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NATO Summit

Volume 453: debated on Thursday 30 November 2006

With permission, I should like to make a statement on the NATO summit in Riga, which I attended in support of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.

Before going further, I should stress that there was overwhelming consensus among the leaders of the 26 NATO countries on the crucial importance of strong collective defence to meet the security challenges of the 21st century. They reaffirmed NATO’s central role in defending our countries and our common values.

The UK had three priorities for the Riga summit: ensuring success in NATO’s military operations, notably in Afghanistan; improving NATO’s expeditionary capability; and improving NATO’s ability to work more closely with civilian partner organisations and the rest of the international community. I am pleased to report that, despite the complexity of some of those issues, and some genuine and legitimate differences of approach between member countries, real progress was achieved in all three areas.

The primary focus of the summit was NATO’s current operations. Today, more than 50,000 NATO personnel are deployed in six missions on three continents. More than half of them—32,000—are in Afghanistan, which remains NATO’s top priority. All 26 NATO member states reconfirmed their commitment to the mission. There was a shared recognition that success in Afghanistan is crucial not just for the Afghan people and for regional and global security, but for NATO itself. As the Prime Minister has said, now that NATO has taken on this vital but challenging mission, its credibility is at stake.

The summit offered an opportunity to take stock of progress in Afghanistan, particularly since 2003 when NATO took on the mission, in the form of the international security assistance force—ISAF. In place of the despotic rule of the Taliban, the country now has a democratic Government. The economy is growing, and infrastructure and basic services are being rebuilt. At last, after 30 years of conflict, the everyday lives of millions of Afghans are visibly improving. According to UN figures, 4.5 million refugees have returned to rebuild their lives.

Of course, at the same time, the mission faces serious challenges. The Taliban and the drug lords are determined to fight to resist progress and they continue to exploit the impunity they have enjoyed in the south. ISAF forces have seen hard fighting over the summer and have taken significant casualties, but they faced down the Taliban and reinforced the Afghan Government in extending legitimate governance and the rule of law throughout the country.

We know that some member countries have had reservations about the mission. Their domestic audiences have been concerned about the intensity of the fighting and have raised questions about the prospects for success, but even after this difficult summer everyone at Riga agreed that the mission in Afghanistan has to succeed. We should not underestimate the significance, at this moment, of all member countries explicitly reaffirming their support for the mission and their common pledge to provide ISAF with the forces and flexibility to ensure the continued success of this vital mission.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister led calls for our allies to reconsider how they might do more to provide such forces and flexibility. There was a welcome signal from a number of nations that they would lift the national caveats on the use of their forces. There were also pledges of additional force contributions. I cannot give full details today; Members will have seen reports in the press, but we must wait for national Governments to confirm those commitments in due course.

The pledges made at Riga are a small step in the context of a 32,000-strong mission when the ideal, as I have been impressing on my NATO opposite numbers for months, is that there should be no national caveats at all—something that I am proud to say is true of our 6,000 personnel in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, we should acknowledge that even if those are small steps, they are steps in the right direction. Before Riga, the Secretary-General estimated that 85 per cent. of ISAF’s force requirements had been met; that has now risen to 90 per cent. and we must continue to work until we reach 100 per cent.

We must also continue to work on the wider challenge of transforming NATO. The threat facing NATO members has changed dramatically since the alliance was formed in 1949. There is agreement that NATO must transform its capabilities to meet the challenges of a changing world. We must become more agile and more efficient.

That is easy to say in theory, but harder to achieve in practice in the context of an alliance of 26 countries each with its own approach and its own sovereignty. There are signs of progress, however. Yesterday, the Supreme Allied Commander Europe declared the NATO response force fully operational. The NRF was established following the 2002 summit to provide a high-readiness force able to deploy quickly where required, to carry out the full range of alliance missions. That is a key development. Even before the force reached full operating capability it showed its worth, in the relief effort following the Pakistan earthquake last year. We also agreed new initiatives to increase the strategic airlift available to allies, to enhance co-operation between our special forces, to improve alliance logistics support and to streamline the NATO command structure.

