Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

HC Stmnt: [US bombing of Libya]

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [95/729-39]
Editorial comments: 1531-1614.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 6133
Themes: Executive, Defence (general), Defence (Falklands), European Union (general), Foreign policy (Africa), Foreign policy (International organizations), Foreign policy (Middle East), Foreign policy (USA), Northern Ireland, Security services & intelligence, Terrorism
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The Prime Minister

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I shall make a statement about Libya. Before I do so, may I first say that my right hon. Friend John Biffenthe Leader of the House will shortly be making a business statement indicating that there will be a full day's debate on this matter tomorrow.

The House is aware that last night United States forces made attacks on specific targets in Libya.

The Government have evidence showing beyond dispute that the Libyan Government have been and are directly involved in promoting terrorist attacks against the United States and other Western countries, and that they had made plans for a wide range of further terrorist attacks.

The United Kingdom has itself suffered from Libyan terrorism. The House will recall the murder of WPC Fletcher in St. James's Square. There is no doubt, moreover, of the Libyan Government's direct and continuing support for the Provisional IRA, in the form of money and weapons.

Two years ago, we took certain measures against Libya, including the closure of the Libyan people's bureau in London, restrictions on the entry of Libyans into the United Kingdom, and a ban on new contracts for the export to Libya of defence equipment. Yesterday the Foreign Ministers of the European Community reaffirmed their grave concern at Libyan-inspired terrorism and agreed on new restrictions against Libya.

Since we broke off diplomatic relations with Libya, we have had no choice but consistently to advise British nationals living and working there that they do so on their own responsibility. Our interests there have been looked after by the Italian Government. Our representative in the British interests section of the Italian Embassy will continue to advise the British community as best he can.

The United States has tried by peaceful means to deter Colonel Gaddafi and his regime from their promotion of terrorism, but to no effect.

President Reagan informed me last week that the United States intended to take military action to deter further Libyan terrorism. He sought British support for this action. He also sought agreement, in accordance with our long-standing arrangements, to the use in the operation of some United States aircraft based in this country. This approach led to a series of exchanges including a visit by Ambassador Walters on Saturday, 12 April.

Article 51 of the UN charter specifically recognises the right to self-defence. In view of Libya's promotion of terrorism, the failure of peaceful means to deter it and the evidence that further attacks were threatened, I replied to the President that we would support action directed against specific Libyan targets demonstrably involved in the conduct and support of terrorist activities; and, further, that if the President concluded that it was necessary, we would agree to the deployment of United States aircraft from bases in the United Kingdom for that purpose.

I reserved the position of the United Kingdom on any question of further action which might be more general or less clearly directed against terrorism.

The President assured me that the operation would be limited to clearly defined targets related to terrorism, and that the risk of collateral damage would be minimised. He made it clear that use of F111 aircraft from bases in the [column 730]United Kingdom was essential, because by virtue of their special characteristics they would provide the safest means of achieving particular objectives with the lowest possible risk both of civilian casualties in Libya and of casualties among United States service personnel.

Terrorism is a scourge of the modern age. Libya has been behind much of it and was planning more. The United Kingdom itself has suffered from Libya's actions. So have many of our friends, including several in the Arab world.

The United States, after trying other means, has now sought by limited military action to induce the Libyan regime to desist from terrorism. That is in the British interest. It is why the Government support the United States action.

Mr. Neil Kinnock (Islwyn)

I realise, of course, that we are to have a debate tomorrow and I am grateful for that, but the speed at which events are moving means that I must ask the following questions.

First, did the Prime Minister speak directly and personally to President Reagan at any time before she decided that the attack on Libya by F111s could be launched from bases in Britain?.

Is it true that the decision not to veto the use of bases in Britain for action against Gaddafi was made by the right hon. Lady alone?

Is it true that the SirGeoffrey HoweForeign Secretary was not told of the American action until yesterday morning?

Is it true that the Cabinet Defence and Overseas Committee was not consulted at all until very late last night's?

If these statements are true, is it not the case that the Prime Minister has treated her Cabinet and her Government with the same contempt as that shown to her by the President of the United States?

Will the Prime Minister tell the House and the country whether she herself or her Foreign Secretary has actually seen or heard the evidence of which President Reagan spoke in his broadcast on television last night? Will she respond to the view that is held in all parts of the House, that the maximum possible amount of the evidence on which her decision and that of the President were based should be published? Will the Prime Minister accept that, even if there is such evidence against Gaddafi, last night's bombing cannot be justified as an act of self-defence under international law, for that international law requires that armed response to aggression be immediate, protective and proportionate to the scale of aggression?

