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House of Commons

Tuesday 4 June 1991

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]

Oral Answers to Questions


Oil Fires, Kuwait

2. Mr. Dalyell : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will specify the medical qualifications of those responsible for monitoring the health of sappers engaged in support of those fighting oil fires in Kuwait ; how many doctors are engaged in this work ; how frequently checks of the lungs are conducted ; what conclusions have been drawn from the appearance of black spots on dissected sheep ; what expertise is available on the consequences of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and hydrogen sulphide in the atmosphere ; and what plans he has for rotational use of sappers.

The Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. Archie Hamilton) : There are six doctors and 46 medical support personnel with our forces in Kuwait. In addition, a military public health physician is regularly monitoring the lung function of service personnel in the area of the oil fires and expert advice has been sought on atmospheric pollutants. There are no plans for the roulement of Royal Engineers in Kuwait. I have no information about black spots on dissected sheep.

Mr. Dalyell : In that case, the Minister should have such information. In view of expert medical opinion on the findings on sheep's lungs, what do we suppose is happening to human lungs? Is not it the truth that military personnel and civilians are at dire risk on account of aromatic hydrocarbons, of getting cancer over 10 years?

Mr. Hamilton : I am told that the most likely cause of the black spots is soot and that they are, therefore, similar to the black spots to be found on the lungs of coal miners or of people living in London at the time of smog. The hon. Gentleman referred to the carcinogenic effects of the air that is being inhaled in Kuwait. The effects are basically thought to be long term rather than short term and, in the short term, are not reckoned to be any worse on our people in Kuwait than are the effects of smoking 20 cigarettes a day or of suffering from passive smoking.

Mr. Adley : Nevertheless, is my hon. Friend aware that increasing numbers of people, including many diplomats in the Gulf, have the impression that the American company Bechtel is somehow preventing British companies and other European companies from tackling the fires in Kuwait far more effectively? Although I recognise my hon. Friend's ministerial responsibility, will he at least

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have a word with colleagues in the Department of Trade and Industry to see whether the problem can be tackled? For the sake of all of us, the fires must be put out as quickly as possible.

Mr. Hamilton : I can assure my hon. Friend that a tremendous amount of work has been done to ensure that British firms play a big role in the reconstruction of Kuwait. A number of British firms are now involved in putting out fires.


3. Mr. Cran : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence when he expects to make an announcement about the replacement of the Royal Air Force SAR Wessex helicopters.

5. Mr. Speller : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence when his Department last placed an order for Sea King helicopters.

The Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. Alan Clark) : We last placed an order for Sea King helicopters in November 1987. All seven aircraft ordered have now been delivered.

As I advised my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North (Mr. Speller) on 10 May, we are examining the case for the Wessex's replacement as part of the normal equipment planning process of the Ministry of Defence. An announcement will be made once a decision has been taken.

Mr. Cran : Does my right hon. Friend agree that an early decision is now required in view of the fact that the Wessex helicopter is operationally inferior to, for example, the Sea King? Indeed, some of the Wessex fleet is approaching 30 years old. In addition to that, can my right hon. Friend confirm that the Government have ruled out the possibility of the sole use of a civilian contractor to provide that service?

Mr. Clark : I should very much like to dispose of a budget that would allow me to comply with all my hon. Friends' requests about defence equipment procurement. As my hon. Friend knows well, we are under constraints at present and all these matters must be considered carefully. No decision on the civilian operation of the search and rescue service will be made until the options exercise has been completed. I can assure my hon. Friend that we will always take the wartime requirement fully into account in retaining a core capability.

Mr. Speller : May I take my right hon. Friend on a slightly different tack? Summer is with us. The Wessex helicopter, although excellent in the past, is no longer the all-weather, all-year-round or all- radar-equipped aircraft that we need along the Bristol channel and the north Devon coast. I beg my right hon. Friend to consider the matter for two purposes : the first is the safety of our tourists and the second is, perhaps, the continuance of a British-built helicopter fleet for the future. My right hon. Friend must make his mind up and make a change fairly soon.

