Iraq: Humanitarian Situation and Reconstruction

– in the House of Lords at 12:35 pm on 3 July 2003.

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Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos Secretary of State, Department for International Development, The Secretary of State for International Development 12:35, 3 July 2003

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I would like to make a Statement about the humanitarian situation and reconstruction in Iraq.

I was in Iraq last week, in both Basra and Baghdad. I met representatives of the Coalition Provisional Authority, the United Nations, the military, Iraqi administrators, non-governmental organisations and UK civilian staff. I also visited a prison and water treatment plant in Basra and the British Office in Baghdad.

Progress has been made in Basra. Days after the end of the conflict, British troops took off their flak jackets and helmets and talked with civilians. That set the tone for a progressive return to normal life, with the military presence now relatively unobtrusive. Life has regained an air of normality: people are out in the streets; the markets sell fruit and vegetables; cars are on the streets; and shops and restaurants are open.

Quick impact projects, implemented by British forces, together with the United Nations, NGOs and local authorities, have made a visible difference. Basic services, including water and electricity, have been restored to pre-war levels. The prison has been rehabilitated. The courthouse has been refurbished and cases are now being heard. Work is under way to clean the city of solid waste and other health hazards. Medical services are functioning, albeit with localised shortages of specialist drugs and oxygen.

The House will want to pay tribute to UK forces for their significant contribution, often working in difficult and, at times, dangerous circumstances, as the deaths of the six Royal Military Police in Maysan last week all too clearly demonstrated.

The expectations of ordinary Iraqis are very high. The south suffered particular neglect under Saddam's regime and was starved of investment for years. We need to do better than just restore services to their pre-war levels. People expect more, and deserve more.

The situation in Baghdad is more difficult. Threats to security remain a significant obstacle to progress. Regrettably, attacks against the US military by ex-Ba'athists and criminals appear to have become more organised, as has sabotage of newly-restored infrastructure. And there are worrying signs of threats to international personnel and Iraqis working with the coalition, which could undermine the developing links between the Coalition Provisional Authority and Iraqi ministries. Worries over personal safety keep many Iraqis in their homes, rather than at work or school, and impact particularly on women and girls. Cuts in electricity and water supplies also disrupt everyday life. We are working to address those issues.

Some progress has been made on security. Thirty thousand Iraqi police officers have reported back to duty; a legal system is beginning to be re-established to control criminality; and the CPA has decided to pay stipends to ex-soldiers, which should help. But we are working to put in place the conditions for Iraq to be seen, by its own citizens, to be policing itself rather than being controlled by coalition forces. We attach a very high priority to the effective reform of the security sector.

Rapid and visible progress towards fully representative and democratic government is central to the future of Iraq. Iraqis must regain political control of their country as quickly as possible. While Iraqi-controlled local authorities are already working in a number of provincial towns, the process of establishing an Iraqi-led governing council is much more complex. That has to be done quickly, but it also has to be done right. The governing council needs to be representative, involving all the main parties and religious and ethnic groups, as well as providing for the efficient and effective involvement of women. The CPA is making progress on developing consensus among Iraqi representatives on the way forward. And, importantly, the United Nations is closely involved in this process.

Much has been made of the shortcomings in the CPA. That criticism has, in many cases, been overstated but clearly things could improve, and the CPA's leadership, with UK support, is working hard to improve the authority's performance. That includes establishing better communications between headquarters and the regions and, even more vitally, between the CPA and the Iraqi people. It is essential that the people understand what the CPA is doing, and why; and that the CPA can understand their wishes.

Almost 100 secondees to the CPA, from a wide range of UK government departments, are now in partnership with Iraqi ministries, our US colleagues and the humanitarian agencies, helping to get the Iraqi civil administration back up and running. The Department for International Development now has 27 advisers in Iraq, including the CPA's recently appointed director of operations.

