|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
On trade, the communiqué says that there needs to be agreement on Doha by the end of 2010, but two years ago we were told that we were going to get agreement on Doha by the end of 2007. Last year the Prime Minister told the House that progress would be made by the end of 2008. Again, we are getting the same message: progress will be made. Yes, elections in America
and India are now over, so those stumbling blocks are being overcome, but can the Prime Minister tell us whether he sees real evidence of political will to make progress happen?
On climate change, let it be said that getting agreements from all these countries on cuts in carbon emissions which are domestically painful is not easy, and the progress made at the G8 is very encouraging given the importance of the Copenhagen conference later this year. Is it not the case, though, that of the three things that were necessary, two have happened? First, every country committed to the 2° target, and secondly the G8 committed to the 80 per cent. goal for industrialised countries. However, is it not disappointing-and is it not better to acknowledge this-that the wider group of countries did not commit to the 50 per cent. goal for the whole world? Does the Prime Minister agree that that highlights the need for interim targets before 2050 if we are to have any chance of getting those other countries on track?
On the economy, the G8 discussed financial regulation, bank support for business and the need to get deficits under control. In each of those three areas is it not clear that Britain is failing badly? On financial regulation, will the Prime Minister finally take this opportunity to admit that the tripartite system that he established has failed? On bank lending, let us just take one scheme. Can the Prime Minister confirm that as of a week ago the automotive assistance programme, launched in a blaze of glory to help the car industry, had yet to guarantee a single loan? On deficits, will he confirm the IMF's finding that we are heading for the largest budget deficit not only in the G8 but in the entire G20? Is it not the case that the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development forecast a deficit of 14 per cent.? That is twice as high as when Denis Healey went to the IMF in the 1970s, and by far the largest figure since the war. Does the Prime Minister not agree that the most important lesson this country needs to learn is that it should never allow the public finances and the budget deficit to get in such a mess again?
The Prime Minister: Let me start with Afghanistan. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for what he said about the debt that we owe to our troops. Over the past weekend, which has been very difficult for our forces, I talked to the Chief of the Defence Staff, and I talked this morning to our commander on the ground in Afghanistan, Brigadier Tim Radford. I visited the Northwood joint headquarters to receive a briefing on Operation Panther's Claw, and this morning I visited RAF Benson to see the progress of the Merlin helicopter programme and talk to some of our very brave helicopter pilots who are in Afghanistan. Of course, I have also talked to President Obama about progress in Afghanistan, and yesterday to President Karzai, who I keep in regular touch with to talk about events in Afghanistan and what we can do.
While we are not complacent and will always be vigilant, I have to tell the House that despite the terrible loss of some great soldiers, to whom we owe this huge debt of gratitude, our forces on the ground are making progress in Operation Panther's Claw, and have made it absolutely clear to us that they are moving ahead with some speed in clearing the ground. Behind them will
come Afghan forces, whose numbers I want to see raised very substantially over the next few weeks. The civilian effort led by Governor Mangal is in place. It is our hope not only to take the ground and to clear it, but to hold it, using both our own forces and Afghan forces. At the same time, there should be a civilian effort to make sure that the land is held and that people believe that they have a stake in the future.
I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman, despite his quotations from various people, that the British Army spokesman in Helmand province, Lieutenant-Colonel Nick Richardson, has repeated what has been said to me in private. He said publicly:
"Absolutely we have the proper equipment. Our equipment is first rate and we have plenty of it. It's...about having a full range of equipment, people are being critical of vehicles, we have a full range of vehicles here that help provide the protection that soldiers need."
"So everything from the vehicles to the personal protective equipment, whether it's body armour, helmets and also the weaponry, and also the specialist equipment, it's here, it's great...it works".
"There's much speculation about helicopters and have we got enough. It's a sad fact that helicopters would not have saved the lives of the individuals last week. We've got to be...on the ground, we've got to be interacting with the population-you cannot conduct a war from a helicopter. So the equipment we have is very, very good. In terms of would we like more, any commander will say yes, we'd like more. Yes, we'd like more equipment and we'd like more troops, whatever it may be, but my commander is very hard over on the fact that he has sufficient to get on with the task...which he has been given."
We have increased the number of helicopters by 60 per cent. in less than two years. Because we have more crews and because we have made adjustments to those helicopters, we have increased the capability of those helicopters-in other words, the flying hours that they can do-by 84 per cent. By the end of this year, the Merlin helicopters, which I saw this morning when I visited RAF Benson, will be on the ground in Afghanistan. In addition, we contract from NATO a lot of helicopters that do the work of getting our equipment on to the ground. We have created a helicopter fund, so that we and other people can contribute to countries that will provide helicopters, and we will pay for them to be upgraded. That will create 11 helicopters over the next period of time. We are working very closely with the United States of America on those issues, and of course we have set aside £6 billion for future investment, particularly in the new Lynx helicopter, over the next 10 years.
