§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Donald Thompson.]
§ Mr. Speaker
Before we start on this important debate, I must tell the House that I have received an intimation from 46 Back Benchers that they hope to take part if they catch my eye. No fewer than 10 of them are Privy Councillors.
I propose to follow my normal practice of calling Privy Councillors alternately with Back Benchers. I hope that the House will think that that is fair.
I also propose to apply the 10-minute rule limit on speeches between 6 o'clock and 8 o'clock. I hope that those called before and after that time will bear that limit broadly in mind.
§ The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)
My statement yesterday explained the Government's decision to support the United States military action, taken in self-defence, against terrorist targets in Libya.
Of course, when we took our decison we were aware of the wider issues and of people's fears. Terrorism attacks free societies and plays on those fears. If those tactics succeed, terrorism saps the will of free peoples to resist.
We have heard some of those arguments in this country: "Don't associate ourselves with the United States," some say; "Don't support them in fighting back; we may expose ourselves to more attacks," say others.
Terrorism has to be defeated; it cannot be tolerated or side-stepped. When other ways and other methods have failed—I am the first to wish that they had succeeded—it is right that the terrorist should know that firm steps will be taken to deter him from attacking either other peoples or his own people who have taken refuge in countries that are free.
Before dealing with that central issue, and the evidence that we have of Libyan involvement, I wish to report to the House on the present position, as far as we know it. There have been reports of gunfire in Tripoli this lunchtime, but we have no further firm information.
The United States' action was conducted against five specific targets directly connected with terrorism. It will, of course, he for the United States Government to publish their assessment of the results. However, we now know that there were a number of civilian casualties, some of them children. It is reported that they included members of Colonel Gaddafi's own family.
The casualties are, of course, a matter of great sorrow. We also remember with sadness all those men, women and children who have lost their lives as a result of terrorist acts over the years—so many of them performed at the Libyan Government's behest.
We have no reports of British casualties as a result of the American action or of any subsequent incidents involving British citizens in Libya. I understand that telephone lines to Libya are open and that people in the United Kingdom have been able to contact their relatives there.
As I told the House yesterday, since May 1984 we have had to advise British citizens choosing to live and work in Libya that they do so on their own responsibility and at their own risk. Our consul in the British interests section 876 of the Italian embassy has been and will remain in close touch with representatives of the British community to advise them on the best course of action.
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
The right hon. Lady referred to the killing of innocent children and then to terrorist attacks on innocent people in various parts of the world. I think that she and I may have been brought up in the same Christian tradition. Does she remember that two wrongs do not make a right?
§ The Prime Minister
Had the hon. Gentleman been listening, he would have realised that I was trying to tackle that argument in part, when I said that terrorism thrives on a free society. The terrorist uses the feelings in a free society to sap the will of civilisation to resist. If the terrorist succeeds, he has won and the whole of free society has lost.
We are most grateful for the work of the Italian authorities, as our protecting power, on behalf of the British community in Libya.
In this country, we have to be alert to the possibility of further terrorist attacks—so, too, do our British communities abroad. Our security precautions have been heightened, but it is, of course, the technique of the terrorist not just to choose obvious targets. Members of the public should therefore be ready to report to the police anything suspicious that attracts their attention. We have also taken steps to defend our interests overseas, seeking from foreign Governments enhanced protection for British embassies and communities.
The United Nations Security Council met twice yesterday and resumes today. With some significant exceptions, first international reactions have been critical, even to this carefully limited use of force in self-defence, but I believe that we can be pretty certain that some of the routine denunciations conceal a rather different view in reality.
Concern has been expressed about the effects of this event on relations between East and West. The United States informed the Soviet Union that it had conclusive evidence of Libyan involvement in terrorist activities, including the Berlin bomb, that limited military action was being taken and that it was in no way directed against the Soviet Union.
We now hear that Mr. Shevardnadze has postponed his meeting with Mr. Shultz planned for next month. I must say that that looks to me rather like a ritual gesture. If the Soviet Union is really interested in arms control it will resume senior ministerial contacts before long.
Right hon. and hon. Members have asked me about the evidence that the Libyan Government are involved in terrorist attacks against the United States and other Western countries. Much of this derives, of course, from secret intelligence. As I explained to the House yesterday, it is necessary to be extremely careful about publishing detailed material of this kind. To do so can jeopardise sources on which we continue to rely for timely and vital information.
I can, however, assure the House that the Government are satisfied from the evidence that Libya bears a wide and heavy responsibility for acts of terrorism. For example, there is evidence showing that, on 25 March, a week before the recent Berlin bombing, instructions were sent from Tripoli to the Libyan people's bureau in East Berlin to conduct a terrorist attack against the Americans. On 4 877 April the Libyan people's bureau alerted Tripoli that the attack would be carried out the following morning. On 5 April the bureau reported to Tripoli that the operation had been carried out successfully. As the House will recall, the bomb which killed two people and injured 230 had exploded in the early hours of that same morning.
This country too is among the many that have suffered from Libyan terrorism. We shall not forget the tragic murder of WPC Fletcher by shots fired from the Libyan people's bureau in London just two years ago tomorrow. It is also beyond doubt that Libya provides the Provisional IRA with money and weapons. The major find of arms in Sligo and Roscommon in the Irish Republic on 26 January, the largest ever on the island, included rifles and ammunition from Libya.
There is recent evidence of Libyan support for terrorism in a number of other countries. For instance, only three weeks ago intelligence uncovered a plot to attack with a bomb civilians queueing for visas at the American embassy in Paris. It was foiled and many lives must have been saved. France subsequently expelled two members of the Libyan people's bureau in Paris for their involvement.
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)
My right hon. Friend mentioned the considerable arms find by the Garda in County Sligo. Does she recall that they also unearthed a very large supply of small arms ammunition in boxes with Libyan army markings?
§ The Prime Minister
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I do recall that piece of evidence.
On 6 April an attempt to attack the United States embassy in Beirut, which we know to have been undertaken on Libyan Government instructions, failed when the rocket exploded on launch.
It is equally clear that Libya was planning yet more attacks. The Americans have evidence that United States citizens are being followed and American embassies watched by Libyan intelligence agents in a number of countries across the world. In Africa alone, there is intelligence of Libyan preparations for attacks on American facilities in no fewer than 10 countries.
There is other specific evidence of Libyan involvement in past acts of terrorism, and in plans for future acts of terrorism, but I cannot give details because that would endanger lives and make it more difficult to apprehend the terrorists. We also have evidence that the Libyans sometimes chose to operate by using other middle east terrorist groups.
But we need not rely on intelligence alone because Colonel Gaddafi openly speaks of his objectives. I shall give just one instance. In a speech at the Wheelus base in Libya in June 1984, he said:We are capable of exporting terrorism to the heart of America. We are also capable of physical liquidation and destruction and arson inside America.There are many other examples.
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
I am grateful to the. Prime Minister for giving way. Why is she prepared to support United States aggression against Libya but is not prepared to support United States economic sanctions against Libya?
§ The Prime Minister
If the hon. Gentleman will contain himself in patience, I shall come to that.
878 Yesterday, many hon. Members referred to the need to give priority to measures other than military, but the sad fact is that neither international condemnation nor peaceful pressure over the years has deterred Libya from promoting and carrying out acts of terrorism.
§ The Prime Minister
No, I must carry on at the moment. I am on a new point about non-military measures about which I have been asked, and I must proceed through this evidence carefully.
In 1981 the United States closed the Libyan people's bureau in Washington and took measures to limit trade with Libya. Later, in January this year, the United States Government announced a series of economic measures against Libya. They sought the support of other Western countries. We took the view, together with our European partners, that economic sanctions work only if every country applies them. Alas, that was not going to happen with Libya.
In April 1984 we took our own measures. We closed the Libyan people's bureau in London and broke diplomatic relations with Libya. We imposed a strict visa regime on Libyans coming to this country and we banned new contracts for the supply of defence equipment and we severely limited Export Credits Guarantee Department credit for other trade.
Over the years, there have been many international declarations against terrorism, for example, by the economic summit under British chairmanship in London in June 1984; by the European Council in Dublin in December 1984; and finally by the United Nations General Assembly in December 1985. All those meetings adopted resolutions condemning terrorism and calling for greater international co-operation against it.
Indeed, the resolution of the United Nations General Assembly unequivocally condemns as criminal all acts, methods and practices of terrorism. It calls upon all states, in accordance with international law, to refrain from organising, instigating, assisting or participating in terrorist acts in other States. After the Achille Lauro incident, the Security Council issued a statement condemning terrorism in all its forms everywhere.
But while resolutions and condemnation issued from those cities, in others more terrible events—bombings, hijackings and kidnappings—were happening or were being planned. They are still being planned.
It was against that remorseless background of terrorist atrocities, and against the background of the restrained peaceful response, that the case for military action under the inherent right of self-defence to deter planned Libyan terrorist attacks against American targets was raised.
President Reagan informed me last week that the United States intended to take such action. He sought our support. Under the consultation arrangements which have continued under successive Governments for over 30 years, he also sought our agreement to the use of United States aircraft based in this country. Hon. Members will know that our agreement was necessary.
In the exchanges which followed, I raised a number of questions and concerns. I concentrated on the principle of self-defence, recognised in article 51 of the United Nations charter, and the consequent need to limit the action and to relate the selection of targets clearly to terrorism.
879 There were of course risks in what was proposed. Many of them have been raised in the House and elsewhere since the action took place. I pondered them deeply with the Ministers most closely concerned, for decisions like this are never easy. We also considered the wider implications, including our relations with other countries, and we had to weigh the importance for this country's security of our Alliance with the United States and the American role in the defence of Europe.
As I told the House yesterday, I replied to the President that we would support action directed against specific Libyan targets demonstrably involved in the conduct and support of terrorist activities; further, that if the President concluded that it was necessary, we would agree to the deployment of United States aircraft from bases in the United Kingdom for that specific purpose.
§ The Prime Minister
The President responded that the operation would be limited to clearly defined targets related to terrorism, and that every effort would be made to minimise collateral damage. He made it clear that, for the reasons I indicated yesterday, he regarded the use of F111 aircraft from bases in the United Kingdom as essential. There are, I understand, no other F111s stationed in Europe. Had we refused permission for the use of those aircraft, the United States operation would still have taken place; but more lives would probably have been lost, both on the ground and in the air.
It has been suggested that, as a result of further Libyan terrorism, the United States might feel constrained to act again. I earnestly hope that such a contingency will not arise. But in my exchanges with the President, I reserved the position of the United Kingdom on any question of further action which might be more general or less clearly directed against terrorism.
§ The Prime Minister
No. This point is particularly important.
Moreover, it is clearly understood between President Reagan and myself that, if there were any question of using United States aircraft based in this country in a further action, that would be the subject of a new approach to the United Kingdom under the joint consultation arrangements.
Many hon. Members have questioned whether the United States action will be effective in stopping terrorism—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that he must resume his seat if the Prime Minister does not give way.
§ The Prime Minister
Many hon. Members have questioned whether the United States action will be effective in stopping terrorism or will instead have the effect of quickening the cycle of violence in the middle east.
880 Let us remember that the violence began long ago. It has already taken a great many lives. It has not been so much a cycle of violence as a one-sided campaign of killing and maiming by ruthless terrorists, many with close connections with Libya. The response of the countries whose citizens have been attacked has not so far stopped that campaign.
§ The Prime Minister
I will give way to the hon. Gentleman later. Please may I continue with this point?
§ The Prime Minister
Indeed, one has to ask whether it has not been the failure to act in self-defence that has encouraged state-sponsored terrorism. Firm and decisive action may make those who continue to practise terrorism as a policy think again. I give way to the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing).
§ Mr. Wareing
Would the Prime Minister agree that if her argument is correct we should all be feeling very much safer? Can she therefore explain why, for the first time since the early days of my election to the House, I was asked this morning—as all hon. Members have been asked—for my pass and my car was searched in order to ensure our safety? Am I to feel safe now as a result of this attack?
§ The Prime Minister
I would have hoped that the hon. Gentleman would see the wisdom of taking heightened precautions. It would have been folly not to do so.
It has also been suggested that the United States action will only build up Colonel Gaddafi's prestige and support in the Arab world. In the very short term, one must expect statements of support for Libya from other Arab countries—although one is entitled to ask how profound or durable that support will be. But moderate Arab Governments, indeed moderate Governments everywhere, have nothing to gain from seeing Colonel Gaddafi build up power and influence by persisting in policies of violence and terror.
Their interest, like ours, lies in seeing the problems of the middle east solved by peaceful negotiation, a negotiation whose chances of success will be much enhanced if terrorism can be defeated.
§ The Prime Minister
I shall not give way now.
Let me emphasise one very important point. A peaceful settlement of the Arab-Israel question remains our policy and we shall continue to seek ways forward with moderate Arab Governments. Indeed, I shall be seeing King Hussein later this week to discuss this very matter.
§ The Prime Minister
I believe that his capacity and the will of the people to do so have been impaired by the actions that have taken place.
The United States is our greatest ally. It is the foundation of the Alliance which has preserved our security and peace for more than a generation. In defence of liberty, our liberty as well as its own, the United States 881 maintains in Western Europe 330,000 service men. That is more than the whole of Britain's regular forces. The United States gave us unstinting help when we needed it in the South Atlantic four years ago.
The growing threat of international terrorism is not directed solely at the United States. We in the United Kingdom have also long been in the front line. To overcome the threat is in the vital interests of all countries founded upon freedom and the rule of law.
Terrorism exploits the natural reluctance of a free society to defend itself, in the last resort, with arms. Terrorism thrives on appeasement. Of course we shall continue to make every effort to defeat it by political means. But in this case that was not enough. The time had come for action. The United States took it. Its decision was justified, and, as friends and allies, we support it.
§ 4.3 pm
§ Mr. Neil Kinnock (Islwyn)
This House is united and firm in its view that terrorism is evil and cowardly and a completely unjustified and unjustifiable way of advancing any cause, whether it be political, religious, or any other cause. [Interruption.] The question before the House today, therefore, is not one of competitive loathing for Mu'ammar Gaddafi or any other supporter and sponsor of terrorism. It is not a question of who hates terrorism the most. The real question is not how we describe terrorism but what we do about it.
Faced by the terrorist menace which has emanated from Libya and many other countries over past years we must answer the question, what is the effective response to be made to terrorism and terrorists? The effective response is what today's debate is and should be about, because it is the benchmark against which we have to judge the actions of the President of the United States and our own Prime Minister and because it is the only way to answer the question of where we and our allies, on both sides of the Atlantic, go from here. Therefore, we must judge the President and the Prime Minister on the effectiveness of the action which they have jointly taken.
The purpose of the bombing raid on Tripoli and Benghazi on Monday night was said by President Reagan to be tobring down the curtain on Gaddafi's reign of terror.I do not believe that anyone can seriously believe that that objective has been or will be achieved by bombing. The use of such force does not punish terrorism. The use of such force will not prevent terrorism. Indeed, the use of such force is much more likely to provoke and expand terrorism. In any case, the strategy of using military force for the purpose of teaching Gaddafi a lesson is fundamentally flawed for, as the Daily Telegraph said this morning, it presumesa degree of rationality in Tripoli about cause and effect, which is palpably lacking".There are some who would say that the evidence—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The Prime Minister was given a fair hearing. That is equally the right of the Leader of the Opposition.
§ Mr. Kinnock
It was clear from the earliest seconds of my speech what the tactic was to be and I know that you, Mr. Speaker, will be the judge about that.
Some will say that a great deal of weight must be given to the evidence which has been made available to the Prime Minister and to some others in this House.
§ Mr. Kinnock
I shall give way in a moment.
It is important to give attention to the evidence, but I caution people who allow their judgment to turn solely on the evidence—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Kinnock
No one needs any convincing about the criminality of Gaddafi and those who put their whole weight of judgment on the evidence of a particular series of planned atrocities are in great danger of all falling into the trap of saying that where there is evidence the response must be bombing raids. There is great danger in that. If they do not say that when there is evidence available, they must tell us in which cases, in which countries and on what occasions the evidence is to be neglected and the bombing raids are not to take place. That response should not be undertaken.
§ Mr. Kinnock
I shall give way in a moment.
The other consideration is that those who put their complete faith in the evidence as a justification for military strikes are saying that where there is such evidence the considerations of international law can be put aside. We do not accept that at home, we do not accept it abroad. That is not a point of nicety; it is fundamental to realism in the conduct of international relations and it is fundamental to our moral and material strength in international relations.
§ Mr. Onslow
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for belatedly giving way. I have no desire to destroy his speech. [Interruption.] I am simply anxious that he should not mislead the House. Earlier he quoted some words, attributing their implication to President Reagan. The House and the right hon. Gentleman may like to know what those words should have been. President Reagan said:I have no illusion that tonight's action will bring down the curtain on Gaddafi's regime, but this mission, violent as it was, can bring closer a safer and more secure world for decent men and women.The right hon. Gentleman must not mislead the House.
§ Mr. Kinnock
I know what the President said, I know what he implied, and I also heard the right hon. Lady—[Interruption.] I also heard the right hon. Lady yesterday say that this action was about turning the tide of terrorism. No one can be in any doubt that the whole proposition of the action, as given by the Governments and understood by the people, is that by such a bombing strike such damage can be inflicted on Gaddafi as to stop him engaging in terrorism. No one doubts that.
The response that President Reagan can count on is the very opposite to what he intended. Gaddafi is without doubt a malignancy. No one can doubt his involvement in financing and sponsoring terrorism throughout the world. However, as a consequence of the actions of the United 883 States in the past few days, Gaddafi has a degree of support even from moderate Arab states that have previously regarded him with unrestrained hostility.
By the same means and for the same reasons, the influence of the United States and of Great Britain has been diminished, and we have heard from our European and Commonwealth allies statements of condemnation that would have been unthinkable about our country a short time ago.
I suggest that reasons such as those explain why the strategy of using military force against terrorism has never been employed by British Governments that have had to deal with that evil epidemic in recent years. Out policy until now has been a national policy. It has been a restrained policy. It has been a thorough policy of diplomatic sanctions, tightened security, the best anti-terrorism forces in the world, a readiness to take action wherever terrorists are caught and cornered, and an uncompromising attitude that refuses to trade hostages or to make any concessions to terrorism.
That has been our policy, and that policy has always stopped short of responding to terrorism with the might of armed force, such as was involved in the American attack on Monday night. That has not been because we are supine or because we are passive. It has certainly not been because we have cringed before terrorism and it is certainly not because we have not been provoked. The sentencing of British subjects, the kidnapping of British citizens, the murdering on our own streets of a policewoman and of others—all obviously make our blood boil.
§ Mr. Kinnock
I will give way in a moment.
However, we have not struck back with bombers because, while we know that the first step may be relatively easy, all further steps into conflict and all further steps back from conflict produce impossible difficulties. That policy of rationality, restraint, and fierce antiterrorism is the right policy. It can be, and now should be, strengthened, especially in the case of Libya, which is known to he a haven for terrorists. We should and could have strong commercial and financial sanctions and I now believe that we have an unprecedented opportunity to make those effective against Mu'ammar Gaddafi.
I believe that we can take that opportunity, because Libya is a country 80 per cent. dependent for its resources, and 100 per cent. dependent under its leadership, on oil, and with oil prices plummeting Gaddafi will be looking for credits. Those credits can and must be denied him until such time as the pressure of commercial, economic, financial, diplomatic and political sanctions squeezes the very life out of the Gaddafi regime. That is the way to do it. [HON. MEMBERS:"Hear, hear."] That is the practical course. That is the effective course. That is the way to isolate Gaddafi. It is the best means of punishment and prevention of that evil. That is the way we should go from here.
The Prime Minister has declined economic sanctions in the past. Frankly, that reluctance to use economic sanctions is not becoming in a Government who on Monday were prepared to use this country as a base for bombers and to condone the use of those bombers.
Of course, the task of securing comprehensive economic and other sanctions has now been made much 884 more difficult by the decision of the Prime Minister to be a compliant accomplice rather than a candid ally of the United States President. The right hon. Lady has not shown solidarity with our ally; she has shown subservience to the United States President. She was, as the Financial Times pointed out this morning,wrong to give in to US pressure on this occasion.She was wrong—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. This is a very important debate and the whole House—[Interruption.] Order. The hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) is not even in the House.
§ Mr. Kinnock
The Prime Minister was wrong to believe that the F1l l s were necessary for the operation or capable of reducing the casualties. She was wrong to depart from the common sense and legality of the British policy against terrorism as her Government and other Governments have operated it. She was wrong to neglect the impact that this action and her complicity in it would have on opinion among moderate Arab leaders She was wrong to disregard the reservations of our European allies.
Whatever plaudits the right hon. Lady's deference to the President of the United States may bring her in America, they will not be echoed on this side of the Atlantic. In this continent—and especially in a generation older than mine—we know that the achievement and maintenance of liberty sometimes requires great sacrifice and death. But we also know that it is foolhardy to start something that by its very definition cannot be properly finished.
There cannot be any hon. Member—
§ Mr. Kinnock
There cannot be any hon. Member in this House, or anyone in the country, who does not understand the frustration and resentment of the American President and people at the goading and attacks of terrorists. All of us, if we are honest with ourselves, are completely familiar with the instinct of revenge. Every one of us knows that lust for reprisal that we feel when we hear of assassination and bombings and, still more, when we see the bodies of children and old people shattered as a consequence of terrorist atrocities. Every instinct rages against it.
§ Mr. Kinnock
But we know, too, that the world simply cannot be run on the basis of such instincts. We know that an international strategy cannot be built on such instincts, and, much as we comprehend the sense of outrage, we cannot support the calculated reprisals that arise from that outrage.
§ Mr. Heseltine
Can the right hon. Gentleman give the House any reason to suppose that there is an historic precedent for the belief that economic sanctions would work, or that they would achieve the reductions in terrorism of which Mr. Gaddafi is so patently guilty?
§ Mr. Kinnock
I need not persuade President Reagan of that, for he is the most avid practitioner of economic sanctions against a series of Governments. I am sure that we could gain the ready acquiescence of the President to a comprehensive strategy of sanctions against Libya.
§ Mr. Kinnock
With reference to the right hon. Gentleman's precise point, as I deliberately said earlier, Libya, with its great dependence on oil, and only oil, as its source of revenue and as Gaddafi's base for power, is uniquely positioned for the implementation of comprehensive international sanctions.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Member must sit down when the Leader of the Opposition fails to give way.
§ Mr. Kinnock
It is obvious that the case for sanctions goes way beyond the House and any affiliation that the Labour party may have. Yesterday, I listened to a most persuasive interview given by Sir Anthony Parsons, a former adviser to the Prime Minister, who recommended precisely that course of sanctions as the most directly appropriate to the present circumstances.
The right hon. Lady was wrong to give support for the actions of reprisal that arose from the instincts of rage and outrage of the American President. That is not merely our view; it is the view of international law. The Prime Minister gave us her interpretation of international law and of self-defence yesterday, and she repeated it today. We have listened and we are not convinced. Much as the Prime Minister clearly believes in her interpretation, she can find no recognised authority outside the immediate ranks of the Conservative party to support her view of international law.
In the past 24 hours, we have heard from scholars of international law, from the lawyers who plead in the international courts, from the specialist political analysts and from experienced diplomats who have dealt with quesions of international law throughout their professional lives. None of them upholds the right hon. Lady's view of international law.
There are, of course, people who now say that international law as it is presently conceived was intended for a different age and that the age of terrorism means that the law must be stretched to embrace new sets of circumstances. I counsel against that, not from any reluctance to act directly against terrorism, but simply because of the impracticality of hitting back at terrorism with military force and because of the inhumanity which results from killing and maiming the innocent neighbours of terrorists.
I am not alone in that view. At the beginning of this week, the Secretary of State for Defence told the listeners of Radio Clyde:My colleagues and I are very dubious as to whether a military strike is the best way of doing this. It is liable to hit the wrong people. It creates other tensions in the area.No one could have put it better than that.
We need only ask ourselves, "Where are the modern terrorists?" They are found in their hideaways in the farms, villages and tenements of Ireland, Beirut, the Punjab and even some of the cosiest suburbs of European cities. They are scattered throughout the people, and that is what makes the idea of retribution by mass military force so impractical and such a dangerous course for future action.
If we set our hand to a strategy of reprisals, it will provoke, not prevent, terrorism and any subsequent pause in such a strategy of reprisal would be seen as irresolution and weakness by the terrorists and would encourage them to commit further atrocities. If we pursued the strategy of reprisal, we should be caught in a trap of either doing too 886 much or never doing enough. We could never get such a strategy right. It is not a strategy; it is a snare. British Governments have long known that, and that is why they have avoided such snares.
I strongly urge the right hon. Lady to resume that course of common sense and legality. There is only one policy that she can effectively pursue now. She can return to our European allies and partners and urge them to adopt the comprehensive sanctions that are essential to the isolation of Gaddafi. I know that that is very difficult. It will be especially difficult because the Prime Minister has a Foreign Secretary who, at the same time as he was agreeing in The Hague on Monday a communiquÉ which urged "restraint on all sides", knew that the Americans had already unleashed their dogs of war. The reaction of allies such as Leo Tindemans, Bettino Craxi, the Germans and the French testifies to that difficulty. The fact that it will be difficult does not mean that it will be impossible.
The right hon. Lady can repair the damage which she has caused, and if she pursues that course of securing combined and co-ordinated sanctions she will have strong support. It is essential that she makes that change, for she has not been strong, she has been supine, in her support for the American President. She has not acted in the interests of Britain. She has caused us to be more isolated from our allies and she has damaged our long-standing and wise anti-terrorist policy. She has not defended British citizens; she has put them in greater jeopardy. That is why the Prime Minister's policy has been and will be rejected by the British people. They know that she can have neither justice nor effectiveness on her side. They know that her might is not right.
§ Mr. David Steel (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale)
No one can be in any doubt that the decision taken by the Prime Minister and her colleagues was very difficult. The argument that I wish to deploy is that, although it was very difficult, it was the wrong decision. In a sense, I am relieved that the briefings from the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday showed that there were senior Ministers who expressed doubts about the action that was taken and they included the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the chairman of the Conservative party and the Home Secretary.
