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Lord Williams of Mostyn: Yes, my Lords, we ought to use all reliable material to further the balance of judgment referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Howell. In some instances there has been progress. For instance, it is generally recognised that there is significantly enhanced freedom of press criticism in Iran compared with five or 10 years ago. I do not pretend that the Government do not remain deeply concerned about these matters, as I hope I have made plain.
Lord Clarke of Hampstead: My Lords, is my noble and learned friend aware of the demonstration by Iranian citizens in this country that took place this morning? Will he comment on the remarks made during the demonstration that a number of people coming to London from other parts of Europe had been detained at Dover in the public interest, and that phone calls were being made to the people across the road from here explaining that they thought they were being prevented from attending a peaceful and democratic demonstration?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am sorry that, for the reasons I gave the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, I have no knowledge of the demonstration. If I can find out anything useful, of course I will write to my noble friend and put a copy in the Library. But I stress that, having been to Cabinet, I came over here to do other work.
Lord Grocott: My Lords, with the leave of the House, immediately after the Motion in the name of the Chairman of Committees and the associated referrals to Grand Committee, my noble friend Lady Crawley will repeat a Statement which has been made in another place on Iraq: further contingency preparations.
Having consulted the usual channels and other interested members, I now invite the Procedure Committee to recommend the creation of a "Northern Ireland Orders Committee".
The Committee would be of open membership, like a Grand Committee. If it was considered that a particular Order warranted its attention, then following discussion in the usual channels I would move a formal motion referring the Order to the Committee. The Committee would, I hope, be able to meet at any convenient time and at fairly short notice. I accept that resource constraints apply, and in particular that it should not meet at the same time as a Grand Committee. It would meet in the Moses Room if this was available.
The Committee's proceedings would be the same as in Grand Committee, with the Chairman of Committees or a Deputy in the Chair, a Minister speaking for the Government, and a section in Hansard. Its only business would be "to consider the So-and-So Order", and its report would say only that it had done so.
The motion to approve the Order would be taken on the Floor of the House, as at present. There would be no bar on further debate at this stage (and if necessary a division); but in most cases an Order considered in Committee might be expected to be approved without further extensive debate.
It is important that this initiative is not seen in any way as a signal for long-term suspension of the Assembly, By definition, Orders of this type are made only when the Assembly is suspended. When the Assembly is restored, which the Government hope will be soon, the new procedure would lapse.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I wonder whether the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams, might consider having a referral made to the Procedure Committee so that such Motions could be taken en bloc in future, rather than the noble and learned Lord having to move them separately every time.
Lord Renton: My Lords, bearing in mind that there is no Northern Ireland Assembly now, and that the budget of Northern Ireland deeply affects the lives of all the people there, is there no other way in which that budget can be approved by the Parliament of the United Kingdom except merely by our being asked to approve an order which does not enable the budget to be altered in any way?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I think that the noble Lord has mistaken the nature of the orders that I have been moving. On 16th December, a number of your Lordships, including the noble Lords, Lord Glentoran and Lord Smith of Clifton, raised the perfectly reasonable point that we needed a more expansive opportunity to discuss these orders for the reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Renton, gave. Accordingly, we have agreedwith remarkable speed, I thinkto set up a new procedure, which is the Northern Ireland Orders Grand Committee procedure, which will give us our opportunity to discuss these orders. I stress that they then come back to the House for approval.
Baroness Crawley: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will repeat a Statement that has been made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence in another place. The Statement is as follows:
"As with the Royal Navy, the Royal Air Force already maintains a significant presence in the Middle East region, routinely involving around 25 aircraft and 1,000 personnel. For more than a decade, the Royal Air Force has played an important part in patrolling and enforcing the northern and southern no-fly zones in Iraq, in support of UN Security Council Resolution 688, to provide the Iraqi people with some protection from Saddam Hussein's regime. In carrying out this task, they have on many occasions been attacked by Iraqi forces. I am sure that the House will join me in saluting their courage and professionalism.
"As part of our contingency planning over recent months, we have been considering carefully what additional air capabilities may be required in the event of operations against Iraq. The details of this planning will necessarily continue to evolve.
"It is in the nature of air forces that they can be deployed over long distances more rapidly than maritime or land forces. But we envisage that in the days and weeks ahead we will increase the Royal Air Force presence in the region to around 100 fixed-wing aircraft supported by around 7,000 personnel, including members of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force.
