HL Deb 03 April 2003 vol 646 cc1461-74

3.31 p.m.

Lord Bach

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made earlier today in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence. The Statement is as follows:

"I would like to make a further Statement about military action in Iraq. We are now two weeks into the campaign. The coalition continues to make remarkable progress, following the main outlines of our military plan.

"Since my last Statement on 26th March, coalition forces have been establishing a presence in northern Iraq and moving ever closer to Baghdad. Another important phase has been reached as the first troops engage Saddam's Republican Guard divisions on the approaches to the city. At the same time, British forces are consolidating their position in the area in and around Basra.

"I want to repeat the warning I made in my first Statement to this House some two weeks ago. Do not underestimate the task that still faces our forces, or the length of time that it may take to complete. We are still very much in the second phase of the steady progress that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has set out.

"On behalf of the Government, I want to extend our condolences to the families and friends of those servicemen who have lost their lives in recent days. I would like to mention as well those who have been injured, some seriously, since the start of military operations, either in combat or through the usual course of their duties. Thirty-nine UK battle casualties are currently being treated in theatre and 35 have been evacuated. I know that the House will join me in sending our very best wishes for their speedy recovery.

"In this conflict, we have been accused by commentators of underestimating the resistance of the Iraqi regime. We always knew that the regime would fight—but what has shocked us, as democratic states observing the rule of law, is the extent of the Iraqi regime's capacity for brutality and the killing of its own people. Every aspect of what we do is rightly and understandably held up for public scrutiny. In contrast, Saddam Hussein's murderous thugs go about their brutal work out of sight of the media.

"There are those who have been surprised by the caution with which the Iraqi people have greeted coalition forces. But that should not be surprising. This is a regime that has deployed every horror in maintaining its stranglehold on power—torture, rape and execution. In recent days, our forces on the ground around Basra have been appalled by the actions of the regime's thugs as they struggle to maintain their grip on the city.

"On 25th March, there were disturbances in Basra which irregular regime forces suppressed with mortar fire against their own people. On 28th March, when between 1,000 and 2,000 people were preparing to leave Basra, regime militia opened fire with heavy machine gun and mortar fire. Since then irregulars have been routinely firing on civilians in the south-east of Basra. This is the kind of brutal suppression that has been going on inside Iraq for very many years.

"Despite its protestations to the contrary, the Iraqi regime shows no greater respect for the country's cultural wealth than it does for its people. The coalition is taking every precaution to avoid damage to the holy sites in An Najaf and Karbala. By contrast, we know that Saddam Hussein has plans to damage these sites and to blame the coalition. Indeed, his forces have used the site at An Najaf as a defensive position, firing on US forces, who commendably did not return fire.

"The steady advance of the coalition continues. Our strategic grip on Iraq is tightening. In the south, British forces continue to operate in the Al Faw peninsula, the southern oilfields and the Basra area. 7th Armoured Brigade is preventing Iraqi forces in Basra from hindering the main advance, while establishing corridors for the safe movement of civilians and humanitarian aid.

"We have been striking key regime targets in the area. These operations have included successful attacks from the air on the Ba'ath Party headquarters in Basra, and by 7th Armoured Brigade on the intelligence and militia headquarters in Basra and the local state security organisation headquarters in Al Zubayr, to the south of Basra.

"3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines engaged substantial Iraqi forces in the area of Abu Al Khasib in the south-east outskirts of Basra, capturing significant numbers of enemy forces, including senior Iraqi officers. This daring raid resulted in the death of one Royal Marine. There were in addition a number of casualties.

"On the night of 31st March, 16 Air Assault Brigade, with artillery and air support, engaged Iraqi forces, destroying an estimated 17 tanks and five artillery pieces, as well as other Iraqi vehicles and infantry positions.

"We are now focused on building the confidence of the local people. We will continue to patrol aggressively, striking hard at the regime and its militias. Key suburbs of Basra have now been taken. We will go further into the city at a time of our own choosing.

"Further north, elements of the United States' Army's Fifth Corps have now passed through Karbala and are moving towards Baghdad. US forces have been engaging with the Medina and Baghdad Republican Guard divisions, and have secured crossings over the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The lead elements of the US 3rd Infantry Division are now on the outskirts of Baghdad. Over 9,000 Iraqi prisoners of war have been taken by coalition forces.

