Support in Commons for Iraqi unions

In response to LFIQ supporter, Sharon Hodgson, the Minister for the Middle East, Dr. Kim Howells, answers questions on the the role of trade unions and the need to overturn restrictions on their activity. And LFIQ Joint President Ann Clwyd emphasises the potential of the unions in fostering reconciliation.
Here is the full record from FCO questions on 5th June.
5. Mrs. Sharon Hodgson (Gateshead, East and Washington, West) (Lab): If she will make a statement on the position of trade unions in Iraq.
The Minister for the Middle East (Dr. Kim Howells): The Iraqi Government should recognise the importance of free and democratic trade unions. Currently, the finances and membership of Iraq’s trade unions continue to be restricted by decree 8750 passed by Iraq’s Interim Government in 2005, and law 150 passed by Saddam Hussein’s Government in 1987. We have encouraged the Iraqi Government to ensure that free and comprehensive elections can take place among members of the General Federation of Iraqi Workers, so that legislation can be introduced to allow properly constituted trade unions to operate freely in the country.
Mrs. Hodgson: I thank the Minister for that reply. Does he agree that the Iraqi trade union movement seeks to unite working people of whatever religion, and even no religion? That requires the support of democrats everywhere to build a democratic, civil society, whatever their view about the invasion might have been.
Dr. Howells: Yes, I agree entirely. Through the Department for International Development, we are providing funding for the International Centre for Trade Union Rights and have co-funded union training with Unison. The aim is to provide core training on the role of trade unions in the workplace and society, negotiating collective agreements, union organisation and, importantly, women’s involvement in trade unions.
Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): Are the Government helping the Iraqi Government to meet one of the main concerns of Iraqi trade unions? Oil revenue that should be channelled into raising living standards is actually being siphoned off in large volumes to rich Gulf states as reparation for the first-not the second-Gulf war, including payments to companies that claim missed business opportunities at that time.
Dr. Howells: The hon. Gentleman will know that measures were taken and decisions reached at the United Nations on the payment of reparations and on other forms of payment to account for the loss of property and profits and damage during the first Gulf war period and the invasion of Kuwait. I am sure he agrees that we should see an end to those payments, which have been going on for a long time and are draining revenue that should be used to build Iraq. The Government are doing everything they can to persuade Iraq’s neighbours in the Gulf to forgo those reparations so that reconstruction can take place.
Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab): Given that I have spent a considerable amount of time talking to Iraqi trade unions on my several visits to Iraq, I agree that it is important that laws that militate against them be repealed as quickly as possible. I would like to press our diplomats in Baghdad to make more efforts to pressurise the Iraqi Government to repeal those laws. Secondly, does my hon. Friend agree that as the Iraqi trade unions are mainly non-sectarian they have an important role to play in the future reconciliation programme in Iraq, and that we should not underestimate the power of their membership to achieve what others, seemingly, are failing to achieve?
Dr. Howells: Yes, I agree with my right hon. Friend’s assessment of the role of trade unions in Iraq and their character. I pay tribute to the work that she has done over very many years in defence of free Iraqi trade unions. She will know, as well as I do, that trade unions were sometimes used under Saddam Hussein as intelligence-gathering operations for his secret police and for the repression that they exercised. I certainly agree that we-our diplomats and everyone else-must do everything possible to try to convince the Iraqi
Government that it is a priority that they should take seriously.