HC Deb 28 February 1991 vol 186 cc1117-33 3.30 pm
The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement about the latest developments in the Gulf.

In the early hours of this morning, after consulting us and other coalition partners, President Bush announced our decision to suspend offensive military operations in the Gulf, with effect from 5 o'clock GMT this morning. We took that decision as soon as it became clear that Kuwait had been liberated and that Iraq's army had been comprehensively defeated. We took the view immediately that there could be no question of continuing to attack an army that had been defeated, notwithstanding the lack of a surrender by its commanders. By that time, 42 Iraqi divisions had been effectively destroyed. At the latest count, coalition forces have captured, destroyed or disabled more than 3,700 Iraqi tanks, out of 4,200 in the theatre; more than 2,100 artillery pieces, out of 3,100 in the theatre; and more than 1,800 armoured vehicles, out of 2,800 in the theatre. There are 60,000 Iraqi prisoners documented so far, with many thousands more yet to be recorded.

Remaining Iraqi personnel should withdraw from the theatre of operations but should leave behind their equipment and weapons. Should Iraq resume attacks on coalition forces, or Scud attacks on any country, we shall be free to resume military operations. Meanwhile, we shall take whatever steps are necessary to defend the security and safety of our own forces. We also require the Iraqi Government to nominate military commanders to meet our own commanders within 48 hours to discuss the military aspects of a ceasefire, including the immediate release of prisoners of war.

There will be separate discussions on the political aspects. The United Nations Security Council will be asked to meet soon to discuss the necessary political arrangements for the war to end. We have spelt out the conditions that Iraq must meet for there to be a formal and permanent ceasefire. Iraq must immediately release British and other prisoners of war, as well as all Kuwaiti detainees, and return the remains of those who have lost their lives. We are already in touch with the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross to urge that organisation to redouble its efforts to secure immediate access to allied prisoners.

We shall insist on the fullest co-operation from the Iraqi military authorities to locate land and sea mines, explosives and other booby traps in and around Kuwait. We shall also insist on a public and authoritative statement from the highest levels of Iraq's leadership of its intention to comply fully with all the relevant Security Council resolutions. This must include renunciation of Iraq's claim to Kuwait and acceptance of Iraq's responsibility to pay reparations for the damage that its aggression has caused.

The economic and commercial sanctions being applied against Iraq will remain in force until Iraq has accepted all the Security Council resolutions and the Security Council itself has decided that sanctions should be lifted. Through the United Nations, we shall also seek a commitment from Iraq to destroy, under international supervision, all its ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction, and not to acquire such weapons in the future.

I am sure that the whole House will join me in congratulating the forces of the United States and the other coalition forces on their historic and comprehensive victory, which has destroyed Iraq's offensive military capability. We are thankful that it has been achieved with very few coalition casualties indeed, although our hearts go out to the families of all those who have lost their lives, of every nationality. Our thoughts are also with those who have relatives or friends missing. On the latest information which I can give the House, our own casualties are 16 killed in action, seven seriously injured and 12 aircrew missing.

Our forces deserve the highest praise for the courage and professionalism that they have displayed—in the air, on land and at sea. The consummate planning and execution of the campaign is a tribute to the outstanding leadership shown by the coalition's military commanders. It could not have possibly been done better than they did it. Here in our country we may be justifiably proud of our British forces and their commanders.

Our thoughts are also with the people of Kuwait, whose country has been liberated, albeit at the cost of appalling human suffering and the destruction of so much of their property and natural resources. I saw the Kuwaiti ambassador in London yesterday to convey our pleasure and our relief at the liberation of his country. I am glad to tell the House that our ambassador has returned to Kuwait and was installed once again at the embassy around one hour ago.

The war has been won. Now we have to set about establishing a durable peace. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has already begun discussions with the United States and other coalition Governments. Such a peace has many facets. It must provide for the security of Kuwait and of other countries in the Gulf. Also, it must deal with the other problems of the region, above all that of the Palestinians. In considering our future dealings with Iraq, we should be clear that our quarrel has been with the Iraqi leadership not the Iraqi people, who are themselves victims of the war to which Saddam Hussein condemned them. I hope that, in the period ahead, we can maintain the remarkable unity of the international coalition, which has been so important a factor in our success so far. I believe that we owe a great deal to President Bush for that, and for his leadership throughout this campaign.

I should also like to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), whose resolution and staunchness from the outset of this crisis played a key part in rallying international support for Kuwait's cause. Her action has been totally vindicated by subsequent events.

Finally, may I assure the House of our intention to bring home our forces who have been engaged in the fighting as soon as possible. The whole nation is proud of them, proud of their families and proud that, through their valour, freedom and justice have prevailed. It has, on this occasion, been a victory for what is right.

Mr. Neil Kinnock (Islwyn)

First, may I thank the Prime Minister for his statement, and associate the whole House with his commendation of the courage and skill demonstrated by all ranks of our forces? May I also take this opportunity to convey the deep sympathy of all who are present to the loved ones of those who have tragically lost their lives, both in the conflict and in the months leading up to it? I hope that the urgent efforts to secure the release of prisoners of war and detainees will meet with speedy success.

