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Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for the report that they sent, and for establishing the All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea. Of course, I agree that the right way forward is to do what can be done through the negotiations of the six parties. One of the problems has

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been, as I am sure the noble Lord knows, that press reports from North Korea have repeatedly tried to make this into a bilateral issue with the United States of America. We do not believe that it is. It is a multilateral issue, because issues about non-proliferation are of very wide concern in the international community.

The precise agenda for President Bush's visit next week is still under discussion, but I am sure that issues relating to weapons of mass destruction and what can be done to strengthen our position over non-proliferation will be discussed. In that context, I should have thought that North Korea would be bound to feature.

Baroness Cox: My Lords, does the Minister agree that there are many urgent problems in North Korea which cannot be fully addressed until there is agreement on the priority process of denuclearisation, which increases the urgency of need for progress on that issue? For example, when the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and I were there recently, we were told that in some places it is not even possible to provide the minimum food ration of 600 grammes of rice a day. In some places there is no healthcare provision at all.

On a slightly more encouraging note, is the Minister aware that aid organisations told us that there is progress by the authorities in access and accountability? Will Her Majesty's Government consider sympathetically proposals from British aid organisations to provide humanitarian relief to ease some of the appalling suffering of many people in that country today?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I agree. As we discussed in the debate initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on 13th March, the problems around the nuclear issue have deflected a great deal of attention from the humanitarian consequences of what is happening in North Korea. I agree with the noble Baroness that there is a whole range of appalling issues; she pinpointed that of malnutrition.

The main humanitarian donors to North Korea are the United States of America, South Korea and the European Union, which contribute about 9 million dollars a year. We contribute about 20 per cent of that. In addition to that aid through the European Union, DfID has agreed 400,000 to support the Red Cross disaster preparedness programmes. If the noble Baroness wishes to draw my attention to specific projects, I would be very glad to hear from her about them.

Lord Clarke of Hampstead: My Lords, does the Minister recall our debate in March when many references were made to religious freedom in North Korea? Is she aware of the recent positive developments that have taken place, such as the opening of a Protestant seminary and the construction of a new Russian Orthodox church? Does she agree that we should do all in our power to encourage and persuade the authorities in North Korea to continue to recognise the need for religious freedom? Does she

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agree that, if possible, the six-party talks should include a reference to people being able to worship freely?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, indeed, I recall the debate; I also recall that my noble friend Lord Clarke gave us some compelling details about religious persecution. The FCO human rights report for this year outlines our concern about the lack of religious freedom in North Korea. The resolution on the DPRK adopted by the Commission on Human Rights this year also expresses deep concern about the all-pervasive and severe restrictions on freedom of religion in the country. I hope that my noble friend has also focused on those issues, but I agree with him. When we have managed to get further with the six-party discussions, a great deal more attention must be focused on the lack of religious freedom in North Korea.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, does the Minister agree with the remarks of the former Secretary of Defense, William Perry, in the Clinton administration, that this is perhaps the single most dangerous issue about weapons proliferation to be found anywhere in the world? Could she also say whether the six-nation talks will consider the possibility of resuming the supply of light water for reactors that cannot be used to create nuclear weapons? The Minister may recall that the programme was cut off by the present American Administration, which led to a strong sense of crisis in North Korea.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, it is invidious ever to say that one weapons programme in any part of the world is definitively more dangerous than another weapons programme in another part of the world. The fact is that little by little we have discovered more of what is going on in North Korea. I am bound to point out to the noble Baroness that little by little we have also uncovered quite a lot about what is going on in Iran at the moment. I would not wish to be tempted into a definitive position about which situation is worse.

