Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 15th June 2004.

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Photo of Mr Harry Barnes Mr Harry Barnes Labour, North East Derbyshire 11:30 am, 15th June 2004

What links exist between his Department and the United Nations Electoral Assistance Division in preparing for national, regional and local elections in Iraq.

Photo of Bob Spink Bob Spink Conservative, Castle Point

What recent discussions he has had with the UN on the handover of sovereignty in Iraq.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

The unanimous adoption last week of Security Council resolution 1546 endorsed the transfer of authority to a new Iraqi Government and endorsed future security arrangements. The resolution reflected several months of intensive discussions with our international partners and with the United Nations. We were in regular consultation with the political mission led by UN Ambassador Lakhdar Brahimi, and the UN electoral team led by Carina Perelli. Those close contacts will continue as the UN takes the leading role in assisting the Iraqi Government and people in their preparations for democratic elections by 31 January 2005.

Photo of Mr Harry Barnes Mr Harry Barnes Labour, North East Derbyshire

I feel that my question has rather got lost by being linked with the question from Bob Spink. My question is specifically about electoral systems.

If Iraq is to move beyond a rather theoretical legal sovereignty on 30 June towards full political sovereignty on 31 January next year, is not the role of the United Nations of key importance, especially in relation to the establishment of an electoral system? Will the role of the United Kingdom and the USA in this matter be secondary to that of the United Nations?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

On the last point, the answer is yes. On my hon. Friend's first point, an electoral commission has been established. Interestingly, there were more than 1,800 applications for appointment and a shortlist of candidates was interviewed by a panel of experts led by Judge Kriegler of South Africa. The final commission consists of seven commissioners, including two women and one United Nations member. It bodes well for the future.

On the electoral system itself—my hon. Friend takes an interest in such matters, as do I—Mrs. Perelli has recommended that the introduction of a national list system for interim elections to the national congress should take place between now and January. Obviously, the subsequent election system operated will be a matter for the constituent assembly that draws up the new constitution.

Photo of Bob Spink Bob Spink Conservative, Castle Point

Could the right hon. Gentleman tell the House exactly what support will be provided by Britain in the run up to the 2005 elections? Will that involve additional British troops going to Iraq?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

We will certainly provide a good deal of support through our existing troop contingents. The European Union and other institutions with expertise in monitoring and supporting electoral processes will provide support if they, in turn, can get effective security—that is a separate limb of Security Council resolution 1546. The hon. Gentleman will know that troop numbers are kept under continuous review and that any changes will be announced to the House by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence.

Photo of Chris McCafferty Chris McCafferty Labour, Calder Valley

The Foreign Secretary will recall my question of 8 September about the number of Iraqi deaths. He was kind enough to write to me in November to confirm that when the information was collated, he would write again and place the information in the Library. Will he tell the House when that will happen?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I do indeed recall the question that my hon. Friend asked on 8 September, which was whether there were effective estimates by the coalition forces of casualties in the conflict during the intense military action and subsequently. I wrote to her with an interim reply in November and examined the matter in great detail. I also looked at the non-governmental organisation website, which has its own estimates. I owe my hon. Friend an answer and I am sorry that she has not received one, but that is not due to a lack of application.

On the "Today" programme a couple of weeks ago, I said that I had answered a question about the matter. I was speaking from my recollections, as I made clear at the time, but I should like to point out that I had answered a supplementary question during a statement rather than a parliamentary question—with a capital Q. I apologise for that minor transgression.

Photo of Hugh Robertson Hugh Robertson Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport)

One of the key tasks that faces the electoral assistance division and other United Nations bodies is to restore the UN's reputation in the eyes of many ordinary Iraqis following its tarnishing due to the oil-for-food programme. Given that recent intelligence suggests that Saddam Hussein and his immediate family and entourage benefited to the tune of $10 billion, and that intelligence coming out of Iraq suggests that that money is being used to fund the insurgency that faces our troops and threatens the elections, what moves have the Foreign Office taken to back the Iraq governing council's call for a full and independent inquiry?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

An investigation is already taking place under the aegis of the United Nations, and it is linked to investigations by law enforcement authorities in several countries. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman understands that I cannot go into further detail because that might prejudice the outcome of some of those criminal investigations, but we are certainly powerfully seized of the issue.

Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen Labour, Leyton and Wanstead

Is it not the case that under pressure from US Ambassador Paul Bremer, Moqtada al-Sadr and his followers have been banned from fighting elections for three years? Is that not a deeply foolish decision? Would it not be better for them to be engaged in the elections rather than outside fighting?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

My hon. Friend might well be ahead of me because I was not aware that that individual had been banned. Ambassador Bremer is entitled to his opinions, but such decisions should be made by the Iraqi Government, with advice from the United Nations.