HC Deb 20 March 2003 vol 401 cc1087-100 12.32 pm
The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a statement about military operations to disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction.

President Bush's ultimatum to Saddam Hussein expired at 1 o'clock this morning. Just as Saddam failed to take his final opportunity to disarm by peaceful means, so he has now failed to take his final opportunity to depart in peace and avoid the need for coalition military action. I draw the House's attention to Hans Blix's comments in New York yesterday that he was disappointed that three and a half months of inspection work had not brought clear assurances from the Iraqis of the absence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

President Bush announced at 3.15 this morning on behalf of the coalition that operations had begun with attacks on selected targets of military importance. Those attacks were carried out by coalition aircraft and cruise missiles on more than one target in the vicinity of Baghdad, following information relating to the whereabouts of very senior members of the Iraqi leadership. Those leaders are at the very heart of Iraq's command and control system, responsible for directing Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

Saddam Hussein's regime is the chief obstacle to the disarmament of Iraq. The military plan is therefore crafted around his removal from power. We will place a copy of the Government's military campaign objectives in the Library later today.

In addition to those attacks, coalition forces yesterday carried out certain preliminary operations against Iraqi artillery, surface-to-surface missiles, and air defence systems within the southern no-fly zone. Those were prudent preparatory steps, using coalition air capabilities previously used in the no-fly zones, designed to reduce the threat to coalition forces in Kuwait. The protection of our servicemen and women is a matter of paramount importance.

The House will be aware of reports of Iraqi missile attacks against Kuwait. Those incidents are being investigated by personnel with appropriate skills and the necessary protection. There are no reported casualties so far, but I am afraid that there is nothing more that I can confirm to the House at this stage.

I would like to draw the attention of the House to two particular points. First, that coalition forces will take every possible care to minimise civilian casualties or damage to civilian infrastructure. The coalition will use modern weapons, which are more accurate than ever, but we can never unfortunately exclude the possibility of civilian casualties, tragic though those always are. However, people should treat with caution Iraq's claims of civilian casualties. The Iraqi people are not our enemies, and we are determined to do all we can to help them build the better future that they deserve.

Secondly, I caution the House against suggestions that this campaign will be over in a very short time. We all certainly hope that offensive operations will be over quickly, but we should not underestimate the risks and difficulties that we may face against a regime that is the embodiment of absolute ruthlessness, with an utter disregard for human life.

I turn now to the United Kingdom's armed forces. I have set out in successive statements the forces that we have prepared for this purpose. We have deployed a substantial naval force of 29 Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessels, including the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal and the helicopter carrier HMS Ocean. The land force is led by Headquarters 1 (UK) Armoured Division and includes 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines, 16 Air Assault Brigade, 7th Armoured Brigade and 102 Logistics Brigade. We have also deployed an air force comprised of about 100 fixed-wing aircraft and 27 helicopters. In all, about 45,000 servicemen and women have been assigned to the campaign to disarm Iraq.

Our forces will make a substantial contribution to the military action to disarm Iraq, which we will pursue at a time and on a schedule of our own choosing. They are trained, equipped and ready for the tasks they may now, need to undertake. British forces are already engaged in certain military operations, although the House will, understand why I cannot give further details at this stage.

Events over the coming days will dominate the 24-hour media. The House will recognise that we must all be wary of jumping to conclusions on the basis of "breaking news" before there has been time to conduct a proper investigation. Similarly, the House will understand—and I hope that the media will too—that if we respond to media pressure for instant operational detail, we could risk the security and safety of our forces. We cannot therefore offer a running commentary on media reports. I will ensure, however, that the House is kept fully informed of significant developments. That is why I am making this statement today. In addition to making statements as and when necessary, I will arrange for a short summary to be placed in the Library of the House, with copies made available to members in the Vote Office, as warranted by the day's events.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will be travelling to the European Council this afternoon. Once further significant military action has begun, and UK forces are substantially engaged, the Prime Minister will ask to make a broadcast to the nation.

