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The London conference will be crucial, and not only because of the attempts to bring everybody there, which raise the danger that it will be an enormous political bazaar. The most crucial figure will be President Karzai, who, going by his previous track record, has the mental approach of an old British Army quartermaster-I may be denigrating that fine body of men-which is called "consent and evade". The quartermaster says, "Yes, sir, I absolutely agree, sir. This will be done" while thinking, "He'll never remember and I don't have to do very much about it." President Karzai's consent and evade will no longer be acceptable. The pressure that needs to be brought to bear on President Karzai from now on is along the lines suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood): he will have to face the fact that there must be a devolution of power. There will have to be some form of federal government in Afghanistan. That goes with the grain of Afghan history. He will also have to recognise that without it, his long-term success will be incredibly limited. That is the first point.

The second point that will be important is to involve the regional powers, particularly Russia, China, India and Pakistan. That will not be easy, given the mutual antipathy and the mutual contradictions of one kind or another, but those countries are beginning to see that it is no longer in their interests that this conflict goes on for five, 10 or 15 years, and that instability in that area overruns into other areas in one way or another.

The third element, which is crucial and comes under the strategy, is the impact that these operations will have, politically, economically and militarily, on the United Kingdom. Our need to provide the resources over the next three or four years will put enormous pressure on the UK economy and, in particular, on the three main Departments: the Foreign Office, which has a tiny budget and only a limited number of personnel; DFID, which has a much bigger budget but seems to have problems in delivering on the ground; and our armed forces, which are running red-hot. The ability to sustain such operations, which are incredibly manpower intensive, will have to be considered not only by this Government but, probably, by another Government after June next year. I should like to know whether the Minister thinks that the Government are aware of that.

My final point is that I have never been absolutely sure who, to use the awful management term, "has ownership" of Afghanistan within Whitehall. Obviously, the Prime Minister does, but is the lead Minister who ultimately takes responsibility-the equivalent of the chief executive-the Foreign Secretary or the Secretary of State for Defence? The message that many of us get back from many of the people involved in all three Departments, both in Whitehall and on the ground, is that there is a failure in that crucial area. To use the analogy of Henry Kissinger wondering whom he should phone to get a decision out of Europe, if I was an American, I would wonder whom to phone in Whitehall. Who, apart from the Prime Minister, is the lead person? That is about wiring diagrams and delivery, but it is an important part of the element of strategy.

The Conservative party supports the Obama strategy. We also support what the Government are trying to do. The Government recognise, however, that we retain the right to press them, and to ask the difficult questions.
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Indeed, I hope that the Prime Minister will take the opportunity to have a formal debate on Afghanistan in the new year.

10.47 am

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Ivan Lewis): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn) on securing this important Adjournment debate. I find it difficult, though, to agree with virtually any part of the contribution that he made. That will not come as a surprise to him. He expressed the notion that the threat to national security was entirely non-existent and contended that it would be impossible to achieve any sense of stability in Afghanistan. I can subscribe to neither of those views.

Paul Flynn: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Lewis: I have no time to give way.

Paul Flynn: You have distorted what I said.

Mr. Lewis: I will give way briefly.

Paul Flynn: That is an utter distortion. Of course there is a threat from terrorism, but it comes from Pakistan and it is home grown-it comes from this country as well-and it is made worse by our intervention in Iraq and our intervention in Afghanistan. To suggest that I said that there was no threat is untrue.

Mr. Lewis: I shall not quibble with my hon. Friend at this stage. I urge him to go back, though, and look at Hansard and the tone of his speech when he dismissed, and accused us of inventing almost, the threat from al-Qaeda, aided and abetted by the Taliban in Afghanistan. That threat is the reason why we went there and why we must never allow it to return to Afghanistan. That is at the core of our mission.

The contributions made by the hon. Members for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood), for North-East Milton Keynes (Mr. Lancaster) and for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson) were balanced, reasonable, very well informed and helpful at this stage in terms of the mission that we face.

Hon. Members will understand that I want to begin by paying tribute to each and every member of our armed forces who has been killed or injured in Afghanistan. The deaths of 100 brave servicemen and women this year and 237 since the operations started are nothing short of a tragedy. Nothing can ever compensate for the loss felt by the loved ones and colleagues of those who have laid down their lives for this country. We owe them a debt of honour and must always remember them. We know that there has been a tragic recent death, and our thoughts and prayers are with that serviceman's family at this difficult time.

Our reasons for being in Afghanistan are consistent. Like the 42 other countries that are there, we are there to safeguard our national security. As I said, our forces are there to prevent the return of al-Qaeda, aided and abetted by the Taliban. The only way to achieve that is to create a stable and secure nation.

