Iraq: Post-conflict Reconstruction

– in the House of Lords at 3:17 pm on 12th November 2003.

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Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office) 3:17 pm, 12th November 2003

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development. The Statement is as follows:

"With permission, Mr Speaker, I wish to make a Statement on progress on reconstruction in Iraq.

"As honourable Members are all too aware, security is a continuing concern, particularly in and around Baghdad. US forces are bearing the brunt of these attacks, but the UN and international aid agencies are also being targeted. I am sure that the whole House will join me in condemning the recent bombings of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

"Of equal concern have been the attacks on the Iraqi people themselves, including the assassination of Aqila al Hashimi—one of only three women members of the governing council—who was shot the day after I met her in Baghdad in September. Regrettably, there have been other victims, including religious and civic leaders, judges and police officers, and ordinary Iraqis caught up in bomb blasts.

"Those who attack the Red Cross and Iraqis working to rebuild their country are desperate to stop reconstruction happening. We cannot let them succeed. In these circumstances, however, it is understandable and right that the ICRC and the United Nations should review their security procedures and the way they work in Iraq, even if that means temporarily pulling back on some of their operations and pulling out their international staff. We stand ready to help them finance additional security measures, where appropriate, to try and limit the effect on their capacity to help with reconstruction. We will continue to support these agencies, their local staff and NGOs still working in the country.

"But this is only part of the picture. Political violence is largely concentrated in one part of Iraq—Baghdad and its surrounding areas. The situation in the northern provinces is more stable, and in the south-east region where I visited in September. Security is being maintained by the UK-led multinational division and the local police.

"For most Iraqis, life is gradually improving. Last month, electricity supply rose above pre-conflict levels for the first time, which has now allowed much-needed maintenance to take place during the cooler months when demand is lower. Food distribution is working, and supplies will continue after the UN Oil for Food programme ends this month.

"One thousand five hundred schools have been refurbished and 70 million new text books are being distributed. Attendance rates are back to pre-conflict levels. Fuel supply for domestic consumption is meeting demand. Almost all of Iraq's 240 hospitals are now in operation and the routine immunisation of children has resumed. Clean water supplies are improving in much of the country, with sewerage plants being rehabilitated.

"Forty thousand Iraqi police officers are now on duty. They are being trained and equipped. Criminal justice is being restored, but without the terrible repression that characterised Saddam's regime. Further, 170 newspapers are now on sale in the streets, enabling Iraqis to express their views freely.

"As well as recognising the enormous contribution of the Iraqi people to these achievements, I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the skills and dedicated work of UK forces and of other UK nationals, both in southern Iraq and elsewhere, for their courage and for their determination to help Iraq to rebuild itself.

"Progress is also being made on the political and constitutional process, with a healthy debate under way on how best to create a genuinely representative system. UN Security Council Resolution 1511 expressed support for this process and asked the UN to strengthen its role as far as circumstances allow. It also asked the governing council to set out by 15th December a timetable for the electoral process.

"This will provide the context for decisions about the transfer of executive and legislative authority, recognising that the coalition's aim has always been to hand Iraq over to its people as quickly as possible so that they can have control over their own political destiny.

"Iraq's Ministers, appointed at the beginning of September, are taking increasing responsibility for developing and implementing policies. The governing council has gained growing recognition internationally, including from the Arab League and the United Nations General Assembly. It played a prominent role at the annual meetings of the World Bank and IMF in Dubai, and governing council members and Ministers made their presence felt at the Madrid Donors' Conference at the end of last month.

"That conference raised pledges of at least 33 billion dollars in grants and soft loans for 2004–07, significantly exceeding expectations. Seventy-three countries participated, underlining the breadth of international support for securing a better future for Iraq.

"In Madrid, I set out our commitment to reconstruction in Iraq with a pledge of £544 million. This includes the £209 million that DfID has already committed for humanitarian and reconstruction assistance, and £296 million over the next two years. We are considering how best to use this funding to support reconstruction, development and poverty reduction.

