HC Deb 13 January 1993 vol 216 cc1012-29

10 pm

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Malcolm Rifkind)

With permission, I should like to make a statement on allied military action against Iraq.

At 18.15 hours GMT tonight, four RAF Tornado GR1 aircraft and two Victor tankers took part in a coalition operation, involving some 114 United States, British and French aircraft, against Iraqi military targets in southern Iraq. The action was taken to ensure the safety of coalition aircraft patrolling the no-fly zone below the 32nd parallel in support of United Nations Security Council resolution 688. Early indications are that serious damage was inflicted and assessment of the results is continuing. No losses were sustained by coalition forces.

This coalition action was taken in self defence under international law and is both a necessary and proportionate response to the serious threat posed to the safety of coalition aircraft. The coalition action took the form of air strikes against air defence facilities and command and control facilities. Attacks were also carried out to suppress air defence installations which threatened the security of coalition aircraft participating in the operation. United Kingdom forces participated in attacks against command and control facilities at Al Amarah, with RAF Tornado GR1 aircraft, using 1,000 lb laser-guided bombs against targets designated by the thermal imaging airborne laser designator, known as TIALD, carried by two of the four aircraft.

The action is to be seen against the background of recent Iraqi violations of the no-fly zone and their deployment of SAM 2 and SAM 3 missiles in a threatening posture below the 32nd parallel, south of the airfield used by Iraqi aircraft which were violating the no-fly zone. These posed a new and unacceptable threat to the security of coalition aircraft. A strongly worded demarche was issued to Iraq in New York on 6 January by the United States, United Kingdom, France and Russia, which demanded that the SAM systems recently established south of the 32nd parallel be returned to their previous locations and configurations and that violations of the no-fly zone should cease. The demarche went on to say that, should Iraq fail to comply, the coalition would respond appropriately and decisively, without further warning.

The demarche elaborated on an earlier one on 26 August 1992 which announced the creation of the no-fly zone south of the 32nd parallel. The no-fly zone was necessitated by a situation of severe humanitarian need in southern Iraq arising from Iraq's failure to comply with the terms of United Nations Security Council resolution 688, which calls on Iraq to refrain from further repressing its civilian population. Iraq largely respected the no-fly zone until late December 1992, when Iraqi military aircraft began deliberate and systematic violations. This resulted in an Iraqi fighter aircraft being shot down on 27 December by coalition aircraft.

Following the demarche there were no indications that Saddam Hussein was backing down. There were no fresh violations of the no-fly zone and the missiles were dispersing. However, despite the clear warning issued on 6 January, Iraq moved SAM 3 missiles, which were the subject of the demarche, to new locations south of the 32nd parallel where they posed a significant threat to coalition aircraft. Other missile systems in the south were placed on an operational footing, also threatening the safety of coalition aircraft. The coalition action was in direct response to this threat.

The Baghdad regime can now be in no doubt about our determination to maintain the no-fly zone south of the 32nd parallel, in support of United Nations Security Council resolution 688. Should the need arise, the Government will consider the need for further action in consultation with coalition partners.

The House will also be aware of the deep concern expressed by the United Nations Security Council, following Iraqi incursions into the demilitarised zone on the border with Kuwait and Iraq's violation of land and premises operated and occupied by the United Nations Iraq/Kuwait Observer Mission. The Security Council has also expressed alarm at Iraq's refusal to allow UNIKOM and United Nations special commission flights into Iraq using UN aircraft. The Government will continue to participate fully in consideration of these matters within the Security Council and report developments to the House.

I am sure that the House will wish to join me in expressing admiration for the bravery and professionalism of the personnel of all the coalition forces who participated in this operation and in particular to the men and women of Her Majesty's armed forces serving in the Gulf. They have once again demonstrated the high degree of dedication and the ability that we have learned to expect from them and have contributed immeasurably to the success of this operation.

Dr. David Clark (South Shields)

May I say how relieved Opposition Members are that all the allied personnel have returned safely. We salute their skill and their bravery. It is worth reminding ourselves in the comfort of the House tonight that the mission was not without danger, as we know from other theatres of operation in the world only this afternoon.

The Opposition have supported the objective of this operation which was to ensure that allied aircraft could patrol the no-fly zone in Iraq, thereby ensuring that the Kurds and, in the south, the Shi'ite Muslims were not subjected to the genocide that they might otherwise have been. That is why the no-fly zones were established, and that is why they had to be enforced.

As allied aircraft could not fly in those zones without threat because of the missiles, it was clearly correct that the missiles should be removed. Saddam Hussein was warned, he was requested, and he refused to move them. The only course of action was to take out the missiles.

We are all aware that increasingly in the past few weeks Saddam Hussein has tried to challenge the resolutions of the United Nations. That cannot be tolerated. We cannot have the will of the United Nations challenged 'with impunity. Let us just hope now that Saddam Hussein fully understands the resolve of the world to ensure that the resolutions of the United Nations to protect the minorities in the world are upheld. I hope that he has heard what the rest of the world has said.

We are also reassured that the action in the operation was against military targets in the no-fly zone. We are relieved that there have been no civilian targets and, we hope, no civilian casualties. I think that I speak for the House when I express the hope that the casualties on the Iraqi side are absolutely minimal, whether civilian or not.

