HC Deb 26 February 2001 vol 363 cc620-34 5.48 pm
The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon)

With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I should like to make a statement about coalition operations to enforce the no-fly zones over Iraq.

Ten years ago today, we celebrated the success of Operation Desert Storm, the coalition operation to expel Saddam Hussein"s forces from Kuwait. The contribution of the United Kingdom, which included the deployment of 50,000 service personnel, was a significant one on which we can look back with immense pride.

Since the end of the Gulf conflict, the overall aim of the policy adopted by successive Governments has been to contain the threat to regional security posed by Saddam Hussein"s Iraq. That policy has been successful: without our efforts, Saddam would have been free to maintain and develop his weapon; of mass destruction and conventional military capability, and free to bully and threaten his neighbours with impunity, as he did in the past.

A further aim of our policy has been to limit Saddam" s ability to kill and terrorise his own people. That is why we have conducted patrols of the no-fly zones since the early 1990s in support of United Nations Security Council resolution 688, which demanded an end to his brutal repression. The zones have served a vital humanitarian purpose over the past decade in constraining Saddam" s ability to carry out such repression, particularly in relation to the Shias and the Kurds.

The patrols are justified in international law as a legitimate response to prevent a grave humanitarian crisis. Without them, Saddam would be free, as he was prior to their establishment, to use aircraft and helicopter gunships against innocent civilians. The humanitarian consequences would be as unconscionable as they were in 1991. Many tens of thousands would be displaced from their homes, thousands would lose their lives, perhaps—as happened in 1988 at Halabja—following the use of chemical weapons.

Since January 1999, Saddam" s air defence units have made sustained and concerted efforts to shoot down United Kingdom and United States aircraft. During that period, there have been more than 1,200 attempts to target them, using surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft artillery. Coalition aircraft are legally authorised to respond to those, attacks in self-defence. They do so entirely in accordance with international law, attacking only those military facilities that contribute, as part of the Iraqi integrated air defence system, to the threat to coalition aircraft.

Military commanders must manage the risk to service personnel. Over recent weeks, the Iraqis have significantly increased their efforts, amounting to a qualitative and quantitative increase in the threat. In January, there were more surface-to-air missile attacks than in the whole of 2000. The Iraqis have used new tactics, including the use of radars and command centres located outside the southern zone to cue offensive systems within it. That threat to our service personnel is real and present.

The operation on the evening of 16 February was therefore planned and carried out against that background. It was a proportionate response in self-defence, taken solely to reduce the risk to our aircrew carrying out routine humanitarian patrols of the southern no-fly zone.

As such, it was entirely in keeping with all such operations conducted over the period since January 1999, when Iraq started attacking our patrols. The operation was planned and cleared by Ministers on both sides of the Atlantic. Targets were carefully selected and precision-guided weapons used to minimise and, if at all possible, avoid any risk of civilian casualties.

Six targets were engaged, comprising elements of the Iraqi integrated air defence system, including military radar, command and communications sites. Five were north of the zone; all were directly involved in threatening coalition aircraft. Aircraft conducting patrols of the northern no-fly zone have previously engaged targets south of the 36th parallel, but this was the first occasion on which coalition aircraft had attacked targets outside the southern no-fly zone—that is, above the 33rd parallel—since Operation Desert Fox.

RAF participation included four Tornado GR1 strike aircraft, supported by two Tornado F 3 air defence aircraft and two VC10 tankers. A Nimrod reconnaissance aircraft was also airborne at the time. All our aircraft returned safely, as did those from the United States. The operation was a success. Both weapons dropped by the RAF hit their intended target, a military communications site. Overall, we are confident that the coalition caused significant disruption to the Iraqi integrated air defence system, degrading its ability to threaten our aircrew. We will, of course, monitor the situation very carefully over the coming weeks.

There have been Iraqi allegations of civilian casualties. No military action is without risk, and we deeply regret casualties, if any were caused. We have no means of verifying Iraqi claims, but we learned long ago to distrust them. In 1999, for example, Iraq claimed on some 30 occasions that there were civilian casualties on days when coalition aircraft did not actually release any weapons, and on several days when they were not even patrolling over Iraq. We know that, on a number of occasions, Saddam has alleged civilian casualties when only military personnel have been injured.

