HC Deb 04 June 2003 vol 406 cc69-91WH

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Mr. Jim Murphy.]

9.30 am
Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North)

It cannot have escaped the House's attention that today's parliamentary business includes two scheduled debates on Iraq. I have little doubt that one of those will display the House at its worst, with Members indulging in party-political point scoring, feigning outrage at trumped up and imagined charges, and imputing dishonourable motives and even more dishonourable deeds. I trust, by contrast, that this debate will provide Members with the opportunity to display the House at its best. Colleagues from all parties have been and continue to be rightly concerned that, whatever our differing opinions on the war, its aftermath should be a success not only for the coalition forces but for the people of Iraq.

I begin by welcoming the Minister of State, Department for International Development, my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, Central (Hilary Benn), who will respond to the debate. In him, the House recognises a politician of humanity and integrity. He began his ministerial career in this Department, and many were delighted to see him promoted there as Minister of State after a brief spell at the Home Office. I know that he will wish to be as open and frank as possible in responding to the questions and criticisms that Members may raise. He is every bit as concerned as we are to ensure that the reconstruction and development of Iraq are achieved as swiftly and effectively as possible.

Yesterday, the concluding summary from the G8 summit at Evian had this to say about Iraq: "We welcome the unanimous adoption of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1483 and share the conviction that the time has now come to build peace and reconstruct Iraq. Our shared objective is a fully sovereign, stable and democratic Iraq, at peace with its neighbours and firmly on the road to progress". As a statement of what we in the international community wish to achieve, that is admirable, but it prompts two rather fundamental questions: what needs to be done and who is best equipped to do it? My answers to the first question will be many and varied. My answer to the second will be unitary and unvarying. Although I accept the immediate short-term need for the occupying power to take various actions, I firmly believe that the United Nations is the better equipped and more effective agent in the medium and the long term.

On Monday 2 June, Mr. Sergio Vieira de Mello, special representative of the UN Secretary-General, arrived in Baghdad. Yesterday, he held a 90-minute meeting with the US administrator, Mr. Paul Bremer. I will pass discreetly over the six wasted weeks of General Garner's incumbency and simply note that Paul Bremer welcomed the vital role that the UN has to play. He spoke of their "very good first meeting on the wide range of issues in which we can work together to create a democratic, independent and peaceful Iraq." He continued: "We have a very good sense of mutual mission". Mr. de Mello, an experienced career diplomat, merely pointed out that the role of the UN has yet to be defined, but his remarks only a day previously were not so terse. Speaking to the press after his arrival, he emphasised the UN's role in a range of critical areas, including construction, refugee return, economic development, legal and judicial reform, civilian administration and humanitarian assistance. He also referred to the importance of re-establishing the rule of law and security for the population. That is first on my list of things that need to be done.

Reports that I have received from non-governmental organisations and from the Iraqi reconstruction group with which I have been working closely in recent weeks are unequivocal on this point. The key issue facing Iraq in general and Baghdad in particular is the establishment of law and order. Many agencies engaged in the reconstruction effort are under constant threat from armed gangs. Warehouses are regularly looted and NGOs must restrict the areas in which their staff can operate because of fears for their safety. It is clear that crime in Baghdad has reduced since 19 May when US troops in the city began adopting the methods deployed by British military personnel in Basra, including foot patrols and proactive attempts to engage with local committees. None the less, if lawlessness is a problem for aid agencies, it is even more of a problem for the ordinary Iraqi civilian, for whom shootings and fatalities are still a daily occurrence.

I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to investigate reports that World Food Programme distribution could be delayed because of its continued concern about the lack of security provided for its warehouses by US and UK forces. The Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Affairs has compounded that failure to establish law and order by sending out mixed messages to the Iraqi people. First, it announced a gun amnesty. Then, on 24 May, it promptly dismissed 500,000 soldiers from duty, without disarming them of their rifles, when it disbanded the Iraqi army. Those 500,000 young men have been provided with no rehabilitation, no reintegration and no employment programmes. They are roaming the country with no income—armed, frustrated and disaffected.

In a subsequent ruling worthy of Charlton Heston and the National Rifle Association in the United States, ORHA has announced that all Iraqis are entitled to keep guns, including the powerful AK47 assault rifles that retail in Baghdad street markets for 50 US dollars. Frankly, that is madness. It shows that the occupying power is incapable of performing its obligations under the Geneva and Hague conventions to establish law and order and to provide security for the local population. It is only to be expected that when a regime has been overthrown with minimal loss of armed personnel, elements of that regime will deliberately disrupt attempts to establish a post-conflict civil society. ORHA should have prepared against that eventuality, not hamfistedly assisted it. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to persuade the Coalition Provisional Authority, which succeeded ORHA on 1 June, to reconstitute the Iraqi army and to re-employ those men until a proper process of demobilisation and reintegration in Iraqi civil society can be put in place.

An occupying power has a legitimate short-term role in maintaining order—indeed, it has a duty to do so—but it is clear that a speedy transition back to a civilian police force is a critical element in the restructuring and development of the country. That brings me to my second question: who is best equipped to do that? Unequivocally, I believe that it is the UN.

The UN's experience of peace and transition missions in East Timor and Afghanistan make it uniquely qualified, because of its experience of failure as much as its success, to conduct a programme of demobilisation and demilitarisation of society. In particular, it has the experience to recruit and train an ethnically mixed group for a civil police service that is accountable to political authority without being politicised as it was under the previous regime. The value of that function being carried out by the politically neutral UN rather than by the politically and militarily tainted occupying power is, I trust, self-evident.

Before leaving the issue of law and order, I should add one further important point. Saddam Hussein's human rights abuses and his process of Arabisation had the effect of removing as many as 4 million refugees and internally displaced persons. Many of those people are returning to their homes, only to find them occupied. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees must be allowed to set up a process for handling the consequent property disputes and providing compensation to injured parties. If that is not speedily organised, the potential for groups and individuals to take matters into their own hands will escalate into major violence and disorder. Resolution 1483 resolved that the United Nations

"should play a vital role in humanitarian relief, the reconstruction of Iraq and the restoration and establishment of national and local institutions for representative governance". It is to humanitarian relief that I now turn as next on the list of things that need to be clone. The reports of several major UK aid agencies are remarkably similar. One says: "No acute, widespread humanitarian needs have been reported". That agency has therefore focused its efforts on the recovery of health, water and sewerage infrastructure and capacity, but it points out that "the potential to drop into an acute crisis is great". Another agency says: "There is at the moment no widespread acute humanitarian crisis in southern and central Iraq". It continues: "However, all the makings of such a crisis are in place and unless urgent action is taken we will see serious hunger, widespread disease and a further breakdown of Iraqi society in the coming weeks[elipsis] The state of the water and sanitation system is also a serious concern." I am pleased to note from my hon. Friend the Minister's response to a number of my written questions that food stocks are not expected to run out in Iraq and that the World Food Programme is making arrangements to enable it to purchase wheat from Iraq's 2003 harvest, thereby supporting indigenous farmers. I welcome the support that the Department has provided to the WFP by giving £33 million towards this supply of food.

