HC Deb 17 April 1991 vol 189 cc419-32 3.31 pm
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Douglas Hurd)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a further statement about the relief of the suffering in Iraq.

On Monday I reported to the House on the plan put forward by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to establish temporary safe havens in Iraq for the refugees until they can return to their homes in safety. I said that we were pressing the plan vigorously. I can now report good progress.

Following my right hon. Friend's initiative, we continued intense discussions with our close allies, particularly the French and United States Governments, our partners in the European Community and the Secretary-General of the United Nations. We warmly welcome the decision announced by President Bush late yesterday to establish, in conjunction with ourselves and the French, several encampments in northern Iraq where relief supplies for the refugees will be made available in large quantities and distributed in an orderly way. This is essential for the survival of the refugees. Security will be provided at these temporary sites by United States, British and French forces. The details are now, today, being worked out in close consultation with our allies and with the United Nations Secretary-General.

These proposals are to help provide emergency aid, as authorised by Security Council resolution 688. We regard these camps as temporary. They will provide first the emergency supplies and shelter needed to keep the refugees alive and, secondly, over time, the reassurance they need to move on in safety to their homes. This is an immediate measure designed to save lives. We shall be working closely with the United Nations. UN resolution 688 requires the Iraqi Government to co-operate, both with measures undertaken to ensure the implementation of that resolution and generally with the Secretary-General's efforts for the refugees.

Meanwhile, we shall continue our own additional relief effort. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development gave evidence on this to the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs this morning. In addition to our contribution to the air aid bridge, we have contributed over £20 million to appeals by the United Nations and other agencies. We are supporting the efforts of our own non-governmental organisations, and our efforts are not confined to Turkey. My right hon. Friend will leave for Turkey and Iran tomorrow to help to ensure that the relief effort is being properly co-ordinated. Last week we sent 80 tonnes of relief supplies to Iran, and two additional flights, carrying a similar amount, will leave for Iran this week and more will follow.

The Iranian authorities and their Red Crescent are making strenuous efforts, but it is clear to me that a substantial build-up of the international effort to help the Kurds in Iran is essential and urgent.

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)

The decision of the Governments of the United States, the United Kingdom and France to send troops into Iraq to protect and help Kurdish refugees falls clearly and precisely within the authority of Security Council resolution 688 which was carried on 2 April.

Throughout the crisis the Labour party has given full support to all 14 Security Council resolutions and has supported all action taken in accordance with those resolutions and all action taken with the authority of those resolutions.

We therefore welcome and support the action announced yesterday by President Bush. We welcome the participation in the decision by the United Kingdom Government and we give our full support to the British troops who are involved in this action.

Can the right hon. Gentleman give the House more information about the number of troops involved and what their tasks will be? Can he explain their rules of engagement and in what circumstances they would be authorised to take military action against Iraqi forces?

Iraq, of course, is obliged under resolution 688 to co-operate with the work our forces are doing and if Iraqi forces were to interfere in any way with this Mission they would be in breach of the resolution and it could be invoked.

Can the right hon. Gentleman give any indication of how long our troops will be needed for this assignment? Can he say what role is being played by the Secretary-General and by the Security Council, and whether the United Nations military staff committee has been involved or consulted?

Is it the intention of the countries involved to hand over this assignment of mercy to United Nations control and to United Nations forces? If so, when is that likely to be arranged?

Although this action is welcome and entirely proper, it does not, of course, deal comprehensively with the problem and does not claim to do so.

We on this side continue to regard the sums of money provided by the United Kingdom Government as nowhere near adequate to meet the scale of the need. Will the Government increase their contribution substantially and as soon as possible?

Has the right hon. Gentleman any reliable information about the reported negotiations between Saddam Hussein and the Kurdish leaders? Does he believe that any worthwhile outcome is likely if such negotiations are indeed taking place?

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and I have raised in the House recourse to the United Nations genocide convention. Can the right hon. Gentleman now tell the House that, as we recommend, the Government will speedily ask for a meeting of the Security Council at which the Secretary-General will be asked to send a Mission to Iraq to investigate charges of genocide by Saddam Hussein against the Kurds and against others? Such a Mission is clearly authorised under resolution 688 and it ought to be sent urgently.

