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19 Mar 2003 : Column 941—continued

Iraq (Humanitarian Aid)

12.30 pm

Mrs. Caroline Spelman (Meriden) (urgent question): To ask the Secretary of State for International Development if she will make a statement in response to the Select Committee on International Development's report on humanitarian contingency planning for Iraq.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Mike O'Brien) rose—

Hon. Members: Where is she?

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) asked for an urgent question, which I have granted. I am not responsible for the identity of the Minister who comes to the Dispatch Box. [Interruption.] Order. He is a very good Minister.

Mr. O'Brien: I apologise on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development, who is doing her job in New York today discussing—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Mr. Fabricant, you get very excited at times. We are considering a serious matter. I have granted the urgent question and I can stop it if such behaviour continues in the Chamber. The hon. Member for Meriden asked for the urgent question and she is happy with the Minister.

Mr. O'Brien: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. As you say, the matter is serious and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development has asked me to reply to this important question about the way in which we tackle the crisis in Iraq.

The Government strongly welcome the Select Committee on International Development's fourth report, which was presented to the House a week ago. We will give a detailed response to its various recommendations in due course. However, one of the crucial matters that it raises is the way in which the Government would move forward in the immediate post-conflict situation to try to resolve some of the humanitarian issues, and especially whether we would seek a United Nations resolution—or, indeed, more than one—to take the process forward.

I confirm that we shall seek a further resolution to deal with the humanitarian issues. We shall try to transfer the oil-for-food programme to the United Nations Secretary-General to enable him to keep the process functioning and use UN facilities to do that. We will also seek a new UN resolution to provide authority for reconstruction and development work, and a proper mandate for any interim authority that is likely to operate in the territory of Iraq when Saddam Hussein is removed. We will also try to ensure the rapid delivery of humanitarian aid, to affirm Iraq's territorial integrity and to allow UN sanctions to be lifted, thus enabling food and other necessary items to arrive.

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We shall also enable an international reconstruction programme to facilitate the use of oil revenues for the benefit of the Iraqi people and to endorse a post-conflict administration in Iraq, which will lead to a representative Government who would uphold human rights and rule of law for all Iraqis.

Mrs. Spelman: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for granting this urgent question on a serious and pressing matter. We appreciate that the Secretary of State for International Development is on her way to the United Nations in New York, as the Foreign Secretary announced, to seek a fresh Security Council resolution. That was contained in the text of the motion that we debated yesterday. We wish her success. But we are surprised that the answers to our question are to be given by a Foreign Office Minister, given that the Select Committee report calls for an immediate statement from the Department for International Development. Given that the Under-Secretary for that Department is present, it appears to us that there has been some dispute about who should answer the question.

The Secretary of State issued a written statement last Thursday, but it fell far short of responding to the 23 recommendations and conclusions in the Select Committee report. As it says on page 2 of the report, in the first stages of any conflict it is the military forces that will have primary responsibility for the initial delivery of humanitarian assistance. Is the Minister aware, however, of the concern of the non-governmental organisations—some of which are already in Iraq and the surrounding countries, ready to help—about the blurring of responsibility between military action and humanitarian relief?

The report is highly critical of the lack of consultation with the NGOs; indeed, we understand that such consultation has commenced only in the last two weeks. What is being done to improve information sharing with NGOs and to co-ordinate the UK and US aid agencies? Who is co-ordinating work with the military? Is it the Department for International Development, the Ministry of Defence, USAID, or the US Department of Defence? We need to know who is co-ordinating this work.

It is reported that the oil-for-food programme, which has been providing 60 per cent. of the Iraqi population with food aid at a cost of $250 million a month, has been suspended. What assessment has the Department for International Development made of how to substitute food relief on such a large scale? In a written answer to the Chairman of the Select Committee on International Development, it was stated that DFID had no more contingency funds available for 2002–03, although the Secretary of State has said that the Chancellor has allocated an additional £10 million. We understand, however, that the Ministry of Defence has been granted an additional £50 million for humanitarian relief purposes. Does this mean that the Ministry of Defence will take the lead on the humanitarian side in the early stages?

What estimate have the Government made of the total sum that will be required to finance a meaningful post-war reconstruction of Iraq, and for how many years do they estimate that such a programme will

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continue? The International Development Committee concluded that it was as yet not convinced that there was, to use the Prime Minister's words,

We wholeheartedly agree with that conclusion. When will the Secretary of State herself make a statement to the House to prove us wrong?

Mr. O'Brien: May I first deal with why a Foreign Office Minister is dealing with this matter? I was in Washington last week, talking to USAID about precisely this issue, and discussing with the US Administration some of the terms of the resolutions that we will seek to put to the United Nations. It is currently envisaged that we will be putting at least two such resolutions to the UN. The first will deal with the immediate issues relating to the oil-for-food programme and humanitarian assistance. A further resolution will deal with some of the more complex issues relating to the humanitarian issues that will arise in the months to come. Both resolutions follow from the recommendations made in the report.

I hope that I have dealt at least to some extent with why I am answering rather than my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, although no doubt I have not done so to the hon. Lady's satisfaction.

The 23 recommendations are being examined, and a full and detailed response will be made in due course.

The non-governmental organisations want to ensure that they are fully apprised of the developing situation. Through DFID, we have been holding weekly meetings with the NGOs. One of their complaints is that they do not know all the details of precisely what will happen at various stages. There has of course been concern about the revealing of some military operations, but I think that we can now be much more open with the NGOs about what is likely to happen, and deal with many of the questions that they have been asking. I hope that the meetings will enable them to feel that they are receiving the information that they want.

The hon. Lady asked who was co-ordinating the aid with the military. A number of steps are being taken. DFID has two advisers on humanitarian issues, who have been posted with 1 Division and will work with the military. They are experts on not just human rights but humanitarian issues applying to the military. The military will be the first in there, and are responsible for ensuring that they operate in a proper humanitarian context. There is also a humanitarian expert from DFID with the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance—ORHA—the American organisation that expects to administer the post-conflict situation.

The key problem is that 60 per cent. of Iraqis depend on the oil-for-food programme because of the way in which Saddam Hussein has run the country. It is crucial for the programme to go on functioning. The UN resolution under discussion is intended to ensure that it does so, and we shall be transferring responsibilities for the administration of the system to the UN Secretary-General.

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As for resources, £100 million of bilateral humanitarian aid has been allocated since 1991. There is £10 million of new money for the contingency plans of the UN agencies. The Department has secured £70 million from the contingency reserve, and the military have a further £30 million for humanitarian and human rights purposes. The military will have responsibility at the beginning for ensuring the early delivery of humanitarian aid, which is why they have that £30 million. While the military operations are in progress they will also do humanitarian work, which will be followed up by the NGOs as security is established. The UN will then be brought in to ensure that the whole process is administered properly. There will, therefore, be proper and effective co-ordination.

It was clear from my discussions with USAID that—along with DFID, for which it has nothing but praise—it has a detailed humanitarian plan to ensure that the various possible post-conflict scenarios can be dealt with. The Committee was worried that there might have been no detailed planning, but according to what I see and have been able to establish from discussions between DFID and USAID, the planning has been done and the humanitarian effort will be conducted properly.

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