"The pledges raised at Madrid, alongside oil revenues, foreign direct investment and commercial loans, are expected to meet Iraq's investment needs for the next four years. I can also tell the House that agreement has now been reached between the United Nations, the World Bank and the CPA on the terms of reference of the International Advisory and Monitoring Board, which will oversee the use of Iraq's own resources being channelled through the Development Fund for Iraq.

"The Iraqi people deserve the chance they now have for a better future; they have waited for it long enough. Much remains to be done on security to counter the violence of Saddam's loyalists and others who want to deny the Iraqis this chance, but the best way we can prevent them from succeeding is to continue with reconstruction and political change. As I am sure the House will agree, that is why we must remain committed to the economic and social reconstruction of Iraq and to a better life for its people".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 3:24 pm, 12th November 2003

My Lords, I am sure we are all extremely grateful to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement on post-conflict reconstruction in Iraq, although the very phrase "post-conflict" is, I fear, beginning to look a little ambiguous and stretched. Does she accept that we fully share the way in which the Statement deplores the rocket and grenade attacks and assassinations? Those are attacks not only on the brave troops of the coalition, who are trying themselves to bring peace, but also of course on the Red Cross, the United Nations and other institutions which are trying to help the people of Iraq and are being hindered by terrorism.

Does she also accept that I join fully in the tribute paid in the Statement to our own soldiers, who continue to show superb courage and resourcefulness in the very difficult conditions under which they have to operate? Does she agree that reconstruction and recovery in Iraq rests not only on outside aid, although clearly that is important, or even on oil revenues, but on mastering the security situation? Once that is done, if it can be done, will not large volumes of international and national capital be ready to flow and businesses to start up? In fact, in many areas outside the Sunni triangle, where all the trouble is focused, the remaining 80 per cent of Iraq is relatively peaceful and business is recovering already. The great trading families of the area are bringing money back in and enterprise is beginning to flourish.

Would she agree that, meanwhile, the Iraq resistance has now swollen from Ba'athist intelligence officers and disgruntled middle-ranking officials to include hardcore Jihadis, members of the Al'Qaeda franchise and other committed Iraq nationalists and outsiders? Does she further agree that the right response—indeed, the only response—is an increasingly skilled and effective counter-insurgency strategy? Have her colleagues in the Ministry of Defence and the British Armed Forces had the chance to talk to Pentagon officials about the urgent need for light infantry units, more specialised scout squads that can reach out and strike guerrilla bases, together with an intelligence network akin to something along the lines of the old British Middle East intelligence networks, using both political agents and operatives who can look and speak like the local population? Is it not important to put over the message that that is a better approach for our American allies, who are no doubt doing their best, than cumbersome army formations which can move only by road—thereby asking for trouble—and conduct abortive house raids or, to be frank, go on wild goose chases after elusive weapons of mass destruction?

Does the noble Baroness agree that a reconstitution of Iraqi security forces, including border guards, civil militiamen and police units, is a very important part of the process? I know that it has started already, but could it not go faster and further—although I can see clearly that a great deal of training over many months will be needed for these forces to make them effective in the new and unfamiliar conditions of terrorism and the need for counter-insurgency operations?

Even more important, is not the central need to get away from the idea, which is in many Iraqi minds, of the coalition as an occupying power and to ensure that coalition power gradually reduces while Iraqi power gradually takes over? Can we be sure that the Iraqi Governing Council will be strengthened and not weakened, as was hinted in Washington last week? Further, can we be sure that all progress towards a new constitution will be pressed forward as hard as possible?