Does not the Prime Minister think that her right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has to answer a serious charge of duplicity in his dealings with our European allies yesterday?

Is the Prime Minister aware that the distinguished and experienced diplomat, Sir Anthony Parsons, has condemned last night's action as a “kind of vigilantism more likely to provoke than prevent terrorism” ?

Is the right hon. Lady aware that he has further said that he would have advised, when he was her adviser, that no such action should be taken until every possible measure through the United Nations and under international law had been exhausted?

Will the Prime Minister tell us whether she was advised to the same effect before she made her decision to support President Reagan? Will she now tell us whether she will [column 731]give an undertaking, here and now, that she will refuse to grant permission for the use of bases in Britain for any further similar action in similar circumstances by President Reagan?

Will the Prime Minister further accept that, far from bringing down a “curtain on Gaddafi 's reign of terror” , as the President put it last night and as he claims, his adventure against Libya has failed to achieve the objective of terminating terrorism? Will she accept that it has caused bloodshed and damage to innocents, will result in a loss of American and British influence, even over moderate Arab states and has meant a gain in support for Gaddafi, even from his sworn enemies? Is it not obvious that this action and the way in which it was taken has fractured relationships with the Alliance?

Those are all terrible costs to pay. They are all reasons for us to condemn the United States action and all reasons why the right hon. Lady, as a true and candid friend of the United States and as a true enemy of terrorism, should join us in that condemnation.

The Prime Minister

I disagree totally with the right hon. Gentleman. I remind him again that the United States, our staunch ally, keeps over 330,000 troops in Europe to defend the freedom of Europe and that, without the United States and Britain, Europe would not today be free. We must continue to keep that Alliance.

The right hon. Gentleman asked me a number of questions. My right hon. and learned Friend Sir Geoffrey Howethe Foreign Secretary and my right hon. Friend George Youngerthe Secretary of State for Defence were in No. 10 when the initial message from the President was received and we have acted together in knowledge of one another's views throughout. We do not normally give the details, but it is known that the Overseas and Defence Committee of the Cabinet met on Monday morning.

The right hon. Gentleman asked me whether I have seen the evidence. Of course I have seen and examined our own intelligence evidence. He asked whether the maximum amount can be published without doing damage. We are naturally careful about intelligence efforts, because to publish it will compromise the sources and may therefore undermine our security. A certain amount has been given and I shall try to see that we will give as much as we can without undermining that security, because to undermine the security could be very damaging to the United Kingdom and our allies.

I have indicated, and I know that the United States takes the same view, that the selection of targets demonstrably in connection with terrorist activity was within article 51. That is my legal advice and I understand that it is the legal advice of the United States. The right hon. Gentleman spoke about moderate Arab states. May I remind him that moderate Arab states have also been the subject of terrorist attack and some of them understand very well what we are doing?

Mr. Julian Amery (Brighton, Pavilion)

May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the staunch support she gave to our American allies in seeking to deter not just terrorism but a terrorist state which has been our enemy, as much as the enemy of the United States and of the moderate Arab countries? However, would she remind President Reagan of what Sir Winston Churchill said in his verdict on the Suez operation: “I don't know if I would have dared to start. I would never have dared to stop.” ? [column 732]The drastic action taken by the Americans yesterday will find its justification only if the terrorist state is finally prevented from continuing terrorism which it has carried out against us. Those who support Colonel Gaddafi are accessories to the murder of our police constable in this country and of many other people in other parts of the world.

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. I am very much aware that, if there were to be any further action, it would also have to be justified under article 51. Precisely the same rules will apply to any further action as have applied to this. My right hon. Friend would be the first to understand that some risks have to be faced in order to try to turn the tide against terrorism. A great deal of action has so far been taken and attempted by the United States. It has come to Europe asking for further action, and we, in Europe, have been the country that has already taken the most. The United States did not get much of a response from Europe in taking peaceful action. It had to turn to the possibility of the practical use of its right under article 51. We join the United States in hoping that that is an extra deterrent, and will encourage Colonel Gaddafi to desist from future terrorist attacks.

