Coalition against International Terrorism

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:41 pm on 8th October 2001.

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Photo of David Cameron David Cameron Conservative, Witney 9:41 pm, 8th October 2001

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 11 September? To understand all, even if we could in this case, would not be to forgive all. It would not even enable us to forgive some of what was done.

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 11 September, we have a duty not only to act, but to see this right through to the conclusion. 9.48 pm