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Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am grateful for the tone and content of my noble friend's remarks. Paragraph 67, on page 31, of the Presidency Conclusions, states:


We absolutely agree. A UN mandate will be required to provide legal authority for the reconstruction effort and—this was a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, with which I omitted to deal—it will be necessary to make possible the engagement of the international financial institutions and the wider international community.

We are prominent in the effort to ensure that a suitable United Nations mandate is put in place and are holding regular discussions with key partners to achieve that. I underline that our objective is, therefore, to get Security Council authorisation or an endorsement for an international presence which will include the United Nations, not a UN operation as such.

Baroness Northover: My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving prior permission for questions to be put relating to Clare Short's Statement in another place on humanitarian relief and reconstruction in Iraq—a Statement which is not to be repeated in this House.

First, on the humanitarian situation, can the Minister say how quickly a new UN resolution on food aid can be secured? Is it a matter of days, or weeks?

Secondly, what progress is being made to secure a wider UN resolution on the general post-war reconstruction of Iraq? The fact that the Americans are giving out contracts to companies hardly inspires confidence. The Secretary of State referred in her Statement to:


    "the need to heal rifts in the international community if this resolution is to be procured".

What information can the Minister give the House?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness. If her original introductory remark was slightly coded, perhaps I should tell the House that there was the possibility of taking both Statements in this place. It was decided—I hope to your Lordships' satisfaction—that I would feel able to go wider than the Prime Minister's Statement to deal with questions about humanitarian matters of which the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and the noble Baroness were courteous enough to give me notice so that I could give the House as much information as I have.

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I cannot say when the humanitarian resolution is likely to be brought about. All I can say is that we are working as hard as we can. We obviously want it sooner rather than later. I am in the same position regarding the wider resolution. I respectfully remind your Lordships that this is still very early days; we have had only four days of conflict. It is sometimes slightly premature to say what will happen after the conflict comes to an end. We do not know when it will end, or in what circumstances. We all hope that it will end very early, but it is difficult for me to speculate about precise timetables when none of us knows how long the conflict will last or the circumstances of its termination.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for addressing some of our humanitarian concerns. Our anxieties follow on from the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and by the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, regarding the humanitarian contingency and the reluctance of the United Nations to become involved. Can the noble and learned Lord tell us to what extent the Prime Minister attributes this to the continuing intransigence of the French, or is it due to the loss of confidence by the US Administration in the capacity of the UN to perform its role?

In the absence of a UN lead in the co-ordinating of the humanitarian relief effort and plans for post-conflict Iraq, who will take the lead, given the understandable reluctance of aid agencies to work under the command of military forces? Does the Lord Privy Seal accept that the uncertainty over the role of the United Nations may hamper long-term relief efforts?

Following upon what the Lord Privy Seal said about the predicted refugee exodus from Iraq, I have seen reports that the Kurds are fleeing towns in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq and heading north. I think that all Members would agree that any large-scale population movement in this geopolitical tinderbox could have devastating humanitarian consequences. Does the noble and learned Lord agree with me that there is a danger that a large number of Kurdish refugees heading for the Turkish border could push the region into serious ethnic conflict? What is the Government's strategy for preventing such a humanitarian disaster?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness. She is right about the potential of extreme danger in the northern Iraq region. Obviously, we are continuing our overflights in the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq. That should be a comfort to them; they have been quasi-autonomous for some years, due to the protection we have afforded them.

I do not think one can fairly blame French intransigence for the difficulties of post-conflict reconstruction and work. Perhaps I can give a little more detail. UNICEF, the Red Cross and the NGOs, to which the noble Baroness made particular reference, are working together to respond to any

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water and sanitation system disruptions. The Red Cross is monitoring Baghdad's water supply and power; it has prepared equipment for emergency water distribution if necessary. The UN humanitarian co-ordinator, Ramiro Lopez da Silva, has a headquarters set up in Cyprus already. The UN office for co-ordination of humanitarian affairs has deployed staff in neighbouring countries.

The first donor NGO liaison meeting was held on 21st March in Kuwait. This will be a regular forum. UN humanitarian air services flights from Larnaca to bordering countries will begin this week. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the Jordanian Government have signed agreements to establish refugee camps in Jordan. UNHCR has pre-position stocks of tents, sheets, blankets and other supplies for over a quarter of a million people on the Iranian border. The World Food Programme has sufficient stocks in Iran to feed 100,000 for two months.

I am giving only brief details, but to say that nothing is being done by international organisations, of whatever sort, is unfair. The military are already delivering humanitarian supplies by land to Kuwait. Going back to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, we shall try to get a Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship to the deep-water port as soon as they can clear the waterway of mines. "Sir Galahad" is expected to be loaded tomorrow at Kuwait City and further cross-loaded at sea. That is likely to be the first shipment to get to Umm Qasr.

To go back to the noble Baroness's compendious point, we and the United States continue to urge restraint on Turkey. This, to put it at its most neutral, is an exceptionally sensitive situation. I agree with the noble Baroness; we are monitoring the situation closely and are in close contact with the Turkish authorities.

The Lord Bishop of Manchester: My Lords, in churches and places of worship all over the country, people have been praying for our troops. It was with great sorrow that we remembered yesterday those of our forces who have been killed and journalists who have been killed and injured. I know that my colleagues on these Benches would be grateful if our condolences to the bereaved were added to those of other Members of this House.

I endorse what the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said about those in Iraq who have lost their lives. War is always a tragedy and, yes, people are always killed and injured. Every human being who is killed and injured is, individually, a tragedy.

I am grateful to the Minister for his reassurances about humanitarian aid. We on these Benches are particularly concerned about the role of NGOs and organisations such as Christian Aid, which are ready, willing and able to help. I hope that the Minister can give us an assurance—as he has, I think, already begun to do—that the Government will give every support and encouragement to our own NGO organisations in this important humanitarian aspect.

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One area has not been touched on. Yesterday I called together in Greater Manchester the senior faith and community leaders. Many of my colleagues have been doing that across the country, particularly in areas like mine where there are very large faith communities. At the moment we can be greatly reassured about the readiness of members of other faiths and ethnic communities to be as supportive as possible to us. I was greatly heartened and, indeed, moved yesterday by what was said not only by the other faith leaders but, in a meeting in celebration of Pakistan independence day, for the support that they were giving to our troops and their sorrow at the loss of life.

I should be grateful for an assurance from the Minister that the Government and, indeed, European countries are sensitive to the kind of reaction that we can expect from other faith communities the longer the war goes on. I do not want to say more than that because it would not be appropriate at such a delicate time. But there are, I believe, a few warning lights. If we are aware of them, we may be able to prevent those warning lights becoming red lights.


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