HC Deb 04 October 2001 vol 372 cc671-88
Mr. Speaker

Before I call the Prime Minister, I have a short statement to make about security. In the light of recent events, security measures have been stepped up. Access to the Palace, both on foot and by vehicle, will be more strictly controlled. A primary element of this process will be the photographic identity pass, which Members should carry at all times and produce on request. Vehicles will be subject to search and Members are advised to allow sufficient time for their journeys, bearing in mind the likely delays on arrival at the House.

As Members may have observed, arrangements are in place for an armed response to an incident or intrusion should this prove necessary. This is in addition to the Palace of Westminster security force. Our own officers will continue their duties to control access to assist Members and visitors.

The House will understand that I cannot go into further detail, and I am not prepared to take questions about our security arrangements. I am sure that Members will give the security force their full support and co-operation.

9.35 am
The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair)

I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for recalling Parliament on a second occasion so that the House can consider developments since we last met. Then the scale of the 11 September tragedy was still unclear. Even today we do not yet know the precise numbers of those feared dead, but a bleak picture has emerged: there are up to 7,000 victims, including many British victims and others from 70 different countries. Many were Muslims. It cannot be said too often: this atrocity appalled decent Muslims everywhere and is wholly contrary to the proper teaching of Islam; and we condemn unreservedly also racist attacks on British Muslims here, most recently at an Edinburgh mosque. These acts are without any justification whatever and the full force of the law will be used against those who do them.

I pay tribute again to all those in America who have been involved in dealing with the human consequences of the attacks—the rescue services and medical workers who worked tirelessly and with devotion in the most harrowing conditions imaginable. I pay tribute also to our own consular staff in New York and London and to the family counsellors and Metropolitan police officers who have supported relatives of the British victims; and above all, I pay tribute to the relatives themselves. Those I met in New York, still uncertain finally of the fate of their loved ones, bore their grief with immense dignity, which deserves the admiration of us all.

Since 11 September, intensive efforts have taken place here and elsewhere to investigate these attacks and to determine who is responsible. Our findings have been shared and co-ordinated with those of our allies and they are clear. They are: first, that it was Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda, the terrorist network which he heads, that planned and carried out the atrocities on 11 September; secondly, that Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda were able to commit these atrocities because of their close alliance with the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, which allows them to operate with impunity in pursuing their terrorist activity.

I will later today put in the Library a document detailing the basis for our conclusions. The document covers the history of Osama bin Laden, his relations with the Taliban, what we know of the acts of terror that he has committed and some of what we know in respect of 11 September. I enter a major caveat, however: much of the evidence that we have is intelligence and highly sensitive. It is not possible without compromising people or security to release precise details and fresh information that is daily coming in, but I hope that the House will find it useful at least as an interim assessment. The Leader of the Opposition and the leader of the Liberal Democrats have seen the full basis for the document on Privy Council terms. For myself and all other Ministers who have studied the full information, we have absolutely no doubt that bin Laden and his network were responsible for the attacks on 11 September. That was also the unanimous view of the NATO members who were taken through the full facts on 2 October. Much more of the evidence in respect of earlier atrocities can be released in greater detail since it is already subject to court proceedings, and this in itself is powerful.

Indeed, there is nothing hidden about bin Laden's agenda. He openly espouses the language of terror; has described terrorising Americans as a religious and logical obligation"; and in February 1998 signed a fatwa stating that the killing of Americans and their civilian and military allies is a religious duty. As our document shows, he has been responsible for a number of terrorist outrages over the past decade: the attack in 1993 on US military personnel serving in Somalia, 18 of whom were killed; in 1998, the bombing of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, in which 224 people were killed and more than 4,500 injured; attempted bombings in Jordan and Los Angeles at the turn of the millennium, thankfully thwarted; and the attack on the USS Cole nearly a year ago which left 17 crew members killed and 40 injured.

The attacks on 11 September bear all the hallmarks of a bin Laden operation: meticulous long-term planning; a desire to inflict mass casualties; a total disregard for civilian lives, including those of Muslims; multiple simultaneous attacks; and the use of suicide attackers.

I can now confirm that of the 19 hijackers identified from the passenger lists of the four planes hijacked in America on 11 September, at least three have already been positively identified as known associates of bin Laden, with a track record in his camps and organisation. The others are being investigated still. Of the three, one has also been identified as playing key roles in both the east African embassy attacks and the USS Cole attack.

Since the attacks, we have obtained the following intelligence: shortly before 11 September, bin Laden told associates that he had a major operation against America under preparation; a range of people were warned to return to Afghanistan because of action on or around 11 September; and most important, one of bin Laden's closest lieutenants has said clearly that he helped with the planning of the 11 September attacks, and has admitted the involvement of the al-Qaeda organisation. There is other intelligence which we cannot disclose of an even more direct nature indicating guilt.

The closeness of bin Laden's relationship with the Taliban is also plain. He provides them with troops, arms and money to fight the Northern Alliance. He is closely involved with their military training, planning and operations. He has representatives in their military command structure. Forces under the control of bin Laden have fought alongside the Taliban in the civil war in Afghanistan.