Of course, as I have said countless times from this Dispatch Box, success in the type of operation NATO is now undertaking will not be achieved by military means alone. That is especially clear in Afghanistan. The international community needs to work in a co-ordinated way across all the different lines of operation—security, governance, law and order, reconstruction and development, and counter-narcotics—to deliver a truly comprehensive approach.

That comprehensive approach is not unique to Afghanistan. It is equally important in Kosovo where KFOR has been crucial not just in maintaining security but in supporting the political process. Such an approach will be needed in the majority of operations the international community undertakes in future.

NATO cannot do the work of supporting governance and development by itself; nor should it. We have to improve the way we work with organisations such as the United Nations, the European Union, non-governmental organisations and national Governments who provide civilian capability. Yesterday, we agreed to develop new proposals for improving civil-military partnerships throughout all stages of operations, from planning to execution on the ground. NATO does not and should not pretend to be the sole means of creating and maintaining security. The civilians and military working in places such Afghanistan or Kosovo are working for the same aims; it is not a zero-sum game, where support for the UN or the EU is a defeat for NATO or vice versa.

Many commentators feared that the summit in Riga would be a waste of time and at worst a failure. Those fears were unfounded. The summit reaffirmed the strength of purpose within the alliance and its commitment to remain a force for good in the 21st century.

NATO is not perfect. It needs to prepare for tomorrow’s challenges while continuing to adapt to today’s operational needs. It has started the process of transformation and it is the responsibility of all of us, individually and collectively, to support that process. In protecting our security and our vital interests, there is no alternative to working within international organisations, and over the past 50 years NATO has proved itself to be one of the best we have. It deserves our continuing loyalty and support.

The Secretary of State’s statement reflects the outcome of a very disappointing summit. Had it been otherwise the Prime Minister would undoubtedly have been at the Dispatch Box to claim the credit for himself.

We agree with the communiqué’s goal of avoiding “unnecessary duplication” between NATO and the EU. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is crucial that EU members of NATO take active steps to prevent such duplication? Indeed, what duplication would ever be necessary, and is not that at the heart of the present crisis in relations between NATO and the EU, which is of the Prime Minister’s making?

We welcome the call for member nations to halt the decline in defence spending, but it underlines the Government’s failure to reverse the decline over the past 10 years. Why has the summit abandoned the spending floor of 2 per cent. of gross domestic product? Have the Government allowed that commitment to be dropped?

The big question is, of course, Afghanistan—NATO’s first out-of-area operation, which is the most critical challenge facing NATO and the future credibility of the organisation. Is it not profoundly disappointing that France, Germany and Italy, which together have more than 5,500 troops in Afghanistan, have all flatly refused to commit them to Helmand, where they are most needed, save, as the communiqué states, in emergencies? Surely the continuing loss of British, American, Dutch and Canadian soldiers constitutes such an emergency. Does the Secretary of State agree with the Minister for the Middle East, who said:

“The view seems to say that it’s alright for British soldiers to die in defence of the West, but it’s not alright for others”?

Does the Secretary of State understand the magnitude of the challenge facing him when this nation’s European NATO partners fail to meet their obligations? We now have an Army of under 100,000. We are committed to two major concurrent operations. We are short of helicopters and close air support, and lack proper protective vehicles, and we are supplied with second-rate ammunition. How long does he think that he can sustain this tempo of operations without others shouldering their fair share of the burden? Now we are told that the Royal Marines have had the promised extra money denied them, as they are in theatre, with the consequent damage to their morale.

What discussions took place at Riga regarding the need for a greater commitment to reconstruction in Afghanistan and what decisions were reached in respect of poppy cultivation? Does the Secretary of State agree that to destroy the livelihood of poppy growers without offering them comparable incomes will put the lives of our armed forces at greater risk and increase support for the insurgents?

Russia was the ghost at the feast. We note that NATO is to assess the risk to our energy security, but why is there nothing of substance in the communiqué on that vital matter? It has been a firm Government policy that Serbia could join the partnership for peace only once it had delivered those accused of war crimes, and yet we were told that Serbia would join the PFP without delivering. Why the U-turn? What signal does that send to those who have shielded war criminals for years?

