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Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate): I thank my right hon. Friend for her statement and for demonstrating yet again to the House and the country her quite remarkable grasp of the detail of an immensely complex situation, in marked contrast to the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman). Should ground forces be in Afghanistan when the proposed air drops of food are made, will those forces participate in that project? Delivery of the supplies will have to be accurately targeted, and it will be necessary to have friendly forces on the ground so that pilots know when they have reached

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the right areas. Additionally, as Afghan smugglers seem to have had inordinate success in getting people across borders, could they not be used to get food into Afghanistan?

Clare Short: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. It is not being suggested that ground forces be used in the provision of humanitarian aid. One important international principle is that the UN and humanitarians should not become mixed up with the military, although the two groups should co-operate, share information and not get in one another's way. We hope that the military will be able increasingly to provide safe areas, so that humanitarian workers are able to return and the humanitarian effort can be expanded. Those are our goals.

The US air drops have been more a matter of winning hearts and minds than of the provision of the massive amounts of food that are necessary. My hon. Friend asks whether Afghans themselves can take food into Afghanistan. The World Food Programme has started using Afghan truckers to take food into Afghanistan because they not only have their own trucks but know their country the best.

New contracts are being signed with more Afghan truckers so that they can cover more parts of Afghanistan. When one group of truckers returns from Afghanistan, another group goes there after receiving news on events in the country, such as whether they are being harassed and whether the warehouses are holding up. That is our best source of information on whether the distribution system is working. Afghans are keeping the system going, very bravely and in the face of terrible harassment.

Tony Baldry (Banbury): Does the Secretary of State understand that the Select Committee is unanimous in wanting to have a positive working relationship with her Department? After all, it is difficult enough to get international development on the political agenda at all without those of us who are concerned about the issue having a spat.

I think that if the Secretary of State goes back to her private office she will find that she has been inadvertently misled. I wrote to her on behalf of the Select Committee saying that we did not expect a further memorandum, as we fully understood that her officials would be busy working. All we wanted was the Secretary of State, having returned from Pakistan, to come before the Select Committee to tell us what she had seen first-hand. I made that clear. I think that the whole House will have been disappointed and think it a pity that, although we heard the Secretary of State on the "Today" programme talking to the country as a whole, she did not feel able to explain all those matters directly to the Select Committee.

Yesterday, the Select Committee took evidence from some of the non-governmental organisations, and it was quite clear that, for understandable policy reasons, they do not want humanitarian agencies to be caught up in the coalition military effort. Therefore, it seems that the concept of humanitarian corridors will not work. What is clearly needed is someone to help broker the humanitarian issue.

Does the Secretary of State think that there is a role for Mr. Brahimi in that respect—not only in pursuing

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diplomatic issues but in helping the humanitarian effort by helping broker relations with the Taliban to allow food aid into Afghanistan? Unless there is work on the other side of the border, food aid, as well as refugees, will accumulate at the borders and little will get distributed.

Clare Short: I very much hope that I will have the same quality of relationship with the hon. Gentleman that I had with his predecessor as Chairman of the Select Committee. I enormously admire the contribution that his predecessor made to advancing thinking and agreement across the House on the significance of international development.

I have not been misled. It took me four or five minutes from my bedroom in the British residence in Islamabad to get to the "Today" programme. I do not agree that it is good practice to appear before a Select Committee without a memorandum, because all the figures—on supplies and so on—are crucial. My immediate accountability is to the House, and while I was in Pakistan I tried to get the House authorities to agree to a statement. As the hon. Gentleman knows, I tried to have an informal meeting with the Select Committee. I am going to Africa tonight. We cannot ignore Africa, because that would make it feel neglected. My Department, which is fairly small, is working flat out. We will account to the Select Committee in every way that we can. This is an enormously serious emergency, and we must use our resources as best we can.

I welcome the meeting with the Select Committee, but the last-minute switch to the suggestion that we should meet without a memorandum was wrong. My immediate accountability is to the House, and that can be probed by the Select Committee. I promise full co-operation. I made the decision because I thought that it was the right way to deploy the resources of my Department, and I still think so.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge and Chryston): As most people would agree, my right hon. Friend has been proactive in handling her portfolio. Does she agree that the Prime Minister was positive and far-sighted this afternoon, when he criticised the past failures of the west to take opportunities to address the reconstruction of Afghanistan? Would she take as a model northern Iraq, where many hon. Members have witnessed the complete transformation, in a matter of years, of the absolute despair of the Kurds?

Does she agree that the United Nations agencies, NGOs and others made their contribution to that dream being realised, and that it is not impossible to repeat that in Afghanistan? Will she work with them and with the new ambassador, whom she welcomed this afternoon, to ensure that we play our part in seeking to repeat in Afghanistan what has been achieved in northern Iraq?

Clare Short: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I agree that the neglect of Afghanistan has allowed it to become a failed state with the problem of housing al-Qaeda. The whole world should learn from the lessons of Afghanistan and other countries.

The model should be smaller countries such as East Timor and Kosovo, which, before their reconstruction, had had no state institutions. That reconstruction was led by the UN. The job in Afghanistan will be much bigger, because it is a poorer and bigger country, but I am sure that it can be done. As I said earlier, plans are in place.

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Great things have been achieved in northern Iraq, but that is part of a country under a no-fly zone, so it is a complex example on which to build. We must commit, in detail and in the long term, to the reconstruction of Afghanistan, and that is the commitment that the international community has made. Ambassador Brahimi will lead; we and others are determined to follow. The World Bank is preparing to do so. We must get the whole international system ready to move, and we will.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): Does the right hon. Lady recognise that there is widespread support for her view that military action is compatible with the delivery of humanitarian supplies? Does she further recognise that there is considerable support for the view that a temporary cessation of military action—bombing or otherwise—would be a grave error?

Clare Short: I do agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman. As I have said, a pause would lead only to more harassment of humanitarian staff. It would be a disaster, and an invitation to those who wanted to resist the coalition to resist the humanitarian supplies. However, many of our fellow citizens and people across the world are upset at the thought of hungry people being in a country where bombing is taking place, and I respect their compassion and concern. It is our duty to bring the conflict to an end as well as possible, to secure our objectives and to minimise civilian casualties. We must also get the political track moving as rapidly as possible and establish zones of peace in which the humanitarian effort can be improved. I agree that it is an error to call for a pause, but I respect the reasons that prompt people to make that call. We must respond as best we can.

Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews (Medway): My right hon. Friend will be aware that The Times carried a report this morning stating that land mines were being dropped in Afghanistan. I also understand that it is accepted now that delayed-action cluster bombs have already been dropped there. Given that such ordnance now kills more than 300 children a year in Kosovo, will my right hon. Friend say what effect these armaments will have on the way in which a humanitarian programme can be carried out?

Clare Short: I am not aware of the report to which my hon. and learned Friend refers. I have not read a newspaper for a considerable period of time, as that is not a priority in situations such as this. I am certain that land mines are not being dropped, but Afghanistan is littered with land mines—because there have been 20 years of war, and because land mines are such cheap weapons. On top of all the other suffering of the people of Afghanistan, there is therefore massive disability in that poor benighted country resulting from wounds and injuries caused by land mines.

As I said to my hon. and learned Friend at another meeting earlier, I think that I have read reports—non-newspaper reports, if I can put it like that—of some use of cluster bombs. I do not think that they have been used much, and I promise to look into the matter and get back to my hon. and learned Friend. I shall report that

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response to the House. There is a land mine problem in Afghanistan, but they are not being dropped. They are there already, I regret to say.

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