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Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, my memory is quite short-term, but I do not think that one can find the phrase "the battle against European legislation" in any sentence of the Statement.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, at the end of the Statement, it says that all thanks are due to the Labour Government's wonderful new policy.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: It does not say that either.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, it says that Barcelona would not have been possible under the previous Conservative government, that then we were "without influence" and that we are no longer "in the isolation room". We jolly well are in the isolation room, unless we want to go along with the things I have just mentioned.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, sounds like a politician. He put forward his proposition, but, when I gently asked whether it was to be found anywhere in the text, he said, "No" and quickly side-stepped the question. In fact, he did not say, "No"; he just side-stepped it.

I shall repeat what was said towards the end of the Statement, because it is worth a guinea a word:

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As a proposition of descriptive fact, that is correct. That is a continuing reproach to how feeble we were. We now have the opportunity to go forward under a Prime Minister who wants to do the best for Britain, knows where our future lies, wants to do the best for Europe and knows where its future lies.

There is, sometimes, too much legislation, but many of the regulations about which the noble Lord complains periodically are nothing to do with Brussels. They are, in fact, domestic statutory instruments. If the noble Lord wants to talk about people standing at the bottom of ladders, I respectfully invite him to examine the regulations made pursuant—as they say in my old trade—to the Factories Act 1961. He will find lots of regulations about people having to foot ladders. Why will he find such regulations? Because, if someone goes up a ladder that is not footed, they are liable to fall off, injure themselves and sue their employer.

Not all regulations are wrong, and I shall give one illustration. The sheep are baa-ing all over the world, not least in the United States Congress, about how Enron could have been allowed to be brought to the point of collapse. What reason is given? It is that there was not enough regulation.

Lord Harrison: My Lords, can my noble friend the Minister advise us whether there was any support at Barcelona for the views expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, as published today in The Times?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, not only was there not much support for them in Barcelona, there is not much support for them in the sane tendency of the Conservative Party.

I am pleased to see the noble Lord, Lord Hurd of Westwell, in his place. In 2001, he usefully pointed out:

    "Until six weeks ago, Mr Duncan Smith was known to students of politics as a one-issue man. He had built a reputation by undermining the last Conservative Government's policy on Europe and resisting all appeals to loyalty".

It is a pity that the noble Lord, Lord Brittan of Spennithorne, is not in his place. He has encapsulated the views of the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, far better than I could ever attempt to do, saying that,

    "her suggestions are unrealistic, undesirable and dangerous—the present leadership of the Conservative Party is so closely associated with her that unless they unequivocally and immediately repudiate those ideas, they will be assumed to have them as a hidden agenda".

As the Prime Minister said in the House of Commons this afternoon, the present Conservative policy on Europe seems to be one of total silence.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I am glad to see that this is a much less partisan House than the other place.

I press the Minister to answer the question asked by my noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby about EU observers in the Arab-Israeli dispute. I did not hear him respond.

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I also want to know what plans the Government have to help the broader public—and, indeed, some of us in this House—to understand some of the deeply obscure and technical negotiations that go on under the name of the EU. There is the Lisbon process. I was not aware that the Gibraltar negotiations were called the Brussels process. I am familiar with the Tampere declaration, the Dublin convention and all the other things that one tries desperately to understand.

As we approach the next inter-governmental conference, we have a convention already under way on which the British Government have not attempted what, I gather, is now called in Whitehall domestic public diplomacy beyond the Schro der-Blair letter, which is itself written in fairly turgid, technical language. I must be one of the 155 people in Britain who have read it from start to finish. Do the Government intend to try to explain to a broader public—perhaps through a Green Paper—what the issues for the convention are, beyond the occasional multiple bilateral alliances to which the Statement refers? It is important to make sure that the British people have a deeper understanding of the issues.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the noble Lord has a valid point, but I cannot commit myself to a Green Paper. However, I can say, without an excess of self-congratulation, that it is something that we have discussed many times in your Lordships' House. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, has raised the matter many times. It may well be that we ought to be able to have more defined structures and mechanisms in this House not only for debate but for the elucidation in our debates and Select Committees to which the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, referred. It is an extremely important point.

I confess that, until it was necessary to point the finger of scorn in the context of Gibraltar, I was unaware of the Brussels process. The only reason that I stressed 1984 was that I seemed to recollect dimly that there might have been a Conservative government in power at that time.

The noble Lord is right. I did not mean to be discourteous to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby. She put a wide range of questions, and my note to myself did not pick up the answer to her question, for which I apologise. Our stance was that we urged both parties to consider the proposals for monitors and stressed that we were prepared ourselves to participate in such a mechanism.


5.29 p.m.

