Previous Section Home Page

Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough) : May I raise what many Opposition Members consider to be a

Column 848

fundamental problem? It may have been dealt with already ; I was briefly absent from the Chamber a few moments ago.

The problem arises when, over a period, a stalemate develops, and our forces are all in place under the auspices of the United Nations and its Security Council. May we have an assurance that our forces will not engage in offensive action when they have not themselves been attacked, and that any action will be authorised by explicit United Nations resolution?

Mr. O'Neill : My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) will be going into that in greater detail later. My hon. Friend has caught me in the last stage of my remarks, but our troops are there, at the express request of the Saudis, to defend them. We are operating there under the auspices of a series of United Nations resolutions. We are not there for offensive purposes as determined at present. My right hon. Friend will refer to this subject in his winding-up speech and will give a better structured answer.

As I said at the beginning of my speech, on the Opposition side of the House we called for a naval blockade. We called for economic sanctions through the United Nations. We support the Government's deployment of forces in the Gulf. We recognise that additional resources may be necessary, but we do not give the Government a blank cheque. As well as information on expenditure, we should like some information on revenue and on what efforts are being made by the Foreign Office to get the sort of assistance from other countries that the United States appears to be receiving, according to this morning's announcement.

Certainly, we have confidence in the Government's military advisers. They have demonstrated their professionalism and expertise. However, it is for politicians and for the House to decide future course of action. War, as Clausewitz said, is

"the pursuit of politics by other means".

If other means become nessary the House must have its say. Those who seem to assume that the British people do not want firm and resolute action to be taken to liberate and return our people and other hostages, and to ensure that Saddam is not allowed to get away with this aggression, are not listening to what our constituents are saying.

Article 42 affords the legitimacy for the embargo and for military deployment. We all hope that the sanctions will have the desired effect and that the Iraqis will be forced to withdraw--they certainly have no record of tolerating failures on their side--but that may not be achieved in weeks ; it may take longer. We know that our forces can do their job. Let us hope that the House can fulfil its responsibilities to them and to the country by showing the patience and resolution that the task requires. We can show that by supporting the Adjournment of the House this afternoon.

10.32 am

Sir Ian Gilmour (Chesham and Amersham) : The hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) struck a chord in the whole House when he talked about amateur strategists and studio war games. I think that the House will agree that the attempted distinction between offensive and defensive weapons is nearly always totally unrealistic.

Column 849

The two impressive speeches from the Front Benches today, by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and the hon. Member for Clackmannan, have reaffirmed the virtual unanimity in the House and throughout the world that Saddam Hussein's aggression was an intolerable act and that he must not be allowed to profit from it.

As is customary, the country which was attacked was much better governed and a far better place than its attacker. Whereas Saddam Hussein's Iraq has strong claims to being the most brutal and savage police state or dictatorship in the world, Kuwait, in which I have--or had--an interest is probably the best governed state in the region. An impressive and unimpeachable testimony to that fact is what happened when Iraq invaded. Saddam Hussein wanted to set up a puppet Government and was totally unable to do so. Not one genuine Kuwaiti came forward. There was not one Kuwaiti Quisling. In the last war I think that there was only one European country of which that was true--Poland--so it is a proud record.

Now Saddam Hussein is systematically wrecking Kuwait. He is behaving like the Mongols did in Baghdad 750 years ago. He is taking the whole place apart, destroying lamp standards and removing traffic lights, quite apart from his appalling behaviour to the people of Kuwait and to the foreign workers and residents there. Clearly he must not be allowed to get away with it.

Obviously he thought he was going to get away with it and, on past form, he had good grounds for thinking so. Only the prompt and decisive action of above all President Bush and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister turned his aggression into a disastrous miscalculation. Probably Saddam Hussein's greatest miscalculation was to forget, or not to notice, that the cold war had ended. At almost any other time in the post-war era he could have played off one superpower against another and he might have got away with it. He cannot do that any more.

The prime task of American and allied diplomacy and strategy must be to ensure that the United States and the Soviet Union remain firmly aligned on this issue. That is a key matter and, so far, the omens are good.

I hope that sanctions will do the trick, although it will take a long time, but plainly we cannot rule out the use of force--after all, the other side has already used it. No one can foresee what will, or should, happen but it is clearly overwhelmingly desirable that the next major act of violence should come from Iraq. An American attack, supported by Britain but not by the United Nations, might become inevitable and we have to face that, but it should be avoided if at all possible. The trouble with surgical strikes is that they are not surgical, or they have not been so far. The American bombing of Tripoli clearly demonstrated that.

