My Lords, with the permission of the House, I would now like to repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister.
“Mr Speaker, with permission, and following my visit last weekend to Baghdad and Basra, I would like to update the House on the latest developments in Iraq.
“Let me start by paying tribute to the British service men and women who have served there with distinction since March 2003 and in particular to those who have given their lives in service of their country. I know the whole House will join with me in honouring the memory of the fallen and saluting the courage of all our military and our civilian personnel.
“As I set out in my October Statement, our objective is the creation of an independent, prosperous, democratic Iraq that is free of terrorist violence, secure within its borders and a stable presence in the region—something that is firmly in Britain’s interests, and in the interests of the world as a whole.
“To achieve this, we have sought with America and our other allies to support the Iraqi Government as they take on greater responsibility for their security and for safeguarding their new democracy, challenging those, whether terrorists, insurgents or militia, who threaten their citizens and undermine the rule of law. We have also sought to foster democratic and accountable government and support national reconciliation, giving all of Iraq’s communities a genuine say in the future of their country. And we have worked to help the Iraqis build their economy and give their people an economic stake in the future.
“In the last year, this has led us to pursue the strategy of ‘overwatch’, moving from combat to the training and mentoring of the Iraqi forces and the Iraqi police, encouraging the development of local government and working with the Iraqis on a Basra economic development strategy.
“And in recent months, conditions in Basra have shown a marked improvement. Incidents of indirect fire against British troops in the Basra air station have fallen from 200 a month at their peak last summer to an average of fewer than five a month since April this year. As the All-Party House of Commons Defence Committee says in its report today, the security situation in Basra has been ‘transformed’. And, as General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker confirmed to me at the weekend, thanks to operations by Iraqi and coalition security forces that are strongly welcomed by ordinary Iraqis, violent incidents right across Iraq are at their lowest level since 2004. Sunni groups have now joined the Iraqi and American forces in driving al-Qaeda from areas where it had been able to terrorise the population, and Iraqi troops, with British and American support, have had success against the illegal Shia militias, giving the Government of Iraq more control of the country.
“Of course this progress, often fragile, cannot be taken for granted. Millions of Iraqis are still refugees, either inside Iraq or in other countries. And the two car bombs detonated at the gates of an Iraqi army recruitment centre on 15 July remind us that there are groups still determined to inflict violence.
“But the most important development is that the improvements we have seen have been increasingly Iraqi-led. Security responsibility for 10 of 18 provinces has now transferred to Iraqi control, including all four provinces in Britain’s area of operations. The Iraqi security forces are now taking the lead in maintaining security and confronting all those who perpetrate violence, including acting decisively against Shia militia in Basra, Sadr City and Al Amara. And they have been supported by local people from across Iraq’s communities, Sunni, Shia and Kurd.
“Britain has already helped train more than 20,000 Iraqi army troops. But I want to pay credit to Prime Minister Maliki, his Government and the Iraqi security forces who have shown bravery and leadership in tackling the terrorists and militias threatening the stability of their country.
“The improved security situation has provided a platform for further essential progress on reconciliation. And we have seen not only increased co-operation between Sunni communities and the Iraqi Government in areas like Anbar and Mosul and the return of the Tawafuq such as Sunni party to the Government, but the passage of key legislation that is helping to embed democracy, including the accountability and justice law, the provincial powers law and the 2008 budget.
“The next stage will be provincial elections, reinforcing the political progress being made at the national level. And our message to the leaders of all Iraq’s communities and parties right across the country is that they must continue to make the right long-term decisions to achieve a sustainable peace.
“It is also important that, as we move forward, we see Iraq’s neighbours playing a constructive and responsible role in Iraq’s future. In particular, Syria should clamp down on the movement of foreign fighters and Iran must stop the provision of arms and training to those who attack the democratically elected Government of Iraq, the coalition forces in Iraq at that Government’s request, and the Iraqi people.
