HL Deb 17 December 2003 vol 655 cc1143-5

2.36 p.m.

Lord Judd

asked Her Majesty's Government: What are their policies towards the deaths and injuries of both civilian and military Iraqi citizens and the welfare of their dependants during and since the 2003 war in Iraq.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Bach)

My Lords, every effort is made to minimise the impact of military operations on the Iraqi civilian population, and we deeply regret all civilian casualties. Since 1st May 2003, we have investigated every civilian fatality allegedly caused by UK military personnel, sometimes resulting in a formal investigation by the Special Investigation Branch.

We treat claims for compensation in respect of civilians who have allegedly been killed or injured by UK forces since 1st May on their merits, in accordance with English law. We have no liability to pay compensation in respect of Iraqis killed or injured during combat operations.

Lord Judd

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply, but does he not agree that if the peace and reconciliation for which the Prime Minister has so wisely called is to succeed, it really is essential to recognise officially and fulsomely that many thousands of innocent civilians have died in the cause which we believe to be just? Does he not further agree that many of those serving in the Iraqi forces were already victims because in effect they had been forced into the ranks of the tyrannous regime and died not of their own volition and unwilling to fight? Does he not also agree that, in the wider cause of winning hearts and minds in the battle against global terrorism, it is essential for us to demonstrate magnanimity, generosity and, in the forthcoming trial, a commitment to exemplary standards of justice?

Lord Bach

My Lords, I agree with all the three questions posed by my noble friend. He is absolutely right to say that there is a duty on us to be magnanimous and generous and, of course, to ensure that any trials are conducted fairly and in accordance with justice. I would go further and say that the example set by the British Armed Forces during the course of their appearance in Iraq and what they have done since hostilities ended is, to be frank, a superb example of how a peacekeeping force should behave. No one could accuse our Armed Forces of not acting magnanimously, generously and with enormous sensitivity in what is sometimes an extremely difficult situation.

Baroness Rawlings

My Lords, the case of Ali, the limbless boy from Iraq, leaves one of the lasting impressions of the war with Iraq. By the way, he has had new limbs fitted and, I am told, is now doing well here in this country. What are the Government doing to rebuild the spinal injuries unit in Baghdad in order to provide vital and what are arguably basic services to citizens injured in a similar manner, but who are unable to receive the same support as Ali?

Lord Bach

My Lords, I cannot answer the specific question put to me by the noble Baroness, but I can say that we are doing much to help the health sector, which is a crucial sector in the recovery of Iraq from its present state.

Lord Redesdale

My Lords, how many civilian casualties have been recorded in the south of Iraq? I recognise the good practice undertaken by British forces, can the Minister tell us whether talks have taken place with the American forces over whether they should even record civilian deaths caused by their own soldiers?

Lord Bach

My Lords, I would rather not answer the question about whether talks have taken place with our American coalition partners. However, I can talk about what has been done in our sector. We record all incidents involving fatalities but we cannot always ascertain the resultant number. In some incidents, particularly those such as ambushes and fire fights, the Iraqi injured and dead are in fact taken away by their compatriots. During other incidents, members of our forces have themselves been forced temporarily to withdraw. So we have no reliable means of ascertaining the numbers of fatalities and injuries resulting from such incidents. That does not stop us trying, and at the present time we are trying to gain an indication of the kind of numbers asked for by the noble Lord. That is not an easy task. When we do have clearer figures, I will write to the noble Lord and put those results in the Library of the House.

The Lord Bishop of Rochester

My Lords, what are the Government doing to strengthen civil society in Iraq, particularly the role of faith communities in delivering welfare to the needy of all kinds?

Lord Bach

My Lords, as regards faith communities, we are taking a leading role in organising meetings to ensure that the religious divide in that country is narrowed as best we can. The British are doing a huge amount in every field, including the one to which the right reverend Prelate particularly referred, to bring people together rather than let them stay apart.

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, what steps are being taken specifically to deal with injuries to children? My noble friend will remember that in the run up to the war a number of noble Lords begged that cluster bombs should not be used. They were, of course, used. It is probable that there is a great deal of unexploded ordnance about which poses a continuing danger to children. What is being done to clear it up? Are any special steps being taken in relation to children's injuries?

Lord Bach

My Lords, as regards children, we consider particular requests that come in. We are doing a great deal of work with the hospitals that are now up and running again. I should remind my noble friend that cluster munitions are considered to be lawful weaponry in international law. During the course of the conflict they provided a unique capability against certain legitimate military targets such as dispersed armoured units.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, does my noble friend accept that his assertion that trials should be conducted fairly and in the interests of justice is wholly to be applauded? Has that been communicated to the United States? How consistent with his assertion are the assertions of President Bush, who has called for the death penalty for Saddam Hussein.

Lord Bach

My Lords, of course the United States and the United Kingdom talk together about these matters. Indeed, my noble friend will have heard President Bush talking about the necessity for a proper and fair trial.