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Train Crash (Kent)

3.32 pm

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras) ( by private notice ): To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on the rail crash in Kent.

The Secretary of State for Transport (Dr. Brian Mawhinney): At about 8.50 am on Saturday, the 8 am train from Uckfield to Oxted and the 8.4 am train from Oxted to Uckfield collided head on near Cowden on a single track section of line. Five people were killed, including both train drivers and a guard. Eleven passengers were injured. I understand that none of the injured was detained in hospital. I know that the House will want to join me in expressing our deepest sympathy to the families of the bereaved and to the injured. I warmly thank the emergency services, railway staff and others involved in the rescue operation and pay tribute to their professionalism.

British Rail and Railtrack have accepted responsibility for the accident. They are carrying out their own full technical investigation and internal inquiry into the circumstances and cause of the accident. The results will be made available to Her Majesty's railway inspectorate of the Health and Safety Executive. The inspectorate started its own separate investigations at once. Four inspecting officers were on site on Saturday, one with specialist knowledge of signalling electronics.

I have decided to set up an independent inquiry under the Regulation of Railways Act 1871. The inquiry will be headed by one of Her Majesty's railway inspectors who will hear evidence in public. His report will be published, and I have asked that the inspector should report to me as quickly as possible.

In the meantime, Railtrack and British Rail will act immediately should the various investigations currently proceeding indicate the need for urgent measures.

The House will understand that I do not propose to speculate on the cause of the accident. It is for the inquiry to establish exactly what happened. For my part, I will study the inspector's report with great care as soon as it is to hand.

Mr. Dobson: First, may I express the concern and sadness of the Opposition about the injury and loss of life and offer our condolences to the bereaved, our sympathy to those who were injured and our heartfelt thanks to the emergency services? Everyone understands that the Secretary of State cannot give a detailed explanation of the causes of the crash and we welcome his decision to set up an inquiry, but the House will want answers to the following questions either now or at a later date.

Can the Secretary of State confirm that there is a history of signal failures on this line since it was modernised? Why was the route reduced from double to single line working in 1989? Does the Secretary of State accept that single line working reduces the margin for error by making any equipment failure or human error that does happen more likely to result in a crash? How many other recent crashes have happened on lines reduced to single line working? Was the present limited automatic warning system installed on this line and in these trains, and was it in working order?

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Is it true that the trains involved were 30 years old? Can the Secretary of State confirm that newer trains are stronger and less likely to crumple or come off the track if an accident happens? Can he confirm that five years ago, the official report into the Clapham disaster recommended the installation of advanced automatic train protection throughout the railway system, and that his predecessor Lord Parkinson accepted that proposal and said that lack of finance would not stand in the way?

Is it true that five years later no start has been made on installing automatic train protection, and that the railway inspectorate of the Health and Safety Executive, which is to conduct the inquiry, has not yet even submitted its advice on automatic train protection?

Can the Secretary of State confirm that a technical report from British Rail on automatic train protection has been on his desk since May? Will he keep or break Lord Parkinson's five-year-old promise? If it is a matter of cost, does he agree that to install ATP throughout the railway system would cost less than the £700 million the Government are currently spending on railway privatisation? Does he agree that the safety of passengers and staff should take priority over that?

Dr. Mawhinney: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for endorsing my words of commiseration and of thanks. The hon. Gentleman asked a series of questions. I am grateful to him for acknowledging that some questions may be answerable now and others may need to be answered on a future occasion once we have the result of the inquiry. The hon. Gentleman asked about the shift of this section of railway to single track. That occurred in 1991. As I understand it, the decision was taken then to introduce new signalling and advance warning systems and to go from two tracks to one because one of the tracks was at that time judged not to be in a fit state for the carrying of passengers.

On the hon. Gentleman's more general point, I am pleased to agree with the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) who said earlier today that there is nothing inherently unsafe about single line working. I am grateful to see that the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) agrees with that. Clearly, in a single track operation, it is important that the signalling systems should be accurate and working appropriately. I have no comment to make on that at present. That is precisely part of the current investigation, and we will get answers to that question in due course.

There has been a continuous renewal of rolling stock. I suspect that this is not the occasion on which Opposition Front Benchers should start to get into politically motivated debate. We have spent about £4 billion on rolling stock since 1979. About a quarter of the rolling stock has been renewed since 1985. So a programme of upgrading is taking place.

