This has been a sad and difficult time for our armed forces and for our country, and I am sure the whole House will join me in sending our sincere condolences to the families and friends of the servicemen killed in Afghanistan in the past few days: Rifleman Daniel Hume, 4th Battalion the Rifles; Private John Brackpool, Prince of Wales’s Royal Regiment; Riflemen Daniel Simpson, Joseph Murphy, James Backhouse and William Aldridge and Corporal Jonathan Horne, all of the 2nd Battalion the Rifles; and Corporal Lee Scott, 2nd Royal Tank Regiment. Riflemen Murphy, Backhouse and Aldridge were just 18 years of age. It is at times of loss and sadness such as these that we become ever more aware of the service and the sacrifice our armed forces give for our country. We owe them, and all those who have been killed or wounded in conflict, a huge debt of gratitude.
I want to make a statement about the conclusions of the G8 meeting, the major economies forum on climate change, and our outreach meetings with African leaders, and to thank Prime Minister Berlusconi for his organisation of the G8 and related summits, but first I will focus on one of the most important and urgent matters considered in detail at our G8 meeting. This is a time of great challenge for our armed forces serving in Afghanistan. I have written to the Chair of the Liaison Committee and placed a copy of the letter in the Libraries of both Houses, and we are also making time available on Thursday for a debate on Afghanistan, but perhaps, Mr. Speaker, following the G8 discussions I could take this opportunity to update the House on our current strategy and operations in Afghanistan, alongside 40 other nations, and our work with Pakistan.
Eight years ago, after 11 September 2001, the case for intervention in Afghanistan was clear: it was to remove the Taliban regime and deprive al-Qaeda of a safe base for terrorist plots that were a threat to countries around the world. In 2009, the case for our continued involvement is the same: to prevent terrorist attacks here in Britain and across the world by dealing with the terrorist threat at its source—that crucible of terror on the border and mountain areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan. We must not forget that three quarters of terror plots against the United Kingdom have roots in these areas.
To succeed, we must succeed both in Afghanistan and Pakistan, so our strategy, which I set out to the House in April, reflects an integrated approach to both countries. If progress in one is to be sustainable, we must have progress in both, and progress requires three things: military action against terrorists and the insurgency; action to build the rule of law; and economic and social development to give local people a stake in their future.
In the last few months, the Pakistan Government have taken action, launching successful operations to drive out the Pakistan Taliban from the Swat and Buner regions. While the overwhelming majority of the Pakistani people fully support their Government’s actions, operational success has come at a high humanitarian cost, with about 2 million displaced people. As we must ensure that this does not become a pretext for radicalisation, we are helping to lead in providing humanitarian assistance to Pakistan—as are other G8 countries—for these internally displaced people, combining our support for Pakistan’s security and military forces with development assistance and help with reconstruction.
In Afghanistan, international forces must take the lead on the front line, because the Afghan army and police are not yet able to maintain control alone. Again, our strategy is to combine coalition military action with civilian support for development and training the Afghan forces to take more control.
As the House knows, British troops are today involved in a major military operation—Panther’s Claw—fighting to bring security to areas in central Helmand until now beyond the reach of the Afghan Government. American forces are engaged in a similar, co-ordinated operation in the south of the province. We are combining our military advance with civilian action. When we go into the towns and villages and districts in Helmand, our forces are supported by the Afghan army and police who, with our help, can hold the ground that we are clearing, and prevent the Taliban from returning. Our civilian and military stabilisation experts work with Governor Mangal and his district governors to follow up with plans for new roads, clean water and other basic services including, above all, justice—not the mediaeval brutality of the Taliban, but the rule of law.
Earlier this year we announced an increase in our numbers for the summer campaign and the Afghan election period to around 9,000. Today, the figure on the ground is just above 9,100, as commanders rotate troops that have been fighting at peak intensity—it is right that those operating in the most arduous conditions are given respite when they need it. We keep our force levels under constant review, depending on the operational requirement, and I have been reassured by commanders on the ground and at the top of our armed services that we have the manpower we need for the current operations.
I spoke with President Karzai yesterday. He expressed his condolences at the loss of precious lives in Helmand, and I urged him to make available this summer—in addition to the 500 already involved in Panther’s Claw—more Afghan army personnel for operations in Helmand, so that our hard-won gains can be fully consolidated.
Our troops will continue to face a tough and dangerous battle, and we will continue to give their safety the highest priority. Since 2006-07, we have increased funding for the Afghan operation year on year, from the Treasury reserve and in addition to the defence budget, from £700 million in 2006-07; to £1.5 billion in 2007-08; to £2.6 billion in 2008-09; and to more than £3 billion this year—over and above the defence budget of £30 billion. The Chancellor has made it clear that all operational requirements will be met.
In the last two years, we have increased helicopter numbers by 60 per cent. and because we have provided more crews and equipment we have increased capability by 84 per cent. Since 2006, we have spent more than £1 billion in urgent operational requirements for vehicles, including 280 Mastiffs, which offer world-leading protection against mines and roadside bombs. We will go further this year with the deployment of the new Ridgeback vehicles and Merlin helicopters. We have also just agreed a £100 million programme for the upgrading of Chinook helicopters.
The Chief of the Defence Staff has said that
“the British armed forces are better equipped today than they have been at any time in 40 years”.
But we are not complacent. Our troops operate in a dynamic, ever-changing environment. This Government, and our military commanders, recognise the need to adapt as conditions develop.
Despite the tragic losses of the last two weeks, our commanders assure me that we are having a major impact on the Taliban in central Helmand and that morale among our forces is high. Our brave servicemen and women know that taking the fight to the enemy as they are now doing, to prevent terrorism on the streets of Britain, will inevitably put them in harm’s way. The majority of recent casualties have been sustained not in direct confrontation with the insurgency, but from improvised explosive devices, and from April we have begun to deploy additional units to tackle this growing threat.
As I made clear in April when I announced for the period of the Afghan elections a temporary uplift to around 9,000 through the summer, we will review that commitment after the Afghan elections, with the advice of our commanders and in discussion with our allies. At the same time we will continue to strengthen our approach in the ways set out in our April strategy: by better continuity of our campaigns; by further improvements in civilian-military integration; by the closest possible co-ordination with American forces; and above all by a gradual shift towards training and mentoring of the Afghan army and police so that they can take more responsibility for what is happening in Afghanistan.
