I beg to move,
That this House
observes the dire humanitarian situation in Iraq resulting from Saddam Hussein's misrule and Iraqi obstruction of humanitarian agencies;
notes that more than ten per cent. of all Iraqi children die before their fifth birthday, and that a quarter of children under five are chronically malnourished;
further notes the high dependency of Iraqis on Oil for Food programmes;
deplores the continued Iraqi disruption of the Oil for Food programme;
recognises the serious threat posed by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction;
understands that military action may follow Iraq's continued violation of its international obligation to disarm and destroy those weapons of mass destruction, contrary to UN Resolution 1441;
urges the Secretary of State for International Development to work with the international community urgently to draw up a comprehensive humanitarian strategy for assisting the people of Iraq in the event of war;
further urges Her Majesty's Government to ensure that there is close co-operation between the military campaign and the aid effort;
and calls on the Secretary of State for International Development to keep Parliament fully informed of the humanitarian situation in Iraq.
May I begin by drawing the attention of the House to a point that has been made to me by several colleagues? It is extremely difficult at this time of day to attend both the Chamber and Standing Committees whose meetings start at 2.30 pm. Members may not be in the Chamber not because of lack of interest in the subject of our debate, but because they have to be at a Standing Committee meeting in a quarter of an hour's time.
One of the most serious decisions a Prime Minister will ever have to make is whether to send our troops to war. The announcement last week that we are sending a quarter of our Army to the Gulf, while not making war inevitable, brings it a step closer. Furthermore, Hans Blix's statement to the Security Council this week provides clear evidence of Iraqi non-compliance, which, if it persists, will be met with military force.
It is understandable that many people are cautious in their support for action against Iraq. Humanitarian aid organisations are warning of the catastrophic impact that war is likely to have on the Iraqi people. The Conservative party is responding to those warnings by initiating this debate: it is the responsible thing to do.
So far, there has been a worrying silence from the Government on the humanitarian aspects of war against Iraq. It is worth pointing out that we have had no statement from the Secretary of State for International Development on the humanitarian preparations that her Department is making, despite having heard several statements from the Secretary of State for Defence on the military build-up that is taking place, and numerous statements from the Foreign Secretary on the diplomatic steps that he is taking.
The written answers that hon. Members have received have been oblique and, I must say, generally uninformative. Hon. Members may contrast that silence on the humanitarian effort with the debates held in Parliament after
When Parliament was recalled, the Prime Minister said:
"the humanitarian coalition to help the people of Afghanistan is as vital as the military action itself."—[Hansard, 4 October 2001; Vol. 372, c. 673.]
During his speech to the Labour party conference, the Prime Minister promised that
"more than ever now, with every bit as much thought and planning, we will assemble a humanitarian coalition alongside the military coalition."
During the Afghan campaign, the House debated not debate only the military but the humanitarian strategy. We debated the effectiveness of the international aid effort and how it might be made more effective. We were able to reassure our constituents that we were taking the humanitarian effort seriously and we were able to reassure ordinary Afghans that our conflict was not with them.
I hope that today's debate will help to bring some balance to our understanding of the situation in Iraq.
My hon. Friend is right to mention Afghanistan. Looking a little further back in time, does she recall that during the Kosovo conflict there was substantial emphasis on the Government putting in place a clear humanitarian strategy?
My hon. Friend is right. So far, our preparations for war in Iraq have been in marked contrast to the preparations for both those wars.
If the wider war on terrorism is to succeed, it is crucial that we do not forfeit vital international support by pursuing a war against Saddam Hussein without a comprehensive humanitarian strategy for helping the innocent Iraqi people.
Our main concern today is the sustainability of the aid programmes on which the Iraqis depend in the event of a war against Saddam Hussein's regime. When war could be just six weeks away, it is vital that the international community builds a comprehensive strategy for delivering humanitarian aid to the people of Iraq. We seek reassurance from the Secretary of State that there are comprehensive humanitarian contingency plans. Some of the statements that we have heard in recent weeks do not give us confidence that that is the case.
Let us consider refugees. After the Gulf war, 1.8 million Iraqi refugees went on the move. That is 18 times the number of refugees who fled Afghanistan. On Tuesday, however, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees admitted to BBC News Online that its preparations were in the initial stages and,
"in terms of scope they are not really on a large scale".
Is that really acceptable when war might be a matter of weeks away?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing an important debate on a subject that needs a public airing—a debate that I hope will encourage Ministers to take more action. She is not ungenerous by nature, but could she help the House by telling us why she thinks the Government have been so laggardly in promoting this other aspect of the fight against terrorism?
I am afraid I cannot see into the minds of those on the Government Front Bench. My hon. Friend enables me to observe that although their hearts may well be in the right place in the sense that they want to help the Iraqi people, their seeming obduracy and unwillingness to debate humanitarian strategy could have an adverse morality—working against the very people whom we are all trying to spare unnecessary pain.
No, I wish to continue on the subject of refugees.
After 20 years of civil war in Afghanistan, there are still 2 million Afghan refugees in Iran, which already finds that a difficult burden to bear. Given that almost 1 million Iraqis crossed to Iran during the Gulf war, what support is Iran being provided to prepare for an exodus of refugees? Will Iran be in a position to cope when 900,000 refugees start to head for its border in two months' time? Surely now is the time to prepare for such a large-scale movement of people, not when they are on the move and it is already too late.
This is not a debate for political point scoring; it is on a very serious subject. If the hon. Lady listens to the rest of my speech she will hear our policy. As she knows, we operate under the Geneva convention, by which we have a legal duty to provide a safe haven for genuine refugees. She knows that to be our position.
As the Secretary of State made clear in her statements to the media—
I wish to proceed on the subject of refugees.
Iraq is already a desperately poor country and life under Saddam Hussein is appallingly bleak. The country's infrastructure remains damaged after the Iran-Iraq war and the Gulf war. According to the United Nations there are already about 1 million internally displaced people. More than 10 per cent. of all children die before their fifth birthday and a quarter of children are chronically malnourished. Children aged under 14 now comprise almost half of the Iraqi population. The sanitation system has all but collapsed and 60 per cent. of Iraqis—16 million people—depend on monthly food rations. Most Iraqis are now dependent on international aid programmes, a large part of which are funded under the auspices of the United Nations oil-for-food programme. Under Saddam Hussein, the effectiveness of that programme has already been severely disrupted. There is a real possibility, however, that that vital channel for the delivery of aid will be cut off altogether if there is a war. I hope that the Secretary of State will be able to tell the House what alternative measures are being prepared to replace the programme if it is suspended for several months.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the oil-for-food programme does enormously more than just provide food? The consequences of losing that programme will be devastating in terms not only of food but of medicines, transport, telecommunications, infrastructure and water supply. It will affect the lot.
My hon. Friend is right. The programme extends to the infrastructure requirements of the country and I shall deal with that matter.
Will the Secretary of State shed light on why more than $4 billion in oil revenues remain unspent in United Nations accounts when that has been allocated to humanitarian programmes in Iraq? Will the right hon. Lady investigate whether it would be possible to secure that money to fund vital humanitarian programmes in Iraq in the event of war? It seems absurd that Iraqis are living in appalling poverty and misery while $4 billion lies unspent in UN accounts. Those are the profits from the sale of Iraqi oil and they must now be used to help the Iraqi people.
I am. Is the hon. Lady aware that a nine-year-old Kurdish girl who fled persecution in Iraq a year ago has been successful in winning the prestigious Bridgeton Burns club award from Sighthill primary school in that area of Glasgow, which is an inspirational example of what can be achieved if asylum seekers' children are educated in local schools? The question is a serious one. What purpose would it serve for a similar child escaping persecution in Iraq or elsewhere to be locked up in a detention centre?
I am sure that I may extend my congratulations to that Iraqi girl through the hon. Gentleman, who I sincerely hope will pass on that message from all of us. He is aware, I am sure, that there is probably not one Member of Parliament who has not had to deal in his or her surgery with the case of an Iraqi asylum seeker. They are the largest group of asylum seekers in this country. I reiterate that we firmly believe that we need to be in a position to offer a safe haven to genuine refugees.
My hon. Friend Mr. Key recently asked the Secretary of State how much her Department would provide towards the UN appeal for basic readiness funding in the light of a possible war in Iraq. Her answer was that she was
"not making funding available at this stage."—[Hansard, 20 January 2003; Vol. 398, c. 26W.]
She may not be doing so at this stage, but surely officials from her Department are making some calculations as to how much it is going to cost. Can the right hon. Lady tell us today how much her Department expects to contribute to this crisis and what impact she expects the war in Iraq to have on other programmes that the Department funds in other parts of the world?
I am sure that the right hon. Lady shares my concern that a war in Iraq will disrupt the valuable work of her Department in Africa, Asia and other parts of the middle east. I hope, therefore, that she will actively encourage her counterparts in other countries, in particular European Union countries, to pay their fair share.
Resolution 1441 won unanimous support from the UN. I see nothing wrong in saying that those countries that choose not to make a military contribution to this important stage of the war against terrorism should be willing to make a more significant contribution to the aid effort. After the events of
In November last year, I held a forum in Westminster, attended by 17 aid agencies that operate in Iraq or on its borders. The forum was addressed by Larry Hollingworth, a UN emergency co-ordinator with considerable experience of working in conflict situations. Together, we identified the key elements of a comprehensive humanitarian response to a war in Iraq. I sent the Secretary of State a list of our conclusions, and a few weeks later received a meagre four and a half line reply, thanking me for my thoughts. That was hardly the reassurance that I sought from the Secretary of State.
One of the primary conclusions that we reached in the forum concerned the absolute necessity of good co-ordination within the UN and between the UN and the non-governmental organisations. We also recognised the overwhelming importance of good co-ordination between the military campaign and the aid effort. Strong civil-military liaison is vital to an effective aid effort. However, on Friday, the Financial Times reported that a humanitarian operations centre, which was supposed to have opened in Kuwait on
The Secretary of State was quite willing to attack poor levels of co-ordination during the Afghan campaign. In November 2001, she told the Select Committee on International Development, with her typical candour, that the US military was not taking the aid effort seriously. She said:
"The civil-military liaison is not working particularly well. The communications are there, but they are not being taken seriously enough at a high level".
When my predecessor, my hon. Friend Mr. Streeter, asked the Secretary of State for Defence on Monday what discussions about humanitarian work in Iraq he was having with the Secretary of State for International Development, he refused to answer the question and said:
"I do not want to go into the details of . . . planning of the kind he mentions, because that implies the inevitability of military action."—[Hansard, 27 January 2003; Vol. 398, c. 558.]
That is not a satisfactory response. Military action should be our last resort, but that should not stop us from planning ahead for all eventualities. Is the Secretary of State for International Development now able to say what practical measures have been introduced to bring about greater co-ordination of the military and humanitarian forces than was the case during the war in Afghanistan?
Last October, Ali Hasmati, a UN information officer in Baghdad told the French Press Agency that the UN was making no preparation for how it would continue to deliver aid in the event of conflict. He said:
"We don't have anything materialised so far because we have no indications that any of what you said"
"is going to happen and we still hope that things will be solved diplomatically and politically".
In a similar vein, in a written answer on
It is surely not acceptable for the Department for International Development to adopt an ostrich stance, sticking its head in the sand and hoping that war will never happen. There are leaked UN reports of UN contingency planning, but at the end of last month still no funds had been made available for even the basic preparations to begin. The Foreign Secretary admitted this week that war is now likely—something confirmed by President Bush's "state of the union" address.
The Gulf war caught the international community unprepared: we should learn from our mistakes. The Government need to be actively preparing a comprehensive military strategy to assist the people of Iraq in the event of conflict. We could be at war within two months, so there should be some well-advanced plans firmly in place by now. Food and vaccines should be stockpiled on the borders. Alternatives to the oil-for-food programme should have been found, and strong co-ordination between the military campaign and the humanitarian effort should have been firmly established. The Secretary of State should at least have an estimate of the commitment that her Department may make to a possible emergency and the impact that it will have on the rest of her Department's work.
Above all, there is the moral imperative to help the Iraqi people. We are a rich nation and so is the US. We have chosen to stand shoulder to shoulder with the US in our own national interest, but we should not eschew the responsibility of reaching out to the innocents who may be caught up in the consequences of our actions. My cherished hope is that war can be avoided, but my conscience will not be clear until I am satisfied that the Government have proper plans for humanitarian relief.
I am grateful to the Opposition for providing the opportunity to hold a debated focused on the humanitarian situation in Iraq and the risks to the Iraqi people of any possible military conflict. I hope that, with the permission of the House, I can also respond to the debate, as my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary is attending her mother-in-law's funeral. I hope that my request will be acceptable to the House.
I have to tell Mrs. Spelman that this debate is enormously important and it is overdue, but the sort of petty point-scoring way in which she spoke is regrettable. [Hon. Members: "Oh, come on."] No, I am being very serious. I would have liked an opportunity to discuss these matters on the Floor of the House before. The usual channels did not provide that opportunity. I wonder whether she is aware of what the usual channels on her side are saying about her declining opportunities to say anything on the Floor of the House. She might want to look into those matters.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is not often that an Opposition Chief Whip rises on a point of order, but I do not understand the right hon. Lady's allusion. I should be grateful to her if she would explain exactly what she meant by referring to the usual channels and the allegation that she has made; or if she would care to put the matter in writing, I would love to consider it carefully.
If the right hon. Gentleman does not understand it, he would not expect the occupant of the Chair to have any clearer view of the matter, and it should be pursued outside the scope of this debate.
May I remind the right hon. Lady that she has used the second person, and I certainly have had nothing to do with those matters?
I will be more than happy to remind the right hon. Gentleman of some of the proposals that have emanated from somewhere or other about reducing the time that might be spent—
No, I will not; I need to proceed, if I may.
It was proposed in the normal way that we should seek to amend the Opposition motion, but, having looked at the motion, there was no case for amending it. I decided that those matters are too important for petty party-political point scoring and that we should proceed without tabling an amendment.
The Liberal Democrat amendment has not been selected, but, equally, I completely accept its spirit—that we should consider in any military preparations that are made the need to look after the interests of the people of Iraq and minimise any harm to them—if not the more political point about landmines and cluster bombs. I do not say that I am in favour of those things, but perhaps that point was put in a slightly different spirit. My view and the Government's view is that Saddam Hussein is a terrible tyrant dedicated to developing and possessing chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. I know that many members of the public doubt that, and say that the weapons inspectors must provide evidence. Any scrutiny of the record from the Gulf war onwards in relation to requests by the Security Council for Iraq to disarm, with the prospect of the lifting of sanctions against Iraq, must lead to the conclusion that the regime is dedicated to owning those weapons. Otherwise, sanctions would have been removed a long time ago, there would be much less suffering for the people of Iraq, and that country's natural wealth and oil would have been used to restore the prosperity of Iraq, which is naturally wealthy and oil-rich.
I accept much of what the Secretary of State has just said. Is it not important that, for example, the nuclear inspections that have taken place—I know that she has read the relevant documents—have provided some clarification? Have not some of the fears expressed only a few weeks ago by the White House about the imminence of Iraq's nuclear programme been confounded by the inspectors' examination thus far?
I shall refer in a few minutes to Dr. Blix's report to the Security Council. His report is a worry, however, and he has said that he has had co-operation on process not substance. He reported to the Security Council some worrying lack of co-operation and worrying evidence. On the other hand, the previous inspection regime dismantled many armaments, including nuclear armaments. If we could only return to that position, we might have an outcome from this crisis without a war that would cause great suffering to the people of Iraq. I am not sure whether I have fully answered the hon. Gentleman's point.
On the specifics, the right hon. Lady will remember that only a few weeks ago we were told that piping that had been identified in Iraq was certainly part of a process of building up a nuclear capability. It is clear from the nuclear aspect of the inspectors' report thus far, however, that that is unlikely to be the case. That indicates why it is important that people are given the time and space to examine things properly and that we do not rush into conflict.
I agree very much with the hon. Gentleman that the inspectors must be given the proper time. I recommend that everyone read Dr. Blix's statement to the Security Council, which is short and very factual, in which he says that there are very serious problems on his side of the search for chemical and biological weapons. None of us can therefore be sanguine about the intentions of the regime to co-operate with the inspectors, although we should all wish to bring about that objective. I am clear, and all sane people should be clear, that there should be no rush to war. We must be invincibly committed to backing up the authority of the United Nations this time, not backing off. Saddam Hussein's regime must know that the world will remain united behind the authority of the United Nations, that he will be forced by one means or another to dismantle his weapons of mass destruction and that, if necessary, the world will be willing to use military force to back up the authority of the United Nations. That is the right place for the world to be, and that is where public opinion is in this country.
