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Mr. Jenkin: I opened by making it absolutely clear where and how deeply we support the Government's objectives, and the Government should realise that. The right hon. Gentleman and the Secretary of State have shown a little over-sensitivity on this point. If they think that the presentation over the past week has been absolutely perfect, they live in a different world from the rest of us. I know that they do not think that that is true.
I do not believe that the majority of the British public feel that they have to know so many details of the debate about military preparations. They would hate the idea that Ministers were feeding speculation that might help the enemy and even put the lives of British service men at risk. We are not talking about managing the media for the usual domestic political agenda. Our adage should be, "less is more." The less the Government say about our plans, the more confident people are likely to be that the right decisions are being taken.
Mr. Kilfoyle: A few moments ago the hon. Gentleman said that he would prefer the Government to deal in facts and not spin. Does he not therefore welcome the briefings given by Brigadier Lane and his colleagues? Surely he is getting the facts.
Mr. Jenkin: I do not want to drag the House through this again, but clearly there were disagreements. There were conflicts between what the Brigadier and Ministers were saying. Points of information given by the Chief of the Defence Staff did not accord with what Brigadier Lane had said. Unless we can clarify the messages, we will not give the British people the confidence that British forces deserve before they go into action.
The Prime Minister is right to clarify our objectives. The Government must also clarify their military aim. At the time of the previous debate on the subject on 16 October, the Government reassuringly produced a formidable document entitled, "Defeating International Terrorism: Campaign Objectives". It includes the four immediate objectives that have been extensively rehearsed. We support those objectives and we support the bombing campaign as a first step towards achieving them.
We also agree with the Secretary of State that there is plenty of evidence to show that the bombing campaign is effective. It is degrading Taliban and al-Qaeda military assets. It is reducing the terrorists' ability to continue to operate and sending a clear signal to other terrorist organisations and the states that may harbour them that the west will act decisively against terrorism.
The Government's objectives reflect their overall policy and that of the United States Government, however. They are grand strategic objectives to be achieved by political, diplomatic and military means. They do not constitute achievable military aims. That, too, seems to be a source of some confusion. Apart from the appearance of the Deputy Prime Minister at the Dispatch Box yesterday, which I confess I had rather discounted, it seemed to be becoming clear from United States and British Government statements that a simpler military aim was being distilled from the broader strategynamely, the removal of the Taliban Government.
Mr. Hoon: I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was absent from the Chamber when I dealt with that matter. I made it clear that the purpose of the campaignI set out the wider aims and the military aimsis to create a situation in Afghanistan where there is a Government who no longer harbour, sustain and support terrorism. That has always been and continues to be the aim.
Mr. Jenkin: That is a softer line than the one the Prime Minister took in his speech on Tuesday. [Hon. Members: "Pathetic."] It is not pathetic. The Prime Minister said that it was the objective to remove the Taliban Government.
Mr. Jenkin: I will give way to the right hon. Gentleman in a moment. If the alliance adopts that as its first and principal aim, I can assure the Secretary of State that the Government will have our fullest support. It is hard to see how al-Qaeda can be tackled effectively and bin Laden driven from his hiding places, or how we can begin to resolve the mounting humanitarian crisis, unless we remove the main obstacle to all those things, which is the Taliban. When I wrote those words, I did so with the thought that the Government's objective was to remove the Taliban. I still think that that probably should be the objective. We will support the Government in the use of whatever conventional military force is necessary to achieve that aim.
I reiterate what my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said yesterday. Removing the Taliban does not conflict with our humanitarian policyit is the humanitarian policy. No arrangements can be made with a Government who had already created a dire refugee crisis before 11 September and who regularly hijack what little aid can get into the country to feed their troops.
Mr. Robathan: I raised this issue with the Secretary of State, but felt that his answer was not as full as it might have been. Surely it is the conditions in which the Taliban have thrived that must be ended. The last 20-odd years of conflict and civil war have led to those conditions and have resulted not only in refugees and humanitarian disaster but in disaster for the 50 per cent. of the Afghanistan people who are female as well as for all the neighbouring states. We must put an end to that Government and allow the people of Afghanistan the right to choose their own Government.
Mr. Jenkin: My hon. Friend is right. We must be prepared for a long campaign. It would be wrong to suggest that there is unlimited time, however. We need to prove the real value of the air campaign. That is only likely to become apparent when we move to the next stage of military operations, as both the Gulf and Kosovo military campaigns demonstrated.
I do not invite speculation about the nature of the next phase of the military campaign. Ministers will have our support if they continue to provide the Americans with whatever military support they may request and that we can afford them.
Mr. Mike O'Brien (North Warwickshire): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for having the courtesy to give way. The Leader of the Opposition gained much credit throughout the country for his unequivocal support for the Government in the war against terrorism. However, in what was widely perceived in the media as a wobble by an inexperienced new leader, the right hon. Gentleman seemed yesterday to set conditions for supporting the Government, as the hon. Gentleman has done today. Will he now reiterate on behalf of the Opposition that the Conservative party gives unequivocal and unconditional support to the Government in their fight against terrorism?
Mr. Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle): Does my hon. Friend agree that on the Opposition Benches there has been nothing but staunch, if thinking, support for the Government's objectives, compared with the ragbag of rebels and dissenters that we have seen on the Labour Back Benches?