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House of Lords

Monday, 16 October 2006.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Newcastle.

Iraq and Afghanistan: Military Casualties

Lord Trefgarne asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Drayson): My Lords, since 1 October 2005, 36 British forces personnel have died in Afghanistan, of whom 18 were killed in action,14 were fatalities on an RAF Nimrod, and four died from other causes. Twenty-four died in Iraq, of whom 23 were killed in action. In the period 1 October 2005 to 30 September 2006, 25 personnel were seriously or very seriously injured on Operation HERRICK, and 14 on Operation TELIC. Of these, nine from Operation HERRICK and five from Operation TELIC were still hospital in-patients more than30 days after first being declared casualties. Casualty figures for October 2006 will be published next month.

Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, I am grateful for that reply. Is the Minister aware that, sadly, there is some scepticism about the accuracy of the figures that the Government have released in this matter, or perhaps, to be fairer, about the way in which serious injury at least is defined? Will he publish a more detailed account of the injuries and deaths that have occurred in the circumstances that I have described so that we can all know for sure exactly how the figures that he has given were arrived at?

Lord Drayson: My Lords, I recognise that there is concern. My understanding is that that concern centres on the perceived difference between our forces and, for example, the US forces in the relative numbers of those killed in action to those wounded in action. I will see what further detail we can present, taking into account medical confidentiality and so forth, but we must recognise, when we compare the UK and the US, that there are real differences in NATO in the definitions that are used and in the way in which coalition forces record the wounded. There are also differences in the intensity of operations that are carried out, which are reflected in differences in the ratios.

Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon: My Lords, when I was a soldier, we used to have a saying, “Big

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thumbs on little maps; that’s the way to kill the chaps”. I intend in no way to second-guess the decision of commanders on the ground, but willthe Minister confirm that, when we moved into Helmand province, the highly successful policy that we had been following of “take, hold and build”—that is, rebuild the administration and reconnect the infrastructure—was changed in favour of a forward-base policy? Will he tell us the reasons for that, and will he reassure us that those reasons were military, not political?

Lord Drayson: My Lords, the noble Lord is correct in that there was a change early in the campaign in terms of the support for certain northern outposts in Helmand province in respect of requests from Governor Daud, who wished us to ensure that the rule of law and local governance was maintained in those areas at an early stage of the campaign. That has proved to be successful. It has been a hard battle, and we need to recognise the courage and dedication of those men who so fought. But it has been effective in those northern towns, which are regarded as a bellwether for the area, and we can build on that success over the next six months.

Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes: My Lords, how many of the injured or seriously injured are in civilian hospitals?

Lord Drayson: My Lords, as I said last week in answer to Questions, personnel who are wounded in operational theatres are treated in military field theatres in Iraq or Afghanistan and, when they are brought back to the United Kingdom, they are cared for in NHS units throughout the country. In doing that, we make sure that they get the best possible care because, thankfully, we have a small number of personnel who need to be cared for in this way.

Lord Truscott: My Lords, given the casualty figures that my noble friend has outlined, could he comment on the viability of a separate military hospital or military wards?

Lord Drayson: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for raising that point. As I have said, the numbers that we have are, thankfully, so small that it would not be viable for us to have a dedicated military hospital. To give noble Lords some idea, I should say that, as of this lunchtime, we have a total of 21 in-patients in all the Birmingham hospitals, including 12 people in Selly Oak Hospital. It would not be viable for us to hold these people in a military hospital because the throughput would not enable us to maintain the skills of surgical staff or provide the best possible care.

Lord Garden: My Lords, in his answer of last Tuesday on hospitals, the noble Lord said that,

How does he reconcile that with the criticism made by the Chief of the General Staff, who I understand

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enjoys the complete and full support of the Prime Minister, in his Daily Mail interview on the arrangements for the injured who come back to the United Kingdom?

Lord Drayson: My Lords, I have read carefully the transcript of the Chief of the General Staff’s interview with the Daily Mail, in which he made several very positive comments about the level of care provided to our service personnel in Selly Oak. It is important for us to emphasise the practicalities of the situation. If we are to provide the best possible care for our people, using the full range of specialist facilities available in the modern NHS, that must be within the NHS units, as I have described.

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, the Minister mentioned the differences in the definition of casualty among NATO members. How does the MoD define a casualty?

