HL Deb 02 April 2003 vol 646 cc1308-10

2.44 p.m.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they consider that co-operation between the Department for International Development and international aid agencies is satisfactory in relation to the Iraqi war.

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, DfID has been in discussion with representatives from UN agencies, the Red Cross/Red Crescent movement and NGOs for many months. As soon as the UN made public its contingency planning for conflict, we ensured that details of that planning were shared with NGOs. We have held weekly meetings with NGOs in London since 13th February, and are in discussion with the international agencies through our representatives in their headquarters. Members of DfID staff in the region are liaising with many humanitarian partners.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply. Does she agree that the problem at the moment is how to make the Iraqi people partners in their own liberation? Whatever the Department for International Development has done so far, could not much more be done—as the time for humanitarian aid becomes more pressing—to encourage it to work with international agencies in the effort to convince the Iraqi people that post-Saddam peace and reconstruction is possible, but that preferably it should be done under a United Nations flag rather than the Stars and Stripes?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Renton, that it is essential for UN agencies to return to Iraq as soon as possible and that we have a phased development of humanitarian operations there. While it is too soon to go into detail on reconstruction plans for Iraq, it is important to draw to the attention of noble Lords the fact that yesterday my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary made it clear that we shall work with the United Nations and others on the long-term redevelopment and rehabilitation of Iraq. We see that as an extremely important aim.

As the noble Lord, Lord Renton, will know, a couple of weeks ago an agreement was reached in the Azores between the United States and the United Kingdom to seek the urgent adoption of a new United Nations Security Council resolution that would affirm Iraq's territorial integrity, ensure the rapid delivery of humanitarian relief and endorse an appropriate post-conflict administration in Iraq.

Baroness Whitaker

My Lords, I believe that my right honourable friend Clare Short played a very active part in the successful renegotiation of the Oil for Food programme. Can my noble friend tell me how that is now working out in practice?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that question. The Oil for Food programme is a massive humanitarian operation. Noble Lords will know that the programme spends 10 billion dollars each year from the proceeds of the sale of Iraqi oil on the essential requirements and necessities of the Iraqi people. I refer not only to food, but also to water and medical supplies. Securing a unanimous United Nations resolution on the Oil for Food programme was a great achievement. As soon as it is safe for the NGOs to go into Iraq and for the UN agencies to return, we want to get the Oil for Food programme up and running again.

Baroness Northover

My Lords, have the aid agencies been able to offer any useful advice on how best to distribute the very limited amount of aid that is currently reaching Iraq, so that it is not simply the strongest who receive it? If such advice has been provided, what recommendations have been made?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, the noble Baroness will know that the Red Cross and the Red Crescent were extremely active during the early part of the conflict. DfID has been able to offer advice to the MoD and our forces. There are DfID advisers with the United Kingdom forces in Iraq. They are advising on how best to ensure that the most vulnerable members of the population are targeted so that it is not just the strong who receive the aid first. To that end, the Army is working closely with the MoD.

Lord Astor of Hever

My Lords, although it is early days, can the Minister say what contingency plans have been made for the provision of humanitarian aid should there be a lengthy siege of Baghdad?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, there are a number of contingency plans. Decisions have been made in the past few days on the budget for humanitarian aid. A total DfID budget of £210 million is available for this crisis; a flash appeal has been made by the United Nations for 2.2 billion US dollars, to which we have contributed £65 million; and we have provided £30 million-worth of food and supplies, which the MoD is distributing through our forces.

The Lord Bishop of Guildford

My Lords, I rise to speak wearing my hat as chair of' Christian Aid. We have a proper concern for the safety of our staff and the staff of our partners in the midst of conflict. Does the Minister accept the position unanimously adopted by the agencies that they can do their work only in complete independence of the military operation? The noble Baroness gave a helpful answer about the importance of the role of the United Nations. Can she confirm that the work of the agencies would be seriously compromised if that were compromised, as would the reputation of the British Government?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, I agree absolutely with the right reverend Prelate. Our humanitarian strategy is to seek to provide support where there is the greatest need, not where certain occupying forces are.

Lord Chan

My Lords, does the Minister—

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I am afraid we are out of time.