For their part, the Taliban regime have provided bin Laden with a safe haven within which to operate, and allowed him to establish terrorist training camps. They jointly exploit the Afghan drugs trade. In return for active al-Qaeda support, the Taliban allow al-Qaeda to operate freely, including planning, training and preparing for terrorist activity. In addition, they provide security for the stockpiles of drugs.

In the face of this evidence, our immediate objectives are clear. We must bring bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders to justice and eliminate the terrorist threat that they pose, and we must ensure that Afghanistan ceases to harbour and sustain international terrorism. If the Taliban regime will not comply with that objective, we must bring about change in that regime to ensure that Afghanistan's links to international terrorism are broken.

Since the House last met, we have been working tirelessly and ceaselessly on the diplomatic, humanitarian and military fronts. I can confirm that we have had initial discussions with the United States about a range of military capabilities with which Britain can help and have already responded positively. We will consider carefully any further requests and keep the House informed, as appropriate, about such requests. For obvious reasons I cannot disclose the exact nature of our discussions, but I am fully satisfied that they are consistent with our shared objectives.

I believe that the humanitarian coalition to help the people of Afghanistan is as vital as the military action itself. Afghanistan was, of course, in the grip of a humanitarian crisis even before the events of 11 September. Four years of drought, on top of more than two decades of conflict, have forced millions of people to leave the country, and have left millions more dependent on international humanitarian aid.

Last week the United Nations launched an appeal for $584 million to meet the needs of vulnerable people in and around Afghanistan. The appeal covers the next six months. The international community has already pledged sufficient funds to meet the most immediate needs. The British Government have contributed £25 million, nearly all of which has already been allocated to UN and other agencies. We have also made available a further £11 million for support for the poorest communities in Pakistan, especially those most directly affected by the influx of refugees. I know that President Bush will shortly announce details of a major US programme of aid.

I, along with other Ministers, have been in detailed consultation with the United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers, and other leaders. Kofi Annan has now appointed Lakhdar Brahimi to be his high-level co-ordinator for the humanitarian effort in and around Afghanistan. We will give Mr. Brahimi all the support that we can, to help ensure that the UN and the whole international community come together to meet the humanitarian challenge.

I can tell the House that action is already in hand to cope with additional outflows of refugees. UNHCR is working with the Governments of the region to identify sites for additional refugee camps. The first UNHCR flight of relief supplies, including tents donated by the British Government, arrived in Iran yesterday. A second flight will depart at the end of this week, carrying more tents, plastic sheeting, tarpaulins and other materials, so that we can provide essential shelter for refugees.

We are also stepping up the effort to get food into Afghanistan before the winter snows begin. A UNICEF convoy carrying blankets and other supplies left Peshawar for Kabul on Tuesday. A World Food Programme convoy carrying more than 200 tonnes of wheat arrived in Kabul on Monday. Further convoys have left for Afghanistan from Pakistan and Turkmenistan.

We will do whatever we can to minimise the suffering of the Afghan people as a result of the conflict, and we commit ourselves to work with them afterwards, inside and outside Afghanistan, to ensure a better, more peaceful future, free from the repression and dictatorship that are their present existence.

On the diplomatic front, over the past three weeks the Foreign Secretary and I and other Ministers have been in intensive contact with foreign leaders from every part of the world. In addition, the Foreign Secretary has visited the middle east and Iran. I have visited Berlin, Paris and Washington for consultations with Chancellor SchrÕder, President Chirac and President Bush, respectively. Later today I will travel to Moscow to meet President Putin.

What we have encountered is an unprecedented level of solidarity and commitment to work together against terrorism. This is a commitment that spans all continents, cultures, and religions, reinforced by attacks like the one on the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly in Srinagar which killed more than 30 innocent people. We have already made good progress in taking forward an international agenda. Last week the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 1373. That makes it mandatory for all states to prevent and suppress terrorist financing and requires the denial of safe haven to those who finance, plan, support or commit terrorist acts.

The European Union, too, has taken firm action. Transport, Interior, Finance and Foreign Ministers have all met to concert an ambitious and effective European response: enhancing police co-operation; speeding up extradition; putting an end to the funding of terrorism; and strengthening air security.

We are also looking at our national legislation. In the next few weeks, the Home Secretary intends to introduce a package of legislation to supplement existing legal powers in a number of areas. It will be a carefully appraised set of measures—tough, but balanced and proportionate to the risk that we face. It will cover the funding of terrorism. It will increase our ability to exclude and remove those whom we suspect of terrorism and who are seeking to abuse our asylum procedures. It will widen the law on incitement to include religious hatred. We will bring forward a Bill to modernise our extradition law. That will not be a knee-jerk reaction, but I emphasise that we need to strengthen our laws so that, even if necessary only in a small number of cases, we have the means to protect our citizens' liberty and our national security.

We have also ensured, in so far as is possible, that every reasonable measure of internal security is being undertaken. We have in place a series of contingency plans, governing all forms of terrorism. These plans are continually reviewed and tested regularly and at all levels. In addition, we continue to monitor carefully developments in the British and international economy. Certain sectors in Britain and around the world have inevitably been seriously affected, though I repeat that the fundamentals of all the major economies, including our own, remain strong. The reduction of risk from terrorist mass action is important also to economic confidence, as 11 September shows, so there is every incentive in that respect also to close down the bin Laden network.

