HL Deb 15 April 1986 vol 473 cc553-66

3.49 p.m.

The Lord President of the Council (Viscount Whitelaw)

My Lords, with the leave of the House I shall now repeat a Statement on Libya which is being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister.

"With permission, Mr. Speaker, I shall make a Statement about Libya. Before I do so, may I first say that my right honourable friend the Leader of the House will shortly be making a Business Statement which will indicate that there will be a full day's debate on this matter tomorrow.

"The House is aware that on the night of 14th–15th April United States Forces made attacks on specific targets in Libya.

"The Government have evidence showing beyond dispute that the Libyan Government has been and is directly involved in promoting terrorist attacks against the United States and other Western countries, and that it has made plans for a wide range of further terrorist attacks.

"The United Kingdom has itself suffered from Libyan terrorism. The House will recall the murder of WPC Fletcher in St. James's Square. There is no doubt, moreover, of the Libyan Government's direct and continuing support for the Provisional IRA, in the form of money and weapons.

"Two years ago we took certain measures against Libya, including the closure of the Libyan People's Bureau in London, restrictions on the entry of Libyans into the United Kingdom, and a ban on new contracts for the export to Libya of defence equipment. Yesterday the Foreign Ministers of the EC reaffirmed their grave concern at Libyan-inspired terrorism, and agreed on new restrictions against Libya.

"Since we broke off diplomatic relations with Libya, we have had no choice but consistently to advise British nationals living and working there that they are doing so on their own responsibility. Our interests there have been looked after by the Italian Government. Our representative in the British Interests Section of the Italian Embassy will continue to advise the British community as best he can.

"The United States has tried by peaceful means to deter Colonel Gaddafi and his regime from their promotion of terrorism, but to no effect.

"President Reagan informed me last week that the United States intended to take military action to deter further Libyan terrorism. He sought British support for this action. He also sought agreement, in accordance with our long-standing arrangements, to the use in the operation of some United States aircraft based in this country. This approach led to a series of exchanges including a visit by Ambassador Walters on Saturday, 12th April.

"Article 51 of the UN Charter specifically recognises the right to self-defence. In view of Libya's promotion of terrorism, the failure of peaceful means to deter it, and the evidence that further attacks were threatened, 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 purpose.

"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 President assured me that the operation would be limited to clearly defined targets related to terrorism, and that the risk of collateral damage would be minimised. He made it clear that use of F-111 aircraft from bases in the United Kingdom was essential, because by virtue of their special characteristics they would provide the safest means of achieving particular objectives with the lowest possible risk both of civilian casualties in Libya and of casualties among United States service personnel.

"Mr. Speaker, terrorism is a scourge of the modern age. Libya has been behind much of it and was planning more. The United Kingdom itself has suffered from Libya's actions. So have many of our friends, including several in the Arab world. The United States, after trying other means, has now sought by limited military action to induce the Libyan regime to desist from terrorism. That is in the British interest. It is why the Government support the United States' action."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Viscount for repeating that grave Statement. We note that at the start of the Statement there is an agreement to have a debate in another place tomorrow, and we hope that the noble Viscount will understand that this House would wish to debate this grave subject as soon as possible.

Let me say at the outset that we totally condemn the appalling acts of terrorism committed at Libya's behest, and that we believe that the international community should take all reasonable and legal steps to bring them to an end. Notwithstanding what the Prime Minister has said, we are deeply concerned about the way in which the United States has reacted and the implications of the attacks on Libya. These are serious, because it is very doubtful whether the attacks can be justified as self-defence under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, as the Statement claims. Furthermore, the attacks have undermined the unity of the Western alliance, for Britain is the only country to support and abet the attacks. Again, the attacks will not end Libyan terrorism, they will affect relations with our Arab friends and, finally, they have put British subjects in Libya at risk.