Mr. David Steel (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale)

Whatever the evidence, which is no doubt substantial, of Libyan-based terrorism, in what respect does the Prime Minister expect that that terrorism will be halted by what happened last night? Secondly, may I ask how it was that the Foreign Secretary, only yesterday, agreed unanimously with the European Ministers that increased military tension in the area would be dangerous, yet 12 hours later there was substantial increased military tension in the area? Thirdly, did the right hon. Lady seek to limit the permission for the use of British bases to military targets, and is she aware that the most appalling thing she said this afternoon was her use of the word “inconceivable” , when she said that it would be inconceivable that she would ever refuse any request? Is not that writing a blank cheque for President Reagan?

The Prime Minister

We, of course, have direct evidence of Libyan-based terrorism in St. James 's square. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not forget that—[Interruption.] Since then, there appears to have been an escalation of terrorism. If right hon. and hon. Members thought that we were not firm enough about that act, they should welcome the action that has now been taken and the support that has been given. We said not only that the action should be confined to military targets but that it should be confined to targets directly associated with terrorism. Indeed, the word that we used was “demonstrably” associated with terrorism, because we believed that we needed to do that to be within article 51.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the action of my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Geoffrey Howethe Foreign Secretary in Europe yesterday. A number of countries there had already had discussions with General Walters and had already been asked to take further action. I understand that the whole discussion in Europe between the Foreign Ministers took place on the basis that action might well be imminent, and my right hon. and learned Friend argued the case not only for action in self-defence but for a stronger Community response. There were some further new actions, but they were not very much.

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Sir Ian Gilmour (Chesham and Amersham)

Since the great evil of terrorism is the killing and wounding of innocent people, when my right hon. Friend made her difficult and, to my mind, mistaken decision, could she not have stipulated that the bases should not be used for attacks on targets in civilian areas, which were bound, and apparently seemed, to result in the killing of innocent people?

The Prime Minister

My right hon. Friend heard the statement that I made, that the targets which were chosen must come within the inherent right of self-defence in article 51, and therefore must be demonstrably connected with terrorism. He will have seen the press conference in which Secretary Weinberger and Secretary Shultz took part, when they said that they deliberately chose targets demonstrably connected with terrorism, and also those that tried to minimise civilian casualties. There are always some risks, but I think that if one fails to take action under self-defence because some risks may be incurred, the people who take that view are saying that one can never tackle or take any action to reduce state-sponsored terrorism. In fact, one would have to cringe before Colonel Gaddafi without taking any further action.

Mr. Michael Foot (Blaenau Gwent)

If the right hon. Lady is so confident that the American action was justified and legitimate under article 51, why did she not urge the President to go to the Security Council and see whether it agreed?

The Prime Minister

Because the Security Council has, in fact, condemned terrorism and state-sponsored terrorism before. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the Security Council could not have taken any effective action, and has not been able to take effective action to deter state-sponsored terrorism. It utters excellent words. It is not able to carry out deeds.

Sir Peter Blaker (Blackpool, South)

In view of the failure of past attempts to deal with the problem of Libyan terrorism, is not it perfectly clear that new ways have had to be found to attempt to deal with the problem? My right hon. Friend said that the evidence of Libyan complicity in past and planned terrorism was direct, and President Reagan has said that it was precise and irrefutable. In spite of the problems relating to the preservation of our intelligence, will my right hon. Friend consider the suggestion that has already been made—to which she has partly responded—and see whether more information about the evidence can be published?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. I agree with him that the actions that we and other countries have taken so far have not had the effect of reducing Libyan state-sponsored terrorism. Indeed, it has escalated, and we have solid evidence that more was planned. I shall follow up what my right hon. Friend has said and see how much of the evidence we can place before the House, but obviously I am not willing to compromise intelligence sources. We shall do what we can, and I know that the House will understand.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (South Down)

Has it not become clear from these events to the people of this country how flimsy would be our protection against the use of bases on British soil for the launching of nuclear operations?

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The Prime Minister

No. The right hon. Gentleman is asking about something totally different, and I believe that he knows it.

Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)

As the whole House well knows how Colonel Gaddafi has set himself up as the godfather of international terrorism—there is no room for doubt about that—will my right hon. Friend be very careful when she considers the question of publication of evidence, whether it has been obtained by the penetration of Libyan terrorist networks, the interception of their communications or however? It is of great importance to us and many others that these sources should continue to give us warning of what this mad dog may do next.

