HL Deb 15 April 1991 vol 527 cc1253-4

2.48 p.m.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs asked Her Majesty's Government:

What action they are taking to alleviate the plight of the Kurdish population in Iraq.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, we are deeply concerned about the situation of the Kurdish and other refugees in Iraq. There have been two elements to our response: first, we have acted to meet the refugees' humanitarian needs; and, secondly, we are acting to stop Iraq's repression of its own population and to protect the refugees through the initiative of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that Answer. However, in the light of the sheer magnitude of the suffering experienced by the Kurdish refugees on the two frontiers, can the noble Earl tell us how much British aid is reaching those refugees? Further, can he say whether the British Government have conferred with representatives from the Turkish and Iranian Governments, and whether they have any views on how the refugee operation should be conducted?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has pledged about £20 million as our response to the UN Secretary General's appeal. That is in addition to our continuing aid programme which has been operating. Since 8th April three RAF Hercules aircraft have flown 16 missions, and dropped 121 tonnes of supplies to the refugees on the Turkish-Iraqi border.

Lord Mellish

My Lords, is the Minister aware that some of us on this side of the House think that the contribution made by the Prime Minister is outstanding? His proposals are indeed outstanding; and it is a great shame that they are not backed up by many more people instead of them just talking about it. Further, can the noble Earl tell the House why Saddam Hussein, who is a villain and a murderer, should be allowed to continue in this way and thereby destroy other people's lives? We do not seem to be doing anything about it. Can he tell us how such a situation is possible?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, on the first point, I am grateful for what the noble Lord said. Secondly, I disagree with the suggestion that there has hardly been a murmur. There has been a positive hurricane of response.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, the Prime Minister has made a proposal for a safe haven, with which I am sure we all sympathise. Can the noble Earl tell the House where the proposal stands at the moment? Is it possible that it may go before the Security Council and receive the support of the international community so that something practical may emerge? Secondly, will the noble Earl confirm that economic and other sanctions will continue in force until the Kurdish and Shi'ite problem has been resolved? That is, we hope, until Saddam Hussein has been removed.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the initiative of my right honourable friend had four elements. The provision of humanitarian relief to those in need; the establishment of safe havens—I stress that in the plural—under United Nations protection for refugees in Northern Iraq; the economic sanctions to remain in place until the present policies and practices of the Iraqi Government have changed; and the monitoring of arms sales and the establishment of a United Nations register.

Thus your Lordships will see that the United Nations is heavily involved in the matter. The present state of our discussions with the Americans, the French, the Germans and the other members of the United Nations Security Council is well advanced. The United Nations Secretary General has sent a special representative, the Belgian Mr. Suy. His Royal Highness Prince Sadruddin is also in Iraq coordinating the relief agencies.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, does the establishment of these safe havens presuppose armed protection under the sanction of the United Nations?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, that will depend very much on how Iraq reacts to the situation. We hope that the Iraqis will agree that humanitarian aid is needed rapidly in the area. The idea must be to get off the mountains those suffering horribly in extreme weather and get them down to areas where relief supplies can be distributed more quickly and effectively. If the Iraqis decide to react in any way against those humanitarian efforts, the response that they will receive has been made perfectly clear.

Lord Jenkins of Hillhead

My Lords, will we not have a Statement on the Kurdish question within an hour? Would it not therefore be more appropriate to leave further exchanges until then?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, that is up to the will of the House. I have been asked questions, and it is only right that the Government should respond.