With permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a statement on my visit to Afghanistan and to report on the conclusions of the European Council and our role in the global talks on climate change. First, Afghanistan. On Saturday and Sunday this weekend, I visited our troops in Helmand and Kandahar, and met President Karzai and his Defence, Foreign Affairs, Interior and Security Ministers. I also met our commanders on the ground, and Afghan army leaders. Today, I have had a meeting of our National Security Committee, with the Chief of Defence and the chief of our security services, and talked to NATO Secretary-General Rasmussen.
The first purpose of my visit to Afghanistan was to thank our brave armed forces in a year in which 100 of their colleagues have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. I wanted to acknowledge and congratulate them on the dedicated work that they continue to do, day after day, and, as Christmas draws near, to wish them and their families well. I think that I speak for everyone when I say that the thoughts and prayers of the House and the whole country are with them. British people are safer at home because our troops are fighting for our safety this Christmas in Afghanistan.
I wanted also to assess progress to reinforce our campaign in Afghanistan, and, in my meetings with President Karzai and his team of Ministers, to begin preparations for the conference on the future of Afghanistan that will be held in London on 28 January—an event which I believe will galvanise the international effort on political and economic progress, as well as on security, and to which President Karzai has agreed to present his plans for the country’s future.
Our strategy is to ensure that al-Qaeda can never regain free rein in Afghanistan. To achieve that, we must weaken the Taliban and strengthen Afghanistan, stage by stage, district by district and province by province, putting the Afghans in control of their own security. But we must first address the Taliban insurgency with all the resources and power that we have at our disposal. Yesterday, I flew on one of the newly deployed Merlin helicopters. Over the past three years, we have doubled helicopter numbers, and more than doubled helicopter flying hours. There will be further increases in both over the coming months.
I also saw the mine-resistant Mastiff patrol vehicles and the smaller but equally well-protected Ridgback vehicles, and heard how since the summer we have increased the number of Mastiff by more than 80 per cent. and almost doubled the number of Ridgback—hundreds of new vehicles funded from the Treasury reserve, which are now every month saving lives in Afghanistan.
Aerial surveillance helps us track and target Taliban improvised explosive devices, and that surveillance has now been increased by over 20 per cent. Yesterday I asked for and received an assurance from President Karzai of the new assistance the Afghan people will give us in detecting and dismantling these improvised explosive devices. Afghan forces will now be trained, as I saw yesterday, to detect and disable IEDs. There will be more local police on the ground and we will be training 10,000 police recruits. There will be better intelligence from the Afghan people about the source of planned IED attacks and encouragement not to harbour those planning explosive attacks on British soldiers.
I can say now that we will go further in providing more equipment and support to our armed forces. Tomorrow, the Defence Secretary will announce plans for more equipment for the Afghan campaign, including more specialist counter-IED support. The latest tranche of urgent operational funding from the Treasury will include an extra £10 million for hand-held mine detectors to follow the £12 million set aside earlier for new explosive disposal robots, over 30 of which are now in operation tracking IEDs. I can also announce a package of longer-term investment in our counter-IED capability, including new and enhanced facilities for training and for intelligence. This will amount to an extra £50 million a year—£150 million in total this year and over the next two years.
Our strategy involves working with the Afghan army and police so that over time they can take security control. President Karzai confirmed to me that he is increasing the number of Afghan troops in Helmand to 10,000. Already in the last few days, 500 new troops have arrived. Once the police training college we are running in Helmand is at full strength from the spring, there alone we will be able to train 2,000 police officers every year.
Yesterday I saw for myself the reality of British forces mentoring and partnering Afghan troops and the new momentum that is resulting from that. The Taliban are a determined adversary; they will not give up easily. I am under no illusion—there will be hard fighting ahead—but I draw great confidence from the immense professionalism of our servicemen and women and from the telling effect they are already having on the enemy and the galvanising impact they are having on the Afghan forces they are partnering.
I can report that 36 countries have now offered additional manpower to the Afghan campaign. We know that the planned increase in American, British and Afghan forces over the coming weeks and months will allow us to review force ratios and develop a new balance in Helmand. As I have said to the House, the priority for the additional British forces is to thicken in central Helmand and to shift the emphasis towards partnering Afghan forces. I can report to the House that commanders on the ground told me yesterday that already in two thirds of British bases, our forces patrol jointly with their Afghan counterparts. It is by partnering in this way—first in the army and then with the police—that we will enable the Afghans to step up to the challenge of dealing with the Taliban and with extremism, and, ultimately, when the conditions are right, that we will allow our troops to return home.
I also saw from my visit and from my discussions with our commanders and civilian leaders that we are seeing the beginnings of the political process, which must complement our military strategy. Tribal and town elders already provide the kind of effective, accountable grass-roots government that will be the foundation for any successful political strategy.
So the decisions we have made in 2009 set a new framework for action in 2010. Partnership with Afghan forces will turn Afghanisation from an aspiration into a real force for progress in every district. Even closer working between our military and civilian missions will allow military action to provide the space for Afghan institutions owned by the Afghan people to develop at a faster pace.
Mr. Speaker, 68 international delegations will come to London for the 28 January conference on Afghanistan. All 43 powers engaged in the international coalition will attend, together with other regional and Muslim partners and international organisations, and they will be led by the Secretaries-General of the United Nations and NATO. I agreed with President Karzai that this conference will deliver a new compact between Afghanistan and the international community based on priorities that he has outlined.
The first of those priorities is security. We expect nations to announce troop deployments building on the total of 140,000 troops promised for 2010. I hope that the London conference will also be able to set out the next stage in a longer-term plan: the changing balance between alliance forces and Afghan army and defence forces as the number of Afghan forces increases from 90,000 to 135,000 next year and possibly to 175,000 later, as well as, of course, the future numbers, roles and tasks of the police, intelligence services and local security initiatives in Afghanistan.
Secondly, in London, NATO and international security assistance force partners must set out an outline programme for the transfer of lead responsibility from coalition to Afghan forces, along with an agreed set of conditions and criteria to establish the eligibility of provinces and districts for transfer. I hope we can agree in London that that process can begin during 2010, subject to conditions on the ground.
The third priority relates to reintegration. London must secure international support and financial backing for Afghan-led resettlement and reintegration programmes. Fourthly, there is the issue of economic development. As President Karzai proceeds with an anti-corruption programme, London must provide comprehensive long-term support for the Afghan economy, including support for farmers and working people in the towns and villages, in order to offer them a greater stake in the future of their country. That will include providing Afghans with credible alternatives to the poppy and the insurgency.
