HL Deb 30 June 2004 vol 663 cc267-79

3.26 p.m.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I would like to repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. The Statement is as follows: With permission, Mr Speaker, I shall make a Statement on the NATO summit in Istanbul and also briefly report on the special European Council in Brussels last night.

"I thank the new NATO Secretary General for his chairmanship of the NATO summit and the President and Prime Minister of Turkey for hosting it. I am placing copies of the summit declaration in the Library of the House.

"We were joined in Istanbul by NATO's seven new members from central Europe. They bring a renewed perspective to the alliance. Their recent history of repression makes their attachment to security, freedom and democracy that much keener. We were also joined by NATO's partners: Russia, Ukraine, and others from across eastern Europe and central Asia.

"We endorsed capabilities targets to ensure we make the best use of NATO forces. We supported the further reform of NATO's structures to adapt the alliance to the new threats we face. We agreed to end the NATO mission in Bosnia, SFOR, at the end of the year and committed to a successful handover to a European Union force.

"However, the two main issues on the NATO agenda were Iraq and Afghanistan. The summit opened just as the new Iraqi Interim Government assumed full authority and sovereignty in Iraq.

"Politically, Iraq now has a broad-based and representative Government; a timetable and a process for Iraq's first democratic elections; a new constitution guaranteeing basic freedoms and the rule of law; a devolved system of government—almost all towns now have municipal councils and those that have been elected are largely secular; and guaranteed protection of minority rights. This is in place of a dictatorship that brutalised the people and ransacked the country.

"Economically, Iraq now has an open economy with an independent central bank; a real budgetary process; a new and stable currency. A start has been made to re-build Iraq's hugely damaged and underinvested-in infrastructure—a process which will now continue under the guidance of the new Iraqi Government. This is in place of an economy where a country rich in resources had, under Saddam, 60 per cent of its population dependent on food vouchers.

"Britain can be proud, as a country, of the part we and in particular our magnificent Armed Forces played in bringing this about. We also express our deep condolences to the family of Fusilier Gordon Gentle and to all those who have lost their lives in this struggle.

"We should pay tribute, too, to the many British public servants, policemen and women and volunteers, led so ably by David Richmond, the UK Special Representative, who played crucial roles in helping the Iraqi people rebuild their lives, doing so under difficult and stressful conditions. Her Majesty the Queen has graciously agreed that their extraordinary contribution should be recognised with the award of a special civilian medal.

"But there is one overwhelming central challenge that remains in Iraq: security. Former Saddam supporters and, increasingly, terrorists from outside of Iraq linked to Al'Qaeda see this progress in Iraq and its potential and hate all that it represents. They are therefore killing as many innocent people as they can, trying to destroy oil and power supplies and to create chaos, so that the path to stability and democracy for Iraq is blocked.

"At the NATO summit in Istanbul, the Iraqi Government requested NATO's help with the training of the new Iraqi security forces. NATO agreed it. The crucial task is now to put in place the training, leadership and equipment to give Iraqi police, civil defence and armed forces the capability to take on the terrorists and beat them.

"The determination of the new Iraqi Government is inspirational. But the challenge, especially around Baghdad, is formidable. None the less, I hope by the end of July the Iraqi Government and the multinational force will agree and publish plans to ensure, over time, that this capability exists.

"There is nothing more important to the stability of Iraq or that of the wider region. Britain, the United States and the rest of the former coalition will remain dedicated to helping the Iraqi people in this task. In addition, NATO as a whole will urgently consider further proposals to support the nascent Iraqi security institutions in response to Prime Minister Allawi's request.

"In respect of Afghanistan, President Karzai gave a typically forceful presentation both on the progress made in that country over the last two years and on the huge challenges that remain to be overcome. President Karzai said that over 5 million Afghans have now registered to vote in the September elections: 3.5 million refugees have now returned to Afghanistan; and 3 million girls are in school. Living standards are rising and the economy is growing by 20 per cent a year.

"But, again, terrorists, with the same intent as in Iraq, stand in the way. NATO agreed to expand ISAF's role outside Kabul, with provincial reconstruction teams to help build Afghan force capability. Some of those teams are already set up in the north. The UK is providing two. The next stage will be to establish similar teams in the rest of the country.

