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Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con):
Does the Secretary of State agree that if we fail in Afghanistan it will not be because of our military efforts but because we will have failed to help with reconstruction and development efforts? The Secretary-General and General Jones have called for an international co-ordinator to link the UN, USAID,
EU, the Department for International Development and the myriad non-governmental organisations that are operating independently or even competing with one another? Afghanistan has some large copper mines and, indeed, huge underground rivers, which are untouched because the international development effort is not co-ordinated. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is now time that a co-ordinator is put in place, similar to the one who undertook such work in Bosnia?
Des Browne: The hon. Gentleman has the advantage of knowing the facts on Afghanistan, as his contributions to discussions in the House demonstrate. He identified an international aspect of our mission in Afghanistan, and it is entirely appropriate to do so at this stage. The international community, in the form of NATO, faced that challenge squarely, and he will be aware that, drawing on the example of Kosovo, NATO accepted the proposal that a contact group should be part of the structure that he described. At the end of the day, it is fundamentally a NATO mission on behalf of the United Nations, which represents the whole world. Co-ordination must apply to all the strands and all parts of command and control, both in civil and military operations. It has largely improved at the provincial level in many areas, but at the national level the development of governance and international co-operation will deliver the success that we need.
Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab): The peacekeeping role of NATO forces in recent years has been brilliantly successful in many areas of conflict, but should we not accept that while all 26 countries support the idea that we can consolidate and protect the gains made in Kabul, many of them have serious doubts about whether we can win in Helmand province, and believe that our mission there is impossible? Will the Secretary of State confirm that in recent years our troops have been instructed not to fire a shot, but also to fire lots of shots; not to storm the Taliban strongholds and compounds, but also to storm them; to reconstruct, and not to reconstruct? They have been given confusing orders, so it is no wonder that our NATO allies are reluctant to take part in an unachievable mission.
Des Browne: First, the mission is not unachievable. Our success in north and west Afghanistan will be sustained only if we can replicate it in the south and the east of the country. The cities of Lashkar Gah and Kandahar are in the same country as Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif. If we do not address the fundamental problem of the Taliban throughout Afghanistan, or if we allow the Taliban in the south or east to behave with impunity, as has been the case historically, we will put at risk the progress that we have made in the north and the west, and anyone who believes otherwise fails to understand the nature of the country. Secondly, I do not know where the comparisons that my hon. Friend made about the confusing instructions given to our troops originated. Of course, commanders give troops different instructions in different circumstances, but they must be able to make those decisions in the light of the overall plan and tactical necessities at the time.
Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP):
The Secretary of State has once again said that NATO
and the international community need to do more work in all operations, including reconstruction and development. Can he tell us a little more about what NATO is doing with other international institutions to assist development in Afghanistan?
Des Browne: NATO is working closely in provincial reconstruction teams in almost every province of Afghanistan. The millions of children, including girls, now in educationthat was not the case under the Talibanare evidence of their work with non-governmental organisations to provide security for reconstruction. Some of those NGOs are native to Afghanistan, and others are associated with the international community, the United Nations, the European Union and other organisations that have invested in rebuilding the country as part of the Afghanistan compact. Other evidence is the improvement in health, but the best evidence of improvements is, I repeat, the 4.5 million refugees who have voluntarily returned to Afghanistan.
Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): My right hon. Friend is extremely patient with our NATO allies, but is he not frustrated by the complex pattern of national caveats, even in those parts of the world where our troops are most closely integrated with other nationalities, for example, under the EU force in Bosnia? We all accept that for historical reasons it is difficult for Germany to take on a full combatant role, but is it not time that it changed its constitution and the organisation of its armed forces so that it could play a much more significant role in Afghanistan?
Des Browne: My hon. Friend identifies some of the challenges that we face, but may I tell him that frustration when dealing with any international community, never mind one that has been as successful as NATO over the past century or more, is a luxury. He recognised that the sovereign states that comprise an international community approach co-operation differently, depending on their circumstances. We must work with countries to encourage and support them through necessary change. Germany is an outstanding example, as it would have been unthinkable less than a decade ago for German troops to be deployed effectively in the international sphere. There is still much for them to do, but he will know that the German Government have expressed a desire to move forward. I have enough problems dealing with the issues as a member of the British Government without telling the Germans how to solve their problems.
Mr. Mark Lancaster (North-East Milton Keynes) (Con): The Secretary of State will be aware that the largest offensive operation by NATO in recent years was Operation Medusa in Kandahar in early September, which was critical to Afghanistans future. It nearly failed on day fouras he knows, I was therebecause the national caveats meant that the Canadians simply did not have the support that they needed from other countries. If that emergency did not merit support from other NATO troops, what operation in Afghanistan would?
Des Browne: The hon. Gentleman speaks from significant experience on the ground, as he did an important job in Afghanistan over the summer. He deserves congratulations on his contribution to the successful work that our troops are doing, as it was appreciated by everyone who was with him.