Of course, not only is the development of nuclear capability dangerous—both through plutonium and uranium, to which I referred in my initial Answer—but missile capability and the reach of missiles, which we are rather sure now have a reach of anything up to 10,000 miles, are very difficult questions. As I indicated to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, I hope that the issues about the United States of America will be touched on in the forthcoming discussions.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, following the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, does the Minister share my view that the extreme danger of the North Korean nuclear situation is not always fully appreciated? It has now reprocessed its 8,000 spent fuel rods. It has probably got nuclear weapons already, or certainly has enough plutonium to build them. In this agonising situation, can we play the role of honest broker, as our Japanese friends have suggested? Are

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the reports from Beijing and Sydney this morning that the six-nation talks will definitely go ahead before Christmas right, although Pyongyang is still insisting on certain conditions to be applied? What are those conditions?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, we were all encouraged to hear that those participating in the six-nation talks believe that they will go ahead. Again, I hesitate to use the words, "definitely before Christmas". As we all know, a great deal can go wrong in international relations, particularly when there has been the degree of misunderstanding over some aspects of the talks that we have experienced recently. As I said in my initial Answer, we very much hope that the talks will go ahead; we very much support that; and we believe that that is likely to be true.

As regards the spent fuel rods, there is no hard evidence to suggest that processing has been completed but, obviously, we are concerned about the implications. The processing of spent fuel would serve only to increase the DPRK's isolation from the international community. It simply represents another step in the wrong direction for the DPRK.

Transas Group Bill

Read a third time, and passed, and returned to the Commons with amendments.

Iraq: Post-conflict Reconstruction

3.17 p.m.

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development. The Statement is as follows:

    "With permission, Mr Speaker, I wish to make a Statement on progress on reconstruction in Iraq.

    "As honourable Members are all too aware, security is a continuing concern, particularly in and around Baghdad. US forces are bearing the brunt of these attacks, but the UN and international aid agencies are also being targeted. I am sure that the whole House will join me in condemning the recent bombings of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

    "Of equal concern have been the attacks on the Iraqi people themselves, including the assassination of Aqila al Hashimi—one of only three women members of the governing council—who was shot the day after I met her in Baghdad in September. Regrettably, there have been other victims, including religious and civic leaders, judges and police officers, and ordinary Iraqis caught up in bomb blasts.

    "Those who attack the Red Cross and Iraqis working to rebuild their country are desperate to stop reconstruction happening. We cannot let them succeed. In these circumstances, however, it is

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    understandable and right that the ICRC and the United Nations should review their security procedures and the way they work in Iraq, even if that means temporarily pulling back on some of their operations and pulling out their international staff. We stand ready to help them finance additional security measures, where appropriate, to try and limit the effect on their capacity to help with reconstruction. We will continue to support these agencies, their local staff and NGOs still working in the country.

    "But this is only part of the picture. Political violence is largely concentrated in one part of Iraq—Baghdad and its surrounding areas. The situation in the northern provinces is more stable, and in the south-east region where I visited in September. Security is being maintained by the UK-led multinational division and the local police.

    "For most Iraqis, life is gradually improving. Last month, electricity supply rose above pre-conflict levels for the first time, which has now allowed much-needed maintenance to take place during the cooler months when demand is lower. Food distribution is working, and supplies will continue after the UN Oil for Food programme ends this month.

    "One thousand five hundred schools have been refurbished and 70 million new text books are being distributed. Attendance rates are back to pre-conflict levels. Fuel supply for domestic consumption is meeting demand. Almost all of Iraq's 240 hospitals are now in operation and the routine immunisation of children has resumed. Clean water supplies are improving in much of the country, with sewerage plants being rehabilitated.

    "Forty thousand Iraqi police officers are now on duty. They are being trained and equipped. Criminal justice is being restored, but without the terrible repression that characterised Saddam's regime. Further, 170 newspapers are now on sale in the streets, enabling Iraqis to express their views freely.

    "As well as recognising the enormous contribution of the Iraqi people to these achievements, I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the skills and dedicated work of UK forces and of other UK nationals, both in southern Iraq and elsewhere, for their courage and for their determination to help Iraq to rebuild itself.

    "Progress is also being made on the political and constitutional process, with a healthy debate under way on how best to create a genuinely representative system. UN Security Council Resolution 1511 expressed support for this process and asked the UN to strengthen its role as far as circumstances allow. It also asked the governing council to set out by 15th December a timetable for the electoral process.

    "This will provide the context for decisions about the transfer of executive and legislative authority, recognising that the coalition's aim has always been to hand Iraq over to its people as quickly as possible so that they can have control over their own political destiny.

