HC Deb 21 January 1993 vol 217 cc515-600

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Arbuthnot.]

[Relevant documents: The Second Report from the Defence Committee on Procurement of Advanced Air-to-Air Missiles, HC 115 of Session 1991–92, the Second Special Report containing the Government's Reply thereto, HC 350 of Session 1991–92, the Sixth Report on the European Fighter Aircraft, HC 299 of Session 1991–92, and the Fourth Special Report containing the Government's Reply thereto, HC 262 of Session 1992–93.]

Madam Speaker

May I say at the start of the debate that I have had to impose a time limit of 10 minutes on speeches between 7 pm and 9 pm.

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

The House last debated the Royal Air Force in May 1991, soon after the Gulf conflict. Operations mounted by coalition air forces over the past week have shown once again the exceptional standards of quality and professionalism which the service maintains and explain why we are combining this year's RAF debate with a debate on recent events in the Gulf.

My main themes this afternoon will be challenge and change. The RAF faces the challenge of mounting operations in Europe and the middle east when it is in the midst of an unprecedented period of restructuring as a result of changes in the strategic environment. I intend to deal with the changes being experienced by the RAF before turning to the wider issues of the Gulf.

Since our last debate, we have made considerable progress with the implementation of the plans announced for Britain's defences for the 1990s. In Germany, RAF Wildenrath closed at the end of last year and RAF Gutersloh will be handed over to the Army at the end of 1993. Three Tornado GR squadrons have been disbanded and one Tornado reconnaissance squadron has moved to the United Kingdom. The remaining four RAF Germany Tornado squadrons will be based at RAF Bruggen. The two Germany-based Harrier squadrons have moved from Gutersloh to Laarbruch, with the composite squadron of Chinook and Puma support helicopters due to follow in March.

In the United Kingdom itself, RAF Marham and Lossiemouth will be the main operating bases for our Tornado reconnaissance and anti-shipping forces.

The main thrust of United Kingdom air defence will continue to be provided by Tornado F3 squadrons based at RAF Leuchars, Coningsby and Leeming—as well as by ground-based systems. The Phantom and Shackleton fleets have been withdrawn, the latter being replaced by a Sentry E-3D AWACS squadron at RAF Waddington. The Nimrod maritime reconnaissance force, comprising three squadrons, is now collocated at RAF Kinloss.

We announced our plans for the future development of the search and rescue force in October, in the light of the reduction in military flying. The RAF in the future will have an all-Sea King SAR fleet.

There will also be major changes for the RAF Regiment, reflecting the adjustments to aircraft basing.

These major changes in our front line capability will be matched by a streamlining of the support area. Since the middle of 1991, we have announced the closure of 13 RAF stations in the United Kingdom, most of which house support units. In addition, last November, we proposed that the RAF ground training organisation should be rationalised from six stations to three, with major savings in running costs. We also need to streamline our headquarters structures. Next year, two new RAF headquarters will form: logistics command at Brampton/Wyton, and personnel and training command at Innsworth, near Gloucester. This will lead to reductions in RAF HQ manpower of at least 20 per cent.

We have also embarked on an ambitious programme to market-test RAF support activities with a total annual running cost of over £200 million. This is a very significant commitment to the Government's plans to extend competition for the supply of public services.

These changes will have a profound impact on our service personnel, their families and the civilian staff who support them. It will be of paramount importance to ensure that the morale and commitment of our people are maintained as the restructuring is carried through. The RAF has risen to this challenge, as we would expect, with its customary eelan and esprit de corps.

We are making every effort to ensure that manpower reductions are achieved as far as possible by natural wastage and voluntary redundancy. Some compulsory redundancies are inevitable, but all the 960 or so RAF redundancies necessary up to 1 April 1994 will be filled by volunteers. A second phase will be necessary during 1994 and 1995, details of which will be announced in due course.

The restructuring process is happening when fewer people are leaving the RAF. Our manpower intakes are at historically low levels. But it is vital for the future that we ensure that the RAF continues to be seen as a top-grade employer. As the economy improves and our manpower requirements stabilise, we shall need to improve and increase our recruiting. Hon. Members will be aware of steps being taken by the services in the equal opportunities field. In the RAF, women are now employed in almost all branches and trades, without significant restrictions. Since the last RAF debate, all aircrew roles have been opened to women, including those on fast jets. Two female pilots and nine female navigators have entered squadron service. A further 29 female pilots and 13 female navigators are undergoing training.

Our policy is that the new force structure should be well equipped, highly trained and properly manned and supported. The keystone of the RAF's future capability is the European fighter project. The project enjoys support from all the main political parties, industry and the trade unions. I am grateful to hon. Members on all sides of the House who have given their support in a very effective and successful fashion in recent months during the period of uncertainty with regard to the future of the European fighter aircraft.

This broad basis of consensus has been of immense help in the recent difficult negotiations. Throughout the uncertainties of the past year, the Government have held to the view that there is a clear and continuing need for an aircraft broadly of EFA's capabilities, both for the defence of the United Kingdom homeland and for operations in other theatres. The programme is the only advanced fixed-wing military aircraft under development in the United Kingdom. It is important and, indeed, vital in terms of United Kingdom employment and technology, but its essential rationale is to meet a military requirement.

The aircraft will be in service throughout the first quarter of the next century. As present events in the Gulf and elsewhere remind us, there is considerable and growing instability in areas adjacent to NATO, both inside and outside Europe. There are uncertainties about how the world will develop. We face the reality of risk and conflict. The aircraft that we procure must be able to defeat the aircraft of any potential adversary that our pilots might be called upon to face during its operational service.

Our current air defence aircraft—the Tornado F3—was designed to intercept bombers at long range. Even if it were updated with more modern missiles and sensors, the F3 would not be a satisfactory counter to agile fighters such as the MiG 29 and the SU27—let alone any future upgrades of those types, or more modern aircraft. We also need an offensive support and tactical reconnaissance capability.

As many hon. Members will know, in the 1950s, the RAF had 12 different types of combat aircraft. We now have five. When the Eurofighter 2000 comes into service that will reduce to three: the Eurofighter 2000, an upgraded Tornado GR1 and the Harrier GR7. The multi-role capability of the Eurofighter will provide operational flexibility and should yield savings in support costs. I am glad that the Select Committee on Defence —which I commend for its excellent report in March last year—shared our view that there remained a requirement for a technically advanced multi-role fighter.

Despite the importance of the Eurofighter, it must be affordable. The production costs which were quoted by industry in April 1992 were higher than expected. As a result, industrial studies for a range of design options were commissioned by the four Defence Ministers from Spain, Italy, Germany and the United Kingdom at our Madrid meeting. The studies concluded that a family of aircraft, based on the existing airframe and engine, was the most cost-effective solution to the budgetary and military requirements of all the four partner nations.

At our meeting on 10 December 1992, the four Defence Ministers agreed with the four chiefs of staff that some relaxations in the operational requirement were possible in the light of the changed international security environment. While some differences remained in national requirements, we reached agreement that these could be accommodated in a single collaborative programme, based on the existing airframe and engine. We also agreed that significant cost reductions were achievable with no change to capability, that further savings were possible with some reduction in performance and that the resulting aircraft should be renamed Eurofighter 2000. Deliveries to the United Kingdom and Italy will commence in the year 2000, and to Germany, and probably Spain, in 2002.

Considerable work remains to be done. We need to agree a revised programme and the differing standards of national variants. Detailed technical and financial negotiations with industry will be required, but our agreement means that the Royal Air Force can look forward with confidence to getting the aircraft that it needs to meet its operational commitments well into the next century.

Flexibility and mobility are the hallmarks of the new NATO strategic concept. Air power is well able to meet these challenges and the Royal Air Force will be making a significant contribution to the air element of NATO's new reaction forces.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)

The House is delighted to hear what the Minister is saying. Could he give an assurance that the Government will never flinch from increasing manpower if necessary?

Mr. Rifkind

Of course that is the case. We remain committed to ensuring that the forces have the manpower. Such manpower must be capable of dealing with any of the obligations that may be imposed on it without unreasonable stress and strain. That is an important obligation, and we must keep it carefully under review.

Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)

I am sure that the House welcomes the commitment to ensuring that Britain possesses an adequate air defence capacity. Clearly, the Air Force must have high-quality combat aircraft. If the Air Force is to fulfil its continuing international obligations, it is essential that it has adequate transport and communications aircraft. Does the Minister accept that, although the Hercules may be superbly well maintained, it is an aging aircraft and it is in heavy use serving throughout the world? It cannot be many years before the Secretary of State or his successor will have to order a new aircraft to replace it.

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman is right to pay tribute to the Hercules. It has, indeed, served Britain and continues to serve Britain in a superb fashion. But it is also right that we should give thought to the long-term replacement for Hercules. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that thought is being given to precisely that question.

The forces that I have described will enable NATO to respond rapidly and effectively to any crisis within Allied Command Europe. A total of up to 80 RAF aircraft will be available to the air reaction force. They will provide a broad range of capabilities for both the immediate and rapid reaction components of the force. Contributions will be drawn from the Tornado, Harrier and Jaguar forces. Rapier surface-to-air missiles will also be assigned.

The relevance, and immediacy, of this shift of emphasis to more mobile forces is amply demonstrated by the range of operations in which the RAF is currently involved. I should mention here the RAF's continuing contribution to the anti-terrorism campaign in Northern Ireland. As the House knows, the RAF Regiment provides vital ground defence for RAF Aldergrove. Wessex, Puma and Chinook helicopters provide support for the security forces and the Northern Ireland Office.

The RAF is making a key contribution to our support for the United Nations Security Council resolutions on the former Yugoslavia. Hercules aircraft contribute to the UN airlift of relief supplies into Sarajevo. These operations have had to be suspended whenever there is a risk that the aircraft will come under attack from the warring factions which surround Sarajevo. The most serious such incident, as the House will know, was the tragic loss of an Italian transport aircraft due to a missile attack on 3 September. But despite the dangers, the operation has continued whenever possible. So far, 310 flights by RAF Hercules aircraft have been successfully completed, bringing 4,152 tons of much needed aid to the people of Sarajevo. This is an important humanitarian role, which has been conducted with bravery and skill. Other Hercules undertake resupply sorties in support of the United Kingdom contribution to the UN protection force in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Following NATO's agreement to the United Nation's request to assist in first monitoring and then enforcement of sanctions and the arms embargo, RAF Nimrod aircraft have been involved in a 24-hour surveillance operation to identify embargo-breaking vessels to the naval task force. The aircraft are currently deployed to Sicily as part of these operations. E3-D aircraft have joined a multinational force monitoring the air space of the former Yugoslavia in support of the United Nations resolution banning military flights over the area.

We have also deployed two Hercules aircraft, together with about 90 RAF personnel, to assist in Operation Restore Hope in Somalia. The aircraft are currently based with United States forces in Mobasa in Kenya. Since 12 December they have been engaged in the transport of humanitarian relief stores to affected areas inside Somalia. They have so far delivered over 3 million pounds of stores.

I turn now to recent events in the Gulf. Given the RAF's contribution in that region throughout the momentous events of the past few years, it is particularly appropriate that we should do so in conjunction with the annual debate on the RAF. Since the Gulf conflict ended in February 1991, RAF aircraft have been deployed again to the Gulf on two seperate operations. In both cases the aim was the same: to help protect the civilian population of Iraq from the brutality of the regime in Baghdad—first, the Kurdish people in the north of Iraq from April 1991 and then the peoples of the marsh area in the south from August last year. The United Kingdom joined our United States and French allies in a coalition which established no-fly zones over the north and south of the country in support of United Nations Security Council resolution 688, which called on Iraq to cease repression of its civilian population. I should like to make it clear that the coalition is committed to the territorial integrity of Iraq, which is not threatened in any way by the existence of the no-fly zones.

Eight Jaguar aircraft and two VC10 tankers, based at Incirlik in Turkey, mount reconnaissance patrols over the northern no-fly zone. A similar function is performed by six Tornado GRI and two Victor tankers in the south. Hon. Members will be aware that the Turkish Government recently agreed to extend the basing arrangements at Incirlik for a further six months. We are seeking the agreement of the Turkish authorities to base Harrier GR7 aircraft there from April in place of the Jaguars.

We should not let current preoccupations obscure the valuable contribution which the RAF has made to the no-fly zones in quieter times, when the attention of the world was elsewhere. The civilian populations of northern and southern Iraq have gained great comfort from the presence of coalition aircraft overhead. They appreciate more than anyone what Saddam Hussein might have thrown at them but for the existence of the no-fly zones. We expect RAF patrols to continue over the no-fly zones for the foreseeable future.

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)

I agree with the Secretary of State entirely about the work that the RAF has done in policing the no-fly zone. He will recall that recently there was speculation that it might be necessary for the United Kingdom to deploy ground forces in Kuwait. That danger may have receded over the past few days, but it may recur. In the event of that happening, and while we are so heavily involved in Bosnia, can the Secretary of State be sure that it will not be necessary to withdraw from Northern Ireland either of the additional battalions that have been deployed there recently?

Mr. Rifkind

I am aware of the reports to which the hon. Gentleman refers, but we have not yet received any requests from the Government of Kuwait for the deployment of any forces to Kuwait. Obviously, only if such a request were received would it be necessary to consider it. In any event, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we would not allow a request from any other part of the world to determine our obligations to the need for security forces to operate within the United Kingdom. Our commitments within the United Kingdom must always take precedence over any other international obligation, however important.

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)

Does the Secretary of State intend to comment on the substantial change in the attitude adopted worldwide towards the decision to resume bombing last week? Is he aware that the Russian Government have expressed anxiety, that the Arab League has come out against it, that representatives of the Iraqi opposition, the Shi'ites and the Kurds, have come out against it, that the French Government have expressed anxiety and that carefully filtered statements have been released from No. 10 about six prime ministerial telephone calls to President Bush. What I and my right hon. Friends said on the night of the statement has turned out to be absolutely correct. The bombing has strengthened Saddam Hussein and has undermined the authority of the United Nations Security Council and the policy that the right hon. and learned Gentleman announced so proudly only eight days ago is in shreds.

For that reason, many hon. Members will vote against the Adjournment tonight because we have been denied the opportunity to express our views against a properly framed Government motion.

Mr. Rifkind

The right hon. Gentleman is profoundly mistaken. No one is enthusiastic about military action, but the right hon. Gentleman should reflect on the fact that in the immediate aftermath of the three operations conducted by the coalition countries Saddam Hussein has now allowed United Nations inspection teams back into Baghdad—the first team was allowed in this morning—the attempts by the Iraqis to interfere with the frontier with Kuwait have been suspended and the allied countries are now able to operate in the no-fly zones without attack. The right hon. Gentleman might not like the fact that that has been the direct consequence of the recent action.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

Can the Secretary of State tell the House who was responsible for the attack on the Al-Rashid hotel? Was it planned or was it an accident? In either event, will it now be the subject of an inquiry? As he will know, a large number of delegates were attending an Islamic conference in the hotel and they included my constituent, Liaqat Hussain, the president of the Bradford Council for Mosques, who had gone to Iraq to press for the release of two Britons imprisoned there. Will the Secretary of State tell the House who was responsible for that reckless, irresponsible and ill-advised attack?

Mr. Rifkind

The fact that the hon. Gentleman is even prepared to contemplate that the missile which struck that hotel might have been aimed at it deliberately shows the nature of his prejudices. It must be obvious to him that, whatever the source of the incident, it would not have been the deliberate desire of any country to inflict damage on a civilian hotel—[Interruption.] So far as the consequences are concerned, I have not the slightest doubt that if the United States Government conclude that a cruise missile was responsible for the incident, they will wish to take all the necessary steps to try to identify the reasons why that might have happened, but the ultimate responsibility for an incident—

Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Hillhead)

They have accepted that it was.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)

Order. I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would contain himself.

Mr. Rifkind

Responsibility for any incident that has taken place in recent times must lie with Saddam Hussein, whose behaviour caused the necessity for coalition operations in support of United Nations resolutions.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Rifkind

If I may be allowed to continue a little longer, I shall happily give way to other hon. Members.

I have already reported to the House the details of the coalition action against Iraqi air defences on 13 and 18 January and paid tribute to the service personnel involved. The House will be aware that the operations in which the RAF participated were undertaken in self-defence, to protect coalition aircraft patrolling the southern no-fly zone. The right of self-defence is enshrined in international law.

The United Nations Secretary General said on 14 January that air raids against Iraqi air defences on the previous day had a sufficient mandate from the Security Council. The legal position is quite clear. The Government are in no doubt that the actions in which the RAF has participated have been necessary and proportionate to the threat.

Dr. Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

On the issue of self-defence, is the Secretary of State aware of the comments by the United States Defence Secretary on 5 January to the effect that Iraqi surface-to-air missile systems are to obsolete and clapped out that they pose a greater threat to the Iraqi troops handling them than to the western allies' aircraft, and that that fact is backed up by the 19th edition of "Jane's Weapons Systems"? Does the Secretary of State still justify the action taken on 17 January? Was it not an over-reaction on the part of the western allies to Saddam Hussein's sabre rattling, which was an attempt to boost his position in Iraq?

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Lady must realise that the coalition action was taken for two reasons: first, in the days following 5 January Saddam Hussein moved new air missile defences into the southern no-fly zone; and, secondly, he permitted, indeed required, Iraqi fighter aircraft to penetrate into the air space over the southern no-fly zone. That dual threat to the coalition aircraft policing the no-fly zone made the action necessary in not only our view but that of the UN Secretary-General.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

Does the Defence Secretary accept that there is concern among the allies? The French Government are concerned about the extent to which missile strikes—as opposed to air strikes —to enforce the no-fly zone can be termed to come within the United Nations mandate? Does he accept that concern and will the United Kingdom Government take any action to clarify the extent of the UN mandate under which we are acting?

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman must be careful before referring to the views of the French Government. On Tuesday this week the French ambassador to the United Nations indicated the full support of that Government for the operations that have taken place, and they were fully involved in the decisions that led to the events in question.

I should like to take this opportunity to update the House on our assessment of the success of the coalition actions against Iraqi air defences. Information that is now available confirms our initial assessment that the actions were highly successful. Severe damage has been inflicted on key targets. Despite the limited nature of the operations, they have significantly degraded the air defence network in southern Iraq. That means that coalition aircraft patrolling the no-fly zone, in support of UN Security Council resolution 688, can do so in greater safety, to the benefit of the civilian population below.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Either force—very limited and measured, bearing in mind the danger of civilian casualties—is used when appropriate, or the allies simply decide that Saddam Hussein may break all the provisions of the ceasefire agreement and may be encouraged by the absence of any response from the allies to go further. Is not that the basic dilemma? Does the Secretary of State agree that it is almost certain—perhaps the word "almost" is not necessary—that, if force had not been used in the first instance, Kuwait would still be under enemy occupation?

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman is correct—and not just in regard to what would have happened to Kuwait. If the coalition countries had not responded over the past two weeks, Saddam Hussein's aspirations would not have been satisfied. If he had found that the dispatch of fighter aircraft into the southern and northern no-fly zones and the introduction of new missile defences did not invite a firm and determined reaction from the international community, he would soon have taken further action to reduce the international community's impact. The northern and southern no-fly zones would gradually, but inevitably, have become inoperative. Saddam Hussein would then have started his aggression against Kuwait proper and at some stage the international community would have been required to take action of the sort that we have taken to preserve the independence and integrity of Kuwait.

Opposition Members who have attacked these operations must ask themselves what Saddam Hussein would have had to do to make them recognise the need for firm and decisive action to curb his aggressive instincts. In the past week, it has become clear that, following the firm action that was taken, the international position has been restored. That is something that should be welcomed by all hon. Members.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that, in all this, there is another "if'? If Switzerland, Germany, France, Russia and this country had not, since 1975, absolutely poured the most sophisticated arms and arms-making equipment into Iraq, the situation might not have turned out as it has. What will now be done about the pouring of arms to people who may well do the same as has been done by Saddam Hussein? Cannot we learn the lesson that something must be done about the exporting of nuclear weaponry in particular? We do not know how attacks on nuclear installations—if there are nuclear installations—would be monitored.

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman is quite right to emphasise that enormous care must be taken with regard to the sale of arms to any country. On the question of the approvals that are required before arms sales are permitted, the United Kingdom has tougher controls than virtually any other country.

Mr. Bernie Grant (Tottenham)


Mr. Rifkind

Many hon. Members want to take part in this debate. The more interventions I accept, the less will be the chances of other hon. Members to contribute.

With regard to the three operations that have been mentioned, I have heard a figure of 50 per cent. success being loosely quoted in the media. Such figures are meaningless. A mission that achieves its objectives and brings home all its- aircraft and aircrew safely is a success. I should emphasise that military operations are not some sort of video game. Anyone familiar with high-technology equipment knows that it is not simply a matter of pressing a button and destroying the target. Modern bombing missions are carried out at high speed, involving split-second decisions and, of course, real people. In fact, the recent coalition action against Iraqi air defences has been highly successful, and I believe that the Iraqis know it.

In this context, the nation can be rightly proud of the contribution made by the RAF. The RAF Tornado GR1 more than lived up to its reputation as a potent and effective attack weapon system. Using the new TIALD pods, and dropping 1,000 lb laser-guided bombs, four Tornado GR1 were successful in severely damaging the precise air defence and control facilities they attacked, first at Al Amarah and later at An Najaf. This is a remarkable performance by any standards.

I wish to dwell for a moment on the matter of collateral damage, which I know is of concern to the House. The coalition went to great lengths to avoid accidental damage to unintended targets. As I told the House on Monday, when the crew of an RAF Tornado aircraft could not clearly identify its target at An Najaf, weapons were not released, in order to avoid collateral damage. I can think of no clearer illustration of the fact that we do not just say these things for public consumption but do something about it, even if it risks failing to attack the target.

It was therefore with genuine regret that we learnt of the explosion at the al-Rashid hotel on Sunday night, during the United States cruise missile attack on a nuclear-related facility. This was a tragic accident involving the loss of civilian life. However, we should not lose sight of Saddam Hussein's persistent defiance of United Nation's Security Council resolution 687—the mandatory resolution establishing the ceasefire following the Gulf conflict—which led to this attack. He alone must bear the responsibility for not conforming to the will of the international community before force became necessary.

The operations against Iraqi air defences have been a success. They have significantly enhanced the safety of coalition aircraft and ensured the continuation of effective no-fly zones, which provide protection for the civilian population of northern and southern Iraq. Despite rhetoric to the contrary, the Iraqis have steadily been abandoning their defiance of resolutions over the past week. Their border incursions have ceased and they have removed their police posts from the demilitarised zone on the border with Kuwait. They have also conformed to the requirements of the United Nations for unrestricted flights for United Nations special commission inspectors into Iraq. These are welcome developments, but clearly not the end of the road. It is a matter of great regret that Saddam Hussein could not simply do what the United Nations requires of him without being forced to it.

Once again the international community has thwarted the designs of Saddam Hussein. In the last few years he has seen the collapse of his efforts to annex Kuwait, to acquire weapons of mass destruction and to crush minorities within his own people. Now his open defiance of the United Nations has been confronted and rebuffed again. The Government remain resolute in their determination to ensure that Iraq will comply with all relevent United Nations resolutions and that Saddam Hussein will not again threaten peace and security in the Gulf region. The Royal Air Force will continue to play a key role in putting this policy into practice.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

The Secretary of State has mentioned the question of Saddam Hussein's acquisition of weapons of mass destruction. Does he recall that in April 1990, when I pressed the Government to increase the number of inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency, I was told that they would not press for more inspections as Saddam Hussein had signed the international non-proliferation treaty and they had full confidence that he would abide by his international obligations and would not develop nuclear weapons? That was five months before Saddam Hussein attacked Kuwait.

Would not it be appropriate today for the Secretary of State to engage in a little act of contrition following the Government's sins of commission and omission? We did not have proper intelligence—I use the word literally—about what was going on, although the rest of the world seemed to know, and we were supplying Saddam Hussein with a vast number of products that enabled him not only to build his nuclear arsenals but to make chemical and biological weapons.

Mr. Rifkind

I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman was successful in predicting Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. The entire international community, including the hon. Gentleman and all other hon. Members, should take account of the experience of the past few years, which has demonstrated that Saddam Hussein's word is of very little value and that we must judge his regime by its deeds rather than by its words. That is precisely why the action that has been taken was necessary.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

With regard to the supply to Saddam Hussein of arms and the means of manufacturing them, the Secretary of State will recall that the inspection teams operating in Iraq discovered a great deal of material relating to suppliers. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman prevail on the United Nations to publish that material so that we may know the identity of the arms exporters in this country who were the friends and allies of Saddam Hussein and the extent of the support that they received from within the ranks of the Government?

Mr. Rifkind

It will be for the United Nations to decide whether to publish any information that it has. In that regard, we are quite happy to abide by its view.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Rifkind

Several hon. Members wish to speak in this debate, and I have had the indulgence of the House long enough.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the formation of the Royal Air Force. The House will wish to join me in congratulating the force on reaching that landmark and for the great achievements of the past 75 years.

The House will wish to know that the occasion will be marked by a royal review at RAF Marham on 1 April, at which Her Majesty the Queen will present a new Queen's colour to the Royal Air Force. The review will include a full wing parade, a fly-past of some 150 aircraft, exhibitions and a static aircraft display reflecting the past achievements, present activities, and future aspirations of the RAF.

Mr. Bernie Grant


Mr. Rifkind

The massive shifts in the world order which we have witnessed over the past few years have thrown up a new strategic situation which requies much greater flexibility and mobility from our forces than ever before. The United Kingdom will continue to require the services to respond—as we have seen in Iraq—to a whole spectrum of unpredictable possible threats and contingencies. It is fitting that, in the 75th anniversary year, we should pay particular tribute to the manner in which the RAF has been able to meet the new challenges it has faced.