The Leader of the Opposition quoted what the Secretary of State for Defence forecast with remarkable accuracy on his local radio station. Here I disagree with the Leader of the Opposition. The Foreign Secretary said that he did not know of the decision when he met his European colleagues. That in itself is a comment on the way in which the decision was taken, and it will leave the Foreign Secretary extremely exposed among our European allies when he meets them in the future.
In arguing that the decision was wrong, the easiest way to come to that conclusion is to draw up a balance sheet of the gains and losses which have been incurred as a result of the action taken. The first loss is that a great many people were, unhappily, killed and that the act of revenge was out of proportion to the terrorist acts from which the United States suffered. It is a great mistake for the Prime Minister to slide, in her natural and right condemnation of Libya, into the assumption that all of the terrorist acts somehow have been inspired by Libya. Unhappily, that is not the case. They have come from other countries, too.
It is doubtful whether the action taken was legal under article 51 of the United Nations Charter. I do not think that 887 there is much point in going on in a debate, but at best it is a narrow balance of argument. It is clear from the words used by the Prime Minister both yesterday and today that in giving her consent to the use of British bases she did not seek to limit the attack to military targets, but included the severe risks and results that we saw in the centre of Tripoli.
The second item on the debit side is, I believe, that the action has now exposed Britons both in Libya and Britain itself to further terrorist attacks. I think that the Prime Minister has misunderstood the nature of terrorism. Before you have a terrorist, you have to have a fanatic. In order to breed terrorism, you have to breed fanaticism. My great fear is that this action in the last 48 hours will breed more fanaticism, not just in Libya itself, but throughout the Middle East. That is a more accurate forecast.
§ Mr. Jim Spicer (Dorset, West)
With regard to breeding more terrorists, I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman could comment on the American action the week before in the gulf of Sirte when they crossed that line. Does he believe that that would breed more terrorism? Would he like to comment at some point on the comments made by his right hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) who said that he would like to have seen British ships alongside the Americans, going across that line?
§ Mr. Steel
The hon. Member must not take out of context what my right hon. Friend has said. He has argued for the case to be taken to the United Nations and for collective action to be taken against Libya by the Western powers, and that is a view with which I agree. I shall return to the question of the gulf of Sirte in a moment.
The third item on the debit side is that we have angered our allies. This is a time when European unity is important. We have 11 fellow members of the European Community, and not one of them has supported the view that we have taken on this matter. Several of them are rather closer to the situation than we are.
I was at a meeting with the Italian Defence Minister, Mr. Spadolini, in Sicily when the fleet began the exercises which led to this attack. I know that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary are aware that no one would doubt Mr. Spadolini's commitment to the NATO Alliance, but, as a result of the stationing of NATO bases on Sicily, and throughout the mainland of Italy, the mood in Italy is nervous. They, unlike us, are in line and within target range of Libyan missiles, so the weight of European opinion is important in this matter.
The fourth casualty in this exercise has been the postponement, rather than the cancellation, of the meeting between Mr. Shultz and Mr. Shevardnadze. The Soviet Union is wrong in asserting that this attack was part of a strategy to torpedo the Geneva talks. This has been an inadvertent casualty of the whole peace process, and I hope that it will be resumed as soon as possible, and that the Foreign Secretary will lend his weight to the resumption of these important talks.
The fifth casualty on the debit side is the effect that it has had—
§ Mr. Steel
No, I shall not give way.
The fifth casualty is the effect that it has had in boosting Colonel Gaddafi's position both internally and externally in the middle east. His 16–year-old reign in Libya has been 888 a catalogue of misdeeds and malevolence. He is detested, and rightly so, by Westerner, Arab and African alike. He has invaded Chad, and tried to overthrow the neighbouring Government in Tunisia. He has meddled in Syria and Algeria and sponsored numerous acts of hijacking and terrorism, including the attempt to murder some leaders in Egypt. In Britain we too have suffered with the incident in St. James's Square. Elsewhere in Europe, the terrorists that he has trained, sheltered and equipped have murdered Libyans in exile, and any foreigners who anger the colonel. The man is a menace, and is widely regarded as such. I fear that what this action has done is to boost his power, authority and status within his own country, and in the Arab world as a whole. All of this is on the debit side.
I come to the second point, which is the matter of the gulf of Sirte. These opinions that I give on Colonel gaddafi's status in the Arab world are not my own. During the Easter recess, I was in the Gulf States and every Government told me in relation to the action in the gulf of Sirte that surely we could have had more influence with the United States not to act unilaterally, that it would have the effect of boosting Colonel Gaddafi. That view must have been put to Vice-President Bush when he went round the same countries three days later. It appears that the United States has paid no attention to that particular argument.
When one looks at the fact that Jordan and Egypt are traditional friends, and have now joined in criticism of the action which we and the United States have taken, one must add all that together and then look at the credit side. The Prime Minister says that it will have helped to check terrorism. I am afraid that that must remain a hope, and not anything for which there is any evidence. As my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) said, I think that there is every reason to believe that, far from stopping terrorism, this particular action will have boosted terrorism from Libya and elsewhere.
§ Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)
Does the right hon. Gentleman recollect that it is not so long ago that he advocated bombing a very much less aggressive leader? Does he not remember Liberal policy to bomb Zimbabwe?
§ Mr. Steel
The hon. Member's memory is faulty. Firstly, it was certainly not anything that I ever said and, secondly, the proposal was to damage the railway line carrying oil supplies across the desert.
The real argument which has been produced in favour of this action is that it has taught Colonel Gaddafi a lesson. That is undeniable. I believe the great powers, the great civilisations, do not enhance their reputation by giving vent to their frustrations in terrible acts of indiscriminate revenge, and that is how it is seen in the rest of the world.
There are three short lessons from this episode. Firstly, the United States Administration is right to complain of an inadequate European response to terrorism and to the acts of Libya. That is why I believe, and my party and our alliance believe, that the Government should take the evidence that they have both to the European Community and to the United Nations, and seek a collective response to Libya's actions. Europe should act more unitedly, both against terrorism, and I believe, in the longer run, on the wider issues of the Middle East problem, on which Europe 889 has done nothing since the days when Lord Carrington was chairman of the Council of Ministers. I think we ought to revise those initiatives.
The second lesson is that we ought to look at the arrangements for the use of American bases. The Attlee-Truman accord is very much out of date. It was never published, and it should now be revised, published and approved. If damage is not to be caused to the NATO Alliance, there must be no doubt as to the conditions under which American bases in this country are used. The Government made a severe error of judgment. I believe that the British people will share that view and that they would rather see a Government with a broader view of British interests in the world and a Government who will think that it is conceivable, occasionally, to say no to the occupant of the White House.
§ Mr. Edward Heath (Old Bexley and Sidcup)
The Prime Minister has emphasised that throughout the Government have had to make an assessment of the possibilities of dealing with terrorism through the United States action and, the consequences which would follow, not only for our own country, but for Europe and the western world. She has also emphasised the difficulty of making such an assessment. I think we all recognise that. That means that there is room for differences of assessment in this matter.
There are also lessons of history to be drawn upon. They came about some 30 years ago. For a few of us in this House the memories of what happened then have come back very vividly, when there was a dictator who was over-estimated in the Mediterranean area. One of my hon. Friends may say that the consequences which flowed from that arose because the action was not carried through to a logical conclusion, to which the answer is that it was not possible to carry it through to a logical conclusion.
The main question which faces us now is whether it is possible to carry this action through to a logical conclusion and what will be the consequences of so doing. That leaves still the whole question of the inflation of tension and the effect of bombing action on the Mediterranean and the middle east. After the earlier incident Nasser's influence was greatly increased. The trouble which he caused was extended on a much wider base than it had been previously. We saw that other countries in the middle east were forced to go along with him. We also saw that for 15 years our own interests suffered dramatically because of those affairs in the middle east. We should learn from those lessons when we are trying to make an assessment of the present situation.
§ Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch)
Just in case anyone forgets, perhaps my right hon. Friend should remind many hon. Members who were not in the House then that it was the Americans who prevented us from doing what we were trying to do.
§ Mr. Heath
I was coming to a real difference in the situation, which was that President Eisenhower and the American Administration strongly took the view that such action was not justifiable under article 51 of the United Nations charter and did everything possible to prevent that action taking place. As a result, the United States was much more influential in the middle east and was much 890 more highly esteemed than at almost any time since. That was particularly the case because the action which we took was only a few days before the presidential election and it meant the United States taking a decision which many interpreted as being hostile to Israel. Therefore, that was a remarkable decision by President Eisenhower.
On the question of terrorism, I have no illusions whatever about Prsident Gaddafi and his involvement in terrorism, including the IRA. Like my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, I too have suffered from terrorism on two occasions. I realise all the implications of terrorism but the issue here is, what is the best way to deal with terrorism and how does one deal with it?
§ Mr. Marlow
I hope I am not anticipating what my right hon. Friend is about to say. If he had been Prime Minister and the President of the United States said that he would attack Libya anyway, and had my right hon. Friend been asked whether the United States could use British bases, what would he have said?
§ Mr. Heath
I shall come to that. There is another lesson of history, to which I wish to draw attention, which deals specifically with that point.
On involvement in terrorism, we must be aware that in many other countries, particularly in the middle east, Governments are actively involved in terrorism, and international terrorism at that. So we are faced with the further question: how are those countries to be dealt with if this is deemed to be an acceptable way of dealing with terrorism?
In 1956 there was only one international lawyer who believed that article 51 of the United Nations charter was the right way to deal with the matter. One Government adviser took the other view but all the rest of those engaged in international law were against it. I have heard of only one international lawyer today who believes that article 51 justifies United States action. Therefore, it can only be justified in some other way.
I do not believe that article 51, as drafted, was ever intended to deal with such situations. It was intended to be an approval of pre-emptive action when the attack on a nation was absolutely clear. It may be, as the Leader of the Opposition has said, that international law needs to be brought up to date to deal with terrorism. There is no doubt that international action needs to be brought up to date to deal with it. But that is a different question from arguing at this moment that article 51 is sufficient justification.
I come now to the point put by my hon. Friend, the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow). Let us not be under any misapprehension about the situation between this country and the United States. Of course, the United States has massive forces in Europe. So do the European countries themselves—in fact, proportionally more than the United States. The United States has forces in Europe because it has vital interests in Europe. It is in the vital interest of the United States not to allow the Soviet Union to overwhelm Europe. These are facts of life. Above all, foreign policy has to be realistic.
Of course, we owed a great deal to the United States during the war, but the rest of the world owed a great deal to Britain. For one single year we stood alone with the Commonwealth facing the dictator. If it had not been that we were able and prepared to do that, the United States would have been faced with a fascist dictatorship right across Europe. So let us accept that there is a proper basis for our relationship so far as Europe is concerned.
891 My hon. Friend asked me what my reply to the United States would have been. We had to deal with an equally difficult question during the Yom Kippur war in the middle east in 1973. We were asked for the use of bases, including those in Cyprus. The reply which my Government sent to the United States was no.
§ Mr. Heath
My hon. Friend may shout, "Disgraceful", but that was done in the reality of British interests, which is what the Prime Minister and the Cabinet are concerned with. My hon. Friend's grandfather was quoted in the House yesterday, again on what happened 30 years ago. What his grandfather said was, "I would never have been so bold to do it, but on the other hand neither would I have been so foolish".
§ Mr. Churchill
As I was present when the statement to which my right hon. Friend refers was made, may I point out that my grandfather said, "I do not know that I would have initiated it. I certainly would not have dared to stop halfway."
§ Mr. Heath
I was quoting what my hon. Friend's grandfather said to me at dinner at the corner table of the Dining Room.
I return to the question of the British-American relationship. We were respected because we said to the United States what we believed to be right: that we should not become involved on one side in the Yom Kippur war. The United States respected us for doing so. President Nixon and Henry Kissinger respected us because they knew that we were looking after what we believed to be the British national interest. We were not prepared to alienate the middle east or the Arab world. We certainly did not wish to see Israel overrun, but we were determined to defend British interests. That was why our oil supplies were continued and why we were able to keep the flow of oil going to our European allies, even though that was not publicised at the time.
When one tries to learn the lessons, and estimate the influence which such events can have on the Arab world and on the people involved, such as President Nasser then, I cannot come to the conclusion that this action by the United States will destroy terrorism, nor do I believe that bombing cities is the right way to attempt to destroy terrorism. It is essential that we use all our resources—the intelligence services have been mentioned and the forces of law and order exist—in dealing with terrorism. In some respects countries in Europe have been successful in this. Alas, we have not been successful in Northern Ireland and it is not because we do not have forces there, because we have. It has never been suggested that we should bomb IRA camps on the west coast of Ireland. The real point is how we overcome terrorism by the use of our intelligence system, and our forces of law and order. It is that upon which we should concentrate. For us or for the United States to bomb cities cannot be justified.
§ Sir Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)
This morning I had an opportunity to go over the instructions to the American aircrews in my constituency. They did not bomb cities, they bombed precise military targets. They accepted considerable risks and did not unleash their bombs precisely because they were instructed not to bomb cities.
§ Mr. Heath
My hon. Friend cannot deny that civilian casualties occurred. Is my hon. Friend trying to tell me that the five embassies and the apartment buildings that were hit and the children who were killed were not affected by this? Of course they were. In making an assessment one has to recognise that a military operation in circumstances like this cannot be carried out without an enormous risk of civilian casualties.
§ Mr. Heath
I have given way and cannot give way any more.
This is part of the assessment one has to make and it must be foremost in one's mind when carrying out action of this kind.
My last point is about the escalation of military action. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister says that she has not committed herself but has kept the option open, but we must consider seriously whether we want to become still more involved in future activities of this kind. We must accept that the past has happened and that is that, whether we thought it was right or not. We have to address ourselves to the future. Are we prepared to see more actions of this kind by the United States air force against Libya? We should not be prepared to accept that.
We need to go to the root of the middle east problem, which is the future of the Palestinians and the relationship between Israel and the Arab world. It is neglect of that above everything else that is leading to the tension in the middle east. Unfortunately, initiatives taken by President Carter have not been carried on by the present Administration, which has been one-sided in its attitude to the middle east. I hope my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister did not intend to imply that all the troubles come from the Arab world. What about the Israeli invasion of the Lebanon? No one has been able to justify that. The Palestinians and the relationship between Israel and the Arab world form the crux of the matter, and a determined attempt is required if we are to reach a solution to the middle east problem. We should not become further involved in the bombing of Libya.
§ Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Devonport)
The right hon. Gentleman has spoken about the decision he took in 1973 and asks us to look to the future. Given his experience of joint decision-making about the use of bases, does he believe that a British Prime Minister has the right to question very carefully the detail of any action that is taking place, and can look at the targeting strategy arising out of any request by the United States to use air bases in Britain?
§ Mr. Heath
Under the agreement I am sure that is the case. On television yesterday I heard the United States Secretary of Defence say that the British asked a lot of questions. Of course that right exists. I have also said that not only is there a right of veto, but that it has been used and accepted by the United States, because it recognised that we were not prepared to go along with a certain policy. That policy would have required us to take one side in the Yom Kippur war and we were determined, with the support of Parliament, not to go on either side in that war. My answer contains more than the right hon. Gentleman asked for. The right of veto exists.
§ Mr. William Cash (Stafford)
Does my right hon. Friend not accept that the Yom Kippur war was between 893 Israel and Egypt and that the United States was also involved? This is a completely different situation between America and Libya and we are involved as allies of America.
§ Mr. Heath
I cannot agree with my hon. Friend. His point in no way affects the Truman-Churchill agreement or the power of a British Prime Minister to say no, and for that to be accepted by the United States. In that respect, it is not a different situation. Some people would say that my hon. Friend is in the wrong and that this situation is not one for NATO. There is a powerful argument that all of these matters are limited to NATO and that this situation in Libya is not a matter for NATO. My hon. Friend ought to be careful on that point as well.
I should like to return to the crucial point about what will happen if this escalates. To judge from reports, it may be that Colonel Gaddafi is no longer alive. None of us knows. If Monday's action has not stopped the development of terrorism, what is the next stage? It should not be escalated into further conflict in the middle east. We should attempt to deal with terrorism in the basic way, the way in which we have always had to deal with it, through our intelligence services and our forces of law and order. We should also deal with the basic problem that is the cause of terrorism in so many countries—the conflict between Israel and the Arab world.
§ Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South and Penarth)
I heartily concur with the general theme of the speech of the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), and especially with his conclusion about the need for attention to the middle east. I congratulate him on what he said. I seek no indulgence for myself for whatever I have to say in this House, but the undignified manner in which some hon. Members on the Government Benches behave when the right hon. Gentleman is addressing the House on a serious subject does the Conservative party no good at all. I urge Conservative hon. Members to consider the way in which they behave on such occasions.
The right hon. Gentleman took us into history and I propose to do the same, because there is some idea that history began on 3 May 1979 when the Prime Minister entered into her inheritance.
Let us consider what happened in 1950. For obvious reasons, it was never envisaged in 1950, when American aircraft were stationed here for the purpose of protecting Britain and other countries in Europe, that they could also be used by the United States with British permission for purposes outside NATO. It never occurred to anyone that they would be put to the use for which they were used on Monday, namely, beginning an operation from this country and ending it in this country. In our minds at the time was the thought that if the United States wished to use aircraft that had been posted here for NATO purposes, the probable use would be either in Korea or in the far east generally. In the 1950s King Idris was still on the throne in Libya, and remained there until 1969, when Gaddafi took over, and the range of aircraft in those days was such that it was not possible to conceive of operations beginning and ending in Britain and involving someone against whom the Americans chose to operate.
Under the terms of the Truman-Attlee agreement there is no obligation on the Prime Minister, either moral or 894 implied, that would have required her to give her consent on Monday when she was asked for it. There may have been other obligations on her, such as the obligations of friendship and those of an ally. There may even have been an obligation in view of the assistance generously given to us by the United States during the Falklands war—an obligation which I wish had never been incurred, because I have always held the view that it was an unnecessary war—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] It could have been avoided, but I shall not go into that this afternoon.
The obligation on the Prime Minister was to consider whether this was in the best interests of Britain and the United States, as well as in the interests of promoting the object that she had in mind. On all these matters I answer no. I have anticipated the question that the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) would have asked me had I been in office, because all who have held that difficult position must honestly address themselves to it and consider how they would have replied.
I hope that hon. Members will not sneer, but had the Americans come to me I would have said, "I hope that you will not formally ask me, because if you do it will be very difficult to say no, but I believe that it is wrong." I do not know whether they would have desisted, but had they insisted and made a formal request I would have said no, for reasons which I shall explain in a moment. As the Prime Minister regarded refusal as inconceivable, it shows how the lapse of time can blur old understandings and create new obligations.
It is worth reminding ourselves of the history of this matter. I doubt whether the snake has been scotched. It certainly has not been killed. The sense of genuine outrage that the people of the United States share may have been met by the action taken yesterday, but I do not believe that the long-term interests either of the United States or of anyone else have been enhanced by what has taken place.
Terrorism has many branches. It existed in the middle east before Gaddafi came to power in Libya. For example, there was the extremist wing of the PLO. Nor, as we all know, are its roots to be found only in Libya. Some terrorist groups exist as near outlaws, with the hand of every state against them. Others are tolerated by the state in which they settle. But I make a distinction—and the House should do so as well when trying to understand the American position—between the existence of those groups and countries which not only harbour terrorists but recruit, train, finance and send such groups on missions to kill and maim innocent men and women. That is what Libya practises.
America's action was misconceived, but it leaves unanswered the question that we must address, because we all have a joint responsibility. How does the civilised world grapple with state-sponsored terrorism in particular, and with terrorism in general? My difficulty with what the Prime Minister and the United States have done is that one can get rid of Gaddafi, but one cannot bomb terrorism out of existence.
Europe has not covered itself with glory on this matter—that I fully concede. We ignored the rising cry of frustrated outrage from the United States as it witnessed a series of attacks on its own defenceless travellers and holidaymakers. It is even alleged that some European countries purchased an immunity from terrorist attacks by turning a blind eye to the passage of Libyan terrorists through their territories as they went on their way to commit murder. If that is true, it is deeply shameful.
895 We have limited our response to American requests for help and to a number of minor matters. An ally asked us for help, and the British Government have tried to go further than some other Governments have been willing to go. The other members of the Community would not even agree to close their embassies. As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said, why do we not cut off all trade with Libya, make it illegal to use Libyan airports and refuse to buy their oil? Those are questions not only for this Government, but for Europe as a whole, and Europe has shown itself to be woefully lacking in this situation.
§ Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East)
I am sure that most, if not all, hon. Members will agree with everything that the right hon. Gentleman has just said, but do not some European countries have a more robust attitude to the need for a profound and underlying settlement of the middle eastern problem than exists in the United States?
§ Mr. Callaghan
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to respond to that point when I conclude my speech in a few minutes. It is agreed by almost every hon. Member that we should isolate Libya from our world, but we should then seek to isolate the terrorists from their own world. There is a potential division at least between those who use terrorism in the middle east to achieve their ends and those who use terrorism to sabotage any settlement or agreement. Libya's ruler belongs to the second group.
There are some in the first group with whom some compromise might one day be possible, and we should work to separate the two. In an entirely different category are those Arab states which have no more liking for Gaddafi than we have, but which may be driven at present to appear to be siding with him, although they will disengage as quickly as they can.
I would have told President Reagan that Gaddafi was not central to the solution of the middle east question, but it is the inability to reach a middle east settlement that strengthens Gaddafi. We can weaken him if we give some hope to those middle east states to which I have referred in order to reinforce their self-confidence and make them feel more secure and willing to outface the rejectionists. That is the path of wisdom that we should follow. It will not deal immediately with terrorism, but it will weaken and undercut the terrorists in what they are trying to do.
The West as a whole must address itself to the genuine grievances on which terrorists thrive, and here the role of the United States is crucial. During the 1970s, under three successive Administrations, the Americans appeared to occupy more central ground than President Reagan does today. The United States then had more of the appearance of a mediator. But during the 1980s her misconceived intervention in Lebanon has given her the appearance of a participant—alas, with no apparent long-term policy.
America's diplomacy today has neither the intensity of President Carter's efforts at Camp David nor the sustained energy and the constructive mind of Henry Kissinger when he applied himself to this problem. He was not successful, but there was a sense of momentum and of trying to find solutions even to small problems that gave everyone the feeling that something would happen.
Four years ago, after the slaughter in the Sabra and Chatila camps in Lebanon, President Reagan made a speech with much of which I was in agreement. Unfortunately, Israel rejected it out of hand, to my great regret. I do not know what happened afterwards, but 896 President Reagan seemed to lose interest in the problem. America's efforts, which are vital to success, have become spasmodic and impulsive. There have been periods of activity, interspersed with months of neglect.
For a long time now, those of us who have watched the middle east situation develop have noticed that the United States has done little except talk procedure as a substitute for substance. Endless discussions have taken place at a secondary level on how to get various participants around a table, but I am not aware of any discussion of the substance of the dispute—such as the need to remove the legitimate grievances of the West Bank inhabitants, the conditions of security for Israel, and so on. In the face of this, both President Mubarak and King Hussein of Jordan appear to have lost heart.
When the Prime Minister sees King Hussein—I understood her to say that it would be this week—I hope that she will raise, not these piddling questions of procedure, but what proposals of substance we in Europe can put forward. Perhaps she could galvanise other European countries into presenting some sort of approach on substantial matters. I hope that the Prime Minister will tell the United States, which is vital to success, in terms which I hope it will find acceptable, that it is its responsibility, not merely to consider how it can next respond to terrorist attacks, but how it can substantially and methodically restart this difficult process, which some believe is impossible. Nevertheless, that process must be attempted because we are dealing with the most volatile area in the world today. It is far more dangerous than Afghanistan or south-east Asia. I hope that the Prime Minister will take that line when she meets King Hussein.
I am fearful when European politicians say in despair that nothing will succeed. If nothing will succeed, let us build the air raid shelters now. This must not he the last word, but if it is and the President does not put his full personal authority behind an attempt to make progress on the Arab-Israeli problem and to create some momentum, not only will America fall flat on her face in Libya, as she did in the Lebanon, but the most volatile area in the world could set the rest of the world aflame.
I do not suggest that a resumption of negotiations will put an end to state-sponsored terrorism, but it would certainly serve to isolate terrorists and those who harbour them from other states in the middle east. Europe should pull itself together. It has played a most inglorious role. I do not think that the Government were behind hand in this matter. Indeed, I wish that they had gone further. Certainly many European states could have gone much further and responded to some of the Foreign Secretary's suggestions.
I make one further suggestion. The Soviet Union should be drawn into the fight against terrorism. It has declared that it is against state terrorism and terrorism. I do not know what value we can attribute to its words, but a summit will undoubtedly take place. When a dialogue takes place between the two great powers, and between President Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev, a discussion on how all of us can use their considerable influence to end this hateful practice which is disfiguring the world today should be in a prominent place on the agenda.
I have made several criticisms of the United States' actions and its failure to act. I do not do so destructively. I am a firm adherent of the value of the United States in the NATO Alliance, and I am a great admirer of the American people, their energy, spirit, and willingness to 897 tackle problems which the rest of us will not. Our friends in the United States have committed many errors, but who is without error? Not even my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Brown).
It is the task of Europe and the United States to resolve the differences which have grown up and to which both sides have contributed, so that we may add to the peace of the world.
§ Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)
If the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan) intended to include my intervention in the speech of the right hon. Member for Isiwyn (Mr. Kinnock) in his strictures on my Conservative colleagues which I would reject, perhaps I may tell him that when I told the Leader of the Opposition that I had no wish to destroy his speech I was speaking no less than the truth. I sought to bring home to the right hon. Gentleman—I hope that the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) will bring this home to his leader—that on two occasions he had been guilty of a most serious misquotation of President Reagan's comments.
Yesterday the Leader of the Opposition asked:Will the Prime Minister further accept that, far from bringing down a 'curtain on Gaddafi's reign of terror', as the President put it last night and as he claims, his adventure against Libya has failed to achieve the objective of terminating terrorism?"—[Official Report, 15 April 1986; Vol. 95, c. 731.]As I tried to remind the right hon. Gentleman today, and as he would have seen if he had taken the trouble to check his sources, President Reagan said:I have no illusion that tonight's action will bring down the curtain on Gaddifi's reign of terror.That could scarcely be more different from the words which the right hon. Gentleman has twice tried to put into President Reagan's mouth. However unsatisfactory the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth may find that, I hope that he will accept that no hon. Member should be required to sit in silence while such a travesty of the truth is perpetrated on us.