"Royal Air Force aircraft have contributed to the close air support of these forces. They have also attacked Iraqi forces in the field, and have continued to degrade the regime's command and control facilities, and the combat capability of the security forces which support it.

"Coalition forces have taken the utmost care over the targeting of the air campaign. Every effort has been made to minimise the risk of any civilian casualties or damage to the civilian infrastructure. The House will be aware of the explosions in market districts of Baghdad on 26th and 28th March, and reports of significant numbers of fatalities and injuries. Neither of the marketplaces were targeted by the coalition and we continue to investigate how those tragic events might have occurred. We have long been familiar with the false claims of civilian casualties made by Saddam's regime, and it would be foolish to accept these claims at face value without proper investigation. What we do know is that the air defence commander in Baghdad has been replaced, partly because of his concerns that Iraqi surface-to-air missiles had been malfunctioning, failing to hit their targets and falling back on Baghdad.

"Offensive operations are, however, only one part of the picture. The expertise and flexibility of our forces are essential to the battle to win the confidence of the Iraqi people. The Iraqi people have been terrified. Over half the population of Iraq has only known life under Saddam Hussein and his apparatus of fear. The older generation has an appreciation of his cruelty that is borne out by bitter personal experience. That is why it is so important that in a number of areas where UK forces are operating, there is a growing sense of return to normal life. Some people are going back to work. The United Nations has now declared Umm Qasr a `permissive environment'—allowing UN agencies to begin their work there.

"Essential services such as water and electricity are being restored and even improved, due in part to the skill of the Royal Engineers and the International Committee of the Red Cross. The Umm Qasr water treatment plant, which can treat up to 3 million litres a day, is now operational. In addition, the water pipeline constructed by UK forces from Kuwait to Umm Qasr is complete, delivering up to 2 million litres of drinking water daily—enough for 160,000 people per day—and providing vital temporary relief.

"Schools and markets are being re-opened. 7th Armoured Brigade has removed Ba'ath Party thugs from the Al Zubayr medical centre—where treatment was previously available only to those close to the regime—to enable access for ordinary Iraqis. Humanitarian aid is being distributed. The security situation in a growing number of areas is such that troops are patrolling on foot rather than in armoured cars, and have in some cases been able to exchange their combat helmets for berets. The UK Armed Forces are putting the full range of their expertise and experience to use, with striking effect.

"The Royal Marines have disabled the last remnants of the Iraqi navy, and the port of Umm Qasr is under coalition control and being opened to shipping. Royal Navy mine countermeasures vessels continue operations to expand the navigable width of the Khawr Abd' Allah channel. They have discovered 105 mines so far—11 laid in the water, and a total of 94 intercepted on Iraqi tugs and patrol boats.

"Those operations are crucial to the humanitarian operation, bringing vital supplies to the Iraqi people. On 28th March the Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessel 'Sir Galahad' unloaded its humanitarian cargo of around 300 tonnes of water, medical supplies, food and equipment for providing shelter. Water and perishable goods have already been distributed in the Umm Qasr area; other supplies are being stored until such time as they are required. Two Australian ships, each loaded with some 50,000 tonnes of grain, are expected in Umm Qasr shortly.

"The UN Oil for Food programme was reestablished by Security Council Resolution 1472 on 28th March, an important milestone for the people of Iraq. But it will take time to take effect. 1 (UK) Division therefore has authority to spend up to £30 million for special humanitarian purposes within the first month, and a further £10 million is available for 'quick impact' projects, such as restoring electricity and water supplies.

"After two weeks of military operations against the Iraqi regime, the coalition continues to make progress. Every day we are further weakening Saddam Hussein's control over Iraq, and moving another day closer to the end of his appalling regime and the liberation of the Iraqi people.

"We are engaged in an important and determined effort to convince the Iraqi people of our commitment to them—to their political security and their economic welfare. Above all, we must convince them of our commitment to see through what we have begun—to remove the regime that has terrified the Iraqi people and impoverished their nation for two decades. It will take time.

"We have made an excellent start, but there is still much more to achieve. Our servicemen and women will continue to brave difficulties and dangers in the process. I know that the House will join me in wishing them well".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.43 p.m.

