HC Deb 24 March 2003 vol 402 cc36-50 4.21 pm
The Secretary of State for International Development (Claire Short)

With permission, I should like to make a statement about the humanitarian situation in Iraq and the preparations for reconstruction.

I should begin by apologising to the House for the fact that I was unable to be here to respond to the urgent question tabled by the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) on 19 March. I gather that the exchanges were unsatisfactory and I am sorry about that. The reason was that I visited New York and Washington to meet the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the US Administration to try to ensure that arrangements are in place to provide adequate humanitarian relief and that proper preparations are being made for reconstruction in Iraq. I had detailed talks with Kofi Annan and his senior staff, Horst Köhler at the IMF and Jim Wolfensohn at the World Bank. I also met senior officials at the US National Security Council, the United States Agency for International Development and the State Department. There is, I think, a growing will to reunite the international community behind the humanitarian and reconstruction effort in Iraq.

As I made clear in my previous statement, the immediate responsibility for humanitarian support for the people of Iraq in the territory that they occupy lies with the US and UK military forces, in line with their duties under the Geneva and Hague conventions. My Department is providing humanitarian advice to the UK military and the Treasury has agreed to provide £30 million to ensure that UK forces can play their role. The US Administration have made their own plans with the help of USAID.

The UN humanitarian system has also made detailed preparations to resume its role in Iraq and provide for refugees, displaced people and continuing humanitarian needs. The UN employs 1,000 international staff, who have recently been withdrawn from Iraq, and 4,000 local staff in Iraq, and has considerable experience of working in the country. My Department has contributed £13 million to help UN agencies to make preparations to resume their work in Iraq and prepare for the possible consequences of conflict. We are expecting a flash appeal to occur shortly so that they can make their plans operational. We will make an appropriate contribution. The UN will return as soon as it is possible to do so.

We provide regular briefings to non-governmental organisations with the experience and capacity to work in Iraq to enable them to plan to take up their role, and we are urgently assessing their funding requests. We also strongly support the International Committee of the Red Cross, which has a critical role to play as it can operate in the acute conflict phase and is a highly effective and impressive organisation. We have provided £2.5 million for the ICRC's work in Iraq this year and also expect to respond to its appeal, which has just been received.

However, it is important that we are all clear that the most important humanitarian priority is to restore the operation of the oil-for-food programme. To achieve this, there is a need for a new Security Council resolution to give the Secretary-General authority to continue to operate the programme. The Secretary-General is making preparations and we are supporting his efforts to ensure that a suitable resolution is passed.

The scale of the programme is massive. It spends $10 billion a year and is funded by the sale of Iraqi oil. Almost all Iraqis receive assistance from the oil-for-food programme and 16 million are totally dependent on it for their daily survival. I should, however, say that they were given a couple of months supply before the conflict began. People are supplied for the time being, but we need to get the programme up and running very quickly.

The programme provides not only food but water, fuel, medicines and other basic requirements. It is organised through 45,000 local distribution centres, which are all run by Iraqis. If the programme were not reinstated, it would be difficult to avoid a serious humanitarian crisis. We are therefore committed to supporting the Secretary-General of the United Nations in every way possible to get the oil-for-food programme up and running again as rapidly as possible. Talks in New York toward a resolution are positive and we hope that the resolution will be secured so that the international community will be ready to go forward.

At the same time, we are making preparations for the reconstruction of Iraq after Saddam Hussein's regime has gone. It is clear that we can rise to that challenge only if we heal the rifts in the international community and engage all major players in supporting the people of Iraq to rebuild their country. The UN must provide a mandate for the reconstruction effort because that is a precondition for the engagement of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and many countries. Their engagement is key to the reforms that are needed to move the economy forward and to secure an agreement on debt rescheduling and a reparations strategy that will enable the Iraqi economy to recover and grow. I held detailed talks with officials of the UN and the US Administration about how that might be achieved and I am hopeful that we will soon make progress in line with the agreements reached between the Prime Minister and President Bush in the Azores.

