Role of the United Nations in Iraq

– in the House of Commons at 4:44 pm on 10th September 2003.

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Question again proposed.

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State, Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, Shadow Foreign Secretary 5:09 pm, 10th September 2003

The debate on Iraq and the United Nations takes place at a significant time. Unlike some of the discussions that we have held in past few days, there will be little difference between us. The fact that the subject of Iraq has been raised on the Floor of the House for the third consecutive day shows the concern about the current position that is shared by hon. Members of all parties.

The concern is not new to me; I encountered it among Iraqis when I visited Baghdad on 23 July. The other day, the Secretary of State criticised me for raising some concerns and criticisms. However, they do not originate with me but with people to whom I talked in Baghdad and other parts of Iraq. They mentioned them because they believed that it was important that we understood them.

What is happening—to be more accurate, what is not happening in Iraq—is unfair to the Iraqis, who are unsurprisingly growing resentful, and to our armed forces who, through no fault of theirs, sometimes have to face the backlash of the resentment. Our servicemen and women are doing a remarkable job in difficult circumstances and I wish to pay tribute to them. I wish the additional troops who are being deployed to Iraq today every success in their mission. However, we owe them not only moral support but a clear and active civil programme of restoring the basic amenities of water, power and working sewers to the provinces under our control. That will relieve pressure from not only the Iraqis but our armed forces. Government uncertainty about the reconstruction programme helps neither party.

Since our debate on 24 September last year, I have argued that the involvement of the international community through the United Nations is essential to rebuilding Iraq. A little more than a week ago, the United Kingdom took over the presidency of the United Nations Security Council; the United States takes on the role next month. We are therefore at a critical moment, when together we can promote a positive role for the United Nations. The United States is sometimes portrayed as the obstacle to United Nations involvement, yet President Bush has made it clear that deeper United Nations involvement and the further internationalisation of the coalition in Iraq is essential for the prosperity and security of the region. As I pointed out earlier, the United States tabled the text of the draft resolution. I urge all nations on the United Nations Security Council, especially the permanent members, who have sometimes been the problem rather than the solution, to work constructively towards passing the resolution.

However, the resolution must not be allowed to complicate the security situation in Iraq. It is clear that, in military terms, a single chain of command and control must operate in that country. The specific circumstances and the disparity in troop numbers between the participating nations mean that it must logically be American-led. To suggest otherwise defies reality and common sense and would be a recipe for confusion. That is why I support the Government amendment.

The draft resolution, which the Security Council is currently considering,

"authorizes a multinational force, under unified command".

There is currently a multinational force, under unified command, in Iraq; the resolution adds the authorisation of the United Nations. That is the right way to proceed and we support that.

Photo of Mr Simon Thomas Mr Simon Thomas Plaid Cymru, Ceredigion

What should be the deciding body on any withdrawal of military force from Iraq? Who should decide when the time is right—America, as head of the unified control that the right hon. Gentleman outlined, or the United Nations? The final arbiter of when military force withdraws is important for whether the Iraqis perceive the forces as occupying or bringing them peace and justice.

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State, Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, Shadow Foreign Secretary

We are talking about practical realities, and about the security of Iraq. Those who are best able to judge the security situation are those who are responsible for securing it in the first place—the armed forces, not the United Nations. It is therefore inevitable that the decision will be taken by the armed forces in consultation with the various participating nations, which is how the matter should be decided. I shall give another example shortly, which will show that that where we should direct our attention.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Scottish National Party, Banff and Buchan

The doctrine that decisions on withdrawal from—or, for that matter, entry into—a theatre of combat are made by the armed forces is extraordinary. Such decisions are political decisions made by whoever is authorising the armed forces. The right hon. Gentleman was asked whether withdrawal would be authorised by the American command—presumably, the President of the United States—or by the United Nations. If the unified command is reporting to the United Nations, surely it should be the United Nations that makes the decision.

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State, Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, Shadow Foreign Secretary

I do not know how much knowledge the hon. Gentleman has of military matters, but I would say to him that those in charge of security are best placed to decide when changes can be made to security operations. Those who have been responsible for providing the security in the first place should properly take the final decisions on whether the situation in Iraq is secure enough for withdrawal to take place. I shall return to the issue later, but a good example of the principle in operation is to be found in Afghanistan, where decisions on security are taken by the armed forces and the decisions on humanitarian and political questions are taken by the United Nations. That relationship is working well, and it is one that we should look at closely in relation to Iraq.

The formal United Nations involvement should not be military. The passing of the current draft resolution will create a mandate for the further involvement of other nations in the security of Iraq, which would be welcome. In particular, it could open the door to India's military involvement. Furthermore, I understand from conversations that I have had that some of the Gulf states might be able to provide Arab forces to help in this endeavour, which would be an important extension of the multinational nature of the force that is in place.

The endeavour should not be a UN peacekeeping force in the sense that we understand it at present, however. Kofi Annan has ruled out a blue helmet—or, indeed, a blue beret—operation for good reasons, not least because it will not be a traditional peacekeeping operation of the kind in which the United Nations is involved elsewhere. At the moment, it is a counter-insurgency mission, which is not, and should not be, the role of the United Nations. For that reason, I believe that the definition set out in the draft resolution text is the correct one.

In Afghanistan, the United Nations has a significant role to play on the political and humanitarian front, in co-ordination with NATO and the American forces on the security front. It achieves its purpose without seeking to exert control over the military operation. The military, for its part, welcomes the work of the UN, which allows it to concentrate on its security responsibilities. I saw this in action when I visited Afghanistan in July. I talked to the United States and United Kingdom military commanders there, and to Lakhdar Brahimi of the United Nations. There was a clear and important demarcation of responsibilities, which worked well. That was before NATO took over the command of ISAF, which I believe will help still further by creating greater continuity on the security side.

In Afghanistan, as in Iraq, one of the priorities is to move as swiftly as possible to a democratically elected indigenous Administration. The military coalition accepts its role in training local security forces to provide security across the country, without which a successful election would be unlikely to be held. The United Nations has the vital responsibility of helping to carry out sensitive work on voter registration and other legal technicalities, and advising on constitutional options. Afghanistan provides an example of how that relationship is working successfully on the ground, and it is just such a relationship that is envisaged in the United Nations draft resolution. It is a model that could usefully be adapted and adopted for Iraq.

If, however, the United Nations is to play a significant role in delivering a bright future for Iraq, two things are needed immediately: first, as far as possible its security must be assured; and, secondly, civilian reconstruction must be stepped up and the contracts to do so must be in place. After the tragic death of Sergio Vieira de Mello and other United Nations personnel, not least our own Fiona Watson, in the bombing of the United Nations building, the question of United Nations security is paramount. I heard what the Secretary of State said, and I do not wish to know about the private and secret discussions that took place. However, when I was in Baghdad, the United Nations was beginning to be aware of a threat and was considering discontinuing its flights into Baghdad airport, because there had been several incidents of missile lock-ons. It was beginning to see that there was a threat, and I still regret that, for the reasons the Foreign Secretary stated, it had kept itself outside the secure area on the east side of the river where the security provided by the security forces was not available.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Conservative, Harborough

My right hon. Friend may not want to know what discussions the Foreign Secretary had with his counterparts, which are necessarily confidential, but we are entitled to comment that the safety and overall security of United Nations' personnel can be achieved effectively and practically only with the assistance of United States' armed forces guarding its premises. That may be politically inconvenient and diplomatically uncomfortable, but if we are to avoid tragedies such as those that took place in August, as members of the United Nations we should swallow our pride and allow those who have the means to help to protect us.

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State, Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, Shadow Foreign Secretary

I agree in principle with my hon. and learned Friend Mr. Garnier, but there was another dimension: the United Nations was in its old building, which was on the east side of the river. That was not part of the secured area in Baghdad. That was its decision. It was not so much that it required American assistance in protecting its premises. I would have preferred it if its premises had been within the secure area, because that would have lessened the likelihood of what happened. It is easy to be wise after the event, but I drove past the United Nations building and, having in my time in Northern Ireland learned that terrorists look for soft, rather than hard, targets, I wondered whether the United Nations was not presenting itself as a soft target and therefore a temptation to terrorists.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Conservative, Harborough

I do not want to labour the point, because it is not central to the debate, but surely there is not much difference between siting premises in an insecure area, and having them within a secure area but refusing to accept the protection of security forces.