At the G8 meeting, all members agreed on the importance of the work now being done in Afghanistan, and I talked directly with President Obama about the challenges we will face together. It has been a very difficult summer, and it is not over yet, but if we are to deny Helmand to the Taliban in the long term and if we are to defeat this vicious insurgency—and by doing so make Britain and the world a safer place—we must persist with our operations in Afghanistan. I am confident that we are right to be in Afghanistan, that we have the strongest possible plan, and that we have the resources we need to do the job.
Let me turn to other matters raised at the G8 summit. The summit will be remembered as the climate change summit where we achieved real progress towards our goal of reaching a global climate change agreement at Copenhagen in December. First the G8 and then the major economies forum concluded that average global temperatures must rise by no more than 2°. That is an unprecedented and universal agreement, taking in developed and developing countries alike. It reflects a worldwide consensus unthinkable only a few years ago that the scientific evidence for climate change is irrefutable, and all of us now have a duty to act.
The summit agreed that developing countries will contribute to a global agreement by undertaking actions promptly
“whose projected effects on emissions represent a meaningful deviation from business as usual in the”
medium term; that
“Financial resources for mitigation and adaptation will need to be scaled up urgently and substantially and should involve mobilising resources to support developing countries”;
and that, to take this forward, G20 Finance Ministers should work on it further and should consider the proposals that the British Government have set out, including the Mexican green fund, and report back at the Pittsburgh summit of the G20 in September.
For the first time, the G8 countries agreed the goal of reducing their emissions by 80 per cent. or more by 2050 as part of a global goal of at least a 50 per cent. reduction in emissions, and we will also undertake
“robust aggregate and individual mid-term reductions.”
These are the most ambitious targets on climate change ever agreed by the G8.
The summit also sent out a second wake-up call on the world economy. We reaffirmed the commitments made at the G20 to take
“all necessary steps to support demand, restore growth and maintain financial stability”.
We pledged “to implement swiftly” these measures and called on
“all countries to act decisively to reinforce the international economic and financial system.”
In advance of the next G20 meeting, which will take place in Pittsburgh this September, the summit laid the foundations for a new strategy to
“lead the global economy to stable, balanced and sustainable growth”
by acting “individually and collectively”. We agreed to
“vigorously pursue the work necessary to ensure global financial stability”,
that there must be more bank lending, that reform and funding of the financial institutions should be secure and that there should be fast progress on regulation of financial services worldwide. We agreed to do what is necessary to make progress on growth, on commodity prices and on trade. We reaffirmed our commitment to a green recovery by
“investing in measures encouraging the creation of”
jobs in environmental technologies.
On development, we agreed that the global recession is no excuse for abandoning our commitments to the poorest, so we reaffirmed our ambitious pledges to increase aid to Africa by $25 billion and by $50 billion globally by 2010. The G8 also agreed a global consensus on what we have to do to accelerate progress on maternal and child health and on the millennium development goals on which, historically, we have made the least progress to date. In meeting with leading African nations, President Obama, I and other leaders agreed decisive action on food security to avert the hunger emergency. There is to be a $20 billion programme of assistance over three years to support the agricultural sector in poorer countries and I am pleased to say that the United Kingdom will contribute $1.8 billion to the initiative.
The G8 leaders also issued a strong statement on non-proliferation. We welcomed President Obama’s proposal to hold a non-proliferation conference in America next March, before the negotiations on the review of the non-proliferation treaty begin, and we will set out soon our proposals to prepare for that summit in 2010. We said that if Iran does not respond to the international community’s offer of a supervised civil nuclear programme, we would put together a tougher programme of sanctions in the autumn. I welcome the solidarity shown by our G8 partners, who agreed that
“embassies in Iran must be permitted to exercise their functions effectively...without arbitrary restrictions on, or intimidation of, their staff”
“unjustified detentions of journalists and recent arrests of foreign nationals are unacceptable.”
On Burma, we reiterated our support to do all that we can to secure the release of Aung San Suu Kyi.
We also discussed the measures that we must take to address the pandemic of swine flu.
In the coming months, there will be crucial summits: on the global economy in Pittsburgh; on climate change at Copenhagen; and on non-proliferation in New York. If those meetings are to secure lasting change, now is the time for global leadership, to build a new strategy to deliver global growth, to face up to our obligations on climate change and poverty and to face down those who would threaten our global security.
The G8 has laid foundations for such progress, and once again I believe that Britain has played a pivotal leadership role. I commend this statement to the House.
I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to the eight servicemen killed since last Wednesday: from the 2nd Battalion the Rifles, Corporal Jonathan Horne and Riflemen William Aldridge, James Backhouse, Joseph Murphy and Daniel Simpson; from the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment, Corporal Lee Scott; from the Prince of Wales’s Royal Regiment, Private John Brackpool; and from the 4th Battalion the Rifles, Rifleman Daniel Hume. They died serving our country. We must look after their families. We must thank them for what they have done, and we must never forget what they have done for our country.
Everyone serving in Afghanistan should know that they have the support and admiration of hon. Members on both sides of the House and the whole country. Does the Prime Minister agree that more needs to be done to set out and explain the right strategy in Afghanistan? It must be tightly defined, hard-headed and realistic. As he said, we need to be absolutely clear about what our mission should be: it is about security; it is to deny the ability of al-Qaeda to have bases in Afghanistan.
On equipment, the Prime Minister talks about the increase in helicopter capacity since 2006, but is not the real point that the number of troops has doubled since 2006, so, proportionately, there has not really been an increase in helicopter capacity at all? Does he regret the £1.4 billion cut in the helicopter programme that he, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, pushed through in 2004? Of course, helicopters alone are not enough and helicopters are not invulnerable, but the former Chief of the Defence Staff, Lord Guthrie, has said very clearly that more helicopters would save lives, so does not more need to be done right now?
On troop numbers, when the Prime Minister is asked whether military commanders requested 2,000 more troops, his response is always that 700 more troops are being provided for the election, but can he now answer the key question: was he asked for 2,000 more? If he turned down that request, can he explain the reason that he gave at the time? I listened very carefully to what he said in his statement: “I have been reassured by commanders on the ground and at the top of the armed services that we have the manpower that we need for the current operations.” Those are clearly very carefully chosen words, but they raise the question of whether commanders asked for more troops to do more things, so that it would be easier to achieve the objectives that we all want to be achieved. I hope that he will be able to answer that question when he stands to speak again.
On Pakistan, it is right that we have a combined strategy. Can he tell us how much aid is being delivered by British non-governmental organisations and the British Government in tribal areas, where it is extremely difficult to get through?
On the Afghan national army, which the Prime Minister talked about in his statement, can he tell us not just how many troops are now available, but what agreements he achieved following his discussions with President Karzai? Figures suggest that less than 10 per cent. of Afghan forces are actually in Helmand province, even though almost half the fighting in Afghanistan is taking place in Helmand. Can he confirm those figures?