RAF aircraft are flying daily sorties over northern and southern Iraq; they are committed to the NATO and United Nations military efforts in the former Yugoslavia; and they are playing a valuable role in the humanitarian role in the distribution of aid to the suffering communities in the former Yugoslavia and in Somalia. Nor should the longer-standing commitments in Belize and the Falkland Islands be forgotten.

The RAF is in transition. The restructuring in which we are currently engaged will ensure that the service continues to be able to meet the requirements placed on it. The men and women of the Royal Air Force have shown how admirably they can cope with the most difficult circumstances. I pay tribute to them for their bravery, commitment and professionalism. With well-trained and well-motivated personnel and with modern equipment—particularly now that the future of Eurofighter 2000 has been assured—I believe that the RAF can look forward with hope and confidence to its next 75 years.

4.51 pm
Dr. David Clark (South Shields)

We are pleased to be having this debate because it gives us an opportunity yet again to register our full support for the Royal Air Force in its efforts over Iraq and elsewhere in the world. As the Secretary of State reminded us, the RAF is deployed throughout the world. It also gives us an opportunity to discuss the way forward in the Gulf, as we believe that we should be discussing not only the recent activities but the ways forward.

Having said that, I must stress to the Secretary of State that today's debate is no substitute for a full-scale debate on the RAF. Hon. Members in all parts of the House wish to raise constituency matters relating to the RAF and operational and logistics aspects of the service. I remind the Government that we have not had an RAF debate since 2 May 1991. I trust that, when he replies to the debate, the Foreign Secretary will confirm that, in the 75th year of the RAF, the Government do not want to be discourteous to the RAF by not providing a full-scale debate in the House of Commons. It would be an insult to the RAF and the House if we did not have such a debate.

In essence, this debate is concerned with the recent raids involving the RAF over Iraq. That is where the public interest lies and the subject on which we must question the Government. Those raids were about the enforcement of no-fly zones over the north and south of Iraq. When those zones were established, they met with almost universal approval. We called for them, we supported them then and we support them now. I pay tribute to the RAF personnel and our allies who have daily patrolled the dangerous skies and whose courage and skill has, for the last 18 months, protected thousands of Shi'ites and Kurds from death and injury.

This is an opportune time to recall why it was necessary to impose those no-fly zones. Saddam Hussein has an atrocious record on human rights. Like most dictators, he has shown the utmost brutality towards minorities and especially against those who disagree with him. He began to use his aircraft to carry out much of that programme of genocide. In the north against the Kurds, he waged chemical warfare in which thousands of innocent men, women and children perished. It is estimated that, in the town of Halabja, 5,000 people lost their lives. In other areas, refugees were gunned down as they tried to flee.

A United Nations official report on the situation in the south speaks of the use of phosphorus and napalm bombs. Reports of chemical warfare were rife. I must add that chemical warfare—indeed, much of the rest of the warfare —was made possible in many instances by equipment supplied by western companies. As the House knows, the British Government have clearly been shown to have treated the United Nations arms embargo against Iraq with a Nelsonian approach, turning a blind eye to breaches.

Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam)

I welcome the hon. Gentleman's remarks of support for the action in Iraq. Does he agree that the comments of CND—the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament—of which he was a member for five years, are regrettable, particularly the remark that the course of action was regrettable? Will he confirm that he resigned from CND in the light of those remarks?

Dr. Clark

I wish that I had not given way to the hon. Lady [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] She wastes the time of the House and squeezes out other hon. Members who wish to make a contribution to the debate. I do not think my position in the debate over the issues in Iraq is to be doubted.

Because Saddam Hussein waged wanton genocide, the United Nations was forced to pass resolution 688 demanding that he stop persecuting minorities in Iraq. Later, to ensure that that resolution was implemented, no-fly zones were imposed, a move which at the time met with universal support. I have heard it suggested that they were illegal. No less a person than the United Nations Secretary-General gave approval for their establishment in August 1992 and said that the Security Council had given the allies the necessary mandate.

That was the position then and I take the view that, if it was, and is, good enough for the United Nations Secretary-General, it is good enough for me. It goes without saying that unless those no-fly zones were enforced, they were unlikely to be of any use. Thus, allied aircraft have been deployed to ensure that no Iraqi aircraft can fly in those zones and perpetrate their dreadful crimes on the Kurds and the Shi'ites.

When Saddam Hussein began to install ground-to-air missiles and their associated radars in the no-fly zones—occasionally they locked on to patrolling allied aircraft—he had only one object in mind. That was to deter the patrolling aircraft and make nonsense of the no-fly zones. That could not be tolerated. In effect, he was threatening not only the lives of the pilots but the lives of thousands of innocent people in the north and south of Iraq.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that a United States Air Force Wild Weasel aircraft today fired a missile at an Iraqi battery which had directed its laser beam against a French Mirage aircraft? Such a provocative act is further evidence that we cannot place any validity on statements made by Iraq.

Dr. Clark

I was aware of that, having heard about it on the 4 o'clock BBC world news. I gather that further details of the incident are awaited. It seems that the Iraqis locked on to an allied aircraft.

Mr. Winnick

Would my hon. Friend agree that we should be deeply concerned, whatever side we take, about civilian casualties? We should not otherwise be in this House, and certainly not on the Labour Benches. The last person to give lectures about casualties is the criminal dictator in Iraq who is not only responsible for what my hon. Friend has been describing but it should also be remembered that he initiated that eight years war with his neighbouring country, a war which cost the lives of tens of thousands of people on both sides and no gain was made. That is apart from the gassing of his own people and all the other crimes and atrocities that this evil tyrant has committed.

Dr. Clark

I accept and acknowledge the sincerity of my hon. Friend who feels very strongly about this and I thought he made his point very well. He reinforced the argument I was trying to deploy, that this man has murdered thousands upon thousands of his own citizens and we must never forget that. Even now there are British citizens languishing in the gaols of Iraq. I think of Michael Wainwright, from the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon), and I think of Paul Ride from the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard). They are languishing in those gaols for no other reason than that they inadvertently crossed the border. They committed no crimes, yet we do not know in what conditions they are being held. I hope that when the Foreign Secretary winds up he will be able to give us some more information about that.

Sir Jim Spicer (Dorset, West)

May I return to the point which the hon. Member made about the safety of our own aircrews? He will no doubt have read that in the north, a definite ambush was set up and MiG fighters were deployed to try and draw our fighters into an ambush so that those ground-to-air missiles could hit them. Does that not emphasise the fact, which if I may say so has not been emphasised from his own Benches, that we have to do something, if only for the safety of our own people, apart from all the points that he has been making.

Dr. Clark

I hoped that I had made the point that that is basically what it is all about and it was because of that that it was right to target purely military targets, not civilian targets and the bombing raids were necessary and justified, if we were going to enforce the no-fly zones. There have been questions as to whether the actions—the western reaction of the past week—were in accord with United Nations resolutions.

Mr. Bernie Grant

As the Secretary of State would not answer my question and my hon. Friend appears to be a friend of the Secretary of State, perhaps he will answer my question. I specifically asked the Secretary of State last Wednesday about targeting and he gave the impression then that all the targets would be in the no-fly zones. We now learn that the British Government supported the Americans when they launched the cruise missiles at Baghdad, which is outside the no-fly zone. Could my hon. Friend explain why there has been this change of mind by the Secretary of State and has the Secretary of State misled Parliament in what he said last Wednesday?

Dr. Clark

My hon. Friend was less worthy than he normally is in his initial comment, but I honestly cannot say what the Secretary of State thinks. His mind is beyond himself, let alone me. I cannot interpret that.

Mr. Malcolm Chisholm (Edinburgh, Leith)

I accept that my hon. Friend cannot speak for the Secretary of State, but can he give his own opinion and will he take this opportunity to condemn the American cruise missile attack on Baghdad, which clearly had nothing to do with the defence of the no-fly zones?

Dr. Clark

Yes. We have made clear our position with regard to the justification for those raids. We have said that, if they are in accord with United Nations resolutions, if they are within international law and within the level of proportionality, they are justified. In the case of the American raid we say clearly, and said immediately after the raid, that enough was enough of that sort of raid and that the whole issue should be referred back to the United Nations. That was our position on Monday. It is our position now and I hope that that is clear.

If I might continue about the legality of these raids. The custodian of those United Nations resolutions is the Secretary General of the United Nations, Boutros Boutros Ghali. He has made the position clear about the legality of the no-fly zones. He repeated the position about the latest raid last week and said:

The raid was carried out in accordance with a mandate from the Security Council under resolution 678, and the motive for the raid was Iraq's violation of resolution 687, which concerns the cease-fire. As the Secretary General of the United Nations, I can tell you that the action taken was in accordance with the resolutions of the Security Council and the Charter of the United Nations.

That is pretty clear to me. It is not like the Secretary of State's mind. We understand it clearly. We are therefore completely satisfied that the raids in which we were involved were covered by the United Nations mandate and were in accord with international law. As such, they have our full support, but we also feel that it is now appropriate to pose the question as to which is the best way forward. Where do we go to? One thing is clear: no matter how important this affair is—and it is important—we must not allow Saddam Hussein to dominate the world political stage. He is not the most important person in the world, and there are considerable problems elsewhere. I think of Cambodia, Bosnia, Somalia, and of Mozambique, and I could go on. There are other problems. We must not get this out of proportion.

We all know that Saddam Hussein is a chancer as well as a bully. Of course he resented the ceasefire terms imposed on him by the United Nations and he thought he had a chance. He saw a window of opportunity in which he could rid himself of some of those obligations. He thought that Europe was preoccupied with the Bosnian situation. He knew that the Americans had 30,000 troops trying to provide relief aid in Somalia. They had their hands full. He looked at the presidential changeover period in the United States and thought that that would blur decision-making so he took a chance. He thought it was an opportunity to ease some of the burdens of the United Nations resolutions and he has been shown in no uncertain terms that he cannot do so.

His actions and the United Nations' response have sparked a debate which raises many pertinent questions, not least of which is how the United Nations enforces resolutions in the new world order, following the end of the super-power confrontation.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the incursions that took place before these raids and were used as justification for them, took place in land that was clearly in Iraq before the commencement of the invasion of Kuwait and the subsequent Gulf war? Will he also say how the Iraqi regime was to negotiate about the borders when those in the west were not interested in negotiating with them about that?

Dr. Clark

I can confirm that what my hon. Friend has said is a fact. That land used to be Iraqi. It was declared a demilitarised zone until last Friday when it became part of Kuwait. That is my understanding of the situation. He is right. I am not justifying our attacks within the no-fly zone on the incursions into Kuwait, serious as they were, but justifying trying to save the lives of thousands of Shias and Kurds who would suffer if those no-fly zones were lost.

Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South)

Is my hon. Friend aware that the radio of the Voice of the Kurds which broadcasts from the organisation, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, which is the socialist party within Kurdistan which has 49 per cent. of support within the democratically elected Kurdish Parliament, elected last year, has called on the Iraqi people and Iraqi army to rise up and overthrow Saddam and his brutal dictatorship? Is he also aware that despite some calls from some quarters in the Arab world against this action, there are large numbers of people including the Iraqi democratic opposition who believe that it is time that the United Nations and the international community started to give its aid and assistance to that democratic opposition? The humanitarian aid should no longer go through Saddam's regime: it should go directly to those who need it so that Saddam and his forces are not reinforced by it.

Dr. Clark

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention, because it accords with the information that I have been receiving over the past 24 hours. I have been on the telephone to people connected with the Iraqi National Congress—the official opposition forum for Iraq, and other groups who have been involved with the Kurds and the Shias and Iraqi opposition in general. They told me, "The response was appropriate." That was their reaction to the bombings.

On Monday, I said in the House that after three raids, it was perhaps time to take stock of the situation. I felt it appropriate for the matter to be referred back to the Security Council, not with a view to weakening our resolve or stance against Saddam Hussein but to reassess what had been achieved and to develop a more long-term and coherent strategy of how he could be forced to comply with UN resolutions. We were delighted when that course was followed but disappointed that the Government did not take more of a lead.

Of necessity, the Security Council discussion on Tuesday was somewhat restricted in its terms, and we still feel that a further discussion would be useful. A discussion in the Security Council would have the advantage not only of taking stock, but would allow us to maximise support in the coalition ranged against Saddam Hussein. We felt that any misunderstanding could lead to disagreements with our Arab friends and allies. That must be avoided if our longer-term objectives are to be achieved in the middle east.

The Gulf affair raises the whole prickly issue of how United Nations resolutions are to be enforced. As we enter a new era without the two super powers and their client states there is clearly a new enhanced role for the UN, but the UN must be more than a mere debating chamber. Its resolutions need to be enforced. Our experience of the League of Nations shows that the will of the international community needs to be enforced and not merely expressed. What may be appropriate in one situation may not be appropriate in another. Different situations demand different solutions. We need flexibility and, of course, the cardinal rule must be that force must always be the weapon of last resort.

In the past individual nations or groups of nations have taken on the responsibility to ensure that United Nations resolutions were enforced. Last week the United States, Britain and France, with the backing of Russia, did that. They had little option if Saddam Hussein was not to continue to flout vital resolutions. We should remember that he had installed missiles in a no-fly zone, and invaded the Kuwait border/demilitarised zone and taken missiles. I am sure that my hon. Friends will agree that that was not in accord with the United Nations resolution.

He also refused permission for United Nations weapons inspectors to fly in and perform their task. That task is vital to ensure that Saddam Hussein does not continue to build up his chemical and nuclear warfare capacity. That task had to be enforced. However, we accept that the sensitivities of some of our middle east allies were affected. That can be overcome in the longer term by the United Nations being given the means to work through other regional groups as was envisaged in chapter 8 of the United Nations charter.

In the new world order, the United Nations must be modernised to accommodate its burgeoning peacekeeping and peacemaking operations. I am always surprised by the number of places in which the United Nations is trying to keep the peace, to keep warring groups apart and, sometimes, to make peace. It is appropriate to consider rejuvenating the military staff committee. We should debate the establishment of a joint military planning group within the United Nations.

There is an urgent and immediate need for a high technology communications unit in the United Nations to help co-ordinate military operations. Military units operating under the United Nations should be able to communicate as effectively with the the United Nations as with their national Governments. Without such facilities, it will be difficult for forces to continue to operate effectively under the aegis of the United Nations. The Secretary-General has produced a report on that and other issues, and I hope that the Government will press for some reform along those lines.

The United Nations must pursue non-military means with even more vigour, especially in relation to their use in Iraq. Should not we consider a resolution spelling out that if Iraq had a Government who would abide by the ceasefire conditions, did not persecute their minorities and accepted all the pertinent United Nations resolutions the economic sanctions imposed by the United Nations would be lifted, making life much more tolerable for the ordinary people of Iraq with whom we have no quarrel?

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Clark

No. I should like to continue.

Over the past few weeks, many young men in the RAF and their colleagues in allied air forces risked their lives in raids against Saddam Hussein. Let us not forget that. They took no pleasure in that, but they did it in an attempt to force him to comply with UN resolutions. They were spelling out that he could not flout the wish of the rest of the world. Thankfully, they all came back and we have edged away from the immediate prospect of out-and-out hostilities into which we seemed to be drifting on Monday. The position is now much more hopeful.

Saddam Hussein—if I dare say it—has declared a ceasefire; President Bush has been replaced by President Clinton; and the United Nations inspectors are being allowed back into Iraq on UN terms. That is a much more hopeful scenario than the one that prevailed seven days ago.

Mr. Brazier


Mr. Cormack


Dr. Clark

No, I will not give way.

We must build on those positive aspects. We must work within the UN to make it more effective in carrying out its resolutions. While we are doing that we must tell Saddam Hussein that we will not tolerate his persecution of his minorities or his threats to his neighbours. It must be made absolutely clear that he cannot renege on the ceasefire terms and that United Nations resolutions will not be broken with impunity.

5.17 pm
Sir Edward Heath (Old Bexley and Sidcup)

I fully associate myself with what the Secretary of State for Defence said about Her Majesty's Royal Air Force. As one who benefited greatly from the support of the Royal Air Force during the tramp across Europe in the second world war, I appreciate it as much as anybody.

I should like to raise two issues in relation to the far east. I agree with the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) about seeking a way forward, because as far as I can see no one is doing that. People are still dwelling in the past. In the past few days the situation appeared to deteriorate into a personal vendetta between the American president and Saddam Hussein. One must try to find a solution.

I also agree with the hon. Member for South Shields about the Secretary-General's views on the necessity for a proper communications system. The previous Secretary-General told me that his greatest regret was that he saw no signs beforehand of the Iraqi attack on Kuwait—that it was impossile for him to do so because no satellites or intelligence services were at his disposal and the powers did not give him any information about their expectations in international affairs, in respect of conflicts between nations. Obviously that should be remedied as quickly as possible.

One understands the attacks on President Saddam Hussein perfectly well. He was attacked because he started the war against Iran, but one must remember that in that respect he was supported by the whole Arab world, which regarded Iran as its greatest threat, and by a large part of the western world—which took the same view and proceeded to supply President Saddam Hussein with all the weaponry of war necessary for his purpose. In condemning President Saddam Hussein for the damage that he has brought upon his people, one must remember also what happened in Iran under the last regime and the destruction that it brought to the people of that country. Both are equally worthy of condemnation.

As to the future, with the change in the American presidency we have reached the stage where the United nations Secretary-General can himself be called in to deal with the hopeful signs mentioned by the Opposition spokesman, and identify whether there is a genuine policy behind them or whether they were made purely for propaganda purposes. The matter can no longer be dealt with by the four powers, who are already beginning to break up. The United Nations is really in the hands of the four powers mentioned today. That cannot continue if we are to find a way forward, because they are all so committed to their past. That applies to our own Government as well.

I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs is now prepared to step back and to take an entirely fresh look at how the situation can be dealt with in the future. I note that the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) has a grin on his face, as he so often has at any suggestion of that kind. His views would carry a little more weight if he told Israel to implement the United Nations recommendations and suggested that force be used against Israel to get it out of the occupied territories and that Israel take back the 400 helpless people who, in the cold of winter, it threw into territory that it does not occupy. If the hon. Gentleman did that, I might pay some attention to his views.

Mr. Winnick

The right hon. Gentleman is right to attack Israel's action and the people whom he mentioned should never have been deported. That was not in accordance with international law and I cannot disagree with the right hon. Gentleman on that. However, does he recall his earlier speeches, and in particular an article of his that was published in The Independent just before Christmas 1990, in which he defended and justified Saddam Hussein's position towards Kuwait, and to which I replied at the time?

Before I take any lectures from the right hon. Gentleman about Israel or the middle east, I remind him that when he was Government Chief Whip at the time of the Suez crisis, I and many other Members of Parliament demonstrated against British aggression in Egypt, which—as we knew at the time—was done in collusion with France and Israel. Instead of resigning, as Edward Boyle and Anthony Nutting did, the right hon. Gentleman kept himself in government.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. That is outside the scope of the debate.

Sir Edward Heath

The hon. Gentleman did not deal with my point that he is not prepared to say that force should be used against Israel to make it carry out United Nations recommendations. He never—not for a moment—deals with that point.

There is also a lesson to be learnt from Suez. Today, Governments still expect to get rid of President Saddam Hussein. I never justified his conduct, but I explained how he had made such a complete misjudgment because of the support he previously received from the Arab and the western world—and, as we are now learning, right up to the last minute from President Bush and the American ambassador. However, that did not justify his actions in any way.

The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) mentioned 1956. Afterwards, everyone said that the thing to do was to get rid of Abdel Nasser. We never did; he was there for another 14 years and died of a heart attack. For the powers to say, "We must get rid of President Saddam Hussein," does no more than give him additional publicity and strengthen his country. I wish that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence had acknowledged that in his speech.

Furthermore, recent action has alienated us from the rest of the Arab world.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Douglas Hurd)

indicated dissent.

Sir Edward Heath

There is no use my right hon. Friend shaking his head. He is just not in with the Arab world. I did my best to get him there when he was one of my Private Secretaries. I took him around the Gulf with me, but it will take more than that to get him to understand that recent action has alienated a large part of the Arab world. That alienation lessens our influence and damages our economic and trade position with the Arab world. Meanwhile, the rest of the European countries are getting on with it and gaining a lot of benefit while we lose. That is why we must abandon the idea that we must get rid of President Saddam Hussein before anything else can be done.

Mr. Hurd

I gladly acknowledge that I owe a large part of my education to my right hon. Friend. It has moved on a little in some respects since those days, but I certainly acknowledge the debt. I hope that we are reasonably in touch with the Arab world. I believe that it would have dismayed the Arab world much more—even those who utter some discontent now—if we had allowed Saddam Hussein to exploit what he saw as a moment of weakness and uncertainty in the western world. If, as a result, we were today in a position in which the integrity of Kuwait, with its new boundaries, had clearly been violated; in which the United Nations had conditions imposed on it before any inspection teams were allowed into Iraq to examine and destroy chemical and nuclear weapons; and in which allied planes that are helping to protect the Shias and the Kurds had in effect been bullied out of the sky, the tremors of nervousness, dismay and accusation directed from the Arab world reaching their friends in the West would have been overwhelming and very dangerous.

Sir Edward Heath

My right hon. Friend is perfectly entitled to his view, and I would not challenge part of it. The damage has been caused by the attack on the alleged arms factories outside Baghdad which alienated public opinion. There is no use my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence saying, "In any case, it is all Saddam Hussein's fault," because that is not accepted. If we decide to bomb targets where there are questions of legal justification and that action does undesirable harm, of course we lose out. That is where the whole question arises of how the situation should be handled and it is a question of utmost importance. There is far too much of, "Whatever happens, it is all President Saddam Hussein's fault." That is not how the rest of the Arab world sees it.

Another factor left out of the account in looking to the future is the action of Iran, which has not been mentioned by either my right hon. and learned Friend or Labour's Front-Bench spokesman. There is undoubtedly a desire on the part of Iran, and the opportunity, to penetrate the southern area of Iraq, as it has tried to do for decades and centuries and against which we must guard. No action has been taken and I would like assurances on that aspect.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence said that Kuwait has made no request for British forces to be sent there. I am reassured by that, but I want a reassurance from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs that if any such request is made, it will be turned down at once. We cannot become involved in having ground forces in Kuwait against any possible threat from Iraq. We cannot accept that for one moment. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?] I will explain why.

Such action will again deepen the hostility of the rest of the Gulf towards this country. We got out of it in 1961; now, we will be regarded as the colonial powers returning again. I was responsible for handling the events of 1961. Kuwait asked for complete independence: it wanted control over foreign and defence policy. The Government accepted that, negotiated it and agreed it at the beginning of July. We also said privately, "If there is any threat to you, you can come to us." According to our own information, such a threat was posed towards the end of that July. We said, "This is a threat to you. Do you want us to come to your assistance?" The Kuwaitis said yes, so we sent in forces. As a result, the Iraqis—who were on the Basra road—halted and then withdrew.

We then said—this is the important point—"You are now independent in every respect. If you are to have forces here permanently, they should come from the Arab League. They can be placed there as a guard against any attempts from Iraq to the north." The Arab League accepted that: it moved in its forces and we—having gone in at the end of July—withdrew in the middle of October. That was the end of it.

Now, we should get the Arab League to take action and provide what is necessary for the defence of Kuwait. Its members can agree that among themselves. There may be difficulties; the Al-Sabah regime in Kuwait is not the most admired in the Arab world, for good reasons. Nothing that has happened since the war gives us any reason for admiration either. The rest of the Arab world knows that perfectly well. Of course, no one over here ever mentions the fact that many Palestinians and Jordanians who were working in Kuwait have spent all their lives there and have never been allowed back; nor does anyone mention the action taken against individuals who have been allowed no proper trial. However, I do not want to go into all that.

If it is necessary for action to be taken, it should be taken through the Arab League. That will mean active work on the part of the Secretary-General of the United Nations and by the Foreign Ministers of the countries that were involved in the Gulf war. I hope that the Foreign Secretary will accept that.

I have expressed the strongest possible opposition to the sending of British forces to Kuwait. Earlier, a voice behind me asked, "Why?" I have explained one of my reasons; another reason is that, once the forces were there, it would be impossible to get them out. We should find ourselves landed with yet another commitment abroad, in a country where there are no direct British interests. [HON. MEMBERS: "There is oil"] We have all the oil we need. What other British interest is there? We must face facts. The only direct interest that we could have in Kuwait is oil, and we have oil.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

I am very interested in my right hon. Friend's idea that we should leave the security and defence of Kuwait to the Arab League. The Arab League has never called itself an effective military instrument, capable of coherent defensive action. That being so, surely it is incumbent on the western allies jointly to secure the interests of their friends in the region—the emirate of Kuwait and the other continguous powers.

Sir Edward Heath

The Arab League has the necessary resources. It has money, equipment and men. My hon. Friend may treat it with contempt, but it worked for many years in the 1960s. What is more, if the Arab League defends Kuwait, it will be much more difficult for Saddam Hussein to use the Iraqis to attack it.

My opposition to sending British forces into Kuwait is equalled only by my opposition to the involving of further British forces in any Yugoslavian action. A ghastly civil war is going on: people are trying to wipe out the legacy of generations and centuries. We cannot do that for them; what we can do is, where necessary, put a fence between Yugoslavia and other countries that might be affected. That is an understandable aim, but we are simply not capable of working out the answer for Yugoslavia.

Perhaps the plan worked out by Lord Owen and his colleague will eventually be accepted; we cannot tell. If it is accepted, however, we shall not know whether it will be kept. Many would want to accept it, get rid of any intervention and then start adjusting again—but this is not a war in which we must become involved. If we send in more forces, we shall become more and more tied down.

We must accept that, if we try to protect humanitarian forces, we are bound to suffer casualties. That cannot be avoided, although it is tragic. Already, tributes have been paid to one soldier whose life was lost in Yugoslavia. What will happen when such events occur constantly? What will the public say if we put forces in, those in the mountains start carrying on as they did during the second world war and all the casualties start coming home? We know that the public are affected by television coverage of those who are suffering now; what will they say when the forces that we put in are in the same condition? I know that, technically, the debate is not about Yugoslavia, but I want to make it absolutely plain how strongly I oppose our being dragged in to Yugoslavia step by step, as is now happening.