The hon. Gentleman is right to point out that the Hidden report referred to the importance of ATP. It would have been helpful if he had also pointed out that the report recognised that, technically, ATP was a difficult system to put in place. Indeed, as the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North also recognised, pilot studies have been conducted on both the Paddington to Bristol and Marylebone to Aylesbury lines. The hon. Member for

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Holborn and St. Pancras will be interested to know that the studies turned out to be much more complicated in feasibility terms than was originally expected.

Following those technical studies, the report to which the hon. Gentleman refers was submitted by British Rail to my predecessor at the end of March or beginning of April. He passed copies of it to the Health and Safety Commission and Railtrack, asking for their views. I expect to receive those views next month.

I confirm again to the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras and to the House that the safety record of the railways is very good, despite this tragic accident. We are determined to see that those safety records are maintained.

Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith (Wealden): I join my right hon. Friend in expressing the deepest sympathy to those who were involved in this terrible accident and, of course, their families. I saw the effects of the collision for myself on Saturday. I hope that the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras will understand why I do not make any personal comment on what I saw or on whether or not the carriages were strong enough. All those facts will come out, as they should, in a public inquiry.

I should like to join the hon. Gentleman in expressing my deep appreciation of the quickness and efficiency of response of the ambulance service, the police, the fire services, the voluntary services, including the Women's Royal Voluntary Service, and staff of British Rail and Railtrack. They all responded with extreme efficiency and alacrity and seemed to have worked out a good system of co-ordination.

I should also like to thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for his prompt response--

Madam Speaker: Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I am waiting for him to put a question to the Minister. The Minister has made a statement which now needs to be questioned.

Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith: May I thank my right hon. Friend for his prompt response in agreeing to hold a public inquiry? Will he look into the question of compensation for the victims of this tragic affair and the provision of an alternative service for those who live and work close to the site so that they can use the line without extra cost?

Dr. Mawhinney: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, particularly for his kind words about those who were involved. I join him in paying tribute not only to all those whom he mentioned but to members of the public who were also involved in a helpful way. I thank them, too. My hon. Friend raised two points. First, British Rail and Railtrack have accepted responsibility, so compensation will follow in due course. I can tell the House that it will follow by application to a single agency, not to both bodies separately. Secondly, while the provision of alternative services is a matter for British Rail, I understand that it is already dealing with the need to run a bus service across that part until the track has been repaired.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed): Does the Minister accept that my right hon. and hon. Friends join in the expressions of sympathy and of support for the work of the emergency services? Does he accept that we

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think it right to wait for the outcome of the inquiry before commenting on the causes of the accident, but hope that in the meantime single-line working in the railway system will be the subject of particular care in the light of this experience?

Dr. Mawhinney: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for what he said. I assure him that single-line working is always a matter of care, despite the tragedy that occurred on Saturday.

Mr. Mark Wolfson (Sevenoaks): I thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for his statement and for the action that he has proposed. Both are proper. The accident happened in my constituency. I hope that you will bear with me, Madam Speaker, if I add my sympathy to all those involved in the tragedy and my thanks to the rescue and recovery teams which I saw at work yesterday morning. At least seven organisations were involved. They did the excellent job that we always expect of them. I also pay tribute to the civilian back-up, as I describe it, of the villagers of Cowden, who provided tea, cake and comfort to that team.

This terrible accident raises vital issues, and I have two points additional to those that have been raised. First, what will the railways do to ensure that there is sufficient rolling stock on this line of the type required to get the line operating again as soon as the track has been repaired? Will the Secretary of State confirm my understanding from Network South Central that this tragic accident will not affect the future of the line, which is of great importance to travellers in my constituency and in neighbouring constituencies?

Dr. Mawhinney: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for joining in the expressions of condolence and appreciation, especially as the tragedy occurred in his constituency. I agree that we must await the outcome of the inquiry before drawing conclusions. I have no understanding that the crash is likely to call into question the use of the line. I think that I can offer my hon. Friend the assurance that when the line has been repaired the service will be restarted with adequate rolling stock.

Ms Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate): I thank the Minister for his statement, but will he expand on the issue of the financial underpinning of safety on the railways? It is five years since the Clapham disaster and, despite the assurances of the now Lord Parkinson that money would be found for safety, the recent British Rail board review on ATP makes it quite clear that it constantly has to balance the financial requirements of safety against the financial requirements of modernisation.

