HC Deb 15 April 1991 vol 189 cc21-39 3.30 pm
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Douglas Hurd)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement about the relief of suffering in Iraq. We are faced with suffering and fear on a huge scale—inside Iraq, on both sides of the border with Turkey, on both sides of the border with Iran, and in the demilitarised zone bordering Kuwait. Each of these areas has its difficult problems and in all of them the needs are formidable.

Our response has two elements: first, to keep the refugees alive; and, second, to create conditions in which they can return home in safety.

We have given prompt humanitarian help. We airlifted relief supplies to the Turkish and to the Iranian Red Crescent Societies. With the United States and France, Royal Air Force aircraft have been airdropping supplies into northern Iraq. With the Americans and Germans we are now engaged in a helicopter airbridge. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence has arranged for six more Chinook helicopters to deploy to Turkey from the middle of this week, bringing to nine the British helicopters joining in this effort. We are contributing over £20 million to appeals by the United Nations and other international agencies. This includes the International Committee of the Red Cross, which is at present providing the most effective help inside Iraq. Part of this money will go to our own non-governmental organisations whom I met this morning.

We helped bring about Security Council resolution 688 which requires Iraq to co-operate with the United Nations and other international humanitarian organisations and to stop repression. The Iraqis are receiving UN missions led by the Secretary-General's representative, Mr. Suy, and by the UN co-ordinator, Prince Sadruddin.

At the special European Council at Luxembourg on 8 April, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister put forward a four-point plan to build on the resolutions of the Security Council. First, he proposed the establishment of temporary safe havens in Iraq, in which UN officials can provide for the basic needs of refugees and monitor their security until they can return to their homes in safety. Secondly, he proposed a generous contribution by the European Community to the UN and other appeals for funds for humanitarian relief. The Community immediately contributed 150 million ecu.

Thirdly, apart from food and humanitarian supplies, he proposed that economic and financial sanctions against Iraq should remain in force until Saddam Hussein's offer of an amnesty is made permanent and the international community is satisfied that persecution of minorities in Iraq had ceased. Fourthly, he proposed a strict arms embargo against Iraq to remain in force as long as Saddam Hussein is in power.

We are vigorously pursuing this proposal for safe havens. Our aim is to create places and conditions in which the refugees can feel secure. We are not talking of a territorial enclave, a separate Kurdistan or a permanent UN presence. We support the territorial integrity of Iraq.

But we have to get the refugees off the mountains. That is the unanimous view of those who have visited the area on behalf of the ODA and the British NGOs with whom I talked this morning. Some refugees are now being admitted to places in Turkey and Iran where they can be better cared for. That is welcome, but it is not the right answer except temporarily. We should not aim to add a new permanent refugee problem to the others that already disfigure the world.

The Kurds should be enabled and encouraged to return to their homes, where effective help can be given, but they will not do that unless they feel secure. Undertakings such as those made yesterday by the Iraqi Government will not suffice for that purpose. The United Nations presence in Iraq must build up fast and solidly to monitor and to ensure the safety of those whom the Security Council has resolved to help. We share the view of President Bush when he said yesterday: We will not tolerate any interference in this massive international relief effort". To help to carry the British relief effort forward, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development will visit Turkey and Iran, including the frontier areas, later this week.

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)

The Opposition share the horror of the whole country—and indeed of all the civilised world—at the repression carried out by Saddam Hussein against the Kurds, the Shi'ites and many other inhabitants of Iraq. We strongly support Security Council resolution 688, which calls on the Iraqi regime to end the repression and which demands access by international humanitarian organisations to alleviate the suffering. We welcome the assistance already provided, but we believe that it should be increased substantially by the United Kingdom, as well as by the European Community and other agencies, not only for the Kurds themselves, but for Turkey and Iran which are faced with such a problem in seeking to take in Kurdish refugees.

We think that it is right that proper protection should be given to the teams going into Iraq to provide that help, but we do not believe that that should be the limit of our action. We stand by our view that the war aims against Iraq should not have extended, and should still not extend, to attempts to dismember that country or to change its regime, however vile that regime may be. The question of who governs Iraq must be decided by the Iraqi people.

At the same time, resolution 688 authorises the United Nations Secretary-General to send a mission to Iraq to report on the plight of the civilian population and in particular on the plight of the Kurds. I ask the Foreign Secretary to instruct our Permanent Representative at the Security Council to propose at the Security Council that the Secretary-General sends a mission to investigate charges of genocide, with the intention of the earliest possible report, bearing in mind that the United Nations genocide convention authorises punishment of those who transgress its provisions. Although we do not believe that any one country or combination of countries should send troops into Iraq for whatever purposes other than for the protection of relief missions, we believe that if genocide charges are proved the military staff committee of the Security Council should consider, as a matter of urgency, what appropriate action might be taken by the international community to seek to bring such acts to an end and to deal with those responsible.

The right hon. Gentleman said nothing about the wider middle east crisis. Will he give his full support to the efforts of the United States Secretary of State, Mr. James Baker, to convene an international conference? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that what is going on in Iraq now, horrifying though it is, is no more than the latest dismaying symptom of an endemic crisis in the area which must be solved? Unless there is a settlement which brings security to all nations in the region, including Israel, and which provides self-determination for the Palestinian people, what we are witnessing now will be seen not only as the bloody aftermath of one war but as the prelude to another war which will be bloodier still.

Mr. Hurd

On the right hon. Gentleman's first point, I confirm that we intend steadily to build up and increase the British relief effort and to apply pressure continuously day by day, as we have done for a long time, on the United Nations and on other agencies to do the same.

Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman correctly said that genocide is a crime under international law—the convention of 1948—and that the contracting parties have agreed to prevent and punish that crime. People charged with genocide can be tried before national courts. Proof is required of the intention to destroy in whole or in part one of the groups defined in the convention by carrying out certain acts.

The Secretary-General has, in a way, anticipated the right hon. Gentleman's point, because, as he said, he has sent Mr. Suy, his representative on human rights, to Baghdad. It will be sensible for the Security Council to consider very carefully what Mr. Suy may have to report, which will bear on the question of genocide.

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman's third point. I discussed the problem on the telephone with Mr. Baker on Saturday. He knows that his efforts, which are energetic and well conceived, will continue to receive our support.

Mr. David Howell (Guildford)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the initiatives taken by our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and by himself to help the Kurds and Shias stand out as highly creative acts of statesmanship in a very negative international climate? Does he further accept that there will be no feeling of safety for the Kurds or Shias, who have been the subject of the most appalling atrocities, no guarantee for us or the United Nations that any resolutions will be fully implemented and satisfied and no peace or security in the region, even for the Kuwaitis and neighbouring countries, until in Baghdad there are the glimmerings of a Government who have a minimal respect for human rights and do not believe that blood and killing are the main weapons of governing a country?

Mr. Hurd

I agree with my right hon. Friend. I cannot conceive of the present regime in Iraq, which has shown itself to be aggressive abroad and barbarously oppressive at home, finding its place again as an important middle eastern state in the international community.

The initiative of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has moved the international effort forward, both as regards the United Nations and some of our most important allies. Needs are multiplying all the time, so we cannot be complacent about our response so far, but the British initiative has moved the response forward.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East)

The Foreign Secretary will be aware that logistical supply and air supremacy were important factors in the allied victory in the Gulf war. Will he confirm that the same standard of expertise of supply will be used for humanitarian purposes? Will he further confirm that the allies are willing to use air supremacy to protect Kurdish refugees?

Mr. Hurd

The first point made by the hon. and learned Gentleman is entirely right. The international relief effort, in complicated and difficult conditions, is using the full expertise and experience which we all have and which, increasingly, is being pooled. The effort was originally focused heavily on the Turkish side, but the greater problem, as the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) will confirm, is on the Iranian side. We shall increasingly find our effort and those of some of our allies and the United Nations agencies such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, who is in Iran at the moment, being devoted to that aspect.

The United States has given clear warnings to the Iraqi Government, the importance of which was stressed to me by Mr. Baker on Saturday. The fundamental point is that a huge international life-saving operation is under way and the Security Council has insisted that Iraq co-operates with that effort. If the relief effort is harassed or frustrated by Iraq, it will be the responsibility of the United Nations to protect both the helpers and the helped, and the Security Council would have to act on that responsibility.

Mr. Julian Amery (Brighton, Pavilion)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is overwhelming support in this country and in Europe and growing support in the United States for the concept of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister of safe havens for the Kurds and, I hope, for the Shias, too? Does he further agree that if there should be a conflict between our commitment to non-interference in the affairs of other countries and our determination to help refugees in danger of persecution, whether in Kurdistan or south Iraq, we shall come down firmly on the side of the refugees, even if that means co-operating with some of our allies in the use of military power—I hope, under the aegis of the United Nations and, if not, otherwise?

Mr. Hurd

It is important to continue, as we have begun, with the authority of the United Nations. Security Council resolutions 687 and 688, in both of which we had a substantial hand, extend the boundaries of international action and thus strike the balance, about which my right hon. Friend is talking, in a rather different place from hitherto. I chose my words carefully in answer to the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) to show that we believe that that process should, if necessary, continue.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

For the people of Kurdistan, genocide is proven. Resolution 688 has been breached—there can be no doubt about that—in so far as Saddam Hussein continues to repress the people of Kurdistan. The Kurdish leaders desperately beg for military action by the major powers, preferably through the United Nations, through the use of aircraft against the equipment used for the repression of the Kurds. Why, when on 28 March we raised in the Chamber the imminent catastrophe in the region, was there such a delay in providing aid? Is it not true that the Kurds have had to wait for nearly two weeks for the first British aid to reach them? If that is not true, will the Foreign Secretary give us the date when the first aid was received by people in Kurdistan?

Mr. Hurd

Long before the Kurdish rebellion the United Nations put it to the world that it thought that in the aftermath of the Gulf war there was likely to be a strong movement of refugees out of Iraq. That was foreseen. We provided a further £8 million, including £1 million to the United Nations disaster relief organisation, precisely for that purpose, not knowing then exactly when or where the movement would be or the numbers involved. It was a case of an international organisation foreseeing trouble, asking for help and getting help from us. That was long before the debate. The planning to deal with the immediate crisis began before the Easter weekend and has built up ever since. I was in touch with those concerned over the Easter weekend. The hon. Gentleman asked for a particular date, and I shall provide him with it.

Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North)

The decisive action taken by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister during the recess to send aid to Kurdish refugees as a damage control exercise and his further proposal to establish safe havens have been most welcome, but is it not a fact that there will be no safe haven for the Kurdish people or the minority peoples of Iraq so long as Saddam Hussein is in power? Will the Government send a message both to President Bush and to the Secretary-General of the United Nations to the effect that we expect whatever action, including military force, is necessary to secure safe havens and to remove Saddam Hussein?

