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Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Corbett said, the intended target is that 90 per cent of enhanced disclosures should be issued within three weeks. The precise figure of how many we are meeting within three weeks is not known, but it is dramatically below that.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, is the Minister aware of the concern in the voluntary and charity sector that more than 2 million applications per annum are now being made? It is reckoned that it costs roughly 10 to 20 in administration charges for each application. There is a 12 fee in respect of each application which is waived in respect of volunteers only. But, on any reckoning, the charity and voluntary sectors have to bear something like 30 million plus a year in extra overheads under the process. Will the Government give sympathetic consideration to assisting the voluntary sector in meeting those charges?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, as the noble Lord rightly points out, in relation to volunteers the

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fee has been waived completely. However, registered bodies must countersign applications so that not just anyone can apply. Those registered bodies charge voluntary organisations. We have tried to keep the costs down as much as possible. But a balance must be struck between getting that protection—namely, ensuring that there is a CRB check before someone works with children or young people—and, on the other hand, not being able to do it because of the costs. We think that a sensible balance has been struck. We have heard the representations made. Our response to those representations was to make it free for volunteers. We think that that is about the right balance.

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, does my noble and learned friend agree that this is merely the latest in a long list of alleged failures by this company? How long will it continue before the Government receive large penalty payments from the company? Is it possible to appoint another company in its place, or has it got the Government over a barrel for five years?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, as I said to my noble friend Lord Corbett, it is critical to reach a solution with the company as quickly as possible. If that is not possible, we will have to examine the legal remedies.

Northern Iraq

3 p.m.

Baroness Cox asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What assurances they can give to the Kurdish people living in the Iraqi Kurdistan region of northern Iraq that their security will be protected in the event of the outbreak of military offensives in the region.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Amos): My Lords, the Government remain committed to preventing a recurrence of the grave humanitarian crisis which led to the establishment of the northern no-fly-zone.

Baroness Cox: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Does she agree that since 1991 the socio-economic and political progress made by the 3.6 million Kurdish people who live in northern Iraq has been remarkable? Does she also agree that there is now widespread anxiety that since the United States appears committed to an attack on Iraq, Turkey might take advantage of any military offensives in the region to pursue its own agenda, creating chaos and disaster in the region? What assurance can the Minister give to the Kurdish people with regard to those concerns?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, is right; I am aware that Kurdish areas are better off than Baghdad-controlled Iraq, because the Kurds have the political will to make the oil-for-food

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programme work for the people. Those improvements have occurred despite the attempts of the Iraqi regime to obstruct the programme in northern Iraq. For example, it has repeatedly delayed the arrival of demining equipment which could save lives.

With respect to the anxiety mentioned by the noble Baroness, we have repeatedly made clear that no decision has been made to launch an attack on Iraq. With respect to Turkey, it supports the territorial integrity of Iraq and is co-sponsor of the Ankara process. Turkey has demonstrated its commitment to securing peace and stability in northern Iraq and, as I have said, will remain committed to preventing another humanitarian crisis in northern Iraq.

Lord Ahmed: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that 13 per cent of the oil-for-food programme has helped the Kurdish people enormously in improving their lives? What assurance can Her Majesty's Government give to the Kurdish people that even if the sanctions were lifted, they would have 13 per cent of the oil revenues? Finally, will my noble friend tell the House whether the Government will support a permanent solution for the Kurdish people within Iraq?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, it would be difficult for us to give guarantees about the percentage of oil revenues which continue to go to northern Iraq, given that we do not know the outcome of the possible circumstances alluded to by my noble friend. It would be extremely rash of us to do that. Furthermore, we have always supported the territorial integrity of Iraq. We want to see autonomy, not independence, for the Iraqi Kurds and the Kurds have made it clear that that is what they want.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, I, too, congratulate the Kurdish people of northern Iraq on the economic progress they have made. Will the Minister say what further steps the Government are taking to persuade the KDP and the PUK to form a unified administration so that they are better able to protect the people they serve from any future Iraqi incursions? Furthermore, does the Minister agree that if there are military operations in the region, as postulated by the question, it would not only cause immense harm to the Kurdish people of northern Iraq but would have a destabilising effect all around the region, in particular in Turkey?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, we welcome the progress made by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) on the Washington agreement and we encourage the dialogue that has taken place as a result. Again, it would be wrong to speculate; I made it clear that no military action is planned and that remains the position.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I understand the reply that the Minister has given to the House. However, does she agree that in 1991 the principal casualties as a result of the unconcluded Gulf War

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were the Kurdish/Iraqi people and that they are right to feel a sense of apprehension with weapons of mass destruction situated close to their enclave and because within half an hour of their cities there are tanks which could roll into those areas should hostilities occur?

Does she also agree that one of the best signals that could be sent to the Kurds in that area would be to ensure that the policy she has announced today—that is the right to autonomy within a federated Iraq—should be agreed with the US State Department and with Turkey?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, noble Lords will be aware that there is discussion and dialogue between ourselves, the United States and others with respect to the situation in Iraq and that those discussions will continue. As regards the noble Lord's specific question about weapons of mass destruction, UN measures played a vital role in frustrating the ambitions of Saddam Hussein to develop them. We continue to press for the earliest possible resumption of UN weapons inspections to ensure Iraq's full compliance with its disarmament obligations and we will continue to do so. It is a cornerstone of our policy and it remains important under a number of UN Security Council resolutions.

The Lord Bishop of Chelmsford: My Lords, will the Minister indicate what arrangements would guarantee the availability and distribution of humanitarian supplies to Iraqi Kurdistan in the event of prolonged military action?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, the right reverend Prelate will understand when I say that it is not in our power to give such guarantees. However, we remain committed to preventing a grave humanitarian crisis, as I made clear in my original Answer. That is why the northern no-fly-zone was established in 1991 and that will continue to be a key part of our strategy.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, will the Minister accept that we on this side of the House welcome the continuing commitment to safeguard the Iraqi Kurds through the no-fly-zone and other arrangements because they certainly need it and are under constant threat? We also welcome the longer-term vision—I am afraid that it is only that at present—of a federal Iraqi democratic state.

However, will the Minister clarify the most important question of all? When it becomes necessary to use force against Saddam Hussein—as it will—are Her Majesty's Government prepared to go along with that or not? We need to know that before the event?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, we have made it absolutely clear that no military action is planned. In a statement made in April, the Prime Minister said that we would consider the matter in a calm and measured way. That continues to be the position.

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3.8 p.m.

Lord Grocott: My Lords, at a convenient moment after 3.30 p.m., my noble and learned friend the Leader of the House will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement which is being made in another place on the G8 Summit.

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