Finally, London must address the issue of co-ordinating international efforts on Afghanistan. That means reaffirming the role of the United Nations, announcing the new special representative of the Secretary-General, and announcing stronger civilian co-ordination in ISAF. London must also encourage a new set of relationships between Afghanistan and its neighbours, and, in particular, better joint working with Pakistan.
Although Afghanistan and Pakistan are different countries with their own cultural traditions and histories, they are both at the epicentre of global terrorism. Our national security interests require us to deny al-Qaeda space in which to operate across Pakistan, and also to deny it the option of returning to operate in Afghanistan. One of the biggest advances of the last year is increased co-operation with the Pakistan authorities in support of the efforts involved in the fight against the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and we want to build on that in the coming months.
As part of our partnership with the Pakistani armed forces, construction is now under way of the new UK-funded Baluchistan training facility, in which British mentors will be working with Pakistani training staff to build counter-insurgency capability for the 30,000-strong Baluchistan frontier corps. As part of our partnership with the civilian Government of Pakistan, the new education taskforce, which is focused on implementing education reforms, is meeting for the first time today in Islamabad. Moreover, £250 million of Britain’s development assistance to Pakistan is directed towards education, as I agreed with President Zardari earlier this month, because nothing is more important to addressing the root causes of so many of Pakistan’s problems than the building of a strong universal state education system, free from extremist influence and offering a viable alternative to low-quality schools, which include the poorly regulated and extremist madrassahs.
One of the first decisions of the European Council was to reiterate its strong commitments to promoting stability and development in Afghanistan and Pakistan. A second decision was to express the united view of Europe that there was “grave concern” about Iran’s nuclear weapons intentions. We recognised—here I quote from the communiqué—that Iran has
“so far done nothing to rebuild confidence of the international community in the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear programme.”
While we agreed that our offer of renegotiation and negotiation remains on the table, because of our continuing concerns about Iran’s nuclear programme we agreed to begin working on options for sanctions in the new year.
The Council also discussed the economic recovery, jobs and sustainable growth, and how Europe could move forward a climate change deal at Copenhagen. We reiterated unanimously that policies in support of the economy should
“remain in place and only be withdrawn when recovery is fully secured.”
“welcomed the rapid and determined action”
taken across Europe to strengthen financial regulation and supervision. It also agreed that
“Remuneration policies within the financial sector must promote sound and effective risk management”.
Following the introduction in the UK of an additional bank payroll tax when bank and building society employees’ discretionary bonuses are above £25,000, the Council encouraged
“Member States to promptly consider available short-term options”
to implement “sound compensation practices”.
Fourthly, in response to a British initiative, the Council emphasised
“the importance of renewing the economic and social contract between financial institutions and the society they serve and of ensuring that the public benefits in good times and is protected from risk.”
The Council encouraged the International Monetary Fund in its review to
“consider the full range of options including insurance fees, resolution funds, contingent capital arrangements and a global financial transaction levy.”
There are very few moments in history when nations are together summoned to make common decisions that will reshape the lives of every family, potentially for generations to come. Our aim must be an ambitious climate change deal in Copenhagen that will enable the European Union to make good its commitment that we
“move to a 30 per cent. reduction”
in carbon emission levels
“by 2020 compared to 1990”.
The agreement in Copenhagen must also include a clear financial framework for the short, medium and longer terms. This financial agreement must address the great injustice that is climate change: that those hit first and hardest by climate change are those who have done least harm; and that, in fact, 98 per cent. of those most severely affected and dying live in the poorest countries, which account for only 8 per cent. of global emissions. So it is essential that we honour our responsibility for helping meet the costs they face in adapting to, and mitigating the consequences of, climate change.
I can report to the House that, to assist in adaptation and mitigation, the European Union has pledged €7.2 billion—or £6.6 billion—over three years; that is €2.4 billion for each of the years 2010, 2011 and 2012. This should enable the world to reach its aim of $10 billion in climate change help for each year until 2012. Let me say that this financial agreement could not have got off the ground without the strongest European co-operation.
Britain will contribute £1.5 billion, but there must also be additional and predictable finance in the medium term to 2020 and beyond. The figure of €100 billion has been set for the long-term climate change needs of developing countries by 2020, and the European Council reconfirmed its commitment to “provide its fair share” of this international public support. I can say to the House that from 2013 the UK will provide additional climate finance over and above our 0.7 per cent. overseas development commitment, and that the European Council reaffirmed its “official development assistance commitments” in view of the
“impact of the economic crisis on the poorest.”
There is an urgent need to support rainforest countries. Twenty per cent. of early finance should be allocated to forest protection. To achieve a reduction in deforestation of 25 per cent. by 2015, leading to a 50 per cent. reduction in 2020 and a complete halt in 2030, will require global financing of about $25 billion over the period 2010-15. A majority of that should come from developed countries, to support the rainforest countries’ own efforts.
Today, we send a message to all of Europe and to the world: there is work to do. We are only halfway to an agreement. Now is the time for developed and developing countries not to divide among each other, but to do what no conference of 192 countries has ever achieved before: to come together with a forward-looking programme to advance our shared goals.
This week, world leaders are gathering in Copenhagen and, as I have indicated to the House authorities and Opposition leaders, I will join global leaders in Copenhagen, starting from Tuesday with meetings with leaders from the African Union and the European Union, and the UN Secretary-General and the Danish presidency, as well as representatives from the hard-hit small island states.
The agreement at Copenhagen must be ambitious, global, legally binding within months, consistent with a maximum global warming of 2° C and ensure the fairest financial settlement for the poorest countries. Britain, our European partners and the Commonwealth will continue to work tirelessly for the best result at Copenhagen, and I commend this statement to the House.
The European Council covered three main areas: foreign affairs, the environment and economic issues. I want to ask about all three, as well as the vital issue of Afghanistan.
On Afghanistan, as the Prime Minister knows, we have supported the increase in US and UK troop numbers, and, as the Prime Minister has said, at Christmas time we should all be thinking of our forces and their families. I would like to pay tribute to all those charities and organisations sending gifts, cards and presents to our forces in Afghanistan. Our forces should be on our minds for all that they are doing.
On strategy, we believe that this is the last best opportunity to get this right. Does the Prime Minister not agree that everything now needs to be brought together, including having the right concentration of troops in every part of southern Afghanistan? He talked about thickening the troop presence in central Helmand, and we look forward to hearing more about that. Perhaps he can tell us when he will be able to update the House on what is being done specifically to make sure that British troops cover fewer areas, in greater density—we believe that that is vital.
