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I appreciate the intention behind the alternative model proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, in her Amendments Nos. 3 and 4, which is to ensure that social care and human rights are properly represented within the commission’s governance. However, I am not sure that the proposed mechanism to achieve that end is through legislation requiring specific posts. Also, although I agree with the intentions of the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, in his Amendment No. 8, I do not feel that the right way is to create separate sub-commissions to achieve that purpose, each representing one of the current three commissions.

There is no doubt that the new commission will build on the expertise of the three existing commissions, while maximising the advantages of integrated regulation. As we said in Grand Committee, we envisage that much of the expertise will transfer from the current commissions.

However, rather than creating silos—which we are trying to break here—in the shape of the sub-commissions that the noble Lord proposes, the new commission needs to take the existing differences into account and build on the best of each of the current commissions to release the potential benefits that we all aspire to achieve; for example, the benefits to the provider of both healthcare and social care services, and the benefits to the user of seamless regulation across their care pathway. Once again, I believe that it must be for the commission to decide how best to structure itself and deliver its functions, be that through sub-committees, specific posts or other mechanisms. After all, we are trying to create an independent regulator—something that I know that noble Lords fully support.

I remind noble Lords that the Government have sought to reassure all sides through the Bill process that social care and mental health interests will not be lost in the new commission. I hope that the fact that the Commission for Social Care Inspection and the Mental Health Act Commission welcome and support government amendments will provide further reassurance, in particular to the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, and the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey. There are already further necessary checks on the Care Quality Commission in the Bill. The current drafting explicitly requires that the commission report annually to Parliament and the Government on the provision of adult social care services, on the exercise of its Mental Health Act functions, and on the way in which it has exercised its more general functions.

Once again, I stress that I have sympathy with noble Lords’ efforts to ensure, through various approaches, that the commission’s governance structures will reflect the skills, expertise and focus needed to carry out its full range of functions, without the focus of any one of them being at the expense of any other. As I hope I have made clear, while I do not support amendments that would impose inflexibility on the commission in the way that it performs its statutory functions, I support noble Lords’ intentions and am happy to reflect on this debate and seek their thoughts further,

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prior to bringing this back for Third Reading with amendments that will fulfil their aspirations. With that reassurance, I ask noble Lords not to press their respective amendments.

Earl Howe: My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, and particularly to the Minister for his encouraging reply—encouraging in so far as he agreed to reflect on my amendments, from which I take heart, and in his acknowledgement that the issue of the commission’s membership is important.

I believe that all noble Lords—especially perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, and the noble Lord, Lord Walton—were clear that we need to focus on the composition of the membership. The question is how we achieve precisely what we all want. The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, made the very helpful suggestion that we should talk to existing commissioners to see what has made the difference for them in performing their respective roles.

As the Minister has said, the challenge is to avoid undue prescriptiveness and to ensure sufficient flexibility in whatever wording we look for. The noble Lord, Lord Low, was absolutely right about that. If the Minister is willing to search for consensus between now and Third Reading, I am more than happy to join him in that endeavour. I am encouraged by the contributions from noble Lords to believe that we have the basis for such a consensus. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 3 to 6 not moved.]


4.55 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Taylor of Bolton): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Defence Secretary. The Statement is as follows:

“Last December, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister set out a clear and long-term framework for bringing security and political, social and economic development to Afghanistan.I should like to give the House an update on some of the progress that we have made since then in Afghanistan, based on my most recent visit to Afghanistan last month, and to set out our future plans for the UK’s military contribution to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, ISAF.

“The security situation in Afghanistan has improved in the past 12 months. The Taliban’s leadership has been targeted successfully and recent operations in southern Helmand have disrupted severely its training and lines of communication. This has had two principal effects. First, its sphere of influence has been reduced. Nine-tenths of the security incidents are confined to one-tenth of the country. The rest is relatively peaceful. Secondly, we have seen the Taliban

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reduce its ambition from insurgency to terrorism. Its campaign is now limited to intimidating Afghan communities, coercing the vulnerable into becoming suicide bombers, and carrying out brutal and indiscriminate attacks on the international community and, above all, on Afghans themselves—men, women and children. As its conventional attacks have failed, we have seen its tactics shift to mines, roadside bombs and suicide vests. These tactics run deeply counter to the Afghan culture. So does the Taliban’s reliance on paid foreign fighters—the so-called “ten dollar Talibs”—who now make up the majority of those doing the fighting for it. I fully recognise that the Taliban’s new tactics pose a different but very serious challenge both to our forces and to local people. We need to ensure that we do all we can to mitigate this new danger and I am fully engaged on making sure that we do so.

