HC Deb 08 October 2001 vol 372 cc811-29

6 pm

The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair)

Mr. Speaker, thank you for agreeing to the third recall of Parliament since 11 September.

At 5.30 pm British time yesterday, a series of air and cruise missile attacks began on the terrorist camps of Osama bin Laden and the military installations of the Taliban regime. These were carried out by American and British armed forces with the support of other allies. There were 30 targets. Twenty-three were outside the main cities, three were in Kabul and four were in the vicinity of other large settlements. In all cases, the utmost care was taken to avoid civilian casualties. British forces were engaged in this action through the use of submarine-launched Tomahawk missiles fired against terrorist training facilities.

It is too early to report back fully on the effect of last night's action. However, we can say that initial indications are that the coalition operations were successful in achieving their objective of destroying and degrading elements of the al-Qaeda terrorist facilities and the Taliban military apparatus that protects them. These operations will continue, and I can tell the House that a second wave of attacks is now under way. In time, they will be supported by other actions, again carefully targeted on the military network of the enemy.

We took almost four weeks after 11 September to act. I pay tribute to President Bush's statesmanship in having the patience to wait. That was for three reasons. First, we had to establish who was responsible. Once it was clear that the al-Qaeda network planned and perpetrated the attacks, we then wanted to give the Taliban regime time to decide their own position: would they shield bin Laden or yield him up? It was only fair to give them an ultimatum and time to respond. But it is now clear that they have chosen to side with terrorism.

But thirdly, we wanted time to make sure that the targets for any action minimised the possibility of civilian casualties. Our argument is not with the Afghan people. They are victims of the Taliban regime. They live in poverty, repressed viciously, women denied even the most basic human rights, and subject to a crude form of theocratic dictatorship that is as cruel as it is arbitrary.

We are doing all we can to limit the effect of our action on ordinary Afghans. I repeat: we will not walk away from them once the conflict ends, as has happened in the past. We will stand by them and help them to a better, more stable future under a broad-based Government involving all the different ethnic groupings. That is our commitment to the people of Afghanistan.

The strength of the coalition remains. In addition to Britain, France, Germany, Australia and Canada have all pledged military support. We should also remember the contribution that Germany is already making, under Chancellor Schröder, by taking over the leadership of the NATO mission in Macedonia, and thus freeing up other allied resources for use in Afghanistan. I spoke to Prime Minister Aznar of Spain last night. He pledged his full commitment and indicated his readiness to provide military support. We greatly value and welcome the Spanish support, as we do that of Italy. And of course NATO is giving its full support. Today the North Atlantic Council agreed the redeployment of five AWACS aircraft to free up United States assets so that they can participate in this operation. We anticipate that NATO will shortly agree the redeployment of standing naval forces on the same basis.

The European Union is fully supportive. Russia has issued a strong statement calling for decisive action against the evil of terrorism. China has encouraged efforts to combat terrorism, calling for military strikes to be targeted at specific objectives. The Japanese Prime Minister and Government have given their full support.

President Musharraf of Pakistan has described the military strikes as an action against terrorists, terrorism and their sanctuaries and supporters". Pakistan is providing help in terms of intelligence, logistic support and airspace.

On Saturday, I met Prime Minister Vajpayee of India, who assured me of the Indian Government's robust support for efforts to combat international terrorism.

In the Arab world there has been widespread condemnation of the 11 September atrocities and acceptance of the need to take action against the al-Qaeda network.

Of course, al-Qaeda and the Taliban regime will be eager to spread false propaganda. Already, their lie machine is putting out false claims about the US planes being shot down. There will be much more of that kind of thing. And of course they lie about our motivation. We know their aim. It is to foment conflict between Islam and the west; it is to present themselves as champions of the Muslim world against the United States of America. It is to say that we are anti-Islam. That is a lie. Let us expose it once and for all. We are in conflict with Osama bin Laden and the Taliban regime because the terrorists killed thousands of innocent people, including hundreds of Muslims and women and children; and because the Taliban regime, in return for financial and other support, give them succour.

Forgive me for repeating this, but my visit to Pakistan convinced me that these sentiments cannot be repeated too often. To kill as those terrorists did is utterly foreign to all the teachings of the Koran, and to justify it by saying that such murder of the innocent is doing the will of God is to defame the good name of Islam. That is why Muslims the world over have been appalled by this act. That was made clear to me once more at my meeting earlier today with leaders of all the religious faiths, including Muslims, in Britain.

As for those who doubted bin Laden's wickedness or his murderous intent, I ask them to listen to his television broadcast yesterday. He said: God Almighty hit the US at its most vulnerable spot. He destroyed its greatest buildings and filled the country with terror. Praise be to God. Sitting next to him was Ayman al-Zawahiri, leader of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, who themselves were involved in al-Qaeda's attacks, in 1998, on the US embassies in east Africa.

I also remind people of this. In 1999, when hundreds of thousands of Muslims were subject to ethnic cleansing by the hated Milosevic regime in Kosovo, we took military action in Serbia against Milosevic. We were not acting then against Milosevic because Serbia is an Orthodox Christian country, or in favour of the Kosovars because so many of them are Muslims. We acted against Milosevic because what he was doing—the humanitarian catastrophe that he was inflicting on them—was unjust. We helped the Kosovars because they were victims of his injustice.

