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Mr. David Lammy (Tottenham): I begin by giving thought to those of my constituents and others around the world who fear for the safety of their loved ones today and, of course, to our armed forces, whose members come from every constituency in the country. Although the military action taken by American and British forces in Afghanistan over the past 24 hours explicitly avoided innocent Afghans, those people will naturally be agonising over the safety of their friends and family.
I heard one commentator suggest that the next generation is confronting the sins of its fathers and mothers. Well, I belong to that generation which has lived without war, or at least without a war that has hurt us directly. For that generation, multiculturalism and internationalism are more than just hamburgers, samosas, saris and steel drums. Our touchstones, including the music, television and films that we enjoy and the values, good and bad, that we cherish, are overwhelmingly American. I am grateful to the United States for the education that I received at one of its best universities.
We are also, however, a generation that listens to world music and travels to the developing world. We are influenced by Comic Relief and Live Aid and we have friends and colleagues who are black, Asian, Turkish, Serb and Croat. We are more at ease with the realities of the world and the responsibilities tied to globalisation. I see Opposition Members considering whether to challenge the claim that they have friends who are Serb, Asian and Croat.
Now, suddenly, our way of life is under attack. A plane is no longer a dull, convenient way to get to the Spanish seaside. A trip on the underground to London's west end suddenly carries more risks than the possibility of getting one's wallet stolen. Foreign neighbours suddenly arouse suspicion in a way that makes us feel ashamed. Clearly, we are a generation that has lived without war, and in these times we look for leadership. We are comforted by the fact that our Prime Minister was the first on the international stage to caution the need for measured calm and to talk about an international coalition.
As the youngest Member of Parliament, I have received many letters from young people all over Great Britain. Those people were prominent in this year's general election mostly because of their absence. They have a new-found interest in world politics, United States foreign policy and the tenets of Islam. As Britain is America's closest ally, many of them fear for their own lives. They are driven by a need to understand why people might despise us so completely that they want to kill us. Perhaps we have been lulled into a false sense of security since the collapse of the Berlin wall and the end of apartheid. These events challenge our very being.
Young people want answers to fundamental questions. When is it right forcibly to challenge the injustices taking place in a foreign country? What rights are indispensable and what rights are worth sacrificing to prevent a greater evil? What balance of power exists in the world today? Have we contributed to, or even created, some of its injustices? How must we act now to create a more equal world, one in which a life lost in the west has the same importance as one lost in the east? Young people want to know why we, the west, armed Osama bin Laden and the Taliban some years ago, when they behaved so
In Tottenham, we are small in number but we have a world reach. Just as in New York, people come from the far corners of the earth to live there. We have residents not only from Afghanistan but from each of its neighbouring countries. We welcome the Prime Minister's clear and consistent declaration that this is not a war against Islam and his continued support for British Muslims, but in Tottenham we must take a few steps further.
In this corner of north London, where 166 languages are spoken, our microcosm is so clearly an important part of this country's future and it offers lessons to the world. Whether in Tottenham, Kabul or the Congo, whether in the developing world or the inner cities of the west, we must share more than our diversity and social exclusion. Our international community brings with it the knowledge of countries throughout the world. Many of my constituents come from the most fragile nations on earth, which are sometimes ravaged by violence and often have problems beyond human comprehension. I welcome those people and want them to succeed here. I want them to feel that they live in a country that has done right by their part of the world. There are historic reasons why the Afghan people are suspicious of western involvement in their country, as we are well aware. If we are to be involved again, we must do better this time.
My constituents hear what happens in their country of origin more quickly than do readers of The Times or The Guardian. I understand that six correspondents with the World Service of the BBC speak to Afghanistan every day, and we applaud the good work that they do. However, one could multiply that figure by 100 and not get even close to the number of Afghans living in Tottenham who speak to their loved ones every day. That contact should not be underestimated, as those people could be a great asset to our country. However, if the force being used is not justified, proportionate and well directed, my constituents will know that too.
Mr. Mark Hoban (Fareham): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in this important debate. Fareham, like other constituencies along the south coast of Hampshire, is home to many of the service personnel currently taking part in exercises in Oman. Indeed, one of the military medical units based at the Royal Hospital Haslar in the neighbouring constituency of Gosport is in Oman at the moment.
My thoughts are with our service men and women abroad, and with their families here at home. Tonight, they are wondering what role they or their loved ones will play in the conflict as it unfolds over the next few weeks and months. We are right to offer them our full support, and they are right to ask us some questions. Are the objectives of our exercise clear? After the debates tonight and last week, I believe that they are.
Our armed forces and their families know that we support them fully, and that we have learned some lessons from 11 September. They know too that the Secretary of State for Defence is looking to add another chapter to the strategic defence review concerning the lessons that must be learned from asymmetric warfare to ensure that our troops are properly prepared in the future.
However, although times such as these make us properly value our armed forces who serve our country, we should also think of the times when we do not value them. Many members of the armed forces and their families are worried about communication. How frequently can those abroad speak to their families at home? How often can families speak to loved ones on board ship or stationed at a military base? I hope that the Government will consider whether communication opportunities should be made more regular and frequent, as that would reassure service personnel on exercise or operational duty abroad, and their families who remain in this country.
We must also consider whether our armed forces are being over-stretched. I often hear complaints from service families, who tell me of too much time spent away from the home base or the port. We must remember the welfare of our service personnel, of whom we ask so much. We demand their loyalty, dedication and commitment, but we should, in return, be mindful of their welfare, and of the need to maintain morale and retain the troops who serve us.
There is another pillar to the international response, over and above the military reaction. That is the humanitarian response, to which hon. Members have alluded already. I was pleased that, last night, humanitarian aid was dropped alongside the bombs. That is vital, for three reasons.
First, the humanitarian aid represents the compassionate response of this country and our allies to the suffering of those Afghan people forced by drought to leave their homeland. Secondly, it shows the Afghan people that our quarrel is not with them but with their rulers and those whom they harbour. Our quarrel is with the Taliban and Osama bin Laden.
The third message that the humanitarian aid sends is very clear. It shows the wider global community that the action is not about revenge. It is being undertaken in the interests of the Afghan people. We have a clear objective to help them, as well to safeguard our freedom. However, our humanitarian aid should not stop when the military campaign stops
Mr. Hoban: Humanitarian aid should not stop when the conflict ends. Thriving on discord and disunity is a hallmark of Osama bin Laden's activities. His first base was in the Sudan, when that country was plagued by civil war. His second base is in Afghanistan, which is also plagued by civil war. We must ensure that, when the military action is over, we do not recreate the conditions that allowed him to thrive. The aid must continue, as a carrot to encourage the parties to form a broadly based Government, and as a stick to ensure that, once at the table, they remain there.
We owe it to the people who lost their lives on 11 September and those who, in the next weeks and months, will fight for our enduring freedom, to remain resolved to defeat Osama bin Laden, replace the Taliban regime and ensure that the world is again a safer place.