HL Deb 08 December 1994 vol 559 cc1015-7

3.20 p.m.

Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they remain unwilling to lift sanctions on Iraq until they are convinced that Saddam Hussein will respect the rights of the Kurds.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey)

My Lords, yes. The United Nations has repeatedly made clear to the Iraqi regime that there can be no question of relaxing sanctions until they comply fully with the relevant UN Security Council resolutions.

Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare

My Lords, while thanking the Minister for that reply, is it her opinion that things have improved for the Kurds in the north of Iraq in the past year or is Saddam Hussein still ignoring Resolutions 688 and 712?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

No, my Lords. Things have not improved. In his latest report the UN Special Rapporteur commented that there had been no improvement in Iraq's human rights record. Indeed, the situation has deteriorated even further during the past year. But we are all mindful of what needs to be done and are working to try to ensure that it is done.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, several times the Minister expressed concern for the Kurds and confirmed again just now that their situation in northern Iraq is getting worse rather than better. Is it not possible to negotiate some arrangement whereby the Kurds are not doubly disadvantaged by the sanctions? What attempts have the Foreign Office made to seek some sort of exemption for people who are clearly suffering?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, in seeking any sort of exemption, one must be extremely careful to stay within the limits that we have already set of humanitarian goods being able to reach people in the country. Help is already going to the Kurds and in the past month new help has been sent to the Iraqis in the south who have been so terribly treated by the Saddam regime. I shall look into the matter to see whether there is any more that we can do. But Britain cannot do it alone. It must be done by the whole international community. Britain is second to none in its efforts to get help to those people.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, is it not painfully clear that the position in this part of the world will not be satisfactory so long as Saddam Hussein is there?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, my noble friend knows that I have agreed with him on this point many times in the past. It is an easier thing to say than it is to obtain. That is why we have done our best to help the Iraqi people to set up the Iraqi National Congress to give strength to those who are determined to fight. I share my noble friend's view that, as long as Saddam Hussein remains, there will not be an appreciable difference, though we can welcome the fact that there has now been at least the Iraqi recognition of Kuwait, which was long overdue. However, we must remain cautious. Only one month before the Iraqis signed up to recognise Kuwait they had been threatening troops on the Kuwaiti border.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, following the question of my noble friend Lord Ennals, does the Minister agree that, while it is right to continue sanctions against Saddam Hussein's regime, we owe it to the Kurds to do all we can to mitigate the effects of those sanctions? Can the Minister tell the House whether the aid that the British Government committed to the Kurds in northern Iraq—I understand that it amounts to £4.7 million mainly for medical assistance and village rehabilitation—is reaching those for whom it is destined?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, it is certainly true that a high proportion of what is sent is reaching the Kurdish people in the north. Since April 1991 the United Kingdom has contributed over £66 million worth of aid and I have just set aside another £8 million of specific aid to help the plight of the Iraqi people, particularly the Kurds, and the Shia Moslems in the south who are also affected. Aid is getting through, though not 100 per cent. We know that soldiers of Saddam's regime make forages into Kurdish villages to obtain what they can. That does not mean that we shall stop operating and trying to get help to the Kurdish people and to the people from the marshes.

Lord Milverton

My Lords, does the Minister agree that, while we are remembering the Kurds in northern Iraq, some other Kurds also need to know that we are trying to help them? I refer to the Kurds in Turkey. Can my noble friend say that they are being remembered for assistance as well as those living under Saddam Hussein?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, there is no specific programme of assistance to Kurdish people in Turkey. They live in a society where we constantly remind the government of the needs of all the people of Turkey. Turkey is not only a member of NATO, but also a member of other organisations. If there is deprivation, it must be handled with the Turkish Government, and that we shall seek to do.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, can the noble Baroness tell us which, in the Government's opinion, is worse in its handling of the Kurdish people—the Iraqi Government or the Turkish Government?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, there is no comparison between the way in which Saddam Hussein treated innocent Iraqi people—Kurds and Shias—and others who are not Kurds or marsh people. There is no comparison. I am amazed that the noble Lord should ask such a question.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, the noble Baroness is correctly pointing out Saddam Hussein's attitude to anybody who is opposed to him. But is she prepared to accept that those of us who have visited that country and know that what she said is absolutely true also know that some Kurds are in the pay of Saddam Hussein and are willing to betray their fellow Kurds to any innocent western journalist with whom they may be in contact?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, in some isolated circumstances the noble Lord may be right. But the majority of Kurds, particularly those who form the Iraqi National Congress, are fighting for their own people and trying to stabilise the Kurdish parts of Iraq.

Forward to