Mr. John Hughes (Coventry, North-East) : I am grateful for this opportunity to present a petition calling for the release of Terry Waite and other hostages. As more and more hostages are released by Saddam Hussein, the question, "What is being done on behalf of my loved one?" must be at the forefront of the thoughts of every relative of every hostage.
The petition, signed by the members of Coventry's Methodist churches, conveys the heartfelt concern of every father, every mother, every brother, every sister, every other relative and every loved one of every hostage. Serious though the Gulf crisis is, it should not overshadow the plight of hostages who have been detained for years. I call on the Prime Minister to do more on their behalf. To lie upon the Table.
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Goodlad.]
Mr. Speaker : Before I call the Secretary of State for Defence, I must announce to the House that I propose to put a limit of 10 minutes on speeches between 11.30 and1 o'clock. I ask right hon. and hon. Members who are called to speak before that time and afterwards please to bear that limit broadly in mind in consideration of their colleagues.
It is clear that hon. Members in all parts of the House are conscious of the problems and dangers involved, and it was encouraging to see the sense of responsibility and the sombre way in which the House approached the debate yesterday. I felt as I listened to many of the speeches that hon. Members had a real understanding of the dangers involved in the situation, that there was a real recognition of the challenge that the world faces at this time, with an appreciation of our responsibility, and that there was real anger at the total affront to law and the shameful treatment of our citizens and those of other countries. Hon. Members also displayed a sense of hope that there is a new determination in the world to stand together in support of international law. I sense complete agreement in the House in that hon. Members recognise totally that this aggression is quite unacceptable and that it cannot lie uncorrected. I am grateful for the wide support that the Government have received from hon. Members in all parts of the House for the action that we have taken so far.
Our immediate concern has been to join in the efforts to avoid further aggression and then to end the present aggression by peaceful means by making the United Nations embargo work. If it does not, then of course we have had to make it clear that we cannot rule out anything. That has been honestly recognised by the leaders of all the parties, first by the Leader of the Opposition, in support of the Prime Minister, recognising that it may be necessary to use force. I note that that was echoed by his predecessor, the former Prime Minister Lord Callaghan of Cardiff, in the other place yesterday. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister yesterday set out the overall position and she made clear our commitment to the ending of this aggression. I propose to report to the House on the military events, including my own recent visit to Saudi Arabia and to the other Gulf states, when I had the chance to visit all our main units there.
I was struck by the fact that the invasion of Kuwait took place just over a week after I made a statement in the House on our "Options for change" examination of our defence provision. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery). I noted his question :
"Does my right hon. Friend agree that developments in the Gulf over the past few days have made it clear that we may well have to share responsibility for out-of-area operations?"--[ Official Report, 25 July 1990 ; Vol. 177, c. 478.]
He said that at about the time that President Saddam Hussein was giving a solemn assurance to the President of Egypt and to the King of Saudi Arabia that he would not
Column 837invade Kuwait. As we know, it was on the night of 2 August that Kuwait was invaded and that that promise was totally negated. I want to report first to the House on the events and the military situation in Kuwait. The invasion took place at 2 am on 2 August when three armoured divisions of the Republican Guard force of the Iraqi army crossed the frontier, closely followed later that morning by four divisions of the Republican Guard infantry. Combat aircraft of the Iraqi air force, which total about 800 aircraft, bombed and rocketed Kuwaiti airfields. At the same time, helicopter gun ships attacked Kuwait City and landed at least a brigade of Republican Guard special forces--with light armour--who led the assault on the palace and on the main Government buildings. In all, that force amounted to about 100,000 soldiers, armed with about 1,250 tanks, with many infantry combat vehicles and with artillery.
The Kuwaiti army, which is barely one tenth of that figure, was in a state of alert, but was not deployed in defensive positions because the Kuwaitis did not believe that one Arab country could invade another. The troops who led the invasion were followed by further reinforcements, including some who, according to the reports received, appear to belong to some form of militia and who are extremely ill disciplined.
