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4.14 pm

Mr. John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan): Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for giving me an opportunity, albeit a brief one, to speak in this very important debate. I have been sitting in the Chamber for most of the day. The standard of most contributions was first class and the debate has helped us to develop a number of ideas.

In the short time that I have, I want to concentrate on one matter: the implications of 11 September for NATO. Along with other hon. Members, I am a member of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, which has an important summit this weekend in Ottawa. It will be the biggest gathering of transatlantic parliamentarians since the horrors of 11 September, in respect of which there are a number of issues that we must address as Members of the House and as delegates.

I have heard hon. Members refer time after time to the scale of what happened, but I sometimes think that it cannot sink in. I had the misfortune of seeing the events of 11 September unfold live on television, as I am sure many other people did. A television was switched on in the office at the time, and what we saw resembled the outtakes of a disaster movie. It did not look real. For many people, even after reading about what happened in the papers day after day, I do not think that the reality, implications and scale of what happened have sunk in.

As time has passed, the situation has, in some respects, got worse. After a few days, people are saying that it all happened over there in America and that they are glad that no action has been taken and that the Americans have sat back. However, the House must be absolutely clear that the implications of what occurred are enormous and unprecedented. A threshold was crossed on that day which will affect the security environment in which we live and the security threats that we face. Most importantly, its effect will be felt in the way in which we react and reconfigure our defences to confront the problem.

In 20 minutes, more innocent civilians were killed in New York than have been killed during 30 years of the horror of terrorism in Northern Ireland. Without the heroism of the emergency services and the courage of New Yorkers, more people would have been killed in that

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single event than have been killed through acts of terrorism—within the terms that are generally used to define it—in the history of mankind.

The implications are enormous. As a Parliamentary Private Secretary, I played a tiny role in discussing the strategic defence review with Back Benchers on both sides of the House. We considered the terrorist threat, just as NATO did, but it was nothing like what we confronted on 11 September. In the SDR and the foreign policy document that guided it, terrorism was seen as an asymmetric threat, alongside organised crime, drug dealing, environmental disasters and displacement of populations. After 11 September, however, it will have to be considered in a very different light.

NATO will also have to be considered differently. Under article 24 of the NATO strategic concept, we addressed in Washington in 1999 the fear of terrorist attacks and asymmetric warfare. Again, however, the scale and unexpectedness of what happened on 11 September was never once contemplated. It was never dreamed that a number of passenger jets, laden with fuel, would be used as weapons of mass destruction. We could forget missiles and the nuclear bomb; the scale of the destruction that occurred was the equivalent of that which would be produced by a small nuclear device. What took place was beyond human reason, which is what makes it so difficult for us to deal with it.

First, I ask Ministers seriously to consider formally revising article 24 so that it includes military actions as a legitimate response to terrorist threats from a body out of area. That must be written into the charter to make it absolutely clear for the future. Secondly, there has been much talk about the number of NATO allies that will participate in whatever action is taken, and about the inclusion of some countries and the exclusion of others. The truth is that most NATO allies were incapable of contributing to any sort of action because they do not have the necessary defence capabilities.

I believe that NATO will now have to review and redouble its efforts to ensure that member states achieve the defence capability goals that it set in Washington in 1999. It must ensure that, if future terrorist threats arise, we are in a proper position to respond in military terms. I do not believe for one second that military means alone will provide any sort of solution to such a threat, but we must consider the flexibility and mobility of forces, as well as their sustainability in distant fields of action. Most important, we must consider interoperability. Our forces must be able to communicate with each other. NATO must bear in mind that we could not send a force consisting of all those different member forces to Uzbekistan or the Persian gulf to mount a combined operation at such a distance.

We must also consider whether NATO now needs a specific anti-terrorist arm or unit within the alliance that can be called on, not in the event of something like this happening again but to prevent it from ever happening. Everyone suspects that we will not see the same atrocity and outrage again and that another asymmetric attack will take place—a completely unexpected attack, of an entirely different nature. That is the threat that we face, and I think we must consider the implications in our own review and our own foreign policy.

This is not a war on Islam. In Wales, we have the oldest Muslim community in the United Kingdom, and the oldest continuously existing mosque. When I met members of

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our Muslim community, they were unanimous in condemning what had taken place. One local leader, Mansour Ahmed, made it absolutely clear—we should bear this in mind—that he was a Welsh Muslim first and, by definition, a British Muslim first. The overwhelming majority of Muslims in this country are in absolute agreement with that.