I have two or three brief questions to put to the noble Viscount. First, why did the Government agree to the use of F-111s, based in this country for NATO purposes, in operations outside the NATO theatre and without the agreement of our NATO partners? Secondly, was the opinion of the Law Officers of the Crown sought on the legality of the operation in international law and, if so, what was their conclusion? Further, do the Law Officers agree that Article 51 of the charter was, in fact, breached before the attacks were made? Thirdly, if the evidence of Libyan guilt was irrefutable—that is the word which the Foreign Secretary has used—why was it not taken to the Security Council, so that a resolution condemning Libya could be sought, as happened at the time of the Falklands conflict?

Would the noble Viscount not agree that the US fleet had, in fact, ample fire-power to carry out any attacks decided upon by the United States Government without the F-111s from Britain? I believe that to be an extremely important point. Furthermore, is the noble Viscount aware that the paragraph on page 9 of the Statement that he has just read is very disturbing, where it states: 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 purpose?". Does that not give considerable power to the United States President over these aircraft based in this country and make a nonsense of the principle of dual control about which the Government have so often spoken to us? I believe that the House is very deeply concerned, as is the country, about this subject and I hope that the noble Viscount can give clear answers to the questions I have put.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, we on these Benches also wish to thank the noble Viscount for repeating this very serious Statement. But we must say categorically that we, as a whole alliance, repudiate the action which has been taken by the United States. We do not consider that it has been justified in the circumstances and we deeply deplore the support that has been given to it by Her Majesty's Government.

Of course, we recognise that Libya has been guilty of hideous acts of terrorism and we accept that there may well be other acts planned. The Foreign Secretary has said that he has absolute evidence that this is so. We must ask that we are given this evidence. Noble Lords will recall that, at the time of the Cuba crisis, President Kennedy was able to present photographic evidence which showed beyond peradventure the risks to which we were all exposed. Can we have comparable evidence to justify the claims that are being made of the danger from President Gaddafi?

We also believe that, as has already been said, the action that has been taken is both morally unjustified and politically not sensible. The Government have claimed that it is justified under Article 51 of the treaty. But if that is so, as the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, has also asked, why was not the evidence taken to the United Nations and a decision made there so that we had the moral justification and a United Nations decision behind us? Even if as a result of that the United Nations found it extremely difficult to take effective action, it would nevertheless have strengthened our position.

But even if there is this evidence—and we are prepared to accept that it is there, since we have been told categorically by the Foreign Secretary that it is—we do not accept that bombing is the appropriate reaction. Surely other measures could have been taken. We have not pushed sanctions to the fullest extent. At the present time Libya in particular is sensitive to sanctions in relation to the oil situation as it now is and on which Libya so greatly depends. Then there is the cessation of international air contracts and other quarantine measures that could have been taken. All of these should surely have been tried before a resort to force of this kind.

We are also deeply concerned about the political implications in the Arab world. Can we be told what reaction there has already been from other Arab countries and what we have to expect? Above all, we on these Benches are gravely disturbed about the implications for relations inside the European Community that this action must have created. We have stood here for a common Community foreign policy. The Foreign Secretary was meeting the Foreign Secretaries of the Community countries earlier this week. What was said and what reaction are we getting from those European Foreign Secretaries now that this action has been taken? As we all know, Gorbachev has been trying to drive a wedge between Europe and the United States. I can only say that this action has been more successful than anything Gorbachev is likely to achieve.

4 p.m.

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, and to the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, for their comments because they give me an opportunity to make clear, I hope, some of the factors which come out of the Government's actions and what has happened.

First, the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, asked whether there could be a debate in your Lordships' House. Of course I am prepared to see that that request is discussed through the usual channels. Personally I would greatly welcome such a debate. The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, condemned terrorism—and, it should be said to your Lordships, in this particular case terrorism promoted and encouraged by a sovereign government. I think that that is an extremely important point.

