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Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury): Will the Secretary of State now answer the questions asked by my hon. Friends the Members for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) and for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth), and by the right hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George)—the Chairman of the Defence Select Committee—about resourcing? If it is really true, as the Secretary of State claims, that there was no underspend last year, at a time when our forces are so pitifully undermanned, the financial constraints must be even worse than the House thought. Can the right hon. Gentleman not understand why many Conservative Members, while strongly supporting our forces who are undertaking this dangerous and risky operation, are deeply concerned about the rapid worsening of overstretch?

Mr. Hoon: The hon. Gentleman, too, consistently supported a Government who consistently cut the defence budget. I do not recall his standing up at that time and whining in the way he is today—about a Government who have consistently increased defence expenditure. Unless he can sort out that dilemma, his comments cannot be taken seriously.

Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North): Is it not true that consolidating military success in Afghanistan by helping to stabilise the country will improve international security, while engaging in reckless military adventures elsewhere, as advocated by some extreme right wingers on both sides of the Atlantic, could make the world much less safe?

Mr. Hoon: As I said in answer to the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin), there are always reasons for

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not making decisions and there are always reasons for making bad decisions. The exercise of judgment in Government is vital. I accept that different people would put their judgment in different places, but I am confident that the Government get it right.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National party fully support the international peacekeeping force.

The Secretary of State said that the rules of engagement would be robust. Can he confirm that the force will undertake Petersberg tasks? Will he also confirm that if an extension of military action beyond the boundaries of Afghanistan were likely, the approval of the international community would be sought before such action was taken?

Mr. Hoon: I do not want to be drawn down either of those routes, because the hon. Gentleman is confusing two separate issues. The tasks for the force will be set out both in chapter VII of the United Nations Security Council resolution and, in a more detailed way, in the military technical agreement reached with the Afghans—based, obviously, on the terms of the Bonn agreement. I do not think either of the hon. Gentleman's points is relevant to what will be essentially a security assistance task in Afghanistan, as defined in that fashion.

Mr. Doug Henderson (Newcastle upon Tyne, North): I know that my right hon. Friend will have had advice from previous military chiefs of staff on the dangers of a peacekeeping force getting caught up in offensive action. I very much welcome the fact that the British lead of the peacekeeping force will be for three months. I realise that few nations could provide that lead at this stage.

Is there anything in the military technical agreement between the different factions that will constitute the Afghan Government about how they will build their own security forces—their military forces or their law and order capacity through a police force?

Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend asks a good question about the security forces that will determine the safety and security of Afghanistan. In all honesty, I cannot give him a proper answer at this stage. The military technical agreement will be signed by the Interim Authority, so it will be signed on behalf of all the various factions that agreed the Bonn agreement.

I recognise that a key question for the future of Afghanistan is whether the various factions are prepared to work together to rebuild their country. Crucially, the future of any Afghan army, security forces or police force must be central to that. That is what the international community and the Afghans must work towards. I am given confidence by the Afghans' willingness to move so quickly towards an agreement at Bonn, and their apparent determination to see that agreement fulfilled in full. That is why I believe that it is right for the United Kingdom and the international community to play their part in this process.

Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh): The Chief of the Defence Staff has said publicly that something will have to give to allow this operation to take place. From which budget will this operation be funded: the Defence budget,

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the Foreign Office budget or the Government's contingency reserve? If something has to give to allow this operation to take place, what will that be?

Mr. Hoon: The funding for such operations comes from a number of different budgets. That is always the case. The Ministry of Defence will, as always, provide the salaries of those who are deployed, and it recognises that it is funded for that purpose. Other budgets, especially the contingency reserve, are routinely called on to support such operations. I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the exact answer to his question that he desires, but it leads me to believe that Conservative Members need to spend some time studying how budgets for Departments operate.

Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford): My right hon. Friend will be aware that the international force will interface with a community in which the majority of women are deeply traumatised. Is he aware of the advice that the United Nations has given to Governments regarding special gender training of soldiers, which should be given to those who are entering into such post-conflict situations? Can he assure me that such training is being given? The Afghan women with whom I have contact, both in this country and in Afghanistan, welcome the international force and Britain's leadership of it.

Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her observations, and I shall ensure that her suggestion is acted on.

Mr. Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle): Further to the question from the Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence, could the Secretary of State enlighten us as to the thinking of our American allies? They have declined to put ground troops into the peacekeeping force. Were they led to the inescapable truth that, in a theatre as complex and dangerous as Afghanistan, they can be either peacemaker or protagonist, but not both?

Mr. Hoon: I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is wrong about that. There will be United States forces on the ground. It is self-evident that there will need to be a US presence to operate an airstrip, as there is already in a number of operations inside Afghanistan. He is wrong to make that assertion. Given the tremendous contribution that the United States is already making with its offensive operations in and around Afghanistan, which require significant logistic support, he should not suggest that the US is not capable of involvement in the peacekeeping operation as well.

Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North and Sefton, East): At the risk of being accused of advocating mission creep, may I ask my right hon. Friend to reflect on whether it might be appropriate, in view of the training role that he envisages, to provide UK police and Customs and Excise resources to Afghanistan, so that the interim authority and any new security forces will be properly trained to deal with the drug situation, especially the heroin trade, which originates mostly in Afghanistan?

Mr. Hoon: Again, consistent with an answer I gave earlier, I anticipate that a range of requirements across Government functions will be needed by the interim

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Administration in Afghanistan. I will certainly ensure that my hon. Friend's suggestions are passed on to the appropriate quarter.

Mr. Bill Wiggin (Leominster): I believe that Lord Guthrie said that the Ministry of Defence was underfunded before 11 September. Was he wrong?

Mr. Hoon: I have worked closely with the noble Lord and we have had regular exchanges on the nature of the defence budget. I do not speak for the noble Lord, but I do speak for the Government. In assessing the budget of all Departments it is necessary to take some very difficult decisions sometimes, but this Government have consistently increased the amount spent on defence. I know that the hon. Gentleman is a relatively recent arrival, so I cannot blame him for supporting previous Conservative Governments who cut the defence budget, but I assure him that they did.

Rachel Squire (Dunfermline, West): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the provision of an agreed United Nations international security and assistance force going to assist Afghanistan is a remarkable achievement, and one that not so long ago many of us would never have thought possible? Does he also agree that there are no armed forces better able or better trusted to lead it in its first, crucial stages than those of the United Kingdom? Does he further agree that it is contradictory of the official Opposition spokesman to express concerns about overstretch of our armed forces, but also to say that our armed forces should be willing and prepared to follow the US wherever it wants them to go?


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