HC Deb 17 June 2002 vol 387 cc16-7
13. Mr. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove)

What recent assessments he has received of the availability of UK ground forces for operations in the middle east. [58683]

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

We have long recognised that our national interests are directly affected by events right across the middle east. We therefore continue to place high priority on our ability to project and sustain power in the region. As part of its routine planning work, the Ministry of Defence keeps a range of military options under review. Exercise Saif Sareea 2 in Oman towards the end of last year, for example, clearly demonstrated our ability to deploy UK ground forces over long distances and to sustain them there.

Mr. Stunell

May I direct the Secretary of State's attention to Iraq? Is he aware that US officials are now saying that the air strikes in the no-fly zone are no longer primarily aimed at humanitarian objectives, but are directed at opening up the capacity for more widespread bombing in Iraq? Bearing in mind the US President's policy of taking out Saddam Hussein, can the Secretary of State say whether UK forces are to be deployed in pursuit of that policy?

Mr. Hoon

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's premise. The air strikes are self-defence against attacks on our aircraft and on coalition aircraft patrolling the no-fly zone, so their primary purpose is to defend aircrew and their aircraft against those attacks. The humanitarian purpose of having planes patrolling the no-fly zone continues.

Mr. Brian Jenkins (Tamworth)

May I direct my right hon. Friend's mind to the situation in the middle east regarding Palestine and Israel? If British troops are to be used in some form of peacekeeping force in that situation, will he give an absolute assurance that they will go in only with a United Nations mandate and to uphold United Nations resolutions?

Mr. Hoon

In order for there to be a peacekeeping force, there has to be peace. I assure my hon. Friend that the United Kingdom Government will continue their efforts to bring about a peaceful situation in that difficult part of the world, but until that situation arises, his question is somewhat premature

Mr. Mark Prisk (Hertford and Stortford)

In the event of a deployment in the middle east, would British troops, like our American allies, enjoy the protection of theatre missile defence systems?

Mr. Hoon

The hon. Gentleman deliberately keeps his question as vague as possible. He refers to a deployment in the middle east, which is a very large region. Of course, as no theatre missile defence system is readily available to any forces deployed anywhere in that region, I can only say that that would not yet be available to the United Kingdom.