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9.16 pm

Bob Spink (Castle Point): I have four points to make, but first I pay tribute unreservedly to the British armed forces. The world recognises their unique abilities and bravery.

The overall war aim must be to remove international terrorism wherever it arises and in whatever guise it comes, not just to remove the al-Qaeda network, which is our initial aim. The priority must be to tackle and remove the threat of terrorist use of weapons of mass destruction around the world, as the right hon. Member for Edinburgh, East and Musselburgh (Dr. Strang) has just explained. In that way we can make the world a much safer place, and that must be our end product.

This time we must finish the job, and finish it properly. Throughout history, commanders have made the fundamental error of not prosecuting war to the very end. I believe that the Gulf war 10 years ago was an example of that. I wonder whether those on the Treasury Bench will accept that, at the right time, the theatre should be extended to include Iraq.

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We must make this a just war and we can do that by minimising the risk to innocent civilians rather than minimising the risk to allied forces, unlike our approach in Kosovo. That must be the basic rule of our engagement at all times. We must achieve accurate and highly focused targeting and we must keep our word on delivering international humanitarian aid. In that way we can keep the coalition intact and avoid an escalation into what would be a disastrous holy war.

The levels of terrorist threat against Britain have increased significantly. Therefore, we must establish sound precautionary measures and increase our vigilance, particularly for the thousands of my constituents who work in the City of London and who must be reassured. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Richard Ottaway), I should like confirmation that adequate police resources will be available across London. I would also stress that normal life and work in London must go on, as far as possible.

I take this opportunity to put on record the fact that the target on Canvey Island in my constituency that was hit by the IRA about 20 years ago no longer exists—the installations have been removed. I trust that my constituents can take comfort from that knowledge.

War is evil, but there are times when we have to perpetrate an evil to remove a greater evil. Our prayers and hopes go with our armed forces, along with our undiluted admiration.

9.20 pm

Roger Casale (Wimbledon): Beyond the appalling loss of life on 11 September has come the shocking realisation that our confidence in a new world order has been shaken, just as the foundations of the World Trade Centre were razed to the ground. The acts of 11 September were atrocious and barbarous. As many religious leaders of all faiths have said, it was an utterly godless act—an act devoid of any possible justification, but also of any rational meaning.

On the eve of the second world war the poet Auden wrote, describing the fears of many in the face of the awful destructive power of fascism,

That is not the situation today, but we must not underestimate the enormous challenge before us to make reason and justice prevail.

Since 11 September, our fears and anxieties have grown and we have been shocked by further reminders and revelations: the chilling revelations about the extent and intentions of the bin Laden network, the reminder of the callous, fanatical nature of the Taliban regime and the evidence and realisation of the appalling scale of the humanitarian disaster that is unfolding in Afghanistan.

We want to reassure ourselves and those whom we represent that we can do something about that. For the citizen, our aims will perhaps be modest. We cannot bring back the dead—those who lost their lives in the World Trade Centre. We cannot even restore the unquestioning confidence in the new world order that prevailed before. From the perspective of the citizen, the best that we can perhaps hope for is that life may return to normal at some point—that we can go about our business and our daily lives and make our travel plans and so forth again.

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The international situation will never be the same again. There is a contrast between the heady goals that we have set ourselves in the international community and those that we have set in our own communities. There is an immediate need for managing risk more effectively. We must hold our nerve. We must identify risk and take appropriate action. We must greatly strengthen international solidarity and resolve. International dialogue, at every level—the bilateral level, the European level and in the international institutions of NATO and the United Nations—must be enhanced. That is a continuous process, but we must redouble our efforts and set our sights much higher.

At the international level, faced with a crisis of this nature and scale, there has been a deficit of leadership, although that is being addressed. Our Prime Minister, on behalf of our country, has demonstrated leadership through dialogue and building coalitions—that is by continuing much of the work in which we were engaged before the crisis. One shows leadership by sharing it—sharing one's vision and bringing others together behind what one has in mind. However, there is still a great need to share leadership more widely. We must involve the UN and NATO more to provide the leadership that is necessary in the face of such a crisis.

At a local level, we all have a role to play. Indeed, everyone in the country has a role to play in this crisis. Our thoughts are naturally with our armed forces and their families tonight, but we can all play a role in our own communities today. My predecessor as Member of Parliament for Wimbledon, Dr. Charles Goodson-Wickes, offered his services and went out to the Gulf when that war started. I have no intention of doing the same.

My instinct is that my place is in my community. Wimbledon, in the borough of Merton, has people of many different religions including many of the Muslim faith. I speak this evening on behalf of the ethnic minority centre in my borough and of the Ahmadiya community, which has its headquarters just outside. I also speak on behalf of the many Muslims of different shades of faith within my community, who share our fears and anxieties.

