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Flooding (Perthshire)

3.30 pm

Sir Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross) (by private notice) : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement about the flooding in Perthshire.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Sir Hector Monro) : The Government fully appreciate the seriousness of the flooding, and have every sympathy for those who have been affected. The flooding has been caused by the combination of heavy rainfall and a rapid thaw of earlier snow. Large areas of land have been inundated and many properties have been flooded, requiring temporary evacuation of occupants.

The response to the emergency is of course primarily a matter for the local authorities, and they and the emergency services have responded well and are continuing to provide assistance. However, my right hon. Friend and I are keeping in close touch with the developing situation.

Scottish Office officials have been in regular contact with the emergency control centre in Perth and are at the ready to provide what assistance they can in response to requests from the local authority. Scottish Office officials are also in the area to conduct preliminary inspections, but the full damage will not be apparent for some days until the flood waters recede. In addition, the Royal Navy, the Army and the Royal Air Force have given extremely valuable support.

I am also pleased to announce the Government's decision to make special financial assistance available under the Bellwin scheme to the local authorities affected in the Tayside area.

Sir Nicholas Fairbairn : I am obliged to my hon. Friend for that statement. May I add my praise to all those--the Army, the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force, the district authorities, Perth district council, the fire services and the local community, who--in the most appalling situation, in which at the moment the water in some parts of Perthshire is 7 ft high--have supported one another and given service? Can my hon. Friend say what assistance in the short term, financial and actual, the Government propose to give, what recompense, in the short term and the long term, the Government propose to provide, and what recompense and assistance he is going to give to farmers and householders who have been put in the appalling position of temporary if not permanent loss?

Sir Hector Monro : I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend. I am sure that his comments about the outstanding work of the community would have been shared by my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker), had he been able to get here. My hon. Friend was absolutely right to give that praise, because everything I have heard about has been of the highest quality. It has been a tremendous community effort. Other than the practical assistance from officials that I have already announced, now that the Bellwin scheme has been triggered, it will be brought into operation as soon as possible and as soon as Scottish Office officials and local authorities have worked out what is involved.

As a farmer myself, I appreciate the extreme difficulties and major problems that are facing many farmers. I have seen pictures of farms under feet of water. That inevitably

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will damage flood banks, fences, dykes and hedges, which will need to be repaired. Two years ago, a special increase was made in the grant for flood banking, and the normal capital grant scheme will be available for hedges, walls and fences. All this will be looked at most carefully as soon as the waters recede and we know what is required.

Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton) : I echo what the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Sir N. Fairbairn) said about the floods, which are unprecedented. I am informed that the rate of flow is 500 cu m greater than the floods of 1990 and that they dropped to 1990 levels only late last night. Tayside regional council and Perth and Kinross district council have been working flat out on the problem, but has the Scottish Office learned any lessons from the 1990 floods? Both local authorities have instituted emergency planning procedures since 1990 and are concerned to ensure that the Scottish Office is involved in the commissioning and management of investigations into flood protection.

I have a letter dated 15 May 1991 from Lord Strathclyde, the then Minister with responsibilities for agriculture and fisheries at the Scottish Office, which says that it would not be

"appropriate for the Scottish Office to be directly involved in the commissioning of investigations"

of the type mentioned. That is abrogation of responsibility by the Scottish Office, and what has happened in Perth and Kinross could have been avoided if it had been involved.

In addition, the chief executive of Tayside regional council informs me that the helicopter search-and-rescue service performs an invaluable service. We all know that that service is being withdrawn from the area, but at this late stage will the Minister praise it and reconsider his decision to abandon it?

On the issue of compensation, Council chiefs' involved in this operation informed me only 15 minutes ago that the Bellwin scheme is insufficient and restrictive, and that the whole of Tayside region has been affected by this emergency. Will the Minister do something to help Tayside region, the community, farmers and elderly people who are isolated in their areas? Will he give us a commitment now to help Tayside region and tell us precisely what the Government intend to do?

