Long ago, in the mists of parliamentary time—to be precise, on a Friday in 1962 —I was given advice by James Chuter-Ede, then aged 80— he of the 1944 Butler-Ede Education Act and, indeed, Mr. Attlee's Home Secretary. "Laddie," he said—he called any hon. Member under the age of 50 "laddie", for he was a figure in a black coat and wing collar and he was a very wise man—"if you want to put an unpopular case before the House, do it on a Friday."
Today I wish to deploy an argument which, I confess readily to the Minister, is as unacceptable to the Opposition Front Bench as it is to the Government: that British manufacturing industry is being greatly disadvantaged by the imposition of United Nations sanctions against two of our best traditional markets, Iraq and Libya.
I had better be candid with the House. If a person has been to a country where a visit might be considered to be controversial, he is wise to make clear to his colleagues the basis upon which he went. I personally paid the £375 air fare to Oman and the £300 that I gave for his organisation, Friendship Across Frontiers, to Riad-El-Taher, a British national of Iraqi origin from Basra who lives in Esher. The £300 covered the 15-hour journey across the desert from Amman to Baghdad and various other things that were necessary during eight days in Iraq.
The Minister ought to be careful before rebuking me for going. The former Conservative Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir. E. Heath), to whom I reported in some detail, said that he fully approved of my having gone. The Foreign Secretary, who was kind enough to give me half an hour alone in his room, although he asked me a number of searching questions, as one might expect, and legitimately so, said, "Look, I am not criticising you for going." The Foreign Secretary personally made that quite clear. I thank the Leader of the House for declining to denounce me. On 24 May, I received a letter from the Prime Minister:
I understand you rang Alex Allen asking if you and George Galloway could see me following your visit to Iraq. I should have been very interested to hear what you had to say but I am afraid my diary for the next few days is already over-committed. I know you are meeting Douglas Hurd later in the week and I will ask him to let me
know what you tell him. If, having seen him, you still think a meeting with me would be useful I would be happy to try and fit one in, I would have thought later on.
I am not threatening the Minister because I would not do such a thing, but, depending on what he says in reply to the debate and on any letter that he might write, I shall have to decide whether to accept the kind offer of the Prime Minister.
I did not let any of my colleagues, even my own Chief Whip, know that I was going because the trip would then have been about the British prisoners, which was not the object of the visit. I reported fully for four and a half hours in a debriefing at the excellent embassy in Amman. A great deal of information is available to the Department of Trade and Industry and the Foreign Office.
I say that British industry is disadvantaged because in the Al-Rashid hotel one could hardly get a meal early in the morning without tripping over representatives of Elf Aquitaine, Total, Japanese companies and many other business people wishing to re-establish relations with Iraq. I am sad that our manufacturing industry is likely to be disadvantaged not only now but in the future when the manufacturing industries and representatives of other countries supposedly party to sanctions are taking a very different view.
The French said that they are preparing plans simply for when sanctions are lifted. I hear that Paris is already pouring money into the development of the Majnoom field. It is open to question whether, technically, that is sanctions busting, but my first request is that the Department of Trade and Industry asks its representatives in Amman for their assessment of what other people are doing in relation to sanctions.
What do sanctions achieve? It is not part of this debate, although I would argue it elsewhere, but they are strengthening the position of Saddam Hussein. Sanctions are having the reverse effect from what was intended, apart from being immoral in relation to Iraqi children, the vulnerable and the elderly. Secondly, they are damaging British manufacturing industry. Before 1990, Iraq was one of the United Kingdom's biggest and best markets, partly because many of the Iraqis who were in a position to order were graduates of our universities.
At one point, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway) looked around a room containing some 16 people and said, "It is quite clear that I am the only person in this room who is not a graduate of a British university." Our host was a photochemist trained at the University of East Anglia. Graduates came from Manchester university, the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, Leeds, Strathclyde, Bath, Newcastle, Southampton and the London school of oriental studies.
I travelled back from the Shi'ite shrines at Karbala with someone who had been taught at the UMIST of Vivian Bowden and Colin Adamson, professor of electronics, and himself an electronic engineer. He said: "It is all so sad. You have invested as a country more than anybody else in Iraqi graduates. You are not getting the benefit of your investment."
Sanctions have hitherto been all pervasive. For example, there is no carbon for passport forms. There is no lead for pencils, which are not allowed to be imported. If anybody thinks that one went on a jolly, I can say only that in sweltering Basra and Baghad one did not swim simply because there was no chlorine. Chlorine is forbidden as an import.
