International Terrorism

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:22 pm on 4th October 2001.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Hugh Bayley Hugh Bayley NATO Parliamentary Assembly UK Delegation 2:22 pm, 4th October 2001

I will not be present for the reply to the debate as I have been asked to go to Paris this afternoon to represent my party at a meeting of the Socialist International.

The Government and the Prime Minister in particular have responded well domestically and on the international stage to the crisis. We have a clear duty to protect our citizens from atrocities. My hon. Friend Mike Gapes pointed out that the risks are very real and continuing.

I have read the evidence that the Prime Minister placed in the Library this morning and I believe that military action is a necessary part of our response to make it less likely, or impossible, for further atrocities such as those committed on 11 September to take place.

I was pleased to hear the Prime Minister say this morning that he believes that the humanitarian coalition is as vital as military action. The humanitarian crisis faced even before the events of 11 September by the people of Afghanistan was very real. After 23 years of war, seven years of Taliban misrule and three years of drought, food production in the country last year was half the normal production—in some parts of the country it was only one tenth of the normal level. Twenty five per cent. of children born in Afghanistan die before the age of five.

The problems faced by women are particularly acute. I have no idea what it costs to buy a place on a truck going from Kabul to the border, but it will be out of the price range of any of the 700,000 war widows in Afghanistan, who are not allowed by the Taliban to work and have to survive as best they can on the help of friends or family or by begging on the streets. They and their children will be major casualties.

The United Nations published a report headed "The Deepening Crisis" a week before the World Trade Centre attack, which talks about 5 million Afghans being displaced within Afghanistan or as refugees to neighbouring countries. Last Friday, the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs in its "Donor Alert" report estimated that a further 2.5 million Afghans are likely to flee their homes from fear of conflict or conflict itself. Some will move within the country, about a million are expected to cross the border to Pakistan, 400,000 to go to Iran and 100,000 to central Asia.

The United Kingdom has well-established aid programmes in Afghanistan and elsewhere to assist Afghan refugees. The Department for International Development has responded quickly and positively to the crisis with the allocation of a further £25 million on top of the £35 million in aid that it sent to Afghanistan last year, as well as another £11 million of aid to Pakistan, in particular for the poorer areas that are likely to receive refugees. About £15 million of that UK aid has already been disbursed. Speed is essential. Food supplies need to get through before the winter sets in as communications will be frustrated by the winter weather as well as by a breakdown of law and order which may follow military action.

Is £36 million enough? No. In its report on Friday, the United Nations called for an international fund of $584 million—just under $200 million for food aid over the next six months and about $270 million to help refugees.

It is instructive to consider what happened in Kosovo. Fewer than a million Kosovan Albanian refugees fled south to Macedonia or Albania. Although that is still a huge number, it is about a third of the number that the UN estimates will flee Afghanistan. The logistics were easier in the former Yugoslavia than they are in and around Afghanistan and the donor community pledged $2.6 billion for Kosovo in 1999. The United Kingdom has provided more than £100 million in bilateral aid to Kosovo since July 1999.

At present the UK's contributions come from the Department's contingency reserves, which is the right place for them to come from. However, will the Secretary of State for Defence say in his reply whether, if additional resources are required—I accept that we will not know that until we know the number of refugees—the Treasury will make them available to ensure that the Department for International Development does not have to cut necessary aid programmes in other parts of the world?

Furthermore, in addition to planning military action to constrain and defeat the terrorists, will the Secretary of State's Department plan for the armed forces to carry out humanitarian tasks? Our armed forces played a magnificent and important humanitarian role in the former Yugoslavia. Given the size of the humanitarian task, I am certain that we will need support from the military to provide security, so that aid can get through to the people for whom it is intended and is not looted or captured by bandits, and possibly to help build refugee camps or provide wider logistical support to aid operations. Is that planning taking place and, most importantly, is it taking place in consultation with the Department for International Development?

Obviously, meticulous military planning is taking place with regard to action against terrorism. It must be meticulous because it is a matter of life and death for those involved, including a number of my constituents as my constituency is a garrison town, and our armed forces will be at risk because of the military action that we are taking. Will the planning be as meticulous for the humanitarian role that they may also be called upon to perform, which will also be a matter of life and death for Afghans?