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People ask-it has been asked again in the House today-why we are fighting in Afghanistan when al-Qaeda has relocated to Pakistan. Given that we defeated the Taliban in 2001, why are we still fighting them now in 2009? Those questions are understandable, but they misunderstand the situation. Al-Qaeda has relocated to the borderlands in Pakistan and it poses a direct threat to Pakistan and to wider international security, but it is not in Afghanistan, because we are in Afghanistan. If we allowed ungoverned space to exist in Afghanistan, al-Qaeda would take the opportunity to return. That is why, as the Foreign Secretary said earlier, our strategy is not on Afghanistan alone, but focuses on Pakistan as well. That is why in April the Prime Minster presented to the House-and published in a document-our
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overarching, comprehensive strategy to tackle terrorism in the region which is a direct threat to our national security.

We are fighting the Taliban now in Afghanistan because a Taliban return would give al-Qaeda greater freedom to operate: freedom to plan, direct or provide support for more terrorist attacks-as was pointed out by the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox)-like those of 9/11 in New York and Washington, in Madrid, and here in London, among many others. And for the Afghan people, a Taliban return would mean a return to brutality, oppression, intolerance and violent extremism. In 2001, as part of the international coalition, we defeated the Taliban and cleared out al-Qaeda. We returned in significant numbers in 2006, and have increased our commitment since then, because they are back threatening the stability of Afghanistan, Pakistan and the region.

Let me turn to some of the issues that have been raised. Helicopters are important. I shall tell the House what I will do, but first I shall tell it what I will not do. I will not put Merlins into Afghanistan before they are ready-before the crews are trained and the blades, defensive suites and night vision are fitted. I will not put soldiers in the back of helicopters in a war zone when the crews and frames are not ready. [Interruption.] Some newspapers, and perhaps some Members, are suggesting that we can and should do that, but we cannot put Merlins in Afghanistan before December this year if we want a good, safe and capable force. We cannot bring that forward. I have talked to many people about whether we can, but we cannot.

Let me tell the House what I will do. I will, if necessary, bend people out of shape to ensure that the Lynx has all the necessary capability from this October, so that we do not have to withdraw it in the spring. I will consider again whether there is any way in which we can bring the eight useless Chinooks that we bought back in 1996 into service any more quickly. Our plan is to get additional Chinooks out there next summer, and if we can do it more quickly, we will. I will consider again whether we can squeeze more out of every frame that we have. When troops are in the field, I am going to satisfy myself that every single muscle is being flexed in every single part of our helicopter capability.

I saw what the Select Committee's report said about the Puma upgrade and the defence industrial strategy. I must say to the right hon. Member for North-East Hampshire (Mr. Arbuthnot) and his Committee that I hope that that is not code for putting industry before our armed forces. Capability must come first. The Puma upgrade will go ahead. Given the resources that I have, that is the best way in which to deliver the capability that we need as quickly as possible.

Since 2006, we have increased the number of airframes available to commanders in Afghanistan by more than 60 per cent., and the number of helicopter hours, which commanders use to plan, by 84 per cent. Commanders on the ground in Afghanistan are clear that they have enough helicopters to meet the requirements of current operations, but they always want more, and I must, and will, continue to work flat out to try to deliver them everything we can.

On troop numbers, this is an international mission to which the UK is the second largest troop contributor. UK forces are doing a large part of the heavy lifting in
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Afghanistan, having provided the vast majority of international forces in the most difficult province in the country for the last three years. As the Chief of the General Staff intimated just yesterday, new boots do not need to be UK boots. This is a NATO operation, and we have increased our commitment as part of the surge to prepare for the elections, but so have others. There are 400 new Polish troops, 450 more Australians and more Spanish, Lithuanians, Romanians, Swedish and Germans-and, of course, thousands more from the USA.

We have debated troop numbers and options, and, as the Prime Minister clearly stated on Monday, we keep our force levels under constant review, depending on the operational requirement. We have the manpower we need for the current operations. We will review our commitment after the Afghan elections, on the advice of our commanders and in discussions with our allies.

Let me say a few words on Operation Panther's Claw. As the Foreign Secretary said in opening the debate, the purpose of the operation is to provide the estimated 80,000 people in the Babaji area with sufficient security to allow the elections to take place. This requires clearing out the Taliban and preventing them from intimidating local people so they can live and vote in safety. All the reports I am receiving from theatre are that this is going to plan. ISAF now has a significant security presence in a previously ungoverned area. The insurgents are being hurt; we are taking out large numbers of insurgents, but that is not the measure of success. We need to win the people. Engagement with the local population is bearing fruit: the first outreach Shura was being held in the newly cleared area; priority development and governance and reconstruction projects are being identified; and polling stations are being planned. This is happening right behind the front line. There is significant momentum and we are pushing through the area and driving the enemy out, but the task is going to remain hard, and we should brace ourselves for further casualties. I am sure that right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House will want to provide our armed forces with the support they need, want and deserve as they continue to do the job.

Ann Winterton: Is the right hon. Gentleman able to answer the question that I posed to the Foreign Secretary at the outset of this debate about the helicopter that had been contracted to the British?

Mr. Ainsworth: We suffered the loss of a contract helicopter in the north of Helmand province and there were deaths as a result of that. I will write to the hon. Lady and give her more detail on it if she wants. I know that she often raises the issue of vehicles and that she has had a long-standing interest in the subject. People continue to say that there is a huge problem with vehicles. We have a suite of vehicles now, including Mastiff, Ridgback and Jackal. We also have the new tactical support vehicles-Wolfhound, Husky and Coyote-coming into province. It is cruel to pretend to those who have lost their lives that we will be able to stop our people dying by providing more helicopters or a suite of vehicles. Many Members have said that this afternoon, however. Even if we can get to the point where every single vehicle is available in every single location the length and breadth of the Helmand province
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for every operation, from time to time people will have to get out of those vehicles. They have to make contact with the people; they have to walk among them and win them over. That is dangerous work and it is cruel to pretend that we can remove the danger from the job that we ask our people to do.