Dr. Mawhinney: I have two things to say to the hon. Lady. First, if she goes back to the Hidden report she will see that it stated that as soon as the technical feasibility had been established ATP should be phased in over five years. We are still in the process of seeking to establish the technical feasibility, given the difficulties that the pilot schemes threw up. I hope that the hon. Lady will understand that there is no hesitancy on these issues: they need to be carried forward thoroughly.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth (Surrey, East): I visited the site of this tragic crash on Saturday morning and I hope that my right hon. Friend will join me in paying tribute to the emergency services and to all who brought speedy relief

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to a terrible situation. Does he find it a matter of considerable regret that Opposition Members--perhaps not so much in the House but in the press--have seized upon this as an opportunity to make cheap party-political jibes? Will he join me in sending condolences to the family of Mr. Brett-Andrews, one of my constituents, who died in the crash?

Dr. Mawhinney: I certainly associate myself and the Government with my hon. Friend's comments on the tragic death of his constituent. I judge that the mood of the House is that this is not the occasion for party- political exchanges, and I shall exhibit the restraint that has been exhibited thus far.

Dr. John Marek (Wrexham): It is always sad to ask questions at such a time. Does the Secretary of State remember that about 10 years ago in search of savings, his Administration pressed for the introduction of many more automatic open level crossings? To its shame, the railway inspectorate acquiesced, the crossings were introduced and deaths multiplied, culminating in the Lockington disaster and the Stott report, which resulted in the matter being put right. This is a similar situation, so will the Secretary of State learn the lesson that, whatever the other factors, if the line had been double track the disaster would not have happened? That lesson is obvious to every hon. Member and we all know what should be done.

Dr. Mawhinney: First, I do not see the similarities that the hon. Gentleman is trying to make. Secondly, I again agree with his Front-Bench colleague, the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North that single-track working is not inherently unsafe. Thirdly, the new arrangements that were put in on this track in 1991 were fully approved by the railways inspectorate.

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3.50 pm

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Douglas Hogg): With permission, Madam Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the situation in the Gulf. I apologise for the absence of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary; he is accompanying Her Majesty the Queen on her state visit to Russia. Over the past two weeks, we have again witnessed a serious threat by Saddam Hussein to the state of Kuwait and the stability of the Gulf. On 7 October, numerous Iraqi troops, including two divisions of the Republican Guards, began to move towards the Iraqi border with Kuwait. At the same time, the Iraqi Revolutionary Command Council and a number of Iraqi Ministers made threatening statements against Kuwait and against the United Nations inspection teams.

In response to a request from the Kuwaitis made on 7 October under the terms of our bilateral defence co-operation arrangement, HMS Cornwall arrived in Kuwaiti waters on 9 October. HMS Cardiff has now joined her. Six Tornado aircraft have been deployed--they are in addition to the six already in the region patrolling the no-fly zone over southern Iraq. The Government have dispatched the spearhead battalion to Kuwait. United Kingdom troops on the ground in Kuwait now number more than 800, increasing to more than 1,000 by the end of this week. More than 2,000 personnel will be deployed to the Gulf area.

In the face of the vigorous action taken by Kuwait's friends, the Iraqis are withdrawing their troops. However, it is too soon to say that the threat has completely subsided. Iraqi troops must return to the positions they held before the start of this crisis.

As the House knows, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary visited the region from 11 to 14 October. He and the United States Secretary of State met the Foreign Ministers of the Gulf Co-operation Council in Kuwait. There was general condemnation of Iraq's latest actions, and agreement on the need to prevent a repetition. There was also widespread concern for the continued suffering of the Iraqi people at the hands of their government. We share that concern. The Iraqi Government have rejected the United Nations offer to allow limited oil exports in return for humanitarian aid. The immediate implementation of United Nations Security Council resolutions 706 and 712 would bring huge humanitarian benefit to the Iraqi people. In order that all sanctions can be lifted, Iraq must comply with all relevant UN resolutions, including the unambiguous recognition of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Kuwait and an end to the repression of its civilian population.

The Iraqis must not again pose a threat of that kind. We therefore welcome the unanimous adoption on 5 October of United Nations Security Council resolution 949 condemning Iraqi actions on the Kuwaiti border, demanding the immediate withdrawal of troops recently deployed near the border and further demanding that Iraq does not again use its forces to threaten neighbours or United Nations personnel. That is an important first step.