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State, Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, Shadow Foreign Secretary

Ideally—I hope this will happen now—there should be a United Nations presence, but within the secured area, where it can take advantage of the fact that it will be a harder target than in the unsecured area. The United Nations must be brought to understand that if it is to succeed in Iraq, it must accept the security umbrella of what I hope will be reinforced coalition military protection.

United Nations security will also be enhanced by greater co-operation from the Iraqi people themselves. I say again that that is more likely to be forthcoming if the civilian programme of reconstruction, particularly of basic amenities, progresses apace. The question we must ask is, will it be forthcoming? After three days, I have not yet heard anything concrete from the Government to suggest that there is a clear, structured and timetabled plan for physical reconstruction. As it is five months since the war ended, that is simply not good enough.

I want to make it clear that I have nothing but praise for the performance of our troops, who have done much to improve the lives of people in Iraq, not least building a new hospital in Basra. However, our troops are not there to act as surrogate civilian contractors, and I was surprised to hear the Foreign Secretary on BBC radio yesterday apparently suggesting that they were. That would be a travesty of their role and of their responsibilities.

I repeat that the dearth of civilian contracts is not a complaint raised by me but one that was raised with me not only by Iraqis, but also by senior British military sources when I was there. It is difficult, in the absence of a clear and stated programme and schedule of work, to avoid the impression that the Government are confused about how that programme will develop. We have been left asking whether there was a post-war plan, let alone what has been described as an exit strategy, but which I like to think of as a completion strategy.

In June this year the erstwhile Secretary of State for International Development admitted that

"the preparations for post-conflict were poor and we have got the chaos and suffering that we have got now".

Those are the words of the person who had been responsible for producing a plan, and that began to fill me with suspicion that a plan might not have been made.

The present Secretary of State, Lady Amos, admitted

"we would all say there are things we did not get right with respect to the planning and administration" of the post-war regime.

On Monday, I asked the Foreign Secretary about reconstruction contracts. I now ask him again: how many civilian construction contracts were in place when I visited Iraq on 24 July? How many contracts are now in place? How many are in preparation, and how long is the period between project identification and the start of the work? Those are questions that were put to me, and we have still not had answers to them. I hope that we may have answers today.

A strong civilian programme of reconstruction will make an enormous contribution to stability on the streets, and will create a stronger environment within which the UN can play the important role that is increasingly open to it in Iraq. The same would be achieved by a demonstration by the Government that there is a strategy for reconstruction, for returning power to the Iraqi people as soon as possible, and—on completion of those tasks—for getting out. That would have a powerful effect on sceptical people in Iraq, and would also enhance stability on the ground.

Of course the most urgent problem at the moment is the rising wave of terrorism and insurgency. The priority must be to root that out and eliminate it. The Conservatives welcome the deployment of additional troops, although the pressure of overstretch in our armed forces cannot be ignored. We also welcome the programme of retraining and recommissioning Iraqi military and police forces. I believe that their role in combating both terrorism and lawlessness will be crucial. Similar training carried out in Afghanistan has given us some indications of how that can work effectively.

If reconstruction, political development and the satisfactory provision of humanitarian aid are to be achieved, a secure environment must be achieved and maintained. I have no doubt that the UN can play an effective and vital role in such an environment.

I believe that a new chapter is opening in Iraq. I believe that what we did in the war was right. What we must not do now is squander the peace for lack of political direction or will. There are positive signs, which must offer hope.

On Sunday President Bush demonstrated a clear determination to make reconstruction work, and I hope that the Government here will do the same. Through the work that he did in Baghdad, Sergio Vieira de Mello showed that the UN can perform a vital role. We owe it to him, and to all the others who have died in the service of securing and building a better future for the people of Iraq, to get the peace right and to give them back their country, free of tyranny and free of the reign of fear. To do that, the Government must show more direction than they have hitherto, and simply get on with the job.

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes Labour/Co-operative, Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley 5:28 pm, 10th September 2003

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on this subject in the House, having had the opportunity to do so elsewhere.

Like the Foreign Secretary, I thought the speech of Mr. Campbell reasonable and sensible, as most of his speeches are. I believe he genuinely accepts that the Government are taking on board most of his views. Others, however, do not seem to accept that. They do not seem to be listening to what the Foreign Secretary, the Defence Secretary and the Minister of State, Department for International Development are saying. I am reminded of the old phrase "none so deaf as those that will not hear". I think that some Members, and some people outside, do not want to hear of the progress that is being made.

The most remarkable progress being made, in the circumstances, is the development of political pluralism. We have a governing council, and we now have a Cabinet with, at last, a Foreign Minister who speaks on behalf of Iraq. I have heard him on the radio. He is not one of Saddam Hussein's puppets. That is tremendous. The governing council represents people who used to be exiles, and people who stayed in Iraq under Saddam Hussein in the face of great difficulties—people of all creeds and backgrounds. But of course, we have to make progress, and as the Foreign Secretary rightly said, the United Nations has a vital role in preparing for, supervising and supporting the elections. I was delighted to hear the Foreign Secretary say that the Iraqi governing council will work out the timetable for those elections and for the transition to democracy. That seems right, and it will of course need the support of the coalition, at least in terms of security. So progress is being made on democratic development as well.

The resolution gives rise to the question of the command structure, and in that regard I again agree with the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife. Yesterday, Mr. Salmond yet again made a fool of himself in his flat-footed way. He believes that everything is black and white. The shadow Foreign Secretary will remember the old days of cowboy and Indian films, in which the cowboys always appeared in white and the baddies always appeared in black, just so that people could identify them. That is the simple world of the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan.

When it became clear yesterday that everyone but the hon. Gentleman agreed that the force will not be blue-helmeted—even Kofi Annan says that the force will be not a UN one but a multinational one—the rug was pulled from under his argument. When I asked him who, other than the Americans, could lead such a multi-national force—I suggested that perhaps the Lithuanians or the Poles could—he had no answer. It is a pity that innate anti-Americanism suffuses the views of certain Members, who are to be found not only on the Opposition Benches—there are one or two on the Labour Benches as well, my hon. Friend Mr. Galloway being one of them.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Scottish National Party, Banff and Buchan

Given the right hon. Gentleman's view of the world, I am sure that he always has a white hat on. Some 24 hours after yesterday's debate, even he should have stumbled across the fact that the question is not whether there is a unified command structure, but to whom it reports. If he can, will he tell us now whether he thinks that a unified command structure—whichever the lead country—will report to the White House or to the Security Council? If he can answer that question he will, at last, rise in my estimation.

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes Labour/Co-operative, Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley

Like many of the critics, when the hon. Gentleman is defeated on one matter, he changes the subject. He has moved the goalposts: yesterday, he was talking about the military command structure, and it is of course sensible that the US lead that. Remember that anything that the hon. Gentleman says must be put in the context of his comments on the liberation of Kosovo, when he described the Government's action as an unpardonable folly. What he said was an unpardonable folly, as he will live to realise.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Scottish National Party, Banff and Buchan

Whom will the unified command structure report to: the White House or the United Nations Security Council? That is the question—can we now have an answer?

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes Labour/Co-operative, Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley

The situation is much more complicated than that. It is a matter for the Government to answer, and I am sure that the able Minister, who is doing the job that I used to do a few years ago, will have a reply.

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes Labour/Co-operative, Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley

I shall continue, as a lot of people want to get in. On reconstruction, again, there are none so deaf as those that do not want to hear. On Monday, the Foreign Secretary made a statement on reconstruction—about hospitals, schools and everything that is improving. The shadow Foreign Secretary wants a neat plan to be drawn up. That is the latest soundbite that he has come up with—it is the Conservatives who are the original spinners. I must disagree with his proposal because any plan needs to be flexible. It must take account of the security situation, and of the sabotage of the oil pipelines and water supply. Such incidents have set back some of the existing plans and the progress that needs to be made.

People criticise the security forces for being unable to deal with some of the atrocities that have taken place. They ask how such things can happen. Of course they can happen in a country with Iraq's history. They even happen—tragically, as we saw yesterday—in Israel, a country with the most sophisticated intelligence system and a strong security and defence system. Israel could not guard against suicide bombers. How can we expect the embryonic state of Iraq to do so?

