'COMMONS PRAISE FOR FOREST MP’s AFGHAN SPEECH'

Lymington Times – 19 January 2002

New Forest East MP Julian Lewis had the unusual experience of being congratulated by both Government and Opposition front benches for a major speech on terrorism just before Parliament rose for its Christmas break.

It was the latest in a series of special debates, the first of which was held just three days after the atrocities in America. Throughout the intervening time the Conservative Opposition has been strongly supporting the Labour Government’s military campaign, whereas some left-wing Labour MPs have been much more critical of it.

No fewer than four of these – Robert Marshall-Andrews, Tam Dalyell, Alice Mahon and Jon Owen-Jones – found their criticisms rebutted, as Dr Lewis declared:

"I have every confidence that the Americans under President Bush, and – I am proud to say this as a member of the Loyal Opposition – the Government, if they continue on the path that they have consistently followed since 11 September will prove equal to the occasion."

The MP added that he hoped that the Government would acknowledge in turn that they have had unflinching support from the Conservatives, if not from other opposition parties and some Labour members.

Turning to the nature of the brand of terrorism which had shocked the world in September, Dr Lewis pointed out that it had not developed since then as dangerously as had first appeared likely. It had three characteristics, none of which was being exploited to the full.

First, it was "high-tech terrorism which uses the assets of developed states as weapons against those states".  Hence the use of Western aircraft against Western buildings. Yet bin Laden had gone to war prior to achieving his aim of obtaining weapons of mass destruction.

Secondly, it had seemed to be "stateless terrorism" given that the bin Laden organisation had a presence in so many countries. In fact, it had really been dependent on "failed states" like Afghanistan to sustain its bases, and this had "turned out to be a weakness in its armour", with native Afghans turning against the foreigners in their midst once the Anglo-American campaign began to succeed.

Finally, initial fears that there would be large numbers of extremist fighters prepared to adopt suicide tactics for bin Laden had not so far been borne out. It now appeared that several of the hijackers of the four American planes had not even known that they were going to die on their missions.

Dr Lewis concluded by stressing the importance that any "infringements of our traditional liberties" in order to meet the terrorist threat should be undertaken by means of "sunset legislation" – legislation that would lapse automatically unless specifically renewed after an agreed period.

After the debate, both Foreign Office Minister Ben Bradshaw and Shadow Foreign Secretary Michael Ancram congratulated the New Forest MP on his contribution. Dr Lewis told the Lymington Times that, in his maiden speech in Parliament in May 1997, he had promised to give full-hearted support to the new Labour Government whenever it took the right decisions about defence. He added:

"That is why I did so during the previous campaign in Kosovo, and I am glad that the Conservative Party has taken the same view during the present terrorist crisis."