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4. Mr. Mohammad Sarwar (Glasgow, Govan) (Lab): What assistance his Department is providing to counter-narcotics efforts in Afghanistan. [221293]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): The deployment of British forces to Afghanistan as part of the international security assistance force helps to create a more secure environment, enabling the Afghan Government to take the lead in countering narcotics activities. That contributes to a wider interdepartmental approach co-ordinated by the Afghan drugs interdepartmental delivery unit, involving the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department for International Development, Customs and Excise, the MOD and the Home Office.

Mr. Sarwar: I thank the Minister for that reply. Does he agree that there has been a huge increase in heroin production since the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan? Powerful warlords and drugs lords are profiting from the massive increase in poppy production. Following the tragic murder of Steven McQueen last Monday, will he consider further steps to tackle effectively poppy eradication?

Mr. Ingram: I too pay tribute to Steven McQueen, who was involved in the important "alternative livelihoods" initiative to tackle the heroin trade in
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Afghanistan. His was a tragic death in tragic circumstances, which shows the importance of the work we are doing there.

As my hon. Friend says, there has been a significant increase in total production in terms of hectarage and so on, but the yield does not match that. Obviously we must tackle the problem, but that cannot be done by means of only one mechanism. It cannot be done solely through military means or crop eradication. There must be a set of arrangements including alternative livelihoods, eradication strategies and, of course, working with the Afghan authorities to put the necessary resources on the ground. All that work is being done on an interdepartmental basis in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): There has indeed been a huge increase in the availability of class A drugs from Afghanistan, but were it not for our armed forces the supply would be even greater. We congratulate them on the work that they are doing.

The Minister said earlier that education was important, and that the armed forces were the largest training provider in the country. Could they not also play a pivotal role in Afghanistan in ensuring that young people there are properly trained and have a proper future, so that they are not dragged into drug cultivation?

Mr. Ingram: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments about the efforts that have been made to date, in very difficult circumstances. We have already mentioned one death that took place last week, although it did not involve a member of the armed forces.

The Department for International Development is taking the lead in this, and it must look at a range of opportunities. Growing the economy is vital, and alternative livelihoods for both farmers and young people is crucial. It will all take time, but that is not for want of effort and attention on the Government's part. We will continue to exert pressure and devote effort to achieving what we can by working with the Afghan authorities.

David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde) (Lab): No one could possibly doubt the tremendous effort that British and American troops are putting into the reconstruction of Afghanistan. We know of the increased supply of heroin on Britain's streets, but is not the other side of the equation the massive profits of the industry that support narco-terrorist activity, which represents the single biggest danger to the future of a stable, democratic Afghanistan? That, at least, is the warning from President Karzai. Is it not time we realised that along with the carrot of alternative livelihoods—which we are absolutely right to offer—must go the stick of destruction, in the form of a beefed-up crop eradication strategy?

Mr. Ingram: I have said as much. That is indeed an important part of the equation. A key part, however, is the building of criminal justice structures so that those at the top of the network can be brought to justice. That mechanism is not yet in place because of all the dangers
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involved, but we want to train people—together with other allied nations—to ensure that we have all those structures: a civil society that is opposed to drugs in Afghanistan, a criminal justice system to bring people to justice, and a mechanism whereby they can be brought to justice. At the same time we must build the economy and help with alternative livelihoods, and there must also be a proper eradication strategy.

Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk) (Con): May I say how much Conservative Members support the work of not just our military personnel but the intelligence services in the important but dangerous war out in Afghanistan?

I understand that there are about 500 production sites in Afghanistan, any 50 of which will operate at any one time. The Minister rightly said that there were a number of ways of trying to eradicate that activity—political, economic and military, among others—but will he tell us whether the Government have considered precision aerial interdiction to destroy the sites?

Mr. Ingram: Every aspect is examined, but anything new must be done with the support of the Afghan authorities. We will not hold back in doing what we believe to be absolutely necessary, because this is a poisonous trade. There are inherent dangers in not tackling this problem; indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (David Cairns) alluded to the narco-terrorist state developing on the back of this trade. All means have to examined, but whether they have efficacy and legitimacy is another issue.

