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I believe there are four or five dedicated wards in the country, usually with a ratio of 70:30 of military to civilian nursing staff. In how many of those are service wounded—I do not expect the unfortunate Minister to answer this—surrounded by confused geriatrics because of the policy of giving the NHS first call on all beds? The average number of patients in one week has gone from 40 to 80. There are not enough trained military personnel to train others; there is, in particular, a severe shortage of nurses trained in intensive care and emergencies, whether to serve abroad or at home. How many guides on deployment are being breached? The Tory Government’s closure of all military hospitals under Treasury pressure was the fatal first step for defence medicine, but this Government’s policy of so-called dedicated wards has done little to meet the needs of our service men and women through three wars—the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Finally, the effect of the troops’ prevailing belief, as reported by the NAO, that their work is no longer valued, is a vital morale issue. The effect on both retention and recruitment can only be serious at a time when we are committed indefinitely to two major operations. Her Majesty’s Government need to recognise that this is a significant and dangerous situation in which the Armed Forces need immediate and visible commitment to defence from the Government, rather than an announcement from the Chancellor, while visiting troops, of more aid for Iraq and an announcement from the Prime Minister of the doubling of aid for Pakistan and an offer of large funds to pay for so-called faith schools. So long as Her Majesty’s Government choose to commit the Armed Forces to major ventures, they have a duty to ensure that they get the resources they need, time for training, proper roulement, essential armaments and medical services, and due care for families.

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The Armed Forces Pay Review Body has also produced a full report on service medical and dental officers—a supplement to its 35th report—which reports a shortfall in medical officers of 21 per cent by July 2005, with undermanning in critical consultant specialties of 40 to 60 per cent. By July 2005—over a year ago—the TA strength of medical officers was only 310 out of a requirement of 680. Forty-eight per cent plan to leave the service within five years.

Both recruitment and retention are seriously and adversely affected by the disparity between the pay of NHS doctors and nurses and that of those in the services. The Government must not, as they did with service housing, require the MoD to find the necessary money at the expense of other, very often urgent, operational needs. This is what has happened year after year when it comes to keeping long-standing promises to provide decent housing for families. Each year, the MoD has to say, “Sorry; something more urgent has cropped up”. The Government must provide new money, and urgently, both for retention and for recruitment. No one knows, for instance, how long the commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan will last and what their nature will be. The Armed Forces Pay Review Body estimates that its recommendations both on retaining those in place and on recruitment will add £9.9 million to the Director General Army Medical Services pay bill. This is not too much to commit to the urgent needs of the services, and it should be ring-fenced. Let us at least use the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan to ensure that our Armed Forces can survive and do their job as they should be expected to do.

I should add that I warmly support what the noble Baronesses, Lady Williams of Crosby and Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, have said about the possibility of buying the poppy crop. I feel very strongly that to do so for medical purposes would be a solution and would save lives. It would also, to some extent, break the power of the Taliban, as part of its power over the people is its position as brokers for the poppy trade. I hope that that will be taken into consideration. It seems remarkably sensible and simple.

5.24 pm

Lord Jacobs: My Lords, I begin with Iraq. I was one of those who supported the invasion of Iraq. Apparently, there are not too many around these days who did. I supported it really if only to get rid of Saddam Hussein, a dictator who invaded two countries, gassed his own people, and inflicted many cruelties on the Shia people, who were the majority of the population. He was a minor Hitler, but with greater ambitions yet unseen and unfulfilled. The world will be a better place without him.

Now we find ourselves in the situation that we are unable to control and unable to influence. That does not invalidate the reasons for the war. We are trying to persuade ourselves and our allies that there is no civil war, yet the reality is otherwise. The minority Sunni, having lost the power they had for the past 20 years, are seeking to return the previous regime to its original power by making devastating attacks on the Shia population. The Shia, having suffered from

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Saddam’s Sunni regime, are now seeking revenge on the Sunni for their past suffering. They have now perpetrated the most heinous crimes against each other by destroying places of worship and murdering thousands of innocent people.

The allies, who are struggling to keep the peace, are no longer the main targets. We are caught in the crossfire. We should stop pretending that we can control or influence the situation. It is apparent that our presence no longer serves a useful purpose since we are unable to stop the war between the Sunni and Shia. If the allies can accept the reality, they are left with no alternative but to agree with the Iraqi Government that now a timetable for withdrawal must be discussed and agreed.