Mr. Clark : I take my hon. Friend's point. The Sea King is more capable, and, with its night flying capability, operating from RAF Brawdy, it will provide cover for the Bristol channel.

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Mr. Menzies Campbell : As the Minister clearly understands, the replacement of the Wessex with the Sea King is intimately bound up with the contractorisation of search and rescue. Does he understand the dismay, both within the Royal Air Force and outside it, that contractorisation is once again under consideration? What has changed in the three years since contractorisation was successfully defeated by a campaign both inside and outside the House? Why will not the Minister reaffirm the Government's commitment to the RAF and the Royal Navy by rejecting contractorisation outright now?

Mr. Clark : The commitment in sea-air rescue is to those at risk. I am entirely confident that, however future arrangements may differ from existing arrangements, the risk to seafarers will not be aggravated. We shall continue to meet the criteria laid down by the Department of Transport. As I told my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North a core capability to deal with the wartime requirement will always be retained.

Mr. Skinner : Does the Minister recall that before both the 1983 and the 1987 general elections the Tory Government lambasted the Opposition, saying that Labour would cut defence spending if ever the Labour party got into power? Now the Tory Government cannot even satisfy their own Back Benchers. As somebody else said recently, this is a "funny old world".

Mr. Clark : I am interested by the hon. Gentleman's new-found interest in sea-air rescue helicopters. I can tell him that, whatever contraction may take place as part of the restructuring of our defences, it will be as nothing compared with what would happen if the Labour party got its hands on defence. If the hon. Gentleman is honest, he will admit that many studies are flying round on how the Labour party can plunder the defence budget to pay for its glib strings of promises.

Mr. Barry Field : When my right hon. Friend considers bids for the replacement of search and rescue helicopters, will he bear it in mind that an order with Westland would bring work to Westland Aerospace at West Cowes in my constituency? Westland Aerospace has an enviable international reputation for composite technology and for exporting aerospace technology from the United Kingdom.

Mr. Clark : My hon. Friend's point is well taken. Certainly that is one consideration that we keep to the forefront of our mind when considering the placing of a successor order.

Mr. Rogers : As my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) said, it is a "funny old world". None the less, we are pleased that the Minister has reaffirmed that he will defer an announcement on helicopters until after he has made a decision. Some time ago, in answer to a question on the cancellation of Tornados, the Minister replied that the job losses incurred were not his responsibility, nor that of the Government. Since then about 75,000 jobs have been lost in the defence industry. Does not the Minister understand that his procrastination and dithering over the orders for helicopters will now cost thousands of jobs in Tory constituencies and that that will cost the Tories seats at the next election?

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Mr. Clark : I fully sympathise with the hon. Gentleman who had a carefully prepared supplementary to the question tabled by his hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes), but was forced to attach it instead to a question about helicopters. As you, Mr. Speaker, judge his question to be in order, I am glad to face it. As I said to the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), if Labour Members were honest, they would admit that the present scale of redundancies and job losses in the defence industry are as nothing compared with what we would suffer if the Labour party ever got its hands on the defence budget and plundered it to pay for all their promises of expenditure in every other area.


4. Mr. Wilson : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the safety of the Trident nuclear missile system.

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Tom King) : The Government are satisfied with the safety of the Trident nuclear missile system. The missile and its nuclear warhead will undergo a comprehensive series of trials, independent assessments and safety checks before it enters service with the Royal Navy.

Mr. Wilson : Does the Secretary of State agree that on both the construction and weaponry sides of the project, Trident is turning into an extremely dangerous and expensive white elephant? Will he confirm a report in the Glasgow Herald that the Trident project has been subject to an external audit commissioned by his Department because of the extreme anxiety that the project is in chaos on many fronts?