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State, Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, Shadow Foreign Secretary

This is not an academic question, but one that is real for people in Iraq. Somebody put it to me in this way: how can countries that put men on the moon 30 years ago not turn the lights back on in Baghdad and Basra in four months? All people are asking is to be told whether there is a plan. I have asked about something even more fundamental, the contracts for reconstruction that will put the lights back on Baghdad and Basra. That is what people want to know and we in this House must answer.

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes Labour/Co-operative, Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley

The right hon. Gentleman will get an answer; I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will give it in his reply. Fortunately, when the Americans were putting men on the moon, they did not have terrorists and Saddam Hussein supporters sabotaging their efforts. I welcome the conversion of the shadow Foreign Secretary and the Tories to involving the United Nations, the United Nations Development Programme, the World Food Programme and all the agencies that are doing a good job in the reconstruction of Iraq. It was the Tories who took Britain out of UNESCO—not an indication of co-operation—and it needed a Labour Government to bring Britain back into it. We need no lectures on supporting the UN from the Conservatives.

Photo of Mark Hendrick Mark Hendrick Labour/Co-operative, Preston

Will my right hon. Friend comment on the fact that if a plan and timetable were made available, it would be an invitation to terrorists to derail that plan?

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes Labour/Co-operative, Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley

I do not need to add to that extremely good point.

We have been asked why the French, Germans and Russians should now help in reconstruction. I can understand that they do not want to support any kind of resolution that retrospectively approves the action taken by the coalition; that is logical. But if they are really concerned about the interests of the people of Iraq, they must want to help reconstruct that ravaged country following the decades of Saddam Hussein's dictatorship. Surely any country with concern about poor, under-privileged and disadvantaged people will want to do that and I hope that they will take account of that.

Like many hon. Members, my attention has been diverted from some of the main issues by the Hutton inquiry. I wish to put on record here, as I have done elsewhere, that most of my colleagues and I voted for action in Iraq not on the basis of one paragraph in one dossier. The 45 minutes claim appeared in only two out of thousands of parliamentary questions. I invite the critics to go back to the debates on Iraq and see how many times that matter was mentioned; it was not put forward as the reason for action. There was a range of other things and not just intelligence information: the continual flouting of UN resolutions by Saddam Hussein, the invasions of Kuwait and Iran and the killings and torture. Regime change was not the legal justification for action, but it is a very desirable outcome of it.

Photo of Mr Simon Thomas Mr Simon Thomas Plaid Cymru, Ceredigion

The right hon. Gentleman is correct of course in what he says about the 45 minutes claim in its specifics, but surely even he—

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. I remind all hon. Members that the motion deals with the role of the UN in the reconstruction of Iraq rather than the question of the 45 minutes.

Photo of Mr Simon Thomas Mr Simon Thomas Plaid Cymru, Ceredigion

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, I shall bear that in mind. I wanted to remind the right hon. Gentleman of a wider point, which I hoped would be in order—that the resignation speech of Mr. Cook, the previous Foreign Secretary, absolutely demolished the case for war. Surely the right hon. Gentleman took that into account and we should—

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. I really must bring hon. Members back to the wording of the motion before the House.

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes Labour/Co-operative, Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and may I say that the resignation speeches would have been treated with greater respect if they had been made a little earlier?

As to the decision to get rid of the dictator, I would like to quote an e-mail. E-mails are suddenly becoming dangerous things, but I shall quote one of many that I received in support of what I have said. It says as a postscript at the end:

"I notice that the media is not talking about Dr. Kelly's view that regime change was the only answer in Iraq."

That appeared in his sister's testimony to the Hutton inquiry, but as you said, Madam Deputy Speaker, we are now talking about the future.

Some of the critics ask where the weapons of mass destruction are—[Interruption.] They are doing it again. That implies that Saddam Hussein never had any weapons of mass destruction. That is the logic of what they say. Well, what did he use to invade Kuwait and Iran? With what did he kill the hundreds of thousands of people, many at Halabja? Why did he turn out the weapons inspectors in 1998 and refuse to let them back in? What did he have to hide? Saddam Hussein was very good at hiding weapons, particularly chemical and biological weapons, which are not difficult to hide.

In conclusion, today's debate is welcome and has been constructive, but I was not sure about the purpose of yesterday's debate. It seemed to me a desperate attempt by the official Opposition to show that they were indeed the official Opposition and would not be upstaged by the Liberal Democrats.

I finish by dealing with another criticism of those who supported the Government's action—that Saddam Hussein was only one dictator and that there were others around the world. I am just as concerned about Mugabe and about the regime in Burma. I have not heard much from Opposition Members about Burma or much support for Aung San Suu Kyi

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. I hope that we will not hear anything about Burma, because the motion before the House is about the reconstruction of Iraq.

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes Labour/Co-operative, Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley

You are quite right, Madam Deputy Speaker, and the reconstruction of Iraq would not have been possible unless we had got rid of Saddam Hussein. I am proud to be one of those who voted in favour of the action that did get rid of him.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Conservative, Harborough 5:43 pm, 10th September 2003

I was amused to hear the speech of Mr. Foulkes. I have heard a lot of him on the radio and seen him on television throughout much of the summer, and he has loyally advanced the Government's cause. I rather suspect, however, that he picked up the wrong notes when he came to today's debate. He picked up the "Let's support Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair and others in the frame under the Hutton inquiry" notes, rather than the notes that he should have made and thought about for today's debate on the Liberal Democrat motion and the Government's amendment. But there we are: he is an enjoyable Member of the House and we all listen to him with some amusement.

I have the greatest respect for Mr. Campbell for the manner in which he advanced his case this afternoon and for the clever way in which he said that this afternoon's debate should not descend into party-political argument. That makes it hugely impolite to be rude about the Liberal Democrat motion. I shall not be impolite, but I will have one or two things to say about it.

The motion seeks to portray the Liberal Democrats as concerned about Iraq and its future. I have no doubt that they are, but they leave reality behind when it comes to the implementation of those concerns on the ground. It is unreal to expect that the process of political transition, including the restoration of sovereignty and democratic control to the Iraqi people, can be achieved under the auspices of the UN. It is unreal to demand that the entire responsibility for the economic reconstruction and rebuilding of Iraq should be under an Iraqi provisional Government, with or without the assistance of the United Nations, and it is unreal to replace existing security arrangements with a multinational force under a unified command obliged—I stress the word "obliged", which appears in the motion—to report to the Security Council.

I accept that the Liberal Democrats—at least, most of them—did not vote for the US-UK military operation earlier this year that led to the toppling of Saddam Hussein—

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Conservative, Harborough

Well at least they were consistent. I voted for the Government on that occasion, but I shall not now rehearse the arguments for and against the proposal to take military action, both because it has taken place and cannot be undone and because the facts that we now have to deal with—as those responsible for holding the Government to account—are somewhat different and demand different answers.

It is true to say that the UK's influence in the Security Council and the General Assembly has always been high, even if not always acceptable to every member of it. We are now in a position to exert even greater influence than before, because we are to assume the presidency of the Security Council this month. We are helped by that and by having high calibre professional public servants posted to our delegation in New York. I am reminded that earlier this year, just before the war started, I was part of an all-party Anglo-American parliamentary group delegation to the UN, where I met Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the then UN ambassador, who is now—I am happy to say—posted to our delegation in Baghdad as the Government's special representative. He represents exactly the high level of professional assistance that Governments of all colours have been able to rely on. It was on that occasion also that I was fortunate enough to meet again Fiona Watson, whom I knew from when she worked in the Library. It was clear when I met her in February that she was full of enthusiasm for the work that she was doing as a public servant for the United Nations. It is all the more regrettable that such a star was snuffed out in August this year. It is therefore with some sadness that I take part in this debate, as well as with some happy memories, because it reminds me of that valuable and wonderful person.