Mr. Hurd

Those are two distinct questions and I have already answered the first. If the United Nations, under the terms used in the Security Council resolution 688, is insisting on Iraqi co-operation in the humanitarian effort —about the need for which there can be no possible doubt —the need to protect that operation for the benefit of the helpers and the helped, should it be frustrated or harassed, is clear.

No one who followed not just what President Bush said but what my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) or the present Prime Minister said could have been led to believe at any stage that it was part of our purpose to change the Government of Iraq.

Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney)

Is not the cause of this vast tragedy quite clear? Is it not entirely due to the wicked and continuous persecution of his own people by Saddam Hussein? Is it not the case that we already have the authority of the Security Council in its resolution 688 to take action to stop Saddam Hussein from persecuting his own people? That authority is in the text of the resolution and it calls upon him to cease immediately the persecution of the people of Iraq. Does not that resolution come under the mandatory chapter 7 of the Security Council? Is there not a moral obligation on Britain and other nations to undertake such actions as are necessary to stop Saddam Hussein's persecution of his own people?

Mr. Hurd

That is precisely what we are doing within the terms of that resolution. We are bringing into effect a humanitarian effort in circumstances which I think are unprecedented in the history of the United Nations. That is happening under terms and phrases of insistence which are, I suspect, although I have not done all the research, unique. That effort needs to proceed and if it does so without harassment or interference by the Iraqis, over time the Kurds—although not just the Kurds because the Opposition are right in believing that it goes further than them—will have the confidence to return to their homes. If that effort is harassed and frustrated, those Kurds will not return and the Security Council has a responsibility, which we have fully emphasised for some time, under resolution 688 to ensure that that effort succeeds.

Sir Peter Blaker (Blackpool, South)

I add my congratulations to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to those already given by my right hon. Friend and hon. Friends on his initiatives. The House will welcome what my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary just said in response to the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) on the availability of air cover. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the new mood of co-operation between the permanent members of the Security Council has given an opportunity for promoting the role of the United Nations, as first shown by resolution 688, in dealing with cases of genocide or near genocide in cases such as this? Will my right hon. Friend persevere with his triple policy of humanitarian aid to the Kurds, sanctuary for the Kurds, and economic pressure on Saddam Hussein?

Mr. Hurd

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his succinct analysis of the situation and the policy. The United Nations faces a difficult and crucial test. It has passed the test of reversing aggression. Very few in this House were in any doubt about the need to pass that test, nor about the effectiveness, speed and skill with which it was done. Such action was necessary and was done well. Now we face a more difficult problem, which we have been discussing for the past half an hour. It represents a more complicated test to the United Nations, but, in my view, it is just as important as the first test.

Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Devonport)

As resolution 688 has been breached in every particular from the moment it was passed, and since President Bush has made it clear that he does not intend to put United States forces on the ground in Iraqi Kurdistan but will give air protection north of the 36th parallel, is it not the duty of the Security Council to pass a resolution for a UN peacekeeping force so as to provide a haven in Iraqi Kurdistan? If it is to be vetoed, let the world see which countries are prepared to veto or not to support such a resolution.

Mr. Hurd

I do not see any great advantage for the Kurds in putting forward a proposal of that kind at a time when and in circumstances in which it would not succeed. I do not think that the Kurds on the mountain tops would be powerfully impressed by that.

The right hon. Gentleman will have noted the phrases used by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister under questioning on this point yesterday. I have given a rather careful amplification of them in what I said to the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell). No one who has studied what we have said can be in any doubt about our firmness in the matter.

Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)

My right hon. Friend and his Department have had ample notice concerning the specific case of a constituent of mine—a British-born constituent and her children—whose Iraqi husband is in Sufwan camp and has applied to join his wife in the United Kingdom. What specific steps in which my right hon. Friend has confidence are being taken on a continuing basis to safeguard this man personally until the resolution of the question whether he is to be admitted to the United Kingdom?

Mr. Hurd

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and glad to be able to tell him that we have now authorised a visa allowing Mr. Jarah to enter this country.

Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South)

To pursue the long-term aim that the Secretary of State mentioned—that the Kurds should return home—has his Department evaluated the possibilities of that happening in anything less than the longer and longer term? For example, what conditions would have to be obtained from Baghdad before that could happen? What worries me is that I do not see it happening.

Mr. Hurd

The best way for it to happen is that the United Nations presence which has already begun and which is rather stronger partly because of our insistence should build up fast and solidly in the north of Iraq in and around the Kurdish homes, and that that presence should be so robust that the Kurds do not have to rely simply on assurances, which they already have from Baghdad, but can hear reports from their homes that it is safe to return. We are nowhere near that, but it is a resonable objective which lay at the heart of my right hon. Friend's proposal.

Sir Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)

I welcome the vigorous response by the Government to the Kurdish crisis, but will my right hon. Friend remember that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is desperately short of cash to deal with refugee problems in all parts of the world? Can he assure me that the extra money being devoted to Kurdish relief will not result in a diversion of funds from refugee relief efforts in other parts of the world?

Mr. Hurd

That point was powerfully put to me by representatives of the relief agencies who came to see me this morning. It is obviously important, especially because of the tragic needs in Africa, that the requirements not only of refugee work but of all relief agencies should not suffer because of what is happening in Iraq. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development is making an announcement today about extra help for Africa——

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Where is she?

Mr. Hurd

She is joining in the opening of the new bank for eastern Europe, but she will make an announcement today about fresh help for Africa. My hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones), the Minister of State, is just about now in the Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels emphasising the importance of the Community responding in the way that my hon. Friend requests.

