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Q9. [173044] Mr. Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/Co-op): I understand that the Government have a policy of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 60 per cent. by 2050, and of bringing in five-yearly carbon budgets and an independent committee to oversee the climate change programme in this country. Can my right hon. Friend tell me of any other country in the world that has taken such decisive action?

The Prime Minister: We are the first Government in the world to have a Climate Change Bill that will legally require us to cut carbon emissions over a long period of time. I am proud that this Government announced that measure in the Queen’s Speech. We are also working with other countries at Bali to get an international agreement that will cut carbon emissions, lead to more renewables being used in the supply of energy and make for greater energy efficiency around the world. I appeal to all continents and all countries to join now a global agreement that will cut carbon emissions.

Q10. [173045] Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) (LD): Will the Prime Minister acknowledge that while the Government rightly give tens of millions of pounds every year to support indigenous British languages such as Welsh and Gaelic, another British language—British sign language—gets no such support. Will the Prime Minister meet me, and a delegation of sign language users, to discuss how the Government can meet their needs, as they are currently failing to do?

The Prime Minister: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for raising that issue, and I will be very happy to meet him. It is a very important issue, and we will see what we can do together.

Q11. [173046] Phil Wilson (Sedgefield) (Lab): Next year, a national centre for plastic electronics will open in my constituency with the help of Government investment. The technology will help lead the next generation of computers, and by 2015 it will be a £16 billion industry. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Government’s belief in the talents of our people will ensure that we will not return to the dark days of the Tories, when there was 40 per cent. unemployment in my constituency?

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The Prime Minister: I applaud my hon. Friend for fighting for jobs for his constituency. Science investment will treble over a 15-year period, and that will mean that there will be more jobs in science in all the constituencies of the country. He will be pleased to note today that the employment figures say that employment in Britain is now at 29.4 million—the highest ever recorded in our history, and the result of the fact that we have a Labour Government.

Q12. [173047] Paul Rowen (Rochdale) (LD): Is the Prime Minister aware that pensioners will be able to collect their pensions from post offices only on Christmas eve, because the Department for Work and Pensions will not transfer the money? Does he not believe that that will inconvenience many pensioners, and is another nail in the coffin for post offices?

The Prime Minister: I have looked into this matter and I think that the hon. Gentleman is wrong. Large numbers of pensioners will have their pension advanced to Friday, when it will be paid, as a result of representations already made, and the Post Office has assured us that the remaining number—those who get weekly pensions—will get their pensions on Monday and there will be sufficient facilities available for that pension to be paid to them on Monday. I hope that that clears up any misunderstanding. Pensions will be paid to millions of people on Friday as well as on Monday.

Barbara Keeley (Worsley) (Lab): Elderly and disabled people and their carers in my constituency want flexible care arrangements that can give them the maximum possible dignity, and they will welcome the social care reforms announced this week. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that those reforms will continue so that those who depend on social care can have the best possible quality of life?

The Prime Minister: I applaud the work that my hon. Friend does in promoting the interests of carers and social services generally. The social budgets that are being increased will give people far more freedom to spend money in a way suitable to their needs. That is what making the big decisions about the future is all about. We will invest in social services for the future; the Conservatives will cut the budgets. They are about style, and we are about substance.

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12.31 pm

The Prime Minister (Mr. Gordon Brown): With the support of the whole House, I start by paying tribute to our armed forces in Afghanistan and elsewhere. They are doing vital work, giving so much every day in dangerous places in the service of our country. Let me particularly pay tribute to the 86 British servicemen and women who have lost their lives in Afghanistan, 42 of them this year alone. I know that the whole House will join me in honouring the memory of the fallen and saluting the courage of all our military and civilian personnel.

Let me, on the morning of the capture of Musa Qala, praise the professionalism and resolve of our forces in recent days. They have helped to defeat the insurgents and in a vital district of Afghanistan they have restored peace. Let me make it clear at the outset that as part of a coalition we are winning the battle against the Taliban insurgency. We are isolating and eliminating the leadership of the Taliban; we are not negotiating with them. For six years, 38 countries have come together with the people and Government of Afghanistan to rebuild this failed state, to prevent the return of the Taliban, and to root out al-Qaeda. I can tell the House that Britain will continue to meet our obligations and honour our commitments, discharging our duties on this task and to the people of Afghanistan.

Having been reviewing our strategy since July, I now want to announce the next stage. It is a long-term and comprehensive framework for security, political, social and economic development in support of Afghanistan. This long-term comprehensive framework entails, first, more Afghan ownership, with the Afghan army, police and Government building on NATO military achievements and taking over more responsibility for their own security. Secondly, we support localisation and then reconciliation, with Afghans building on the creation of a democratic constitution by developing and strengthening their institutions not just at national but at provincial and local level as we support that search for political reconciliation. The third aspect is reconstruction. In what is still one of the poorest countries on earth, where only one in three has clean drinking water, life expectancy is just 43, and 80 per cent. of women cannot yet read, we will help to ensure, through reconstruction and development, that more Afghan people have an economic stake in their future. Fourth, to underpin this, we will help to ensure greater burden sharing by all partners and allies, with each of us playing our part—as hard-headed realists, not idealists—in the long haul to help the Afghans themselves to govern and secure their own land, and together therefore shifting our emphasis from short-term stabilisation to long-term development.

