§ 10.9 a.m.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister:
"Mr. Speaker, I am grateful to you for recalling Parliament on a second occasion so that the House can consider developments since it last met.
"Then the scale of the 11th September tragedy was still unclear. Even today we do not yet know the precise numbers of those feared dead. But a bleak 102 picture has emerged. There are up to 7,000 feared dead, 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 true teaching of Islam. We condemn unreservedly racist attacks on British Muslims here, most recently at the Edinburgh mosque. These acts are without any justification whatever, and the full force of the law will be used against those who commit 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 to our own consular staff in New York and London and the family counsellors and Metropolitan Police officers who have supported relatives of the victims; and, above all, 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 11th September intensive efforts have taken place here and elsewhere to investigate these attacks and determine who is responsible. Our findings have been shared and co-ordinated with those of our allies, and are clear. They are: first, it was Osama bin Laden and Al'Qaeda, the terrorist network which he heads, that planned and carried out the atrocities on 11th September; secondly, Osama bin Laden and 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 of the House of Commons 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 he has committed, and some of what we know in respect of 11th September. I enter a major caveat. Much of the evidence we have is intelligence and highly sensitive. It is not possible without compromising people or security to release precise details and fresh information is daily coming in. But I hope 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 government Ministers who have studied the full information, we have absolutely no doubt that bin Laden and his network are responsible for the attacks on 11th September. That was also the unanimous view of the NATO members who were taken through the full facts on 2nd October. Much more of the evidence in respect of earlier atrocities cart 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 103 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 United States military personnel serving in Somalia where 18 United States military personnel were killed; the bombings in 1998 of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania where 224 people were killed and over 4,500 injured; attempted bombings in Jordan and Los Angeles at the turn of the millennium which were 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 11th 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 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 on 11th 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 11th 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 about 11th September and, most importantly, one of bin Laden's closest lieutenants has said clearly that he helped with the planning of the 11th September attacks and has admitted the involvement of the Al'Qaeda organisation. There is other intelligence 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 the Taliban with troops, arms and money to fight the Northern Alliance. He is closely involved with the Taliban's military training, planning and operations. He has representatives in the Taliban's military command structure. Forces under the control of bin Laden have fought alongside the Taliban in the civil war in Afghanistan.
"The Taliban regime for its part has 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 allows Al'Qaeda to operate freely, including 104 planning, training and preparing for terrorist activity. In addition it provides security for 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 they pose. 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 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 to this. We shall 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 the humanitarian coalition to help the people of Afghanistan to be as vital as any military action itself. Afghanistan was in the grip of a humanitarian crisis even before the events of 11th September. Four years of drought on top of over 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 dollars 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 United Nations 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 United States programme of aid.
"I have been in detailed consultation with the United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers, and other leaders. Kofi Annan has now appointed Lakhdar Brahimi to be his high level coordinator for the humanitarian effort in and around Afghanistan. We shall give Mr Brahimi all the support we can to help ensure that the United Nations and the whole of the international community come together to meet the humanitarian challenge.
"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 105 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 and tarpaulins 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 over 200 tonnes of wheat arrived in Kabul on Monday. Further WFP convoys have left for Afghanistan from Pakistan and Turkmenistan.
"We will do what 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 is their present existence.
"On the diplomatic front, over the past three weeks the Foreign Secretary and I 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 Shröder, 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 over 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. This 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 looking closely 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 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.
106 "It will not be a knee-jerk reaction. But I emphasise that we do need to strengthen our laws so that, even if necessary in only 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 it 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, at all levels. In addition, we continue to monitor carefully developments in the British and international economy. Certain sectors here and around the world inevitably have 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 to economic confidence, as 11th September showed. So there is every incentive in this respect also to close down the bin Laden network.
"Three weeks on from the most appalling act of terrorism the world has ever witnessed, the coalition is strong. Military plans are robust. The humanitarian plans are falling into place. The evidence against bin Laden and his network is overwhelming. The Afghan people are not our enemy. 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 11th September. The Taliban regime must yield them up or also become our enemy. We shall not act for revenge. We will act because, for the protection of our people and our way of life, including confidence in our economy, we need to eliminate the threat bin Laden and his terrorism represent. 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 terrorism confronted and defeated".
§ My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
§ 10.25 a.m.
§ Lord Strathclyde
My Lords, once again, as on 14th September, I thank the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House for repeating this comprehensive Statement and for making his earlier statement on security in the Palace of Westminster.
