HC Deb 19 February 1991 vol 186 cc131-5
1. Mr. Tim Smith

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what are the total costs of the Gulf war to date; and what proportion of this he now expects to be funded by allied nations.

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

The additional costs of the Gulf conflict so far assessed are some £1½ billion, including equipment lost and munitions used. On the basis indicated by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor in the debate on the autumn statement last week, we expect that the eventual costs could be £3 billion.

Allied and other nations have promised contributions of some £1¼ billion and support from host nations is worth about £200 million.

Mr. Smith

Is not it very good news that, following the successful visits of the Foreign Secretary to the Kuwait Government-in-exile and of the Chief Secretary to the Treasury to the United Arab Emirates, we now have a substantial commitment to our costs in the Gulf? Will my right hon. Friend confirm, however, that the Government will continue to try to ensure that countries such as Japan, which can expect to gain most from stability in the Gulf, make their fair contribution, too?

Mr. King

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. I confirm that we have hopes and expectations of significant additions to the sums that I have announced. My hon. Friend mentioned Japan. I had the pleasure of meeting the new Japanese ambassador yesterday and I know that the Japanese Government are keen to show their appreciation of the very significant contribution made by British forces to the coalition effort.

Mr. Radice

In view of the substantial allied financial contributions and the fact that replacement costs could be spread over a period of time, could not the financial costs of war to Britain easily be met?

Mr. King

I am not quite sure what the hon. Gentleman means by "easily be met." This is a very costly undertaking. I have set out what I think the costs will eventually be—of the order of £3 billion. We very much appreciate the contributions that are being made to help towards that sum, but I do not disguise from the House the fact that a signficant cost will remain to be borne by the United Kingdom.

Mr. Cash

Does my right hon. Friend share my gratitude and that of the British people for the £275 million that has been provided by the German people? Does he agree, however, that there may still be some leeway for a further and much more substantial contribution from them and that it does not particularly help to give £275 million one day and then to increase interest rates by 0.5 per cent. the following day?

Mr. King

That question goes a little wider than my immediate concerns. I appreciate the contribution that has been made. As my hon. Friend realises, we are also most grateful for the very substantial help that has been given by the German Government—the German Ministry of Defence—in a range of different matters, including vehicles, training, ammunition and equipment of one sort and another. I think that I am right in saying that every request that we have made to the German Government has now been met.

Mr. O'Neill

The costs that are being borne by our service personnel in the Gulf are a cause for concern to many people. That applies in particular to the poll tax. Will our troops be compelled to continue to pay the poll tax and, if not, who will make up the lost revenue that local government will have to raise?

Mr. Speaker

That question is just about as wide as the last one, I am afraid.

Mr. King


Mr. Speaker

If the right hon. Gentleman wishes, he may answer the first part.

Mr. King

I do not remember what the first part was, although I thought that both were out of order. The hon. Gentleman was perhaps trying to anticipate some of the discussions later today.

Mr. Favell

Has each of the Community countries now made a contribution towards the effort in the Gulf? In particular, have the Irish done so?

Mr. King

No. The House knows the Irish policy of neutrality and Ireland has not made a contribution in this respect.

2. Mr. McAvoy

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if his Department is contributing funds or personnel towards the operation to clean up oil slicks in the Gulf.

The Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. Archie Hamilton)

The Ministry of Defence, in common with other Departments, responded promptly to requests for assistance in dealing with the oil slicks in the Gulf. For example, we made available three charter flights to transport 90 tonnes of pollution control equipment from industry stocks held in the United Kingdom to Saudi Arabia on 28 to 30 January. In addition, ships of the Royal Navy and our military aircraft flying in the area of the slicks have, where possible, been providing information on the slicks to assist in the assessment of their location, extent and movements.

Mr. McAvoy

It is all very well for the Minister to say that, but why, after so many predictions that oil spills were likely in the Gulf war—whether deliberate or accidental—did the Ministry of Defence take no steps to position oil spillage clean-up equipment in the Gulf before the fighting started? Will he give priority to the environmental clean-up? Will he give a further commitment that the allies will not worsen what Saddam Hussein has done by bombing oil tankers or oil wells?

Mr. Hamilton

That is not the position. Saddam Hussein decided to put oil slicks in the Gulf. It would have been difficult for the allies to position oil spillage clean-up equipment in the area because it would have come under attack and been shelled by the Iraqis. The hon. Gentleman should make no mistake that the allies' aim was to stop off oil flows into the Gulf. Precision bombing has succeeded in stopping some of the slicks.

Mr. Hannam

Is my hon. Friend aware from reports in the media by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals that it is the only organisation that is sending people to the Gulf to deal with the problems of wildlife damaged in the oil spill and that it is making a direct appeal for funds? Can any help be given to that organisation and will he clarify whether the RSPCA is the only organisation looking after wildlife in the Gulf?

Mr. Hamilton

I am not aware of whether the RSPCA is the only organisation doing that work, but it is certainly making a valuable contribution. I hope that the British people will respond generously to what it is doing.

