HC Deb 28 November 1990 vol 181 cc869-85 3.31 pm
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Douglas Hurd)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on developments in the middle east since I did so on 24 October.

The international coalition is holding firm. Our objectives remain: the full and unconditional withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Kuwait; the restoration of the legitimate Government of Kuwait; and the release of all hostages. President Saddam Hussein continues to show little sign that he intends to comply with the will of the international community and withdraw. He continues to rebuff the United Nations, to strengthen his military position in Kuwait, to destroy Kuwait's fabric and national identity, and to manipulate the fate of British and other citizens trapped in Iraq and Kuwait.

Only by intensifying all the pressures at our disposal—diplomatic, economic and military—can we persuade him that he has no alternative to withdrawal. Sanctions are being applied rigorously. We hope that the existing pressures will suffice to persuade Saddam Hussein to withdraw. If they are not sufficient, we need to convince him that the military option is a serious one. The option for peace is in his hands. No one does any service by blurring the choice before him.

For that military option to be fully credible, the international community must show that it has the political will to exercise it. That is why the Security Council is expected to meet at ministerial level within the next few days and vote on a resolution authorising "all necessary means"—that is to say, including force—to be used to ensure Iraqi compliance with Security Council resolution 660 and later resolutions. The resolution now being finalised will include a date—probably in the first half of January—by which time Iraq is required to comply in full with those resolutions. The House will see that it does not follow from that that military action will follow immediately thereafter—nor indeed that military action will necessarily take place. The purpose of the grace period is to allow Saddam Hussein an opportunity in which he can safely withdraw from Kuwait and release the hostages. If he does not do so, he must face the possibility of military action and certain defeat.

As questions have illustrated, we remain anxious for the well-being of the many hundreds of British hostages and other citizens who remain in Iraq and Kuwait. Some have been released through the intervention of political figures and relatives. We understand the suffering of the families and the humanitarian motives of most of those who go to Iraq. But President Hussein exploits those visits for his own unacceptable ends, and I believe that the international community is, and must remain, united in resisting that blackmail.

With tension increasing in the region, we are keeping under constant review our advice to British communities in other parts of the Gulf. We are now advising those living in the eastern region of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain, with children in Britain, not to bring them to the area, but to spend the Christmas holiday here, and for dependants to remain outside the Gulf until the situation becomes clearer. That does not mean that we foresee hostilities around that time—the Christmas holiday—but it is sensible to minimise the number of dependants in that region when we are entering a critical phase, as I hope the House will agree.

I should like to report a positive political step. On 27 September we announced the resumption of relations with Iran. We are now resuming relations with Syria with immediate effect. The respective heads of the interests sections in London and Damascus will be chargés d'affaires pending the exchange, when practicable, of ambassadors. We have received from the Syrian Government assurances that Syria will continue its strenuous efforts to obtain the release of western, including British, hostages in Lebanon and confirmation that Syria rejects acts of international terrorism and will take action against the perpetrators of such acts which are supported by convincing evidence. We have also had a confidential account of the Syrian position on the Hindawi affair. It has not been entirely easy, but I am glad that it has proved possible to overcome the differences between ourselves and Syria.

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for responding to my request for a statement. We regard the decision to resume diplomatic relations with Syria as logical. We welcome Syria's commitment to reject acts of terrorism and look to Syria to fulfil that commitment not simply in words but, emphatically, in action.

When I visited Syria last July, I received assurances from the Vice-President and Foreign Minister that their Government would do everything possible to bring about the release of British hostages in Lebanon. They told me that President Bush had written to them repeatedly asking for their help on behalf of American hostages. Now that diplomatic relations have been resumed, will the new United Kingdom Prime Minister write immediately to President Assad on behalf of the British hostages?

Since the Iraq-Kuwait crisis began nearly four months ago, the Labour party, the constitution of which commits it to support the United Nations, has based its approach to the crisis on support for the decisions of the United Nations—sanctions and their enforcement by naval and air blockades and the release of all hostages. We have made it clear that we believe that sanctions should be given the maximum time to work, and that remains our position.

If military force were to be contemplated, we have insisted that any such action should have what I called in the House on 7 September the clear and unquestionable authority of the United Nations charter."—[Official Report, 7 September 1990; Vol. 177, 892.] We have repeatedly put strongly to the Government our view that a legalistic reliance on article 51 of the United Nations charter would not be sufficient justification for the use of force. That being so, while we continue to believe that sanctions should be given maximum time to work, and while we ardently pray that the military option is not taken up and a war which could be horrendously lethal must be avoided if at all possible, we regard a Security Council resolution of the sort described by the Foreign Secretary as fulfilling the stipulations that we have repeatedly laid down since 2 August.

Yesterday, President Gorbachev's spokesman, Vitaly Ignatenko, said in Moscow: Our country will vote for language which envisages a clear-cut deadline for withdrawal from Kuwait and freeing hostages. Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that the insertion of a deadline in the draft Security Council resolution has been done at the specific insistence of the Soviet Union? Will he confirm once again that the date in the resolution will not automatically trigger the use of force but is the date after which the option of force could be taken up with the authority of the United Nations Security Council?