It is also fair to say that our influence in the United Nations has been high historically because we have had the political and diplomatic will to ensure that our national interests are advanced and protected on the world stage, either by ourselves, as for example in the Falkland Islands, or with allies, as in the two Gulf wars. In this Gulf war, we were of course in a much smaller alliance, but that does not mean that our participation in a military operation was entirely selfish. Indeed, there is a powerful argument for saying that what we did with the US this year is what the United Nations should have done—no doubt through the agency of countries such as our own with the military capacity to perform the task—four, five or six years ago.

It has been said that we have no business becoming involved in Iraq, certainly without the sanction of a Security Council resolution specifically mandating military intervention. Some also argue that everything should be done under the auspices of the United Nations. I disagree. It is not the duty of this Government, or any Government of the United Kingdom, to export the diplomatic or military implementation of our foreign policy to other bodies, no matter how much those other bodies deserve our respect. The United Nations cannot achieve post-conflict success in Iraq, as the Liberal Democrats want, because it does not have the resources, the administration or the civilian and military personnel to do what the motion requires of it.

It is a truism that the UN works best—that it perhaps can only work at all—when the Security Council is united. In areas where the national interests of its membership do not coincide—as has been the case with Iraq before, during and after the military operation—it is foolish to expect anything much of value to flow from demands that the UN behave as though matters have been agreed when, in fact, they have not.

I agree with view of Edward Mortimer, the UN Secretary General's director of communications, as expressed in the July issue of "World Today". He said that the UN was

"a mechanism for mobilising joint action by states and peoples towards agreed goals."

Merely adding the initials "UN" to any resolution, idea or early-day motion solves nothing.

Having got that off my chest, I must say that I do not believe that the success of the UN in Iraq—or anywhere else—should be measured only in terms of its relationship with the US, and in particular with the present Administration of President George Bush. Clearly, the UN's effectiveness will be governed to a large extent by its relationship with its most powerful member. However, I deprecate the ritualistic denigration of the US Government and their officials as though that were a well argued and well thought-out position that advanced the cause of peace and prosperity in Iraq.

The US is not beyond criticism, of course, but its overall record in this matter is worthy of more than begrudging recognition. Praise is due to a country, and a people, that has done and prevented what the UN should have done and prevented some time ago. I for one am happy that the Government recognise that our strategic interests are well served by a close alliance with the US. It is worth remembering that the US has spent more in treasure and human lives on trying to achieve a satisfactory resolution of the problems in Iraq than any other UN member. I say that even though from time to time we have had fundamental disagreements with the US on matters not just of detail but of wider policy.

Photo of Richard Younger-Ross Richard Younger-Ross Liberal Democrat, Teignbridge

The hon. and learned Gentleman and I, among others, spent some time in Basra earlier this year, and have seen the Iraqi people's response to our forces. Does he agree that a ritualistic hatred of the US is stirred up in some Arab nations? Does he also agree that one way to undermine that ritualistic dislike is to give the UN a broader role, so that other Muslim and Arab countries can play a part in the peace-making process in Iraq?

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Conservative, Harborough

I am not sure that being rude about the US encourages Arab nations to assist in the current problems that we seek to solve. The hon. Gentleman is right: he and I did go to the British sector in southern Iraq, but I did not conclude from what I learned there that it was sensible to denigrate—ritualistically or otherwise—the activities of the US in Baghdad and northern Iraq. The US is doing a tremendously difficult job in tremendously difficult circumstances. Some will say that that serves them right for going there, but I do not think that that is a very helpful attitude. I am sure that that is not what the hon. Gentleman meant by his intervention, but I fear that many outside the House, if not within it, fall into the trap of believing that being rude about the US is enough to salve their consciences when it comes to the problems faced by the Iraqi people.

I am not against what the UN is doing, or what it seeks to achieve, but we must recognise its practical limitations. By all means let us try to achieve a sensible Security Council resolution, especially if that sets out a timetable for drafting a new constitution and for elections, and if it recognises that the armed forces present in Iraq must be under the overall military command of the US, even though troops and civilian assistance from other interested countries would be welcome. However, all our efforts will be severely inhibited, and might even come to nought, if we cannot rebuild the civilian economy quickly. Only when the economy starts working will we see an end to political unrest.

Photo of Ann Clwyd Ann Clwyd Special Envoy to PM on Human Rights in Iraq 5:54 pm, 10th September 2003

I was last in Iraq in June and I hope to return in a few days' time.

Yesterday, I held an interesting meeting with someone whom some hon. Members may have read—the internet diarist, the Baghdad blogger. He began his diary in the middle of last year, before the war started, and continued throughout the war, apart from one point when he was disrupted. He is an ordinary Iraqi who has lived there for quite a long time. Anyone who wants to know what everyday life in Iraq is like at present should look him up on the internet. I cannot believe some of the things that I read in the papers compared with what I saw when I was there in June; nor can I believe the general gloom that pervades many of the reports or that the whole of Iraq is in chaos—it is not. Many honourable colleagues have made that point strongly today.

I agree with those who have said that we need a publicly stated, long-term commitment to the rebuilding of Iraq. The success of such a project will be seen in security, infrastructure and civil society. One of the mistakes that we, or others, made in places such as Afghanistan was to raise expectations and walk away. We must never do that again and certainly not in Iraq, where, on so many occasions, the Kurds, the Shi'a and other groups were left dangling at the end of a string—literally—because of the repercussions taken by the regime against people who rose up after encouragement from the Americans and others.

I want to talk about Sergio Vieira de Mello for a moment. He was the epitome of the UN. I saw him working in East Timor where he made a magnificent job of restoring that country to democracy. It is tragic that his hand will not be seen in the evolving future of Iraq. I worked with him on the protection of graves in Afghanistan and, at my invitation, he came to the House to speak just after his appointment as head of the human rights division.

I also mention Ayatollah Hakim. After so many years of exile, it is tragic that a moderate Shi'a leader should come back to his country and be killed. His was a voice of moderation. I met him once, and I am sorry about what happened to him and to the many others who have died in similar attacks.

There is an urgent need for the Coalition Provisional Authority to improve security in the country. Failure to do so will create problems for all the authority's other policy goals and objectives. The lack of order can be seen in targeted assassinations, the destruction of the infrastructure and the loss of civilian and military life. If the CPA is to regain control of security in Iraq, it must work with the Iraqi population, the vast majority of whom welcomed the end of the dictatorship. Laudable though the policy of de-Ba'athification is, it should be applied with greater flexibility. No one can be better at sorting out the most prominent Ba'athists than the Iraqis themselves.

One of the first CPA meetings that I attended in June was between some of the women of Iraq and Ambassador Bremer. As I was waiting to go into the room I could hear people inside shouting at one another. Afterwards, I found out that they were denouncing the Ba'athists who were present, which is why the people of Iraq are best equipped to decide who should be in and who should be out.

As I said on Monday, the disbanding of the former Iraqi army before new structures were in place shows how rigid cleansing could create problems in the future. By discarding all members of the former armed forces, the CPA is losing local knowledge that could help in security matters and is creating potential recruits for those who want to destabilise the new Iraq. That CPA policy should be reconsidered immediately.

On Monday, I mentioned a general who is the brother of an Iraqi friend of mine who lives in Wales. The general told his brother that he could get between 50 and 100 senior officers to act as liaison between the coalition and the Iraqi people. He had sent a message to Ambassador Bremer, but had not received a reply. He also said that, every morning at 5 o'clock, he joins a queue of ex-army people of all ranks waiting to be paid. There are sometimes thousands of them standing out on the streets in the heat, waiting to get their money. Day after day, most of them come away with no money in their hands. There is no sense at all in getting rid of the army and not paying them the money that they are owed and not ensuring that they understand what is happening to their pensions. The general said that the queue was extremely demeaning because those involved are not even allowed to have refreshments, as the vendors are not allowed to walk down the queue. People of all ranks are standing there, which is, again, a considerable recipe for disaster.

An army has been disbanded with all its skills and weaponry, but there is surprise when people are shot. At one time, $500 a head was being offered in Baghdad for shooting at American soldiers. If people have no money in their pockets and do not know how they will feed their families, not many of them would turn down that offer, I am afraid. That is the reality, and it is ridiculous that that situation has been allowed to continue.

Last night, coalition forces—the Americans—burst into the house of the very general whom I mentioned on Monday, and all his family and his house were searched. I found it a curious coincidence that I mentioned that man on Monday and that his house was attacked last night. He is not the only one.

