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Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I have already referred to the fact that we are looking at undergrazing as a result of change in what is available. National parks authorities use agri-environment schemes or sites of special scientific interest management. They fund that and work with land owners to control it. Forest Enterprise also works in bracken management projects. Research is continuing into bracken management. There has been a 10-year project running with the University of Liverpool, and we have been using its results to directly help and advise those who need to control bracken. I do not think the noble Baroness need despair. As I have said, there is not clear evidence of a wide spread of bracken in all areas. It grows only below the frost line. The best answer to controlling the spread of bracken is to plant more trees, I am advised.
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The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, chief constables, as public servants, have in the past argued both for and against government proposals on a wide range of policy matters, and I have no doubt that they will do so in the future where they feel it is appropriate. This is entirely consistent with their position as independent office-holders.
Lord Hamilton of Epsom: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that Answer. Does she agree that it is wrong for the Chief of the General Staff to appear on television defending the ministerial decision to reorganise regiments in the British Army and that it is equally wrong for chief constables to lobby Members of Parliament in another place on periods of detention for terrorist subjects? Does that not indicate that the Government feel that public servants in uniform have credibility when their own Ministers have none?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I do not agree with that last statement. Noble Lords will know that the Ministry of Defence encourages the Armed Forces to explain their role through the media, but on the basis that they are an integral part of the MoD and therefore speak for it rather than as individuals expressing their personal view. The noble Lord will also know that the police have recently spoken in favour of 90-day detention and against certain other government proposals. Therefore, their independence is clear.
Lord Renton: My Lords, does the Minister agree that senior police officers need to appear in uniform, that it is a great part of their authority and respectability and that if they decide to go without it, they will not receive the same amount of respect?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that senior police officers have a great deal of authority, which is often depicted by their uniform. I for one would be sad if they did not feel they could wear it with a degree of pride.
Lord Dholakia: My Lords, the essential element of British policing is its independence. We have no objection to the Association of Chief Police Officers because it has an input in our political process. However, does the Minister agree that the independence is sacrificed if chief constables and other
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senior police officers are seen going around in chauffeur-driven cars trying to extend the detention period to 90 days?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I do not agree with the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, if he seeks to suggest they do that not because they believe it but because they are pursuing some other end. In the past few days, we have seen how strongly chief constables can express their views. Sometimes they are in support of the Government and sometimes they are not. On pay and other issues, no one in this House would suggest that they are always pleased with what government do and they must be free to make their voices heard because they are independent office-holders. That is what they dothey take the rough with the smooth.
Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that if members of the police or the military, dressed in uniform, are interviewed by the aggressive media that we have in this country and are trying to explain government policy that has been determined by Ministers, there is a danger, unfortunately, that they will be held up as Aunt Sallys?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the roles are different because the Armed Forces are an integral part of the MoD. The police are independent office-holders and it would be quite improper to put an improper restraint on the communication they wish to give in relation to their views. They are independently held and they are entitled to express them, whether they are in favour of government policy or against it. They must be free to wear their uniforms when they so choose.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, will the Minister reassure the House that no Minister, special adviser or official acting on instructions from Ministers encouraged any chief constable to lobby Members of Parliament about the 90 days detention period?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the noble Lord will know that when my right honourable friend the Home Secretary made his statements, which he did openly, he made it clear that it was entirely appropriate for chief constables to talk to MPs if they so wished in relation to the issues pertaining to their locality. If that is seen as encouragement, there it was.
Lord Winston: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that fundamentally there is no difference between this and, say, a senior hospital consultant speaking on behalf of the health service either in favour of or opposing the Government's policy on the NHS?
The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, does not the noble Baroness understand that on the 90-day issue, the
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Government were asking chief constables to state a view and asking them to support the Government? Using uniformed personnel as paid mouthpieces of Her Majesty's Government is a bad idea. For such individuals to present their own views as a matter of course is a different thing altogether.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I wholly disagree with the noble Earl. The position, which we have explained repeatedly, was that the Government listened to the police and took their advice. In acting on that advice, we proposed 90 days. It was not the Government who suggested that it was the ideal. We listened to the expert advice of the police and we agreed with them. The police are entitled to have their say.
Baroness Crawley: My Lords, the possible deployment of additional UK forces to Afghanistan as part of the International Security Assistance Force expansion across southern Afghanistan is pending discussions with allies and a final government decision. The timetable for deploying the UK-led NATO Allied Rapid Reaction Corps is May 2006 for nine months. The two are not directly connected.
Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that reply. Will she confirm that our troops have started training for what will certainly be a difficult and dangerous operation? What progress has been made in discussions with our NATO allies to honour their undertakings of support with personnel and equipment?
Baroness Crawley: My Lords, the noble Lord will know that we have made no final decisions on deployment to southern Afghanistan next year. Instead, as my right honourable friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces explained in his Statement on 14 November, we are simply making prudent, timely and common-sense preparations for a potential deployment. The noble Lord will know that those preparations will include unit training, procuring equipment enhancements and early logistics work so that we can respond quickly should NATO decide to expand to the south. In response to his second question I would reply that many allies are planning to join the UK in delivering ISAF expansion to southern Afghanistan.
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