As the House is aware, a precondition for the reduction of division, bitterness and anger about double standards in the wider region is progress on the middle east peace process, as the Prime Minister has said. The UK's efforts were crucial in getting President Bush's commitment to publish the road map toward the establishment of a Palestinian state by 2005. That, and Abu Mazen's appointment as the new Palestinian Prime Minister, offer the chance of a way forward. The Government are committed to driving forward the process to bring hope and peace to a new Palestinian state and security to Israel. I discussed the issue with Department of State and National Security Council representatives who said that President Bush was determined to take the commitment forward. The IMF and World Bank also have detailed plans to provide support. We are all aware that full implementation of the road map will not be easy, but it is essential.

There is a sense of regret and dismay among the UN, the IMF and the World Bank about the divisions that were allowed to arise during the international community's handling of the Iraq crisis. There is agreement that our duty now is to minimise the suffering of the people of Iraq during the conflict and to ensure that humanitarian relief and support for reconstruction is in place. That requires the healing of international divisions, as the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West (Mr. Kennedy) said, and I hope that a united effort to provide humanitarian relief for the people of Iraq and to support them in reconstructing their country will help to bring that about.

Last, I make it clear that I shall keep the House regularly updated on the humanitarian situation in Iraq. We have provided a response to the International Development Committee report. Hon. Members must understand that i1 has been difficult to provide full information to the House before now because so many international agencies were unwilling to be seen as preparing for conflict and for their plans to be publicly available, although we were in touch with them and knew what was going on. That constraint has now been removed and the House will be kept fully informed. Reports on the humanitarian situation will be placed in the Library of the House on each weekday morning.

Mrs. Caroline Spelman (Meriden)

I thank the right hon. Lady for coming to the House and for giving me advance sight of her statement. At this time, I do not intend to dwell on the personal difficulties that she has faced over the past few days.

We accept the Secretary of State's apology for her inability to answer our urgent question last week, but why did the Government decide to field a Foreign Office Minister to answer questions on the work of the Department for International Development? It was not an edifying sight when the Secretary of State's deputy had to whisper answers to the hapless Foreign Office Minister.

Will the Secretary of State give an assurance to hon. Members on both sides of the House that she will give us opportunities to debate these issues, as well as placing statements in the Library, and, for those of us who enjoy information technology, posting them regularly on the departmental website? We share a sense of disappointment that more progress was not achieved during the meetings in New York, and I would like to ask the Secretary of State how much she attributes the continued difficulty in getting resolutions out of the United Nations to the intransigence of France and to the loss of confidence of the US Administration in the capacity of the United Nations to perform its role. Why has not the Prime Minister persuaded President Bush that there must be a UN resolution authorising the reconstruction of Iraq? What would be the legal position of the Army and our armed forces if no such resolution were passed?

In the absence of a UN lead in co-ordinating the humanitarian relief effort and the plans for post-conflict Iraq, does the Secretary of State accept that it will be the military that delivers the humanitarian aid in the first instance? Is her Department now giving every assistance to our armed forces? Now that she has confirmed that the oil-for-food programme has been suspended, will she tell us how long we have in which to avert a serious crisis? She referred to two months' worth of rations, but, within that, will she make it clear whether we have days or weeks? Given the sheer scale of the relief required, and her news that the coalition forces will not be able to use the oil-for-food programme distribution network, how long will it take to get agreement on this issue? Will the Secretary of State tell the House whether sufficient quantities of food and supplies have been pre-positioned on Iraq's borders for this purpose? It is one thing to have humanitarian stocks on ships moored in the Gulf; it is another to have them where they can easily be brought into the country.

The Secretary of State will be aware of the predicted exodus of refugees from Iraq. Is there any sign of large-scale movement of people to the borders? There are reports that Kurds are fleeing towns in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq and heading north. Does the Secretary of State agree that there is a danger that a large number of Kurdish refugees heading for the Turkish border could push the region into serious ethnic conflict? What is the Government's strategy for preventing such a humanitarian disaster? Is the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees running refugee camps in the region? If so, do they have sufficient supplies of food and shelter?

Different amounts of money have been bandied around in terms of our contribution to the humanitarian relief effort in Iraq. Has the Department for International Development been given any new money? If so, how much? Will the Secretary of State also tell us about the £30 million given to the Ministry of Defence for humanitarian relief? When she says that we will make an appropriate contribution to the United Nations, over and above the £13 million, how much will that be?