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, the House will be extremely grateful to the noble Lord for repeating that very detailed and helpful Statement, which updated us and clarified matters on the campaign. Will he accept that we on these Benches totally associate ourselves with his remarks about the skill and courage of our troops? We look with pride at the way in which our soldiers and Armed Forces are conducting this very skilled and sensitive operation with such good humour, determination and willingness.

Of course, there have been casualties—admittedly few, but each is a tragedy. We therefore also echo the noble Lord's words of condolence and deepest sympathy. Above all, our hearts go out to those who are widowed and the parents of sons or daughters who will not be coming back. I also add a word of praise for the special forces. They are conducting incredibly dangerous operations, unseen and often unpraised. Nevertheless, they are offering their lives for the crucial purpose.

The Statement confirms what amazing progress has been made in the 13 days so far of the campaign. I believe that the first Gulf War lasted 43 days, and someone reminded me that even the German blitzkrieg of 1940 on Paris—the most famous and fastest Panzer advance of all time—took 44 days. Here we are after 13 days. 15 miles from Baghdad, with south and west Iraq more or less secured except for certain areas. That is frankly an amazing achievement.

The oil fields around Ramallah, or most of them, have been secured without destruction. Best of all, as the Minister indicated, there has been growing cooperation and I believe intelligence—it will be vital as we get into Baghdad—from Iraqi citizens. Are not the great pundits who advise us so freely and fully nearly always wrong? Many of them said that everything would be over in a week, and they were wrong about that. Now they have swung to the other extreme and are saying that we will have months of siege round Baghdad, but I suspect that they will be wrong about that too.

The only very mild point of disagreement that I have with the Statement is in the expression of shock about the brutality. Surely it is obvious that the Ba'ath Party is a Nazi-modelled regime, designed on Nazi lines with Nazi ideology by Michael Aflaq. There really should be no surprise at all that its members are behaving like Nazi fanatics—surrendering and then shooting, executing and strangling their own people to the last, ruling by ghastly torture and terror as the Minister mentioned, disguising as civilians, desecrating their own holy sites, and using every other device of people who have no future at all outside the regime and the party. If any of them survives, their future when Iraq settles down will be very terrible indeed.

What the Minister says about the post-conflict situation is encouraging. It must be obvious that everyone's aim is to return Iraq to the Iraqi people as soon as possible. Whether the transition is run by the coalition military, a United Nations authority or, as I suspect will be necessary, both, is not the aim to do everything possible to get Iraq—an ancient and proud nation—on its feet again as a wealthy and civilised country for the future? Meanwhile, will not the coalition military forces obviously be needed everywhere to safeguard the humanitarian workers and the skilled UN agency staff, whom I know long to get in but cannot do so as long as there is a danger of being shot at or attacked by pockets of resistance?

Is the Minister aware that we welcome the Government's adoption of the scheme proposed by my colleague Iain Duncan Smith for an early conference of political groupings to work out the next stage in Iraq's political development? If possible, that should be held on Iraqi soil. Without any complacency that the battle is over—it obviously is not—we should look further ahead from there and plan to help with social and educational reform. It is even proposed, and I think rightly, that we think about welcoming back Iraqi students into our own universities. There used to be a great many, and we should bring them back and enable them to see how the benefits of a freer and, one hopes, a democratic society work.

Although there are clearly many dangers ahead, and Arab passions may well be enflamed a hit further—they were enflamed before anyway—can we keep in mind the attainable vision of a benign and prosperous Iraq? Instead of pumping poison into the surrounding region, as it has done for the past 12 years, it should start to radiate peace and prosperity throughout the Arab world. It could do so, as it is basically a very wealthy and powerful nation. There may be many risks in what is happening in this campaign, but there are also many possibilities, and I suggest that we think a little more about those.

3.48 p.m.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, I also thank the Minister for the Statement. I am conscious that in the middle of a war there is one thing worse than armchair generals, which is armchair politicians, so I do not intend to comment on the details of the Statement or what is happening on the ground.

As noble Lords will recall, our party was not convinced of the case for war starting when it did. Now that it is under way, it is important that it is conducted successfully, quickly, according to the laws of war, and with proportionate and appropriate force. We are most impressed by the behaviour of British troops, particularly by what we have seen of the Black Watch and the Marines in the outskirts of Basra, in terms of the extent to which they have used the bitter experience that British forces have gained over 30 years in Northern Ireland. They have put that to good use in beginning to rebuild the confidence of the people of what is now occupied Iraq. We are also impressed by the restraint of American troops in respect of the extremely delicate issue of the holy places. We regret the number of British casualties and we understand the bitterness of the relations of those killed in accidents as well as in combat. We send our sympathies to those who have suffered.