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell the House what action the Government would support under the genocide convention and what action could be taken to deal with those responsible for genocide, should such charges be established?

Article 4 of the convention authorises punishment against persons committing genocide, whether they are constitutionally responsible rulers, public officials or private individuals. Of course, the meeting of European Community Ministers on Monday with the participation of the United Kingdom supported trying Saddam Hussein for war crimes.

Since it is impossible to deal with one aspect of the middle east crisis without considering other actions and developments in the crisis, will the right hon. Gentleman —[Interruption.] These are very important matters and the right hon. Gentleman volunteered a statement to which the House has a right to respond.

Will the right hon. Gentleman endorse the condemnation by President Bush of the establishment of a new illegal Israeli settlement on the occupied west bank? We welcome the condemnation of that settlement by the Israeli Minister of Health and we hope that the Government will join that condemnation. We believe that all action has to be taken to deal with the Kurdish crisis and the wider middle east crisis, because one more is more than enough and there must not be another crisis.

Mr. Hurd

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his support for my announcement. The job of our forces will be to protect the relief effort in the camps that have been announced. On Monday I set out in some detail why we believe that protection to ensure the safety of the relief effort and the helpers and the helped is an essential part of the relief. Obviously, the protecting forces will be as heavy as is required, but as light as possible. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said this morning, we reckon that our contribution is likely to be somewhat less than a brigade. It is not possible to answer the right hon. Gentleman's question about how long this effort will be needed, but we aim to hand over the function to the United Nations as soon as is practicable.

Last night my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister talked to the United Nations Secretary-General who made a general comment of welcome for the humanitarian purpose of this exercise. That is as far as I am able to go in answering that question by the right hon. Gentleman.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about money. The £21 million contribution announced by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister covers the immediate practicable requirements of relief. The relief effort is going ahead and our effort is being intensified in the way that my right hon. Friend described to the Select Committee this morning.

I have no particular knowledge of any discussions between the Kurdish leaders and the Iraqis. We believe that the aim a0nd objective of the Kurdish leaders of autonomy with Iraq can be supported.

The right hon. Gentleman returned to the issue of genocide. He is correct to say that on 15 April the Community Foreign Ministers agreed that the Twelve should work towards Saddam Hussein's being held to account. They agreed to pursue that through the Secretary-General of the United Nations and that is being done. On Monday I set out the legal position of the 1948 convention. The practical position is that Saddam Hussein is not within our power.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence will make a statement as soon as possible—I should think quite soon, within the next day or so—about the outcome of the detailed staff planning discussions now going on in Germany. He will be able to set out more clearly the nature of the British military contribution to that effort. It is clear that we are making a contribution and that it is a logical and necessary result of the initiative by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.

Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)

On the safe haven for the Kurds, is my right hon. Friend aware that we are all proud of the lead given by our country, our Government and our Prime Minister? Is he further aware that we are glad to have confirmation that there will be no let-up in the relief to the Kurds in the mountains and that we have every sympathy with the point of view of the Turks? To let Saddam Hussein stay on is similar to what would have happened at the end of the second world war if we had allowed Hitler, had he lived, to stay on to run Germany.

Mr. Hurd

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister launched this initiative and persevered with it for weeks during which many clever people were saying that it was washed up, had been discredited and would never come to fruition. My right hon. Friend persevered to success. That is not only a great achievement by my right hon. Friend and the Government but will save the lives of many people about whom the Government and the country are concerned.

The point on which my hon. Friend ended is one into which we went fairly thoroughly in the House on Monday. I simply say that most people feel that a change of regime in Iraq is highly desirable—not least the Iraqis themselves, including the Kurds. However, none of the allies believes that that is best brought about by allied troops.

Sir David Steel (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale)

While I applaud the action that has at last been taken by the allies, may I ask the Foreign Secretary to say a little more about how he hopes to persuade the Kurdish people to remain within the northern Iraqi border, unless there are signs of longer-term guarantees for their safety? Will it be part of the peace settlement that there should be the creation of a secure homeland within the territory of Iraq, as the Kurdish leaders want? Will there be a similar operation on Iraq's south-eastern border with Iran?

