HC Deb 25 February 1991 vol 186 cc645-58 3.31 pm
The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Tom King)

The final phase for the liberation of Kuwait and the achievement of the United Nations resolutions was launched in the early hours of Sunday 24 February. After more than six months of international endeavour to achieve a peaceful resolution of the crisis, the continuing refusal of Iraq to comply with the UN resolutions, and the rejection of the final deadline from the coalition, left us no alternative but to proceed with the final ground campaign. The need for this was further confirmed by the fact that, at the very time that Tariq Aziz was still purporting to negotiate in Moscow, Saddam Hussein was giving orders for the wholesale destruction of Kuwait and its oil fields, and for further outrages against its citizens.

The land operations involve forces of no fewer than 11 countries: the United States, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, Egypt, France, Syria, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and, of course, Kuwait. They have now been under way for 38½ hours. So far, progress has been rapid and relatively little opposition has been encountered.

Excellent planning and preparation and, above all, determination have enabled the coalition forces rapidly to penetrate the extensive obstacle belt that the Iraqis had constructed both along the Saudi-Kuwait border and along a substantial part of the Saudi-Iraq border.

To the east of that front, coalition forces have now advanced well into Kuwait and have taken a significant number of prisoners. Many of the Iraqi units encountered surrendered almost immediately.

To the west, United States, United Kingdom, Saudi and French forces have mounted an operation into Iraq against Iraqi forces supporting the occupation of Kuwait. Some elements are encircling Iraqi units; others are breaking through defensive positions and beginning to engage Iraqi units directly. The 1st British Armoured Division is fully involved in the thrust and is now moving steadily forward.

The Saudis have announced that the number of prisoners of war taken by the coalition has now risen to 20,000. Casualties on the coalition side have been very light. As the House may be aware, two British soldiers lost their lives in the days immediately before the start of the ground offensive, and their families have been told of their deaths. On my latest information, there have been no British casualties in the main advance.

In support of the land advances, allied air forces, including British aircraft, have continued their attacks both on strategic targets in Iraq and on the Iraq ground forces in Kuwait and Iraq. The attacks are continuing in spite of poor weather conditions and without serious interference from the smoke of burning oil wells.

Maritime and amphibious forces in the northern Gulf are playing their part in the coalition attack. In particular, the Royal Navy is playing a crucial role in mine clearance operations. During the operations last night the Iraqis fired a Silkworm missile, which was destroyed by a Sea Dart fired from HMS Gloucester.

It is vital that we give all the support that we can to the coalition forces in their challenging task. One of the key advantages is the lack of knowledge that the Iraqis have about our exact positions and plans. We must preserve that advantage. That is why we have been so concerned to restrict any information about the military operations that could be of help to the enemy at a critical time. I understand the great interest of the whole country in the progress of our forces, and particularly among the families of all those involved, and we shall do all that we can to give accurate information, provided that it can be done safely and without putting lives at risk. In the meantime, we look for the full understanding and co-operation of all those reporting and commenting on the battle.

This further phase of the campaign has started well, and every credit is due to General Schwarzkopf and all the coalition forces. However, they know that the Iraqi forces in the front line are their least capable and likely to be of the lowest morale.

The news so far has been good. There may be days ahead when it is more difficult. But whatever the ups and downs, our forces know that they have the support of all the House and the nation. Our prayers and our best wishes go with them as they complete the task.

Mr. Martin O'Neill (Clackmannan)

I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. I recognise the need to avoid making helpful information available to the enemy, and realise that that precludes the disclosure of some of the details that the House and the media may wish to hear. On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I express sympathy with the families who have already lost loved ones in the conflict and relief at the low number of casualties and the high number of prisoners taken. I am sure that that is attributable in no small way to the bravery and professionalism of our troops.

I am sure that the whole House will recognise that responsibility for the intensification of the conflict lies with Saddam Hussein and his unwillingness to allay coalition misgivings about the failure of the laudable Soviet attempt to secure a last-minute peace settlement guaranteeing an immediate ceasefire and withdrawal from Kuwait. Could anyone accept the strength of a Foreign Minister's assurance that he could commit his troops to withdraw from a country while his President and Commander-in-Chief was giving orders to the same troops in the same country to put that country's land to the torch and its people to the sword?