I want to ask about the important issue of the conduct of the war. The Minister mentioned prisoners of war. It is important that prisoners of war are treated entirely appropriately, according to the laws of war and the Geneva Convention. A number of prisoners of war are being taken who are not currently wearing uniform and whose status is ambiguous. Questions have been raised in the British press and there have been reports that some of them may be handed over to the United States. Will the Minister assure us that prisoners of war who are taken by the British will remain under British control? If not, what justification is there for handing them over to the control of our allies?

We also ask about reports that air-launched cluster bombs have been used. A large number of questions have been raised about them. There is a 5 per cent failure rate which means that many unexploded bomblets are left in an area, even if British troops have given a commitment to clean them up afterwards. Two British soldiers were killed in Kosovo in the process of clearing up cluster bombs that had been used there. There are highly likely to be civilian casualities before the clear-up operation has taken place. Those weapons are to be used only under the most extreme circumstances against massive concentrations of Iraqi troops. I was not aware that we had yet met massive concentrations of Iraqi troops.

I turn to the whole question of weapons of mass destruction, which was, after all, the rationale for going to war. I read in an e-mail this morning a quotation from a senior American official who said that the most disastrous outcome of the war would be if we do not find any weapons of mass destruction. I fear that if it is only the Americans who find evidence of weapons of mass destruction a substantial proportion of the world—certainly of the Muslim world—will not be entirely convinced. Does the Minister accept that getting independent inspectors—preferably UN inspectors—alongside coalition forces to verify if and when weapons of mass destruction are found will enhance the credibility of what we are doing?

Winning the peace is clearly the most important element. We are happy to see the way in which British forces are already concerning themselves with that even while the war continues in terms of humanitarian assistance and nation-building. That will involve some co-operation with some people who have been serving the current regime because that is the way in which one has to operate when rebuilding an administration in what used to be called assistance to the civilian plan. That involves the whole question of the reestablishment of domestic order and self-government. As that operation proceeds with the restoration of local authority and some form of local administration in UK areas, will it be subject to US suzerainty or will it primarily be a British responsibility?

We welcome ideas which I know that the Foreign Secretary has been floating for consultation with other states in the region. If a peaceful Iraq is to be established in a peaceful region, the greater will be the confidence of Iraq's neighbours in what will be established. The greater the sense that they share the outcome, the better. Those are broader issues for postwar governance of Iraq and they go rather further than the terms of the defence Statement in the middle of the war.

3.54 p.m.

Lord Bach

My Lords, I thank both noble Lords very much indeed for their support, which will be much appreciated by British troops and their families in this country.

I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, for his points about the progress during the past fortnight. He also discussed the need to ensure that Iraqis became free and lived in a benign and prosperous state. I agree with every point that he made. He sought to disagree with us on one small aspect, which was, of course, our naivety in being shocked by the enormities of the Iraqi regime. I believe that he meant that chiding fairly gently. My goodness, we live in a society that has its own problems, unnecessary violence and difficulties. However, when compared with the Iraqi regime, we are for the most part perhaps too used to living a comfortable, ordinary life. It is still shocking to hear the tales that troops tell about what has happened to those in, for example, Basra who dared to rise up against the tyranny that has oppressed them for so long. I thank him very much for his comments.

The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, was equally supportive and I am grateful to him, too, for his comments. He asked specific questions about some fairly broad subjects. He will forgive me if I do not go into huge detail on any of them. I know that some time early next week we will be able to discuss in this House, if only briefly, the question of prisoners of war.

The coalition currently holds about 7,600 confirmed prisoners of war, of which the British forces hold 4,100. All those captured by British forces are being treated strictly in accordance with our obligations under the Geneva Conventions and international law, as he would expect. Some prisoners of war currently being held by British forces are in fact United States detainees and they will continue to be held until United States facilities are of a standard that the custody can be transferred. The numbers that we hold may drop in the next couple of weeks. Responsibility for the treatment of prisoners of war rests with the detaining power but the Geneva Conventions allow for transfer to the custody of another party. However, we will retain responsibility for their treatment. Captured Iraqis will be given prisoner of war status until proved otherwise and will be treated, as I said, according to the obligations that we know so well.

