That a further sum, not exceeding £910,873,000, be granted to Her Majesty out of the Consolidated Fund to defray the charges that will come in course of payment during the year ending on 31st March 1992 for expenditure by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Overseas Development Administration under the Overseas Development and Co-operation Act 1980 on the official UK aid programme; economic assistance to Eastern Europe and the USSR; and global environmental assistance; including financial and technical assistance to governments, institutions, voluntary agencies and individuals; pensions and allowances in respect of overseas service including contributions to pension funds; capital and other subscriptions and contributions, including payments under guarantee, to multilateral development banks and other international and regional bodies; emergency, refugee and other relief assistance; loans to the Commonwealth Development Corporation; and running costs, related capital expenditure and other administrative costs including for the Natural Resources Institute (an executive agency).—[Mr. Douglas Hogg.]
I inform the House that the debate will end in three hours, that is, at 7.50 pm. In view of the time element, I ask hon. Members who wish to participate to do so briefly please.
Four months after the end of the Kuwait war, millions of people in Iraq continue to live through a horrific nightmare. The human tragedy in Iraqi Kurdistan has been vividly portrayed and we have witnessed it on our television screens. However, another tragedy that is possibly more appalling has been unfolding in southern Iraq without the benefit of the television cameras. It is, therefore, appropriate that the House should have a short debate this afternoon on the Iraqi refugee issue.
The Select Committee on Foreign Affairs is grateful that time has been made available for a discussion on the brief initial report produced by the Committee following its recent visit to nine middle east countries, including Iraq and Turkey. Some members of the Select Committee visited the Iranian refugee camps for the Shi'ite refugees and the Committee is grateful to everyone who assisted us, including the Iranian authorities, in that visit and in the associated visits in the middle east.
As the report is merely a short initial report, it seeks to do no more than to make observations and raise questions which we hope will help the House when it examines some of the enormous and awesome issues raised by the Iraqi refugee crisis and associated upheavals in the world.
Our report makes four main observations. The first is that, until and unless there are effective United Nations forces in both the north and south of Iraq, it would be wrong for the coalition forces which have been safeguarding the Iraqi Kurds and the Turkomans in the north to leave. Between the Committee reaching that view and the publication of the document, the American and British Governments have endorsed a similar view.
We were glad to hear the views and hopes of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister who emphasised on 25 June that before there was any withdrawal of coalition forces there should be four conditions: clear United Nations forces on the ground, clear warnings that renewed repression would be met with the severest response, a continuing deterrent military presence in the region and, finally, the maintenance of sanctions against the Iraqi regime. In other words, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister endorsed the view held by many of us, that while the United Nations security guard force is building up—I understand that about 400 men should be in place by mid July, which is not enough—we will have to consider new structures and ways to safeguard those people to prevent another horrific round of retreats to the hills with the associated starvation and deprivation.
The report's second observation is that the refugee crisis is far from over. The Kurds continue to live in fear. Of course, there is hopeful talk of a deal with Saddam Hussein. However, all of us who have watched that man perform over recent months and years must reach the obvious conclusion about the value of any agreement, dealings or undertakings into which he may enter. We would place a very low value on such undertakings.
In the south, thousands of Shia are locked in the marshes. They cannot decide where to go and constantly fear harassment from Iraqi troops. We have received reports that 800,000 people are affected, but new information from aerial photographs is that the figure may be considerably less and that perhaps 50,000 or 60,000 people are affected. We simply do not know the correct number. However, tens of thousands of people are locked in the marshes and do not know whether to go forward or back. They are living in trembling fear. It is obvious to the House, was obvious to the Select Committee, and I hope is obvious to the international community, that there will be no lasting solution to the endless fear and terror of those people while Saddam Hussein remains in power.
I agree totally with the right hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) that there will be no peace in Iraq while Saddam Hussein remains in power. Does not that mean that we should be somewhat critical of the allies' decision to terminate the war when they did? I recognise the difficulties and the case is not clear cut, but within the Security Council resolutions for peace and security in the area there was undoubtedly a case to do what the allies rightly decided to do with regard to Germany in 1945.
That is very much a matter for debate. My view is rather close to that of the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), but I must not anticipate a longer and more substantial report from the Select Committee on the security situation in the middle east following the liberation of Kuwait. I am aware that many people share the hon. Gentleman's view.
We must bear in mind that whatever arrangements or dispositions we make for troops—be they UN security forces or whatever—to protect the refugees, those arrangements are temporary because those people will live in fear whatever we do so long as there is a violent dictator in Baghdad whose habits, character and track record have been to persecute and kill.
The Select Committee's third observation is that the great refugee crisis has placed a huge strain on the Overseas Development Administration. We have high praise for the way in which the ODA has reacted in trying to meet the crisis. We must recognise, as I am sure the ODA recognises, that the Government Department, in addition to the Iraqi refugee crisis, is meeting four other huge crises of disruption, pressure and potential disaster around the world. Although there have been the horrors of starvation, killing and dying in Iraq, such things are happening on as great a scale, even on a more evil and terrifying scale, as a result of natural forces in the Horn of Africa. There are horrors in Bangladesh, where vast storms caused the deaths of tens of thousands of people.
Finally, the ODA is the lead Department in coping with developments and in encouraging democratic development throughout eastern Europe. That objective, is by no means yet secure and much work and effort will have to be expended on it. That objective may not be on the same scale as the tragedy of the others, but it is a major task. Let us hope that it does not become a tragedy, as it will if the trouble in the Balkans affects the rest of eastern Europe. The ODA is under enormous strain and we welcome the decision to review the way in which it can meet those huge burdens in future.
The right hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) has rightly underlined the huge task facing the ODA. Is there not a case for lifting sanctions, particularly in relation to electricity generating equipment? Until electricity is flowing, it will be impossible to cope with a situation in which, according to Harvard medical school, more than 170,000 children under the age of five will die this year. Whatever one thinks about sanctions, that is the root of the matter.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman gets a chance to develop that thought during the debate because he refers to an important and difficult balance. All humanitarian instincts point us towards doing everything possible to avoid the prospects that he has described, but there is the equally terrible thought that, if Saddam Hussein is let off the hook and is allowed to use his resources, from selling oil, for example, to rearm and re-equip, he will carry on killing. One must balance one against the other. I do not pretend that the Committee has found the answer to the question of how to ensure that humanitarian considerations prevail without also ensuring that new resources fall into the hands of that man, who is still in office and apparently in total control of inner Iraq and ready to spend more money on more weapons to carry out more killings, more persecution and more harassment. That is the difficulty. We must watch the practices and policies of the Government of Iraq—that is the policy of the United Nations—when undertaking any review of the present sanctions and embargo provisions.
Will the right hon. Gentleman also consider the question of our relations with dictators such as Saddam Hussein and the Ba'ath regime over many years? After all, the British Government effectively loaned that regime £1 billion over the past 10 years and a great deal of Saddam Hussein's power and war machine was the product of close western support for his regine.
The hon. Gentleman is taking us, once again, into the broader area of middle eastern security and to the question of how on earth we can secure any improvements in future, after having failed to produce them in the past. The next report of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs will look into that. Although we do not claim to have the ultimate wisdom, that will be the opportunity to raise such points.
The fourth observation of our immediate report on refugees was that the strains which have fallen on the ODA, which has struggled excellently to meet them, have fallen also on the international relief organisations. Our report points to ways in which the burdens and pressures on those organisations have led, despite much dedicated work by the people who work in them, to breakdowns in co-ordination and to a lack of effectiveness. We have outlined a number of suggestions and proposals about how the international relief organisations can be strengthened.
That leads me finally to the three questions that we raised beyond our observations. First, how can the international relief structures be better organised? A number of agencies are involved, including several United Nations' agencies led by the UN Disaster Relief Office. We questioned whether that agency could perform its task in the way that it should. We welcome the idea that was suggested by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary in concert with the German Foreign Minister, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, that an individual should be appointed co-ordinator for disaster relief work in the United Nations —a sort of overlord—to begin to bring together the different strands of work that some of my hon. Friends who visited the area found sadly disconnected and, in some places, disordered.
Our second question is, can the international organisations, especially the United Nations, deliver help on the scale that is required when humanitarian disasters occur, such as the man-made or dictator-caused disaster in Iraq? The difficulty is that the United Nations is now being asked to deliver security as well as supplies, help and succour to refugees on a scale and with a prominence and effectiveness that, in its present form, it is simply not equipped to meet. The time may well have come to rethink the structure of the international relief agencies so that they can co-ordinate their efforts, work more effectively with the different donor nations and meet the now big demands of the international community more effectively.
The third question is even bigger and leads to the edges of the refugee report and to wider political questions. It is whether it is possible to clarify the powers of the United Nations and its blessed agencies or direct agencies to intervene. That is the question at the edges of this tragic saga. The sticking point or the original base point is chapter 1, article 2, paragraph 7 of the charter of the United Nations, as qualified by chapter 7, which lays down the degree to which, if at all, there can be intervention in the domestic and internal affairs of a nation. Certain derogations are suggested relating to humanitarian aid if there is a threat of genocide or if—this is a loose definition —the peace, security and stability of the surrounding area
and the international order is threatened. That is not a question that we can consider fully in a report on refugees, but our report concluded:
if clearer rules were established"—
in relation to intervention by the United Nations and its agencies—
…not only might grinding, endless and bloody conflicts all over the world be brought to an end but also the refugee relief process could be simplified.
We hope that our views will be of use to the House. The time has come for a new agenda for looking at the key problems of disaster relief. I am sure that the whole Committee hopes that its short report will start the thinking processes and the answering of the questions, which will lead to a more effective ability to respond both nationally and internationally—despite all that has been done in tremendously difficult circumstances—to the disasters that we must realistically, if pessimistically, admit lie ahead. There have been many disasters in the present global order and it looks as though there will be more. We shall need more vigorous co-ordination and more effective means to meet them.
I welcome the clear statement of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs that, unless and until a United Nations force can provide effective safeguards for the Kurds and the other persecuted people of north and south Iraq, it would be wrong for the coalition forces to leave them to the mercy of Saddam Hussein. The Select Committee was repeatedly told by refugees that they would not return to their own country until Saddam Hussein was removed from power. I have heard that view on many occasions, and who can criticise those people for expressing that view? Many of us believe that the danger will persist so long as Saddam Hussein continues his evil and brutal tyranny in Iraq and continues to thumb his nose at the United Nations by denying its inspectors access to Iraqi nuclear equipment. He must take the consequences of such actions.
Evidence of torture and repression is legion. On 27 May The Independent headed Robert Fisk's recent report on his visit to the cells of Iraq's secret police in Dihok:
A testimony to brutality written in blood".
The article stated:
The last young women to be imprisoned here died in these fetid cells two months ago. The Peshmerga say they found three of their bodies, naked and with their hands bound, on the floor. One of the girls was 12 years old. Another, older woman had been gang-raped and died later. Anyone who wants to now what propelled the one and a half million Kurds to flee their homes has only to visit Dihok.