On 20 August, the Republican Guard force divisions started to withdraw from their forward deployments and were replaced by regular army troops. Only two Republican Guard force brigades are now believed to be left in Kuwait. The forces whom we believe are now in Kuwait are about 10 regular divisions --approximately 150,000 men, 1, 500 tanks and 700 artillery pieces. Republican Guard units have been withdrawn to Iraq. It has been the Iraqi practice to withdraw Republican Guard units after an attack. They may now either have been withdrawn to establish a more defensive position or--and the possibility must always be borne in mind--they may have been withdrawn to reform for further aggression.
In Kuwait itself, the Iraqis have strengthened their coastal defences with Silkworm missiles, with a string of infantry divisions and with field artillery units. They have moved their Frog battlefield missiles and a full range of surface-to-air missiles to Kuwait.
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : The Secretary of State talks about all the equipment. What have the Government done about the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) last night about the office of the Technology and Development Group of Iraq in London? Given all the information, have the Government closed it?
Mr. King : The answer to the first point is no. The hon. Gentleman will know, as comments have been made about arms sales, that for the past 10 years, the Government have refused to offer and sell any lethal equipment to the Government of Iraq. The sale of armaments is obviously the concern of the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). We have made clear, as the actions taken recently in a well-known case show, the length to which we have sought to go when clever attempts have been made to evade that embargo.
Mr. Martin O'Neill (Clackmannan) rose--
I turn now to the response to the aggression. The House knows that there was immediate activity in the United Nations. On the day of the invasion, resolution 660 was passed without dissent, condemning the invasion. Furthermore, on 6 August, resolution 661, introducing the embargo, was passed--again, without dissent. On 8 August, Iraq annexed Kuwait, and on the same day His Majesty King Fahd invited my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to contribute towards the defence of Saudi Arabia. On the same day, the Government confirmed their readiness to play their full part in such a contribution. I want now to report to the House on our various steps to implement and to respond to that invitation from the Government of Saudi Arabia and from other threatened Gulf states.
On the following day I announced that we would be sending a squadron of Tornado air defence fighters and a squadron of Jaguar ground attack aircraft with an anti-tank capability, and that we would be reinforcing the Armilla patrol in support of the United Nations embargo. I announced that on 9 August. On 10 August, the first detachment of tactical communications left. The following day, a squadron of Tornados left and arrived in Dhahran. It was operational within two hours of arrival. About 200 operational sorties have already been flown in support of the air defence shield of Saudi Arabia.
The Jaguar ground support aircraft, deployed from RAF Coltishall on the same day, were, likewise, extremely quick in coming into operation. They have also flown about 200 operational sorties. They are accompanied by VC10 tankers in support of their operations. The following day, Nimrod maritime reconnaissance aircraft left RAF Kinloss and arrived in Oman on 13 August. They were operational almost immediately after arrival and have been flying sorties since 15 August. An RAF Rapier detachment, deployed at a later stage to Bahrain in support of a further squadron of Tornado GR1 aircraft, which we sent to provide a day and night anti-armour capability, left RAF Bruggen on 27 August. I had announced the previous Thursday that they would be departing. The House will understand something of the pride that one can feel in the professionalism of our armed services. I was in Bahrain the night that they arrived. On the minute that we said that they would come, the whole squadron arrived, having completed seven air-to-air refuellings coming from Germany via Cyprus. A great impression was made in the area not only because of the quality of the aircraft, which were recognised to make an outstanding contribution and to be something that was not available in the American resources for the defensive shield for Saudi Arabia, but because of the professionalism of the way in which they were deployed. We have also deployed to the area RAF Regiment personnel, both in support of the Rapier and in the ground defence task. In addition, in the Royal Navy, we have had the Armilla patrol in the Gulf since 1980. At the time of the Iraqi invasion, HMS York was already on station, with the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Orangeleaf. We gave immediate instructions and HMS Battleaxe and HMS Jupiter steamed to join HMS York. They arrived in the Gulf on 12 August. Since then we have also deployed a minehunter ship, HMS Herald, and further repair ships and support ships.
