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Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North): I have listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman. Does he not agree that if it was not possible for the mightiest superpower in the world to shoot down four 747 aircraft at 20 minutes' notice when it knew from mobile phones where those aircraft were and that they were targeted at important buildings, the chances of it shooting down a missile of which it has received no warning in mid-air at 20 seconds' notice are highly improbable?
Mr. Osborne: I am not a military expert, but I would have thought that the difficult decision to use a fighter plane to shoot down a fully passenger-laden aircraft is of a completely different order of magnitude and is a completely different technological problem from deciding to shoot a missile out of the air with a ballistic missile defence system. They are completely different technological issues. The type of people who fly planes into skyscrapers are the type of people who can fire ballistic missiles at us.
Mr. Keetch: One of the arguments that some people moot against ballistic missile defence is that if people can fly aircraft into towers and achieve such devastating consequences, they do not need to fire ballistic missiles. If America had had NMD, how does the hon. Gentleman believe it could have stopped the appalling tragic events of 11 September?
Mr. Osborne: My point is that although those people used planes this time, they might use ballistic missiles the next time if they get their hands on them. If we are really saying that we will not take the decision now to try to build a defensive ballistic missile system and, in five or 10 years' time, someone gets their hands on a ballistic missile and fires it at one of the great cities of the worldperhaps the one in which we are standingwill we not then be saying that we were extremely neglectful and extremely foolish not to attempt to build such a system?
Jim Knight (South Dorset): I enjoyed the contribution of the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne), and I look forward to future debates on missile defence. However, I shall steer well clear of that subject now.
The past four weeks have been truly remarkable, memorable and, obviously, highly regrettable and traumatic. As the world has struggled to comprehend the magnitude of the worst terrorist attack in history,
The most important starting point for us now is whether military action in itself has been justified. I have every respect for pacifism and for those who argue that military force will antagonise and create martyrs. There is nothing wrong with, or unpatriotic about, such views, but I hope that they are proved wrong. There is a time for dialogue and for compromise, but there is also a time for action.
The current situation demands considered, targeted action under the authority of the UN mandate and article 5 of the NATO treaty, and with as broad a coalition of support as possible. Dialogue and compromise are the right response where there may be reason, but how can we reason with people who are prepared to murder up to 7,000 innocent civilians? How can we reason with a cult that is prepared to die a glorious death in the service of its cause? How can we reason with a regime that, as we saw on "Panorama" last night, revels in the public execution of its women?
I am convinced that the Taliban and the al-Qaeda organisation are a mutually dependent alliance; that, together, they are responsible for 90 per cent. of the heroin smuggled into this country, which causes so much misery and crime in the UK; and that al-Qaeda killed 18 US soldiers in Somalia in 1993, 224 in east Africa in 1998, and 17 members of USS Cole's crew last year. I am convinced that they have sought to acquire nuclear and chemical weapons and would not hesitate to use them in Europe or north America against civilian targets if they had the capability.
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the Taliban and al-Qaeda present a real threat to this country's security, as well as to that of our neighbours and allies. The best way to defend against such a threat is to destroy the organisation itself. Military action has been inevitable and must be supported throughout.
Some may argue that we cannot destroy the terrorist threat and that attempting to do so only increases the risk of further terrorist attacks. Clearly, we must be mindful of that potential outcome. We must work actively with as many partners as possible around the world to share intelligence and co-ordinate action to destroy terrorist capability wherever it is found. To do nothing is simply not an option if we want to claim to be defending our own people.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. May I make just a small point? The hon. Gentleman is catching the bad habit of the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller). I must be addressed as Mr. Deputy Speaker.
We need the same understanding in a similar situation. We need to work in harmony with our Arab friends, both diplomatically and, where appropriate, on the ground. I am proud of what the Government have achieved already in doing what they can to broaden the coalition. They are right to stand shoulder to shoulder with the United States. As a true friend to the Americans, I am proud that our Government's voice of patience and pragmatism has been heard in the White House.
Who would have thought on 11 September that it would take almost three weeks before an alliance with the support of the whole of the civilised world would respond? Who would have thought that, when the time came, missiles would be accompanied by food and medical aid? Who would have thought that such care would be taken to work with Pakistan and Iraq in helping with the long-established refugee crisis? Even now, as we share deep concern at the military action in which we are engaged, we must retain our pride in the role that Britain has played in laying the foundation for a measured and rational response.
This morning I spent some time with members of the Royal Armoured Corps in Bovington, as I did on Thursday night after the debate in this House. The mood was uncertain but thoroughly professional. I spoke with officers who had commanded soldiers in Bosnia knowing the real risks to the lives of their men of sending them into battle. Our troops are ready, trained and professional. The officers who lead them are not gung-ho, jingoistic boys with toys; they are acutely aware of the responsibilities that they bear and are making decisions that will live with them for the rest of their lives.
Our armed forces are now in action to protect our security and destroy the capability of these terrorists to strike again. They are fighting an enemy who cares nothing for civilian life. By contrast, our armed forces are taking whatever care they can to protect civilian life and assist the innocent Afghan people with food and medical aid.
I fully support this action and my thoughts are very much with our armed forces who are serving our country at this time, but I must quickly voice two concerns. First, I am concerned that if action continues over a significant length of time it will impossibly overstretch our armed forces. The time I spent during the recess with service men and women has shown me on every occasion that they are overstretched. Our service men and women are the best trained in the world and will do the job that they are trained to do, but they are also human. They cannot punch above their weight for ever and we must do our best to support properly the armed services' greatest resourcethe people.
My second concern is the economy. These are uncertain times. A close member of my family working here in London was made redundant last week. Others close to me fear the same. Uncertainty leads to a lack of confidence and hesitancy among decision makers. This is clearly affecting industries beyond the obvious aviation and tourism casualties of the crisis. At the same time I am hugely encouraged by the capacity of the vast majority in my constituency to carry on regardless. Businesses are still doing well in many places. I believe that the economic fundamentals are right, but I would value some debate on how to encourage confidence in the City and increased economic stability so that the terrorists who have killed so many do not also succeed in damaging thousands of livelihoods.