Mr. Hurd

Our first thought was to save as many lives as possible, and the creation of the camps is designed to do that. As the right hon. Gentleman says, it does not solve the whole of the problem. I hope that it will lead to a willingness by the Kurds to return to their homes, but they will do so only if they are satisfied that those homes are secure. We believe that that involves the steady build-up of an international, United Nations presence in north Iraq. I hope that that will go ahead on the lines of Prince Sadruddin's mission to Iraq and his discussions there.

There are no plans for a similar exercise on Iraq's border with Iran. That is why I spent some time saying that I believe that the international relief effort in Iran, to which we are increasingly contributing, will need to build up quickly.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. It might help hon. Members if I say that I shall give precedence today to those who were not called on Monday.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

The measures that my right hon. Friend has announced are most welcome. Could he clarify the statement of the Secretary-General, after his meeting with President Mitterrand, that if allied troops deployed to protect the camps were to be under the auspices of the United Nations, that would have to be approved by another meeting of the United Nations Security Council? Will my right hon. Friend have regard to the potential of air cover, because it is not just a question of protecting the camps; it is necessary to ensure that there is no further intimidation and harassment of the Kurds over a wider area.

Mr. Hurd

My hon. Friend is right on both points. It is not intended that the British, American and French forces, which I have described in my statement, should be under United Nations command. I am advised that their presence is wholly consistent with Security Council resolution 688. We want their role to be taken over by the United Nations as soon as that is practicable.

My hon. Friend is right about air cover. President Bush was specific about that in his announcement yesterday, and my hon. Friend will have noted that he specifically repeated the warning that he had previously given about Iraqi air activities.

Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South)

May I gently put it to the Foreign Secretary—and I say it without any sense of satisfaction—that the Gulf war appears to be a rather less glorious enterprise today than it did a month ago? Whatever view one takes of that, there is no excuse for the triumphalism of some Conservative Members.

May I welcome the action that has been belatedly taken today, but point out to the Foreign Secretary that the immediate concern, which is widely acknowledged, is to get the Kurds off the mountains? That will require more co-operation from the Turks. Does the right hon. Gentleman share the widespread revulsion felt when we see on our television screens every night pictures of Turkish soldiers beating starving refugees to get them to go back up the mountains? Do we have any influence with the Turks? I am aware that the Turkish Prime Minister was in this country the other day. Are we using any influence that we might have, because, as yet, there is no sign that the Turks are co-operating on the scale that they should be?

Mr. Hurd

I simply do not understand the hon. Gentleman's first point. Is he saying, in some sense, that it would have been right to leave Kuwait under Saddam Hussein's mercy? Unless that is the implication of the hon. Gentleman's sentence, I do not see the point in saying it.

Of course we have been in close touch with the Turkish Government. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister talked to the Turkish Prime Minister, as the hon. Gentleman said, when he was here on Monday. Obviously the Turks have sensitivities, concerns and substantial difficulties. They are making a massive effort and, rather than pick on particular incidents when things may well have gone wrong, it would be sensible if the House concentrated on how we can help, not criticise, the Turks.

Mr. Anthony Coombs (Wyre Forest)

I congratulate the Government on their bold step of ensuring zones of safety for the Kurds which will prevent many thousands of them from dying on the mountain sides of the Iraq-Turkey border. Now that the principle of having troops inside northern Iraq under UN auspices has been established, does the Foreign Secretary see a role for the UN in future mediation between the Kurds and the Iraqi regime to establish permanent zones of safety and a constitution for them that will effectively guarantee their rights as citizens of Iraq?

Mr. Hurd

That is looking ahead. I certainly would not reject it. I believe that the Kurds are entitled to autonomy within Iraq. At the end of this story, the UN may well be helpful in bringing that about—I do not rule that out.

Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley)

May I congratulate the Prime Minister and his colleagues on the success of their efforts in persuading their allies to take this effective action? Given the implications of the course on which we are embarked, would not it be prudent to have a careful, calm look with our coalition partners at the mid-term prospects and at strategy, as opposed to the longer-term middle east conference?