The operation was conducted in response to a deliberate escalation on the part of the Iraqis. Our action does not represent a change in policy. RAF aircrew undertook a difficult and dangerous mission with great skill and great bravery. Faced with a substantial increase in the threat in recent weeks, it was right that we took the minimum necessary steps to reduce that threat.

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green)

First, let me thank the Secretary of State for his courtesy in giving me a copy of the statement in advance, to assist me in my response. May I make it clear from the outset, on behalf of the Opposition, that we support the decision to carry out the air strikes? I disagree fundamentally with those who say that the strikes were provocative and will only make matters worse. I agree with the Secretary of State that, while we seriously regret any civilian casualties, the figures for such casualties, as given by Saddam Hussein, are not necessarily to be trusted.

I should like to pay tribute to the RAF and other service men in the Gulf. The events of the past few weeks have clearly shown us that they continue to risk their lives in the service of their country and in support of its allies. The House owes them a debt of gratitude for that service alone.

Whatever anyone says, there is no question but that the weapons" radars were targeting allied aircraft, as the Secretary of State said. When I was in the United States, that was made clear to me, and it has also been clear from briefings over here. I understand that, apart from the radars, missiles and anti-aircraft guns were fired in the last few weeks. Will the Secretary of State clarify that? Admittedly those weapons may not have been as accurate, because the Iraqis kept switching their radars off, but will the Secretary of State confirm that our aircraft were genuinely under threat in the period preceding the strikes?

It makes no difference if the sites that were attacked were outside the no-fly zone, because the Iraqis were targeting aircraft flying within the no-fly zone. That point has often been missed. Those sites therefore became legitimate targets. Does the Secretary of State agree that those who talk about heightened tension in the area miss the point that it is Saddam Hussein who destabilises the whole region and that he alone creates the problem to which we have to react strongly?

Does the Secretary of State agree, and will be say so before the House, that Saddam Hussein has continued to develop chemical, biological and nuclear weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them through ballistic missiles? Although there have been many reports on that from the UK and the US, I was intrigued to learn that, at the weekend, German intelligence was reported as showing that Iraq is now capable of producing nuclear weapons within the next three years. That intelligence also confirmed that Saddam Hussein continues to work on his biological capability and can produce such weapons at short notice, should he require to do so. Does not all of that confirm the view of Richard Butler, ex-head of the United Nations Special Commission, who made it clear that that capability continues to grow, regardless of sanctions?

I want to press the Secretary of State on that point. As someone who has fully supported the sanctions regime and the no-fly zone—I do not vary from that—let me ask him this: does he not agree that there is a problem over the implementation and effectiveness of the policy as it stands? Will he confirm that some nations, including one or two that are members of the European Union, do not appear to wish to stand by the sanctions? Regardless of the fact that they signed up to them, they continue to breach them. Does he not agree that the reaction of some of his European Union partners to the bombing is regrettable? Is it not regrettable that they were not able to support the action, and does that not throw some light on the fact that they are still unable to give full support? Is the Government"s position on the Euro defence force not thrown into relief, as they have had to act, not for the first time, with the United States?

Will the Secretary of State confirm that Saddam Hussein is using nations in Europe and elsewhere, including those that are proliferating weapons of mass destruction for hard cash, to bypass sanctions and grow his threat? I was concerned that, during a television interview yesterday, the Secretary of State seemed to indicate that there is a difference of opinion between the US and the UK on the overall purpose of our policy on Iraq. Will he clarify that? He indicated that British policy stopped short of any involvement in toppling Saddam Hussein. I am aware that that has been a continuing policy. However, given that we know with whom we are dealing and that Saddam Hussein has demonstrated on many occasions that he abides by no treaties, has no regard for human life and continues to regard himself as a legitimate threat to others in the region, is it not time to consider whether it is still feasible to deal with him as we have so far tried to do? Is it not fair—the US is perhaps now coming to terms with this—to try to deal, not with him, but with what we do ultimately to replace him, and find another regime that will be more peaceable, reasonable and less threatening in the region?

Mr. Hoon

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his support. I shall endeavour to deal with the various points that he has raised.

I made it clear that there was a change in both the quality and the quantity of the threat to our aircrew. During January, there were as many attacks on our aircrew and aircraft as there had been throughout 2000. We judged that it was right to make efforts to protect aircrew during their legitimate and lawful patrols over the southern no-fly zone. I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman that Saddam alone is responsible for the situation. He is the author of the policy that leads to the attacks on our aircrew. We understand that he offers a substantial bonus to anyone who is capable of bringing down a coalition aircraft.

