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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, as I understand it, the statement which Mr Oliver Letwin will make next Monday has not yet been made; it has only been spun. If the spinning from the Conservative Party is correct, there is quite a remarkable contrast between the intention to spend more on the health service and the undertaking to cut public expenditure by 20 per cent.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, everybody in this country is entitled to make observations about the future evolution of interest rates in this country. It is part of our democratic system that nobody is forbidden to do that. We treat all serious comments with the seriousness they deserve.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, in May 1997, the Government devolved the responsibility for setting short-term interest rates to the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England. Therefore, yes, of course, the Bank of England and the Monetary Policy Committee have a special role in relation to interest rates. Not only do we take that seriously, we persist in the view, which I think even the Opposition have come round to, that this was the right step to take.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, Her Majesty's Government identified international terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction as the most serious threats to our security. To combat international terrorism, the Government have argued forcefully for action to be taken to block terrorists' funds. They have considerably strengthened our intelligence assessment capability, increased significantly the resources of the law enforcement agencies dealing with terrorism and, where necessary, taken military action. We also ensure that the issue is at the top of our agenda internationally through diplomatic and political channels.
Lord Blaker: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that statement. Whatever may be the motivation of the people responsible for the recent terrible bombings in Iraq, is not the main cause of global terrorism the despair and anger of the Arab people at the steadily worsening situation in the Palestinian territories? Since the noble Baroness has recently been there, does she agree with me that the time has come, in connection with that dispute, for action, rather than words, using the political and economic levers available to the quartet powers? Would it not be a mistake to wait for action until the American election is over in nine months' time because by then, if things go on as they are, the situation will be even worse?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, that was an extremely long question. I acknowledge that the bombing outrages in Iraq in the past few days have been deplorable. Our sympathy goes to those who have suffered through loss of life or injury. However, I remind the noble Lord that his Question is focused on global terrorism. For example, only last weekend, we saw a terrible bombing outrage in Moscow. The causes of global terrorism are enormously diverse.
The noble Lord asked us to reflect on how much of such terrorism can be related to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Of course, there is despair and anger; there is despair and anger on both sides about what is happening in Israel and Palestine. I agree with the noble Lord that we cannot simply wait and see what happens next. That is why Her Majesty's Government have been so actively engaged. As the noble Lord indicated, I have been to Israel and Palestine recently. I have had discussions with people from throughout the Palestinian hierarchy about what must be done with regard to security. We are also having discussions with the Israeli Administration about their responsibility to take forward phase one of the road map.
Lord Judd: My Lords, it was reassuring to hear my noble and learned friend the Attorney-General argue at Chatham House yesterday that one of the most important elements in the stand against terrorism was the protection of our system of the rule of law and all that it involved. If that is the position of the GovernmentI am sure that it iswill my noble friend agree that it is therefore essential to regard any derogation from the European Convention on Human Rights as an unfortunate step to have felt compelled to take? Such moves should last for as short a period as possible, and the position must be kept under acute and active review.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I agree. It is enormously important that civil liberties and all that we value about our way of lifenot only in this country but in the other great democraciesunder the rule of law should be safeguarded as far as possible. However, I also put to the noble Lord a point that I am sure was raised at Chatham House yesterday: it is the first duty of governments to make sure that their people have security. We must all wrestle with that extraordinarily difficult balance.
If I may say so to the noble Lord, we must consider both sides of the question. There are real issues relating to the security of people not only in this country but elsewhere for which we have responsibility. We must address those responsibilities, as well as safeguarding civil liberties.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the noble and gallant Lord will know that that question has been discussed with particular regardI must be frankto what has happened in Iraq. We are all aware that there is an international discussion about the correct circumstancesthe legal circumstancesin which military action can be taken.
Your Lordships have discussed on several occasions the legal basis for military action. The question of pre-emption with regard to the rights under the UN charter to self-defence is still unresolved. The noble Lord raises an important issue, but I cannot, at the moment, give a definitive view on it from the Dispatch Box. It is a question of international law that we must address, and I hope that we will address it in such international fora as are available to us. The question is often on the table when I am dealing with such issues bilaterally and in multilateral fora.
The Lord Bishop of Worcester: My Lords, I refer to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and the Minister's answer to it. Might it not be the case that part of the strategy of international terrorists is to produce a situation in which the liberties of Her Majesty's subjects are curtailed? Should it not be borne in mind, therefore, that any speeches, actions or rhetoric that threaten a reduction in those liberties constitute in themselves a concession to global terrorism?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, that point has been argued on a number of occasions. It is part of the aims of international terrorists not only to curtail those liberties but to raise questions about the probity of governments taking military action against terrorists. However, as I said, it is important for us to remember the issue of how we balance our approach to what is, undoubtedly, a terrible problem throughout the world.
Your Lordships must remember that terrorism is a global problem. It is not directed only at the United Kingdom or the United States. We must remember the people who have died in Africa, in Bali, in Istanbuladmittedly, that attack was targeted at British interestsin Russia, which I mentioned a moment ago, and throughout the world. The explosion in the way in which international terrorism is conducted is something that we must all try to deal with through the sorts of means that I have mentioned and by having as open and frank a discussion about the issues as possible. Issues relating to civil liberties are vital, but, in concentrating on those issues, as the right reverend Prelate and others are bound to do, your Lordships must not forget the enormous importance of the security of our own people.
Lord McNally: My Lords, with due deference to the Minister, I do not think that anybody in the House needs to be lectured on the need for balance or for awareness of the global nature of terrorism. Ministers must take on board the kind of advice that the noble and learned Lord, Lord WoolfI am happy to see him in his placegave yesterday about anti-terrorist legislation. He said:
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