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“We shall also enhance our capability to counter Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). These devices are a major threat to our troops, those of our allies and to the ordinary Afghan people. We are deploying personnel with a range of skills to detect, dispose and exploit IEDs and to prevent them being laid. Other personnel will improve our ability to defend our bases while we shall also reinforce our already significant reconnaissance capabilities. We shall increase the number of tactical unmanned aerial vehicles. We shall also deploy Sea King air surveillance and control helicopters and the new airborne stand-off radar. These complementary systems track use radar to track movements on the ground.

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They can help our forces to detect, follow and intercept insurgents before they can lay IEDs”.—[Official Report, Commons, 29/4/09; col. 46WS.]

The noble Lord also referred to the extra 20,000 troops and sought positive feedback. We hope to see security gradually improving with the additional 20,000 NATO troops, and increasing numbers and efficiency in the Afghan National Army. Security is an important aspect of our long-term development efforts. It will allow for better access to markets and, in turn, offer farmers an alternative to poppy growing. Poppies are collected at the farm gate, while farmers take other crops to market—a point ably made by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. NATO rules allow ISAF partners specifically to target individuals with narcotics interests.

The noble Lord also raised development to replace the HARDP programme, how it has progressed and whether we can achieve a permanent and sustained transfer from poppy to wheat cultivation in Helmand. DfID has agreed in principle to fund the Helmand alternative livelihoods programme, the first stage of which will be operational by September. The aim of the programme is to reduce poppy cultivation, but its success will depend on the overall security situation and the development of market prices for poppy and agricultural produce.

The noble Lord also raised the comparative lack of success of the GLE in other provinces compared with Helmand. He rightly made comments about the energy and efficiency of a particular governor and whether other governors were being encouraged or, indeed, removed if they do not achieve the same endeavours. At the moment, I prefer to take some comfort from the successes, but we need to seek to sustain and to improve the capabilities of the Government of Afghanistan in all the areas where we can clearly see weaknesses that need to be reduced.

On illicit livelihoods, we have previously had a debate about whether poppy cultivation could be changed from illicit to licit, which, on that occasion, was not seen as an answer to the problem. Equally, eradication on its own will not solve the problem. It is an important deterrent and can play a catalytic role in influencing farmers to give up poppy cultivation. It needs to be balanced with measures to interdict drugs, bring criminals to justice, build institutions and encourage development of rural communities to provide alternatives for poppy farmers. It is essential to insert a credible risk to poppy growing and to target the big traders who will benefit most from the narcotics trade. We also need to ensure that we do not measure success merely based on the area where the poppy has been eradicated. The important factor is that the contribution of the poppy trade to the economy is falling, which is something from which we should take some comfort.

We also have an answer to Mr Holbrooke’s call for a very significantly expanded agricultural sector job-creation set of programmes, which is a very firm yes. That is why DFID’s programmes focus on economic development and the agricultural sector, two key development priorities of the Afghan Government, as outlined in the Afghanistan National Development Strategy. We are also supporting several major infrastructure programmes in Helmand province to

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improve access to markets. That includes rebuilding the Lashkar Gah to Gereshk road, the refurbishment of the power plant and the recent resurfacing of Bost airfield.

On the Government’s view of the transparency and accountability of the £32 million spent on aid, we are working hard to ensure that international aid to Afghanistan is more transparent and that the donor community holds the Afghan Government to account. We want to see other donors increase the proportion of aid which they spend directly through the Afghan Government’s systems and we are committed to spend at least 50 per cent of our aid through the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund, which is managed by the World Bank and independently monitored. The ARTF reimburses the Afghan Government on proof of legitimate expenditure. A significant proportion of international aid is spent through NGOs which promote alternative crops, but we are unable to provide a precise figure for that. The promotion of alternative crops is a key priority under the Afghan national drug control strategy, which informs the UNODC’s programmes.

On central government, under the new country plan, DfID has placed renewed emphasis on supporting the Afghan Government in building credible state institutions. We are supporting the High Office of Oversight which is the Afghan body tasked with the implementation of the Government’s anti-corruption strategy. We are also helping the Afghan Government to strengthen the rule of law and we are supporting a number of NGO-led programmes to improve transparency and accountability. However, it is for the Afghans to elect their Government and to hold their Government to account.

