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T6.  Mr. Andrew Pelling (Croydon, Central) (Ind): I was very grateful for the Secretary of State's answer to the first topical question and for the letter that I received from the Minister for Schools and Learners at lunch time about spending in Croydon, because half our emergency primary school places have ended up in temporary classrooms. Why did the Government allow that problem to come into existence? Looking forward to 2011-12 and beyond, will there be money to ensure that primary school places are in permanent buildings?
Mr. Coaker: Of course, the planning for primary school places is a matter for the local authority, and we have sought to deal with the problems that have emerged in some local authorities with those authorities. As the hon. Gentleman will know, we have announced £12.8 million for Croydon to deal with the problem that he mentioned. As he pointed out, Kingston and Croydon, as part of the BSF, will have a further £100 million between them to take these issues forward. As for 2011 onwards, that will be a matter for the next spending review, but I know which party I would rather have in power to take that decision.
Natascha Engel (North-East Derbyshire) (Lab): I should like to ask the Minister for Schools and Learners what he is doing to ensure that children are taught the importance of reducing waste and of recycling throughout their school career. If we are to give future generations a chance, we should not put so much waste into landfill and we should build far fewer incinerators.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Ms Diana R. Johnson): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. Part of the curriculum review in primary schools will mean that waste, recycling and a general understanding of sustainability will be very much part of what is taught to primary school children. I am happy to have a meeting with my hon. Friend to discuss the issue further and to look at the good practice that already exists in some primary schools.
T7.  Mr. Mark Lancaster (North-East Milton Keynes) (Con): I have given the Minister advance notice of the concerns of my constituents over the continued uncertainty at the Radcliffe school in Milton Keynes. I understand that he has told Milton Keynes council that he is minded not to award academy status. Can he simply confirm that decision today? If not, will he explain to the parents why he is taking so long to make a decision?
Ed Balls: The position is that no decisions have been made. If the hon. Gentleman would like to make representations, he can do so to me and to the Schools Minister. I am happy to have a meeting so that he can do so. In the end, these matters are for local decision, not for national imposition. I am told that the school in question has seen substantial increases in its results, but it is not too late for the hon. Gentleman to make his representations.
Phil Wilson (Sedgefield) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend tell me what extra funding will be made available for new schools as part of Building Schools for the Future in the Darlington borough, part of which falls into my constituency?
Mr. Coaker: My hon. Friend will know that Darlington is part of the BSF announcement that we have made today. I understand that Hurworth secondary school is in his constituency and that he, along with many other Members of the House and many of my hon. Friends, has campaigned for that. I congratulate him on that, and I am sure that the school will welcome these developments.
T9.  Mr. Edward Vaizey (Wantage) (Con): I hope that I can avoid detention and set a good example with this question. Will the Secretary of State help me with a reply to the chair of the governors of one of my local schools? On hearing about the Government's proposal for a legal right to a good education, they wrote that schools are heartily sick of receiving one missive after another missive after another, that such a legal right would add to costs and additional time commitment, and that that kind of thinking was out of touch and completely counter to what was needed. Does the Secretary of State share the sentiments of the chair of governors?
Ed Balls: I do not. I take it from that that the hon. Gentleman will not be supporting our pupil guarantee, which will ensure that every pupil who falls behind will be guaranteed 10 hours' one-to-one tuition in year 7 or in years 3,4 or 5 if they fall behind. In the end, we have to decide whether we want those guarantees to give every child the support they need or whether we want a lottery in education. If the hon. Gentleman's chair of governors wants a lottery, he had better vote Conservative.
Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): What consideration has the Secretary of State given to having a full assessment of the asbestos levels in schools, and what can we do to eradicate all asbestos from our schools, and particularly the ones in Chorley?
Ms Diana R. Johnson: My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that we have been having a series of meetings on this very subject. I recently met the Health and Safety Minister in the House of Lords to discuss it, so it is an ongoing issue. I am happy to have a meeting with my hon. Friend if that would be helpful.
Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con): May I express a degree of surprise that the Secretary of State wrote a letter to the chair of governors of Great Tey primary school on Thursday, asserting that the school has failed to follow its published complaints procedures, on the basis of representations from the parents of only one child and apparently without consulting the local education authority, which is responsible for giving impartial advice? Is he aware that the letter is being used in a public campaign against the school, and was it his intention that it should be used in that way?
I contacted the school through my officials in September. I pointed out to the school its obligations in law to make sure that a proper complaints procedure was followed when a parent made a complaint. I wrote to the school last week, two months later, to say how much I regretted the fact that it had not had a proper complaints procedure in this case, and I asked the school to reflect again. I hope it will reflect again. If not, I will have to require the school to have a proper
complaints procedure. It is important that it does, because in this case there are some substantial concerns about the treatment of that child, which are not being properly addressed by the school and by the governors.
Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): I was very pleased to hear the Secretary of State announce an increase of £100 million in the funds for extra primary school places, but our difficulty will be to deliver those fast enough. Will he allow Slough borough council to create community primary schools, rather than insisting that new schools must be foundation schools or other forms of school through a competition, so that we can do it fast enough?
Mr. Coaker: I thank my hon. Friend for her comments about the money announced today for Slough for primary school places. The extra £9 million will be worth while in Slough, and I know that she has campaigned long and hard for that. On the provision of a primary school, we are looking at how we can ensure that Slough can quickly deliver the primary school that it needs.
Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): Further to the excellent question from my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth), the Government like throwing money at divisive and politically correct projects such as Black History month. May I urge the Secretary of State to scrap that kind of initiative and direct the funding at a unifying programme promoting pride in British history?
I am not sure how to respond to that question and stay within the bounds of acceptable parliamentary language. All I can say is that I attended a reception for Black History month in the House of Commons just a few weeks ago. I heard the testimonies of young people from different races and different ethnicities, all saying that by working together, respecting diversity and having unity in our country, we can combat extremism. That is the right way to proceed. Black History month is the right way to proceed. I ask the hon. Gentleman to reflect on those comments, which do him no justice, nor the Conservative party.
The Prime Minister (Mr. Gordon Brown): With permission, let me begin this statement on Afghanistan by once more paying tribute to our armed forces. Since 2001, our forces have been fighting in Afghanistan one of the longest military campaigns of recent times-longer, indeed, than the world wars of the last century-as part of our century's fight against global terrorism.
At all times our armed forces have shown the highest professionalism, dedication and courage, which make them the best and most admired in the world. They have endured heavy and tragic casualties. They deserve our utmost gratitude. Let me acknowledge the presence today, as visitors to the House, of members of 19 Light Brigade who have served with distinction in Afghanistan.
Decisions to extend military action are as critical as those that commence military action. There are two prior questions that people ask of our mission with our American and coalition allies in Afghanistan: one about the present, one about the future. Rightly, both questions have to be answered. The first is why today our armed forces are in Afghanistan, and the second is how and when Afghanistan can take responsibility for its own security so that our troops can come home.
The origins of our intervention in Afghanistan and the scale of the terrorist threat are known to us all. Around the world thousands of men and women of all religions, including thousands of the Muslim faith, have been murdered in al-Qaeda outrages. The London 7 July bombings cost 52 lives and injured more than 750 people. More recently in Britain, we have seen the 2006 Heathrow liquid bombs plot, the 2007 London and Glasgow bombings, and then this year an al-Qaeda-inspired conspiracy to target shopping centres. There are now over 120 convicted terrorists serving sentences in British prisons, and the security services report to me weekly on the hundreds of would-be terrorists who seek to operate within and target our country.
To counter that terrorist threat, we have, since 2001, trebled the resources available to our intelligence services and more than doubled the number of operatives. Today, almost twice as many regular police officers are engaged in full-time work to counter the terrorist threat. Suspect travellers are now checked at the border in real time against watch lists; an increasing number of people are excluded on national security grounds from Britain; and, because this is a fight for hearts and minds against violent extremism and those ideologies that would pervert the true Islamic faith, we have stepped up our work with our allies both to expose the damage that murderous and extremist ideologies do and to support those working across all faiths to uphold the common ground of dignity tolerance and respect for all.