Sir Hector Monro : Of course I echo the hon. Gentleman's praise for the community and the Royal Air Force crews who operate search-and-rescue helicopters. His comments will be noted by the Ministry of Defence.

I accept that flood levels in Perth were the highest recorded for the Tay. Since 1990, we have had an early warning system for the flow of the river, which proved very effective and facilitated the evacuation of people and stock from farms early yesterday. I have explained that the Bellwin scheme has been triggered and agreed by the Treasury, the details of which will have to be worked out in discussions between the local authority and the Scottish Office. We shall consider everything as favourably as possible, because in a serious situation such as Tayside everything must be resolved.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East) : The Minister will be aware that there has been substantial flooding in my constituency in the communities of Auchtermuchty, Dunshelt and Strathmiglo. I should like to pay tribute to Fife regional council, the fire service,

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police, personnel from RAF Leuchars and the voluntary organisations such as the Scottish Women's Rural Institute and the Women's Royal Voluntary Service.

Since some of the roads involved are trunk roads, will the Minister now agree to order an immediate engineering assessment to see what lessons can be learned with a view to preventing such flooding from happening again? Will he look extremely favourably on claims for compensation and ensure that Fife regional council suffers no financial prejudice as a result of its efforts on this occasion?

Sir Hector Monro : I note what the hon. and learned Gentleman has said, and I share in his commendation of the outstanding work done by voluntary services and all the other organisations which he mentioned-- including, of course, the fire service and RAF Leuchars, which is where the helicopters have been based.

I said that Scottish Office officials are in the area, but it is difficult to make any firm comment on the future until we are able to see the damage once the flood waters have receded. However, as soon as that has happened, we shall be in a better position to consider the future.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray) : Will the Minister undertake a complete assessment of the disruption of communications which resulted from this tragedy, because north-south and east-west communications in Scotland have been severely disrupted? That has a knock-on effect on economies elsewhere in Scotland, not only in Tayside, where obviously the main crisis occured. Does the Minister accept that Tayside authority must not be expected to bear the brunt of repairs to communications services, but that it must be a Scottish Office priority? Is he satisfied that the Bellwin formula is suitable in these circumstances, given the nature of the disaster?

Sir Hector Monro : I note what the hon. Lady says, and of course one appreciates the fact that there has been very

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severe weather in the north of Scotland and in Morayshire, with trees blown down and much damage to property. Yes, communications are a serious problem--for example, the A9 has been opened and closed and opened and closed again in the past fortnight--which have disrupted economic progress in Scotland and must be borne in mind ; but, at the same time, we must pay tribute to the men who drive the snow ploughs and gritters and who have kept the roads open in particularly ghastly conditions in the past fortnight. However, everything that the hon. Lady said will be carefully borne in mind.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West) : Although there will be a general welcome for the special assistance being offered by the Minister to the victims of flooding in Perthshire, will he ensure that the assistance is not limited to Perthshire but will cover victims of flooding in whatever geographical area they happen to reside? In view of the very severe weather suffered recently by almost all of Scotland--not only flooding but very low

temperatures--will the Minister have a word with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security with a view to expediting the payment of cold weather allowances to people who require them, bearing in mind the fact that, not all that long ago during a previous winter, the Prime Minister personally intervened to ensure that cold weather payments were made to people in the south of England suffering severe weather conditions?

Sir Hector Monro : I note what the hon. Gentleman has said. As he knows, the cold weather payments are triggered by particular circumstances at particular meteorological stations, and that, if they are triggered by particular areas of cold weather, that is dealt with by the Department of Social Security, which monitors the situation carefully. However, I shall certainly bear in mind what the hon. Gentleman has said.

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3.43 pm

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Malcolm Rifkind) : With permission, I should like to make a further statement on coalition military action against Iraq.