I accept the hon. Gentleman"s observations about the importance of identifying precisely what Saddam Hussein is capable of producing in the way of weapons of mass destruction. That is why we were so determined, as part of the negotiations leading to UN Security Council resolution 1284, that an effective system of inspection should be in place. It is important that we should be able to inspect whatever it is that Iraq is trying to produce, given its history, our suspicions and the revelations that are made from time to time.

I accept that there is criticism of the effectiveness of certain sanctions. That is why we consistently review them to try to find ways of making them still more effective in damaging Saddam Hussein"s regime, rather than allowing them to be targeted against the people of Iraq, with whom we have no quarrel.

I resist the hon. Gentleman"s suggestion that there is a difference of opinion with the United States. Our regime-change policy is that of successive British Governments, and the hon. Gentleman knows that full well. In relation to the television interview, that is the only area where there is a difference of opinion between this Government and the United States Government. It is a difference of opinion that has been shared by successive United Kingdom Governments. There is no other difference in policy between the two countries.

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)

Is the Secretary of State aware that the United Nations charter explicitly prohibits military action by one country against another without the authority of the Security Council, which has never authorised either the no-fly zones or the bombing? Is it not clear that, for that reason, any persons killed in Iraq could in law be regarded as victims of international terrorism, if not war crimes, and that by following American policy, Britain is absolutely isolated in the international community? Not one other country supports the policy—except for Israel, which has weapons of mass destruction, has invaded the Lebanon and is persecuting the Palestinians.

Is it not true that after 10 years of the policy which the Secretary of State praises, Saddam is stronger than he has ever been and has more support among his neighbours, whom the Government claim he threatens? Has the time not come to end sanctions and open proper peace negotiations to enable the Palestinians, the Israelis, the Iraqis and their neighbours to be brought to the table, which is the only way in which problems of this sort have ever been satisfactorily dealt with in the past?

Mr. Hoon

I do not agree with my right hon. Friend"s interpretation of international law. The legal position is that we are entitled to patrol the no-fly zones for humanitarian reasons. We are there to protect people on the ground, whose condition would be significantly damaged if we were not present. That deals also with my right hon. Friend"s second point, which was about whether Saddam is not is not stronger. Had we not taken the action that we have over the past 10 years, Saddam Hussein would undoubtedly have been still stronger and still capable of threatening his own people and other peoples in the region. Our policy has certainly improved the condition of people, not least in the northern no-fly zone, where they have been able to go about their lives without interference by Saddam Hussein"s regime. In the southern no-fly zone, people are undoubtedly in a much better position than they would have been if we had not pursued our policy.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife)

May I begin by saying that the Secretary of State is right to assert that whenever British forces are deployed it is the Government"s duty to take every possible step to protect them? I remind the right hon. Gentleman that Liberal Democrat Members have supported military action when necessary against Iraq since the invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein about 10 and a half years ago. He will know that I have raised with him and his predecessor the fundamental question, which is whether RAF aircraft should be operating over southern Iraq. Resolution 688 does not give express authority, and there are widespread doubts about the legality of the operations, not least in the Arab capitals, whose political support we urgently require to maintain a coalition of political opinion against Saddam Hussein.

Is it not the case that air operations have not had the effect of protecting Shias from ground operations by Iraqi forces? Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that, for some weeks prior to the air strikes, the Ministry of Defence was considering withdrawing RAF aircraft from the southern no-fly zone operations?

Does not this all underscore the urgent need for a review of Government policy towards Iraq, including a review of a sanctions regime that is withering on the vine? It has had no effect on Saddam Hussein, nor on his programmes of manufacturing weapons of mass destruction. It has given him a heaven-sent propaganda weapon, which he has used to justify the brutal repression of the Iraqi people. Can we not now accept that non-military sanctions should be lifted, and that a policy of containment can be continued with the credible threat of military action, but with a sanctions regime confined to military and dual-use equipment?