The political fallout of such an attack is incalculable. Many of the pro- western Governments in the area might be endangered. We should remember that the pro-western Government in Iraq in 1958 was basically brought down by the attack on Suez two years earlier. The reasons for caution lie in the middle east's recent history. Many countries and individuals have been equivocal about previous acts of aggression or have condoned them. I certainly plead guilty to that over Iraq's attack on Iran 10 years ago.

Column 850

The west's previous equivocations and tolerance of blatantly unjustifiable behaviour, which if it had occurred anywhere else in the world would never have been condemned, explains why so many Arabs support Saddam Hussein, even though they loathe him. Having seen what has happened in Palestine since the war--and indeed before it--most Arabs are inevitably suspicious of the west. Western double standards have been too blatant and too sustained for Arabs to be anything else.

If it is wrong for Iraq to annexe Kuwait--which it certainly is--then it was equally wrong for Israel to annexe the Golan Heights, Arab Jerusalem and its surrounding area, to which it has no conceivable right. Yet what did the west do? Nothing. Or rather the Americans did something--they effectively subsidised that annexation for more than 20 years. Similarly they have effectively subsidised the brutal and illegal occupation of the west bank and Gaza for all that time. Women and children have been shot, houses blown up, men deported, land stolen, water stolen, and thousands imprisoned without trial. A far higher proportion of the Palestinian population have been imprisoned by the Israelis than the black population by the South African Government, and the two situations have much in common.

Mr. Stephen Day (Cheadle) : I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. Does he not accept that there is a distinct difference between the situation on the west bank and the Gaza strip--however distressing that may be and however understandable the plight of the Palestinians? That occupation came about as the result of an unwarranted attack by Arab nations upon the state of Israel.

Sir Ian Gilmour : That is quite untrue. The 1967 war was begun by an attack on Egypt by Israel. I can only refer my hon. Friend to General Rabin, who was the commander of the forces at the time and therefore might be considered to be fairly authoritative on the subject. He said that he thought that President Nasser had no intention of attacking.

The situations are not exactly the same, but clearly what has been going on --the illegal occupation of Gaza and the west bank--is intolerable, and yet the United States responded to South Africa's actions by bringing sanctions and responded to Israeli actions by giving them dollars--$4 billion per year. It is no wonder that the PLO and so many Palestinians have supported Iraq. I regret their decision deeply and I believe that they were disastrously mistaken, but I also understand it. It may even have been unavoidable. America's behaviour has driven the Palestinians into the arms of a brutal dictator. It was greatly encouraging to hear James Baker tell Congress last week that America now accepts that regional stability in the middle east must include a settlement of the Palestinian issue. He said that a resolution of the current threat should become the springboard for renewed efforts to resolve all middle east conflicts,

"including the festering conflict between Israel and its Palestinian and Arab neighbours."

That must be right, and I only wish that sentiment had been a greater part of the allied case since the beginning. I dare say that Mr. Peres and much of the Israeli Labour party would agree, but obviously Mr. Shamir and the current right wing Israeli Government will do everything that they can to prevent such an outcome.

Column 851

The last month has been frustrating for the Israeli Government because it has demonstrated something that many of us have always known--that the idea that Israel is an important American ally is wholly untrue. Israel is an ally that America cannot use. If Israel becomes involved, the whole allied operation will be wrecked, so it is important that Israel be kept out of it. One hopes that the rumours that the Israelis would like to destabilise King Hussein are untrue and that the Americans will prevent anything of that kind happening.

With the tyrannies of eastern Europe and elsewhere coming to an end, and with President de Klerk making courageous and successful efforts to bring a civilised system to South Africa, Israel cannot be allowed to be the odd man out. After Kuwait has been liberated and decency has been restored there, justice must at last be given to the Palestinians.

10.41 am

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton) : The right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour) is absolutely right in his remarks concerning Israel's position. I was one of the first members of Parliament to enter Israel after the six-day war. Whether or not one likes it, the fact remains that territory not under Israel's control prior to that war is now under its control, and has been since that time. We cannot get away from that. When some of us put it to the Israeli authorities at that time that they were creating a dangerous situation for the future, they said that it was merely a question of using the territory in negotiations to achieve peace and secure boundaries. Some of us warned them then that might not happen, because the longer that Israel remained in those territories, the greater would be the demand from the right wing in Israel for them to be incorporated into the state of Israel. Who can say that we were wrong?