I do not wish to speak at length, and I am aware, not merely that a great many right hon. and hon. Members wish to speak, but that we are speaking while events may be developing in Libya about which we should like to know more. When my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary replies, I hope that he can update us a little.
It is worth reflecting that the public remain surprised by the events. It is not in the least surprising that many of my hon. Friends have had constituents ringing up and searching for answers to questions. We should like some questions, about the details of what happened and why, answered clearly—not the questions about the evidence on which America thought it right to take action, because they must have been disposed of. I cannot claim to have seen the original texts, but I hope that the right hon. Gentlemen who have can confirm that they are satisfied.
It would be useful to have an authoritative answer to a question which one of my colleagues asked me; that is, why it was necessary for F-111 aircraft from the United Kingdom to be used in attacking Tripoli while it was apparently adequate to use aircraft from a United States' carrier against Benghazi. I think it is because some F-111 aircraft have an electronic counter-measure capability 898 which was absolutely essential to allow any of the aircraft to penetrate to their targets. It would be valuable to have that information confirmed and in the public domain. It will certainly confirm what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister rightly pointed out that, had those F-111 aircraft not been available, the risk of failure of the enterprise would have been greater and the number of civilian and military casualties larger. None of us could have wished for that through our fault, as it would have been.
There is a peripheral question about which I hope my right hon. and learned Friend can say something. We know what the Libyan people's bureau in Berlin has been up to. We should like to know what action is likely to be taken against it. [AN HON. MEMBER: "In East Berlin".] There may also be contacts in West Berlin.
Equally important is the question how we can minimise the likelihood of our being asked for the use of the F-111 aircraft again. That must be an objective, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that she had reserved the United Kingdom position on that, and rightly so. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary can follow up the remarks of the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth about Europe, because both sides of the House must share a feeling that Europe as a whole does not come out of this affair with great distinction. When we are confronted with disappointments of European policy in many other areas, we and our people should be given some evidence that Europe genuinely exists as an international force for good. Europe must respond to this opportunity, and I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will agree that we should give a lead.
The right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel) asked whether we were more in the line of fire since Tripoli than previously. It must be difficult to give a categorical answer, but we can analyse the question for ourselves. After all, if the Libyan terrorists were preparing to machine-gun and bomb a queue of innocent people waiting for visas at the American embassy in Paris, they might equally have chosen to do the same in Grosvenor square. We must not suppose that we were ever in the comfortable position of not being a target for Libyan terrorism.
We should look back to the incident in St. James's square as well. It is worth asking ourselves why WPC Fletcher was murdered. She was there because a peaceful demonstration was being held outside the Libyan people's bureau. Why was that demonstration being held? As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn) has reminded me, it took place because a protest was being made by Libyan exiles living in this country against the public hanging in Tripoli by the Gaddafi regime of a 14–year-old boy. It is just as well to get some of these facts in perspective when we consider why we were targets. It was because people in our country were exercising the freedoms we cherish by daring to protest against that atrocity.
§ Mr. Onslow
There are those matters where loose ends must be tidied up. In general, I believe that, as the facts become clearer, public support for my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will become steadily stronger. For some hon. Members it will always be nice to be neutral. 899 I can see some members of the Opposition who come into that category. There will always be some hon. Members, as there have been for many years, whose reaction is to attack the Conservative party on any issue, regardless of its merits.
§ Mr. Onslow
I know the hon. Gentleman is one of them; he does not need to remind me. The hon. Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Litherland), who is also trying to interrupt me, is another. They—or perhaps it was their fathers—used to say at the time of the Suez crisis that a Tory's patriotism shows only when someone is going to get killed. That remark was as untrue and as objectionable as it would have been to say that a Socialist's or a Liberal's patriotism shows only when nobody is going to get killed. As a nation, we do not rejoice in war. We may rejoice in victory because it means the end of war, but we do not rind anything admirable in war itself.
What has happened has quite rightly brought us face to face with some very unpleasant realities. We cannot dodge the choices. We were not in a situation in which we could he neutral, not because of the effect that would have had on the Western Alliance—although there would have been such an effect—and not only because of the effect it might have had on the special relationship between this country and America—although there would have been such an effect—but because we would have found it impossible, when we looked at ourselves in the mirror, to retain our self-respect had we prevented our best and firmest ally from justified action in defence of its own citizens.
§ Mr. Ken Weetch (Ipswich)
The bombing of Benghazi and Tripoli is now an established fact. This House should be making a sober appraisal of the consequences for British foreign policy of what I describe as this military adventurism. Sober consequences will certainly follow. If we examine the whole incident in the light of the basic objectives of British foreign policy, perhaps we shall begin to make an assessment.
The major objective of British foreign policy in this area is to prevent instability in a very criticial area of the world. With the Americans, we have as a major aim in foreign affairs to keep oil flowing from the Gulf and to try to minimise the penetration of Soviet influence throughout the middle east. What will be the result on those policy aims of what has happened in the past 24 hours? I believe that the net result has been detrimental to all those basic aims of British foreign policy. First, at one stroke we have strengthened Gaddafi throughout the Arab world. Secondly, American and British influence has, almost overnight, reached a critically low ebb. Thirdly, we have fractured the relationships in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and in the European Economic Community.
Critical questions must also be asked about the Anglo-American relationship. The word "supine" has been used several times in this debate. It means being invertebrate, and frankly the British Government can be accused of being supine in the worst possible way in the face of American military adventurism in a very unstable part of the globe. The United States mounted an air strike on a middle eastern target, outside its area of responsibility in 900 NATO, from bases in Suffolk, whose political representation I share in this House. Quite characteristically, yesterday the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) put his finger on the pulse of a very critical point. Let us suppose that the present situation was more critical and that the risks involved led to the possibility of a nuclear exchange. In the light of this incident, what assurance do we have that American consultation with Britain is anything more than casual and perfunctory?
To me it has never been a question of evidence whether the Libyans were or were not involved in terrorism; I suspect that they probably have been involved on a number of occasions. The question I ask is whether this crude act of retribution is the way to run a foreign policy in international law between civilised nations, and the answer is that it definitely is not. The test of civilised behaviour does not arise when a country is opposed by civilised people; the critical test of civilised behaviour is when it is opposed by adversaries who throw such behaviour to the wind. This House is horrified by terrorism, but what is the point of devastating a residential area of Tripoli, with, according to The Times today, over 100 casualties and the destruction of the French Embassy? If that is an example of pinpoint surgical bombing, God help us.
§ Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)
The hon. Gentleman is aware that at least one aircraft did not return. Is it not possible that that aircraft abandoned its load when it was hit?
§ Mr. Weetch
I do not see the relevance of that intervention. The point I am trying to make is that, even in the face of terrorism and the basic emotional response to which terrorism gives rise, it is wrong to indulge in bombing.
The Americans take a very simplistic view of world affairs. On the one side there is moral good; on the other side there is great moral evil. For a while moral good is up against it, but do not worry; the cavalry is coming over the hill. Unfortunately, that is President Reagan's view of world affairs. He views this action as a B-movie incident.
§ Mr. Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross)
I am interested in the hon. Gentleman's concept of morality: that if the Leader of the Opposition's proposal were adopted, we could starve out the Libyans by the imposition of economic sanctions. Does the hon. Gentleman regard the starving out of people as moral? Would it not be likely to create just as much terrorism as bombing?
§ Mr. Weetch
President Gaddafi is viewed with almost complete distaste in many areas of the middle east. In recent months his domestic position has been critically weakened because of the fall in the price of oil. He and his regime are in difficulties. However, at one stroke the United States and the United Kingdom have strengthened his position and put him on the map again. I do not make a distinction between the morality of one action compared with the morality of another. My point is that an exploration of every other alternative was preferable to the action that has been taken. British foreign policy interests in the middle east have been critically damaged.
I am a Member of Parliament for a Suffolk constituency. The F1–11s flew to Libya from Suffolk. One can protect military bases against subversion, but what protection can be offered to the ordinary citizens in my 901 constituency against the subversion that could very well take place? Gaddafi has been described as a mad dog. Mad dogs wander and they bite. The area of East Anglia that I represent is now more in the front line than it has ever been, and it has been put needlessly at risk. It is one thing to say that we cannot control the United States because it is the most powerful country in the world. It is quite another to be drawn into an incident like this that was based upon sheer, blind folly.
§ Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas (Chelmsford)
May I say how much I welcome the fact that this debate is taking place today. I want to make a constitutional point. It arises from one that was made yesterday by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn). He complained that Parliament had been treated in a cavalier fashion. But the conduct of foreign affairs from time immemorial has been in the hands of the Executive. There has never been an obligation to obtain the sanction of this House before taking action. The role of the House of Commons is rather different. It is to debate, assess and elucidate the action taken and, on the information elicited, to pass judgment—to accept it or to condemn it.
Therefore, my first conclusion is that the Prime Minister and the Government have acted constitutionally throughout and that the House, too, has played its proper role. Today it has played its role particularly well. It has been debating these grave matters in language which is restrained, moderate and suitable to the seriousness of the situation. I hope that through this debate we can establish as much common ground as possible, though there are clearly great differences of opinion.
I found much in the condemnation of terrorism in the speech of the Leader of the Opposition with which I agree. However, he made two points with which I must express the most profound disagreement. The first was that this action in Libya by the United States was motivated by a lust for reprisal. I do not think that that was the motivation. The motivation was, rather, that in the future citizens of the free countries of the world should not be subjected to the kind of attacks that they have suffered in the past. The motivation of the United States was to reduce that risk.
The second point upon which I disagree with the right hon. Gentleman is his assumption that the American action was in breach of international law. There can be differences of opinion about that. However, I assure the Leader of the Opposition that if the Prime Minister had been advised by those who know much more about the legality of these matters than I or the Leader of the Opposition that this was a clear breach of international law, she would never have given her support to the United States.
Those are two points of disagreement, but Parliament's role remains crucial. One of the factors that resulted in a successful outcome to the Falklands war was that Parliament was united. I do not suppose that we shall get a united Parliament on this issue, but today we can reduce the gap between the different points of view. That gap has been reduced. Nobody has made a greater contribution to that reduction than the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan), a former Prime 902 Minister, whose contribution today ranks in importance with any of his contributions of the past. He concentrated our minds on the underlying issues in this tragic conflict.
My next point is that the American action and the use of British bases cannot be considered meaningfully in isolation. They must be seen all the time in the context of a worldwide terrorism which has become such a dominant feature of the international scene. Terrorism, with the single exception of nuclear war, is the greatest threat that faces the entire world. The part played by Colonel Gaddafi was well enough established before this debate, but it is a gain to have established again and again just what role that man has played.
In her detailed account of the Libyan interventions, using sources that are available only to her, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister put the matter beyond all reasonable doubt. And may I say this: on defence and security issues my right hon. Friend has been more forthcoming to this House than any of her predecessors.
A primary duty of democratic states is to take whatever legitimate action is necessary to contain and control terrorism. Force must not be used in the first resort, but we must be prepared to use it in the last resort. It is only when all hope of peaceful settlement of disputes has been exhausted that force should be used. I believe that to have been the case in these circumstances.
My next point—and I was delighted to hear my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) make it—is that the purpose of British foreign policy is the advancement of British interests. No one feels more than I do the sentiment of affection, regard and kinship for the United States of America. I share this feeling with the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth and with the Prime Minister herself. But sentiment cannot determine foreign policy. It was Palmerston who said—and not, I say to my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup, to me at a dinner party at Brook's—that in foreign affairs friendships rise and fall but interests abide. I was delighted also to hear the right hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth make that point.
He took up the Prime Minister on something that she said yesterday, that it was inconveivable that the request from the United States should have been refused. I took that to mean not that it was inconceivable in any circumstances that the request should be refused but that, in the light of the circumstances that she knew and had assessed, it was inconceivable to give a negative response. That is a very different thing. The question was also raised by the right hon. Gentleman of the obligation on the Prime Minister in these circumstances. The obligation is to defend British interests. The truth of the matter is that there is no other country in the world, not even the United States, which has a greater interest in defeating terrorism than we have.
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
Our trade, our position at the centre of the Commonwealth, our very life, depend on free movement by sea and by air. All that is threatened by terrorism.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
Would the right hon. Gentleman then say that, if we have a great and overriding interest in defeating terrorism, and if British nationals either here or 903 abroad are subjected to Libyan attacks, arising out of our support for the United States, the British Government themselves should bomb Libya?
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
The hon. Gentleman has misunderstood what I was saying about our interests. Of course, it is the general national interest that must be considered. It may well be, tragically enough, in certain circumstances that the interests of individuals have to be sacrificed to the promotion of the general interest. I hope that that answers the hon. Gentleman's point.
It was in the light of protecting and advancing British interests that the Prime Minister and other Ministers took the decision that they did. It was an extremely difficult decision, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour) said yesterday. Great risks were involved in that decision, but I am satisfied, as I suppose most reasonable people will be satisfied, that every reasonable step was taken to limit the damage.
This was not totally successful, of course, and it is absolutely right that we should express our profound regret that innocent people have lost their lives. When the Prime Minister said that, there were jeers from some Members on the Opposition Benches. What would they have said if she had expressed no regret? There would have been equal condemnation.
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
My right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup said that the important thing now is to look to the future. There is no doubt that the demonstration that those who are the victims and potential victims of terror are ready to defend themselves is, and will be, an effective deterrent. That deterrent will be as powerful as is the sustaining of our resolution to condemn, resist and, if necessary, in extreme circumstances to punish international crime and outrage. If that resolution goes, everything that has been gained will have been lost. In this extremely hazardous situation the Prime Minister, along with her other Ministers who were consulted, acted with courage but also with balance and foresight. For that reason she will have my support in the Lobby.
§ Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)
As a matter of fact, there has been very little support for what the Government have done, either abroad or in the country or in the House. There are three objections. One was expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Weetch) who pointed to the fear of Libyan reprisals—whether under article 51 or not has not been made clear. Another objection takes the form of the fear expressed by the Financial Times today that this will damage British interests.
The third objection, the one that I feel most strongly, takes the form of a sense of outrage at what was done and at the deaths of those in Tripoli, a fully lighted city bombed by night—and if Gaddafi's adopted daughter was killed, it must have been because the F1–11s were chosen to pinpoint his residence.
Yesterday in the House 22 peace groups—the United Nations Association and a whole range of others—met and issued a statement denouncing the attack and calling for a ban on the use of the bases in the future and for the matter to be referred to the United Nations. On Saturday 904 there is to be a big demonstration in London and a rally in Hyde Park. People will be surprised to find how much opposition there is to what has been done.
§ Mr. Benn
No, I am not giving way to the hon. Gentleman. I have much to say and I do not want to take too much time.
The official explanation by the Prime Minister, in very strident statements yesterday and today, is that there were 330,000 American troops in western Europe preserving human freedom and that it was inconceivable that, if they were needed to kill some Libyans as a reprisal for the terrorism, she should refuse to consent. I was strongly reminded, along with other hon. Members—although there are perhaps not many survivors—of the Suez situation 30 years ago. The language used about Gaddafi now was used about Nasser then. The Prime Minister said all the same things. The difference is that Eden had rather more support from his side than has the present Prime Minister, because at that time we were defending British predominance in the middle east. I was opposed to that war and was right in opposing it, because it ended in disaster for this country and did enormous damage to a whole range of British interests and to the cause of world peace. Anyone who thinks that this is the first time we have heard such language as the Prime Minister used today should read the debates of 1956.
There are some survivors. The right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) sitting on the Front Bench below the Gangway, who today thinks that we should have gone further, was one of the most passionate of the Suez men and may be unchanged, although the former Prime Minister, looking back on an Administration of which he was, I think, a member, may give a slightly different version of what was done. Let us at least be truthful with ourselves.
The Americans are in the middle east to protect their own interests. America depends on middle east oil, and middle east oil is threatened, it thinks, by Soviet influence, by Arab nationalism, by Socialist agitation among Arab people and by the unresolved question of the Arab-Israeli conflict about the rights of the Palestinians. The United States has crudely used the Israeli Government as its instrument in the middle east. I regret this very much because I was brought up to be a great believer that the Jews, the Israelis, had the right to a national state, and I have always held that view. However, they have no right to be an American instrument in denying a Palestinian state. The specific root of the problem is that the Americans have decided to use Israel to blank out the right of the Palestinians to a state—
§ Mr. Benn
No, I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman because I do not believe that his intervention would be helpful, based on a study of his earlier intervention.
We must be careful not to mislead ourselves when we use language here that is reported outside. Imperial interests do not mix with human rights. For example, when we were an empire we invaded Afghanistan four times; we governed the whole of India without any form of consent from the Indian people. The most powerful country in the world today is the United States. I have warm feelings 905 about the American people and their traditions—especially because of the defeat in Congress of Reagan's request for $100 million to pay for his terrorists. I have great respect for the American people.
However, the same is not true of the American record—the war in Vietnam, the attack on the Bay of Pigs, the undermining of Allende, the support of Marcos and Papa Doc for many years, the support of the Greek colonels and the Turkish regime, the invasion of Grenada and currently the positive financing of the killing of the people in Nicaragua.
I hope that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary will not ask me to accept that the United States is in Europe or anywhere else to protect human rights. It is there to protect its investments, economic interests and trade routes, exactly as Britain did when it was an empire. One reason why Ministers have supported the Americans so wholeheartedly is that they envy the Americans for being able to engage in the sort of gunboat diplomacy that is now beyond our resources.
The second question is, what is terrorism? "Terrorism" is a word used to define acts of violence by people we do not like. Let us be clear about that. I have never heard the BBC talk about Afghan terrorists attacking the Russian army. I never heard the Maquis in France described as terrorists when they were blowing up restaurants and cafes where the German troops were eating.
The word "terrorist" reflects the view one takes of certain actions. The attack upon people who are troublemakers—sometimes they are called terrorists or nationalists—is also part of our history. I have a long memory on this point. When I was a little boy of five, I was taken to meet Mr. Gandhi in London when he came to the round table conference. Gandhi was described by Churchill as a "half-naked fakir loping up the stairway of the vice-regal lodge to parley on equal terms with representatives of the King emperor." So much for Churchill, the old imperialist. He had contempt for Gandhi, although Gandhi was not a terrorist. He believed that love was more powerful than guns, and I think that he was right.
During the course of my life I have met Nehru, who was in prison, Nkrumah, Cheddi Jagan, Makarios—who was sent away—and Kenyatta. Hon. Members should go to the Library and read the confidential annexe published by the British Government about the Mau Mau oaths, which were so disgusting that they could not even be published. Kenyatta was a Kenyan nationalist. The story of the British empire is that one begins as a terrorist and ends up by having tea with the Queen. I am not necessarily saying that that is what will happen with Colonel Gaddafi—
§ Mr. Benn
I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman because I am saying something that is very painful to the Conservative party.
The British empire ended when the British Government conceded to force. That is what Conservative Members cannot bear. It began as something beyond the pale, but in the end they have to come to terms with it.
The fact that so many speeches today have referred to the right of the Palestinian state to exist is not unrelated to the fact that there has been a great deal of violence around the Palestinian question. It would be nice to think 906 that all arguments could be settled by a public opinion poll and a quick chat in the Cabinet or Shadow Cabinet. The reality is that rights have often been won by force, and none have been readier to use force than successive British Governments. When force is used against what we want to hear, we dismiss it as outrageous—
§ Mr. Benn
I shall not give way because I am coming to my final point.
Why did the Prime Minister agree to the use of British bases? Was it because of the Falklands war? I believe that there was a debt to be discharged. We did not win the Falklands war by sending the task force; we won because the Americans had a satellite system that informed the British forces of the Argentine positions. They supplied the logistics and weapons, but above all they told us the position of the Belgrano so that the Conqueror could sink it. The Prime Minister had an overwhelming obligation—she sought—to pay the price for that American support by agreeing to the use of British bases for the bombing of Libya.
Could the Prime Minister have refused? That is a question that I want answered. The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath)—a former Prime Minister—said that he had once refused consent, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan) said that she could have refused. But could the right hon. Lady have refused? We do not know what the agreements state. There are only three people in the House who have ever seen them. Why are they not published? Why are we not allowed to know the conditions under which this country could be taken into war by a Prime Minister using the Crown prerogative? The right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) said that that was the proper way to govern Britain. We are allowed to advise after the nuclear war; we are only allowed to evaluate what was done after it has been done.
I want to know what would have happened if the Prime Minister had refused? Is there a provision that when there is an overriding American national interest British agreement is not required? I do not know. If the Americans had used the bases without our consent, what would have happened? I do not know. If we had stopped them using them, would we have suffered the fate of David Lange in New Zealand who would not let the Americans with their nuclear weapons into his country? They imposed mini-sanctions against him—
§ Mr. Benn
To have lost Trident would have been a great gain.
If there are lessons to be learnt, let us learn them once and for all. First, there will never be peace in the middle east until the Palestinians have their own state. I say that as a lifelong friend of Israel—someone who wants to see Israel prosper. The Israeli Government have, in some ways, betrayed their people by allowing that state to be an instrument of American imperial policy in the middle east.
Secondly, Britain is entitled to self-determination. We are entitled to decide whether we want to be taken into war 907 through the use of bases in our country. Yet we are not so entitled. Does anyone honestly believe that the Prime Minister would be consulted if radar screens showed something coming from Fylingdales? Does anyone believe that Reagan would contact the Prime Minister—who might be having a bath—with only a four-minute notice period, to obtain her consent to fire missiles? Of course not. Technology itself makes it impossible to consult. In all fairness, the United States has a democratic tradition that we never quite won. The President cannot go to war without the consent of Congress. And here is the right hon. Member for Chelmsford telling us that we have no right even to consider whether we should have a view, although it is our own people who would be affected.
We must now consider very carefully whether we should not close down all the American bases in Britain. It is the policy of the Labour party—and I am very glad that it is and it was a long struggle to get it—to close the nuclear bases.
This action by Reagan was very foolish because he lost more friends and influence by what he did on Monday than he could ever make up for with all his hardware. For we learn that it was the use of conventional forces from British bases that posed the threat with which we now have to live.
I believe most profoundly that the time has come when Britain should realign its foreign policy, not to neutrality on all sides, but to push our influence to end the conflicts between East and West and try to redirect the resources available to our generation to meet the needs of the Third world, instead of building up the nuclear madness, which may very well end with an incident no different from Monday's bombing of Libya and trigger accidentally the destruction of humanity itself.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)
I must remind the House that the 10-minute limit on the length of speeches became effective at 6 o'clock.
§ 6.1 pm
§ Sir Antony Buck (Colchester, North)
In spite of that fact, Mr. Deputy Speaker, perhaps I could deal with one point which the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) raised. I am surprised that he did not wish to deal with it earlier in his own speech. He will have noticed a leading article in The Times of today stating—in my view accurately:Under Mr. Benn's guidance, the regrettable civilian casualties in Tripoli would undoubtedly have been very much greater.I am surprised that he did not deal with that accusation.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the sinking of the Belgrano and suggested that that had some relevance to the attitude taken by the Americans. As to the Falklands, we owe a considerable debt to the Americans, who certainly gave us moral support, but my understanding of the position—I have been to the Falklands and studied it all quite closely—is that American assistance was in no way relevant to the sinking of the Belgrano. She had been followed for two days by HMS Conqueror, which eventually decided that she had to sink the Belgrano when it arrived near the shallows. So it seems to me that the right hon. Gentleman was right off net.
§ Mr. Ashdown
Surely the point about the so-called Falklands debt is that the United States specifically refrained from providing military assistance but did assist 908 in the diplomatic area, and that if we were returning like for like that is the kind of assistance that we might have offered here too.
§ Sir Antony Buck
I hate to be in conflict with the Royal Marines, but I think that the hon. Gentleman is wrong as to that. There was diplomatic initiative all the way through to try to prevent the Falklands action, and the Americans were very supportive of us, but the corps of which the hon. Gentleman used to be a member was so skilful, with the Royal Navy, the Army and the Royal Air Force, that we did not need support from the Americans. There is no question whatsoever of a debt there.
I wish to make it clear that I support what has happened here for the reasons stated by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in the House yesterday. What we are concerned with here is an attempt to deter Gaddafi from terrorism. The history of our land is more redolent than that of any other of proof that appeasement does not pay, particularly when one is dealing with people who are, to say the least, as in the case of Mr. Gaddafi, eccentric. It did not work with regard to Hitler, Mussolini or any other dictator in the past.
In my view, we are right now to take a firm line in the face of the precipitate action and the statements which have been made by a very dangerous dictator. I think it was right for Her Majesty's Government to support what the Americans planned to do and did. We would do well to pause for a moment and consider what would have been the effect of a refusal to assist in the way the American Government wished. Refusing them the right to use their own aircraft, piloted by their own personnel, from bases certainly in our land but under their control would have caused a major crisis.
§ Mr. Robert C. Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne, North)
On this question of the Americans using their own aircraft from this country, as I understand it, the presence of American aircraft in this country is part of the overall North Atlantic Treaty Organisation alliance and if American aircraft are going to be used from this country it should be only within the NATO sphere.
§ Sir Antony Buck
Mr right hon. Friend will deal with that in winding up. My understanding is that, as with some of our own agreements with NATO, the Americans have a right to use their aircraft for what might be described as national purposes when clearance is given by the United Kingdom.
We have to consider what would have been the position if we had refused the American request. First, there would have been a major crisis in the Alliance. Secondly, the Americans would undoubtedly have gone ahead with their bombing of Libya. There would have been no diminution of their resolve to go ahead as a result of our refusing to allow them to use the bases in our country. The result would have been the use of less suitable aircraft for the task, less accuracy of deployment on the military targets and therefore a considerable chance of many more civilian casualties.
Then what would have been the position of Her Majesty's Government? It would have been revealed that we had refused our closest allies, with whom we still have a special relationship, the right to use their own aircraft from bases here, aircraft which are more accurate and the utilisation of which would have resulted in a minimal number of civilian casualties. We would have been in dire 909 straits had we refused. We would have been condemned in the eyes of the world for having caused more civilian casualties, and of course the special relationship with the United States would virtually have been brought to an end.
