HC Deb 12 December 2001 vol 376 cc846-93

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Ainger.]

3.58 pm
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs(Mr. Jack Straw)

First, let me apologise for not being able to be present for the winding-up speeches. As you know, Mr. Speaker, I shall be attending and reading a lesson at the parliamentary carol service in St Margaret's Westminster at that time.

Yesterday United States Secretary of State Colin Powell, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I led a simple ceremony in Downing street in memory of those who lost their lives on 11 September. At 1.46 pm Greenwich mean time, 8.46 am eastern standard time, we stood in silence to mark the moment three months earlier when the first plane struck the north tower of the World Trade Centre in New York. Then a brass band from the American school in London played both our national anthems.

Immediately afterwards I remarked to William Farish, the United States ambassador to the United Kingdom, that the ceremony had been a striking combination of sorrow and hope—sad, yet uplifting at the same time. There were sadness and grief at the terrible loss of life on 11 September, and hope because of what has been achieved since then and what can now realistically be achieved in the future—hope that springs from recognition that the military action has worked and, above all, recognition that in turn it has liberated the spirit and the future of the Afghan people, oppressed for so long by the totalitarian intolerance of the Taliban regime.

The loss of nearly 4,000 lives on 11 September resulted from the decision of the al-Qaeda networks to launch those attacks. The loss of life in Afghanistan in the weeks that followed resulted from decisions of the Taliban regime to go on protecting the terrorists in defiance of the will of the international community. At each stage, faced with real choices, the al-Qaeda networks and the Taliban protecting them chose the path of evil and destruction.

The United States, the United Kingdom and other members of the international coalition have faced their own choices. Following 11 September we could have chosen to do nothing and by our inaction invited further attacks. Instead we took the tough decision to embark on a military campaign. I respect the view of those who disagreed with that choice but I hope that they may in turn respect the fact that the choice of military action as part of an overall diplomatic and humanitarian strategy was right, and that the campaign on all its fronts—military, diplomatic and humanitarian—has been vindicated by events.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Will the Foreign Secretary give way?

Mr. Straw

I will in a second.

The military coalition is well on the way to achieving the objectives of the campaign. The Taliban protectors of the terrorist networks have been driven out of Kabul, Mazar-e-Sharif, Herat and now even Kandahar. The al-Qaeda training camps have been destroyed. The Taliban regime became a major obstacle to getting humanitarian relief through. Now that their grip on most of the country has gone, many more aid convoys are reaching the people who need them.

Jeremy Corbyn

Is the Foreign Secretary able to give an estimate of the number of casualties in the military campaign in Afghanistan? What measures does he propose be undertaken to investigate the many human rights abuses on all sides in Afghanistan, in particular the execution of a large number of prisoners when the Northern Alliance took one of the Taliban divisions hostage?

Mr. Straw

I thought that my hon. Friend was going to say, in the spirit of mutual respect, that he recognised that some of his predictions, which he made with such certainty in the autumn, had not turned out to be correct. I look forward to that. We all have to learn lessons from what has happened.

I am happy to put this on the record. I believe that the military action was right but I did not believe that it would be over as quickly as it has been and with such relatively small loss of life. In time, casualty figures will emerge and we will put them on the record, but my hon. Friend has to face the fact that, had the military action not taken place, the Taliban would have maintained their stranglehold on Afghanistan, with the most outrageous and appalling abuse of civil and human rights we have ever seen.

So far we have seen no evidence—again, my hon. Friend speaks with a certainty that I do not find is possible in these circumstances—of executions of the type that he has described. When I was asked about that on the radio on 30 November, I said that if different evidence emerged we would consider it. We always abide by our obligations in international law.

David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Of course human rights should always be respected and one hopes that they will be, but does my right hon. Friend recall one or two people here and elsewhere saying that if military action were taken, the whole Islamic world would rise against us? That does not seem to have happened. Have we not seen evidence with our own eyes on television that a large majority of people in Afghanistan welcome the liberation from clerical fascism and totalitarianism? This has been one of the most justified military actions since 1945.

Mr. Straw

I share my hon. Friend's view entirely. The record speaks for itself. I am not going to be disobliging. As I say, I respect those who took a different view, but I hope that out of respect for the House they will look at the record of what they said and think about whether the certainty that they showed—for example, they said that the whole of the Islamic world would be up in arms—was correct.

Sir Michael Spicer (West Worcestershire)

In view of what the Foreign Secretary is saying, does he support the American policy of fighting terrorism around the world wherever it exists?

Mr. Straw

That is a simplification of the American policy. I certainly support the policy of the United Nations of pursuing terrorism by all appropriate means, wherever it is, and I shall come to that matter in due course.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Straw

This is a short debate and I apologise if I do not take all the interventions that I normally would.

People also raised the issue of whether people would starve in Afghanistan if the military action went ahead. Well, since 11 September, the World Food Programme has brought 70,000 tonnes of food into the country. Never at any point did the humanitarian effort falter. At present, the aid agencies and the international community are getting four times as much food into Afghanistan each day as they were at the beginning of October.

On the diplomatic front, we saw last week perhaps the most astonishing success of all. Exceeding all expectations, the representatives of the non-Taliban Afghan factions, some of whom have fought each other at different times in the last 20 years, sat down together in Bonn and thrashed out an agreement which puts Afghanistan back on the path to peace. In recording that, I wish to express my gratitude to the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, and to his Special Representative, Lakhdar Brahimi. Mr. Brahimi's patience, insight and skill were a critical factor in bringing the negotiations to that remarkable conclusion. I also pay tribute to the Afghan participants. I am also glad that we in the UK were able to play an active part in the process, through diplomats Robert Cooper, Paul Bergne, Stephen Evans, Andrew Tesoriere and many others, and through the involvement of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and myself.

Many of us expected that the next step after Bonn would be for the talks to reconvene in Kabul. Instead, it is an interim Afghan authority that will convene in Kabul on 22 December. The new Administration will include three women: a clear sign that the new Afghanistan is different from life under the Taliban. Like everything else in the agreement, that is the beginning of a process of returning Afghanistan to normality. Those who take the view that we should not have embarked on the military strategy, in the context of the overall strategy, need to reflect on the fact that had it not taken place women, in particular, would have continued to be oppressed in what was a benighted country.

Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Kelvin)

Is not my right hon. Friend's triumphalism a little premature, if not provocative? After all, the vindication he speaks of will be seen only if we are less likely in the future to be attacked by violent terrorists than before the action began. At the very least, it is too soon to say that that is true, given that—according to General Powell—al—Qaeda are in 50 countries around the world, not all in Tora Bora being bombed. On the subject of the Muslim world, will my right hon. Friend accept that more people hate us more intensely today than they did before we embarked on that military action?

Mr. Straw

On the second point, I emphatically disagree with my hon. Friend. That is not the message that I receive from my Muslim friends, of whom I have many in this country and abroad. On his first point, I suggest to my hon. Friend that it would not be a bad idea if he examined the beam in his own eye before he started trying to pick out the mote in mine. If he wants an example of a speech that was not correct, he should perhaps examine what he told the House a few weeks ago. He said: Why do I say that the war is going so badly? He explained why and then continued: the course of action on which we are embarked and in which I predict we will still be involved—perhaps next year at this time—with casualties beyond imagination risks becoming the very third world war that the bin Laden fanatics set out to achieve with their attack on the World Trade Centre on 11 September."—[Official Report, 16 October 2001; Vol. 372, c. 1113–4.]

Mr. Galloway


Mr. Straw

My hon. Friend can make his own speech in his own time, but I wish to make progress. His earlier speech is on the record.

The House can be proud of this country's role in the liberation of the Afghan people, and we can be especially proud of the courage of our troops at Bagram airfield in securing the air base and making it safe for the United Nations and other diplomatic and humanitarian missions. Not least, our deployment at Bagram has made it possible for delegates to fly to the talks in Bonn, and we were the first country to establish a diplomatic presence in Kabul.

Alongside that, however, there has always been the imperative on the international community to deliver a second liberation to free the Afghan people from the other scourges that have beset them for decades—fear, hunger, poverty and war.

There are several immediate and urgent tasks. First, there is the need to ensure that al-Qaeda and the Taliban are completely eliminated. Secondly, there is the immediate humanitarian emergency. Thirdly, there is the issue of the multinational force requested by the parties at Bonn to provide security in Kabul and the surrounding areas for the nascent political community, and for the institutions of that fledgling state.

We have always said that we stand ready to provide troops. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said yesterday, we have indicated, in principle, a willingness to play a leading role in any UN mandated force to provide stability in Afghanistan. No formal decisions have yet been taken.

These are merely the most pressing needs of the new Afghan state, but there are many other problems that cannot be resolved quickly. The country has known little but war, bloodshed and chaos for a generation. A quarter of all children do not make it to their fifth birthday, a third are orphans, and half are malnourished. The international community has let Afghanistan down in the past. We are not going to turn our backs on the Afghan people again.

The Bonn agreement set out a route map to a better future. We have to ensure that all the parties involved stay on the route and follow the map. There will be an emergency Loya Jirgah within six months, from which a broad-based traditional administration will emerge. Eighteen months after that, there will be a full Loya Jirgah to agree a new constitution, under which free and fair elections will be held for a fully representative government.

We must also ensure that donor countries provide good measures of support, and that the tangible support that is provided is conditional on progress being made in Afghanistan.

The Afghan Support Group, which brings together all the major donors, has met in Berlin to discuss practical ways of assisting the interim administration. Meetings of donors and other interested parties in Brussels later this month, and next month in Tokyo, will lead to firm pledges of funds. We have to get reconstruction work under way quickly to produce an early peace dividend.

I want to pay particular tribute to the central role that the United Nations has played since the beginning of this crisis. I spoke of the ceremony yesterday to mark the fact that three months had passed since the atrocities of 11 September. Today, it is exactly three months since the UN moved so rapidly into action by passing Security Council resolution 1368. Two weeks later, it passed resolution 1373, and further resolutions were passed when I attended the Security Council and the General Assembly between 10 and 14 November.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Straw

I am sorry, but I want to make progress.

Important as the military, diplomatic and humanitarian efforts in Afghanistan are to the fight against international terrorism, their successful completion alone will not remove the scourge of terrorism as a force in international affairs. We therefore have to do all that we can to promote peace. That includes fostering the middle east peace process, which represents the only way in which Palestinian grievances can be addressed, and Israel's security guaranteed.

Forlorn though the hopes may be, we have to encourage both parties in that terrible conflict to go back, in appropriate circumstances, to the negotiating table.

We also have to step up international measures to combat terrorism. We have to work for universal acceptance of the principle that violence directed against civilians for political ends is never justified. We do not condone acts of terrorism carried out under the guise of fighting for freedom. Although we are prepared to talk to states that do not endorse this principle, our scope for active co-operation with them is severely limited.

We have to go on providing development and humanitarian assistance, and making the case for effective action to combat poverty, oppression, conflict, criminality and every malign force that excludes our fellow human beings from the benefits of a globalised world.

We should not delude ourselves that the defeat of al-Qaeda and its Taliban protectors in Afghanistan spells the end of the international terrorist threat, or of the fight against it. We, the United States Administration and the international community have made it clear from the beginning that it will take a long time to remove the threat. However, we should take heart from the successes of the last few weeks.

We have shown that the determined will of the international community can defeat the evil that seeks to destroy us and that destroyed the lives of so many people on 11 September. We have shown that action to enforce universal values is a powerful force for good. Alongside the physical rebuilding of Afghanistan, we have to encourage and, above all, work for, the spiritual regeneration of that country. We have shown that we have not forgotten 11 September, and we will not rest until we have made sure that such an atrocity can never happen again.

4.15 pm
Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes)

Since the House last met to discuss the war on terrorism, much progress has been made and Conservative Members welcome the success that has been achieved in recent weeks. It is a vindication of the strategy pursued by the international coalition, with the United States at its head. It is only the beginning, however, and we must never lose sight of the fact that the fight to eradicate terrorism wherever it is to be found will be a long, hard and unrelenting one. That fight did not start in Afghanistan and it will not end there. We must never allow ourselves to be tempted into believing that once the Afghan phase is over, our job is done.

In the House on 16 October, I outlined what I believed that our objectives should be. The first was to bring Osama bin Laden to book and to destroy his al-Qaeda organisation. The second was to enable the people of Afghanistan to regain their rights and to live in peace, not least by a determined effort to free them from the threat of famine that confronts so many of them. The third was the longer-term but equally essential aim of the eradication of international terrorism and the very real threats implicit in it. I believe that those objectives remain valid.

Achieving those objectives was central to justifying the international involvement of the unique and remarkable international coalition that has been so successfully sustained. These "agile partnerships", as President Bush has described them, have proved very effective, as, indeed, has the flexible approach that the European Union has adopted to the crisis—a flexibility that Conservative Members warmly welcome and endorse.

Mr. Dalyell

The right hon. Gentleman's third objective was the eradiation of international terrorism. Will he clarify whether that, in his view, means bombing countries other than Afghanistan? If it does not mean that, what does the eradication of international terrorism mean?

Mr. Ancram

There would be many different ways in which we would seek to eradicate international terrorism, depending on the circumstances. It would be wrong to rule anything in or to rule anything out.

I hope that the conversion to a flexible Europe that I mentioned will be sustained by the Foreign Secretary in the weeks ahead. It has also been a salutary experience to work with a coalition in which Russia has co-operated so effectively with the United States and Europe. I hope that we will be able to build on that growing understanding.

Intrinsic to our prime objective was the early removal of the Taliban, which has almost been done now. Over the past few days, in their remaining erstwhile stronghold of Kandahar, the prospective surrender of the Taliban forces has been brokered by the man who is to be Afghanistan's interim Prime Minister, Hamid Karzai. Now the net is inexorably closing in on bin Laden and his al-Qaeda forces in Afghanistan. The latest reports suggest that the battle among the caves at Tora Bora is reaching a conclusion.