Mr. Boyes

Does the Minister agree that there was insufficient planning for an inevitability? Saddam Hussein should be in the dock for his malicious, wicked and futile gesture. He stands virtually unanimously condemned by the whole world for pouring millions of tonnes of oil into the Gulf which has proved dire for humans and calamitous for wildlife. Will the Minister join me in taking this opportunity to praise all those volunteers who have travelled to that troubled land to save as much wildlife as possible?

Mr. Hamilton

Yes, I certainly do, and I echo the hon. Gentleman's remarks. Saddam Hussein's callous act has led to the oil slicks and I pay tribute to the volunteers who are doing all that they can to clear them up.

3. Mr. Hinchliffe

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what account is taken of the possible consequences to the environment in the military strategy employed in the Gulf war.

Mr. Archie Hamilton

Environmental factors are taken into account to the extent possible in the planning and conduct of military operations in the Gulf. We have repeatedly made it clear that we do all we can to ensure that collateral damage from our operations is minimised.

Mr. Hinchliffe

Bearing in mind the appalling environmental consequences of the Gulf conflict so far and the sad fact that worse may be to come, what dialogue has there been within the United Nations about that aspect of the Gulf conflict? Has consideration been given to the formation of an environmental equivalent of the Red Cross or Red Crescent to tackle that aspect of the war?

Mr. Hamilton

There has been a great deal of international co-operation on that aspect and I believe that the United Nations is conducting studies to ensure that minimal damage is done.

Mr. Brazier

Does my hon. Friend agree that the best thing for the environment in the Gulf would be for the allied forces to win the war so that the polluter will be forced out of the Gulf and we can start the clean-up?

Mr. Hamilton

I could not agree more. We must also bear it in mind that Saddam Hussein is capable of polluting the area with nuclear and chemical weapons, too.

Mr. Dalyell

Why should Mr. David Olsen, the consultant adviser on the environment to the Saudi Government, complain about a shortage of equipment?

Mr. Hamilton

I cannot answer for Mr. David Olsen. However, we have done our bit by sending about 90 tonnes of equipment which has been held here by the Department of Transport to help to clean up the problems in the area.

4. Mr. John Marshall

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many representations he has received about the use of British forces in the Gulf.

Mr. King

I have received a substantial number of letters from Members of Parliament and the public regarding the situation in the Gulf. Some 20 per cent. of a recent sample of letters reflected opposition to the presence of British forces and military action. This is very much in line with recent opinion polls, which also indicate overwhelming support for our forces in the Gulf.

Mr. Marshall

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer, which praises the professionalism and self-restraint of British soldiers in the Gulf. Does my right hon. Friend agree that civilian casualties—the direct consequence of any war—are the result of the intransigence of Saddam Hussein? Will he contrast the attempt of the allies to minimise civilian casualties with the efforts of Saddam Hussein to maximise them by aiming Scud missiles at innocent civilians in Israel and Saudi Arabia?

Mr. King

My hon. Friend puts it very clearly and is absolutely right. I confirm again to the House that the absolute instruction for our service men—and, with the present air campaign, for our aircrews—is at all times to minimise civilian casualties. As my hon. Friend says, there is a sharp contrast in that we are seeking to minimise casualties while Saddam Hussein aims to cause them deliberately by aiming Scud missiles at civilian areas. The House may also have noted another contrast: if something goes wrong, as can happen, tragically, we manifestly try to set out the truth as well as we know it and do not try to conceal anything.

Mr. Menzies Campbell

Like the rest of us, even now the British forces in the Gulf would welcome Iraq's withdrawal from Kuwait in accordance with the United Nations resolution. However, can the Secretary of State confirm that, if Iraq does not withdraw from Kuwait, the British ground forces have now reached such a state of readiness that they can fulfil any military task that may be assigned to them?

Mr. King

Yes, I can confirm that. I spoke to General de la Billiere yesterday and he confirmed that the British ground forces are ready for a land campaign should it prove necessary. Of course, we hope even at this very late stage that Iraq will recognise the essential need to observe to the full the United Nations resolution. If not, it will have to face the consequences.

Sir Nicholas Fairbairn

Is not it strange that in the alleged attack on the bunker only women and children were in that air raid shelter? When on earth have only women and children entered a shelter during an air raid? Can the BBC please not provide propaganda for the enemy by suggesting that it was an attack on a civilian target?

Mr. King

The whole House will regret the death of any civilians, including women and children. The United States has made it clear that the building was a military command and control facility and that it had been on the target list for some time. However, it is very much regretted that there were civilians there, too, and the United States has made it clear that if it had been known that civilians were in that bunker, it would not have been attacked.

Mr. Duffy

While the Secretary of State is referring to public opinion, will he on every appropriate occasion bring to the notice of our men and women in the Gulf the quite extraordinary blend of public opinion at home, in the Arab world, in the international community and in the United Nations supporting totally their role, as well as the fact that their's is truly an historic mission and that they have the confidence of the House of Commons?

Mr. King

I am very grateful for what the hon. Gentleman, particularly with his background and experience, has said. I hope that those men and women know that. He is right to draw attention to the remarkable coalition, now involving 33 countries which have provided forces or contributions to the Gulf effort. That is very significant. He is right to draw attention to the contribution of our armed forces, which approach the matter not in an aggressive sense, but in the recognition of a job that may need to be done.

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