Looking back into history, would it not be wise to heed the advice given in 1917 by the British Deputy Commissioner for Basra, who happened to be my great-uncle, after the ejection of the Ottomans? He said that the key to stability and democracy in Mesopotamia lay in adapting existing complex and ancient institutions in the region to new needs; avoiding all suspicion of sectarian partiality; maintaining a strict reputation for justice; pursuing a progressive policy for ample provision of good education and employment; keeping wide open the door for access by local leaders to the new rulers—this was after the Turks had gone—and to disrupting as little as possible the customs, social activities and relationships between ethnic and tribal groups which sew this ancient society together. Will the Minister assure us that, while I fully recognise that much has been achieved and the media reports of violence inevitably give a false impression of progress, Her Majesty's Government will pursue those principles today and encourage our American allies and other coalition forces to adopt them as well?

We need now not only a carefully worked out humanitarian plan, as was promised, but a carefully worked out security plan as well. At the moment, we are not seeing nearly enough of either.

Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Development) 3:30 pm, 12th November 2003

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement. On behalf of these Benches, I should like to express our condemnation of the attacks that have occurred in Iraq, including those on the International Red Cross and, today, on the Italian base at Nasiriyah in which 12 Italian soldiers were killed. I also pay tribute to those working on the reconstruction of Iraq from Britain and around the world, including the son of the noble Baroness, Lady O'Neill, who was wounded recently in an attack there.

However, is the Minister concerned that, as many predicted before the war, the presence of the occupying powers in Iraq is now serving as a focus for attacks, as we have heard? Although I am encouraged by what the noble Baroness said about the progress being made in Iraq as far as ordinary citizens are concerned—which is very welcome—does she not agree that the general security position for the occupying forces and the international agencies, whose aid is absolutely vital, is now getting worse?

The Government have acknowledged that there was insufficient planning for filling the vacuum caused by the fall of the Iraqi regime. Does the noble Baroness agree that reconstruction needs a concerted effort on the parts of all those involved and, especially, the help of the international community? Does she feel concerned, as we do, about the attitude of the Bush Administration? Can she comment on why Paul Bremer has been recalled to Washington so soon after his last visit, necessitating the cancellation of his meeting in Iraq with the Polish Prime Minister? Does she share with me enormous concern on hearing the Foreign Secretary say this morning on the Today programme that he is,

"not party to the talks"?

Can she explain why he is not party to the talks?

Can the noble Baroness explain what the Coalition Provisional Authority is a coalition of? There is an overwhelming feeling that this is not, and never has been, a coalition of equal partners, or even, perhaps, a coalition at all.

We now hear rumours that the Americans are considering disbanding the Iraqi Governing Council. What light can the Minister shed on this? Is she aware that yesterday, at a meeting here in Parliament, a member of that governing council, Dr al-Rubaie, stated that they were being rushed because of the deadline of the American elections. He predicted that there was a serious danger of Iraq descending into chaos—of, as he put it, "falling off the cliff" into disaster. If the Iraqi Governing Council is scrapped, how can it come up with a timetable for the transfer of sovereignty and the holding of elections by 15th December, as set out in UNSCR 1511?

Can the noble Baroness tell the House what efforts are being made to ensure that the reconstruction of Iraq is being done in such a way that it is most effective; that the occupying forces recognise their responsibilities to the Iraqi people; and that the US election timetable is not allowed to dictate events there?

The Prime Minister said at Questions today that dialogue with the Americans is constant and at every level. Dialogue involves two parties. That his Foreign Secretary is not party to this dialogue at his level of government is surely worrying. The visit by President Bush next week gives an opportunity for dialogue—that is, if any Brits are allowed close to him. Can the Minister assure the House that the need to act together and with the international community in the interests of Iraq will be uppermost in discussions, and that the threats to Syria we have heard recently—which do not help to stabilise the region—will be similarly addressed?

We note the pledges made in Madrid. Pledges were made in Tokyo for Afghanistan, but a very small amount was delivered. Can the Minister comment on whether the position with Iraq is likely to be better? I note that the EU was not a major contributor at Madrid given the size of its economy. Can she comment on this? Under the circumstances, it is perhaps not surprising that the Government felt they must come up with more.