So, our security in the United Kingdom and our effort to counteract terrorist propaganda have been, and continue to be, strengthened at all levels. Faced with the terrorist threat, some have argued that the most effective strategy is simply to defend Britain within our own borders-a fortress Britain; and some ask why British troops are in Afghanistan at all, if al-Qaeda can organise in Britain, in Somalia, in Yemen, in other places and, even, in internet chat rooms in every part of the world. But, as long as the Afghan-Pakistani border
areas are the location of choice for al-Qaeda and the epicentre of global terrorism, it is the Government's judgment that we must address the terrorist threat at its source. Indeed, as long as three quarters of the most serious terrorist plots against Britain have links to those Pakistani-Afghan border areas, we would be failing in our duty if we did not work with our allies to deal with the problem where it starts. A more stable and secure Afghanistan and Pakistan will help to ensure a safer Britain.
Since 2001, progress has been made in driving al-Qaeda into the mountains of Waziristan. Today, for the first time since 2001, tens of thousands of Pakistani troops are in Waziristan, and, with President Obama, I have been urging Pakistan's leadership, most recently in a conversation with President Zardari on Saturday, to step up its efforts not just against the Pakistani Taliban in that region but against al-Qaeda. So, as an international community, we must intensify our support for the action of the Pakistani authorities, improve co-operation with Pakistan in the months ahead and press ahead with a development programme, amounting to two thirds of a billion pounds over four years, which is focused increasingly on the border areas and on encouraging the development of schools to counter the propaganda of the madrassahs. It is essential that progress in driving al-Qaeda from Afghanistan be matched by actions not simply to isolate but to defeat al-Qaeda within Pakistan.
Success in driving al-Qaeda into Waziristan has led some to propose that it is now sufficient simply to target al-Qaeda there. To explain why that is an inadequate response, we must understand the al-Qaeda network, its long-standing links with the Afghan Taliban and the extent to which al-Qaeda continues to seek, as in the past, a Taliban-controlled, permissive Afghanistan that would allow it unfettered opportunities to plan and launch with impunity its attacks on Britain and other countries.
So, our task is to prevent the Taliban from giving al-Qaeda that safe haven. Stabilising Afghanistan will not solve all our challenges in Pakistan and elsewhere, but instability in Afghanistan can only increase the risk of conflagration where the rest of the world can least afford it. That is why the safety of people on the streets of Britain requires us to deny al-Qaeda the space to operate across Pakistan and the option of returning to operate in Afghanistan.
That is the considered view of the 43-nation coalition, a unique force of NATO and non-NATO members led by the United States of America and supported by clear United Nations resolutions. Today our purpose is the same as in 2001: to deny al-Qaeda space to operate. But our approach to achieving that has now to be different. In December 2007, our Government became one of the first to suggest that Afghanistan must be prepared to take far greater control of its own security. Since then, we have consistently argued that to weaken the Taliban we have to strengthen the Afghan Government nationally and locally.
This approach is built on our knowledge that the Taliban have only minority support among the Afghan people and our judgment that the long-term security of Afghanistan is best secured by training the Afghan army and police, by building up civilian government at a local as well as national level, and through economic development giving Afghans a stake in their future.
This has to be supported, as we propose, by stronger international civilian leadership to work alongside General McChrystal to deliver the civilian aspects of this strategy. It is an outline programme for the transfer of lead security responsibilities to the Afghans-district by district, province by province-with the first districts and provinces potentially being handed over during next year. Let us be clear that this process will depend on the Afghans being ready to take responsibility and control: first, through more trained Afghan troops; secondly, through better policing; thirdly, through effective local and national Government; and fourthly, by giving Afghans, as I said, a stronger stake in their economic future.
I can also say that over time our objective is to work for and to encourage a new set of relationships between Afghanistan and its neighbours based on their guarantee of non-interference in Afghanistan's future affairs and on a commitment to fostering not only its long-term economic and cultural links with other powers in the region but immediate confidence-building security measures from which all can benefit. So I want the London conference on Afghanistan to be held on 28 January, which President Karzai and the Secretary-General of the United Nations have confirmed they will attend, to unite the international community behind a programme now and for the longer term to help the Afghans to secure and govern their own country.