May I just ask the Secretary of State for an assurance that there will be intense diplomatic efforts to explain, with the coalition Gulf allies, the reason for this mission, because it is imperative, if we are to make progress—and we must make peaceful progress—that we have as broad a consensus as possible. That is vital if this operation is not to be wasted.

We fully appreciate that the Secretary of State is not in a position now to tell us how effective the operation has been. We hope that he will be able to do so tomorrow, and will then give the assurance that the House will be kept fully informed and he will come to the House if he has further information.

I shall end where I began and say that if we are to have a secure world order it must be based on the United Nations. If United Nations resolutions are passed, they must be adhered to and accepted by all sides. That was the reason for today's operation and why we are so pleased that it was so successful.

Mr. Rifkind

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks. It will make a powerful impact if the House speaks with a single voice on the matter.

It was right for the hon. Gentleman to remind the House that the personnel of the RAF who participated in the operation did so at significant personal risk and it is a matter of considerable relief that they all returned safely. It was also right for the hon. Gentleman to emphasise the importance of maintaining the closest contact, cooperation and dialogue with our allies in the Gulf. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we recognise the great importance of ensuring that not only those who participated in the operation, but all who have an interest in peace and stability in the Gulf are able to speak in a single and united manner.

The hon. Gentleman commented on the likely effects of the operation. The early signs are encouraging, but it will be some time before we can describe with certainty the detailed consequences. Of course, we shall keep the House informed when we receive such information.

Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith (Wealden)

I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for coming to the House so speedily to give us the reassurances that we have heard. We warmly support his praise for the coalition forces, especially those that formed part of the Royal Air Force. Many of us felt that more than a diplomatic slap on the wrist of Saddam Hussein was much needed. We warmly support our Government in their resolution to support what we believe to be the will of the United Nations and the coalition alliance that successfully won the war. If we are to secure peace, it is vital that we make it clear to Saddam Hussein that there can be no more such incursions.

Mr. Rifkind

My hon. Friend is correct. It is becoming increasingly clear that Saddam Hussein does not respond simply to diplomatic representations and it is, regrettably, often necessary for the international community to back up its representations with the use of force in appropriate circumstances. We now face such circumstances, which was why the present action was necessary.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East)

Does the Minister accept that the success of the action will be determined not only by the effectiveness of the weapons used, and the professionalism and bravery of our forces, but by the extent to which it dissuades Saddam Hussein from further acts of provocation in breach of the United Nations resolutions? If further military action is required—it cannot be ruled out—the Government will continue to enjoy our support and, I believe, that of the British public as long as such action is in accordance with international law, taken in consultation with our coalition partners and uses no more force than necessary.

Mr. Rifkind

I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman and I can assure him that the criteria against which we judge possible action are those to which he referred.

Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland and Lonsdale)

Having heard the comments from the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Clark) and the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell), will my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence feel fortified by the knowledge that the actions taken have the overwhelming support of the House and the country, both of which would wish to join him in paying tribute to the service personnel involved?

Does my right hon. and learned Friend recall the effectiveness of the cruise missiles during the previous Gulf conflict? Were cruise missiles used today? If it should, unfortunately, be necessary to take further action, will cruise missiles, which can be used with relative lack of danger to service personnel, be available in the area?

Mr. Rifkind

I should like to confine myself to speaking about the contribution of the Royal Air Force. Obviously it is for the United States Government to give details of the operations for which they were responsible. I thank my right hon. Friend for his comments and assure him that the weapons that may be used in any operation will be those that are thought most suitable to achieve the desired result.

Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South)

Most hon. Members believe that Saddam had it coming. In the words of an anonymous Pentagon official, it was a spanking rather than a beating. What part did we play in determining that it was a spanking rather than a beating? Is it right that the overwhelming force was supplied by the United States? Is it not politically important for the balance of numbers to be different from what it was? We provided six aircraft out of more than 100 and the French probably supplied a similar number. Would it not be more correct to have a better balance in any future world order?

Mr. Rifkind

In the action we attached great importance to the fact that the choice of targets and the severity of our response should be proportionate to the gravity of the offence by the Iraqi Government. As I said earlier, the targets for which the Royal Air Force was responsible were the Al Amarah base and the command and control functions there.

Dr. Charles Goodson-Wickes (Wimbledon)

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the integrity of Kuwait is just as valid a reason for international intervention now as it was two years ago? In the meantime, of course, Saddam Hussein has continued to commit atrocities against his own people. Will my right hon. And learned Friend affirm the Government's commitment in conjunction with all right-minded nations to work to bring peace to that unfortunate region?

Mr. Rifkind

Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend. It is a matter of great concern that only today Iraqi spokesmen continued to claim that Kuwait was part of Iraq and, clearly, continued to refuse to recognise Kuwait's sovereignty and independence. It is crucial for the international community to speak with a single voice and to ensure that Saddam Hussein's regime is completely isolated in its continuing aggression and provocation.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

From this Bench on a day when we have mourned the killing of a British service man in Bosnia, may I say that we are delighted at the news that there have been no fatalities among the allied Gulf forces. However, there is some concern that the statement referred to the protection of our aircraft. Resolution 688 was clearly designed by the United Nations Security Council to protect the Shi'ites in the south and the Kurds in the north. Has any thought been given to how we can give them better protection? They are suffering, and to some of us it seems that minds are conditioned to reaction rather than proaction in dealing with these issues.

