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Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley): My right hon. Friend is right that reconstruction in Iraq is continuing apace. I was there only a few weeks ago and saw exactly what was going on. There could be faster progress but the security situation, as he rightly described, makes it more difficult for reconstruction to happen at speed. The
Hilary Benn: First, I acknowledge the role that my hon. Friend is playing, both as someone who has been passionately interested in Iraq for many years and as the Prime Minister's special envoy on human rights. I agree with her entirely about the need to build the Iraqis' capacity to take responsibility for security as quickly as possible with, of course, the continuing support of the coalition forces. That is precisely the process that is taking place. The new Iraqi army is starting to emerge and the civil defence force, the border police and the facilities protection service are looking after the products of reconstruction, which some people have been trying to undermine and blow up. There are now 40,000 police on the streets and training is taking place, so it is no accident that several of the bomb attacks have been against the people who are training the police and the places where that is happening. The Iraqi people want security, and providing more police officers will help to produce Iraqi-led and Iraqi-owned security. That should reinforce the determination of all of us not to allow the people who are cynically trying to undermine the process to succeed.
Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): I appreciate the concerns about the slowness of development, but could that be because of the speed of the success of the forces? Since we understand the problem of terrorism, I assure the Secretary of State that our sympathy is with the Iraqi people in these days. Has the west provided police trainers in the numbers that were wanted? There was an outcry last month about that, so why was there such delay? The Red Cross stands for the suffering servant and redemption, so we hope that the time will come speedily when it will return to where it was always needed. We welcome the continuing service of those in northern Iraq and elsewhere.
Hilary Benn: The hon. Gentleman is right to say that because, with hindsight, part of the slow start to the process was due to the speed with which the conflict endedpeople expected it to go on for much longer and anticipated a humanitarian crisis that did not emerge. He is right about police training. Efforts are under way as we speak to get more police trainers into Iraq because that is an important way to help with training. We all wish the Red Cross every success in trying to protect its staff and making a judgment in due course about when it will be safe for its international staff to return. It has played a really important role in the country for many
Alan Howarth (Newport, East): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad on 19 August was not only a terrible tragedy in terms of lives lost and injuries caused, but dismaying because it led to the UN's decision, which was understandable enough, to withdraw its international personnel from Iraq? Surely it is important that there should be no perception that the UN has abandoned the field to terrorists and that it should be seen to be playing a full and authoritative role in Iraq during the period of reconstruction and transition. When does he expect UN international personnel to be back inside Iraq?
Hilary Benn: I agree with my right hon. Friend about the importance of the UN's role and about the degree to which that was recognised by several resolutions, including resolution 1511, which gave UN authorisation to the multinational force in Iraq. I think that hon. Members will find that the resolution says that, in recognition of the difficulties and risks that the UN faces because of the attack, its involvement should be as circumstances allow. The UN has an important role to play in supporting the process and, indeed, that was the work of Sergio Vieira de Mello before he was killed in the bomb blast in August. The UN, with the governing council and the coalition, plays an important part in discussions to reach decisions on how to take the political process forward because that would be the most significant contribution, alongside improving the lives of normal Iraqis, that would allow the process to succeed and maximise the chances of Iraq having the better future that it deserves.
Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury): The Secretary of State has painted a fairly upbeat picture of progress in Iraq, which is understandable enough. However, he cannot deny that the security situation is deteriorating. I fear that we will not see much progress unless it improves. In that context, will he comment on moves to establish a British theatre internment facility to take over much of the work currently done by the American internment facility in Umm Qasr? Will he explain how the approach of such a British facility would differ from that of the American facility?
Hilary Benn: The House will probably be aware that the hon. Gentleman has recently returned from service in Iraq. I acknowledge his point about security, as I did when I replied to the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), because two things are happening. First, there is no point in hiding the fact that the security situation has become more difficult for our forces and international aid agencies because those who are trying to undermine the process have become more adept at attacking those who are leading the reconstruction and more determined to do so. Secondly, however, life is beginning to get better for ordinary Iraqis. There are two different types of security in the country at the moment and we need to acknowledge that when forming a judgment about how things are going. The standards that would be applied in the internment
Kali Mountford (Colne Valley): The whole House will acknowledge that the Iraqi people suffered many hardships under Saddam before the conflict. The true measure of progress will be when a point is reached at which ordinary people feel that they are being delivered goods and services better than they were under Saddam, rather than by reference to plans that we made before the conflict. What progress is being made on achieving that? Although much has been said about the governance of Iraq, surely it is a sign of a truly civic society when governance happens locally. Has there been any progress on establishing such a society for local communities, districts and towns?
Hilary Benn: My hon. Friend makes an important point about the glue that holds a democracy together and makes it work. Many things are happening in Iraq because of the freedom that has become available, and the development of the free media is one example of that. As I flew over Baghdad, I saw satellite dishes all over the rooftops, although they were banned under Saddam. The meetings that I held in Basra were with members of the local governing council, the local women's organisation, the chambers of trade and commerce and representatives of journalists and writers. A lively process is taking place in which local government plays an important part, although it does not get much coverage or publicity. The House will want to try to get a balanced view of what is happening. Everyone acknowledges that there are security difficulties because we read about them every morning in newspapers and see them on our television screens. However, another story is that of the Iraqi people taking advantage of the opportunity that they have to build themselves a better life. It is important that we encourage them in all the work that we do. Although we make an important contribution, the Iraqi people's contribution to rebuilding their own country will make the difference.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): In view of the fact that continued close co-operation between British and American forces in Iraq and between the British and American Governments is essential to the safe reconstruction of Iraq, does the right hon. Gentleman think it appropriate for President Bush to share his thoughts with Members of both Houses when he is here next week?
Hilary Benn: It is not my place to be drawn on that particular question. However, it is important that the dialogue between the UK and the United States is shared as widely as possible because, frankly, the responsibility is shared between all of us in this House and Congress as well.
Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak): When does my right hon. Friend envisage Iraq ceasing to rely on imports to supply such a large proportion of its fuel needs? Does he agree that it was always unrealistic to suggest that Iraqi reconstruction could be financed from its oil revenues? Does he also agree that support should