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Geraint Davies (Croydon, Central): A Russian general recently said that in the hills of Afghanistan a man on a

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donkey is as effective as four men in a tank. Will the hon. Gentleman address the need to get the hearts and minds of the people of Afghanistan behind this process by offering them a vision of a political and economic renewal for the future of Afghanistan so that they know that this is a war not against them but against the terrorists?

Mr. Jenkin: That is exactly what I was referring to earlier. It is important that the aid package provides for the long term. It is the other side of the coin of the military action that is taking place.

We fear that the aid programme in and around Afghanistan will not be delivered. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman), the shadow Secretary of State for International Development, will wish to press her counterpart on those matters. How effective have been the air drops of food so far? When will it be possible to restore food convoys to the starving people of Afghanistan? Are we yet in a position to discuss what military support would be needed to ensure that food convoys were properly protected so that they could get through?

We must urge and pray for balance and restraint in the continuing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. It is worth reflecting that while the peace process was in progress over the past two years, Osama bin Laden was plotting 11 September, which was designed to destroy those hopes of peace.

The horrible freshness of 11 September will fade in our minds. Other political distractions will come to the fore. There will be some with opposing views who will try to sap the nation's resolve, but now it is the job of us all, including Opposition Members, to ensure that never again do we drop our guard.

This hour and every hour we remember our armed forces, alongside the Americans and our other allies, who are prepared and ready to do whatever they are called on to do. That is their job and they are devoted to it. We thank them for their devotion. Our thoughts and prayers will be with them and those whom they have left at home who love them every hour of every day.

We send our service men into danger, on to the streets of Northern Ireland, into the skies over Iraq and into the jungle of Sierra Leone. In the Balkans, our forces make up the greater part of NATO's bulwark for peace—in SFOR in Bosnia, in KFOR in Kosovo and more recently in the "essential harvest" of weapons in Macedonia. They trained for war so that they can keep the peace. They are war-makers only to be peace-makers. They are the finest in the world. On deployment or on exercise, they are doing what they love to do, but we should never take them for granted. God go with them.

7.52 pm

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston): This is the third occasion on which we have met in the House to discuss this matter, and some of the newspapers have suggested that it is time to stop talking and begin to speculate. It would be absolutely wrong at this moment to speculate because we have reached the point at which we have to focus on keeping together the coalition that has been built up over the past few weeks. Now is the time to test whether that coalition will deliver, and deliver not only words but actions.

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We have a clearly defined objective in the immediate term, which is to deal with international terrorists, as well as long-term objectives that have been mentioned by some hon. Members. Those long-term objectives should not distract us from the task at hand. People have talked about war. The traditional definition of warfare, and particularly of a just war, involves legitimate authorities fighting each other. These events have nothing to do with legitimate authorities.

In this case, an international conspiracy is fighting, not against a particular nation or authority but against an international order. Within that war, we will recognise some elements of traditional warfare, and yesterday's actions fall into that category, but there will be other elements, such as international terrorism and money laundering, that we will not immediately recognise as warfare. The Prime Minister, with the United States and our European allies, as well as some countries that a few weeks ago we would have had difficulty in recognising as allies, have formed a coalition to fight international terrorists. Many hon. Members, including myself, must express humility. I did not expect the United States Administration, and President Bush in particular, to be as thoughtful in their response and to wait as long as they did before they took action. On this occasion, I am grateful that I was wrong.

Some people would say that President Bush has followed in the great tradition of people such as Montgomery and Colin Powell, who said in the past that he would rather wait and get things 100 per cent. right. That is what we are trying to do. However, we need to remain resolved to deal with the application of force because we are now reaching a point that is very uncomfortable. We must face up to the means that we are willing to use to reach our ends. It is time to hold together.