“I share the understandable international concern about the break-out from Kandahar prison on Friday 13 June. The Government of Afghanistan are leading the response to this incident and we are monitoring it closely. We have always said that the challenge of supporting an Afghan lead on security goes wider than support to the Afghan armed forces to include the justice sector, and we are already engaged in supporting a programme of justice reform that includes work on prisons. International support to the Afghan Government’s security response is being provided through NATO’s presence in Kandahar. Let me conclude here by saying that, notwithstanding the extremely serious nature of this incident, it does not change our view that the Taliban is losing the fight in southern Afghanistan.

“The Afghan people, like people the world over, long for security, stability and prosperity. They understand that the Taliban cannot deliver these things. Our forces, alongside the US, Canadian, Dutch, Australian, Danish and many others, are in Afghanistan to fulfil a UN mandate, to support the elected Government, to train and mentor the Afghan army and police, and to give the Afghan people hope for the future. I believe, as I think does the great majority of this House, that Afghanistan is a noble cause, but we also know that it comes at a tragic human cost, as we have been reminded over the past week. The recent deaths of five members of 2 Para, as well as the 97 other UK fatalities in Afghanistan since 2002 and all those UK personnel who have been wounded or otherwise scarred by this conflict, are an enduring measure of the dangers that our young service men and women face on operations on our behalf.

“The military knows better than anyone that this is a campaign that cannot be won by military means alone. Once security has improved—and it has—delivering improvements in infrastructure, governance, rule of law, schools, hospitals and services must follow. Generating these in a country devastated by decades of conflict, and the fourth poorest in the world, is difficult and challenging. It will be a long term endeavour, but I saw real progress here during my trip. There is now a tangible sense that life for many Afghans is improving.

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“In Helmand, they have a new and extremely able governor, Governor Mangal, who is spreading the writ of the Government of Afghanistan further into this once lawless province. During the week of my visit, the local people of Garmsir reopened their hospital for the first time in two years. In Lashkar Gah they had also just opened a new high school; some of the girls attending that school will represent the first women in their families ever to go to school and receive an education.

“We in the UK are not alone in our commitment to Afghanistan. Last week, 80 countries and international organisations met in Paris at the International Conference in Support of Afghanistan. In Paris, the Afghan Government’s national development strategy was launched. This plan provides an Afghan blueprint for the future development of their country. Last week in Paris the international community pledged $20.4 billion to help fund it, and reaffirmed its support for Kai Eide in his role in co-ordinating efforts to help deliver it. I do not underestimate how much remains to be done, but the green shoots of development and democracy are becoming ever more firmly rooted in a security environment that has improved out of all measure since UK forces deployed to southern Afghanistan two years ago.

“This focus on development does not mean that we are complacent about security; far from it. As I said before, the shift in tactics—while being, in one sense, a sign of strategic weakness—presents us with a different but still serious challenge, one which our forces are confronting with the same courage, professionalism and intelligence that they have shown throughout the campaign. At the same time, the Prime Minister’s December Statement made clear that, over time, we plan to rebalance our military commitment, from one based on direct combat operations, to one of support for the Afghans’ own security forces. There is some good news here: the Afghan National Army is a success story. Afghan soldiers are fearless and redoubtable fighters, and the ANA is respected and admired by the Afghan people. Their professional competence is also increasing by the day. The first ANA Kandak, or battalion, has now reached Capability Milestone 1, which means that it is capable of fully independent operations. Our soldiers are finding that the level of mentoring required by the Afghan National Army has markedly reduced as their capability and experience grows. This is no mean achievement.

“Creating an effective police force is proving to be a more difficult challenge. To accelerate this process, the coalition has introduced a process called focused district development, which is, in effect, a mass training and retraining of the Afghan national police, district by district. This ambitious plan has an annual budget of $2 billion per year and is making a big difference, but we have to accept that creating an independent, effective police force in Afghanistan will not happen overnight.

“Counterinsurgency campaigns are ultimately about winning the support of the local population. With the diminishing relevance of the Taliban’s campaign and the increasing delivery of development, I am in

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little doubt that we are winning. In this context I have decided, with the military advice of the Chiefs of Staff, to make a number of adjustments to the profile of our forces in Afghanistan. Currently we have 7,800 troops in Afghanistan, deployed to Helmand, Kandahar and Kabul. As a result of a recent review, I have approved the removal of around 400 posts from the Afghan operational establishment. These posts are no longer required due to reorganisation and the changed nature of the tactical situation. At the same time we have identified a requirement for, in total, 630 new posts, creating a net increase in our forces in Afghanistan of some 230 personnel to around 8,030 by spring 2009.