For eight years I have chaired CARDRI, the Campaign Against Repression and for Democratic Rights in Iraq. We have continually exposed the brutality of the Baath regime and have linked up with those in Iraq who are struggling for human and democratic rights in immensely difficult and dangerous conditions. Many have since died. In 1983 an Iraqi mother told us about her son, who was typical of so many thousands of people who have died in Iraq. He was a medical student who went out one day and never returned. Many months later she was told to go to the mortuary and collect his body. She was led to the room where the body was to be found and she said:
When I entered and saw what was inside, I could not believe that there are people who could do such things to other human beings. I looked around and saw nine bodies. My son was in a chair. He had blood all over him, his body was eaten away and bleeding. I looked at the others stretchedout
on the floor … all burnt … one of them had his chest slit with a knife … another's body carried the marks of a hot domestic iron all over his head to his feet … everyone was burnt in a different way. Another one had his legs cut off with an axe. His arms were also axed. One of them had his eyes gouged out and his nose and ears cut off".
There were so many of those chilling accounts that at times, over the years, I found them difficult to believe. But now, the horrors of Saddam's Iraq will continue to shock and astound the world. The stories of the two Britons, Doug Brand and Patrick Trigg, are yet more evidence that nothing has changed. As in the past, Saddam's policy is to intimidate, persecute and kill.
It is therefore to the shame of this Government and others throughout the world that, even after Halabja in 1988, Saddam Hussein was still treated as a valued trading partner. The Ministry of Defence allowed the sale to Iraq of a design for a missile testing concrete bunker, even though there was a ban on arms sales to Iraq. That is yet another example of turning a blind eye to the spirit of the regulations. I hope that a valuable lesson has been learnt.
Does my hon. Friend recall that she and I worked together for many years in CARDRI in support of the democratic opposition in Iraq? As early as the 1980s we asked the British Government to cease their trading practices with Iraq because they were allowing that brutal regime to develop and to attack the Kurdish people. Does my hon. Friend not think that now is the time to recognise that there must be some sanity in the arms trade and trading matters in general to protect people and human rights from Governments such as the Baath regime in Iraq?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I remember well that in 1988 he, I and others argued in this House that the Government should not double export credit guarantees to Iraq. Our pleas were totally ignored and the Government went ahead and doubled export credit guarantees. Too often, one Government Department has said one thing while another has done precisely the opposite with regard to countries controlled by oppressive tyrants.
The Select Committee highlights the problems of the refugee crisis. I saw for myself the terrible suffering of the refugees who had fled in their millions to the border between Iran and Iraq. The freezing cold, rain and mud have gone and the heat and dust have taken their place. Thankfully, most refugees now have shelter, food and safety.
Save the Children Fund gives its observations and experiences in an interesting report on Iraq, and notes that the death rate was high in Turkey, with deaths estimated at 50,000, whereas in Iran the death rate was, by all accounts, slight. While Turkey continued to receive massive support from many Governments, including aircraft, millions of pounds of material supplies and hundreds of medical personnel, Iran—with the bulk of the refugees—received very little. Iran did not receive the assistance that it should have been given to deal with a much larger number of refugees.
Estimates of the number of refugees who have returned to Iraq vary widely. The Iranians believe that up to 750,000 people will stay behind in Iran even if an agreement between the Kurds and the Iraq Government is reached. The remaining refugee camps now need to be equipped for the winter conditions to come. Aid organisations are concerned that the present tent accommodation in the north-west provinces would be totally inadequate for those conditions.
Displaced Kurdish people in the regions of Iraq bordering the north-east frontier with Iran are reported by many people to be facing dire health and nutritional conditions. It is still not clear how many Shi'ites have been displaced in southern Iraq. Aid agencies are concerned, as is the Select Committee, that between 400,000 and 600,000 people many have taken refuge in the marshes and that they have not received the same humanitarian attention.
As the Chairman of the Select Committee said, the refugee crisis is far from over. Up to a million refugees are still in Iran and tens of thousands of others are in Iraq. They are in no man's land, camped out on the rubble of the towns destroyed by Saddam Hussein in 1987. They still need medicines and food and it is regrettable that the British Government could not provide safe havens for them because of American opposition.
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman was not here earlier when I said that I thought that it was important for the allies to stay to protect the Kurds and other groups.
Indeed I did.
The refugees who need medicines and food but who are not covered by any of the aid agencies should be dealt with urgently.
As a Kurdish political leader emphasised when the offer of negotiations was first made by Saddam Hussein, the Kurdish question is not a refugee problem and should not become one. It is a political problem. Although the first stage of the refugee crisis is over, the long-term future of the Kurds and Shi'ites remains to be settled. As the Select Committee says, it leaves
the grim prospect of a seemingly unending refugee operation of Palestinian proportions".
When I first told the House that Saddam Hussein wanted to negotiate with the Kurds, hon. Members laughed. That was the level of scepticism with which Saddam Hussein's words were treated. The Kurdish leaders who had to stand by and watch their people die in their thousands had no option at that time but to take up the offer and the talks have now gone on for several weeks. The agreement that was brought back to Kurdistan from Baghdad demands that the Kurds cut direct ties with the west and unite with Saddam Hussein's Baath party to crush its enemies. The agreement includes the denunciation of the United States, Iran and Zionism, and the Kurds would need the Baath party's permission to contact outside Governments and organisations. Mr. Barzani of the Democratic Party of Kurdistan and Mr. Talibani of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, along with the other political leaders in Kurdistan, rightly rejected those conditions as the obligations entailed in such an offer were clearly intolerable.
Once again, strengthened by the allies' agreement to support the deployment of a rapid reaction force to protect the Kurds, the Kurds are spelling out their own conditions. They stipulate that there can be no autonomy for the Kurds without democracy and human rights for Iraq as a whole. They have asked for the next stage of the negotiations to take place in Kurdistan rather than Baghdad. They have no intention of splitting off from the opposition to Saddam Hussein in Iraq because they know full well that they will have no long-term peace and stability unless there is peace and democracy in Iraq as a whole.
Although many of the issues raised by the Select Committee were debated in the Opposition debate on 14 May I am glad that we were able to share some of its concern—for instance, about the fact that the Overseas Development Administration is strapped for cash. As the Select Committee said, the aid programme contingency reserve has been subjected to severe strain. The Committee continued:
this suggests that the ODA will have considerable difficulty in finding new money for further commitments entered into during the year".
The money that might have been used for long-term development purposes will need to be drawn on for emergency relief before the Treasury will provide new money. The Select Committee might have mentioned also that the overall aid budget has been slashed since 1979. It is still 11 per cent. lower in real terms than it was then. Despite continuing claims by the Government, that budget is stagnant in real terms.
The ODA lacks not only cash but staff, as we have continually pointed out. Each time we have pressed the Minister in the House we have created new jobs in the ODA's disaster and refugee unit. The numbers have risen from four to six, from six to nine and nine to 12, and I pay tribute to the staff of the unit, who had to deal with three major disasters at the same time.
We made several suggestions. We dealt with the charges for the relief effort as distributed from the Ministry of Defence to the ODA. We argued that the costs should be shared, as they are in some other countries, to reflect the training value of using the military in civilian disasters. We called for a mobile emergency volunteer force with selection and co-ordination in advance of a disaster. We called for a strengthening of the ODA's disaster unit so that it would have in-house expertise on aspects of disasters apart from rapid procurement.
We also emphasised the need to encourage a strengthening of the UN agencies most involved in responding to disasters. The UN has been criticised frequently, and often unfairly. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Mrs. Ogata, told us at a meeting at the House yesterday that she accepted some of this criticism, but she emphasised again that the UNagencies involved in emergency operations were neither financed nor staffed to be able to meet large scale crises. She said that for every emergency the UN has to issue a fresh appeal, and pledges from donor nations come in much too slowly. She said:
We cannot respond to emergencies on credit, or on shoestring budget living hand to mouth".
What ought we to do if we want the UN to perform more effectively in the future? First, donors must place at the disposal of the UN a standby financial reserve to pay for a response within hours of a recognised emergency. Stockpiles of basic relief items should be set up in locations easily accessible to air transport. A central databank
should be set up on a range of goods and services that the UN can offer or mobilise. A pool of international experts is needed to respond immediately to any emergency and could be linked with civil disaster relief groups of member Governments. In other words, we need a system that gives the UN the money, the goods and the people to respond rapidly and effectively to disasters.
UN agencies, especially the UN disaster relief organisation, already exist. We should strengthen that organisation before inventing new ones or dreaming up new supremos. We should give it the means to perform its proper role. Once the UN agencies are assured of enough cash and clout to operate effectively, it will be worth reviewing their mandates to strengthen their roles. We must ensure they can meet the emergency needs of people displaced in their own countries as well as the needs of refugees who flee across borders into others.
This debate is about Iraqi refugees, but according to the UN and many other observers all of Iraq is threatened by increasing malnutrition and disease. Unfortunately, it is doubtful whether the ending of sanctions, for which some argue, would much improve the lot of ordinary Iraqis, given the inflation in that country and Saddam Hussein's priorities.
Humanitarian relief is of course exempt from sanctions, but one of the problems is that the UN does not have enough people on the ground to monitor where the relief is going. A recent example involved 12 food lorries sent into Kurdistan to feed the Kurdish refugees. Six of them ended up feeding Iraqi military personnel and the other six ended up feeding Government supporters. Unless we can guarantee that this sort of relief does not fall into the wrong hands it will be difficult to ensure that humanitarian aid goes to the people for whom it is meant.
In April, questions were asked in the House about what steps the Government were taking to secure Saddam Hussein's trial under international law on charges of war crimes. The Prime Minister told my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) that he was awaiting legal advice in the matter. Earlier, the Foreign Ministers of the European Community had called on the United Nations to consider putting Saddam Hussein and his senior aides on trial before an international court. A similar demand was made by the United States Senate foreign relations committee on 18 April. The United Nations secretary-general promised to refer the request to a special committee before taking a decision. That committee is apparently still deliberating. Why is it taking so long?
The world still has great expectations of the United Nations as a global institution which can provide the vision and the mechanism for reducing global tensions and promoting peace, for protecting human rights and promoting economic development in the third world. The debate about the future of the United Nations is now focusing around questions about the reform of its charter, the make-up of the Security Council and the role of the secretary-general. The Select Committee rightly asked whether the United Nation's power to intervene in the internal conflicts of nations ought to be clarified, and rightly suggested that if clearer rules were established for such intervention, it would mean that grinding, endless and bloody conflicts all over the world could be brought to an end.
I doubt whether anyone can argue convincingly any longer against the right of the world body to move in and interfere in what used to be regarded as internal national affairs so as to protect the human rights of oppressed minorities. One thing is certain: the world can never again sit on its hands and idly watch brutal dictators killing hundreds of thousands of their own people in cold blood.