While remembering the atrocities, we must ask how we deal with the ideas that gave rise to the Taliban and to bin Laden. Those ideas are fanaticism, which must be dealt with in a variety of ways. There are conflicting schools of thought about that. Denis Healey used to say that no idea has ever stopped a tank, and he was right. A French general said that one cannot ride on horseback into war against an idea. However, we need to deal with those ideas. We must use physical force, but in the long term we must deal with fanaticism, and with the fact that it is extremely inward looking.

Some hon. Members have mentioned last night's "Panorama". It was absolutely right to show the programme because it was made some years ago, when no one could accuse it of being warmongering propaganda, by an independent journalist, and it shows the atrocities committed by the Taliban. It was appropriate to remind us what has been happening in Afghanistan for several years and what kind of regime we are dealing with. We must remember those atrocities.

How do we change minds in the long term? We do it by reaching out to everyone with ideas. The Prime Minister said that he was proud of our armed forces, and I agree. However, I am also extremely proud of another institution—the BBC World Service. We need to shore up its facilities and programming at this time. It has been extremely responsive and has extended its coverage in a variety of native languages. We need to remind the BBC

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of its public service broadcasting responsibilities not only in the United Kingdom but through the World Service. I pay tribute to the World Service and encourage all hon. Members to allow it to develop further.

Britain has much to bring to the coalition. Limited comparisons can be made between Britain's actions in the second world war and our actions now against the Taliban. Britain's role was not only to defeat Nazism but to build a foundation for a civic society in what became West Germany, which is now part of a united Germany. That was a very long war. We must accept that it takes a very long time to rebuild a society that has had all its civic foundations, including education, destroyed or permeated by fanatics. We must not lose sight of the fact that this is not a traditional war like that of 50 years ago, but analogies can be drawn.

I remind the House that the short-term objective is very limited—it is to deal with international terrorists. Now is not the time to try to widen those parameters or to ask what the next step should be. We must focus on dealing with bin Laden and those who are associated with him and on keeping the coalition together. At the same time, we must work towards the long-term objective of reaching people's minds. I am sure that we will hear much more later about providing support for the people of Afghanistan to build a civic society. Those are not mutually exclusive aims.

I urge everyone here to remember that now is not the time to try to negotiate with people with whom we cannot negotiate. The left in particular should have learned that lesson from the 1930s. This is not warmongering; it is recognition of the point at which talking has come to an end and only action will speak. We are at that point now.

7.59 pm

Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford): Through the Secretary of State for International Development, I thank the Secretary of State for Defence for letting me know that he was leaving for Moscow tonight and for the useful defence and intelligence briefing that he gave my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West (Mr. Kennedy) and I this afternoon. That was extremely important.

I begin by offering the support of all Liberal Democrat Members for the actions undertaken by United Kingdom and United States forces in Afghanistan last night and tonight. I also unreservedly associate my comments with those made from the Government and Conservative Front Benches in connection with our wholehearted support for Britain's armed forces. In his statement yesterday, the Prime Minister said that Britain possessed some of the best armed forces in the world. In many ways, we possess the best in the world, as I am sure all hon. Members agree.

The Prime Minister also paid tribute today to the immense burden borne by the families of service personnel at times such as these. He mentioned their deep anxiety, which we all share tonight. The news that our forces are once again in action is important and chilling. There can be no more important decision for any Government or Prime Minister to take than to send our troops into action, and there can be no more important decision for any Member of Parliament than to support that action. It is not taken lightly.

We understand that no military action is risk free. Our armed forces have precise weaponry and effective training, but we know that there is no such thing as a

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casual operation. The risks of engagement exist, but once our armed forces are involved we support them and their families. We back them to the hilt and we pray for their safe return home.

Liberal Democrat Members know about the armed forces, as do all hon. Members with bases in their constituencies. The armed forces are our friends and constituents. For example, the Royal Air Force has a base in the constituency represented by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell), the Army has one in Colchester, and the Royal Marines and the Fleet Air Arm have bases in our west country constituencies. As individual Members of Parliament, we know the effect that the armed forces have on our communities and constituencies.

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