On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You rightly suggested that there should be an eight-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches because a large number of hon. Members wish to speak. Will you confirm that if short interventions are taken by speakers, time will be added on to their eight minutes?
As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made clear, last night British forces, acting alongside the United States armed forces, took part in the first phase of the military response to the attacks on the United States on
I am sure that the whole House will join me in paying tribute to our armed forces. In recent months, they have demonstrated time and again that they are among the very best in the world. We ask them to serve in difficult and demanding situations. We ask them to carry out dangerous missions and they do, without fail and always with great skill and ability.
Our armed forces' recent success in leading NATO's weapons collection operation in Macedonia exemplified everything that we have come to expect from them. I was privileged to meet the men and women of the Headquarters Task Force Harvest and the 2nd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment when I visited them in Macedonia last month. This is yet another example of British service men and women acting as a force for good in the world. We are rightly proud of their courage, their sense of duty, and their professionalism. They are rightly held in high esteem throughout the world.
It was a privilege for me, as a member of the armed forces parliamentary scheme, to be with the fleet last week and see that dedication. The Prime Minister mentioned that air assets might be used. It is a matter of public knowledge that our air assets in that region are the eight GR7 Harriers on HMS Illustrious. Of course, the assets available to the Americans are hugely greater. They can fly with minimal risk. Will the Secretary of State confirm that while our RAF pilots are totally dedicated, brave and will do what they are asked to do, they will be sent into action only on clear military advice that their effort is needed, not just to provide political support to the Americans, important as that is? Of course, such support has been provided by the use of cruise missiles.
I will deal with the relevant air assets in more detail in a moment. First, I thank the Leader of the Opposition and the leader of the Liberal Democrats for expressing their thoughts about the families of service men and women. This is an anxious time for them and, indeed, for us all. Just as we rely on them to defend us, so we must also ensure their safety and that of their families. Our military bases throughout the world are on a high state of alert. We are vigilant. We will not be intimidated by the threats of terrorists. Last night's action and, indeed, the further action now under way should have made that very clear.
The strikes conducted last night were aimed at damaging, disrupting and destroying al-Qaeda's terrorist network camps and elements of the military infrastructure of its Taliban supporters that have allowed Afghanistan to be used as a base for international terrorism. Clearly, the attacks supported our immediate objectives: to bring those responsible for the attacks of
The 30 targets included four terrorist training camps and a range of Taliban military facilities, including airfields and air defence sites capable of threatening our operations in the future. Action against such varied targets requires a wide range of forces. Most of these came from the United States. Obviously, it took the lead. But, as the House will want to know, the United Kingdom has three nuclear submarines—HMS Superb, HMS Trafalgar and HMS Triumph—in the region. We were fortunate that exercise Saif Sareea meant that so many UK military assets were available. Tomahawk land attack missiles were fired at one of the targets, a terrorist site.
I recognise that the House will also want to know about the effectiveness of last night's strikes. Detailed battle damage assessment is still under way. The House would not expect me to announce specific details while the initial phase of the operation continues. However, we can say that initial indications are that coalition operations were successful in achieving their objective of destroying and degrading elements of the al-Qaeda and Taliban terrorist and military facilities. There is more to be done. Last night was the first strike. A second night of attacks is under way. There will be further attacks.
I know that the Secretary of State, along with the Prime Minister, will have given enormous thought to the risk that in a country as fractured, complex and poor as Afghanistan, bombing will simply produce more terrorists than it kills. If the purpose of our bombing strategy is either to remove the Taliban or so to weaken the infrastructure of the al-Qaeda network as to allow subsequent troop involvements to dismantle it, will the Secretary of State say whether Britain intends to go to the United Nations to seek a mandate that, rather than defining the precise military purposes of the involvement, sets the parameters, aims and limitations of such on-going international involvement in Afghanistan?
I will deal with the role of the United Nations in due course, but I assure my hon. Friend that the attacks have been against legitimate military targets and that those attacks are wholly and entirely consistent with international law and the United Nations charter.
The vast majority of Members have concluded—I hope, reluctantly—that military action had become inevitable. However, under article 51 of the United Nations charter—the right of self-defence—any military action by member states must be reported immediately to the Security Council. My understanding is that the United States Government have done so and published the letter. The question that the Prime Minister did not answer is the obvious one: have the United Kingdom Government reported under article 51, and will that letter be published?
This is a coalition operation and I have no doubt that, for technical legal purposes, we are covered by the notification that the United States has given, but I will certainly investigate whether that legal advice is right and whether we need to make a formal notification ourselves as a country.
In dealing with media reports of bombs and missiles, I am confident that the reports so far of attacks on civilian areas are unnecessarily alarmist. Our targeting selection processes are demanding and we have taken very considerable care to minimise any risk to the people of Afghanistan. Detonations at nearby targets and anti-aircraft fire can easily give the impression, particularly at night, that civilian areas are under attack. I can assure the House that that was not the case.
I want to emphasise that neither the Afghan civilian population nor their homes and property have been targeted. All 30 sites that were attacked were terrorist camps or military installations. Three, as the Prime Minister said, were in Kabul and four were close to other large settlements, but 23 were in remote areas of Afghanistan. Claims by the Afghan media should be treated as what they are—claims by a media network that is no more than a mouthpiece of the Taliban regime. We can expect plenty of propaganda in the days ahead, so I ask the House to remember that no independent journalists are given permission to be inside Afghanistan.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State because although we in the House have willed the ends and—without dissent, I think—the means, many honest and decent people across the country, including the leaders of the Muslim community, may have been taken in by claims of collateral damage affecting civilians. I hope that the Secretary of State will make it clear to people, as far as possible, that those claims have no substance, and furthermore, do his best to bring the Muslim leaders and those many decent people who support them on board in the action that is being taken.
The latter suggestion is sensible. Clearly, as regards the former, the situation will depend on the detailed battle damage assessment that is under way. The hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not make further observations about that at this stage.
I want to say something about future operations.
In a second.
In addition to the Tomahawk missile-equipped submarines, we have made available Royal Air Force reconnaissance and other support aircraft. Those began to deploy to the region today and will be available to support further operations during the coming days.
Military action is never taken lightly. But in this case our justification is plain. The attacks on the United States involved the murder of more than 6,000 innocent people, including scores of our fellow citizens. Tens of thousands are now grieving the loss of friends and family.
We know, without doubt, who was responsible for what happened in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda network planned and carried out those attacks. The Prime Minister has already released evidence that makes that clear. But bin Laden's guilt goes back far beyond
The evidence reveals that bin Laden and his network were able to carry out those attacks on the United States because the Taliban regime knowingly gave them shelter and support. Osama bin Laden and the Taliban support and feed off each other. In return for the support that they give him, he trains their forces and fights alongside them in Afghanistan's civil war. Both bin Laden and the Taliban profit from the drugs trade.
That evidence has been accepted now by Governments and international organisations throughout the world—including Pakistan, Russia, NATO and all our European partners.
The Secretary of State mentioned Pakistan. I am sure that he and the whole House agree that General Musharraf's Government in Pakistan have been particularly robust in their support for the coalition's action against international terrorism. He will also be well aware that Pakistan itself is a nuclear-armed state. Can he reassure the House that the British Government and their allies in the coalition will do all that they can to bolster General Musharraf from any attempts by extremist elements in his country to undermine his Government because of their support for the fight against terrorism?
As the hon. Gentleman says, Pakistan is playing an important role in the present situation. It is important that Pakistan remains stable. It is equally important, as General Musharraf has said, that Pakistan moves towards the re-establishment of democracy. That is something that the Government there have accepted, and that, perhaps more than anything, is the key to the stability of Pakistan's future.
Osama bin Laden has consistently shown a total disregard for the lives of civilians, whatever their faith, race or nationality. He and all who support and protect him must be brought to account for their crimes. We must also work to prevent them from inflicting more suffering on innocent people.
The Secretary of State knows that he and the Prime Minister have carried almost the whole House with them, because the indication of military action has been clear and specific as to its objectives. Is he aware that there is now some loose talk that that military action should be extended to other countries, including, for example, Iraq? Is he aware of any evidence that would justify the extension of the military action in that direction?
It is important that we emphasise that our priority target has always been to bring Osama bin Laden, his associates and those who would support him to justice. What is important about that is that the action that we are taking will send a clear signal to all those countries around the world that might be tempted to continue support for international terrorism, that this is the fate that befalls them. So what we are doing in Afghanistan sends a very clear signal around the world.
I thank my right hon. Friend.
Returning to propaganda, can my right hon. Friend give assurances that the Government played no role in the BBC's decision to switch its "Panorama" programme from the advertised discussion on prospects for peace to the programme on the background to the Afghanistan conflict, which may have given some justification for the bombings that later took place?
I am as confident as I can be that the Government played no role in that, although I must say that, short of sleep last night, I did watch the programme and I thought that it was a very interesting contribution to the debate.
Neither the United States nor any of her partners wanted to take military action. The United States sought a peaceful solution. We gave it our full support in its tireless diplomatic efforts. The Taliban had every chance to avoid what happened last night. [Interruption.]
We gave the Taliban the chance to surrender bin Laden and his associates for trial and to offer proof that they no longer supported terrorism. They had more than two weeks to comply, but they continued to prevaricate and to lie. We warned the Taliban regime that they were running out of time. We warned them that they faced powerful military action. They did not believe us. Enough was enough. Last night, the United States acted in legitimate self-defence, in accordance with international law and, specifically, with article 51 of the United Nations charter. So did we.
Accepting, as I certainly do, that the United States and the international community have legitimacy to enter Afghanistan, if necessary by force—certainly by force—in order to arrest and apprehend Osama bin Laden, will the Secretary of State tell us how the present bombing campaign will assist in that very precise task?
Under article 51, any state is entitled to act in self-defence to protect its citizens and entitled to use proportionate force to achieve that. That is precisely the basis on which I have cited article 51, and precisely the basis on which the United States and the United Kingdom have acted.
It would be wrong to think that the United States and the United Kingdom are acting alone. Many other nations have offered military support. Last night, my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary and I called leaders around the world to brief them on the military action that had begun. I spoke to my counterparts in France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Belgium. They were united in their support for the action that we have taken. They have all offered a military contribution to future action.
We are grateful for the support for the strikes that is coming from around the world. On that note, I must ask the House to excuse my early departure from this debate as I have to fly to Russia for further talks with my Russian colleague in the light of the present situation. As the Prime Minister said yesterday:
"this coalition has strengthened—not weakened—in the 26 days since the atrocity occurred."
Last week, NATO announced the action that it is taking to support the United States, following the determination that the attack on the United States had come from abroad and could, therefore, be handled under article 5 of the North Atlantic treaty.
Today, the alliance announced that the North Atlantic Council had approved the deployment of five airborne early warning aircraft to the United States to backfill American assets and free them up for operations in the east. NATO is also preparing to deploy the standing naval force Mediterranean—a multinational force, currently under British command—to the eastern Mediterranean. Those are clear demonstrations of the alliance's support for the United States.
When the right hon. Gentleman visits the Russian Ministry of Defence, is it his intention to try to persuade the Russians to play a greater role in the alliance? Is he aware that there is a Russian infantry division in Tajikistan? Is it the intention that, in extremis, the Russians should be invited to use those troops?