As he well knows, the Government have the full support of this side of the House in their war on terrorism. The Prime Minister spoke well on this subject earlier this week. I have no difficulty in saying that. The Prime Minister must know that whatever doubts there may be among some around him, we will support him in pursuing the machinery of terror, wherever it may be found, with vigour and persistence.
So I welcome the assurance that the Government are prepared to prosecute this fight for the rest of this Parliament, if need be. But in the event of armed action taking place, will the noble and learned Lord undertake to inform the House at the earliest 107 opportunity? Furthermore, given the large number of speakers in today's debate, will he soon offer a day for a further debate to which Home Office and international development Ministers can reply?
Perhaps the noble and learned Lord could go further than the Statement by telling the House what are our aims in Afghanistan. On Tuesday afternoon the Prime Minister told the Taliban, "Surrender bin Laden or surrender power". On Tuesday night, the Foreign Secretary said that we were not aiming to unseat the Taliban. I now understand that if they do not surrender bin Laden, it is our objective to force the Taliban to surrender power. If that is so, with what is it to be replaced? What are the Government's thoughts on the future of the government of Afghanistan? I believe that it is important to send clear signals in such circumstances.
I agree, and it is right, that the Government cannot share with the House information that would compromise our security and intelligence sources or those of any other country. I know that my right honourable friend the Leader of the Opposition is convinced by the evidence that was yesterday shown to him by the Prime Minister and that there is unequivocal evidence linking Al'Qaeda to these atrocities. I hope that the vast majority of Muslims across the world will be equally convinced.
However, I know that there is one thing on which we can all agree: there is no quarrel here with the faith of Islam. This is about terrorism and those who make apologies for it. I agree with what was said by Pope John Paul II and Muslim leaders during the Pope's visit to Kazakhstan:Terrorism profanes the name of God".All people of all faiths will agree with that. We oppose root and branch hostility to Muslims, Christians or Jews on the grounds of their faith. On domestic matters, I wonder whether the noble and learned Lord can tell the House if a Cabinet committee has been formed to prosecute the war and to advise the Government on the effects of such a war in this country. How often has it met so far? Can he also tell us what limits, if any, have been set in assisting Afghan refugees not only in the event of conflict, but also—as we can all see increasingly on our TV screens—in dealing with the very real problems now being caused in Pakistan by the massive influx of people fleeing from the problems of climate, starvation and fear of war? There is an unfolding humanitarian disaster in the making and we must seek to avoid it. Action taken now will avoid disaster later.
The Prime Minister has stated that the machinery of terror is worldwide. Last month the noble and learned Lord agreed with me when I spoke of the links between international terror and international organised crime. There are reports that the Government have frozen £60 million worth of funds which they believe are connected to the Taliban and related Afghan organisations. That is a disturbingly large sum for this country. Can he shed any light on what type of accounts they were? Were they personal accounts or 108 those of organisations? Have any of the holders of the accounts been resident in the United Kingdom? Have the Government frozen accounts relating to any other terrorist or criminal networks? Is the noble and learned Lord satisfied, for example, that no funds in Great Britain are at the service of Kosovo or Albanian organised crime?
Many will ask where the war against terrorism begins and ends. As a result of these new circumstances—this is a very important question—will there be any change in policy towards the IRA? Has the noble and learned Lord considered his response to my suggestion on 14th September that we revisit the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act in order to close the loophole deliberately left open to allow overseas funding of Sinn Fein/IRA?
Like others in this House, we are ready to look positively at whatever measures the Government may judge necessary to improve security at home in the present dangerous situation. However, I hope that the noble and learned Lord will give an undertaking that time will be given for full and proper consideration of any such measures so as to give noble Lords time to reflect and consult on the details of these measures. I believe that it would be helpful if the noble and learned Lord could give the House an indication of how much legislation he expects to be generated by the response to the crisis. Will new Bills, or new clauses of Bills already before Parliament, be introduced? The Home Secretary made a number of announcements to the Labour Party conference yesterday. I wonder whether the noble and learned Lord can now clarify the Government's policy on identity cards.
I appreciate that I have asked the noble and learned Lord a number of questions. I know that he will understand and recognise that the issues are important. They are a signal that this House will expect to be fully engaged and informed in the weeks, months and possibly even years ahead. I am sure that he will have no difficulty in giving and following through an undertaking that we shall be able to debate these matters in future.
I close by repeating our wholehearted support for the strong backing rightly given by the Prime Minister to the American people at this time. I know that the noble and learned Lord and the whole House will join me in expressing our respect for the wise and statesmanlike way in which President Bush and the coalition created by him and his allies have responded thus far to this inhuman atrocity.
§ 10.32 a.m.