Eurofighter Typhoon

5. Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): What his plans are for the third tranche of the Eurofighter project. [221294]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): Under the four-nation memorandums of understanding, a decision regarding the third tranche of Eurofighter Typhoon is not required before 2007. Discussions with partners and the aerospace industry about tranche 3 will therefore continue.

Dr. Cable: Since the Government appear to be committed to pressing ahead with ordering 80 aircraft under that tranche, can the Secretary of State say how many UK pilots will be fully trained and available to fly them?

Mr. Hoon: There will be enough UK pilots, but I have to say that every time the hon. Gentleman speaks on defence, he demonstrates his leadership of the Liberal Democrats' pacifist tendency. That tendency is confirmed by the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch), who has made it clear that he would scrap the third tranche of Typhoon, and by the Liberal Democrat defence spokesman in the House of Lords, who said that he would scrap the two carriers. Yet almost every week in this Chamber, Liberal Democrats representing constituencies such as Yeovil, Portsmouth,
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South and North Devon queue up to say that more money should be spent on defence. It is about time that the Liberal Democrats made their policy clear.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): But it is worse than that, because the Liberal Democrats would scrap not just tranche 3 but tranche 2, which would cost—

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman is out of order.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): Is the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) not correct in saying that unless something has happened to the normal ratio of pilots to aircraft, under its current plan the Royal Air Force will not have sufficient pilots if it acquires tranche 3 of Eurofighter? Is that not a consequence of the £500 million a year cuts that Labour made on entering office in 1998, and is it not a little rich of the Secretary of State to criticise the previous Conservative Government's defence expenditure, given that, on entering office, Labour promptly cut such expenditure?

Mr. Hoon: Since the hon. Gentleman had some responsibility for the series of defence cuts made by previous Conservative Governments, such comments do not come well from him. We have succeeded in raising the defence budget year on year since I have been in post, and it is very important that such expenditure continues to rise. However, those increases would be seriously threatened in the unlikely event of the Conservatives winning government.

Arms Sales

6. Mr. Siôn Simon (Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab): What steps the Department takes to promote British arms sales overseas. [221295]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): The Ministry of Defence provides a high standard of support to legitimate defence exports. In recent years, it has helped the UK defence industry to win orders worth, on average, some £5 billion annually. Major achievements last year included the contract for    the sale of Hawk aircraft to India and last month, the US101—a version of the well-established AgustaWestland EH101—won the competition to replace the current US presidential helicopters. The defence ministerial team has played an important part in helping the industry to win these orders.

Mr. Simon: I thank the Minister for his answer and the Department for its support for British manufacturing, which can surely use all the help that it can get. However, a prerequisite of securing export orders is often that the contract first be given by the MOD—a point that is particularly true in respect of larger contracts involving newer products. I ask the Minister to reassure my constituents and me that—just as the French and the Americans always strive to buy    home-grown products—wherever possible, the MOD will buy British products rather than foreign ones, because buying British is also the way to sell overseas.
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Mr. Ingram: I did cite two very good examples of the great benefits of such major procurements, not just in terms of what the companies in question have delivered for our armed forces, but of our ability then to market those products internationally. The same point applies to the Typhoon, although I know that other parties oppose our efforts in that regard. Indeed, the Liberal Democrats, who are probably the prime opponents, totally oppose such efforts to sell British industry abroad. My hon. Friend has raised an important point, and we are putting every effort into ensuring that we continue to get the best equipment on time, and for the best value. We believe that British industry has the capacity to do that, and we will assist it in selling those products on.

Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): The Minister will be aware that there has been an adverse reaction in America to the lifting of the arms embargo on China. The Americans are strengthening their buy America policy, which is having an alarming effect on the aerospace industry in this country. Many companies in my constituency are concerned that, without their American orders, they cannot continue as viable companies. Can the Government do anything to pressure America to adopt a fair policy on orders from the UK?

Mr. Ingram: The embargo has not been lifted. There is a wide-ranging debate about that matter and all the issues must be fully taken into account. On access to the US market, I pointed out in my first answer that we have been successful in respect of the American EH101 equivalent helicopter. That provides one good example and we are also very much involved in the future joint strike fighter project. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that major paybacks will come from that, not just in respect of manufacture, but in the potential for research and development.

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