I trust that my hon. Friend the Minister is as concerned as I am that under paragraph 13 of resolution 1483, although the oil-for-food programme has been extended for another six months, all funds thereafter will be lodged with the development fund and disbursed at the sole direction of the Coalition Provisional Authority. It is essential that the UN agencies work with the CPA to draw up suitable plans to meet the population's food requirements after that six-month period has expired.

It seems perverse that this function should be expressly taken from the UN and appropriated by the occupying power when the UN has far greater technical capacity and experience of putting together such strategies. That is especially the case when one considers the fact that a long-term strategy is required that can reduce Iraq's dependency on external food aid and stimulate indigenous agricultural production. Again, I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to do all he can to ensure that the UN has the closest possible involvement with the CPA, even to the extent of consideration being given to subcontracting this responsibility to them.

Bob Spink (Castle Point)

The hon. Gentleman is making a compelling contribution. Does he also accept that much of the money provided under the old oil-for-food resolution, resolution 986, has still not flowed through? The money is somewhere, and it is gaining interest. We must look at the flow-through of that money to finance the construction of hospitals, schools and so on. We must not take our eye off that ball either.

Mr. Gardiner

I am, perhaps, not as suspicious as the hon. Gentleman about how the balance of that fund will be used, but I take his point.

Central to any allocation of resources is the requirement for an independent and comprehensive assessment of humanitarian needs. It is to be hoped that Mr. de Mello will be able to undertake that. Save the Children, in its report "Winning the Peace in Iraq: Defining a Role for the United Nations", names three separate categories that can be identified from such an assessment—relief activities to address unmet humanitarian need; wider activities to improve public health and welfare that will require negotiated agreement with the CPA, according to obligations under the Geneva convention and the neutrality of humanitarian assistance; and the execution of existing programmes to deliver priority human goods.

There has been widespread concern among NGOs about the access that ORHA has provided. Although they report that communication with DFID is generally good, they are clear about the fact that on-the-ground co-ordination with ORHA has been extremely poor. In the words of one agency: "While we have had sight of an organisation chart for staff of ORHA, our staff in Baghdad have found it impossible to make contact with any of them." Another comments that one of its jobs "has been to lobby the coalition-run ORHA, reminding officers of their duty not just to return the infrastructure of Iraq back to its pre-war state, but as the occupying power, to meet all the needs of Iraq's people." I would welcome an explanation from my hon. Friend the Minister as to why such problems have arisen and how they might be addressed. I am concerned that more UK ground staff were not in place earlier. I recognise the issues of security and suggest that it might have been appropriate to deploy such staff to neighbouring countries, where they could at least have met with key partners. I welcome the announcement of 14 May that the Government have sent out a further 24 civil servants, bringing the total to 44 so far. It is clear, however, that NGOs have found difficulty in liasing with military staff, whereas they have long-standing and mostly excellent working relationships with the UN that have developed over many years.

Under Paul Bremer, the CPA is divided into seven directorates, including civil affairs policy, which will deal, among other issues, with education sector reform. Even if one sets aside the obvious technical expertise that both UNICEF and UNESCO have, the UN has one more distinct advantage over the CPA: it is seen to be a politically impartial adviser that is able to draw on its worldwide experience. That is a most practical argument for the engagement of the UN, in that the occupying powers are unlikely to be able to gain the trust and confidence of the Iraqi people.

What is true for education is equally true for other matters, such as economic policy, for which the UN can harness the expertise of the World Bank, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development and the International Monetary Fund. It is equally true for electoral or judicial reform, in that the UN's department of political affairs and office of legal affairs are seen to be politically divorced from the occupying powers. The specialised agencies within the UN possess enormous reserves of technical and professional expertise that should be deployed to the full in the reconstruction and development of Iraq.

Iraq's situation is truly unique in that it is recovering not only from the immediate effects of a war but from the cumulative effects of 13 years of sanctions, the 1991 Gulf war and 20 years of centralised brutality and dictatorship, during which time the political and administrative structure annealed together in one ossified whole. However, despite those problems, Iraq has a highly educated population and a wealth of natural resources. I am convinced that only the UN has the experience and expertise, coupled with popular respect and impartiality, to enable it not only to deal with the immediate humanitarian problems of food, medicines, water and utilities but to pave the way to a regenerated civil society.

I would have liked to touch on many more issues, such as the need to deal with Iraqi war criminals, the need for the UN to control the oil revenues, the appalling handling of contracts for reconstruction without any open tendering procedures by the US Government, the need to ensure that women are properly protected and fully represented in the new polity, the need to get children back into school and the urgency with which our military must clear all unexploded ordnance. Above all, I would like to have discussed the need to ensure that indigenous and expatriate Iraqi people are used to play a key role in the work of rebuilding what is, after all, their country.

Many colleagues want to contribute, and it is my earnest hope that the case we are putting to our Government, urging the fullest possible involvement of the UN in the reconstruction and development of the country, fulfils the vision set out yesterday by the G8 of a fully sovereign, stable and democratic Iraq.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker:

Order. Many Members want to take part, so may I encourage brevity to enable the maximum number to get in?

9.50 am
Tony Baldry (Banbury)

I congratulate the Minister of State on his well-deserved promotion and return to the Department. I know that the International Development Committee is looking forward to working with him. I entirely endorse what the hon. Member for Brent, North (Mr. Gardiner) said. I agree with every word, and I do not intend to repeat his comments.

We are not the only ones who are concerned about reconstruction. I noticed in the International Herald Tribune last weekend a report by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in Washington on 22 May. The International Herald Tribune led into the report with the following comment: "Lawmakers have been seething for weeks over the administration's failure to consult in depth with Congress about the costs, methods and goals of rebuilding Iraq". This House has not had very much information about the goals, costs or methods of rebuilding Iraq. The previous Secretary of State appeared before the Select Committee before conflict broke out and talked about the costs of humanitarian rebuilding in Iraq. Since then, with the exception of the daily DFID updates on the web, there has been no coherent ministerial statement on where DFID is going in Iraq, which we clearly need. One gets a sense of there being a void.