Once again we are placing an enormous weight of responsibility on the shoulders of our armed forces. We have not taken the decision to do so lightly. The commitment to military action of service personnel is always the gravest step that any Government can undertake. I know that the thoughts and prayers of this House and of our country are with them, and their families, as they embark on their mission. We hope for their safe and swift return.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex)

I thank the Secretary of State for his timely statement to the House, and for providing me with a copy in advance. I am grateful for his assurance that he will continue to make regular oral statements to the House, and put a daily summary of events in the Library.

First, I want to underline one part of the Secretary of State's statement—that the size and scale of the British forces involved in this operation show that they are no token commitment. They are making a very real contribution to the operation, and we should be proud of them.

Events overnight confirm that military operations to disarm Saddam Hussein are likely to be unpredictable. We appreciate that in any conflict of this nature, especially with modern electronic surveillance, targets will present themselves for attack at very short notice. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the military commanders will continue to have the necessary autonomy to act quickly and flexibly to seize such opportunities, as and when they arise?

When the President of the United States refers, as he did this morning, to "coalition forces" being in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, is he implying that UK forces were involved in the action overnight? If so, is the Secretary of State able to say in what capacity?

Will the Secretary of State confirm that the coalition is far wider than just the UK and US and that it comprises some 35 nations, although not all are directly involved in military action?

There are reports of Scud B missile attacks on Kuwait and coalition forces there. It may be too early for the Secretary of State to confirm the exact nature of these attacks, but if they were Scud Bs—with a range of at least 600 km—would that not confirm that Saddam Hussein had continued to lie and failed to disarm? Can the Secretary of State confirm how effective the US theatre missile defences have been? Is he able to say what warheads the enemy missiles were carrying? Can he explain what caused the explosion reported in Kuwait City? Can he provide any details about the exchange of artillery fire on the Iraqi border with Kuwait?

There has been widespread concern about the possible interaction of Turkish and Kurdish forces in northern Iraq, perhaps at a later stage of the conflict. Can he comment on overnight reports that Iraqi Kurdish forces have placed themselves under US command? If this is true, it is a welcome development. There are also reports of Iraqi soldiers giving themselves up; this is most welcome. Will the Secretary of State confirm that they are being treated as bona fide prisoners of war and will be accorded their proper rights under the Geneva convention? Will he also clarify what role they might be invited to play eventually at later stages of the conflict, perhaps as volunteers in the fighting to disarm Saddam Hussein?

What continued diplomatic initiatives are being maintained with France and Russia, who have both issued public criticism of the action carried out by the coalition? Will the Government and the United States make every effort to engage the United Nations in the humanitarian tasks, which are far more the inevitable result of 30 years of Saddam Hussein's misrule than of any damage likely to be caused by military action?

We have had a great debate over many months about military action to disarm Saddam Hussein. We are, of course, a free country in which people continue to have every right to protest, but I hope that all parties will agree that such protests should remain within the law. It is a tragic inevitability of war that innocent people will die, and we mourn them. Would not it be so much better for Saddam Hussein to end the suffering of the Iraqi people now and surrender immediately?

The UK has embarked on this course alongside our allies to disarm Saddam Hussein because he is a threat. I support the Secretary of State in his warning that, inevitably, there will be events in the days and weeks ahead that test our determination. It may take longer than we hope, but we must have the resolve to see this through.

I conclude with the words of Lieutenant Colonel Tim Collins who addressed his 1st Battalion of the Royal Irish Regiment yesterday with these words: Let us bring everyone home and leave Iraq a better place for our having been there. He spoke for our whole nation and we wish him and all our fine armed forces the best of good fortune.

Mr. Hoon

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's observations and for the support of Her Majesty's official Opposition.

On his question about the responsibility of commanders on the ground, I assure him that they will have the delegated responsibilities necessary to allow them to take appropriate action. Equally, I make it clear that those delegated responsibilities are always approved by Ministers, consistent with the usual arrangements.