We are also making a substantial financial contribution to humanitarian agencies working on the ground. Our total financial commitment now stands at £154 million, mostly channelled through organisations with the capacity and expertise to mount humanitarian operations quickly and effectively. I have today placed in the Libraries of both Houses details of the reconstruction work that has been undertaken so far by the agencies which we have been funding.

We are also working to support the longer-term reconstruction of Iraq. Much of the finance for this will come from Iraq's own oil revenues, initially through the Development Fund for Iraq, and subsequently through Iraq's own budget. But the international community also has an important role to play. In New York last week, informal meetings including Iraqi representatives began preparations for a donors' conference which is expected to take place in October, and agreed details of the assessment that the World Bank, IMF and United Nations will carry out during the intervening months. DfID will consider how best we can contribute to this longer-term reconstruction effort in the light of this work.

Years of sanctions and mismanagement by the Saddam regime have left the Iraqi economy very weak. Even before the conflict only about half the Iraqi workforce was in full-time employment. Iraq's oil wealth, and its relatively well educated population, should enable it to grow rapidly once security has stabilised and a representative government is in place that can take long-term economic policy decisions.

Humanitarian agencies, with our support, returned to Iraq quickly after the conflict ended, and have helped the country recover from the conflict and the looting that followed it. Their ability to do this was strengthened by good preparatory work, in part financed by DfID, and supported by the Armed Forces. But continued threats to security, particularly in Baghdad, remain a very significant constraint. The coalition is working urgently to address this in order to build on the progress achieved so far, and make real, lasting and visible improvements to the lives of the Iraqi people.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 12:45, 3 July 2003

My Lords, your Lordships will be very grateful to the Secretary of State for making this Statement today. I am sorry that my noble friend Lady Rawlings, who usually deals with international development business, cannot be here.

Inevitably, our minds are still filled with sorrow at the murder in Maysan-al-Kabir of the six brave young solders whose bodies now return to their homeland. All of us want to be sure that their lives were given in a good and purposeful cause—the rebuilding of Iraq as a land of peace and order after the horrors of the past. That said, would the Secretary of State agree that the reports of recent progress in re-establishing the rule of law and security have been worrying? Does she agree that preparations—despite assurances—have clearly fallen far short of what is needed? We were told as far back as January that preparations to meet the post-conflict situation were going to be "as good as they can be".

It is true that there has been no major humanitarian crisis of the kind widely predicted by some experts. Neither has there been a refugee crisis nor, so far, a massive spate of revenge killings. However, it is also clear that the coalition provisional administration is facing many other problems of law-keeping, civil security and the laying of foundations of good governance by the Iraqi people themselves. Following her recent visit, can the Secretary of State tell us more about the role that her own department is playing in reconstructing the civil administration? What about basic services, power and water supplies and law enforcement training? Twenty-seven advisers do not sound a vast amount in such a huge country. Does the administration plan to keep the 18 regions of the country as they were before—14 of which were set up by the British in 1917–1921—thus avoiding dominance by any one sect or group? That is a very important principle on which to proceed.

Can the Secretary of State tell the House where the main expenditure of this £154 million has gone so far? Have the UN agencies, which received the bulk of it, spent the money effectively? If all of it is being disbursed—an eventual figure of 100 billion dollars is mentioned—is the guiding strategy in place for it to go to the right priorities? How is it intended to get from where we are currently to making the civil and public services in Iraq fully operative again? How does the noble Baroness propose to deal with members of the Ba'athist party? Not every member of that party can be dismissed; otherwise there would be no administration at all. Obviously, one has to concentrate on the real killers and top criminals. But how will that be done, and is progress being made?

Is the Secretary of State satisfied about adequate communication and open lines between our forces and the civilian groups which will eventually have to run things in Iraq? Does she feel that links between our superb forces and the American authorities are close enough? Everyone is inclined to agree that abruptly disbanding the Iraqi army was a mistake. Was our advice on this listened to and what steps are being taken to rectify the situation? Can we also play a stronger advisory role with our American friends in avoiding measures which increase local hostility, given our huge experience going back to 1917? Have we stressed the vital importance—as we did all those years ago—of respecting local customs and observing, as occupying power, the principle of usufruct?