Lord Drayson: My Lords, I shall write to the noble Lord and place a copy in the Library, because this is a complex area. There are a number of definitions, which it is important for us to fully understand. In terms of the differences, there is a programme going on in NATO to harmonise the standards in order to enable us to make the comparisons. I understand that it will take NATO some time to reach that position.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the operation in Afghanistan would be carried out more quickly, efficiently and effectively if our NATO allies, who intimate that they will support the effort in Afghanistan, came up with the troops? Would opposition spokesmen not be better employed, instead of making niggling attacks on the British Government, trying to encourage some of our NATO allies to put the troops on the ground and get the conflict over as quickly and effectively as possible?

Lord Drayson: My Lords, I agree absolutely with my noble friend that it would be very worth while for us to continue to put pressure on our NATO allies to provide the forces that our commanders request.

Lord Elton: My Lords—

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Rooker): My Lords, we are into the eighth minute.

Lebanon: EU Interim Intervention Force

2.44 pm

Lord Dykes asked Her Majesty’s Government:

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Triesman): My Lords, the United Kingdom welcomes the progress being made in Lebanon towards the implementation of UNSCR 1701. The cessation of hostilities has continued to hold. Israel has withdrawn from Lebanon, apart from the divided village of Ghajar, and the Lebanese army is now patrolling the Blue Line supported by a strengthened UNIFIL. EU member states are leading on the UNIFIL deployment, and the EU is also assisting the Government of Lebanon with border security, training and equipment. The United Kingdom has allocated £2.5 million as part of this effort.

Lord Dykes: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. These are national contingents, of course, but they are from EU and other countries. Is the Minister confident that this is going to work this time, bearing in mind all the setbacks of the past? I am sure that he would agree that we would not want any Jericho jail débâcles in this case—it is on a much bigger scale anyway. Regarding the European countries that are there and Mr Solana’s strenuous efforts to get co-ordination and make sure that this does hold firm, is the Minister confident that it will stand as an agreement against Israeli intransigence, against further attacks by Hezbollah on Israeli civilians and against repeats of the rather shaming US/UK complicity when they tried to delay the start of the ceasefire at the end of July?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, let me start by saying that I do not accept the last assertion at all. On the substance of the noble Lord’s question, it is undeniably true that the position is now better as a result of the deployment, as is the capacity of the Lebanese Government to deploy their forces right through the south of Lebanon for the first time in30 years. I take those to be encouraging signs. I am also encouraged by the number of countries that are now stepping forward with agreements to deploy troops over the next period in addition to the 5,000-plus who are already there. It would probably be a very bold person who said that they were confident that anything would work in the Middle East this time, but we are giving it our very best shot, and that is what we are obliged to do.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, will Her Majesty’s Government now refrain from sending sophisticated weaponry from the United States via Prestwick to Israel for the purposes of any further conflict?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, transit through the airports of the United Kingdom will be undertaken in accordance with international law, as it has been for a very long time. I am intrigued by the question because the Minister responsible for Prestwick airport is the Liberal Democrat Minister in the Government of Scotland. I do not doubt that the Liberal Democrats will have questions that they wish to ask of their own party in Scotland.

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Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, does the Minister agree that nothing would benefit the future security, stability and economic progress of Lebanon more than a genuine and active attempt by all parties to the road map to move forward the peace process in the Middle East?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, I agree with that 100 per cent, and I do not think that I could add anything more persuasive than the question itself.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, can the Minister tell us what progress he thinks is being made in the disarmament of Hezbollah? Is it his assessment that, after all the misery, Hezbollah is today weaker after the Israeli invasion or stronger, as many people think? They believe it to be more active and, apparently—according to Mr Nasrallah—with more weapons than when it started.

Lord Triesman: My Lords, it is hard to make an assessment of whether Hezbollah is stronger or weaker, but I take some comfort from the fact that the Government of Lebanon are now able to patrol, with their own forces, the whole of their territory. As I have said, that position has not existed at any time in the past 30 years. It is absolutely clear from UN Security Council Resolutions 1599 and 1680— apart from Resolution 1701 most recently—that there is an obligation on Hezbollah to disarm. There are requirements on the United Nations forces—I accept that they have not yet done this—to help to achieve that disarmament. Let me just add this: in the acceptance by the Government of Lebanon of the full terms of those United Nations Security Council resolutions, Hezbollah Ministers in that Government did not dissent from the requirement to disarm.

