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19 Mar 2003 : Column 944—continued

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park): I congratulate the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) on tabling this urgent question, and I pay tribute to the work that she has done on this issue over many weeks in the run-up to this crisis. In the light of this morning's somewhat cobbled together response, I am quite relieved that the Secretary of State is staying in her post for the next few weeks—even if she will be incarcerated in the Tower of London come July.

The humanitarian situation is going to be dire, and we demand to know, and should have known long before this, exactly what the Department's contingency plans are. I want to move the Minister on to post-conflict reconstruction. It seems to us that the USA already has very advanced plans, even to the extent of awarding contracts to American companies. What part is Britain playing in post-conflict reconstruction, and what British companies will play a part in it? Exactly how much money are the British Government going to spend on post-conflict humanitarian aid or reconstruction? Can we have an assurance that that money will not come out of DFID's budget, which is meant for the very poorest people in the world? Finally, can we also have an assurance that the oil revenues that we are told will be put in trust for the people of Iraq will not be used to repair the damage done by American bombers in the next few weeks?

Mr. O'Brien: I confirm that, as part of the UN resolutions, we want to make it very clear that every single penny of the oil money that has not been plundered by Saddam Hussein already should go to the people of Iraq. It is very clear that the discussions that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is having in New York and in Washington are in order to ensure that the resources are available to deal with the post-conflict situation, and that the oil money that will be put in trust for the people of Iraq will be deployed exclusively for their benefit. We want to ensure, and to be quite unequivocal, that that is our intention.

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On British companies, USAID has at this stage used primarily American resources to let a number of contracts to American companies. We have received reassurance from the US Administration that many of those companies will subcontract up to 50 per cent. of the work that they will do as part of the humanitarian response, and that will be available to other countries to bid for. USAID assured me that the country that it works with most effectively is Britain, and that the Department that it works with most effectively is DFID. So British companies currently operating with DFID and other Government Departments will be able to undertake, and to bid for, contracts through the American companies. We are very conscious of this issue, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will discuss the detail of how this will be done in Washington.

The hon. Lady asked exactly how much money will be spent, and she is rightly concerned about the idea that resources intended for the very poorest might be diverted elsewhere. It is our intention that that should not happen, and, as I have said there is provision in the contingency reserve. We want to protect the money that is already being applied for the very poorest, and to ensure that those resources are maintained and allocated properly. However, we also want to ensure that we deal with our responsibilities to the people of Iraq, and we will do so.

Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford): My hon. Friend will be aware of the consequences of the use of cluster bombs and depleted uranium weapons in the Gulf war. Nearly 2,000 Kuwaitis have been killed or injured since that war by exploding bombs, and there are many birth defects and cancers in Iraq. Ministers have failed to deny that such weapons will be used in the coming conflict. Assuming that they are used, what special arrangements will be made to deal with their humanitarian consequences?

Mr. O'Brien: I have seen in Afghanistan some of the damage that can be done by the weapons deployed in conflict situations. It is important that we support the good work being done by various NGOs in trying to ensure that there is a proper clean-up of the results of conflict. As my hon. Friend will know, the Ottawa agreement does not make the use of cluster bombs unlawful. At this stage, I cannot say what the intentions are in respect of those weapons. However, when it comes to targeting, we are determined that the coalition forces will do everything possible to ensure that they avoid civilian casualties, and to avoid creating circumstances that will cause civilian casualties in the aftermath of a conflict. We are very conscious of the matter, and we will seek to deal with it.

Tony Baldry (Banbury): I have two straightforward questions for the Minister, about food security and internally displaced people. It is estimated that, between now and the end of March, 460,000 tonnes of food aid will be needed in Iraq. Only a third of that amount is immediately available. How is the rest to be funded and delivered?

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On IDPs, practically no provision has yet been made to provide refuges for people internally displaced as a result of the conflict in Iraq. Who is getting a grip on providing and funding such refuges?

Mr. O'Brien: A lot of planning has been done on food security. We have talked to the various NGOs that may have to deal with some of the IDPs, and to the countries that may be affected as people try to move towards their borders. We have been seeking agreements with other countries about how they will respond to the refugees coming towards their borders. We have also been talking to the military, who will obviously come across IDPs very quickly. We have discussed how they will ensure that those people's safety is guaranteed and how they will ensure that IDPs get the humanitarian aid that they need as quickly as possible. There are plans in place, therefore, to deal with both the issues that the hon. Gentleman raised, but I shall ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to give him a more detailed response.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley): As my hon. Friend knows, thousands of Kurds died unnecessarily in 1991 because neighbouring countries shut their borders. That underlines the point made by the Chairman of the Select Committee on International Development, the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry). Turkey and Syria shut their borders, but Iran was the exception. That has been known for some time. I understand that my hon. Friend the Minister is standing in, so I shall not press him too hard on the matter, but I am sure that somebody will have had talks with the neighbouring countries by now. I am sure that the House is keen to know what the response has been.

Secondly, the Kurds are already moving out of the area, heading towards the mountains and the villages where their relatives are. The UN forces have gone, leaving the Kurds with the keys to the doors of the buildings where there are food supplies, blankets and tents. However, they have not left any way to transport those items. This is an urgent matter, and I hope that the Minister will look into it very soon.

Mr. O'Brien: Obviously, the situation in the north, where the Kurds are, is somewhat better than elsewhere in Iraq. There at least we can make some provision to deal with some of the humanitarian issues involved. We are in discussion with representatives of the Kurds in the north about how to go about that, and how best to ensure that they can deal with any refugees who come their way.

We do not anticipate that large numbers of people will seek to cross the Turkish border. I spoke to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad a couple of weeks ago, about the circumstances in relation to that country. At the moment, although they are not anxious to have large numbers of people cross their border, the Syrians are making some provision to assist the ones who may come in Syria's direction.

We anticipate that most people will head towards Iran. I have also talked to the Iranian Foreign Minister and others about how Iran will deal with that

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eventuality. The Iranians are working with us to minimise the problems that refugees who go towards Iran may face.

There is a lot of discussion going on, with Syria and Iran, and, obviously, with Kuwait. We are also talking to the people who are in control in the Kurdish area of northern Iraq.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham): The Minister will realise that his handling of the urgent question today is not inspiring confidence. His reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) on IDPs was not good. In the previous Gulf conflict, the western relief programme was hampered by the absence of UN High Commissioner for Refugees personnel. The UNHCR did not play its usual co-ordination role—which we are all concerned about this time—because its mandate did not cover IDPs. Will the Minister say whether that is still true, or will the UNCHR be able to play its full role in any relief programme, irrespective of the status of those people?

Mr. O'Brien: The International Committee of the Red Cross will obviously have an important role in the whole process, as will the UNHCR. Those organisations clearly have a responsibility, and there is no question but that they will accept it. Obviously, some of the organisations were reluctant to enter into discussions at too early a stage, as they needed to cover their international positions. However, we are now in a position to enter into detailed discussions with them. We have started preliminary discussions already. We will follow up on those, and ensure that these matters are dealt with.

The hon. Lady began her question with some rather curmudgeonly remarks, and I am sorry to disappoint her. However, we are trying to ensure that we deal with these matters seriously. If she wants to make points that are rather silly and pathetic, that is a matter for her.

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