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Our Armed Forces in Afghanistan are operating under United Nations resolutions and with over 40 other nations in support of and alongside the Afghan national security forces against the insurgency as part of a wider international civil-military effort to help Afghanistan become an effective and accountable state. To this end, over the summer, British forces along with Afghan and ISAF allies undertook Operation Panther's Claw, which extended governance into the Babiji area of central Helmand.
Lord Bramall: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, and for reading out and honouring before us the large number of fallen in this campaign. I associate myself with that, as many of them were from my own regiment. Does she agree that, if our Armed Forces are highly relevant to our strategy, it is vital that the public are kept fully informed of the continuing purpose of those military operations and the progress being made? Otherwise they-particularly the bereaved-will find it so much harder to come to terms with the very considerable casualty list, which of course does not include all those seriously wounded? Can the Minister also assure the House that in the immediate future the Government will really give this campaign their very best shot in terms of resources, aid, intelligence, co-ordinated direction and dynamic diplomacy, so that before too long there can be a chance to achieve that extra stability to enable us to hand over the bulk of security to indigenous forces? As a famous Chief of the General Staff in the First World War once said, "I've 'eard different".
Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, I indeed think that the list of names is a salutary reminder of the price being paid. As the noble and gallant Lord says, it is important that we should remind the public from time to time exactly why we are there, which is why I mentioned the United Nations resolution and the fact that 40 other countries are also involved in the campaign in Afghanistan. We are there for our own security, because Afghanistan was the heart and centre for those who sought to participate in and plan terrorism, which has affected this country and many others. It is right that we should be totally committed to that campaign. The number of people that we have there and the resources that we are spending show that we have a very significant commitment. The absolute objective must be to get to a situation in which Afghans themselves can take control of a country that can be free from terrorism and not a safe haven for those who seek to do us harm.
Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, we on these Benches also pay tribute to the memory of all those 34 brave soldiers. Our thoughts are with their families and
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As the noble Baroness said, the sooner we get Afghan security forces trained and on the front line, the faster we can begin to bring our own troops home. With that in mind, does the Minister agree with General McChrystal's assessment that the Afghan National Army can be increased to 134,000 by this time next year?
Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, we will respond to General McChrystal in due course, but the basic aspect of this in terms of getting the Afghans themselves to take control is a significant priority. The word "Afghanisation" has become current in recent weeks, but for a long time we have been trying to build up the capacity of the Afghan national security forces-both the army and the police. At the same time we have tried to develop better governance in Afghanistan by creating institutions that are capable of taking on responsibility. That remains our objective and that is the basic intention of our strategy there.
Lord Lee of Trafford: My Lords, first, I enjoin these Benches in the earlier tribute to the tragically long list of those who have fallen in Afghanistan in this ghastly and complex conflict. I have a question for the Minister about the wounded. We all acknowledge the outstanding work that is done at Birmingham Selly Oak Hospital in the treatment and care of those who are seriously wounded and brought back from conflict, but are we making maximum use of all our other centres of national medical excellence where, in appropriate circumstances, specialised treatment would be made available? Is there any fast-track mechanism for those wounded to have that opportunity?
Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Lee, is right to mention those who have been injured, as have others. I know that many Members of this House have visited Selly Oak and Headley Court and seen the fantastic treatment available there. It is possible, where appropriate, for those who have been injured to be transferred to other parts of the health service, and that is done when it is in their clinical interests. It is important to remember that we should also make provision for their families. Therefore, when we have to transfer someone to a hospital other than Selly Oak because there is more expertise elsewhere, we try to create a military bubble so that the injured person has support from military colleagues but also has the facility to have their family with them. We provide for injured personnel to go elsewhere if that is where the expertise is, but we also try to make sure that the military and family bubble that we support at Selly Oak, which has been most successful, is there if someone is transferred.
Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, does the Minister recall that she replied to a Written Question that I put to her in the Recess about the fatalities of our partners and allies in Afghanistan? Her reply, in terms, was that it is not the British Government's practice to list other than British fatalities. Does she
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Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, as I mentioned earlier, this is a commitment that is supported by more than 40 other countries. There have been significant casualties from the major contributors. It is totally appropriate to pay tribute, particularly of course to those who are working alongside us in Helmand, such as the Danes and the Estonians, both of whom have taken considerable casualties.
The Financial Services Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Myners): My Lords, my right honourable friend the Chancellor announced in the 2008 Pre-Budget Report that air passenger duty would be reformed from this November. That decision is not being reconsidered. If the noble Lord is referring to the effect of APD on the Caribbean, I can tell him that my honourable friend the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury has asked officials to continue to consider this carefully. This consideration is still in progress. Any carve-out for the Caribbean with respect to this tax, such as a specific exemption or provisions, could raise questions about both legality and potential distortions between comparable destinations.
Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply. However, I declare an interest as chairman of an all-party parliamentary group for one of the British Overseas Territories in the Caribbean. It is over three months since the Exchequer Secretary made the statement on 7 July. First, does my noble friend not believe that the matter should have been resolved by now? Secondly, does he not believe, as I do, that it is unfair that those travelling to the Caribbean have to pay a higher duty than those travelling to Hawaii, Alaska and the whole of the west coast of America, when going to the Caribbean is half that distance?
Lord Myners: My Lords, on the Labour Benches nothing is closer to our hearts than the Cayman Islands. The Exchequer Secretary said that a reply would be given after due consideration. The new tax bands are due to come into effect from 1 November. Clearly, I expect a reply before that date.
On the bands for identifying travel distances, it is the convention to use the location of the capital city of the country. It is the good fortune of people travelling to Hawaii and Alaska that the capital of the United States is on the east rather than the west coast.
Lord Newby: My Lords, the Minister says that the convention is to take the capital city as the basis of such a duty; does that not just prove that the convention is ridiculous and stupid? In this case, as the noble Lord has already said, one pays a lower rate of duty to go to Hawaii than to the eastern Caribbean-a series of countries that is suffering considerably with the downturn in the tourist market, and with which we have a long and strong historical link. Could the Minister ask his officials, when they are considering this, to look not at the precedent but at what makes sense now?
Lord Myners: My Lords, the convention is one adopted by the airline industry. We seek to avoid a proliferation of different tax rates, which would represent an unreasonable burden on the air travel industry and on those taking advantage of the facilities offered by it. We have therefore gone for a model that is simple. The only exemption to the capital city rule is Russia, which divides into two zones to the west and east of the Ural mountains. The situation in the Caribbean economies is one of the factors being considered in the current review, the outcome of which will be announced prior to 1 November.
Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, will the Minister reflect on whether air passenger duty is levied basically as a tax-gathering exercise or whether there are real environmental concerns? Is the ability of the airline industry to play with fare rises and look at the elasticity of demand for air travel negating much of the effect?
Lord Myners: The purpose of the air passenger duty is primarily fiscal but gives a strong nudge towards environmental considerations and will, we believe, lead to a reduction of some 0.6 million tonnes of carbon per annum as a result of the increase in the rates that is proposed with effect from 1 November. However, it is primarily a fiscal strategy and that, of course, is why it was introduced by the Conservative Government in 1994.
Baroness Noakes: My Lords, the Minister confirmed to the noble Lord, Lord Davies, that the Government are not carrying out a review and has now confirmed that the only reason they have the measure in the form that they have it is fiscal. Does the Minister agree with me that those who care about the environment, and who therefore see a "per plane" duty as the only logical way to proceed, should now vote for the party that is committed to that; namely, the Conservative Party?