I fully support everything that my right hon. Friend has said so far, but ask for clarification on one point. Have we given any thought to what will happen if the alliance is successful in apprehending some members of the network but some of them are suspected of, or confess to, activities in Russia, Chechnya or elsewhere? Will they be handed over to the countries where they have committed atrocities?
Certainly that would seem to be the most sensible outcome of such a situation.
It is not simply the alliance that is giving support; the work against international terrorism continues in a number of international organisations. United Nations Security Council resolution 1373 is the first resolution to impose obligations on all states to respond to a global threat to peace and international security. It focuses on two key areas: suppressing the financing of terrorism and denying terrorists a safe haven from which to operate. All states owe it to the victims of terrorist atrocities to implement its provisions as soon as possible.
Military action against terrorism has only just begun. We and all our allies and partners are determined to root out terrorism wherever we find it. As the Prime Minister has made clear, we will mount a relentless, deliberate and sustained campaign aimed at securing our objectives. Our armed forces will play their full part in that, alongside their allies from the United States, France, Germany, Australia and Canada and from other countries such as Spain, which has offered to contribute to military operations.
When my right hon. Friend meets his Russian counterparts, and in his discussions with his Cabinet colleagues, will he consider how the Security Council can advance the process of establishing in Afghanistan a United Nations transitional administration or a situation similar to that which existed for 10 years in Cambodia?
If my hon. Friend will forgive me, we are just at the start of military operations and I do not think that it is appropriate yet to speculate on how they will conclude. However, I am sure that that is one of the options that will be considered.
Military action is only one part of our wider response, which also includes important diplomatic, legal, economic and humanitarian measures. This broad campaign will be a long one. It will be hard and it may demand a high price. However, we have no option other than to act.
In conclusion, I should like to deal with two further points. First, we have no quarrel with the people of Afghanistan. They are as much the victims of the terrorists as anyone else. They face poverty, drought and hunger while the Taliban regime connives with terrorists. Our commitment to the Afghan people is simple and sincere. We want to help them build a stable, peaceful and prosperous country.
The United Kingdom is playing its full part in the international relief efforts to stave off famine in Afghanistan this winter and among the 4.5 million refugees who have fled the Taliban regime. We were the first country to pledge aid money for the refugees— £36 million—on top of the £35 million that we have given to Afghanistan since 1997. We are ready to give more help if that is required.
Secondly, we have no quarrel with Islam. The United Kingdom is a multicultural and multi-faith society. We share many common beliefs, including a respect for the life of innocent people. Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda and their Taliban supporters do not share those values. They are not "Islamic terrorists"; they are terrorists and nothing more. Far, far too many Muslims have suffered and died because of bin Laden, as so many people and Governments across the Islamic world recognise. Their help and support in defeating terrorism is vital.
We know that defeating international terrorism and its supporters can be neither easy nor quick. It will be a long and sometimes painful process. The armed forces are ready for that challenge. They are well trained and well equipped. They are resolved to make their full contribution to that victory. I am confident that they will succeed.
On behalf of the Opposition, I express my thanks to the Secretary of State for the way in which he has informed us as fully as he can of the continuing developments. The international situation is clearly fragile. As the right hon. Gentleman's imminent journey to Russia is obviously extremely important, we understand that he cannot remain for the whole debate. I am sure that the whole House joins me in wishing him well on the task that he is undertaking on behalf of his country.
It is of course fear and uncertainty that have preoccupied everyone since
The events of
I fully support the Government's intentions to step up emergency planning in our country. Every time we go to a restaurant or step on to a train or aeroplane; every time we see our children off to school, or a loved one off to work; and every time each of us steps into this building, at the back of our minds is the thought, "What will they do next?" That is of course the aim of the terrorists.
That is why it is so important that we meet here, in this building and on this day, to show the terrorists that democracy will not be cowed. That is why it is so important that the House should continue to give the Government its full and unequivocal support for the action that they have taken. Indeed, that is why we commend the Prime Minister for the way in which he has responded to the crisis. He has ensured that Britain has played the fullest role in helping the United States to forge a truly extraordinary international alliance, in support of a comprehensive and restrained response that is proportionate to the threat that we face.
The Taliban regime in Afghanistan have remained defiant and brought the consequences upon their own heads. The unequivocal evidence published by the Government last week clearly implicates Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda terrorist network. They can operate only because they are sustained by the Taliban Government. The Taliban could have chosen to hand over bin Laden and to cease their sponsorship of terrorism, but instead they have chosen to continue their support for bin Laden—the most notorious mass murderer of our age.
Bin Laden now taunts us from his hideaway, rejoicing in the death he has wrought. This is no Muslim hero, but the twisted leader of an evil cult. On behalf of the Opposition, I join the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State in reiterating that this is not a war against Islam. Indeed, we join Muslims who want to defeat terrorism everywhere. The enemies of civilisation remain free, able and motivated to strike again. The United States and its allies have a clear obligation to confront the threat we all face.
Last night's military action is not only justifiable in international law—I know that the Government have taken pains to ensure that that is so—but morally justified, because to baulk or to hesitate would be to let the terrorists once again set the agenda. The risks of taking action are far outweighed by the risks of taking no action.
Of course it is right that Britain should be first in support of the United States in this action. Time and again over the past century, Britain and America have combined their military might in defence of freedom. This is not the pretext for one country blindly giving a blank cheque to another. This alliance is a genuine partnership based on mutual understanding, openness and trust.
Britain possesses some unique military capabilities that complement those of the United States. Not only can we play a crucial military role, but the Anglo-American alliance in NATO is the most important political and diplomatic alliance for the free world. NATO has had its many doubters, but now is the time to reaffirm its primacy. The Prime Minister described how so many countries are ready to contribute, but NATO is the linchpin of this action. Britain must be ready to make whatever further military commitments are necessary to sustain the effectiveness of the campaign.
We share the Government's high hopes for the outcome of this action. We have confidence that it has been well targeted to minimise civilian casualties. The targets selected are Taliban and al-Qaeda military assets and terrorist bases. We hope that the action succeeds in changing the Taliban regime and that the Government of Afghanistan hand over bin Laden and his accomplices to face the proper course of justice. We hope that it will give the aid agencies the earliest opportunity to resume the aid effort, which is so desperately needed to rescue millions of Afghan people from the risk of starvation this winter.
I join many in the House in commenting on the importance of the aid programme. Alongside the war against terrorism, we regard the aid effort as an equally essential task. It is not for show or propaganda. Britain needs to demonstrate that it is not just a gesture to salve our conscience. It is fundamental to the values that we hold—the values that bin Laden would destroy. Our best interests will be served only if we have the best interests of the Afghan people at heart as well.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman agrees with the Prime Minister and others that the struggle in which we are engaged will be long term and that we need to build a better future over the long term for the people of Afghanistan. Will his party make a commitment to match the growth in international development spending that the Government have introduced? That is an important means by which to provide the humanitarian support that he describes.
This is hardly the moment at which to extract spending commitments from Her Majesty's official Opposition, but I shall be interested in the answer if the hon. Gentleman puts that question to the Secretary of State for International Development when she replies to the debate.
Beside our hopes, let us have no illusions. The British people have long and bitter experience of terrorism. The Government can be assured that the British public do not expect victory in one battle, nor do they want revenge. They want their elected leaders to smash the machinery of terrorism. They know that there are no easy solutions. That is why it is timely for the Government to warn that last night's action was but the first phase of possibly a long war against international terrorism.
Indeed, from now on, this must be a war of eternal vigilance, not against one terrorist or one terrorist state, but against all terrorism and all states that nurture it, for this is not a war with frontiers or territories. Our enemies are not soldiers who face us openly but evil criminals who steal away in the night. They depend on corrupt or incapable Governments to provide safe haven for their operations.
We must therefore be prepared to ask questions about the role of other Governments' relationships with terrorism—this is not loose talk, as was said earlier—and that may give rise to some uncomfortable answers. At this stage, we have no evidence that the Government of Iraq had any direct role in the atrocities of bin Laden, but we know that Iraq has sponsored terrorism before and that Saddam is constantly trying to develop weapons of mass destruction as part of his personal arsenal of terror. Sooner or later, the evidence may compel us to act in such cases.
The terrorists exploit international organised crime to finance their campaigns of terror. The Prime Minister has pointed out how the Taliban and al-Qaeda thrive on the heroin trade, but we also know that IRA terrorists have been paid drug money to train Colombia's terrorists in their deadly and evil trade. That shows how networks of international crime and terrorism lead straight to the streets of our own country. It also shows that our security is inseparable from the security and stability of every other country in the world.
I have listened to the hon. Gentleman's argument with care. The Government and the United States have tried to bring together a coalition based on precise strategic objectives—dealing with Osama bin Laden and his terrorists and the Taliban who support them where necessary. Is this the time to broaden those strategic objectives to include others, which may make it much more difficult to maintain the coalition that the British and American Governments so strongly seek to maintain? Is this the right time to set out those alternative objectives?
I do not think that they are alternative objectives. They are inseparable from that same objective. The United States Government and the hon. Gentleman's own Government have consistently made it clear that we must root out terrorism wherever it rears its ugly head.
Terrorists have too often prospered from our complacency and we must never be complacent again. We must give every support to Governments of countries such as Colombia and Pakistan, where President Musharraf faces frightening domestic turmoil for having the courage to support the campaign against terrorism.
A Russian general recently said that in the hills of Afghanistan a man on a donkey is as effective as four men in a tank. Will the hon. Gentleman address the need to get the hearts and minds of the people of Afghanistan behind this process by offering them a vision of a political and economic renewal for the future of Afghanistan so that they know that this is a war not against them but against the terrorists?
That is exactly what I was referring to earlier. It is important that the aid package provides for the long term. It is the other side of the coin of the military action that is taking place.
We fear that the aid programme in and around Afghanistan will not be delivered. I know that my hon. Friend Mrs. Spelman, the shadow Secretary of State for International Development, will wish to press her counterpart on those matters. How effective have been the air drops of food so far? When will it be possible to restore food convoys to the starving people of Afghanistan? Are we yet in a position to discuss what military support would be needed to ensure that food convoys were properly protected so that they could get through?
We must urge and pray for balance and restraint in the continuing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. It is worth reflecting that while the peace process was in progress over the past two years, Osama bin Laden was plotting
The horrible freshness of
This hour and every hour we remember our armed forces, alongside the Americans and our other allies, who are prepared and ready to do whatever they are called on to do. That is their job and they are devoted to it. We thank them for their devotion. Our thoughts and prayers will be with them and those whom they have left at home who love them every hour of every day.
We send our service men into danger, on to the streets of Northern Ireland, into the skies over Iraq and into the jungle of Sierra Leone. In the Balkans, our forces make up the greater part of NATO's bulwark for peace—in SFOR in Bosnia, in KFOR in Kosovo and more recently in the "essential harvest" of weapons in Macedonia. They trained for war so that they can keep the peace. They are war-makers only to be peace-makers. They are the finest in the world. On deployment or on exercise, they are doing what they love to do, but we should never take them for granted. God go with them.
