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19 Mar 2003 : Column 947—continued

Mr. Shaun Woodward (St. Helens, South): We have been told that Saddam Hussein has put in place a military plan to divide his country into quarters. There is no doubt that that will make it extremely difficult for people to move around inside Iraq. Given what my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) said about the movement of people to the borders, does my hon. Friend the Minister think that there is a really urgent need to revisit the negotiations with neighbouring states about the acceptance of refugees? Is there not an urgent need that food, medicine and shelter be provided for the people who arrive at those borders?

Mr. O'Brien: Substantial negotiations have already been held with each of the Governments involved about matters of food and shelter. My hon. Friend is right to say that Saddam Hussein's apparent proposals for deployment of his military forces may make it difficult for some refugees to flee. We do not know yet how he will try to manage that deployment, but we will certainly guarantee to talk to the adjoining countries to ensure that they are aware of the support that we can provide. We will also ensure that the UN agencies and the other

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NGOs are engaged, and we will do everything that we can to protect the humanitarian needs of all those who have to flee from any conflict.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): Some people are worried about what our troops might be doing when they go into the territories that the House is discussing but, as in the past, so in the future, they will be working to help the people who need their help. I am sure that the Minister will agree about that. Does he share my concern that Oxfam representatives, speaking for the NGOs, told the "Newsnight" programme the other evening that they would not seek finance from the UK or the US? Where will they get their finance? On Monday evening, I asked the Foreign Secretary about the fact that the $130 million appeal for UN humanitarian aid had realised only $30 million. Who has supplied that $30 million?

Mr. O'Brien: The NGOs will have to decide how they want to deal with any particular request for money. Some may feel that they want to make requests, and in those circumstances we will discuss such requests with them. Some may decide that they do not want to do so. There is nothing that we can do about that, but we hope that they will become engaged in the relief process.

On the availability of resources, DFID has made a call on its contingency reserve. We want to ensure that sufficient resources are available to enable humanitarian efforts to be carried out.

Chris McCafferty (Calder Valley): Can the Minister clarify the time scale for the necessary resolution at the UN Security Council to restart the oil-for-food programme, given the comments of the UN co-ordinator to the Select Committee that that could take up to four weeks?

Mr. O'Brien: As regards the time scale for the initial humanitarian resolution, the objective is that it should be done almost straight away. Provided that we can complete the discussions with the UN, we would hope to be able to do it within a matter of days or a week or so. The wider humanitarian effort may require a little more discussion in the Security Council; we have draft proposals that we hope to discuss with other members of it. That may take a week or two.

On the oil-for-food programme, we have already worked on plans to ensure that it keeps operating. The basic structure exists for its broad administration, but we will have to ensure that when the coalition forces are in Iraq, and the NGOs follow them up, the necessary administrative structure is in place to ensure that everyone gets the food and other resources that they urgently need.

Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden): The Minister won the respect of the House when he was sacked for revealing the communications between his old Department and others. He seems to have been reappointed on the condition that he does not repeat the offence or gives the impression that no communication is taking place. Will he now tell the House which Department is co-ordinating this very important humanitarian operation? If it is DFID, why is not the excellent Under-Secretary of State for International

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Development giving us much more informative answers, as I am sure that she could? If it is not DFID, does that reflect the uncertain status of the Secretary of State for that Department?

Mr. O'Brien: The right hon. Gentleman is a former Secretary of State, and I expect something more from him than cheap comments like that. We are dealing with issues of conflict, refugees and ensuring that lives are protected. The cheap comments that he comes out with make his questions barely worth answering, but let me try to do so in any event.

He asked which Department is co-ordinating the operation. Obviously, DFID is co-ordinating it through other Departments and committees. Cabinet Committees are also dealing with the issue, and DFID is co-ordinating some of the operations between the UN and the various other NGOs that will deal with the post-conflict situation.

The reason I am answering questions is that I have just come back from Washington, where I discussed the terms of the UN resolutions and the detail of how the post-conflict humanitarian circumstances will be dealt with by the United States and by this country.

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): Does the Minister share the concerns of the civilian NGOs who want to follow any conflict as soon as possible with civilian aid in Iraq? Is he aware that the cost of militarily delivered humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan was $7 for a certain item that could be delivered by civilian humanitarian aid at a cost of 30 cents per item, and that it is therefore important to get the civilian NGOs into Iraq as soon as possible? Does he agree that conflict reconstruction in Iraq will arise from three sources—the previous Gulf war, the neglect of Iraq by Saddam Hussein and any destruction that occurs in this conflict—and that it would therefore be wrong for the entire revenues of the oil programme in Iraq to be used for that? Can he say a little more about the extra resources that his Government will make available directly to DFID for humanitarian efforts in Iraq not only now, but in future?

Mr. O'Brien: We have been clear that the oil money will be put into a trust and will be used for the benefit of the people of Iraq. There is also substantial further American money that is being deployed for humanitarian and aid purposes, as well as the resources I mentioned earlier that will be deployed by the British Government, and we anticipate that other countries will wish to make substantial contributions, as will the United Nations.

As for the cost, it is true that military costs will be higher than those of NGOs. The problem with Iraq, however, is that although some NGOs have operated there in the past, there are very few of them and they do not operate freely. Furthermore, many of them will withdraw in the next few weeks. Post conflict, therefore, the military will be there first. It is best that they are in

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a position quickly to deliver the aid that is needed, so they have been resourced to do that. However, as soon as we are able to do so, we will bring in other NGOs—the UN and other organisations—to ensure that aid is deployed, as the hon. Gentleman says, more cheaply, but, more importantly, more effectively.

Hugh Bayley (City of York): Will my hon. Friend look at paragraph 25 of the report, which records the UN's estimate that during the Gulf war between 15,000 and 30,000 refugees died from infectious diseases such as measles, diarrhoea, cholera and typhoid? Will the Government ensure that refugee camps have not only sanitation and clean water, but immunisation for refugees as they arrive and health care for those who are ill?

Mr. O'Brien: I assure my hon. Friend that there are provisions to deal with the availability of water supplies in any refugee camps that may need to be set up and to ensure, in terms of the military operations that are conducted, that there is as little disruption as possible to proper water supplies so as to minimise the problems that we may face post conflict.

On immunisation, it is enormously important that if any refugee camps are set up there are effective immunisation programmes to ensure that infectious diseases are not spread within them. We shall certainly put in place the medical and other facilities to ensure that effective immunisation programmes are set up.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): Is the hon. Gentleman aware that those of us who gladly gave support to the Prime Minister yesterday, and who admire enormously the national leadership that he is giving, nevertheless attach almost equal importance to the subject that we are discussing? Does he accept that it is absolutely incredible that he should be answering these questions? We are sorry that the Under-Secretary appears to have lost her voice, but it is important that whoever is in charge of these matters—the Minister said that it is the Secretary of State—should enjoy the confidence of this House. One Minister has lost her voice; the other should lose her job.

Mr. O'Brien: I have passed on to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary the hon. Gentleman's sympathy for the loss of her voice. I assure him that it will come back and will be as strong and effective as ever. I am fully aware that the House attaches enormous importance—as do my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development and I—to the issue of humanitarian aid, and we will make sure that the Government treat it as a very high priority so as to ensure that that aid, and the human rights back-up that is also required, is in place.

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