HL Deb 25 March 2002 vol 633 cc9-11

3.2 p.m.

Lord Judd

My Lords, in the time that remains, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what are their priorities for the next phase of the international campaign against terrorism.

The Minister for Trade (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)

My Lords, the top priority is to finish off the first phase of the international campaign against terrorism by eliminating the threat of Al'Qaeda and its Taliban support network in Afghanistan. However, the Government are also already taking action to address terrorism and its causes elsewhere, prioritising measures that suggest three types of situation: first, measures to prevent terrorists operating in areas where states lack the resources or skills to confront them; secondly, states that promote and condone terrorism as a tool of foreign policy; thirdly, sources of terrorist financing.

Lord Judd

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that any military action beyond Afghanistan must be in the context of a clear political strategy, which must be explicitly straightforward about what is anticipated after the military action? Does she also agree that that must cover a regional approach and that the good will of, for example, Iran and Russia to whatever is proposed will be essential? Is not that why the explicit authorisation of the United Nations will be essential? How is it that some Ministers are saying that to go back to the UN is just one legal option available?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I entirely agree with my noble friend that any military action must only ever be undertaken when other possibilities have been exhausted. I also agree with the implication of his question that all such action must be taken in a way that is consistent with international law and that it must be action that could lead to a successful outcome and is commensurate with the risks posed by any country against which it is taken. Of course it is desirable that any action be taken on the widest possible consensus. Action will always depend on precise circumstances. Since no decisions have been taken to launch any military action as yet, I do not wish to add to any speculation of that nature.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, does the Minister agree that if one of the goals of an operation is a change of regime, it is quite important to have some idea of what sort of regime might succeed the existing one? Does she also agree that to rely on very old and rather out of date United Nations resolutions is not the best way to get the moral support of the international community for any action?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, we should be very careful about the noble Baroness's second point. If we are saying that there is a sell-by date over a United Nations Security Council resolution, countries may choose to flout and ignore those resolutions. I am thinking particularly of Iraq, which has failed to comply with 24 of the 27 obligations placed on it under UN Security Council resolutions. If countries know that they simply have to let time go by and the rest of the world will eventually say that a resolution no longer matters, we will get into a very dangerous position. I have tried to make clear the Government's absolute adherence to the principle that any such action should always be taken under the auspices of international law.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, does my noble friend acknowledge that the threats are made mostly by terrorists and that, therefore, the Government have to respond? What immediate action are the Government taking in the light of the incidents that have taken place in the past few days at Heathrow?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, we have to acknowledge that we face a range of threats. As I said in my original Answer, threats may come from organisations based in countries that would like to be able to deal with terrorists but do not have either the capacity or the skills to do so. That is a very different position from that of a country that deliberately promotes or condones terrorism as a tool of foreign policy. The Government are pursuing a number of ways of dealing with the issues. We are doing so through the European Union, through the Commonwealth and, very importantly, through the United Nations, where Sir Jeremy Greenstock, our ambassador to the United Nations, is chairing the committee on terrorism.

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