HC Deb 08 October 2001 vol 372 cc871-902

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 15 (Exempted business), That, at this day's sitting, the Motion in the name of the Prime Minister for the Adjournment of the House may be proceeded with, though opposed, until midnight.—[Mr. Heppell.] Question agreed to.

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

Mr. Hoban

Humanitarian aid should not stop when the conflict ends. Thriving on discord and disunity is a hallmark of Osama bin Laden's activities. His first base was in the Sudan, when that country was plagued by civil war. His second base is in Afghanistan, which is also plagued by civil war. We must ensure that, when the military action is over, we do not recreate the conditions that allowed him to thrive. The aid must continue, as a carrot to encourage the parties to form a broadly based Government, and as a stick to ensure that, once at the table, they remain there.

The fight will not be easy; it will not be a short haul. We cannot tell our service personnel and their families the duration of the campaign. I am worried about the stability of the international coalition over a long haul. All credit must go to President Bush and the Prime Minister for their work in bringing the coalition together, but it is important to ensure that it is not riven by the discord and disunity that allows bin Laden to thrive. However, we should not allow our hands to be stayed by those who do not have the stomach for the fight, or those who are nervous about the outcome.

We owe it to the people who lost their lives on 11 September and those who, in the next weeks and months, will fight for our enduring freedom, to remain resolved to defeat Osama bin Laden, replace the Taliban regime and ensure that the world is again a safer place.

10.2 pm

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston)

It would be appropriate to begin by giving some information that is especially relevant to the hon. Member for Fareham (Mr. Hoban). Last week. I was privileged to be in Oman, watching Exercise Saif Sareea. I spoke to many of our military personnel—the medical and catering staff at the bases and those in the field, undertaking the exercise—to whom the hon. Gentleman referred. Many of those on our vessels come from places that are not a million miles from his constituency.

The exercise was planned two years ago and is undertaken in partnership with Omani military forces. It is a joint exercise to measure the capability of joint rapid reaction forces. Several important points have emerged, not least the coincidence of the exercise's proximity to Afghanistan. I stress to the hon. Gentleman that although nothing is ever perfect in such huge logistical challenges, our personnel clearly acknowledge that the welfare package has improved dramatically, especially provision for telephoning home.

Like my colleagues from all parties who were present, I intend to set down my thoughts in detail to ensure that we learn lessons. We can always learn lessons; that is the point of an exercise on such a scale. The morale of the troops and our Navy and Air Force personnel has undoubtedly been helped by the improved welfare package.

Many of the personnel to whom I spoke recognise that over the next few months their role may change, for obvious reasons—the purpose of the debate. They recognise their responsibility, and during the debate the House has rightly paid tribute to their bravery, dedication, commitment and professionalism. I know that reports of our debate will be welcomed by our forces in Oman and throughout the world.

I shall comment on the role of the media over the past few weeks. In Afghanistan the media have no real freedom at all. I do not suppose that the television station had a great deal of choice but to broadcast bin Laden's outrageous statement last night. That contrasts starkly with the freedom of the media in this country and in the free world. There is a sharp distinction between the freedoms and the kind of society that we enjoy, and the terrible situation facing Afghan people. However, we had a problem at the outset.

My plea to the media is to think carefully about broadcasting before some of our troops' families at home know what is happening. The situation needs handling with great care. The media were rightly reporting on the movement of ships and forces in the Omani exercise, but they construed it as an operation in preparation for a direct attack on Afghanistan. Unfortunately, that put fear into the families back home. In the context of improving morale, the media could think carefully about how they disseminate information. Nevertheless, I want their freedom, which the entire House values, to continue in our society.

Much has been said about the scale of the atrocity and the type of action that we have undertaken. The selection of targets was clearly meticulous. The objective was to damage, disrupt and destroy the al-Qaeda network. It would be foolish to speak here about detailed tactics. As many hon. Members have acknowledged, those are matters that we must entrust to our colleagues in the Ministry of Defence, in liaison with their opposite numbers in the coalition, but as has been said, there are other matters about which we can speak openly and freely, and demands that we, as a nation that believes in openness and freedom, can make for the longer-term.

One such demand is that aid should be delivered. It would be a tragedy if the efforts that we have already made were not followed through. I understand that an additional £36 million has been committed over and above existing funds, and that must continue. We must make sure that food and aid is delivered. As the winter approaches in Afghanistan, the conditions in the country and the surrounding camps will be horrendous. We must not underestimate the scale of that potential tragedy.

Assets need to be frozen. We need to push harder in the anti-drugs war. We need to recognise the success that we have had in partnership with other navies—for example, in the West Indies. Our West Indies guard ship has done a tremendous job for many years. Let such action be multiplied throughout the coalition to ensure that other sources of heroin, especially Afghanistan, are frozen out. That also includes an attack on the moneys held in accounts in this country.

Finally, we need to ensure that the relationship with Muslims in this country is sustained for the future.

10.10 pm
Mr. George Osborne (Tatton)

When I spoke in the debate that was held just three days after the appalling attacks in New York and Washington, I said that we had a duty to support the United States and show that America was not alone in its fight against the enemies of civilisation. Four weeks later, the full measure of that support can be seen in the skies over Afghanistan, and like many other hon. Members I pray tonight for the safety of our pilots, our submariners, our sailors and our soldiers as they go about their difficult job.

That it has taken four weeks to respond to the heinous crime of 11 September is, as many hon. Members have said today, a tribute to the thoughtfulness, strength and patience of the coalition. There were many who, misjudging the character of the American President, expected the US to lash out in anger within days of the attack, to bomb indiscriminately and to assuage the anger of the American people with a bloodbath on the streets of Kabul. Thankfully, the American President is a great deal more intelligent and more courageous than many people have given him credit for.

If the Americans had lashed out, we would have achieved very little, other than to satisfy the basest of urges for revenge. Indeed, we would have created 10,000 bin Ladens, as the hon. Member for Glasgow, Kelvin (Mr. Galloway) warned in his powerful speech on 14 September. Instead, by acting in a measured and determined way—using the rapier rather than the blunderbuss—the coalition has correctly judged the mood of the people whom I represent and that of the people of this country.

This much is clear from every conversation that I have had and every letter that I have received from my constituents since 11 September: they want the perpetrators of the outrages, and those who harbour them, brought to book for what they have done, but they do not want innocent Afghans to be slaughtered. They want peace and security in the middle east and central Asia so that they can go about their lives here in Britain without fear of future terrorist attacks. They do not want us to sow the seeds of decades of turmoil, unrest and fear. As one of my constituents, Mrs. Sellers, said simply in a letter to me: There must be justice, not revenge. The action taking place tonight does, indeed, represent justice, rather than revenge.

In the time remaining to me, I should like to touch on two more specific issues—one immediate, the other long term. The first, immediate issue is that of Pakistan. The support of Pakistan is obviously crucial to the military and diplomatic success of the campaign that we are fighting. Of all the countries involved in the coalition, it is the most vulnerable to attack from so-called Islamic fundamentalists and, as the riots in Quetta and elsewhere show, its Government have taken a big risk in supporting the United States.

To a large extent, of course, the Pakistani Government are reaping their own whirlwind, for until 11 September they were the Taliban's main external backer. They have actively sponsored terrorist organisations that operate in Kashmir, which have committed terrible atrocities—and, of course, President Musharraf only came to power by military coup. In other words, Pakistan is not what one might call the ideal partner in what the Government persist in calling an ethical foreign policy, but we are not always able to choose ideal allies in our foreign policy.

Several Members have said tonight and in recent weeks that we and the Americans have, in our time, funded and armed some of the very Afghan groups that we are now fighting to destroy. We should not be particularly embarrassed about that because it happened in the days of the cold war when we were fighting the Soviet Union and the prime objective of British foreign policy was to defeat the Soviet Union, and we were prepared to use whatever means we could to achieve that end.

Now defeating international terrorism is a prime foreign policy objective, and, as George Bush says, either Governments are with us or they are with the terrorists. Pakistan has not hesitated to support us, so we should support it in return. Therefore, I very much welcome the Prime Minister's visit last week to show our visible support for the Pakistani Government. They need that support because there could be no greater catastrophe for the civilised world than if the Government of Pakistan, with their nuclear arsenal, were to fall into the hands of the fundamentalists.

The second issue that I briefly wish to mention is the much longer-term one of ballistic missile defence. Virtually nothing has been said about missile defence since the events of four weeks ago, but surely the ruins of downtown Manhattan are grim evidence of why we should try to develop a defensive missile shield as soon as is technologically possible.

Before 11 September, there was a great debate developing—at its liveliest on the Labour Benches—about whether ballistic missile defence was a vital necessity or a threat to global peace. Those against ballistic missile defence rejected as implausible the argument that a rogue state or terrorist organisation might one day get its hands on a ballistic missile and fire it at a western country. Surely no one can now doubt that this is indeed a great risk.

Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North)

I have listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman. Does he not agree that if it was not possible for the mightiest superpower in the world to shoot down four 747 aircraft at 20 minutes' notice when it knew from mobile phones where those aircraft were and that they were targeted at important buildings, the chances of it shooting down a missile of which it has received no warning in mid-air at 20 seconds' notice are highly improbable?

Mr. Osborne

I am not a military expert, but I would have thought that the difficult decision to use a fighter plane to shoot down a fully passenger-laden aircraft is of a completely different order of magnitude and is a completely different technological problem from deciding to shoot a missile out of the air with a ballistic missile defence system. They are completely different technological issues. The type of people who fly planes into skyscrapers are the type of people who can fire ballistic missiles at us.

Mr. Keetch

One of the arguments that some people moot against ballistic missile defence is that if people can fly aircraft into towers and achieve such devastating consequences, they do not need to fire ballistic missiles. If America had had NMD, how does the hon. Gentleman believe it could have stopped the appalling tragic events of 11 September?

Mr. Osborne

My point is that although those people used planes this time, they might use ballistic missiles the next time if they get their hands on them. If we are really saying that we will not take the decision now to try to build a defensive ballistic missile system and, in five or 10 years' time, someone gets their hands on a ballistic missile and fires it at one of the great cities of the world—perhaps the one in which we are standing—will we not then be saying that we were extremely neglectful and extremely foolish not to attempt to build such a system?

The Government say that the war on terrorism must assume many forms and will take many years. Military action tonight is one of those forms, but developing a ballistic system is another.

10.18 pm
Jim Knight (South Dorset)

I enjoyed the contribution of the hon. Member for Talton (Mr. Osborne), and I look forward to future debates on missile defence. However, I shall steer well clear of that subject now.

The past four weeks have been truly remarkable, memorable and, obviously, highly regrettable and traumatic. As the world has struggled to comprehend the magnitude of the worst terrorist attack in history, all Members of Parliament have been asked to comment on and sum up our feelings throughout these weeks. That has been difficult enough as the media has filled our newspapers, television screens and our thoughts with speculation and anticipation as to how the world should react. Now that the military response has begun, a new round of comment and reflection has also begun, and it is no less challenging.

The most important starting point for us now is whether military action in itself has been justified. I have every respect for pacifism and for those who argue that military force will antagonise and create martyrs. There is nothing wrong with, or unpatriotic about, such views, but I hope that they are proved wrong. There is a time for dialogue and for compromise, but there is also a time for action.

The current situation demands considered, targeted action under the authority of the UN mandate and article 5 of the NATO treaty, and with as broad a coalition of support as possible. Dialogue and compromise are the right response where there may be reason, but how can we reason with people who are prepared to murder up to 7,000 innocent civilians? How can we reason with a cult that is prepared to die a glorious death in the service of its cause? How can we reason with a regime that, as we saw on "Panorama" last night, revels in the public execution of its women?

I am convinced that the Taliban and the al-Qaeda organisation are a mutually dependent alliance; that, together, they are responsible for 90 per cent. of the heroin smuggled into this country, which causes so much misery and crime in the UK; and that al-Qaeda killed 18 US soldiers in Somalia in 1993, 224 in east Africa in 1998, and 17 members of USS Cole's crew last year. I am convinced that they have sought to acquire nuclear and chemical weapons and would not hesitate to use them in Europe or north America against civilian targets if they had the capability.

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the Taliban and al-Qaeda present a real threat to this country's security, as well as to that of our neighbours and allies. The best way to defend against such a threat is to destroy the organisation itself. Military action has been inevitable and must be supported throughout.

Some may argue that we cannot destroy the terrorist threat and that attempting to do so only increases the risk of further terrorist attacks. Clearly, we must be mindful of that potential outcome. We must work actively with as many partners as possible around the world to share intelligence and co-ordinate action to destroy terrorist capability wherever it is found. To do nothing is simply not an option if we want to claim to be defending our own people.

This morning, Sir Alan, I opened—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

Order. May I make just a small point? The hon. Gentleman is catching the bad habit of the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller). I must be addressed as Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Jim Knight

I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

This morning, I opened the Lawrence of Arabia trail in my constituency. A beautiful 6-mile walk through some delightful Dorset countryside links his house to where he died and his grave in Moreton. Along the way one is reminded of the achievements of that remarkable man. In many ways, Lawrence provides a role model for us today. His legend is that of a man who spent time living with and trying to understand the Arabs, who were on the point of revolt against their Turkish rulers. He used that understanding to build an effective liaison between the British military and the Arabs to secure crucial victories in almost impossible terrain. Later, Lawrence campaigned for the Arabs' self-determination and for them as a people, not just a military ally.

We need the same understanding in a similar situation. We need to work in harmony with our Arab friends, both diplomatically and, where appropriate, on the ground. I am proud of what the Government have achieved already in doing what they can to broaden the coalition. They are right to stand shoulder to shoulder with the United States. As a true friend to the Americans, I am proud that our Government's voice of patience and pragmatism has been heard in the White House.

Who would have thought on 11 September that it would take almost three weeks before an alliance with the support of the whole of the civilised world would respond? Who would have thought that, when the time came, missiles would be accompanied by food and medical aid? Who would have thought that such care would be taken to work with Pakistan and Iraq in helping with the long-established refugee crisis? Even now, as we share deep concern at the military action in which we are engaged, we must retain our pride in the role that Britain has played in laying the foundation for a measured and rational response.

This morning I spent some time with members of the Royal Armoured Corps in Bovington, as I did on Thursday night after the debate in this House. The mood was uncertain but thoroughly professional. I spoke with officers who had commanded soldiers in Bosnia knowing the real risks to the lives of their men of sending them into battle. Our troops are ready, trained and professional. The officers who lead them are not gung-ho, jingoistic boys with toys; they are acutely aware of the responsibilities that they bear and are making decisions that will live with them for the rest of their lives.

Our armed forces are now in action to protect our security and destroy the capability of these terrorists to strike again. They are fighting an enemy who cares nothing for civilian life. By contrast, our armed forces are taking whatever care they can to protect civilian life and assist the innocent Afghan people with food and medical aid.

I fully support this action and my thoughts are very much with our armed forces who are serving our country at this time, but I must quickly voice two concerns. First, I am concerned that if action continues over a significant length of time it will impossibly overstretch our armed forces. The time I spent during the recess with service men and women has shown me on every occasion that they are overstretched. Our service men and women are the best trained in the world and will do the job that they are trained to do, but they are also human. They cannot punch above their weight for ever and we must do our best to support properly the armed services' greatest resource—the people.

My second concern is the economy. These are uncertain times. A close member of my family working here in London was made redundant last week. Others close to me fear the same. Uncertainty leads to a lack of confidence and hesitancy among decision makers. This is clearly affecting industries beyond the obvious aviation and tourism casualties of the crisis. At the same time I am hugely encouraged by the capacity of the vast majority in my constituency to carry on regardless. Businesses are still doing well in many places. I believe that the economic fundamentals are right, but I would value some debate on how to encourage confidence in the City and increased economic stability so that the terrorists who have killed so many do not also succeed in damaging thousands of livelihoods.

10.26 pm
Mr. Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire)

I am grateful to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker as I had the privilege to speak in last week's debate. So tonight I shall address only one issue.

In the thoughtful speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Richard Ottaway) he said that Osama bin Laden did not represent the views of the Muslim world and he was absolutely right. However, this morning we learned that Osama bin Laden is winning the propaganda battle throughout the Arab world, particularly and dangerously in Saudi Arabia.

The Secretary of State for Defence, in his well-reasoned speech, spoke of the obligation imposed on all states to suppress terrorism which is mentioned in United Nations resolution 1373. To my mind, that obligation should include the withdrawal of the oxygen of publicity from the terrorists themselves. I am picking up on a point made by the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) when he spoke about the media. I am thinking in particular about the Al-Jazeera TV channel based in the state of Qatar. I would urge the Government most strongly to use whatever influence they have at the United Nations and elsewhere to ask the Government of Qatar and all media organisations to deny the terrorists the oxygen of publicity.

I fully accept the need for the events in Afghanistan and elsewhere to be reported by the media, but it is of a wholly different order to give publicity directly to the terrorists and to have Osama bin Laden broadcasting to the whole of the Arab world. We are entitled to ask, in the words of the President of the United States, whether the state of Qatar is with us or against us on this particular issue.

10.28 pm
Mr. Stephen Pound (Ealing, North)

The hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne) claimed that he was no military expert, and by his comments this evening he proved his entitlement to that description. By seeking somehow to link these awful and perilous matters to the future creation of some absurd, bizarre, galaxy spanning, nuclear missile defence scheme, the twisted thoughts of some Dr. Strangelove, he did the House a grave disservice. If there is to be a child of this conflict, let it not be some further extension of militarisation, but rather the new world order, the recognition of interdependence and community that has been spoken about so powerfully and so much.