Iraq is not Afghanistan. Does the Secretary of State agree that although there is much rural poverty Iraq is potentially a rich country with vast oil and mineral resources? It has a well-educated population with many very experienced women able to play a leading part. Indeed, the Iraqi people have some experience of running a democracy under a constitutional monarchy up to 1958. Has she studied current plans for distributing the ownership of the oil wealth of Iraq much more widely to the people? This would reduce the danger of corruption in state hands and help the seven million pensioners in Iraq.

The task of rebuilding Iraq as a force for good and peace in the region is not impossible. It is all the more frustrating that so far—I admit that these are early days—the problems are proving so intractable and the lack of preparation in meeting them so evident. We hope that what we have heard today will help carry things forward with our American allies and other coalition countries more steadily and in greater security. Our Armed Forces have performed brilliantly in war and peace. But the Secretary of State will be the first to agree that we must not let them carry an increasing burden for restoring the country to civil order which others should now be prepared and ready—more than ready—to shoulder.

Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Development) 12:50, 3 July 2003

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness for making this Statement today. I echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, regarding the military policemen who were lost in Iraq. We express our great sympathy to their families and friends.

The Secretary of State notes the welcome progress in Iraq and refers to difficulties and shortcomings, but I wonder what she makes of the view of those who do not yet see such steady progress. Thus, UNICEF stated last week that,

"the security situation in Baghdad and across the country is deteriorating".

It noted also that,

"the sharp reduction in the availability of electricity and water in most of Baghdad is exacerbating the frustration of the city inhabitants."

UN agencies and NGOs are experiencing attacks on their facilities and vehicles. The humanitarian community is concerned about the potential for civil unrest should the current situation continue.

Clearly, the situation in Iraq is very volatile. The key problem is lack of security. Some areas seem to have become more settled, while others which appeared settled now have problems. For example, Oxfam speaks of a worrying rise in violent crimes in Nassiriyah, which had previously seemed settled. Can the noble Baroness comment on whether the strategy of searching houses and removing small arms is seen as effective, or is it, indeed, causing widespread disquiet? What other measures are being taken to tackle that, and who is implementing them? Does the noble Baroness agree that we are now in a vicious cycle? Violence prevents reconstruction; no reconstruction breeds more discontent; and so on.

I know the Secretary of State is reluctant to put any timetable on this issue, but perhaps I may push her on it a little. Surely, the Government's planning has some kind of timetable. Will she indicate when she thinks Iraq will be sufficiently settled to enable it to elect interim authorities in Baghdad and Basra?

With the mounting casualty toll among authority troops, does she sense any changes in strategy by the Americans? If so, what are they?

Lack of security is holding up the restoration of basic infrastructure in the cities—water supplies, electricity, functioning hospitals, and so on. There is a high incidence of diarrhoeal disease, particularly among children, in Iraq.

Even food, which had seemed to be widely available, now appears to be in short supply. Oxfam reports that many families are surviving on bread and milk because the monthly food rations have stopped. Food prices have risen hugely. The price of a kilo of meat has doubled in recent weeks. Obviously, it is welcome that the Marsh Arabs, who were deprived, are now getting food aid, but the overall picture is surely a cause for concern.

There are reports of increased violence against women and girls. There are reports of threats made to Iraqi women and girls for not wearing clothing that is deemed modest. A UN worker has thus been threatened. The UN has also reported that in some cases girls in Basra not wearing headscarves have not been allowed into school. What strategies are being followed to address those problems?

The Secretary of State may remember that when we questioned her on Iraq last week I quoted a senior British official saying of the US-led administration that it was,

"the single most chaotic organisation I have ever worked for".

Does she know whether that official—perhaps she can say whether she met him in Iraq—sees anything coming down the track that would make him change his mind?