"In addition, we agreed a package of support for the upcoming elections in Afghanistan, including a role for the NATO Response Force. Finally on Afghanistan, we now have an agreed process of stability in the command of ISAF for the years ahead. We have offered to provide the UK-led Allied Rapid Reaction Corps, one of NATO's high-readiness headquarters, to lead ISAF in 2006.

"The role which NATO is playing in Afghanistan and the new role it is taking on in Iraq reflect the new security challenges we face. Our adversary is no longer the Soviet Union, but terrorism and unstable states, which deal in chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, and the possibility of the two coming together.

"Both Iraq and Afghanistan face the same struggle for democracy and freedom. Both were used as terrorist bases and both were horrific examples of repression organised and promoted by their governments while their people were deprived of even the most basic dignity and human rights. Both now have the hope of a new dawn but are confronted by the remnants of the past they seek to escape.

"Let us be quite plain about what is at stake. If we succeed, the Iraqi and Afghan people prosper; their states become valued partners in the international community; and the propaganda of the terrorists that our purpose is to wage war on or dominate Muslims is exposed for the evil nonsense it is. Should we fail, those countries would sink back into degradation, threaten their neighbours and the world, and become again a haven for terrorism.

"The terrorism we face is not confined now to any one continent, let alone any one country. From Saudi Arabia to the cities of Europe, it is there—active and planning. Since 11 September 2001 in New York we have known its potency. So what now happens in Iraq and Afghanistan affects us here, as it does every nation, supportive or not of the actions we have taken.

"NATO's focus on these issues shows at least a start to understanding this threat and its implications. But I worry that our response is still not sufficient to the scale of the challenge we face. I repeat what I said at the NATO plenary session: this threat cannot be defeated by security means alone. It needs us to focus on the causes of it.

"Progress on the Israeli-Palestinian issue remains a vital strategic necessity; as does the recognition that our ultimate security lies in the spread of our values—freedom, democracy and the rule of law. The more we can assist in the development of these values in the wider Middle East, in partnership with reform-minded governments and people, the better our long-term prospects of defeating this threat will be. "But the battle is here and now in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even for those who passionately disagreed with our decision to go to war, the issues are now clear, the side we should be on without doubt, and the cause manifestly one worth winning. Succeeding in it would be a fitting way to reinvigorate the trans-Atlantic alliance and heal its divisions.

"Finally, on the way back from Istanbul, I attended a special European Council. It agreed the Portuguese Prime Minister as the new Commission President. He is an excellent choice: committed to economic reform, committed to the trans-Atlantic alliance and committed to a European Union of nation states. It was a good finale to a brilliant Irish presidency of Europe."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.35 p.m.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement. Perhaps I may say at the outset how much we welcome the appointment of Mr Barroso as the new Commission President, especially if, as is claimed, it marks a break from the outdated Franco-German centralising tendencies. We trust that his performance will match the promise. I also hope that, unlike the outgoing President, Mr Prodi, he will give full attention to EU affairs and not use Brussels as a platform for his own domestic political campaigns.

On Iraq, I join the Prime Minister in sending our sincerest condolences to the family of Fusilier Gordon Gentle. He and his fellow soldiers serve in a just cause. Those who murdered him must be confronted with unflinching resolve. The best way to defeat them permanently is for Iraq to be established among the family of democratic nations and become a beacon for a new way forward in the Middle East. So I join the noble Baroness in welcoming wholeheartedly the transfer of sovereignty in Iraq and wish the Interim Government well in the considerable challenges that lie ahead.

Security remains a critical issue in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Prime Minister said today that the Iraqi Government exercise political control over any operation, but that coalition forces would not respond to any inappropriate order. Practically, how are those statements to be reconciled by commanders on the ground?

With the Recess only three weeks away, does the noble Baroness envisage any increase in British troop deployment before then? And will Parliament be recalled before any further significant deployment after the Recess begins? Can she also tell the House if there will be any troop deployment from non-NATO members, especially from Arab states?

I welcome NATO's decision, despite the rather churlish attitude of France, to offer assistance to the Government of Iraq with the training of its security forces". Can the noble Baroness tell us the likely numbers involved, including the UK contribution? What is being done to improve the security of those involved in reconstruction work in Iraq, including electricity and oil? Following the appearance of Saddam Hussein in court today, can the noble Baroness assure the House that a potential death penalty for mass murder will not prevent Britain agreeing to the unqualified transfer of General Ali and others to Iraq?

