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Baroness Hanham: My Lords, the Minister said that he will say no more so I am taking the risk of not being answered back. On behalf of my trio of Front Bench colleagues, I should like to thank both Ministers for their general courtesy, good humouralthough I thought the Minister a little tetchy today but, in general, he has been in fairly good humourand friendliness throughout the passage of the Bill.
I cannot say that we are satisfied that amendments have been made which, at the outset, I believed both we and the Liberal Democrats wished to see in this Bill. Of course, we all know the reason for that. It is because the Liberal Democrats have chosen not to support us in the areas which would have made this Bill more acceptable.
However, we have had commitments from the Government to ensure that proper information is provided to voters as to what they are voting about and that the soundings exercise will be brought to this House at the same time as any referendum decision is being taken. The Minister made, as best he could, a commitment that he would try to ensure that there would be a draft regional assemblies Bill before any decisions regarding referendums had to be made. If that could not be obtained by amendment, I believe that we have obtained it by commitment. We have probably obtained useful acknowledgement from the Government of some of the difficulties.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I, too, repeat the thanks, even though our experiences have been rather different. But the thanks are the same and very genuine. We think that it is important to be starting on the road towards strategic regional government. The Minister said that the number of quangos that we have and the spending power that they have go without adequate scrutiny. We fully agree that scrutiny of the
We said throughout that we regard issues of regional and local government as separate. We stand by our view that it is better to accept the solution to agree what is on offer; that is, to give people choice as to the structure of their local government. That is better than to lose the opportunity for regional government.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, during the previous amendment when I said that I intended speaking on Bill do now pass, the Minister pointed out that that would be incorrect. However, because the noble Baronesses, Lady Hanham and Lady Hamwee, have spoken on Bill do now pass, it seems to me that I am in good company. Therefore, I shall say a few words although I had been prepared to accept the view which the Minister put forward.
I reiterate my complete opposition to this Bill, which I expressed at Second Reading. It will not make for better government and, indeed, it is clear that it will blur the relationship between central and local government. A few useful amendments have been made during the passage of the Bill but it largely remains as it was when first introduced to the House. Something which worries me very much, and ought to worry local authorities, is that although the Government say that no powers will be taken from local government in the Bill, nevertheless there are powers for the elected regional authorities to precept on the local authorities. Local authorities ought to take due notice because they will find that their ratepayers will pay additional rates without having voted for the authority which will be spending that money.
I wish to make only one other point. During the long discussions on the soundings exercise, there was no question that a number of local authorities, Sunderland among them, were in danger of using their ratepayers' money to promote the idea of elected regional assemblies. Many members were concerned about this and it was left to Mr Neil Heron to challenge the local authority in Sunderland for using council tax payers' money. From a letter received by Mr Heron, it has become clear that if the organisations supporting regional government had used any such money for those purposes, that would have been illegal. The local authority in Sunderland should have been aware of that. I am sorry that it was not.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, I regret that the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, thinks that I am abusing the procedures of the House. It is not something that I would do intentionally and, indeed, I do not think that I am doing so now. In any event, I was about to bring my remarks to a close when the noble Lord interrupted me.
Local authorities and local councillors ought to be on the ball when it comes to spending council tax payers' money. It should not be left to members of the public to draw the attention of councillors to abuses of the system; councillors should be doing that themselves.
The Minister for Trade (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): 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 Foreign Affairs. The Statement is as follows:
"When the House rose for the Easter Recess, the main challenge confronting coalition forces was civil disorder and looting in the immediate aftermath of the fall of the regime. It would have been a miracle had there not been such an outburst of anger, frustration and lawlessness in a country where the population had lived for so long in daily fear of torture, arbitrary arrest and summary execution.
"Over the past two weeks, the looting and civil disorder has declined. In Baghdad, local police have offered their services and joint patrols with coalition troops are under way. An effective curfew is in place. Baghdad's main hospitals are working and the United Nations Office of the Humanitarian Co-ordinator for Iraq reports that clean water is available to most parts of the city.
"More widely, schools and markets are reopening. Local hospitals are resuming normal service and field hospitals, including those supplied by Jordan and Saudi Arabia, are functioning well. Electricity and water supplies are reaching most of the country.