On other issues discussed at the G8, I welcome what the Prime Minister said on non-proliferation. I very much agree with what he said about Iran. I welcome the fact that we will take a lead in drawing up EU sanctions if Iran does not take positive steps forward.
Clearly, the central issues at the G8 were development, trade, climate change and the economy; let me ask briefly about each. On development, this morning we reaffirmed our commitment to 0.7 per cent. of gross national income to be spent on aid by 2013. I know that the Prime Minister will welcome cross-party agreement on that issue. Does he agree that it strengthens our ability to ask other countries to do more? Is it not the case specifically that Italy is cutting its aid budget this year and is planning to spend little over 0.1 per cent. of its national income on aid? Does that not make a mockery of the G8’s Gleneagles commitments that were solemnly entered into four years ago? By next year, 2010, development aid was meant to have increased by $50 billion, with $25 billion of that going to Africa. Is it not the case that, four years on, countries are on track to meet around half of their commitments, and will that not sap people’s faith in these meetings and the promises that are made?
Yes, they are all Tories.
Just as promises on aid need to be kept, so do promises on trade, and so also should the hon. Gentleman’s promise to retire from this place after a certain time.
Sit down. I thought you said you were going to retire. I think that I hit a sensitive spot.
On trade, the communiqué says that there needs to be agreement on Doha by the end of 2010, but two years ago we were told that we were going to get agreement on Doha by the end of 2007. Last year the Prime Minister told the House that progress would be made by the end of 2008. Again, we are getting the same message: progress will be made. Yes, elections in America and India are now over, so those stumbling blocks are being overcome, but can the Prime Minister tell us whether he sees real evidence of political will to make progress happen?
On climate change, let it be said that getting agreements from all these countries on cuts in carbon emissions which are domestically painful is not easy, and the progress made at the G8 is very encouraging given the importance of the Copenhagen conference later this year. Is it not the case, though, that of the three things that were necessary, two have happened? First, every country committed to the 2° target, and secondly the G8 committed to the 80 per cent. goal for industrialised countries. However, is it not disappointing—and is it not better to acknowledge this—that the wider group of countries did not commit to the 50 per cent. goal for the whole world? Does the Prime Minister agree that that highlights the need for interim targets before 2050 if we are to have any chance of getting those other countries on track?
On the economy, the G8 discussed financial regulation, bank support for business and the need to get deficits under control. In each of those three areas is it not clear that Britain is failing badly? On financial regulation, will the Prime Minister finally take this opportunity to admit that the tripartite system that he established has failed? On bank lending, let us just take one scheme. Can the Prime Minister confirm that as of a week ago the automotive assistance programme, launched in a blaze of glory to help the car industry, had yet to guarantee a single loan? On deficits, will he confirm the IMF’s finding that we are heading for the largest budget deficit not only in the G8 but in the entire G20? Is it not the case that the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development forecast a deficit of 14 per cent.? That is twice as high as when Denis Healey went to the IMF in the 1970s, and by far the largest figure since the war. Does the Prime Minister not agree that the most important lesson this country needs to learn is that it should never allow the public finances and the budget deficit to get in such a mess again?
Let me start with Afghanistan. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for what he said about the debt that we owe to our troops. Over the past weekend, which has been very difficult for our forces, I talked to the Chief of the Defence Staff, and I talked this morning to our commander on the ground in Afghanistan, Brigadier Tim Radford. I visited the Northwood joint headquarters to receive a briefing on Operation Panther’s Claw, and this morning I visited RAF Benson to see the progress of the Merlin helicopter programme and talk to some of our very brave helicopter pilots who are in Afghanistan. Of course, I have also talked to President Obama about progress in Afghanistan, and yesterday to President Karzai, who I keep in regular touch with to talk about events in Afghanistan and what we can do.
While we are not complacent and will always be vigilant, I have to tell the House that despite the terrible loss of some great soldiers, to whom we owe this huge debt of gratitude, our forces on the ground are making progress in Operation Panther’s Claw, and have made it absolutely clear to us that they are moving ahead with some speed in clearing the ground. Behind them will come Afghan forces, whose numbers I want to see raised very substantially over the next few weeks. The civilian effort led by Governor Mangal is in place. It is our hope not only to take the ground and to clear it, but to hold it, using both our own forces and Afghan forces. At the same time, there should be a civilian effort to make sure that the land is held and that people believe that they have a stake in the future.
I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman, despite his quotations from various people, that the British Army spokesman in Helmand province, Lieutenant-Colonel Nick Richardson, has repeated what has been said to me in private. He said publicly:
“Absolutely we have the proper equipment. Our equipment is first rate and we have plenty of it. It’s…about having a full range of equipment, people are being critical of vehicles, we have a full range of vehicles here that help provide the protection that soldiers need.”
He went on to say:
“So everything from the vehicles to the personal protective equipment, whether it’s body armour, helmets and also the weaponry, and also the specialist equipment, it’s here, it’s great…it works”.
I have to say, also, that when he was asked about helicopters, he said:
“There’s much speculation about helicopters and have we got enough. It’s a sad fact that helicopters would not have saved the lives of the individuals last week. We’ve got to be…on the ground, we’ve got to be interacting with the population—you cannot conduct a war from a helicopter. So the equipment we have is very, very good. In terms of would we like more, any commander will say yes, we’d like more. Yes, we’d like more equipment and we’d like more troops, whatever it may be, but my commander is very hard over on the fact that he has sufficient to get on with the task…which he has been given.”
I hope that the information that comes from people on the ground who are working in Afghanistan is taken on board by the House in this debate.
We have increased the number of helicopters by 60 per cent. in less than two years. Because we have more crews and because we have made adjustments to those helicopters, we have increased the capability of those helicopters—in other words, the flying hours that they can do—by 84 per cent. By the end of this year, the Merlin helicopters, which I saw this morning when I visited RAF Benson, will be on the ground in Afghanistan. In addition, we contract from NATO a lot of helicopters that do the work of getting our equipment on to the ground. We have created a helicopter fund, so that we and other people can contribute to countries that will provide helicopters, and we will pay for them to be upgraded. That will create 11 helicopters over the next period of time. We are working very closely with the United States of America on those issues, and of course we have set aside £6 billion for future investment, particularly in the new Lynx helicopter, over the next 10 years.