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    "Iraq's Ministers, appointed at the beginning of September, are taking increasing responsibility for developing and implementing policies. The governing council has gained growing recognition internationally, including from the Arab League and the United Nations General Assembly. It played a prominent role at the annual meetings of the World Bank and IMF in Dubai, and governing council members and Ministers made their presence felt at the Madrid Donors' Conference at the end of last month.

    "That conference raised pledges of at least 33 billion dollars in grants and soft loans for 2004–07, significantly exceeding expectations. Seventy-three countries participated, underlining the breadth of international support for securing a better future for Iraq.

    "In Madrid, I set out our commitment to reconstruction in Iraq with a pledge of 544 million. This includes the 209 million that DfID has already committed for humanitarian and reconstruction assistance, and 296 million over the next two years. We are considering how best to use this funding to support reconstruction, development and poverty reduction.

    "The pledges raised at Madrid, alongside oil revenues, foreign direct investment and commercial loans, are expected to meet Iraq's investment needs for the next four years. I can also tell the House that agreement has now been reached between the United Nations, the World Bank and the CPA on the terms of reference of the International Advisory and Monitoring Board, which will oversee the use of Iraq's own resources being channelled through the Development Fund for Iraq.

    "The Iraqi people deserve the chance they now have for a better future; they have waited for it long enough. Much remains to be done on security to counter the violence of Saddam's loyalists and others who want to deny the Iraqis this chance, but the best way we can prevent them from succeeding is to continue with reconstruction and political change. As I am sure the House will agree, that is why we must remain committed to the economic and social reconstruction of Iraq and to a better life for its people".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.24 p.m.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, I am sure we are all extremely grateful to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement on post-conflict reconstruction in Iraq, although the very phrase "post-conflict" is, I fear, beginning to look a little ambiguous and stretched. Does she accept that we fully share the way in which the Statement deplores the rocket and grenade attacks and assassinations? Those are attacks not only on the brave troops of the coalition, who are trying themselves to bring peace, but also of course on the Red Cross, the United Nations and other institutions which are trying to help the people of Iraq and are being hindered by terrorism.

Does she also accept that I join fully in the tribute paid in the Statement to our own soldiers, who continue to show superb courage and resourcefulness

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in the very difficult conditions under which they have to operate? Does she agree that reconstruction and recovery in Iraq rests not only on outside aid, although clearly that is important, or even on oil revenues, but on mastering the security situation? Once that is done, if it can be done, will not large volumes of international and national capital be ready to flow and businesses to start up? In fact, in many areas outside the Sunni triangle, where all the trouble is focused, the remaining 80 per cent of Iraq is relatively peaceful and business is recovering already. The great trading families of the area are bringing money back in and enterprise is beginning to flourish.

Would she agree that, meanwhile, the Iraq resistance has now swollen from Ba'athist intelligence officers and disgruntled middle-ranking officials to include hardcore Jihadis, members of the Al'Qaeda franchise and other committed Iraq nationalists and outsiders? Does she further agree that the right response—indeed, the only response—is an increasingly skilled and effective counter-insurgency strategy? Have her colleagues in the Ministry of Defence and the British Armed Forces had the chance to talk to Pentagon officials about the urgent need for light infantry units, more specialised scout squads that can reach out and strike guerrilla bases, together with an intelligence network akin to something along the lines of the old British Middle East intelligence networks, using both political agents and operatives who can look and speak like the local population? Is it not important to put over the message that that is a better approach for our American allies, who are no doubt doing their best, than cumbersome army formations which can move only by road—thereby asking for trouble—and conduct abortive house raids or, to be frank, go on wild goose chases after elusive weapons of mass destruction?

Does the noble Baroness agree that a reconstitution of Iraqi security forces, including border guards, civil militiamen and police units, is a very important part of the process? I know that it has started already, but could it not go faster and further—although I can see clearly that a great deal of training over many months will be needed for these forces to make them effective in the new and unfamiliar conditions of terrorism and the need for counter-insurgency operations?