Mr. Hurd

I agree with that. The immediate short-term step that I have announced today on behalf of the Government needs to be followed by medium-term thinking—and I have begun to sketch what that should be. That applies to the Kurdish problem, to the problem of a final settlement in Iraq and to the wider middle east question about which the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) asked me.

Mr. James Kilfedder (North Down)

When the Prime Minister, out of a sense of deep compassion, put forward the idea of safe havens in Iraq, it was ridiculed by some and rejected by others, including the Government of the United States of America. So will the Foreign Secretary convey to the Prime Minister my thanks and those of the whole House for his decisive international leadership which may lead to the saving of tens of thousands of lives of Kurdish people?

Mr. Hurd

I will certainly convey the hon. Gentleman's thanks to my right hon. Friend. The United States did not reject the plan and has now decisively acted to put it into action.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

I am glad that the Prime Minister kept up his pressure for safe havens, because it seemed at one point that the President of the United States was going to wash his hands of his responsibilities, having perhaps achieved all that he wanted from the Gulf war. If one was writing a report on the Government it would read, "Could do better; could do more."

Does the right hon. Gentleman understand that, compared with the enormous efforts made in the Gulf war and the billions of pounds spent on it, £21 million—less than the cost of one jet aircraft—is a disproportionately small sum and that far more is needed? Are the Government prepared to spend far more; and what efforts are they making to encourage contributions from the Japanese, other EEC countries and Kuwait to pay for the costs of looking after the Kurds?

Mr. Hurd

The constraint is not a financial one at the moment. It is a matter of getting what is needed to where it is needed. If the hon. Gentleman knew the details of the relief effort, he would know that that was so. No doubt we shall return to talking about money, but at the moment the constraint is not financial. The hon. Gentleman's final point was quite right. Of course we must encourage not only our partners in the EC but the Japanese and the wealthier Arab states to help the relief effort. The Germans announced today quite a substantial airlift to Iran and the French have been extremely active and working closely with us particularly during the past few days.

Dr. Charles Goodson-Wickes (Wimbledon)

I also welcome the great success of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's robust diplomacy which has given some hope of alleviating the plight of the Kurds. Does my right hon. Friend agree that no troops in the world match the adaptability of British troops to move from a conventional military operation to giving humanitarian aid to a civil population?

Mr. Hurd

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. In many places across the world our forces have shown exactly that quality and I am sure that when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence gives details of how it is intended that our forces should operate, my hon. Friend will find that that principle is at work.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

In what circumstances can the House of Commons envisage British, American or United Nations troops ever being withdrawn from that place—will it be two years or 10 years? How does the Foreign Secretary contemplate the fact that we are creating a nightmare of a Northern Ireland in northern Iraq? Should not we at least try talking to Saddam Hussein, because, sooner or later, someone will have to talk to Baghdad, unpalatable though it may be?

Mr. Hurd

I really think that the comparison that the hon. Gentleman draws is very wide of the mark. I can see no similarities between the situations that he described.

If the Prime Minister had not put forward his initiative, if we had simply sat back, as the Opposition accused us of doing, if we had not pressed the United States or the European Community, or if yesterday we had refused to play our part, a great many more people who now have a chance of surviving would have died on the mountains. The hon. Gentleman has to accept that.

Of course I cannot tell the House today when this commitment will end. We shall try to bring it to an end in safety by handing over responsibility to the United Nations. There are precedents for that. I cannot say when it will be done, but it is a perfectly sensible method of proceeding. The United Nations has to keep in touch with whatever regime is in Baghdad. However, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not use his eloquence to criticise or undermine in any way the chances of this operation, of which this country can be proud.

Mr. Paul Marland (Gloucestershire, West)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is absolutely astonishing that, with only one exception, there has been not a single word of appreciation from the Opposition for what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has achieved? They seem to be more interested in whining and nit-picking about too little, too late, not enough and all the rest of it. Will he convey warm congratulations not only from me but from all my constituents on what the Prime Minister has achieved and emphasise that it is due to his tenacity and determination that a safe haven has been established for the Kurds?

