State-Sponsored Counter-Terror

Karl Miller

  • Parliamentary Debates: Hansard, Vol. 95, No 94
    HMSO, £2.50

‘This has been an exceptionally serious debate,’ said Denis Healey on Wednesday 16 April, in contributing to the principal occasion on which the House of Commons gave its mind to the American air strike on Tripoli and Ben Ghazi, two days before, and to the Prime Minister’s decision – with the minimum of Cabinet consultation – to play the part of an ally by sanctioning the use for that purpose of bases in Britain. The best of the debate justified Mr Healey’s words of praise, and those of other participants. A high standard of argument was achieved, there was far less of the usual bombast, posturing and silly uproar, and the essential issue was identified. Little doubt was expressed about the atrocities of Gaddafi, his ‘state-sponsored terrorism’: the debate turned on whether or not the strike would protect the peace of the world, such as it is. At the same time, the debate produced plenty of contributions of a kind which helps, even more than the uproars, to explain the distaste widely felt for the behaviour of MPs – a distaste to which they would do well to give more of their minds than they appear to. And if most of the good discussion, from all sides of the House, took the same negative view of Britain’s part in the raid that was exhibited by two-thirds of the country in a subsequent poll, the House nevertheless voted to support Mrs Thatcher. One way and another, this was an occasion which set the authority and significance of the House of Commons in an equivocal light, and it is worth reviewing Hansard’s record of what was said.

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