The professionalism of our armed forces, American and British, working with and alongside the anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan, will help to ensure either that bin Laden is brought to justice or that justice is brought to bin Laden. I salute the courage and skill of our service personnel who have been in one way or another involved in ensuring the effectiveness of this campaign.

The Afghan phase of the battle against terrorism is not yet complete and there must be no let-up, no premature satisfaction and certainly no complacency until it is done. Nevertheless, the work of helping to establish a representative Government in Kabul must now be pursued with vigour. That second objective of which I spoke is urgent if the vacuum left by the collapse of the Taliban regime is not to be filled with further dissension and unrest.

In Bonn last week, a major piece in the jigsaw of our second objective fell into place when the major Afghan factions agreed on a transitional Government to run the country. On 22 December, when the interim Government come in, Afghanistan will start on a new path. It is important that the agreement was made by the people of Afghanistan, for the people of Afghanistan. The Opposition welcome that progress and I, too, pay special tribute to Lakhdar Brahimi of the United Nations. We wish him success in his continuing diplomatic efforts.

Understandably, there is now a tremendous sense of hope for the future, but Afghanistan has only just begun on the path towards exorcising the demons of its recent past. The next stage in that process is for the transitional Government to prove themselves genuinely representative of the whole of Afghanistan and resolute in ensuring that Afghanistan will never again be used as a haven for international terrorism.

There has been some surprise and concern at the way that announcements have been made over the past few days about the further deployment of British troops in Afghanistan—I hope that the Foreign Secretary will give me his full attention at this point—through leaks in newspapers—[Interruption.] The Secretary of State for Defence suggests that there has been no announcement, but that is what I am complaining about.

There have been leaks in newspapers, hints have been given—not least by the right hon. Gentleman—in television interviews, and announcements have been made in other countries. As Mr. Speaker made clear yesterday, the House should be told first, and should be told fully, what is intended. The result is that we have grave misgivings about what is being mooted. We need answers to many questions.

Mr. Straw

I accept—as I have always done—the importance of making announcements to the House. However, in defence of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and myself, the only occasions on which we have dealt with that matter have been when we explained to people that no decisions have been made, and so no announcement has been made. We have made a statement of the obvious, which I repeated in my speech: we stand ready in appropriate circumstances to take a leading role in that force, but no decisions have been made. That remains the case. Once the decisions have been taken, they will be made known to the House.

Mr. Ancram

I hear what the Foreign Secretary says, but I read the front pages of all the national newspapers on Sunday and Monday. I also heard what the US Secretary of State said in Paris yesterday before he arrived in this country. I find it hard to accept that there has merely been a declaration in principle and that there is no intention behind it.

Yesterday, the Prime Minister was reported speaking, outside the House—again—of British troops being involved in, as the Foreign Secretary correctly quoted, a UN mandated force to provide stability in Afghanistan". We need to know precisely what that means. What would be the limits to the time and extent of any involvement? What would be the remit of any such engagement? In the past, we have expressed reservations about being involved in what has been described as "nation building", especially as we have been protagonists in the campaign so far. Do the Government still share our reservations about that?

Patrick Mercer (Newark)

Can some light be shed on the warning orders that are currently thrashing around in the joint rapid reaction force and the headquarters of 1 Armoured Division? Is that merely contingency planning?

Mr. Ancram

As the Secretary of State for Defence has heard my hon. Friend's very valid question, I hope that he will be able to answer it at the end of the debate.

I have further questions to which I hope to receive an answer. What would be the involvement of the United States in the United Nations mandated force? Who is envisaged as commanding the force? UN officials recently expressed the need to leave "a light footprint", but how would the Government define that? Can they assure the House that any involvement would be time-limited, would not lead to mission creep and would not suck our armed forces into a long-term policing role from which it would be difficult to extricate ourselves?

I should also like the Government to enlarge on the speech made on Monday by the Chief of the Defence Staff, Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, in which he referred to the choices facing the country and the coalition in relation to the next phase. What were the national interests to which he alluded in contrast to altruism? What are the differences of emphasis between the United Kingdom and the United States at which he hinted? Do the Government think that the next phase involves a straight choice between continued involvement in Afghanistan or supporting the United States in the wider fight against terrorism? Or can we do both? What warning was he seeking to give when he talked about trapping our hands in the mangle of Afghanistan in order to facilitate the political process"? Those crucial matters are clouded at the moment, and the House should be told.

Mike Gapes (Ilford, South)

Am I right to conclude from the right hon. Gentleman's remarks that the Conservative party is prepared to support only a very short, time-limited involvement of British forces and that if the situation in Afghanistan requires international involvement that includes our forces, which play a crucial role, and our country, which is a permanent member of the UN Security Council, Conservative Members will not support such a commitment?

Mr. Ancram

I take it from the hon. Gentleman's question that he is prepared to support an unlimited, untimed involvement. On behalf of the Opposition, I am seeking to get some clarity into the suggestions, hints and inferences that have been made during the past few days, because the House deserves clarity on those issues.

Hand in hand with the diplomatic and military efforts there has been a humanitarian aid effort of unrivalled scope and dedication. That has further justified our actions. Sir Michael was certainly right about the need to address the hearts and minds of the population, and there is more to be done in that regard.

The World Food Programme has exceeded its target of 52,000 tonnes of food entering Afghanistan every month, but concern persists about reports by certain charities that food is not reaching the most vulnerable people. There are continued reports of aid convoys being looted, although security is said to be improving. My hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman), who would normally be in her place, is in Pakistan, visiting a land mine charity in Peshawar and attempting to discover whether food in Afghanistan is reaching those who need it, and we all look forward to hearing her report. On a positive note, Afghan refugees are slowly returning home. More than 120,000 refugees have returned to Afghanistan since November, and that is to be welcomed.

The events of 11 September have shown that there is no weapon terrorists will not use and no life they are not prepared to take. If we fail to maintain the pressure on terrorism everywhere, we are all at risk. President Bush understands that. He is right to say that this is a moment to "rise up and fight terror". His Administration—many of whose members I met in Washington last week—also understand that that is vital if we are to have security in future. Furthermore, they appreciate that they must act, and be seen to act, in an appropriate, calculated and responsible manner, and they have done that with great skill and determination. That is why they took such swift action to freeze the assets of groups supporting the Hamas terrorists who only recently took the lives of so many Israeli citizens.

Indeed, the events of the past two weeks in Israel remind us that we still have a long way to go before the scourge of terrorism is eradicated. Fifteen people were killed in Israel by terrorism a week ago last Saturday. Twenty-five died because of terrorism the day after. What we were forced to accept from 11 September is that we cannot appease terror. The recent murders took place just as the American envoy, Anthony Zinni, was trying to negotiate a ceasefire. They have threatened stability in the region and in doing so played into bin Laden's hands.

Of course, we look to Israel to exercise restraint and to return to the peace process and the talks table, but after recent events the pressure is especially on the Palestinians. On Monday, the European Union called on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to close down the terrorist networks of Islamic Jihad and Hamas. EU Foreign Ministers meeting in Brussels this week said that Mr. Arafat should also publicly call for an end to the Palestinian intifada against Israel, which has continued for more than a year. We on the Conservative Benches support that, and I believe that the Palestinian Authority cannot and should not renege on its obligations.

David Winnick


Mr. Ancram

I shall give way for the last time, because I want to make progress.

David Winnick

I and many others deplored the terrible atrocities that occurred in Israel last week.

However, is it not the case that the terror organisations that the right hon. Gentleman named are not in favour of any negotiations, hence the tenor during the Israeli prime ministerial elections? Is it not vital that, at long last, Palestinians get the justice that has been denied them? Does he therefore accept the need for a viable Palestinian state to end the Israeli occupation that has been taking place since 1967? Israelis deserve justice certainly, but why not Palestinians as well?

Mr. Ancram

The hon. Gentleman knows that there is always a balance to be struck in the middle east between the need for a just settlement for the Palestinians and the security of the state of Israel, and that, in the end, that can only be negotiated. We know that George Mitchell made proposals for the resumption of talks, and I look to the implementation of their requirements so that talks can resume. That is urgently needed.

The international campaign against terrorism must go far wider. We should no longer be prepared to tolerate Governments who themselves tolerate or sponsor terrorist activities. That goes for Afghanistan, but it must go too for other countries that we know, and can show, are involved in international terrorism. President Bush was right yesterday to set down a very clear and stark warning to such countries. When those states are unwilling to take effective action against terrorism, they must be prepared to face a determined response from the wider international community, and I hope that the United Kingdom will continue to be at the forefront of that response.

There are further clear phases of the campaign against international terrorism to be pursued once the immediate fight in Afghanistan is over. The next immediate phase must be the continued pursuit and eradication of al-Qaeda wherever it still flourishes. First, the terrorists must be pursued to wherever they have fled. They cannot be allowed to establish new bases and boltholes. Secondly, wherever there is the potential for them to establish a new command and control structure, under a new leadership, that must be nipped in the bud.

Thirdly, where there are al-Qaeda cells independently capable of carrying out international terrorist acts, they must be ruthlessly hunted down and eradicated, as must any other terrorist organisations that can and might act as their surrogates. It would be a travesty to draw a line at Afghanistan, only to see the monster that is al-Qaeda regroup and re-establish itself. Let me make it clear that where there is evidence of such continuing terrorism, or the threat of it, Conservative Members will support whatever action is necessary to deal with it. But the fight against terrorism cannot end there either.

We must look at those countries who themselves pose a terrorist threat—rogue states who not only sponsor and encourage terrorism but carry the threat themselves. The further phase must be to bring appropriate pressure to bear on them to end their terrorist threat. When President Bush says that there can be no further justification for the continuing Iraqi failure to abide by the Gulf war ceasefire obligations to allow United Nations inspectors back into the country to monitor its weapons of mass destruction, we support him. The evidence suggests that Iraq has used the three years since UNSCOM was banished to build up its arsenal.

As President Bush again made clear yesterday, the threat that Iraq poses is not one to which a blind eye can be turned. To do so would be to entrench the threat and merely to postpone the need to deal with it. Iraq, by whatever appropriate means, must be brought to mend its ways. It is to be hoped that the example of Afghanistan will bring helpful pressure to bear on Iraq, if only as an indication that the international community will no longer tolerate rogue Governments who cultivate international terrorism. There are many means by which pressure could be brought to bear. It is not necessary for the moment to speculate on what action would be appropriate or where, but it is necessary to demonstrate the resolve of the coalition to deal with terrorism or the threat of it, wherever it occurs. Again, where the evidence justifies it, we on these Benches will support whatever action is appropriate and necessary to close down that element of international terrorism. I hope and believe that the Government will do the same.

I hope that today the Government will take the opportunity to restate their determination, in the words of the Prime Minister, to take…what action we can against…terrorism in all its forms."—(Official Report, 28 November 2001; Vol. 375, c. 966.] I hope too that the Foreign Secretary will reiterate the remarks that he is reported to have made to the Select Committee on 5 December, when he confirmed that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction posed a considerable threat to international security. He is reported as saying: we are very concerned about Iraq's development of these weapons and believe action must be taken. To him I say that we support that view.

Mr. Galloway

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Ancram

I shall not give way again because I want to finish.

This is a campaign that must be won. We must never forget that it is a campaign about peace and the threat that international terrorism poses to peace. The fight for peace and for freedom from terror can never be qualified or restrained. It cannot be pursued half-heartedly. That is why we Conservatives wholeheartedly support the fight and support the Government and the United States in their pursuit of it.

As we in Britain know only too well, terrorism threatens us all. We have to pursue it relentlessly and without compromise wherever it occurs. We must not let up until the battle against it is won. The House should know that there is a long way to go, but we Conservatives are ready and prepared to see it through.

4.36 pm
Mr. Jimmy Hood (Clydesdale)

First, I pay my respects to our colleague Sir Ray Powell, who died this weekend, and send my sympathies to his family. As one who knew Ray throughout my 14 years as a Member of Parliament, I have many happy memories and many stories to tell in after-dinner speeches for the rest of my life. I send my best wishes to his family.

We all know where we were on 11 September. I was 30,000 ft up in the air flying into London Gatwick when the terrible atrocity occurred. As I walked off the flight, the hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Rosindell), who was returning with me from Gibraltar, tapped me on the shoulder and told me that he had just received a teletext message that an aircraft had flown into the World Trade Centre. It was horrific news, but we thought that a terrible accident had occurred. However, as I walked into the airport lounge on my way to catch my connecting flight to Scotland, I saw the full horror of the events.

That is something that lives with us all, and none of us can adequately describe it. I hear pundits, commentators and colleagues saying that we should never forget 11 September, but it is impossible for us to forget it. In my local constituency newsletter, I commented that life would never be the same after 11 September. I am sure that everyone agrees.

Are we for war, or are we against war? Surely we are all against war. To every inch of my being, I am against war. I think that it was James Connolly who said that the working man is at both ends of the bayonet. That is the view of a pacifist and a great socialist, but he was speaking at a time when wars were fought on the battlefield; the war against international terrorism is one that no one could ever have contemplated. It will be difficult for us to come to terms with the horror of it.

I have to say to many of my dear and good Friends who are opposed to the action that has been taken that, although I have regard for their genuine views, while disagreeing with them, only one thing would have been worse than taking action, and that is not taking action. We should reflect. We were worried that there would be a knee-jerk reaction from America, with military action being conducted unilaterally. We were all pleased—some of us were surprised—when the involvement and leadership of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister led to the forming of a coalition and an understanding of what we were facing. None of us understood the seriousness of the threat. The consequences of not defeating those who perpetrated such a terrible act are too horrific to contemplate.

My constituency is in the west of Scotland. It is a rural area. There is not a large Muslim community—the Asian and Muslim community is about 5 per cent. or less of the entire community. Much has been said about Muslim communities. My experience in meeting, living with and representing Muslim families has been wonderful.

I hear that there is a debate that stems from something that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is alleged to have said about teaching immigrant families English. There is nothing more wonderful than to be in the west of Scotland and to hear a Pakistani child speaking in broad Scots. Please believe me. That is perfect English in a broad Scots accent.

