§ 3.42 p.m.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in another place.
"Mr Speaker, with permission, I would like to make a Statement on events in Afghanistan.
"It is now clear that the Taliban has been decisively defeated across Afghanistan. Carefully targeted coalition bombing of its front lines opened the way for the Northern Alliance to advance. The fall of Mazar-i Sharif on 9th November was the key to the north. It accelerated defections from the Taliban and allowed General Dostum and Mohammed Atta of the Northern Alliance to cut the lines of communication of the remaining Taliban and Al'Qaeda troops in the north-east.
"One after another, Taliban positions folded: Taloqan; Baghlan; Bamian. The major city in the west, Herat, fell without a fight, to Ismail Khan. And now we see that the strategy we have pursued is being equally successful in the Pushtun south of the country.
"Kabul fell without serious resistance on Monday night. Key cities in the Pushtun south have followed Kabul swiftly in falling, including Jalalabad. It is clear that support for the Taliban is evaporating. Though there may be pockets of resistance, the idea that this has been some kind of tactical retreat is just the latest Taliban lie. It is in total collapse.
"There are reports today that senior Taliban figures in Gardez—including borders Minister Haqqani and intelligence chief Ahmadullah—have surrendered. Kandahar airport has reportedly been taken by anti-Taliban forces.
"Regrettable incidents have happened, as the liberated people have turned on their oppressors. This should not happen and I appeal to the Northern Alliance and all other forces in Afghanistan to be restrained; to avoid any acts of revenge; and to engage with the UN.
"I believe the whole House should welcome the progress that has been made. Though conflict is never easy, or nice, to see women and children smiling after years under one of the most brutal, oppressive regimes in the world is finally to understand the meaning of the word 'liberation'.
578 "I would like to pay tribute to the outstanding leadership that President Bush has given; and give heartfelt thanks to the British forces involved, now and in the future. There is no greater comfort to the British people than to know that we can call on some of the best armed forces in the world. Their work and their contribution to Britain's strength and international standing is immense.
"But there remain huge challenges. The military job is not yet done. Bin Laden is still at large. So are his close associates. The diplomatic and political situation remains difficult. The threat of a humanitarian crisis remains.
"I should tell the House that the United Kingdom will continue to play a full role in the military, the diplomatic and humanitarian tracks of this campaign, the objectives of which remain as set out in the document published in the House Library on 16th October.
"Our forces, so far, have been involved in the air strikes using Tomahawk missiles and through providing support to US bombers. On the ground, our forces have been involved in liaising with the people of the Northern Alliance, advising them and helping to co-ordinate action.
"I can confirm to the House that several thousand of our troops are being put on 48-hour notice to move in case they are required in the area. Those include elements from 3 Commando and 16 Air Assault Brigades, including 2nd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment, and 45 Commando Royal Marines, and a range of supporting assets including RAF air transport, support helicopters, engineers, logistic teams and explosive ordnance experts.
"I cannot give the House full details on how those troops may be used. Consultations with the United States and our other coalition partners continue. The main purpose of those troops would be in the context of multinational efforts to make safe the humanitarian supply routes now opening up as a result of military progress on the ground. Others may be focused on securing airfields and clearing unexploded ordnance; and ensuring the safe return of the United Nations and NGOs to Afghanistan, permitting the construction of the broad-based government that is so badly needed. They will only remain in place for a strictly limited period of time while an international force to work alongside Afghan military commanders is prepared. We cannot of course rule out some of our troops being used in offensive front line operations. 40 Commando Royal Marines remain at a high state of readiness for contingency operations.
"On the humanitarian front, I should say that an average of over 2,000 tonnes of food a day has been despatched since 4th November. That is four times the rate at the start of October when it was 500 tonnes a day. The WFP is optimistic about reaching its targets: it has despatched over 50,000 metric tonnes of food to Afghanistan since the beginning of October—sufficient for 5 million people for one month.
579 "We look forward to the opening of a corridor from the liberated areas to the borders with Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. In particular, the Friendship Bridge between Uzbekistan and Afghanistan will be made safe for the passage of those supplies.