It is justice too that makes our coalition as important on the humanitarian side as on the military side. We have established an effective coalition to deal with the humanitarian crisis in the region, which of course existed before 11 September. Our priority has been to re-establish food supply routes into Afghanistan. Some 5,000 tonnes of food went in during the last fortnight, thanks to the efforts of the United Nations and other international agencies. At the UN meeting in Geneva over the weekend, donors pledged $600 million, including the United Kingdom's own commitment of $55 million. We will do all that we can to help refugees from the Taliban regime. All we ask them to do is not to stop that help getting through to those refugees.

We must safeguard our country too. Our first responsibility is the safety of the public. Since 11 September, every one of our arrangements has been under scrutiny. We have extensive contingency planning in place in Britain. We are doing all that we reasonably can to anticipate the nature of, and thwart, any potential retaliation. As yet there is no specific credible threat that we know of against Britain. However, we would be foolish to be anything other than highly vigilant, although as the experience of the United States shows, that is not an easy task. Contacts between the United Kingdom, United States and other Governments and agencies are good, and expertise and planning are being shared.

I am aware too of the anguish of the families of the aid workers held in Afghanistan, and of the family of the journalist Yvonne Ridley. I can report to the House that Yvonne Ridley has been handed over to Pakistani officials with whom we have been liaising closely since her detention. She has been met by consular staff from the high commission, and she will be taken to Islamabad this evening and accommodated with the high commission. I pay tribute to the tireless work of the British high commission in Islamabad, the Foreign Office and the Pakistani Government in securing her release.

We are in this for the long haul. Even when al-Qaeda is dealt with, the job will not be over. The network of international terrorism is not confined to it. It is essential therefore that we reflect on why it is so necessary that we stand with the US and other allies in this fight. The attack was an attack not on the west or the United States alone. It was an attack on civilised values everywhere. It was an attempt to change by terror what the terrorists knew they could not do by reasoned argument. It was an attempt to substitute terrorist atrocity for deliberative policy; to see the world run by the chaos consequent on terrorist outrage, rather than by disciplined and calm debate.

We in Britain have the most direct interest in defeating such terror. It strikes at the heart of what we believe in. We know that, if not stopped, the terrorists will do it again, possibly this time in Britain. We know that it was an attack also on economic confidence, trying to destroy the strength of our economies, and that eradicating this threat is crucial to global economic confidence.

We know that the Taliban regime are largely funded by the drugs trade and that 90 per cent. of the heroin on British streets originates in Afghanistan. We know that the refugee crisis—4.5 million on the move even before 11 September—directly impacts us here.

So this military action we are undertaking is not for a just cause alone, though this cause is just. It is to protect our country, our people, our economy, our way of life. It is not a struggle remote from our everyday British concerns; it touches them intimately.

We did not choose this conflict. We do not go lightly to fight. We are all of us—the nations involved in this action—peaceful peoples who prefer to live in peace, but a desire to live in peace should never be interpreted as weakness by those who attack us. If attacked, we will respond. We will defend ourselves and our very reluctance to use force means that, when we do, we do so with complete determination that we shall prevail.

That is why we were there last night, in action, and why we will be there again, with our allies. It is why we will continue to act with steadfast resolve to see this struggle through to the end and to the victory that would mark the victory not of revenge but of justice over the evil of terrorism.

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green)

Mr. Speaker, may I join the Prime Minister in thanking you for agreeing to recall Parliament and may I say to the Prime Minister how grateful we are for his coming to the House to make his statement today?

I fully agree with the Prime Minister on the importance of recalling Parliament at the earliest opportunity. It is vital on such momentous occasions that the House of Commons is kept informed so that it can debate developments as it will today.

Yet again, as the Prime Minister announced today, it is clear how important NATO is to our overall security, and I hope that he will outline later whether there are further assets that NATO may have to deploy to the theatre. But our first thoughts are with our armed forces. They have been entrusted with an enormous task. Our hopes and prayers are with them in all that they do. We in this House, who so often take for granted their skill and their bravery, which guarantee our peace and security, must take this opportunity to thank them for their dedication.

We know that, in playing their part, our armed forces will carry out their duties with the utmost bravery, determination and professionalism, yet we must not forget the families of our service men and women. Theirs is perhaps the hardest task—waiting without knowing, hoping that any news is good news. The prayers of the House should be, and I hope are, with them all. They are not alone in their anxieties, as the Prime Minister pointed out. We here must also recognise that there are legitimate concerns among the British people about the consequences for Britain of this action.

The Prime Minister is right to consider new ways of protecting British citizens and I hope that, over the next few days, he will be able to tell us more about some of those measures. I also say to the people of this country that the consequences of inaction are far, far greater. This is not a conflict of our own making, but it is a conflict that we must win.

During this time, we should continue to go about our normal daily lives. To do anything else would be to reward terrorists with a victory that they must never have. That is why my party is continuing with its conference in Blackpool. Democracy must go on.

The Prime Minister reiterated that this is not a war against Islam. He is right. No teaching of the Koran has ever taught that kind of foul action. Like the Prime Minister, I was angered to hear bin Laden seek to excuse those horrific acts of terrorism by reference to the conflict in the middle east. Before anyone is taken in by such propaganda it is worth pointing out that bin Laden was planning his strike against New York and Washington two years ago. That was at a time when hopes were very high for the peace process in the middle east. He planned to tear down that process, not to uphold it.