Mr. Hoon

I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his support on behalf of the Liberal Democrat party. The legal justification for the patrolling of the no-fly zones does not rest on Security Council resolution 688. That has not been the Government"s position. In terms of humanitarian justification, we are entitled to patrol the no-fly zones to prevent a grave humanitarian crisis. That is the legal justification in international law. It does not rest on resolution 688, although that resolution supports the position that we have adopted.

Were we not patrolling the no-fly zone in the south, the position of the Shias on the ground would be significantly worsened. That is strong justification for the action that we are taking. We have not contemplated withdrawing RAF aircraft, but it is right that we constantly review the operation of our forces, as we constantly review sanctions. We need to ensure that sanctions are effective and are having the consequences that we desire. We recognise that in some areas they are not working as we would hope. It is important that we target sanctions still more effectively against Saddam Hussein"s regime, not against Iraqi people.

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)

Is it not weird that, 10 years after the liberation of Kuwait, when we recall the murder, torture, rape, looting and pillaging that accompanied Saddam Hussein"s annexation of Kuwait, there should be Members who still seem to have greater sympathy for the murderer than for those he murdered? Is it not a fact that, whatever fraying there may be of sanctions, if we had not taken action and if we were not continuing to do so, which my right hon. Friend has said is wholly within international law, Saddam Hussein would by now be in occupation of at least parts of Saudi Arabia, parts of Iran and other parts of the middle east? When Members talk about "international terrorism", it is not the Government and our United States ally who are responsible for such terrorism, but a killer who has no hesitation in killing his own people in vast numbers. It is about time that people thought before they uttered ridiculous and stupid statements, which they stick to after 10 years.

Mr. Hoon

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his support. I simply add to his observations the fact that very recently, Saddam Hussein repeated his claim to the territory of Kuwait and made it clear that, given the opportunity, he would again invade that country and subject it to appalling atrocity. Many Kuwaitis are still missing as a result of the original Invasion more than 10 years ago. I agree with my right hon. Friend, and he is right to make his points so sharply

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex)

Will the right hon. Gentleman please pass my respects and admiration to the Royal Air Force crews who so bravely pressed home those militarily necessary attacks? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that we need to give serious consideration to reforming the sanctions regime? It is imperative that we get the weapons inspectors back into Baghdad to assess clearly the continuing weapons programme of that wicked man.

In order to get the weapons inspectors back, we should offer the carrot of a revised sanctions regime along the lines proposed by the nearly-always-right spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, the right hon. And learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell). Does the Secretary of State agree that we should maintain a vigorous sanctions programme on all military imports, but that we should drop sanctions on all non-military imports in exchange for getting the weapons inspectors back into Baghdad?

Mr. Hoon

I will certainly pass on the hon. Gentleman"s congratulations to the RAF crews involved, who conducted the operation with considerable skill and precision and very great bravery.

With regard to the hon. Gentleman"s observations about the sanctions regime, I invite him to study carefully Security Council resolution 1284. It is a long, detailed statement by the international community setting out the points that the hon. Gentleman makes—the opportunity that is available to Saddam Hussein to have sanctions lifted, in the event of his allowing a proper inspection regime into Iraq. I believe that the hon. Gentleman will be satisfied by the terms of resolution 1284, and I hope that he is not suggesting that we should further dilute 1284 by attempting to draw up a new resolution.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

On my way to the House from Heathrow airport this morning, I called at 16 Princes Gate, which is the embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Iranian ambassador confirmed that his Government—who, heaven knows, have more reason than anybody else on the planet to loathe Saddam, after the million lost in the Iran-Iraq war—are against sanctions and are against bombing, partly on the ground that, far from weakening Saddam, they strengthen him.

May I put a direct question to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who referred to the bullying of neighbours? With the exception of the al-Sabah family in Kuwait, can he name one organisation or Government in the Arab world who support the recent bombing and the sanctions policy?

Mr. Hoon

It would be sufficient that the one Government of the one country that has been subject to an invasion in the past 10 years still remain fearful, given Saddam Hussein"s recent remarks about his territorial claim to Kuwait. I am sorry that my hon. Friend does not recognise that. I am sure that he did not condone the invasion of Kuwait, and I am sure that he would not condone it if it were repeated. Without the policy of containment of Saddam Hussein, which has operated successfully over the past 10 years, there would be the fear that the atrocities perpetrated against the people of Kuwait would be repeated.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham)

So long as the no-fly areas exist, it must be right for military action to be taken to safeguard allied aircraft. I have no criticism of what was done in that regard. However, as one who played a modest part, as Minister of State, in the formulation of policy with regard to sanctions, I am becoming very uneasy about their moral base.

