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9.4 pm

Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Coventry, North-West (Mr. Robinson). I very much agree with what he said about the complexity of the situation. It is also a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sarwar) who emphasised the role of the Muslim community in this country and the fact that its members will have no truck with terrorism.

I also found the speech by the hon. Member for Walsall, North (David Winnick) particularly interesting. I have always identified him as a bit of a radical in his party, but when he asked those who oppose the war, "What is the alternative?" he recognised the uncomfortable realisation that there is no alternative.

Last night's extensive military strikes by the armed forces of the United States and the United Kingdom forces marked a turning point in the campaign against terrorism which began on 11 September. Diplomacy is coming to an end and I take this opportunity to express my clear support for the Government and congratulate them on their handling of the situation to date. However, I mean no disrespect to them when I say that what has happened up to now has been the easy part. Things will get more difficult, with anxiety and hostility being shown on the national and international stage.

It is easy for those who have been unaffected by the situation to ask why we are exposing ourselves to the extent that we are. At present, only the British armed forces stand alongside those of the United States, and the possible consequences are obvious. I am well aware that many pledges will be fulfilled, but those are nevertheless the thoughts in drawing rooms the length and breadth of the United Kingdom.

I have no doubt that this is the right and proper place for us to be, but the fear of retaliation in our capital should not be underestimated. Quite rightly, security has been increased and thousands of extra police have been

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deployed on the streets of London. Representing an outer-London suburb, I am well aware that police have been taken from the suburbs to the centre. Although my constituents are well aware of the importance of protecting the centre, the campaign could go on for weeks or months or even years, so I would be grateful if the Minister replying to the debate could address the issue of policing in the outer London suburbs in that eventuality.

There is no obvious end to the terrible situation in which we find ourselves. During the Falklands war, the enemy was there for us to see. The task for the armed forces was to recapture the islands. In the Gulf war, the threat was plain and a global coalition pushed Saddam Hussein back into his own country. This time the task is not so simple.

It is widely stated that our objective is the elimination of terrorism, but such is its unknown quantity and its subversive nature that we will probably never know when or if that objective has been achieved. Last night's targets may have been destroyed, but the perpetrators of the monstrous atrocities of 11 September will filter away into the night. The battle will continue and my instinct is that it will be a long drawn-out affair with serious economic consequences. I agree with the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) that it cannot be addressed by military action alone. In my judgment, the most effective way of countering the global network of terrorism is to follow the money. It is no surprise that the Security Council resolution of 28 September rightly called on all nations to target the funding of terrorist organisations.

At this immediate time, the destiny of this campaign lies with our armed forces who are again in action tonight. It is a justified action against an organisation that has put itself beyond the rule of law. Nevertheless, the reaction from those who support the Taliban is not encouraging.

The Muslim world is in turmoil. The situation in Indonesia is tense. The demonstrations in Pakistan put sustained pressure on President Musharraf, whose courage and intellectual analysis of the situation deserves our fullest admiration and support. None the less, the statement made by Osama bin Laden is chilling in its tone. It called on every Muslim to rise up to defend his religion and said that America will not live in peace. There are two striking things about that statement. First, it is the first real admission from Osama bin Laden that he is responsible for the attacks and secondly, he sees the present situation as an attack on his religion. It is no such thing, as the many statements by Muslim leaders in this country and around the world have sought to confirm.

Mr. bin Laden's statement claims that there will be no peace until the army of the infidels departs from Palestine. It probably came as some surprise to him to find that last night Mr. Yasser Arafat was frantically assuring the United States and this country that he opposes Osama bin Laden and supports the military campaign. Mr. bin Laden represents a narrow aggressive sect and does not speak for Islam.

The Islamic community of this country lives in peace, participating in our democratic processes and enjoying the economic prosperity that a vigorous country such as ours can obtain. That community is a force for good. I am proud to represent Muslims in my constituency. I am proud of my association with their organisations and of the contribution I made to the establishment of the

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Ishmaili Jamat Khama in south London. I am even more proud of the people of Croydon who have welcomed its construction.