Nor should we give way to American pressure. We do not know yet what the new president will want, or how he will conduct himself. If I were the American president, I would be furious about what his predecessor has done during the past 10 days to try to force him into a corner and to deprive him of any freedom of decision in policy matters. To take all public interest from the arrival of a new president so that it will stay with the old one is appalling behaviour on the part of anyone in public life. That is the Americans' affair, however; we do not have to give way to American pressure.

In the 1960s, Harold Macmillan and his Government stood firmly against all American pressure to get us into Vietnam. That pressure was added to by Australia and New Zealand. We continued to stand against it, and how right we were. At the time of the war between India and Pakistan, there was tremendous pressure on us to become involved. Macmillan and his Cabinet stood against it: I well remember the emergency meetings that we had. When there was trouble in Jordan and Israel, there was pressure on us to become involved in that, too; we resisted that pressure. When there was war again between India and Pakistan, President Nixon and Henry Kissinger put great pressure on us to go in. We withstood that pressure and said no and we were absolutely right to do so.

There was great pressure for us to go into the Yom Kippur war; we withstood it absolutely. In all those cases, we took the right attitude. I hope that our present Government will stand up to any American pressure to become involved in Yugoslavia, Kuwait or the Gulf. We must concentrate on working out a way of taking publicity away from Saddam Hussein and securing a workable agreement. I think that the UN Secretary-General is probably the person to do that. It must be done personally; it cannot be achieved through long-distance communications—another communiqué here, another decree there. That will not produce the answer. It is time that we got down to the real job of working out a solution for the future.

5.38 pm
Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)

I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) for introducing an element of reality to a debate that was becoming absorbed in the hype of the last days of President Bush.

I joined the Royal Air Force 50 years ago this year, and qualified as a pilot in 1945—too late to fight. As a former service man, however, let me say that nothing upsets service men more than Ministers' sending them into action, then hiding behind them and saying that those who criticised the action are traitors to their country. The Royal Air Force was formed 75 years ago and some other things that successive Governments have asked it to do are on the record. Squadron Leader Harris—later "Bomber Harris"—used chemical weapons in the twenties against the Iraqis to control the tribesmen. It was the first time that air power had been used for colonial control. That was not the fault of the RAF: it was the post-war Government who decided to use air power to keep Iraq under our control. We may not want such things to be remembered, but in the Arab world they are remembered.

The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup spoke about Kuwait. He will recall that Selwyn Lloyd sent a message to Foster Dulles in 1958 suggesting that Britain take over Kuwait as a crown colony. Foster Dulles said, "What a marvellous idea." That may not be remembered in the House, but it is remembered in the Arab world.

I hope that many of my hon. Friends will join me in the Lobby against the motion for the Adjournment. It is a disreputable motion. Whenever a decision of policy arises, the Government table a motion that the House goes home. That is what an Adjournment is. We never had a single vote of substance during the Gulf war. We always had to vote on the Adjournment. Let us be clear that, by voting against the Adjournment, those who take my view—I do not know how many there are—are voting against the wickedness of the bombing that occurred in the past 10 days, and I will tell the House why.

During the Gulf war, we were told that Saddam Hussein was comparable to Hitler. Incidentally, that was a description used in connection with Nasser as well. Subsequently, however, we have learnt a lot about the Government's attitude to Saddam Hussein. They armed Saddam Hussein. The present Prime Minister, as Chancellor, provided a credit of £1 million to Saddam Hussein three months before the war. Iraqi pilots were trained by the Royal Air Force until a few days before the war.

There is some evidence to suggest that the American ambassador indicated to Saddam Hussein just before he occupied Kuwait that such a move would be seen in Washington as an Arab matter. The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup and I both spent many hours with Saddam Hussein arguing that he should withdraw from Kuwait. I do not know what he said to the right hon. Gentleman, but I know what he said to me: "Even if I withdraw from Kuwait, America is determined to destroy me." Everything that has happened since has confirmed Saddam Hussein's analysis of American policy.

It was not a question of human rights; otherwise, why would Saudi Arabia have received different treatment? There is no democracy in Saudi Arabia. The al-Sabah family run Kuwait. Why have not we heard the great spokespeople on the Conservative Benches on the subject of civil rights in Kuwait.

What about the Palestinian question? Have the Government ever really seriously contemplated exerting the sort of pressure—I am not talking about military pressure—on Israel that might have forced her to respect the resolutions concerning Palestine or even the recent evictions of 400 people? I am a lifelong member of Labour Friends of Israel because I believe in Israel's right to survive. But the Government have never been serious about implementing United Nations resolutions involving Israel.

British Governments did nothing when Turkey invaded Cyprus. Why? Because Turkey was the bulwark of the west against the Soviet Union. We ought at least to understand that the rest of the world understands that what is going on here is odious hypocrisy.

The language used is so false. If a woman is shot in Belfast, as happened the other day, that is terrorism. If a women is killed in the al-Rashid hotel in Baghdad, that is the international community introducing a proportional response. If anyone tries to kill someone else in Bosnia, we send in Lord Owen to tell both sides to stop.

The Minister cannot get away with the fraudulent arguments that he put to the House last week and this. Although he did not like to admit it, he has even produced a slight change of opinion among those on the Opposition Front Bench, who now say that we should go back to the United Nations. That was not said at the beginning: I do not recall my right hon. and hon. Friends saying then that the action should have been freshly endorsed by the Security Council.

I cannot go into the Lobby to vote for a Government who killed 300,000 Iraqis the year before last.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Benn

I shall not give way for the moment.

Do not think that that was all marvellous high technology precision bombing. We know from the recent bombing of the al-Rashid hotel that high technology precision bombing is an illusion pumped out as propaganda.

Mr. Robathan

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Benn

I shall not give way for the moment.

The Harvard medical team went to Iraq just after the bombing. It said that 150,000 Iraqi babies under five would die because we had bombed the water supply and that cholera and typhoid would spread as a result—and so they did. The other day, a United Nations Children's Fund spokesperson, speaking on the 7 o'clock news, said that cholera and typhoid were still rampant. Why? Because we—the so-called allied forces—bombed the water supply. What military targets were at stake there?

We express horror at ethnic cleansing, but, my God, the Kuwaitis threw out every Palestinian after the war because, for their own reasons, the Palestinians had been sympathetic to Saddam. Saddam was an enemy of Israel. Was not that ethnic cleansing? The Saudi Government threw 750,000 Yemenis out of Saudi Arabia into the Yemen. When did the British Government protest about that? It is odious hypocrisy, and people around the world know it.

Mr. Robathan

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Benn

I will not give way for the moment, because I am developing an argument which does not carry a lot of support but at least I can make it clear.

Most of hon. Friends will probably abstain in the vote tonight because that is one way of dealing with the matter; Conservative Members will be whipped to vote for the Adjournment; and some Labour Members will go into the no Lobby. We want the House and the country to know why.

Even during the Secretary of State's speech, I noticed little indications that something that is being said has been noted. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said very clearly that the no-fly zones are not an attempt to partition Iraq. That came from the Foreign Office. The Foreign Office insisted in a memorandum to the Secretary of State that that should be included. That had to be said because many people in the Arab world think that the no-fly zones are an attempt to partition Iraq. The Turks are terrified that, if the Kurds were really free, there would be trouble in Turkey, where the Kurds are also repressed. As the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup, the former Prime Minister, said, if the Shi'ites or some of the marsh Arabs could join Iran, Iran would become a threat. The arguments are fraudulent. The cover is thin.

The truth is that the Government did everything that Bush wanted. I can only say, thank God that Bush has gone. That man did more damage to the true international community than any recent President. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Roosevelt and Truman were very different.

I do not believe for a moment that the Government have majority support for what they have done. People understand very well that what happened was that the British Government, yet again—in contrast to the courage of Macmillan over the Vietnam war and the Indian war as revealed to us by the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup—simply went along with everything that Bush wanted. Then, when they realised that it was not popular, they got the press office at No. 10 to pump out a story that the Prime Minister had had five or six telephone calls to Bush, just to drop a little hint that there was more caution in London than they were prepared to admit at the time.

It is a disreputable policy. It is a policy that will lose support worldwide. The Government should not be surprised if it does enormous damage to the United Nations. The other day, I read that students in Ethiopia had demonstrated against the United Nations, which they regard as being no more than a flag surrounding American imperialism. I am very clear about it: I want to see a democratic United Nations. I want the member states to elect the Security Council—

Mr. Robathan

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Benn

I am not giving way to the hon. Gentleman; he will just have to make his own speech.

The United Nations was intended to be an instrument of the world community to rid humanity of the scourge of war, not a cover for the one remaining super-power to take on board what Queen Victoria tried to do when she sought to run the world herself and through her three grandsons—the King of England, the Kaiser of Germany and the Czar of Russia. Those days of imperialism are over. It may not be recognised by those on the Government Front Bench, but the Government burnt their fingers at the time of Suez. I believe that they will have burnt their fingers again this time for embarking on an operation that could not be justified by any of the arguments. If the world is to deal with violations of human rights and protect the planet, those questions must be dealt with through genuine international action free from the economic interest of one or another super-power.

5.49 pm
Mr. Tom King (Bridgwater)

None of us who sat in the Chamber or served in government during the invasion of Kuwait and its subsequent liberation will have been surprised by the speech that we have just heard from the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn). If he had had his way, and if the policy of the House and the Government had followed his votes on those occasions, Saddam Hussein would still be in Kuwait. He would still be committing the atrocities and cruelties that it was proved that he committed in Kuwait. Indeed, there cannot be much doubt in the House that his ambitions would have spread far wider still.

I give full marks for courage to the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) for his speech, in which he most bravely said that the actions of the United Nations would have the Opposition's full support. That was a brave attempt before the right hon. Member for Chesterfield was let loose. One realises that full support in terms of Labour party attitudes must be severely qualified.

Thank God that, unlike the Parliament in Iraq, we have a Parliament here in which the right hon. Member for Chesterfield can make a speech like the one that he has just made, which was critical of and hostile towards Government policy, and still live to tell the tale. I take some pleasure in that.

The hon. Member for South Shields referred to the length of time that our armed forces, and particulary the Royal Air Force, have been engaged in work within Iraq, and in the skies over Iraq, to save human lives. It is sobering for me to think that it is nearly two years since I stood on the snow-covered hillsides of northern Iraq and met the streams of Kurdish people who were in a pathetic condition, having been driven to the extremities of those mountains through their sheer terror of the threatened genocide of Saddam Hussein and his forces. The House should take pride in the fact that those people live; they are fed, watered and housed. They have come down from the mountain tops and are now back in their villages. To an extent, they are protected by the Peshmerga, their own foot soldiers. That is of course made possible as a result of the air cover provided for all these months by the RAF and the American and French air forces.

The right hon. Member for Chesterfield referred to Operation Haven. In that respect, it is right to pay tribute to the attitude of the Turkish Government. It was not an easy decision for them to take. The decision in the Turkish Parliament was by no means unanimous. It raised major domestic problems in relation to the support for the Kurds in northern Iraq. However, the Turkish Government have continued with that policy in the interests of humanity and to save lives.

Operation Haven is now known as "operation provide comfort"—the Americans have a great habit of changing brand names after the original name is established. As my hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson) will be aware, while the situation in respect of the southern no-fly zone is tragic, at least that policy has provided some comfort and help in desperate circumstances.

I want first to deal with Iraq as I want to refer directly to the comments of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield. However, I am mindful that this debate is also about the RAF. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence said, the two subjects are, quite rightly, linked in the debate. I want to address recent events and to draw on my experiences in an earlier incarnation.

We recognise that what we have seen in recent weeks and months is what we saw in the period before the Gulf war broke out. Perhaps tributes should be paid today to former President Bush and former Secretary Baker in respect of the United Nations action in that it was possible to hold together a coalition of such diverse and different countries. At the start of the events, no one would have dreamt that the coalition could have held together in such testing circumstances. It is vital that that coalition should hold together now.

With great respect to my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), the Father of the House, I subscribe to the view of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State and not to that of my right hon. Friend. My evidence is that, while there will always be Arab concern about the risk of civilian casualties and that any response should be proportional and not excessive, there would have been far greater concern if it appeared that the United Nations no longer cared about the insistence on the ceasefire terms, about the determination to impose UN resolutions or about the need to ensure the destruction of the weapons of mass destruction which could have posed a major threat to neighbouring countries had they not been successfully dealt with.

Saddam Hussein is, as we know, an attentive viewer of CNN. He, like everyone else, knew about the transition period and the change of President. He knew what problems that could pose in the American political scene. We clearly passed through an initial period of challenge and trial by Saddam Hussein, and I believe that we have passed that test in an appropriate and responsible way. If Opposition Members disagree with me, they must recognise that the United Nations' objectives, certainly in the short term, appear to have been achieved. The United Nations' inspectors have returned to Iraq and can continue their work.

We must recognise the determination to maintain UN resolutions and we should not underestimate the work of the UN inspectors. I wonder how many hon. Members have obtained from the Library copies of the 16 reports by the UN Secretary-General on the progress of the work of the UN inspectors which is taking place now in Iraq and which we hope will continue.

How many people understand the scale of the work that has been undertaken? We have now established the new plant to incinerate the bulk mustard agent. How many people are aware that we have now commissioned the plant to destroy the two types of nerve agents that have been identified? Incidentally, both those plants were built by Iraq to UN standards.

How many people are aware that those operations will be centralised with supplies brought to Muthanna? It has been estimated that there is 18 months' work in the destruction of mustard and nerve agents. That information provides some idea of the scale of the resources that have been identified.

How many people are aware of what has already been destroyed? Five thousand sarin-filled 122 mm rockets, 350 R400 aerial bombs, and 44,500 litres of nerve agents have been destroyed. Can the House begin to comprehend the scale of that arsenal and the huge importance of the work of the United Nations inspectors?

Mr. Dalyell

This is not meant in an offensive or hostile way. I simply ask the right hon. Gentleman whether, when he occupied the position of Defence Secretary, he had any idea, before hostilities started, of the scale of the exports and their nature.

Mr. King

If the hon. Gentleman is referring to the export of arms, as he knows very well, we imposed the tightest prohibition of any country in the United Nations: no export of arms to Iraq. What we know—and there is no secret about it—is that people were not aware of the extraordinary deviousness and equally extraordinary skill in concealment. It is no secret that some of the chemical manufacturing capability, identical to what is required for agricultural purposes and pesticide manufacture, was disguised as requirements for alternative products; and we also know the sad saga of the supergun. We know to what lengths Saddam Hussein and his procurement operation went to disguise the true purpose of his activities.

Mr. Robathan

My right hon. Friend has given an interesting list of chemical weapons that Iraq possesses. Could he, from the benefit of his previous position, tell the House, particularly Opposition Members, how many chemical weapons the British forces had in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq when we were there two years ago?

Mr. King

We had none, and we would not have had any. This has been our position, as my hon. Friend knows, for very many years.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup has said that we must look to the future. We will not find an answer to these unhappy problems if there is a lack of resolve by the United Nations to stand on ground that is sound and just. We must ensure that we take with us in that stance our friends in the Arab world and maintain the coalition. We must ensure that our response to any challenge or provocation is at all times only proportional to such challenge. There must at no time be any doubt in Saddam Hussein's mind of our resolution in that respect.

Reference has been made—it may or may not be true; we cannot be certain about it—to the conversation between the American ambassador at that time and Saddam Hussein, but if there was any evidence in that respect it would merely serve to underline the crucial importance of there being no misunderstanding or room for doubt in Saddam's mind of our determination.

If we need to give proof of that resolution, does it include the necessity to ensure the security of Kuwait and, leading straight on from that, what does it mean for the location of British forces were we to receive such a request? Contrary to what my right hon. Friend said, if it was perceived that there was an urgent, major and early threat to Kuwait, it would be essential for the United Nations to ensure that forces were available so that there was no open invitation to attack. It was the weakness of Kuwait that encouraged the attack on it. There is no way in which Kuwait on its own could possibly defend itself were there to be a major Iraqi attack.

However—this is perhaps where I take my right hon. Friend with me more—it could only be a very short-term operation. He is right when he says that it is not desirable, either from the point of view of our own forces and the climate and conditions in which they would serve or from the point of view of our Arab friends for Western forces to be present in a different culture, which could and would be exploited by Islamic elements seeking to cause and develop grievances. In that respect, therefore, it is not desirable that our forces should be there on any long-term basis.

My right hon. and learned Friend talked about the Arab League. He will know that there is the Gulf Co-operation Council comprising the six Gulf states. The original proposal, at the end of the Gulf war, was that the council, together with Egypt and Syria, would act jointly to provide forces on the ground. Sadly, that proposal seems to be making no progress at all; the latest newspaper report that I read said that it was dead. If it is dead in respect of the location of Egyptian and Syrian forces, I certainly hope that we can look to our friends in the Gulf in the knowledge that in the final analysis we will be anxious to ensure their independence and liberty. We will want to play our part and do anything we can to help if they suffer outside aggression, but the first burden of responsibility should be carried by them.

Whatever the differences between the individual territories concerned, there is a need for real effort. I say this as someone who very much values his friendships with those in positions of responsibility in all the Gulf states. We should be able to expect in future a greater effort to establish a positive and effective co-operative force against the background of the proof that we have given of our willingness to help in their time of need.

More widely, in respect of the Royal Air Force, my right hon. and learned Friend talked about Britain's defences for the 1990s. We know that there are areas, not least in the number of our infantry regiments, where there is concern about numbers and what would happen if commitments were to build, and that this imposes extra stress; but when we are discussing the issue we must not overlook the fact that our Navy, our Air Force and other branches of our Army are also getting on with the changes which are very painful for them all and which involve major upheaval for many of them. I pay tribute to the progress being made by the RAF in the changes that my right hon. and learned Friend announced, which I think are going forward with general agreement and to the benefit of our country in cost-effective defence and the people involved.

My right hon. and learned Friend is right to pay tribute to the RAF, not just for its work in the no-fly zones but for the work that it is doing on what I suppose is probably the most dangerous flight in the world, going into Sarajevo and out again in a Hercules. I do not know whether any hon. Members have invited themselves for that trip, but I am told that one needs to take certain facilities if one undertakes that extremely dangerous flight. It is showing great courage in their support of the people there, in the work done in Somalia and, above all, in the work that is done, as I know so well, in Northern Ireland. We pay tribute to the courage that it shows day and night.

My right hon. and learned Friend referred to the RAF anniversary which will be upon us shortly. It has had some brave anniversaries. Only recently we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. Now we are approaching the 75th anniversary of the Royal Air Force itself. It has served our nation well. I am very proud to pay my tribute to it tonight, a night when we know that the service continues, as it does, in the finest traditions of the past.

6.7 pm

Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East)

As some of us thought was inevitable when the change of business was announced, the debate so far has displayed a concentration on the urgent issues raised by Iraq at the expense of some important, long-term questions which are of particular significance to the Royal Air Force. I hope that Government Front-Bench Members will have appreciated that there is a considerable desire on both sides of the House, if some of the issues of importance to the Royal Air Force cannot be debated this evening, for an early opportunity to be found for such a debate to take place.

I would like to deal with three particular issues which are of direct relevance to the Royal Air Force. The first is the European fighter aircraft, which I understand we must now call the Eurofighter 2000, in order perhaps to meet the sensitivities of Mr. Volker Ruhe. In that regard, I offer my congratulations to the Secretary of State, who unhappily has left us for a moment or two. He deserves great recognition for the skill with which he ensured that the European figher aircraft programme will be maintained.

The military case for the European fighter aircraft as the Secretary of State pointed out, is overwhelming. The employment and technological consequences for the United Kingdom industry are extremely significant. I would add to that the political damage which would have occurred had we had yet another failed European procurement programme. After the failure of the NATO "frigate for the 90s" programme, the whole notion of common procurement would have been dealt a severe blow if the project for the European fighter aircraft had had to be shelved. It was generous of the right hon. and learned Gentleman to acknowledge that, in the difficult negotiations with which he was concerned, his hand was substantially strengthened by the fact that he enjoyed the support of virtually the whole House of Commons.

The second issue to which I shall refer—I suspect that the Minister of State for the Armed Forces will not be surprised—is that of search and rescue facilities. He will know that this is an issue to which I have given some attention over the past three or four years. He will know also that, because of the proposal for the implementation of the new arrangements for search and rescue on 1 April 1993, this may be the last chance that we have to debate the proposals. Finally, he will know that I have a particular constituency interest in this matter because of the location of RAF Leuchars in my constituency and the provision of search and rescue facilities from that station.

I do not wish to rehearse once again all the arguments in favour of the retention of search and rescue facilities at RAF Leuchars, but I think that it is worth reminding the Minister and the House in summary of one or two matters which seem to me, at least, to provide an overwhelming case for the Government to think again.

RAF Leuchars is in the front line of our air defence, as the Secretary of State acknowledged in his speech. It is situated by the sea and there are additional rescue operations because of that. B flight of 22 squadron has an outstanding record of achievements in search and rescue and it is inevitable that, as a result of the arrangements to be implemented from 1 April, the level of cover provided by search and rescue in the area around the station will be substantially reduced.

From an answer that I received yesterday, I ascertained that over the past five years search and rescue operations from RAF Leuchars have rescued 352 civilians and 25 military personnel. Some of those people would have been at risk if the arrangements which are to be put into operation after 1 April had been in operation over the past five years.

Mr. Bill Walker

The hon. and learned Gentleman will understand that during the past few weeks my constituency has taken up what can only be described as an enormous amount of search and rescue helicopters' time. I would like, as I am sure he would, to give credit for the fact that the crews there do far more than their duty requires. In particular, we have been most impressed by what they have done in seeking out and finding all the people stranded as a result of floods and ensuring that no lives were lost.

Mr. Campbell

The hon. Gentleman anticipated two points that I was about to make. First, although he did not say so expressly, by implication he pointed to the enormous public relations value of these operations. He also pointed, perhaps more directly, to the experience of the past fortnight in his part of Scotland and in mine, where the extreme weather, first snow, and then flooding, has meant that the facilities at RAF Leuchars have been constantly employed, and in a way that does considerable credit to those responsible for these operations. This has served to underline just how significant and important is the service at present provided. There really is an opportunity on this occasion for the Government to think again.

I have to say, perhaps in a slightly partisan way, that throughout the 1992 general election Conservative supporters in north-east Fife accused me of scaremongering when I suggested that search and rescue at RAF Leuchars was at risk. The Government have proved me right and their own supporters wrong. It would be in the interest of the community if the Government were to prove me wrong. That is a burden that I would happily assume for the benefit of the community. There is a chance to think again and I hope that the Government will take it.

The third matter which I wish to raise, dealing most directly with the Royal Air Force, is that of the EH101 support helicopter. The Secretary of State referred to the increasingly important notion of our armed forces operating with flexibility. I want to put a series of questions. I suspect that the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs may not be the best person to answer them, but no doubt the Minister of State will write to me in due course in response to what I have to say.

Can the Minister of State tell us why the Government have delayed issuing the invitation to tender for the utility version of the EH101? He knows that on 9 April 1987 the then Secretary of State committed the Government to 25 EH101s. Why has no contract been placed? Is it understood how important such a contract would be for Westland? It must be understood how important the helicopter is for the Royal Air Force. Will the in-service date of 1997 still be met? If not, has there been a change of date and what is the new date?

Having taken the time of the House to deal with some precise matters concerning the Royal Air Force, I turn to the broader question of Iraq.

The Liberal Democratic party has been content to endorse the action that has been taken so far, based on three criteria: first, that the action generally had the agreement of the coalition allies; secondly, that it could be demonstrated to be in accordance with international law; and, thirdly, that minimum force was used. I believe that those criteria were met.

I am unconvinced by some public protestations of doubts by countries which supported in private the action taken, but which now, for domestic purposes, feel it necessary to add their reservations to others.

The test of the action is that it was effective: Iraq backed down. It described its action as a ceasefire—a characteristically misleading definition of an acceptance of obligations under duress, which I suppose might be more accurately described as a surrender to the inevitable. But we would be wrong to think that this was the end of Iraqi provocation. We would be wrong to think that the self-imposed moratorium, no doubt designed to offer some kind of attraction to President Clinton, would necessarily be continued without limit of time.

It is my belief that in due course there wil be further provocation. Therefore, looking forward, as some have already urged in the debate, the question that we must now ask ourselves is how we should deal with such provocation when it arises. The answer to that question depends upon two related considerations: first, what is our long-term policy concerning the region; secondly, what is the nature of the provocation?

It is in the interests of the region, and certainly in the interests of the United Kingdom, that there should be stability in the middle east. If, by some extravagant response to provocation, we were to cause irreparable damage to the middle east peace process, that might be too great a price to pay. The peace talks, however imperfect, are the best way to achieve stability. I shall be critical of Israel in due course, but one has to recognise that the anouncement today of its intention to remove the legal bar against discussions with the Palestine Liberation Organisation must be seen as an encouraging step that may have far-reaching consequences. It should have happened long ago, but it has happened now and it should be applauded and recognised as having the potential to make a substantial contribution.

We also want Saddam Hussein to be replaced by an opposition in Iraq. If, by over-zealous responses to provocation, we make him stronger, that will hardly serve our interests or that objective. Not every provocation requires a response and not every response needs to be a military one. If force is the only way, we must be prepared to use it, but only when we are satisfied that there is no other way.

Nor should we believe that legal justification is always adequate in itself. Legally justifiable action is all the more acceptable when it carries with it moral authority. Public opinion in the streets of Arab capital cities is unlikely to be impressed by the niceties of that least empirical of disciplines, international law.

There has been much discussion of double standards. When we talk about double standards we should impose on ourselves some clear thinking. Not all United Nations resolutions are the same either in their terms or in the action which they authorise. It is facile to say that every solution should be enforced in the same way. Inevitably, there will be resolutions which, by their language, are variable in their strength.

