Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central): The right hon. Gentleman uses the word "terrorism", naturally enough in this debate, very often. Is it not time for an agreed definition of terrorism? Does he recall that the Government of whom he was a member could themselves have been accused of sponsoring and supporting terrorism in other countries?

Mr. Ancram: I shall treat the hon. Gentleman's last remark with the contempt that it deserves. He may welcome the fact that, the other day, the European Union produced proposals in which there was an attempt to define an act of terrorism, but he knows as well as I do that there are great difficulties, on a United Nations or wider basis, in securing agreement on what actually constitutes terrorism. We shall support the Foreign Secretary in any attempt that he makes to secure such a definition in the future.

Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Kelvin): Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that the Government of whom he was a member supported the mujaheddin holy warriors of the Northern Alliance, who gave birth to the Taliban, in their terrorist war against the Government in Kabul, which led us to this juncture in the first place?

Mr. Ancram: May I say to the hon. Gentleman, whom I have known for a long time, that I spent four years combating terrorism in Northern Ireland, and I need no lessons from him as to what constitutes a threat of terrorism. The House knows that what we are about today is a campaign to eradicate the virus of international terrorism because it threatens everyone—every religion, Government and nation throughout the world. We must continue to condemn those who seek to stir up religious or racial unrest on the back of 11 September. The origins of those outrages were not Muslim or Christian; they were not of any religion. Indeed, members of all faiths were the victims of them. Those evil deeds were the product of a perverted intelligence, and we must not allow them to drive wedges between people whose faiths are in fact about peace and ideals about human understanding. I support the Government's proposals to deal with that matter in future legislation.

The goal of freeing the world from the scourge of international terrorism can be achieved only if the international will exists. I pay tribute to the coalition that has been built up over the past three weeks, which is truly remarkable, and to the Prime Minister for his contribution to its formation. Last Friday's UN resolution was another

4 Oct 2001 : Column 699

milestone in the history of international co-operation. The coalition is the more remarkable—indeed, the stronger—for the fact that it is not homogenous but comprises different levels of participation and, if I may say so, of enthusiasm. At the same time, it is bound together by the common understanding that international terrorism is a virus that can destroy us all.

May I pay a special tribute to the Government of Pakistan, whose courageous stand will be central to the first phase of the fight against terrorism? They have stood up for what is right and we owe the people of Pakistan our support and help, not just in the short term but in the difficult years that may lie ahead. We understand the sensitivities of their position and we respect them.

The fight against international terrorism must have twin tracks. The eradication of terrorism, if it is to mean anything in the long term, must also mean the delivery of hope—the hope of delivery not only from the oppression of terror, but from the oppression of poverty and starvation. In Afghanistan the two are linked, because so much of the humanitarian crisis that we are witnessing is the result of the depredations of the Taliban—but the crisis is wider than that, and if we are to be credible in our fight against terror we must be credible in our fight against humanitarian disaster, too.

The United Nations has said that Afghanistan is facing a humanitarian crisis of unprecedented proportions. That is a problem that cannot be ignored; it needs to be aired on the Floor of the House, and the Government must respond to it.

Before 11 September, Afghanistan had been ravaged by 20 years of civil war. As a result there are now 4 million Afghan refugees in the region, and 1 million internally displaced people. Now we are told that a further 1 million are likely to flee to Pakistan, half a million to Iran and 100,000 to the central Asian republics.

Afghanistan is also a country ravaged by drought of appalling proportions. The harvest has failed for the fourth year in a row, and the United Nations expects 7 million people to become dependent on emergency food supplies. The stark truth is that we are now working against the odds and against the clock to avert a devastating famine.

The Government have announced emergency funds to cope with the refugee crisis. We welcome that, but serious questions remain about standards in the refugee camps, and we look to the Government to assure us that adequate steps will urgently be taken to ensure that the camps are clean and safe and that the basic dignity of the refugees will be respected.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge and Chryston): I am grateful that the right hon. Gentleman is devoting some of his time to the important issue of humanitarian aid. Does he agree that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development has given a tremendous lead, but that, as in other areas, if we act unilaterally we cannot solve all the problems that we want to solve? Because of their commitment, the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State are in a strong position to ask the rest of the world, especially the nations in the coalition, to make the same humanitarian contribution as we do—and that is just as important as addressing the problems that we are discussing today.

4 Oct 2001 : Column 700

Mr. Ancram: I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is correct to say that that crisis, like the terrorist crisis, must be dealt with on the basis of a wide coalition. I am also sure that this country, and the Government, have a role in leading the coalition in the direction that he would like. As I said at the beginning, I would have liked to hear from the Secretary of State for International Development in this debate. I hope that at some time in the future we can debate this serious issue, and hear from her.

The United Nations says that we have a six-week window to feed the hungry, and it is terrifyingly clear that there is no time for delay. We need to hear now that the funds made available will be spent without delay to alleviate hunger. In particular, I would welcome information about what steps are being taken internationally to secure as soon as possible the reopening of normal supply routes into Afghanistan. That will be the key to getting aid to those areas.

Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East): Might it be time for the international community to consider the policies of the Governments and alliances that impoverished and drove into further deprivation the people of nations with which we were in conflict? When we use those tactics against nations, rather than dealing with the problems of their leaders, we are feeding the monster.

Mr. Ancram: Obviously, part of what we seek to do internationally is to ensure that in dealing with the crisis of terrorism we also deal with some of the reasons why terrorists have been able to base themselves in those countries—but it would perhaps be beyond the bounds of the debate to start dealing now with the global aspects that the hon. Gentleman has raised.

The problem must be dealt with on the ground in Afghanistan. We shall support international actions to ensure that that is done, and we urge the Government to ensure that it happens as soon as possible.

We approach the debate today in a continuing spirit of bipartisanship and support of the Government's reaction to the crisis. However, I would like to pose one or two questions, and I hope that the Secretary of State for Defence will be able to respond to them. First, will he assure the House that where—as in the case of bin Laden—incontrovertible evidence may become available identifying other terrorist organisations or states sponsoring terrorism, the Government will take a similarly robust stance?

What is the Government's current position in relation to Iraq? For years, the regime has been publicly condemned as a major sponsor of terror and a constructor of weapons of mass destruction. Now, suddenly, we hear little or nothing about it. Do the Government support a course of action aimed at eradicating the virus of international terrorism within Iraq, and could that be part of a second phase in the fight against international terrorism?

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is evidence that Iraqi intelligence was involved in the first attack on the World Trade Centre in 1993? Will he continue to press the Government to

4 Oct 2001 : Column 701

reveal their attitude on whether Iraq has been actively supporting bin Laden and his terror network since that time?

Mr. Ancram: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding the House of that, and I ask the Secretary of State for Defence to respond to what he has said when he replies to the debate.

I have another question to ask. The overthrow of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan is apparently now a firm objective of the impending action. Will the Government tell us what specific plans there are to fill the political vacuum that will ensue, and who they see as the best alternative likely to achieve stability and peace in that region?

Next Section

IndexHome Page