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Earlier in the debate I intervened on my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary, who made the point that Mr. Mugabe would listen to other nations in southern Africa, particularly the nations that comprise
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SADC-the Southern African Development Community. I pointed out to my right hon. Friend that Zimbabwe has ignored a decision taken by the SADC tribunal in Windhoek, Namibia which ruled in support of a family whose property rights were being taken apart by the "veterans" of ZANU-PF and Mr. Mugabe. Sadly, we have an example of Mr. Mugabe being prepared to cock a snook at other countries which reach an impartial decision relating to what is happening in his country.

On a different subject, I am delighted that the Secretary of State for Defence is present. I shall not raise the matter of armoured personnel carriers. I leave that to my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Ann Winterton), who has made a great study of it and often clashes with the right hon. Gentleman. I want to raise the matter of the Nimrod aircraft. I am very interested that the RAF should get the best possible replacement for the Nimrod R1 and in retaining the standard capability that has been built up by that aircraft over more than 50 years. The industrial, employment and operational considerations coincide, and all of them are in favour of the adoption of the BAE Systems proposed Nimrod MRA4-based solution.

I hope this issue is taken seriously by the Secretary of State and his ministerial colleague: I speak here on behalf of the trade unions at BAE Systems at Woodford, both shop floor trade unions and the staff trade unions, which have displayed such outstanding loyalty and co-operation with BAE Systems over many years. Their concerns should be recognised and properly considered by the Government. I hope that even at this stage the Government may consider not proceeding with the purchase of the Rivet Joint aircraft because it is possible for the BAE Systems proposal to be taken forward.

Why can we not extend the life of the Nimrod R1, which has been doing such wonderful work? Unfortunately, however, I am told by US sources that the selection of individual airframes for the RAF Rivet Joint conversion has already taken place, and that the programme seems to be moving ahead. Indeed, US contacts-I refer to the US air force and the industry-find it unbelievable when they are told that the RC-135 solution has not yet been formally selected, as far as I know, and is not under contract, such is the impetus that they can see to the end of their programme.

The electronic warfare and avionics detachment at RAF Waddington, the unit with design authority for the R1 aircraft's mission system and responsibility for its installation, modification, replacement and calibration, is being run down to a timetable that is commensurate with an R1 out-of-service date of 2011. I heard only very recently that the first R1 has already been withdrawn from service and will end up in a museum. Will the Secretary of State confirm that a second R1 is also scheduled to be taken out of service and, perhaps, sold to the RAF museum at Duxford? That may not be accurate, so I should appreciate an honest answer to the question about whether the R1 is being withdrawn, because there is no reason why its out-of-service date could not be deferred to 2015. I could ask a number of questions. There is a cost to taking the R1s out of service, but how much will that be? Rolls-Royce has a penalty clause in its contract. How much will that be? How much would it cost to extend the life of the R1 to 2015?

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There is no reason why the R1s cannot continue in service until 2015, not least because they are safe. They have not been exposed to the same adverse conditions as the MR2s and, as the Secretary of State knows, they have just undergone a very big maintenance programme. The Rivet Joint, which is the alternative, cannot meet the in-service date either, and it has been estimated that each aircraft would require 18 months to convert, hence a programme of some four and a half years. At this late stage, cannot the Secretary of State support the Prime Minister, who has talked with great sincerity-and I believe him-about manufacturing? Manufacturing provides jobs, so cannot the Secretary of State supply British jobs for British aircraft in a British factory: BAE Systems at Woodford, which lies at the edge of my constituency? I believe in that work force, and I believe they deserve the Government's support. Can the Secretary of State give them a reassuring answer when he makes his winding-up speech?

9.28 pm

Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring) (Con): This has been a very good debate, and I apologise to Members from all parts of the House if the pressure of time means that I am unable to underline some of the particularly good individual contributions that have been made.

It is no surprise that a great deal of today's debate has focused on Afghanistan. In general, the issues that were focused on fell into four groups: why we are in Afghanistan; the cost of defeat in Afghanistan; what we mean conceptually by winning; and the need for consistency in messaging. Several Members, including the Foreign Secretary and my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary, made the point that we are in Afghanistan for national security reasons. We initially went in to deny al-Qaeda the space from which it launched those attacks on the west in which many thousands of innocent people, including British citizens, died. That was achieved relatively quickly, but we must continue to deny al-Qaeda the space. We also need to stop the contamination and potential destabilisation and, indeed, collapse of Pakistan. In other words, we need to see what is happening in Afghanistan in geopolitical, not social, terms.