I do not know what the level of intelligence is, but I am sometimes quite suspicious of it when I hear some of these stories. During the holidays, I was contacted by a person in London who is the daughter-in-law of a woman in Baghdad. Her husband had gone back to Baghdad to find out what had happened to his mother. Exactly the same thing had happened, but she had been arrested. She was aged 73. She was in a house on her own, with no other family around. People burst in at night, took all her money, jewellery and papers, and then took her away. She was kept in custody for more than three and a half weeks, which is illegal.

That woman has now been released, but only because I spent considerable time during the holidays sending e-mails—I have them here—to someone on Ambassador Bremer's staff in Baghdad to try to find out where the woman was. She was held in Camp Cropper, where the major criminals are being held. People such as Tariq Aziz were taken to Camp Cropper. What was that woman doing there? What was the intelligence that put her there? Why has she now been released—I am very glad that she has been—without any of her papers, her money or her jewellery being returned? I understand from her daughter-in-law that she is quite frail, that she needs help and that her family wants to bring her to this country for a month or so.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell Labour, Linlithgow

My hon. Friend and I have had many deep differences of opinion on this issue, but I am deeply sympathetic to what she has been saying. Will she use her influence with the Ministry of Oil and the people whom she meets, because there is an idea that much of the destruction of pipelines that has taken place has been facilitated by disgruntled former members of the Ministry of Oil who are desperate for employment and doing it out of revenge? Will she also pursue an issue that she has often pursued in the past: bringing people to trial? In particular, whatever anyone thinks about Tariq Aziz, he ought to be brought to trial.

Photo of Ann Clwyd Ann Clwyd Special Envoy to PM on Human Rights in Iraq

I shall answer some of the points that my hon. Friend makes. Obviously of equal importance to the things that I have been mentioning is the delivery of basic services to the Iraqi people. The supply of water and electricity should be a priority. Of course, it is true to say that there have been many attacks on pipelines, pylons and the things that bring those services to people. It is incredible that, during the hot weather, people have not been able to get fuel for their air conditioning, fridges or the things that they need to make life more bearable, and something needs to be done about that very quickly.

On my hon. Friend's second point, I was going to mention that Human Rights Watch has in the last few days called for the draft resolution being discussed by the United Nations Security Council to advance the cause of justice for Saddam Hussein's victims and for those charged with certain crimes. The resolution, which will of course be critical for mobilising international support and assistance for the stabilisation and reconstruction of Iraq, currently makes no mention of justice for serious past human rights crimes. That is a mistake, and I do not know what the argument for that is. The investigation and prosecution of crimes is essential.

Indict has now been asked to provide victim statements to the CPA, because, over a six-year period, we collected enough such statements to incriminate the 10 leading members of the regime, some of whom are in custody, some of whom are dead, and one of whom is yet to be captured. Those are people on whom we hold evidence. I do not, however, intend to hand that over to the CPA until I know what system of justice will be put in place. We have promised the victims from whom we have taken statements that those will be handed over only to a responsible authority. I do not know who that will be at the CPA. I would be happy to hand that over if an international tribunal were to be set up, of which the UN and several others are in favour, but it has been pushed to one side as being too expensive—that is one reason that I have heard for saying that an international tribunal is not necessary for Iraq.

Such an international investigation is still important, however. Apparently, there is an idea to pass the matter over to the judiciary in Iraq. Cases of the kind that we envisage would test even the most established judicial system, however, let alone one corrupted by years of international isolation and abuse of power. The existing Iraqi judiciary has little or no experience advocating criminal cases that last more than a few days, which is a far cry from the complexity of trials involving charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. I would be glad to hear whether the Government have any idea what is to be done to set up a proper system of justice, because the victims of the regime and their families are owed that for what has happened to them.

One of the things that I saw working in Iraq, for which I have been able to get help, was the free prisoners association in Baghdad for former prisoners of the regime. Immediately after the war was over, it collected documents from private houses, schools and prisons, and the files and documents in their thousands have been piled up to the ceilings in the house of a former head of the security service—the Mukhabarat—in Iraq. The names, prisons, date of execution and method of execution of all those victims are meticulously being entered into computers. Long lines of people can be seen trying to get into that building to find out whether the person of whom they have not heard for many years is on that list. It is a harrowing scene and I am glad that the coalition, with a lot of push from here, has managed to get that process operating. We must ensure that it continues to operate not only in Baghdad but in other major cities in Iraq where it is hoped that similar free prisoners' associations will be set up. They should be supported in their work of cataloguing the disappeared of Saddam's rule.

I agree with those who have said that there are many positive signs in Iraq, particularly the Iraq governing council, the naming of Ministers and the first steps in the writing of a new Iraqi constitution. I mention Latif Rasheed, who is now Minister with responsibilities for water. He is a board member of Indict and is well known to us. Hoshyar Zebari is an old friend and he is now the Foreign Minister. There are many others who are now playing their part in the future of their country.

Latif Rasheed called on the international community only a week or so ago to stop treating Iraqis like children. Let the Iraqis help their own country. Give them the opportunity to do so, and I am certain that we shall see an Iraq that we will be proud to say that we had some part in bringing about.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 6:11 pm, 10th September 2003

It is a genuine pleasure to follow Ann Clwyd, for whom I have a great deal of respect on these matters. The hon. Lady paints a balanced picture of what is happening in Iraq. As the Secretary-General of the United Nations said recently, it is an extraordinary situation when two founder members of the UN—indeed, two Security Council members—find themselves in occupation of another founder member without an express mandate from the UN. In the long term, that situation is clearly not sustainable.

I opposed military action at the time it was taken. I have not resiled from that view. I still believe that what we saw at that time was a failure of diplomacy. Indeed, it was a failure of diplomacy through the UN. When the Foreign Secretary talks about his genuine efforts to find a consensus on the second resolution, he omits to say that he was seeking a consensus on the way to engage in military conflict rather than a consensus on how effectively to disarm and deal with Iraq with the agreement of other members of the Security Council. That was the basic failure from which so much else has flowed.

I am delighted to say that some of the consequences that I most feared from the start of the military conflict have not come to pass. I was concerned that there would be a general and rapid destabilisation of the region. That has not happened, and I hope that it will not. I was concerned that we would see the advent of serious inter-ethnic and inter-denominational conflict in Iraq. That may be on its way, but it is not happening at the moment.

I was worried about the increasing disjunction in international relationships and its effect on international bodies such as the UN and other treaty organisations of which the UK is a member. I think that I am more justified in saying that that did happen and that there is lasting damage—not irremediable damage—to those relationships.

I thought that there would be an increased likelihood of terrorism. Sadly, I believe that to be the case. I find it an odd and specious argument that somehow it is encouraging that there should be a greater number of terrorists now operating within Iraq than there was because that gives us the opportunity to eliminate them. I believe that the conflict itself has spawned an increase in terrorism, and that we shall regret that in future.

I was concerned that the international community would be diverted from its fight against international terrorism, particularly the al-Qaeda network. I believe that not only has there been a diversion not only of resources but of attention from an enemy that is a real and present threat. It may indeed strike in 45 minutes, either now or at any other time, and it requires a great deal more attention.

I believed that there would be difficulties creating and maintaining peace in Iraq. Those difficulties were not only foreseeable but foreseen, not perhaps by those whose supine posture required them to accept anything that came from the White House or the Prime Minister but by people with a more intelligent view, who were asking what the exit strategy was, what the programme for reconstruction was, and how we should regard the transition after the conflict to a democratic Iraq. I am worried that many of those questions have still not been answered.

We must, however, deal with the position as it is now. Some people argue, both outside and, indeed, inside the House, that we should say no to the military reinforcements requested by our commanders in the field. Indeed, they say that we should remove our forces altogether from the Iraq theatre. I find that position incomprehensible. Even those of us who were desperately against the war because we feared its consequences and believed that it was unjustified owe it not only to our forces who are stationed in Iraq in dangerous circumstances and people providing humanitarian support there but to the Iraqi people themselves to provide the greatest possible level of security. The pacification of Iraq is just as important, albeit of a different order, as the initial conflict to remove Saddam Hussein's regime. It takes different skills and different troops—it does not require the elite assault troops who were so successful in the initial stages. It requires different techniques, but it is desperately important that it now takes place.