On the issue of the Afghan national army—the Prime Minister, like me, saw it being trained at first hand, and it is incredibly impressive—does he agree that we are now probably going as fast as we can and that to go any faster would involve a danger that the quality of recruits would suffer? Can he tell the House a little about what is being done to make sure that those Afghan national army recruits who are trained and then sent to the south of Afghanistan actually go to the south of Afghanistan, and that the units function properly?
On the London conference, about which the Prime Minister said quite a lot, could he give clarification about the new individual working on behalf of the UN Secretary-General? Does he still agree with us that it would be good to have someone over and above that to co-ordinate all the civilian side, rather in the same way that Stanley McChrystal is co-ordinating all the military side? That is what we have been pushing for, and perhaps the Prime Minister could clarify whether that is still the Government’s position.
On Iran, does the Prime Minister agree that the time has come for the EU to take a much stronger line? It is clear that talks with Iran are not moving, but the summit just referred to “considering”, as the Prime Minister said, options for next steps. Should not those specifically include three things at the very least: a tough new inspections regime on Iranian cargo; a ban on any new European investment in Iranian oil and gas; and serious financial sanctions like those that exist in the United States? We have been here before. The Prime Minister said in June 2008 that
“action will start today for a new phase of sanctions on oil and gas.”
Can he assure the House that this time the essential measures will be finally agreed and put into place?
On Copenhagen, can the Prime Minister be clear about what he thinks can now be achieved? Does he agree with Yvo de Boer, the UN’s chief climate negotiator, that achieving a full legally binding agreement is no longer possible at Copenhagen itself? If he is right about that, is it not essential that we see a full political declaration agreed this week? Is that not the minimum that the world has a right to expect? Does the Prime Minister agree with us that it is vital that any agreement is consistent with keeping global warming below the 2° C threshold?
On the issue of funding, the Prime Minister gave us the figures, but could he tell us a bit more about where the money is coming from? The UK’s contribution was originally £800 million, then it was £1.2 billion and then it was £1.5 billion. Can he tell us where this is coming from? If, as the Prime Minister’s spokesman said on Friday, it is coming from the aid budget, can the Prime Minister tell us whether this will have any impact on other aid programmes?
Turning to economic issues, this Prime Minister once described the UK budget rebate as “non-negotiable”—that was before he gave £7 billion of that rebate away. When he did so—this is the reason for asking the question today—Tony Blair said that the Government had obtained in return a review of the EU budget. That was meant to start in 2008 and to finish by the end of 2009, but it is absolutely nowhere near finishing. Indeed, in the draft summit conclusions the deadline slipped to next July, and in the final conclusions it slipped another six months, to the end of 2010. At a time when budgets are being cut in the UK, does the Prime Minister agree that in reviewing the EU budget, the main purpose should be to push for a real-terms cut in that budget? Does he also think that while public servants in this country are getting low pay increases or even, in some cases, pay freezes, it is completely wrong for EU civil servants to receive a 3.7 per cent. pay rise?
Turning to the new Commission, is it not the case that the Prime Minister’s whole approach to this has been wrong from start to finish? He started by spending valuable political capital on a completely misconceived plan to make Tony Blair President of Europe and ended with Britain having none of the key economic portfolios. Indeed, the Government became so dysfunctional that at one stage Peter Mandelson tried to land himself the job of High Representative. The Prime Minister shakes his head, but perhaps he should just nod. Did Lord Mandelson try to get the job? Is there anybody in there? He was frantically hitting the phones, apparently—the rat was trying to leave the sinking ship, but he is still on board.
Friends of Lord Mandelson, which always used to mean Peter Mandelson himself, said that he thought the whole thing not pathetic, but “botched”. That was his word. Is that not the right description for the Prime Minister’s handling of this affair?
On financial services, cross-border co-operation is clearly vital. However, will the Prime Minister confirm that Britain has effectively given up its veto on blocking regulatory decisions in times of crisis when there is a disagreement over whether there are financial consequences for the taxpayer? He did not mention that in his statement—perhaps he can answer it when he has finished chuntering from a sedentary position.
The summit conclusions also called for the restoration of sound public finances. May I ask the Prime Minister whether he ever expected to come back from a European summit as Prime Minister after 12 years’ stewardship of Britain’s finances with the biggest deficit of any major economy, with Britain the only G20 country still mired in recession and with the worst outlook for public finances in a generation? Is that what he meant by leading the way in Europe?
I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman spent most of his time raising issues that were not even discussed at the European Council. It would have been better if he had addressed in a bit more detail all the issues that I put to the House this afternoon.
The first issue was those matters that relate to Afghanistan. It is very important to recognise that there is all-party agreement on these matters and not to exaggerate any differences between us at this particularly sensitive time, when more troops are going into Afghanistan, when we are persuading the Afghan forces to increase their numbers in Helmand province, and when we are trying to extend civilian and military co-operation so that we can tackle the Taliban insurgency effectively by weakening them and strengthening the Afghan state.
I said to the right hon. Gentleman that we were increasing our presence in Helmand, but so, too, is the American presence in Helmand increasing. The number of troops in Helmand will go up from something in the order of 20,000 to 30,000 over the next few months. That will include, of course, the Afghan army’s making a bigger contribution in Helmand. Over time, the balance will change between the alliance forces—if I can put it that way—and the Afghan forces. By 2011, across the whole of Afghanistan, the Afghan forces will exceed the alliance forces. On top of that, we have the Afghan police numbers, too. That is our policy for the gradual Afghanisation of security control. In that way, district by district and province by province, we can transfer to Afghan control. I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman that when I met the Afghan forces in Helmand yesterday, who were training on anti-explosive devices, those whom I talked to came from all different parts of the country to Helmand, both to be trained and to form part of a more effective army for the whole of Afghanistan in the long run.
I said that we were proposing that humanitarian and civilian issues related to the co-ordination of the effort of Afghanistan were to be a main feature of the London conference. Now that Mr. Kai Eide has resigned as the UN representative—I believe that he will stay on until March, but he is retiring after that—we will, in my view, have to appoint both a representative from ISAF and one from NATO. I talked about this to the Secretary-General of NATO this afternoon. There will be a UN appointment and there will also be a NATO appointment. It is important to recognise that all these interests must be represented, but there must be greater co-ordination at the centre.