Against this background, our coalition military strategy is essentially to create the space for an effective political strategy to work, weakening the Taliban by strengthening Afghanistan itself: a military surge, yes, but complemented by a political surge that is, most of all, an Afghan surge. Today I want to set out the benchmarks for this approach and then, and in that context, to give details of the numbers and deployments of our armed forces.
First, over the coming year, the coalition seeks a major expansion of the Afghan army from 90,000 to 134,000. We expect this surge in recruitment to allow an extra 10,000 troops to be deployed in Helmand, of which 5,000 will be trained and partnered by British forces. And we can start now. Six hundred Afghan soldiers are arriving in Helmand this month-an extra company for each Afghan battalion there. A further 10 Afghan companies-1,000 more troops-will soon reinforce the Afghan army's 205 Corps across southern Afghanistan. Increasingly, therefore, it will be Afghan forces that clear and hold ground as they prepare for the time when they can assume responsibility for their own security.
Secondly, within the next six months, the international community will agree with President Karzai's Government a police reform plan. We have agreed that, in Helmand, Afghan police numbers will increase immediately to 4,100, with further increases to follow. By mid-2010, the capacity of the Helmand police training centre that we have established in Lashkar Gar will be doubled, and we will double the numbers of police trainers provided by the Royal Military Police from 100 this year to 200 next year.
Thirdly, there needs to be an effective and accountable local administration. Over the next nine months, President Karzai will be expected to implement, with our support and that of our international partners, far-reaching reforms to ensure that from now on all 400 provinces and districts have a governor appointed on merit, free from corruption with clearly defined roles, skills and
resources. District community shuras have been formed in Nad Ali, in Garmsir, in Gereshk and in Nawa, with more to come. Nationwide, the number of community development councils will increase within two years from 22,000 to 31,000.
Fourthly, there should be a clean, effective and inclusive national Government in Kabul-one that reaches out to political leaders and citizens from all strands of Afghan society. While President Karzai has agreed with us on the priority of tackling corruption with a new anti-corruption taskforce-and last week the arrest of 12 leading officials took place-we recognise that the test is not initiatives but delivery on the ground, and we will monitor carefully what President Karzai's Administration are doing.
We support President Karzai's call for a Loya Jirga and for reconciliation. It is the task of military forces-international and Afghan-to weaken and pressurise the insurgency, but it is right and essential that this work is combined with the offer of a way forward for those prepared to renounce violence and to choose to join the political process. Reintegration can only be led, and must be led, by Afghans themselves at both national and local levels.
For Afghanistan to enjoy stability in the future, farmers and working people in towns and villages must have a greater stake in that economic future: a major Afghan-led programme backed by significant funding to identify the likely growth areas in the Afghan economy, and to provide Afghans with credible economic alternatives to the poppy and the insurgency. With 20 per cent. more land growing wheat, this year's wheat harvest is expected to be the highest in 30 years. Programmes funded by our development Department will this year create 20,000 jobs in this area, and by 2013 will be able to raise the incomes of 200,000 people.
I turn now to the details of our force levels and our deployments. In my statement to the House on 14 October, I said that to support our strategy of Afghanisation-and particularly to train more Afghan soldiers and police, while at the same time maintaining the security of our forces-the Government had agreed in principle a new force level of 9,500, to be implemented once three conditions were met. I can report on each of these conditions.
First, I made it clear that we would increase the number of British personnel in Afghanistan only if we were assured that it would continue to be the case that every soldier and unit deployed is fully equipped for the operations they are asked to undertake. At this morning's meeting of our Afghanistan and Pakistan national security committee, the Chief of the Defence Staff gave that assurance-that this condition has been met both for the existing force and the additional 500 troops. Indeed, the chiefs report to me the continuing delivery of new equipment. Newly arrived Merlin helicopters have today been given the "green light" for operations in Afghanistan, a month ahead of schedule. Compared with three years ago, we have doubled helicopter flying hours; in the coming months, these will increase by a further 20 per cent.
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