Does the Prime Minister agree that the determination to liberate Kuwait has been completely vindicated by the horrific evidence of atrocities committed there while the country was occupied by Iraq? Does he agree that, throughout the crisis, the coalition has drawn its strength and unity from the fact that its actions have been based firmly on the authority of the United Nations Security Council? It was the Security Council which resolved that Iraq must leave Kuwait unconditionally, imposed sanctions to secure that objective, authorised the use of force and laid down the conditions for a ceasefire; and it is the Security Council which, obviously, will now consider and design the way ahead.

I welcome the Prime Minister's statement that the coalition will require all Iraq's weapons of mass destruction to be destroyed, and will gain the commitment that the country will never acquire such weapons again. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is now essential to work to secure the removal from the region of all weapons of mass destruction and the capacity to make them, and that strict and effective international control of the sale of arms to the region must be established? Among other actions, will he therefore ensure that Britain joins the United States and Germany in supporting NATO controls on defence exports?

Finally, does the Prime Minister accept that it is now imperative to convene an international conference in accordance with United Nations Security Council resolution 681? Does he accept that the agenda for that conference must include arrangements to prevent any one country from becoming dominant in the region, settling the Israeli-Arab dispute and ensuring secure boundaries and diplomatic recognition for all—as set out in previous Security Council resolutions—achieving self-determination for the Palestinian people and, with the aid of funding from the Gulf states, resettling the refugees?

A victory has been won against aggression in the Gulf—a victory, as the Prime Minister said, for what is right. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the international community has new strength, and the United Nations new authority, to work for the prevention of aggression and the promotion of peace everywhere and that those tasks must now be approached with consistent resolution by all nations?

The Prime Minister

I think that the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) spoke for many people in much of what he has just said. I am sure that his words to the families of the bereaved will be welcome at this difficult time for them all.

As I said in my statement, political discussions about the future security of the region will begin very shortly and the United Nations Security Council will also be meeting. As for the atrocities that the right hon. Gentleman rightly mentions, I am sad to say that each day brings further evidence of the depth and scale of those atrocities and I doubt that we have the full story yet. That no doubt will unravel in the weeks and months to come.

We shall certainly look at the other matters that the right hon. Gentleman has in mind, but the overwhelming concern of us all at present is to ensure that the discussions that must yet come for the future security and safety of the region take place as speedily and effectively as possible.

Mrs. Margaret Thatcher (Finchley)

I thank the Prime Minister for his generous remarks about me. May I ask him also to accept my congratulations to him and his colleagues on this victory day when Kuwait has been liberated? May I also underline the pride that he has expressed in the skill and bravery of our armed forces, remembering that when they went into battle they were not to know that the casualties would be so comparatively light? Let me convey our thanks to the generals and all those in command who took such care of the officers and ordinary soldiers under their command when they planned the military campaign; I also echo what the Prime Minister has said about the unfaltering leadership of President Bush, who continued with his task until it had been well and truly finished.

Finally, does my right hon. Friend agree that the victories of peace will take longer than the battles of war, but that the chances of a successful negotiation are greater than ever and that we must persist until all nations in the region can dwell in peace and safety?

The Prime Minister

On the last point, my right hon. Friend is surely right. It will certainly be our intention to spare no effort of will whatsoever to ensure that we achieve the future security structure for the region that is so sadly needed.

I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend for her kind and generous words and will pass on her remarks to President Bush. Over the years, I believe that this country has owed much to my right hon. Friend, not least for her farsightedness in acting so swiftly to put the international coalition together when Kuwait was invaded. For that, and for much else, we owe her deep thanks.

Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil)

May I say how welcome it was that the Prime Minister stated so clearly that a justified war must he followed by a just peace? He rightly said, as did the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), that winning that peace will be as difficult as winning the war. It was particularly welcome that he made such a clear statement that British troops will return as soon as possible. Does he agree that there is a symbolic benefit in ensuring that some troops return as quickly as possible and that the first to be considered should be those who were involved in the front line of battle?

Those who listened to the right hon. Gentleman's statement will be disappointed that the United Nations was mentioned only in terms of ending the war and not, unless I am wrong, in terms of building the peace. Does he accept that if the war was fought on the basis of United Nations resolutions, the peace must be built by the United Nations? Will he confirm that the Government intend to create not an American or British peace but a United Nations peace?

The Prime Minister

This is Arab land and an Arab peace is necessary. We shall discuss with the Arabs and other coalition partners how best to take that forward. We had better have those discussions before we make further judgments.

I am happy to confirm that we shall bring our troops home as soon as possible and, in so far as it is practicable to do so, shall seek to bring home the front-line troops as early as possible. I cannot be precise on when that will be; there is, self-evidently, much for them to do in the next few days, but there will be no undue delay.

I share the sentiments that the right hon. Gentleman expressed and I am grateful to him for the way in which he expressed them.