Does the noble Baroness agree, however, that it is surprising that some of this extra money has been taken from the poorest people in so-called middle income countries? Does she further agree that both Clare Short and herself said that extra money for Iraq would come from DfID's reserves? That was bad enough, given the unknown contingencies likely to come down the track.

The Prime Minister pledged on 25th April, in a letter to Christian Aid, that:

"Funds would not be redirected from programmes supporting poor people elsewhere".

But it has been made very clear that the decision to redirect money "earlier than had been decided" from other countries to supply the deficit for Iraq was something that the Government had not planned to do before the invasion of Iraq. Can the Minister elaborate on which programmes are going to be cut? Can she assure us that DfID will not lose other battles with the Treasury and the Prime Minister over this?

What influence is the UK having in preventing the selling of Iraqi assets to foreign ownership prior to Iraqis controlling their own affairs? What influence can the UK bring to bear on this matter?

Iraq remains extremely volatile. That volatility, and the military presence in the region of the US and the UK, is playing into the hands of terrorist groups. I hope the Minister can assure the House that the focus on the rebuilding of Iraq for the Iraqis will remain uppermost in the minds of those involved there.

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office) 3:37 pm, 12th November 2003

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Howell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, for their comments about the role being played by our troops and other personnel. I join with them in their condemnation of the recent attacks we have seen, including the one in Nasiriyah.

Let me address each point in turn. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, referred to the difficulty of reconstruction and its dependence on mastering the security situation. I absolutely agree. In fact, the Statement made that point.

As noble Lords are aware, the resistance in Iraq comes from three different sources. There is a criminal element because Saddam Hussein let so many prisoners out of gaol before the conflict; there are the Ba'athists; and there are those coming into Iraq from outside who represent a range of terrorist organisations.

The noble Lord, Lord Howell, asked about the relationship between the MoD and the Pentagon and the need for ongoing discussions. I can assure the noble Lord that discussions are ongoing.

As regards the reconstruction of the Iraqi army, we have seen already the formation of two battalions. We also have 40,000 Iraqi police on the streets. Our target is 70,000.

As to the issue of the authority of Iraqis and the need to strengthen the governing council, the noble Lord will know that we have made it absolutely clear that our focus is on passing authority back to the Iraqis as quickly as possible. We now have Iraqi Ministers and we have the governing council. The Security Council resolution, which makes it absolutely clear that we want to see a plan setting out a programme for Iraq—including a new constitution—is very important indeed.

On the history, and the quote given by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, I totally agree with the noble Lord's great-uncle, although I am not always able to agree with the noble Lord himself.

The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, also stressed security, particularly the fact that it is becoming more difficult for coalition forces and the international agencies. That is absolutely right. At the same time, it is important to stress that the security situation is getting better for Iraqis, and we need to remember that.

On the UK not being party to the talks, it is absolutely right that the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority can have talks with the US Administration. I cannot see a problem with that. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary is on his way to Washington. He has had endless discussions with his opposite number, Colin Powell, and those discussions will continue. Of course it is a coalition; of course there have to be discussions between the two sides. That is ongoing and it will continue. I cannot quite understand this excitement about the fact that Paul Bremer has gone back to the United States for consultations with the US Government. Why is there a problem with that? I simply do not understand it.

In conclusion, let me reiterate what UN Security Council Resolution 1511 does in terms of a timetable. It provides a framework around which the whole international community can unite to assist the people of Iraq in building a better future. It confirms the goal of transferring power to the Iraqis as soon as possible, and has requested that the Iraqis produce a timetable for the process in the next two months.

Photo of Lord Gilbert Lord Gilbert Labour 3:42 pm, 12th November 2003

My Lords, my noble friend referred to the need to reconstitute the Iraqi army, a point not touched on by either the Liberal or Conservative spokesmen this afternoon. Can my noble friend give us some idea of the contribution Her Majesty's forces are making to that very worthy and urgent objective?