Will the Secretary of State give us his views on the Drell panel report from the United States which singled out the Trident warhead as a particular source of anxiety? The committee was set up by the United States House of Representatives, which found that there was no fireproof screen between the nuclear warheads and the weapon fuel. On the latter point, will the Secretary of State give us an assurance that before there is any question of Trident being brought into use in Britain, there will be an independent assessment of all the safety elements? Why do we have to receive such information from the United States, rather than from our own Government?

Mr. King : The hon. Gentleman covered two entirely separate points in his question. In response to the second one, I have made clear our confidence in the safety aspects of the system. I can confirm again that we attach the highest importance, for the most obvious reasons, as successive Governments have done, to ensuring at all times scrupulous attention to safety in the operation and handling of our nuclear deterrent.

The first matter that the hon. Gentleman raised was about the construction projects that are in operation, especially at Faslane. Considerable progress has been made. They are major projects. Again, scrupulous attention to ensuring the highest standards of safety has meant reconsideration of certain issues. Those issues have been carefully examined. However, we would not describe the projects in the extravagant language that the hon. Gentleman used when he said that they were a shambles. The construction that is taking place at Faslane is a remarkable achievement.

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Mr. John Marshall : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the sniping at Trident by the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) shows the true face of the Labour party at work and that the Labour party still stands for one-sided disarmament which would put the defence of Britain very much at risk?

Mr. King : The whole House realised by the very length of the question asked by the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) that he was searching for every possible way of attacking the nuclear deterrent. That is obviously contrary to the policy which we have officially been told is now espoused by the Opposition Front Bench team and the Leader of the Opposition. I agree with my hon. Friend that the question by the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North is much more indicative of the true voice of the Labour party.

Mr. Boyes : May I make it absolutely clear to the Secretary of State for Defence that the Trident programme is an integral and important part of Labour party defence policy. [ Hon. Members-- : "Oh."] Further to the comments by my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson), according to the Drell report, the United States navy has been granted permission to use insensitive high explosives and the most volatile propellant, and to position warheads around the third rocket motors. That will enable maximum range warhead yield and increase the number of warheads, thereby dramatically reducing safety. Why will not the Secretary of State agree with my hon. Friend and Opposition Front-Bench Members that it is necessary to set up an independent inquiry, as the United States did, and report in public? Why will he not have that independent inquiry?

Mr. King : If the hon. Gentleman had been studying matters carefully, he would have noticed that the Drell report commented favourably on the safety review arrangements that operate in Britain and recommended the introduction of similar arrangements in the United States. I make it clear that we attach the highest importance to safety. We shall take any steps that we think appropriate to ensure that safety is assessed and, if necessary, reviewed independently to an extent sufficient to create public confidence. The hon. Member for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes) said in his introductory comment that Trident was an integral and important part of the Labour defence programme. I did not hear echoes round the Floor of the House of agreement with that amazing new policy statement. It is all very well to try to cover up Labour embarrassment on nuclear policy, but to go over the top to the extent that the hon. Gentleman did can lead only to the deep unhappiness that I see reflected in one or two faces on the Opposition Benches.

Arms Trade

6. Mr. Canavan : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what recent policy changes he has made regarding the assistance given by his Department to enable arms manufacturers to participate in the international arms trade.

Mr. Alan Clark : None.

Mr. Canavan : As the unchecked international arms trade, which includes a contribution from Britain, has

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created monsters such as Saddam Hussein, who caused the Gulf war that killed more than 100,000 people, how can the Government possibily justify allowing a butcher such as General Pinochet to come to this country to arrange a British-Chilean arms contract? He was responsible for killing and torturing thousands of people. That contract means that British arms technology will be freely available worldwide, even to countries such as Iraq.

Mr. Clark : It is untrue to say that the arms trade is unchecked. The hon. Gentleman and the House will be aware that it is subject to careful checks and scrutiny through our export licence procedure and a careful scrutiny of all applicants, deals and contracts. The visit of General Pinochet was nothing to do with the Government. He did not come as an official visitor ; he came to look at a British commercial concern in which he has an interest. There was no question of the Government's having any power to exclude him.

