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David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde) (Lab): It is a genuine pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) and his thoughtful and eloquent exposition of the nature of American foreign policy and how that has affected UK foreign policy. I agree with him inasmuch as I, too, am a strong supporter of the North Atlantic Alliance and a strong Atlanticist. I agree with his critique of some of the first principles, and some of his critique of the neo-conservative world view, but I cannot go along with everything he said about American foreign policy. I do not agree with anything he said about British foreign policy.

On American foreign policy, the hon. Gentleman spoke about the desire for absolute security. I have never detected any American who believes that absolute security is possible. They are in pursuit of relative security and of greater relative security. After the events of 9/11, who can blame them? With the threats regularly made against Americans around the world before 9/11 and afterwards, who can blame them if they wish to create a more secure world for themselves and their citizens around the world? One may criticise the way they are going about it, and one may argue that that is not making the world a safer place.

If I have criticism of American foreign policy as it is currently conducted, it is that they have not grasped sufficiently the strength of America's "soft power". I think it was Joseph Nye who coined that phrase, and it is an excellent one. It is bizarre that in any anti-American or anti-globalisation riots on the streets of almost any city in the world, no self-respecting rioter goes out without his Nikes and baseball cap. The strength of America's "soft power" and of its influence have made that country tremendously attractive. The values that have made America the strong and prosperous country that it is are enduring human values to which people aspire.

I do not accept that we should impose democracy at the point of a gun, but nor do I accept that we should suppress democracy at the point of a gun. All too often around the world we have seen people's legitimate democratic aspirations repressed at the point of a gun. It is a relatively recent argument that we are enforcing democracy at the point of a gun. I prefer to see the threat
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being removed and democracy being allowed to flourish without the threat of military action against those whose vested interest is in preventing democracy.

I want to use the occasion of responding to the Queen's Speech to focus on one aspect that was mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and from both Opposition Front Benches. I return to a subject that I have raised in the House on many occasions, and regretfully have to do so again—the ongoing scandal of the Afghanistan opium poppy trade and the devastating misery that the heroin it produces causes in the streets of my constituency and every other constituency represented in the House today. This trade is a chain of misery and degradation. It begins with the exploitation of desperately poor farmers in some of the most inhospitable corners of the globe, progresses via grotesque profiteering by international drug traffickers and their vile associates, and results in the abject misery and suffering of wretched addicts, blighting the quality of life of innocents who live beside the seedy reality of petty drug dealing on the streets of the United Kingdom. The evil business does not end there. The circle is complete. It returns whence it came in the form of narco-terrorist funding. No one who has been listening to President Karzai in the past 12 months can be in any doubt that international terrorists are directly and financially funding their murderous activity with drugs money. I cannot conceive of a more vicious, vicious circle.

Before I address what must be done to tackle the trade at source, I should say that I am perfectly well aware of the basic laws of human commerce, and they apply here as they do elsewhere. Where there is a demand there will be a supply. Cutting off the flow of heroin that comes from Afghanistan will not end the problem of addiction, but I make no apologies today for focusing on the supply-side regime. Markets must operate within social, human and international legal boundaries. The trade in heroin is as immoral, corrupt, violent and destructive as it gets. Supply feeds demand. The more heroin there is, the cheaper it is; the cheaper it gets, the more people use; the more people use, the more addicts are created; and more addicts mean more crime, more sickness, more heartbreak for families and more tragic early deaths.

We have heard it quoted many times in the course of this afternoon's debate that 95 per cent. of the heroin on Britain's streets begins life as poppies in Afghanistan. My right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson) made a compelling case highlighting the connection between the foreign affairs and security aspects of the Queen's Speech and the domestic crime-related aspects. Many people say that that is all creating one huge climate of fear, but those two are intrinsically connected, and the Queen's Speech recognises that.

David Burnside: To take the matter further in the vicious cycle, Ballymena in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, is seen by the Police Service of Northern Ireland as the heroin capital of Northern Ireland, our part of the United Kingdom. The heroin trade is run by mafia criminal gangs linked to so-called loyalist paramilitary organisations, and other parts of the United Kingdom are linked into the same mafia criminal organisations. Is not the international network of mafian criminal organisations, stretching from my little part of the
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United Kingdom to FARC in Colombia in South America, the challenge for the international community? We have to put out of business the international front terrorist organisations who are masquerading as terrorist organisations but are drug criminals.

David Cairns: Yes, I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. My constituency earned the sobriquet, entirely unmerited I may say, of being the heroin capital of Scotland. It was not true, but it is hard to shake off such labels, so I understand what it must be like for the people in Ballymena. I am talking today about the supply side, but the entire chain needs to be attacked. Some of the measures in the Queen's Speech, such as the Serious Organised Crime Agency and the establishment of cross-European co-operation, such as the common European arrest warrant, are central to tackling the trade throughout Europe, as is the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, confiscating the assets of convicted criminals, or making them prove that their assets did not come from illegal criminal activity. There is no one magic bullet, but all those measures help directly to address the point that the hon. Gentleman makes.

