HL Deb 17 October 1994 vol 558 cc25-33

4.2 p.m.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement on Iraq-Kuwait which is being made in another place by my right honourable friend Mr. Douglas Hogg, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs. The Statement is as follows:

"With permission Madam Speaker, I would like to make a Statement about the situation in the Gulf. I apologise for the absence of my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary. He is accompanying Her Majesty the Queen on her state visit to Russia.

"Over the past two weeks we have once again witnessed a serious threat by Saddam Hussein to the state of Kuwait and the stability of the Gulf. On 7th October numerous Iraqi troops, including two divisions of the Republican Guards, began to move towards the Iraqi border with Kuwait. At the same time the Iraqi Revolutionary Command Council and other Iraqi Ministers made a number of threatening statements against Kuwait and the United Nations inspection teams.

"In response to a request from the Kuwaitis made on 7th October under the terms of our bilateral defence co-operation arrangement, HMS "Cornwall" arrived in Kuwaiti waters on 9th October. HMS "Cardiff has now joined her. Six Tornado aircraft have been deployed; these are in addition to the six previously in the region and engaged in patrolling the no-fly zone over southern Iraq. Her Majesty's Government have despatched the Spearhead battalion to Kuwait. The total number of UK troops on the ground in Kuwait now numbers over 800, building up to over 1,000 by the end of this week. Over 2,000 personnel will be deployed to the Gulf area.

"In the face of the vigorous action taken by Kuwait's allies, the Iraqis are withdrawing their troops. However, it is too soon to say that the threat has completely subsided. Iraqi troops must return to the positions they held before the start of the present crisis.

"As the House knows, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary visited the region from 11th to 14th October. He and the US Secretary of State met the Foreign Ministers of the Gulf Co-operation Council in Kuwait. There was general condemnation of Iraq's latest actions and agreement on the need to prevent a repetition. There was also widespread concern for the continued suffering of the Iraqi people at the hands of their government. We share that concern. The Iraqi Government has rejected the United Nations offer to allow limited oil exports in return for humanitarian aid. The immediate implementation of UN Security Council Resolutions 706 and 712 would bring huge humanitarian benefit to the Iraqi people.

"In order that sanctions can be lifted, Iraq must comply with all relevant UN resolutions, including the unambiguous recognition of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Kuwait and an end to the repression of its civilian population.

"The Iraqis must not again pose a threat of this kind. We therefore welcome the unanimous adoption on 15th October of United Nations Security Council Resolution 949 condemning Iraqi actions on the Kuwaiti border, demanding the immediate withdrawal of troops recently deployed near the border, and further demanding that Iraq does not use again its forces to threaten neighbours or United Nations personnel. This is an important first step. The Iraqi regime must understand that the international community has both the authority and the will to defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Kuwait".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

4.7 p.m.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. On these Benches we welcome the decision reached in the Security Council on Saturday evening and support Resolution 949 of the Security Council which requires Iraq to pull back from the zone close to the Kuwait border.

However, what is not entirely clear from the Statement is whether that means all Iraqi troops or just the Republican Guards, the elite forces, as was reported in some newspapers. For those of us who have been unable to obtain a copy of the UN resolution, can the Minister clarify the position? Under the resolution, will any Iraqi troops be able to be deployed near the Kuwait border or none?

In the Statement the Minister said that the Iraqis were withdrawing their troops. Can she give a little more information about their current positions? How many troops have now returned to positions held before the start of the present crisis? How many are still in a position which poses a threat to Kuwait?

Turning to the position of the United Kingdom troops, I repeat the Question put by my noble friend last week in a PNQ. Under whose command and control will they be? Is it to be a NATO command structure? In her reply last week the Minister said that the matter was being discussed in Kuwait at that time. Presumably she can now give the House the answer.

Can the Minister also indicate what action is being taken to eliminate the need to keep British troops in Kuwait on a long-term basis? We support the move to take action to deter Saddam Hussein from aggressive action against Kuwait; but we would find it helpful to know what further diplomatic pressures are being exerted on Iraq to recognise the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Kuwait. For example, could the Minister report on the latest initiatives of the Russian Government in that respect?

No mention is made in the Statement of what will be the position of the UK Government should there be a need for military action against Saddam Hussein. Is it not vital that in such a case there should be a further United Nations resolution? The French and Russian Governments appear to share that view, believing that there should be no pre-emptive strike without a further resolution. The American Government appear to take a different line. Can the Minister tell the House what the Government's position is?

Perhaps I may make our position on these Benches clear on the subject of sanctions. We support provisions which will allow Saddam Hussein to sell limited amounts of oil in exchange for humanitarian aid. The suffering of the Iraqi people is of Saddam Hussein's own making, not that of the United Nations or of members of NATO. There seems to be some misunderstanding about that in the British press and perhaps the Government can do a little more to try to clear that up.