Finally, we note that NATO’s missile defence feasibility study has been completed. Why has the Secretary of State not reported to the House on those developments, which are vital to the security of NATO members? Why does he refuse to answer questions about that matter in this place? Did he discuss with his NATO counterparts the possibility of ground-based interceptors being located on British soil?

We believe that NATO remains the cornerstone of our security, but it faces a potentially serious crisis. The summit failed to meet the challenge. It is time for all its members to demonstrate their commitment now.

The hon. Gentleman knows that I share his ambition that we will work with our NATO allies to develop a capacity and capability that transforms NATO into an organisation that meets the evolving challenges of the 21st century. He will be pleased to know that all partners in NATO confirmed their ambition in relation to that objective in a co-operative fashion.

On budgets, we have not abandoned—nor have we asked NATO to abandon—the 2 per cent. commitment. As the declaration recognises, in the case of some partners, there has been a fall in investment in respect of a reduction in their budget. We have to halt and change that direction of movement. There is a commitment in the communication towards that.

With respect to the hon. Gentleman, we ought to celebrate the success of the transformation that has already taken place in NATO towards the expeditionary capability that we are seeing so successfully deployed in Afghanistan. However, that is not to say that there are not still challenges. Some of those challenges were discussed at length and relate to caveats and to a commitment of forces. Significant progress was made in that regard, but there is still much to do and I make no bones about that.

I do not think that it is appropriate that we recognise only the loss in Afghanistan of soldiers who come from certain nations. Many other nations, including some of those that have deployed soldiers to the north and west of the country, have also lost brave troops in engendering the progress in Afghanistan. It would be entirely inappropriate if, as NATO, we reduced our policy in Afghanistan to a balance of body counts. That is not the appropriate way to look at things. Sacrifices have been made by other countries.

Afghanistan, in parts other than the south, needs to be maintained in its state of progress and forces need to be deployed in that regard. However, the hon. Gentleman is right that the commanders on the ground need to have the flexibility to be able to move their troops, in relation to the operation plan, across the whole country. However, we should not become Helmand or southern-focused any more than those who are in the north or the west should become focused on only those parts.

On the comprehensive approach, there has been significant development. That is reflected in the declaration, which I am sure the hon. Gentleman has read, in terms of the commitment for NATO to work. The area is difficult, and I understand that. As I explained in my statement, it is not a zero-sum game between the European Union and NATO, and it should not be allowed to become one. He is perfectly correct to say that there is no need for duplication, but there is a need for co-operation and, in particular, strategic co-operation.

I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and for advance notice of it. I agree that it is good news that all the NATO member states have recommitted themselves to the action in Afghanistan. What assumptions were made at the summit about the length of the commitment in Afghanistan? In reconfirming their support, are all the member states up for a long haul, which it is generally agreed now is what they are in for?

On caveats, the Secretary of State has done his best to reinforce the smiles and the declarations at the end of the summit, but, rather like Budgets, these things often look better at the time than they do a day or two later. He has said that he cannot go into the detail of caveats today because other countries will have to confirm their arrangements. How long does he think that that confirmation process will take? Is it true that the larger countries, with the significant numbers, have agreed only that they will help in an emergency? Surely they would have helped in an emergency in any case, or else what sort of an alliance is it?

It is doubtless welcome that Slovenia and Luxembourg have agreed to lift their caveats, but with 50 and 10 troops respectively, that is not going to make a big difference to the shortages of troops in southern Afghanistan. Is the Secretary of State assuring us that serious progress has been made in dealing with the shortage of 2,500 or so troops in the south? He mentioned helicopters. Will he confirm whether he is confident that the helicopter shortage has also been addressed?

Will the Secretary of State tell us what discussion, if any, there was about NATO developing relationships with countries outside the north Atlantic area? Australia and Japan, for example, have been referred to in recent days. What was the French attitude to that? What future does he see for NATO entering into relationships with sympathetic countries in other parts of the world?

