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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
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.
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
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 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.