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

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.