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4. Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): What recent representations he has received about aid to Iraq; and if he will make a statement. [144409]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn): I continue to receive many representations about aid to Iraq. DFID has now committed £216 million towards humanitarian and reconstruction assistance in Iraq, and at the Madrid donors conference in October, I announced that the Government would commit a total of £544 million for the three years from April 2003.

Mrs. Gillan : I thank the Secretary of State for that reply. The Iraqi Red Crescent is doing a fantastic job—especially because it took on some of the work of the International Committee of the Red Cross when it withdrew—particularly in delivering food, although it is stretched so badly that it is suffering from lack of resources. The worst problem that it faces is the lack of medical supplies and the lack of treatment for children. It has been sending children for treatment outside Iraq to Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Greece, and it is now appealing to European and Arab countries for help. We have had some highly publicised cases of children being treated in the UK. Could we do something to help and support this organisation and to help those children who are desperately in need?

Hilary Benn: I join the hon. Lady in paying tribute to the work that the Iraqi Red Crescent is doing. As for the treatment of children and the health care system in Iraq,

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the most important contribution that we can make, which we are seeking to do alongside others, is to work with the Ministry of Health to build and develop capacity within Iraq. There are many able and highly trained doctors in a health service that suffered considerably during the course of Saddam's regime. We have been trying to improve the distribution system for drugs and medicines to ensure that there is support and help available to treat children where they should be treated, which is close to their homes in their own country.

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire) (Lab): Saddam Hussein had his people dragooned and controlled within three massive state organisations: one for youth, one for women, and one for workers. Are there means by which the Government could seek to facilitate the newly emergent free bodies that represent these people, such as the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions, so that they can get off the ground and be active in various areas? They might be reluctant to be seen to be clients of coalition forces, but there might be means through connections with the TUC and other bodies to facilitate a suitable arrangement.

Hilary Benn: I know that my hon. Friend takes a great interest in this issue and he is right that the establishment of free institutions is an essential part of building a democratic state. The oppression that the people of Iraq suffered under Saddam's regime meant that that was difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. I have discussed the issue with representatives of the TUC and I am happy to look further at such support as we are able to give to back those within Iraq who are trying to establish a free trade union movement, which is an essential part of a democratic society.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): Both the Prime Minister and President Bush have confirmed that the coalition provisional authority is a coalition body and not an agency of the US Government. Given that fact, and the fact that £30 million worth of DIFD aid to Iraq is either given to the CPA or is channelled through it, what efforts is the right hon. Gentleman making to ensure that the CPA is accountable to the House? When will quarterly statements of the CPA's income and expenditure be given in the House? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that we share a responsibility with the US Congress to ensure that the CPA is accountable?

Hilary Benn: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. International development questions provide one opportunity for the House to call the CPA to account. The CPA publishes a great deal of information, as the hon. Gentleman will be aware, on its website. The development fund for Iraq, which is honouring our pledge that all the oil resources would be used only for the benefit of the people of Iraq, is paying in very large measure for the salaries of the teachers, doctors, nurses and police officers who are now helping to reconstruct the country. The International Advisory and Monitoring Board, which was set up under the UN resolution to demonstrate to the world that the money was being used for the purposes for which it was intended, has just had its first meeting, and will, I hope,

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provide the assurance that the hon. Gentleman and the House are seeking that the money is being used for its intended purpose.

Mr. Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell) (Lab): First, I pay tribute to the work of my right hon. Friend's Department in the reconstruction of Iraq. As he will know, the Environment Ministry in Iraq is brand new and is a rather novel concept. What aid and support can his Department give that Ministry to ensure that it is not on the margins in the new Iraqi Administration?

Hilary Benn: I acknowledge the important role that the new department to which my hon. Friend referred will play alongside other Ministries in the establishment of the new country. One of the big tasks between now and next June or July, when the coalition provisional authority will cease to exist and power will be provisionally transferred to the new transitional administration, will involve the international community considering how best it can support those new Ministers and Ministries in advancing that work. I undertake to reflect on the point made by my hon. Friend. We cannot do everything in respect of all the departments, and need to focus our energy on those areas where we can make the biggest difference. However, I undertake to respond to the specific point made by my hon. Friend.

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion) (PC): Would the Secretary of State confirm that an increasing amount of his Department's budget in Iraq is being used to improve the security situation for humanitarian relief workers? While that is obviously a necessary task—the recent £3 million towards security co-ordination for the UN is much needed—does it not raise the question that there may be an impact on the aid delivered on the ground to the people of Iraq? Can the Secretary of State therefore give the House an assurance that the security situation in Iraq, whether it improves or gets worse, will not impact directly on the aid that the Iraqi people themselves receive?

Hilary Benn: My first responsibility as Secretary of State is to secure as far as possible the safety of the people whom Cabinet colleagues and I have asked to work in Iraq. Without security they cannot do the job of aiding the reconstruction of that country. The two are not in competition with each other—they need to complement one another. The British Government, as the hon. Gentleman will be aware, have made a considerable financial commitment to support reconstruction. In the end, improving the lives of ordinary Iraqis, which is now beginning to happen, and establishing a clear political process that demonstrates that the Iraqi people have the right to make their own decisions about their own future, are the best contribution that we can make to security. After that, we should support reconstruction, which all hon. Members want.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab): As my right hon. Friend knows, a week ago I was in Iraq, where I met members of his Department, who are doing a very good job in very difficult circumstances. However, to pick up the question asked by the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan), the International

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Committee of the Red Cross was doing valuable work, particularly helping detainees—there are nearly 11,000 detainees in custody, and the ICRC provided a bridge between them and their families—and it is a tragedy that it had to withdraw many of its staff. Will my right hon. Friend give every support to the Iraqi Red Crescent, so that it can carry out a similar function for detainees and their families?

Hilary Benn: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has just returned from a visit to Iraq, for her kind words about the contribution that DFID staff and those with whom we have contracted are making to reconstruction of the country. She is right that the ICRC has been doing an important job, which makes the targeting of it in the bombing a cynical move by those who do not want the reconstruction of Iraq to succeed.

I will undertake to look into the specific issue that she raised about the extent to which the Iraqi Red Crescent might be able to support that work, but as she knows, while a number of international agencies have withdrawn their international staff, they still have a considerable number of Iraqi-based staff who are carrying on that very good and important work.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): In the light of the recent UN news agency report that the teaching hospital in Basra and the nuclear medicine hospital still suffer acute shortages of equipment for radiotherapy, chemotherapy, endoscopy and anaesthetics, and that in some cases the equipment that exists has not been replaced in three decades, does the right hon. Gentleman accept that if the British Government take urgent steps to tackle those shortages, that help will be invaluable to long-suffering patients and will receive support from people of all political persuasions throughout the international community?

Hilary Benn: I undertake to look into the two specific examples that the hon. Gentleman gave. As he may be aware, there has been a team of four staff seconded from the Department of Health working in the CPA headquarters in Basra, whom I met when I was there at the end of September. They have been working hard on a number of projects to support the re-establishment of the health service in the south of the country, not least the distribution of medicines, which is fundamental to enabling the Iraqi health service to care for its people.

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