Mr. David Howell (Guildford)

Will my right hon. Friend accept that he, like President Bush, has displayed great constancy of purpose throughout the conflict? The nation is indebted to him and to other Ministers who were involved, especially my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. It is vital that the peace that was so bravely gained is not frittered away by fruitless negotiation with a man in Baghdad who understands only terror, violence and murder and does not accept negotiation. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that, with the allies, all efforts are made to allow a Government to emerge in Iraq who will lead to Iraq's rejoining the family of nations?

The Prime Minister

I undertake to pursue that matter. As I said on the general question of peace in the region, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has begun discussions with the United States, Arab Governments and other coalition partners. That peace must not only provide for the security of Kuwait and other countries of the Gulf but must consider the wider problems of the region. I assure my right hon. Friend that it will do so.

Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley)

On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I join in congratulating all who have made this very convincing victory possible, and they include Her Majesty's Government. Does the Prime Minister share my view that, at long last, the United Nations has established its authority, which, in time to come, will enable it to defeat future aggressors and to authorise its member states to exterminate terrorist gangs who seek to enforce illegal claims against other people's territory?

The Prime Minister

I most certainly agree with the right hon. Gentleman about the enhanced status of the United Nations. It has played a very significant role and I think that its reputation has risen accordingly. I will certainly reflect further upon the particular charge that the right hon. Gentleman would lay upon the United Nations.

Mr. Julian Amery (Brighton, Pavilion)

I congratulate my right hon. Friend and support everything that he has said, as well as what has been said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher). But will my right hon. Friend recall Shakespeare's words and bear it in mind that the snake has been scotched but not killed?

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the desirable end of bringing our forces back from the middle east will not be achieved as long as the Saddam regime continues in power in Baghdad?

The Prime Minister

I agree with my right hon. Friend and I very much hope that Saddam Hussein's own people will deal with him in the way he so justly deserves. It is absolutely clear that the world community will continue to treat Iraq as an international pariah while Saddam Hussein remains in power.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)

On behalf of my hon Friends, I associate myself with the congratulations to the allied forces on the completion of the war. I also associate myself clearly with the tributes that have been paid to all our service men and women and to those in the ancillary services who have served so very bravely in the Gulf. I ask that we spare a special thought and reserve a prayer for those families who have been so tragically bereaved. I also ask that, in respect of families who have asked for the bodies of their loved ones to be repatriated, the Ministry of Defence will deal with the matter as expeditiously and as sympathetically as possible, given the sensitivities involved.

As we reach out to the peace, let me emphasise the importance that we attach to the role of the United Nations. It is extremely important that there is never any danger of the Arab communities thinking that there is a whiff of American or western imperialism in any settlement that is reached. The Prime Minister specifically mentioned the problems of the Palestinians, and we welcome that fact, but will consideration be given to the future of the Kurdish communities in the middle east? Finally, will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that, in the discussions of a peace settlement, close attention is paid to the need to curb the arms trade?

The Prime Minister

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and other Ministers who will be engaged in the discussions will certainly be looking at all the wider issues concerned with middle east security. Quite what will come out of the discussions it is far too early to speculate, but we will certainly be looking on the widest possible front to see what can be done. I will certainly give the hon. Lady the assurance that she seeks about the need to deal sensitively and speedily with the concerns of families who have lost someone in the conflict. That matter is already in hand and will, I hope, continue to be dealt with in the most sensitive way possible.

Sir Peter Blaker (Blackpool, South)

Has not the recognition by the coalition that it was necessary to use force to defeat aggression in this case enhanced the prospects of preventing aggression in other cases?

The Prime Minister

That is undoubtedly so. I think that the message that the international community has sent out to those who would act like Saddam Hussein is: "Don't do it; you can't win."

Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Devonport)

Does the Prime Minister, whose contribution to national unity deserves the highest praise, agree that a new international order will not be achieved merely by upholding the United Nations charter but will involve the Geneva convention? As it may be impossible for the Iraqi people to remove Saddam Hussein, if the Kuwaiti Government brought prosecutions for war crimes and sought an extradition order, would they have the support of all the world, and of this country in particular?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his earlier words. There is no doubt about the importance of the Geneva convention and equally no doubt whatever that Saddam Hussein is guilty of the most appalling crimes, both during the recent conflict and for many years previously. He is not at present under our control, and I strongly suspect that his own people will deal with him. None of us will cry if that happens.

Sir Dennis Walters (Westbury)

Does my right hon. Friend recognise that the overwhelming feeling in the country is that he has dealt with the Gulf crisis superbly throughout and that there is genuine gratitude for what he has done? Does he also agree that, if peace is to be restored to the middle east, other issues will have to be tackled with vigour and given a sense of priority? The Geneva convention is being broken every day on the West Bank and Gaza, and double standards should not be seen to apply.

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend was generous in his earlier remarks. I discussed some of the latter matters that he raised when I met the president of the International Red Cross some time ago, and I share his view of what has been happening.