"The UN and ICRC should now be able to improve delivery of food, healthcare and other assistance to 2 million vulnerable people in the northern region of Afghanistan. Plans are now being made for the international staff of the UN, Red Cross and NGOs to return to Afghanistan. In addition, we will be able to accelerate deliveries to areas in central Afghanistan which will become harder to access as winter sets in so that sufficient stockpiles can be built up closer to the people who need them.
"That will further reduce the suffering of the Afghan people and show the rest of Afghanistan that life for the entire nation will be better once the Taliban are gone.
"The advance of the anti-Taliban forces has been assisted by defections from disillusioned supporters.
It is time for the rest of Afghanistan—particularly the ethnic groups in the south—to join the uprising against the Taliban and throw off its oppressive rule. The sooner they act, the greater the benefit.
"The structure of post-Taliban Afghanistan will be for the Afghan people to determine. But we will provide strong diplomatic and economic support to the aspirations of Afghan parties committed to an inclusive, democratic political structure, committed to the welfare of all Afghan men, women and children, and providing substantial local autonomy.
"I spoke yesterday to Kofi Annan who outlined to me the process that will now follow. The first step will be an early UN-convened meeting of representatives of the various Afghan anti-Taliban groups (including Pushtuns) under the United Nations Special Representative, Mr Brahimi. That would lead to a transitional administration. To support that process under Mr Brahimi, the UN Security Council will be adopting a resolution to underpin the principles on which Mr Brahimi is working.
"The immediate next step is for the United Nations to establish a presence in Kabul. I am delighted that Mr Vendrell (UN Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan) and Mike Sackett (UN Humanitarian Co-ordinator for Afghanistan) plan to travel there on Friday. We plan to have a UK diplomatic presence in Kabul by the weekend.
"I have also spoken today to President Bush and to Chancellor Schroeder. The coalition is as strong today as it has ever been.
"As I said on 11th September, and have repeated many times since, although there can be no excuses for terrorism we must do what we can to address the causes and the injustices that the terrorists exploit. That is why we want progress towards peace in the Middle East.
580 "We must never forget why we are engaged t n this action: it is because on 11th September Al'Qaeda perpetrated the worst terrorist outrage in history. It is to bring them to justice, and to eliminate them as a threat to world affairs that we are acting as we are.
"Today, I have put in the Library an updated version of the evidence document we first published on 4th October. The new document will be translated into Arabic and Urdu and other languages.
"The intelligence material now leaves no doubt whatever of the guilt of bin Laden and his associates. On 4th October we knew that three of the hijackers were linked to Al'Qaeda. Now we know that the majority were. Indeed, the utterances from his and their own mouths leave no doubt either. Far from hiding their guilt, they gloat. On 9th October one of his spokesmen praised the September 11th atrocities as, 'a good deed' which,'transferred the battle into the US heartland'."He warned:The storm of plane attacks will not abate'."Bin Laden himself said on 20th October in an unbroadcast video tape,If avenging the killing of our people is terrorism, let history be a witness that we are terrorists'."Mr Speaker, they are terrorists, and history will judge them as such. Before the history books are written, we will continue to hunt them down until we find them, for as long as it takes.
"They are guilty. They will face justice and today they have far fewer places to hide and far fewer people who wish to protect them.
"As we have made clear from the outset, the campaign against terrorism is much more than a military campaign—it is diplomatic, humanitarian, economic, legal. It has meant changing our laws to protect ourselves at home, working with others to protect ourselves abroad.
"And I say this to the people of Afghanistan: as we hunt down the murdering terrorists hiding in your country, they, not you, are our enemy. This time we will not walk away. Your future is in your hands, but our hands are there in friendship to help you shape that future.
"The people of Afghanistan have suffered grievously from a brutal regime, from conflict, from famine and from drought. We want to see a country with a government representing all the people of Afghanistan, occupying a proud place in the community of nations, growing economically, enriching its people, liberating their potential. A country that has suffered so much deserves no less.
