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7 Apr 2010 : Column 347WH—continued

My hon. Friend reminded us of the importance of the Liverpool, Preston and Manchester triangle. He will be aware that an announcement about the electrification of those lines has been made by the Government over the past 12 months. Imagine if we had taken the advice to make cuts of £840 million over the last financial year,
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on top of the savage cuts that we have been advised to make this financial year, which began this week. Could those lines be electrified over the next period, as we intend them to be?

My hon. Friend was right to remind me that Chorley is not simply the centre of the universe, but the centre of an important triangle in that part of the region. He made an important point about the job losses at Jarvis, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Selby. I am surprised that people at Network Rail are not willing to meet my hon. Friend the Member for Selby, and I will ensure that a letter is sent today from my private office to Network Rail. The civil service works very hard and some people in it get a far smaller salary than some people in other industries. I will try to send the person in question-or someone else senior if he is not available-a transcript of what my hon. Friend has said, and suggest that a meeting is arranged to discuss the two issues that have been raised, both of which are important not only to my hon. Friend, but to his constituents and users of Network Rail.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chorley raised an important point relating to the Royal Ordnance factory and the development of the station. He was right to pay tribute to the announcement of the £3.3 million from the community infrastructure fund. When I heard his contribution, I was concerned about the section 106 agreement, and the questions about whether there had been a "double reward" for monies that may or may not be spent.

Mr. Hoyle: Quite rightly, in Chorley there was a double insurance. Lobbying took place and the Government picked up the £3.3 million. However, another section 106 agreement was added, so that another £3.3 million was awarded for the railway station if plans had gone ahead. That allows us £3.3 million to spend on transport for the benefit of the people of Chorley. The people of Chorley can win with this, as long as the money is spent as agreed.

Mr. Khan: My point was that, to avoid the perception of the council pocketing a gain for the community, people should read the excellent speech made by my hon. Friend. They will need to ask how the money is being used to the benefit of transport users in that part of the community. The whole point of a planning gain is to ensure that the community benefits, and it is important that that is the case. The lobbying that my hon. Friend undertook in getting investment for transport in his constituency does not simply benefit his constituents; it also benefits the wider community.

My hon. Friend raised an important point about the arches, and I will write again to Network Rail to see how soon it will be getting those arches back and to find out what the delay has been. He noted the short-sightedness of the policy at the village of Adlington on the Piccadilly service. I am not in charge of the timetable, and the best thing I can do is send Network Rail a verbatim account of what my hon. Friend said and ask it to explain why it has made those changes.

The point raised about new developments is important. It relates to weak local authorities-some are borough councils or district councils-that do not enforce planning conditions. My hon. Friend points out that in the current climate, some developers may seek to reduce
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their costs, which could mean that roads are built that are not of adoptable standards. I am keen to ensure that local authorities protect their communities and put the conditions in place for having roads that are adoptable, so that residents can benefit from roads, bus shelters and sewers that are properly maintained. That is important. I will write to Network Rail separately on the issue of Rylands crossing and that safety issue. My hon. Friend also raised a point about the footbridge, and I will look into that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Selby raised a number of important points. I have already responded to the point about Network Rail and Jarvis. He raised other points about the quality of ale at the pub, Stalybridge station, Boxing day and other matters. He asked how we can improve franchises when future contracts are given out. I will take those points on board and ensure that my officials do, too. However, on the choices that we make and some of the advice that we are given, we are sometimes accused of micro-managing contracts. If micro-managing involves ensuring that those who have contracts provide a good service, ensuring that franchises are written in a way to get the best quality of service for commuters, and holding train operating companies to account in relation to bad timetabling arrangements, I plead guilty. We will not allow train operating companies to take commuters for a ride-forgive the pun.

When preparing for a Select Committee, when it is the turn of my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer) to speak, my heart beats slightly faster, and I was slightly nervous when he got up to speak today. He made a fantastic contribution to the debate, and was right to put on record the huge contribution made by my noble Friend Lord Adonis since he became Secretary of State. We have tried to engender an attitude whereby transport is at the centre of everything that city leaders, councils and others do in matters of planning, land use and other issues. My hon. Friend raised two specific questions about the rolling stock contract and phase 2. He will appreciate that things have moved fast over the past year in relation to that, not least because of the delay with the Thameslink
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programme contracts. I will write to him before Parliament is dissolved to answer the important questions that he raised.

Let me put on record the fact that the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mark Hunter) has been a constructive partner in securing recent improvements in infrastructure, not least in the role that he played in meetings on HS2 and with the Secretary of State, and there has been a constructive dialogue about how we get the best for our country in a consensual manner. I compare and contrast that with how those who wish to form the next Government and appoint the next Secretary of State for Transport have behaved in relation to High Speed 2. We should put aside party political issues to try to get the best possible deal for commuters around the country. The hon. Member for Cheadle raised some important points, and my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley picked up on some of the possible perceived inconsistencies between what his party says nationally and what it may do locally.