"In Basrathe centre of the area under British military controlUK forces are carrying out joint operations with local police, and providing food and water through aid distribution points established on the outskirts of the city. A local judicial system is being established. And thanks to help from British engineers and local Red Cross workers, the three main power stations supplying Basra are now up and running, and the city's electricity and water supplies have been restored to pre-conflict levels. In certain respects in the south, facilities are already in better shape than they were before military action started. The seaway into Umm Qasr is being dredged to take larger vessels, and the grain store is open. The railway line from the town to Basra, which had not been working for many years, is now running thanks to British military engineers, and plans are in hand to reopen the line to Baghdad.
"In northern Iraq, essential supplies of wheat, oil and medical goods are being delivered unhindered. UNICEF reports that all schools in the north have reopened and that the vast majority of people displaced by the conflict have now returned to their homes.
"In the coming weeks, coalition forces will increasingly share the burden for the delivery of essential services and aid with the Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA), and with UN agencies and NGOs. When I visited Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and Saudi Arabia just before Easter, I discussed ORHA's plans with its head, Jay Garner, and colleagues based in Kuwait. Mr Garner moved into Iraq just a week ago. A number of countries are making substantial contributions to ORHA. Australia, Denmark and Japan have already provided personnel. Others, including Spain, Romania, South Korea and Italy, are about to do so. For our part, we have so far provided 20 British staff, including one of Mr Garner's three deputies, Major General Tim Cross. We will be making further contributions to ORHA to help get Iraq back on its feet.
"As well as meeting humanitarian and other essential needs, and starting the process of physical reconstruction, a key objective of the coalition is to support a viable political process which allows the Iraqi people to create representative, democratic government. In the Basra and south-eastern sector which we control, we began this process at a local level by sponsoring representative town meetings. Similar local and regional level meetings have been held elsewhere.
"On 15th April, the first meeting of national Iraqi representatives was held at Al Nasiriyah. This was attended by a senior British diplomat, Edward Chaplin. A second such meetingon a larger scale
"We hope that the current process of consultation will culminate in a national conference of Iraqi representatives. This would, first, set up an Iraqi Interim Authority to take over progressively responsibility for the administration of Iraq. Secondly, it would create a constitutional framework to prepare the ground for the election of a democratic government run by the Iraqi people themselves.
"As President Bush and my right honourable friend the Prime Minister have made clear, the United Nations will have a vital role in Iraq's reconstruction. Last week the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1476 which will extend the new arrangements for the UN's Oil for Food programme until 3rd June. In the coming weeks, the Security Council will have to consider a range of other issues. This will include the future of the sanctions regime and the subsequent management of Iraq's oil revenues.
"There is also the question of the future arrangements for verifying Iraq's disarmament of weapons of mass destruction. In his presentation to the United Nations Security Council last week, the head of UNMOVIC, Dr Hans Blix, recognised that,
'in a situation that is still insecure . . . civilian international inspection can hardly operate',
"But the investigations are unlikely to be quick. The inspection process itself will be painstaking and detailed: we want to establish the truth beyond any doubt. The testimony from scientists and documentation about WMD development and production programmes will be the key to determining the fate of prohibited equipment, materials and munitions. But we cannot expect witnesses to come forward until they are confident that they can speak freely.
"Even so, I know that some Members of this House have expressed concerns about the justification for military action in the absence of discoveries of illegal Iraqi weapons. Let me make
'non-compliance with Council resolutions and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles',
"Before I move on to the Middle East peace process, let me say this. It is only 19 days since Baghdad was liberated and barely two weeks since the end of serious fighting. In that time civil disorder has subsided andas we saw in the joyous Shia pilgrimage to Karbala last weekthe Iraqi people have begun to enjoy the taste of freedom. Of course there are some problems associated with this dramatic change for the Iraqi people after more than 20 years of coping with a brutal and vicious regime. But a new and representative Iraqi Government, run by the Iraqi people for the Iraqi people, will help to guarantee this freedom for future generations. For all the immense challenges which lie ahead, one thing I know for certain: Iraq's future will be better than its past.