Challenger Tank

7. Mr. Battle : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence when he will make a decision about the Challenger tank order.

Mr. Alan Clark : As hon. Members will know, a wide range of factors must be taken into account in reaching a decision as important as that on the equipment of the future main battle tank fleet. I recognise the concern of the House that that decision should not be delayed unnecessarily. Although I cannot be drawn into a discussion of detail at this stage, I can say that it is our intention to make a further announcement before the end of this month.

Mr. Battle : Will the Minister confirm that his military advisers have already recommended to the Government that they should take the German Leopard tank on a leasing arrangement? Will he put an end to the charade of stringing along the Vickers company in Leeds, its work force and his Back- Bench colleagues with promises of decisions tomorrow?

Mr. Clark : I stand by what I just said--a further announcement will be made this month. I do not know what the hon. Gentleman means by our military advisers--there is no such body. We take opinion from a variety of different people.

Mr. Batiste : Is it not clear from the Gulf war that the Challenger tank is the best tank available in the world? It would be a charade were the British Army to have any other equipment. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the current quotations from the four contenders for the Chieftain replacement contract will expire towards the end of this month and that his announcement will precede that date?

Mr. Clark : Yes, I certainly can and that is why I told the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle) that an announcement will be made before the end of this month.

Mr. Nicholas Brown : Dithering is rapidly becoming a hallmark of this Government. Why can the Minister not stand at the Dispatch Box and say that the Government will buy British?

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Mr. Clark : As I told the House, this is an extremely important decision and a range of different factors must be taken into account. It is one of the most fundamental decisions on re-equipping the Army and we must consider all the relevant factors before we reach that decision. A further announcement is not far away and, if the hon. Gentleman remains patient, he will hear something in due course.

Mr. Beaumont-Dark : Will my right hon. Friend accept that he would need to have the tongue of a Cicero to convince even his own hon. Friends to buy the German Leopard tank or any other foreign tank for the British armed forces? Let us stop procrastinating. Let us say today that there will be one tank for the British armed forces and it will be Challenger. Why not say that now? Why must we wait?

Mr. Clark : I welcome what my hon. Friend says-- [Interruption.] --and I welcome the mood that I seem to be sensing from hon. Members on both sides. I certainly agree that nobody could possibly relish the task of explaining to the House that we were to buy a German tank.

Manpower Levels

8. Mr. Ted Garrett : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what are his plans for the future role of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers within the defence requirements of the United Kingdom.

13. Mr. Dunn : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on proposed manpower levels for NATO.

Mr. Tom King : Last week's meeting of NATO Defence Ministers agreed a new role for the United Kingdom, to assign forces to and lead the new multinational rapid reaction corps. In accordance with my "Options for Change" statement last July, and under this new strategy agreed by NATO, we shall move to an Army of 116,000 by the mid-1990s. On that basis, consultation within the Army on the future structure of regiments and corps will now proceed. Although the reduction in the size of the Army will inevitably involve changes for many units, whether amalgamation or in some cases, possibly, disbandment, I can confirm that the basis of the consultation will be that the regimental system will be kept.

Mr. Garrett : The Secretary of State will be pleased to hear that his last remarks give me some reassurance. I recall the events of 1968, the defence review and the tragic decision to curtail the traditions of some of the most famous regiments in the British Army. Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that it is still possible to keep those traditions, even at the one battalion level? The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, which has three regular battalions, could perhaps have two battalions--

Mr. Speaker : Briefly, please.

Mr. Garrett : I will do my best. Perhaps the first battalion could have in brackets after that title, "Northumberland" ; the second, "Lancashire" ; and, if there were a third, it could be called, "Royal Fusiliers".