The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, then asked about the position of self-defence under Article 51. I think it would be appropriate for me to read a short paragraph from the President's statement on this matter. He said: The evidence is now conclusive that the terrorist bombing of La Belle discothèque was planned and executed under the direct orders of the Libyan regime. On March 25th, more than a week before the attack, orders were sent from Tripoli to the Libyan People's Bureau in East Berlin to conduct a terrorist attack against Americans to cause maximum and indiscriminate casualties. Libya's agents then planted a bomb. On April 4th the People's Bureau alerted Tripoli that the attack would be carried out the following morning. The next day they reported back to Tripoli on the great success of their mission. Our evidence"— the President continued— is direct, it is precise and it is irrefutable". That is the basis on which the President justifies American action of self-defence under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. He has other evidence to back that up, but I should have thought that that was a very important piece of evidence indeed.

The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, then asked me why we agreed to the use of the F-111s. I do not disguise from your Lordships that that was a most difficult decision for the British Government to take. But it was made clear to us that the Americans believed that if they had not been allowed to use the F-111s based in this country, the action would have been more difficult to carry out, as the original statement made clear, and secondly, there would have been a greater risk of increased casualties among American personnel. I only ask your Lordships to consider the position of those who took that decision. Had they refused to allow the American Government to use their own planes with their own crews, there might not have been as few casualties. I believe that that would have been a risk and a possible consequence of refusal. I ask your Lordships to put yourselves in the position of those who took that decision and consider whether that must not be something that was in their minds. I can certainly say that it was in my mind.

The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, then asked me about the Law Officers. Yes, of course, the Law Officers' opinion was certainly sought, and it having been properly sought it was concluded that the action concerned was compatible with Article 51 of the United Nations Charter in the interests of self-defence.

Lord Molloy

Self-defence, my Lords?

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, the noble Lord also asked why it was not possible for the United States fleet aircraft to be used alone, apart from the F-111s.

I hope I have given the answer that was certainly put to us by the President and which had to be most carefully considered by the British Government.

As for the future, it should be made clear when the noble Lord refers to what was said on page 9 of the Statement that on page 10 my right honourable friend stated: I reserved the position of the United Kingdom Government on any question of further action which might be more general or less clearly directed against terrorism". The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, raised the point from the previous page. Being a most fair person, if I may say so, he would think it proper that I should qualify it by what was said on the next page.

The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, said that the Alliance as a whole repudiates the action and deplores support given by this Government to the American Government. Very well; that is their view, but I can only say on behalf of Her Majesty's Government that, over the years, an alliance is a most important matter in international affairs. Allies must stand with each other whenever they possibly can and—I believe rightly—support each other in moments of difficulty.

No one in your Lordships' House can say that there have not been occasions in our history when we should have been deeply appreciative of the actions of the American Government in our support. That can never be forgotten. So those who decide not to support the American Government now must face up to the fact—and apparently this is what the noble Baroness has decided to do—that we would decline our support to the American Government at a moment when they felt that their citizens had been attacked by terrorist activity organised by Colonel Gaddafi in many parts of Europe, at great detriment to their citizens; and at a time when the people of America felt that it was unfair and unreasonable that such action should be taken.

Very well. To withdraw support at that moment from our allies is, of course, always possible. I believe I am entitled to question whether under the circumstances in which we are placed at the present time, that action could be regarded as wise.

Lord Home of the Hirsel

My Lords, there is to be a debate and so I shall be content to make two reflections on this situation. The first—and I am sure that the noble Baroness will be content with what my noble friend has said on this matter—is that the evidence is conclusive that we are dealing with international terrorism organised by a sovereign state against other members of the United Nations. That is a new and a very serious and very dangerous situation. If such a situation is allowed to continue unchecked, then there will be military responses from one country or another provoked beyond endurance. Then it will be impossible to allocate blame; and I cannot allocate blame to the United States on this occasion. There must be a better way found than military response to terrorist situations.

Noble Lords: Hear, hear!

Lord Home of the Hirsel

My Lords, Europe and the United States, and others interested in law and order, must meet urgently and give leadership to the world on this matter. I do not believe that that can be done below the level of heads of state. I hope that something of that kind will be organised soon.

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. Coming from him, those words are extremely important. He will certainly be heeded, and I can most assuredly tell him that I shall see that his words are brought to the attention of anyone in this field who may have missed them, because they are immensely important.