No one is suggesting--certainly not my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn)--that Saddam Hussein's action in entering and taking over Kuwait can be justified. It is only unfortunate that many in the west have only just discovered that Saddam Hussein is a brutal dictator. Some of us have argued that for a long time, and have warned that his actions were such that he should have been condemned by the world, as other dictators should have been condemned by the world.

Yesterday, I raised the question of the destruction of the Kurds by chemical weapons. That did not occur on just one occasion. When it first happened, no one took the slightest notice. The only reason why notice was taken in 1988 was that the Kurds showed television crews what had happened. Saddam Hussein has been operating a policy of destroying the Kurdish population for a long time. Thousands of Kurds have been killed, yet very little was done about that. The United States of America did its utmost to see that the matter was not discussed at the United Nations. That was a disgraceful action and we should not forget it.

Because I made a statement three or four weeks ago that Parliament should be recalled, I received letters saying, "Obviously you are on Saddam Hussein's side." Similarly, I received letters when I commented on the action that the Government allowed to be taken in Gibraltar, saying that I was on the side of the IRA. I have never been on the side of Saddam Hussein, the IRA, or of any force of that kind--and I never will be.

Column 852

Some of us spent a long time in the forces in the last war. Some of us had very distinguished records, while others of us had not so distinguished records. That does not matter, because we all bear in mind that we lost many of our friends. I shall never forget them. It is emotional for me because I remember them now. They included youngsters with whom I went to school. I have lived on borrowed time, like all of us who were in the forces. I think also of the civilians who were killed. Look what happened to our cities--London, Liverpool, Coventry and Belfast. We should remember the destruction that occurred and the killing of thousands and thousands of innocent civilians.

We had to fight that war, but Hitler was not Saddam Hussein, and Saddam Hussein is not Nasser. At least Nasser genuinely believed in a united Arab nation. Saddam Hussein is not in that category, but that still does not mean that we should want to see war come about in the belief that that is the only answer. I passionately do not believe that it is the only answer. I believe that the answer is to begin to talk and to negotiate.

I am an old shop steward, and whenever I went into a battle, I made certain that I left a door ready to be opened. If you close the door behind you, sometimes you cannot get out of the situation. I believe that we must have a door ready to be opened in the present situation--a door that will give Saddam Hussein some chance of saving some face, so that the problem can be solved by negotiation and not by war. If there is war, who knows where we shall end up? I do not know, and no one else knows. Perhaps the war would be over quickly, like the Galtieri situation.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Heffer : No, I am not giving way. This may well be my last speech in this House. I do not know.

We must talk in order to find a solution without going to war. I agree entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) and with my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield that there should be no question of going to war unless that is agreed by the whole of the United Nations. We should all agree on that if we cannot agree on everything else.

The last point that I want to make concerns the damn hypocrisy of some of those involved. The Secretary of State for Defence says that we stand by the law. I am old enough to remember Suez, when there were campaigns throughout the country using the slogan, "Law, not war". Then, we were, quite rightly, standing by the law, but what has happened in the past in relation to the United States? What law did America call up when it invaded Grenada or Panama? What law did it call up when it undermined the elected president of Chile and helped to get him murdered? What law did it call up when it assisted the Contras in violent means against the Nicaraguan Government? What sort of law is that? That is not law ; that is interests. That is imperial interests. What worries me is whether we are going to Saudi Arabia to fight for the rights of the Kuwaitis and the people of Iraq who have been oppressed for so long--

Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South) : Still are oppressed.

Column 853

Mr. Heffer : Yes, they still are oppressed. Where were Conservative Members when the likes of me were working hard to assist those people? Selling weapons.

An American senator has said that if Iraq was only growing carrots, America would not be interested. Of course it would not be. It is a question of oil and oil interests. It is capitalist oil interests. It is imperialist oil interests. That is what worries me. I want peace. I want the people to be free and genuinely free. I do not want us to be rushed into a war because of the oil companies.