On the specific involvement of UK forces, President Bush made it clear in his address overnight that these were coalition operations. I do not believe that it is appropriate to specify what particular forces were used for each particular operation. These are coalition operations involving a wide range of military support; at least the number of countries mentioned by the hon. Gentleman.

Consistent with what I said earlier, I do not intend to comment in detail about the considerable number of missiles that have been targeted against Kuwait. We are investigating precisely the nature of the missiles and of the warheads with which they are equipped. I understand, but only from recent news reports, that defensive systems have been used to good effect to deal with at least one such missile.

There is close co-operation between the United States and Kurdish forces in the north of Iraq and I am confident that that will continue. I give the House the assurance that prisoners of war will be dealt with in accordance with international law. There are certainly signs of a growing number of disaffected Iraqis abandoning support for Saddam Hussein. This morning I discussed with my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary the continuing diplomatic initiatives that will be taken. As I have said, the Prime Minister will go to the European Council meeting this afternoon.

Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford)

May I thank the Secretary of State for advance notice of his statement and associate myself and my colleagues with his comments and those of the shadow Defence Secretary about the excellence of the men and women of our armed forces? They will perform whatever tasks they are set with extraordinary courage and great skill. They are a credit to our nation. At this time we must remember their families at home. Our troops and their families should know that they have the support of the full House today.

We all hope that this will be a swift and successful campaign with as few casualties as possible on all sides. The Secretary of State outlined today details of the strike that took place in the small hours of the morning.

We thank him for that and we understand the constraints that he has in saying more. In relation to the reports of the Iraqi attacks on Kuwait this morning, does it appear that the warning procedures set in place by coalition forces have worked extremely successfully?

Finally, I understand that later today the permanent under-secretary will announce that the unmarried partners of members of the armed forces serving in the Gulf will receive proper compensation, should their partners pay the ultimate price. The Secretary of State will know of my concern and interest in this matter. If that is the case, may I thank him? It is most welcome.

Mr. Hoon

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's support. He asked two specific questions. I was enormously impressed by the television pictures this morning of British forces and, indeed, members of the press, reacting quickly to warning procedures. We undoubtedly have concerns about the offensive action taken by Iraq against Kuwait and our deployed forces. Today there will be a ministerial statement on unmarried partners along the lines that the hon. Gentleman advocated.

Laura Moffatt (Crawley)

My right hon. Friend has outlined the progress in this campaign. We must win the campaign and not allow our armed forces to go into conflict without the correct weaponry to protect them. Could he say something about the more controversial weapons that may need to be used, such as depleted uranium heads on weapons and cluster bombs, for our constituents who may have concerns about them?

Mr. Hoon

I emphasise that a range of weapons will have to be used to prosecute this campaign successfully and achieve the successful result that my hon. Friend rightly advocates. I will not allow our forces to be prevented from using those lawful weapons that are most suitable for achieving those tasks. I assure her equally that those weapons are used only after the most careful consideration. Depleted uranium and cluster bombs have a particular military purpose. If that purpose is necessary, they will be used; if it is not, they will not be used.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk)

The Secretary of State will be aware that a number of my constituents based at RAF Marham are in the Gulf and will almost certainly have played a part in this first phase of operations. They will have shown their normal, high standard of professionalism. Does he agree that they now deserve the 100 per cent. support of all the public? Surely the time has come for these anti-war demonstrations to cease.

Mr. Hoon

The hon. Gentleman is right. Those armed forces deserve our support. It is a characteristic of our society and the values that we are trying to uphold that we have a democracy and the opportunity to demonstrate, that we can set out in full the different views expressed by a mature democracy. That is what we are trying to achieve. Therefore, I would not necessarily go all the way with him in his remarks. As for his constituents, our thoughts are also with the families who are obviously concerned about the people who are engaged in action and will be engaged in the near future. It is important that we remember those people as they support those who have gone to war on our behalf.