If the military strategy is to avoid destroying the infrastructure of Iraq, to enable reconstruction to take place when the war is over, the disruption to the water and electricity supplies in Basra needs a prompt humanitarian response. Do the Government have plans to create humanitarian aid corridors in Basra and across Iraq, or will the International Committee of the Red Cross be allowed through our coalition lines?

We warmly welcome the Secretary of State's restated commitment to the Government's intention to press for the publication of the road map for peace in the middle east. Following what the Prime Minister has said, will she confirm that that will happen in a matter of days, once the new Palestinian Cabinet has been formed?

So much is at stake in this conflict; the credibility of not only the Secretary of State but our country is on the line. Will she give us an assurance that she will put all her personal concerns to one side, in her effort to do everything possible to get aid through to the needy people of Iraq? Our allied forces have now advanced well into Iraqi territory, and I wish them well as they continue to face great dangers. The fate of the people of Iraq depends on a speedy victory by the allied coalition over Saddam Hussein, and on the quality of our humanitarian response.

Clare Short

I would like to tell the hon. Lady that I have absolutely no personal difficulties. I had some concerns about the run-up to the crisis and about the divisions in the international community, but now we are clear that we want the conflict to be over as rapidly as possible with the minimum of civilian casualties, a good humanitarian effort and a rapid reconstruction of the country. There is no difference between us; there is no problem about that.

The fielding of a Foreign Office Minister was my decision; he had been recently involved in humanitarian issues. I am sorry, as I have said, that the briefing was inadequate and that the House was inadequately answered, but my visit to New York and Washington was important: it just simply had to be.

On the question of debates in the House, as the hon. Lady knows, that is a matter for the usual channels. I see her right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (David Maclean) sitting there, and I would be more than happy for us to debate these issues more frequently.

Progress in New York was very good; I do not know from where the hon. Lady got the idea that it was not. After all the bitterness and division—the bitterness became very great—the first priority was to get the work moving forward on passing a resolution on oil for food, so to do so in such a way is extremely good indeed. It is likely to be passed shortly, and talks are taking place about the possibility of the resolution for reconstruction. I had constructive talks throughout and I am hopeful of progress.

The hon. Lady seems to be under a misapprehension. There is no need for any UN resolution for the UN system to be involved in humanitarian relief—that is a duty everywhere at any time. The UN is not there because of the conflict, but it is ready and poised with people and supplies in the region. It will move in as soon as it is possible for it to do so. That answers her question significantly on the possibility of averting a crisis.

The oil-for-food programme has no engagement with coalition forces. It brings enormous supplies into the country—$10 billion-worth a year—and there is an Iraqi system for distributing it, but the head of that system will be taken off that role. However, the UN will be working to maintain the system so that people continue to be supplied. The military will have no part in that.

On refugees, different projections are bandied about, but, obviously, we have to prepare for a series of eventualities, because depending on what happens there will be smaller or larger numbers of refugees. At the moment, there are not large-scale movements of people. Kurdish people are moving up, but not to the border, and going to stay with family. They are moving out of areas where they think they might be vulnerable because of history, but we have to ensure that supplies are in place for them.

Yes, the UNHCR has pre-positioned supplies. As I said in the statement—I gave the hon. Lady a copy—the MOD £30 million has come directly from the Treasury. The money that has been disbursed by my Department up to now has all come out of its contingency reserve. I am talking with the Treasury, as I am sure Members can imagine, and I am expecting some help in order to make a generous contribution to the UN flash appeal and the Red Cross flash appeal.

On Basra, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, the Red Cross, in the wonderful role that it still fulfils even in times of conflict, is in there and has already restored more than 40 per cent. of the water supplies to people. It is still working, and our military is preparing further arrangements for water supplies if there is any future difficulty.

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, President Bush is committed to taking the road map forward. The new Palestinian Prime Minister wants to form his Government before it is received, and we hope that all that will be done shortly and the road map published.

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park)

The military action so far appears to have captured an awful lot of desert and to be bypassing many towns and cities of southern Iraq. The port of Umm Qasr is still blocked and a humanitarian crisis is developing in Basra. How is humanitarian aid to be delivered to the people of southern Iraq, alongside the military action occurring now, as promised?

