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Lord Drayson: My Lords, the noble and gallant Lord has asked a question which reinforces one asked by the noble Lord opposite, which I did not answer initially. In answer to this question, I shall be as clear as I can on the two related aspects of the theatres and the decision that has been taken. It is clear to me that of course at one level we must consider the operational pressure of our Armed Forces in the round, across the world, in all operational theatres, which we do. It would make no sense for us in the Ministry of Defence to do otherwise: you have to look at your commitments in totality. But we must not confuse that with a sense that we make decisions on one theatre related to what is taking place in another. Frankly, we cannot do that. We have to recognise that the situation in Iraq and the conditions on the ground require us to make decisions based on those circumstances. The pace of change in Iraq and Afghanistan progresses, and co-ordinating the two is not practical. We have to face the conditions in each theatre separately. But we need to make decisions about the deployment of our resources and be very mindful of the effect on our Armed Forces over the long term. We cannot go on operating beyond the planning assumptions indefinitely. As the noble and gallant Lord said, we are starting to see the effect on wear and tear of equipment.
On where we stand today, a lot of careful consideration has gone into thinking about whether this extra deployment in Afghanistan can be made taking into account the situation in Iraq. We will have to respond to Afghanistan based on what happens through this year. We cannot say that being able to respond to Afghanistan will be done in a way which is linked to Iraq, much as we would like to be able to do. However, we can make absolutely sure that these decisions we take in the round can be managed by our Armed Forces, but we need to make sure that they have the resources in the long term for the commitments which we require them to face.
Lord Marlesford: My Lords, the Minister referred, rightly in my view, to our bearing a greater share of the burden than we might like. This is a NATO enterprise, unlike Iraq. Should the British Government not seek to establish for this venture and future NATO ventures a convention that all members of NATO contribute to the financial cost in proportion to their GDP, including of course the countries that are providing military operations or facilities, and that those countries that are providing military facilities for such NATO operations should be reimbursed 100 per cent from that central fund? It is totally unacceptable for us to have more not only of the military burden but of the financial burden than other members of NATO.
Lord Drayson: My Lords, the noble Lord makes an interesting suggestion, and I shall go away, think about it and discuss it with my colleagues. It would raise difficult ethical questions in considering how to balance those countries that provide troops and assets and that are in harms way, taking losses and casualties, against those that provide finance. However, I shall take away and consider the noble Lords suggestion with regard to practicalities, and respond.
Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, this morning a number of us were privileged to hear and take part in a discussion with a most able and talented young woman called Clare Lockhart, who has recently returned from being an adviser to General Richards. Before that, she worked for the UN in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2005 and was an adviser to the Afghan Government on reconstruction.
Some very interesting subjects came up during the discussion. One was the fact that there did not appear to be one overarching strategy for progress in Afghanistan. The UN had a programme, the EU had a programme, NATO had a programme, the United States had a programme and we had a programmeand none of them came together.
Another hugely interesting subject came up during the question of reconstructionthat there did not seem to be any co-ordination of regional support for reconstruction, such as what the Gulf states might contribute, what Iran with its asphalt might contribute to road-building, or what Uzbekistan or other countries might do. In this House, we tend to talk in penny packets about little bits of military reinforcement and little bits of what we or DfID might do. That does not seem to be really satisfactory. Unless there is an overarching strategy within which each contributor can see its part and where it is goingespecially in the field of reconstructionwe shall go on having this discussion over and again as little bits are added or taken away in the years to come.
I know that it is not specifically in the Ministers patch, but does he feel that this addition to our forces, which is enormously welcomealthough not to the forces themselves, because they are overstretchedis part of something overarching, or is it just a one-off effort?
Lord Drayson: My Lords, the noble Lord highlights a very important point. However, surely it should beand isthe role of the Afghan Government to provide that overarching clarity. We are there with the NATO mission of 36 countries in support of the Afghan Government.