Mr. Rifkind

As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, the original reason for the no-fly zone was to reduce and, we hoped, to eliminate the use of aircraft as a means of oppressing the Shia population in southern Iraq, and there is significant evidence that it has had a positive and beneficial effect. Of course, we continue to look to further ways of ensuring that all oppression of the population in southern Iraq can be totally ended.

Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)

Further to what the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) has said, should not the Minister be emphasising that this strike was to defend defenceless people whom Saddam Hussein has marked down for genocide? Does he not think that we now need to concentrate on the battle for the minds of the people of Iraq and that they need to get the truth about what this matter is really about?

Mr. Rifkind

Yes, the hon. Gentleman is correct. We are aware that, because of the Iraqi regime's oppression of its own people, there are limited opportunities for those people to express their true feelings. The hon. Gentleman is right to emphasise that their views are as important as the views of other countries in the region in emphasising the hostility and repugnance that we all feel about the behaviour of the Iraqi Government.

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)

Is the Secretary of State aware that his statement describing this action as a coalition response confirms that it had no authority whatever from the United Nations Security Council, and nor has the Secretary-General endorsed it? Given the Palestinians who were thrown into the desert and Matrix Churchill, it underlines the double standards that have been followed by the Government.

Is the Secretary of State aware also that this will be seen worldwide as the last example of gunboat diplomacy by a lame duck President, and that it will almost certainly strengthen Saddam Hussein? Is he further aware that it is bound to stimulate Arab hostility to the west, with the growth of fundamentalism? Two years ago we probably killed 300,000 Iraqis. The right hon. and learned Gentleman may have noticed on the news tonight that a UNICEF spokesman said that typhoid and cholera were still rampant in Iraq because of the bombing of the water supply. In those circumstances, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman realise that, whatever may be said in the House, world opinion will not take the view that he asks us to accept?

Mr. Rifkind

It is more likely that the right hon. Gentleman's remarks will be seen as those of a lame duck Member of Parliament who does not speak for anyone in the House. I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he would have preferred the Iraqi regime to be able to use its aircraft and its missile installations to shoot down coalition aircraft and to make the no-fly zone inoperative, and thereby to ensure that the Iraqi regime continued its oppression against the people of southern Iraq. Is that the objective that he would have liked to seek? If so, he speaks for no one but himself.

Sir Jim Spicer (Dorset, West)

Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that, without the slightest shadow of doubt, the first item of news on the Iraqi broadcast tomorrow will be the remarks of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn)? The Iraqis will take comfort from them.

I return briefly to the point about acting against acts of provocation by the Saddam Hussein regime. We all know in the House that he will come again looking for more repression of the Kurds and the Shi'ites. Perhaps this is not the occasion, but will my right hon. and learned Friend give an assurance that if that repression comes in greater strength against the Kurds in the north and the Shi'ites in the south, more—and more positive—action will be taken?

Mr. Rifkind

Yes, it is clear that Saddam Hussein will use any opportunity to probe for a lack of will among the international community. I believe that today's action will have demonstrated to him that, far from lack of resolve, the international community is determined to ensure that the no-fly zone will continue to operate and that the people of southern Iraq will be protected as a consequence.

Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney)

The Secretary of State and, I think, most of the House would agree that Saddam Hussein has repeatedly and deliberately flouted the authority of the United Nations and the purposes of the various United Nations resolutions that were passed to protect the important minorities in the north and the south of Iraq. Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman satisfied that by confining action to the no-fly zones he is able significantly to lift the threat from the peoples oppressed in southern and northern Iraq?

Mr. Rifkind

It is important that we comply with international law and that any action that we take is proportionate to the nature of the offence that has been committed. We made a demarche to the Iraqis, which referred specifically to their introduction of missile installations in the no-fly zone and the use of combat aircraft in that zone. It was therefore entirely correct and appropriate in our judgment that the response that was taken today should be limited to those particular matters.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware that an earlier United Kingdom Government, in 1948, committed unarmed Royal Air Force aircraft, at great cost to the aircrews involved. I am pleased to say that that is not the policy of this Government. Is my right hon. and learned Friend able to assure me that in future operations, as tonight, the concern will be to ensure that professional and brave crews are capable of returning home after the operations? That surely is the essence of it—to make sure that our people return having completed the exercise properly.

Mr. Rifkind

Yes, my hon. Friend is correct to draw attention to those matters. I mentioned in my original statement that some 114 aircraft took part in the operation. There was such a large number because many aircraft were involved in ensuring proper protection for the aircraft that were involved in the actual attack on the ground installations. It was by such preparation and presentation that we were able to ensure the safe return of all the crews of all the countries concerned.

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)

Does not the immediate support for this action by the President of Egypt and other Arab leaders demonstrate that there is a wide range of support in the world for the determination that United Nations Security Council resolutions should be upheld? Is it not a fact that that action has been brought upon Iraq by Saddam Hussein's recklessness two years after the end of the war in continuing to defy United Nations resolutions?

