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House of Commons

Tuesday 8 July 2003

The House met at half-past Eleven o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]


Mersey Tunnels Bill (By Order)

Order for further consideration, as amended, read.

To be further considered on Tuesday 15 July.

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

EU Member-Designate Countries

1. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East): What steps the Government are taking to support the EU member-designate countries which will join on 1 May 2004. [123865]

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Denis MacShane): The Government remain committed to ensuring that the 10 countries joining the EU on 1 May next year are ready to do so. The UK has provided bilateral assistance to the candidates worth over £350 million since 1989. On the practical side, there are more than 50 UK civil servants working full-time on twinning projects in the candidate countries.

Keith Vaz: While I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary on their excellent work in pushing forward the enlargement process, will my hon. Friend assure the House that the Government will give every possible assistance to the member-designate countries that have received early-warning letters from the EU Commission to ensure that the outstanding obstacles are dealt with? Does he agree that it would be most embarrassing and disappointing if the EU's first act on 1 May 2004 were to take infraction proceedings against one of its new members?

Mr. MacShane: My hon. Friend is right. Equally, however, all candidate countries must conform to EU norms. From May next year, they will be full members of the EU. Just as any existing EU member state can receive such infraction letters, other states must stand ready for them. As I said, we are working as one of the

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lead countries in ensuring that the incoming member states are ready to be full and active members of the EU as of May next year.

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell): In warmly welcoming the incoming member states, will the Minister confirm that he has deprecated the bellicose remarks of the French President at the time of the Iraq war, and of the French Defence Minister when she visited Warsaw? Will he stress to the member-designate states that we believe in a deeper rather than a wider—I am sorry, I mean a wider rather than a deeper Europe?

Mr. MacShane: The right hon. Gentleman is correct to draw attention to remarks that were certainly unfortunate. I hope, therefore, that he will join me in not deprecating but condemning the fact that the Conservative MEPs Roger Helmer and Daniel Hannan have been in Estonia campaigning for a no vote, and that Lady Thatcher has sent a letter to the Estonians calling on them to vote no to Europe. I hope that the Conservative party will now dissociate itself from Lady Thatcher and withdraw the Whip from those MEPs. Conservative Front-Bench Members cannot say that they are in favour of enlargement when they send their agents and propaganda to campaign for a no vote to isolate Britain further from Europe and get countries that want to join the EU to—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I call Mr. Knight.

Jim Knight (South Dorset): Given the presumption among some hon. Members that public opinion is against Europe and the euro, will my hon. Friend comment on public opinion in member-designate countries, as expressed in the referendums that have taken place so far?

Mr. MacShane: There have been open referendums and solid votes in favour of joining the EU. It is quite remarkable that the countries that have freed themselves from the Soviet yoke should be voting yes to the EU, when the Opposition are actively planning to renegotiate in advance of a withdrawal from the EU. I call on the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), the shadow Foreign Secretary, to condemn Lady Thatcher and to withdraw the Whip from the Tory MEPs campaigning for a no vote in Estonia.

Bob Russell (Colchester): Are the Government satisfied with the protection of the human rights of the Roma minorities, especially in Slovakia and the Czech Republic? Given that those countries are due to become members of the EU within the year, will he have words with his colleagues in the Home Office to stop them deporting citizens of those countries—and of others, such as Poland—who are residing in this country at the moment?

Mr. MacShane: The hon. Gentleman has raised this very serious issue in other debates and we respect his concern. Our embassies and Departments such as the Department for International Development, as well as the Foreign Office, have been raising the issue. It is a serious matter. We believe that laws are in place to protect all minorities in Europe adequately, but the

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Roma are a special case. We will have to have special regard to ensuring that they have the same rights and enjoy the same human freedoms as all other EU citizens.


2. Tony Cunningham (Workington): If he will make a statement on the results of his recent visit to Afghanistan. [123866]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): I visited Afghanistan from 30 June to 1 July. In Kabul, I met President Karzai, Foreign Minister Dr. Abdullah and Interior Minister Jalali, and saw a British Army team training NCOs of the Afghan national army. On a visit to Kandahar with Interior Minister Jalali, I spoke to a 200-strong meeting of tribal leaders and women's representatives, visited a pioneering women's health centre, and had meetings with the governor and at the police academy.

Significant progress has been made in implementing the Bonn agreement. Security remains a key issue, as do the related issues of drugs and terrorism. Eight provincial reconstruction teams are being established, including a British-led one in Mazar-e-Sharif. For all the challenges ahead, Afghanistan is an infinitely better and safer place than when the Taliban and al-Qaeda were in control.