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, our forces have been engaged in working to reform the Iraqi army. This is one of the areas in which we hope there will be a wider international contribution, but we will, of course, continue to play a role.

Photo of Lord Wright of Richmond Lord Wright of Richmond Crossbench

My Lords, several references have been made to the courage of the British forces in Iraq, which I obviously endorse. However, I also commend our forces for the sensitivity with which they have been conducting their operations.

There has been some talk this afternoon about contact between the Ministry of Defence and the Pentagon and between the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and Mr Colin Powell. Can the Minister tell us to whom Mr Bremer reports? The press reported about two weeks ago that authority for operations in Iraq had been removed from Mr Rumsfeld and given to Condoleeza Rice. But surely in the present circumstances, the reconstruction of Iraq is far from being solely a military question—there ought to be far more input of politics. Why is Colin Powell not the authority to whom Mr Bremer reports? I realise that perhaps that is not our business, but can the Minister tell us to whom Mr Bremer reports?

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, as he is the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, he reports to both governments. With respect to the role of Condoleeza Rice, she of course gives advice to the President.

Photo of Lord Morgan Lord Morgan Labour

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, asked about the economic restructuring of Iraq, which is surely a major cause of the violence in that country. What is happening is illegal. As the Attorney-General advised the Prime Minister last March, it is illegal to have economic reconstruction involving the privatisation of Iraqi assets and the taking over of Iraqi companies against the will of its people by large American companies such as Bechtel and Halliburton. Are the Government putting these points to the American Government? If not, do we not have an illegal occupation following an illegal war, which was shown in The Times poll yesterday to be opposed by two-thirds of the people of this country?

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, first, the war was not illegal. We have made absolutely clear the grounds on which we went to war, and I cannot agree with my noble friend on that.

With respect to privatisation and Iraq's future, this was agreed by the Iraqi Governing Council, although the order was signed by Paul Bremer. The Iraqi Governing Council was present at the meeting of the World Bank and the IMF in Dubai and it made the announcement about the future of Iraq with respect to its economic assets.

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

My Lords, perhaps we could hear from the Conservative Benches and then the Liberal Democrat Benches. There is plenty of time.

Photo of Lord Biffen Lord Biffen Conservative

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree with me that it is quite remarkable to have restored the basic services in Iraq on the scale that has been achieved in the relatively limited time, compared with the great difficulties of restoring services in post-war Germany? But does she also agree with me that it is disappointing that there is no seeming enthusiasm, support or acceptance of the presence of the Americans and, to a lesser extent, ourselves, in Iraq, which underlines the very serious long-term problems of eventually securing a strategy for disengagement? Such a strategy certainly does not seem enhanced by the tone of the Americans in respect of Syria.

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, I totally agree with the noble Lord about how remarkable it is that basic services have been restored so quickly. What is sometimes forgotten are the years of underinvestment and neglect, which I saw when I visited Iraq earlier this year. We have been trying not just to restore services to their pre-conflict levels but to improve on that because the pre-conflict levels were, to be perfectly frank, not good enough as the resources were not going to the Iraqi people.

On the acceptance of the coalition forces, I remind noble Lords of the YouGov poll, which shows clearly that support for the coalition forces has gone up from some 75 per cent to some 90 per cent. I do not know whether the noble Lord saw the balanced report on "Newsnight" last night which showed Iraqis talking about the importance of coalition forces staying in Iraq for some period of time.

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Liberal Democrat

My Lords, the noble Baroness has told the House that Mr Paul Bremer reports to both governments. Can she also tell your Lordships on how many occasions Mr Paul Bremer has been to London and when she next expects a visit from him here?

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, I am not able to answer that question—I do not have the figures in my head, but I will happily write to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. He will be aware that we have our own representative in Iraq, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, who works very closely with Paul Bremer and who comes back to London on a regular basis. The contact between Paul Bremer, who is reporting to both the US and UK, and Jeremy Greenstock, who is reporting to the UK Government, is very close.

