Previous Section Index Home Page

We have taken the view, which I believe is held by the vast majority of the British people, that we cannot defend Britain against terrorism simply through the extra money that we are spending on security and police forces within our borders. We cannot operate a "fortress Britain" strategy when we have problems arising in Pakistan and Afghanistan that bring terrorist plots to London and our country from their bases there. It was right to take the action that we did, which has been and will continue to be properly funded. If the Opposition continue to perpetuate the myth that inadequate funding
14 Dec 2009 : Column 657
is being provided for our armed forces, the public will lose support for the effort that we are making, which would be a very unfortunate outcome.

Nigel Griffiths (Edinburgh, South) (Lab): Does the Prime Minister accept the wide welcome for the additional money going to climate change measures in developing countries, on top of the 0.7 per cent. commitment? Does he also accept that anyone who believed that there would be a full, legally binding agreement on climate change this week clearly comes very late to the subject and would be better off persuading his sister parties on the fringe in Europe to stop opposing climate change legislation?

The Prime Minister: I tend to think that the Conservatives are better at the photo opportunities than at policy on these issues. They have made no commitment at all to additionality when it comes to climate change, and they seem to treat the climate change debate as a joke. It is a serious matter, and we are going to bring it to a conclusion.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): Will the Prime Minister accept that the Afghan police have not made the same progress as the Afghan army? Given that five members of our Army have just paid with their lives because of a police incident, does he accept that it would be irresponsible to accelerate their recruiting, vetting and training?

The Prime Minister: The tragic incident in which five of our soldiers lost their lives must be properly investigated, and we must get all the answers. That is right for the families, but it is also right for the future of co-operation between the Afghan police and military and the British police and military. On the ground in Afghanistan, our troops are working day by day with Afghan forces. They are working in joint exercises with the Afghan police and military, and we would be making a grave mistake if we simply stayed with the status quo and did not move forward the partnering with them. The scaling up of that partnering, which has been agreed as a result of the recommendations of General McChrystal-we advocated it months before that, and President Obama is now putting resources into it-is the right way forward for Afghanistan. The other strategies, including the one that the hon. Gentleman proposes, would leave us at a standstill and not getting the progress that we need so that Afghan forces can take direct control of their own security over time.

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): The European Council discussed economic co-operation. Were there any specific discussions about what to do if the economies of Greece in particular, but also Ireland, Spain and Portugal, continue to deteriorate?

The Prime Minister: It is the intention of the European Union to maintain the fiscal stimulus and show that we have deficit reduction plans for the future, and it is the intention of each of the countries of the EU to show that they have deficit reduction plans as well as a commitment to protect themselves against the recession. That was the basis of discussion at the European Union.

14 Dec 2009 : Column 658

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): My nephew has just returned from a six-month tour in Helmand with the Royal Engineers. He tells me that it was particularly frustrating that they would spend all day detecting and disarming improvised explosive devices and return to base at night, only for the Taliban to come out during the hours of darkness to re-seed the fields with such devices. If there is not going to be a curfew at night, the Afghan army or police or someone has to secure the ground, because all that is happening at night is that the Taliban are taking back the ground that engineers and others have spent all day retaking, at risk to their own lives.

The Prime Minister: I appreciate that difficulty. If the hon. Gentleman has specific information that he wants people to look at, I will be happy to look at it myself and pass it on. However, the truth of the matter is that there is enhanced surveillance of what is happening on the ground. Where there is change in the land during the course of a week or a day, we are in many cases able to detect it. Important security work is therefore being done to make sure that where IEDs are planted, we have more information about them and the people planting them. I agree that that has been a problem, but I think that we have better security measures than we had before.

David Cairns (Inverclyde) (Lab): Did my right hon. Friend get the opportunity to witness first hand the tremendous contribution to the mission in Afghanistan being made by the Royal Navy, in what is often seen as an Army campaign? Does he agree that any suggestion that the budget of the Royal Navy could be cut without hindering either the mission in Afghanistan or our other vital global interests is just plain wrong?