Bin Laden claims to speak for Islam, but he does not. His is a cynical and suicidal cult, dedicated to the destruction of civilisations and lives, irrespective of their faith. That is why Muslim leaders whom I have met have been unequivocal in their condemnation. That is why countries such as Pakistan have united with us despite the severe difficulties that they face.

I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to the Government of Pakistan. Over the years our ties between our peoples have been strong. We should all understand the genuine predicament of those families with relations in Afghanistan and Pakistan divided by a common border. I reiterate that our quarrel is not with them. This is not a war against the Afghan people, who have suffered enough under a monstrous regime that terrorises its own people, as the Prime Minister rightly said.

All of us in the House support the efforts outlined by the Prime Minister to bring humanitarian aid to the region. We must do everything in our power to ensure that once the conflict is over, the people of Afghanistan can return to a homeland that is able to sustain them. Will the Prime Minister now confirm that air drops, while welcome, can provide only a very small amount of aid? Will he confirm that he will be looking at logistical means to get aid to the people of Afghanistan? Will he outline some of the further difficulties in doing so?

I join the Prime Minister in welcoming the reports that Yvonne Ridley is free. Our best hopes go with the aid workers, whose position and whereabouts is unknown.

Last night, following weeks of careful preparation and planning, the alliance struck back. This was no knee-jerk reaction, but has been, as the Prime Minister said, a measured response. He was right to pay tribute to President Bush. On 11 September, the appalling atrocities of bin Laden and al-Qaeda horrified the civilised world. These acts were a wake-up call to us all. No longer can we ignore the terrorists and those who nurture them, harbour them and sustain them. The Taliban regime have become an accessory to international mass murder. Their actions have dictated our actions.

This will be, as President Bush said, a war like no other. It will not be resolved in a matter of days. It could take many months, even years. We are, as the Prime Minister rightly said, in for the long haul. No one should doubt the determination of the British people to see this through to a successful conclusion. Our future security and well-being require no less.

The Prime Minister

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his support, which is greatly appreciated.

In respect of NATO and further NATO assets, I have nothing to add to what I said earlier, but obviously that point will be kept under review. As for our armed forces, as I said last night, it is an incalculable strength for any Prime Minister and any country in this situation to have armed forces that are generally admired throughout the world for their courage, professionalism and extraordinary ability to get on with the job and get it done. We can be truly proud of them. Of course, our thoughts and prayers are with them and their families at this moment.

We keep very closely under review all the different ways of protecting our citizens against any potential attack, but it is of course extremely difficult to guess where the terrorists may try to strike. We are working urgently on that, not only within this country but in discussions with other Governments.

The right hon. Gentleman was right about the middle east peace process. It cannot be said too often that these extremists and fanatics are opposed to the peace process because they are opposed to the very existence of the state of Israel. They therefore do not want the peace process to succeed; they want it to fail. That is one reason why it is so important that we get the peace process back on track and moving forward again. The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that it is a measure of the terrorists' extremism that they were planning the attack long before the peace process entered its current difficult stage.

In relation to Afghanistan, I can tell the House that the money is available, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development will say more about that in the debate. The biggest difficulty will concern logistics and organisation. We will probably manage in areas around Afghanistan, but the operation will be difficult inside that country unless there is some minimum co-operation from the Taliban regime.

Finally, this is going to be a long haul. It will be difficult, but one of the things that was very clear from what I thought was a pretty chilling broadcast by Osama bin Laden yesterday was the necessity of acting. This is not a man or a network who will hesitate to act again. They will act again and they will do worse if they can. For those who doubted that we faced a necessity to act, reading a transcript of that interview, or watching it, is a pretty good antidote.

Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Inverness, West)

In thanking the Prime Minister for his statement on this sombre parliamentary occasion, may I fully associate Liberal Democrat Members with the expressions of support and concern for our armed forces that have been so properly expressed at this most difficult and dangerous of times? I also welcome the good news, just recently announced and confirmed, of the safe return of Yvonne Ridley.

The military strikes of the past 24 hours are sad. Indeed, we all consider them tragic, but they are none the less inevitable. If anyone doubted, even last week, the veracity of the case against bin Laden, the chilling nature of the words that he used in last night's broadcast said it all, and mean that one does not have to see evidence. Bin Laden said: There is America, full of fear, from its north to its south, from its west to its east. Thank God for that. That is what we are up against. Very properly, members of all political parties have made it clear—but the point cannot be made often enough—that we are up against evil, not Islam, either at home or abroad.

There is also no doubt about the sheer complicity of the Taliban regime. The regime harbours bin Laden, in defiance of world opinion, and he fosters terrorism in the face of global decency. That is why the actions taken so far are both just and proportionate.

I wish to make two brief inquiries of the Prime Minister, on matters that I have raised previously. The first inquiry has to do with the military aims and the political objectives. Is the long-term aim to help establish a more stable, sane and representative administration from within Afghanistan itself, or is it to try and secure, for example, a United Nations protectorate after the military phase is over? Which is the preferred option at this point? On the wider political objective, can further political effort be devoted to implementing United Nations Security Council resolution 1373, which deals with the international suppression of terrorism?