On the management response to DfID’s evaluation, which was raised by the noble Lord, DfID has committed £30 million over four years to the comprehensive agriculture and rural development facility—CARDF—to boost the agricultural sector and job creation in Afghanistan. We have focused on three pilot areas, including Nangahar, and we are working closely with the UNAMA agricultural task force and with the Afghan Ministry of Agriculture—MAIL—and Minister Rahimi to support MAIL’s reform programme. We are also in contact with the deputy special representative for UNAMA, Mark Ward, who is responsible for donor co-ordination.

The question was also raised about the knowledge and experience of counternarcotics that we have acquired. I was asked whether we could transfer it to other donors, particularly our partners in the EU. The answer, again, is yes. Several EU partners are now interested in joining and supporting the CARDF programme, which is to be welcomed.

The last point was on the PRTs and the roles that they have to play in CN strategy, bearing in mind their lack of an explicit mandate. The UK-led PRT in Helmand is an integral part of the development effort in Afghanistan; DfID works through and with the PRT to plan stabilisation and long-term development in Helmand province. The PRT works with the Afghan Government, line ministries and bilateral donors, and we understand that other PRTs do the same.

There is no silver bullet to address the scourge of narcotics in Afghanistan, and I suspect that there is no

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particular silver bullet to provide one alternative solution, be it pomegranates, wheat or whatever. We have had success in the distribution of wheat; unfortunately, the production of wheat is dependent on price in the market and on having a successful harvest, which is something that farmers have had to be concerned about for centuries. That has proved in the past year or two to be very favourable in respect of Afghanistan; we cannot guarantee that we will have such success in climatic conditions in future.

Our approach is to deliver real success. The Afghan Government’s existing programmes have contributed to the completion of some 28,000 community-led development projects, from agriculture, irrigation, and power and water supply, with another 50,000 on the way. The Government have distributed with our support some £500 million in small loans to 440,000 farmers, families and shopkeepers to help to invest in new ways to feed their families. In Helmand, where the US funded the governor’s food zone programme, to which I referred when talking about wheat production, wheat seed was distributed to 32,000 farmers as an alternative to growing poppy. While it is too early to make a long-term judgment, it has proved to be a success in the early stages. As a result, we have seen the decrease of poppy production by some 19 per cent across the country. Only two years ago, six provinces could claim to be free of poppy; today it is 18—just over half of the 34 provinces of Afghanistan. However, we recognise that progress is fragile. The risk of reversal is a high one; although higher wheat prices, lower poppy prices and the climate have worked in our favour, we cannot guarantee such factors.

We can guarantee that our commitment to Afghanistan is long term, as is our commitment to democracy and the freedom of its people. Our commitment to assisting the democratically elected Government and their agencies to bring a better life for Afghanistan’s people is also long term, and I hope that this debate will stimulate thought and encourage others to continue to support the efforts that we make. I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for bringing this debate to our Table and to noble Lords who have contributed. I hope that I have answered their questions in my responses as well as joining in with the chorus of support for what we are doing and encouragement to do more.

4.13 pm

Sitting suspended.

Guantanamo Bay

Question for Short Debate

4.30 pm

Tabled By Lord Bridges

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Lord Bridges: On hearing President Obama’s decision to close the interrogation centre at Guantanamo, I was pleased that that courageous and difficult step had been taken. It is of course against the principles of our own legal system for a citizen to be indefinitely imprisoned without charge. It is specifically contrary to the provisions of our own Magna Carta. The President's action was thus in accordance with our own precedents and tradition and his courage in making a clean break with the previous American practice was to be welcomed. I sense that that was also the reaction of many of our fellow citizens.

At the same time, I can see that the consequences might lead to some awkward decisions for our own authorities. It would only be just for a British citizen released from Guantanamo who wished to return here to be entitled to do so, accompanied, if he wished, by his wife and children. But other cases might be less straightforward. What if a released prisoner not of British nationality, who has previously had the right to reside here, which right had expired meanwhile, wished to return as a resident? I believe that there has been a case of that kind. We could no doubt ask the US authorities what they knew about this person’s political activities in the United States and why he had been imprisoned. I have little doubt that they would try to help, but while we should not be unsympathetic to his request, we could not be said to be under a particular obligation to him.

Then there are other applicants who may have had no previous close connection with our country, but who may have concluded that this would be a desirable place for them to live for an indefinite period. Here, too, we should feel under no obligation to admit such persons but we could ask the American authorities for an account of the reasons leading to their imprisonment.