When I last visited Afghanistan, I got the impression that there was more clarity than the noble Lord has been told, because I saw how the Afghan development zones had been identified. That seemed to me an effective structure for aligning definite areasor taking areas in the country and applying a comprehensive approach of reconstruction with military effect and establishment of governance, and then spreading out from those zones. That seemed an effective and pragmatic way in which to effect change.
The progress is regional. We have seen good progress in the north and west, but it is more challenging in the south and east. We are now addressing those issues, but this is a difficult project in some areas. The international community is learning how to carry out this type of coalition effort effectively as part of the comprehensive approach.
Lord Blaker: My Lords, I support my noble friend on the Front Bench in paying tribute to our troops in Afghanistan, whose performance has been absolutely
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Lord Drayson: My Lords, certain nations still exercise caveats as the noble Lord described. We are pressing our NATO partners to have close alignment of rules of engagement for NATO commanders for the obvious reasons that we have discussed in this House. The noble Lord reiterated the recognition of the Canadians performance. He is right: the Canadians have done, and are doing, an absolutely outstanding job, but so have a number of other countries. I shall not get into the business of specifying partners within the NATO alliance. We need to build on the successes that we have had, persuade those who are not contributing as much as they should and together support the alliance to rebuild Afghanistan.
Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, I apologise for not having been here for the Statement and also apologise if it covered the question that I ask. Has serious thought been given to using some of the poppy crop for pharmaceutical purposes in order to reduce the hardship that undoubtedly follows from the destruction of the poppies?
Lord Drayson: My Lords, on the face of it, it seems ridiculous that that should not happen when there is a shortage of pharmaceutical-grade narcotics. However, the matter has been looked into very carefully indeed. It is the policy of the Afghanistan Government not to support such an initiative because of the practical challenges that it would present. I sympathise with the noble Lords suggestion. It should be possible to do what he suggests.
Baroness Tonge: Thank you, my Lords. Further to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and because I am not quite clear on this, will the Minister clarify exactly what the primary purpose of
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Lord Drayson: My Lords, as we have said from the very beginning, its purpose is to support the transition of that country to become a stable and democratic state where its people feel free of the mixture of terrible wars, the narcotics trade, which has infiltrated the country, and the decades of despair, which created an environment which allowed the Taliban and others to launch attacksfor example, that of 9/11. Our policy is clear: to support that country in its journey to become an effective democratic state. We do not know how long it will take, but under the UN mandate, as part of NATO, this is clearly a campaign that we can be effective in, and we can be successful. As part of it, we have to beat the Taliban. We have shown a capability to do that over the past year. We are taking the fight to the Taliban now, and that is one part of the support that the country needs to return to democracy.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, what is being done about closing the border crossings, which are being used by the Taliban to get here and there and escape? Is that a matter for the Afghan Government? Can we do anything about it? What is the position?
Lord Drayson: My Lords, that is a very important point, but we need to recognise the geographic challenges in the nature of the territory and the borders. It is very difficult to police those areas. It is the responsibility of the Afghan Government supported by the Afghan forces, with the coalition partners in support, and also of those countries that border Afghanistan.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, the noble Lord said that he did not know how long we were going to be in Afghanistan to do the job that we think we are doing there. Does that mean that there is a complete open-ended commitment to stay in Afghanistan and occupy Afghanistan for so long as the Afghan Government themselves cannot control their own country and their own borders? If so, how many troops will eventually be involved, and what cost will there be to the British taxpayer?
Lord Drayson: My Lords, we are not occupying Afghanistan; you cannot occupy a country with 7,700 troops. The answer that I gave to the noble Baroness was that we do not know how long it will take for Afghanistan to make this transition, as I called it, to democracy. I am being realistic with the House. At the same time, that is not saying that there is an open-ended
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Earl Attlee: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement, and I welcome it to an extent. Does he agree that there are two disappointments in the Statement? First, we have been unable to secure an agreement with the United States to reduce our forces in Iraq much more, to be able to increase in Afghanistan, where we can be successful. We have no troops available elsewhere. Secondly, many other NATO nations are not contributing in the way that we have discussed, and I will say more about that later. Does the Minister agree that by the end of this year the situation will not be much different from what it is now? It is not a question of just one more push; this campaign will have to be sustained for several years. We must be patient and not expect instant results in some decisive battle with the Taliban.