“Broadly these adjustments have three aims: first, to improve the level of protection afforded to our personnel; secondly, to increase the capacity of our forces to deliver training and mentoring to the Afghan national security forces; and, thirdly, to increase the capacity of our forces to deliver the civil effects of reconstruction and development in an insecure or semi-secure environment. All of these aims are vital if we are to sustain the progress that we are making.

“Let me set out the nature of these changes. The first objective of these force adjustments is to increase the protection that we are able to give our brave service men and women as they conduct their mission in Afghanistan. In the months ahead we will deploy more troops to man the additional Viking and Mastiff vehicles that we have already ordered. Further specialists will deploy to man reconnaissance and warning systems in our forward operating bases across Helmand. We will also reinforce the Royal Air Force Regiment squadron that helps defend Kandahar airfield. The House will recall that improvements that we have made to ground support and crewing arrangements for our CH-47 Chinook and AH-64 Apache helicopters have increased the total amount of flying time per month available to our commanders in Afghanistan. Part of this uplift will be delivered by an increase in helicopter crews which I am announcing today.

“Among the most potent of all our capabilities in deterring and denying the insurgency is our ability to project close air support. In Afghanistan we have a contingent of Harrier GR-7s and GR-9s that have proven time and again their value in defending the lives of our troops, our allies and those they are there to protect. The Harrier force, first deployed to Kandahar airfield in November 2004, continuously has been in operation ever since. This is an impressive record by any standards but I am very mindful of the strain that this extended deployment has put on the crews, their families and the wider roles of Joint Force Harrier. I have therefore decided to withdraw the Harrier force by spring 2009 and to replace it with an equivalent force of Tornado GR-4s.

“I have already mentioned that by developing the Afghan security forces we are setting the conditions to allow them to take an increased role in their own security. To accelerate this we will expand our fourth

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Operational Mentor and Liaison Team to accelerate the development of the Afghan National Army and we will continue to train the Afghan national police. In particular, we will focus our efforts to help Afghan National Army and police commanders to develop the skills they need to lead their forces effectively in a demanding and often very dangerous area.

“The improved security situation that our forces are generating has provided us with a real opportunity to increase the rate of our delivery of civil effect. I have therefore decided that when 3 Commando Brigade deploys to Afghanistan this October, it will deploy with an additional infantry battalion headquarters and sub-unit. These forces will operate in southern Helmand to ensure that we are able to consolidate and exploit the security gains that we have made in that area. Three Commando Brigade will also deploy with an extra troop of Royal Engineers to support our provincial reconstruction team by undertaking quick impact projects in support of the local community. These forces will be supported by more medical, logistical and equipment support troops.

“In addition, we will attach civil/military co-operation officers to each of our battlegroups and we will form military stabilisation teams on the model of the ad hoc team that we deployed with great success in the wake of the reoccupation of Musa Qala. Both of these measures will enable us to take forward development projects, including quick-impact projects in areas where the level of threat remains high.

“My announcement today of a net uplift of 230 additional troops does not in proportionate terms represent a very significant increase. It does not mean our mission is expanding. It means we are taking the steps necessary to take our mission forward as effectively as we can, with a force whose profile and capabilities are optimised to the conditions that they face. As I have explained, the uplift and rebalancing will enable our forces to strengthen their protection and to increase the rate at which they are able to build Afghan capacity in security, governance and development. Some of these new capabilities will need a year before they are available for operations in Afghanistan. Others will deploy much sooner. And, of course, we shall continue to work to develop the optimum balance of forces and capabilities, in conjunction with the Afghan Government and our allies, in what can be rapidly changing conditions. These additional forces will ensure we can maintain the growing reach of the Afghan Government in Helmand, increase the military contribution to development and accelerate the pace of Afghanisation.

“We talk in this House in terms of numbers, units and strategies. But as the events of the last week have reminded us, behind these numbers are individual young men or women working courageously in strange, difficult and dangerous conditions far from their families back home. Constantly I am impressed by their bravery and resourcefulness, and on behalf of the Government—and, I am sure, the

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whole House—I express our gratitude for their service to the nation, and commit myself to continuing to do everything we can to support them. “Mr Speaker, I commend this Statement to the House”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

5.12 pm

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. I, too, pay tribute to our Armed Forces. They have performed superbly in Afghanistan. Those who have given their lives there are irreplaceable to their families and friends, and we will remember them in our thoughts and prayers.