Agriculture: Hill Farming Allowance

2.50 pm

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Rooker): My Lords, as at 12 October, the Rural Payments Agency had made partial or full payments to 91 per cent of eligible claims for the 2006 hill farm allowance. The remaining payments are being dealt with as quickly as possible. As far as the 2005 hill farm allowance payments are concerned, 99.7 per cent of eligible claims have been met in full.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Will he continue to prioritise the hill farm allowance payments? He acknowledged on 10 May this year that those,

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Farmers who have not had their hill farm allowance—in the Lake District, in particular—are suffering hardship. Could the Minister do his best to get their payments expedited?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, yes, we did prioritise at that point. That is the reason we have got to 91 per cent at present. Some difficulties have arisen in some areas, but there are fewer than 1,000 claims now to be met in full. There are some issues relating to the RPA in regard to common land, but there is a dedicated team still working on the matter. I am not going to give a date by which we will pay it because no one will believe me, but we are working on it as quickly as we can.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, does the Minister realise what a lack of hill farmers could do to the countryside, particularly in the Lake District? It is essential that they go on farming that area. It is all very well to talk about 99.1 per cent—or whatever it was the Minister said—but what is that in numbers, how much is owing to the farmers and why cannot he give an answer now as to when they will be paid when the matter is over a year old?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, the Question relates to two years; I gave the figure for 2005. Of the eligible claims, 99.7 per cent have been met in full. That would be some £27 million—or, rather, the budget was£27 million. I do not know, but the 0.3 per cent may be tied up in issues relating to liquidation, change of ownership, probate—the normal, run-of-the-mill things that cause slight delays. I apologise for the0.3 per cent, but it is only 0.3 per cent. We are at91 per cent for 2006. Of course, the 2006 payments for the hill farmers have been dependent on the 2005 single farm payment. That is probably the main reason for the delay, and that is why there is a dedicated team. As to the actual figures, £20.8 million has been paid out to 9,598 claimants as of12 October. That is an average of about £2,000 each but, of course, if your total income is only about £5,000 as a hill farmer, it is a substantial amount. We understand how serious it is.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: My Lords, does the Minister acknowledge that the previous week, on9 October, there were 2,153 hill farmers not paid? He cited a figure of 9,590, or thereabouts, who had been paid as of now. The hardships sustained by those hill farmers are enormous, and the matter needs to be expedited rapidly because of the cash-flow implications at this time of the year, when winter feeding on farms commences in the hills.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I take the noble Lord’s point. In order that there should be no misunderstanding about this, I can say that there were 11,687 claims: 364 were withdrawn and 797 were rejected, leaving 10,526. We have paid some £20.8 million on 9,598 claims. There were 2,000, but

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the total figure, with 300-odd withdrawn and almost 800 rejected, leaves us with fewer than 1,000 eligible claims still to be paid.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, are the figures for hill farmers who are due their money in addition to those for the RPA money that has not been paid out on the single farm payments, or are they included? Can the Minister give me any idea of when he will be able to respond to me in regard to at least four individual cases that I have raised with him of farmers who have not received any help from the Government?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, as to the latter point, which the noble Baroness raised with me last week, I think two have been replied to—we will probably send copies of the letters that she has already seen—and we are actively looking at the others.

The issue must not be confused: the hill farm allowance is not the single farm payment. Most hill farmers will have received a single farm payment or will be eligible for it. I am answering the Question. I am not going down the road today of answering questions about single farm payments because the Question was about the hill farm allowance. We have enough trouble with the single farm payment without me coming here and answering one question with information relating to another. Some people are owed both. That is the point. With regard to the very small claims, I suspect that some will be owed both.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, will the Minister acknowledge that the whole episode has been a disgrace?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, we are extremely apologetic, and I mean that sincerely, for the way in which the single farm payment has been introduced. It has been less than successful: promises were made and not kept; people were told they would get money but it did not arrive; questions were not answered; the wrong maps were sent out; and the forms were not properly pre-populated. But by the end of the legal window, 30 June, when we were required to pay out 96.14 per cent of the money—about £1.5 billion—we had actually got within 1 per cent of that. We now have to deal with the long tail for 2005, and at some time we will have to turn our attention to 2006, which will probably not be much better than 2005.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, why is there no trouble in Scotland, where farmers have been paid?

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