Yesterday and earlier today, the coalition took further military action against Iraq. There were a number of separate operations. At 8.45 am GMT today, four RAF Tornado GR1 aircraft and two Victor tankers took part in a further coalition operation, involving over 40 United States, British and French aircraft, against Iraqi air defence facilities and command and control facilities in southern Iraq, which had continued to pose a threat to coalition aircraft in the no-fly zone. Attacks were also carried out to suppress air defence installations which threatened the security of coalition aircraft participating in the operation. All coalition aircraft and aircrew returned safely.

Four RAF aircraft participated in the attack against an air defence operations centre at Al-Najaf. Two Tornado GR1 aircraft were to use 1,000- lb laser-guided bombs against targets designated by the thermal imaging airborne laser designator pods, carried by the other two aircraft. One of the Tornados was unable to clearly identify the target and did not release its weapons in order to avoid the possibility of damage to other buildings in the area and civilian casualties. However, the other Tornado successfully completed the attack.

Like the operation on 13 January, this action was taken in self-defence to ensure the safety of coalition aircraft patrolling the no-fly zone below the 32nd parallel in support of United Nations Security Council resolution 688. This was a follow-up to the action taken on 13 January. Early indications are that further significant damage has been inflicted on Iraq's residual air defences in the southern no-fly zone. Assessment of the results is continuing. This followed action in the latter part of yesterday, when cruise missiles, launched from United States navy ships in the region, attacked a facility connected with the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction programme. The early indications are that the facility was extensively damaged. This action was taken to ensure that Iraq complies with its mandatory obligations under United Nations Security Council resolution 687 and related resolutions. Iraq has committed a number of material breaches of resolution 687 and has wilfully ignored the warnings given by the Security Council, and by the United States, United Kingdom, France and Russia on 11 and 14 January respectively.

There has also been a number of incidents in the norther no-fly zone. On 17 January, an Iraqi fighter aircraft violated the no-fly zone in the north of Iraq. The Iraqi aircraft was engaged and shot down by coalition aircraft. In addition, coalition aircraft were illuminated by Iraqi air defence radars on a number of occasions in the past few days, including an RAF Jaguar on 16 January. This was in violation of the coalition demarche of 14 April 1992, which warned Iraq against a number of specific actions which would be taken as indicators of hostile intent.

Following one such incident, a surface-to-air missile battery was attacked on 17 January by coalition aircraft armed with the high-speed anti- radiation missile. Initial

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damage assessments indicate that the SAM system was put out of action. Iraqi air defence radars were again attacked using those missiles on 18 January.

These coalition actions have clearly demonstrated to the Iraqis the seriousness of our demand that Iraq should comply with United Nations resolutions and our continuing determination to maintain the no-fly zones, in the north and south of Iraq. Should the need arise, the Government will consider the need for further action in consultation with coalition partners.

The House would not wish me to conclude without expressing again our appreciation of the continuing efforts of our service men and women serving in the Gulf. They can be assured that they enjoy the whole-hearted support of the vast majority in the House and of the British public at large.

Dr. David Clark (South Shields) : I thank the Secretary of State for informing the House at the earliest possible opportunity of British involvement in the allied action against targets relating to the no-fly zones in Iraq. I pay tribute to the skill of our personnel involved, and I am glad that all the aeroplanes and the personnel in them returned safely.

The Opposition have always maintained that we shall give our full support to any actions that are in accordance with United Nations resolutions and with international law. In that light, I yet again offer my support to the Government in this case.

We support the military action in the knowledge that the Kurds in the north and the Shias in the south face terrible persecution if the no-fly zones are rendered ineffective. If allied aircraft cannot enforce those no-fly zones because of the deployment of surface-to-air missiles, clearly they will become ineffective with the resultant genocide of the Kurds and the Shias. We know that tens of thousands upon tens of thousands of people have already died at the hands of the Iraqi dictator.

With that in mind, I was delighted to see that the

Secretary-General of the United Nations, Boutros Boutros Ghali, had affirmed that last Wednesday's strike was within the

"mandate of the United Nations resolution 687."