The military clearly expects DFID to be doing things. That was reflected in an article for The Guardian last Saturday, written by the shadow Defence Secretary, who had recently been in Iraq. He reported that wherever he went the military said, "Where is DFID?" I suspect that DFID has been saying, "Look, this is Geneva convention territory and the military has to establish security. That is its responsibility. Together with non-governmental organisations, we can go in only when the situation is secure." There is some confusion in the machinery of government that needs to be resolved, but it exists not only in this country. Clearly, there is also confusion in the United States. Senator Richard Lugar, who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, said: "I am concerned that the administration's initial stabilization and reconstruction efforts have been inadequate. The planning for peace was much less developed than the planning for war." Senator Joe Biden referred to "the administration's failure to acknowledge publicly that the postwar efforts would cost billions of dollars, require years of involvement and get the United States bogged down just as it is in the Balkans." He added: "When is the president going to tell the American people that we're likely to be in the country of Iraq for three, four, five, six, eight, 10 years, with thousands of forces and spending billions of dollars, because it's not seen told to them yet?" When we considered Afghanistan, all the evidence was about security, security, security. Establishing security in Iraq is obviously a job for the military, but it will take a long time and considerable commitment and resources. It is not yet clear, however, that there is public acknowledgement—in the United States or the United Kingdom—that that is going to happen. Of course, because Afghanistan was under UN responsibility, the advantage was that we could hand over responsibility for the international security assistance force to others, such as the Turks and the Germans, in due course. We will not be able to do that in Iraq, because other countries will not be willing to come forward.

DFID has to be much more forthcoming with the House on issues relating to reconstruction. The Intelligence and Security Committee will consider who said what to whom in its assessment on weapons of mass destruction, and the Foreign Affairs Committee will review the matter. The International Development Committee will follow very closely the reconstruction of Iraq.

I make a gentle final point. The International Development Committee has not heard from the previous Secretary of State since before the outbreak of war. We invited the new Secretary of State to give evidence, and 10 June was fixed as a date. She says that she will be in Iraq then—that is understandable—but no new date has been set. I would have thought that the Secretary of State, who is a Minister of the Crown with responsibilities, would not need to go to Iraq to discover the Whitehall line to take or what DFID is doing in that country, but would want to take the earliest possible opportunity to tell the Select Committee, which scrutinises her Department, exactly what DFID has been doing and intends to do about the reconstruction of Iraq.

The Secretary of State's predecessor was extremely forthcoming about Afghanistan because, I suspect, it was considered to be a good news story. The reticence of DFID Ministers in telling the House what is happening in Iraq creates a suspicion that it is a bad news story. The speedier Ministers are to give a full account, the quicker they will rebut that concern.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker:

Order. May I encourage all Members to emulate the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) and keep their comments brief?

9.56 am
Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Mr. Gardiner) on securing this timely debate and on the excellence of his contribution. We cannot debate the role of the United Nations in Iraq in the future or the present without reflecting on what has happened in the recent past. We were told that military action was necessary in order to uphold the authority of the UN. I believe that that authority has been undermined by the challenge by the United States to the UN weapons inspectors. We were told that doing nothing was not an option, but we were doing plenty. For seven years, international inspectors were destroying weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and punitive sanctions made it impossible that such weapons could be reinstated in a way that would make them effective, particularly within 45 minutes.

Therefore, the very first thing that we should do in respect of the UN's role in Iraq is apologise to Kofi Annan, Hans Blix and Dr. el-Baradei for the way in which the international community, particularly the coalition, undermined their work and challenged their authority. It is now time to make up for that. We must take very seriously the points that were made by my hon. Friend about the unique ability of the UN to be the key body in the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Iraq. I also believe that, to end the controversy over weapons of mass destruction, we must most urgently return the UN weapons inspectors to Iraq so that they can fulfil the mandate that they were given in resolution 1441.

If the war had been authorised by the UN as a result of a final and negative report by the UN inspectors, perhaps it would have been conducted differently. However, it is certain that the post-conflict situation would have been handled very differently indeed. For instance, there might have been a much smoother transition. There is no doubt that the coalition forces have failed to restore vital water and electricity supplies and hospital services. There has been an extraordinary level of unpreparedness, which I find quite unbelievable, given our experience in the Balkans and, more recently, Afghanistan. Lessons ought to have been learned.

Potentially, post-conflict Iraq should have been much easier to deal with than Afghanistan, where there was civil war for 24 years rather than 24 days. Yet already there are reports of grave disorder and a huge degree of violence was described graphically by my hon. Friend. As he said, guns are on open sale and the suggestion has been made that everyone has the right to carry a gun. I can testify to what he said. What could be more ludicrous in a post-conflict situation in which the priority should be to achieve security for the civilian population than not disarming those who carry guns and prohibiting the further sale of guns to the civilian population? That is a matter of extreme urgency. Such a situation would not conceivably be allowed to pertain if the United Nations had been in charge in Iraq.

Furthermore, I refer to the attempts to establish an interim Iraqi Authority in parallel with what was done in Afghanistan. I accept that I have made many criticisms about that, but it is the core of the reconstruction process and an important procedure was undertaken. All the attempts to make progress in Iraq have floundered completely. There have been many false starts. People with no credibility were appointed. Then they were sacked. Another conference takes place; so does another meeting, at which another suggestion is made. Over and again, we see clearly that people have no experience, no expertise and are not capable of bringing forward proposals. Let us hope that the new appointments will bring about a more secure and sound path towards involving the Iraqis.

There will be no legitimacy if the Iraqi people are not quickly brought into the reconstruction and rehabilitation project. It is not the role of the occupying forces to undertake such work. They are not equipped to do so; they do not have a mandate. Moreover, they do not have the experience. It is not just a matter of humanitarian relief. The whole basis of reconstruction is political as well as physical, and that is something that only the United Nations can deliver. There must be a clear mandate as there was in Afghanistan when the Bonn agreement set out a process of stages at six-month intervals in a full two-year programme to arrive at democratic elections. That may not have been possible in Afghanistan, where they were great difficulties, but at least we knew where—to use current terminology—the road map would take us.

UN resolution 1483 is mainly an endorsement of the status quo. It is to be reviewed in 12 months. There seems to be an acceptance that the military forces will run the show for at least a year. That is completely unacceptable. I endorse strongly the paper that was prepared by Save the Children, especially its conclusions and recommendations. I am sure that most hon. Members here will have read it. I shall not rehearse what the paper said because I want to be brief, but the key to reconstruction is—and must be—international humanitarian law and human rights law. Only the United Nations can be the embodiment of international laws and can conceivably provide the basis for reconstruction and relief.

The United Nations needs a clearly defined role, which was one of the arguments put forward in the Save the Children paper. Resolution 1483 is not sufficient; it does not expand the role of the United Nations. It merely endorses the action of the coalition forces. As Save the Children said, there need to be three pillars, not only the humanitarian pillar that was well rehearsed by my hon. Friend, but a second pillar, which is democratisation, institution building, transitional government, electoral assistance and human rights monitoring. Such tasks can be undertaken by the United Nations, and those roles must be fleshed out. Authority to do that must be given. The work must begin because the process is enormously complex. Because of the lack of democracy and the brutal dictatorship, it is obvious that people are not ready to vote and that there is no system to allow that to happen. The work has to begin urgently. The third pillar is civilian security sector reform. Again, that cannot be the job of the coalition forces. Indeed, the United Nations has demonstrated in other countries, albeit imperfectly, how to undertake such work.