“We will also continue to focus on helping the Iraqi Government rebuild their economy and ensuring the Iraqi people have a stake in their future. British-led projects in southern Iraq have already helped to deliver enough electricity to supply 800,000 people and water supply for more than 1 million people, with this year another 120,000 people due to get power and 250,000 gain access to direct supplies of water. Our funding has helped the UN and World Bank repair and re-equip 1,000 healthcare centres and more than 5,000 schools, and train nearly 150,000 teachers. With British training and equipment, including upgrades to air traffic control systems, lighting and firefighting capability, Iraqi personnel are now regularly handling more than 20 civil flights a week at Basra international airport. And British mentoring and support has helped the Basra provincial council gain access to $400 million in central government funds for 2008—money that, in line with the council’s increasing ability to take the lead itself, it is now spending to further improve infrastructure and provide public services such as power, water, health and education.
“Last week, the Basra Development Commission agreed an outline economic strategy for Basra that sets out plans to encourage private sector and foreign investment. Britain is supporting the new Basra Investment Promotion Agency, which I met at the weekend, and the Basra Development Fund, which will provide loans to small and start-up businesses—key drivers of economic growth and job creation. I am grateful for the work of Michael Wareing, a leading British businessman, who co-chairs the Basra Development Commission.
“Nine months ago, I set out the key elements of our strategy for handing over security in Basra to the Iraqis and set out the stages for completing the tasks we have set ourselves. We completed the initial phase on target, handing over Basra to provincial Iraqi control in December. This allowed us to reduce troop numbers in southern Iraq from 5,500 in September to 4,500.
“After the Iraqi Government launched Operation Charge of the Knights to enforce the rule of law in Basra, as my right honourable friend the Defence Secretary explained to the House in April, the military advice was that we should pause the further planned reduction so that British troops, together with US forces, could support the Iraqis in this crucial operation. Since then, we have responded to changing needs and embedded more than 800 UK personnel within the Iraqi command structure, at divisional, brigade and battalion level. The focus of the 4,100 UK forces still in southern Iraq is now on completing the task of training and mentoring the 14th Division of the Iraqi army in Basra. It is right that as we do so, we continue for the next few months to provide support at these levels.
“Other remaining military tasks, agreed with the Government of Iraq, and in close consultation with our US allies, include finalising the preparation of Basra airport for transfer to Iraqi control and continuing to develop the capacity of the Iraqi navy and marines so they can protect Iraq's oil platforms, territorial waters and Umm Qasr port—all critical to Iraq's economic future. It is now right to complete the tasks we have set ourselves.
“We expect the Basra Development Commission to publish its detailed economic development plan in the autumn. We hope that local government elections will take place by the end of 2008. Subject to security conditions on the ground, our military commanders believe that the Iraqis will be able to take over development of Basra airport by the end of this year. They also expect the first stage of the general training and mentoring of the combat troops of the 14th Division in Basra to be complete around the turn of the year.
“As the focus shifts from training combat troops, we will then move forward to the specific task of mentoring headquarter and specialist staffs. Our military commanders expect the 14th Division in Basra to be fully trained during the first months of next year.
“As we complete these tasks, and as progress continues across these different areas, we will continue to reduce the number of British troops in Iraq. Of course, future decisions will be based, as I have always said, on the advice of our military commanders on the ground. But I can tell the House today that just as last year we moved from combat to overwatch, we would expect a further fundamental change of mission in the first months of 2009 as we make the transition to a long-term bilateral partnership with Iraq, similar to the normal relationships which our military forces have with other important countries in the region.
“The Defence Secretary and our military commanders will now work with the Iraqi Government to formulate agreement on the details of such a partnership, including the necessary legal basis, and he will report to the House in the autumn.