"Of course the Middle East will never look forward to a secure future as long as a settlement to the region's oldest dispute remains beyond reach. For the past months, the Government have worked tirelessly to secure the publication and implementation of the road map, a document agreed by the Quartet Group of the United States, Russia, the United Nations and the European Union, which sets out a path to a peaceful settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians. I greatly welcome the commitment from President Bush to devote as much effort to this cause as my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has given to the search for peace in Northern Ireland.
"Later this week the Palestinian Legislative Council will be asked to endorse the appointment of a new Cabinet for the Palestinian Authority. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, one of the main architects of the Oslo Accords, this Cabinet has, I believe, the courage and ability to take the tough measures necessary to clamp down on terrorism and to lead the Palestinians into a constructive dialogue with the Israelis and the international community. This, and action by the Israeli Government to ensure that the Israeli Defence Force acts strictly within international law, should bring an end to the spiral of killings which has claimed over 3,000 lives on both sides over the past two and a half years.
"Once the Palestinian Legislative Council endorses Mahmoud Abbas's Cabinet, the road map will be published. For the first time for a long time
"With visionary leadership and courageous statesmanship from both sides, the outcome I have described can, in our judgment, be achieved by 2005. This would not just bring an end to the misery of millions of Israelis and Palestinians who live every day under the shadow of indiscriminate violence, it would remove the single greatest source of resentment and mistrust which bedevils relations between the West and the Muslim world. I know that all sides of the House will support the Government's efforts to secure this great prize".
Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, we are deeply grateful to the Minister for repeating that full and helpful Statement. The war has been successfully prosecuted and concluded. The professionalism of our Armed Forces greatly shortened the war and mitigated substantially the innocent deaths and injuries that might otherwise have occurred. This was openly recognised to me and was in fact the first comment of the US Secretary of Defence, Mr Donald Rumsfeld, when I saw him in Washington recently. From these Benches we pay a great tribute to the Armed Forces.
The rebuilding of confidence in Iraq and in the wider region is now the overreaching priority. We have always made clear that we would be also looking for a well-prepared plan of reconstruction and re-democratisation of Iraq and a firm plan for making progress on the Middle East peace process. It is on these areas that I wish to raise some questions.
The first priority for post-Saddam Iraq must be the restoration of law and order and the creation of security and stability. One of the greatest problems facing the coalition is the disparate nature of Iraqi society. The news today that one of Iraq's main Shi'ite organisations might boycott today's meeting called by Mr Jay Garner underlines the battle we will face in the months ahead.
A future system of government that excludes any group from the representative process will only exacerbate tensions. What plans are there to ensure that this does not happen, and what is the UN's participation in them? It is vital at this stage that local leaders in civic society, and in particular the main Shia clerics and organisations, are part of the discussion on these matters.
While on the subject of the UN, can the Minister clarify what role it will play in the Oil for Food programme? Can the Minister shed any light on a report yesterday that suggested that the UN was grossly mishandling the Oil for Food programme? Could that be the reason why Washington wants sanctions lifted and the Oil for Food programme phased out? Russia wants the UN Secretary-General to run the entire programme until an internationally recognised Iraqi government come into power, which could take several years. What is the Government's view of that?
It is important that legal processes are planned at this stage to deal with members of Saddam Hussein's regime for the war crimes committed against the Iraqi people. Justice must above all be seen by the Iraqi people to be done. Where and under what law will they be tried?
The confidence of the whole region will be massively strengthened by genuine progress in the Middle East peace process. Does the Minister agree that the dialogue between the two sides, at whatever level, would be an important step forward? Does she join me in welcoming Ariel Sharon's reported invitation to Abu Mazen to meet him in Jerusalem for discussions? Will she give such a dialogue all possible encouragement, especially if publication of the road map is further delayed? Does she see any reason why it might be?
We have supported the Government in the removal of Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction because it was right and in our national interest to do so. Now the challenge is to build confidence and stability throughout the region. That, too, is right and in our national interest. So long as that remains the Government's objective and they pursue it with due competence, they will continue to have our support.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, we on these Benches welcome the Government's information on progress being made, especially in areas under British control, in re-establishing essential services and law and order and in laying the foundations for a return of self-government to Iraq. We regret the confusion, not mentioned in the Statement, of the first days of occupation of Baghdad and the destruction and looting of hospitals, ministries and the Iraqi national museum.