I make it absolutely clear that we support the Statement's position in relation to sanctions. They should be lifted only when Saddam Hussein complies with all the relevant United Nations resolutions, including the unambiguous recognition of Kuwait's sovereignty. We regret only that the Government saw fit to allow the selling of arms to Saddam Hussein and hope that they may have learnt some lessons from that. With respect to the immediate action being taken, we support the Government in the position as set out in the Statement.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, we from these Benches also thank the Minister for repeating the Statement, which is no doubt issued today due to the fact that the Commons have just returned from an extended Recess. Nevertheless, it gives us the opportunity to have a slight update on the position and for that we are grateful.

In general I have nothing to add to or detract from what was said by my noble friend Lord Thomson of Monifieth at the time of the Private Notice Question last week. I shall therefore confine myself to the additional information contained in the Statement. My questions revolve around the adoption of Council Resolution 949 and the negotiations that took place around that time. I believe that we should go on record—I am sure it will be welcomed on all sides of the House—in commending the excellent job done by Sir David Hannay in the Security Council. He was present during the difficult time when it appeared at one stage as though the alliance was going to start fraying at the edges; when the Russians in particular seemed to be straying from the straight and narrow. Great credit is due to him and his staff for getting the show back on the road.

I concur with what the noble Baroness said in relation to misunderstandings in the British press regarding the ability of Saddam Hussein to obtain humanitarian aid in connection with sales of oil. It is important that that should be stated more clearly, not only in the British press but also to ensure that the press in the Arab world understands what the position is. The danger of misunderstanding among Arab countries in the Middle East is extremely serious. We must remember that at some stage in the future, when Saddam Hussein moves off the scene, we hope to be able to resume our good relations with the people of Iraq with whom this country had a close association for many years. Unfortunately at the moment it appears as though we in the West are deliberately targeting our attacks on the people of Iraq when, as we know, that is far from the truth. However, that is not always apparent in the Middle East.

The difficult situation has been met with determination, patience and some very good thinking on the part of the British Government and the Security Council, and that is to be welcomed.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness and the noble Lord for their comments. Let me try to respond to their questions as quickly as possible. I will furnish the noble Baroness with a copy of the resolution after our discussion this afternoon, but let me say this. In the key part of the resolution, which comes under Chapter VII of the Charter of the UN, the Security Council condemns the recent military deployments by Iraq. Secondly, it demands that Iraq immediately complete the withdrawal of all military units recently deployed to southern Iraq to their original positions; it demands that Iraq does not again utilise its military or any other forces in a military or provocative manner to threaten either its neighbours or United Nations operations in Iraq; it demands that Iraq should not redeploy to the south the units I referred to in the second point or take any other action to enhance its military capacity in Southern Iraq; it further demands that Iraq co-operates fully with the United Nations Special Commission; and, finally, it decides to remain actively seized of the matter. I hope that that clarifies Resolution 949. It also answers the point made by the noble Baroness in regard to Iraqi troops returning to their former positions.

In relation to the position of the Russian Government, I understand from the Statement that was issued after the visit of Foreign Minister Kozyrev to Baghdad on 13th October that the Russians will support a fixed probationary period for the operation of long-term monitoring after Iraq officially recognises the sovereignty of Kuwait and its borders. I understand further that Mr. Kozyrev is addressing the Security Council this afternoon in New York and we shall know more about their position following that speech. We understand that Russia believes six months is an adequate time for verifying the Iraqi intentions. It agrees that the situation must be reviewed. But we should be a little wary of predetermining the length of the probationary period for that ties up our own troops and those of America, France and the Gulf states if we have to wait six months to see whether Iraq complies.

The noble Baroness asked what our forces were doing. I can say that they have taken up positions which will contribute to the defence of Kuwait, if that were necessary, and they continue to exercise with Kuwaiti and American forces. They will remain in the Gulf for as long as they are required to underpin regional security. The UK forces will remain under national command at all times but, as in the Gulf war, the units may be placed under the control of US commanders for day-to-day tasks as the situation requires. I do not see any insuperable problems with that as we have been through all that before.

The noble Baroness further asked, as did the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, that the Government make quite clear not only to the British press, but also to the press across the world, that we expect full compliance with all the relevant UN Security Council resolutions. She agreed that what has happened in relation to the Iraqi people is entirely the responsibility of Saddam Hussein himself. As I said when responding last week to the PNQ, Saddam Hussein rejected two United Nations offers to allow limited oil exports in return for humanitarian aid. One was the 706/712 mechanism and the other was the flushing out of the Iraq-Turkey pipeline which Turkey desires but which Saddam Hussein refused to do. Either of those options would have brought huge humanitarian benefit to the Iraqi people. I agree with the noble Baroness and the noble Lord and I can say that we have attempted to make these matters quite clear to the press. But, as she will be aware, it is not always the facts of a situation that are printed.

