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House of Lords

Wednesday, 9th July 2003.

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

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Newcastle.

The Lord Bishop of Coventry

Colin James, Lord Bishop of Coventry—Was (in the usual manner) introduced between the Lord Bishop of Chester and the Lord Bishop of Newcastle.


2.41 p.m.

The Earl of Sandwich asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How they will respond to increasing concerns about security in Afghanistan.

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, we shall maintain our contribution to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which is helping to provide security in Kabul. Moreover, we intend to build on the deployment of the UK-led provincial reconstruction team in Mazar-e Sharif to help the Afghans to improve the security environment beyond Kabul. We are also supporting longer-term projects to develop Afghanistan's own security sector, including through the training of the Afghan National Army and police.

The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that Answer although it will not satisfy the people of Afghanistan who have been waiting ever since the war for a full programme of reconstruction. It is simply not enough to say that the provincial reconstruction teams will fill the task of ISAF outside Kabul. Does the noble Baroness accept that without security there can be no reconstruction outside Kabul? Now that the ISAF force is to be controlled by NATO, is it not time to extend ISAF's mandate outside Kabul to give that safety and security that the Afghani people are waiting for?

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I agree with the noble Earl that security remains a very serious concern for all involved and particularly for the people of Afghanistan. In addition to the attack on ISAF on 7th June, which resulted in the deaths of four German ISAF personnel, there have been sporadic attacks against coalition and transitional administration targets as well as NGOs. Those attacks increased in the spring, but it is the Government's view that they do not constitute an organised offensive. As I said in my original Answer to the noble Earl, we shall ensure that we support longer-term projects to develop Afghanistan's own security sector. We are endeavouring to ensure that funding continues for reconstruction. Overall UK funding has

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been of the order of 170 million since September 2001, and there are plans for a total of 320 million over five years.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, the Department for International Development has over the past few years published a number of studies and I can remember speeches by Clare Short saying that international development/nation-building is not possible unless order is first provided. One would have thought that the hard-learned lessons of the British would be shared with others in Afghanistan. Can the Minister explain why this appears to have been very much an American-led operation, with a rejection of the links as regards nation-building, and an operation in which British and other European experience has played so little part?

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, we continue to learn the lessons of nation-building. Perhaps I may go into a little more detail on one aspect of my original Answer; namely, on the setting up of the provincial reconstruction teams. Today, UK personnel will be setting up the first UK-led provincial reconstruction team, which will be the beginning of coming to terms in a very serious way with the problems outside Kabul—problems not covered by the ISAF presence. As I said, we continue to learn the lessons of nation-building.

There are some good news stories from Afghanistan. We are inclined to hear constantly about the problems—obviously, that is what will come through in the media. But the good news stories are there. Building is starting in Kabul—buildings are going up all over the city. Kabul is now full of restaurants—and traffic jams. Two million refugees have returned to Afghanistan since January 2002, and 4 million children are now back at school. So there are a great number of achievements—and, of course, we still have a long way to go.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, the Foreign Secretary rather bravely went to Kandahar last week. Is it not true that he found that the Taliban were practically in control again and that there was a great deal of anxiety? Does not that reinforce the point indicated by the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, that the NATO-driven ISAF should consider extending its mandate and activities well outside Kabul? While the Minister is talking about good news, will she tell the House what has happened to the plan to try to restrict opium production in Afghanistan? It seems that the more money that we put in, the more opium they grow there. Surely, that is not what is intended.

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, on the noble Lord's last point, we have just agreed further funding so far as concerns the counter-narcotics situation. The Afghan Government are committed to eliminating opium cultivation over 10 years. But, obviously, we cannot do that alone. We need a sustained commitment by the international community, led by the UK, to build up Afghan drug law enforcement and to provide alternative livelihoods for opium poppy farmers.

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On the noble Lord's point about extending ISAF into the regions, he will know that any change in ISAF's role or area of responsibility would require a new UN mandate. He will also know that there is little appetite among current contributing nations to alter the ISAF mission or to commit large numbers of additional troops to ISAF. There is, of course, no guarantee that what worked in Kabul would be effective in the rest of the country. That is why I referred in my original Answer to the building up of the provincial reconstruction teams and to the longer-term project to assist the Afghans to develop their own security through their own police and army.

Lord Ahmed: My Lords, is my noble friend the Minister aware of the claim in a Channel 5 documentary that there was a massacre of Taliban prisoners of war, who were held in containers and were then killed and buried in mass graves? Will Her Majesty's Government support an international investigation into that massacre?

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, if the noble Lord is talking about the mass graves at Dasht-e-Leili, then I say to him that we support the UN's two-stage approach to the investigation. Forensic investigation and dignified reburials will take place. Then, when the security situation improves, more detailed witness interviews and investigations will continue. We stand ready to play a supportive role in any investigation if assistance is required.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords—

The Lord President of the Council (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, we are out of time now.

Schools: Teacher Numbers

2.50 p.m.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many teachers are likely to lose their jobs as a result of the financial problems encountered by schools in England in the next school year; and how many teaching and other staff posts will remain unfilled for the same reason.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): My Lords, decisions about the complement of teachers are for schools to take. Each year schools may increase or reduce the number of teachers and support staff they employ to take account of a wide variety of factors, including pupil numbers and the overall funding available to them. We do not have definitive information about changes in teaching

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and other posts in the new school year. The position changes week by week as schools finalise their budgets in discussion with their local education authorities.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her not very informative reply. One or two weeks ago in the House of Commons, the Prime Minister estimated that 500 teachers would be made redundant in schools this year and that roughly half of those redundancies would result from the school budget changes. While the number of redundancies—which result from mistakes made by the DfES in its own budget sums, as it now admits—may be fairly small, the knock-on effects will be considerable.

Is the Minister aware that many schools are, for example, forgoing teacher in-service development, cutting their budgets for school trips and laying off part-time support staff, and that information technology, library and stationery budgets are all suffering? Does she accept that the crisis has thrown into jeopardy the Government's plans for smaller classes and more classroom assistants? Will she also tell us what the Government are planning in order to avoid similar crises arising next year?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I was not sure whether the noble Baroness was complimenting me on being less than informative, but there we are. The crisis to which she refers is very important in the context of considering what we do next year, and my right honourable friend will bring forward precise information on that. We have worked very closely with individual education authorities on the issues that have arisen from the changes that we have made this year. The specific points made by the noble Baroness will also be addressed.

My right honourable friend the Prime Minister quoted 500 redundancies as an estimate based on the very early figures received. Based on the information that we have now, that number will already have fallen considerably. However, as I said in my first reply, the situation changes week by week and I would not wish to misinform the House.

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