The Secretary of State will be aware that approximately half of the Iraqi population is under 14 years of age. Does she accept that if we go to war, the damage and devastation that will be inflicted on those children will be far greater than any damage that may be inflicted on the grass at Hyde park if those who wish to protest against the war and avert a humanitarian disaster are allowed to do so on
I agree with my hon. Friend that we must do everything that we can to make sure that children and people in Iraq do not suffer from any possible military action if such action is necessary to enforce the authority of the UN. We must be willing to contemplate military action to enforce the authority of the UN.
On the question of the demonstration, I know nothing apart from what I have read in the press about access to Hyde park. I welcome the fact that so many people in Britain are troubled by the prospects of war. I am glad that I live in a country that is troubled by the prospects of war and does not relish the prospects of war, and that people are willing to make their views felt. I hope that some accommodation can be found in relation to the problems of Hyde park. I cannot give my hon. Friend any assurances, however, as I know only what has been in the press.
As I said, I have read what is in the press, and I have heard someone responsible for the royal parks say that there is a danger of having a demonstration in that park. I certainly believe that the demonstration must be allowed to go ahead and that people must be allowed to rally and make speeches. That is important in a democracy. I cannot with any expertise tell my hon. Friend about the ruling on the park. I hope that he will not press me on that, as I have no knowledge with which to inform him. As is clear, both sides of the House feel strongly that people in our country must have a right to express their views on these matters. My view—which, again, is the view of the Government—is that if we can keep the world united around the invincible authority of the United Nations, and if we can move forward on progress towards the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside a secure and safe Israel, the world will be in a much better shape to deal with this crisis. The threat of bitter division that is ripping across the world and is a great danger would thereby be minimised. The ideal way to proceed is to back up the authority of the UN and make progress on Israel and Palestine. I note that President Bush in his state of the union address said:
"We will continue to seek peace between a secure Israel and a democratic Palestine".
I do not know about "continue", but I hope that we can take those ideas forward. Now that the elections have taken place in Israel, I hope that the quartet can publish their own map and move forward rapidly to making plans for final status for a Palestinian state. If we can do that, we can handle this crisis in a much safer world with much greater unity across the world.
The right hon. Lady will be aware that we have rightly provided refuge in this country during the difficult times in Iraq in recent years for many younger people in particular who have left that country. Naturally, if Iraq moves into a better future, they will be an extremely important part of putting the country back together again and giving it a prosperous and successful future. Mr. Salmond alluded to one example of that. Will she provide support within the humanitarian process for those people who are currently taking refuge in this country to return to a post-Saddam Iraq and play an active role in rebuilding that country?
I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman's point. I, like many other Members, have large numbers of Iraqi refugees—largely Kurdish but not exclusively so—in Ladywood who come to see me at my advice bureau. Most of them are highly educated and would be a great asset to a rebuilt Iraq. Our arrangements for asylum seekers need to be flexible to take in people who are facing persecution, and to assist those people to return to their countries, if their countries are liberated, to help rebuild them, as we have been doing in relation to Afghanistan. It is not a lead issue for my Department, but I agree with the hon. Gentleman, and we have tried to do that with regard to Kosovo and Afghanistan. Let us hope that, before long, we will have a free and democratic Afghanistan and that some of those refugees seeking asylum in our country will be able to return home to a free country.
As I was saying, the fallout from the sense of double standards about the world's urgency in dealing with the problem with Iraq, and lack of urgency in dealing with the problem of Israel and Palestine, is a great danger to the future of the world. It is causing enormous tension, hostility and anger throughout this country, but, even more so, throughout the Muslim and Arab world. I believe that the view of the old and the new Europe is that we should do all in our power to move forward on that issue, and that the world would be in much better shape if we were able to do so.
While I welcome the concern among the people of our country that there should not be a war that inflicts great suffering on the already long-suffering people of Iraq, it is our duty to send the firm message to Saddam Hussein that this time the UN is in business, is invincible and will not go away, and that there must be disarmament. I agree very much with my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary that the threat of military force needs to be exercised to avoid, if possible, the use of military force.
I know how deeply the Secretary of State cares about such issues. Suffering will occur if there is war, and there will be mayhem and death. Of course no one would welcome a war, but does she accept that death is already being inflicted on young people in Iraq—those under 14 who make up half the population—and older people by the tyrant Saddam Hussein? In the past 12 years since the end of the Gulf war probably hundreds of thousands of people have been killed by the Government in Iraq.
I agree that Saddam Hussein is a terrible tyrant. There is evidence of gross torture and I have heard deeply chilling stories from asylum seekers in my constituency. The humanitarian situation across the country is terrible, and we should think of the humanitarian consequences of any possible military action, which is the value of the debate. We should also consider taking military action if it is necessary to minimise suffering and to maximise the speed with which Iraq is reconstituted so that it gets up and going and its economy is improved.
There is little disagreement between hon. Members on both sides of the House about the current situation, but as the right hon. Lady just said, the key consideration is the preparation of contingency plans for any humanitarian problems that might emerge. May I take it that in the remaining moments of her comments she will inform the House exactly what her Department is doing, because at the moment we have almost nothing to go on? The purpose of the debate is to seek details from her. We would love those to be forthcoming in the minutes left.
I regret taking that intervention because it was silly. I am setting the scene for the difficulties we face. Of course I will come on to the humanitarian considerations. The hon. Gentleman is simply involved in the same cheap point scoring as Mrs. Spelman. It is necessary to prepare to minimise harm if military action is taken and to make arrangements for the reconstruction of the country as rapidly as possible. To achieve that, we need to ensure that the UN takes the lead in the reconstruction, as it did in Kosovo, East Timor and Afghanistan. That needs to be agreed across the international community.
Neighbouring countries do not want to talk to other countries about what they might do for humanitarian purposes in the event of war. The public opinion in their countries is raging about the prospect of war. That is one of the dangers. The UN is making preparations, but it was cautious of doing so early on. It was also careful about whom it talked to because it did not want to say to the world, "The UN is preparing for war."
The hon. Lady can stay seated for a moment while I finish. She started by trying to score cheap points. [Interruption.] She did. That is my opinion and I will make my view clear. All parties have recently been more willing to prepare for all contingencies, including the military in the United States of America, but it has not been easy to get discussions and analysis going across the international system to prepare for all those. Anyone who pauses to reflect intelligently on the strains and tensions across the international system because of the crisis would realise why that has been difficult. Greater movement to that effect has taken place recently. The hon. Lady got the true answers to her questions, but my Department has been working for a considerable time on all contingencies. That work is developing and we are getting more co-operation from some of our international partners which was difficult to get before.
I specifically asked about discussions with neighbouring countries. I am sure the right hon. Lady is aware that the leaked UN report has an assessment of how many refugees might go in which directions and which countries are willing to open their borders. I asked about that because refugees might have to move through lines of British troops. The Ministry of Defence and the Department for International Development need to co-ordinate on that. I hope to get a more ample answer in the light of that UN report.
If the hon. Lady followed the details of other crises, she would know that that is the responsibility of the United Nations. It takes the lead on that. I note that she had a meeting with Larry Hollingsworth. He performed badly in that role in the Kosovo crisis and we had great difficulties with UNHCR's performance, as the Select Committee on International Development made clear at the time. But the UN will take the lead, for which it is preparing. It is also trying to predict possible risks, in so far as anyone can do that, and sharing that information with partners in the UN system.
As has been said, the humanitarian situation is already a tragedy. The population of Iraq is largely dependent on food handouts. Its agricultural sector is operating way below capacity. Almost a third of all children in the centre and south suffer from chronic malnutrition. The prevalence of low birth weight babies has increased more than five times in the past 10 years. Iraq's under-five mortality rate is 131 per thousand live births, which is worse than the Democratic Republic of Congo or Mozambique. Death from diarrhoea and acute respiratory infections, both easily preventable, account for 70 per cent. of child mortality. More than half of Iraqis living in rural areas have no access to safe water. The average Iraqi child under five suffers from 14 bouts of diarrhoea a year.
The right hon. Lady knows that child malnutrition in Iraq has improved slightly over the past year or so. That is probably down to the success of the oil-for-food programme and the UN food programmes in Iraq. I hope she will tell us a little more about how the oil-for-food programme will continue, especially post-conflict, and assure hon. Members and the people of Iraq that there will be no exploitation of Iraq's oil resources for the benefit of multinational corporations. Those resources should purely be for the benefit of the people of Iraq.
I will deal with the oil-for-food programme. It is important. I give the hon. Gentleman the absolute assurance, on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, that the oil resources of Iraq belong to the people of Iraq and should be used for their benefit and to reconstruct the country if there is military action. First, however, let me put some of the realities of the humanitarian situation on the record.
The country's infrastructure is in chronic disrepair. Hospitals, clinics, sanitation facilities and water treatment plants suffer from a terrible lack of maintenance. The result is that the Iraqi people's lives are perilously fragile. Their coping strategies have been worn away by years of misrule. The public facilities to help them cope are run down, often to the point of uselessness.
Will my right hon. Friend draw a distinction between northern Iraq, which is under Kurdish rule, and the rest of the country, which is under Saddam's rule, and highlight the differences between the two? Both parts of Iraq are subject to sanctions. The people in northern Iraq are subject to Saddam's sanctions in addition to UN sanctions, but the circumstances of the people there are very different to those in Saddam's Iraq.
My hon. Friend's point is well made. Under the same oil-for-food programme, children in the north are healthy and doing well, but children in the rest of the country are doing badly. Some of the money is unspent because the regime is not using the oil-for-food programme to the benefit of its people. It is not possible for the UN or the Government to make Saddam Hussein use the resources to benefit his people. If he did, they would not be in the same situation.
There was a slow start because the international system was unwilling to be seen to be preparing for war. I am sure that, on reflection, all hon. Members will accept that. But there has recently been a move towards considering all possible contingencies and scenarios. Work is proceeding and the UN is engaging in it. We are in touch with it on all possible humanitarian scenarios.
I should like to take the right hon. Lady back to her remarks about the preparations in the United Nations. I am sure that we are all extremely pleased to hear that they are going on. But, given that she has made valid criticisms of the UN's performance during Kosovo, will she tell us her assessment of those preparations and whether Britain is remonstrating seriously with the UN if in her opinion there are deficiencies, so that they can be made up before it is too late?
I have had talks with the various UN humanitarian organisations and the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which leads co-ordination of the UN effort. I think that the preparations are as good as they can be. There are so many risks and uncertainties that it is very difficult to prepare. I shall come on to some of those risks and uncertainties. With regard to the UN appeal for, I think, $37 million to make preparations, the United States has said that it will pay that money and that the pay-over is in hand. I had discussions with Andrew Natsios, head of the United States Agency for International Development, USAID, in Addis Ababa a week or so ago, when he gave that undertaking.
Since some of the deficiencies of the UNHCR operation in Kosovo—which we should contrast with the World Food Programme, which did extremely well in Kosovo—the UN's operations in Kosovo, Afghanistan and East Timor have been impressive in very difficult situations. The system is improving. We have been working very hard to get it to improve and to be more effectively co-ordinated. Obviously, all such efforts need to continue if there is a military conflict and the UN is put into a leading position in coping with it.
I hope that the whole House will agree that the best scenario is that war should be avoided if possible. It is very clear from Dr. Blix's report that
"Iraq does not appear to have come to genuine acceptance of disarmament and is co-operating on process and not substance."
As I told Mr. Salmond, the previous inspectors achieved a great deal of disarmament, and we should not forget that. With the pressure and willingness to take action behind the UN, if we could persuade Iraq to be willing to allow the inspectors to disarm, we could achieve a better outcome for the people of Iraq. We must continue to work on that. If that could be done, sanctions could be lifted and the country could be restored very quickly. In such a situation, it is very likely that the people of Iraq would change their leader, and my hon. Friend and those with whom she has been working would have the satisfaction of making sure that Saddam Hussein was brought to book in the courts for the terrible suffering and breach of international law that he has imposed on the people of his country and the region. Obviously, that is the most desirable scenario. Keeping up the pressure for possible military conflict behind the UN is one way of trying to achieve that scenario, if it is at all possible.
I should like to set out the humanitarian risks. There is a very serious risk, if there was military action and there was not good organisation, that large-scale ethnic fighting could break out in the country. There has been deep repression. With the different ethnic groups, that fighting could result in a humanitarian nightmare. Any preparations for military action have to take account of that. There needs to be order and stability in the country to avoid what would otherwise be a humanitarian disaster. That is risk number one.
There is a second risk that the non-governmental organisations have drawn attention to. It is that any bombing to take out electronic capacity and thus disarm anti-aircraft capacity could present a danger to electrics and damage water and sanitation facilities as a consequence. There would be the resultant danger that people would not have access to water and that sanitation facilities would be even worse than they are now. Clearly, preparations need to be made against that eventuality so that the health of the people of Iraq does not suffer.
The third risk is what happened after the Gulf war: the booby-trapping of oil installations, with resultant environmental damage. It would also damage and slow down the reconstruction of Iraq and the capacity of its people to use their oil for the benefit of their own country. Every effort must be made to try to ensure that that does not happen.
The next risk, mentioned by
The final risk, and the most difficult for the international humanitarian system to prepare for, is that chemical and biological weapons might be used in fighting, including fighting around Baghdad or other urban areas. Everybody will know that that horrendous possibility is being prepared for with the ordering of special suits to protect troops that might be engaged, and that there are preparations in terms of immunisation against the obvious risks posed by the use of chemical and biological weapons. But what about the people of Iraq? No one can provide them with suits or immunisation. That is the most horrifying humanitarian possibility. The UN system is preparing for it and plans that its staff should be withdrawn, because there is no way of protecting them. Obviously, everything should be done to prevent it, if it is humanly possible, but should it happen the military would have to look after the people of Baghdad or wherever in Iraq it occurred. Those preparations are beginning to be thought through.
That shows the complexity of the possible humanitarian disasters that could occur if there is military action.
I welcome what the Secretary of State has just said about the people of Iraq. I wonder whether she has ever read any medical descriptions of malnourished children dying as a result of attack by chemical weapons. They are absolutely horrendous. She should implore the people who are contemplating action on Iraq to do everything possible not just to protect our own soldiers and UN personnel, but to find some way of protecting the children of Iraq.
I defer to the hon. Lady's expertise as a doctor. I have read quite detailed accounts of the suffering of people and children at Halabja and some of the consequences of the use of chemicals there. I could read more and I am sure that I would be even more horrified. But one can feel the mood of the House. Everyone wants to avoid that eventuality if we can.
Surely the situation that my right hon. Friend has just painted with regard to the possible use of chemical and biological weapons, if they are there, is even worse, because during the Kuwait conflict the American Government made it clear to Saddam Hussein that if such weapons were used in the field the Americans would use nuclear weapons. Surely, the best possible protection that can be afforded to the children of Iraq is for everyone inside this House and outside it to argue very fiercely for the inspectors to be given more time and for the possibility and indeed the reality of war to be pushed further and further away.
I agree with my hon. Friend that we should do everything we can to avoid this risk. But I do not agree with those who say that we can do nothing. I think that the case for the inspectors to have more time—Dr. Blix has asked for this—is overwhelming. But last time Saddam Hussein made it impossible for the inspectors to do their job and to disarm the weapons that were there. We cannot allow that to happen again. He has impoverished his country, terrorised his people, destroyed a wealthy economy, all because he is so dedicated to having these weapons. We cannot ignore it, because one day they will be used against somebody. We must find the best possible way of working through the United Nations and minimising the risk of military action, or if it has to take place to back up the authority of the UN, to minimise the risk of harm to the people of Iraq. That is the case that I am trying to put, the case around which I think the people of this country are united. That is the way in which the people of this country should try to use their influence to get the world through this crisis.
With respect, I have given way a lot. I must get on and leave time for other hon. Members to make speeches.
I hope that I have reassured the House that contingency planning is under way. We are trying to take full account of the risks, but I am sure that the House is aware that humanitarians cannot make preparations alone—there must be collaboration between military planners and humanitarians if we are to prepare for all eventualities and risks. We are working on that, but we can never say such work is perfect—it needs to be developed more strongly. On top of all of that, the international humanitarian system is under considerable strain, as there are enormously complicated problems with drought and food shortages in southern Africa, the horn of Africa and Angola. Every day, five million people in Afghanistan need food aid, and the humanitarian situation on the west bank and Gaza is very serious and getting worse. My Department's resources and those of the international humanitarian system are therefore strained. We will, of course, play our part in any international humanitarian effort, but no one should be complacent about the international system's resources or, indeed, those of my Department.