Mr. George Osborne

I think that ballistic missile defence has more to do with the events of 11 September than the scout movement does.

Mr. Pound

I am unused to right hon. and hon. Members sneering at and criticising the scout and guide movement of this country. The fact that there are those who do so is a fact to be deplored.

I shall return to the rather more impressive contribution from my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart). She spoke of a just war. I am at one, odd though the picture might seem, with her, St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine because this clearly is a just war. The fact that it is a war that aims at justice, does not mean that there is anything less than a determination in this nation to pursue it. The fact that we have no appetite for war does not mean that we will not pursue it, and the absence of hunger does not mean that we do not have a stomach for it.

When the hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, South (Richard Ottaway) referred to the conversations in the drawing rooms of his constituency, I thought of those in my constituency, where sadly we do not have drawing rooms, with whom I have discussed these issues. This morning I spoke to a group of Muslim constituents whom I am proud and honoured to represent. They are part of the multiracial, multicultural and multi-faith community which is in so many ways the glory and strength of this nation. They told me that their fears were as mine. They said that they do not see any commonality of interest between their Muslim faith and what they have heard on the airwaves, and which has been mentioned already today. They do not see a war against the west. They desire to live in peace in a decent and civil society.

I spoke to the pupils of Viking primary school in my constituency where 50 per cent. of those attending are of the Muslim faith. Those Muslim children told me that they saw the enemy clearly and that it is terrorism, not Islam or some foreign demon. If a primary school child can see that so clearly, is it not depressing that there are still those voices around us, and occasionally within the House, who seek to demonise a peaceful religion and somehow subvert it to their own agenda?

At my surgery this morning I spoke to a 30-year-old man from Afghanistan. He has been in this country for three years and his application for asylum is supported by a testimony from the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture. His physical torture was so horrific and barbaric that I would not bring the details of it to the Floor of the House. He told me that he wept for his nation, the nation that he loved. He also wept tears of gratitude that those of us in the west are finally realising that we are our brother's keeper, that we have to act and that we cannot allow this barbarity and assault on civilisation to continue unchallenged. That greatest challenge was supported by that young man from Afghanistan, whose family still live in that country.

Like many hon. Members I have had letters from constituents saying that we should do nothing. They say that we should stand back and allow the internal contradictions of the Taliban regime to somehow collapse the system in on itself, let the lonely watchtowers of the Khyber crumble to dust or, as we have heard today, let an official of the court, accompanied by a tipstaff, prowl the echoing alleys of Kandahar and Kabul and take Mr. bin Laden into the care of the court and haul him before some British system of justice. That is a good idea, but is it practicable?

I have had letters from constituents equally practically asking what is to happen to the many Mrs. bin Ladens and their numerous progeny. At the end of the day, however, the one question that I would ask them is, "If not this action, what action should be taken?"

In the 21st century, at the dawning of what must be a century of hope in which we can finally show that there is a better way of living, can we really justify inaction and dream that somehow the world will become a better place without our doing anything?

There will be sacrifices. There must be. We are already suffering. Our service men and women may already have suffered far more than we in the House can imagine. We owe a duty, however, not only to our people and those of the coalition but to humanity, to find a better way of living.

On 11 September we saw the ghost of the past, which still has the power to haunt us. We saw the way that things should not be done. Now we have the opportunity to show how they might be done. The unanimity that I have heard expressed by almost everyone in the House will send a message of such strength and power beyond the walls of this Chamber that there will be no doubt anywhere in the world of the determination of this nation, this coalition and ultimately, I hope, this planet to live together in peace. That is the future. Bin Laden and his murderous crew are the past. The sooner that they are consigned to that past the better.

10.36 pm
Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge)

I join the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Pound) in adding my thanks and praise to those service men and women who are serving us in Afghanistan to bring the terrorists to justice. I also add my thanks to those who serve us at home in the intelligence service. We have not heard much about them this evening, but they are working day and night to thwart terrorist attacks throughout the world. We may never hear about their sacrifice but I am sure that we all thank and praise them.

Many hon. Members mentioned the Gulf war. Several commented that we should not have stopped when we did, but carried on and put an end to Saddam Hussein and his evil regime. I agree, but that is history. We did not do so. To say that we did not do it then, so we should not do it now does not follow. It is dangerous for people to try to make up for the mistakes of the past by making a mistake today. That is not the way to go.

I ask those who do not recall or know much about military history to remember some of the basics of warfare. One has to keep one's eye on the target. Those who are distracted and leave the field in hot pursuit of some small detachment or who go off to fight their own small battles, return to the battlefield to find that they have lost not only the battle but the war.

Much work has been done by President Bush and by our Prime Minister in particular to bring about a coalition of many countries throughout the world. Many people are trying to undermine that coalition. Many are working through the media in the middle east. Many are trying to do so through riots in Pakistan. There are Palestinians fighting in the occupied territories. In the coming days and weeks, we will hear about more riots and about attacks on embassies—possibly those of the United States or our own. All those people want to destabilise the coalition, but in doing so they would be giving victory to the enemy.

Iraq would love the alliance to attack it. I am fairly certain that there will be activity at the edge of the southern and the northern no-fly zones to provoke alliance forces to drop bombs and missiles to destroy targets. I would not be surprised if missiles were placed close to civilian targets. The Iraqis have done it in the past; they did it in the Gulf war. They claimed when the missile was attacked that civilians had died there. They want to undermine the coalition in seeking a victory in a struggle that they lost many years ago.

I urge hon. Members who wish to appear to be bold and upstanding—to be bigger and more macho than anyone else—that they are like the elephant walking towards the elephant trap. Those who enter the elephant trap are bound to give Osama bin Laden victory, and that we must resist.

10.40 pm
John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington)

I must explain my constituency interest. The constituents of many west London Members will be starting their shifts at Heathrow tonight. With Heathrow a target, there is concern that we tackle terrorism in the long term to make all our communities safe.

I was interested by the comment of the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) about the broad agreement in the House about concerns and approaches, the sadness, and the general welcome for the cautious approach that has been taken. He also said that continuous reference was made to a just war, which my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Pound) also mentioned. If we are to tackle terrorism in the long term, it is not ourselves whom we need to convince that this is a just war but the young men and women in north Africa, Pakistan, Iraq, the middle east and Palestine.

Every action that we take in the coming weeks needs to be guided by the principles of a just war. Our concept of a just war goes back to Augustine, Aquinas, Vittoria, Grotius and others and formed the basis of the charter of the United Nations. They are also the principles laid out in the Koran. The first principle is that there has to be just cause. Seven thousand dead is a just cause for pursuing and ensuring that we bring to justice the people who perpetrated that atrocity. However, many in the countries that I have mentioned do not believe that the deaths justify the invasion or bombardment of a whole country.

The second principle of just war is right intention. The motive has to be the pursuit of a just cause. We cannot bring in other motivations at this stage if we want to describe the present conflict as a just war. So, for example, we cannot broaden it to a turkey shoot at the Taliban because we would undermine the support for a just war in the very countries that could create the next generation of terrorist suicide bombers. We cannot broaden it to a battle against Iraq. I was worried by the reference made by the Secretary of State for Defence to Afghanistan as a priority target, which implied that other targets might be pursued. If we pursue Iraq at this stage, we will destabilise the whole region and create the next generation of suicide bombers who will come to Heathrow and elsewhere.

The third principle is that there must be proper authority. The United Nations resolution gives us some authority, but we should go the extra mile. This is not some pacifist approach. I am not a pacifist, but we have to convince the whole Arab world at every level that we have just cause. The international court has been stalled by the United States of America. Perhaps we should suggest a special United Nations commission to prepare the indictment to start legal action under international law against the perpetrators. In that way, we would convince everyone that we were pursuing the terrorists according to the process of law.

The next principle is last resort. One does not go to war unless one has pursued every alternative mechanism. I do not believe that ultimatums are diplomacy. The shooting war has now started. The tactically correct approach in the coming weeks may be to offer an interval in which we could go the extra mile to demonstrate that the Taliban have another opportunity to meet the demands that we have put to them. If nothing else, that would consolidate the support that we already have.

The final principle of just war is proportionality. That is not just about a body count or the numbers dead on a quid-pro-quo, eye-for-an-eye basis. In proportionality, under the just law concepts, there is complete immunity for non-combatants. One cannot have just cause to react to the massacre of innocents with a further massacre of the innocent.

Of course we need to consider whether the mechanisms that we are using at the moment will ensure the immunity of non-combatants. However, we must also recognise that the concept of proportionality applies to the life that we shall bestow on the refugees and to the potential for destabilising a whole region—not just during limited periods of military activity but in the long term—and that regional instability will eventually destabilise whole sections of the world.