Mr. Hurd

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Of course, 'the Opposition had a bit of an outing on Monday when I was not able to say what was going on behind the scenes and I was not able to prove that the Prime Minister's initiative would bear fruit. I simply said that we were pursuing it vigorously. That was taken as a pattern of speech and the Opposition had a field day complaining that we were doing nothing. Now they have been proved wrong and that rather inhibits them today. However, the right hon. Member for Gorton supported what we have announced and I am grateful to him.

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that there will be widespread relief at the help now being given to the Kurds, particularly as probably 200,000 people have been killed in the area since the invasion of Kuwait and, in the opinion of many, the tragedy there is worse than it was when it began?

Is the safe haven a refugee camp? Does the Secretary of State recall that the Palestinians have been in refugee camps for many years? If there is military intervention to safeguard the camps, is not that a de facto partition? Do the Government accept the right of the Kurdish people throughout the area to self-determination? Will they be invited to the peace conference with the Palestinians? Without a long-term perspective, the aid—however welcome—will not go to the root of the problem.

Mr. Hurd

What we envisage is five or six refugee camps which will be protected by British, American and French forces. The camps will not be connected—it will not be a single territorial area but a number of camps. British, French and American troops will be equipped to protect themselves as well as others. The situation is not comparable to that on the west bank or the Gaza strip. I have set out what we believe to be a sensible attitude towards autonomy and we will support that claim. As I have already said, the United Nations may have a role to play in bringing that about, but we do not envisage a huge peace conference at which every issue involving the middle east will be considered.

Mr. Cyril D. Townsend (Bexleyheath)

While paying tribute to the obvious compassion and thought that have gone into the programme, may I express my concern about the position of a brigade of British troops in a few days' time? Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, in the unexpected event of an ambush or attack, it will have no artillery or tanks with which to reply? How, in practice, will the brigade commander decide who is a displaced person and who is a freedom fighter? How will we stop the camps being used to store explosives and ammunition, bearing in mind that a vicious civil war is raging in that part of the world? The Government may find it easy to put a brigade of British troops into northern Iraq, but it will be hard to withdraw that brigade as long as Saddam Hussein and the Republican Guard remain in control of Iraq.

Mr. Hurd

That depends to a considerable extent on the exact location of the camps, which is being worked out at the moment. The answers to my hon. Friend's questions lie in the statement to be made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence when matters have been further elaborated. As I have already said, when we send British troops —and other countries will feel the same about theirs—they must be able to protect themselves as well as others. That bears on the question of equipment, communications, reinforcement and back-up generally. Those issues are very much in the minds of my right hon. Friend, his advisers and our allies.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

How can we overcome the logistical problems of getting aid to the Kurds, which is causing great difficulty? People are collecting blankets, baby food and medical supplies to assist the Kurds. A medical team—a burns unit—that has worked in Belfast is also going out to help. British organisations find it relatively easy to collect materials in this country, but they have great difficulty in shipping them over to the Kurds. Will help be given in that respect? I understand that Iran Air has to pay transit charges in this country when it is here on mercy Missions to collect some of those materials. Is everything being done to ensure that the materials that people have collected are getting to where they are needed?

Mr. Hurd

We started with air drops because that was the quickest but not the best way, as we have seen. We are now moving to helicopter drops, and the extra British helicopters that have been allocated are now arriving and will participate in those drops. The hon. Gentleman is perfectly right. The Red Cross is well equipped in this country to gather material and to get it abroad. That organisation is in close touch with my right hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development. I suggest that individuals or groups who want to help should contact the Red Cross or my right hon. Friend's Department.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Crawley)

Will my right hon. Friend contrast with the Government's response the entirely graceless and negative response of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) and the Labour party to this remarkable achievement? Does my right hon. Friend agree that this achievement represents a triumph for British diplomacy and again shows the importance of working with our European partners in dealing with difficult matters involving the Americans?

Mr. Hurd

My hon. Friend is being a little hard on the right hon. Member for Gorton, who began his intervention this afternoon by accepting what the Government did, just as he did on the radio this morning. The right hon. Gentleman does not seem to have had total influence on his hon. Friends, but we are obliged to him for his support.

