|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle) (Con):
May I remind the Prime Minister that several years and four Defence Secretaries agothe first of whom, the right hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Hoon), is now sitting next to himwhen we sent our first small contingent to Afghanistan, I warned that, as the Russians had found
in the 1980s, 300,000 men would not be sufficient to achieve military victory in that country, and that the Pashtun Taliban are a religious-tribal sect with no international ambitions who have always disliked the al-Qaeda Arabs and will be thankful to be rid of them if they can be rid of all foreign troops at the same time? Now that the Prime Minister has at last recognised that the threat of international terrorism comes primarily from Pakistan, why can we not have a settlement with the Afghans on that basis?
The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman cannot deny the evidence of the Taliban working with al-Qaeda. He cannot deny the evidence that people are coming across the borders from Pakistan to support the Taliban in action against British troops, as we saw in the suicide bombing carried out by a young child in Afghanistan last week. He cannot deny the interrelationship between what is happening in Pakistan and Afghanistan. We have got to take action to protect our troops in Afghanistan, but also to protect the democracy of Afghanistan, and we have got to take action to persuade a democratically elected Government in Pakistan and their army to take action against terrorism within their borders.
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): May I warmly welcome the Prime Ministers visit to India so soon after the events in Mumbai? That underlines the fact that we have a very special relationship with India; the Prime Minister was, of course, the first Head of Government to visit India after the Mumbai tragedies. When he told the President of Pakistan that 75 per cent. of the plots being investigated were rooted in Pakistan, what was the Presidents reaction? Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Government will provide any additional resources that are necessary for our high commission in Islamabad, in order to deal with this very serious problem?
The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his comments. I passed on the condolences of the entire British people for the loss of 175 lives as a result of the terrorist activities of only 12 people in Mumbai a few days ago. I offered the Indian Government any help with the investigations that we can give, and we talked about how we could increase our counter-terrorism activities together so that India and Britain can work more closely to identify terrorism and the sources of it.
My right hon. Friend is also absolutely right that a heavy responsibility falls upon Pakistan. It has already been identified that the terrorists who struck in India came from Pakistan. It is also true that many people from Pakistan have gone into Afghanistan and attacked British troops there. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that the evidence suggests that three quarters of the terrorist plots we have had to investigate in Britain have links in one way or another with Pakistan. That is why I said to the President of Pakistan, and the Prime Minister, that we will be prepared to give them help to counter terrorismhelp in their capabilities, in advice, in strengthening their laws, and in building up action against extremism, particularly in the education of their children, so that they can expose the perversion of Islam that is taking place. However, that requires the Pakistan Government to take responsibility by taking the necessary action, particularly in the tribal areas. The President of Pakistan assured me that he was determined to take action, and we said that we would monitor what is done over the next few days.
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): I fully associate myself with the words of condolence expressed by the Prime Minister earlier in his statement. On Afghanistan, he has announced the multi-agency taskforce, which as part of its remit will have some work to do rooting out fraud. Is it not therefore logical that it should also oversee the rebuilding of infrastructure?
The Prime Minister: There are other means by which the rebuilding of infrastructure is taking place in Afghanistan. The importance of clearing the roads of bombs and making the roads safe was mentioned earlier. The dam project is moving ahead as a result of international action and a lot of reconstruction is taking place in Afghanistan itself, so I do not think that a multi-agency taskforce should be the organisation that deals with corruption. The relationships at the centre of Afghanistan are trying to move forward the reconstruction, and of course, we are taking action in Helmand itself to build new facilities.
Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to ignore the siren voices who are opposing reflationary measures at this time. In talking about the Germansor some of themmay I say how disappointed some of us are to hear that they were against a number of the measures relating to further developments on climate change? That is a marked departure from their previous record. Would my right hon. Friend like to say to them that we would like them to be where they were previously, on both economic policy and environmental policy?
The Prime Minister: I can say that Chancellor Merkel supported all the main principles of the climate change package. The issue has been how we deal with carbon leakage, and a lot more work has got to be done on that, but 100 per cent. auctioning is to take place in the power sector, and there is an agreed 20 per cent. cut in carbon emissions. To be able to do that as a European Union, and also to invest in carbon capture and storage€9 billion is to be invested in thatis substantial progress. Everybody who looks at the history of action on the environment knows that we have to build a consensus. If we can build one in Europe and persuade America that it is right that it takes action, it is possible that we will achieve for the first time an environmental agreement that all countries are prepared to sign.
I agree with my hon. Friend on the economy that it is important that all countries support the fiscal stimulus, but he must recognise that the German Government have made a fiscal stimulus and are planning another. The only party of any significance that I can see that is against a fiscal stimulus is the Conservative party, because it made a terrible decision last week that it would cut public spending.
Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes) (Con): As it now appears from the Irish example that holding a referendum on the Lisbon treaty and voting no leads the European Union to make substantial concessions, why does the Prime Minister not, even now, take the same route and hold the referendum that he promised us before the last election?
Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will know very well that after many years of military rule, Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistans security service, is far from trusted as being under proper civilian control. Did he have a chance to discuss with President Zardari whether it is possible for Britain to lend assistance that will ensure that the democratic Government of Pakistan can bring the internal security service under that proper democratic control?
The Prime Minister: We did talk about how we can support the Pakistani authorities in many different ways, including helping them to rewrite laws to deal with terrorism, as we have had to do ourselves. I did offer support in a number of different ways to President Zardari. I also repeated to Mr. Kayani, who is the head of the armed forces, our offer of help to the Pakistani authorities, and we will continue to work with them to do everything that we can to support the Pakistani effort against terrorism in their own country. It is important to recognise that many Pakistan citizens have also been the victims of suicide bombings and that there have been many terrorist incidents within Pakistan itself. We want to give support to the Pakistan Government, but at the same time we are urging them to take more action, particularly against the organisation TEL, which has been held responsible for the Bombay bombings.
Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex) (Con): I understand that the Prime Minister is leading a wider review on Afghanistan within Whitehall. If he decides to deploy more troops to Afghanistan, will he consider tasking them principally with the training of more men of the Afghan army and police, that being by far the most effective way of enabling the Afghans to take some control of their own affairs?
The Prime Minister: I agree with the hon. Gentleman, because it is important that the number of Afghan troops in Afghanistan is increased. Some 70,000 are being trained at the moment and more is being done every monthabout 1,500 are being trained every monthbut the figure will have to be a lot higher than that for a country the size and scale of Afghanistan. A new target of 120,000 has already been set. I do not think that that is big enough for the size of the country. I saw British troops training Afghan soldiers and working with them, and the Afghan soldiers are courageous and strong, but there needs to be more of themthe hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. That is something that we continue to push on President Karzai.
Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab): The previous increase in British troops in Afghanistan two years ago resulted in an increase in the deaths of our brave soldiers, from a total of seven to a total of 132. Is there not a grave danger that an increase in the number of troops means more targets for the Taliban? Is not the best way of consolidating the gains made in Afghanistan to embark on a new policy, based not on a military victory but on tackling the causes of terrorism with a peace strategy?
The Prime Minister:
I should point out to my hon. Friend that our strategy is based on complementing the military intervention that is necessary to keep peace in Afghanistan and maintain democracy with other measures that will build up the confidence of the Afghan people
so that they are enabled to govern themselves. That includes, as I have just said, training the Afghan forces and police, as well as building up local government, working with the tribes to create a means by which localities are properly governed and cleaning out corruption from the centreon which I have pressed President Karzai, and why our multi-agency taskforce is going in. It also includes giving Afghan people a stake in their futureby helping them to become wheat farmers, for example, rather than farmers of drugs and narcoticswhether they are in villages, towns or in the countryside. That is our strategy for Afghanistan. It is necessary that we have the number of troops to deal with the Taliban, but it is also necessary that we train the Afghan army and police and that we invest in building the facilities that are necessary so that people have a stake in Afghanistans future.
Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford) (LD): The Prime Minister says that there are more helicopters on the way, but may I ask him the same question that I asked him on 21 November 2007? When will the dedicated Chinook helicopters that were ordered by John Major for our special forces and delivered to Tony Blair in 2001 be fully available to be deployed by UK special forces in Afghanistan?
The Prime Minister: I agree that we have set aside a huge amount of money for additional helicopters. The timetable for their introduction depends on re-equipping many of them and, at the same time, training the forces to do so. I shall write to the hon. Gentleman specifically about the Chinook helicopters, but I can tell him that the money and the resources have been provided for the additional helicopters.
Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): At this weekends international conference on Afghanistan in France, the Iranian Foreign Minister did not turn up, even though he was expected. Given what the Prime Minister has said about Afghanistan and the need to work with neighbouring countries, did he discuss either at the EU Council or on his visit to Afghanistan and Pakistan how to bring the Iranians into discussions about the future?
The Prime Minister: It is very difficult to say, when we are debating with the Iranians at the moment, whether they will accept that they will be under the non-proliferation treaty that they have signed up to. We have presented Iran with a choice: it can either be part of the international community and get all the advantages of being such a part, including being free of sanctions, or it can allow itself to become isolated by defying the international community on nuclear weapons. That is the choice that Iran has to make, and it affects all the other areas in which we operate.
Sir Malcolm Rifkind (Kensington and Chelsea) (Con):
When the Prime Minister calls upon the Pakistani Government to do more to destroy the Taliban in the frontier areas, is he aware that the Pakistani army and intelligence agencies have always been influenced by the fact that successive Afghan Governments, over 60 years, have refused to recognise the legitimacy of the international frontier between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and that they believe that that thereby gives them reason to suspect that Afghanistan harbours aspirations to
incorporate those provinces into its own country? Will he therefore seek to persuade President Karzai to reconsider this policy and, in the interests of Afghanistan itself and stability in the region, to recognise the legitimate frontier as that which currently exists between the two countries?
