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15 Dec 2008 : Column 813

EU Council/Afghanistan, India and Pakistan

3.30 pm

The Prime Minister (Mr. Gordon Brown): I am sure the whole House will join me in sending our profound condolences to the family and friends of Corporal Lee Churcher, of the Royal Engineers, who died while serving in Iraq, and Corporal Marc Birch, Marine Damian Davies, Lance-Corporal Jamie Fellows and Sergeant John Manuel of the Royal Marines, who lost their lives in Afghanistan. This is a tragic loss. We owe them and all those who have lost their lives in the service of our country our gratitude for their service and sacrifice. As a House and as a nation, we will never forget them. As I saw in Afghanistan on Saturday, our troops are serving with great skill, great courage and enormous dedication. It can truly be said that Britain’s armed forces are the best in the world, and we are immensely proud of all who serve in them.

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the European Council held last Thursday and Friday, and on my visits to Afghanistan, India and Pakistan this weekend. The European summit focused on two global challenges—economic recovery and climate change. I can report, first of all, that the Council agreed measures worth around 1.5 per cent. of European GDP—that is, around €200 billion—which will provide a fiscal stimulus for the European economy. This 1.5 per cent. fiscal boost is in addition to the work of the automatic stabilisers. The measures agreed included support for

exactly the measures that Britain has already taken, just as France has announced a package of measures worth €26 billion, Spain measures worth €11 billion, and Germany a fiscal package worth €32 billion.

Just as Europe came together in October and November to lead the recapitalisation of the banks, so too Europe has agreed unanimously co-ordinated action which will support employment and growth. The Council agreed that its action was in a

and while committing to medium-term sustainable public finances, it agreed to

By acting in a co-ordinated and concerted way, the impact on jobs in each country is much greater than if we acted on our own, and the action across Europe will be of help to Britain, where nearly 60 per cent. of our trade is with the rest of Europe. The co-ordinated European action includes a speeding up of public procurement, a continued and general

and an additional €30 billion from the European Investment Bank to be invested in Britain and throughout Europe in the coming year.

So the debate about the use of fiscal policy to stimulate our economy and to give direct support for families and businesses in Europe is resolved. Europe favours substantial fiscal stimulus alongside cuts in interest rates. I am confident that the new American Administration of President-elect Obama will also introduce a large fiscal
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stimulus. This European set of announcements is the answer to those who said that nothing could be done and that the recession must take its course, and who believe that fiscal policy has no role to play. Indeed, even at this time of difficulty, they believe that public spending should be cut.

To back up the loan guarantee scheme, the export credits and the deferral of tax, today the Chancellor will announce new measures to speed up the resumption of lending to businesses and home owners, and the Minister for Housing will announce a £400 million package of measures which, building on our help with mortgages to avoid repossessions, will help up to 18,000 first-time buyers draw on the home shared equity scheme to get on their first rung on the housing ladder—real help to families and businesses now, possible only because we are prepared to make a fiscal stimulus in the economy.

In advance of Copenhagen next year, the summit agreed a new energy and climate change policy supported by all member states. When it is approved by the European Parliament, as I believe it will be, the programme will put into European law four far-reaching commitments: a 20 per cent. cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, which, as part of the right international agreement, we will raise to 30 per cent.; a target that 20 per cent. of the European Union’s energy will come from renewables by 2020; a strengthened European Union emissions trading scheme with 100 per cent. auctioning of permits in the power sector, the introduction of auctioning for other sectors of the economy and help to ensure that businesses in international markets can adjust; and a financing mechanism to make potentially around €9 billion available for the commercial demonstration of carbon capture and storage.

Carbon capture is a transformative technology that every major economy will need, to ensure that it can continue to use coal, oil and gas without contributing to climate change. These commitments make Europe the first continent to make legally binding the detailed policies required to set itself on a path to a low-carbon economy. They provide a clear signal to the rest of the world that an international agreement on climate change can be achieved in Copenhagen next year. This was matched by agreement at the United Nations talks in Poznan at the same time, where a framework for countering deforestation was agreed. Britain will make a contribution of £100 million to that from our environmental transformation fund for sustainable forestry activities in developing countries.

At the European Council, agreement was also reached on measures to answer concerns expressed to us by Ireland. All countries were agreed that there could be no change or amendment to the Lisbon treaty and that we should proceed to ratification, with the Irish agreeing to hold a referendum within the next year. At the same time, to meet Irish concerns, it was agreed: that the Lisbon treaty, as we have always made clear, in no way affects the rights of member states to make taxation decisions; that the treaty in no way affects the individual defence policies of member states, including our obligations to NATO and Ireland’s traditional neutrality; and that because, as we have been clear, the charter of fundamental rights creates no new rights at a European Union level, the Irish constitution provisions on the right to life, education and family are not affected by its incorporation into the treaty—nor are they affected by the justice and
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home affairs provisions of the treaty from which Ireland has an opt-out. The Lisbon treaty allows for the Council, by a unanimous decision, to agree to ensure that each member state retains a Commissioner—and this, we stated, we would be prepared to agree to.