My second inquiry follows on from the first. As the Prime Minister said, aid is, thankfully, reaching Afghanistan. That is a good thing, but if some degree of stability and sanity is not achieved as a consequence of our action in the area, that aid cannot adequately reach the people who need it. Can more be done to help ensure that food reaches those who are hungry, not least those thousands of people who are amassing on Afghanistan's borders with neighbouring states? The problem has been highlighted by the leading domestic and international aid agencies.

No one in this country has any quarrel whatsoever with the people of Afghanistan, who now find themselves at the mercy of world events. They have a regime whom they did not elect, and they are at the mercy of events because of an individual whom they did not invite.

We are correct to pursue military action, but unlike the terrorists, we will continue to display mercy.

The Prime Minister

Again, I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his support for the action that is being undertaken. I shall deal directly with his two questions.

Our military aims are to shut down the al-Qaeda network and all the terrorist camps that operate out of Afghanistan, and, in so far as the Taliban regime are an obstacle to that, to disable or remove them. People often ask whether getting rid of the Taliban regime is a specific objective. As time goes on, it is increasingly difficult to understand how the terrorists and the Taliban can be distinguished. My visit to Pakistan brought home to me the interconnection between them; they are linked at every level. However, our aim is to shut down the terrorist network. If the Taliban had acted in accordance with the ultimatum, yielded up bin Laden and started to shut down the camps, action could have been avoided.

Should the regime fall, it is important. and certainly a political aim, to establish a more representative Government who are based on all ethnic groupings and have broad support in the country. That is not necessarily inconsistent with a role for the United Nations. The two may go together, but the matter is at an early stage of consideration. It was impressed strongly upon me on my travels that it is important for the impetus to come from the Afghan people rather than being imposed by outside Governments, however well intentioned. We can play a facilitating role, but the impetus must come from the Afghanis.

On food reaching those who are hungry, we have shown in the past couple of weeks that it is possible to get food convoys through to people in Afghanistan. We must now ensure that, notwithstanding the action and the attitude of the Taliban, we contrive the right way of doing that. I believe that the problem will be largely organisational, but the fact that we now have a UN representative of proven capability who will take charge in the region at this early stage gives us the best chance of realising our humanitarian as well as our military aims.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)

From the beginning, the Prime Minister has rightly emphasised the importance of humanitarian aid. As he knows, up to 7 million people were in danger of suffering a famine even before 11 September. It is therefore crucial that the food aid continues to flow. Will my right hon. Friend also ensure that borders are kept open? If people flee in panic, as they undoubtedly will, it is crucial that they are able to cross the borders to safety.

I ask my right hon. Friend to pay particular attention to the women of Afghanistan, who have been humiliated and degraded by the Taliban regime. Many of them are already war widows; they will need special help in the current circumstances and after the war is over.

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend is right. The question of keeping borders open is strongly connected to that of whether we can offer help of sufficient credibility to the surrounding countries so that they feel able to keep the borders open. That is one of the reasons for our putting the money together for the humanitarian effort so quickly, and for the UN's appointment of a special representative to co-ordinate the effort. We are keeping the borders open with Pakistan, but continuing to do that depends crucially on our providing the necessary support.

My hon. Friend's comments about the women of Afghanistan are absolutely right. The oppression visited upon them is almost extraordinary. I know that she has read of and talked to victims of the oppression; there is no doubt that relief from the Taliban regime will be most welcome to the people of Afghanistan, especially the women.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex)

In view of the words this morning of President Musharraf about the Northern Alliance, will the Prime Minister clarify the policy of the allies towards that organisation? What exactly will he do to help them or, indeed, to arm them?

The Prime Minister

The position of the allies in this respect is clear. It is important that whatever successor regime there is to the Taliban is as broad based as possible. The Northern Alliance has certain of the ethnic groupings necessary for such a broad base, but there is also a genuine desire to ensure that it is not simply limited to those organisations that are part of the Northern Alliance. Of course it is important, because they are assisting us by the actions that they are taking against the Taliban regime, to recognise their contribution, but it was impressed strongly upon me in Pakistan—and by President Musharraf personally—that if a successor regime comes out of this conflict, it must be sufficiently broadly based and must take into account the legitimate interests of Pakistan.

Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton)

As the Prime Minister said, this is a grave moment for the world. He has our support in these actions. Will he accept that just as important as the prosecution of war is the subsequent campaign for justice and peace? There can be no lasting peace without justice. To that extent, will he reflect on the humanitarian aspects and ensure, as the aid agencies have requested, clear corridors for refugees and food? He knows that in the past two decades Pakistan has had to accommodate more than 3 million refugees while having crippling debt, with this year one third of its exports consumed by debt. Will he do something for the refugees and particularly do something about Pakistan's debt?

The Prime Minister

I agree with my hon. Friend's points. Since the tragedy of 11 September the issue of humanitarian help has been right up there alongside the issue of military action. That has been the position not just of Britain but of the United States. President Bush has made it clear that he is absolutely committed to the humanitarian coalition. There is a feeling in Pakistan—the intensity of this feeling is clear only when one talks to the people concerned—that at the end of the 1980s when the Russians left Afghanistan, the west did not stand by Pakistan or help it with the problems that it had to deal with. It is important now to send the message that we will not see the successful achievement of our military aims as an end. That should be the beginning of a political process that heals some of the wounds in the region and offers a Government of stability, not just for the Afghan people but for their neighbours.

Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk)

Both the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition have emphasised that this is going to be a long haul. Given the Prime Minister's praise for the British armed forces, is he satisfied that they have the necessary resources in place for such a long haul? If not, will he give them those extra resources to achieve the political objective that we all desire?

The Prime Minister

We have already made it clear—the Chancellor of the Exchequer did so the other day—that the armed forces should have the resources necessary to do the job. It would not be fair or right to ask them to do it without being properly resourced, and they will be.

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire)

Can we he sure that the bombing will not be over the top, as it was in Iraq and Serbia? That is particularly important if we are seeking a result in Afghanistan that involves the Afghan people and a fair and balanced constitution.

On humanitarian matters, are we sure that we have the economic backing required? If we are planning to tackle terrorism throughout the world and not just in Afghanistan, we have to tackle global poverty. We need the resources to do that. Will the Government re-examine their position on the Tobin tax on currency speculation? That would be a ready source of funding to tackle this matter in the long run.

The Prime Minister

First, in relation to any military action, I think that we have shown, both by the time we have taken and by the targets we have chosen, that we are well aware of the need to do everything that we humanly can to avoid civilian casualties, and that has been clear from the very outset. Of course, conflict is conflict, and it is never easy to do it or to ensure that any potential civilian casualties are minimised, but we are doing all we possibly can to do that.

In relation to the economic backing for humanitarian aid, I think that the $600 million—the initial programme for six months that the United Nations considers necessary—has been effectively agreed in principle by the main countries, including a very generous contribution from the United States of America; so that money is there. I personally believe that, on the humanitarian side, the issue will not be money; it will be organisation and logistics.

In relation to what we can do about global poverty, I am proud of the work that has been done by the Chancellor, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development and the Government to try to deal with issues such as debt and increasing aid and development money, and we have done that. I regret to say that I am not entirely with my hon. Friend on the Tobin tax idea.

Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East)

As the Prime Minister has kindly given us all a paper that shows in detail the appalling involvement of Mr. bin Laden not only in the activities of the 11 September, but on many similar occasions which obviously justify trial and justice, is it the case that, in the event of Mr. bin Laden falling into the hands of British troops, it would not legally be possible for us to hand him over to the United States for trial because it has the death penalty? Does not the Prime Minister genuinely feel that this is an issue on which the law the should be changed, because it would be unthinkable for bin Laden to be tried in any country other than the USA, where the terrible killings took place?

The Prime Minister

There are issues connected with extradition and the death penalty, which the hon. Gentleman knows that we are examining as part of the laws in relation to this, but in respect of bin Laden himself, I suspect that that is not a very serious consideration in this particular case.

Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North and Sefton, East)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the majority of people who voted in my constituency and elsewhere agree with the Leader of the Opposition's sentiments that the way in which matters have been conducted so far by our own Government, the United States Administration and our other allies has been indeed measured, and appropriately so? Does he further agree that as events unfold, whatever regime or whatever supervisory arrangements emerge in Afghanistan, it will have to be impressed on those involved that the pivotal role that Afghanistan has played for some decades now in the production and distribution of heroin right across the world will simply be unacceptable?

The Prime Minister

I agree entirely with what my hon. Friend has said. It is very important that we ensure that Afghanistan ceases to be the source of a significant amount of the heroin in the world and, not least, the 90 per cent. of heroin in this country that originates in Afghanistan. What is interesting is that if we look, for example, at Pakistan, there was a programme some years ago to change out of the production of heroin, which was successful, so it is not impossible for countries to engage in a process that frees them from dependence on this, and there are other, better and more productive uses to which the land can be put, but I agree with him entirely: that should be a principal objective of the supervisory arrangements afterwards.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)

The Prime Minister referred to the United Nations twice in his statement, both times in connection with humanitarian aid, which is, of course, most welcome, but may I respectfully remind him that, by invoking the self-defence provisions under article 51, there is a prerequisite that the matter should be referred immediately to the Security Council? I understand that the United States has already done so. May I ask the Prime Minister whether Her Majesty's Government have done so, and if so, is such action limited to action in one country alone?

The Prime Minister

We believe that such action is entirely justified under article 51 in self-defence. As the hon. Gentleman rightly says, the UN Security Council has agreed that it is right that action should be taken, and Britain, the United States of America and the other allies are acting in accordance with the UN resolution and international law.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

On that very point, is it the Law Officers' advice that the action is in line with the provisions of the United Nations charter?

The Prime Minister


Derek Conway (Old Bexley and Sidcup)

Does the Prime Minister accept that his personal conduct and praise for the patience of the American people will find widespread support both inside and outside the House? As, sadly, bin Laden is neither the first nor likely to be the last of his type, will the Prime Minister assure the House that we have learned the lessons of Saddam Hussein that evil does not understand the meaning of the word "probation" and that the war against terrorism does not stop at the caves of Afghanistan but has to be finished once and for all?

The Prime Minister

As I said in my statement, it is important that we realise that international terrorism and terrorism operating in this way are not confined to the al-Qaeda network. As I said at the outset, there are really two phases. The first is dealing with the al-Qaeda network and the Taliban regime who shield it in Afghanistan, and then we have to consider the other measures that are necessary to deal with terrorism throughout the world.

Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

In meeting the objectives that the Prime Minister has laid down, the decision is not between action and inaction but between action that will be effective and that which could do more harm. Members last week called for the action to be measured, proportionate, targeted and in accordance with international law. Will the Prime Minister report back regularly to the House on compliance with those requirements?

The Prime Minister

Yes, of course we will. We want that action to be effective and it has, of course, got to be measured as well. We believe that the way that we have acted is measured and we believe that it will be effective. Of course I will report back to the House regularly.

Angela Watkinson (Upminster)

I was one of the members of the British-American parliamentary group who were in Washington on 11 September. That visit has been well reported by other members of the group, but one aspect has not been mentioned. In the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attack, people gathered, much as they did in this country, wherever a television screen could be found, to watch events unfolding and it was very evident to me that it did not matter what the origin of those American people was. They were many and varied and it did not matter whether they were Irish, Hispanic, Afro-American or Italian. They all considered themselves to be American first, and that is a very important lesson for us to learn.

I have been very heartened by the letters that I have received from Asian and Muslim organisations in my constituency—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Lady, but she must ask a question. However, I think that the Prime Minister will be able to answer her point.

The Prime Minister

I think that the sentiments that the hon. Lady expresses are the right sentiments, not just for America but for Britain also.

Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton)

I thank the Prime Minister for the reason and resolve with which he is approaching these matters. Can he say anything more of the assessment that he has made of the number of terrorists who have been trained in the al-Qaeda network and about their capacity for atrocities comparable to the terrible events of 11 September?

The Prime Minister

What we know is that thousands have passed through the al-Qaeda network of terrorist training camps. The camps controlled by al-Qaeda are not the only terrorist camps in Afghanistan. Essentially, all over Afghanistan for the past decade people have been trained in acts of terrorism to export to various parts of the world. That is why our demand of the Taliban right from the very outset was that they not merely yielded up bin Laden and his associates and those people responsible for al-Qaeda, but that they closed down all those camps in Afghanistan and did so verifiably. I think it is important that we keep that in the forefront of our minds because some of these people have gone to different parts of the world committing acts of terrorism. They have been trained there, and the Taliban regime have used the self-same people as well in doing what they are doing. That is part of the interconnection between al-Qaeda and the Taliban. However, the answer is that literally thousands of people have passed through the camps, which is why it is important that we shut them down.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk)

Will the Prime Minister join me in paying tribute to the professionalism of all those RAF men and women from Norfolk bases who have been deployed to the region? Further to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson), will he look specifically at the concerns of the RAF regarding funding for equipment and training in peace time?

The Prime Minister

Of course I pay tribute to the RAF for the work that it does, which is magnificent. We shall certainly look at any issues raised in respect of funding, but I am assured by both the Defence Secretary and the Chancellor that the necessary resources are available.

Mr. Paul Marsden (Shrewsbury and Atcham)

In my right hon. Friend's excellent speech last week at the Labour party conference he referred to the inalienable US citizens' rights enshrined in the US constitution. When will British citizens be given a written constitution so that Parliament, not a Prime Minister, authorises a declaration of war?

Hon. Members


The Prime Minister

It may be better if I just thank my hon. Friend for his comments about the conference speech. His question is a topic for another day. However, we do have inalienable rights in this country, through both our legislation and our ordinary common law, and I personally greatly welcome them.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

Will the Prime Minister, whose leadership has been exemplary so far, agree that it is absolutely crucial that the people of Muslim countries understand the aims and policies of the coalition? Will he see what can be done to encourage both the BBC World Service and the British Council to use all their resources to that end, and will he ensure that they are adequately resourced for that purpose?

The Prime Minister

We are increasing support to them, but the hon. Gentleman's point is very important indeed. It is important that we use every possible outlet—the BBC World Service is a very important outlet—to get across this message because huge disinformation goes on in certain parts of the Arab and Muslim world. People like bin Laden and apologists for terrorism do precisely that. I have noticed in the past few weeks, which is why I repeated those sentiments again today—we have repeated them time and again every time we have had this debate—when I was out in the region, people talking about western leaders all saying that this was about a tight for western values versus Islam, whereas that is not the case. We cannot repeat that often enough. All Members of Parliament have the ability to give interviews to make that point. It is extremely important. This is not unusual in modern conflicts—certainly not of this type—but correctness of information is a vital part of achieving the aims that we set ourselves.

Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews (Medway)

Will the Prime Minister consider using our influence to move the Security Council to set up now an international criminal court comparable to that in The Hague and in Arusha, charged with drawing the indictment and assembling the evidence, and ultimately trying Osama bin Laden and his accomplices? In so doing, a clear message would be sent to the international community that we both desire and expect a judicial end to this conflict.

The Prime Minister

We have obviously played a substantial part in the movement towards an international criminal court. Of course it is important that we act in accordance with the rule of law throughout, but we are doing that. The difficulty is not so much what type of justice bin Laden could face but bringing him to justice, particularly as he is shielded by the Taliban regime.

Mr. Edward Gamier (Harborough)

In his answer to the hon. Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth) a moment ago, the Prime Minister used the expression "supervisory arrangements" in relation to what I shall loosely describe as post-war Afghanistan. I assume that he used those words deliberately. Will he explain what he meant by them?