Photo of Lord Campbell-Savours Lord Campbell-Savours Labour

My Lords, is it not about time that we listened carefully to the case being made by Massoud Barzani, Jalal Talabani, Allawi, Ahmed Chalabi and all the other leading members of the IGC who are all saying that the Americans should, as a matter of urgency, transfer responsibility for security from the CPA to the IGC? I know that is being resisted by Bremer, but is there not now responsibility on the British Government to take more of a brinkmanship position in negotiations with the United States of America and effectively demand that that transfer takes place? If it does not, these people on the IGC are predicting a disaster inside Iraq.

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, my noble friend will be aware that robust discussions are going on, not only within Iraq and among members of the IGC. It is not surprising that there are differences of opinion, given that those are individuals representing different shades of political opinion in Iraq with respect to Next Steps and the best way forward.

Our commitment as the coalition is to transfer authority across a wide range of themes and issues as quickly as possible. Of course, there are UN security resolutions that give us the context in which we are debating that. In that context, there is also an ongoing discussion between the IGC, the CPA, our Government, the United States Government and the UN about how we can best deliver that.

Photo of Lord Hylton Lord Hylton Crossbench

My Lords, while the main battles—

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

My Lords, perhaps we could hear from the Cross Benches.

Photo of Lord Hylton Lord Hylton Crossbench

My Lords, while the main battles were still continuing, Members of both Houses of Parliament insisted on the importance of effective Arabic language policing on the disarmament of civilians and the reconstruction of the institutions of justice. Can the Minister confirm that those points have been fully borne out by subsequent events?

As regards the 80 per cent of Iraq where relative order and calm prevail, are local elections in cities and municipalities under consideration and planning?

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, with respect to the noble Lord's final point about local elections, I assure him that the discussions currently taking place in the IGC encompass a whole range of different possibilities.

On his earlier point about Arabic language policing and disarmament, he may be aware that the police training facility is being established in Jordan. On the disarmament point, there is the difficulty of disarming the criminal elements who were let out of prison by Saddam Hussein, as against working to disarm and work to a new kind of Iraqi police force and army as part of the wider security sector reform process.

Photo of Lord Mackie of Benshie Lord Mackie of Benshie Liberal Democrat

My Lords, it is obvious that a great deal of good work has been done and is going on. However, what has been brought out today is without a doubt the nigger in the woodpile—if such an expression is allowed any more. What has been brought out is that security is the essential point. Can the Minister give us any indication that would back up her statement that security is improving? For example, some of the worst things to have happened are the attacks on the oil pipelines. Is that still going on, or have they got it under control? That would be a sign that security is improving.

O

No - such an expression isn't allowed any more!!

Submitted by Oliver Keenan

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, I believe that I made it clear in a previous answer that we feel that the security situation for Iraqis is improving, although our forces and international agencies remain very vulnerable indeed. When my noble friend Lady Symons visited Iraq, she reported that the women to whom she spoke said that there were far fewer attacks on women and girls, for example. Other ministerial colleagues who have visited Iraq more recently than I have, have also commented on the fact that Iraqis themselves have talked about an improving security situation, but we are in no way complacent.

Improving the security situation remains our overriding consideration—to improve the security environment for our forces and for those others in the Coalition Provisional Authority and working with international agencies, and for Iraqis themselves. That will enable a faster pace for reconstruction.

Photo of Lord Mayhew of Twysden Lord Mayhew of Twysden Conservative

My Lords, is it not dismaying that we read so much to suggest that British advice is not being given its proper weight by our American partners in the coalition? Are Her Majesty's Government entirely satisfied that those reports are without foundation? Is it not extremely important that nothing should be done to exacerbate such an impression, right or wrong?

I appreciate that the Minister probably cannot go further than she has today about this business of Mr Bremer being consulted by the Americans alone, without the Foreign Secretary being present. Would she accept that, in those circumstances, the absence of the Foreign Secretary gives a very unfortunate impression?

