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Mr. Bill Wiggin (Leominster): May I point out to the hon. Gentleman that the base that used to be in his constituency is now in mine?

Mr. Keetch: The hon. Gentleman has made a silly remark, as I was about to say that I do not have a base in my constituency now that 22 Special Air Services Regiment has moved two miles to the base at Credenhill. That is in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, but many people who work there live in my constituency. The hon. Gentleman should have waited before jumping in with a rather silly point.

My experience of having training establishments in my constituency—and, at one time, a base—means that I know the importance of the action being undertaken. However, that is why Liberal Democrat Members understand and support the military action being taken tonight, which is targeted against al-Qaeda and the Taliban regime who support it. They are two sides of the same coin; the two organisations are intertwined. The action being taken is aimed not at civilian targets but at military ones—air bases, terrorist training camps and air defence positions.

The attacks have been designed to safeguard our armed forces and to protect the planes that are used, and to support the humanitarian effort that must now be directed at Afghanistan. It has been rightly said that we are not at war with the people of Afghanistan or with Islam, but that we are fighting a sustained campaign against terrorism. We have learned to our cost, in the immediate aftermath of the crisis, that words do count. We must therefore ensure that all utterances are proportionate and considered. We should not fall, as some have, into the trap of using empty phrases that may come back to haunt us later. We must remember that we are dealing with people's lives and that safeguarding the lives of innocent civilians—in New York, London or even in Kabul—is a duty, not a desire.

What does the action mean? So far, we have seen only the beginnings of a very long campaign. At every step of the way we will be asked to be patient. The foe that has been targeted will not be beaten by air power alone. The Taliban fighters who protect bin Laden and his own fanatical followers are, primarily, a sort of light infantry. They are difficult to attack from the air and are less dependent on a central command system.

Although air-to-air strikes maintain the coalition's credibility in the short term, we must be prepared for a long and involved campaign, much of which will be

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unseen and unrecognised. It will consist of more than fireworks in the desert, but will also require long, hard and methodical intelligence action. We support that action as well.

We must recall why we are fighting. This country—and this House—is no stranger to terrorist attack. However, the attack of 11 September caused the biggest loss of British life ever sustained in a single terrorist attack. There were 6,000 innocent people—possibly more—murdered in that attack. They were not soldiers or warriors, or even the politicians who direct forces; they were innocent men and women, of all faiths, nations and creeds. There were no demands and no warnings. Those people were simply slaughtered.

The images that we saw on that dreadful day will stay with us for ever: a plane ploughing into the World Trade Centre, buildings falling, New York firemen running up stairs while others run away. Those will be the main images of our lives. That is why we support the action being taken by our armed forces again tonight. We should not allow such a terrible crime, such appalling loss of innocent life, ever to happen again.

The Prime Minister mentioned the Taliban regime, and other hon. Members have described them. I shall not go into that again, although they are an appalling regime. The fact that at least 4 million people have fled Afghanistan to escape them is proof enough of what type of regime they are.

There are 2 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan and perhaps 1.5 million in Iran. It is possible that up to 1 million refugees are moving towards Pakistan and that 400,000 are moving to Iran. Moreover, we must not forget the numbers that have fled to the former Soviet republics. Those figures show that the humanitarian effort—the second pillar of our action—is just as important as the military action.

We welcome the reports that 37,500 rations were dropped last night. That might be just a drop in the ocean, but it is an important drop in a very big ocean. I hope that the Secretary of State for International Development will explain later what more needs to be done. Nothing can better win the hearts and confidence of a suffering people than the effort that has been made to relieve that suffering. I shall restate what I said last week, which is that we must never respond to terror with terror, but with justice and humanity.

The third pillar of the action being taken is the great international coalition built so successfully by President Bush and so successfully supported by the Prime Minister. That coalition must be maintained. Muslim states, and Pakistan in particular, must be kept involved and informed. I congratulate the President and the Prime Minister on their valuable work. They recognise that our actions must be kept within the framework of international law. If we are to keep the coalition together we must work for self-defence, and never for revenge.

Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge): Does my hon. Friend agree that the greatest risk to the coalition lies in broadening the front and the sphere of operations? Is not that the elephant trap set by Osama bin Laden, whose aim is to break up the coalition?