On the last point, the hon. Gentleman will be aware from the declaration that Riga has successfully delivered the first step towards deepening NATO partnership relations with existing partners, with troop contributors—of whom there are 18 over and above the 26 NATO nations, in operations across the globe—and potential contributors to NATO-led operations. The part of the declaration that deals with that covers a number of pages and he will have to take the time to read it himself. In response to his question, that means that non-NATO countries, such as Australia and Japan, will be able to discuss existing and future operations with NATO in a flexible, transparent and pragmatic way, and will have access to the partnership tools, which are important, currently available only to existing partners. Those are significant steps forward and they were unanimously agreed.

I understand the concentration on Afghanistan. That was the priority in terms of operations for the summit itself. There is an understanding by all those involved in Afghanistan that this is a long-term commitment. However, I hasten to add that that does not mean a long-term commitment in its current phase. As we have seen, there are parts of Afghanistan where our commitment to the country has moved it on significantly. Holding that improvement is, of course, important. Stabilising it, and building governance and economic development in those areas is important to continued security. I am careful to qualify the commitment to the long haul, because it is often erroneously interpreted as a suggestion that there will be a long haul of, for example, the sort of war fighting that we have seen in Afghanistan in the immediate past, but that is not what I mean. There is a commitment by the developed world, beyond NATO, to a long haul in Afghanistan, because there is no alternative.

I am not in a position to answer the hon. Gentleman’s specific questions about when things will happen. One of the delights of NATO is that the countries are all different, and they have different ways of making decisions. Some of them constitutionally require the involvement of their legislature in making decisions and announcements, so we must just wait and see what happens. However, there has been an important step forward in accepting the principle that the troops deployed to such a theatre ought, in principle, to accept the same risks. That issue has to work its way through, and I accept that there are still challenges.

We should not belittle the contributions of some of the smaller countries. Some of them make contributions that are significantly disproportionate to their size. Importantly—and I make this point advisedly—the effect that they have with comparatively small numbers of specialised troops is often disproportionate.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement, but does he agree that the future success of NATO, which is the best military alliance that we have ever had, is dependent on greater transatlantic defence industrial co-operation? To that end, does he agree that an early settlement of the issue of the sovereign capability to upgrade and maintain the joint strike fighter will help us?

I thank my hon. Friend for giving me the opportunity to reiterate the Government’s often-stated position on the subject. I do not think that anyone in the House has any doubt about how important the issue is to the joint strike fighter project; it is a condition precedent. Of course, it is assessed that the joint strike fighter may potentially make a significant contribution to our armed forces’ capabilities. The point that he makes is almost axiomatic.

The Secretary of State made an announcement that contains some good things. The NATO response force announcement was good, too, and good news was announced about the C17s. On a point that has just been raised, the ringing declaration that, in an emergency, NATO countries would support each other implies that if there was no such declaration, that might not have happened. Was it not deeply disappointing that there was not a much greater commitment from the larger European NATO countries to Afghanistan? If the Secretary of State is right to say that NATO’s credibility was at stake, does he not agree that one small step is not nearly enough, and that NATO’s credibility has been rather damaged by the disappointing summit?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his contribution and his recognition of at least two of a number of significant developments and areas of progress. He is right to point out how significant it is that the NRF has reached full operational capability—an advance for NATO. We ought not to consider any individual summit as a defining moment for NATO, either immediately after it or retrospectively. Our collective commitment to Afghanistan has set a number of challenges for NATO as an alliance, and the issue that he mentions is but one of them. As for the idea that the challenge occurred when we deployed into Afghanistan, and had not existed in the NATO alliance for some time, we have made progress on the issue, just as we have made significant progress on partnerships. I know that the right hon. Gentleman has a particular interest in the subject of partnerships, and I look forward to the Defence Committee, of which he is chair, addressing the relationship between NATO and the EU in the future. Of course, the Department will co-operate fully with that investigation and that report. When we make progress, we should not seek to present it as failure. Progress is progress, and there has been significant progress.