10.51 am

Mr. Michael Mates (Hampshire, East) : No one could fail to have been moved by the sincerity of the remarks of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), particularly in the earlier parts of his speech. We may often have disagreed with his sentiments, but never ever have we doubted that he speaks with total sincerity. He holds his views as passionately and as genuinely as we hold ours. Two wholly admirable things have happened since 2 August. The first has been the Government's response- -measured, calm, wise and underlyingly tough--to the invasion of Kuwait. I congratulate my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Defence and the Foreign Secretary, neither of whom have put a foot wrong during this difficult time. They deserve our thanks for the way in which they have handled the crisis. That has been the major factor in explaining to a confused British public what we are doing. That is the message that will go out from a nearly united House during the past two days of debate. It will need to be explained again and again during the coming difficult months.

The second thing that has happened has been the genuineness and totality of the international response. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State listed those countries that had responded in kind to the international call for help for Kuwait. He did not mention the contribution of Greece, and I am sure that that was inadvertent. I was in Greece earlier this week when the frigate Limnos sailed. It was touching to see the pride of ordinary Greek people that they, for the first time since world war two, were taking part in an international call. Turkey's response has also been bold and brave. I hope that it is not too much to ask that, now that we find those two fellow NATO members on the same side with common interests in the dispute, they may be helped to solve some of their own problems. We must also give credit to the Government for their handling of our relationships in the Gulf during the past decade, in particular our defence relationships with those states with whom we have been close for many years. The Select Committee on Defence was fortunate enough in 1986 to go to Oman to look at exercise Saif Sareea--a reinforcement exercise of massive proportions by the British in response to a call from the sultan for help in accordance with the defence agreement that we have with that country. It was the first time that the Tornados had been flown non-stop from Britain to the middle east, and that was considered a fine achievement then. I have no doubt that it has helped to make the arrangements easier and the path smoother for those who have had to carry out the reinforcements in the past weeks.

But in a way that has been the easy part. It is difficult technically to respond to a crisis, but no one is in any doubt that the job must be done. The service men,

Column 854

civilians, Ministers and Government will get on and to it. From now on I believe that it will get much harder, because we must be prepared for a long haul. Our service men are out there in conditions of acute discomfort. So are the service men of the United States and the others who have responded. How we are to sustain them over the coming months is a difficult logistical matter. Moreover, in the long term, it will also be expensive. Those who were arguing only a month ago for the peace dividend to be doubled or trebled by Christmas must now be eating their foolish words uttered in this place.

Not only will it be difficult to provide a tolerable standard of living for our troops, but we shall have to consider rotating them. Some who will have been there for about five months by Christmas will have to be brought home and others sent in. It will be a complex matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and all in the Ministry of Defence to maintain our commitment at the level that is thought right and, at the same time, to maintain the living conditions, the spares that will be required, training requirements, ammunition, fuel and all the other things that are necessary during what will be a difficult and dangerous period.

I shall not fall into the trap that many others have avoided of being an armchair strategist. I simply point out that there will be a tough time ahead for the Ministry of Defence, the Government and the Chancellor, who, certainly in the short term, will have to find rather more help for the defence budget than he thought when he did his sums at the beginning of the year. I am sure that he will do that with all the relish of his predecessors when they were faced with similar crises.

Naturally we are focused on the one event and the one job that our services have to do at the moment. But this is not a bad moment for some of us to stand up and remind the House of our long-term defence requirements. Just two months ago we had a two-day defence debate. From the Opposition we heard cries of, "Not enough cuts. Why aren't you sending the whole lot home? Why have we still got troops in Germany? Why haven't you wrapped the whole thing up? Everything is over. We do not need them any more." Once again, those are words for eating.

Mr. Elliot: Morley (Glanford and Scunthorpe) : Why do we need them in Germany?

Mr. Mates : Our troops are performing an important role in Germany and I would put a lot of money on a large slice of them being deployed in the Gulf between now and Christmas. That is why we need them there. There is certainly no room for them in this country. The hon. Gentleman's remark is born of complete and utter ignorance. The problem remains. My right hon. Friend has had a shot at casting the future shape and size of forces during the next couple of years. He was reluctant to go further than he thought was prudent, and, my goodness me, how right he was. Now we must look at the sort of contingencies out of area and our defensive capability for the rest of the decade.

The one thing that we should say now is that it is even more urgent than it was two months ago that NATO should decide the way in which it believes that Europe needs to be defended over the coming years. Until we have had the options for change from NATO headquarters and from the other European Governments, and until we have

Column 855

discussed those and agreed upon the shape of the residual forces to remain on the continent of Europe, which will be much fewer than they are now--it is the size and shape that matter--we cannot do a sensible job in planning the adequate size, shape and reserve forces so that we can come to the aid of our friends should contingencies arise elsewhere in the future, as they will.