On the narrow point of resources, so that the House can gain an understanding of the resources that may be required to deal with the humanitarian situation in Iraq, will the right hon. Lady tell the House about the resources being devoted to preparation? What resources will the Department be able to provide for relief if we go to war and end up in the situation that she described?
In terms of gross national income, the UK's contribution to any humanitarian crisis throughout the world, as determined by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, is just over 5 per cent.—that is all. As hon. Members know, my Department's budget has virtually doubled since 1997, but is under strain, as I have just said. We have a contingency reserve and Iraq would be prioritised. However, I have just been in Africa, where there is a real fear about resources being taken away from southern Africa, the horn of Africa, the Afghan people, the west bank and Gaza—that would be wrong and we would not contemplate it. We will play our part in the international system, but the Department is not flush with resources—I must frankly warn the House that they are short.
A little earlier, the right hon. Lady referred to the possible use by Saddam Hussein of chemical or biological weapons. Given what has been discussed in Washington and what was said during the last Gulf war, is there any scenario in which the British Government would either use nuclear weapons against Iraq or countenance supporting their use?
The hon. Gentleman will know that I am not a military planner, but I cannot envisage any scenario whatsoever, given the scenarios that I have just put to the House, in which contemplating the use of nuclear weapons would be of any use whatsoever. I speak as someone who is not a military expert but as someone who has thought through the humanitarian contingencies of the present crisis and the prospect of military action.
I am sure that the House agrees—the country feels this very strongly—that the world in an extremely fragile state. I believe that there is a way through the crisis—it is to back the invincible authority of the UN and make progress in the middle east peace process. That is the position that the people of the UK and most people in the world support, and it is the position of the UK Government. As the House knows, the Prime Minister is about to go and have talks with the President of the United States of America, and I am sure that we all wish him Godspeed so that the points made in today's debate can be fully taken into account by the US Government and the world can get through the crisis in the best possible shape, with the people of Iraq being liberated and going on to build up and reconstruct their country, as they are entitled to do.
I welcome this Opposition day debate. If the Liberal Democrats had been offered such an opportunity—if, indeed, we are ever offered an Opposition day debate again—we would certainly have had a debate on this issue, but I suspect that it would have had sharper teeth, which may be why we are not getting any Opposition day debates at the moment. I shall leave the Secretary of State to draw her own conclusions.
The Conservatives have been enthusiastic in their support for the USA's policy on Iraq, exceeding even the enthusiasm of the Prime Minister. I am therefore nauseated by the rows of grey suits on the Tory Benches, all looking concerned and shedding crocodile tears—[Interruption.]
I am glad that they are upset, Mr. Deputy Speaker—perhaps the words hit home. I am sorry to laugh, but those Members are quite funny too.
The debate introduced by Mrs. Spelman is doubly welcome. None of my remarks would ever apply to her, because she has been extremely concerned about the issue for a long time. She has discussed it with both the Secretary of State and me, and I am sorry that she has not been able to bring it to the House—or that her colleagues have not let her do so—before. My concern about the humanitarian situation in Iraq increased two years ago when a party of bishops returned from a fact-finding tour of the country. One of them was the Rev. Peter Price, then Bishop of Kingston who, sadly for my constituents, has now gone to Wells.
The bishops reported on the terrible conditions experienced by many Iraqi people, particularly the children. The Iraqis depend on a modern but decayed infrastructure and for years they have been short of food and medicine. The hon. Member for Meriden gave us a lot of statistics, and I have some, too. One in 10 children die before the age of five; a quarter of Iraqi children suffer from malnutrition; many will be dead in one to five days if they are not fed in the event of war; 15 million people are already dependent on food aid, and another 5.4 million will need feeding if the oil-for-food programme stops suddenly. All those figures are from the UN needs assessment, which also states that, in the event of war, 2 million people will need therapeutic feeding, which is even more expensive and difficult.
The usual Government response is that the oil-for-food programme allowed for sufficient food and medicine for the Iraqi people, but Saddam Hussein was not using the revenues for the right purpose. As Ann Clwyd pointed out, there is evidence that in north Iraq, where the UN administers the oil-for-food programme, conditions are better and people are in better health. Nevertheless, Saddam Hussein has starved his people and could blame the west for their suffering because of the oil-for-food programme. Economic sanctions are the culprit to some extent, and he has used us as a propaganda tool. That is why, two years ago, at our annual conference, the Liberal Democrats called for the lifting of economic sanctions on Iraq. At the very least, that would have stopped Saddam Hussein blaming the USA and this country for his people's suffering. Military sanctions, arms embargoes and freezing bank accounts, where possible, would have been a far better way of damaging Iraq's leaders.
I served with the hon. Lady for many years on the Select Committee on International Development. Does she accept that while the people of Iraq may hear Saddam Hussein blaming sanctions, they know that Mesopotamia and the Euphrates valley have always been an enormously wealthy area? They know that there is oil in the ground. They are not as stupid as some people may think, and know where to put the blame for their suffering—on the dictator Saddam Hussein.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman is right, but that does not negate my point that economic sanctions have stopped the people of Iraq getting the food that they need, and we have taken the blame for it. [Interruption.]
May I make some progress?
The Secretary of State told us that thought has been given to the likelihood of Saddam Hussein using on his own people again whatever chemical and biological weapons he may have left, even if he cannot attack surrounding countries. That is a dread of mine. The Afghanistan bombing killed 5,000 civilians directly, and many others—20,000 or more—died from the indirect effects of that action. The World Health Organisation estimates 500,000 casualties from bombing Iraq, and the use of chemical and biological weapons on a malnourished and sick population would kill hundreds of thousands more. We are looking at a vision of hell in that country when war breaks out. Are we prepared for that?
The hon. Lady may have heard my hon. Friend Mrs. Spelman say from the Front Bench that there are $4 billion in oil revenue reserves unspent in UN accounts, and that those funds were earmarked for aid but have not been spent. Will the hon. Lady speculate about why that money has not been spent on aiding Iraq?
Order. We have had enough interventions from a sedentary position from various parts of the house. Perhaps we can get on with the debate in a sensible way.
The first reason is that the process is very slow moving. The contracts that need to be set up so that the money can be used to buy products, food and so on are extremely slow, so the money stays where it is. Secondly, Saddam Hussein does not want to feed his people, and we get the blame for it.
Iraqis are also dying because they have no clean water: 70 per cent. of infant deaths are caused by diarrhoea and respiratory infection linked to water pollution. The River Tigris receives 500,000 tonnes of raw sewage every day. Hon. Members should remember that when they are next on the Terrace with their visitors, admiring the view of the Thames.
Does the hon. Lady understand that raw sewage is going into that river because the Iraqis do not have sewage treatment plants? They do not have them because the United Nations will not allow the pumps to be bought because they can be put to dual use. That has nothing to do with the Iraqi regime. The UN will not allow the pumps through, and that is because of the Americans. I have visited Iraq twice and I know—I have seen it.
The hon. Gentleman has made my point well for me. One of the saddest things about economic sanctions on Iraq has been the decay of the infrastructure, which has led to the terrible plight of the people there, with no clean water or proper sewage systems because they cannot be repaired.
During the war on Iraq, water treatment equipment will be needed for 5.4 million people directly, to give them some clean water. Have we planned for that? Electrical supply is needed to power water and sewage plants, and that, too, has been affected by economic sanctions. A third of the power supply is still down after the 1991 war, and those essential plants have never been repaired. Does the Secretary of State have assurances that her Government and that of the USA will not do further damage to what is left of Iraq's infrastructure, as was the case in Serbia and Afghanistan? For heaven's sake, let the people of Iraq have the water and power that they have left.
Has the Secretary of State assessed the likely flow of refugees? The hon. Member for Meriden spoke about that at length. Already, there are 700,000 displaced people within Iraq. That number will increase. Thousands will flee across heavily mined areas, adding to civilian injury and casualties. Iran has estimated that 900,000 will go there, and it already has 3 million refugees, many still there from the Afghanistan wars. Iran has no capacity to take any more. Will that country receive help when it requests that, or will it suffer from being one of George Bush's "axis of evil" countries and be totally ignored? If so, innocent people, including many Iraqis, will suffer.
Is UNHCR prepared? Will the United States and its allies use land mines and cluster bombs? We need to know that as a matter of urgency. Must we add to the destruction and horror that will go on in Iraq by adding even more explosives, which will affect the civilian population, not the military? Have plans been made for safe havens within Iraq? That needs to be done early on in hostilities so that people know there are safe havens, particularly around Basra, so that people from the south can get to them. That is essential if there is to be a war.
The hon. Lady mentioned cluster bombs and land mines. We bear in mind what the Secretary of State said on the matter, but we must remember that depleted uranium was used in the previous Gulf war. The response of the Prime Minister during Prime Minister's questions yesterday to the leader of the hon. Lady's party, when he suggested strongly that there would be US control over British forces in Iraq suggests to me that we may see weapons being used of which the British Government do not approve. That should concern all of us in the House.
The hon. Gentleman makes one of the most serious points made this afternoon. Do we really want to go to war with our forces under the control of a Government who, over the past few years, have withdrawn from almost every international treaty one can think of? Will we subject our troops to such activity?
Past experiences are not good. In Afghanistan, it took a great deal of publicity from NGOs and others—the House will remember that I called for Afghanistan to be bombed with food, to much ridicule from the boys on the Benches, but never mind—to highlight the humanitarian situation there. Food aid eventually got through, but not without immense difficulty. The west promised not to forget Afghanistan.
I have said before that I admire what the World Food Programme achieved in Afghanistan throughout the crisis, from the pulling out of all UN international staff before any military action got going. Right through the military action and ever since, the UN has been feeding people there. The figure went up to 9 million and it is still 5 million people daily. The World Food Programme managed to keep that going. For the record, that was a fantastic achievement and very important.
The right hon. Lady leads me to my next point. We all remember the Prime Minister pledging not to forget Afghanistan once the bombing was over. Of the money that has been pledged and delivered for the reconstruction of that country, 70 per cent. is still being spent on humanitarian aid. That will happen in Iraq in the event of a war, so reconstruction will be very slow.
The Prime Minister has argued all along for an expansion of the international security assistance force in Afghanistan to avoid having to spend so much on humanitarian aid and to allow more to be spent on reconstruction. While there is insecurity in that country, that will be the case.
I entirely agree with the hon. Lady, but I suspect that we are drifting away from the humanitarian situation in Iraq. It is useful to reflect on what happened in Afghanistan. I was about to report similar failures in the Balkans. The aid pledged for that region is dwindling year after year. The middle east is a running sore and getting worse. In Kashmir, where I have just been for a few days, there is terrible suffering among people caught up in an impasse between nuclear powers. I have not even mentioned Africa, to which the hon. Member for Meriden referred. The world is forced to look at Iraq because America says so, but there are far greater problems.
No, I will not give way again. I have nearly finished my remarks and I want others to have a chance to speak.
If war is waged on Iraq, a humanitarian catastrophe could spread all over the middle east and not be confined to Iraq's borders. How much money will be needed to deliver aid and reconstruction to Iraq during and after the war? What proportion of that—the Secretary of State touched on this—will once again have to come out of the DFID budget? I say this every time these things happen. That budget is bled for reconstruction and aid once a war is over. Why does the Ministry of Defence not pay for cleaning up its own messes? DFID's money is supposed to be used to meet the millennium targets on health, education and clean water for the poorest people of the world, and not—I repeat, not—to clean up the mess of yet another war.
The Prime Minister was fond of telling us during the run-up to the bombing of Afghanistan that, following much pressure, he had a two-pronged approach: military and humanitarian. I believe that it was a three-pronged approach at times, with diplomatic efforts being made too. He has been only too ready this time, backed by the official Opposition, to use the military option, paying scant attention so far to other issues. The Opposition motion recognises the humanitarian crisis, and we will of course support it.
Destruction is so easy. The USA and its allies can perhaps annihilate Iraq and Saddam Hussein, but at what cost? We will risk alienating Muslims for ever. We will certainly increase the risk of terrorist attacks here at home. We must not make war on the Iraqi people—only on their Government. Massive humanitarian aid, backed by patient diplomacy to encourage co-operation with the weapons inspectors, must go hand in hand with the threat of military action.
Order. Before I call the next speaker, I inform the House that Mr. Speaker has placed a 10-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches, and that starts now.
It is massively important that we are discussing this subject. I am pleased that the debate has proceeded as if it is on a motion for the Adjournment of the House. There is a substantive motion, but since the Government have not tabled an amendment to it and the Liberal Democrat amendment was not selected by the Speaker, the debate is about the issue only. Although I am one of those who always calls for substantive motions on which to vote in connection with Iraq so that we can hold the Government to account, the approach taken today is right when considering humanitarian concerns. I am against any war in these circumstances and have humanitarian concerns, but I recognise that there are those who would venture down the path of war but who nevertheless need to be concerned about humanitarian matters too.
The spokespersons for each major party have put on record very important information about the condition of the people and children of Iraq. Therefore, I do not need to go into the material that I have picked up from Save the Children, for instance, and other organisations such as Desert Rescue. Such information has been presented much more authoritatively. Some of the most important, open and honest statements on the current condition of the people of Iraq have been made by the Secretary of State. Many of us will be able to use such weighty and important comments; they are invaluable.
I think that the best contingency would be for us not to attack Iraq, so that the dangers that I am talking about do not emerge. Those who claim to use the humanitarian argument by saying, "We should still go in because Saddam Hussein is slaughtering his people and is responsible for the conditions" can be in a difficult position. Effectively, many of them are saying, "We do not really want to go in; we were hoping that revealing and getting rid of the weapons would make us free from danger". So their argument about the condition of people in Iraq and the danger that they face drops away. The horrors that have been described in relation to the people of Iraq should not be added to by the extra consequences that are due to follow, which are our responsibility and not that of Saddam Hussein.
I do not have to speak in detail about the horrors that have been suffered in Iraq as others have spelt them out, but it might be fruitful to consider how the current conditions emerged. Unfortunately, Britain is the last country in the world that should be involved in an attack on Iraq, because we are the old imperial power there. We created and shaped Iraq in 1920, and until 1932 we had a mandate over it that we exploited considerably for our own benefit, especially through the development of oil. It was not until Harold Macmillan, who was Foreign Secretary in 1955, signed the Baghdad pact—a bit of a wind of change in Iraq—that things started to alter in the country.
Before the signing of the Baghdad pact, Iraq was notionally independent, but dominated by British interests. Some 50 per cent. of its national income came from oil, essentially through the British-controlled Iraq Petroleum Company, and we had Crown bases in Habbaniya, Shaiba and Basra. About 4,000 RAF troops were stationed there; I was among those in Basra at about that time. The Iraqi Levies were also established—an Iraqi force entirely controlled by British officers. A puppet monarchy was established and the country had a basically feudal regime that was interested in land control. The development of oil provisions was very much in British hands.
The only opposition in Iraq at that time was underground. Among the army officers were some who dissented from the developments that were occurring, as they were greatly influenced by what was taking place under Colonel Nasser in Egypt. There was also an Iraqi communist party, which from 1937 had been involved in strikes in the oil industry and at the docks in Basra, and was a major focus for intellectuals and trade union activists.
From 1958, some economic and social circumstances improved. When people have a hope that things will get better in future, the possibility of establishing democratic avenues begins to emerge, but we did not see that as a something that it was desirable to nurture and assist. When the Kurds looked to develop their aspirations, they looked towards the establishment of a Kurdistan, but that would have upset Turkey, so we did not want to be involved in it. In a later period, there was perceived to be a danger of the Shi'a Arabs in the south falling into the hands of the ayatollah and other influences in Iran, but that was to misunderstand the nature of the Shi'a and their commitment to Iraq.
Improvements took place in conditions in Iraq. A welfare state was established, educational provision was extended, and there were improvements in housing. I saw a slum area on the edges of Baghdad that looked as if it was from the biblical period, although it had been established fairly recently. The conditions were terrible, with streets of mud, mud huts and open sewers. All that was replaced and proper housing, new streets and electricity were provided by new regimes. A cultured society was developing and extending. There had always been a tradition of learning in Baghdad and in other places, and that was now beginning to extend to more people. The regimes underwent coups and counter-coups, and in the end the Ba'ath party emerged and Saddam Hussein began to take over in 1980. The conditions of life for the Iraqi people started to deteriorate from 1982 to 1983, when the impact of the Gulf war began to kick in and the sanctions regime began. In my view, sanctions should not operate unless the people of a country ask for them—as in South Africa—because they have a considerable impact on people's standard of life.