“I believe it is right that having successfully trained and mentored large numbers of the Iraqi forces, and having successfully worked with the Iraqis on a new economic development strategy, we complete the key tasks we have agreed with the Iraqi Government: training the 14th Division of the Iraqi army in Basra; preparing Basra airport for transfer to Iraqi control; pushing forward economic development; providing the necessary support for provincial elections; honouring our obligations to the Iraqi people; and, at all times, ensuring the safety of our Armed Forces, whose professionalism and dedication have brought us to this stage and whose service to our country I once again commend to the House”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for repeating this important Statement. A military commitment to containing—indeed, sustaining—Iraq has scored national affairs for nearly a generation. Week after week, Parliament hears the litany of brave young men and women who have laid down their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. We cannot fully express our gratitude to them or our admiration for the skill and fortitude of our troops in their varied and often changing missions in this troubled region. So many of the aspirations and enmities causing the multi-layered and overlapping tensions in this region are centuries old. I wonder whether we are any nearer a solution now. In fact, are we any nearer to knowing what the solution is?
It is clear that Iraq must be restored to being a great nation, a pivot of regional affairs—a nation that with security and stability could and should be one of the richest in the world. But while we welcome the Prime Minister’s assessment that President Bush’s troop surge has been a success, there is still far to go.
As the Prime Minister says, Iraqi army and security forces are now performing better and the Statement promises further progress in Basra, but what prospect have we that in Basra a woman may walk without a veil and go without fear? What hope is there of accelerating economic reconstruction, including even faster progress than reported to the provision of basic amenities such as reliable electricity and clean water?
While there are improvements in security in Basra city, can the noble Baroness confirm that the provisional reconstruction team is still based at the airbase? What prospect is there of a move to Basra proper, and have the circumstances for a move been clearly defined?
I welcome the fact that this time the Prime Minister has not made the error of grandstanding in Iraq on reducing troop numbers—a soundbite never properly fulfilled, to the detriment of his own political reputation and force morale. What is the policy on troop reductions? Everyone wants to see our forces out of Iraq as soon as it is practicable to do so; but is not the right approach, which we have advocated and the Government now seem to be adopting, to lay out conditions which have to be met, to achieve the objectives we set ourselves and, only then, withdraw the troops? Does the noble Baroness accept that there should be no more artificial timetables, as the Prime Minister said only on 19 July? Will she assure the House that no private undertakings have been given to either US presidential candidate? We have been there before, my Lords. Good personal relations with a US president are one thing, British national interests sometimes another.
What is our reaction to the call from the Iraqi Government that all US combat forces, and so, presumably, all UK troops, should be withdrawn from Iraq by the end of 2010?
What is to be done about the 2 million refugees who have fled Iraq in recent years? What discussions have taken place about their future? Does the noble Baroness agree that the long-term stability and prosperity of Iraq depend upon their eventual resettlement? Will she assure the House that there will be fair, honourable and dignified treatment for those brave Iraqis who helped our forces as interpreters and in so many other ways? Some noble Lords may have seen reports of the squalid and demeaning conditions in which some of these families are living. Can the noble Baroness tell us how many families have been transferred here? Will she assure the House that they will not be placed in accommodation in the UK that no one else will accept? Such action would shame our country.
A second certainty of the resolution of the crisis is that Iran is a proud and ancient nation, one of the anvils of world civilisation, whose particular religious identity has normally been a core of its sense of what it is. It is, and will be, a regional superpower. It must be treated with subtlety and respect. If it feels threatened, it will claim the right to defend itself and, of course, security runs two ways. That said, Iran has a duty to behave with responsibility. Its outrageous threats to the very existence of Israel were rightly condemned by the Prime Minister as abhorrent. Its sponsorship of Hezbollah and Hamas in encircling Israel is equally threatening to Israel. That is no route to justice for the Palestinian people. What engagement, if any, is there with the revolutionary Hamas regime in Gaza, and can the noble Baroness confirm that Hezbollah now has an effective military, political and constitutional block on the Government of the Lebanon and any action by them? What is being done there? After all, France has the EU presidency; it has a historic link with Lebanon. What is President Sarkozy doing to help the matter?
