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10.40 pm

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington): I must explain my constituency interest. The constituents of many west London Members will be starting their shifts at Heathrow tonight. With Heathrow a target, there is concern that we tackle terrorism in the long term to make all our communities safe.

I was interested by the comment of the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) about the broad agreement in the House about concerns and approaches, the sadness, and the general welcome for the cautious approach that has been taken. He also said that continuous reference was made to a just war, which my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Pound) also mentioned. If we are to tackle terrorism in the long term, it is not ourselves whom we need to convince that this is a just war but the young men and women in north Africa, Pakistan, Iraq, the middle east and Palestine.

Every action that we take in the coming weeks needs to be guided by the principles of a just war. Our concept of a just war goes back to Augustine, Aquinas, Vittoria, Grotius and others and formed the basis of the charter of the United Nations. They are also the principles laid out in the Koran. The first principle is that there has to be just cause. Seven thousand dead is a just cause for pursuing and ensuring that we bring to justice the people who perpetrated that atrocity. However, many in the countries that I have mentioned do not believe that the deaths justify the invasion or bombardment of a whole country.

The second principle of just war is right intention. The motive has to be the pursuit of a just cause. We cannot bring in other motivations at this stage if we want to describe the present conflict as a just war. So, for example, we cannot broaden it to a turkey shoot at the Taliban because we would undermine the support for a just war in the very countries that could create the next generation of terrorist suicide bombers. We cannot

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broaden it to a battle against Iraq. I was worried by the reference made by the Secretary of State for Defence to Afghanistan as a priority target, which implied that other targets might be pursued. If we pursue Iraq at this stage, we will destabilise the whole region and create the next generation of suicide bombers who will come to Heathrow and elsewhere.

The third principle is that there must be proper authority. The United Nations resolution gives us some authority, but we should go the extra mile. This is not some pacifist approach. I am not a pacifist, but we have to convince the whole Arab world at every level that we have just cause. The international court has been stalled by the United States of America. Perhaps we should suggest a special United Nations commission to prepare the indictment to start legal action under international law against the perpetrators. In that way, we would convince everyone that we were pursuing the terrorists according to the process of law.

The next principle is last resort. One does not go to war unless one has pursued every alternative mechanism. I do not believe that ultimatums are diplomacy. The shooting war has now started. The tactically correct approach in the coming weeks may be to offer an interval in which we could go the extra mile to demonstrate that the Taliban have another opportunity to meet the demands that we have put to them. If nothing else, that would consolidate the support that we already have.

The final principle of just war is proportionality. That is not just about a body count or the numbers dead on a quid-pro-quo, eye-for-an-eye basis. In proportionality, under the just law concepts, there is complete immunity for non-combatants. One cannot have just cause to react to the massacre of innocents with a further massacre of the innocent.

Of course we need to consider whether the mechanisms that we are using at the moment will ensure the immunity of non-combatants. However, we must also recognise that the concept of proportionality applies to the life that we shall bestow on the refugees and to the potential for destabilising a whole region—not just during limited periods of military activity but in the long term—and that regional instability will eventually destabilise whole sections of the world.

Those who have argued that this is a just war have not convinced many throughout the world, and if we do not convince them, we shall suffer the whirlwind in the long term, in our own constituencies, in our own society, when the next generation of terrorists emerges. I believe that the long-term interests of this battle against terrorism are best served by bringing the shooting war to an end as quickly as possible.

Mr. Salmond rose

Ms Stuart rose

John McDonnell: I give way to the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond).

Mr. Salmond: There is a final criterion of a just war—jus ad bellum—which is that there must be a good chance of success. Would the hon. Gentleman like to comment on that?

John McDonnell: I was just coming to that conclusion. I believe that unless we reinforce our mandate, unless we

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demonstrate proportionality to the whole world, unless we can demonstrate just cause, right intention, proper authority and proportionality, we shall fail, perhaps not in the short term, but in the long term, and the long-term consequences will be felt in my constituency.

10.46 pm

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): I am delighted to be able to catch your eye during this important debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) made a thoughtful speech. The House should be focusing on the concept of proportionality. The events of 11 September were probably the worst terrorist atrocity against a civilised nation that we have ever known and we are in uncharted waters, but we certainly do not want to do anything that would destabilise the region.

