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Iraq (Reconstruction)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:30 pm on 12th November 2003.

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Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Secretary of State for International Development 12:30 pm, 12th November 2003

I welcome the hon. Gentleman on his first appearance at the Dispatch Box on a statement. I am sorry about the way that he ended his observations and his legitimate questions, to which I shall endeavour to respond, because no hon. Member listening to what I have described and the discussions and statements that we have had previously on Iraq could doubt the Government's determination—indeed, the determination of hon. Members on both sides of the House—to try to get this right.

I also welcome what the hon. Gentleman said about our forces and our staff, because it will be much appreciated by those people, who are working very hard, and his condemnation of the attacks—the result of the work of those who frankly will stop at nothing to try to undermine the process.

On security, I think the hon. Gentleman will recognise that while it is the case that life for ordinary Iraqis is getting better and their security is improving, for the coalition forces, the international aid agencies, the UN and the Red Cross, the security situation is getting more difficult. Those two things are happening at the same time.

On the governing council, as the hon. Gentleman will be aware it came together from a disparate group of people, some from outside the country and some who had remained throughout the Saddam years. It is finding its feet. Its members are getting to work together and they represent a range of interests. In taking the first steps towards establishing democracy in Iraq, we have to start somewhere, and it was entirely right and proper to bring together a group of people with a range of interests who represent different parts of that complex country.

All I would say in describing what I saw of the governing council's members in Madrid is that their confidence and authority are increasing as they are getting involved in the work of taking decisions, in consultation and discussion with the coalition provisional authority, about the future of the country. As the hon. Gentleman will recognise and as my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made clear on the "Today" programme this morning, a process is going on to work out how best to do that and increasingly to transfer responsibility to Iraqis. That is the subject of continuing high-level consultation between the United Kingdom and America.

On preparation, we have already set out the steps that we took to prepare for the outcome of the conflict. As the hon. Gentleman will probably be aware, DFID, in particular, rightly prepared for the potential worst outcome—a humanitarian crisis—so all the things that we put in place were in anticipation of that because, frankly, if we had failed to prepare for that crisis, we would have been rightly criticised. Thankfully, that did not arise because the conflict was very short.

I accept what the hon. Gentleman says about the start of reconstruction having been slow, but all I ask him to acknowledge is that real progress has been made, and I simply ask those hon. Members—including Mr. Ancram—who have said that swift enough progress is not being made to acknowledge that we have seen real progress, particularly in the past couple of months.