Three weeks on from the most appalling act of terrorism that the world has ever witnessed, the coalition is strong, military plans are robust, the humanitarian plans are falling into place and the evidence against bin Laden and his network is overwhelming.

The Afghan people are not our enemy, for they have our sympathy and they will have our support. Our enemy is Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda network, who were responsible for the events of 11 September. The Taliban regime must yield them up or become our enemy also. We will not act for revenge. We will act because we need to for the protection of our people and our way of life, including confidence in our economy. The threat posed by bin Laden and his terrorism must be eliminated. We act for justice. We act with world opinion behind us and we have an absolute determination to see justice done and this evil of mass international terrorism confronted and defeated.

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green)

The Opposition are grateful to the Prime Minister for his statement. He is correct to condemn attacks on British Muslims wherever they take place, and on their places of worship. I join fully in supporting him in that statement. Furthermore, our support should also be stated for those who have lost loved ones, as the Prime Minister said. We watched their dignity in their suffering and were not only impressed but took it as a lesson to us all. I hope that it is one we will never lose.

It is just over three weeks since the terrible events of 11 September in New York and Washington. Although the initial shock may well have subsided, our outrage remains, our anger is constant and our determination to bring the terrorists to justice must remain undiminished. The Prime Minister said that he would put before the House some of the evidence that shows that Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda planned and carried out the atrocities on 11 September, that they have the will and resources to carry out further atrocities, that the United Kingdom and its citizens are and could be targets and that bin Laden and al-Qaeda were able to commit those atrocities because of their close relationship with the Taliban regime. What bin Laden did before 11 September made shameful reading—what he did on 11 September adds to the existing list of charges.

I agree with the Prime Minister that there are good reasons why it would not be possible to release all the intelligence that he has. To do so could put lives at risk. The right hon. Gentleman has shared with me more than he is able to present here today and on that basis I am convinced that Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda and the Taliban are guilty as charged. Any war against these people is a just war. We must stand ready to fight for our democracy and for civilised values everywhere. Our prayers and our support, however, will also go out to our armed forces and their families for what they may be called upon to do in whatever may follow.

The events of 11 September show that terrorists such as bin Laden now accept no limits and that the rogue states harbour and nurture such terrorists, using them as instruments of their twisted purpose. In so doing, they place themselves outside the family of civilised nations. To defeat terrorism will require action on all fronts, as the Prime Minister rightly said. We need to strike at the terrorists themselves and to neuter the threat from the rogue states that give them succour. We also need to tackle the links between terrorism and the organised crime that helps to finance and sustain it.

I agree with the Prime Minister that the immense task ahead requires unprecedented levels of international co-operation. He is to be congratulated on his efforts in conjunction with those of President Bush to build a coalition of such diverse nation states. It is the clear responsibility of every civilised country to do what it can to stamp out this evil that threatens us all.

Some people may worry about the effect that military action could have on the survival of that coalition. Does the Prime Minister agree that it has been assembled for a purpose, which is to eradicate the threat of terrorism and the apparatus of terror as well as to bring those responsible for 11 September to account? It is a means to an end, not an end in itself. Therefore, will he consider carefully the role that Iraq may well have played and any threat that it continues to or might pose as a sponsor of such international terrorism?

Some people have genuine and understandable anxieties that British involvement is more likely to make Britain a direct terrorist target. Surely our response must be to remind them of the hundreds of Britons who died in the World Trade Centre. Britain is already a target: it has already been attacked and could be attacked in the future.

We recognise too, however, that any action against Afghanistan will almost certainly increase the exodus to refugee camps in surrounding countries. Millions of Afghans have already been driven to them by a combination of drought and the collapse of existing aid programmes, as the Prime Minister said. Therefore, I welcome his statement about the increased level of aid. Will he also undertake to ensure that the money allocated to the refugee crisis is spent to ensure that the camps meet as closely as possible internationally agreed standards and respect for basic human rights and that if possible no one country should bear a disproportionate responsibility for housing them? Finally, after taking whatever action may be required, we must plan for the millions of refugees to be able to return swiftly to a homeland that will be able to sustain them in their normal lives.

The Prime Minister spoke of measures to be proposed by the Home Secretary. In the context of 11 September we will certainly give our support to whatever measures are justified and we will scrutinise them in the usual way.

The Prime Minister rightly emphasised that this is not a war against Islam, but a war against terrorism—all terrorism, as he said. That has been recognised in Muslim countries such as Pakistan and others and by the majority of Muslims in the United Kingdom, many of whom I have met to discuss this issue, as has the Prime Minister. However, a small number of totally unrepresentative groups and individuals remain, to whom the Prime Minister referred as abusing the freedoms that we enjoy to voice support and raise money for terrorism, and in some cases to plan acts of terrorism overseas. When Sheik Omar Bakri Muhammad can claim from the safety of this country that the Prime Minister is a legitimate target for assassination if he visits a Muslim country, we need to review our anti-terrorism laws as a matter of urgency.