The strength of our political commitment to all resolutions should never be variable. Once passed, all resolutions deserve, even demand, the same political will for their enforcement. Some say that, because we are not displaying the same political will over resolutions relating to Bosnia or the Palestinians, we should not enforce resolutions relating to Iraq. That argument is fundamentally flawed. The proper position to adopt is to say that all resolutions will be enforced with the same political will. That is the only way in which to eliminate double standards.

A moment ago, I said that I would be critical of Israel, and this is the moment when I propose to be so. It is monstrous that, some weeks after the illegal expulsion of about 400 Palestinians, those people are still languishing in no man's land between Lebanon and Israel. That is a clear breach of article 49 of the fourth Geneva convention and of international law, and we should use every means in our power to persuade Israel, which is responsible for expelling those men to that place, to take them back.

Mr. Galloway

Even by bombing?

Mr. Campbell

It is unlikely that the United Nations has the will to enforce the resolution by bombing. If the hon. Member thinks that bombing is a way of persuading Israel to be reasonable, he has a curious appreciation of the mentality of the Government of Israel, although they are a changed Government.

Mr. Galloway

The hon. and learned Gentleman knows that I have the greatest respect for him. He is right: Israel would not see sense if it were bombed. Why then would he expect Iraq to see sense if it were bombed?

Mr. Campbell

The hon. Gentleman falls into the trap of assuming that each situation is parallel to any other. With regard to Iraq, we have a series of United Nations resolutions which Saddam Hussein has deliberately avoided. We have used the force which the resolutions authorised. No force is authorised in the resolutions with regard to Israel.

When the United States said that it might not provide the £10 billion guarantee for settlement on the west bank, the Government of Israel found themselves driven to a more amenable posture than they had previously taken. We should use every means available. I do not believe that bombing Israel would make the slightest difference. Other means are available, including making strenuous efforts to persuade the United States that the extent to which it remains a patron and Israel a client has substantial disadvantages for the momentum of the peace process in the middle east.

Mr. Winnick

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Campbell

I should like to make progress, if the hon. Member will allow me to do so.

The right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) referred to the Gulf Co-operation Council and the Damascus agreement. It must be a matter of considerable regret that that agreement has not produced the sort of security arrangements for the Gulf which it was hoped it would produce.

It is a matter of disappointment for those of us who have talked to officials of the Gulf Co-operation Council that there remains, I suppose one might say, old mistrust among the members to the extent that they are unable to put together a proper system of security for their protection. For that reason, if we were asked by the United Nations to send troops to Kuwait on a specific mandate and for a specific purpose, I would certainly be willing to consider that. Frankly, to suggest that it should not be considered in all circumstances is to close down far in advance a policy option which it might be extremely valuable to take up. As long as such a request is consistent with United Nations resolutions and as long as a limited purpose will be achieved, it certainly should not be rejected out of hand.

To those who say that we should not have taken the action which we did in expelling Iraq from Kuwait, or indeed the action of the past few days, some questions must be addressed. Who among us now believes, if anyone seriously did, that sanctions would have forced Iraq out of Kuwait? Who believes that the so-called ceasefire would have been called without the experience of military action and the threat of more?

I am wholly convinced that, without the military effort of the allies during the Gulf war, Iraq would still be squatting illegally in Kuwait. I am equally convinced that, without the air exclusion zones, the Kurdish people in the north and the Shia Muslims in the south would be under air attack at the whim of Saddam Hussein.

When one is asked to assess Saddam Hussein's character, one need not embark on the sort of exchanges in which Privy Councillors who have previously spoken have had the privilege to take part. The House should remember that Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons against his countrymen and women. If one wants a measure of the man's character, one will find it in that single incident. It is often said that Saddam Hussein is consistently guilty of miscalculations. That is almost certainly true. However, the difference between him and us is that he can afford miscalculations and we cannot. His authority is undamaged by miscalculation whereas that of the United Nations may well be.

As a new President of the United States takes over, we must face the truth—uncomfortable to some—that the authority of the United Nations depends on the commitment of the United States. The military resources of the United States are so significant that only when it agrees to act is the United Nations likely to be able to act on a large scale. The conundrum which must be solved is how to prevent the dominant member, without whom action is unlikely, from being the party which alone determines that action should be taken. The United Kingdom would do much for the future of the United Nations if it helped to resolve that conundrum by its insistence that every member, however powerful, must be subordinate to the collective will of that organisation.

It was reported yesterday that, in a speech at the Royal United Services Institute, the Secretary of State said that we should not commit military forces in circumstances where there is no military solution. I agree with that proposition, which is self-evidently valid. However, we should never commit military forces unless there is a clear political objective. That principle applies not only to operations conducted by the United Kingdom on its own, but with equal validity to any operations that we may undertake in the future on behalf of the United Nations.

6.28 pm
Mr. David Howell (Guildford)

I pay tribute to the robust and sensible speeches which we heard from the Opposition and Government Front Benches at the beginning of the debate and the excellent speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King), the former Secretary of State for Defence. My right hon. Friend spoke with great experience and authority.

Many of the comments made by hon. Members reinforced my absolutely unambiguous conviction and view, which I have held on and off over the past two or three years, that the response to Saddam Hussein and Iraq's activities has been absolutely right. The response was proportionate and, indeed, was the only conceivable language that the gang in Baghdad or, indeed, the entire Arab world would have begun to understand. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has said, a weaker response would have been the most terrible come-on signal for more violence and atrocities, so the response was absolutely right.

I do not accept the view of some hon. Members that the response has strengthened Saddam Hussein. For a start, he is living in a world in which he orders his own strength or weakness through propaganda or terror. He does not need the benefit of manipulating popular opinion; he can manage without that. Any opinion which is not popular in his book is instantly exterminated.

I accept the view, reported in The Times, of senior Kurdish leaders. They argue that any respite in their attacks against him would provide 'a lifeline to a sinking man'. I greatly respect the Kurds; they are noble people. The Kurds said that the bombing had not strengthened Saddam Hussein and that we should not desist from such attacks. The right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) said that we should desist from bombing and that the Kurds were against it. I do not always believe that I read in The Times, but in this case I prefer The Times to the right hon. Member for Chesterfield. I believe that The Times correctly reported the view of the Kurdish forces.

I do not believe that the action taken in the Gulf was a Bush vendetta. The media had a lovely time depicting it as such. The American part of the action was American policy; but, of course, it was more than that: it was coalition allied policy. It was the policy of the United Nations backed by Boutros Boutros Ghali. It was a policy to ensure that a string of United Nations Security Council resolutions, from 660 to 688, were enforced. Resolution 678 referred to stability in the region. That is an important commitment behind which the United Nations rightly puts its weight. We should support the United Nations in that commitment.

All the resolutions are the policies of the member nations of the United Nations, including the United States. I do not believe that those policies will change much except that perhaps greater reinforcement and a clearer long-term context will be provided under President Clinton that we have seen in recent days. Therefore, I do not accept the myth of a Bush-Saddam vendetta: it is the manufacture of the press. It may be good reading and good entertainment, but it has no basis in reality.

The idea that constructive dialogue was the alternative to the raids and our firm response to Saddam's provocation takes my breath away. Luckily, that idea has not been mentioned much this afternoon. The idea that one could have a constructive dialogue with that genocidal maniac and his gang is absurd. People talk about them as a Government, but they govern only a small part of the country which they terrorise. The idea that it is possible to have a constructive dialogue with the sort of person who lies and lies again is even more absurd than the idea that it is possible to have a constructive dialogue with A1 Capone.

I am deeply convinced that the actions taken by the United Nations and the western allies were correct and in balance. But, of course, more is needed, as other hon. Members have said. We cannot live in the short-term context of tit for tat, however right our response has been. We cannot continue leaving the initiative to this dangerous man, with his vicious habits and dangerous Government, and his Tikriti gang in Baghdad because, first, as others have rightly said, he would do it again next week. Why should he not? He will agree to something this week and be at it again as soon as he sees the chance. Secondly, the fundamental threats remain to, first, the authority of the United Nations, which is serious, and, secondly, in even more precise terms, Kuwait and through Kuwait, Saudi Arabia.

There is the oil issue. I have never thought that we should be ashamed of admitting that a threat to the world's oil reserves is serious. If applied, it could freeze the lives and bring untold suffering to millions of vulnerable people. Why should we not stand up and say that the threat should be minimised?

The threat to Kuwait remains. I am sure that Saddam Hussein is longing to have another go at Kuwait. It probably passed through his mind the other night that as George Bush went he might be able to have another go. I suspect that the only thing that stopped him was the superior air power in the region: 1,000 American marines have been put into the area and there is a great deal of equipment there.

Saddam Hussein remains a threat to the area and to middle eastern stability. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said that the Arab-Israeli dispute was a poison which infected the entire middle east. Saddam Hussein's Government and policy, the hideous aggression of this man who happens to be in control of Iraq, are a poison which infects the whole middle east. It will remain a poison until we find sensible strategic ways of taking and retaining the initiative and applying it so that the poison is squeezed out.

One is always tempted into arguments about standards and about what we should do in the Arab-Israeli case. Of course, there are things to be done and there is blame on both sides. I only note en passant that at least the wretched people who were deported by the Israelis were allowed to go through some judicial process of appeal. I cannot remember reading about an appeal against any decision or law that Saddam Hussein has made. When one talks about double standards, one should be a little careful.

Saddam Hussein is one of the chief poisons infecting the area and we must turn our minds to considering how to squeeze it out. My view is not a new view; it is not hindsight. It is a view that I have expressed ever since the Schwarzkopf ceasefire at the end of the Gulf war. If we did not intend to go on to Baghdad, as some people advocated—I thought that it was impractical—and if we sought a full-blooded military solution to the Iraqi problem at the end of the Gulf war, we should have switched the emphasis to not simply giving up and going home but developing a sustained diplomatic, economic and political strategy worldwide embracing and supporting the many Arab interests who are desperate to see Saddam Hussein out of the way. Such a strategy should have been swung into position and pushed on so that all the time the pressure was on Saddam and Baghdad, rather than him applying pressure on us.

That is why I always wanted stronger help to be given to the Kurds. We have given some, but we should give more. We could have learnt the lessons about the degree of help and its operation from Afghanistan, where successful help was given at one stage to the Mujaheddin. I always wanted us to give more words—or perhaps even more than words—of support to the Kurds. I wanted us to give practical help such as that urged on the House by my hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson) following her visits to the area. She brought to our attention the cause of the Shi'ite Arabs in the marshes. I always wanted that cause to be supported much more strongly by the Government. I continue to want much more sympathetic support to be given to the Iraqi opposition forces, in London, Washington and other capitals, and, if possible, inside Iraq. Of course, such people live dangerously in Iraq. The regime is nothing other than complete tyranny.

I always wanted us to have a much more vigorous approach to the Iraqi funds which are sloshing around and helping to finance the continuation of Saddam's regime. We could play a much stronger part there. We could raise a far more criticial voice in the United Nations about Saddam's gang. People may remember that in South Africa the minority apartheid Government were given the boot because they persecuted, through terror and other means, the vast majority of the South African people.

In Iraq the colour element may not exist but the rest fits uncannily. A minority is persecuting the majority of the peoples of modern Iraq by the most monstrous methods, which have been described graphically by hon. Members this evening.

The measures to which I have referred are the necessary minimum to seize the initiative. Additional measures may well have to be considered. We shall have to consider reinforcements in Kuwait, whether of our own troops or others. Certainly the mood is that more reinforcements are needed for the 1,000 American marines in Kuwait. Reinforcements could be either with United Nations blessing or directly provided by United Nations troops. There is no doubt that Saddam will try again.

Some CIA experts and some people here put forward the thesis that the conflict is all about the balance of power in the middle east. They suggest that removal of Saddam would tip the balance hopelessly in favour of Iran. Iran has by no means a pleasant attitude to stability in the middle east. It may well cause a great deal of trouble. Therefore, people say that we should keep a weak Saddam. That is a complete misreading of the position.

Saddam's rule of Iraq means that it is not an adequate balance to whatever the ayatollahs are planning for the future or any malign Islamic fundamentalist moves which may be orchestrated from Tehran. So long as Saddam is there, the balance is unequal. We need a democratic, strong Iraq which would be a counter-balance for Iran. That would create the balance in the middle east which is probably the best that we can hope for.

People talk too idealistically about a new order in the middle east. There will never be order, but there could be balance. There could be an equilibrium, as the French call it, just as there could be a new world balance. I do not accept the phrase "new world order" that President Clinton still uses. We could work to achieve a balance by having a democratic, strong Iraq.

The Shi'ite Arabs in the marshes are not pro the Tehran ayatollahs. They are not secret agents of Iran, as some analysts seem to think. They are perfectly ready to work in a federal, democratic Iraq. So are the Kurds. There is not at present, and I do not believe that there will be, a great movement for a separate Kurdistan which would undermine Turkish and Iranian stability. Instead, there is a readiness to recognise that a democratic Iraq would provide a balance for any ambitions of Iran and much better hope for balance in the Gulf as a whole.

As for the Arab opinion which is always drummed up on these occasions as being against doing anything too harsh to Saddam Hussein, I know where such views come from, but I question their strength and solidity. There are always people in Amman, Jordan who are ready to dance in front of televison cameras waving placards and prompting the BBC man to put through a report about pro-Saddam feeling in the Arab world. There are street demonstrations in Cairo, but there are also wise, moderate Arabs of great experience who know that the prime hope for stability in their region is to get rid of Saddam Hussein and his gang and that hideous method of rule—if it can be called rule—in modern Iraq.

As long as the Saddam Hussein gang and its terror methods rule in Iraq, and as long as Iraq's policy is one of open, opportunist aggression, there will be no lasting peace for Iraq in the middle east. We have to start by recognising that and mobilising our own efforts and those of all Security Council allies—not just the permanent ones—to ensure that we seize and hold the initiative against a man and a system which will otherwise bring even more suffering, killing and bloodshed to a benighted land which deserves better.

6.40 pm
Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee, West)

My hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) made it quite clear that we expect a great deal more from the Foreign Secretary when he replies to the debate than what we have heard so far. As my hon. Friend said, this week we have been calling for more than simply a reaffirmation of United Nations Security Council resolutions that are now about two years old. We are asking whether the Government have a strategy in line with the widespread belief that Saddam Hussein intends to continue testing the potential for creating disharmony among the original allies that threw him out of Kuwait.

To that end we hope that the Foreign Secretary can explain not simply how the Government intend to react to individual incidents, but what medium and long-term strategy exists for ensuring that the resolutions can produce a successful conclusion so that the people of Iraq can decide what will happen to their country and its present leadership.

If we are looking for ways in which we can build the new order to which everyone has referred, we could do no better than refer to a document prepared by the Secretary-General of the United Nations on 17 June 1992, entitled "Agenda for Peace". Paragraph 82 of that document refers to the role, the understanding and perception of the United Nations within the new world order in the absence of the super-power conflict that previously decided whether a group of people in any particular part of the world were goodies or baddies and whether or not they were on our side. Paragraph 82 states: All organs of the United Nations must be accorded, and play, their full and proper role so that the trust of all nations and peoples will be retained and deserved. The principles of the Charter must be applied consistently, not selectively, for if the perception should be of the latter, trust will wane and with it the moral authority which is the greatest and most unique quality of that instrument. Tonight's debate should take place around that paragraph.

When we talk about the use of force in the name of the international community, it is not enough to be able to justify it; it needs an explicit mandate from that international community. We cannot assume it, and, if we do not think that we will get it, we cannot engage in the use of force in the name of anyone other than ourselves—and then we have to take full responsibility for our actions.

The use of force must always be the last resort and everyone must be convinced that it is absolutely and unequivocally necessary, rather than there being a question of whether it can be justified. It is worth considering why people have started to question whether we had that right within the resolutions that have been traded back and forth across the Chamber tonight.

In an article, Sir Anthony Parsons referred to the fact that, until the decision to implement the no-fly zone in the north of Iraq, the United Nations had never breached article 2(7) of its own charter which

defines the rights and obligations of member states, and sub-paragraph 7 categorically excludes UN intervention in domestic affairs of state. We can all recall incident of dictators treating their people in an unacceptable way when we felt that something should have been done. However, because of its charter, the United Nations had never sought to interfere until the adoption of resolution 688. Sir Anthony Parsons wrote: The adoption of Security Council Resolution 688 in April 1991 was a watershed". He referred to the language that was used: SCR 688 condemned the repression, demanded its cessation and insisted that Iraq allow access to international humanitarian organisations … strong language for a resolution, even on an international crisis. The American-led coalition used force in the spirit of the resolution to establish and maintain Saddam-free safe havens in northern Iraq and, a few weeks ago, a `no-fly zone' was established in the South to prevent the Iraqi air force from attacking the populace. Someone as knowledgeable as Sir Anthony Parsons was acknowledging that it was a unique situation. When people begin to question just how far we should go, they must examine the way in which we seek to implement international law and United Nations resolutions.

As a result of recent events, Britain is faced with real concern that in one part of the middle east it is justifying actions which stray beyond the boundaries of what is mandated by law and Security Council resolutions and which may therefore be unlawful, while elsewhere it has obviously strayed in the opposite direction, away from implementing what is clearly required by law and mandated by the Security Council. It is a matter of principle. In political terms, those concensuses translate into a serious break-up of international credibility on the states undertaking enforcement action against Iraq. Selective implementation of the law undermines respect for the law and ultimately risks denying us the ability to rely on law in the future.

When Britain insists on the need to enforce international law and establish the authority of Security Council resolutions taken in pursuit of the Council's duties according to the United Nations charter, it is important to remember the universality of those principles. Damaging comparisons are bound to be made when the peoples of the middle east compare Britain's insistence that Iraq comply immediately and unconditionally with its international legal obligations and the Security Council resolutions with the limits that it sets on what it is prepared to do in the face of the refusal of successive Israeli Governments for more than two decades to comply with their international legal obligations and with Security Council resolutions on their conduct in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Under successive Israeli Governments, Lebanese territorial integrity has been violated time and again, including by a full-scale invasion that still exists in the form of the Israeli occupation of part of south Lebanon. Explicitly expansionist policies have been declared and implemented in the occupied Palestinian territories and the victims of those unlawful practices have been left to fend for themselves. Apart from clear declarations of opposition and condemnation, Britain has not lifted one finger in their defence.

In the two years since the Gulf war ceasefire there has been no change in the Israeli authorities' refusal to accept and to comply with their legal obligations, nor has Israel witnessed any consequences for its continued misconduct which have been sufficiently meaningful or resolute to make it comply.

The British Government, along with their European Community partners, have concentrated on supporting efforts in the middle east peace process, efforts that have enjoyed cross-party support in the House. Everyone knows that the Palestinian people's realisation of full civil and political rights can come only through an end to the occupation and the full exercise of their right to self-determination.

However, is that peace process sustainable in the face of the lack of protection for the existing rights of Palestinians, under the law governing belligerent occupation? Can the Secretary of State honestly expect the leader of the Palestinian delegation, who lives in Gaza, to go to the next round of the middle east peace talks while his neighbours are sleeping in tents somewhere between Israel and Lebanon and we are doing nothing about it? How long does the Secretary of State think that he would last if he went to those talks and then tried to return to his home in Gaza? It is absolute nonsense.

All those members of the world community who are concerned about ensuring that there is a new world order must question the way in which the coalition has decided that it is worth insisting on immediate and unequivocal compliance with UN resolutions in one area, while allowing them to be ignored in the other parts of the world that my colleagues have mentioned tonight and in the debate on the United Nations a few weeks ago. For example, it seems that it is okay for Cambodia to ignore them. If we continue to ignore grave breaches of such resolutions, as and when they occur, it will not help those of us who want to strengthen the United Nations.

Does not the Secretary of State think that the fact that nine children have been killed in the occupied territories by live ammunition and 194 seriously injured since 1 December 1992, is a grave breach of United Nations regulations? Does he regard that as a grave breach of international law? How quickly will he hurry along to ensure that that ends? Will he be as determined to ensure that that ends as quickly as possible?

Britain is confronting a serious problem. If we do not do something about the grave breaches of United Nations resolutions in other parts of the world, international law is likely to be brought into disrepute, and when we are forced to return to the United Nations it will be difficult to get the sort of consensus that we might require.

Sir Anthony Parsons also wrote in that article that Russia and China abstained on resolution 688 because they were worried that it was being used in a way that broke article 2, clause 7 of the United Nations charter. If we are to build a new framework and to construct a new world order we need the support of China and Russia.

If we cannot demonstrate that we are going to be even-handed, in the longer term the comparison between Britain's standing and resolve in different cases in the same region will damage perceptions of British intentions and credibility. It will also damage the credibility of the Security Council and the belief that it will carry out its functions, as set down in the United Nations charter. International law will be brought into disrepute. Such damage risks setting the scene for future consequences and additional costs and burdens, which the politicians of the future—including ourselves—will have to deal with.

The principles of the United Nations charter must be implemented consistently. In all instances they demand that the strong must protect the weak and that action must be taken to save life and to uphold the rights of human beings, under international law, to basic human rights and to an existence free of persecution and threat to life. If we can achieve that, the United Nations will convince many people that it is a force to be reckoned with—an expanding force that can mould and create a new world order—and that it can benefit the world through the removal of many dark and evil influences. More importantly, perhaps, all the peoples of the world can start to believe in the United Nations.

6.55 pm
Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey and Waterside)

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross), as I did the last time that I spoke in a debate, which was on the United Nations. Once more, I find myself in accord with much of what he has said. In foreign affairs, it is nice to think in terms of a long-term strategy and many other hon. Members have referred to that need. The problem is that events often force one into short-term tactics—tactics that can appear to be totally inconsistent with the long-term strategy, which must be to preserve peace. Short-term tactics so often mean fighting.

It is also a pleasure to follow the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell). He and I are the only two members of the Defence Select Committee in the Chamber for this debate. Through you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I think that it might be worth sending a small complaint to the business managers because they must have known that the Defence Committee would be in Brussels today and yesterday, visiting Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe and NATO headquarters. Had they known that, perhaps the debate could have been timed for another day. I hope that Committee members may be coming through the door at any moment, if their aeroplane is not late, and that if they are back in time they may succeed in catching your eye as I know that that is their wish.

When we last debated the Royal Air Force, in May 1991, we had successfully concluded the Gulf war—or Operation Granby as it was known—and that became the main theme of our debate. However, we are back in the Gulf again. The reason is simple—on that occasion we did not finish the job and Saddam Hussein is still flouting United Nations Security Council reolutions.

Under those resolutions, the coalition forces were fully justified in taking the military action that they took and, as we have seen, that action has worked and the United Nation inspectors are once more being allowed back into the country to carry out their flights and inspections.

I am sure that international lawyers will have a field day on the legal grounds for the attacks of recent days, but I believe that the five United Nations Security Council resolutions gave more than adequate authority for them and that has been confirmed by the United Nations Secretary-General, Mr. Boutros Boutros Ghali. If he says that the action was justified and legal that is good enough for me and, as the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) pointed out, he not only said that last August but has said so again since the military action took place.

We all want Saddam Hussein to be toppled politically and not militarily. It is significant that he tried it on once more recently and two factors brought that about. First, sanctions are beginning to bite and again he is facing considerable domestic unrest. Obviously, mounting such an excursion was one way to divert the attention of his people from domestic problems. Secondly, he obviously saw a hiatus in United States' foreign policy with the torch of presidential leadership being passed from President Bush to President Clinton. I think that the House will welcome President Clinton's robust confirmation of President Bush's line on Iraq and the excellent statements that he has made on the subject.

We cannot allow Saddam Hussein to ignore world opinion and, first, continue to break the terms of the ceasefire following the Kuwait war; secondly, to continue his incursions into Kuwait; thirdly, to continue his acts of genocide against his own people—the Kurds in the north and the Shi'ite population in the south; and, lastly, to persist with his plans for chemical warfare and a nuclear capability.

What would happen if Saddam Hussein were toppled? Many hon. Members have speculated that his successor might be worse. I do not think that a successor could be worse than Saddam Hussein. Some hon. Members have drawn a comparison between Saddam Hussein and the late President Nasser of Egypt. There is no comparison. As history has shown, Nasser was a completely different character. Even at the time of the Suez canal crisis, most of those who were involved—and I was involved militarily—recognised in Colonel Nasser a formidable and reasonably just opponent.

Saddam Hussein is in a different class altogether. He has no friends—or very few—in his own country. His army is divided. Even the Republican Guard, which was always regarded as his praetorian guard, is about 100 miles from Baghdad and is not allowed to go anywhere near the city. Saddam Hussein has some cohorts—about 70,000 men in all—who guard him. I am told that he never sleeps two nights in the same bed. He is a hunted man, and sooner or later he will be toppled.

It does not matter who succeeds him. It might be a colonel, or it might be a civilian. In any case, the situation in Baghdad could not be worse than it is at present. Some people have speculated that the successor might be a Baathist politician. If so, I do not think that that would matter. What the Iraqi people require is peace and stability and the opportunity to rebuild their totally shattered economy.

Since our last debate on the Royal Air Force, we have had two years of tension and conflict, which have tested the new basis of our armed forces to be more flexible, more mobile and "smaller, but better". Now that the United Nations is able, because of the absence of the former Soviet Bloc veto, to fulfil the role for which it was created in 1945, there is more for the organisation to do militarily in support of the implementation of United Nations resolutions by way of the peacemaking, peacekeeping and peace-building that are set out in the Secretary-General's "Agenda for Peace", which is essential reading for every politician.

From being primarily guard forces in Europe, our Army, Navy and Air Force must change to multi-purpose, rapid reaction forces able to go anywhere and do anything at short notice. That is our principal role in NATO. The new operational roles of our armed forces call for both new formations and new equipment. The Royal Air Force is getting some of the new equipment it needs.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence fought very hard, long and successfully to safeguard the future of EFA—now renamed the Eurofighter 2000. The House is relieved that the key performance parameters of EFA will be retained in the new project and will still result in a saving of about 14 per cent. of the overall cost. This has been achieved by a change in the arrangements for work sharing and production, as recommended by the Select Committee on Defence during the last session of Parliament. If a saving of 14 per cent. in unit costs is possible in this case, can the Secretary of State for Defence—I do not expect the Foreign Secretary to answer this question—say what scope there is for achieving a similar saving in other collaborative projects?