There must be a meaningful political process to ensure Iraqi self-determination—that is the key to reconstructing that country. If we compare Iraq and Afghanistan, we find an enormous difference. Historically, the Iraqi population has been well educated, and the country has many professionals. It also has a complete, modern infrastructure. All those factors provide a basis on which it should be possible to begin swift and effective reconstruction.

I want to refer particularly to the position of women. In any post-conflict situation, women suffer most and are most neglected in terms of planning for the future. It is common for men who return home from the war front to inflict violence on them, and that is now happening in Iraq. It was recently reported that Yarmouk hospital in Baghdad had had 300 women rape victims. In the streets, women and children are being kidnapped, and women and young girls cannot walk alone. As people will know, there was never a dress code in Iraq, but female students are now banned from university in Basra unless they wear the hijab. A new kind of repression is emerging. Previously, for all the brutal dictatorship, Iraq was at least a secular society, which was to the benefit of women. Now, however, many threats are being made against women. The coalition forces are not dealing with the issue and are ill equipped to do so, but it must be addressed urgently.

Despite the recent disadvantages that the women in Iraq have suffered, they still make up 34 per cent. of university and polytechnic teachers, and 38 per cent. of doctors. They have had equal pay and equal opportunities in the professions, they have been able to drive and, as I said, they have had no dress code. Nasreen Sideek, the Minister for reconstruction and development in the Kurdistan regional government, recently addressed a women's conference in the United States, saying: "There are 3 women members in the regional cabinet—women are professors and senior administrators". Women also make up more than 60 per cent. of the staff and half the engineers in her ministry. That is very unusual for a middle-eastern society. If we—the international community—ignore the advances that had been made in the status of Iraqi women, which they have begun to lose in recent years, we shall do a terrible disservice to more than half Iraq's population.

There are parallels with Afghanistan, where pressure from the international community forced the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan to take the issue on board, and there is now gender mainstreaming. There are huge deficiencies, but the authorities have taken on board the message that they must take care of women, and great efforts are being made to involve them. They are constantly being drawn into the constitutional and legal processes, in particular, because of pressure from the international community and the United Nations.

I pay tribute to the Government, because Ministers have played a key role in getting women involved in Afghanistan, and we are doing the same in Iraq. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Women and other Ministers have been meeting Iraqi women's organisations in this country and talking with women in Iraq. We hope that there will be a women's conference in Iraq—the Government will take a lead role in organising it—so that women there can have an input.

There is so much that I want to say, but I shall draw my remarks to a close. For many reasons that I am sure hon. Members will elucidate, the United Nations needs to play a much more central role, as we were told it would. We were told that there was going to be a UN trust fund for the oil revenues, but that is not going to happen. A central bank will take the oil revenues controlled by the coalition. There are many questions on which I hope the Minister will be able to elucidate. Only the UN has the impartiality, the transparency and the respect to play the central, critical role that is required in the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Iraq.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker:

Order. Again, I exhort hon. Members to be brief. If every speech takes 15 minutes, we shall get very few hon. Members in.

10.10 am
Bob Spink (Castle Point)

Within the overall Iraq administrative solution, the Kurds should have an autonomous state with self-government in their own region in a federal Iraq that will, I hope, have a single sovereign identity.

The Kurds have shown great enterprise under the no-fly zone during the past decade. As a people, they are capable and energetic. They have created a strong Parliament with good representation for women, as the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) eloquently said. The Kurds have shown that they respect human rights. They understand how democracy must develop and they have substantially rebuilt their community under the woman Minister for reconstruction and development—a great heroine—about whom we have just heard. Given the right administrative structures and support, they will achieve remarkable results in the north of Iraq and lead the middle east in developing good governance for the entire region. We must, however, be vigilant in resisting any improper Turkish influence in that area of northern Iraq.

To get it right in future, we must learn from the past. UN resolution 986—the oil-for-food programme—was good in parts. It delivered well on education in certain parts of the region, especially under the no-fly zone. In some areas, however, there were problems. I am not unreservedly critical of it; it was good so far as it went, but there are problems. Billions of dollars available under that fund have not yet flown through. One must ask the following questions: where is that money, is the money earning interest, to whom does that interest belong, and when will the money be released for use?" More than four years ago a hospital was approved for Irbil. People are ready to build it; they need it, but the money has not been released to enable them to start the construction. The questions must be addressed. The billions that are tied up must be released.

In some areas, only 30 per cent. of the money that should have been available has been made available for the use for which it was and should have been directed. The issues must be dealt with. There are problems with bureaucracy in the UN. It is possible that there is corruption—that needs carefully to be examined. There is also the issue of the political will to release the money for the purpose for which it should be used.

A number of questions need to be asked. First, will all the 986 money that has not been used be freed up for its original, intended purpose? Secondly, what interest have the billions of dollars earned and should that money also go to the original intended recipients for use in rebuilding the different regions of Iraq? Thirdly, when will the money be released? Fourthly, can the cut of the money that the UN takes for its bureaucracy be reduced from the extraordinary—some have said extortionate—levels it creams off the top? Can that level be reduced to a more reasonable, defendable level in future? Can there be an inquiry into that to ensure a speedy, proper solution? I do not criticise resolution 986; it has delivered tremendously well, and I want it to do even better. It is in that spirit that I make my comments. I encourage the Minister and the international community to answer these points. so as to ensure that Iraq is rebuilt and that its people get the help that they need and deserve.

10.14 am
Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie)

Today, the newspapers are full once again of reports about weapons of mass destruction. Weapons of mass destruction were said to be the reason for going to war, but debates on the subject beforehand distorted the situation appallingly in that we were unable to say what we should do after we had won the war. The danger of our continuing obsession with such weapons is that we are failing properly to consider reconstruction in Iraq. The weapons are important, but they are not the most important factor. More important is what we are debating today, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Mr. Gardiner) on securing this debate.

We may believe that weapons of mass destruction are more important than other key issues, but that was not why the Americans went to war—and they are now saying so. Wolfowitz has said that the weapons may have been the "bureaucratic" reason, on which everybody agreed, but that it was not why the Americans went to war. They went to war at least for regime change. Wolfowitz said in Vanity Fair that the huge significance of capturing Iraq was the ability to move troops out of Saudi Arabia. No one can tell me that he came across that answer only when the war was over. No, we have to consider the situation as it is.