Can the Secretary of State confirm that the incursion into Iraqi territory by coalition forces is designed to cut off the Iraqis retreating northwards out of Kuwait and does not represent an alteration in the war aims? Will the right hon. Gentleman explain the arrangements being made to assist in curbing the oil well fires? Can he tell the House whether napalm was being used by allied forces and, if so, for what purpose?

Can the Secretary of State confirm whether the Prime Minister was in contact with President Gorbachev at some time between his last statement to the House on Friday and Saturday's deadline? Will he tell us the latest and most up-to-date position of British forces?

Opposition Members give their full support to our troops and the coalition forces at this time of peril. We share their determination that Kuwait should be liberated. We do so not in any spirit of complacency, which would be as foolish as it would be dangerous, nor with any sense of euphoria, which would be as insensitive as it would be inappropriate in view of the dangers ahead; we give that support in a spirit of determination that a victorious conclusion for the military forces of the United Nations can be accomplished as speedily and decisively as possible.

Mr. King

I am very grateful for, and I know that the House very much appreciates, both the content of what the hon. Gentleman has said and the manner in which he responded to my statement. It is no secret that it is of the greatest support to our forces to know the strength of the support right across the House of Commons as they undertake this difficult and challenging task. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for speaking on behalf of his right hon. and hon. Friends.

The hon. Gentleman was right to say that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was in touch with President Gorbachev, with whom he had a 45-minute conversation on Saturday morning. That was part of a wide consultation, including with Presidents Bush and Mitterrand, and the other leaders of the coalition. Indeed, a feature of the coalition has been the close contact that has been maintained, to which my right hon. Friend attaches great importance.

The hon. Gentleman asked particularly about napalm. I am pleased to confirm that it was used and that it proved extremely effective in tackling one of the difficulties in the obstacle belt—the oil-filled trenches to which the Iraqis intended to set fire at a time of their convenience. Instead, we arranged to set fire to them with napalm at a time of our convenience so as not to disrupt the attack. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me the chance to confirm that.

I appreciate also the support that the hon. Gentleman has given for the need to show some restraint at present about the flow of information. There is, of course, acute interest among all of us and the entire country about what is happening, but we must respect the fact that this is a challenging campaign. It has begun well, but we are now entering the critical phase of the land battle and it is vital that we give our forces all support at this time.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I am sure that the House will want to bear in mind what the Secretary of State said in his statement. I propose to give precedence today to those hon. Members who were not called following the statement on Friday. I ask for brief and careful questions.

Sir Peter Blaker (Blackpool, South)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Back Benchers wish to express their support for the coalition forces, and especially for our own forces, in addition to the support for them that has already been expressed by my right hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill)? As this is Kuwait's national day, does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be appropriate for the House to express its admiration for the conduct of those Kuwaitis who have been allowed to remain in Kuwait in the face of the plunder, looting and terror that has been wreaked on the Kuwaiti people by the armed forces and the secret police of Iraq? Does my right hon. Friend agree that that conduct of Saddam Hussein is another reason why it was right not to delay the ground offensive any longer?

Mr. King

I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for his support. I am sure that he is right to draw attention to the role and position of the Kuwaitis. I suspect that I was not the only hon. Member who heard that moving comment on the radio earlier today when one Kuwaiti officer was asked whether he felt frightened or any fear: "Why should I? I am going home.- Recognition of the fact that the home to which the Kuwaiti forces go has been tragically and awfully disfigured should redouble our determination to see that home liberated at the earliest possible moment.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East)

On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, may I express to General Sir Peter de la Billiere and all those under his command our congratulations and fervent hopes for a speedy outcome to the land battle with the minimum of casualties? From the properly guarded information that the Secretary of State has given the House, it appears that the allies may be set for a successful military outcome. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that a successful political outcome will depend on a proper judgment as to the time when hostilities should cease?

