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House of Lords

Thursday, 10 June 2004.

The House met at eleven of the clock: The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Newcastle.

Afghanistan: Provincial Reconstruction Teams

Lord Astor of Hever asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, the Secretary-General has expressed a wish to see five provincial reconstruction teams under ISAF command by the time of the Istanbul summit. That is not a deadline, but part of a NATO plan to extend its stabilisation mission in Afghanistan, which also includes providing support for elections in due course. We and NATO colleagues are working hard on the objectives. We are confident that further contributions from allies will be forthcoming before the Istanbul summit.

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. ISAF has now been waiting for months for promised extra troops and equipment from alliance members, and NATO's credibility is very much threatened. What can the Government do to ensure that pledges from NATO allies to supply those vital resources are quickly fulfilled to deploy the necessary security for the September elections?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, we are talking to our NATO colleagues about the pledges that may be forthcoming at the Istanbul summit. A number of countries have indicated a willingness to contribute more by way of personnel or hardware towards the extension of the PRTs in Afghanistan. I am not in a position to make announcements on that at the moment; I hope that they will be forthcoming by the time of the summit. As the countries concerned have not made the announcements themselves yet, it would not be proper for me to make such an announcement now.

The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, will the noble Baroness accept that the aid agencies are still in considerable confusion about the role of the provincial reconstruction teams, and particularly about whether they are to do humanitarian work? There is concern that they should protect aid workers. Will she confirm that that is one of the objectives?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, we have tried to be clear on the role of the provincial
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reconstruction teams. Representatives from the Foreign Office, the MoD and DfID have presented what I understand that they called a PRT roadshow in Oslo, Stockholm, Helsinki, Berlin, Rome, NATO headquarters in Brussels, and Ottawa to try to explain how the teams will work. They have also briefed officials from Hungary, Poland, Turkey, New Zealand and Bulgaria in London.

There are very difficult problems around security. The noble Earl asks his question on a day when we have heard of the very tragic deaths of 13 Chinese reconstruction workers in Afghanistan. The recent killings of Médecins sans Frontières aid workers have also been a cause of great concern. When in place, the PRTs are meant to provide stability for the country. That must include providing protection for those engaged in reconstruction that will be vital for the future. I hope that the way in which British officials have tried to give briefing, in both London and elsewhere, indicates to noble Lords the seriousness with which we take our role on the reconstruction teams.

Lord Hurd of Westwell: My Lords, there is obviously a link between the rather serious security situation that the noble Baroness has illustrated and the prospect for elections, which are crucial politically. I noticed that, in her Answer, she talked about elections in due course, whereas my noble friend recalled—I think correctly—that the policy decision was to have elections in September. Can she explain that? Is the decision for September still a clear one?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, as I understand it, there has been no change. On 28 March, President Karzai announced that the joint presidential and parliamentary elections would indeed be held in September 2004. Electoral registration began in eight regional centres in December and moved into rural areas in February. By 25 May, there were 720 operational registration sites in 31 provinces, and more than 2.5 million voters have been registered. The process has been delayed, but the delay has been because of lack of funds rather than due to concerns about security. I acknowledge that security of course remains an obstacle and, if the situation worsens, will become more of one. I have been able to give noble Lords the best possible indication of what has happened so far, and of the fact that the elections are still due to take place in September.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, on the question of funding, does the noble Baroness agree that the donors are unlikely to cough up the 87 million dollars said to be needed by 1 July when they see humanitarian workers and those involved in the elections threatened and murdered, almost on a daily basis? How many times has President Karzai said that there can be no reconstruction without security? Does not the noble Baroness agree that the success of the Berlin declaration is conditional on the provision of additional NATO troops? When will they be deployed in troubled areas such as Gardez and Khost?
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Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the extension of the PRTs outside Kabul is absolutely vital to ensuring proper security in Afghanistan. I have not given an absolute pledge to your Lordships about the date of the Istanbul summit, which will be the date for the first PRTs, but it is crystal clear that the NATO effort in establishing these PRTs is the best means of stabilising Afghanistan.

Regarding the noble Lord's point about reconstruction, it is always the case—and we have seen other examples—that security is a vital prerequisite of reconstruction. That much must be common sense wherever we have seen countries struggling with their security arrangements. If security cannot be guaranteed, then reconstruction becomes that much more difficult and the private sector has more concerns about putting people on the ground. That is why NATO is putting such forceful emphasis on that in relation to the discussions at the Istanbul summit and I hope that we will be able to discuss this in clearer terms after we have seen what the Istanbul summit is able to bring forward in terms of security help.

Lord Blaker: My Lords, one of the main problems in the reconstruction of Afghanistan is that some of the of the warlords are playing an unhelpful role in connection with opium poppy production. Will the reconstruction teams have any role to play in helping to reduce opium poppy production, bearing in mind that Her Majesty's Government have assumed the task of helping the Afghan Government to do so? Can the noble Baroness give the latest figures on opium poppy production?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the noble Lord has understandably conflated the important point about pledges for reconstruction with issues about opium poppies and other drugs. Donor countries have pledged some 8.2 billion dollars over the next three years, including 4.4 billion dollars for the financial year 2004–05, which is more than the Afghans requested for that period. So I do not think there is evidence that the international community is not coming forward with the money needed to help Afghanistan and the United Kingdom has more than doubled its pledge from £200 million to £500 million over the next five years.

The effort over drugs is continuing. A team of Afghan counter-narcotics police have been trained and they are being mentored by our own Customs officials with the support of the United Kingdom. I understand that, to date, this special force has seized over 32 tonnes of opiates and has destroyed 32 laboratories and opiate storage sites as well as significant quantities of the precursor chemicals. I do not have up-to-date figures about drug production other than those that I have given fairly recently, but what I have been able to tell your Lordships indicates that the scourge of drug production in Afghanistan is being tackled seriously on the ground.
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St Helena

Lord Beaumont of Whitley asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, depopulation featured prominently in recent talks between the St Helena Government and a Department for International Development/Foreign and Commonwealth Office team visiting the island. Her Majesty's Government are working with St Helena on ways to address this important issue. They include a fiscal review to identify ways of stimulating growth and inward investment and further work to provide private sector development; an analysis of the terms on which some key public sector service appointments are offered; a review of the system of ministerial government; an assessment of access arrangements for the island; and a review of immigration and land purchase laws.

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