Mr. Jim Sillars (Glasgow, Govan)

The Secretary of State speaks about people feeling secure, but they will feel secure only when the killing stops because the killing is the cause of the refugee flood. The Secretary of State implied that the Government and President Bush's Government would use air supremacy in the event of harassment of the international relief effort. Will they apply the same equation and tell Saddam Hussein that air supremacy will be employed if the killing does not stop?

Mr. Hurd

When we discuss this area, we are talking about the military capability of the United States, and the hon. Gentleman should be aware of that. If the hon. Gentleman has studied what the Americans have said on this matter, he will know that it goes a long way. I am not authorised to add to that warning, but, as I said when reporting on my conversation with Mr. Baker on Saturday, the Americans clearly intend the warning to be taken seriously.

Sir Michael Marshall (Arundel)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the scale of the problem of refugees from Iraq in Turkey and especially in Iran suggests that the problem will remain for a long time? Can he say more about the co-operation that we can extend to both countries, both bilaterally and through the United Nations?

Mr. Hurd

We are in close touch with the Turks. The Turkish Prime Minister is in London today and has been speaking to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. We are aware of Turkey's difficulties and we shall do our best, as part of the international effort, to build up Turkey's effectiveness and capability to the extent to which the Turkish Government feel the need. Our contacts with Iran have recently been less close than before for reasons which the House knows all about. Iran has a bigger refugee problem, and that is why I am anxious that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, on her visit to the area later this week, should visit Tehran as well as the frontier areas, as the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) has done.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Although there are good reasons, which I accept, why the allies did not proceed into Baghdad and finish the job which undoubtedly a large majority of British people wanted to see finished, does the Foreign Secretary agree that as long as Saddam Hussein and his murderous cronies remain in power there will be no peace or security in the region in accordance with Security Council resolution 678? Is he aware of the great strength of feeling in the country and in the House, not only about the horrifying stories in the press and on television about starving men and babies in arms, but about the continuing crimes and atrocities being committed in Iraq by Saddam Hussein's thugs? Is it not time that the allies made it perfectly clear that, if these crimes and atrocities continue, military action, which is provided by Security Council resolutions, will be taken? Surely the world cannot remain indifferent to what is happening in the area.

Mr. Hurd

There is no indifference, and I hope that what I and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister have said shows that. There is no indifference here, in Europe or in the United States, which, of course, carries and will continue to carry the lion's share of the responsibility. The hon. Gentleman should be aware of that.

Perhaps I could amplify my answer to the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), who asked about the first relief supplies. Eighty tons of relief supplies were flown to Turkey on 5 April, and they were the first airlifted supplies from any country to arrive in Turkey for the Kurds.

Sir Richard Luce (Shoreham)

Does not this Kurdish tragedy highlight the fact that there is no sensible long-term solution to such tragedies by the provision of homes in other countries and permanent refugee camps but that the answer lies in the countries of origin where the tragedies are created? Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is essential for the United Nations to take a far more robust line on the gross abuse of minorities, in this case in Iraq, by the continued imposition of sanctions until the problem is solved?

Mr. Hurd

That is the third point of the plan which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister outlined in Luxembourg last week. I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

How many people have already died as a result of disease, starvation and our failure and that of the United Nations to bring adequate relief to the Kurdish people? Does the Secretary of State not see that, however worthy may be the efforts made so far, they are absolutely inadequate to meet the awful need that we see every night on our television screens?

Mr. Hurd

I agree that the efforts are not yet enough, but they are being intensified and multiplied. The Kurds need food, clean water, tents, blankets and basic medical care, particularly for women and children. It is not a question of sophisticated surgical equipment or other things that have been needed as a result of earthquakes and other emergencies in the past. It is important that precious time and precious money are concentrated on what is needed and not on extras. I cannot answer the hon. and learned Gentleman's question about how many people have died.

Sir Jim Spicer (Dorset, West)

My right hon. Friend rightly listed the basic necessities that must reach these poor, wretched people. We see every night on television that the law of the jungle prevails. The strongest get there first; they get the most and the weak are left on the sidelines. What steps have been taken to formulate a control, co-ordination and command structure? Even when supplies arrive in quantity, they are of no use unless they reach the people and unless priorities are established by someone on the ground.

Mr. Hurd

My hon. Friend is absolutely on the point. It is virtually impossible to provide an orderly distribution of help on the tops of mountains. That is why, temporarily, some refugees are, quite rightly, being allowed into Turkey and Iran where it is possible to help them in a more orderly fashion. In Turkey, aid is being organised by the Turks and the Americans; in Iran, it is being organised by the Iranians, the Red Cross and, I hope, increasingly by the United Nations. Although those are not the best answers, they are necessary answers. The real answer is to enable and encourage the refugees to go home and to provide effective and secure help for them there. My hon. Friend is right to say that it is a matter not simply of getting the supplies to them but of distributing those supplies in a reasonably orderly and fair manner.

Mr. Giles Radice (Durham, North)

Does the Secretary of State agree that, having more than tacitly encouraged the Kurdish uprising, the international community has a real responsibility to the Kurds? Is it not all the more urgent and essential that there be United Nations intervention, under the UN convention on genocide, to prevent genocide from continuing?

Mr. Hurd

I answered fully a similar question put by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) and have nothing to add.

Mr. Anthony Nelson (Chichester)

How long can we and other Governments pick up the tab for a humanitarian problem that Saddam Hussein would dearly love to export? Will the Government continue to insist that sanctuaries in Turkey and Iran are no substitute for safe havens in Iraq, and that a return to their homelands must be by supervision rather than intervention? Once the principle of the inviolacy of sovereign nations is breached, we are all lost.