I hope that Opposition Members who want to make an issue of the fact that there are insufficient helicopters will take it on board that while of course we would want more helicopters, there has been a 60 per cent. increase, and there will be more on the ground by the end of the year. In addition, of course, we are converting eight Chinooks to enable them to deal with the weather in Afghanistan. I have to say that to move helicopters from Iraq to Afghanistan is very difficult, because the weather in Afghanistan and the terrain on which people are operating are very difficult. The helicopters have to be converted. Our crews have got to be trained for the
ground on which they are fighting. I believe that people appreciate that we are striving daily to have the best equipment available for our troops in Afghanistan.
As for the numbers of troops, in our discussions with the military, of course one talks about all the options that are available, but let me just make it clear that we decided, after discussion with our military and with President Obama, that we would increase the number of troops from 8,100 at the point at which we discussed the matter to 9,000. There are today about 9,150 people on the ground in Afghanistan. I repeat that I have been reassured by commanders on the ground and at the top of the armed services that we have the manpower that we need for current operations. I have also said that once the elections are over, we will review the numbers with our allies and with our commanders on the ground.
We have made our additions to the numbers in Afghanistan. We have persuaded some other countries to contribute more troops, but we are the second largest provider of troops for Afghanistan. We are far ahead of other countries, and we insist that there has got to be proper burden-sharing across NATO. I hope that every section of the House will want to support that.
I repeat that in April we published our strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. We understand very clearly that we must have success in both countries if we are to be able to deal with the problem of terrorism. We also understand that military action alone, although vital, is not sufficient. We need action on the ground with development aid, and we need to train local people to take responsibility for security in their areas. Our strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan is to tackle the terrorist threat. We are now in a position where the Pakistan Government are taking action in the Swat and in Waziristan, and progress is being made in the Swat valley.
Therefore, we have a complementary strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan to tackle the terrorist threat, to strengthen local forces on the ground, to bring development help to these areas, and in Afghanistan to tackle the heroin trade that is so costly not only in Afghanistan, but around the world. That is the strategy that we are pursuing with our American allies and with 40 other allies in the region, who are contributing to the effort.
I repeat that there needs to be burden sharing not just in troops, but in development. We are contributing a substantial amount of development aid both in Afghanistan and in Pakistan. We have shifted aid from the other areas of Pakistan to the north-west area. We are determined to do more in those areas to help young people to go to school, for example, and to make sure that the internally displaced people in Pakistan have homes that they can go to and proper services.
I come to the other issues raised by the Leader of the Opposition. It is precisely because we must meet our commitments on development aid that we, the British Government, have issued a call to action. We have asked other countries to join us in realising the poverty emergency that exists and what we have to do.
Let me be clear that the reason that we could not get an agreement on trade in 2008 was that the Indians and the Americans could not come to an agreement on what was called a very specific safeguard clause for Indian imports. I believe that that barrier is being removed. That is why I believe that there is hope that the new
trade negotiations that will start will have greater success. Trade Ministers have been asked to meet before the Pittsburgh summit in 2010.
On climate change, the right hon. Gentleman knows that our policy is not only long-term targets and that there must be help for developing countries; interim targets must be agreed as well. That is what we will be discussing at the Pittsburgh summit, then at the United Nations, and then on the road to Copenhagen in December.
On the economy, I repeat that it is because we have succeeded in getting global action, partly at the G20 meetings in Washington and London, and partly at the G8 meeting that we have just had, that the world has a shared policy to deal with the recession. It is to create financial stability. The Americans are proposing a similar arrangement to the one that we have-the regulators, the central Bank and the Government work together. That is precisely what the Americans are proposing to do. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that no financial policy in future can work unless the Treasury, the Bank of England and the financial regulatory authorities work together. To my knowledge, no country that was at the G8 shares the right hon. Gentleman's proposal to cut public spending at a time when people need it, and to fail to support a recovery.
Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): I thank the Prime Minister for his statement and join him in paying tribute to Corporal Jonathan Horne, Rifleman William Aldridge, Rifleman James Backhouse, Rifleman Joseph Murphy and Rifleman Daniel Simpson, all of the 2nd Battalion the Rifles, Private John Brackpool of 1st Battalion the Welsh Guards, Corporal Lee Scott of 2nd Royal Tank Regiment, and Rifleman Daniel Hume of 4th Battalion the Rifles. This is a heartbreaking roll call of losses, including many young men who displayed courage and a professionalism well beyond their years. We all owe them a great deal.
I believe that the British people are resilient and understand the sacrifices that are inevitable in conflict, as long as the purpose of that conflict is clearly explained and understood, but how can people understand the true nature of this war when the Government have refused to explain what the achievable aims of the mission really are? For the past eight years, the Government have been sending mixed signals about the nature and purpose of the deployment. In the past week we have had the Prime Minister and the Defence Secretary giving different justifications for the war.
We on the Liberal Democrat Benches support the Afghan mission to stabilise Afghanistan and to reduce the threat of terrorism to British citizens. However, we need to be very clear about the limits of what we can achieve. Military action may be able to contain problems but not resolve them.