The foundation, now and in the future, for our comprehensive framework is military support for the Afghan Government against the Taliban-led insurgency, also denying al-Qaeda a base from which to launch attacks on the world. Throughout last winter, Taliban propagandists repeatedly promised a “spring offensive”. Instead, it is the British and other NATO forces, together with the Afghan army, who have taken the initiative. We have been driving the insurgents and
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extremists out of their hiding places, preventing them from regrouping and attacking the areas around the provincial capitals where stability is taking hold.

It is this military success that has preserved Afghanistan’s emerging democracy: a constitution, fragile but still intact; a free media; and a changing society where, unlike six years ago when women were banned from education, from work, and from virtually all of public life, there is now a higher proportion of women MPs in Afghanistan than in many western countries, and 5 million children are at school, 2 million of them girls once denied education.

We need to hold and to reinforce what we have achieved together, so Britain will maintain a strong military force in Afghanistan of around today’s figure of 7,800. That is a contribution second in size only to America’s. We will increase our support for our forces: I can announce today, fully funded from the reserve, 150 new protected patrol vehicles specially procured for Afghanistan, bringing to 400 the total of new protected vehicles bought in the last 18 months for Iraq and Afghanistan. We will combine that with increasing numbers of Sea King helicopters in Afghanistan, and through NATO, new contracts will be negotiated for leasing commercial helicopters to move routine freight, freeing up military helicopters for military tasks.

However, because we know that military success is only one part of the framework—a necessary but not sufficient condition for progress in Afghanistan—we will train Afghan forces to take ownership of their own security. Next year, we will aim for 70,000 trained Afghan soldiers, 20,000 more than now, supported by a rising number of British trainers and mentors—340 of them—that will be part of an overall NATO training force of over 6,000. Already, the Afghan army is proving itself in Musa Qala.

But the challenge of supporting an Afghan lead on security goes wider than the armed forces; it includes the police, courts and prisons. Here we are dealing with decades of failure and corruption, and progress has been slow, but by March 2008 there will be over 800 international police trainers, including 65 police from Britain. That must be matched with a wider effort across civic society, which we will continue to support, for judges, courts and prisons—working with the grain of Afghan traditions but within international norms. One way forward is to increase our support for community defence initiatives, where local volunteers are recruited to defend homes and families, modelled on traditional Afghan “arbakai”.

To ensure that longer-term political and economic objectives are the guiding force behind the security campaign, we have brought the British civilian and military personnel together into a colocated headquarters. We will continue to strengthen their integration, and at the same time we will recruit and deploy more specialists who speak the local languages and understand tribal dynamics. But again, the Afghans themselves must be persuaded to take the lead in improving local and national government, and on my recent visit I saw the scale of the challenge, but also the opportunity, and the importance of our support.

I can announce today that from our Afghanistan aid programme, which has already spent £490 million in six years, Britain will fund two additional programmes for local government: first, to help the Afghans create
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stronger provincial and local governance, including building the capacity of the directorate of local governance and supporting civil society groups to hold local government to account; and, secondly, to provide more support for the national solidarity programme, which builds the capacity of local communities to run their own development projects.

As a measure of the importance we attach to stability in building local capacity, we will immediately move infrastructure projects forward in Musa Qala, which we have recaptured, and upon which we now wish to build, on firmer foundations. That process will include a work programme for up to 10,000 people, and plans to rebuild and refurbish the district centre, and to rebuild the main high school and four mosques in the area.

Our objective is to defeat the insurgency by isolating and eliminating its leadership. I make it clear that we will not enter into any negotiations with these people. As I have also made clear on countless occasions—most recently in Afghanistan—our objective is to root out those preaching and practising violence and murder, in support of men and women of peace. President Karzai’s message to former insurgents is that if they are prepared to renounce violence, abide by the constitution and respect human rights, there is a place for them in the legitimate society and economy of Afghanistan. He and his Ministers told me this week that already some 5,000 fighters have laid down their arms. We will support President Karzai and his Government in their efforts to reconcile all parties to Afghanistan’s democratic constitution.

We know also that Afghanistan will never be stable without the constructive engagement of its neighbours. During my visit, President Karzai agreed on the need for greater regional cooperation. We continue to work with the Afghan and Pakistan Governments, the G8 and others to help bring stability across the Afghan-Pakistan border. Iran, too, must start to play a more constructive role, and I urged President Karzai to turn the current ad hoc meetings and structures that he has with Pakistan and other countries into more substantive mechanisms to bring stability and security to the region.

The third priority is reconstruction and development —always at its most challenging where poverty is combined with insecurity and insurgency, but a strong long-term commitment to which is vital for the Afghan Government if they are to take responsibility successfully for the future of their country. I can therefore announce to the House today that, in total, Britain will make available £450 million in development and stabilisation assistance for Afghanistan for the years 2009 to 2012. This money will cover short-term priorities and longer-term objectives.