We have ended up in the position that we were headed for all along, which is to be the occupying power, and we shall probably be there for many years. The hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) quoted Senator Biden; he could have finished the quote, which said that the American population think that "Johnny and Jane" will be coming home next week. The Americans must be let in on the story, as must we. It is most likely that our forces, in their thousands, will be there for years. We must work on that basis.

One of the things that we did wrong before the war was to take no notice of what the Americans were saying and doing. We seemed willing to follow them everywhere, but without believing what they were saying. Before the war, they set up the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance. I will not skate over the fact that the office was set up publicly, but questions were asked in the Senate about what was being set up under the control of General Garner. We heard that the relief and reconstruction effort would be conducted by the Pentagon. That is still the situation, but it is breaking the first rule of humanitarian effort, which is that those giving help should not be associated with the combatants. Nothing could be clearer than that. If people are receiving assistance from those who bombed them and who are occupying their country, that entirely alters the relationship. That is why those of us in this Chamber believe, without exception, that Iraq's reconstruction should come under the control of the United Nations as rapidly as possible.

I pay tribute to Save the Children and Amnesty International for the documents that they have produced. It is essential that the factors listed by Save the Children—human rights monitoring, transitional governance, technical assistance for post-conflict recovery and the management of oil revenues and reconstruction contracts—should come under the United Nations; and Amnesty International points out the huge need for the UN to be involved in setting up a new Iraqi criminal justice system. Crucially, the UN can bring a legitimacy and transparency that we and the Americans cannot, because of doubts about our motives.

Christian Aid correctly believes that the UN and its specialised agencies have been sidelined, which should have been a sticking point for the Government. We should have said that we would not be party to a situation in which, as an army of occupation, we could not uphold the UN to the fullest extent. That ought to have been our doctrine of belief. I hope that we can reach a situation in which, instead of using words in relation to the UN such as "vital role", we can say openly and clearly that there is no feasible chance for the successful recovery of Iraq unless the UN is put in control of the reconstruction phase.

10.20 am
Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion)

Due to the pressure of time, my congratulations and welcome will have to be taken as read. I say in passing only that I am sorry that the Minister is not in the Cabinet. Responsibility for these debates should be with a Member who is accountable to the Commons.

The hon. Member for Brent, North (Mr. Gardiner) gave a succinct introduction to the debate; it was a good summary of where we stand. He posed two questions that followed from the G8 communiqué in Evian, but he did not pose the questions that I want answered. What do the people of Iraq want out of the reconstruction efforts? What sort of a society do they dream of, deserve and desire? Which Department is best prepared to help them to achieve that? There is no question of which Department is the most experienced and has the best way of working in this regard. It is the Department represented in this Chamber by the Minister. I share with all Members who have spoken a frustration that the Department for International Development has been unable to get down to the ground, as it is best placed to work with the UN. The military cannot work with the UN in that way, but DFID can.

Over the next six to 12 months, I see two main priorities, which are slightly different from the ones identified by the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Tony Worthington). The first priority is law and order and human rights, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Brent, North, and the second is weapons of mass destruction. We must recognise that those were our priorities before going to war. If our priorities before war were human rights, regime change and weapons of mass destruction, our priorities post-conflict must be to continue to pursue those objectives until they are brought to a successful conclusion, which should be within six to 12 months.

The next question is how to achieve a successful conclusion. To paraphrase Paul Robeson, in the next short period in Iraq we need to consider peace, justice and bread. Those are the three things that must be achieved in that country. We have already talked about the bread issue because it relates to the oil-for-food programme. The hon. Member for Brent, North referred to a particular problem with that, which I shall reinforce. The programme comes to an end in six months' time, but the Security Council resolution that authorises the occupying forces in Iraq will not be reviewed for 12 months. There will therefore be a six-month period during which we do not know who will be responsible for food aid. I should like the Minister to respond to that.

I do not know how the programme will be funded, and, as hon. Members have said, we do not know about trust funds and we are not clear about what happens to the proceeds of oil going into Iraq. As the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) said, we do not know what has happened to previous oil revenues either.

The final problem with delivering aid is that the US still believes in tied aid. This country—DFID, in particular—has moved away from tied aid, but we are now working with a main agency that strongly believes in that. That will affect not only the companies that get the contracts—we have already heard about that—but the way in which Iraq is rebuilt. We have not begun to consider how a massive injection of a particular sort of tied aid will affect the country, or whether the Iraqi people will respond favourably to that way of working.

The issue of justice has been mentioned so I shall concentrate on one related objective that I should like to see achieved. The human rights provisions under new resolution 1483 are somewhat weak. We talk about accountability for crimes and atrocities, but we do not say how that can be achieved. The International Criminal Court presents a magnificent opportunity to ensure that atrocities and crimes in Iraq are examined, and the role of the UN in international relations and justice is strengthened, but we are not going to go down that route. I am certain of that because the US will not allow us to go down that route. So what can we do? One suggestion from Amnesty that bears a great deal of scrutiny is the possibility of a UN commission to consider the new criminal justice system for Iraq and to look into crimes in that country. We must put the UN at the centre of the future justice system in Iraq. If we do not do that and rely on the Guantanamo bay approach, we will once again take away from the people of Iraq their desires and hopes.

My final point concerns achieving peace in Iraq. We have already heard about the militarised society there and the difficulties of achieving even a day-to-day peace. It is certainly the case that the UN would be better placed to provide that than the previous combatants. We also have to examine the way that we have allowed the desecration not only of the lives and homes of people in Iraq but of their very culture. We have not protected them from that. We have also lost documents that may have been useful in bringing prosecutions.

I return to weapons of mass destruction. What is the point of concrete barriers around the House of Commons if we honestly believe that there are weapons of mass destruction free and available in Iraq, able to be used in 45 minutes, which are not yet found, in a country that we were told before the war was a nest of international terrorism? What is the priority: concrete barriers outside this place or finding weapons in Iraq? That is the question—unless, of course, a great deceit has been played on Members of Parliament and the British public. I want the UN inspectorate to go in now under the old, existing mandates, along with the International Atomic Energy Agency, and look again for weapons of mass destruction so that we can be absolutely sure about their existence.

Plaid Cymru opposed the war completely and utterly. We remain completely and utterly sure that we were right in opposing the war, but, as Members of Parliament, we will work with the Department for International Development in the same way that the previous Secretary of State tried to work with all parties. We hope that that opportunity will be there in future, because we want to ensure that the House continues to focus on the reconstruction of Iraq. I congratulate the hon. Member for Brent, North on securing the debate and ensuring that we had this opportunity.