If that is the case, and if that is the judgment of the United Nations Secretary-General, I assume that the latest strike was, also within the remit of resolution 687.

Can the Secretary of State provide any further information about whether a Scud missile was launched by the Iraqis towards Saudi Arabia, or was that a false alarm? The Secretary of State referred to last night's raid by the Americans and the damage to the al-Rashid hotel. Has he any further information in respect of the exploration carried out by the Ministry of Defence this morning into the damage and whether that was caused by an allied missile or an Iraqi missile? The House would be reassured if we could discover the position in that respect.

Does the Secretary of State appreciate that there is a real fear that the provocations of Saddam Hussein and the legitimate responses could get completely out of hand? Saddam Hussein's brinkmanship could lead to the resumption of a full scale war. There is a feeling that we are drifting towards another bout of major hostilities. If possible, that should be avoided. With that in mind, does the Secretary of State appreciate the necessity to retain as

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wide a consensus as possible? This legitimate action must not be portrayed as a personality struggle between the American President and the Iraqi president.

In order to try to resolve that problem, would it not be sensible for the matter to be returned to the United Nations Security Council? There is no doubt in our minds that Saddam Hussein has breached most of the United Nations resolutions. On the other hand, we need a coherent and long-term strategy towards Iraq. The Government should demand a debate within the United Nations to that effect. It is absolutely imperative that Saddam Hussein is not allowed to chip away at United Nations resolutions, and thus at the authority of the United Nations. However, it is equally important that the United Nations has a coherent long-term strategy towards Iraq that embodies as wide a consensus as possible.

Mr. Rifkind : I thank the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) for his support from the Opposition Benches for the operation. He is correct to emphasise that the activity has the support of the United Nations. United Nations resolution 687, as a mandatory resolution, specifically calls upon the Iraqis to allow inspection of possible sites of weapons of mass destruction. Last night's action was justified, because the Iraqis deliberately tried to thwart the United Nations inspectors in carrying out their responsibilities. We have seen the press reports about Scud missiles. However, as yet, I have seen no corroborative evidence to support the view that that incident took place. With regard to the incident involving the al-Rashid hotel, we share the hon. Gentleman's anxiety to learn the precise cause of the explosion that affected the hotel. At the present time, we do not have a detailed response that we can share with the House. Clearly, we will all be concerned to know where the precise responsibility for that incident lies.

I share the hon. Gentleman's desire to ensure, so far as possible, that these matters do not continue. However, the remedy for that particular problem very much lies with the Iraqi regime in Baghdad. The coalition and the United Nations as a whole have been very careful to take a very measured, prudent and sensitive response to these continuing prevarications and provocations. As a consequence, our response has always been measured and proportionate to the nature of the provocations for which the Iraqi Government are responsible. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that one must get away from any question of personalities. While we all have our views about President Saddam Hussein of Iraq, at the end of the day it is the issues that are at stake. The threat that the Iraqi Government pose to the security of the region and the international community must be the cause of the UN response that we have seen.

Mr. David Howell (Guildford) : Although a very strong response is entirely the right answer to Saddam Hussein's strong prevarications, his renewed threats to Kuwait and his flouting of UN resolutions, does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that something more is needed in the way of longer-term strategy ? Will he urge his right hon. Friends to urge our Security Council allies to develop a sustained set of pressures, in response to these incidents--not only military but political, diplomatic and economic for the longer term, so that Saddam Hussein's political enemies, including the persecuted minorities--we call

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them minorities, but they are majorities--in Iraq, to whom he is delivering death and destruction all the time, might be given some longer-term hope that he will be weakened, that the initiative will no longer be in his hands but will pass into the hands of the international community, where it should be kept ?