I have always taken great pride in the diversity of my community and I see that diversity as our greatest strength. The onus is on me and other community leaders to bring the full strength and weight of that diversity to bear, in standing shoulder to shoulder with those of the Muslim faith should there be any reprisals—I hope that that will not happen—as a result of the action that we are taking.

I support the objectives that have been set out tonight: to eliminate the threat of bin Laden and the al-Qaeda network and to replace the Taliban regime.

In the longer term we must renew our international commitment to a world in which there is a greater measure of social justice, based on compassion and the rediscovery of our common humanity in this adversity, so that the terrible events of 11 September may result in the lasting rededication of our leaders to the entrenchment of peace, justice and human rights throughout the world. As Auden said later in that same poem,

9.26 pm

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park): Since the terrible events of 11 September, the world has at last been made aware of the terrible plight of the Afghan people after

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20 years of war and brutal repression as well as three years of drought. One of my hon. Friends mentioned the abiding images of the past few weeks. For me an abiding image is of a two-year-old too weak to crawl to his mother who was also too ill and weak to take any notice of him. They were both starving and at the point of death.

There are estimated to be 6 million people—25 per cent. of the population—starving inside Afghanistan and between 3 million and 4 million in terrible conditions in makeshift camps on the borders of Pakistan and Iran. After a three-week temporary cessation of supplies from the United Nations and the World Food Programme aid had begun to flow again. The World Food Programme had planned to reach the target of 56,000 tonnes of food per month being trucked into the country, which would have made a significant impact.

My suggested option—airlifting food into the area, in particular when winter sets in, or bombing with food in fact—was ruled out as too difficult and imprecise. I still have not received an explanation of how we can—or we are told that we can—precisely target bombs from high altitude but the same cannot be done with food. Perhaps the Secretary of State for International Development will deal with that when she replies.

Interestingly, the United States of America is now dropping food with bombs—as from last night—which is a practice that will endanger aid agency staff now and in the future. As the hon. Member for Ochil (Mr. O'Neill) said, aid must not be politicised. I hope that the Secretary of State agrees with that.

It seemed to me that the waiting game strategy combined with food and aid was a brilliant and novel one—keeping up the diplomatic pressure, with the threat of military action in the background, always there ready to go. It might have prevented Pakistan becoming destabilised by floods of refugees, which is what everyone is worried about. It seemed to be softening and breaking up attitudes in the Taliban Government. The Afghan people would have been fed over several weeks and may have loved the west a little more as a consequence.

While that brilliant strategy was being pursued, an undercover action, perhaps SAS-style, could have attempted to capture Osama bin Laden. I am well aware that there is a huge international network of criminals in his pay, al-Qaeda being one, but he is the inspiration and lead figure for these people, and we know that it is vital that he is captured and brought to justice, as has been said many times in the House.

Sadly, the waiting strategy has not delivered Osama bin Laden. Last night, we saw the familiar sight of air attacks, this time on the ruins of Kabul and the terrorist camps in Afghanistan. We are assured that civilians will not be targeted, and I entirely believe that, but winter is approaching, which will make any action on the ground difficult. The World Food Programme and the United Nations have from today suspended the trucking of food into Afghanistan indefinitely. The borders are closed, so the people cannot escape.

I am concerned that hundreds of thousands will die as a result of western action, and that surrounding countries could become destabilised, leading to a wider war. What if the Taliban have no control over bin Laden? What if he, not them, is calling the shots? What will have been achieved? But I am, above all, a pragmatist. The die has been cast. They had their chance. The decision has been

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taken, I am sure with far better intelligence than I have. Therefore, I support that decision and the action. The Prime Minister is an honest man. I trust him; we all trust him. As has been said many times, our armed services are the finest in the world, and we wish them God speed.

What diplomatic effort will be expended to get the borders of Pakistan and Iran opened so that terrified people can flee to the camps? Will massive aid—all that is asked for by UNHCR and the World Food Programme—be poured into those camps by the coalition Governments? Can the Secretary of State clarify for me the reasons why a way cannot be found to drop targeted food and medical aid to people inside Afghanistan independently—I stress independently—of the bombing raids? It must come through the United Nations. Can we have an assurance, following the Prime Minister's speech at the Labour party conference, that this country will move more rapidly to increase our expenditure on overseas aid in the future?

Military action always reminds me of difficult surgical operations. It often happens that when the patient is opened up by the surgeon, it is obvious that surgery is inappropriate or too risky. The good surgeon will close up the patient and seek other ways to effect a cure or help the patient. The bad surgeon, not wishing to lose face, will battle on, take out part of a problem organ, cause severe haemorrhages and leave the patient in a worst state than before, with many problems. I know that in this case, this brilliant coalition of Governments, which has been created hugely due to the efforts of the Prime Minister, will be a good surgeon.

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