This is the third occasion on which we have met in the House to discuss this matter, and some of the newspapers have suggested that it is time to stop talking and begin to speculate. It would be absolutely wrong at this moment to speculate because we have reached the point at which we have to focus on keeping together the coalition that has been built up over the past few weeks. Now is the time to test whether that coalition will deliver, and deliver not only words but actions.
We have a clearly defined objective in the immediate term, which is to deal with international terrorists, as well as long-term objectives that have been mentioned by some hon. Members. Those long-term objectives should not distract us from the task at hand. People have talked about war. The traditional definition of warfare, and particularly of a just war, involves legitimate authorities fighting each other. These events have nothing to do with legitimate authorities.
In this case, an international conspiracy is fighting, not against a particular nation or authority but against an international order. Within that war, we will recognise some elements of traditional warfare, and yesterday's actions fall into that category, but there will be other elements, such as international terrorism and money laundering, that we will not immediately recognise as warfare. The Prime Minister, with the United States and our European allies, as well as some countries that a few weeks ago we would have had difficulty in recognising as allies, have formed a coalition to fight international terrorists. Many hon. Members, including myself, must express humility. I did not expect the United States Administration, and President Bush in particular, to be as thoughtful in their response and to wait as long as they did before they took action. On this occasion, I am grateful that I was wrong.
Some people would say that President Bush has followed in the great tradition of people such as Montgomery and Colin Powell, who said in the past that he would rather wait and get things 100 per cent. right. That is what we are trying to do. However, we need to remain resolved to deal with the application of force because we are now reaching a point that is very uncomfortable. We must face up to the means that we are willing to use to reach our ends. It is time to hold together.
While remembering the atrocities, we must ask how we deal with the ideas that gave rise to the Taliban and to bin Laden. Those ideas are fanaticism, which must be dealt with in a variety of ways. There are conflicting schools of thought about that. Denis Healey used to say that no idea has ever stopped a tank, and he was right. A French general said that one cannot ride on horseback into war against an idea. However, we need to deal with those ideas. We must use physical force, but in the long term we must deal with fanaticism, and with the fact that it is extremely inward looking.
Some hon. Members have mentioned last night's "Panorama". It was absolutely right to show the programme because it was made some years ago, when no one could accuse it of being warmongering propaganda, by an independent journalist, and it shows the atrocities committed by the Taliban. It was appropriate to remind us what has been happening in Afghanistan for several years and what kind of regime we are dealing with. We must remember those atrocities.
How do we change minds in the long term? We do it by reaching out to everyone with ideas. The Prime Minister said that he was proud of our armed forces, and I agree. However, I am also extremely proud of another institution—the BBC World Service. We need to shore up its facilities and programming at this time. It has been extremely responsive and has extended its coverage in a variety of native languages. We need to remind the BBC of its public service broadcasting responsibilities not only in the United Kingdom but through the World Service. I pay tribute to the World Service and encourage all hon. Members to allow it to develop further.
Britain has much to bring to the coalition. Limited comparisons can be made between Britain's actions in the second world war and our actions now against the Taliban. Britain's role was not only to defeat Nazism but to build a foundation for a civic society in what became West Germany, which is now part of a united Germany. That was a very long war. We must accept that it takes a very long time to rebuild a society that has had all its civic foundations, including education, destroyed or permeated by fanatics. We must not lose sight of the fact that this is not a traditional war like that of 50 years ago, but analogies can be drawn.
I remind the House that the short-term objective is very limited—it is to deal with international terrorists. Now is not the time to try to widen those parameters or to ask what the next step should be. We must focus on dealing with bin Laden and those who are associated with him and on keeping the coalition together. At the same time, we must work towards the long-term objective of reaching people's minds. I am sure that we will hear much more later about providing support for the people of Afghanistan to build a civic society. Those are not mutually exclusive aims.
I urge everyone here to remember that now is not the time to try to negotiate with people with whom we cannot negotiate. The left in particular should have learned that lesson from the 1930s. This is not warmongering; it is recognition of the point at which talking has come to an end and only action will speak. We are at that point now.
Through the Secretary of State for International Development, I thank the Secretary of State for Defence for letting me know that he was leaving for Moscow tonight and for the useful defence and intelligence briefing that he gave my right hon. Friend Mr. Kennedy and I this afternoon. That was extremely important.
I begin by offering the support of all Liberal Democrat Members for the actions undertaken by United Kingdom and United States forces in Afghanistan last night and tonight. I also unreservedly associate my comments with those made from the Government and Conservative Front Benches in connection with our wholehearted support for Britain's armed forces. In his statement yesterday, the Prime Minister said that Britain possessed some of the best armed forces in the world. In many ways, we possess the best in the world, as I am sure all hon. Members agree.
The Prime Minister also paid tribute today to the immense burden borne by the families of service personnel at times such as these. He mentioned their deep anxiety, which we all share tonight. The news that our forces are once again in action is important and chilling. There can be no more important decision for any Government or Prime Minister to take than to send our troops into action, and there can be no more important decision for any Member of Parliament than to support that action. It is not taken lightly.
We understand that no military action is risk free. Our armed forces have precise weaponry and effective training, but we know that there is no such thing as a casual operation. The risks of engagement exist, but once our armed forces are involved we support them and their families. We back them to the hilt and we pray for their safe return home.
Liberal Democrat Members know about the armed forces, as do all hon. Members with bases in their constituencies. The armed forces are our friends and constituents. For example, the Royal Air Force has a base in the constituency represented by my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Campbell, the Army has one in Colchester, and the Royal Marines and the Fleet Air Arm have bases in our west country constituencies. As individual Members of Parliament, we know the effect that the armed forces have on our communities and constituencies.
The hon. Gentleman has made a silly remark, as I was about to say that I do not have a base in my constituency now that 22 Special Air Services Regiment has moved two miles to the base at Credenhill. That is in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, but many people who work there live in my constituency. The hon. Gentleman should have waited before jumping in with a rather silly point.
My experience of having training establishments in my constituency—and, at one time, a base—means that I know the importance of the action being undertaken. However, that is why Liberal Democrat Members understand and support the military action being taken tonight, which is targeted against al-Qaeda and the Taliban regime who support it. They are two sides of the same coin; the two organisations are intertwined. The action being taken is aimed not at civilian targets but at military ones—air bases, terrorist training camps and air defence positions.
The attacks have been designed to safeguard our armed forces and to protect the planes that are used, and to support the humanitarian effort that must now be directed at Afghanistan. It has been rightly said that we are not at war with the people of Afghanistan or with Islam, but that we are fighting a sustained campaign against terrorism. We have learned to our cost, in the immediate aftermath of the crisis, that words do count. We must therefore ensure that all utterances are proportionate and considered. We should not fall, as some have, into the trap of using empty phrases that may come back to haunt us later. We must remember that we are dealing with people's lives and that safeguarding the lives of innocent civilians—in New York, London or even in Kabul—is a duty, not a desire.
What does the action mean? So far, we have seen only the beginnings of a very long campaign. At every step of the way we will be asked to be patient. The foe that has been targeted will not be beaten by air power alone. The Taliban fighters who protect bin Laden and his own fanatical followers are, primarily, a sort of light infantry. They are difficult to attack from the air and are less dependent on a central command system.
Although air-to-air strikes maintain the coalition's credibility in the short term, we must be prepared for a long and involved campaign, much of which will be unseen and unrecognised. It will consist of more than fireworks in the desert, but will also require long, hard and methodical intelligence action. We support that action as well.
We must recall why we are fighting. This country—and this House—is no stranger to terrorist attack. However, the attack of
The images that we saw on that dreadful day will stay with us for ever: a plane ploughing into the World Trade Centre, buildings falling, New York firemen running up stairs while others run away. Those will be the main images of our lives. That is why we support the action being taken by our armed forces again tonight. We should not allow such a terrible crime, such appalling loss of innocent life, ever to happen again.
The Prime Minister mentioned the Taliban regime, and other hon. Members have described them. I shall not go into that again, although they are an appalling regime. The fact that at least 4 million people have fled Afghanistan to escape them is proof enough of what type of regime they are.
There are 2 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan and perhaps 1.5 million in Iran. It is possible that up to 1 million refugees are moving towards Pakistan and that 400,000 are moving to Iran. Moreover, we must not forget the numbers that have fled to the former Soviet republics. Those figures show that the humanitarian effort—the second pillar of our action—is just as important as the military action.
We welcome the reports that 37,500 rations were dropped last night. That might be just a drop in the ocean, but it is an important drop in a very big ocean. I hope that the Secretary of State for International Development will explain later what more needs to be done. Nothing can better win the hearts and confidence of a suffering people than the effort that has been made to relieve that suffering. I shall restate what I said last week, which is that we must never respond to terror with terror, but with justice and humanity.
The third pillar of the action being taken is the great international coalition built so successfully by President Bush and so successfully supported by the Prime Minister. That coalition must be maintained. Muslim states, and Pakistan in particular, must be kept involved and informed. I congratulate the President and the Prime Minister on their valuable work. They recognise that our actions must be kept within the framework of international law. If we are to keep the coalition together we must work for self-defence, and never for revenge.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the greatest risk to the coalition lies in broadening the front and the sphere of operations? Is not that the elephant trap set by Osama bin Laden, whose aim is to break up the coalition?
I agree entirely. We must remember that bin Laden wants the coalition to fall. He wants us to overreact and strike out. That would serve his purpose. That is why maintaining the international coalition is so valuable. Others may talk of extending the war aims, but I think that we should stick to what we have for a while.
There have been fears about the justification for military action, and they need to be alleviated. We must assure people beyond doubt that the conflict will be just, proportionate and based on the principles of human rights and international law. That is why the coalition is so important.
Tonight, our forces are in action again. It is right that the House of Commons should be meeting tonight to discuss that action—not with levity or laughter, but in all seriousness. That is what the people of our nation expect, and they will take note of any hon. Members who seek to do otherwise.
We shall undoubtedly hear from some parts of the world that the United States and Britain are engaged in a war against the Muslim world. That is a poisonous and malicious lie, and most of those who spread it know that. The coalition's inclusion of several Muslim states exposes the lie.
What was the purpose of military intervention in Kosovo? It was clear: to stop the ethnic cleansing of Albanians and the Muslim population by Serb paramilitaries. If we were anti-Muslim and wanted to engage in the current action for that reason, as the liars claim, why did we intervene in Kosovo? Many of us pressed for that. Many hon. Members who support military action against international terrorism are those who pressed, as I did, for action to stop ethnic cleansing in Kosovo.
I am sure that many hon. Members remember the daily demonstrations in Whitehall, opposite 10 Downing street, by those who put forward the Serbian point of view. In truth, they expressed the Serbian paramilitary point of view. They accused us and the House of Commons of being pro-Muslim.
Let us remember as well that the United States acted with other NATO countries not only in Kosovo: United States-led intervention helped to bring the bloody conflict in Bosnia to an end. At that time, the international community was again accused of being pro-Muslim. I wonder whether Milosevic in his prison cell would describe the western powers as anti-Muslim. I doubt it.
Reference has rightly been made to various injustices in the world. I do not doubt that all hon. Members deplore the atrocities in Washington, New York and elsewhere on
It is all very well saying that the leader of the terrorist network should be brought to justice, but how? He is hardly likely to surrender. He is unlikely to give himself up, and the Taliban regime have no intention of giving him up. If we are wrong in supporting military action, what is the alternative method of bringing terrorists to justice or defeating them?
