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2.26 pm

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley): I have not attempted to speak in the House during the campaign, other than to make interventions on various Ministers. I stand here today with a heavy heart because I feel that we are facing an enormous humanitarian crisis.

For the past two weeks, we on the Select Committee on International Development have listened to various people from aid agencies, some of whom have been inside Afghanistan as recently as two weeks ago, some of whom have been expelled, but all of whom have particular knowledge of the situation there. They knew that there was a drought before 11 September, and they warned of its consequences. Since then, it has been made much more difficult to deliver not just food to that country, but tents, clothing and other supplies. They say that there is a two-week window of opportunity before it is too late for hundreds of thousands of people in Afghanistan.

I am not happy to stand here and say that 100,000 children may die unless we can get that aid to them in time, but that is what the United Nations Children's Fund has told us: 100,000 children could die in that country. Therefore, we all have a great responsibility to ensure that not only the military objectives but the diplomatic and humanitarian objectives are met, as other colleagues have said. I do not believe that the humanitarian objective is being met at the moment, although at the beginning of the campaign we were told that humanitarian, diplomatic and military efforts would run in parallel and would be mutually supportive. Obviously, that is not happening with regard to the humanitarian situation.

It is not the fault of the people who are waging the war, because it is a complex situation. The Taliban previously attacked aid agencies and imprisoned people who worked for them. They did not allow them to work with women. They did not allow many of the things that we expect aid agencies to do in a country. That was before the bombing started. Now that it is under way, we must take notice of the warnings coming from aid agencies across the board, from Islamic Relief to Oxfam, Christian Aid and Care International.

Two weeks running, we have heard those agencies giving evidence to our Committee. They are not so concerned about the people on the borders who are trying to become or are already refugees, because there is usually somebody to look after them. They are concerned about the displaced people inside Afghanistan. Hundreds of thousands of people were already displaced before the war started but have become even more so. Many have fled in terror to the borders or to friends and relatives out in the country.

There are estimated to be about 2 million displaced people inside Afghanistan. The difficulty will be to reach those people once the snows start. The aid agencies have different views on how to get the food into the country. A lot of figures are bandied about, but one important statistic is that people are getting only 19 per cent. of the food that they need. Whatever we say about metric tonnes, 19 per cent. is clear enough to everybody.

People are underfed. Many are already suffering from malnourishment, exhaustion and fear. Women are particularly vulnerable. Thousands are already war

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widows and have to fend for themselves. Dropping food parcels from the air may have to continue as a last resort, but it means that the healthy and the strong can run to get the food, while the weak, the vulnerable and the children cannot.

I am told that truck drivers are reluctant to drive food trucks in Afghanistan. They are afraid of looting, of being attacked and of bombing, because they do not know when it will happen. However, there are donkeys and carts and other ways of getting food to people, and that has to be done before the snows come.

I cannot stress strongly enough that we have a responsibility to deal with the humanitarian crisis, which the aid agencies believe is of gigantic proportions and may become a bigger catastrophe than anything seen before. I am sure that none of us wants that to happen, so we must call on our own Government and on the others involved in the action to find a mechanism to ensure that the humanitarian problem is addressed, and soon, so that at least we can hold up our heads and say that we did what we could. Whatever happens during the military action, we must not allow hundreds of thousands of Afghans to starve, but unless the humanitarian crisis is addressed now, that is what will happen.

2.34 pm

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde): The hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) speaks with passion, knowledge and commitment on the humanitarian aspect of the conflict with Afghanistan. I know of no military engagement in which there has been such a strong humanitarian element. The precision with which munitions are delivered has been weighed to take into account the humanitarian concerns that she expressed.

Looking around the Chamber, I can see a great number of poppies. The majority of, if not all, Members of the House will go to their war memorial on Remembrance Sunday and bow their head in remembrance of those who, in two world wars and other conflicts, have given their lives in the cause of freedom. We will remember the massive loss of life that occurred, for example, on the Somme. Faulks's book "Birdsong" reminded us that, on day one, 40,000 were killed. We will remember them, and we shall not forget their sacrifice. They were fighting for freedom, democracy and the things that we hold near and dear. That is why we have to engage, again, in military activity against terrorism—in this case, against al-Qaeda. Its members are not democrats and they are not answerable to anyone. They showed not a hint of compassion in the action that they took on 11 September.