There seems to be some realisation among the Americans that although the war may have been prepared for, the peace was not. I note that R Duncan Hunter, the Republican chair of the House Armed Services Committee, stated:

"Occupation takes a lot of folks, probably takes a lot more folks than winning the war".

Will the noble Baroness comment on that shift?

It is clear that the humanitarian situation in Iraq remains very serious. As the UN put it the other day,

"the high levels of vulnerability and dependence on government services that existed before the conflict have increased further".

As the Government seek to stabilise things in Iraq so that there can be a transition to Iraqi rule, can the noble Baroness assure us that, unlike in the conflicts in Afghanistan and Kosovo, aid money will not come from the DfID budget, thus depriving other areas of the world?

Obviously, we welcome any progress that is being made. Clearly, the situation is volatile and the coalition partners will need to be engaged for a long time. Can the noble Baroness shed any light on what plans were worked out for post-war Iraq? Does she now feel that some of the assumptions made before the war have since proved untenable? If so, what is being done to learn those lessons?

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos Secretary of State, Department for International Development, The Secretary of State for International Development 12:55, 3 July 2003

My Lords, I first thank the noble Lord, Lord Howell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, for their comments on the Statement. I agree that we must pay tribute to our troops in Iraq. I met a number of them. They have done, and continue to do, a magnificent job.

I turn to the specific points. Both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness raised the issue of preparations, a subject on which I was also questioned by the International Development Select Committee earlier this week. I must say that I do not agree that our preparations have fallen short of what was needed. As to the different kind of scenarios for which we planned, we should be very pleased that those with respect to a wholesale movement of refugees being internally displaced did not happen.

What we could not plan for was the widespread looting that happened immediately after the conflict ended. I saw for myself the impact of the precision bombing in Basra and Baghdad. There is very little left that resembles what we would think of as a post-war situation. But what I found even more distressing were the many buildings which had been looted and then fired from inside, which means that Iraqi ministries cannot now function. They do not have the records, although some Iraqi workers took home discs and files of information. The looting has done considerable damage.

That has been followed by deliberate sabotage. There are miles of electricity cable. It is very difficult to have security along the entire length of that cable. Once an electricity supply is damaged, it has a knock-on effect, in particular on water because the water pumps cannot work. The coalition forces and the CPA are doing everything they can to get the situation back up and running. We are well aware that there are forces out there who do not want the coalition to succeed. There are rumours going around Iraq about what has happened to Saddam Hussein, which are leading to a fear culture among the people of Iraq. We have to deal with that as a matter of some urgency. We must find Saddam Hussein and his sons and we have to make sure that the constant threats being made to security are dealt with.

With respect to the CPA itself and the questions which have been asked with respect to its administration, I was very encouraged indeed by what I saw in Baghdad. The administration is functioning much more effectively. A relationship is developing between the CPA and the Iraqi ministries it is shadowing. A draft budget has been developed, not only for the CPA but also for those ministries. DfID staff are very much involved in making sure that that draft budget feeds down into Basra and other areas. They are giving support in areas that will eventually lead to greater revenue collection, such as customs; in giving advice on law enforcement and on security sector reform; and in giving support on basic administration across the whole range of issues.

The noble Lord, Lord Howell, asked whether it was the intention to keep the administrative regions of the country. That is a decision for the Iraqis. Once the governing council is up and running that will lead into a constitutional process, and Iraqis themselves will make decisions about what they would like to see with respect to the structure that is put in place. We very much see this as being something for Iraqis to decide.

The noble Lord asked about specific areas in which money had been spent by the Department for International Development. The figures have now been placed in the Library. We have spent £8.5 million on health and nutrition, £4 million on water and sanitation, £33.6 million on food, £1.5 million on agriculture, £7 million on power and fuel, and so it goes on. Of that money, UNICEF has been granted £3.19 million to re-establish immunisation services and £3.2 million to deal with water and sanitation. The United Nations Development Programme has been given £7 million to restore electricity supplies. A considerable amount—£16.5 million—has been given to the International Committee of the Red Cross, and £15.5 million to the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Society. The UN agencies have a long track record of working in Iraq, particularly on the oil for food programme, but also in other areas. We are very satisfied with the work that they have been doing to restore basic services to Iraq.