In pursuing sanctions, it seems that we are going for the windpipe of a society, but, in spite of events, some graduates are still full of potential good will. They point out that they would like to do Britain a favour because Iraqis speak English but not German or Japanese. They have received a training and want to order items that are familiar. Soon the situation will become so bitter that the process will be irreversible.
Let me put it this way; what is a 10 to 15-year-old who sees his brother or sister dying for want of pharmacological products readily available from traditional manufacturers in Britain to think for the rest of his life? I do not want to be maudlin, but I visited two hospitals in which I saw babies expiring for want of medicines that could have been imported. I was shattered. I know that it is said that sanctions allow the importation of medicines, but I found the Foreign Secretary genuinely bewildered about that point.
My certainty is that there is a heck of a shortage of medicines, and large number of babies are dying. I saw it with my own eyes, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Hillhead and the one journalist whom we took with us, Tim Llewellyn who, for nearly a quarter of a century, has been the veteran, hard-boiled middle east correspondent for the BBC. In such a situation, one would not be thinking about resolutions 706 or 712 or any other United Nations resolution if one were an Iraqi; one would have developed a gut resentment.
Anyone who believes that the regime of Saddam Hussein will be toppled by such a policy had better think again. People who were not Baathists but who were part of the biggest and most sophisticated middle class in the middle east are horrified at the propect of the breakdown of law and order which Saddam Hussein and his regime represent. They ask why the situation is allowed to continue. After all, by the winter of 1945 the Marshall plan was under way in Germany and yet we are putting the Iraquis through this.
I wish to raise specific issues. I hope that the Minister will ask into his office Peter Mayne, who, I understand, is the head of the sanctions unit in his Department. I want him to ask about a number of specific items. The first relates to sanctions and agriculture. The disruption caused by the embargo includes the lack of fertilisers, the inability to apply pesticides by aerial spraying, the lack of replacement parts for irrigation, harvesting and processing equipment, the displacement of populations, including migrant workers. The war caused damage to power stations, the disruption of transportation and a reduction in the crops harvest to an estimated 25 to 30 per cent. of the previous year.
An additional problem has been caused by damage to irrigation equipment. Although the extensive rivers system provides an abundant water source for irrigation, the soil salinity is high in the south, requiring proper irrigation and soil drainage practices which are essential to the maintenance of soil facility. Fluctuations in electricity supplies caused by wartime damage to power plants and a lack of spare parts have destroyed many electrically driven irrigation pumps in southern Iraq. While travelling on the road from Kut to Basra, my hon. Friend for Hillhead and I saw that with our own eyes.
Iraq's animal production sector has also been seriously affected by economic sanctions. Veterinary services have been paralysed due to the lack of medicine, laboratory materials and vaccines. Outbreaks of vaccine-preventable rinderpest have plagued herds. We saw some of that. My first question concerns sanctions in agriculture. Will the Department of Trade and Industry have a discussion with Peter Mayne and his colleagues about the effect of those sanctions and whether that effect is part of the purpose of UN policies?
My second question concerns sanctions on arms. The Iraqis put it this way: "The west is in the position of a drug pusher. Do you suggest that you now think that we should have refused to buy the arms that you were so enthusiastically trying to sell us?" The truth is that we, the Americans, the Chileans, the French and the Germans sold Saddam Hussein the wherewithal for mass destruction and then blamed the Iraqis for buying the arms.
I have spent a morning at the Scott inquiry. Undoubtedly, Sir Richard Scott and his colleagues will come to some conclusions. Many of us knew perfectly well that the arms sales were taking place. We acquiesced because we did not want the Iraqis to be defeated by the mullahs, by Ayatollah Khomeini and by militant Iran. The whole circumstances of the beginning of the conflict were complicated.
As Tariq Aziz put it to us in an interview that was supposed to last for half an hour, but which went on at his request for one hour and 50 minutes, "You dined us and we dined you, and then you could not talk to us properly." I am not suggesting, for heaven's sake, that we sell the Iraqis arms. However, the arms issue should not exclude other considerations.
