HL Deb 22 March 2001 vol 623 cc1529-32
Lord Hardy of Wath

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their estimate of the income received by Iraq in respect of exports of (a) oil and (b) raw materials and foodstuffs, during the last three years.

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

My Lords, in the past three years legal oil exports have earned Iraq approximately 40 billion dollars. This revenue is controlled by the United Nations. We estimate illegal oil exports were worth a further 600 million dollars last year. The UNSCR 661 prohibits the export from Iraq of other raw materials and foodstuffs. However, we are aware that Iraq does export those goods, despite claiming that the UN's humanitarian programme does not provide for the basic needs of the Iraqi people. We have no figures for the income generated by this illegal trade.

Lord Hardy of Wath

My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for that reply. Does she agree that those who condemn sanctions, or the no-fly zone, should appreciate that, even with those sanctions, Iraq could have fed its children, treated the sick and secured a much higher level of general prosperity? However, it has chosen instead to maintain armed forces comprising almost 1 million personnel, which is far in excess of the level that would be appropriate for a country with a population of 21 million people. Indeed, it has provided a plethora of presidential palaces, and pursued the development of horrid weaponry that can only threaten international and regional stability.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that that is the position. Sanctions are not responsible for the suffering of the Iraqi people; Saddam Hussein is. The UN humanitarian programme is worth billions of dollars per year, but Iraq manipulates and obstructs the programme to deny the Iraqi people maximum benefit. I shall give your Lordships one example. Over 4 billion dollars is currently available to Iraq for the purchase of vital humanitarian goods. That money lies unspent in a UN account.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, although agree with the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Hardy, that there is no question about the possibility that Iraq could meet many of the needs of its civilian population, does the noble Baroness recognise that in moderate Arab capitals the propaganda argument is largely being lost? I was in Jordan two days ago. It was quite clear there that the view is that sanctions are the responsibility of the Western powers. Can the noble Baroness tell the House what is the position of Her Majesty's Government towards the review of sanctions, with a view to moving towards smart sanctions specifically against the Iraqi regime" Can the noble Baroness also tell the House why some 3 billion dollars-worth of humanitarian contracts have been held up by the UN Sanction Committee's SCR661?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, perhaps I may stress that we wholeheartedly understand what the noble Baroness says in relation to the propaganda argument. It is a matter of shame that those who have propagated that do not relay the correct facts. From all the information available to us it is clear that Iraq could feed its people. The medicines are available, but Saddam Hussein is choosing not to avail himself of that aid.

In relation to smart sanctions, I can tell the House that the sanctions regime is already targeted at military and other issues that are destructive. The food for oil programme was meant to do precisely what the noble Baroness suggested; namely, to allow humanitarian aid through so that the Iraqi people do not suffer. We shall continue to pursue that policy. The noble Baroness also referred to hold-ups in this respect. We have been clear in our approach to ensure that those matters are dealt with smoothly and swiftly. As for our participation, I can certainly reassure the House that we are doing everything that we can to make sure that we are not the problem. Indeed, I can further reassure the House that we are not the problem: Saddam Hussein is.

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, does the Minister accept that we strongly support, the sentiments just expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Hardy, and, indeed, reinforced by the noble Baroness herself? It is clear that stronger and more effectively targeted sanctions are needed against this evil man who is depriving his own people of both medicine and food. What chance does the noble Baroness see of us persuading our French allies and partners of the same view? Is not the problem the fact that, when it comes to the common foreign and security policy, France regards the current situation quite differently, as it does in regard to Zimbabwe and as it does, apparently, in NATO? Is it not time to try to reinforce the CFSP, or, alternatively, should we just give up on the matter?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I hear what the noble Lord says in relation to the attitude adopted by France. However, I should remind the noble Lord that the current UN sanctions are adhered to by everyone. It is our common position that the UN sanctions should bite on Iraq. To the best of our knowledge and belief, all our partners are adhering to that line. I know that it is an issue as to whether there should be further review on the matter. Noble Lords will not be surprised to know that this is often a matter of discussion. Nevertheless, I should reinforce the fact that the current regime is working. It is controlling Saddam Hussein; it is preventing him from using weapons of mass destruction; and it can facilitate proper humanitarian aid if he chooses to avail himself of it. That is something about which both we and our partners are in agreement.

Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that in 1988 Saddam Hussein's regime earned 18 billion dollars of oil revenue and spent 13 billion dollars on weapons? Can she also confirm that, in 1998, Iraq earned 16 billion dollars and ordered no medicines at all? Therefore, given the inadvisability of lifting military sanctions, does the Minister agree that the time is ripe to take the distribution of food and medicines, and their ordering, out of the hands of the Baghdad regime and to place them in the hands of a neutral body, such as the United Nations or the Red Cross/Red Crescent movement?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I agree with the factors raised by the noble Baroness in relation to the way in which Saddam Hussein's regime has, historically, spent its money. I also know that there is a very active debate as to how sanctions could be reviewed. At present, the sanctions will remain as they are. However, I can certainly reassure the House that those discussions will continue. I daresay those issues will be considered by all of us to ascertain how we can better manage the situation.

Lord Rea

My Lords, when replying to the debate on the humble Address at col. 350 of Hansard of 12th December 2000, my noble friend Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, in answer to a specific point that I made in my speech, said that, we support the efforts by the World Health Organisation to work with the Iraqis on a proper study"— of the apparent epidemic of leukaemia, other cancers and birth defects that are, perhaps, due to the use of depleted uranium in southern Iraq. Can my noble friend report any progress on organising this important, overdue study?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, we understand that the World Health Organisation is considering a report into the health situation throughout Iraq. We should encourage any initiative to tackle the lack of detailed information on the subject. Only then can any particular health problems be addressed. We therefore encourage Iraq to cooperate with the WHO on the issue. There is no credible research data to support allegations that the use of depleted uranium-based ammunition is to blame for the upsurge in cancers throughout the Iraqi population.