Saddam Hussein's military measures and internal controls and the consequences of the Gulf war led to an absolute collapse in the standard of living of the Iraqi people. By 1980, their standard of life per capita had grown to 42 per cent. of Britain's, having risen, mainly as a result of oil, from a figure of 18 per cent. only about a decade earlier. That crashed down to 11 per cent. two or three years ago. The trading connection, oil for food, has improved it somewhat, and it has risen to about 13 per cent., but economic circumstances are knocking it down again. Should we really be going in to hammer such people? The humanitarian thing to do is not to take that avenue, but to get in there and give them the assistance that they need—to uncouple the regime by giving people rising horizons and hope.
I can tell the Secretary of State that if I ever found myself having to go into a fire fight, I should be very happy to have her at my side. We would regularly disagree, and I am sure that she must occasionally be quite an uncomfortable colleague to have around the Cabinet Table, but her commitment to her responsibilities shines through. I am happy to pay tribute to her performance, not only in this debate, but throughout her tenure in office.
I have no registrable interest in the debate, but I am a trustee of World Relief, a major Christian charity that works in several of the poorest countries of the world. We work on behalf of churches, primarily through indigenous churches, including redevelopment work, microeconomic development work and working with maternal care and with children.
I therefore disagree with the supercilious comment of Dr. Tonge, about whose speech and attitude I have nothing complimentary to say. There are hon. Members in all parties who are committed to humanitarian concerns. They act on that in their own time, in their own way and for their own reasons, in my case, largely for Christian motives.
I want to consider children in that context, but I wish to make some other comments first. As the Secretary of State pointed out, the debate has not been partisan. Some hon. Members who are against the war or the United States—both traditions flourish in the country and the House—could use the subject as a stalking horse for another debate on whether we should go to war. I do not belong to that fraternity. As the right hon. Lady knows, I broadly support the Government's action. I believe that Iraq poses a serious threat to the world and to us. Like every other sensible human being, I view war as a last, not a first resort. However, war is sometimes the lesser evil. In that spirit, I want to make one point in the short time allowed.
We have already heard many statistics about the terrible plight of children in Iraq. We have heard about the large number of stillbirths, the high infant mortality rate and the malnutrition—there is no point in repeating those facts. However, bearing the statistics in mind, I remind the Secretary of State of Christian Aid's comments on its website in October last year. It stated that
"the humanitarian needs of the civilian population during and after any conflict must be met . . . When drawing up plans for any military action, it is the responsibility of the warring parties to guarantee access and provide sufficient resources for the provision of independent humanitarian assistance . . . As Christian Aid can verify, the war in Afghanistan revealed a huge gap between assertions that humanitarian space would be created for the delivery of aid and the reality on the ground".
I should like the Secretary of State to focus on the disparity between the rhetoric and planning and the delivery. It is remarkable that we are holding such a debate today. Perhaps more than any other debate, it shows how civilised we are as a nation. Does anybody believe that a similar debate is being conducted in Iraq? Of course not. We have the determination to confront and deal with evil, but we understand that there are consequences. At a human level, we want to respond to them. Given the disparity between planning and delivery, I ask the Secretary of State to focus for a moment on the children.
We have heard that the children are already hurting. However, when war comes and refugees start to move, many will be children. Children need special help, facilities and food. They need grown-ups who have expertise and a commitment to focus on their needs above those of others. As we all know, there is always the danger that we plan for mass humanitarian aid and forget specific needs.
The Government delight in appointing tsars. I should like the House to appoint the Secretary of State the children's tsar for Iraq as a result of the debate. I have limited confidence in the United Nations. I have limited confidence in big multinational organisations, because I have been where the right hon. Lady has been. I have more confidence in our ability to set ourselves certain tasks and goals, and in a strong and committed Secretary of State ensuring that they are met.
The right hon. Lady could do the world and the people of Iraq a service if she would let her officials get on with dealing with the big multinational institutions, and she would become passionate about making sure that the consequences of war are ameliorated to the best of her ability, which, as we all understand, will be limited. I ask her to make a commitment about the after-effects, for the children.
In our debates on Iraq, many of us have pointed to history—my hon. Friend Mr. Barnes has done so today—to the west's double standards and hypocrisy, and to our role in arming and supporting the brutal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. We do not start on the moral high ground, but we are where we are; and we are, of course, on the brink of war.
The question for me is whether that war would be just and proportionate. I have no doubt that it is possible to construct a legal argument within the terms of UN resolution 1441, but there are wider considerations in the course of war. We must weigh in the balance threat, degree of force proposed, and humanitarian consequences. My right hon. Friend has listed some of the possible threats that people in Iraq would face today, but I want to remind the House of what happened in the Gulf war in 1991.
The UN estimates that between 140,000 and 200,000 Iraqis died as a direct consequence of the war, rather than because of anything to do with sanctions. More than two-dozen factories and stores containing chemical, biological and probably nuclear material were hit, and their toxins were dispersed. Carcinogens from blazing oil wells spread across thousands of miles. The systematic bombing of electricity generating facilities, and of water storage and treatment facilities, left survivors without drinking water. The inclusion of chlorine and medicine on the UN embargo list provided the preconditions for the epidemics that followed. Iraqi health services, previously described by the World Health Organisation as a
"first-class range of medical facilities", were overwhelmed. Primary health care and disease prevention programmes ceased.
By April 1991, an estimated 1.5 million refugees had fled to the Iranian and Turkish borders. By May, between 15,000 and 20,000 of them were dead. The UN reported
"near apocalyptic results on economic infrastructure", and concluded:
"Iraq has for some time to come, been relegated to a pre-industrial age".
I will not. Most people in this House, including me, supported that Gulf war. My right hon. Friend said that we must minimise the risks if we go to war, but a few days ago the Pentagon let it be known that this time, the US plans to fire up to 800 cruise missiles in the first two days of the air campaign. That is twice as many as it fired in the whole of the 40-day Gulf war in 1991.
We are all aware that today's Iraq is not the first-world state of 1990; it is in every sense now a poor, third-world country. The effects of a Dresden-like bombardment on these extremely vulnerable people I find too horrific to contemplate. How many will die in that bombardment? How many refugees will die as they try to flee the country? What will be the environment for those who survive? My right hon. Friend has acknowledged that humanitarian contingency planning will have to take account of the deliberate or inadvertent release of any remaining stocks of chemical or biological weapons. What will be the effect on survivors, deprived of medicine, food and water, breathing a cocktail of carcinogenic air, and facing searing heat in the coming summer months? What will be the cost to the men and women of the armed forces, who will have to remain for months if not years after the immediate war? What will be the cost to Iraq's neighbours?
Iraq has been described as the most dangerous rogue state in the world, and al-Qaeda as the most dangerous international terrorist organisation. President Bush seeks to persuade us that they are connected. I do not find that credible—but let us assume that they are connected. What then? Is it likely that the west will become a greater or a lesser target for terrorists if we carpet-bomb Baghdad? Is it more or less likely that instability will spread throughout the whole region?
Some hon. Members have argued that whatever the political risk to ourselves, we cannot do nothing. I suggest that we are not doing nothing. Iraq's military might has been reined in, and we have the most robust inspection regime ever mounted anywhere in the world. The inspectors have the authority to destroy weapons of mass destruction and delivery systems.
Even were that to be achieved, there are hon. Members who argue—perhaps Sir Brian Mawhinney came closest to saying this—that it might be better to have the war to save the people of Iraq from their existing fate. I cannot accept that. It is, of course, not the purpose of resolution 1441, and it cannot be part of the judgment that the Security Council will take on hearing the inspectors' reports.
I cannot believe that that is the best way forward for the Iraqi people. We know what the immediate humanitarian results are likely to be, but the question is: what will follow the military onslaught? Like Dr. Tonge and my hon. Friend Ann Clwyd, I want to refer to Afghanistan, because that is where I believe we can see the answer—I have been to Kabul myself.
Let me give the House the financial context alone. The cost to the United Kingdom of military action in Iraq has been estimated at more than $8 billion. By comparison, the whole of the international community's pledges to Afghanistan for both humanitarian and reconstruction aid for five years have amounted to a mere $5 billion—half what initial estimates said was required.
As others have said, progress is painfully slow. There is still no effective security outside Kabul, because of the United States' consistent refusal to support an extension of ISAF—the international security assistance force—outside the capital city. There is no trained national army or police force, and anti-coalition forces are still active in one third of the country. The World Food Programme estimates that 6 million people remain vulnerable, and the Select Committee on International Development has recently reported:
"the humanitarian crisis was far from over and there was little evidence that large scale reconstruction had taken place."
Needless to say, there is a strong feeling among Afghans that the west is beginning to walk away. I do not include my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development in that. I know just how hard she has worked and how great her commitment to the people of Afghanistan is.
I share the Prime Minister's aspiration for a new world order, but I do not believe that confidence can be drawn from the Afghan experience. Even less do I believe that a war in Iraq can be in the best interests of the Iraqi people. There can be no contingency humanitarian plans for those who will die. The United Nations has voted the means for solving the Iraq crisis peacefully, and that is the humanitarian response which I believe the House should make.
Although I am glad to have caught your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am sorry to say that, because of the new sitting hours of the House, I have had to leave a Standing Committee to come and join in the debate here.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of military intervention against Iraq, it now seems sadly almost inconceivable that the march to war can be avoided. With or without the support of the country or the UN, the Prime Minister is clearly determined to topple Saddam Hussein's sadistic regime by military force. The likelihood of a war has been growing steadily since George Bush's famous "axis of evil" speech to the American Congress 12 months ago. That has been apparent to many in Parliament, to the army of pundits and observers in the media, and to the professionals involved in humanitarian relief whose job it will be to try to pick up the pieces and mitigate the potentially disastrous humanitarian situation that could quickly develop following the outbreak of hostilities.
However, for many months it has seemed extraordinary that the one person in the Government specifically tasked with making preparations for just such a humanitarian crisis has singularly failed to set before the House a coherent strategy for dealing with the direct effects of military intervention by the Government. That is despite the fact that the Cabinet has mobilised more than 25,000 service personnel and dispatched to the middle east the largest naval taskforce since the Falklands war. For all this time, the Secretary of State for International Development has sat on her hands and stonewalled any inquiry. Despite the intensive military preparations, it is clear that the Cabinet has chosen to close its eyes to the inevitable consequences of its plans for the conflict that will surely come to pass.
My hon. Friend Mrs. Spelman, the shadow Secretary of State for International Development, has repeatedly called on the Secretary of State to publish her Department's preparations for a possible war. She has been met with total silence. The right hon. Lady earlier pleaded that she had not been able to secure a debate in Government time to explain her plans, but she has had ample opportunity to set them out in response to the numerous written questions seeking answers to the matter.
Last week, on
"My Department is considering a wide range of contingencies, which take into account the current humanitarian situation in Iraq."—[Hansard, 22 January 2003; Vol. 398, c. 307W.]
That was a pathetic answer. With the drums of war beating ever louder and the prospects of a peaceful resolution of the Iraqi problem receding by the day, it would appear profoundly irresponsible and deeply reprehensible so woefully to ignore what the rest of the world can see so plainly. The consequences of our inaction now could be unnecessary suffering and even death on a biblical scale.
The Secretary of State must pull her head out of the sand and engage with the non-governmental organisations and other humanitarian organisations without delay. Moreover, she must make a proper and full statement to the House of Commons on a regular basis, rather than be dragged here by an Opposition motion. In that way, her proposed course of action, or lack of it, can be properly scrutinised by the House. She and the rest of the Government must be held properly accountable to Parliament.
The range of issues screaming out to be addressed is vast, and I shall not attempt to deal with them all today. However, I and many others would like to know, for example, that, in the event of military intervention in Iraq, electricity supplies will not be attacked where that would have a disproportionate impact on civilian needs, including the power for water and sanitation.
Now that we have heard what the hon. Gentleman has to say, I wonder if it was worth it. The hon. Gentleman might not be the most intellectually gifted Member of the House, but he might be able to understand that the military are not willing to share their military scenarios with people like him. We therefore cannot share those scenarios with the House. I have outlined the risks, but what the hon. Gentleman is asking for is foolish. He is not serious in what he is saying.
That is absolute nonsense. We are asking the Secretary of State to engage with non-governmental organisations and to talk to the people on the ground who are taking the risks and who would deal with the humanitarian disaster on the front line. When we talk with NGO representatives, they scream out that the right hon. Lady simply is not engaging with them, meeting people, holding talks, or undertaking the consultation that is vital if a humanitarian crisis is to be avoided.
The Secretary of State knows very, very well what I am saying. She has hidden her head in the sand because she cannot face the possibility that her Labour Government will go to war on the very issue over which she resigned from the shadow Cabinet back in 1990. Political expediency has prevented her from taking on responsibilities that she knows she should fulfil.
Does my hon. Friend share my disquiet at some deeply worrying comments made recently by people in non-governmental organisations? In particular, individuals at Imperial College London and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine have commented on the lack of liaison between them and military organisations in this country and elsewhere, particularly following the Secretary of State's remarks that our military preparation for humanitarian aid in Iraq is just getting going.
I completely share those concerns and shall allude later to a letter that 500 students and academics from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine have written to two medical journals.
Have the Government made representations to our American allies about the protection of water and sanitation supplies in the event of military intervention in Iraq? What discussions have they had about food security? What evaluation has the Secretary of State made of the continuance of the UN's oil-for-food programme in the event of war with Iraq? If that programme is suspended, what will be the impact on the food needs of the civilian population? It is estimated that 49 per cent. of families in Iraq do not earn enough money to meet basic needs and 20 per cent. live in extreme poverty. According to the World Food Programme, malnutrition is widespread among children outside Baghdad.
This morning, Julian Filochowski, director of the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development, told my researcher that for the two thirds of the population who depend on UN food rations, there are few, if any, coping mechanisms once food distribution is disrupted and water and sanitation systems collapse. Christian Aid estimates that following suspension of the oil-for-food programme, 16 million people will immediately be vulnerable to food shortages and malnutrition.
Contingency planning for the prompt delivery of food and the effective restoration of power and sanitation is absolutely vital. If major infrastructure targets, such as power stations, are hit, as they were last time, there will be a sharp increase in the number of water-related diseases, because the Iraqi water treatment system is powered electronically. Two thirds of the rubbish in Baghdad is not collected. Cholera is rife. It will become impossible to store medical supplies, such as blood and vaccines, at appropriate temperatures. As I said, in an open letter to two leading medical journals, staff and alumni of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine warned that conflict could lead to hundreds of thousands of civilians being killed, as well as sparking famine and epidemics.
Larry Hollingworth, the UN emergency co-ordinator who spoke at the excellent forum organised by my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden in November, has said if there is a conflict, hundreds of thousands—even millions—of people could uproot themselves and move to rural areas of the country or try to leave Iraq. During the Gulf war, Iran, Jordan and Turkey took almost 1.8 million refugees. Iran hosts 3 million refugees, the most in the world.
It is ironic that we know more about the contingency plans of the Government of Iran than we do about those of Her Majesty's Government. That is thanks to a recent visit to the Iran-Iraq border by Adam Leach, middle east director of Oxfam, and Paul Sherlock. From them, we know that the Iranian Government, in conjunction with Iranian Red Crescent, believe that as many as 900,000 people may flee towards Iran. What is more, that Government have already set up camps, zones and areas to cater for that contingency.
It is appalling that it is easier to get access to the Iranian Government's contingency planning for a possible humanitarian disaster in which our Government must play a leading role than to extract information from a Minister in the House of Commons. The Iranian Government will need full assistance to cope with a further humanitarian crisis on the country's borders. Successful co-ordination between Governments, international agencies and NGOs such as Oxfam will be key to an effective response.
There is no doubt that the architect of the misfortune of the Iraqi people is Saddam Hussein and that, free from his oppression, Iraq would be an infinitely better place for everyone. However, a heavy responsibility lies on the British Government as they weigh up the possibility of military intervention. A report by the worldwide Catholic network of aid agencies, following a visit to Iraq at the end of last year, concluded:
"Heavy bombardments and the use of military forces will have incalculable consequences for a civil population that has already suffered so much."
I came to the debate hoping that the Secretary of State would map out a blueprint for a humanitarian relief programme. We have been sorely disappointed; there has been not even a shred of detail, nor an apology for the lack of detail to date, and no encouragement that more will be forthcoming. There has been a great deal of hand wringing, but little else.