We should not lecture Muslim families on how they should bring up their children. I have never met a more respectful, polite and conscientious group of people. That is my experience of Muslim communities, wherever I have met them. We should talk more about that. We have taken it for granted too often, and I should put that on record.

There are issues with which I am not comfortable. None of us can say that we support 100 per cent. everything that has been happening. I have great concern about what is happening in the middle east. Israel has many friends in the House. They are on both sides of the Chamber, and they are vocal and supportive. I support the Palestinian cause for an independent state. Given our experience of the past three months, we must not ignore the middle east and say that it has nothing to do with what happened on 11 September. The evil people who perpetrated that evil terrorism were using, are using and will continue to use the lack of a settlement in the middle east.

David Winnick

That is an excuse.

Mr. Hood

Of course it is an excuse, but it is not an excuse from our point of view. My hon. Friend and I and many other Members have argued for a peace settlement in the middle east, and it was once within our grasp.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

I assure the hon. Gentleman that I share his view that there will never be lasting peace in the middle east until both Israelis and Palestinians have their own separate states. However, is he not being unrealistic? Is not the objective of those who are carrying out the suicide bombings in Israel nothing less than the destruction of Israel?

Mr. Hood

I concede that people are perpetrating evil acts of terrorism by becoming suicide bombers and, more importantly, encouraging others to become suicide bombers. However, they are extremists who feed off the sort of response that the Israelis have made. There is no way that I could even try to justify the Israeli Government's response. I can understand their anger and the need to protect themselves against terrorism, but one cannot defeat the evil of international terrorism with state terrorism. I tell Israel and the friends of Israel who want a middle east peace settlement that we should address that issue. We should tell Prime Minister Sharon that behaving like a state terrorist is not the answer to the problem; I say that as a supporter of the present international action.

Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North)

Does my hon. Friend agree that the balance to the reasonable point made by the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) is that Sharon is increasingly giving the impression that his intention is the destruction of the potential state of Palestine?

Mr. Hood

That will never happen without war in the middle east. If we cannot get our minds round what happened on 11 September, believe me, a middle east war will be a lot worse. It is in everybody's interest, as well as in the interests of morality and social justice, to give the Palestinians their own state within their own lands and, along with that, to give the Israelis peace. We cannot criticise the evil of international terrorism while turning a blind eye to supposedly friendly countries that embrace state terrorism. It gives me no pleasure to tell the House that, sadly, what the Israelis are doing is wrong. How Mr. Peres can remain in that Cabinet is, frankly, beyond me.

I was delighted to hear from the Home Secretary the statistic that four times as much humanitarian aid is now going in.

Mr. Straw

I am the Foreign Secretary.

Mr. Hood

I must apologise to my right hon. Friend; he has a new job.

I saw a television report today about young boys playing football in Kabul. Before the downfall of the Taliban. they could have been put in prison for wearing football shorts, let alone playing football. That says a lot about what is happening. We are seeing changes; we welcome the new interim Government that will be set up in Kabul, and we welcome the liberation of women, and their inclusion in the new Government. We should take the opportunity to get more humanitarian aid in to save the many millions of Afghans who need it.

In conclusion, I hope that in our next debate on this subject we will have many more joys to discuss. Perhaps in two or three months' time the Government will be up and running, military action will have ended in Afghanistan, and there will be an end to the terror. I see that the Secretary of State for Defence, whose position I shall not get wrong, is on the Front Bench. It is my honest view—and history will tell—that the Prime Minister performed as great a service as anyone could have done in giving support to the American Government. I commend him for doing what he did when he did, and the way in which he did it. Hawks in the State Department now want to expand military action into parts of the Sudan and Iraq, but I caution against such an extension. We should argue that what we are doing to defeat international terrorism is moral and right, but we should not allow the hawks in the State Department to take us that step further, which would undermine our moral case.

4.50 pm
Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife)

I propose, so far as I can, to strain neither my voice nor the patience of the House in this short debate. I hope that those two objectives are mutually consistent.

In the light of recent domestic political events, it would be right for me to restate once again Liberal Democrat support for Government policy since 11 September. Our support has never been slavish, as the Foreign Secretary knows, but I am satisfied now, as I was after 11 September, that action in Afghanistan is justified in law and is necessary for our protection. Like the Foreign Secretary, I could not have predicted that the action would be so successful so swiftly, or that a political framework would so quickly be put in place.

Dr. Julian Lewis

Does that support extend to the Liberal Democrat's newest recruit, the hon. former Labour Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Marsden)? If not, can the right hon. and learned Gentleman explain how the Liberal Democrat Whips succeeded, where the Labour Whips so signally failed, in keeping the hon. Gentleman quiet on the subject, as I do not see him in his place today?

Mr. Campbell

If the hon. Gentleman has any pretensions to fly-fishing, he will have to learn to cast a rather more gentle line than that. Such decisions are far above my pay grade—I am a humble foot-soldier in the Liberal Democrat army. All I can say is that in my father's house there are many mansions.

More seriously, may I sound a note of caution? As our American friends say, it's not over till it's over. There may yet be substantial loss of life in Afghanistan before victory has been achieved. I know that to some extent it has been dismissed by those on the Treasury Bench, but I remain anxious about events at Mazar-e-Sharif and so, too, do many people.

It is true that terrible things happen in conflict, but prisoners of war are entitled to the protections of the Geneva convention. I do not shrink from asserting without qualification that those who fight wars in the name of civilisation have a duty to observe civilised standards. There are as yet too many unanswered questions about what happened in the fort at Mazar-e-Sharif. Who, for example, took the decision to bomb the prisoners? How many of the dead, in truth, had their hands tied behind their back? What was the role of British forces?

In another context, to which we shall no doubt move later today in the business of the House, the Home Secretary—the present Home Secretary—is fond of saying that those with nothing to hide have nothing to fear from scrutiny of their actions or even of their e-mails. We can apply that principle to the present issue. The House is entitled to know in due course, after proper investigation, precisely what happened at Mazar-e-Sharif and what role, if any, British forces played in those events.

Questions still remain about the humanitarian effort but, like others, I welcome the information provided by the Foreign Secretary about the extent to which aid is now being admitted. As I have said before in the House, the political legitimacy of military action would be undermined, albeit retrospectively, if the humanitarian effort were to falter.

The opening of the rail bridge in the north allows the mass transit of supplies, but they still have to be distributed throughout the country to all those who are in need. They will have to be distributed in a way that deals with the emergence of local warlords and, in some cases, bandits whose interest will be to try to acquire that aid for themselves, and to use it as a means of enforcing their own influence.

As I think the Foreign Secretary expressly said, the achievements of the United Nations in Bonn and the formation of an interim Government should not be underestimated, although we are yet to be satisfied about how effectively their writ will run on the ground in Afghanistan. We may have managed to export some of the features of Cabinet democracy, as it appears that there is already some competition for the jobs that have been allocated and suggestions that others should have been preferred. Like others here, I think that the United Nations deserves enormous credit for its achievement at Bonn, as does Mr. Brahimi in particular.

That achievement at Bonn underlines the need for a force on the ground. I would prefer it to be described as a stabilisation force. The shadow Foreign Secretary was right to ask a number of questions about that force. To some extent, they are allowed to lie on the table, because, as the Foreign Secretary said, no firm decisions have been taken. I should like to add that it is essential that the force should have a clearly defined mission and an express mandate from the United Nations. It must be mandated to intervene if that is necessary to prevent gross breaches of human rights. Srebrenica is a harsh lesson that should never be forgotten by those who seek on behalf of the international community to deploy military assets for the purpose of protection. Such a force will require robust rules of engagement, but, most important, it will require to know precisely why it is there in the first place.

Estimates of the reconstruction bill in Afghanistan run as high as $25 billion for the next decade—a substantial financial commitment. If we are to undercut the warlords and free people from the grip of the extremists who ran Afghanistan in the past, we must ensure that the funds for reconstruction do not end up in the pockets of the warlords. Furthermore—this point was hinted at in the early days after 11 September—we will need a regional approach that deals not only with Afghanistan, but with the region in which it lies. It must try to deal with reconstruction, development, debt, the drug trade and security issues in central Asia and Pakistan, as well as Iran, to which I shall return in the context of what the shadow Foreign Secretary was pleased to describe as rogue states.

The principal political issue that concerns most of us today is the question of a wider campaign. Military force has a place in the campaign against terrorism, but we should always remember that it is a tool or mechanism and not a policy in itself. It is most effective when it is used discriminately and in proportion to the achievement of precisely defined aims. It may be appropriate in some circumstances, but it may, equally, be inappropriate in others. Indeed, one can envisage some circumstances in which the use of force might be counter-productive in achieving the original objective.

I have never thought that operations in Afghanistan would be sufficient to nullify the threat from al-Qaeda. As we know, evidence suggests that the network operates in other failed states such as Somalia and in the lawless regions of more established states such as the Philippines and Indonesia. If there is to be military action in relation to cells in any of those countries or in other parts of the world, surely we should seek as far as we can to conduct it with the co-operation of the Governments of the nations where it occurs. Where there are no effective Governments, it may be necessary to proceed without such support, but in every case there must be clear and credible evidence to justify action. Each case must turn on its own merits and be based on the most clear and analytical threat assessment.

No substantial evidence has been produced so far to link the events of 11 September with Iraq. If military action were launched against Iraq without incontrovertible evidence of Iraqi complicity, the consequences would be disastrous for stability in the region, the future of the global coalition and the whole effort against international terrorism. No Arab Government, with the possible exception of Kuwait's, could support such a course of action. Moderate Arab Governments, such as Egypt or Jordan, would be bound for domestic political reasons to condemn any such extension of military action. The coalition that has been painstakingly put together would quickly unravel and the international consensus would evaporate.

Most dangerously, especially in the light of current circumstances in the middle east, Saddam Hussein could perceive military action against Iraq as yet another opportunity to widen the conflict by targeting Israel, as he did in the Gulf war. We cannot assume the same restraint from an Israeli Government as was demonstrated in 1991 because the domestic circumstances in Israel today are so different from those that prevailed 10 years ago.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex)

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman rule out military action against a country that is probably developing weapons of mass destruction?

Mr. Campbell

I was coming to that express point.

Mr. Jenkin

It should certainly be addressed.

Mr. Campbell

I was about to deal with the matter.

Iraq has posed a serious problem for the international community for more than a decade. Saddam Hussein is a brutal ruler who subjects his people to ignominy and hardship, and we have drawn attention to that insufficiently often in the House. He manipulates the sanctions regime so that it bites where he wants it to bite, and so that the elite—his praetorian guard—are immune and the ordinary people of Iraq suffer grievously. Plenty of statistical evidence from objective sources supports that view.

The Iraqi regime's failure to comply with its obligations under successive United Nations Security Council resolutions, especially on the destruction of chemical and biological weapons capability, is not only a continuing source of anxiety but a mark of Saddam Hussein's determination not to bow to the will of the international community. In 1998, Richard Butler, a most robust and aggressive diplomat, was compelled to withdraw the inspection teams from Iraq because their work was being deliberately inhibited and thwarted.

The Government and the United States Government decided that there should be military action, and that installations that were believed to harbour the means to manufacture weapons of mass destruction should be bombed. We supported that. It was the right thing to do because the action taken in 1998 was a deliberate and flagrant violation of the responsibilities that the United Nations Security Council resolutions imposed on Iraq.

What has happened since? The strategy has been one of containment and deterrence, and it has been effective. There has been no threat to Riyadh or Kuwait City. There has been no threat to use weapons of mass destruction. When we consider the political consequences of embarking on a programme of military action against Iraq, we must ask ourselves: what compelling reasons suggest that an effective strategy of containment and deterrence should be abandoned? If possession of weapons of mass destruction is a casus belli, against how many other countries might military action be taken on that basis?

The shadow Foreign Secretary talked about rogue states; his definition must surely apply to Syria and Iran. The Prime Minister is hardly back from Syria, and the Foreign Secretary has been back from Iran for only a little longer. For what purpose? It was to draw those countries into the international coalition. As both found, the middle east can be a bruising experience. I certainly supported the fact that they went there, and I support the conclusions that they were able to derive from so doing. If we now say that, by definition, these are rogue states, and that they may expect the threat of military action, the maintenance of the coalition will become extremely difficult—although the Foreign Secretary might not think that his journey had been wasted. Are Libya and North Korea to be targeted? Have we thought what the consequences would be if we were to target those "rogue states"? First they were "rogue states", then they were "states of concern"; since the Republican Administration took over they have again become "rogue states".

We tread a dangerous line in subscribing to the notion that we can identify a rogue state and then take military action against it. If we took every case on its merits, based on clear, unequivocal evidence, there might be some justification, but the idea that we should open up a broad front against any state that falls within the definition of "rogue state", and that we could conduct military action against that state without incurring enormous political and perhaps even military consequences is one that carries a great deal of danger.

Mr. Doug Henderson (Newcastle upon Tyne, North)

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware of the large degree of support in the British military for the views that he is expressing? Such views were clearly stated by Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, Chief of the Defence Staff, in a speech at the Royal United Services Institute on Monday evening. He said: The desire to use greater force with less constraint, less distinction, and less proportionality…exposes our strategic centre of gravity"— that is, the coalition's — by radicalising the opinion of the Islamic world in favour of al-Qaeda.

Mr. Campbell

I have read that speech, which has already been referred to in the debate. It is the measured judgment of someone who would have the legal, moral and physical responsibility for deploying British forces in support of some of the action that is being contemplated. In such circumstances, his views must surely carry weight in our considerations.

Mr. Jenkin

I fully concur with the caution that the right hon. and learned Gentleman and the Chief of the Defence Staff have expressed. It runs parallel with the comment that the Secretary of State for Defence made last week—that it is often best to engage the enemy at longer range before the enemy gets the opportunity to attack. What evidence can the right hon. and learned Gentleman present to the American Administration to show that the policy of deterrence and containment has worked so effectively that Iraq is no threat, in order to comfort the Americans and create a situation in which his fear that they might act in an intemperate way does not arise? I do not share that fear; indeed, I believe that their response has been very considered.