"This will be a balanced and highly capable force, including E3D Sentry aircraft for airborne command and control; Jaguar and Tornado aircraft in the reconnaissance role; VC10 and Tristar air-to-air refuelling aircraft; Hercules transport aircraft; Tornado F3 aircraft with the newly integrated ASRAAM missile providing an air defence capability; and Tornado GR4 and Harrier GR7 aircraft providing an offensive capability should it be required, including precision-guided weapons. The RAF Regiment will protect the deployed forces.
"In addition, the Royal Air Force element of the Joint Helicopter Command will deploy a very substantial proportion of its equipment and personnel, providing helicopter support to other deployed forces. Its contribution will consist of 27 Puma and Chinook helicopters and about 1,100 personnel.
"I also take this opportunity to pay tribute to the work of the Royal Air Force's air transport squadrons who, in addition to operating in the region itself, will be working to maximise capability in deploying and sustaining forces of all three services, supplemented as necessary by civilian charter aircraft.
"I have now announced the composition and deployment of forces from all three services. I recognise that this may tempt some people into speculation about the likelihood or timing of military action. But it is still possible for Saddam Hussein to change his behaviour, co-operate actively with the weapons inspectors and disarm by peaceful means.
Lord Vivian: My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement made by the Secretary of State in another place earlier today. From these Benches I once again assure Her Majesty's Government of our support on the situation in Iraq.
This is a helpful Statement. It leads to a number of queries. I cannot help feeling that although such Statements keep us up to date with the situation as it develops, the time has come when there should be a full debate in this House on the overall situation in Iraq, putting the whole matter into perspective. I believe there is a strong feeling in the House for holding that debate in the very near future. There have been two full debates on Iraq, the first on 24th September, when Parliament was recalled, and the second on 28th November. Will the Minister convey our request that there should be a full debate in the near future?
Turning to the Statement, the scale of deployment by the Royal Navy, the Army and the Royal Air Force, although absolutely necessary, is an exceptionally large commitment for all three armed services to take on and can only exacerbate dire overstretch. One hundred fixed-wing aircraft and 27 Puma and Chinook helicopters, supported by 8,100 RAF personnel, is a very major commitment which will strain the availability of pilots. The Minister will be aware that there is an overall 7 per cent shortage of combat pilots in the RAF. To sustain operational readiness, what steps are being taken to bring manning levels of combat pilots to the agreed establishment? Are reserve combat pilots being called up? It is noted that there is no mention of any provision of combat search and rescue facilities. Perhaps the Minister can comment on that.
There is also no mention of inter-operability with the United States air force. Can it be confirmed that our aircraft have the capability of inter-operability? It appears from the Statement that the FA2 Sea Harriers are not being deployed. They possess the outstanding Blue Vixen radar. They operate a superb advanced medium-range air-to-air missile, and the air
The Statement starts with the deployment of ground forces. In my reply to the Statement made on 20th January, I asked a number of questions that the Minister said he would write to me about. I have received no letter yet and I have written to him listing my questions again. I do not intend to repeat them. Will the noble Baroness say why the desertisation and the correct colour painting of Challenger 2 tanks cannot be completed at sea during the journey to Iraq? However, the news that new desert uniforms will be available for our troops in theatre before any conflict starts in the Gulf is most welcome.
Finally, I am unable to understand why the commander of British forces has not been publicly nominated for overall command in the Gulf. Perhaps the Minister can explain why the nomination has not yet been announced.
Our contribution to the Gulf is a very large commitment for British forces. We on these Benches have full confidence in the ability of our commanders and troops. They are highly skilled, devoted to duty and extremely well motivated. Their morale is high. Their courage and professionalism will ensure success and they will complete all their tasks in an exemplary manner.
Lord Redesdale: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement. Our thoughts on these Benches go out to those who will shortly be flying off to the Gulf. The noble Lord, Lord Vivian, referred to morale. I hope the Minister can say what actions are being taken to deal with morale problems among the troops. There seems to be a great deal of debate in this country over whether this is a justifiable action. Those questions will be reflected among the men who are going over to the Gulf at the moment.
Considering these large troop deployments, a question has to be raised about the sustainability of the process. We hope very much that the inspectors will be given the time and space to complete their job, because that will be the most effective way of bringing about disarmament. However, if so many troops are left there for a long period, is it realistic to believe that the Army can meet its other commitments?
Are the questions raised in the press about aircraft serviceability actual problems? There was a question about one quarter of the aircraft not being available for service at the moment. We have asked before but have not received an answer to the question: under whose command will the forces be? If action is undertaken, the first units to be involved in any action will be from the air force. Will the air force be directly under American command or under British command?