Order. A number of hon. Members are hoping to catch my eye. May I remind hon. Members of Mr. Speaker’s ruling that Back Benchers should ask one supplementary question?

May I ask the Secretary of State whether the summit considered Iran’s role in the region of Afghanistan, given Iran’s destructive role in respect of Iraq and Lebanon? Did the NATO summit deal with the issue of whether it would be possible to consider an initiative that would encourage Iran to play a more constructive role, and was it considered that Turkey could play a role in that regard?

NATO has long recognised, in its deployment in different regions of the world, that other countries in the region play a significant role in achieving objectives such as, in the case of Afghanistan, nation building. There was, of course, discussion of all its neighbours, including Iran, and discussion of the often-repeated evidence that forces from Iran—and, often, the deployment of weapons of Iranian origin in theatre—have a detrimental effect on our ability to achieve those objectives. The members of NATO call on countries in the region to make a positive contribution, and we consistently, in diplomatic and other ways, call on Iran to make a positive contribution.

If NATO will not match the commitment that the mission requires it to make in Afghanistan, is not the time approaching when the mission in Afghanistan will have to be limited to the resources that NATO is prepared to commit to that operation?

The hon. Gentleman will know that I am in constant touch with not only our commanders on the ground, but the commanders of the international security assistance force, and they reassure me that, at present, they have the resources to carry out the job. That is not to say, however, that I do not recognise, as he does, that war fighting tends to be seasonal in Afghanistan. We ought to recognise that we have time before the likely development of that seasonal effect to address the continued shortfall in relation to the combined joint statement of requirement, and we will continue to do that.

I am encouraged by my right hon. Friend’s comments about the elimination of national caveats by some nations. Does he not agree that all participants, regardless of the size of their contribution, should take equal risk? Is it not completely unacceptable that British soldiers should be in harm’s way to a greater extent than other participants, and other NATO allies, involved in the operation?

I agree with my hon. Friend, and I have consistently said, from this Dispatch Box and elsewhere, that the alliance should share the burden and the risk, and he is entirely correct in what he says. We have made some progress towards that objective, but there is still work to be done.

Is it not plain that Ministers deployed British troops to the southern provinces of Afghanistan without adequate equipment, and without making proper provision for reinforcements? Is that not negligence of a very high degree on the part of Ministers, and in different circumstances, would it not give rise to charges of corporate manslaughter?

The right hon. and learned Gentleman overstretches himself in his peroration. On the first part of his question, I do not accept that the force was not properly configured; it was configured according to advice, and it turned out to be more than capable of doing the job. Despite the fact that that force met significant resistance and violence from a formidable foe, it overcame and overmatched that foe repeatedly, to the extent that there has been significant progress. In the past few months there has been a significant reduction in the violence in Helmand. It does our troops and forces on the ground no service to represent what they have achieved in a comparatively short period, against a formidable foe, as a defeat.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that NATO forces are effectively in control of armed activity throughout Afghanistan, that they are heavily bogged down in Helmand province, and that other NATO member states do not want to contribute to the operation? How long does he think that that will continue, and is there an end in sight?

The basis of my hon. Friend’s question utterly misrepresents the facts. There was serious war fighting over the summer in Helmand province, but the suggestion that our troops are bogged down is far from the truth. In fact, in most of the province, our troops move around quite freely, and there has been significant improvement in some areas. Construction work, for example, is starting to result in marked improvements to security in areas where previously there was violence. There is, of course, continued violence, but not at the tempo or scale of a few months ago. I repeat what I said earlier at the Dispatch Box—war fighting in Afghanistan tends to be seasonal, but there is no reason to assume that that is the only explanation. To describe the current situation as my hon. Friend did is to misrepresent it. As for the length of time, it will take us as long as we need—no one is suggesting that there is any alternative but to do what we need to do in building the nation in Afghanistan.