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Of course I heed his warning. Some evidence has already been published in the United States. I shall see whether any more can safely be published, but I shall not step over the bounds of safety.

Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Devonport)

Although the Prime Minister went to the Security Council at the time of the Falklands, surely her strictures on the Security Council were equally applicable at that time? She was at great pains always to act within article 51. Did not President Kennedy in 1962 place the satellite photographs of the missiles in Cuba before the United Nations, and did not that have a dramatic effect on world opinion? The right hon. Lady should not listen too much to her hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) and should publish as much of the information as possible—if necessary, to some extent overriding the natural caution of the intelligence officers.

The Prime Minister

Yes, we did go to the Security Council, but to report our action under article 51. Any action taken under article 51, including the action that has recently been taken by the United States, has to be reported to the Security Council. It is the country concerned that takes the action; it is the report that goes to the Security Council.

Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey and Waterside)

Does my right hon. Friend acknowledge that international terrorism can best be countered by the free countries of the world working in concert, and that is why she was right to make her very difficult decision? In view of her confirmation that Libya is supporting the IRA, and given that we have now assisted the Americans in dealing with one of the worst terrorist threats to their country, would not it be reasonable to expect the Americans now to do a little more to help us to counter the IRA, which is one of the most serious terrorist threats against our country?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. As he knows, the United States is meticulous in doing all it can to condemn the IRA and to stop any resources or weapons from coming to the assistance of the IRA. I am grateful to the United States for the action it is taking and I will put my hon. Friend's suggestion to it forcibly.

Mr. Leo Abse (Torfaen)

Is it not clear from all the statements the Prime Minister has made that her passionate political infatuation with Reagan is leading her to the misjudgements of a giddy girl? Why is she feeding the paranoia of Gaddafi? Why is she providing him with corroboration of his crazy conspiratorial theories? Why does she provide him with a theatre in which he can place his self-immolating terrorists and allow them, as they [column 735]obviously now will, to come into this country? Is it not abundantly clear that the real immediate effect of her collusion is inevitably the importation of greater terrorist violence into Britain?

The Prime Minister

The United States stands by the NATO alliance, this country and Europe in defence of freedom. For that purpose it keeps hundreds of thousands of troops in Europe. In that capacity, American forces have been subject to terrorist attacks; and the complicity of Libya in those attacks is beyond doubt. Yet the hon. Gentleman is asking me to refuse the United States, in the face of those attacks and planned terrorist attacks, any right of self-defence, to use its own planes and its own pilots to defend its own people. It would be ridiculous to refuse it.

Sir Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

Since most of these aircraft took off from the same bases in my constituency that gave us such valuable help before when our forces were landing in the Falklands, will my right hon. Friend ensure that proper counter-measures are available to protect local people, and indeed our own installations, from any Libyan revenge? More broadly, since the evidence of Libyan complicity in the killing, kidnap, and hijack of British as well as American citizens is incontrovertible, does she not agree that sovereign Governments have a right and a duty to go to the defence of their citizens, even though that may require attacks at the nerve centre of international terrorism?

The Prime Minister

I am very much aware of the courage of the people who live around the bases to which my hon. Friend refers, both during wartime and now. I assure him that we are very much aware that terrorists, including those supported by Libya, have shown by past actions that they have the capacity to undertake indiscriminate attacks. Military establishments and Government Departments have been placed at a high level of alert. On the basis of past attacks, it is important for members of the public to be alert to the possibility of indiscriminate attacks and to report anything suspicious. I agree with my hon. Friend: states not only have the right of self defence; there are times when they have the duty to exert it.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

As the Prime Minister—[Hon. Members: “Oh, no.” ] You'll listen! [Interruption.] As the Prime Minister is renowned for her limited understanding on a range of issues, particularly foreign affairs, and as she apparently prevented the Foreign Office yesterday from issuing a statement on this matter, will she try to appreciate and get her cretinous buddy, the American President, to appreciate—[Hon. Members: “Reading.” ]—and try to get the American President to appreciate that such attacks—[An Hon. Member: “Exit Right.” ]

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Faulds

You might not like it, but you are going to hear it—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. I ask the House to give the hon. Member a fair chance or we shall be here all afternoon.

Mr. Faulds

Will the right hon. Lady get her cretinous friend the American President——

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Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member well knows that such phrases are not used in relation to other Heads of State.