Those who have argued that this is a just war have not convinced many throughout the world, and if we do not convince them, we shall suffer the whirlwind in the long term, in our own constituencies, in our own society, when the next generation of terrorists emerges. I believe that the long-term interests of this battle against terrorism are best served by bringing the shooting war to an end as quickly as possible.

Mr. Salmond


Ms Stuart


John McDonnell

I give way to the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond).

Mr. Salmond

There is a final criterion of a just war—jus ad bellum—which is that there must be a good chance of success. Would the hon. Gentleman like to comment on that?

John McDonnell

I was just coming to that conclusion. I believe that unless we reinforce our mandate, unless we demonstrate proportionality to the whole world, unless we can demonstrate just cause, right intention, proper authority and proportionality, we shall fail, perhaps not in the short term, but in the long term, and the long-term consequences will be felt in my constituency.

10.46 pm
Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold)

I am delighted to be able to catch your eye during this important debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) made a thoughtful speech. The House should be focusing on the concept of proportionality. The events of 11 September were probably the worst terrorist atrocity against a civilised nation that we have ever known and we are in uncharted waters, but we certainly do not want to do anything that would destabilise the region.

In my question to the Prime Minister, I praised him for his action, combined with that of President Bush, in building the broad-based coalition, especially among the front-line Islamic states. It is very important that we keep all those states on board.

One thinks with admiration of the bravery of General Musharraf of Pakistan. I have visited Pakistan and travelled right up to the front line, and I know the considerable difficulties that the Pakistanis face. The Pakistanis and Iranians already have 3.5 million refugees between them, and they are likely to face many more. We should continue with every possible aspect of the humanitarian effort and with every other effort that we can to help states such as Pakistan. Its debt-to-GDP ratio is enormous. Its people are among the poorest in the world. I hope that, at the very least, one outcome of the conflict will be that we not only keep it on board but eventually bring a better quality of life to the people of that very poor country.

I praised the United States, which has shown tremendous restraint. The building of the broad-based coalition is most important. We should have specific, achievable objectives for this military action. We should aim to use democratic means backed up by military action, by which I mean that we should aim to bring Osama bin Laden and his colleagues to an international court for trial. That must be the ultimate aim of democratic states. We should not be aiming simply to kill these people by undemocratic means. Although such deaths might be an unintended consequence of the military action that we are taking, our ultimate aim should be to bring those people to trial in an international court and a democratic country. I am sure that many other people in Afghanistan—leaders of the Taliban regime—will be declared international criminals and should be brought to trial.

I have some first-hand experience of the brutishness of the Afghani regime as some of the hijackers who brought an aeroplane to the United Kingdom last year were put in a camp in my constituency. I spoke to them through an interpreter, and they described the very brutal regime under which they had been living. It might be useful for the House to understand what that regime has done. The Taliban have burnt all the books in the libraries and destroyed all the schools. They do not allow any of their people to go to school. They do not allow Afghani women to set foot outside the house unless they are fully covered and accompanied by their husband. Women are certainly never allowed into someone else's house. The poor people of Afghanistan are living under that type of regime.

We therefore have to be careful about our military and other objectives in Afghanistan. If we leave a vacuum in the area, a much worse situation could well succeed the current one. We have to be clear in the objectives that we set ourselves.

We must also maintain the broad-based coalition that has been built. I have just returned from a trip to China, which I shall register as an interest. It was interesting to talk to some of the top communist officials. Although they were very supportive of the broad-based coalition to act against terrorism, they made it clear that they would not support the coalition if large numbers of innocent civilians were caught up in the action. Although it will be a difficult balancing act to keep on board countries such as China and Pakistan, it is essential that we do so. We will be in a much more difficult position if the coalition collapses.

We also have to be very careful to keep on board the front-line states, particularly the Islamic ones. As the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington said, if we embark on military action that is seen to be disproportionate and start to lose coalition members—especially the Arab states—we could find not only that the region has been destabilised, but that many more bin Ladens have arisen as a consequence of our action. That would clearly be a most unfortunate consequence.

We must be careful not only about that but about extending the action to other countries, such as Iraq and South Yemen to name but two possibilities. If we become embroiled in a larger front—any military strategist would say that one should not become involved in a too-large front—we will get into difficulties. Although we must pursue terrorism to the nth degree, we must also be careful about how we do it.

I pay great tribute to our armed forces, as many hon. Members have. I participated in the armed forces parliamentary scheme and spent time with the RAF. Hon. Members saw how, even before this military action, it was already overstretched. As a consequence of this action, our armed forces are likely to be even more overstretched. Now, armed forces members will have to spend even more time away from their families. Their families will not only be very concerned about them, but have to endure the absence from the household of their breadwinner. I was therefore pleased to hear the assurances of the Prime Minister and the Defence Secretary that the armed forces will be given whatever resources they need.

Many hon. Members have mentioned humanitarian aid. I think that it is critical that we should continue every possible effort to get humanitarian aid into Afghanistan. Although it will be difficult to deliver aid, surely it will not be impossible to do so once our armed forces are in place. It will not be impossible to hire Afghani drivers to take aid from Pakistan to Afghanistan. We do not want to cause those very poor people more suffering than is strictly necessary by the military action. I am sure that it will be possible, using the available military resources of the United States, the United Kingdom and other countries, to get resources into Afghanistan.

I also urge the Secretary of State for International Development to say something about what she can do in terms of resources for the huge number of displaced people. I have seen them in the camps and they live in appalling conditions.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I call Mr. John Austin.

10.55 pm
John Austin (Erith and Thamesmead)

Like most hon. Members, I heaved a sigh of relief that there was not an immediate and ill-thought-out response from the United States after the appalling atrocity of 11 September. It is comforting that there has been such restraint and I join in the tribute that has been paid to our Prime Minister's contribution to putting together the international coalition. It was important to get resolutions 1368 and 1373 crafted and I welcome the assurance given this evening that, under article 51, the United Nations Security Council has been informed of our actions. I hope that it will continue to be so at every step of this engagement and that the UN will be brought much more into play in this issue.

I also welcome the clear statements by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition that this is not in any sense a war against Islam. As the Arab newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat says: Terrorism doesn't have a race, religion or nationality … The perpetrators must be brought to justice, but also be treated as a tiny minority. Everyone understands the US is entitled to take action. It is time for resolve but also wisdom. This should not be turned into a clash of civilisations. Our own Muslim communities here in Britain were among the first and the most outspoken in their condemnation of the atrocities of 11 September and I welcome the Prime Minister's meeting with the Muslim Council of Britain and others.

We need to keep all the partners in the coalition together, but we need also to keep our own Muslim communities informed and on board. The Greenwich Islamic Centre and Woolwich mosque in my constituency were among the first to express their condemnation of this appalling atrocity. This is not a war against Islam, but we in this country need to wage a war against Islamophobia.

In that respect, the outburst from Baroness Thatcher, which echoed the racist language of Mr. Berlusconi and the similar intemperate Islamophobic utterances and anti-Arab racism in The Daily Telegraph, did great damage to good race and community relations here and damaged the ability to keep the coalition together.

Although my Muslim constituents support action to combat terrorism, they recognise only too well that the support from Islamic countries and in the Arab world in particular could rapidly decline in the wake of pressure from and unrest in their own communities. The hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) referred to the difficulties for the Government of Pakistan, but countries such as Jordan, which have said that they support the international efforts to combat terrorism, stress the necessity for restraint in respect of inflicting losses on the innocent civilians of Afghanistan.

Lebanon has stressed its concern, saying that the UN must play more of a role, and Ghazi Afridi, the Lebanese information Minister, hopes that these strikes remain targeted and limited … otherwise they will spark feelings of anger and grief which will be difficult to control … by countries whose stability cannot be said to withstand every shock. Syria has supported the strikes, but says that their success depends on getting Israeli leaders to "respect the international law" with regard to Palestine.

Muslims in my constituency share the anger of their brothers and sisters about the international community's failure to resolve the conflict in the middle east and the failure to make progress in Kashmir. They also express concern about the situation in Iraq. It may be that they see thousands of children dying in Iraq. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Kelvin (Mr. Galloway) may place all the blame on sanctions and I know that our Foreign Secretary would say that the blame rests fairly and squarely with Saddam Hussein. I happen to believe that the truth lies somewhere in the middle, but the perception in the Arab world is that children in Iraq are dying because of sanctions. We must be aware of that perception.

I want to use the "P" word—Palestine. Of course the Prime Minister was right when he said that Osama bin Laden has no interest in resolving the middle east conflict. It is in his interest to prolong and intensify that conflict, but its continuation, the illegal occupation of Palestine and the failure to make progress in the peace process provide a fertile recruiting ground for Osama bin Laden and threaten continued support for the coalition. That is why two things are essential to the solidarity of the coalition against terrorism.

