Previous SectionIndexHome Page

15 Oct 2002 : Column 185—continued

Mr. Derek Foster (Bishop Auckland): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the horrific events of the past few days underline the fact that the fight against international terrorism must be our topmost priority? That fight depends on the broad-based coalition that he and President Bush put together after 11 September. Is it not, therefore, all the more important that my right hon. Friend get it across to President Bush that any military

15 Oct 2002 : Column 186

conflict outside the authority of the United Nations would fracture that coalition and undermine the fight against terrorism?

The Prime Minister: We do want to ensure that we have the broadest possible coalition, not just in the fight against terrorism but in dealing with weapons of mass destruction. That is what we are working for and, as my right hon. Friend rightly implies, it is important that we maximise international support. I have always said, however, that it is important that the coalition addresses both issues. As President Bush's speech the other day in Cincinnati indicated, the United States has a real desire to ensure that we have the broadest possible coalition to deal with those issues, because they are both threats to the world. Weapons of mass destruction are a real threat. In my first statement to the House on the events of 11 September, on 14 September, I specifically linked the two issues together, and I continue to do so. They are both threats of the same nature, although different in means. I agree that the best way to deal with them is on the basis of the broadest possible international support.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): I associate the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru with the sympathy and condolences expressed to those who have been injured and bereaved in this atrocity. I have listened carefully to the Prime Minister, but I wonder how it could be sensible to fight a war on two fronts if any preoccupation with a military campaign in Iraq were to detract, disrupt, deflect or in any way undermine the solidarity of the international coalition against terrorism.

The Prime Minister: We have to tackle the danger, whatever its source. If the danger comes from more than one source, we have to tackle it in more than one way. It is important to recognise that both issues are threats, and I shall explain why they are linked. They are linked because the same type of fanaticism and extremism is driving both threats. They may not be directly linked at this moment, in the sense that weapons of mass destruction are in the hands of the terrorists, but I ask the House to consider whether if we allow unstable states—with oppressive and dictatorial regimes—to develop weapons of mass destruction and also allow the terrorist groups to operate, we can be confident that the two threats will not at some point come together. I think that that is a real possibility, which is why it is false and—I say this respectfully—dangerous to suggest that we somehow have a choice between dealing with the threat of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons in the hands of unstable countries and dealing with international terrorism. They are of the same nature and, unless we tackle both, they could come together at some point in a horrific way.

Mr. Chris Smith (Islington, South and Finsbury): Does not this tragedy all too graphically remind us of the absolute importance of the international coalition against terrorism, especially the need to sustain and enhance that coalition across the countries and Governments of the Muslim world? Therefore, is it not important that we do nothing by unilateral decision or

15 Oct 2002 : Column 187

action, outside the institutions of the international community, that might diminish or damage that central purpose of combating terrorism?

The Prime Minister: Yes, it is important that we do not do anything that damages the international coalition against terrorism. As my right hon. Friend will accept, in many ways it is Muslim countries that have most to fear from this terrorism, but it is also important to deal with the issue of weapons of mass destruction. I have been trying to get us to deal with that also on a broad basis of international support, and I am confident that in the end we will get that support. Our use of the international coalition must allow us to tackle and deal with those problems, not be a means to avoid dealing with them.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury): The Prime Minister knows the support that exists among Conservative Members for his sentiments and for the difficult course that he has set. However, will he deal with the very real deficiencies hampering our armed forces in the challenge that they face? The regular Army shrank again last year, there are 7,000 personnel unfit for military duty, reserves are at an all-time low and another RAF squadron has closed because of a lack of pilots. I urge the Prime Minister to accept that, in the difficult time ahead, we owe it to our armed forces to tackle those problems.

The Prime Minister: There are, and always will be, matters that need to be addressed in respect of our armed forces. However, let me point out that defence spending is now rising, after falling in real terms for many years. We take very seriously matters that arise in connection with our armed forces' equipment or capability, but their commitment and capability are renowned and well regarded the world over.

Ross Cranston (Dudley, North): As someone with one foot in this country and the other in Australia, may I associate myself especially with the remarks that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made about the victims of the tragedy, and their relatives and friends?

I am concerned about the moneys flowing to terrorists. Earlier this year, the UN convention on the suppression of the financing of terrorism came into force. All countries are obliged to take action, as this country has done. What assessment has my right hon. Friend made of the actions taken by other countries?

The Prime Minister: The truthful answer is that those actions have been mixed. There have been real successes in the action taken against money laundering, and there is real evidence that that activity is being disrupted. However, it is worth pointing out that there is always a tremendous will to take action in the immediate aftermath of very serious incidents. We in this country have introduced legislation but, surprising as it may seem, people's memories fade in a short space of time. Subsequently, there are many arguments about whether action should be taken against money laundering or against terrorist groups, and so on. Once again, we have been reminded that we need to take action at a national and an international level.

15 Oct 2002 : Column 188

The honest answer to my hon. and learned Friend is that real progress is being made. However, I agree, as his question implied, that a lot more could be done.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough): Clearly, I do not know whether the estates of any of those who met untimely deaths in Bali this week or in the United States last year are liable to inheritance tax, but will the Prime Minister and the Chancellor consider exempting any estate that is so liable?

The Prime Minister: I simply do not know the answer to that. I shall look into the matter and write to the hon. and learned Gentleman.

Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby): The outrageous atrocity against innocent people carried out on Saturday night should help to concentrate our minds. Two things are essential: we must maintain the coalition that involves the US, the UK, Russia and the Muslim countries in an alliance against international terrorism, and we must not give any comfort to al-Qaeda and the international terrorists. If we were to take military action in the light of recent events involving Iraq, does my right hon. Friend agree that we would be acting as a recruiting sergeant for the international terrorists whom we must defeat?

The Prime Minister: Again, let me say that it is important that we maintain the international coalition, but we should not underestimate the knowledge among Arab and Muslim countries of the dangers posed by weapons of mass destruction. After all, the two countries that have suffered most from Saddam are Iran and Kuwait. However, I agree with what my hon. Friend said. I make the point again that it is important that we have the broadest possible international coalition, but I think that we can, and should, deal with both issues.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough): In recent years, I have spoken in the House about the often very violent attacks suffered by minority communities in Indonesia, to which the military appears to have turned a blind eye. Those attacks have received very little publicity because local people rather than Europeans were involved. Is the Prime Minister worried about the profound sense of alienation from western values that exists in many Muslim societies? That alienation often reaches right to the top of society.

Given the Prime Minister's experience with Northern Ireland, does he agree that we must root out, through military and intelligence means, both terrorism and its causes? In other words, will he be—to coin a phrase—tough on terrorism, and tough on the causes of terrorism?

The Prime Minister: I agree, certainly, that we should not simply try to deal with this by means of intelligence. I also agree that there is a lot of anti-west feeling in many parts of the Arab and Muslim world—there is no point in denying that. Our response must surely be twofold. First, we must deal with issues where a reasonable point is being made. Many people feel, and have felt on many occasions, that it is important to show the same rigorous concern for dealing with all the issues of conflict around

15 Oct 2002 : Column 189

the world as we have shown, for example, in the coalition against terrorism. However, we must also confront extremism and fundamentalism where they effectively mean that people are, as they were in Afghanistan, forced to live in a state of abject repression or where they try to justify terrorism. I do not believe that those things genuinely have anything to do with the true voice of Islam, and I think that the majority of Muslims feel the same.

Next Section

IndexHome Page