The Prime Minister

In fact, I was answering a point made by my hon. Friend, who used the term. What I mean by that is the arrangements for the post-Taliban successor regime.

Mr. Stephen McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green)

The Prime Minister has rightly been applauded for trying to build a humanitarian as well as a diplomatic and military coalition. Will any effort be made to screen those arriving at the camps and centres to make sure that they are all genuine refugees and that that does not become an escape route for some of bin Laden's people? Secondly, what will be done to avoid replicating the appalling conditions in the camps of the early 1990s, which did so much to give rise to the emergence of the Taliban?

The Prime Minister

Those are both good points. I know that the UN is considering actively how we can make sure that the people coming into the camps are genuine refugees. The UN is familiar with that problem from Bosnia, Kosovo, Rwanda and elsewhere and will be putting in place the mechanisms to deal with it. In relation to my hon. Friend's point about ensuring that the camps are properly run, the very best thing that we can do is to make sure that the money and the organisational capability are there, but as I said a moment or two ago, we need to be most concerned with organisation. The importance of that organisation is not merely to treat the people well, but to make sure that they can return in safety to their own homeland, Afghanistan.

Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim)

May I first apologise for the absence of the leader of the Ulster Unionist party who has commitments at the Northern Ireland Assembly this evening? I also thank the Prime Minister for his statement, for the commitment that he has shown and for his continuing methodical approach in partnership with President Bush and others as they seek to deal with Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaeda network and its evil allies in the middle east and throughout the world. Bearing in mind that there is a sense of apprehension and fear that there may be retaliatory action, does the Prime Minister agree that people who feel unease at this time should take an example from the people of Northern Ireland who for 30 years stood up against terrorism? Finally, does he agree that although life may be difficult for our nation in the days and months ahead, we must stand together defiantly against terrorism if this evil is to be removed internationally?

The Prime Minister

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. On his point about retaliation, of course it is correct that the Taliban may well attempt that, but we should be under no illusion: if we were not taking action they would consider us a target in any event. No act provoked the World Trade Centre bombings as a retaliation. We can be very clear about that, so our only option, given the statements that they have made and what they intend to do, is to remove the threat.

Mr. Harold Best (Leeds, North-West)

Does the Prime Minister agree that no one in the modern world could not have been aware of the events in September that cause us to be here today, but it seems that some people do not live in the modern world? I hope that the Prime Minister understands that we need to develop our ideas about democracy, fairness and justice to the extent that they can be transmitted to those who are not part of our modern world and that we should fight that battle with equal fervour as we are now fighting the hard battle in Afghanistan.

The Prime Minister

I agree that it is important that we make sure that at the same time as we take the necessary military action we advance the cause of justice and the eradication of poverty wherever we can in the world. That is an important part of the action and there is a general sense of that being our objective, not just in Britain, but in the United States of America.

Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid-Kent)

Does the Prime Minister agree that there is a clear danger that after a period of heavy shelling the Taliban may simply drift away into the hills? What plans does the alliance have to exercise influence on the ground after they have done that and to protect the civilians from reprisals from advancing armies?

The Prime Minister

Obviously, we are aware of the potential difficulties in tracing and tracking down the Taliban, and indeed Osama bin Laden, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not enter into details of that potential military operation.

Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the role of Russia and the former Soviet republics in central Asia has been and will be crucial in the fight against international terrorism? Does he agree that it has perhaps not been sufficiently appreciated in the west that there have been more Russian lives lost as a result of extremist terrorism than there were British lives lost in New York a few weeks ago? Does not this provide a real opportunity for a better alliance and future with our Russian comrades—[Laughter.] I am addressing my comrade now. Does not this provide a real opportunity for a better alliance with Russia as a result of its full participation in the coalition which my right hon. Friend has done so much to promote?

The Prime Minister

I hope this does not shock my hon. Friend too much, but I agree with him entirely. One of the most important aspects of what has happened since 11 September has been the position of Russia. I congratulate President Putin and the Russian Government on the support they have given. It has not been easy for them to support the United States, but they have done so, and that support has been very substantial. It has been substantial logistic support, using forces not for military action but in support of the military action that is being undertaken. That is important.

When we discuss what might change after 11 September, in an attempt to see what good might come out of such a terrible event, it might be that one of those things will be a different and better relationship between Russia and the United States and Russia and the west. Those things are potentially changing now, and it is important that it is made more solid in the days and weeks ahead. When I was in Moscow on Thursday night, I found that the strength of support from President Putin and the Russian Government was remarkable. As my hon. Friend pointed out, it is right to remember that Russia lost hundreds of people in 1999 through terrorist attacks and it has a clear interest in suppressing such networks of terror.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot)

Further to the points made by my comrade, the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack), may I suggest that one practical step that could be taken to win the hearts and minds of the Islamic world would be if some of our Muslim leaders were to go to the various Muslim capitals where there appear to be problems and explain to the Muslim fraternity why they are supporting the United Kingdom Government in their action against the perpetrators of these atrocities? In that way, they would be explaining to the Muslim world that this is not an attack on Islam and reinforcing the contribution that they could make in the United Kingdom.