What did the Prime Minister mean when he said that Iran would not be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons? It is, of course, a nightmare prospect, and something that we must all strive to avoid, but what are the Government’s plans? Will there be sanctions? If so, what, where, when, and enforced by whom? What are the implications for the security of British forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, within range of Iranian reprisal? How can Russia and China be brought, as they must, into the resolution of these issues? Does it need a fresh start? When will we know whether Mr Blair’s mission served whatever credible or useful purpose it may once have had?
It would be tempting to ask about Afghanistan, for the issues are linked and the impact on the desperate overstretch of our troops enormous, but I shall ask only this. We are hearing new voices from Washington talking of potentially pursuing al-Qaeda into Pakistan, whether the Pakistan Government agree or not. What is the UK Government’s view on that?
As we leave Westminster for pleasant places, families up and down the land keep a watch on photographs of loved ones far away, doing dangerous duty for our country. Across the Middle East, millions yearn for a peace that is so elusive and for leadership ready to take the risks that will break the mould of poverty, hatred and the gun. In the weeks ahead, we should not forget any of them. The prize for success would be immense, but the costs of lack of care and clarity in our objectives are incalculable. As our nation, with its long experience, already knows, none would be spared the pain. Whatever options are charted out in the months ahead, populist disengagement, politically, diplomatically, or even militarily, is not now among them.
My Lords, we, too, are grateful to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement made in the other place. We join in the tributes paid to members of our Armed Forces and civilian personnel serving with them in Iraq and send our condolences to all the relatives of those whose lives were lost in that theatre.
We welcome the good news on the reconstruction of Iraq’s infrastructure—the education and health facilities, water, electricity and so on—although we cannot help reminding the noble Baroness that we would not have had to do that if we had not embarked on the misguided and foolish invasion of Iraq some years ago. It is as a result of allied activities, which have destroyed so much of Iraq’s infrastructure, that these operations are necessary now.
We also think it disappointing that no further timetable is given in the Statement for withdrawal or even an estimate of when our training role will end. What is the number of troops at Basra airport? Will they be brought back to the United Kingdom or serve elsewhere in Iraq when we hand over at the end of the year? The remaining handovers, which are scheduled to happen by the end of the year, will surely result in a predictable number of reductions of troops in Iraq. The noble Baroness could have given us some indication of what those numbers would be. It is very unsettling for the troops serving in the theatre not to have any idea of how long they will remain there and when their tour of duty end.
The Statement contains references to the foreign militants crossing the border from Syria. Do we have any knowledge of who is organising and funding them? In our discussions with the Syrian Government, have we made any progress towards halting the operations and getting at the sources of their training and funding? Similarly, with Iran, what representations have we made to Tehran and what response have we had on the army and the training of terrorists? The reduction in the number of attacks on British personnel in Basra is an indication of some success in persuading both Syria and Iran not to engage in these operations, but is it not also a product of better political relations between the Sunni and Shia factions in Iraq? We do not hear anything these days about the Mahdi Army. Does that mean that it has been incorporated in the political process? I certainly hope so.
The Statement refers to al-Qaeda and gradually overcoming its forces. Is that meant to be a generic label or does it imply that there is some unification of the command structures among the militants still operating in southern Iraq?
The Statement says nothing about Afghanistan, which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. As we progressively reduce the number of our troops in Iraq, is it the intention to support the operations in Afghanistan or will we repatriate the troops liberated from those operations to the United Kingdom?
My Lords, I am extremely grateful to both noble Lords for their remarks. I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, began in a rather philosophical frame of mind, which is important as we consider what is changing, particularly in Basra and with the role of the British forces there.
There is no doubt that the improvements are real. Noble Lords will have the benefit of reading the Select Committee report from the other place, with the information that it has put in the public domain. We are very pleased with the progress—although, as noble Lords would expect, we are cautious about making sure that it is not as fragile as it has been in the past and that it will enable Baswari people to be able to live normal lives in exactly the way that noble Lords have described.