The sanctions were put in place to get rid of Saddam, or at least to contain him. If we are honest with ourselves, we must acknowledge that they have not in any way damaged Saddam, but have substantially damaged the people of Iraq. I would like to think that it might be possible for us further to examine the sanctions regime so that the consequences are narrowly confined to excluding military and other material, and do not weigh down so oppressively on the ordinary people of Iraq.

Mr. Hoon

I understand the proper way in which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has made his point, not least given his responsibility formerly for developing the sanctions regime, but he will know the difficulties of precisely targeting an effective sanctions regime, as he suggests, and explaining to people the effect of the sanctions. For example, since the end of the Gulf conflict, food and medicine imports have never been prohibited at all by sanctions, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows. Saddam Hussein and his regime have been responsible for preventing food and medicine from being properly distributed among the Iraqi people.

I accept a degree of responsibility, in the sense that it is important that Governments who are successfully policing sanctions should explain the effect of those sanctions and make it clear that the responsibility for the suffering of the Iraqi people lies firmly in the hands of Saddam Hussein, not in the hands of the international community, which is seeking to do what the right hon. and learned Gentleman describes: to ensure that sanctions target military equipment and do not affect the people of Iraq.

Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington)

Is not the real reason why Saddam Hussein has the resource and the confidence to attack coalition military equipment the fact that the coalition powers, particularly the United Kingdom and the United States of America, have failed properly to enforce the sanctions regime? For the past six years—some of us have protested about the matter for six years, in both London and Washington—oil revenues, illegal under the terms of the United Nations resolution, have been raised through the export of oil into Turkey and through the Gulf under the watchful eyes of the Americans and the coalition powers.

Is not that money which Saddam Hussein has raised now funding the attacks on our resources and his programme to develop weapons of mass destruction? We are to blame. It is our responsibility. We did not properly enforce the sanctions regime. We have been telling Parliament that for the past six years, and the same has been said in the US Congress, but nothing has been done.

Mr. Hoon

I do not accept responsibility in quite the way that my hon. Friend sets it out, but I agree with him that there are difficulties about the enforcement of the sanctions regime. That is why, as I told the House earlier, it is important that we continue to monitor and review the effectiveness of the sanctions and find more successful ways of making them bite on the regime, not on the Iraqi people.

I do not accept that there has been a lack of resolve on the part of the United Kingdom or the United States in seeking to enforce sanctions. Indeed, tribute has been properly paid to British service personnel for their bravery in flying over the no-fly zones. Equal tribute ought to be paid to British service personnel who are responsible for the enforcement of the sanctions. They, too, conduct difficult operations, sometimes in awkward circumstances, and it is right that they should be praised for their efforts.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)

Many of us greatly admire the courage and professionalism of the RAF and fully accept the legitimacy of the actions last week. None the less, we are beginning to wonder what the endgame is. The concern in many Arab capitals has nothing to do with the UN Security Council and everything to do with the huge growth in weapons of mass destruction capability, which it is widely known in the Arab world Saddam Hussein is developing. In pursuing our policy towards that evil and increasingly powerful man, the overriding consideration must be how we can rebuild the coalition, which ma become all the more important as he gets more and more powerful.

Mr. Hoon

On the endgame, I again refer the hon. Gentleman to Security Council resolution 1284, which was concluded after months—at times it seemed like years—of negotiation and careful, thoughtful and considered diplomacy. It sets out an opportunity for Iraq to return to the international community should Saddam Hussein and his regime choose to accept it. Allowing inspections can lead to a suspension of sanctions leading ultimately to their removal, but that depends on Saddam Hussein"s willingness to co-operate with the international community in allaying our understandable suspicions about his efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction. That is, indeed, an endgame—it provides a perfectly proper way for Saddam Hussein to end the present stalemate.

Caroline Flint (Don Valley)

May I declare an interest, as I was in Kuwait a short while ago with an all-party delegation? When we visited the RAF base in Kuwait, we were presented with clear information about how seriously RAF personnel take their responsibilities in identifying legitimate targets and carrying out their activities, for which they are accountable when the Tornados return home.

