HL Deb 14 June 1991 vol 529 cc1283-5

11.27 a.m.

Lord Mellish asked Her Majesty's Government:

What further action they are proposing to take to prevent Saddam Hussein continuing to exercise a destabilising influence in the Gulf region and to persuade the Iraqis that he is not the "saviour of his people".

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, we are vigorously supporting measures set out in Security Council resolutions, including the elimination of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, a general arms embargo and sanctions, to prevent Saddam Hussein destabilising the region in any way. Recent events have shown the Iraqi people that he is not their saviour.

Lord Mellish

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that obvious Foreign Office reply. Is he aware that the British public and most Members of this House are amazed at the situation? Saddam Hussein is supposed to have lost the Gulf war and yet he has left behind a Kuwait which is still burning. Millions of pounds have been spent and thousands of lives have been lost. Since the Gulf war he has tried to destroy the Kurds and has killed thousands of them. Local papers suggest that he is now turning his attentions to southern Iraq and is intending to cause damage there. Is the Minister telling the House that there is nothing to be done save compliance with a United Nations' resolution. What are we going to do about it?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the noble Lord based his original comment on a misapprehension; namely, the reason for the Gulf war. Our aim was never to get rid of Saddam Hussein but, as we made clear at the time, to bring about the liberation of Kuwait. It is true that we should welcome the establishment of a democratic government in Iraq who respect the rights of all people.

I believe that the sanctions on Iraq are underestimated by the noble Lord, Lord Mellish. With regard to Security Council Resolution No. 687, that instructs the Security Council to review sanctions in the light of the policies and practices of the Government of Iraq. Clearly the Government of Iraq have not, by any stretch of the imagination, met the required standards and, therefore, sanctions will not be lifted.

Lord Granville of Eye

My Lords, in view of our long experience—over 90 years—concerning the security of the Gulf, are we being fully consulted by the United States on the next steps to be taken?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, certainly, as are the other countries in Europe, like France, which also took an active part. That is one of the benefits of the increased co-operation and close liaison that is taking place.

Baroness Strange

My Lords, in view of today's reports and the continued presence of nuclear components in Iraq, will Her Majesty's Government put pressure on the United Nations to ensure that they are found and removed?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the United Nations is aware of its obligation regarding weapons of mass destruction. I also heard the report; it has been carefully noted and investigations will be made.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, perhaps I could draw attention to the clock which should read "25" rather than "18". We have spent rather a long time on the first three Questions.

Can the Minister say whether or not there is any truth in the rumour that the Iraqis are massing forces to attack the Shia minority in the South?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, neither we nor the UN representatives in southern Iraq have any evidence to substantiate reports of a major Iraqi offensive against the Shias.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, when I was in the border area of Iraq and Iran 10 days ago the people in the Shia refugee camps believed that their friends and relatives remaining in the south of Iraq were greatly threatened by Saddam Hussein. Will the Government give an assurance to the Kurds who are returning to the safe haven that we will not withdraw our forces from that area unless and until we are convinced that they are genuinely in a safe haven?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I understand that people in the south of Iraq may feel that their relatives in the area are greatly threatened. That is why we are closely monitoring the situation. We have underlined to the Iraqis our anxiety concerning not only what they could potentially be doing in that area, but also in respect of all the population of Iraq. As regards the question of the removal of troops, great credit is due to my right honourable friend the Prime Minister for the success of his initiative. The safety of the Kurds is something that we shall certainly take into account when we finalise our thoughts on the matter.

Lord Monson

My Lords, can the noble Earl say what information Her Majesty's Government have regarding the fate of the 3,000 Kuwaiti civilians who were abducted by the Iraqis at the beginning of the war soon after their invasion and who have not yet been returned to Kuwait? Are they still alive or have they all been murdered?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I regret to say that I do not have the answer to that question.

Lord Mellish

My Lords, is the Minister aware that he has frequently referred to Kuwait? However, some of us are completely bewildered. He has left behind a nation—Kuwait—in which 600 fires are burning, thousands of lives have been lost and we have just heard of a further 3,000 people unaccounted for. The Minister has said nothing in that regard except that the question is not on the Order Paper. The Minister must know something about it.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I am always unhappy when I cannot answer a question in your Lordships' House. I do not have the answer to that specific question. We have great concern for Kuwait and that is the reason we launched the offensive to drive out Saddam Hussein. I know that was welcomed by the noble Lord, Lord Mellish, although not by some noble Lords on his Benches. We continue to take an interest in improving the environment for those living in Kuwait and helping to put out the fires.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Waddington)

My Lords, we must move on and take the hint given to us by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel. I do not know how long Question Time has taken because the clock is behaving erratically. However, it has been far longer than it should have been.