What my noble friend has said about co-operation and finding a way forward enables me to do something that I have failed to do, for which I apologise to the noble Baroness; it was entirely my fault. It was, that I did not mention the question she raised concerning our position with the European Community. I entirely accept that on this occasion it was not in accord—and it is obviously seen not to be so—with our European partners. I believe it was felt that they were not prepared as a whole to go as far as we believe was right in support of the American Government on this occasion.

Following what has been said by my noble friend, I must say to the noble Baroness that that does not mean that the need for co-ordinated action with our European partners is not extremely important. I can assure the noble Baroness that Her Majesty's Government will seek to obtain that so far as it is at all possible.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, perhaps the noble Viscount will allow me to place this matter in a slightly broader context. Is the noble Viscount aware that since 1968, when records of terrorist events were begun, there have been between 8,000 and 10,000 separate serious terrorist incidents? During the course of those incidents, rather more than 5,000 people have been killed and rather more than 10,000 people have been seriously injured. Of those incidents, all except a very small percentage—something like 6 per cent. or 7 per cent—have been against people, citizens or property of Western democracies. Ought we not to take that into account when considering this one single example of the use of military force in an attempt to bring the assault upon world structure and Western democracy to an end?

4.15 p.m.

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for those figures, which are no doubt accurate. There are many people in this country and many people in other countries in the Western democracies who feel that their leaders have been too slow to react to those particular incidents, which have led to great loss of life and to great suffering for many of their peoples. It is in response to that feeling and after, I suspect, having some instinct that he was not being as fully supported as he felt he ought to be so far as Libya was concerned, that the President of America decided that on this occasion, in view of the provocation to American citizens and the loss of life to American citizens, it was for him to take the particular action that he did.

Lord Bottomley

My Lords, does the noble Viscount the Leader of the House not agree that that government action has done more than anything else to consolidate Moslem fundamentalism? It has probably also created in the developing world more anti-American feeling than it ought to do, because the Americans have been their saviours in many cases. Will the noble Viscount do everything that he can to ensure that that kind of attitude does not spread?—because the real enemy in the world today is Moslem fundamentalism.

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I understand what the noble Lord, Lord Bottomley, says. No doubt those matters were closely taken into account by the President before he decided to take the action that he did. The question that was put to Her Majesty's Government—and I am sure that the noble Lord, who is extremely fair, will appreciate this—was whether, once the President had decided that such action was on the whole vitally important, as he believed it, for the self-defence of America, that was the moment when he asked, not for their participation in that action in the strict military sense but for the support of the United Kingdom Government and the right to use those aircraft and crews of his own who were based in this country. That is the part that we have played. Much of what the noble Lord has said naturally arises for consideration for this Government but also, of course, for our allies in America and throughout Europe.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, I ask my noble friend whether it was not inevitable, in the face of the wishy-washy reaction on Monday of European Foreign Secretaries, who refused to do anything by way of economic sanctions to help, that America would have to think in terms of defending its citizens, when Libya had proclaimed that it would murder American citizens in any part of the world in which they were found.

Is my noble friend aware that the people of this country, who recognise that American bases are here to help protect ourselves, would applaud the fact that the Government allowed those bases to be used on this occasion, initially in order to help the Americans protect their citizens?

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his last remark. As to his first remark concerning the meeting of the European countries, having given the answer to the noble Baroness and others that I should like to see the closest co-operation with Europe, as Her Majesty's Government do, I believe that it would be wrong for me to indulge in any recriminations at this stage as to what may or may not have been done by the European governments yesterday.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware that many of us who are firm supporters of the North Atlantic Alliance find this a deeply depressing day, in that we are put in the position of criticising the United States, which is something that we have no desire whatsoever to do, aware as we are of the crucial importance of a close relationship between the people of Western Europe and the United States? Is he aware also that there is the most overwhelming scepticism (to put it as politely as possible) and opposition by many others to what has been done in the past 24 hours?

Is the noble Viscount aware that many of us simply do not believe that what has been done will prevent Colonel Gaddafi launching further terrorist action? What will be done then? Will there be further air strikes against Libya? Will there be air strikes against Syria, which is also a base for terrorism in the Middle East? Those are the questions which must be answered by the Government.