I draw from this issue a lesson that I have had to draw before: in these matters, persistence is all-important. If one is discouraged by the first discouragements, one will never get anywhere. We have persisted in this basic idea and I am delighted that it has succeeded.

Ms. Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood)

Like everyone else, I welcome this belated action to bring relief to the suffering of the Kurds, but I do not understand one point. Why did not the right hon. Gentleman and the coalition forces give immediate support to the uprising for democracy in Iraq, uniting the Kurds and the Shi'ites, which occurred immediately after the ceasefire? Why did we not give humanitarian and medical aid and political support then? If we had done so, Saddam Hussein would probably have gone by now and the Kurds would never have had to go up the mountains.

Mr. Hurd

I do not think that historians will back the hon. Lady on that point. On Monday, we discussed whether the war was brought to an end at the right time. I do not believe that prolonging the fighting in the south for a day or two would have altered events for the Kurds. As soon as the extent of the humanitarian catastrophe became apparent—first in the areas around Turkey and now in the areas around Iran—the international community took the action that I described today and on Monday.

Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton and Wallington)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that my constituents share the admiration for the lead that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has given, which has been voiced on both sides of the House by all fair-minded Members? Will my right hon. Friend confirm that Security Council resolution 688 insists on an immediate end to the repression of all minorities in Iraq, including the Kurds and the Shi'ites? What evidence is there so far that the Iraqi Government have in any way complied with that resolution? What steps do the Government intend taking to encourage them to do so?

Mr. Hurd

We know of no harassment by the Iraqis of the relief efforts. There is evidence of Iraqis continuing to attack Kurds south of the 36th parallel where the United States interdiction holds sway. We are waiting for the report of the Secretary-General's representative on the carrying out of resolution 688.

Mr. Bernie Grant (Tottenham)

The Foreign Secretary praised the Turkish Government for their work in dealing with the refugees. Will he also praise the Iranian Government for their work? They have done considerably more than the Turkish Government. Will refugees on the Iran-Iraq border be able to go to the enclaves? If not, why not? If they are allowed to go to those enclaves, how will they get there? Will the Kurdish refugees, the fighters and the guerrillas be allowed to take their guns and other weapons with them into the enclaves?

Mr. Hurd

The hon. Gentleman is right on his first point. I referred in my statement to the strenuous efforts made by the Iranian authorities, including the Iranian Red Crescent. which I am told has done extraordinarily energetic and successful work in dealing with this disaster.

There will be no examination of people when they enter the camps about where they came from. In practice, it is unlikely that people will come from Iran or from the border with Iraq, but that will depend on where the sites are located, which is being worked out at present. I do not envisage the sites being allowed to be used by Kurds or anyone else carrying arms.

Mr. John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Iranian Government's action in allowing so many refugees to enter their territory is to be praised, as is their restraint in the face of provocation from Saddam Hussein? Does not that augur well for future relations with Iran and, perhaps, for the future of some of the hostages in Lebanon? As for the refugees in the south, particularly those in the demilitarised zone, is not it our responsibility to see that they are given safe passage to a safe place if no safe havens are to be created in southern Iraq?

Mr. Hurd

I agree with my hon. Friend's remarks about the Iranian Government's policy. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development will have an opportunity to discuss the subject with Dr. Velayati and others when she goes to Tehran on Saturday.

My hon. Friend's second point has exercised us, but is not a question which has arisen in the House before. It is extremely important that, before the Americans finally leave the demilitarised zone, there should be more provision for the people who have taken refuge there. The best way is for them to be admitted to Kuwait or Saudi Arabia. Alternatively, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees should take effective control of the places that they occupy. That means resisting any effort by Iraqi forces to move in on those people.

Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West)

Does the Foreign Secretary accept that it is a welcome development, when there is a conflict of interest between not interfering in another nation's affairs and humanitarian intervention, that the balance of advantage has been adjudged on the side of humanitarian intervention? Nevertheless, can we have a clear statement as soon as possible from the Secretary of State for Defence about the command structure to be deployed and the rules of engagement?

May I press the Foreign Secretary a little on how he anticipates the real and eventual needs of the Kurdish people being realised at a peace conference? They want a clear understanding that their accredited representative will be present and able to speak on their behalf.