I am sorry that Mrs. Spelman is not in the Chamber at present as I entirely agree with one of the points that she made. It is unfortunate, given that we are debating such an important subject, that the reforms of the House mean that many Members leave early on a Thursday afternoon. I hope that supporters of that reform will think again and that we shall have an opportunity to reverse it.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development, who is also not in her place at present, has said time after time that the best scenario is that war should be avoided. Everyone in the House would agree with that sentiment; we all want to avoid war if it is at all possible.
Aid agencies point out that
"military action against Iraq could trigger a major humanitarian disaster".
They call on world leaders
"to draw back from the brink of war".
Assessments of the humanitarian situation in Iraq are horrific, as many colleagues have pointed out. Up to 16 million people are entirely dependent on food aid, and the country's water and sanitation systems are stretched to the limit. The director of Christian Aid said:
"We believe that peaceful alternatives to conflict are not yet exhausted. All parties have a legal—and we believe a moral—obligation to seek the peaceful resolution of this dispute through the United Nations."
As my colleagues know, I have argued for a long time that for two decades top Iraqi officials have committed massive crimes and atrocities: genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. All those crimes have been impressively recorded by the United Nations, by the American, Kuwaiti, British and Iranian Governments and by non-governmental organisations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty, as well as Indict, which I chair.
"lonely campaign to compile the criminal record against the Iraqi regime and to seek indictments of Iraqi officials. By the end of 2000 our investigative team"—
Indict was part of that team—
"had amassed millions of pages of documents, resurrected an extensive archive of evidence prepared by U.S. Army lawyers and investigators during the Gulf War."
That included our Operation Sandcastle investigations, which have never been published. The article then said that the team
"interviewed key witnesses, and published a report and released aerial photography demonstrating Iraqi crimes against humanity.
Yet no Iraqi official (at least 10 are of extreme interest) has ever been indicted for some of the worst crimes of the 20th century. Efforts to obtain U.N. Security Council approval for an ad hoc international criminal tribunal encountered one obstacle after another in various foreign capitals . . . and even within the Clinton administration"— people were pulling both ways in that Administration, as they appear to be in the present United States Administration.
"The usual excuse was that a tribunal would jeopardize either the United Nations' inspections regime or its sanctions regimes. We needed Hussein's co-operation, which a criminal indictment might discourage."
We know from the ad hoc tribunals for the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda and now for Sierra Leone, that indictments of alleged war criminals who lead tyrannical and genocidal regimes can destroy their political careers, isolate them internationally, end their regimes and even achieve justice.
Even at this late stage, an indictment could bring about the necessary regime change in Iraq—I believe it is necessary—and would avoid the necessity for military action. Even now, the Security Council could establish an international criminal tribunal to investigate and prosecute the Iraqi leadership. Its indictees would be subject to arrest and its creation could pave the way for UN-authorised military action later to neutralise any weapons and terrorism threats and to bring about regime change with international support.
I am listening to the hon. Lady carefully and have great respect for her work. I am genuinely interested to know this. We have heard of the possibility that the United States would support a safe haven or place of exile for Saddam Hussein. How does the hon. Lady reconcile that possible avenue for averting conflict with the genuine and widespread support for indicting those vicious criminals?
It is not up to any country other than Iraq to decide that Saddam Hussein and his regime should avoid prosecution for war crimes. It is not the responsibility of the United Kingdom or the United States of America to take that decision; it is a decision for the Iraqi people. It would be wrong for us to offer Hussein a safe haven—an escape from indictment for war crimes. In fact, I asked an Iraqi friend—an Iraqi Kurd—how he would feel if that happened. His answer was, "If it happened, we would find our own way of dealing with it." It is obvious what that means. That idea ought to be hit firmly on the head. The time for offering Saddam Hussein incentives is over. He and his colleagues deserve to be indicted and the UN Security Council must disarm Iraq. At the end of the day, both justice and international security must prevail.
My hon. Friends have often heard me talk about the work that our organisation, Indict, has been doing. They will be interested to know that only this week the Attorney-General wrote to me to announce that he has refused to grant his consent to prosecute Saddam Hussein, Tariq Aziz, Ali Hassan Al-Majid and Taha Ramadan for the crime of hostage taking during the Gulf conflict in 1990 under the Taking of Hostages Act 1982. In all those cases, he says that that is because there is "insufficient evidence" to provide a realistic prospect of conviction. I found that absolutely incredible, as do most people.
The idea that there is not enough evidence that Saddam was responsible for taking hostages, including many British victims, is unbelievable. The Attorney-General's ruling appears to place us, and anyone who seeks his consent on controversial matters, in a ludicrous circular argument. The evidence is there, and there is plenty of it. We have evidence from opposition colleagues, and evidence was taken from many of the hostages during the Gulf war.
The Attorney-General's ruling means, in effect, that we have to provide not just a prima facie case, but one based solely on the material that Indict provided. An analogy would be that, instead of reporting to the police that our car had been stolen and expecting them to investigate who was responsible, we had to detect the culprit ourselves, rule out all other possible perpetrators and then prove beyond reasonable doubt that they did it before the Attorney-General would say that it was all right to prosecute. It is absolutely ludicrous.
The public are not stupid. They will ask who gains from this decision and why is it being taken now. Is it a coincidence that there is talk of Saddam being offered safe haven and immunity from prosecution and that it is being found, on advice from Treasury counsel, that there is insufficient evidence to proceed against him? Most hon. Members would find that incredible.
I am pleased to have the chance to take part in this debate, which was rightly called for and ably opened by my hon. Friend Mrs. Spelman. It has been characterised largely by informed and passionate comment. Following opening speeches of just such a tone, I simply ask Dr. Tonge to reflect, with whatever humility she may possess, on the presumption behind her opening remarks that, simply because an hon. Member disagrees with her, is a man in a grey suit and belongs to a different party, he cannot possibly care about these matters quite as much as she does.
The hon. Lady in her inexperience makes a remark which on reflection she may regret: she should give due credit to those members of the Conservative party who filled the post of Overseas Development Minister, such as Chris Patten and Lady Chalker. In due course, the hon. Lady may care to think again. We might also watch her actions in the next few weeks, as events unfold, and see how much she cares.
Whatever one's view of the war and the need for it, the brutal fact is that the situation of refugees in Iraq—internally displaced people—and the breakdown of structures there will not be deciding factors in whether we go to war. Although we all hope that war does not happen, it is essential to prepare for it. However, the sheer scale of the disruption anticipated should not only give pause for thought: it should give rise to some prompt and urgent preparation. It is alarming to note that the state of preparation, as so ably described by my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden, seems so much poorer than was the case in the Gulf war or in Afghanistan.
I will not linger on the current state of humanitarian affairs in Iraq, as that has already been outlined. I want to concentrate on internally displaced people and also on the countries to which they may flee. I have been in contact with Save the Children, which states that the number of internally displaced people in Iraq is already very high—somewhere between 700,000 and 1 million. In the event of war, up to an additional 900,000 people may be internally displaced, mainly as a result of the policies of the Government of Iraq, but also because of fighting between Kurdish factions.
Living in shanty towns on the outskirts of towns, internally displaced people do not have access to agricultural land, food or income. They are particularly vulnerable if provisions do not reach them in conflict, and they tend to be overlooked in Government emergency assistance. Unlike refugees, IDPs do not benefit from a special protection mechanism in international law. We should ensure that we account for the vast number of insecure people within Iraq in our humanitarian contingency planning. The number of internally displaced persons will depend on the intensity of urban bombing; the intensity of street fighting; the breakdown of the food distribution system in terms of supplies; whether roads remain open and the transport means are there for safe travel; the duration of the war; and the emergency provision of water and sanitation facilities. It is hard to imagine the consequences of probably 2 million internally displaced people within Iraq. We need to be aware, however, that these displacements will be the immediate consequences of strikes on Iraq. On top of some 5.4 million people in the south of the country, according to the UN's estimate, who will need humanitarian intervention and are expected by the UN to be accessible for support, we must therefore consider catering for a further 2 million internally displaced persons.
I hope that when the Secretary of State returns to the Chamber she will say how the Government intend to ensure that humanitarian agencies and the UNHCR are properly resourced and co-ordinated to address the potentially vast number of displaced people. Where are they likely to go? Some will flee inside the country. Many will flee to the north, which is considered safer, as the Kurds are based there. What preparations have been made in the north to cope with the influx of those from the centre and the south of Iraq? Of course, more people will flee across borders. During the Gulf war, Iran, Jordan and Turkey took most of the 1.8 million refugees. Because the aim of this war is regime change, the refugee numbers may be higher this time. United Nations estimates suggest that some 900,000 may go to Iran; up to 270,000 to Turkey; 50,000 to Jordan; and others to Syria, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. We must now ask whether those countries are prepared to offer humanitarian aid and support to the thousands of refugees who will arrive at their borders. We need to encourage them to do so by supporting them and offering funding for their efforts.
I spoke on the telephone this morning to Deputy Foreign Minister Bak of Jordan, and I am grateful to his excellency for giving me some of his time. He said that the problem is that the situation is so uncertain. Not only does Jordan not know how many people it will receive; it does not know in what condition people will arrive. Preparation is therefore very difficult. Jordan is working very hard with UN agencies and with non-governmental organisations, but is looking for financial support from outside.
I got no impression of that from my conversation. His excellency was very open and straightforward about the situation, and was happy to discuss things with me. He was aware that I was speaking in the House this afternoon.
Jordan has a particular concern about water, in which it is one of the 10 poorest countries in the world. Minister Bak remarked ruefully that he would be very grateful to have in his country some of the clouds that he sees heading in our direction on the CNN weather charts at the moment. He mentioned in particular the situation affecting funding. The European Union in particular has been hesitant to announce its plans because it hopes things will not happen. The UN has also reported that it has been difficult to attract money because people hope things will not happen. He made the point that it is all very well for people far away to wait for things to happen, but that he and his country cannot afford to do so. He said that if aid arrives now and it turns out that it is not needed for the immediate consequences of war in Iraq, there is no need to worry: it can still be used to assist the 200,000 refugees from the Gulf war who are still in Jordan. I make a plea on the Minister's behalf for aid to be sent urgently to assist Jordan and, I suspect, its neighbouring countries.
A further sadness is that it is not just a question of people fleeing safely over borders. Getting over the border in the first place is a problem if the border is mined or electrified. We recently received information that the Kuwaiti border is electrified. Are the Government aware of that?
Refugees at or near borders, as well as internally displaced people, who cross to the three northern Governments will be severely affected by the many land mines in the area. Save the Children told us that the borders with Turkey and Iran are some of the most heavily mined in the world. UNHCR points out that there is no mine action programme or mine awareness education in the centre and south of Iraq, and that that will exacerbate the number of mine injuries. Displaced urban populations and children will be particularly unprepared for living in a mine-infested environment. How will the Government prevent vulnerable families fleeing to dangerous areas that may be mined or electrified?
No one in the Chamber contemplates war lightly—neither the Prime Minister, who bears the greatest responsibility of his life on our behalf nor the most ordinary Back Bencher, who carries a lighter but still significant burden: the expectations and concerns of a trusting electorate. Whichever way the decision goes, the humanitarian consequences for the people of Iraq are likely to engage us for some time. They will certainly affect our excellent armed forces as they prepare for their usual constructive role in such circumstances. The least we can do is to engage with the circumstances of the people of Iraq and, as the Secretary of State said, assist in the recovery of their country after so many years of brutality and destruction.
Like my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and other hon. Members, I welcome the opportunity to discuss the humanitarian consequences of a possible war on Iraq.
In recent months, there has been a feeling that we are moving inevitability towards war, but I do not accept that war is inevitable. I still hope that a diplomatic solution will be found, and many hon. Members have said that we must do our utmost to prevent it from happening. The debate is important because we can set the humanitarian consequences of the war against the aims of the war, which causes me to ask: at what price war? I hope that when the Prime Minister and President Bush consider the problem at the weekend, they also weigh up the humanitarian consequences of going to war. I do not think that war is the lesser evil.
The recent leaked UN report on the humanitarian impact of such a war shows the vulnerability of the Iraqi population, half of whom are under 14, as many hon. Members have said. The children will be most affected by a conflict. They are most affected by the regime and will suffer most. How will the international community protect them and their families? From what the United Nations says, that will be very difficult, as my right hon. Friend acknowledged, although she did assure us that the structures are being put in place. But the country is vulnerable, much more so than in 1991.
As other hon. Members said, most of the Iraqi people depend on the Government for their basic needs. According to the World Food Programme, 80 per cent. of average Iraqi household income depends on food rations, with 60 per cent. of homes solely dependent on them, which is 16 million people. Those people will be directly affected by any disruption in food supplies, which a war will inevitably bring. Obviously, the amount of disruption will depend on which part of the country people live in. The issues are different in the north and in the south and central areas, as hon. Members said.
My right hon. Friend said that the UN is preparing for war and considering the humanitarian consequences, but I am worried about what money is being made available in the UN. The leaked draft UN report of
In the crisis that war will bring, the UN tells us that 4.2 million children under the age of five would be highly vulnerable, as would 1 million pregnant women. At present, 30 per cent. of babies in Iraq are born with low birth weights. Only 80 per cent. of children have had the measles vaccination, and the report says that a measles epidemic is likely. It estimates that, in a war, 30 per cent. of under-fives would be at risk of death from malnutrition. Those figures have been given several times today, but they cannot be stated too often.
There is still a shortage of drugs and vaccines, according to the UN, and UNICEF expects a shortage of drugs, especially antibiotics, within a month of the outbreak of war, as the population begins to suffer from diarrhoea and the other illnesses associated with the inevitable consequences of drinking water supplies being cut off in the event of war.
Is my hon. Friend aware that, in the southern parts of Iraq in particular, many babies are still being born malformed—some with two heads—as a result of depleted uranium used in the last war? We perhaps have that to look forward to in the next one.
I had heard that. The situation is of great concern.
The British Government are one of the largest donors to Iraq, having given about £100 million since the Gulf war. Our aid has focused on health, sanitation and water, but still, under the present regime and with the effect of sanctions, Iraq's mortality rate in the centre and the south is 2.5 times the level recorded in 1990. Despite the slight improvement that has already been mentioned, the present situation is very bad, and it is likely to be much worse after a war is declared.
I come now to the situation of refugees. The UN expects that up to 1.45 million refugees and asylum seekers would try to flee the country. Some countries may deny access to refugees or make them stay in camps on the borders or just inside Iraq. As the borders are mined, it is likely that there will be casualties caused by the mines, especially on the borders with Iran and Turkey. Therefore, I too wish to ask the Government what they will do to try to stop families fleeing into areas where there are mines.
I recently visited Iran, which already has 2 million refugees from Afghanistan. We had discussions with the agencies about the plan in Iran to encourage Afghan refugees to return to Afghanistan over a period of four years. Many of them are very reluctant to go back, for reasons that have been mentioned today. Outside Kabul, they do not know what they would be going back to. That is an important point that we should bear in mind when we think that there may be many Iraqi refugees entering Iran, which has the highest population of refugees in the world.
There will also be internally displaced people, estimated by the UN at up to 900,000, in addition to those already in Iraq. They are the most vulnerable in the world. The Save the Children Fund has briefed us on the fate of internally displaced people, who are without the established system of international protection. It has vividly described the experiences of children who have been displaced throughout the world. Many become separated from their families and are most vulnerable to sexual abuse and attack and at risk of malnutrition. These children will also lose out on education and on most of their childhood, because the problem will take many years to set right. They will not have the opportunity of normal play activity. Already in the centre and south of Iraq, one in three girls do not attend primary school, so there is disruption to their education. If children become internally displaced, there is a much greater chance of disruption. The protection of displaced children is a priority for the United Nations, which has produced guiding principles on such children, and it is essential that they are followed. Will my right hon. Friend do all that she can to ensure that, if war starts, the UN protocols are observed?
I am pleased that we are having this debate. In deciding whether to go to war, we must take into consideration the humanitarian consequences. At present, I do not believe that war is justified, and everything that has been said today confirms me in that view.