10.27 am
Hugh Bayley (City of York)

The test of Britain's and. more important, America's military might and of our resolve to confront tyranny and human rights abuse was over much more quickly than many of us thought possible. The test of our humanitarian intent—of whether the Iraqi people will benefit from our intervention in their country—has only just begun. We have discovered that restoring law and order in a country that has not enjoyed the basic democratic rights that we take for granted, and, therefore, the responsibilities that come with those democratic rights, is not as simple as driving a fascist dictator out of power.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Mr. Gardiner) said, without law and order, the basic job of post-war reconstruction for the humanitarian agencies is impossible. UNICEF reported a couple of weeks ago that repairs to the Rustumiya water treatment plant were destroyed as soon as they were carried out. The new equipment installed was stolen by armed gangs.

We shall also discover that building democracy, rights for women and human rights are difficult. That is more difficult, in fact, than the economic redevelopment of the country because Iraq has the benefit that Afghanistan does not have, of oil. It is essential that we achieve these aims, because they are the only ways of guaranteeing that the economic benefits that come from Iraq's oil go to aid the poor in Iraq.

In the short term, humanitarian needs and the country's reconstruction and development will have to be funded by aid. I and other members of the International Development Committee were in New York on 28 March when the UN launched its appeal for Iraq. It is its largest ever appeal: an appeal for $2.2 billion. If it raises that much, it will account for about 70 per cent. of all the funds raised this year by the UN to deal with famine in Africa, reconstruction in the Balkans and all its other responsibilities. It is an enormous sum.

The UN must take the lead, because it is the only body with the capacity to deliver food aid in the quantities that are required and to guide the reconstruction of Iraq. In New York. we were told that the UN already had 3,000 Iraqi nationals on its books as employees in Iraq. Other agencies do not. A UN lead is also essential because countries that did not support military action will not work with the occupying powers. Many of those will, however, work with the UN on reconstruction.

The importance of the UN's role is emphasised by the figures. From the total of $1,284 million given so far in humanitarian aid, $978 million—more than three quarters of that total—has been channelled through the UN. I say to those countries that have argued so strongly for a UN lead, especially those that opposed military action, that they should provide the UN with the resources to do its job, now that the UN Security Council has agreed a resolution giving it a prominent role in the reconstruction of Iraq.

I went to the UN website yesterday, on which the contributions to the UN appeal from various countries were shown as follows: the US has contributed $472 million; the UK $117 million; Japan $88 million; and Australia $45 million, but Germany has contributed only $10 million. France has contributed only $5 million, which is less than the sums contributed by India and Korea. If those countries want the UN to deliver, they must provide the resources to enable it to do so.

I wanted to say much more about the economics of redevelopment, but time is against me. I am delighted to hear the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) supporting the Labour Government's decision to untie aid. That must happen across the piece, because the $1.2 billion that has already been contributed will buy more in terms of reconstruction if contracts are let to whichever country can do the job for the lowest price. Aid will be more effective if it is untied.

In the longer term, Iraq's oil revenues will make a big contribution to post-war reconstruction. It is not a poor country. When Saddam seized power, Iraq's per capita income was higher than many countries in Europe. It is now one of the poorest countries in the world. When its economy is rebuilt it will have resources for its own development.

On debt relief, I am glad that debt interest and capital repayments have been frozen in the short term while the Paris Club decides what to do with Iraq's debts. However, I want the Government to ensure that the terms for debt relief applied to Iraq are the same as those applied to other countries. First, they should be conditional on Iraq's ability to repay. Secondly, if debt is forgiven, as it were, the proceeds should be used on development by the Iraqi Government to assist poor people. A poverty reduction strategy would need to be agreed by a new Iraqi Government.

We took action in Iraq as part of our post-11 September response to terrorism. At the start of my speech, I said that the test of whether we are on the side of the Iraqi people will be our humanitarian response to their needs now. If we rise to that challenge we will win friends in the middle east, but if we do not we will fuel the resentment in the region that creates the conditions for terrorism.

10.34 am
Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Brent, North (Mr. Gardiner) on securing the debate and on an excellent speech. I welcome the Minister back to international development, although I suspect that he will have to write long letters to everyone after the debate to answer the points that they have made.

The title of the debate should really have been: "Role? What Role for the United Nations in Iraq?" Most Members have expressed their frustration that there is not such a role. The Prime Minister promised a vital role for the UN in the aftermath of war and instead we have resolution 1483, which gives the USA and the UK authority and huge scope for the reconstruction and development of Iraq. That goes way beyond any rights of occupying powers under the Geneva convention, as the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Tony Worthington) said.

There is a sort of justice, however. Let the countries who destroyed Iraq have the problem of rebuilding it. However, as the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) pointed out over and over again, the UN is the only body that is seen to be fair. The accusation stands that the US, and its faithful little friend the UK, will use Iraqi money from Iraqi oil revenues to repair the damage that they have done, so that they can have a permanent and secure base in the middle east, as the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie pointed out. That is a nice thought.

A couple of weeks ago, the late-lamented right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short) said that "the UN mandate, which is necessary to bring into being a legitimate Iraqi Government, is not being supported by the UK Government."—[Official Report, 12 May 2003; Vol. 405, c. 36.] I share her angst. The Government have misled us time and time again. In March, the Prime Minister, referring to oil, told an MTV audience: "We don't touch it, and the US doesn't touch it." Really? In truth, control of the oil revenues has been seized by the USA and the UK, reducing the UN role to one seat on an international advisory and monitoring board. Think about the oil revenues and the oil-for-food programme in six months' time. The hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) made the point about the money that is in the account already—we do not know what is happening to it. All of that money presumably goes into the development fund, which is under the control of the coalition until the interim authority is formed. That is very worrying.

Can the Minister explain the proposal from the occupying powers that Iraq's oil revenues should be used as collateral for extended borrowing? Does the UN approve of that? An important point was also made by the hon. Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley), who asked what was going to happen to Iraq's debt.

What of the interim authority—the Iraqi Government in preparation? It was promised that that would follow soon after the end of the conflict when Iraq's immediate security and humanitarian needs had been met. Again, the UN was to play a vital role. In reality, the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, under the coalition, is still in charge, distributing largesse in the form of contracts to American companies, without any input from the UN.

We were also led to believe certain things about aid. On 18 March, the Prime Minister said: "The UN should have a key role in administering the delivery of humanitarian aid." The reality has been somewhat different. Again, it is the US and the UK. A UN special co-ordinator is there somewhere to assist UN agencies and non-governmental organisations to co-ordinate with one another, but not with the occupying powers.

