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Volume 713: debated on Thursday 22 October 2009


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they have made in securing a legal agreement for British troops to conduct training in Iraq.

My Lords, the Iraqi Government have requested our continued military assistance, and we have therefore signed a government-to-government defence training and maritime support agreement that sets out areas where we will provide continued support. On 13 October the Iraqi Parliament endorsed the agreement, which now goes forward to the presidency council for formal ratification. We expect final ratification within the next few days.

My Lords, I am very heartened by the noble Lord’s response. This is an important mission and will help to stabilise an area that is vitally important for this country. For how long will these sailors be deployed? Will the Treasury pay for this mission, and will the Iraqis themselves start to contribute as their oil revenues build up?

My Lords, the agreement will be in force for 12 months from its entry into force, which will be a few days after the formal ratification. The funding will come from the Treasury reserve. The Iraqis will not contribute on this particular project but we have other arrangements with them, particularly for the training of officers in the United Kingdom, for which they do indeed pay.

My Lords, what is the status of the servicemen undertaking this training? If the security situation deteriorated around them, would they be treated as front-line troops or would they be withdrawn? We do need to know that.

I must answer that with care. This agreement has two parts. One part concerns the provision of training. I do not understand precisely the circumstances in which those individuals might be drawn into combat but I will write to the noble Lord on that. The other part concerns the direct provision of defence capability. When this is agreed we will have naval forces in the area and forces on the oil platforms, providing a defence capability until the Iraqi armed forces—particularly the Iraqi navy, which we are helping to rebuild—are in a position to do it for themselves.

Following events the other year when the Iranians took our navy personnel hostage, can the Minister reassure us that we have given them adequate training in case they should be taken hostage again? It is a very important area.

I am sure that the Royal Navy has reacted to that event and developed appropriate training for those deployed.

My Lords, what happened to the 100 people who were supposed to be involved in this agreement during the summer period? The agreement broke down, and now it will be delayed. As for the funding, how much is it all going to cost us, rather than them?

My Lords, I do not know what actually happened to the naval personnel. There are two aspects to this. The deployed operational capability was withdrawn from Iraqi waters and replaced by a US capability. That was a reallocation of armed capability in the Gulf area. The people who were carrying out the training were physically withdrawn, but we hope they will return. I am afraid that I do not know the overall cost of this training, but considering the enormous contribution that the United Kingdom has made to creating a stable Iraq—this sovereign, now democratic, state—I put it to the noble Baroness that the money spent on completing this operation by helping them to rebuild their navy will be well worth while.

My Lords, I am afraid that I do not follow the Minister’s last point. Indeed, we have already made a huge contribution to helping Iraq, and I am delighted that this training exercise will take place. However, Iraq in 2008 produced an average of 2.4 million barrels of oil a day. At current prices, that is worth about $70 billion. I should have thought that we are rather more strapped for cash than they are. Should they not be paying for this very useful service?

Well, in the words of my business career, we are where we are. We have made the deal, we are going to honour it, and we think that it is a worthwhile deal to honour. We think that we are doing a good job and that it is a worthwhile job.

My Lords, I do not think that the Minister quite answered the question put by my noble friend Lady O’Cathain. How much will it cost? He said that it was worth while. How can he know that it is worth while if he does not know what it will cost?

I will try to ascertain how much it will cost and write to the noble Lords. I just feel that it is a reasonably commonsense concept to say that, compared with the campaign, 100 people for a year represents a modest cost in order to assure ourselves that the Iraqi people and nation have a navy, which has been rebuilt from the ruins, so that they can protect the oil installations and bring stability to the Gulf. Just in commonsense terms, that seems worth while.

My Lords, are there any Iraqi interpreters—those who worked with our former defence forces—still living in fear of their lives, and have they applied for entry into this country?

My Lords, the UK has an assistance scheme for locally employed staff. It has had two phases, covering those employed before 7 August 2007 and those employed since. In the first phase, some 592 people—mostly interpreters—have entered the United Kingdom. As many again took a lump sum of money because they believed that their future would be better in Iraq itself. Employees since then have become eligible for phase 2 of the scheme. When people become redundant or for other good reasons cannot continue in employment, there is a lump-sum or resettlement option. Some 334 individuals have entered the UK on the basis of that scheme.