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

Is the F'rime Minister aware that our first instinct is one of relief at the remarkably light number of casualties among our fighting men? Our second reaction must be a deep pride in their skills and courage. Thirdly, we are also entitled to take pride in the leadership of our fighting men, but also in our leadership, and the Prime Minister quite rightly paid tribute to the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher). She quite rightly paid tribute to the Prime Minister. I hope that I may be permitted to pay tribute to the clear foresightedness and the strength of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. Like President Bush, none of them wavered over the past six months although they were under pressure. Like President Bush, who had doubters and faint hearts on Capitol Hill, we had 'them here, but happily—here, as there—they were routed.

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman crystallises the unity of the House. I cannot do better than he has done.

Mr. William Cash (Stafford)

Will my right hon. Friend accept congratulations on the superb way in which he has conducted affairs over the past few weeks and also for the manner in which he paid tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher)? In order to pay tribute to the troops who performed brilliantly in the desert, will my right hon. Friend consider the possibility of a victory parade?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend is very gracious. We will certainly consider what action needs to be taken to mark the successful conclusion of the conflict.

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)

Is the Prime Minister aware that there will be absolute unity throughout the world about the end of the killing and about the fact that the casualties in this war will, in the event, turn out to have been very substantial, not only among Kuwaitis, but among our troops? The Prime Minister will have seen the report from Riyadh in the Washington Post that between 85,000 and 100,000 Iraqi troops, many of them conscripts, have been killed.

Will the Prime Minister also recognise that the United Nations charter begins with the words about freeing the world from the "scourge of war" and that all war represents a failure of diplomacy? That is one of the lessons of this period. Will he also consider, as after the Falklands war when the Franks committee was set up, establishing a committee to examine the origins of the war, including the supply of arms to Saddam Hussein, the causes of the war and its costs, so that we can learn the lessons? Finally, will he cancel the international arms fair scheduled to be held in this country in the summer?

The Prime Minister

Everyone in the House regrets the deaths of people in action or elsewhere. The right hon. Gentleman should recall how the conflict started, who started it and what happened as the result of Iraqi troops being in Kuwait day after day for a long time. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman or anyone else in the House would have found it tolerable to sit idly by and allow that persecution, murder and slaughter continue in Kuwait.

Sir Hugh Rossi (Hornsey and Wood Green)

While the brilliant leadership and feat of arms of the coalition have firmly established the authority of the United Nations, may I press my right hon. Friend on the question of upholding the rules of international law, the rules of war, and the Geneva convention? It would not be sufficient merely to bring Saddam Hussein to book, because many others have perpetrated the most unspeakable horrors against civilians, and that should not be tolerated in any civilised world. Any future invading army must be aware that it will be brought to book and that "superior orders" is no defence.

The Prime Minister

We have made it clear from the outset of the conflict that anyone who breaks the provisions of the Geneva convention may be held liable, and that remains the case.

Mr. John Hughes (Coventry, North-East)

I am confident that I speak on behalf on the whole House when I say that all hon. Members will share the grief of the family of my constituent, Lee James Thompson, who tragically died 48 hours before the ceasefire when the armoured vehicle that he was in was hit by American aircraft fire. I am sure that all hon. Members will offer that family their deepest sympathy.

Further to that, I must ask the Prime Minister whether every precaution was taken on behalf of the British troops. I draw his attention to the fact that during the campaign in Grenada, each American soldier had a metal strip sewn on to his uniform and a similar metal strip was attached to each vehicle so that the individual and the vehicle could be identified through the infra-red ray gun sights—[ Interruption.]

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)

Conservative Members are obviously not on the family's side.

Mr. John Hughes

I am speaking on behalf of constituents who have lost their son. It is about time that Conservative Members shut up—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. Will the hon. Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Hughes) please continue?

Mr. Hughes

Further to that, are British vehicles equipped with black boxes that send out a recognition signal to our aircraft, and if not, why not? Further to that——

Hon. Members

Come on.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The whole House shares the hon. Gentleman's sentiments, but we are under time constraints, so will he please bring his questions to a conclusion?

Mr. Hughes

What generosity are the Government extending to the bereaved families who have suffered in these recent incidents? Does the Prime Minister agree that any financial help should be substantial? Will a Government inquiry look into these questions and report back to the House?

The Prime Minister

I am happy to join the hon. Gentleman in offering my deepest sympathy to the families of everyone killed in that tragic incident and to the families of all the members of the armed forces who lost their lives in the conflict. I know that all hon. Members share that view. I assure the hon. Gentleman that every effort was made to avoid casualties throughout the war. The success of that effort is shown by the mercifully small number of casualties at the end of what has been a substantial conflict.

The hon. Gentleman asked about black boxes. It would not be wise of me to go into such security matters now. He will understand why I cannot do so. On his question about bereaved families, I assure him that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence has already asked the Ministry of Defence to get in touch with all those families to see what help and assistance can be given and to ensure that they are fully aware of the help that is available.