Mr. King : The matter is for consultation within the Army, as I said, and I shall report back to the House as

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soon as I can on the decisions that are reached. I echo what the hon. Gentleman said and appreciate his recognition of the situation. Like every other major country, there is scope for a reduction in the scale of our armed forces. It can be done sensitively and intelligently, remembering and recognising the advantage and tremendous benefits that flow from the deep traditions of the regimental system that mean so much to so many of our fellow citizens.

Mr. Wiggin : In view of my right hon. Friend's important announcement about the reduction in the Regular Army, will he recognise the increased importance of the Territorial Army and resist the blandishments of the generals to reduce either its numbers or resources, since the reserves are even more important when our regulars are fewer in number?

Mr. King : I appreciate why my hon. Friend, with his knowledge of the subject, raises that point. We shall be addressing--indeed, we are considering--the position of the Territorial Army. As I made it clear in my original statement on "Options for Change", I value the contribution made by our volunteer reserve forces and am anxious to see the right basis on which the appropriate need, retention and recruitment can be addressed so that the forces continue to play and, in some respects, play an enhanced role in the defence of our country.

Mr. Dunn : Is not the leadership of British forces in the rapid reaction corps a tremendous complement to our forces and a major step forward in the provision and supply of a self-sufficient modern military force?

Mr. King : I am grateful to my hon. Friend and very much agree with what he said. He will know that the Army welcomes the new role that has been identified for United Kingdom forces within NATO. The leadership and the majority of the members of the Rapid Reaction Corps will give it a significant and important role for the future, which will be appropriate to our high-standard professional army.

Mr. Duffy : Is the Secretary of State aware that the Rapid Reaction Corps will not only be good news for Britain, because, as the Secretary of State and the hon. Member for Dartford, (Mr. Dunn) said, it will be British led and dominated, but will be welcomed within our alliance and not unwelcome in eastern Europe? When does he expect to make a statement on the financial arrangements for the new corps?

Mr. King : On the general set-up, I hope to publish a defence White Paper before the summer recess to bring together the developments taking place in the defence area. I am grateful for what the hon. Gentleman, with his knowledge of the subject, says. The hon. Gentleman will excuse me if I do not use the word "dominated" in relation to that multi-national corps as it will include elements from a number of other countries, which will be very welcome in that new, more flexible and mobile multi-national approach to the lower force levels but important defence needs of the new NATO strategy.

Mr. John D. Taylor : I hope that the announcement of the reduction in the regular Army will not affect the Royal Irish Rangers. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the reduction will not affect the presence of our regular Army in Northern Ireland, where it has been involved in a big

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operation for the past 20 years? If he cannot confirm that, will he assure us that he will consider the urgent extension of the Ulster Defence Regiment as an alternative?

Mr. King : For obvious reasons, I do not propose to deal with individual regiments today. Those are matters for discussion within the Army and the right hon. Gentleman will accept that consultation should take place. I can confirm, however, that, although the change will be reflected principally within the central region of NATO, there is absolutely no change in the commitment, role and tasks of the United Kingdom Army and its responsibility in support of the Royal Ulster Constabulary in Northern Ireland.

Mr. O'Neill : Does the Secretary of State accept that there will be widespread disappointment at the limited nature of today's statement? A great deal of press speculation and hype, obviously encouraged by his Department, preceded his announcement. Ten months after the statement of 25 July we have no more details, no exact figures, no timetable and no indication of what is happening to the troops. There are 170.000 civil servants in the Ministry of Defence and there are 330,000 troops. Surely the Government are capable of assembling a better package in the time available.

The Secretary of State says that he hopes to have consulted the forces before the end of the Session. In his statement of 25 July he said that he had a duty to the troops, but that duty is taking a long time to fulfil. He must end the uncertainty and difficulty confronting so many members of our armed services and their families. The present situation is not good enough, and the House should recognise that.

