HC Deb 15 October 1991 vol 196 cc135-6
4. Mr. Butler

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the involvement of British forces in ensuring that Iraq's military nuclear capacity is removed.

Mr. Tom King

The Ministry of Defence is providing military and civilian experts and technical equipment to help the UN Special Commission and the International Atomic Energy Agency to eliminate Iraqi weapons of mass destruction under Security Council resolution 687.

Mr. Butler

If Saddam Hussein is still building up his nuclear capacity, as President Bush contends, given what we now know about his nuclear capability does not it prove that to continue with the policy of sanctions alone would have been foolish indeed?

Mr. King

There is significant evidence to demonstrate that Saddam Hussein has under-declared, misrepresented and concealed Iraq's ability in all areas—nuclear, chemical and biological. Particularly in the case of nuclear, we are now satisfied that he could have had a working explosive device by 1993. The scale of these developments and the determination of the Iraqis to seek to pursue them are now being apprehended by the positive approach that we have taken—the initiatives taken in the liberation of Kuwait and now in the pursuit of identifying and destroying these weapons of mass destruction. It is abundantly clear that the policy advice that we had from the Opposition—to carry on with sanctions for longer and longer—would have been totally catastrophic.

Mr. Flynn

If the United Nations Commission reports that British firms were involved in the build-up of Iraqi nuclear weapons, will the Secretary of State promise today that such information will be made public?

Mr. King

There is an investigation into the full range. I referred the House to the fact that, as part of our determination, more than 2,000 documents have been recovered. The initiative of this Government, working with the United Nations, is now bringing that information to light. I have already said that the documents have revealed the extent to which the Iraqis went to disguise the true purpose of their purchases. The record that I was able to read out was evidence enough of the Government's determination to play their part.

Mr. Rogers


Mr. King

Rubbish? The Government played a major part in seeing that these arms and these programmes were brought to light. We shall pursue that policy until they are destroyed.

Mr. Onslow

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the British involvement extends to eliminating Iraq's chemical and biological capability as well as its nuclear capability? That is essential. Will my right hon. Friend also assure the House that the United Nations can rely upon the full commitment of every resource that we have to this end as soon as possible?

Mr. King

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. I can certainly give him that assurance. He is absolutely right to draw attention to the very substantial scale of Iraq's chemical capability. It is four times the initial declaration that it made. As for the biological capability, I informed the House yesterday that we have now established that Saddam Hussein has the ability to produce a very substantial amount of chemical warfare agents. We shall ensure that they are fully destroyed.

Mr. O'Neill

Does the Secretary of State accept that the whole House is glad that the United Nations initiative has been so successful and that the evidence is coming forward? Will he ensure that that information is made public when it is applicable to Britain? If appropriate, will he guarantee that, in conjunction with his ministerial colleagues elsewhere, the companies guilty of supplying the Iraqis with devices—either unwittingly or wittingly, because ignorance of the law is no excuse—will be brought to account, so we can show the rest of the world that we wish to have no dealings in this kind of illegal nuclear trade?

Mr. King

We take this matter very seriously. If the hon. Gentleman will reflect on the actions of, for instance, customs and excise and the activities at London airport on another occasion, he will know the steps to which we go to apprehend weapons that might have been illegally exported. If anybody is guilty of breaking any law, of course they will be brought to justice.