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Mr. Ingram: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments about the valuable lessons that we have learned from Saif Sareea 2. He rightly drew attention to the close relationship between this country and Oman. It is a long and deep relationship and we benefit greatly from it. As for any deficiencies in spares, I do not know specifically what he is referring to, but clearly if we go into operational mode we have to make sure that our troops have the best equipment we can give them and that there are no deficiencies anywhere. I hope that that will assist the hon. Gentleman in understanding that we are learning lessons and making progress. I do not want to speculate on the deployment of other troops, but we have a wide range of troops available in a state of high readiness. That is the purpose of the training and deployment cycle that we apply, so if there is a requirement, we can meet it.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North): Can the Minister take us a bit further in describing the exact military and political objectives of this operation? Are they to occupy Afghanistan and impose a new Government or are they

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merely concentrated on an attempt to find bin Laden and his group and then withdraw? What immediate assistance will be given by this increased troop deployment to ensure that food and aid gets through to people who are desperately hungry and starving and that those refugees who are currently trapped behind barbed wire entanglements, unable to escape into Pakistan, will be given some relief? Does he not think that such matters are equally important?

Mr. Ingram: My hon. Friend does not have a monopoly on compassion or concern about humanitarian aid. If he has not understood our military objectives after all the weeks of discussion, I really am surprised. Let me set them out again. They are to bring Osama bin Laden and the other al-Qaeda leaders to justice. I hope that my hon. Friend agrees with that. They are to prevent Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda network from posing a continuing terrorist threat. I hope that he agrees with that. They are to ensure that Afghanistan ceases to harbour and sustain international terrorism. I hope that he agrees with that. I also hope that he will give full credit to all the efforts that have been made by this and other Governments in trying to deal with the difficult and deep humanitarian problems in Afghanistan. He should point the finger at those who are causing the problem. International Governments are seeking to pour in millions of pounds in aid—tonnes of food and supplies—and the Taliban are frustrating our objectives in that as well. I would like to hear my hon. Friend criticising those who are stopping aid getting through rather than the Governments who are delivering it.

Angus Robertson (Moray): I thank the Minister for the advance copy of his statement. Can he confirm that a sizeable proportion of the deployment is made up of Scottish service personnel? Does he agree that service men, service women and their families receive a high level of support across Scotland, including that from the Scottish National party? What plans, if any, are there for the deployed troops to assist in the humanitarian effort to help the millions of displaced and starving Afghans, as there was no mention of the humanitarian dimension in his statement?

Mr. Ingram: I do not think that we should set out the nationalities or the particular towns and villages from which each of the troops come. To be honest, that was rather a silly point. They are representing the United Kingdom as part of a coalition and if the hon. Gentleman is supporting its objective, I welcome the support of the SNP, mindful of its policy position on NATO and elsewhere.

I have mentioned the humanitarian effort and its objectives in my responses. I had anticipated that the subject would be raised. Every effort is being made to move forward on the humanitarian front. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development made a major statement in the House the other day. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was present. If he was, he will be aware of the totality of the operation. I hope that he takes on board my point about who is frustrating that effort and joins me, the Government and others who are trying to make progress on that front.

Derek Conway (Old Bexley and Sidcup): Does the Minister accept that he need not fret overmuch about the

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niggling from a tiny minority of Labour Back Benchers when, as the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell) pointed out, the Minister and his colleagues in the Ministry have the absolute, wholehearted support of the majority of the House and undoubtedly of the nation? He referred earlier to the Government's concerns about some of the speculation in the media. I think that what will concern many hon. Members is the effect upon the families of those who are deployed when particularly television producers get a quick thrill from shots that do not help the objectives of the alliance and most certainly worry those at home. Service families understand the risks that their family members face, but it does not follow that they are any less concerned about them.

Will the Government therefore take the opportunity not to bully the news media, but to point out to them frankly but firmly that their actions are watched by those who consider themselves to be the enemies of this nation, jeopardise the armed forces who are deployed on our behalf and most certainly worry and indeed frighten their loved ones who are left back at home?