As far as Afghanistan in general is concerned, I hope that Members of the House will feel that the measures that we are taking to deal with IEDs are important in protecting our troops and in destroying the morale of the Taliban. I have to say that when I was in Afghanistan yesterday, it was reported to me that 1,500 IEDs had been detected and dismantled through the expertise of our forces and, in particular, that of the engineers, who do such important work. If we can continue to defuse and dismantle, and therefore disable, these IEDs, we can reduce the rate of casualties that we have suffered over the past year—80 per cent. of casualties throughout Afghanistan and among British forces are due to IEDs. It is therefore absolutely essential that we take all the measures that I announced today to increase our effort to deal with them.
I turn now to Iran. It is true that we have been at the forefront of proposing sanctions on Iran, but it is also true that taking unilateral action without getting European support and the support of the rest of the world would not yield the impact that we want. We are working with our European partners and with the rest of the international community so that the agreed and unanimous approach to what Iran has done can yield practical results in sanctions that actually work.
The right hon. Gentleman also raised issues regarding the European Council. At the Council, we discussed a timetable for resolving budget issues, we discussed economic co-operation across Europe and we discussed the fiscal stimulus that has been necessary to bring the economy forward and to move economies out of recession. I have to tell him that there are 12 European economies still in recession and that a number of economies, including Germany, have suffered a far worse recession than we have. We have the highest employment rate in the G7, and unemployment here is lower than in most other countries that are comparable to us, as a result of the action that we have taken. I have to say to the Conservatives that there is agreement at the European Council that we needed fiscal stimulus so that the economy could move forward, agreement that we should have taken action to restructure the banks, agreement that the fiscal stimulus should continue, and agreement that we must all take action against unemployment and to help small businesses in these difficulties by providing Government funds. The only group that seems to stand outside that agreement within Europe and the rest of the world is the Conservative party that is represented on the Opposition Benches.
On climate change, it is incredibly important that the voice of this House, from all parties in the House, says that we want developing and developed countries to work together to secure an agreement. That is why our offer of support is right if we are to get an agreement that shows developing countries that we mean business in tackling the issues that they face most of all as a result of climate change. That is why we were the leaders in a European agreement that has ensured that very substantial funds—about $3.5 billion a year—will go to helping developing countries adapt to and mitigate climate change, including through action on forestry. But we have a great deal of work still to do, because we have to get an agreement about the longer term as well as the short term. We have to get an agreement about intermediate targets and about transparency in all the issues that we undertake. I think that we in Britain have led the way with a climate change Act, and we have led the way with an announcement that we will be active in providing long-term finance to help developing countries. We have suggested a figure of $10 billion as a fast-track initiative for both the European Union and the rest of the world to follow, and there is now virtual agreement on that.
We will continue to press for a just and fair settlement at Copenhagen. The reason why I want to go there tomorrow is to talk to all the parties about what we can do together. The reason why I think the Opposition should support Britain’s being present is that we have led the way on the millennium development goals, we have led the way on debt relief, we have led the way on international economic co-operation, we have led the way on the restructuring of the banks and we are leading the way on climate change—something the Opposition could never do.
I would like to thank the Prime Minister for his statement, and of course to add my expressions of gratitude to our armed forces who are serving so bravely and selflessly in Afghanistan. With families across the country preparing to come together for the Christmas holidays, may I also pay tribute to the families and friends of our servicemen and women? The enormous sacrifices they are also making for this war are uppermost in all our minds at this time of year.
I am grateful to the Prime Minister for his detailed statement on Afghanistan, but I should like to seek clarity on two points. First, will he clarify what he believes to be the role of China, Russia and Iran? Whether we like it or not, those nations are absolutely crucial in securing long-term stability in Afghanistan. I was not quite sure, from what he said, whether any or all three of those nations will be represented at the London conference. If they will not, will he provide us with some detail about how we might engage with all three of them to help to stabilise Afghanistan, notwithstanding the other major differences that we have, particularly with Iran at this particular time?
The second point is this. We all know that the war in Afghanistan will be won only if we win the battle for the hearts and minds of the Afghan people. In turn, that is heavily dependent on the legitimacy of President Karzai and his Government in Kabul. The Prime Minister referred to President Karzai’s efforts against corruption, but could he tell me how exactly he will judge progress on good governance and against corruption in Afghanistan by the time President Karzai comes to the London conference in January?
Given that the resources allocated and the strategy we have been pursuing in Afghanistan during the past eight years were so heavily influenced by the war in Iraq, I should like to know what the Prime Minister thought of his predecessor’s admission this weekend that he would have invaded Iraq whether there were weapons of mass destruction or not. The Prime Minister not only supported his then boss in taking us to war, but he also signed all the cheques, so people have a right to know: does the Prime Minister agree with Tony Blair that the invasion would have been justified even without the paper-thin excuse of weapons of mass destruction?
Finally, on climate change, a few hours ago we heard that the talks in Copenhagen were suspended—although I am told that they restarted a few minutes ago—because of differences in the international community between the developing and developed world. I am sure the Prime Minister agrees that the “I will if you will” brinkmanship needs to come to an end. Too many players are making their commitments conditional on the commitments of others, so will the Prime Minister make a unilateral commitment to help break that deadlock? The Committee on Climate Change said that to meet the European Union target of 30 per cent. cuts on 1990 levels by 2020, the UK would need to cut its emissions by 42 per cent. by 2020. The Prime Minister does not need to wait for anyone else to make that commitment. Will he make it today?
First, let me deal with Afghanistan. It is right that at a conference discussing Afghanistan, not only the coalition partners should be present but so too should regional neighbours, and that is our intention. It is very important to recognise that in the longer term Afghanistan’s future is dependent on both non-interference by its immediate neighbours and economic and cultural co-operation between Afghanistan and its neighbours. We will do what we can to advance that process—difficult though it has been to get some of the neighbours even to talk to each other. That is part of the discussion that will take place at the conference. There will be discussion too of the role of Pakistan, because if action can be taken on both sides of the border against al-Qaeda and against the Taliban, we have a better chance of succeeding in our objectives in Afghanistan.
When President Karzai comes to London, we will expect him to be able to show progress on the anti-corruption laws he is proposing and the anti-corruption taskforce he has set up. Last week, there were 12 arrests for corruption. Obviously, people will look at the appointment of his Cabinet and the appointment of district and provincial governors, and at what they say. He is holding a conference on those very issues in Kabul tomorrow, and I hope that will show the determination to make progress. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that President Karzai is determined to come to London with a plan to deal with some of the problems in Afghanistan that have been intractable over many years.
As for Iraq, there is an inquiry sitting. The inquiry will hear evidence and then make its report.