Mr. Kevin Hughes (Doncaster, North)

Given what we know about Saddam Hussein's propaganda machine, what plans does my right hon. Friend have to deal swiftly with any false information, or disinformation, that will come out of Iraq? Does he have any intelligence on rumours that Saddam has built up a body bank that can be used to inflate the civilian casualty figures?

Mr. Hoon

Before I answer that specific question, may I commend my hon. Friend on his strong support of the military operations and on the strong support of his son, who is presently serving in the Gulf? The whole House will join me in congratulating him on that.

I caution the House, as I did in my statement, about relying too much on propaganda from the Iraqi authorities. We have many experiences of Iraq claiming civilian casualties in the no-fly zone on days when we have not had a single aircraft flying.

Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire)

I endorse what the Secretary of State said about the role of the media. Will he go a little further? Will he take this opportunity to remind the media—both written and visual—that what we are embarked upon is a very serious action to relieve the people of Iraq and the world of these weapons? This is not some form of entertainment. It is not designed as a spectacle for people to sit glued to their screens to watch as entertainment. Will he urge upon all commentators and reporters a sense of dignity and responsibility in the way that they report what is going on? Will he urge discretion upon them not necessarily to report every single detail if doing so could cause distress to families or individuals in this country? [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]

Mr. Hoon

I do not think that I can improve on the remarks of the hon. Gentleman. He puts his case extremely well and I entirely endorse it.

Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge)

Will my right hon. Friend outline the precautions that our forces and the forces of our allies will take to ensure that the Iraqi people have adequate access to clean water and food during the actions?

Mr. Hoon

On previous occasions, when I have set out to the House the details of the British force deploying to the Gulf, I have made it clear that it is a flexible force— certainly designed for war-fighting but also designed for peacekeeping. As soon as any conflict draws to an end, forces will be in place to provide security to the people of Iraq but also to attend to their obvious humanitarian needs. Iraq has been devastated by the regime of Saddam Hussein over many years. It is a much poorer country than it should be. We will assist in the process of rebuilding that country.

Bob Spink (Castle Point)

If at all possible, will the Secretary of State seek to ensure that there is no Turkish incursion in the north of Iraq? That would be destabilising and downright dangerous. Will the Kurdish people get co-operation if, in any internal uprising, they seek to take over Kirkuk or to help the allied forces to remove Saddam Hussein's evil regime?

Mr. Hoon

A clear message has been sent to Turkey along the lines of the hon. Gentleman's suggestion; the Turkish ambassador visited the Ministry of Defence this morning. As far as the Kurds are concerned, I emphasise—as I did in response to an earlier question—the importance of preserving the position of the Kurds. They have, in the past, been the target of appalling attacks by Saddam Hussein's regime and we will never allow that to be forgotten.

Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow)

The Secretary of State has said that he wants civilian casualties to be minimised and yet, when my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Laura Moffatt) asked about cluster bombs, he would not rule out their use. Does he not see the contradiction between his two statements? The record of the use of cluster bombs is that they do, by their very nature, cause civilian casualties. In the first Gulf war, the United States used something like 60,000 cluster bombs, containing up to 20 million bomblets, in Iraq and Kuwait. Does the Secretary of State really believe that a repetition of that sort of behaviour will not cause civilian casualties?

Mr. Hoon

I made it clear that those particular weapons have a particular purpose. They will be used to achieve that purpose if it is necessary. Their use will be limited to those circumstances. I assure my hon. Friend that they are not used in a random way; but I would be failing in my duties as Secretary of State for Defence if I did not allow our armed forces to use the most appropriate weapons to deal with the threats against them.

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion)

Now that the troops are engaged and potentially under attack, we all wish that they may return safely and swiftly to this country. We all give them that support. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the attacks last night were in residential areas of Baghdad and were, in fact, an attempt to assassinate Saddam Hussein? Will he take this opportunity to spell out in more detail the UK MOD processes for ensuring the protection of civilians in such situations? What advice is taken and given in order to achieve that? Will he also say a little more about the co-ordination of the humanitarian relief that will have to follow? How will it be achieved? Will it follow a similar military chain of command, or will it be a different sort of operation?