The Home Secretary ought to be able to prevent individuals entering Britain and to deport them on the grounds of national security without the threat of his decisions being overturned as a result of the Human Rights Act 1998. The Government must not let the Act stand in the way of extradition to the United States of individuals facing terrorism charges. That would be the wrong route. Where the law is ineffective or inadequate, it needs to be remedied and I agree with the Prime Minister. I repeat our offer that the Opposition will co-operate with the Government in any way possible to ensure that that can be done.

The Prime Minister said in his speech to the conference on Tuesday that the structures of terrorism should be attacked everywhere. Does he agree that this means not just waging war in a distant land but that, as he has said before, it applies as much here in the United Kingdom as it does in Afghanistan and Colombia?

As I have pointed out before, terrorist groups, including the IRA, the UDA, the UVF and others, raise the vast majority of their finance through criminal activity such as intimidation, racketeering, smuggling and—worst of all perhaps—drugs. What plans does the Prime Minister have to wage war on the Mafia sub-culture and criminality that have grown up alongside 30 years of terrorism in Northern Ireland and to ensure that the rule of law is upheld?

At the weekend, the Sinn Fein president described terrorism as "ethically unjustifiable", yet words alone will not be enough. The people of Northern Ireland require deeds. Surely in the aftermath of 11 September, people everywhere will fail to understand why terrorists even in Northern Ireland do not demonstrate once and for all that violence is in the past and that they are now unequivocally committed to peaceful and democratic politics. I hope and believe that the Prime Minister will use this opportunity to place maximum pressure on those on both sides of the fence to stand by their agreements and to decommission their weapons as agreed.

Finally, we believe that the Prime Minister was right to recall Parliament today. It is important, given the gravity of the situation and the likelihood of British involvement in any future action, that we keep the situation under short-term review. Yesterday the Home Secretary made a number of important announcements to the conference regarding the domestic response to the terrorist threat. Surely, given the importance of that speech yesterday, there is now a strong case for the House to be recalled again—perhaps on Thursday and Friday of next week—so that that some of those measures can be debated and discussed.

This is not about revenge and it is not about retribution, and it is not only about justice against one man; it is about standing up for what is right against what is wrong. It is about upholding civilised values against anarchy and it is about defending good against the evil of terrorism. So today we should reaffirm our single and collective purpose in this House. No excuses can be made, no justification sought and no help offered to those who would carry out such deeds. Simply put, let right be done.

The Prime Minister

First, I thank the hon. Gentleman for his support for the action that the Government are undertaking and also for his words about bin Laden and the hon. Gentleman's conviction that bin Laden is, indeed, guilty.

In respect of our armed forces, as I said a couple of days ago, one of the greatest blessings that any British Prime Minister has is the strength, determination and commitment of our armed forces.

In respect of the coalition, I read in parts of the media that the coalition is under threat but I have not noticed that at all in the discussions that I have had. I believe that those people who are part of the broad coalition of support for the action that we are undertaking know perfectly well that it includes military action. Indeed, not merely has that been made clear by, for example, the French President, but it was made very clear by the German Chancellor who himself is prepared to commit German military support for the action that we are undertaking. In Japan, the Japanese Prime Minister, in what was a bold and courageous move given Japan's history, committed self-defence forces as part of the logistical and support effort for any action.

I think that there is a very clear understanding right around the world that, in the face of what we are dealing with, there is no alternative unless the Taliban regime do what they have so far obviously failed to do and yield up bin Laden. If they fail to do that, there really is no alternative to taking action. Otherwise we will simply allow that terrorist network to remain, and we know that it will carry on committing acts of terrorism if it is able to do so. That is well understood.

One of the benefits of the way in which the United States Administration and President Bush have handled this issue over the past few weeks results precisely from the fact that they have not acted precipitately but have taken time to reflect and consider. Had there been a different way forward, it would have come through in these past few weeks—it has not. Therefore, I think that there is possibly a firmer and clearer understanding today among people who analyse the situation reasonably and sensibly that we have to take action.

In respect of Iraq, of course it is important that we act on the basis of evidence, but I point out that the no-fly zones are still in operation in respect of Iraq and that Britain, with the United States, takes action in policing them.

In respect of Britain being a target, I agree very strongly with the hon. Gentleman. Britain is in any event a target, as indeed are any of the main western countries—not simply Britain. Britain is known obviously as a very close ally of the United States of America, but acts of terrorism have taken place or have been thwarted in many of the major European countries. The situation is quite clear.

One of the things that will emerge from the document that we shall place in the Library of the House of Commons—to be fair, this is obviously known by the people who have studied such matters—is that we are dealing with an individual and an organisation that, as a matter of their strong belief and conviction, think it is right that they kill not just American civilians but other civilians around the world who have any connection with the west and western values. Indeed, they are prepared to commit acts of terrorism not merely against western countries but against people in Muslim countries as well. When people read the statements that have been made by bin Laden, they can see that there really is no alternative and that no common agenda can be established with such people.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is important that the money that is allocated in respect of aid should be used properly to meet international standards. One of the things that we have been trying to do over the past couple of weeks is establish with the United Nations a sufficiently solid organisational capability so that the money is allocated properly. That is why I was grateful to Kofi Annan for appointing Mr. Brahimi to co-ordinate the efforts. They have to be co-ordinated properly out there on the ground, both inside Afghanistan and in neighbouring countries. That will involve a very big effort indeed.