I may have misheard you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but that day has not yet arrived, so I fear that you have addressed me wrongly.
Six weeks ago, I visited Iran as a member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, with a number of my colleagues —my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence), and the hon. Members for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan), for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) and for Doncaster, North (Mr. Welsh). We were able to see for ourselves some of the refugee camps, and we visited two of the Kurdish camps in north-west Iran—near Orumiyeh—and one Shi'ite camp in the south close to the ancient city of Shush.
I warmly support the Government's reaction to the Iraqi refugee crisis of recent months. I strongly support the Prime Minister's initiative on safe havens, and strongly welcome the recent assurances that coalition troops will not be withdrawn while a risk remains, especially in the north of Iraq.
The Iranian authorities at the camps warmly supported the United Kingdom's efforts to bring relief to the unfortunate people in the camps. The authorities greatly welcomed the fact that Britain was the third largest donor of assistance. I have no reason to suppose that we are not still the third largest. That aid greatly relieved the agony of the Kurdish and Shi'ite people.
My impression of the three camps was that things were going reasonably well. The Iranians seemed to be dealing adequately with the massive crisis which confronted them. I did not see obvious signs of starvation or disease. Conditions were primitive, but people seemed to have enough food and we were assured that the refugees in the camps had been vaccinated against the diseases which were thought to present the main dangers.
The hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) spoke about the accommodation. Most people in the camps are housed in tents, and some are housed in disused buildings, some of which had been damaged in the Iran-Iraq war. We shall soon have to think about what will happen to the people in those camps during the winter. One rather good sign from the refugees to whom we spoke was that they were beginning to question the facilities. That showed that the first crisis was over. They rightly complained about the quality of the water and said that the clothes sent by the relief agencies were second-hand. They viewed that as insulting. They also complained about the quality of some of their food, especially the high-protein biscuits. However good those biscuits might have been for them, they did not like their taste.
At one of the camps, we were delighted to see that the Austrian military had set up what appeared to be an efficient tented hospital. Three of my colleagues on that delegation are in their places, and I am sure that they will agree that, as British people, we were received with much enthusiasm in those refugee camps. Perhaps that was because Britain had played a major part in throwing Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. We asked them when they expected to go home to Iraq. The unanimous response from Kurds and Shi'ites alike was that under no circumstances would they return to their homes and villages until Saddam Hussein had been deposed. There was universal distrust and loathing for that man. As long as Saddam Hussein reigns in Iraq, the refugee problem will continue. If he launches an attack on the Shi'ites in the south, up to 800,000 more refugees could make a dash for the border.
If winter arrives before the refugees are prepared to return to their homes there will be another serious crisis. Urgent action is needed to prepare for winter, because there are many signs that at that time Saddam Hussein may still be in control in Baghdad. I hope that steps are being taken to prepare those camps for a dreadful winter, because people cannot face such weather in tents. Because of the shortage of time, we did not visit refugee camps in Turkey.
I think that all members of the group share my concern about the way in which such crises are handled. I came away with much admiration for the way in which the people employed by the aid agencies do their best with facilities that are to hand. They often receive a rush of emergency aid from well-wishers all over the world who want to make a contribution regardless of the quality or the need for the equipment and facilities that they send. That presents a serious problem.
In the face of emergencies, all developed countries ship out the nearest materials, whether they are needed or not. Aid administrators in Teheran told us that, to assuage public opinion, well-wishing developed nations tend to send unsuitable, unnecessary and unwanted equipment and manpower. We saw examples of that in Iraq.
We were told about a country which had sent military units, I think that it was two sapper units, to build facilities for the refugees. There had not been proper agreement about bringing those troops into Iran, and they sat in buses for two days before being allowed to leave the airport. We were told of a German helicopter fleet which had been reduced by half, I think by 10, by the time we arrived because there was nothing for it to do.
Those are examples of a lack of co-ordination. The primary need in the three camps that we visited was for specific drugs which were in extremely short supply. We asked for a list which was subsequently passed to our chargé d'affaires in Teheran. I understand that action was taken on that list. There are few ways of going through the necessary motions in the face of a crisis, such as the one faced by the Kurdish and Shi'ite refugees. The first need is to find out properly and accurately what is needed. The second need is to get agreement from the country concerned that it should be brought in, and where and when it should be brought in; the third is for the aid agencies to find whatever it is; and the fourth is to get it delivered into the country where it is needed.
Having got agreement from the country concerned, the aid agencies are expert in discovering where they can get hold of what is required and in shipping it in as quickly as possible. The Committee's report makes suggestions about this which I hope that the Government will note. I also hope that the Minister will treat this as a serious and urgent matter. I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred to it.
The technique of getting the necessary and required aid into a country in which a crisis has occurred as speedily as possible is all very well in a country such as Iran, where there is an efficient administration that knows what it wants and can find out what it is likely to want. It is a totally different matter in a country such as Mozambique, which a number of us visited in the latter part of last year. The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney was with me on that visit, when we went to the north of the country, to the area controlled by that dreadful guerrilla organisation, RENAMO.
In that part of Mozambique, there is no administration, but there is abject poverty. We met refugees coming into the towns and villages who were cowed, hungry and impoverished people, dressed only in the bark of trees. I have never before seen such heart-searing examples of poverty. I see my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester) here, and he was with us on that occasion. It was a most dreadful experience. Those people were sustained by the good will of the world community, especially the United Nations and other international organisations.
Here we come to the basic problem, which is mentioned in the report. What should the world community do in such cases? To what extent is it permissible to move into a country without the full support of its Government, however inefficient or non-existent it might be? That is a relatively simple problem in Mozambique, but it does not take much imagination for my colleagues to realise that one could easily have a situation half way between that of Mozambique and that of Iraq. Dreadfully difficult decisions would have to be made and questions would have to be asked about the extent to which we could break article 2·7 of the United Nations charter, which says that it must not intervene in matters that are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State mentioned this factor.
We have to think these problems through carefully, but we must think them through and find a better way to get emergency aid to people who need it, if possible without stepping over that most important line of domestic jurisdiction.
I do not remember us bombing anyone in Mozambique when I was there, and I remember no history of us doing so. That point is irrelevant to what I am saying, which is that we have to find better ways to get aid to people who need it in emergencies. This is not easy. The report of the Select Committee deals with it; I hope that the House will discuss it and that the Government will give a great deal of thought to these problems in the months that lie ahead.
I congratulate the Select Committee on its report. As I am not a member of the Committee, I can say this to the right hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) and his colleagues: the report is short, cogent and makes a number of specific references, and I hope that my speech will follow suit.
I am not among those who argue, with the benefit of hindsight, that the war in Iraq should have been prosecuted further. It was brilliantly conducted and stopped at the right time. However, since the end of the war I have been consistently critical of the stance adopted by the allies in the peace negotiations. I mention two incidents. One was allowing the Iraqi regime to use helicopters, and the other was what happened in the south. I was told by Iraqi eye witnesses that our troops stood by and waved through Saddam Hussein's forces on their way to the reoccupation of Basra.
I mention those two incidents not to cry over spilt milk, but to emphasise that we have a moral responsibility for the refugees, because they need not have become refugees. There was political misjudgment, particularly by the Americans, in believing that it would be a mistake to allow Shi'ites to gain the upper hand in the south because they would then ally with the old enemy of Iran. As the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) said, there is a long history of sad neglect by western Governments of the problems of the Kurds. Despite that, neither the Kurdish nor Shi'ite populations, nor their leaders whom we have met, have ever argued the secessionist case. Instead, they have argued for the creation of a democratic state in Iraq. We were all hoping for that. Because mistakes were made in the peace, the refugee problem is not just of passing concern but the direct responsibility of those nations involved in the allied operation.
I have four points to make. First, the right hon. Member for Guildford is correct to say that the Government have already responded with a change of heart, as have the Americans, on the question of pulling out troops. It is obvious that the United Nations' forces are not adequate and that there can be no question of withdrawing allied forces until the United Nations can supply an adequate substitute.
In that connection, I hope that the Government have listened to the recommendations of Tony Parsons, our former ambassador at the United Nations, who has been arguing ever since the war, with increasing conviction, that the United Nations needs to go beyond its tradition of creating special peacekeeping forces at the behest of nation states. His suggestion is that we should be moving on to a post-cold war development, which will give the five permanent members of the Security Council the capacity to oversee the creation of an effective, United Nations, permanent, peacekeeping force, able to act on the authority of the Security Council rather than at the request of a nation state.
At a time when all of us, including the House of Commons and the eastern powers, are having to grapple with the problem of reduced defence budgets, here is a role for some of those whom I shall call redundant soldiers, both east and west, of the cold war line, who could be allocated to just such a UN, permanent, peace-keeping force.
Secondly, the report rightly refers to—disorganization is too strong a word, but I forget the word that was used —the fact that so many different UN agencies deal with the refugee problem. The reports that we have received from the Quakers and the Save the Children Fund underline the fact that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has been disappointed with the response to her voluntary appeal for funds. My complaint is that it is not right that that office should be dependent on voluntary appeals for funds. I hope that in the review of UN mechanisms some thought will be given to bringing the UNHCR's operations much more directly under the immediate responsibility of the UN machinery.
On that critical point, would it not be a good idea if, as we said in the Select Committee's report, instead of waiting until things happen and then making an appeal, standby credits were automatically available as soon as the Security Council said that such help was necessary? In that way the UNCHR could draw on them without having to embark on the long drawn-out process of asking for funds and then getting only half of what is needed.
The hon. Gentleman has put forward one specific way of doing what I advocate. The begging bowl approach of the UNHCR in Geneva cannot continue.
Thirdly, I welcome what the Select Committee had to say about the relative financing of ODA funds both by the Ministry of Defence—a point some of us made after the war when the MOD kept sending the ODA bills for its activities, which the Select Committee rightly said should be sorted out—and by the Treasury. The hon. Member for Cynon Valley was correct on that point. Given the decline in the ODA budget during the past 10 years and, at the same time, the increased demands that have been placed on it by a series of international disasters, the Treasury should now be more forthcoming with funds for the ODA. The ODA funding sections of the report are important and we are entitled to press the Minister to give an instant reply to the thoughts of the Select Committee at the end of the debate rather than to take the traditional three months to reply. At any rate I prod him and entice him into doing so.
I said that I had four points. The fourth does not arise out of the report and the Select Committee's Chairman would no doubt argue that it falls outside the remit of the report. Hon. Members should be alarmed about the resumption of arms sales to the middle east by Britain, the United States, Korea, the Soviet Union—all manner of powers. It is interesting that on 20 June the House of Representatives passed a foreign aid authorisation Bill, unilaterally halting the sale of weapons to middle east countries until and unless some other major arms supplier resumes shipments, or until the recipient countries establish an arms control regime for themselves. That Bill is going to the Senate. It may be objected to by the Administration, but there is something deeply disturbing about the political rhetoric from President Bush, our Prime Minister and everybody that we must learn the lessons of the war and hold off in the arms race, while we have specific examples of arms contracts already being negotiated with different powers in the middle east.
