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Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend has touched on two vital points. It is right to say that al-Qaeda and the Taliban are still operating in Pakistan, and that they are also operating across the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The purpose of my statement was in part to inform the House of the need for further action to deal with that. As my hon. Friend noted, co-operation along that border between allied forces and the forces of Pakistan is vital.
That is why it is important that Afghanistan should ultimately be in a position to deal with security issues itself. In my statement, I mentioned the help and support that we have received already from Afghan nationals. We are participating in a training programme for the Afghan army, which is being led by the US. In due course, we want Afghanistan to be in a position to be responsible for its own security, especially along its borders.
Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby): Does the Secretary of State agree that close co-operation between the Ministry of Defence and the Department for International Development is vital to the future development of a peaceful and stable Afghanistan? Will he confirm absolutely that there has been no breakdown in communications between the two Departments?
The Secretary of State has access to information from more than 3,000 pairs of eyes in the area, so will he comment on a report that I received late last night from Kabul that there are acres and acres of poppy fields alongside the road between Jalalabad and Kabulthe road that all visitors travelling by the overland route use. That report directly contradicts what the Foreign Office said on Tuesday.
Mr. Hoon: On the aid point, I have mentioned the nature of the co-operation that existed in the past between the Ministry of Defence and the Department for International Development. The Department for International Development now has a specific liaison officer based with the ISAF headquarters, whose specific task is to resolve matters such as those that the hon. Gentleman and others have raised. I therefore anticipate that co-ordination will not be a problem in the future.
As for the poppy fields, the House knows the difficulties suffered by the international community at the hands of those who grow, transport and supply the products of Afghanistan's poppy fields. It is thought that 90 per cent. of the heroin sold in the UK originates in Afghanistan. Britain and other members of the international community have achieved considerable success in reducing the supply from the current crop. Recent estimates suggest that about one third of the crop has been destroyed, but it is clear that we need to maintain the pressure and deal with the problems that poppy cultivation has caused not only in recent times but over a very long period of Afghanistan's history.
Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend is right to say that security is crucial in Afghanistan, and is also vital for refugees. I am not so familiar with the problem on the border with Iran as I am with the situation on the border with Pakistan, but I can tell my hon. Friend that refugees are streaming away from the camps in Pakistan and returning to their homes and livelihoods in Afghanistan. That is an enormous and positive contribution to their country. I shall look at the situation along the border with Iran to see whether more action can be taken in the parts of Afghanistan that are close to it to give refugees the security and confidence that they require to return home.
Mr. Michael Weir (Angus): On behalf of the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru, I should like to add our good wishes for those who are ill in Bagram. I also thank the Minister of State, who last night made the effort to tell me personally about the outbreak. Although no members of 45 Commando, based in my constituency, are affected, the Secretary of State will appreciate that their families are concerned about the outbreak. I know that the Minister of State was due to visit Arbroath today to meet the families, and I hope that he will rearrange that visit for the near future.
As for Operation Snipe, despite what is said in some sections of the media, Iand, I am sure, the families of the troops involvedgreatly welcome the fact that the Marines have been able to deny territory and ordnance to the enemy without suffering any casualties themselves. What is the Secretary of State's assessment of the ability of al-Qaeda to come back into that area, given the amount of ordnance that has been destroyed in the operation?
Mr. Hoon: In fact, my right hon. Friend the Minister of State is not in the House today because he has gone to Arbroath to fulfil the commitment that he entered into previously. I take this issue seriously, because of the support that members of our armed forces receive from their families, and I am grateful for the way in which the hon. Gentleman has raised it.
The destruction of the arms cache has denied a valuable prize to al-Qaeda and the Taliban. It is part of the reason why I am confident that we can say that Operation Snipe was a considerable success. It clearly undermined the
David Hamilton (Midlothian): I should like to pass on my congratulations to all our armed forces on the work that they are doing in the region. I have supported this campaign from the beginningalthough I am not likely to support othersand they are doing an excellent job.
My right hon. Friend indicated that the reservists have been pulled across because they are needed in the area. Does that mean that our armed forces are overstretched? If so, would it not be better to diminish our nuclear capability so that we can pay our armed forces a decent wage and give them decent conditions?
Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his observations. On his specific point about reservists, I emphasise that it is unlikely that any who have been called out by the announcement that I made today will go to Afghanistan. The important point is to have enough people available to cover the requirements of our armed forces in their various deployments across the world. Certainly, we have never tried to disguise the fact that when it comes to medics and medical support, we do not have as many people as we would like. We have to improve the necessary degree of support for our deployed armed forces.
Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury): Our thoughts are very much with those who have fallen ill in Bagram. I suggest that the Royal Army Medical Corps must by now have a fairly good idea of what is causing the illness. It is very important to have our troops vaccinated properly. I should like to draw the Secretary of State out concerning a comment made by the Under-Secretary of State for Defence in the armed forces personnel debate on 11 April. In answer to an intervention by me, the hon. Gentleman said:
Mr. Hoon: There are considerable advantages in having ministerial experience of the medical world in dealing with this kind of outbreak. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the work that he has done in dealing with this difficult issue. There are a number of ideas about the cause of the illness but, as I said earlier, it is important that we get to the bottom of the specific cause of the outbreak if we can, so that we can take appropriate action in future. I can give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that he requires regarding the preventive steps that are taken elsewhere.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Before we discuss the programme motion, I wish to draw the attention of the House to the fact that three amendments on today's amendment paper have been incorrectly numbered. Two amendments tabled to clause 58 on page 1676 in the name of Kevin Brennan have been incorrectly numbered as 309 and 310. They should instead be numbered as 320 and 321. An amendment tabled to schedule 3 on page 1701 in the name of Mr. Secretary Milburn has been incorrectly numbered as 308; it should instead be numbered as 322.
|Proceedings||Time for conclusion of proceedings|
|Second allotted day|
|Amendments relating to Clauses Nos. 1 and 17 to 40||3.45 p.m.|
|Amendments relating to Clauses Nos. 41 to 51, 53 and 64 to 74||6.00 p.m.|
|Amendments relating to Clauses Nos. 52, 54 to 63, 75, Schedule No. 1, Clauses Nos. 76 and 77, Schedule No. 2, and Clauses Nos. 78 to 80||7.00 p.m.|
|Third allotted day|
|Amendments relating to Clauses Nos. 81 to 88, 121, 122 and 125||Three quarters of an hour after the commencement of proceedings on the Bill|
|New Clauses relating to the remainder of Part 1, amendments relating to Clauses Nos. 89 to 100, 105, 106, 114 and 115||One and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Bill|
|New Clauses relating to Part 2, amendments relating to Clauses Nos. 107 to 113||Three and a quarter hours after the commencement of proceedings of the Bill|
|New Clauses relating to the remainder of Part 3, amendments relating to Clauses Nos. 101 to 104, 126, Schedules Nos. 3, 4 and 5, Clauses Nos. 127 to 134, Schedule No. 6, Clauses Nos. 135 to 137, remaining new Clauses, new Schedules and remaining proceedings on consideration||Four hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Bill.|