There would have been a substantial step towards that which we fear more than anything in NATO—a decoupling of the Alliance. If we, the principal ally, had refused what most would have seen as a perfectly reasonable request to use American aircraft, manned by American personnel from American bases here in the United Kingdom, there would have been much more support for decoupling.
It is vital that we maintain the American presence here and also that we acknowledge our debt to the Americans, because it is a great credit to the American people that they, with their country's vast size and enormous power, still keep such a substantial force in Europe and continue to remain the sheet anchor of the NATO Alliance. If we had refused their reasonable request that we go along with this action, we would have done a grave disservice to the whole Alliance and gone a long way towards ruining the bedrock support of that Alliance—the special relationship between ourselves and the United States of America.
§ 6.8 pm
§ Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West)
In a debate of this kind it is important not simply to invite the Government to defend their actions but to bear in mind the importance of opinion—opinion within the House, public opinion in this country, world opinion. It is a matter of great regret that when we consider these matters today we have to note the expression of opinion by Mr. Gandhi on behalf of the non-aligned states, when he made it quite clear that they condemned unambiguously the action which has been taken and regarded it as unhelpful to world peace.
It is very important to recognise that the impact of this exercise has gone well beyond the objective even as described by the Prime Minister. Those who have been killed or seriously injured include Italians, Greeks and Yugoslavs as well as Libyans. That calls for restraint on our part in acknowledging that this was not a technical success; we are entitled to consider this and larger matters.
We are told that the reason for the Government's decision and their failure to inform the House until actions were taken lies in the area of intelligence—intelligence which was made available to them, and in due course to some right hon. Members. I accept that it may well be that there is information that cannot be made available. All of us are against terrorism and all of us want to defeat it. But that said, the House is entitled to assert its right to know and to take the view that there should not be selective intelligence. We are also entitled to ask the Prime Minister, if she made a decision on the basis of the intelligence available to her, why did all but two of our partners in NATO, who presumably had the same intelligence made available to them, not agree with that decision? Why, presumably, did our partners within the EEC, who were again privy to the said intelligence, disagree with her response and that of the United States?
We presume that in Paris they knew about the supposed massacre plot outside the Hotel Talleyrand. We presume that in Bonn they knew about the Berlin bomb. We 910 presume that other countries were well aware of threats to them and to their security. But we are almost alone, apart from the two other NATO countries that I have mentioned, in defending the United States' action. Only now is the rest of the world invited to consider the results. If that evidence is available now, why was it not available when the Foreign Secretary declined to accept the advice that sanctions should be introduced? Was it not available when he addressed his European partners on Monday? If it was, why were they not asked for their opinion?
§ Mr. Clarke
Indeed, I have a specific question which I would like to put to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, but I hope that it will be conveyed to him. It is on the central issue of international law. Following events in St. James's square, the Foreign Secretary experienced a great deal of pressure from Conservative Members and his response was to deplore the kind of actions which the United States has now carried out, assisted by the Government of the United Kingdom. Indeed, he was clear in what he said to the House on 25 April, and on 1 May he said:The most effective answer to international terrorism is international action taken collectively by the major countries."—[Official Report, 1 May 1984; Vol. 59, c. 212.]Nobody would suggest for one moment that what we have seen during the past 24 hours reflects that objective. Nobody would suggest that the Foreign Secretary has acted in accordance with international law on the basis of the interpretation of almost every member of the Security Council, and, I suspect, of many hon. Members.
§ Mr. Clarke
Time is not on my side, so I cannot give way.
Surely any use of force must be directed at preventing or lessening the impact of future events, not as retribution for past events, or are we seeing a new concept? Can there be any doubt that to satisfy international law the force used must be proportionate to the threat, or is there a change in that interpretation as well?
In its report on the phrase "armed attack", as used in the North Atlantic treaty and article 51 of the United Nations charter, the Foreign Relations Committee of the United States Senate gave a clear interpretation when it said:The words 'armed attack' clearly do not mean an incident created by irresponsible groups or individuals, but rather an attack by one state upon another".How then can we regard recent events as fitting into those principles?
The House is then entitled to ask, and will ask, whether that action on the part of our Government and the United States would put an end to terrorism. I think that few hon. Members are convinced that it will. The folly of the United States Administration, and our Government's compliance, will simply lead to tit for tat. Even if Colonel Gaddafi were removed, there would still be Abu Nidal or somebody else to take over and there is not a shred of evidence that their attitude to such matters would be different from his. Indeed, if he is removed it may well be because some people regard him as not being militant enough, and all of us would deplore that.
This kind of response will not lead to an end to international terrorism. It will not end terrorism in Syria, 911 the Lebanon, Nicaragua or even Belfast. More than anything else the lesson of this outrage is that terrorism is not defeated by undertaking acts which offer the greatest possible prospects for sympathy and even martyrdom to the terrorists, and who would doubt that that has been the result?
Instead of avoiding future terrorism—we are told that that is what the Government seek to achieve, and in that we have failed miserably and disappointed many in the world who would like to see that objective achieved—we have done something else. We have minimised our influence in the middle east at a critical time. We have given a boost to Arab fundamentalism at a time when prospects were greater than they now are. We have also done something else which the House and the British people will deplore. At a critical time in international relations and developments between East and West, we have given an excuse to the Soviet Union to take action which all of us would regard as being unhelpful.
Therefore, on reflection, as the Government's action has gained such little support, why should not they have the modesty to accept that they might just have been wrong on this occasion and might have done better to tell President Reagan that it was not possible for us to go along the path along which he was inviting us to go? If the Government accept that, despite the setbacks that we have endured, it is not too late to learn the lessons of recent history. If the Government ignore that, they ignore it not only at their own peril, but at the expense of genuine peace, not only within NATO countries but well beyond.
§ Mr. Julian Amery (Brighton, Pavilion)
Both sides of the House bear a considerable responsibility for the situation that we are in. If I may say so, the Opposition have a greater responsibility than we do because their Administration were in power in 1969 when Colonel Gaddafi seized a radio station and some public buildings and proclaimed himself the ruler of Libya. The King, who had been our friend, was on holiday cruising. We could easily, as we had two air bases and a military base in the country, have restored him. Colonel Gaddafi had no democratic base of any sort and—
§ Mr. Amery
—we and the Americans betrayed, if I may say so, our friend the King and some of his Ministers, who were murdered or imprisoned.
Our Foreign Office advisers thought that a new young man was a good idea, rather as the Labour party thought the other day. We can see what happened. Ever since then, the Libyan Government have been a pain in the neck to the world. They have subverted north Africa. There has been the war in Chad, and the helping of rebels against the Sudan. They have tried to subvert Egypt, and were helping terrorism long before they began to attack the United Kingdom through the IRA. At any juncture, it would have been quite justifiable to attack them, but because of their close but ambivalent relationship with the Soviet Union, only the United States could face that challenge.
At last, after many years, the Americans have girded up their loins and taken up the challenge. Their action was prompted by the most recent of many provocations, and at last they felt themselves to be justified under article 51. Thus the Americans did it, and we should all be delighted 912 that it was done. For years the civilised world has suffered from the terrorism engendered by Tripoli. But we could not have done it by ourselves, and nor could the French, the Italians or the other Arab countries—much as they have suffered from that terrorism. At last the Americans did it, and we should rejoice in that.
It may be said that there were better ways of dealing with Gaddafi. As an old veteran of the Special Operations Executive, I would rather it had been done subversively or covertly, but often a totalitarian police state cannot be broken without first breaking up its infrastructure. I do not think that the Americans reached a rash conclusion. I am sure that the CIA had some influence. No doubt the Americans went into all the other options but could find no other way of achieving their aims. Rightly, we supported them, because the Gaddafi regime is just as much a threat to us and to other European countries as it is to the United States. It is even more of a threat to the moderate Arab countries. I have just been to the middle east, and it was clear that those countries would be delighted if Gaddafi was suppressed. But they could not accept Gaddafi being provoked but not suppressed.
Old as I am, I must tell hon. Members a story. In 1940, when I was in the Balkans, I asked an opposition leader in Bulgaria what he thought of King Boris, who was sidling up to Hitler. He said that kings were like snakes—to be admired from a distance or killed, but not prodded. The question is whether we have prodded or killed. I do not know the answer. The tape is very confusing tonight. There is no news of Gaddafi's whereabouts. There are rumours that he has left the country. If I knew that that was true, I would finish my speech now, and there would be no need for the shadow Foreign Secretary to speak. President Reagan would have been proved right.
§ Mr. Benn
Is the right hon. Gentleman advocating as an act of policy that Governments should kill the leaders of states with which they find themselves in conflict? Just so that we are clear about it, is that what the right hon. Gentleman is advocating, just like the Americans tried to kill Castro and attempts were made to murder Lumumba? Is that the right hon. Gentleman's policy and is that terrorism?
§ Mr. Amery
The question is whether that was Colonel Gaddafi's view of us. If so, I would not be too squeamish about taking such action. However, we do not know what is happening. The whereabouts of Colonel Gaddafi are now in doubt. I am sure that the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) will try to inform himself, as the shadow Foreign Secretary will have some difficulty in making his speech if Colonel Gaddafi has disappeared.
Moderate Arab leaders will not be content with a policy that provokes but does not suppress Colonel Gaddafi. They will be delighted if he is suppressed, but if he is only provoked they will be in some difficulty. We are directly involved. After all, the Prime Minister allowed the American bombers to fly from this country, but having taken that decision she must say something to the United States that I ventured to mention to the House yesterday. She must recall Winston Churchill's comments at the time of Suez when he said, "I don't know if I would have dared to start, but I would never have dared to stop."
913 We must be sure that our American friends see this thing through, as otherwise the consequences could be very serious. If Colonel Gaddafi has already died, my words are unnecessary.
The Sermon on the Mount undoubtedly sets the highest standards of individual behaviour that anyone could require, but it does not apply to those of us in the House who are responsible for the interests of millions of people. We cannot turn their cheeks to the second blow; at any rate, not more than once.
Thus, it is essential to have a realistic policy for dealing with a terrorist state. We are talking not of Mafia or gangland terrorism but of state-organised terrorism. This is not our first experience of it. Thirty years ago some of my hon. Friends, and particularly Lord Maude, followed by my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison), tried to resist the sell-out of our interests in the middle east to Colonel Nasser. We got so far as to persuade Sir Anthony Eden and the French Government to try to rescue what was in danger. But we lost out because of American pressure, quite apart from the pressure of the Labour party. I do not want to rewrite history or to be hypothetical about it, but it is clear—
§ Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)
I confess that the only surprising thing about the speech of the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) was that he should mention the Sermon on the Mount after such a bloodthirsty introduction. He said that we should welcome the fact that the Americans took such action. He spoke as if it had been a one-off episode, with all the ends neatly tied up, but many of us are more worried about what the Americans may have started.
§ Mr. Stewart
I accept that point, but the right hon. Gentleman was talking in that sense. He said that he was glad that the Americans had done it.
There was some hilarity today when the Leader of the Opposition said that some people had made their judgment on the evidence. I imagine that, certainly to the lawyers in the House, that would appear to be an odd statement, but I think that there is a good deal of substance in it, in that the evidence in this case is hardly necessary. I do not think that any hon. Member is in any doubt that Gaddafi has been behind a good deal of terrorism. I certainly do not question that, although I should still like to see the evidence.
The excuses in the Prime Minister's statement yesterday and in her speech today have a hollow ring. She referred to the death of Woman Police Constable Fletcher. That has been dredged up as hindsight justification for our supine support of Reagan's attack on Libya. The measures taken against Libya following that atrocity in terms of trade and economic sanctions were inadequate, to say the least. In 1985 the United Kingdom exported £238 million 914 worth of goods to Libya and we imported £312 million worth of goods. That trade continued in the first quarter of 1986.
If there is the smallest shred of justification for the action taken by the Americans—I do not think there is, but one can understand its frustration at the lack of cooperation in its wish to implement sanctions—it is to be found in the reluctance of the United Kingdom and other European countries to apply effective economic sanctions. They were afraid that the money banks would be interfered with. It would be far better to take that action than go along with Reagan's gun law policy. It is unbelievable that we should be trading freely with a country one day and be a party to bombing it the next.
The Prime Minister is notorious for acquiescing to President Reagan's actions. It does not appear to have crossed her mind at any time that if she were less pliable she might carry more influence with the Americans. In recent weeks in the House we have heard hon. Members being accused of anti-Americanism. One may question the attitude ofour country, right or wrong.but to be asked to swallow "and America right or wrong" is too much.
It is the fate of all satellite states to be treated with contempt. During the Cuban missile crisis Kennedy paid no attention to the then Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Reagan invaded Grenada without regard to United Kingdom interests and presented a fait accompli to the British Prime Minister. On this occasion, he asked for the use of United Kingdom bases. He had carrier-borne aircraft in the Mediterranean, and he has aeroplanes that can fly from the United States to the North African continent, yet he wanted to use the F111.
The hon Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow), who made a speech and left the Chamber and has not been back since, asked himself why use of the Fl11 was necessary. Hey presto, the reply appeared instantly to his mind. He said that it was for more accurate bombing. That did not count for very much in the outcome, as we have seen.
It is clear that the reason for the request for the F111 was to involve the United Kingdom as an accessory in this crime and blunder. The United Kingdom is one of the few countries in the world supporting the American action. It raises the interesting question of what would have happened if the Prime Minister had refused permission and the Americans had wanted to go ahead just the same. The American bases in the United Kingdom are here primarily for the defence of America, and that is largely true of NATO as well.
In an editorial on 15 April The Times said if Reagangoes through with a military strike, he will alienate his Europan allies, give a martyr's status to the Libyan leader in the Arab world, and fail to halt terrorism, anyway.I concede that that was part of a balance sheet put forward in The Times editorial. It gave arguments for the other side. However, that is exactly what has happened as a result of the action by the Americans. Tremendous damage has been done. The Arab countries are closing ranks behind Gaddafi, whom they regarded as an outcast in the past. It will endanger the lives of United Kingdom citizens still in Libya, and further terrorists attacks by Libya will be turned against us in the United Kingdom. We can also be sucked into an escalating conflict.
I was pleased that the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) said that there must be a 915 solution to the Palestine problem. That is what the trouble derives from, and there will be no peace in the middle east without it. The Prime Minister should make an announcement now that she does not intend to allow the use of bases in Britain for further attacks. However, even if that happens, the bill for the dangerous action that took place on Monday will be presented.
§ Sir Patrick Wall (Beverley)
It is clear from what was said yesterday and has been said today that every possible effort to deal with Libya by economic or other means has been made through the EEC and the United Nations. Any sanctions against Libya have failed because of the halfheartedness on the part of America's allies.
Terrorism is spreading. We all agree with that. There have been about 28 Libyan-inspired attempts in the past two years. That has to be stopped. The best answer, as suggested by my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery), would be to put in a snatch squad to remove Colonel Gaddafi and put him on trial. However, presumably, that is not possible. Therefore, what other answer had the Americans?
Anyone who has been to America recently, as I have, will know that the American public is pathological about Colonel Gaddafi. The President has the support of all political parties for his actions. Patriotism is an old-fashioned word in this country but the Americans seem to have rediscovered it. What is surprising is that even with modern technology and laser-guided bombs hits are made on civilian targets. Of course, the Libyans have made the best possible use of the media to show those bombs or missiles which missed their targets. We have heard nothing about the main targets, which I imagine have been demolished, such as airfields, military bases and so on. No doubt we will hear more about these when American satellite photographs are available.
I agree with the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan) in his analysis of the problems in the middle east. However, I must say to the House that the Americans do not see terrorism in that light. I believe that it is thanks to the courage and leadership of the Prime Minister that this country has proved a true ally to the Americans, unlike other NATO allies, with the excepton of Canada. United States opinion is already incensed about Europe's pussyfootedness. Think what would have happened if Britain had refused the use of those airfields and taken the same line as the continentals. The position today would be very different from that described by my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) when he referred to the position in 1973. If we had refused the United States request, the call for Fortress America would have grown, with very dangerous consequences for Europe. Friendship is truly demonstrated only when one's friends are in difficulties.
It used to he said, as an Opposition Member remarked:our country, right or wrong.Now, some Opposition Members seem to take the view "My country always wrong". The anti-Americanism of some of the right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on the Labour and Liberal Benches is becoming a dangerous factor in world affairs. When one thinks of the future defence proposals of the Labour party, it is no wonder that Mr. Perle, who is not one of the most tactful gentlemen in the 916 world, said that the greatest danger to NATO would be the return of a Socialist Government in this country. However, that is very unlikely.
I hope that the Americans realise who are their friends and compare them to their other so-called allies, who even refused the passage of American planes and so endangered the lives of American pilots. A start in such recognition might be to cancel the order for RITA and order British Ptarmigan.
However, the most'serious factor of all is the future of NATO. The growing anti-Americanism of the Left in Europe must infuriate the Americans, whose troops are in Europe to defend both America and Europe. If they were removed, what would become of West Germany and, indeed, of Europe as a whole? The American Gramm-Rudman Act does not help by automatically reducing the American subscription to NATO and the North Atlantic Assembly by 4.3 per cent. this year and possibly 20 per cent. next year, just when the USSR is making up its mind whether to put the improvement of its military hardware first or concentrate on the improvement of its domestic economy. It cannot do both.
The action of the Americans may well cause the other European Governments and our other allies in NATO to take a very different attitude to the proposals for economic sanctions. Terrorism will in my view be ended only when the countries of the western world can work together, which they have failed to do so far. Have we not learnt the one lesson of recent years, which is that appeasement never pays? I fear that the Labour party has not learnt that lesson. It did not realise it in 1939 and there has been little change since then. [Interruption.] The issue must be faced. The roots of terrorism must be removed, if necessary by force. This is a new kind of war, but in my view the lessons are the same. Appeasement is the worst possible answer. My right hon. Friend knows this, and I believe that the country should salute her courage and determination. If, now, as seems just possible, there are problems in Tripoli, and if—as the tape suggests—it is possible that Colonel Gaddafi is no longer in the country or that there has been a coup d'etat against him, both President Reagan and our Prime Minister will have been fully justified, and the leaders of the Labour and the Liberal parties will look particularly stupid.
§ Mr. Robert C. Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne, North)
I am pro-American, pro-NATO and pro-British. I am pro-American because over the years I have made many fine friends and acquaintances of American stock. During the Normandy campaign I served with the United States army in France. As British Army Minister, I spent some time with the American army, and I have a profound regard for the democratic style and the professionalism of the Americans. I would not, therefore, wish any of my words to be construed as being anti the American people.
I am pro-NATO because all my life I have believed in collective security. I do not believe that we could ever guarantee the security of our country outside an alliance and a collective security system. As a young man, I believed in collective security through the League of Nations. In later life, I thought that Ernest Bevin was 100 per cent. right to seek a western European-Atlantic alliance, or NATO. It was necessary in 1949 and it is, if anything, more necessary today.
917 I have always been fiercely proud of being British. On occasions such as this—as a result of the Prime Minister's actions—my pride feels badly dented. By her acquiescence in the use of NATO bases and weapons in the attack on Libya, the Prime Minister, at best, has put a very heavy burden on relations within NATO. At worst I firmly believe that her actions may well lead to the breakup of NATO, which—let no one forget it—is the linch pin of our defence today. No doubt that is a matter that will be argued in the future. The results of the right hon. Lady's actions on the present are, to say the least, appalling. She has put in serious jeopardy the lives of 5,000 British nationals in Libya. She has put in perhaps even greater jeopardy the lives of all of us in the United Kingdom. Let us make no mistake—the fanatics who worship at Gaddafi's shrine will stop at nothing.
No British Prime Minister worthy of the title would have been so completely and utterly irresponsible as to follow the course of action taken by the right hon. Lady with the American President over the weekend. Furthermore, far from doing our ally a favour, she has done the United States a grave disservice by giving authority for the use of British bases. If any lesson has emerged in the past few days, the lesson of this lamentable affair is loud and clear. It is the need for a non-nuclear defence policy.
It is not easy for me to say that. Hon. Members in various parts of the House will understand why. However, my right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) should be eternally grateful to the Prime Minister for concentrating the minds of British people, including those who have hitherto had grave doubts about a non-nuclear policy, on the issue.
It is hard to understand how the Prime Minister can be so brass-faced. She should have made her resignation speech today. However, if the right hon. Lady does not hear the call, loud and clear, "Come in, No. 10, your time is up", I hope that after Westland, British Leyland, Sunday trading and now this lamentable affair, her party will do the decent thing by the British people and deal with her later in the year.
§ Sir Ian Gilmour (Chesham and Amersham)
Virtually the whole House accepts that the evidence alluded to by the Prime Minister this afternoon of Colonel Gaddafi's complicity in terrorist actions or attempts, past and future, is overwhelming. I certainly do. The Leader of the Opposition, with his gift for the unfortunate phrase, said that we should not judge solely by the evidence. If he meant that the evidence that Colonel 'Gaddafi has been guilty of such crimes does not necessarily justify what the Americans did, I certainly agree with him. What has been done is damaging and ill-judged. It may well be that Colonel Gaddafi has been overthrown. We do not know what is going on in Tripoli at the moment. My right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) seems to think that that would end the matter. In my view, it would not. In a moment I shall give my reasons for thinking that.
Everyone also agrees that the Prime Minister had a difficult decision to make. I see the point about the accuracy of the F111s. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Colchester, North (Sir A. Buck), with whom 918 I normally agree, made a good deal of that point. However, the F111s appear to have hit no fewer than four or five foreign embassies. It is difficult to believe that the A6s from the American Sixth Fleet would have hit any more. I therefore find it hard to agree that there is much in the accuracy argument. If the denial of the F111s to the Americans had meant that they concentrated their attacks on purely military targets, and not on military targets that were surrounded by and next to civilian houses, that would have been a gain to everyone concerned, not least, of course, to the innocent civilians who were killed.
I believe that, difficult though the decision was, my right hon. Friend made the wrong decision. I believe that when an ally does something wrong, it is the right and the duty of a good ally to try to persuade them not to pursue that course of action. If they continue to pursue it, we should dissociate ourselves from it. My hon. Friend the Member for Beverley (Sir P. Wall) talked about "Our country right or wrong". The idea of "My ally right or wrong" is not a concept that we should follow.
Contrary to what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said earlier, I believe that this action will create considerable difficulty for our moderate friends in the Arab world, but she may be right. We shall soon see what happens. That is not the chief consideration. The chief consideration, as anyone with the smallest knowledge of the history of the middle east in the past 20 years must understand, is the utter futility of opposing terrorism with counter-terror. Israel has proved that repeatedly during the past 20 years and we have always condemned it. Has Palestinian terrorism been eradicated by the countless raids that Israel has carried out on Arab refugee camps? Of course, it has not. They have led to escalation and to worse atrocities. From the rubble of Beirut and the massacres in the refugee camps come new terrorists determined to revenge themselves on the world. The victims of past atrocities become the perpetrators of new ones, and so it continues.
Colonel Gaddafi encourages Arab terrorism, but he did not invent it. The most extreme groups were founded before we ever heard of Gaddafi and still exist today without his support. They exist not because they are sponsored by an irresponsible dictator, but because the grievances which drove them to fanaticism have not been settled. The murderous methods of these terrorists should be wholeheartedly condemned, but we shall not stop them if we forget the just grievances of the Palestinian people. A third generation of them is being born in the refugee camps and there is little doubt that they will also turn to violence unless a solution to their problems is found. Israel's disastrous colonisation of the West Bank and its continued occupation of southern Lebanon merely creates more potential terrorism.
I hope that my right hon. Friends will continue to impress on the American Government the fact that this terrorism will continue until they are prepared to endorse and enforce a just settlement in the middle east. We should also impress upon them the fact that military force is no substitute for a coherent policy. There is no coherent American policy in the middle east; in so far as there is any policy, it is wrong. Instead of merely denouncing Colonel Gaddafi, although he is eminently denounceable, and broadcasting self-righteous announcements, the Americans should look to their policies and their actions.
I hope that I know a little about the middle east. I do not know much about central America, but some of the 919 people being financed by the Americans there are heavily involved in terrorism. The Americans should examine their policies before they talk about worldwide terrorism. It is no good being a sheriff in the middle east and a rustler in central America, especially since the sheriff in the middle east has got it wrong anyway.
The United States policy has been the root cause of terrorism during the past 20 years because American politicians have pandered to their electorate to get votes and have not considered the needs and interests of the people in the middle east. My right hon. Friend the Member for Pavilion said that America had been much provoked. That is true, but, equally, America has provoked terrorism for many years. Until American policy seeks and enforces a measure of justice in the middle east and allows the Palestinians self-determination, which is the key, terrorism will continue and no amount of incompetent bomb attacks will stop it.
Mr. Eric S. Hafer (Liverpool, Walton)
The right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour) made a remarkably interesting and important speech. It was one of the best speeches we have heard from Conservative Members this afternoon.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Brown), I wish to talk about anti-Americanism. It is too easy for some Conservative Members to believe that anyone who opposes American policy is anti-American. On the contrary, like my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North, I served with American forces. He was not with the same outfit as me. I spent 18 months with the 8th American air force. I am not anti-American. Indeed, I met many people during that period with whom I have kept in contact and who are my friends. But because they are my friends and Americans, it does not follow that I must automatically accept President Reagan's policies.
We are discussing terrorism, which has many definitions. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) said, the people who fought for liberty in Europe were called terrorists by the Nazis. Blowing up ordinary, innocent people in an aeroplane or on a ship is terrorism. It is stupid, and cannot possibly be accepted by any intelligent person. But other people who fight for national liberation or for their freedom cannot necessarily be called terrorist. I am arguing not about Libya, but about the definition of terrorism. It is much more difficult to define precisely what is meant by terrorism than many hon. Members seem to understand.
There is also state terrorism—not necessarily the terrorism that arises from the Gaddafi regime's activities. What about the state terrorism of the United States Government? What about Reagan's international terrorism? I believe that Reagan is one of the greatest international terrorists alive. The Americans have been involved in Nicaragua. They have assisted terrorist groups against a legitimate Government. I have never forgotten my traumatic experience when I learnt of the overthrow of an elected president in Chile, which used to be called the Britain of South America. He was overthrown with the assistance of the CIA. What is that but international terrorism? Is it not international terrorism to kill and maim ordinary men and women who are in no way involved in the politics of their country, which is what happened to ordinary people in Libya two nights ago?
