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12.57 pm

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax): There is no doubt that the events of 11 September greatly affected us all. The mass murder was wicked in its intent and I join other hon. Members in saying that it had absolutely nothing to do with Islam and in sending our sympathies to the bereaved in their suffering.

Since 11 September we have all been holding our breath, expecting the United States to act as it has done so often in the past—quickly and unilaterally. It is to the credit of the Prime Minister and others that they have held the line by going round the world establishing an international coalition. None of us would disagree with the aim of that coalition—the eradication of terrorism. That is in all our interests, not least for the sake of survival. I believe that that course of action has led to a desire for justice, not revenge. The fact that so many countries are committed to the eradication of terrorism has led to a much more mature debate. Instead of concentrating purely on the military option, the international community has also sought to address the humanitarian tragedy that is unfolding daily before us.

Millions of people are facing imminent starvation and fleeing the major cities of Afghanistan. My hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) referred in

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an intervention to the terrorism against women in that country. Some of us have raised that issue in the House in the past. It should be a source of great shame to us all that the world has looked the other way and ignored the suffering of those women. When the crisis is over, I hope that international attention will turn to the plight of women, not only in Afghanistan but in other countries of the world, and that we get rid of the nonsense that such things are done in the name of religion or of culture. Human rights are human rights and we should not deal with those who daily deny the human rights of others.

The overwhelming priority must be the saving of the Afghan people—we have to get food, shelter and medicines into Afghanistan. In that way, we will win the people's friendship and trust. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) said, whatever happens in the coming weeks, we cannot expose the Afghan people to yet another western-funded regime that is no better than the Taliban. A cursory examination of the so-called "Northern Alliance" reveals that many of its members are up to their murderous necks in the blood of innocent Afghans. Any future Government in Afghanistan must be founded on democratic values and on the restoration of civic movements and of law and order. That means a United Nations mandate.

I do not think that it will be possible to eradicate terrorism unless we understand and, more importantly, address the deep-rooted alienation from which the terrorists derive legitimacy and support. The eye-for- an-eye brigade will level the charge of excusing mass murder against those who want explanations and understanding, but that is a nonsensical charge designed to gag those who want debate—well, we shall not be silenced.

People must have noticed that the loudest applause during the Prime Minister's speech to the Labour party conference came when he acknowledged the festering sore that is the middle east. To the assertion that Israel wants secure boundaries, I reply that Palestinians want a state and it should not be beyond the wit of the international community to give them that.

We have to stop ignoring Kashmir. The people of Kashmir have a right to determine the future of their state—the UN resolution has been on the books since 1948. Why do we not listen to the friendly voices in the Gulf who tell us that we are alienating millions of Muslims by constantly bombing the people of Iraq and starving them through sanctions? That is a cruel policy and it is time that it was lifted. Half a million Iraqi children have died in the past 10 years—that is not a price worth paying.

I want the end of the Taliban. That is our common aim. However, bombing the poorest country in the world using cruise missiles at $1 million a time will not hold the coalition together or do anything to save the millions of starving Afghans.

I want the people who committed that heinous crime to be brought to justice before the International Criminal Court. That means that the Americans have to come on board and abide by the decisions of the ICC. The world changed on 11 September, most of all for the United States of America. The Americans now accept that they are as vulnerable as the rest of us to such mindless acts. If we want security, we must use international solutions: that means the United Nations.

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The subject on which I shall end my speech is one that could not be mentioned at my party's conference: national missile defence. One thing is clear: NMD would neither have detected nor have prevented the terrorist attack that took place on 11 September. However, it seems that President Bush remains determined to go ahead. Before the attacks, NMD was already having a destabilising effect on international relations. On 22 August, President Bush said that the United States was preparing to withdraw unilaterally from the anti-ballistic missile treaty.

The Prime Minister has gained worldwide approval for his role in creating the international coalition. He has made much of our friendship with America, and it is true that we are her closest allies. However, he should tell his friends the truth. He could play an important role by withholding endorsement of NMD.

National missile defence is opposed by the European Union, by most members of the United Nations and by 276 Members of Parliament. The Select Committee on Foreign Affairs advised against it, as have many others. It is not a defensive system; it is offensive and we should have nothing to do with it. The Prime Minister could help to make the world far more peaceful by telling the Americans that NMD is no good. NMD does not protect this country, it makes it a more dangerous place and exposes the British people to greater peril.

1.5 pm

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough): These are difficult times. No one should underestimate the shock suffered by the United States and its citizens as a result of the terrorist outrages of 11 September; nor, simply because other countries' citizens, including our own, were killed in smaller numbers, should we forget that the crisis with which we now have to deal is truly international. It is international in terms of its repercussions for peace; for almost every domestic national economy and sector of it; for world trade, regional stability, diplomacy, military preparation and action; for the starving and for the rich; for those of faith and for those of no beliefs. That much is easy to say, because the problems are easy to describe.