"And let us be clear. The way the world embraces and supports the new Afghanistan will he the clearest possible indication that the dreadful events of 11th September have resulted in a triumph for the international community as a force for good, and the defeat of the evil that is international terrorism. A safer world is built out of secure countries representing all their people living in peace with 581 their neighbours. That is how terrorism will eventually be defeated, and that, step by step, must be the new international order that emerges from the worst terrorist atrocity in our history.
"Whatever the challenges, whatever the setbacks that lie along the way, I believe that is a vision, and a world, worth fighting for".
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
§ 3.53 p.m.
§ Lord Strathclyde
My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for repeating the Statement. It is entirely right that the Prime Minister came to Parliament to deliver it. Does the noble and learned Lord agree that we have seen a complete vindication of the strategy pursued by the coalition over the past four weeks, and indeed, of the wholesome and fulsome support given by these Benches? Had we heeded the cause of those who demanded a pause in the bombing, the coalition would not have achieved the successes it has. Nor would we be any closer to a situation in which effective humanitarian aid could get through. That is now a priority which faces the coalition.
The Prime Minister has been greatly strengthened by the support of a united Parliament. That broad parliamentary support will be needed in the long haul ahead. Can the Leader of the House give the House an assurance that there will soon be a debate on the Afghan situation and the role of British troops so that the whole question can be debated more fully?
We meet against a fast-changing political and military background. A major deployment of British troops could now be involved. That alone underlines the importance of further debate. It also reinforces the need for clarity in our purpose. What are our war aims? We began with the aim of destroying Al'Quaeda and bin Laden. Can the noble and learned Lord assure the House that it remains our central aim to pursue not only bin Laden but the whole international terrorist network relentlessly and ruthlessly for so long as it takes until the threat is destroyed?
To secure bin Laden we set out to remove from power the Taliban which was sheltering him. I am glad to say that that has now been done. The Taliban has been removed from power. Is it also now our aim to remove its capability to do further damage within Afghanistan? Given the welcome collapse of Taliban authority in many Afghan cities, will the coalition now be seeking to harass and destroy Taliban forces in the mountains? Is the Leader of the House in a position to say whether British forces will be involved in that process?
I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to the role played by the coalition forces so far, including the role played by our own Armed Forces. We support the decision to place British troops on standby ready to be deployed in Afghanistan should their presence on the ground be required. Can the noble and learned Lord go further and spell out the roles which he envisages will be played by our Armed Forces? I hope that we all agree that their objectives must be clearly defined. We 582 do not want to find our forces indefinitely garrisoning exposed military positions. Can he assure the House that the rules of engagement they are given will allow them to protect themselves in all circumstances? I wonder whether the words in the Statement read to the House by the noble and learned Lord are clear enough in that regard?
The last thing we need is a power vacuum in which ancient hatreds and rivalries resurface among the people and tribes which now exist in Afghanistan. The need to form a broadly-based administration that can command widespread support has never been more urgent. Can the Leader of the House say more about when he believes that will be achieved? Is he satisfied with the urgency of the United Nations' action in that regard? Can he also tell us at what level the United Kingdom's diplomatic presence will be, and whether he envisages a long-term role for the former king in the future government of Afghanistan?
Finally, I welcome the comments in the Statement on humanitarian aid. Few will forget the prompt action taken by the British government 10 years ago to help Kurdish refugees in harsh winter conditions. We have a narrow opportunity to act in Afghanistan before the winter. What are we doing now to deliver aid to those in the refugee camps and others displaced from their homes in recent weeks? Does the noble and learned Lord agree that there now has to be an intensive humanitarian effort by all involved to ensure that the aid gets through to those in desperate need? I wonder whether British troops will be used to help in that task.
It is essential that we do not relent in the fight against international terrorism now that it has begun. We stand four square behind our Armed Forces and the coalition effort. We will continue to do so. I hope that the noble and learned Lord recognises how much we share with the Prime Minister an admiration for the outstanding leadership of President Bush in recent weeks. The unity of purpose has brought us a long way, but there is still a long way to go.
§ 4 p.m.