I turn to the situation between Israel, Palestine and Lebanon. Although I am a strong supporter of Israel, I have criticised Israel for remaining in occupation of Palestine for more than 38 years, which is more than six times longer than we occupied Germany after the Second World War. The former Israeli Prime Minister Sharon decided in 2005 to withdraw from Gaza and the withdrawal was subsequently carried out. This is the second time that Israel has made an honourable and strategic withdrawal. The first time was in 2000 when it withdraw from Lebanon with the enthusiastic support of the Israeli people. That did not prevent Hizbollah from regularly attacking Israeli civilians after the army withdrew. Hizbollah has launched 106 attacks on Israeli citizens since 2000 without any significant reply from Israel. Those attacks included 42 anti-tank missile attacks, 28 Katyusha rocket attacks, 16 infiltration attempts and nine shooting attacks. One must wonder why Israel waited so long before deciding that enough was enough.

As your Lordships will see, when Israel follows the urging of many nations to withdraw from territories that it is occupying, it is not met with restraint by those who are left there to live in peace. Hizbollah does not represent the Government of the Lebanese people and the area of southern Lebanon that Hizbollah occupies has been a no-go area for the Lebanese army, which is utterly unable to control it. The 106 attacks to which I referred, together with the taking of Israeli soldiers as hostage, led Israel to consider the attack on Lebanon. I believe that the Israeli Government should have issued an ultimatum to return the soldiers and cease further attacks on Israel. If Hizbollah had complied then, there would be no war. If it failed to comply, the world at least would have seen that Israel had a just cause and in the eyes of the world it would have demonstrated a possible peaceful resolution to the war before its attack on Hizbollah and the Lebanese people.

The withdrawal of the Israeli troops from Gaza presented the Palestinians with a unique opportunity to revive the economy of Gaza, and to give employment to half a million unemployed Palestinians, who are now without work, for them to be responsible for the consequences of their own actions, whatever they may be. The western world has promised the Palestinians £3 billion for the reconstruction of their country when peace is restored. When Israel left Gaza, this would have been

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an appropriate moment to have provided, say, £1 billion towards the country’s reconstruction. Sadly, as was said about Arafat, the Palestinians never fail to miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. When Israel completed its withdrawal from Gaza, the majority of Israelis were overjoyed. Within a few weeks after withdrawal, the Israeli feelings turned from joy to bitterness when Hamas or Islamic Jihad began to fire rockets at bordering Israeli towns.

The consequences of this are not only bad for the people of Gaza but also for the Palestinians living on the West Bank. Many Israelis began to argue that Israel was safer when Gaza was occupied. Now there is very little enthusiasm in Israel to support the grand plan presented by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to withdraw from most of the remaining territories in the West Bank. It may be that the Israeli fear is justified because of Palestinian acts of aggression since the withdrawal from Gaza. It leads me to wonder whether the Palestinian people can really see the long-term negative consequences of their most recent aggression on the quality of life that they wish for but obviously cannot create.

During the Lebanon war, a Lebanese family said:

That certainly applies to all Lebanese and Palestinians, except those working for the destruction of Israel. It equally applies to virtually all Israelis who want only to live in peace within secure borders. I believe that if a referendum was held in all three countries on whether they wanted to live in total peace with their neighbours, it would probably secure 90 per cent support. The problem lies with the relatively few who continue to seek the destruction of Israel.

When Hamas recognises the immediate needs of its own people and sets forth to develop a plan for future economic growth, educational development and the creation of jobs for its people, it will find, right next door, a strong and purposeful neighbour and collaborator in the Israeli people. But, as we have known from 2,000 years of history, this change of perception is not easily achieved.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester, who is no longer in his place, made a number of quite significant criticisms of Israel—and, frankly, I agree with most of them—but there are always two sides to every coin and sometimes it is difficult to see both sides at the same time. He referred, in particular, to the wall. Although about 90 per cent of the wall is a fence, nevertheless it is still a restriction. The wall itself is fairly devastating when you are close up to it and the right reverend Prelate’s criticisms of it were valid. However, he did not mention why on Earth Israel would spend millions and millions of shekels to create the wall if it had no purpose. The fact that the purpose of the wall has not been mentioned today is perhaps proof that it has worked: it is to deal with suicide attacks.