The Council also made an important statement on the middle east process. The Council welcomed efforts to give renewed momentum to the Arab peace initiative and affirmed that the EU will do all it can, practically and politically, to support the peace process and to urge the new US Administration to make it a major priority in the new year.

Let me turn to Afghanistan, India and Pakistan. I have already paid tribute to, and I reiterate, the service, sacrifice and dedication of our armed forces. Today, I can inform the House that the increased compensation payments have come into force—a doubling, for the most serious injuries, to a new maximum lump sum of £570,000 for armed forces personnel wounded in action or otherwise, an increase that means that around £10 million will be paid to 2,700 troops who have been awarded lump-sum payments.

While in Afghanistan, I and the Chief of the Defence Staff met President Karzai and took stock of our strategy with commanders and senior officials. We saw at first hand the hard and dangerous work that the armed forces are doing in very arduous conditions, far from home. Our goals in Afghanistan are clear: to support democracy and confront terror at its source; to build the Afghan capability by training its army and police to spread the rule of law into empty spaces on the map which shelter terrorism, narcotics and other problems; in all this, to root out corruption, respect local ways of life and strengthen traditional Afghan structures; and to give Afghan people an economic stake in the future.

Free and fair elections are an essential part of Afghans taking control of their own security and destiny. So as we approach the Afghan elections planned for next year, on top of the work that we are doing with NATO and the Afghan army to ensure security for those elections, we are pledging to contribute $10 million to help with voter registration. In return for this renewed commitment, and others, that we will make from Britain, I have asked for quicker progress on the decisions at the NATO summit on burden sharing, and I have asked President Karzai for leadership in tackling corruption. For our part, we are offering a multi-agency taskforce which we are ready to send immediately to tackle corruption.

Five years on from the first free and fair elections Afghanistan has seen in decades, we should reflect on what has been achieved. As Governor Mangal of Helmand, whom I met on Saturday, said,

Today, with 5 million refugees returning to Afghanistan, 4 million more children in school, great improvements in health care, including massive reductions in child mortality, and the national income up 70 per cent., our task is to ensure that violence and insecurity do not threaten that progress.

Security depends on proper burden sharing. In recent weeks we have had to respond to the threat from insurgents in the district of Nad-e Ali near the provincial
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capital of Helmand. The operation involves 1,800 troops, not just from Britain but from Denmark, the USA and Estonia. It is a model of burden sharing that we need to see replicated across the whole of Afghanistan. Forty-one countries are involved in the NATO mission, but the burden is not always shared equally. As the international community and the American President-elect contemplate strengthening our commitment to Afghanistan, it is vital that all members of the coalition contribute fairly. This will be a subject of the NATO meeting on 3 and 4 April.

The second pillar of security in Afghanistan is enabling the Afghan people to take greater control of their own affairs by training thousands of Afghan soldiers and thousands of police. With our help, Governor Mangal is starting to work with tribal leaders, whom I met in Musa Qala—a place that only last year was in Taliban hands, but is now building basic services such as roads, power and water, and new schools and hospitals, which are having a tangible impact on the lives of Afghan people. This is starting to bring to Helmand the wider progress that we have seen in other parts of Afghanistan. To reinforce this progress, and having been briefed on the decision by the British commander—as is his right—to call forward reserves to work with our allies and deploy them on a temporary basis in the campaign in central Helmand, the Defence Secretary and I have decided, on advice from the defence chiefs, to approve until August, including the period of preparation for the elections, an increase in the number of British troops deployed to Afghanistan from just over 8,000 to around 8,300.

We, the Americans and the international community as a whole increasingly recognise that we cannot deal with Afghanistan in isolation from Pakistan. There is a chain of terror that links the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan right through to the streets of the UK and other countries around the world, and that chain of terror must be broken. On 27 November, the whole world learned that terrorists based in Pakistan can strike anywhere, when a murderous assault condemned by the whole world saw 12 terrorists kill 175 people in Mumbai, including British citizens. This weekend, I met Prime Minister Singh and President Zardari to discuss action that now has to be taken. I expressed my condolences to Dr. Singh, and through him to the Indian people, and assured him that the whole of Britain stands fully alongside India in its determination to see those responsible brought to justice.

I pay tribute to the efforts in Pakistan to deny the federally administered tribal areas as a training ground for terrorism and for the insurgency in Afghanistan and for terrorism. Indeed, more than 100 Pakistani troops have died since July this year in that area. Plots hatched in the FATA have a direct impact on the UK: of the security services’ top-priority terrorist investigations, three quarters have links to Pakistan. So our commitment to countering terrorism and the empty spaces that shelter terrorism, and to building local capacity in Pakistan to do so, must be just as strong in Pakistan as in Afghanistan. The time has come not for more words but for more action. We will offer our support to the democratically elected Government of Pakistan, but that Government must act rapidly and decisively against the terror networks based on their soil.

