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Mr. Jenkin: I am tempted to agree with my hon. Friend, but dwelling on such criticisms might be unhelpful.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): Surely the one truly important message that should come out of the House today is that the House of Commons—with very few exceptions in any quarter—wholeheartedly supports the Government in their determination to defeat terrorism.

Mr. Jenkin: My hon. Friend is right. Nothing that I have said today detracts from that view.

The public rightly sense the dangers of a lengthening conflict. May I reassure the Government that the Opposition are not about to set any deadlines? However, the longer this part of the conflict continues and the longer the Taliban remain in power, the less effective the coalition appears to be and the greater is the threat to the political and military credibility of the alliance. That will also tend to obscure the wider issues presented by the threat of international terrorism that we must be ready to face.

There is no need to rehearse here the list of states that we know actively sustain international terrorist organisations. We must also address the underlying factors that give rise to such organisations: for example, the need to rebuild nations such as Afghanistan on the basis of a proper, legally constituted Government whose primary interests are stability and security and who show respect for basic human rights and for the territorial integrity of their neighbours. That is the agenda that the Prime Minister is rightly seeking to address on his visit to Syria, Saudi Arabia and Israel, and we wish him every success.

All these wider efforts will come to naught unless we are prepared to follow through the military action that we have started. The Taliban and al-Qaeda are the sworn enemies of every Member of this House. We know that up to 50,000 people have been through the al-Qaeda training camps. We know that they have the will to destroy us and everything that we value most highly. As the Prime Minister said in his first statement to the House following 11 September:


If there is a vote tonight, we will join Ministers and their supporters in the Lobby. Every Member of this House should use this opportunity to demonstrate once again their support for the Government's determination

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to defeat the Taliban and al-Qaeda before they get the opportunity to carry out further atrocities on innocent people. The Government are entitled to that support. That is how Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition see our duty. Every member of our armed services is ready to do their duty. The very least that we can do is to back them with the determination and clarity that they are entitled to expect.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. Before I call the next speaker, I remind the House that the 10-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches applies from now until the end of the debate.

2.2 pm

Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge and Chryston): I did not endeavour to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, or that of Mr. Speaker during the earlier debates on this extremely serious matter because I wanted to speak with the aid agencies and assess the humanitarian aspects of the crisis. I now want to address my remarks to that issue.

If there is a Division tonight, I shall support the Government because the arguments have led overwhelmingly to the conclusion, consistent with the view of the majority of the British people, that what the Government are doing reflects what the British people expect from a responsible Government.

I do not want to become involved in the war of words about news management between the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence. However, the media's influence on public opinion is important. With the greatest respect to the hon. Member for North Essex, if there is a problem regarding news management—in fairness, perhaps there is—the media and the press have their responsibilities as well. It is probably better coming from me as a Back Bencher, speaking for myself alone, if I say that not only do the media have rights, which we are seeking to defend, they have responsibilities. They may from time to time want to address themselves to those responsibilities.

On Monday I listened to the "Today" programme on Radio 4 for about two hours. To the programme's credit, it ended with a brief discussion on that very matter. One of the contributors in the studio was Colonel John Hughes Wilson, formerly of the Defence Intelligence Service. He quoted Lawrence of Arabia's words:


It may be, but if it is, and given the complexities that we are facing, when the media choose whom they want to interview they should remember that a large number of people from the 90-odd nations that support the coalition come from Muslim communities. Perhaps we could hear from them from time to time.

On the diplomatic side, I strongly welcome what the Prime Minister has been doing during the past few days, particularly in seeking to influence Israel and Palestine. We all know that that is really at the heart of a solution to these problems.

Let me mention two countries, Pakistan and India, which Parliament holds in high regard, and the contribution of which they are capable. There are, of course, sensitivities—both countries are nuclear powers. However, on the diplomatic side it is right that we

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continue to press for fruitful negotiations on Kashmir, given the friction that there is, the three wars that have already taken place between those two nations and the enormous pressure on both in the current crisis. We want to be even-handed. India has 130 million Muslims, the largest Muslim population in the world after Indonesia.

I come now to the humanitarian challenge in Afghanistan. For more than 20 years, Afghanistan has been in the grip of a huge humanitarian crisis. There has been conflict; for the past three years there has been drought. There were many problems with refugees before 11 September. Some 1.5 million Afghan refugees have settled in Iran and 2 million in Pakistan. Today, the United Nations' projected figure for displaced or stranded people—among the most vulnerable of human beings—is around 7.5 million. That is a remarkable challenge.