Mr. Hurd

I follow my hon. Friend's point. We are encouraging the United Nations to take action that is virtually—perhaps wholly—unique in its history: to mount a huge international relief operation as urgently as possible in a country like Iraq, insisting on co-operation and ensuring that that effort is not harassed or frustrated. That is the right way to reconcile the two considerations that my hon. Friend mentioned.

Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby)

Is the Secretary of State aware that many in this country who believed that the only way to bring peace and security to the middle east was the overthrow of Saddam Hussein now believe that, having encouraged the uprising of the Kurds and others against Saddam Hussein, President Bush, not to mention the Prime Minister, is now acting like Pontius Pilate and something realistic should be done? How much of the £29 million aid from this country is reaching the Kurds? Is it not a fact that the money is going into a pool to help all those who suffered in the Gulf war?

Mr. Hurd

The hon. Member used the word "realistic". I hope that what I have said about what we are doing is realistic. Some of the other suggestions are unrealistic. We have to be, and are being, vigorous and energetic on this matter, and the outline that I have given to the House shows that.

There is a problem of supply and distribution in terms of the aid given, hut, certainly in Turkey, we are increasingly looking to buying local food rather than shipping food from here. That would now be a good deal more effective. We want to get the supplies in effectively by air drop and, increasingly, by helicopter, because that is more sensible in terms of orderly distribution, not just to the Kurds, but to all people in distress in Iraq, including Shias in the south. We are not talking exclusively about the suffering of Kurds because others are also suffering.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)

Is not the crux of the problem the fact that the dictator of Iraq is a wicked and bloodthirsty tyrant and that as long as he remains the policy of the violent repression of the minorities will continue, and no guarantees offered by any Iraqi Government are worth anything? What can be done about getting rid of Saddam Hussein?

Mr. Hurd

The suggestion is sometimes made that, instead of bringing the war to an end, we should have marched on Baghdad and overthrown Saddam Hussein. The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) nods in agreement. The House should consider the ramifications of that suggestion and consider why neither the previous Prime Minister or the present Prime Minister nor President Bush has ever endorsed that aim. One would have not simply to overthrow Saddam Hussein but to choose, implant and sustain a successor, month after month, year after year. That is what I mean by being realistic.

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that the immense revulsion and groundswell of opinion in this country arises, not only because of the terrible tragedies portrayed on television screens, but because the British people, like the Kurdish and Shia people, read President Bush's lips when he said that the people of Iraq must rise and oppose President Hussein? Having willed the means and that means having failed, does the Foreign Secretary realise that we now expect the coalition to pursue the freedom and protection of the Kurds and Shias with the same resolution as the liberation of Kuwait was fought for?

Mr. Hurd

I described what the British Government are doing, and the record of the House and the Library contain what British Ministers have said about our aims and objectives throughout the affair. No one could seriously accuse us of lack of energy, realism or will, either in the earlier phase or in what we are doing now.

Mr. Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is at least possible that the Shias and Kurds were encouraged to take up arms against the Iraqi Government by the words used by the western leaders? Would it not be truly dreadful if they were encouraged to fight on by vague talk about the use of force on their behalf when President Bush has already said that the forces of the United States will not engage in a civil war in Iraq?

Mr. Hurd

The President said that, and he also said, as I quoted in my statement: We will not tolerate any interference in this massive international relief effort".

Mrs. Audrey Wise (Preston)

Will the Foreign Secretary tell us exactly how much aid the United Kingdom has given in terms of pounds, not ecus? How much do we intend to give, and how much did we spend on the war? How many aircraft and helicopters have we mobilised for a relief operation, and how many did we mobilise during the war?

Mr. Hurd

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced, the sum involved is £20 million, of which £12 million will go through the EC as a result of the decisions taken last week. The remaining £8 million will be reserved for the direct British help, including help to our own non-governmental organisations. I hope that our agencies will apply for help through contributions from the European Commission in Brussels. I can give the other figures for which the hon. Lady asked, but not without notice. I hope that she is not implying that there has been any falling away of vigour. That is not borne out by the facts and figures that I have given or by the plans that I have announced.

Sir John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)

In view of the mood of the House, and in view of what I am about to say, may I remind my right hon. Friend that I spent nine months in Kirkuk and Kurdistan in the last war, and that I like and admire the Kurds? If I read the mood of the House right, it wants military intervention by our forces. I believe that that would be wrong and dangerous. I am worried that some of those who call loudest for military intervention are those who would deny us proper arms to defend ourselves.

Mr. Hurd

My hon. Friend advances a robust argument that I have not been making in those terms. Before some hon. Members put forward plans—sometimes rather grandiose ones—for the future government of Iraq, I urge the House to consider the realities and to ask itself who would carry out such plans.

Mr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East)

Does the Secretary of State accept that there is no simple and comprehensive solution to the tragedy, and that certainly military action in Iraq is not such a solution? As it is clear that our priority must be to reduce the dying of babies, their mothers and others in the mountains, is not the best short-term, practical solution—albeit not a very satisfactory one—to encourage Iran and Turkey, perhaps through bribes and inducements, to allow many more people to come down from the mountains so that they can be supported in less hostile climatic circumstances?

Mr. Hurd

The hon. Gentleman puts it entirely right. That is an immediate necessity, and one that we have been urging on the Turks. The Iranians have allowed their border to be open fairly consistently. As the hon. Gentleman would concede, however, it is not the right long-term answer. That answer is to enable the Kurds to return to their homes in safety.

Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth)

I greatly welcome my right hon. Friend's statement, having argued in the House two weeks ago that we should be dropping aid to the Kurds. Is it not a fact that great responsibility lies with the Americans, who incited through a CIA-promoting radio station the Shias and the Kurds to revolt? Is it not a fact that history will relate that, while President Bush fiddled, Kurdistan burnt?

Mr. Hurd

I am not answering for the sort of activities, or allegations and suggestions relating to them, to which my hon. Friend refers. What we have said about the internal situation—what my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) said when she was in charge of the Government and what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said since then—is on the record. I do not believe that the remarks of my right hon. Friends and others bear the sort of construction that is sometimes rather loosely put upon them.

Miss Kate Hoey (Vauxhall)

Does the Secretary of State agree that, while in the long term the only solution is the establishment of a form of homeland for the Kurdish people, the immediate and overriding priority is to get the Kurdish people off the mountains? As the Turkish Prime Minister is now in Britain, will the right hon. Gentleman assure me that the Prime Minister will ask him, the Turkish Prime Minister, to consider whether his country could do more, despite the difficulties that it is undergoing, and open its borders and so let the people off the mountains so that the humanitarian aid that is going to them can be organised properly to ensure that it reaches those in need?

Mr. Hurd

That is precisely the course of the conversation which my right hon. Friend had with the Turkish Prime Minister today.

Mrs. Edwina Currie (Derbyshire, South)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the tremendous efforts made by the British Government to bring immediate help to the Kurdish and other people are widely recognised and that he does not need to feel in the least defensive about what we have done so far or what we intend to do? Does he agree that to talk about Kurdistan as we heard the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) do on television at lunchtime—which was not at all what her boss said in the House a few moments ago—is extremely dangerous? Trying to carve up the areas of the middle east on supposed tribal lines in the conference halls and chambers of the west is exactly what we did 70 years ago and has resulted in a great deal of unhappiness since.

Mr. Hurd

The countries of the area disagree about most things, but they are all clear about one thing—the need not to meddle with frontiers. But within frontiers it is entirely reasonable and right, as I said on 13 March in the House, that the Kurds should enjoy autonomy and decent respect for their way of life. That is our view and that must be the long-term aim.

Mr. David Young (Bolton, South-East)

Did not the Government go along with President Bush when he argued for revolt within Iraq? Was not part of the problem caused, as General Schwarzkopf said, by our being suckered into allowing Iraq to use helicopters? Will the British Government press the American Government to make a clear and concise statement that any aircraft used by the Iraqis to harass the refugees or those bringing them aid will be shot down? What discussions has the Secretary of State had with adjoining territories such as Turkey, which have their own Kurdish problems, to ensure that the refugees can be accommodated and that those problems do not stop aid to those who are dying?

Mr. Hurd

On the hon. Gentleman's first point, I have referred in careful terms to the emphasis which Mr. Secretary Baker placed when I spoke to him on Saturday on the warnings which the United States has made about Iraqi military activity. I refer the hon. Gentleman to that. On his second point, he is right. Of course, both Iran and Turkey include large numbers of Kurds and at various times in the past have had substantial reservations and difficulties as a result of that. But to do both the Turkish and Iranian Governments justice, they are not letting those sensitivities get in the way of help. We are urging them in that direction—certainly the Turks. When the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker), goes to Iran, no doubt she will do the same.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Why is the distribution of aid so haphazard that loads are thrown at people in masses, as we see on television? Can something be done to underline what my right hon. Friend said to my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West (Sir J. Spicer) about securing orderly distribution so that we do not see simply survival of the fittest and the law of the jungle operating?

Mr. Hurd

Dropping food or anything else in large pallets from fixed-wing aircraft is an unsatisfactory way of getting relief through. The only thing to be said for it is that it is quick. If there are no roads to the mountain tops and no places where helicopters can land, it is the only way of getting supplies through quickly. However, it is imperfect. It is not the best way. It produces the hazards and sometimes tragedies to which my hon. Friend refers. That is why the Americans on a larger scale and we on a substantial scale are building up the helicopter effort, which enables much better distribution.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I had hoped to be able to call all hon. Members, but I think that I shall not now be able to do so. I shall call three more from each side and then we must move on as we have a busy day ahead of us and a prayer this evening which must end at 11.30 pm.

Ms. Dawn Primarolo (Bristol, South)

The Foreign Secretary must be aware that the British people are appalled that the so-called liberation of Kuwait has unfolded into the massive tragedy that we now see on our screens every evening. Compared to the vigour with which the Government pursued the liberation of Kuwait, their commitment to the refugees can only be described as relative inertia.

The right hon. Gentleman, in his statement, mentioned Iran. Many thousands of refugees are moving towards Iran and I have a constituent whose entire family are there. They have been turned away from the British embassy when trying to make contact with their relatives here in Britain. What undertakings can the Secretary of State give about arrangements that will be made in Iran not merely so that one visa may be granted but to allow refugees with families in Britain to contact them and to ensure that the proper relief structures are put in place there?

Mr. Hurd

I do not know why the hon. Lady talks about the "so-called" liberation of Kuwait. That demonstrates a cast of mind that somewhat clouds her judgment on the rest. I do not believe that what this country has been doing to get the relief effort going could conceivably be called inertia since we were first in the field and are perhaps pressing for the build-up of the international effort more energetically than anyone else.

If the hon. Lady will give me the details of the case that she mentioned I shall look into it. At present the embassy in Tehran does not issue visas.