Last year we spent £2.5 billion on buses-that is more money spent on buses than at any time in recent history. More people are using buses now than at any time since they were deregulated by the Conservative party. The quality contract is one way in which local authorities can secure the franchise deal that London has secured. Only one party goes into the election with a commitment to abolish quality contracts. It is not the party of the hon. Member for Cheadle or my party; it is the Conservative party.

The hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Goodwill) has the breathtaking audacity to talk about how his party would run the transport system at the same time as making the huge cuts that it wants to make this year, and those that it will inevitably make in future. His shopping list has no way of being met by his spending envelope, and so electrification, High Speed 2, Crossrail, motorway widening, quality contracts, bus passes for those of pensionable age and those who are disabled and further schemes to improve transport around the country would not happen.

I conclude by saying that this has been an excellent debate secured by an excellent MP who is doing the best for Chorley, together with other colleagues who are doing their best for the north-west.

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Iraq (Humanitarian Aid)

4 pm

Keith Hill (Streatham) (Lab): I mean it when I say that it is an honour to speak my final words in this Chamber, and indeed the House, under your chairmanship, Mr. Howarth.

Four weeks and three days ago, on Sunday 7 March, I was in Iraq as an election monitor for Iraq's second set of parliamentary elections since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003. My election observation took place in the Kurdish city of Dohuk, some 80 km from the Turkish border. At precisely the same time, my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk (Eric Joyce) was in Basra, several hundred kilometres to the south, also as an election monitor. I am grateful for his participation in this debate. I shall describe what I saw on 7 March and explain why Britain's programme of aid to Iraq is important-important in its humanitarian assistance, in repairing the country's infrastructure and in strengthening its governance arrangements. I hope that that assistance and support will be sustained.

At this point, I place on the record my huge gratitude to our consul general in the Kurdish region, Jeremy Macadie, and his team and my thanks to Chris Bowers and his Foreign and Commonwealth Office team and to Lucia Wilde and the Department for International Development team in Baghdad for their help in the preparation of this speech.

What I saw in Dohuk was an impressive demonstration of a free and fair election. In Dohuk, the turnout was more than 70 per cent. In Iraq as a whole, despite the threats and despite the bombings in Baghdad, the turnout was more than 62 per cent. In Baghdad, it was 60 per cent. In Britain, at our last general election, we managed 61 per cent.

At the half-dozen or more polling stations that I visited, I saw men and women casting their votes freely and in secret. With one or two regional exceptions-the older men in Kurdistan in their characteristic baggy trousers and elaborate headscarves-what I saw in person replicated the images that I watched in the television coverage of the polls across the whole of Iraq: the voting usually taking place in a small school classroom; the plastic blue-topped ballot boxes; the bottle of purple dye taped to the table at the side of the ballot box for people to dip their forefinger in as proof of having voted; the three cardboard voting booths; the lists and voting instructions on the walls; lines of blue and white tape to guide electors into the polling centres; men and women in separate lines to be frisked before they entered; the election officials sitting at school desks, one with the register and another to tear off the ballot paper; and the very large ballot paper, because there were many parties and, as well as voting for a party, the elector had to express a preference for the order of the candidates on the list.

In addition to the five or six election officials, inside each polling station there were a similar number of scrutineers-party representatives and representatives of non-governmental organisations, which might be human rights or women's organisations. For a British observer, it was unexpected to find a multiplicity of party representatives in the same room as the voting, but that was not a bad check against fraud.

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Equally unexpected was the counting of the votes in the same polling stations at the conclusion of the voting, but the counting was closely observed by the party scrutineers, and the result was posted up at the most immediate local level. That did, on reflection, serve to make later tampering far less easy. Although the count that I observed took two and a half hours at the end of an already long day, it was done with humour, grace, commitment and efficiency. The election officials and scrutineers were mostly young people in their 20s or 30s and many were women-a good harbinger, I thought, of the future of democracy in Iraq.

That is not to say that the elections were without flaws and defects. There are in Iraq a very large number of internally displaced persons-up to 2.8 million-hence the continuing need for significant humanitarian aid. The names of the IDPs were not always on the registers, although when they were, I found it extraordinary and impressive that in Dohuk there was provision for such displaced persons to cast a vote on the ballot paper of their home town, be it Mosul, Kirkuk or even Baghdad. Problems were also reported with the registers for the security forces, who voted two days before the general election so that they could be on duty on polling day.

Nevertheless, and notwithstanding the painfully slow process of the central aggregation of results from nearly 50,000 polling stations throughout the country, what I saw and the positive judgment that I made seem to reflect the response of the thousands of Iraqi and international election observers. The three main independent Iraqi election observation networks-Tamouz, Hammurabi and Shams-said:

According to the International Election Monitors Institute,

According to the United Nations, the elections were "credible" and "a significant achievement". In the words of the UN special representative, Ad Melkert,

Indeed, when an incumbent Prime Minister complains about the result, that is a fair guarantee that the election has been fair and free.