In my question to the Prime Minister, I praised him for his action, combined with that of President Bush, in building the broad-based coalition, especially among the front-line Islamic states. It is very important that we keep all those states on board.

One thinks with admiration of the bravery of General Musharraf of Pakistan. I have visited Pakistan and travelled right up to the front line, and I know the considerable difficulties that the Pakistanis face. The Pakistanis and Iranians already have 3.5 million refugees between them, and they are likely to face many more. We should continue with every possible aspect of the humanitarian effort and with every other effort that we can to help states such as Pakistan. Its debt-to-GDP ratio is enormous. Its people are among the poorest in the world. I hope that, at the very least, one outcome of the conflict will be that we not only keep it on board but eventually bring a better quality of life to the people of that very poor country.

I praised the United States, which has shown tremendous restraint. The building of the broad-based coalition is most important. We should have specific, achievable objectives for this military action. We should aim to use democratic means backed up by military action, by which I mean that we should aim to bring Osama bin Laden and his colleagues to an international court for trial. That must be the ultimate aim of democratic states. We should not be aiming simply to kill these people by undemocratic means. Although such deaths might be an unintended consequence of the military action that we are taking, our ultimate aim should be to bring those people to trial in an international court and a democratic country. I am sure that many other people in Afghanistan—leaders of the Taliban regime—will be declared international criminals and should be brought to trial.

I have some first-hand experience of the brutishness of the Afghani regime as some of the hijackers who brought an aeroplane to the United Kingdom last year were put in a camp in my constituency. I spoke to them through an interpreter, and they described the very brutal regime under which they had been living. It might be useful for the House to understand what that regime has done. The Taliban have burnt all the books in the libraries and destroyed all the schools. They do not allow any of their people to go to school. They do not allow Afghani women to set foot outside the house unless they are fully covered and accompanied by their husband. Women are certainly never allowed into someone else's house. The poor people of Afghanistan are living under that type of regime.

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We therefore have to be careful about our military and other objectives in Afghanistan. If we leave a vacuum in the area, a much worse situation could well succeed the current one. We have to be clear in the objectives that we set ourselves.

We must also maintain the broad-based coalition that has been built. I have just returned from a trip to China, which I shall register as an interest. It was interesting to talk to some of the top communist officials. Although they were very supportive of the broad-based coalition to act against terrorism, they made it clear that they would not support the coalition if large numbers of innocent civilians were caught up in the action. Although it will be a difficult balancing act to keep on board countries such as China and Pakistan, it is essential that we do so. We will be in a much more difficult position if the coalition collapses.

We also have to be very careful to keep on board the front-line states, particularly the Islamic ones. As the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington said, if we embark on military action that is seen to be disproportionate and start to lose coalition members—especially the Arab states—we could find not only that the region has been destabilised, but that many more bin Ladens have arisen as a consequence of our action. That would clearly be a most unfortunate consequence.

We must be careful not only about that but about extending the action to other countries, such as Iraq and South Yemen to name but two possibilities. If we become embroiled in a larger front—any military strategist would say that one should not become involved in a too-large front—we will get into difficulties. Although we must pursue terrorism to the nth degree, we must also be careful about how we do it.

I pay great tribute to our armed forces, as many hon. Members have. I participated in the armed forces parliamentary scheme and spent time with the RAF. Hon. Members saw how, even before this military action, it was already overstretched. As a consequence of this action, our armed forces are likely to be even more overstretched. Now, armed forces members will have to spend even more time away from their families. Their families will not only be very concerned about them, but have to endure the absence from the household of their breadwinner. I was therefore pleased to hear the assurances of the Prime Minister and the Defence Secretary that the armed forces will be given whatever resources they need.

Many hon. Members have mentioned humanitarian aid. I think that it is critical that we should continue every possible effort to get humanitarian aid into Afghanistan. Although it will be difficult to deliver aid, surely it will not be impossible to do so once our armed forces are in place. It will not be impossible to hire Afghani drivers to take aid from Pakistan to Afghanistan. We do not want to cause those very poor people more suffering than is strictly necessary by the military action. I am sure that it will be possible, using the available military resources of the United States, the United Kingdom and other countries, to get resources into Afghanistan.

I also urge the Secretary of State for International Development to say something about what she can do in terms of resources for the huge number of displaced people. I have seen them in the camps and they live in appalling conditions.

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