Mr. King

I am sure that the answer to the last part of the hon. Gentleman's question is yes. We have made absolutely clear where we stand. We are determined to see the United Nations resolutions implemented, and peace and stability restored to the area. Those have been our abiding concerns. I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman and to his hon. and right hon. Friends for their support at this testing time for our forces. We can be very proud of the way they have conducted themselves under the leadership of General Sir Peter de la Billiere. I spoke to the general about 30 minutes ago, and he confirmed that, within the last hour, the first armoured division had taken its first 100 Iraqi prisoners. As the division moves forward, it is coming into contact with more capable Iraqi units. I have no doubt at all that our soldiers will give an excellent account of themselves.

Mr. Michael Mates (Hampshire, East)

Will my right hon. Friend, in passing on our congratulations and thanks to all our troops in the Gulf, acknowledge the debt that we owe also to all the staffs in this country from the people at the Ministry of Defence at High Wycombe to those in depots up and down the country—who have striven to make this operation, which has been a logistical nightmare, such a success? Will he acknowledge also that what has happened in the last 24 hours fully justifies the length, severity and determination of the air assault, which has come under so much criticism in some sections of the media?

Mr. King

We hope that this will be a short, sharp campaign with the minimum of casualties. As my hon. Friend has said, the opportunity to make it so owes a tremendous amount to the success, perseverance, courage and determination of all the air crews. Over the past weeks, those crews performed with great skill to ensure that on the battlefield the balance was tilted in favour of the coalition.

I agree with my hon. Friend that the credits do not stop there. In a very real sense, this has been a team effort. I am thinking, for instance, of the armed service units in Germany that surrendered some of their equipment and provided all the support they could, and of many civilians. Let us not forget how many British civilians are serving in what is a war zone to make sure that our forces, as well as Saudi and other forces, get the support that they need. I am very proud to play whatever part I can in what has been a remarkable team effort.

Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley)

Is the Secretary of State aware that, on the very day on which British troops were being committed to battle in the Gulf, a vicious attack was launched on troops in the South Armagh region of the United Kingdom, not very far from where the Prime Minister had displayed such courage a few days earlier? Is the Secretary of State aware that this kind of treachery results from the warped thinking of the republican movement, whose attitude is that England's difficulty is Ireland's opportunity? Is he aware that such thinking and such action can be met only with firm resolution and resolve and that they cannot be dealt with by concessions, any more than can the actions of Iraq?

Mr. King

Bearing in mind the personal threats that have been made against its members, the present Government have done as much as have any Government to make it clear that we shall make no concessions to, and that we have no respect for, terrorism from whatever quarter it comes. I know that that attitude is shared by right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House. The right hon. Gentleman-is right to draw attention to the fact that in the days before hostilities started, Saddam Hussein sought to intimidate and to threaten terrorism. I think that we can fairly claim that that did not alter our judgment and that it did not lessen one iota the determination of anybody in this House.

Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey and Waterside)

While paying tribute to the courage and skill of the allied forces, may I ask my right hon. Friend to comment on what I hope will have been Saddam Hussein's last speech, in which, following the announcement of the final phase in the campaign to free Kuwait, he called once more for a so-called jihad, or holy war, against the infidel? Can my right hon. Friend confirm that nothing could be further from the truth than the claim that this is a holy war? As he has stated, the allied forces include eight contingents from Arab countries. Those contingents come as representatives of the United Nations to help a small Arab country which was seized by a tyrannical Arab neighbour. For Saddam Hussein—a member of the Ba'ath party, and therefore a non-believer—to make such a claim is surely the sickest of sick jokes.

Mr. King

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the significant Arab contingents taking part in the ground campaign and to the determined way in which they are playing their part. None of those countries believed Saddam Hussein, and it is becoming increasingly clear, with the willingness of so many to surrender, that fewer of his countrymen believe him either.

Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney)

Should not our thoughts be going out to those who are prisoners of war in Iraq? In particular, will the Minister make it clear that there will be no end to hostilities until we have a categorical assurance about the safe passage and return of prisoners of war?