Column 839In addition, there has been a logistical build-up to establish effective communications, air and ground defences, and medical facilities, including a field hospital. Britain has made a particular contribution by establishing chemical defence and decontamination units, which will not only support our forces but give training to the Saudi forces. This has been backed up by a massive logistical operation. More than 2 million miles have been flown since the operation was launched, with some 515 sorties of transport aircraft, with an average length of 4,500 miles for each journey. This has been an impressive logistical operation. There are now 5,000 men committed to the undertaking, and I am pleased to say that when I visited the Gulf it was made clear to me in every state to which I went how much our contribution is welcomed, both for its speedy arrival and for its quality and quantity.
All this is costing significant sums. The operating costs of our forces are about £1 million a day, and on top of this deployment and additional costs already amount to some £75 million. We do not yet have accurate details as to how much of these costs are genuinely additional. The funding of such additional costs on defence votes will be considered as soon as possible. We shall contain them within the existing budget if possible, but if supplementary provision is needed the Government will advise the House in the usual way. In the light of certain news today, let me say that we welcome all the support on the ground that our host nations can give us, and some has already been provided, such as free fuel. We shall be discussing cost sharing further with our friends in the Gulf.
Ms. Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood) : I want to press the Secretary of State on the latter point. It was announced on the news this morning that Saudi Arabia is to pay the costs of the American forces, but we heard no more details. Can the Secretary of State give us more detail? Has there been any proposal about the costs of British forces?
I know that I will take the House with me when I say that it is a privilege to visit our armed forces in the Gulf and to appreciate the speed with which they moved. Many were brought back overnight from leave. The ships Jupiter and Battleaxe were in Penang and Mombasa, and their personnel were on leave with their families. Their leave had to be interrupted on the spot, but the spirit and resilience of those people, often working in difficult conditions, is something to which the House will wish to pay tribute. [ Hon. Members :-- "Hear, hear."] In spite of the difficult conditions under which they are working, the morale of every service man I met out there was as high as every hon. Member has learned to expect that it would be. Our forces are ready to play their part.
We are already making a valuable contribution to the defence of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, and that was confirmed to me by all those whom I met in the Gulf. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said yesterday, some additional forces will be needed and their composition is under consideration. I cannot go further than that. Against the background of some of the figures that I have already given to the House, against the threat that still exists and the overall imperative of ensuring that
Column 840there is no further agression, that the defensive shield of Saudi Arabia and the neighbouring Gulf states is in place, and that the effective action that we are taking through the United Nations is successful, we believe that that will be necessary.
Sir John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge) : My right hon. Friend knows how highly he is regarded because of the wonderful job that he has done. It may be that we shall soon be committing British troops to fight and possibly die and we are naturally concerned that everything possible should be done for their security. Is there any proposal to have a force commander-in-chief, some sort of force structure and some sort of liaison between the different nations involved in the forces?
Mr. King : My hon. Friend has referred to an important point to which I was about to come. The need for such a structure will be illustrated clearly by what I shall now say about the scope of commitment by other nations.
Nobody can go to the Gulf without being greatly impressed by the skill and determination of the United States in a time of great need and danger and by the scale and capacity of its forces. The forces include combat and support aircraft of all types, armed air mobile and mechanised formations, a marine corps with elements of three marine expeditionary brigades and a substantial naval force with carriers, battleships, cruisers, destroyers and frigates. As Secretary Cheney confirmed this morning, the United States has already deployed more than 100,000 troops to the area. This impressive contribution is a key element in ensuring that the shield of defence for Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states is so strong.
Mr. King : I shall not do so, if my hon. Friend will forgive me. While the United States is making the major contribution, I want to draw the attention of the House to the fact that, in addition, two frigates are coming from Australia, troops from Bangladesh, minehunters from Belgium, a destroyer and frigate from Canada, a corvette from Denmark, troops from Egypt, an aircraft carrier, a cruiser and two destroyers from France, frigates from Italy, troops from Morocco, frigates from the Netherlands, a support ship from Norway, troops from Pakistan, a support ship from Portugal, a frigate and two corvettes from Spain and troops from Syria. That represents the largest multinational force since the emergency in Korea, and a major international collaboration.