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman assure the House that not only will sanctions be maintained in all their severity until Saddam Hussein demonstrates that he is ready to obey international law and the United Nations Security Council resolutions, but that the coalition will not hesitate to take further military action to demonstrate that, and that until Saddam Hussein conforms to international law he will be treated as the outlaw that he is?

Mr. Rifkind

Yes, it is important that Arab Governments as well as western Governments are expressing their support for the action that has been taken. The action taken by the coalition today was not simply taken on behalf of the countries which directly participated, but on behalf of the international community. That is why there has been the warm response to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. I also endorse the right hon. Gentleman's later comments.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

Is it not a cause for deep gratitude that, in the Royal Air Force, Britain has a reliable, courageous and efficient instrument for the imposition of international justice and order? Can my right hon. and learned Friend give an assurance that if Saddam Hussein is foolish enough again to permit incursions by his personnel into the demilitarised zone in Kuwait or to inhibit the flight of United Nations inspectors into his territories, Her Majesty's Government and coalition partners will, without any shadow of doubt, impose punitive action?

Mr. Rifkind

Yes, what my hon. Friend says is correct. It is worth remembering that not only have RAF crews shown bravery and courage today, but they have been applying the no-fly zone for some months in circumstances when, on any day during that period, they could have been subject to attack by Iraqi missiles or aircraft. Therefore, the RAF's professionalism and dedication have been demonstrated during the last few months in the application of the no-fly zone in southern Iraq and in the parallel zone in the north of the country as well.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

Does the Minister accept that the Government are highly selective in their support for the United Nations? They continue to ignore breaches by Israel and are themselves continuously in breach of the United Nations nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Does he accept that in all probability this action will strengthen, not weaken, Saddam Hussein's position, and that it will solve nothing? The right hon. and learned Gentleman cannot claim that all hon. Members support the action which in my view is entirely misguided and will do nothing to solve the problems of the middle east.

Mr. Rifkind

I reject entirely the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that Britain does not observe United Nations non-proliferation requirements. The hon. Gentleman might see himself as a friend and ally of Saddam Hussein, but—[Interruption.]

Madam Speaker

Order. The House must come to order.

Mr. Rifkind


Madam Speaker

Order. The House must come to order.

Mr. Rifkind


Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You will have heard—as, doubtless, did many other hon. Members—the Secretary of State for Defence describe my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) as a friend and ally of Saddam Hussein. You, and many other hon. Members, will know that that allegation is entirely untrue. That being the case, I respectfully ask you to ask the Defence Secretary to withdraw his unfounded and disgraceful allegation.

Madam Speaker

What the Secretary of State said was not unparliamentary. Ministers and other right hon. and hon. Members are responsible for their own comments in the House.

Mr. Cryer

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. The remark was entirely wrong and inaccurate. The Secretary of State was being economical with the truth if he was suggesting that I am a friend and ally of Saddam Hussein. It is quite wrong for any Minister to try to make such a smear, given that hon. Members are entitled to make legitimate criticisms of what appears to be a consensus position. It is utterly outrageous. [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker

Order. The point has been made.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker

Order. There are no further points of order. I have had enough. Has the Secretary of State finished?

Mr. Rifkind

indicated assent.

Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South)

The action taken by Britain and other countries will be warmly welcomed by all who believe that the Baghdad bully is the greatest threat to peace in the middle east. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it is a scandal that right hon. and hon. Members should give succour to Saddam Hussein tonight?

Mr. Rifkind

My hon. Friend is right. If we are to have the maximum impact on the behaviour of the Iraqi Government, it is important for the views of the House to be presented with great strength and unanimity.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I despair of this Government, with their obvious limitations, ever comprehending that this sort of action simply ensures the survival of Saddam and that, much more dangerous, every such action makes millions of converts to Islamic fundamentalism across the globe.

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman must reflect on the consequences of the coalition's not having taken action. He appears to be willing to acquiesce in a situation in which the effectiveness of the no-fly zone would have been destroyed and oppression of the Shia by the Iraqi air force would have been reintroduced. That would have fundamentally damaged the interests that I am sure the hon. Gentleman would like to represent.

Mr. Michael Stephen (Shoreham)

Given that Saddam Hussein has also been violating the land border of Kuwait, will my right hon. and learned Friend tell us what action, if any, is being taken to improve the defences of that border?

Mr. Rifkind

The Security Council has told the Iraqi Government that that behaviour is unacceptable. I understand that the United States Government have said today that they are deploying a battalion group to Kuwait, to emphasise the importance attached to the security of that country.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)

How many wars and military strikes are the Government prepared to allow that punish Iraqi people but do not resolve anything? How many deaths are to be added to the 100,000 that resulted from the Gulf war? When will the Government show a readiness to save the lives of Iraqi children, whose death rate has tripled since the Gulf war, instead of engaging in this sort of jingoism?

Mr. Rifkind

I remind the hon. Gentleman that the targets against which action was taken today were exclusively military. He should be the first to appreciate that the best contribution that could be made to the welfare of the Iraqi people would be Saddam Hussein's giving up power in that country, and allowing his own people to be represented in a more acceptable way.

Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch)

Will the Government be pursuing United Nations resolution 799 with equal vigour?

Mr. Rifkind

The Government give their support to all United Nations resolutions.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West)

In view of the statement made earlier tonight by Sir David Hannay, our ambassador to the United Nations, that the British Government believe in the enforcement of all United Nations resolutions without priority and differentation, will the Secretary of State explain to the House and to the international community—particularly the international Islamic community—why such swift, heavy military action was taken in this case, whereas western powers seem to stand by and turn a blind eye to ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and to the transportation of more than 400 Palestinians to a freezing desert in no man's land? Is that not an example of pathetic double standards? Are not the real friends and allies of Saddam Hussein people such as the Secretary of State, who is a member of a Government who supplied arms to Saddam Hussein?

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman talks typical nonsense. He should be aware, in making comparisons with the situation in Bosnia, that not only has the United Nations introduced a no-fly zone resolution for Bosnia but that since its inception no combat aircraft have flown. It is precisely because of the use of combat aircraft by the Iraqi Government that today's action was necessary.

Miss Emma Nicholson (Torridge and Devon, West)

Will my right hon. and learned Friend pass on to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Cabinet, and to those brave men and women in the Royal Air Force, the fervent thanks of those people on the ground in the marshes in southern Iraq—from whom I have received this evening messages of gratitude?

Mr. Jimmy Wray (Glasgow, Provan)

I do not believe it.

Madam Speaker

Order. The House must hear the hon. Lady.

Miss Nicholson

My right hon. and learned Friend may like to remind the House that the BBC World Service is heard in the marshes of Iraq and that the telephone service is usable. Some of us have regular contacts there, and it is derisory of the hon. Gentleman to question that particular point.

I remind my right hon. and learned Friend and his colleagues of the grave difficulties under which the people of southern Iraq are suffering. For example, the sewage disposal in Basra is 80 per cent. raw ditch disposal—and has been for many years, because of Saddam Hussein. There is no education in the south and no medicine in the marshes, and the people are deprived of all the usual human facilities and all possibility of leading any kind of a normal life. That is due to Saddam Hussein, and has nothing to do with the actions of the allies in the Gulf war. I ask my right hon. and learned Friend to make absolutely certain that we do everything possible on the ground to relieve those poor people from the devilry that Saddam Hussein constantly inflicts on them, out of sight of western cameras.

Mr. Rifkind

I listened with great care to my hon. Friend's remarks, because I know that she has made a number of courageous visits to the marshlands of southern Iraq, to make her own outstanding contribution to the welfare of the oppressed people in that area. We are not only pleased that the no-fly zone has helped to reduce that oppression but are always anxious to explore other ways of assisting the people to whom she has given such a high degree of personal commitment.

Mr. John Hutton (Barrow and Furness)

Can the Secretary of State give the House an assurance that the Government will seek ways to strengthen the United Nations forces currently patrolling the demilitarised zone around Kuwait? Can he confirm that large amounts of weaponry have already been retrieved by the Iraqis, including four Silkworm missiles that could be used against coalition forces? Can he assure the House that any remaining weaponry in former Iraqi territory that is now part of the demilitarised zone will be moved out of the reach of the invading Iraqis?

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman is right to refer to that particular problem. There is considerable difficulty in that United Nations personnel are not normally armed and therefore have been unable to resist incursions by armed Iraqis who removed assets, including Silkworm missiles. It is clearly important to draw the appropriate conclusions from those incidents, to ensure that they do not recur.

Mr. Quentin Davies (Stamford and Spalding)

It is clear that the overwhelming majority of right hon. and hon. Members are entirely convinced that it was vital, in the interests of world peace, to prevent the United Nations from being made a fool of by Saddam Hussein. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it is no less vital that the United Nations should not be made a fool of in Bosnia and Serbia?

Mr. Rifkind

Of course. That is, indeed, a very important objective. The way in which we try to prosecute the interests of the United Nations has to take account of the particular circumstances of each country. We try to use the most effective means available to us to achieve those objectives.

Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Hillhead)

The Secretary of State should be aware that the action taken tonight is worse than a crime—it is a blunder. It is a blunder because, when the fog of war clears tomorrow, we shall find that the people who have been not "spanked", as my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) had it, but torn limb from limb and incinerated under the bombs—smart or otherwise—will be people who never voted for Saddam Hussein and who are not responsible for the crimes that he has committed down the years, including all the years during which the British Government were selling him arms.

The radicalisation and Islamicisation that is occurring across the Arab area and the broader Muslim world will be greatly intensified by what will be regarded as western double standards, whereby the west is ready, at a moment's notice, to pulverise Iraq, but unable, over decades, to do anything about Israel's rejecting and ignoring international law and international standards, or to do anything to save the lives of the tens of thousands of Bosnian Muslims who have died in the current campaign in former Yugoslavia.

Is not the Secretary of State aware that, across the Arab world, Saddam Hussein has been made into a hero by those double standards, and that the blunder and crime that was committed this evening will come back to haunt us in years to come?

