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30 Jan 2003 : Column 1074—continued

Gregory Barker: I am listening to the hon. Lady carefully and have great respect for her work. I am genuinely interested to know this. We have heard of the possibility that the United States would support a safe haven or place of exile for Saddam Hussein. How does the hon. Lady reconcile that possible avenue for averting conflict with the genuine and widespread support for indicting those vicious criminals?

Ann Clwyd: It is not up to any country other than Iraq to decide that Saddam Hussein and his regime should avoid prosecution for war crimes. It is not the responsibility of the United Kingdom or the United States of America to take that decision; it is a decision for the Iraqi people. It would be wrong for us to offer Hussein a safe haven—an escape from indictment for war crimes. In fact, I asked an Iraqi friend—an Iraqi Kurd—how he would feel if that happened. His answer was, "If it happened, we would find our own way of dealing with it." It is obvious what that means. That idea ought to be hit firmly on the head. The time for offering Saddam Hussein incentives is over. He and his colleagues deserve to be indicted and the UN Security Council must disarm Iraq. At the end of the day, both justice and international security must prevail.

My hon. Friends have often heard me talk about the work that our organisation, Indict, has been doing. They will be interested to know that only this week the Attorney-General wrote to me to announce that he has refused to grant his consent to prosecute Saddam Hussein, Tariq Aziz, Ali Hassan Al-Majid and Taha Ramadan for the crime of hostage taking during the Gulf conflict in 1990 under the Taking of Hostages Act 1982. In all those cases, he says that that is because there is "insufficient evidence" to provide a realistic prospect of conviction. I found that absolutely incredible, as do most people.

The idea that there is not enough evidence that Saddam was responsible for taking hostages, including many British victims, is unbelievable. The Attorney-General's ruling appears to place us, and anyone who seeks his consent on controversial matters, in a

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ludicrous circular argument. The evidence is there, and there is plenty of it. We have evidence from opposition colleagues, and evidence was taken from many of the hostages during the Gulf war.

The Attorney-General's ruling means, in effect, that we have to provide not just a prima facie case, but one based solely on the material that Indict provided. An analogy would be that, instead of reporting to the police that our car had been stolen and expecting them to investigate who was responsible, we had to detect the culprit ourselves, rule out all other possible perpetrators and then prove beyond reasonable doubt that they did it before the Attorney-General would say that it was all right to prosecute. It is absolutely ludicrous.

The public are not stupid. They will ask who gains from this decision and why is it being taken now. Is it a coincidence that there is talk of Saddam being offered safe haven and immunity from prosecution and that it is being found, on advice from Treasury counsel, that there is insufficient evidence to proceed against him? Most hon. Members would find that incredible.

4.21 pm

Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire): I am pleased to have the chance to take part in this debate, which was rightly called for and ably opened by my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman). It has been characterised largely by informed and passionate comment. Following opening speeches of just such a tone, I simply ask the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) to reflect, with whatever humility she may possess, on the presumption behind her opening remarks that, simply because an hon. Member disagrees with her, is a man in a grey suit and belongs to a different party, he cannot possibly care about these matters quite as much as she does.

Ms Oona King (Bethnal Green and Bow): Our surprise is that, during 18 years in government, the Conservative party did nothing on these issues, which are of very great concern to us.

Alistair Burt: The hon. Lady in her inexperience makes a remark which on reflection she may regret: she should give due credit to those members of the Conservative party who filled the post of Overseas Development Minister, such as Chris Patten and Lady Chalker. In due course, the hon. Lady may care to think again. We might also watch her actions in the next few weeks, as events unfold, and see how much she cares.

Whatever one's view of the war and the need for it, the brutal fact is that the situation of refugees in Iraq—internally displaced people—and the breakdown of structures there will not be deciding factors in whether we go to war. Although we all hope that war does not happen, it is essential to prepare for it. However, the sheer scale of the disruption anticipated should not only give pause for thought: it should give rise to some prompt and urgent preparation. It is alarming to note that the state of preparation, as so ably described by my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden, seems so much poorer than was the case in the Gulf war or in Afghanistan.

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I will not linger on the current state of humanitarian affairs in Iraq, as that has already been outlined. I want to concentrate on internally displaced people and also on the countries to which they may flee. I have been in contact with Save the Children, which states that the number of internally displaced people in Iraq is already very high—somewhere between 700,000 and 1 million. In the event of war, up to an additional 900,000 people may be internally displaced, mainly as a result of the policies of the Government of Iraq, but also because of fighting between Kurdish factions.

