The Lord Chancellor (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): My Lords, I have to inform the House that the Clerk of the Parliaments has received a letter from the Clerk of the Sheriff Court of Lothian and Borders, informing him that the Lord Watson of Invergowrie, having pleaded guilty to wilful fire raising, was sentenced to 16 months' imprisonment on 22 September.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Drayson): My Lords, we are making good progress in developing the capability of the Iraqi security forces, to enable them increasingly to take responsibility for their own security. To date, more than 190,000 Iraqi security forces personnel have been trained and equipped, and the number of Iraqi units capable of conducting independent counter-insurgency operations is increasing steadily.
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Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply, but clearly the security forces in southern Iraq have been seriously penetrated by insurgents. Can the Minister comment on reports that the Secretary of State is planning to scrap the police force there and replace it with a military-style unit capable of enforcing stability? Have the Government considered how practicable that is?
Lord Drayson: No, my Lords, I have no understanding that that is our intention. It is true, as we recognise, that some elements of the Iraqi police service have been penetrated by individuals, as the noble Lord describes. However, we should keep it in perspective. The majority of policemen in the Iraqi police service support the march of Iraq towards democracy. We should avoid tarring the whole of the Iraqi police service with the same brush as we tackle, with the Iraqi Government, the elements that the noble Lord described.
Lord Garden: My Lords, how can the Minister suggest that the majority are in support when the chief of police of the Basra district says that he controls only 25 per cent of his manpower? Are we putting any constraints on the sort of training that we are giving those policemen, in that we may find it used against us in the near future?
Lord Drayson: My Lords, my understanding is that that is not the case and that we are talking only of a minority in the Iraqi police service. As for the training, the Ministry of Defence is responsible for the basic training of the Iraqi police service; and individuals from our own police service are building on that by supporting the detailed training of the Iraqi police. We are bringing to the attention of the Iraqi Government any incidence that we see of human rights abuses, and we are working strongly to root out those elements in combination with the Iraqi police service itself.
Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne: My Lords, given the immense dedication and commitment of the Iraqi police forces to their role, does the Minister not agree that it would be proper to persuade and encourage our coalition partners to concentrate on forensic police training rather than on the quasi-military-style training that has been going on in some areas of Iraq?
Lord Drayson: My Lords, the noble Baroness makes a good point. It is important to recognise that the basics have to be in place for the Iraqi police training, and when they are we need to develop a capability. That is true for the whole of the support that we are giving to the Iraqi security forces, both the police and the military. As I said, we have trained 190,000 members of the security forces already; the emphasis now is on developing their capability in the direction referred to by the noble Baroness.
Lord Drayson: My Lords, I am not in a position to guess, but my understanding is that we believe the majority of the Iraqi police force to be reliable. We saw that in the incident of 19 September, when the Iraqi police service helped the coalition forces to deal with the incident that occurred at the Jameat police station.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, does not the Minister consider his original reply to be a shade complacent, given that only two days ago one of the most senior figures in the United States army said that only one battalion of the Iraqi army was capable of handling the insurgency without the support of coalition forces? In view of the terrible level of casualties among those seeking recruitment in particular to the police force, who are obviously targeted by suicide bombers, precisely what steps are being taken to protect those young men and women so that their lives are regarded as valuable, regardless of the fact that they are lining up to be recruited?
Lord Drayson: My Lords, we are not complacent. I do not want to present a glowing picture but neither do I believe that people should be over-pessimistic. Progress is being made. We recognise that the security situation is challenging, but we can expect that as the political process goes forward. We have the vote on the referendum this Saturday. The enemy we are up against is looking to undermine the support that we are giving to the Iraqis as they move forward towards democracy. The support that we are giving is working; we can see evidence of that. We are not complacent. I mentioned the incident on 19 September when the ability of our forces to deal admirably with that situation was shown. They showed the ability to rescue two servicemen without firing a shot. That is to their real credit and underlines the progress that we are making.
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Whether they will support the Royal College of Physicians' initiative to enable overseas trained doctors on permanent National Health Service contracts to return regularly to their countries of origin to further local health care.
The Minister of State, Department of Health (Lord Warner): My Lords, the Government support international development and NHS employers are encouraged to allow staff the opportunity to undertake work to support healthcare systems in the developing world.
We welcome the call from the Royal College of Physicians to enable overseas trained doctors working in the NHS to undertake time-limited periods supporting health systems in developing countries where this is of benefit.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. I am sure he will acknowledge that we owe a debt to people from overseas for their great participation in the health service. However, as I understand itperhaps he will confirm whether this is correctsome authorities find it difficult to allow people to be released, even briefly, from their National Health contracts. As we have received so much National Health assistance even from very poor countries, it would appear to be a very good thing if we could return to those countries some of the expertise that those people have gained from coming here. Does the Minister agree with that?
Lord Warner: My Lords, the department has produced an international humanitarian and health work toolkit for employers and health professionals that is designed to strengthen the capacity and capability of the NHS to assist with international development and support healthcare systems in developing countries. We encourage this work but we have to leave it to local NHS authorities and trusts to make their own arrangements in individual circumstances.
Lord Hughes of Woodside: My Lords, does this Question refer also to overseas doctors trained in the UK? If it does, should it not be the case that to encourage this excellent initiative it should be part of the contract when they come to be trained here that they spend some time back in their own countries?
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