We in the Labour party have not seen this crisis simply in terms of the unconditional withdrawal of Iraq from Kuwait and the unconditional freeing of the hostages, indispensable though both things are. We see it above all as a test of the authority of the United Nations. If the 10 United Nations resolutions already carried by the Security Council are not implemented, the authority of the United Nations will be shattered and instead of world order there will be chaos.

If the United Nations resolutions are implemented, preferably peacefully of course, the authority of the United Nations will be enhanced as never before. That authority can then be used to provide for the further actions that must be taken in the middle east. Those are self-determination for the Palestinian people, whose intifada approaches its third anniversary, and a hopeful future for the Palestinian refugees with the aid of the wealth of the Gulf states; a settlement of the disputes between Israel and her neighbours and security for the state of Israel; and an arms embargo and the clearing from the whole region of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

All those are prizes which can be won once the United Nations resolutions on Kuwait are implemented. It is clear that they will be implemented. It is now for Saddam Hussein to prevent the nightmare of war by accepting those resolutions. He brought about this crisis by an act of aggression. He can end it by good sense and statesmanship, and the House and the world await his response.

Mr. Hurd

I am grateful, and rather more than conventionally, to the right hon. Gentleman. We are entering a time of national anxiety on this subject, and at such times it is right to have as much national unity as we can.

One strong thought in the minds of all of us who have been working to bring about the restoration of relations first with Iran and now with Syria is that restoration should bring closer the release of our hostages now held in Beirut. I note the right hon. Gentleman's specific suggestion to my right hon. Friend the new Prime Minister. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman supports the Security Council resolution. Other things being equal, I shall go to New York to take part in the debate tomorrow. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."'] Of course, that depends on the nature of an announcement which has not been made. That is why I inject a note of uncertainty.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the deadline in the draft resolution. I am not sure how that originated, but it has strong Soviet support and is one of the points on which the Soviet Union most specifically insisted. I confirm that the right hon. Gentleman is right to say that the date, if it is inserted or when it is inserted in the resolution, will not be the date upon which military action starts. It is the date after which member states will be authorised to take action in pursuit not of their own objectives but of the specific requirements of the Security Council.

Sir Peter Blaker (Blackpool, South)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that he deserves the congratulations of the House on the skill with which he has conducted British policy on the Gulf throughout the crisis, and the support of the whole House on his proposals for the Security Council resolution and the resumption of relations with Syria? He will be aware that the one major western country that has not contributed forces to the coalition in the Gulf is Germany. Does he anticipate that, after the German election this coming weekend, there may be moves by the German Government to alter the German constitution so as to enable German forces to be deployed outside the NATO area—for example, in the Gulf?

Mr. Hurd

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his remarks. I am happy to tell the House that the Federal German Chancellor informed the Prime Minister a week ago of a quite substantial contribution by the Federal Germany Government to the costs incurred by the Government in moving British military forces to the Gulf. I understand, although it is not a matter for us, that the Federal Germany Chancellor proposes, if he obtains the necessary support in the elections on Sunday, to alter the German constitution to enable Germany to take part in collective enterprises such as this.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East)

I offer my support for the Foreign Secretary's statement. Will it not be a sombre and anxious moment when the United Nations adopt the terms of the proposed resolution to which, unhappily, there seems to be no alternative? Even after the expiry of the deadline, will the use of force he justified only if all peaceful means have been shown to have failed? Avoiding all questions of linkage, should we not be working through the United Nations to achieve the necessary long-term solution for the middle east?

Mr. Hurd

The hon. and learned Gentleman is right: only when peaceful means have been proved ineffective would we be justified in taking military action. We are now at the end of November, and the peaceful pressures of sanctions, public opinion and diplomacy have been in place at least since the end of August.

As to long-term solutions, I do not see any realistic prospect of a useful initiative on the Arab-Israel problem until President Saddam Hussein has left Kuwait. However, I say, as I have said before, that, once that has happened, the international community will need to make a further effort, recognising that the basis of such a solution must be negotiation between Israel, the Arab states and the Palestinians.

Mr. Richard Luce (Shoreham)

Will my right hon. Friend reaffirm that the main objective of the meeting of the Security Council this week is to make it clear to Saddam Hussein that the United Nations as a whole will use whatever means are available to achieve the withdrawal of Iraq from Kuwait, and that the sooner Saddam Hussein gets out, the better for him and for Iraqi citizens?

Mr. Hurd

That is right. The issue has been blurred, sometimes by well-meaning people, but it is now becoming clearer and starker for President Saddam Hussein. He has the opportunity to avoid for himself, his people and all of us the undoubted damage and suffering that will be caused by war. That peaceful option is in his hands.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Does the Foreign Secretary have any sympathy with the view of Senator Sam Nunn that the right question is not so much, "Is it justified?" as, "Is it wise?" What does he say to the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), who told us that the Iraqis have sown minefields in most, if not all, Kuwaiti oilfields and that flames will go up such as mother earth has never seen before with unknown results in terms of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and sulphur dioxide emissions?