Some people argue that there are so many injustices in the world that we should not worry too much about taking military action. Reference was rightly made in previous debates to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. I wish that the international community would take stronger action to help the Palestinians and to form a Palestinian state, which should be no less viable and independent than Israel. There is also the need for a settlement in Kashmir, about which we hope that the Governments of India and Pakistan will be willing to continue to negotiate. The talks lasted only one day.
I reiterate the Prime Minister's crucial point: the terrorists responsible for the atrocities in New York and Washington do not want the sort of settlement that we support. They do not want a solution to Israel's problems; they want the total destruction of the Israeli state. Even that would not satisfy them because they would want the whole of Palestine run along the lines of the current regime in Afghanistan. I am critical of Israel, but no hon. Member would argue that the Israeli state should be destroyed. However, the terrorists want precisely that. Our aims—settlements and negotiations—be they in the middle east or in Kashmir, are the opposite of the terrorists' requirements. We should have no illusions about that.
My initial view was that the United States would take immediate military action after
The murderous network that we face can, like fascism, be appeased or fought. It is as simple as that. Let us have no illusions: if we appease the terrorists, they, like the fascists in the past, would become bolder and even more determined. They would believe that they were safe because the west did not retaliate and there was no international action. Appeasement would encourage them. The international coalition has made the right choice between appeasement and fighting evil. I support the action that is being undertaken—destroying the murderous network is in the interests of not only the west but the civilised world.
The one clear message of the debate is that we have no difficulty in convincing ourselves. In most debates, we try to convince people that we are right and they are wrong, but apart from the hon. Member who sought the private advice of the Speaker and disappeared from the Chamber immediately thereafter, everyone is agreed. I therefore want to make a short speech with some points on which, I hope, hon. Members will reflect.
I hope that one result of the appalling tragedy in New York will be that all of us in the alliance agree not to support terrorist organisations in future. Our job is to convince not ourselves, but others in the world, especially the Muslim nations. We should show some humility because we have supported, financed and used many of the organisations that cause the appalling problems to achieve our objectives when that was convenient.
For example, a brief reference was made to the appalling situation in Iraq and the possibility that the Iraqis might be bombed. I have been a Member of Parliament for a long time, and I remember the time when Iraq and Saddam Hussein were our secret cousins in the middle east. They did our work for us and got help, finance and aid from the United States and the United Kingdom. When we see the appalling terrorist camps that are being bombed in Afghanistan, we should remember the simple fact that they were supplied and paid for with money from the United States and elsewhere in the battle to remove the Russians from Afghanistan.
I hope therefore that we shall agree not to employ or try to use terrorist organisations to help our ends and endeavours in future. I was well aware of the position when I went to the north of Pakistan on a private visit with my family. I informed the Pakistan Government that I was going, and I was taken to visit refugees who had been involved in the conflict with the Soviet Union. The second lesson that we should learn is that solving problems such as those of Afghanistan is not easy.
When I visited the refugees, I expected to meet people who were delighted at removing the Russians from Afghanistan and restoring the country to freedom. Instead, they were anxious to tell me that their particular group—it seemed to be one in five—had achieved all the victories, and that the others were useless and should not be supported or financed. The hatred and confusion among the Afghan community reminded me to some extent of Glasgow before the wonderful changes effected a miracle there. We should appreciate that solving the present problems is not easy. For us to think that we can solve them may be creating confusion.
Only two months ago, a friend of mine was in the United States, staying in a plush hotel. Someone came round with a big plastic bucket, asking whether he would help peace in Ireland. He did not agree to help peace in Ireland, but found out that the money was being sought to assist an organisation called the new IRA or some such thing, which was involved in one of the appalling bombings. Unless we are all prepared to say that none of us and none of our countries would support terrorism in any way, the recent disaster will produce no massive achievement.
There is an important matter which I hope the Government will clarify. I asked the Prime Minister a question about it, but perhaps he did not consider it important enough for him to give a clear answer. The fact is that Mr. bin Laden may well be seized by the United States, by us or by the forces which we understand are coming from Germany and France. Under our law, or our convention, as we call it, we would not be allowed to hand him over to America for trial, because of the restrictions imposed by the European convention.
There may be some people who consider that a splendid idea, as it would be unthinkable to pass on a criminal to a country where there is capital punishment. Others may say that it would be shocking not to hand bin Laden over to the United States, as that is where the crime was committed. What is the Government's position? If bin Laden is seized by troops from Britain, would the Government seek some other means of putting him on trial, or would they seek to change our law? It is a simple point, and we are entitled to some clarification.
There is a need to build support—much is potentially available—in the Muslim countries for a stand against fundamentalism and the terrorism linked to it. From my knowledge of Pakistan and other countries in the middle east, it is clear that there is a huge potential for creating terrorism, unless someone is prepared to lead a crusade against it. More is required than simple statements in which almost every organisation in the world says that the disaster was shocking and shameful. There needs to be a crusade against terrorism in the Muslim community. Many people fear that the war, which I am sure will be effectively handled by Britain, America and all its friends, will simply wipe out one group of terrorists and create many more.
Finally, could the Government give any indication of the changes that they plan to make in security law in the United Kingdom? I noticed a headline the other day in my favourite paper, The Guardian, "Tories back EU security measures", so I know that there is nothing to worry about, but I should like to know exactly what is being planned.
I do not want to be difficult, but the danger is that, in a situation such as the present one, on which we are all agreed, we tend simply to try to think what nastier word we can use about the enemy and what more wonderful things we can say about ourselves. I hope that as a result of the recent great tragedy, we will at least accept that some of the responsibility rests with us. If we do not admit that, we are running away from reality.
There is huge potential for the growth of confusion, terrorism and hatred throughout the world and even in our own country. There are always people who are willing to say that they will help us to achieve our objective. Let us hope that as a result of the disaster, we will all agree that no country will support terrorism in any circumstances, and that we will all fight together for freedom. We must get away from the appalling situation in which countries that are strong and powerful think that they have all the answers for the rest of the world. If we showed some humility and common sense, some good may come out of an appalling situation.
I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss the crisis today. Many of my constituents serve in our armed forces. I pray for their safety and for their families at this time.
Let me make it absolutely clear that the war is not between the west and Islam or between Christianity and Islam. Muslim communities across the UK and Muslim leaders around the world all condemned the terrorist attacks last month. We are all united in our fight against terrorism and want to remove its threat everywhere.
Yesterday, I visited Annandale street mosque in Edinburgh, the scene of a recent fire attack. I gave the message that the Prime Minister has expressed solidarity and support with Britain's Muslims and condemned acts of hatred against them. That view is shared by all political parties and leaders in Scotland and Britain.
People advocating violence and religious hatred do not represent anyone, whether they are extremist groups or Muslim individuals. The vast majority will not support such people. They will not succeed. I was encouraged in Edinburgh by the presence of more than 100 members of the Edinburgh Inter-Faith Community to show their solidarity and support for the city's Muslims. The vast majority of people know that Islam is a religion of peace, understanding and tolerance.
We should be firm on terrorism, but also firm on the underlying causes of terrorism. The Prime Minister outlined his vision of the world in his conference speech, where he emphasised the peaceful resolution of conflicts and the eradication of poverty. For that vision to become reality, we need to address long-standing issues in Palestine and the dispute between India and Pakistan. We need to re-examine our policy of sanctions against Iraq. The Iraqi people have suffered, while Saddam Hussein has been strengthened.
We must remain united against terrorism. Terrorists and those who support and harbour them must all be brought to justice. To that end, we must develop a proper international framework. An international court should deal with charges against individuals and states accused of terrorism. We must also give serious consideration to the repercussions of military action against Afghanistan. The whole region is facing severe destabilisation. We face the most miserable refugee crisis in history. Seven million people face starvation in Afghanistan, and aid must reach them.
It is not disrespectful to question America's international policy. If the United States treated everyone equally, it would rule the world not by military might, but by winning hearts and minds. An even-handed, neutral approach in areas of conflict would, in time, replace hostility with genuine affection and respect for the USA. The potential exists to make that change.
Lessons must be learned from our previous involvement in Afghanistan. We supported the mujaheddin against soviet aggression and armed groups against the invaders. One million lost their lives in the struggle against Russia. The war cost Afghanistan millions of lives, total ruination of the modest economic infrastructure and devastation of its towns and cities. The country had been bombed back to the stone age by the Russians during their 12-year onslaught. With the withdrawal of the Russian forces, the power struggle among different warring groups in Afghanistan degenerated into total chaos.
When the soviets left, the west also walked away. What has happened in Afghanistan during the past 12 years is the result of the west and the USA turning their backs on both Afghanistan and Pakistan after the destruction of communism. Had we adopted an objective policy based on the long-term interests of the region and helped Afghans to rebuild their devastated country, the Taliban would never have come to power in Afghanistan. An economically viable and developing Afghanistan would never have been a safe haven for terrorists or extremists of any denomination.
I urge the Government to reach out to moderate, progressive and liberal forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Not only should we seek allies among ruling leaders, but it would be of great benefit to build a bond of trust with ordinary people.
I very much welcome the Prime Minister's assurance that we will not walk away this time when the military action is over. We must also do more to avert the mounting refugee crisis. The huge number of people fleeing Afghanistan will increase rapidly. During the Soviet occupation, the response in humanitarian aid was initially inadequate; when the Russians withdrew, that response became one of disinterest, as civil war raged in Afghanistan. Neighbouring countries have struggled to cope with the millions displaced by conflict. We expect and demand better support from our Government and allies for the millions of people who face hunger and live in terrible conditions.
The abject poverty facing the refugees represents a huge burden on countries such as Pakistan, where there are currently 2 million to 4 million Afghan refugees. That is underlined by the decline in living standards and widespread poverty among Pakistan's citizens. General Musharraf has taken a bold step in siding with the United States. Measures must be taken to show the people of Pakistan that that decision is in their interests. Recent moves to lift sanctions and extend payments are a start, but on their own, they are nothing.
The crippling burden of debt must be lifted from Pakistan. Debt should not simply be rescheduled; it should be cut. That is the only way forward. Reduced debt would allow real progress to be made in alleviating poverty for millions of people, and it could help deliver basic education and develop decent health care for the poorest people in Pakistan.
Without real benefits, support for America will lead to dark days, not only for President Musharraf and his Government, but for all the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Support for terrorism will be strengthened where we fail to lift people out of poverty, deprivation and injustice, whether in Afghanistan or elsewhere. That is the real fight that we face.
It is a pleasure to follow two very thoughtful speeches—those of the hon. Members for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) and for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sarwar). I have not always agreed with them on every issue, but none the less, their speeches were thoughtful and contained a great deal.
I start with the assumptions that every hon. Member unreservedly condemns the attacks and the atrocity visited on the United States on
Earlier, the Prime Minister and then the Secretary of State for Defence were asked about article 51 of the United Nations charter. This is not an academic or spurious point—article 51 represents the recognition of the right of self-defence. Under it, the UN requires that states that take action under that right of self-defence—as the American and, presumably, the United Kingdom Governments have done—must make a specific report to the Security Council on why they have done so. As I told the Secretary of State for Defence, the US has done so, and I have a copy of the report that it gave to the UN.