First, we must ensure that any military response is measured, targeted and proportionate. The deaths of innocent civilians in Afghanistan as a result of military intervention would lead to the protests in Peshawar being repeated in cities and towns throughout the Muslim world and could destabilise the Governments who, at the moment, support the international coalition. We also need to build on diplomacy and ensure that development aid gets through. I fully support the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart), who said that we need to think now about what will happen afterwards to rebuild Afghanistan. I hope that consideration of a UN protectorate is on the Government's agenda.

Secondly, we need to deal with the issue of Palestine. It cannot be left to negotiation in which Israel effectively has a veto over any process. Under Sharon, the most extreme, fanatical and fundamentalist groups have returned to the centre stage of Israeli politics. This is the man who was responsible for the massacres in Sabra and Chatila. We ought to have an international criminal court. That is where Osama bin Laden should be tried; it is where Saddam Hussein should be tried, and it is where Ariel Sharon should be tried.

We need to build a coalition to support the ratification of the International Criminal Court so that we can have a civilised response to the evils of terrorism throughout the world, whether it is the terrorism of Osama bin Laden or the state terrorism of Ariel Sharon, Tansu Ciller and Saddam Hussein.

11.1 pm

Geraint Davies (Croydon, Central)

There has been a great deal of discussion tonight and I am sure that we are all persuaded by it, but there are those in the communities that we represent who may not accept that this action is justice, not revenge. They may not accept that we have no choice but to act against terror or be attacked. There are those who think that these are issues between races or faiths. We must continue to talk to our communities about what has happened.

We all know that 7,000 people of different races and religions were needlessly killed. We all know that if different means of destruction had been available to the perpetrators, that number could have been 70,000 or 700,000. It is important that we remind people that it was nearly a month before action was taken, because there are those who think that it was almost immediate, whereas we know that a coalition has been built on a humanitarian strategy and the need to find political solutions, as well a commitment to achieve justice on the basis of evidence.

Overwhelming evidence against bin Laden has been emerging. Some of that has been placed in the public domain, but there are those who say that they have not seen all the evidence and do not accept the argument that someone might be shot if all the evidence were made public. We have now heard from bin Laden himself that, in his view, the events in New York were God's actions and therefore good, but still there are those who are uncomfortable with the proportionality and nature of the response. They argue that it is against Islam, even though Muslim leaders in Saudi Arabia and at home have said that the terrorist actions defamed Islam and Muslims' reputation in the world. The Muslim Council of Britain said that Muslims must be in the vanguard of the movement to achieve justice following those crimes against humanity.

We know that bin Laden thinks that all Jews and Americans, whether civilian or military, are legitimate targets. We ought to remind any hotheads in our local communities of that fact. We should remind them also that in Bosnia, Kosovo and Kuwait, we acted to defend Muslim communities, and we will do the same in Afghanistan.

Years of drought, war and misrule in that country have left people facing a humanitarian disaster of apocalyptic proportions as the winter approaches. We have been told by many speakers that, even before the events of 11 September, there were 4 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan and Iran, and that 7 million Afghan people were dependent on aid, in part because so many women are uneducated and unable to find work for themselves. I am glad that Britain is giving an extra £55 million in aid, and that George Bush last week announced $320 million in aid. It is important that the UN should now get a grip and provide refugee camps with the access, funding and administration that will enable people to escape the horrors of war.

Our commitment is to root out bin Laden and his terrorist network, and to avert a humanitarian disaster. However, we must also give a commitment that we will play our part in providing a lasting peace in Afghanistan and in creating an opportunity for renewal there. We must not make the mistakes that the Soviet forces made when they withdrew 10 years ago and left behind civil war and carnage in a country awash with small arms. After the Soviet forces had gone, fundamentalism—initially in the guise of the Northern Alliance—was on the rise. The Northern Alliance now appears to want our support, but it really only wants our arms and air power so that it can resume committing the war atrocities that it used to commit.

We should build a lasting peace in Afghanistan, in which all ethnic and religious groups are represented. We should also, in the aftermath of our action, get involved in the country's economic renewal. The international community should give its support to schools, hospitals and economic renewal.

Last time, we simply left Afghanistan without rebuilding strong and neighbourly relationships with Iran and Pakistan, which had to pick up the pieces and the refugees. If we do the same this time, the peace will not be lasting, for, in time, another bin Laden will emerge.

It is important that change come from within, so that lasting reconciliation can be secured, in Afghanistan and in the middle east in general. In that way, we would be able to demand that an independent Palestine be established alongside Israel.

Our immediate priority is to overcome bin Laden and to avert a humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan, but our lasting commitment in a shrinking world is to admit our vulnerabilities while accepting our responsibilities. In that way, we can hope to push forward peace, hope and justice instead of war, fear and terror.

Finally, it is important that we, in the community of communities that is Britain, should strengthen our resolve to work together. We must condemn those who divide us and stoke up hatred on the back of catastrophe. Prejudice cannot be tolerated, regardless of the community from which it comes. This is a testing time for people in all communities. We must lead by example, at home and abroad, and in so doing celebrate the fact that there is hope for the future of Britain and the world, and for all people and children everywhere.

11.8 pm

Mr. Frank Roy (Motherwell and Wishaw)

On 11 September, nearly 7,000 people from more than 60 countries had their lives snuffed out by acolytes of terror who showed no regard for the main religious ethos, which recognises the sanctity of life.

On that fateful day, only four short weeks ago, 10,000 children lost a mother or a father—the light that would have guided them through childhood to adulthood. All parents will recognise the sheer horror faced by those children over the past four weeks, a horror that is compounded by bewilderment. Those children will have regarded their parents as heroes, and they will be asking why people should have committed such a gross act against them.

On 11 September, life took a different twist, and not only for the victims in New York, Washington DC or Pennsylvania. It took a different twist for all hon. Members and for all our constituents.

I consider myself to be streetwise, and images or even the reality of violence do not shock me easily. But who will forget watching the images of 11 September, as I did, in my living room, with my family? I felt shock, bewilderment, and repugnance towards the hijackers. I wondered what made people commit such atrocious crimes in the name of religion. Their actions had nothing to do with their religion.

On 11 September, thousands of men and women, sons and daughters, aunts and uncles, husbands and wives woke to up to another day in their lives. Little did they know that it was the last day of their lives, which would be cut so tragically short. As I watched the images and discussed them with my family over the next few days, I tried to imagine being in those buildings on that day, looking out of the window and seeing an aeroplane coming towards me at more than 500 mph. It is beyond belief. Let us try to imagine being on the hijacked airliners and knowing, as the passengers knew, what could happen. Disbelief, shock and incomprehension are the response. We cannot comprehend how those people felt.

That is why yesterday's action must be supported and defended by all hon. Members. Operation Enduring Freedom will be a testing time for us all, especially the men and women of our armed services. Two weeks ago, I was lucky enough to visit a hillside on the Albanian-Macedonian border to witness at first hand the work of British troops in Operation Essential Harvest. The area was awash with arms that were being fed to terrorists. Albanian villagers told me that some arms, including kalashnikov rifles, could be picked up for $25 in the local market.

I spoke at length to an ethnic Albanian Muslim Member of Parliament, who told me about the extent of the good work that our armed services had done. He acknowledged their courage, devotion to duty and professionalism. I also spoke to some of the troops there. I asked a soldier what he thought that he should be doing now that they were approaching the end of their exercise. He replied, "I wish I could stay here to see a logical conclusion to our work."

Operation Enduring Freedom must ensure that millions of Afghans see a logical conclusion to current events in their country. I hope that the free world has an endgame strategy, which sets up a United Nations protectorate, lets Afghans discuss matters among themselves and helps them to bring their country back to some semblance of order.

The endgame strategy must also include the poppy fields of Afghanistan. They are the killing fields for many young people in our country and the western world. Seventy-five per cent. of the market comes from Afghanistan; 90 per cent. of the heroin in this country originates from Afghanistan. In the following days, weeks and months, we must ensure that the poppy fields stop sowing the seeds of misery, which transcend borders and affect our constituents.

The men and women of our armed forces deserve our full support and prayers. Those men and women are striving to defeat terrorism and to take terrorism out of the lives of so many innocent people. We wish our forces well and send them the message that through their bravery over the next few months, peace and freedom in the name of religion, honesty and integrity must prevail.

11.15 pm
Mrs. Caroline Spelman (Meriden)

I begin by thanking the Secretary of State for International Development for being present tonight. We were hoping to have the opportunity for a debate with her last week. Tonight's debate has shown how important it is for her to be in the Chamber, as her area of responsibility is a key aspect of the current crisis.

