Iraq (Relief and Reconstruction)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:21 pm on 24th March 2003.

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Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman Shadow Minister (Women), Shadow Secretary of State for International Development 4:21 pm, 24th March 2003

I thank the right hon. Lady for coming to the House and for giving me advance sight of her statement. At this time, I do not intend to dwell on the personal difficulties that she has faced over the past few days.

We accept the Secretary of State's apology for her inability to answer our urgent question last week, but why did the Government decide to field a Foreign Office Minister to answer questions on the work of the Department for International Development? It was not an edifying sight when the Secretary of State's deputy had to whisper answers to the hapless Foreign Office Minister.

Will the Secretary of State give an assurance to hon. Members on both sides of the House that she will give us opportunities to debate these issues, as well as placing statements in the Library, and, for those of us who enjoy information technology, posting them regularly on the departmental website? We share a sense of disappointment that more progress was not achieved during the meetings in New York, and I would like to ask the Secretary of State how much she attributes the continued difficulty in getting resolutions out of the United Nations to the intransigence of France and to the loss of confidence of the US Administration in the capacity of the United Nations to perform its role. Why has not the Prime Minister persuaded President Bush that there must be a UN resolution authorising the reconstruction of Iraq? What would be the legal position of the Army and our armed forces if no such resolution were passed?

In the absence of a UN lead in co-ordinating the humanitarian relief effort and the plans for post-conflict Iraq, does the Secretary of State accept that it will be the military that delivers the humanitarian aid in the first instance? Is her Department now giving every assistance to our armed forces? Now that she has confirmed that the oil-for-food programme has been suspended, will she tell us how long we have in which to avert a serious crisis? She referred to two months' worth of rations, but, within that, will she make it clear whether we have days or weeks? Given the sheer scale of the relief required, and her news that the coalition forces will not be able to use the oil-for-food programme distribution network, how long will it take to get agreement on this issue? Will the Secretary of State tell the House whether sufficient quantities of food and supplies have been pre-positioned on Iraq's borders for this purpose? It is one thing to have humanitarian stocks on ships moored in the Gulf; it is another to have them where they can easily be brought into the country.

The Secretary of State will be aware of the predicted exodus of refugees from Iraq. Is there any sign of large-scale movement of people to the borders? There are reports that Kurds are fleeing towns in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq and heading north. Does the Secretary of State agree that there is a danger that a large number of Kurdish refugees heading for the Turkish border could push the region into serious ethnic conflict? What is the Government's strategy for preventing such a humanitarian disaster? Is the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees running refugee camps in the region? If so, do they have sufficient supplies of food and shelter?

Different amounts of money have been bandied around in terms of our contribution to the humanitarian relief effort in Iraq. Has the Department for International Development been given any new money? If so, how much? Will the Secretary of State also tell us about the £30 million given to the Ministry of Defence for humanitarian relief? When she says that we will make an appropriate contribution to the United Nations, over and above the £13 million, how much will that be?

If the military strategy is to avoid destroying the infrastructure of Iraq, to enable reconstruction to take place when the war is over, the disruption to the water and electricity supplies in Basra needs a prompt humanitarian response. Do the Government have plans to create humanitarian aid corridors in Basra and across Iraq, or will the International Committee of the Red Cross be allowed through our coalition lines?

We warmly welcome the Secretary of State's restated commitment to the Government's intention to press for the publication of the road map for peace in the middle east. Following what the Prime Minister has said, will she confirm that that will happen in a matter of days, once the new Palestinian Cabinet has been formed?

So much is at stake in this conflict; the credibility of not only the Secretary of State but our country is on the line. Will she give us an assurance that she will put all her personal concerns to one side, in her effort to do everything possible to get aid through to the needy people of Iraq? Our allied forces have now advanced well into Iraqi territory, and I wish them well as they continue to face great dangers. The fate of the people of Iraq depends on a speedy victory by the allied coalition over Saddam Hussein, and on the quality of our humanitarian response.