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Mr. David Hamilton (Midlothian) (Lab):
As one who supported the involvement of British troops in Afghanistan and continues to do so, may I ask two quick questions? First, on our power to arrest suspected terrorists and hand them over to the authorities, does that also apply to suspected terrorists who are not of Afghan descent? What do we do after they are arrested? That is an important question that arises every so often. Secondly, the United States of America spends millions, if not billions, of pounds on reconstruction and
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development in the south and on discussions with the warlords. Will that money continue to be made available once the British troops go in?
John Reid: On the second matter, with reference to about $100 million, I am informed that the United States will continue to make that available, at least for the foreseeable future18 months or so. On the first matter, which involves important but complicated questions about prisoners, at present we hand such prisoners over to the Afghan authorities, but there is an existing memorandum of understanding. We would take account of that in the light of the circumstances that we discover through our preliminary operations team that has been sent out to Afghanistan, and we will develop our plans and procedures accordingly with the Afghan Government. Perhaps I can write to my hon. Friend about that.
John Reid: The harmony guidelines are, from memory, around 21.1. They should be around 24. I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the specific change because of the deployment, but if I may write to him, I will tell him exactly what effect it has had. At around 21.1, the harmony guidelines are not satisfactory. They should be around 24.
Jim Cousins (Newcastle upon Tyne, Central) (Lab): Can my right hon. Friend assure me that given a situation in which there are two different commands, one devoted to reconstruction and the other to security, there will be no security or counter-terrorist operations in northern Pakistan without the knowledge and approval of British forces and British commanders devoted to the task of reconstruction? Can my right hon. Friend also assure the House that if there is a deterioration in the security situation in Afghanistan or Iraq in the period leading up to July, he will reconsider these matters and come back to the House?
John Reid: I do not think I can give my hon. Friend the assurances that he seeks, if I understood his request correctly. Of course, where we are operating in close proximity, even though there are two different operations, there are enough overlapping relationships and intelligence to ensure that we work towards one common objective, but I cannot give my hon. Friend a specific assurance. However, I can assure him that we keep these matters under constant review, not least because of the potential requirement to try and achieve closer synergy between the two operations or a transfer of personnel between the two operations as we proceed.
Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con):
Would the Secretary of State mind if I asked a detailed question of key concern to my constituency? In his statement before Christmas on the loss of the Hercules, the largest single loss of life in Iraq, he stated that the only thing that he could find that was wrong was that the Hercules did not have foam retardant systems in the wings. Will he give
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the House an assurance this afternoon that the four Hercules aircraft to be deployed in Afghanistan will have full air defensive suites of all kinds supplied to them, as I am sure they will? Also, I know that he is in discussions with Marshalls of Cambridge about the fitting of foam retardant to the wings. Will those discussions have achieved some kind of outcome by the time of the deployment?
John Reid: Other than to say that we will have full defensive suites, it is not our policy to go into detail about the protective measures. I invite the hon. Gentleman to come and discuss that matter with me outside the Chamber.
Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone) (Lab): My right hon. Friend's statement indicates clearly that the main task for the deployment will be the implementation of the Afghan Government's anti-narcotics strategy. I noted that he referred to a medium to long-term strategy. Does he agree that we are not considering crop spraying, and that the emphasis will be on bringing new economic opportunities to the farmers who previously grew poppies, which will be a long-term project? Does he believe he has the resources for that long-term commitment?
John Reid: First, the effort will be Afghan-led. That was implicit in my hon. Friend's remarks. Secondly, there will be a heavy emphasis on the proverbial carroton attracting farmers away from poppy production. Thirdly, I do not rule crop spraying in or out, although it is not on our agenda, but the stick is present too, in terms of risk, not for the farmers, but for the mafia bosses who run the trade. The intention is to render the trade riskier than it currently is, while offering an alternative to the farmers. No one in the House would be particularly concerned about greedy, corrupt, nasty mafia warlords who are making a great deal of money from pumping that poison into the veins of their own people and our people, but we all have 100 per cent. sympathy and empathy with the farmers, so we must get that balance right, as my hon. Friend suggests.
Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): May I repeat the support of the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru for what has always been an expressly sanctioned United Nations mission in Afghanistan? In reiterating our concerns about overstretch, may I highlight the problem of transport for service personnel, which, yesterday, the Secretary of State gave a commitment to consider? Will he tell us today what plans have been put in place to deal with the overstretch of transport flights identified by the Chief of the Air Staff?
I mentioned in my statement the deployment of support helicopters and, indeed, of four Hercules aeroplanes in theatre. That deployment, along with the other assets that I mentioned, is assessed as appropriate and sufficient, subject always to the findings of the preliminary operations team, which we are sending out in order to gain further information and intelligence about the situation on the ground. As that developsif there is any change in the configurationI will speak to the hon. Gentleman. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman indicates from a sedentary position
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that he also referred to the transporting home of soldiers from theatre. It is always a concern to us, given the challenges that we face and the harmony guidelines of which we were speaking earlier, to ensure that when the roulement tour is finished, soldiers get home properly and quicklysubject, always, to conditions on the ground. The Chief of the Air Staff is trying to ensure that that is the case.
I welcome the hon. Gentleman's support for the United Nations auspices under which we operate in Afghanistan. He will not need reminding of the fact that we are now operating under United Nations guidelinesthe second resolutionin Iraq as well, and I take his comments as an indication of support there, too.
Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): Like my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Havard), I visited 16th Air Assault Brigade yesterday, and all of us were impressed not only by the unique training simulator for Apache, but by the morale of Brigadier Butler and all his troops. The Secretary of State referred to the fact that this is the first deployment of Apache for British troops and it is being used very differently from the tradition over the past 10 years. Will he keep under review the way in which that air assault works, because there might be things that we can learn for deployment in other countries?
John Reid: Yes. We always have pretty critical studies post-op and sometimes during operations. We will certainly do that. I thank my hon. Friend and every other hon. Member who has given support for their kind comments about the troops on exercise yesterday.
Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid-Kent) (Con): Fifteen years ago today I was deployed on active service as adjutant in my regiment; indeed, that regiment is one of those that the Secretary of State listed in this deployment. Thenas nowwe deployed with the threat of a regimental reorganisation hanging over us, and I have to say to the Secretary of State that it was immensely destabilising. Will he give the House a guarantee that no serviceman or woman on that operation will be deployed with a similar threat hanging over them, and better still, will he agree to suspend the reorganisation until this period of operations is completed?
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