I recently asked a parliamentary question to ascertain when a full survey of child malnutrition would be undertaken in Iraq. We all know the situation of the children in Iraq. The answer from the Department on Tuesday 3 June was: "A full and detailed nutritional survey is not immediately feasible because security conditions in many parts of Iraq are preventing humanitarian agencies' access to households." Security conditions are the nub of the matter. Security, security, security. Where is it? Without it there is no victory. It is six weeks after the war. There are 250,000 troops, the coalition is in control and the population is still waiting for proper water supplies, food and medical care. What is stopping these things? The answer is lack of security. The aid agencies cannot operate. Iraq is awash with arms, as we have heard from many Members. Every household and shop has guns. Even doctors in the hospitals are carrying guns to defend themselves. There is no police force yet, and, as the hon. Member for Brent, North said, the occupying powers have discharged all the soldiers of the Iraqi army. How will it help security to have tens of thousands of unpaid soldiers roaming around under no one's command?

Where, oh where is the UN? The Americans are not popular. Yes, the Iraqis are glad to see the back of Saddam Hussein—are not we all?—but the plinth from which his statue toppled in that famous television footage now bears the slogan, "All Donne—Now Go Home". A Kirkuk policeman is quoted as saying that the Americans seem to be completely lost because they are all military and do not understand the politics of the place. The Americans do not do peacekeeping—we all know that. When will the UN be asked to take control? As discussed by the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas), how long will it take to retrain the civilian police force and the judiciary so that they can take on justice in Iraq?

Before I leave the subject of security, where are the weapons of mass destruction? There are many disaffected, angry Ba'ath party members still in Iraq. How long will it be before someone finds the weapons of mass destruction and uses them, if they are there? Why are the Government not pressing for the return of the UN inspectors, not only to ensure that if any weapons are found the USA and the UK will not be accused of planting them, but for the security of Iraq itself? If weapons of mass destruction exist, why were British troops sent into battle at the beginning of action without any protective clothing for chemical or biological weapons?

I repeat that without security Iraq is nothing. Today is Iraq in Westminster day. We lucky few have started the debate, and there are those still abed—I shall not continue the quota: on, but it could be very apt. The Liberal Democrats will call for a proper inquiry into whether the House was misled by the Prime Minister on the reasons for waging war, but let us also call for a rebirth and strengthening of the UN, for that body to be given a truly vital role in Iraq and, as mentioned by the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford, an apology for the way in which it has been undermined. It may not be a perfect organisation, but it is the best that we have, and the Iraqi people need the UN.

10.42 am
Mrs. Caroline Spelman (Meriden)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Brent, North (Mr. Gardiner) for securing this debate. There has been a dearth of debate on Iraq, particularly in the post-conflict period. Since Baghdad fell, we have been short of opportunities to discuss the matter. I believe that we are all glad to welcome the Minister back to the Department for International Development, but I am sure that the frustration of Members is tangible to him. He should be exonerated from the comments and criticisms that I am about to make because he was not in the Department during the period in question, but I have to ask why the contingency planning was so poor.

As the former Secretary of State admitted in an interview on the "Politics Show" this past weekend, "the preparations for post conflict were poor, and we've got the chaos and suffering that we've got now." She went on to say that the advice that she was giving about the need "to keep order, to keep basic humanitarian services running" was, to quote her, "all being ignored".

Those extremely serious allegations need further scrutiny. We cannot expect the Minister in a Westminster Hall debate of an hour and a half to give adequate answers to all the questions that have been asked, but there must be a thorough post mortem on why the contingency planning for the war was so poor.

There is no excuse for the terrible sense of déjà vu that we are experiencing. The lessons from Afghanistan, which was a recent conflict, were not applied. The record in Hansard shows that in November and December last year the Secretary of State was deluged with questions, in which she was asked what contingency plans her Department was making for a possible conflict in Iraq. The record bears me out that a one-word answer of "None" was given. In January, when asked what discussions were taking place with the Governments of surrounding countries about dealing with the impact of the conflict, the answer that came back was, "None."

I do not exonerate the former Secretary of State from blame. It is unfortunate that she is not here this morning, participating in the debate. While criticising the poor planning, she should also be willing to answer some criticisms about her role in the matter. I feel strongly about such issues. There is a clear need to prioritise quickly. As other hon. Members have said, the key lesson is security, security, security. That should have been learned from Afghanistan and should have come as no surprise. The lack of security hits the vulnerable in Iraq most severely. As the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) said, it is women who suffer the most in the post-conflict scenario. It was recently reported that 13 schoolchildren were abducted from school in central Baghdad. It is not safe to get on with ordinary life. That is the reality of the situation, so we can hardly say that we have fulfilled our role in accordance with the Geneva convention as an occupying force restoring and maintaining law and order. That is a clear failing.

Children are the other vulnerable group. I was appalled to learn that there is no possibility of a child nutrition survey. I saw shepherd boys lying in hospital in Kuwait, who had been injured in the conflict. A 14-year-old weighed only four and a half stone as a result of chronic malnutrition. There is an urgent need to help the most vulnerable, but that cannot be done without security.

I join other hon. Members in chiding the Government on their contingency planning for phase 4. Clearly, it has failed. Phase 4 envisaged taking on board the Iraqi army and police, purging and vetting the Ba'athist elements and recycling them to help keep the peace in their own country. We were told that that did not work out because people removed their uniforms and went home with their automatic weaponry, which aggravated the security situation. Given the lessons learned in Afghanistan, will the Minister explain why there was no back-up plan for phase 4? The advantage about Iraq was that at least there was an army and a police force, and some possibility of recycling them.

What is the thinking about inter-ethnic tension? Kirkuk has become a no-go area for the non-governmental organisations to work in because the returning Kurds are at loggerheads with the Arabs. The problem is spreading to Mosul. The situation is entirely predictable. It could have been envisaged in any contingency plan that was made last year. How does the coalition intend to deal with a situation that is only likely to become worse? I flag that up now to try to prevent a disaster from happening.

After decades of distorted priorities under Saddam Hussein and the impact of sanctions, it is no surprise that the utilities are in such a bad state. It is a good deal worse than a sticking plaster job. The fact that there were no spares for the power stations and water supply plants has produced a chronic situation. It could all have been envisaged in the contingency planning. I have received calls from people who work in the utilities here and who want to help to restore the utilities there. Why were such matters not factored into contingency planning? Why were experts who were willing to help with the problem not lined up in advance? I reiterate that we need a proper post mortem to find out why the Government's contingency planning for Iraq was so weak.

What about the relationship with the United Nations? Resolution 1483 gives America and Britain legal cover to occupy and govern Iraq, but it has been said by the leaders of our countries that the UN will have a "vital" role to play. However, so far it seems to be very much the junior partner. The group whose role is most consistently eroded seems to be the Iraqi people. On 2 April, the Prime Minister said: "Iraq should not be run either by the coalition or by the UN but should be run by the Iraqis."—[Official Report, 2 April 2003; Vol. 402, c. 911.] Is that still the case? Yesterday, the Prime Minister's envoy to Iraq, John Sawers, told The Times that the Iraqis were not ready for democracy and that the coalition would appoint a political committee of 25 to 30 Iraqis. What role do the Government expect the Iraqi people, and women in particular, to play in running their own country?