Over the past 30 to 40 years, we have coped with all of those on the back of the major commitment to NATO--we have drawn from that. If, as I believe, the future contribution to NATO is to be much smaller, that will mean that the flexibility to respond quickly and adequately to calls for help inevitably will be much harder to manage, and that is the balance that we must get right in the future shape of our forces.

To that end, I hope that the Government will press our NATO allies to produce a sensible plan for the future defence of Europe, very much sooner than later, so that we can ensure that with our residual forces we will always have the capability to go to the help of friends, as we are doing now so admirably and so well.

11 am

Dr. John Gilbert (Dudley, East) : As I wish to be punctilious, I should declare the remotest of interests in that I am an unpaid member of the advisory board of Royal Jordanian Airlines. I do not have any shares in that company.

I wholeheartedly support yesterday's speeches by the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock)--and as it is some time since I could last say that, I am rather pleased about it. I welcome the fact that the Government are considering sending a contingent of ground troops, which I always thought should be an ingredient of our contribution. I echo what the Secretary of State for Defence said about our troops. I congratulate the Americans on the speed and skill with which they have built up their forces. Before coming to the main part of my speech, I wish to touch upon a couple of points that have already been raised in the debate. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) asked the Secretary of State for Defence about the possible differences in interpretation of Prince Sultan's remarks. Does the Secretary of State think that Prince Sultan's remarks would apply to American seaborne forces, which are not on the territory of Saudi Arabia and therefore could mount a massive air attack and seaborne invasion? Would Prince Sultan's remarks apply to such an operation? I should be grateful if the Foreign Secretary could deal with that point during his reply.

The second point arising out of the speech of the Secretary of State for Defence was his statement that there was no question of an embargo on medical supplies for Iraq, which I fully support. However, I was alarmed that he said nothing about food. In the long run, I do not think that public opinion in Britain, in the remainder of Europe or in north America will endorse the west attempting to starve the Iraqi people into submission. I have no doubt that there will be premature and hyperbolic diatribes from Saddam Hussein claiming that babies are short of milk and that people are starving long before that is the case. However, a deliberate policy to starve the Iraqi people into submission will not work. We must remember what happened immediately after 1945 when the war came to an end : the troops in Germany refused orders not to supply

Column 856

food to the defeated population. Such a policy is not sustainable and I hope that the Foreign Secretary will assure us that food, as well as medical supplies, is exempt from the blockade.

Thirdly, I wish to touch on a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), who has left the Chamber. He referred to oil supplies, which is one of the crucial elements in the current position. It would be a mistake to say that we are defending oil supplies in the interests of the oil companies. If the oil supplies in the Gulf are destroyed and the western world loses 40 per cent. of its supply, the oil companies will not suffer--they never do. Those who will suffer will be the old-age pensioners and the single-parent families in the constituencies of every hon. Member ; it is their heating bills that will rise. Therefore, there is nothing wrong with our being in the middle east to protect our access to oil supplies.

I cannot imagine Iraq provoking an armed clash at this moment. I cannot even perceive it sending aircraft into Saudi air space. I cannot perceive it trying to provoke a confrontation on the waters of the Persian Gulf. I am afraid that we are committed to a long haul--that is, if we do not rely on starvation. It could be 12 months before the Iraqi economy finally grinds to a halt. There is a great danger of the west focusing exclusively on Saddam Hussein. I hope that no wild people in any country are trying to assassinate him behind the scenes. I do not want him to become a martyr. If he falls, who will follow? As my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East said yesterday, it could be someone a great deal more unpleasant even than the unpleasant Saddam Hussein.

If it is a question not just of getting rid of the leadership but of getting rid of the Baath socialist regime, how do we do that without sending tanks all the way to Baghdad? I cannot imagine that the Government or the Americans would conceive such a policy. Surely our objective must be not, in the words of the Foreign Secretary, just to wipe the smile off Saddam Hussein's face, but to ensure that no one in Iraq--Saddam Hussein or any successor--will in future have the power or the wish to deploy nuclear, biological, chemical or conventional weapons. Whoever is in power in Iraq, there will be a burning sense of grievance about the lack of access to the Persian Gulf. Whoever is in power, there will be a continuing bitter envy of the wealth of Iraq's more fortunate neighbouring states. Both those sentiments are widely understood and supported throughout the Arab world, not least in countries whose leaderships are supporting United Nations actions.