We are puzzled by the uncertainty about the future role of the UN. Paragraph 8 refers to UN agencies and NGOs as a sort of afterthought, but in paragraph 12 we are told that President Bush has now agreed that,
On inspection, we are unhappy about the rather selective quotations in paragraph 13 from Hans Blix. That is not what I understand to be the tenor of Hans Blix's remarks to the UN Security Council. We are conscious of a fairly active campaign of character assassination against Dr Blix and the UNMOVIC team within Washington. I recall someone pointing out that Dr Blix was not only Swedish but, worse, a Swedish liberal.
If the truth is to be established, as stated in paragraph 15, it is important that the truth is seen to be established. The confidence and trust of those outside is likely to be much stronger if UNMOVIC can be reintroduced as soon as possible. I am not entirely clear why Washington is resisting that so strongly. To whom are the British members of the coalition inspection team directly responsible? Are they a junior partner in an American-led inspection team or do they have independent authority to report both to the British Government and to publish their findings?
We are puzzled about the reference to the inspections needing to take time. We were told before the intervention that time was not necessary, that the inspectors did not need very much more time and that if they wanted more time they were clearly not doing their job seriously.
My concern on the question of inspection is that, throughout the process over the past nine months, our Government and the American Government have oversold the information established. Reference is made to the dossier of 7th March, with its 173 pages, as being a damning dossier. When I read that document in detail after the previous Statement, it did not seem quite as damning as the Government suggested. There was a debate as to whether anthrax had been produced in 1991 as well as in 1990, and it was suggested that under some ideal conditions some of the anthrax produced in 1990 or 1991 might possibly still be of some utility. The question of where we are now with weapons of mass destruction and what is found is of prime importance to legitimising what has been done.
We regret that no mention is made of the neighbours. Much discussion has taken place within the US Administration of the role of Syria and future relations with Iran. We need to ensure that the neighbours share some responsibility for re-establishing legal authority in Iraq and, given that the majority of people in Iraq are Shia, the role of Iran is clearly of extreme importance. It is desirable to rebuild co-operation across the region. Inviting other Arab governments to share in responsibilities for reconstruction and rebuilding therefore seems to us extremely important.
Lastly, the Statement turns to Iraq and Palestine. We are happy to see confirmation that the road map is not intended to be amendable and is to be implemented as rapidly as possible. President Bush has given the remarkable commitment to devote as much effort and attention to the process of peace between Israel and the Palestinians as our own Prime Minister
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I thank both the noble Baroness and the noble Lord for their response to my right honourable friend's Statement. I agree strongly with what the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, said about the professionalism of our Armed Forces, an absolutely crucial part of the success of the military alliance. I would also sayand I am sure she would agreethat their courage and their humanitarian approach were absolutely crucial. Our Armed Forces may have learned their compassion and humanitarian approach for the saddest possible reasons, from patrolling Northern Ireland. However, the fact that they patrol as they do, taking off their helmets and getting into their berets as quickly as possible, has been absolutely crucial in Basra.
I agree with comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, about the role of law and order. That is a first priority. I hope that she agrees that the Statement's references to the re-establishing of law and order is encouraging, although it is not there yet by any means. I was a little surprised by the comment of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, that the Statement does not mention looting: it is mentioned at the beginning. The Statement says that it would have been a "miracle" if there had been no such incidents in the initial period after Baghdad fell. I believe that to be a fair statement. It is one I have made in response to points raised by the noble Lord's Liberal Democrat colleagues in the past.