Mr. Hoon

The hon. Gentleman probably understands more about the nature of Iraqi society than he is letting on. In the past, we have heard many references to the palaces that the regime has constructed. Those palaces are residential—if the hon. Gentleman chooses to describe them as such—but they are also command and control centres that are operated by leaders of the regime simply because they are afraid of any close contact with their own people. In reality, those targets are perfectly legitimate military targets because they are the places from which Saddam Hussein exercises command and control over his own people and over weapons of mass destruction. It is entirely consistent with our campaign objectives that such military command and control facilities should be targeted.

A great deal of effort has been made in recent months to ensure proper co-ordination. As I have said before, it is important not only that we win any war but that we win any subsequent peace. I was in Washington some weeks ago, primarily to discuss the role that the military can play in ensuring the reconstruction of Iraq. My military advisers are at pains to emphasise that we are further forward in that way than we have ever been in any previous conflict. We recognise in particular the outstanding role that Britain's armed forces can play in these kinds of peacekeeping operation. However, it is important that we get through any military conflict before we can turn our full attention to such an operation. I assure the hon. Gentleman and the House that a great deal of effort is being made by the Government, in co-operation with other Governments, to ensure the co-ordination of that humanitarian effort.

Mr. Tom Levitt (High Peak)

A criticism that has been levelled at this military action has been the tag "unilateral action by the United States". Given the variety of degrees of enthusiasm with which hon. Members in this House reached the conclusion that we did the other night, if my right hon. Friend could confirm that the number of countries that are actively engaged in one way or another in supporting the present military action is 30—or, better still, if he could confirm that the number is higher than that—it would reassure many of us.

Mr. Hoon

I can confirm, as I did earlier today, that there are at least 30 countries that are actively engaged in support of military operations, and, indeed, that still more countries are offering strong political support.

Mr. George Osborne (Tatton)

It is clear from the action overnight that the military is targeting Saddam Hussein himself. Should Saddam Hussein be killed or overthrown, would military action cease immediately? If not, how would the Iraqi military bring the conflict to a close? What would it have to say to us to bring the conflict to an end?

Mr. Hoon

We are pursuing lawful military targets. Clearly, part of that effort is designed to disrupt the command and control of the regime. As I have said, and as the Prime Minister made clear yesterday, we are seeking to remove weapons of mass destruction from Iraq. However, with the expiry of the ultimatum to the regime and to Saddam Hussein, the means of achieving that will be through the removal of the regime. The removal of the regime will be the specific focus of our military operations.

Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Kelvin)

Is it not the ultimate in spin-doctoring propaganda for the Minister to be quoting Dr. Hans Blix in aid of his statement—[Interruption.] The Chief Whip is heckling me but this is a free Parliament and I will be heard in it—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman will be heard.

Mr. Galloway

Is it not the ultimate in spin-doctoring propaganda to be praying in aid Dr. Hans Blix, who has just denounced the action that the Minister has been boasting about this morning—as have an overwhelming number of world leaders, including some of our closest friends, partners and allies? Will the Secretary of State give a straight answer to this question: given the view in the advice of the overwhelming number of unpurchased international legal experts that this action is illegal, what assurance will he give British forces that they will not face prosecution in the International Criminal Court by other countries for the actions that he has ordered them to carry out today?

Mr. Hoon

I will defend my hon. Friend's right to he heard—as I will also defend the right of the opposition in Iraq to be heard; and I should be much happier if he emphasised that more frequently than he has sometimes done in the recent past. I assure him, as I have assured the House on previous occasions, that the actions of our armed forces are entirely lawful and based on the clear advice of the Attorney-General, which has been set out for the benefit of Members.

Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking)

May I raise with the Secretary of State the issue of British civilians serving alongside our troops in the Gulf? In the event that those civilians are injured or wounded, will they receive the same protection through war pensions, insurance cover or the like as apply to our military personnel?