Regarding the Ba'athists, the strategy has been clear. The top three layers in any ministry—that is the minister, the deputy minister and the director general—have been removed. Those who have been in senior positions in the party hierarchy have also been removed. However, exemptions can be asked for if any individuals occupy a particular position where it is considered that a service will be unable to be run if that individual were to be removed. That exemption would be considered.

The army are now receiving stipends. It is right that we move immediately to reforming the security sector. We need a police service that is not violent and repressive but sees its role as being to police the community. We also need a revamped Iraqi army and we are involved in developing training for that, as are our Armed Forces. I agree with the noble Lord that we need to respect local services and customs. I also agree that Iraq is a rich country with a well-educated population. That is why Iraqis are so keen to take control of their own situation. I do not agree with the noble Lord that the problems are intractable. We have seen difficult situations in other countries—Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan, for example—but I feel that there are successes we should be proud of. There is no doubt that the security situation remains extremely difficult, not only for coalition forces, but for Iraqis themselves. We have to deal with it and we have to be seen to be dealing with it.

Regarding the questions raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, I agree that the key problem is security. I have made that clear. We saw Saddam Hussein release 75,000 prisoners towards the end of last year, so sabotage plus crime from those criminal elements is having an extraordinary impact. Regarding the timetable, I cannot agree with the noble Baroness. It is important for Iraqis to also help set the timetable. We need to make clear that we want to see Iraqis taking control and that that is a process that we are seeking to support. We are not there to occupy Iraq for the long term; we need to communicate that. I agree with the noble Baroness about the need to make sure that those messages are communicated.

Regarding food, 760,000 tonnes of food were distributed by the end of June, reaching around 95 per cent of intended recipients. I shall look at the figures set out by the noble Baroness, but certainly my view from being in Iraq is that the food distribution pipelines were working quite well. Women to whom I spoke were concerned about the increase in violence towards women and girls. We are trying to ensure that women are actively engaged in the political process.

Photo of Lord Blaker Lord Blaker Conservative 1:05, 3 July 2003

My Lords, what arrangements have been made by the Coalition Provisional Authority to broadcast to the Iraqi people, whether by radio or by television, information about current issues and also about the policies of the CPA? If those arrangements have been made, what is their effect?

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos Secretary of State, Department for International Development, The Secretary of State for International Development

My Lords, I discussed that area in some detail, because it is one in which we undoubtedly need to do better. There is now television and some radio. The UN are thinking about establishing a radio station. More and more newspapers are available and the coalition is putting out information, particularly to the newspapers, but also through television and radio channels. But we need to do more with respect to communicating who is responsible for the difficulties that we are seeing in terms of getting back electricity and water, and also communicating some of the significant successes that we have seen, particularly in the south where the security situation has improved enormously, and it has been possible to get basic services up and running again.

Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for her Statement. I am sure that others in the House, like myself, are reassured by the firm grip that she has on the situation, and her eye for detail as well as on the general policy.

Will my noble friend reassure us on two points? First, she spoke about the importance of civil police and it was good to hear that that was a priority. However, stability will also require a convincing system of justice administered by the Iraqis themselves. That will be highly expensive to develop. Can we hear more about the resources and arrangements being made to develop an Iraqi-based system of justice?

Secondly, regarding the political regeneration of Iraq—that of course is intimately related to social and economic reconstruction and rehabilitation—does she agree that there is a case for the authority for that process to be as widely based internationally as possible? Those of us who continue to argue for a key role for the UN are not making an ideological point in favour of that organisation, but a practical political point—that if the process is to have acceptability and credibility, not only in Iraq but in the wider world, the wider the degree of international authority for what is being done, the better.

