Backbench Business — [3rd Allotted Day] — UK Armed Forces in Afghanistan
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1:59 pm

Photo of Liam Fox

Liam Fox (The Secretary of State for Defence; North Somerset, Conservative)

It has been fashionable in some quarters to say that the House of Commons is increasingly irrelevant in our national life, and that the Executive have become too powerful. Indeed, in recent times the Executive have become too powerful, reaching a zenith in parts of the Blair Administration when the House of Commons was reduced to Downing street in Parliament.

Today marks a very welcome departure. I congratulate all those involved in this wise enterprise. It is high time that Members of the House of Commons, not just the Government and not just the Opposition, have the ability to determine what we discuss in the Chamber.

No subject could be more important than Afghanistan. The hardest thing that a Defence Secretary, or indeed a Prime Minister, has to do is to write to the bereaved families of those killed in action, yet sad though that task is, none of us can fully understand the pain of loss endured by the families themselves. I therefore add my condolences to those of Members on both sides of the House who have paid tribute to the heroic members of our armed forces who have sacrificed themselves for our national security. I pay tribute to Dr Karen Woo, whose courage and dedication mirror that of many civilians who are doing what they can to help in one of the most dangerous parts of the world. We should remember at all times the contribution that they make to trying to create a better world.

What is said in this House matters, particularly in relation to Afghanistan. When we debate that subject here we need to be aware of who is listening: first, the British public; secondly, our armed forces; thirdly, our allies and partners; and fourthly, our opponents and enemies, the disparate insurgency in Afghanistan-the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Each of those audiences is important in different ways. That means not that we are restricted in any way as to what we can say in the House of Commons, but that we should carefully weigh up how we may be interpreted.

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