I should like an assurance that the RAF will get the complete aircraft, including equipment, that it needs, and not just the airframe. This is particularly important for the defensive aid sub-system—`DASS' for short—which is the electronic hardware, as well as the software, without which aircraft would be defenceless. I should like confirmation that there will he no downgrading of this aircraft, and no risk of delay in delivery, which has already slipped to the year 2000. That delay provides more time for the development of the offensive systems with which the aircraft will be equipped.

I refer, of course, to the air-to air missiles. Any aircraft is only as good as the missiles that it carries. Since 1980 we have been trying to develop an advanced short-range air-to-air missile—`ASRAAM' for short. This was originally part of the family of weapons for which there was a memorandum of understanding between the United States on the one hand and the United Kingdom, France and Germany—later joined by Norway and Canada—on the other. The United States was going to build the medium-range missile, and the European consortium the short-range missile, but I am afraid that that family has fallen apart.

Mr. Menzies-Campbell


Mr. Colvin


Canada and Norway pulled out, and the whole thing has fallen to pieces. On ASRAAM, the United Kingdom now has to go it alone. I am glad to say that last March British Aerospace signed a contract for its development. There is some advantage in having missiles—or any system, for that matter—made by the manufacturer that makes the airframe, as that ensures good integration.

There are a number of questions to which I and, I am sure, other members of the Select Committee on Defence would like to receive written answers from the Secretary of State for Defence. What is the current time scale of ASRAAM? We are worried about slippage. Will it be ready for the Eurofighter 2000 when it enters service in the year 2000? Will the unit costs be the same as those we have been give so far? What is the current thinking on the question of fitting ASRAAM to the Tornado air defence variant? Will the United States buy it, as was originally decided, or will the Sidewinder missile, at present used to equip American and British aircraft, be upgraded? What is the latest on AMRAAM, the advanced medium-range air-to-air missile that the Americans are developing?

I should like to turn for a moment to the question of support helicopters. It is almost six years since the then Secretary of State for Defence announced: After a comprehensive review of the requirement for support helicopters in all roles, … the right choice is to introduce the utility EH101 to meet that role requirement. That decision was based primarily on suitability for the role but also on commonality with Merlin, the naval version of the EH101, 44 of which are already ordered for the Royal Navy. Since Lord Younger's announcement the case for the EH101 utility support helicopter has become even stronger. It has a long range, and the support costs are low, making it the undisputed choice.

But the Ministry of Defence stil revisits some of the old options, using up vast staff resources and wasting a great deal of time and money. The Ministry is currently looking at four options, all of which were available in 1987, when Lord Younger made his decision. The EH101 can lift all the loads that the Army has to handle; it has a range of about 600 miles; and it can be in service by, I think, 1996. An alternative is to buy the French Cougar, which is an updated Puma, or the American Black Hawk, both of which are smaller, have inadequate lift, do not have a ramp for loading vehicles, carry only about 12 to 14 men, and have a short range of 280 to 350 miles, which is half the range of the EH101. They would not be available any sooner than the EH101, in 1996.

Or the RAF could buy more Chinooks, with which it is equipped at present. It is a 1960s design and an expensive helicopter to run. The Ministry of Defence keeps saying that life costs are more important than purchase prices.

The last option is buying second-hand Pumas. That, too, is a 30-year old design, also expensive to run with a low lift capability, short range and unsuitable for today's operational requirements. It might be tempting to buy 16 or 20 second-hand civil Pumas, especially—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)

Order. I am afraid that the hon. Member is the first to be caught in the 10-minute trap.

7.10 pm
Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) was caught in the time trap, but I am pleased to speak following him because his speech brought us back to the subject of the Royal Air Force.

I was pleased when last week a debate on the RAF was announced, but disappointed when we had the proposal of this mongrel debate, which is already proving grossly unsatisfactory. It may be interesting, but the House cannot subject the RAF to the careful scrutiny that it deserves and at the same time range widely over the whole of the middle east and a large part of the history of the 20th century.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) said when referring to the role of the RAF in Persia just after the first world war, if it had not been for Lord Trenchard, it is highly unlikely that the RAF would have had an independent existence. Lord Trenchard played the card of being able to police that part of the world cheaply—with a couple of squadrons of biplanes—but had he not been able to offer that economic card, the RAF might have ceased to exist at least until the second world war.

There is that historical link, but it does not justify the House having to spend so much of the debate looking at historical matters when this is the first debate on the RAF that we have had since 1991, apart from a grossly unsatisfactory debate last year when, in discussing RAF discipline, I tried to extend the discussion by arguing that morale should extend beyond immediate questions of discipline. But for that, the only consideration that the House would have given to the RAF in two years would have been to discuss whether homosexuals should be allowed to participate in the service. At this time of enormous change and challenge, the House should consider more frequently and fully than is possible in today's debate the problems faced by the RAF.

I welcomed the comments of the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell). I strongly support the United Nations and believe that there must be international authority. The mockery to which the United Nations has been subjected night after night on Iraqi television, the derision of United Nations officers that has been displayed on our television screens and the action of Saddam Hussein in response to his minorities has been such that the no-fly zones are justified, and trespass into them justifies military action.

Even so, I have anxieties about the situation. We had to support the United Nations action because we could not allow the United Nations to go the way of the League of Nations by failing to respond positively to aggression and brutality of the kind that we witnessed from Saddam Hussein. Those who do not want the United Nations to act toughly are likely to surrender to the international gangster, and there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein is such a man.

But the United Nations cannot and must not be seen as a puppet of the United States. We cannot see foreign policy dictated, as it has been in recent days, by the last hurrahs of a departing president. We were right, and I would not wish the Tornado pilots who flew missions in the Gulf to feel that they were not acting in this country's interest. They were. They were acting in the interests of responsibility and peace and in the hope of an international order which, we trust, eventually a mature world will seek to develop. But if the United Nations is to be a logical and intelligent force which secures international peace and stability, it cannot rely purely on America with contributions from France and ourselves.

After the Gulf war—I have spoken of this before, but it remains relevant—there was a debate in the Western European Union, where I lead my party's delegation, being vice-chairman of the socialist group, in which the two British members who spoke, a Conservative and myself, were the last to speak.

Throughout the debate, one speaker after another from other member states made triumphalist speeches expressing great pride over the wonderful victory that had been achieved in the Gulf. I became extremely unpopular in that parliamentary assembly because, when it came my turn to speak, I pointed out that I condemned Saddam Hussein and strongly supported the war that we had waged against him but thought it sad that most of western Europe had sent more parliamentarians to speak in that debate than they had sent troops or personnel to serve in the UN force. If the UN is to mean anything in the years to come, it must have a broader base, and it must not be seen as a puppet of America. I leave the matter there because I am anxious to speak about the RAF.

I have some serious concerns about the RAF. I am aware of their serious nature because I have had the good fortune, with the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Hayes), to spend much of the last 12 months with the RAF. It has been interesting, demanding, fascinating and, by and large because of the courtesy and consideration that we have received, enjoyable. It has been demanding because the hon. Gentleman and I have been engaged in a high learning curve. One of my proud achievements was that I was not air sick throughout the 12 months.

We learned a great deal. For example, we learnt how great is the dedication in the service. There are superb skills, on the ground and in the air. But there are also a great many anxieties in the service, and I regret to say that the Minister did not allay those anxieties today. Hon. Members may recall that I intervened in the Minister's speech when he was speaking about the need for the European fighter aircraft. It is an essential aircraft. But the RAF also has other, immediate, needs, as the hon. Member for Romsey and Waterside pointed out.

The Hercules is a fine aircraft, flown by superb crews, but it is old and every year more requirements and duties are placed on the people at Lyneham who service and fly it. It is now in Yugoslavia, Ethiopia and the Gulf, and perhaps it flies to Turkey to help service the Jaguar detachment there. Enormous demands are being made on that old aircraft. It cannot go on accepting more burdens at the behest of Ministers without at some point serious consideration being given to its replacement.

I flew with the RAF around south Armagh in a Puma. As the hon. Member for Romsey and Waterside said, the Pumas are old, and they, too, have been subjected to enormous use. The helicopters there represent a highly prestigious weapon from the point of view of the terrorists of Ulster, and the crews flying them are courageous and capable. But must they always have to expect to fly ancient aircraft? It is true, as the Minister will no doubt say, that they are well maintained. That is because the RAF provides—rather, it has up to now provided—extremely skilled training. It has people on the ground who are extremely skilful.

The hon. Member for Harlow and I met NCOs—not officers—who had specialised in areas of avionics and engineering far beyond my capacity to begin to comprehend. The Member for Harlow and I have met NCOs, not officers, who have patents out in areas of avionics and engineering that are far beyond my capacity even to begin to comprehend. We met two chief technicians, with two separate patents, in one hangar in one RAF station in Germany, Bruggen, the home of the surviving Tornado squadrons. As the Minister said, the reward of the Tornado GR1 squadrons after the Gulf war in half the cases was disbandment.

The question of training is important. Is quality to be retained or will the RAF have increasingly to rely on private contractors who work from nine to five, who may not be investing at all in training because they are relying on recruiting people who are retiring from the services with a pension. In some cases they are not spending anything on training at all. What does that mean for the future? Perhaps I may make this one final point and then hope that I can speak in another debate on the RAF.

My final point is about career prospects. Young, highly skilled people do not know what their future is. If we are to contribute to the exercise of international authority in any part of the world, training is important—

7.21 pm
Sir Jim Spicer (Dorset, West)

There is a very old military adage: know your enemy. Most people will accept that Saddam Hussein is our enemy—not only our enemy, but the enemy of the west, of the Arab world and, above all, of his own people. I have not had an opportunity recently of meeting Saddam Hussein, as have some right hon. Members, but I remember meeting him in 1988 at the time of the last major offensive which the Iranians were launching against Iraq. I looked forward to that visit and I went into Baghdad as the Iranian rockets were raining down. I went to see him. I looked at his troops and I looked at him and I was, at that point, totally on his side because, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) has said, at that time, most people in this country considered Saddam Hussein to be someone we needed to support in any way that we could. I was saddened when I went in to see him. I went in with only one friend, Count Jean de Lipkoski. He greeted this marvellous Frenchman with open arms and said, "How splendid you French have been. The supply of weapons you have given us is superb. We could not do without the French and the Russians."

Then he turned to me and launched a most vitrolic attack on the United Kingdom and said how useless we were and that we never supplied Iraq with any weapons. Indeed, he said that we were supplying the Iranians with weapons. I tried to carry the argument to him and said that perhaps we would have liked to given some weapons at that point, but we had our arms embargo and we were sticking by that.

I am afraid that there are some people in the House who are determined to spread the myth that we have been supplying arms to Iraq for many years. That is not true and most people know that it is not true. However, time moves on and one did see in the period after that war the true face of Saddam Hussein. It was after that war that we witnessed the worst of the excesses against his own people. I supported him, quite rightly at that time, as did most other people.

The recent air attacks were directed against missile sites and against control centres. These sites were designed to keep out our aircraft so that the Iraqis could operate against the Shi'ites in the south and the Kurds in the north. The other reason is that we needed to safeguard our own crews who were flying in those areas. The last thing I, or anyone in the House, would wish to see, would be one of our aircraft being shot down simply because we had neglected to take the action that was needed.

It seems to have worked, but I think it is impossible for us to consider that we have achieved all that we needed to achieve. In fact all that we have is a truce. It is a truce that will not last and when it is broken it will be broken by Saddam Hussein not least because it is impossible for him to survive in his country at present without a series of crises to keep him in power. He needs this to convince his own people that he is facing a world coalition and facing it down and defeating it. He needs more action on our side to provide him with the right home progapanda.

When that occurs, what reaction will there be from us? What contingency plans do we have? It is not much use continuing to bomb missile sites. It is right to do it at present, but there is not much point in doing that while life in Baghdad goes on normally and Saddam, through his propaganda machine, can claim a great victory. That is not the way forward.

There is one great instrument of repression that still lies in his hands: the Republican Guard and those people who form his own personal bodyguard. If we are to go forward and are forced to take action, we must be ruthless in in attacking that instrument, because to undermine their morale is the most positive thing that we can do. They are the people who are attacking the Kurds in the north and the Shi'ites in the south and they are the people who we must go for.

I am saddened that we have had this slight mix-up and cannot concentrate in this debate on the Royal Air Force, but I now turn to that. I sometimes think there is a dastardly plot to do down the Parachute Regiment. I am sad to think that that might be so and I hope that I am wrong. We desperately need more helicopters for the Parachute Regiment and for 24 Air Mobile Brigade. Several other hon. Members have made this point. It is remarkably good news that we have managed to retain the European fighter aircraft, but in June 1990 in a debate in the House I advocated that an air mobile division should be formed using the Parachute Regiment and 24 Air Mobile Brigade as the basis for that expansion.

Two years have passed and although the United Kingdom heads the formation of the ACE rapid reaction corps, little has been done to increase the helicopter lifting capability of 24 Air Mobile Brigade or of similar formations in the United Kingdom. France, Russia and Germany all have scout attack and support helicopters allotted permanently to them, but 24 Brigade has no support helicopters allocated and depends instead on begging helicopters from the RAF as and when they can be made available. There are only 60 of those helicopters in the whole British Army.

All that I would say—this is obviously not a question for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, but for my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence—is that I hope that it is being addressed very seriously indeed and that orders will soon be placed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) made it clear that we decided as long ago as 1987 in favour of the EH101. I have to say to Ministers that there might be a theory that if we put the arguments again we can put off the day of decision which we know has to come. I beg the Minister to get on and announce now that the utility EH101 is to be ordered in quantity and then allocated to 24 Air Mobile Brigade so that the Parachute Regiment can travel round in those superb helicopters in the style to which it should be accustomed.

7.29 pm
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

On 27 November, I was fortunate to draw the No. 1 slot in the ballot for private Members' motions and introduce a debate on the need to improve relations with the Arab world. On 4 December, I made a 50-minute speech on Iraq during the debate on the United Nations initiated by the hon. Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend). Although those speeches are highly relevant, I shall not go over that ground again except to draw the conclusion that, as I said then, the west should accept in good faith the Iraqi offer to negotiate and to promote a dialogue. I personally would wish to see the lifting of sanctions as a gesture of good will towards Iraq forthwith.

To hon. Members who resent such a view on the ground of the persecution of the Shias and the Kurds, I say gently that I was on Christopher Morgan's programme on Radio 4 last Sunday with the grandson of the Grand Ayatollah of Shi'ism, Al-Hoei, whose name is Jusef Al-Hoei. He said, on behalf of the Shi'ite people, that bombing was pointless. On the same programme, Mozin Desaig, on behalf of the Kurds, said that the bombing by the west simply provoked more of Saddam's wrath against the Kurds.

The right hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell), who is the Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence, thinks that I am naive. I think that he is unreal to believe that Saddam can be removed in foreseeable circumstances.

I borrow the phrase of the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath), who spoke about being "not in" with the Arab world. However, I welcome the clear statement by the Secretary of State for Defence that the Government are now endorsing the integrity of the Iraq border.

Wherever the fault lies, sanctions impose suffering on the people of Iraq, not least on the old and vulnerable. Unless something is done quickly I fear that the children of Iraq could become a generation hating the west. I heard my old friend from European Parliament days Claude Cheysson say on the World Service: What is the policy? To bomb Baghdad twice a week until heaven knows when? That is the reality and it would simply consolidate Saddam's hold on the reins of power in Iraq. The only alternative is to try to amass a land force which would occupy and hold downtown Baghdad. Such a move would lead to Vietnam plus.

For part of the debate I hope that hon. Members will focus their minds on one of the root causes of the trouble—the pouring of sophisticated arms and arms-making equipment into Iraq by Germany, France, the Soviet Union, Chile, Switzerland, the United States and Britain. Albeit deeply wrong, no wonder the Iraqis thought that they had carte blanche to march into Kuwait when they desperately needed cash to pay the western arms creditors. That was a major part of the problem at the end of the hostilities.

There is much wringing of the hands about Iraq and nuclear weapons. How did it all start? I shall tell the House precisely how it started. It started in the first week of September 1975. During the recess I was greatly influenced by reading the 500 pages of Kenneth Timmerman's book which I lent to the Secretary of State for Defence. I gather from the Ministry of Defence that it has studied a copy. Page 55 states: While touring Provence with Chirac and de 1'Etoile"— he was the marketing director of Marcel Dassault— Saddam made a side trip that few people in France paid much attention to at the time. On their way to the bullfights at Le Baux, Saddam's French hosts took him through the Cadarache nuclear research centre, one of the most advanced in Europe. In this small Provincal town just north of Marseilles the Commissarriat á 1'Energie Atomique had set up its first experimental fast-breeder reactor. That called it Rapsodie. It certainly enchanted Saddam. You bet it did! The basic principle of a fast-breeder reactor, also called a supergenerator, is to `breed' more nuclear fuel than it consumes. In the process, it transforms significant quantities of uranium into plutonium. While plutonium is a by-product of most nuclear fuel cycles, and can be extracted from spent fuel by chemical reprocessing, it has little utility escept for making bombs. Iraq's interest in fast-breeder reactors was motivated by one concern alone: obtaining a sure source of plutonium for use in a nuclear weapons program. If the west goes out of its way for money and whets the appetite of those who might be described as ruthless Tikritis, what can we expect?

The relationship between France and Saddam is extraordinary. Timmerman says: When they returned to Paris, Saddam decided to prepare a surprise for his `personal friend', Jacques Chirac. It had been easier to win over the French than Saddam had dreamed. He wanted to seal their pact on a personal note. Much to the chagrin of the maître d'hôtel at the Marigny Palace, where he was staying, Saddam ordered his personal cook to return to Baghdad on the presidential plane to retrieve a load of victuals for Chirac. Top on the list was one and a half tons of an Iraqi river fish called masgouf, which Chirac had enjoyed in Baghdad the year before. With Iraqi security guards patrolling the kitchens of the Marigny Palace with their machine pistols, Saddam's cooks roasted the huge, greasy carp over open fires. Raymond Thullier, who was later told the story by Chirac, said that 'the whole place smelled of charred flesh. It was amusing, but a mess. With such a relationship can we be surprised that they think that they can do anything they like?

However, it was not only the French. If we acknowledge the depth of the deceit by the British Government and therefore our own share of responsibility for bringing about this situation, we will find it less unpalatable to start talking to Saddam Hussein. Before criticising the French, we should look at ourselves in the mirror.

I have a long question for the Foreign Secretary. The process of giving a licence or consent is a matter for one group of public servants, the Department of Trade and Industry. The enforcement of the law is entrusted to another group, Customs and Excise. If the acts of exporters are determined criminally or non-criminally by the dealings that they have had with the licensing agency, in this case the DTI, both the enforcement of the law and the fair administration of justice become impossible if the enforcement agency, Customs and Excise, is misinformed about or ignorant as to the nature of those dealings. Still more are good government and justice impossible if it were to be the case that documentary and oral evidence of those dealings were kept out of the criminal trial on grounds of public interest immunity.

I asked the Foreign Secretary, having given his officials the article in "Public Law" by Anthony Bradley, the former professor of public law in Edinburgh, what the Government intend to do to tighten up the whole issue of the relationship between Customs and Excise and the DTI.

Another remarkable book which challenges the integrity of the heart of the Government is to appear. It is by David Leigh with Richard Norton Taylor and its title is "Betrayed". I have been sent a review copy and the press conference launching it is on Monday. This is the author who, with Magnus Linklater, wrote "Not With Honour" about Westland—which events have subsequently shown to be wholly accurate.

In a letter to The Times published on 13 November the Attorney-General claimed that there had not been a cover up because the existence of all the secret documents had been voluntarily declared to defence counsel in the Matrix Churchill case. The evidence disclosed in the book shows that that was simply not so.

7.38 pm
Miss Emma Nicholson (Torridge and Devon, West)

Near the end of his speech the Secretary of State for Defence expressed the overriding reason for the events in the Gulf that have given rise to this debate. He said that we acted to ensure that Iraq complied with all United Nations resolutions and that the presence of the Royal Air Force was to ensure that compliance. There are two formidable reasons for the creation of the United Nations resolutions against Iraq, and both stem from the early reasons for the formation of the League of Nations and the United Nations. They were international peace—which has been achieved by the destruction, or a partial destruction, of the nuclear weaponry in Iraq—and internal peace, which is expressed in the United Nations declaration on human rights.

If you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, wish to know whether a Government support human rights, you must ask the people. If you ask the marsh people of Iraq, you soon find the answer. You find half a million trapped people, and drained marshes: that is a fact, not a rumour. When the Iraqi regime's senior water engineer was captured recently, he had the maps on him and marked those parts of the marshes that had been drained. The marshes provide the livelihood for the age-old Madan—the marsh people.

There is no food. There are men who have been starving for days on end. There are prolonged military assaults on homes and people. There are no doctors or medicines. In the camps that hold 50,000 refugees in the safe haven of Iran, you also find the answer, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You find parts of families, elderly men, perhaps young children, and women—and you hear tales of horror. You see tortured bodies—the wounds of war. On the long borders of Iran and Iraq, you will find 10,000 wandering, homeless people. You can find the answer on human rights there. They have been driven from their homes and are without fresh water, food or shelter.

If the dead could talk to us, I dare say that they could give us the answer—men who were tortured, assassinated or executed by their own Government. Recently, 120 men aged from 14 to 22 were arrested and driven to a prison near Baghdad. In walked the son and son-in-law of Saddam Hussein carrying machine guns, and all those men died, and they were buried in an unmarked grave that had been dug by a bulldozer half an hour earlier.

You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, could hear the answer from the dead children whose lives were snuffed out by napalm or phosphorous bombs or by chemical weapons—one friend told me that the stench of garlic marks the one that destroys the kidneys—or just from physical attacks by brutal men, children who have been picked up by their legs and swung against a wall until their skulls collapsed, perhaps in front of their mothers.

What are the memories of the children who escape? One small boy told me of a memory that he cannot get out of his mind—of seeing a tank run over an old man just in front of him, of the old man screaming, and of the laughing of the soldiers in the tank. That was in Basra.

Think of the women who were forced to watch the killings of all the members of their families just yards away by crueller methods than we can ever visualise, women who were lined up in hundreds alongside captured men, and were witnesses then to lines of tanks driving over those men. One woman told me that she saw 700 men killed in front of her in just that way. She told me of the stench of human flesh in the heat, and of the pain and anguish as she saw her sons and husband crushed into the earth. Some women go mad as a result and never speak again. I have seen them in the camps.

Successive Kurdish tragedies triggered our western response and led to the framing and acceptance by the Security Council of the resolutions that the Royal Air Force and allied forces seek to impose or to keep in place in Iraq. Some resolutions, or parts of them, have been achieved, with deep frustration and now with the use of force.

We hope that we have removed the nuclear threat, but what about internal peace? How do the people of Iraq see their own future? Just before Christmas, on 18 December, I had the opportunity to address an informal meeting of the Security Council called by the non-aligned nations. I urged the Security Council to implement resolution 688, and gave many examples of victims' histories. For outside the no-fly zones, internal peace is a wholly unachieved goal, and within those zones it can be only partially successful.

The tragedy of Iraq is at the heart of every Iraqi family now. It is much worse than during the Iran-Iraq war. Young men were sent away to fight in that conflict, but not all that many of them, and perhaps not every man in each family. If they went to the borders and fought, they were considered martyrs to a national cause. Today, at least one member of every Iraqi family is a victim

Even many members of the Iraqi army are victims of the system and dare not speak. Just a look interpreted as treasonable will damn one to a lingering death—perhaps to being burnt alive by petrol being poured into the gullet and ignited by vapour emitted from a knife wound slashed in the stomach. As the victim writhes to death, he is watched by brother officers. One of them may be his own brother, who dares not speak. One officer told me that—he fled.

Only the cruel and the ignorant join the Iraqi security forces who are Saddam Hussein's praetorian guard of hell. They are hand-picked fighters—members of his family, and village tribesmen from his local towns. Every other family in the land, including those who have sons in the army, has its victims—perhaps through martyrdom or imprisonment. Burial alive is common, as is being imprisoned underground, beaten by guards, with a little gruel for food and brackish water. That was the fate of a friend of mine who is now paralysed and is dying.

The people know that there is no peace ahead without Saddam Hussein's removal. He lives only by the creation of violence and hatred and has no second nature. That is the man. One cannot reason with him. To think otherwise is folly. The former United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees with responsibility for Iraq, Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, resigned his post because, he said, no one could negotiate with Saddam Hussein—and that was in December 1991.

Saddam Hussein has total sovereignty. Perhaps only parliamentarians can understand the full effect of that. Saddam Hussein is the state of Iraq—the constitution, which he made up, says so. Iraq is not even a one-party state. By its own laws, it is a one-man state. Saddam Hussein takes, owns, runs and finally destroys all. There are no checks and balances to help the Iraqi people.

I give a small example of their loss of freedom. A year or so ago, Saddam Hussein knocked down holy places of worship in the south. There is no licence or authority today to rebuild them. There is no freedom to worship. Nor do the Iraqi people have the freedom to listen—something that we consider as free as air. Anyone caught listening to the BBC World Service in Arabic will be executed on the spot. Freedom of movement is not on offer, and nor is access to education, medicine, or freedom to see a doctor or go to hospital. That is true of the north and south, and of the centre now.

The three basic human needs of food, shelter, and clothing without which survival itself is threatened are withheld from the north and south. They are withheld from the Kurds, Sunnis, and Shias alike by Saddam Hussein's forces, despite the memorandum of understanding designed to permit UN aid. Saddam Hussein's word is worthless. His ambassador's signature on last November's memorandum of understanding is of no value.