The Provincial Reconstruction Team will remain where it currently is until the time is right for it to move. I shall say nothing more about that, for the obvious operational reasons that noble Lords would expect. Both noble Lords asked about troop reductions; we have been clear that any proposals to reduce troops would have to be on the basis of intelligence at the time and what was being told to us by the military command at what was thought to be the most appropriate moment. It is important, with my right honourable friend bringing the Statement to another place and me bringing it to your Lordships’ House, that we keep this House up to date with the current thinking and that noble Lords are able to see the progress that is made. But we will not put artificial timetables on it; any timetables that are put will always have the conditionality that circumstances must allow for them.
We look forward to the bilateral relationship that I mentioned in the Statement between the Iraqi Government and ourselves. We, of course, agree that the long-term future of Iraq will be appropriately secured when people are able to return home and continue the lives that they had before. I, too, saw the reports about interpreters; as noble Lords know from a number of questions after previous Statements, not least from the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, we believe that we should treat these important people appropriately. I absolutely accept the relevance and importance of their role. It is my understanding that that is being done. I do not have numbers for how many are here; if I am able to get them I shall ensure that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and others are aware of them.
For obvious reasons, I shall not discuss the role of the French President or the voices in the USA on any of these issues, particularly on Afghanistan, and noble Lords would not expect me to after this particular Statement. None the less, the Government are mindful of what is being said and we will make sure that we keep in touch with what voices are raised in any country on these important issues. This is not about populism; it is about making sure that we achieve the objectives that we have set ourselves in Basra. I hope that noble Lords will accept from the Statement that we have made important movement in the right direction.
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, focused in his opening remarks on reconstruction and I agree with him that it is important. It is an emphasis that my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for International Development have rightly placed on the work that we are doing. It is important to ensure that there is economic investment, that we support the role of small businesses and the growth of enterprise and, as we indicated, that we provide support and training for teachers, support for the health service and so forth.
I do not agree with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, about our being there. It is certainly true that we no longer have Saddam Hussein in Iraq. It is also true that many of the opportunities in health and education and even the supply of basic necessities for people were available to only part of the population. We are involved in making sure that the whole population in Iraq is able to enjoy the basic amenities of life and continuing and developing economic opportunities. As I said, we will consider troop reductions as appropriate. Those troops who are based in Basra know how long they are there in terms of their tour of duty. We continue to keep the situation under review and work closely with the commanders in the ways that I mentioned.
Both noble Lords referred to the situation with Iran. We know about the relationship between Iran and Iraq. Iran has a legitimate interest in the future of Iraq. There have been strong cultural, religious and economic ties. We welcome and encourage what we would regard as a healthy and constructive relationship. But Iranian actions run counter to the professed desire for a stable, prosperous Iraq. There are serious concerns about continued Iranian support for illegal Shia militia groups in Iraq. We know that elements of the Iranian state are providing material, training and funding against the Iraqi security forces. Of course, that undermines the elected Government of Iraq and causes further violence. We and the Iraqi Government have made it clear to Iran that it needs to cut ties and links with those groups and improve security on the border with Iraq to prevent the transfer of weaponry. Coalition forces continue to work to counter threats caused by illegal armed groups and to prevent the malign external support for them.
We will no doubt debate and discuss what is happening in Afghanistan at future times, but noble Lords should not make connections between troop reductions in one country and troop increases in another country. They are very different situations, with which we will endeavour to keep your Lordships’ House up to speed.
My Lords, I, too, thank the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement made by the Prime Minister in another place, in which he gratifyingly and deservedly praised our forces. However, although he anticipated that there would be some reductions in future, he was careful to give no definite dates for their withdrawal, implying as he said in a recent press interview that they must stay until the job is done. How that is exactly quantified, even with the detailed list of tasks contained in the Statement, is not at all clear. After all, it was only a short time ago—about six months—that he was completely confident that our forces had indeed achieved over the four years all that it was possible for them to achieve in that part of the country and that they had achieved a great deal both in peace enforcement and latterly in what he described as the overwatch of training.