Mr. Campbell

To paraphrase Shakespeare, the answer lies in ourselves and not in our stars. The answer lies in the exchange between James Baker and Tariq Aziz on the eve of the Gulf war, when James Baker told Tariq Aziz across the table that if he used weapons of mass destruction the response would be disproportionate. We know now that the response would have been a conventional response, but Tariq Aziz and Saddam Hussein did not know that.

We must bear it in mind that totalitarian regimes make a great effort to preserve themselves. They are hardly likely to create circumstances in which their own destruction would be assured, were they to embark on a particular course of action. We have plenty of evidence from 10 years ago that deterrence works. Indeed, I often cite that in the House in support of the argument for the continuance of an independent nuclear deterrent for the United Kingdom, which I believe is fundamental to our defence policy. That illustrates the fact that in Baghdad, at least, they understand that the theory of deterrence could well result in the visiting on the regime of the most terrible destruction, if they were to consider the use of weapons of mass destruction. They need look no further than Mr. James Baker if they want the evidence to support the theory of deterrence.

The campaign against terrorism may almost certainly be moving to a different phase in which the United States, emboldened by its justified success, wishes to proceed much less collectively. We in the House and our Government will have to decide how we should respond, so let me set out a principle or two by which I believe those matters should be judged.

The first duty of our Government is to serve the best interests of the people of the United Kingdom. I have always thought that the principle, "My country, right or wrong" left a great deal to be desired. The supposed principle, "my ally, right or wrong" is hardly less objectionable to me. Members of Congress are never slow to recognise their paramount obligation to serve the interests of those whom they represent. Here in the House, in any extension of the campaign against terrorism, we should surely do likewise.

5.10 pm
Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)

The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) speaks his usual good sense, not least in respect of Afghanistan and opening the second front. I hear his views on the independent nuclear deterrent and revolting Back Benchers, and perhaps some revolting Back Benchers might reconsider their position if they too hear what he says.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman and the shadow Foreign Secretary raised important questions about deploying British forces in Afghanistan. Clearly, we need to know about their remit and force protection, and clearly there are concerns about overstretch of our forces and the effect on morale. We need to know whether any deployment is for a transitional period and whether those men and women are simply to play a headquarters role. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman rightly said, those questions have not yet been finally decided and, however important they are, raising them at this point is a little premature.

I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary began his speech with 11 September and the fact that yesterday was the three-month anniversary of that atrocity, which must surely be the starting point for any terrorism debate. It would perhaps be instructive for the House to consider, as my right hon. Friend did, the way in which certain elements of the press and public opinion responded to the continuing campaign. First, there was the build up to prepare for the military element. Perhaps three weeks into the bombing, we heard, as we heard three weeks after the start of the Kosovo campaign, that bombing never leads to a successful conclusion and that ground forces must be deployed. We heard about the effect on aid supplies, that lorry drivers and others were unprepared to take supplies in and that people would starve. We heard about the effects of the Afghan winter and that there should be a pause in the bombing for Ramadan.

All those questions were raised—indeed, fed—by the Taliban ambassador in Islamabad, and perhaps we should have been more alert about getting our counter-information out earlier. Those criticisms were made in that period by our press and public opinion, but, as my right hon. Friend said, it is clear that almost every one has been totally confounded by the facts that have appeared, so it might be instructive for those who raised the concerns to show a little humility and to be prepared to eat their words, although I do not know whether that will happen in the debate.

Of course the military campaign was more successful than expected. Indeed, part of the problem is that it has been so successful that its political counterpart has taken longer to reach a conclusion. That political counterpart, however, has indeed been successful, so far at least. A remarkable conference has taken place in Königsburg—[HON. MEMBERS: "Königswinter."] Königswinter. Let us get it right. Königsburg is on the other side of the Rhine. Anyway, despite all the tensions of the past, the warrior factions on the coalition side met.

Perhaps most heartening is the fact that a new generation was involved in Petersberg—mostly in their 40s and, perhaps, more internationally minded than the older generation. It looks as though they are now ready to deliver, as far as they can, an Afghanistan that will move into the 21st century and will be a force for stability in that important region, geostrategically.

What lessons can we learn from our position and that of our allies? There is, of course, a long way to go, and Sir Michael Boyce's speech on Monday at the Royal United Services Institute identified some of the problems that remain with the rebuilding of Afghanistan. It cannot be left as a failed state. Anyone with a sense of history knows of those remaining problems and knows that they did not start with the Taliban, but at least—given enough international commitment—there is the prospect of a more settled future for the sad people of that country. Refugees are beginning to return, and I hope that eventually many of the professional people who have fled the country and who are so needed there will have the confidence to return with their families.

A massive and sustained aid effort and a long-term commitment are clearly necessary for stability. The cost may indeed be vast: the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife spoke of $25 billion over 10 years. We should, however, compare that figure with the cost of the US attacks, and put it in the context of the mayhem that may be caused in the region by an unstable, fragmented, broken state of Afghanistan. That perspective will teach us certain lessons.

There is currently no strong central administration in Afghanistan. It is vital that donors not only give food aid, but help to improve the country's governance. Countries that have assisted the US and its allies will expect a reward, but many may have a very doubtful democratic background. A mixture of sticks and carrots will be needed.

The UN's role is vital. The two immediate Security Council resolutions, 1368 and 1373, have been mentioned. As with Voltaire's God, if the UN were not there it would have to be created: only the UN could have provided the necessary cover and endorsement for the welcome moves that have been made.

There have been so many welcome changes that the economic effects of 11 September may well not be as long lasting as some had feared, partly because of the resilience of the US economy. The political effects may be far more profound and far more long lasting. A boulder has been thrown into the pond, and the waves may not settle. Let us consider some of the remarkable changes that have come about.

In our own country, we might not have seen the progress that has been made on decommissioning of weapons in Northern Ireland had it not been for the effects of 11 September. There is also the new relationship broached by our Prime Minister, followed by the NATO Secretary General, in relation to Russia. Russia, having joined the coalition, is now seen as a real partner for NATO, going beyond "19 plus one". It has assisted in so many ways.

Mike Gapes

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the relationship between the United States and Russia is central to the future of global security? Does he agree that it is extremely important that the summit scheduled for Moscow next year comes up with a strategic agreement whereby international security will be enhanced, and that no steps are taken that can undermine that relationship over the next few months? It is essential that those two countries work out a new strategic relationship.

Donald Anderson

It is vital to build on the Crawford summit and on the personal relationship between President Putin and President Bush. Russia is not a superpower in the way that it was in the 1970s and 1980s. It can, however, play a positive role. Although there are unilateralist adventures, as there were in respect of Kabul and Pristina, Russia is very much on side. That should be encouraged; it is in all our interests.

Previously, China's views on national sovereignty led it fundamentally to oppose intervention within states, yet it has been ready to assist the coalition, partly because of the overflow of Uighur terrorism from China into Afghanistan. Central Asia has gained a new salience with Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. I was delighted to learn that the Foreign Office is reappraising the role of the British Government and, indeed, of our European allies within central Asia, so the world is changing as a result of 11 September. In my judgment, it is changing positively.

President Bush's hesitation about engaging in the middle east, following the failed but magnificent efforts of his predecessor, has been overcome. The United States Administration have recognised that they must be committed to peace in the middle east because it affects their interests.

Jeremy Corbyn

Is not my right hon. Friend a tad optimistic? The Israeli Government seem to be set on assassination squads against certain Palestinian groups, bombing the headquarters of the president of the Palestinian Authority and launching rocket attacks on all sorts of Palestinian places. Does he not think that we must stop that and be much stronger with Israel so that there can be a genuine peace process, and that since 11 September the plight of the Palestinian people has got worse rather than better?

Donald Anderson

My hon. Friend has his own view. I agree in respect of the assassination policy, but his comments are totally one-sided; he has looked at one side of the balance sheet. Is he confident, for example, that Chairman Arafat has the will or the commitment to stop the suicide bombers, who are destined to destroy any fragile peace? The question must surely be asked. If Chairman Arafat were to exert himself more, could he not lock up and keep locked up those who are determined to undermine the peace process in the middle east? Let us have a broader approach, not a one-eyed approach, in respect of the middle east. Clearly, there is now more prospect of positive movement because the US is committed; only the US has the necessary clout in the area.

I shall seek to move on, as it is a short debate. I echo what the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife said in respect of the second phase. I am concerned that some in the US Administration do not take either a multilateral or unilateral approach, but support the concept of the posse: from time to time, rather like in the wild west, the sheriff, the United States, will gather a group of people to ride into the desert, catch the baddies, return and not have a continuing commitment. That is, if I may vastly oversimplify, the theme of Richard Haass, who is now a senior official in the State Department. There is a fear that the US may be ready, with selected allies, to go galloping off into certain areas, in which context Iraq has been mentioned most. I wholly endorse the wise comments of the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife that we must be very cautious about Iraq. The Taliban were never a real state: Saddam' s Iraq is. The Taliban and al-Qaeda hardly had any air force or any modern surface-to-air missiles: Iraq does. Iraq also has residual weapons of mass destruction and considerable military potential. It is also questionable whether the Iraqi opposition would provide a successful replacement, quite apart from the major political implications for the region that the right hon. and learned Gentleman set out so eloquently.

Failed states cause major problems, and we all know which ones we mean. We understand that US special forces are already operating in Somalia. However, it is the role of our Government to urge caution. If further campaigns are to take place, military action should be low down on the list of options. We should, so far as we are able, seek to say to our US allies, "Yes, we are with you in Afghanistan and in rooting out the al-Qaeda networks, wherever they are, but beware of blundering into parts of the middle east where the ramifications would be serious." I suspect that debate is being held between each side of the Potomac—between the State Department and the Pentagon.

Major changes have occurred since 11 September. I hope that those who severely criticised the campaign and who were always ready to see the negative side will be ready to revisit their views. Anyone who looks at the situation objectively will now see a far more positive picture than before.

5.27 pm
Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)

The right hon. Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson) always has the ear of the House and we listen to his comments with great interest. Over the past dozen years, we have passed through three distinct phases of defence threat. The first was the cold war, when the Soviet Union built a wall to keep its people in. We faced the massive military threat of Russia, which had both conventional and nuclear weapons.

At that time, it was difficult to explain our defence strategy. I was the chairman of an organisation called Campaign for Defence and Multilateral Disarmament. My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) was also heavily involved in that campaign and we visited schools and colleges to try to persuade students that it was necessary to have nuclear weapons and that mutual assured destruction was the way ahead. However, that was not an easy argument to win. In Liverpool, for example, we went down by 370 votes to 15, with the undergraduates almost universally rejecting the concept of mutual assured destruction. Indeed, it is not an attractive proposition.

I remember Mrs. Thatcher being asked whether she would press the nuclear button and she said with enthusiasm, "Of course." That was not an easy argument to put across, but it was the right approach. We faced down the evil empire and the Soviet Union was weighed down by its excessive military expenditure. Eventually, truth and right prevailed and Russia retrenched. We actually won that campaign. It was not easy, but a consistent thread running through the three phases that we have faced is that careful analysis, the proper motivation of well trained personnel in the Army, Navy and Air Force, and determination will win through to the right answer. That worked in the cold war, which ended at the end of the 1980s.

The second phase was a time of uncertainty, especially from Russia's point of view. Russia was like the Vatican without the Pope after the fall of communism. The Russians were bemused and lost. Their military-industrial combines, which were such an important part of their overall economy, were no longer required in the same way. Russia also lost the satellite countries that purchased its military equipment, and it had to watch the advance of NATO, which took its markets as well as its allies.

Russia had to regroup, which led to uncertainty there, and there was uncertainty too in the United States as it watched Europe taking the peace dividend with enthusiasm. American defence expenditure remains at about 3.2 per cent. of gross domestic product, but European defence expenditure has fallen from 3 per cent. to about 2 per cent. of GDP. In Germany, it is 1.5 per cent. of GDP, and in Luxembourg it is 1.1 per cent.

Last week, I visited the American national defence university, where I picked up some vibrant phrases. I was told, for instance, that Europe was behaving like a "big, fat, lazy Switzerland" with regard to defence.

The Americans are conscious that, in financial terms, the European defence effort is only 60 per cent. of the effort made by the US, but that it is only about 15 per cent. as effective. The Americans have between six and seven times the military power of the whole of Europe. That gap is too large for complacency. It is not acceptable that the Americans should spend 26 per cent. of their defence effort on research and technology, whereas none of the European countries spend anything like as much. The United Kingdom and Turkey come closest to the American proportion. The technology gap is deeply worrying, and it was worrying before 11 September.

As for the European perspective, Europe was groping for a role in defence, and produced the concept of the European security and defence identity. After the agreement reached by the UK and France at St. Malo in December 1998, the concept was that Europe would develop its own command structure within NATO. However, it is not good enough to develop command structures without increasing capability. A Texan told me that people in his state had another vibrant phrase for those who acted in that way. He said that they called them "ranchers with big hats but no cattle".

The third phase of the defence threat arose after 11 September, when the situation changed. A new type of threat exists, and it is no longer sufficient to plan in terms of deterrence. We must work to prevent the terrorist threat from being taken further.

That requires decisive military action. I am surprised that the House so far has let off hon. Members such as the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge), the international development spokesman for the Liberal Democrat party. She is in the Chamber at present, and her policy was clearly contrary to that of her party, in that she urged that we should stop the bombing during Ramadan. Those who agreed with the hon. Lady stand in a direct and consistent line with those many Labour Members who belonged to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament during the cold war.

There will always be people—well meaning enough though they may be—who lack the ability to recognise military need. They will shrink from military measures, and fail to carry through the measures that are needed.

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Viggers

Yes. I look forward with great enthusiasm to discovering whether the hon. Lady has recanted from her previous position on urging a delay in bombing during Ramadan.

Dr. Tonge

I do not think that "recant" is the appropriate word. It is rather depressing that so many hon. Members should take that attitude, when other hon. Members were desperately worried about the humanitarian problem in Afghanistan. Millions of people there faced starvation even before the military action began.