I hope that Opposition Members who want to make an issue of the fact that there are insufficient helicopters will take it on board that while of course we would want more helicopters, there has been a 60 per cent. increase, and there will be more on the ground by the end of the year. In addition, of course, we are converting eight Chinooks to enable them to deal with the weather in Afghanistan. I have to say that to move helicopters from Iraq to Afghanistan is very difficult, because the weather in Afghanistan and the terrain on which people are operating are very difficult. The helicopters have to be converted. Our crews have got to be trained for the ground on which they are fighting. I believe that people appreciate that we are striving daily to have the best equipment available for our troops in Afghanistan.
As for the numbers of troops, in our discussions with the military, of course one talks about all the options that are available, but let me just make it clear that we decided, after discussion with our military and with President Obama, that we would increase the number of troops from 8,100 at the point at which we discussed the matter to 9,000. There are today about 9,150 people on the ground in Afghanistan. I repeat that I have been reassured by commanders on the ground and at the top of the armed services that we have the manpower that we need for current operations. I have also said that once the elections are over, we will review the numbers with our allies and with our commanders on the ground.
We have made our additions to the numbers in Afghanistan. We have persuaded some other countries to contribute more troops, but we are the second largest provider of troops for Afghanistan. We are far ahead of other countries, and we insist that there has got to be proper burden-sharing across NATO. I hope that every section of the House will want to support that.
I repeat that in April we published our strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. We understand very clearly that we must have success in both countries if we are to be able to deal with the problem of terrorism. We also understand that military action alone, although vital, is not sufficient. We need action on the ground with development aid, and we need to train local people to take responsibility for security in their areas. Our strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan is to tackle the terrorist threat. We are now in a position where the Pakistan Government are taking action in the Swat and in Waziristan, and progress is being made in the Swat valley.
Therefore, we have a complementary strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan to tackle the terrorist threat, to strengthen local forces on the ground, to bring development help to these areas, and in Afghanistan to tackle the heroin trade that is so costly not only in Afghanistan, but around the world. That is the strategy that we are pursuing with our American allies and with 40 other allies in the region, who are contributing to the effort.
I repeat that there needs to be burden sharing not just in troops, but in development. We are contributing a substantial amount of development aid both in Afghanistan and in Pakistan. We have shifted aid from the other areas of Pakistan to the north-west area. We are determined to do more in those areas to help young people to go to school, for example, and to make sure that the internally displaced people in Pakistan have homes that they can go to and proper services.
I come to the other issues raised by the Leader of the Opposition. It is precisely because we must meet our commitments on development aid that we, the British Government, have issued a call to action. We have asked other countries to join us in realising the poverty emergency that exists and what we have to do.
Let me be clear that the reason that we could not get an agreement on trade in 2008 was that the Indians and the Americans could not come to an agreement on what was called a very specific safeguard clause for Indian imports. I believe that that barrier is being removed. That is why I believe that there is hope that the new trade negotiations that will start will have greater success. Trade Ministers have been asked to meet before the Pittsburgh summit in 2010.
On climate change, the right hon. Gentleman knows that our policy is not only long-term targets and that there must be help for developing countries; interim targets must be agreed as well. That is what we will be discussing at the Pittsburgh summit, then at the United Nations, and then on the road to Copenhagen in December.
On the economy, I repeat that it is because we have succeeded in getting global action, partly at the G20 meetings in Washington and London, and partly at the G8 meeting that we have just had, that the world has a shared policy to deal with the recession. It is to create financial stability. The Americans are proposing a similar arrangement to the one that we have—the regulators, the central Bank and the Government work together. That is precisely what the Americans are proposing to do. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that no financial policy in future can work unless the Treasury, the Bank of England and the financial regulatory authorities work together. To my knowledge, no country that was at the G8 shares the right hon. Gentleman’s proposal to cut public spending at a time when people need it, and to fail to support a recovery.
I thank the Prime Minister for his statement and join him in paying tribute to Corporal Jonathan Horne, Rifleman William Aldridge, Rifleman James Backhouse, Rifleman Joseph Murphy and Rifleman Daniel Simpson, all of the 2nd Battalion the Rifles, Private John Brackpool of 1st Battalion the Welsh Guards, Corporal Lee Scott of 2nd Royal Tank Regiment, and Rifleman Daniel Hume of 4th Battalion the Rifles. This is a heartbreaking roll call of losses, including many young men who displayed courage and a professionalism well beyond their years. We all owe them a great deal.
I believe that the British people are resilient and understand the sacrifices that are inevitable in conflict, as long as the purpose of that conflict is clearly explained and understood, but how can people understand the true nature of this war when the Government have refused to explain what the achievable aims of the mission really are? For the past eight years, the Government have been sending mixed signals about the nature and purpose of the deployment. In the past week we have had the Prime Minister and the Defence Secretary giving different justifications for the war.
We on the Liberal Democrat Benches support the Afghan mission to stabilise Afghanistan and to reduce the threat of terrorism to British citizens. However, we need to be very clear about the limits of what we can achieve. Military action may be able to contain problems but not resolve them.
We have learned some difficult lessons in the past eight years. We have learned that our forces were not in a position to secure Helmand province alone, given the chronic shortages of equipment and manpower. We have learned that, because of the nature of Afghan tribal society, we must not overreach ourselves by trying to import overnight a western-style liberal democracy to a country that has never had a functioning central Government.
Does the Prime Minister now accept that, at best, what we can do is stabilise Afghanistan to provide a space for the state to grow? Does he see that, since our troops first stepped into Afghanistan, the Government’s strategy has been over-ambitious in aim and under-resourced in practice? Is it not time to commit the necessary resources and to set a reasonable goal? When exactly—he still has not answered this question today—will he find a way to send the desperately needed helicopters to our troops on the ground?
When will the Prime Minister seek full co-ordination of the international political strategy in Afghanistan? We know that President Karzai vetoed last year the appointment of a single, strong political figure to co-ordinate the international effort in Afghanistan, so will the Prime Minister prevail upon President Karzai or his successor to reverse that decision and to accept the appointment of a single senior figure with sufficient authority to bring together the piecemeal strategies of the international community?
Finally, I should like to turn to the G8 summit conclusions on nuclear non-proliferation. It is likely that conflicts such as Afghanistan will dominate in the coming years, rather than the old, state-to-state conflicts of the cold war era, so I welcome the position—the strong line—taken at the G8 on nuclear non-proliferation and the 2010 non-proliferation talks. However, does the Prime Minister not agree that rushing to commit Britain to like-for-like replacement of the cold war era Trident system hardly puts us at the forefront of such efforts? Is it not time both to admit that we do not need and cannot afford Trident on that scale, and to start to look properly at the alternatives, so that we can then commit the resources needed to our brave troops on the ground in Afghanistan and elsewhere?