920 I listened with outrage and amazement to the prime Minister saying that we should allow the American bases in Britain to be used in that way. It is time for all hon. Members who believe in the basic freedoms of our country, for which we so proudly fought, to stand up and say, "This is not good enough; it cannot and must not happen again."
We hear talk about appeasement, with Tory Members saying that Labour Members do not seem to have learned much. Well, Winston Churchill was not spoken to on the Conservative side—except for a handful of Tories—for a number of years because he was against appeasement. Let us remember that it was not only Tories who died in the second world war fighting for our freedom. It was ordinary working men, who went out in their millions to fight for this country. When they came back they voted in a Labour Government because they were sick and tired of the type of policies that were being pursued by the Conservatives.
International terrorism is something to which we should be opposed, and something my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield was right to draw attention to. We do not wear a white sheet when it comes to terrorism on the part of earlier British Governments. Reagan is most certainly one of the greatest international terrorists of our time. United States controlled groups, such as Condor, Omega 7 and Alpha 66, have been responsible for dozens of assassinations and for armed provocation in Latin America. That was said by the Washington Post. That is what we are faced with.
I have just come back from a conference in Italy. The hon. Member for Beverley (Sir P. Wall) said that he has just returned from America. I will tell hon. Members what the Italians feel about this situation. It is 60 miles or so off their coast, and they are absolutely horrified. I was not surprised when Italian Prime Minister Craxi said this:I declare the disagreement of the Italian Government with the initiative and responsibility assumed by the United States.Far from weakening terrorism, this military action risk provoking explosive reactions of fanaticism and criminal and suicidal acts.Not only are the Government putting British people at risk; they are putting the whole of Europe at risk. We are on the brink of the possibility of a further explosion, and, ulitmately, the final act of complete madness, the utter destruction of our civilisation by a nuclear war. [HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish".] Hon. Members say "Rubbish". We have seen that sort of thing throughout history. I agree with the ex-services Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament group. It describes the attack as "politico-military lunacy". It said:It is the sort of spark that started World War 1, and mirrors the retreat from internationalism that preceded World War 2.It made the point thatThere is no place for Rambo in the nuclear age.That is what we have got—the Rambo of international politics—Reagan—actively assisted by our Prime Minister, who rolls over like the little poodle that she obviously is in connection with the United States. When will we get up and do what we have done in the past, when Prime Ministers like Attlee were prepared to go over to the United States and say "This we do not agree with."? Even the Americans had sufficient sense to come over and tell us that Suez was not on, and we could not continue in that way. If we are talking of mad dogs, it is not only Gaddafi who is a mad dog; it is Reagan, and those who are pursuing state terrorism on his behalf.
921 The right hon. Lady justified the whole thing by saying:I replied to the President that we would support action directed against specific Libyan targets demonstrably involved in the conduct and support of terrorist activities.She went on to talk about specific targets. I suppose one of the specific targets was the French embassy, probably because they would not allow American planes to go over French soil. No doubt that was one of the specific targets.
The more specific point is the question of the 330,000 troops in Europe that are held to defend Europeans. I wonder whether there has been some blackmail on the part of the United States of America in relation to these 330,000 troops.
It seems to me that what has happened is that our sovereignty and democratic rights have been eroded. In her desire to comply with Reagan before common sense, the right hon. Lady has put the lives of British people at risk, and killed innocent civilians. It is time for the entire House to stand up and say that enough is enough, and that it must not happen again.
§ 7.5 pm
§ Mr. Churchill (Davyhulme)
One has seen a lot of double standards alluded to in this debate. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heifer) and the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) have both spoken of the protests made by CND and other pacifist groups at the bombing by the United States of military targets in Tripoli and Benghazi on Monday night. Where were those pacifist groups when United States forces were being bombed in Berlin, when more than 200 casualties were sustained by innocent service men and civilians earlier this month? What protests did they make? What protests were made to Libyan officials by Opposition Members.
Over recent years this country has been the subject of many terrorist attacks, and attempted terrorist attacks, backed by Libya. In 1973, Gaddafi ordered two Libyan submarines to intercept and torpedo the QE2 liner on its way with Jewish pilgrims to the Holy Land. Fortunately, they were not successful.
Over more than a decade we have seen clear evidence of Libya's deep backing and involvement with the IRA in terms of training camps in the Libyan desert, and in terms of cash and hardware. There is no question but that dozens of British lives have been lost as a result of Gaddafi's backing.
There was the brutal shooting down in cold blood of WPC Yvonne Fletcher on London's streets by an agent of the Libyan Government. More recently, we have seen the clear implication of Gaddafi in the -massacres at the airports at Vienna and Rome, and in the bombing of the TWA airliner, in which several were killed, and in which a six month old baby was sucked out of the airliner. This is an unparalleled record of state terror, and a record which I am glad to say has not been challenged by anyone in the course of this debate. Even the leader of the Labour party referred to Libya as a "haven for terrorists".
In 1985 Gaddafi saidWe have a right to export terrorism".If that is not throwing down the gauntlet to the Western world and to his Arab neighbours, I do not know what is.
Who is prepared to take up that challenge? Who is willing to take the decisive steps to protect airline 922 travellers and other innocent civilians in the months and years ahead? It is certainly not the nations of Europe, who by their craven and cringeing attitude, and by their unwillingness to take even economic sanctions or impose an airline boycott, have shown that they are not prepared to stand up. It is certainly not the leaders of the Labour party, the SDP or the Liberal party. We owe a debt of gratitude to the United States Government and people for their willingness to take a stand on behalf of the entire free world.
There are those who believe that our special relationship with the United States, forged in two world wars which culminated in the liberation of western Europe by British and American forces, should be a one-way street. They expect the United States to stand by us when we need it, such as the time of the Falklands war. Let us not forget the extent to which the United States helped us. It was not publicly proclaimed to a great extent at the time but without the Aim-9L version of the Sidewinder our Harriers would have been at extreme disadvantage in tangling with the supersonic Mirages and Kfir fighters and the Super Etendards of the Argentine air force.
§ Mr. Churchill
I am not giving way to my hon. Friend. He can make his own speech.
In addition, the United States provided us with vital intelligence. But when the United States asks us in turn for help, those same people say that we should deny that assistance.
Indeed, we have heard today from two former Prime Ministers who made clear that their answer to Mr. Reagan would have been no. My right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), whom I am sorry is not in his place, reminded us that in 1973 he refused the request of the United States to use British bases in moves designed to deter direct Soviet intervention in the middle east crisis. At the moment when he denied the Americans that right, there were no fewer than six Soviet airborne divisions emplaned on half a dozen Warsaw pact airfields; their intended destination was the Sinai desert. At that point, in my view, that conflict ceased to be an Arab-Israeli conflict and had become an East-West confrontation. My right hon. Friend was wrong to deny our American allies the use of British bases then. Indeed it was precisely on that issue that I resigned in October 1973, as a parliamentary private secretary, attached to his Government. I believe my right hon. Friend is wrong today.
I recognise what a difficult decision it was for my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, but I believe it was a courageous and right decision. It is too early to say precisely what the consequence of United States military action against Libya on Monday night will be. It is clear that a couple of bombs fell wide of their target and that innocent civilians were killed and injured. I regret that, and I include in that expression of regret the death of Colonel Gaddafi's adopted daughter and injury to his small sons. Let it be said that the United States pilots involved were under the strictest orders which specified only military or terrorist targets. There was no question whatever of the bombing of civilians having been a deliberate act of policy, unlike what Gaddafi has presided over during the past 16 years. The question must be asked, did the bombs that killed innocent civilians on Monday 923 night come from the F111 which was crippled by ground fire, which did not return to base and whose crew we regret was killed?
By its action the United States has sent a clear and powerful message to all those states which back and mastermind terrorism that they can no longer rely on Western nations to turn the other cheek when next they slaughter our innocent civilians. If by its resolute action the outcome in the longer term is the removal from power of the godfather of international terrorism, who has the blood of so many innocents on his hands, the whole world will thank President Reagan and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for the fact that, while others would have gone down the path of appeasement, they had the courage to take decisive action.
§ Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)
I suspect that that was not the first time that the hon. Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) has claimed after the event the wisdom that he scarcely displayed before it. We are entitled to take seriously an event which could shift the political centre of gravity, at least in Britain, if not, regrettably, in the United States of America. The traditional assumption, which has often been endorsed by Conservative Members, that the country's foreign and defence policies are safest in the hands of the Conservative party may have been brought into greater question than we have seen for almost a generation.
The fact remains that there is a critical situation in which we should question the wisdom of Her Majesty's Government, and particularly the Prime Minister, as well as of the President of the United States of America, who seems to be an old man in far too great a hurry.
Obviously there will be a series of post-mortems. One will take place next week, when those of us who are members of the Council of Europe delegation will debate an emergency motion on the matter. Regrettably, Opposition Members will not be able to offer any comfort to the Conservative Members of the delegation. We will share the view that seems to be held by every other member state of the Community and by all other 20 member states of the Council of Europe.
It did little good for Conservative Members to snigger at my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition when he espoused the views endorsed by the vast majority of the political parties in the civilised world, except the Conservative party. The display this afternoon was utterly regrettable. The hon. Member who at a recent Assembly meeting said that we should not attack our own country should have seen cause for my hon. Friends to take a firm view in support of peace, of principle, and of the sanity which seems to have escaped the right hon. Lady in her foolish decision.
§ Mr. Hardy
That allows me to say that hon. Members on both sides of the House should, and I believe do, deplore terrorism. We have seen thrown away this week an opportunity which would have allowed our Foreign Secretary to continue his efforts on Monday as an honest broker to secure the united European response that is called for.
924 If the right hon. Lady is serious and genuine in her claim about the evidence that has become available from the security services, and if that evidence could be made available, no civilised European state could deny the need to agree to the powerful diplomatic and economic action that is necessary. The right hon. Lady should come clean and publish transcripts of the information. We are not asking her to reveal sources which should remain secret, but intercepted radio communications could be published without causing embarrassment or danger to the security forces. We are entitled, on behalf of civilised Europe, to ask for that information to be provided.
Another matter must be considered. The right hon. Lady has cast an astonishing reflection on the quality and capacity of the combat aircraft and weapons systems available to the Mediterranean fleet. Surely the right hon. Lady was not seriously telling the House and the world that the sixth fleet, that mighty American naval presence, does not have the capacity to fulfil the role that 18 F111 aircraft managed to fulfil on Monday night. Are the Americans saying to their Italian allies, their Greek allies, their Turkish allies, the Maltese, the Spaniards and the rest of the world that their Mediterranean fleet could not carry out such a simple job?
The right hon. Lady and her accomplices in the Government must offer an explanation, because the integrity and coherence of the Western Alliance are called into question if they are telling us that the American presence in the southern flank of NATO cannot fulfil the task that the F111s fulfilled. Are they telling us that the Tom Cat missiles on the American carriers could not have done this job? If they are, they are certainly making an appalling mockery of the integrity of Western defence. We will be made to look ridiculous in Europe. The American President and his accomplice here have done more damage to the integrity of NATO and the Western Alliance than anyone could have thought possible before last week.
It is time that we demonstrated that we are not prepared to agree to every act of an impatient old man. We must start working with Europe to defeat terrorism, and unfortunately the events of this week are likely to enhance terrorism rather than to get rid of the evil that it projects. We will not defeat it unless we try to tackle it at its roots. Actions of the kind that we saw on Monday only ensure that the roots are fed, and it is time that there was more sagacity in London and in Washington than has been displayed of late.
§ Sir Ian Percival (Southport)
I agree with one thing said by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition—this should not become a competition in condemnation of terrorism. We all loath it. But having listened to the debate, it seems to me that we would do well now and again to remind ourselves of the features common to the kind of terrorism that we are talking about. The methods employed are desperately evil, the purpose is to frighten people into doing what they do not want to do, or into not doing what they want to do, and terrorism thrives on the difficulty or unwillingness of its victims to fight back.
I listened with interest to two former Prime Ministers telling us that we must look to the root cause of terrorism. In the long term, of course they are right, but I hope that neither of them was saying to us that, whatever the root cause is, it can justify the kind of conduct with which we 925 are now having to cope. I hope that neither of them would suggest that we could ever permit ourselves to be diverted by the long-term pursuit of the root cause from fighting to our utmost to protect our people from what is happening now.
I said that terrorist methods are desperately evil, and they are in two respects—the nature of the acts, and the indiscriminate nature of those acts. If I had to pick out one, I would say that I could not think of a more evil act than tossing a bomb into a crowded public house, not caring how many people are killed, who they are or how many families are destroyed. That is the kind of terrorism we are dealing with. It is a good thing to remind ourselves of that, because we have had so much of it that we tend to forget.
Hon. Members have spoken about what happened to the TWA plane. In that incident a grandmother, a daughter and a baby were killed. The evilness of that beggars description, and its purpose was quite deliberately to frighten people. That is why these acts are so evil. The right hon. Gentleman the leader of the Liberal party said—and I took it to be criticism—that by agreeing to this course of action we have exposed ourselves to attack. I do not doubt that that is true, and of course we must never do that without cause—without very good cause indeed. But, by the same token, when there is very good cause we must not be put off from doing what is right because it will expose us to attack. That is exactly the purpose of terrorism, and to be put off would be to succumb to terrorism and to let it succeed.
Thirdly, terrorism thrives on people doing nothing, and the people who engage in it rely on people being either unable or unwilling to do anything about it. It must be music to the ears of such terrorists to hear people say, "We must not get involved."
§ Mr. Tony Banks
Surely it is not a question of doing nothing. Other things can be done to combat terrorism. Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman saying that bombing is the only way of dealing with Libyan terrorism?
§ Sir Ian Percival
The hon. Gentleman will realise that I am trying to keep to the rules as to time, and I shall come to that. Of course there is room for differences of opinion, but those hon. Members who have criticised seem to have forgotten that it is much easier to criticise than to do something. Do those who say that it was wrong think that the Prime Minister did not know how serious a decision it was? Do they not bear in mind that she is the one person who has all the evidence, a mass of which is public already? When they use such words as subservient and supine, do they stop to ask themselves whether if they were convinced that it was right to do something they would have the courage to do it? I believe that historians will say, "Thank goodness we had a Prime Minister with the perception to see the dangers and the courage to stand by, and with, our only ally fighting this terrorism." Once again we owe a debt to the Prime Minister and to the Foreign Secretary and their colleagues.
In the debate there has been plenty of criticism and suggestions that there should be some other way, but I have yet to hear any positive suggestion about that other way. [Interruption.] I shall not be diverted. If hon. Gentlemen look in Hansard tomorrow they will see that no positive alternative has been put forward.
926 Of course there is no question of our American friends being "our allies right or wrong", but I want to assure them that some of the hysterical outbursts they have heard in this debate are totally unrepresentative of the attitude of the British people.
I was sorry that my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) was so ungenerous in his reference to our American friends. He sought to balance the part played by the United States in the last war by saying that we stood alone for a year. So we did, and it was a very proud chapter in our history, and some right hon. and hon. Gentlemen might do well to spend a little more time seeing how we can live up to those standards; standards that cost so many lives. They might also remember that the Americans gave us more help to enable us to do that than all the other nations put together, and that they have been the most generous in giving us credit for what we did.
The burden of what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup was that we must look after British interests. Of course we must, but he overlooked the fact that that is exactly what the Prime Minister and our Government are doing. He made an ungenerous reference to the Americans having their own interests to protect in Europe and suggested that that is the only reason why they have 300,000 troops there. Have right hon. and hon. Gentlemen forgotten that our interests are identical to those of the United States? Thank heavens we have their support in the protection of those interests.
There is another interest of enormous importance at stake here. It is in our interest to be good friends and loyal allies, and it is in our interest for that to be recognised throughout the world.
§ Sir Ian Percival
We should remember that real friends are not those who help when it costs nothing, but those who help when by doing so they put themselves at risk. What nonsense it is for the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) to describe the honourable course of supporting one's friends as lickspittle. That is as cheap and nasty a thing as I have heard from any of the critics in this debate.
Those who suggest that our allies behaved rashly and without thinking might do well to read the text of the statement put out by President Reagan yesterday, when he said:We Americans are slow to anger: we always seek peaceful avenues before resorting to the use of force. And we did. We tried quiet diplomacy, public condemnations, economic sanctions, and demonstrations of military force. None succeeded.Despite our repeated warnings, Gaddafi continued his reckless policy of intimidation, his relentless pursuit of terror. He counted on America to be passive. He counted wrong.I warned that there should be no place on earth where terrorists can rest and train and practise their deadly skills.I meant it.I said that we would act with others if possible, and alone, if necessary, to ensure that terrorists have no sanctuary anywhere. Tonight, we have.Thank you and God bless you.I hope that our American friends will realise that the message from the Conservative Benches and, I believe, the great majority of the British people is, "Thank you for all you do to protect the freedoms that have cost this country so dear and must be worth protecting if we are to 927 live up to the standards of those who fought and gained them for us. Thank you, and God bless you in those fearsome tasks."
§ Dr. John Gilbert (Dudley, East)
The only people to derive any pleasure from this very sad state of affairs are those who are basically anti-American, and the person deriving the most pleasure is Colonel Gaddafi himself. We must realise that he does not calculate the balance of advantage and disadvantage in the same way as we do. It is very unlikely that he considers the loss of a few of his citizens and airplanes as anything that is likely to deter future activities of the sort that all hon. Members deplore.
Apart from the bereaved families in Libya—to whom I hope we shall all send our condolences, including the family of Colonel Gaddafi himself—those who must be most distressed are those who count themselves friends of the United States, among whom I number myself.
One normally prefers to defend one's friends in public—whatever they have done—and to criticise them in private. But, alas, such are the circumstances in which we find ourselves today that I find it impossible to follow such a course. What has taken place is quite ghastly, and I can find no excuse for it.
Before I consider in detail the consequences of the American action, I want to cast the light on to the role of the Prime Minister. The right hon. Lady is certainly subject to severe criticism. In fairness to her, I say that she had a most difficult decision to take. It may surprise some of my friends, but my criticism relates not specifically to this set of circumstances but to others that were antecedent to the events of the last 48 hours.
Given that the Prime Minister was asked by the Americans whether they could use their planes from bases in this country, she was placed in a very difficult, if not impossible, position, having regard to the debt that she and all of us—because we must all accept responsibility for it—owe to the United States in respect of events in the South Atlantic a couple of years ago.
I am concerned about whether the Government asked the right questions, which I very much doubt. From the account that the Prime Minister has so far given, it seems that they asked only a most amateurish list of questions about the proposed American action. What assurances were given in response to those questions—we have not yet heard—and in the event were those assurances fulfilled?
As I have said, this was a most appalling miscalculation. It is quite clear that when one attacks a target at night in the middle of a built up area—whether or not one uses laser-guided weapons, the accuracy of which was proved to be faulty, or whether the bombs were dropped by a plane in distress—the consequences should have been foreseen as distinctly possible. Therefore, that part of the operation should never have been mounted.
It is quite clear that such an action cannot, and must not, be repeated. I do not accept that a military solution was appropriate in these circumstances. But even if it were, many other forms of military action were possible that did not involve the risk of killing, injuring or maiming people who had nothing to do with Colonel Gaddafi's policies.
As the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) said, we could have attacked the oil facilities and could have engaged in covert military action. If one 928 saw fit, one could have engaged in a blockade of Gaddafi's ports. All those military options were available. They are not as spectacular, but I do not think that we needed to raise the ante to such an extent, because military options were available that did not involve the risk of killing and injuring innocent people.
I fully understand American exasperation and fury at the activities of Colonel Gaddafi's henchmen. European Governments, including the United Kingdom Government, bear a very heavy burden of responsibility in this respect. They have failed to realise the depth of American anger in the past—not just of President Reagan, but of ordinary, common, decent American citizens, whose friends and relations have been attacked and assassinated by wantless terror in different parts of the world. European Governments have not realised that, have not taken it into account and have failed to adopt concerted measures of an economic and political nature that would have been far more appropriate. The United Kingdom Government bear a sorry burden of responsibility in this respect.
For the future, it is immensely urgent that two things are done. The one small benefit to be derived from all this is that I hope that the Government will get a hearing in Washington when they have representations to make. First, it is immensely urgent that the Government make serious representations to the American Government to explain why the European Governments and peoples have so many reservations about what has just taken place. They should make our views known in as conciliatory a way as possible, not only to the American Administration, but to the American people who do not understand. There have been many reports on American television that make it quite clear that the American public does not understand why we Europeans have reservations about actions of this sort, and it is urgent that they do understand.
Secondly, it is important that Europe goes much further than we have done so far in respect of other sanctions against Colonel Gaddafi's regime. We should close the bureau, stop training their pilots and consider a concerted economic boycott. I do not suggest that we should do all these things simultaneously. We should raise the stakes very slowly and put the screws on Colonel Gaddafi in that way.
The trouble with bombing is that only one more sanction is left, and that is more bombing. In that way madness lies, and it is no solution to the problems that face us all.
§ Mr. Peter Temple-Morris (Leominster)
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Dudley, East (Dr. Gilbert). I shall not allude directly to what he said, but during my remarks, which I hope to make as succinctly as possible, he may see a measure of agreement between us.
I do not intend to address the House on this matter in a petty party political way because it is far too important for that. We all owe it to ourselves, our parties and the country to address the House frankly. I share the views expressed earlier about how the debate began, and agree that the issue is far too important for that.
Some friends of the United States are declaring themselves as such, and the House knows that that always means that they will say something which is possibly unfriendly to the United States. That is the wrong way to 929 consider it. When one addresses oneself to American policies one is expressing only what many Americans are saying about this and other aspects of foreign policy. We owe it to our friends there and our allies to be frank.
I have made no secret of my views at various meetings in the building, and it is now a pleasure to put them on the record. I shall not please all my right hon. and hon. Friends, but certainly it is clear from what has been said that my views are not isolated. The action was wrong and indiscriminate and an ineffective use of force and counterproductive, and it will encourage everything which Americans are endeavouring to prevent. It will encourage terrorism, and invite the next horrendous stage to be contemplated even now. Once one starts indiscriminate violence, one must be prepared to followit up. It should not have been started, and I am not prepared to follow it up.
That sort of escalation,and counterproductive action takes place in an extremely, vulnerable area.
§ Mr. Temple-Morris
My hon. Friend has interrupted several times and it is clear to the House that I am trying to get through my speech. I have what are for me important points to make.
That conduct is taking place in a vulnerable area. Underlying problems are being exacerbated, not least the problem of the Palestinians. Unfortunately, terrorism in the middle east will continue until that problem is solved. The problem of the Shi'ite Islamic-Moslem fundamentalism will be exacerbated again by the action. Many countries in the area are more vulnerable than many right hon. and hon. Gentlemen care to think. One addresses oneself to the obvious examples of Egypt and the Gulf, which is trembling with a war and which could cause many consequences. Unfortunately, this action has not made the life of the West and its friends in the middle east any easier.
The Government and the West must get their act together on terrorism. We in Europe are far too responsive to events as they happen, and because of that we appear to be hanging increasingly on the coat tails of the United States. That should not be the case. Various right hon. and hon. Members have taken a consistent line on that. If the debate can follow such a line, it will be that much stronger for it.
Obviously, Libya is guilty of terrorism. One does not need evidence of that to be produced. One accepts that without question. Obviously, we need action against Libya, but we do not need the isolated, random, desperate action which occurred this week. We need to isolate Libya, and we can use all manner of methods. If there is evidence, why is it produced now? Admittedly, it has not been and cannot be fully produced. It is alluded to, and we all know the nature of it. If we have such marvellous communications, it is but one thing which can be used internationally in the various fora of the world to isolate Libya.
Europe should take much more united action. I know that we have had an uphill struggle, but the performance of the European Community and Europe as a whole has been lamentable. I say advisedly that the Government and the country would have had much more credibility at this stage had we taken a stronger line in supporting the United 930 States of America when it was appealing earlier for nonviolent action. In getting our act together, we should consider all the points raised about trade and sanctions. We cannot have bombers taking off from the United Kingdom on the one hand and, on the other, have trade and a pretence at normality.
I regret that the role of the United Kingdom and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was necessary. I have little inside knowledge, but I doubt whether it was necessary. My right hon. Friend's decision was appallingly difficult, and I do not say that merely to defend the fact that I shall not vote against the Government tonight. I have voted against the Government on odd occasions when I have felt strongly about a matter, indeed, perhaps too frequently for my future. [Interruption.] I know that the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) is always itching for me to vote against the Government. My right hon. Friend, facing a difficult decision, voted for the Western Alliance, good or bad, warts and all. Whichever side of the argument we are on, we have little option but to hope for the success of the Alliance, and to protect and strengthen it from within.
However, my charity does not run to United States' foreign policy generally. Its policy on the middle east is grievously in error, and this is an example of its policy being implemented in such a way that the desired solutions become virtually impossible in the foreseeable future. American policy in central America and on East-West relations and disarmament gives rise to a large number of questions. The question of coat tails becomes increasingly important, and my right hon. and hon. Friends should bear in mind the electorate's view of that. There is grave concern about what is happening internationally. One talks about foreign affairs as a non-election issue, and says that there are no votes in it, but there is more genuine anxiety about what is happening generally, as has been illustrated this week than I can remember. That can be serious for the NATO Alliance.
In a recent poll—there were more staggering results than the one that I shall relate—one third of all those polled thought that the United States was as great a threat to world peace as the Soviet Union. That augurs ill for the future of the Western Alliance. It is not a question of being anti-American or pro-American. The point is that the Alliance is out of balance with reality. That is the difficulty.
We depend on America, but at the same time we as an important partner in the Alliance must be vigorous in putting our point of view. We should bear in mind the enormous power of our friends in the United States, their frustration at not being able to use it, and their knowledge that Europe depends on them for its defence. However, with that power they have a much greater responsibility and a more important obligation—to act like leaders of the Western Alliance. This week they have not done so.