Rev. William McCrea (Mid-Ulster)

Will the Prime Minister accept from me that the people from Northern Ireland are deeply thankful that the campaign and war in the Gulf has been brought to a satisfactory conclusion? As someone who has endured the sad results of war during the past 20 years, I can understand what the hon. Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Hughes) feels when one of his constituents is killed. Will the Prime Minister also accept that the nation owes him thanks for the manner in which he led the nation at this difficult time? Will he ensure that every effort is made to bring Saddam Hussein to justice for the war crimes that he committed against humanity? Lastly, will he ensure that the forces of law and order in the rest of the United Kingdom and the soldiers in the Province speedily gain the same victory?

The Prime Minister

I certainly look forward to the second victory to which the hon. Gentleman refers in the consistent battle against terrorism of which, alas, the Province that he represents has had such tragic experience over so many years. For that reason, I am particularly grateful for his kind words. They will have touched the hearts of many people who have suffered during this campaign.

Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South)

The Prime Minister will accept that a particularly evil aspect of war is the ill treatment of individual prisoners. What steps will be taken and who will take them to bring to trial those against whom such allegations are made?

The Prime Minister

That matter is under active consideration at the moment and many of the people who are guilty of that ill treatment may, even now, have been captured in and around Kuwait and be in allied hands.

Sir George Gardiner (Reigate)

Will my right hon. Friend make it clear to the Iraqi people that, although we have no quarrel with them, there can be no welcome for them in the family of nations or, indeed, any question of investment to make good the devastation of their country until Saddam Hussein surrenders power and is delivered to stand trial for the crimes that he has committed against humanity?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend expresses a view which is widely held throughout the world. That will become increasingly apparent as month succeeds month if Saddam Hussein remains in power in Iraq. As I said earlier, the world community will continue to treat Iraq as a pariah should this man remain in power.

Mr. Giles Radice (Durham, North)

The Prime Minister has rightly said that, now the war is won, it is essential that we also win the peace. In that connection, is there not now a strong case for a permanent United Nations peacekeeping force?

The Prime Minister

With respect to the hon. Gentleman, that is not a decision which we can reach at this stage. We shall have to assess the position now that the conflict has ended and determine what the threat is and what are security requirements of nations who feel themselves to be threatened. It is equally likely that the Gulf and other Arab states may band together to form a standing Arab army for precisely that reason. These are matters to be discussed.

Mr. John Gorst (Hendon, North)

What is the state of our diplomatic relations with Iraq? Do they exist and should they exist? Are we making any plans to return our ambassador to Iraq? If so, what sort of contact does he expect to have with anyone in charge in that country?

The Prime Minister

Diplomatic relations have been broken off for some time. We have no immediate plans to restore them.

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

I support all the tributes that have been paid, but does the Prime Minister accept that, despite Saddam Hussein's defeat, he is still regarded by some Arabs as a hero and martyr? That is incredible but true. As those Arabs are unlikely to listen to us in the west, would it be worth our while approaching the Arab countries that fought on the allied side and asking them to mount an intensive information campaign to reveal the atrocities committed by Saddam Hussein in Kuwait and persuade the Arab countries that so readily accepted his skilful and persuasive propaganda to recognise the reality?

The Prime Minister

I have no doubt that several Arab states that have been engaged in the conflict will act precisely as the hon. Gentleman suggests. There is no love lost between them and Saddam Hussein, for they see him exactly as he is.

Sir Richard Luce (Shoreham)

In view of the remarkable unity of purpose of the United Nations coalition forces in liberating Kuwait, may I ask my right hon. Friend to agree that we should build on that spirit of co-operation to achieve a more lasting and secure future for the middle east?

The Prime Minister

That is precisely what the Foreign Secretary and his colleagues, the Foreign Ministers of other countries, will seek to do. I hope and pray that they are successful.

Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Hillhead)

The Prime Minister's remarks about the centrality of the Palestinian question to the many crises in the area will be welcomed. Has he heard, as I have, from the media throughout the day disturbing reports, notwithstanding the martial law now in place in Kuwait, of armed bodies of men not connected with the armed forces sweeping the streets and picking up Palestinians and driving them off in cars to no one knows where? Will he send the message through our channels of communication that the soldiers must be on the alert for that kind of vigilante activity, and that no pogrom of the Palestinians in Kuwait will be tolerated?

The Prime Minister

There should certainly be no pogrom of the Palestinians in Kuwait. I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman about that. I have not heard the reports to which he referred, but I shall make immediate inquiries about them.

Mr. George Walden (Buckingham)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, while there should be no punitive policy towards the people of Iraq and while there may be a need for emergency and humanitarian aid and imaginative action in time, we must not make the mistake of doing anything to reconsolidate the position of the Saddam regime or to re-establish him or to allow him to re-establish himself as a legitimate international partner? While we may have to deal with Tariq Aziz, the Foreign Minister, over the ceasefire, we should not deal with the President of Iraq. In other words, does he agree that this may be one of those rare occasions when it is wiser to deal with the monkey rather than with the organ grinder?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend is entirely right. I need not add or subtract from what he said.

