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10.2 pm

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston): It would be appropriate to begin by giving some information that is especially relevant to the hon. Member for Fareham (Mr. Hoban). Last week, I was privileged to be in Oman, watching Exercise Saif Sareea. I spoke to many of our military personnel—the medical and catering staff at the bases and those in the field, undertaking the exercise—to whom the hon. Gentleman referred. Many of those on our vessels come from places that are not a million miles from his constituency.

The exercise was planned two years ago and is undertaken in partnership with Omani military forces. It is a joint exercise to measure the capability of joint rapid reaction forces. Several important points have emerged, not least the coincidence of the exercise's proximity to Afghanistan. I stress to the hon. Gentleman that although nothing is ever perfect in such huge logistical challenges, our personnel clearly acknowledge that the welfare package has improved dramatically, especially provision for telephoning home.

Like my colleagues from all parties who were present, I intend to set down my thoughts in detail to ensure that we learn lessons. We can always learn lessons; that is the point of an exercise on such a scale. The morale of the troops and our Navy and Air Force personnel has undoubtedly been helped by the improved welfare package.

Many of the personnel to whom I spoke recognise that over the next few months their role may change, for obvious reasons—the purpose of the debate. They recognise their responsibility, and during the debate the House has rightly paid tribute to their bravery, dedication, commitment and professionalism. I know that reports of our debate will be welcomed by our forces in Oman and throughout the world.

I shall comment on the role of the media over the past few weeks. In Afghanistan the media have no real freedom at all. I do not suppose that the television station had a great deal of choice but to broadcast bin Laden's outrageous statement last night. That contrasts starkly with the freedom of the media in this country and in the free world. There is a sharp distinction between the freedoms and the kind of society that we enjoy, and the terrible situation facing Afghan people. However, we had a problem at the outset.

My plea to the media is to think carefully about broadcasting before some of our troops' families at home know what is happening. The situation needs handling with great care. The media were rightly reporting on the movement of ships and forces in the Omani exercise, but

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they construed it as an operation in preparation for a direct attack on Afghanistan. Unfortunately, that put fear into the families back home. In the context of improving morale, the media could think carefully about how they disseminate information. Nevertheless, I want their freedom, which the entire House values, to continue in our society.

Much has been said about the scale of the atrocity and the type of action that we have undertaken. The selection of targets was clearly meticulous. The objective was to damage, disrupt and destroy the al-Qaeda network. It would be foolish to speak here about detailed tactics. As many hon. Members have acknowledged, those are matters that we must entrust to our colleagues in the Ministry of Defence, in liaison with their opposite numbers in the coalition, but as has been said, there are other matters about which we can speak openly and freely, and demands that we, as a nation that believes in openness and freedom, can make for the longer-term.

One such demand is that aid should be delivered. It would be a tragedy if the efforts that we have already made were not followed through. I understand that an additional £36 million has been committed over and above existing funds, and that must continue. We must make sure that food and aid is delivered. As the winter approaches in Afghanistan, the conditions in the country and the surrounding camps will be horrendous. We must not underestimate the scale of that potential tragedy.

Assets need to be frozen. We need to push harder in the anti-drugs war. We need to recognise the success that we have had in partnership with other navies—for example, in the West Indies. Our West Indies guard ship has done a tremendous job for many years. Let such action be multiplied throughout the coalition to ensure that other sources of heroin, especially Afghanistan, are frozen out. That also includes an attack on the moneys held in accounts in this country.

Finally, we need to ensure that the relationship with Muslims in this country is sustained for the future.

10.10 pm

Mr. George Osborne (Tatton): When I spoke in the debate that was held just three days after the appalling attacks in New York and Washington, I said that we had a duty to support the United States and show that America was not alone in its fight against the enemies of civilisation. Four weeks later, the full measure of that support can be seen in the skies over Afghanistan, and like many other hon. Members I pray tonight for the safety of our pilots, our submariners, our sailors and our soldiers as they go about their difficult job.

That it has taken four weeks to respond to the heinous crime of 11 September is, as many hon. Members have said today, a tribute to the thoughtfulness, strength and patience of the coalition. There were many who, misjudging the character of the American President, expected the US to lash out in anger within days of the attack, to bomb indiscriminately and to assuage the anger of the American people with a bloodbath on the streets of Kabul. Thankfully, the American President is a great deal more intelligent and more courageous than many people have given him credit for.

If the Americans had lashed out, we would have achieved very little, other than to satisfy the basest of urges for revenge. Indeed, we would have created 10,000 bin Ladens,

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as the hon. Member for Glasgow, Kelvin (Mr. Galloway) warned in his powerful speech on 14 September. Instead, by acting in a measured and determined way—using the rapier rather than the blunderbuss—the coalition has correctly judged the mood of the people whom I represent and that of the people of this country.

This much is clear from every conversation that I have had and every letter that I have received from my constituents since 11 September: they want the perpetrators of the outrages, and those who harbour them, brought to book for what they have done, but they do not want innocent Afghans to be slaughtered. They want peace and security in the middle east and central Asia so that they can go about their lives here in Britain without fear of future terrorist attacks. They do not want us to sow the seeds of decades of turmoil, unrest and fear. As one of my constituents, Mrs. Sellers, said simply in a letter to me:

The action taking place tonight does, indeed, represent justice, rather than revenge.

In the time remaining to me, I should like to touch on two more specific issues—one immediate, the other long term. The first, immediate issue is that of Pakistan. The support of Pakistan is obviously crucial to the military and diplomatic success of the campaign that we are fighting. Of all the countries involved in the coalition, it is the most vulnerable to attack from so-called Islamic fundamentalists and, as the riots in Quetta and elsewhere show, its Government have taken a big risk in supporting the United States.

To a large extent, of course, the Pakistani Government are reaping their own whirlwind, for until 11 September they were the Taliban's main external backer. They have actively sponsored terrorist organisations that operate in Kashmir, which have committed terrible atrocities—and, of course, President Musharraf only came to power by military coup. In other words, Pakistan is not what one might call the ideal partner in what the Government persist in calling an ethical foreign policy, but we are not always able to choose ideal allies in our foreign policy.

Several Members have said tonight and in recent weeks that we and the Americans have, in our time, funded and armed some of the very Afghan groups that we are now fighting to destroy. We should not be particularly embarrassed about that because it happened in the days of the cold war when we were fighting the Soviet Union and the prime objective of British foreign policy was to defeat the Soviet Union, and we were prepared to use whatever means we could to achieve that end.

Now defeating international terrorism is a prime foreign policy objective, and, as George Bush says, either Governments are with us or they are with the terrorists. Pakistan has not hesitated to support us, so we should support it in return. Therefore, I very much welcome the Prime Minister's visit last week to show our visible support for the Pakistani Government. They need that support because there could be no greater catastrophe for the civilised world than if the Government of Pakistan, with their nuclear arsenal, were to fall into the hands of the fundamentalists.

The second issue that I briefly wish to mention is the much longer-term one of ballistic missile defence. Virtually nothing has been said about missile defence since the events of four weeks ago, but surely the ruins

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of downtown Manhattan are grim evidence of why we should try to develop a defensive missile shield as soon as is technologically possible.

Before 11 September, there was a great debate developing—at its liveliest on the Labour Benches—about whether ballistic missile defence was a vital necessity or a threat to global peace. Those against ballistic missile defence rejected as implausible the argument that a rogue state or terrorist organisation might one day get its hands on a ballistic missile and fire it at a western country. Surely no one can now doubt that this is indeed a great risk.

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