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The Iraqi regime must understand that the international community has both the authority and the will to defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Kuwait.

Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland): First, I thank the Minister for responding to our request for a statement. Of course, we understand why the Foreign Secretary cannot be here today.

I welcome the Minister's statement and I want to add our support to that of the Government for Security Council resolution 949, which was unanimously agreed on 15 October. We also support the rapid and effective deterrent action of the Gulf allies in opposing the threat from Saddam Hussein to the territorial integrity of Kuwait. I make it clear that we endorse the view that there is no possibility of the United Nations or anyone else removing sanctions from Iraq if Saddam Hussein continues not only to threaten Kuwait but to persecute the Kurdish people in the north of Iraq and the Shia Muslim communities in the south.

The Iraqi regime must comply with all Security Council resolutions and, as the Minister rightly said, accept the boundaries and sovereignty of Kuwait. Only then, if all conditions are met, can we consider the lifting of sanctions.

Does the Minister accept, however, that pre-emptive military strikes should be avoided and certainly not undertaken unless specifically authorised by a new Security Council resolution? I welcome the Minister's confirmation that paragraph 3 of Security Council resolution 661 on sanctions specifically excludes medical supplies and humanitarian aid, and that resolutions 706 and 712 presently allow Saddam Hussein to sell up to $1.6 billion worth of oil to finance medicines, food and humanitarian supplies. Can the Minister advise the House in what ways the international community is seeking to reinforce those Security Council resolution provisions to alleviate the widely reported, undoubted suffering of the people of Iraq? Is he able to say how much progress, if any, has been made by Iraq on reparations and compensation through the United Nations compensation fund established following the Gulf war? Will Her Majesty's Government continue forceful diplomatic pressure to seek the objectives to which I just referred?

Does the Minister accept that there is some hope in the conclusion in the report of Mr. Rolf Ekeus, head of the United Nations special commission on Iraq, that at least the basic provisions of compliance are now being met by the Iraqi regime?

Is it not clear that we and our allies continue to pay a heavy price for participating in the build up of Saddam Hussein's war machine? Is it not the case that Britain's involvement in the illegal and covert supply of instruments of war against the United Nations embargo is a shame on our country?

Mr. Hogg: I agree with much that the right hon. Gentleman said, but I am bound to comment that he diminished himself by his last few sentences. I will respond to the right hon. Gentleman's substantive remarks.

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I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman supports resolution 949 and I am grateful for that. I am glad, too, that he supports the rapid deployment of United Kingdom and other troops to the region, and I am grateful for that, too. I am glad also that the right hon. Gentleman supports the robust stand taken by the United Kingdom Government with regard to sanctions and acknowledges the importance of persuading Iraq that she must recognise the sovereignty of Kuwait and the international frontiers delineated by the United Nations. I also make the point that Iraq must provide full details of the Kuwaitis taken into captivity, whose fate is not now known.

As to future action, I agree that it is most important that any action taken against Iraq must accord with the principles of international law.

The right hon. Gentleman's point about humanitarian assistance is important. Under resolutions 706 and 712, Iraq could indeed sell oil to a value of $1.6 billion. It has chosen not to do so. Had it accepted that, the humanitarian disaster that we are seeing in Iraq would not have occurred. To that extent, it is the fault of Saddam Hussein. The right hon. Gentleman asked whether we are bringing it to the attention of Iraq that the facility exists. The answer is yes, and I have, of course, done so in the statement that I have just made. We also attach very high importance to the payment of compensation.

Mr. Winston Churchill (Davyhulme): I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend and the Government on the very prompt action that they took in concert with our allies in deploying the spearhead battalion and six Tornado aircraft to Kuwait. But is it not clear that unless there is an early and favourable compliance with UN resolutions by Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi Government, it is essential that there should be an effective cordon sanitaire between Iraq and Kuwait? Whether it be called a heavy weapons exclusion zone or whatever does not matter, but it must be effective; otherwise, at a few hours' notice, regularly in the coming months, it will be in Saddam Hussein's power to put into action the very costly procedures, which we have seen put in train by the Gulf war allies in the past few days, of making deployments and reinforcements. It is of the essence that we should get that. Why were the Government of France so reluctant to join the allies in such an arrangement?