Mr. Hurd

My right hon. Friend's statement will deal with the hon. Gentleman's first two questions about command structures and rules of engagement. It is impossible to look too far ahead at the eventual position and settlement of the Kurdish people. I have set out what I believe it is reasonable for this country to support and aim at, and we shall continue to do that through the United Nations.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I must have regard to subsequent business before the House. This is an Opposition day and there is another statement and a ten-minute Bill, so I shall call three more hon. Members from each side before we move on to the next statement.

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)

Is not it characteristic of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that he first recognised the humanitarian needs and desperate position of the Kurdish people and, secondly, recognised the real concerns of the British people? Undeterred by every legal and other formulation put forward by the Opposition in great chorus last Monday, he persisted and got the safe havens established. Is not it also essential that the Kurds do not stay in the safe havens for too long but that they be established where they belong, in their own homes and towns? They should be permitted, under United Nations authority and with the help of the international community, to live their lives in peace and security. Surely we must be prepared to back the United Nations force with armed might if necessary to defeat Saddam Hussein, who has turned them out of their homes.

Mr. Hurd

We have announced today our willingness to deploy our forces in support of the first task, which is to save lives. That has been almost universally welcomed in the House. The next step is that the United Nations must take responsibility for the camps now being set up and must find ways in which the Kurds can return to their homes in security. We do not want to establish, either in Turkey or northern Iraq, camps that start as temporary and end up as permanent. Clear responsibility rests on the United Nations and is already set out in resolution 688.

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)

I welcome the statement on the safe haven, but may I ask a question of pure logistics? Thousands of these desperate people died in the trek into the mountains. We are all aware of the difficult mountainous conditions, the poor weather and the weakened medical condition of those who survived the trek in; now they have to get out. That will be as big a problem as looking after them when they get out. What consideration is being given to ways of getting them out of the mountains?

Mr. Hurd

That is indeed an important part of the planning. As my right hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development has just told me, priority is to be given to getting women and children—the people who are most vulnerable—into places of safety first. That is already being planned and, to some extent, is already happening. The urgency of the matter is huge, which is why it seemed to us right that as soon as the American decision was cleared we should announce our acceptance of it and get on with detailed planning, while acknowledging that there are many basic questions that still have to be tackled.

Mr. Robert G. Hughes (Harrow, West)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the dogged determination with which the Prime Minister pursued the policy he put forward against the rubbishing by the press and some other world leaders, whom he persuaded to come round to his way of thinking, should be pointed out to the Iranian leadership so that they understand that when the British Prime Minister says something, he means it and when he says that we need freedom for our hostages, including John McCarthy, who today finishes five years in captivity, the British Government mean it? We will have good working relationships with Iran, but only when John McCarthy and the others are free.

Mr. Hurd

I have made this point to Dr. Velayati since the autumn. Mr. Cooper, who was held in prison in Tehran for a long time, has now been released, which is welcome. But Iranians know that, alongside the way in which we praise them for what they are doing in the Kurdish crisis, acknowledge the immense difficulties they face and do our best to help them, we cannot forget, any more than hon. Members wearing their yellow ribbons today forget, that held in desperate conditions in prisons in the Lebanon are people over whose captors we believe the Iranian Government have influence. We hope that they will use that humanitarian influence to the best effect and get those people out.

Mr. Thomas Graham (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde)

While I am delighted with today's statement, I am deeply disappointed that the United Nations did not act a lot sooner to save the thousands of lives that have been lost in the mountains. I give this decent, sensible suggestion to the Secretary of State. During the Gulf war, contingency arrangements were made all over Europe for hospitals and other organisations. At present, there are thousands of people lying in the mountains who are desperately ill and in need of care and attention. Cannot helicopters fly them out and aeroplanes take them to Britain and Europe where they may be treated and restored to health? If the Government mean what they say, they should carry out that decent. sensible suggestion.

Mr. Hurd

There may well be such cases, but the essential need is to get medical help to where there are large numbers of people. As I said on Monday, we are talking not about elaborate surgical equipment but about the basics of medical care and disease prevention. Getting that care to where the people are is the priority.