Does the Secretary of State agree that if we fail in Afghanistan it will not be because of our military efforts but because we will have failed to help with reconstruction and development efforts? The Secretary-General and General Jones have called for an international co-ordinator to link the UN, USAID, EU, the Department for International Development and the myriad non-governmental organisations that are operating independently or even competing with one another? Afghanistan has some large copper mines and, indeed, huge underground rivers, which are untouched because the international development effort is not co-ordinated. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is now time that a co-ordinator is put in place, similar to the one who undertook such work in Bosnia?

The hon. Gentleman has the advantage of knowing the facts on Afghanistan, as his contributions to discussions in the House demonstrate. He identified an international aspect of our mission in Afghanistan, and it is entirely appropriate to do so at this stage. The international community, in the form of NATO, faced that challenge squarely, and he will be aware that, drawing on the example of Kosovo, NATO accepted the proposal that a contact group should be part of the structure that he described. At the end of the day, it is fundamentally a NATO mission on behalf of the United Nations, which represents the whole world. Co-ordination must apply to all the strands and all parts of command and control, both in civil and military operations. It has largely improved at the provincial level in many areas, but at the national level the development of governance and international co-operation will deliver the success that we need.

The peacekeeping role of NATO forces in recent years has been brilliantly successful in many areas of conflict, but should we not accept that while all 26 countries support the idea that we can consolidate and protect the gains made in Kabul, many of them have serious doubts about whether we can win in Helmand province, and believe that our mission there is impossible? Will the Secretary of State confirm that in recent years our troops have been instructed not to fire a shot, but also to fire lots of shots; not to storm the Taliban strongholds and compounds, but also to storm them; to reconstruct, and not to reconstruct? They have been given confusing orders, so it is no wonder that our NATO allies are reluctant to take part in an unachievable mission.

First, the mission is not unachievable. Our success in north and west Afghanistan will be sustained only if we can replicate it in the south and the east of the country. The cities of Lashkar Gah and Kandahar are in the same country as Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif. If we do not address the fundamental problem of the Taliban throughout Afghanistan, or if we allow the Taliban in the south or east to behave with impunity, as has been the case historically, we will put at risk the progress that we have made in the north and the west, and anyone who believes otherwise fails to understand the nature of the country. Secondly, I do not know where the comparisons that my hon. Friend made about the confusing instructions given to our troops originated. Of course, commanders give troops different instructions in different circumstances, but they must be able to make those decisions in the light of the overall plan and tactical necessities at the time.

The Secretary of State has once again said that NATO and the international community need to do more work in all operations, including reconstruction and development. Can he tell us a little more about what NATO is doing with other international institutions to assist development in Afghanistan?

NATO is working closely in provincial reconstruction teams in almost every province of Afghanistan. The millions of children, including girls, now in education—that was not the case under the Taliban—are evidence of their work with non-governmental organisations to provide security for reconstruction. Some of those NGOs are native to Afghanistan, and others are associated with the international community, the United Nations, the European Union and other organisations that have invested in rebuilding the country as part of the Afghanistan compact. Other evidence is the improvement in health, but the best evidence of improvements is, I repeat, the 4.5 million refugees who have voluntarily returned to Afghanistan.

My right hon. Friend is extremely patient with our NATO allies, but is he not frustrated by the complex pattern of national caveats, even in those parts of the world where our troops are most closely integrated with other nationalities, for example, under the EU force in Bosnia? We all accept that for historical reasons it is difficult for Germany to take on a full combatant role, but is it not time that it changed its constitution and the organisation of its armed forces so that it could play a much more significant role in Afghanistan?

My hon. Friend identifies some of the challenges that we face, but may I tell him that frustration when dealing with any international community, never mind one that has been as successful as NATO over the past century or more, is a luxury. He recognised that the sovereign states that comprise an international community approach co-operation differently, depending on their circumstances. We must work with countries to encourage and support them through necessary change. Germany is an outstanding example, as it would have been unthinkable less than a decade ago for German troops to be deployed effectively in the international sphere. There is still much for them to do, but he will know that the German Government have expressed a desire to move forward. I have enough problems dealing with the issues as a member of the British Government without telling the Germans how to solve their problems.