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that what I set out as our Afghanistan and Pakistan strategy is very similar to what he asks us to do: first, that military action has to be complemented by other actions; secondly, that we must get the Afghan people into a position where their troops and their police are able to take responsibility for law and order, justice and security in their own area; and, thirdly, that that must be matched by development aid. Our increase in development support for farming and the social and economic development of Afghanistan is exactly what the right hon. Gentleman wants to see.
Our strategy is very clear: to deal with a terrorist threat that could affect the streets of our own country, we have to take pre-emptive action to deal with terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In 2001, al-Qaeda was based in Afghanistan and was pushed out into Pakistan, but in 2009 we have the Afghan Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaeda in the mountainous areas on the borders of Pakistan. We have to see joint, co-ordinated action both in Pakistan to deal with the terrorist threat there, as is now happening, and in Afghanistan, where we are clearing areas and making it possible for free elections to take place. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that both our strategy and the way in which we are seeking to pursue it are in line with what he is suggesting.
I repeat to the right hon. Gentleman, because I do not think that he heard what I said, that there has been a 60 per cent. increase in helicopters and an 84 per cent. increase in the capability of our helicopter forces. The Merlin helicopters from Iraq are being adapted so that they can be brought to Afghanistan as quickly as possible; we set up a helicopter fund to allow other countries to contribute helicopters, to upgrade them for the terrain in Afghanistan and to contribute to that development effort; and, of course, we are working with the Americans, who have helicopters, too, so that we can share the use of that particular equipment. I hope that he will agree also that the £6 billion that we are investing in helicopters is something that all of us can support.
On development in Afghanistan, I should remind the right hon. Gentleman that General McChrystal is head of ISAF and the US operations, so there is now the co-ordination that before there was not. Kay Eide is the head of the development operation. Of course we want development projects to move a lot quicker, and of course I keep pressing President Karzai to ensure that his Government take direct action to ensure that that happens. However, 6 million Afghan children are at school who were not at school previously, and there are huge increases in the amount of health care available to the Afghan people. I caution the right hon. Gentleman: the support for the Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy is common to America and the 41 nations that are part of the coalition. We all have the same objective: to reduce and remove the terrorist threat by supporting the development of local control in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Let me say this to the right hon. Gentleman about the non-proliferation treaty. What we want to achieve is in the spirit of the original non-proliferation treaty. We offer to non-nuclear states the chance of civil nuclear power under conditions in which the transfer of that power to those states can be safe. At the same time, we secure an agreement that they will not adopt nuclear weapons. Furthermore, unlike in the case of Iran, the duty of those countries will be to show that they are not proliferating nuclear weapons, rather than our duty being to prove that by our investigations. I hope that there will be major progress on the non-proliferation treaty.
As for Trident, let me be clear. We need collective action for disarmament involving all the nuclear states, and that is also one of the promises of the non-proliferation treaty. At a time when North Korea and Iran are developing nuclear weapons and other countries in the Gulf are threatening to do so, people would find it strange for Britain—a country that has nuclear weapons—simply to surrender hers unilaterally at the moment.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned development. All of us support Britain’s leadership in providing international development to the poorest countries of the world. That leadership is important to the House.
The Prime Minister is to be congratulated on pushing climate change up the agenda of the meeting. Does he agree that climate change is a bigger threat to the future of humankind than any of the regional conflicts, the economic crisis or the terrorism so prevalent in the world today? We need to act urgently on the climate change agenda.
The Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee is absolutely right that we have to act urgently to deal with the climate change problem. That is why it was progress that every country present accepted the scientific evidence and accepted for the first time that we had to avoid an average increase of 2° C. That is also why the developed countries have agreed an 80 per cent. target for carbon reductions.
I hope that we can go forward from this G8 summit and meeting of the major economies to get an agreement on climate change at Copenhagen. If we can do that, we can go further and secure an agreement on nuclear disarmament during discussions on the non-proliferation treaty, to reduce the number of nuclear weapons in the world. I believe that we will prove that collective action can work around the world, with international co-ordination to deal with the problems of our economy and of security. Copenhagen is vital not only for climate change but for showing how the world can act together.
Order. Twenty-two Members are seeking to catch my eye; as always, I am keen to include as many as possible. If that is to happen, we need brief questions and brief answers, of the kind that we saw during the last exchange.
As my son is serving in Operation Panther’s Claw, it would not be appropriate for me to comment on that. However, I say on a personal basis that I profoundly hope that the Prime Minister’s assurances are right.
On environmental issues, can the Prime Minister tell us what the global warming has been in the past 10 years? Can he say whether the real impact that we have to look at is that it is not all man-made and that carbon dioxide and methane can come from natural causes? I am not a denier of climate change, but would not the money be better spent on measures to prevent rising sea levels and other such issues?
First, let me say about those serving in Afghanistan that we owe them a huge debt. These are very difficult times. Operation Panther’s Claw was never going to be easy. This is an important summer not just for Afghanistan but for the security of the whole region. We are therefore indebted to those who are making the sacrifice and giving service not only in Operation Panther’s Claw but throughout Afghanistan.
As for climate change, over the past few years there has been a rise in temperatures from the trough—
By how much?
Probably by more than 1° C. At the same time, we want to prevent a situation whereby the rise is above 2° C. All the expert predictions that we have seen suggest that by the year 2100, without taking action, the rise in temperatures would be in the order of 6 per cent., which would make it very difficult for some countries to be able to survive in the way that they are doing at the moment. The need for action is urgent, and the agreement that we should recognise this as a problem is worldwide. The question is whether we can get an agreement at Copenhagen, and I hope that we can all strive to do that as quickly as possible.
I recognise that much—indeed, all—of the criticism that has been directed at my right hon. Friend over Afghanistan is unfair. Nevertheless, given that British troops—we all pay tribute to their bravery—have now been in Afghanistan for nearly eight years, which is obviously longer than the second world war, does he accept that it is legitimate, and certainly in no way unpatriotic, for people to ask whether our intervention is going to be indefinite, whether a British contingent will be there in another eight years or more, and what we mean, as such, by victory in the context of Afghanistan?
The Defence Secretary has rightly said that our role in the south began in 2006, and it has been a very important role, because Helmand is the most dangerous of the provinces. For as long as there is a terrorist threat and it is not possible for Afghanistan or Pakistan to deal with it, they will need some kind of help from other powers. That does not necessarily mean military forces on the ground, but it does necessitate help to back them up. We are committed to giving help to the Pakistani authorities to deal with the terrorist threat in their areas. We are working closely with the security services but also giving what support we can to the army, and making it clear that development aid is available. We have to deal with the situation in Pakistan and in Afghanistan by working together with their Governments, but we hope that over time they will take more responsibility for their own affairs. Particularly in Afghanistan, we hope that the numbers in the army can rise from 80,000 to 130,000, and perhaps a great deal higher, and the number of police can rise to about 70,000, so that the country will be able, gradually, step by step, to take more control over its own affairs.
