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Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam): Does my hon. Friend recognise the anxiety of many of my constituents that the humanitarian and human rights situation of the Afghan people will improve only if there is the prospect of a stable regime to replace the current one? Does he understand their worry that even if the Taliban regime were to fall tomorrow or next week, unless it is replaced with something better, we shall have created a humanitarian situation that is no better and may even be worse as the land falls into the hands of competing warlords? Does he agree that we need far more emphasis on what will come next, rather than merely focusing on what we want to get rid of at present?
Mr. Keetch: My hon. Friend is right. It is true that any replacement regime, which will have to attract international support, cannot simply be formed, for example, by the Northern Alliance. To have any chance of success in Afghanistan, the regime will have to be representative of all the various communities and tribes in that country. We in the international community must work to ensure that.
Joan Ruddock: The hon. Gentleman repeats what many hon. Members have said about the range of people who should be involved in a post-Taliban Government. Will he make it explicit that that must include women, who have been greatest victims of the Taliban regime?
Mr. Keetch: I make that absolutely explicit. The treatment of women by the Taliban regime is appalling. Any replacement regime must understand that the human rights of all members of society in Afghanistan must be upheld.
Mr. Turner: Does the hon. Gentleman not understand that there is a great distinction between the appalling behaviour of the Taliban regime and the traditional behaviour of many Muslim communities? To attempt to impose western values on Muslim communities and nations that have a secure and sensible way of governing themselves is exactly the way to lose their support.
Mr. Keetch: I certainly would not suggest to any nation that we should impose targets or quotas, but the hon. Gentleman must understand that the way in which women have been treated in recent years in Afghanistan is very different from the way in which they used to be treated there. Formerly, they were regarded as valued members of their society. I want to see that again. I have visited Muslim societies where women have that righta point that bears repetition.
Will the UnderSecretary tell us whether it has been suggested that some of the non-fighting members of the coalition might use some of their military assets to speed up the delivery of aid to the area? That would go some way to alleviate the crisis that might shortly be upon us.
On cluster bombs, Liberal Democrats have to part company to a degree with others. We believe that targeted and proportionate military action is acceptable, but we also have to accept that the use of cluster bombs has a wider international and diplomatic consequence. In its excellent report on the Kosovo crisis, the Select Committee on Defence considered the use of cluster bombs and said:
Mr. Keetch: There is a difference between land mines and cluster bombs, and that is understood in the report that I quote and I understand it, too. If the hon. Gentleman will allow me a few minutes, I shall expand the argument and answer some of his concerns.
We believe that the concerns on the diplomatic front about the use of such weapons are very real. So real does the Ministry of Defence believe them to be that it has now written to every Member of Parliament to give its defence of those weapons. We believe that a sizeable proportion of the bomblets dropped clearly fail to go off. The Secretary of State for Defence suggested that the figure is 5 per cent. The Select Committee thinks that the percentage is higherperhaps between 8 and 12 per cent.and, of course, some non-governmental organisations believe it to be higher than that. Given the failure rate of some of those submunitions, which can cause civilian casualties and casualties to our own forces who may occupy the ground, the use of that ordnance seems to be folly, and it should be reconsidered.
Mr. Marshall-Andrews: Following on from the previous intervention, does the hon. Gentleman understand that, as acknowledged by a Pentagon spokesman in The New York Times of 11 October, the bombs being dropped on Afghanistan are, in fact, Gator bombsa form of cluster bomb with wires extending between each bomb? They are activated indiscriminately by a tripwire mechanism and are similar to mines.
Mr. Keetch: I do understand that, and I can understand that there may be occasions on which the military use of cluster bombs should be allowed. We certainly would not withdraw them from the British Army's order of battle, but because of the concerns about them in other nations and in this country, we do not believe that they should be used in this conflict.
Mr. Keetch: The hon. Gentleman must understand that if using such weapons results in a much wider breakdown in the international coalition, that could have more consequences for the protection of our services than not using them. I shall not second-guess what I would do if I were in that position, although I look forward to being in that position, but currently in this campaign the use of cluster bombs is wrong.
On the calls for a pause for Ramadan, which the Secretary of State has discussed, I entirely agree with the comments of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) and, indeed, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife. It has been suggested that if we were to pause for Ramadan or some other event, somehow humanitarian aid would suddenly flow. I see no evidence that that is really the case. To cease air strikes could possibly allow the Taliban to regroup and reassemble their forces, and it could possibly allow al-Qaeda to plan and execute another horrific terrorist attack. Therefore, we believe that to pause, or to announce a pause for an event that is coming up in over two weeks would be wrong. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton was right to say that history shows that Ramadan has never necessarily meant a pause in military action. At this stage, therefore, we do not support a pause.
I come to the home front, if we may call it that. The safeguarding of the lives of our constituents must be the principal activity of Her Majesty's Government. I want to know whether they will reassess the calls by some people, including my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey (Sandra Gidley), for a newly appointed Cabinet-rank Minister to deal with home security. We must ensure that every possible provision is in place to secure the lives of our citizens.
It is clear that there is some confusion about who would control a terrorist event in this country. Would it be the Home Office, local government or indeed the devolved Assemblies? It is clear that there is some concern. I therefore believe that we should consider following the example of the United States and appoint a Cabinet-level person who would be responsible for co-ordinating homeland defence. I believe that the Territorial Army would have a vital role in that. I am glad that the Government are trying to improve the way in which the TA is organised.
It is clear that the war is now undergoing a different tempo and that the combined land and air campaign is changing its movement. We in the House must support that. We have made it clear from the start that we support targeted, proportionate action. Our view has not changed. Others may have changed their position, but we have not.