Mr. Hoon

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for reminding me of something that I normally mention: the contribution made by civil servants, especially from the Ministry of Defence and other Departments, to such military operations. We should not forget either them or their families in the efforts that are being made. I assure the hon. Gentleman that they will receive appropriate entitlements, according to the arrangements that normally prevail for their service.

Kali Mountford (Colne Valley)

On the news this morning and in the House this afternoon, my right hon. Friend said that he cannot engage in a propaganda war, giving an hour-by-hour update to the press. However, can he ensure that the House receives accurate information, which is as full and complete as is possible and practicable, as soon as he can provide it?

Mr. Hoon

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the issue of accurate information. It is important that what the Government say in response to incidents is accurate and timely. Sometimes, the needs for accuracy and timeliness can be difficult to reconcile, but it is important that the Government's comments on particular incidents are based on the most accurate information that it is possible to obtain.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)

Every Iraqi soldier is some mother's son and most Iraqi conscripts are as innocent as any civilian, yet we hear today that soldiers trying to surrender have been turned back by Kuwaiti border guards, and possibly sent back to execution. Will the Secretary of State ensure that all coalition allies realise the value of taking Iraqi prisoners of war, and that they treat them well and use them to get others to surrender to show the Iraqi people that our battle is with the regime and not with them?

Mr. Hoon

As I indicated in Defence questions, I know that the hon. Gentleman has considerable knowledge and expertise in that area, so he will understand that the situation on the Kuwaiti-Iraqi border today is somewhat sensitive. It is perhaps understandable that Kuwaiti soldiers might be suspicious of those who might, initially, be trying to surrender. However, as I indicated to the House earlier, efforts are being made; I made a ministerial statement last week indicating that extra British forces will be deployed specifically to deal with prisoners of war and to carry on the good work that the hon. Gentleman has conducted in the past.

Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

We all hope that our troops will come home safely, but I am concerned about my right hon. Friend's selective quote from Dr. Hans Bib. On the radio this morning, the chief weapons inspector cast considerable doubt on the likelihood that Saddam Hussein possesses weapons of mass destruction. Given that the whole invasion is predicated on the dubious assumption that Saddam Hussein has links with al-Qaeda and other fundamentalist terrorist organisations, and that he would supply them with weapons of mass destruction to attack the US and other western countries, what evidence does my right hon. Friend have—or what evidence has he been supplied with by the American Government—that there are such links between the Iraqi regime and al-Qaeda? It is not sufficient to say—

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Hoon

What I said was that Hans Blix was disappointed that his inspection work had not brought clear assurances from the Iraqis about the absence of weapons of mass destruction. There is no argument about that. I am not aware that any Government, whatever their position on the need for military action, have disputed the fact that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction. That has not been disputed even by countries opposed to military action. It is important not to lose sight of the reason for military operations: to enforce the will of the United Nations to remove the threat of weapons of mass destruction, either, as the Prime Minister has said, when they are in the hands of the Iraqi regime itself, or when there is a risk that they might fall into the hands of unscrupulous terrorist organisations such as al-Qaeda.

I have answered the question about links before. There are clear links between the Iraqi regime and al-Qaeda. We are not sure of the precise nature of those links, but we are certainly aware that they exist. It is important that we continue to monitor that.

Andrew George (St. Ives)

Four hundred personnel from RAF Culdrose in my constituency have been deployed to the Gulf and I know that their commitment, courage and professionalism will be much appreciated by the House. Although I realise that the Secretary of State cannot release into the public domain operational details about deployments over the coming weeks and months, will he ensure that Members of Parliament with large numbers of constituents in the region at least have a private channel of communication so that they can obtain information that might reassure the families of their constituents?

Mr. Hoon

I am sure that appropriate arrangements can be put in place. As I indicated to the House, I want to follow previous practice and ensure that when it is justified details will be made available daily to all Members. However, if the hon. Gentleman has particular concerns about constituents and their families they will certainly be addressed by the Ministry of Defence.