It is important to point out that cluster bombs are not in any sense illegal; they are allowed and serve a useful military purpose, which has nothing to do with civilians or confined areas. It has plenty to do with areas in which there are enemy vehicles spread out over an area where it is necessary to ensure that those vehicles cannot be used against us and that they are destroyed. We have used cluster bombs against legitimate military targets such as Iraqi armoured units in a manner—I emphasise this—that is consistent with our obligations tinder international law.

On weapons of mass destruction, we await to see what is found around the Baghdad area in particular. It is interesting that on 29th March United States marines discovered chemical suits, masks and nerve gas antidote in buildings in Nasiriyah that were clearly used by members of Iraq's 11th Infantry Division. I have actually been asked on the media whether that means that those soldiers were expecting a chemical/biological attack from coalition forces. Just to ask that question shows its absurdity. The United States and Britain are signed up to every convention forbidding our use of such weapons. Iraq, it goes without saying, is not. Those chemical suits, masks and nerve gas were to protect the Iraqi troops from their own government's actions.

Both noble Lords spoke movingly about casualties. Thankfully, as of now, they are not as high as might have occurred in previous wars; however, I say "as of now" because we never know what may occur. The bravery of those men who have died is well known to all of us. Reading today's newspapers, I thought that the mother of a member of the Armed Forces who died in that first terrible accident between Sea Kings spoke in an ordinary voice for all of us when she said, He was not just his mother's son, he was the country's son".

4 p.m.

Lord Elton

My Lords, first, I endorse everything said by my noble friend on this Front Bench and in particular pay tribute to the gallantry of our troops. Secondly, can the Minister comment on a report published yesterday which states that there has now been a refinement of cluster bombs enabling similar ordnance to be fired from howitzers? We are all agreed that the future peace and stability of Iraq is of the first importance politically and from a humanitarian point of view.

We are all aware of the public statement that up to 5 per cent of the bomblets in cluster with ordnance do not explode on impact. Can the Minister assure the House, therefore, that proper procedures are established at battery headquarters and at the forward observation post when this ordnance is used to record both the intended target and the actual fall of shot so that in the follow-up we can clear the ordnance from the ground and avoid the prospect of seeing one-legged children as witnessed in the wake of other campaigns where that sort of weapon has been used?

Lord Bach

My Lords, I cannot comment on the report mentioned by the noble Lord because I have not seen it, but I think I can give the assurance he seeks. Every time this particular weapon is used a very close record is kept of what it was that delivered the weapon and where it was so that every effort can be made to ensure that there are no accidents afterwards. War is a terrible thing and casualties occur in the worst possible situations. I cannot give the noble Lord a guarantee that it will never happen, but great care is taken by coalition forces when using that weapon and every other weapon.

The Lord Bishop of Oxford

My Lords, in thanking the Government for their helpful Statement, from these Benches we also express sympathy for those families who are grieving or who are concerned about members who are severely wounded. We express appreciation too for the very great care which British forces are taking.

Can the Minister say more about the post-military conflict government in Iraq? There is continuing worry about what form that government will take. As the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said, the purpose is to give Iraq back to the Iraqis. That cannot be said frequently enough or loudly enough but I think that the message has riot yet really got through. There is still great concern that the kind of government which comes about in the end might simply be the imposition of a western-style democracy, which is not natural to many countries. Iraq is a predominantly Islamic country. Would it be possible to bring into the councils of those who are planning a post-conflict settlement Islamic thinkers who are working towards an Islamic understanding of democracy and who are prepared to argue for a western-style democracy but using Islamic concepts and Islamic themes'' It seems to me that whatever form of government comes about in Iraq, it must have the confidence of the Iraqi people. That means that it must have the confidence of the best Islamic thinkers in this area.