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos Secretary of State, Department for International Development, The Secretary of State for International Development

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for those questions. Regarding the administration of justice, we are very conscious of the need to take a holistic approach. Courts are being refurbished in Basra and Baghdad; in Basra I met two judges who are already sitting. There is a police station, a prison and a courthouse next to each other, all of which have been refurbished. That means that the justice system can begin to operate effectively again. We are doing the same in Baghdad, where we are working with our Iraqi counterparts to help to rebuild the capacity of the courts and the prisons. It is a priority for us and we are working with Walt Slocombe, who is directing this on behalf of the Coalition Provisional Authority.

Regarding the role of the UN, I agree with my noble friend that the United Nations has to have a key role in the process. I met Sergio de Mello, who is closely involved in discussions with Iraqis, and Paul Bremmer and John Sawers, who is our personal representative to the CPA. They are discussing these issues with respect to the development of the governing council and the next steps for the constitutional process. The UN is also considering what role it can play in the medium term in putting in place the processes that will allow elections to take place in Iraq. So the UN is playing a key role, but I must also make clear that it has stated that there are limits to its resources and to the support that it can give in other areas. It sees security sector reform as a key area in which it can give support—that is most important—but it does not want to take over the whole process.

Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Liberal Democrat

My Lords, Iraq is rich in cultural and archaeological heritage. However, in the short term, many smaller sites are being looted by criminal elements that have been set free and by people after artefacts that they can sell to feed their families. Is money being provided from her budget or from other budgets to pay for guards for those archaeological sites? Without such guards, those sites will be looted and a long-term, sustainable area of the economy will be lost for ever.

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos Secretary of State, Department for International Development, The Secretary of State for International Development

My Lords, steps were taken in advance of the conflict to try to ensure that historic and cultural sites were secured. The Ministry of Defence consulted widely with the archaeological community to ensure that. We have been informed that there are guards at the Baghdad museum and that looting is now under control. I recognise the noble Lord's point about some of the smaller sites; I shall get back to him about that, because I cannot say absolutely that every small site has now been provided with security.

More than 40,000 manuscripts and 400 artefacts stolen from the museum have been retrieved. Noble Lords will know that specialists from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the British Museum and elsewhere have gone out to help the Iraqis in that area. One good thing is that a number of items that were thought to have been looted have been returned—or found, because they were found to have been put away for security and safety.

Photo of Lord King of Bridgwater Lord King of Bridgwater Conservative

My Lords, the noble Baroness referred to the security situation, which is obviously serious. The opposition guerrilla war that is now being fought appears to be well organised. Against that background and given that it is obviously an irresistible requirement, if we are to have a general recovery programme, that that security situation is met, how much progress is being made in bringing other forces to bear? She may have heard the remarks of General McCaffrey, who fought in the previous Gulf War, who expected that American forces would need to be there for a decade. That is a daunting prospect and would certainly require the support of many other countries.

In connection with what is really going on and the media reports, what is happening in the north? We have heard about Baghdad and Basra, but does the noble Baroness have anything to say about what is happening in the Kurdish region?

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos Secretary of State, Department for International Development, The Secretary of State for International Development

My Lords, other forces are going to participate. For example, as the noble Lord may be aware, the Italians will be joining British forces in the southern region quite soon. A number of countries are now contributing to the coalition effort in a range of ways. I am happy to write to the noble Lord when that information becomes somewhat firmer, especially with respect to possible troop contributions.

With respect to the situation in northern Iraq, we have of course always supported the territorial integrity of Iraq; we have made that absolutely clear. We have welcomed the formation of interim councils in Kirkuk and Mosul, which comprise representation from all ethnic communities. The Kurds are now able to travel freely around Iraq and many of those living in the Kurdish-administered area in the north have for the first time been able to visit friends and family in areas formerly controlled by the Saddam Hussein regime. I am pleased to tell noble Lords that Kurdish officials are able to share their experience of government with their counterparts in Baghdad and other regions for the first time. So there is contact and communication, and we of course hope that that will improve.

