Iraqi Refugees

Part of Constitutional Reform – in the House of Commons at 5:45 pm on 3rd July 1991.

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Photo of Mr David Steel Mr David Steel , Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale 5:45 pm, 3rd July 1991

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.