The Secretary of State will be aware that the largest offensive operation by NATO in recent years was Operation Medusa in Kandahar in early September, which was critical to Afghanistan’s future. It nearly failed on day four—as he knows, I was there—because the national caveats meant that the Canadians simply did not have the support that they needed from other countries. If that emergency did not merit support from other NATO troops, what operation in Afghanistan would?

The hon. Gentleman speaks from significant experience on the ground, as he did an important job in Afghanistan over the summer. He deserves congratulations on his contribution to the successful work that our troops are doing, as it was appreciated by everyone who was with him.

The hon. Gentleman describes a very specific part of Operation Medusa. I do not think that at the Dispatch Box I should debate with him whether his analysis is correct but, for the purposes of the question, I accept it. He identifies exactly the sort of problem that operational commanders can encounter if caveats act against the best interests of the campaign, and he identifies exactly the reason why we need to address these issues. We have made progress, but the work is not complete. Further progress needs to be made and we continue to debate and discuss these matters, to improve the capability and the capacity of our allies to respond appropriately.

May I follow the point made by the hon. Member for North-East Milton Keynes (Mr. Lancaster)? The Canadians in Kandahar are in the crucible. They have taken many casualties. In his discussion—perhaps outside the conference—with the Canadians, did the Defence Secretary get any sense that their continued participation was conditional in any way on other countries pulling their weight? In the Canadian press and media and in Canadian public opinion, the view is expressed that for a relatively small country, they are doing their fair share and they want others to pitch in.

There is no question but that the Canadians have made a significant contribution and they have suffered a disproportionately high attrition rate. It is interesting that my hon. Friend cites Kandahar, as opposed to Helmand. We in the Chamber sometimes become a little Helmand-centric about the southern part of Afghanistan and lose sight of the historic importance of Kandahar to the Taliban, how iconic it is and how it may well be their most important strategic objective. I cannot speak for the Canadian media, but I met the Canadian Defence Minister and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, and as a result of the conversations that I had with them, I have no doubt that the Canadians are committed to continuing to make a significant contribution to what they have taken on and committed to Kandahar. Part of what the Government did in Riga, together with others who were represented and who have troops on the ground in the south, was to work more closely together than we have been able to do in the past to develop a collective approach to the southern part of Afghanistan, because we are all there together and all dependent on each other. It is that level of alliance, commitment and support that will reinforce the success that the Canadians have already had in Kandahar, and ensure that the support that they have from public opinion for their deployment in Afghanistan is sustained.

Does the Secretary of State accept that if the success of NATO is to continue, national caveats must be ended and there should be equal burden-sharing and equal risk-sharing? Will he confirm to me that the commitment given publicly on television by the Prime Minister that our forces in Afghanistan will get all the equipment that they require will be honoured, as and when Brigadier Lorimer in particular has stated what he wants and that the equipment is required to guarantee NATO’s success?

To the first part of the hon. Gentleman’s question, I say yes. To the second part, I am tempted just to say yes, but I shall say that we have consistently provided the troops that we have deployed into theatre with the equipment that they need and we will continue to do so.

Why has the Secretary of State made the statement whereas, after each previous NATO summit, a statement has rightly been made by the Prime Minister?

The right hon. Gentleman, among others, raised that issue in business questions, and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House dealt with the proprieties of the matter. I am making the statement because I was present at the summit representing the Government and have the knowledge base to make it.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Without wishing to be churlish, and recognising that the communiqué following the Riga summit contained a great number of issues, I am slightly concerned that the Secretary of State did not have time to answer some crucial questions, not least on energy security and missile defence. May I put the right hon. Gentleman on notice that I shall write to him and invite him to answer those questions?

I am very conscious of the instruction that we all received from the Speaker in relation to statements, and was punctilious in ensuring that what could have been a much more detailed statement was restricted in size and time to the House’s guidance on such statements. I am conscious that I did not answer all the questions that the hon. Gentleman was able to pose in the five minutes allotted to him, but I will write to him in relation to outstanding matters and ensure that a copy of that letter is placed in the Library of the House.