Even more important, is not the central need to get away from the idea, which is in many Iraqi minds, of the coalition as an occupying power and to ensure that coalition power gradually reduces while Iraqi power gradually takes over? Can we be sure that the Iraqi Governing Council will be strengthened and not weakened, as was hinted in Washington last week? Further, can we be sure that all progress towards a new constitution will be pressed forward as hard as possible?

Looking back into history, would it not be wise to heed the advice given in 1917 by the British Deputy Commissioner for Basra, who happened to be my great-uncle, after the ejection of the Ottomans? He said that the key to stability and democracy in Mesopotamia lay in adapting existing complex and ancient institutions in the region to new needs;

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avoiding all suspicion of sectarian partiality; maintaining a strict reputation for justice; pursuing a progressive policy for ample provision of good education and employment; keeping wide open the door for access by local leaders to the new rulers—this was after the Turks had gone—and to disrupting as little as possible the customs, social activities and relationships between ethnic and tribal groups which sew this ancient society together. Will the Minister assure us that, while I fully recognise that much has been achieved and the media reports of violence inevitably give a false impression of progress, Her Majesty's Government will pursue those principles today and encourage our American allies and other coalition forces to adopt them as well?

We need now not only a carefully worked out humanitarian plan, as was promised, but a carefully worked out security plan as well. At the moment, we are not seeing nearly enough of either.

3.30 p.m.

Baroness Northover: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement. On behalf of these Benches, I should like to express our condemnation of the attacks that have occurred in Iraq, including those on the International Red Cross and, today, on the Italian base at Nasiriyah in which 12 Italian soldiers were killed. I also pay tribute to those working on the reconstruction of Iraq from Britain and around the world, including the son of the noble Baroness, Lady O'Neill, who was wounded recently in an attack there.

However, is the Minister concerned that, as many predicted before the war, the presence of the occupying powers in Iraq is now serving as a focus for attacks, as we have heard? Although I am encouraged by what the noble Baroness said about the progress being made in Iraq as far as ordinary citizens are concerned—which is very welcome—does she not agree that the general security position for the occupying forces and the international agencies, whose aid is absolutely vital, is now getting worse?

The Government have acknowledged that there was insufficient planning for filling the vacuum caused by the fall of the Iraqi regime. Does the noble Baroness agree that reconstruction needs a concerted effort on the parts of all those involved and, especially, the help of the international community? Does she feel concerned, as we do, about the attitude of the Bush Administration? Can she comment on why Paul Bremer has been recalled to Washington so soon after his last visit, necessitating the cancellation of his meeting in Iraq with the Polish Prime Minister? Does she share with me enormous concern on hearing the Foreign Secretary say this morning on the Today programme that he is,

    "not party to the talks"?

Can she explain why he is not party to the talks?

Can the noble Baroness explain what the Coalition Provisional Authority is a coalition of? There is an overwhelming feeling that this is not, and never has been, a coalition of equal partners, or even, perhaps, a coalition at all.

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We now hear rumours that the Americans are considering disbanding the Iraqi Governing Council. What light can the Minister shed on this? Is she aware that yesterday, at a meeting here in Parliament, a member of that governing council, Dr al-Rubaie, stated that they were being rushed because of the deadline of the American elections. He predicted that there was a serious danger of Iraq descending into chaos—of, as he put it, "falling off the cliff" into disaster. If the Iraqi Governing Council is scrapped, how can it come up with a timetable for the transfer of sovereignty and the holding of elections by 15th December, as set out in UNSCR 1511?

Can the noble Baroness tell the House what efforts are being made to ensure that the reconstruction of Iraq is being done in such a way that it is most effective; that the occupying forces recognise their responsibilities to the Iraqi people; and that the US election timetable is not allowed to dictate events there?

The Prime Minister said at Questions today that dialogue with the Americans is constant and at every level. Dialogue involves two parties. That his Foreign Secretary is not party to this dialogue at his level of government is surely worrying. The visit by President Bush next week gives an opportunity for dialogue—that is, if any Brits are allowed close to him. Can the Minister assure the House that the need to act together and with the international community in the interests of Iraq will be uppermost in discussions, and that the threats to Syria we have heard recently—which do not help to stabilise the region—will be similarly addressed?