Lord Myners: We consulted widely in 2007-08 on whether we should make a change to per plane or per passenger duty but, having listened very carefully to the detailed, vociferous and consistent representations from the business lobby, we concluded that a per passenger duty-it had been introduced, as I said earlier, by the Conservative Government in 1994-was the most effective way of introducing taxation in this area. Of course, a per plane duty would have an injurious effect on international commerce, when we-on our Benches, at least-are doing everything we can to ensure that economic activity recovers as quickly as possible. I am sure the electorate will bear that in mind when they decide how to vote in the forthcoming general election.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, with the leave of the House, my noble friend Lady Kinnock of Holyhead will repeat the Statement on Libya at a convenient point after 5 pm. Immediately after the Libya Statement my noble friend Lord Myners will repeat, as a Statement, an Urgent Question allowed in the other place on the proposed sale of government assets announced today.
That this House resolves that the promoters of the City of Westminster Bill [HL] which was originally introduced in this House on 22 January 2009 should have leave to suspend any further proceedings on the Bill in order to proceed with it, if they think fit, in the next Session of Parliament according to the provisions of Private Business Standing Order 150A (Suspension of Bills).
Our Amendment 124D highlights two problems in particular with the present provision of education in youth accommodation, and suggests solutions. Noble Lords are aware of the many problems facing those in youth accommodation. Education, of course, is only one way of addressing the issues faced by these young people-which include health problems, psychological concerns, substance abuse and family background difficulties-but it is important to ensure that the education provided for these young people does as much as it possibly can to make sure that the transition to life outside youth detention is as smooth as possible. To this end, it is important to find educational courses that will help those who have perhaps been excluded from school or for whom academic courses have never really sparked their curiosity or held their interest.
Subsection (1) of our amendment, therefore, would mean that sentence planning would take into account the suitability of different education or training courses, in particular in youth accommodation establishments. Education is of paramount importance, and those held in our youth detention centres are being let down.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Baroness Royall of Blaisdon): Before the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, resumes his speech, I should inform the Committee that my noble friend Lord Barnett appears to have recovered and has been taken to St Thomas's Hospital for checks.
Lord De Mauley: Education is of paramount importance, and those held in our youth detention centres are being let down. In 2004 the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales conducted a census of all youth offending teams, gathering asset and additional
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Subsection (2) follows on from the first subsection, but deals with a slightly different aspect of the problem. Many of those in youth accommodation experience problems because even if an appropriate course of training or education is initially provided, the young offender is then moved part way through the course.
In this regard, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons' Youth Justice Board report, Children and Young People in Custody 2007-08, stated that of a sample of 2,500 young men in a YOI, 29 per cent had been held in another YOI during their current sentence. The Standing Committee for Youth Justice has told us that most children are in custody for an average of only three or four months. Surely it is sensible, therefore, that the sentence planning reflects that very short period of time, which could be crucial to the young person's development and education. In 2004, an NAO report found that only 6 per cent of youth offending teams said that young people were able to continue education started in custody after release. Surely we must ensure that education is not disrupted because of movement during a short sentence, jeopardising the ability to slot back into the education system outside youth detention. I beg to move.
Baroness Garden of Frognal: My Lords, we on these Benches are grateful to the Ministers and the Bill team for the ongoing dialogue and debate that we have had during the Recess. We are pleased to see that some of the government amendments reflect the results of that dialogue. We have considerable sympathy with this amendment and fully support the notion that all young people in custody should have the maximum opportunity to get the skills and confidence to enable them to continue their education when they go out at the end of their time in custody. If young people have to be moved in the middle of a programme of education, it should be a rarity. What provision will there be for giving credit for the learning achieved before the move, so that they may at least carry that with them to the next place? The Minister said that an Ofsted report will cover transitions. Will that aspect be addressed in that report?
Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, for the care that she has taken during the Recess to keep us informed of progress, hold meetings with us and send information. It was unfortunate that something went wrong with my computer, so that I did not receive the last document that she sent us on Friday until 20 minutes past two this afternoon. I am very glad that it is there, because it is comprehensive and large.
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