The Prime Minister said that the hard-won gains in Afghanistan must be fully consolidated. People at my former battalion, 2 Mercian, talk to me all the time, and they say that there simply are not enough troops to hold the ground after the current operation. Notwithstanding his careful answers to my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), can he confirm that troop numbers will not be drawn down after the election and, more to the point, that the ridiculous rumours about the axing of three infantry battalions are just that—rumours?
Yes, we should not believe all the rumours that are put around this place. We want to achieve a situation whereby we take the ground and the Afghan national army works with us to hold the ground. With the Americans and other coalition powers, we are training about 2,000 new troops in Afghanistan every month. The Afghan army has grown in numbers to between 70,000 and 80,000, and, as I said, it is set to grow to 130,000. In the long term, we want the Afghan army and the Afghan police to be able to take more control over their own affairs. We have suggested that, just as in Iraq, province by province, we could transfer control to the Afghan army and police. I have made my statement about the commitments that we have made in relation to troop numbers. We will review that with President Obama and others after the election. However, the hon. Gentleman should not be in any doubt that the number of troops in Afghanistan has been raised over the past few months for the summer campaign and the pre-election period. We have kept and held to the promise that we would take the action that is necessary to ensure that our troops are properly safe.
Can I ask my right hon. Friend to expand on one sentence in his statement? He said, “On Burma, we reiterated our support to do all that we can to secure the release of Aung San Suu Kyi.” What does that mean, what can we do, and what will we do?
As I know my right hon. Friend is a long-term campaigner for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, I should say that all nations that were present at the G8 were united in our determination to remind the Burmese Government that repression is unacceptable; to tell them that Aung San Suu Kyi should not be held or tried as a political prisoner; to say that if there are to be fair elections in Burma, she must be allowed to participate; and to say that we will consider whatever action is necessary to ensure that the Burmese Government recognise that what they are doing is an offence against human rights and democracy, particularly against someone who some time ago was elected as the democratic leader of Burma.
As my right hon. Friend may know, the Secretary-General of the United Nations has just been in Burma. We supported his visit there, and although it was unsuccessful, the matter will come before the Security Council today or tomorrow. I hope that the Security Council’s members will send a message that such behaviour by the Burmese regime is completely unacceptable.
May I remind the Prime Minister that ever since we went back into Afghanistan in 2003, I have repeatedly warned a succession of Defence Ministers that even 300,000 troops would not be sufficient to succeed in the task that they have been set, a figure that senior American generals have echoed in recent months? Why, yet again, despite the grim history of our interventions in Afghanistan over the years, have this Government sent an undermanned, under-equipped army there to face the situation that we all see has now emerged, which was inevitable in the circumstances?
First, we have made progress in Afghanistan, and I disagree with what the hon. Gentleman has said. There are millions of children at school, health care services are being provided, there are roads and there is economic development as a result of what we have managed to do.
Secondly, our aim, as we set out in April and as I said previously—the aim is now accepted by all our allies—is to complement our military intervention with action on the ground to help Afghanistan to build up its armed forces and police services, and to take action that is necessary for the development of Afghanistan so that the Afghan people have a stake in the future. As I have said, military action alone will be insufficient to bring Afghanistan to a point where we can justifiably say that we have dealt with the terrorist threat. It demands action by the Afghan people themselves, and that means training their own armed forces and police.
My friend talked about vigorously pursuing global financial stability and financial regulation. When are we going to start applying sanctions to tax havens that shelter tax evaders?
President Sarkozy and I talked about this last week, and we issued a statement saying that by April 2010, we wanted every country to have abandoned the tax haven practices that they were adopting. We have now also made it clear that there is a grey list and a black list of countries, as well as a white list, based on the action that they are taking. Many countries are now taking action as a result of the G20, and some countries have signed more than a dozen agreements that make it possible for them to lose their status as tax havens. We are pushing forward with our plan to ensure that tax havens in the old form will be a thing of the past.
We join in the tributes and condolences that the Prime Minister gave and in his wish for stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but is it not the case that the real window of opportunity in Afghanistan was lost with the invasion of Iraq? With more than 50 per cent. of the British population now saying that they want troops to return by Christmas, is it not the case that the UK Government need seriously to reconsider their policy?
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will support our action in Afghanistan and recognise that more than 40 nations are part of the coalition there. I hope that he will also accept that our strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan is to deal with the terrorist threat, to support local Afghan and Pakistani people in controlling their own affairs and to secure the economic and social development of their countries. I would have thought that most parties would support that strategy, not oppose it.
Did my right hon. Friend remind the other leaders, when they were discussing the recession at the G8 meeting, that he had had a little bit of practice because on 16 September 1992, we had a terrible day, Black Wednesday? The economic adviser to the then Chancellor of the Exchequer is sitting over there—the Leader of the Opposition. Is my right hon. Friend aware that the reason that I can remember all this is that I did not have a wasted youth, going to Eton and being educated beyond my intelligence, and I am drug-free?
I hope that my hon. Friend will reconsider any plans for an early retirement. People will remember that in 1992, interest rates increased to 18 per cent., inflation was 10 per cent. and millions of people were affected by mortgage rates that caused a record number of repossessions. We have taken action precisely because we want to avoid those consequences. Unfortunately, the Opposition still support the policies of 1992.
The Prime Minister knows that millions of little children die from bad water and bad sanitation. He did not mention that in his statement. Will he be good enough to consider the problem that arises through duplication between the G8-Africa partnership and the global framework that is being set up—as the right hon. Gentleman’s predecessor, Mr. Tony Blair, said he would do at the next G8—so that we have positive movement and progress on water and sanitation?
I agree entirely that we must do more to ensure that water is clean and that sanitation services are provided. That was a feature of our discussion at the G8 with African leaders. We were determined, first, to deal with the problem of hunger, because 1 billion people face hunger and poverty. That is why we have set aside an extra $20 billion for a programme to help agriculture, particularly in Africa. However, the hon. Gentleman is right that, if we do not meet the goals on water, we will fail on poverty and the environment. It is also right to make water and sanitation a priority. It is the first time that he has not asked me a question on Europe, which must be a record for the House.