The Prime Minister: I understand the difficulties and the challenges that the right hon. and learned Gentleman raises, which result from history, but when I talked to President Zardari he informed me that he had made big changes. There has been a change at the head of the ISI and there are further changes in the departmental heads. It remains to be seen what happens as a result of that, but President Zardari was determined to tell me that the army is dedicated to the pursuit of terrorism. We will hold him to those words.
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): The Prime Minister will be aware that it is now more than seven years since coalition forces were sent to Afghanistan, and he tells us today that there will be a small increase in British forces there until next August. If the situation is unchanged by then, will we have another increase? Is it not time for a complete rethink on the policy towards Afghanistan and are we not just heading down the route of the same failed philosophy that the Americans pursued in Vietnamendlessly putting troops into a failing situation?
The Prime Minister: I have to point out to my hon. Friend that 41 countries are involved in this coalition, not just one or two. There are 41 countries determined not only to bring peace and reconciliation to Afghanistan, but to help to build a stronger democracy there. I have also to tell him that we will discuss at the NATO meeting on 3 and 4 April the burden sharing that is necessary for the future. I am determined, too, that other countries play their part in Afghanistan. This is the fundamental question, which brought us to Afghanistan in the first place: there is the front line against the Taliban. We have removed the Taliban from power in Afghanistan. I think that it is our duty to help to uphold the new democracy in that country.
The Prime Minister: The Irish brought to the EU concerns that they had expressed about the interpretation of the treaty and the treaty. We agreed that there would be an extra Commissioner, but that is within the power of the Lisbon treaty. We also agreed to reiterate what is important to us in Britain as well: the Lisbon treaty in no way affects the right of members on taxation decisions and in no way affects our defence policy. As we have a protocol on the charter of fundamental rights, it was right that the Irish be given assurances on that as well. That is what has happened. I would have thought that people in the House would support it.
Dr. Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab):
I am sure that my right hon. Friend agrees that it is necessary to see through the process of reconstruction
in Afghanistan until a stable, strong and fully democratic state emerges. Will he say more about the efforts he is making to get other countries to play a greater role in burden sharing so that that state can emerge sooner rather than later?
The Prime Minister: As my hon. Friend will know, France and other countries have upped their contribution of forces during the past year. I think that we have 52,000 troops in total from a large number of countries in Afghanistan at the moment, but I have made it clear that we need further burden sharing. Whether it is by providing more forces or more help with training forces or the police, or whether it is by providing equipment such as the helicopter fund that has been formed so that people can contribute as we and others will to other countries bringing helicopters to Iraq, we are determined to continue the process. If 41 countries are part of the project, they must make a contribution to it. The burden sharing that I have talked about will be discussed at NATO on 3 and 4 April.
Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con): As the Irish people are to be made to vote again on the Lisbon treaty on the ground that they made a mistake last time, will the Prime Minister call an early general election on the ground that the British people made a mistake last time?
Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): In relation to matters discussed at the European Council, does the Prime Minister agree that one of the things that will be vital to long-term economic recovery is ensuring that strategically important industries can weather the current storm and prosper into the future? In that context, will he say a little more about efforts being made at a European level in relation to the automotive industry, whose health is vital to many EU member states?
The Prime Minister: Decisions on the automotive industry will be made by individual countries, which will look at the situation and make their own judgments about what is likely to happen. My hon. Friends question prompts a more fundamental question about whether one is prepared to help families and businesses in times of great difficulty. We are prepared to do so; the Opposition would not.
Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): The evidence is that the position of the international community, including the Karzai Government, in Afghanistan is becoming more difficult day by day. It is also evident that public support in the UK for our troops in Afghanistan is declining rather than increasing. The Prime Minister is conducting this important and much-needed review of policy towards Afghanistan. Can the House of Commons have the opportunity to contribute to the review through at least a day, but preferably two days, of debate before it is completed?
The Prime Minister:
We have regular debates in the House of Commons, such as the debate on defence that took place very recently. Of course a debate on Afghanistan
can take place, if the Opposition choose to propose that subject. At the same time, we will keep the House fully informed of any decisions that we propose to make on Afghanistan.
Mr. Andrew Pelling (Croydon, Central) (Ind): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Has any Minister indicated to you whether a statement will be made on the alleged Madoff fraud? Surely, as $50 billion is a huge amount of money, a ministerial statement to reassure the UK markets would be appropriate.
Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Has anybody asked you for a statement on the failure of the Greater Manchester congestion charge, which affects not only the north-west but many other areas that want to bring in such a scheme? Has anyone brought that subject to your attention, and may we have a statement?
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|