I greatly welcome the call by the Soviet Foreign Secretary Mr. Shevardnadze for a middle eastern peace conference. It is a great opportunity in this crisis. It should deal with at least four matters. First, there must be some territorial adjustments. I will not speculate on what they should be, but it is clear that the territorial boundaries drawn up, almost in a fit of oversight, by imperial powers after the first world war are not tolerated by the people in that area. Secondly, there must be--and I recognise that it is easier said than done--a regime for the inspection and the control of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons throughout the middle east. That will be worth quite a high price. If we seek to impose such a controlling regime on Saddam Hussein, the Israelis also will have to accept control and inspection of whatever facilities they may possess, as will President Gaddafi. We cannot expect the

Column 857

Israelis to lower their guard towards the east and also towards the west without some assurance in both directions.

Thirdly--and The Times sneered at this the other day, and I was glad that the Foreign Secretary picked up the point--we should try to achieve a self- denying ordinance on sales of conventional armaments from the major arms- exporting countries dealing with that part of the world. I have said that many times in defence debates. Not many people have paid much attention to the argument, but now that we are looking over the edge of the abyss it is possible that something along the lines that I have suggested could be done. However, it would have to embrace not only the United States, the United Kingdom, France and the Soviet Union but China, Brazil, South Africa and other arms-exporting countries.

Fourthly, I think that there is a need for an Arab development fund through which the rich Arab states would commit themselves to major cross-border transfers of wealth. Those transfers would be based not on the political attitudes of the recipient countries but on the needs of the inhabitants of those countries. Such commitments should be made for 10 or 20 years ahead.

I would rather see a neutered and controlled Saddam Hussein--one whose people's long-standing grievances were being addressed by the international community--than a Saddam Hussein who was a martyr figure. I am confident that negotiations are going on behind the scenes, even if Her Majesty's Government are not party to them. I hope very much that that is so, anyway. Negotiations can have a hope of success only if sanctions are persisted with and military preparedness is maintained. We all pray not, but military means may have to be used. It is for that reason that I shall be supporting the Government this afternoon.

11.10 am

Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking) : The debate has proved how right it was that Parliament should be recalled. I was never in doubt from the beginning that Parliament would need to be recalled. The only question was when that should be. I think that the Government have achieved exactly the right timing. They have given an opportunity for the House to have a first-hand report on matters that are of great concern to us all. It has been provided with the opportunity for hon. Members to make some wide-ranging speeches. If the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) were in his place, I would say to him that, although I disagreed with a great deal of what he said this morning, I hope that we have not heard his last speech in this place.

I am sure that all of us were glad to hear the speech of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, which began the continuation of the debate this morning. I thank him and, through him, all the British forces who are involved in what has been, in every way, a most convincing, prompt and correct response. I say to my right hon. Friend that our thanks should be conveyed to those who have been involved in the diplomatic discussions, which will continue to take place. Those involved should be thanked for the part which they have played. I refer especially to what has been done in the United Nations and the contribution that Sir Crispin Tickell has made so

Column 858

forcefully. That deserves to be recognised across the Floor of the House. I am sure that it is agreed by all my right hon. and hon. Friends and by most Opposition Members that Ministers, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and all others involved, deserve the thanks of the House for their handling of a difficult and unexpected situation.

It would be wrong for us to attempt to magnify out of proportion our own contribution. We are not the only country involved. We must recognise what has been done by America and President Bush, and the part that American forces are playing in the defence of Saudi Arabia. The reduction of the military threat in the Gulf is of enormous importance ; there is no gainsaying that.

The debate provides us with the opportunity to make it clear to the country generally, and to the individuals who are involved, that the hostages are not forgotten. I have never been more disgusted by anything that I have seen on television than the sight of Saddam Hussein fondling the heads of the children he was using as human shields. He was like some storekeeper fondling the wares on display in his bazaar. I hope that that is understood by those who were responsible for that disgraceful abuse of human rights. I refer to the rights of our own people and all others who are involved. Hostage-taking and hostage exploitation have no part in international relations at any level. The sooner that they are eliminated the better it will be for us all.

