HL Deb 26 April 2004 vol 660 cc560-2

2.59 p.m.

Lord Astor of Hever asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether Britain will provide a new headquarters unit in Najaf to take the place of Spain, and what discussions they have had on this with the American authorities.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, this matter is under active consideration with coalition partners including, of course, the United States of America.

Lord Astor of Hever

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for that response. We fully support the continued deployment of British troops in Iraq and agree with the Government that it is essential that we see this through. But does the noble Baroness recognise that, if extra troops are deployed outside the British-controlled south of Iraq, our influence on how security is managed must be in proportion to our contribution? Can she confirm that in the event that extra troops are deployed, they will have had sufficient training in high-intensity operations and will be properly equipped and supported?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, as the noble Lord will know, that sort of decision, where it is taken, is not just a political decision by Ministers. It would also involve thorough consultation with the Chiefs of the Defence Staff. Therefore, we can rest assured that if there is a decision—I stress the word "if"—for further deployment, it will be done on the basis that those going are properly trained. I absolutely understand the noble Lord's point in relation to influence. We have touched upon it already in your Lordships' House. Of course we would want there to be proper arrangements for the lines of communication, the chain of command, over any such deployment.

Lord Redesdale

My Lords, the Minister said "if", but if we are to replace other coalition forces, it is unlikely that other coalition forces will, in the short term, come to replace the troops that we are sending to Iraq. If that is the case, we are sending troops into a very long-term commitment. Considering how stretched our forces are at the moment, will the Minister comment on whether it is an open-ended commitment or whether it would be undertaken for the short term?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, Spanish coalition troops are withdrawing from Najaf and Qadisiyah. Troops from Honduras and Dominican Republic are also being withdrawn. The noble Lord should know that those troops amount to something less than 2,000. South Korea, for example, has indicated that it will send in 3,000 more troops, so your Lordships should not simply look at the negative side—there are also some very positive aspects.

The noble Lord asked about the length of the commitment. These troops would be in no different a position, if they were to be sent, from the troops already there. They will be there for as long as there is a necessity for them to be there.

Lord Hurd of Westwell

My Lords, may I press the noble Baroness on the point that my noble friend put to her about the link between contributing troops and influencing policy? It seems to many of us that crucial decisions are coming up that will be taken, sometimes at short notice, in Baghdad—for example, whether to attack Fallujah, how to deal with Najaf, and, at a slightly longer distance, what powers will be transferred to the sovereign government on 30 June. All those decisions will affect us and our troops closely.

How are such decisions are taken and how can we contribute our ideas and views to those who take them?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, how are these decisions taken? Let us take the position in Iraq itself, where there are exchanges not just on a daily basis but several times a day between Ambassador Bremer and our representative, David Richmond. The two representatives sit in an office at either end of, what it turns out, is more or less a shared private office. So there are those opportunities for influence not just on a daily basis but several times a day. We then go through the exchanges between the political directors such as Condoleezza Rice on the American side and Sir Nigel Sheinwald on our own side. There are ministerial exchanges as well, going through the lower ranks of Ministers right the way up to the regular exchanges that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has with the President of the United States. So there is a wide variety of opportunity for influence over what is happening in Iraq—probably more than over most of our international relationships.

Lord Campbell-Savours

My Lords, if the interim authority, post-June, were to ask that the British troops be not involved in a operation in Najaf, would we comply or would we overrule, with American compliance, the request of the interim authority, post-June?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, that is an enormously important question, and it is not one to which I can readily give your Lordships an answer. Much of it depends on the terms of the discussions that are taking place between the representatives of the United Nations, the CPA and the Iraqi Governing Council. The whole question of what we mean by sovereignty—which is really the question that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, is asking me—is still under active discussion. It is obviously crucial to the terms of the hand-over, and I hope we will be able to answer it before 30 June.