HL Deb 16 April 1991 vol 527 cc1336-9

2.44 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

What arrangements for a permanent cease-fire after the war in the Gulf have now been made.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (The Earl of Caithness)

My Lords, a permanent cease-fire is now in place following the formal and irrevocable acceptance by Iraq of the terms of UNSCR 687.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his Answer. Under these arrangements, will Iraqi military helicopters still be allowed to fly? Will it be possible for the United Nations observer force, consisting of only 1,400, to be reinforced speedily, should the situation seriously deteriorate?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the use of helicopters was not proscribed under the cease-fire arrangements. Coalition action against them would not be in accordance with the cease-fire agreement. However, the US authorities have informed the Iraqis that the US and other coalition members will be in operation in the north of Iraq to supply humanitarian assistance to refugees. They have told the Iraqis that military action against the relief effort will not be tolerated. My noble friend is right to refer to support for the observer force of 1,440 people. I can confirm that support will be made available if necessary.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, can the noble Earl tell us what proportion of the American and British ground forces has left the area and when the last of these forces will leave? Will he also say with regard to the frontier area how many of the United Nations peacekeeping force will be armed?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I do not know the exact deployment of British and American troops and I certainly cannot speak for the Americans. However, it was agreed that we would remove our combat troops as quickly as possible. Of the officer observer force, we contribute 20 personnel.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, can the noble Earl answer the latter part of the question? How many will be armed?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I do not know exactly how many will be armed, but the observer force is likely to be backed by a UN infantry force.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, yesterday the noble Earl told me that he did not have the text of Resolution 687 and therefore could not answer my question regarding helicopters. Perhaps I may put it again to him, now that he has seen the text. If the use of helicopter gun ships is not prohibited within the text of Resolution 687, can he say why it is not prohibited and whether, in the light of the circumstances which we have seen over the past two weeks, the British Government will go to the United Nations and attempt to persuade the Security Council that that prohibition should fall within the terms of the peace settlement?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the reason the helicopters were not included in the prohibition part of the cease-fire agreement was that the United Nations desired that they should not be. I am sure that the noble Lord would be one of the first to complain had there been a prohibition against helicopter flights, many of which were used for mercy missions.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, on the cease-fire conditions, can the noble Earl say whether a timetable for the destruction of chemical and biological weapons and ballistic missiles has been agreed? Can he also say whether talks on these between United Nations officials and the regime in Baghdad have taken place or are taking place?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, a timetable has not yet been agreed. We actively support the UN secretariat's establishment of a special commission to conduct this process. We have offered expert personnel and support facilities to the UN.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, are the Government content that satisfactory arrangements have been or will be made to protect those Iraqi civilians and army deserters who have taken refuge with the United States forces in south Iraq?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I answered that point yesterday when we discussed that matter in detail. Today's Question concerns the cease-fire arrangements specifically.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, is the United Nations force to consist of individuals as distinct from army units from different countries? Will my noble friend convey to the British officers who have already been appointed good wishes for their mission, led as they are by Colonel Grant-Peterkin of the Queen's Own Highlanders?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I shall certainly pass on the good wishes of the noble Lord. It is good to see that the Scots are back in action. The observer unit of 1,440 will consist of personnel from all ranks and from a number of countries.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, one can understand why helicopters are allowed to be used for transport and communication. However, it is nearly impossible to conceive why, after the Allies' experience of the use of helicopter gunships, the Iraqis have been allowed to use those gunships when they are not permitted to use fixed wing aircraft. Will the Minister explain why that is the case?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, those were the terms of the cease-fire agreement under Resolution 687 agreed in the United Nations.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, will the Minister give the House a little more detail on the United Nations peacekeeping force? He may write to me if he does not have the figures with him. When will the force arrive? How big is it? What proportion of it is armed? Those are very important issues arising out of the cease-fire agreement.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I have already told the House that the observer unit will be 1,440 strong. I cannot say how many members of the unit will be armed, but I shall find that out and write to the noble Lord. I shall place a copy of the letter in the Library.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, when my noble friend says that our troops will be brought out of the area as soon as possible, is he using the parliamentary interpretation of that phrase, which may mean that they will be brought out at any time in the months ahead? There seems to be no hurry to rush the troops back when there is so much disorder and disquiet at present in that part of the world.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, there is a commitment to bring the combat troops back as soon as possible, especially the military personnel.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, I hope I may again ask the question which has been asked several times without receiving a satisfactory answer. I shall put the question in another way. If the cease-fire resolution does not prevent the use of helicopter gunships against Iraqi citizens, why did Her Majesty's Government vote for that resolution?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the important issue was that we obtained an appropriate cease-fire agreement which the UN could accept. That is why we took part in the negotiations.