I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Navendu Mishra) on securing this debate. Bhopal has been described as an environmental disaster; I think it is actually the most appalling environmental crime in modern history. As has been said, tens of thousands were killed and hundreds of thousands have been affected. Lives were lost, and others were curtailed by terrible consequences—ill health, disability and congenital disabilities.
I remember when the first reports were coming into this country on Bhopal in 1984. It took time for us to become fully aware of the scale of what happened, but I remember the shock, and then the horror, ripping through my local community. As the figures began to be reported, we learned of the initial 10,000 deaths. The other facts that then came through were particularly shocking: half the pregnant women in the area aborting, and the wells and streams that more than 100,000 people depended on for drinking water contaminated with cancer-causing chemicals. As has been said, the figure bandied about recently is that the range is anything between 350,000 people to maybe 500,000.
For me, it soon became obvious that there was no doubt about how and why the event happened. Union Carbide, now owned by Dow, has, I think, been exposed for what it did, because it was about the pursuit of profit despite the consequences for the lives of its workers and local community. Despite all the warnings that we now know about from its own staff, despite all the individual accidents that took place where there was loss of life on site, and—most damningly—despite the knowledge of its own experts, the company pressed ahead with operations, using appalling and unsafe systems, until the inevitable happened and the disaster occurred. When lives are knowingly put at extreme risk, and lost as a consequence, the description for that is social murder. I believe that is what happened in this case.
What has compounded this criminal act is the way in which the company—Dow Chemical, as it now is—has evaded all legal and moral responsibility. It has failed to take the necessary remedial action to compensate the victims, restore the safe environment—as my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport recommended—and provide the care and health treatment that those victims desperately needed to address the trauma that they suffered. I find it disgraceful that Dow, having committed this corporate criminal act, has been allowed to walk away with virtual impunity. As has been said, the compensation that has been provided is trivial to the extent of being an insult to the victims of this crime, particularly for those who have lost relatives. We need a new strategy to bring this corporate mass murderer to justice.
For too long, Dow has used its influence to evade justice and to buy its way into respectability in many circles. The sponsorship, or the wraparound, of the Olympics was one of those exercises. I spoke at the demonstrations in 2012 when constituents and others came together to appeal to the Government not to allow Dow to buy its way into that form of respectability. Unfortunately, we were not listened to. I hope that we will be now, because I think we need a new, determined strategy for justice. We know that the company will be in the Supreme Court in January next year, but we cannot rely on the Court to exercise the full extent of recompense that is needed.
I follow the line taken by my hon. Friend: we need compensation that is realistic to match the damage and the suffering caused. We need funding for the ongoing medical and social care needed by the victims, and, unfortunately because of the congenital impact of the poisoning, by many of their children as well. We also need to undertake economic and social rehabilitation of the area; there should be proper funding so that people can have a decent quality of life, and the local economy needs to be restored so that they have jobs. Above all, local people are calling for the environmental remediation of their community—restoring the environment from the effects of the pollution that occurred so that the area will be environmentally safe for generations to come.
We must say to Dow that unless it accepts its responsibility, and works with the Indian Government and representatives of the Bhopal victims to develop and fund this strategy for justice, it should be totally isolated. Part of that means that the Government in this country should ensure that the company will not receive any benefits by way of contracts, tax reliefs or Government grants. The UK Government have a role in calling out this perpetrator: it should be named and shamed, but action needs to take place to ensure that it fulfils its responsibilities.
Finally, I pay tribute to Rajkumar Keswani. There is a wonderful programme on BBC iPlayer at the moment, and I hope that others watching the debate will listen to it. It demonstrates the courage of the investigative journalism that exposed the truth of what happened on that fateful day 38 years ago. It was a heartbreaking tragedy, and we should not allow it to be ignored. We certainly should not allow Dow to walk away from its responsibilities to the people it has so brutally injured and murdered.