Mr. Hogg: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support. I think that when he comes to study the terms of resolution 949 he will find that it deals with a number of the points that he has just made to the House: it calls for the withdrawal of the recently deployed troops to the positions that they held before the crisis; prohibits the enhancement of the military capacity of Iraq in southern Iraq; and it makes the point that threats to the neighbouring states would be contrary to international law. It makes the point, too, that Iraq must not redeploy southwards those forces that are in the process of being withdrawn. I think that that makes the point that my hon. Friend would like the House to know about.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East): Does the Minister recall that the success of the Gulf war rested very substantially on the unanimity of purpose of the international community? In that circumstance, is he concerned that resolution 949 of 15 October seems to be subject to a number of rather widely different interpretations?

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May I press the right hon. and learned Gentleman directly on a point? Is it the view of Her Majesty's Government that that resolution authorises military action, without further recourse to the Security Council? Further, is it the view of Her Majesty's Government that that resolution, without further recourse to the Security Council, authorises the creation of an exclusion zone or cordon sanitaire?

Mr. Hogg: I believe that I have already made the position plain to the hon. and learned Gentleman. I will repeat what I said. The Iraqi regime must understand that the international community has both the authority and the will to defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Kuwait. There are a number of breaches of resolution 949--we could discuss them at some other time--which would clearly constitute a threat to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Kuwait, and they are covered, therefore, by what I have just said.

Dr. Charles Goodson-Wickes (Wimbledon): Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that one of the problems in the previous conflict was lack of intelligence about the disposition of Iraqi troops before the land action to liberate Kuwait? As the world was apparently taken unawares by Saddam Hussein's recent manoeuvres, will my right hon. and learned Friend tell the House whether he is satisfied with the quality of satellite surveillance of the area and, more importantly, the quality of the interpretation of the information gathered? Does he agree that, in the absence of such information, there is a danger of the threatening pattern being ever-repetitive and that there may not be an adequate opportunity to intervene diplomatically or, if necessary, militarily?

Mr. Hogg: I recognise that my hon. Friend has an unusual experience to bring to bear on the matter.

I hope that I do not sound complacent when I say that I think that the quality of our intelligence is good. The problem is not determining the whereabouts of any troop units at any one time, but determining the motives of those who are in command in Baghdad: that is much more difficult to determine.

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield): Is the Minister aware that the international community is not as united on the matter as he makes out, in that France, Russia and China take a somewhat different view? He should have drawn attention to that in his statement.

Bearing in mind the fact that three and a half years ago allied forces killed 200,000 Iraqis, that the Harvard medical team pointed out that 150,000 babies under five had died as a consequence of the bombing of water supplies, and the very widespread concern about the appalling hardship suffered by innocent people in Iraq, can the Minister explain why--now that Mr. Ekeus has reported compliance with the United Nations resolutions on weapons--the Government should follow the Americans in their insistence on continuing sanctions, which may have more to do with the re-election of President Clinton's party in the elections?

Mr. Hogg: I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman would wish to point out that resolution 949 was unanimous. His criticisms of me would have had greater force had he done so. Ambassador Ekeus has indeed reported encouraging signs with regard to the dismantlement of weapons of mass destruction; but--as the right hon. Gentleman will

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know full well from resolution 687--one of the questions that must be determined, which has not yet been determined, is whether the verification procedures that are now being put in place will be viable and adhered to. That test is necessary before further questions regarding the relaxation of sanctions can arise.

Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey and Waterside): Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that there was unfinished business at the end of the Gulf war, in the sense that Saddam Hussein was left in power, and that the Gulf will continue to be an unstable area and the Iraqi people will continue to suffer under sanctions until they rid themselves of this tyrant?

Mr. Hogg: There is no doubt that Iraq and the whole Gulf region will be a very much happier place when Saddam Hussein ceases to rule in Baghdad.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West): Given that Jordan and Israel were on different sides during the Gulf war, might this be a good time to welcome the agreement for peace entered into today by the two countries? Will the Minister give a clear and unequivocal guarantee that we shall play no part in the removal of sanctions unless and until the Iraqis not only release the names of the Kuwaiti prisoners, but release the prisoners themselves?