§ Baroness Williams of Crosby
My Lords, I also thank the Leader of the House for the Statement that he has made. Perhaps I may add that I found it extremely impressive. Rather like the Prime Minister's speech yesterday, it rose to the occasion on a most remarkable scale. I believe that many of us respect and admire the visionary and, indeed, synoptic approach that the Prime Minister has taken to the issues that face us.
109 The Leader of the House referred again to the terrifying increase in the estimate of the number of people who lost their lives as a result of the tragedy on 11th September. He told us that the figure was now approaching, and might even exceed, 7,000, including a microcosm of the whole world: Muslims, Christians and Jews; people of all races and all religions; and people from many different nations. I believe that that sums up the fact that terrorism is a challenge to us all and not to any particular nation or group of people.
I also very much commend the Leader of the House on the details that he gave us about the evidence that is emerging with regard to the links with bin Laden. However, perhaps I may ask him the following questions. He told us—I believe that many of us are very satisfied—that the Prime Minister, the members of the Cabinet and the members of NATO have all accepted the evidence provided to them. Indeed, the Secretary-General of NATO gave a ringing statement about the extent to which he had been convinced by the evidence that he had seen.
However, tragically that particular evidence, seen by NATO and by British, American and other Governments, will not necessarily carry quite the same strength with some other countries in the world. Therefore, I wonder whether the Government will consider the possibility of placing such evidence as they can, without risking intelligence sources, before the Security Council in view of the remarkable strength of Resolution 1373. That resolution, as the Leader of the House said, was passed by the Security Council only a short while ago. I know that that may sound a rather radical suggestion, but we on these Benches believe that it is extremely important to identify the United Nations with the attack on terrorism in every possible way.
My second question to the Leader of the House concerns the matters that he raised with us with regard to new measures to be taken to deal with terrorism. Some points that he mentioned are obviously extremely encouraging; for example, the measures taken to deal with the terrorist network. However, together with many in this House, I believe that there is a considerable weakness in the structures of attacks on terrorism. I refer in particular to control of the funding of terrorism, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, in the context of the IRA and other terrorist organisations.
Perhaps I may take that point one step further. Some in this House on all Benches have tried to press for detailed studies to be carried out of the laundering of money owned by certain developing countries, in particular Nigeria, Indonesia and others. I believe that we have found the machinery extremely inadequate. Now that we face a much more serious crisis with regard to the funding of terrorism, can the Leader of the House assure us that every possible step is being taken by the Government to tighten up on the illegal laundering of funds which, as he rightly said, is now occurring on an absolutely incredible scale? It includes drug funding, terrorist funding and, as we have 110 already said, the funding of money taken from developing counties at extreme cost to poverty-stricken countries.
My fourth question to the Leader of the House concerns the humanitarian crisis. We on these Benches, as, I am sure, will those on all other Benches, welcome very much the urgent measures being taken to bring food into Afghanistan. However, the Leader of the House will be aware that the crisis goes even further. It affects, among others, most of the countries of central Asia, which we are now trying to bring within the coalition as essential staging areas for any counter-attack on terrorism. Many people in this House will be aware that Tajikistan and Uzbekistan now have more than 1 million refugees. In some cases, thousands of people are on the edge of starvation. As the noble and learned Lord said, it is a regional crisis. Perhaps he can tell us something about the steps that the Government propose to take with regard to central Asia.
Finally, I turn to the proposal put forward by the Home Secretary and others to bring forward legislation on issues concerning internal steps against terrorism in this country. We on these Benches certainly welcome the attempt to tighten up extradition procedures. As I have already said, we certainly welcome the measures to tighten up the laundering of illegal funds. However, we would want to look very closely at any measures that may affect basic human rights. We on these Benches believe that conceding to the terrorist the very heartland of our own democracy would be a tragic step to take.
§ 10.38 a.m.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, I am very grateful for the support given by both party Leaders. I was particularly grateful for the very generous remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. I believe that everyone who was able to hear the Prime Minister's speech at Brighton, whether in the hall or on television, genuinely considered, without any question of partisan politics, that, as a country. we were extremely fortunate to have a national leader of that quality in these very harsh times. He is, of course, entirely supported by a wholly united Government.
A number of detailed questions were raised, and I shall trespass on your Lordships' time because I believe that they are too important not to be answered as fully as possible. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, as, I believe, did the noble Baroness, made the point that Parliament must be fully informed, engaged and consulted. I agree entirely with that. I have no doubt that it was right to have been recalled on these two occasions. We are a parliamentary democracy. That is why, if I may say so without appearing patronising, we are better than Afghanistan. It is important to remember that. I hope that your Lordships will not find me derelict in doing all that I can to keep this House fully informed within the sensible parameters which both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness recognised. I repeat that, on a Privy Council basis, the leaders of both Opposition parties in the House of Commons have been fully briefed.
