Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

The Earl of Mar and Kellie: My Lords, can the Minister assure the House that the company limited by guarantee will have enough money to run the railway system safely and develop it?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, it is for the administrator and then the Secretary of State to make a judgment about the new arrangements. Of course, in forming their views, they will focus on safety, efficiency and a good service to the travelling public.

Lord Northbrook: My Lords, I declare an interest as a fund manager—not a holder—of Railtrack shares. Does the Minister agree that the Government, in baling out the shareholders—having realised that they could not have won the case brought against them by City fund managers—have, in effect, admitted that Railtrack was put into administration wrongly? If he does not, why not?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I do not accept that. The £300 million has been made available in order to bring an early end to the administration.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, the Statement refers to raising capital for investment more cheaply. Further on, there is reference to lower financing costs. Can the Minister explain how that will come about, without substantial government guarantees or letters of comfort, as appears to be happening already in the case of the London Tube consortia? If that is what we are to be faced with in public private partnerships, they will not have succeeded in transferring any significant burden of risk from public to private shoulders.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, a company limited by guarantee will not pay out dividends; it will be for the market to judge whether it is prepared to advance funds to it. That, in turn, will depend upon the reliability of repayment, and the market will make its judgment on that. Depending on the arrangement, it will see that it is a perfectly safe investment.

Lord Shutt of Greetland: My Lords, I have a couple of questions for the Minister. It always struck me that the value of Railtrack was what it was worth in the markets on rug-pulling day. The offer that has now been put up is worth about 90 per cent of that price. However, there is also the rump Railtrack. I would be interested to know what the Minister thinks the value of that 90 per cent plus the rump Railtrack might be. It may well be that it is higher than the value on rug-pulling day.

In the Statement, the Minister said that there would be less fragmentation. It seems to me that there will now be one more player. There will be Network Rail,

25 Mar 2002 : Column 75

but there will also still be rump Railtrack. Will not that mean that, even after all this, there will be more fragmentation in the railway industry?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, the first question was about the value of rump Railtrack on rug-pulling day, as the noble Lord put it. I would not achieve much by speculating about that. The £300 million that we have spoken about today is the value of an early exit from administration.

The second question was about how it prevents fragmentation to have both Network Rail and rump Railtrack. The answer is that Network Rail seeks to deal with fragmentation by bringing all the players together through the company limited by guarantee so that there is substantial partnership in the running of the railways. That principle is not undermined by the existence of rump Railtrack, whatever that means in precise legal terms.


7.17 p.m.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean rose to move, That this House takes note of developments in Afghanistan and the fight against global terrorism.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, over the past few months, the House has heard a great deal about the deployment of British troops to Afghanistan. The events of the past week, however, justify our careful attention to the subject. Following the Statement made by the Secretary of State for Defence in another place last Monday and the subsequent Adjournment debate on Wednesday, I am delighted to take the opportunity to open the debate this evening.

I thank noble Lords on both Front Benches opposite and the Convenor of the Cross Benches for their kind understanding that I must leave during the debate, before my noble friend Lord Bach winds up. I must catch a plane to fulfil an official engagement overseas tomorrow. I thank everybody warmly for their understanding on that point.

It has been recognised, ever since the terrible events of 11th September, that the struggle against international terrorism will be long and multi-faceted, embracing diplomatic, financial, economic and humanitarian aspects, as well as military. In the case of Afghanistan, we are working to secure peace and stability for a country that has, for far too long, been ravaged by war.

I shall remind your Lordships of the United Kingdom's objectives in the war against terrorism. They remain as declared on 16th October last year: to do everything possible to eliminate the threat posed by international terrorism; to deter states from supporting, harbouring or acting complicitly with international terrorist groups; to contribute to the reintegration of Afghanistan as a responsible member of the international community; and to maintain a positive political agenda of engagement with Arab countries and the Muslim world.

25 Mar 2002 : Column 76

The United Kingdom's commitment to the campaign against international terrorism is as strong today as it was when those objectives were declared. We continue to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the United States—our friend and ally—and all other members of the coalition against terrorism. We must remember the other countries that took part in the operation earlier this month against the Taliban and Al'Qaeda—Australia, Canada, Denmark, Germany, France and Norway. There are also 18 nations contributing to the International Assistance Force in Kabul.

It is important to bear in mind that the struggle to defeat international terrorism is not over. Osama bin Laden and many other leaders of the Al'Qaeda terrorist network have still to be brought to justice. They and their supporters are still a threat.

In opening the debate in another place last Wednesday, the Secretary of State for Defence made three points to set the context before discussing the detail of deployments of British troops in Afghanistan. First, we are right to act in Afghanistan. The terrorist attacks in the United States last September were only possible because Osama bin Laden and Al'Qaeda had been able to draw on the support and the shelter offered by the Taliban regime. Had we done nothing, there was no doubt that bin Laden and his accomplices would have carried out further attacks: attacks perhaps by now even on the United Kingdom. We were right to act in self-defence under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. We were right to act to prevent Osama bin Laden and Al'Qaeda from posing a continuing terrorist threat. We were right to act to break the links between Afghanistan and international terrorism and to reintegrate Afghanistan as a responsible member of the international community to ensure that those links are not established again.

Secondly, the action that the international community has taken has been remarkably successful. Afghanistan is now a very different country. The decision to deploy considerable military force against the terrorists and their supporters has been vindicated. Osama bin Laden and his Al'Qaeda network have been dealt a heavy blow; only remnants remain of the Taliban, whose support was so important for Al'Qaeda. The decision to deploy the International Security Assistance Force, ISAF, to Kabul to help the interim authority to maintain security in the capital has also been vindicated.

