Previous SectionIndexHome Page

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 Garnier (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

8 Oct 2001 : Column 825

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

8 Oct 2001 : Column 826

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

8 Oct 2001 : Column 827

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.

Next Section

IndexHome Page