Previous SectionIndexHome Page

25 Nov 2002 : Column 124—continued

Mr. John Smith: I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way, and he has indeed moved on a little. Does he agree that resolution 1441 gives the Iraqis every opportunity, not least because the time that they have to disclose the existence of weapons of mass destruction has been doubled compared with that provided for in any previous UN resolution?

Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. As a number of Members have said, this is a thorough resolution unanimously agreed by the Security Council, and it gives Iraq and the regime there every opportunity to accept the international community's terms.

Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle): The Secretary of State referred to troops whom he visited on Saturday.

25 Nov 2002 : Column 125

Were they troops whose exercise has been cancelled, such as the Scots Guards who should be out in Kenya training on an exercise for which they have been preparing for over 12 months? Were those troops supposed to be elsewhere on duties that they are trained to perform, or were they simply waiting to perform the duties of the fire service?

Mr. Hoon: No one has ever sought to disguise the fact that those 19,000 members of the armed forces should be doing something other than providing emergency fire cover. I am amazed that the hon. Gentleman thinks that he has asked a devastating question in pointing that out. It has been clearly stated by Ministers and, of course, by the Chief of the Defence Staff. Those troops should be exercising or training. Many—let us make it clear—should be on leave, but they are providing the cover that the country needs.

One disappointment about the speech made from the Conservative Front Bench is that it failed to recognise that as an issue which the Opposition, just as much as the Government, must grapple with. Responsible political parties have to think through such issues and not simply set out a series of criticisms. We are dealing with those issues and setting out the course that a responsible Government have to take. Frankly, the Opposition and the hon. Gentleman coming to the House with such a cynical view does not, I am afraid, say a great deal about how they are preparing themselves.

Mr. Jenkin: Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Hoon: No, I will not.

The Opposition are preparing themselves for opposition; there is no sign whatever of them preparing for government.

A number of Members raised the issue of what would constitute a material breach of the UN Security Council resolution and how that might lead to military action.

Mr. Jenkin: Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Hoon: Sit down.

Others have linked that issue to the position of coalition patrols of the Iraqi no-fly zones. The coalition patrols in the no-fly zones are in support of UN Security Council resolution 688. As participants in the coalition, our aircrew face daily attacks from Iraqi anti-aircraft artillery and surface-to-air missiles. I pay tribute to the service men and women who are and who have been deployed in the region, carrying out that difficult and dangerous humanitarian task.

Coalition patrols are justified under international law. As Members will recall, they were set up in response to an overwhelming humanitarian necessity. Let me be clear about this: Iraqi action against our aircraft is contrary to international law, but the focus of resolution 1441 is disarmament of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and UNMOVIC provides a mechanism to take that forward. It is for UNMOVIC to verify the accuracy and completeness of Iraq's declaration.

The right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) raised the question of a nil or trivial declaration from Iraq. It would clearly not be difficult for UNMOVIC to disprove such a declaration and

25 Nov 2002 : Column 126

report it to the Security Council. It is clear that the first step on receipt of such a report or a report of Iraqi non-co-operation would be for the Security Council to meet. Equally, I draw Members' attention to the final part of paragraph 3 of the UN Security Council resolution, which refers to the fact that

Iraq has an obligation to include

My right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson) asked how well prepared UNMOVIC is. There are two important points to make. First, UNMOVIC is backed by a tougher inspection regime, as set out in resolution 1441, than was its predecessor, UNSCOM. For example, the so-called presidential and other sensitive sites no longer provide Saddam with havens for his weapons of mass destruction.

Secondly, the international community is more determined than ever to support UNMOVIC and see an end to Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Her Majesty's Government are fully committed to the provision of the necessary support to UNMOVIC and we are in direct discussions with the UN on how best we can assist if it finds that it needs further help.

Let me now deal with the request for support by the United States. As Members will know, the United States has approached a number of countries, including the United Kingdom, seeking support in the event that military action proves necessary. Although no decision has been made to commit UK forces to military action, discussions with the US will continue so that an appropriate British contribution can be identified should it prove necessary.

