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Lord Dubs: My Lords, I wish to pursue the point about fund managers. Can my noble friend say a little more about the position of people who own shares indirectly, for example, through PEPs and ISAs or through pension funds such as the parliamentary pension fund? What influence can such indirect shareholders have on the votes cast at meetings?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, the first thing that they can do is make certain that the fund managers take a responsible view. Again, it is a question of people who have invested money in an area making certain that the organisations behave responsibly.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, will the Government compel such pension funds and others to make their votes public, so that we can know what they have voted on our behalf?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, we have no plans to do that at the moment. The issue has been raised several times, and it would be necessary to look carefully at the practicalities.

Lord Hoyle: My Lords, I am pleased that my noble friend says that pay should be related to performance. What view does he take of a state-owned company—Network Rail—paying its directors bonuses of 1.7 million, with five executives receiving 1.2 million, for standards of performance—in efficiency and investment—that were lower than those of the discredited Railtrack?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, there are cases in which one has concerns about particular situations. However, in this case, it is not for the Government to say whether that is right or wrong.

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Afghanistan: Opium Production

3 p.m.

Baroness Northover asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What progress they have made in moving towards the commitment in last year's spending review to reduce opium production in Afghanistan by 70 per cent in five years.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, this is an ambitious target and has been embraced in the Afghan national drug strategy adopted by President Karzai on 19th May. Progress will be tracked against the annual estimates of cultivation and production calculated by the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime and the United States. Results will be published later this year. We have made 70 million available over the next three years and will post additional British Embassy drug experts to Afghanistan to assist the Afghan authorities with implementation of their strategy.

Baroness Northover: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Surely the Chancellor's pledge echoed the words of the Prime Minister: "We will not desert the people of Afghanistan". Yet in 2001 the Taliban almost eliminated opium production. Does the noble Baroness agree that now the security vacuum in Afghanistan has allowed the poppy harvest to expand again and that this year it is on course for a bumper harvest? Afghanistan is once more the leading player in the heroin market in the world. It provides 90 per cent of the heroin in Britain. Does the Minister have any optimism that the pledge to which she has just referred will be met? If that is still the Government's aim, what strategy do they now have for bringing security and prosperity to Afghanistan and for thus eliminating the opium trade?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the noble Baroness should not underestimate our efforts with 70 million over three years and, indeed, British experts going to assist the Afghan authorities. Those are very important building blocks. We shall also be establishing a British Embassy drugs unit in Kabul and a Customs-led law enforcement unit in Kandahar. So real efforts are being made on behalf of the British Government.

The noble Baroness makes the point that has been made before in your Lordships' House about the Taliban. Of course, it is true that in 2001 the Taliban managed to ban cultivation. But that ban was enforced by means of fear and bribery to which I am happy to say the current government in Afghanistan do not espouse. What is important is that last year we managed to destroy about a quarter of the crop, although there was an increase. This year, although there may be some increases, we hope that we shall have reliable figures available. I stress to the noble Baroness that the strategy began less than a month

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ago. We must give it a chance to succeed. As I indicated in my initial Answer, President Karzai signed up to it less than a month ago.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, does the Minister agree that opium is being cultivated in these countries—whether in Peru or Afghanistan—because people are very poor and look on this as the very best cash crop that they can produce? Research in South America showed that provided the people were able to produce another crop that was equally profitable, they moved over. Once that crop became less profitable, they moved back to drug growing. So is it not important to ensure that efforts are made to provide alternative means of living for people who are growing these crops?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, has put her finger absolutely on the point. During the years that the Taliban in Afghanistan stopped the cultivation, it did not stop alas the processing and trafficking of those drugs. The Taliban regime went on profiting from drugs while the original producers became poorer and poorer. That is why it is so important to have a strategy in place that does not just involve banning but tries to put something else in place; namely, promoting alternative livelihoods for farmers, improving drug law enforcement, supporting capacity building for other institutions in the country for enforcement, and raising the problems around public awareness in Afghanistan and other countries that are producing drugs.

Lord Blaker: My Lords, is the Minister aware that a report from Afghanistan in the Guardian last week stated that the international effort led by the United Kingdom to reduce poppy cultivation there had failed spectacularly? Following the question from my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes, will the Minister say whether the Government have given attention to one of the main problems about substitute crops—that is, the problem of transport?

In hilly countries such as Afghanistan where there are few roads, it is very simple for one person to carry on his back a plastic bag full of heroin which is worth a very large sum of money. It is difficult to think of any other crops that are so valuable and do not require road transport. Have the Government considered other countries with similar characteristics which have faced this problem to determine whether they have reached any conclusion?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, it is very important to consider the questions around production and certainly questions around the transportation of drugs. We are putting a very particular effort into Afghanistan, not only because of the parlous position of Afghanistan as we found it and

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the need in terms of its own development, but also because a very high percentage of heroin consumed in this country originates there. Some 90 per cent of the heroin on our streets originates in Afghanistan.

The point that the noble Lord makes about what is happening on the ground is very much part and parcel of the point made by his noble friend Lady Gardner. It is not just a question of how we ban these drugs being grown in various countries in the world and how we ensure that we learn from the experiences in different parts of the world; we must have a real strategy in place. Indeed, I read the article to which the noble Lord referred, but so far the strategy has not had a proper chance to succeed. There will not be any shortcuts. We are in this for the long haul.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, how can the Minister think that there can be a national drugs strategy when President Karzai does not control four-fifths of the country? Does she not think that the real answer is an extension of the mandate of ISAF so that the rule of law can be extended to the areas where the drugs are grown? Furthermore, can the Minister say whether serious concern has been expressed over the payments made last year to farmers for the growing of alternative crops, including anxieties expressed by the British Ambassador in Kabul that fraudulent use was being made of these payments?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, of course I agree that it would be very much preferred if the writ of the government ran throughout the country. I stress to the noble Lord that the points I made in answering the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, also included the United Kingdom consolidating its own efforts to help in the country. I note the point that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, makes about remarks from our own embassy, but we shall be establishing a British Embassy drugs unit in Kabul and our experts will be going in. I believe that we plan to send in 10 experts during the next few weeks to help the authorities on the ground throughout the whole of Afghanistan in combating this terrible ill. We shall also be putting in more of an effort with a Customs-led law enforcement drug unit in Kandahar. So it is not just in one centre but in two centres where we shall be giving some long-term help.

Viscount Waverley: My Lords, preferential access for farmers or free trade?

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