The forces sent by us and by the United States are there at the invitation of the King of Saudi Arabia and of other
Column 841Gulf leaders and Governments. We have gone there, as I have made clear, because of the emergency and the immediate need, and to meet the real and imminent threat that, after the almost painless acquisition of Kuwait--so easily done by deceit and the use of overwhelming force--the eastern province of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states might be attacked next. The Leader of the Opposition and others have recognised that point. Our first aim is to ensure that aggression proceeds no further. We hope that, with the further steps that we are taking to ensure that the shield is strong, relevant and effective, it will hold.
Our second objective is to end the aggression against Kuwait, to see the removal of the Iraqi forces and the restoration of the legitimate Government by peaceful means through the effective and rigorous application of the United Nations embargo. We are engaged in a major effort, not just through our ships in the Gulf, effective though they will be, but through a major exercise involving all Departments of this Government and departments of other Governments equally committed to the rule of law so that we do not leave it to officers and men on our ships to try to operate the naval blockade but enlist the support of every Government in the world who believe in this to ensure that the embargo is effective in every possible way.
The Leader of the Opposition referred to the need to tackle the issue of credit. That was a fair point to make. Credit is illegal under the sanctions legislation. Clearly many matters must be addressed because it is vital that that is achieved.
My hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge raised the issue of co-ordination in the Gulf area. United Kingdom forces deployed to the Gulf are under our national command and control. However, given the scale of forces that are there, we need the most effective co-ordination, and that is being achieved in the naval field. When I was in Bahrain, our admiral commanding flotilla 2 was in consultation on the La Salle with the American admiral commanding the American naval forces in the Gulf. We have direct and immediate collaboration with the French, who are there, with the Australians, who are coming now, and with other countries which will make their contributions.
We have had helpful discussions with Western European Union to see how the European contribution can be effectively made. We have a good precedent in minehunting from previous experience in the Gulf, and it is possible that that practice will be pursued further.
The issues are being addressed as a matter of some urgency. I cannot report further to the House on that except to make it clear that it is an issue to which we attach the greatest importance. We are in the closest contact with our allies and the kingdom of Saudi Arabia about these matters.
Column 842Minister of Saudi Arabia, has said that no forces should be used from Saudian Arabian territory for military action against Iraq without the agreement of the Saudi Government. The American commander on the spot says that he does not know whether that is true, and that is quite an important element of ignorance of the situation. Has that question now been cleared up ; and, in particular, in return for the generous financial assistance offered yesterday to Mr. Baker by the Saudi Government, has Mr. Baker agreed that Prince Sultan's views are correct?
Mr. King : I listened to the right hon. Gentleman with interest yesterday and noticed that he ceased to quote entirely correctly from the reported conversations, but I can confirm-- [Hon. Members :-- "Oh."] What I am saying in respect of His Royal Highness Prince Sultan, the Defence Minister of Saudi Arabia, is the position. We are not there to attack Kuwait or Iraq. We are there to defend Saudi Arabia and to ensure that the United Nations embargo is effectively implemented. That is the present position, and it is absolutely clear. There is no question about that statement, nor do I experience the difficulty that the right hon. Gentleman may have over that matter.
Mr. Healey rose --
Mr. Healey rose --
Mr. Healey : The right hon. Gentleman has missed the point. The American commander on the spot in Saudi Arabia has said that he does not know what the situation is and that it must be decided between the Saudi and American Governments. Is it the right hon. Gentleman's view that Prince Sultan is correct in saying that an attack on Iraq cannot be carried out from Saudi soil without the agreement of the Saudi Government?
Mr. King : General Schwarzkopf is the American joint commander with His Royal Highness Prince Khalid. The position is as I have made quite clear and I do not propose to go further. Prince Sultan has made it clear that there is no Saudi agreement to attack from the territory of Saudi Arabia. The purpose is to defend Saudi Arabia and to make the United Nations embargo work. I shall not go any further than that. As one of my predecessors, the right hon. Gentleman knows the position perfectly well and he knows perfectly well why I cannot go any further.