May I add my condolences to those expressed to the families of every single one of the young men and women who have fallen for a better world and a more secure country here in Britain? May I also welcome the Prime Minister’s open statement that he will continually review the position and listen to the soldiers and those who risk their lives in Afghanistan about what they need in numbers and resources? In doing that, may I lay to rest the accusation that has been made in the past few days that, when we went into Helmand, the configuration was somehow the diktat of politicians and that the Treasury rejected or objected to it? That is not true. The configuration was determined by the chiefs of staff, and the Prime Minister, as Chancellor at the time, met it fully, as I asked him to do. However, circumstances change, the enemy’s tactics change and, of course, the mission changes. He is therefore right to confirm to the House today that he will keep an open mind on what may be additionally necessary to complete today’s mission.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his work as Defence Secretary and in the Government. He was clear about our responsibilities in Afghanistan. What has changed in the past few years is that al-Qaeda’s moving to Pakistan and the build-up of the Pakistan Taliban as a threat to democracy there mean that we must deal with the twin problems of Afghanistan and Pakistan. We need to do it by complementing our military action with work to help both Governments to build up their own strength and by giving what we can in development support so that everyone in those two countries can have a stake in the future.
Following on directly from that, does the Prime Minister share the concern of Pakistan’s Interior Minister about the critical importance of stopping insurgents criss-crossing the Afghanistan-Pakistan border? Will he explain why, according to that Minister, whereas Pakistan has managed to set up 1,000 checkpoints on its side of the border, NATO has managed to set up only 100, with only 60 of them working?
I shall certainly look at the statement that the hon. Gentleman cites from Pakistan. We have talked about how we can co-ordinate activity across the borders, how joint discussions can take place between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and how we can make the border more secure. The hon. Gentleman is right that, if the Afghan Taliban are reinforced regularly by people coming from Pakistan, that makes the job of our British troops far more difficult. If people can slip back across the border when they are chased to it or to the border areas, that is another threat to the safety of our troops. It is therefore important to our strategy to bring the operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan together.
The Prime Minister’s role in pushing forward the climate change agenda is well understood. However, if we are to engage with the developing world beyond the G8 in combating climate change, it is vital that there should be proper technology transfer from the rich nations to the poorer nations, and at prices that are affordable.
I agree with my hon. Friend, and this is exactly the point that I was talking to Prime Minister Singh about. The Indians will want technology transfer so that they can develop policies to deal with climate change. The transfer of technology is a vital part of our delivering a strategy that will cut carbon emissions successfully. We are prepared to enter into talks with other countries about how we can help them to meet their climate change objectives.
We should congratulate the Prime Minister on his leadership on climate change. Will he set out a timetable for new nuclear power plant in this country, so that we can start to meet our targets for carbon reduction?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Some £20 billion will be invested in nuclear power over the next few years. We want to see nuclear power moving forward—[Interruption.] This is very interesting. The Opposition have spent a long time saying that they were hostile to nuclear power, but now I am asked, “When is the first planning application?” We will publish our planning statement on nuclear power in due course. It would be sensible in our country to have a cross-party consensus on the need for a balanced energy policy, and I hope that that will not long elude us.
If the Prime Minister looks at the development conclusions, I hope that he will consider countries such as Yemen—the country where I was born—which is 155th out of 177 countries on the poverty index and where half the population live on less than £1.25 a day. We have had many G8s and G20s over the past 10 years. How is this one going to help the people of Yemen?
First, because where there is hunger we want to act immediately, and the urgency of acting on hunger was understood by all countries. President Obama and other countries’ leaders wanted to take that action immediately. Secondly, because we said that the millennium development goals to be met have to be properly accounted for, we have to look in the next year at how far we are from meeting those goals and assess that at the next G8 summit, which will be held in Canada. So there was agreement not only that we had to secure value for money, but that we had to know how far we had got and what we had yet to do to meet the millennium development goals. I hope that that is not abstract, because it is important that countries deliver on the ground what they promise to the people of Yemen and elsewhere.
I listened to what the Prime Minister said about the 60 per cent. increase in the number of helicopters in the past two years. However, it is my understanding that helicopters that can transport troops are the most significant need, so what proportion of that 60 per cent. is troop-transporting helicopters and what is that in raw numbers, please?
It has not been the practice of the Ministry of Defence to reveal the numbers of helicopters in any particular theatre of war. However, we have tried to increase the number of helicopters available for transport and for cover. The addition of the Merlin helicopters at the end of the year will add to the 60 per cent. increase over the past two years, but I repeat what was said by the spokesman for the military on the ground:
“It’s a sad fact that helicopters would not have saved the lives of the individuals last week.”
I hope that people will put the comments that they wish to make into perspective after hearing that statement from someone who is there on the ground in Helmand.
President Karzai has refused to reduce the 20-year sentence on a man sent to prison for accessing a document on the internet about human rights, yet he has given a full pardon to some young thugs who gang-raped a 13-year-old girl. Is it any wonder that Malalai Joya, a human rights award winner and Member of the Afghan Parliament, has said that human rights under Karzai are worse than under the Taliban? Also, is it right that we should ask our young men to put their lives at risk in support of Karzai’s thuggish police and his mediaeval view of human rights?
Yesterday I raised the question of the family law being enacted in Afghanistan, as I have on many occasions. We want to make it absolutely clear that we can support only legislation that guarantees basic rights, particularly those of women in Afghanistan. I urged President Karzai to look at any amendments that were necessary to protect basic women’s rights, particularly the rights of under-age girls in Afghanistan. He assured me that this was what he would do, and I shall be able to report back to the House when asked.
May I join in paying tribute to those who have lost their lives in fighting to protect our country in the mountains of Afghanistan? I urge the Prime Minister to ensure that sufficient resources and manpower are made available to them to do the job. Will he tell me what assessment he has made of the impact of the climate change package on the public finances, on energy costs and on job losses in this country, especially given the fact that a number of important developing countries have refused to sign up to the targets?
First, it is going to be important that all countries sign up to a climate change deal at Copenhagen. We do not want to be in the position that we found ourselves in after Kyoto, in which some countries had signed up and others had not. It is important for the health of the world economy as well as for action on climate change that we persuade the developing countries to join. Secondly, I regard the climate change challenge and the carbon reduction challenge as something that can create jobs and make it possible for our economy to do well in selling to the rest of the world. We believe that, in five years’ time—10 years’ time is probably the better figure to give—there will be more than 1 million people employed in green jobs and carbon-related jobs. I believe that this could be a major provider of wealth for the British economy. If we can get the technology right and sell it to the rest of the world, and create jobs as a result of that, the carbon challenge will be one that we can meet successfully in our own interests as well as in the interests of the world.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that I have heard today from a constituent about the kidnapping of a relative of hers by the Taliban in Pakistan, and about his wife and children fleeing for their lives and going into hiding? Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the action that we are taking is essential for the cohesion and security of our close friend, Commonwealth partner and ally, Pakistan, whose future, like ours, depends on the success of our action in Afghanistan?