§ Mr. Ron Brown (Edinburgh, Leith)
Varying views have been expressed in tonight's debate, and I am reminded that at present the country has an official guest, Mr. Abdul Haq. He is not a pop star, but, according to the Prime Minister, he is Mr. Wonderful because he boasted about planting a bomb in Kabul airport in 1984 which killed 28 civilians. He had been wined and dined in this country. Of course, that action indicates the double standards of this Government and, particularly, of the 931 Prime Minister. The point at issue seems to be why we should worry about 28 people in some far-off country, or about other people in Libya. After all, the people there have darker skins and a different culture from ours. The suggestion seems to be that they do not greatly matter. However, surely it does matter to us if we are concerned about humanity, which is the real issue.
Tonight it is not Gaddafi who is on trial: it is the regime of the Conservative Government. They are on trial for aiding and abetting Reagan in killing innocent Libyan civilians. There is no way to describe that other than as a conspiracy to murder. Even the European Economic Community leaders saw through Reagan's manoeuvre and did not want to be involved in it. The Germans knew that it was a set-up; they knew that the bombing in West Germany did not involve the Libyans, and they would not take part in any manoeuvres against Libya. However, the Prime Minister, the bold lady herself, said earlier that she has evidence that Gaddafi is implicated and that she can prove it. She might be able to prove it to many people elsewhere, but she has not proved it to me or to any other right hon. or hon. Gentleman I know. Although she has not proved her case, she maintains that she is right, as is her due. We will judge her according to the facts. We will not condemn anyone, including Gaddafi, until we have seen the facts.
I always look at issues simply. If, for example, the ruling class, including this Government, do not tell the truth about the miners and their struggles, they certainly will not tell the truth about Libya and its position. It can be argued that perhaps Gaddafi is a villain, but why punish innocent men, women and children? Gaddafi has not been punished; some of his family and some Libyan people have been punished. In addition, embassies and other installations that have nothing whatever to do with the Libyan situation—apart from expressing the viewpoint of the Government—have been attacked.
I accept that many people, perhaps naively, will say that Gaddafi is a monster. He has a different point of view and does many things with which I disagree, but he is no ogre. If he were as bad and unpopular an individual as he has been painted, he would not have remained in office for 17 years as head of state and instigator of a revolution. Of course, he is not as bad as he is said to be. He must be judged, not by western or British standards, but by the standards of the middle east. He is a thousand years in advance of most rulers of the feudal regimes in the middle east. All right hon. and hon. Members, ex-Prime Ministers notwithstanding, must remember that in Libya there are 5,000 reasons why we should think carefully about the Libyan situation, because there are 5,000 members of the British community there. Those people feel betrayed by the Government because their families, as well as other families, are endangered by the reckless action of Mr. Reagan and his buddies.
If there is any guilt, it must be pointed in a certain direction. It is perfectly clear that, despite the atrocities, the Libyans have not taken any reprisals against the British or American communities in Libya. Indeed, when I spoke yesterday to Salah Usallam, a diplomat who heads the Libyan interest section in London, he made it clear that the Libyans, while opposed to Reagan and the Prime Minister, were not opposed to the British or American people. That is an important and principled position to take. Whatever one thinks of the Libyans, they have taken no reprisals against any British family in Libya.
932 Many things can be said against Gaddafi. He can be called mad, ill-advised, and so on, but it cannot be said that he is personally corrupt. He does not have a personal fortune, and he is not a drunkard or womaniser. [Interruption.] Hon. Members can laugh, but a number of hon. Members in here are like that. To his credit, Gaddafi is very pro-British. The economic situation, and trade links with Libya, show that he favours British companies, because he recognises our skills and expertise. In addition, he has a special feeling for the British people.
Of course, he can be called a terrorist. As I have already said, I disagree with many things he has done. However, to his credit, he has supported many national liberation struggles throughout the world, including the Sandinistas. He has used the resources of his country to support the struggles of the popular masses—the peasants and workers—against oppression. He is no hero; I certainly do not put him on a pedestal. However, in the eyes of people in the middle east and in his own country, especially after the attacks by American war planes, he is obviously a hero. Ironically, the action of the Government has made him a popular hero in the middle east and, in a sense, in Europe and other parts of the world.
By its action, the Government have also fuelled anti-Americanism. I oppose any feeling against America. Although I am against Reagan and reaction, I am not against the American people. To argue that the removal of Gaddafi will solve all the problems is naive. According to the press, getting rid of him will solve everything. That is a daft notion. In the middle east, there are 101 Gaddifis, and he, as one individual, although important, can easily be replaced. The system operating in Libya will ensure that he is replaced. Gaddafi may have a tremendous personality, but we should not be fooled into thinking—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)
The hon. Gentleman has come to the end of his 10 minutes.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I have already given the hon. Gentleman a warning. He must finish his speech in one sentence and resume his seat.
§ Mr. Brown
It has been suggested that this action was taken to deal with terrorism. The oil factor is what interests President Reagan. By taking Libya out of OPEC through destroying its oil installations, America hopes to raise the price of oil. There is an economic as well as a political factor in its actions. Let us not be deluded into thinking that this is all over.
§ 8 pm
§ Sir Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)
I hope that the speech of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Brown) will be widely studied and long remembered. I hope that it will also be remembered that the American 933 action against Libya followed directly upon the failure, yet again, of the European Foreign Ministers to create a sensible, collective anti-terrorist policy.
In her admirable speech at the opening of this debate, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister reminded us of the Achille Lauro incident when a cruise liner was hijacked in the eastern Mediterranean and an elderly American in a wheelchair was murdered. The American response to this outrage was precise and bloodless. The airliner carrying the murderers from Egypt to Tunisia was intercepted in the air by American aircraft and diverted to an airbase in Sicily where those responsible for the outrage were taken into custody by the Italian authorities.
The reaction of some Governments to this precise American response was significant. The Egyptian Government may not have lied to the Americans, but they gave inaccurate and misleading information to them. Meanwhile, the Italian authorities released a passenger on the aircraft who was widely believed to have been responsible for planning and carrying out the Achille Lauro hijack. He was allowed to escape. I do not recall that there were many Opposition plaudits for that very precise and bloodless operation.
Another maritime outrage had contributed to the general American belief that western Europe is unwilling to take effective action to defend its interests against international terrorism. In July 1984 a large number of mines were scattered in the Red sea. At that time it was believed that Colonel Gaddafi's forces were responsible. The mines were swept up by an international force, to which the Royal Navy made a signifiant contribution. After that minesweeping operation, it became abundantly plain—the proof was absolute—that Colonel Gaddafi was responsible for the mining of the Red sea. The ship that did it is known; the names of the crew of that ship are known. However, there was no protest by western Europe about Colonel Gaddafi's action.
It is difficult to co-ordinate effective international cooperation against terrorism. Until recent weeks the French have been opposed to formal international co-operation. The Italian and German authorities have been very effective in dealing with internal terrorism, but they have not been so effective in attempting to co-ordinate activities against international terrorism.
In a free society it is difficult to prevent individuals and individual companies from co-operating with countries of which we do not approve. Billy Carter, the brother of ex-President Jimmy Carter, is not the only American to cooperate with Colonel Gaddafi's henchmen. Our record is not particularly admirable. Some of our leading defence contractors—GEC, Marconi and Plessey—have recently carried out work in Libya, and it is believed that some English technicians have been assisting the Libyans in maintaining their radar network. Even since the murder of WPC Fletcher, hundreds of Libyans have been taught to fly in this country. They have also been taught in this country how to maintain aircraft and how to run a modern airport.
Of course one does not want to cut off all contact with a country whose present ruler is mad or hostile, but I wonder whether we are wise to continue with this policy. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary will tell us what is to happen to the Libyans who have been training in this country. It would not be sensible 934 to continue those contracts. There needs to be a great deal more surveillance of those from the middle east who have come to this country for training.
During the debate a number of right hon. and hon. Members have harked back to the Suez incident. It has been said that the Americans are perhaps going down the same course. Too many right hon. and hon. Members have suggested that they want the Americans to fail, as we failed at Suez. I do not believe that it is an analogy. At the time of Suez we were financially vulnerable. The Americans are not financially vulnerable. We were vulnerable to pressure from the United Nations, but the Americans are not. At the time of Suez we were committed to seizing and holding certain precise pieces of territory, but the Americans are not so committed. At the time of Suez we were a divided nation. The Americans are not a divided nation.
Even the normally liberal and pacific New York Times has come out wholeheartedly in favour of this action. There is no possibility of President Reagan or his henchmen being replaced before the November 1988 presidential elections. If, therefore, we want a change in American policy, there is no point in making the sort of criticisms that we heard from Opposition Members, because the Americans are plainly set on their course.
If we wish to see a de-escalation of American policy, my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary ought to be doing everything in his power yet again to persuade Europe to form an effective, common antiterrorist alliance and to show that this time we mean business and will do our best to stop international terrorism in its tracks. I wish the Foreign Secretary well in the task, but I do not think that he will succeed. Nevertheless, until he succeeds I am sure that the House is right to back the Prime Minister in the courageous course that she has taken.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
The nature of the Libyan regime is not in doubt. It is an obnoxious dictatorship and much involved in international terrorism. It is known—this has never been denied by the regime—that many of Gaddafi's opponents have been hunted down and murdered, including a number outside Libya. I do not believe, however, that the kind of action taken by the United States can be justified in any way. There is considerable doubt that such action can be justified under article 51 of the United Nations charter. The general view of the legal experts who have given their opinion in the past 24 hours is that such action cannot be justified under article 51. Whether that will cause President Reagan much anxiety, I do not know.
Despite what the Prime Minister said, it has been publicised and not denied that there has been considerable misgiving on the part of some members of the. Cabinet about the action taken by the United States and about the way in which the Americans were given permission to use British bases for their action. It was reported on the news this morning that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Home Secretary and the chairman of the Conservative party had reservations about the action taken. In an interview recorded on Monday evening, the Secretary of State for Defence said that he was somewhat dubious, with his colleagues, about whether a military strike was the best way of dealing with the problem. If it is denied that he said 935 this, so be it, but it was reported in today's newspapers that he had said it in a radio interview on Monday. He was quoted as saying:It is too liable to hit the wrong people, and it creates other tensions in the area.We have seen photographs in the press of how the wrong people have been hit in Libya.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) said in the exchanges yesterday that one cannot fight terrorism with terrorism. I entirely agree. It is clear that a number of civilians, including children, have been killed in the raids, and others severely injured. If such casualties had occurred because of terrorist action, whether by the Libyan regime or anyone else—the IRA, for example—all of us would deplore such loss of innocent life. In my view and that of Opposition Members, we should equally deplore the loss of life which has occurred as a result of the bombing raids. The innocent have been hit, young and old alike. I accept that effective international action needs to be taken against terrorism, but what has happened this week is hardly likely to reduce terrorist acts.
Neither my right hon. and hon. Friends nor I wish to condone the kind of terrorism which has occurred in the past few years, causing such loss of life and such obvious disquiet, whether in the middle east or elsewhere. I agree, however, with those who have argued that the action taken by the United States could possibly strengthen Gaddafi's regime. The Arab states, with scarcely an exception, condemn the American action. It is not just the Governments of those countries in the middle east; large numbers of people in the Arab world may well tend to the view that Libya has been bombed simply because it has stood up to the United States.
That is the problem, as I see it. One of the by-products of the American action is that if Gaddafi survives it may make him into a kind of hero or martyr on the international Arab scene. That would be most undesirable.
Before they criticised the United States, many of my hon. Friends and a number of hon. Gentlemen on the Government Benches said that they were in no way anti-American. The same goes for me. I do not consider myself anti-American because I have criticised successive American Administrations, any more than I consider myself anti-British because I happen to criticise the present Administration or anti-Soviet because I strongly disagree with certain aspects of Soviet policy. So it is absolute nonsense to say that one is anti-American. Are those Americans who so vocally demonstrated against the Vietnam war 20 years ago to be regarded as anti-American?
Nevertheless, I share the understandable anxiety in this country about the attitude of the United States to its foreign opponents. People believe that President Reagan is far too quick on the draw. It is important to remember that the United States has made some very bad mistakes in foreign policy in recent years. I wonder how many Conservative Members would now wish to defend American action in Vietnam. It would be interesting to know. I was a Member when that war was taking place. I was one of the vocal critics of my own Government who were supporting President Johnson. I understand that tomorrow is the 25th anniversary of the Bay of Pigs, when President Kennedy tried to destroy the Castro regime in 1961. I wonder how 936 many Americans or even hon. Members on the Government Benches would wish to justify that bit of crazy nonsense.
I doubt that anyone would really wish to deny that terrorism occurs under the Gaddafi regime, and that sort of terrorism is to be condemned; but it has already been pointed out that the sort of action taken by the United States Government against foreign opponents, including the attempt to topple an elected Government in Nicaragua, is to be condemned. What about the way in which the Contras have been supplied with money and arms, the way in which the United States President is trying his very best to obtain more such funding from Congress? Is that not also a form of terrorism? Should that not be condemned? If Western leaders are to speak out against terrorism, it is important that they are able to do so with clean hands.
I have a great deal of sympathy with one matter which has been mentioned today, the Palestinian question. I do not take the view that if somehow the Arab-Israeli conflict were to be resolved there would be lasting peace in the middle east. There are other conflicts in the middle east, including a long-drawn-out war between Iraq and Iran which has very little to do with the Arab-Israeli conduct. But, like the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), although I too support the state of Israel, I am critical of its actions in the past few years, be it in Lebanon or on the occupied West bank. The Western powers must act to persuade Israel, in particular, of the need for a settlement of the Palestinian issue. I see no solution to that conflict until the Palestinians have a state, just as the Jews have a state in Israel. It is important to bear that in mind when considering the whole issue of the middle east and the way that terrorism has emerged not only from Libya but from the Lebanon and elsewhere. In many cases, it has arisen directly because of the Palestinian-Arab conflict.
We will be entirely justified when we vote against the Government tonight. We are concerned that the events of this week could be repeated. We must give a clear warning to the United States Administration that, although their action was approved and endorsed by the British Government, many people in Britain, and certainly the Opposition, are opposed to it. We would be right to reflect that in the Lobby tonight.
§ Sir Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)
I do not know the exact number of men and women who have been killed, maimed, mutilated or burnt during the past 10 years because the Western world has failed to take action against terrorism. However, I know that the number runs into thousands and that some scores of them were our fellow citizens in Northern Ireland.
Over the years I have pressed upon the Home Office, the Foreign Office and other Departments of the Government the view that weakness in the face of terrorism serves only to encourage it. I put that point when the MV Claudia was intercepted off Ireland with a cargo of 250 submachine guns and explosives—from Libya. I put that point at the time of the bombing of the Ideal Home exhibition, when about 50 of our fellow citizens were injured in bombings throughout the country—and and the Libyan radio claimed the credit. I put it again following the killing of Yvonne Fletcher. Indeed, I introduced a Bill to enable us to examine diplomatic baggage. All those pleas fell on deaf ears. There were splendid declarations at the summits, but in practical terms the drift went on.
937 It is against this background that I welcome the fact that the Americans have done what Europe could and should have done long ago—that is, to call a halt to terrorism and to draw the line in the face of Gaddafi's madness.
I believe that we may well be seeing the beginning of the end of Gaddafi. Some hon. Members have suggested that the American attack will strengthen his position, and in the short term they may be right, but in the not too distant future Gaddafi, like Idi Amin and other madmen before him, will be finished.
This morning I visited the two bases in Suffolk from which the F111 attacks were launched. They are a long way from Ipswich, so I was sorry to hear the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Weetch) telling my constituents that there would be blood on the streets of Suffolk because of the American action—
§ Sir Eldon Griffiths
The hon. Member for Ipswich said it outside this House. It has been widely reported upon in the area and is deeply resented by local authorities throughout my constituency. We in Suffolk have been in the front line for a long time. Our people will not be panicked by such irresponsible scaremongering.
I owe it to my constituents to satisfy myself and them on two points: first, the appropriateness or otherwise of the targets selected by the Americans, and their success or otherwise in making those installations unusable for terrorist purposes; and, secondly, whether those of us who live in the vicinity of those American bases—and, indeed, RAF bases—are now more at risk of Libyan revenge, and, if so, what steps must be taken to enhance our security.
As to the targets, they were precise, limited and related specifically to terrorism. Of the five that were struck, only one was in the city. I have studied the evidence as it has been made available to me, and I am convinced that every one was a legitimate target, because each was being used to service—that is to plan, train and support—bombings, hijacks, kidnaps and assassinations.
I have seen too much of killing, especially in Northern Ireland, not to feel the deepest regret about the deaths of civilians in Tripoli. I therefore inquired of those responsible for carrying out the American attack about the orders under which their airmen were operating. It is wholly wrong to suggest, as did my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), that the Americans were bombing cities. There is no truth in that. On a number of occasions the American crews, finding that they were unable to position their aircraft to release the bombs in a fashion that would ensure the avoidance of collateral damage—in other words, killing people—aborted their missions. They obeyed their orders not to release the bombs in these circumstances, and returned home without making the strike. That is a clear demonstration that the American pilots were operating under the most severe political constraints, and that is how it should be.
§ Mr. Heath
My hon. Friend must get the facts right. I did not say that the crews were ordered to bomb cities. What is obvious from the evidence is that, while trying to reach a target, civilian areas were bombed. Anyone who 938 tries to weigh up the balance of that responsibility for the armed forces knows that that is a human risk in which civilian life is destroyed.
§ Sir Eldon Griffiths
My right hon. Friend spoke of the Americans bombing cities, and I am bound to reject that.
I come now to the effectiveness of the attacks. My constituents would be prepared to support them only if they achieved their purpose. Of course, all eyes are on the civilian damage. We understand that, because the correspondents can see only the civilian damage. However, in military terms the Americans accomplished their mission.
At Tripoli airport, at least three, and possibly five, Ilyushin 76s—the large transport aircraft that Gaddafi has used to ferry his commandos on aggressive forays into other parts of Africa—were badly damaged or destroyed. At Benina airport near Benghazi, at least five and probably 12 MiG 23 fighter aircraft were badly damaged or destroyed. The commando training centre at Sidi Bilal was severely hit, halting the training of Gaddafi's underwater demolition squads, which have been used in terrorist acts. The control and command post at the barracks in Tripoli was badly knocked about too. It is a great pity that during the attack one stick of bombs went astray, with the consequential casualties which all in this House regret, as does the American air force.
It needs to be said that if the Americans had wanted to destroy the whole of the Libyan air force they could have done so. But that was not their objective. On the contrary, they were under orders to carry out a very limited and essentially low-cost strike, whose essential purpose was political—to warn Gaddafi, in the only fashion that he appears to understand, that he no longer can count on being able to organise, finance and execute terrorist attacks with impunity from his safe sanctuary.
I conclude by referring to the statements made by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. I listened very carefully and found myself in agreement with a deal of what he said. But I would find more convincing his suggestion that there are other ways and other places in which the problem that I have lived with for a long time could be tackled if he would say one more thing to the House, namely, that in future he will not apply a three-line Whip and lead his party into opposition to such things as the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1984. How can Members of the Labour party expect the country to believe that they are sincere in their opposition to terrorism when on a three-line Whip they vote against the Prevention of Terrorism Act, which was brought in by one of their own Members to deal with the problem?
There is always risk in dealing with terrorism. There will always be casualties, too, which all of us should regret. But surely we must take our stand where free people ought to be. The simple motto of Edmund Burke bears repeating, for over the last few years good men have done nothing and the evil of terrorism has gone on triumphing. The time has come to stop it.
§ Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West)
I propose to say a little about the remarks on Northern Ireland made by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths). As it happens, I have with me the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1984 and I use this as an illustration of the difficulty of defining terrorism. Terrorism, as defined in that Act, means 939the use of violence for political ends, and includes any use of violence for the purpose of putting the public or any section of the public in fear.That is a definition in an Act of this Parliament.
§ Mr. Douglas
The hon. Member should not presume to say how I voted. I listened very attentively to what he said and I agree with a lot of what he said. He must contain himself.
What I am trying to show here, putting it very succinctly, is that even that definition indicates that one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. That is a dilemma which we face in this country and which the international community faces.
It is a long time since I was in Libya. I have no love for Gaddafi's regime, but one tactical thing he did was distribute oil revenues in a way that brought considerable social benefit to the people. There is no gainsaying that the major exploiters of oil in Libya were the United States and United States companies. There has been no indication throughout the long period of Gaddafi's regime of effective action against Gaddafi over oil.
I do not go along with the view that the United States requires oil from the members of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries. The countries that require OPEC oil most, in Western European terms, are Germany, Italy and France. They and others may be soft on Gaddafi from the point of view of oil, but if action is to be taken against any nation in terms of a single product, surely oil sanctions against the Gaddafi regime in Libya have the best chance of being effective. That is something that we should have pursued strenuously in terms of the international community.
One of the disturbing features of this whole episode—and I take a different view of its genesis from that taken by other Members who have spoken this evening—is that our Government have over a long period, with the United States, eroded the concept of international law and the law of nations. [Interruption.] An hon. Member says "Oh". Let us take the example of the law of the sea. The genesis of this situation was that Gaddafi drew a line across the Gulf of Sidra and the United States wanted to challenge that. Here is a major maritime nation saying that it is going to challenge certain maritime rights. The United States, with our nation, undermined the whole of the United Nations deliberations on the law of the sea convention, yet the United States pleads in aid protection of the law of the sea. We have an example here of a battle fleet being sent to challenge the law of the sea in terms of innocent passage. If the United States had wanted to challenge a concept of international law, why did it not get together with other nations and suggest sending some kind of international fleet? But, no, it chose to send a battle fleet in a provocative way.
I do not think that it lies in the mouth of the United States or of this country, for example, to plead in aid the concept of international law and protection when we so undermined the endeavours of the United Nations to achieve an understanding on the law of the sea over a period of about 20 years.
No one now declares war. All nations plead in aid article 51 of the United Nations charter. It is about time that we read that article. It says:Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security 940 Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security. Measures taken by Members in the exercise of this right of self-defence shall be immediately reported to the Security Council and shall not in any way affect the authority and responsibility of the Security Council under the present Charter to take at any time such action as it deems necessary in order to maintain or restore international peace and security.Will any hon. Member suggest that the action taken by the United States Government in pursuit of its understanding of self-interest has enhanced the ability of the Security Council to take action to restore international peace? No one will plead that in aid.
Time after time from the Dispatch Box the Prime Minister pleaded in aid article 51. She also pleaded in aid the presence of United States troops in Europe. The vast majority of those troops are in the Federal Republic of Germany. One would therefore expect the Federal Republic to be America's best ally. Does the Federal Republic condone or support this action? American troops are there defending European interests—I accept that—but are also defending American interests.
One of my fears about this situation is that the American Government have thought in simplistic terms and that there will be a chain reaction in Europe which will trigger off a reaction in the United States—and I mean no offence to senators such as Sam Nunn—which will imperil and undermine the NATO Alliance. All of us in this country who believe in freedom will want to resist that.
Steps have been taken and we need a thorough investigation. I should not speak for the whole of the Select Committee on Defence but perhaps, as with a lot of other issues here, including the Westland issue, we should turn to a Committee of the House to investigate exactly what the United Kingdom Government's position is in relation to American-British bases in the United Kingdom—maybe British bases under American management. What authority do we have over them, because, as the former Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan) clearly indicated, there was no idea at the time of the Attlee Truman accord that American aircraft would be used for such purposes as we have seen them used in the past few days. Therefore, if the agreement has to be renegotiated, there is no time at present to do so.
In conclusion, anybody who thinks that the United States' action in Libya has enhanced international order is deluding himself. If the simplistic solution to the problem that the United States is perpetrating could be construed in that way, that would be a falsehood. The United States' action in undermining international law and the law of nations is not a prescription for a peaceful solution to problems, but, if other people follow it, a prescription for international anarchy.
§ Mr. Dennis Walters (Westbury)
The right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan), in an excellent speech, pointed out that Colonel Gaddafi was not central to a middle east peace solution or to terrorism in the middle east, or, indeed, in the world, and I agree. King Hussein and the Palestinians are much more central, and I am delighted that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will be seeing King Hussein later in the week.
There can be only a few people who know and understand the middle east who wish to see progress 941 towards achieving a peace settlement, who at the same time believe that Colonel Gaddafi has a contribution to make in that direction. His posturings, inflammatory language and support for terrorist activities have been highly provocative and damaging to the causes that he so loudly claims to espouse. The fact that he still enjoys a considerable following among the Arab masses is largely due to United States' foreign policy in the middle east. One should be able to say that without being subjected to the boring accusation of anti-Americanism.
It is, in fact, one's best friends who point out when they agree and when they disagree with one. The idea that one should blindly follow everything that the United States does is rubbish. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour) pointed that out this afternoon.
American policy has failed in the middle east because it has not been able to provide an even-handed approach to the problems of the area and has blindly supported Israel on all occasions. As a result, it has lost influence and credibility in the Arab world. Its backing of Israel has been constant since 1948, but perhaps never quite so absolute as under the present Administration. Whether Israel was breaking international law by continuing to occupy and colonise the West Bank and Gaza or offending principles of natural justice by bulldozing houses, sacking mayors, beating up students and shutting down Palestinian schools and universities in the occupied territories; whether Israel was launching an unprovoked war of aggression in Lebanon or was involved in a state terrorist attack on Tunis. President Reagan's total backing never wavered.
In those circumstances, it is no wonder that the United States' foreign policy has become a source of despair for those who wish to see western influence in the middle east preserved and enhanced. Such a partisan attitude has assisted in promoting the people that it was supposed to weaken. Colonel Gaddafi, radical fanatics and fundamentalists throughout the Arab world and Iran have all profited.
Perhaps the most telling incident recently was in connection with the supply of arms to Jordan. King Hussein, a leading moderate statesman whose efforts to achieve a just peace I am glad to say received a good response from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and Her Majesty's Government, but not elsewhere, asked the United States for the supply of military equipment. The Administration favoured a positive answer, but, under immense pressure from the Zionist lobby, the Senate made it clear that it would vote overwhelmingly to reject the King's request. A sensible foreign policy cannot be run in that way, certainly not if it is the foreign policy of the leading power in the western world.
On the American air strike against Libya, two questions should be asked. Was it justified in international law, and will it have the desired effect of weakening Colonel Gaddafi and eliminating his support for terrorism? If a state claims that it has taken action in the lawful exercise of its right of self-defence, it has to satisfy three requirements. It is obliged to use peaceful procedures before resorting to the use of force; it has to show that an actual necessity existed for it to use force; and the force that it uses in response to actual or anticipated armed 942 attack must be proportional both in kind and amount. I find it very difficult to accept that all those conditions were met.