I shall ask a Minister to deal with the point in a second.
In the report, the US ambassador says:
"We may find that our self-defence requires further actions with respect to other organisations and other states".
The Secretary of State for Defence said that the United Kingdom was covered by that explanation to the Security Council. This would be a very good time for a Minister to intervene to say whether that is the case and whether the statement that I have just read out represents the policy of Her Majesty's Government.
The issue of whether the United Kingdom has written under our article 51 obligations has been raised before, and I can confirm that the acting United Kingdom representative to the UN did so last night. A request has been made that that letter should be made available to the House. I cannot give that assurance now, but I think it highly likely that it will be, and I shall do my best to try to ensure that that is done.
A copy of the letter certainly should be available in the Library, and the right hon. Lady should return, perhaps in summing up, to the fact that the US explanation refers to
"other organisations and other states".
She will understand the importance of knowing the objectives of military action and those that are supported by the United Kingdom Government.
The immediate risk that we face is not military. On a military calculation, there is no contest in the immediate future. Cruise missiles are obviously far more effective than small arms and sophisticated aeroplanes are more effective than rudimentary air defence systems. The real risk in the immediate future is not a battle on the plains of Afghanistan; it is the battle for public opinion on the streets of Pakistan, Egypt and Gaza. The risk is that that battle could be lost during the next few days unless the alliance proceeds extremely carefully.
During last Thursday's debate, my hon. Friend Mr. Thomas said that there is no case in recorded history of
"terrorism . . . being defeated by military action alone."—[Hansard, 4 October 2001; Vol. 372, c. 729.]
Those are wise words, and I hope that the Government are taking full account of them. There is, of course, a military risk to our armed forces. It is not immediate, but it will exist if ground intervention follows. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House have spoken of their admiration for our armed forces and given them their grateful thanks for the risks that they take on our behalf, and I happily endorse those comments.
Of course, as the BBC programme that the Secretary of State for Defence watched told us last night, the history of military interventions in Afghanistan stretches back to Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan, and involved the British empire three times and, most recently, the Soviet Union. That history suggests that Afghanistan is a place where countries get in easy and get out bloody. The Soviet Union's forces reached Kabul in 48 hours, and it then took 10 years and 15,000 men to get out again. It does not necessarily follow that that would be the result of ground action in the present circumstances. We are told that the Taliban are deeply unpopular, and I certainly hope that that is the case, given that movement's atrocious track record, but if we are to avoid the impact of what has happened in the past in Afghanistan, we must surely avoid being seen as the target. History also tells us that armies can be greeted with open arms, as the British Army was by the oppressed Catholic population of Londonderry in 1969, but circumstances can change in a few months.
For the first time, I heard the Prime Minister say something in his statement that I thought represented a recognition that mistakes had been made in the past. He said, "I repeat: we will not walk away from them once the conflict ends, as has happened in the past." His statement contained a recognition, which was requested by the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East, of the mistakes that had been made in the past, such as the fact that the mujaheddin was financed in the 1980s, then deserted in the early 1990s. We face the current situation because of that inaction in the early 1990s, when Afghanistan was forgotten by the west because it had served its purpose of bleeding the Soviet Union white.
What is to happen to Afghanistan in future is not an academic question. The Prime Minister made a commitment in his statement today, but the Secretary of State for Defence refuses to answer the legitimate question of whether a UN protectorate, or an interim administration authorised by the UN, is what we have in mind. That should be what we have in mind, and we should explicitly say so because the UN is not designed just to provide humanitarian aid; it is the world authority and its responsibilities go far beyond the supply of humanitarian aid, important though that is.
I am very much in favour of the Prime Minister's wish to build a new world order—I am up for that. A new world order will, of necessity, be rather better than the world order that we have at present, but I am sure of two things. First, that order must be based on an international authority. It cannot be a pax Americana and it certainly cannot be a pax Britannica or a western authority; it must be a genuine international authority, and that is surely why the UN exists. It has also to be based on moral principles.
In his speech to the Labour party conference, the Prime Minister mentioned the Democratic Republic of Congo and pointed out that 3 million people have died in the Congo because of the civil war that has been conducted in that unhappy country. On
My memory goes back 10 years to when we were debating the Gulf war and the possibility of action and we had some of the arcane and complex, though not necessarily irrelevant, arguments about the role of the United Nations and whether it should be brought in at every turn. Circumstances have changed considerably since then, but we still support the United States and are seeking to gain the approval of a grand coalition for what we hope to achieve. However, in this instance, we are not dealing with state-sponsored terrorism or aggression of the type that we were dealing with in relation to Iraq and Kuwait.
The attack on the US targets resulted in citizens from many nations, including our own, being killed and economic havoc has been wreaked. We face all kinds of problems and the denting of confidence will not be felt only in the United States; it is being felt daily in our own constituencies. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is not present, but I hope that time will be found early next week for a statement from the Chancellor of the Exchequer so that we can hear his assessment of the economic damage that has been done to this country, the area for which he has competence. We may then begin to get an idea of the Government's assessment of the economic problems that might follow these dastardly deeds
The NATO charter says that an attack on one is an attack on all, and we have signed up to that. We have also taken a proper position with regard to the UN. We could have said that we would do nothing more and try to appoint an international detective force to root out and catch bin Laden. We could have waited on the Taliban after asking them repeatedly to hand him over. If some people had had their way, we might even have waited for the Taliban to be satisfied that there was proof beyond doubt that bin Laden was guilty. However, I do not think that there is now any doubt about his guilt, given the nature of the video that was shown last night. His complicity in the actions is clear and his approval and support for them puts him beyond the pale.
I applaud the Government's decisiveness in expressing our support for the United States—the speed and unqualified nature of the backing that we gave at the outset. Let us not forget that less than two months ago, Time magazine posted a "Colin Powell missing" notice on its front page. The US Secretary of State seemed to be missing from the central policy-making functions of the Bush Administration. The senior foreign policy member of that Administration had been isolated by the hawks led by the Vice-President and the Secretary of Defence. Indeed, it was suggested that the President, at that stage, had been reduced to the role of a mere mouthpiece for the US military-industrial complex.
The speed with which our Government moved in support of our American allies showed that the Americans were not alone and could be brought back from the isolationist position into which they had got themselves in the late summer of this year. That meant that, for the first time in a long time, there was a moderating influence on the US Administration.
I am not sure whether the coalition will achieve all its objectives in a very short time. We will certainly not eradicate terrorism immediately, but we have to start somewhere. The elimination of the command and control systems—such as they are in Afghanistan—and of air defence systems is important, but it is dangerous to talk about being sucked into a bigger confrontation.
The example of the Russians is all too clear, but the tolerance of the American people for any major US commitment will be difficult to establish even if that were desirable. The generation who would take such decisions—those in Congress—either served or sought not to serve in Vietnam. That was a defining experience in the body politic of the United States and people do not want to repeat it. Therefore, it is essential that we achieve our objectives with all speed. We must do so to ensure that we achieve the military outcome of eradicating the threat of terrorism from Afghanistan and cutting it down to size so that it is controllable elsewhere.
People have expressed great pride in the quality of the forces that we have placed at the disposal of the coalition, but we must remember that the people who advise the Government are far closer to the young men involved than any of us can imagine. Those young men may not be the sons of the senior officers, but those officers take responsibility for them. No one is less willing to sacrifice armed strength than the military itself. Commanders view the young men whom they have trained as part of the family.
Our experience in the Gulf and that of the US in Vietnam show that military might and incisiveness are important. We speak about aid and military power going together, but we must ensure that they are not confused. We must ensure that the people who have responsibility for distributing aid through the various channels remain untainted by what will be a nasty and dirty war. War is not a clean business and the people who are sent there on our behalf will do deeds that we would not like them to, but they will think that they are necessary to achieve the objectives that we consider to be legitimate and desirable at this time. If we can do that and we can establish a settlement in Afghanistan of the kind that we have spoken about, the efforts of those people will not be in vain. They will be a source of national pride and of satisfaction for all those who are able to take part.
The House has been recalled not just to show our support for the Government—that is inevitable, because our troops are in action and it would be wrong to do anything other than support what the Government are doing—but to discover the nuances behind why we support the Government. To that extent, I welcome the speech of Mr. Sarwar. It provided another dimension. This is a complex issue in which there are bound to be different perspectives even if we support what has happened tonight and last night and what will inevitably take place on many other nights when our forces are committed to action.
There is also no doubt that those on both sides of the House have given credit to the Prime Minister for what, from time to time, has been the brilliant way in which he has galvanised an international coalition and influenced the United States. He is performing a high-wire act, and it is in the national interest that he does not fall off. It is a high wire act because so many things are at stake.
At least at the beginning, the American Administration have shown a degree of caution about which some of their friends—I count myself as one—are rather surprised. Like Mr. O'Neill, I have had meetings with Colin Powell. I had three meetings with him over several years—they left a greater impression on me than I fear I left on him. Nevertheless, he is a man of considerable judgment and his voice has been heard. It is quite possible that his voice has been heard more clearly because of the support that our Prime Minister gave to those in Washington who realised that this had to be an occasion on which America tried to build a global coalition rather than just taking action. Interestingly, that coalition has also involved the United Nations, which, although it is in New York, is not an organisation for which the American Administration have had much fondness. This time, it appears that we are all working in a particular way.
I also give credit to the Prime Minister for working closely within the European Union. This was a test for the European Union and, so far, it has succeeded: there is a common policy. Of course, not every member of the EU reacts in the same way. That would be surprising, as some countries are neutral and others are NATO members. The important point is that each supports what the others are doing. We heard today that several other members, including Italy, France and Germany, are likely to be involved in military action, or will at least enable our troops to move into the current theatre of war by taking our place in Macedonia, as the Germans will do.
That is vital for us because it shows once again that we are a bridge to Washington because we are America's gateway to Europe. We are stronger in our influence in Washington when we are seen to be taking a leading role within the EU. The importance of the transatlantic alliance is that it provides a diversity, enabling us to build outwards and to embrace countries where other EU member states have more influence than we might have.
The involvement of the Russians is crucial. During the Kosovo conflict, we often raised the question of the Russian reaction. On this occasion, not least because of the events in Chechnya, Moscow is very much on-side in attempting to find a solution to what has been going on in Afghanistan. That brings me to my second key area of interest: what is going on in Afghanistan and to what extent are we, at this stage, capable of defining our objectives?
It would be dangerous, although tempting, to try to say that this is a crusade against terrorism. It would be tempting but wrong, because terrorism is defined in many different ways. One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter; one alliance formed against a particular sort of terrorism can disintegrate rapidly once the focus is shifted. Bin Laden himself understood that only too well when he tried last night to create dissension by pointing to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Shortly after the Gulf war I was on the west bank and I talked to both Israelis and Palestinians. We must redouble our efforts to help resolve that continuing crisis, but it must not shift our focus from what we are attempting to do now, which is to snuff out a vicious terrorist group based in Afghanistan and supported by the Taliban.
Therefore, as we stand in the House this evening our objectives are to undermine the Taliban and remove their ability to operate successfully and to provide succour to bin Laden and his groups. Real tensions will be created within the alliance that we have created once we move from the initial air strikes to on-the-ground operations. I hope that all the efforts that we have made can be redoubled to ensure that Pakistan and others are given as much support as possible, because those tensions will arise.