Inevitably, some people will engage in a certain amount of schadenfreude at the fact that the United States has had to go to the United Nations to ask for help and support in Iraq, which it earlier spurned. Some people say that the American and British Governments should sort out the problems to which they were party in the conflict. I think that that position is wrong and inappropriate, and is not espoused by nations and people in this country who want a peaceful and democratic Iraq with a reasonable degree of reconstruction. It is essential that that is based on UN participation.

There have been problems, as the American Administration have periodically changed their position, both before and since the conflict. There seems to be a tug-of-war between the Department of Defence and the State Department, which has not yet been resolved. On some occasions, one Department is in the ascendancy, but on others it is the other. Occasionally, there seems to be a lack of communication within the US Administration and between the United States and the United Kingdom. I was deeply shocked by the Defence Secretary's revelation on Monday that he last spoke to Donald Rumsfeld on 29 July, which is a dereliction of duty of a high order. I am surprised that that has not been alluded to more often in our debates this week.

Nevertheless, if the American Government are now in the position of needing to take a more multilateral approach, I applaud and encourage that. I want them to be supported by the United Kingdom and other countries, especially on the Security Council.

That means that we need a new resolution. It should not be imposed by ultimatum, but negotiated in the way in which United Nations resolutions should always be negotiated—by seeking the support of other members and finding common positions. Such a resolution needs to be based on a guarantee of the financial and logistic support that, in many cases, only the United States of America can provide, and that guarantee must be secured for the long and not the short term. As the hon. Member for Cynon Valley said, disruption of a country's civil arrangements has too often been followed by a disregard of the consequences.

We need the resolution and the engagement of the United Nations because we need a better mix of military forces. We must strongly encourage the involvement of Muslim-based forces in Iraq. It is important that we have an exit strategy and some blueprint for future development in Iraq. That must be based not on opportunities for American, European Union or other business people to make a quick buck at the expense of the Iraqi people, but on a genuine programme for reconstruction that encourages everyone who can participate to do so. I believe that we need a new commitment from this Government and from the American Government to genuine co-operation in future.

I happen to have picked a United Nations tie to wear today. The decision was purely subliminal; I do not think that I consciously intended to choose it. I think that I purchased it the last time I visited the United Nations. I made the visit at the request of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office at the time of the negotiations and met Dr. Blix, which I found extremely useful. I believe in the United Nations. I do not believe that it is a perfect organisation, but I believe that it is probably the least bad organisation to do the job that we want it to do in a very far from perfect world.

Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen Labour, Leyton and Wanstead 6:22 pm, 10th September 2003

I thank the Liberal Democrats for allowing some of their parliamentary time for this important debate. They bravely and rightly opposed our going to war in Iraq, but some of my colleagues would say that were wrong so quickly to support the war once it had been declared. They have not proposed any timetable for the end of the occupation and still favour US leadership of the occupation. I think that that is misguided, as is their faith in the puppet, hand-chosen provisional Government involving Mr. Bremer, which has very little legitimacy. That is why I shall not support their motion.

I think that the war was wrong, and I voted against it whenever the occasion arose. It was started without the clear second UN resolution that we were promised and Iraq was not a threat in any realistic understanding of the term. There was no evidence of a clear connection with al-Qaeda—a diversion from the real war on terror that has to be fought. There were no weapons of mass destruction. If there were any, they would have been discovered long before now. The UN inspectors were doing a good job and should have been given the extra time they asked for. The action was not a liberation, as we were told, but an occupation, as is acknowledged in the latest UN resolution.

The war has not impacted favourably in terms of finding a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, although it was claimed that it would do so. The dossiers were flawed and inaccurate for all those reasons, and were not a proper justification for war. In fact, I think that the war was long planned by the United States and had probably long been committed to in private by our Prime Minister. The outcome has been the killing of about 30,000 people, the overwhelming majority of whom were Iraqis. The war turned a police state into a collapsed state; it was a victory for crime and anarchy and a boost to terrorism. It has made westerners more of a target today than they were previously.

The security situation is dire, with as many US and British troops being killed as during the war itself. Civilians are being killed—we do not know in what numbers, because very little information is available. Civil liberties and the state of the nation's economy are at the same level, or lower, as they were under Saddam Hussein. Huge costs are being incurred—billions of pounds—and we are getting precious little information about how much it is costing us. There is a political cost, too, because it blows the Government, whom I want to succeed, off course.

Huge resentment is building up in Iraq, as was summarised by the demonstrators who said, "Thanks—now leave." That is the approach that should be adopted. As the cost rises—in terms of lives, as well—the call is for other countries to engage in a significant way, but making that decision would mean risking the lives of their soldiers, and they will not do so unless the operation is under UN auspices and they have a full say in how to deal with the situation. The United States should, therefore, cede control to the United Nations, but President Bush is not prepared to do that, as he said in his speech only a couple of days ago. Those countries will find that many of their people say, "The US and the United Kingdom created the mess—let them get out of it themselves." The neo-cons who are close to the US Administration engaged in a lot of hissing and hurling of abuse at those nations, as well as at the United Nations. US troops are being killed as a result. There is a powerful case for the US ceding overall control to the UN; otherwise, it remains an occupation. That situation is damaging to the UN as well, because it is tied into it and is seen as being synchronised with the US. That puts it at risk.

I am not in favour of more troops going to Iraq. As I said on Monday, they not only add to the cost, but become additional targets. They act as a crutch by discouraging Iraqis from coming forward to govern and administer themselves. Sending more troops effectively subsidises the United States, particularly its huge defence budget. What is in it for the countries that are being asked to do so? They are liable to be to be abused, dominated or treated as a competitor rather than as a proper partner. Last Friday, I heard a news item about the poor people of Oregon, who suffer from high unemployment, very low family incomes and welfare cuts: they have effectively been abandoned as a result of the policies of the Bush Administration. If we are going to subsidise the United States, let us do it through international aid support to those poor people of Oregon; at least that would not mean loss of life among our troops in Iraq.

I favour a proper and swift handover to the Iraqis, which means having elections at an early date. If that results in Shi'as being elected, so be it. I cannot see how that would be worse than having puppets such as those in the provisional Government. I admit that some of them are good people, but they are hand-picked by the United States and lack legitimacy. One, Mr. Chalabi, was a proven fraudster in activities involving millions of pounds in Jordan, yet he is the United States' chosen one—the Pentagon's man.

The Prime Minister talked about a prosperous and stable Iraq. I share that objective, but I am worried about even that, because if it remains a US puppet it could become a threat to its neighbours. I want a prosperous and stable Iraq, but not with such an agenda. Aid must flow into the infrastructure, and the US and the UK must be the principal donors. The electricity and water supplies must be restored. I agree with the shadow Foreign Secretary's comments that there must be work for the Iraqis. It is deplorable that more than 50 per cent. are currently unemployed. Proper rebuilding, which is truly internationalised and not a greed-fest for US corporations, must take place.

I do not understand why the Liberian model—the solution, not the events of the recent past—should not apply. Liberia requested 15,000 troops to stabilise the situation, which was ignored across the globe. However, the troops were African, with the US in the background. Why cannot there be an Arab-led UN force in Iraq, albeit financed by the UK and the US, but with troops from those countries in the background? The solution must be truly internationalised, through the UN, until it is truly "Iraqi-ised". That should happen as swiftly as possible.

Photo of Dr Jenny Tonge Dr Jenny Tonge Liberal Democrat, Richmond Park 6:31 pm, 10th September 2003

The debate has been interesting and useful. I shall begin by commenting on some of the contributions.

I am sorry that Mr. Foulkes is not in his place because I should like to ask, "What is he on?" He accused some of us of not listening to the good news from Iraq—perhaps that is because there is so little to hear. However, when Armageddon has come and the world is in tatters, one could imagine him proclaiming, like a latter-day Dr. Pangloss:

"All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds."

He never perceives the downside of anything. That makes for a wonderful personality but not always for an honest contribution.

Mr. Garnier made a thoughtful speech, which made me think a lot, but he appears to be having a love affair with the USA. As my hon. Friend Richard Younger-Ross pointed out, the rest of the world is not having a love affair with the USA, and that creates problems when it is in Iraq and running things.