111 The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, inquired about having a Home Office international development debate. I shall certainly give attention to that through the usual channels, as he would expect. He also inquired about our aims during these times. I know that the Statement was lengthy and full of material so I shall repeat the part of it which says,our immediate objectives are clear. We must bring bin Laden and other Al'Qaeda leaders to justice and eliminate the terrorist threat they pose … 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".I cannot put our aims more clearly or more succinctly than that.
The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, asked about Cabinet committees. I know that COBRA met last night at six o'clock. Obviously, all matters necessarily appropriate to the security of our country and people are kept under constant review, as the House would expect.
The noble Lord and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, inquired about the humanitarian aspect of the work upon which we are engaged. The Prime Minister said quite unambiguously, and I am happy to repeat on his behalf just as clearly, that he regards the humanitarian effort of which we are rightly in the vanguard as being just as important as the other objectives that I mentioned a few moments ago.
Questions were asked about the freezing of bank accounts. I am sorry to say that in the context that the noble Baroness mentioned, my experience that is, my vicarious experience—is that £63 million hardly begins to scratch the surface. Whether in my previous incarnation or my present one, I have always been of the opinion that we do not do sufficient to follow the money. I believe that everyone who has had anything to do with the prosecution of crime is of that view. To poach on the lawful patch of the Attorney-General, I say that we have not equipped ourselves with sufficient determination, sufficient intelligent reflection or sufficient weapons to attack what we all know is a vast subterranean industry that extends world-wide and which deals in billions, not the £63 million that was mentioned. The Pashtany bankers had six accounts frozen, the Banke Millie had 11 accounts frozen, the Da Afghanistan Bank had 13 accounts frozen, Ariana Airlines had two accounts frozen and Khalid Al-Fawwaz had one account frozen; that totals £63 million. I stress that that is hardly a beginning.
A question was raised about the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act. That will obviously be kept under careful review. On identity cards, what the Home Secretary said remains the position. He does not want to rush foolishly or inappropriately into introducing a measure unless he is satisfied about its purpose, cost and effectiveness. That is a prudent way to approach the matter.
112 The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, asked about future debates. If I repeat what I said to him personally I am sure that he will not mind. My attitude is that we should be as accommodating as possible when the House is troubled and wishes to have debates on subjects that are of great national and public importance, even if that means that we sit outside our normal hours, as we are doing today and as we did on the first occasion of our recall.
I entirely and respectfully endorse what the noble Lord said about the proportionate response of the United States of America. As the Prime Minister said in the Statement that I repeated on his behalf the previous time that we met, we have not lashed out and we have not acted without reflection. Every member of the United States Administration pointed out—they did so at a very early stage, when it was unpopular to do so—that we are in for a long struggle and a long haul. There are no quick or immediate responses. Those who believe the contrary are not, I am afraid, living in a world that I recognise.
The noble Baroness asked about the provision of materials to the Security Council. I refer to the material that is available today in the Libraries of both Houses. I entirely agree with her. The difficulty, as she said, is that if one has intelligence one cannot disclose it, not least because the originators of that intelligence would be likely to be murdered if they were discovered. I think that we have done our best. All those Ministers who have seen the evidence have been convinced. I repeat that the leaders of the Opposition parties in the House of Commons were fully engaged by the Prime Minister, as the House would expect.
Much is being done about following the money. The financial action task force has done a good deal. I am aware of this matter from my own experience in the overseas territories and in the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. I have to say that they have produced financial legislation that, speaking objectively, in some ways may well be more rigorous and effective than some of the legislation—we must be cautious—that we have within our own domestic jurisdiction. We should bear carefully in mind that the mote and the beam is quite a useful principle upon which to operate.
The noble Baroness's final observation involved sounding a word of caution. On bringing in legislation too quickly she said that we should not lose sight of the fact that the reason for our fortunate existence in this country is that we live in a civil society that is governed by law. I entirely endorse that.
I said that that was the noble Baroness's final question but it was not. Her final question raised specific matters about the other countries in the same general part of the globe. I entirely take her point. I repeat that the Prime Minister is leaving today to consult President Putin and to keep other appropriate leaders fully informed. He will also seek to engage them in a co-operative struggle, which I repeat—I do so, I am afraid, with a gloomy heart—is going to be a very, very long one.