Iraq (Reconstruction Contracts)

Oral Answers to Questions — Trade and Industry – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 7th April 2005.

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Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell Labour, Linlithgow 11:30 am, 7th April 2005

What support her Department provides to British companies bidding for contracts for reconstruction work in Iraq.

Photo of Patricia Hewitt Patricia Hewitt Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry

My Department provides a range of support services through UK Trade and Investment for British firms interested in reconstruction work in Iraq. That includes providing commercially relevant information and advising on tender procedures for the main reconstruction agencies. Our advice takes full account of the security situation in Iraq and the terms of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office travel advice.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell Labour, Linlithgow

I am told that I have received more oral parliamentary answers than anybody else in the history of Parliament, so I should thank Ministers of all parties, going back to Harold Macmillan.

At Nuremberg in 1945, some very wicked men were put on trial. Does the former secretary of the National Council for Civil Liberties think that she, as a senior member of the Cabinet, should be pressing, for trade and other reasons, for Tariq Aziz, Saddam Hussein and others at least to get a trial? I have given her the names and numbers of Emile Ludot and Mathieu Faupin, lawyers who are trying to represent a client whom they have not been allowed to see for more than a year. If Hermann Goering and Josef Goebbels could get a trial, is it not about time that the Iraqis did?

Photo of Patricia Hewitt Patricia Hewitt Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his record of asking parliamentary questions and on his last question in the House.

I have checked the position of Tariq Aziz and other war criminals awaiting trial in Iraq. Tariq Aziz has a named counsel of record registered with the Iraq special tribunal, and I understand that he has seen him twice already. Mr. Ludot and Mr. Faupin, the other lawyers in question, are not registered as co-counsel with the Iraq special tribunal. Furthermore, my understanding is that although they claim Mr. Aziz as their client, they have not requested the tribunal's permission to visit him. Both Tariq Aziz and Saddam Hussein have seen their lawyers.

Photo of Keith Simpson Keith Simpson Shadow Minister (Defence)

Because of the security situation in Iraq, one of the biggest trade fairs had to take place in Jordan. Will the Secretary of State tell the House how many officials from her Department attended and what support they gave to British companies?

Photo of Patricia Hewitt Patricia Hewitt Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry

We have been supporting British companies and helping British companies to work with Iraqi companies since the end of the conflict. Although I cannot give the hon. Gentleman detailed information about the Jordan trade fair, perhaps I can write to him this afternoon. In 2003, we set up a business facility in Baghdad. We are working with the chamber of commerce, and we have helped a number of British firms in their successful efforts to obtain contracts to help with the reconstruction process. A number of British companies and their trade associations have thanked my officials and ministerial colleagues for our support. I hope that all hon. Members welcome the creation of a democratic Iraqi Government and the fact that the reconstruction process, difficult though it is, is well under way. The British Government and British companies will continue to support the reconstruction process.

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

May I remind my right hon. Friend that we used to support the Baghdad trade fairs—at least, the Conservatives did—throughout the time when Saddam Hussein was killing the Shi'a and the Kurds?

Continuing the process of the reconstruction of Iraq, the inauguration of the new President of Iraq is taking place at this moment. He is Jalal Talabani, who for 60 years struggled against various regimes in Iraq, fought Saddam Hussein, and fled to the mountains in 1991 when helicopter gunships were being used against the Kurds and others. I think that we will all want to send congratulations to him today. He is not only a democrat but from a minority group in Iraq, which shows that minorities can become as important even in that country as they can in this country.

Photo of Patricia Hewitt Patricia Hewitt Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I hope that the whole House will want to join me in sending our congratulations to President Talabani, who assumes office today. I also congratulate my hon. Friend on her stalwart efforts over a very long period to support the oppressed people of Iraq during Saddam Hussein's regime and since the end of the conflict. I very much hope that despite the divisions within this House on the conflict itself we can all now unite in supporting the people of Iraq, who showed enormous courage in defying the terrorists to come out and vote, in their work to reconstruct their own country on peaceful and democratic lines.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

As a somewhat younger retiring Member than the distinguished Father of the House, may I, on a suitably non-partisan note, echo what the Secretary of State just said? May I also to ask her to join me in commending the bravery of those who work for British companies, and indeed for companies throughout the western world, who are prepared, at great personal risk, to go to take part in the reconstruction work in Iraq?

Photo of Patricia Hewitt Patricia Hewitt Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry

The hon. Gentleman makes a correct and important point. It is, if I may say so, a very good note on which to end his parliamentary career. The courage of many such people—not only the staff working directly for British and other western firms, but many of my own officials who voluntarily went out to Iraq to help in the aftermath of the conflict, and above all the Iraqi people, particularly when working with western firms and therefore likely to be a target for terrorist attack—is to be admired unreservedly on both sides of the House.

Photo of Ken Purchase Ken Purchase Labour/Co-operative, Wolverhampton North East

Is the Secretary of State prepared to agree that one of the key elements of a successful bidding process is a ready access to high standards, and that BSI—formerly known as the British Standards Institution—and the International Organisation for Standardisation, or ISO, are brand leaders in this field and should give European companies a competitive edge? Is she aware, though, that the Americans have been playing a very hard-sell game with standards since the beginning of the conflict in Iraq, and have stepped up their efforts since then, in trying to impose American standards on all work across the whole country? Will she assure the House that she will stand foursquare with BSI in ensuring that we resist the Americanisation of components and construction work in Iraq?

Photo of Patricia Hewitt Patricia Hewitt Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry

My hon. Friend is right and I am delighted to say that we have been doing exactly what he asks since the end of the conflict. Indeed, the American Administration made an early attempt to impose American standards for mobile telephone technology even though European standards had been in use throughout the middle east for a long time. I am delighted to say that that proposal did not get any further.

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack Conservative, South Staffordshire

How many contracts have been awarded to British companies up to now? What is their total value? What are the Secretary of State and the Department doing to ensure that all possible contracts are drawn to the attention of British companies?

Photo of Patricia Hewitt Patricia Hewitt Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry

I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the information that he requests for the simple reason that there is no obligation on British companies to tell us when they win a contract. However, as I said earlier, we have helped many companies to win contracts, including AMEC. They have expressed their appreciation for the help that we have given them. By ensuring that we remain close to the tendering process—initially with the coalition provisional authority and now the Iraqi Government—we can make the information directly available to contractors here. We have supported them through contractors' conferences, trade fairs and the work that I mentioned earlier.