I want to be as brief as I can, so I shall concentrate on only one theme, from which some of the preceding speeches may have diverged slightly. I wish to focus on the overriding logic of the position that faces us. We are all agreed throughout the world that aggression must not succeed, and that means that Kuwait must be liberated. There is no room for compromise and no room for negotiations. We all agree, too, that the primary means of achieving that objective should be the embargo and the sanctions which the United Nations has authorised. They must be made effective. There must be a solid embargo. There must be no loopholes and no evasion. We all hope that those means will bring Saddam Hussein to his senses, so that he understands that the world is against him and that the fruits of his aggression must be given up.

All of us know, however, that there is a limit to the period during which sanctions can be expected to achieve their objective. There may well come a time when we have to say that sanctions have not worked. If that time comes, clearly the military option cannot be ruled out. It is important that from this moment on we do not let Saddam Hussein forget that. The alternative is too awful to contemplate. It would mean the humiliation, defeat and collapse of the United Nations structure. If Saddam Hussein gets away with his aggression, we are back to the unpleasant experiences that led to the collapse of the League of Nations. We cannot allow that to happen again. The credibility of the United Nations is on the line. I believe that the potential use of force is already embodied in the resolutions and articles that the United Nations has as its authority. There can be no compromise about that.

Perhaps it has not been stated as clearly as it should that the resolution of the crisis which was caused by Iraq lies in the hands of Iraq. Iraq can withdraw from Kuwait. It can agree to submit to international law and order. The people of Iraq must never be allowed to forget that. We may think--we may be right--that Saddam Hussein is deaf to reason and that he is a man with whom it is impossible to argue. We should not take it for granted, however, that everyone

Column 859

in Iraq is immune to reason. I hope very much that when my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary contributes to the debate he will say something about the propaganda war, which has been going on for some time. There is an urgent need to put across through the media in Britain, and internationally through the BBC World Service, the message that none of us wants to be forced into war and that it is up to Iraq to ensure that that does not happen.

11.18 am

Mr. John McWilliam (Blaydon) : I shall first tell the House of the disgust and anger on Tyneside at the murder of Douglas Croskery and the inability to recover his body after a decent period. That anger persists ; it is real and can be sensed in any conversation in any club, pub and anywhere where people congregate on Tyneside. There is a strong feeling that those who perpetrated that crime and were compliant in it should be brought to justice.

I entirely agreed with the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) and the Secretary of State for Defence when they paid tribute to our forces stationed in the Gulf. The conditions in which they work, the atmosphere, the desert and the humidity corrode men and machines. Therefore, it is obvious that individual machines and men cannot be expected to serve there for long periods, but will need to be rotated. The remarks of the hon. Member for Hampshire, East (Mr. Mates) about further deployment and rotation, and their cost, need careful consideration by the House. I was a little concerned when the Defence Secretary seemed to imply that all those costs could be found within the existing defence budget. As a member of the Select Committee on Defence I shall have ample opportunity to question him on his thoughts and pursue the matter, and I shall do so.

I was deeply concerned this morning to see the reports of the potential for cholera among the refugees in no man's land. I welcome the additional £2 million that the Prime Minister announced yesterday, but my impression is that aircraft, trucks, and people to pilot both, are needed more than money. We must get the residents of the Indian sub-continent, Egypt and Palestine back to their countries and we must get supplies to them. There is ample evidence to suggest that supplies exist but are not reaching the proper destinations. Red Crescent and the Red Cross have made appeals, to which we should respond as a nation and call on our European partners, particularly those not making a great military contribution, to weigh in and do something quickly.

Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth) : I am grateful to the hon. Member. Does he agree that the refugee problem on the border of Jordan is perhaps the greatest threat to the stability of that country, which has been a true friend to us in the past?

Mr. McWilliam : I agree with the hon. Gentleman and feel particularly sorry for Jordan, which has an awful strain to bear. King Hussein has done his best. He tried to mediate in circumstances in which it was virtually impossible. He has been rebuffed and left with a problem on his doorstep that is not his responsibility--Jordan could not afford to deal with it anyway.

I do not understand why the Technology Development Group has not already been closed down. Its doors should be locked and barred, and the people sent out. I hope that when the Foreign Secretary replies he will have told his

Column 860

people in the Box to have that done so that he has news to give us. Frankly, there is no excuse for the continued existence of that organisation in London ; it should be removed forthwith.

I hope that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will make an early announcement about a windfall profit tax on the oil companies. I have grave suspicions that movements in the price of petrol at the pumps do not truly reflect the reality of what is happening to the world price of oil.