We questioned the nature of the military action that had been undertaken, and whether it would make the humanitarian situation worse. In the event, the hon. Gentleman should be honest and decent enough to admit that the bombing came to a conclusion very much more quickly than he thought. [HoN. MEMBERS: "And you thought."] Indeed, quicker than I thought—I am perfectly prepared to admit that.

Mr. Deputy Speaker(Sir Alan Haselhurst)

Order. The hon. Lady cannot make a speech on an intervention.

Mr. Viggers

I hope that the hon. Lady will accept that we all care about the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan. We were all concerned about the horrors that were imposed on the population by the leadership of the Taliban. They include the way in which women were treated and the way in which the then Government prevented food aid from reaching its destination.

The Liberal Democrats are famous for saying one thing in one part of the country and another thing in another. It is unacceptable for the hon. Lady, who is the Liberal Democrats' spokesman on international development, to say one thing when their spokesman on foreign affairs, the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell), said something clean to the contrary. We have had enough of the Liberal Democrats behaving in that manner. She was wrong, and she should have the decency to admit that not only has she been proved to be wrong but that she was wrong at the time as well. It is also wrong of the Liberal Democrats to seek to give two versions of the same story.

Jeremy Corbyn

Will the hon. Gentleman pause for a moment in his triumphalism and consider the consequences of the bombing of Afghanistan? Depleted uranium bombs, cluster bombs and daisy-cutters have been used and there have been civilian and military casualties. In addition, atrocities have been committed by all sides during the taking of prisoners and particular towns. Does the hon. Gentleman honestly think that Afghanistan is now in that much a better position than it was a couple of months ago?

Mr. Viggers

The hon. Gentleman has an honourable and consistent record in taking the line that he has just expressed so articulately. Yes, I believe that Afghanistan now has a better future than it would have had if we had not taken military action. I believe that it is in a better position than it was before military action was taken. That is exactly the point that I sought to make earlier. Occasionally it is necessary not only to analyse a situation and to have trained and motivated troops, but to have the courage of one's convictions and to carry them through to a military conclusion. That is difficult, but it was necessary and right in this case.

Although military action was necessary, we should also do much more. The phrase "winning hearts and minds" is often used, but winning them in the present situation is not enough. That gives the impression that we know all the answers and that the other side does not. We must think much more in terms of building bridges.

I recently read the well known book "The Clash of Civilisations and the Remaking of World Order" and I was struck by the fact that, in 1900, about 40 per cent. of the world's population was governed by western civilisations. That figure is now down to 11 per cent. The proportion of the world's population governed by Islamic countries was about 6 per cent. but it has gone up to 18 per cent.

Many people who were previously governed by western nations now look to Islamic Governments and to a different kind of government that is, in its own way, very devout and eschews some of the things, such as alcohol and gambling, that we do not. They believe that we allow our women to wander around semi-naked and they have strong convictions. They do not like the blue jeans and Disney culture of the United States and its allies, including ourselves. We must recognise that there are many genuine people with whom we must build bridges and reach a better understanding. There is a great deal to be done.

There is also a great deal to be done in restructuring the architecture of our military and diplomatic effort. We must look to the United Nations and work out whether NATO should extend its area of operations and be prepared to act out of area. We should examine the G7 and the G8 and attempt to reach a consensus among the Governments there. We must use a range of international structures to try to build bridges to those countries who harbour many people who might be tempted to oppose us. I congratulate all those involved in the military effort, but a great diplomatic effort is necessary too.

Previous generations bequeathed to us the nuclear weapon. So far we have survived without its use except on the two occasions when it was used to end the second world war. Let us hope that we are wise enough to counter the dangers of terrorism and are able to allow future generations to survive in the way that we have.

5.40 pm
Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews (Medway)

This is the sixth time that we have debated this matter in the House. I have sat through all those debates, or through the majority of them—it has been Operation Infinite Concentration. They have been fine debates, characterised for the most part by reason, tolerance and an acceptance of each others' views and differences. There has been an almost complete absence of bragging when people are right and a reasonable amount of recantation when people believe that they are wrong. I very much believe that, and in so far as I have been wrong in the views that I have expressed about this war, I shall say so—indeed, I shall do that in a moment. In doing so, I want to make it clear to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that no one has had me behind the bike shed—[Interruption.]—or anywhere else for that matter.

At the beginning of the campaign, many of us believed that it would be a much longer and bloodier affair than it has been. We were wrong. I was one of those who believed that—I was wrong. Not only do I acknowledge the fact that I was wrong, but I am overjoyed to have been wrong in that particular respect. I gain some comfort in my recantation from the knowledge that the Foreign Secretary shared my view and my concern as, indeed, did many Members—including Opposition Members. We were wrong—thank God.

The present position in Afghanistan is as set out by the Foreign Secretary. The Taliban, inasmuch as they were a fighting force, have been defeated and destroyed. The Arabs of al-Qaeda are reduced to holding a tiny proportion of the land and are under attack of such sustained ferocity that it is—as we all know—unlikely that they will remain as a military force for much of the foreseeable future.

It must be acknowledged that at least two of the ancillary aims of the operation have been achieved—or will be in the immediate future. The main aim—the apprehension and trial of Osama bin Laden—has not been achieved. It is to be hoped that it will be—as I have always said.

However, there remain a significant and growing number of people, inside and outside this place, who still provide the voices of opposition—I am one. I shall attempt to articulate that. I hope—and think—that I speak for many outside the House, perhaps far more relative to the number inside it. There are those—I was certainly one of them—who have always accepted the need for appropriate military action in order to obtain Osama bin Laden and his fellow conspirators and to bring them before international justice. I have always urged that such international justice should be undertaken by an international court.

The Foreign Secretary is fond of reading debates and quoting them back at those hon. Members who have been involved in them—as he did to some effect earlier. I dare say that if he was still in the Chamber, he might have a copy of my speech of 16 October. If so, he would have found that what I said represents an honourable and straightforward account of my views then. I still hold those views.

However, approval of the principle of military intervention is not to be taken as approval of the methods of military intervention.

Jeremy Corbyn

Before my hon. and learned Friend continues his speech, will he confirm that if an international criminal court came into existence, it would not apply in this case because it could not act retrospectively? Does he agree, however, that one legal way forward would be through a special international judicial process, which could be established through the United Nations, to deal with the perpetrators of 11 September?

Mr. Marshall-Andrews

That is absolutely right, and it is, of course, the purport of an early-day motion that has been signed by very nearly 100 Members of all persuasions and all the varying views, so I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention.

It is the method of military intervention to which the objection relates. The methods of warfare that have been employed in Afghanistan have, most importantly and in its most sinister context, come to represent a pattern of foreign policy that involves the enlistment of any satrap and any agent, whatever the reputation, the form, the background or the antecedents of those satraps for violence, slaughter or brutality during the time of their own reign in their own country.

The Northern Alliance, which wrought havoc throughout Afghanistan from 1992 to 1996, is suddenly elevated to the position of being our friend. Those satraps are enlisted, armed and set to do our own business, supported by high-level bombing from 30,000 ft, using a range of ordnance terrible in its implementation and consequences—much of it covered with the graffiti of American bomb loaders, carrying messages to those who will ultimately be killed. In this case a not insignificant number of those killed were innocent, collateral civilians.

Those who believe that that is a legitimate method of warfare must ask themselves some questions about our own experience in these islands. We are old hands at dealing with terrorism—we know about it; we have sustained the fact and the fear of it for many years and many have died during that time. Many have died in Guildford, Birmingham, London and the Old Bailey—dare I say?—and No. 10 Downing street was subjected to mortar attack. Many British soldiers, policemen and other service and security personnel died in their efforts to apprehend those who were responsible for that and to track down their terrorist groups.

There was an alternative, unthinkable though it was, because all those atrocities were committed by one or other of the branches of the IRA. The alternative would have been to arm, encourage and set on the Protestant paramilitaries. They could have been encouraged to do the work of British soldiers to ensure that there were no British casualties. It is absolutely unthinkable that we should do such a thing, that we should enlist the mad dogs of the Shankill road and that we should enlist to our cause precisely the people who commit atrocities similar to those committed by those whom we are trying to apprehend.

What is the difference in truth between doing that and enlisting as satraps those who, in success. have done nothing but wreak havoc, who have killed hundreds of their prisoners and who have publicly castrated and executed the prisoners who have been taken—a fact that has been not only recorded and repeated, but photographed in sickening detail. In truth, what is the difference between what we are doing now and what we could have done in Northern Ireland?

Patrick Mercer

Not for a moment would I compare the security forces in Northern Ireland with the execrable behaviour of the Protestant paramilitaries. None the less, we the English establishment—

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw)


Patrick Mercer

Yes, the English establishment used the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Ulster Defence Regiment—in other words, indigenous forces—to prosecute the war over there. The majority of the casualties, of course, came from Irish sources, rather than—I use the term advisedly—English sources.

Mr. Marshall-Andrews

I take the hon. Gentleman's point, but in making it he must understand the clear distinction between the Royal Ulster Constabulary and, for instance, General Dostum, who is pressed to our service. Not even in the wildest accusations against the RUC, of which I am a considerable supporter, has anyone suggested that it uses methods such as tying people to tank traps and driving them round the yard until they are reduced to mincemeat, which is the chosen method of punishment of one of our finest friends in the Northern Alliance.

We would never have contemplated the course that I have described because, first, we know full well that it has no sounding in morality and, secondly, if one sows that wind, one reaps a whirlwind more terrible than one can possibly say. We are far away from Afghanistan, and we will not reap the immediate whirlwind, but whirlwind there will undoubtedly be, and at its vortex are the tens of warlords who now reign supreme in Afghanistan.

I can see a certain amount of shifting on the Front Bench, so I shall deal with the point that is implicit. The diplomatic effort has been worth it, and there has been a limited amount of perceived success. Before we count those chitties, however, let us reflect on the fact that one reason why agreement has been reached in those talks may well be that £4 billion of foreign aid is contingent on a form of agreement. That may well be a motivating factor at least as powerful among the warlords of Afghanistan as the concept of international peace.

I turn now to one another matter, which would lead me, if there were a vote, to continue in my opposition. It concerns not Afghanistan, but America. On 13 November, the President of the United States, by unilateral edict and decree, without consulting Congress or the Supreme Court, passed into law a system of American military tribunals. It is the single greatest abnegation of civil liberty since the signing of the American constitution. Military tribunals have been set up which will try people in secret, with no rules of evidence, right to representation or burden of proof, and with two thirds of the court able to pass verdict and to pass a sentence of death. Those tribunals are the ultimate irony in America herself as she fights the war for freedom in which many of us support her.

The one point about the tribunals that is more important than anything else is that they are for foreign nationals only. American civilians, no matter how bestial the acts of terrorism in which they are implicated, retain all the rights of the constitution, to jury trial, representation, the burden of proof and, ultimately, the verdict of their peers. Within America, two laws have been set up: one for Americans and one for everybody else, which, incidentally, includes British citizens. In doing that, America unhappily has now contained within her own jurisprudence the double standards that make her, as she well knows or ought to know, vilified throughout the world, to the despair of her friends, among whom I would name myself without question.

Until America gives up this lamentable legacy of operating by satraps and agents of this kind of reputation, from the Kosovo Liberation Army to the Contras, and from the dictators of Latin America to the dictators of south-east Asia, and until she learns the lessons of this form of foreign policy, all the work we do in Afghanistan and all the success of our policies and our speed in achieving them will be rendered absolutely negligible in the annals of international terrorism.

5.54 pm
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

I would be inclined to agree with some of the points made by the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) were it not for the fact that the result of using indigenous peoples and forces, in some of the recent campaigns that he opposed, has been not only the success of the campaign but the introduction of a system of democracy where none existed before. All the signs are that, despite what the hon. and learned Gentleman has just said, we will see a relatively democratic regime emerge in Afghanistan. All the signs are that, despite what he said about the KLA, we will see a relatively democratic regime in Kosovo. And all the signs are that, despite what he has just said, we are seeing a relatively democratic regime in Serbia.

The lesson was also learned right back in 1982 when, in spite of the same sort of objections expressed with the same sort of motives by the same sort of people on the same part of the political spectrum, we saw not only military success in the Falkland Islands but the emergence of democracy in Argentina itself. The only area in which our policy has so far failed was in the Gulf in 1990–91, when half-measures were employed in the case of Iraq, and we did not go to the assistance of those people locally who might have overthrown Saddam Hussein, which might have led to the emergence of a relatively democratic system there as well.

Mr. Marshall-Andrews

I know that the hon. Gentleman will accept that many of us supported the war in the Falklands and the war in Kuwait as being necessary. Will he accept, however, that the KLA did not win the war in Kosovo? The end of that war was brokered by the Russians after 78 days of bombing. Will he also accept that as a result of what happened in Kosovo, although there are the stems of democracy, the KLA is now the most widely feared drug-running terrorist organisation within the Kosovan and Albanian borders?

Dr. Lewis

I will not accept the hon. and learned Gentleman's analysis. I believe that it was important that the Russians did not actively support the Serbs, and that was one of several factors in the successful outcome. What really mattered, however, was not the bombing campaign alone, as the right hon. Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson) seemed to imply, if I heard him correctly, but the fact that it was allied to the threat that ground forces would indeed be used.

Mr. Bradshaw

indicated assent.

Dr. Lewis

I am delighted to see some support from the Government in that analysis. It follows that one of three options will be taken: the first is to take no military action at all against such countries; the second is to take indiscriminate military action involving bombing alone, which will not work; the third is to do the one thing that has a chance of working, which is a combination of bombing and the use of ground forces—either one's own, in a threat or in actual invasion, or indigenous ground forces. Without ground forces of one sort or another, a military campaign will not be successful.

Several hon. Members


Dr. Lewis

I give way first to the hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon).

