Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:34 pm on 28th November 2002.

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Photo of Lord Astor of Hever Lord Astor of Hever Conservative 4:34 pm, 28th November 2002

My Lords, my noble friends Lord Howell and Lord King mentioned the quality of our military equipment that might be committed to a full-scale war in Iraq—and I take the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, that there is no inevitability as regards military action.

Equipment is a vital issue to young servicemen and servicewomen, particularly in the light of the Prime Minister's comment that he would be willing to pay a "blood price" to resolve the situation in Iraq. I look forward to assurances from the Minister that they will not be sent away—possibly to their deaths—with second-rate equipment and clothing. I know that he, personally, takes this matter very seriously and will answer in the best way he can, mindful that surprise is the key advantage.

While making preparations for a possible war against Saddam Hussein, we must also be planning how to deliver humanitarian aid to the people of Iraq. I hope that the Government are conducting a very serious assessment of the humanitarian impact of any future conflict. NGOs are reviewing contingency planning and their role. Understandably, plans are not being made public for fear of de-stabilising the current situation.

The end-game, rightly, is the eradication of weapons of mass destruction. But we must be prepared to mitigate any humanitarian fall-out in the event of conflict. We must also ensure a principled and effective response to any humanitarian crisis after the conflict is over. Our permanent membership of the Security Council, and of the European Union, and proximity to the US Administration, make us uniquely positioned to help. In addition, we are the second largest bilateral humanitarian donor in real terms.

The humanitarian situation in Iraq is dire. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, pointed out that 14 million Iraqis are dependent on food aid.

The regime of Saddam Hussein is culpable for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of women and children, through systematically denying them food and medicine, and subjecting them to the most gruesome chemical and biological attacks.

If there is a war, Iraq's infrastructure is expected to be targeted, including power stations. A lack of power is likely to cause a serious epidemic, as there would be no way of treating water. The international community must then work together to avoid the rapid spread of infectious diseases, such as cholera and typhoid. In addition, vaccines and blood banks could become ineffective as both products need to be stored in a cool environment.

United Nations overseas staff will be evacuated, and the humanitarian agencies will be winding down just at the time when they are most needed. It is vital, therefore, that the military and NGOs work closely together as early as possible.

Post-war reconstruction is vital, as my noble friend Lord Moynihan pointed out. A great deal of work in repairing bridges and roads will need to be done before NGOs can start to work, which will severely hamper the humanitarian effort.

I hope that consideration is being given, in the event of a conflict, to informing the Iraqi people of the ongoing humanitarian issues using the BBC's Arabic Service. As my noble friend Lord Moynihan said, winning the peace is as important as winning the war. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, rightly said that hearts and minds have to be won.

The probability that Saddam Hussein will use chemical and/or biological weapons, possibly on his own people, possibly to try to save himself, is a major concern to servicemen and servicewomen and to their families. I assume that there will be sufficient vaccine to immunise against the effects of NBC all service personnel and reservists who may be deployed to Iraq. However, troops will need assurances that lessons have been learnt from problems over Gulf War syndrome, and that any side-effects of interaction between the various vaccines are properly understood.

I accept that, for security reasons, the Minister will be careful in any response that he may give.