Although we face a terrible situation, the potential for good is there. For the first time, both the Warsaw pact countries and the western countries are united in the United Nations in condemning naked aggression. For the first time, a truly international blockade has been set up and, for the first time, can be properly policed. Great good could come from that.

I echo the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock), the Leader of the Opposition yesterday, and agree that good can come only if the practical politics of the crisis are explored as well as the legal niceties. We must bring the rest of the United Nations along with us and not be prepared to take unilateral action. That being said, we should not give any comfort to Saddam Hussein by suggesting that military means will not be employed if the sanctions are unsuccessful. We should make it plain to him that we shall seek to use military means if the sanctions are unsuccessful and he does not remove his forces from Kuwait. We should put that beyond any doubt.

The crisis focuses our attention on the chemical and biological warfare talks and the nuclear non-proliferation treaty renewal talks. It shows the urgency for concluding treaties on both. It shows the urgency, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, East (Dr. Gilbert) said, for a proper and intrusive inspection regime, particularly, but not only, in that region. It underlines the fact that dragging our heels, as we did on the chemical talks a couple of years ago, was not the right decision then.

I hope that the House will not rise today without expressing its thanks to all those people who have worked so hard to get the place ready for us to hold this most important debate. I was here on Monday when the place was a shambles ; it was marvellous when we came in yesterday and, on behalf of us all, I thank those responsible. 11.27 am

Sir Michael Marshall (Arundel) : I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. McWilliam) and I shall make specific suggestions about giving assistance to international refugees on the ground which follow directly from some of his points.

I hope that the House will understand if I make my remarks today in the context of work within the Inter-Parliamentary Union, which I hope to demonstrate is of direct relevance in trying to involve the maximum number of parliamentary colleagues from both sides of the House and the other place in seeking to carry forward the continued resolutions of the IPU. Those resolutions concern the development of democratic institutions and, above all, the peaceful resolution of conflict.

I wish to report to the House immediately that the British group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union has joined the IPU in Geneva in sending resolutions to the Speaker of

Column 861

the national assembly of Iraq calling for the effective adoption of UN resolutions, involving withdrawal from Kuwait and the release of hostages.

When we consider the background, one of the first things we should try to do is to understand precisely the democratic position in Kuwait, about which there has been some rather loose talk of a condemnatory nature which does not fairly reflect on the true history and ambitions of Kuwait.

You, Mr. Speaker, will recall that, as part of our work in encouraging democratic development, in 1983 you received the Speaker of the Kuwaiti National Council in a period when Kuwait was a member for 18 years, during the past quarter of a century, of the IPU. There has since been a hiccup and that national council was suspended in 1986. But last June there were general elections in Kuwait and in July the general secretary of that council applied to the IPU to seek reaffiliation to membership. So the burgeoning process of return to democracy in Kuwait was cut short, as were many aspects of life in that country, by the appalling violations of Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi forces at the beginning of August. Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East) rose --

Sir M. Marshall : I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman because I am anxious to keep to the spirit of the 10-minute speech rule which comes into operation shortly.

What can we do to try to foster contacts and dialogue not only with Kuwait but with all the other Arab countries that stand four square with us now? We are planning, through the offices of the IPU, to bring forward a visit that we had planned to make to the United Arab Emirates on the return of the House, and to add to that visit visits to neighbouring territories, subject to consultations already in hand with Her Majesty's Government and leaders of the Opposition parties. In addition, at the IPU conference in Uruguay next month we shall not only be counting heads but taking the opportunity to hold discussions with other countries directly affected by the crisis. Recognising that there are some countries with which we have no diplomatic relations, we now have an opportunity to pursue relations with countries with which there is no direct Government contact. I will not specify the countries concerned, but hon. Members will appreciate that there will be opportunities to open dialogue with some countries with which we have had difficulties and in which the present situation perhaps allows new initiatives to be taken in the wider international and bilateral interest.

All such measures will take time and will have to be deployed as the situation develops. I am concerned about what we can do in the short term, and I stand four square with the thrust of the debate and what has been said from both Front Benches. I, too, wish to consider the plight of the hostages and refugees. I hope that when he replies to the debate, the Foreign Secetary will give a situation report on our nationals and the progress that has been made in achieving their release.

I wish to consider a wider aspect in relation to the international hostages who, as the hon. Member for Blaydon said, are in no man's land. I make my remarks in

Next Section

  Home Page