I notice the strong contrast between the swift reaction of President Bush and his security advisers to the possible concealment of a nuclear capability by Saddam Hussein's forces and the threat to engage in pinpoint bombing to destroy it, and the relatively lax approach to the acquisition of ordinary weapons by countries in the middle east. A double standard seems to be developing whereby western powers are prepared to stop the development and acquisition of sophisiticated weaponry by powers in the middle east, but are happy to sell them anything short of weapon systems that could be widely destructive to the rest of the world. That must stop. At a time when our defence industries are shrinking there is surely scope for turning some of those resources to the necessary construction and engineering work associated with the refugee problems.
The right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel) has made some exceedingly good points on which we can all agree across party lines, particularly his last point about the need for arms control in the region, which the Foreign Affairs Select Committee will address in its forthcoming report which should be before the House in the next two or three weeks before it rises. When we took evidence we were appalled by the speed with which countries in the region are building up their arms. In particular, a number of the countries seem to have Scud C missiles, against which the Patriot missile provides no defence. That is an extraordinary worrying aspect of the problem to which we shall come in due course.
In the interests of comparative brevity and so as not to be too repetitive of remarks which have already been so excellently made by my colleagues whom I was privileged to be with when we visited the camps in Iran, let me select two points. First, the appalling problem of the Iraqi refugees is the result of the international community's failure to respond adequately to the evil of Saddam Hussein. Yes, of course there was the magnificent response of the United States forces with the British and other members of the coalition to the invasion of Kuwait and the remarkable success of the war aim, and yes, the United Nations—I believe for the first time—provided the cover of lawful authority for the coalition to use force to drive Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait but no further.
There could hardly have been greater international justification for going to war with Saddam Hussein, and there could hardly have been less sense in starting a war which did not finish him off along with his aggressive capability. Therefore, is there not something wrong with a United Nations process which could authorise a war so limited that the evil aggressor survives, mostly intact, to continue his aggression, to threaten the other nations in the region and to cause fear and terror to the refugees within his own country whom we are now considering?
If there is one major lesson that must be learnt from the whole tragic episode, it is surely that, if the power to deal with the breakdown of international law and order by the enforcement of its resolutions, particularly when occasioned by the invasion of one country by another in breach of those resolutions, is to remain vested in the United Nations itself, that power must be greatly strengthened. If the United Nations imposes sanctions upon any country for the breach of international laws, it must have at its command the effective power to enforce those laws.
It is said that the reason why the United Nations resolutions went no further than to authorise the driving of Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait is that, under chapter 1, article 2·7 of the UN charter, that august body is prevented from interfering in the domestic jurisdiction of any state, and that China was too concerned about a precedent for United Nations interference in Tibet and the Soviet Union was too concerned about the precedent for United Nations interference in its problems with the states within the union to allow more to be done.
In that case, if the United Nations is not to be a paper tiger or a toothless guard dog and thereby encourage aggression, either the UN must give up enforcement authority to NATO or some similar grouping or to action by the United States in a peacekeeping capacity, or it must change its rules to prevent China and the Soviet Union or any other permanent member of the Security Council in the future putting its concerns before the world order or the humanitarian needs of the moment.
In my view, the United Nations should draw some encouragement from its first hesitant military action in Kuwait, and should go on boldly to develop internal rules to allow intervention to end aggression—both the kind of action that was taken by Saddam Hussein when he invaded a neighbouring country, and the kind represented by his turning on ethnic groupings of his own people. In particular, such intervention should be permitted if genocide would otherwise be likely to occur.
Is there not a possible halfway house which would avoid the wholesale breach of the principle of article 2·7? Could not that article be amended to allow the United Nations to interfere in a state's internal affairs if such interference arose from previous authorised actions taken by the Security Council?
Such an arrangement would have overcome the difficulty in Iraq. It was the intervention of the United Nations—through the authorising resolution, 678—that led to the conflict within the country.
That is an interesting suggestion; however, it would not cover circumstances in which a country that had not previously offended against the international rule of law did so for the first time.
What we are now discussing is precisely how such an extension of the United Nations' effective power can be achieved. It has already been asked in this debate whether a change in article 2·7 is necessary, or whether it is sufficient for the general authority of the United Nations declaration on human rights—which is there among other things to prevent genocide—to prevail over that article. Should any such United Nations involvement proceed by way of separate resolutions, specifying the need to ensure peace and stability in the region concerned? Such a resolution was adopted at the time of the Gulf war.
Let me state the obvious: in that instance, the use of the resolution did not prevent Saddam Hussein's withdrawal from Kuwait with much of his republican guard and goodness knows how many divisions of his army intact; with hundreds of tanks; with 150 aeroplanes and 500 helicopters; with the capacity for nuclear, chemical and biological warfare; and with 100 Scud missiles.
Equally disturbing are the impertinent—but none the less deeply worrying—repeated Iraqi declarations of intent to reoccupy Kuwait, Iraq's refusal to allow inspections of its potential nuclear sites and the continuous broadcasts on a number of radio stations throughout the region, telling their Arabic audience that the war had really been won by Saddam Hussein and that all declarations to the contrary were merely United States propaganda following that nation's defeat. All those developments have merely followed the adoption of the separate resolution: clearly, it did not solve the problem.
It would be presumptuous and impertinent of me to suggest at this stage that I had the answers, and I make no such suggestion. Surely, however, we can all agree that the UN's powers must be strengthened, and that this is a good time to do so. When the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs saw UN officials in Washington, we gained the strong impression that they were apologising for the fact that any military support had been necessary.
At a moment when the UN had just risen like a new born foal standing up for the first time—at a moment when the world should have been looking to that organisation for greater purpose and determination, and a wish to strengthen its approach—we were hearing apologies. We should watch that tendency carefully, and do what we can to strengthen the resolve of whoever succeeds Mr. Perez de Cuellar as UN Secretary-General.
My second point concerns the plight of more than 2 million refugees—mainly the Kurds in the north and the Shi'ites in the south—who have fled in terror from Saddam Hussein. It is time that the international community united to provide a more effective, more efficient and therefore more life-saving system to deal with humanitarian disasters of this kind, and also with national disasters. It was satisfying to hear from the mouths of the Iranians that the quality of the United Kingdom's response had been perceived as good, and also that, in terms of the quantity of emergency relief to Iran, we ranked third in the list of donors. I believe that we have contributed more than £80 million in humanitarian relief alone.
The hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) said that the Government's aid contribution had fallen below the gross national product level at which we are aiming. Let me tell the hon. Lady not only that we were thanked and praised for the amount of financial aid that we were providing, but that, throughout our visit, I heard no one say, "If only the British Government could provide more money." As further disasters occur, we may well have to find more money because we have given so much to the Iraqi refugees; but we are here debating aid for those refugees. [Interruption.] Let me assure the hon. Member for Cynon Valley, and any other doubters on the Opposition Front Bench, that no one else has brought to our attention any such complaint.
There can be little doubt that hundreds—perhaps thousands—of Iraqi lives have been saved by the Prime Minister's initiative in establishing safe havens where Iraqi citizens can be protected from attacks by the military forces, and by the deployment of between 3,000 and 5,000 British troops. Thousands of people, some of them starving, have been brought down from the mountains, fed and sheltered and provided with life-saving medicines.
Outside those havens, in the Iranian refugee camps, we found great cause for concern. What will happen when the bad weather comes—and, indeed, when boredom strikes, if it has not done so already? Tens of thousands of people are living in impossibly cramped conditions with nothing to do—many of them people of action, former members of the Peshmerga guerrilla group. If confidence does not return—sadly, the Select Committee did not think that it would, given the existing circumstances—action will be urgently needed.
What is needed, if efficiency is to be improved, and what is barely available in the case of the Iraqi refugees, is a United Nations force of sufficient strength to deter an aggressor from further action against his victims. The United States does not want its troops to stay in the Gulf, where they believe that they are not welcome and where they are terrified of developing a long-term commitment of the Vietnam kind. The British and the other coalition forces are similarly unenthusiastic, and feel unable to take on such a commitment. It is possible that the Turkish army, the Syrian army, another army or a combination of all those will have to provide for the protection of ethnic minorities in the region; certainly, a Gulf security system will have to be worked out. The next report of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, which is due shortly, will address that issue.
No one can deny that it is regrettable that comparatively few of the intended 500 United Nations field service officers have materialised. There are about 135 United Nations staff in Iraq, plus 70 seconded from Nordic non-governmental organisations and Governments, but there are only 48 field officers, of whom nine have now left.
That has meant that the coalition forces will have to remain, perhaps indefinitely, to provide reassurance for the Kurds so that they will return to their homes without fear. As we say in our report, it would be wrong for the coalition forces to leave them to the mercy of Saddam Hussein's troops. Something more must be done urgently for the United Nations to get its enforcement powers together.
The second element required is a far more efficient system of organising and distributing aid. Those of us who saw the Kurdish camps in Ziveh and the Shi'ite camp in Shush were most impressed by the work done by the NGOs to feed, shelter and provide medical treatment for the refugees. However, we heard stories about total lack of co-ordination, some of which have been mentioned in the debate. We hear such stories repeated in disaster after disaster.
We heard that sometimes the wrong type of tent or the wrong sort of food supplies are sent. Supplies that are surplus to requirements in one camp are sometimes not available in another camp where they are desperately needed. We heard about the duplication of medicines and sometimes the wrong sort of medicine, the sending of a large number of unnecessary helicopters and second-hand unserviceable equipment. We heard of the sending of high-energy biscuits when the need for them had passed and the only use for them was to use the wrappers to provide shelter and warmth.
We heard of dedicated NGOs duplicating each other's efforts and nearly getting in each other's way. One NGO group—I think that it was a French group—returned home in pique and disgust. We have heard of hesitancy from some sources in providing financial assistance because of uncertainty about the use to which it would be put. We understand that there are pressures against efficiency.
There will be plenty of time. The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) takes up an enormous amount of the House's time by asking all sorts of impenetrable questions. It would be much more helpful if he were to remain silent.
There is a desire for democratic Parliaments clearly to identify visible aid projects, like so many tonnes of wheat or so many helicopters, and they desire not to have their money disappear into book-keeping or be wasted because the distribution system from the ports is inadequate or wasteful.
All that points to a desperate need to have somebody or some groups to co-ordinate all the aid activities. It is astonishing that, in this electronic age, there seems not to have existed in this disaster a computerised information system to identify the places of urgent need, the sort of aid on offer and the areas where no offers of the right type of aid have yet been made. Such a system could co-ordinate the offers of aid with the correct areas. It is almost incredible that no computer appears to be planning the routes available for distribution and delivery vehicles.