May I further ask whether the noble Viscount will ensure that the debate, which he has guaranteed will take place, will be on a Motion that will enable the House to take a decision on this matter? Many of us will wish to register our views.

Before sitting down may I, in conclusion, ask this question? The noble Viscount referred to irrefutable evidence. As my noble friend Baroness Seear asked, if there is such irrefutable evidence—as, indeed, there may be—why was it not placed before the Security Council of the United Nations? That is what we should like to know.

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Harris, raises many questions about the action which no doubt must have exercised us all. They certainly exercised me during this time. The noble Lord has decided to come down on another side of the fence. I believe that in the circumstances it was right for the United Kingdom Government to support the American Government. The noble Lord deeply regrets that he cannot agree. We have to consider both positions. The noble Lord has decided on a different decision to me. That is his affair and I cannot answer for his decision.

I should add to the noble Lord that no one can be sure about these matters in the future. It would be a very unwise person who said that he was certain he was right. I have often been accused in my political career of not being sufficiently certain that I was right. I am not sure whether that is necessarily a deficiency. I think that it is important to face up to the fact that one has to make a decision. The noble Lord's decision is different to mine. I respect his position but I still believe that the Government's decision was right.

As regards a debate, I have learned, I hope quickly enough, as Leader of your Lordships' House, that for me to give off-the-cuff decisions when standing here without proper discussion through the usual channels would be extremely unwise. I have no intention of getting myself into that difficulty. There will be discussions through the usual channels as to how best any debate we might have should be mounted.

There was one other question concerning the Security Council. The answer to that is that I do not think it can deal with the matter in the end. I have given some of the evidence available to the American Government. They believe that on the basis of that evidence they were right to take action. Clearly that was their decision and it would not be for me to comment on it.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that there are a number of people, at any rate in this country, who profoundly feel that the fact that we have shown to the United States that in a dangerous situation we are a courageous and reliable ally may be a major contribution to the future peace of the world?

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. I can only say that that was certainly a consideration in the mind of Her Majesty's Government when they came to their decision.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, may I ask a single question? As we are to have a future debate, I ask this question. It is important that we should have the information as soon as possible. In the course of his discussions with his European colleagues, did the Foreign Secretary know that it was the intention of this Government to act as an accomplice in this matter and to permit flights from bases in this country? If so, was he not in the position of deceiving his Foreign Minister colleagues in Europe by concealing the fact that we intended to act as an accomplice and by pretending to go along with the various movements made? Has he not been placed in that position? Is that the case?

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I cannot accept the word "accomplice". I do not accept what the noble Lord says and, therefore, I do not think I have anything further to say.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords—

Noble Lords: Order!

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, is it not true that the American President is elected by total universal suffrage and elected on a democratic system? Is it not also true that Colonel Gaddafi came to power on the guns of some obscure squadron of tanks around Siwa oasis? Is it not equally true that our American friends are within the law in doing what they did? Were we not right to support them?

However, I then ask myself this. Were the Americans actually wise to do it? I ask that of Her Majesty's Government because, I suggest, the root cause of Middle East terrorism is the displacement of the Palestinians. Until the Palestinian problem has been solved there will be no settlement of Middle East terrorism.

Furthermore, is it not true that more terrorism is hatched in Damascus, in Teheran and the stews of Lebanon than was ever dreamt up in the wildest dreams of Colonel Gaddafi? Surely it should be essential to go to the root cause of the Middle East problem, which is the Palestinian Diaspora.

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. He has raised many considerations, all of which have to be taken into account when reaching a decision on this very difficult matter. All of them, of course, were naturally in the mind of Her Majesty's Government during their deliberations.

Lord Kennet

My Lords—

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, I have been up and down—

Lord Kennet

My Lords, is it not the case that this is the first time since the Second World War that American bombers have taken off from British airfields in hot blood on an operational sortie, and that this therefore constitutes the beginning of a new age for European/Atlantic relations?