The Statement referred to additional troops for Afghanistan. What, once again, is the UK contribution? Is it not deeply worrying that too many NATO countries have failed to take seriously enough the need for security in stabilising Afghanistan and hence the need for military resources? Is not a strong presence in Afghanistan the kind of operation in which a post-Cold War NATO must now come into its own?

I therefore very much welcome the ongoing NATO commitment to enlargement. I noted paragraph 41 of the Istanbul communiqué stating the importance of the Black Sea to European security. Do the Government therefore understand Russian sensitivities in Moldova and Georgia? Does the noble Baroness know when it is likely that Russian troops will leave Moldova?

At what point, in the view of the British Government, does the evolution of an EU military capability represent a threat to the future role of NATO?

Does the noble Baroness join me in saluting President Bush's visionary speech on relations between the EU and Turkey? We on this side have long argued for the embracing of Turkey against foolish foot-dragging by other EU nations. Is it not essential that this great Muslim nation, a key NATO member and an established secular democracy, is treated with dignity and seriousness as an essential partner in building stability in eastern Europe and in the Middle East?

Finally, the EU-US summit discussed Sudan. What specific action was agreed to avert tragedy in Darfur? And why is there no mention in any of these communiqués of the tragedy in Zimbabwe? There was time, quite rightly, for Sudan, but not for Zimbabwe. Can the noble Baroness shed any light on that decision? I raise this again because I know of the noble Baroness's interest in this region.

Has she had an opportunity to look at the EU website on Zimbabwe? It reads, "Recent events—no news available", and goes on to state: This page is still under construction. Sorry for the inconvenience". The destruction of Zimbabwe by Mugabe goes on and half a million exiles are suffering more than just inconvenience. Does not this pathetic website, which compares with 50 pages on EU relations with Bhutan, aptly show the utter weakness of the EU on Zimbabwe? So what is the Government's response to its failure to raise Zimbabwe in every forum—EU, US-EU and at the United Nations? Once again the opportunity was there last weekend and once again it was lost.

3.42 p.m.

Lord McNally

My Lords, I share with both Front Benches in the expressions of grief at the death of Fusilier Gordon Gentle and of all British personnel who have given their lives in this conflict. At the close of the Statement the Prime Minister said: Even for those who passionately disagreed with our decision to go to war, the issues are now clear, the side we should be on without doubt, and the cause manifestly one worth winning". I suppose that means Members on these Benches in particular, because we were passionately in disagreement about this war. We support the desire to see democracy and civil liberties in both Afghanistan and Iraq, but what still worries us is whether, both in the United States and in the mind of the Prime Minister, the lessons have been learnt and there is sufficient humility to ensure that the future is less error-ridden than the past.

One has only to look at the piece by Bronwen Maddox in the Times today where she talks of the announcement of the handover of power in Iraq as a "stunt" which marked the moment that an alliance died: It was a showy, historic moment, but one in which Nato had played no part. It was a decision taken quickly and secretly by the US and the Iraqi government, exactly the kind of feat that Nato cannot manage". That is the real worry about much of the tone of the Prime Minister's Statement. For Ernest Bevin and the other founding fathers of NATO, to see 26 European countries gathering in Istanbul, having come together without the major war that was feared after the Second World War, was an historic achievement. But it is worth the Prime Minister pondering the fact that Bevin and the other founding fathers did not build NATO in isolation. They put in place around it a whole framework of international co-operation and international law based on the Charter of Human Rights and on the United Nations.

We hear much today, particularly from the new Right in the United States, of theories of a new imperialism and a new American century. Unless that is cleared out of the way and there is a return to co-operation through the international bodies we have created, many of the aspirations that were so eloquently put in Istanbul are doomed to failure.

It is all very well to talk about Afghanistan and Iraq, but Afghanistan shows all the signs of a disastrous switch of attention that left the job half done in that country. One has to wonder whether there is the political will and the machinery in place to deliver what is needed. Turning to Iraq, one has to question whether free elections can be held without security and, indeed, whether they can be held without electricity, sewerage and water supplies. Some sense of normality must be restored. If the very fact of registering to vote can cause someone to be assassinated, it is hardly likely that there will be free and fair elections. Nor is it likely that there will be respect for an independent government if the United States retains in Iraq its largest embassy in the world. We have to look at this not only in terms of rhetoric, but also at the reality, and wonder whether there is the will to see it through.