Mr. King

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point. We have never forgotten the position of our prisoners of war. I am sure that the House shares the concern that the last we saw of them was the pictures of two of our pilots on Iraqi television, and that we have had no news of others. The hon. Gentlemen will be aware that, in the earlier requests about the conditions that we would agree for a ceasefire, we made it clear that the safe and immediate return of our prisoners of war was an absolute requirement.

Sir Michael Marshall (Arundel)

Can my right hon. Friend say a word about the extent of Saddam Hussein's scorched earth policy in Kuwait? In particular, can he confirm that the Parliament building has been set on fire? Does he agree that those responsible for such actions should be held accountable when the fighting ceases?

Mr. King

Figures have been given of 600 or 700 oil fires burning in Kuwait. There are reports of a programme of destruction of buildings in Kuwait. I have heard it said that the Parliament building and certain main hotels have been destroyed. Information on this has not yet been confirmed, but it appears that instructions have been given for the wholesale destruction of Kuwait, as I said in my statement.

Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South)

The Secretary of State will be aware that the House agrees with that part of his statement in which he said that we must not put lives at risk by giving more accurate information, but what about giving accurate information to families? Will he make sure that all families know whom to contact at all hours of the day and night, because they need reassurance? There is nothing like loneliness to intensify fear.

Mr. King

I agree entirely with the right hon. Gentleman. I hope that that is what is happening. If any right hon. or hon. Members have worries about the arrangements in their areas, I should be grateful if they would first check whether such arrangements are effective. If they have any query or uncertainty, I know that the office of my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces will follow that up. We have made the most thorough arrangements we can to help all the families—and, as hon. Members know, they are not just in this country. The husbands of some 10,000 wives in Germany are away in the Gulf. It is important to remember those families as well.

Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)

Will the Secretary of State take it from me that all right-thinking people in Northern Ireland are behind the troops in the Gulf as they battle for the freedom of Kuwait? Furthermore, they welcome the call of Her Majesty the Queen for the nation to pray, and their thoughts are especially with the contingent of Ulstermen in the Gulf. Can the Secretary of State give us any information about the welfare of that contingent? Can he give us an assurance that it will be the Government's policy to bring to justice those who have carried out the atrocities in Kuwait?

Mr. King

I can indeed confirm that our thoughts are with our forces at this time, and no less with our forces from Northern Ireland. On the information available to me, although I have not yet checked this, I think it probable that the first members of the British forces whom the Iraqi prisoners of war met were from Northern Ireland and I am sure that they were given a good welcome. We support the comments of the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Jim Sillars (Glasgow, Govan)

Will the Secretary of State confirm that the allied ultimatum, with its reference to withdrawing to the position of 1 August, was quite meticulous in remaining within the United Nations mandate, whereas the Soviet proposal absolved Saddam Hussein not only of the crimes that he committed before Saturday but of the torching of Kuwait and the intensification of the killing of Kuwaiti citizens?

Mr. King

The hon. Gentleman makes a perceptive point. There must be many people in Moscow who felt that they were negotiating in good faith but who now feel singularly betrayed by what they have found was happening and what Saddam Hussein's instructions were while Tariq Aziz was in Moscow.

Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton)

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that rumours persist of the most abominable atrocities in Kuwait? Will he welcome the statement made today by Prince Khalid bin Sultan in his military briefing that those responsible for atrocities in Kuwait will be held accountable when the war is over?

Mr. King

Both my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, when the invasion of Kuwait took place, and I have made it clear that all individuals will be held personally responsible for their actions.

Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

Is the Secretary of State aware that there have been excellent co-ordination plans for helping wounded troops from the battlefield to hospital, but that there has been no such co-ordination for counselling, psychiatric care, social services, rehabilitation, jobs and adapted housing for wounded personnel? As those matters are covered by a wide variety of Departments, will the Secretary of State recommend to the Prime Minister the appointment of a special Minister to co-ordinate all those necessities for service personnel?

Mr. King

The right hon. Gentleman may not fully appreciate the work that has been done—and not just in terms of information on casualties. Counselling services, are available 24 hours a day throughout the country on a more comprehensive basis than ever before in our history. I know that all right hon. and hon. Members will welcome that.