The House may be aware that, while my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office have been dealing principally with the vexed and difficult issue of our hostages, I think that the House knows-- [Interruption.] --it is not a matter for levity--including the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), that a considerable number of those hostages are non-combatant British service men who were part of the British liaison training team serving in Kuwait. They were not involved in the hostilities. They are properly defined under international law as non-combatants.
Column 843May I say how pleased I am that this morning a further number of their wives and families have returned to this country. We shall never forget their husbands, some of whom remain in effective captivity and some in hiding. We must take decisions that are necessary for the effective protection of Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states and for the ending of the illegal annexation and aggression against Kuwait, but let nobody think that we shall ever forget the very difficult and dangerous situation which they and other nationals of many countries face. The whole House is aware that under the new media facilities our words go out from this House to many strange places, and perhaps to them. I want to say directly--certainly on behalf of the Government and I believe the whole House--that we shall not forget them. We do remember them ; we are determined to end the aggression but we are conscious of their plight and their difficulty.
Mr. King : The hon. Gentleman can talk flippantly, but he has not met the wives and families who are coming home worried. I am sure that other hon. Members will not wish to join in the hon. Gentleman's comments.
Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will recall that we got on very well yesterday without sedentary interruptions from the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), who was not here. Can you persuade him to keep quiet today?
Mr. King rose --
Mr. King : I pay tribute to the sombre and serious debate in the House yesterday. It is what the subject deserves. I mean no discourtesy to the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman), but he knows, because Mr. Speaker has made it quite clear, that a large number of hon. Members wish, understandably, to speak. I am sorry that I am not able to give way to him, but I wish to bring my remarks to a close.
I have referred to the challenge that we face and to the inhuman treatment of the hostages. It is because of them, and the thousands more who could suffer the same fate if this aggression is not corrected, that that aggression must not be allowed to succeed. All our efforts have to be directed towards making the embargo effective--and quickly. It is the only hope to avoid what otherwise could be an awful and major conflict.
Some try to water down embargo sanctions. There is some quibbling about the implications of sanctions. Those who are trying to exempt certain categories of items, beyond medical requirements, think that, somehow, that will reduce the tension--that, somehow, it will appease and make the situation more easy to resolve. I deeply believe they are misguided. If we undermine the effective operation of sanctions, we shall make more likely the risk of a greater conflict thereafter.
Column 844I visited Saudi Arabia and the Gulf a week ago. I have also talked this week at the Farnborough aircraft exhibition to visitors from many countries, including many from the smaller countries of the world. They understand the vital principle that is at stake here and the challenge that we face. They have all got neighbours--some much more powerful, some with unfulfilled ambitions. They know that if the rule of law is not maintained in this case, for many of them as well the future could be very difficult indeed. The world must stand together at this time.
We have enough intelligence about what is happening in the world at the moment to know something about the activities of the Iraqi Government and something about their technique of bribes, deceits, promises, credit and threats. All the paraphernalia that they have used will be used again to seek to undermine international unity and strength. Some countries will make very real sacrifices by standing firm on the strength and importance of that principle.
After all the military analyses of this aggression and of whatever plans were made for it have been completed, I believe that Saddam Hussein will be proved to have made one major miscalculation : that he thought that the world would never pull itself together and could never show the strength to stand together in support of international law. I believe that that will prove to have been his great miscalculation. The action that we in this country, together with our friends and allies round the world, have taken in support of our friends in the Gulf has the promise of showing for the first time that the world can work together to defeat this evil. It is to that end that the Government are totally committed.
Mr. Martin O'Neill (Clackmannan) : The debate so far has been concerned with the need to establish the legitimacy of future action. The role of Parliament is also to ensure that the Executive is accountable to the legislature and its elected members. Today we have the opportunity not only to do that but to express our support to our forces and to those people who will be listening to the debate far beyond these shores and far beyond the capabilities of the television system. We have to recognise that we are being listened to by people who need our encouragement and backing. From the Opposition side of the House I reiterate what the Secretary of State for Defence has just said.