My interest has been that an early debate would enable us to be enlightened about the attitude of Her Majesty's Government to such requests, which could be of considerable interest to public opinion in this country generally. To my knowledge, no such statement has yet been made. Some several weeks have elapsed since I gave notice of this Question for Short Debate, since it seemed rather a large topic for an ordinary parliamentary Question, which means that it has lost a certain amount of its topicality.

Meanwhile, there has been a fresh development. According to an article in the Guardian on 16 June, an important meeting was held by European Union Governments in Brussels the previous day to discuss these issues. The newspaper stated that the meeting cleared the hurdles for up to 50 Guantanamo returnees to be accommodated in EU countries. It also stated that the United States had agreed to pay the European countries that accommodated them. Each country would decide whether to take in the former detainees, with a deadline in January next. According to the newspaper, officials were said to remark that they were,

Meanwhile, I read some breaking news in another newspaper article recently that the United States Government had reached an agreement with Bermuda for four prisoners from Guantanamo to be transferred to Bermuda financed by a payment from the United

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States Government. Were our own Government asked about that? Did the US Government consult us before making an agreement with a British territory, and if not, why not?

It would be appropriate for the Government to make a formal statement about their attitude to these developments, which are of considerable interest and some concern to our citizens. Could they also cover the awkward fact that, whatever we decide ourselves, other European Union states may be inclined to accept these people who, having established themselves within the EU, would then be free to travel to this country as EU residents? That might have awkward and unforeseen consequences.

My task today was not to criticise the Government but suggest to them that this is a subject of some considerable importance to the nation as a whole, and it would be helpful if, at an early date, a full authoritative statement could be made, possibly in Parliament, for the information of the country at large.

4.35 pm

Lord Ramsbotham: I take the opportunity of the gap to make a practical point on the Question raised so clearly and succinctly by the noble Lord, Lord Bridges. When I was the Chief Inspector of Prisons, I went to the special centre in Belmarsh where IRA terrorists were held. I was extremely concerned about the conditions in which they were held, but also about the staff who had to look after them.

Noble Lords will remember that a number of Iraqis were put in Belmarsh without trial for a considerable time. Again, their conditions and treatment had not been pre-planned. Fortunately, there was an extremely able governor in Belmarsh who realised that this was not a normal imprisonment, of either a sentenced or unsentenced prisoner, but for an indefinite period. Again, there is the question of the staff who have to look after them.

Obviously, this is a hypothetical question. We do not know if, or how many, people from Guantanamo may be returned to the United Kingdom. We do not know for how long they may have to be detained. My question to the Minister is simple, although I acknowledge that it is possibly more for the Ministry of Justice than the Home Office. Have the Government taken steps to identify the sort of conditions in which people like this ought to be held? To pitch them into a normal or high-security prison would be wholly inappropriate, bearing in mind where they have come from.

Secondly, have the Government identified the special staffing measures required for psychiatric and other treatments from the time that they have been in that place? Have they taken steps to identify the sort of staff who might be suitable? Not all of them are. Have they taken steps to make certain that there is briefing and training for them before they go to where the prisoners are sent with the resources needed to look after them while they are there?

4.38 pm

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: We on this side of the Committee have always been particularly opposed to the Guantanamo experiment and the extent to which

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extra-legal imprisonment outside the Geneva conventions has been part of the US anti-terrorist operation. We are not here today to discuss the whole of extraordinary rendition, but I simply mark the fact that there are wider issues that will continue to exercise us.

I have recently read yet further information coming out of the United States that suggests that Diego Garcia has been used as part of the extraordinary rendition programme. I gather that a large number of prisoners is still being held in Bagram, not all from Afghanistan. The question of what happens to them remains active. How far members of the British Government or intelligence agencies were aware of what was going on, or may indeed have colluded in questioning some of these prisoners, are questions that we must leave at the moment to lie on the table but which we have to come back to.

Today, we are concerned with what happens to British citizens and residents as they are released from Guantanamo and whether Her Majesty’s Government will be playing an active role in taking non-British citizens in order to help the Obama Administration in closing Guantanamo—something which, in principle, we strongly support. However, we recognise that the practicalities are complex. We hope that the Minister can tell us the position on British citizens and residents who remain in Guantanamo. Progress has, we know, been made. What arrangements will be made for them as they return to Britain?