Mr. Ben Chapman (Wirral, South)

I greatly welcome the assurances about the minimisation of civilian casualties and the fact that our strikes will be specifically and carefully targeted. I accept the cautionary note struck by my right hon. Friend with regard to the length of the campaign. However, the campaign could be shortened by encouraging Iraqi defections. What overt measures are being taken to that end, other than military action? What soft measures are being taken, by way of broadcasts and leaflet drops? What are the targets? Are they at the higher or lower level of Iraqi society or throughout various strata?

Mr. Hoon

A detailed information campaign has been under way for some time to achieve precisely the objective that my hon. Friend describes: the collapse of the regime. We know that the regime is not supported by the overwhelming majority of the Iraqi people—but for the appalling intimidation practised by that regime, it would have collapsed many years ago. Those information operations will continue.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

Further to the question put by the hon. Member for Wirral, South (Mr. Chapman), will the Secretary of State confirm that the BBC World Service is being used as extensively as possible to broadcast to the Iraqi people? Is he satisfied with the co-operation that he is receiving from that service?

Mr. Hoon

As a great admirer of the BBC World Service and its objective, independent voice in the world, I am sure that those in Iraq who are able to listen to it will benefit from its services.

Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South)

The United Nations has asked for the immediate establishment of a fund of $53 million to provide for emergency humanitarian aid in Iraq. Can the Minister say what contribution the UK is making to that? Can he also give the House an assurance that we will respond to a particular concern that is being raised in Britain already—namely, the demand that whatever contribution Britain makes, it should be through agencies that have clean hands, which would at least allow us as a Government to avoid having to explain the morally ambiguous position of bombing the children, then offering to feed those who survive?

Mr. Hoon

I assure my hon. Friend that the Government recognise their responsibility in assisting the people of Iraq in any necessary rebuilding that might follow military operations. We are working closely with the United Nations, our coalition partners and others. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development is in New York having discussions with Kofi Annan and other members of the United Nations in order to put that process in place.

I make this point to my hon. Friend, and I am sure that if he thinks about it for a moment he will acknowledge it. The moment that the military operations end, it will be British soldiers, American soldiers and other members of the armed forces who will be in position, with the ability to help to resolve those problems. If they do not help to resolve those problems, there will not be time for the international organisations to move in sufficiently quickly to provide food, water, clothing and other necessary assistance. That is why the Government have allocated significant funds for members of the military to engage in the initial humanitarian help that will be required the moment that conflict ceases.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate)

Many hon. Members and members of the public will have read an account of the exemplary address by Colonel Collins to his battle group. I commend every single word of it, especially what he said about appropriate respect for and treatment of Iraq and Iraqis. He gave an instruction to his battle group not to fly the Union flag from their vehicles when they are on Iraqi territory in order to show that this is a war of liberation, not of occupation. Symbols are important. If that is not yet policy for all British forces engaged in this operation, will the Secretary of State consider making it so? In particular, if he considers it to be appropriate for United Kingdom forces, will he suggest to our United States allies that it may also be appropriate for them?

Mr. Hoon

I am grateful for the careful and measured way in which the hon. Gentleman made that point, and I shall certainly look into it.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the so-called live broadcast by Saddam Hussein this morning was in fact a recording? Will he also tell us exactly what is the situation as far as Turkey is concerned, given that Turkey has so far shown considerable reluctance to give assistance in the war that is now in progress?

Mr. Hoon

I know that the nature of that broadcast has attracted some interest and that analysis is being conducted as to its origins and authenticity, but I am not in a position at this stage to comment further.

Turkey is offering assistance. Clearly, we hope that Turkey will offer more help in coalition operations, and that is something that we continue to discuss with Turkey.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney)

Further to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice), has the Secretary of State given any guidance, or does he plan to give any guidance, to British news organisations that plan to maintain correspondents in Baghdad even after a state of war exists between our two countries?

