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Nick Harvey indicated assent.

Mr. Ingram: That is very helpful. At least we have the support of the hon. Gentleman's party for what we seek to do at present.

The hon. Gentleman raised questions about reconstruction costs in Iraq and expenditure intentions for Afghanistan in matters relating to counter-narcotics. Some of that does not sit within the estimates, as I am sure that he will appreciate. I will deal with that in a moment. He mentioned the allied rapid recruitment force. Just for the record, it is the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps—that is the first lesson on defence. We all get our words mixed up sometimes, but it is important to get that corrected.

Reconstruction in Iraq is continuing. It is not an easy territory or environment to achieve that in, because of the level of threat and the malign efforts of those who are
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trying to destroy not just what the coalition are seeking to do for the Iraqi people, but what the Iraqi people are trying to do for themselves. There is regular sabotage of both power lines and pipelines. A lot of effort is put in to deal with that. Hopefully, more progress will be made in the period ahead.

There is a growing economy. It is not, in one sense, an economy in free fall. There are indications of growth in the economy, but it should be much more rapid given the oil wealth. Insurgents and those who are trying to destroy what we seek to do attack power lines because that stops the oil industry's capacity to produce. They attack the oil industry itself for the same reason. There are measurable improvements in water and sanitation systems and schools and hospitals have been constructed. So, there are ways in which we can measure progress.

Harry Cohen: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Ingram: No, I am going to deal with this point first. I will come to what my hon. Friend said and perhaps he can intervene then.

The Government have pledged a total of £544 million for reconstruction during 2003 to 2006. More than £460 million has been disbursed to date. That is a considerable effort. In a sense, I do not take the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Harry Cohen) that a lot of that money may be misappropriated or deliberately taken away by those intent on malfeasance. There might be examples of that happening, but it is not a feature of our accounting practices and the way in which we try to deliver.

When my hon. Friend raises a question about such activity, he is casting an aspersion not on military people, but, in the main, on civilian people who face daily risks when trying to deliver the reconstruction effort in troubled parts of Iraq. Putting all that in context is worth while. The hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell) asked my hon. Friend whether he ever made favourable comments about our armed forces. I heard my hon. Friend's response, but hope that he also realises that many brave civilians are making an amazing effort to deliver such reconstruction.

Harry Cohen: I am astonished by the Minister's last comment. He is saying that because people are taking risks as civilian contractors, it is all right for them to do a bit a malfeasance. I do not think that it is, so he should reflect on his comments.

The Minister makes a point about reconstruction. Let me remind him of the point in the New Statesman about hospital supplies that I cited in my speech. Iraqis do not need to be involved in the production of medical equipment and basic supplies for hospitals. We could have just shipped them in, flight after flight, on our Hercules airplanes. We could have sent mass supplies to equip the hospitals properly. Why have we not done so?

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. The hon. Gentleman's intervention must be brief.

Mr. Ingram: My hon. Friend of course completely misconstrued what I was saying. I was not in any way
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justifying any wrongdoing on the part of people who have their hands on public money in Iraq or anywhere else. I was saying that a balance must be struck when analysing the situation. My hon. Friend made severe criticisms without putting balance to them, so I was merely putting forward such balance. I noted that he still did not congratulate those civilians on all that they are doing to help to reconstruct Iraq.

Let me return to the points made by the hon. Member for North Devon. There are infrastructure projects worth £30 million in south-east Iraq. There are power infrastructure projects worth £40 million and there is £6.5 million for employment generation. There is £20.5 million for strengthening the operating capacity of the four southern governorates and to encourage private sector growth. Considerable progress is thus being made. However, those significant contributions are part of the contributions made by other Government Departments.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the capability of the Taliban and the way in which we measure that in Afghanistan. I said when I gave evidence to the Defence Committee that that capacity is difficult to measure because whoever is paying some of those who are likely to mount attacks on any given day determines the uniform that they will put on and the cause for which they will fight. We are trying to get the best intelligence that we can. Our assessment of the situation is that illegally-armed groups are limited. We do not believe that they pose a strategic threat, although we are not saying that what we are doing in Afghanistan is without risk.

The fact that the insurgency tactics have changed suggests that the groups are failing to make headway. However, of course, we cannot be complacent. We must take the view that the tempo of attacks might go down, stay the same, or go up, which is why such a powerful and potent international force is going into Helmand. We treat threats seriously and take every step to ensure that British forces deployed in Afghanistan are well prepared. Intelligence on what is happening on the ground is critical to that, so we put a lot of effort into it.

On counter-narcotics, we intend to spend more than £270 million in the financial years 2005–06, 2006–07 and 2007–08 in support of what we call the Afghan strategy. That includes £130 million of Department for International Development assistance that is aimed at creating alternative livelihoods. Between £20 million and £30 million will be going to specific projects in Helmand. We have a significant programme of work to address alternative livelihoods, and although others will also put in resources, only time will tell whether that is sufficient.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead asked whether we were getting good value for our money in Iraq. He should ask the Kurds and Shi'as who were systematically crushed and brutalised by Saddam Hussein and his barbaric regime. Is it worth it to remove tyranny? I think that it is. Is it worth it to give freedom to oppressed people? I think so. There is no question in my mind about what we are doing in Iraq. I think that the continuing price that is being paid for stabilising and bringing freedom to Iraq is worth it, but clearly my hon. Friend has a different view. The way in which he deals with that is a matter for him. I shall address other hon. Members' contributions later, but I
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wanted to talk about those made by the hon. Member for North Devon and my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead first.

The debate takes place against the background of the continuing activity of our armed forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan. I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the courage, commitment and professionalism of our armed forces serving in Iraq and Afghanistan in what are often difficult and dangerous circumstances—I know that the whole House will agree. However, as this is an estimates day, I had better make some progress by saying something about finance. The Ministry of Defence is seeking £2 billion in additional resources in the spring supplementary estimate. Just under £1.4 billion of that is for conflict prevention work, including almost £1.1 billion for Iraq and £220 million for Afghanistan.

Let me turn to the Defence Committee's report because it forms the basis of the debate and major contributions have been made on it. The report made nine conclusions and recommendations, and I would like to deal with each of them in turn. The Committee questioned the level of contingency built into the estimates in relation to conflict prevention. The contingency is there for a very good reason: prudence. Paragraph 8 of the Committee's report recognises that it is necessary to be prudent when dealing with contingency. My Department has to forecast the costs of a rapidly changing operational situation, so the inclusion of a contingency is wholly justified. To put the contingency in context, since last November, business cases totalling well over £100 million have been approved under urgent operational requirement procedures for a range of equipment that is required for both Iraq and Afghanistan, although not all that money will be spent in this year. I know that the right hon. Member for North-East Hampshire will understand that although a business case might be made and one might want to proceed, things do not necessarily happen in the financial year that has been suggested. That can lead to spill-over, so a contingency is important.

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