Were it not for the British Government, the European Community, the voluntary agencies and the Iranian Government and the thousands of individuals who have donated funds, no food, clothing, water or medicine would be supplied to the Iraqi refugees and oppressed people. Even that aid is very little when matched with need. Human rights and human values now have no sanctuary in Iraq.

Recent events in the Gulf served one of our two purposes—the effective pursuit of international peace through the maintenance of Kuwait's borders and the destruction of potential nuclear weaponry within Iraq. Just as vital is the aim of achieving human rights. In the heart of every Iraqi lies the plea that their sufferings and needs must be addressed. They cannot act alone.

7.48 pm
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

I welcome this debate, and want to see in the near future a full, wide-ranging debate on Iraq in the United Nations Security Council. Force was justified to end the criminal invasion of Kuwait. It must not be forgotten that the dictator was given five months to get his forces out of Kuwait. In fact, he was virtually begged to do so. Unless force had been used, Kuwait would almost certainly remain under enemy occupation today. Had that happened, many of the horrors to be found in Iraq, about which the hon. Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson) spoke so movingly, would no doubt have occurred in Kuwait, and for a long time to come.

To save his own skin, Saddam Hussein agreed to all the provisions in the ceasefire agreement of two years ago. After he lost that war so decisively, he feared—understandably, although whether with any justification one does not know—that the allies would destroy his regime. In those circumstances, he would agree to anything, as long as he could remain in power. As we have seen, he has taken every possible opportunity since to tease and taunt the allies—no more so that in the past few weeks. He has shown his complete contempt for the ceasefire agreement, and has constantly tried to go as far as possible in breaking it without provoking the retaliation of the allies.

Time and again, when the no-fly zones are criticised, we must remind ourselves why they came into being. As hon. Members on both sides of the House have pointed out today, they were introduced to defend the Kurds and Shi'ites from butchery in the north and the south. Nor should we forget the international outcry that was also rightly heard on the Floor of the House when that danger was posed. If I remember rightly, there was no criticism then of safe havens and no-fly zones, even from the opponents of the war. In those circumstances, we were right to take the attitude that we took; and the Kurds, as well as the Shi'ites, remain undoubtedly in constant danger.

The international community is faced with an irrational dictator—although, let me add, he is not so irrational that he does not know how to survive in power. All his actions have been to a large extent irrational, despite what was said by the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath). With no justification, he initiated a war against a neighbouring country, Iran, which lasted eight years. When we are told—as we are from time to time—that the international community is not concerned with Muslims, as it should be, we should not forget that tens of thousands of Muslim lives were lost in that futile war on both sides along with those of Saddam's other victims. Nor should we forget that the vast majority of people in Kuwait are Muslims, and that Saddam has been responsible for many other atrocities, including the gassing of the Kurds—all Muslims again.

Can there be any doubt that, if force had not been used in the past few days by the international community—led by the United States—the United Nations weapons inspectors would not be in Iraq now? Can any hon. Member challenge that contention? If force had not been used, Saddam Hussein would not have climbed down. Not only would the weapons inspectors not have been allowed in; Saddam would obviously have taken the next step. If he had known that the allies would not act, he would have felt able to treat them with utter contempt and see what other provisions of the ceasefire agreement could be broken, and no doubt would have decided at some time to try to invade Kuwait again. Certainly, he would not have hesitated to do so if he had thought that he could get away with it.

Nevertheless, the international community must use force only as a last resort. Any use of force must be measured and limited; all possible action must be taken to avoid civilian casualties. I am not a hypocrite: I must accept that, if force is used, there will be a possibility of civilian casualties. I am therefore not a pacifist. If I believe that force is necessary from time to time, I must accept—with great sadness—that civilians may be killed or injured. None the less, every effort must be made to avoid bombing civilian targets.

I do not defend the bombing of the hotel in Baghdad, and I cannot emphasise too strongly that we are not at war with the people of Iraq; we have no quarrel with them. We should always remember that they were the first victims of this gangster and his terrorist regime. I know that a direct analogy cannot be drawn, but when, before the second world war, anti-fascists mobilised against Hitler, Mussolini and Franco, it was always pointed out that the first victims of such criminal terrorist dictatorships were people living in the countries involved. Limited action is essential, not simply for propaganda purposes but in support of a genuine wish not to inflict further harm and damage on the people who have suffered so long under the terrorist regime in Iraq.

The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup mentioned Israel. As I said at the time, I certainly believe that Israel has violated international law. The right hon. Gentleman was Chief Whip in the Government who were in power in 1956 when this country committed an act of criminal aggression, in collusion with France and Israel. As I told him, he did not wish to resign then—which is all the worse if he did not agree with the Government's policy. I know what I was doing then, along with many other democratic socialists: I was demonstrating our contempt for the action that was being taken, and our respect for international law and the United Nations. If I felt so strongly in 1956, why should I take a different attitude in the 1990s, when a criminal terrorist regime commits acts of aggression against Kuwait and continues to oppress and terrorise the Shi'ites and Kurds—as well as perpetuating the general terror that afflicts Iraq?

Some of the opposition in Iraq—both at home, to the extent that they can survive underground, and abroad—take the view that western Governments do not really wish to get rid of Saddam, but merely want to weaken him. I hope that that is not the case. It is not our job, as such, to get rid of him; I certainly do not believe that bombing will get rid of him, or should be used as a means of doing so.

My hon. Friends rightly criticise—as I do, and did at the time—the way in which western Governments, as well as the former Soviet Union, supported the regime in Iraq to the hilt. That lesson should not be forgotten. But if it was wrong to appease Saddam then by arming and supporting him, why continue that appeasement by saying, in effect, that no action should be taken when he invades Kuwait—or when, having been decisively defeated, he shows such contempt for the provisions of the ceasefire agreement? I see no logic in that. Given that I was opposed to the appeasement of the regime at one time, I want no appeasement now. I want western Governments, in particular, to learn the lessons that the past provides.

I cannot be a party to ignoring the situation in Iraq, and I have no intention of changing my position. It may not be popular in certain circumstances to take such a line, but I believe that it is necessary to deal with criminal aggression. Certainly, I feel that that is part and parcel of my duty as a democratic socialist.

Today's edition of The Guardian contains an article by David Hirst, who is an authority on Arab matters and well respected as such. It quotes the Iraqi opposition as describing Saddam Hussein as the most evil and destructive tyrant in modern Arab history. I consider that a fair summing up of the person who has ruled in Iraq for so long, so unfortunately and at such cost to human life.

I believe that what was done was basically right, although it was not right in every respect. The allies demonstrated that it was necessary to show Saddam Hussein that the ceasefire agreement must be respected. If he has now got the message—I hope he has—it will be to the good of Iraq, and of the international community.

7.57 pm
Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

I must declare a professional interest. My company gives consultancy advice to Thorn EMI Electronics, which provides the RAF and other armed forces of the Crown with equipment.

In his opening speech, my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence said that the RAF faced challenge and change. The debate has produced a number of challenges of what might be regarded as accepted assumptions: the most notable came from the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), who said that he and his hon. Friends would vote against the motion, because they would thus be voting against the wickedness of the western allies' recent bombing raids on Iraq. He also said that he took pride in the fact that, 50 years ago, he became a pilot in the RAF. I found it strange and I was somewhat saddened by the fact that the right hon. Gentleman seemed to have no feeling of loyalty towards the aircrews of his old service, who have been risking their lives to try to ensure that United Nations resolutions are upheld by the tyrant in Baghdad.

I was saddened, too, by the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath), who said that he could see no circumstances in which the armed forces of the Crown could reasonably go to the aid of Kuwait. It was a strange observation—first, because, as I pointed out, the Arab League has never really been an effective instrument of peacekeeping in the Arab world and, secondly, because the Royal Air Force has shown time and again—most recently in 1990, after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait—that it can be on the spot literally within hours and that, by its rapid intervention in the theatre, it can deter aggression.

We saw this principle in operation on numerous occasions when my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup was a member of the Government. For example, in 1961, fighters went up to Kuwait and prevented Iraqi aggression. In 1962, they were sent to India to defend the north-east frontier area against potential Chinese aggression. They were also sent to northern Rhodesia, now Zambia. There were many other instances during the right hon. Gentleman's time in Government.

The early expedition of force—and particularly of air power—can deter conflict and prevent warfare from speading. That is why air power is a key element of peacekeeping and why Her Majesty's Government reasonably invest so much in it.

The other aspect that is particularly relevant to the recent raids is that we have seen from Iraqi aggression the potential dangers of nuclear and chemical weapon proliferation. Some Opposition Members have said that the allied bombing of Iraq in recent days was particularly heinous in as much as, sadly, there were civilian casualties at a hotel in Baghdad. Those casualties were incurred because Saddam Hussein was not keeping United Nations resolutions and because a Tomahawk cruise missile either malfunctioned or was shot down. One must remember that Saddam Hussein's Scud missiles were launched 89 times in the Gulf war against targets in Saudi Arabia and Israel. One Scud missile caused 127 casualties in Saudi Arabia. In the Iran-Iraq war, Scud missiles caused 2,000 deaths in Iran. This gives us an idea of the dangers of nuclear and chemical weapons proliferation. Those offensive weapons must be taken out, if necessary, at source.

I hope that the Western allies have learnt the lesson and will be putting in place effective anti-ballistic missile defences. The early dispatch of Patriot missiles, appropriately modified, enabled the allied forces to conduct their operations successfully. It would have been much more difficult had there been no defence against Scud missile attacks. Moreover, had there been no defence, the Israelis might have entered the war, with disastrous consequences.

We face challenges and changes. Partly because the debate has been hijacked by the need to discuss foreign affairs, there has been little time to examine the changing strategic circumstances within which the Royal Air Force has to operate. We have had no debate on the defence estimates—even though I suggest that such a debate is overdue, as the statement on the defence estimates was published way back in July last year.

We are faced with a multitude of operational tasks that the Royal Air Force has to accomplish—in Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Somalia and Iraq—with a budget which is declining constantly in real terms and with manpower which is diminishing steadily under "Options for Change". The Air Force has a difficult challenge to make ends meet and fulfil its re-equipment programmes.

As I see it, 12 vital re-equipment programmes need to be funded: the Eurofighter 2000 and its associated weapons systems and equipment; the C130 replacement or modernisation; the Nimrod replacement; the medium surface-to-air missile for air defence; the SWATHE system for anti-armour attack; the conventionally armed stand-off missile—we saw in the Gulf war how perilous it can be with effective air defences for weapons to have to be launched over the target.

Free-fall weapons should increasingly become a thing of the past. In this respect, too, we need a tactical air-to-surface missile to provide the United Kingdom with an air-launched nuclear capability. People who say that a modified Trident or free-fall weapon could do the job are not thinking the issue through. We do not have time to go into detail now, but I suggest that those last two suggestions are facile in view of the flexibility and rapidity of response of air power.

The need for medium-lift helicopters has been described before and is serious. In all recent conflicts, there has been a grave shortage of support helicopters. I would say that we need both the Blackhawk and the EH101 because there are different tasks for helicopters of different sizes. The Firefly primary trainer has to be bought. Furthermore there is the mid-life update of the Tornado, the GR4. There is also the purchase of the advanced short-range air-to-air missile and the six Sea King HAR3 search and rescue helicopters. Those are all important programmes if the Royal Air Force is to be a flexible service.

How are we to save the money to provide the finance needed for the re-equipment? First, I suggest, we should reduce our commitment in Germany. It already assumes one quarter of the cost of strike command. When the Russians come out of the eastern part of Germany, as they are pledged to do by the latter part of 1994, we should save money on Germany and concentrate on the United Kingdom and on greater flexibility from the home base.

Secondly, we should create a two-tier service. If warning times are to be greater—if the political situation is such that we can envisage with greater certainty how potential crises will evolve—we should rely more on reserves: we should have effective regular forces properly trained and ready for use, but should rely more heavily on reserves and auxiliaries and should have auxiliary squadrons flying again.

Thirdly, we should be more rational in our support of the front line. We should rely rather less on maintenance units and more on industry for the third line servicing of our equipment. This will give us the leeway that we need. As it is, only 37 per cent. of the defence budget goes on equipment and 42 per cent. on pay and pensions. It is a dangerous trend, which needs to be reversed, and I think that some of the measures that I have outlined can achieve it.

8.8 pm

Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Hillhead)

It was said of the Bourbons that they learned nothing and forgot nothing. We should have learnt from the treaty of Versailles of the dangers of treating with the humiliation, partition, reparation and fear of dismemberment with which the allies are pursuing the defeated enemy Iraq—a defeated enemy whose military potential has been crushed and whose ability seriously to make war is no longer a consideration.

On hearing of the assassination of one of his master's political enemies, one of Talleyrand's aides said, "It's a terrible crime," to which Tallyrand replied, "It's worse than a crime—it's a blunder." I contend that the west has not only been guilty of crimes of comission and omission but, from its own standpoint, has been committing blunders that will return to haunt it. Just as after the treaty of Versailles, the mutation of German national grievance came back to haunt us in an absolutely horrendous manner only decades later.

The fact that it was a crime to launch 40 cruise missiles at the push of a button many hundreds of miles from where they would land, at £1 million a piece, when they almost overflew people starving to death in Africa, has not really been disputed in many places over the past few days.

Notwithstanding the sneers in the House this evening, the French Government have made it clear that they regard that attack as outwith international law in the sense that it was outwith the terms of the Security Council resolution. The Russian, Jordanian, and Syrian Governments and the Arab League share that view. Demonstrations in the Islamic world, from Kuala Lumpur to Karachi, make clear the sheer scale of the opposition to the assault on Baghdad. It sometimes seems that there is a majority only in this House of Commons in favour of the assault that took place on Baghdad last Sunday.

Whatever may be said about the factories which the United Nations inspectors repeatedly testified had, by then, no military significance, the assault on the great historic Arab capital of Baghdad was no different in its intention from that of the Luftwaffe in the east end of London or of the terrorists who leave bombs in Victoria station or Oxford street and walk away before the damage is done.

The attack was designed to strike terror into the hearts of the civilian population of Baghdad and to turn the people against their Government. Just as the blitz by the Luftwaffe and Irish terrorism succeeded only in galvanising patriotic feeling, so the latest spasm of violence against Iraq by the west has actually strengthened Saddam Hussein's regime.

The attack was a blunder because it has contributed seriously to a wave that will continue for years of further instability, radicalisation and sweeping fundamentalism across the middle east and the broader Islamic arena. I do not know where some of the authorities obtain their information. On Arab streets, in the slums of Algiers, in Aden, in the slums of Cairo and in the mosques of Saudi Arabia, the attack has led to the beatification—if Muslims can be beatified—of that blood-soaked tyrant, Saddam Hussein. His stock has never been higher.

Believe me, that wave of radicalisation and fundamentalism has been under way in the Arab area for a considerable period. Anyone who is aware of the Palestinian question and who has watched the steady march of the fundamentalist movement, Hamas, gaining ground at the expense of the secular, moderate, nationalist leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, knows exactly the despair and humiliation felt by the Arabs that is leading to the festering problem of fundamentalism.

Hon. Members should mark my words. There is not much of a legal process in Saudi Arabia. However, Fahd is in danger. The Moslem brotherhood, outraged by recent events and the influence of the Americans in the kingdom, is even now plotting the overthrow of the puppet King Fahd who is so beloved of the British Foreign Office and the British Government.

When considering these matters, it is important to walk a mile in the other fellow's shoes. On the streets of the Arab world, the west is seen as nothing more than a bloody hypocrite after Sunday's attack and in respect of its general policy. The British Government cannot escape the Palestinian question.

This very day the Foreign Secretary met the ambassadors of Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon to discuss the illegal deportation of 415 Palestinians. However, he refused to allow the acknowledged representative of the Palestinian people here in London to attend that meeting. He will not meet him on any other occasion. Even when PLO leaders are in London, the Foreign Secretary forbids his top officials to meet them. That undermining of the moderate, nationalist leadership of the PLO is the same kind of gift to the Muslim fanatics and extreme radicals as the attack on Saddam Hussein by the coalition air forces.

In the third world, western foreign policy is seen as based on the need to preserve not a new world order, but a new world odour. The third world believes that it smells just like the old world odour. It is a pattern of relationships based on the economic, and ultimately military, domination of third-world countries by the big powers from the terms of trade to control of technology and military hardware.

When the peoples of the Arab area and of the third world generally consider the pattern of policy of western Governments, they see hypocrisy. One of the raids was launched from Turkey. Turkey illegally occupies a British Commonwealth country and it has been doing that for 20 years. However, it has launched attacks on another country for that country's transgressions of international law.

The hypocrisy is evident to the peoples of the Arab world and of the third world generally when they witness the total failure of western Governments to do anything about the illegal occupation of East Timor and the west's total failure to do anything about even simple matters such as the deportation of the 415 Palestinians, irrespective of the decades-long illegal occupation of Palestinian lands and the deportations, imprisonments, torture and killings that occur every day in the occupied territories of Palestine. Not a penny's-worth of sanctions is broached against Israel, let alone the launching of an armada against that country to force it to obey international law.

In no theatre is there more of a sense of burning outrage than in the former Yugoslavia. The western powers have been completely unable to stop the genocide and ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands of Muslims in Bosnia at the hands of Christian Serbs. The hypocrisy of western policy is seen to be at its most naked in that theatre.

Saddam Hussein will mutate across the Arab area and across the Muslim world. There will be more Saddams. Saddam will be strong until some kind of decency and justice permeates the international approach of the so-called allies.

8.18 pm
Mr. Peter Temple-Morris (Leominster)

I listened to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway) with great interest. In the few words that I will be able to say, measures—and only measures—of agreement between us may well appear.

I want to explore the overall problem. I welcome the debate, but I am afraid to say that I will make another foreign affairs intrusion. None the less, the debate is important and it contains an emergency element.

I do not hesitate to say that I support, and have supported, the Government's policy. However, the spirit of my speech will be about the overall policy considerations for the future because they are most important. I welcome this opportunity to make a submission about what I am sure the Government are considering and, if they are not considering these points, I would like the Government to consider them.

Starting with the immediate, it should be made clear that we are dealing with the aftermath of the Gulf war. I am surprised that this has not been mentioned so far, but we are dealing with a situation which is, if you like, our own fault or which we brought about, because we chose—I respected the decision at the time and I respect it now—not ultimately to defeat Saddam Hussein militarily. It was a partial defeat, a defeat in a limited and controlled war. Having gone along with that, yet recognising the facts of life and acknowledging that hindsight does us absolutely no good in this, we must live with the consequences.

The first consequence is that we are landed with a very necessary nuclear and general weapons inspection that must be carried out on Iraqi soil by foreigners to Iraqis, an irritant to them and a perpetual excuse for them to create crises. This inspection must be enforced by air power. The problem of enforcement by air power is that the whole process could be too prolonged to hold politically.

The second main consequence is that we have the no-fly zones. It should be made quite clear that while they represent an immediate humanitarian problem, the Kurds and their situation within Iraq have been a problem for hundreds of years, the Shias and their situation in Iraq for even longer.

It is worth mentioning with regard to the Shia population that while some of them are in the most appalling conditions in the marshes, it is said by some, with no proper census, that the population of Iraq is over 50 per cent. Shia and there has therefore been a great struggle on the part of elements of the Sunni minority, or certainly not a substantial majority. There has been permanent competition between them, with the Sunnis always dominant, mainly through repression.

When it comes to the Kurds and Shias, no-fly zones are primarily necessary not only because of history—this is another point not brought out, and it is an unfortunate one—but because certain statements were made at the immediate conclusion of the Gulf war which encouraged the two insurrections, despite the fact that it should have been clear to those responsible that we have not done sufficient military damage to Saddam's army, much as we would have liked to, to limit its permanent capacity for vicious internal repression. We may have limited Saddam's capability to make war, but he showed a remarkable capacity to put down those two insurrections and we must live with the fact that, at least in part, we helped to create them. That gives us the responsibility for the humanitarian task involved.

Last but not least, we live under the United Nations umbrella, one which is wearing increasingly thin. The French position involves at least a warning. Arab pronouncements are becoming increasingly clear. It will not last much longer, this umbrella, this legality, without an overall and even-handed policy for the region. It is a region that I have had quite a lot to do with over the years and I have many personal connections with it.

That brings me to my policy concerns. The first is a general one and it goes far beyond even the region. It is the whole question of the Anglo-American relationship. It is very special and important to us, yet when we go into any sort of action with our American friends and allies we must face the fact that we ourselves have a limited national capability in the modern world. Neither we nor anyone else can really be effective without the Americans and the problem is the overwhelming imbalance of the coalition. It gives rise to the danger that whatever the coalition does is perceived to be a carrying through of United States policy.

That perception alone gives us the right to ask whether the United States has a regional policy. Perhaps we should exercise even more influence than we already do. But the answer to my question is no, the United States does not have a good regional policy for the whole middle east and Gulf theatre, and Iraq is but part of the whole. The danger is that we become completely besotted with Saddam Hussein while the whole of the rest of the theatre, with even more important considerations at stake, goes down the political and possibly the military drain.

When it comes to this regional policy, the containment of Iraq is part of it but there are two other major areas that must be addressed and dealt with. The first is the Palestinian question. The United States above all—because no one else has the capacity to deal with it—must come to terms with Israeli excesses which are exercised in the full knowledge of the support that it almost invariably gets from the United States. The United States must deal with its domestic political difficulties and the pressures constantly brought on presidential candidates, not least on President Clinton, by a very powerful lobby in the United States. The United States must come to terms with this because it is part of the whole.

The second major element is Iran. The Ayatollah kicked out not only the Shah but also the west, and particularly the United States. The United States has not come to terms with this. We have the same syndrome as we had only too visibly and recently with Vietnam. Iran is potentially a considerable danger, but, if it is dealt with, it could also be a considerable friend. It is the traditional and historical regional counter-balance to Iraq. Had Iran been stable and had the Iranian revolution not happened, none of this would ever have happened—no Iran-Iraq war and no invasion of Kuwait. Incidentally, there can be no regional security pact—a grand phrase mentioned by many—without the participation of Iran. Otherwise, I am afraid that it will be ineffectual.

We now come to the dangers of not having an overall regional policy. The first obvious danger is the destabilisation of the Arab and the whole middle eastern world. All our Arab friends have domestic difficulties. Many of them, particularly the Gulf states, are extremely weak politically and extremely vulnerable, which is the very reason why we are there. Going wrong on this gives fuel to those extremes which they most fear.

Secondly, if we do not get it right we encourage Islamic fundamentalism. It is a very real danger from Algeria, Morocco, through Egypt, right down the Gulf countries and across the wider world. It should not be unnecessarily fuelled. It represents ammunition and food to those who want to destabilise and take over and who most certainly are not our potential friends.

Last but not least in the list of dangers is Iran itself. A considerable internal power struggle is going on and there is a serious risk of its going the wrong way—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse)

Order. Mr. Elfyn Llwyd.

8.28 pm
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meironnydd Nant Conwy)

We in the House are mindful of the threats to world peace posed by the regime of the evil Saddam Hussein. We also know of the unspeakable atrocities being perpetrated by his regime. Our concerns and those of the international community as a whole are reflected in the various United Nations resolutions of the past 18 months. I and my party were reluctantly in agreement with the original air strike, provided that it was carried out with safeguards for civilians and minimal loss of life generally. We also made it clear that our support was offered only as far as the action was within the sanction and authority of the United Nations.

One must consider the attacks on military installations as opposed to other sites. The Secretary of State said that Royal Air Force personnel did their best to make sure that they did not kill civilians. But can the accuracy of a cruise missile he guaranteed? The al-Rashid hotel is a case in point. Also, we have to consider whether the first strike was proportionate to the threat. Perhaps it was, but the question remains whether the other two strikes were legitimate. Further, if the strikes are designed ultimately to remove Saddam as president, as would probably be justified, they are certainly not succeeding. They are, in fact, having the reverse effect.

The public perception at the present time is that this country, with the other countries, has gone a step too far. The allies are on a slippery slope leading to full-scale conflict in this area. Martin Woollacott, The Guardian on 19 January, caught the mood when he said: A natural apprehension, accompanied by an element of guilt, has run through the west as allied planes and missiles struck at Iraq. I am sure that this apprehension is in the minds of many hon. Members, since the legitimacy of the strikes is questionable.

The allies have not sought Security Council authorisation for the strikes, which ostensibly took place because of Saddam's failure to comply with resolutions 687 and 688. It is patently clear that the absence of such authorisation must open to question the legitimacy of the actions. Surely the allies cannot be acting on behalf of the international community when they do not seek specific sanction from the Security Council. Resolution 687 reads: relating, inter alia, to the restoration to Kuwait of its sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity and the return of its legitimate Government, to the status of sanctions, the setting of specific conditions for a formal cease-fire". This resolution was not carried unanimously.

The Secretary of State for Defence said that United Nations resolutions, supported by the personal endorsement of the Secretary-General, provided the legal authority for the attacks. The sanction of the Secretary-General is not the sanction of the Security Council. Indeed, article 42 of the charter of the United Nations is quite clear. It says: Should the Security Council consider that the measures provided for in Article 41 would be inadequate or have proved to be inadequate, it may take such action by air, sea or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security. Such action may include demonstrations, blockade, and other operations by air, sea or land forces by Members of the United Nations. Perhaps I am wrong, but I cannot see any reference to sanction by the Secretary-General alone.

In my view this is the crux of the question. Furthermore—this has already been quoted this evening—the Secretary-General's document, "An Agenda for Peace" deals with the use of military force in paragraph 42. It refers in detail to the concept of collective security and nowhere does it mention that the Secretary-General is in any way empowered by delegation or otherwise to speak on behalf of the Security Council.

Therefore, I believe that the legitimacy of the strikes must be in question. We are now in a serious position in which, as previously mentioned, Jordan, Syria and Libya, on behalf of the Arab world, are expressing strong misgivings about these actions. Similarly, the Russians and the French are now signalling their valid concerns at the actions. The international community is coming to the view that the most recent action was punitive only and that can never be legitimised or accepted in any decent international community.