§ Baroness Williams of Crosby
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House for repeating a Statement made by the Prime Minister. It would be churlish not to recognise the remarkable function and role of the Prime Minister and also of President Bush in what has happened. We also recognise the work of the special forces, both British and American, and their remarkable achievement so far.
It is worth taking a moment to reflect on the situation which the Soviet Union encountered in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The Taliban disappeared into the mountains, regrouped and returned to stop a Soviet attack which was marked by heavy equipment, a large number of soldiers and the brutal behaviour of those soldiers towards civilians. Is the noble and learned Lord satisfied that reports of the collapse of the Taliban are borne out by intelligence and military information? I recognise that he cannot reveal all he 583 knows, but some of us are concerned because under the Soviet invasion the Taliban previously retreated into the mountains, bogged down almost all of the Soviet armed forces in the mountains and then returned to seize large parts of the country. is the noble and learned Lord satisfied that it is reasonable to talk about "total collapse"? Does he agree that we should not yet regard the war as over, as the media have begun to describe it, perhaps too soon?
Secondly, it is vital at this stage to try to win the support of the population of Afghanistan. In that respect, I am concerned by the report that liberated peoples may be visiting their vengeance on those whom they feel to be responsible for their oppression and suffering. One must admit that the record of the Northern Alliance as warriors is outstanding, but as people with a fine sense of civilised values rather less so. There are already troubling reports from Mazar-i Sharif and elsewhere of extreme actions by the Northern Alliance. No doubt part of that is attributed to their success, but part of it is likely to be attributed to inadequate guidance on the way in which they should treat the civilian population. Can the noble and learned Lord assure the House that messages are being received by the Northern Alliance to the effect that it is vital that it needs to win the support of the civilians of Afghanistan, which requires proper behaviour towards them?
Thirdly, the noble and learned Lord was understandably encouraging about humanitarian aid, which was good to hear. Does he believe that there is any chance of getting aid through to the south? We understand that around Herat, which has fallen, many people are at the edge of starvation. The noble and learned Lord mentioned the centre and the north, and we are grateful for that information, but perhaps he can address that further issue. As regards the food which is being sent to advance positions, are there strategies for fanning it out into the villages which are being cut off, perhaps by air drops, in order to ensure that they receive the food that they desperately need?
Fourthly, I want to ask the noble and learned Lord a brief question about the rules of engagement, also referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. Will the rules of engagement relating to our own forces permit them to protect civilians in situations in which they may be at risk? The noble and learned Lord will recall the difference between the rules of engagement under which our forces were restrained in Bosnia, where they had no permission to protect civilians, and in Kosovo, where they had. There was then a substantial difference in the role which our troops took. If the noble and learned Lord cannot comment on the rules of engagement, perhaps he will be able to do so on another occasion.
I turn to the role of the United Nations which the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House, in repeating the Statement, made clear was of vital importance. I want to ask two questions. There has been a report that the United Nations special representative indicated that the transition could last for as long as two years. No doubt that is to allow for the refugees to return and for stability to be 584 established. What steps, if any, have been taken so far to establish an international committee to supervise the setting up of a government of the Afghan people, given that half the population—namely, women —was not represented in the previous government and that there is a great problem of proportionate representation among the tribes, which differ among themselves?
My final question relates to the refugee camps, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. We understand that they are still in considerable financial difficulties as regards caring for the refugees, particularly in Pakistan and Iran. Once again, we on these Benches—and we do so frequently—request the Government to consider with the coalition underpinning the financial cost of the refugees in those desperately poor countries in order to show how much we want to support them in their charitable and humanitarian work.
§ 4.5 p.m
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, I am truly grateful for what has been said by my two colleagues on the respective Opposition Front Benches. It underlines the fact that anyone who works closely with the Prime Minister recognises what a remarkable man we have at the helm of this country in extremely difficult times.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, I was pleased that both the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, paid tribute to him. The noble Lord was right to point out, not in a partisan way, that on every occasion we have had the full-hearted support of Mr Duncan Smith. I pay tribute to him also.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, is right in saying that the successes in swift moving circumstances are a vindication that the Government were right to be resolute not to have a pause. The noble Lord was right in his historical resume. If there had been a pause, we should not have had the successes. I take the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, that they are successes so far and we still have a long journey to negotiate.
