HL Deb 17 January 1991 vol 524 cc1257-61

3.34 p.m.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Waddington)

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister on the initiation of hostilities in the Gulf in the small hours of this morning. The Statement is as follows: "Aircraft of the multinational force began attacks on military targets in Iraq from around midnight Greenwich mean time. Several hundred aircraft were involved in the action, including a substantial number of RAF aircraft. The action was taken under the authority of UN Security Council Resolution 678 which authorises use of all necessary means, including force, after 15th January to bring about Iraq's withdrawal from Kuwait.

"The action was taken after extensive consultation with the principal governments represented in the multinational force and following direct discussion between President Bush and myself over a period of weeks. It was taken only after exhaustive diplomatic efforts through the UN, the EC, Arab governments and others to persuade Saddam Hussein to withdraw peacefully.

"The action is continuing. Attacks have been directed at Iraq's military capability, in particular airfields, aircraft, missile sites, nuclear and chemical facilities and other military targets. Reports so far received suggest that they have been successful. Allied aircraft losses have been low. I regret to inform the House that one RAF Tornado from later raids is reported missing. The instructions issued to our pilots and those of other forces are to avoid causing civilian casualties so far as possible.

"Our aims are clear and limited. They are those set out in the United Nations Security Council resolutions: to get Iraq out of Kuwait—all of Kuwait; to restore the legitimate government; to re-establish peace and security in the area; and to uphold the authority of the United Nations.

"Mr. Speaker, as I explained in the debate in the House of Commons on Tuesday, it is only with the greatest reluctance that we have come to the point of using force as authorised by the Security Council. We did so only after all peaceful means had failed and Saddam Hussein's intransigence left us no other course. We have no quarrel with the people of Iraq. We hope very much for a speedy end to hostilities. That will come about when Saddam Hussein withdraws totally and unconditionally from Kuwait. Our military action will continue until he comes to his senses and does so.

"Most of all, Mr. Speaker, our thoughts go to the men and women of our forces and their families who wait anxiously at home. They have our whole-hearted support and our prayers for their safe return."

3.38 p.m.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Lord for repeating the Statement of the Prime Minister. While everyone regrets the need for war, it is clear beyond doubt that the responsibility for this crisis rests squarely on the shoulders of Saddam Hussein, who triggered off the conflict when he invaded Kuwait on 2nd August. It is for him to decide now whether he is prepared to observe the United Nations resolutions and withdraw unconditionally from Kuwait, thus preventing further loss of life. As the Prime Minister says, action was taken under Resolution 678 and it is important to repeat that it was not taken until several efforts had been made to seek a solution by diplomatic means.

We welcome the information that the United Nations forces have thus far achieved what appears to be maximum success without great loss and that care has been taken to concentrate on military targets. We also note with regret the report that one British Tornado is missing.

We fully support the objectives listed in the Statement. We hope that the United Nations coalition's military aims can be achieved swiftly, that casualties among the forces can be kept low and that the concentration on military targets referred to in the Statement will also minimise casualties among the Iraqi civilian population.

Finally, as the Statement says, our thoughts are in the main with our forces and with their families here at home. They have our full and unqualified support. We know that they will do all they can to bring this war to an early end.

Lord Jenkins of Hillhead

My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Lord the Leader of the House for keeping us informed even though he and the Prime Minister do so with appropriate caution and necessary imprecision. Following our debate on Tuesday, I do not think that any further political words can help at this stage. Our thoughts are with our troops and their families; our hopes are for a speedy United Nations success and our sympathy is with all the victims.

Lord Waddington

My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords for their remarks. Clearly, what has happened is the responsibility of Saddam Hussein who attacked a country without provocation. The action which has been taken has occurred only after great diplomatic efforts to avoid a conflict. It is of course too early to assess exactly how effective has been the action taken. But it is certainly true that the forces deployed have been urged to take all possible measures to minimise casualties among civilians and to concentrate on military targets. I share with noble Lords their good wishes to the families of those who are taking this action in the Gulf on behalf of the international community and on our behalf.