Afghanistan is beginning to return to normality. Commercial life is returning to market stalls, which are full of food; people are out on the street; life is gradually getting back to normal. The Afghan New Year celebrations of this weekend were marked by the sight of kites flying over the capital, with dancing, displays of agricultural machinery and farm produce competitions—more akin to a British village fete than a country recovering from the ravages of war. Let us not forget as well the effect that this has had on the women of Afghanistan: schoolgirls returning to school last Saturday; women students once again attending

25 Mar 2002 : Column 77

Kabul University; the wearing of the burqa by choice, not obligation; and women joining in the voice of government.

Thirdly, British forces have played a vital role in this success. British forces have a reputation around the world for their skill and professionalism. Time and again, they have made a massive contribution to bringing stability to the world's trouble spots. Afghanistan is the latest example. We take immense pride in all that they do and in the credit that they bring to the United Kingdom. I wish to take this opportunity to note our appreciation of the widespread support within this House for the work that the British forces have done in Afghanistan and for the work that they will continue to do.

Almost an entire generation of Afghans has known nothing but war, poverty, insecurity, terrorism, drugs and refugee movements. Millions of Afghans have suffered appalling privations, but their resilience is extraordinary. Her Majesty's Government are determined to help make the future better than the past. We have a responsibility to help and we also have a direct national interest to do so.

In the first place, we want the Bonn agreement to succeed. The early signs are encouraging. In particular, we welcome the way in which Chairman Karzai and his fellow interim ministers are working energetically to provide effective administration. Over time, the interim administration should become increasingly broad-based and representative. That is why, for example, we are helping to fund the work of the new Loya Jirga commission, which will decide the rules and arrangements for the meeting of the Grand Assembly in June.

Secondly, we are trying to combat poverty. At Tokyo, we announced an additional pledge of £200 million over five years. In addition, we have already provided £60 million since September last year to UN agencies, the Red Cross and NGOs for immediate humanitarian and emergency aid.

Thirdly, insecurity: as is well known, the United Kingdom is leading the International Security Assistance Force. What is less well known, however, is that we have also begun training the new national army of Afghanistan and provided communications equipment for use by the Kabul police.

On drugs, we have begun work with the new government in Kabul to counter the cultivation, trafficking and consumption of heroin. The problem is urgent, as a substantial poppy crop is forecast for harvest next month. However, I wish to stress that it is wrong to make the connection, as some have done, between this harvest and the fall of the Taliban. The seeds for this year's harvest were sown many months ago, well before the interim administration took over. We have told the Afghans that we are willing to help with crop substitution—seeds, fertilisers, tools—and support for alternative livelihoods. We are also recommending to the interim administration that they should consider punitive action against farmers who fail to comply with the ban.

25 Mar 2002 : Column 78

We are also looking at ways to enable Afghan refugees now living in Iran, Pakistan and elsewhere, as well as internally displaced persons, to return to their homes.

Let me turn now to the International Security Assistance Force. British armed forces have played a significant role leading the ISAF in Kabul. This force is helping the Afghan interim authority to provide a secure and stable environment in Kabul and is contributing in a major way to creating an atmosphere of law and order. This is particularly important as the Afghan people take the next step along the path agreed in Bonn in December towards the emergency Loya Jirgah on 6 June.

As this House is aware, the United Kingdom agreed to take on the leadership of this force from its inception for a limited period of time. It was a job that had to be done, and it had to be done well, if the Bonn agreement was to have the best possible chance of success. The United Kingdom was particularly well placed to do this. Our Armed Forces had the right capabilities and experience in expeditionary operations and rapid deployments. We knew that we could provide effective command structures and key equipment to get a force in and up and running in the timescale required, and we were right to take on this responsibility.

Turkey has indicated an interest in taking over as lead nation of the ISAF, and we are in detailed discussions on this with Turkey. Good progress has been made during a series of both diplomatic and military technical discussions with the Turks over the last few weeks, and we are hopeful of an announcement on hand-over of the leadership in the very near future.

Turkey will need continuing contributions of troops from other nations. Certainly the United Kingdom will continue to have troops in ISAF after we have handed over the lead. We have promised Turkey that this will be the case, and other nations have done so as well.

That does not, however, change our determination to draw down the number of British troops deployed as part of ISAF. Progress in securing wider international participation in the force is going well. We had, for example, the welcome arrival last week of the German brigadier to take over command of the Kabul Multinational Brigade, the ISAF subordinate headquarters, which until now has been provided by the headquarters of 16 Air Assault Brigade. This will enable us to withdraw a number of British troops and is a real demonstration of international co-operation. Similarly, confirmation from the Czechs last week of their offer of a field hospital for ISAF is very welcome.

As for the wider future of ISAF, the House will know that United Nations Security Council Resolution 1386 permits the force to remain in Kabul for six months, that is, until 20 June. The resolution may well be renewed, extending the duration of ISAF's deployment. Certainly it is clear that such a force will have a continuing role to play in bringing security to

25 Mar 2002 : Column 79

Kabul and its immediate surroundings, particularly over the period during and immediately following the Loya Jirgah.

Before I move on to talk about the deployment of 45 Commando Group announced last Monday, I wish to underline our commitment to the continuing success of ISAF. Our deployment of additional troops to Afghanistan is entirely separate from ISAF, and neither this nor the transfer of our role as lead nation will change the strength of our commitment. The force has done great work, not only in patrolling the streets of Kabul, important though that is, but also by helping to train the first battalion of the new Afghan National Guard, as well as helping with such basic needs as the organisation of rubbish collection and an ambulance service. Those are all vital services which help to ensure the future stability of Afghanistan.

The deployment of 45 Commando Group to Afghanistan—

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page