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30 Jan 2003 : Column 1067—continued

3.50 pm

Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford): In our debates on Iraq, many of us have pointed to history—my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) has done so today—to the west's double standards and hypocrisy, and to our role in arming and supporting the brutal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. We do not start on the moral high ground, but we are where we are; and we are, of course, on the brink of war.

The question for me is whether that war would be just and proportionate. I have no doubt that it is possible to construct a legal argument within the terms of UN resolution 1441, but there are wider considerations in the course of war. We must weigh in the balance threat, degree of force proposed, and humanitarian consequences. My right hon. Friend has listed some of the possible threats that people in Iraq would face today, but I want to remind the House of what happened in the Gulf war in 1991.

The UN estimates that between 140,000 and 200,000 Iraqis died as a direct consequence of the war, rather than because of anything to do with sanctions. More than two-dozen factories and stores containing chemical, biological and probably nuclear material were hit, and their toxins were dispersed. Carcinogens from blazing oil wells spread across thousands of miles. The systematic bombing of electricity generating facilities, and of water storage and treatment facilities, left survivors without drinking water. The inclusion of chlorine and medicine on the UN embargo list provided the preconditions for the epidemics that followed. Iraqi health services, previously described by the World Health Organisation as a


were overwhelmed. Primary health care and disease prevention programmes ceased.

By April 1991, an estimated 1.5 million refugees had fled to the Iranian and Turkish borders. By May, between 15,000 and 20,000 of them were dead. The UN reported


30 Jan 2003 : Column 1068

and concluded:


Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury): Will the hon. Lady give way?

Joan Ruddock: I will not. Most people in this House, including me, supported that Gulf war. My right hon. Friend said that we must minimise the risks if we go to war, but a few days ago the Pentagon let it be known that this time, the US plans to fire up to 800 cruise missiles in the first two days of the air campaign. That is twice as many as it fired in the whole of the 40-day Gulf war in 1991.

We are all aware that today's Iraq is not the first-world state of 1990; it is in every sense now a poor, third-world country. The effects of a Dresden-like bombardment on these extremely vulnerable people I find too horrific to contemplate. How many will die in that bombardment? How many refugees will die as they try to flee the country? What will be the environment for those who survive? My right hon. Friend has acknowledged that humanitarian contingency planning will have to take account of the deliberate or inadvertent release of any remaining stocks of chemical or biological weapons. What will be the effect on survivors, deprived of medicine, food and water, breathing a cocktail of carcinogenic air, and facing searing heat in the coming summer months? What will be the cost to the men and women of the armed forces, who will have to remain for months if not years after the immediate war? What will be the cost to Iraq's neighbours?

Iraq has been described as the most dangerous rogue state in the world, and al-Qaeda as the most dangerous international terrorist organisation. President Bush seeks to persuade us that they are connected. I do not find that credible—but let us assume that they are connected. What then? Is it likely that the west will become a greater or a lesser target for terrorists if we carpet-bomb Baghdad? Is it more or less likely that instability will spread throughout the whole region?

Some hon. Members have argued that whatever the political risk to ourselves, we cannot do nothing. I suggest that we are not doing nothing. Iraq's military might has been reined in, and we have the most robust inspection regime ever mounted anywhere in the world. The inspectors have the authority to destroy weapons of mass destruction and delivery systems.

Even were that to be achieved, there are hon. Members who argue—perhaps the hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir Brian Mawhinney) came closest to saying this—that it might be better to have the war to save the people of Iraq from their existing fate. I cannot accept that. It is, of course, not the purpose of resolution 1441, and it cannot be part of the judgment that the Security Council will take on hearing the inspectors' reports.

I cannot believe that that is the best way forward for the Iraqi people. We know what the immediate humanitarian results are likely to be, but the question is: what will follow the military onslaught? Like the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) and my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd),

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I want to refer to Afghanistan, because that is where I believe we can see the answer—I have been to Kabul myself.