The hon. Gentleman describes a very specific part of Operation Medusa. I do not think that at the Dispatch Box I should debate with him whether his analysis is correct but, for the purposes of the question, I accept it. He identifies exactly the sort of problem that operational commanders can encounter if caveats act against the best interests of the campaign, and he identifies exactly the reason why we need to address these issues. We have made progress, but the work is not complete. Further progress needs to be made and we continue to debate and discuss these matters, to improve the capability and the capacity of our allies to respond appropriately.
Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): May I follow the point made by the hon. Member for North-East Milton Keynes (Mr. Lancaster)? The Canadians in Kandahar are in the crucible. They have taken many casualties. In his discussionperhaps outside the conferencewith the Canadians, did the Defence Secretary get any sense that their continued participation was conditional in any way on other countries pulling their weight? In the Canadian press and media and in Canadian public opinion, the view is expressed that for a relatively small country, they are doing their fair share and they want others to pitch in.
Des Browne: There is no question but that the Canadians have made a significant contribution and they have suffered a disproportionately high attrition rate. It is interesting that my hon. Friend cites Kandahar, as opposed to Helmand. We in the Chamber sometimes become a little Helmand-centric about the southern part of Afghanistan and lose sight of the historic importance of Kandahar to the Taliban, how iconic it is and how it may well be their most important strategic objective. I cannot speak for the Canadian media, but I met the Canadian Defence Minister and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, and as a result of the conversations that I had with them, I have no doubt that the Canadians are committed to continuing to make a significant contribution to what they have taken on and committed to Kandahar. Part of what the Government did in Riga, together with others who were represented and who have troops on the ground in the south, was to work more closely together than we have been able to do in the past to develop a collective approach to the southern part of Afghanistan, because we are all there together and all dependent on each other. It is that level of alliance, commitment and support that will reinforce the success that the Canadians have already had in Kandahar, and ensure that the support that they have from public opinion for their deployment in Afghanistan is sustained.
Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con):
Does the Secretary of State accept that if the success of NATO is to continue, national caveats must be ended and there should be equal burden-sharing and equal risk-sharing? Will he confirm to me that the
commitment given publicly on television by the Prime Minister that our forces in Afghanistan will get all the equipment that they require will be honoured, as and when Brigadier Lorimer in particular has stated what he wants and that the equipment is required to guarantee NATOs success?
Des Browne: To the first part of the hon. Gentlemans question, I say yes. To the second part, I am tempted just to say yes, but I shall say that we have consistently provided the troops that we have deployed into theatre with the equipment that they need and we will continue to do so.
Des Browne: The right hon. Gentleman, among others, raised that issue in business questions, and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House dealt with the proprieties of the matter. I am making the statement because I was present at the summit representing the Government and have the knowledge base to make it.
Mr. Gerald Howarth: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Without wishing to be churlish, and recognising that the communiqué following the Riga summit contained a great number of issues, I am slightly concerned that the Secretary of State did not have time to answer some crucial questions, not least on energy security and missile defence. May I put the right hon. Gentleman on notice that I shall write to him and invite him to answer those questions?
Des Browne: I am very conscious of the instruction that we all received from the Speaker in relation to statements, and was punctilious in ensuring that what could have been a much more detailed statement was restricted in size and time to the Houses guidance on such statements. I am conscious that I did not answer all the questions that the hon. Gentleman was able to pose in the five minutes allotted to him, but I will write to him in relation to outstanding matters and ensure that a copy of that letter is placed in the Library of the House.
That this House takes note of European Union Documents Nos. 11222/06, Commission Communication: Implementing the Hague Programme: the way forward, and 11228/06 and Addenda 1-2, Commission Report on the implementation of the Hague Programme for 2005; and takes note that the discussions at the Tampere Justice and Home Affairs Informal Council showed that there was little support amongst Member States for the proposed use of the Article 42 passerelle; and furthermore supports the Governments position that this is not the right time to focus on institutional change, and that the European Unions priority for Justice and Home Affairs should instead be on developing practical co-operation to combat the transitional challenges of terrorism, organised crime and migration.
I thank the members of the European Scrutiny Committee for their report, The Implementation of the Hague Programme on Justice and Home Affairs. Working with others to address issues such as counter-terrorism, illegal immigration and organised crime can make a real and positive impact on the lives of UK citizens. As the framework for co-operation in these areas, the way the Hague programme is delivered is important and worthy of debate. I am therefore grateful for this further opportunity to set out the Governments position on the Hague programme, including the proposal to use the article 42 passerelle. I am sure it will be a lively and interesting debate.
The Government remain committed to the Hague programme, which represented a good outcome for the UK. In general, it is the right format for organising justice and home affairs work. The mid-term review was welcome because it has helped us focus on what still needs to be done, and was an opportunity to ensure that we prioritise what is important to our citizens. So far, it has been a success. We have had some notable achievements, such as implementing the European arrest warrant. We have established or developed bodies such as the borders agency Frontex, Europol and Eurojust, which are becoming more and more effective.