Perhaps I may say further that diplomatic pressures continue. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, for his comments in relation to the British Ambassador to the United Nations, Sir David Hannay. Throughout the time that he has been in New York he has been coping with elements of the Gulf situation in a most forthright but understanding and effective way. We do indeed owe him a real debt.

There is much to be done to ensure that the people of Iraq obtain the help that they need. We shall continue to support the efforts of the United Nations and non-governmental organisations which are allowed to operate in Iraq. But the plight of the Iraqi people can be rectified only when Saddam Hussein accepts Resolution 706/712 and all the other resolutions.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for the way in which she has answered the questions. However, she has not answered one particularly important question regarding the British Government's position with respect to the need for a further UN resolution should military action be required against Iraq.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I apologise to the noble Baroness and to the House. I believe that another resolution may be needed but no decision has been taken. Certainly, if it clarified the situation in some way that was necessary, we would have no objection to that. But the most important point is that at this moment we do not believe a further resolution is needed. Should that become necessary I am sure it will happen forthwith.

4.20 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, is it not a fact that while the present emergency has been successfully overcome—and Her Majesty's Government have been very helpful in so doing—the situation will remain dangerous as long as Saddam Hussein is there?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I could not agree more with my noble friend in his comment. The Iraqi National Congress has been making efforts to form a united representative opposition to Saddam's regime. We cannot decide the future for the Iraqis but we certainly can make sure that we remain in contact with them and help them to try to assert their democratic rights.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, will the noble Baroness confirm that the relevant UN resolutions include those requiring the Iraqi Government to lift their blockade of the Kurdish regions and to stop attacking and persecuting the Marsh Arabs?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, the answer is yes in both cases.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, will the Government point out to the Russians that, if a time limit is imposed, as they have suggested, of, say, six months after the compliance of Iraq with the resolutions and the acceptance of the frontiers, that will make life very easy for Saddam Hussein because all he will have to do is wait until the six months expire and the troops have all gone home and then renew the threat again?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, on that point I agree with the noble Lord.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, one point arising out of the Statement bothers me a little. It calls for a further resolution before any steps are taken under certain circumstances. We know that getting such a resolution often takes a lot of time. If things happen which mean that that delay could be dangerous, I would not like to feel that we are committed under all circumstances to getting another resolution before we can act.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I did not intend to imply to the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, in answering her question that we had to have a further resolution. We believe that we could take action at the present time under the previous resolutions and Resolution No. 949. But there may be a change in the situation and therefore the noble Baroness was quite right to mention that. That might be necessary. However, I can assure my noble friend that, with Sir David Hannay at the helm in New York, I have no doubt that we will be all too well prepared should the need arise.

Lord Craig of Radley

My Lords, can the noble Baroness give an indication of what steps the Gulf Co-operation Council has been taking to help Kuwait, whether in deployment or financially, and whether there will be any assistance with the additional costs which Her Majesty's Government will bear on deploying the forces to the theatre?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I know that the Gulf Co-operation Council has already agreed on burden sharing in principle. It is still working on the details since the meeting which was attended by the Foreign Secretary on Wednesday of last week. The total cost has yet to be quantified but I may say that our troops are receiving generous support from the host nation. Recalling the generous contribution made by our Gulf friends in 1991, I am quite sure that they would do no less on this occasion. There are still matters to be worked out but there has been no reluctance whatsoever on the part of the Gulf Co-operation Council to support what the Americans, ourselves and others are prepared to do in defence of Kuwait.

Lord Monkswell

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her Statement which raises some interesting points. I should like some clarification on one point particularly and would ask her to comment on another one as well. Last week we were concerned to hear on the Private Notice Question that no command and control mechanisms were at that time in place. This afternoon we are informed that less than half of the spearhead battalion has arrived in theatre 10 days after the initial request from Kuwait. What is the explanation for that apparent tardiness? Why did it take a spearhead battalion—presumably a rapid reaction battalion—10 days to get less than half its men to the theatre of action, bearing in mind that in 10 days at an average of 10 miles per hour a tank force could progress 2,500 miles, which, far less Kuwait, would take it well into Saudi Arabia? My second point was not mentioned in the Statement but it has been reported in the press that the United Nations resolutions under which sanctions are imposed on Iraq have been complied with by the Iraqi regime and therefore the legitimate basis for sanctions no longer pertains. Given that it has been reported in the press, I am sure we would all welcome the Minister's comments on that report.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I find the noble Lord's questions somewhat surprising. I made it quite clear this afternoon that we had agreed last week that UK forces would remain under national command at all times but that they might, as in the Gulf war, be placed for certain duties at certain times under US command. The noble Lord went on to criticise what he thought was the tardiness of the deployment of the UK forces. It is perfectly true that there are nearly 1,000 spearhead troops—ground troops—in position but he may remember that when I answered the PNQ last week I told him that within 48 hours of the request from Kuwait we had already deployed HMS "Cornwall" and HMS "Cardiff was already under way at that moment and in fact had arrived almost before I had finished answering the PNQ. Given that there are some 30,000 United States troops being deployed in the region, our men are getting there with the equipment they need. And of course there are the 12 Tornados and other support aircraft. So there was certainly no tardiness in the deployment of the UK forces.