We note the pledges made in Madrid. Pledges were made in Tokyo for Afghanistan, but a very small amount was delivered. Can the Minister comment on whether the position with Iraq is likely to be better? I note that the EU was not a major contributor at Madrid given the size of its economy. Can she comment on this? Under the circumstances, it is perhaps not surprising that the Government felt they must come up with more.

Does the noble Baroness agree, however, that it is surprising that some of this extra money has been taken from the poorest people in so-called middle income countries? Does she further agree that both Clare Short and herself said that extra money for Iraq would come from DfID's reserves? That was bad enough, given the unknown contingencies likely to come down the track.

The Prime Minister pledged on 25th April, in a letter to Christian Aid, that:

    "Funds would not be redirected from programmes supporting poor people elsewhere".

But it has been made very clear that the decision to redirect money "earlier than had been decided" from other countries to supply the deficit for Iraq was something that the Government had not planned to do before the invasion of Iraq. Can the Minister elaborate on which programmes are going to be cut? Can she assure us that DfID will not lose other battles with the Treasury and the Prime Minister over this?

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What influence is the UK having in preventing the selling of Iraqi assets to foreign ownership prior to Iraqis controlling their own affairs? What influence can the UK bring to bear on this matter?

Iraq remains extremely volatile. That volatility, and the military presence in the region of the US and the UK, is playing into the hands of terrorist groups. I hope the Minister can assure the House that the focus on the rebuilding of Iraq for the Iraqis will remain uppermost in the minds of those involved there.

3.37 p.m.

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Howell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, for their comments about the role being played by our troops and other personnel. I join with them in their condemnation of the recent attacks we have seen, including the one in Nasiriyah.

Let me address each point in turn. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, referred to the difficulty of reconstruction and its dependence on mastering the security situation. I absolutely agree. In fact, the Statement made that point.

As noble Lords are aware, the resistance in Iraq comes from three different sources. There is a criminal element because Saddam Hussein let so many prisoners out of gaol before the conflict; there are the Ba'athists; and there are those coming into Iraq from outside who represent a range of terrorist organisations.

The noble Lord, Lord Howell, asked about the relationship between the MoD and the Pentagon and the need for ongoing discussions. I can assure the noble Lord that discussions are ongoing.

As regards the reconstruction of the Iraqi army, we have seen already the formation of two battalions. We also have 40,000 Iraqi police on the streets. Our target is 70,000.

As to the issue of the authority of Iraqis and the need to strengthen the governing council, the noble Lord will know that we have made it absolutely clear that our focus is on passing authority back to the Iraqis as quickly as possible. We now have Iraqi Ministers and we have the governing council. The Security Council resolution, which makes it absolutely clear that we want to see a plan setting out a programme for Iraq—including a new constitution—is very important indeed.

On the history, and the quote given by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, I totally agree with the noble Lord's great-uncle, although I am not always able to agree with the noble Lord himself.

The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, also stressed security, particularly the fact that it is becoming more difficult for coalition forces and the international agencies. That is absolutely right. At the same time, it is important to stress that the security situation is getting better for Iraqis, and we need to remember that.

On the UK not being party to the talks, it is absolutely right that the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority can have talks with the US Administration. I cannot see a problem with that. My

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right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary is on his way to Washington. He has had endless discussions with his opposite number, Colin Powell, and those discussions will continue. Of course it is a coalition; of course there have to be discussions between the two sides. That is ongoing and it will continue. I cannot quite understand this excitement about the fact that Paul Bremer has gone back to the United States for consultations with the US Government. Why is there a problem with that? I simply do not understand it.

In conclusion, let me reiterate what UN Security Council Resolution 1511 does in terms of a timetable. It provides a framework around which the whole international community can unite to assist the people of Iraq in building a better future. It confirms the goal of transferring power to the Iraqis as soon as possible, and has requested that the Iraqis produce a timetable for the process in the next two months.

3.42 p.m.

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, my noble friend referred to the need to reconstitute the Iraqi army, a point not touched on by either the Liberal or Conservative spokesmen this afternoon. Can my noble friend give us some idea of the contribution Her Majesty's forces are making to that very worthy and urgent objective?

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