As far as climate change is concerned, there is a European offer of 20 per cent., to go to 30 per cent. if we can get an ambitious settlement—where other countries join in going to the ambitious ranges they have set. If Japan, Australia and Brazil, with their very ambitious ranges, and South Korea can go further, and if we can see the movement we want from other partners in the negotiation, our wish is to go 30 per cent. But we will have to get not only intermediate targets agreed with other countries and statements about national emission plans from the developing countries, but also, as I have said before, financial agreement and technology exchange agreements. Verification issues will be raised as well, so there is a lot of work still to be done at Copenhagen. I know that the right hon. Gentleman wants the most ambitious agreement possible and I am grateful for the support he will give us in these efforts.
The Prime Minister referred to Pakistan. He knows of the great sacrifices being made by the civilian population and the military in Pakistan in fighting extremism. Did he discuss with President Karzai the importance of effective co-operation between Afghanistan and Pakistan, particularly in combating extremism in the Pashtun areas on both sides of the Durand line?
As my hon. Friend, who is an expert on these affairs, will know, we wish to work with the Pakistan Government, not simply for them to deal with the problem of the Pakistan Taliban, as they have done in the Swat territory and equally in Waziristan. We want to work with them to deal with those areas where there were problems also with the Afghan Taliban based in Pakistan, so we want to see the maximum co-operation between President Karzai and the Pakistani authorities, including President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani, and we want to see more effective co-operation between the armed forces of both countries so that in the end we can have joint measures that will protect the border areas. Co-operation between Afghanistan and Pakistan will be very much more important in future years. I am grateful that we have the present level of co-operation with Pakistan on the issues that I raised in my statement, but we want to see further co-operation on security issues strengthened in the months to come.
It is good to hear that our troops in Afghanistan are getting more mine-clearing equipment, but at the expense of what? A recent review set up by the former Secretary of State for Defence says that the defence equipment programme is unaffordable. Is that right?
We have increased defence spending every year. There is £1 billion more being spent on defence this year, and we have given real-terms rises to defence of nearly 10 per cent. over the past 10 years. In addition to that, we have provided for the equipment needs and the other additional needs associated with the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is because we announced additional money from the Treasury reserve to pay for new equipment that the Mastiffs and the Ridgbacks are going into Afghanistan as vehicles, additional helicopters were able to go to Afghanistan, and the anti-IED commitment is being provided. We have met all the requirements of our military forces on the ground to enable them to mount their campaigns in Afghanistan. I am sorry that Conservative Members are trying to dispute that, when the fact of the matter is that all urgent operational requirements of the Ministry of Defence have been met and will continue to be met.
I met a delegation of Afghan MPs in Geneva a few weeks ago. They are extremely grateful for the efforts being made by this country on their behalf. However, one woman in the delegation—I cannot say publicly what she told me in private—said that women are still extremely vulnerable in that country. I have raised the matter in the Chamber several times in the past. The UN has criticised the Afghan Government for not doing enough to protect women. This woman is in danger. Will the Prime Minister raise the matter—the situation of women—during the Afghan conference in London in January? That was one of the reasons why we went in to help Afghanistan.
My right hon. Friend is right. We made representations about the Shi’a family law that was discussed in the summer. The President ensured that some of the discriminatory parts of that were removed as a result of international pressure, as well as that of people in his own country, including women, urging that he change the position. I realise that the rights of women in Afghanistan are an issue that we must promote at all times when we are discussing the future of Afghanistan.
It is true that as a result of what has happened over the past few years, whereas no girls went to school, there are now 2.5 million girls at school. For the future of Afghanistan, that is a vital change that is happening. Increasing the numbers of children at school, including girls, is a vital part of the programme. At the same time, maternal mortality was among the worst in the world. I understand that one in eight births ended in the death of the mother as a result of the inadequate facilities. I am told that recent research suggests that 100,000 children are now surviving to the age of five who would otherwise not have done so, as a result of the improvements in tackling infant mortality and child health. These achievements are a result of bringing health and education to the people of Afghanistan. My right hon. Friend is right: we must never forget the importance of these issues—the social and economic improvement of the condition of the population—when we are talking about the future of Afghanistan.
The Prime Minister’s announcement of an additional £50 million for three years on counter-IED and intelligence work is very welcome. Will that money come as an urgent operational requirement from the Treasury, or will it come from within the existing defence budget?
The Chancellor reported in the pre-Budget report that expenditure on Afghanistan from the reserve was something in the order of £600 million three years ago. It will be almost £4.5 billion in the next two years. That is as a result of additional money made available by the Treasury.
Very recently, seven Taliban attacked a convoy that was being protected by 300 members of the Afghan army. Almost all those 300 fled the scene immediately, and one of their generals said that they have no motivation to risk their lives for an election-rigging President, for their own country or for the international community. The Afghan police are a lawless bunch of depraved thieves. Does the Prime Minister really believe that we can build a solid security service on those collapsing foundations?
There are two views we can take about Afghanistan, and my hon. Friend takes a different one from mine. The first view is that the Taliban have a huge amount of support in Afghanistan and the Afghan people will not resist them. The second view, however, is the one I take—that the Taliban have very limited public support from the people of Afghanistan. All opinion polls show, and all the evidence that we have is, that the public do not want the Taliban to return in Afghanistan. The public know the damage that the Taliban did in the past; they know the threat to women’s rights; they know the damage that was done to children’s education; and they know the justice that the Taliban meted out unfairly, particularly against women. Our best estimate is that the people of Afghanistan, by a very substantial majority, do not want the Taliban to return to government. The people want to be assured that there is security, guaranteed by Afghan forces and by the alliance forces working together. Over time, they will want to see security kept by the Afghan army, Afghan police and Afghan security services, and that is what our strategy, which we have proposed for some time, is working towards. I do not accept my hon. Friend’s initial premise that the Taliban have anything like the support that he suggests.
I think the hon. Gentleman has got to understand that the total amount of additional public expenditure—on top of the defence budget—in Iraq and Afghanistan is £14 billion. That is on top of the defence budget; that is additional to a rising defence budget. I think he has got to understand also the scale of the investment that we have made in equipment, which is in the order of £5 billion. He should look at the overall amount of money that has been invested in Afghanistan, including £1 billion alone in new equipment for vehicles, as well as the extra investment in helicopters and IED equipment. The total sum for equipment is £5 billion, much of it spent in the past two years to make for better vehicles. In the Chancellor’s pre-Budget report we have allocated, as the hon. Gentleman knows, in the reserve sufficient funds for Afghanistan in the coming year. I do not think his criticism of us should be that we have spent too little on or invested too little in the safety of our forces. We have done whatever is necessary.