Our purposes have been plain. Our immediate purposes were to bring Osama bin Laden and his fellow criminals to justice; to close down the Al'Qaeda network; and to take action against the Taliban regime which sponsors both. Turning to the questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, our wider objectives are to end the terrorist threat on Afghan soil; to tackle the machinery—his particular point—of terrorism world-wide; to deal with the immediate humanitarian crisis; and thereafter to help to 585 reconstruct Afghanistan society, including—the noble Baroness's particular point—as broadly based a government as we can assist to be brought about.
We intend to pursue international terrorism. That is the whole underpinning theme of the legislation which my noble friend Lord Rooker will be introducing. Your Lordships will have to make difficult choices on those occasions. They will have to be faced and they need to be faced while remembering why we are here on such occasions.
As regards the role of our Armed Forces, the main purpose of any British troops will be in the context of multi-national efforts to make safe the humanitarian supply routes which are now opening up. Some of our troops may be securing airfields, clearing unexploded ordnance, and assisting the safe return of the UN agencies and non-governmental organisations to Afghanistan. However, I repeat what I said earlier—I appreciate that only two of your Lordships had advance copies of the Statement—that we cannot rule out some of our troops being used in offensive frontline operations.
I know from my previous employment that the rules of engagement are constantly reviewed. The more prudent course, if it is acceptable to your Lordships without being discourteous, would be for me to speak privately to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, in order to give them appropriate details. I do not believe that it would be wise or prudent, or necessarily right, to go into detail about what our Armed Forces can and cannot do in the difficulties of instant decisions. But of course I accept that the House is entitled to know, and I know that your Lordships will trust the party leaders opposite to receive the material from me.
The matter is urgent and I do not believe that I could have said anything more focused. We intend to have diplomatic representation in Kabul by this weekend. The United Nations will be there on Friday. If I had read out this Statement and had said that two weeks ago, your Lordships would politely but firmly have come to a certain conclusion about my mental state of health. These are remarkably fast-moving circumstances. In the nature of things, one has to be cautious about coming to conclusions which may soon be vitiated by the alternative track of events.
The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, asked about the former king. He is part of the equation. We have to work with the United Nations and in particular our international colleagues to give the people of Afghanistan the opportunity to make their choices. If the king features in their choices, essentially that must be a matter for them. But we shall give all assistance we can to whatever proper choices they wish to make.
The noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, and the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, asked about humanitarian aid. Of course we are eager to assist with the refugee camps. As the ultimate goal, we want people to be able to go to their homes. I am not being complacent. Having told your Lordships recently that we were hoping to reach the figure of 1,700 tonnes, 586 2,000 tonnes a day is a very considerable achievement in difficult circumstances and in the recent context of three years of drought and decades of civil war.
Of course one bears in mind what happened when Russia invaded Afghanistan. No one is under the slightest illusion about the magnitude of the task we face. There are troubling reports—I do not know how accurate they are—about atrocities and who caused them. I entirely agree with the noble Baroness. One cannot simply be content to substitute one barbaric tyranny for another. I believe that the messages are getting through. We have a powerful influence far and away beyond our military force. I repeat—it is not a party political point—that no one should underestimate to the slightest degree the powerful effect that the Prime Minister of this country has had, particularly when mean-minded people urge him for domestic political advantage to attend to domestic matters when he has been doing this country's work magnificently well.
There is the problem of the south. The Statement was right to concentrate on those areas where we are succeeding. There is much to be done in the south.
I recognise the validity of the point about aid for refugees and the assistance of the United Nations. I do not think that this country has been ungenerous in either effort or resource and we intend to continue along that path.
§ 4.13 p.m.
§ Lord Craig of Radley
My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for repeating the Statement. Congratulations are richly deserved with regard to the way the Taliban has been dealt with over recent weeks.
