HL Deb 21 March 2000 vol 611 cc140-2

2.50 p.m.

Lord Hooson

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What benefits accrue to the people of Iraq from United Nations sanctions; and whether they will take steps to get the sanctions lifted.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal)

My Lords, sanctions have contained for almost 10 years the threat that the Government of Iraq pose to their neighbours and to their own people, including the Kurds and the Shia. Resolution 1284. a British initiative which was adopted in December 1999, provided for the first time for the suspension of sanctions if Iraq co-operates with UN weapons inspectors. It also unconditionally makes major improvements to the UN humanitarian programme which Kofi Annan said last week has already provided substantial assistance in addressing the pressing humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people.

Lord Hooson

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Does she and do the Government appreciate that there is great public concern about a policy which seems to inflict an enormous amount of hardship on the common people of Iraq, particularly the children, and which at the same time seems to have entrenched Saddam Hussein and his entourage in power and prosperity? Surely, those cannot have been the objectives of this policy. Therefore, is the policy not only flawed but, after all these years, has it not also failed? Should not the Prime Minister now take the initiative and seek to negotiate with President Clinton in the United States and other international leaders to have the policy reviewed urgently?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, first, I acknowledge the concern expressed by the noble Lord. We must be absolutely clear as to who is responsible for the suffering. Resolution 1284, which was a British initiative, was pressed hard and was successful in assisting the suffering people in Iraq. Iraq now has the advantage of 8 billion dollars' worth of aid which it can use for humanitarian processes if it so chooses. It is a matter of deep regret and highly reprehensible that Saddam Hussein has chosen—that is what it is; he has chosen—to allow his people to suffer when the means for their relief is immediately available. Sanctions have contained him for a period of 10 years, and because of the way in which the Kurds and the Shia people have suffered, we know that he needs containment. The resolution of this issue is in his own hands. The most recent resolution enables him, if he so chooses, to obtain suspension. I regret to say that it is a matter for him.

Lord Moynihan

My Lords, pursuant to that answer, and given Iraq's rejection of UN Security Council Resolution 1284 and Saddam Hussein's track record of nearly nine years of violation, can the Minister envisage a scenario in which he will comply with UN Security Council resolutions? If he does not, as I anticipate, does the Minister agree that it will be essential to find ways to lift the burden of sanctions from the Iraqi people so as to prevent Saddam Hussein from using them as political pawns, while maintaining sanctions on his regime so as to deny him simultaneously the ability to reconstitute his weapons of mass destruction and to rebuild his armed forces?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, we have looked at those issues very carefully. The current resolution enables him to do that. We cannot legislate for his behaviour. We cannot push him to behave properly. One has to ask how the suffering of the people of Iraq would be relieved if the sanctions were not in place. Saddam does not care for his people. That is the reality of the situation. I draw your Lordships' attention to the way in which the northern part of Iraq, which is not under his direct administration, has prospered as a result of the resolution in comparison with what has happened in the south. Before the war came about, Saddam's subjugation of the people in the north caused acute suffering. As a result of the sanctions and the liberalisation of the situation, the position of the northern Iraqis, who are in control of their administration, has improved steadily. We have looked at this matter carefully again and again. The resolution which is currently in place is the best that can be devised, and it keeps pressure on the administration, which must change.

Lord Islwyn

My Lords, will the Minister recognise that the oil quota is inadequate for humanitarian needs? That is why many thousands of children are dying in Iraq. Is that not a terrible tragedy? Is that not also the reason why two senior United Nations officials resigned over this sanctions policy? Is it not time for the Government to recognise that sanctions, which have now been in operation for 10 years, simply will not topple Saddam Hussein and his regime?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I say again that the purpose of sanctions is not to topple Saddam Hussein's regime. However, it is effective in containing him. He has not been able to develop his weapons of mass destruction over the past 10 years. He has not been able to visit the kind of horror on the people of Iraq and his neighbours that he did previously. Sanctions have been mitigated by virtue of the new resolution. We care passionately about the people who are suffering in Iraq. For that reason, we put all our energy into making sure that the most recent resolution was passed successfully. There are opportunities for humanitarian aid to be delivered, and it is being delivered. If Saddam Hussein wants to ensure that that happens, he can do so. We know, for example, that one-quarter of the medical supplies sent to Iraq are not distributed. Therefore, although I empathise deeply with and share the concerns of noble Lords, regrettably the resolution of the problem is not the removal of sanctions.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, I fully accept the sincerity and passion of the Minister. Although we on these Benches have broadly supported the sanctions policy against Iraq, perhaps I may ask the Minister if she would be so kind as to look at some of the details. I am troubled by the fact that in Committee 661 the United States and the British Government objected specifically to the supply of railway spare parts. The railways provide the main means of transporting humanitarian aid throughout Iraq. In consequence, many aid programmes have, in effect, been stopped at the ports because they have not got beyond them. Does the Minister accept that many of us, like the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, and others, believe that we are beginning to come to the end of this policy and need to look at more focused and, perhaps I may say, harsher sanctions addressed at the ruling elite in Iraq and not at the ordinary people?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I certainly understand the sentiment expressed by the noble Baroness. I shall of course undertake to look at the situation regarding Committee 661. However, I make it clear to the House that Britain has put a stop to only about 1 per cent of the contracts, usually because of lack of information or a failure to make a clear division between those matters which are permitted and those which are not. Non-clearance of contracts is extremely limited. We are doing everything in our power to make sure that the process is smooth, speedy and that it directly affects only those issues which it should properly do.

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