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Lord Grocott: My Lords, I strongly agree with my noble friend. He has taken a close interest in these issues in the other place as well as in this House. I can assure him that enormous importance is attached to the monitoring of projects. I can certainly assure him about the importance that we attach to women's
Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne: My Lords, I declare an interest. As a recently appointed special envoy to the director-general of the World Health Organisation in relation to the eastern Mediterranean region, I led the WHO delegation to Tokyo. Inevitably, therefore, I must ask the Minister why the re-establishment of healthcare for Afghanistan plays so little part in the Statement that he has kindly laid before this House. The infant mortality rate in Afghanistan is the highest in the worlda quarter of children die under the age of five; and the average age of death is 46, the lowest globally. Therefore, should not the establishment of healthcare in that country be an absolute priority for the Department for International Development? I am surprised that it plays so little part in the Statement. I urge the Minister to recognise that the World Health Organisation has created a national health plan for Afghanistan, which has been warmly welcomed by the Minister there, a famous woman, and has now been adopted. Does the Minister agree that that plan must be supported, lest the fragmentation referred to in the Statement should occur? I urge the Government to re-cast the mechanism by which DfID policy is created, so that healthcare can again be an absolute priority, as it must for this particular nation.
Lord Grocott: My Lords, the noble Baroness has great expertise in these matters. I know it is difficult when Statements are made and documents are not always seen immediately. There was a specific reference in the Statement to the importance of the World Health Organisation; namely, that the World Health Organisation and UNICEF will work with the Red Cross to improve healthcare. In the list of priorities set out by the Interim Administration health is seen as crucially important. Specific support to the World Health Organisation amounts to £5 million in relation to the redevelopment; in relation to UNICEF, it is £8 million. I should not want anything that I have saidand I am sure that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State would not want anything that she has saidin any way to diminish the importance of the statistics that the noble Baroness has placed before the House in relation to infant mortality and life expectancy. They are of crucial importance.
Lord Grocott: My Lords, I know that my noble friend has taken a close interest in this important issue for a long time. On the issue of mines more generally, the Department for International Development has approved a commitment of £3 million for humanitarian action in relation to mines in Afghanistan. The department has been a principal donor to humanitarian action of this kind. We do not want to go over the whole argument about cluster bombs. However, it should be said that they were carefully targeted to deal with specific issues. I understand that there is close co-operation between the military authorities and the aid agencies in dealing with the problem of cluster bombs. An important part of the reconstruction process is the further training of de-miners to deal with these types of munitions.
Lord Sandberg: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that, among the many nations involved in the conference taking place on Afghanistan, we are taking particular steps to make sure that the Government of Pakistan, a fellow member of the Commonwealth, are much involved? Pakistan has almost lost count of the number of refugees that it has "imported". Its border with Afghanistan is somewhat "porous". Refugees come and goand, no doubt, terrorists as well. It is important that we side closely with Pakistan and help it in what is a difficult position for that country. General Musharraf has already taken a brave step and helped us all. It is important that we recognise that and give him the support that he may need.
Lord Grocott: My Lords, the noble Lord is right. This has been an unbelievably difficult time for the people of Pakistan, for the reasons that he has spelt out. I mentioned earlier that at least 100,000 Afghan refugees have returned from Pakistan since last November. We are talking about a staggering number of people. I agree with the noble Lord about the importance of Pakistan. The British Government and the international community fully acknowledge the need not to walk away from the consequences for Pakistan of the conflict in Afghanistan.
Lord Rea: My Lords, I apologise for not being present for the beginning of my noble friend's Statement. How are British forces involved in the distribution of humanitarian assistance and food, either through keeping roads safe or perhaps through the use of military aircraft and helicopters to get to more remote places?
Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, will the Minister accept my delight that the conference was clear in its conclusions that women's rights and empowerment should be fully honoured and mainstreamed through all programmes? That was a reassuring phrase. I also strongly agree with the support for the Afghan ownership of the process. In that context, can the Minister reassure the House about the position of the Minister for Women's Affairs in Afghanistan, who, until the conference, was working out of her own house with no funds for her important ministry? She should at least be supported and reinforced in that ministry.
Lord Grocott: My Lords, I wholeheartedly agree with the noble Baroness's sentiments. I cannot reassure her that things are improving at this precise minute, but I can certainly reassure her that ensuring proper facilities for that vital government department is an issue very close to the heart of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development, as your Lordships would expect. We may not yet have all the funds that are required, but securing funds and facilities for the proper establishment of that Ministry is a recognised issue and is being addressed.
Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, with the permission of the House, I wish to return to the Minister's answer to my noble friend Lady Turner about cluster bombs. In view of the fact that it is very difficult to get authentic news about exactly what is happening on the military front, but particularly in the light of recurrent reports that our United States allies are continuing their military use, will he convey to the American Government the profound distaste of the British Government for any use of cluster bombs at this stage, whatever the provocation may be and whatever the desire to seek a military solution may be? I am sure that the Minister agrees that these matters are of vital concern not only to my noble friend but to the country at large.
Lord Grocott: My Lords, I know well enough the concerns of my noble friend and others about this issue. I must emphasise that the international coalition against terrorismwhich is properly so calledinvolves constant dialogue between the countries concerned. The coalition has constantly re-emphasised the fundamental truth that this was never just a military operation: it is also a humanitarian operationand my word we have seen evidence of that in the number of people who have received humanitarian assistanceand it continues on a diplomatic front. It would be a mistake to see what has
Looking to the future rather than talking about the process so far, successful though I believe that process to have been, I assure my noble friend that, as I made clear in the Statement, there is a very strong recognition of the importance of dealing with the problem that he referred to and related matters in the reconstruction process.
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