HC Deb 13 December 1999 vol 341 cc9-11
8. Mr. Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington)

If he will make a statement on the southern and northern no-fly zones in Iraq. [100960]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon)

The no-fly zones have served a vital humanitarian purpose for the past eight years in helping to limit Saddam Hussein's brutal repression of his own people. I very much regret Saddam's efforts to shoot down coalition aircraft carrying out these legitimate patrols. Let me make it clear. If Saddam stops trying to kill our aircrew, we will stop attacking the systems he uses to threaten them.

Mr. Brake

I thank the Minister for his response. Will he explain what further action he can take to stop Iraq's campaign of repression in the south, where I understand that villages are still being destroyed? I understand also that villagers are expelled at gunpoint and that water supplies are cut off. Will the right hon. Gentleman explain also whether he expects the UN monitoring, verification and inspection commission to be more or less successful than the UN Special Commission in its monitoring role? Will he outline what the composition of that organisation is likely to be?

Mr. Hoon

The hon. Gentleman will know that the United Kingdom has been heavily engaged in trying to promote a new resolution in the Security Council. We are in the end game of that process. I anticipate that there will be further discussions on that issue today in the UN in New York. As for the outcome, we are confident that the resolution that we have helped to draft will provide a sensible basis for dealing with Iraq and will provide an opportunity and a road towards lifting the sanctions while securing the interests of those countries in the region, which remain extremely concerned about the ability of Saddam Hussein to produce weapons of mass destruction. It is important that we find a new basis for dealing with Iraq. Until that happens, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept from me that we shall continue to put pressure on Saddam Hussein to maintain the no-fly zones, and to preserve the situation in the north and the south as our response to an overwhelming humanitarian necessity, where Saddam Hussein and his brutal regime are seeking to destroy the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of his own people.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

I want to express my appreciation for the air and ground crews who operate missions over north and south Iraq. They endure considerable periods of separation from their families, especially over Christmas, on operations that are not without risk to the aircrews who fly them. Can the Secretary of State assure the House that sufficient Tornado offensive support airframes are available, especially while the mid-life update of the aircraft is taking place, to permit Tornado operations elsewhere if the need arises?

Mr. Hoon

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his good wishes. I shall ensure that they are communicated to our forces in that region, who operate in extremely dangerous circumstances, putting their lives at risk to protect people on the ground. They will appreciate his sentiments. I assure the hon. Gentleman that there will be sufficient airframes to do that valuable and important job.

As I said earlier, we want to maintain the pressure on Saddam while ensuring that we do our best to protect those on the ground whose lives have been threatened in the past, and who continue to be threatened by Saddam Hussein's regime.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)

I congratulate the Government on the United Nations resolution, which combines humanitarian relief with a strategy to deal with Saddam's continuing capability to use weapons of mass destruction, and the possibility that he is developing a nuclear capability while continuing to develop chemical and biological weapons. Will my right hon. Friend remind people again of the latest report of Mr. van der Stoel, the UN Rapporteur on human rights, who makes it clear that repression, torture and inhumane treatment, as well as ethnic cleansing, continue in Iraq?

Mr. Hoon

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I agree with her comments. We hope that we can persuade all members of the Security Council to agree to the resolution. The matter remains under discussion, but we are working as hard as we can on what, I believe, is an excellent statement of the international community's position.

I also agree with my hon. Friend about the latest evidence to emerge from Iraq. Some people claim that the international community is responsible for the plight of the Iraqi people, but there is a clear difference between the availability of medical and food supplies in the north of Iraq, which is not controlled by Saddam's regime, and that in rest of the country. That nails the lie that the international community is responsible for the Iraqi people's plight. The responsibility lies with Saddam Hussein and his brutal regime.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)

The majority in the House support the Government's action. However, will the Secretary of State listen to the advice that we received last week from the equivalent of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Assemblée Nationale in Paris? I shall quote from it—I ask hon. Members to excuse my translation. It states: The loss of sovereignty of Iraq, especially in the North of …the country, is not admissible. It goes on to call for all sanctions to be lifted.

Does the Secretary of State accept that the peoples and Parliaments of the European Union perceive the interests of those European nations differently? That is why France takes a different line from Britain in the Security Council. Does he accept that undermining NATO with a Euro army will also undermine our national interest?

Mr. Hoon

I congratulated my right hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) on his ingenuity. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not extend the same courtesy to him. The answer to his point is simple: there is a range of views in western European democracies, and it would be unfortunate if they were not expressed. That is different from the position in Iraq, where there is no possibility of expressing such a range of views. It is inevitable that tensions will arise when the country is led by a man such as Saddam Hussein. Those tensions will continue unless and until there is a democratic Government in Iraq.