We need a blueprint for future responses to international disasters. We need rules about when the Government of the disaster-riven country take control and when they do not. We need rules about who takes control when the Government of the country is incapable. We need a rule book of actions that can speedily bring together, co-ordinate and redirect the substantial aid that is available from the world at times of heartbreaking disaster, whether natural or manmade. It should not be necessary to start from scratch with every new disaster, learning the same lessons again.
The British Government, in co-operation with the British people, have acquitted themselves well in providing resources, assisting our NGOs, helping to co-ordinate European Community assistance, bringing about safe havens, in getting resolutions past the Security Council, pursuing an initiative with the Germans for the appointment of a senior United Nations co-ordinator and, of course, providing the military assistance necessary to end the instability and anarchy in the region. If the Government could convene a conference in the near future of all those involved in the recent emergency planning and field work to draw up a blueprint for the future, they will have made an outstanding contribution to the cause of humanity.
Like many of my colleagues who visited the camps, I came away with a number of impressions. Many observations have been made by hon. Members who visited the camps and I do not want to repeat them.
I should like to draw to the attention of my hon. Friends and the Minister one or two observations about the position of the refugees before dealing with the broader issue, which is that the Kurdish and Shi'ite refugee problem is not only an aid problem but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) said, a political problem. It is a problem of international order and political decision.
We must not let the House forget that the potential for a further huge influx of refugees is considerable. The Iran-Iraq border was heavily fortified during the eight-year war and, ironically, the bombing of all the bridges made movement of people across that border almost impossible. That has meant that the refugee problem in the south could be understated.
It is sickening to realise when one visits the camps that every refugee crisis, even if it is three quarters solved, leaves behind yet another residue of permanent refugees. In one of the camps that we went to see there were many thousands of Kurdish refugees who had been there since 1975. The Iranian authorities reminded us—I had forgotten but I am sure that other hon. Members have not —that they are permanently maintaining under their refugee programme 2·5 million refugees from the Afghan war. We have had many quarrels and differences with the Iranian regime, but we must compliment the Iranian authorities on their work in refugee camps. The Iranian Red Crescent is one of the most efficient and compassionate organisations. Iran opens its borders to large numbers of people.
It was pointed out to us by people representing United Nations agencies that, curiously, national Governments now feel a desperate need to respond to crises in a macho and virile way. There is almost an aid race in which every Government want to show their electorate that they are responding to the latest crisis. As a consequence, there is often a lack of co-ordination, duplication and considerable waste.
In an eloquent appeal, my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley said that we need a form of investment in United Nations agencies so that we can co-ordinate our activities through the United Nations rather than conducting the aid race in a macho and virile way while Governments are attempting to prove that their aid programme is bigger, better and more effective than anybody else's.
The plight of the Kurds and the Shi'ites represents a broader political issue. We must admit that until we saw on our television screens the plight of the Kurds on the mountains there had been remarkably little interest in their dilemma. They have been a mild embarrassment to the international community for generations because they do not fit into an easy, tidy, nation-state pattern. They have been a special embarrassment to Iranian, Turkish and Iraqi Governments for some time. I must say—I hope that I do not enter a jarring note into a consensual debate—that that attitude was exemplified by the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office. When he appeared before the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs on 30 January, I pressed him on the Government's attitude to autonomy for the Kurds and he could barely conceal his impatience. At the end of our exchange, the Chairman said:
I think the Minister is telling us we have enough on our Plate!
On 30 January, the Kurdish issue was not of great ministerial concern.
I do not have a record of our exchange, but I recall that the hon. Gentleman was suggesting that we should support a policy of creating an independent Kurdistan.
I have the record. I asked the Minister:
Is there not a case for championing some particular autonomy which would recognise the very distinctive … characteristics of the Kurdish people?
I was not pressing for a Kurdish state; I was questioning whether the Kurds would be a problem. The Minister rightly said that we must maintain territorial integrity and national boundaries, but in January the general attitude was that the Kurds were a problem and an embarrassment. They became a global embarrassment only when we saw their suffering on our television screens.
Hon. Members have said that the Kurds and Shi'ites represent a new challenge to the way in which we conduct international affairs and to the new international order that may emerge in the wake of the Gulf war, but the United Nations seems to recognise international disorder only when there is an act of aggression by one state against another. Experience of Yugoslavia and Iraq shows that international regional disorder occurs not only when one state attacks another but when the inherent structural problems of the societies on which we base international order—the notion that nation states are inviolate—are not recognised by the international community. As the cement of the empire, in its broadest sense, dissolves at the end of the century, those issues will become increasingly prominent.
That problem is demonstrated by the disintegration of the Ethiopian empire and the emergence of traditional rivalries. The dissolving of the cement of the Soviet communist empire is causing similar tension and rivalry in traditional relationships. The same is happening in Yugoslavia and will happen in the middle east.
On our travels, I spent my time on planes reading one of the most authoritative accounts of the origins of Iraq. Everybody knew that we just drew lines on a map. Minutes of memoranda of the great debates on the birth of the artificial state of Iraq disclose chilling prophesies that now seem relevant, despite their being written 40 or 50 years ago. One internal commentator said:
You are flying in the face of four milleniums of history if you try to draw a line around Iraq and call it a political entity".
At the time of the birth of Iraq, the minutes of a Foreign and Commonwealtth Office official said:
Almost 2 million Shi'ite Moslems in Mesopotamia would not accept domination by the minority Sunni Moslem community yet no form of government has been envisaged which does not involve Sunni domination.
He described the nature of that domination as essentially military domination.
Although I am not saying that we should be trapped by history—50 or 60 years later, events may have made those early judgments wrong—it is chilling to note the assessments that were being made during the artificial creation of a state such as Iraq because, in different ways, they are now manifesting themselves. We must ask ourselves the awkward and painful question whether Saddam Hussein, whom we all detest and believe must go, is not at least partly the creature of the state that was created. If the answer is yes, do we say for ever and a day that a state that was artificially created for a host of wrong motives should be the basis on which we maintain international order? I realise what a dangerous minefield one walks through when one makes such comments, but, given the dissolution of empires in the late 20th century, these issues will crop up time and again.
I shall complete my brief historic footnote by saying that, curiously, the 1920 treaty of Sevres, which was drafted and approved but never implemented, recognized that such issues would arise and tried to write in autonomy for the Kurds, the Armenians and the Azerbaijanis—areas that have now become hot spots.
A number of hon. Members have asked to what extent the new international order will continue to uphold the principle of non-interference in nation states, especially if they are not necessarily cohesive or do not have sound bases of language, culture and national identities. That problem will not go away.
The dilemmas of the Kurds and Shi'ites in Iraq, the fact that we have established safe havens and sent rapid deployment forces to defend them and to guarantee the rights of minorities within the inviolate nation state of Iraq point in the long term to a new international order based on, dare I say it, some form of world government. Unless we learn the lessons and realise that, I am afraid that this last episode will be a footnote in the sad history of Kurds rebelling and being betrayed.
I believe that we have two lessons to learn from the Kurdistan refugee crisis: first, the potential effectiveness of the European Community as a powerful forum for initiative in foreign affairs; and, secondly, the key role that is being played by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.
We all watched the events of the Kuwait campaign and the 100 hours to the ceasefire. That ceasefire has left Saddam Hussein in charge, but was due, after only 100 hours, in no small part to the scars of Vietnam on the American nation. We are all aware of the reluctance of the United States to become involved in foreign adventures, and its fears of getting bogged down.
In Europe, and in Britain in particular, the reaction was very different. The public were concerned. We were all extremely moved by scenes on our televisions of masses of civilian populations who were totally unprepared for their movement into the mountains. Rightly, in Europe there was a wave of humanitarian revulsion at what we were seeing, and a demand for immediate action.
The initiative of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister at the European Community summit in Luxembourg on 8 April got the bandwagon going. The agreement between European Community leaders to take action caused the United States to make an active response, which we saw on 16 April with the joint announcement by the United States, France and Britain that they would send troops to northern Iraq to co-ordinate the relief work and to establish safe encampments. We now know that it met with considerable success. Most of the Kurdish civilians have come down from the mountains. Some went into the camps and are still there, but most have been moved back to their original homes in Iraqi Kurdistan. There has also been a European initiative to transport refugees back from Iran.
The lessons to learn are that we have a Prime Minister who has rapidly gained in international stature to give a lead in effective action on the world stage, and that the European nations, working in concert, carry a mighty diplomatic clout which can precipitate action on a world scale and can influence the United States to change its position.
However, problems remain. We must somehow maintain the confidence of the Kurds who have returned home and persuade them to stay put in their homes and to feel secure. The allied forces in the area are currently providing that security, but there is a real fear of their withdrawal. However, the sending of United Nations guards to the area is no effective solution. That is exemplified by a letter sent by the Secretary-General of the United Nations on 30 May to the president of the Security Council.
The annex to the letter contains descriptions of the deployment of those guards. For example, it states:
The number of Guards in the Contingent will be kept under review as further units are dispatched, but will not exceed a total strength of 500.
When one considers the residual strength of the Iraqi armed forces and the vast size of the Kurdish populations involved, one realises that the number is wholly inadequate.
The annex to the letter continues:
The number of Guards assigned to the various regions will be decided in consultation with the Government authorities concerned"—
which means mainly Iraq—
but would not exceed 150 in any one region.
Again, that is wholly inadequate in view of the scale of the country.
It is even more farcical that the annex continues:
United Nations Guards will be authorized to carry side-arms (pistols/revolvers), which will be provided by the Iraqi authorities".
Clearly, the United Nations guards can play only a symbolic role. They are poorly funded even for the limited job that they have been sent to do. I understand that a special fund has been established within the United Nations. It is interesting that the United Kingdom is the largest contributor and is way ahead of others—notably the United States. Will the Minister confirm the leading role that we are also playing in that respect?
To answer the question why a United Nations force has not been sent and why we are confined to the services of valiant doorkeepers, one has only to read The Economist of 22 June, which summed up the matter neatly:
Neither the Soviet Union nor China would approve action"—
the dispatch of a United Nations force—
on the Kurds' behalf in the full glare of the Security Council. They feared the precedent such intervention could set for, say, Tibet or the Baltic republics. Other countries, standing by the clause in the UN charter that bars it from internal disputes, felt the same.
That highlights the continuing practical limitations of the United Nations, which is, of course, bound up in the various legalities which were dealt with so well by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence). It is tragic that the United Nations did so well with the nation of Kuwait, but is largely paralysed over the internal problems of Iraq, notably those in Kurdistan.
It is clear that we must maintain a strong military presence until the establishment of an adequate intervention force by the allies. In particular, we must ensure that the airborne capacity is adequate for the task.
I was also a member of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs which visited the refugee camps on the Iran-lraq border about six weeks ago. We had the opportunity to talk to Kurdish refugees from the north and to Shi'ite refugees from the south of Iraq who had been forced to flee from the forces of Saddam Hussein.
Despite what the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) said about evidence of inefficiency—and I agree with at least some of what he said—I pay tribute to all the organisations over there— governmental and non-governmental—that are doing their very best to deal with difficult circumstances. I pay a special tribute to the Iranian Government and to the Iranian Red Crescent, because it is largely due to their efforts that what we observed was not nearly as bad as I had feared before I went.
I have visited refugee camps in other parts of the world with the Select Committee. For example, a few days ago I visited refugee camps on the Sudan-Ethiopia border where the smell of death permeated the atmosphere and where sick, starving and dying children were everywhere to be seen. By contrast, the children whom we saw in the camps in west Azerbaijan and Khuzestan looked, for the most part, healthy and in very good spirits. However, I do not want to underrate the horrific experience that those children and their parents must have undergone. It must have been an ordeal for them, first, to literally run for their lives from the killing machine of Saddam Hussein and then to be faced with the threat of death from starvation on freezing mountain tops.
When we visited the camps in late May the worst seemed to be over, at least for the time being. I emphasise the latter phrase. The reason why the worst seemed to he over at least for the time being was that the various aid agencies appeared to be getting to grips with the basic needs of the refugees. However, there is no room for complacency—there is much more to be done, bearing in mind that there are about 2·5 million refugees or displaced persons in that part of the world. Winter is approaching and, looking further ahead, we cannot and must not expect those people to live in refugee camps for ever. We must step up our efforts to find a permanent long-term solution, including a political settlement. That means trying our best to find a peaceful and democratic solution to the internal problems which still exist in Iraq and it also means going some way to meeting the legitimate aspirations of the Kurdish people for a degree of self-determination or autonomy.
The Kurds were suffering atrocities at the hands of Saddam Hussein long before he invaded Kuwait and the Gulf war has, arguably, made things worse instead of better for them. We therefore have a duty to do everything possible to help them in their immediate plight and in the longer term.
I want to comment on the British contribution to the crisis. By 1 May this year, the Overseas Development Administration had committed a total of £61·5 million, but it is important to point out to the House that only £30 million of that is new money from the Treasury's central reserve. In other words, more than half that money comes from the existing, over-stretched ODA budget. If we take the new money—£30 million—and divide it by the 2·5 million people involved, it works out at the princely sum of £12 a head. It is not a huge amount when considered in those terms.
It is also worth considering that the ODA was charged by the Ministry of Defence for much of the relief operation carried out by the armed forces. I hope that the Minister will reply in his summing up to the Select Committee recommendation that there should be a new arrangement between the ODA and the Ministry of Defence. I should prefer there to be no transfer payment from the aid budget to the defence budget, but if there is, it should take into account the training element for the armed forces in the refugee operations. That is an explicit recommendation in the Select Committee report.
According to the Government, the Gulf war cost them £2·5 billion. That is probably an underestimate, but the truth will come out at the end of the day. The total ODA commitment of £61·5 million to help Iraqi refugees alone is the equivalent of three Tornado aircraft. Perhaps that brings the matter into perspective. Why are the Government's spending priorities such that they spend so much on a destructive war that cost more than 100,000 lives and yet spend relatively little on trying to help the refugees who are the victims of the aftermath of that war?
I hope that, as a result of this debate, more priority will be given to helping not just Iraqi refugees, but the many others throughout the world who find themselves the innocent victims of disaster, whether it be famine, flood, earthquake or the ravages of war. For the sake of humanity, we owe help to those people, especially if we have been partly responsible for precipitating the action and thereby partly responsible for causing the desperate situation in which they find themselves.
I shall be brief and truncate my remarks. I found the speeches of my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) and of the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) most interesting, although the latter's speech was too long. They addressed the central issue arising from the Gulf conflict of how we deal with the question of article 2·7 which deals with intervention in the internal affairs of nation states. When the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs examines the matter, it should do so from a wide perspective, and it should do a lot of work because it will be making a contribution to the international debate on the matter.
I refer to the implementation of resolution 688 by the United Nations, especially the section in paragraph 2, which deals with ending the repression. Mr. Talabani and his advisers told me and my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) in Istanbul only a week and a half ago that the Kurdish leadership had had no contact with the United Nations monitors in the field. It was we who had to advise them to make contact. Even when we asked Mrs. Ogata—the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees—yesterday whether that contact had been made, she was unable to tell us. Only when that contact is made will evidence of repression be proven to the international community and especially to the Security Council of the United Nations. Only when that evidence has been proven and reported back can any rapid action force deployed in Incerlik in southern Turkey or elsewhere be used. It is the linkage between the reporting back by the United Nations monitors to the Security Council through Mr. Van de Stoehl, the former Dutch Foreign Minister, and the threat of action by the rapid action force based in southern Turkey which will force Saddam Hussein to realise that the major powers mean business in exercising resolution 688, which refers to the need to end repression.
The second part of resolution 688 which is important to the debate is the part that deals with the need—I think that the word "insist" is used—for the Iraqi regime to give access to the United Nations humanitarian effort wherever in Iraq it is required. Following our meeting with Mrs. Ogata in the House yesterday, it is my view that the resolution is not being implemented. The Iraqi Government are preventing access by United Nations personnel to various parts of Iraq. Furthermore, the United Nations has simply not put in place the number of people necessary to ensure adequate coverage of the whole of Iraq in providing humanitarian relief.
Significantly, whereas the United States was prepared, acting on the basis of paragraphs 12 and 13 of resolution 687 which deal with nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons technology, to issue the threat of foreign intervention if necessary to secure implementation of those paragraphs, to date it has not been prepared to threaten Iraq on the basis of that country's failure to permit access under paragraph 3 of resolution 688, which deals with the need for Iraq to allow passage to United Nations representatives for the purposes of humanitarian relief. I hope that my comments will be taken on board by Ministers because the debate will turn on both matters in the coming months.
A number of my hon. Friends asked why, at the end of the war, we did not proceed to block off Saddam Hussein's forces and, as many have argued, go as far as Baghdad. The answer is simple, and the British people should understand that answer. As politicians, as Ministers, or as representatives of the American Government, we all had to give undertakings on British television and in the rest of the British media that the war aims of the coalition were confined to getting Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. I remember the Chairman of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs being interviewed on television and having to make the point that our war aims were restricted. He referred to the possibility of dealing with the matter in a later Select Committee report. I hope that he does not go further than his comments on British television only three months ago. He could not go further. The pressure did not come only from American public opinion, but in the House, when many of my hon. Friends—and, indeed, many Conservative Members—demanded that a restriction be placed on the war aims. Furthermore, we were conscious of the rioting in major capitals throughout the region, such as Cairo and Tangiers. There were objections even in Saudi Arabia to the way the war was going from some Shi'ite groups. In Pakistan and Iran, there were demonstrations in capital cities. There were demonstrations in Syria. People forget that we were circumscribed by international opinion. That is why we did not go further, and that is why we were correct not to go further. People should not change the debate now that the conflict is all but over—apart from these remaining matters.
Some argue that sanctions should be removed. In my view, they should not be removed; they should stay. It is the responsibility of the United Nations to resolve the problem of humanitarian relief inside Iraq. If the United Nations officers in the field feel that they do not have what Mrs. Ogata described yesterday as "the wherewithal" to deal with the problems, they must report back to the Security Council the needs of Iraq in terms of humanitarian relief. Those arguments should take place in the United Nations. It is not for western Governments unilaterally—or, indeed, for the United Nations—to end sanctions. It is for western Governments, through their United Nations relief programmes, to intervene and provide whatever is required.
I am in a little difficulty, as I understood that the Front-Bench speakers wished to begin winding up the debate at 6.50 pm. I see my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) shaking her head, so I shall continue quickly.
Other hon. Members have spoken about the future possibilities for a new international order. I hope that the day will come when we have that, but it will have to be a genuine new order, with all the nations in the United Nations, not, as we have now, an order dominated by the five permanent members of the Security Council. Some of us would have believed more readily in those countries' intentions concerning the Gulf war if we had not seen the important United Nations nations, at the behest of the United States, standing back and doing little about repression in Cambodia, Palestine and Nicaragua.
Paragraph 1 of the report of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs says that the resources to provide aid for Iraqi refugees are "severely stretched". Many of us wonder when the day will come when the nations of the world will spend on anything like the same scale to save lives as they have spent to kill people. The coalition forces spent £100 billion on the war, yet when the United Nations sought relief support for the refugee problem it managed to get only £58 million to help what it then thought would be about 400,000 refugees. In fact, by mid-April there were 400,000 refugees on the Turkish mountains and 400,000 more in Iraq near the Turkish border, 1 million in northern Iran and 70,000 in southern Iran—a total of 1,870,000. The aid was indeed thinly spread.
If I were to encourage people to rise up against their oppressors—for instance, by encouraging the Iraqis to rise up against Saddam Hussein—I should feel some responsibility if they took me at my word, and would have financed that uprising. People were cynically left to rise up and given practically no support. Then they were left in appalling conditions in the mountains.
It is not true that this Government came hastily to the refugees' aid. They did so only after the British people had seen the refugees' plight on their television screens and kept complaining about the Government's lack of response. The same thing happened when the American people saw the plight of the Kurdish refugees on television. Only then did western Governments start responding to the refugees' plight.
The huge responsibilities taken on by Iran in caring for the refugees both now and in past years put yesterday's Government statement about refugees coming into this country in a poor light. A paltry few hundred people are arriving here, yet the Government go to great lengths to resist their being allowed in. They say that those people should stop off at the first available safe country instead of heading here. What an ungenerous response in comparison with the responsibilities thrown on to the shoulders of Iraq's neighbouring countries.
The Government dithered during April and said that they were worried about intervening in the internal affairs of Iraq, although our forces had already bombed Iraq back into a pre-industrial age. People are still dying in their hundreds of thousands because of infected water, poor sanitation and lack of medicines. The Government's response was farcical.
I should be glad if in future people recognised that we have responsibilities to each other as human beings, and did not allow the barriers presented by nation states to stop us coming to people's aid promptly and fully, with a wholehearted response that recognised human need. I should be glad if, for once, we could start working towards a system in which we were willing to spend anything like the same amount of money on saving lives as we have all been spending on destroying lives.
I was recently reminded of the words of David Lloyd George:
the most persistent sound which reverberates through men's history is the beating of the war drums. This war, like the next war, is a war to end wars.
Those words came to mind as, making my way to Kuwait City with the Select Committee on Defence, I flew over the burning oil wells. Someone said then that if hell had a national park that would be it.
What have we gained from the war? What have been its costs? We have 1·8 million refugees, and we have created a political problem. As paragraph 15 of the report of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs says, it
raises the grim prospect of a seemingly unending refugee operation of Palestinian proportions.
The Select Committee should be congratulated on giving us a short and cogent report on refugees and aid.
