Kennedy to call for 'measured response'

Liberal Democrat Conference: Gathering to open with a two-minute silence and sharp criticism of Blair and Bush's inflammatory language
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Charles Kennedy will sharply criticise Tony Blair and George Bush today for using inflammatory language after the terrorist attacks and will call for a measured military response.

The leader of the Liberal Democrats will strike the most cautious stance of any political leader, calling for the early involvement of the United Nations and "robust" but "proportionate" military action. He will say Britain should not provide a "blank cheque" to the United States for support while overtly criticising President Bush for calling for a "crusade" and Mr Blair for following his declaration of "war" against the perpetrators and supporters of terrorism.

"War is not the word, nor is crusade. Resolve is," he will say in an emergency speech to the party's annual conference, which opened yesterday in Bournemouth. "We have got to fashion a mind-set to find an approach which begins to address the roots of this evil."

The Liberal Democrats have shelved several planned debates to make way for discussion of the international situation and will observe a two-minute silence today for the victims of terrorism.

An emergency motion to be debated by the 3,000 delegates will call on a coalition to work "through the United Nations" to "co-ordinate and implement robust and effective responses to the scourge of international terrorism".

The motion, to be proposed by Menzies Campbell, the party's spokesman on foreign affairs, will reflect unease among Liberal Democrat activists about the prospect of a long-drawn out war with huge civilian casualties.

It will call for civilian casualties to be avoided "as far as possible" and for politicians to temper inflammatory language towards Muslims which could "inflame prejudice or incite violence between racial, national and religious groups, both in Britain and abroad".

Mr Campbell will state that any military campaign should be based on "clear intelligence, be precise and proportionate, and be consistent with the principles of international law".

The party will stress the need to protect civil liberties in Britain and abroad. But although Liberal Democrats have traditionally opposed the introduction of compulsory identification cards, Mr Kennedy has indicated his willingness to reconsider this policy. He says that the party "will look at any proposals" put forward by the Government, suggesting a possible departure from official policy.

The Liberal Democrats will call for the speeding up of Europe-wide measures to extradite and track down terrorists. Graham Watson, the party's leader in the European Parliament, will propose the early introduction of European arrest warrants and common penalties for terrorist offences.

The first Liberal Democrats arrived in Bournemouth yesterday to a sombre atmosphere at the conference centre. The party has been forced to revise the agenda so as to avoid appearing "parochial" on the brink of war. Mr Kennedy said he wanted to send a message that terrorism could not divert democracy, and that it would be "business as usual". However, "triumphalist" debates, celebrating the party's general election results, will not go ahead.

Several potentially embarrassing motions, including one to lower the minimum age for buying pornography, have been shelved. Matthew Taylor, the party's Treasury spokesman, has refocused his speech today to highlight the crisis in the world economy. He will call for Britain to press ahead with preparations to join the euro and say that the pound should be devalued to boost the economy. Mr Taylor will warn against cuts in public services "for economic reasons" and will call on the Government to set an exchange rate for euro entry.

Today

Emergency motion: Terrorist acts in America. Two-minute silence for victims. Statement on terrorist attacks by Charles Kennedy. Keynote economic speech by Matthew Taylor, Treasury spokesman.

Motion: Fair pay for women.

Debate on the euro; general election presentation: Lords Rennard and Razzall

Tuesday

Debate on private sector involvemenent in public services. Speech by Digby Jones, director-general of the CBI. Transport debate. Phil Willis, Regulation of Parliamentary lobbying.

Wednesday

Keynote speech by Menzies Campbell, foreign affairs spokesman. Environment debate. Speech by Lord Dholakia, president of the Liberal Democrats. Housing debate. Care for the elderly debate. Women in Parliament debate.

Thursday

Student finance debate. NHS debate. Energy debate. Financial Appeal. Keynote speech by Charles Kennedy.

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