There is another reason why we must not turn this into a great crusade to spread freedom around the world. When one has a clear enemy, as we have in the current battle against bin Laden and his groups, we must sometimes choose allies who themselves do not have perfect records. I do not wish to name names this evening—that would not be constructive to the overall effort—but we must understand that we have a clear task to protect ourselves from terrorists who want completely to undermine our society. We must not confuse it with battles that will definitely continue for a long time, which affect India, Pakistan, the middle east and the internal politics of Saudi Arabia. We may have to deal with those issues in a wider context, but we must not distract ourselves by dealing with them tonight, or we shall lose the full force of our activity and our ability to take people with us, both militarily and psychologically.
I am delighted that the Secretary of State for International Development will respond to the debate because the final issue on which we must focus tonight is the humanitarian effort, which will involve the help of many more countries than will be involved in the military battle. However, it is crucial. The humanitarian effort involves not just dropping food parcels but helping those countries to rebuild themselves so that the tensions that exist within them are mitigated and they can see that the hand of friendship is being held out, even after the original crisis has moved on. As the Prime Minister said, we cannot turn our backs on a country like Afghanistan. That is not to say that we must get involved in nation building, which has failed in the past. We must show the hand of friendship as between the west and the Muslim countries because, in the long term, that is most likely to result in future stability.
I am grateful to be able to contribute to this debate. It is a month since those horrendous events took place in New York and other parts of the United States and I join hon. Members on both sides of the House in saying that it seems to have been a month in which the Prime Minister has played a constructive and effective role in the policy formulation that has brought us to the present position.
During that period, the United States and others, including this country, have been able to identify beyond any reasonable doubt those responsible. If anybody in this House or outside had any doubts about that, bin Laden's performance on television yesterday must surely have eliminated them. He is only too pleased to take responsibility for the bombing, and to vaunt it. We have had time to put together a coalition that includes, as Mr. Taylor said, not just the European Union but our Commonwealth friends, Australia and Canada, and, most importantly, the Soviet Union. We have also had time to define the targets—military and other defence installations—and to ensure that nothing else will be attacked. That is as important an outcome as any other.
The words that the Prime Minister spoke—I believe that he leads the debate on this, as on many other issues—about the religion of Islam, when he described its peaceful and teaching nature, were enormously important in reassuring many Muslims in this country. I say that on behalf of my many Muslim constituents and friends in Coventry. In emphasising the equal importance of the humanitarian aspects of the operation, my right hon. Friend has brought us to a situation where, throughout this country, America, the whole of Europe and much of the Commonwealth, everybody can see that as much as possible has been done. An ultimatum was offered; time was given for its consideration; and it was refused. I believe that there is now widespread acceptance of the inevitable military action and all the awful consequences that we know will flow from that.
The whole House will agree that, if the policy formulations of the past four weeks have been difficult, now that the military action has begun, and in the dangerous weeks ahead, they will be even more difficult and complex. I should therefore like to put several points to the Government for their consideration both tonight and, perhaps more important, as they make difficult decisions and establish priorities in the weeks ahead.
The first was addressed most effectively by my hon. Friend Mr. O'Neill a few moments ago when he referred to a much greater role for the United Nations. The House will be reassured by the fact that the hesitant affirmation that was given initially by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence has now been reinforced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development in the letter which she has agreed to place in the Library stating that we have complied with article 51. However, it seems to me that we have not been as proactive on the United Nations front as we should have been, or, indeed, as we have been so successfully on other fronts. Now is the time to do that. It is no good waiting any longer. We must envisage the endgame in Afghanistan.
Another key objective that was mentioned by my hon. and learned Friend
I also believe that there will be a continuing role for the United Nations in the event of the successful outcome to which the House is committed and which I am sure will be achieved.
I now turn to the length and extent of the bombing campaign. Any comparison with what happened in Serbia—or previously in Afghanistan—or with the length of that campaign and the reservations that many of us had should not be taken too far. My hon. Friend Mr. Sarwar said that Afghanistan was bombed back to the stone age by the Russians and the impression that one gets from the television does not contradict that. Nevertheless, if the initial phases of bombing do not yield the minimum requirements of the campaign—the destruction of bin Laden and the elimination of the al-Qaeda network—the earliest possible commitment of specialist ground troops will become necessary. I am sure that operations are in hand in readiness for that.
I am pleased that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development is replying to the debate as I should like to say a few words about our humanitarian commitment. The Prime Minister said—and the whole House welcomed it—that it is as important as the military effort and must go hand in hand with it. However, particularly if the bombing is more prolonged than we wish, there will be conflicting priorities. My message to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, knowing her powerful influence in Cabinet on these issues, is that if a choice has to be made between the bombing and the supply routes for humanitarian aid getting through, it will be in the interests of the campaign—and of the west—to consider giving priority to the supply routes for humanitarian aid.
Looking to the future, the Prime Minister said that we will not walk away, and we all welcome that, but we must also realise that there is no indefinite role that British forces or even the Americans can play alone in Afghanistan. That is why I return to my point about the United Nations and say that even now it must be possible to formulate the policy that will follow what I believe will be a successful military campaign. If my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State can keep us informed on the thinking on that, the whole House will be reassured that we face a most successful outcome to this difficult project.
It is a pleasure to follow Mr. Robinson. I very much agree with what he said about the complexity of the situation. It is also a pleasure to follow Mr. Sarwar who emphasised the role of the Muslim community in this country and the fact that its members will have no truck with terrorism.
I also found the speech by David Winnick particularly interesting. I have always identified him as a bit of a radical in his party, but when he asked those who oppose the war, "What is the alternative?" he recognised the uncomfortable realisation that there is no alternative.
Last night's extensive military strikes by the armed forces of the United States and the United Kingdom forces marked a turning point in the campaign against terrorism which began on
It is easy for those who have been unaffected by the situation to ask why we are exposing ourselves to the extent that we are. At present, only the British armed forces stand alongside those of the United States, and the possible consequences are obvious. I am well aware that many pledges will be fulfilled, but those are nevertheless the thoughts in drawing rooms the length and breadth of the United Kingdom.
I have no doubt that this is the right and proper place for us to be, but the fear of retaliation in our capital should not be underestimated. Quite rightly, security has been increased and thousands of extra police have been deployed on the streets of London. Representing an outer-London suburb, I am well aware that police have been taken from the suburbs to the centre. Although my constituents are well aware of the importance of protecting the centre, the campaign could go on for weeks or months or even years, so I would be grateful if the Minister replying to the debate could address the issue of policing in the outer London suburbs in that eventuality.
There is no obvious end to the terrible situation in which we find ourselves. During the Falklands war, the enemy was there for us to see. The task for the armed forces was to recapture the islands. In the Gulf war, the threat was plain and a global coalition pushed Saddam Hussein back into his own country. This time the task is not so simple.
It is widely stated that our objective is the elimination of terrorism, but such is its unknown quantity and its subversive nature that we will probably never know when or if that objective has been achieved. Last night's targets may have been destroyed, but the perpetrators of the monstrous atrocities of
At this immediate time, the destiny of this campaign lies with our armed forces who are again in action tonight. It is a justified action against an organisation that has put itself beyond the rule of law. Nevertheless, the reaction from those who support the Taliban is not encouraging.
The Muslim world is in turmoil. The situation in Indonesia is tense. The demonstrations in Pakistan put sustained pressure on President Musharraf, whose courage and intellectual analysis of the situation deserves our fullest admiration and support. None the less, the statement made by Osama bin Laden is chilling in its tone. It called on every Muslim to rise up to defend his religion and said that America will not live in peace. There are two striking things about that statement. First, it is the first real admission from Osama bin Laden that he is responsible for the attacks and secondly, he sees the present situation as an attack on his religion. It is no such thing, as the many statements by Muslim leaders in this country and around the world have sought to confirm.
Mr. bin Laden's statement claims that there will be no peace until the army of the infidels departs from Palestine. It probably came as some surprise to him to find that last night Mr. Yasser Arafat was frantically assuring the United States and this country that he opposes Osama bin Laden and supports the military campaign. Mr. bin Laden represents a narrow aggressive sect and does not speak for Islam.
The Islamic community of this country lives in peace, participating in our democratic processes and enjoying the economic prosperity that a vigorous country such as ours can obtain. That community is a force for good. I am proud to represent Muslims in my constituency. I am proud of my association with their organisations and of the contribution I made to the establishment of the Ishmaili Jamat Khama in south London. I am even more proud of the people of Croydon who have welcomed its construction.
We have to improve our relations with the Muslim world. The helpful memo submitted by Zahid Nawaz to the Select Committee on Defence during the last Parliament was almost visionary in its analysis of Islamic thinking and activity. Our knowledge of Islam is minimal. I have no idea whether western policies help or hurt. However, the many questions posed by "Political Islam" will dominate the international agenda for years to come.
I welcome the fact that the Secretary of State for International Development is to reply to the debate. Supplying aid to the millions of Afghan refugees caught up in this ghastly situation is the way we can shore up our credibility with the Muslim world. It is possible that the supply of blankets and food will do more to win the battle than anything else. The dropping of individual rations, medicines, blankets and other items is exactly the humanitarian gesture that we need, and I congratulate the right hon. Lady and her Department on a clear course of action.
I welcome the change of emphasis announced on Friday by my hon. Friend Mrs. Spelman and her emphasis on a long-term solution to restore the economic stability of Afghanistan. We have never been in a situation like this before, but with the coalition ranged against the Taliban, I would not like to be in their shoes. So far, the Government have got it right and I support them.
Richard Ottaway will understand if I do not follow his remarks, but he was right to point out that this could be the easy stage. It is helpful that all the parties have given such support to the Government. The support given by the Leader of the Opposition was reiterated today by Mr. Jenkin. They have provided sterling support to the Prime Minister who has made such a great contribution to taking these matters forward so far.
The enormity of the situation is hard to comprehend. About 6,000 people lost their lives on
As the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, said, if the terrorists had had access to nuclear or chemical weapons, they could have killed many more people. I should like to take this opportunity to appeal to my right hon. Friends to work to step up international efforts to prevent the ingredients for such weapons from getting into the hands of terrorists. It is clear that the current security arrangements leave a lot to be desired. I will not elaborate on that, but the Ministry of Defence has issued documents in recent years setting out the problems in that regard.
The atrocities of
President Bush has said that more than 40 countries in the middle east, Africa, Europe and across Asia have granted air transit or landing rights, and he said that many more have shared intelligence.
As hon. Members have said, there is no doubt that it is important for the United Nations to be involved in these matters. If today's alliance is to be sustained—I congratulate Ministers, particularly the Prime Minister, on helping to build it—it has to be on the basis of an institution that can underpin it. As Mr. Salmond said, the UN is the only institution that can do that.
As the weeks and months go by, there are bound to be strains and splits arising within the alliance. The only international institution that is sufficiently recognised and respected to resolve those disputes is the UN. The United Nations Security Council has a military staff committee made up of the five permanent members—the United States, UK, China, France and Russia. Those are the five official nuclear powers. There are, of course, what might be described as unofficial nuclear powers: Pakistan and India come to mind in the current situation, as well as Israel.
