HL Deb 19 March 1991 vol 527 cc517-9

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether all coalition prisoners of war and Kuwaiti hostages held by Iraq have been released.

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

My Lords, we are not in a position to speak for other coalition governments. Several thousand Kuwaitis are still detained, but all United Kingdom personnel have now been accounted for.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Can he give any indication as to when coalition, as opposed to British, servicemen and women will be accounted for? As regards Kuwaitis, will the Government and the coalition continue to hold senior Iraqi prisoners until the International Committee of the Red Cross has completed thorough investigations?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, to reply to my noble friend's first question, I do not know when that will be. Regarding his second question, we do not believe that prisoners of war should be used as bargaining chips. We have a unilateral obligation under the third Geneva Convention to repatriate Iraqi prisoners of war without delay.

Lord Mellish

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that I, like many in this country, am absolutely delighted that we have wiped the floor with Iraq and all it stands for? However, will the Government make a statement about why a wretched man like Saddam Hussein, who is the biggest liar in the world, is allowed to continue in office, to prattle on in the way that he does and to continue to do whatever he is doing to Kuwaiti prisoners? What do the Government propose to do about him?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, that is up to the Iraqi people.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, is there not a very strong case for setting up a United Nations inquiry into the violation of human rights in Kuwait in particular? Furthermore, can the noble Earl say whether Her Majesty's Government have received the report by Amnesty International into the position of Palestinians and other Arab nationals in Kuwait and the allegations that are being made of arrests and torture of those Palestinians? Can he say what is the reaction of Her Majesty's Government to those allegations?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I take note of the noble Lord's first point. With regard to the treatment of people in Kuwait, and in particular the returnees, we understand the Kuwaiti authorities' determination to restore law and order and central services as a first step and also their wish to screen all returnees carefully. However, we have reminded them of the international declaration on human rights which states that everyone has the right to return to his own country.

Viscount Mountgarret

My Lords, if I heard my noble friend aright, he said that all British personnel have been accounted for. Would it be appropriate to ask my noble friend to pass the good wishes and thanks of your Lordships' House to those who have managed to keep track of our personnel in these difficult times? It must have been a mammoth task. Does my noble friend agree that they ought to be congratulated?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend. I shall pass on his remarks to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, to follow up the important point made by my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition, would it not also be possible for the United Nations to examine precisely what is going on now in Iraq bearing in mind that the overwhelming majority of people in Iraq have no more time for Saddam Hussein than most of us in this House?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the noble Lord has a point. The difficulty is getting access to places where one is not welcome.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, does the noble Earl agree that it is most unsatisfactory that we should not know how many hostages and prisoners of war of the coalition are held and how many have been released? What form of pressure is being applied? Is action being taken jointly or separately by individual countries?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, each coalition partner has made its own representations to the Iraqis. I cannot speak for other coalition partners.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, bearing in mind that Saddam Hussein has broken every undertaking that he has given, what gives the Government any optimism that he will carry out the undertakings in the ceasefire agreement? If Saddam Hussein does not do so and continues to behave as at present, how do the Government propose to deal with the problem? It is clear that they are dealing with a man who only understands force.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the noble Lord has raised an interesting question. However, it is wide of that on the Order Paper.

Lord Elton

My Lords, my noble friend suggests that members of the coalition are pursuing their nationals' interests individually. Can he assure the House that the coalition will act in concert until all its objectives have been secured, including the repatriation of all who have been taken prisoner or otherwise abducted from their homelands?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I can reassure my noble friend that the coalition is strong and firm.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, can the noble Earl say what will happen in the case of the Iraqi prisoners of war who do not wish to return to Iraq?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, that will be a matter for the appropriate authorities, and the ICRC in particular.

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