I am keen to leave the right hon. Lady the lion's share of the remaining time, as she has indicated her willingness to answer questions on the subject of the humanitarian crisis and more generally, and it seems that this will be the last parliamentary occasion that we shall have for a week to put questions through her to the Government. Now that military action has started, it is a tense and difficult time and it is good that we have the opportunity to raise such questions.

I am only sorry that the debate is taking place so late at night and that the gentlemen and ladies of the press have gone. I often feel that when we have debates in which there is a strong consensual tone—when, together, we are feeling our way towards the right response—that is the time when Parliament is at its best, yet I fear that we are talking among ourselves this evening.

For the past four weeks we have tried as an Opposition to be unstinting in our bipartisanship, and have supported the allied effort to track the perpetrators of the attacks in America. My contribution tonight will be in the same constructive spirit, infused with a natural sense of compassion for the victims of starvation and war in Afghanistan, the victims of the bombs in America, and the families of the service men and women who are putting their lives on the line for us.

I place on the record a tribute to our American allies who, through their restraint, have given the world time to think and to consider the best way to tackle terrorism while limiting the damage to innocent people. We have had time to realise that there are no quick fixes and that we must be in for the long haul. We have seen other creative ways of hitting terrorists where it hurts—through their financial supply.

During this thinking time, we keep asking why—why would intelligent, educated men who have lived among us for several years want to fly aeroplanes into buildings at the cost of their own lives and the lives of many others? That bears all the hallmarks of cult behaviour. Bin Laden as a cult figure can be seen in his true context. My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Richard Ottaway) described that cult as a narrow, aggressive sect that does not represent Islam. Bin Laden would like a holy war, but we have no war with Islam or the Afghan people, only with terrorists like him who claim innocent lives.

Within hours of the twin towers being felled, people understood that one of the underlying causes was that terrorists had been allowed to exploit others' abject poverty and turn it into hatred against the west. International development has now risen up the agenda because of the scope that it offers to prevent that from happening again, and we must keep it there until poorer nations can see for themselves that we are trying to help. That is not to say that someone who is poor is more likely to become a terrorist; of course that is not true. However, if someone is poor, he is vulnerable. That is why we must help.

The tragic events in America have made strange bedfellows of the rest of the world, with former adversaries now joined in alliance against the scourge of terrorism. The lion has, indeed, lain down with the lamb—America with Russia and China, and now Pakistan and India. They are new allies with a common purpose.

Britain is in a unique position to help: our history confers such a responsibility on us. We enjoy a special relationship with America, a partnership with Europe and strong ties with the Commonwealth. We must use that influence, above all, with a sense of humanity and responsibility.

The refugee crisis is here and now. Our war effort will not be helped unless we get the care and treatment for the refugees right. We welcome the fact that the Government will spend an additional £25 million on the crisis, but announcing the money is not the same as putting clean food and water in the hands of a starving refugee. Aid agencies have recommended that the internationally agreed standards of the Sphere project should be used to ensure that refugee camps have enough food, water, shelter and sanitation, so I should like to ask the Secretary of State for International Development whether she can reassure the House that those international standards will be enforced.

I am sure that the right hon. Lady is aware of the reports on the conditions in the refugee camps in Pakistan—"makeshift" was the word used earlier. We should not blame Pakistan for that, for without adequate international support it cannot be expected to bear the burden of 2 million refugees—a figure that rises by thousands every day.

Our view is that no country should have to bear a disproportionate burden; it is a shared responsibility. We have the resources and capability to ensure that the camps, and the new camps, are brought up to acceptable international standards. The sight of men, women and children struggling in the squalor of refugee camps is as bad as that of the innocent victims of military action.

Pakistan will not feel encouraged to open its borders unless the international community can ensure that it will not be swamped by refugees. The United Nations estimated that 30,000 refugees were massing on the border with Pakistan, but it did so on 27 September and I wonder whether the Secretary of State has more up-to-date figures. We need to know the likely scale of the problem.

We should not overlook the fact that Iran has more refugees than Pakistan. Fewer of them are in refugee camps; most have been diffused into the population, but the possibility of unrest in Iran could be as great as that in Pakistan. Given that Iran is suspicious of any military action, what are the Government doing to ensure that the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan does not become an intolerable burden on the Government of Iran?

Now that military action has begun, we must urgently consider how humanitarian and military action can take place simultaneously. That must happen because only a four-week window is left before the onset of the Afghan winter.

Given the Taliban's legacy of disrupting essential humanitarian aid and stealing the World Food Programme's food stocks and their manifest lack of care for their own people, delivering aid into Afghanistan will now be very difficult. What assurances can the Secretary of State give to the House that the aid will not fall into the wrong hands and fuel the Taliban war effort?

It has been announced that 37,000 food rations were dropped yesterday, and the Prime Minister said in his statement that 5,000 tonnes of wheat had been delivered, but does the right hon. Lady accept that that amount would have to be substantially increased to avert a disaster? The UN estimates that 7.5 million Afghans depend on food aid and that 1.6 million face starvation. The crisis is, therefore, several times the size of that which we abhorred in Kosovo.

The awful truth is that, before 11 September, Afghanistan already had the worst refugee crisis in the world, with 4 million refugees in the region and more than 1 million internally displaced. However, I got the impression from the statements this afternoon that we are in danger of giving up on the difficulty of getting aid into the interior. We must not give up on the refugees there. A United Nations spokesman said tellingly: Their grip on survival is definitely slipping. We need to get the numbers into perspective: 20 million people are still left in Afghanistan.

I talked to the Christian Aid workers recently returned from Afghanistan and I was shocked to learn that following three years of drought, the water table is 57 m below ground. I had to check that figure—I thought that they meant 57 ft. It means that women and children are unable to haul up water and they lack the equipment to pump it up.

The aid agencies make a very important point, and it is important to share it with the House. They strongly desire to keep people in their villages where they have shelter and where they can be in place to plant next year's crop. Their all fleeing to refugees camps will only exacerbate the problem that we have at present.

What will the Secretary of State do to ensure that people are enabled to stay in their villages? Does she accept that the air drops may miss the refugees as they flee from their established communities and that road convoys stand a better chance of intercepting the refugees before they leave home?

Nobody is ever a willing refugee. Refugees have fled famine and oppression and most would like to return home. We have a duty to ensure that they are able to return. As the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Mr. Shaw) said, we have to create that hope.

As an Opposition, we have said several times that we must be prepared to rebuild Afghanistan. That is the best way we have of demonstrating that the west has no war with ordinary Afghan people. We have all seen the pictures of Kabul even before the bombing started. It had been reduced virtually to rubble by 20 years of war, and the present military action is bound to cause more damage, so reconstructing the infrastructure of the country will be vital to putting it back on its feet.

We must keep these long-term results of the action firmly in our sights. Weak, unstable countries are the tinderbox of conflict and have proved a seedbed for terrorism. What will the Secretary of State do to ensure that the people of Afghanistan and the millions of refugees in Pakistan, Iran and the other neighbouring countries can look forward to a safe return? A country with a future presents less of a threat to world security.

This needs to be a shared responsibility. We have chosen to stand shoulder to shoulder with America to provide global leadership in the fight against international terrorism. Britain is at the heart of building an international coalition that bridges ideological divides. It can be used to set the example that restoring a homeland should be an integral part of solving a refugee crisis.

To win the war on terrorism we must not only re-establish the rule of international law but tackle the humanitarian consequences and do that well. By providing aid, decent camps and long-term reconstruction, we will help to maintain long-term peace. The new humanitarian coalition is our best chance of bringing that about and, then, from this awful tragedy, we can wrest some good.

11.29 pm
The Secretary of State for International Development (Clare Short)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) on taking up her post. I hope that it will not embarrass her if I say that the Bishop of Birmingham, of whom I am enormously fond—he recently announced his retirement and has done much good service in our city—rang me to say what a fine woman she is. I look forward to working with her. As she says, not only is the task of seeking to make life better for the poor of the world one of the most honourable that one can have in politics, but we shall not have a safe world order in the future unless we make a bigger effort to deal with the poverty, suffering and injustice that exist in our modern world. I look forward very much to working with the hon. Lady to that end.

We have had an unusually thoughtful and high-quality debate. It is normal in times of crisis for the House to pull together, but almost all the contributions have been deeper than that; there has been a shared analysis and a deep consensus. Hon. Members agreed that military action was necessary to deal with the evil perpetrated in the United States and to take apart the terrorist network that is capable of inflicting the same kind of evil again in another part of the world. There was an absolute consensus across all the parties that we must give as big a commitment to humanitarian action, both in an emergency and to rebuild the countries that are suffering. There is a real commitment to global social justice and to dealing with some of the injustices, particularly in that region of the world, which do not excuse the terrorists' actions but feed the bitterness that misleads some young people to engage in that action.