As a number of my right hon. and hon. Friends said, we cannot conflate the military mission with the reconstruction mission. If we try to describe in reconstruction terms the reasoning for undertaking a national security mission, we are likely to confuse the British public further. We also need to be consistent in our messaging. We are either in Afghanistan as a result of a national security imperative or we are not; we cannot change the reasoning week by week. If one week we say that we have to see the mission through, we must not later send the mixed signal that we would not be there if we could possibly avoid it.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) made one of the best speeches that I have heard him give in opposition. He asked what was different now from the situation when Russia attacked and occupied Afghanistan. He gave a number of examples, including the fact that the Mujaheddin had widespread support that was militarily and politically well beyond the boundaries of Afghanistan. The Taliban do not; they are a small and isolated grouping.

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I should like to add to my right hon. and learned Friend's arguments. We have seen the emergence of China. Someone mentioned earlier that Afghanistan had pretty much nothing going for it. China, however, has made a major investment in the copper deposits there and that offers a genuine opportunity for Afghanistan to make a positive contribution to the global economy. Since the Russian invasion, we have also seen the emergence of a genuinely globalised economy with the opportunities that that brings. Afghanistan now has a democratic Government, who may not be up to the standards that many in the west want, but they are certainly an improvement on what was there before.

My right hon. and learned Friend also concentrated on what he regarded as the three most important elements of strategy: the training of the Afghan national security forces; the need in the longer term for continuous military support through air support; and the need for political progress while accepting what is possible and in what time scale. My right hon. and learned Friend is fond of quotations. In backing up what he said, I remind him that in 1972, the great Pashtun activist Khan Abdul Wali was asked by a journalist to what he owed his first allegiance. He replied:

We need to understand the history and complexity of the region in which we are involved.

We have to add one more element to the strategy: General McChrystal's concept that the centre of the insurgency is population-based, and that we have to have a population-centric result. As the general said, we need to shift our emphasis, not to how many of our enemies we kill, but to how many we shield in safety in the Afghan population. We need to see through that security, which we promised from the outset.

As has been said in the House before, we have to have a change of mindset. In a counter-insurgency, a defection is better than a surrender, a surrender is better than a capture and a capture is better than a kill. We will need to see such a change if the American response is to be closer to General McChrystal's assessment. I would say to the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay), if he were still in his place, that I have always found the general's assessment compelling.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) talked about what a disaster it would be if we withdrew precipitately. That message was echoed by other Members. It would be a disaster for decent Afghans trying to achieve a better life, many of whom have been willing to sacrifice their own security to help us in the conflict. We cannot betray them. It could be a disaster for Pakistan and for the broader concept of the western alliance. What cohesion or credibility would we have if we pulled out unilaterally? That message was echoed by the hon. Member for Halton (Derek Twigg) in his speech.

My hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) said that nowhere was our reputation more important in this context than in our relationship with the United States. After Iraq, including Najaf and Basra, we have to be extremely aware of the reputation
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of our armed forces. We must give them the support that they need to do the jobs that we have asked them to do.

Pakistan was touched on by several hon. Members, and it has four problems that we need to understand. First, there is an economic crisis in the country, and the Government are struggling to keep their chin above water. That will go on for some time and will require a huge amount of international aid if we are to give the Government the support that they will need for stability. Secondly, there is an endemic political problem in Pakistan with the structure of its democracy. Sometimes I think that we have a cartographer's view of the world-drawing a border around something makes it a country, and it can be treated in the same way as we would treat neighbouring European states. But Pakistan is not like that. Its political structure is prone to becoming a regional winner-takes-all set-up, and therefore internal political stability is difficult to achieve. Thirdly, Pakistan is militarily designed for state-on-state warfare. Its armed forces are shaped for that and, because of the continuing tensions with India, many Pakistani forces are prepared for deployment in that direction. They therefore do not have the means to deal with the fourth element, which is the anti-insurgency, anti-terror action that we are now demanding of them.

We need to understand some of the regional complexities. Most of the Pakistani army speaks Punjabi. If they are stuck up in the north-west, they will not even speak the same language as the people whose security they are trying to guarantee. If the international community gave Pakistan more support and perhaps less criticism, it would be able to assist us more than it is sometimes able to do, given some of the rhetoric that comes from some of the countries supposedly helping it. In particular, we should look to countries such as Saudi Arabia to offer greater support to Pakistan, especially its organs of state, than they have done in the past.

When we have a mission such as that in Afghanistan, for which public support is diminishing-everybody in the House has to accept that that is happening-it is very tempting to come up with a timetable that suggests a way out, once we get to x date. Timetables are both wrong and dangerous. Yes, we need benchmarks to determine our success and to show us that our aims have been achieved, but they should not be marks on a calendar. Timetables risk undermining the confidence of our allies, who wonder if our hearts are really in it-if we have the moral fortitude to see through what we have described as a national security imperative. Introducing a timetable also runs the risk of reinforcing the confidence of our enemies, because it tells them that if they can only outlast us, they will be victorious. That is the greatest danger we face, undermining the morale of our own forces. Tempting though it may be in the short term for politicians, it is wrong for all sorts of reasons.

Adam Price: If our allies are so concerned about timetables, why did President Obama, in his interview about Afghanistan on CBS television this week, say that the American people need to know what the strategy is and how long it will take?