Mr. Robert Boscawen (Somerton and Frome)

Will my right hon. Friend accept that the best news today is the low level of British and other allied casualties? Will he further accept that battle accidents can cause as many casualties as enemy action? Does he therefore agree that the long training, great skill and leadership that has gone into the preparation for this struggle reflects great credit on our service men and those of the coalition forces?

Mr. King

The whole House will listen with respect to my hon. Friend, who obviously has knowledge of these matters. It is no secret that, even before the tragic accidents which affected United States forces a little earlier in this campaign, we were giving great attention to the risk of accidents to our forces. The greatest possible attention is being paid to avoiding that. Indeed, my hon. Friend will have noticed yesterday that the speed of advance in certain places caused problems and that great care was taken, particularly by Jaguar pilots, to change their targets so as to make sure that there was no risk of such an accident.

Mr. A. E. P. Duffy (Sheffield, Attercliffe)

Is the Secretary of State aware that, amid the real qualms that hon. Members will have about a ground war, none can doubt that the allied coalition went that extra mile for peace? Whatever doubts hon. Members may have about the conduct of the war, and whatever their residual anxiety about whether the allied armies will be confined to the clear lines of the United Nations mandate, is the Minister aware that, provided that the UN mandate is observed, there can similarly be no doubt that the allied armies will be fighting a just war, that they will be in the right and that they will include no more formidable an asset than our 1st Armoured Division?

Mr. King

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I heard one of my hon. Friends say that we have gone not one, but 20 extra miles. It is true that we went an extra mile, and an extra mile again, even before the air campaign was launched and yet again with the attempts to see if there could be a resolution before it was necessary to launch the ground campaign. We have tried very hard in that respect. I hope that we shall now see the successful achievement of the United Nations resolutions which, I make it absolutely clear, remains our objective.

Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Bristol, East)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, if five armchair generals were to go on television or on radio discussing plans and dispositions, it is likely that the majority of them would propose a staff solution? As that solution is likely to be of interest to the Iraqis, would it not be better for those armchair generals to desist for the safety of our forces?

Mr. King

It is true that because of our air supremacy and strength in other respects, and because of their own lack of communications, the Iraqis are short of knowledge as to where our forces are and their operations. One of the few sources at present available to the Iraqis are radio and television broadcasts. Therefore, it is vital that we do not convey information to them through those media that may be of value.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

Was not President Bush's purpose in aborting the last chance of avoiding a ground war, with its attendant casualties, to ensure the destruction of Iraq's military capabilities so as to oblige his ally, Israel, with which there is a strategic alliance and which has wished the destruction of Iraqi forces ever since the Gulf war started?

Mr. King

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman would make that intervention and address those remarks to the Arab members of the coalition, who are bound in our joint actions at this time, but I think that they would regard his intervention as an extremely silly remark.

Sir Trevor Skeet (Bedfordshire, North)

Since the Iraqis have set fire to more than 200 wells, has my right hon. Friend any idea as to the quantity of natural resources that have been destroyed? When the war is over and we are trying to win the peace, will my right hon. Friend consider giving the Kuwaitis, as compensation, part of the Rumailia field that they do not presently own and also part of Zubeir?

Mr. King

The figures of the number of wells that have been destroyed are not absolutely clear at the moment. I understand that what has effectively been lost in the present fires is the current rate of production of oil naturally emerging which does not mean the long-term extinction of the oil reserves.

Mr. John Cartwright (Woolwich)

Since one of the most powerful arguments for launching the ground offensive was the intensification of the mediaeval barbarity inflicted on the Kuwaiti people by the Iraqi occupying forces, can the Secretary of State assure us that in the current debate about war aims the future safety and security of Kuwait will be high on the list of coalition priorities?

Mr. King

Yes, I can. I have made it clear that we are liberating Kuwait, and we seek to ensure that Kuwait stays liberated. I agree with the hon. Gentleman, because at each stage of this tragic conflict that none of us sought, Saddam Hussein seems to have gone out of his way to confirm us in the rightness of our judgment.

Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby)

Does the Secretary of State agree that, if Saddam Hussein really believed that Kuwait was the 19th province of Iraq, the destruction of the oil installations was a peculiar way of showing it? Does he also agree that it is essential that an environmental team should be in train now, ready to go into Kuwait at the earliest possible moment to deal with the destruction of that country's environment?

Mr. King

The hon. Member makes a perceptive and fair first point. As for his second point, I understand that the Kuwaiti Government are working on it now.

Mr. Donald Thompson (Calder Valley)

Does my right hon. Friend understand that my constituents have been subjected to a politically motivated peace campaign which has been an embarrassment to people of genuine good will and peace? Does he further understand that most of my constituents wholeheartedly support the coalition and are not much interested in impartiality? They are partial to their own troops and their own side, and they would be angry if they received the sort of so-called impartial reports that the correspondents have lately been sending us.

Mr. King

I have never doubted where the true views of the people of Yorkshire lie. I certainly understand the views of my hon. Friend's constituents. The longer the crisis has developed, the more this country and the world have recognised the need for the action that we are taking; and I have certainly felt that strong support at this difficult time.

Mr. Jim Lester (Broxtowe)


Hon. Members

That is two Conservative Members in a row.

Mr. Speaker

I know. I made a mistake earlier when I called two Opposition Members, so now I am balancing things up.

Mr. Lester

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the military objectives of the coalition forces in Iraq are fully contained within our declared war aims and the United Nations resolutions?

Mr. King

I can confirm that.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West)

How can anyone seriously claim that this military operation is under the control of the United Nations when the United Nations Security Council has in effect been suspended and the United States of America is calling all the shots and commanding all the coalition forces, including the British forces? How many more young people have to die before the politicians have the guts to tell the military to call a ceasefire and to make every effort through the United Nations to find a peaceful negotiated solution?

Mr. King

The hon. Member could make that contribution only if he refused to believe the evidence of what is happening in Kuwait. I heard him ask how many more young men would die, seeming blithely to ignore the appalling suffering and the outrages that have been committed in Kuwait. How many more people have to die before we can speedily complete this campaign and Kuwait can be liberated?

Mr. Robert Banks (Harrogate)

Can my right hon. Friend give the House any idea of the numbers of tanks and vehicles and the quantity of equipment captured by the allied forces? As the campaign draws to a close, as we all hope that it shortly will, will the allied forces continue to give full attention to eliminating military targets which pose a threat to the future safety of Kuwait?

Mr. King

I can confirm that we are continuing the air campaign in spite of the poor weather, seeking to ensure that strategic areas which might be involved in the resupply of the forces in the Kuwait theatre are sufficiently inhibited.

I cannot give my hon. Friend exact figures on the capture of equipment, but just before I came to the House I saw the latest press briefing given by Brigadier General Neale of the United States, in which he gave further figures about substantial numbers of T72 tanks and spoke of tanks in republican guard units now on the move which had been captured or destroyed. However, it is clear that the figure is changing rapidly.

Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill)

Does the Secretary of State recognise that many people in this country would have gone the extra mile—indeed, an extra 10 miles—before sending 17-year-olds into battle? What assurance, if any, can he give to those who have expressed concern about sending 17-year-olds with our forces into the land war?

Mr. King

I met a 17-year-old in Germany who was told that he was to be left behind because he was too young to go with his unit. His protests at not being allowed to go with the other forces showed clearly the tremendous morale and mutual support in the regiments and units that went to the Gulf.

Mr. Anthony Beaumont-Dark (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that, whenever there is a conflict, many young Birmingham people are involved—[ Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Beaumont-Dark

Those people hope that one clear development will come out of the justifiable and dreadful Armageddon that has overtaken Saddam Hussein and his forces is that it will help to deter other petty Saddam Husseins from embarking on such dreadful adventures, which bring misery to their own people and to the rest of the world.