Dr. Dafydd Elis Thomas (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)

With his characteristically sympathetic and sensitive attitude, the Prime Minister referred in his statement to the sorrow that is felt for all, of every nationality, who lost their lives. Is it the intention of the Government or of the allied forces at some stage to secure an estimate of the numbers of civilian casualties in Kuwait and Iraq and of military Iraqi casualties so that we may have a fuller understanding of the total cost of the war in human terms as well as in environmental and military terms?

While recognising what has been said in the House about the military achievement, may I ask the right lion. Gentleman to accept that the political achievement win be much more difficult? Can he produce some time scale of the discussions for the convening of the peace conference, including the resolution of the Palestinian question and the issue of self-determination?

Will the right hon. Gentleman address the question, which he addressed in his statement, of seeking a commitment on the supervision of ballistic missiles and the destructions of weapons of mass destruction and chemical weapons? Does he accept that only through international agreement shall we prevent the acquisition and threatened use of those weapons by Iraq and other states?

The Prime Minister

We have no authoritative indication of the number of Iraqi military or civilian casualties. Indeed, at this stage there is no way in which we could have that information. When it is available it will be made public. We would have no intention of not doing so.

As for the future of the middle east, I think that it will turn out that we shall be talking not about a single conference but about a series of meetings and events so that the whole matter can be progressed as speedily as possible. I cannot give the hon. Gentleman any indication of how long that will take, but we and, I believe, many other countries will pursue it in the hope that we can reach a satisfactory conclusion. That will certainly be our intention. I think that it will also be the intention of many countries to stop the proliferation of armaments, where that is practicable.

Mr. Ian Stewart (Hertfordshire, North)

As this country and my right hon. Friend personally have enhanced their authority by the part that we have played in the campaign, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he would be ready to use that increased authority in the international forums at which the future and peace will be discussed to encourage other members of the Security Council and countries that may have supplied weapons to Iraq during the last 10 years to follow the example set by this country, which sold no military equipment during the 1980s to that monstrous dictator? I believe that that sentiment is felt by hon. Members in many parts of the House.

The Prime Minister

As my right hon. Friend says, we encouraged them by example. I am happy to add to that encouragement by exhortation.

Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

Will what the Prime Minister said about reparations today, repeating his reply to me on Tuesday, be affected in any way by a change of regime in Baghdad?

The Prime Minister

I think that there is a need for reparations. Over recent years, Iraq spent a quite unbelievable 28 per cent. of its gross national product on armaments. Since we trust that such expenditure will not continue, there is scope for reparations, whoever forms a regime in Iraq.

Sir Peter Emery (Honiton)

I associate myself with everything that has been said in praise of our troops. Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister also extend our gratitude to our Arab and Muslim allies who had considerable difficulties in staying firmly with us during the whole battle? Much bureaucracy was thrust to one side in getting all our troops out there. The same application is needed to ensure that men come back as quickly as is humanly possible.

The Prime Minister

I am happy to reaffirm my assurance to the House that we shall seek to bring our troops home as speedily as we can. In areas where there may be considerable delay, we shall look at exchanging troops there for others who are presently in the United Kingdom. I am happy to join my hon. Friend in a tribute to the Arab troops who performed magnificently throughout this conflict.

Ms. Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood)

Does the Prime Minister agree that we should be careful when talking about low casualties in this war? Of course we are all very happy that such a small number of our forces were lost, but vast numbers of Iraqi people died. As the Prime Minister said, they are not our enemies: the Saddam Hussein regime is the enemy. Will he give an undertaking and a promise to the Iraqi people that the west will not seek to impose some kind of tyrannous regime on them, but that we will do all in our power to allow them to have free elections to elect their own Government?

The Prime Minister

We have always made it clear that we are not in the business of imposing a particular regime on Iraq or, indeed, dismembering its borders. That has been our position from the outset, and our aims are set out clearly in the United Nations Security Council resolution.

Mr. Quentin Davies (Stamford and Spalding)

In this hour of victory, does my right hon. Friend recall that this is the third occasion in a human lifespan that Great Britain, the United States and France have stood together in defence of the victims of aggression? Does he agree that, when the history of the 20th century is written, that co-operation will be regarded as one of the finest and most priceless contributions to it?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend is entirely right. The relationship between the allies, and especially between the countries that he mentioned—the United States, France and ourselves—has been remarkably close during the past few months.

Mr. Derek Conway (Shrewsbury and Atcham)

My right hon. Friend's words of condolence will be particularly welcomed by the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers and the families of those who were so tragically killed yesterday. On behalf of that regiment, I thank my right hon. Friend for the sincerity of his remarks. I remind the House that the Prime Minister's statement today may not have been quite so encouraging and that, unquestionably, the difficult decisions that he has had to take have been taken calmly and with great consistency. That is widely welcomed in the House and will be recognised by our nation.

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his generous words.

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)

While we and the United Nations will meticulously observe any eventual peace settlement, what actions can we take to ensure that, even after such a settlement, Saddam Hussein does not persist in his calls for a campaign of worldwide terrorism?