I have been a Member of the House for 18 years and I have never seen such a deep consensus, built on an analysis rather than a coming together at a time of crisis. We all want to pay a warm tribute to our armed forces. We send them and their families our support, concern and thoughts at this difficult time.

It is important to remember that the Afghan people were facing a crisis before 11 September. They have suffered 20 years of war and three years of terrible drought, which have contributed to a huge loss of life and tremendous human suffering. Afghanistan is one of the world's poorest countries, with some of the world's highest child and maternal mortality rates. Disability is common—a consequence of the large number of landmines that litter the country after so many years of war.

Health and education services have virtually disappeared and women and girls have suffered grievously from the limitations of movement, health care, education and employment imposed by the Taliban. Clearly, that situation was deeply serious before 11 September. As has been said, there were large numbers of refugees in neighbouring countries even before the current crisis. Both Iran and Pakistan have been hosting large numbers of refugees, with insufficient international support, for a long time.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

The hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) asked a very important question: are we giving aid to Iran to help cope with the refugee problem in eastern Iran?

Clare Short

I can assure my hon. Friend that we are not just giving aid to Iran now; we have been doing so for many years. Many other countries have not been providing support to Iran and Pakistan for the large numbers of refugees that they have been hosting. The UK has been providing aid for many years and we are now increasing that aid to help the countries concerned to welcome refugees if they reach their borders and to ensure that they do not have to carry the burden of caring for those refugees.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

As I said in my speech, as Pakistan is one of the most heavily indebted countries in the world, will the Secretary of State say something about any possible relief of that debt, which would help Pakistan's poor considerably?

Clare Short

Indeed; I planned to come on to that. With its GDP per head and its level of debt, Pakistan is suffering as much as many of the highly indebted poor countries, but it does not qualify, for technical reasons that I shall not take the time of the House to explain. We need to persuade the international community to provide debt relief to Pakistan. Ironically, the economic reform package of Pakistan's military Government is better than that of any of the preceding so-called "democratic" Governments. We must help Pakistan now, but we must help the Pakistani Government sustain their reform so that they can build a better country for their people in the future, and debt relief must be part of that package.

Even before 11 September, the Taliban regime were making the humanitarian effort very difficult. They were harassing non-governmental organisations and making it difficult for United Nations agencies to operate. Before that date, we had made additional resources available because the drought was worsening and the level of need was so great. The difficulty was not in finding resources from the UK but in deploying them inside Afghanistan, because it was difficult to find agencies that could take help through to the people in need.

All that made the provision of humanitarian aid very difficult, even before 11 September. After 11 September when all international workers were withdrawn from Afghanistan and the World Food Programme convoys ceased, matters became very serious indeed. I must confess to the House that I and some of the professionals in my Department who have worked in this field for many years were fearful that in addition to everything else there would be famine in Afghanistan.

I am now heartened as I think that we can do much better. In the last week the World Food Programme restarted aid convoys into Afghanistan. As there are no UN workers in the country. commercial Afghan lorry drivers were used—the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) may have referred to this—so although it was impossible to give assurances of accountability, a judgment was made that it was better to get food to hungry people, even if some of it was diverted, than to send nothing at all.

The operation involved sending food to warehouses that were known to have existed previously, hoping that the distribution mechanisms were still in place as the Taliban had issued an edict that Afghan workers working for international agencies could not use telephones to communicate with those agencies—on pain of death. Although we could have no certainty that the food would he distributed, convoys went in rather than letting people go hungry.

The reports that came back after a week of that activity—before military action began—were most heartening. We reached the point at which 500 tonnes a day was reaching the warehouses and being distributed. Some of it might have been diverted but most of the food was getting to hungry people. We need to double that quantity for a six-week period, not just to feed people now, but to lay down stockpiles to carry them through the winter. That activity has been disrupted by military action, but I am hopeful that convoys will start again as soon as possible and that it will be practical to get the food that is needed into Afghanistan to ensure that the people there can get through the winter.

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, the UN issued an appeal for $600 million for six months to look after the refugees coming out of Afghanistan and to feed people remaining in that country. We now have that $600 million, but as the hon. Member for Meriden said, some countries make financial commitments that are not quickly deployed on the ground. The UK has a reputation for deploying its money quickly. In fact, almost the whole of our commitment has already been deployed. The resources are there, getting people into the camps. I agree that the existing camps are not adequate and we need to raise the standards as well as prepare for more people to come out of Afghanistan.

When the UN issued the appeal, it estimated that in addition to the refugees who are already in Iran, Pakistan and other neighbouring countries, 1.5 million people would need to be provided for. So far the numbers leaving Afghanistan have been very small and we do not know why. We do not know whether people were being prevented from moving, whether only those with transport and the ability to carry food with them have been able to leave and the most vulnerable and the most needy have been moving out of the cities and returning to their own villages rather than making for the borders.

We have to be prepared for both eventualities, which involve the same number of people. We have either to provide for them to arrive at the borders as refugees or get food to them in Afghanistan. We need sufficient flexibility to do whatever is required.

The priority now is to get the convoys moving again as rapidly as possible. I have been liaising with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and my Department will be communicating with the Ministry of Defence to make sure that we bring that about.

Hugh Bayley

Many hon. Members have made the point that co-ordinating the aid effort is a huge logistical task. I was pleased to hear my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announce last week that the UN Secretary-General has appointed Lakhdar Brahimi as a co-ordinator. What precisely will his role be and how will the British operation dovetail into a wider plan to make sure that aid is provided as effectively as possible?

Clare Short

The United Kingdom has been working for a long time to strengthen UN systems. At moments like this we have to rely on UN systems. We had to do so in Kosovo, and this is a bigger country and a more difficult situation. We put many of our resources through UN systems and do a lot of work to strengthen its management and effectiveness.

We already had a special representative to the UN Secretary-General, Mr. Vendrell, who was trying to deal with the political crisis in the region. He needs to be respected as a fine representative. Kofi Annan has now appointed Mr. Brahimi to co-ordinate and drive forward the humanitarian effort. He is a man of enormous standing and long experience. Clearly, there is a strong interface between the political and humanitarian, in that we need all the neighbouring countries to welcome refugees, to supply the help they need and to get convoys and supplies in. Mr. Brahimi will be working to bring about that sort of UN political and humanitarian co-ordination so that the international system works as well as it can.

The hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) asked when the House would be given details of the emergency legislation that has been promised. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will be making a statement to the House as soon as it returns. The details are being worked on now and full details will be provided to the House.

My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sarwar) spoke about the views of the British Muslim community and its natural concern about the crisis. He also spoke about its anger that Islam has been so misrepresented by Bin Laden. I found that in my constituency too. Good Muslims were angry that he should claim that their religion would justify such action and was not a religion of peace and justice. Like many hon. Members, my hon. Friend called on us to learn from the mistakes of the past. He said that we must stand by Pakistan and Afghanistan in the long term and not leave them with a crisis after the emergency is over. There is a strong commitment in all parts of the House and in what the Prime Minister said earlier, to stand by Pakistan and Afghanistan, not just through this crisis but in the future so that they can be rehabilitated and reconstructed and provide a better life for their people.

Many hon. Members talked about the centrality and importance of the role of the United Nations. Let me make it clear that we have had unprecedented consensus at the UN. There was a strong and unanimous resolution from the Security Council deploring the crisis and a similar resolution from the General Assembly, and we had them quickly. Since then, there has been a second resolution from the Security Council making it compulsory for all members to strengthen their laws to deal with terrorism. There has been more unanimity and strength in the UN's response to this crisis than to any other I can remember.

The hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor) wisely—

Mr. Salmond

The right hon. Lady indicated earlier that she would seek to have published the UK's response under article 51 of the Security Council. Is she also aware that the American response talks about further action in respect of other organisations and states? Given the restraint of President Bush and Colin Powell until now, that the opinion of many Islamic countries is on a knife edge and that the view in the presidential palaces is perhaps different from that on the streets, I cannot understand the wisdom of that statement now. I should like to know whether the Government agree with that statement and whether a statement of that sort is in their letter to the Security Council.

Clare Short

The hon. Gentleman asked earlier whether the letter from the UK would be placed in the Library. I have it with me and I can assure the House that it will be placed in the Library and be available to all hon. Members. I agree with his point, which was also made by the hon. Member for Esher and Walton, that we must not widen the objectives of the campaign. It must be a focused and just war with no civilian casualties. We must keep the global coalition together and go after those who perpetrated the monstrous acts in the United States of America. We must not look for all trails that need to be corrected over time. We must focus this campaign. That was the point made by the hon. Members for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) and for Esher and Walton, and we agree strongly.

Many hon. Members stressed the need for the United Nations to be involved in building a new Afghanistan. The Government are sympathetic to that argument, but all hon. Members should be clear that the Afghan people are very proud and have an independent spirit. It is not for us to lay down the exact mechanism that will bring about a better governed and more inclusive Afghanistan.