The Prime Minister: I met members of the Royal Navy in Helmand and Afghanistan yesterday. Their work with Sea King helicopters is of course incredibly important in Afghanistan, but many people from the Royal Navy are working with our troops in Afghanistan and doing an incredible job. Our commitment to the Navy is shown by our decision on the aircraft carrier.

Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): I was in Camp Bastion in September last year, just after 2,000 British troops, including many from 16 Air Assault Brigade, delivered a turbine to the Kajaki dam, which was a daring and dangerous mission. Fifteen months later, that turbine has yet to be installed, because the other equipment needed cannot be taken there because of the dangers. Bearing in mind the Prime Minister's promise that he was going to get more European nations involved, and with the additional aerial surveillance, will he get them to secure that road so that the battle of hearts and minds can be won?

The Prime Minister: I would not like the hon. Gentleman to give the wrong impression. Two generators are there, but the third has not been brought into use. The decision has been made that diesel-powered, local generation is a better way forward to meet the gap in electricity power that exists in that area. As far as my meetings yesterday with people in Afghanistan are concerned, the extra work that we will do on economic development, which is giving people a stake in the future, will include not
14 Dec 2009 : Column 659
only building roads, as we have done, but giving farmers the opportunity to benefit from the wheat harvest and to grow wheat. I think that that will help around 40,000 farmers in the Helmand area over the next year.

Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): At the European Union Council meeting, did the Prime Minister meet many Heads of Government who thought that the recovery was now so secure that it was the right time to bring in swingeing and savage cuts?

The Prime Minister: Every member of the European Union present wanted to maintain the fiscal stimulus and said that it should be maintained until the recovery was assured. Only the Conservative party is so arrogant to believe that it knows better than almost every country in the world and every political leadership, whether of the right or left, around the world. The answer, of course, is that if they had the Conservative policy, there would be more unemployment, more small businesses going to the wall, more people losing their homes, and a higher deficit and higher debt.

Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon) (Con): While we should salute the work being done by the Pakistani army, not least its special forces, it remains the case that a large proportion of it is deployed along Pakistan's border with India. Those troops would be better employed going after the Afghan Taliban in Pakistan. What discussions has the Prime Minister had with either the Government of Pakistan or the Pakistani military to encourage them to redeploy more of their forces?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman will know that a very substantial number of the Pakistani armed forces have been operating in the Swat valley and that about 30,000 of the Pakistani forces have been, and are, in Waziristan, taking on the Pakistan Taliban there. There has therefore been a considerable change in the amount of effort that the Pakistan authorities are making in tackling the terrorist threat within their own country. However, I agree with him that, if the relationship between Pakistan and India were less tense, with less need for troops on both sides of the border, Pakistan could do more to tackle the terrorist threat within its own borders. That requires India and Pakistan to work more closely together. We are determined to see what we can do to make that possible. I have talked to both Prime Minister Singh and President Zardari about that. If we can get a closer working relationship between India and Pakistan, even after the horror of the Mumbai bombings, it would greatly help the campaign against the Taliban and against al-Qaeda in Pakistan.

Mrs. Betty Williams (Conwy) (Lab): I welcome my right hon. Friend's answer earlier about the plight of the south Pacific islands. We visited five of those islands-Fiji, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Tonga and Kiribati-during the summer recess as part of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. The Speaker of Tuvalu said to me, as I left for the plane, "Thank you so much for coming and for thinking about us. Please do not forget us." That is the message that I would like to give to my right hon. Friend as he goes to Copenhagen.

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend has taken a long-term interest in the problems faced by those island states, where we could be dealing with climate change
14 Dec 2009 : Column 660
refugees and evacuees in the not too distant future. Copenhagen is important, because it can allow us to make a commitment to help immediately those island states that are facing these immense difficulties, and help them to obtain support to deal with the adaptation necessary. We will not forget the challenges faced by these islands. Many of them are part of the Commonwealth and it is important that we come to their aid when they are in need.

Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con): Why was the Prime Minister's statement completely silent on the Council agreements on a tangible EU citizenship, a single EU judicial space, an internal security system and what it calls a common asylum system by 2012? As Labour Ministers argued against all those policies during the negotiations on the Lisbon treaty, as I saw for myself on the European Convention, does the Prime Minister regret having to support them now and pretend that he was always in favour of them?

The Prime Minister: I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman has moved on since he was at the European Convention. He does not realise that we secured all our red lines on these issues when we negotiated the treaty. He has forgotten that the constitutional concept-the original plan for the Convention-was abandoned and we have a treaty that now meets the interests of the British people, so much so that the Conservative party has abandoned its long-held policy and has decided that it does not want a referendum on the treaty any more. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman supports his party.

Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South) (Lab): In relation to Copenhagen and climatic change, can the Prime Minister say whether China and India will play a major part in any negotiations or agreement reached in Copenhagen? There seem to be some doubts about China's position.

The Prime Minister: China and India must be central to an agreement in Copenhagen. As we know, one of the great problems of the previous Kyoto agreement was the number of countries not involved in it. It is crucial that China plays its part in the negotiations. It is one of the biggest emitters, if not now the biggest. It is also crucial that India, which is also growing fast, plays its part in the negotiations. I will meet Premier Wen and, I hope, talk to Prime Minister Singh in the next few days. We will try to work together to secure the necessary agreement.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): The Prime Minister has explained that there will shortly be 30,000 allied troops in Helmand province. When the Helmand operation began, there were 3,000 British troops funded to 60 per cent. per head, compared to 10,000 British troops there today. Who was Chancellor of the Exchequer in 2006 and what lessons have been learnt?

The Prime Minister: The number of troops in Afghanistan has risen substantially, but the equipment available to those troops has also risen substantially as the needs of fighting a guerrilla war against the Taliban have had to be met. I say to the Conservative party that it is making a huge mistake if it believes that it can
14 Dec 2009 : Column 661
persuade the British people, and that it is in the interests of the British people that they be persuaded, that our troops are underfunded and not properly equipped. That campaign was run by certain Conservatives over the summer. It does huge damage to public support for the operation.

Everybody here knows that our troops have had substantial additional funding from the Treasury, that the vehicles available to them are far more sophisticated than before, that the helicopter support is available and that we are bringing in the best counter-IED support to deal with a new threat that has been posed by the Taliban. I hope that the Conservative party will rethink that position, which I believe will damage public support for this exercise.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): I welcome the Prime Minister's visit, and indeed that made last week by the Leader of the Opposition. I am sure that those visits gave a lot of comfort and support to our troops. May we also show some comfort and support for the Afghanis who seek to claim asylum in this country? Is it really right that we should remove people to a country that is so patently unsafe?

The Prime Minister: Every application for asylum is looked at on its merits and dealt with on its merits. My right hon. Friend knows that as Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee. That is the position of the Government and it will continue to be our position.

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): Thousands of service families, including those at RAF Lossiemouth and RAF Kinloss, are reading reports of planned base closures and defence cuts. Why is the Prime Minister not being up front about his preference for conventional defence cuts, rather than scrapping the Trident nuclear programme, which would save £100 billion?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman knows that scrapping the Trident programme would lose hundreds-indeed, a great many-of jobs in Scotland as well. If his issue is jobs he should know that we have funded the aircraft carriers, which are being built partly in Scotland. We have increased the defence budget every year. We have also, of course, increased the urgent operational requirements for our Air Force, as well as our Navy and Army. When he looks at the record of enhanced expenditure and investment in our armed forces, both in Scotland and in the rest of the UK, he will know that the Government are doing their job.

Mr. David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): I thank the Prime Minister for the tremendous support he has given to my early-day motion 1396, from last year, on the so-called Tobin tax-an example of how the few can be made to help the many. Will he also support a new early-day motion on the same lines, about an Ashcroft tax?