As the noble and learned Lord reminded us, two objectives spelt out some weeks ago remain to be achieved: bringing bin Laden and Al'Quaeda to account. If British Armed Forces are deployed to Afghanistan in pursuit of those objectives, under what command arrangements will they serve? It would be extremely helpful for the House to know exactly what command arrangements may be employed. Will they be entirely national or a mixture of two? What proposals do the Government now have?
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, as always I am most grateful to the noble and gallant Lord. He asks a specific question about command and control arrangements. Circumstances have been moving rapidly. The present position is that detailed command and control arrangements have not yet been decided but plainly—I am sure noble Lords will approve of this—we shall be working as closely as may be with the United States and our other coalition partners.
Lord Carlile of Berriew
My Lords, noble Lords will agree that we should be grateful for a Statement which confirms that we can now move on to a more positive, pragmatic and happier stage of this crisis. Can the noble and learned Lord reassure those of us who continue to fear a continuing and long-term cycle of violence in Afghanistan by confirming that our 587 Government have a realistic expectation that the Northern Alliance is reasonably committed to the transitional arrangements which he has outlined? Is it also reasonably committed to a long-term pluralistic government for Afghanistan which includes the Pushtun and other elements representing the population of the south?
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, I am hopeful that that outcome will come about. I think that noble Lords will recognise that it is a mistake to speak of the Northern Alliance as a monolith; quite the opposite. There is a vast amount of work to be done. I have no doubt myself that the only way forward is on an internationally co-operative basis. I hope the House will agree that critical to this Statement is the central importance that the Secretary-General of the United Nations has, the very important role of Mr Brahimi and the fact that everyone at the outset is saying that it must be done on an international basis. But there is no tradition of pluralistic democracy. We have difficulty in getting people to live together in parts of the United Kingdom. It is a long job. We shall have to try to change, encourage, coax and sometimes coerce people—not militarily, I hope—to behave in a civilised way when their past recent history has not been civilised.
§ Lord Richard
My Lords, perhaps I may ask my noble and learned friend about the state of play with the United Nations. Clearly there will have to be a Security Council resolution setting out the views of the Secretary-General on how matters should now proceed. Can my noble and learned friend tell us when that meeting is likely to take place? In the press this morning I read that one or two people are already saying that the United Nations is being slow about assuming responsibilities in this matter. There has to be Security Council cover for it. It is important that that cover should be obtained quickly.
It seems to me to be fairly obvious that there has to be some kind of UN direct presence—peacekeeping forces or whatever label one likes to put on it. There will have to be a fair number of soldiers in blue berets in Afghanistan. Do the Government envisage our possible contribution to a peacekeeping force being present in Afghanistan until the UN takes over? It is important that we should get the timing right. I shall be grateful for anything my noble and learned friend can say.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, again I agree with the thrust of my noble friend's remarks. It may be helpful if I revert to the Statement. It states:The immediate next step is for the UN to establish a presence in Kabul".Mr Vendrell—he is, after all, high level; he is the Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan—and Mr Sackett, the UN Humanitarian Co-ordinator for Afghanistan, will go to Kabul on Friday. If there is reproach against the United Nations for not getting on with things, I respectfully suggest that it is not properly and appropriately levelled.
588 Plainly matters are moving very quickly. It is impossible at this stage, and it would be imprudent, to come to absolute conclusions about what our troops will be doing in what circumstances because any prudent commander will weigh up changing circumstances. There is no doubt at all that the United Nations will play a critical role. I repeat one sentence from the Statement:To support this process under Mr Brahimi the UN Security Council will be adopting a resolution to underpin the principles on which Mr Brahimi is working".I think that that answers my noble friend's specific question.
§ Lord Chalfont
My Lords, is the noble and learned Lord aware that gratitude to him for repeating the Statement is bound to be somewhat tempered by the fact that most of the facts and figures, including the identity of the units concerned, was available on the BBC and in the morning papers? Would it not be nice if sometimes Parliament were the first to hear about these things?
May I ask the noble and learned Lord a perhaps more practical question? Will the earmarking of substantial numbers of British troops to be available for employment in Afghanistan, possibly for some time, have any impact on the earmarking of forces for the European Rapid Reaction Force?