Pakistan’s own future depends on action against those within its borders who are bent on the destruction of its elected Government and Pakistan’s relations with its
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neighbours. To make this effective, Britain will work with both India and Pakistan to continue building counter-terrorism capability. Yesterday, I was able to announce more help on bomb disposal capability, scanning devices and airport security, and help to draw up new laws and to set up counter-extremism centres. Our assistance programme to Pakistan is the most comprehensive we have with any country, and will now include a programme, initially worth £6 million, to tackle the causes of radicalisation.

No matter how serious the other tasks we face, security is the first duty of Government. We will always maintain our vigilance against the evils of terrorism. I commend this statement to the House.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to our servicemen Marine Damian Davies, Sergeant John Manuel, Corporal Marc Birch and Lance-Corporal Jamie Fellows, who were all killed in Afghanistan, and Corporal Lee Churcher, who was killed in Basra. It is particularly poignant talking about their families’ tragic loss at this time of year, but it should remind us of the bravery our troops show every day of the year.

Let me deal with the Prime Minister’s visits first. On Afghanistan, one of the lessons of Iraq was that the Government must give clear and frank assessments of what is happening on the ground. Does he agree that there are real causes for concern? The Taliban are operating closer and closer to Kabul, the road network is increasingly unsafe, and the number of Taliban and their armaments appear to be growing rather than shrinking. Does he agree that as well as a realistic assessment of conditions, we need a realistic mission? Should it not focus predominantly on security and rooting out terrorist training, not on an unrealistic objective of completely transforming a society thousands of miles away?

Clearly, our servicemen and women are doing a great job, but what about the others who are key to success? Can the Prime Minister tell us more about the representations he made to President Karzai, not just about fraud in his Government, but about drug dealing by those associated with them, and corruption by public officials?

On troop numbers, the Petraeus review is vital and it would be helpful if the Prime Minister could tell us about our contribution to that review, but surely we should send more troops only if there is a proper political strategy to help to deliver security, if there is more effective burden sharing with our NATO allies and if there is a corresponding increase in vital equipment, especially Chinook helicopters and armoured vehicles.

Just as important is progress in Pakistan. Does the Prime Minister agree that the British public will not understand why we are making sacrifices to prevent terrorist training camps from being established in Afghanistan if they are still operating across the border in Pakistan? He said that he received assurances from President Zardari about taking action, but what is the Prime Minister’s assessment of the ability of the Pakistan army, and the Pakistan intelligence services, to deliver on the commitments that he was given? Did he raise those matters directly with the Pakistan chief of general staff, General Kayani?

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Turning to Mumbai, I know that the Prime Minister agrees that we must strengthen our relationship with India. Can he tell us more about the close co-operation we need between our security services? Clearly, this style of attack on a major city in an open society is a new tactic. Can the Prime Minister tell the House what the Government will do to address that threat here?

Turning to the European Council, on climate change we support the so-called 20/20/20 package, but will the Prime Minister confirm that the UK target for renewables is actually lower than 20 per cent., at 15 per cent. of total energy consumption by 2020? Would he accept that this environmental agreement shows that it is possible for Europe to take important decisions on important issues without new treaties and without new constitutions? The Lisbon treaty, by the way, has just seven words on the environment; that is all that it has on the subject.

On the Lisbon treaty— [ Interruption. ] Yes, I read it, actually—Europe’s leaders had to make a big decision: do they respect the wishes of the people? The answer was a resounding “no”. Just what is it with this Prime Minister and elections? An unelected Prime Minister wants to force the Irish people to vote twice because he did not like the result the first time, and he refuses to allow the British people to vote once because he is afraid that he would not like the result of that, either. Does he agree that one of the advantages of an early election here in Britain would be that the Lisbon treaty could be put to the people in a referendum, and we could let them decide?

Turning to the economic package, the Prime Minister makes three claims. First, he says that Britain is well prepared. If that is true, can he tell us why the pound has fallen to another record low? Is he aware that this lunchtime, his Olympics Minister said that Britain is

So is it not clear that we are not well prepared?

Secondly, the Prime Minister says that those in the EU all agreed with him that every country should take part in the same sort of fiscal stimulus, regardless of their situation. So why does the European Commission statement for the Council state:

The Prime Minister did not read that out. It continues:

In other words, “If you’re in a hole like the one the Prime Minister has put us into, stop digging.”

Thirdly, the Prime Minister said that he is setting the agenda with his particular measures—he is leafing through his papers to try to find them. Let us take VAT. The French Finance Minister said:

The German Social Democrat budget spokesman said that the cut in VAT was counter-productive.

That brings me to the Germans. I note that the Prime Minister did not really mention them—or perhaps he did once, but he thinks he got away with it. Is not it true
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that the German Finance Minister—another Social Democrat, by the way—has completely blown the Prime Minister’s credibility out of the water? He described his approach as “crass” and mistaken. He criticised Britain’s debt, which he believes will

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