Mr. Faulds

Will the Prime Minister tell the American President that attacks such as those that he and she have launched on Libya will only alienate our Arab friends, give an enormous impetus to Islamic fundamentalism, to which there must have been millions of converts today, and enormously damage our interests and our embassies throughout the world?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman refers to understanding. Perhaps he would cast the beam out of his own eye first.

Mr. Faulds

What a feeble response. You have not got a case, you cretin.

Mr. Speaker

Order. This is an important statement on which every Back Bencher wants an opportunity to speak. I ask the hon. Member to contain himself.

Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. Fortunately, perhaps, I did not hear the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds).

Hon. Members

We did.

Mr. Speaker

I did not. If the hon. Member has cast a slur on any right hon. or hon. Member, I know him well enough to realise that he will withdraw.

Mr. Faulds

I cast no slur on the honour of any right hon. Member. I simply described the intellectual ability, quite correctly.

Mr. Speaker

Order. If the hon. Member did that in an unparliamentary way, he should withdraw.

Mr. Faulds

I am sorry to prolong this matter because this is an important issue. The word I used has been allowed in the House. I have used it before.

Mr. Speaker

Nevertheless, and even though I did not hear it—I think other hon. Members did—I ask the hon. Member to withdraw it.

Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)

Does my right hon. Friend recall that, four years ago when faced with the impotence of the Security Council and despite criticism from within and without the House, she took military action to uphold international law? Does she agree that the advice of the Leader of the Opposition and the last Labour Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), to put our trust in the Security Council is unrealistic? Does my right hon. Friend agree that her decision yesterday was totally justified?

The Prime Minister

The advice merely to go to the Security Council would be totally unrealistic in taking action to stop state-sponsored terrorism. I have no doubt that the action will be reported to the Security Council. The Security Council is not in a position to take effective action. We received splendid support from the United States, far beyond the call of duty, for the action taken four years ago.

Mr. Terry Davis (Birmingham, Hodge Hill)

Is the right hon. Lady saying that under article 51 the killing and wounding of innocent people with a bomb in a nightclub justifies killing and wounding other innocent people with a bomb from an F111?

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The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman is not giving the whole case. There has been unparalleled state-sponsored terrorism from Libya. There is evidence of Libyan complicity. The terrorism has been escalating. There is evidence that future attacks are planned. There is an inherent right of self-defence. Risks are involved in exercising that inherent right. If one never took any action because of the risks involved, the alternative would be to be totally and utterly passive and supine before Colonel Gaddafi and anyone else who practises state-sponsored terrorism.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I have to take account of the business on the Order Paper and the fact that the prayer tonight must end at 11.30 pm. I shall allow questions to continue for a further five minutes; and then we must proceed.

Mr. John Browne (Winchester)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that her statement with regard to indisputable evidence will be widely welcomed?

Does she agree that the threat of world terrorism is far more serious than seems to be appreciated by the Opposition? In the near future, terrorist overlords such as Gaddafi may be able to dispatch atomic bombs, if not by missile, then in the cargo holds of scheduled civilian aircraft. In view of such a threat to world peace, is it not our leaders' clear duty to face this threat with fortitude and note that it is extremely unwise merely to tease a dangerous snake—it must be either left alone or killed?

The Prime Minister

I believe that there is no country other than Libya where there is a Government who have inspired such a remorseless campaign of terrorist attacks and where we have specific evidence of their complicity in them. In those circumstances, I believe that the United States was absolutely within its rights to exercise its right of self-defence. It was United States action. It required the use of our bases. We gave our support to the action of the United States and our consent to the use of its bases here.

Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

Is the right hon. Lady aware that no country has a better record for firm, intelligent and calculated responses to terrorism than Britain? Is it not incredible in the light of that record that the right hon. Lady should associate us with President Reagan 's emotional spasm which has left the world a more dangerous place and imperilled the lives of some British citizens? Will the right hon. Lady tell President Reagan, now that she has repaid her Falklands debt to him, that, the next time American bombers from Britain are used, they will be used only for NATO purposes?

The Prime Minister

I disagree. To leave a terrorist Government sponsoring terrorism the world over, secure in the knowledge that no other Government would ever take any action under the right of self-defence, would be to increase the danger of terrorism the world over.

