Iraq (Relief and Reconstruction)

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

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short Secretary of State, Department for International Development 4:21 pm, 24th March 2003

I would like to tell the hon. Lady that I have absolutely no personal difficulties. I had some concerns about the run-up to the crisis and about the divisions in the international community, but now we are clear that we want the conflict to be over as rapidly as possible with the minimum of civilian casualties, a good humanitarian effort and a rapid reconstruction of the country. There is no difference between us; there is no problem about that.

The fielding of a Foreign Office Minister was my decision; he had been recently involved in humanitarian issues. I am sorry, as I have said, that the briefing was inadequate and that the House was inadequately answered, but my visit to New York and Washington was important: it just simply had to be.

On the question of debates in the House, as the hon. Lady knows, that is a matter for the usual channels. I see her right hon. Friend David Maclean sitting there, and I would be more than happy for us to debate these issues more frequently.

Progress in New York was very good; I do not know from where the hon. Lady got the idea that it was not. After all the bitterness and division—the bitterness became very great—the first priority was to get the work moving forward on passing a resolution on oil for food, so to do so in such a way is extremely good indeed. It is likely to be passed shortly, and talks are taking place about the possibility of the resolution for reconstruction. I had constructive talks throughout and I am hopeful of progress.

The hon. Lady seems to be under a misapprehension. There is no need for any UN resolution for the UN system to be involved in humanitarian relief—that is a duty everywhere at any time. The UN is not there because of the conflict, but it is ready and poised with people and supplies in the region. It will move in as soon as it is possible for it to do so. That answers her question significantly on the possibility of averting a crisis.

The oil-for-food programme has no engagement with coalition forces. It brings enormous supplies into the country—$10 billion-worth a year—and there is an Iraqi system for distributing it, but the head of that system will be taken off that role. However, the UN will be working to maintain the system so that people continue to be supplied. The military will have no part in that.

On refugees, different projections are bandied about, but, obviously, we have to prepare for a series of eventualities, because depending on what happens there will be smaller or larger numbers of refugees. At the moment, there are not large-scale movements of people. Kurdish people are moving up, but not to the border, and going to stay with family. They are moving out of areas where they think they might be vulnerable because of history, but we have to ensure that supplies are in place for them.

Yes, the UNHCR has pre-positioned supplies. As I said in the statement—I gave the hon. Lady a copy—the MOD £30 million has come directly from the Treasury. The money that has been disbursed by my Department up to now has all come out of its contingency reserve. I am talking with the Treasury, as I am sure Members can imagine, and I am expecting some help in order to make a generous contribution to the UN flash appeal and the Red Cross flash appeal.

On Basra, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, the Red Cross, in the wonderful role that it still fulfils even in times of conflict, is in there and has already restored more than 40 per cent. of the water supplies to people. It is still working, and our military is preparing further arrangements for water supplies if there is any future difficulty.

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, President Bush is committed to taking the road map forward. The new Palestinian Prime Minister wants to form his Government before it is received, and we hope that all that will be done shortly and the road map published.