We must however work harder on delivering practical results and measures that make a real difference. Our top priorities are clearly strengthening our borders, stopping organised criminals and preventing terrorist attacks. We need to focus on efforts to exploit technology to strengthen our borders, including use of biometrics, and look at ways to prevent illegal migration at its source. We must use our political weight with non-co-operating source and transit countries to return illegal migrants, particularly to Africa, and work with transit countries to disrupt illegal and often dangerous smuggling and trafficking routes.
We should have intelligence-led operations and cross-border prosecutions that use Europol and Eurojust to assist member states to improve information exchange and help to co-ordinate groups of interested member states. We must work outside the European Unions borders, co-ordinating efforts abroad on organised crime, terrorism and illegal immigration. Collectively, we are looking at training and best practice exchange in the criminal justice field, enhancing existing mechanisms. Practical co-operation can really make a difference.
Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): I thank my hon. Friend for giving way so early in her speech. I agree with her comments so far. Does she agree that strengthening borders between member states is crucial to stopping those who would do us damage moving round more freely within the EU? Is there a danger that with the move towards more EU legislation, internal borders will be weakened and only the external borders of the EU will be kept strong?
Joan Ryan: My hon. Friend will be aware that we have freedom of movement within the European Union. If I understand him correctly, he is not disagreeing with me, in that we need to work together as member states and co-operate in tackling illegal immigration at the point at which illegal immigrants enter the EU. Working together and working with third countries is thus important.
I was about to speak of the kind of co-operation that we would like to continue with and to give an example of the success of such co-operation. The case I describe to the House involves trafficking in human beings. Lithuanian women and girls were trafficked to the UK and sold to Albanian organised crime groups for prostitution. Eurojust facilitated mutual legal assistance requests, the initiation and co-ordination of investigations and prosecutions, and the execution of an urgent European arrest warrant. The cases resulted in the start of an investigation in Lithuania against the organisers, a number of convictions in the UK, including sentences of 18 and 21 years, and the transfer of prosecution to Lithuania of a Lithuanian arrested in the UK.
The sorts of practical action that we would want the EU to focus on under the Hague programme include further development of Eurojust and the European judicial network as facilitators of judicial co-operation between member states. Practical co-operation through them is a fast, effective and easily arranged means of dealing with issues which may otherwise require time-consuming and resource-intensive negotiations.
We are also pressing for improved co-operation on immigration and border control, both bilaterally and through Frontex. Concrete operations in which expertise and support are exchanged are extremely effective ways of bringing about rapid improvements. A bilateral study visit exchange between the UK national document forgery unit and Bulgarian border police led to a project to set up an equivalent unit in Bulgaria to strengthen its border control, to increase the capacity to detect forged documents.
Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): Does the Minister accept that most people would regard what she is saying as an extremely good idea, namely co-operation between member states and internationally? Has it not occurred to her, however, that the centre of gravity of the problem is that by proposing to transfer jurisdiction in these areas to the Court of Justice, we will end up, not with co-operation between national courts, but with consolidation on a harmonised basis throughout the EU as a whole? That would not by any means be a good idea.
To return to the co-operation to which I was referring, the unit in Bulgaria to strengthen its border controls for increased capacity to detect forged documents is a good development. The hon. Gentleman will know that we have placed great emphasis on developing practical co-operation and working together on the ground to deliver measures from which our citizens can see practical benefit. I hope he is right that everyone will agree that that is a good way forward, because it is the main thrust of our remarks at the European Council for Justice and Home Affairs.
We are promoting practical co-operation on asylum, sharing information and best practice. That is the most likely way for states to improve their asylum systems, with the aim of reducing asylum shopping across the EU. Proper common implementation and enforcement of phase 1 asylum instruments, especially Dublin II, is key to taking this forward. We support practical measures related to access to information, and access to legal assistance and interpreters to enhance criminal procedure rights across the EU. Europe already has enough legislation in this area in the form of the European convention on human rights. We need to enhance compliance with the convention across the EU rather than creating new law. We can then draw on the experience of practical co-operation to ensure that real needs will be met through any proposed legislation. A more evidenced-based approach to legislation with better evaluation at the start will ensure that we focus our efforts in the right areas and legislate only where that is the best solution to a real EU problem.
As part of its assessment of the Hague programme the Commission considered that decision making in justice and home affairs was hindered by third pillar institutional arrangements, in particular the requirement of unanimity. It therefore proposed use of article 42 of the treaty, the so called passerelle clause, to move judicial and police co-operation to the first pillar. The most likely and widely discussed consequence of that would be that voting would change from unanimity to qualified majority voting and member states would lose their right of veto. The Government have taken a consistent position on the question of the use of article 42. As active and influential players in justice and home affairs in the EU it was right that we participated in this debate and discussed whether there were ways to improve the speed and efficiency of decision making in the third pillar, including in particular whether using the passerelle would have this effect. We were not convinced by the arguments put
forward by the Commission that using the passerelle would solve the problems that it identified, nor did we entirely agree with its assessment of progress to date in justice and home affairs.
Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con): On the important issue of switching justice and home affairs to majority voting, when the Minister gave evidence to the European Scrutiny Committee she would not rule it out. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), at the European Convention ruled it out when he said:
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