It is the duty of every Government, beyond anything else, to defend their own people. If we had rockets coming from France into Britain, I do not know how long it would take us to try to occupy

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maybe northern France. Israel was unable to counteract suicide bombers and decided upon a plan to construct a fence, and in some areas a wall, along the whole length of its border. This strategy worked because Israel was able to restrict the people crossing the border, often to work in Israel, of which there were many thousands, to narrow entrance points where they could be searched; people could not just wander across. The wall is a bad thing—but it has served its purpose. I hope that when peace is restored, as I am confident it will be one day, it will be taken down. But remember always that on all these issues we can stand up and speak on one side or the other—but in every case there are two sides and we need to look at them at the same time.

5.34 pm

Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, one of the disturbing aspects about our military involvements in Iraq, and now Afghanistan, is the degree to which Her Majesty’s Government, maybe unwittingly, have surrendered some control and authority over our Armed Forces. Let me make clear at the outset that nothing I say detracts from the high regard that I have for the way in which all three services, from top to bottom, have been performing to support the Government’s wishes. I share the widespread admiration for their efforts. My particular criticism is focused on the slipshod way in which Her Majesty’s Government have been prepared to deploy and commit our forces.

The timing of our initial military involvement in Iraq in 2003 was preceded by political restrictions on overt preparations which compressed timescales. It was not the best way to embark on a large-scale expeditionary operation. Moreover, we were committed to operations by the timing of the United States’ decision to invade Iraq and its declared and clear intention of achieving regime change. Our professed reason for participating was the removal of a threat from weapons of mass destruction, although it was not denied by the Government that if Saddam fell it would be most welcome.

So from the start there was some confusion about the strategic political aim of the coalition, and that could have affected the way in which the forces carried out their tasks. Fortunately, the Iraqi initial resistance was very poor and the divergence in aims did not cause the operational difficulties that could have arisen if the resistance had been stronger or more prolonged. It was also disturbing to learn that confirmation of the legality of our involvement had to be sought by the Chief of the Defence Staff of the day, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce.

Both the US and UK Governments saw and characterised the invasion of Iraq as the actions of “liberators”. However, it was only a matter of months before we “liberators” were being recast as occupation forces, not least in the eyes of many Iraqis and some of their neighbours. The label “occupation” is now very widely used.

The Prime Minister and other Ministers have repeatedly said that our continuing deployment in Iraq would be governed by the wishes of the Iraqi

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Government: we would stay or go at their request. The initiative on when to reduce or withdraw our forces is left not clearly with Her Majesty’s Government but with the Iraqi Government. As the weeks, months and even years have gone by, and with our additional involvement in Afghanistan, our forces have become over-committed on these two fronts.

By “over-committed” I mean that our forces are operating way beyond defence planning assumptions, as the noble Baroness, Lady Park, has just mentioned, for which the defence budget had not been adequately funded, and for a protracted period of time. The situation has now developed to the state that difficulties with key enablers such as air transport and helicopters and a drawdown on essential operational training have become more and more critical. One cannot properly go to war, or take part in operations that may involve fighting or difficult peacekeeping, without adequate backing and preparation of additional or replacement units.

The actual or likely reduction in junior and middle rank officers and senior NCOs by resignation or early retirement can only cause further problems with bringing on and training new recruits. The worse this difficult situation becomes—and time is not on our side—the more important it is to be absolutely clear that the decisions about our deployments lie in the hands of our own Government and not that of another, no matter how friendly.

A further complication is that if the Americans are to continue to operate in the Baghdad area, the security of their lines of communication from Kuwait and the Gulf through the British zone around Basra will be of great importance to the US forces. In other words, the timing and scale of withdrawal of our forces might be decided not in our own national interest or to correct and relieve overstretch in our own forces, but on the wishes of the Americans and/or of an Iraqi Government whose writ does not seem to run widely in their own country.

That, again, is not to criticise the forces. Our participation was an inevitable consequence of the protracted high level of commitment in Iraq and because some NATO countries were reluctant to take part. In short, there was not enough to go round the two theatres at the more prudent levels of effort that would reflect and cater for uncertainties about the strength and determination of the opposition. Ministers admit that the scale of Taliban attacks was greater than had been anticipated—certainly a great deal more than Dr Reid’s forlorn hope, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, that our forces in Afghanistan might be there for three years without ever having to fire a shot.

Thanks to the superlative efforts of our forces, the Canadians and a few others, we have so far managed to dominate the battlefield in southern Afghanistan, sadly not without casualties. But is it realistic to believe that this can be done into the next year and beyond without deploying much greater strength in theatre than is there at present? The Government acknowledge now that this is necessary.