Lord Bach

My Lords, I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for his comments. We do not disagree with anything he says. He will know that international discussions have taken place over a very long period of time, dating from well before the conflict began, about the form of any administration in post-conflict Iraq. Those discussions continue at the United Nations and between nations generally now. The rule we set ourselves is that we want to see the Iraqis ruled by the Iraqis. That is what matters. It fits in, I believe, with what the right reverend Prelate suggests. In the end, the exact form of government and democracy which emerges will be a matter for the Iraqi people to decide. I am sure it may very well be that his suggestion in relation to experts and holy men in Islam who may be able to advise will be taken on board. We want to see a phased transfer of authority leading to a new representative Iraqi government as soon as possible. The vital words are "as soon as possible". Let us make no mistake. When the conflict is over there will be a security issue that will last for some little time.

Lord Campbell-Savours

My Lords, is there not some merit in the case put by the Leader of the Opposition for a further conference in Iraq of representatives of the opposition following the one which took place in Salumaniya some five weeks ago? Instead of holding the next conference in Kurdistan, would it not be wise to hold it in what one hopes will be a liberated Basra in a couple of weeks? That would send precisely the right kind of signals to the rest of Iraq.

Lord Bach

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. The right honourable gentleman the Leader of the Opposition has put forward a very interesting idea; we are considering it with care. We have also to consider the security aspects. One thing is certain. Day by day we are getting closer to our objective, which is the freedom of the Iraqi people to decide their own future. The United Kingdom's vision for Iraq and the Iraqi people underlines our commitment to the restoration of a free Iraq, free from UN sanctions and from the tyranny we have discussed today. Certainly, we shall not let the Iraqi people down.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, following the proposal by the right reverend Prelate and the emphasis in the Statement on the care taken by our forces not to cause any damage to the holy places of Najaf and Karbala, will the Government consider having some embedded Shia imams travelling with our forces to verify the care taken in the holy places and the concern that we have for the local Shia population to demonstrate the commitment which the noble Lord mentioned in the Statement?

Lord Bach

My Lords, certainly we take on board the very interesting idea suggested by the noble Lord. However, we should not be in any doubt about the hypocrisy of the Iraqi regime in relation to holy sites. In 1991 Iraqi troops attacked and desecrated the shrine of Imam Ali and destroyed religious libraries in Najaf. They went further and shelled and desecrated Imam Hussein's shrine in Karbala. The shrine of Imam Abbas was also reported damaged. Indeed, it is believed that acts of murder, torture and rape were committed in religious buildings. It is important to make clear that we need to look to the Iraqi regime to behave itself, not to coalition troops.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, without any derogation from anything said by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford, with which I totally agree, I want to ask the Minister something more immediate. It is a question of prisoners of war, in which I declare an interest, and must do so, as president of the Colditz Association.

I do not want to make a long speech, but I have one or two queries and I want to ask a question. Are we agreed with our American allies as to the treatment of those who dress up as women who are not regular combatants and who are not generally recognised as having the protection of prisoners of war under the convention? What is the position of what used to be called the SOE agents in France? How are they to be treated? Perhaps they are now the SAS. Such matters require consideration. I raised them with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, some time ago. He said that those matters would be monitored. No doubt they have been. Will they be monitored now? Will some agreement be sought in this rather grey area.

Lord Bach

My Lords, I repeat what I said a few minutes ago that captured Iraqis will be given prisoner of war status until they are proved otherwise and they will be treated according to our obligations under the Geneva Conventions. Captured Iraqi forces are likely to be prisoners of war unless they conceal weapons in the conduct of operations, in which case, as the noble Lord will know, they are unlawful combatants. Although unlawful combatants do not have prisoner of war status, we would have a duty, under international humanitarian law, which we would fulfil, to treat prisoners in a reasonable and humane manner. I hope that that answers the noble Lord's question.

Lord Alton of Liverpool

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the courage and the conduct of our troops contrast not just with the cynicism of using holy places at Najaf and Karbala for purely cynical motives, but also with the cowardly way in which Saddam's militia have used civilians, including pregnant women and children, as human shields and with the way in which hospitals, including a maternity unit, have been used to house his military positions? Perhaps the Minister will return to a question that I put to him last week. What will we do about those who have been responsible for genocide and crimes against humanity during the previous 12 years and during the hostilities to bring them to justice and to account in due course? What mechanisms will be put in place to achieve that?

