HL Deb 05 December 1991 vol 533 cc326-8

3.17 p.m.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps they are taking through the United Nations, and in conjunction with their European partners, to relieve the plight of the Kurdish people within Iraq.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, since April the Government have spent £44 million on aid for the Iraqi people including the Kurds. Of that some £11 million was spent through the United Nations and £12.5 million through the European Community. We are giving substantial support to the United Nations' winterisation programme through a joint project with the European Community.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Will he give some information regarding the situation of the Kurds in northern Iraq? Will he tell us the death rate from disease and hunger among the refugees? Will he tell us the total level of UN and EC aid?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, we continue to be extremely anxious for the Iraqi refugees and vulnerable groups throughout Iraq including the Kurds in the north and the Shia's in the south. I do not have with me any information about the death rate. However, I know that there are grounds for deep concern.

As regards expenditure, I have given the figure in respect of Britain. We provided £10 million to the Simple Truth Programme which totalled £57 million internationally.

Lord Renton

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that earlier this year our Prime Minister made the excellent suggestion that there should be a safe haven for Kurdish people? Is that still United Nations policy?

Bearing in mind that the matter has become urgent with the arrival of winter, is it accepted that the need for helping those people is now very much greater than it has been for some time?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, our anxiety is just as great with regard to safe havens. We recognise that the threat of winter has added to the problems of the Kurds. We are concentrating our help on food, shelter, health care and in averting tragedy in the mountains. We are helping bilaterally with food, shelter, health and water sanitation and with clothing through Kurdish humanitarian groups and UK non-government organisations. We are also supporting the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees on his winterisation programme to provide shelter for up to 350,000 people. There have been delivered to this area of northern Iraq 1,600 truck loads of timber, corrugated iron and building tools.

Lord Mellish

My Lords, is the Minister aware that some of us believed, apparently wrongly, that we had won the war against Saddam Hussein? Now we hear a story of untold millions of pounds being paid to protect the Kurds, which is understandable, while Saddam Hussein appears to be getting away with it. Can the Minister explain why and what the Government intend to do about that?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, the Gulf war was concerned with removing Saddam Hussein from Kuwait. Sanctions are still in place against Iraq in areas where it has not complied with United Nations resolutions.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, can the Minister confirm or deny suggestions that three-quarters of a million Kurds are still semi-homeless within Iraq; that 350,000 are refugees in Iran; that the food situation is very poor; and that the Iraqi Government continue to maintain a blockade of northern Iraq even though the blockade is not totally complete?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, I do not know that anyone has accurate figures as figures are difficult to obtain. The picture the noble Lord paints is bleak. It gives an indication of the kind of conditions that prevail in that unhappy country.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, further to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, can the Minister confirm that the Kurds are being subjected to a crippling economic blockade and to military aggression by Saddam Hussein's regime? Can he confirm the extent of the blockade and military aggression and say what steps the Government are taking in concert with our allies to try to bring them to an end?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, in the context of this Question I cannot give a detailed analysis as requested by the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition. The Government are giving considerable aid, as I have described, and that will continue. The United Nations Security Council's third review of sanctions on 2nd October concluded that there was no case for relaxing sanctions. We expect the fourth review, which will be undertaken this month, to reach the same conclusions. The Iraqis have failed on a number of counts to comply with UN Security Council resolutions. That non-compliance includes obstruction of United Nations inspectors, the continuing retention of Kuwaiti detainees and other human rights violations.

Lord Bottomley

My Lords, in view of what has been said can the Minister say when the Kurdish/Iraqi problem will be discussed by the United Nations Security Council and the European Community?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, I understand that discussions with our European partners continue. I am not aware of when the United Nations will next discuss the matter but I shall find out and write to the noble Lord.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, is the Minister aware that following the Prime Minister's most encouraging speech some months ago the Kurds naturally turned to this country for guidance and help? They have established an unofficial high commission or embassy in the London borough of Ealing and I visit them regularly. Some of the Kurdish leaders know precisely what the score is, as outlined by my noble friend Lady Ewart-Biggs, and the situation is getting worse by the day. Their representatives are only about 17 miles from this Chamber. Would it not be possible for members of our Government to see some of them in order to examine precisely what is involved?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, we believe that we are doing as much as we can to help the plight of the Kurds. However, I am grateful for any suggestion and I shall be pleased to look into it.