On the second point, it is certainly right, as has been pointed out, that much thought should be given to effective ways of curbing Colonel Gaddafi's support for terrorism and in that respect the frustration of the United States Administration is perfectly understandable. Much more should have been done to isolate and weaken his regime. But bombing the centre of Tripoli as part of the way to achieve that end is neither defensible nor effective. Even if Gaddafi should now be overthrown, the fact that it came about as a result of a massive United States air attack will make it questionable that it will prove to be, in the long term, a western success. In any event, the killing of many civilians, including women and children, is unacceptable. The mother of Yvonne Fletcher, who is a constituent of mine, as indeed was her late daughter, expressed the view in a moving way yesterday and today.
For all those reasons, although I fully accept the great difficulty of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's decision, I should have liked to see the British Government take the same attitude as that adopted by France and our other EEC partners.
The best contribution that President Reagan could make to reducing middle east terrorism would be to ensure that Israel evacuated the territories occupied by force in 1967 and which resolution 242 27 years ago called upon it to relinquish. That would pave the way to peace in the middle east on the lines to which in the past the United States has subscribed and to which the overwhelming majority of countries still do, as of course do we.
Perhaps the most effective way to start making progress towards that goal would be to hold an international conference, and I have referred to that on many occasions in debates on the middle east. The participants should be the countries directly involved in the conflict and naturally, among those, should be the Palestinians who are at the heart of the whole problem. Britain. France, the United States and the Soviet Union should also participate. No one state should be allowed to block progress towards a settlement, and an international consensus does exist on what that settlement should be.
If peace came to the middle east, terrorism would receive a death blow. If President Reagan exercised his muscle in trying to bring about a settlement, he would receive and deserve widespread support. It is in that direction that we should be pressing him.
§ Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Devonport)
It would have been a very brave decision if the Prime Minister had refused President Reagan's request to use the bases in this country. It would have meant that she would have offended the United States, and none of us would normally want her to do that. It would have meant that she would have risked the charge of weakness, which she is obviously very afraid of. It would also have meant that the debt of honour that she no doubt feels she owes to President Reagan because of his support for the Falklands action might be called into question.
But that said, I have no doubt that the Prime Minister should have refused that request if President Reagan persisted in demanding the use of the bases on the terms on which he appeared to want to carry out the air raid. It is an essential part of Britain's conduct of international 943 affairs that we stick within international law. Such action could only be justified, possibly, under article 51. But it could have been justified under article 51 only if we could produce concrete evidence that without an air strike there would be planned raids in the future that would put our citizens, American citizens and citizens around the world at grave risk. But I do not believe that such evidence exists. It would have been hard to prove that a particular air strike would take out a camp containing terrorists who were due to leave Libya on terrorist activities, yet only those circumstances would have justified any claim to protection under article 51.
There has been much too much talk of retaliation and punitive raids to allow for any justification of the raid under article 51. It was wrong in principle for Britain to be party to a decision that broke international law. Time after time, Israel has launched punitive raids into other countries' territories and time and again we have all condemned it. Both Labour and Conservative Governments have upheld the principle of international law, although we have realised that the Israelis have often been sorely provoked by grievous terrorist acts. We have upheld international law and have not allowed sentiment to move us.
We are talking about a joint decision. Under the agreements of Attlee with Truman, Churchill with Truman and then those with successive Prime Ministers, the British Prime Minister should have a deep involvement in the nature of the decision. Indeed, that has been confirmed by the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath). But the Prime Minister has not yet explained why she felt it right, on technical grounds, to authorise such action. Surely her experts—if not she herself—were sufficiently involved in the planning to know that an air strike was planned against a target in a built-up area of Tripoli. Indeed. I hope that that degree of involvement existed. I believe that a senior RAF officer should have been immediately seconded to become involved in that decision. So surely the Prime Minister should have realised that there was a great danger of involving innocent Libyan citizens, and that the propaganda effect of that was so potentially great that it might sweep around the world and cause us great difficulty in justifying such action.
§ Dr. Owen
I am sorry, but I cannot give way, as I have only 10 minutes in which to speak.
I hope that the Foreign Secretary will make it clear that he understands that sort of involvement in joint decision-making. We are not talking about a blanket agreement or a general say-so. The use of British bases implicated us deeply in the decision, and we should have been involved in all aspects of that decision-making. The Prime Minister made a faulty judgment when she accepted the American selection of a target inside Tripoli.
I turn to the political grounds on which the Prime Minister should have refused the request. Her vehemence against terrorism is a matter of record, and I admire her for it. It is, indeed, shared by many hon. Members on both sides of the House. But state terrorism is a very different animal from the sort of terrorist activity perpetrated by gangs, political movements or strange individuals. If we are to defeat state terrorism in Libya, it is vital to achieve a complete change of mind on the part of Colonel Gaddafi—which is very unlikely—or his toppling. As has been 944 said, none of us perhaps understands sufficiently how to react to state terrorism. The first mistake to be made by Europe and the British Government was to turn down President Reagan's request, in January, for support for economic sanctions. It was obvious then that America was coming close to taking armed action. It was clear then that popular opinion in the United States would support it. When there was no response from Europe it fuelled American determination to take such action.
What sort of action should have been taken then? At the very least, all the bureaux should have been closed in all EEC countries. At the very least, we should have placed a restriction on all forms of economic aid. At the very least, we should have stopped all air travel to Libya once it had become clear that Libyan-inspired terrorism was continuing. Britain is still training Libyan pilots, and that makes it very hard for us to justify a refusal to take such action. It is easy for us to turn on our European partners, but we ourselves were not prepared to pay an economic price. On 8 January, I argued that we should support economic sanctions.
Incidentally, it would have been perfectly possible to stop flights to Libya. Anyone who broke the agreement to fly into Libyan airports would not be able to fly airlines into our airports. But there would have been an effect. However, if Colonel Gaddafi had continued his terrorism, we would have had to move on to restricting access to oil tankers to Libya. I say to the Leader of the Opposition that if one is to go for economic sanctions—I am glad that he now supports that idea—they may have to be sustained by the use of armed force. Many people would try to break such economic sanctions, and so we would have to be ready to impose a quarantine area around the Libyan coast. Such a quarantine was imposed by President Kennedy during the Cuban missile crisis and would represent legitimate pressure under the terms of the United Nations charter. It would have been far preferable to an air strike. Curtis Le May, the air force general in the United States at the time of the Cuban missile crisis, suggested an air strike, but the suggestion was rejected by Robert McNamara, the then Defence Secretary, and President Kennedy, as it would have caused civilian casualties. Even with the new technology of lasers that we have heard of today, we have discovered that it is still possible, even if it was the deposition of a bomber in distress, to damage civilians.
If a quarantine did not work, the next escalation of sanctions, if one had to take any bombing action at all, would be to take out the loading piers for the oil. All that is a graduated response. Throughout that graduated response it would be necessary to go to the Security Council and start producing the evidence of Colonel Gaddafi's involvement in terrorism. Once it became clear, as it undoubtedly did, that Libya was deeply implicated in the bombing of the Berlin discotheque, that evidence should have been produced.
As far as we could, we should have taken world opinion with us. We failed to do that. As a consequence, Britain is now unable to convince the world that the action we took was justified. It is a tragedy that the Prime Minister, who values the American relationship perhaps as much as any Prime Minister who has held office, should be the Prime Minister who, in recent decisions, not just in this area, has done much harm to Anglo-American relations. It would 945 have required great courage to say no to President Reagan. The right hon. Lady should have said no. She will regret it, and this country and the world will regret her decision.
§ Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)
I apologise to the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) if I do him any wrong, but I believe that if he had been Foreign Secretary he would have agreed to the American use of our bases.
Yesterday morning at 7 o'clock when I heard the news from Tripoli I was deeply alarmed. I did not know whether it was a crime or not but it seemed to me that it was worse—it was a political and military mistake. We shall see. The justification for any military action is not what has happened before but what happens afterwards—the result, the outcome. The justification for our dispatch of the task force to the Falkland Islands was not the illegal act of the Argentinians but the fact that we secured the rights of the Falklands Islanders.
Tonight we have an important question to answer. That question is not whether we agreed with the United States approach or whether we agreed with the details of the United States action, but whether it was right for us and our Government to allow the United States to use our Royal Air Force bases.
The right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan) said that, had he been Prime Minister, he would have said no. Had President Carter—Jimmy Carter, the friend of the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth—come to the right hon. Gentleman and said that his forces had been subjected to terrorism and that he wanted to take action against the source of that terrorism, I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would have counselled him, as I am sure my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister counselled the present President of the United States. The right hon. Gentleman would have counselled him about all the difficulties and disadvantages, but if Jimmy Carter had said that he wanted to go ahead I doubt whether the right hon. Gentleman would have said no.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) said that in similar circumstances he would have said no. He gave as an example the Yom Kippur war, when two of our allies were in dispute. He gave us the example of a Cypriot air base. There, a third party was involved. Given the circumstances of this week—a terrorist state with a terrorist leader and a request from America, our most important ally within NATO and our most important western connection—I doubt, despite what my right hon. Friend said, whether he would have said no. The circumstances he cited were different.
§ Mr. Marlow
My right hon. Friend is not currently the Prime Minister. I am saying had he been Prime Minister and in those circumstances, I wonder.
The right hon. Gentleman the leader of the Liberal party said that what has happened has irritated the Europeans. Had we declined the request of the Americans we would certainly have irritated our American ally. The right hon. Gentleman hit the nail on the head on television today. He 946 gave a reason why we should give our acquiescence to the Americans. He said that the United States is inward-looking. Had not only the rest of Europe, but we in the United Kingdom, said no to the United States in these circumstances on a matter that was vital to it, what would that have done to the Atlantic Alliance? What strains would have built up between Europe and America? It would have had long-term and significant effects. I believe that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was totally right in the circumstances and that it would have been inconceivable too for her to have come to another conclusion.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup brought us to the really important issue—the matter of the Palestinians. We should be talking today not so much about Libya as about the 4 million Palestinians who themselves suffer from terrorism. If we are to be even-handed in this issue, when we talk about what happened at Rome and Vienna as terrorist acts, surely what happened in Tunis, when innocent Tunisians were killed, was also a terrorist act.
In 1981 I was in Beirut. I saw there the result of some Israeli precision bombing. Eight-storey apartment blocks were razed to the ground—no military target at all—and hundreds of people were killed. In 1982 I was outside Beirut and saw the pall of smoke as Beirut was blown off the map by the Israeli air force. That also was terrorism.
If we are to be even-handed, let us be even-handed. If we are concerned with the subject of terrorism, let us seek out terrorism wherever it is and let us in future, when we debate this issue, debate the real issue. The real issue is the Palestinian people, their lack of a country, and the need to satisfy that lack.
§ 9.6 pm
§ Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)
Had I time enough, I would have enlarged on President Reagan's capability and on the Prime Minister's culpability. Perhaps it is as well that time prevents my doing either. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear hear."] There will be a chance.
What have been, and will be, the results of Reagan's criminal activities in acting out his cowboy dreams, with our compliance, against Libya? First, we have alienated the Arab world by what is only the latest in a series of humiliations that the West has inflicted upon it. The worst damage has been done to those countries that are closest to the West—to Egypt, whose Government may well not survive much longer; to Jordan, whose king has been increasingly cold-shouldered by the West and who could not have been more committed to the West than he has been; to the Gulf states, whose regimes are under the greatest strain from the political anti-Western developments of fundamentalism in the region; and to Saudi Arabia, which could bring the West to its knees if it had leaders with the will to do so, and if it had more concern for its brothers in the Arab world and less concern for the artificial price per barrel.
There will be great damage to both American and British interests throughout the Arab world, and grave danger to people of both nationalities—especially, I am sorry to have to say, to members of our embassies and others on official work. God help them.
However, the most significant—indeed historic—result will be the enormous boost to Islamic fundamentalism. Reagan will prove to have been the most effective recruiting officer for that cause. The actions against Libya 947 have made, and will make, millions of converts to that cruel faith. Islamic fundamentalism is now unstoppable. Watch out—it grows by suffering and death. Western interests will be increasingly under attack and eventually will be forced to beat a retreat from most of that area and other areas of the Moslem world.
What massive misjudgments the policy makers of the United States have been guilty of. What a price they will pay, and what a price we will pay for the Prime Minister's compliance with their operations. Are the misjudgments over? Will the United States now encourage Israel to seek out the terrorists whom they suppose to be working from Syria? Is Israel poised to attack that country? Are plans being made to bomb Damascus, on the pretence that Abu Nidal runs Syria?
Have I time to comment on the Foreign Secretary's supine performance? Perhaps not. Perhaps I had better not. However, his deceit of his EEC colleagues is something that they will find unforgivable and will damage his performance as chairman when he comes to that role in a couple of months.
There is only one way to bring international terrorism in the Arab context to an end. Ignoramuses like American politicians either do not know, or do not want to know, because of the overpowering Zionist pressures that they feebly yield to and pander to in the United States, that until the rights of the Palestinians are recognised—after many years a number of my colleagues are slowly coming to this realization—and their own country is established following self-determination, there will be no stop to such actions. They are an increasingly desperate people, but if it takes one generation, two generations or three generations or more, their struggle will go on. The Palestinian problem will not go away.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Before I call the Front-Bench spokesmen, I should tell those Back-Bench Members who have sat throughout the debate that I am sorry that they have not been called. I shall give them precedence when we have a foreign affairs debate, which I hope will be soon.
§ Mr. Denis Healey (Leeds, East)
This has been an exceptionally serious debate. All hon. Members have made a genuine attempt to think through a difficult problem. Very few of the speeches have followed party lines. Indeed, I do not think I have ever agreed so much with the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) since those golden days before the war when we fought shoulder to shoulder in a hopeless battle to prevent Lord Hailsham—then Quintin Hogg—from becoming Member of Parliament for Oxford.
It was clear from the debate that hon. Members on both sides of the House abhor international terrorism and want to defeat it. Nearly all of us accept Colonel Gaddafi's word that he supports such terrorism and has been responsible for financing and organising terrorist crimes in many parts of the world. The question to which we have addressed ourselves is how do we deal with terrorism in general, and with Gaddafi in particular?
Britain has a longer experience of terrorism than any other country going back to the colonial days. Even in my lifetime, we have fought terrorism in India, Palestine, 948 Malaya, Cyprus and Kenya, and we are fighting it today in Northern Ireland. In this long experience of terrorism, we have learnt three lessons. The first is that the indiscriminate use of force in a campaign against terrorism simply creates more terrorists. It is a major objective of terrorists to compel the legal authorities to use excessive force against them. We have also learnt that there are only two answers to terrorism. The first is painstaking police work supported by effective intelligence, combined with the protection of the more vulnerable targets. The second is political action to remove the grievances which are the breeding ground for terrorism. If we do that, we have at best often succeeded in converting terrorists into statesmen—for example, Nehru, Makarios, Kenyatta and Begin—and at least, if we cannot turn them into friends or statesmen, we can rob them of the water in which they swim. We can detach them from the public support upon which they absolutely depend to operate.
The Opposition have paid tribute to the Prime Minister's courage in trying to deal with terrorism in Northern Ireland and for trying to create an international framework in which progress can be made on removing some of the grievances and relaxing some of the tensions which divide the communities there. There was broad agreement in the House today that a precondition for dealing with the international terrorism which has disfigured so much of the middle east and Europe in recent years is finding a permanent state for the Palestinian nation—the Prime Minister of Israel recently referred to the Palestinians as a nation.
The Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, after appalling suffering during the past 40 years, are the major recreating ground for international terrorism. President Reagan should have learnt something from the fact that when Israel attempted to wipe out terrorism in Lebanon by military force, it proved a disastrous failure. The number of terrorist groups operating from Lebanon greatly increased. Those of Palestinian origin got active support from the Syrian Government. Now a new threat has been created among the Shi'ite population of Lebanon which gets active support from the Government of Iran.
Dr. Henry Kissinger and many other experts have been right to point out in recent days that, in the list of Governments supporting international terrorism, Gaddafi comes pretty low down. Even if, as seems possible from what we heard in some news bulletins, Gaddafi disappeared from the scene today, terrorism, as a result of the activities of the United States and Britain in the last two days, would continue, not diminish.
A question that we should ask the Foreign Secretary is whether Her Majesty's Government will support more American bombing against other Governments, if my prediction proves true, or take the route put to her by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan) and use all her influence with the United States Government to take a more even-handed position on middle eastern affairs, so as to move slowly and painfully towards a lasting settlement of the Palestinian problem.
Those of us who oppose Government support for American action rest our case partly on the fact that the action taken on the night of Monday of this week was seriously contrary to international law. When Israel took similar action against those it believed to be terrorists in Tunisia, she was strongly rebuked by Her Majesty's ambassador at the United Nations with the words: 949Arbitrary and disproportionate violence of this sort, even in retaliation, is in clear breach of this obligation.He was referring to article 2 of the United Nations charter, and he was right. If he were not right, Britain would have been perfectly justified in bombing buildings in Boston or New York and Chicago, where known IRA terrorists have their residences.
If the Prime Minister is right in accepting America's bombing of Libya as legitimate self-defence, that would certainly justify the Nicaraguan Government, if it had the capacity, bombing the CIA headquarters at Langley in Virginia.
I do not believe that it is possible, nor do most of those jurists who have written to the newspapers in recent days, to justify the action of the American and British Governments under international law. Those of us who oppose that action are also moved by the consideration that the actions Her Majesty's Government supported this week will be counter-productive and fail to achieve any of the objectives that the United States Administration had in mind when they ordered that action.
There is an overwhelming reason to agree with Sir Anthony Parsons, to whose advice I know the Prime Minister has in the past paid particular attention, when he said, of President Reagan,that sort of vigilantism is more likely to provoke terrorism than prevent terrorism.In the course of provoking terrorism such action has also destroyed the Anglo-Saxon influence in the middle east, and undermined those few friendly Governments that the west still has in the middle east. It has also divided the Commonwealth, divided Europe and divided the Atlantic alliance.
What is perplexing is that Her Majesty's Government seemed right up to late on Monday evening to share all the views that I have just expressed. On Monday afternoon, the Secretary of State for Defence told Radio Clyde:My colleagues and I are very dubious as to whether a military strike is the best way of doing this. It is liable to hit the wrong people. It will create other tensions in the area.He was speaking for his Cabinet colleagues and he was right. When he said that, he must have known that the broadcast would be put out by Radio Clyde on Tuesday morning.
That very afternoon the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Foreign Secretary spent many hours trying to persuade his European colleagues to draft a document which ended with an appeal for restraint to all concerned and which asked them to avoid a further escalation of military tension in the area. The right hon. and learned Gentleman was sufficiently impressed by the results of his work as to describe the communiquÉ as "vigorous and appropriate". Immediately after the meeting in The Hague ended his German colleague left to go to Washington to present the document to the American Government. But before Herr Genscher's plane touched down, his journey was destined to prove fruitless because a few hours after the Foreign Secretary left The Hague, and a few hours after the Defence Secretary had made his wise and prudent broadcast, F111 fighter bombers were roaring off British bases to bomb Libya, with the full support of the Prime Minister.
As I said, the Foreign Secretary described his work in The Hague as "vigorous and appropriate". Next day the Prime Minister described it as "passive" and "supine". 950 None of us who were here yesterday afternoon will forget the icy venom with which the right hon. Lady castigated what she called Europe for its passivity and supineness.
The very bombing of Tripoli, on which the Defence Secretary had shown such doubts and which the Foreign Secretary appeared to be steering his European colleagues to oppose, was justified yesterday by the Prime Minister with that strident absolutism which we have learned to recognise as the best sign of her inner insecurity.
In the light of those facts, I must ask the Foreign Secretary to answer a question: when he was negotiating with his European colleagues in The Hague on Monday, did he know that the United States was about to launch the task force, with British agreement and support, a few hours later? If he did, he was deliberately deceiving his colleagues. His Belgian colleague, Mr. Tindemans, has already given warning that if that was the case, the Foreign Secretary will have a very uncomfortable afternoon with them tomorrow.
§ The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Sir Geoffrey Howe)
The right hon. Gentleman pursues this point which I must assure him is without foundation. It is important to put the matter beyond doubt. Around the table in The Hague on Monday it was common knowledge that United States military action against Libya was a possibility and, indeed, an early possibility, but that no final decision had been taken. It is impossible to say in what detail any of our Community partners were privy to United States planning. Ambassador Walters visited a number of European capitals besides London discussing United States plans, and the discussion on that day was focused almost entirely on how the 12 should respond collectively to Libyan terrorism. There was scarcely any mention of the United States intention. No evidence emerged during the discussion that any Foreign Minister was aware during the meeting of a final American decision to attack. For my part, I had no confirmation of any decision by the President, still less of any decision to authorise raids that night, until I came back to London and met the Prime Minister.
§ Mr. Healey
The House and the Foreign Secretary's colleagues will want to reflect on this important personal statement by the Foreign Secretary, and I shall require injury time for the time he took to read his carefully prepared draft to the House. He has answered the second question. Presumably the Defence Secretary did not know either. Yet Mr. Larry Speakes told the American press the other day that last week the President asked his staff, "Shall we make it Monday night?" and they replied, "Yes." If the Foreign Secretary was not deceiving his colleagues, President Reagan was deceiving the British Government.
We all want to understand a little better how much the Foreign Secretary and the Defence Secretary were involved in this affair. Most surprising to me, apparently they were not present at the meeting between General Walters and the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister told us yesterday—and this is a matter for a connoisseur of "Yes Minister"—when asked whether they were privy to a decision she replied,we have acted together in knowledge of one another's views".951 We always assume that the Prime Minister knows her colleagues' views and we usually assume that she ignores them. The Prime Minister also told us yesterday without explaining the meaning of her words:the Overseas and Defence Committee of the Cabinet met on Monday morning."—[Official Report, 15 April 1986; Vol. 95, c. 731.]She did not tell us whether the Committee was told, apparently not, or what its members discussed. Perhaps they just sat admiring another of the manic monologues from the Prime Minister that always shed about as much light on the issue as an electric grill. The House and the country rely for knowledge about the degree of Cabinet involvement in these matters on a stream of information from the team at No. 10 that gave us the Westland drama, a mixture of ambiguities and disingenuities which the world is still trying to disentangle.
It is clear that the Prime Minister decided to offer the F111s after her meeting with General Walters. We now need to know why on earth she did that. She had no obligation to do it. The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup told us that in similar circumstances he refused such facilities in 1973. In view of what has been written in the press in the last day or two, can the Foreign Secretary confirm that the requirement of the United States to get British consent for the use of these bases gives Her Majesty's Government a veto? A positive answer to that would reassure many of us. If he is unable to answer the question directly in the affirmative, we shall want to pursue much further the details of the regime that covers these bases.
The Prime Minister said that she offered the F111 aircraft on the grounds that they were essential to reduce civilian casualties and to save service lives. But as far as we know, the only civilian casualties caused in the Libyan bombings were those caused by the F111 aircraft, and the only aircraft that was lost was an F111. Therefore, that argument does not stand up to even the most cursory examination.
I suspect, as do many others, that there was one reason only why President Reagan sought the Prime Minister's support. It was not military—it was political. He wanted to have at least one companion in crime, and when Mr. Speakes was asked that specific question twice at a press conference two days ago, he refused to answer.
The Prime Minister, thank goodness, today moved away from the "inconceivable to refuse" statement that she made several times yesterday to the original draft that her civil servants prepared for her, which indicates that the next time that President Reagan wants to have a go—as he has told us he will—she will want to consult him again. But how do we know that next time, as always in the past, when President Reagan says, "Jump", she will not reply, "How high?".
All of us on both sides of the House must be deeply concerned that the Cabinet does not seem to have been involved in these decisions. Even the Foreign and Defence Secretaries, who made their views known in public before the bombings took place, do not deem to have pressed their very sensible views. Faced by the impenetrable complacency with which the Prime Minister armours her invincible ignorance, they decided not to molest her with the facts. Many of us hoped that after the unedifying disasters that the Prime Minister underwent in the early months of this year she might have learned something about the need to consult her colleagues. To be honest, we 952 saw some signs in the ensuing weeks of Ministers, who had been imprisoned in the dungeons of Cabinet for many years, emerge blinking into the sunlight chanting the hymn to freedom from Fidelio.
Now, all this new Cabinet discussion appears to amount to a ritual and dreary debate every Thursday, at which obscure Ministers are compelled to volunteer views about issues on which they know and care nothing, while the real problems facing the country are still decided by the Prime Minister—and, I suspect, a tiny team of civil servants—at No. 10.
That just is not good enough for a British Government who must take serious decisions. The decision that the Prime Minister took last week will increase terrorism throughout the middle east. It has already split Britain from the rest of Europe, the rest of the Commonwealth and all members of the United Nations except the United States and Israel. She has thrown away her chance to use Britain's influence for good in seeking a middle east peace settlement, and she has exposed our own people—as she admitted this afternoon—to new and very unwelcome dangers.
For all these reasons, I ask the House to vote against the Adjournment motion.
§ The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Sir Geoffrey Howe)
The right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) commenced his speech by saying, rightly, that in this serious debate a number of views which are at variance with any party position have been expressed, and it is right that that should be so.
The House was told by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that I would inform it, so far as I could, of the information from Tripoli this evening. The information is necessarily incomplete. There was shooting earlier in the day, apparently centred around the Azizya barracks. It is not possible to assess the significance of that. A few minutes ago the head of the British interest section in Tripoli reported that about 90 minutes ago there was further firing in the streets. A blackout is in force in Tripoli, and there is no news of Colonel Gaddafi's whereabouts. Mr. Donoughue is not aware of any injuries to British citizens, although there is a possibility that one British citizen has been detained. That is the position in Libya.
During this debate a great deal of time has been devoted, understandably, to the middle east. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) paid tribute to the speech made by the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan). He echoed the important point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) about the fundamental importance underlying all these problems of seeking a peaceful solution to the central questions of the middle east. I wholly endorse that proposition. It must be said that action by outsiders cannot be a substitute for the vital steps that the parties involved must take for peace. As my right hon. Friend said, it is right that the west as a whole must address itself to the problems of the areas in which terrorists thrive.