I turn to a practical matter. Given all these declarations, I wonder whether the comprehensive spending review, to be announced on 12 July, will take on board the new commitments. Will our Armed Forces have the resources to meet these extended commitments?

I share with the noble Lord expressions of good will so far as Turkey is concerned, and for its ultimate membership of the EU. As for Israel/Palestine, to my mind the region is not just a vital strategic necessity, it is the core problem which must be addressed. One wonders whether the issue has now been put on the back burner until after the American presidential election, or whether Her Majesty's Government have any plans and proposals either on their own or in conjunction with the European Union to carry matters forward?

Finally, on the EU itself, we of course welcome the appointment of Mr Barroso and we congratulate the Irish on what was a model presidency. All we ask now from the Prime Minister, and in particular the Chancellor downwards, is that we maintain a robust consistency in our European policy so that those who pay lip service to our membership of the EU, but nothing more, are faced down. We must have a government who really are going to lead in Europe and allow Europe to play the role it should in the wider security issues discussed in Istanbul.

3.48 p.m.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I am sure that the whole House joins in the condolences which have been expressed this afternoon, and in the tributes to our Armed Forces.

On the question of troop deployments put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, he may recall that the Secretary of State for Defence announced routine force level adjustments on 27 May and 17 June, bringing UK forces in Iraq up to 9,200. No other decision has been taken. With regard to non-NATO troops making a contribution in Iraq, a list is available of those countries currently contributing troops. However, I am not aware of any Arab states making specific troop contributions.

On the issue of reconstruction and security, I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that security has to be our number one concern, not only in respect of the workers on the ground who are engaged in working to reconstruct Iraq in partnership with the Iraqis themselves, but also in bringing normality to the lives of the people of Iraq, a point made by the noble Lord, Lord McNally. It is also important to ensure that the essential infrastructure is protected. Noble Lords will be aware that some 74,000 Iraqis form part of the facilities protection force, in addition to those working as police officers patrolling the streets.

As to our contribution in Afghanistan, an issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, there are currently 314 UK troops serving with ISAF in Kabul. Our contribution will increase by around 260 in the next few days when our PRTs in Mazar-e-Sharif and Maymanah and the forward support base in Mazar transfer to ISAF authority. But this will not increase the overall number of UK troops in Afghanistan. We expect HQ ARRC to be deployed to Afghanistan sometime in 2006, but it is too early to say how many troops will be involved in that.

As to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, on Moldova, there is a stand-off at present so we do not know when the Russians will pull out. On the wider issue, the NATO-Russia Council is a forum in which we can discuss common security concerns with Russia. This allows us to be aware of particular Russian sensitivities.

On the issue of the EU and Turkey, the noble Lord will know that the United Kingdom has been at the forefront of the push for Turkey to join the European Union. This is because we believe it is important that we are seen to be much more inclusive in terms of the divide between east and west and between religions.

As to Darfur and Zimbabwe, the EU has led the sanctions against Zimbabwe. I am surprised that the website does not identify that and I shall look into the matter. There is a major humanitarian crisis in Darfur, which we have sought to avert. We have not managed to do so and it is now a priority, not only for the UK but for others in the European Union.

The noble Lord, Lord McNally, referred to the context in which NATO was formed. In particular, he pointed out the importance of the entire multilateral system. I entirely agree. The noble Lord knows of the Government's commitment to multilateralism. We seek to work through the UN, NATO, the WTO, the World Bank and other organisations. Given the increasing difficulties that we face as a global community, particularly from terrorism, these multilateral bodies will become even more significant.

I do not agree that attention was switched from Afghanistan. The noble Lord is aware that we worked very hard to ensure that that did not happen. There has been an ongoing dialogue with the Government of Afghanistan. We have given development assistance in addition to our assistance through ISAF. We are working with the Afghanistan Government to put in place the public service, for example, particularly in relation to financial accountability. We need to continue that interest. There is no doubt that the security situation in Afghanistan and the fact that we have not been able to establish a stable and secure environment in certain parts of the country has hindered the longer-term reconstruction process. That is why we recognise that it is important to work to establish security in Iraq. It would take an extremely brave woman to pre-empt any announcement on the comprehensive spending review. I am not that brave. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, will have to wait.