It is important to put the request in its proper context. There is no inevitability about military action. The US is clear about the fact that the issue is Iraqi disarmament—a process that will benefit the whole international community, including the Iraqi people themselves, not simply the United States. As President Bush said at the Prague summit last week,

Those who have accused the US of unilateralism should consider carefully. The US Government have followed an impeccably multilateral approach, first in building unanimous Security Council support for resolution 1441 and now in seeking to build broad-based support for military action should it be required. Achieving the resolution's aims is our goal, but we must recognise that the process will break down if Iraq fails to co-operate. None of us can predict whether, how or when that might happen; but within the limits imposed by these uncertainties, we have been considering the contribution we might be able to make if military action ultimately becomes necessary.

At this stage it would be inappropriate to go into details of the size and shape of forces that might be involved, for two specific reasons. First, as events unfold and time passes, plans will inevitably evolve. It would be misleading to describe specific force packages today as if they had some permanent and definitive status. I am sure that even the hon. Member for North Essex

25 Nov 2002 : Column 127

(Mr. Jenkin) is able to understand that. Secondly, as I am sure the House appreciates, I have no intention of assisting Saddam Hussein's contingency planning.

Mr. Jenkin: I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way—although my sitting down five minutes early gave him a good deal of extra time.

It is fair to ask what the right hon. Gentleman intends to have ready. He will presumably have to tell the forces concerned what he will have ready. The fact that he has nothing ready yet suggests that we will not be in the theatre of potential conflict until long after many of the UN deadlines have passed.

Mr. Hoon: I am willing to arrange for the hon. Gentleman to be given a comprehensive briefing in the Ministry of Defence on the kinds of forces that the UK routinely has ready. It is, in fact, a question of readiness. As I have said, I will not describe the full range of equipment and personnel that could be made available. As I have also said, we cannot assist Saddam Hussein's contingency planning by giving information such as that for which the hon. Gentleman has asked. If he thought about it for a few more minutes, he would probably realise that giving such information would not be sensible.

The same answer can be given to the various points made by the Liberal Democrat spokesman, the hon. Member for Tweeddale. I am sorry; I cannot remember the rest of his constituency. [Hon. Members: XTweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale".] Yes, the hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Moore).

It is not possible to give that kind of detail. I think the hon. Gentleman's speech left many Labour Members rather puzzled. Having put his name to an amendment that is to be voted on, he barely addressed the reasons for that amendment—which, I am afraid, left many believing that this might be an example of the sort of opportunism about which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister complained earlier today. It was surprising that the hon. Gentleman devoted much of his speech to anything other than the Liberal Democrat amendment.

The right hon. Member for Devizes asked for details of military preparations. I know that the House will understand my reasons—which I have given—for not wishing to be drawn on all the details of our contingency planning, but it may be helpful if I say a word about reserve forces—about which a number of Members have asked questions in recent weeks—and military equipment.

Let me make it clear that we have not called out any reservists for possible military action against Iraq, and have no immediate plans to do so. As the House is well aware, however, any substantial military operation would require a contribution from the reserves. As part of our contingency planning, therefore, we are clarifying the requirement for such a contribution in support of any military operations in Iraq. We will be doing exploratory work initially, within the chain of command and more widely with other Departments. In due course, however, it may become necessary, on an informal basis,

25 Nov 2002 : Column 128

to sound out members of reservist formed units or individual reservists, and their employers, as to their circumstances and hence their availability for operations, in advance of a formal call-out. That will not involve reservists entering into any formal commitments. I have no doubt that, as soon as we begin such soundings, that will be misinterpreted and misrepresented as mobilisation by stealth, but I emphasise that at this stage I have only authorised planning activity.

I can also assure the House that when we judge that we need to call out reservists in preparation for potential military action, there will be a formal call-out order under the Reserve Forces Act 1996, and any decision to make such a call-out will, of course, be announced first to the House; but the House should be clear: we are not yet at that point. Nor do we need to be at that point.

Similarly, as part of the planning and preparation processes, we have been considering potential additional military equipment capability requirements. The Government are committed to equipping the armed forces for a range of contingencies, but specific operational environments and scenarios often require special priority to be given to particular capabilities. That is why we have been taking action to meet certain capability requirements as quickly as possible. In many cases, that involves accelerating existing programmes; in other cases, it involves new procurements against short time scales.

For example, we are bringing forward the purchase of further temporary deployable accommodation, and we are enhancing our medical support through improved hygiene facilities in deployed field hospitals and improvements to our ambulances. We will further improve the ability of our forces to handle and to exploit secure communications.

Next Section

IndexHome Page