Saddam has indicated that he is ready to observe a ceasefire. I believe that the time has come for resolutions 687 and 688 to be looked at anew. The precise details of non-compliance should be catalogued and the matter should be placed before the Security Council without delay. It is hoped that then the Security Council would give Iraq until a specific date to comply fully with the resolutions. Then, and only then, would the United Kingdom Government be observing the charter of the United Nations. Any further failure to follow the charter would, without doubt, pose a greater threat to world order than even Saddam's regime, since it could lead to the break-up of the United Nations. That is a valid point. At the present time, the United Nations appears to have been used by the so-called allies and that is certainly not the purpose for which it was formed; quite the reverse. At the moment, the United Nations can be considered a puppet of others.

I sincerely hope that the Government will resist any further applications by the United States—since we are talking of puppets—for a show of strength. I trust that the Government will proceed with caution. I trust that they will accept what this, albeit evil, man now says; at least listen and open a dialogue, and go back and examine resolutions 687 and 688, before placing the matter urgently before the Security Council. In international law, as everybody knows, legitimacy is everything. The United Kingdom must act strictly in accordance with the United Nations charter to regain that legitimacy and, with it, moral authority. Failure to do so would be merely to play into the Baghdad tyrant's hands.

8.35 pm
Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

I have to declare an interest, of which the House will be aware. I have worn a light-blue uniform for more than four decades. I regret the length of time, but I have never regretted wearing the uniform; it has been a great privilege. I do regret, though, the loss of our full day's debate on RAF matters, because I feel that this once-a-year debate is important.

I compliment my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench on the way that they have handled matters in the Gulf as far as the Royal Air Force is concerned, and I wish to place on record, as others have done, my respect for and appreciation of the gallantry and skill of the crews involved. I believe that the Government and the RAF were right to impose a ban on disclosing to the media the names of aircrew taking part in the operations. Those in mass communications forget the family problems that are left behind, and it is right that we should never disclose the names of the aircrew.

My concern is that the RAF's position should now he recognised as the key element in deterrence against modern conventional warfare. I accept that Trident, as the nuclear deterrent, is the final deterrent, but more often than not we will be called upon to deploy RAF units in a deterrent capacity or a peacekeeping role. Therefore, I wish to draw attention to the changes that have taken place in the Royal Air Force under "Options for Change".

We have had a lot of publicity about the changes in the Army, but there has not been a lot of shouting about the changes in the RAF. It is interesting to note that, post-options, the RAF will have four types of combat aircraft: seven squadrons of Tornado F3s, three squadrons of Harriers, three sqauadrons of Jaguars in direct support of the battlefield, four squadrons of Tornado GR1s, two squadrons of Tornado GR1As and two squadrons of GR1Bs. That force consists of all-weather fighter assets and is a reduction by 33 per cent.—a massive reduction—in our all-weather fighter assets.

Long-range offensive assets have been reduced by 38 per cent. We all know the value of the GR1. I understand that, when an American air force general was asked what additional assets he would have liked in the Gulf, he said that he would have liked more squadrons of GR1 Royal Air Force aircraft. That tells us a lot about the GR1's standing. Maritime patrol aircraft have had a reduction of 25 per cent., and the Royal Air Force Regiment a reduction of 29 per cent., while there has been a 33 per cent. reduction in light armoured squadrons. Furthermore, 21 United Kingdom RAF stations will be closed, as will three in Germany, by 1995. That is a massive reduction in what I believe is the key element of the Royal Air Force.

I turn now, as my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench would expect me to do in this debate, to the volunteer reserves and the auxiliaries, where my interest, of course, lies. I agree with the moves and views that are taking place about the future. It is important that we recognise the key position which the auxiliaries and the volunteer reserve will occupy. It is right to examine those two organisations and ask whether we can make any changes and improvements, probably by a merger, to streamline them and make them more efficient. That does not mean that I want them to be reduced; I want them to be strengthened and increased. I would like some flying units to be returned to the auxiliary air force, or whatever it will he called in the future.

The great value that we get from auxiliaries and reserves is not often appreciated. If I had my way, all those who are trained by the Royal Air Force to fly would be signed up for life, regardless of the length of their full-time commission. The massive investment which the state makes in training pilots, navigators and so on should be repaid by their commitment to an auxiliary or reserve job which requires them to put in so many hours a week, a year or whatever. It destroys, as the United States did so effectively in the Gulf, the myth that was spread many years ago that weekend pilots could not fly fast jets. That is absolute nonsense.

Another matter to which I should like to draw attention is the volunteer air cadets. I believe the air cadets give the nation and the Royal Air Force tremendous value for the money which is invested in them. The officers and instructors who look after the air cadets are volunteers and are not paid. They attend evening duties and weekend activities, as do the flight people in the Chipmunks. The volunteers also fly motor gliders or conventional gliders and are not paid for it. That must be about the best bargain that anyone ever got, because the volunteers do it simply because they love flying or they love to be involved in the cadet organisation.

We should expand that sort of activity because I believe that we cannot get better value. If there are any thoughts in the alternative options programme which is buzzing around in the Ministry and elsewhere at present that it is not good value, let me say from considerable experience that it is the best value that I have seen in my life. I have never been able to work out why the RAF has been able to get so many dedicated people at no cost. Surely that must be a good thing.

Another area in which the Royal Air Force plays an important role is peacekeeping and humanitarian activities. The replacement of the Hercules will be a vital and important decision. We must recognise that the Hercules is the workhorse which is used by the Air Force all over the world at short notice, often to drop humanitarian supplies in some of the most inaccessible regions on the planet. Therefore, when the Hercules is replaced, I hope that it will be replaced by an aircraft which is better but can do the job as effectively. I hope that my hon. Friends on the Front Bench understand what I mean by that, because one often gets an aircraft which is alleged to be able to do the job better but does not do it as effectively. We must be sure about that.

The next matter to which I should like to draw attention is the replacement of equipment. There must be a proper stand-off weapon system for the Royal Air Force. Surely we recognise that individuals in aircraft are at a much greater risk if they must get right over the target to deliver the weapon system. It would be much better if they could deliver a weapon system from the stand-off position. This is no criticism, but during the Gulf war the JP233 was required to fly straight and level over an enemy target to deliver the weapon system, which denied the Iraqis the use of the airfield. That had a cost element. I should like that matter to be dealt with.

I support what the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) said about the Leuchars helicopters. We will never be able to thank enough the units operating the helicopters for what they have done. I regret that the local authorities did not accept my invitation to attend a meeting to be held with a view to seeing whether we could find local authority input in the cost of keeping the facility at Leuchars, and I am saddened by that. Local authorities have themselves to blame for not taking up the opportunity. [Interruption.] In life, it is a question of taking the opportunity. Local authorities did not even consider following up the invitation to a meeting, and I find that distressing and disturbing.

I hope that the Chipmunk's replacement aircraft will be as good to fly and as much of a pilot's aeroplane so that we continue to get volunteers to fly them.

8.47 pm

Mr. Bernie Grant (Tottenham)

I do not know much about the Royal Air Force, so I will not engage in that part of the debate. Two years ago, hon. Members and I were taken to SHAPE headquarters by the Royal Air Force, and they treated us very well. During the war, there were a lot of black service men in the Royal Air Force, but I know that that is not the case today. Perhaps the Secretary of State could investigate why that is so. I am disappointed that we will not have a serious motion before the House which we can all debate and that this debate is not solely about the position in Iraq.

In December 1990, I went to Iraq where I met members of the Revolutionary Command Council. As a result of that visit I was opposed to the Gulf war, and I voted that way with a number of my hon. and right hon. Friends. At that time, we said that the Gulf war would solve nothing, and I think that the case has been made. More than 300,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed, and 150,000 children suffer from cholera, typhoid and so on. Iraq has been devastated.

I note that the British Government made a profit on the war and that American firms received lucrative contracts at the end of the war. Perhaps the mistake of the Iraqis was not to invite the Americans to repair the bomb damage that occurred during the Gulf war. If that had been done, perhaps we would not have the present situation.

Since the war, the Iraqis have done well to rebuild Iraq. As the House will know, they have few or no materials because of the sanctions imposed on them. They have done remarkably well to repair bridges and so on.

When the hon. Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson) spoke about the situation of the marsh Arabs, one could not help but feel a lot of sympathy for them. One wondered how the hon. Lady could speak about the Iraqis withdrawing water from the marshes and leaving people thirsty. Coalition forces bombed the waterworks in Baghdad and Iraq, which resulted in hundreds of thousands of people dying from contamination of the water and the diseases which resulted.

I am worried about the double talk and, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) mentioned, about the fraud of this Government and of the Americans with the attacks by the western allies. I notice that they no longer speak of a coalition. The coalition has unravelled, and only a few countries are taking part in the further attacks against Iraq.

The French and the Russians do not impress me. They are speaking out now because George Bush has gone. It is like saying that the schoolmaster has gone so the children can begin to have a go. I suspect that that is why the French and the Russians are speaking out now. George Bush and the Americans ruled the United Nations Security Council with an iron thumb, and the British Government trailed behind on the coat tails.

The point that my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway) made is important. If one takes a cold, calculated look at what is happening, one begins to see a pattern emerge. Muslims in Bosnia are not defended by western allies. The Iraqis are attacked by the western allies; they are also Muslims. The Palestinians have been attacked by Israel but there has not been much of a song and dance by the western allies because they are Muslims. The Libyans are also Muslims. They have also been ostracised and sanctions have been placed on them.

One begins to wonder what the western allies have against Muslims.

Lady Olga Maitland

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Grant

I will not give way. In the language that has been used, the international racism of the western allies has to be seen to be believed. People talk about "spanking" the president of a nation of 18 million people, whether those people like him or not. I suspect that international racism has a lot to do with that. I believe that the recent attacks have been sparked by Bush's hatred of Muslims generally and Saddam Hussein in particular. It is a disgrace that the British Government have blindly followed what Bush did.

Let us consider the justifications which the allies gave for the bombings. They talk about incursions into the no-fly zone. They talk about incursions into Kuwait. The language is not accurate. It was not Kuwait but a demilitarised zone. They talk about Kuwait because they want to conjure up emotional images of what happened before, during and after the Gulf war.

The allies talk about United Nations inspectors and so on. Let us examine the no-fly zone. I specifically asked the Secretary of State for Defence two questions last Wednesday. I asked him about the targets. I asked whether the targets were inside or outside the zone. He said categorically that they were inside. A few days later, on Sunday, we found that the British Government supported the Americans when they sent cruise missiles outside the no-fly zone into Baghdad, killing innocent civilians.

I asked the Secretary of State where he had obtained authorisation for launching the raids. He said categorically that the no-fly zone was authorised in accordance with international law and that the forces were acting in self-defence. That was merely an opinion but it was not backed up by the facts. We were not told what specific aspects of international law supported the allies. We were not told which United Nations resolutions supported the allies. For example, we know that the allies banked on resolution 688, which was carried in April 1991. It referred specifically to northern Iraq and the Kurds.

I quote no less a source than Dilip Hiro, who is an expert in middle east affairs. He said in New Statesman and Society:

Sixteen months later in August 1992, however, in the absence of any large-scale flow of Shia refugees into Iran or Kuwait, or any formal complaints to the UN by a neighbouring country, the western powers had no grounds for applying Resolution 688 to the situation in southern Iraq. They needed a specific resolution for the purpose. But their soundings at the Security Council showed that they would not get the minimum nine votes required to pass such a motion. Of the seven third-world members of the Council, Cuba, Yemen and Zimbabwe had even opposed Resolution 688; and China and India … had abstained … Having found the road to a separate Security Council resolution blocked, the western leaders resorted to invoking 'unwritten, customary international law' which, they claimed, allowed military intervention in cases of grave humanitarian abuse. Bush went on to describe the western allied air patrols below the 32nd parallel as 'human rights surveillance'. Even the New York Times had difficulty in swallowing this line. 'Fighter jets bristling with missile are not obvious weapons for protecting a human rights monitoring mission'".

The reason why no Security Council resolution was adopted was that the allies could not get the resolution through the Security Council, so unilaterally they set up the no-fly zone. Having done so, they went ahead to say that if Saddam incurred breaches of the no-fly zone, they had the authority to take him out. Of course, not having obtained authorisation in the first place, they did not get it in the second instance.

The Secretary of State talks about self-defence. That is clearly bogus. The former defence secretary of the United States, Dick Cheney, said that Iraqi missiles were so clapped out that they posed a greater threat to the Iraqi troops than the coalition forces.

It is vital that international law is stuck to, especially for countries in the third world. I want my Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen to accept that if they are to support the Government in these matters, it is surely the job of the Opposition to ensure that the Government stick to international law and do not take short cuts. There will come a time when the Opposition do not support the Government in the international arena and the Government will not have a leg to stand on.

8.55 pm
Sir Nicholas Bonsor (Upminster)

I know that several hon. Members still wish to speak so I propose to limit my remarks to five minutes. The reason why I speak in the debate is that the predecessor Defence Select Committee to that which I chair made two reports last year which are relevant to the Royal Air Force content of the debate. I wish to make some comments on them.

In the sixth report of that Committee, the European fighter aircraft was considered. The Committee made particular reference to three issues: first, the importance of Germany's continued involvement in the EFA programme; secondly, the scope for efficiency savings in the workshare arrangements; and thirdly, the dangers of making savings by reducing performance.

The fears expressed by that Committee were borne out by events. I am delighted that Germany—I congratulate my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench on their achievement—was persuaded to continue as part of that programme. We learned a great deal during those difficult negotiations about the efficiency possibilities in workshare arrangements and, indeed, to a certain extent, about the inadequacies of the workshare arrangements that were originally agreed. Those lessons must be learnt for the future when we enter other collaborative agreements with our allies.

I understand that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence referred in his opening speech to the dangers of making savings by reducing performance. I understand that he gave the assurances that I seek, that the British will buy an EFA which is capable of defeating any other aircraft in the sky at the time of its production. That is vital. I apologise to my right hon. Friends that I was not able to be present for that opening speech. The Defence Committee had a long-standing commitment to visit NATO today. That is where I was and from where I returned about half an hour ago.

The second report of the previous Defence Select Committee dealt with short and medium-range air-to-air missiles. It is a development of the same theme as that of the sixth report. I gather that there were substantial difficulties in the collaborative projects which were initiated to replace our short and medium-range air-to-air missiles. Those difficulties have now been resolved. As with the EFA project, there is a great deal to be learnt about the way in which such arrangements are dealt with. Difficulties must be anticipated rather than merely solved with great difficulty during such negotiations.

Turning to the report of my own Committee, we were concerned that the RAF, like other elements of our armed forces, is likely to become severely overstretched. We are concerned that some Jaguar crews are already returning to Incirlik for their third tour. We are concerned about the helicopter and air transport resources available to support operations and the shortage of tankers, given the likely role of the RAF in international peacekeeping affairs.

I would be grateful to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence if at some point he could tell the House what has happened to the decision to order 25 utility EH101s that was announced to the House six years ago by the noble Lord Younger, who was the then Secretary of State for Defence. Since then it appears that no advance has been made on putting that purchase into effect.

I congratulate the RAF on its achievements in the Gulf. We are all immensely impressed by the accuracy of the bombing which the RAF in particular carried out in the past week. The standard of expertise is exemplary. When I was fortunate enough to be at strike command headquarters the day after the Tornado strike, it was noteable just how accurate those strikes had been. The RAF can rightly be proud of its standard of workmanship and we should he proud of the RAF.

Finally, I wholly support, as does the Defence Committee, the Government's efforts to support the United Nations resolutions and to ensure that Saddam Hussein does not go beyond the bounds of reasonable behaviour and contravene the standards that the United Nations has laid down. Clearly, he has been testing the resolutions as hard as he can for the past month or two, trying to take advantage of what he perceived as a potential weakness during the change of presidency in the United States. I have no doubt whatever that we were right to back the efforts to enforce the no-fly zone and to make sure that he did not try again to cross the border with Kuwait and start another incident.

My only worry is that there is a certain lack of clarity about the parameters within which the United Nations should exercise control or those around which we should limit the action that is being taken against Iraq. It must be right to enforce the no-fly zone and ensure that Saddam Hussein does not do any damage to his neighbours and to make sure, in so far as we can, that his behaviour towards the Shi'ite people in the south of Iraq and the Kurdish people in the north remains within the bounds of civilized human behaviour. However, there are limits to the extent to which we are right to bomb Baghdad or take other retaliatory action which puts at great risk civilian life.

I hope that the Government will take note of the resolution of the House to back the United Nations in its efforts to curtail Saddam Hussein, but equally that we do not go too far in provoking unnecessary conflict.

9.2 pm

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

Although I intend to vote against the Adjournment, I welcome certain aspects of the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark), who said that we should now seek agreement from the United Nations on all future action. However, if we adopt such an attitude, there should be some feedback in our attitude towards Iraq.

We cannot ignore the position of the United Nations and argue that everything has taken place with the agreement of the United Nations and is entirely justified by past resolutions. There seems to be some inconsistency if we say that in future we shall always act in a certain way, but that the past is the past and does not relate to what we are now seeking to achieve.

In trade union discussions a distinction is drawn between procedural agreements and substantive agreements. That analysis should apply to the United Nations. The United Nations tends to adopt long resolutions suggesting that certain action should be taken, with no provision for follow-up measures. Nor do United Nations resolutions establish which agencies are supposed to act on their behalf. That needs to be contained in the original resolution, and if it is not, we need to return to the United Nations to pass fresh resolutions which agree to action in different areas. I might not necessarily agree with the substantive agreements reached if we did so. I do not agree with many of the measures passed in this Parliament and often seek to speak and mobilise hon. Members against them. If we return to the United Nations and pass fresh resolutions, it will make the actions taken under them legitimate.

What have we got at the moment? Resolution 687 concerns the ending of hostilities between Kuwait and Iraq. During recent events much has been unreasonably built on that resolution. Resolution 688 essentially concerns the Kurds in the north of Iraq and was used initially to justify action in the southern no-fly zone—a zone that does not enter into resolutions 687 or 688, but was decided afterwards. No-fly zones are justified in such circumstances. They are justified in Bosnia, where they have been determined by a United Nations resolution. However, that is not the case in Iraq.

No United Nations resolutions justify the action and no United Nations forces are involved. Forces are not going into action wearing light blue berets and helmets. The United Nations did not decide on the no-fly zone and there is no United Nations command structure for the action in the Gulf as there is in Bosnia, despite all the problems there.

The retrospective endorsement of the United Nations Secretary-General is the only justification for the action. Secretaries-General sometimes get things wrong. It does not follow that because a Secretary-General—even one as prestigious as the United Nations Secretary-General—has said something, it is the correct interpretation of the resolutions that we are acting under.

There can be no justification for the action taken outside the no-fly zone. It is peculiar that the actions taken inside the zone were justified in international law as self-defence. The no-fly zone was established in violation of the sovereignty of Iraq. We told Iraq that as it intended to take action against us, we were engaged in self-defence. That would apply if the no-fly zone happened to be in another country, but not if it is in Iraq.

I was opposed to the liberation of Kuwait, but that action was taken to defend Kuwait's sovereignty against Iraq. On this occasion, we are invading the sovereignty of Iraq. Nothing contained in international law or the United Nation's resolutions can justify the action that has been taken, although there might be developments to justify it.

9.7 pm

Mr. Keith Mans (Wyre)

I am grateful for the opportunity to say a few words before the winding-up speeches. I shall not follow the remarks of the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes), but wish to identify myself with the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) about training and the Royal Air Force reserves.

It is fair to say that, since the 1950s, areas of operation for the Royal Air Force steadily shrank until about a year ago. It is ironic that, in the past 18 months, since the end of the cold war and the destruction of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw pact, there has been an increase in the number of areas in which the RAF has operated.

We saw how effective the RAF was during the Gulf war, and in the recent raids over Iraq we have seen the effectiveness of modern weapons systems such as the Tornado and laser-guided bombs. That shows that air power is highly effective. It is both flexible and speedy, it results in minimum loss of life to the aircraft crews taking part, compared with the use of ground troops, and it provides a most effective deterrent in many cases and a key element in peace-keeping, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) said.

I believe that in the future we shall see increased use of air power because of the features of flexibility and speed of response. In this respect, it is very important that the Royal Air Force has modern, capable aircraft. Obviously, I am delighted that the Eurofighter 2000 is going ahead, with all four nations taking part. This aircraft is a vital part of the RAF's future. It will provide a first-class air platform on which increasingly sophisticated and advanced systems can be mounted. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker), I am an favour of updating the Tornado GR1 with a stand-off weapon, thus enabling it to carry out raids of the sort that it carried out over Iraq, but with less likelihood of its being shot down.

We must look very closely at our transport needs if we are to have the flexibility of response to which I referred. We need a replacement for the Hercules and we need it soon. It will be necessary, more and more, to use helicopters. As has been said, the EH101 procurement is now very urgent and I hope that there will be action sooner rather than later.

I am convinced that, more than ever, this country needs a balanced, modern and flexible Air Force equipped with all the main components of air power and able to respond effectively whenever the need arises, as, tragically, seems likely to occur ever more frequently in the future.

9.11 pm
Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland)

It is right that the House should be debating today the situation in Iraq. Although, from the point of view of the RAF, particularly on the 75th anniversary of its creation, this debate arrangement is less than satisfactory, it is proper and appropriate that the House should have the opportunity to consider the development international crisis and deteriorating military situation in Iraq. Had the change of business not been announced, I should certainly have sought, on behalf of the shadow Cabinet, an emergency debate on the subject of Iraq.

I express my personal congratulations to and support for the RAF on its 75th anniversary. I also support the excellent speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) at the beginning of the debate.

I want to begin by stating our position quite clearly. The position of Labour is support for United Nations resolutions, for decisions of the Security Council and for actions based firmly and clearly within the terms of those resolutions. If international order and decisions are to mean anything at all in an increasingly disordered world, I can see no course other than to act on that basis through decisions of the Security Council.

I expressed our position on these issues in a letter to the Foreign Secretary as long ago as 20 August 1992, when I said that we would support the creation of a no-fly zone in the south of Iraq, just as we had supported the establishment of the no-fly zone in the north. Both those decisions were based on requests from many countries and on many international demands that action be taken to prevent genocide against the Kurds and the Shia Muslims in Iraq. I said in that letter, and I repeat now, that we would not support air strikes against other targets in Iraq. For the sake of clarity, I shall quote from my letter: I also want to make clear our position in relation to any proposed military attack on ground targets in Iraq. I strongly believe that no such attack can be justified or should be made unless and until the United Nations Security Council has considered the matter. When the attack took place last weekend, following consultation with my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields and the Leader of the Opposition, we immediately demanded the recall of the United Nations Security Council to discuss the situation and to establish clearly what the position was.

It was right for us to have done that and we were pleased when other countries joined in that call. As has been said in the debate, we were sorry that Her Majesty's Government did not immediately adopt that approach. I was sorry for another reason: I did not believe it right that in the last 48 hours of his mandate, the then President of the United States should be initiating that sort of action.

I wish also to make it clear that we cannot accept, nor do we regard, the decisions of any President of the United States as synonymous with decisions of the UN Security Council. It is important for us to be clear that the authority of the UN, which I support and want to see upheld, including in Iraq, must have the widest possible coalition of support. It is dangerous for the United States to jeopardise the coalition for action and the wide-ranging support that has been established.

Sir Nicholas Bonsor


Dr. Cunningham

I will not give way yet.

I hope that the new President of the United States, whose election I warmly applaud and whose success has delighted my hon. Friends and me, will be extremely cautious about moves against Iraq—or, for that matter elsewhere, including Bosnia—to ensure that whatever is done has the legitimate suport and agreement of the UN Security Council. I cannot make my position and that of my party clearer than that.

Saddam heads a bloody, villainous and deceitful regime, but the position of Her Majesty's Government has not been altogether coherent or consistent in regard to that regime. It was all right for the west and the allies to help create the monster war machine in Iraq. It was all right for that to be built up year on year so long as that war machine was aimed at Iran. It was a different matter when that same war machine turned against western interests, as ultimately it did in Kuwait, and there was horror and dismay at those events.

Again, my party supported the decisions of the UN—it was right for us to do so; I support them strongly, then and now—to take action to dismiss that territorial aggression. But the record of Her Majesty's Government in all those matters should not be ignored or obscured in the present circumstances. I regret to say that, even now, the British Government are giving confused signals to Iraq.

During Foreign Affairs Question Time last week, I raised with the Secretary of State details of an article in the Sunday Mirror of the previous week-end. There was a degree of derisory laughter on the Conservative Benches because the Sunday Mirror had disclosed that our Foreign Secretary was issuing visas to authorise visits to this country by Iraqi business people—agents of the Saddam regime—to discuss new deals with GEC. Far from laughing now, Conservative Members look sombre. They should, because the Foreign Secretary confirmed to me in a letter this week that he had authorised such visits and that discussions had taken place.

It is deplorable—I am not suggesting that any deal has been done—even to be discussing with the Saddam regime deals on the one hand, while, on the other, we are sending our airplanes against them in support of UN Security Council resolutions. With the Conservative party, business is always business. That is the view they take. Business is always business, especially when the chairman of the company involved is none other than Lord Prior, a former Conservative Cabinet Minister.

I strongly urge the right hon. Gentleman, in the interests of keeping the coalition together on this issue and of better understanding and clearer messages to the Saddam regime, not to issue any more such visas to Iraqi business men to come to this country unless and until we have the situation in Iraq under control; until Saddam has accepted the decisions of the United Nations; until military efforts have ceased and that dialogue has begun. In those circumstances it may be acceptable, but certainly not until then.

Mr. Madden

Will my hon. Friend contrast the ease with which Iraqis have been able to obtain visas to come here to buy arms and sophisticated telecommunications equipment with the extraordinary difficulty I have had in persuading the British Foreign Office and Home Office to give visas to a 63-year-old Iraqi woman who urgently needs medical treatment in this country?