The small but significant number of groups that are here and that abuse our freedom are precisely the reason why we need to legislate. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his support—in principle at any rate—for such legislation, subject obviously to discussion of the details. It is important that we try to discuss within the main political parties how we can take forward these measures because the quicker they are done, the better they are done and the greater the consent for them, the better the legislation will be.

As we have tried to do in respect of the military action, we are very happy to make sure that there is proper consultation with all the main political parties on the measures that we propose. The Terrorism Act 2000 strengthened our law somewhat and did have an impact, but we recognise now that the law needs to be taken further.

Of course I agree with the hon. Gentleman about those terrorist groups that are still operating inside the United Kingdom. It is difficult to make further progress in the peace process until it is absolutely clear that those who want to play a major part in the government of Northern Ireland for the future have unequivocally given up violence for good. That is precisely the reason for the impasse. I believe, however, that it is also important that we maintain the peace process if at all possible. One of the lessons from the past few weeks is that, where we have a process in place, let us continue it. However, it has obviously got to be based on the principles that were set out in the agreement.

I again thank the hon. Gentleman for his support. We are now approaching the difficult time when action is taken. It will be difficult; there are no easy options in this situation. However, I hope and believe that there is a far clearer understanding today that, if we take the right military action, combine it with the right humanitarian assistance and build the right political and diplomatic coalition, we have not merely the best chance of succeeding but the best chance in succeeding of winning the greatest degree possible of support right across the world for what we have done.

Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Inverness, West)

We welcome this further parliamentary recall and the Prime Minister's statement that has accompanied it. Let me make it clear from the outset that, as he knows already, the Liberal Democrats fully support the Government's efforts to protect our own citizens and the interests of our military personnel—their families are anxious—and, with that, to root out international terrorism. In all that, he has our support.

It is surely correct that today Parliament stands united against the threat to the security of our citizens and to global interests generally. Obviously the Government are facing profoundly serious decisions and, those decisions once arrived at, must be subject to proper democratic scrutiny. That is parliamentary patriotism and it is a key distinction between all of us and the foe that we face.

We are all here to give calm and, we hope, cogent and effective voice to the legitimate aspirations and apprehensions of those citizens and constituents whom we all seek to represent. Of course, significantly, they include many members of the Muslim community throughout the United Kingdom. The evidence that will be published later today, and which I welcome, will make their apprehensions better understood and make it possible for them to be better addressed. I hope that as time goes by it will be possible, on both sides of the Atlantic, to publish more evidence. There must be no doubt that the evidence to hand is persuasive—persuasive as to culpability and breathtaking criminality and, further, potential criminality.

Will the Prime Minister reflect upon the overarching need to work within the broad framework of the United Nations? Specifically, does he agree that gaining UN support on the strength of the evidence against bin Laden would help to reassure world opinion about the justice of impending military action? For example, as part of that would he consider the case for making available to Kofi Annan and the Security Council the full extent of the intelligence information that is now available?

There are several specific aspects. Does the Prime Minister concur that any forthcoming legislation must meet two tests? First, is it likely to impact directly on the clear terrorist threat and the campaign against it? Secondly, can we satisfy ourselves that it does not compromise civil liberties to such an extent that the terrorist is seen to win by default? We will certainly support moves on extradition, as we have already with our colleagues in the European Parliament.

On religious hatred, an extension of existing discrimination law should be supported, although a longer-term, fuller equality act might prove to be the best way forward in days to come. Those are all matters for later, but what of the immediate military concerns? Is the aim to remove the Taliban regime from power? What analysis has been made of the possible political and humanitarian consequences if they are driven out of power and, ultimately, what shape or form of regime are we striving to see established in Afghanistan? What advanced planning is under way to deal with the humanitarian crisis that is already growing as each day passes? The more attention we can give to that, the more we can build upon the sound strategic patience of recent days and help to build a better state of future peace.

The Prime Minister

In relation to publishing more evidence, we will try to do so as we can. As was stated a moment ago, we have shared the evidence with key partners in NATO. We have to be careful about how we use it and where we disclose it.

In respect of acting within the broad framework of the UN, we intend to do that. The Foreign Secretary will say a little more about that in his speech. On anti-terrorist legislation, we have to make sure that it is careful and proportionate, but there are obvious gaps in our law. The right hon. Gentleman accepted that on extradition, but there are also gaps in the way that our asylum procedures operate which need to change or we will not be able to deal with this properly.

On objectives, as I said a couple of days ago, for the Taliban the choice is simple. They either surrender the terrorists and close down the terrorist network or they become our enemies. If that happens, and the regime were to change, we are already working in close co-operation with people in and outside Afghanistan to build an alternative and successor regime that is as broad based as possible, unites ethnic groupings and gives people the chance of a stable Government there. That is an extremely difficult task but from everything that I have seen and read, the Afghan people are as much victims of the Taliban regime as practically anybody else.

On the humanitarian effort, the key thing is planning. The money is there and we already have in place the necessary finance for the initial amounts that have been sought. The real problem, as we saw when we set up camps around Kosovo, is planning and capability. After consultations between myself and others, Kofi Annan has appointed one person in charge of that operation, but we need to ensure that the organisational capability goes alongside the money, otherwise it will not work.