Mr. Rifkind

I must first tell the hon. Gentleman that his views are not the views of Arab Governments in the region, who are already welcoming the action that has been taken today. I must also remind the hon. Gentleman that, whereas the coalition today restricted itself deliberately to military targets, the no-fly zone was introduced to prevent Iraqi aircraft, ultimately commanded by Saddam Hussein, from bombing innocent civilians —innocent men, women and children—in southern Iraq. If the hon. Gentleman's advice were accepted, it would lead directly to the non-continuation of the no-fly zone restrictions and to the resumption of the bombing of innocent people. That is where the hon. Gentleman's policy would appear to lead.

Sir George Gardiner (Reigate)

My right hon. and learned Friend will already know that the bulk of the British population will support the rather limited counter action that has been taken against Saddam Hussein. Will he acknowledge that, in the perception of the bulk of our citizens, the time will come when we will need not only to give Saddam Hussein a bloody nose but to go for his throat?

Mr. Rifkind

Clearly, if the Iraqi regime continues to ignore United Nations resolutions and to take aggressive action, it will invite further action by the international community. That would be not only proportionate but necessary if such circumstances arose.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)

Does the Secretary of State accept that he will have my party's support for action undertaken to uphold United Nations Security Council resolutions because we believe that to do other than enforce those resolutions would be to be ineffective and to follow the rather sad example of the League of Nations which was the precursor of the United Nations? However, we believe that all Security Council resolutions should be pursued with equal vigour and not on a selective basis.

As an hon. Member who represents a constituency with a substantial number of armed forces personnel, may I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman what mechanisms are being established to ensure that, should further action be undertaken, the families are aware of the circumstances? He will be well aware of the problems that families face in such circumstances. I remind him, too, that I speak as an hon. Member who lost a constituent in the previous Gulf conflict.

Mr. Rifkind

I thank the hon. Lady and her colleagues for their support for today's action. We are always anxious to give maximum information to families. It is in the nature of such operations that they have to be kept entirely confidential and secret until they have taken place. Thereafter, however, we try to provide as much information as is consistent with normal security considerations.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

My right hon. and learned Friend has quite properly reassured the House that our Arab friends have welcomed the action today. But our Arab friends would be further reassured if we were to take proportionate action to make sure that Israel also abided by international resolutions. What action do the Government intend to take to provide that reassurance?

Mr. Rifkind

My hon. Friend must put specific questions of that sort to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. I know that my hon. Friend has done so in the past, and that he has been impressed by the answers which he has received.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Why does the Secretary of State not admit that the action taken today has more to do with the vanity of the lame duck President Bush than anything else, and that the British Government tagged along like lap dogs, as they did in the Gulf war? How many of the installations which were knocked out were provided with British technology?

The Secretary of State has some cheek to attack my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) or anyone else about being an ally of Saddam Hussein when he is a member of a Government who could not tell the difference between an Iraqi gun and an oil pipeline until the truth emerged and we found that the Government were involved in squalid deals to enable Saddam Hussein to carry out genocide against his people.

Mr. Rifkind

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his typically robust intervention in these matters. His views are not unexpected, although they are based on a complete misunderstanding of the facts. However, a complete misunderstanding of the facts has never deterred the hon. Gentleman in the past, and there is no reason to suspect that it would have a different effect today.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Why is it that the Government of Turkey have denied the use of bases? Is it not a fact that the Government of Jordan have deplored the action and asked for a negotiated settlement?

On a question of fact, do the British have any control whatever over a decision of the United States to use some of the 400 Patriot missiles that have been installed? What is the position on the increased number of American troops in Kuwait? Can the British Government give an assurance that the American troops will be consulted if there is to be any land action?

Do the Government know that there are more Shia Muslims than Sunni Muslims in Baghdad and that this is far from a cut-and-dried situation?

Mr. Rifkind

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows that Turkey is giving its full co-operation to the imposition of the no-fly zone in the north of Iraq. Indeed, British Royal Air Force planes and United States aircraft are based in Turkey with the full support of the Turkish Government.

On the hon. Gentleman's latter comments, we had the closest consultation with the United States and with France on the particular operation that I have described today. Such consultation will also apply to any other possible action that might be taken in support of the United Nations or the international community.

Mr. Dalyell

And Jordan?

Mr. Rifkind

We shall have to examine exactly what the Jordanian Government said. We all hope that there are prospects for negotiated agreements. Regrettably, force is sometimes required precisely because Saddam Hussein has shown scant respect for diplomacy and because he only appears willing to acknowledge the use of force.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, contrary to what various Opposition Members have said, this is an attack on not the people of Iraq but the regime of Saddam Hussein? Does he also agree that the vast majority of the people of Iraq, be they Sunnis from Baghdad, Shi'ites from the south or Kurds from the north, will warmly applaud this action and hope that it will hasten the downfall of the evil regime of Saddam Hussein?

Mr. Rifkind

My hon. Friend is right to remind the House of those who have been oppressed by the Iraqi regime. None have been more oppressed than the Iraqi people themselves.

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

May I, as I did two years ago, welcome military action against this dictator in the middle east? Although a majority of hon. Members are required, and are willing, to support military action, is it not strangely ironic that only two weeks ago officials of the Baghdad regime were in the United Kingdom negotiating with a major British defence contractor for the supply of telecommunications equipment to Baghdad? Surely Ministers should give honest and open answers to Parliament on that matter.