Is the Prime Minister aware that the whole House will be much encouraged by his trip to Afghanistan, in particular his direct conversations with President Karzai? The number of troops being committed is very encouraging, but the quality, as my right hon. Friend knows, will be very important too. That will depend on provincial governments, so could we see a start by President Karzai on some reorganisation of the Kandahar provincial government, which is so central to the problems associated with corruption?
I talked to President Karzai about the governorships of Kandahar and Helmand, and about the appointments that he will make to his Cabinet in the next few days. My hon. Friend is absolutely right: it is the quality of local government on the ground, the quality of the Afghan army and, particularly over time, the quality of the police in Afghanistan that will be so vital to success in the future. But what I saw yesterday was Afghan recruits training, at a high level of demand from the British trainers, and acquitting themselves well. What I have also seen in Governor Mangal in Helmand is a governor who can show that you can get resources directly to the people and build up a system of law. Wherever that is not happening, action should be taken, and we will give our views directly to President Karzai.
The Prime Minister did not answer the leader of the Liberal Democrats on the case for going to war in Iraq on the grounds that it would be inappropriate because an inquiry on that is being held at the moment. Does he believe, then, that his Defence Secretary’s remarks on condemning going to war without giving correct proof were inappropriate?
The Prime Minister is well aware that all wars have to end with some kind of political settlement or negotiation. We are now in our ninth year of this war in Afghanistan; billions have been spent and thousands of lives have been lost. At what point does he envisage some kind of political engagement with those people in Afghanistan who are not supporters of Karzai and his corrupt Government, but who want some other solution?
I think my hon. Friend draws the wrong conclusions in his remarks. Britain cannot be safe from terrorism unless we deal with problems that exist not just in Britain but on the borders of Afghanistan and Pakistan. If we do not take on al-Qaeda and prevent it from having space in Afghanistan, with the freedom of movement to plan operations in Britain, then we will be failing in our duty to the security of the people he represents in London and people in the rest of the country, who have had to suffer from terrorist plots that have been organised from the Afghan-Pakistan border. Yes, it is right that Afghanistan is an infant democracy where problems existed in a very big way during the election campaign, but it is better for us to build Afghan forces that are under an Afghan democracy, to build up security services that are under an Afghan President who is elected by the people, and to build up local government in Afghanistan than to give up and allow the people who never wanted us to take the action that was necessary to win this argument. This is about the security of the people of Britain.
The Prime Minister has rightly praised our brave troops in Afghanistan, who include my former regiment, the Coldstream Guards. He said that he would provide more equipment and support for the armed forces. The armed forces do not operate only in Afghanistan, so can he reassure the House that the future defence budget will be fully funded and explain who was responsible for the chronic deficit and underfunding in defence that has occurred over a number of years and is highlighted in a devastating report by the National Audit Office? Sadly, it is embargoed until midnight tonight; otherwise, I would quote from it.
The time when the defence budget was cut massively was under the Conservative Government between 1992 and 1997. Defence expenditure has risen in real terms by 10 per cent. since 1997. I keep repeating to the hon. Gentleman that the urgent operational requirements of our defence forces when they are in action abroad, as they have been in Iraq and Afghanistan, are met by separate claims from the reserves. I think he should look at the arithmetic of what has actually happened, and he will see that extra urgent operational requirements have always been met by the Treasury. I really do think it is unfortunate, when he can see the additional resources that have been made available, the reserve claims that have been paid and the urgent operational requirements that have been met, for him to try to tell the British people that our armed forces have not got the equipment they need. They have the equipment for the job they are doing.
Pacific island states are already suffering significant effects from global warming. They have produced national adaptation plans, but do not have the money to implement them. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that money is available from the EU funds for this adaptation now, as without it the implications of global warming will only continue to get worse for those islands?
I know from my hon. Friend’s work that she knows very well the challenges that are faced by the island states. She also knows some of the countries that were present at the Commonwealth conference because she has very strong links with them. I know perfectly well that countries from the Maldives to Bangladesh look to the climate change conference in Copenhagen to give answers to the problems they face as a result of immediate and urgent requirements owing to climate change. The purpose of the European contribution—$3.5 billion a year in 2010, 2011 and 2012—is to contribute to a worldwide fund of something in the order of $10 billion a year, principally for the expenditure on adaptation that she wishes to see. There is a proposal that the island states that have suffered most of all will get a proportion of that fund to enable them to take action immediately. We know very well that some of the problems they face are urgent and have to be addressed not just in the next few years but in the next few months.
Does the Prime Minister recognise that he does not need an inquiry to know that his “thank you” to the British troops would be all the stronger if it contained an apology, to them and to the people of Afghanistan, for the failure to resource the war there properly in the early years because of the folly of going to war in Iraq on a false prospectus?
I am sorry that the Liberal party is trying to follow the Conservative party in subscribing to a myth that the Afghan campaign has been underfunded. That is totally wrong, and I hope that in the interests of the unity of our country in facing the terrorist threat, the Conservative party and the Liberal party will recognise that we are spending more on our armed forces and on meeting urgent operational requirements than we ever did.
We have taken the view, which I believe is held by the vast majority of the British people, that we cannot defend Britain against terrorism simply through the extra money that we are spending on security and police forces within our borders. We cannot operate a “fortress Britain” strategy when we have problems arising in Pakistan and Afghanistan that bring terrorist plots to London and our country from their bases there. It was right to take the action that we did, which has been and will continue to be properly funded. If the Opposition continue to perpetuate the myth that inadequate funding is being provided for our armed forces, the public will lose support for the effort that we are making, which would be a very unfortunate outcome.
Does the Prime Minister accept the wide welcome for the additional money going to climate change measures in developing countries, on top of the 0.7 per cent. commitment? Does he also accept that anyone who believed that there would be a full, legally binding agreement on climate change this week clearly comes very late to the subject and would be better off persuading his sister parties on the fringe in Europe to stop opposing climate change legislation?
I tend to think that the Conservatives are better at the photo opportunities than at policy on these issues. They have made no commitment at all to additionality when it comes to climate change, and they seem to treat the climate change debate as a joke. It is a serious matter, and we are going to bring it to a conclusion.
Will the Prime Minister accept that the Afghan police have not made the same progress as the Afghan army? Given that five members of our Army have just paid with their lives because of a police incident, does he accept that it would be irresponsible to accelerate their recruiting, vetting and training?
