the NATO response force was intended to reach initial operational capability by next year, and to be able to respond to what they called "existing and emerging threats". That objective is laudable, and we take the view that NATO is the organisation best able to guarantee the protection of the member states. However, the recent serious divisions over defensive missile deployment to Turkey illustrate the reality of a post-cold war world order.

The Committee described the emergence of what it called

Can anyone, in the light of those remarks and of the debacle over Turkey, believe that there is the remotest prospect of establishing a common European foreign and security policy? I noted that the Le Touquet declaration from the Prime Minister and Mr. Chirac contained some extraordinarily high-flown remarks about the EU's worldwide ambitions. I found that rather chilling. If they cannot agree in the face of a clear threat from international terrorism and rogue states, the prospect of their being able, as a collection of sovereign nation states, to exercise worldwide ambitions is very remote. NATO is the tried and trusted guarantor of European security. My hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) was entirely right to say that NATO was important, and that it was very bad for the organisation that those divisions had occurred. He talked about rebuilding bridges with our NATO partners, and he was right. It is imperative that we should do so.

Until 1989, there was a clear, overt and unanimously agreed threat in the form of Soviet Russia. The terrorist threat that we now face is covert, asymmetric and more difficult to define. It is also more difficult to define the military capabilities necessary to counter that threat. For example, a chemical or biological attack on London would be unlikely to be delivered by long-range aircraft; it would be more likely by means of a suitcase.

What about the press reports that have recently emerged, and to which my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) drew attention, about

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drones—unmanned air vehicles? Hans Blix is reported to have knowledge of a UAV capable of delivering biological agents, yet there was no mention of that in his report on Friday. What do the Government know of that? What of reports of a cargo ship containing Iraqi chemical agents? Are we sufficiently protected against that threat? What are we doing to try and deal with threats on the high seas? What would be the authority for intervention in such cases, and how do these developments affect the inspections regime?

I note that the Committee's report concludes that the difficulties faced by the inspectors remain formidable, but that would not be the case if Saddam Hussein had offered full and immediate co-operation with them, as United Nations resolution 1441 and all 16 previous resolutions require him to do. We see further in the Government's response to the report that they believe that a material breach has occurred. What are the implications of that? Is Saddam to be given a further final, final opportunity, or do the Government believe that there is already sufficient justification for military action?

The fact remains that whatever justification is offered for military action, large sections of the public will retain deep misgivings about it. That is understandable. However, the situation has not been helped by the Government's reluctance to address some of those misgivings head-on. The mistakes in the dossier were mentioned. The Government have refused to acknowledge that there has been a change in the regime for the no-fly zones. The no-fly zones were designed to protect areas from infiltration by Iraqi aircraft, and the arrangement was that there was justification for retaliation in the event that our aircraft came under attack or were locked on to by Iraqi missiles. Recently, surface-to-surface missile batteries have been taken out. What is the justification for that? Why do the Government not make it clear that there has been a change in policy because those batteries are identified as possibly putting our soldiers at risk?

What about the refusal of the Foreign Secretary yesterday to answer the points made by the hon. Members for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle) and for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), the Father of the House, about the forged evidence on uranium purchases that were submitted to the International Atomic Energy Agency, and that that was provided by the United Kingdom? Those were specific points raised by the chief weapons inspector in New York on Friday, and the Government have not given an answer. They are serious matters. What authority can the Government command in their campaign to win public hearts and minds if, on key issues, there is evidence that they have made a mistake or are not coming clean with the truth? We believe that the public should be brought onside on these issues. I hope that the Minister will take the opportunity today to answer.

The report draws attention to the possibility of a backlash in the middle east as a result of military action. It states:

such points have been made by hon. Members in the debate. Also touted is the prospect that war could result in a recruitment bonanza for al-Qaeda and other like-

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minded organisations. We accept the Government's assurances in their response, when they state that they believe the long-term benefits of their approach will considerably outweigh any cynical move by al-Qaeda to exploit military action for its terrorist ends. That is a crucial point in winning over British public opinion if force is to be used, but there has not been sufficient discussion of it to date. Can the Minister elaborate and give assurances that the United Kingdom's safety and that of our citizens will not be compromised by the use of force, if it comes to that?

The issue of legality has been an interesting part of the debate. In canvassing, it has been clear that there are conflicting opinions regarding the legality of military action to enforce resolution 1441 without a second resolution. The report concludes:

The hon. and learned Member for Dudley, North (Ross Cranston) made a very interesting speech in which he gave the Minister a valuable opinion that did not cost him a penny piece—[Laughter.] Of course, free advice is sometimes said to be not worth having. Nevertheless, in a carefully considered speech, the former Solicitor-General made some very interesting and persuasive points that the Government would do well to take on board. I asked him—I did so not to catch him out, but because I wanted to know the answer—who decides against all the conflicting opinion what constitutes international case law. Who decides on the international authority for taking such action? I am told by senior military people that the Attorney-General makes that decision, but we read that he has not got a lot to say about the matter. What would happen if he concluded that some lawyers—I have to say that they would mostly be left-wing ones—were suggesting that there was no justification in international law for military action?

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