Some of us think that war in Iraq because of Kuwait is unjustified on a scale of proportion. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Brown), whom the Foreign Secretary treated in an uncalled—for way, was in the Royal Signals. I was tank crew, firing live ammunition, during my national service. I think that the Foreign Secretary was in the Foreign Office and not in the forces. Ought he not to be a little more careful before dismissing us?

Mr. Hurd

The hon. Gentleman's last point is unworthy of him. As I said, I found the interventions of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Brown) on this matter silly and confused, and they have done nothing to assist.

Mr. Dalyell

I am entitled to ask Ministers who send young men to their deaths about their own military experience.

Mr. Hurd

The hon. Gentleman is entirely wrong, and he should not make remarks without checking them. That one is competely untrue, but I shall not go into the details. He is usually very fair, but he has not been fair on this occasion.

To return to the point of principle and leaving the hon. Gentleman's pettiness today on one side, I simply say that I have heard the hon. Gentleman make the same point to my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) and others; and, of course, he is right in the sense that war is a horrible business and one cannot contemplate a war of this kind without at the same time contemplating a lot of destruction and suffering. But it would not be an indiscriminate campaign of destruction and therefore I am not entering into the kind of details that he postulates. He is perfectly right in that any war, however just, involves suffering and destruction.

The point that the hon. Gentleman has consistently failed to answer when it is put to him is how, if one is to use that argument as being decisive on all occasions, there is an earthly chance of resisting aggression. That argument, if it is allowed to prevail on every occasion, is carte blanche for any aggressor because it could be wheeled forward to justify lying down in front of Hitler, Mussolini or any aggressor of the past. The hon. Gentleman is not a pacifist, but he has not addressed that question. We have to address that question in a serious way.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. Please may we have single questions so that I may call as many hon. Members as possible?

Sir Dennis Walters (Westbury)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the resumption of diplomatic relations with Syria is opportune and wise? Syria occupies a central and key position in the middle east and it is in the British interest to resume diplomatic relations. Diplomatic relations do not necessarily signify approval of a regime. We have diplomatic relations with Iraq and we certainly cannot welcome the appalling acts in the west bank and Gaza which Israel is perpetrating, but we have diplomatic relations with both.

Does my right hon. Friend also accept——

Mr. Speaker

Briefly, please.

Sir Dennis Walters

Does my right hon. Friend also accept that it would be helpful if, while maintaining our stand on Kuwait, we also committed ourselves to take action on the Israel-Palestinian issue as soon as the Kuwait problem has been resolved?

Mr. Hurd

My hon. Friend is right on his first point. I have never regarded having diplomatic relations with a country as conferring great blessing upon it. It should not be regarded in that light. It is simply a question of having a realistic relationship so that useful business can be transacted with a Government.

Once the aggression is reversed, it will be not only possible but necessary to pull the international community together, in so far as we can, in backing a renewed and vigorous effort to bring about a just solution to the Arab-Israel dispute.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

Is it not sad and cynical opportunism to enter again into diplomatic relations with Syria when it has complied with neither of the Government's prerequisites for doing so, when the Government have pinpointed the person responsible for the Hindawi affair and the Syrians have promoted him, and when, if The Daily Telegraph today is correct, the Syrians are behind almost all the terrorism in the Lebanon today? Will the right hon. Gentleman please review this and see it as a sad first decision of his newly led Government?

Mr. Hurd

I do not agree. We have been wrestling with the problem all the time that I have been at the Foreign Office, and perhaps before. There has been a real obstacle, based on the background of the Hindawi affair, which the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) went to Damascus to discuss on behalf of the Opposition. We have also discussed that matter through intermediaries and, most recently, directly—and I told the House the outcome in my statement.

We are now in the same position as the United States Government. We shall have diplomatic relations with Syria because it is useful so to do. The hon. and learned Gentleman will have heard the reasonable representations made to us on behalf of hostages held in Beirut, and I do not see the restoration of diplomatic relations with Syria as a patronising pat on the head for the Syrian Government and all that they do. That is not the nature of diplomatic relations. It is a hard-headed calculation in British interests that diplomatic relations should be resumed.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

Why is it that the Germans, French, Japanese and Italians, who have greater need for oil from the Gulf, have fewer troops committed and fewer lives at risk, and are less committed to the military option?

Mr. Hurd

We are not primarily concerned with oil from the Gulf. If we were, the international community would have settled with Saddam Hussein and the oil would be flowing. If we were concerned only with oil, as is sometimes shallowly said—although not by my hon. Friend—we would have settled a long time ago. We are concerned with international order, and a fundamental principle of that is that it is unacceptable for one member state of the United Nations to obliterate another.