The Statement refers to engagements with the Taliban. Does the Minister agree that the Taliban body count is not a measure of success? Success will derive from the comprehensive approach that he mentioned, which should eventually make the Taliban irrelevant. Does he agree with the point made by my noble friend Lord Astor of Hever about reconstruction, funds and facilities for our military forces? At present, it is extremely difficult for NGOs to access certain parts of Helmand province. It may be necessary for our forces to do more reconstruction directly themselves, especially following damage caused by combat operations.
Finally, the Minister has commented upon air trooping. If we are to keep large numbers of troops deployed on overseas operations, we must have modern wide-bodied jets to get them to and from theatre and to take them on leave when they expect to be on leave. I have written to the Minister on that point and I look forward to his reply in due course.
Lord Drayson: My Lords, I will try to rattle through answers to the noble Earls questions. I absolutely agree that we need modern jets, and as quickly as possible. The jets that we have are too old, which puts a lot of pressure on the air bridge. I agree that we need to be patient, which is why I answered the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, in the terms that I did. The noble Earl is absolutely rightit is not about body count; it is about the effectiveness of the comprehensive approach, and about the military providing the security to enable reconstruction to take place. He is right to say that in certain areas it is not possible for the NGOs to operateit is too dangerous. In those circumstances, however, it is important for reconstruction to take place and that then puts pressure on our combat engineers to be able to do that.
I have already touched on questions relating to other NATO partners not contributing enough, but there is no disappointment relating to the securing of an agreement with the Americans on our forces in Iraq. We are responding to the situation on the ground in Iraq in a way that is appropriate to that theatre. We need to, and are, doing the same in Afghanistan. The two are linked in the sense that we have to make sure that we have the force balance that we need and that we can sustain it. We recognise the pressure that we are underthis cannot carry on indefinitely.
(1A) No application mentioned in subsection (1) above shall be made by an approved mental health professional if the circumstances are such that there would be a potential conflict of interest for the purposes of regulations under section 12A below.
(3) No medical recommendation shall be given for the purposes of an application mentioned in subsection (1) above if the circumstances are such that there would be a potential conflict of interest for the purposes of regulations under section 12A below.
(4) References in this section to the relevant local social services authority, in relation to a guardianship application, are references to the local social services authority named in the application as guardian or (as the case may be) the local social services authority for the area in which the person so named resides.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the amendment deals with conflicts of interest. In Committee, I said that in Section 12(3) of the 1983 Act there was a lack of clarity on how conflicts of interest were dealt with. The amendment deals with two issues relating to that matter. The first is the circumstances in which a doctor, because of their position in relation to the applicant, the patient or another practitioner providing medical recommendations, may not provide medical recommendations. That is particularly important because of the proposals in the Bill to change the role of the ASW and the widening of the new role of associated mental health professional.
Secondly, for that reason, the amendment includes a regulation-making power that will enable the Government, perhaps at some time in the future, to widen the scope of the law concerning conflict of interest to a larger group of professionals than has been the case. There is need for complete clarity on how conflicts of interest are dealt with, particularly when people may be members of the same multi-disciplinary team. The regulation-making power would enable the provisions to be expanded at a future date without any need to resort to primary legislation. In moving the amendment, I place on record my thanks to officials who have helped with its formulation. I beg to move.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, for tabling such a sensible set of amendments. We agree with her that the regulation-making power that the amendment would introduce would give the flexibility to bring up to date the provisions about conflicts of interest for professionals concerned with applications, and to keep these provisions up to date in the light of future developments in service delivery. I hope that your Lordships will join me in supporting the amendment.
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