HC Deb 13 February 1991 vol 185 cc839-41
4. Mr. Barry Field

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how many countries have now played an active role in the military operations taking place in the Gulf.

13. Mr. Steen

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how many members of the United Nations are contributing financial or military aid to the allies in the Gulf war; and if he will list those countries which have not contributed.

Mr. Hurd

More than 30 nations, including nine European Community members, are contributing equipment, material and personnel to the multinational force in the Gulf. A number have been involved in military operations already, and others will become involved as the allied campaign takes its course. Most recently, the Governments of Germany, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates have offered generous financial support to Britain.

Mr. Field

I thank my right hon. Friend for that detailed answer. Manfred Woerner, secretary-general of NATO, has called for a common defence and foreign policy within the EC. On 5 February, Mr. Jacques Poos said in The Times that if there had been a common foreign policy the result would have been speedier but the same. What is the point of speedier disunity? Does not taking NATO further into the EC risk uncoupling America's defence policy from the destiny of Europe?

Mr. Hurd

As I have just said, I believe that the bedrock of our defences must continue to be NATO. It is perfectly clear to me, however, that the Americans expect NATO's European members to play a larger part in the defence of Europe; and that expectation will have been increased by what has happened in the Gulf.

Mr. Galloway

On day two of the war, I described the aerial bombardment of cities as, by definition, mass murder. I was ridiculed by the Prime Minister and later by the Foreign Secretary.

As the Foreign Secretary watched the television screen at lunchtime and saw the charred ribbons of women and children swept out of the air raid shelter in Baghdad, did it occur to him that some of the blood of those innocent civilians was on his hands and the hands of those who are making this marvellous war against civilian targets in Baghdad and Basra? Will he stop bombing cities now?

Mr. Hurd

I have no information about the event that the hon. Gentleman has described, beyond what he and I watched on television. He will know—and, I hope, accept —that the greatest possible care is being taken to avoid indiscriminate attack on civilian targets and that the targeting is as precise as has ever been achieved in the history of modern warfare.

Let me tell the hon. Gentleman and the House that there is no doubt that war has its tragedies and those tragedies can sometimes be great, even when the greatest possible care and precision are exercised. That is why the responsibility lies so heavily on someone like Saddam Hussein who commits aggression and then refuses all peaceful invitations to reverse that aggression.

Sir Peter Blaker

Do not the allied forces in the Gulf deserve immense credit for the trouble that they are taking to minimise civilian casualties, sometimes at risk to their own lives? Is it not quite possible that the casualties among Iraqi civilians caused by allied bombing are fewer than those caused by Saddam Hussein's terror squads?

Mr. Hurd

That may well be so. The allied forces do all that they can to avoid civilian casualties; in that regard they are very different from President Saddam Hussein, whose Scud missiles are aimed indiscriminately at civilians, whether in Tel Aviv or in Riyadh.

Mr. Winnick

Everyone must deplore the number of civilian casualties and I hope that what has happened causes great and genuine concern to every hon. Member. The allied military command should hear in mind both the human and the political costs of the raids and the casualties.

Should we not also bear in mind, however, the atrocities that have been carried out in Kuwait since the invasion —the way in which so many people there have been terrorised and killed, and continue to be so? I have already said that I deplore the civilian casualties, but did not hundreds of thousands of Iraqis die in the useless, futile war waged by Saddam Hussein against Iran?

Mr. Hurd

The hon. Gentleman puts his points well. I refer his hon. Friends who think otherwise to the Amnesty report on what has happened and is still happening in Kuwait.

Mr. Churchill

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is great concern at the fact that the suffering and plight of the civilian population of Kuwait go unreported because the dictator of Baghdad does not permit them to be reported, while the western media are making themselves the vehicle for Saddam Hussein's propaganda machine by playing up every civilian casualty? Very often, those casaulties may be caused by Iraqi surface-to-air missiles and they may often involve not civilian but military casualties.

Mr. Hurd

It is very important that all those reporting on these matters do not lose sight of, and continue to search for, evidence of what is happening in Kuwait. When I was talking to the Kuwaitis in Taif a few days ago, I urged them to do everything that they could to make that material available. We are doing our best in that respect.

Mr. Kaufman

I wish to express the dismay and horror of everyone in the House—certainly all Opposition Members—at the terrible event which took place in Baghdad this morning. I should be grateful if the Foreign Secretary could confirm that the air raid shelter in which those people died was not deliberately targeted. I should be grateful if he would ensure that the utmost efforts are made by the coalition forces to prevent the repetition of such a tragic mistake and that the avoidance of civilian casualties is given an even higher priority than it has been already. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the most effective way to avoid further appalling loss of innocent life is for Saddam Hussein to accept the United Nations resolutions, withdraw from Kuwait and end the war?

Mr. Hurd

The aim of all the allied forces in action now is to weaken the military machine which is perpetuating the aggression in Kuwait and thus bring nearer the time when Kuwait can be liberated as the United Nations has asked. Therefore, it is part of the policy of all the allied forces to keep to a minimum the civilian casualties which may occur as military targets are attacked. I agree entirely with the right hon. Gentleman's last point.

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