None of my remarks is intended to denigrate the hard work and accomplishments of our armed forces—we are all proud of what they have achieved in Iraq. The information that I have received from recently returned aid workers is that the Iraqi people are, contrary to much of what we hear in the media, delighted to be rid of Saddam Hussein and glad to have British forces there trying to restore order amid the anarchy. Of course, they would like the current phase to end, and they would like to see a plan setting out the way forward. However, that should not detract from the role that our armed forces played in liberating the country from the repression that it suffered for far too long. The coalition's victory over Saddam was swift and impressive, and our forces did Britain proud in their successful prosecution of the campaign. Our responsibility is to ensure that we do not ruin the peace.

10.50 am
The Minister of State, Department for International Development (Hilary Benn)

First, I join other hon. Members in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Mr. Gardiner) on securing the debate and on setting out so clearly what must be done.

As this is my first contribution to a debate since taking up my post at the Department for International Development, I want to place on record the appreciation that I am sure all hon. Members feel for the enormous contribution that my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short) made in setting up DFID and leading it with passion and distinction for six years. The Department's reputation in this House and in the wider world owes a great deal to her efforts, which we much appreciate.

The debate has made clear the sheer scale of the challenge that Iraqis face in rebuilding their country, which has suffered so much in the past 25 years. It is evident from hon. Members' contributions that we are talking about not only the impact of the recent war but about trying to overcome an entire generation of destruction in all its forms—physical, social and political. That makes it all the more important for members of the international community—the UN, the coalition and others—to work together to carry out the task before us.

Hon. Members have rightly spoken about the great strengths on which Iraq can draw—its proud history, its rich natural resources, its highly educated and skilled people, its history of public administration and public service, and its potentially vibrant civil society, to which the experience of Saddam's regime laid waste. Given that potential, it is an indictment of that generation of nightmare that so many people now live in poverty. As was said a moment ago, Iraq was about as wealthy as Portugal a generation ago. Even before the recent conflict, however, 16 million Iraqis—about 60 per cent. of the population—depended on food handouts from the United Nations to survive.

In a moment, I shall come to the UN resolution and the process that flows from it. The UN's involvement in Iraq does not, however, begin with that resolution—it is very much part of what has happened in recent years and, indeed, in recent months. I want to place on record the appreciation that I am sure hon. Members feel for the role played by the UN and its agencies, together with the Red Cross and the Red Crescent, in responding to humanitarian needs in Iraq before the conflict and in managing relief operations subsequently. As my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North said in reporting on the views of NGOs in Iraq, it is a tribute to the effectiveness of the UN's work that there is currently no humanitarian crisis. Let us be honest, before the conflict started, some people, feared that there would be such a crisis.

The UN has now established a significant presence on the ground. It has five regional teams in Iraq, and agencies such as the World Food Programme, the World Health Organisation and UNICEF are carrying out vital humanitarian work. DFID has been working in a practical way t o help that process, predominantly through UN agencies.

I hear what the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) and others have said about the thirst for debate and information. I very much welcome the early opportunity to have this debate, in which the issues can be aired. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that Baroness Amos and I have written to all hon. Members to provide information about both the work that DFID is undertaking and our strategy. I know that— [Interruption.] If hon. Members are saying that they have not received the letters, I shall check, because they are certainly on their way. The very first thing that Baroness Amos and I did was to recognise the need for more information for hon. Members, which is why we have written. I shall ensure that the letters arrive quickly.

On Baroness Amos's appearance before the Select Committee, her view is that it might be more helpful for the Committee to have that session once there has been a chance to look at things on the ground, although that dialogue through the usual channels will no doubt continue.

We have so far committed £115 million in support of the emergency efforts of the United Nations and other agencies. We have also set out on the DFID website and in the letter, which is on its way, all of the ways in which that money has been allocated to various UN agencies for food, emergency supplies, mine clearance, health and surgical kits, repairs to the electrical system, and so on. On the question that my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North raised about liaison with NGOs, the Coalition Provisional Authority is now holding weekly open-house meetings with the NGOs in Baghdad. My understanding is that that will begin to address the problem that he identified when he referred to previous experience.

Overall, the UK has to date sent to Iraq about 60 people—volunteer civil servants from a number of Departments. However, there has been some ill-founded criticism, so I make the point that DFID's help with reconstruction has been practical, although what matters is not whether that contribution has a flag on it that says "UK" or "DFID", but whether the help is delivered to where it needs to be delivered at the right time. It is sensible to work as much as possible through UN agencies that are already there, and hon. Members know that that is our policy.

Having said all that, I remind Members that the situation in Iraq is undoubtedly difficult, albeit improving. We must acknowledge the scale of the task that lies ahead, because trying to overcome the generation of disaster is an enormous undertaking. I agree with every Member who has said that security is the key—it is, and we have all seen the problems, especially in Baghdad. Reference has been made to the Iraqi police, but one of the difficulties in a society such as Iraq's that was controlled by sheer fear is that when that fear is lifted, many things happen. In that sense, the lessons to be learned are different from those in relation to other examples about which Members have spoken. The truth is that each nation, each history and each set of political circumstances is absolutely unique. The challenge in Iraq is large because of the political legacy.

As Members are aware, the coalition is now undertaking joint patrols in Baghdad with police—7,000 policemen have reported back to work. However, I accept the challenge that Members have set out. The real test in the end will be whether the people in Baghdad and throughout the country feel secure. With security, the other work of restoring the country can begin. I can report that all 12 major public hospitals are now working in Baghdad, although sewerage remains a big problem, while in Basra the three main power stations are working and electricity has been restored to pre-conflict levels. Indeed, water supply is now better than it was before.

Resolution 1483 has been enormously significant: it has lifted economic sanctions against Iraq, which is a hugely important step that has not been mentioned so far in the debate, and will enable Iraq's oil revenues to be used to meet humanitarian, reconstruction and development needs.

On food, Iraq's public distribution system, which has been mentioned, resumed on 1 June for the first time since the war. I will check on the issue of security that was raised, but we expect the World Food Programme to continue to implement food distribution. The resolution also provides for the establishment of the development fund, which will be overseen by the advisory board, comprising the World Bank, the IMF and others. I accept the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley) about debt and about the need for an assessment by the World Bank and others, and for a donor conference so that we can look at longer-term needs.

In conclusion—

Mr. Deputy Speaker:

Order. The time is up. I thank all Members for co-operating and keeping their contributions short. I apologise for the fact that the hour and a half allowed under the temporary Standing Orders is not sufficient for a debate of such magnitude. I invite all Members not wishing to stay for the next debate to leave quietly.

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