So far we have seen the largest build-up of British troops since the Falklands in what is potentially the most dangerous crisis since the second world war. Labour called for a military presence in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states to deter further Iraqi aggression. Labour also called for a naval embargo. The reasons for that were self-evident. We had many of our citizens working in the area ; we had long-standing obligations of a commercial and diplomatic nature. What is more, through our presence in Oman, our participation in the Armilla patrol and our base in Cyprus, we had a military involvement and capability of such a long-standing nature that it was inevitable that we would be involved and that our role would increase. One of the advantages of having a professional volunteer armed service is the greater capability rapidly to deploy those forces in times of crisis. When criticism is made of the inadequacy of the response of other nations, it is often forgotten that we do not have to depend on
Column 845conscript forces at varying stages of readiness. While some of our troops have experience of this region, it is abundantly clear that the climatic and general living conditions will take some time to become familiar with. That in itself must surely give cause for thought to those who expect an early strike.
One of the major problems at the moment is the number of armchair, studio- bound experts who pontificate on the likely scenarios. It is one thing for the studio sandpit warriors to play their war games. It is quite another for the troops out there and for their families at home.
Much has been made of the offensive and defensive role and capabilities of our forces and kit. Into every increase or change in our commitment are read new twists and turns of military strategy. When additional frigates and mine countermeasure vessels are sent to the Gulf, it is assumed that the build-up is being intensified. It is often forgotten that our ships need replenishment and that our crews need leave. Equally important is the fact that the presence of our ships, and those of our allies, in a potential war zone, where ruthless mining tactics could be deployed, requires the protection of our minehunters and minesweepers. We should not forget that British capability in that role is second to none.
This is not breast-beating nationalism but recognition of the fact that we have the longest coastline and the largest number of ships vulnerable to such attacks in the North sea. The experience and expertise that we have acquired have been put at the disposal of the navies of other countries in the past. We did it with the Armilla patrol ; we did it in clearing the Suez canal. It is correct that we are now so involved.
If the naval build-up requires the presence of a British carrier to co- ordinate activities, it should be seen as a straightforward and logical extension of our commitment. The apparent effectiveness of the naval blockade, as evidenced by the Iraqi acquiescence to be stopped and searched, suggests that the naval commitment will be adequate. Indeed, it could be said that there is a case for the phasing of some of the deployments of our allies. Certainly that would assist in avoiding the congestion and traffic jams that could well arise in that part of the world.
The role of our Air Force has been subject to even greater personal computer Clausewitz speculation. Aircraft have been deemed to be defensive or offensive in their capability and it is said that that should be interpreted as an indication of our desire to break this or that United Nations resolution. I do not think that such guesswork can be avoided, but the confusion in people's minds can best be illustrated by the role of the Tornado GR1s, which are normally ground attack aircraft.
To take a scenario to illustrate the need for the preparedness that we have at present, in the event of an Iraqi advance by tanks and infantry there would be a need not only to respond to the ground offensive but to ensure that the necessary Iraqi air cover is eliminated, both by interception and by attacks on their bases, thus denying their future back-up. We must recognise that we have an all-embracing capability, and that we cannot pick and choose. There has also been considerable speculation about the dreaded use of chemical weapons. We do not know what will happen, but the basing of RAF Tornados at Bahrain
Column 846will enable us to take out many of the key Iraqi targets. Their aircraft have a radius of 800 miles, and are based 650 miles from Baghdad. They would be capable of attacking the weapon production facilities and deployment sites within their range. That is known to the Iraqis, as it is to anyone else who takes the time to think about it. It is essential to retain a sense of proportion. Certainly the distinction between offence and defence in this context is becoming very blurred, and the Labour party will not seek to deny our forces the capability to defend themselves or to realise commonly agreed goals.
The opinions of the military pundits about the intentions of the United States are equally confused. I feel that we should admire the massive deployment of materials and personnel to which the Secretary of State has referred, and recognise it for what it is. There has been speculation that the build-up has been expressly organised for attack ; the best evidence that I have been able to obtain, however, suggests that the United States is a considerable way from such a position. Certainly, the views expressed by Secretary of State Baker about the possibility of a new world order arising from the crisis give the lie to the anti-American propaganda advanced by Iraq, and by the minority in the middle east who seek to split the unity of the international community.