David Winnick (Walsall, North)

As someone who does not often agree with US foreign policy, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he accepts that the United States has undoubtedly shown much diplomacy and restraint in the face of the atrocity of three weeks ago? If there are obvious dangers in any military action, does my right hon. Friend agree that, unless the terrorists are apprehended, there are equally opposite dangers in not taking military action because that would be interpreted by the terrorist network as the democracies being unable and unwilling to defend themselves? That danger must be minimised at any cost.

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It cannot be stated too often that the terrorist networks in Afghanistan are exporting terror around the world. Even before 11 September, they had organised an appalling list of terrorist attacks and, as my hon. Friend said, if we do not take action, there is no doubt that they will carry on committing acts of terrorism and be emboldened to carry out even worse attacks. As I said a couple of days ago, there is no doubt that if they could have multiplied the number of people killed on 11 September, they would have done so.

Sir John Stanley (Tonbridge and Malling)

The Prime Minister was right to warn in his earlier statement that what happened on 11 September is by no means the worst that can happen. Given the risk to the United Kingdom of a terrorist attack using chemical or biological weapons, whether that threat is specific or not, can the Prime Minister tell the House whether it is the clearly stated policy of the Government to take all necessary contingency measures against such an eventuality, including the stockpiling of vaccines and antidotes where they are available, in order to ensure that the largest number of people would have the best possible chance of survival if the worst should happen?

The Prime Minister

I know that the right hon. Gentleman takes a close interest in these issues and, of course, it is the Government's policy to take all reasonable precautions in respect of any potential terrorist threat. It is important to do so in a way that does not unnecessarily alarm people, but it would be irresponsible if, particularly after what happened on 11 September, there were no detailed work being undertaken and reviewed constantly as to how we should react to any potential threat. I do not want to say more than that, but in so far as it is possible to take such precautions, we do so.

Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee, West)

Will my right hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to the staff of the consulate-general in New York? As someone who was there when the planes crashed into the buildings, I had the opportunity to visit the consulate-general on Thursday and, by that time, its staff had dealt with 800 to 900 inquiries from anxious relatives all over the world, including not only the United Kingdom but Thailand and Australia. They had issued 150 emergency passports and had found accommodation for many people who needed to stay there, but had lost their homes. Much more vital, they had also been able to provide telephone land links so that anxious families in the United Kingdom and all over the world could talk to people in New York about whom they were concerned.

My colleagues and I were able to watch, at first hand, the way in which the emergency services responded. It was remarkable to see those individuals, who arrived the very second that the first plane crashed, freely go into that building knowing that they might not come out. We now know that most of them did not come out—yet as others came down the stairs, they rushed up them. There were many unsung heroes on that day, such as the emergency services chaplain who was killed while administering the last rites to one of the victims, and the two individuals who carried one of their colleagues, who was in a wheelchair, down 66 floors to safety. The most ethnically diverse city in the world—New York—responded magnificently after the initial shock and ensured, as we must ensure, that not a single part of the ethnic community that makes up New York was blamed.

The Prime Minister

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. First, I pay tribute—I hope that the House will join me—to Tom Harrison and all his staff at the consulate-general's office in New York. They were quite magnificent. The relatives paid tribute, even amid their grief, to the work that had been done and the help that they had received. A lot of people here, such as the Metropolitan police, played a enormous part in helping to co-ordinate the efforts to sustain those involved, which was obviously difficult for reasons that we know. We have said many times before, but it is worth repeating, that the emergency services in New York were magnificent. I have ensured that the Government have, on behalf of this country, made it clear to key people, to pass on to all their staff, how admiring the British people are of the efforts that they made.

Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West)

I expect that the Prime Minister will agree with me in commending those people in Worthing, and probably elsewhere, who will deal with the threat of Islamophobia by holding a fund-raising event—involving Muslims and those in other faiths, including the Christian denominations—for the fund for the victims of the disasters in the United States. Will the right hon. Gentleman pass on the thanks of the House to Mark Byford of the World Service and David Green of the British Council for making plain what they are doing in these times? Although the Chancellor no doubt has to keep the purse strings under control, may I suggest that he considers providing consistent extra funding—not only during this crisis, but beyond—to spread the idea of democracy and openness around the world, because the real way to confront such problems in the long term is to allow people to live in peace in their own countries, and that requires more democracy, not less?

The Prime Minister

I certainly pay tribute to people in Worthing and elsewhere who have made it clear that Muslims are with us in the struggle against terrorism. They have often been the victims. Indeed, many Muslims were killed in the World Trade Centre. I hope that people understand that, despite the often disproportionate publicity given the statements of a few extreme people who call themselves Muslims, the vast majority of Muslims were appalled at the acts that took place and condemned them utterly.

We are increasing the funding for the World Service, and it is worth it. It does a magnificent job around the world, as does the British Council. They are very strong British institutions, which play a part not merely in reaching people and in communicating with them, but in giving them some sense, if they live in a country struggling under repression or dictatorship, that there is a different world to which people can aspire.

Ms Julia Drown (South Swindon)

I support the Government in the actions they have taken since the appalling events of 11 September. In responding to those attacks, does my right hon. Friend believe that children in particular should be protected? If so, will he ask Ministers to ensure that no British children—under 18s—are sent into action in our name as part of this conflict?