This is a lucrative trade. In 2003, the combined income of Afghan opium farmers and traffickers was about $2.3 billion, roughly equivalent to half the legitimate gross domestic product of that country. We are entitled to ask how that came to pass. Was not one of the reasons for toppling the Taliban that it had, in part, been funded by the opium trade? That was certainly the view expressed by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in his statement of 7 October 2001. As the conflict in Afghanistan, precipitated by the attacks of the previous month in New York, began, he said:

The following day, speaking in the House, the Prime Minister said:

Again, that is closely equating terror with the drugs trade.

After the conflict was over, the Prime Minister returned to the topic in an interview with the BBC World Service, in which he praised President Karzai's recent initiative

that is, 2001.

He continued:

I agree wholeheartedly with the Prime Minister. This was one of the reasons why I strongly supported the overthrow of the Taliban regime.
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The problem is that the situation is getting worse. In 2002, the year in which the Prime Minister was speaking, about 74,000 hectares were given over to poppy cultivation in Afghanistan. Last year, the figure had grown to 80,000 hectares, and this year it has risen to 131,000 hectares—a 64 per cent. increase year on year. I understand that unofficial figures from the United States State Department suggest that the figure is even higher—perhaps even twice as high, at somewhere in the region of 250,000 hectares. If that turned out to be the case, it would be truly terrifying.

The practice is therefore spreading. In 1999, 18 of Afghanistan's 32 provinces reported poppy cultivation. In 2000, it had spread to 23 provinces, and by 2002 it was happening in 24. By last year, 28 of the provinces were reporting poppy cultivation, and it will come as no surprise to anyone to discover that this year's United Nations survey reports that poppy cultivation has now spread to every province in the country. The number of people involved is staggering. Last year, some 264,000 families were engaged in opium growing, with roughly 1.7 million people's livelihoods depending on the crop. This year, the figure has risen to 356,000 families, involving 2.3 million people. That is 10 per cent. of the entire population of Afghanistan.

How is it that, three years after military action was taken to end the trade, and more than two years after my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister spoke of destroying the harvest, things are moving so rapidly in the wrong direction? I know that Ministers are working tirelessly on this issue, and none more so than the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Mr. Rammell), who is absolutely dedicated to reversing this tide. I have had the good fortune to discuss the issue with him on many occasions, and he has been very open and honest with me about it. I particularly commend the Government's initiative to convene the first international counter-narcotics conference in Afghanistan, which was held in February this year.

We have to begin from a point of honesty in this debate; we must not kid ourselves. The situation on the ground is deteriorating. President Karzai has warned of the risk that Afghanistan will

In February, he also warned that poppy cultivation

That last claim might sound like hyperbole, but when President Karzai, a hugely respected figure, says that if these problems are left unchecked they will result in the destruction of Afghanistan, the region and the world, we have to take notice.

What can be done? All too often, the debate polarises and falls into two camps: those who say that we should actively seek and destroy the poppies and deal with the consequences afterwards; and those who wish to persuade opium growers that they should develop an alternative crop, and provide them with the wherewithal to do so. The way forward must surely lie somewhere in
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between. Enforcement must be accompanied by assistance—the stick of the military and the carrot of greater resources.

That is not what is happening at the moment, however. The risk to reward ratio in Afghanistan is completely unbalanced. The rewards for being involved in the opium poppy trade far outweigh the risk of being caught. That point has been made on many occasions by Antonio Maria Costa, the executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. It was in an attempt to strike a balance between those who favour a scorched-earth approach and those who favour gradualism that the United Kingdom convened the international conference that I mentioned earlier.

The time for talking has surely passed. We need action on law enforcement, including against corrupt Government officials who are hampering the counter-narcotics effort in Afghanistan in return for a lucrative share of the profits. We need action on alternative livelihoods. I welcome the appointment of a UK-funded alternative livelihoods consultant and the work that the Department for International Development is doing with its alternative livelihoods section. I applaud the initiative of Dr. Iain Wright from Aberdeen university—who has gone out to Afghanistan today, funded by DFID's alternative livelihoods section—to try to persuade farmers in Afghanistan to move away from the poppy crop towards raising Kashmir goats, which could provide an alternative livelihood.

We have to be honest as well, however, and we have to be honest with the Afghan farmers: no crop that they can grow will produce the same income and any suggestion that we will discover a crop that provides them with an alternative livelihood as lucrative as that which they enjoy now is a chimera. We might wait to discover such a crop, but it does not exist. In Afghanistan, the climate will not lend itself, as it does in Thailand and Pakistan, to alternative crops that provide a high income for those people. We should not kid them.

We need action, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Jones) said, on drug demand reduction to deal with the growing problem of domestic drug addiction. We need action in Afghanistan—the UK Government have been in the lead on this as well—on public education, with the acknowledgement that opium production has become the cultural norm in many parts of that country, despite the fact that that is clearly against the tenets of mainstream Islam. We must do more to reinforce that message.

We also need action on eradication; we must not shy away from that. Now that the election is behind us and President Karzai has been returned with a strong mandate, we need far more steps to be taken on crop destruction. My view, which I have been advancing for the past two years, is that that eradication should be part of the core military objectives of NATO through the international security assistance force.