Mr. King

My hon. Friend has drawn attention to the importance of the position taken by the United Nations Security Council, and to the reason why the Security Council gave authority to member states to use all necessary means to ensure that United Nations resolutions were observed. That is what we are doing, and if our aim is successfully achieved, it will strike a blow for better peace and security in the world in future.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

When all is said and done, do not all of us—in the House and in the country at large—owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to all the allied forces, who are engaged in fighting a monstrous tryanny which invaded, occupied, raped and pillaged a neighbouring country and, even now, continues to permit the foulest of crimes? Those responsible should certainly be brought to justice.

As for the consequences for ordinary Iraqi soldiers, surely the choice now lies in their hands. If they want to save their lives, they should surrender to the allies as quickly as possible—as, indeed, many are doing. Otherwise, many will undoubtedly be cut down and destroyed in battle; they will be dying for no purpose, and on behalf of a regime which holds them in utter contempt.

Mr. King

The hon. Gentleman has put very eloquently—as he has done on other occasions—feelings which are, I believe, shared by all hon. Members who see the necessity of facing aggression in this way.

Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Royal Navy's contribution in clearing mines and protecting United States battleships has been out of all proportion to the size of its force?

Mr. King

I understood my hon. Friend to say that the Navy had made a major contribution. There is no doubt that at present the Royal Navy, and especially with its skills in mine clearance, is playing a leading and crucial part in the amphibious and maritime contribution io the campaign in the northern Gulf.

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)

We have recently heard statements from the Minister in the Al-Sabah dictatorship that two years of martial law would follow the liberation of Kuwait. We have also heard repeated statements from Britain and America about hopes that another section of the Iraqi army would topple Saddam Hussein, leaving a dictatorship in charge. It is increasingly likely that the allied forces will occupy at least southern Iraq, and will stay for a considerable time. Where are the freedom and democracy for which so many young men and women from this country have been asked to die?

Mr. King

I should have thought that, on this of all afternoons, the hon. Gentleman could express some support for all our constituents who are in harm's way, and whom we wish God's speed in the hope of an early and safe conclusion to the conflict.

Mr. Tim Devlin (Stockton, South)

Is it not a fine tribute to the Royal Air Force air crew and ground crew, many of whom come from the north of England, that so many of the targets which could have posed a threat to the ground forces this morning had already been destroyed before the troops arrived there? Will the RAF's continuing quest for the Scud launch sites be continued in the next few days so as to ensure that all those dangerous and mischievous missiles are destroyed?

Mr. King

Yes, the campaign against the Scuds and the attempt to prevent any further launches will certainly continue. It is difficult to obstruct them entirely, but it is clear that the pressure they face, and the risk of detection, have contributed to some of the inacuracy that they have shown and the speed with which they have been deployed and fired.

When the history of this campaign is written, I think that it will be possible to assess just how effective the campaign has been. If my hon. Friend wants me to give a judgment now, I can say that it looks as though the actual achievements are rather greater than some of the earlier estimates.

Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)

Given the rapid, encouraging and gratifying advance that has been made, will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that coalition forces are within a few hours at least of the southern Kuwaiti oil wells which are now ablaze? Will the speed of the advance be matched by action to try to extinguish those oil wells?

Mr. King

The hon. Gentleman gives me an opportunity to caution the House and to remind it of my statement. The ground campaign has begun well, but we are moving into the critical phase and are encountering forces of greater capability—I do not want to exaggerate or diminish their capability—than those in the front line. In addition, we should recognise that there are a substantial number of them. On the hon. Gentleman's point about environmental considerations, it will be an early concern to extinguish that appalling and nasty blaze.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the risks that our skilled and courageous Air Force has had to take to minimise civilian casualties have been more than justified? Military commanders are carrying out exercises which are essential to prevent Saddam Hussein's military from launching a counteroffensive that could do irreparable damage to the allied forces. There are no military constraints on them doing what is absolutely essential.

Mr. King

My hon. Friend is right. The Iraqis still possess dangerous weapons and capabilities. Every day that the ground campaign is shortened will owe a tremendous amount to the skill and courage of our air forces, whose critically important work has not finished.

Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South)

The speed and rate at which Iraqi forces were captured or surrendered must have exceeded expectations. Is not that a mixed blessing, as it might cause considerable logistical problems for the armed forces? The Secretary of State sent additional forces to Kuwait to cope with the many prisoners expected, but does he foresee sending further troops to cope with what one hopes will be many additional surrendered or captured forces?