The Prime Minister

I can assure my hon. Friend that we shall do all that we can to protect British children.

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)

I assure the Prime Minister of our continuing support for the actions that the Government have to take. May I also say that I am greatly impressed by the careful and deliberate way in which the actions of the United States have unfolded during the past few weeks? We hope that that indicates how matters will develop during the coming days. However, we know that choices have to be made between difficult and sometimes unpalatable options.

Terrorism is terrorism, and it requires no further qualification, so I ask the Prime Minister to reject the spurious distinction that some people seek to draw between international and domestic terrorism. The events of recent weeks—I am thinking of the arrest of the head of the IRA's engineering department in Colombia while developing similar mortars for the FARC guerrillas, the expedition of Sinn Fein's Assembly chief whip to Turkey in support of a variety of Turkish and Islamic terrorist groups and the appearance on Saturday at the Sinn Fein conference of a notorious Puerto Rican terrorist—all show that the Irish republican movement is part of an international terrorist network and that there is still no sign that it is making the changes required by the Belfast agreement. I ask the Prime Minister to bear that in mind in coming days. I understand his desire with regard to the present process, but we must recognise that it has now become a completely one-sided process. All the terrorist organisations in Northern Ireland—loyalist and republican—have broken their ceasefires in recent weeks and months, and sooner or later the Government will have to deal with the machinery and the resources of IRA and loyalist terrorism with the same determination as they display elsewhere.

The Prime Minister

First, the legislation that we propose will apply to terrorism wherever it occurs—whether inside the United Kingdom or outside, or whether it is international or domestic. Secondly, of course, we have the current impasse in the peace process in Northern Ireland precisely because it is necessary, if people want to play a part in the government of Northern Ireland, for them to demonstrate an unequivocal commitment to peaceful and democratic means. Given that the right hon. Gentleman has played such a large part in that process, I hope that he understands that, before it began, we also had a very serious situation in Northern Ireland, where terrorist groups operated and killed people year on year. We know that the situation is still very difficult and fragile there. Therefore, we must try to find a way forward, consistent with the principles that we set out in the Belfast agreement. That is what we are trying to do. I know that, because of the huge part that he has played, he will want to see that process move forward, and I accept that it can move forward only on the basis of principle.

Mr. Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool, Walton)

The publishing of some of the evidence is obviously very welcome, and we wish the Prime Minister godspeed in his efforts to consolidate the international coalition against terrorism. Will he tell the House what convinces him that, given the tragic failure of the intelligence community before 11 September, its competency has improved since 11 September?

The Prime Minister

I thank my hon. Friend for his good wishes in the action that we take, but we have to bear in mind two things. First, our intelligence services do a superb job. However, it is often difficult with organisations that operate in a highly secretive way to be sure of exactly what will happen. That is so even for a nation with the resources of the United States at its disposal. Secondly—my hon. Friend will know much about this—one of the things that we learn as we deal with such issues is that there can be a great deal of intelligence traffic, the significance of which may not be fully recognisable until after something has happened. Frankly, if we operated on the basis of every single piece of intelligence that came in, we would disperse our activities rather too widely. It is difficult, but I really believe that our intelligence is clear, certainly with respect to the attacks. But we have now reached the point where we must recognise that intelligence, no matter how sophisticated, is insufficient to deal with the threat. That is why we must deal with it directly and at source.

Patrick Mercer (Newark)

The Prime Minister has spoken of the strength and determination of our armed forces. How will that strength and determination be further reinforced by the use of specialist reservists such as Arabic speakers, interrogators, intelligence officers and, above all, medical men, all of whom so far have remained uncalled?

The Prime Minister

I pay tribute to the work of the specialist reservists and I assure the hon. Gentleman that we will use them as and when we need them. We are still considering the requests that have been made about the precise capabilities that we can offer, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we will make full use of all the different parts of our armed forces, including reservists.

Mr. Mohammad Sarwar (Glasgow, Govan)

We face the most miserable humanitarian and refugee crisis in history. Millions of people face starvation and hundreds of thousands are desperate to flee Afghanistan. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that continuous supplies will be the top priority at this crucial time?

The Prime Minister

I can confirm that. We have the money identified and we have experience of dealing with Afghan refugees, as there were some 4.5 million on the move before 11 September. People have been fleeing the Taliban regime for a long time. I am confident that provided that we put in place the measures that we have identified around the borders of Afghanistan, we will be able to provide for people in camps that are set up there, although it is a huge logistical organisational operation. However, it is also important that we try to get supplies to people in Afghanistan. That will be more difficult, in part because the Taliban regime have made it clear that they will take action against anyone who co-operates with western agencies, even relief agencies, but we are doing what we can.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

Will the President, I mean the Prime Minister—[Interruption.] I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman knows what I mean. Does he agree that suicide aerial terrorists have been waging psychological and economic warfare against the west and that the effect on the air transport industries in particular has been especially grave? Is it not the case that two state carriers have had to seek the protection of their Governments from bankruptcy and that many thousands of jobs have been lost, not least in this country? Will he assure the House that the Government will take specific measures to give airlines the resources to mount the security measures necessary and that, if necessary, airport departure tax will also be lifted?