It is not an objective of the military campaign to bring down the Taliban Government as such; it is to bring to justice terrorists and prevent the sort of action that was brought about in the United States by the terrorist network. However, the Taliban Government and the al-Qaeda network are so intertwined that it is almost impossible to believe that one objective can be achieved without it bringing about the other. We are looking for a new government in Afghanistan, therefore, which needs to be inclusive of all its people and to be a much better government than the people of Afghanistan have seen for a long time. There is a strong possibility that the United Nations will be involved in that process, but we must respect the people of Afghanistan and their wishes.

Mr. Shaw

Does my right hon. Friend agree that 7 million people who have been beaten and abused for 20 years and who are starving are unlikely to have the impetus, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, to rise up against the Taliban and to say that they want a better future? Is it not up to the west and the alliance to provide that impetus? How do we test an impetus? If that test is not met, will we have another 20 years to wait for another bin Laden?

Clare Short

I am afraid that my hon. Friend was not listening too closely. I do not think that anyone has talked of the people of Afghanistan rising up. There is evidence of Taliban authority and control beginning to crumble in parts of the country. That is the optimistic scenario—that it will crumble and a new regime can be put in place.

I said that it was unlikely that the objectives of the military campaign could be achieved with the Taliban remaining in place, given that they have failed to respond to the international call to hand over those guilty of the terrorist actions in the United States. We are talking about a process to bring about a new inclusive government in Afghanistan and about ensuring that the international community does not impose a government that represents only some of the people—that there is an inclusive process, they are all consulted and all the different ethnic groups are included in the formation of a new government that ought in time to be renewed by democratic means.

The hon. Member for Croydon, South (Richard Ottaway) asked for an assurance about the policing allowed for London. I will ask a Home Office Minister to write to him about that matter. Importantly, although we are talking about military action tonight, he said that the campaign will have many different facets, including action against the money and drug dealing that feeds and strengthens the networks. The action against money laundering that he mentioned is crucial. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has just returned from a meeting of the G8 in Washington that focused on worldwide action to strengthen action on money laundering—broadly, criminality and drugs, but also the activities of terrorists. That is an important part of the work.

The hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) said, eloquently and rightly, that war is always an evil but that in this case it is necessary. That is the spirit of the House. We should never celebrate war. Sometimes, regrettably, it is necessary—as it is in this case—but it is a necessary evil and we should always try to minimise the number of people hurt in the process.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Roger Casale) said that we need to be determined to strengthen global institutions in the face of this sort of crisis, as well as keeping our commitment to global social justice. He is right and, again, that was the mood of the whole House.

The hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) called strongly for bombing Afghanistan with food to bring an end to its people's troubles, but she showed greatness of spirit when she accepted that military action was probably necessary too.

The hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) very effectively made the case for this military action being self-defence under the United Nations charter. It is about not only bringing those who are guilty to justice—important though that is—but stopping what happened happening again, possibly in our country.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy) spoke of his generation's expectation of real global social justice for all people in the world. We all say amen to that. The hon. Member for Fareham (Mr. Hoban) said that we must be clear that we are taking action not in revenge but in our own interests and those of the people of Afghanistan. That is right, too. Our objective is to make our own country and the world safe from such terrorism in the future—to bring about a change in Afghanistan that will also offer a better future for its people.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) talked about the need for a just war and perhaps revealed the kind of education that he had as a child, which I shared. We were thoroughly grounded in the principles of a just war. I heard a discussion on the radio one Sunday morning, in which the Islamic teaching on a just war was outlined. It absolutely parallels the principles that underpin Christian teaching. I am sure that all the principles—proportionality, there being no other way, and the requirement that the action can be successful—are fulfilled in this case. The campaign absolutely meets the principles of a just war and we have to ensure that people across the world understand that that is our approach and that it is our determination to carry this through to success.

The hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) raised the question of debt in Pakistan, and I have responded to that. He also spoke eloquently of how asylum seekers coming to his constituency taught him how brutal the regime in Afghanistan was, and underlined the need not to widen the objectives of the campaign to the pursuit of terrorism everywhere, which could weaken our effectiveness.

Many other hon. Members raised important points, and it is impossible for me to do justice to them all. My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, Central (Geraint Davies) said that we must not allow the stoking up of prejudice and enmity at home and abroad. Again, we have the determination across the House, with a few exceptions, to hold together our own multicultural community and reassure our Muslim communities that we stand for justice and echo the voice that we have all heard in our constituencies that Muslims find what happened in the United States of America abhorrent. This is not a battle with Islam but a battle against evil. Islam teaches that innocent civilians should never be killed in the course of warfare in the way that happened in the United States.

My hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Mr. Roy) talked about the need to destroy the poppy fields. Indeed. The poppies that are used to manufacture drugs that end up on our streets and cause mayhem, human suffering and criminality are grown because many people in Afghanistan have no alternative decent livelihood. They do not use the drugs, but they grow the poppies because they are the only crop that brings them a rate of return. We have to guarantee to the people of Afghanistan a better legitimate livelihood so that they can see a better future for their children. Then the drugs will cease to be grown and come on to our streets, and our communities will prosper and be rid of the monstrous evil and criminality that comes with drugs and drug addiction.

I want to end by underlining once again our determination not just to provide aid to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran to deal with the immediate crises but to increase the food and humanitarian relief getting into Afghanistan to see people through the crisis. We are determined to stick by Pakistan and Afghanistan for the long term, as hon. Members have called on us to do throughout the debate. Clearly, the role of Pakistan is crucial. We need to help that country with its short-term needs and economic reform, and with the transition to democracy. We have been engaged in that work for some time.

Hon. Members know that not very long ago there was a military coup in Pakistan. It was welcomed by almost all the people of Pakistan, and by our own communities living in the United Kingdom, because the two previous so-called democratic Governments had so misgoverned that country. There had been terrible corruption and blunder, absolute economic mismanagement and absolutely no social provision. The trends in maternal mortality and numbers of children in schools had gone into reverse.

No one welcomes a military coup, but General—now President—Musharraf has made it clear that he wants his Government to be a transitional Government to genuine democracy, better economic governance and better social provision for his people. We are determined to stay with the Government of Pakistan and help them to secure that aim. Already local democratic elections have taken place throughout the country. We provided technical support to ensure that those elections were well run, and they have been well run. The House might be pleased to know that that military Government made it a requirement that a third of the local government councillors would be women, and there are now more women in power in Pakistan, democratically elected, under a military Government than Pakistan has ever seen.

Pakistan has never previously completed any economic reform programme that it has agreed with the international community. Now, for the first time in its history, it has just completed an International Monetary Fund economic reform programme. Therefore we must help Pakistan in the short term, but we must stick with the reform effort in Pakistan.

When my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was in Pakistan, he made it clear that we are looking to provide budgetary support, when Pakistan's new poverty reduction and growth facility is negotiated with the IMF, to ensure that it can provide better healthcare and education for the poor of that country, and also that we are determined to do all that we can to help with the debt relief that was mentioned by the hon. Member for Cotswold. I have made it clear that some debt that was owed to the Commonwealth Development Corporation, which has now been taken on to the budget of my Department, will be written off.

We must stick with Pakistan right through this crisis and into the future. The people of Pakistan deserve better government and we must ensure that the present Government is a transition to better government.

Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, Pollok)

May I clarify the terms in which all these arrangements are being made with Pakistan? I welcome what is being said, but will there be an undertaking from the Pakistan Government that they will remove the terrorist camps in their own country, which have for a long time been directed into Kashmir and caused great death and destruction there?

Clare Short

The reform programme that we have with Pakistan is conditional on its driving forward the reforms that it has already agreed with the international community. We must help it in the short term, but occasionally when countries are in crisis, the international community comes in with short-term relief, which can sometimes divert a country from the reform effort, and then when everyone goes away its economic programme is in difficulty. That is what happened to Pakistan in the past, and we must ensure that it does not happen in future.

The present Government of Pakistan face difficulties from all sorts of pressures within the country. We have to understand that and stand by them. The question of the long-standing conflict over Kashmir is delicate and enrages. It has caused war between India and Pakistan in the past. We should all be determined to make progress on Kashmir, and we must respect the delicacy and complexity of that conflict, especially at the present time.

Before finishing, I want to discuss the need to help rebuild Afghanistan, and not just politically by putting in place an inclusive Government. Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world. We must have a long-term programme—a big engagement of the international community—to drive forward economic and social reform and enable the people of Afghanistan to look forward to a better future.

When I briefly left the Chamber to have something to eat, I learned that there have been demonstrations tonight across Pakistan and across the Arab world. The determination and unity of the House are impressive, and we have to stand together. However, we should not underestimate the difficulty, or the need to stand for global social justice. We have to explain what we are trying to achieve and carry it through to the end—

It being midnight, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

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