The noble Lord asked about United Nations sanctions. Iraq has not complied with the UN sanctions. Saddam Hussein continues to have an abysmal record on all these matters. We have made that clear time and again, as I did in answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, and the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, earlier this afternoon. Let there be absolutely no doubt. It is Saddam Hussein who will not comply with the United Nations resolutions. Sanctions will not be lifted until the Iraqi regime ends its repression against its own people in line with Resolution No. 688 as well as its aggressive action against Kuwait.

Viscount Mountgarret

My Lords, I wish to ask my noble friend two questions. Does she not agree that regrettably the pigeons seem to have come home to roost in as much as this horrible man has held the allies to ransom? He can take whatever action he seems to want to take, at any time, and thereby cause considerable inconvenience to the West. Does she not agree that had the policy of hot pursuit been permitted to General Schwarzkopf at the time when he had this tyrant on the run we would not be in this position today? On the surrender of Iraq, General Schwarzkopf accepted the signature of surrender from some underlings of this man rather than from Saddam himself. If we had insisted on doing that at least he might have been taken into custody and made to answer for the revolting war crimes which he is believed to have perpetrated. May we be reassured that, if by any chance we have to face or enter into hostilities again with this rotten man, these principles will be remembered and perhaps put into effect?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I am mindful of what my noble friend says. However, in these situations it is extremely easy to have what I term 20-20 hindsight. At the time there is no doubt that those who were in command of the situation believed that it would not have been right to have pursued Saddam Hussein to Baghdad, because that is what would have been involved. I know that there would have been a very different situation in this country had we, the Americans, the French and others suffered substantial casualties, which undoubtedly would have been the result of trying to get to Saddam Hussein who remains to this day so completely protected by the revolutionary guard that it would be a very major task indeed. I believe that my noble friend underestimates just what that task is. I note what he said about Saddam Hussein's signature, but I was not privy as to why General Schwarzkopf took somebody else's signature. I shall try to find out and let my noble friend know.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford

My Lords, perhaps for a minute I may introduce a slightly discordant note into these exchanges. There is no good reason why the noble Baroness should remember that I was one of few Members in another place who was very doubtful about the action that was taken at the time of the Kuwait-Iraq conflict. Is there not the danger at the present time that we are about to become involved in a tragic farce? There is absolutely no possibility, as Sir Peter De La Billière said, of Saddam Hussein obeying any United Nation's resolution. Can the noble Baroness picture a situation where Saddam Hussein withdraws his troops to their original bases, we bring home our troops and the French and Americans go home, and Saddam Hussein moves forward again? The situation will continue like that unless there is a different approach to this problem.

I have admiration and respect for the noble Baroness, but we cannot go on saying that the death of children through a lack of medicine—while we know that that is the responsibility of Saddam Hussein because of his actions—can be excused by merely saying that it is Saddam Hussein's fault. We must really have another look at this question to see whether there is some diplomatic method through which this matter can be solved.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, given that the noble Lord has been obviously doubtful about the action taken by the allies for as long as three-and-a-half years now, I am anxious that I should learn from him what his possible solution is since nobody—I believe that I speak for all sides of the House in saying this—has come up with any better solution than that deployed by the allies. So I invite him to come and tell me quietly and privately what his ideas are and if they are feasible we shall look at them.

As regards the noble Lord's last point, it is ridiculous to talk about the West being responsible in any way for the state of the children of Iraq. The United Kingdom alone has contributed over £66 million to the United Nation's aid programme. I have just set aside another £10 million this year for drugs and help to those who are most vulnerable. However much the outside world gives, there is no way that all the people who need help will get it when Saddam Hussein himself has been spending Iraq's foreign currency on military procurement, ostentatious construction projects and luxury items for his entourage. That is a sure sign of the blatant disregard which he has for the ordinary people of Iraq, whatever we may do.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, perhaps I may ask one further question of the noble Baroness since the Back Benchers seem to have had their turn. I read a report today saying that there has been the transportation of chemical and biological weapons to those areas where troops are presently deployed in Basra and Nasiriyah. This report comes from a source which is not necessarily reliable; namely, the Supreme Council for Islamic Resistance in Iraq which is based in Tehran. But since this rumour is floating about, it should either be killed or something should be done about it.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I too have seen the report, but I know no more. I can only say that we shall look into it. If there is anything that I have to tell the noble Lord I shall write to him.