I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to look to the work of the UN in the weeks and months to come because it will have to play a vital role. It will be important in the humanitarian efforts, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development will deal with that, but the Security Council and the military committee will also be important.
As I have said, about 6,000 lives were lost on
I have four points to make, but first I pay tribute unreservedly to the British armed forces. The world recognises their unique abilities and bravery.
The overall war aim must be to remove international terrorism wherever it arises and in whatever guise it comes, not just to remove the al-Qaeda network, which is our initial aim. The priority must be to tackle and remove the threat of terrorist use of weapons of mass destruction around the world, as Dr. Strang has just explained. In that way we can make the world a much safer place, and that must be our end product.
This time we must finish the job, and finish it properly. Throughout history, commanders have made the fundamental error of not prosecuting war to the very end. I believe that the Gulf war 10 years ago was an example of that. I wonder whether those on the Treasury Bench will accept that, at the right time, the theatre should be extended to include Iraq.
We must make this a just war and we can do that by minimising the risk to innocent civilians rather than minimising the risk to allied forces, unlike our approach in Kosovo. That must be the basic rule of our engagement at all times. We must achieve accurate and highly focused targeting and we must keep our word on delivering international humanitarian aid. In that way we can keep the coalition intact and avoid an escalation into what would be a disastrous holy war.
The levels of terrorist threat against Britain have increased significantly. Therefore, we must establish sound precautionary measures and increase our vigilance, particularly for the thousands of my constituents who work in the City of London and who must be reassured. Like my hon. Friend Richard Ottaway, I should like confirmation that adequate police resources will be available across London. I would also stress that normal life and work in London must go on, as far as possible.
I take this opportunity to put on record the fact that the target on Canvey Island in my constituency that was hit by the IRA about 20 years ago no longer exists—the installations have been removed. I trust that my constituents can take comfort from that knowledge.
War is evil, but there are times when we have to perpetrate an evil to remove a greater evil. Our prayers and hopes go with our armed forces, along with our undiluted admiration.
Beyond the appalling loss of life on
On the eve of the second world war the poet Auden wrote, describing the fears of many in the face of the awful destructive power of fascism,
"Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies".
That is not the situation today, but we must not underestimate the enormous challenge before us to make reason and justice prevail.
We want to reassure ourselves and those whom we represent that we can do something about that. For the citizen, our aims will perhaps be modest. We cannot bring back the dead—those who lost their lives in the World Trade Centre. We cannot even restore the unquestioning confidence in the new world order that prevailed before. From the perspective of the citizen, the best that we can perhaps hope for is that life may return to normal at some point—that we can go about our business and our daily lives and make our travel plans and so forth again.
The international situation will never be the same again. There is a contrast between the heady goals that we have set ourselves in the international community and those that we have set in our own communities. There is an immediate need for managing risk more effectively. We must hold our nerve. We must identify risk and take appropriate action. We must greatly strengthen international solidarity and resolve. International dialogue, at every level—the bilateral level, the European level and in the international institutions of NATO and the United Nations—must be enhanced. That is a continuous process, but we must redouble our efforts and set our sights much higher.
At the international level, faced with a crisis of this nature and scale, there has been a deficit of leadership, although that is being addressed. Our Prime Minister, on behalf of our country, has demonstrated leadership through dialogue and building coalitions—that is by continuing much of the work in which we were engaged before the crisis. One shows leadership by sharing it—sharing one's vision and bringing others together behind what one has in mind. However, there is still a great need to share leadership more widely. We must involve the UN and NATO more to provide the leadership that is necessary in the face of such a crisis.
At a local level, we all have a role to play. Indeed, everyone in the country has a role to play in this crisis. Our thoughts are naturally with our armed forces and their families tonight, but we can all play a role in our own communities today. My predecessor as Member of Parliament for Wimbledon, Dr. Charles Goodson-Wickes, offered his services and went out to the Gulf when that war started. I have no intention of doing the same.
My instinct is that my place is in my community. Wimbledon, in the borough of Merton, has people of many different religions including many of the Muslim faith. I speak this evening on behalf of the ethnic minority centre in my borough and of the Ahmadiya community, which has its headquarters just outside. I also speak on behalf of the many Muslims of different shades of faith within my community, who share our fears and anxieties.
I have always taken great pride in the diversity of my community and I see that diversity as our greatest strength. The onus is on me and other community leaders to bring the full strength and weight of that diversity to bear, in standing shoulder to shoulder with those of the Muslim faith should there be any reprisals—I hope that that will not happen—as a result of the action that we are taking.
I support the objectives that have been set out tonight: to eliminate the threat of bin Laden and the al-Qaeda network and to replace the Taliban regime.
In the longer term we must renew our international commitment to a world in which there is a greater measure of social justice, based on compassion and the rediscovery of our common humanity in this adversity, so that the terrible events of
"We must love one another or die."
Since the terrible events of
There are estimated to be 6 million people—25 per cent. of the population—starving inside Afghanistan and between 3 million and 4 million in terrible conditions in makeshift camps on the borders of Pakistan and Iran. After a three-week temporary cessation of supplies from the United Nations and the World Food Programme aid had begun to flow again. The World Food Programme had planned to reach the target of 56,000 tonnes of food per month being trucked into the country, which would have made a significant impact.
My suggested option—airlifting food into the area, in particular when winter sets in, or bombing with food in fact—was ruled out as too difficult and imprecise. I still have not received an explanation of how we can—or we are told that we can—precisely target bombs from high altitude but the same cannot be done with food. Perhaps the Secretary of State for International Development will deal with that when she replies.
Interestingly, the United States of America is now dropping food with bombs—as from last night—which is a practice that will endanger aid agency staff now and in the future. As Mr. O'Neill said, aid must not be politicised. I hope that the Secretary of State agrees with that.
It seemed to me that the waiting game strategy combined with food and aid was a brilliant and novel one—keeping up the diplomatic pressure, with the threat of military action in the background, always there ready to go. It might have prevented Pakistan becoming destabilised by floods of refugees, which is what everyone is worried about. It seemed to be softening and breaking up attitudes in the Taliban Government. The Afghan people would have been fed over several weeks and may have loved the west a little more as a consequence.
While that brilliant strategy was being pursued, an undercover action, perhaps SAS-style, could have attempted to capture Osama bin Laden. I am well aware that there is a huge international network of criminals in his pay, al-Qaeda being one, but he is the inspiration and lead figure for these people, and we know that it is vital that he is captured and brought to justice, as has been said many times in the House.
Sadly, the waiting strategy has not delivered Osama bin Laden. Last night, we saw the familiar sight of air attacks, this time on the ruins of Kabul and the terrorist camps in Afghanistan. We are assured that civilians will not be targeted, and I entirely believe that, but winter is approaching, which will make any action on the ground difficult. The World Food Programme and the United Nations have from today suspended the trucking of food into Afghanistan indefinitely. The borders are closed, so the people cannot escape.
I am concerned that hundreds of thousands will die as a result of western action, and that surrounding countries could become destabilised, leading to a wider war. What if the Taliban have no control over bin Laden? What if he, not them, is calling the shots? What will have been achieved? But I am, above all, a pragmatist. The die has been cast. They had their chance. The decision has been taken, I am sure with far better intelligence than I have. Therefore, I support that decision and the action. The Prime Minister is an honest man. I trust him; we all trust him. As has been said many times, our armed services are the finest in the world, and we wish them God speed.
What diplomatic effort will be expended to get the borders of Pakistan and Iran opened so that terrified people can flee to the camps? Will massive aid—all that is asked for by UNHCR and the World Food Programme—be poured into those camps by the coalition Governments? Can the Secretary of State clarify for me the reasons why a way cannot be found to drop targeted food and medical aid to people inside Afghanistan independently—I stress independently—of the bombing raids? It must come through the United Nations. Can we have an assurance, following the Prime Minister's speech at the Labour party conference, that this country will move more rapidly to increase our expenditure on overseas aid in the future?
Military action always reminds me of difficult surgical operations. It often happens that when the patient is opened up by the surgeon, it is obvious that surgery is inappropriate or too risky. The good surgeon will close up the patient and seek other ways to effect a cure or help the patient. The bad surgeon, not wishing to lose face, will battle on, take out part of a problem organ, cause severe haemorrhages and leave the patient in a worst state than before, with many problems. I know that in this case, this brilliant coalition of Governments, which has been created hugely due to the efforts of the Prime Minister, will be a good surgeon.
I associate myself with the remarks that most hon. Members have made about the armed forces. I have limited experience, having completed the armed forces parliamentary scheme.
We would be hard pushed to find a more depressed people than that of Afghanistan—a country paralysed economically and internationally, with its people living in fear. I welcome the statement that the Prime Minister made earlier that we would not walk away as we had done before. My hon. Friend Mr. Sarwar referred to the appalling positions taken by the former Soviet Union and America that left the country in such a desperate state.
The Prime Minister said that we must win hearts and minds, and that the impetus for change had to come from the Afghan people. How do we assess that impetus? How can 7 million starving people have the impetus to bring about the change that is needed and demonstrate to the west that they want a different country?
The regime commits public executions. We saw the chilling hanging bodies on the "Panorama" programme last night. We saw the kalashnikovs and the machine guns, used with little regard for human life. How can oppressed people—people in fear—have the impetus to demonstrate that they want change? Perversely, this is the best opportunity to bring about change that the ordinary Afghan people have had in 20 years.
If we are to maintain the coalition, we must signal some positive outcomes. If we are to capture the hearts and minds of the Afghan people and other Muslim states around the world, there must be some hope. What judgment can an ordinary Afghan form? Ordinary Afghans have only their experience on which to reflect—the experience of 20 years in which Governments have come and gone, to be replaced by the Taliban. The people of Afghanistan have been the pawns, and that is an appalling indictment of the west and the Soviet Union.
We could say, "That was then and now is now", but we must learn from history. We must create that impetus for change. We must be the enablers. We cannot content ourselves by saying that if the Afghan people say that they want change, we will help them. We must be the enablers. If we do not take their hand and assist them in rebuilding their country, we shall simply return in another 20 years, when there is another bin Laden and the country is still racked by war. We must create hope. We must have an exit strategy that puts in place a United Nations protectorate and brings about stability, with a Government who reflect all ethnic groups, but not groups that do not recognise human rights. We must also learn from history—from the mistakes that were made in Cambodia and East Timor.
Many olive branches are being held out to America, in an unprecedented way. Who would have thought that Libya and North Korea would offer them? Those branches can be made into bridges in the building of the new world order about which the Prime Minister spoke so eloquently at the Labour party conference last week.
The Prime Minister has shown leadership, as has the President of the United States, and I agree that, as was said earlier, it was not what we expected. We did not expect him to show the measured calm that he has, which is a credit to him and his Administration. There have not been knee-jerk reactions, but we want a lasting resolution of the conflict.
We think of the suffering and atrocities that Afghans have endured. We think of the dehumanisation of women. War widows are not allowed to be educated or to work, so they must beg on the streets. That is the Taliban. It is not enough simply to remove bin Laden and his associates; far more than that is required. As the Prime Minister said, we will not walk away, for the impetus must be created by us and the wider alliance.