I should like, however, to ask in more detail about the situation with Bermuda and, potentially, other British Overseas Territories, and how far we will share in taking non-British citizens. In a BBC report some days ago, a senior US official was quoted as having told the BBC that,

It is unclear from reports that I have read whether Her Majesty's Government preferred not to know what was happening, or were kept entirely out of the loop and were not informed about what was happening. I hope that the Minister may be able to throw at least a shadowy light on the distinction. Is he aware of any other consultation between the United States and other British Overseas Territories which might be willing to take such ex-detainees? Might there have been some agreement between Bermuda and the United States dating from the Cold War period which covered particular arrangements between them, as people have suggested to me, or was it simply a one-off?

On non-British citizens, the European Union has, as the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, remarked, agreed in principle to help the Obama Administration close Guantanamo. Italy, I understand, has already agreed to take three of them; I do not know whether the Minister yet has information on whether other Governments have decided that they will share in this process and, if so, how many they will take. Do Her Majesty's Government consider that it should be part of our responsibility to help close Guantanamo and this deeply unfortunate episode in American foreign policy? If so, will we be willing to take people who would have to be kept in detention after they arrive in

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the United Kingdom? Whether we allow them to be released when they arrive here or recognise that they may also have to be detained—and, if so, under what authority—are more complicated issues. I hope that that does not raise too many questions for the Minister.

4.42 pm

Baroness Neville-Jones: I thank my noble friend Lord Bridges for introducing this timely debate. It is rather a pity that more Members of our House were not here to join in.

As my noble friend said, we on these Benches have long called for the closure of the facility at Guantanamo Bay on grounds that I think we all share: that if we, the coalition countries, seek to respond to terrorism in ways that undermine shared values, the outcome will be to achieve precisely the objectives that the terrorists seek. It is therefore extremely good news that the facility is going to be closed, although I think that we all recognise that it poses some real challenges, including the requirement not to return detainees who are assessed as posing no security threat to countries where they might as a result of their return be tortured or face other degrading treatment, and, in countries where they may be received, that they do not pose a security threat, which is one of the main concerns of those of us in this Room today. The net result of that, as we are beginning to see, is that the closure process is going take perhaps a little longer than the US Administration might have wished.

Does the Minister know how many detainees the US Government have now assessed as being capable of release? Reports have consistently indicated that something in the order of 220 detainees are still being held at the facility, which is still quite a large number, of whom 50 have been cleared for release without trial. Has he any further update on how many are going to face some kind of process and how many are to be released? Is the UK going to take any of them? I understand there are 50 of them, but there may be more. Have we had further requests from the US Administration?

I turn to those who are coming back to this country. The noble Lord, Lord Bridges, referred to the US/EU statement of 15 June on the closure of Guantanamo Bay. It contains two slightly contradictory sentences. It states:

It goes on to state,

It goes on:

“Decisions on the reception of former detainees and the determination of their legal status falls within the sole responsibility and competence of a receiving EU Member State”.

That slightly suggests that in general we are prepared to take people, but in particular and in practice, that may be very difficult. Does the Minister have information about how many of our partners in the EU are likely to be taking them and how does the UK compare with them?

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The UK has already accepted 14 detainees over the years, the most recent being Mr Binyam Mohamed, whom I shall return to in a minute. The Foreign Office has said that it regards that as “already a significant contribution”, implying that we are not willing to take many, if any, more. I would be grateful if the Minister could clarify that situation.

The safety of the British public is of paramount concern. If detainees are coming back to this country, and particularly if there are to be more of them, can the Government explain the criteria they are adopting for admission and how they will ensure that these individuals do not represent a security threat? In the case of Mr Binyam Mohamed, can the Minister update us on his status? Will he remain resident in the UK? If so, on what basis? Is he judged to be a security threat? If so, what would be the circumstances of his residence here and how, if necessary, will the general public be protected? The issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, are relevant in this particular case and more generally. We need to know. It places a burden on our security services if these people have to be detained and if they are not, but are a threat, they are a danger to the public. I do not underestimate the difficulties, but it would be good to have some clarity.

The noble Lord, Lord Bridges, and other speakers referred to the detainees who went to Bermuda. I am as curious as they are about the circumstances under which this transaction took place. It is a great oddity that when two sovereign states are close allies, the sovereign power in Bermuda appears to have been uninformed and kept out of the picture. I do not regard that as a friendly act. It seems improper conduct on the part of the United States. I hope a protest has been delivered.

As a practical matter, what is the status of these Chinese Uighurs? Are they considered to be a security risk? Will they have freedom of movement? Are they expected to integrate into Bermudan society in the long term? Are they at liberty to leave? There are some interesting questions, and if this experiment goes wrong, we, as the sovereign power, will be landed with the problem.

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