How soon will the middle east road map be published? Will it be subject to amendment by Israel, or will it stand as published? We have heard that £30 million is being provided for humanitarian relief, but what contribution will be made to reconstruction? Will it come from donor countries or the proposed trust fund to be set up for Iraqi oil reserves? That is an important issue.

Following the total failure of diplomacy in respect of the second resolution, how long does the Secretary of State think it will take to stop blaming the French and secure consensus in the United Nations for a reconstruction resolution to heal the rift in the international community?

Clare Short

The hon. Lady says that the military campaign is taking desert, but the plan is to get to Baghdad quickly and take the top off the regime. The people will then feel safe and will soon be able to emerge, and it will be possible to deliver humanitarian supplies throughout the country.

I have already answered the question about the road map, as has my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. The new Palestinian Prime Minister wants to form his Government before it has been received: it is his choice not to receive it yet. It will be delivered shortly after that, and we must all then make the progress that is essential.

Members are understandably confused about the amount of money involved because there are so many different pockets. The £30 million went directly from the Treasury to our military so that they could fulfil their obligations under the Geneva and Hague conventions. I have made £70 million available from my Department's contingency reserve, much of which we are already deploying. The UN flash appeal will put the UN back in quickly with humanitarian supplies, and I am discussing a possible contribution with the Treasury.

The trust fund is oil for food. It has been going for a long time. All the profits from the sale of Iraq's oil go into a trust fund held at the UN, and provide supplies worth $10 billion a year. That is an enormous amount. The country almost lives on handouts—there is very little economic activity—and that will require reform later. We shall need a Security Council resolution giving the Secretary-General full authority to deploy the funds, and we hope to have it within days. Some $4 billion is in the trust fund.

The hon. Lady asked how soon we could stop blaming the French. As I said in my statement, we need everyone to come together and stop blaming each other. I think that blame lies with all the parties that are permanent members of the Security Council—we could have tried to do better—but the job now is to bring the international community together for the reconstruction of Iraq and care for its people. That is what we should all work for.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Over the past 10 years the Secretary of State's Department must have gained a great deal of experience of the effects of depleted uranium weapons on Iraq and, more recently, on Afghanistan. What evidence has the Department of a link between the use of such weapons and cancers in southern Iraq and other parts of the world, and what advice has it shared with the Department of Defence in the United States or the Ministry of Defence here on the continued use of those carcinogenic weapons?

Clare Short

I am not an expert on the subject, but I know that UNEP, the United Nations environmental programme, carried out a study in Kosovo after the conflict there. I think it concluded that there was not a considerable problem, but I will look at the report and tell my hon. Friend the findings. I will also see whether we have any evidence from any of the other conflicts.

Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East)

The Secretary of State has wisely said that the implementation of the road map is essential in providing the good will that will help to solve the problems of the middle east. Will she seek to establish from President Bush whether he intends British and American troops to be sent in to implement the road map if either of the parties concerned is unhelpful and refuses to accept it?

Clare Short

I think I can assure the hon. Gentleman that that is not the intention. It is possible that the international community will need to deploy observers, military or otherwise, when it is implemented, to enable the people of the two countries to feel secure in the knowledge that there will be an end to terrorism, killing and suicide bombers and to give us a chance to give the two states a decent future. There will not, however, be the kind of forces to which the hon. Gentleman refers.

Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge)

Will my right hon. Friend give a little more detail about the way in which the humanitarian food aid will be delivered while fighting continues? In many cities there are no-go areas for our troops, who might have to deliver that aid.

Clare Short

It is a phased process. In the first phase, as in all conflicts, the military has a duty to take care of the civilian population, and the MOD and our forces have taken that duty extremely seriously. Advisers from my Department are deployed alongside them, and the Treasury has provided them with special resources. The forces are bringing in supplies, and we have smaller, emergency supplies in the region. The forces are highly organised so that pockets of people can move where they need to. As soon as the conflict moves out of any part of the territory, the UN humanitarian system will be deployed, and as soon as there is peace the oil-for-food programme will be up and running.

In the meantime, the ICRC is out there. My hon. Friend will be aware of the quality of that organisation. It is now working in Basra, despite the difficulties, to reconnect the water supply. I think that we will cope, but obviously we all want the conflict to be over as rapidly as possible, and our priority is to look after the people of Iraq and help them to restore their country.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

In wishing the Secretary of State well, may I ask her to give the House an undertaking that she will seek to fulfil her extremely onerous responsibilities with the same calm, measured determination that the Prime Minister has shown throughout this crisis?