Famine and diseases such as malaria are increasing; and infant mortality is also increasing on a huge scale. I believe that everyone in the House wants to respond passionately to that challenge. We know of the big demands on the medical centres. We know, too—I say this with some pride—that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development has led in dealing with these problems. Of the EU contribution, 19 per cent.—nearly a fifth—came from us. That was well beyond what might be expected on a per capita basis.

I have listened, as have other right hon. and hon. Members, to the important views of the aid agencies, which for years, not just for the past few weeks and months, have been at the front line in trying to deal with the problems. I know that they are not unanimous in their view about, for example, whether there should be a pause in the war. Some, such as Oxfam, and others that speak from its perspective, take the view that that should take place. They tell us in all candour that the delivery of food by air is not reaching those whom it is meant to reach, and sometimes the food packages are confused with land mines. They tell us in all candour that they are suspicious of cluster bombs.

Other aid agencies make the point that for many years, not just in recent weeks, the Taliban's harassments, their looting and seizing of trucks, their objection to women working for the aid agencies even as they bring succour, and their threatening with execution people who use telephones to give their appraisal of the situation, do not make it easy for the Government or those involved in the coalition to deliver the essential humanitarian aid—food, medicine and the rest—that we are determined to deliver. It is precisely the humanitarian crisis that convinces me that our diplomatic, military and intelligence activities simply have to succeed. They cannot be seen to fail.

The efforts against terrorism and the provision of proper humanitarian relief rely on the possession of at least one other airport or some other secure method of bringing vital supplies to at least substantial parts of Afghanistan. That would be an enormous success story. I accept that we would have to work with the Northern Alliance to achieve it, but if we could take the key northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif we could open vital supply routes into Afghanistan. That does mean force, but in the circumstances, consistent with every effort to ensure that civilians are protected, it is not an ignoble objective. I sincerely believe that it is the only choice.

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Beyond that—on this, I conclude, Mr. Deputy Speaker—we look forward—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. You will have to conclude. I call Mr. Keetch.

2.12 pm

Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford): I, too, shall be brief because I know that many right hon. and hon. Members wish to speak. I apologise for the absence of my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge). She has to deal with a personal matter. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) will make a speech should he catch your eye later, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The Liberal Democrats welcome the initiative that the Prime Minister is undertaking in the middle east. It has been suggested that American foreign policy and the situation in the middle east somehow justify the appalling attacks of 11 September. That is ludicrous. Nothing can justify what happened, but it is true to say that the situation in the middle east has an important role to play in finally winning the war against terrorism. We support what the Prime Minister is doing today, especially his efforts in Israel.

We meet here again today to discuss this war. We have never liked using the word "war"—we do not believe that we are at war—but the word is being used and I accept its use. We said from day one that we would support military action that was targeted, proportionate and within international law. We have always made it clear that we believe, and I know that the Government also believe, that the military campaign is just one aspect of the overall campaign that needs to be fought. On that military campaign, we again say that we support our armed forces. We must do all that we can to protect them. They go into action—if they have to do so—with our complete support.

Like many others, including the Secretary of State for Defence, I recently visited Oman. I found our forces there—as I find our forces wherever I see them—in good spirits. I had concerns about several items and I am glad that they have been dealt with. I am especially pleased about the new rifle that the Minister of State for Defence told us will be made available to them.

I want to tell the House about my correspondence with one of the marines whom I met—a young Muslim. He and his parents have written to me welcoming the visits that have been made. That Muslim marine knows—as we all know—that the action being taken and to be taken is in no way a war against Islam. It is worth repeating that the action that is being taken is against terrorism wherever it may be found.

That action is not only military in nature: it involves diplomacy and financial measures, as well as intelligence work about which we may never know. It also includes humanitarian aid. I seek several assurances about the humanitarian project.

I am delighted that no one in the House, in the Government or in the US Administration is prepared to ignore the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan. However, it must be admitted that there was a humanitarian disaster there before 11 September—we all know that. We must continue to make every effort to get humanitarian aid into Afghanistan, especially with the approach of winter. If history has shown us one thing,

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it is that the fight against terrorism is likely to be a long one. We must not forget that for many people in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran time is pressing.


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