HC Deb 28 January 2004 vol 417 cc300-2
6. Mr. Richard Bacon (South Norfolk) (Con)

If he will make a statement on the progress of reconstruction in Iraq. [151168]

The Secretary of State for international Development (Hilary Benn)

In spite of the security situation in Iraq, the coalition provisional authority, together with Iraqi ministries, is making significant progress with reconstruction. Large numbers of projects are under way, and finance pledged at the Madrid donors conference last October is now beginning to assist. DFID will publish its interim country assistance plan for Iraq shortly, and we are making good progress with our projects in the south of Iraq, which will significantly improve the provision of essential services to over 5 million people.

Mr. Bacon

Given the many warnings beforehand of what would happen following the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime, why did the National Audit Office team visiting Iraq find that plans to co-ordinate the civilian response following the armed intervention were not well developed?

Hilary Benn

The planning was for the worst possible outcome, and as the hon. Gentleman will be aware, the effort and money that DFID committed to that was to ensure that if the worst did come about, we were ready to deal with any humanitarian crisis. Thankfully, that proved not to be the case because the conflict was much less extensive in scale and shorter than people had anticipated, and since then we have rightly turned our attention to the improvement of essential services and infrastructure. As the hon. Gentleman will be aware because he can see the statistics, considerable progress has been made in recent months in improving the lives of ordinary Iraqis, which is fundamental not just to their own future but to the success of the political process in which we are also now engaged.

Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab)

What can my right hon. Friend do to help my constituent Mr. Merzook's elderly parents from Baghdad, who wept in my office last Friday because they lost all their possessions—their clothes, their home, their car—when three American rockets hit their house, and they have been unable to get any help or compensation since that date?

Hilary Benn

I am very concerned to hear about the case my hon. Friend raises. If she lets me have the details, I undertake to pass them on to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con)

The Secretary of State's previous answer just will not wash. After eight calls from this Dispatch Box alone for a comprehensive plan for reconstructing Iraq, on 3 February the Prime Minister told us: We are well aware that we must have a humanitarian plan that is every bit as viable and well worked out as a military plan."—[Official Report, 3 February 2003; Vol.399, c.36.] What does the Minister have to say, then, to the report by the National Audit Office that coordinated plans to bridge the gap between what the Armed Forces achieved in the short term and what was required to be done in the … longer term were not … well developed."? Thousands of lives and the future of a nation were and are at stake.

Hilary Benn

The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is to be found in what has happened. There are 17,000 reconstruction projects in Iraq as a result of the coalition's work; the food distribution system is working; nearly all the 240 hospitals in Iraq are now functioning; medical supply distribution is working, apart from some shortages; routine vaccination for children has restarted; most of the children are back in school; water and sanitation are improving; and the electricity supply is now above what it was before the conflict. Those achievements are clear evidence of the steps that we have taken to improve the lives of ordinary Iraqis because that is what they are entitled to see. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. I must appeal to the House. We have only two minutes remaining and we must be able to hear hon. Members speak.

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire) (Lab)

I was pleasantly surprised to hear President Bush advocate the establishment of free trade unions in Iraq as part of the process of reconstruction, but is my right hon. Friend aware that under law 151 passed in 1987 under Saddam Hussein, trade unions are banned in the public sector, which means that, technically, only under privatisation can trade unions exist properly within Iraq? Should it not be made clear that the circumstances in Iraq are such that the free trade unions advocated by President Bush can develop?

Hilary Benn

I welcome calls from any quarter in support of the principle of free trade unionism, for reasons that my hon. Friend and I well understand. I was aware of the law to which he refers. It is one of a number of things that Saddam Hussein did that led to the enormous suffering that the Iraqi people experienced over 30 years, and it is one of many things that Iraqi self-government will have to put right. In the end, of course, it is for the Iraqis themselves to determine the new structure of law. My hon. Friend is, however, right to say that free trade unions are a fundamental part of a free society, and I, like him, look forward to the day when they can operate in Iraq, because it will be a further indication that that country is recovering from the nightmare that it has experienced over the past 30 years.

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