Mr. King : The hon. Gentleman's behaviour is disgraceful. He stands at the Dispatch Box and speaks as though the Gulf war had never occurred and as though there had been no events whatever between 25 July last year and now. He knows that in a military situation for obvious reasons, the first priority was to deal with the Gulf war. The hon. Gentleman's criticism that we should have made an earlier announcement would be valid if he were prepared totally to ignore the interests of our NATO allies and to drive ahead without conducting proper discussions on the NATO strategy. Before I take criticism from the hon. Gentleman, who should be ashamed of his defence policy because it will leave this country naked as his party has voted overwhelmingly for huge reductions in defence expenditure, I should simply say that NATO agreed that strategy-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order.

Mr. King : Many people in the armed forces are concerned about their future. The hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) and his hon. Friends make all the noise that they can to interrupt matters of great importance. The people involved will be watching those Opposition Members and be aware of their attitude. NATO took the decision last Tuesday and Wednesday, and I am announcing the consequences of it so that we can proceed immediately with consultation. If we had been prepared, as the hon. Member for Clackmannan seems to be, to ignore our NATO allies and consultation, we could have made a fuller statement. I am not prepared to do that.

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Sir Hector Monro : I welcome my right hon. Friend's commitment to the regimental system. Will he bear in mind in future the high standard of recruitment in the north of England and Scotland? Will he also bear in mind the tremendous commitment throughout the United Kingdom to our county and Scottish regiments?

Mr. King : I well appreciate that and I know that the capability of regiments to recruit is bound to be one of the criteria that the arms directors involved will wish to bear in mind when considering which future structure to recommend.

The Gulf

9. Mr. Mullin : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence when he last discussed the situation in the Gulf with General Colin Powell.

Mr. Tom King : I met General Powell with Secretary Cheney in Brussels last week, when a number of current topics, including our co- operation in the Gulf, were discussed.

Mr. Mullin : When the Secretary of State was pouring scorn on those of us who took the view that sanctions rather than war would be the best way of coping with Saddam Hussein, was he aware that General Powell took the same view? With the oil wells still blazing, a tyranny installed in Kuwait, untold misery being inflicted on millions of people and Saddam Hussein still in power, does the Secretary of State agree that General Powell might have been right after all?

Mr. King : The hon. Gentleman attributes those comments to General Powell, but he knows perfectly well that General Powell made clear his support for the actions of the President of the United States. The hon. Gentleman is seeking, after the event, to rationalise the totally impossible position that he himself adopted. I do not think any serious observer of the scene would doubt that if we had taken that view Saddam Hussein would still be sitting in Kuwait, willing to impose on his people whatever suffering sanctions might bring, and the intolerable persecution of the Iraqis would still be continuing.

Mr. Wilkinson : Are we not paying the price of a job half done in the Gulf war? Will my right hon. Friend comment on General Powell's recent statement to the effect that the United Nations forces will be withdrawn from northern Iraq sooner rather than later? In those circumstances, how is the security of the Kurds to be assured against Saddam Hussein's forces and what will the role of the British be?

Mr. King : Without anticipating the next question on the Order Paper, may I say that in our humanitarian work for the relief of the Kurds we have sought to work closely with the United States and our other allies. We shall continue to do that and seek to concert our actions with them.

Sir Cyril Smith : When the Secretary of State had discussions with General Powell, did he discuss the circumstances surrounding the deaths of the fusiliers killed in the Gulf at the end of February? Did he, for example, suggest to General Powell that the result of the inquiry, which we understand that the Americans have had, should be made public to the relatives of those killed, who included a 17-year-old boy in my constituency? Do the

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Government have any plans to release that report, which could be the subject of legal action once it is produced? Does he know that the mother of that 17-year-old boy was visited this weekend by her son's colleagues who were present when the accident involving the Americans took place? Those boys told the parents that the officers had instructed that they must not discuss this matter with them-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. It is a very long question. Perhaps it is a subject for an Adjournment debate.

Mr. King : As the hon. Gentleman knows, this is a serious and tragic matter. I know that the concern of General Powell and the allied commanders about the events is real. The hon. Gentleman will know that a formal board of inquiry has been set up. He will also know that the United States has promised to give all the help that it can. I do not wish to comment further now on this serious and tragic matter.