We warmly welcome President Obama's speech of last week and the announcement that the US will send 30,000 troops to Afghanistan. As the President made clear in his speech, the current increase in US forces is designed to enable the Afghans to step up their activities on a number of fronts.

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As hon. Members are aware, the UK Government have already announced an additional 500 troops and we will make permanent the additional 700 troops we provided for the summer, including in the election period. That takes UK forces to more than 10,000.

Hon. Members mentioned support for Pakistan, which is vital. As has been said, Afghanistan and Pakistan are very different countries, but they require complementary policies. We need Afghanistan and Pakistan to work together on the shared problems of terrorist activities, narcotics, weapons trafficking and the limited economic opportunities. The insurgency straddles the border and so, therefore, must the solution.

Our core strategy remains Afghanisation. The long-term security of Afghanistan and our own national security are best assured by training the Afghan police and army, by building up civilian government at the national and local level and by providing for economic development that gives Afghans a stake in their future. As the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary recently said, and as the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) stressed, we need to combine a military strategy with a political strategy, improving governance, reducing corruption and offering a way back for those who are prepared to renounce violence and choose the political process.

In his inauguration speech, President Karzai laid out five key issues: improved security, improved governance, reintegration and reconciliation, economic development and strengthened regional relations.

Mr. Ellwood: I want to echo a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson) from the Front Bench. There is a difference between the £200 million that DFID spends in Afghanistan and the approximately £3 billion that our armed forces spend. That disparity shows how much we are spending on security and how much we are spending on stabilisation, economic regeneration and governance. Does the Minister agree that as long as that huge difference remains, we will not be able to take advantage of the fragile umbrella of security that our military forces are creating?

Mr. Lewis: The development investment that we have put in has made a difference, and I will refer to that later. As development professionals increasingly understand, however, securing security and stability is the precursor to being able significantly to expand development interventions that make a long-term sustainable difference. Indeed, that is right at the heart of the recognition in the recent DFID White Paper of what needs to happen in future development policy in conflict areas. It is, therefore, a question not just of comparing amounts of money but of looking at an integrated strategy and a staged approach that bring together security, governance and development. As a consequence of DFID investment, there has been a significant improvement, but a lot more needs to be done.

I referred to the five areas of improvement that President Karzai laid out. The international community must now work with him to turn those objectives into action and to ensure that his Government deliver on them.

On security, only five of Helmand's 13 districts were under Government control in 2006. Following the end of Operation Panther's Claw, the Government of
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Afghanistan now broadly control 10 of those 13 districts. We want to see a 134,000-strong Afghan army by the end of 2010, including an additional 5,000 troops trained by British forces in Helmand. Afghan national police numbers in Helmand will increase immediately to 4,100, with further increases to follow.

The Afghan national security forces are increasingly contributing to securing their own country. More than 90 per cent. of international security assistance force operations are conducted in conjunction with the Afghan national army, which is starting to take the lead in independent operations. The ANSF have already taken lead responsibility for security in Kabul, but we expect other nations to share further the burden in Afghanistan and we are increasingly confident that they will do so.

Mr. Lancaster: Much of the focus seems to be on building the strength of the Afghan national army, but given the tribal nature of Afghanistan and particularly of Helmand, and given that few members of the army are recruited from the south, does the Minister accept that it is sometimes too simplistic to think that recruiting an Afghan national army is the answer to all our problems, given that its members will be viewed in much the same way as the British Army is in Helmand-as foreigners?

Mr. Lewis: There must be a combination of building up the army and reconciliation and reintegration. As the hon. Gentleman himself said, we must increasingly know about the influences and the elders at the local level, and we must be able to work at that level if we are to be clear about the most effective way to secure security and stability. The Afghan army and police are crucial, but they are not the only interventions that will enhance security.

I need to make rapid progress now. I referred to the expectation that other countries will share the burden of providing security forces.

On governance, we have made it clear that President Karzai has to take action in forming his new Government to demonstrate that he is serious about rooting out corruption, which must be dealt with on an institutional basis. As the Prime Minister has outlined, one key element of that is a fully independent and empowered anti-corruption commission.

As the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East persuasively said in his speech, there is also the crucial question of sub-national governance. Clean and competent governors need clear roles, appropriate training and resources to function effectively. We welcome the Afghan Government's announcement of a sub-national governance reform programme and we will support them in implementing it. We also need better governance structures at village level. Across Afghanistan, the number of community development councils elected at village level will increase within two years, from 22,000 to 31,000. That is an important part of the strategy.