Mr. Cyril D. Townsend (Bexleyheath)

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that most of the recent terrorist incidents involving the middle east have been put down to the Abu Nidel group rather than the Libyans? Is she aware that many of us are deeply troubled by her uncritical support for the United States, which has grossly over-reacted to provocation? Does my right hon. Friend agree that this over-reaction can only fuel terrorism, bitterness and bloodshed?

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The Prime Minister

I disagree totally with my hon. Friend. The United States had constantly asked Europe to take other action against state-sponsored terrorism. It had asked for economic sanctions. It asked that we should all expel the Libyan people's bureaux. Over many years, Europe has taken a totally insufficient action. In the face of the evidence of Libya's complicity in terrorist acts and evidence of future planned actions, I believe that the United States was right and had a duty to invoke its right of self-defence. I hope that my hon. Friend will appreciate the staunch alliance by the United States in NATO in defending this country's freedom.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West)

In view of the Prime Minister's reference to the St. James 's square incident, does she not recall that on that occasion the Foreign Secretary twice advised the House—on 25 April and 1 May 1984—against taking the type of action which the United States has now involved us in? Does she not accept that to invoke the name of a distinguished police officer, who was defending the law, to condone one of the most outrageous acts of international illegality is outrageous and unacceptable to the people of this country?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman is aware that, since that time, terrorism has escalated further. We have evidence of Libyan complicity in that state terrorism and we have evidence that more acts are planned. [Hon. Members: “Publish.” ] Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen are saying that we should be totally supine and passive in the face of those attacks. We do not accept that.

Mr. Michael Mates (Hampshire, East)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that double standards are applied to the type of action we are discussing? If it had been carried out by the Israelis, the Syrians, Iraqis or Iranians, for the purpose of prosecuting their interests, it would barely have made the front page of the news. [Hon. Members: “It would be wrong.” ]

Is it not precisely because this action has been taken by the most powerful democracy in the free world, that, in order that it should be understood by ordinary people, it must be further explained? Will my right hon. Friend do all that she can to see that the reasons which were adduced to her and caused her to give the support, which I whole-heartedly back, are explained to the public tomorrow in the debate—in particular, the intimations that we had of future terrorist action which would make this whole event totally justified?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, but I think the people of this country very much understand the need to take all legitimate action against Colonel Gaddafi and state-sponsored terrorism.

Mr. Roy Jenkins (Glasgow, Hillhead)

If, as the Downing street public relation machine led us to believe, the Prime Minister strongly counselled the President against military action in Libya, will she tell us, as she has not yet done, what were the precise reasons which led her to make British bases available for such action?

The Prime Minister

As I said in my statement, it was understood that the United States was intending to take military action and we understood that one of the reasons was that it had constantly asked Europe to take action against state-sponsored terrorism by other means. The [column 739]response had been inadequate, terrorism had escalated and the evidence was there. The United States therefore decided to exercise its right of self-defence.

I was concerned to do everything I could to see that what action the United States took was solely within the right of self-defence. I was concerned to see that there was full legal justification for it.

Once I was assured that that was so, it seemed to be perfectly reasonable to give our consent to the United States using American aircraft and American pilots from this country in accordance with our agreement, so that they may have more accurate bombing and less collateral damage, and fewer casualties to American pilots. That was the reason. I would have taken the same decision again.

Mr. Derek Conway (Shrewsbury and Atcham)

Will my right hon. Friend take it from one who has visited Libya and Tripoli that no amount of words and gestures would dissuade Colonel Gaddafi from trading and financing international terrorism to destabilise this country and other democracies in the west? The action by the American President is totally justifiable and my right hon. Friend's support for that will be proven to be right. But it will not be right until Colonel Gaddafi 's evil regime is smashed and his funding of terrorism is stopped.

The Prime Minister

I agree with my hon. Friend. The action had to be such that it had the full legal justification for it, and our advice was that it was within article 51. I understand that that is the advice the United States also received. We have no quarrel with the Libyan people but we do have a quarrel with state-sponsored terrorism.


Mr. Faulds

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. A few minutes ago, you asked me to withdraw the word “cretin” or “cretinous” —I think that that was the word to which you referred. If you check the official record, however, I think that you will find that the word has been used frequently and that the hon. Members concerned have not been asked to withdraw it. As you asked me to withdraw the word, Mr. Speaker, and after a few moments' quiet contemplation out of the Chamber, I shall willingly accede to your request.

Mr. Speaker

I am very grateful for the hon. Gentleman's typically chivalrous attitude.