The meeting today in Baghdad is, indeed, very important. It is true that not everyone is there that we should like to see present. However, there is a significant Shia participation. A significant proportion of the Shia groups have attended. We should like to see all of the groups properly represented in any decisions over the future of the Iraqi government. I understand that in the current discussions the majority of participants are Shia. We understand that SCIRI, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in IraqI believe that that is the group which the noble Lord may be thinking ofwas reluctant to attend, but we hope very much that it will do so in future. The principles set out at Al Nasiriyah in the 13-point plan are those upon which we hope it will operate. As I am sure your Lordships will have seen, included in those principles are the provisions that the rule of law and order must be
The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, was concerned about the role of Dr Blix and claimed that some rather unfair comments had been made about him. I am bound to say to the noble Lord from this Dispatch Box that I have defended Dr Blix time and time again when the noble Lord or others have raised certain difficulties. I have expressed the confidence of Her Majesty's Government in Dr Blix. I have no difficulty in doing so again. Her Majesty's Government accept that independent verification will be important. However, there is not an altogether permissive environment at the moment, as Dr Blix's statement made clear. The noble Lord says that the Statement is selective. I am bound to say that Dr Blix has acknowledged that there is not a secure environment at the moment. The exact method by which independent verification can take place is under discussion. We hope that we shall come to an agreement on that. When we do come to such an agreement, we shall say exactly what that agreement is.
Some matters are under investigation. As the Statement makes clear, there is documentation to be studied, sites to be visited and people to be interviewed. It is very important that we try to do everything we can, not to say that we are not touching any of the issues connected with WMD until we can get independent verification. There is a job that we can be getting on with although we absolutely acknowledge that independent verification will be important in due course.
I turn back to the rest of the UN's role. We have made it clear in the past that the United Nations must have an important role in the reconstruction of Iraq. Not only the British Government have made that clear, President Bush also made it clear in his statement at Hillsborough. The exact nature of the role is, of course, for the United Nations and, if I may say so, for the Iraqis to decide upon. We should like to see active co-operation. We should like to see active collaboration. For example, we should like to see the UN supervise the lifting of sanctions and the future of the Oil for Food programme on which the noble Lord asked questions. The current UN Security Council Resolution 1476 runs only until 3rd June. If, at that point, there is still no decision about the longer term, the question will be raised about the rollover of the Oil for Food programme. The United Nations is obviously the authority to which any such questions will have to be addressed. The future of Iraqi oil also needs to be discussed. That will be crucial in the building of the future of the Iraqi people for the Iraqi people.
I believe that we share many of the objectives for reconstructing Iraq with our friends elsewhere in the United Nations. The main point is that the reconstruction of Iraq should be something in which the Iraqi people have a major say. If I can put it this way, it should be made as easy as possible for the Iraqi people to embrace their future.
The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, says there is nothing in the Statement about neighbours. There is something in the Statement about four of the neighbours: Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, all of whom were visited by my right honourable friend two weeks ago. By my reckoning that is a majority of the neighbours. The Statement does not mention Syria, Iran or Jordan, except in so far as Jordan is providing some of the field hospitals. That is five out of the seven. But, of course, the fact is that Syria and Iran are the countries that are raised as matters of concern. The noble Lord will know that my right honourable friend has been in constant touch with his opposite numbers in both countries. We have a dialogue with both countries. I believe that that dialogue has been pursued very successfully. In fact, my honourable friend Mr O'Brien has also visited those two countries in the very recent pastin the past few weeks or soso we have maintained a good deal of contact with Syria and Iran as well as with countries specifically mentioned in the Statement.
The Middle East peace process is a vital issue. The noble Lord asked about the Israeli defence forces. Your Lordships will know that in the past we have often discussed some of the reactions of the Israeli defence forces. Questions have been raised about their reactions to some of the terrorist outrages perpetrated by extremists on the Palestinian side. The point is that we wish to be even-handed about the implementation of any road map. What we wish to see is both sides agreeing to stop the spiral of violence. That is enormously important. We hope that the publication of the road map will take place this week. I cannot guarantee that but it is clearly implicit in the Statement. We welcome any invitations from either side to talk seriously to each other about a way forward. We hope that all sides in this terrible conflict will welcome an opportunity for peace although we understand all the misgivings that will arise and all the people who will wave their hands and say, "There are 100 different reasons why we should not go forward on this". That is inevitable after the years of distrust and violence. I hope that all sides and all your Lordships will welcome this as a genuine opportunity to make the best of a real chance for peace that may exist in a way that we have not seen for a number of years.
Lord Richard: My Lords, will my noble friend say more about the United Nations as I was intrigued by her comment that it was for the UN to decide its role? I ask my noble friend what I hope is a fairly clear and relatively simple question. Do the Government envisage the United Nations playing a role, and if so what role, in the administration of Iraq and in its transition to a democratic state?
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