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the North Atlantic Assembly, to which I am a delegate, was told by Interpol that in 1998 the KLA had very strong links with Osama bin Laden and, indeed, that he visited Albania to meet other terrorists? Does the hon. Gentleman not think it ironic that as the allies were acting as the air force for the KLA, those very same terrorists may have been plotting the twin towers tragedy?

Dr. Lewis

If that is correct, and I have no reason to doubt it, my answer is that one can only deal with one problem at a time. If, when one has dealt with the proximate problem—which at that time was Serbian aggression—subordinate problems emerge, one can deal with those as well. I have every confidence that the Americans, under President Bush, and—I am proud to say this as a member of the loyal Opposition—the Government, if they continue on the path that they have consistently followed since 11 September, will prove equal to the occasion. I pay that compliment to the Government and hope that they will acknowledge that they have had unflinching support from the Conservatives, if not from other Opposition parties and some Labour Members. Our support has been given generously and wholeheartedly. We are happy to endorse the Government's actions so far and the success that they have met so far.

Mr. Dalyell

It so happened that last night I was at the annual dinner of my national service regiment, the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, who have returned for the second time from Kosovo. I stayed with them during their first tour of duty there. I asked them what the difference is now, and every one of those people who have just come back from Kosovo said that there is a terrible problem, not with the Serbs, as there was during their first tour of duty, but with KLA extremists. They are the problem facing British troops.

Dr. Lewis

I assure the hon. Gentleman, who knows that I greatly respect his views although I sometimes disagree with them, that I entirely endorse what he has just said. I visited Kosovo as a member of the Select Committee on Defence. My point is that we are now in a far better position to deal with the problems in Kosovo—even if the boot is now on the other foot, as unjustifiably as it was when on the Serbian foot—than we would have been had we not dealt firmly with Milosevic's aggression.

Several hon. Members


Dr. Julian Lewis

I will now give way for the last time.

Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central)

For the sake of the completeness of his list of examples of support for indigenous people in conflicts and the success rate thereof—I agree that there have been successes—why does the hon. Gentleman not use the example of Afghanistan itself? There, support—mainly from the Americans and Saudi Arabia—given to people such as the mujaheddin fomented the problems that face us now. Why not use that example as well?

Dr. Lewis

I am happy to refer to that example. As I have had occasion to point out previously, one must be less selective about where one stops the clock when looking back on history. The cause of the problems is not the support that the Americans and the British special services gave to the mujaheddin in Afghanistan; it is the fact that in 1979 the then Soviet Union invaded the country and triggered the cycle of events with which we are still dealing today.

Having given genuine and well-deserved plaudits to the Government, I want to raise one small issue that has caused me some sadness. It relates to what might be an academic question: what would happen if Osama bin Laden—or, perhaps more realistically, one or another of his chief lieutenants—fell into the hands of the British forces rather than those of America or any other country? During our debate on the coalition against international terrorism on 1 November, I intervened on the Secretary of State for Defence to ask how he would resolve the following dilemma. If Osama bin Laden were to come into United Kingdom jurisdiction, would we be able to surrender him to America, given the restrictions that we have adopted on not surrendering anyone to a country which has the death penalty? To shows of approval on both sides of the House, the Secretary of State robustly replied: 1 would have no hesitation or difficulty about achieving that"— [Official Report, 1 November 2001; Vol. 373, c. 1022–23.] I was therefore sorry to see a Press Association release dated 9 December and headed "Britain against bin Laden death penalty, says Hoon." It reports the Secretary of State as saying: We do extradite people to countries with the death penalty, obviously subject to certain undertakings. The release continues: Asked whether this meant that the US authorities would have to offer assurances that bin Laden would not face execution, Mr. Hoon said: 'That is the position. Whoever has got at the Secretary of State, that is a sad reversal of a welcome and robust answer he had previously given in the House.

Mr. Savidge

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Lewis

No, because others want to speak and time is limited.

I was fortunate enough to participate in the first of these debates, during the emergency sitting that took place when Parliament was recalled on 14 September, so soon after the events in New York and elsewhere in the United States. I said then that it was pointless and probably self-defeating to speculate publicly about specific measures of retaliation; that remains my view. However, it is permissible to examine the extent to which the abstract theory of terrorism has or has not been borne out by the events of the past three months.

All terrorism has a specific central feature, which is the ability to cause maximum mayhem with minimum effort. However, the brand of terrorism with which we are dealing appeared at the outset to combine three other deadly features: high-tech terrorism, stateless terrorism and suicide terrorism. I shall briefly consider each of those three.

High-tech terrorism is that which uses the assets of developed states as weapons against those states. That, together with the weapons of mass destruction that the terrorists would like to acquire, could constitute a form of military jujitsu, whereby the opponent's greater weight is turned into a weapon against him. However, it is interesting to note that although the attacks on New York's twin towers seemed to subscribe strongly to that principle—what else but something on the scale of airliners packed with fuel could have achieved such devastation—there seems to have been a failure on the part of that terrorist organisation to stay its hand long enough, until it had the more deadly weapons which, we understand from the Government's understandably limited comments, the bin Laden organisation has sought and continues to seek. We must be thankful that, in a sense, the attacks in America were premature—or so it can be argued.

What of stateless terrorism? That appears to be a possibility when one first examines the bin Laden organisation and the way in which its tentacles extend to so many countries. In fact, that has not been achieved either. Al-Qaeda is cross-border, but is dependent on what have been described as "failed states". The very fact that it has had to operate in states such as Afghanistan has turned out to be a weakness in its armour. It is significant that when things began to go wrong in Afghanistan, the indigenous people who had supported the Taliban turned against al-Qaeda and bin Laden to a considerable extent, continually referring to them as "foreigners" and surrendering themselves while leaving al-Qaeda fighters to try to save their own necks.

The third feature is the most worrying: suicide terrorism. At the outset, parallels were rightly drawn between the events in America and the attack on Pearl Harbour. The reason why that parallel is especially strong can be seen in discoveries made after the second world war about Japanese thinking at the time of the attack on Pearl Harbour. Any rational calculation would have shown that, however successful that attack might be, the Japanese were bound to lose in the end. Documents uncovered after the war revealed their attitude to have been along these lines—I quote from memory: "Sometimes a situation arises when all you can do is kick up your heels and leap into the gorge." Such was the degree of fanaticism consistently shown throughout the far east war by the Japanese, who often sacrificed themselves in the face of impossible odds and in impossible situations.

We have had to ask ourselves, would the same sort of remorseless self-sacrifice be shown on a large scale by the bin Laden organisation and the Taliban? The answer is, again, that that has not yet been proved to be the case—indeed, there are indications that it was not the case.

I was intrigued by the confirmation by the Secretary of State for Defence, in testimony to the Select Committee as recently as 28 November, that it appears that a significant number of the 19 hijackers on the four planes did not know that they were on a suicide mission. I see that the Minister is nodding. Therefore bin Laden had felt it was reliable to inform only a minority of those whom he was sending to their death that that would occur.

I noted in yesterday's Evening Standard the report by Jeremy Campbell about the video that has been discovered in Afghanistan. It shows bin Laden 'gloating and chuckling' on the tape". It is said that he seems amused by the fact that more than half the 19 hijackers did not know they would die, but thought they were on a routine hijacking. It seems that the organisation is not exactly overwhelmed with people who are anxious to go to paradise with all the many benefits—the 72 virgins and all the rest of it—that their leaders tell them to expect.

I wish to give others a chance to contribute to the debate, so I shall curtail my remarks. Given uncertainty about the severity and the persistence of the threat, the correct approach to our undertaking necessary and, I hope, temporary infringements of some of our traditional liberties should be sunset legislation—legislation that will lapse automatically, unless specifically renewed, after an agreed period.

Democracy has always faced these problems in wartime. Churchill's chief of staff on the COS Committee during the war was Lord Ismay, who later became the first Secretary General of NATO. I shall conclude by referring to something that he observed in his memoirs, which is as true in relation to terrorism today as it was in relation to the more conventional threat that nearly destroyed the democratic systems of the west in the past. He said: It is easy to criticise peaceful democracies for their habitual lack of preparedness when a war breaks out, but it is only fair to recognise that the dice are loaded against them. Dictators, bent on aggression …are masters of their own timetable. They are free to decide when to strike, where to strike and how to strike, and to arrange their armament programmes accordingly. Their potential victims, the democracies … with their inherent hatred of war, do not know when or where the blow will fall, or what manner of blow it will be. We must bear in mind that if we are to win this war, as has been the case with previous wars, there must be no half-measures. We must use indigenous opposition and build coalitions. However, we must not be ruled by the fact that we build coalitions. We must do what is right, what is necessary and what is efficacious in eradicating the terrorist threat to modern civilisation.

6.13 pm
Hugh Bayley (City of York)

Two weeks ago, the House bought me an aeroplane ticket as a member of the Select Committee on International Development, enabling me to visit the Afghan refugee camps on the Pakistan-Afghan border. One of the impressions that I came back with was of the huge burden that has been borne by Pakistan, which since 1979 has been providing refuge to refugees from Afghanistan. At the peak of the problem in 1990, there were 3.7 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan. Prior to 11 September, there were about 3 million. It is estimated that about 150,000 more refugees have entered the country since then.

The world community took a close interest in what was happening in Afghanistan in the 1980s when the mujaheddin were fighting the Soviets. However, in the 1990s, when that conflict ended, we lost interest. We left Pakistan holding the baby. Literally, it was holding hundreds of thousands of Afghan babies. The strain on Pakistan's infrastructure—it is a poor country—is considerable. We, the members of the Select Committee, were told that in Pakistan's North West Frontier province, half of all hospital beds are used by Afghan refugees.

Pakistan needs—and I am pleased to say that it is receiving it from the United Kingdom—considerable aid. We have increased our aid spend for Pakistan this year threefold, to approximately –52 million. It will not be enough to increase that spend for only this year. We must—I know that the Department for International Development plans this—maintain this level of support for Pakistan in future years.

We have also provided substantial aid for Afghanistan. The Department for International Development is extremely well respected in the region for the way that we use our aid money effectively. One example is the World Food Programme, which has done a magnificent job in maintaining the channels through which food has been brought into Afghanistan during the conflict. The WFP has told me that the UK's contribution, unlike that of most countries, came in the form of cash. That had two advantages. First, the WFP could use it quickly to buy food when it was needed. Secondly, the local region's economy was supported, the food being bought within the region. United Kingdom aid money has been buying wheat at $130 a tonne, an extremely good price.

We should congratulate the United States on its contribution to food relief. It is by far the largest contributor. It has contributed about 80 per cent. of all food aid taken in by the World Food Programme. It is giving its aid in kind. Representatives of the WFP told me that if the US is shipping this aid on US-flagged ships, the shipping costs are about $110 a tonne. That is hardly less than what we are paying for the wheat.

The United States has struck a good deal with the Government of Pakistan, in which Pakistan is surrendering its stocks of wheat, which are going into Afghanistan now. Those stocks will be replenished when the American food ships arrive in the new year.

I pay tribute to the truckers. That applies to both the WFP's employees and the Afghan private truckers, who have kept the aid moving during the conflict. I also pay tribute to the Afghan non-governmental organisation workers who have distributed the aid within the country. I met a man called Aziz Hakimi—an Afghan who works for Oxfam in Herat. He was there throughout the bombing until two days before it fell. He had to leave because of the opposition from the Taliban and people funded by outside organisations.

Aziz Hakimi said that most of the people of Herat welcomed the military intervention of the west. They saw that it would change the intolerable regime under which they were living. He described the Taliban to me as a foreign Government. I said, "What do you mean? Do you mean the Pashtun from a different part of the country, people from a different ethnic group, are foreign?" He replied, "No, I don't mean that at all. The Pashtun are Afghans and there is a place for the Pashtun in the Afghan Government. Indeed, there must be a place for the Pashtun in the Afghan Government. The Taliban is a foreign regime because it is one of Arabs, Chechens and Pakistanis. It is not an Afghan regime."

I pay tribute to the aid workers, who are real heroes. They have been able to ensure that the humanitarian aid that is provided by the west is delivered to the people who need it.

One of the refugee camps that we visited was called Kachagarhi. It has existed for about 20 years and is home to 78,000 refugees. We visited some of the schools, where there are more than 11,000 children in school. I suspect that that is about a third or a quarter of all the children. There are far more boys than girls in school. There are 15 boys' schools and three girls' schools.

One of the girls in class 7 asked rather pointedly, "Why is there no secondary class for girls? There are secondary classes for boys." The policy of UNHCR is to provide primary education to help us meet the development target of ensuring that by 2015 all girls and all boys throughout the world receive primary education. However, we must not ignore the need to provide secondary education to Afghan girls, both in Afghanistan itself and in the refugee camps in Pakistan, because women will play a key role in the reconstruction of the country, not least because they were not combatants. They should play an extremely important role, not just in national Government, although it is good that there are three women in the Cabinet of the interim Administration, but in villages and the regions.

Overall, conditions in the Kachagarhi refugee camp were poor. If one was trying to create a seed bed to nurture extremism and anger towards the west, one would create the conditions that we created by withdrawing support from Afghan refugees in the 1990s. We must not make that mistake again. We have got to stick with Pakistan until the refugees can and do return to Afghanistan. The key to their return is providing secure conditions so that people feel that they will be safe if they return home.

I do not want to detain the House so I shall conclude with a few words about the military campaign and whether the coalition should take it beyond the borders of Afghanistan. Our armed forces and intelligence services have been very effective indeed, but there are limits to what we can ask them to do. If they are stretched too far, they will be unable to deliver what we ask of them. We therefore need to address an essential question posed in a speech on Monday by Sir Michael Boyce, Chief of the Defence Staff, who said that we will have to decide soon whether we make a commitment to a broader campaign (widening the war), or make a longer term commitment to Afghanistan. If we have to make that choice and select one or other option, let us not make the same mistake that the west made in the 1990s by walking away from Afghanistan. If we do so, we will breed more poverty, despair, and anger; we will breed more extremists and create conditions in which terrorists can operate, leading to a risk of further terrorist attacks against this country or our allies.