The Government have been playing a sustained part in trying to promote that process. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will be seeing His Majesty King Hussein tomorrow, and she will be visiting Israel within a few 953 weeks. We were all glad to welcome Prime Minister Peres to this country recently. The Government remain firmly committed to this search for a peacefully negotiated settlement on the basis of the principles set out in the Venice declaration, which are upheld by our European partners, of respect for the right of Israel to secure borders and equal respect for the right of the Palestinians to self-determination. Let there be no doubt about our recognition of the importance of that issue.
Even if we could solve the middle eastern dispute, it would not put an end to the problems of terrorism. I agree with the right hon. Member for Leeds, East that solving that dispute may well serve to isolate state-sponsored terrorism. It would not stop it, but even to isolate and identify it would be an achievement.
I must take issue with the right hon. Member for Leeds, East because he seems not to have made the important distinction, which was made by his right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth, between terrorism and state-sponsored or state-directed terrorism. It is that about which we are concerned. It is quite distinct from traditional terrorism, although, God knows, that is bad enough. We have suffered enough from traditional terrorism, most obviously from the impact of IRA terrorism. IRA terrorism is not state-sponsored or state-directed terrorism. That is why the right hon. Gentleman was being more than usually fanciful in talking about a response to the IRA in the form of bombing Ireland or the United States. It is a completely different question.
Ordinary terrorism has to be dealt with through the ordinary agencies and instruments of law enforcement, but, in the words of the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth, state terrorism is quite different. We are dealing with countries that recruit, train and finance groups of people whom they dispatch to promote terrorism in other countries. The key feature of the terrorism with which the House is dealing today is brutality and onslaught, sustained and organised by a sovereign state, and managed, financed and dispatched through the agencies of Government. There is overwhelming evidence that Colonel Gaddafi's Government is just such a Government.
This afternoon, the Prime Minister gave detailed evidence of incidents of that kind. Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House are familiar with that evidence. In the speeches made throughout the debate today there has been no doubt about the implication of the Libyan Government in state-directed terrorism. That was the view of the Leader of the Opposition, the leader of the Liberal party, my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup, and the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth.
We know, too, that the British people are among Colonel Gaddafi's targets. We know that because of the very immediate impact on us of Libya's direct and continuing support for the Provisional IRA—support that has continued over a number of years. The House will recall the case of the motor vessel Claudia, which was intercepted by the Irish navy off the Irish coast in 1973 and which was carrying five tons of weapons from Libya for the Provisional IRA. The House remembers statements by Colonel Gaddafi himself saying that Libya is committed to support IRA terrorism in this country. Further evidence 954 of that support was the recovery in Ireland, on 26 January this year, of rifles, pistols and ammunition supplied to the Provisional IRA that had clearly originated in Libya.
In these circumstances, there is a plain right of states to defend themselves and their citizens against attacks and sustained threat of attacks directed, promoted and organised by another state. That point was clearly put by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Southport (Sir I. Percival). The right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) said that in those circumstances the right of self-defence is not clearly defined, and certainly not defined in article 51. The point of that article is that, although it does not define, it recognises the inherent right of states to self-defence against attack. The existence of that right is not in doubt. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford put the matter clearly when he said that the motivation for what has been done was not lust for reprisal. [Interruption.] I will come to that. The motivation is to reduce the risk of injury from terrorism to the citizens of this country and of the rest of the world.
It must be said as well that the right of self-defence is not an entirely passive right. It plainly includes the right to destroy or weaken the capacity of one's assailant, to reduce his resources, and to weaken his will so as to discourage and prevent further violence. All that is comprised in the right of self-defence. Of course, it is right that we should look first for a peaceful solution, but heaven knows how often and hard we have sought such a solution in this case. There has been resolution after resolution of the United Nations, and meetings of the seven summit countries, and of the European Community.
The Leader of the Opposition suggested the possibility of economic sanctions, a suggestion made in many comparable situations. In this case it may be right to argue that Libya is particularly susceptible to sanctions of that kind because of its dependence on oil revenues—and that is the point made by the right hon. Gentleman—but problems still remain. The question is whether such sanctions will be effective, and the lesson of history is that sanctions have not been effective unless they are universally applied. History also shows that, so far, sanctions are not universally applied, so that the lesson is that there is no relief and remedy down that road.
It was in those circumstances that the United States decided that the time had come to resort to the use of force in self-defence. In the circumstances described by my right hon. Friend, the United States sought our agreement to the use of aircraft based in this country. In the face of that request, our consent was necessary. [HON. MEMBERS: "Our consent?"] The consent of Her Majesty's Government was necessary, just as it would be necessary in respect of a similar request on another occasion for the use of United States bases in this country.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup reminisced about some aspects of this matter from Suez to the Yom Kippur war. Those right hon. and hon. Members who heard him speak about Suez will have found that the view he presented this evening is different from that which he presented at that time as a Government Chief Whip. I suppose that it must be comforting to reflect that even Chief Whips have the right to change their mind.
In his substantive point, my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup was dealing with a different situation. The request that was put to him at the time of the Yom Kippur war was, as he rightly said, to 955 allow intervention on one side of a conflict between two states engaged in a dispute. However, that was not the situation faced by Her Majesty's Government this weekend. On this occasion the request was to allow the use by an ally of her bases in this country for her self-defence against state terrorism, which threatened us as well as her. So that parallel is not the same. However, in every other respect the position was the same.
It was for the Prime Minister, in consultation with her colleagues, to decide, in the interests of the British people, whether or not to agree to the United States proposal. It was in consultation with her colleagues—[HON. MEMBERS: "Which colleagues?"] Let me answer the question. I am delighted to do so. There was consultation, among others, with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and me. The right hon. Member for Leeds, East created a mystery of the fact that I was not at the meeting with General Walters on Saturday morning. I was at a meeting in Germany that had been arranged long before then, to which I had gone on Friday night. I was back in Britain by lunchtime on Saturday and I was in contact with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister during the weekend. There is no mystery about my absence from the meeting with General Walters. The consultation was proper and it was for my right hon. Friend to decide, in the interests of the British people, whether or not to agree to the United States proposal. There was no obligation to say yes, there was no coercion to say yes, and there was no undue influence to say yes. We had to engage in a full consideration of British interests. Those interests included—[Interruption.]
§ Sir Geoffrey Howe
Those British interests included our right and duty to secure the defence of our people against terrorism. They also included the defence of our people against Libyan state-directed terrorism. To answer the question of the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke), the action had to be proportionate to the threat. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence explained in his interview on Monday, it was a difficult question. [Interruption.] Opposition Members may laugh, but it would have been profoundly serious if this question had not been seriously considered, and in earnest. And it was.
§ Sir Geoffrey Howe
I shall come to that point in a moment. My right hon. Friend asked many questions.
§ Sir Geoffrey Howe
I am just answering one question and then I will proceed with my speech.
My right hon. Friend asked many questions. He asked about the nature and conditions of targeting. Quite rightly so. Specific conditions were imposed. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) pointed out, not merely were those conditions clear and explicit; they involved very strict rules of engagement, clearly observed.
Let me correct one other misunderstanding here. At that time we were not setting out to destroy terrorism but to assist the defence of the United States against one particularly virulent export of state terrorism. In that 956 attack, the F111 was rightly used because the assurance that we were given was that it was best calculated to achieve the objectives necessary with the lowest possible risk of civilian or United States service casualties. It was emphasised to us that the aircraft's advanced avionics and precision strike capabilities made it particularly suitable in that respect. We recognised the force of the argument because the F111 aircraft is regarded as particularly appropriate for attacking difficult and well-protected targets with as much accuracy and safety as possible. In answer to the question raised by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Colchester, North (Sir A. Buck), the F111 aircraft are assigned to NATO but can be withdrawn from that assignment on notification. It was in those circumstances that consent was given to the use of those aircraft for the operation.
Hon. Members have asked if this action will not build up Gaddafi. Will it not build up support for him in the moderate Arab states? A proper assessment of that will show that significant, realistic support for Gaddafi will certainly not be increased in the moderate Arab states because they share the view of the rest of the world, that his wicked conduct of state-directed terrorism needs to be brought to an end quickly.
Will it build Gaddafi up in his own country? It is far too soon to say what the answer to that may be. But if that argument is allowed to be decisive, it has the result that the director of state terrorism is for ever left free to build up and sustain himself without challenge of any kind. That conclusion would be quite unacceptable.
Hon. Members have suggested that we have given the Americans a blank cheque for the future, that we risk in some way being drawn ineluctably into a further escalation of violence. It is an understandable fear, but it is, specifically, palpable nonsense. In the first place, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made clear in her speech today, our undertaking to support the American use of military force under extreme provocation was based on the American assurance that it would be directed against specific Libyan targets which were demonstrably involved in the conduct and support of terrorist activities.
§ Sir Geoffrey Howe
Let us be quite clear about this: in any action of this kind there is bound to be the risk of injury and damage to innocent citizens. That risk is inherent in any form of self-defence. It is no reason for rejecting the concept of self-defence in the face of terrorist action which ruthlessly and deliberately sets out to damage, destroy and kill innocent people.
In the second place, our agreement that United States aircraft should fly from bases in the United Kingdom, should that be judged necessary, was clearly and explicitly based on the same assurance.
In the third place, our position on any question of further action which might be more general or less directly targeted against terrorism was explicitly reserved. There was no blank cheque. There was a single, carefully drawn up agreement, and its limitations have been fully and honestly respected. I would have expected no less. Moreover, as my right hon. Friend told the House, it is clearly understood with President Reagan that if there were any question of using United States aircraft based in this country in any further action, that too would be the subject 957 of a further approach to the United Kingdom under the joint consultation agreements. Once again, our consent would be necessary. We have no wish—
§ Mr. Douglas
The Foreign Secretary has given a detailed exposition of the nature of the agreement made between the Prime Minister and the United States Government. Will he publish that in total?
§ Sir Geoffrey Howe
It is not a question of a publishable agreement. I am describing the series of exchanges between my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the President of the United States, to which my right hon. Friend referred in her statement yesterday.
We have no wish to go down the road of force—far from it. We have no quarrel with the Libyan people; our quarrel is with the deliberate sponsorship and practice of terrorism by the present Government of Libya. The question that we must now consider is what else must be done to bring to an end that conduct of terrorism; what else must be done to rid the world of a growing scourge that leads to nothing but bloodshed and misery for victims and perpetrators alike.
That is why the Government have been consistently pressing their European partners for non-military measures. I was grateful to the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth for his acknowledgement that we had been active in that sphere. We took our own measures in May 1984. We and our European partners have repeatedly condemned terrorism, most explicitly in our statement of 27 January.
However, we have not so far provided the necessary reinforcement for collective action by putting peaceful, moral and political pressure on Libya. I agree with those hon. Members who said that we can and should look for a more active response from our friends in Europe. The hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) and my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris)—although critical of the Government in other respects—made great play of that point.
What we now need from Europe, among others, is a concerted programme of measures designed to choke the supply of arms to the terrorists, to close their command centres, and to limit their freedom of movement in and out of countries. On Monday the Foreign Ministers agreed on such a framework, but alas too late. When the House rises tonight, I shall be going to Paris for a meeting at eight o'clock tomorrow morning, when I shall invite my colleagues once again to face the challenge that I believe they must meet.
Despite the differences of opinion created by the United States' use of military force earlier this week, the task now is to agree urgently on steps that will make the policy effective—strict implementation of the ban on arms exports from Europe to Libya; strict monitoring to prevent arms from reaching terrorist hands; a reduction in the staff of the Libyan peoples bureaux—if we cannot agree to close them altogether, we can at least reduce them to a level at which they can no longer do any effective harm —the tightening of restrictions on the movement of Libyans in those bureaux, whose role in the campaign of terror has been proved beyond any possibility of doubt—the bureaux are the main sinews of state-directed 958 terrorism, where messages are passed to and fro and where commands are given—and the tightening of visa requirements for Libyans entering our country.
There is no doubt that the most effective step of all will be to close all the Libyan peoples bureaux throughout Europe. I understand the problems that that would cause to some European countries. Nevertheless, I shall continue to advocate that step and the others that I have outlined with all the force at my command. Tomorrow morning, I shall be reviewing that matter with my European colleagues.
I do not believe that further escalation of violence is unavoidable. On the contrary, now that the Americans have shown their willingness and ability to use force, our aim must be patiently to persevere in a collective and coherent policy of pressure and persuasion—a policy bringing our fellow Europeans, the moderate Arabs and the United States into line. The United States has resorted to the use of military force under extreme provocation; it is for us to lead in trying to find a way to ensure that the circumstances that brought the Libyans to act as they did are never repeated.
We must show the Libyan Government and any other Government or organisation involved in terrorism that we are not going to tolerate the continuing abuse of our freedoms at the expense of our citizens.
I invite the House to vote in support of the Government tonight.
§ Mr. Banks
(seated and covered): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. A number of hon. Members have sat here throughout this debate and failed to catch your eye. Why, when the Foreign Secretary finished speaking at 9.59 pm, are we not allowed to use the extra minute to ask further questions or make a contribution?
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I did not see the hon. Gentleman rise but I did see the Front Bench leaning forward apprehensively in case the debate was talked out. That was why I put the Question.
§ The House having divided: Ayes 206, Noes 325.962
|Division No. 144]||[10 pm|
|Abse, Leo||Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)|
|Alton, David||Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E)|
|Anderson, Donald||Brown, R. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne N)|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith)|
|Ashdown, Paddy||Bruce, Malcolm|
|Ashley, Rt Hon Jack||Buchan, Norman|
|Ashton, Joe||Caborn, Richard|
|Atkinson, N. (Tottenham)||Callaghan, Rt Hon J.|
|Banks, Tony (Newham NW)||Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M)|
|Barnett, Guy||Campbell, Ian|
|Barron, Kevin||Campbell-Savours, Dale|
|Beckett, Mrs Margaret||Canavan, Dennis|
|Beith, A. J.||Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y)|
|Bell, Stuart||Cartwright, John|
|Benn, Rt Hon Tony||Clark, Dr David (S Shields)|
|Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh)||Clarke, Thomas|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Clay, Robert|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Clelland, David Gordon|
|Blair, Anthony||Clwyd, Mrs Ann|
|Boothroyd, Miss Betty||Cohen, Harry|
|Boyes, Roland||Conlan, Bernard|
|Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E)||Cook, Frank (Stockton North)|
|Cook, Robin F. (Livingston)||McKay, Allen (Penistone)|
|Corbett, Robin||McKelvey, William|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor|
|Craigen, J. M.||Maclennan, Robert|
|Crowther, Stan||McNamara, Kevin|
|Cunliffe, Lawrence||McTaggart, Robert|
|Cunningham, Dr John||McWilliam, John|
|Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli)||Madden, Max|
|Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly)||Marek, Dr John|
|Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l)||Martin, Michael|
|Dewar, Donald||Mason, Rt Hon Roy|
|Dixon, Donald||Maxton, John|
|Dobson, Frank||Maynard, Miss Joan|
|Dormand, Jack||Meacher, Michael|
|Douglas, Dick||Meyer, Sir Anthony|
|Dubs, Alfred||Michie, William|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||Mikardo, Ian|
|Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.||Millan, Rt Hon Bruce|
|Eadie, Alex||Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)|
|Eastham, Ken||Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)|
|Edwards, Bob (W'h'mpt'n SE)||Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)|
|Evans, John (St. Helens N)||Nellist, David|
|Ewing, Harry||Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon|
|Fatchett, Derek||O'Brien, William|
|Faulds, Andrew||O'Neill, Martin|
|Field, Frank (Birkenhead)||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley|
|Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)||Owen, Rt Hon Dr David|
|Fisher, Mark||Park, George|
|Flannery, Martin||Parry, Robert|
|Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Patchett, Terry|
|Forrester, John||Pendry, Tom|
|Foster, Derek||Pike, Peter|
|Foulkes, George||Powell, Rt Hon J. E.|
|Fraser, J. (Norwood)||Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)|
|Freud, Clement||Prescott, John|
|Garrett, W. E.||Radice, Giles|
|Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John||Randall, Stuart|
|Godman, Dr Norman||Raynsford, Nick|
|Golding, John||Redmond, Martin|
|Gould, Bryan||Richardson, Ms Jo|
|Gourlay, Harry||Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)|
|Hamilton, James (M'well N)||Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)|
|Hancock, Michael||Rogers, Allan|
|Hardy, Peter||Rooker, J. W.|
|Harman, Ms Harriet||Ross, Ernest (Dundee W)|
|Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)|
|Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy||Rowlands, Ted|
|Haynes, Frank||Ryman, John|
|Healey, Rt Hon Denis||Sedgemore, Brian|
|Heffer, Eric S.||Sheerman, Barry|
|Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)||Sheldon, Rt Hon R.|
|Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall)||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Home Robertson, John||Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)|
|Howells, Geraint||Short, Mrs R.(W'hampt'n NE)|
|Hoyle, Douglas||Silkin, Rt Hon J.|
|Hughes, Dr Mark (Durham)||Skinner, Dennis|
|Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Smith, C.(Isl'ton S & F'bury)|
|Hughes, Roy (Newport East)||Smith, Rt Hon J. (M'ds E)|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark)||Soley, Clive|
|Janner, Hon Greville||Steel, Rt Hon David|
|Jenkins, Rt Hon Roy (Hillh'd)||Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)|
|John, Brynmor||Stott, Roger|
|Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)||Strang, Gavin|
|Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald||Straw, Jack|
|Kennedy, Charles||Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)|
|Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil||Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)|
|Kirkwood, Archy||Thompson, J. (Wansbeck)|
|Lambie, David||Thorne, Stan (Preston)|
|Lamond, James||Tinn, James|
|Leadbitter, Ted||Torney, Tom|
|Leighton, Ronald||Wainwright, R.|
|Lewis, Terence (Worsley)||Wallace, James|
|Litherland, Robert||Wardell, Gareth (Gower)|
|Livsey, Richard||Wareing, Robert|
|Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)||Weetch, Ken|
|Lofthouse, Geoffrey||White, James|
|Loyden, Edward||Wigley, Dafydd|
|McCartney, Hugh||Williams, Rt Hon A.|
|McDonald, Dr Oonagh||Wilson, Gordon|
|McGuire, Michael||Winnick, David|
|Wrigglesworth, Ian||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Young, David (Bolton SE)||Mr. Sean Hughes and|
|Mr. Allen Adams.|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Emery, Sir Peter|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael||Evennett, David|
|Amery, Rt Hon Julian||Eyre, Sir Reginald|
|Amess, David||Fairbairn, Nicholas|
|Ancram, Michael||Fallon, Michael|
|Arnold, Tom||Farr, Sir John|
|Ashby, David||Favell, Anthony|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Fenner, Mrs Peggy|
|Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H.||Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey|
|Atkinson, David (B'm'th E)||Fletcher, Alexander|
|Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Vall'y)||Forman, Nigel|
|Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)||Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)|
|Baldry, Tony||Forth, Eric|
|Banks, Robert (Harrogate)||Fowler, Rt Hon Norman|
|Batiste, Spencer||Fox, Marcus|
|Beaumont-Dark, Anthony||Franks, Cecil|
|Bellingham, Henry||Fraser, Peter (Angus East)|
|Bendall, Vivian||Freeman, Roger|
|Bennett, Rt Hon Sir Frederic||Galley, Roy|
|Benyon, William||Gardiner, George (Reigate)|
|Biffen, Rt Hon John||Gardner, Sir Edward (Fylde)|
|Biggs-Davison, Sir John||Glyn, Dr Alan|
|Blackburn, John||Goodhart, Sir Philip|
|Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter||Goodlad, Alastair|
|Bonsor, Sir Nicholas||Gorst, John|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Gow, Ian|
|Bottomley, Peter||Gower, Sir Raymond|
|Bottomley, Mrs Virginia||Grant, Sir Anthony|
|Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n)||Greenway, Harry|
|Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)||Griffiths, Sir Eldon|
|Boyson, Dr Rhodes||Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)|
|Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard||Grist, Ian|
|Brandon-Bravo, Martin||Ground, Patrick|
|Bright, Graham||Grylls, Michael|
|Brinton, Tim||Gummer, Rt Hon John S|
|Brittan, Rt Hon Leon||Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)|
|Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)||Hampson, Dr Keith|
|Browne, John||Hanley, Jeremy|
|Bryan, Sir Paul||Hannam, John|
|Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon A.||Hargreaves, Kenneth|
|Buck, Sir Antony||Harris, David|
|Budgen, Nick||Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael|
|Bulmer, Esmond||Hawkins, C. (High Peak)|
|Burt, Alistair||Hawkins, Sir Paul (N'folk SW)|
|Butcher, John||Hawksley, Warren|
|Butler, Rt Hon Sir Adam||Hayes, J.|
|Carlisle, John (Luton N)||Hayhoe, Rt Hon Barney|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Hayward, Robert|
|Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (W'ton S)||Heathcoat-Amory, David|
|Carttiss, Michael||Heddle, John|
|Cash, William||Henderson, Barry|
|Chalker, Mrs Lynda||Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael|
|Channon, Rt Hon Paul||Hickmet, Richard|
|Chapman, Sydney||Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.|
|Chope, Christopher||Hill, James|
|Churchill, W. S.||Hind, Kenneth|
|Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)||Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)|
|Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)||Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling)|
|Clegg, Sir Walter||Hordern, Sir Peter|
|Colvin, Michael||Howard, Michael|
|Conway, Derek||Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)|
|Cope, John||Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)|
|Cormack, Patrick||Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey|
|Couchman, James||Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldford)|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N)|
|Critchley, Julian||Hubbard-Miles, Peter|
|Crouch, David||Hunt, David (Wirral W)|
|Currie, Mrs Edwina||Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)|
|Dickens, Geoffrey||Hunter, Andrew|
|Dorrell, Stephen||Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas|
|du Cann, Rt Hon Sir Edward||Irving, Charles|
|Dunn, Robert||Jackson, Robert|
|Durant, Tony||Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick|
|Eggar, Tim||Jessel, Toby|
|Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey||Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon)|
|Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)||Miscampbell, Norman|
|Jones, Robert (Herts W)||Mitchell, David (Hants NW)|
|Jopling, Rt Hon Michael||Moate, Roger|
|Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith||Monro, Sir Hector|
|Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine||Montgomery, Sir Fergus|
|Key, Robert||Moore, Rt Hon John|
|King, Rt Hon Tom||Morris, M. (N'hampton S)|
|Knight, Greg (Derby N)||Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)|
|Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)||Morrison, Hon P. (Chester)|
|Knowles, Michael||Moynihan, Hon C.|
|Knox, David||Murphy, Christopher|
|Lamont, Norman||Neale, Gerrard|
|Lang, Ian||Neubert, Michael|
|Latham, Michael||Newton, Tony|
|Lawler, Geoffrey||Nicholls, Patrick|
|Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel||Norris, Steven|
|Lee, John (Pendle)||Onslow, Cranley|
|Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)||Oppenheim, Phillip|
|Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark||Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S.|
|Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd)||Osborn, Sir John|
|Lilley, Peter||Ottaway, Richard|
|Lord, Michael||Page, Richard (Herts SW)|
|Lyell, Nicholas||Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil|
|McCrindle, Robert||Patten, Christopher (Bath)|
|McCurley, Mrs Anna||Patten, J. (Oxf W & Abgdn)|
|Macfarlane, Neil||Pattie, Geoffrey|
|MacGregor, Rt Hon John||Pawsey, James|
|MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)||Percival, Rt Hon Sir Ian|
|MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)||Pollock, Alexander|
|McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury)||Portillo, Michael|
|McQuarrie, Albert||Powell, William (Corby)|
|Madel, David||Powley, John|
|Major, John||Prentice, Rt Hon Reg|
|Malins, Humfrey||Price, Sir David|
|Maples, John||Prior, Rt Hon James|
|Marland, Paul||Proctor, K. Harvey|
|Marlow, Antony||Pym, Rt Hon Francis|
|Mates, Michael||Raffan, Keith|
|Mather, Carol||Rathbone, Tim|
|Maude, Hon Francis||Rees, Rt Hon Peter (Dover)|
|Mawhinney, Dr Brian||Renton, Tim|
|Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin||Rhodes James, Robert|
|Mayhew, Sir Patrick||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon|
|Mellor, David||Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas|
|Merchant, Piers||Ridsdale, Sir Julian|
|Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm||Terlezki, Stefan|
|Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)||Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs M.|
|Robinson, P. (Belfast E)||Thompson, Donald (Calder V)|
|Roe, Mrs Marion||Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)|
|Rost, Peter||Thorne, Neil (Ilford S)|
|Rumbold, Mrs Angela||Thurnham, Peter|
|Ryder, Richard||Townend, John (Bridlington)|
|Sackville, Hon Thomas||Tracey, Richard|
|Sainsbury, Hon Timothy||Trippier, David|
|St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.||Trotter, Neville|
|Sayeed, Jonathan||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)||van Straubenzee, Sir W.|
|Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')||Vaughan, Sir Gerard|
|Shelton, William (Streatham)||Viggers, Peter|
|Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)||Waddington, David|
|Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)||Wakeham, Rt Hon John|
|Shersby, Michael||Waldegrave, Hon William|
|Silvester, Fred||Walden, George|
|Sims, Roger||Walker, Bill (T'side N)|
|Skeet, Sir Trevor||Walker, Rt Hon P. (W'cester)|
|Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)||Wall, Sir Patrick|
|Soames, Hon Nicholas||Waller, Gary|
|Speed, Keith||Ward, John|
|Speller, Tony||Wardle, C. (Bexhill)|
|Spencer, Derek||Warren, Kenneth|
|Spicer, Jim (Dorset W)||Watson, John|
|Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)||Watts, John|
|Squire, Robin||Wells, Sir John (Maidstone)|
|Stanbrook, Ivor||Wheeler, John|
|Stanley, Rt Hon John||Whitfield, John|
|Steen, Anthony||Whitney, Raymond|
|Stern, Michael||Wilkinson, John|
|Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)||Winterton, Mrs Ann|
|Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Stewart, Ian (Hertf'dshire N)||Wolfson, Mark|
|Stokes, John||Wood, Timothy|
|Stradling Thomas, Sir John||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Sumberg, David||Younger, Rt Hon George|
|Tapsell, Sir Peter|
|Taylor, John (Solihull)||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)||Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones and|
|Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman||Mr. Gerald Malone.|
§ Question accordingly negatived.