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Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): It was disingenuous and unworthy of the Secretary of State to attack my hon. Friend the Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) on the European dimension, given that all my hon. Friend was doing was quoting the Canadian Secretary of State for Defence.
The Secretary of State will be aware that the Prime Minister visited Bagram for two or three hours on Monday. He said in his statement that British forces are on the streets of Kabul and have been for the past two weeks. Could the Secretary of State amplify his remarks on the security position within Kabul, and say whether the Prime Minister did not visit Kabul because of security reasons? Will he answer the question from my hon. Friend the Member for North Essex that has direct relation to the situation in Kabul? Annexe 1 of the Bonn agreement says that military forces in Kabul would be withdrawn where mandated forces were deployed. Has that condition now been met?
Mr. Hoon: As the build-up of the force continues, I indicated in my statement that we are well short of an operating capability there. Obviously we are in the process of implementing the Bonn agreement in what is a very dangerous environment. Nobody can underestimate the difficulties that our forces face in doing their job in Bagram and Kabul. I am not going to suggest to the House that theirs is not a demanding role. That is why we have every regard to the security and safety of any visitor to that part of the world.
Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park): I welcome the deployment of the forceI congratulate the Government on the part that they have playedand I wish the force every success, whatever the composition of the force, particularly if a lot of European countries are involved. On the question of humanitarian aid raised by the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), there are large areas of Afghanistan where the situation is desperate and lack of security is preventing the delivery of aid. There must be some plans for the future to extend the multinational security force to other areas, to enable those people to be fed.
The issue, as the hon. Lady has quite fairly indicated, is security and distribution. She knows a good deal about the situation in Afghanistan; the problems faced particularly in the most inaccessible parts of the country were caused by the failure of three successive harvests and by three years of drought. They are not attributable to the security situation directly, or to the military conflict. That is not in any way to underestimate their seriousness, nor to underestimate the determination of the international community to help resolve them.
Angus Robertson (Moray): I welcome the Secretary of State's statement and I thank him for providing me with a copy before he spoke. On behalf of the Scottish National party, I put on record our support for the security force and reiterate our support for the military operations against both al-Qaeda and the Taliban. I especially support those from my constituency and RAF Kinloss who are serving in our armed forces.
I wish to reinforce some of the points made today in terms of the interaction between the military and humanitarian operations. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees this morning reported problems to do with distribution and security in Kandahar and Helmand provinces. The International Rescue Committee has highlighted an extreme situation in the mountainous northern region of Abdullah Ghan. The Secretary of State has explained that there is no possibility that ISAF's role and area of responsibility will be widened. If that remains the case, will he say how military units on the ground elsewhere in Afghanistan could help to secure the aid deliveries so urgently needed in parts of that country?
Mr. Hoon: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's early comments, but in the end he asked a question that I have sought to answer on two previous occasions already. The security force has a particular responsibility that has been agreed with the Interim Administration. Other forces in Afghanistan that belong to the international coalition are still actively engaged in rounding up the remaining
As far as the distribution of aid is concerned, however, the extensive support given by the international community means that there is no reason why the Interim Administration should not be able to ensure the effective distribution of aid, even in those especially difficult parts of Afghanistan that the hon. Gentleman mentioned. There remain some real dangers in and around the Kandahar area, and elements of the Taliban and of al-Qaeda are still active and dangerous in that part of the world. I emphasise that it is vital that those elements be rounded up and dealt with before further efforts to distribute aid are made.
Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid-Kent): Given that the thoughts of the United States Administration are clearly turning to the next stage of the war against terrorism, what assessment has been made of the numbers and types of troops that this country might contribute to any future operation?
Mr. Hoon: Again, I think that the hon. Gentleman is getting ahead of reality. Obviously, efforts are in hand to address the threat of international terrorist organisations from other countries, but as I said in my statement, the focus of the United States and the United Kingdom remains on ensuring that the work that we began in Afghanistan is continued to a successful conclusion.
Patrick Mercer (Newark): May I begin by applauding the deployment of ISAF, and especially the work of Major-General John McColl? However, the Secretary of State has spoken about the importance of rounding up the elements of al-Qaeda that are still effective in the Kandahar area. Without dwelling on Canada's decision to deploy a light infantry battle group there, will he say why Britain has not thought fit to honour the words of the Prime Minister, who spoke of standing shoulder to shoulder with the United States? Currently, only a tiny number of our special forces have been deployed in the teeth of the enemy. Have we run out of personnel in the Parachute Regiment, the Royal Marines or special forces? Have we run out of Guardsmen and line soldiers trained in desert and mountain warfare? Or have we run out of resolve?
Mr. Hoon: We have not run out of any of those elements. We deploy the right types of forces to do the job that is required of us. As I said, up to 5,000 of Britain's armed forces are actively engaged in the hunt for al-Qaeda and remaining elements of the Taliban. They are ensuring that precisely those tasks to which I assume that the hon. Gentleman was referring are completed.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Will you please have a word with Mr. Speaker and ask him if he would be kind enough to consider having discussions with those who arrange our business to ensure that, when a topic of crucial interest and importance arises, there is adequate time to debate it? I make no criticism of the 10-minute limit imposed on speeches by Back Benchers today, but the House of Lords has had two full days to debate the matter of reform. By contrast, the statement that we have just heard will limit our debate to just five hours. I appreciate that the matter is not under Mr. Speaker's direct control, but I am sure it would be much appreciated if, on behalf of the House, he could have some conversations with those who regulate our business.
The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Robin Cook): When I presented the White Paper on reform of the House of Lords, I promised that the Commons would have a full opportunity to debate the Government's proposals within the consultation period. We are within the consultation period and this debate fulfils that commitment. The contributions to the debate can inform the period of reflection that must follow the end of the consultation period.
There would not be much point in our providing this day for debate if it did not permit Members who favour a different design for the second Chamber to express those views. I anticipate that we will hear from a number of them this afternoon. The White Paper is, after all, a consultative paper. It invited views on its proposals