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7.36 pm

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex): On behalf of the Opposition, I express my thanks to the Secretary of State for the way in which he has informed us as fully as he can of the continuing developments. The international situation is clearly fragile. As the right hon. Gentleman's imminent journey to Russia is obviously extremely important, we understand that he cannot remain for the whole debate. I am sure that the whole House joins me in wishing him well on the task that he is undertaking on behalf of his country.

It is of course fear and uncertainty that have preoccupied everyone since 11 September and during the events that have followed. At this time, however, it is the men and women of our armed forces who have to face particular danger and uncertainty. I was pleased to hear the Prime Minister assure the House that they will be properly resourced in their tasks. They are the ones upon whom we call in times of crisis. They are the ones who are always ready to face whatever challenge we ask them to meet. They always act with guts, good humour and supreme professionalism. They and their families are in our thoughts and prayers. They have our fullest admiration and respect.

The events of 11 September so shocked the world not only because we could see the sheer horror on our television screens and in haunting still images in our newspaper, and not only because of the sheer scale of the attack: the real shock was what those events meant for the security of everyone in our own country, living in our towns and cities. The events of 11 September changed the world because they shattered the illusion of a safe and comfortable world, which we had taken for granted.

I fully support the Government's intentions to step up emergency planning in our country. Every time we go to a restaurant or step on to a train or aeroplane; every time we see our children off to school, or a loved one off to work; and every time each of us steps into this building, at the back of our minds is the thought, "What will they do next?" That is of course the aim of the terrorists.

That is why it is so important that we meet here, in this building and on this day, to show the terrorists that democracy will not be cowed. That is why it is so important that the House should continue to give the Government its full and unequivocal support for the action that they have taken. Indeed, that is why we commend the Prime Minister for the way in which he has responded to the crisis. He has ensured that Britain has played the fullest role in helping the United States to forge a truly extraordinary international alliance, in support of a comprehensive and restrained response that is proportionate to the threat that we face.

The Taliban regime in Afghanistan have remained defiant and brought the consequences upon their own heads. The unequivocal evidence published by the Government last week clearly implicates Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda terrorist network. They can operate only because they are sustained by the Taliban Government. The Taliban could have chosen to hand over bin Laden and to cease their sponsorship of terrorism, but instead they have chosen to continue their support for bin Laden—the most notorious mass murderer of our age.

Bin Laden now taunts us from his hideaway, rejoicing in the death he has wrought. This is no Muslim hero, but the twisted leader of an evil cult. On behalf of the

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Opposition, I join the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State in reiterating that this is not a war against Islam. Indeed, we join Muslims who want to defeat terrorism everywhere. The enemies of civilisation remain free, able and motivated to strike again. The United States and its allies have a clear obligation to confront the threat we all face.

Last night's military action is not only justifiable in international law—I know that the Government have taken pains to ensure that that is so—but morally justified, because to baulk or to hesitate would be to let the terrorists once again set the agenda. The risks of taking action are far outweighed by the risks of taking no action.

Of course it is right that Britain should be first in support of the United States in this action. Time and again over the past century, Britain and America have combined their military might in defence of freedom. This is not the pretext for one country blindly giving a blank cheque to another. This alliance is a genuine partnership based on mutual understanding, openness and trust.

Britain possesses some unique military capabilities that complement those of the United States. Not only can we play a crucial military role, but the Anglo-American alliance in NATO is the most important political and diplomatic alliance for the free world. NATO has had its many doubters, but now is the time to reaffirm its primacy. The Prime Minister described how so many countries are ready to contribute, but NATO is the linchpin of this action. Britain must be ready to make whatever further military commitments are necessary to sustain the effectiveness of the campaign.

We share the Government's high hopes for the outcome of this action. We have confidence that it has been well targeted to minimise civilian casualties. The targets selected are Taliban and al-Qaeda military assets and terrorist bases. We hope that the action succeeds in changing the Taliban regime and that the Government of Afghanistan hand over bin Laden and his accomplices to face the proper course of justice. We hope that it will give the aid agencies the earliest opportunity to resume the aid effort, which is so desperately needed to rescue millions of Afghan people from the risk of starvation this winter.

I join many in the House in commenting on the importance of the aid programme. Alongside the war against terrorism, we regard the aid effort as an equally essential task. It is not for show or propaganda. Britain needs to demonstrate that it is not just a gesture to salve our conscience. It is fundamental to the values that we hold—the values that bin Laden would destroy. Our best interests will be served only if we have the best interests of the Afghan people at heart as well.

Hugh Bayley (City of York): I am sure that the hon. Gentleman agrees with the Prime Minister and others that the struggle in which we are engaged will be long term and that we need to build a better future over the long term for the people of Afghanistan. Will his party make a commitment to match the growth in international development spending that the Government have introduced? That is an important means by which to provide the humanitarian support that he describes.

Mr. Jenkin: This is hardly the moment at which to extract spending commitments from Her Majesty's official Opposition, but I shall be interested in the answer

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if the hon. Gentleman puts that question to the Secretary of State for International Development when she replies to the debate.

Beside our hopes, let us have no illusions. The British people have long and bitter experience of terrorism. The Government can be assured that the British public do not expect victory in one battle, nor do they want revenge. They want their elected leaders to smash the machinery of terrorism. They know that there are no easy solutions. That is why it is timely for the Government to warn that last night's action was but the first phase of possibly a long war against international terrorism.

Indeed, from now on, this must be a war of eternal vigilance, not against one terrorist or one terrorist state, but against all terrorism and all states that nurture it, for this is not a war with frontiers or territories. Our enemies are not soldiers who face us openly but evil criminals who steal away in the night. They depend on corrupt or incapable Governments to provide safe haven for their operations.

We must therefore be prepared to ask questions about the role of other Governments' relationships with terrorism—this is not loose talk, as was said earlier—and that may give rise to some uncomfortable answers. At this stage, we have no evidence that the Government of Iraq had any direct role in the atrocities of bin Laden, but we know that Iraq has sponsored terrorism before and that Saddam is constantly trying to develop weapons of mass destruction as part of his personal arsenal of terror. Sooner or later, the evidence may compel us to act in such cases.

The terrorists exploit international organised crime to finance their campaigns of terror. The Prime Minister has pointed out how the Taliban and al-Qaeda thrive on the heroin trade, but we also know that IRA terrorists have been paid drug money to train Colombia's terrorists in their deadly and evil trade. That shows how networks of international crime and terrorism lead straight to the streets of our own country. It also shows that our security is inseparable from the security and stability of every other country in the world.

Mr. Mike O'Brien (North Warwickshire): I have listened to the hon. Gentleman's argument with care. The Government and the United States have tried to bring together a coalition based on precise strategic objectives—dealing with Osama bin Laden and his terrorists and the Taliban who support them where necessary. Is this the time to broaden those strategic objectives to include others, which may make it much more difficult to maintain the coalition that the British and American Governments so strongly seek to maintain? Is this the right time to set out those alternative objectives?

Mr. Jenkin: I do not think that they are alternative objectives. They are inseparable from that same objective. The United States Government and the hon. Gentleman's own Government have consistently made it clear that we must root out terrorism wherever it rears its ugly head.

Terrorists have too often prospered from our complacency and we must never be complacent again. We must give every support to Governments of countries such as Colombia and Pakistan, where President Musharraf faces frightening domestic turmoil for having the courage to support the campaign against terrorism.

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