I am aware that that is not everyone's view, but I was tremendously heartened when the Prime Minister, in reply to a question that I put to him in the summer, agreed with me, saying:

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I was encouraged to hear my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence say that those discussions with our NATO allies are under way. They are vital.

I close my remarks on Afghanistan by saying that we cannot afford to wait a generation to solve this problem. Antonio Maria Costa is predicting that it could take a generation, but we simply cannot afford to wait that long. I cannot tell the good people of Inverclyde that they may have to put up with the scumbag heroin dealers who blight our communities for another 30 years. I am not prepared to wait a generation for a significant decrease in the flow of cheap heroin on to our streets. I am not prepared to wag a finger at corrupt Afghan officials and to coax reluctant farmers into seeing the error of their ways without the threat of terrible reprisals if they do not. I am not prepared to return to this issue in another 12 months to report further setbacks. We need real progress.

I come briefly to another subject that has caused a great deal of debate today. I was not going to go into it, but the way in which the debate has progressed compels me to refer to the middle east peace process. I was in the region a couple of weeks ago, immediately before President Arafat's terminal illness. I have visited it on many occasions, but I have never known a time of such absolute despair and despondency over whether any progress will be made. I have never known the two sides to be so far apart with absolutely no trust whatever between them.

Distasteful though this may be, and tragic though it undoubtedly is for President Arafat and his family, his demise might provide an opportunity to break that logjam and move forward, although none of us would have wished that to happen in such a way. However, it has happened and the opportunity is here.

I said that I would not make many comments on this subject, but the way in which the debate has gone shows how such debates often go in the House: people pay lip service to acts of terrorism by the Palestinians and then devote the majority of their speech to attacking Israel and apportioning all the blame to it, with the honourable exception of the hon. Member for South Antrim (David Burnside), who put another point of view. I wish to join him in perhaps reflecting a more balanced view, which is, I think, that of the vast majority of Israeli citizens, who do not regard their Government as the source of all the problems and all the road blocks that are in the way of a move towards peace.

Just to address some of the points that have been made, my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (David Winnick) said that whenever moderates on the Palestinian side attempt to crack down on terror, they are undermined by the Israeli Government. That is simply not the case. Whenever people such as Mohammad Dahlan and Jibril Rijoub attempted to crack down on terror in Gaza and the west bank, they were undermined by Yasser Arafat. That is why Mr.   Dahlan resigned when Abu Mazen left—he despaired that every time he tried to crack down on terror, he was undermined by the leadership of the Palestinian Authority.

We have heard a lot of talk again today about the wall. I expect that I will convince nobody that the security barrier, fence or wall—call it what one will—is working to reduce terror and suicide attacks. People
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have long since made up their minds about that. However, let us be factual in our use of language. It is a wall in two places, Qalqilia and Abu Dis. I have been to both places, the wall there is a great, big, ugly thing, and I hope that it is torn down as soon as possible. But, in fact, 96 per cent. of the construction is a fence, which any of us could get through in about 10 minutes. It is designed for one function only—to provide the Israeli defence forces, by delaying people getting through it, with about a 15-minute window of opportunity to apprehend or at least follow them.

I do not agree with the route—the Israeli supreme court has ruled on that, and the Israeli Government are changing it—but continually referring to it as a wall, as if the entire length of it were a wall, on a par with the Berlin wall or perhaps some of the walls that the British government built in Belfast, is fundamentally misleading and deliberately conveys the impression that somehow the whole Palestinian Authority is being walled in by Israel. It is not. This barrier must be a temporary measure that can be pulled down as quickly as it has been put up, but it has had a dramatic impact on reducing the number of suicide bombings that have taken place inside Israel since it was erected.

The people to whom our delegation spoke, on the Israeli side, in Ramallah and in east Jerusalem, did not agree on anything except one matter—that the United Kingdom in general, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in particular, are perceived as being honest brokers. My right hon. Friend has the trust of both sides in the debate. The Palestinians genuinely see him as a moderating influence on the Americans. The Israelis genuinely see him as a strong and staunch supporter of Israel's right to exist. I sincerely hope that he makes good on his promises in this place and at the Labour party conference to use every sinew to drive forward the middle east peace process. It is excellent news that the Foreign Secretary is in the region today. This is an historic moment or a window of opportunity—whatever cliché or soundbite one may like to employ, we now have an opportunity to move the peace process forward.

Unlike in Northern Ireland, we know more or less what the end result will look like—a two-state solution, with Jerusalem divided, a deal on the Palestinian right of return, some land in Israel proper provided to keep some of the settlements near the green line, but the vast majority of the other settlements withdrawn. Everybody knows that—we have an outcome but no process, whereas in Northern Ireland we have a process but no outcome.

Now is the chance to put the process back on track and to work towards the outcome outlined in the road map, the Wye river agreement and umpteen other agreements that have set out the way in which the process will inevitably end. The Prime Minister is uniquely placed to bring that about, and he has my every encouragement and good will as he goes about that task.

3.49 pm

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