Why otherwise have the Prime Minister and Defence Secretary made so much effort to get other

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NATO nations to step up to the plate? Until those few that do so are trained for the intensity of operations—and are then deployed—the situation is not going to be eased. A rise in the casualty rate cannot be ruled out when faced with such determined and suicidal opponents. Redeploying forces following a drawdown in Iraq may be a help, but Her Majesty’s Government should make it very much clearer that this is their intention and that they are not going to be overruled by one or more of our allies in Iraq.

In his Chatham House speech last week, there were indications that the Defence Secretary’s thinking was starting to move in that way. That is welcome as far as it goes. But my criticism is that the Government have for too long let it be understood that our deployments and even strengths in the two theatres were to be at the behest of the host nations or the US Government. Staying “until the job is done” or “staying the course” as our American allies have expressed it, is not a proper strategic posture when the levels of commitments are as high as they have been—well above defence planning assumptions—and so beyond by a considerable margin what ground forces in the front line and all three services in the key enabler areas of support are resourced, trained and able to sustain. I believe that the time has come to be far more robust and honest in our statement of future intentions. The service men and women who are out in theatre—and those who are going to be committed in the coming months—deserve a clearer understanding of what it will involve for them.

Even this line of approach may be overtaken by events. It is alarming that an individual as eminent as the former US Secretary of State Colin Powell, as was widely reported last week, said that the war in Iraq could be considered a civil war. Kofi Annan was even more depressing, saying the situation was worse than civil war. If faced with open civil war in Iraq and the total loss of control by the Iraqi Government that that would imply, it might be necessary for us, the Americans and other coalition forces in Iraq to withdraw very rapidly—even at the expense of having to leave behind valuable equipment and stores.

And whatever the future holds for us in Iraq, it is all too clear that far more effort is going to be necessary in Afghanistan—and over a period of years—if the Taliban is not to re-establish control in the southern areas of Afghanistan.

The Foreign Minister in Pakistan was reported as saying the Taliban was going to win in Afghanistan and NATO was bound to fail. The Pakistan Foreign Ministry later said that their Minister’s remarks had been misrepresented. Apparently he did not say that the Taliban was winning the war in Afghanistan and NATO was bound to fail. However he did emphasise that the military approach alone would not resolve the problems of Afghanistan. It must be combined with a political and economic approach. We and the local Afghan people need to see much more of that in the weeks and months ahead.

The Government, if they are minded to stay in Afghanistan, must speed the drawdown in Iraq and provide the increased resources that protracted expeditionary commitments require. Is it possible to

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continue to hold at the current level of forces in Afghanistan and not have to increase them? I doubt it. Even at present levels more is urgently required to support operations. Promises expressed by the Prime Minister last month on his visit to Afghanistan must be honoured. So far it is not clear that they are.

Without a much more full-blown commitment of resources, we may indeed lose out to the Taliban in southern Afghanistan. There will be no chance then for the political and economic levers of a co-ordinated strategy to work, to set Afghanistan on a stable footing. Whatever new direction we take, let the Government remember their responsibility not to over-commit the Armed Forces as has happened in pursuit of their objectives in Iraq and Afghanistan thus far.

5.45 pm

Lord Turnberg: My Lords, events in Israel and Palestine in the past couple of weeks have raised hopes yet again that there may be a way forward which will resolve their particular conflict. Ehud Olmert’s positive speech and Mahmoud Abbas’s enormous efforts are both very encouraging.

But optimism is not a word that one often uses about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and we do have to be realistic about what might be achieved. Nevertheless it seems not unreasonable to think that—if left to themselves—Abbas and Olmert could reach some form of agreement acceptable to both the Palestinians and Israelis even though it is likely to mean concessions by each of them. But I fear they will not be left to themselves and that a malign influence from elsewhere will determine the outcome. And it is in Syria—and especially in Iran where the strings of Hamas and Hezbollah are being pulled—where I believe we in the UK will have to focus our efforts if we are to be of any help at all.

Here in the UK and in this House it is common to criticise Israel for not doing enough or for doing the wrong things—and of course there are many things for which we should be critical. Indeed that debate is going on even more vehemently in Israel itself than it is in your Lordships’ House—difficult to believe but it is true. But in criticising Israel we do have to keep a sense of balance if we are to have any influence at all there—or indeed among the Palestinians. And I fear we have little influence.

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