Mr. Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh and South Tyrone)

My right hon. and hon. Friends in the Unionist party welcome the statement, and we totally support the Government's attitude to the rape of Kuwait. We see some justification for resuming diplomatic relations with Syria in pursuing the Government's actions against international terrorism. However, we cannot help but be suspicious, and we hope that is not being done for purely economic reasons. My party supports such actions only on moral grounds.

Can the United Kingdom justify its attitude to the brutal regime in Cambodia, to the unforgivable genocide——

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member must raise that matter another time. He must confine his remarks to the middle east.

Mr. Maginnis

I accept your ruling, Mr. Speaker, but I was comparing the situation in the Gulf with the unforgivable genocide in the Sudan and with the more sophisticated but equally immoral attitude taken by the Irish Republic in its harsh, uncompromising and irredentist claim to the territory of Northern Ireland.

Mr. Hurd

I am not sure that all those cases are exactly comparable, but the hon. Gentleman knows of the efforts that we are making in Cambodia and to establish law and security in Northern Ireland. In every instance, we must pursue a consistent line.

Sir Dudley Smith (Warwick and Leamington)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the success stories of the crisis has been the Western European Union's involvement in naval patrols? Does he agree also that the sheer professionalism of the officers and sailors involved has ensured that the sea blockade of Iraq is at least 90 per cent. effective?

Mr. Hurd

I agree with my hon. Friend. The Western European Union has proved its worth as a focus for co-ordinating European efforts. My hon. Friend mentioned the Italians. The Italian navy is involved as well as the French navy and other members. Their efforts in the Gulf are co-ordinated.

The Royal Navy in the Gulf has already challenged 1,900 vessels and boarded 16 as part of the operation. It is playing a notable part in the peaceful pressure on Saddam Hussein.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West)

Is the Secretary of State aware that we all deplore the invasion of Kuwait, and that we want to see Iraqi forces out of there as soon as possible? However, bearing in mind that sanctions have not yet been given sufficient time, and the deplorable lack of democratic effort to find a peaceful and negotiated solution, would it not be crass irresponsibility on the part of the Government, or indeed of any Government, to declare what is in effect a desert death sentence on many young British soldiers, as well as possibly millions of other casualties, in what could turn out to be one of the most devastating conflicts in human history which would do nothing to solve the problems in the middle east in the short or long term?

Mr. Hurd

We want to avoid such conflict. The whole effort of the British Government since 2 August has been designed to do that. We have not spared ourselves and people in other countries have not spared themselves to do precisely that. Time ticks on. The aggressor is still there.

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is fully aware of the enormities now being committed in Kuwait by the aggressor. I hope that he will look at the transcript of the debate in the Security Council today with its evidence by eye witnesses because if that had happened in some of the countries which are dear to the hon. Gentleman we should have had uproar and claims for emergency debates in the House. That is happening day by day. We want to avoid conflict.

Diplomacy has a role—that is right. However, it does not have a role in undermining or cutting away the simple, straightforward demands of the Security Council. Getting those resolutions is fine. We are talking about the diplomatic and economic pressures, such as those applied by President Gorbachev on the Iraqis yesterday—that is diplomacy. If the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that diplomacy should equal doing away with, weakening or subtracting from the resolutions of the Security Council to placate the aggressor, I think that he is wrong.

Sir Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)

If the Chinese Government should veto a new United Nations resolution, can we, in practice, ignore their veto?

Mr. Hurd

I hope and believe that that is a hypothetical question. I hope—I have not total certainty—that that will not arise.

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)

Who is the Foreign Secretary getting into bed with in this deal with Syria? What has convinced him that the Syrian regime today is any different from the regime which ordered the murder of 20,000 Muslims in the city of Hama in 1982, which harboured the Lockerbie bombers, and invaded and colonised parts of Lebanon in what is now greater Syria? The Syrian secret police are no less efficient than Iraq's. They routinely use murder, terror and torture, like Saddam Hussein's secret police. Is it really the case that a couple of thousand Syrian troops in the Western force make him believe that the hands of President Assad are any less bloody than those of Saddam Hussein?

Mr. Hurd

The hon. Gentleman is mistaken about diplomatic relations—they are not a form of blessing. We quite rightly have diplomatic relations in Baghdad because our ambassador is needed to help our people there. We had diplomatic relations with Stalin all the time that he was committing what we know now were clearly some of the worst atrocities ever seen, we had them with Hitler and so on. Diplomatic relations are not a form of blessing or approval but result from a realistic appraisal of whether it is in Britain's interests to have direct contact with a particular Government. In the case of Syria, I believe that it is.

Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the miscalculations made by Saddam Hussein was to underestimate the determination, patience and procedural efficiency of the United Nations? Does he also recognise that, when I was there two weeks ago, it was clear that the role of the British permanent mission, under the leadership of Sir David Hannay, was highly respected? When he flies to New York, will he take with him the support of the House for the work being done within the United Nations in British interests, by that mission under his leadership?

