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Mr. Straw: I acceptas I have always donethe importance of making announcements to the House. However, in defence of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and myself, the only occasions on which we have dealt with that matter have been when we explained to people that no decisions have been made, and so no announcement has been made. We have made a statement of the obvious, which I repeated in my speech: we stand ready in appropriate circumstances to take a leading role in that force, but no decisions have been made. That remains the case. Once the decisions have been taken, they will be made known to the House.
Mr. Ancram: I hear what the Foreign Secretary says, but I read the front pages of all the national newspapers on Sunday and Monday. I also heard what the US Secretary of State said in Paris yesterday before he arrived in this country. I find it hard to accept that there has merely been a declaration in principle and that there is no intention behind it.
Patrick Mercer (Newark): Can some light be shed on the warning orders that are currently thrashing around in the joint rapid reaction force and the headquarters of 1 Armoured Division? Is that merely contingency planning?
I have further questions to which I hope to receive an answer. What would be the involvement of the United States in the United Nations mandated force? Who is envisaged as commanding the force? UN officials recently expressed the need to leave "a light footprint", but how would the Government define that? Can they assure the House that any involvement would be time-limited, would not lead to mission creep and would not suck our armed forces into a long-term policing role from which it would be difficult to extricate ourselves?
I should also like the Government to enlarge on the speech made on Monday by the Chief of the Defence Staff, Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, in which he referred to the choices facing the country and the coalition in relation to the next phase. What were the national interests to which he alluded in contrast to altruism? What are the differences of emphasis between the United Kingdom and the United States at which he hinted? Do the Government think that the next phase involves a straight choice between continued involvement in Afghanistan or supporting the United States in the wider fight against terrorism? Or can we do both? What warning was he seeking to give when he talked about trapping
Mike Gapes (Ilford, South): Am I right to conclude from the right hon. Gentleman's remarks that the Conservative party is prepared to support only a very short, time-limited involvement of British forces and that if the situation in Afghanistan requires international involvement that includes our forces, which play a crucial role, and our country, which is a permanent member of the UN Security Council, Conservative Members will not support such a commitment?
Hand in hand with the diplomatic and military efforts there has been a humanitarian aid effort of unrivalled scope and dedication. That has further justified our actions. Sir Michael was certainly right about the need to address the hearts and minds of the population, and there is more to be done in that regard.
The World Food Programme has exceeded its target of 52,000 tonnes of food entering Afghanistan every month, but concern persists about reports by certain charities that food is not reaching the most vulnerable people. There are continued reports of aid convoys being looted, although security is said to be improving. My hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman), who would normally be in her place, is in Pakistan, visiting a land mine charity in Peshawar and attempting to discover whether food in Afghanistan is reaching those who need it, and we all look forward to hearing her report. On a positive note, Afghan refugees are slowly returning home. More than 120,000 refugees have returned to Afghanistan since November, and that is to be welcomed.
The events of 11 September have shown that there is no weapon terrorists will not use and no life they are not prepared to take. If we fail to maintain the pressure on terrorism everywhere, we are all at risk. President Bush understands that. He is right to say that this is a moment to "rise up and fight terror". His Administrationmany of whose members I met in Washington last weekalso understand that that is vital if we are to have security in future. Furthermore, they appreciate that they must act, and be seen to act, in an appropriate, calculated and responsible manner, and they have done that with great skill and determination. That is why they took such swift action to freeze the assets of groups supporting the Hamas terrorists who only recently took the lives of so many Israeli citizens.
Indeed, the events of the past two weeks in Israel remind us that we still have a long way to go before the scourge of terrorism is eradicated. Fifteen people were killed in Israel by terrorism a week ago last Saturday. Twenty-five died because of terrorism the day after. What we were forced to accept from 11 September is that we cannot appease terror. The recent murders took place just as the American envoy, Anthony Zinni, was trying to negotiate a ceasefire. They have threatened stability in the region and in doing so played into bin Laden's hands.
Of course, we look to Israel to exercise restraint and to return to the peace process and the talks table, but after recent events the pressure is especially on the Palestinians. On Monday, the European Union called on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to close down the terrorist networks of Islamic Jihad and Hamas. EU Foreign Ministers meeting in Brussels this week said that Mr. Arafat should also publicly call for an end to the Palestinian intifada against Israel, which has continued for more than a year. We on the Conservative Benches support that, and I believe that the Palestinian Authority cannot and should not renege on its obligations.
Mr. Ancram: The hon. Gentleman knows that there is always a balance to be struck in the middle east between the need for a just settlement for the Palestinians and the security of the state of Israel, and that, in the end, that can only be negotiated. We know that George Mitchell made proposals for the resumption of talks, and I look to the implementation of their requirements so that talks can resume. That is urgently needed.
The international campaign against terrorism must go far wider. We should no longer be prepared to tolerate Governments who themselves tolerate or sponsor terrorist activities. That goes for Afghanistan, but it must go too for other countries that we know, and can show, are involved in international terrorism. President Bush was right yesterday to set down a very clear and stark warning to such countries. When those states are unwilling to take effective action against terrorism, they must be prepared to face a determined response from the wider international community, and I hope that the United Kingdom will continue to be at the forefront of that response.
There are further clear phases of the campaign against international terrorism to be pursued once the immediate fight in Afghanistan is over. The next immediate phase must be the continued pursuit and eradication of al-Qaeda wherever it still flourishes. First, the terrorists must be pursued to wherever they have fled. They cannot be allowed to establish new bases and boltholes. Secondly, wherever there is the potential for them to establish a new command and control structure, under a new leadership, that must be nipped in the bud.
Thirdly, where there are al-Qaeda cells independently capable of carrying out international terrorist acts, they must be ruthlessly hunted down and eradicated, as must any other terrorist organisations that can and might act as their surrogates. It would be a travesty to draw a line at Afghanistan, only to see the monster that is al-Qaeda regroup and re-establish itself. Let me make it clear that where there is evidence of such continuing terrorism, or the threat of it, Conservative Members will support whatever action is necessary to deal with it. But the fight against terrorism cannot end there either.
We must look at those countries who themselves pose a terrorist threatrogue states who not only sponsor and encourage terrorism but carry the threat themselves. The further phase must be to bring appropriate pressure to bear on them to end their terrorist threat. When President Bush says that there can be no further justification for the continuing Iraqi failure to abide by the Gulf war ceasefire obligations to allow United Nations inspectors back into the country to monitor its weapons of mass destruction, we support him. The evidence suggests that Iraq has used the three years since UNSCOM was banished to build up its arsenal.