Clare Short

I am afraid that I cannot give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. My personality is rather different from that of the Prime Minister, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that all the passion that I have will be dedicated to this purpose.

Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford)

My right hon. Friend will know of the great concern expressed by the International Committee of the Red Cross, Landmine Action and others about the humanitarian effects of unexploded munitions. What co-ordination exists between her Department and the Ministry of Defence to map the areas where cluster bombs will be dropped in the war? Will she undertake to ensure that money is provided for those who will clear up afterwards?

Clare Short

Throughout the events in Sierra Leone, Kosovo, Bosnia, Afghanistan and now Iraq, the relationships between my Department and the Ministry of Defence have become ever closer. The nature of conflict in this disorderly post-cold war era, in which one finds humanitarian crisis and military action side by side, is becoming a pattern, and it means that we must find new ways of organising ourselves. Those relationships are strong and growing ever stronger.

There are absolute duties under the Ottawa convention to record any use of munitions that may damage civilians, and the British military fully adheres to all international treaties and humanitarian obligations. Our troops always de-mine in the first instance, as they are trying to do in the waterways of Iraq now, so that they can bring in humanitarian supplies. Thereafter, we will probably bring in UNMAS, the UN body that looks for mines, because Iraq will have to be de-mined if it is to be reconstructed.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate)

The Secretary of State told us: It has been difficult up to now to provide full information to the House because so many international agencies were unwilling to be seen to be preparing for conflict. Is not the truth that the Government have known at least since last summer that conflict was at least possible, if not probable, given Saddam Hussein's record of non-co-operation, with the MOD actively preparing for possible conflict, while absolutely nothing ha .s been happening in the right hon. Lady's Department or the Department of Trade and Industry, which will be involved in reconstruction? Is that joined-up government on this most serious of issues?

Clare Short

The hon. Gentleman is completely wrong, unusually for him; clearly he has not been listening. My Department has been organising and working with the Ministry of Defence. We have also had a debate, which was initiated by the Opposition, and we have given evidence to the Select Committee. We have been in close contact with the UN, but it was keeping all its preparations private. It did not want them to be published because some of the member states would have attacked it for preparing for a conflict. My Department said throughout that we were preparing for every contingency, including the most attractive one—the possibility that the threat of military force would cause the regime to co-operate, in which case humanitarian aid and reconstruction would still have been necessary.

Similarly, the IMF and the World Bank—I am closer to the World Bank because I am its UK governor—made fuller preparations than I knew. Both kept quiet because of the problem of being seen to prepare for conflict.

I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman whether the DTI has been preparing for reconstruction, but I can say that it will not be a major force in reconstruction. The Department will need to facilitate the involvement of any UK commercial companies in making their contribution, after the IMF and the World Bank have put in place their arrangements for reform and ensured transparency in the letting of any contracts. There is probably a little time before that happens, but I shall draw the hon. Gentleman's remarks to the attention of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate)

Can the Secretary of State clarify the position in Basra? I know that water and electricity have been restored to 40 per cent. of the population, but my understanding is that 60 per cent. have been without both for almost five days. Are the Red Cross or the Red Crescent in Basra now, attempting to restore these supplies, or will they have to wait until the bombardment of Basra has finished?

Clare Short

I am happy to tell my hon. Friend that the situation is much better than she fears. By Sunday, 40 per cent. had been restored, and the Red Crescent is still working. It is a wonderful organisation that operates around the world in some of the most conflict-pro ne places. It is honoured by the international community, so it can often get co-operation, but its staff do take risks. It brought the emergency to international attention, and it has been working to put things right. I will find out how far we have got today, but on Sunday the figure was 40 per cent.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham)

Can the Secretary of State tell us what was reckless about the Government's strategy towards Iraq at the time of her famous interview, but no longer reckless two days' later? Was that a case of her being reckless with her own career, perhaps, rather than a comment on the state of the Government's policy?

Clare Short

All of that is a matter of record, but perhaps the right hon. Gentleman has not had time to look at it.

Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North)

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the work in this country of Iraqi professionals—many of whom are now British citizens—such as Emad al-Ebadi, a constituent of mine, in forming the Iraqi reconstruction group? Will she undertake that officials in her Department will meet that group, so that professionals in this country with Iraqi backgrounds can be involved in reconstruction work in Iraq post-conflict?

Clare Short

Certainly, but my officials are working enormously hard and I want to protect their time; however, I am sure that we can facilitate such a meeting. There was a parallel in Afghanistan. Of course, in countries that are so misgoverned, skilled and educated people tend to leave. They are an enormous resource for the country concerned if they can get back quickly to help with reconstruction. In the case of Afghanistan, through the International Organisation for Migration—a UN body—we quickly arranged for professionals in the diaspora to be able to go back for, say, a short time. I think that we could look to doing something else in Iraq, but let me be clear about the commercial phase. There is hardly an economy in Iraq: it is a handout economy built on oil reserves, so it will need reconstructing. Of course, everyone with abilities must engage and help, and we will facilitate Iraqi engagement. However, all contracts will be transparently and properly let. There will be no misuse of any influence on the part of the UK or, I am sure, of the US. The IMF and the World Bank will be crucial to this reconstruction, and they would not permit it.

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham)

Since relief and reconstruction depend on oil revenue, will the Secretary of State say who will own and operate the newly liberated oilfields, and what will happen to the several billion dollars in oil revenue that is currently sitting in accounts in the Kuwait compensation fund?

Clare Short

The first stage will be to get the oil-for-food programme up and running. As the hon. Gentleman knows, Iraqi state-owned companies—which are kept running by some very capable engineers—export the oil that is currently producing the $10 billion a year that is used to bring in supplies under the programme. I would imagine that some of that leaks out into the purchasing of military equipment, and so on. The programme will be run, under the authority of the Secretary-General of the UN, by Benon Sevan—an enormously impressive man who has kept that programme running for some time, and who knows how it works.

So stage one is simply to keep the handouts going; then, there will have to be the reform phase. After we have secured the UN reconstruction resolution, the IMF and the World Bank will look at economic reform. The entire currency needs reforming, as do the Ministry of Finance and the various regulations. Expert advice will have to be sought on the oil sector, which relies on very old technology and needs new investment, but that will be properly done later. Stage one is to keep the oil-for-food programme running; the next is to introduce the reform agenda, rebuild a modern economy and give proper consideration to how the oil industry should be reorganised.

Mr. Shaun Woodward (St. Helens, South)

Given the importance of healing divisions in the international community, and the likely importance and scale of reconstruction—it will probably be as big as the Marshall plan after the second world war—will the Secretary of State comment on reports in US newspapers this weekend that only US corporations are being invited to bid for the first round of contracts for reconstruction?

Clare Short

There is confusion on this question, I am happy to say. Many countries, the US included, tie their aid. We got rid of that, because otherwise everything has to be sourced back to the donor country, which creates costs and inefficiencies. Our money goes into the system and the best possible and most efficient way of deploying it is used. The US ties its aid, and USAID has a big budget and has given contracts to several US companies to help to provide US supplies in the emergency humanitarian phase. I do not like tying aid, but that is what is happening in that case and not the granting of contracts more broadly, such as for the restructuring of the oil industry, which the US would not have the authority to do—I am happy to say.

I forgot to respond to the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) on the important question of reparations. Iraq has high levels of debt and significant reparation bills related to Iran and Kuwait. That will all have to be restructured or Iraq would be in the same position as Germany at the end of the first world war, with such a massive burden that the country could not grow. That is an important issue, and we will have to prepare for it.

Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury)

The Secretary of State will be aware that it is the duty of the House—especially Opposition Members—to assess the confidence that we can have in her plans for contingencies in humanitarian aid and reconstruction in Iraq. Against the background of the Government's record of failure on contingency planning for foot and mouth, the continuing concerns about civil contingency planning in this country and the ambivalence she has displayed in the past week, can she improve the confidence of the House in the plans that she has for contingencies in Iraq by publishing them in detail in the coming week?