First, I congratulate my hon. Friend Mrs. Spelman on calling for this debate. I agree with her opening remarks and those of Ann Clwyd. I, too, was supposed to be serving on a Committee considering secondary legislation. It was a difficult choice, but I deemed this debate more important—there is no doubt that within the next few weeks we will more likely than not be fighting a war on Iraqi soil to remove weapons of mass destruction from the hands of a brutal and vicious dictator. As my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden said in her excellent opening speech, virtually all contributions to previous debates in the House have concentrated on military operations and the justification for action. It is surprising that the Government have not placed more emphasis on the humanitarian side of the equation, and I hope that today's debate will genuinely help to strengthen the hand of the Secretary of State and give her a louder voice in Cabinet discussions.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the humanitarian and military effort are one and the same? The military need to prepare for what will subsequently be demanded of them. As the Secretary of State said, she is only just starting to liaise with the military so that they can take over many tasks that non-governmental organisations have said they will not do if biological or chemical agents are used in theatre.
My hon. Friend is right, and anticipates the military angle that I hope to discuss later.
Except for the privileged few, Iraq and its people are in pretty poor shape, as everybody has attested. Almost three quarters of the population now depend on food handouts, and child mortality has rocketed due to the combined effects of malnourishment, poor sanitation, lack of clean drinking water and grossly inadequate health care.
Children are not the only vulnerable ones. Elderly and handicapped people and those who have been internally displaced are also living in highly precarious conditions. Military action itself will leave a legacy of destruction and deprivation on top of the existing humanitarian disaster. It will drive sick and starving people in their thousands through hostile conditions across the border into surrounding countries, and will displace people from their homes and separate them from family members. There is no doubt that people will die. It is therefore imperative that the House understand the Government's plans and the readiness of DFID and the relevant agencies for involvement in the difficult task of delivering swift and effective aid in a complex humanitarian emergency.
I want to explore in the brief time available the role of the military and the pitfalls that may face them. In the past 20 years or so, they have increasingly found themselves facilitating humanitarian assistance following conflicts. Indeed, I have seen our troops in operation in Pristina and surrounding areas, where they played a major role both in peacekeeping and in helping to rebuild communities devastated by war. The military do not act in isolation—they have to deal with various agencies and organisations, all of which have different roles and responsibilities, different methods of working and different chains of command. That can lead to problems, as past experience has shown. I should like to know whether the lessons of previous humanitarian operations have been learned and whether they will be put into practice in any potential conflict.
The first concerns assessment. In dealing with a complex humanitarian emergency, the first priority is rapid assessment to identify or even confirm needs, identify public health requirements and determine priorities and resources. Following the Gulf war, it was found that both civilian and military personnel working in Iraq were not trained in rapid public health and needs assessments or survey skills. I believe that the MOD and DFID have undertaken efforts to train both civilian and military personnel in those vital and basic skills. If so, may we have the details? Is the Secretary of State satisfied that the training so far has been sufficient?
A second issue that arose was the poorly defined role of the military, which contributed to co-ordination problems. What has the Department done to ensure that better communication between agencies and the military will be facilitated in the field during the humanitarian phase of the operation? Such was the failure of preparation that the aid efforts were even hampered by workers and military personnel being unable to speak the same language or the local language. What language training has been carried out for our NGOs and our forces?
Thirdly, political barriers to effective aid delivery were encountered in the last Gulf conflict. The western relief programme, Operation Haven, for the displaced Kurdish population was not as successful as it might have been. The refugees were restricted to high, cold and exposed mountain slopes, with poor sanitation and water supplies. The mortality rate was consequently high, and even though the public health needs strongly indicated the need for a rapid move, probably to a position over the Turkish border, that was not possible. Turkey was having its own internal political problems with the Kurdish nationalist movement, and some commentators have speculated that that may have been why the refugees could not be moved to more suitable terrain.There is no doubt that many people died from the harsh conditions, and would not have died, had they been moved to suitable areas.
What has the Secretary of State done to ensure that suitable sites have been identified in Iraq or the surrounding countries, and what discussions have taken place or are planned to take place, particularly with Turkey, to reduce the likelihood of the situation being repeated? We need to be able to guarantee that political expediency does not take precedence over epidemiological evidence.
Fourthly, the western relief programme was hampered by the absence of the UNHCR and its usual co-ordination role because its mandate did not cover internally displaced people. Can the Secretary of State tell us whether that is still the case, or whether it will be able to play a full role in any relief programme, irrespective of the status of the people?
Practical issues have arisen in other humanitarian relief operations and I should be grateful if the right hon. Lady could address these. Initially, in Goma in 1994, the military rather than an NGO such as Oxfam was required to provide a clean water supply for more than 50,000 refugees from neighbouring Rwanda. The military personnel faced huge technical problems for which they were not well equipped, and within eight days, a cholera epidemic raged through the camp, killing more than 30,000 refugees. In the end, at the height of the epidemic, more then 100 NGOs and 50 military contingents were working together. The UNHCR had no control over them, and when the final analysis took place, it was discovered that the military interventions were six times more expensive than the NGO interventions, and of course their presence in this instance exacerbated the co-ordination problems in the field. Can the Secretary of State reassure me that the lessons from Goma have been taken on board, and that only well-equipped personnel with appropriate equipment and training will be used in any humanitarian aid programme in Iraq?
Also in Rwanda, a small military contingent set up a field hospital for the refugees in Gikongoro and after a few weeks passed the operation over to NGOs. Although the military had provided superb medical and surgical care, it was found that the death rate among the refugees was more than eight per 1,000 per day, which is far above the accepted norm of 0.5 per 1,000 per day. Post-event analysis showed that although the medical care was excellent, the military had not recognised that the lack of shelter, water and sanitation was a priority, and the resulting public health problems had caused the high mortality. They had been focused on the priorities that they had rightly identified through their military training—that is, treating the wounded—and had failed to appreciate the public health implications. Inadvertently, they had added a dimension to the problems and many refuges died from common communicable diseases before it was even realised.
There are many other examples where the best intentions have not resulted in the best outcomes. I should like some reassurances, in particular that DFID has addressed the poor training and inadequate preparedness of personnel, the inadequate understanding of public health problems and priorities, the variable quality and poor targeting of aid, the political override of epidemiological needs, and the lack of co-ordination of military and civilian or NGO operations.
In addition, I would like to know what the MOD has done on those issues and about equipment, training, liaison with NGOs and civilians, cost-effectiveness studies and command structures during the aid phase. Military contingents have a role in humanitarian aid programmes, but those issues need to be addressed. The one thing that the military hate is dual tasking. Therefore, I should also like an assurance that there will be a follow-on military contingent to provide appropriate aid and security following any conflict.
We all hope that war will be avoided, but that depends on the actions of Saddam Hussein. We in this House need to know in the eventuality of war that we are well prepared to help the people of Iraq. The Secretary of State has so far disappointed us with her responses, but she will have another opportunity at the end of the debate to give the reassurances that we require. I hope that she will take that opportunity.
I wish to make colleagues on both sides of the House aware of a letter that I wrote this week to the Prime Minister. It states:
I write to you on a matter of real urgency at a time when so much concern is focused on the work of the United Nations weapons inspectors and when public opposition is growing against military action and the perceived reasons for taking such action. We have in my view little need to look for new weapons of mass destruction in Iraq as a trigger for action when there is already so much evidence of their use against the Kurds.
I am a good friend of Professor Christine Gosden, Professor of Medical Genetics at Royal Liverpool University Hospital Department of Pathology. She is also a nationally and internationally renowned individual, her reputation mainly focused in the area of weapons of mass destruction. Professor Gosden and her professional colleagues throughout the world meet regularly to discuss" problems associated with WMD
"and the medical response to the deployment of chemical and biological weapons in Northern Iraq. She and I are meeting with representatives of the Foreign Office to discuss the funding of several small projects in the area. However, we are both desperately concerned about a number of specific issues about which she has provided me with much reliable, verifiable and disturbing information, some of which I now summarise.
It seems likely that Saddam Hussein may currently be using weapons of chemical mass destruction against the population including Pesh mergas of Northern Iraq, members of the CIA, and MI6 throughout Iraq, as well as aid workers and Government officials who are working on plans to establish an administration after the current regime has been disposed of. However, what we do know is that WMD have been used against the population in Northern Iraq on a wider scale than has been recognised and may currently be a threat to the population in clandestine use including that in food and water supplies. The agents carried by these mediums may include aflatoxin, anthrax, small pox, plague, botulinum toxin, toxic radioactive waste, radiation weapons, and ricin. In addition, Professor Gosden believes that Saddam may even be infecting people in prison and then releasing them to mingle with members of their indigenous community, spreading such diseases as small pox and the plague. Whilst there is as yet no direct evidence of these latter practices, there are several reliable reports about experiments using prisoners to determine the human effects of ricin, and the contamination of water supplies.
My main concern is that we (as a primary aid giver to and possible invader of Iraq) are currently incapable of assessing the risks to the population by measuring the extent to which these agents are now being deployed there. What is certainly known, however, is that deaths are increasing in all age groups and that the diseases and genetic conditions exhibited by the Iraqis derive from interactions with various highly toxic agents. The levels of cancer, range of cancers, genetic and chromosomal defects exhibited by the people exceeds that exhibited by any normal population, but is matched by communities that fall within chemical and nuclear disaster areas, such as Bhopal and Chernobyl.
I am very concerned that we lack sufficient information about the consequences of chemical and biological weapons and that this paucity of knowledge will leave us ill-prepared to deal with the health problems of the people of Northern Iraq and battle troops if and when we invade the country. Professor Gosden and her team have developed a chemical and biological testing and treatment programme that needs to be implemented quickly to protect invading allied troops and Iraqi civilians from chemical and biological attacks. There is obviously an immediate benefit associated with this proposed programme for the indigenous people involved, but far more importantly the data collected from the testing programme would be of inestimable value for British and American intelligence and military planning agencies.
Unless you can assure me to the contrary, Christine is unaware of any agency carrying out such studies in the area of Northern Iraq at this time. Since this is one of the highest risk areas for the deployment of chemical and biological weapons, it is surprising that apparently no attention is being given to analysing the ongoing health effects of the previous extensive use of weapons of mass destruction on the people of the region. You will know that, under sanctions, few aid agencies now have licences allowing them to provide support for the people of the region. Have you carried out any analyses to determine the preparedness of these agencies to deal with the aftermath of the possible war with potentially millions of victims, including military personnel and aid workers, subjected to cocktails of biological and chemical weapons? Furthermore, has consideration been given to extending the list of aid agencies, who are allowed to deliver aid into the area, and how are these agencies being briefed and made ready for the task that may face them?
I am concerned that the existing structures responsible for providing health care and relief in Iraq are inadequate. There is a very real fear that some personnel involved with W.H.O. and the U.N., (because they have to work through Bagdad government departments), have become part of the regime that denies health care to the Iraqi population. The aid agencies operating in that area have virtually no diagnostic provisions or facilities and possess limited resources for treatment of illnesses related to poisonous weapons. Meanwhile the US and military agencies who are responsible for undertaking the task of conflict and post-conflict planning for health provision have no experience of the cultural and social networks that exist on the ground and which would improve the effectiveness of any care and health provision they might offer. They are by definition war professionals, not health professionals, and they therefore lack the skills and resources to deal with the people appropriately, especially in view of the large population of Moslem women to whom on religious and cultural grounds they would be denied access.
I support this argument by referring you to the situation in Afghanistan and the former Yugoslavia, where the military are still providing significant levels of post-conflict support. It is a matter of record that in the aftermath of those particular conflicts there are now dramatically increased disability and mortality rates amongst the indigenous populations, especially mothers and babies. Clearly the environment that our troops and allies may face in Iraq will be unprecedented in comparison to these previous theatres of war, and the problems that they face thus far greater.
In this context, I would like to ask you what action has been taken in relation to the following.
Has the Ministry of Defence developed strategies with medical teams from the UK and across the world with expertise with weapons of mass destruction to enable proper testing to be carried out in the region.
What is being done to provide medical assistance for those in danger in the region, such as supplies of antibiotics for potential plague and anthrax attacks, and bleach for attacks using biological agents and chemical agents such as V", ricin and mustard gas.
What are we providing for the current investigations into the effects of weapons of mass destruction on civilian populations, with particular and sensitive reference to both Islamic culture and the fears of the people.
What support should we be giving to initiatives for the research and implementation of conflict recovery strategies for populations ravaged by modern conflicts, embodying modern technological, molecular and therapeutic modalities that are sensitive to the culture of the people in conflict zones.
In conclusion, I would wish clearly to state that, as a pragmatist, I continue to accept the probable necessity of the forthcoming conflict with Saddam Hussein, and that I am relieved that we are finally settling to the task of removing this clearly deranged and murderous man. I regret, however, that the justification to do so appears, at least in the public's perception, to have arisen as a consequence of US policy and its perceived preoccupation with economic and oil-based arguments rather than flowing from what should be our own government's concern for humanitarian and moral issues—and indeed that we did not argue for this type of humanitarian intervention for this population damaged and killed by WMD many many years ago."
I am pleased to have the opportunity to take part in this debate, even though I, too, have had to give up on a Standing Committee in order to be here. We were debating whether Rupert Murdoch should own Channel 5, but this is a far more important debate for the House, which I hope will colour the decision on whether we go to war. The humanitarian aspect of any war in Iraq is surely part of considering whether we go to war, and I hope to make a few comments along those lines. I should like to say at the outset that I am receiving reports of very bad weather in mid-Wales, so if I have to miss the winding-up speeches, I hope that the Secretary of State will understand why. It will mean that I can get the earlier train, so that it will take me six hours instead of seven to get home. We shall see.
I am pleased that the Conservative party tabled the motion, because on the whole we have had a good-tempered, well-ordered and informative debate. However, there is one aspect that I should like to discuss. We have talked tangentially about the effect of economic sanctions on Iraq, but we have not considered whether the humanitarian situation in today's Iraq, or in post-conflict Iraq, would be better or worse if those sanctions were lifted or of a different nature. I want to read out a short newspaper story from The Guardian of
"The Government has informally relaxed the arms sanctions it imposed during the eight-year Iran-Iraq war in its efforts to ensure that Britain is not left out of the international drive to re-equip the Iraqi regime."
That was the then Conservative Government taking the opportunity, for trade reasons, to relax the arms embargo on Iraq. I want to turn that on its head to ask, in all seriousness, whether we are doing the right thing for the citizens of Iraq by maintaining economic sanctions, and whether we should have considered that at an earlier stage, when many hon. Members said that we should be doing so. We must face up to the reality that although the dreadful humanitarian situation that pertains in Iraq is mainly the result of Saddam Hussein's actions, it is partly because one of the tools of our policy in Iraq has been to keep the civilian population living a pretty miserable existence in the hope that they would overthrow the regime in their own time and in their own ways. That remains one of the unspoken aspects of the sanctions regime and the current situation in Iraq.
Many hon. Members mentioned the humanitarian situation. I shall not reiterate all those facts and figures, but leave them to speak on the record. We have heard that 1 million children under five have chronic malnutrition, that fewer than half the homes in Iraq have access to piped and clean water, that a third of the power supply is still down, and that between 60 and 75 per cent. of the population are dependent on food aid. That is the situation now, 10 years after a very limited conflict that did not take troops into the major part of Iraq itself, and which certainly did not target the regime or try to overthrow it. I ask hon. Members to imagine, in the context of the conflict that we are facing, the situation after an all-out war in Iraq, especially if we were forced to go into Baghdad or to use air power to take it. It is important to remember that Iraq was once, and still could be, a thoroughly modern country with a proper infrastructure in terms of water supply, electricity supply, education, a health service—
I know that we are short of time, but I want to respond to the hon. Gentleman, because he may not be here later. Sanctions were imposed by the UN at the end of the war on the assumption that Iraq's nuclear, chemical and biological weapons would be dismantled quickly, sanctions would be lifted and the country would return to normal. Instead, Saddam Hussein retained those weapons. That is the dilemma that the world faces. Saying that we should remove the sanctions because the Iraqi people have suffered is the same as saying that Saddam Hussein can do what he likes. I am afraid that it is not as simple as that. The UK has worked for the simplification of the sanctions regime so that nearly everything can be traded, and only things that could be used militarily are banned, but that has proved difficult. The UN expected a brief sanctions regime, the dismantling of weapons and a thriving Iraq—it was Saddam Hussein who was not willing to go for that.
I accept the burden of the Secretary of State's comments. She is right to make those points. However, eight or nine years after the Gulf war, we realised that the sanctions regime was not working and that it did not put the right pressure on Saddam Hussein to make him do what we expected. We should have reconsidered it. I accept that the Labour Government did what they could to reform it, but if I have time, I shall mention one or two aspects that need further consideration.
Iraq is a modern state, and its resources mean that it could become a powerhouse in the middle east. In that context, the position that people face, especially young people and children, is dreadful.