Lest we forget that, I inform the House that, last night, I signed a passport application for a family friend. I asked the young man where he had lost his passport and he told me that it was at the bottom of the World Trade Centre. That brings home in a very personal way exactly what happened on 11 September. My former private secretary in the Treasury, Dermot Finch—a good lad from Clitheroe—escaped and was led from an annexe to the World Trade Centre after the second plane hit. He is still traumatised by the awfulness of that experience. It is those parts of the kaleidoscope of images that underpin my conviction that the action that we are taking is correct.

My constituency contains the headquarters of BAE Systems, which makes the majority of our military aircraft, and we understand what conflict is about.

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We provide the equipment to reinforce our armed forces to do a remarkable job. The Canberra PR9 flew 50 years ago and it is still flying in this conflict, providing aerial photographs and intelligence for our forces. All the nuclear fuel in the country is manufactured in my constituency, and if we do not contain terrorism, my constituents will be abundantly aware of the danger of an attack on that plant. In some way, we are all connected with the battle; we cannot ignore it.

Last night, some Members had the privilege of listening to Benjamin Netanyahu. Whatever they might think of his conduct as Prime Minister of Israel and whatever their views of the conflict there, they cannot have been other than struck by his message of passion and experience. He described what it is like to live in a country that is permanently engaged in a terrorist conflict and he observed that his country is a democracy that sits in a sea of non-democratic countries, many of which have given comfort and succour to terrorists. His assessment of the 11th was chilling. He said that we had received a wake-up call from hell and that we could either do something about it or press the snooze button—chilling and telling words from someone who has had to deal with the real-world effects of terrorism. I agree that we have to do something, which is why I support the action that has been taken.

There has been some discussion about the clarity of our purpose and whether we have explained our strategy. The Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) responded to such comments, but one of the problems that we face is that there are too many media, too much comment, too many conflicting views and too many difficult messages for ordinary members of the public to take on board. Too many retired generals and army experts pump out their version of what is going on. If there has been a lack of clarity, it is because the media are crowded with observations.

This is a difficult conflict; it is a different conflict. In his remarkable address to Congress, President Bush reminded us of that when he said:

The one word that has perhaps not been emphasised so far in our discussions is "patience". We have to be patient and allow time for different military approaches to be tried to see whether they can successfully deal with a resourceful, clever and financially well resourced opponent who could strike anywhere at any time. To do nothing is not an option, which is why I believe that the action that has been taken so far is correct.

I have written to the chairmen of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the British-American Parliamentary Group asking whether they would seriously consider organising programmes of activities and visits to and from their member countries so that Members of Parliament may play their part in improving dialogue and understanding of the issues that underpin the fight against terrorism. It is only by learning and by conversation that we can make our contribution and understand the conflict.

Anyone who has any doubts about the purpose and intention of our actions to date should read the chilling article on the front page of today's edition of The Times. The facts of what the Taliban did to someone who chose to stand and fight against them constitute the most brutal

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report that I have ever read. The person involved was amputated to the extent of becoming a complete cripple yet still being alive to tell the story. The article shows that these are not people to be trifled with; these are people who must be dealt with. If that means massive military power in the first instance, so be it.

I have respect for those who challenge and question what we are doing. Mr. Matthew Parris writes with perception and clarity about our affairs in this place. Last Saturday, he wrote a challenging article about the relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States and our position in the conflict. Whatever we think about Matthew Parris's analysis and whatever we think about those who have doubts, as democrats we must respond to their concerns to ensure that the clarity of vision and purpose to which the majority subscribe is not deflected. Above all, we should not forget, as the hon. Member for Cynon Valley said, the word "humanitarian". If we do not deal effectively with the Taliban, we shall have ignored the humanitarian aspects of why we are at war in Afghanistan.

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