Mr. Hurd

Our mission, first under Sir Crispin Tickell and now under Sir David Hannay, has played a distinguished part since August in helping to bring together in a reasonable way and with a reasonable tone the efforts of the international community.

Ms. Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood)

Is the Secretary of State familiar with the Christian teaching on a just war? Does he agree that there are three fundamental requirements? First, the cause must be just, and there is no doubt about that. However, there are other just causes about which the Americans and the Government have not taken action. That is the problem of double standards. Secondly, there has to be no other way. In this case there is another way—sanctions. Thirdly, the remedy must not be worse than the wrong. The potential of the horrendous war in the middle east is great. The Foreign Secretary is wrong and the United Nations will be wrong if it sets a deadline in order to bluster trying to avoid a war and we end up with a war that the right hon. Gentleman did not seek. That is the danger that the Foreign Secretary is putting before us. He is breaking the basic teaching of what constitutes a just war.

Mr. Hurd

I read the cardinal's letter in The Times and the archbishop's speech and I accept that it is important for Christians to consider the nature of a just war. However, I do not accept the hon. Lady's interpretation of the criteria. First, the cause is right and just. We have tried and are continuing to try peaceful pressure. The answer to her third question is whether it is safe for any of us that the basic principle of international order should be flouted with impunity. I do not think that it is.

Sir Ian Lloyd (Havant)

Has my right hon. Friend or any of the allies in Saudi Arabia received a single shred of evidence to sustain the view that the Hitlerian intransigence so far displayed by Saddam Hussein is likely to diminish or disappear if he is given more time? If there is no such evidence, does not the contribution of that time merely give him further opportunities to sow more mines and polish his weapons, with an appalling effect on the ultimate gravity of the conflict?

Mr. Hurd

If one is contemplating a military option, time works for both sides. Part of the trouble over the past few months has been the blurring of issues to which I have referred. The value of the resolution is that it will clear away some of the illusions to which the aggressor may have been subject. It will present him with the stark choice as it exists—either he complies or he is forced out. It may be a good idea to give him a specific period of weeks—not an extended period—in which to face clearly and without confusion that stark choice.

Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Hillhead)

The Foreign Secretary was elected this lunch time the Spectator parliamentarian of the year. That accolade is well deserved and I congratulate him upon it. Will he accept that he cuts an unlikely figure in favour of war, war rather than jaw, jaw? Yet the words he has delivered this afternoon amount to an ultimatum, so that it is more rather than less likely that our constituents—young men—will shortly be coming home dead in bags. I have no truck with Saddam Hussein, and I hope that the Foreign Secretary accepts that. However, on the day when Saddam Hussein has asked President Bush for talks, will the right hon. Gentleman accept that the Iraqis and millions of Arabs across the area who agree with them have a point of view and that it might be useful to sit down and talk about that before the place goes up in flames and our young men and many hundreds and thousands of others are killed?

Mr. Hurd

I have never sought to minimise the dangers and suffering that come from war. Of course, we are fully aware of the Iraqi point of view. There is no secret about it. The Iraqis believe that they are entitled to remain in Kuwait. We do not accept that and nor do the international community or the hon. Gentleman's leadership because it is wrong. To use the phrase of the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), it is unwise and unsafe to let that countinue.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)

Whatever the diplomatic justification for setting a deadline, is not the inescapable conclusion of setting such a deadline that we do not believe that international economic sanctions will ever succeed?

Mr. Hurd

No. The Security Council resolution, if passed, will add to the existing resolutions, including the sanctions resolution, which is the most important of all peaceful pressures. Shortages are beginning to appear, but, as I told the House a week or so ago, they are not decisive. As I said in reply to previous questions, sanctions are being applied. We are proposing to add what should be the most important of the peaceful pressures—the knowledge, which the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson), who recently visited the desert, conveyed to us, that the military option is in place and will be used. There is a chance, which I strongly hope will be taken, that this accumulation of peaceful pressures will do the job and that Saddam Hussein will withdraw.

Mr. Giles Radice (Durham, North)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that most Labour Members support the need for a new United Nations resolution to put new pressure on Saddam Hussein? Is he further aware that the way to achieve peace and to avoid war is for Saddam Hussein to get out of Kuwait?

Mr. Hurd

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. That is exactly the point.

Mr. Ian Bruce (Dorset, South)

In the past few weeks, we have spoken much of European unity. When my right hon. Friend is in New York, will he take the opportunity to talk to other European Community Foreign Ministers to get some positive measures towards European political unity and to ensure, as many of my hon. Friends have said, that European Community countries, depending on size, do as much as Great Britain in supporting the United States and the Arab nations in this theatre of conflict?

