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Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Inverness, West): We welcome this further parliamentary recall and the Prime Minister's statement that has accompanied it. Let me make it clear from the outset that, as he knows already, the Liberal Democrats fully support the Government's efforts to protect our own citizens and the interests of our military personneltheir families are anxiousand, with that, to root out international terrorism. In all that, he has our support.
It is surely correct that today Parliament stands united against the threat to the security of our citizens and to global interests generally. Obviously the Government are facing profoundly serious decisions and, those decisions once arrived at, must be subject to proper democratic scrutiny. That is parliamentary patriotism and it is a key distinction between all of us and the foe that we face.
We are all here to give calm and, we hope, cogent and effective voice to the legitimate aspirations and apprehensions of those citizens and constituents whom we all seek to represent. Of course, significantly, they include many members of the Muslim community throughout the United Kingdom. The evidence that will be published later today, and which I welcome, will make their apprehensions better understood and make it possible for them to be better addressed. I hope that as time goes by it will be possible, on both sides of the Atlantic, to publish more evidence. There must be no doubt that the evidence to hand is persuasivepersuasive as to culpability and breathtaking criminality and, further, potential criminality.
Will the Prime Minister reflect upon the overarching need to work within the broad framework of the United Nations? Specifically, does he agree that gaining UN support on the strength of the evidence against bin Laden would help to reassure world opinion about the justice of impending military action? For example, as part of that would he consider the case for making available to Kofi Annan and the Security Council the full extent of the intelligence information that is now available?
There are several specific aspects. Does the Prime Minister concur that any forthcoming legislation must meet two tests? First, is it likely to impact directly on the clear terrorist threat and the campaign against it? Secondly, can we satisfy ourselves that it does not compromise civil liberties to such an extent that the terrorist is seen to win by default? We will certainly support moves on extradition, as we have already with our colleagues in the European Parliament.
The Prime Minister: In relation to publishing more evidence, we will try to do so as we can. As was stated a moment ago, we have shared the evidence with key partners in NATO. We have to be careful about how we use it and where we disclose it.
In respect of acting within the broad framework of the UN, we intend to do that. The Foreign Secretary will say a little more about that in his speech. On anti-terrorist legislation, we have to make sure that it is careful and proportionate, but there are obvious gaps in our law. The right hon. Gentleman accepted that on extradition, but there are also gaps in the way that our asylum procedures operate which need to change or we will not be able to deal with this properly.
On objectives, as I said a couple of days ago, for the Taliban the choice is simple. They either surrender the terrorists and close down the terrorist network or they become our enemies. If that happens, and the regime were to change, we are already working in close co-operation with people in and outside Afghanistan to build an alternative and successor regime that is as broad based as possible, unites ethnic groupings and gives people the chance of a stable Government there. That is an extremely difficult task but from everything that I have seen and read, the Afghan people are as much victims of the Taliban regime as practically anybody else.
On the humanitarian effort, the key thing is planning. The money is there and we already have in place the necessary finance for the initial amounts that have been sought. The real problem, as we saw when we set up camps around Kosovo, is planning and capability. After consultations between myself and others, Kofi Annan has appointed one person in charge of that operation, but we need to ensure that the organisational capability goes alongside the money, otherwise it will not work.
David Winnick (Walsall, North): As someone who does not often agree with US foreign policy, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he accepts that the United States has undoubtedly shown much diplomacy and restraint in the face of the atrocity of three weeks ago? If there are obvious dangers in any military action, does my right hon. Friend agree that, unless the terrorists are apprehended, there are equally opposite dangers in not taking military action because that would be interpreted by the terrorist network as the democracies being unable and unwilling to defend themselves? That danger must be minimised at any cost.
Sir John Stanley (Tonbridge and Malling): The Prime Minister was right to warn in his earlier statement that what happened on 11 September is by no means the worst that can happen. Given the risk to the United Kingdom of a terrorist attack using chemical or biological weapons, whether that threat is specific or not, can the Prime Minister tell the House whether it is the clearly stated policy of the Government to take all necessary contingency measures against such an eventuality, including the stockpiling of vaccines and antidotes where they are available, in order to ensure that the largest number of people would have the best possible chance of survival if the worst should happen?
The Prime Minister: I know that the right hon. Gentleman takes a close interest in these issues and, of course, it is the Government's policy to take all reasonable precautions in respect of any potential terrorist threat. It is important to do so in a way that does not unnecessarily alarm people, but it would be irresponsible if, particularly after what happened on 11 September, there were no detailed work being undertaken and reviewed constantly as to how we should react to any potential threat. I do not want to say more than that, but in so far as it is possible to take such precautions, we do so.
Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee, West): Will my right hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to the staff of the consulate-general in New York? As someone who was there when the planes crashed into the buildings, I had the opportunity to visit the consulate-general on Thursday and, by that time, its staff had dealt with 800 to 900 inquiries from anxious relatives all over the world, including not only the United Kingdom but Thailand and Australia. They had issued 150 emergency passports and had found accommodation for many people who needed to stay there, but had lost their homes. Much more vital, they had also been able to provide telephone land links so that anxious families in the United Kingdom and all over the world could talk to people in New York about whom they were concerned.
My colleagues and I were able to watch, at first hand, the way in which the emergency services responded. It was remarkable to see those individuals, who arrived the very second that the first plane crashed, freely go into that building knowing that they might not come out. We now know that most of them did not come outyet as others came down the stairs, they rushed up them. There were many unsung heroes on that day, such as the emergency services chaplain who was killed while administering the last rites to one of the victims, and the two individuals who carried one of their colleagues, who was in a wheelchair, down 66 floors to safety. The most ethnically diverse city in the worldNew Yorkresponded magnificently after the initial shock and ensured, as we must ensure, that not a single part of the ethnic community that makes up New York was blamed.
The Prime Minister: I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. First, I pay tributeI hope that the House will join meto Tom Harrison and all his staff at the consulate-general's office in New York. They were quite magnificent. The relatives paid tribute, even amid their grief, to the work that had been done and the help that they had received. A lot of people here, such as the Metropolitan police, played a enormous part in helping to co-ordinate the efforts to sustain those involved, which was obviously difficult for reasons that we know. We have said many times before, but it is worth repeating, that the emergency services in New York were magnificent. I have ensured that the Government have, on behalf of this country, made it clear to key people, to pass on to all their staff, how admiring the British people are of the efforts that they made.