I have looked at the British Refugee Council's report of its visit to Iran at the beginning of June. Iran was commended for the way in which it has coped with the refugees. The report said that the number of refugees in Iran will exceed 1·3 million, and that in spite of any negotiations between Saddam Hussein and the Kurds 40 per cent. of them will stay behind. As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe) said, it bodes ill when we compare our own treatment of refugees with the way in which Iran has treated the 1·3 million refugees who have come to its borders. The report estimates that 400,000 to 600,000 Shi'ites have been displaced in the southern parts of Iraq.
The Harvard team of medics referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) has estimated some of the costs of the war. It gives chapter and verse on mortality and morbidity, but the factor that stands out is that 170,000 Iraqi children under the age of five will die in the next year if we do not do anything. To those who say that we should not lift sanctions I say, "Think of one of those 170,000 children as being your own son, your own daughter or your own niece or nephew". Could those people then stand up and say that we should not lift sanctions? The team of medics tells us that those children will have a slow and painful death because of the stone age conditions that now exist in Iraq. Those conditions exist because the coalition forces ensured that they would.
We spent £100 billion prosecuting the war, yet to date we have spent only slightly more than £60 million on prosecuting the peace—less than 1 per cent. of the amount spent on the war. That is not good enough. The humanitarian aid has been welcomed by Iran and the Kurds, and the human effects of the Gulf war are now being ameliorated by international aid, but that does not erase the effects already suffered. In many respects the immediate aftermath of the war has improved very little in the intervening four months. In terms of malnutrition and disease control the situation has deteriorated further.
From a humanitarian point of view, I plead with the Minister to lift sanctions, in the name of humanity if for no other reason. My hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) explained how Saddam Hussein had been created, and that should be the lesson of the war. What will happen next—we have seen it already, with more arms sales to the middle east—is that we will get another Saddam. There will be Saddam 2 and Saddam 3. The only way to cut his legs off will be to prosecute another $100 billion war, and deliver 2 million more refugees. It is not worth it.
We see the kernel of the problem when we consider the permanent members of the UN Security Council and the supply of arms to the middle east. That is where the solution should lie. I look forward to the report of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs on the issue of arms control measures. We are reminded in the 20 May issue of The House magazine that the five permanent members of the UN Security Council supplied middle eastern nations with $163,200 million worth of material during the four years preceding the arms embargo against Iraq. Baghdad received the largest proportion of that—$52,800,000. Sadly, Saddam Hussein is our creature because we supplied him with those arms.
The lesson of the war is that we should immediately convene a middle east peace conference encompassing all the issues, so that we do not find ourselves faced with a Saddam 2 or a Saddam 3 and 2 million more refugees.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall), I am in favour of the lifting of sanctions forthwith.
A fortnight ago I shared a platform with the actress Vanessa Redgrave who had just come back from Iraq. Her report, which I believe was factually accurate, was along similar lines to the Harvard report, from which I must quote:
The study team gained the first unsupervised access to Iraq's electrical power plants and finds that Iraq today generates only about 20 per cent. as much electricity as before the Gulf War.
The Harvard doctors write:
There is a link in Iraq between electrical power and public health … Without electricity, water cannot be purified, sewage cannot be treated, water-borne diseases flourish, and hospitals cannot treat curable illness.
One of the study team's findings, which has been repeated today, was that at least 170,000 under-fives will die this year. The team also found that water purification, sewage disposal and electrical power plants have been incapacitated. Without imported parts one cannot run generators, and without generators there will be no electricity to deal with sewage and water purification.
I realise that there are problems in lifting sanctions. I refer the Government to Aviation Week and Space Technology of 1 July, which states:
Estimates were received that 6 million Iraqis could have died from dispersion of stored anthrax and botulism viruses.
Can the Minister comment on the leaking of chemicals stored at the Muthanna military complex near Samnarra?
They may have been badly stored, but apparently they may well be leaking as a result of bombing and poor maintenance.
What do the Government propose to do about the recommendations of the United Nations inspection team, led by the Australian, Dr. Peter Dunn?
As I said, I realise that there are difficulties in connection with lifting sanctions. What is the latest information about the nuclear issue, for example, and what were the results of the presentation of classified spy satellite photographs to the United Nations Security Council? Did the Iraqis remove nuclear equipment from Abu Ghurab, north of Baghdad, last Monday? Were the inspectors denied access, and what do Ministers propose to do about their statement that
activities which had been observed from a distance during a first visit had ceased and objects that had been seen had been removed"?
I admit that that is part of the difficulty in lifting sanctions but—but, but, but—as my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton says, in humantarian terms, the public health catastrophe that is upon us simply does not bear thinking about.
I welcome the report of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, although I thought that some Conservative Members who spoke in its favour showed considerable complacency, especially about the role of the Overseas Development Administration.
On 1 April or thereabouts, we saw on our television screens the desperate situation facing the Kurds, yet even by the end of April very little had been done despite the considerable public response and their desire to assist.
Throughout April, masses of Kurds starved, froze and died. It was evident that a huge airlift of aid should have been the first priority. The policy of safe havens made sense only if those to be defended could also survive the elements. Organisations such as the Red Cross, Oxfam and the Save The Children Fund did valiant work, given the limits of their resources, and the disaster unit of the ODA, starved of adequate funding and full logistical back up, worked beyond the call of duty.
Why did not the Cabinet provide the resources needed for Britain to set in motion an equivalent to the Berlin airlift? For weeks, people throughout the country had been collecting blankets, groundsheets, medicines, clothing and so on. The medical goods were sent on the basis of information supplied by the Iranian embassy about the materials required. The public will be aghast to discover that much of the material was not dispatched until more than a month later.
It is not true that the ODA sent massive assistance to Iran. To 28 April, only four 707s, carrying about 35 tonnes each, went to Iran. That is disgraceful. Later, there was a build-up in the number of aircraft sent, so it looked as though a reasonable number of them had gone, but at the time when it was needed the material was simply not being sent in in anything like the amounts that Conservative Members suggested.
Bodies emerged in Britain such as British Aid for the Kurds, which had collected huge quantities of material and had access to much-needed supplies from numerous firms. Private truckers such as Track 29 moved their goods free of charge, and Iran Air sent in high-capacity 747s to collect the supplies. The 747s can carry up to 100 tonnes, unlike the 707s used by the ODA.
With the best will in the world, and after superhuman effort, bodies such as British Aid for the Kurds were still left with masses of materials on their hands, which presented warehousing problems, while they desperately searched for more flight opportunities. All that the ODA could do was respond ad hoc, paying for the odd movement or the storage of goods. It was at Cabinet and prime ministerial level that the decision needed to be taken to overcome the logjam and to ensure that the goods were shifted more quickly than Iran Air could shift them on its own. Throughout April, Iran Air was even paying landing charges at Heathrow airport. Only later were some landing charges lifted, but only for special flights coming to Britain —even though standard Iran Air flights were taking out full loads of material.
I hope that, in producing its next report, the Foreign Affairs Committee will examine what happened in respect of the movement of goods. Bodies such as British Aid to the Kurds collected much-needed material—not the material rubbished by the ODA, referred to in the report. Those bodies did invaluable work, and the British public made a great response. Long before a concert was held to raise money, and long before others—who also did invaluable work—began to move in on the act, ordinary people throughout the country had collected valuable material.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, although the British public's generosity in giving goods was tremendous, in times of disaster relief, it is more practical to give money? The same goods could have been purchased in Teheran. In fact, three times as much could have been purchased for the value of the goods that were piling up at London airport. It would be in everybody's interests to encourage people to give money and not goods in any future disaster.
The successor organisation to British Aid for the Kurds is now trying to help in the Horn of Africa and it is collecting money because of the difficulties of shifting the appropriate material. If the ODA could handle the situation properly and could draw on what has been collected in this country, that would be of benefit. After exchange rates and foreign markets are taken into account, the subsequent sum is often less than the amount that was originally collected.
We should not decry the important work carried out by various organisations to send much-needed material to Iraq. People saw the disaster on their television screens and they knew what materials were likely to be required. They collected that valuable material and the ODA should have been able to distribute it. Organisations like British Aid for the Kurds should not be written out of the record.
British Aid for the Kurds is a successor to Parcels for the Troops in the Gulf. When it organised those parcels, they were sent out very easily because the Ministry of Defence was sending planes and provisions to the area. The parcels were well packed, and they were sent off easily. The woman who organised those two groups, Lorraine Goodrich, has received her reward from Buckingham palace in connection with her work for Parcels for the British Troops in the Gulf. However, her assistance for the Kurds is written out of the record by the ODA. I hope that British Aid for the Kurds will not be written out of the record when the Foreign Affairs Committee considers these matters further.
The House will agree that few citizens have greater cause to fear their Government than do the Kurds have reason to fear and loathe Saddam Hussein. His policy towards that part of Iraq has been marked by murder, betrayal and a brutal disregard for the obligations that a Government owe to their citizens. Those essential facts explain the chaotic and distressing flight to the mountains that we witnessed earlier this year and which, following the intervention of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, led to the massive relief operation and the creation of safe havens that have been the focus of this debate.
I was in Luxembourg on 8 April when my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister launched his initiative. My hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) was right to emphasise that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, by his action and the policies that were pursued thereafter, made a decisive and imaginative contribution to the relief of suffering in that part of Iraq.
This debate was opened eloquently by my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) who is the Chairman of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs. Many of the facts and considerations that are relevant to this debate can be found in the admirably succinct report that was published two days ago. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development very much regrets not being able to be present here today. She will make a full, written report to that document later this year. For that reason, I hope that I will be forgiven if I do not deal in over-great detail with some of the specific recommendations in the Select Committee's report.
In responding to the debate, I want to reply to particular points made by right hon. and hon. Members, to explain what we have tried to do in Iraq, in particular in north Iraq, to assess the current position in that country and to give the House my view on how policy is likely to unfold.
The Select Committee's report emphasises the scale of the crisis that confronted the world in March and April of this year. On 10 April, as is stated in the report, there were more than 400,000 refugees camped in the mountains of Turkey. There were about 400,000 refugees in Iraq close to the Turkish border. There were about 1 million in northern Iran and about 70,000 in southern Iran. That was indeed a people in flight. It was a tragedy on a scale that is seldom seen. Since then, as the House is aware, the position has improved substantially—at least in north Iraq.
All the refugees on the mountains within the allied controlled zone have returned to Iraq. The mountain refugee camps are closed and the transit stations are almost deserted. The towns of Zakho and Dahuk, together with most other towns and villages, are returning to normal. To be more precise, the latest information suggests that of the original 1.8 million refugees who left Iraq for Turkey and Iran, 1 million have now returned to their homes with the rest dispersed in camps and United Nations' humanitarian centres.