In times such as these, it is understandable that even the English language runs short of words—or perhaps it is more accurate to say that those of us with some knowledge of the language find it hard to do anything other than resort to cliché. However, I do not want any clichés that I use in my speech today to inhibit me from asking us to think a little about the role of the House in the conduct of our national affairs.

Before doing that, I ask the Secretary of State for Defence, when he winds up the debate, to reassure us that the Government are not going to introduce compulsory identity cards in order to combat terrorism. I know that other countries use them and that many of us willingly carry means of identification. ID cards have their uses, but they are not an answer to terrorism, as the hijackers showed us on 11 September. Terrorism is countered in the mind of the individual and by public opinion at one level, and by intelligence and evidence at the other. Let us use the weapons that we have already on the statute book, under the common law, and in the alliances that we have and are now building before turning to such measures as ID cards, which hold a spurious attraction for the busy politician.

ID cards are but fool's gold in the current crisis. Their only use would be to identify the remains of the innocent victims of the next attack, unless we prevent it through

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knowing who our enemy is, where he is, what his strengths and weaknesses are, what are his numbers and where he next intends to attack. That takes intelligence, not ID cards. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), the shadow Foreign Secretary, said, our intelligence services need better funding to carry out that work.

I accept that in times of crisis any Prime Minister must be provided with the freedom to act quickly and effectively to protect the integrity of the country and its institutions and to safeguard its people. I applaud what the Prime Minister has said and done so far. I accept that not every decision that has to be taken can be taken following lengthy deliberations in the House or consultation with every interested party. I accept without question that when the Prime Minister says he has evidence against bin Laden that he cannot share with us in full, he is speaking the truth. The burdens on Prime Ministers at times such as these must be awful, knowing that they must take decisions that may well lead to young lives being lost or put at risk.

A former Law Lord, the late Lord Pearce, said during the 1968 case of Conway v. Rimmer that in times of national emergency

Article 15 of the European convention on human rights permits a member state to take measures derogating from its obligations under the convention

I hope that that is of some comfort to my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth). However, there are limits beyond which a state may not go, even in grave emergencies. It is open to question whether and how far the normal restraints on Government must yield to the higher interests of the state.

That is not a new dilemma. For many years, we have had to struggle with the proper approach to the contest between individual rights and the needs of Government. In the first and second world wars, a wide range of emergency powers was given to the Executive to make general regulations and to take administrative decisions restricting civil liberties. In the first world war, the Home Secretary could order the internment of anyone he considered of hostile association, and in the second he could detain without trial those whom he had reasonable cause to believe were hostile or had been involved in acts prejudicial to public safety. Draconian powers to restrict the free movement of individuals still exist under the Emergency Powers Acts of 1920 and 1964, but they have not been imposed at any other time of war since 1945, including during the Korean war, the Suez crisis, the Falklands war or the Gulf war.

A terrible wrong has been committed and thousands of innocent people going about their daily lives had their existence snuffed out at the whim of a collection of evil fanatics. Yet more thousands of the victims' relations must live on with only the memories of their loved ones to cling to and, worse, their deaths broadcast time after time on the television. What effect all of that must have had on all of them is too horrific to contemplate; but

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terrible though the events of 11 September were, no matter how far reaching the economic, political and social consequences of the outrages may yet prove to be, it cannot in all reason be said that we are facing—to quote another international definition of an emergency—

The political and administrative functions of government at federal, state and city level in New York, Washington DC and Pennsylvania continue, as do their equivalents more or less everywhere in the world, except perhaps in Afghanistan where they have not recently existed in any form that we would recognise or respect.

With that in mind let us remind ourselves that there are no constitutional restraints on the assumption of emergency powers in the United Kingdom. The parliamentary and legal precedents do not make a constitutional distinction between those periods of war and national emergency when it may be justifiable to grant the Executive some special powers, and other periods when it would be less appropriate. We cannot under our constitutional arrangements guarantee against the indefinite prolongation of emergency powers, even by special majority. Many of the emergency powers assumed by the Government during the second world war were preserved or renewed for a number of years after hostilities ceased.

We must do our duty as elected Members of Parliament, sent here to protect the interests and rights of our constituents, as well as the country we live in. The sheer size of this Government's majority may have made some of us forgetful, but to hold this or any Government to account or to criticise this Prime Minister for some of his more fanciful rhetorical excursions is not the same as spitting in church. We in Parliament are the only brake on Government power that the constitution recognises. Let us therefore set the limit beyond which the Executive must not be permitted to go. Let us carefully consider any Bills that are put before us and to the best of our collective knowledge, experience and common sense grant to the Government only those extraordinary powers which they can persuade us that they need.

I welcome this and the earlier recall of Parliament. Now, at this time of crisis, we need to see the Prime Minister metaphorically, if not literally, chained by one wrist to the Dispatch Box, so that he and the Government are reminded of their relationship with the electorate. At this time of crisis we should not only do our duty to the electorate and our country in standing up for the rights of Parliament, but show the planners and perpetrators of the outrages of 11 September that parliamentary democracy matters and that parliamentary democracy can play its part in vanquishing terror.

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