I welcomed the speech of Ann Clwyd and was interested in her comments. It was a thoughtful contribution from someone who knows Iraq well. She emphasised the terrible lack of security and the disorganisation in the country and rightly stressed the terrible humanitarian position.

My hon. Friend Mr. Heath said that he was relieved that the position had not affected the stability of the region. However, recent events in respect of the middle east road map lead me to believe that stability has been affected. I shall comment on that in more detail later. The position in Iraq has increased terrorism and the risk of it, not decreased it.

It is no accident that we have held two debates in two days on Iraq. It reflects the fact that the Opposition and the British people no longer trust the Government, mainly because of their conduct since 11 September 2001 and their perceived—I emphasise that word—adherence to the policies of George Bush and his Administration. That adherence necessitated at least exaggerating—I am being kind today—the need for a war with Iraq. I shall not go into that because many hon. Members have done so.

Another factor is the Government's failure to understand the need to find a way to peace in the middle east, or to realise that if failing to obey UN resolutions over many years means war on Iraq, the same must apply to Israel. That is how the issue is seen in much of the Arab world, whether we like it or not. The middle east problem should have been our first priority, not Iraq. I spent a memorable week in the middle east with Ms King earlier in the summer, when the troubles were beginning to escalate again. This is not the time for a debate on the middle east, but I trust that the Government will allow us to have one soon.

Today, the Prime Minister referred to a "magnificent" victory in Iraq. Yesterday, the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, Mr. Caplin, was very upbeat about the situation. He certainly over-egged it—or should I say "sexed it up" a bit? He told us that reconstruction was taking place all over Iraq and that hospitals were open—never mind what is going on inside them. He said that children were going to school, and that electricity and water were on tap; the lion was truly lying down with the lamb. Whom was he kidding? Why, if everything is so good over there, has the Norwegian Refugee Council withdrawn all international staff from Iraq owing to the difficult security situation and the weak position of the United Nations? Why has the Red Cross announced a reduction of staff in Baghdad? Why has Oxfam withdrawn all its international staff from Iraq and requested that the UN be given a greater role? Why have the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund put their work there on hold, and the World Food Programme transferred its functions from Iraq to Jordan and Kuwait, leaving only core staff in Baghdad? Even Balfour Beatty has said that it is backing off from its construction contracts in Iraq. That does not suggest a very peaceful situation.

Photo of Dr Jenny Tonge Dr Jenny Tonge Liberal Democrat, Richmond Park

Certainly. I am so glad to see the right hon. Gentleman back in his place.

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes Labour/Co-operative, Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley

May I interrupt the hon. Lady's catalogue of woe, which is very depressing, if not absolutely accurate? I gather that, before I was able to get back into the Chamber, she was expressing concern for my health. I can tell her that the only thing that is inspiring me is naturally produced adrenalin.

Photo of Dr Jenny Tonge Dr Jenny Tonge Liberal Democrat, Richmond Park

I am glad that we have the answer to that question, but I should warn the right hon. Gentleman that adrenalin causes a rapid rise in blood pressure and can be very dangerous. If he would like to see me afterwards, I will give him a full consultation.

The situation in Iraq is the result of little planning for the aftermath of the war, despite all the questions asked of the Department for International Development and the Foreign Office in recent months. I want to pay tribute, however, to Mrs. Spelman, who led the charge on these issues as long ago as last autumn, despite the enthusiasm of her Front Benchers for the rush to war with Iraq. She was there asking question after question, and holding meetings to discuss what was to happen after the war. She got no answers; I got no answers. There has been a failure to recognise that we had to win the peace. It should have been understood that establishing the rule of law was essential in any post-war situation: security, security, security. That has not happened.

A recent Channel 4 survey found that 47 per cent. of Iraqis believe that life is worse now than before the war, and that gossip abounds. We might think that gossip is a trivial thing, but it is very important in a country where communications are not good and there is not a great deal of good radio and television. The stories go round. The old one, of course, is that the USA did it for the oil, or that they did it for Israel. A Channel 4 journalist told me last night, up in one of the Committee rooms, that an Iraqi had told her that Saddam Hussein was in league with George Bush and was currently at his ranch in Texas. It is all nonsense; it is all very funny.

Photo of Dr Jenny Tonge Dr Jenny Tonge Liberal Democrat, Richmond Park

People could be killed any time, accidentally or on purpose, so when all these stories are passed around they make the situation seem even more fragile and dangerous. Perceptions and gossip are all-important. That is why the United Nations must be given more authority. If the whole episode had been conducted under the auspices of the United Nations, the British people might still trust their Government.

Whether or not the conspiracy theories of the film director Michael Moore in his brilliant book "Stupid White Men", which hon. Members will have read, or of Mr. Meacher are true, the way to reassure the Iraqis is to return control of the oilfields to them via the United Nations, and to ensure that aid programmes, reconstruction and contracts that are being handed out are handled by the United Nations, not the United States of America. That was promised to Clare Short while the war was being pursued, and was one of the reasons for her resignation.

The governance of Iraq must be by Iraqis; it is a secular state. I had some sympathy with what Harry Cohen said. The Iraqi people do not trust the ethnically balanced governing council of Iraq, because it was handpicked by the Americans. The United Nations should take political control in Iraq as soon as possible in the transition to the election of a proper Iraqi Government.

It is absolutely essential that the United Nations be given a high profile. I accept that that will probably not lessen guerrilla activity in the short term as it is too late, but it will surely get the support of the Iraqi people and the Arab world, which is what is needed now.

In a knee-jerk way, I would love to say, like several hon. Members, "UK troops out. The Bush Administration have made their bed in Iraq and now they must lie in it." That was a favourite expression of my mother's—leave them to it, serve them right, teach them a lesson, walk away. However, deep down I know that cannot happen; it is the coward's way out, as was eloquently stated by my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Campbell.

The Government, supported by many Labour and Conservative Members, went into Iraq in our name. They had the majority and we have to live with that, but because of that decision the Iraqi people have had more suffering inflicted on them, to add to that in the 20-odd years under Saddam Hussein. I am persuaded that we must allow longer, and try harder, to make life better for the Iraqi people. We cannot abandon them now.

It is time, however, to teach the George Bush Administration a lesson in world co-operation. They have withdrawn from so many international agreements and treaties. Sadly, the USA is seen as the most selfish nation on earth, and that is not fair on all the good Americans. It is now pay-back time. The Bush Administration must work with the United Nations and the European Union or face the consequences.

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Minister of State, Department for International Development 6:44 pm, 10th September 2003

This has been an important and an extremely thoughtful debate about an issue that is of great concern to those on both sides of the House. I welcome the spirit and the tone of all the contributions, including that of Mr. Ancram—I shall respond to one or two points that he raised—because they reflect the scale of the challenge that we face. As several hon. Members said, whichever Lobby we went into on 18 March, whichever view we took, all hon. Members recognise what needs to be done now to help the Iraqi people.

The second feature of the debate has been the number of contributions reflecting Members' personal experience and commitment over, in some cases, many years, and the visits they have made to Iraq since the end of the conflict. Let me particularly acknowledge the part played by my hon. Friend Ann Clwyd, who has been tireless in her advocacy of the rights of the people of Iraq. In the context of dealing with past human rights abuses, let me say that she has played a particular role in supporting those who, day after day, are trying to catalogue, uncover, report and bear witness to the reality of the 25 years or so of Saddam's regime. As she knows, it is important for there to be a process enabling the people responsible for those atrocities to be brought to justice. Ultimately, of course, it is for the Iraqi people to determine how that should be done, but as the UN Secretary-General said in July in a report to the Security Council, part of the role of the UN assistance mission is

"engaging and supporting national dialogue and institutions to address accountability for past human rights violations".

My hon. Friend's speech also gave us a sense of balance in terms of what is happening in Iraq today. We must not understate the scale of the challenge that we face—no one seeks to do that—but we should acknowledge that, while what is shown on our television screens and described in our newspapers gives part of the picture, the most newsworthy part, other things are going on in Iraq.

Two constituents with family in Iraq visited my surgery on Saturday. When I asked "What is it like?", I was told "It is not quite as it is reported in the newspapers". The House should recognise that many things are happening at present—that aspects of normal life are being restored, but that there are real difficulties that we must address.

