Furious Tories Heckle as Short Avoids Aid Question; CLARE SHORT

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Byline: Jonathan Walker

Tories reacted with fury yesterday as Clare Short failed to appear in the Commons to answer an urgent question on humanitarian contingency planning for Iraq.

Her Tory shadow, Meriden MP Caroline Spelman, had demanded the International Development Secretary make an emergency statement.

It followed a critical report by a Commons select committee last week, which said too little had been done to plan humanitarian aid for Iraqis in the event of war. But Ms Short, the MP for Ladywood who this week stepped back from the brink of resignation over Iraq, was in New York meeting UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

Conservatives jeered Foreign Office minister Mike O'Brien, MP for Warwickshire North, who was deputising for Ms Short.

Mr O'Brien stressed she was in New York 'doing her job', but this did little to quell opposition heckles.

Conservatives shouted their anger that a Foreign Office Minister, rather than a representative of the Department for International Development, was answering questions.

The Speaker, Michael Martin, was forced to intervene and silence Lichfield MP Michael Fabricant (Con). He warned: 'Mr Fabricant, you get very, very excited at times. This is a very, very serious matter.'

Mr O'Brien said: 'We will be seeking from the UN a further resolution to deal with the humanitarian issues.

'We will also seek a new UN resolution to provide authority to reconstruction and development work and provide a proper mandate for any interim authority likely to operate within the territory of Iraq when Saddam Hussein is removed.'

The Government further wanted to ensure the rapid delivery of humanitarian aid, affirm the territorial integrity of Iraq and allow for the 'earliest possible' lifting of UN sanctions, Mr O'Brien explained. …