Mr. David Atkinson (Bournemouth, East)

Notwithstanding the reply that my right hon. Friend gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie), can he confirm that this uprising is only the latest in many by the Kurds in response to their demands for self-determination, which was promised to them by the great powers after the first world war, under the treaty of Sevres in 1920? As long as the rest of the world continues to ignore that demand for self-determination, there will always be such uprisings, which will be brutally put down. Will he ensure that that matter, along with self-determination for the Palestinians, is sought to be resolved in the wake of the outcome of the Gulf war?

Mr. Hurd

The Kurdish leaders who came to see my right hon. Friend at No. 10 Downing street last week were clear that their demand was for autonomy within Iraq. That seems to me to be an entirely reasonable aim for them and one that we can certainly support.

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)

Why should the Kurds, the Shias or any other oppressed people trust western Governments, especially this Government and the Bush Administration, ever again? Clearly they were asked to rise up against a brutal dictator and, having put their trust in Governments—which I would not have done—perhaps bemused by the poetic phrases about the rights of small nations, they have been betrayed. Why are a million people on the borders of Turkey and Iran worth £20 million when a million people oppressed by the same Government in Kuwait were worth £3,000 million? That is the difference between the amount of aid to the Kurdish people and the money spent on the war in Kuwait.

Mr. Hurd

The hon. Member would have left Kuwait under Saddam Hussein's rule. I cannot think why that would have been of any advantage to the Kurds.

Mr. Richard Alexander (Newark)

My right hon. Friend has properly laid emphasis upon the importance of getting the Kurds back to their homes. Is not the key to that a guarantee that when they get there they will be able to live in safety? Is not the message coming through to my right hon. Friend from the House and from outside that the United Nations, which could send peacekeeping forces to do that, is being less than robust in attempting to do so?

Mr. Hurd

The right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) also put that point to me, and I answered it in terms that I consider to be realistic. I followed carefully my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's words on television yesterday. I do not exclude the possibility of such an answer any more than he did, but I know that it would not succeed now.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

Does the Foreign Secretary recall that, during our debate on 21 January after hostilities had begun, I urged him to set up two working parties? The first would review the objectives and operations of the United Nations to take advantage of the new circumstances following the end of the cold war; the second would examine the organisation of the relief and rehabilitation that would certainly be required when hostilities ended. The right hon. Gentleman may also recall that I sent a letter backing up what I had said with further suggestions, to which he gave what I would call a typically Foreign Office reply. What specific action did he take?

Mr. Hurd

The hon. Gentleman's first suggestion lies outside the terms of my statement. I have already answered his second point: the United Nations disaster relief organisation anticipated—and asked member states to anticipate, and contribute accordingly—a movement of refugees out of Iraq after the war, and we have contributed.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)

If no direct action is taken against Saddam Hussein following what has happened to the Kurdish people, we can only conclude that no act is barbaric enough for the international community to intervene, provided that it is inflicted by a Government on their own peopole. Is not the logical conclusion of such thinking that the only crime committed by Hitler that justified intervention was his failure to restrict the slaughter of Jews to his own countrymen?

Although I understand the logic of the position that the Government have adopted, constituents whom I have met over the past two weeks have not understood it, and I for one am at a loss to explain it to them.

Mr. Hurd

I am not sure whether my hon. Friend is suggesting that his constituents who served in the Gulf should now be on duty in Baghdad, but that is the implication of what he has said. I rather agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Sir J. Stokes).

There is no doubt about the indignation that is felt about the suffering of the Kurds, or about the importance of mounting an effective operation—not just dropping food, but ensuring that relief is protected and that the Kurds will eventually be able to return to their homes. That, surely, is a realistic course on which the international community is agreed, as is shown by, in particular, resolutions 687 and 688.

If, however, that course were frustrated and did not succeed—as I have made clear in answer to several questions—a different position would arise, and the Security Council would have to address it. If my hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) is suggesting that we should now put our troops into Baghdad and install a new ruler—or that we should have done so in the past, and should now be sustaining that new ruler—he is verging on what I, perhaps with a good many other people in this country, regard as unrealistic territory.

Mrs. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)

I have just returned from a five-day visit to Iran and Iraq. I have seen for myself the most abject misery—misery that I had not believed possible. The scenes are indescribable. I saw a 60 km line of cars stuck on a hilltop, where they have been for more than 11 days waiting to cross the border to Iran. Those who have managed to cross the border, however, are still experiencing dreadful conditions. They are at the top of a mountain about the same height as Snowdon, in winter conditions—freezing at night and bitterly cold during the day—and without proper cover. The makeshift tents that they have constructed are made of the thinnest plastic, the kind in which clothes are returned from the cleaners. It is entirely impracticable as a protection from the weather.

Mothers who have crossed the border to Iran are trying to shelter their children. A mother with a baby in her arms came up and asked me to take it to hospital: it was cold, blue and clearly going to die. I had to turn away because there were hundreds of others in the same condition. I saw the food deliveries. We have seen pictures of that on television. It is exactly like that. Desperate people are scrabbling for food. Again, that is on the Iranian side of the border. On the other side of the border, people have managed to bring in some supplies—those who are lucky enough to have some form of transport. Others have no means of transport. Barefoot, they have walked many long miles—taking over 10 days perhaps to walk to the border. Some of the women are wearing totally inadequate clothes. They look as though they have come straight out of their homes, without any protection. When I went there with a group of diplomats, including ambassadors, who had witnessed scenes of famine, flood and earthquake all over the world, they said that never before had they seen such scenes. The same is true of the aid workers whom I met there.