Mr. Rifkind : My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary would very much agree with my right hon. Friend's attitude. Of course it is important to take into account all that can be achieved by political and diplomatic means. We resort to military action only when it is clear that there is no alternative available to the international community. The fact that there have been a number of military operations over the past week is a direct consequence of specific actions and decisions by the Iraqi Government, for which they must take full responsibility.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East) : Will the Secretary of State confirm that it is still Her Majesty's Government's position that every such action falls to be assessed against the criteria of, first, minimum force, secondly, consistency with international law, and, thirdly, the general support of our coalition allies? Does he agree that it is now necessary to have a long-term political objective, that it is necessary that the United Kingdom and the United States should be regarded as instruments of the United Nations, and that this matter should again be discussed by the Security Council so that we may have not only legal justification but moral authority for what we are doing?

Mr. Rifkind : It is of course desirable to continue to have a proper long-term strategy, but that must never persuade us to forget either the need to make an immediate response to those attempts by the Iraqi regime to render inoperative the no-fly zones that are the ultimate protection for Shias and Kurds in Iraq or the determination of the Iraqi regime to seek to damage Kuwait's territorial integrity. That sometimes requires an immediate response, at the same time as we continue to develop and take forward our overall strategy.

Sir John Wheeler (Westminster, North) : For the avoidance of any remaining doubt, will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that the military actions by the coalition forces during the past week have been strictly in accordance with the United Nations resolution and will, and that all those actions have been entirely lawful within the terms of the United Nations statements?

Mr. Rifkind : I can indeed confirm what my right hon. Friend requests, and I can do no better than to quote the United Nations Secretary -General, who, on 14 January, said :

"The raid yesterday, and the forces that carried out the raid, have received a mandate from the Security Council, according to Resolution 678, and the cause of the raid was the violation by Iraq of Resolution 687 concerning the cease fire. So, as Secretary-General of the United Nations, I can say that this action was taken and conforms to the resolutions of the Security Council and conforms to the Charter of the United Nations."

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : What do Ministers say to Jusef al Hoei, the grandson of the Grand Ayatollah of the Shi'ites, who said on "The Sunday Programme", as indeed did Mr. Desai, the representative of the Kurds, and

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Mr. Barzani, that it was pointless undertaking that bombing? Surely, to justify the bombing on the basis of the needs of the Shi'ites and the Kurds is cant.

Mr. Rifkind : The hon. Gentleman is of course entitled to his view, but I believe that the whole House believes that it is important that the no-fly zones should be continued. Without their protection, the Iraqi regime would undoubtedly resort to the use of aircraft to impose further punishing injury, and indeed certain injury and death, on the populations in both the southern and northern no-fly zones. I do not believe that the alternative approach which the hon. Gentleman appears to suggest would do other than render inoperative efforts by the international community to help the suffering people in Iraq.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North) : If we look at the position from the view of the Arabs--we have, or rather had, a number of Arab friends--if it was our intention to build up Saddam Hussein's support among his people, fire up the case for the Muslim fundamentalists and spatchcock the middle east peace process, how could we have done it better? What are we to do with Israel, which also seems to be not putting into effect United Nations resolutions? Is it the case that it seems to be politically correct to zap nasty Arabs, but to ignore what is done by the state of Israel?

Mr. Rifkind : If my hon. Friend is anxious to avoid bolstering Saddam Hussein's image, I hope that he will accept that nothing would have bolstered that image more effectively than for him to show his ability to thwart the will of the United Nations, render inoperative the no-fly zones in southern and northern Iraq, be responsible for successful incursions into Kuwait territory, and prevent United Nations inspections of sites in Iraq that are suspected of being part of the nuclear weapons programme. That would have been the alternative.

I believe that my hon. Friend would agree that to allow that would have done infinite damage to our efforts to ensure the speedy demise of Saddam and his removal from the international scene.

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) : All of us--Opposition and Conservatives--regret the civilian casualties resulting from the bombings. Is it not a fact that Saddam Hussein is responsible for those casualties because he refuses to conform to United Nations Security Council resolutions? Does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that it is nonsense for the Iraqi regime to talk of the necessity for a political solution, as it has in the past few hours, as long as it refuses to conform to United Nations resolutions passed on behalf of the international community?