My third question concerns the operation of sanctions and health. I need not repeat the questions in relation to Glaxo about which I want the Minister to talk to his advisers. However, I ask specifically about insulin. I was told by one of my hosts that his 10-year-old daughter had diabetes. He spends his time not in the Iraqi Foreign Office, but scraping around trying to find insulin. At 600 dinars an injection, the cost is crippling. The Iraqis do not have scanners, and syringes have to be used two or three times. As one who comes from the Edinburgh area, I know that if one uses syringes more than once or twice, one expects AIDs to spread, for God's sake. AIDs is now developing in the river valleys—it is a very taboo subject in the Arab world—in a way that never happened before. Disease knows no frontiers. Malaria, which had been eradicated, has been re-established. Paratyphoid is back, kwashiorkor is up 29 times and marasmus is up 24 times. One could go on and on with the statistics produced by the Canadian doctor Eric Hoskins and others.
The sanctions committee, in which the lead Department is the DTI, must consider whether it should really ban radio isotopes for diagnostic equipment, whether it should ban ammonium nitrate and nitrous oxide, which are used in caesarian operations, and whether it should ban anaesthetics. If we do so, we create a major health problem. Almost 100,000 children more than the expected number have died since the beginning of the Gulf war. The post-war death rate is estimated at triple the pre-war rate. Many of the child deaths were due to diarrhoeal disease caused by contaminated water supplies. There has been a resurgence of vaccine-preventable diseases, including polio, diphtheria and measles. Water and sanitation services are absolutely critical. War damage and breakdowns go largely unrepaired because of a lack of vital spare parts and of technological input. The Minister ought to ask the sanctions committee about spare parts, hundreds of millions of dollars-worth of which are required to restore water quality and quantity to their pre-war levels. Sewage is dumped untreated into all major rivers—the source of drinking water. Seeing the pollution of those two great rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates, one can only say, "My God!" We saw towns flooded with raw sewage, increasing health hazards. Environmental damage is severe. I had a briefing from the wife of the director of Kew, but I hardly dared ask about environmental damage for fear that I would get the answer, "You are concerned about birds and animals. What about human beings?" It became so embarrassing that I did not pursue the matter.
The sanctions committee must consider that matter and —for all the United Nations resolutions the fact that on 20 November 1989 the United Nations general assembly adopted the convention on the rights of the child, article 38 of which states:
In accordance with their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect the civilian population in armed conflicts, States Parties shall take all feasible measures to ensure the protection and care of children who are affected by an armed conflict.
My friend Tim Llewellyn and I talked at length to representatives of the United Nations Childrens Fund, who told us, "We have combative inoculations throughout the world, yet in Iraq, we are encouraging the conditions that create cholera. There are now no inoculations against rabies." Is that really the intention of the United Nations body? I cannot believe that it is.
I come to the question of sanctions and the meat-processing industries. A lot of people who could be called relatively well off—let alone poorer people—have not had meat for three months. The Abu Ghurib milk factory was destroyed and that has had an effect on nursing mothers.
We are creating a generation who will grow up absolutely hating the west. Quite apart from anything else, Iraq has the second largest—and, in future, arguably the largest—oil reserves in the world. To put the matter at its basest—frankly I care more at the moment about the humanitarian issues—we must ask ourselves how our behaviour will help British industry in future.
It would be improper to deploy the political case against sanctions, except by saying—the Foreign Secretary listened carefully and said that he would consider my point —that, if the reason for sanctions is the so-called suppression of the marsh Arabs, the Government should perhaps think again. My hon. Friend the Member for Hillhead and I visited both villages to which we were taken and villages where we were completely unexpected, to which we insisted on going and I can say that I do not believe that such suppression is taking place. I cannot talk about the Kurds, although the Iraqi Foreign Minister said, "There is a Kurdish problem in the north." The impressive Health Minister, Dr. Mubarrak, is himself a Kurdish doctor and, when we were asked to address the Iraqi Parliament we met quite a number of authentic Kurdish representatives. What I am saying is that the whole basis for sanctions is open to considerable question.
What of sanctions and pollution? One sees black smoke belching from the refineries that have been put back together, but there are no separation chemicals for the separation of gas and oil that is necessary. Pollution is leading to a dramatic increase in the abortion rate and in the number of malformed foetuses. In particular, I ask the Minister to relent on the question of the export of nylon thread, which is one of the materials that are really necessary if some kind of anti-pollution measures are to be implemented.
We must also consider the question of sanctions and power cuts. Sanctions have played a direct role in perpetuating low coverage rates and hence in encouraging outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases. Freezers, generators and other cold chain equipment damaged or destroyed during the Gulf crisis have, in many cases, still not been replaced or repaired due to restrictions on the import of supplies and equipment.