We have learned some difficult lessons in the past eight years. We have learned that our forces were not in a position to secure Helmand province alone, given the chronic shortages of equipment and manpower. We have learned that, because of the nature of Afghan tribal society, we must not overreach ourselves by trying to import overnight a western-style liberal democracy to a country that has never had a functioning central Government.
Does the Prime Minister now accept that, at best, what we can do is stabilise Afghanistan to provide a
space for the state to grow? Does he see that, since our troops first stepped into Afghanistan, the Government's strategy has been over-ambitious in aim and under-resourced in practice? Is it not time to commit the necessary resources and to set a reasonable goal? When exactly-he still has not answered this question today-will he find a way to send the desperately needed helicopters to our troops on the ground?
When will the Prime Minister seek full co-ordination of the international political strategy in Afghanistan? We know that President Karzai vetoed last year the appointment of a single, strong political figure to co-ordinate the international effort in Afghanistan, so will the Prime Minister prevail upon President Karzai or his successor to reverse that decision and to accept the appointment of a single senior figure with sufficient authority to bring together the piecemeal strategies of the international community?
Finally, I should like to turn to the G8 summit conclusions on nuclear non-proliferation. It is likely that conflicts such as Afghanistan will dominate in the coming years, rather than the old, state-to-state conflicts of the cold war era, so I welcome the position-the strong line-taken at the G8 on nuclear non-proliferation and the 2010 non-proliferation talks. However, does the Prime Minister not agree that rushing to commit Britain to like-for-like replacement of the cold war era Trident system hardly puts us at the forefront of such efforts? Is it not time both to admit that we do not need and cannot afford Trident on that scale, and to start to look properly at the alternatives, so that we can then commit the resources needed to our brave troops on the ground in Afghanistan and elsewhere?
The Prime Minister: I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that what I set out as our Afghanistan and Pakistan strategy is very similar to what he asks us to do: first, that military action has to be complemented by other actions; secondly, that we must get the Afghan people into a position where their troops and their police are able to take responsibility for law and order, justice and security in their own area; and, thirdly, that that must be matched by development aid. Our increase in development support for farming and the social and economic development of Afghanistan is exactly what the right hon. Gentleman wants to see.
Our strategy is very clear: to deal with a terrorist threat that could affect the streets of our own country, we have to take pre-emptive action to deal with terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In 2001, al-Qaeda was based in Afghanistan and was pushed out into Pakistan, but in 2009 we have the Afghan Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaeda in the mountainous areas on the borders of Pakistan. We have to see joint, co-ordinated action both in Pakistan to deal with the terrorist threat there, as is now happening, and in Afghanistan, where we are clearing areas and making it possible for free elections to take place. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that both our strategy and the way in which we are seeking to pursue it are in line with what he is suggesting.
I repeat to the right hon. Gentleman, because I do not think that he heard what I said, that there has been a 60 per cent. increase in helicopters and an 84 per cent.
increase in the capability of our helicopter forces. The Merlin helicopters from Iraq are being adapted so that they can be brought to Afghanistan as quickly as possible; we set up a helicopter fund to allow other countries to contribute helicopters, to upgrade them for the terrain in Afghanistan and to contribute to that development effort; and, of course, we are working with the Americans, who have helicopters, too, so that we can share the use of that particular equipment. I hope that he will agree also that the £6 billion that we are investing in helicopters is something that all of us can support.
On development in Afghanistan, I should remind the right hon. Gentleman that General McChrystal is head of ISAF and the US operations, so there is now the co-ordination that before there was not. Kay Eide is the head of the development operation. Of course we want development projects to move a lot quicker, and of course I keep pressing President Karzai to ensure that his Government take direct action to ensure that that happens. However, 6 million Afghan children are at school who were not at school previously, and there are huge increases in the amount of health care available to the Afghan people. I caution the right hon. Gentleman: the support for the Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy is common to America and the 41 nations that are part of the coalition. We all have the same objective: to reduce and remove the terrorist threat by supporting the development of local control in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Let me say this to the right hon. Gentleman about the non-proliferation treaty. What we want to achieve is in the spirit of the original non-proliferation treaty. We offer to non-nuclear states the chance of civil nuclear power under conditions in which the transfer of that power to those states can be safe. At the same time, we secure an agreement that they will not adopt nuclear weapons. Furthermore, unlike in the case of Iran, the duty of those countries will be to show that they are not proliferating nuclear weapons, rather than our duty being to prove that by our investigations. I hope that there will be major progress on the non-proliferation treaty.
As for Trident, let me be clear. We need collective action for disarmament involving all the nuclear states, and that is also one of the promises of the non-proliferation treaty. At a time when North Korea and Iran are developing nuclear weapons and other countries in the Gulf are threatening to do so, people would find it strange for Britain-a country that has nuclear weapons-simply to surrender hers unilaterally at the moment.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned development. All of us support Britain's leadership in providing international development to the poorest countries of the world. That leadership is important to the House.
Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op): The Prime Minister is to be congratulated on pushing climate change up the agenda of the meeting. Does he agree that climate change is a bigger threat to the future of humankind than any of the regional conflicts, the economic crisis or the terrorism so prevalent in the world today? We need to act urgently on the climate change agenda.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|