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, I am always sorry if material gets into the public domain before Parliament is aware of it. But I do not believe that anyone could reasonably say that the Prime Minister in the other place, and I as his messenger here, have not been diligent in keeping the Houses fully informed as soon as possible. After all, we invited Parliament to be recalled on three occasions and quite rightly. I do not know how the material got into the public domain. People talk sometimes and when decisions are made not all military men necessarily vow themselves to silence. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, has had experience of such matters in the past. There was certainly no discourtesy intended to Parliament. I hope that the Statement which I read to the House was full and sensibly consistent with the occasion.
I cannot give a definitive answer on the European Rapid Reaction Force. It may be that the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, was just gently floating a little fly across this particular trout knowing that the trout could not really nibble at it this early.
§ Baroness Turner of Camden
My Lords, in view of the changed circumstances in Afghanistan and the fact that the war is clearly now switching more to ground level activity, would it not be possible to scale down the bombing campaign? It has been that campaign, with its inevitable civilian casualties, which has caused opposition among various groupings, and in particular among Muslims, in the past.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, it is undoubtedly true, and no one should deny the fact, that casualties have occurred and they are deeply 589 regrettable. It is undoubtedly true, as my noble friend says, that that has caused anger and opposition among some sections of our communities. But the fact is that the Taliban is on the run because of the bombing. It is also the fact that we are now able to move in 2,000 tonnes of food every day because of the bombing.
§ Lord Judd
My Lords, perhaps I may associate the Back Benches on this side of the House with the tributes that have been paid to the Prime Minister for his leadership, to the British Armed Forces and I hope also to the humanitarian workers who now have a vast task ahead of them because the race against the winter is going to be very tough indeed.
Further to the question asked by my noble friend Lord Richard, can my noble and learned friend clarify one point? I am sure that we all take great heart from the emphasis which is being put on the role of the United Nations and the work with it. Can we be assured that the deployment of British troops pending the arrival of a UN presence in any form is itself authorised specifically by the United Nations and the action that the Security Council has taken?
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, within the bounds of international law, we are entitled legitimately to carry out the action that we have taken in Afghanistan. As I have said on previous occasions—I hope that I shall not bore the House too much—Article 51 gives the right to self-defence and there is also Article 5 of the NATO treaty. Indeed, two specific United Nations resolutions were passed post 11th September. But I want to reassure my noble friend by referring again to the words of the Statement. It states:The first step will be an early United Nations convened meeting of representatives of the various Afghan anti-Taliban groups (including Pushtuns) under the UN Special Representative, Mr Brahimi".I am happy to repeat that.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House, my noble friend Lord Strathclyde and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, are all right to warn against premature euphoria. I remember that Napoleon thought that he had beaten the Russians when they evacuated Moscow. The Russians later defeated him because of his immensely extended lines of communication and a very severe winter. The difference in this case is the enormous lifting power of air forces.
Every time the Prime Minister has made a major pronouncement on these affairs, he has rightly drawn attention to the necessity to adjust the world order after these events in order to see that they do not recur. I heartily agree with that. But it is not necessary to await the end of the campaign which may continue for some time yet in Afghanistan in order to start planning the nature of that re-ordering and the means of achieving it. I wonder whether the Leader of the House 590 can tell us what steps are being taken to make that preparation and to take Parliament into the deliberative stages of it?
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, I am most grateful. There are a number of different aspects here which need to be looked at discretely. First, what can we do domestically to deal with terrorism? We have been derelict for far too long because we have not pursued resources and financial assets and we have not necessarily had the full and appropriate equipment in the criminal law. That is an aspect which is going to be dealt with in significant part, I hope, if Parliament agrees, in the anti-terrorism legislation, which will be with us very soon.
Secondly, what has the Prime Minister been able to do by influence rather than by realpolitik power; in other words, the power of argument and personality rather than the power of battalions? What has he been able to do to change the world agenda? I entirely agree with the noble Lord that it is early days, but I believe that he has made a very significant start. But one country cannot do it alone. It seems to me that the wider context must inevitably lie with the United Nations. If we want an ordered international regime there is one body which has been available for a very long time now, but perhaps has been insufficiently used. That is the third aspect to which I draw attention.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
My Lords, can the Minister reassure me on what may seem to be a small point? I know that the marine commandos are accustomed and equipped for winter warfare when training in Norway, but there is talk of putting 20,000 of our troops into Afghanistan in winter. Do we have the equipment for them so that they can maintain themselves in that appalling climate?