Lord Bach: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence. The Statement is as follows:

    "I would like to bring the House up to date by making a Statement about the continuing role of the British Armed Forces in Afghanistan. It is just over

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    five months since the global coalition, assembled in response to the terrorist attacks in the United States, began military action in Afghanistan. At that time we set out a number of specific short and longer-term campaign aims. These included preventing Osama bin Laden and Al'Qaeda from posing a continuing terrorist threat, breaking the links between Afghanistan and international terrorism and reintegrating Afghanistan as a responsible member of the international community.

    "Five months later, it is clear that this action has been remarkably successful. Afghanistan is now a very different country. The Taliban Government, who harboured the Al'Qaeda terrorists, are no more. Terrorist training camps have been put out of action. The first steps towards creating a functioning state have been taken. Aid agencies operate with increasing freedom. Refugees are beginning to return to their homes.

    "I am particularly proud of the vital part that British forces have played in this success. I have set out, on a number of occasions, the contribution that they have made to the international coalition—reconnaissance and air-to-air refuelling flights; troops on the ground engaged in operations against Al'Qaeda and Taliban elements; and Royal Navy participation in submarine and interdiction support operations in the Arabian Sea.

    "Britain's Armed Forces have also played a significant role leading the International Security Assistance Force in Kabul, with some 1,800 British troops currently deployed with the force. Full operating capability was achieved on time on 18th February, bringing together more than 4,600 troops from 18 different countries in a harsh and demanding environment at a considerable distance from home. I pay particular tribute to General John McColl for his role in this.

    "The ISAF is helping the Afghan Interim Authority to provide a secure and stable environment in Kabul. Life in the city is at last beginning to return to some kind of normality, as I was recently able to see for myself.

    "The ISAF is already training the first battalion of an Afghan National Guard—about 600 strong and with an ethnic make-up that reflects that of Afghanistan itself. It is also providing advice to the Afghan police. Where it can, the ISAF has helped with much-needed physical reconstruction work—projects that range from repairs to schools to getting the city's dust carts back on the road.

    "British forces deployed with the ISAF include troops from the Second Battalion of the Parachute Regiment. It was always planned that they would return to the United Kingdom at the end of March to prepare for their deployment to Northern Ireland later this year. They are now in the process of handing over their responsibilities to the First Battalion of the Royal Anglian Regiment.

    "Germany has agreed to provide a new headquarters for the Kabul Multinational Brigade, the ISAF's subordinate headquarters, which has,

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    until now, been provided by the Headquarters of 16 Air Assault Brigade. A Bundeswehr brigadier will formally assume command tomorrow. This will enable us to withdraw a number of British troops from theatre and is a real demonstration of genuine international co-operation. So too is the Czech Republic's offer of a field hospital for the ISAF. Following my discussions with my Czech counterpart earlier this month, the Czechs signed the ISAF Memorandum of Understanding last Thursday. Their contribution is very welcome indeed.

    "The House will also be interested in the hand-over of the United Kingdom's responsibilities as lead nation for the ISAF. Our talks with Turkey, which has expressed an interest in taking this on, continue. It would not be appropriate to say too much before those talks are concluded, but certainly the atmosphere in the high level discussions between the UK, the US and the Turks in Ankara last week was very positive.

    "We are still working, therefore, to transfer the leadership of the ISAF. We are working hard to tie down the details, with the reassurance that Prime Minister Ecevit of Turkey has told my right honourable friend the Prime Minister that he strongly supports his country taking on the role.

    "But for all the progress that we have made in Afghanistan, the threat of attack from Al'Qaeda and Taliban-related groupings and individuals across the country remains high.

    "The recent operation, Anaconda, in the Paktia province, lead by the United States, tackled one group of Al'Qaeda terrorists and Taliban fighters. They showed that these people are still in Afghanistan in large numbers and that they are heavily armed. Left alone, these groups would threaten all that the Afghan people and their supporters in the international community have achieved so far and would strive to retain Afghanistan as a base for training and organising terrorism. They do not recognise the Afghan Interim Authority and will work to destabilise the situation across Afghanistan. Al'Qaeda and its supporters continue to pose a direct threat to states outside Afghanistan, including to the United Kingdom.

    "I know that the House will join me in offering its sympathies to the families of the Afghan and American soldiers who died during Operation Anaconda and in paying tribute to all the coalition forces who were involved, including the crews of the RAF Tristar tankers and Sentry AWACS aircraft which supported coalition air strikes during the operation.

    "The United States has now formally requested that the UK provides forces to join in future military operations against other remnants of Al'Qaeda and the Taliban elsewhere in Afghanistan. I have therefore authorised the deployment to Afghanistan of a full UK infantry battlegroup, built around

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    45 Commando, Royal Marines. This group will join a US-led brigade—forming a potent force ready to undertake such operations.