Dr. Cunningham

My hon. Friend makes his point effectively, except that I am not suggesting that these latest visits were to discuss arms contracts, but the previous visits were. That is the case.

I reiterate that we support United Nations Security Council resolutions on Kuwait and we supported the establishment of the air exclusion zones because it was quite apparent that Saddam was practising genocide against his own people, using poison gas against the Kurds in the north. If anyone doubts what is going on, they should read the excellent report of my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), who has just returned from Iraqi Kurdistan to report to us that thousands of Kurdish villages have been obliterated by the Saddam regime—reduced to rubble—and people slaughtered, including women and children.

While I give second place to no one in deploring what happened at the al-Rashid hotel, the reality is that Saddam himself has killed many thousands more of his own citizens in trying to suppress the development of democracy in his own country. So we fully and wholeheartedly support the actions in support of the air exclusion zones. We cannot accept a situation in which our own pilots and air crews, in pursuit of those air exclusion zones, can be threatened by Saddam's forces on the ground.

I want to see an end to all these military actions and to see stability return to the region. I guess that those aims and objectives are shared by everyone in the House, but until Saddam Hussein is willing to accept the terms of the ceasefire and to accept the right of the United Nations and the force of the Security Council resolutions, it seems to me unlikely that those actions can be put in abeyance.

I want to make one other important point about stability in that region which has been the most threatening region to world peace for at least the past four decades. We need to keep together in the coalition the Islamic nations that have supported the action against Saddam Hussein from the outset. Therefore, we need to demonstrate to them our even-handedness and the even-handedness of the United Nations in pursuit of Security Council resolutions.

We warmly welcomed and rejoiced in the election of a Labour Government in Israel but we deplore their treatment of the Palestinians, which is clearly in breach of international law, specifically the fourth Geneva convention. We have told them in no uncertain terms that they should rescind their decision immediately. I make that clear again. In that connection I urge the Foreign Secretary to respond to the PLO's request to meet him in Israel together with representatives of Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon to discuss this and other matters and the peace initiative generally which, as everyone agrees, is important. The Government of Israel have persuaded their Parliament to agree to talks with representatives of the Palestinians and there is no reason why our Government should not take the same approach. I urge the Foreign Secretary to do so.

I have spelt out our position on these matters. I shall now deal with the escalating situation and the deteriorating international scene. I supported much of what the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) said. The hon. and learned Member for File, North-East (Mr. Campbell), who spoke for the Liberal Democrats, made one of the best speeches in the debate. We simply cannot continue tit-for-tat indefinitely. The Foreign Secretary has my sympathy and, in most respects, he also has my support because I realise how difficult it must be to deal with a regime that is entrenched in suppression, torture and extermination.

We should be working through the United Nations in the best interests of all the people of Iraq for greater stability in the region so that acts of war, military actions, can cease and some kind of dialogue can begin. I do not rule out more action, but we must try to persuade Saddam Hussein to accept the decisions of the international community authorised by the Security Council. He must promise to stop actions against his own people in the north and south or elsewhere in Iraq. If he can be brought to those terms, some dialogue must be initiated.

To bring additional pressure on him, I urge the Government and the coalition allies greatly to improve and strengthen their communications, links and dialogue with the democratic organisations which represent various groups of Iraqi people in capitals around the world. That should be used far more effectively than it has hitherto to bring pressure to bear on Saddam's regime.

Our support can be based only on that kind of approach; on legitimate decisions, actions and objectives agreed internationally in the United Nations. The sad fact is that the United Nations is currently overloaded with demands. It is weak, underfunded, under-resourced and overstretched. Support for the Secretary-General is nowhere near sufficient to enable him to respond to the demands that are continually heaped upon him and his staff.

I hope that we will see a change in the Government's attitude towards support for the United Nations. Perhaps I had better reiterate that I am a strong supporter of the United States of America, and certainly of that country's newly elected President. However, we cannot allow the United Nations to be denied subscriptions from the USA on the one hand and to be persuaded to take military action in lieu of those subscriptions on the other. We should not accept that kind of pressure on the United Nations.

I hope that problem can be tackled—as we intend to tackle it in our developing dialogue with the new Administration in Washington. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I am not surprised by the looks of amazement on the faces of Conservative Members, but it is clear that they do not have many friends in the new Administration. Any hope that they had of a flying start was rather derailed by the kind of person and the nature of the campaigning ideas that they sent to support President Bush in the American elections.

Mr. Mans

So that we may get the record straight, will the hon. Gentleman say how many other nations that are members of the United Nations are not up to date with their subscriptions?

Dr. Cunningham

Yes, I regret to say that the number is large. I am not suggesting that the problem is only with the United States of America. I am merely urging the Foreign Secretary to start taking action to resolve the general underfunding of the United Nations. I do not for one moment suggest that the fault is wholly that of the United States of America.

Before I conclude, I want to mention the circumstances of Paul Ride and Michael Wainwright, who were arrested and are being arbitrarily detained, having committed no crime other than to wander innocently over the border into Iraq. Again, that is an illustration of the nature of the regime that we must face and with which we must try to deal.

I have discussed their case with the Foreign Secretary on more than one occasion, and I know that he is acting consistently on behalf of those two men. I urge him again tonight to redouble his efforts to seek the safe release of those two British subjects—as my hon. Friends the Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) and for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) have consistently done.

We have never pretended from this Dispatch Box that the problems are easy to resolve. We do not suggest now that the solutions are simple. However, there is, or appears to be, a lack of any coherent strategy towards resolving the problems of Iraq and of securing greater stability in the whole region.

We urge the right hon. Gentleman and the Cabinet to adopt a change of course in that regard if, and only if, the commitments that I have spelt out can be secured from Saddam Hussein. If they cannot, and if Saddam Hussein persists with threatening the coalition forces and with acts of genocide against his own people, we shall be as authoritative as anyone in calling for continued action against his regime.

I hope that Saddam Hussein will listen to reason. That would be the best outcome for everyone—including, I regret to say, Saddam Hussein himself, to whom I offer no sympathy or support at all. Neither does anyone sitting on the Opposition Benches. If Saddam Hussein will not listen to reason, he should be left in no doubt that the will and authority of the international community must be made to prevail. That will and authority, based on Security Council decisions, will have our implacable support.

9.34 pm
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Douglas Hurd)

The House will be grateful to the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) for his concluding words.

The debate has two perfectly respectable parents—the Royal Air Force and the Gulf—but it has emerged as a mongrel. I apologise to hon. Members who have raised points related specifically to the RAF. I shall ensure that they are answered by Defence Ministers, as has been requested.

I wish to respond to the part of the debate that, as it were, intruded on the original debate. I have been present for most of it, but I missed two speeches that were clearly outstanding—those of the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) and of my hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson). I did hear some exceptional speeches, however, including the shrewd contributions of my right hon. Friends the Members for Guildford (Mr. Howell) and for Bridgwater (Mr. King), and the eloquent tirade of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn).

I do not think that there is any serious doubt or confusion about our objectives in dealing with Iraq. We have three: to maintain the integrity of Kuwait; to eliminate the threat of Iraqi nuclear and chemical weapons; and, as far as we can, to deter Saddam Hussein from attacking the Kurds and Shias who live within the frontiers of Iraq. Those aims have two things in common: they are all underwritten by the United Nations, and an attempt has been made to undermine all three in the past fortnight.

The underwriting by the United Nations is clear. The first objective—the maintaining of Kuwait's sovereignty—is contained in UN resolutions 678 and 687. The second, relating to nuclear, biological and chemical missile capabilities, is dealt with in resolutions 687 and 707, which authorise the inspection teams. The third is contained in resolution 688, which demands a stop to repression of the Iraqi civilian population. Resolutions 706 and 712 are sometimes forgotten, but they could become important again. They allow the sale of oil to finance humanitarian relief, including relief for the Kurds.

As I have said, each of those objectives has been threatened in the past few weeks. Let us take the first, the integrity of Kuwait. On the Kuwait border, Saddam Hussein sent organised armed teams into what is now legally Kuwait to retrieve Silkworm missiles. He refused to return the missiles, and failed to evacuate police posts in the demilitarised zone by the deadline set by the Security Council. As for the second objective, relating to nuclear and chemical weapons facilities, Saddam did what he has done before. He presented several obstacles, and sought to impose several conditions, to prevent the UN Special Commission from carrying out its appointed task. He refused to allow UN Special Commission flights to enter Iraqi territory, and placed restrictions on the use of aircraft and helicopters inside Iraq.

As for the third objective, Saddam deployed missiles threatening coalition aircraft in the no-fly zone. In the north, Iraqi forces repeatedly harassed and attacked humanitarian convoys taking much-needed food and medical supplies, forcing them to be temporarily suspended.

Why was the effort made, quite suddenly, to undermine all three of the objectives of our policy, which were underwritten by the United Nations? I do not believe that Saddam Hussein is a madman, but he is certainly a gambler. He thought that he could gamble on what he perceived as a moment of uncertainty and weakness in the west because of the end of the current United States Administration. He was wrong, and it was desperately important to prove him wrong. That sums up the point of the action that has been taken in the past few weeks.

If Saddam's challenge had gone unanswered, he would have gained a substantial advantage in the world. Our aims would have been put at risk, and our friends—including some who, perhaps a little belatedly now that President Bush is out of the way, have expressed criticisms—would have been the first to evince nervousness and apprehension, and to suggest that we had begun to lose our nerve and desert our objectives.

I am sure that it was right to respond legally and proportionately, and the result has been that, for the moment, the wrongdoing and undermining have stopped. The news today is not all about peace—I readily acknowledge that—but the UNSCOM flight has now arrived in Baghdad with United Nations personnel aboard. We shall have to see how those United Nations representatives are treated and how they are able to operate when they get going.

As the House has heard, there has been an incident in the northern zone today, in which Iraqi radar may have locked on to a coalition aircraft resulting in that aircraft firing a missile. That incident is very recent and the facts have not yet been fully established. I mention it to the House to show how careful one has to be if one is to ensure that the pause for which we hope is sustained.

The hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Grant) and others have referred to the legal position. I believe that, unlike Saddam Hussein, we have paid scrupulous attention to international law. In response to the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd), I would say that we believe, and we are advised, that we have acted throughout in accordance with the charter—which is not always the same thing as specifically acting under a specific resolution. Hon. Members will know of that important distinction, which has always been sustained. We have to operate within international law; we intend to do so, and have done so.

Mr. Benn

Can the Foreign Secretary tell the House whether, in all the recent cases, Boutros Boutros Ghali was brought in to the consultation before the military action was taken, as he made no statement after the first bombing? We were told today that he had retrospectively endorsed it, but was he consulted by President Bush and the British and French Governments before the decision to take that action was made?

Mr. Hurd

I cannot, without notice, give the right hon. Gentleman the dates of the contacts between the western Governments and the Secretary-General, but those contacts have been consistent and continuous. The right hon. Gentleman is clutching at straws. He knows perfectly well that, when the Secretary-General has been given the opportunity, he has made his views known very specifically in support of the action. The right hon. Gentleman is on to an entirely false point.

The coalition and its permanent representatives in New York made clear to Iraq the basis for the no-fly zone: indeed, that has been clear to Iraq for a long time. The zone was created as a result of Iraq's failure to comply with resolution 688. The House has discussed this before and hon. Members will be aware that we believe that the no-fly zones are fully justified in international law by the need to protect people whom they own Government will not protect or who, as in this case, are repressed by their own Government. The right of self-defence flows from that assumption and that action.

We also believe that the action against Iraq's nuclear facilities was fully in accordance with international law. In its statements of 8 and 11 January the Security Council—whose statements have to be approved unanimously—determined that Iraq's actions, such as the obstruction of UNSCOM flights, were material breaches of resolution 687, the resolution that established the formal ceasefire. In those circumstances, other parties to the conflict in the Gulf have the right in international law to take necessary and proportionate measures to ensure that Iraq complies with the terms of the ceasefire. I believe that we acted in accordance with internaional law, and we will continue to do so.

Mr. Harry Barnes

Was the bombing of Baghdad really justified because there were logistical problems involving United Nations observers having to travel through Jordan to get to Baghdad instead of flying through the no-fly zone? That is what it amounted to at that stage.

Mr. Hurd

There was a great deal of discussion with the Iraqis on that point in New York. What became perfectly clear—not the first time but the second time, because we gave the Iraqis a pause on this matter—was that the Iraqis' aim was to impose conditions and to put the United nations teams in a position in which they flew by grace and favour of Saddam Hussein. That is contrary to the United Nations resolution and to the statements of the Security Council to which I have just referred. That was the aim. What the actual condition suggested was of secondary importance. The aim was to remove the unconditional right of the United Nations teams to operate to show the world that the threat of nuclear and chemical weapons had been removed.

The hon. Member for Tottenham made a sincere speech. However, I ask him to consider his line of thought that the world and the west are manipulating the United Nations against Muslims. I ask him to think about Afghans, Somalis and Kuwaitis who have been helped in recent years, at some sacrifice to others, by the international community. They are Muslims, and injustices do not simply affect Muslims. The world is full of injustices against all people. I hope that the hon. Member for Tottenham will pause before he pursues that line of argument.

The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) raised a specific point about the relationship between Customs and Excise and the Department of Trade and Industry. As the hon. Gentleman would expect, I must say that that issue will fall to the Scott inquiry. However, the hon. Member for Linlithgow should bear in mind the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West (Sir J. Spicer) that our reputation among the Iraqis, who were in a position to know, was not of looseness but of tightness in comparison to others in respect of administering controls.

Mr. Dalyell

The problem arises when one part of the Government, the Customs and Excise, does the enforcing while another part of the Government lays down the policy. If the enforcers—the Customs and Excise—do not know, as is claimed, what happened in DTI negotiations, that makes justice impossible.

Mr. Hurd

I am aware of the hon. Gentleman's coherent point. However, the question clearly falls within the remit of the Scott inquiry and I will not deal with it tonight.

We have heard much from some Opposition Members about the imminent collapse of the coalition. I would take that point more tragically if I had not heard exactly the same prophecies over and again in our debates during the Gulf war. We did not have a debate in which I was not solemnly informed by newspapers or by Opposition Members that the whole thing was coming apart, that everyone was deserting, and that it was only the majority on the Conservative Benches who were sustaining the policy. That is nonsense.

Of course, misgivings have been expressed and I do not complain about that. That is natural enough when the situation is fast moving and decisions have to be taken. However, as I have said, those misgivings would have been much greater if we had sat back and done nothing and allowed events to unfold without any reaction. People would then have been disturbed. The coalition would then really have begun to come unstuck.

I want now to consider double standards, but only briefly because I will not be able to do it justice. The issue of double standards loomed in the debate, as it looms in criticisms, particularly from the Muslim world. Hon. Members on both sides of the House who are close to the Muslim world quite rightly reflected the issue in their speeches.

The Secretary-General of the United Nations told me last week that there are about 25 points of conflict in the world. Are we to do nothing because we cannot do everything? We cannot be content with many of those points of conflict. We must exert ourselves, but we must exert ourselves in different ways according to the different natures of the conflicts.

In that regard, I will mention only one conflict because reference has been made to it and because it is the other big conflict in the middle east. That problem is the plight of the Palestinians. We need to demand action from Israel on that matter. The deportations are illegal and a menace to the peace process.

I have already explained my view about the matter in person to the Foreign Minister of Israel. When he meets the Foreign Ministers of the Twelve on 1 February, we will have an opportunity to ram that point home, unless, as I hope, a solution to the problem has been found by then. We believe that the deportations are not simply wrong, but, as has been said, are a serious mistake, even allowing for the provocation of the killing of Sergeant Major Toledano.

Even today, we are trying to help. In response to a request that we have received, we will tell the parties concerned that, if they can agree on a further humanitarian visit by the Red Cross to those who have been deported, RAF helicopters from Cyprus will be available to help as necessary, provided that we can be satisfied about the security aspects of the operation. This is a small but important example of the way in which, because we are there, because we are skilled, because we are willing, we can quite quickly help to unravel and defuse a situation.

I should like to mention the plight of Mr. Ride and Mr. Wainwright—

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Hurd

I will give way to the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross).

Mr. Ernie Ross

I appreciate that the Foreign Secretary has many areas to cover and many points to make, but it really does the House no good—we discussed this on Tuesday—and it does those who are trying to keep the middle east peace process on track no good simply to say that the 415 Palestinians who are stuck somewhere between Israel and Lebanon are the major block to people accepting that we are being even-handed in the middle east. Every single day, Israel breaks international law, and one simply cannot get away with saying that some helicopters will be sent and that this will answer the problem. Something specific must be done. Why go ahead with the meeting on 1 February when they are still there? Why not make some gesture?

Mr. Hurd

The hon. Member has made his speech; he must not make it again. It is unfair to pick out the point about the helicopters. I simply used it, as it is a piece of news, to illustrate in a particular way the kind of thing we could do to help. Of course it is not a total response. The Israelis must find a way of dealing with this particular problem which they created, under provocation. A lot of work is going on to bring this about. The hon. Member knows that because I told him the details, but he probably knew it already. I hope and believe that the work will be successful. If it is not successful by 1 February, our meeting with the Foreign Minister of Israel will not be a sort of reward for Israel but an occasion on which to make this point very clear. It is partly why I am saying it now.

We are not leaving this aside or saying that it is negligible, because it is going to be an obstacle in the way of removing the injustice that the hon. Member has devoted a large part of his life to removing. We want to remove it. It will be removed by the peace process. It will be removed not by sanctions but by the peace process. We must liberate the path to the peace process, and that is what we are trying to do.

Dr. Cunningham

I appreciate the Foreign Secretary allowing me to intervene when time is short. If he wants to do something concrete and specific, why does he not, as the Israeli Government have now agreed to do, meet and discuss these matters with representatives of the Palestine Liberation Organisation?

Mr. Hurd

The hon. Gentleman knows that the Israeli Government have agreed to no such thing. They have agreed to remove a law which makes it illegal for Israeli citizens to do so—quite a different proposition. We have constant contracts with the PLO which are valuable to us and, I think, to the PLO. We last saw Mr. Qaddoumi in Tunis a few days ago. Ministerial meetings have been suspended since the Gulf war, for good reasons. I regard this as a matter of usefulness. If I could be persuaded, which I have not yet been, that it would be useful to us or to the peace process, we could change the level, but that is the position at the moment.

I was about to refer to Mr. Ride and Mr. Wainwright, who are suffering what we regard as grotesque sentences of imprisonment, sentences which are disproportionate to the offence. The hon. Member for Copeland, my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Luff) and the hon. Members for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) and Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) continue to press me; we continue to make sure that the men are visited and we will do all we can to secure their release. Russian diplomats in Baghadad visited both men on 15 January and again yesterday, 20 January. They reported that the men are physically well and have suffered no adverse treatment in recent days.

My hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and Devon, West stressed the suffering in Iraq, and other hon. Members have rightly referred to it. I entirely agree with her. We must do our best, despite all the political turmoil, to get help through. That is why, although it is imperfect, I support the Secretary-General's memorandum of understanding to enable the humanitarian activities to continue in Iraq. Obviously I support what we are doing steadily to build up the help that we give through the Overseas Development Administration both in northern Iraq and in the south.

I will spend the last few minutes on the plea which has come from many parts of the House for forward thinking and for a strategy. It is more easily asked for than provided, but nevertheless it is a perfectly legitimate demand, and this is the moment at which we ought to meet it.

As regards Iraq, I do not dissent from the closing part of the speech of the hon. Member for Copeland. The first step is for Iraq to show in practice that it is complying with the resolutions. Until that happens, we have to keep all our options open, as the hon. Gentleman said. Of course, Gulf security is the framework of this.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) referred to Iran, as did other hon. Members, and quite rightly. It is a factor, and there is understandable anxiety about the policies of Iran.

Obviously, in an ideal world, Gulf defence is best carried out by Gulf countries. This is something that I urged on all the Gulf states after the Gulf war. I must admit that I have been disappointed by the extent to which they have come together, and come together with Egypt and Syria, despite the Damascus declaration, in order to provide worthwhile machinery for their own defence. Iraq is not a helpful factor in that; it is a threatening factor at the present stage.

I thought that my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup was a little churlish about Kuwait. I first went to Kuwait, as he reminded the House, in his company, under his tuition. He went to Kuwait in 1968 so that he could explain to the Kuwaitis how he would defend them for a long time, and how Mr. Denis Healey, as Secretary of State for Defence, was wrong in proposing that we should cease to defend them. I believe that that instinct of my right hon. Friend was perhaps rather more soundly based than the instinct on which he spoke today.

Of course, we cannot be rash or seek to do things beyond our strength, but we have an obligation to work closely with the Kuwaitis in meeting their defence needs, and an interest in doing so. We have had no request to send a battalion of troops, so I am not talking about that. I am talking about our memorandum of understanding, the kind of joint air exercise that we had last December, visits by the Royal Navy and the advice that we give on defence. I believe that that kind of co-operation between Kuwait and Britain, in the situation in the Gulf, is reasonable and should continue.

As regards Iraq, we will continue to enforce sanctions. We will insist on inspections. We respect the integrity of Iraq and we know that it will remain an important middle eastern country. But, before it can fit into a general framework, it needs to comply with its international obligations. They are onerous because we are dealing with a country which was a recent aggressor. We are vigilant because of the past record of deceit, and, with our allies, we have to insist on compliance with these obligations and maintain our vigilance.

I turn finally to the general point to which the House ought to return—the question raised by several hon. Members of peacekeeping in these 25 trouble spots. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence made a notable speech on this yesterday to the Royal United Services Institute for Defence Studies. This will be one of the big questions and problems for all of us: the role of the United Nations, which, as has been shrewdly pointed out, is moving from dealing with acts between one state and another to dealing with acts within a state—South Africa first, resolution 688, and Somalia since then. This is a big move, but the United Nations is not equipped to deal with it, partly for financial reasons and partly because of the lack of staff and equipment available to the Secretary-General.

Then there is the role of the United States, the only super-power, but not wishing to dominate. Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen are simply misguided about that. They will find great continuity between President Clinton and former President Bush. They will find a desire to make sense of what they call the new world order and they will want a good deal of help from their allies in doing that—not in a relationship of master and servant, giving orders and carrying them out. When the records of the conversations over this last weekend are revealed, as when earlier records are revealed, they will see that that was not the relationship. The position of the United Kingdom and the role which we should play, not always but when we can, to make a British contribution by those means will lead to a slightly safer and more decent world.

Question put, That this House do now adjourn:—

The House divided: Ayes 21, Noes 156.

Division No. 119] [10.00 pm
Adams, Mrs Irene Loyden, Eddie
Benn, Rt Hon Tony McAllion, John
Bennett, Andrew F. Madden, Max
Canavan, Dennis Mahon, Alice
Chisholm, Malcolm Pickthall, Colin
Cohen, Harry Simpson, Alan
Corbyn, Jeremy Skinner, Dennis
Dalyell, Tam Wise, Audrey
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l)
Galloway, George Tellers for the Ayes
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham) Mr. Bob Cryer and
Hood, Jimmy Mr. Harry Barnes.
Livingstone, Ken
Aitken, Jonathan Elletson, Harold
Alexander, Richard Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Amess, David Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)
Arbuthnot, James Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Evennett, David
Ashby, David Fabricant, Michael
Baldry, Tony Fishburn, Dudley
Beggs, Roy Forsythe, Clifford (Antrim S)
Blackburn, Dr John G. Forth, Eric
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Foster, Don (Bath)
Booth, Hartley Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)
Boswell, Tim Freeman, Roger
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham) French, Douglas
Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia Gale, Roger
Bowis, John Garel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan
Brazier, Julian Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair
Bright, Graham Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Burns, Simon Hague, William
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Hamilton, Rt Hon Archie (Epsom)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Harvey, Nick
Cash, William Heald, Oliver
Clappison, James Heath, Rt Hon Sir Edward
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Heathcoat-Amory, David
Congdon, David Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
Cope, Rt Hon Sir John Hughes Robert G. (Harrow W)
Cormack, Patrick Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)
Davis, David (Boothferry) Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Devlin, Tim Jack, Michael
Dorrell, Stephen Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Eggar, Tim Jessel, Toby
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Patnick, Irvine
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Patten, Rt Hon John
Key, Robert Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Kilfedder, Sir James Pickles, Eric
King, Rt Hon Tom Porter, David (Waveney)
Kirkhope, Timothy Portillo, Rt Hon Michael
Knapman, Roger Riddick, Graham
Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash) Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn
Knight, Greg (Derby N) Robinson, Mark (Somerton)
Knox, David Ross, William (E Londonderry)
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela
Lamont, Rt Hon Norman Ryder, Rt Hon Richard
Lang, Rt Hon Ian Sackville, Tom
Leigh, Edward Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas
Lennox-Boyd, Mark Shaw, David (Dover)
Lidington, David Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian
Lightbown, David Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Spencer, Sir Derek
Luff, Peter Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Sproat, Iain
Maclean, David Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)
Madel, David Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
Maitland, Lady Olga Steen, Anthony
Malone, Gerald Stephen, Michael
Mans, Keith Streeter, Gary
Marshall, John (Hendon S) Sumberg, David
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Sweeney, Walter
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Merchant, Piers Taylor, Rt Hon John D. (Strgfd)
Milligan, Stephen Taylor, John M. (Solihull)
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Temple-Morris, Peter
Moss, Malcolm Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)
Needham, Richard Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Nelson, Anthony Thurnham, Peter
Neubert, Sir Michael Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexl'yh'th)
Newton, Rt Hon Tony Trimble, David
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West) Twinn, Dr Ian
Norris, Steve Tyler, Paul
Ottaway, Richard Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Paice, James Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Paisley, Rev Ian Wallace, James
Wardle, Charles (Bexhill) Wood, Timothy
Wells, Bowen Young, Sir George (Acton)
Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John
Widdecombe, Ann Tellers for the Noes:
Wilkinson, John Mr. Sydney Chapman and
Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton) Mr. Andrew MacKay.

Question accordingly negatived.

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