Mr. Hurd

Burden sharing is very important. As my hon. Friend suggests, if our military contribution, its costs and our economic contribution are added together, we are somewhat ahead of our Community partners. The French are a fraction of a decimal point behind, but they have made military and economic contributions. The Germans have now made a substantial economic contribution, but it is true that, of the European contributions, Britain's represents the highest percentage of gross domestic product.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Is it not the case that since 2 August Saddam Hussein and the criminal regime in Iraq have had every possible opportunity of avoiding war by getting out of Kuwait? If the argument is that war can never be justified—in my view, if military action is taken, it will be justified in all the circumstances—what would be the purpose of the United Nations? Surely it would mean, in effect, that any country could commit outright aggression where it has no quarrel——

Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West)

Why don't you volunteer to go to the desert——

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Canavan

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

No point of order arises.

Mr. Canavan

Hon. Members should go to the desert——

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Canavan

—instead of sending our young men to their deaths in the desert.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member has put his point of view. The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) has an equal right to do so.

Mr. Winnick

I have a right, I hope, as I have done all my life, to oppose fascists and criminal aggression, and I shall do so because I could not care less whether it is popular or unpopular.

Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that, if this aggression goes unpunished, if Saddam Hussein refuses to withdraw his troops from Kuwait, it would be direct encouragement for other states to do precisely the same?

Mr. Hurd

I have often disagreed with the hon. Gentleman, but I have always recognised that he is a through-and-through United Nations man. He believes in collective security and international order. He is following the logic of his convictions.

Mr. Cyril D. Townsend (Bexleyheath)

I warmly commend the Government for their decision to restore diplomatic relations with Syria. Some of us feel that four years has been too long. Bearing in mind the more positive approach of the United States and the strategic importance of Syria, will he confirm that it has a crucial part to play in the forthcoming peace process in the middle east?

Mr. Hurd

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I repeat that I believe that the arguments in favour of restoring relations with Syria are strong. Of course, they do not involve approval of everything that Syria is or does.

Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)

Although the military option must remain credible to ensure that sanctions succeed, will the Foreign Secretary reconsider his suggestion that pursuit of a wider settlement will follow resolution of the Kuwaiti problem, especially as it is essential now to pursue and seek to overcome the intransigence of the Likud, which was demonstrated once again at meetings I chaired in Paris last week?

Mr. Hurd

It is a matter of practicalities. Looking at the practicalities, I do not see the opportunity of a successful international initiative on the Arab-Israel question while the Iraqis remain in Kuwait.

Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth)

Has my right hon. Friend seen the television reports this week of British troops training in the theatre in Saudi Arabia, demonstrating sophisticated anti-tank equipment and methods of clearing minefields? Does he agree that this kind of media circus could threaten the lives of British troops if we ever have to take action there and that it should be stopped if possible? Will my right hon. Friend make representations to the media, because such reports affect the lives of British soldiers?

Mr. Hurd

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is here. He tells me that he is keeping a close watch on the nature of this presence.

Dr. Dafydd Elis Thomas (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)

The Foreign Secretary referred in his original statement to intensifying all the pressures at our disposal—diplomatic, economic and military. He did not tell us in his statement or answers what diplomatic initiatives he now supports. Will the grace period be used for the British Government and other European Governments to support a further diplomatic initiative, particularly a further Arab initiative, or an initiative yet again from the United Nations Secretary-General following the decision that looks likely to be taken this week by the United Nations Security Council?

Mr. Hurd

The United Nations Secretary-General has a role under the Security Council resolution, as the hon. Gentleman clearly knows. The Secretary-General was rebuffed when he tried to exercise that role. The diplomatic moves in these circumstances must be to reinforce in the Iraqis' minds the advantage for them of complying with the resolution by peaceful means.

Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough)

In a sense, the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Dr. Thomas) anticipated my question. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that, of course, everyone in the House and outside it is opposed to war and to young people losing their lives? In relation to the visit to the United Nations tomorrow and the probable signing of the resolution, would it not be appropriate to see the United Nations Secretary-General, Mr. Perez de Cuellar? He began a peace initiative in August which was precipitous and was aborted. It might be appropriate for him now to return again to the middle east and to go to Baghdad to impress on Saddam Hussein the will and intention of the United Nations, so that Saddam Hussein has the opportunity to withdraw while there is still a period of grace and time?

Mr. Hurd

I discussed this aspect in September with the Secretary-General in New York and he felt that there was no point in his offering to go again if he were again rebuffed. The hon. Gentleman is right in saying that the Secretary-General has a role, as a servant of the United Nations, in trying to bring about implementation of Security Council resolutions.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

During the Gulf debates, the Foreign Secretary was opposed to a resolution of the type that is going before the United Nations, on the ground that there was a possibility of its being vetoed. He did not answer the question about a possible veto by China, and I should like him to do so. If the resolution is carried, and as that would be a United Nations commitment, would it not be appropriate that forces in the middle east should be placed under a strict United Nations command structure and should not be operated at the behest of the Americans?

Mr. Hurd

On the first point, it would not have been sensible to go forward with a resolution that one thought would fail, but, as I said, that is not our information at present. On the second point, I do not think that that is likely to be workable in practice or, if there has to be a military option, that it would exercise that option in the most effective and life-saving way. I do not think that that will happen. I imagine that there will be a requirement that any member states that use the authority which the Security Council is about to confer on them should report the results to the Security Council.

