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11 am

Mr. Speaker: Order. I ask the House to rise and observe a three-minute silence for the people of America.

11.3 am

Mr. Speaker: Thank you.

Mr. Ancram: Nothing can mitigate the sheer horror of the act that we have just commemorated by our silence, but if it has mobilised the world community finally to stand up to the terrorist and say, "Enough is enough", and if it has galvanised the family of nations into taking the action that can eradicate this evil from its midst, some good may yet come of it. I offer the Government our full support in the action that they are taking.

11.3 am

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife): Not for the first time this week, I reflect on the fact that no matter how rich or diverse the English language it is inadequate to convey the sense of horror and frustration that so many of us feel about the events that have taken place across the Atlantic. Expressions such as "defining moment" have been thrown about—there are many of my generation for whom the defining moment appeared to be the assassination of John F. Kennedy—but I suspect that the life of the most powerful city in the most powerful country in the world will never be the same. I refer not just to the irritation of increased airline security, but to the realisation that no country, however powerful, can guarantee absolute safety for its citizens.

After the emotions of shock, sorrow and anger has come, as the Prime Minister rightly expressed, our admiration for the people of the United States. The United States is a great country with enormous economic resources, but this week we have seen that it has great resources of character as well. How else can one explain the extraordinary unified response to these events: immediate bipartisanship in the Congress, the quite extraordinary valour of the emergency services and, in towns and villages throughout the United States, public protests of determination that the people will not be intimidated?

In our occasionally patronising way, we on this side of the Atlantic sometimes raise our eyebrows at the United States' style of public affirmation of nationhood—the pledge of allegiance and the public support for the flag. The truth is that this week has demonstrated that, in time of crisis, that public expression of unity is priceless in promoting a common purpose and a determination to triumph over adversity. The collective response of the people of the United States has rightly earned the admiration of us all.

When the roll call of nations that have lost citizens is set down, it will tell us that the nations of the whole world were the indiscriminate targets of the zealots whose barbarity has brought sadness and grief to so many families. For me, and perhaps for others, the close proximity of the headquarters of the United Nations has

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more than symbolic significance. We know that the heaviest burden will be borne by the people of the United States. Out of the collective sorrow that they suffer, and that we share, there must surely come a resolve that through collective action the perpetrators will be brought to justice and terrorism will be met in all circumstances by a robust defence of democratic values.

Let me try to put to rest the canard that somehow United States' policy in the middle east was the cause of these events. I have not always agreed with United States' policy in the middle east, and indeed I have said so in the House on many occasions, but the cause of these events was a deliberate and calculated decision to take the lives of as many as possible, allied to the willingness of desperate men to implement that decision at the cost of their own lives. The Prime Minister was correct to tell us that we must not suffer any ambiguity in our analysis of terrorism, but we should also remind ourselves that terrorism often flourishes where real or perceived injustice prevails. Communities which have an unresolved or unrecognised sense of grievance are driven sometimes to assume that terrorism is the only way of seeking resolution or recognition.

This is not an occasion to conduct a detailed analysis of policy or to try to offer long-term solutions, but let me offer two thoughts. There are Governments in the middle east today to whom these events will be a chilling reminder of the radical discontent in their own countries and who themselves have an overwhelming interest in co-operating with the efforts of the United States and others.

After the Gulf war, President Bush's father, then the President of the United States, used the quite extraordinary coalition that he had forged to achieve the expulsion of Iraq from Kuwait to breathe new life into the middle east peace process. Out of that came the Madrid conference and the Oslo agreement. President Bush of today has forged a remarkable coalition of interest—a coalition of condemnation. Is it too much to hope that this unity of purpose may give an opportunity to repeat the effort to breathe life into the peace process in the middle east?

I cannot but conclude that we will more easily put down terrorism when we understand the causes of terrorism, although I am by no means so naive as to assume that if Israel and Palestine were to strike a bargain today and to begin to implement it tomorrow, that would be an end to the terrorist threat. There are some so opposed to that reconciliation that the mere fact of the reconciliation would be a further provocation towards terrorist acts.

The Prime Minister used the words "brought to justice"—I imagine that he used that formulation deliberately—but I have some sense of relief that the pressure for retaliation has abated. Retaliation is not self-defence by any legal measure with which I am familiar. The United States as our oldest ally—our strongest ally—is entitled to our support, and we have heard already of the unique invocation of article 5 of the North Atlantic treaty. But this is a sovereign House of Parliament, and this sovereign House of Parliament and this nation, even accepting the letter and the spirit of the article 5 requirement, cannot give a blank cheque for military action. NATO operates by consensus and if there is to be any NATO action and implementation of the article 5 obligation it will be only because it is supported by all the 19 members of that organisation.

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I suggest that any response should be based on clear and unequivocal intelligence, that it must not be disproportionate and that it must be consistent with the principles of international law. I do not rule out for a moment the use of United Kingdom forces and materiel for the purpose of such a response if that be appropriate.

There is a risk—a risk of what is sometimes called rich man's justice—lest, by the overwhelming zeal with which we pursue the perpetrators of these terrorist acts, we give the impression that the lives of citizens of the richest countries are worth more than the lives of citizens of the poorest. In the past 10 years, we have seen in Rwanda hundreds of thousands, incalculable numbers, massacred—that is a form of terrorism—while the world looked on and the United Nations uniquely had to make a formal acknowledgement of failure. In Srebrenica, in the name of Christianity, 8,000 Muslim men and boys were massacred, while units of NATO—the most successful military alliance in history—looked on and the skies above were quiet, and empty of the aircraft that a short time before had bombed Iraq into a wasteland.

Perhaps the events in New York and in Washington are a watershed. Perhaps they reflect a new beginning. Perhaps they are a defining moment. They will be such if they achieve the apprehension, in accordance with justice, of those who were the perpetrators of the terrible acts of this week. But they will also constitute a defining moment if they make the Srebrenicas and the Rwandas much more difficult to achieve.

11.13 am

Mr. Peter Mandelson (Hartlepool): Given the profound and unbearable nature of what has happened this week, it is not surprising that there is a great deal of debate—quite rightly—a great deal of speculation and some hesitation about what should follow next. The Government are right, therefore, to have acted so promptly and so instinctively in leading the action to internationalise and co-ordinate a calm response to the savagery that we have seen—in particular, in drawing in the Russians.

I know that there are some among my own colleagues who worry about the form that the American retaliation will take. To those who worry, I say that we will only influence America if we stand four-square behind America at this time. To the American people, I say with humility—given the grievous loss that they have experienced this week—"don't get mad, get even". The desire to meet this challenge with a forceful response is understood and it is shared. The need to do so in a way that defeats terrorism as well as punishes terrorists is paramount, so the test of the response that will be made is not so much whether it is proportionate as whether it is effective.

Britain has unique experience and qualifications to be listened to, because we have fought terrorism over many decades in Northern Ireland. The main point is that terrorism is not conventional war, demanding a conventional response. The terrorism that we are seeing now is of a most advanced, fanatical and carefully planned kind.

Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

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