Dr. Fox: It is important that we set out benchmarks by which we will be able to determine success, so that our electorates are able to see if we have achieved them,
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but that is very different from setting out an artificial time scale and then trying to make events fit it. It is wrong for all those reasons, and we must not be tempted to go down that route simply because it might buy a couple of points in the opinion polls in the short term. It is the wrong approach to a military campaign.

An interesting point arose earlier in one of those great moments of clarification that we all hope to witness in these debates. The Liberal Democrats told us that the war in Iraq was illegal and the reason that they had supported the war in Afghanistan was because it represented their commitment to multilateralism. On that logic, I assume that if being in Afghanistan is part of their commitment to multilateralism, it would be intellectually inconceivable to have a unilateral withdrawal, whatever the opinion polls said. I now turn to the spokesman for the Liberal Democrats to see that that is a correct understanding of his party's position.

It is important what that silence says. I am not sure how Hansard will record the importance of that non-response, but all those present in the Chamber can understand exactly what it means.

We had much discussion about the importance of NATO, which leads on to the speech by the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell), who spoke about the extension into the alliance of the concept of European defence co-operation. I accept that there is a role for the European Union where NATO cannot or will not carry out a particular mission or function. However, that role should be on the basis of additionality and not be a substitution for the commitments already signed up to in NATO membership. In other words, people simply cannot say, "We're not going to do the war fighting in NATO; we're only going to use our contributions for peacekeeping missions of the European Union." Therein lies the danger, because countries cannot have endless caveats and still be part of the NATO alliance. Sometimes we have to fight for peace and sometimes we have to die for it. We certainly have to be willing to pay for it, but if we have the concept of double-hatting or even triple-hatting, or if we have duplicating structures, they are not likely to strengthen NATO as the element of primacy in our defence, but weaken it.

When it comes to the promotion of Baroness Ashton to her new European role, I would like the Secretary of State to confirm just one thing for us in his speech this evening. Will she take up her role as the head of the European Defence Agency, as set out in the original treaty? We simply cannot accept a supranational role for procurement inside the European Union. Procurement must be a national decision, based on sovereignty, with co-operation with others where we think that co-operation is in our mutual interests, but we should not have it forced upon us. Ultimately, joint procurement must be about procurement that gives us interoperability with those who are most likely to fight on the ground with us. When we look at what is happening, it is clear that that will primarily be the United States. There is a strong case in Europe for looking at our co-operation with the French, for example, but at present it does not go beyond that. Therefore, we could not accept wider co-operation.

My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss) talked about the middle east. He was one of the few people who talked about the positive achievements that can occur on the west bank.
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He talked about Jenin, where we can see the fruits of economic and political co-operation. There was widespread support in all parts of the House for a two-state solution.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley) talked about the western Balkans and the need to maintain the momentum of the Tadic Government towards EU membership, because instability in the Balkans has historically been hugely detrimental to this country's security.

The hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes) talked about Sri Lanka. He knows of my long involvement in Sri Lanka. Twelve years ago I negotiated an early part of the peace negotiations there. Victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam is something that we should all celebrate. It is also something that many of us did not think possible. There is no doubt that Sri Lanka is at a crossroads. It has a wonderful opportunity to take a new direction. In short, Sri Lanka has to choose whether it wants to be Burma or Singapore. Sri Lanka can take the correct route at this crossroads only by having a one Sri Lanka policy, by having a reconstruction that is ethically based, not ethnically based, and by recognising that every citizen has to be judged by the value that they bring to the new Sri Lanka, not by any previous measurements of where they come from, nor by race or religion. As members of the European Union, we have to be careful not to lecture too much or give too few incentives in a country that is beginning to move very much in the right direction.

We talked briefly today about Iran-about the problems that we face, about the nature of the regime, about the human rights abuses occurring there, about Iran's willingness to export terror and instability and about the fact that if Iran becomes a nuclear-weapon state, we face a nuclear arms race in that part of the world, which is not something that we want to leave to the next generation.

Finally, to return to Afghanistan, we need to get the strategy right. We need to dispel some of the anti-war defeatism that exists in parts of our country. I do not believe, as someone said earlier, that our soldiers have died in vain. Sadly, to say that only gives comfort to our enemies. The selfless sacrifice of our forces makes it all the more important that we get our strategy and tactics right. It is our duty to them to be clear why we are there, to be clear about the danger of losing and to understand what we mean by winning.

This has been a good debate. We have enjoyed the least controversial part of the Gracious Speech, on which there has been a good deal of cross-party consensus, in contrast to some of the other elements of the Queen's Speech which, I am afraid, have seen a flagging Government increasingly resorting to the fantasy world of their bunker. This must be the first time that Her Majesty has been required to read out a living will. The general election cannot come quickly enough.

9.45 pm

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Bob Ainsworth): I have even less time than the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox).

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