6.22 pm
Patrick Mercer (Newark)

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley). I regret some of the language used by the right hon. Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson) and, in a curiously political speech for a serving officer, the Chief of the Defence Staff. Both used the pejorative terms of the wild west to describe American actions or aspirations in Afghanistan. That is not helpful; in many ways it denigrates the efforts of the United States and ourselves.

I recently spoke to an English Muslim who was heavily involved in the Chechen affair. He was a man of enormously moderate views and left me with one or two interesting thoughts. He echoed the United States Deputy Secretary of Defence, who said: enemies that are half defeated can be very dangerous". My Muslim friend pointed out, in common with much of the evidence that we heard in the Select Committee on Defence, that much of al-Qaeda is still operating across the world, not least in many European countries, and that we still have enemies operating untouched in failed states such as Somalia and Yemen.

I echo Admiral Boyce, who said that our response cannot simply be military and must be proportionate, otherwise we will endanger the coalition, which is proving successful, and are likely to radicalise Arab opinion. My Muslim friend made two points. First, he said that he was glad that so far bin Laden appeared to have escaped because that would show him up for what he was—a man who was not prepared to stick with his troops or defend his ground to the last man and the last round, which may well undermine the fighting qualities of the remaining troops. Secondly, my friend said that actions such as the one carried out at Mazar-e-Sharif, regardless of their rights and wrongs, their morality or immorality, can be successfully spun by our enemies into something that looks similar, from their point of view, to the way that 11 September looks to us.

My Muslim friend made the trenchant point that the area in which our troops will serve, if they serve at all, is much more dangerous than places such as Kosovo or the Balkans because of the huge stores of available drugs, making for high tension and aggression, which we are unlikely to have experienced before. He was extremely reluctant for British troops to be dispatched until their mission, tasks and time limit were properly defined. Are we deploying or are we not? A small group of specialist Royal Marines have gone to Bagram airport. We thought that that was the start of the British deployment but, in fact, it was not. It seems that the Northern Alliance was less than keen to have our troops in the area.

Is it premature to talk about deploying troops in the area while fighting is still going on? We are a leading nation in the campaign and while we may have made friends across the world, there is no doubt that we have also made enemies. Perhaps ours are not the troops to use while the situation remains volatile. Other European nations may be in a position to form a stabilisation force. Both the Germans and the French were extremely keen to prove themselves in Kosovo, once the fighting had stopped. The Germans have been reluctant to deploy their excellent special forces, the Kommando Spezialkräfte or KSK, in the present theatre; interestingly, when it comes to other styles of operation, they are rather less keen.

Mr. Jon Owen Jones


Patrick Mercer

Forgive me, I shall not give way because of the time limit.

We should remember that whatever happens to forces in that area, the benign atmosphere of Kosovo and Bosnia will not be duplicated. The Secretary of State for Defence recently told us about a new chapter in the strategic defence review. Interestingly, the Americans, having won a war in the Gulf in a non-traditional way, started to talk about manoeuvre warfare. The Americans, in their military doctrine, are now talking about more fire and less manoeuvre. An American diplomat, we are told, said, "We don't do peace" and the Americans have told us that they do not do mountains. What else do they not do? I choose to interpret their remark as, "We don't do low-intensity conflict" The British, however, do; we learned all about it in Palestine, Malaya, Oman, Northern Ireland and, indeed, on the north-west frontier, where we fought a low-intensity conflict from 1870 to 1940.

Britain understands such problems and has very experienced troops who are good at dealing with them. However, I urge the Defence Secretary to make sure that the apparent gap dividing our special and specialist forces from our less special forces—our line regiments of cavalry and infantry—does not grow. There is certainly a morale problem because soldiers are constantly deployed on tedious, undemanding and uninteresting operations, such as those in Northern Ireland, Kosovo and Bosnia. Of course, they have their moments, but resentment is building towards the forces that constantly get the good jobs; that is their phrase, not mine. There is no reason why those forces should not be trained to serve alongside the Royal Marines and the Parachute Regiment, as long as they can recruit and are kept properly manned.

I shall conclude by talking about the wider war. If we are serious about pursuing terrorism and taking the chances offered, we will pursue terrorism to the end: and we must pursue domestic terrorism in Northern Ireland as rigorously as we pursue terrorism abroad. The Foreign Secretary said: we will not rest until we have made sure that such an atrocity can never happen again. We see American armed forces already forward: elements of the US third army in Kuwait and American special forces in Somalia, while the US State Department has a party in northern Iraq. We have a unique opportunity to root out terrorism. America needs our friendship, our experience, our excellent armed forces, and our balance and judgment, and we need to repay the debt to America that we incurred at least twice in the 20th century.

6.30 pm
Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex)

We are growing used to the salient points delivered by my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) in our debates. Once again, he distinguished himself today in a short speech. I ask the Secretary of State to take on board the issue of the morale of non-spearhead regiments. If the spearhead role is to be expanded, as he suggested in his speech last week, perhaps it might be rotated among a large number of regiments to maintain the morale of the entire British Army.

Mr. Jon Owen Jones

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Jenkin

I have little time and do not want to engage on that point.

It would be wrong to debate defence and international terrorism without paying tribute to Field Marshal Lord Carver, who died recently. He was one of the most controversial chiefs of defence staff and made many enemies as well as friends during his distinguished career. Nevertheless, he was one of the greatest military figures of the post-war period. Even after the strategic defence review, we see his imprint on the shape of our armed forces and on British military doctrine. The nation owes him a debt.

During this interesting debate, we heard a wide variety of contributions. The hon. Member for Clydesdale (Mr. Hood) made it clear that every inch of his being was against war, and in his case, that is a considerable number of inches. We enjoyed the guarded welcome that the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) gave his new colleague, who will add more to the variety and colour in his party than to its unity. I shall return to the substance of the speeches of the right hon. and learned Gentleman and the right hon. Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson).

I enjoyed the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers), who underlined the need for Europe to do more to support the campaign against terrorism, lest we become what Americans would see as ranchers with big hats and no cattle.

However valid some of the comments from the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews)—the House would be wrong to dismiss the need for a comprehensive approach to terrorism—he spoiled his case by some of the ludicrous over-statements that he made.

My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) made clear his grasp of military doctrine by referring to the successes of recent campaigns and how they were achieved. We should take seriously his thoughts about future doctrine against terrorism.

The Foreign Secretary opened the debate by underlining the military, diplomatic and humanitarian breadth of the campaign and how that has been vindicated by events—a point re-iterated by the right hon. Member for Swansea, East. That is why the Opposition have unequivocally supported the Government's conduct of the war against terrorism. In the words of the Prime Minister, addressed to the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, yesterday, the progress of the war in Afghanistan is a tribute to America's leadership over the past few months and …also to their outstanding courage and wisdom.

Roger Casale (Wimbledon)

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that for there to be a cross-party consensus on how to prosecute the war against terrorism, it is important that those on the Opposition Front Bench come to a settled view among themselves? As the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) has said, Loose talk will undermine the coalition against terrorism. Does the hon. Gentleman agree with the leader of his party, who wants to side with the US hawks, has said that "countries like Iraq" should not be "let off the hook", and who wishes to take a stronger stance and commit himself to action against Iraq? Or does he agree with the shadow Foreign Secretary, who said today that it is not helpful to speculate about what action may be taken in the future in relation to Iraq?

Mr. Jenkin

If the hon. Gentleman had been in the Chamber throughout the debate, he would have heard the exchanges that took place earlier. I shall deal with those matters later, but it is wrong for him to look for divisions when they do not necessarily exist.

We acknowledge the role played by the United Kingdom Government, which has been vital in ensuring that the campaign led by the Americans has been a genuinely international campaign. There are some in the House and many elsewhere, including many of our allies, who were faint-hearted or even opposed to the Afghan campaign. Like the Foreign Secretary, I hope that they will reflect on the jubilant scenes of liberation in Kabul last month, as well as on the successful destruction of the terrorists and their bases in Afghanistan.

We must also pay tribute to the role played by American and British armed forces. Our thoughts are particularly with those who have been injured or killed and their families, those who may still be involved in operations, and those who have been kept waiting on stand-by.

We continue to support the Government's wider campaign objectives for defeating international terrorism. Britain must continue its vital strategic role, binding American policy into a wider international framework and leading other nations in support of internationally agreed objectives. We applaud the Prime Minister, who assured Colin Powell yesterday that the battle against international terrorism does not end in Afghanistan. My right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) reiterated that point. The Foreign Secretary was a little shy of the point, but we know that he has given reassurances to the Americans.

I share the caution of the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife, but deterrence works only if one continues to show one's resolve to act and advertises it vigorously. Neither he nor the right hon. Member for Swansea, East ruled out the possible need for military action against Iraq or any other regime. That is the position of the Government and, in answer to the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Roger Casale), of the Opposition. It ill serves the debate to present the US as some kind of Rambo itching to go on the rampage. We had all that blank-cheque talk at the beginning of the Afghan campaign and it was shown to be totally irrelevant.

The question facing the Government is how best to pursue their objectives. After much confused reporting and the inevitable diplomatic to and fro, I hope that the Secretary of State will clarify exactly how the Government intend to conduct British policy in the weeks ahead. On Afghanistan, the Prime Minister announced yesterday—not to the House of Commons, as Mr. Speaker indicated that he might have done—that the Government have indicated in principle a willingness to play a leading role in any UN-mandated force to provide stability in Afghanistan". We recognise that the Government may feel the need to back that statement with the deployment of a British peacekeeping force, but I am bound to reiterate that we have grave misgivings about a major deployment. After all, on Monday the Chief of the Defence Staff questioned if we were required to trap our hands in the mangle of Afghanistan in order to facilitate the political process". Underlined in his text are the words, My aim, incidentally, is not to get fixed in Afghanistan. There is a host of questions about a possible British troop deployment that I doubt whether the Government will be able to answer today. They include the role that the US will play in that deployment; whether the US will guarantee unlimited air cover, even if it has none of its troops on the ground; who will provide the strategic heavy lift for initial deployment and extraction in an emergency, if necessary; and how it will be possible to deploy armoured vehicles or helicopters to provide mobility, or artillery to provide necessary protection.

With such vast distances involved, only one airhead run by the US at Bagram and poor land communications, how could such a deployment be sustained and supplied, particularly if it becomes engaged in fighting? I do not invite the Secretary of State to respond to those points now, but merely raise them as questions. Some of them are very difficult, but they need to be addressed before he can make a decision.

I urge the Secretary of State to answer now the questions asked by my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary. In substance, they are as follows: what are the conditions that must be met before we can agree to deploy a peacekeeping force; what is the end state we expect we can achieve that will enable us to withdraw; and how long will it take to achieve that end state? The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife asked further questions that need to be addressed about the UN mandate, the role of the force in enforcing human rights and the rules of engagement.

I urge the Secretary of State to clarify three further substantive points, all of which were raised by the Chief of the Defence Staff in his speech on Monday. I am bound to say that it was a very substantial, if delphic, speech. Indeed, when I compare it with the Secretary of State's recent speech, I wonder which of them might be the real Secretary of State. First, the Chief of the Defence Staff warned of "loss of consent" during a peacekeeping deployment. How can we presume anything but the most fragile consent for the presence of British forces? We should certainly congratulate all the parties that contributed to the success of the Bonn conference, which has resulted in an agreement on the establishment of a provisional Government in Afghanistan. If the task of the force is to stabilise that Government, how difficult will that task prove to be? Has not General Mohammed Fahim, the Defence Minister, already made it clear that he will welcome only a force of fewer than 1,000 personnel whose purpose is to guard Government buildings? He said: We do not need any international forces to establish our security. Our own soldiers can maintain security here. We have already seen the flurry created by the initial deployment of the Royal Marines at Bagram. We could so easily become the intruder instead of the invited guest. Will the Secretary of State address the question of consent for a British deployment?

Secondly, why does the Secretary of State believe that UK forces are best suited to this role, given our long and unhappy history in Afghanistan and our current involvement in the war? I have no doubt of our forces' abilities and their keenness to get on with the job, but as other British forces continue to clear the caves of Taliban and al-Qaeda personnel, we are making enemies as well as friends in Afghanistan, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newark pointed out.

Thirdly, the Chief of the Defence Staff spoke about choices on Monday. He said: We may have to decide whether to play to the strengths of our armed forces (and our corresponding value to the United States) in our ability and readiness to deploy highly capable forces quickly for offensive operations; or to commit to longer term nation building tasks that might reasonably be taken on by other, less capable, nations". That is the point that I would make to the hon. Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley). It seems strange that the Chief of the Defence Staff should ask such fundamental questions the day before the Prime Minister announced his intention in principle to deploy a peacekeeping operation. He was emphatic that we cannot dodge the UK's strategic choices". Will the Secretary of State explain what the Chief of the Defence Staff meant when he said: broader operations into regions that threaten UK policy goals will force us to choose, between unconditional support to the coalition, conditional support and 'red lines' or selective support—or indeed lack of support."?

Hugh Bayley

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Jenkin

I am not giving way.

What did the Chief of the Defence staff mean when he said: there will be some slight difference in emphasis in the approach between the United States and the UK"? [Interruption.] Labour Members should stop muttering. It suggests that they are sensitive about some of the questions asked by the Chief of the Defence Staff.

I hope that the Secretary of State will clear up the confusion and make it clear that the Government have a clear strategy, and that he will be able to show that he can make the strategic choices to which the Chief of the Defence Staff referred. I hope also that he will make it clear that the United States and the United Kingdom continue to share the unity of purpose in the campaign against international terrorism that has served the whole world so effectively since 11 September.

6.44 pm
The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon)

I thank the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) for his comments about the life of Field Marshal Lord Carver. I endorse them on behalf of the Ministry of Defence, which he served with such great distinction throughout his career.

It is now three months almost to the day since the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon and since we were forced to recognise what has become perhaps the greatest single challenge that we face: the threat posed by international terrorism. The House has rightly devoted much of its attention to how the Government and the international coalition have responded to that challenge. I especially welcome the expressions of support for the work of our armed forces. I shall return to their outstanding contribution to the continuing operations in Afghanistan in due course.