While I was in Kuwait, Uday, the son of Saddam Hussein, released a press statement to the media in the Arabic world, saying that all the maps in Iraq were being redrawn to include Kuwait within Iraqi borders. More than 600 prisoners of war, including women and children, were seized from Kuwait and taken into Iraq. Saddam Hussein has refused to ease the suffering of the parents and families by telling them whether their relatives are alive or well. Is there anything that we can do in terms of sanctions? I understand that there is a freeze on Iraqi assets abroad, but if we are to make sanctions bite, can we do anything more to uncover the whereabouts of the tens of billions of pounds that I understand to be held overseas? Can we take action to find that money and ensure that it is frozen?

Mr. Hoon

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her comments and I congratulate her on making the effort to go to Kuwait to See our aircrew, who, as other hon. Members have said perform a remarkable task in very difficult circumstances. I encourage hon. Members to go and see for themselves the efforts that are made by our aircrew in support of the policy of the British Government and the coalition. A determined effort is being made to make sanctions more effective, especially with the new US Administration, who are carefully considering ways of targeting sanctions still more effectively. I shall certainly consider my hon. Friend"s suggestion, as we are determined that sanctions should bite effectively on the regime and not harm the people of Iraq.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

Order. It would help me to include more of the hon. Members who are seeking to catch my eye if questions could now be kept much more concise.

Mr. Martin Bell (Tatton)

The Secretary of State rightly drew attention to the success of the military operation 10 years ago. I was there. I rejoiced in it and I was a witness of it. But that operation had proper backing in the Arab world and the international community. Where are our friends this time, outside Washington and Jerusalem? Is the right hon. Gentleman not concerned about our friendlessness in the world as we pursue this course?

Mr. Hoon

I have answered that question already. The hon. Gentleman was in Kuwait, and there is no doubt that Kuwait strongly supports the action that we have taken. Indeed, it provides a base from which RAF crews and pilots can operate.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)

It stretches credulity to say that the bombing is a humanitarian act to save Kurds given that the Turks, our NATO allies, are killing Kurds and that we are sending back to Baghdad Iraqi Kurds who have sought asylum. It simply does not make sense—it is a mess. As we are in a hole internationally, is it not time for us to stop digging and do as my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) suggests—start talking? Even if we do so through a third party, please let us start talking and stop killing.

Mr. Hoon

My hon. Friend has rightly made a reputation in the House for concern about the rights of minority groups and organisations both in this country and around the world. I am surprised that she is not prepared to recognise the rights of, say, the people of Kuwait and of people who live on the ground in the northern and southern no-fly zones. That is why we are there and are protecting those people. My hon. Friend knows from the facts of Saddam Hussein"s regime that if we were not there, they would suffer the sort of damage and harm that they have suffered in the past. However much she wishes otherwise, that is the reality of the circumstances with which we have to deal.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)

Some of us have believed for some time that a grave error was made 10 years ago when the coalition farces were stopped so soon, before they had the opportunity to cut off Saddam Hussein"s republican guard north-east of Basra. Some of us have believed for 10 years that there can be no peace in the middle east while Saddam Hussein remains in power. From what the Secretary of State has said, I think that he rather agrees with that view. If the right hon. Gentleman agrees that Saddam Hussein is the problem, not Iraq or the Iraqi people, and if the new US Administration intend to act more personally against Saddam and his regime, will the Government"s policy be to support the US Administration in deposing Saddam? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that if we are to be criticised for bombing Iraq, it might be more helpful to target more closely Saddam"s palaces and Saddam himself?

Mr. Hoon

As it is the 10th anniversary of the end of the Gulf war, today is perhaps an appropriate time to be reflecting on those events. I can only remind the hon. Gentleman of what the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), said yesterday, I think, in Kuwait. He said that he had not judged it appropriate to continue the effort further, and argued that it would not have been justified in international law. Furthermore, he said that there was no military argument for continuing to attack Iraq once the legitimate objective of freeing Kuwait had been achieved. I think that that is a complete answer to the hon. Gentleman"s observations. It has been a consistent policy of United Kingdom Governments not to work for regime change in the manner that the hon. Gentleman describes. I make it absolutely clear that we are convinced that Iraq would be a much better and safer place without Saddam Hussein and his regime, but that is a matter for the Iraqi people.