Mr. Hogg: I certainly very much welcome the agreement initialled today between His Majesty King Hussein of Jordan and Prime Minister Rabin. I also welcome the robust support that King Hussein has given the action of the United States, the United Kingdom and the other friends of Kuwait in deploying to the Gulf.

As for the question of the Kuwaiti detainees, 600 persons taken to Kuwait are currently unaccounted for. That is a disgrace; we are doing all that we can to impress on Iraq the fundamental importance of telling the people of Kuwait what has happened to those people and, if they are alive, delivering them back to their families. This question will remain live, and will certainly colour the whole question of sanctions.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): Air power--both the air transport force and offensive and defensive power--has proved the crucial determinant of crisis management vis-a -vis Iraq in recent years. Will my right hon. and learned Friend ensure--in consultation with the Ministry of Defence, in the maintenance of obligations with regard to the defence treaty with Kuwait--that, instead of relying on sudden deployments, we pre- position and regularly exercise in the Gulf co-operation area, in order to stabilise the region and reassure local Governments, especially that of Kuwait?

Mr. Hogg: I know that my hon. Friend, from personal experience, has a great deal of knowledge on the matter. He will know that some six Tornados were already in place and that they were patrolling the no-fly zone over south Iraq. There are also assets responsible for patrolling the no-fly zone over north Iraq pursuant to Operation Provide Comfort. On the more technical question that he raised, may I duck the issue by saying that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence will shortly address the House and that maybe he is the person to whom the more technical question should be put?

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington): Should not the UN Security Council be pressed to concede by

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way of resolution that there should be a softening of the compensation requirements on Kuwait if an Iraqi National Congress alternative Government were in place in Baghdad? Surely it is the responsibility of the UN Security Council to create an incentive for the Baghdad people to recognise the existence of the INC outside Iraq and its potential for government when sanity finally returns to that country?

Mr. Hogg: I think that I would take a different approach. It is very much in the interests of the Iraqi people that Saddam Hussein should be ousted from power. While he remains in control in Baghdad, he pursues policies that will make the relaxation of sanctions very difficult. It follows from that that his removal makes the relaxation of sanctions a great deal more likely.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury): Should the deployment have to be continued, repeated or expanded, and substantial cost borne by United Kingdom taxpayers for such necessary measures, what steps will we and the United States of America take to recover part of the cost from many wealthy countries, such as Japan and Germany, that are making no contribution to something that is so vital to their security?

Mr. Hogg: My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary raised the question of burden sharing when he attended the Gulf Co-operation Council. There was an acceptance that it was right that the burden of the financial costs being shouldered by the United Kingdom and United States should be shared. Further work will be done on that. If the commitment becomes a long one, maybe burden sharing should be much wider than is presently being talked about.

Ms Angela Eagle (Wallasey): Will the Minister comment on reports over the weekend that preparation for the new manufacture of chemical weaponry in Iraq has been spotted by satellite? What action would the United Nations be prepared to take if those sightings were confirmed?

Mr. Hogg: I did indeed see the reports in the newspapers. I do not know whether they have any substance. As far as I am aware, ambassador Ekeus has not reported in terms that support those reports. I have no doubt that he, too, will have those reports drawn to his attention and that he will investigate them. Our action and response will depend very much on what ambassador Ekeus reports to the Security Council.

Mr. Matthew Carrington (Fulham): Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the only way of avoiding a repetition of this terrible situation is by the rigorous enforcement of the sanctions? Has he any evidence that the sanctions are being breached, either in the letter or the spirit, by other countries?

Mr. Hogg: I am sure that it is right to hold to the policy of sanctions. I have no doubt that there is some breach of the sanctions regime. I know of no sanctions regime in any part of the world that has not been breached. I am certain that, measured by any standards that one cares to mention, the sanctions regime has had a grave impact on Iraq. I know that the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) is particularly concerned about the matter. We

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can take it as certain that sanctions are having a grave impact on Iraq and, I believe, weakening Saddam Hussein's control on that country.

Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr): I agree with the Minister's statement and that of my hon. right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham). The Minister mentioned Iraq and the Iraqi people two or three times. May I press on him the fact that more needs to be done by the allies to ensure that the Iraqi people understand that it is Saddam Hussein's fault that humanitarian and medical aid is not going into Iraq-- that is the only reason? As the Minister said, Saddam Hussein is able to sell the oil. More should be done to make that known to the Iraqi people and supporters outside Iraq, because lies are being peddled.

