HL Deb 03 July 2003 vol 650 cc1028-30

3.17 p.m.

Lord Hurd of Westwell

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What progress they have made with the other occupying powers and the United Nations in establishing a stable and democratic government in Iraq.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)

My Lords, the shared aim of the coalition and the United Nations is to facilitate a representative Iraqi Government based on the rule of law as soon as possible. The coalition has organised two conferences—the first in Nasariyah, the second in Baghdad—and, with the UN, is intensively consulting a broad range of Iraqis on ideas to move the political process forward. These include establishing a governing council and a constitutional convention. We hope that these will be in place soon.

Lord Hurd of Westwell

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Does she accept that there is growing unease that the brilliant military campaign which destroyed the dictatorship was not matched by a realistic plan for the future and that that has created a dangerous situation? But we are where we are. We cannot pull out. We are condemned to succeed. In that context, does the Minister accept that, even if we and other countries were willing, we could not solve the problem simply by piling in more troops? Following on from what she said in her Answer, can she say when Iraqis of substance in their community and communities will take charge of key civilian agencies and ministries in that country?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I accept that there is a good deal of comment about there being unease. However, it is unrealistic to expect the coalition to put right in two months what has gone wrong over the previous 30 years. It is not only a case of what happened during the conflict but of not having the institutions in the country over a very long period. The noble Lord asked how we are moving forward. The governing council, which it is hoped will be in place during the course of July, will have, we hope, advisory powers while working with the coalition and the United Nations, and powers to appoint Ministers, to oversee the running of ministries and to set up commissions to review the cross-cutting issues such as justice reform and education. That is on the governing council side.

We hope that later in the month—probably towards the end of July—there will be a constitutional convention comprising 100 to 200 Iraqis, which will be charged with drafting a new constitution. Its members will be chosen from a wide range of groups in Iraq—Sunnis, Shias, Kurds, Christians—and we wish to ensure that women will also participate. So there will be two big staging posts, we hope, this month—first, slightly earlier, the governing council; and then, by the end of the month, we hope to have in place the constitutional convention.

Lord Judd

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that there is a difficult issue between choosing Iraqis who will participate in this process and Iraqis choosing for themselves the people who will participate in this process? It is a difficult issue, to which there is probably no completely satisfactory answer. But in these circumstances, does my noble friend agree that this is exactly why maximum global international authority for what is going on is essential so that it cannot be said that this is manipulation by the occupying powers?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I agree that it is enormously important to have the broadest possible base. The noble Lord puts it very well: who does the choosing? That is why there was the first conference in Nasariyah and then the one in Baghdad. That is why there has been a women's meeting, with some 40 women drawn together to have their say about this. But I think that what the noble Lord is getting at is the role of the United Nations. I am happy to tell him that Mr. Sergio Vieira de Mello has indicated to John Sawers, the United Kingdom's representative, that he is very supportive of the coalition's plans and that our plans have broad support among Iraqis. That is a very important point. Kofi Annan's representative staff have been involved in the recent consultations, and he believes that they are going well. It is very important that Iraqi people feel that they have real ownership of this process.

Lord Quirk

My Lords, given the importance of education in the establishment of civilised values, although I know these are early days, can the Government say whether the United States is yet involving USIS in Iraq'? What plans do the Government have, in due course, for the British Council to return to the admirable role that it undertook in Mosul, Baghdad and Basra where, even at the present time, a Shia majority in the country could respond to British Council initiatives?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, of course education is an enormously important part of the process with regard to education of young children and cultural activities. We believe that about 90 per cent of Iraqi children have been able to return to school. But there is a real problem about education aids: the books used are written from a Ba'athist perspective and we do not wish to see their continued use in schools. So there is an enormous amount of groundwork to be done.

The noble Lord asks what further plans there are for the return of the British Council. Security on the ground would have to improve greatly before that could happen. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has returned from Iraq and my noble friend the Secretary of State for International Development has also recently returned. From their reports, it is clear that it is still very early days. I agree with the noble Lord that we must set our sights on the future, and those are the sort of things that we want to aim for, but there is a little more groundwork to be done first.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords—

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I am sorry, but we have overrun the time.

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