The relief operations in the north-east are being led by the International Committee of the Red Cross and by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The United Nations has established humanitarian centres in Arbil and Sulaymaniyah with sub-offices reporting to it. The ICRC is presently distributing food to 750,000 refugees.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) made an important point about winter shelters. From information that I have been given, I think that sufficient winter shelters are still available in Iraq. That should be sufficient for the kind of problem that my right hon. Friend had in mind. Most certainly in view of what he said, I propose to raise the matter further with the ODA and, if necessary, it will be raised with the United Nations' authorities and agencies.
I am glad to hear about the winter shelters, but I am very concerned about the Shias in southern Iraq. The safety of the just under 1 million Shias there must be at the heart of our thinking in this debate. In particular we must be concerned about the safety of Grand Ayatollah Abul Kassem A1 Khoei, who is the leader of about 250 million Shias around the world. Will my hon. and learned Friend the Minister ensure that the Government do all they can, albeit from a distance, to ensure the safety of those people in the same way that we are caring for others?
My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the position in south Iraq. My right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford and many other hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands), also referred to that. The position in south Iraq is extremely worrying. Early reports that up to 500,000 people are sheltering in the marshes are probably wrong, but there are many people there—perhaps between 30,000 and 100,000.
We have warned the Iraqi Government that repression against those people would lead to the direst consequences. We need to know more about what is happening in south Iraq and we, therefore, greatly welcome the fact that Prince Sadruddin is leading a high-level United Nations' team to Iraq to make an in-depth study of need. That report will be of the greatest value to us. It is essential that we know more about what is happening in south Iraq. I agree with the hon. Members for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) and for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford and others that the refugee problem in Iraq is not at an end.
The Select Committee's report states that the quality of the United Kingdom's response to the crisis has been good. That conclusion was affirmed by hon. Members who have personal experience of that part of the world as a result of their visit there. The hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) made some ungenerous remarks about aid. I suggest that a little more—
Because I am not going to. If the hon. Gentleman studies paragraph 21 of the report more carefully, he may see how unfair and ungenerous his observations were.
I very much agree with the Select Committee's conclusion that the quality of the United Kingdom's response was good. I pay tribute to all those whose efforts contributed to that result, including the armed forces, the many and various non-governmental organizations, the voluntary groups and the carer teams of volunteers. They all performed vital tasks, providing security; establishing a food distribution system; building shelters and giving health care—in short, reducing suffering and saving lives. I also agree with the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale, which was echoed by Opposition Members, that the work of the Iranian authorities was prompt, full and admirable.
Britain's financial contribution was prompt and generous. We are the largest single donor to the ICRC Gulf appeal. We have contributed 14 million Swiss francs to that appeal and $16 million to the United Nations' appeal. Since last August we have contributed £81 million to relief in the area, over £61 million of which has been contributed since 4 April. All of that has been done at the same time as playing our part in providing aid to Bangladesh and to alleviating the crisis in Africa.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford made some kind remarks about the functioning of the ODA, but also said—I accept this—that the ODA was placed under considerable strain during that process. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development has authorised a review of the handling of disasters and of how we can improve the systems within the ODA. We shall focus on three issues. First, during the crisis we found that the dispatch of assessors and co-ordinators was of great value, so we shall see how we can build on that. Secondly, we need to maintain a store and inventory of basic supplies that can be rapidly dispatched. Thirdly, we need to be able to build on the contribution made by volunteers. All those areas will be the subject of the review.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford rightly referred to the United Nations. As is stated in his report, my right hon. Friend said that the crisis showed the need to improve the systems in the United Nations. We have two things in mind. The first is to appoint a senior figure who will report directly to the Secretary-General, direct all relief efforts in the United Nations and co-ordinate the efforts of agencies and Governments. My right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale, the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney and others have referred to the somewhat unco-ordinated response of agencies and Governments. That response needs to be co-ordinated. We need a register of all the relevant NGOs and agencies, together with the resources that are available to them.
I should now like to turn to the future. Operation Haven has achieved its aim of meeting the immediate humanitarian need of the refugees who were originally on the Iraqi-Turkish border; for the most part, they have returned to their homes. We have already withdrawn some forces whose task is now complete. We do not wish those forces which remain to be there longer than necessary. We have always been clear that the deployment was temporary, but it would be pointless to withdraw forces only to have them return in future. We, therefore, wish to see credible measures in place designed to prevent the repetition of the events of March. That point was emphasised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford and is the first recommendation in his Committee's report. Those measures were set out by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in the House on 25 June.
First, we wish to see an effective United Nations presence on the ground. In addition to its humanitarian personnel, the UN has now deployed 234 security guards in Iraq. The UN is confident that some 500 will be in place by the end of July. Their role is to protect UN personnel, assets and operations. They will also monitor the security situation in Iraq and report any incidents to the Secretary-General. It would then be for the Security Council to decide what action to take.
Secondly, Iraq will be clearly warned that any renewed repression will meet the severest response. The Iraqi Government should be in no doubt about our resolve to prevent a repetition of the events of March.
Thirdly, in order to give weight to those warnings, we believe that there should be a continuing deterrent military presence in the area. We are discussing with our allies exactly what form that presence might take, but we see it as a multinational force ready to respond quickly to violations.
Fourthly, we will maintain sanctions against Iraq. Iraq's behaviour over the past days has shown once again that the international community must maintain the pressure on the regime in Baghdad in order to make it comply with its international obligations and implement resolution 687.
I very much agree with the spirit of the remarks made by the hon. Member for Workington about sanctions. I entirely agree with his explanation about why we could not go further into Iraq. We gave undertakings to the public and to the House that our purpose was limited by the Security Council and that we were operating precisely within the terms of the resolution. Moreover, we could not have held the Arab members of the coalition together if we had gone beyond those repeated public commitments. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for so clearly and precisely stating those facts.
We have not taken a final decision on the withdrawal of forces, but we are working to ensure that the elements that I have outlined are largely in place before withdrawal takes place. I am grateful for the support that I have received from hon. Members tonight.
We are also following closely the talks which have been taking place between Baghdad and the Kurdish leadership. I regret that no agreement has yet been concluded, but it must be for the Kurdish leadership to decide if and when the terms reached with Baghdad are acceptable. What we have said for our part is that we are sure that the international community will be prepared to look at any agreement that is reached to see what might be done to underpin it.
I should now like to answer some of the points that have been raised. The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) referred to the supply of spare parts for electricity generation. He was good enough to mention that he had an engagement that would oblige him to leave earlier than he wished. The Iraqis have established about 25 per cent. of their capacity. Provision is made for the import of essential humanitarian supplies, which is covered by article 20 of resolution 687. If the Iraqis wish to import such parts, they can notify the sanctions committee and consideration will then be given to their request. The no-objection procedure agreed by the sanctions committee in March provides for the importation of some equipment, namely, water purification equipment, small generators suitable for hospitals and pumping stations, fuel for those small generators and spare parts for the pumping stations. Therefore, the United Nations has already put in place a range of measures that go some way towards meeting the hon. Gentleman's point.
The hon. Member for Cynon Valley, supported by the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) and the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel), raised the important question of Ministry of Defence charges, which also appears in the Select Committee's report. Charges were last reviewed in 1990, when it was agreed that they should be raised only on additional expenditure arising from deployment, for example, supplies or foreign service pay allowances. I see the attraction of their argument and we are bound to review the matter again in the light of what has been said in this debate and in the Select Committee's report.
I am not aware of that. I thought that it was prospective rather than actual. I am grateful for the correction and if I am wrong, I apologise. I shall write to the hon. Gentleman so that there is no room for error.
The right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale made an interesting point about a standing United Nations force. His remarks implied that a standing United Nations force would have powers not only to act under the authority of the permanent five but also to intervene in the internal affairs of a nation. It is an interesting concept, which is bound to be discussed from time to time, but I would be cautious about it for two reasons. First, there are substantial problems in adjusting the charter. The charter would have to be adjusted to give the Security Council the authority to act as the right hon. Gentleman suggested. Secondly, the deep-seated prejudices of permanent members of the Security Council would have to be adjusted. Those nations include China as regards Tibet, and the Soviet Union as regards the constituent republics. One cannot overlook those factors.
Let us await the Select Committee's report. I see problems arising from an adjustment to the charter which might not benefit this country.
The coalition forces achieved what they set out to achieve, namely, the relief of suffering and the creation of conditions that have encouraged most of the refugees who fled to the mountains to return to their homes in Iraq. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister played an historic part in the introduction and shaping of policies that produced the results that I have just described. Although the coalition forces do not intend to stay in northern Iraq, we shall have a substantial military presence in the region. As Saddam Hussein will know full well from what has already happened, if he fails to comply with any warnings that he may receive, he exposes his force to the risk of vigorous and prompt military action. Our determination has already been tested. Coalition forces have shown a resolution, capacity and readiness to act. As a consequence, Iraqi armies in Kuwait were totally defeated. Saddam and his generals should learn from that experience.
With the leave of the House. I thank hon. Members and my hon. and learned Friend the Minister for the way in which they have received the Committee's report and for the sensible guidance that they have given the Committee for its future work. We shall try to respond as effectively as we can. The debate has been brief but effective, and has helped to begin to reveal some of the monstrous legacies of Saddam Hussein. Those legacies will continue as long as he remains in Baghdad and continues his policy of killing and persecution.
As the House has recognised, there are millions of refugees not only in Iraq but swirling round the middle east, living in misery and fear due to the actions of Saddam Hussein. How we help those refugees and satisfy humanitarian aims, particularly in Iraq, without helping him to commit more monstrosities and evils, and how we combine the need to keep sanctions on him to bring him to heel while at the same time helping those to whom he has caused so much suffering, are dilemmas that face the House and the policy makers. We may not yet have solved them, but we seek to do so.
In the meantime, the House will be heartened by my hon. and learned Friend's firm resolve that the coalition forces will remain in place until and unless an effective UN force is developed. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) reminded us so graphically, winter lies ahead for those suffering people, and action will be needed on the aid and relief front.
I am grateful to the House for responding to the Committee's suggestion that the ODA, which has done extremely well, nevertheless needs to increase the speed and effectiveness of its high quality aid efforts. We also suggested that the role of the UN agencies needs to be rethought, and it is good to hear the proposal that a co-ordinator is now being seriously considered by Ministers here and overseas. I hope that the proposal will come into effect within the next few weeks.
The hon. Members for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) and for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) and many others mentioned the fascinating question of when, in the new post-cold-war world, we can expect the UN and its agencies to intervene. How do they override reluctant host Governments when appalling humanitarian tragedies are taking place? Today, the UN is in Iraq in a way that many people thought it would never be. Our coalition forces were also dragged in. Tomorrow, it may be the Balkans—who knows? Those matters are for future debates and deliberations in Committee, and I am grateful to the House for paying attention to our report.
The debate was concluded, and the Question necessary to dispose of the proceedings was deferred, pursuant to paragraph (4) of Standing Order No. 52 (Consideration of Estimates).