Would not there be far more support for Kuwait if, in the past three and a half years, that country had made far greater efforts to introduce something remotely akin to a modernised democratic state, which is what the war was supposed to be about in the first place?

Mr. Hogg: The hon. Gentleman is quite right to make that point about the impact of resolutions 706 and 712. Yes, Saddam Hussein is the author of his country's suffering because he has refused to accept the arrangement which would have made about $1 billion of oil revenue available for humanitarian purposes. We have, of course, said that many times. Our access to the people of Iraq is limited, for reasons that the hon. Gentleman will understand.

The hon. Gentleman has been critical of the political structures in Kuwait. They are not, of course, the same as those in this country, but earlier this summer I went to Kuwait and talked to many members of the Kuwaiti Assembly. I came away with the strong conviction that there is now in Kuwait an effective and much more representative and articulate parliamentary body than almost anywhere else in that region. Progress is being made in Kuwait.

Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth): Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that if a troop exclusion zone as well as an air exclusion zone had been imposed in southern Iraq at the end of the Gulf war, this problem would probably not have occurred? Does he think that a troop exclusion zone, or a total exclusion zone, would benefit the marsh Arabs who have suffered dreadfully?

Mr. Hogg: My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the situation of the marsh Arabs. He will know that, since August 1992, there has been an air exclusion zone in force in southern Iraq, which has gone some way to reducing air attacks on the Shia. However, that does not deal with my hon. Friend's principal point, which is whether there should have been or could have been a total land exclusion zone south of the 32nd parallel. I do not think that we would have secured support within the Security Council for that at the end of the Gulf war.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): Has not one of the distinguished Arabists in the Foreign Office argued with the Minister that, far from undermining Saddam Hussein, sanctions help to solidify the regime? If, like me, one has seen babies expiring for want of medicine in the paediatric hospital in Baghdad or in the hospital of Umm Qasr, perhaps the questions about why this is happening are not asked too deeply by the Iraqi people. They know simply

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that it has happened and, like it or not, the west is blamed. Does the Minister take cognisance of the views of people as disparate as the Bishop of Leicester, Claude Cheysson, the former French Foreign Minister, and others who have been there, because the psychology is not as we see it from London or Washington?

Mr. Hogg: I do not in any way question the hon. Gentleman's good faith. He and I have debated this question before, and I have to say that I believe that he is wrong. One can of course argue that the imposition of sanctions solidifies support behind a ruler and I have no doubt that that has been so in various cases in the past. However, in answer to the hon. Gentleman's specific question, I do not believe that that is the case in Iraq now. We have a great number of intelligence and other reports which reveal that there is huge popular dissatisfaction with, and hatred of, Saddam Hussein. Were he not murdering every opponent who has the courage to express a slightly contrary opinion, he would have been out by now, so I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman.

I had the pleasure of writing to the Bishop of Leicester today and hope to see him shortly. I heard him on the "Today" programme a few days ago. One thing that surprised me was that he made no reference to resolutions 706 and 712. To refer again to the point made by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker), too many people do not bear in mind the fact that because Saddam Hussein has refused to accept resolutions 706 and 712, he is responsible for most of the misery in his country.

Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South): Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that events in recent months have confirmed that Saddam Hussein is indifferent to the sufferings of his own people and to human rights, and that this evil man is interested only in destabilising the region and in territorial expansion? Should not we, therefore, congratulate those who were responsible for deactivating the Basra reactor?

Mr. Hogg: My hon. Friend is entirely right when he characterises Saddam Hussein in those terms.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray): The Minister has already referred to the issue of compensation to Kuwait. Would this be an appropriate time for him to mention whether compensation will be paid to the families of the young soldiers who were lost in the "Blue on Blue" incident immediately after the Gulf war? In a more general context, can the Minister tell us what and when the likelihood is of the Iraqi Government's accepting the UN resolutions on the protection of the Kurds and the Shia Muslims, which are critical guarantees for all of us?

Mr. Hogg: The "Blue on Blue" incident is a matter for my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence. The hon. Lady asked me when I thought that Iraq was likely to accept the obligations reflected in the resolutions with regard to the Kurds in north Iraq and to the Shia in the marshes in south Iraq. In honesty, I have to say it is unlikely that Iraq will accept them while Saddam Hussein is in control in Baghdad.

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