The tragic incident in which five of our soldiers lost their lives must be properly investigated, and we must get all the answers. That is right for the families, but it is also right for the future of co-operation between the Afghan police and military and the British police and military. On the ground in Afghanistan, our troops are working day by day with Afghan forces. They are working in joint exercises with the Afghan police and military, and we would be making a grave mistake if we simply stayed with the status quo and did not move forward the partnering with them. The scaling up of that partnering, which has been agreed as a result of the recommendations of General McChrystal—we advocated it months before that, and President Obama is now putting resources into it—is the right way forward for Afghanistan. The other strategies, including the one that the hon. Gentleman proposes, would leave us at a standstill and not getting the progress that we need so that Afghan forces can take direct control of their own security over time.
It is the intention of the European Union to maintain the fiscal stimulus and show that we have deficit reduction plans for the future, and it is the intention of each of the countries of the EU to show that they have deficit reduction plans as well as a commitment to protect themselves against the recession. That was the basis of discussion at the European Union.
My nephew has just returned from a six-month tour in Helmand with the Royal Engineers. He tells me that it was particularly frustrating that they would spend all day detecting and disarming improvised explosive devices and return to base at night, only for the Taliban to come out during the hours of darkness to re-seed the fields with such devices. If there is not going to be a curfew at night, the Afghan army or police or someone has to secure the ground, because all that is happening at night is that the Taliban are taking back the ground that engineers and others have spent all day retaking, at risk to their own lives.
I appreciate that difficulty. If the hon. Gentleman has specific information that he wants people to look at, I will be happy to look at it myself and pass it on. However, the truth of the matter is that there is enhanced surveillance of what is happening on the ground. Where there is change in the land during the course of a week or a day, we are in many cases able to detect it. Important security work is therefore being done to make sure that where IEDs are planted, we have more information about them and the people planting them. I agree that that has been a problem, but I think that we have better security measures than we had before.
Did my right hon. Friend get the opportunity to witness first hand the tremendous contribution to the mission in Afghanistan being made by the Royal Navy, in what is often seen as an Army campaign? Does he agree that any suggestion that the budget of the Royal Navy could be cut without hindering either the mission in Afghanistan or our other vital global interests is just plain wrong?
I met members of the Royal Navy in Helmand and Afghanistan yesterday. Their work with Sea King helicopters is of course incredibly important in Afghanistan, but many people from the Royal Navy are working with our troops in Afghanistan and doing an incredible job. Our commitment to the Navy is shown by our decision on the aircraft carrier.
I was in Camp Bastion in September last year, just after 2,000 British troops, including many from 16 Air Assault Brigade, delivered a turbine to the Kajaki dam, which was a daring and dangerous mission. Fifteen months later, that turbine has yet to be installed, because the other equipment needed cannot be taken there because of the dangers. Bearing in mind the Prime Minister’s promise that he was going to get more European nations involved, and with the additional aerial surveillance, will he get them to secure that road so that the battle of hearts and minds can be won?
I would not like the hon. Gentleman to give the wrong impression. Two generators are there, but the third has not been brought into use. The decision has been made that diesel-powered, local generation is a better way forward to meet the gap in electricity power that exists in that area. As far as my meetings yesterday with people in Afghanistan are concerned, the extra work that we will do on economic development, which is giving people a stake in the future, will include not only building roads, as we have done, but giving farmers the opportunity to benefit from the wheat harvest and to grow wheat. I think that that will help around 40,000 farmers in the Helmand area over the next year.
Every member of the European Union present wanted to maintain the fiscal stimulus and said that it should be maintained until the recovery was assured. Only the Conservative party is so arrogant to believe that it knows better than almost every country in the world and every political leadership, whether of the right or left, around the world. The answer, of course, is that if they had the Conservative policy, there would be more unemployment, more small businesses going to the wall, more people losing their homes, and a higher deficit and higher debt.
While we should salute the work being done by the Pakistani army, not least its special forces, it remains the case that a large proportion of it is deployed along Pakistan’s border with India. Those troops would be better employed going after the Afghan Taliban in Pakistan. What discussions has the Prime Minister had with either the Government of Pakistan or the Pakistani military to encourage them to redeploy more of their forces?
The hon. Gentleman will know that a very substantial number of the Pakistani armed forces have been operating in the Swat valley and that about 30,000 of the Pakistani forces have been, and are, in Waziristan, taking on the Pakistan Taliban there. There has therefore been a considerable change in the amount of effort that the Pakistan authorities are making in tackling the terrorist threat within their own country. However, I agree with him that, if the relationship between Pakistan and India were less tense, with less need for troops on both sides of the border, Pakistan could do more to tackle the terrorist threat within its own borders. That requires India and Pakistan to work more closely together. We are determined to see what we can do to make that possible. I have talked to both Prime Minister Singh and President Zardari about that. If we can get a closer working relationship between India and Pakistan, even after the horror of the Mumbai bombings, it would greatly help the campaign against the Taliban and against al-Qaeda in Pakistan.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s answer earlier about the plight of the south Pacific islands. We visited five of those islands—Fiji, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Tonga and Kiribati—during the summer recess as part of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. The Speaker of Tuvalu said to me, as I left for the plane, “Thank you so much for coming and for thinking about us. Please do not forget us.” That is the message that I would like to give to my right hon. Friend as he goes to Copenhagen.
My hon. Friend has taken a long-term interest in the problems faced by those island states, where we could be dealing with climate change refugees and evacuees in the not too distant future. Copenhagen is important, because it can allow us to make a commitment to help immediately those island states that are facing these immense difficulties, and help them to obtain support to deal with the adaptation necessary. We will not forget the challenges faced by these islands. Many of them are part of the Commonwealth and it is important that we come to their aid when they are in need.
Why was the Prime Minister’s statement completely silent on the Council agreements on a tangible EU citizenship, a single EU judicial space, an internal security system and what it calls a common asylum system by 2012? As Labour Ministers argued against all those policies during the negotiations on the Lisbon treaty, as I saw for myself on the European Convention, does the Prime Minister regret having to support them now and pretend that he was always in favour of them?
I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman has moved on since he was at the European Convention. He does not realise that we secured all our red lines on these issues when we negotiated the treaty. He has forgotten that the constitutional concept—the original plan for the Convention—was abandoned and we have a treaty that now meets the interests of the British people, so much so that the Conservative party has abandoned its long-held policy and has decided that it does not want a referendum on the treaty any more. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman supports his party.
In relation to Copenhagen and climatic change, can the Prime Minister say whether China and India will play a major part in any negotiations or agreement reached in Copenhagen? There seem to be some doubts about China’s position.