Mr. Rifkind

While I note what the hon. Gentleman says, I would wish to examine the basis of the comments that he has made before making any further comment on them. They are serious matters. I would wish to see the evidence that he has for that allegation.

Mr. Bernie Grant (Tottenham)

May I ask the Minister to be factual in his answer to my questions? First, did the strikes against the Iraqi forces take place inside or outside the no-fly zone? I understood that the United Nations resolution was about a no-fly zone, not a no-walk zone, no-run zone or no-missiles zone. Did the United Nations resolution specifically authorise the coalition forces to bomb missiles which might be inside the no-fly zone?

Mr. Rifkind

On the hon. Gentleman's first question, I can confirm that all the targets that were the subject of attack by coalition forces were in the no-fly zone. On the hon. Gentleman's second question, once a no-fly zone has been authorised in accordance with international law, it is entirely appropriate to act in self-defence to ensure the safety of those who are imposing the no-fly zone. It is because the Iraqi Government introduced SAM missiles in the no-fly zone which represented a very serious threat indeed to the safety of those air force crews from the various countries concerned that it is entirely justifiable and in accordance with international law to take the action that was taken today.

Mr. Robert Banks (Harrogate)

Is it not a matter of great satisfaction that the allies have shown such resolve in this matter? May we congratulate President Bush in the last few days of his presidency on the actions that he has taken, together with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the President of France? Is the action not something for which Saddam Hussein bears full responsibility for bringing against his own people and for which he should pay the price?

Mr. Rifkind

Yes. I would add that President Bush can be congratulated on the resolute way in which he has acted throughout his presidency. He has been a superb President in the contribution that he has made to dealing with the aggression represented by the Iraqi regime. That has been to the benefit of the international community as a whole.

Mr. Jimmy Hood (Clydesdale)

Can the Secretary of State give the House estimated Iraqi casualties in the strike tonight? Did the Iraqis return fire?

Mr. Rifkind

At this stage we cannot estimate casualties. But I emphasise that all the targets were military. The operation took place at night. Therefore, it is unlikely that the casualties were substantial in number. On the question about any resistance to the allied effort, I can inform the House that some radar activity was noted during the operation. There was also some anti-aircraft activity in the area of the target and it is possible that some surface-to-air missiles were fired. But it is difficult to be certain at this stage. I can assure the House that there were no casualties and none of the coalition aircraft was hit or damaged in any way.

Dr. Norman A Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

It is surely the case that throughout the United Kingdom people of all political persuasions share a deep detestation of Saddam Hussein and his evil regime. However, the dramatic decisiveness shown by the coalition nations in this action stands in stark contrast to the craven reluctance of the United Nations and so-called coalition nations to take such decisive action on behalf of the people of Tibet, who have suffered something close to genocide at the hands of those ancient men in Peking. They have also shown craven reluctance to help the people of Serbia. Surely what is needed in the United Nations is a unified military command structure and an honourable consistency in the organisation's peacekeeping and peace making activities.

Mr. Rifkind

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will welcome the fact that the United Nations has dramatically extended its peacekeeping activities during the past three or four years. In the first 40 years of its existence, it was able to initiate only about 13 peacekeeping operations; a further 13 have been authorised in the past three or four years, which shows that the objectives to which the hon. Gentleman aspires are clearly resulting in some significant enhancement of the UN's ability to influence events and to try to reduce oppression.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

Will the Secretary of State for Defence admit that for many years Her Majesty's Government have been the greatest friend and ally of Saddam Hussein, as they have succeeded in arming him to the teeth? Will he also admit that the likely consequences of his statement are that Saddam Hussein will renew his persecution of Kurds and Shias, that the people of Iraq will unify behind him and that the alienation of the Arab and Islamic countries against the west is likely to intensify further, and accusations of double standards against the west, because of its eagerness to bomb Iraq but to appease Serbia, will be made time and again? I therefore ask the Secretary of State to apologise and to withdraw his earlier remark against an Opposition Member who—like many other Opposition Members—is merely guilty of opposing the Government's dreadful record on oppression, Saddam Hussein and double standards.

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman's suggestion that Saddam Hussein oppresses the Kurds and the Shias only in response to actions by the international community is a most extraordinary proposition. The reality is that nothing would be more likely to lead to a resumption of oppression against the Shias and the Kurds than if the no-fly zone imposed by the international community had to cease because of our unwillingness to take effective action when there have been transgressions against it by the Iraqi Government.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Could the Secretary of State bear to admit that many Opposition Members have never supported Saddam Hussein and have consistently stood up for human rights in Iraq, including my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Madden)? What appalls us is that the British and American strategy has resulted in 300,000 deaths, poverty throughout Iraq and cholera in the streets. What is the objective—is it further bombardment, or is there a serious political objective of bringing peace to that region?

Mr. Rifkind

The international action has led to the liberation of Kuwait and the protection of the Kurds in northern Iraq and of the Shias in southern Iraq, and the hon. Gentleman should be doing all in his power to help to lead that international action towards the eventual disappearance of Saddam Hussein as ruler of Baghdad.