Does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman further agree that, until Iraq does so, all sanctions must be stringently maintained and military action taken whenever it is regarded as appropriate under United Nations resolutions? Saddam Hussein started the crisis, and he can end it by returning to civilised behaviour instead of continuing to behave as an international outlaw.

Mr. Rifkind : The right hon. Gentleman is correct. Anyone with residual doubts about the unreasonable nature of the Iraqis' position has only to reflect on the demand made over the weekend that United Nations

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inspectors seeking to go to Baghdad to carry out inspections of possible weapons sites should be required to travel from Bahrain via Jordan to get to Baghdad. Those are the sort of proposals made by the Iraqis. The United Nations spokesmen properly rejected that suggestion as intolerable in relation to their responsibilities.

Sir Michael Marshall (Arundel) : While I recognise the operational constraints, may I ask my right hon. and learned Friend to take this opportunity to assure the House that a full and effective consultation mechanism is open to Her Majesty's Government to ensure that the more than 30 countries which undertook to preserve an independent Kuwait two years ago are fully in the picture and support us all the way?

Mr. Rifkind : My hon. Friend is correct to emphasise the importance properly attached to the widest range of agreement and consensus on such matters. I believe that the international community remains united in supporting the actions necessary to impress on Saddam Hussein and his colleagues the necessity of conforming to their obligations to the United Nations.

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield) : Is the Secretary of State aware that we are signatories of the United Nations charter that pledges us to rid humanity of the scourge of war? President Bush is not licensed to kill or to speak on behalf of the international community. Is the Secretary of State also aware of a report in The Times today that the International Atomic Energy Agency inspected the site bombed 16 times last night and said that there was no military significance in it?

If it is the case that the two women receptionists at the al-Rashid hotel-- whose deaths brought no sign of regret from the Secretary of State--had been killed in that raid, that would be in breach of international conventions on bombing civilian populations, and would, in effect, amount to a crime by those who conducted it.

Finally, is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that he is taking the armed forces of this country deeper and deeper into what could become a full-blown war, without any authority from the House of Commons? We have never been told the policy or invited to endorse it, and it is a policy that has diminishing support worldwide.

Mr. Rifkind : The right hon. Gentleman referred to the United Nations and its charter. I think that he will acknowledge that the Secretary-General of the United Nations--a fairly authoritative spokesman on this subject--has said clearly and unequivocally that he believes that the action is justified under the terms of the United Nations charter.

Of course we regret any civilian casualties. I said in my statement that the Royal Air Force had taken action to try to minimise that risk, as did other coalition partners.

As for the International Atomic Energy Authority, the right hon. Gentleman should recall that it published a report in May 1992 which included the two plants on the site that was the subject of last night's attack in a list of facilities identified by the Iraqis themselves as manufacturing facilities for their enrichment programme--in other words, for producing components used in the manufacture of nuclear weapons.

Mr. Cyril D. Townsend (Bexleyheath) : Can my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that this is the first time in the history of the United Nations that the Security

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Council has sought to remove from a member of the United Nations its nuclear, chemical and strategic capability, and thus that it is incredibly important for the future of the United Nations that success is achieved?

Secondly, what thought is being given to a no-fly zone for Iraqi combat aircraft covering the whole of Iraq, rather than just two important parts of it? Finally, bearing in mind Turkey's importance in the protection of the Kurds in northern Iraq, what is the position of that country in current events?

Mr. Rifkind : As my hon. Friend says, the efforts by the United Nations to deal with the Iraqi nuclear programme are part of its overall policy of ensuring that Iraqi weapons of mass destruction are eliminated. That is clearly a consequence of the Iraqi aggression and occupation of Kuwait some two years ago.

The reason for imposing no-fly zones in southern and northern Iraq was the Iraqi use of combat aircraft to oppress those who live in the northern and southern parts of the country. That consideration does not obtain for the central part of the country, so the rationale for the no-fly zones does not apply to it.