China and India must be central to an agreement in Copenhagen. As we know, one of the great problems of the previous Kyoto agreement was the number of countries not involved in it. It is crucial that China plays its part in the negotiations. It is one of the biggest emitters, if not now the biggest. It is also crucial that India, which is also growing fast, plays its part in the negotiations. I will meet Premier Wen and, I hope, talk to Prime Minister Singh in the next few days. We will try to work together to secure the necessary agreement.
The Prime Minister has explained that there will shortly be 30,000 allied troops in Helmand province. When the Helmand operation began, there were 3,000 British troops funded to 60 per cent. per head, compared to 10,000 British troops there today. Who was Chancellor of the Exchequer in 2006 and what lessons have been learnt?
The number of troops in Afghanistan has risen substantially, but the equipment available to those troops has also risen substantially as the needs of fighting a guerrilla war against the Taliban have had to be met. I say to the Conservative party that it is making a huge mistake if it believes that it can persuade the British people, and that it is in the interests of the British people that they be persuaded, that our troops are underfunded and not properly equipped. That campaign was run by certain Conservatives over the summer. It does huge damage to public support for the operation.
Everybody here knows that our troops have had substantial additional funding from the Treasury, that the vehicles available to them are far more sophisticated than before, that the helicopter support is available and that we are bringing in the best counter-IED support to deal with a new threat that has been posed by the Taliban. I hope that the Conservative party will rethink that position, which I believe will damage public support for this exercise.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s visit, and indeed that made last week by the Leader of the Opposition. I am sure that those visits gave a lot of comfort and support to our troops. May we also show some comfort and support for the Afghanis who seek to claim asylum in this country? Is it really right that we should remove people to a country that is so patently unsafe?
Thousands of service families, including those at RAF Lossiemouth and RAF Kinloss, are reading reports of planned base closures and defence cuts. Why is the Prime Minister not being up front about his preference for conventional defence cuts, rather than scrapping the Trident nuclear programme, which would save £100 billion?
The hon. Gentleman knows that scrapping the Trident programme would lose hundreds—indeed, a great many—of jobs in Scotland as well. If his issue is jobs he should know that we have funded the aircraft carriers, which are being built partly in Scotland. We have increased the defence budget every year. We have also, of course, increased the urgent operational requirements for our Air Force, as well as our Navy and Army. When he looks at the record of enhanced expenditure and investment in our armed forces, both in Scotland and in the rest of the UK, he will know that the Government are doing their job.
I thank the Prime Minister for the tremendous support he has given to my early-day motion 1396, from last year, on the so-called Tobin tax—an example of how the few can be made to help the many. Will he also support a new early-day motion on the same lines, about an Ashcroft tax?
It is very strange that the Conservative party automatically—almost without thinking about it—came out against a global financial transaction tax. Such a tax is now being discussed in all countries in Europe and investigated by the International Monetary Fund, and the EU is to produce a report on it. Certain people around the world who are esteemed in the academic profession as economists are supporting this, but, as a reflex action, the Conservative party is against it. The Conservatives are interested in one form of tax—that is, tax avoidance. It is about time we heard whether the deputy chairman of the Conservative party, after 10 years, has honoured his promise to pay tax in the UK.
Will the Prime Minister join me in paying tribute to our armed forces, not just those in combat roles, but those doing humanitarian work in areas where the international development agencies cannot operate—building bridges, building schools and so forth? Does that good work count towards the UN target of 0.7 per cent. of gross domestic product?
If it is international aid that is helping underdeveloped and low-income countries, it is possible that it will count. That is the right thing to happen. The purpose of overseas development aid is to help the poorest of the world and allow them—through better provision for health and education, and through economic development—to raise their living standards and to take themselves out of poverty. The achievement of international development aid and all work done with developing countries will be that many millions more people are taken out of poverty.
Next year, the UK will pay £4 billion more to the EU than it did last year. In the pre-Budget report, the Chancellor announced a tax on jobs. That will raise £3.1 billion. Is it surprising that people in this country are fed up with giving money to the EU, rather than protecting front-line services here?
We are part of a European Union of 27 members. I know that many people on the Opposition Benches do not like that fact, but one of the responsibilities of membership is that we provide resources for all members of the European Union, depending on our ability to pay. That is in the agreements that have been negotiated, and these agreements are in the interest of a country that trades 60 per cent. of its goods with the European Union, has 3 million jobs dependent on the European Union and has 750,000 companies that are involved with the European Union. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to indulge the anti-Europeanism of the Tory party, then let him do it, but I believe that the whole of the British nation sees the importance of our relationship with Europe.
Can the Prime Minister say whether we are training Afghans in bomb disposal and the use of robotics and other equipment to deal with IEDs, and whether, as we start to draw down and withdraw, we will leave the Afghans with the necessary equipment to do that job?
Yesterday I saw our British forces training the Afghan forces in the hand-held equipment that is necessary to detect IEDs. Most of the work that we are doing on IEDs with robotic equipment is done by British forces, but over time it must be our aim to train the Afghan forces, so that they can take responsibility for the security of those districts and provinces. That, I believe, is the proper strategy for Afghanistan, andI hope that there will be all-party support for it.
Given the disclosure today of documents confirming that Iran has taken great strides in developing its nuclear weapon capability, is it not the reality that while the international community, and in particular the European Union, dithers, Israel, sooner rather than later, will feel compelled to repel the direct threat to its existence?
I think that the hon. Gentleman should reflect on the fact that the international community is attempting to show unity in the face of Iran. We are attempting to work with China and Russia, as well as with the other powers, to deal with what is a clear threat. The message to Iran must be, “Join the international community and renounce nuclear weapons, or face isolation from the international community”, with the potential for sanctions if the Iranians do not, and it is a stronger message when put by all countries together.
With the United Kingdom sending more troops to Afghanistan than France and Germany combined, does the Prime Minister understand the concerns of my constituents that, while this country is fulfilling its responsibilities, others among our major European partners are not?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is right for us to do more in Afghanistan, and we are doing our best to contribute to the forces. I hope that the implication of his question is not that if France and Germany do not come up with the numbers, we should do less. I do not think that that is the case. What I believe should happen is that all countries in the alliance should look at what they can do and whether they can contribute more. Not just eight countries, which was the initial number of countries following us that I announced to the House a few weeks ago, but 38 countries are offering their help in Afghanistan as part of NATO and the coalition. We should welcome the fact that many countries are doing so. Announcements have yet to come from other countries, and I believe that they will come from some of them over the next weeks or months.
Let me repeat, so that everybody is clear about the money that we are spending on the equipment of our forces, that the Chief of the Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, said:
“The equipment…people are using is…the best that they’ve ever had”.
I hope that the Conservative party will listen to that and follow his advice on that matter.