New Forest East



Dr Julian Lewis: Only last August, a top military adviser stated publicly that it would take between 30 and 40 years for us to nation-build in Afghanistan under the present strategy and that there was no question of NATO pulling out. Within the last few days, the same top military adviser has stated that the time has begun for talks with the Taliban and that we could indeed have resolved our mission within the next four years. What does this conflicting advice say about the quality, the coherence and the consistency of the strategy which our Government have inherited in Afghanistan?

[The Secretary of State for Defence (Dr Liam Fox): I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He will probably remember a former Prime Minister saying that advisers advise and Ministers decide. For the benefit of newer Members, let me say that she was absolutely correct to do so. The Government decide the strategy in Afghanistan. We believe that we are there for reasons of national security, and we believe that we will have succeeded in our mission in Afghanistan when it is a stable enough state to manage its own internal and external security without reference to outside powers.] I am not an expert in the area in question, although I have more than once had to bring a libel action. I think I am right in saying that in America pretty much anyone in the public eye can falsely be accused of quite serious wrongdoing but will have no recourse to a defamation suit. I acknowledge that the case that my hon. Friend [John Whittingdale] used as an example is a worrying one, but I hope that he will not argue that we should adjust the libel laws in this country to prevent people who are defamed from taking action, just because in America people who are defamed are not allowed to take action. It would be a retrograde step to allow open season on reputations to the extent that that is allowed in the USA.]

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Dr Lewis: I totally agree with the hon. Lady's [Helen Jones's] measured approach. On a couple of occasions when I was defamed, I knew that the sources were malicious opponents, and in a recent case a political opponent at a General Election. Such people do not have the guts to publish the libel, they go to a newspaper, which then publishes it, and the malicious source is protected by the newspaper, which says that it must guard its sources and never reveal them. Before we lose too much sleep over the plight of newspapers when attacking individuals' reputation, let us remember that, to some extent, they bring much of it on themselves by happily recycling malicious falsehoods put forward by people who do not have the guts to say it for themselves.