HL Deb 07 March 2005 vol 670 cc478-80

2.57 p.m.

Lord Astor of Hever asked Her Majesty's Government:

What response they have received to their representations to NATO allies on members' contributions of personnel and material to allied forces in Afghanistan.

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, following the informal meeting of NATO defence Ministers on 9 and 10 February, NATO announced that the package of resources needed for stage 2 of the planned expansion of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan has been completed. Italy, Spain, Lithuania and the US are providing the core resources.

Lord Astor of Hever

My Lords, I welcome that reply although much remains to be done, not least providing security ahead of the parliamentary elections. Given the UN's declaration that Afghanistan is in danger of becoming a narcotic state, should NATO, and specifically Britain, with responsibility to sort this out not now be more aggressive in the vital task of eliminating poppy crops?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, we are very aware of the danger of the development of a narco-state. NATO is acting within ISAF's mandate to take very resolute action against the production and the trafficking of narcotics. The noble Lord, Lord Astor, asked what the UK specifically was doing. The UK is providing advice and funding to the Afghans on eradication. For instance, we have helped them set up a central planning cell which will decide what poppy fields to target, taking into account the density of the cultivation, the access to alternative livelihoods for farmers and the need to undermine local warlords who control cultivation in particular areas.

Lord Tomlinson

My Lords, would my noble friend agree with me if I suggested that we are long since past the time when we should be worried about the development of a narco-economy? It is there; the report we received last week indicated that 50 per cent of the gross national product of Afghanistan is now coming from narcotic crops. Does she further agree that that is now a matter of great urgency for this country, because we are at the end of the supply route and much of that narcotic comes into this country illegally, and that we must now take urgent action in this area?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that urgent action is required. That is why the UK fully supports the 2005 Afghan counter-narcotics implementation plan. My noble friend will know that that means building up institutions, having a proper information campaign, assisting the development of alternative livelihoods—it is no use talking about eradication unless we give people an alternative Livelihood—strengthening interdiction and law enforcement, supporting the criminal justice system and taking action on eradication.

Lord Redesdale

My Lords, how do the Government plan to carry that out? What percentage of Afghanistan is controlled by ISAF and the central government and what percentage is patrolled and controlled not by them but by warlords who are pushing the production of opium?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, as the noble Lord will know, ISAF's control was mainly in Kabul for the first year or so after the conflict. It has now spread to the north and west of the country, which was stage 1. Stage 2, to which I referred in my Answer to the noble Lord, Lord Astor, involves our setting up the west as an ISAF area where forces under ISAF will be able to assist the provincial reconstruction teams, NGOs and non-military personnel that are trying to ensure that the country is reconstructed. Stage 3 will concern the far more worrying areas in the south and east.

Lord Marlesford

My Lords, do the Government recognise the case for decriminalising all drugs on the basis that the number of extra people who would die from drug abuse might well be smaller than the number of those who die from drug-related crime? It would also cut the cash flow of organised crime, and much street crime—probably by about 90 per cent at a stroke. It would also provide a legal basis for poppy growers in Afghanistan.

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, that is wide of the Question about provincial reconstruction teams and military operations in Afghanistan. I am sure that, if he wishes, the noble Lord can table a Question on our domestic policy, which has been made clear many times from this Dispatch Box.

The Earl of Sandwich

My Lords, does the Minister remember that there was some ambiguity about the objectives of the provincial reconstruction teams and whether they were military or humanitarian forces? Can she confirm that this has been clarified and standardised under the NATO mandate?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, I remember those early discussions about whether provincial reconstruction teams were civilian or military. I particularly remember the discussions we had in this House about the relationship between the military within the reconstruction teams and NGOs. I hope that that has now been clarified. I understand that there is a good relationship between the UK-led teams and NGOs and construction teams.

Lord Garden

My Lords, does the Minister think that the UK should be doing more? Seven of our allies are providing bigger contributions to ISAF, including Belgium, Italy and Spain. Will she convey the thanks of the UK Government to France and Germany, which continue to provide more than a quarter of the total assets for ISAF?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, we contribute a military force of more than 600 people to ISAF. We also have six GR 7 Harrier aircraft based at Kandahar airport that assist ISAF and the coalition forces in Afghanistan. We are committed to helping the Afghan Government to provide their own security because building up Afghanistan's national army and police force is the most important part of security.