As regards the Middle East, we shall continue to support the ongoing initiatives. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, will know that at Istanbul a voluntary initiative on the Middle East was agreed. This will build on the wider G8 Middle East initiative.

3.55 p.m.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick

My Lords, I thank the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement, but, with great respect, is there not a huge element of propaganda in it?

First, would not a more realistic Statement on Afghanistan have made a passing reference to the fact that poppy production is now higher than it was before the war—more money for terrorism; more drugs?

Secondly, would not a more realistic Statement on Iraq have quite rightly referred not only to the loss of life of British soldiers but also to the 15,000 Iraqi lives lost in an optional war that has left the world a more dangerous place?

Thirdly, would not a more realistic approach also have admitted that a judgment on democracy in Iraq can be made only over a period of five, 10 or 15 years? Did the Minister notice the statement made by Sir Jeremy Greenstock last week in London, on page 1 of the FT on Saturday, that the idea of a western-style democracy in Iraq is impossible and that there are huge obstacles?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, because, if one looks at Afghanistan and the issue of drugs, a point raised by the noble Lord, one sees that this country leads in that area. It takes years to ensure that alternatives are provided into which individuals who make a great deal of money from poppy production can transfer their interest. We have been working to embed the importance of that kind of long-term sustainability into those individuals in Afghanistan. It will not happen overnight—I acknowledge that—but I do not share the noble Lord's pessimism.

As regards Iraq, power generation is now averaging around 4,000 megawatts. Progress has not been as rapid as we had hoped, but that is primarily as a result of sabotage and other security problems. We have to recognise that there are people who do not want an independent, democratic Iraq to succeed.

Lord Judd

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that if we are to win hearts and minds in Iraq it is important fulsomely to put on record our acknowledgement of the supreme sacrifice made by thousands of Iraqis in a war over which they had no influence?

Turning to the future, does not my noble friend agree that two issues need to be absolutely clear? First, following the United Nations authorisation of the way forward, it is not only a matter of a role for the United Nations in Iraq but of accountability to the United Nations for all that follows as a result of the implementation of that resolution? Secondly, does she agree that in the all-important forthcoming conference to consider the constitutional future, it will be essential to throw the net as wide as possible and to involve people with whom it might be quite difficult to talk and with whom we have had great problems in the past? If the net is not thrown wide it will be virtually impossible to have the necessary degree of stakeholding by a sufficient cross-section of the Iraqi people to ensure success.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, my noble friend is right: we have to recognise the sacrifices that have been made by individuals in moving Iraq from a situation where it was led by a violent dictator, through the current situation, where there is a degree of instability—particularly in respect of security—and elements who wish to ensure that the country does not succeed, to a process where the people of Iraq have full control of their own country and resources.

As to accountability, my noble friend is right: UNSCR 1546 sets out very clearly what is required politically in Iraq. The role of the UN in relation to that will be absolutely critical in working with the transitional Iraqi Government and throwing the net as wide as possible. The importance of ensuring that women are a key part of that process is an issue that has been raised many times in the House.

Baroness Northover

My Lords, bearing in mind today's explosions in Afghanistan, is the noble Baroness confident that with the level of commitment which has been pledged by NATO, we will get anywhere near the level of security that will be needed in Afghanistan, as other noble Lords have said, if there are to be elections and if the drug warlords are to be defeated? At present, the level is about a quarter of that which was committed to Kosovo, for example.

Could the Minister say why there is merely half a sentence on Israel/Palestine in the Statement? What does that indicate in terms of the priorities of those at the NATO meeting? What specific measures will be taken on the conflict in the Middle East which, as my noble friend Lord McNally has pointed out, is at the core of the problems in the Middle East?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, on the noble Baroness's final point, the Statement made it absolutely clear at the beginning that it would focus on Iraq and Afghanistan, as those had been the central issues discussed at the meeting. That is not to say that other issues were not discussed—however, the Statement made it clear that Iraq and Afghanistan would be the focus. The noble Baroness may wish to look at the communiqué of the meeting; it makes mention of the Istanbul Middle East initiative, which builds on the wider G8 initiative. I am quite happy to write to the noble Baroness on that.