Reconstruction was mentioned by the right hon. Member for Devizes and others. Of course we all recognise the problems of, in particular, restoring electricity and water supplies speedily. The Iraqi people's expectations are understandably high. The infrastructure is old and prone to breaking down—in some cases it has not worked for years—and pylons and pipes are being sabotaged and looted. My right hon. Friend Mr. Foulkes was right to make that point. He asked, legitimately, why the restoration was taking so much longer than it did after what happened in 1991. Part of the answer is that Saddam used very different measures to deal with those who transgressed the rule of his country. That is not a route that we intend to take.

Let me say to my right hon. Friend in all honesty that the charge that nothing is being done is simply not justified. The Department has supported an extensive programme of practical help and reconstruction, much of which—as my right hon. Friend knows—has been implemented by the UN and other agencies. Why have we provided funds? Because having the UN agencies on the ground is the most effective way of ensuring that the work is done, and done quickly. I shall return to that point later.

Today I placed in the Library a note giving updated details of our support, including the £20 million programme of investment in the restoration of power and infrastructure in the multinational division south-east area for which we have a particular responsibility—a responsibility that we accept.

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State, Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, Shadow Foreign Secretary

I am grateful to the Minister for his answer, which takes us forward a little, but what I am trying to ascertain is how many civilian engineering contracts have been issued. We are not talking about work that can be done by soldiers or aid agencies; we are talking about major engineering work. How many contracts have actually been signed?

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Minister of State, Department for International Development

The right hon. Gentleman anticipates my very next point, on the question of contracts. So that we get a sense of the scale of support, it might help the House if I point out that DFID has made funding agreements with 11 United Nations agencies, which are worth more than £76 million; provided support for the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement, to the tune of £32 million; provided support for 14 non-governmental organisations, which is worth more than £5 million; and established 10 contracts with commercial companies, which are worth more £32 million. Many of those funding agreements and contracts themselves involve multiple subcontracts for work on the ground in Iraq.

I shall make available further details of the programme that we are embarking on in the multinational division south-east, which is directed at improving the infrastructure. I acknowledge, given today's contributions, the strength of feeling and concern that exists throughout the House that we should be seen to be making progress, particularly in that part of the country in which we have direct responsibility, and in which the people look to us for progress.

My second point on reconstruction is that a lot more help is going to be needed, as hon. Members recognise. That is why the donors conference, which is scheduled to take place in Madrid at the end of October, will be so important. In particular, it will draw on the work of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, in terms of their assessment of Iraq's reconstruction and financial support needs.

To get a greater sense of balance, it might help if I tell the House what the executive director of the World Food Programme, Mr. James Morris, had to say about DFID's role in a letter to us of 5 September:

"Since early March 2003, DFID has been an integral partner for WFP in providing specialists in customs and air movement. This ensured that the UN could fully resume its work in Iraq in the shortest time possible.

On behalf of WFP, I would like again to express our gratitude for the magnificent assistance provided by DFID to our work".

I put that on the record simply to show that the WFP, a UN agency, has played a really important part—with our support and that of other donors—in ensuring the provision of food to the people of Iraq, a country in which, we should remember, 60 per cent. of the people have been dependent on food aid.

Finally on reconstruction, in a plea for perspective, balance and understanding I should point out that it is very unfortunate if the charge be laid that somehow nothing is being done. Above all, that is a slur on the hard work and dedication of many DFID and Government staff. They have been working very long hours in difficult conditions in Baghdad and Basra to make things happen, and, as we know since the UN bombing, at some personal risk. They deserve our thanks and support for the work that they are doing and will do, and I want to place on the record my thanks, and that of Baroness Amos, particularly to the staff in our Department.

When we discuss, rightly, the vital role that we want the UN to play in the reconstruction of Iraq, we need to recognise the vital role that it has already been playing in helping Iraq and the Iraqi people to build a new future. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary emphasised that point in his speech, particularly when he referred to Security Council resolution 1483. The resolution made it very clear how wide-ranging the UN mandate in Iraq should be: including the political process, human rights, humanitarian assistance, economic reconstruction, and reform of the police, judiciary and civil administration. All of those elements need to be in place, alongside the restoration of water and power supplies,if a country is to function effectively.

The UN agencies were active even while military action was taking place, ensuring the continuity of humanitarian supplies. Since then, the UN and its agencies, particularly the special representative, about whom I shall say more a little later, have done a great deal to fulfil that vital role—until the terrorist attack on the Canal hotel on 19 August that killed so many people.

Dr. Tonge talked about the consequence of the current security situation and the impact of the bombing on the UN and other NGOs working in the country. Inevitably, and quite rightly, the UN has had to review its own arrangements for security and its presence on the ground. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made clear the offer of support that we have given to the UN in that process. I made the same point in a conversation with Ramiro Lopez da Silva, who is in charge of the operation, when I spoke to him in Baghdad three days after the bomb went off.

Once the UN has been able to deal with those concerns about security and to make appropriate provision for its staff, we need to support those members of staff in their return and to support the many NGOs that have been playing an important role in helping the Iraqi people in practical ways.

The third and, without doubt, the most important thing that has come out of the debate is the recognition that progress on security and on the political process need to go hand in hand; a point made forcefully by the hon. Member for Richmond Park. Progress on the handover of political power to the Iraqis and on the restoration of basic services depends on improving security, which is why the Government have taken the steps announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence on Monday.

We have to welcome and support the resolve of the international community in the face of the terrorist attacks to contribute further to guaranteeing security in Iraq. That is precisely what the draft resolution—which Members on both sides have welcomed—does in calling for a new mandate with a multinational force coming under a single chain of command with existing coalition forces. Almost all Members recognise the need for that structure. In answer to the specific question about the reporting arrangements, the draft resolution makes it clear that the command structure would report to the Security Council on a regular basis.

We need to make progress quickly on the political process, and the single most significant event since the end of the war was the establishment of the governing council. I say to my hon. Friend Harry Cohen—who referred to the council members as puppets—that I have met four members of the governing council. I did not have a conversation with puppets; I had a conversation with men and women who now see, at last, an opportunity for Iraq to have the future that they want for themselves, their families and the people whom they represent at the moment.

There is no political or democratic process that we can pull off the shelf and put in place instantly. We have to take it a stage at a time. The establishment of the governing council was the single most important step so far because it demonstrates that when we say that we do not want to run the country and that we want the people of Iraq to do so, we mean it. The council members are getting on with the job and have appointed the Ministers to work with them in that process. Increasingly, I hope that we will see more of the decisions being made by them because it is to them that we look to get working the process of getting the country back on its feet. They have now appointed members to take forward the constitutional process, and we look to them to answer the legitimate question about the next steps in the timetable.

The Iraqi people must have a clear sense of when they will be in a position to take control of their own affairs, and that will help the international community to focus its support on helping the governing council and to hold the latter to its commitments. Again, this is an area in which the UN has an important role to play.

Everybody—whether it is the Iraqi governing council, the new Ministers, the coalition, the UN, other donors or Members in this House—recognises that our task is to give help, and help now—

Question put accordingly, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 53, Noes 285.

Division number 307 Iraq — Role of the United Nations

Aye: 53 MPs

No: 284 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Absent: 317 MPs

Absents: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 31 (Questions on amendments), and agreed to.

Mr. Speaker forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House supports the vital role played by the United Nations in Iraq as endorsed by UN Security Council Resolutions 1483 and 1500 (2003); pays tribute to the Secretary General's Special Representative, Sergio Vieira de Mello and his colleagues brutally murdered in the terrorist atrocity of 19th August; welcomes the determination of the United Nations Secretary General to remain engaged in Iraq; further welcomes the initiation of discussions on a new UN Security Council Resolution on Iraq, which aims to reaffirm the United Nations' support for the work of the Governing Council, calls on the Governing Council to submit a timetable and programme for the drafting of a new constitution for Iraq and for the holding of democratic elections, proposes a United Nations-mandated multinational force under existing unified command arrangements and encourages UN Member States and international organisations to help the Iraqi people by providing resources for rehabilitation and reconstruction at next month's conference in Madrid.