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The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): Charles Duelfer, the special adviser to the Director of Central Intelligence for Strategy regarding Iraqi weapons of mass destruction programs, presented a further report to US Congressional Oversight Committees on 30 March 2004. As with the previous report presented on 2 October 2003, this is a status report on work in progress. I have arranged for a copy of the unclassified text to be placed in the Library of the House.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Bill Rammell): The Great Chagos Bank, which lies within the waters adjacent to the outer islands of the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), is an exceptional example of a submerged coral atoll, providing a valuable contribution to the marine ecology of the Indian Ocean. On 17 September 2003, in order to help to conserve the natural resources of the bank, the Commissioner for
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BIOT proclaimed an area including the Great Chagos Bank to be an Environmental (Preservation and protection) Zone. A copy of the proclamation, together with the relevant chart and co-ordinates, has been deposited with the UN under Article 75 of UNCLOS, and will be published in the Law of the Sea Bulletin No. 54.
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): A team of FCO officials, RAF personnel, British police officers and independent observers visited Guantanamo Bay between 8 and 9 March 2004.
The purpose of the visit was to return five British detainees to the UK; and to check on the welfare of the four British detainees who remain there and to explain their position to them. The camp authorities were co-operative and helpful during the visit.
An FCO official also met the other four British detainees individually. A US official observed the meetings. The FCO official delivered mail for the detainees personally and brought messages back to their families. Detainees are able to send and receive mail through the camp authorities and the ICRC. Delivery remains irregular. We are considering with the US Government ways for them to improve the mail arrangements.
The British detainees appeared to be in satisfactory physical health but are increasingly frustrated by their continued detention. Individual welfare issues are being pursued by British officials with the US Government.
The legal proceedings against Mr Abbasi and Mr Begg were suspended in July 2003 pending discussions between the British and US. The British Government's position remains that the British detainees should either be tried in accordance with international standards or they should be returned to the UK. The British Government continues to work to resolve their position.
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The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): Since the inception of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in December 2001, the United Kingdom has been a key contributor: we have maintained a continuous presence in Kabul where our troops have once again established a high reputation. That useful work has been complemented by our provincial reconstruction team (PRT) in Mazar-e Sharif, currently operating under the command of the coalition across the five provinces of Balkh, Faryab, Jowzjan, Samangan and Sar-e Pol. No-one should doubt the United Kingdom's commitment to Afghanistan.
The United Nations Security Council resolution 1510 authorized ISAF to expand beyond Kabul and offered the opportunity to start to bring the ISAF and the PRTs together. Since December 2003, NATO has operated its own PRT in the north-eastern city of Konduz as part of ISAF. Building on that experience, and that of coalition PRTs, NATO's detailed operational planning to expand the ISAF across Afghanistan is nearing completion. In view of the parliamentary recess I believe the House would wish to be informed of developments that are likely to occur shortly.
Within this planning, and in conjunction with our international partners, we have offered to NATO to lead the expansion process in the north of the country, where we already have a significant presence through our own PRT. As part of our expanded commitment, and once NATO has agreed its operational plan we shall lead a second multinational PRT that we intend to establish in the Northern city of Meymaneh. Again, in co-operation with our international partners, we shall establish and maintain facilities to support PRTs across the North of Afghanistan. Finally, we plan to transfer command of the PRT in Mazar-e Sharif from the coalition to the ISAF.
This will require some increase in the number of British troops routinely deployed in Afghanistan, although until negotiations with our international partners are complete I am not in a position to indicate what the precise total will be, but I will keep the House informed as this develops. I can confirm, however, that this commitment, which will utilise forces allocated to but not deployed forward in Afghanistan and some other enabling elements in the initial stages, is sustainable.
The expansion of the ISAF will be a major challenge. The United Kingdom, in line with our determination to help the Afghan people rebuild their country, is resolved to play its full part in meeting that challenge. By leading expansion in the north we shall do so in a sustainable and effective manner to the long-term benefit of Afghanistan and her people.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): The UK's chemical protection programme is designed to protect against the use of chemical weapons. Such a programme is permitted by the chemical weapons convention, with which the United Kingdom is fully compliant. Under the terms of the convention, we
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are required to provide information annually to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). In accordance with the Government's commitment to openness, I am placing in the House of Commons Library a copy of the summary that has been provided to the organisation outlining the UK's chemical protection programme for 2004.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): From mid-July 2004, the United Kingdom's routine Destroyer or Frigate (DD/FF) contribution to the standing element of the NATO Response Force (NRF) will be a single ship. This replaces our previous commitment of twoone to Standing Force Atlantic
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and one to the Standing Force Mediterranean. We have also given greater priority to enduring additional commitments in the Arabian Gulf.
When, from July 2004 until June 2005, the UK fulfils the role of High Readiness Force Commander (Maritime), we will provide a broad range of maritime capability to the NRF. When this duty passes to another nation, UK will revert to our routine commitment of 1 DD/FF.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Gordon Brown): Christopher Allsopp's final report "The Review of Statistics for Economic Policy Making" is published today. Copies are available in the Vote Office and the Library of the House.