(HANSARD)in the first session of the fifty-fourth parliament of the united kingdom of great britain and northern ireland commencing on the eleventh day of may in the fifty-fourth year of the reign of
FOURTH VOLUME OF SESSION 2005–06 House of Lords

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Monday, 31 October 2005.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Rochester.

Afghanistan: NATO Enlarged Mission

Lord Astor of Hever asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, first, it is with deep regret that the Ministry of Defence has confirmed the death of Corporal Steven Sherwood from the 1st Battalion, the Royal Gloucester, Berkshire and Wiltshire Light Infantry in a shooting incident in Mazar-e Sharif at the weekend. I should like to express on behalf of the Government and I am sure the House our deepest sympathy for the family and friends of the British soldier at this sad time.

To answer the Question, standard force generation procedures are being used by NATO for the expansion of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, centred on a combined joint statement of requirement issued by Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe—SHAPE—and on force generation conferences at which participating nations offer elements of their armed forces against this requirement.

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, from these Benches we also send our condolences to the family of Lance Corporal Steven Sherwood. We also hope that the five other soldiers seriously injured will make a speedy recovery. None of the soldiers was wearing body armour. Can the noble Baroness say whether soldiers on patrol will now be provided with body armour?
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Returning to the question of force generation, the noble Baroness will be aware that the Secretary of State told Andrew Marr yesterday that our willingness to deploy further troops to Afghanistan was dependent on other countries agreeing to do the same. Does that mean that if our European NATO allies default on their undertakings we will withdraw from this vital commitment?

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, as the noble Lord will know, for most of the time certainly in the past two years there has been a benign security environment in the north of Afghanistan. Therefore, in line with normal operating procedures for the area and to maintain a non-aggressive posture with the local population, which is our aim, body armour and helmets were not being worn by any of the personnel involved in the incident. These operating procedures are constantly being reviewed.

As for the noble Lord's other question, as he will know, many allies are planning to join the UK in delivering ISAF expansion to the south of Afghanistan. The Canadians, for instance, already have a provincial reconstruction team in Kandahar and the Dutch are considering moving to Uruzgan. Other nations are planning possible deployments and I am sure that they will make public announcements when they are ready to do so.

Lord Garden: My Lords, from these Benches we also add our sympathy to the family of Corporal Sherwood and wish the five of his colleagues who were so badly injured a speedy recovery. It is a sobering reminder that Afghanistan is also a very dangerous place for our troops. In a speech last week, the Supreme Allied Commander Europe said that the area which the British are taking over, the southern part, is among the two most dangerous areas in Afghanistan, coupled with the east, where United States forces are located. Can the Minister confirm that we are not only sending the troops, we are making the necessary arrangements regarding—as the noble Lord, Lord Astor, said—body armour and, most importantly, the necessary mobility in terms of armoured carriers, and, even more importantly, the necessary
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number of transport helicopters? Are we in negotiation with other NATO partners to provide those necessary pieces of equipment?

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I absolutely agree with the noble Lord that the security situation in Afghanistan is broadly stable but fragile. His question reflected that. I also agree that the operating environment in the south is less benign than in ISAF's current area of deployment. However, I am afraid that I cannot go into the detail of capability and equipment because the Secretary of State has still to make an announcement to Parliament on the details of that.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, will the noble Baroness say, without going into detail, what this enlarged mission proposes to do about the warlords and the poppy crop?

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, it is absolutely right that the expanded mission intends to look very carefully at what it can do to stop the opium trade. Stopping the opium trade is fundamental to Afghanistan's future stability. The noble Lord is absolutely right to raise the importance of that. In our move southward we are certainly determined to make sure as much as we possibly can that our troops are supporting the Afghan national army and the Afghan police in their job of eradicating the poppy regime. As regards the warlords and the illegal militia who are still carrying weapons, we shall be working with the Afghans to ensure that those weapons are taken from them.

Lord Boyce: My Lords, will the Minister please assure us that the Ministry of Defence will take a strong line in supporting NATO in its force generation process to persuade allies to provide supporting arms—which they are always rather reluctant to do—and, where they are providing teeth arms, to make sure that they are deployable in all the dangerous parts where they may be required to go?

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, those discussions are already in train. I assure the noble and gallant Lord that that is happening.

Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, I take my noble friend back to her answer concerning the opium trade. We in this House have been concerned about that for several years. Each time we mention it we are told how important the matter is. Is my noble friend's evaluation that we are winning or losing that battle? What proportion of the Afghan gross national product is currently accounted for by the poppy harvest?

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I understand that it accounts for 50 per cent of the current Afghan gross national product. As my noble friend will know, it takes years to eradicate that level of production. However, he will also know that NATO already helps the Afghan counter-narcotics authorities to train the Afghan police force and supports operations by the Afghan narcotics
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forces to facilitate reconstruction and economic development. We do not have a role in eradicating opium poppies in the fields; our role is one of support and helping to facilitate economic reconstruction and alternative agriculture.

Hospital Closures: Sudbury, Suffolk

2.44 pm

Baroness Rendell of Babergh asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, the Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire SHA has put to formal consultation proposals for closing beds at Walnuttree Hospital and closing St Leonard's Hospital. The consultation commenced on 1 August 2005 and is scheduled to finish on 12 December this year. These proposals, which would better meet the health and care needs of the people of west Suffolk, have been put forward as part of the implementation of new models of care across Suffolk. The aim is to ensure that people receive the right care in the right place at the right time.

Baroness Rendell of Babergh: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that Answer. Is she aware that 80,000 townspeople of Sudbury attended St Leonard's Hospital and Walnuttree Hospital last year? If those hospitals should close, people will have to go 20 miles away on a 75-minute bus journey to Bury St Edmunds to the nearest hospital. Many are elderly people who have no transport. Is the Minister further aware that a new hospital for Sudbury was first proposed in the 1960s and is now scheduled for 2007, but has been scaled down to a bedless unit called Sudbury Health and Social Care Centre? All that is very much in contrast to what is happening in the neighbouring care trust of Witham, Braintree and Halstead, where a new hospital building is proposed plus new orthopaedic clinics.

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