My Lords, please forgive me for reminding noble Lords that, in response to Statements, they are supposed to put questions.
My Lords, I was just coming to the first of my two questions.
My Lords, I hope that the noble and gallant Lord will forgive me; I was just taking the opportunity to remind noble Lords.
My Lords, my remarks were just an introduction, if I may say so.
As a result, British forces were withdrawn from Basra city and it was stated at the time that a larger and quicker withdrawal of forces would be possible than now appears to be the case. Therefore, my first question for the noble Baroness is: what has really caused the change of heart, other than perhaps an apparent desire to tie in with the US surge philosophy and the temporary political advantages that may accrue for the present Administration? It must be remembered that we have very good coalition reasons to want to be out of Iraq. As the Chief of the Defence Staff said recently, we are not geared to or capable of engaging in conflict on two fronts, particularly in the present funding climate. To come out would enable us to do better and more securely the things that we need to do and which can be so helpful to all our allies in Afghanistan, which is now the most important focal point.
Finally, does the noble Baroness not think that we may be sacrificing military effectiveness and military needs for short-term political considerations, which may change anyway next November?
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and gallant Lord. Within the Statement, I set out—I thought quite clearly—the issues that we believe we need to continue to deal with, including consideration of the troop level that we need to maintain. To recap quickly, those issues are training the 14th Division, preparing Basra airport for transfer to Iraqi control, pushing forward on economic development and providing the necessary support for provincial elections. My right honourable friend was very clear in another place and in my discussions with him that those are important aspects of securing the future of Iraq. Until we have secured them, we need to make sure that we have the appropriate levels of personnel. There is no short-term expediency in this. It is about honouring the obligations that we have to the Iraqi people.
My Lords, I was in Basra two or three months ago and I entirely confirm what the Prime Minister and the noble Baroness said about the improved security position there. However, I also confirm the dire position of hundreds of thousands of refugees. That must never be forgotten. In particular, we must not forget our duty to the interpreters who have worked so loyally for the British forces.
Several of us have been pressing for some time for an inquiry into the invasion of Iraq and the circumstances surrounding it so that we can learn the lessons from that. There has never been any legitimate reason, frankly, for refusing that inquiry. Do the Government now agree that such an inquiry can be set up? It is overdue and the whole nation would benefit from it.
My Lords, I commented earlier on the fact that the noble Lord continues to press on the issue of interpreters. As I said, if I can get specific details of how many are currently in the UK, I will do so and make sure that he is informed of that.
We have already said that any further inquiry should be done at the appropriate time. We have already had four separate, independent inquiries, including the House of Commons Defence Committee and Foreign Affairs Committee reports and the Ministry of Defence report on lessons learnt. There is plenty of information, which noble Lords will have had the benefit of looking at, about the issues that brought us into Iraq and those that continue. Our belief is that any further inquiry should be at an appropriate point, which is certainly not now.
My Lords, the noble Baroness made the very interesting comment that more healthcare and education services are available now than was the case before the war. How many new healthcare centres and schools are we building? I am not talking about the healthcare centres and schools that we are repairing or the ones that we destroyed. Could she also tell us how many academics and doctors have been killed or have become refugees over the past five years and what effect that has had on civil society?
My Lords, the noble Baroness knows that I cannot give her specific details about any casualties, unfortunate and terrible though they would be. My point was about the breadth of the Iraqi people’s ability to access high-quality services, which were certainly unavailable under Saddam Hussein, as is well recognised, and about the importance of ensuring that, in a democratic Iraq, every Iraqi is able to access high-quality services in health, education, housing and all the areas that the noble Baroness and I would agree are very important.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that the Statement indicates how far we are from cracking the problem of Iraq’s neighbours? Critical comments about Syria and Iran are undoubtedly well deserved, and problems continue on the northern frontier with Turkey. Does this not demonstrate that we will never have a stable situation in that region until there is some multilateral framework in which Iraq and all its neighbours participate and in which they commit themselves to respect one another’s borders and sovereignty, not to interfere and to work together for economic development? That idea crops up from time to time and then invariably disappears like a mirage. I have no doubt that some of the regional participants are responsible for the absence of progress, but is it not important to reinstate that idea, now that things are going a bit better, as an important medium-term objective that we should all pursue?