Clare Short

The hon. Gentleman should know, because he takes some interest in such matters, that the international community sees my Department as the most effective development organisation in the world. He knows me well enough—I hope that he does—to know that if I say that we have been making preparations, that is the truth. The UK cannot do it alone and we will have to mobilise the whole international system to do its job properly, but the hon. Gentleman can have full confidence that the contingency plans are in place. We have also provided a response to the Select Committee's report and that will be publicly available. I can assure him that my Department is the best development organisation in the international system, and it will be so in this crisis as much as in previous ones.

Mike Gapes (Ilford, South)

Will the Secretary of State say more about the role of international oil companies in relation to the oil-for-food programme? Will she clarify the position, in a democratic and liberated Iraq, of those companies that have cosy concessions from Saddam's regime—especially the French company, TotalFinaElf, and the Russian company, Lukoil? Will they receive benefits from their support for that dictator, or will they be punished?

Clare Short

I have tried to make the point that step one will be to get the oil-for-food programme running. I am not an expert on the Iraqi oil industry, but I understand that it is mostly state owned. There will be contracts for export in place, and I see the point that my hon. Friend makes. However, my focus, and that of the UN, on getting oil-for-food running will mean carrying on with existing arrangements for a time, just to keep people supplied. Then the system will need restructuring, because it is old-fashioned and badly run, with old technology. Benon Sevan says that the Iraqis who keep such old technology running are wonderful engineers. The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank will be involved and we will need a proper, transparent process for any arrangements for reorganisation, modernisation and reform of the Iraqi oil industry.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham)

As we are talking about future reconstruction needs, may I press the Secretary of State on an urgent problem? As of two hours ago, the Red Cross had not yet received a response from either the US or Iraq to its request to interview prisoners of war. What is she doing to ensure that the coalition sends an immediate and positive response to the Red Cross to give it access to prisoners of war, even if we cannot get the reciprocal agreement from Saddam Hussein?

Clare Short

I am not aware of that request or of what has been done, but I take seriously what the hon. Lady says. I will look into it and get back to her.

Chris McCafferty (Calder Valley)

Given that the UN co-ordinator Ross Mountain gave evidence to the Select Committee on International Development suggesting that it would take four to six weeks to obtain the necessary resolution to restart the oil-for-food programme, and that last week the Foreign Office Minister was not sure whether it would take days or weeks to restart the programme, can the Secretary of State tell the House exactly when the UN Security Council will vote to restart the oil-for-food programme?

Clare Short

I can tell my hon. Friend, that Ross Mountain is a fine humanitarian, but he does not work around the Security Council. He has now gone to New York because the liaison between Geneva, Larnaca and New York was getting too complicated, so he is in place and working. I have never heard the four to six weeks' time scale for the resolution. That must be a guess, and it was a judgment about the bitterness and division that existed in New York and in the international community. Things are proceeding much better. I think it will be days—I do not think it is reckless to suggest that it will be days.

Sandra Gidley (Romsey)

What lessons have been learned from post-conflict Afghanistan and Kosovo, and what steps is the Department taking to ensure that in post-conflict Iraq there is full recognition of UN resolution 1325?

Clare Short

I am sorry—I do not carry in my head a list of all the UN resolutions, so I do not know what 1325 is about.

Sandra Gidley


Clare Short

Thank you very much. On post-conflict Afghanistan, I think that progress has been better than is generally thought in the international community, but it is a desperately poor, wrecked country that has also had years of drought. As the International Development Committee said, the big push that we need now is order outside Kabul so that the country can move forward. A big effort is under way in Afghanistan on equality for women in the constitution, as well as getting girls back to school. Obviously, it is not easy, but the UN is standing by that and brings its authority; similarly, it does so in Kosovo. It is essential that we do the same in Iraq and I assure the hon. Lady that I will do everything in my power to make sure that we do.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)

As my right hon. Friend knows, Human Rights Watch issued a strong statement today criticising the situation in Iraqi Kurdistan. It says that the UN has left local authorities with the keys to buildings and no means of transporting two months' worth of food supplies, tents or whatever it may be, and that the Kurdish local authorities are unable to cope. There are 800,000 displaced people already inside the country, as my right hon. Friend knows, and thousands of people have crossed the borders in the past few weeks from the south of Iraq to the north of Iraq. Will she pay particular attention to the situation there? I do not understand why the UN walked away from there in the first place. There is no conflict with Iraqi Kurdistan, so why should the UN just pack up and go home? It has had months to organise for this eventuality.