As the military action unfolds, we must prepare for attacks. Given the sophisticated nature of bin Laden's operation and the detailed planning that was involved in the attacks on America, it is inconceivable that there will not be some sort of follow-up. Bin Laden is not going to isolate himself in his cave and await the arrival of the British and United States military to make his last stand. We know that we are dealing with a far more sophisticated evil than that. He will try to ensure that there are consequences for Israel, the United Kingdom and America. I think that he will target his resources on fracturing the very fragile alliance that we have made with the Muslim states.
Human instinct is such that we most value our possessions when we believe that a person or a force is trying to deny them to us. The attacks on America were an attempt to deny freedom and democracy.
We send our best wishes to our armed forces. Our prayers are with them as they stand up for democracy. However, let us not forget that the majority of the Afghan people would be much better off if they could simply lead a life without fear and torture. It cannot be left to them to create the impetus for change.
Many right hon. and hon. Members have paid tribute to our armed forces. RAF Brize Norton in my constituency is one of the RAF's largest and longest-standing bases. I was there with the base commander and some of his team a week ago. With its fleet of VC10s, Tristars, and now C17s, Brize provides vital transport and air-to-air refuelling services. The Tactical Communications Wing supports operations by British armed forces around the world.
Many of my constituents will have been working around the clock on the current operations. Their dedication and professionalism, which I saw at first hand, enable our forces to operate overseas, in distant oceans and in faraway lands. They are magnificent people who deserve our support.
Today, therefore, my thoughts—like those of many people—are with those service men and women and their families. I believe that the House owes it to them to say clearly and unequivocally that what they are doing is right. Hon. Members must explain why it must be done. We must explain—as so many hon. Members have done in this debate—why there simply is no other way. The Prime Minister has played a tremendous role in that regard. He has carried people with him. He has spoken for his country.
The point is summarised by what the media sometimes like to call "TINA"—there is no alternative. The point is that to do nothing would be infinitely more dangerous. At heart, the action that we are taking with the Americans is not about vengeance. It is not even merely about seeking to bring to justice those who perpetrated the dreadful acts in New York. It is an act of national self-defence. It is to prevent what happened from happening again, either here or anywhere else. We know that anything less than a full response simply will not work. That has been tried before, following the bombings of the east African embassies and the attack, in the Gulf, on the USS Cole.
We also know that the organisation that destroyed the World Trade Centre wants to do very much more, and far worse things. One can reach no other conclusion from reading bin Laden's statements or watching the chilling video that many of us saw last night. No country is safe while those people are at large.
I therefore believe that our message to our service men and women should be, "What you are doing to combat terrorism is not an attack on a foreign country, but an act to defend freedom and security in your own country. It is every bit as justified as the fight against Nazism in the 1940s. We are proud of what you are doing in our name."
We also owe it to those across the country who are worried about the allied action to try to answer their concerns. Like other hon. Members, I have had very many letters raising questions. How can we take action and avoid civilian casualties? How can we fight an enemy we cannot see? What about the causes of terror? Will not action cause a humanitarian crisis, perhaps with far worse effects than those of the events in New York and Washington?
We must not avoid those questions. They must be confronted and answered, and I believe that we must be frank in doing so. Casualties cannot be avoided in every circumstance in a mission to seek and destroy terror camps and terrorists who are aided and abetted by a brutal regime. There will be casualties, but to accept that as a counsel of despair and do nothing would mean only more innocent casualties.
Clearly the allies have tried to pick legitimate targets. Even President Bush's detractors admitted in last week's debate and today that they have been impressed, as have we all, with the time and the thought that has gone into the allied response. Ms Stuart made that point, as did David Winnick, very powerfully.
Fighting an enemy we cannot see means that the campaign will be far longer and perhaps far more frustrating than a conventional war, but given the nature of the aggressor it is, if anything, even more essential that we fight and win.
The argument about examining the causes of terror is where some people's thinking becomes decidedly woolly. What possible cause and what possible issue could justify what was done in New York and Washington on
Some commentators, in their need to find a rational motive for what was done, fall into the mistake of believing that there are, in turn, rational steps that could be taken to make these people go away. There are not. The aim of al-Qaeda is the destruction of Israel, the denial of democracy and the humiliation of the United States and its allies. Even if the international community wanted to make concessions, there is none that could be made to put a stop to these people.
We owe it to people to be frank about what we are involved in. It has been said many times today, not least by the Prime Minister, that we are in this for the long haul. That is absolutely right. Even if our military action achieves quick results—and let us hope and pray that it does—we cannot walk away from what Afghanistan has become. Just as America and its allies helped to rebuild Germany and Japan after the second world war, so we must dedicate ourselves to bringing stability and security to this desperate part of the world.
Clearly the humanitarian crisis that was already taking place in Afghanistan has become worse. As military action escalates, it will probably deteriorate further. Of course the allies must do all that they can now to help to feed the hungry and give shelter to those fleeing the country, but the war aims of closing down the terror camps and crippling bin Laden, his network and his Taliban hosts must be pursued. It is hard to imagine any proper solution to Afghanistan's humanitarian crisis that involves a Taliban Government still in power in Kabul at the end of all this. I hope that the Secretary of State for International Development deals with that point in her summing up.
Men and women such as my constituents at Brize Norton should be sent into dangerous combat only if our country's leaders are prepared to back them all the way. On the evidence of all that we have heard, I believe that they are, and that is the point. After
I begin by giving thought to those of my constituents and others around the world who fear for the safety of their loved ones today and, of course, to our armed forces, whose members come from every constituency in the country. Although the military action taken by American and British forces in Afghanistan over the past 24 hours explicitly avoided innocent Afghans, those people will naturally be agonising over the safety of their friends and family.
I heard one commentator suggest that the next generation is confronting the sins of its fathers and mothers. Well, I belong to that generation which has lived without war, or at least without a war that has hurt us directly. For that generation, multiculturalism and internationalism are more than just hamburgers, samosas, saris and steel drums. Our touchstones, including the music, television and films that we enjoy and the values, good and bad, that we cherish, are overwhelmingly American. I am grateful to the United States for the education that I received at one of its best universities.
We are also, however, a generation that listens to world music and travels to the developing world. We are influenced by Comic Relief and Live Aid and we have friends and colleagues who are black, Asian, Turkish, Serb and Croat. We are more at ease with the realities of the world and the responsibilities tied to globalisation. I see Opposition Members considering whether to challenge the claim that they have friends who are Serb, Asian and Croat.
Now, suddenly, our way of life is under attack. A plane is no longer a dull, convenient way to get to the Spanish seaside. A trip on the underground to London's west end suddenly carries more risks than the possibility of getting one's wallet stolen. Foreign neighbours suddenly arouse suspicion in a way that makes us feel ashamed. Clearly, we are a generation that has lived without war, and in these times we look for leadership. We are comforted by the fact that our Prime Minister was the first on the international stage to caution the need for measured calm and to talk about an international coalition.
As the youngest Member of Parliament, I have received many letters from young people all over Great Britain. Those people were prominent in this year's general election mostly because of their absence. They have a new-found interest in world politics, United States foreign policy and the tenets of Islam. As Britain is America's closest ally, many of them fear for their own lives. They are driven by a need to understand why people might despise us so completely that they want to kill us. Perhaps we have been lulled into a false sense of security since the collapse of the Berlin wall and the end of apartheid. These events challenge our very being.
Young people want answers to fundamental questions. When is it right forcibly to challenge the injustices taking place in a foreign country? What rights are indispensable and what rights are worth sacrificing to prevent a greater evil? What balance of power exists in the world today? Have we contributed to, or even created, some of its injustices? How must we act now to create a more equal world, one in which a life lost in the west has the same importance as one lost in the east? Young people want to know why we, the west, armed Osama bin Laden and the Taliban some years ago, when they behaved so reprehensibly then. Above all, they insist that the international coalition does not create for us new friends who become tomorrow's enemies.
In Tottenham, we are small in number but we have a world reach. Just as in New York, people come from the far corners of the earth to live there. We have residents not only from Afghanistan but from each of its neighbouring countries. We welcome the Prime Minister's clear and consistent declaration that this is not a war against Islam and his continued support for British Muslims, but in Tottenham we must take a few steps further.
In this corner of north London, where 166 languages are spoken, our microcosm is so clearly an important part of this country's future and it offers lessons to the world. Whether in Tottenham, Kabul or the Congo, whether in the developing world or the inner cities of the west, we must share more than our diversity and social exclusion. Our international community brings with it the knowledge of countries throughout the world. Many of my constituents come from the most fragile nations on earth, which are sometimes ravaged by violence and often have problems beyond human comprehension. I welcome those people and want them to succeed here. I want them to feel that they live in a country that has done right by their part of the world. There are historic reasons why the Afghan people are suspicious of western involvement in their country, as we are well aware. If we are to be involved again, we must do better this time.
My constituents hear what happens in their country of origin more quickly than do readers of The Times or The Guardian. I understand that six correspondents with the World Service of the BBC speak to Afghanistan every day, and we applaud the good work that they do. However, one could multiply that figure by 100 and not get even close to the number of Afghans living in Tottenham who speak to their loved ones every day. That contact should not be underestimated, as those people could be a great asset to our country. However, if the force being used is not justified, proportionate and well directed, my constituents will know that too.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in this important debate. Fareham, like other constituencies along the south coast of Hampshire, is home to many of the service personnel currently taking part in exercises in Oman. Indeed, one of the military medical units based at the Royal Hospital Haslar in the neighbouring constituency of Gosport is in Oman at the moment.
My thoughts are with our service men and women abroad, and with their families here at home. Tonight, they are wondering what role they or their loved ones will play in the conflict as it unfolds over the next few weeks and months. We are right to offer them our full support, and they are right to ask us some questions. Are the objectives of our exercise clear? After the debates tonight and last week, I believe that they are.
Our armed forces and their families know that we support them fully, and that we have learned some lessons from
However, although times such as these make us properly value our armed forces who serve our country, we should also think of the times when we do not value them. Many members of the armed forces and their families are worried about communication. How frequently can those abroad speak to their families at home? How often can families speak to loved ones on board ship or stationed at a military base? I hope that the Government will consider whether communication opportunities should be made more regular and frequent, as that would reassure service personnel on exercise or operational duty abroad, and their families who remain in this country.
We must also consider whether our armed forces are being over-stretched. I often hear complaints from service families, who tell me of too much time spent away from the home base or the port. We must remember the welfare of our service personnel, of whom we ask so much. We demand their loyalty, dedication and commitment, but we should, in return, be mindful of their welfare, and of the need to maintain morale and retain the troops who serve us.
There is another pillar to the international response, over and above the military reaction. That is the humanitarian response, to which hon. Members have alluded already. I was pleased that, last night, humanitarian aid was dropped alongside the bombs. That is vital, for three reasons.
First, the humanitarian aid represents the compassionate response of this country and our allies to the suffering of those Afghan people forced by drought to leave their homeland. Secondly, it shows the Afghan people that our quarrel is not with them but with their rulers and those whom they harbour. Our quarrel is with the Taliban and Osama bin Laden.
The third message that the humanitarian aid sends is very clear. It shows the wider global community that the action is not about revenge. It is being undertaken in the interests of the Afghan people. We have a clear objective to help them, as well to safeguard our freedom. However, our humanitarian aid should not stop when the military campaign stops—