Mr. John Cummings (Easington)

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that, if British blood is to be spilled in the Gulf, Her Majesty's Government ought to pursue a rigorous policy aimed at the total democratisation of all the Gulf states, which certainly do not have a fine record on human rights?

Mr. Hurd

I referred earlier this afternoon to the conference of Kuwaitis—including Opposition Kuwaitis—held recently in Ta'if. That conference agreed to return to the 1962 constitution in Kuwait. That is the kind of movement that I consider sensible and right for Kuwait.

Mr. Robert Litherland (Manchester, Central)

Does not the Foreign Secretary concede that to specify a deadline would automatically put this country on a war footing?

Mr. Hurd

No. It gives a period of grace—a peaceful pause—in which the peaceful pressures for a peaceful solution can reach their height. The expiry of the deadline —I have said this once or twice already, but it is very important—is not in itself a signal for military action to begin.

Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East)

Does the Foreign Secretary accept that one of the most serious obstacles to the establishment of a new international order underpinned by the United Nations is the application of double standards by that body in the face of aggression? If aggression must be met with military force and a devastating war in Kuwait, why is it met with little more than polite protest in the Lebanon, west bank and Gaza?

Mr. Hurd

There is, of course, much more than polite protest. There are Security Council resolutions, because the situation is different: the background to the Israeli occupation of the west bank is entirely different. It is the result of several wars. The Security Council has taken a very clear line—the right line—the author of which was Lord Caradon. The Security Council has said that there must be a negotiation and a reconciliation of Israel's security, and of the rights of the Palestinians to self-determination.

It is not a question of a simple act of aggression which must be reversed, as it is in Kuwait. It is more complicated, and requires—and will be given by the Security Council—a more complicated answer. We must search for that answer. Several of my replies this afternoon have concerned that point.

Mr. Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley)

Will the Foreign Secretary tell the House what efforts his Department has made, and will make, on behalf of the hostages who are still in Iraq? Is he going to secure their release and start a dialogue with Saddam to that end as countries such as Germany, Sweden, Italy and Spain have done—along with others too numerous to mention?

Mr. Hurd

Our argument—the argument that we have used with the Iraqis throughout—is that the policy of the human shield has no justification, that all our hostages should be released and that those still working in Iraq should be enabled to leave if possible. That is our policy, and we have never ceased to impress it on Iraqis. It is also the policy of the European Community as a whole since 28 October that there should not he negotiations—partial negotiations—for the release of hostages: there should be no bargaining on that subject.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

Given that it took nearly 40 years to resolve the cold war, and given that there is no sign that sanctions are being breached, will the Foreign Secretary urge patience on the other countries before the United Nations resolution is passed and make it absolutely clear that it would be a far greater triumph for the United Nations—and far better for a new world order—if we achieved withdrawal from Kuwait by peaceful means, even it it took one, two, three or even four years, rather than through the loss of a large number of lives?

Mr. Hurd

Patience is certainly a virtue in relation to these matters, and it has been displayed. There has been no rush to arms—no rush to counter-attack Saddam Hussein. There has been a great deal of patience, which has not been rewarded with any progress.

We are not saying that patience has been exhausted on 28 November; we simply want to point out to Saddam Hussein that there is a limit to the period in which he can spoil Kuwait, kill some Kuwaitis and torture others. There is a limit to the time in which peaceful pressures can be expected to be effective. That is what we are saying.

Mr. Alan W. Williams (Carmarthen)

How effective are the sanctions that are already in place against the export of oil from Iraq and Kuwait? Is it not true that those sanctions are completely effective and that exports of oil have ceased? Since Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait to acquire those oil resources and as they have been sterilised, why embark on a path that could lead us to war? Would it not be wiser to give sanctions months or even a year or two to work rather than to prepare for war?

Mr. Hurd

Iraq is not shipping oil. I am not saying that the occasional truck carrying oil does not cross the border, but basically the hon. Gentleman is right. There is no large-scale shipment of oil out of Iraq and therefore Saddam Hussein is deprived of much the greatest part of his foreign exchange. He has quite substantial reserves not least because he stole a lot of money from Kuwait. Shortages are building up in Iraq as a result of sanctions, but, as I have just said, those shortages are not decisive. I do not believe that it is sensible or possible to rely indefinitely on that peaceful pressure to do what is necessary. I doubt whether that kind of peaceful pressure could be sustained indefinitely at its present level of intensity. The hon. Gentleman would have to face the risk of a gradual weakening of the will for collective security. There would then be a danger that at the end of that period the aggressor would sit back in possession of his aggression. It is not safe to contemplate that.

Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford)

What can the Foreign Secretary tell the House today that will give us any confidence to believe that if there are non-military means to resolve the dispute after the deadline those means will be allowed to continue?