I should like in particular to thank the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell), my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson) and the hon. Members for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) and for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) for their comments. I also thank my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) for his recognition that he is capable of error. [Interruption.] Indeed, he is capable of errors, which is still more significant.

There have been some real achievements since the coalition began military action in Afghanistan on 7 October. We have seen the collapse of the sinister, barbarous and fanatical Taliban regime, which provided shelter and support to Osama bin Laden and developed a mutual dependence on his al-Qaeda terrorist network—an organisation that provides one of the most destructive threats to the world's stability, peace and prosperity.

The Taliban regime that for so long kept Afghanistan in its oppressive grip has fallen and the Taliban have even been driven from their historical base in Kandahar. Only isolated pockets of Taliban and al-Qaeda forces now remain around the country, which is a vindication of the coalition's broad strategy of action in the diplomatic, economic, legal, humanitarian and military spheres to ensure that Afghanistan no longer harbours and sustains international terrorism.

The fall of the Taliban is also a tribute to the United States leadership of the coalition. While the attacks on 11 September were an attack on the whole world, it was the United States that suffered most. It is right that it should take the lead in an act of self-defence under article 51 of the United Nations charter. It has led wisely and well.

Although the United States has military capabilities that are unmatched by those of any other country, it also recognised that it could not act alone.

Other countries also suffered on 11 September—not least our own; 78 British citizens died in New York. We, too, had to respond for our own safety and security, as well as to support our closest ally—and support her we have. My right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have played vital parts in building and maintaining the global coalition against international terrorism, and our armed forces have operated alongside those of the United States from the start of military operations on 7 October.

Few can doubt that the coalition's military campaign was essential in bringing about the downfall of the Taliban. Military action enabled the Northern Alliance, which was initially shocked by the assassination of its leader only two days before the attacks on 11 September, to go on to the offensive. With coalition help, the Northern Alliance drove back the Taliban on the ground.

The military campaign helped to make the Bonn agreement and all that it promises possible. The agreement represents the foundation stone for the reconstruction of Afghanistan and the basis on which that country, which has been almost destroyed by 22 years of war and the isolation that came with the Taliban regime, can be rebuilt and redeveloped. Our long-term aim was always to reintegrate Afghanistan as a responsible member of the international community. We promised that we would not walk away from it and we are keeping that promise.

At the start of the coalition action in Afghanistan, we set out what we were trying to achieve. Our specific short-term campaign aims were to bring Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders to justice; to prevent Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda network from posing a continuing terrorist threat; to ensure that Afghanistan ceased to harbour and sustain international terrorism and that it allowed us to verify that the camps where terrorists trained were destroyed; and, given that Mullah Omar would not comply with the American ultimatum, we required a sufficient change in the leadership to ensure that Afghanistan's links to international terrorism were broken.

Angus Robertson (Moray)

I thank the Secretary of State for taking an intervention from someone who has not been called to speak in the debate. On 31 October, he wrote to my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond): Our military action is focused on Usama bin Laden, the Al-Qaeda network and their Taliban allies. No further action is in contemplation by the UK Government at present and it would not be productive to speculate on hypothetical situations. Bearing in mind the current situation off the Somali coast, will he explain whether the objective of the UK Government in their campaign against terrorism is being widened?

Mr. Hoon

I stand by what I said. That remains the focus of military action and the campaign's aims are the same as those set out in the letter. Matters have not moved on significantly since then.

Jeremy Corbyn

My right hon. Friend says that things have not moved on, yet the Prime Minister and the President of the United States have clearly stated that other countries are being considered for military action. Will the Secretary of State help us? Is the Ministry of Defence planning military action in Somalia, Sudan or any other country?

Mr. Hoon

Even before 31 October I said that a range of options and actions were being considered to deal with international terrorism. They are not only military. Obviously, military actions are my primary responsibility but, from 11 September, several actions have been taken against terrorist organisations. They include restricting their finance, ensuring that they cannot travel freely from one country to another and all sorts of pre-emptive steps in several different countries. They may well have frustrated terrorist activities; we may never know how many. However, significant action has been taken, and I emphasise to my hon. Friend the need to concentrate not only on military actions, important though they are in the context of my responsibilities.

Mr. Jenkin

I assure the Secretary of State of our continued support for his policy of not ruling out military action against any country that may harbour terrorists. That is consistent with the objectives that the Government set out earlier in the campaign.

Mr. Hoon

I am grateful for that observation.

As I have made clear, we have taken action on several fronts. I have already mentioned diplomatic action to build international support for our task. We have also taken economic action to freeze the financial resources on which terrorists rely, legal action, which hon. Members have the opportunity to debate later, and humanitarian action. We never allowed ourselves to forget the need to help the ordinary people of Afghanistan, millions of whom have been forced to leave their homes and were facing famine. My hon. Friend the Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley) expressed that well.

My specific responsibility is for the United Kingdom's contribution to the coalition's military action in Afghanistan. The fanatical intransigence of the Taliban regime left us with no option other than to use force. Our use of military force had specific objectives: to destroy the terrorist camps; to pressurise the Taliban regime to end its support for Osama bin Laden; to enable us to mount future operations in Afghanistan; and to maintain that pressure.

The United Kingdom's armed forces have played a significant and essential part in the coalition's military action. They have done far more than many perhaps realise, taking part in direct strikes on terrorist targets and providing support for coalition partners. In the early days of the military action, the Royal Navy twice fired salvoes of Tomahawk missiles at terrorist training camps.

Today, we have a large naval force in the Indian ocean; it is second in size only to the element from the United States navy. Led by HMS Illustrious, the United Kingdom's contribution includes the assault ship HMS Fearless, the destroyer HMS Southampton, the frigate HMS Cornwall, and seven ships of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. Those ships form a base for operations by the 200 men of 40 Commando Royal Marines who have remained in theatre. We have also maintained a submarine presence in the region, which, with Tomahawk missiles, offers us another means, if needed, of striking at distant targets inside Afghanistan.

We have also deployed UK ground forces deep into the country. The House will understand that I cannot give details of those operations, but I can say that our troops are there, actively participating in the pursuit of Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda terrorists.

The presence of Royal Marines and, more recently, members of the Army and the Royal Air Force at Bagram airstrip has been vital. They helped to secure the airstrip for humanitarian aid and diplomatic flights. They also helped to secure our embassy buildings in Kabul. Royal Engineers, including explosive ordnance disposal experts, have been deployed to repair parts of the airstrip's infrastructure in readiness for the winter. I regret to say that it was one of those soldiers who was injured by a land mine last week.

The presence of those troops at Bagram was essential to the success of the Bonn negotiations; indeed, they could not otherwise have taken place. Securing the airstrip and confirming that it could be used by military transport aircraft made it possible for the Royal Air Force to fly the Northern Alliance's delegation to Bonn to participate in the conference.

The Royal Air Force has also played a major role. We have a number of fixed-wing aircraft in theatre. They include Tristar and VC10 air-to-air refuelling aircraft, Hercules transport aircraft, E3D Sentry airborne warning and control system aircraft, Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft, and Canberra PR9 photographic reconnaissance aircraft.

Patrick Mercer

I wonder whether the Secretary of State would answer some of the questions that were posed about timings, missions, mission creep and all the other problems that are giving us such a headache?

Mr. Hoon

I shall deal with those matters in due course if the hon. Gentleman will contain his impatience.

Mr. Jenkin

You have five minutes left.

Mr. Hoon

I have not got five minutes left. I want to set out in detail for the benefit of Conservative Members the extent of the contribution of Her Majesty's armed forces in the campaign—not all of it has been properly recognised, especially in the media. It is therefore important that Opposition Members listen with the patience for which they are renowned.

I want to stress the importance of our air-to-air refuelling tankers and their role in coalition operations. They are essential to the operations of the United States navy's strike aircraft, on which so much of the coalition's air campaign has relied. Operating from its aircraft carriers, the US navy cannot fly tanker aircraft as large as ours. The US air force has many tanker aircraft but it uses a different technique, developed originally to refuel its strategic bombers. The RAF has therefore stepped in to fill that capability gap. The United States has welcomed its support, which it values enormously.

A few statistics illustrate the importance of the RAF's tankers. They have flown more than 280 sorties, each lasting up to eight hours. They have provided coalition aircraft with nearly 10 million litres of fuel, which is no small task.

The United Kingdom has also made a major contribution to the coalition's command and reconnaissance capabilities. Nearly 160 such sorties have been flown, some of very long duration. The E3D Sentry aircraft have flown missions of up to 14 hours controlling and co-ordinating coalition air strikes. The Nimrods have ranged far over the Indian ocean in support of the coalition's maritime operations. The Canberras, though long in service, offer an intelligence gathering and reconnaissance capability unmatched by almost any other aircraft in the world.

We should not forget the work of our Hercules transport aircraft. I have already referred to their role in making the Bonn negotiations possible. Together with helicopters deployed aboard the Royal Navy fleet, they have flown sorties that provided essential support to our other operations, often in dangerous and demanding circumstances. Their success is a tribute to the skill and bravery of their crews.

When we send our forces to Afghanistan, we ask them to take significant risks. The campaign has not been without cost. A small number of the United Kingdom's armed forces have been wounded or injured in Afghanistan, including the member of the Royal Engineers who was injured by a land mine at Bagram last week. I am sure that hon. Members will join me in wishing them all a swift recovery. Of course, in thinking of our casualties, we should not forget that the United States, the Northern Alliance and the Afghan people have suffered many more.

It is inevitable that the continuing deployment of British armed forces, especially when they are engaged in offensive action, should give rise to questions and anxieties. They have not diverted us from our course. We remain focused on achieving the aims that we set ourselves when we began military action on 7 October.

We continue to work towards achieving our first and second campaign aims. Osama bin Laden and elements of al-Qaeda are still, as far as we know, at large and fighting. We have inflicted significant damage on al-Qaeda, but while it remains at large, in Afghanistan or elsewhere, it is a threat. We shall therefore continue our operations until that threat has been eliminated. I will not speculate about what that might mean, where future operations might take place or what form they might take. It would serve no useful purpose to advertise our intentions in advance. The focus of our activities remains Afghanistan, but no terrorists should assume that they can find safety anywhere around the world.

We have achieved the fourth objective—a change in the leadership of Afghanistan. The third—to ensure that Afghanistan ceases to harbour and sustain international terrorism—is certainly now within our grasp. The Bonn agreement paves the way for cementing both those objectives.

I have spoken about what the United Kingdom and her coalition partners have achieved so far. We must now consider how best to support the Bonn agreement. Twenty-two years of war have left their mark on Afghanistan. The destruction of much of its most basic infrastructure and the huge number of land mines laid during the war against the Soviet Union and in the civil wars that followed are obvious examples; less tangible, perhaps, are the effects on the Afghan people. A great deal of mistrust remains between the different peoples and political groups.

The Afghans who negotiated the Bonn agreement knew all that far better than anyone else. They recognised that the new interim authority would need to establish itself as independent and not be seen as a creature of one faction or another. That is why they have agreed to and welcomed the proposal to deploy an international security force to Kabul.

As the Prime Minister said yesterday, the United Kingdom has indicated, in principle, a willingness to play a leading role in any United Nations mandated security force in Afghanistan. No decisions have yet been taken. Before decisions are taken, we need to address a range of complex and detailed issues. We will be engaged in close consultations with the Afghans, the United Nations, the United States, and other countries that have expressed an interest in contributing troops to a security force. The detailed consultations and information gathering that we have in hand will provide the basis for decisions. That process will address the questions that the shadow Foreign Secretary very properly raised in his speech.

The new interim authority formally takes office on 22 December. We must help to convince every Afghan to have confidence in that authority and in the Bonn agreement. We must convince them that this is the beginning of the rebuilding process, because the interim authority is just that—an interim authority. In six months' time, Loya Jirgah will appoint a transitional Government. We must convince all parties that their future lies in joining the political process and not in seeking a solution through the use of force.

All this argues in favour of the eventual deployment of a UN-mandated force to provide the stability that is required for Afghanistan's future. We know that that will not be easy, and that many hurdles must be overcome. Not least of these is defining and agreeing with the Afghans what tasks would fall to a security assistance mission and, just as important, what tasks they would perform themselves. They clearly have responsibilities in all of this, too. In deciding to deploy an international security assistance force, the international community is offering a helping hand to a country and a people that have suffered too much for far too long.

The events of 11 September required action in the short term to remove the threat posed by al-Qaeda and the Taliban and to help to secure the new Afghan Government, but those events also represented a challenge to our approach to defence and security. The strategic defence review laid a solid basis for the future evolution of our armed forces and how we might use them. The action we are taking in Afghanistan is largely possible as a result of the work done during the SDR.

The United Kingdom now has significantly improved capabilities and is well placed to take on asymmetric threats, such as those posed by international terrorism, but it is only right that we should look further at the conclusions of the strategic defence review, in the light of the threat that is posed today by international terrorists. The House will be aware that we are doing just that.

We are engaging not in a new strategic defence review, but in a new chapter of the review, building on the earlier conclusions. We want to ensure that the United Kingdom has the defence concepts, capabilities and forces that we need if we are to deal with threats of this kind and this scale. We are therefore looking closely at our plans and programmes, to be able to add capability where it counts—where it makes a difference—because we must look beyond what is happening today and examine the possible longer-term implications.

The success that we have enjoyed in the campaign to date and the fact that we can look forward to achieving our remaining aims with confidence ultimately depend on one thing: the excellence of the men and women of our armed forces. I cannot overstate what they have achieved and the spirit in which they have achieved it. I said at the start of my speech that they deserved every word of the praise offered by right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House. We owe a great deal to the men and women of our armed forces, as well as to their families. It is our responsibility and privilege to make sure that they are properly equipped and properly organised to do the excellent job that they do. We are determined to make sure that that continues.

Mr. Nick Ainger (West Carmarthen and South Pembrokeshire)

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.