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, I shall not speculate about the risk to other people because I do not believe that is right. I shall not speculate about numbers. It is quite plain that it would not be right for any government of this country or any commanders of its Armed Forces to deploy troops who were not adequately equipped to carry out their operations in such dangerous circumstances.
§ The Earl of Erroll
My Lords, why is there secrecy about the rules of engagement? All the troops will have to know what they are, so they will soon become public knowledge. Am I right in believing that there is now a human rights dimension which controls the behaviour of individual troops? Therefore, does the noble and learned Lord agree that this aspect needs very careful scrutiny and examination?
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, obviously, the rules of engagement are always scrutinised very carefully because they have to be compliant with our international legal obligations. That is a duty on the British Government. In any event, it would be unacceptably irresponsible to commit troops without clear rules of engagement which protected them and 591 on two bases; first, so that they were plainly acting lawfully; and, secondly, that they had sufficient protection for themselves.
Of course, in due time it may that the rules of engagement will filter out, but I do not believe it is my work and job to assist any potential enemy of this country by talking about matters at this stage when they should he kept a good deal more confidential.
§ The Earl of Sandwich
My Lords, the Statement mentioned the return of the non-governmental organisations. That will be widely welcomed especially if passage is made safe for humanitarian assistance. But have the Government considered the contribution that the NGOs could make to civil society on a temporary basis, particularly as the people of Kabul are not enamoured with the present authorities?
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, the noble Earl is quite right. Plans are being made at the moment for the international staff of the United Nations, the Red Cross and the NGOs to return to Afghanistan. Plainly, they will be carrying out essential work for the attempted construction of post-Taliban civil society.
§ Viscount Waverley
My Lords, in the past, British assistance to the office of the United Nations Special Representative in Islamabad has always been appreciated. Will the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House be sympathetic to future manning requests?
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
Yes, my Lords, in principle. Of course, one looks at the practicalities and at resources, but that is the thrust of our policy.
§ Lady Saltoun of Abernethy
My Lords, have our troops been provided with adequate clothing and equipment for winter conditions in Afghanistan?
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, I have attempted to deal with that point. No British government and no British commanders are going to put men in positions of danger without their being properly equipped. I shall not go into any further detail. To do so would be irresponsible.
§ Lord Powell of Bayswater
My Lords, will the Minister confirm that even when bin Laden and Al'Qaeda have been tracked down and brought to justice in Afghanistan, the Government's commitment to take action against other terrorist groups and other governments who protect them will not in any way slacken? Will he also confirm that, if necessary, military means would be contemplated in dealing with those situations as well?
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, the noble Lord has enormous experience of these matters. He is quite right. He has had recent experience of some regimes which have had indifferent histories in the context of terrorism. We cannot stop merely having taken action in Afghanistan. It would be a betrayal of all our 592 efforts. This will be a long haul, as the United States administration has said and as the Prime Minister has repeated on so many occasions. In response to the noble Lord's second question, it seems to follow that if we are entitled lawfully to use force, that can never be an option that we can exclude.
§ Lord Rea
My Lords, following the trend of the question from the noble Lord, Lord Elton, will my noble and learned friend assure us that the great success of the coalition in toppling the Taliban will not deflect from the need to act on some of the contributory causes to the act of terrorism that took place in New York? I refer in particular to the situation in the Middle East and to the statement by the President and the Prime Minister that a Palestinian state should be founded and that we should accelerate negotiations towards that end.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, a distinct section of the Statement made exactly my noble friend's point; namely, that it is critically important to continue with Middle East peace efforts. It seems to many of us in all parts of the House that there is an opportunity at the moment which, if lost, is unlikely to recur, and that the dynamic of our times is moving very quickly indeed.