Lord Bach

My Lords, the noble Lord makes an excellent point. The contrasts between the coalition and the Iraqi regime are stark. He explains very well why they are so stark but they are stark in many other ways as well. The use of the Iraqi civilian population to hide Iraqi troops, including beaten troops, and in campaigns against the coalition is clear and there is much evidence of that. As regards those who may be guilty of the kind of crimes that he mentions, I repeat that we are absolutely determined, as are our other coalition partners, to bring such people to justice. We do not mean Iraqi soldiers who are forced at gun point to sacrifice their lives for the ridiculous tyranny; we mean those who are actually responsible for what is going on, the ones who hold the guns to their heads. We shall bring them to justice through the international system of justice that has now—thank goodness—been set up.

Lord Richard

My Lords, on the way in which the war has gone to date, it seems as though the British effort is being concentrated in the south and the American effort is being concentrated in the north. I do not know whether my noble friend can answer this question.

A noble Lord

My Lords, then why ask it?

Lord Richard

My Lords, I want to see whether he answers it, of course. What an extraordinary interruption! Do the Government intend that British troops should be used to any significant extent in the fighting for Baghdad? One hears much about the plan, which has had a fair amount of publicity. I hope that is a general question that does not go too far in the direction of disclosure, which my noble friend would not wish to do.

Lord Bach

My Lords, my noble friend asks an excellent question, but it is not one that I can answer—at any rate not today. I would point out that he is right to make a broad division between north and south. In part of the Statement that I read out, Royal Air Force aeroplanes have been very important in the advances that have been made in the middle and towards the north of Iraq. I do not think that we can say that the Brits are in the south and the Americans are in the centre and in the north. It is a coalition effort that is going pretty well.

Baroness Ludford

My Lords, can the Minister clarify the prisoner of war situation? He has been largely reassuring about the situation of British detainees, although he spoke of how they would be treated as prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions until proved otherwise. Under what mechanism would it be decided that such prisoners were not prisoners of war but unlawful combatants? What would happen to people who are classified as unlawful combatants? I do not believe that he has clarified what he understands the situation to be, and what assurances he has received from the United States about the status of their detainees. There have been worrying press comments about whether they intend to treat all their detainees as prisoners of war. We are all concerned about the precedent of Guantanamo Bay. as people there have been in a legal limbo for over 15 months, including a number of British citizens, without apparent protest or action by the British Government. One would not want people to go into the same kind of legal limbo without clue process of charge and trial or treatment as prisoners of war under the Geneva conventions. Can the Minister clarify what assurances there have been from the United States?

Lord Bach

My Lords, I cannot accept the premise of the noble Baroness that the situation at Guantanamo Bay is as she describes it. I understand that no one from Iraq is there at present, although I may be wrong about that. The US assure us—I have no reason to disbelieve them—that the detainees there are being treated humanely and in accordance with the principles of the Geneva Conventions—that is important. British officials have visited those prisoners on four occasions and found them to be in a "generally satisfactory condition". We are not prepared to accept that people held in Guantanamo Bay necessarily suffer lower standards than anywhere else.

On the first question posed by the noble Baroness, if and when we decide that people are not prisoners of war in the strict sense—I have already answered the question—we shall deal with them under basic humanitarian law.

Lord Burnham

My Lords, in the Statement the Secretary of State referred to regret that we were not seeing anything from the Iraqi side. Am I alone in being concerned about the position of the BBC who has its correspondent in the middle of Baghdad? Are we receiving fair reports from that correspondent?

Lord Bach

My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord is never alone in any opinion that he holds. I believe that his opinion may be shared around the House, although it is certainly not an opinion on which Her Majesty's Government can comment.

Lord Hardy of Wath

My Lords, can my noble friend say whether arrangements are in place to accommodate a huge increase in the number of people surrendering, which is possible and desirable? One would expect the number to be much larger than the number that he gave the House a little while ago.

Lord Bach

My Lords, all I can say is that we are ready for that eventuality. The British are particularly good at meeting such a situation. My noble friend may be right and we may meet that situation sooner rather than later.

Lord Eden of Winton

My Lords, is it praiseworthy that there is such effective co-ordination between British and American ground and air forces? As the war is now entering a particularly hazardous phase, can the noble Lord assure the House that sufficient strength is held in reserve to support our forces on the ground, in particular in the event that special forces on the Iraqi side are concealed in bunkers deeply underground?

Lord Bach

My Lords, I can give the noble Lord the reassurance that he seeks.

Baroness Walmsley

My Lords, perhaps I may ask two questions.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, the time is up; and it is mandatory.