We have close consultations with the Government of Turkey. It provides facilities at Incirlik for the imposition of the no-fly zone in the northern part of the country, and we greatly welcome Turkish co-operation.

Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow) : The Minister will know that a constituent of mine, Paul Ride, and another Briton are being held in prison in Baghdad. Does he share my concern that the action taken against Iraq, especially the cruise missile attack which led to civilians being killed, will make it much more difficult to secure their release? What has been done to ensure that the men are safe? What hope can he offer their families about their release?

Mr. Rifkind : The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the plight of these people. We are seeking to keep in contact with them through the good offices of the Russian Government. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs will wish to inform the hon. Gentleman about developments.

Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey and Waterside) : Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that, if Saddam Hussein refuses permission to United Nations teams to travel around Iraq with a view to identifying and destroying his nuclear and chemical weapons capabilities, it is hardly surprising that other means are found to do that?

What contact has there been with the incoming American president? Will the robust line in support of the United Nations resolutions taken by President Bush be followed by his successor at the White House?

Mr. Rifkind : It is reasonable to assume that the present American Administration will have the closest possible contact and consultation with the President-elect. It is clear from the public statements by President- elect Clinton that he fully supports the actions that have been taken over the past week and intends to follow a similar policy when he assumes office.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : Does not the international community have two responsibilities, the first of which is to ensure that the ceasefire agreement and the Security Council resolutions are fully implemented?

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Critics will have to answer for what they would do in view of all the provocations if force is not used. Secondly, as we have no quarrel with the people of Iraq, we must try to ensure as far as possible the minimum civilian casualties and, hopefully, no civilian casualties at all. Apparently, there is yet no final evidence that the attack on the hotel was by the allies, but if it was, I deeply and genuinely regret what occurred. Does the Secretary of State agree that we should concentrate on weapons of mass destruction, which need to be destroyed?

Mr. Rifkind : The hon. Gentleman is correct. He spoke about the hotel incident and was right to emphasise that, as yet, we do not know the precise cause of the incident. I understand that the hotel is about 15 miles from the factory which was the target of the operation. I assure the hon. Gentleman that all those who take part in these operations attach maximum importance to not attacking sites that are close to areas of concentrated civilian populations. The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to that.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cirencester and Tewkesbury) : Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the resumed provocation by Saddam Hussein merely causes suffering to the ordinary people of Iraq and that, sadly, that is likely to continue while Saddam Hussein is in power? Since the end of the Gulf war, political opposition to Saddam Hussein has become even weaker. Will my right hon. and learned Friend give a possible scenario for an end to this conflict so that coalition troops may be safely withdrawn?

Mr. Rifkind : Plainly, we hope that the time will come when the people of Iraq are allowed to show their true feelings about the present Iraqi regime. In the meantime, it is crucial for the United Kingdom and for other countries in the Security Council and the United Nations as a whole to do what we can in a responsible, sensitive and moderate fashion to ensure the preservation of the interests that point towards stability in that region.

Mr. John Hutton (Barrow and Furness) : While one fully supports the need for military action, in this case to enforce the terms of United Nations Security Council resolutions, does not the Secretary of State agree that there is an increased threat of Iraqi violation of Kuwait territorial integrity? Can he assure the House that steps have been taken to ensure that, if there is any such threat to Kuwait's territorial integrity, sufficient and adequate forces are in place to ensure that such an attempt is unsuccessful?

Mr. Rifkind : It has been made clear to the Iraqi Government that any violations of Kuwait's territorial integrity would be treated with the utmost seriousness. The United States Government recently announced the deployment of a battalion group to Kuwait and, of course, the coalition as a whole continues to attach great importance to the independence of that country and the preservation of its right to that status despite provocations by Iraq.

Several Hon. Members rose --

Madam Speaker : Order. We must now move on. [ Hon. Members :-- "Oh."] Order. I wish to hear a Standing Order No. 20 application from Mr. Tam Dalyell.

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