Is the use of cluster bombs being considered? There are serious concerns about cluster bombs. We still have real concerns too about the use of depleted uranium. That is a particular concern if the current speculation about British forces being used in the long term to secure the peace in Iraq means that they will be dealing with decontamination after the use of depleted uranium rounds.
I conclude with the most important question. I should be happy if the Minister could answer this if not the others. Will the Government consider a debate on Iraq, as the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, flagged up? The UNMOVIC inspectors are giving their crucial report on 14th February. If a decision to take action were made on the back of that report it would be seen as almost irresponsible of the Government not to have brought forward a debate in this House. I say that specifically because time is short. Will the Government consider, if necessary, recalling the House of Commons from its short recess?
Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Vivian and Lord Redesdale. I am grateful for their support. I agree to take to the usual channels the request of the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, for a substantial debate. I am sure that we will get a positive response. I was asked to do the same by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, and I am happy to do so.
The noble Lord, Lord Vivian, referred to the scale of commitment. We are aware that this is a major commitment. It is extremely large, much larger than the deployment in the Gulf War in the early 1990s. We can say with full confidence that we are capable of undertaking this deployment while still providing the requisite number of personnel to support the home front and any operations required here. Early preparations and careful management have ensured that a commitment of forces on this scale is manageable. That was the concern expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Vivian. We are a flexible organisation, and we will continue to respond to new demands on our Armed Forces as they arrive.
I was asked about steps to bring forward reserve personnel. The noble Lord, Lord Vivian, will know that a call has gone out to reservists. We have 1,600 reservists from the Royal (Auxiliary) Air Force who will be deployed in that role. The noble Lord also asked about the way in which we are enforcing the no-fly zone operation. As he knows, we have a number of aircraft in the region on a key humanitarian mission, enforcing the Iraqi no-fly zones. Following that deployment, we will begin to increase the Royal Air Force deployment in the region to some 100 fixed-wing aircraft, supported by some 7,000 personnel.
I was also asked why Sea Harriers were not being deployed. Without going into too much detail because of the need to ensure that there is security protection in all our plans, it is to do with the nature of the amphibious operation.
I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, has had no reply to his correspondence. I shall look into the matter and ensure that he does get one. He asked about paint for desert camouflage and equipment. We have ordered sufficient paint to apply desert camouflage to vehicles on Operation TELIC. Some vehicles will be painted before they are transported to the theatre and others when they arrive. The Government see no problem with painting on the ground as well as transporting to the theatre. I can also tell the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, that the announcement on senior commanders will be made today.
The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, asked about the morale of our Armed Forces. I believe firmly that there is no doubting the commitment of our Armed Forces to the job should they be asked to take part in military action. We shall keep them informed so far as possible regarding their future in the coming days, weeks and months. The noble Lord will know that an operational welfare package is being rolled out as we speak, looking clearly at the operational welfare needs of our troops in the field.
I was asked whether the inspectors would be given time. They have been given eight weeks so far. We shall hear from Mr Blix next week when he reports back to the UN Security Council. The Iraqi regime has been given something like 800 weeks to comply with the UN resolution. The onus is on Saddam Hussein to prove that he has no weapons of mass destruction or, if he has, to disarm.
The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, asked where the British forces would ultimately find their command and control. Ultimately, they come under the command of the British Government, as my right honourable friend Geoff Hoon said in another place today.
On historic heritage, I have no doubt that any action will be sensitive to the wonderful historic environment in Iraq. I shall write to the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, on cluster bombsI do not have any brief in front of me on that. I recognise his concern on the issue of depleted uranium, which has been raised several times in this House over the years. However, the Government do not believe that there is robust evidence that the amount of depleted uranium envisaged would be harmful.
On the matter of a parliamentary debate, I understand that Members are keen to have such a debate. That will depend on how we can ensure that Parliament is closely consulted on military action, should it come to military action, which we still hope it will not. One hopes that Parliament will be able to be consulted before military action takes place, but if the security of our troops is in question, Parliament will be consulted as soon after the start of military action as possible.
Lord Bramall: My Lords, I assume that all these deployments have the full support of the Chiefs of Staff. If war is inevitable, as sadly now seems likely, can the Minister assure the House that British troops will not be committed to battle without the clearest of national political aims? Those must include not only the initial objectives but also, once the battle is won, the interim political arrangements in Iraq itself in view of the great risks of internal strife. There must also be a clear exit strategy. The last two will always be much more difficult than the first.
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