Photo of Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde Labour

My Lords, first, I apologise for not being present for the Statement. I was unfortunately delayed and did not make it. Three weeks ago, I spent three days in Iraq as chairman of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body. We went to Basra, but I spent a day approximately 100 kilometres north of Basra, in al Amara. We walked about both Basra city and al Amara freely; there was a small contingent with us. People came up to us to say, "Thank you", and, "We are glad you are here". I did not feel personally threatened at all; the atmosphere was relaxed. Our troops are doing a magnificent job out there in a social and civilian sense as well as in their key role.

What came through to me from talking with the young women officers—and, indeed, with some of the men—was concern about the role of women in society. Iraq has traditionally been not a fundamentalist state but a secular country, so the role of women is somewhat different from that in the rest of the Middle East. Their concern was that the view seemed to be gradually creeping in that women should not hold good positions in Iraq. In fact, people of that country saw it themselves, that was not just a Western point of view. Knowing that my noble friend has that issue at heart, perhaps she will comment on it, because it is of concern to a number of us.

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos Secretary of State, Department for International Development, The Secretary of State for International Development

My Lords, first, I endorse my noble friend's comments about the situation and the ability to walk around in some parts of the country. Basra was bustling when I was there, which I had not expected. Although the security situation is no doubt difficult, it is important for us to have a balanced view.

My noble friend expressed concern about what is happening to women. She is quite right. I met a group of women representatives of different women's organisations when I was in Baghdad. They were very concerned. They said that it was not so much that anyone was telling women that they had to wear particular clothing, but that a fear was emerging that was leading to women staying at home, not going out, fearful that they would need to cover up. Of course, concern about security does not help that situation.

The other issue raised with me was that there was a perception of increased violence against women—in the home but also in public. We are very concerned about that. We shall have to try to move from what we are hearing anecdotally to obtain some more concrete information and to consider what we can do.

We are working hard to ensure that women are an integral part of the political process. Women have been meeting on a regular basis. A representative from our Women's Unit is in Baghdad, working as part of the Coalition Provisional Authority with women's organisations. There is talk of a small conference later this month, which will lead into a bigger conference that the United Nations, UNIFEM, is hosting in Baghdad in August. At the meetings held with political parties in Baghdad, we have tried to ensure that women are included. I was pleased that at the most recent meetings, at least one woman was present.

Photo of Lord Sandberg Lord Sandberg Liberal Democrat

My Lords, it is nice to hear of the progress being made. However, against the backdrop of the recent murders of British soldiers and the continuing violence against American soldiers, it seems to me that the Statement is rather optimistic. Would the Minister confirm that there is no complacency about the problems that lie ahead of us?

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos Secretary of State, Department for International Development, The Secretary of State for International Development

My Lords, there is absolutely no complacency. I was trying very hard to strike a balance in the Statement and show the very real concern that I, the Government and the CPA have about the security situation. I was also trying to give noble Lords a sense of the progress that has been made. I feel that some of what we are seeing is very negative. I want noble Lords to have a more balanced picture. This in no way indicates that we are complacent, or that there is not a very serious recognition on the part of the coalition that a great deal more needs to be done.

We have to deal with the perception beginning to emerge among the Iraqi people that things were perhaps better before. Everybody I met is absolutely delighted that Saddam Hussein is gone. However, if basic services are not up and running and there is no water and electricity and day-to-day life is becoming a real drudge, people begin to ask questions such as, "Were we perhaps better off before?". That is because we all crave order and discipline in our lives.

I would like to assure noble Lords that I and other members of the Government will continue to be seized of the situation. As regards resources, we need to provide not only money but also expertise; that is, people who have experience of working in developing countries and experience in implementing programmes on the ground. As I said, security sector reform will be an absolute priority for us.

Photo of Baroness Crawley Baroness Crawley Government Whip, Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 1.22 p.m. to 3 p.m.]