No country--whether it be the United Kingdom or the United States, which has worked so hard to secure international consensus at the United Nations and elsewhere--will sacrifice that consensus as sanctions start to bite by taking precipitate military action. The willingness shown by Morocco, with 1,200 troops, by Syria, with 1,100, by Egypt, with 5,000, and by the Saudis, with nearly 70,000, cannot be prejudiced by the folly of taking action without broad international backing. The meeting between Presidents Bush and Gorbachev in Helsinki this weekend will surely explore the role of the UN military staff committee rather than some half-baked, gung-ho- inspired strike.
As Professor Howard pointed out in The Times yesterday, the destruction of Saddam may well be achieved, but it would be achieved at considerable cost. His thoughtful article concludes :
"On balance the dangers of initiating war--initiating rather than accepting it if forced upon us--are thus much greater than those of remaining at peace."
Our troops will have literally to sweat it out. It will be a game of nerves : we shall have to wait until Saddam cracks, and either attacks or is replaced. It will be a waiting game, and we shall need to ensure that our forces are equipped and supported according to requirements.
Dr. Godman : God forbid that armed conflict should break out in that part of the world, but is my hon. Friend satisfied with what the Secretary of State said about the field hospital? Does he believe that, in the event of conflict, those medical facilities will be adequate to deal with the victims of gas attacks and other severely injured personnel?
Mr. O'Neill : Frankly, I do not know ; I am not in a position to have access to such information. However, the respect that I feel for the British forces and those who lead them tells me that they would not put people into the field without the necessary support. If there is any doubt, the fact that my hon. Friend has raised the matter will give the civil servants in the Box, and others, ample reason to reconsider.
Column 847We are in favour of giving our troops the support that they need, and we know that there is widespread acceptance of that requirement. Hon. Members who run advice bureaux and visit the clubs in their constituencies this weekend will not be assailed by constituents who want the forces to be withdrawn ; they will be approached by the anxious relatives of those whose loved ones are experiencing fear--terror-- in the apartments and hotels that are now serving as Iraqi-controlled prisons, or are in uniform, preparing for the worst in some of the most inhospitable conditions on our planet. In the main, they will want and expect us to give our support to ensure that their families are not sold short.
The depth of the anti-Iraqi strength is increasing daily, as is its width. The range of countries, from Europe and around the world, that have sent their forces bears impressive testimony to the almost universal revulsion at the actions of Saddam Hussein. Questions are now being asked about the control of those forces, and the split of responsibilities between the Saudis and the United States is a matter on which we can only speculate. This is not the time, however, to discuss whether the forces should be given blue berets and the kind of United Nations role that we have seen in the past. There is no precedent for that, and I consider it misleading to vest unnecessary and unrealistic expectations in an institution from which we can hope for so much in other respects.
Some feel that there should be a special and specific co-ordinated NATO role. I think that that would be wrong at this time, not least because of the likelihood that Germany and France will not participate. We should not allow ourselves to be taken advantage of through such a diversion.
Inevitably, the United States, by making the largest contribution, will wield the greatest influence. The unity of the opposition to Iraq, however, will require continual nurturing and encouragement from the United Nations. It is to be hoped that its military committee will ultimately provide the international framework within which such exercises could be organised.
We cannot afford to ignore the question raised yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) about the operation of "sod's law" in military action. It would be dangerous to anticipate in too precise, neat and tidy a way the next stage in the scenario, but, for us in the House it is a matter of getting Ministers to answer questions. I do not wish to strike a note of discord, but there is deep anxiety about this : at some stage today, the Government must give us some idea of the role played by the United Kingdom in respect of the economic embargo--for instance, the involvement of the Technology and Development Group. While I freely concede that that group is not engaged in the procurement of arms as such, we have observed that the Iraqis have been able to purchase the building blocks--to acquire the capability and the technology--to undertake weapon production on a scale that cannot be tolerated. Let us have a clearer answer from the Foreign Secretary than we had from the Secretary of State for Defence : there is far too much speculation, and far too much evidence that we have not policed the area harshly enough. I am not trying to divide the House ; I am simply asking for greater clarity. Accountability lies at the heart of that exercise.