We have to improve our relations with the Muslim world. The helpful memo submitted by Zahid Nawaz to the Select Committee on Defence during the last Parliament was almost visionary in its analysis of Islamic thinking and activity. Our knowledge of Islam is minimal. I have no idea whether western policies help or hurt. However, the many questions posed by "Political Islam" will dominate the international agenda for years to come.

I welcome the fact that the Secretary of State for International Development is to reply to the debate. Supplying aid to the millions of Afghan refugees caught up in this ghastly situation is the way we can shore up our credibility with the Muslim world. It is possible that the supply of blankets and food will do more to win the battle than anything else. The dropping of individual rations, medicines, blankets and other items is exactly the humanitarian gesture that we need, and I congratulate the right hon. Lady and her Department on a clear course of action.

I welcome the change of emphasis announced on Friday by my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) and her emphasis on a long-term solution to restore the economic stability of Afghanistan. We have never been in a situation like this before, but with the coalition ranged against the Taliban, I would not like to be in their shoes. So far, the Government have got it right and I support them.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. Time is up.

9.12 pm

Dr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East and Musselburgh): The hon. Member for Croydon, South (Richard Ottaway) will understand if I do not follow his remarks, but he was right to point out that this could be the easy stage. It is helpful that all the parties have given such support to the Government. The support given by the Leader of the Opposition was reiterated today by the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin). They have provided sterling support to the Prime Minister who has made such a great contribution to taking these matters forward so far.

The enormity of the situation is hard to comprehend. About 6,000 people lost their lives on 11 September. The fact that the terrorists were able to carry out such atrocities is a terrifying demonstration of the power that a terrorist organisation can wield. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, if the terrorists had had the capacity to kill more innocent US citizens, who could doubt that they would have done so?

As the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, said, if the terrorists had had access to nuclear or chemical weapons, they could have killed many more people. I should like to take this opportunity to appeal to my right hon. Friends to work to step up international efforts to prevent the ingredients for such weapons from getting into the hands of terrorists. It is clear that the current security arrangements leave a lot to be desired. I will not elaborate on that, but the Ministry of Defence has issued documents in recent years setting out the problems in that regard.

The atrocities of 11 September were a dreadful wake-up call. It is true that the world has changed, and from the ashes new alliances are being made. The United

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Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Germany and France have pledged forces to the military operation, and the Secretary of State for Defence added to that list earlier today.

President Bush has said that more than 40 countries in the middle east, Africa, Europe and across Asia have granted air transit or landing rights, and he said that many more have shared intelligence.

As hon. Members have said, there is no doubt that it is important for the United Nations to be involved in these matters. If today's alliance is to be sustained—I congratulate Ministers, particularly the Prime Minister, on helping to build it—it has to be on the basis of an institution that can underpin it. As the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) said, the UN is the only institution that can do that.

As the weeks and months go by, there are bound to be strains and splits arising within the alliance. The only international institution that is sufficiently recognised and respected to resolve those disputes is the UN. The United Nations Security Council has a military staff committee made up of the five permanent members—the United States, UK, China, France and Russia. Those are the five official nuclear powers. There are, of course, what might be described as unofficial nuclear powers: Pakistan and India come to mind in the current situation, as well as Israel.

I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to look to the work of the UN in the weeks and months to come because it will have to play a vital role. It will be important in the humanitarian efforts, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development will deal with that, but the Security Council and the military committee will also be important.

As I have said, about 6,000 lives were lost on 11 September, and we should assume that others have been or will be killed during the current military action. A life is a life whether it is in Afghanistan or the United States. The world community must rise to the challenge of international terrorism. Yes, we have to resolve these issues effectively, but I believe that the House is united in its desire to see them resolved in a way that minimises additional suffering and loss of life.

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