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The same is true of the focus on reintegration of those whom we can peel off from the Taliban. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West implied, the majority of Taliban fighters and supporters are not hardcore terrorists, but are motivated by tribal allegiances or simply money-sometimes as little as $10 a day. If we can demonstrate that they cannot win and we can provide those who are prepared to live peacefully with a way back to their communities, we should do so. That has worked with former Talibs, who have now assumed legitimate positions in the Afghan Government, and old enemies now work together in Parliament.

As the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton said, the reintegration process must be led by Afghans, but the international community can and should provide the funding. We are working with our international partners to determine how best to achieve that.

Alongside the military and security strategy, we of course need to ensure that there is economic development so that the people of Afghanistan see a direct benefit in their everyday lives as the situation moves forward. Economic growth this year is due to be 15 per cent., albeit from a low base, and that is an important step forward.

More Afghans are rejecting opium cultivation. This year, poppy cultivation decreased nationally by 22 per cent., and 20 provinces are now entirely poppy free. More Afghans are finding legal livelihoods, and the average income in Afghanistan has almost doubled since 2002.

The Prime Minister and President Karzai have signed a 10-year development partnership to support Afghan leadership of development. Some £510 million of DFID money will be invested over the next four years to support that development.

Hon. Members have rightly referred to the importance of regional development and the role that countries neighbouring Afghanistan will have to play in security. Some progress has been made, with Afghanistan and Pakistan negotiating a trade and transit agreement to facilitate trade. Afghan agricultural produce is regionally renowned. All that could help to undermine the appeal of poppy production to Afghan farmers. We welcome Turkey's offer to host a regional economic co-operation conference in 2010 and we hope that all attendees will contribute positively.

Finally, I come to the London conference. It is crucial that the conference, which will be followed by a Kabul conference in spring 2010, brings together the Afghan Government's commitments and the international community's support so that we have a cohesive and clear strategy focused on the five pillars identified in Karzai's inauguration statement. As the hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk said, that will give a clear sense of how we measure progress and how the Government and President of Afghanistan will be held to account. The London conference will be seen as a crucial moment in moving the mission forward so that we can truly create long-term stability in Afghanistan and, having done that, start to bring our troops home.

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High-speed Rail

11 am

Greg Mulholland (Leeds, North-West) (LD): It is the first time that I have served under your chairmanship, Mr. Fraser, and it is a pleasure to do so. I am delighted to have secured the debate, which is important to many right hon. and hon. Members of the House, as well as hugely important to the country, not just for transport reasons but for our entire economic future.

I am pleased to say that I was delivered here safely on time, having got a very early train from Leeds this morning by standard mainline rail on, of course, the now publicly owned east coast franchise-may it stay in public ownership for the foreseeable future. I want early in my remarks to express my disappointment that it is not Lord Adonis who will answer today on this important matter. That is meant as no disrespect to the Minister, with whom I regularly correspond: it is simply a matter of the role of Lord Adonis, and the way in which he has personally taken the initiative on high-speed rail and shown an interest in it. We would all agree that it is positive that high-speed rail is very much on the agenda. I hope that today's debate will contribute to that.

We must start by facing the country's abysmal record on high-speed rail. In a meeting with Lord Adonis in his office I looked at the high-speed rail map of Europe, and it shows about 3,500 miles of high-speed rail line on the continent. Yet at the moment in the UK a rather pitiful 68 miles, currently known as High Speed 1, links St. Pancras to the channel tunnel. We need only look across the channel to see how the French have taken the matter forward. The regional economies of places such as Lille and Lyon grow because of the bonus for business and tourism, as well as the development of whole industries that are based around the siting of high- speed lines.

Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): On the crucial point of the siting of lines and the impact for business, does my hon. Friend recognise that if it were announced that high speed would go only as far as Leeds, as the Conservatives have said, the immediate effect could be to encourage business to relocate away from the north-east and east of Scotland? It is very important to get the siting right.

Greg Mulholland: Of course my right hon. Friend is right, and I am sure that other hon. Members feel similarly about their cities and areas.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on obtaining the debate. Obviously, France has a population similar to that of the United Kingdom, and an area three times the size of England, so there are separate issues. However, does the hon. Gentleman agree that high-speed rail, highly desirable though it is, is not necessarily an unalloyed benefit, in that we need to act in parallel with any major investment to improve local transport and protect the environment, and to ensure that the projects integrate with regeneration? In particular we need to make sure that the trips that are generated are not new ones, but transferred ones: modal switch is the name of the game, is it not?

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