Dr Julian Lewis: As our understanding of the attitudes of the Taliban is so important to this process, will the Minister share with the House any assessment the Government have made of the relationship between the Taliban and al-Qaeda, given that al-Qaeda brought about the downfall of the Taliban in the first place? Is there still an alliance between the two, or is there now a rift between them?
The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Bill Rammell): There certainly was an alliance between the Taliban and al-Qaeda; that was one of the principal reasons that we and our partners went into Afghanistan in 2001. My understanding is that such a relationship still exists. Were we precipitously to withdraw, the risk of that relationship re-establishing itself would be one of the biggest causes for concern.
… the hon. Gentleman [Andrew Robathan] needs to refer to the press briefing issued following the visit by the Shadow Chancellor and the Shadow Foreign Secretary, which made it clear that the Conservative Party's intention, were it to be elected to government, was to protect efforts in Afghanistan but to cut back elsewhere in defence. If I have got that wrong or if the briefing was wrong, I am sure that the shadow Defence Secretary or one of his colleagues will intervene. In conclusion –
Dr Lewis: Moving rapidly on!
Mr Rammell: No, I am happy to pause and await the hon. Gentleman's intervention.
Dr Lewis: My understanding is that there was no briefing of any sort whatever. If the Minister had a copy of it, I am sure he would have shared it with the House.