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3. Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): if he will make a statement on his Department's assistance to Afghanistan. [210383]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Bill Rammell): The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has consistently provided a high level of assistance to Afghanistan since late 2001. That includes financial and political support to President Karzai's Government and the election process, to counter-narcotics efforts and to reform of the Afghan security sector.

Mr. Mackay: Does the Minister accept that, with the welcome election of President Karzai, much more needs to be done? Does he share my criticism of some of our NATO allies who, unlike ourselves, have done very little to offer support and assistance? What will he and the Foreign Secretary do through NATO to put pressure on the recalcitrant states and name and shame them?

Mr. Rammell: First, it is important to recognise the real progress that has been made in Afghanistan. I attended President Karzai's inauguration just before Christmas. The first nationwide democratic election is a huge step forward and 3 million refugees have returned to the country, but we need to maintain our assistance and support. I agree that NATO should do more. The recent force generation conference noted some welcome progress—the United States, Italy and Lithuania made some additional contributions—but we need more. I recently spoke at the NATO Council urging NATO to do more, especially on the counter-narcotics front. We shall continue to make that argument.

Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab): May I take this opportunity belatedly to welcome the publication of "Inclusive Government: Mainstreaming gender into Foreign Policy" and to thank my hon. Friend for the fact that there is a gender strategy in Afghanistan? How are the British Government using that strategy to support women in the forthcoming elections?

Mr. Rammell: I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who ever since the demise of the Taliban has consistently argued for women's rights in Afghanistan. There has been a dramatic improvement. In the recent presidential election, a woman stood for the presidency and three for the vice-presidency, and 25 per cent. of the seats in the lower house are reserved for women; those are important steps forward. However, as we move towards the parliamentary elections, we need to continue to support women. We, the European Union and our other partners are determined to undertake that task.
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Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West) (Lab/ Co-op): Does my hon. Friend agree that crucial to the future of Afghanistan is the provision of alternatives to the poppy cultivation there? Will he outline what steps we and other countries have taken to achieve this?

Mr. Rammell: I thank my hon. Friend for that question. To tackle narcotics in Afghanistan we need what we have, which is a multi-faceted strategy including eradication, interdiction and the spread of the criminal justice system. If we are genuinely to move farmers away from the poppy, we need to provide alternative livelihoods. The Department for International Development has recently increased its commitment to £30 mllion over three years, and £13 million of that is now being spent on local community development councils in 5,000 villages, focusing on the bare basics of water pumps, irrigation channels, bridges and roads, which is the first step. We certainly need to take that effort forward.


4. Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): what recent discussions he has had with the Government of Eritrea about the boundary dispute with Ethiopia; and if he will make a statement. [210384]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Chris Mullin): We discuss the border dispute with Eritrea, Ethiopia and other interested parties on a regular basis. I had a long discussion on the subject with Eritrean President Isaias in Asmara in January last year, and with Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles in Addis Ababa on 26 October. I hope to be able to discuss the matter again with representatives of both Governments at the African Union summit in Abuja this weekend.

Mr. Robertson: I thank the Minister for that response. At a meeting with the Prime Minister of Ethiopia in November, he affirmed his commitment to a peaceful solution with Eritrea and, indeed, wanted to accept what he did not like in terms of the border dispute—he accepted the ruling of the boundary commission. Indeed, in November the Parliament of Ethiopia passed a motion to that effect. Recently, however, Ethiopia has been expressing deep concern about the attitude of Eritrea towards the boundary solution. There is concern that that country, which is not democratic and does not have a free press, might seek to return to war. That would, of course, cause devastation in the area, loss of life and loss of aid. Will the Minister redouble his efforts to discuss the situation, particularly with Eritrea, with a view to persuading that country that the peaceful way forward has to be the only way forward?

Mr. Mullin: I take a close personal interest in the border dispute, having been engaged with it, one way or another, for about the past 18 months. Our assessment is that neither side wants a return to war, but it is correct to say that there is always a danger that a small spark on the border will reignite the conflict. Our approach is based on three principles: no return to war; that the findings of the boundary commission are binding; and that dialogue between the two parties must take place.
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Professor Lauterpacht, who was the chairman of the Eritrea-Ethiopia boundary commission, has said that any issue can be discussed, provided that both parties agree. We think that that should happen, and that is the view that we are making clear to all parties, including the Eritreans.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/ Co-op): With the deterioration of the situation in Eritrea, are not the Government there beating the drums of war as a diversionary tactic to draw attention away from their numerous failings, and to strengthen their own position? Will my hon. Friend commit himself, when we next meet the representatives of either Eritrea or Ethiopia, to pursue the question with Ethiopia, whose attitude to the Eritrea-Ethiopia boundary commission's final recommendations is not entirely unambiguous? Indeed, it is already entering qualifications. The removal of those would defuse the tension, would it not?