Mr. Peter Hain (Neath)

May I join the Secretary of State in congratulating our personnel on their courage and proficiency in an operation which was successful and probably inevitable? May I also invite him to admit that they are the fall guys for the failure and bankruptcy of the policies of the Government and their allies in the Gulf? First, the Government armed Saddam Hussein and then they prosecuted a war that caused devastation to the infrastructure, the people and the environment of the region, but Saddam Hussein and his odious tyranny is still there, killing the Kurds and Shi'ites and committing acts of aggression against the Kuwaitis and others in the region. The fact is that the allies' policy has failed abysmally and the Secretary of State should have the honesty to admit it.

Mr. Rifkind

I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman says. The allied policy has led to the renewed independence of Kuwait and the protection that is being given to the Shias and the Kurds. I waited with interest, but without success, to hear the hon. Gentleman's scenario as to what would have been more likely to achieve those results.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

Security Council resolutions are quite wordy and in some ways rather precise, such as resolution 688. Which detail of the resolution justifies the action that the Americans and the Government have been involved in in Iraq? Can the Secretary of State quote the detail that allows that to have taken place and justifies it?

Mr. Rifkind

Security Council resolution 688 calls on Iraq to refrain from further repression of its civilian population. It was in pursuance of that resolution that the no-fly zone was introduced in accordance with international law. In accordance with international law, it is appropriate to take action to defend those who have the responsibility of applying that policy.

Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South)

Will the Secretary of State tell us what action is now planned to protect the Kurds should there be further attempts by Saddam to strangle and harass the Kurdish people? Can he assure us that, as well as thinking about military action, the Government are serious about trying to bring about democratic change in Iraq? The Iraqi opposition wants that rather than a stand-off that keeps Saddam in power.

Mr. Rifkind

We attach importance to the rights of the Kurdish population in northern Iraq and that is why we have a no-fly zone in that part of the country as well. It has been successfully applied and any transgressions against it by the Iraqi regime would be treated with great seriousness.

Mr. Jimmy Boyce (Rotherham)

The Secretary of State's robust defence of the United Nations resolution would ring a lot more true if we pursued others as vigorously as we have done this one. No doubt he will be aware of the violations of human rights that are everyday occurrences in Kashmir, yet United Nations resolutions, outstanding from 1947 and 1948, have never been acted upon. We have not had any explanation from the right hon. and learned Gentleman of who authorised today's action. Who authorised it?

Mr. Rifkind

The action was obviously the responsibility of the countries that participated in the operation. They are the countries which have applied the no-fly zone and, in accordance with international law, they are entitled to take action in defence of their own aircrews. I must ask the hon. Gentleman whether he would have preferred a situation where the RAF would have been exposed to attack by the Iraqi air force without the right to defend itself. If that is the action which the hon. Gentleman is suggesting, it would have been consistent with discontinuing the no-fly zone, with all the consequences that that would have meant for the Shia population.

Mr. Boyce

On a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker

Order. There is no point of order at this stage; we are in the middle of questions on the statement.

Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)

In the interests of maintaining international authority, will the Secretary of State assure the House that attention will not be restricted purely to the no-fly zones, at least until the United Nations aircraft are able to fly into Baghdad and United Nations inspection teams can complete their work there?

Mr. Rifkind

I can give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. The Security Council also attaches the gravest importance to the refusal of the Iraqi Government to allow those missions to proceed to Baghdad in United Nations aircraft. Earlier today, there was a report that the Iraqi deputy Prime Minister had said that United Nations planes might be permitted. We hope that that is to be the Iraqi policy, which would be a welcome reversal of the stance that it has taken recently.

Dr. David Clark

In view of what I said previously, I do not think that the House or the Secretary of State can be in any doubt of my support for the operation or, indeed, can be in any doubt that my judgment is at variance with that of my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer). However, on reflection, the Secretary of State may have slightly misjudged the issue by saying that my hon. Friend was an ally and friend of Saddam Hussein. I must say to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that I do not think that it helps the House for the message to go out that Saddam Hussein has any friends at all in the House. I wonder whether the Secretary of State would consider reflecting upon his earlier comment and withdrawing it?

Mr. Rifkind

I must remind the hon. Gentleman that the remark that I made was that the hon. Member for Bradford, South might think of himself as an ally and friend of Saddam Hussein. If the hon. Gentleman does not think of himself in those terms, I and the House would be delighted to hear that. I must repeat the fact that I believe that the policies that he espouses work to the advantage of Saddam Hussein and will be well received in Baghdad tonight.

Mr. Cryer

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Let me make absolutely plain my position on this matter, which the Secretary of State raised directly. I do not regard, and have never regarded, myself as a friend and ally of Saddam Hussein. Now that I have said so, will the Secretary of State completely withdraw his slur against me? I have never sold guns to Saddam Hussein or anybody else.

Mr. Boyce

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. What redress is available to an ordinary Back Bencher who puts a legitimate question to the Secretary of State and is replied to with a question containing serious allegations about that Member's personal stand on the action taken today? Are we to understand that the Secretary of State may answer questions with questions and that Back Benchers have no redress?

Madam Speaker

Back Benchers learn very quickly to pursue matters by various methods. I have been a Member of this House for 20 years. When the hon. Gentleman has been here long enough, he will find ways and means of doing this.

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