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the debate is not about the nature or malevolence of Saddam Hussein"s regime, but about the most effective way of building broad support for controlling it? The problem with UN Security Council resolution 1284 is that Saddam"s regime has no interest in compliance, so it is not a way forward. Does my right hon. Friend accept that we cannot achieve a proper resolution with the UK and the US alone? Is a thoroughgoing review being conducted across the MOD and the Foreign Office to consider how to rebuild broad support for an effective way forward in dealing with Iraq as part of a broader middle east policy?

Mr. Hoon

The difficulty with my hon. Friend"s argument is that she is describing precisely the process that led to the formulation of Security Council resolution 1284. An enormous and determined diplomatic effort was made by the international community to achieve the broad consensus that my hon. Friend fairly describes. I was involved in that process for a short time as a Foreign Office Minister, so I can assure her that every effort was made to solicit opinion from around the world in order to achieve precisely the degree of consensus for which she argues. If she is suggesting that we should start that process again and repeat it, all that I would invite her to consider, after looking carefully at resolution 1284, is whether we would achieve anything different at the end of it. The resolution provides an opportunity for Saddam Hussein and his regime to end sanctions completely if they accept the need for inspection and the legitimate suspicions of the international community about their past efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction. I invite my hon. Friend to read the resolution again and to consider whether any alternative would be more attractive to Saddam Hussein.

Sir David Madel (South-West Bedfordshire)

Is it the case that any country that helps Saddam Hussein to rebuild his radar defences is in breach of United Nations resolutions, and that the sanctions regime cannot be changed until United Nations weapons inspectors have got into Iraq and started their essential work?

Mr. Hoon

The answer is yes to both points. Sanctions are targeted against military equipment, and our actions have been directed against equipment that threatens our aircrew who patrol the no-fly zones. The hon. Gentleman is right to stress his second point.

Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby)

Does not my right hon. Friend find it strange that he has the support of the shadow Defence Secretary, given that, at a time when some of us stood on platforms to support the Iraqi resistance and oppose Saddam Hussein, Tory Governments helped to arm him?

May I also ask what effect my right hon. Friend believes the current bombing of Iraq is having on the wider middle east peace process?

Mr. Hoon

The issue is not party political. The Labour Opposition supported the then Government"s position on the Gulf war and their subsequent action. We are not talking about party politics. I accept that others hold legitimate and reasonable opinions and different views about international law. However, I have set out clearly the Government"s policy and position.

I do not believe that any recent action to enforce the no-fly zones has any consequences for the middle east peace process.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) asked about the endgame. The Secretary of State"s reply concentrated on an endgame whereby Saddam Hussein ends matters, but we are worried about the endgame from our point of view. Given the Secretary of State"s anxiety about Saddam Hussein"s development of weapons of mass destruction, does he believe that it is possible to prevent it through a combination of economic sanctions and aerial bombardment alone? If not, what is his recommendation for solving the problem in the long term?

Mr. Hoon

I remind the hon. Gentleman that our policy is not a combination of economic sanctions and aerial bombardment; it is a policy of sanctions. The use of weapons to protect our aircrew is a consequence of Saddam Hussein"s attacks on them. If he did not attack our aircraft, there would be no need for "aerial bombardment", in the hon. Gentleman"s words.

On an endgame from our point of view, the hon. Gentleman should propose practical and sensible suggestions about the way in which the policy of successive Governments—whom he may have supported from time to time—can be changed to deal with the problem. Resolution 1284 is a proper, diplomatic response by the international community to try to further the endgame to which the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) referred earlier.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)

As one who stood on the mountains of Iraq and Iran in 1991, and saw the hapless Kurds trying to flee Saddam Hussein"s helicopter gunships, I cannot doubt the trust that they put in the patrolling of the airspace: they never want those things to happen to them again. I know no Iraqi Kurd or Shi"ite who wants an end to the no-fly zones. People forget that ethnic cleansing, torture, and execution are daily occurrences in Iraq. No one who watched the parade of military might, lasting five hours, which took place in Baghdad recently under Saddam Hussein"s supervision, could minimise the extent of the threat that the regime poses to the safety of the world.