On the question of information: if the United States—and, indeed, we ourselves—had all that incontrovertible information for a week before the terrorist outrage took place in the Berlin discotheque, why did we not use it to prevent the outrage? Was this information passed by the United States, or by this country, to West Germany? Was it passed to East Germany, from where the outrage is alleged to have been organised? Was it passed to the Soviet Union in the hope that they would dissuade Libya from committing the outrage? Indeed, was it passed to Libya to let them know that we knew? I heard the noble Viscount's statement about the Security Council. Was the information, simply as information, passed to the Secretary-General of the United Nations?

One final question: the Statement spoke of the conditions under which the Prime Minister would review the permission she had given for the use of British airfields for these attacks on Libya. If another attack were to be requested in the same form as the last, would permission be granted, given that the last attack killed innocent civilians and damaged the French and, I understand, the Swiss embassies?

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, the noble Lord first asked about the agreement on British bases. He will recall that this is based on the Churchill-Truman communiqué of 1952 which provides for joint decision by the two governments on the use, in an emergency, of the United States' bases in the United Kingdom. That agreement remains in force and has been continued by successive governments since that date. I think that is the answer. There have been no qualifications of the communiqué.

As regards the various other questions the noble Lord asked about the intelligence matters surrounding the bombing of the discotheque in Berlin, the evidence which I have given I should have thought was very convincing and, as the President said, irrefutable. To go into all the details of it would be something which I do not think anyone concerned with these matters could possibly be expected to do. I certainly do not know the answers to many of those questions, but if I did I do not think your Lordships would imagine that I could conceivably communicate them to you. As for the noble Lord's final question, that must remain hypothetical. The reservations of my right honourable friend were set out in her Statement and I do not think that the noble Lord would really expect me to go further.

4.30 p.m.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware that the House is grateful for the assurance he has given that we shall debate this matter, and for the manner in which it was given; that is, immediately, without hesitation, and conceding that the House must discuss this vitally important issue. We have to examine the situation in terms of the frightful peradventure that what the United States have done may well amount to a psychological victory for Colonel Gaddafi and all the hateful people who surround him. Does the noble Viscount agree that, as has already been stated, perhaps we shall now arrive at the frontiers of understanding and realise what the Palestinian people have been suffering for years when some idiotic Palestinian has threatened to slay one Israeli? They have been shelled, bombed, lacerated and slain by the thousand.

Does the noble Viscount further agree that though there would seem to have been a strong case for the Americans to have taken to the United Nations—as was pointed out on television by Sir Anthony Parsons, who was the Foreign Affairs adviser to the Prime Minister, and by Professor Wilkinson—law and order have now been temporarily abandoned and the United States are perpetrating another form of violence on what may well be a number of innocent people? My last point is this: is there not a possibility that this action may cause a very serious split between our allies and that our own nation appears to be nothing but a sycophantic lackey for the United States of America?

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I do not accept the noble Lord's last point. He has read me a considerable lecture and perhaps he has anticipated the speech he may seek to make when a full debate is held. I do not think that at this moment I have anything to say in reply to those various points, except to state that I cannot say when the debate will take place because that must be a matter for the usual channels and I do not wish to pre-empt them.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, after many attempts may I put a point to the noble Viscount, who is a most reasonable and wise man? Colonel Gaddafi heads a small, insignificant state and his whole power to cause trouble arises because he is enormously rich with surplus money obtained through his oil wealth. This country and the countries of Europe are much to blame for this action because we refused the President's call for economic sanctions. In fact, the ability of Colonel Gaddafi to cause trouble springs from his surplus wealth which he uses in this way. Therefore, should not this country and the European nations reconsider their rather greedy response and agree to all-out economic sanctions in order to dry up the source of the trouble?

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, let me return the compliment and say that the noble Lord is a wise and responsible person. As such he must remember that while economic sanctions sometimes seem attractive and may be used in certain circumstances, their record of solving disputes in the world is indeed a very poor one.