The Prime Minister

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and other Foreign Ministers will address a variety of such questions in the meetings that will commence very shortly.

Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley)

I associate myself with the thanks expressed to our armed services, personnel and support groups who have been in the Gulf for so long and who have brought to an end the tyranny in Kuwait. Will the Prime Minister say a word of special thanks to the countries of the middle east who, by their actions while living under the shadow of Iraq's military regime, have taken part in the allied offensive against that regime? Will he give our support, through the auspices of the United Nations, to the search for a settlement in the middle east brought about by the countries there?

The Prime Minister

That must surely be right. The hon. Gentleman is also right to refer to other countries of the middle east. It must be equally right to mention the military support for the front-line troops in Germany and the United Kingdom, and also the tremendous support from many civilians throughout the conflict.

Mr. Robert Hayward (Kingswood)

In congratulating the military forces of the world, especially the Muslim countries, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the thousands of civilians who have supported the military services of the different countries, whether in Saudi Arabia or this country? Will he recognise that many people of various nationalities who hope to return to Kuwait have suffered substantial financial loss? Such individuals should be borne in mind when the negotiations relating to the conclusion of this tragedy begin.

The Prime Minister

That is entirely right. Many civilians have been involved, working for British Aerospace and for many other companies. My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to their remarkable contributions.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

In conditions of well-earned victory, is there not room for some magnanimity towards the tragic question of what has happened to the Palestinians during the past few months? Should we not——

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

My hon. Friend is turning back.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

I have never moved. I went straight on and knew exactly where I was going.

Should not we recognise that the Palestinians have been placed in an invidious position during recent months? They have made mistakes and will need new leadership. I hope that the British Government will take the initiative of leading them back into respectibility within the international community.

The Prime Minister

We certainly wish the peace negotiations to deal with other problems, particularly the Palestinian problem. That has been, is and will remain our position.

Mr. Charles Wardle (Bexhill and Battle)

Among the many acts of heroism and skill in the Gulf, will my right hon. Friend commend the crew of HMS Gloucester, whose Sea Dart missiles destroyed an Iraqi Silkworm missile when it was seconds away from the allied fleet off the Kuwaiti coast, thereby saving many lives? Does he accept that many of my constituents, with their experience of war, wish him and the House to know of their admiration for our forces and allies, and their sympathy for the families of the bereaved?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend is right. HMS Gloucester identified and destroyed within seven seconds a three-ton missile which was 30 seconds away from impact. It was a remarkable piece of work.

Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham, North-East)

Does the Prime Minister agree that winning the war may prove to have been the easier part, and that building a durable peace may be far more difficult, because that part of the world will never be the same again? Will he confirm that the Iraqi people are not our enemies? Will he channel all his efforts towards seeking to rebuild the authority of the United Nations? Will he work for a complete arms embargo for the whole of the region? Finally, does he accept that one of the main causes of instability in the middle east was that the post-Ottoman, post-colonial settlement was imposed by foreigners from outside? We want a peace agreed by the people of the middle east—not by emirs, monarchs, outsiders or foreigners but by the Arab peoples of the middle east—which includes a settlement of the Israeli-Arab conflict?

The Prime Minister

I said earlier that the Iraqi regime, not the Iraqi people, are our enemy. I am happy to confirm that. It is our policy to concentrate on removing weapons of mass destruction and we shall continue to do so. As the hon. Gentleman says, a durable peace will be difficult to attain. It is a difficult goal to pursue, but I hope that we shall pursue it persistently and, successfully. He is right to say that the middle east will not be the same, for one reason: a dictator has been defeated and will never again have the same power.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (Norfolk, North-West)

The Prime Minister will remember the appalling scenes when British aircrew, including some from west Norfolk, were humiliated and paraded in front of Iraqi television. As well as ensuring their early release, will my right hon. Friend do what he can to ensure that their torturers are brought to justice?

The Prime Minister

I assure my hon. Friend that we shall certainly do that. The release of prisoners of war is one of the key conditions of the ceasefire and the Iraqis are in no position to haggle over that. We shall do whatever is necessary to get our prisoners of war back again as speedily as possible.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

While we all share the deepest relief that the immediate danger to our forces, the people of the region and others is over, has the Prime Minister turned his attention to the great stocks of Scud missiles that still exist and the great stocks of chemical and biological weapons that apparently exist, and what is happening to them? While expressing appreciation to the people who helped towards the victory, will he spare a word for the people of Israel, who were at the wrong end of the missiles and upheld their Government's policy of extraordinary restraint?

The Prime Minister

I am pleased to tell the hon and learned Gentleman that the activities of the American and British air forces have effectively destroyed the chemical, biological and nuclear capacity that once existed in Iraq, which will add to the peace of the whole region. As I said in my statement, were Iraq to unleash Scud missiles against any country, that would be a cause for fresh conflict.

Mr. Andrew Hargreaves (Birmingham, Hall Green)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, while the successful outcome of the conflict has proved the value of the United Nations, there is still a task in hand—to prove the value of the Geneva convention? Any refusal by the world community to pursue the perpetrators of the crimes about which we have heard would be a vitiation of the concept of the Geneva convention. Does my right hon. Friend agree with those Conservative Members who have said that the subject needs to be given urgent attention?