Living in shanty towns on the outskirts of towns, internally displaced people do not have access to agricultural land, food or income. They are particularly vulnerable if provisions do not reach them in conflict, and they tend to be overlooked in Government emergency assistance. Unlike refugees, IDPs do not benefit from a special protection mechanism in international law. We should ensure that we account for the vast number of insecure people within Iraq in our humanitarian contingency planning. The number of internally displaced persons will depend on the intensity of urban bombing; the intensity of street fighting; the breakdown of the food distribution system in terms of supplies; whether roads remain open and the transport means are there for safe travel; the duration of the war; and the emergency provision of water and sanitation facilities. It is hard to imagine the consequences of probably 2 million internally displaced people within Iraq. We need to be aware, however, that these displacements will be the immediate consequences of strikes on Iraq. On top of some 5.4 million people in the south of the country, according to the UN's estimate, who will need humanitarian intervention and are expected by the UN to be accessible for support, we must therefore consider catering for a further 2 million internally displaced persons.

I hope that when the Secretary of State returns to the Chamber she will say how the Government intend to ensure that humanitarian agencies and the UNHCR are properly resourced and co-ordinated to address the potentially vast number of displaced people. Where are they likely to go? Some will flee inside the country. Many will flee to the north, which is considered safer, as the Kurds are based there. What preparations have been made in the north to cope with the influx of those from the centre and the south of Iraq? Of course, more people will flee across borders. During the Gulf war, Iran, Jordan and Turkey took most of the 1.8 million refugees. Because the aim of this war is regime change, the refugee numbers may be higher this time. United Nations estimates suggest that some 900,000 may go to Iran; up to 270,000 to Turkey; 50,000 to Jordan; and others to Syria, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. We must now ask whether those countries are prepared to offer humanitarian aid and support to the thousands of refugees who will arrive at their borders. We need to encourage them to do so by supporting them and offering funding for their efforts.

I spoke on the telephone this morning to Deputy Foreign Minister Bak of Jordan, and I am grateful to his excellency for giving me some of his time. He said that the problem is that the situation is so uncertain. Not only does Jordan not know how many people it will receive; it does not know in what condition people will arrive. Preparation is therefore very difficult. Jordan is

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working very hard with UN agencies and with non-governmental organisations, but is looking for financial support from outside.

Mrs. Gillan: Did my hon. Friend receive any indication today that Jordan was reluctant to discuss humanitarian contingencies, which was certainly the impression given by what the Secretary of State said earlier?

Alistair Burt: I got no impression of that from my conversation. His excellency was very open and straightforward about the situation, and was happy to discuss things with me. He was aware that I was speaking in the House this afternoon.

Jordan has a particular concern about water, in which it is one of the 10 poorest countries in the world. Minister Bak remarked ruefully that he would be very grateful to have in his country some of the clouds that he sees heading in our direction on the CNN weather charts at the moment. He mentioned in particular the situation affecting funding. The European Union in particular has been hesitant to announce its plans because it hopes things will not happen. The UN has also reported that it has been difficult to attract money because people hope things will not happen. He made the point that it is all very well for people far away to wait for things to happen, but that he and his country cannot afford to do so. He said that if aid arrives now and it turns out that it is not needed for the immediate consequences of war in Iraq, there is no need to worry: it can still be used to assist the 200,000 refugees from the Gulf war who are still in Jordan. I make a plea on the Minister's behalf for aid to be sent urgently to assist Jordan and, I suspect, its neighbouring countries.

A further sadness is that it is not just a question of people fleeing safely over borders. Getting over the border in the first place is a problem if the border is mined or electrified. We recently received information that the Kuwaiti border is electrified. Are the Government aware of that?

Refugees at or near borders, as well as internally displaced people, who cross to the three northern Governments will be severely affected by the many land mines in the area. Save the Children told us that the borders with Turkey and Iran are some of the most heavily mined in the world. UNHCR points out that there is no mine action programme or mine awareness education in the centre and south of Iraq, and that that will exacerbate the number of mine injuries. Displaced urban populations and children will be particularly unprepared for living in a mine-infested environment. How will the Government prevent vulnerable families fleeing to dangerous areas that may be mined or electrified?

No one in the Chamber contemplates war lightly—neither the Prime Minister, who bears the greatest responsibility of his life on our behalf nor the most ordinary Back Bencher, who carries a lighter but still significant burden: the expectations and concerns of a trusting electorate. Whichever way the decision goes, the humanitarian consequences for the people of Iraq are likely to engage us for some time. They will certainly affect our excellent armed forces as they prepare for their usual constructive role in such circumstances.

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The least we can do is to engage with the circumstances of the people of Iraq and, as the Secretary of State said, assist in the recovery of their country after so many years of brutality and destruction.

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