Mr. King

No, we have no such plans. The hon. Gentleman paid tribute to the campaign—which owes much, as he will understand, to the meticulous planning that went into it, including provision for medical and hospital facilities for prisoners of war. Extensive arrangements have been made, which I hope will prove adequate for the task.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. We have another statement this afternoon. I shall call three more hon. Members from each side.

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)

Will my right hon. Friend emphasise that more than 30 countries from as far afield as Argentina, Niger and New Zealand have sent armed services contributions to the United Nations effort in the Gulf? Do not those contributions from such a wide range of countries show that this is indeed a United Nations effort?

Mr. King

That is absolutely correct. The substantial United Nations contribution dwarfs the only other comparable occasion—the Korean war.

Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East)

Does the Minister agree with the Soviet spokesman who said that an opportunity for achieving the aims of the United Nations resolution without further bloodshed had been tragically missed? Does he agree that, rather than acting as Little Sir Echo to whatever George Bush said, the Prime Minister should have thrown the weight of this country behind the Soviet peace plan and against the war faction within the American Administration?

Mr. King

The hon. Member said that an opportunity to achieve the aims of the United Nations resolution without further bloodshed had been tragically missed. At that time, Saddam Hussein had given instructions for the total destruction of Kuwait.

Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South)

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the success of the land war so far, which has been due to the great courage of all the troops involved and the remarkable co-operation among soldiers of many different countries. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the events of the past few days have confirmed that there will be peace in the Gulf only when Saddam Hussein is deposed and his military machine destroyed?

Mr. King

Our first objective is the liberation of Kuwait. Our next objective is the achievement of all the United Nations resolutions. We have made that position absolutely clear. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his tribute to the determination of all the coalition forces and to the leadership of General Schwarzkopf, the commander-in-chief, in achieving the excellent progress that they have made so far.

Ms. Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford)

Further to the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill), which I believe remains unanswered, will the right hon. Gentleman tell us clearly where the limits to the war aims lie, now that the land battle has been engaged?

Mr. King

With respect, I have answered that question about four times. There is no change in our position. We have made absolutely clear our commitment to the achievement of the United Nations resolutions.

Mr. Robert G. Hughes (Harrow, West)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, because of the professionalism and bravery of allied troops, it must occur even to Saddam Hussein fairly soon that his days are numbered? Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a danger that Saddam Hussein will seek to vent his anger on Israel, which has been no part of the dispute or war? Does he agree that the coalition must keep an open mind about providing more support for the defence of Israel, should that anger be turned on Israel in further murderous attacks?

Mr. King

I do not think that Saddam Hussein is "about" to vent his anger on Israel—he has made a number of attempts. One of the most appalling features of the situation has been that Israel, a non-combatant country which is not in conflict with Iraq in this matter, has been deliberately attacked by Iraq. We have done all that we can to prevent that. I give my hon. Friend the assurance that our determination to do all that we can will continue.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

My abiding concern is with our front-line soldiers. Several score of my young constituents are serving with the Scottish regiments, and presumably many of those young men are in Kuwait. Despite that concern, I seek an assurance about Iraqi prisoners of war. Given the squalid human rights records of Syria and Saudi Arabia, how confident are the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister that those poor bloody Iraqi infantrymen will be treated by the Syrians and Saudi Arabians in conformity with the Geneva convention—in other words, humanely and compassionately?

Mr. King

All the coalition countries have made clear their commitment to the scrupulous observance of the Geneva conventions and have made extensive arrangements to that end. Representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross——

Dr. Godman

The right hon. Gentleman knows that that is not the truth.

Mr. King

The hon. Gentleman says that I know that that is not the truth. The International Committee of the Red Cross has already made visits—it did so before the conflict started—to satisfy itself about the adequacy of the arrangements for prisoners of war. I certainly give the hon. Gentleman my assurance that the British Government have made that absolutely clear. We are anxious that all the coalition countries treat prisoners of war in that way.