Mr. Ingram: I assure the hon. Gentleman that I do not worry about niggles from any source, whether they are from the Government Back Benches or elsewhere. The Government genuinely welcome debate. I think that it is right in a democracy that people should express all the dimensions that we need to examine, and that that should be done in an open, honest and upfront manner. There is, however, a purpose to debate which is usually to reach a conclusion. When the issues have been examined, they have then to be weighed in the balance. As I said, I ask those who continue to raise some of those issues to question their own judgment, as they have asked us to do. The Government question our own judgment, and they should question theirs.

I do not think that we are guilty of bullying the press; if we were, I think that there would be screaming from the high heavens about it. Nevertheless, I take on board and echo the sentiments that the hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Derek Conway) has expressed about the weight that may be imparted to some comments and about the uncertainty and destabilisation that those comments can cause in the minds not only of those who are on the front lines but of their families. We owe it to everyone at this time to try to be as accurate as possible in imparting information. That is what we are seeking to do in this statement, and what we shall seek to do in further debates and examination as we move forward in this campaign.

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon): May I may draw my right hon. Friend's attention to yesterday's edition of the Arab language newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat which reports that five British fundamentalists were killed at an al-Qaeda base? They were recruited by al-Muhajiroun in the United Kingdom, and, four weeks ago, one of them, Muhammed Omar, travelled to join bin Laden. Is it not about time that we clamped down on the activities of al-Muhajiroun, which is recruiting British Muslims in that way, and of Omar Bakri Muhammad, both to save the lives of those British Muslims and to prevent them from being a threat to British troops who may still be fighting there?

Mr. Ingram: I compliment my hon. Friend on his very close interest in that very detailed sphere of interest.

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I know that he studies that aspect of the subject, and he makes very valuable contributions to our understanding of it. It would be wrong for me to comment on press speculation regardless of whether it appears in the foreign press or the domestic press. If there is intelligence to be gathered on what is happening on the ground, it is usually imparted in an open and upfront manner and not as speculation.

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) is aware of the Government's efforts specifically to tackle the threat posed by individuals who are part of the al-Qaeda network or any other international terrorist network that is linked to it. Of course that threat resides not only within the United Kingdom but is an international problem. That is why we sometimes need an international response to that threat.

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park): So far the Minister has given very sketchy answers indeed to questions on humanitarian aid, which was not mentioned at all in his statement. He will remember that 5 million people are at risk of starvation over the winter in Afghanistan. Does he have any plans at all for the military to assist in the delivery of aid, either by changing the nature of the bombing or forming safe corridors for the aid workers?

Mr. Ingram: As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn), no monopoly of compassion on the issue rests on either the Opposition or Government Benches. I think that we all understand the need to drive forward on the issue. I therefore ask the hon. Lady to do what I have asked others to do: weigh the issues in the balance and then consider whether there is a purpose to the military objective. She has to make that judgment herself. I hope that she will realise that there is such a purpose. If we achieve our objectives, we shall remove not only that organisation and network from Afghanistan but the threat that it poses internationally.

My statement did not address the humanitarian issue because it was not designed for that purpose. We had a major statement only the other day from the Secretary of State for International Development on the issue. If the hon. Lady is trying to imply that the Government are not concerned about that issue, I do not think that she is living in the same world as I am. I anticipated that I would have to respond on the issue, and I have tried in all my replies to do so very specifically, not in a sketchy manner, and to express the depth of the problem that we are dealing with.

We cannot deliver humanitarian aid at the point of a bayonet; that is not the way in which it will be delivered. It has to be delivered using a range of humanitarian efforts, not only from the United Kingdom but from the international community. We are trying to create a stable and benign environment in Afghanistan. That is one of the objectives of the military campaign, and achieving it will enable humanitarian aid to flow through the country freely and without hindrance from the Taliban regime.

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