    "We have held 45 Commando ready for offensive operations in Afghanistan for precisely this purpose. The lead elements of 45 Commando—its Headquarters Company and "Whisky" and "Zulu" Companies—are already in theatre, embarked aboard HMS "Ocean".

    "Arrangements are now in hand to deploy these elements to Afghanistan, where they will be joined by the remaining companies of 45 Commando—held at high readiness in Arbroath—and the Combat Support and Services Support elements integral to the Commando Group. These include: 7 Battery of 29 Commando Regiment, Royal Artillery, equipped with 105 millimetre light guns, from Plymouth; 59 Independent Commando Squadron, Royal Engineers; and elements of the Commando Logistics Regiment.

    "There is already a versatile range of helicopters aboard HMS "Ocean" to support 45 Commando Group. To increase the Commando Group's operational capabilities still further, we are also deploying a further three Chinook helicopters of 27 Squadron, RAF.

    "This is a powerful force, in total up to 1,700 strong. We will ensure that it is ready to take part in operations as quickly as possible. The force will go initially to Bagram, with the first members of 45 Commando Group on the ground within days, and ready to commence offensive operations by mid-April.

    "The deployment of 45 Commando Group is not a decision that has been taken lightly. It is our largest military deployment for combat operations since the Gulf conflict. It is important that the House is under no illusion about what this might mean. These troops are being deployed to Afghanistan to take part in warfighting operations. We will be asking them to risk their lives. Their missions will be conducted in unforgiving and hostile terrain against a dangerous enemy. They may suffer casualties.

    "No government ever take such decisions without reaching the absolute conviction that it is something that must be done. The appalling events of 11th September demonstrated very clearly that Al'Qaeda and Taliban elements have the ability and the desire to launch attacks right into the heart of nations like ours.

    "Both the deployment of the Commando Group and our deployment to Kabul as part of the ISAF contribute to our overall objectives of ending the threat posed by international terrorism and restoring Afghanistan. Both are entirely consistent with the campaign objectives that we set out last October. But the troops with the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan have their own difficult and demanding job to do; 45 Commando Group will have theirs.

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    "By deploying 45 Commando Group we shall make a new and important contribution to defeating the remnants of Al'Qaeda and the Taliban. And by our continued commitment to the ISAF we are helping Afghanistan regain her place as a stable and prosperous nation. I have no doubt that our Armed Forces will succeed in both tasks".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

5.38 p.m.

Lord Vivian: My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for repeating this detailed Statement. At the start may I congratulate all our Armed Forces in Afghanistan on the outstanding job they are doing and wish 45 Commando Group every success in their new deployment? They have all displayed their customary professionalism and their usual efficiency.

On these Benches, we have fully supported the decision of the United States of America and Her Majesty's Government to share the Afghanistan burden in destroying Al'Qaeda, but we have been concerned about our contribution to ISAF. The Chief of the Defence Staff, in his speech to the Royal United Services Institute for Defence Studies, RUSI, last November warned of getting our hands trapped in the mangle and that we would have to face the fact that our ability to run concurrent operations will be affected. Something will have to give, he said.

For ISAF, mission creep is exactly what is happening—the period for our deployment has been extended from three months to six months. Is the Minister able to say when we shall be able to withdraw from ISAF? I have noted that the Germans will provide a new headquarters for the Kabul Multinational Brigade, but does that mean that all of 16 Air Assault Brigade, which is currently doing the job, will be withdrawn? However, can the noble Lord also say whether a battalion has been warned to take over from the Royal Anglians when they are due to be withdrawn or replaced in Afghanistan?

With the additional deployment of some 1,700 personnel of 45 Commando and around 1,800 in ISAF, the British force now numbers somewhere in the region of 3,500. This is a large commitment to provide and sustain. It is not helped by the fact that we are still deployed in Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Kosovo and Sierra Leone. It is an added commitment for our logistical troops and to sustain this new force will be a heavy burden on our already over-committed logistical organisations.

The mission for the British troops in ISAF and 45 Commando must be carefully defined. Our goals and how we are to achieve them should be set out in a statement. For instance, will the United Kingdom troops in ISAF operate outside Kabul?

Let me ask the Minister some additional questions. How long will British troops be involved in ISAF? Can he clearly define the mission of 45 Commando and ISAF? Under whose command will 45 Commando be placed once it has deployed? What are our goals for ISAF and 45 Commando and how will they be achieved? For what guarantees are the Turks waiting

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before they will agree to take over command of ISAF? If they are guarantees of USA extraction, should this be necessary? Can we be assured that the other countries contributing to ISAF will remain? If financial support is required for Turkey, why are such funds not provided by the UN? Why have we been unable to give Turkey the assurances it seems to require? Finally, what pressure is being exercised to ensure that more Afghans join their new army? Six hundred is not very many and, presumably, it will be difficult for ISAF to withdraw until the new army has sufficient numbers and is properly trained.