Tony Cunningham : I thank the Secretary of State for that reply. As chair of the all-party group on Afghanistan, I have met a great many Afghans—[Interruption.] I hope that Opposition Members will listen. All the Afghans I have met are appreciative of Britain's role in Afghanistan and are quite optimistic for the future, but my right hon. Friend is right: the key element, which they always stress to me, is security. What more can be done to deal seriously with the threat of warlords and militias?

Mr. Straw: Two related things have to be done. First, the remnants of al-Qaeda and the Taliban have, bluntly, to be eliminated; they continue to pose a serious threat, especially in the south of the country, as I discussed in Kandahar with all the tribal leaders, the Afghan Administration and the US generals and the colonel in command of the forces fighting al-Qaeda.

Alongside that, we have to build up the Afghan national army and the Afghan national police. The British Government, along with our international partners, are investing a huge amount of money and, even more important, human resources to achieve that.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): Following the conflict in Afghanistan, the United States Administration and the Government promised certain amounts of money towards the rebuilding of the infrastructure of that country. What was the global figure and how much has been paid?

Mr. Straw: At the Tokyo conference in January last year, the United Kingdom pledged £200 million over five years, plus 19 per cent. of the European Union pledge of US $1 billion. We have spent £170 million since September 2001 and we shall continue to spend

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hundreds of millions of pounds in the future. Most of the money that was pledged at the January 2002 conference has been paid, although some has not. The financing requirements spelt out by the Transitional Administration are substantial. They have called for a further US $15 billion of assistance over the next 10 years and that is currently being discussed with international partners.

David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde): Given that 90 per cent. of the heroin on Britain's streets and three-quarters of the world's opium originate in Afghanistan, what practical and financial help and assistance can the UK Government give to the Afghan Administration to destroy this year's crop, which is currently being harvested and is predicted to be a bumper one, to ensure that that evil trade is ended once and for all?

Mr. Straw: On the size of this year's crop, we shall await the results of the UN-US study. For the first time, the US and the UN agencies are using a combined methodology so that we do not end up with the huge variations in crop production that have occurred in previous years. We think that the data will be at a higher and better level.

The Afghan Administration is devoting substantial resources to help to eliminate the crop where they can, but that is tied directly to the issue of security and terrorism. It will be a long haul, involving not only security and interdiction but the building up of alternative livelihoods for poor farmers in Afghanistan, before the too many communities in the country that depend on opium production can be moved away from that reliance.

What are we doing? Alongside the more general training that we are providing for the Afghan national army and the Afghan police, one of the things that I saw when I was in Kandahar was a training programme, with our assistance, for a core group of good, expert police officers in the Afghan national police, so that they could deal better with drugs and drug-related crime.

Patrick Mercer (Newark): The Foreign Secretary will be aware that, in the last week of the Iraq war, there were more combat deaths in Afghanistan than in Iraq, as a result of which there has already been a considerable British reinforcement of regular troops and armoured vehicles. As a result of his visit, can the Foreign Secretary say whether he will recommend that further reinforcements go to Afghanistan?

Mr. Straw: We have 300 troops in the international stabilisation and assistance force and a number of excellent troops, whom I saw, involved in other aspects of security. We are moving 60 to 70 troops, plus some Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Department for International Development officials, into the provincial reconstruction team in Mazar-e-Sharif. I have made no recommendation to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence to increase those numbers, but he and our ambassador on the ground, in consultation with

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the commanders of the international security assistance force and our US colleagues, keep the number of troops, including our contribution, under very careful review.

Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the UK role in Afghanistan, but does he not think that it is time that the United States stopped its collaboration with the warlords and made it very clear that it supports the Karzai Government? Given that a third of Afghanistan is out of bounds to UN personnel without protection and that the draft constitution has not yet been published, is it possible that the constitutional Loya Jirga can go ahead in October?

Mr. Straw: I reject entirely the suggestion that the US approach is any different from ours and that it is collaborating with the warlords. It is not, and I am very clear, not least from discussions with the US commanders on the ground, that they are providing more assistance overall than any other single nation in eliminating the grip of the warlords and strengthening the power and authority of the Afghan Administration and President Karzai. Among other things, they directly provide the bodyguards for President Karzai.

As for the Loya Jirga, I attended what amounted to a mini Loya Jirga in Kandahar, and I was impressed by the fact that a representative from the Constitutional Commission was also in attendance. An iterative, consultative process is taking place with representatives around the country. I stressed to all the Afghan representatives whom I met that it is extremely important for them that they make progress on the time lines set out by the Bonn agreement.

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