Mr. Keetch: I agree entirely. We must remember that bin Laden wants the coalition to fall. He wants us to

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overreact and strike out. That would serve his purpose. That is why maintaining the international coalition is so valuable. Others may talk of extending the war aims, but I think that we should stick to what we have for a while.

There have been fears about the justification for military action, and they need to be alleviated. We must assure people beyond doubt that the conflict will be just, proportionate and based on the principles of human rights and international law. That is why the coalition is so important.

Tonight, our forces are in action again. It is right that the House of Commons should be meeting tonight to discuss that action—not with levity or laughter, but in all seriousness. That is what the people of our nation expect, and they will take note of any hon. Members who seek to do otherwise.

8.9 pm

David Winnick (Walsall, North): We shall undoubtedly hear from some parts of the world that the United States and Britain are engaged in a war against the Muslim world. That is a poisonous and malicious lie, and most of those who spread it know that. The coalition's inclusion of several Muslim states exposes the lie.

What was the purpose of military intervention in Kosovo? It was clear: to stop the ethnic cleansing of Albanians and the Muslim population by Serb paramilitaries. If we were anti-Muslim and wanted to engage in the current action for that reason, as the liars claim, why did we intervene in Kosovo? Many of us pressed for that. Many hon. Members who support military action against international terrorism are those who pressed, as I did, for action to stop ethnic cleansing in Kosovo.

I am sure that many hon. Members remember the daily demonstrations in Whitehall, opposite 10 Downing street, by those who put forward the Serbian point of view. In truth, they expressed the Serbian paramilitary point of view. They accused us and the House of Commons of being pro-Muslim.

Let us remember as well that the United States acted with other NATO countries not only in Kosovo: United States-led intervention helped to bring the bloody conflict in Bosnia to an end. At that time, the international community was again accused of being pro-Muslim. I wonder whether Milosevic in his prison cell would describe the western powers as anti-Muslim. I doubt it.

Reference has rightly been made to various injustices in the world. I do not doubt that all hon. Members deplore the atrocities in Washington, New York and elsewhere on 11 September. No hon. Member takes the view, which is a form of sickness, that America asked for such action and that American guilt or sin justified the atrocities. No hon. Member would dream of suggesting that, and that also applies to the large majority of people in this country. However, the question for colleagues who oppose military action is simple: what alternative do they propose? That is a fair question, I think.

It is all very well saying that the leader of the terrorist network should be brought to justice, but how? He is hardly likely to surrender. He is unlikely to give himself up, and the Taliban regime have no intention of giving

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him up. If we are wrong in supporting military action, what is the alternative method of bringing terrorists to justice or defeating them?

Some people argue that there are so many injustices in the world that we should not worry too much about taking military action. Reference was rightly made in previous debates to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. I wish that the international community would take stronger action to help the Palestinians and to form a Palestinian state, which should be no less viable and independent than Israel. There is also the need for a settlement in Kashmir, about which we hope that the Governments of India and Pakistan will be willing to continue to negotiate. The talks lasted only one day.

I reiterate the Prime Minister's crucial point: the terrorists responsible for the atrocities in New York and Washington do not want the sort of settlement that we support. They do not want a solution to Israel's problems; they want the total destruction of the Israeli state. Even that would not satisfy them because they would want the whole of Palestine run along the lines of the current regime in Afghanistan. I am critical of Israel, but no hon. Member would argue that the Israeli state should be destroyed. However, the terrorists want precisely that. Our aims—settlements and negotiations—be they in the middle east or in Kashmir, are the opposite of the terrorists' requirements. We should have no illusions about that.

My initial view was that the United States would take immediate military action after 11 September. I am glad that I was wrong. I am sure that several hon. Members shared my view. I am pleased that the United States showed diplomacy and restraint, as I said in a question to the Prime Minister last week. I was in Philadelphia on a private visit on 11 September. However great people's anger, they went about their business on the following days, and there was no hysteria. There was, though, all the anger that one would rightly expect.

The murderous network that we face can, like fascism, be appeased or fought. It is as simple as that. Let us have no illusions: if we appease the terrorists, they, like the fascists in the past, would become bolder and even more determined. They would believe that they were safe because the west did not retaliate and there was no international action. Appeasement would encourage them. The international coalition has made the right choice between appeasement and fighting evil. I support the action that is being undertaken—destroying the murderous network is in the interests of not only the west but the civilised world.

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