Lord Gladwyn

My Lords, if the Government believe that the American Government are justified in regarding a whole series of terrorist attacks against their nationals—not all of them inspired by the Libyan Government—as "an armed attack" coming within the scope of Article 51 of the charter, would it not equally be possible for us to argue that 10 years of terrorist outrages against us by the IRA are the equivalent of an "armed attack" on us and that we should therefore take the opportunity of bombing Dublin in order to exterminate this centre of their activities?

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I do not think I should go down that particular road, even when it is suggested by someone as distinguished in diplomacy as the noble Lord.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, there is one question which the noble Viscount has not answered. International civilised opinion throughout the world condemns terrorism, whether it be in Asia, Europe, Southern Africa or Latin America. But today international civilised opinion, apart from that of the governments of one or two countries including our own, has condemned as aggression the action last night of the American administration, and it fears that it is undermining international law and negotiation. Surely the collusion of the British Government in that act endangers the lives and health of their own citizens. The noble Viscount has not answered the question as to how last night's action is fulfilling the duty of this Government to protect British citizens.

I should like to ask the noble Viscount a second question. The evidence he has given has been doubted by Herr Genscher, the West German Foreign Minister, who surely is in a better position to know the facts than is the noble Viscount or the Prime Minister. Why is it that the British Government listen to what the President of the United States says about an outrage in Germany but apparently do not listen to Herr Genscher? The central question which the noble Viscount has not yet answered at all is whether either the American administration or the British administration made any efforts to refer to the Security Council the evidence which they claim to possess, at a time when a Security Council debate could have taken place on this issue? Will the noble Viscount answer that question directly?

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I thought I had answered that question directly in saying that in view of their role in the action that was a matter for the American Government to answer and not for the British Government to answer. Whether anyone should go to the Security Council must be a matter for the American administration.

On the question of protecting British citizens, of course there may be arguments both ways. It can be said that by supporting the American Government in this action we may cause difficulties, and one concern which I think we all share is for British citizens in Libya. At the same time if, by supporting that action, we succeed in dealing with a fount of terrorism (which no one denies Colonel Gaddafi has been) we shall indeed do a great deal to protect British citizens as well as American citizens all over the world. I think that must be a judgment which one has to make in this matter and that is a judgment which I believe we have rightly sought to make.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware that the latest development in this crisis, as reported by the BBC, is that the Libyan Air Force has attacked an American military facility on a Mediterranean island? Is this the first indication of the counter-productive and futile nature of the action of the United States and British Governments in this affair? Is this the beginning of the counter-productivity which all the opposition parties have been stressing this afternoon? Moreover, while it is clear to everyone that security can sometimes be a valid reason for not revealing the source of intelligence, surely security need not rule out the noble Viscount giving an assurance to the House, as I am sure he will, that the sources of this intelligence were Western and not Israeli sources?

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, the noble Lord has raised two points with me. First of all he has given some information to the House, and certainly to me, of which I was not aware. Nothing is more unwise than for someone answering for the Government to comment on some information which he has never heard before. I do not think your Lordships would expect me to fall into that particular trap.

As regards security and intelligence, I do not think I can answer that question, for reasons which the noble Lord will perfectly understand. However, I think it gives me an opportunity to answer the noble Lord, Lord Hatch. I know that he was smarting because I had not answered one of his questions. I can only say that the reason for that was not discourtesy but that I had forgotten to do so—one of the best possible reasons.

The answer is that this was the intelligence available to the President of America, who showed that intelligence, in requesting our support, to the British Government. That intelligence was therefore available to those governments. Because that intelligence is available to the American President and he provides it. I do not think that that necessarily means that Herr Genscher (because it is in Germany or in Berlin) must know more than the intelligence sources available to the American President at that time. I do not think that that is necessarily a solid point that the noble Lord makes.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, how does it come about that the Government are unaware that there has already been a Security Council debate on this matter and that it was introduced, not, as one would expect, by the United States, not by Libya, but by a third country, Malta?

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, the noble Lord says that the Government are unaware of this. I was indeed aware of that matter, but I do not quite see where it gets me.