Iraq (Kurds)

10. Mr. David Nicholson : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the deployment of Royal Marines to Northern Iraq. 16. Mr. Burns : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the British forces present in Iraq to protect the Kurds.

Mr. Tom King : Three Commando Brigade was deployed to northern Iraq as a temporary measure to help provide humanitarian assistance to Kurdish refugees and the necessary reassurance to persuade the Kurds that it would be safe for them to come down from the mountains and return home. I am pleased to say that, thanks to the efforts of all allied forces, the majority of refugees along the Turkey-Iraq border have now come down from the mountains and are returning to their homes.

Mr. Nicholson : My right hon. Friend will be aware of the pride of my constituents, and my own pride as the son of a former Royal Marine, at the magnificent contribution made by the Royal Marines to this massive humanitarian effort. In my local newspaper, Lance Cpl. Bateman of 40 Commando reported on the Kurdish refugees' great appreciation of the marines. He said that the Kurds offered the marines hospitality, even if it meant offering the last of their food and drink. Could my right hon. Friend say--

Mr. Speaker : Order. Such long questions are becoming a bad habit. These matters would also be better raised in an Adjournment debate.

Mr. King : There is no question but that we asked our commando brigade to undertake an incredibly difficult task. The brilliant way in which it discharged its duties is a measure of its confidence, training and absolute commitment. Others have played their part, but none was better than 3 Commando Brigade. I hope that the whole House shares my admiration for the way in which that brigade carried out an incredibly difficult job. Its efforts and those of others undoubtedly saved the lives of hundreds of thousands.

Mr. Burns : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the decisive action by our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister

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and his Department saved thousands of Kurds from certain death from appalling weather and the tyranny of Saddam Hussein? Will he pay tribute to the Royal Air Force and the Chinook pilots for their magnificent work? In adverse weather, they made sure that vital supplies were airlifted to the refugees on the mountain tops.

Mr. King : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for mentioning the Chinook and other RAF pilots who were engaged in the air drop. As I think that the House knows, some of those who volunteered had just returned from the Gulf and had barely a few days leave. They as much as anyone are responsible for saving a fantastic number of lives. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister asked for Operation Haven to be launched, and we owe a great debt to our pilots and the marine commandos and the other forces involved. It is thought that 15,000 Kurds died. That is tragic, but very many more could have died.

Mr. Campbell-Savours : Now that the Iraqi Government have clearly breached resolution 688 by sending troops into the towns of Salumaniya, Dihok, Dahuk, Sahko and Arbil, and the repression of the population has begun once again, how is it possible for the British and American Governments to begin withdrawing troops when clearly the Kurds do not feel that they will be secure in future with only United Nations forces carrying side arms available for their protection?

Mr. King : The hon. Gentleman is making a challenge and condemning a Government who took the quite unprecedented step of making forces available to go to the relief of millions of people whose lives were in desperate jeopardy. We do not have to prove our credentials. We went there for humanitarian purposes and to save lives. We shall certainly be anxious to see that the benefits of what has been achieved are not lost.

Mr. Andrew Welsh : We record our appreciation for the excellent and important work carried out by the Royal Marines. Can the Secretary of State say when they will be coming home as their relatives are anxious to know?

Mr. King : I understand that, and that thought is very much in our minds. Having met the commandos concerned, I know that they understand and are proud of the contribution that they have been able to make. As soon as it is possible for them to come home, they will come home. They have had a very important job to do and they have done it outstandingly well.



Q1. Mr. Anthony Coombs : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 4 June.

The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major) : This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today. This evening I hope to have an audience of Her Majesty the Queen.

Mr. Coombs : Does my right hon. Friend share the widespread concern that in certain cases banks have not been fully passing on, particularly to smaller businesses, the full very recent and welcome reduction in bank base rate?

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