Let us be careful, however. I want to touch on one final issue. I may be stating the obvious, but we should be aware—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. Time is up.

4.22 pm

Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking): Many may imagine my Surrey constituency to be a prosperous, middle-class area. In some respects it is, but many will not know that Woking contains the oldest mosque in the country and that a large number of people with a Pakistani Muslim background have been settled in Woking, contributing enormously to the community and its welfare, for some years.

I echo what was said by the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Smith) when I say that all my experience of conversing with dozens of Muslims in the Woking area suggests that we are talking not about a clash with Islam but about something entirely different. We are talking about a clash between those of good will from all religions and those of bad will, wherever they may be. I have spoken to the leaders of the Woking community in the past few days. They are very responsible—there is a seriously responsible imam. My Labour opponent in the last general election was a member of the mosque, and a more decent person one would never find, however far one travelled. He was a very good man indeed.

All those Muslims in Woking are united in their condemnation of what happened on 11 September. Never let us in this House feel that a wedge can be driven between us and those outside who are of good will. It is a united front that we must all show—and I speak on behalf of Woking when I say that the message from that constituency could not be stronger in support of what this Government are trying to do, with the rest of the free world.

About eight years ago, I formed the Immigration Advisory Service. It replaced the United Kingdom Immigration Advisory Service, and it exists in eight, 10 or 12 offices around the United Kingdom, giving free legal help and advice to those with rights of appeal under immigration law and those with asylum problems. It strikes me as odd, but we must realise that we in this country have probably the best voluntary sector in Europe—or the best Government-supported organisation, in terms of money—giving help to those with rights of appeal under immigration law. I do not just congratulate the Conservative Government on increasing IAS funding until 1997; I congratulate the last Labour Government on continuing to do so.

The organisation now employs hundreds of qualified lawyers around the country, giving the best possible advice to those with rights of appeal under immigration and asylum law. Many Members on both sides of the House will have had cause to send to the organisation

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constituents who were worried and upset. Long may it and what it stands for flourish: I believe that it will be called on particularly over the next few months.

Partly because of my connection with the IAS and, of course, my Woking interests, I travelled to Pakistan and Azad Kashmir not long ago. I visited a town called Mirpur. Some know Mirpur. It is a tough town. Many of my constituents originate from it and many return to it for holidays. While I was there, three people came up to me and said, "Mr. Malins, I am from Woking. What is happening about the position in so-and-so road?"

Two or three things struck me about Mirpur. We should never forget that it is a very troubled area. The nuclear experiments carried out by India and Pakistan not so long ago caused a great deal of worry to many people and illustrate the fragility of the situation there. The same can be said of Kashmir, where there is an on-going problem.

I was also struck by the sheer inhospitability of the climate. When I was there, the temperature was well over 40 deg centigrade. It is mercilessly hot at times, and the mountains were mercilessly difficult to climb up and down. It is a very bleak terrain, and Afghanistan must be the same as it is next door. Within a few weeks, the weather in Afghanistan will become much worse. It will be awful, and there will be a huge humanitarian need in that part of the world. I applaud anything that the Government do—I am sure that they will be supported throughout the House—in relation to humanitarian needs over the next few months.

I remark in passing that one of the scourges of our country—I say this with my judicial hat on—is heroin, which has such a terrible effect on so many of our youngsters who appear before me in court. Heroin is one of the nastiest things ever to have hit this country of ours, and one of the most destructive for young people. It is sad, is it not, that Afghanistan is, as far as I can see, the source of the heroin that comes to this country. We will have to watch out for that.

The area is troubled generally, however. All of us in the House must focus on the need, over the next few months, to ensure that we do what we can to help the people—an awful lot of them—who will be displaced by a combination of terribly sad events.

I have been in the House for a long time, and I know that we spend much of our time involved in party politics. I suppose that is the nature of our lives in this place. I believe that over the next few months the spotlight will be on the House as it has never been before and may not be again in our lifetime. We shall have to consider some of the most critical issues relating to asylum, terrorism and immigration. These are issues that cause high feelings and emotions.

The House must pass the test over the next few months. The best thoughts among us all must be allowed to coalesce to help us form a policy that will help to take us ahead. I have never felt—I am sure that I speak for many Members—such a heavy duty upon me as a parliamentarian to get things right over the next few months. We may have but one chance. We must all contribute as best we can in a spirit of utter co-operation.

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4.30 pm

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