Let me give the House the financial context alone. The cost to the United Kingdom of military action in Iraq has been estimated at more than $8 billion. By comparison, the whole of the international community's pledges to Afghanistan for both humanitarian and reconstruction aid for five years have amounted to a mere $5 billion—half what initial estimates said was required.

As others have said, progress is painfully slow. There is still no effective security outside Kabul, because of the United States' consistent refusal to support an extension of ISAF—the international security assistance force—outside the capital city. There is no trained national army or police force, and anti-coalition forces are still active in one third of the country. The World Food Programme estimates that 6 million people remain vulnerable, and the Select Committee on International Development has recently reported:


Needless to say, there is a strong feeling among Afghans that the west is beginning to walk away. I do not include my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development in that. I know just how hard she has worked and how great her commitment to the people of Afghanistan is.

I share the Prime Minister's aspiration for a new world order, but I do not believe that confidence can be drawn from the Afghan experience. Even less do I believe that a war in Iraq can be in the best interests of the Iraqi people. There can be no contingency humanitarian plans for those who will die. The United Nations has voted the means for solving the Iraq crisis peacefully, and that is the humanitarian response which I believe the House should make.

3.59 pm

Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle): Although I am glad to have caught your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am sorry to say that, because of the new sitting hours of the House, I have had to leave a Standing Committee to come and join in the debate here.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of military intervention against Iraq, it now seems sadly almost inconceivable that the march to war can be avoided. With or without the support of the country or the UN, the Prime Minister is clearly determined to topple Saddam Hussein's sadistic regime by military force. The likelihood of a war has been growing steadily since George Bush's famous "axis of evil" speech to the American Congress 12 months ago. That has been apparent to many in Parliament, to the army of pundits and observers in the media, and to the professionals involved in humanitarian relief whose job it will be to try to pick up the pieces and mitigate the potentially disastrous humanitarian situation that could quickly develop following the outbreak of hostilities.

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However, for many months it has seemed extraordinary that the one person in the Government specifically tasked with making preparations for just such a humanitarian crisis has singularly failed to set before the House a coherent strategy for dealing with the direct effects of military intervention by the Government. That is despite the fact that the Cabinet has mobilised more than 25,000 service personnel and dispatched to the middle east the largest naval taskforce since the Falklands war. For all this time, the Secretary of State for International Development has sat on her hands and stonewalled any inquiry. Despite the intensive military preparations, it is clear that the Cabinet has chosen to close its eyes to the inevitable consequences of its plans for the conflict that will surely come to pass.

My hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman), the shadow Secretary of State for International Development, has repeatedly called on the Secretary of State to publish her Department's preparations for a possible war. She has been met with total silence. The right hon. Lady earlier pleaded that she had not been able to secure a debate in Government time to explain her plans, but she has had ample opportunity to set them out in response to the numerous written questions seeking answers to the matter.

Last week, on 22 January, the Secretary of State simply stonewalled in response to a parliamentary question from my hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Mr. Swire), who was seeking a statement on what specific assessment she had made of the humanitarian consequences of a war in Iraq. She said:


That was a pathetic answer. With the drums of war beating ever louder and the prospects of a peaceful resolution of the Iraqi problem receding by the day, it would appear profoundly irresponsible and deeply reprehensible so woefully to ignore what the rest of the world can see so plainly. The consequences of our inaction now could be unnecessary suffering and even death on a biblical scale.

The Secretary of State must pull her head out of the sand and engage with the non-governmental organisations and other humanitarian organisations without delay. Moreover, she must make a proper and full statement to the House of Commons on a regular basis, rather than be dragged here by an Opposition motion. In that way, her proposed course of action, or lack of it, can be properly scrutinised by the House. She and the rest of the Government must be held properly accountable to Parliament.

The range of issues screaming out to be addressed is vast, and I shall not attempt to deal with them all today. However, I and many others would like to know, for example, that, in the event of military intervention in Iraq, electricity supplies will not be attacked where that would have a disproportionate impact on civilian needs, including the power for water and sanitation.


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