I want to concentrate on water supply. The Department's policy emphasises water, and one of the few successes of the world summit in Johannesburg was an international agreement on water. It is dreadful to contemplate what might happen post conflict in Iraq. The water supply currently fails to reach the majority of homes, and 65 per cent. of the water that does reach homes is untreated. After air strikes, matters will be even worse.
It was pointed out in an earlier intervention that dual-use material such as electric power generators could be utilised for military and civilian purposes. There is continuing discussion about several hundred small rural-based generators for water supply. Under the current sanctions regime, the UN has not given them the go-ahead.
The Secretary of State referred to the oil-for-food programme. Clearly, the regime uses it as a tool to oppress its people. However, the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that approximately 15 million people in Iraq depend on food aid and the oil-for-food programme. I appreciate that if the Secretary of State is winding up as well as opening the debate, she may have kept some of her powder dry. I hope that she will say more about the preservation of such programmes in a conflict and whether more can be delivered to the people of Iraq.
I want to consider our armed forces' actions in Iraq. If we go to war, we hope that they will act in a humanitarian way as far as that is possible within military constraints. I am especially worried that our forces may be under direct United States control and that weapons that we do not countenance, such as landmines, cluster bombs and depleted uranium may be used. The Geneva conventions provide that
"any objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population" must not be targeted and that no military actions should be taken that
"leave the civilian population with such inadequate food or water as to cause its starvation or force its movement."
I hope that that will be taken into account, not only in this debate, but in other defence debates and any decision to go to war.
I strongly believe that we can avert a humanitarian disaster in Iraq by avoiding war. I accept that the prime responsibility for that rests with Saddam Hussein, but the House and the country also have a responsibility. We must grant more time for the UN inspectors to do their work. We must not jump to conclusions simply because somebody finds a nerve gas suit or a biological or chemical suit. That does not mean that Iraq will use such weapons. We must allow enough time.
We must bear down on Saddam Hussein and the current regime and we must ensure that we go through the United Nations. The Secretary of State always emphasises the UN. I hope that she will give her view on actions without UN approval. My party and I would not approve of that.
We must avoid polluting the UN through browbeating it into going along with conflict in Iraq. Whatever the final decision, we must ensure that the UN is seen to be the international arbiter so that all countries, including Arab countries, continue to have faith in it and do not perceive it as a tool of US policy.
I hope that those comments will be considered not only in the context of humanitarian aid, but in our decision about whether to go to war with Iraq.
I welcome this debate on humanitarian contingency plans for Iraq, and I am grateful to the Conservatives for their interest in this critically important area, although in my view that is almost as surprising as Dracula securing a debate on blood transfusions for haemophiliacs. I note that Alistair Burt made a somewhat personal attack on me. What he does not seem to grasp is that my attack on the Conservatives is not personal at all; indeed, I had a meeting this morning with Baroness Chalker, one of the most intelligent and sincere people ever to grace the Conservative Benches.
I am not looking at Conservative Members' personal qualities; I am looking at their record. Eighteen years in office and what did they do? They cut aid to the world's poorest people and linked it to trade. That is the record. It is a shameful legacy, which this Labour Government have consigned to the dustbin of history. I would be very happy to leave it there, if only Tory MPs would stop acting as though they ever did anything useful when it mattered: when they were in power.
I am an executive member of the newly formed all-party group on Africa, which the hon. Gentleman is very welcome to join. However, he might also want to think about a reconciliation and truth commission within the Tory party, in order to come to terms with its shameful past on this subject.
How urgent are our efforts to prevent blood being spilt, and to minimise any civilian casualties? Our first and foremost aim must obviously be to minimise the loss of human life. For the purposes of the current debate on Iraq, there are four possible causes of loss of life, all of which are more or less interlinked: first, military action; secondly, the development and use of chemical and biological weapons; thirdly, the poverty that faces most developing countries in that region; and fourthly—a particularly lethal cause of loss of life—Saddam Hussein himself.
The latter is not a flippant point. I made the same point during a debate on sanctions in Iraq some years ago, and it was eloquently restated today by my hon. Friend Ann Clwyd. The worst infant mortality and malnutrition in Iraq is in areas under Saddam Hussein's control. In northern, Kurdish-controlled areas of Iraq, which face greater sanctions and shortages, loss of life is less. Saddam Hussein kills more Iraqi children than anyone else, but that does not mean we can abdicate our responsibilities to those same children. Saddam Hussein has built and used chemical and biological weapons, but that does not mean we can abdicate our responsibilities towards the prospects for their future use.
The dilemma that we face is that if we permit the development of chemical, biological and possibly nuclear weapons, at some point we are inviting a terrible loss of human life. Yet if we take military action to disarm Iraq and enforce UN resolution 1441, we risk a more immediate loss of life. For this reason, it is my fervent, although perhaps futile, wish that we avoid military action. None the less, the decision rests with Saddam Hussein: it is up to him whether he wishes to do what he has been requested to do by the UN.
So I agree with the Government's actions so far. Threatening Saddam Hussein with military force has been the single most effective thing that we have done in the past 11 years to get him to accept UN authority. And it is UN authority that is at stake. I trust that the UN will be given more time to carry out its work. If military action is taken, humanitarian risks are grave. As we have heard, 16 million people rely on food aid through the oil-for-food programme. That is 60 per cent. of the Iraqi population.
Other humanitarian risks that have been set out include regional factionalism and bloodletting—we have seen terrible examples of that in Afghanistan, post conflict—risks to sanitation facilities; the deliberate or inadvertent use of chemical and biological weapons; and the terrible legacy of land mines and cluster bombs. Will the Secretary of State make representations—perhaps she has already done so—to the Defence Secretary and the Prime Minister to ensure that those types of weapons are not used? Will she also let us know what further humanitarian aid the British Government are making available to Iraqi civilians? It might come as a surprise to people to hear that the British Government are one of the largest donors to Iraq, and that since the Gulf war we have committed nearly £100 million for water, sanitation and basic health provision. We also run a programme to help Iraqi refugees in Iran.
However, the worst-case scenarios facing Iraqi civilians as a result of military action could dwarf the terrible problems that they have faced so far. That is why any military action must take account of humanitarian risks, perhaps in a way that challenges current military thinking. In the past, the vulnerability of the civilian population has not usually been at the top of the military's agenda—but if it is not at the top of the agenda this time, I have no doubt that the military will win the battle but lose the war.
Half of Iraq's population are children under 14. If we do not protect those children, all the military hardware in the world will not protect us from the justifiable anger of the Muslim world—indeed, from the anger of all those who hold sacred the value of human life. This Government are renowned for having developed one of the world's most effective humanitarian programmes. For that reason, we have a responsibility to make every possible effort to ensure that humanitarianism is at the top of the international community's agenda.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate. I shall echo some of the points that have already been made, but I also hope to raise a few issues that have not been raised so far.
This is not the time to debate whether Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction, United Nations approval, or even the importance of a substantive vote in the House—although many people, like me, are mystified by the Prime Minister's reaction to questions about a substantive vote in this place. If George Bush phones the Prime Minister and says, "We need to go to war now"—as he might—surely it is in everyone's interests, including those of the troops, to ensure that the Government and the Prime Minister have heard the views of the House first. The public are asking questions about the military action that will be taken in their name, and the House is not giving them the answers. I hope that that will be a debate for another day.
What is at hand today is something that I believe the people of this country are deeply concerned about, as has been shown by the speeches that hon. Members have already made—something that, in the heat of the military debate, is in danger of being lost. The humanitarian consequences of military strikes in Iraq are nothing short of frightening. A high-impact scenario was suggested in the recent UN report, which said that military action could
"result in a complete breakdown of state capacities and possibly civil war . . . This will trigger large scale internal and external population movements as well as massive humanitarian needs. Agencies' ability to respond would be severely limited for an extended period."
Before we even think about the potential problems in Iraq after a conflict, it is important to stress the humanitarian situation now, before the first official bomb has been dropped—I understand that bombing in some areas has already started, and is being carried out with increasing regularity. The situation on the ground in Iraq is horrifying.
Last week, I was fortunate enough to meet representatives of Save the Children, and they backed up much of the information that I had already received on this subject. The figures, which many Members have already mentioned, speak for themselves. Malnourishment and diarrhoea mean that Iraq is suffering the fastest increasing child mortality in the world: 10 per cent. of Iraqi children now die before their first birthday. As other Members have said, according to the World Food Programme, 16 million Iraqi people—60 per cent. of the population—are now wholly dependent on food aid. To put that figure in some perspective, the number of people who are now hungry in Iraq is roughly equivalent to the number who are in a similar situation in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Swaziland, Malawi, Mozambique and Lesotho all added together.
Put simply, Iraq is unable to feed its own people, because of drought and the bureaucratic system of food distribution used by the Iraqi state authorities. The food going into Iraq is insufficient, and careful consideration will have to be given to how we shall help the innocent and the starving if military action commences. It is surely without question that any military action would further disrupt that food distribution, and probably stop it altogether. If conflict were to begin, Iraq's neighbours would likely close their borders and the UN oil-for-food programme would effectively end.
However, food is not the only problem. As my hon. Friend Dr. Tonge said, Iraq's basic infrastructure is crumbling, with 50 per cent. of the sewage treatment plants not working. The water and sanitation systems that are left depend on the supply of electricity but, 12 years after the Gulf war, it is estimated that one third of the national power supply is still down.
Iraq is a country in serious poverty. That is one reason why I find it incredible that we might create yet another humanitarian disaster, when the UK and the international community already have to deal with countless other disasters across the globe. A number of speakers have already outlined the situation in Zambia, Malawi, Ethiopia and Eritrea, but we are seriously talking about adding to the list. If military action does take place, that is what will happen. Are not the development budgets of the United States, Europe and Britain stretched enough already? Will they be able to cope with anything more?
The contingency plan of the UN office for the co-ordination of humanitarian affairs admits the financial restraints that already exist. It states:
"UN agencies have been facing severe funding constraints that are preventing them from reaching even minimum levels of preparedness. As a consequence, the current response capacity of the UN system remains well below the critical requirements established through the inter-agency planning process."
The Secretary of State—for whom I have the utmost respect—does not want there to be civilian casualties. Of course she wants to avoid unnecessary deaths and inflicting yet more suffering on a population already suffering from misery, hunger and disease. I believe the right hon. Lady when she says that the British Government would be there to help people rebuild their lives. However, the Government's good intentions are not enough. We can all remember vividly how the Government said, in 2001, that they would help rebuild Afghanistan when the conflict there was over. They are making efforts to do just that, but the situation in Afghanistan is far from being a good-news story. Much of the country has reverted to the status that it occupied before the campaign against terrorism. Most of the country outside Kabul is under the control of warlords, and poppies that will become heroin on our streets are still being grown in the fields. Afghanistan is far from being a rebuilt nation.
Last week, the Select Committee on International Development, of which I am a member, published a report on the reconstruction of Afghanistan. In paragraph 86, it stated:
"Afghanistan is a completely wrecked land, with no institutions that work, no legitimate economy, no legitimate economy, no order of security and serious capacity shortfalls within Government."
The report showed that there are still immense problems in Afghanistan. Before the Prime Minister and the Government consider their next military campaign, they must not forget that there is unfinished business from the previous campaign.
I have seen no evidence to convince me that this country should go to war with Iraq. I can understand that, under certain circumstances, such action may have to be taken, but my view today is that war is not desirable, necessary nor inevitable. In my relatively short time as a Member of Parliament, more of my constituents have contacted me about Iraq than about any other issue. I do not take it to be a wholly representative sample, but I have not yet received a single letter, or spoken to one person in Edinburgh, West who believes that this country should be involved in military action at this time. Other hon. Members have told the House on a number of occasions of similar experiences, and I believe that that is very significant.
I hope that the Government accept that a great deal more work will have to be done to convince a large number of hon. Members, and I believe the resounding majority of people in this country, that force should be used in their name, especially given the major impact that such force would undoubtedly have on ordinary innocent Iraqi civilians—on men and women, on young and old, but mostly on children.
I hope that we do not go to war. Unfortunately, I fear that the decision may have been taken already. The humanitarian consequences of war in Iraq would last a generation. Today in Vietnam, children are still being born deformed or stillborn, without palates or chins, as a result of the effects of the agent orange dioxin—a weapon of mass destruction if ever there was one. If military action is taken, I hope that the UK Government will live up to their promise to make every effort to minimise civilian casualties and to help the people who definitely do not hold chemical weapons, pose any threat to this country or deserve further misery, but who will undoubtedly suffer most should military action be taken.
The motion on the Order Paper.
I find it difficult to believe that the Conservative party, which spent 20 years behaving as though there were no such thing as a humanitarian act either at home or abroad, should choose to use the possibility of a war—a war in which, as my hon. Friend Joan Ruddock pointed out, thousands on thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians will probably lose their lives—to make party political points.
Attempting to condemn my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development is nothing less than shameful—albeit hardly surprising. The Conservative party when in government reduced aid year on year. We have heard much from Conservative Members of their concern about possible humanitarian damage, the special needs of children and the appalling situation for refugees if they flee across borders. They have asked my right hon. Friend what plans she has to ensure that the worst humanitarian catastrophe does not take place. Yet one of their number referred to refugees who are still in camps in Jordan following the Kuwait war. If memory serves me correctly, the Conservatives were in office for six years after that; why did they not have a humanitarian plan?
We also heard much concern about the possibility of refugees escaping from the war and having to cross minefields. I am prepared to bet a sizeable amount of money that the mines were sold by the Conservative Government who year after year spent public money to advertise and encourage the sale of British weapons to developing nations at fairs that British citizens were not allowed to attend even as they paid for them.
The hon. Lady referred to my remarks about Jordan and refugees. I asked a junior Foreign Office Minister about that this morning, and the refugees still in Jordan have in fact been assimilated into Jordanian society rather than remaining in refugee camps. I thought it would be helpful to make the hon. Lady aware of that.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for setting his own record straight. I understand that the refugees in Iran have not been assimilated.
I have made my position abundantly clear on the possibility of war with Iraq, and I will continue to do so. One argument advanced by the Conservative party today for war on Saddam Hussein was the obvious one about weapons of mass destruction. Another was his appalling human rights record. I was interested to hear that argument from a party that did nothing about—indeed, encouraged British businesses to invest in—Burma, whose regime was one of the most appalling in the world. I was touched by the Conservatives' concern that Iraqi oil must be the preserve of Iraqi people. They did not have the same attitude towards Nigeria or Burma. It is nice to know that they may be beginning to change, but I will always have my doubts about that, and I regret to say that my suspicions have been confirmed this afternoon.
It was left to my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford and other Members on the Labour Benches to set out clearly, using well-informed and well-researched evidence, the absolute disaster that a war on Iraq would be for the innocent civilians of Iraq. There is no guarantee that any military action would kill or even capture Saddam Hussein.
It is absurd to persist in the blithe belief that, at the end of a war that would undoubtedly be won by the most powerful nation in the world, a marvellous democratic Iraqi Government would be waiting in the wings, ready to slot into place. Reference has already been made to the international community keeping faith on its promises to Afghanistan. It is doubtful—or at least extremely debatable—that the international community will stay in Iraq for the length of time necessary to bring about democratic government that will have the support and loyalty of the Iraqi people.
We do not have the right to engage in what will clearly be murder, and which will leave the most terrible legacy for generations of Iraqi civilians, without hard, verifiable evidence not only that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction but that he is able to deliver them against the United Kingdom, which is an absurd idea. Even more absurd is the idea that he could actually deliver them against the mainland of the United States.
Both our Government and the American Administration are floating the idea that a further reason for the removal of Saddam Hussein is that he may have—they are beginning to move away from "he has"—clear links with Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. However, before we move to an actual shooting war, evidence for that should be presented not only to the House, the American Senate and the peoples of the world but also to the United Nations.
I would dispute whether it was exclusively the threat of violence and attack that got the UN weapons inspectors back into Iraq, but even if one accepts that, they are there. What do the inspectors ask for? They ask for more time. This morning, I heard an interview on the radio with the UN inspector with responsibility for examining the possibility that there are nuclear weapons in Iraq or the capacity to create a nuclear programme. He was categorical: the inspectors need at least five more months. Hans Blix has also asked for more time. That time should be given to the UN inspectors, and our Government and the American Administration should stop hiding behind the excuse that it is all up to Saddam Hussein. It is up to the United Nations; it should be the will of the United Nations.