The Prime Minister

I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, but of course it is also the case that there are many Muslim clerics in those Muslim countries who strongly condemn the atrocities of 11 September and support the taking of action. The difficulty is that they will receive less publicity than those who are condemning the action we are taking. It is important that their voices are heard. With very few exceptions, British Muslims have been united in their condemnation of what has happened, and that is an important message to send to the rest of the world.

Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South)

No one will know better than my right hon. Friend how anxious a time it is when a country embarks on military action. There are anxieties for the future, for our troops who will be involved and, in this case, for the people of Afghanistan and the potential innocent victims caught up in any repercussions. I am seeking my right hon. Friend's assurance that he will put as much energy as he has undoubtedly put into military action into ensuring that the humanitarian action is effective and targeted, so that at least some good will come out of these terrible events.

The Prime Minister

I will do so. One of the reasons why I will do so is for the sake of the victims of 11 September and their families. The families I have met who lost people on 11 September have, to a person, not wanted us to act out of revenge or to visit increased suffering upon others. They want us to make sure that, while we bring those responsible to justice, we do so in a way that minimises the suffering of innocent people and helps those in Afghanistan who are suffering under the Taliban regime. There are substantial reasons. The humanitarian action that we take is vitally important. There are huge difficulties involved in it, but it is important and, at the conclusion of the conflict, it will also be important that we stand by the commitments that we have given the Afghan people and that I have repeated today.

Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam)

The Prime Minister has already acknowledged that some of the people who have been most terrorised by the actions of Osama bin Laden are members of the British Muslim community, who are naturally fearful about the impact on community relations. Many of them must now be concerned about the impact of the military action that bin Laden has brought down upon their friends and relatives in the affected region. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House whether he has plans to improve the advice and support facilities for British citizens and those resident in Britain who are of Afghan or Pakistani origin, who must naturally be very worried today and will be worried in the weeks ahead?

The Prime Minister

We understand their concern and worry. The Foreign Office and other relevant Government Departments are doing what they can to reassure people and to advise them. It is a difficult situation for people who are caught up in it, but we are doing what we can. We recognised early on after 11 September that this would be a problem and we will carry on doing what we can.

Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central)

How concerned is the Prime Minister that so far practical support given by various Arab countries and, indeed, our NATO ally Turkey is considerably less than that given in the Gulf war? In that regard, how important is it to convince those Governments that when the pieces of the kaleidoscope stop turning the patterns and colours in the middle east will be somewhat different than they are today?

The Prime Minister

Those countries are giving us support, of course, but it is important that we carry on convincing people in the Muslim and Arab world about the nature of this struggle, why we are undertaking it and how it is important to see that alongside our commitment on the humanitarian front and ensuring that the middle east peace process is restarted and works. There is a clearer understanding of that now than there was a few weeks ago. As I said a moment ago, it is extremely important that we carry on making that case.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold)

Does the Prime Minister agree that it is of paramount importance to maintain the present broadly based alliance of countries throughout the world against terrorism and, therefore, it is essential to maintain diplomatic initiatives to explain to all our alliance partners—in particular, the front-line Islamic states—that the specific military actions that we are taking are set against specific objectives? Does he agree that it will be even more important to maintain that diplomatic initiative if we consider that action against any country other than Afghanistan is necessary?

The Prime Minister

We should act only on evidence, but the hon. Gentleman's general point is right. It is important that we continue to persuade people in the Arab and Muslim world as to the nature of the conflict and why we are undertaking it. There is an understanding. For America or any of the other allies to stand aside after the slaughter of more than 6,000 people in such a terrorist atrocity as the attack of 11 September would be unthinkable. People in the Arab and Muslim world understand that. What they then need to understand clearly is that the action that we are taking is based on our genuine conviction and belief—soundly based—that bin Laden and the al-Qaeda network were responsible and that the Taliban regime is shielding them. I like to think that the way in which we have acted since 11 September should give them confidence.

We did not send out missiles on the first night just for effect. We considered carefully, although it was obvious that bin Laden was the prime suspect from the very beginning. We have assembled more and more evidence and given the time to try to ensure that the military targets are properly chosen. We have given the Taliban time to comply. They have had every opportunity—it is not as if they could have been in any doubt as to the situation and what we were demanding. By the nature of our response we have been able to convince people, but I agree that we have to keep on doing that the entire time. We do it against the background of massive disinformation from the al-Qaeda network and those who want to provoke conflict between Islam and other countries.

Mr. Stephen Pound (Ealing, North)

The Prime Minister has rightly given praise to our men and women in the front line, and I think that he speaks for the nation in doing so. Does he agree that there are also heroes on the home front preparing this nation for the most awful eventualities and that those heroes include those who guard us here tonight? Is he aware that this afternoon David Shelmerdine, the chief executive of the Scout Association, contacted my right hon. Friend the Minister for Police, Courts and Drugs, to offer all the 3,000-plus scout headquarters in this country should they be needed? Does he agree that that spirit of community is one of the reasons why we will never be defeated and why this civilisation is worth fighting for?

The Prime Minister

First, I pay tribute to the offer made on behalf of the Scout Association of its headquarters. Secondly, I echo my hon. Friend's sentiments, in this sense particularly. There are many people working in our public services, not least the police and others, who are having to work extremely hard and spend an awful lot of time guarding us at the moment. They are cancelling their leave. I know that they will have the gratitude of the whole House.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

We now come to the main business.

  1. SITTINGS OF THE HOUSE 139 words
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