Although I agree with the policy on no-fly zones because we have a right to protect the safety of our aircrew, the sanctions regime needs overhauling. May I commend to my right hon. Friend the report on sanctions of the Select Committee on International Development? It proposed smarter sanctions, which, if adopted, would mean that the regime would not get away with its current actions. It is a disgrace that allies such as Turkey allow 800 lorries a day to cross the border without checking their contents. Those lorries return laden with oil. The sanctions regime needs overhauling—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Lady has taken far too much time.

Mr. Hoon

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend"s consistent and well-balanced approach to a difficult issue and her efforts to highlight it reasonably and thoughtfully. I shall re-examine the Select Committee"s recommendations.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

Is it not the case that, although Saddam Hussein was isolated internationally 10 years ago, the American-British action is currently isolated? Does it not worry the Secretary of State that a regime as murderous as that of Saddam Hussein can gather international prestige and support? Does that not suggest that there must be a better way of approaching the matter? Will the Secretary of State inform hon. Members of any observations and suggestions about the American-British action that he has received from members of the Security Council?

Mr. Hoon

I simply do not recognise the world that the hon. Gentleman describes. I cannot think of any country that regards Iraq as having "prestige", to use his word. The international community"s position was set out in resolution 1284, which is supported by a range of international opinion. If Saddam Hussein chose to accept it, it could lead to Iraq"s restoration to the international community.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Does the Secretary of State accept that there should be some consistency in policy in the region? In that context, can he explain the reason for his belief that he has the legal authority to bomb Iraq while uttering no criticism of Turkey for its frequent military actions against Kurdish people, incursions into Iraq an I denial of Kurdish people"s human rights? Similarly, there is no condemnation of, let alone action against, Israel"s development of weapons of mass destruction, which is well known, and equally contrary to any United Nations resolution.

Mr. Hoon

I have set out the position in international law on the justification of no-fly zones in northern and southern Iraq. That position does not apply to Turkish action or to circumstances anywhere in the world, except in the case of the grave humanitarian consequences that we could reasonably anticipate if we did not patro1 in north and south Iraq. We can say that because of past events, which substantiate our concerns for the future.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate)

No one envies the Secretary of State his difficulties in framing a policy—difficulties that were evidenced by his problems in replying to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis). However, does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the longer the Anglo-American strategy of no-fly zones continues, based on legal authority to prevent a grave humanitarian crisis, the flakier it becomes while it is difficult to establish a direct link between the no-fly zones and the stability of the Kurdish autonomous zone and the condition of the Shi" a people in the south? The thesis of the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) almost needs to be tested for Anglo-American strategy to continue through military action on the ground. Does the Secretary of State accept that this cannot continue for ever as an Anglo-American military strategy unsupported by anyone else and with no other strategy in view?

Mr. Hoon

That might have been an interesting intellectual analysis if the hon. Gentleman had not reached a rather lame conclusion. We are considering not a military strategy, but a strategy for ensuring the prevention of a grave humanitarian crisis in the northern and southern no-fly zones. There would be no need to resort to military action if our aircraft were not attacked when fulfilling that humanitarian responsibility. We responded to protect those aircraft, and to allow them to continue to protect people on the ground. That is not a military strategy in the sense that the hon. Gentleman describes.

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston)

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that intelligence information suggests that biological weapons. which we know Saddam Hussein will use without compunction against the Kurdish people, are currently being manufactured? Does not that underline the necessity for us to get back to a proper inspection regime? In the absence of such a regime coming into force, we cannot feel a sense of safety for the people on the ground, whom my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) mentioned, or for other nations.

Mr. Hoon

Without in any way wishing to confirm the premise of my hon. Friend"s observation, I certainly agree that it is important to have an effective inspection regime. That is why we worked so hard to incorporate such a regime in resolution 1284. We must have the strongest suspicions about what Saddam Hussein is trying to do inside Iraq, given his previous history. In those circumstances, it is right that we should be allowed an inspection before relaxing the sanctions in any way.

Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow)

The Secretary of State mentioned support from Kuwait and from the international community for UN resolutions. However, if the position on the bombing is as clear in international law as he suggests, and the logic of that bombing is as clear as he suggests, why does he think that international support for that bombing has been non-existent?

Mr. Hoon

I do not accept that it has been non-existent. I have set out the reasons why it is necessary for us to protect our aircrew while they are performing a humanitarian task over the northern and southern no-fly zones. That remains clearly justifiable in international law.