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30 Jan 2003 : Column 1070—continued

Clare Short: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Gregory Barker: I will give way to the Secretary of State, although she was very reluctant to give way to me.

Clare Short: Now that we have heard what the hon. Gentleman has to say, I wonder if it was worth it. The

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hon. Gentleman might not be the most intellectually gifted Member of the House, but he might be able to understand that the military are not willing to share their military scenarios with people like him. We therefore cannot share those scenarios with the House. I have outlined the risks, but what the hon. Gentleman is asking for is foolish. He is not serious in what he is saying.

Gregory Barker: That is absolute nonsense. We are asking the Secretary of State to engage with non-governmental organisations and to talk to the people on the ground who are taking the risks and who would deal with the humanitarian disaster on the front line. When we talk with NGO representatives, they scream out that the right hon. Lady simply is not engaging with them, meeting people, holding talks, or undertaking the consultation that is vital if a humanitarian crisis is to be avoided.

Clare Short: Stupid little boy.

Gregory Barker: The Secretary of State knows very, very well what I am saying. She has hidden her head in the sand because she cannot face the possibility that her Labour Government will go to war on the very issue over which she resigned from the shadow Cabinet back in 1990. Political expediency has prevented her from taking on responsibilities that she knows she should fulfil.

Dr. Murrison : Does my hon. Friend share my disquiet at some deeply worrying comments made recently by people in non-governmental organisations? In particular, individuals at Imperial College London and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine have commented on the lack of liaison between them and military organisations in this country and elsewhere, particularly following the Secretary of State's remarks that our military preparation for humanitarian aid in Iraq is just getting going.

Gregory Barker: I completely share those concerns and shall allude later to a letter that 500 students and academics from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine have written to two medical journals.

Have the Government made representations to our American allies about the protection of water and sanitation supplies in the event of military intervention in Iraq? What discussions have they had about food security? What evaluation has the Secretary of State made of the continuance of the UN's oil-for-food programme in the event of war with Iraq? If that programme is suspended, what will be the impact on the food needs of the civilian population? It is estimated that 49 per cent. of families in Iraq do not earn enough money to meet basic needs and 20 per cent. live in extreme poverty. According to the World Food Programme, malnutrition is widespread among children outside Baghdad.

This morning, Julian Filochowski, director of the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development, told my researcher that for the two thirds of the population who depend on UN food rations, there are few, if any, coping

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mechanisms once food distribution is disrupted and water and sanitation systems collapse. Christian Aid estimates that following suspension of the oil-for-food programme, 16 million people will immediately be vulnerable to food shortages and malnutrition.

Contingency planning for the prompt delivery of food and the effective restoration of power and sanitation is absolutely vital. If major infrastructure targets, such as power stations, are hit, as they were last time, there will be a sharp increase in the number of water-related diseases, because the Iraqi water treatment system is powered electronically. Two thirds of the rubbish in Baghdad is not collected. Cholera is rife. It will become impossible to store medical supplies, such as blood and vaccines, at appropriate temperatures. As I said, in an open letter to two leading medical journals, staff and alumni of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine warned that conflict could lead to hundreds of thousands of civilians being killed, as well as sparking famine and epidemics.

Larry Hollingworth, the UN emergency co-ordinator who spoke at the excellent forum organised by my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden in November, has said if there is a conflict, hundreds of thousands—even millions—of people could uproot themselves and move to rural areas of the country or try to leave Iraq. During the Gulf war, Iran, Jordan and Turkey took almost 1.8 million refugees. Iran hosts 3 million refugees, the most in the world.

It is ironic that we know more about the contingency plans of the Government of Iran than we do about those of Her Majesty's Government. That is thanks to a recent visit to the Iran-Iraq border by Adam Leach, middle east director of Oxfam, and Paul Sherlock. From them, we know that the Iranian Government, in conjunction with Iranian Red Crescent, believe that as many as 900,000 people may flee towards Iran. What is more, that Government have already set up camps, zones and areas to cater for that contingency.

It is appalling that it is easier to get access to the Iranian Government's contingency planning for a possible humanitarian disaster in which our Government must play a leading role than to extract information from a Minister in the House of Commons. The Iranian Government will need full assistance to cope with a further humanitarian crisis on the country's borders. Successful co-ordination between Governments, international agencies and NGOs such as Oxfam will be key to an effective response.

There is no doubt that the architect of the misfortune of the Iraqi people is Saddam Hussein and that, free from his oppression, Iraq would be an infinitely better place for everyone. However, a heavy responsibility lies on the British Government as they weigh up the possibility of military intervention. A report by the worldwide Catholic network of aid agencies, following a visit to Iraq at the end of last year, concluded:

I came to the debate hoping that the Secretary of State would map out a blueprint for a humanitarian relief programme. We have been sorely disappointed; there has been not even a shred of detail, nor an apology for the lack of detail to date, and no encouragement that more will be forthcoming. There has been a great deal of hand wringing, but little else.

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4.11 pm

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley): I am sorry that the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) is not in the Chamber at present as I entirely agree with one of the points that she made. It is unfortunate, given that we are debating such an important subject, that the reforms of the House mean that many Members leave early on a Thursday afternoon. I hope that supporters of that reform will think again and that we shall have an opportunity to reverse it.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development, who is also not in her place at present, has said time after time that the best scenario is that war should be avoided. Everyone in the House would agree with that sentiment; we all want to avoid war if it is at all possible.

Aid agencies point out that

They call on world leaders

Assessments of the humanitarian situation in Iraq are horrific, as many colleagues have pointed out. Up to 16 million people are entirely dependent on food aid, and the country's water and sanitation systems are stretched to the limit. The director of Christian Aid said:

As my colleagues know, I have argued for a long time that for two decades top Iraqi officials have committed massive crimes and atrocities: genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. All those crimes have been impressively recorded by the United Nations, by the American, Kuwaiti, British and Iranian Governments and by non-governmental organisations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty, as well as Indict, which I chair.

The former American ambassador for war crimes wrote an interesting article in the Washington Post a few months ago. He said that, throughout the Clinton Administration he had waged a

Indict was part of that team—

That included our Operation Sandcastle investigations, which have never been published. The article then said that the team

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people were pulling both ways in that Administration, as they appear to be in the present United States Administration.

We know from the ad hoc tribunals for the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda and now for Sierra Leone, that indictments of alleged war criminals who lead tyrannical and genocidal regimes can destroy their political careers, isolate them internationally, end their regimes and even achieve justice.

Even at this late stage, an indictment could bring about the necessary regime change in Iraq—I believe it is necessary—and would avoid the necessity for military action. Even now, the Security Council could establish an international criminal tribunal to investigate and prosecute the Iraqi leadership. Its indictees would be subject to arrest and its creation could pave the way for UN-authorised military action later to neutralise any weapons and terrorism threats and to bring about regime change with international support.

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