HC Deb 30 November 1988 vol 142 cc687-9
1. Mr. Atkinson

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations he has made to his Iraqi counterpart on the use of chemical weapons against its Kurdish population.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Sir Geoffrey Howe)

We have repeatedly condemned Iraq for its use of chemical weapons. I made that absolutely clear to the Iraqi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs on 21 September, as did my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster at the highest level in Baghdad earlier this month. We noted with concern last week's television documentary containing further reports of Iraqi CW use in August. It underlines the importance of the international conference to be held in Paris in January to reaffirm the authority of the 1925 Geneva protocol banning CW use.

Mr. Atkinson

As it is now clear that Iraq has perpetrated the most appalling atrocities on its Kurdish population by using poisonous gas, does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that to seek better relations with Iraq at this time is to send a mixed message, namely, that Iraq can get away with genocide in violation of the Geneva protocol to which it is a party? Will my right hon. and learned Friend raise the matter with our European colleagues at the forthcoming Rhodes conference?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

We have certainly been appalled by the suffering inflicted as a result of the large-scale displacement of Kurds from their homes in Iraq. We have proclaimed the evidence of CW use as compelling but not conclusive. It is clear that Iraq has a case to answer, and we have been in the forefront of pressing that case in respect of those barbaric weapons. We want a total ban—that is the importance of the Paris conference.

As to the second part of my hon. Friend's question, there is no way that the Iraqis could have misunderstood the firmness of our position on chemical weapons. As I said, it was underlined by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster when he was in Iraq a short time ago.

In such a situation, one can do one of two things. One can isolate Iraq and make its unacceptable behaviour more likely, or one can try to establish and maintain a working relationship, to make clear our very strong views on that aspect of Iraq's behaviour. This matter is one of constant concern. Last week I told the House that it will be permanently on the international agenda, so it may be discussed in one form or another at the Rhodes summit.

Mrs. Clwyd

Why does the Foreign Secretary not follow the lead of the United States Congress, which, when it reconvenes in January, will impose economic sanctions against Iraq? Why will the British Government not do the same? Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman not see any inconsistency between the Foreign and Commonwealth Office condemning violations of human rights in Iraq, and the Department of Trade and Industry stitching up massive trade agreements with that country without once mentioning the subject of human rights?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

In the last part of her question the hon. Lady misses the central point of my main answer. During the course of my right hon. Friend's visit to Baghdad he took the opportunity to emphasise how strongly we feel about the use of chemical weapons and the importance that we attach to the matter. The hon. Lady is wrong to believe that the United States Congress has passed sanctions legislation. It has not done so. The American Administration are opposed to sanctions, and we believe that that is entirely consistent. It is not likely that any effective consequence will follow from the unilateral imposition of economic sanctions in this case. It would not prevent the use of chemical weapons by Iraq. We shall continue pressing the case as vigorously and energetically as we have done already, being in the forefront of those pressing it, we shall continue in that fashion.

Mr. Bowis

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, apart from a stop to this hideous practice, what the Kurdish people need most is humanitarian aid from the world community? Will he make a commitment on behalf of Her Majesty's Government that that will be forthcoming as a matter of urgency?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

My hon. Friend is entirely right. The exodus that has taken place has created a major humanitarian problem. We have already contributed some £250,000 for humanitarian assistance, and we have told the Turkish authorities that we are prepared to consider applications for an extension of that in the ordinary way.

Mr. Robertson

The Foreign Secretary says that evidence of Iraq's use of chemical weapons is "compelling but not conclusive"—a grand new phrase to hide the Government's increasingly fudging position. Did he see the programme on Channel 4 last Wednesday night, which brought forward conclusive proof both of the slaughter of the Kurds in northern Iraq and of the use of deadly poisons in those attacks?

Surely there is something indecent in the sight of the Foreign Office condemning the use of chemical weapons, followed by that of a Cabinet Minister going to Baghdad touting for trade and business and doubling trade credits to Iraq, without any linked condition that Iraq desist from the vile slaughter of so many people in the northern provinces.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I entirely understand the deep concern of the House at the allegations of the use of chemical weapons, but I deny absolutely any impression that the United Kingdom has not been in the van of those pressing this case. In fact, we have been simultaneously denounced by many people in the Arab world for being so far in the forefront of the attack. We have sustained our position. It was we who took the matter up in the United Nations and pressed for an authoritative independent investigation, and we should still like such an investigationas c to take place, but we have received insufficient support from our colleagues in the United Nations. We were ready to welcome Iraq's undertaking not to use chemical weapons either inside or outside the country, given as a result of our representations, and we shall continue to press the case. But it would be wholly foolish, when the rest of the world is continuing to maintain trading relations with a large and important country, for us single-handed and unilaterally to make such a protest.

The House must understand that we are maintaining contact with Iraq and pressing the case against chemical weapons. We are looking at any evidence that is forthcoming, and we are acting more energetically and effectively than any other country.