On security in Afghanistan, the noble Baroness is quite right. In certain parts of Afghanistan it has been very difficult to reach the level of security that would enable the broader development and reconstruction effort to take hold. That is precisely why we have taken the slightly different approach of establishing provincial reconstruction teams, a mix of civilian and military. What has been announced following the NATO summit is the addition of four PRTs which will help to establish security in different parts of the country.

Lord Craig of Radley

My Lords, I thank the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement. In it, the Prime Minister said: I worry that our response is still not sufficient to the scale of the challenge we face". I wonder what new initiative Her Majesty's Government have in mind to give a lead to others if there is not to be an increase in the operational deployment of our Armed Forces, which are already very heavily committed in Iraq and Afghanistan. What do Her Majesty's Government have it in mind to do?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, following the announcement in Istanbul, we will do two things: first, we shall contribute a new provincial reconstruction team in Afghanistan. Secondly, we have offered our leadership in terms of NATO capabilities in Afghanistan from 2006.

Lord Biffen

My Lords, I wonder whether I could put to the noble Baroness a further question about the elections in Afghanistan. Does she accept, as I do, the description given by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, of the current situation in Afghanistan, which makes the prospect of elections freely fought, as we would understand in the West, wholly remote, thus sustaining the point made by my noble friend Lord Lamont? Can she confirm that the package of support—to use her words—that is to be given for the elections in Afghanistan will include provision for independent monitors who can report on the extent to which this election is a reality and an illusion?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, NATO plans to deploy extra troops to bolster security in the run-up to the Afghan elections this year, including the possible deployment of elements of the NATO response force. We are already looking at how NATO can further assist the Afghan Government and will be encouraging allies to commit troops and resources for the next phase of ISAF expansion.

It would be wrong to assume that the security situation in Afghanistan is such that it means that these elections, which are due to be carried out in September this year, will not be able to go ahead. We have been engaged in discussions with the interim government in Afghanistan over many months, as has the UN. With respect to the noble Lord's point about deploying observers, I am sure that the UN will ensure that that happens.

Lord Astor of Hever

My Lords, the Lord President of the Council did not answer my noble friend's question about the possibility of Parliament being recalled in the event of additional British deployment to Iraq after the House has risen. Can she now respond to that?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, there is not a question to answer. I said in relation to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that this is being kept under review. There is no such decision, so it is not a question that I am able to answer.

The Earl of Sandwich

My Lords, I warmly welcome the renewed focus on Afghanistan. as many people involved in Afghanistan aid and reconstruction will. But does the noble Baroness agree that this is only half the story, or less than half the story? She has spoken of the reconstruction teams. They are of course helpful. but the numbers are very small in comparison with the coalition forces which are fighting along the Pakistan border and include some of our own special forces. We very rarely hear any statement which takes into account what the coalition forces are doing. Since there is a lot of concern in the House, could the noble Baroness undertake to give a fuller statement at some future stage, and perhaps a briefing for noble Lords, on the true nature of our security support for Afghanistan?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I am quite happy to supply a briefing for noble Lords on the security situation in Afghanistan. Noble Lords will know that the Department for International Development puts on its website regular updates about development, but if it would be helpful to do the same for security aspects, I undertake to do so and to put a copy in the Library of the House.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick

My Lords, does the Lord President of the Council agree with me that the outburst of attempts by some member states to persuade the new president-elect of the Commission to allocate certain portfolios to certain nationals is premature, improper and liable to be counter-productive? Will the Government resist any temptation to join in this game?

Does the noble Baroness agree that with regard to Afghanistan, a postponement of the elections would be the worst possible thing in the circumstances? It would show that the men of violence are capable of frustrating the will of the international community. There was a perfectly good precedent in Cambodia, where one-third of the country was prevented by the Khmer Rouge from participating in the United Nations-led elections but the Security Council went ahead, and it was right to do so. Although the position is far from perfect in Cambodia, it is certainly a lot better than it would have been if the elections had been pulled.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I am sure that the new president is a skilled enough political operator to know that allocating portfolios and choosing the individuals to fill them will have to be done in detailed discussions—very detailed, I am sure—with member states.

The noble Lord,

Lord Hannay, is quite right. None of us wants to see the postponement of elections in Afghanistan. I am well aware, from discussions I have had with President Karzai and members of the interim government in Afghanistan, that they do not want to see that happen either. They are very clear about the importance of these elections for securing Afghanistan's future.

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