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Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire): The Secretary of State will be aware that Save the Children, which has about 200 members of staff working in the area, has become aware that many children have become separated from their parents, which will not help to garner support for the coalition over there. Is he willing to hear representations from Save the Children on that issue so that the Government may be able to assist in reuniting those families?
Helen Southworth (Warrington, South): I am sure that my right hon. Friend is aware that Save the Children says that, before 11 September, one quarter of Afghan children died before the age of five. Will he confirm that the Government are equally determined to resolve that problem, about which the Taliban did not give a damn?
We must ensure that those responsible are never again able to carry out such attacks, which is why we are acting in self-defence. The events of 11 September demonstrated that Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda network are entirely prepared to slaughter as many people as they can to pursue their perverted objectives. They have killed on a number of occasions, not simply 11 September. Left alone, they will do so again. We are right to take military action; we simply have no choice.
Mr. Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool, Walton): My right hon. Friend rightly makes a great deal of bringing Osama bin Laden and his confederates to account. If bin Laden and/or his confederates were to be brought before a court of lawand mindful of the fact that Milosevic has been brought before an international court, as were the criminals of the Third Reichwhat kind of court does he, as a lawyer, anticipate that that would be?
Mr. Hoon: If Osama bin Laden were surrendered to a court process, there is one available in the United States or, indeed, the United Kingdom. Osama bin Laden has committed clear and appalling criminal offences in the United States; were he to appear before a court, that is where he should appear. Frankly, the analogy with the Third Reich is not appropriate because there were no appropriate legal actions that could be brought against those responsible at the end of the second world war in the places where they had committed offences; that was the legal difficulty that the countries of the west faced then. Indeed, lawyers at the time argued that the Third Reich had not committed offences contrary to German law.
We are in a wholly different situation. Those responsible for the attacks on 11 September committed the offence of murder in the United States, and I have no hesitation in saying that, if they were surrendered to justice, that is where they should be tried.
We know that Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda can carry out these attacks only with the support of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. That is why they moved there some years ago. That is where they find a safe haven and the support that they need to carry out their terrorist atrocities.
We gave the Taliban regime the opportunity to end their support for al-Qaeda and to hand them over. We waited weeks before we began the military campaign, but the Taliban would not move. We were therefore forced to act. We always said that if they would not comply with our ultimatum, we would act to bring about sufficient change in the leadership of Afghanistan to ensure that their links to international terrorism are broken. That is what we are now doing. The Taliban could still comply, as I have said already. But unless they do, we will be forced to continue the military action that is now well under way.
It is important for those who would be critical of our action in Afghanistan to consider carefully what other course of action would achieve our aims. How else should we bring to account those responsible for the hijacking of the planes and the deliberate murder of thousands of ordinary people? How else should we act to prevent Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda network from killing possibly thousands more American, British or European civilians? How else could we exercise our responsibility to the British people to defend them from the threat of fanatical terrorist attacks?
I would much prefer Osama bin Laden and his associates to give themselves up. I would prefer the Taliban to surrender the terrorists and close down the terrorist camps. I would certainly prefer not to have to send British forces into action. But these are not choices that we have. We must not forget that the threat posed to us by bin Laden, his associates and Taliban supporters is very, very, very real. We are determined to bring them to account. Our means of doing so grow stronger by the day.
The increase in the United Kingdom's contribution to the campaign is a clear indication of our resolve. The retention of a substantial naval presence in the region, including Royal Marines, ensures that we have in place a highly capable and flexible military force. Other forces based here in the United Kingdom are also at a high state of readiness. We are capable of deploying these forces quickly and of projecting fighting capability when this is required. We demonstrated this in both Sierra Leone and, more recently, in Macedonia.
Let me explain what immediate readiness means. It means that troops are at very short notice to move and that their equipment is in battle-ready condition. It does not imply necessarily that they will be committed to action immediately, but depending on the nature of the campaign, they may be. I have already explained that this is a different sort of campaign. As it proceeds, intelligence
Mr. John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan): On the coalition action, will my right hon. Friend welcome today's news that Muslim forces from Turkey have been offered to the coalition to help with any ground force intervention?
Mr. Hoon: Certainly there is a determined effort to involve countries from around the world and the forces of different religions. We have already had offers of support from Islamic countries and I am most appreciative of them.
Cluster bombs against certain targets are the best, most effective weapons that we have. Where that is the case, the coalition is entitled to use them; otherwise we could put any ground forces we might ultimately deploy at unnecessary risk. But we will not act in ways that are contrary to international law. I recognise that others will be concerned about so-called carpet bombing. This inaccurate and outmoded term gives the impression that the coalition is engaged in indiscriminate attacks.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The coalition makes carefully directed strikes against legitimate terrorist and military targets. That includes heavy bombers dropping long sticks of bombs against large area targets, such as terrorist training camps or Taliban forces deployed in the field. As with any target, we take enormous care to avoid risk to civilians. When long sticks are dropped, the safety margins are appropriately larger than those for single bombs, as the hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) pointed out earlier.
Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead): The Secretary of State will know that I have long campaigned against land mines and, indeed, opposed the use of cluster bombs in Kosovo and former Yugoslavia. I oppose them in this campaign too. The right hon. and learned Member for NorthEast Fife (Mr. Campbell) pointed out that there were two components to our forces: air and land. Surely they will be put at risk by cluster bombs with a delayed ordnance capacity, as well as civilians. Even a just cause can be jeopardised by using unjust weapons such as cluster bombs.
Mr. Hoon: Cluster bombs are not land mines. They are not defined as land mines in the Ottawa convention, for which I know my hon. Friend rightly and effectively campaigned. It is necessary to make a clear judgment on