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The Prime Minister: I will do so. One of the reasons why I will do so is for the sake of the victims of 11 September and their families. The families I have met who lost people on 11 September have, to a person, not wanted us to act out of revenge or to visit increased suffering upon others. They want us to make sure that, while we bring those responsible to justice, we do so in a way that minimises the suffering of innocent people and helps those in Afghanistan who are suffering under the Taliban regime. There are substantial reasons. The humanitarian action that we take is vitally important. There are huge difficulties involved in it, but it is important and, at the conclusion of the conflict, it will also be important that we stand by the commitments that we have given the Afghan people and that I have repeated today.
Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam): The Prime Minister has already acknowledged that some of the people who have been most terrorised by the actions of Osama bin Laden are members of the British Muslim community, who are naturally fearful about the impact on community relations. Many of them must now be concerned about the impact of the military action that bin Laden has brought down upon their friends and relatives in the affected region. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House whether he has plans to improve the advice and support facilities for British citizens and those resident in Britain who are of Afghan or Pakistani origin, who must naturally be very worried today and will be worried in the weeks ahead?
The Prime Minister: We understand their concern and worry. The Foreign Office and other relevant Government Departments are doing what they can to reassure people and to advise them. It is a difficult situation for people who are caught up in it, but we are doing what we can. We recognised early on after 11 September that this would be a problem and we will carry on doing what we can.
Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central): How concerned is the Prime Minister that so far practical support given by various Arab countries and, indeed, our NATO ally Turkey is considerably less than that given in the Gulf war? In that regard, how important is it to convince those Governments that when the pieces of the kaleidoscope stop turning the patterns and colours in the middle east will be somewhat different than they are today?
The Prime Minister: Those countries are giving us support, of course, but it is important that we carry on convincing people in the Muslim and Arab world about the nature of this struggle, why we are undertaking it and how it is important to see that alongside our commitment on the humanitarian front and ensuring that the middle east peace process is restarted and works. There is a
Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): Does the Prime Minister agree that it is of paramount importance to maintain the present broadly based alliance of countries throughout the world against terrorism and, therefore, it is essential to maintain diplomatic initiatives to explain to all our alliance partnersin particular, the front-line Islamic statesthat the specific military actions that we are taking are set against specific objectives? Does he agree that it will be even more important to maintain that diplomatic initiative if we consider that action against any country other than Afghanistan is necessary?
The Prime Minister: We should act only on evidence, but the hon. Gentleman's general point is right. It is important that we continue to persuade people in the Arab and Muslim world as to the nature of the conflict and why we are undertaking it. There is an understanding. For America or any of the other allies to stand aside after the slaughter of more than 6,000 people in such a terrorist atrocity as the attack of 11 September would be unthinkable. People in the Arab and Muslim world understand that. What they then need to understand clearly is that the action that we are taking is based on our genuine conviction and beliefsoundly basedthat bin Laden and the al-Qaeda network were responsible and that the Taliban regime is shielding them. I like to think that the way in which we have acted since 11 September should give them confidence.
We did not send out missiles on the first night just for effect. We considered carefully, although it was obvious that bin Laden was the prime suspect from the very beginning. We have assembled more and more evidence and given the time to try to ensure that the military targets are properly chosen. We have given the Taliban time to comply. They have had every opportunityit is not as if they could have been in any doubt as to the situation and what we were demanding. By the nature of our response we have been able to convince people, but I agree that we have to keep on doing that the entire time. We do it against the background of massive disinformation from the al-Qaeda network and those who want to provoke conflict between Islam and other countries.
Mr. Stephen Pound (Ealing, North): The Prime Minister has rightly given praise to our men and women in the front line, and I think that he speaks for the nation in doing so. Does he agree that there are also heroes on the home front preparing this nation for the most awful eventualities and that those heroes include those who guard us here tonight? Is he aware that this afternoon David Shelmerdine, the chief executive of the Scout Association, contacted my right hon. Friend the Minister for Police, Courts and Drugs, to offer all the 3,000-plus scout headquarters in this country should they be needed? Does he agree that that spirit of community is one of the reasons why we will never be defeated and why this civilisation is worth fighting for?
The Prime Minister: First, I pay tribute to the offer made on behalf of the Scout Association of its headquarters. Secondly, I echo my hon. Friend's sentiments, in this sense particularly. There are many
Mr. Paul Marsden (Shrewsbury and Atcham): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. There is growing disquiet that for the third time Parliament has been recalled yet hon. Members have been denied a vote on this war. Can you confirm to me that there will be no vote? Is it in order for hon. Members to vote on an Adjournment debate if similar occasions arise, when we are denied a substantive motion by the Government? [Interruption.]
Mr. Speaker: It seems as though the hon. Gentleman is getting advice already. Procedural advice is best given privately at the Chair. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to come to the Chair, I will give him some private advice.
Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Mid-Bedfordshire): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You rightly suggested that there should be an eight-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches because a large number of hon. Members wish to speak. Will you confirm that if short interventions are taken by speakers, time will be added on to their eight minutes?
The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made clear, last night British forces, acting alongside the United States armed forces, took part in the first phase of the military response to the attacks on the United States on 11 September. Firing submarine-launched Tomahawk missiles, they took part in a carefully targeted strike against Osama bin Laden, his terrorist network and military installations of the Taliban regime that is supporting him. He told the House earlier that we also assisted the United States by agreeing to its use of facilities on Diego Garcia. Indeed, we are assisting them in that same way tonight.
I am sure that the whole House will join me in paying tribute to our armed forces. In recent months, they have demonstrated time and again that they are among the very best in the world. We ask them to serve in difficult and demanding situations. We ask them to carry out dangerous missions and they do, without fail and always with great skill and ability.
Our armed forces' recent success in leading NATO's weapons collection operation in Macedonia exemplified everything that we have come to expect from them. I was privileged to meet the men and women of the Headquarters Task Force Harvest and the 2nd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment when I visited them in Macedonia last month. This is yet another example of British service men and women acting as a force for good in the world. We are rightly proud of their courage, their sense of duty, and their professionalism. They are rightly held in high esteem throughout the world.