Mr. Hoon

Guidance is given by the Government and general advice is given to news media about the safety and security of their correspondents in Baghdad. Above all else, what we will be looking for is the necessary objectivity from those organisations, particularly as they are operating under very considerable restrictions. Some correspondents do make the point that they are not allowed to see all that they would want to see or to go where they would choose to go in order to report objectively what is taking place. Provided that correspondents make that qualification, their safety and security is ultimately a matter for their employers.

David Hamilton (Midlothian)

As one who was in a minority on Tuesday, I believe that it was the first time that this House collectively made such a decision—not the Prime Minister, but this House. It is therefore binding on all Members to accept that that was the decision that was taken, as much as I disagree with it. My question is a simple one. I do not believe that we should be seeing everything that happens through the media. Ministers are right to say that they will come to the House to make statements. On two days a week, we finish at 7 o'clock and we do not sit on a Friday. Will the House adjust its hours to accommodate that, because members of the public expect their MPs to be here?

Mr. Hoon

I am relieved to say, given my other responsibilities at the moment, that that is not a matter for me. [HON. MEMBERS: "Who is responsible?"] I will come to that question in a second, when I have thought of the answer.

On providing an opportunity for the House properly to debate these important events, I remind my hon. Friend that the Government made available three further hours in Tuesday's debate to allow more right hon. and hon. Members to address the issues. I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw), who will shortly take business questions, will be able to give a much fuller and more detailed answer to that question.

Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone)

Now that this avoidable war has started, will my right hon. Friend confirm that coalition war costs will not be paid from Iraqi oil revenues?

Mr. Hoon

We have made it absolutely clear that the benefit of Iraq's oil will be used for the benefit of the Iraqi people.

Jim Knight (South Dorset)

Will my right hon. Friend clarify what principles the UK military will use for their targeting and whether those principles will be shared by the United States and other allies?

Mr. Hoon

It is absolutely the case that we operate in a coalition with the same principles of international law governing the targeting. I have already set out some of those principles to the House. It is important to avoid where we can civilian casualties, while recognising the risk that there obviously be civilian harm, but working through the details of the targeting programme to minimise those risks wherever possible.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

As depleted uranium weapons leave a poisonous cancerous residue for generations to come, and as cluster bombs are specifically anti-personnel devices designed to kill large numbers of people and to leave bomblets that will explode for ever more, killing many individuals, as is presently happening in Afghanistan, why are they being used now against the people of Iraq?

Mr. Hoon

I have already answered that question twice today. I just say this about my hon. Friend's premise in relation to depleted uranium. Notwithstanding what he says about the poisonous residue, there is not the slightest scientific evidence to support his contention. Depleted uranium is one of the complaints that is used against the Ministry of Defence in allegations of so-called Gulf war syndrome. In fact, the forces who deployed to the Gulf suffered fewer incidences of death from cancer that those who did not deploy there. That is a very important medical fact that my hon. Friend should study a little more carefully.

Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge)

No doubt the Americans will also give daily briefings. I wonder whether the Secretary of State could think back to the Gulf war, when on one occasion the Americans gave details of a covert British operation. Will the Secretary of State say what discussions he will have with our coalition allies to ensure that such disclosures do not endanger British forces?

Mr. Hoon

A great deal of effort has already been made to co-ordinate the information campaign and information operations, and I assure him that that will continue.

Dr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East and Musselburgh)

I am sure that the House and the British people will welcome my right hon. Friend's assurance that the forces will do all that they can to minimise civilian casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure. Does he accept, however, that a certain proportion of even the most modern guided missiles are bound to miss their targets, and that there has to be a danger that some very extensive civilian damage will be done? In those circumstances, while I accept that getting a speedy response sometimes conflicts with having all the information, it would nevertheless be much better if the British people could get the information from the British Government as soon as possible, rather than having to rely on other sources.

Mr. Hoon

My right hon. Friend is right. As I said, there is inevitably a risk to civilians in times of conflict, but equally I point out again that we seek wherever we can to minimise those risks and to ensure that our statements are wholly accurate.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I inform the House that there will be further statements, as the Secretary of State said, and I will keep a list of those who have not been called.

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