It is plain to me, from my experience of election monitoring in two African countries and now Iraq, that generally people like to vote. They like to take some ownership of their lives. However, it is equally plain that people will lose confidence in the democratic system if it fails to meet their basic material needs or to offer them reasonable standards of governance. They need an economy and an infrastructure that work and a state that protects its citizens. That is where the British aid programme comes in and why it is so important.

I have mentioned that there are 2.8 million internally displaced persons in Iraq, with a further 2 million dispersed around the region. Their needs have been the most urgent, and I welcome the £170 million that DFID has contributed since 2003 to provide food, water, shelter, medical care and protection to those most vulnerable people. Iraq is probably no longer in humanitarian crisis, but I should be grateful for my hon. Friend the Minister's assurance that humanitarian aid will continue where necessary.

I also welcome the several hundred million pounds of British aid that have gone towards rebuilding Iraq's dilapidated infrastructure, especially in the south around
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Basra. There have obviously been considerable improvements in electricity supply. Hundreds of thousands of people now benefit from clean water. There have also been important improvements in health care and education facilities. The Iraqi people have deserved that assistance in starting to recover from the years of neglect and mismanagement under Saddam Hussein.

However, I am conscious that Iraq is not among the poorest countries. It already ranks as a lower middle income country. With the third largest proven oil reserves and 10th largest gas reserves in the world, its potential wealth is clearly enormous. The key questions are how it manages that wealth, whether its people benefit from it-Iraq is third from the bottom of the 2008 corruption perceptions index-and how far its Government recognise their responsibility to provide for their own people. Those challenges go to the heart of governance, the rule of law and human rights in Iraq.

It is excellent, therefore, that DFID has provided technical support to improve the decision-making and administrative systems of the office of the Prime Minister and of the Council of Representatives, the Iraqi Parliament. I find it fascinating and important that in advance of the recent general election, DFID supported Iraqi cabinet office preparations for a transition of Government. DFID has also worked with the Ministry of Finance to improve its operation. In 2009, DFID's budget preparation support helped to secure for the first time cabinet approval of the budget strategy and the submission of the 2010 budget with a clear statement of guiding priorities and a medium-term fiscal framework. Similar capacity-building work has taken place with the Basra provincial council to enable it to take forward more than 800 reconstruction projects since 2006.

It is evident that the FCO, working closely with the European Union integrated rule of law mission for Iraq, is also doing good work in strengthening the criminal justice system in Iraq, not least in helping Iraqis to develop their forensic capacity. It is easier to trust the state that does not torture its citizens.

Led by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), the Prime Minister's special envoy to Iraq on human rights, to whom I pay the warmest possible tribute, the FCO has done good work in human rights, including encouraging the Council of Representatives to pass legislation in 2008 to establish the Iraqi national human rights commission.

I accept that as the country begins to achieve its economic potential, the UK's overall aid programme to Iraq will decrease. At the same time, however, all the DFID and FCO interventions in the area of government and the rule of law play a vital role in consolidating democracy in Iraq.

Mr. Andrew Pelling (Croydon, Central) (Ind): It is a great privilege not only to hear what the right hon. Gentleman has to say but to take part in his final debate here. He has been such a successful Member for Streatham.

May I ask whether there was any discussion about moving on and taking advantage of the wealth that could be created in Kurdistan? Was there any discussion of the opportunity for direct air flights from London to that part of Iraq, so as to promote trade with the UK and, therefore, wealth in that region?

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Keith Hill: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, and for his exceptionally kind words. We are close constituency neighbours in south-west London.

The answer to his precise question is yes. The matter of direct air flights from the UK to the Kurdish region was raised with me, specifically flights to Erbil. The hon. Gentleman may be aware that Austrian Airlines has three direct flights a week and Lufthansa is about to start flights there. There is a desire on the part of the Kurdish authorities and Kurdish entrepreneurs to strengthen their business links with the UK, and they are certainly keen that such flights should be instituted. I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to put that expression of desire on the record.

I return to my argument that DFID and FCO interventions in the area of government and the rule of law play a vital role in consolidating democracy in Iraq. I therefore hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to offer a strong reassurance that such interventions will continue to form part our aid programme to Iraq.

Last week, as I was beginning to think about what I might say today, I happened to read an interview with Mohamed el-Baradei, the former head of the UN nuclear watchdog and perhaps a candidate in the next Egyptian presidential elections. Mr. el-Baradei offered a severe critique of the west's involvement in middle east politics, in the course of which he said:

Actually, there have been elections in Iraq. Parliamentary elections were held in 2005, provisional elections were held in 2009, and parliamentary elections were held again last month. Each time, as far as we can see, they were freer and fairer than previously. This time, the elections delivered a result that may reshape alliances across communities and perhaps boost national reconciliation.

It is true, of course, that tensions still run deep. There are still appalling bombings by a perverse and apparently irreconcilable minority, yet the election in 2010 was unquestionably democratic, and democracies tend to be less cruel to their citizens and more peaceable to their neighbours. That was a prize worth winning. I hope that the UK will continue to give priority to helping Iraq strengthen its democracy.

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