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6.44 pm

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): I begin with two observations. First, the attendance is disappointing, given the extent of the crisis. Last week's debate was far better attended. That could lead to the conclusion that the House is better attended in the recess than when it is sitting. More hon. Members should be present to discuss the situation.

Secondly, I hope that the Government have noted the mood of most of the contributions so far. Substantial questioning has occurred, and there is a sober, cautious tone. No speech could be described as gung-ho. Unlike last week, Tory Front-Bench Members have made no such contributions. I hope that Ministers who are present will take that into account.

I have been interested in the Government's position on the extent of the conflict in which we are engaged, and in ascertaining to what, exactly, we have signed up. Last week, I considered the legal basis for the conflict. To some people, those points appear pernickety. However, we should know the legal position and the war aims and objectives when engaging in a military conflict. I was present 10 years ago during the debates on the Gulf war, and I have noticed that many hon. Members are less interested now in the aspects that I am considering. Perhaps that reflects the fact that many hon. Members with experience of military conflict have left the House and that such voices are not heard to the same extent.

As I said earlier, the Government did not publish the document, "Defeating International Terrorism: Campaign Objectives", when Mr. Alastair Campbell briefed the press about it last Thursday; it was placed in the Library today. That was not an oversight. I asked 10 Downing street for a copy last Thursday, and my request was refused. It is disappointing that the document was not published then because it is reassuring in many ways. It confines the military aspect of the campaign to Afghanistan. It is reassuring, especially for me and for several other hon. Members, because the last sentence states:

I do not understand the Government's reluctance to publish the document last Thursday. As the campaign proceeds, I hope that the Government will be prepared to share important decisions with a wider public and hon. Members and that they will not be refracted through the prism of Mr. Alastair Campbell's interpretation of events and what he believes that people want to hear.

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Last week, I believed that it was important to press the point of article 51 and the United Kingdom letter to the Security Council, which we were bound to produce under international law. Thanks to the good offices of the Secretary of State for International Development, it was published. Lo and behold, there was an important difference between the letters of the United Kingdom Government and the United States Government. The United Kingdom letter did not contain a phrase that appeared in the United States letter. It stated:

In the United States letter, that phrase appeared directly under the paragraph that dealt with military action. It would be impossible to read the letter without taking the broad hint, as the press did, that military action was being planned against other states.

I welcome the fact that the phrase did not appear in the United Kingdom letter. Its omission suggested that there was no support for broadening the military aspect of the conflict. However, it would have been better to state the aims and objectives earlier. I hope that that lesson has been learned.

Some of the items that have appeared in the press purport to reflect the views of some members of the United States Administration. On Sunday, The Observer cited officials close to a group in the American Administration that supports an early strike against Iraq and quoted one as saying:

I do not know how highly placed the unnamed official is. However, the duty Minister is a psychiatrist; I should have thought that anyone who in the space of four short sentences can combine the concepts of virus, bone marrow cancer, amputation, chemotherapy and the hundred years' war is badly in need of psychological profiling.

The Leader of the House is in his place. He has talked about the targeted nature of the military action on several news programmes. It is important to maintain that focus in contrast to the loose talk in other quarters.

I said last week that the real, immediate battle would not take place in the skies above Afghanistan, because there was virtually no contest. We were talking about the deployment of all the modern apparatus of warfare against what was, effectively, decrepit anti-aircraft machinery and small-arms fire. The real battle would take place for public opinion, on the streets of a variety of Muslim countries. The Government should make some attempt to recognise what is happening, and to tell us what they intend to do about it. Over the last week that battle has been lost, and lost overwhelmingly, as far as we can tell from Islamic opinion.

The results of a Gallup poll have been released by CNN. The fact that the results were released by CNN and the poll was conducted by Gallup should give us some indication of the veracity of the findings, which suggest that 83 per cent. of Pakistanis who were consulted supported the Taliban against the United States. Some 82 per cent. termed Osama bin Laden a holy warrior, not a terrorist, and only 12 per cent. believed him to be responsible for the attacks on 11 September.

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Given our own perspective, those are dramatic—and dramatically worrying—figures. I would have appreciated some indication from the Foreign Secretary of what is being done to try to combat a feeling that I suspect is far more representative of the Islamic world than many Members would care to admit.

On the same subject, let me say that the last thing a Government engaged in what may seem to be a propaganda war but is, surely, a war about principle, truth and liberal democracy—all of which we are meant to hold dear—should do is allow Mr. Alastair Campbell to give the BBC, ITN and other news organisations a dressing down about how they choose to cover the international situation. Perhaps Mr. Campbell's efforts and skills would be better devoted to trying to win the battle of public opinion where it has to be won—in the Islamic world—rather than to engaging in what looks like panic at best and extreme foolishness at worst.

I also think that it would be useful not to read reports that pressure is being put on Qatar to try to close down Al-Jazeera, which, in contrast to many organs of the press throughout the Muslim world, shows a degree of independence, objectivity and freedom of editorial comment that we in the west would presumably like to see applied, given our belief in liberal democracy. Surely our analysis should conclude that the lack of those elements in many if not all Islamic countries is one aspect of the problem. It was therefore depressing to read in a newspaper that an attempt was being made to curtail the station.

My next point relates to the bombing campaign itself. I do not share the Foreign Secretary's confidence in the efficacy of bombing campaigns, and, unsurprisingly, I do not agree with his view of the bombing campaign in Kosovo. A serious analysis of that campaign suggests that the only thing that was not hit to any great extent was the Serbian army. Lots of other things were hit. It is also possible to argue with some force that, if anything, the conduct of that campaign prolonged Milosevic's hold on power in Serbia rather than loosening it, and that the decisive intervention was the diplomatic intervention of the Russians, who abandoned support for the Milosevic regime.

Even given the best possible interpretation, I hope that no Member would be satisfied with the accuracy of a bombing campaign like that employed in the Kosovan and Serbian conflict. I remind the House that trains, buses, civilian convoys and the Chinese embassy were hit. I cannot believe that anyone would want to see a similar impact in Afghanistan over the coming days and weeks.

It has been argued, with substantial force, that there is no moral equivalence between a campaign that targets civilians and an essentially military campaign in which civilians are collateral damage. I agree with that, as a moral point: in that context, a distinction can be made. I would only make the additional point that for someone who is killed or maimed as a result of action, there is total equivalence, whether death is caused by friendly fire and good intent, or by a directly attributable terrorist atrocity.

Dr. Julian Lewis: The hon. Gentleman is right that bombing alone did not win in Kosovo, but does he not accept that there is a difference between what the Government were saying then and what they are saying now? There was an argument then that bombing alone

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might win in Kosovo; I am not aware that the Government have said that bombing alone will win in Afghanistan. I believe the Government's position to be that bombing is a necessary precursor to other military action to win in Afghanistan, and if that is their position I think that Opposition Members owe it to them to support it until we see whether that other military action is indeed effective.

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