Clare Short

I understand my hon. Friend's concerns. According to the figures that I have, 300,000 people have been displaced, and they are largely going to families. It is urgent that more supplies come into the area, because families who take in family members will need more food and supplies. I understand that there is not a crisis at present, but that there would be if we did not act quickly. We are looking into the situation. I will come back to my hon. Friend with full details. I take her point about the UN system. I know that in the preparations to return, the UN will look for areas that are safe and go there first, and I hope it will go to Kurdistan early. I will make fuller inquiries and get back to my hon. Friend.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome)

Once it is made safe, is it the intention that Basra and southern Iraq should have the capacity to take in a large number of displaced people, in addition to the indigenous population? Apart from the Sir Galahad, which is welcome but of limited capacity, what other ships of the royal fleet auxiliary does the Secretary of State have at her disposal? Does she have bulk supply ships?

Clare Short

There is no intention that Basra should take large numbers of displaced people. Let me repeat: the UN is preparing various contingencies for movements of people, possibly to the borders of all the surrounding countries, and has pre-positioned supplies, but the numbers of people who move would depend on how the conflict develops. We hope that it will be over so quickly and cause so little disruption to civilians that there will be very limited movement of people, but we have to be ready for all eventualities and all possible movements. There was not ever a suggestion that people would move into the cities, so much as a fear that they would move to the borders. Food and supplies have been pre-positioned around the country by the UN system in order that they can be delivered to wherever the people move or to their homes if they remain there.

Supplies are on HMS Sir Galahad in order that in very early stages our military forces adhere to their duties under the Geneva and Hague conventions to ensure that any people in the areas that they are protecting are fully supplied and equipped. I hope that there will shortly be more peace across the territory and that the UN will return. The military will then no longer be in the lead in providing humanitarian supplies.

My Department will not operate separately. We will put resources and people and effort into getting the UN system to work efficiently right across the territory. I will not then need ships. The oil-for-food programme ships in enormous quantities of food all the time, and I know that it is preparing to keep its orders coming, although it will have to pay higher insurance, and so on. The quantities of supplies will be very large, but once the port is secure we should be able to cope.

Alan Howarth (Newport, East)

Has my right hon. Friend explained with her characteristic passion to the European Commission that the humanitarian needs will be no less whatever views may be taken of the legality of the conflict, and that a contribution will be expected commensurate with the wealth of the European Union?

Clare Short

Poul Nielson, the Development and Humanitarian Aid Commissioner, has already proposed a contribution of €20 million, which he is able immediately to deploy on his own authority. Speaking from memory, he is also able to ask for the authority to make available another €100 million from the budget. There was general support at the EU summit on this matter. Of course, the UK provides 20 per cent. of such funds. Despite the differences, he is moving on that question.

Pete Wishart (North Tayside)

What we on this Bench want is to be shocked and awed by the scale of the humanitarian effort. We will be satisfied only when the humanitarian effort starts to equal the military one. Will the right hon. Lady say something more to assure us that the Kurds in northern Iraq will not be overlooked and that they will get the humanitarian aid that they require? What discussions has she had with the Turkish authorities to ensure that the human rights of Kurdish people will be maintained and secured by the 30,000 or so Turkish troops on the Iraqi border?

Clare Short

I can say honestly to the hon. Gentleman that the carefulness of the targeting is greater than in any previous conflict of which I am aware, and I am proud to say that the humanitarian preparations—certainly for our armed forces—are greater than ever before. The UN system is well organised, but that has not been publicised. I hope that there is a reasonable response to the appeal that is about to be made. That will be very important, and I shall try to mobilise an international effort to ensure that countries do not hold back owing to differences over how we got to this point. Of course the Kurds must not be overlooked, as I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd). We are watching what is going on there and will ensure that supplies continue to flow, as they were also dependent on the oil-for-food programme.

I have not personally been in touch with the Turkish authorities, but my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has been repeatedly, and the United States Administration are in pretty continuous communication with them in order to try to ensure that all remains calm in Kurdistan, so that people can prepare for maintaining their level of autonomy and for taking forward their Government in that part of a liberated Iraq.