I saw no signs of British aid on the Iran side of the border. That aid may have gone to Turkey, but it certainly had not gone to Iran. I asked many reporters in the area, but they said the same—that there was no evidence of British aid. The only aeroplane that I saw on the airfield was a Russian aeroplane.

I raised the matter in the House before the Easter recess and asked what the Government proposed to do at that time about distributing humanitarian aid to the whole of Iraq. We have, as the Foreign Secretary knows, the statement of the United Nations team that has been into Iraq. The team described is as a catastrophe and set out the need for medicine, food and clothes.

The Red Crescent in Iran, with whose director I spoke early last week, has managed to cope so far with the enormous influx of refugees. The situation is obviously much worse in Iran—a point that I stressed to the Foreign Secretary—because I million people have already crossed the border and the estimate is that another 1 million people may be trying to get across the border. Iran, therefore, desperately needs help. The Red Crescent in Iran says that is has come to the end of its tether. It has had experience of dealing with earthquakes and the Iran-Iraq war. To some extent, they were prepared, in that they had camps close to the border and a certain number of tents. When the Red Crescent asked the Save the Children Fund for help—a group of its representatives was present when I spoke to the director of the Red Crescent—it asked particularly for tents but it was told by the Save the Children Fund that it did not have in the United Kingdom a supply of tents in the numbers needed. What they need most of all are tents, clothing, powdered milk for the babies, food and teams of doctors and nurses.

I saw a French team of 150 doctors from Medecins Sans Frontieres, which is well known to everyone, and asked why such an organisation can get a group of doctors quickly into a disaster area while we, who have faced similar tragedies in many parts of the world, cannot. I met the French aid Minister who had been in the area for six days. He felt desperate about the situation and said that he was going back to report o President Mitterrand in Paris.

I urge the Government to give particular attention to the needs of Iran, which has coped very well so far, but it cannot do so any longer. The governor of west Azerbaijan, where the main bulk of the refugees are going, said that 80 per cent. of the refugees were in hospitals in his province and that 800 emergency surgical operations have been carried out on the refugees. Injured people are still to be found on both sides of the border.

On Saturday I travelled about 40 miles into Iraq. I heard the shelling coming from Sulaymaniyah, which at present is held by Iraqi troops. The shells were aimed at Kurdish fighters on the hillsides surrounding the town.

I spoke to the main Kurdish leader, Jalal Talabani, in his headquarters, hidden away in the hills. He said that, although he was grateful for any suggestions as to how the desperate situation in which Iraq finds itself might be solved, he could not understand why the international community, if it were prepared to offer safe havens within Kurdistan, could not make the whole of Iraqi Kurdistan a safe haven for the Kurds. That is a matter that will have to be addressed. Talabani said that he was not in favour of safe havens, as such areas would be surrounded by areas of hostility. He is in favour of a political solution that will enable the Kurdish people to live in peace in their own country. As the Foreign Secretary has said, what the Kurdish people want is autonomy within Iraq. That is the very least that the international community should aim to provide.

The situation is desperate, both for the Kurds and for the Shias. There are United Nations resolutions under which the international community could take action. I appeal to the Government to do everything in their power to deal with the situation, including the provision of aid on a vastly increased scale. I am not convinced that aid has been provided on anything like the necessary scale. Most of all, I appeal to the Foreign Secretary to aim for a political solution to the dreadful situation in which the Kurdish and Shi'ite people find themselves. Saddam Hussein is still killing, killing, killing, in Iraq. This is genocide, and it calls for an international response.

Mr. Hurd

The hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) has drawn on her memories of the immediate past. At the meeting that I had this morning, there were three or four other people, including Dr. Barrow of the Overseas Development Administration, who had recently returned —some of them last night—from various parts of the area, and whose vivid recollections bear out entirely what the hon. Lady has just said. The House will have found no hint of exaggeration in her description of what she witnessed.

It is certainly true that the help that we have been providing on an increasing scale has gone overwhelmingly to the Turkish side of the border. However—and I said this before the hon. Lady asked me to do so—it is clear that, in terms of size, the greater problem arises on the Iranian side. It may have been since the hon. Lady's departure that we flew the first supplies directly to Iran. We shall continue to provide supplies.

The problem is how to get them up to the area where they are needed. Just before coming to the House, I saw a telegram to the effect that the closest airport is too small to receive aeroplanes of the type needed to carry them. Indeed, some planes have had to be turned away and sent to Tehran, which is hundreds of kilometres away.

These are the problems with which the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Mrs. Ogata, who is now in Iran, is wrestling. The focus of the international effort —without our ceasing to build up on the Turkish side— will increasingly have to be Iran and the problems that the hon. Lady has described. She referred to people sitting miserable in cars—some of them dying. That reflects completely other comments that I heard this morning.

On the political side, I cannot sensibly add to what I have said already. The objective that the hon. Lady heard voiced by the Kurdish leader is the one that was explained to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister when he met similar Kurdish leaders in London last week. That must be the right objective, and it can be achieved only by steady steps. I repeat that the first steps must involve efforts to prevent people from dying on the tops of mountains; the second must be to get people—immediately, if possible —into Turkey and Iran; the third must be to enable them to return to their homes. That will require not just the provision of aid but United Nations action that has not previously had to be taken in this form. I refer to the need to ensure that people may return home in safety and confidence.

The Government will take seriously the points that have been made during these exchanges not least those raised by the hon. Lady.

Mr. Speaker

I shall ensure that hon. Members who were not called to put questions on this statement are given some priority when we next return to the subject.

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