Mr. Hurd

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and I and, I am sure, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will continue to do all we can to make the peaceful pressures effective. However, I have felt for a month or so—and perhaps for longer—that the most effective peaceful pressure is the clarity of the military option. The Security Council resolution will illustrate that clarity.

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)

I agree with the Foreign Secretary that the case of Kuwait and that of the occupation of the west bank are not analogous. I believe that the attempt to link the two was started by Saddam Hussein as a diversionary tactic. Is there not a danger that that diversionary tactic may soon move from the realm of propaganda to an attempt to embroil Israel in this situation? Should we not take steps to guard against that and would those steps involve supporting the present Government of Jordan?

Mr. Hurd

The hon. Gentleman is right: that is one of the dangers. I am deeply concerned about the position of Jordan, which, for the time being, has lost its friendship with the Gulf states out of which came a lot of financial help. I believe that it is now largely implementing sanctions and as a result is in desperate economic trouble. We are doing our best within the Community and like the Germans and Japanese who have substantial resources and are not committed militarily in the Gulf, to bring help to Jordan.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

Will the Foreign Secretary announce today that he is redoubling his efforts to counter what is ultimately an even greater threat than Saddam Hussein, namely, the brisk international trade in armaments research and information? Is he aware that there are many firms in this country and agencies in the rest of Europe, in south America, the United States, China and throughout the world that are selling weapons and information on exotic conventional weapons such as fuel air explosives, laser battlefield weapons and nuclear, chemical and, the most terrifying of all, biological weapons? That trade will eventually threaten future Saddam Husseins and crises throughout the world unless the new world order can control it.

Mr. Hurd

Arms embargoes are in place with regard to Iran and Iraq. The hon. Gentleman knows how they have been enforced. With regard to his wider international point, there are various international conventions in place. When this situation is over, and even if Saddam Hussein were to withdraw peacefully from Kuwait, I agree that the existence and potential of those weapons would remain a major problem.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

I called three of the hon. Members who are now rising at Question Time—[Interruption.]—but I shall call them again if they remain patient.

Mr. Bernie Grant (Tottenham)

Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that our troops are under the operational command of the Americans, which means that they could be dragged into a war without any reference to the right hon. Gentleman or to any other Minister?

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Tom King)

They are not under such operational command.

Mr. Hurd

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence said, he has worked out detailed arrangements with the United States, but the position is not as the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Grant) has described it. In any case, there is no question of our forces being committed to military operations without the consent of Her Majesty's Government.

Ms. Dawn Primarolo (Bristol, South)

I feel horrified about the way in which we are being dragged towards the inevitability of war and that the world community, with all its resources, cannot find ways to make Saddam Hussein get out of Kuwait without war. I am disappointed that the five permanent members of the Security Council now believe that war is necessary. Will the Foreign Secretary explain how the date in the resolution is not the date, upon which war will commence if Saddam Hussein has not withdrawn, because if Saddam Hussein ignores that date, inevitably we will be at war?

Mr. Hurd

The hon. Lady has mistaken the point. The date in the resolution—hether it is 1 January or 15 January—will not be the date on which military action will begin. It is the date from which member states will be authorised—not instructed, but authorised—to take such action which, I repeat, is in pursuit not of their own objectives but of the specific objectives that the Security Council has laid down.

Mr. Ron Brown (Edinburgh, Leith)

I remind the Foreign Secretary and the House that the tabloid press in this country have a motto—"Make it simple; make it juicy; make it up." May I assure the Government that I was never hounded or imprisoned and that I have never been a prisoner of the Iraqis, although certain newspapers, such as the Daily Record, have suggested that that might be the case? Nevertheless, there are prisoners out there from our own British community and they expect a lot more from a new revitalised British Government who, I hope, will have new ideas. One of those ideas must be to negotiate on and to discuss this problem. We may speak about linkage, and we may speak about Israel, but the one thing that we must speak about is the lives of those 1,400 British people out there, because they are important. The whole world knows that not only those lives but many other lives are at stake. Indeed, the whole world is at stake. What is the Foreign Secretary going to do about that? Will he approach the Iraqis in some way, even unofficially, because they will approach him?

Mr. Hurd

If we had followed most of the advice that we had received from the Britons trapped in Kuwait, we would have started military action a long time ago.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

Does the Foreign Secretary accept that, although we fully endorse his position that diplomatic recognition does not in any way give support, the parents and relatives of those who died at Lockerbie will want to be assured that Her Majesty's Government have genuine assurances from the Syrians that they will no longer support or in any way encourage terrorist action that emanates from their shores?

Mr. Hurd

The hon. Lady has raised a perfectly fair point. Obviously I cannot say anything about the progress of the inquiry into Lockerbie, although I have taken that point into account. The hon. Lady will know the position that the Americans have taken on it also.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

I shall take the presentation of Bill first.

    1. c885
    2. ROAD TRAFFIC 60 words
  2. WELSH AFFAIRS 28 words