The Prime Minister

We have the insurance agreement that will be of some assistance and, obviously, we are looking carefully at airline security measures. Of course these are difficult times for the airline industries and we are in close discussion and consultation with them. However, I believe that one of the most important things that we can do is to demonstrate by the strength of the action that we take that people can have confidence in going back to using the airlines in the way that they did previously. We have some experience—obviously less so given the particular nature of the attacks of 11 September—from the Gulf war of a crisis in confidence among people using airlines. I believe that that will pass when they see that proper security measures are in place and that we are taking the correct action. As a result of what happened on 11 September there is already a great deal more security in place and people should have confidence in the ability to travel as freely as they wish.

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston)

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for outlining the coalition that has been built up not just here in the House but internationally. That coalition will be severely tested over the coming days and weeks. Does my right hon. Friend agree that Members on both sides of the House will be judged by their conduct in the House and outside; that we must not lose sight of the overarching specific objective; and that force will have to be used to preserve peace, however uncomfortable that may be at times?

The Prime Minister

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. We are about to go through a difficult time because when action begins there will be many difficulties and problems, as there always are with such action. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her support. Of course it is important, in so far as it is possible—people in this country have the democratic right to disagree and long may that continue—to demonstrate a united resolve in this House.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

Will the Prime Minister take the opportunity directly to distance himself from the reported remarks of Lady Thatcher, who seems unaware that all representative Muslim associations in this country have condemned the atrocities in the United States? Does he hope and believe that the evidence that can be published will carry all members of the coalition? Will he reiterate that the military options available will avoid, wherever possible, the loss of further innocent lives? Finally, a number of hon. Members have remarked on the cautious, determined, hugely impressive and highly focused response of the United States Administration. Given that that is the response of the country most affected by the appalling events of 11 September, will the Prime Minister commend that hugely impressive stance to the rest of the international coalition?

The Prime Minister

I have not read in detail the remarks of Lady Thatcher. I have already said in my statement that the vast majority of Muslims totally condemn the attacks on 11 September. In respect of the evidence being shared with other allies, I repeal what I said in my statement—that this evidence has been shown to allies in NATO and they have accepted that it is compelling. I hope that we will be able to release more evidence. After the attack on USS Cole and the embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, evidence tended to emerge over a period of time, and people will find in the document detailed evidence of the complicity of al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden in respect of those attacks. The difficulty at the moment is that in the immediate aftermath of 11 September we have a desperate, urgent need to protect carefully our ability to gather further intelligence. That is the inhibition that is upon us and I hope that people understand that. The reason that I thought it right to release the document is that it shows at least the conclusions that we are able to draw from the intelligence that we have. As for the sensible way in which the United States has proceeded, I certainly recommend that to everyone and I think that it is supported by every member of the coalition that I know.

Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough)

My right hon. Friend said earlier that Sikhs and Muslims also lost their lives in the World Trade Centre. He will be aware that the Archbishop of Canterbury and other Church leaders have called for a national day of prayer tomorrow for peace, justice and reconciliation and that Muslims, Sikhs and other inter-faith denominations have supported that call for prayer. Does my right hon. Friend agree that tomorrow, in schools, workplaces and elsewhere, a moment of contemplation, meditation, reflection and prayer would give a sense of faith and hope to our people?

The Prime Minister

I agree with my hon. Friend. I spoke to the Archbishop of Canterbury over the weekend, and obviously I have also spoken to other religious leaders. The Archbishop of Canterbury is deeply committed to inter-faith dialogue, which is important in so far as good can come out of the terrible acts of 11 September. A closer understanding between the faiths would be sensible and perhaps a closer education of our own society about the degree of common heritage and common values would also be valuable. It is important, in these times in particular, that people understand where those of the faith of Islam are coming from and that it is a peaceful religion. It is also important that people in the world of Islam understand that we recognise that and also understand elements of the Christian, Jewish and other faiths.

Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon)

The Prime Minister has mentioned the need to change extradition law, but surely the problem is delays in the courts rather than weaknesses in the legislation. The United States has been seeking the extradition of three alleged members of the al-Qaeda organisation in connection with the African embassy bombings in 1998—one since September 1998 and two since July 1999—and France has been seeking the extradition from the United Kingdom of a terrorist suspect since December 1995. Not only are those delays unacceptable, they are almost certainly costing lives. If we are to be at the forefront of the fight against international terrorism, we cannot allow Britain to be used as a place where terrorists can seek safe haven from justice in our allied countries.

The Prime Minister

I wholly agree. That is why not only Britain, but other countries around the world—countries with very similar problems—are seeking to tighten their legislation. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the delays are in the courts, but, on the whole, they are caused by weaknesses in the legislation. That is why we need to change the legislation to eliminate those weaknesses.

We need to look very carefully at the powers we have and the ability to speed up the process. There is no point in our saying that we are leaders in an international coalition against terrorism if our own legislation is not up to the mark. That is another reason why it is important to act. I should add that we are not the only country considering such action—most European countries and other countries are considering the same thing. Our laws, rightly and properly, have been drawn up to deal with the generality, the majority, of cases, but in the face of the current highly specific threat—even if it applies only to a small number of cases—we have to ensure that our law has the integrity that we need.

Back to