The Prime Minister: It is very strange that the Conservative party automatically-almost without thinking about it-came out against a global financial transaction tax. Such a tax is now being discussed in all countries in Europe and investigated by the International Monetary
14 Dec 2009 : Column 662
Fund, and the EU is to produce a report on it. Certain people around the world who are esteemed in the academic profession as economists are supporting this, but, as a reflex action, the Conservative party is against it. The Conservatives are interested in one form of tax-that is, tax avoidance. It is about time we heard whether the deputy chairman of the Conservative party, after 10 years, has honoured his promise to pay tax in the UK.

Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): Will the Prime Minister join me in paying tribute to our armed forces, not just those in combat roles, but those doing humanitarian work in areas where the international development agencies cannot operate-building bridges, building schools and so forth? Does that good work count towards the UN target of 0.7 per cent. of gross domestic product?

The Prime Minister: If it is international aid that is helping underdeveloped and low-income countries, it is possible that it will count. That is the right thing to happen. The purpose of overseas development aid is to help the poorest of the world and allow them-through better provision for health and education, and through economic development-to raise their living standards and to take themselves out of poverty. The achievement of international development aid and all work done with developing countries will be that many millions more people are taken out of poverty.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Next year, the UK will pay £4 billion more to the EU than it did last year. In the pre-Budget report, the Chancellor announced a tax on jobs. That will raise £3.1 billion. Is it surprising that people in this country are fed up with giving money to the EU, rather than protecting front-line services here?

The Prime Minister: We are part of a European Union of 27 members. I know that many people on the Opposition Benches do not like that fact, but one of the responsibilities of membership is that we provide resources for all members of the European Union, depending on our ability to pay. That is in the agreements that have been negotiated, and these agreements are in the interest of a country that trades 60 per cent. of its goods with the European Union, has 3 million jobs dependent on the European Union and has 750,000 companies that are involved with the European Union. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to indulge the anti-Europeanism of the Tory party, then let him do it, but I believe that the whole of the British nation sees the importance of our relationship with Europe.

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Ind): Can the Prime Minister say whether we are training Afghans in bomb disposal and the use of robotics and other equipment to deal with IEDs, and whether, as we start to draw down and withdraw, we will leave the Afghans with the necessary equipment to do that job?

The Prime Minister: Yesterday I saw our British forces training the Afghan forces in the hand-held equipment that is necessary to detect IEDs. Most of the work that we are doing on IEDs with robotic equipment is done by British forces, but over time it must be our aim to train the Afghan forces, so that they can take
14 Dec 2009 : Column 663
responsibility for the security of those districts and provinces. That, I believe, is the proper strategy for Afghanistan, andI hope that there will be all-party support for it.

Mr. David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): Given the disclosure today of documents confirming that Iran has taken great strides in developing its nuclear weapon capability, is it not the reality that while the international community, and in particular the European Union, dithers, Israel, sooner rather than later, will feel compelled to repel the direct threat to its existence?

The Prime Minister: I think that the hon. Gentleman should reflect on the fact that the international community is attempting to show unity in the face of Iran. We are attempting to work with China and Russia, as well as with the other powers, to deal with what is a clear threat. The message to Iran must be, "Join the international community and renounce nuclear weapons, or face isolation from the international community", with the potential for sanctions if the Iranians do not, and it is a stronger message when put by all countries together.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): With the United Kingdom sending more troops to Afghanistan than France and Germany combined, does the Prime Minister understand the concerns of my constituents that, while this country is fulfilling its responsibilities, others among our major European partners are not?

The Prime Minister: I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is right for us to do more in Afghanistan, and we are doing our best to contribute to the forces. I hope that the implication of his question is not that if France and Germany do not come up with the numbers, we should do less. I do not think that that is the case. What I believe should happen is that all countries in the alliance should look at what they can do and whether they can contribute more. Not just eight countries, which was the initial number of countries following us that I announced to the House a few weeks ago, but 38 countries are offering their help in Afghanistan as part of NATO and the coalition. We should welcome the fact that many countries are doing so. Announcements have yet to come from other countries, and I believe that they will come from some of them over the next weeks or months.

Let me repeat, so that everybody is clear about the money that we are spending on the equipment of our forces, that the Chief of the Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, said:

Next Section Index Home Page