Mr. George Walden (Buckingham)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the people of this country expect the same display of unity in defence of the Kurds as was shown by the House in defence of the Kuwaitis? The Prime Minister's leadership in this matter deserves the unambiguous support of the House in the same way that his leadership of the Gulf war deserved it. However, in this complex situation, no policy can be perfect. One possible side effect of the policy of the Government and the United States is that it could release some of the Republican Guards for repression elsewhere in the country, by virtue of the fact that part of Iraq will be effectively neutralised. That seems to bring us back once again to the source of the evil—Saddam Hussein. What is happening in the international sphere to reinforce existing sanctions and to bring new, internationally backed sanctions against Saddam Hussein, the source of the evil?

Mr. Hurd

The sanctions regime, put into effect by United Nations resolution 687, is extremely rigorous. If my hon. Friend studies its exact provisions and puts himself in the position of someone in Baghdad who wants to have a future for himself, as an Iraqi, and for his family, he will see, looking at the provisions of the United Nations resolution, that the obstacle to that future for himself and Iraq is Saddam Hussein. I believe that that realisation will, in the end, be his undoing.

Mrs. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) said, we welcome any relief that can be brought to refugees who are living in such terrible circumstances, but several questions remain. First, can the Foreign Secretary tell us the size of the tent cities that are to be erected on the Turkey-Iraq border, but not on the Iranian-Iraq border? As he knows, the major problem is the refugees in Iran who have crossed into Iran from Iraq. Many more refugees are crossing the Iranian border than the Turkish border.

Secondly, what means will be made available to the thousands of Iraqi Kurds who still remain in the major cities of Iraqi Kurdistan—Sulaymaniyah and Kirkuk? No protection seems to have been made available to them, although battles continue in both cities, with a major battle taking place today in Sulaymaniyah.

Thirdly, is the Foreign Secretary aware of the conversation I had a few hours ago with Jalal Talabani in which he gave his views of the proposals? He said that the tent cities are only good for keeping the refugees alive and that the main problem is to prepare conditions so that they can be sent back to their villages and towns under United Nations protection.

Fourthly, is the Foreign Secretary also aware of the proposals that have been made to the Iraqi Kurds during the last few hours by Saddam Hussein? The proposals are almost unbelievable. He has made what Jalal Talabani said was a very attractive offer, and they are to meet tomorrow to decide how to deal with the offer. He also said that Saddam Hussein is offering autonomy to the Kurds in Iraq, as well as democracy and pluralism and an elected Parliament with Kurdish representatives. That is unbelievable to all of us. Since it was mentioned to me by the leader of the major Kurdish political party, who is also the leader of the Peshmerga, that they are considering the proposal seriously, will the Foreign Secretary tell us what credence he gives to the report? If they are realistic proposals, which I know it is very difficult for all of us to believe, does the Foreign Secretary agree that they cannot be considered unless international guarantees are given to the Kurds, together with a guarantee that the withdrawal of all hostile forces from Kurdistan is overseen by the United Nations?

Mr. Hurd

I would rather not comment on detailed offers of a few hours ago, from whatever source, but I suppose that the Kurdish leaders will not be impressed by verbal offers. They will want an assurance, not just from whatever regime there is in Baghdad, that what is on offer is going to happen.

As for the hon. Lady's other points, no, it is not possible at this stage to give an estimate of the size of each of these camps. They will be largish. Unless the five or six camps are largish they will not make a sizeable impression on the problem. The hon. Lady is perfectly right. As I said in my original statement, this move does not solve the problem along the Iranian border, which she visited. That is why it is important that we, and other members of the international community, should build up the effort there.

On the question of the Kurds—indeed, all kinds of Iraqis, including the Shi'ites in the south who are in towns and villages—it is the purpose of the Secretary-General's co-ordinator, Prince Sadruddin, to visit the area and to report on how exactly the problem could be tackled. Prince Sadruddin has visited the area and will be talking to the Secretary-General in Paris today. We look forward with intense interest to his recommendations.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I say to those hon. Members who have not been called to put questions on this statement that I shall bear them in mind next time, as I have borne in mind today those who rose on Monday but were not called.