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20 Mar 2003 : Column 1088—continued

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex): I thank the Secretary of State for his timely statement to the House, and for providing me with a copy in advance. I am grateful for his assurance that he will continue to make regular oral statements to the House, and put a daily summary of events in the Library.

First, I want to underline one part of the Secretary of State's statement—that the size and scale of the British forces involved in this operation show that they are no token commitment. They are making a very real contribution to the operation, and we should be proud of them.

Events overnight confirm that military operations to disarm Saddam Hussein are likely to be unpredictable. We appreciate that in any conflict of this nature,

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especially with modern electronic surveillance, targets will present themselves for attack at very short notice. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the military commanders will continue to have the necessary autonomy to act quickly and flexibly to seize such opportunities, as and when they arise?

When the President of the United States refers, as he did this morning, to "coalition forces" being in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, is he implying that UK forces were involved in the action overnight? If so, is the Secretary of State able to say in what capacity?

Will the Secretary of State confirm that the coalition is far wider than just the UK and US and that it comprises some 35 nations, although not all are directly involved in military action?

There are reports of Scud B missile attacks on Kuwait and coalition forces there. It may be too early for the Secretary of State to confirm the exact nature of these attacks, but if they were Scud Bs—with a range of at least 600 km—would that not confirm that Saddam Hussein had continued to lie and failed to disarm? Can the Secretary of State confirm how effective the US theatre missile defences have been? Is he able to say what warheads the enemy missiles were carrying? Can he explain what caused the explosion reported in Kuwait City? Can he provide any details about the exchange of artillery fire on the Iraqi border with Kuwait?

There has been widespread concern about the possible interaction of Turkish and Kurdish forces in northern Iraq, perhaps at a later stage of the conflict. Can he comment on overnight reports that Iraqi Kurdish forces have placed themselves under US command? If this is true, it is a welcome development. There are also reports of Iraqi soldiers giving themselves up; this is most welcome. Will the Secretary of State confirm that they are being treated as bona fide prisoners of war and will be accorded their proper rights under the Geneva convention? Will he also clarify what role they might be invited to play eventually at later stages of the conflict, perhaps as volunteers in the fighting to disarm Saddam Hussein?

What continued diplomatic initiatives are being maintained with France and Russia, who have both issued public criticism of the action carried out by the coalition? Will the Government and the United States make every effort to engage the United Nations in the humanitarian tasks, which are far more the inevitable result of 30 years of Saddam Hussein's misrule than of any damage likely to be caused by military action?

We have had a great debate over many months about military action to disarm Saddam Hussein. We are, of course, a free country in which people continue to have every right to protest, but I hope that all parties will agree that such protests should remain within the law. It is a tragic inevitability of war that innocent people will die, and we mourn them. