Iraqi Refugees

Part of Constitutional Reform – in the House of Commons at 7:11 pm on 3rd July 1991.

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Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) 7:11 pm, 3rd July 1991

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.