Statement on Afghanistan

February 2, 2010

The Foreign Secretary announced the creation of a UN sponsored Peace and Reintegration Trust Fund for Afghanistan. The idea is to give those who are sick of the fighting, and not part of Al-Qaeda, the chance to become part of the new Afghanistan. They will create a fund to pay for members of the Taliban to come over to President Karzai’s Government forces. It is hoped that this will begin to reconcile the Pashtun people, some of whom are traditionally allied with the Taliban, with the rest of Afghan society. Our brave servicemen are winning military battles, but we also need to win the hearts and minds battle.

This is worthwhile because reconciliation has long been identified as key step towards peace in Afghanistan, something I highlighted as long ago as October 2008 in a debate I initiated in Parliament.

I said: “One long-standing problem has been that not enough Afghan Pashtun tribal leaders are involved in the process of government in Afghanistan. I welcome that King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia had a breakfast meeting in Mecca with the Afghan Government and with Pashtun leaders, some of whom are aligned with Taliban officials…Do the Government feel that there is some prospect of sitting down with Pashtun tribal leaders who may be aligned with the Taliban and reaching the sort of political compromise that generals have been talking about recently?”

This year’s Remembrance Sunday

November 7, 2009

I am looking forward to Remembrance Sunday in Letchworth Garden City. It is vital that we remember the fallen and their families and all those who have served our country. This year our forces in Afghanistan are very much in our thoughts.

Government’s duty of care to our soldiers in Afghanistan

September 11, 2009

Royston is very close to Bassingbourn barracks and many of my constituents have close links to the battalion based there. There are two letters in today’s Telegraph from family members of servicemen in Afghanistan that complain that the soldiers’ welfare needs are not always being met. I was deeply concerned to read that their family members do not seem to be receiving proper food supplies or the even the letters being sent to them. After contacting the regimental welfare office one of the family members was told that they are “being swamped with similar complaints and when they took up the issue with the forward base they are told the problem is a severe shortage of transport.”

As one of the letters rightfully points out, “so much for this administration’s protestations that our service units in Afghanistan have all the equipment they need.” These letters tie in with reports I have had when talking with serving soldiers.

The first duty of a Government in war is to provide proper facilities to the men and women it expects to fight. One accepts that it won’t always be possible to get all the comforts to troops serving in forward operations, but the idea that our soldiers are being asked to fight without the equipment to do the job is abhorrent. It’s a breakdown in the military covenant. I think everyone agrees that if we are going to ask people to risk their lives for their country the least we can do is ensure they are receiving the correct food supplies and their families’ correspondence on a regular basis. I will be taking this up with Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth.

Meet the MP Event at Westmill

August 24, 2009

Meet the Member at Westmill 2009 jpgOn Friday, there was a Meet the MP event at Westmill in a Marquee. There was a good turn out of about 60 and I was able to answer questions about the Afghan War, the economy and immigration control. There was also concern at plans to put 25 more travellers’ pitches in East Herts, particularly as there is no history locally of a traveller tradition. I explained that this was something which I have strongly opposed as it makes no sense to force travellers into areas they do not want to be.

Parliament Welcomes Royal Marines Commando Back From Afghanistan

July 1, 2009
Parliament welcomes the Marines

Parliament welcomes the Marines

Yesterday the Royal Marines 45 Commando marched through Parliament’s carriage gates in the glorious sunshine of June and were received by MPs  including Secretary of State for Defence Bob Ainsworth MP  after their return from Afghanistan. They were accompanied by a regimental band and I’m sure everyone remarked how smart they looked. It was an honour to receive these brave men and women and I was pleased to be able to ensure their visit was recorded on the Official Report of the House of Commons later on. Congratulations on their safe return is order!

The Road to War in Iraq and Winning the Peace

June 25, 2009

Yesterday the Opposition day debate on Iraq was held in the Chamber of the House of Commons. William Hague called for the Government’s planned Inquiry into the war in Iraq to be held in an open and public manner and for this to happen as soon as possible with the Panel to include a senior military member and someone with knowledge of Government. I think it would be useful to have a good cross-examining barrister too! This desire for openness was echoed in all parts of the House of Commons with Labour, SDLP,Welsh Nat and others – except the Labour Front Bench. Indeed at one point there was no Minister on the Front Bench to listen to the debate at all. This was sad as the debate was of high quality with many strong speeches.

Many Members pointed out that few expected the issue of an Inquiry to be being debated six years after the conclusion of the war. It should have happened years ago. We Conservatives are concerned to find out if elected representatives and the public of the UK were misled. We want to have a full examination of the road to War, what happened in the War (including equipment supplies) and into the planning and execution of the Peace; and for the Inquiry to hold individuals to account where right to do so. We also think it should be a proper open evidence Inquiry with witnesses expected to give evidence as in a Law Court. Every major speech called for the House of Commons to be allowed to vote on the Inquiry Terms of Reference when decided. It shouldn’t just be a Number 10 Downing Street decision.

British forces have performed fantastically well and sacrificed much in Iraq and we must learn lessons for the future. That is why the Inquiry Panel should have a General or other senior military figure and someone to understand Whitehall procedures.

One aspect I have raised regularly in the House and again yesterday is how any armed campaign should also be focused on turning “military victories into hearts and minds victories”. Tobias Ellwood made this point very well. We must learn from the mistakes in Iraq about how to secure the peace after the war. We didn’t provide support for rebuilding local infrastructure, schools, hospitals and the legal system speedily and effectively enough. In the debate I pointed out that it is vital to put in place a proper civil justice system quickly, so that we do not face again the Afghan situation where the Taliban were left to resolve disputes. Our whole approach must be revised to allow our forces to deliver immediate civil improvements in risky post-conflict situations and allow our development teams to do the more long-range work. Let’s hope we have a good Inquiry and it makes recommendations on this issue.

Afghanistan (From the archive)

November 7, 2008

There has been nothing but praise at Westminster for the magnificent work of our armed forces in Afghanistan and I have been lucky to meet some of our local soldiers who have served, but all year we have been receiving gloomy reports from well respected Generals, Think tanks and those returning from visits. It is not that we are losing the War, but there is a feeling that we need our troops to have better equipment, better support from our NATO allies and that reconstruction and relief work needs to take place more quickly after tactical military victories so that local people see some benefit on the ground. There is also concern that more needs to be done to encourage Pashtun tribal leaders to take part in Government rather than aligning themselves with the Taleban.

I recently called a debate on this in the House – the link is in the speeches section. The USA is undergoing a major review of its efforts there ahead of the new Presidency and I intend to continue to press our Government to review its coordination of efforts between our military, relief and diplomatic efforts.

Indeed next Tuesday 11th November, I will be asking Question 9: What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Defence and the Secretary of State for International Development on co-ordination of policies relating to Afghanistan.

The Soldiers’ March Past (From the archive)

July 21, 2008

Today soldiers who have served in the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan were honoured by the House of Commons where they were received for a march past.

The Speaker, Michael Martin, paid tribute to all that they do for us. It was very moving to see the soldiers dressed in their camouflage and sand boots, so recently used in the very different environment of war. I was glad that they were given such a good welcome. We also ensured that those who had lost their lives or who could not be there due to the injuries they had suffered were remembered for bravery.

I am still hoping that it will be possible for us in Royston to welcome the Anglians as they march through the town.