The Prime Minister

I am happy to reaffirm that the perpetrators are liable for their crimes. That has been our position from the onset of the conflict.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. As we have an important Welsh debate today, I shall call three more hon. Members from each side. I have endeavoured today to call those hon. Members who were not called on the statements earlier this week. I hope that the House will understand my reasoning.

Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington)

Against the background of renewed co-operation with Syria and Iran, will the Prime Minister make immediate efforts to try to secure the release of John McCarthy, Terry Waite and other hostages still imprisoned in the Lebanon?

The Prime Minister

I met the friends of John McCarthy yesterday. It was one of a series of meetings that the group has had with my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office—my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Grantham and me. The fates of Mr. McCarthy, Mr. Mann and Mr. Waite are ever present in our minds and we have been discussing the matter internally within the Government. We have taken a series of actions to do what we can to get them back, which remains a high priority for us.

Mr. Michael Morris (Northampton, South)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the families of service men in the Gulf have been sustained through the months of tension by his steadfastness and the efficiency of his colleagues and all the staff in the Ministry of Defence, to whom I say a particular "thank you". As our forces, particularly the injured, come back from the Gulf, will he ensure not only that the Ministry of Defence is involved but—personally through his Department—that all official organisations, including local government, statutory undertakers and other forms of utility take great care so that all our troops are properly looked after and there are no slip-ups?

The Prime Minister

I shall certainly undertake to do that. I hope that my hon. Friend's son, an Army doctor, will soon be home from the Gulf.

Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend)

In the light of all that has taken place in the Gulf in the past few weeks, will the Prime Minister be carrying out a Government review of our arms sales programmes'? Now that we are able to proceed untrammeled in our fight against the environmental damage done, will further resources be offered to the Saudi and Kuwaiti Governments to deal with those environmental problems?

In a radio report which I heard this morning, President Bush underlined the principle of reparations, not their scale. Given the bad record of reparations in the 20th century, will the Prime Minister promise to proceed carefully when weighing that issue in the balance?

The Prime Minister

The reparations issue is part of the Security Council resolutions and will be considered in that context. I can tell the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) and other hon. Members who have raised the issue that we have strict rules on arms sales which are constantly kept under review. Some of the countries that have been attacked, or who feared that they were going to be attacked, by Saddam Hussein were in a position to defend themselves only because they had purchased from the United Kingdom. The necessity of policy is to ensure that one has strict rules and that one is careful to whom one sells arms. We decided long ago not to sell them to Iraq. We have sold them to other countries that defend themselves and I believe that it is entirely legitimate for Britain to do that.

Mr. John Browne (Winchester)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that strict punishment of the perpetrators of human rights violations will act as a deterrent in the future and that it should be actively pursued? On the subject of reparations, will my right hon. Friend bear it in mind and urge our colleagues in the alliance to bear it in mind that the Iraqi people have lived under the tyrant Saddam Hussein for several decades and that compassion should be the watchword of the alliance in that respect?

The Prime Minister

I agree on both counts.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Who will cap the 500 burning oil wells? Who will do something about the serious oil slicks that are going down the Gulf? The Prime Minister says that the Iraqi nuclear capacity has been destroyed, but what information do we have about the area around Tuweitha—the nuclear centre—which should be monitored pretty soon? What will be done about Baghdad's sewers and, above all, about Kuwait's sewers to fight disease? I am lucky enough to be able to raise the matter in a debate on 15 March. I gave notice to Downing street that I should ask the Prime Minister which Minister would answer in that debate. Should not it be a member of the War Cabinet?

The Prime Minister

We have no evidence of nuclear leakage around the Baghdad area, although it is extremely difficult for us to have any such evidence at this distance. The United States has already agree to send—I quote from memory—about 600 specialists who will have responsibility for capping the oil wells and dealing with the fires. A considerable number of experts have been sent to deal with the slicks in the Gulf and we have provided some of the equipment necessary to ensure that minimum damage is caused.

Sir Fergus Montgomery (Altrincham and Sale)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that two lessons have been learnt? The first is that aggression does not pay, and I hope that Saddam Hussein has learnt that. The second is that appeasement does not pay. If we had not fought the battle now, the chances are that we should have had to fight it in the future when, perhaps, the casualties would have been much higher. Does my right hon. Friend agree that our right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) deserves the thanks of the whole nation because she was among the first to recognise the danger and played a prominent part in helping to piece together the formidable alliance against Saddam Hussein?

The Prime Minister

I entirely agree, not least because, if my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) had not taken the action that she took, the damage and conflict that might have been caused some years hence might have been infinitely more serious than what has occurred. My hon. Friend is entirely right to pay her that tribute.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. We must move on to the business statement. If those hon. Members who wished to ask the Prime Minister questions—I regret that it was not possible to call more of them—will continue to rise, I shall ensure that they are called early in business questions.