Mr. Mullin: A settlement of this dispute will require both sides to move. We welcome the recent movement by the Ethiopians, which we had been urging upon them. In due course they may have to make some further concessions. At the moment it would be welcome to have some sign from Eritrea that it is willing to engage in discussions. So far there have been no such signs from Eritrea.


5. Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con): What assessment he has made of the conclusions of the Iraq survey group. [210385]

The Minister for Trade and Investment (Mr. Douglas Alexander): The Government have read the conclusions of the Iraq survey group carefully. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has publicly accepted its principal conclusion that Saddam Hussein's regime did not possess stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction.

Andrew Selous: The Joint Intelligence Committee warned the Government that the limitations of its intelligence on weapons of mass destruction were not made sufficiently clear. Does that not mean that any future threats to the UK under this Administration may not be treated by Parliament and the public with the seriousness that they deserve?

Mr. Alexander: I do not accept that. Since May 2003 there have been four inquiries—by the Intelligence and Security Committee, the Foreign Affairs Committee, Lord Hutton and Lord Butler. A central question, of course, for those inquiries was whether the Government had in any way acted improperly or dishonestly in using the intelligence available to them. All four inquiries concluded that such allegations were unfounded.

Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North) (Lab): Are Britain's arguments against further military adventures strengthened by the fact that Bush's Iraq survey group not only failed to find any weapons of mass destruction but could only speculate on Saddam's future intentions
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on the basis of his perceived need to deter Iran and Israel? Surely, that proves that the imminent WMD threat to the United States, which the Bush Administration used to justify war, was absolute fantasy?

Mr. Alexander: The report is extensive; if I recollect correctly, it is more than 800 pages long. Its central conclusions included the fact that Saddam never abandoned his intentions to resume a chemical weapons effort, and indeed was pursuing an aggressive strategy of subverting the UN sanctions and the oil-for-food programme. The report therefore comes to a range of conclusions, and I do not accept the point made by my hon. Friend. Frankly, the issue has been well ventilated in the House on a number of occasions.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): In the light of the survey group's findings, does the Minister agree that Hans Blix was right to ask for more time? Does he not agree that if Dr. Blix's pleas had been heeded, conflict could have been avoided?

Mr. Alexander: Dr. Blix's views on this issue are clearly important. As the executive secretary of UNMOVIC, mandated under United Nations Security Council resolution 1284, he was shown a draft of the Government's September 2002 dossier and commented that he felt that some sections of it understated Iraq's capabilities. It is too often forgotten by people who disagreed with the Government's action that UN resolution 1441 was adopted unanimously by all members of the Security Council.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) (Lab): On what date was the British Government first consulted by the Americans about the winding up of the survey group?

Mr. Alexander: In relation to what my hon. Friend describes as the winding up of the survey group, it is the case that it continues to undertake work inside Iraq. It is certainly the case that Charles Duelfer has returned to the United States. None the less, the group continues to work closely with the multinational force.

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes) (Con): Given the Iraq survey group's failure to find any weapons of mass destruction, and the Prime Minister's persistent assertions when questioned on WMD that we should await the outcome of the survey, when will the Government report to the House why the Prime Minister, in his insistence that weapons of mass destruction existed, got it so wrong?

Mr. Alexander: It is of course the case that people have made criticisms of the Government's action, but they can hardly include in that a failure by the House to discuss the issue. Quite reasonably, as I said, we have had four inquiries looking into the matter. The House has had the opportunity to discuss the issue on numerous occasions, and there is little that can be added to the extensive debates that it has already had on the subject.

Mrs. Claire Curtis-Thomas (Crosby) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that although people are seeking,
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and have sought, weapons of mass destruction, Iraq's capability to produce those weapons was unquestionable? Moreover, it had demonstrated its capacity to use them extensively in northern Kurdistan. It retained that capability until the invasion of Iraq, which sought to reduce the problem completely and for ever.

Mr. Alexander: I concur with my hon. Friend. No other country in modern times has used chemical weapons against both its neighbours and its own civilian population. That is an important corrective to some of the arguments that we have heard in the House in recent months. It is important to recognise that whatever the divisions in the House—which were present at the time the action was taken—there is now common ground across the House about the need to support the efforts of the Iraqi people as they look ahead to the democratic elections at the end of the week

Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid-Kent) (Con): As the Minister said, the Iraq survey group report highlighted the link between corruption at the UN during the oil-for-food scandal and the current security situation in Iraq. Does the Foreign Office believe that responsibility for that scandal rests inside the UN itself, owing to a lack of accountability and transparency, or with the countries of the Security Council, who knew that it was going on but failed to take any action?

Mr. Alexander: That is an important question, which is why we have supported fully the decision to set up a high-level inquiry within the United Nations. We fully support Paul Volcker in his efforts. It would be injudicious for me to comment on specific allegations while that inquiry continues, but I can assure the House that the Government continue to co-operate fully with the inquiry as it moves forward.

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