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, I cannot accept that, because there have been a number of occasions when Paul Bremer has gone back to the United States for consultation with the US Administration, and there have been occasions when Paul Bremer has had consultations with our Prime Minister. There has never been a problem about that.

As I said, my right honourable friend Jack Straw is on his way to Washington now. That has been planned for some time and, of course, Iraq will be one of the subjects discussed, but there will be others. There is ongoing discussion between ourselves and the US Government at a number of different levels on the issue. I can think of no other way in which to reassure noble Lords on that point.

Photo of Lord Clark of Windermere Lord Clark of Windermere Labour

My Lords, can I thank the Minister for placing on record the vast amount of reconstruction that is taking place in Iraq? Will she also take the opportunity to dispel the notion that the security that underpins the reconstruction is really only a two-horse exercise? Will she confirm that 11 of our NATO partners and that six of the seven candidate members have troops in Iraq?

Does the Minister also agree that it is quite remarkable that almost all the 240 hospitals and more than 1,200 clinics are now working, and that with the help of UNICEF we have managed to produce 22 million doses of vaccines, allowing us to vaccinate 4.2 million children? Is that not absolutely crucial?

Finally, is the Minister aware that, late last night, at a meeting of NATO parliamentarians in the United States, with only one member out of several hundred voting against, parliamentarians from all the NATO parliaments endorsed the reconstruction plans, and emphasised that it is not a question of if we succeed but when we succeed?

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right. There are already forces from more than 30 nations on the ground in Iraq. That is certainly a multinational stabilisation force. Again, my noble friend is right with respect to the progress that we have made in relation to reconstruction. Not only are the hospitals and clinics back up and running, but we have had great success with the immunisation programme.

Much remains to be done and we shall continue to work on the reconstruction effort, but it is very important that we acknowledge the progress that has already been made.

Photo of Lord Sandberg Lord Sandberg Liberal Democrat

My Lords, the Minister has had too many questions to answer, but one question that she has not touched on relates to the possible problems in Syria. It worries me when one reads statements saying, "Let's have a crack at Syria next, or Iran". I do not believe that I need to remind the Minister that the relatively new President of Syria was educated in this country, as was his wife. I hope that Washington, when it considers that country, looks to us first, as I am sure that we would be more able to do more good in that respect than Washington would by going on its own.

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, the noble Lord will know that we have worked very hard at establishing relations with Syria. In fact, last year, I think, or earlier this year, we received a visit from the President of Syria, and that remains the position.

Photo of The Earl of Sandwich The Earl of Sandwich Crossbench

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that it is part of the job of the UN special representative to facilitate political dialogue and that there is still a vacuum in that respect? Who is actually carrying out the job which requires very special skills of fostering political dialogue and, presumably, dealing with the coalition?

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, is quite right. The UN had a particularly important role in facilitating political dialogue in Iraq. The current situation with the UN and the fact that the majority of the UN's international staff are no longer based in Iraq makes the day-to-day relationship in this respect more difficult. However, there is ongoing work on facilitating political dialogue in Iraq.

Photo of Lord Chan Lord Chan Crossbench

My Lords, with this encouraging report of the reconstruction of Iraq irrespective of the security situation, will the noble Baroness tell us what is being done to encourage local Iraqis and Iraqis abroad to return to Iraq to assist in the reconstruction? As she said, some 80 per cent of the population of the country is in a state of relative peace and the locals are the best people to maintain the reconstruction.

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Chan. It is important that it is the Iraqis themselves who are doing a great deal of the work in the reconstruction effort. Certainly it is the local staff who are carrying out the work that UNICEF, other UN agencies and the Red Cross are continuing to do in Iraq. There has been an ongoing discussion about a phased programme of returnees to Iraq, and that is being looked at. Obviously there is some nervousness among those outside the country about the security situation inside the country. However, I can assure the noble Lord that that is being looked at.