The ban on commercial air traffic has made the safe and timely delivery of vaccines difficult. Most vaccines and vaccination supplies are brought by truck along the 1,000 km Amman-Baghdad road which potentially affects their shelf life and potency. As I have twice covered that road there and back, I can easily imagine how exceedingly difficult that all is.
Recent vaccination campaigns have reduced the risks of full-scale epidemics, but the expanded programme of immunisation has been weakened due to the war and sanctions and will require considerable material input before it can regain its pre-war status and capacity.
Let me be clear about this. I am not asking for British taxpayers' money. I am asking for a decision to unfreeze assets that are here. Considerable Iraqi-owned assets could be unfrozen. This is not Somalia or one of the many countries in which there are parlous situations and where there is no money. There is money to be had in respect of Iraq. It is a matter of governmental decisions on the unfreezing of assets. It is not a matter of simply trying to ask for more and more from the overseas aid fund.
We must also consider the issue of sanctions and tyres. One sees bald tyres throughout the area and they make transport dangerous. Above all, there is a need for water purification equipment. Chlorine, pumps, motors, control panels, chlorinators, steel collars and pipes, laboratory equipment and various kinds of chemical agents are required.
British industry would be more than willing to supply those items. It has been more than willing to supply some of the learned journals of which Iraqi doctors say that they are starved. It is very difficult for people who have been brought up with sophisticated equipment to find, once they are deprived of that sophisticated equipment, that they must diagnose in an old-fashioned way which they are not used to.
It may be said that all those problems could be solved if Iraq were to accede to certain United Nations terms. Bluntly, having been to the country, I know that no Iraqi Government of any kind, let alone the present regime, could accede to United Nations terms which give the total priority to recompensing Kuwait. As the Iraqis put it, "What is the choice? Dying Iraqi children or fat Kuwaitis?"
Iraq is an ingenious country. The Iraqis repaired the faxes and telexes in southern Iraq and Basra quicker than the Americans did for the Kuwaitis. Perhaps the west does not like the idea of Iraq being a modern nation. Iraq was a modern nation in 1990. If we believe that we will be able to resolve the situation by bypassing the Iraqi Establishment, we must think again.
In respect of Iraq, I conclude with a simple thought. The supply and marketing of much of the world's oil in 20 years' time will be run by the children of those who are suffering as a result of the sanctions now. It is felt more and more that sanctions are being oriented, as the Iraqis put it, "to kill our children." I have a constructive suggestion, and it is the one that was foremost in a two-hour meeting—again, scheduled for half an hour—with the very able Iraqi Foreign Minister. Please do not think for a moment that those who serve Saddam Hussein are thugs or men of little ability. On every occasion, the people whom we met were impressive. That is not only my judgment, it is the judgment of Tim Llewellyn and of Riad El Taher. Indeed, it is the judgment of my hon. Friend the Member for Hillhead.
The Iraqi Foreign Minister asked us to sit down at a diplomatic and trade level and go through point by point ways in which sanctions at least could be alleviated. It would greatly be to the long-term advantage of British industry if that were done.
The hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South-West (Mr. Madel) mentioned Libya. For time reasons, I shall not pursue the point, other than to say that the Libyans believe that more than 800 of their citizens have died because of a United Nations air embargo which was imposed because of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing. It has not been possible, they argue, to send abroad 5,445 critically ill patients—that is, cardiac patients, kidney transplant patients, and patients requiring brain surgery—who would formerly have been transported by air ambulance.
Not only are there the arguments in relation to the motor industry, which were mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, but I will take lessons from nobody on the horror of Lockerbie. I went there. It was cleared up by police from my area. It was the biggest crime against civilians in the western world since 1945. However, the idea that those two accused Libyans sat down in a cafe and said, "What shall we do? Shall we commit that awful crime just by ourselves?" is absolutely preposterous. As Kate Adie put it to me—she had met them—they were footmen. The truth is that that crime was dreamed, up in Tehran, in vengeance for the shooting down of the Iranian airliner by the USS Vincennes. Much of the matter was executed where they had the celebratory party in Damascus, and it looks like scapegoating the Libyans—taking it out on them.
The Government should talk to Dick Morris, the former chairman of Nirex, who is particularly involved in Brown and Root, and other engineering concerns that were doing some business with Libya. British industry would do a great deal more if there were a re-look at the political situation, and this is the time to do it.
For time reasons, I will leave it at that, but I make one plea: look at the sanctions unit and its work in depth in relation to Iraq and reconsider the Libyan situation.