5.42 p.m.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, we on these Benches value the work that ISAF is undertaking and we take pride in the fact that Britain has taken a lead role in commanding ISAF. Obviously the search to find a successor to take over that lead role is under negotiation and we welcome the talks that are taking place in Turkey, especially as Turkey is suffering from such a turbulent economy at the moment.

I have only one question in regard to ISAF. Is the UN mandate, which is due to expire in June, currently being renegotiated? If so, how far have those talks developed?

The Minister said that this will be our largest deployment since the Gulf conflict. Our thoughts are very much with the men of 45 Commando and their families because, for such a large deployment to take place, the strength of the current resistance must have been severely under-estimated in the reports in the press. Obviously the Minister will not be able to give the House detailed information about deployment and strengths, but perhaps he can tell us the strength of the remaining resistance in the mountains of Afghanistan.

As the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, pointed out, we are talking about 3,500 troops in Afghanistan. Will this lead to a degree of overstretch outside the commitments that we are already undertaking?

Britain has been asked to take part in this operation. Can the Minister give an indication of whether the Americans have requested the support of any other nation? He said that this was to be a US-led operation; can he say whether 45 Commando will come directly under the command structure of CENCOM? If so, to what extent will British command be subsumed by the American command structure?

This very large commitment raises the question of cost. Obviously the cost of ISAF has depleted reserves set aside for such issues—we will return to this subject at a later date—but can the Minister give an indication of the Treasury's position in regard to funding this extra commitment if it falls outside the contingency reserve?

We support the Government's commitment in Afghanistan and the roles being undertaken by the British Army—not only in the forthcoming combat situation but in the rebuilding of Afghanistan in areas such as the training of police forces and making Kabul safe for the civilian aid workers. However, with such a destabilising influence in Afghanistan showing further

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resistance, is it feasible at this point to consider any future action against Iraq in the short term? If the figure being bandied around in the press—which obviously has little foundation—of 25,000 men being necessary, where would these men come from?

5.46 p.m.

Lord Bach: My Lords, I am grateful for the contributions of the noble Lords, Lord Vivian and Lord Redesdale. I shall do my best to answer their questions. But, first, I thank them for their congratulations and good wishes for the British Armed Forces. They will be very well received. Secondly, I thank them for their support for the decision taken by the Government. The support of all parties in this House and the other place in regard to this conflict has been most impressive. I am grateful to noble Lords for repeating that support in such fulsome terms today.

A number of questions were raised by both noble Lords and I shall do my best to answer them. So far as concerns ISAF, at present 20th June is the end of its six-months' existence. It is true that there may be an extension of that time if the United Nations decides that that is what it wants to do—it would be foolish to pretend that that might not happen—but, as I speak today, no decision has been taken to extend ISAF's six months beyond 20th June.

The noble Lord, Lord Vivian, used the cliché "mission creep" unfairly. As matters stand today, we are to be the lead nation until 30th April. We hope very much that Turkey will succeed us on that date. If it does not, we shall not run away from our responsibilities, but it is our desire that Turkey should succeed us then.

As to what is holding up Turkey's agreement to being the next lead nation, I would rather not go into any details today. But negotiations are at an advanced stage and I repeat that we very much hope that Turkey will take on that important role.

As to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, about whether a successor battalion to the Royal Anglians has been named, the answer is no. The Royal Anglians themselves are not yet fully in Kabul.

Let me now deal with a number of questions which were common to both noble Lords. First, the issue of overstretch. As regards overstretch, we know that there are problems which have been admitted before in both Houses. But we are comfortable that this particular deployment can be managed alongside our existing commitments. Out of the 1,700 or so personnel involved, some 400 are already in theatre. It is important to remember that when numbers are being bandied about. The remainder have been held at high readiness in the United Kingdom against just such a contingency as this. We believe that this is a realistic and sustainable deployment.

As regards the question asked by both noble Lords as to who will be in command, obviously clear command and control arrangements are essential to the success of any force. As part of our deployment, Brigadier Lane, the commander of 3 Commando

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Brigade, and his headquarters will also deploy to Bagram. The brigadier and his staff will join the American headquarters from Central Command who are already there. The commando group itself will join with its American counterparts now in Afghanistan and it will benefit from the support of coalition forces now at Bagram.

On the question of costs, our initial estimate is that the additional cost of this deployment will be in the region of about £65 million. I know that noble Lords will not hold me to that figure in time to come, but that is the best estimate that we can give in trying to be as frank as we can with the House.

I was asked whether any other countries were part of the deployment. No doubt the Americans are negotiating with other countries as we speak. It would be wrong of me to take in advance any decisions which might be made on that matter. I thank both noble Lords for their support.

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