My Lords, as the noble Lord knows, the Secretary-General’s announcement in September 2007, which led to the Iraqi neighbours conference in Istanbul on 2 and 3 November, was part of the process of trying to bring greater stability to the region. It is also important that within the region in which we operate—the European Union—and with our role in the United Nations we work supportively together to tackle some of the issues that the noble Lord rightly refers to. That will be incredibly important in next few months.
My Lords, would it not be best to undertake an inquiry now, while the relevant people are still in power and the facts are fresh in our minds?
My Lords, no.
My Lords, I welcome the positive points in the Statement. Does the noble Baroness, like me, welcome yesterday’s write-off of loans to Iraq made by a prominent Gulf state? Can she give us any good news on the progress of the hydrocarbons Bill before the Iraqi Parliament, which is important for the development of Iraq’s own resources and state revenue? Finally, the importance of the refugees’ return has already been emphasised, but I suggest that it is insufficient to say that it is simply a matter for the UN high commissioner. Is there not a role both for local and international non-governmental organisations in assisting the process of return and resettlement? Can the noble Baroness confirm that freedom of religion and the protection of minorities will be an important factor in solving the displacement and refugee issues?
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. I think that we all welcome the United Arab Emirates’ important write-off, which I read about yesterday. Hydrocarbons are very important indeed. The Bill has not yet gone through, but I completely agree with the noble Lord that it is important for the future of oil in the region. Local non-governmental organisations and other international organisations are important in looking at issues facing refugees returning to their homes in Iraq. Freedom of religion is very much part of the work of the Ministry of Human Rights in Iraq.
My Lords, can the Leader of the House confirm that current coalition military operations in Iraq are being carried out with the authority of a Security Council resolution? Can she remind us what proportion of Britain’s £40 billion defence expenditure is being spent on operations in Iraq? As we are carrying out a disproportionately large amount of the military operation in Iraq, does she regard it as reasonable that Britain should also be paying the whole cost of that contribution? Are the Government doing anything to secure some sort of burden sharing with those on whose behalf we are carrying out our military operations? I say that in the context of the financial cash-flow crisis that the Government face, which, as the Minister will probably recognise, could well result in government borrowing going up by £70 billion—that is, another 5 per cent of GDP.
My Lords, I am not going to speculate about where government borrowing might go. As the noble Lord will know, the defence budget is about £34 billion for 2008-09; I do not have the breakdown of exactly what is being spent in any current theatre of operation. We are certainly operating within the UN Security Council resolution. However, as I indicated in the Statement, our ambition is to move to a bilateral agreement with the Iraqi Government—what I might describe as a more normal arrangement between Britain and a state with which we are collaborating to deal with the issues that it faces.
My Lords, can the noble Baroness give the House information on the current value and volume of oil exports from Iraq? What is the forecast for the following year? Iraq is an oil-rich state and the volume of resources available from oil determines the Government’s capacity to achieve an improvement in infrastructure and the standard of living. If she cannot answer today, perhaps she could do so later in writing. This is a vital element. We talk about the military, but not much about the huge potential resources in Iraq.
My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord. Yesterday—I cannot find them now—I was reading the precise details of Iraqi oil production and projections for the future. The noble Lord is completely right that this is an oil-rich state with huge reserves of oil and great potential—hence the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, about hydrocarbons legislation, which is an important element of that. We must work closely to ensure that we provide the technical support necessary to enable Iraq to exploit its oil reserves appropriately.
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until further notice.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
[The Sitting was suspended from 1.48 to 6.50 pm.]