The Minister knows that we on this side of the House wholeheartedly support our troops in what they are doing in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, we feel increasing anxiety about the news coming out of that country, particularly about the shortcomings and questionable attitudes on the part of the Afghans themselves. The terrible corruption in the Afghanistan Government needs to be addressed urgently.

We welcome the extra troops mentioned in the Statement, particularly the extra helicopter crews and ground support and more troops to man the new Vikings and Mastiffs. We also welcome the extra Royal Engineer troops to help with the vital work of reconstruction. However, former NATO commander General McNeill has said that many more troops are needed to defeat the Taliban-led insurgency. “It’s an under-resourced force,” he said. Does the Minister believe that the force size is now sufficient?

We have consistently raised concerns about the force size in Afghanistan. Does today’s increase not make a mockery of the Government’s national security strategy, published only 12 weeks ago? It says that,

Is it not the case that our forces will be more overstretched, not less?

The Government must ensure that they provide our dedicated and courageous service men and women with the support and equipment they need to ensure that the sacrifices of the past two years are not in vain. The House will be aware of Brigadier Ed Butler’s imminent retirement. He is one of Britain’s brightest soldiers and took the opportunity to denounce chronic resource shortages which dogged the battle groups that he once commanded in Kandahar.

As the Statement pointed out, recent deaths in Afghanistan have shown the Taliban’s shift toward suicide bombing as a tactic. We have seen in Iraq what this can mean. Will the Minister give the House an assurance that all necessary protective equipment is available to minimise the risk to our Armed Forces? Will she give an assurance that the Afghan police and military are giving their fullest co-operation in attempting to minimise these threats?

We are concerned also about the lack of development in Afghanistan. The noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, pointed out that western aid to Afghanistan is one-50th per head of population of the amount spent in Bosnia and Kosovo, and less in terms of resources than has ever

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been put into a successful post-conflict stabilisation and reconstruction effort. What recent discussions have the Government had with the Pakistan Government about Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan and the Afghan Government’s threats to mount cross-border raids into Pakistan?

Ignoring Afghanistan or, worse still, abandoning it is not an option. The costs of failure are much too high to contemplate. The Government know that they have our full support in their objectives in Afghanistan, but they need urgently to address the gap between commitments and military capabilities if we are to succeed.

5.17 pm

Lord Lee of Trafford: My Lords, I am sure that the thoughts of the whole House will be with the families of the five paratroopers who were killed in Afghanistan last week and whose bodies were brought to RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire today. As has been said, our service personnel are involved in a noble cause and they are fighting with considerable bravery in Afghanistan.

However, throughout the Statement was a thread of optimism which I question. The rather dismissive phrase “ten dollar Talibs” belies the strength of the Taliban forces, as evidenced by the serious clashes of the past 24 hours. The phrase,

is a shade dangerous. “Green shoots” is always questionable when used in political terms, particularly in a situation such as Afghanistan.

Nevertheless, we welcome the net increase in our forces and the redeployment announced today. However, we still have significant forces in Iraq whose military role, whatever their political significance, is at best limited, whereas the need for more forces in Afghanistan is unquestionably desperate. There should be a redeployment sooner rather than later. I would have been much more encouraged today if, parallel to the statement that we were increasing our forces, the Defence Secretary had indicated that he had secured agreement from other NATO forces to put more of their troops into Afghanistan in support of the coalition’s efforts.

I have five questions to put to the Minister, the first of which is on the Kandahar breakout. Are the Karzai Government receptive to advice from the coalition on improving security in the prisons there? Are any of our experts helping the prison authorities? Have any of the prisoners who escaped been caught? Secondly, if a FRES-type vehicle were available, would it be deployed in Afghanistan? Thirdly, on the welcome deployment of the Tornado aircraft, is work being undertaken to modify the Typhoon for future use in Afghanistan? Fourthly—the noble Lord, Lord Astor, referred to this—do the Karzai Government have the support of Her Majesty’s Government and the coalition in threatening to send forces over the border into Pakistan if Taliban incursions continue? My final question is on opium, of which there was no mention in the Statement. Is the coalition any nearer to an agreed policy in regard to opium production and/or confiscation?

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