HC Deb 27 January 2003 vol 398 cc562-4
12. Mr. Mark Prisk (Hertford and Stortford)

What progress his Department has made in its contingency arrangements for military action against Iraq; and if he will make a statement.[93179]

14. John Barrett (Edinburgh, West)

What plans he has for the use of military forces in Iraq.[93181]

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

No decision has been taken to use military force in Iraq. It is clear that Saddam Hussein will comply with international law only when diplomacy is backed up with a credible threat of force. That is why it is necessary to prepare our armed forces for any military operations, as set out in recent statements to the House.

Mr. Prisk

On 7 January, the Secretary of State said that, to tackle the dreadful problem of friendly fire, which has been referred to already, the Government would acquire new equipment that will be available in time for any potential conflict".—[Official Report, 7 January 2003; Vol. 397. c. 28.] Has that equipment been acquired? Will it be fitted to protect every operational vehicle, and not just some?

Mr. Hoon

New equipment is being acquired, as I have told the House more than once. Combat identification is not just about fitting equipment. We must also ensure that our forces and those with which we are in coalition are aware of our positions, and aware of accurate and agreed target identification, tactics and other techniques and procedures. That is a complex process, and it is under way with those responsible for preparing and planning for the necessity of any military operations in Iraq.

John Barrett

If there is no specific UN mandate for military action against Iraq, what will the Secretary of State do to receive the backing of the millions of people in this country who are against action being taken in their name without such a resolution?

Mr. Hoon

The hon. Gentleman anticipates a situation that has not yet arisen. I assure him that this country wants effective action to disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction. I believe that the country will strongly support the Government's efforts to achieve that laudable end.

Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford)

Pentagon officials were quoted this weekend referring to an aerial bombardment so intense that Iraqi forces will be disabled and demoralised, making a ground assault unnecessary. Despite what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said earlier to my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon), does he plan for and will he commit British troops to such an assault on Baghdad? If so, is it not incumbent upon him to make some estimate of the humanitarian cost of such action?

Mr. Hoon

I assure my hon. Friend that all decisions taken by the British Government in relation to any possible action against Iraq will be in conformity with international law, the humanitarian element of which is significant.

Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow)

The Secretary of State has said that he would prefer a second UN resolution before any military action, but that he would not feel bound by the unreasonable use of the veto. If another country uses the veto—as is provided for within the rules of the UN—what does he think is within the UN charter that gives him, the Prime Minister or George Bush the right to decide that it is unreasonable and ignore it?

Mr. Hoon

It is important that we allow the process set out in resolution 1441 to unfold without anticipating what might or might not happen in the future.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

The Secretary of State's gracious tribute to the late Lord Younger will be widely appreciated, not least by his son James, who happens to be a constituent of mine. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that studied inactivity is not an option; that appeasement, whatever the intentions of those who advocate it, is invariably disastrous; and that, if we do not take the steps and show the moral courage necessary to act, if it is unavoidable so to do, future generations will not forget the fact and will not forgive it, either?

Mr. Hoon

It is clear that the policy of containment, if it has not actually failed, is certainly failing. Therefore, it is incumbent on the international community—as the unanimous vote of the Security Council in November recognised—to take action to deal with the threat posed by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Certainly we do not have the choice of doing nothing. Saddam Hussein has a choice: he can choose to disarm, or, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made clear, the international community will have to disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

As my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) made clear, the Government can count on possibly stronger support from the Conservative Opposition than from many of the Secretary of State's own colleagues if the taskforce goes into action. If it does, is it not the case that it must be adequately defended? Is he content that, out of our three aircraft carriers, only one is available? Is he content that that one has been converted to the role of a commando and helicopter carrier largely because of the paying-off of Fearless before Albion became available? Is he also content that the most experienced pilots of Sea Harriers will not be deployed? Is he not worried that some will feel that that may have less to do with the availability of alternative land-based aircraft and more to do with the fact that if the Sea Harriers and their pilots distinguish themselves in any conflict, it will show how unwise it will be to phase out the Sea Harriers—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The Secretary of State only has to answer one question.

Mr. Hoon

I suppose that I should congratulate the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) on his obsessions, but he should not allow them to get in the way of sound military planning.

Mr. Bercow

He has a doctorate in it.

Mr. Hoon

We have sound military advice from those responsible as to how best to configure the force that is being planned to take military action in Iraq, should that be required. [Interruption.] I am getting some helpful advice from Conservative Front Benchers that the hon. Member for New Forest, East has a doctorate in obsessions. I thought it better to suggest that he had a doctorate in armchair generalship.