Skip to main content

Afghanistan

Volume 382: debated on Tuesday 19 March 2002

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

3.31 pm

I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 24, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely, the war in Afghanistan.

Yesterday's announcement by the Secretary of State for Defence about the deployment of a British battle group of 1,700 soldiers for combat operations came as a surprise and represented a major escalation of British combat operations in Afghanistan. It was inevitable that yesterday's exchanges only touched on some issues, such as complications arising from the split chain of command, the intended length of 45 Commando's tour and the fact that it is unusual to deploy such a large force in combat operations without dedicated air support. The House is entitled to discuss such urgent matters fully before 45 Commando is deployed; it will already be deployed by the time we return from the Easter recess on 9 April. The subject cannot wait until after Easter.

Yesterday's statement also compounded the uncertainties that surround the future of the peacekeeping force under British command. On 10 January, the Government led the House to believe that Turkey had made a firm offer to take over the leadership of the international security assistance force. We expected the Turkish Prime Minister to confirm that at 4 pm our time yesterday, but no announcement was made and the question continues to hang in the balance.

The matter is also urgent because by the time we return from the Easter recess Turkey may have refused to lead ISAF. The House has had no opportunity to discuss that eventuality. We should hold such a discussion before decisions are made in our absence.

Moreover, yesterday I asked about the financial contribution that Britain is being asked to make to support Turkey's leadership. I understand that Turkey is now demanding $300 million for a six-month operation to be funded by the United States and the United Kingdom alone. If ISAF's mandate is to be extended, we should discuss it before it is a fait accompli. The Government should account to the House before entering into any unforeseen financial commitment on our behalf.

Let there be no doubt that we shall continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Government in the war against terrorism. As I said yesterday, we support the decision to accede to the US request for 45 Commando. However, that does not absolve the House of its obligation to debate all the urgent issues. We have only four sitting days before we rise for the Easter recess. Without such a debate, we shall fail in our duty to hold the Government to account.

The hon. Gentleman seeks leave to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 24 for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter, which he believes should have urgent consideration, namely the war in Afghanistan. I am satisfied that the matter is proper to be discussed under the Standing Order.

The leave of the House leaving been given, the motion stood over under Standing Order No. 24 (Adjournment on specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration) until the commencement of public business tomorrow.