When I was in Afghanistan and met local business leaders, President Karzai and I agreed a comprehensive plan, to be taken forward jointly by the Afghan and British Governments and the Aga Khan Development Network, to attract private sector investment into the country and to stimulate new businesses. A new growth fund, starting with an initial £30 million, will kick-start the development of basic legal and regulatory frameworks, build Government capacity to involve the private sector in providing public services, and pilot business training programmes. This will be led by a
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council of Ministers, business representatives and other experts, who will build contacts with the private sector inside and outside Afghanistan. They will advise the Government on how to increase investment and economic growth, and monitor the progress being made. Britain will also provide an additional £10 million for small loans, which will be of special help particularly to women, to start up or expand businesses; 70 per cent. of the initial applicants have been women.

Our long-term objective is to support Afghanistan’s own national development strategy by channelling our aid through the Afghan Government—which we believe to be the best route to achieving sustainable progress and the best value for money—on a long-term basis, helping the Afghans to plan ahead and, with good governance, to focus on their own priorities of economic growth, improving health and education, and building rural livelihoods. But we also recognise the need for short-term, high-impact stabilisation projects—better roads, more reliable power supplies, clean water and sanitation—which can make an immediate difference to the lives of ordinary Afghanistan citizens and show them the benefits of improved security and governance. Part of the £450 million that I announce today will help to fund Britain’s new cross-government stabilisation unit, which has Afghanistan as its first priority, and which, with a global budget of £260 million over the next three years, will drive forward reconstruction projects and provide expert civilian support to rebuild basic services.

Afghanistan cannot hope for stability while the poison of the narcotics trade continues to flourish, so Britain—Afghanistan’s lead partner nation in tackling narcotics—continues to support the Afghan authorities. We are providing £90 million this year to help them in their long-term efforts against the drugs trade. While the situation with the poppy crop in Helmand province is difficult, it must be our aim to match the progress achieved in the rest of Afghanistan, where the number of poppy-free provinces has increased from six to 13 through a combination of stronger governance, targeted eradication—on which I have urged President Karzai to move forward—disruption of traffickers, strengthening of the justice system, and promoting legitimate agriculture.

We will continue to work with our partners who have proved steadfast in Afghanistan, and I welcome the recent announcements from Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Germany and Estonia that they will maintain or increase their troop numbers. This progress must, I believe, now be matched by contributions from other countries in NATO, the EU and beyond. We are talking to all our partners to address the immediate need for more training teams for the Afghan security forces, especially the police, and we are having detailed talks with a number of countries on more support helicopters, which are needed. Where countries are unable to deploy their own troops or equipment, we are urging them to look at innovative ways to burden share and to help to fund those countries that can provide troops and equipment.

Having described the challenges that we face in Afghanistan, I have set out our long-term commitment. It is to build on the military progress made so far by helping the Afghans to take greater leadership across
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security, governance and economic development. Because this priority and the need for a more consistent, integrated and co-ordinated international approach are now recognised across our partners, Britain continues to push for what will be the next step in this process: the appointment of a strong UN envoy to bring greater coherence across the international effort in security, governance and development and in relations with the Afghan Government.

Britain will continue to fulfil our obligations to the Afghan people and the international community. We will support the Afghan army, police and Government as they progressively take over greater responsibility for their own security. We will work with our international partners and help the Afghans themselves to strengthen stability, foster democracy and build prosperity. At all times we will support the hard work, dedication, professionalism and courage of our armed forces, who are doing everything in their power to defeat terrorism and to lay the foundations of a stable and secure future for Afghanistan. I commend this statement to the House.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): I thank the Prime Minister for his statement; there is much in it that we support and welcome, particularly what he said about equipment. With the recent success in Musa Qala, I believe that we can say that the men and women serving in Helmand today are every bit the equal of those who stormed the beaches in Normandy, who held the line at Inchon in the Korean war, or who retook the Falkland Islands.

Christmas approaches, with our service personnel away from their families. I am sure that this is the time that the whole House will want to send them our very strongest backing. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.] I have been to Helmand twice in the last two years, and I have set out previously the significant course corrections that we need to make to avoid failing in Afghanistan. To prevent failure, I believe that we have to follow three principles: first, that, as the Prime Minister said, military success alone is not enough; secondly, that greater political progress is needed, based on a practical approach, rather than believing that we can impose a fully fledged western democracy in a deeply traditional society; and, thirdly, that the international effort needs to be much better co-ordinated.

Before I take each of those in turn, may I ask the Prime Minister about the reports in today’s newspapers? Press headlines say clearly that the Government plan to talk to the Taliban, but the Prime Minister said in his statement that “we will not” talk to “these people”. Does that not demonstrate once again the error of briefing the press in advance of making statements in this House? But is it not more serious than that? These appear to be completely conflicting messages, and they really could undermine our forces in what they are doing. In his reply, can the Prime Minister clear this up and tell us what he will do to investigate how this took place?

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