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Gulf War

Volume 459: debated on Tuesday 1 May 2007

3. What discussions she has had with the UN on the request for part of the money paid to people detained in Iraq during the first Gulf War to be repaid. (134733)

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has not had any discussions with the United Nations about the request to recover overpayments to claimants identified in the 2006 audit of the United Nations Compensation Commission. Her Majesty’s Government, along with other permanent members of the governing council of the UNCC, agreed to the adoption of a “best efforts” approach to recover overpayments. We are taking such an approach in contacting concerned claimants. We are aware, however, that in some cases it will be difficult for claimants to repay the money, and we will handle them with due concern for the claimants’ welfare.

But does my hon. Friend understand that these were payments, modest ones, made 17 years ago to those detained against their will in the first Gulf war? My constituent, Chris Shaw, received a payment of £9,000 and is now being asked to repay £1,300 within 30 days. Is that not shameful, and ought it not to be written off?

I certainly think that, in the case of my hon. Friend’s constituent, that is an unreasonable demand. However, I am sure that he knows that there have been UNCC-approved compensation awards totalling $52 billion to 1.5 million claimants worldwide, and so far $21.8 billion has been paid out. That amounts to 5 per cent. of Iraqi oil revenues. The figures for Britain are that 5,000 United Kingdom claimants have received awards totalling $428 million. Those are large sums, but I take on board my hon. Friend’s point and, as I said, where there are difficulties we must look carefully at the demands and where possible ask that the most difficult payments be written off.