Resolution 1441 was passed unanimously. That should inform what happens over the next few months. However, the inspectors will not be afforded the time they need and I freely admit to cynicism when I say that that will not be because there are weapons of mass destruction nor because everyone is so outraged at that evil dictator, but because there is a window of opportunity for troops. If troops are not on the ground by the end of February, the weather will become infinitely too hot for them to fight effectively in protective clothing. That seems to be the trigger.
A few moments ago I was standing in the Corridor—there was no one there but me. How dare we sit in this calm, quiet, panelled Chamber and have the audacity to make decisions that will be death for people thousands of miles away? We do not know them; they do not know us. We cannot take such actions without taking every opportunity and every diplomatic avenue to prevent a war.
I apologise to the House if I appear slightly bleary-eyed this evening. I stepped off a plane from the United States only this morning, having sat in the Security Council in New York on Monday and having spent Tuesday and Wednesday in Washington seeing members of the Administration. They do not have a gung-ho attitude; there is serious consideration of what might unfold, especially in relation to the humanitarian matters to which our motion is devoted. I am sorry that some speakers in the debate have not, in everything that they said, devoted themselves to those matters.
I think that we can see the most likely course of events. I hope that there will be a second resolution—I think that there will. We shall see Secretary of State Colin Powell appear before the Security Council on
War looks more likely than not and no one in all conscience can ever relish the prospect of war, but we are duty bound to assess what it would entail and plan for its consequences. That is exactly what the motion before the House attempts to do.
Some of the accusations levelled against us have been out of place, distasteful and unworthy of many of those who have made them—[Interruption.] Glenda Jackson is at it again.
My hon. Friend Mrs. Spelman has been asking questions about the humanitarian consequences of any war for a long time. She has done so in a spirit of constructiveness and in a responsible manner, not in a mood of point-scoring or petty politics, as some people have said. There is no better evidence of her attitude to the subject than her letter to the Secretary of State of
"what will happen to the Oil for Food Programme . . . How effective are Iraqi aid agencies?"— and what happens if UN personnel have to leave the country?
"Has consideration been given to protective clothing . . . What discussions have you had with your counterparts in the surrounding states", and what about the "pre-positioning" of supplies and people? What medicines and vaccines are there, what might be needed, and are there sufficient stocks? What liaison is there between civil and military agencies—a very important point, in particular in the early stages of anything that might happen, and,
"What role does the Government envisage for the BBC Arabic Service?"
No one can say that that is petty point scoring. No one can say that it is irresponsible. Those were grown-up, sensible and dutiful questions put by the Opposition to the Secretary of State.
What did we get back? Five lines, which read:
"Thank you for your letter of
"My Department is looking at all eventualities, and talking to relevant actors across the UK government and internationally. We are also in regular contact with the NGOs we already fund in Iraq. We are planning for a wide range of humanitarian contingencies."
That was that.
I simply do not understand the Secretary of State's petulance. There is no need for it. We have set aside all party consideration in being largely supportive of the Prime Minister and of the Government of which the right hon. Lady is a part—[Laughter]. I do not understand how Dr. Tonge can laugh. Her attitude today has been lamentable.
A similarly constructive attitude from the Secretary of State to our legitimate inquiries about humanitarian concerns would have been appreciated and will yet be appreciated in the remaining minutes of this debate. The right hon. Lady is to speak for a second time and will have the opportunity to answer the questions that she did not answer before, which I will deal with in a minute. First, I will deal with some of the interventions.
The hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate seems to have done a runner, but she intervened early in my hon. Friend's speech, as did Mr. Salmond—I am afraid with another party political point, about asylum. The whole point about all that might happen in Iraq is not that it might become easier to escape persecution by coming to Britain, but that those who are born and live in Iraq might yet escape persecution by staying where they are. That is what all this is about.
The hon. Member for Richmond Park, who spoke for the Liberal Democrats, essentially has this policy on Iraq: let them stew. She is in favour of doing nothing. She adopts a totally illogical position. She does not want sanctions, but she expects containment. She says that containment is working, but she wants to drop sanctions. It is an utterly illogical position behind which there is no cogent thesis.
The hon. Lady wants sanctions to be dropped. How does she think she would contain Saddam Hussein if that happened?
In the minutes left, we in the House have a crucial opportunity to give the Secretary of State a second chance to inform us, which she failed to do earlier. In many respects, we have had a good debate. We have heard 12 contributions. My right hon. Friend Sir Brian Mawhinney drew attention in particular to the plight of children. My hon. Friend Gregory Barker expressed his exasperation—I share his view—at the Secretary of State's sins of omission, and I hope that she can rectify them in a moment. My hon. Friend Mrs. Gillan made an excellent and thoughtful contribution; she added to our deliberations.
The Secretary of State spoke only of the risks. Let me return to what she said. Quite reasonably, she listed some of the risks that Iraq will face: ethnic fighting; the removal of electrical power, which will affect water and sanitation; the burning of oil wells; the disruption of the oil-for-food programme; and biological and chemical contamination. All of that is valid stuff. It says something about her analysis, but absolutely nothing about her proposed course of action. That is what the debate is about, and it is what we call for in our motion.
When I intervened on the Secretary of State, she said that she would give us some details—but she did not. She gave us none at all. We have heard nothing whatever about her contingency plans, so let me try to set the parameters in which, I hope, she will be able to give us at least some information. There are some aspects of Iraq that give it good prospects for long-term recovery. There is a highly educated and intelligent population—the legacy, to an extent, of what was there before Saddam Hussein.
There is secular government, albeit horrendous. Again, to an extent that is an advantage. There is a chance that, if the integrity of the state can be maintained, there will not be the ethnic fighting that the right hon. Lady suggested might be a risk. Crucially, unlike Afghanistan, Iraq will be able to benefit—sooner, rather than later—from the revenues that it can earn from oil, which can play a significant part in its reconstruction.
Let us consider the shorter-term humanitarian needs: food and clothing suitable for the climate and the people and, crucially, water. If electricity has gone and people are moving, they will have no water. So stockpiles of water, particularly in the growing heat, will be absolutely crucial to the basic survival of the people who are bound to be displaced by any conflict. As soon as water goes and sanitation goes, there is the risk of cholera and other diseases, so there is an immediate need for vaccines of all sorts, for which adequate preparation can readily be made and admitted to the House without in any way compromising the military secrets that the right hon. Lady thinks compel her to some kind of Trappist vow.
There will be the movement of people. We hope that there will not be massive movements of people across borders. We hope that, at worst, there will be internally displaced people, who perhaps can be helped more readily, given the existing aid structures in Iraq. In the short-term, the logistical needs of any kind of aid will probably rely on military co-operation to start with, rather than on civil personnel delivering all the aid. It is probably true—in some ways, I hope it is—that many people in Iraq, fearing what is coming, may have stockpiled up to a month's supply of food for their own use. That will provide them with a necessary and crucial breather for their survival if there is conflict.
What I really object to is the fact that, despite the terms of our motion and the requests that we made in intervening on the Secretary of State, we have heard nothing from her about her plans. She could not even give us a basic list of those to whom she is talking. She could not, even in basic conceptual terms, address the sort of action that might be needed. Such an approach does not give away any secrets. If those things are not happening, it is a scandal. If they are happening, there is no reason not to tell the House today.
The United States is devoting extensive resources to planning for humanitarian aid, with a professionalism and purpose that the right hon. Lady seems unwilling to replicate or even to discuss. I find the right hon. Lady's attitude today absolutely bewildering. My hon. Friend the Member for Meriden has been consistent, constructive and even rather dogged in asking her to make a statement and to explain her plans. We are grown up enough to know that she would rather not give certain details in public. She could even have offered some kind of private briefing for my hon. Friend, but she has not even had the basic courtesy to do that, even within the restricted criteria that we may accept need to govern what she says. All that we have done is ask for some basic information about the Government's plans for humanitarian aid to what may be a war-riven country.
Instead, all that has happened is that the Secretary of State has got ratty. We could be exchanging all sorts of ideas and suggestions, each of which might save lives. All that we have had from her, however, is a bizarre and peculiar reaction. I was looking forward, in the spirit in which the Opposition have approached this difficult moral issue, to congratulating her on her vision, commitment and sincerity, as I have done previously, and as I have regularly congratulated Ann Clwyd on everything that she has done in the middle east and elsewhere. Given that all we have witnessed today is apparent confusion, dereliction and seeming lack of grip, we must demand better.
Let me try again, in the minute remaining, to ask the Secretary of State, in a spirit of genuine co-operation, what she plans to do to help with the humanitarian needs of Iraq should there be some kind of military conflict. Will she tell us a little about her budget; her priorities; who her partners will be, internationally and in Iraq; how her co-operation will work with the armed forces, and how responsibilities will be shared with other agencies? Will she give us a clue? If she does so, we will give credit where credit is due. If all we get is continuing silence and obfuscation, she will have to answer charges of negligence and disarray.
I asked at the beginning of the debate for permission to wind up, as my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary is at her mother-in-law's funeral. I ask you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for that permission again.
After that pompous, smug and self-satisfied speech, let me say that I now understand what the Tory party is trying to say—[Interruption.] I am trying to speak, and already Mr. Duncan is heckling from a sedentary position. The Tory party is saying, "We welcome war, let us go to it. What are your plans to tidy up afterwards?" They do not appear to understand a number of things that I have tried to explain to them.
First, it has been difficult to get all the parts of the international system that must prepare—[Interruption.] The Tories are heckling again, and they pretend that they are concerned about these matters. It has been difficult to get all those parts to prepare for all the different contingencies, of which there are many—it is not just a question of war or no war, and action to plan for war that will have certain inevitable consequences.
It is a question of how the inspectors perform, whether there will be military action and what kind of military action it will be—all of this will relate to the situation in the middle east—and what kind of humanitarian consequences might flow. Much of what needs to be prepared must be lined up against the military contingencies, which it has been difficult to get the international system to talk about. Even when it will do so, I am not in a position to report to the House the details of all those discussions. Similarly, the UN system, which is responsible to its members, most of whom do not want to foresee military action in Iraq, has had difficulty getting started on its preparations. Then it started, but it did not want to make public statements about those preparations, because of the amount of seething anxiety across the international system, of which perhaps those Members who are so happy to go to war are unaware—[Interruption.]
I have taken a lot of false, rude, ignorant and silly abuse. I should like to make some progress and educate Conservative Members because they are not thinking through all the agonising possibilities. We have to think through the ways in which we can minimise the suffering of the people of Iraq in terms of the reality of the international system in which we have to work. In addition, the neighbouring countries have not been willing to talk openly about the prospects of war or military or humanitarian preparations. [Interruption.] Conservative Members may heckle, but that is the reality.
Conservative Members seem to think that it is possible to plan to have a war in which the US would be overwhelmingly the largest player and the UK a relatively small player, and for my Department to sit on the sidelines putting in place plans for the humanitarian contingencies so that everyone in Iraq is cared for properly. The world does not work like that. The UK is 5 per cent. of the international humanitarian system. Sir Brian Mawhinney asked me to consider becoming a tsar for children. I would be delighted to rage into Iraq to look after its children and to leave the multilateral system to one side, but the scale and complexity of the crisis, and the possibility of a post-war situation, mean that it is not possible to act like that. The value of the debate is to stress that it is impossible to make military plans without thinking of the humanitarian consequences.
I told the hon. Gentleman about it in my introductory remarks, but because the Conservative party is so intent on war and the humanitarianism of tidying up afterwards—
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. This is the third time that the right hon. Lady has perpetrated that slander against the party of which I am proud to be a member. Many hon. Members, such as myself, are gravely doubtful of the leadership provided by the Prime Minister on the matter and we want to know what the right hon. Lady is doing to mop up the mess that may be created.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman has just come into the Chamber and has not been listening to the debate. Funnily enough, he just confirmed my point. He wanted to know what I am doing to mop up the mess. That is my very point. We cannot approach the crisis in that way. It does not work like that. We need to think of all the possible contingencies and plan to minimise any harm to the people of Iraq. For example, if chemical and biological weapons are used, the military will have to take action to protect the people, but Conservative Members do not seem to be interested in those realities. I am sure, however, that other hon. Members and those who read the debate will be capable of thinking through the consequences.
No, I am sorry.
Dr. Tonge, for whom I have much affection and respect, demonstrated the luxury of being a Liberal Democrat. She wanted to withdraw sanctions and to have no military action in the middle east because any war would be a human catastrophe. The UN imposed sanctions after Iraq invaded Kuwait. They were meant to be for a brief period. Iraq had chemical, biological and nuclear capacity. The UN put in its inspectors and the sanctions were to be lifted after they disarmed the weaponry. We have worked to refine and limit the sanctions. Surely no one in a responsible world would propose walking away and allowing Saddam Hussein to go on with developing his weapons of mass destruction and terrorising his people. Life is just not as easy as that.
I agree with my hon. Friend Mr. Barnes that, despite some of the noises off, it is valuable to have a debate that considers military possibilities alongside humanitarian consequences. Such a debate, which is overdue, might lead to refinement of the planning of some of the military options. He asked, "Should we go in and hammer these people?" The answer is no. If military action is necessary to maintain the authority of the UN to deal with the problem, we should think about how it can be refined so that the people of Iraq are properly cared for and any harm to them is minimised. Some of that work is going on and needs to be taken further.
I have responded to the points of the right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire. I assure him that we shall do all in our power to minimise the suffering of the people. It is not possible to minimise the suffering of children without minimising the suffering of civilians, of their mothers and their families. If we can have a more sophisticated debate about military options and how to minimise harm to the people of Iraq, we can probably minimise some of that harm and bring about the recovery much more quickly.
My hon. Friend Joan Ruddock used the words, "If we carpet bomb". There must be no carpet bombing. She will remember the Gulf war. I did not resign from our Front Bench when the Gulf war took place. It was my desire to talk about the kind of military action, the unnecessary bombardment and suffering for the people of Iraq, which was not permitted, that led me to resign. There is a speech on the record that spells that out and demonstrates to some Opposition Members that the suggestions that they have been making are false.
As for Gregory Barker, he revealed some of the motivations of his party and his ignorance and silliness. His speech was beneath contempt and was not worth commenting on.
My hon. Friend Ann Clwyd has campaigned long and hard for the bringing to justice of Saddam Hussein. That is a very useful campaign. I think that the most optimistic scenario is enough time, a united international community, progress in the Middle East, a crumbling of the regime, minimal military action and Saddam Hussein brought to justice. That is not ruled out. If we examine some of the options, we shall see that we could get there and then minimise the suffering of the people.
Alistair Burt asked a question about the Kuwaiti border—[Interruption]
I do not know the answer to the hon. Gentleman's question, but I shall make sure that it is provided if it is available and if the Ministry of Defence is willing to give it.
My hon. Friend Julie Morgan asked about refugees going into mined areas. Again I make the point that we must look at all the contingencies, but we must try to avoid massive movements of refugees, because that would mean terrible bombardment, and possible use of chemical and biological weapons. Those contingencies are being thought through by UNHCR. Another hon. Member asked whether it dealt with internally displaced people, and the answer is that it does. The contingency plans are being made, but let us try to ensure that mass movements of population are not caused, because that would mean a terrible situation inside Iraq.
I would tell Mrs. Gillan that we certainly will not repeat the disaster that was Rwanda and the handling of the humanitarian situation there. There have been major improvements in the capacity of the international system since then.
My reply to my hon. Friend Ms King is "absolutely". The weapons inspectors are back in because there was a willingness to use military action to back up the authority of the UN. We might not like it, but that is the truth. My view is that we should continue with that determination, but through the UN, to minimise humanitarian harm and as speedily as possible reconstruct Iraq. The Arab world is working on the prospect of getting Saddam Hussein removed rather than having a war. All these options should be explored.
rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.
Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.
That this House observes the dire humanitarian situation in Iraq resulting from Saddam Hussein's misrule and Iraqi obstruction of humanitarian agencies; notes that more than ten per cent. of all Iraqi children die before their fifth birthday, and that a quarter of children under five are chronically malnourished; further notes the high dependency of Iraqis on Oil for Food programmes; deplores the continued Iraqi disruption of the Oil for Food programme; recognises the serious threat posed by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction; understands that military action may follow Iraq's continued violation of its international obligation to disarm and destroy those weapons of mass destruction, contrary to UN Resolution 1441; urges the Secretary of State for International Development to work with the international community urgently to draw up a comprehensive humanitarian strategy for assisting the people of Iraq in the event of war; further urges Her Majesty's Government to ensure that there is close co-operation between the military campaign and the aid effort; and calls on the Secretary of State for International Development to keep Parliament fully informed of the humanitarian situation in Iraq.