HL Deb 21 March 1991 vol 527 cc722-3

3.10 p.m.

Lord Jenkins of Putney asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether there were any kidnapped Kuwaitis, Palestinian civilians or immigrant workers from the Indian sub-continent in the convoy of vehicles attacked by allied ground and air forces on the road to Basra during 26th-27th February.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (The Earl of Arran)

My Lords, allied forces had instructions to attack retreating units which could continue to pose a threat. We have no information on casualties sustained in attacks on the Basra road.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the situation is surprising because an earlier statement has been made about the attacks? Can he say whether before the attack was launched intelligence forces gave any information to our commanders in the field that what was being proposed was not so much an act of warfare but more an act of mass slaughter?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, this was certainly not an act of mass slaughter. Fighting was in progress throughout the area at the time. The troops were attacked just outside Kuwait City and south of Iraqi defensive positions in the Matla Ridge area.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, is not the true master of mass slaughter Saddam Hussein?

The Earl of Arran

Without doubt, my Lords.

Lord Mellish

My Lords, is the Minister aware that some Members of this House would find it incredible if allied bomber pilots were kind enough to land and say, "Tell us where you come from before we bomb you "?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I am not certain of the noble Lord's question. The coalition made it clear that it would not attack unarmed Iraqi soldiers. The battle was continuing and retreating units continued to pose a threat.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, a number of Ministers, including the noble Earl, assured the House before the event took place that retreating Iraqi forces would not be attacked if they were retreating from Kuwait. How does he square that statement with the operation that took place, because according to all reports not only were a large number of unarmed Iraqi soldiers included but also a large number of civilians of various nationalities?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, it is reported that a few civilians were on the road at the time. However, I must make it clear that while the troops were retreating they were able to stop at any time, reform and still pose a threat to the coalition forces, which included our own armed forces.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, does the Minister agree that all the difficulties about which we have heard this afternoon were caused by the brutal invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein? Is it not a bit thick that some of our soldiers who were killed or wounded have not been particularly honoured for their work while others who were wounded because of the invasion of Kuwait have taken priority over British and American forces who fought so gallantly in the war?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, the perpetration and the horror of the campaign was due to one man; that was the evil ruler of Iraq, Saddam Hussein.

Lord Monson

My Lords, does the Minister agree that, unhappily, many French civilians, and to a lesser extent Belgian, Dutch and Danish civilians, were accidentally killed by the allies in the course of liberating their countries from Nazi occupation? Is that not the sad price that one must pay for defeating an aggressive dictatorship?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, there is some truth in that, but the question is far removed from that on the Order Paper.