Question put and agreed to.


Business without Debate


Regional Select Committee (West Midlands)

Motion made,

Hon. Members: Object.

Regional Select Committee (Yorkshire and the Humber)

Motion made,

Hon. Members: Object.

Regional Select Committee (South West)

Motion made,

Hon. Members: Object.

Sittings of the House

Motion made,

Hon. Members: Object.

Select Committee on the reform of the House of Commons

Motion made,

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Hon. Members: Object.


Steel Industry (Yorkshire)

6 pm

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): As is well known, constituents in Rotherham, South Yorkshire and other parts of the country have great concern about the state of the steel industry. In less than two weeks, some 6,020 residents of Rotherham and South Yorkshire have signed this petition asking that the House and the Government treat this matter with urgency and some seriousness. On behalf of the petitioners, I now present it to the House of Commons.

The petition states:

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Enid Ruhango

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. -(Mary Creagh.)

6.1 pm

Greg Mulholland (Leeds, North-West) (LD): First, I wish to thank Mr. Speaker for very graciously allowing this debate to take place, because I am grateful to have the opportunity to raise the case of Enid Ruhango in the House. I truly hope that this debate will finally lead us to a just resolution of this matter.

I make it clear, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that at no point during this debate will I refer to any aspect of this case that is considered sub judice. I would not normally bring an individual asylum case before the House, but I do so today because this particular case is such a sorry saga of administrative incompetence, systematic failure and a worrying disregard for human rights. My objective today is simply to put the facts of this case on the record and highlight them to the Minister and his Department. It concerns a young woman who suffered great abuse in her home country and, I am sorry to say, at the hands of our own immigration system.

Enid Ruhango first came to see me in 2006. She was being supported by her friends in the community of the All Hallows church in my constituency. Before approaching me, Enid had sought and received assistance from the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), to whose work on this case at that time I pay tribute. I will never forget hearing Enid's story. Her description of what happened to her in Uganda was one of the most difficult things I have ever had to listen to in my life. She had experienced things that most of us could not imagine and certainly would not want to contemplate. She was clearly traumatised, yet she retained a quiet courage and dignity despite all that she had been through.

Enid Ruhango entered this country as long ago as 5 December 2003, having fled Uganda where she had been subjected to torture and rape at the hands of Ugandan forces. Enid claimed for asylum on 15 December 2003, but her claim was refused on 9 February 2004 on the grounds that she did not qualify under the 1951 United Nations convention on the status of refugees. On 30 April 2004, a further appeal was dismissed on both asylum and human rights grounds. In 2004, both Enid's original application for asylum and her appeal were refused on the same grounds.

On 17 May 2004, she was detained at Waterside court, in Leeds, and was transported from there to Yarl's Wood. At Waterside court, she was offered no food. In addition, she has a long-term condition for which she needs to take medicine, but she had no medication with her at that time. Someone was sent to her flat, but they did not find any medication and she was not provided with any replacement medication. Transport left at around 7 pm and arrived at Yarl's Wood around midnight. She was not told that she would need to go to the toilet before she left and, although the van stopped on the journey, she was not allowed out. She was given no food by the escorts on the journey, and staff at Yarl's Wood gave her none on arrival. She was alone all that time in the back of the van, which smelled of urine and faeces.

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Enid was taken to the reception at Yarl's Wood around 7 am. Staff there gave her no food, though the van did not come for her until some time between noon and 2 pm on 18 May. Early in the morning, she had received tea and chocolate, but only from her room-mate. The transport arrived at Heathrow around 5.30 pm and Enid had to wait inside for a period. She asked to use a toilet and was refused; she was told that she would have to wait until she got on the plane. Again, she was given no food. Not surprisingly, Enid was highly distressed when escorts forcibly attempted to put her on board the plane and, as a result, airline staff refused to fly her to Uganda. She also reports that she received racial abuse from escorts, and that handcuffs were used in a way which resulted in cuts to the wrists-they left scars that are still visible.

In July 2005, in protest at the way they had been treated by the detention centre, Enid and her close friend Sophie Odogo-as well as several other women at Yarl's Wood-began a 38-day hunger strike. Enid's health deteriorated rapidly and she wrote to the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire, who wrote to the then Immigration Minister, the right hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty), informing him that the women were on hunger strike and saying that this proved their desperation. The hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire also raised concerns about the quality of legal advice available to the women. In his detailed and substantial reply the Minister rebutted the suggestions of inadequate legal advice and ignored the information regarding the hunger strike.

Enid and her friend Sophie Odogo were both admitted to Bedford hospital, but only after they had ended their hunger strike and had started eating again. At no time during the hunger strike were they taken off the premises at Yarl's Wood.

In a letter dated 23 August 2005, the Immigration Minister stated that the Home Office took no account of the well-being of an individual once they had returned to their country of origin, and therefore the problems that Enid might have securing the medication for her condition when in Uganda were not a consideration in her appeal. On 17 October 2005, the Minister wrote again, saying:

Surely someone who has been in that situation cannot be considered to be in a state of physical and mental well-being. Both Enid and Sophie continued to be held at Yarl's Wood despite their medical problems. Sophie's condition deteriorated so badly that she was transferred to a secure mental health facility, and they were of course in no condition to be deported.

Enid complained that she was not receiving correct treatment for her condition and the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire wrote again, voicing his concerns that Yarl's Wood did not seek second options from objective medical sources in the treatment of detainees.

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