HC Deb 01 December 1997 vol 302 c18
15. Mr Waterson

What is the level of Her Majesty's forces currently deployed in the Persian gulf. [16810]

Dr. Reid

UK forces currently deployed in the Gulf consist of HMS Coventry, supported by Royal Fleet Auxiliary Bayleaf, as part of the Armilla patrol. Shore-based forces in the Gulf area comprise six RAF Tornado aircraft operating from Saudi Arabia, supported by two RAF VC10 tankers in Bahrain, which contribute to the enforcement of the no-fly zone over southern Iraq. A UK battalion is currently exercising in Kuwait as part of a routine training programme.

Mr. Waterson

I thank the Minister for that answer. Will he confirm that, as long as there is a perceived threat in the region, this country will continue to maintain similar forces? Does he agree that the current regime in Iraq is all too willing to perceive as a sign of weakness any reduction in our forces or those of our allies in the area? That is another good reason for maintaining the current level of availability of British forces in the region.

Dr. Reid

Yes, we have made absolutely plain our concern about the potential existence and use of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq under the control of Saddam Hussein. That is why we have made it clear throughout this period that although we have of course sought, and will continue to seek, a diplomatic solution, we will not rule out the use of force. As the hon. Gentleman will know, HMS Invincible remains in the Mediterranean, ready to respond at short notice, giving the UK flexibility in the near future should Saddam's promise of co-operation with UNSCOM prove illusory.

The hon. Gentleman may also be aware that in the past few days my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence visited HMS Invincible to speak to the men and women who are serving on that aircraft carrier and who will be discharging the responsibility of this country in the efforts of the international community to ensure that the will of the United Nations cannot be thwarted and that the danger and menace of weapons of mass destruction is not held over the head of the global community.

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