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House of Lords

Monday, 13 February 2006.

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

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham.

Afghanistan: Military Medical Services

Earl Attlee asked Her Majesty's Government:

How they plan to provide medical support to British troops deployed on forthcoming operations in Afghanistan.

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, medical care in Afghanistan will be provided on a multinational basis, based on lessons learnt in recent operations. We shall employ a Role 2 (Enhanced) Medical Treatment Facility to the British area of responsibility in the Helmand province. Additionally, we will contribute to a multinational Role 3 (Field Hospital) in Kandahar, for which Canada will lead, using British, Dutch and Danish medical specialists. When necessary, casualties will return to the UK for further treatment.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her interesting reply. It is always a challenging problem to find medical support. The Minister will be aware that reservists form a valuable component of our Defence Medical Services. Is she also aware that retention and recruiting are being hampered by NHS trusts having widely varying leave policies for reservists? Those policies vary from full unpaid leave to people being told, "You'd better determine what your loyalties are".

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I very much agree with the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, that reservists form a very valuable component of our Armed Forces. On the retention and recruitment issue, he will be pleased to know that recent TV advertisements have led to a rise in interest in joining the reservists.

On the issue of leave and the lack of consistency among various employers, I am afraid that leave for training, as the noble Earl knows, is entirely the responsibility of the individual employer. The individual primary care trust is seen as the individual employer. The noble Earl may say that there should be consistency across the NHS, but I have to tell him that in different police forces, for instance, there will be different responses to leave, paid or unpaid. The same is true in the fire and rescue services.

Lord Garden: My Lords, the Minister's Answer has reminded us all of the parlous state our military medical arrangements are in. The situation dates from a long time back, to the closure of the military hospitals in the early 1990s, followed by the defence costs study in 1994, which destroyed the career structure for military medicine. How much is it now
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costing us with the advertisements that the Minister mentioned, the golden hellos for nursing staff, the retention bonuses and all the other different ways in which we are trying to make up the lost ground from nugatory savings in the early 1990s?

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I do not think that the noble Lord would expect me to agree with his description of the Defence Medical Services as being in a "parlous state". Obviously we have recognised that there are certain shortfalls in manning levels, and we have pointed out where they are: in anaesthetics, some in general surgery and some in nursing and allied health professional specialities. But being in the NHS has great advantages for the Defence Medical Services. The staff can benefit from being able to train in the NHS and can then use that training on deployment.

Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, in the circumstances in which our troops will find themselves, prevention is better than cure? Therefore, before our troops go into this very dangerous region, is she satisfied that we have a strategy that will reduce the likelihood of them coming into conflict with warlords over the distribution of the proceeds of the poppy crop?

Baroness Crawley: Yes, my Lords, I am confident. I hope that I can reassure my noble friend Lord Tomlinson that we are not there to fight a drugs war in the sense that he has described; we are in southern Afghanistan, where the security situation is less benign than in the north, to support the Afghan army and police in their fight against drug traffickers and drug backers. We are also there to reconstruct where we can. As he knows, a lot of DfID resources and funding are going into reconstruction and alternative livelihoods for farmers away from the narcotics economy.

Viscount Slim: My Lords, the noble Lord on the Labour Benches—please forgive me, I am old and I have not got your name—used the phrase "prevention is better than cure". We should remember, under the new directives and fear of the law and investigations, that soldiers in Afghanistan will now have to think quite a lot before they open fire. Is it not a fact that something must be done to support the soldier in action?

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I very much agree. I would hope that the MoD supports all our soldiers, whether they are reservists, as we spoke about earlier, or regulars. In Afghanistan we have well thought-out rules of engagement that NATO has been working on for some time.

Viscount Slim: My Lords, the MoD does support its soldiers in action. It is the civil administration that is suspect today.

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I take note of what the noble Viscount said. If there is anything I can add to my previous answer, I will certainly write to him.
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Lord Swinfen: My Lords, how many people have been recruited as a result of the advertising mentioned by the Minister, and at what grade?

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I do not have those details; if they are available I shall let the noble Lord know.

Lord Russell-Johnston: My Lords, there was a reference earlier to the poppy crop, which it is proposed to destroy. Did she see the suggestion made by the leader of the liberal group in the European Parliament that it might be better to buy it out and use it for legal morphine requirements in Europe, thus supplying them and at the same time giving the residents in Afghanistan some income?

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I did not see that suggestion, but it is now recorded in Hansard. At the London conference on Afghanistan a couple of weeks ago, which was co-chaired by ourselves, the United Nations and the Afghan Government, we looked carefully again at how we could tackle the drugs problem. While all suggestions are usefully received, the work that the United Nations, the Afghan Government and we are doing on alternative livelihoods and on targeting the traffickers and the backers is the route we want to go down.

Children: Reasonable Chastisement

2.45 pm

Baroness Walmsley asked Her Majesty's Government:

What plans they have to amend the law on reasonable chastisement of children in the light of the recent statement from the Commissioners for Children and Young People for England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills (Lord Adonis): My Lords, this matter was thoroughly debated during the passage of the Children Act 2004, when the House agreed to Section 58, as proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Lester. It was agreed by 226 votes to 91 on a free vote. The Government gave a commitment that in 2007 we would review Section 58 and seek parents' views. My noble friend Lord Rooker proposes later this year to replicate Section 58 of the Act in Northern Ireland.

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply, but will he confirm that the Government do not condone physical punishment of children, as it denies them their right to human dignity, is thoroughly unsafe, does not work and teaches a lesson in bad behaviour? If so, why do the Government try to draw lines in the law based on the questionable assumption that parents know the difference between so-called smacking and criminal violence? With that in mind, will the Minister enlighten me and the House about the
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precise force and velocity required to hit a child without causing a bruise, for I am at a loss as, like most people, I am not an expert on physical violence?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, the matters were thoroughly debated, and the House was satisfied with the position that we reached. In particular, the view of the noble Lord, Lord Lester, was that the section that we put forward was,

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