My right hon. Friend makes very wise comments about the connection between Afghanistan and Pakistan. First, let me say to him that if I can help in any way with his constituent’s problem, will he please raise it with me directly and I will investigate what has happened? It is important to recognise that the Pakistan Government and the Pakistan army are now taking action in the Swat valley against the Pakistan Taliban, and that they are preparing to take action in Waziristan against al-Qaeda as well. That is an important development for the future prospects of security in the region. The fact that action is being taken in Pakistan, and that it is being complemented by the action that we are taking in Afghanistan, means that there is a legitimate hope that we can curtail the threat from terrorism and, at the same time, strengthen the institutions of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Like my right hon. Friend, I want Pakistan to be a strong member of the Commonwealth.
Rather than asking the defence chiefs to give the Prime Minister an assurance that, as he put it in his carefully chosen words, “we have the manpower we need for the current operations”, will he ask them whether we have the manpower successfully to deliver the current strategy? Were he to do so, I think that he might get a different answer.
I have been very clear about what we are doing in Afghanistan. We are trying to take ground, to hold that ground and to make that ground safe for a democracy and for the provision of services to the Afghan people. The exercise, Panther’s Claw, which is being carried out at the moment, has the resources that are necessary and is making real advances. As for what happens after the election period, I have already made it clear that there will be discussions with America—which is reviewing its strategy and has agreed that it will have a review after the Afghan elections—and that we will be part of that reconsideration.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on taking the lead in securing G8 agreement on ambitious climate change targets. I also thank him for his answer to the hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson). Will my right hon. Friend tell me what steps will be taken to nurture companies that are developing green technologies in the UK, and thus to secure valuable manufacturing jobs while helping us to meet our emissions reduction targets?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: we are asking companies to consider moving into green, low-carbon technologies, and we have to make it possible for them to get the necessary investment to make that happen. In the past two weeks, we have set up the innovation fund, which will enable companies with low-carbon technology innovations to apply for help. We estimate that, along with the £150 million that we are investing, about £1 billion of private investment will come forward. Any company in my hon. Friend’s constituency or elsewhere in the country that wishes to see investment in low-carbon technology and believes that it can benefit from the innovation fund should apply for that support. This is how we can develop the new technologies that we can sell to the world, and the jobs that are essential for the future.
This time last year, soldiers from 16 Air Assault Brigade were losing their lives in Afghanistan. Does the Prime Minister recall that I was critical then of the failure of major European countries to commit troops, helicopters, resources and financial support to that effort in southern Afghanistan. Bearing in mind the Prime Minister’s reference in his statement to burden-sharing and his specific comment that, “In Afghanistan, international forces must take the lead on the front line”, will he name the major European countries that over the past year have committed soldiers on the ground in Helmand province, provided helicopters and other military equipment and provided financial support for the British effort in Helmand?
Estonia and Denmark are working with the United States and Britain in Helmand. Countries present at the NATO summit pledged, I believe, 5,000 more troops for the election period. We set up the helicopter fund, which I think is now £13 million, and countries such as ourselves and France are contributing, while there are, of course, some countries that are prepared to use the helicopter capability, but do not have the resources to make the adjustments necessary for Afghanistan. The hon. Gentleman will know that France has sent just under 1,000 extra troops over the last few months.
First, I join others in offering my condolences to the families and friends of the soldiers killed in Afghanistan—the genuine concern at the high human cost of that engagement is sometimes debased by cheap political commentary. On the substance of the Prime Minister’s statement, he said that the leaders of the G8 agreed to do what it takes to make progress on growth, commodity prices and trade. On commodity prices, does the Prime Minister believe that that will include curbing the ability of banks and other financial institutions in the future to speculate on commodity indices and futures in a way that drove price surges in food and fuel in the past?
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s comments on Afghanistan. As far as oil is concerned, yes, we are looking at what is happening in the oil commodities market at the moment. Prices have gone up by 75 per cent. over the last few weeks—oil was $35 a barrel and has risen to $75. It is probably down today, but oil price rises are very difficult for industry and people to accept if they lead to rising fuel bills. We are looking at what is happening in the marketplace and we will take any necessary regulatory measures.
May I assure my right hon. Friend that the House, and indeed the whole country, will be very reassured by his assurance that we are strictly realistic in our aims in Afghanistan? While part of the realism has to be the defeat of the Taliban, may not a broader political settlement involve some basic accommodation with the tribal factions, notably those of the Northern Alliance and the Pashtun? Sooner or later, that will be essential if we are to succeed.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is absolutely right that the tribal chiefs and tribes in Afghanistan have to be involved in any settlement that is going to work. Some tribal leaders are, of course, drug lords, and it is difficult to deal with them, but we must involve tribal chiefs and leaderships in any settlement that comes forward. There has been a shift in strategy to enable them to be involved in discussions that I hope will lead to greater reconciliation in Afghanistan. He is absolutely right that it is the combination of the military action we have taken, the building up of Afghan police and security, the development of relationships at the local level with the tribal chiefs, at the same time as pursuing a course of economic and social development, that will bring stability to Afghanistan and ensure that the land is free of terrorist influence.
Is the Prime Minister aware that many people in this country think that the policy in Afghanistan is fundamentally misplaced, that it has done nothing to control the drugs trade, that it has probably increased support for the Taliban and will inevitably involve NATO and other forces crossing the border into Pakistan with the further problems that will result from that? Is it not time for a complete rethink of the entire strategy?
I hope that my hon. Friend will look at the strategy that we announced in April and the way in which we have developed it over the past few months, and will note that President Obama in America is pursuing a course very similar to ours.
The fact of the matter is—and we cannot ignore it—that three quarters of terrorist plots start in the mountainous and border areas around Pakistan. Before 2001, al-Qaeda was based in Afghanistan; now it is based in Pakistan. If we are to make our streets safe in Britain, we must consider what is happening in those regions. That is why our strategy is not simply military, but is intended—alongside military action—to build up the Afghan forces, to develop the Afghan economy and, of course, to deal with the heroin trade in Afghanistan. I hope that, on reflection, my hon. Friend will recognise that people are safer in London because of the actions that we are taking in Afghanistan and Pakistan.