Lord Carver

My Lords, on behalf of the Cross-Bench Peers I wish to add a few words. Many of us have admired the skill, resolution and patience with which the Government, headed by a most impressive trio, have handled affairs within the past few weeks. We congratulate them on the way in which they have done so. That handling must have given great confidence to the soldiers, sailors and airmen in the Gulf to whom we should pay tribute for the patience and resolution with which they have faced a long period of anxious waiting—indeed, it has been a period of anxious waiting—also for their families. We would like to add to the tributes paid to the Armed Forces in the Gulf and to the skill that they have already displayed. Our thoughts are with them and their families.

Lord Waddington

My Lords, I am sure that we are all grateful to the noble and gallant Lord for the tribute which he has paid to our Armed Forces. This conflict has not been entered into lightly. The noble and gallant Lord is so right to emphasise what great care was taken and what great efforts were made to try to avoid conflict at all. The responsibility for it, as I have said, rests on the shoulders of one man.

The Lord Bishop of Worcester

My Lords, we are grateful for the Statement. From these Benches we are also grateful for the fact that two or three days ago Cardinal Basil Hume and my noble friend the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury were called to 10 Downing Street to be privy to some of the possible developments. We, and all Members of your Lordships' House, are concerned that we be of good courage and pursue resolutely our objective so that we may bring about a speedy end to the conflict. I am sure that throughout the country we shall be saying prayers for the servicemen of many nations who are gathered in the Gulf and especially for our own and their families. Our prayers will also be offered for the 40 chaplains who are with the forces and seeking to do their duty as the men around them are under fire.

I wish to reassure your Lordships that clergy, ministers and their people in the parishes throughout this country will be standing by to help all those who suffer because of the trauma of war. We must support the distressed and help the afflicted and of course, no one would ever doubt that in this House. But I pray that we may look forward to the healing, bridge-building and peace-making which must be done with as much resolution as we are rightly applying to the completion of our task. I do not in any way suggest that there are grounds for shallow optimism. We would not want that. We want to be realistic. We must look forward to the end of this conflict and the work that has to be done afterwards.

The words of my noble friend the most reverend Primate are so recent in this House that they hardly need repeating. I pray that Her Majesty's Government, in doing everything to contain this conflict, will also avoid, as the most reverend Primate said, the bombing of any of the holy places of Islam. We must all take opportunities to be alongside moslem people in this country. Indeed the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bradford is taking great trouble over this matter in his own diocese. I hope that we shall do our utmost to avoid any way in which this conflict may be interpreted as holy war, as Saddam Hussein wants to interpret it. From these Benches we shall try to do our duty and do what noble Lords expect of us in our pastoral care of people.

Lord Waddington

My Lords, I am sure that all of us will join the right reverend Prelate in his prayers for a speedy end to this conflict. We shall also be praying for all those chaplains who are with our forces in the Gulf at the present time. Clearly, the right reverend Prelate is right in saying that when this is all over and after Saddam Hussein has withdrawn, there will be a big job of peace-making still to be carried out. We all heed the remarks of the most reverend Primate made the other day. I am quite sure that all those engaged on the allied side will heed his remarks about the holy places. None of us here and none of our forces wishes to turn this conflict into anything like a holy war.

3.47 p.m.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, on consideration I believe that everyone in this House and in the country will accept that, whatever the differences of opinion as to the causes of this war, this is a tragic day in the history not only of this country but of humanity. Every one of us sends our best wishes to our fellow citizens serving in the Gulf, our sympathy to their families and also to the people of Iraq who are likely to suffer most.

As regards that part of the Statement made by the noble Lord the Leader of the House in which he laid down the war aims, if Saddam Hussein and his forces are either driven out of Kuwait or withdraw from that country, is it intended that at that moment hostilities will be brought to an end?

Lord Waddington

My Lords, we have always made it absolutely plain that this action is being taken in order to carry out the UN resolutions. When that mandate, given to the allies by the United Nations has been carried out, there will be no need for further hostilities. Clearly, we all heed what the noble Lord has said about his sympathy for the people of Iraq. One does have sympathy for them at this time because the conflict is none of their doing.

Earl Attlee

My Lords, on behalf of the Social Democrats, we would like to congratulate the Government for their short and succinct Statement and echo the remarks made by the other speakers. We, and I hope everyone in this House, will say prayers for our boys and girls who are now fighting in the Gulf.

Lord Waddington

My Lords, there is nothing that I can add in reply to the noble Earl except to thank him, as I have thanked other noble Lords, for the comments which have been made. I am sure that they will be greatly appreciated by our forces.

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