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Volume 522: debated on Tuesday 1 February 2011

1. What recent discussions he has had with his Afghan counterpart; and if he will make a statement. (37140)

My ministerial colleagues and I have regular contact with our Afghan opposite numbers to discuss a wide range of issues. We are working together to help bring stability to Afghanistan. I hope to be able to meet with Dr Rassoul again shortly.

The whole House will echo the Foreign Secretary’s sentiments about how important it is that we bring stability to Afghanistan. The Taliban are greatly strengthened by any ability to increase the drug trade over there. Can the Foreign Secretary tell us what measures he is taking to reduce poppy production in Afghanistan, and what success we are having in this important fight?

Of course we work with the Afghan authorities and many international partners on combating the drugs trade, which is one source of finance for the insurgency in Afghanistan. In the Foreign Office programme spending that I have announced in a written statement today, the hon. Gentleman will see that I have allocated £16 million of British taxpayers’ money in the coming year for important counter-narcotics work in Afghanistan. It has met with some success in recent times, with a reduction in the total yield of the poppy crop, but we have to keep up the momentum.

As Britain gradually withdraws its hard power over the next few years, does the Foreign Secretary see a role for this country in increasing and advancing its soft power, particularly in democracy-building support in the more secure areas, not least through our home-grown Westminster Foundation for Democracy?

I hope that I will always see such a role. Indeed, in the same allocation of FCO programme funds, on which I made a written statement earlier today, my hon. Friend will see that there is a small increase for the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, from £3 million to £3.5 million. The foundation does important work across the world, and all of us across the House would want it to succeed.

Can the Foreign Secretary update the House on what discussions he has held on appointing a successor to US envoy Richard Holbrooke, an individual who I know was widely respected in all parts of the House, and on the political progress that he expects to be made in Afghanistan by the time of the Bonn conference later this year?

The right hon. Gentleman will understand that it is not for us to appoint the US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. The United States Government will take care of that. We are in discussions with them about how we will work together with a new special representative. It is a crucial role, and Richard Holbrooke is very much missed in it, but I cannot update the right hon. Gentleman on the United States decisions about that appointment. He is right to highlight the importance of the political process in Afghanistan. It is vital that it should be Afghan-led, but the United Kingdom will support and facilitate it wherever we can, and also urge the support of other countries in the region, such as Pakistan, to contribute positively to that process.

Given the interrelationship of insurgency, poverty and narcotics, about which there have already been discussions and exchanges this afternoon, can the right hon. Gentleman explain the basis for his decision, as set out in the written ministerial statement to which he referred, to make

“a reduction of £2 million”


“counter-narcotics and rule of law programmes in Afghanistan”?

Yes, we have to adjust the spending totals from time to time—the change will be from £18 million to £16 million—because some programmes are coming to their natural end, and because I want to ensure that we can keep the current level of resources for counter-terrorist co-operation, which stand at £38 million and are focused predominantly on Afghanistan. We always have difficult choices to make on spending, but there is a natural evolution in our counter-narcotics work which means that some programmes are coming to their end.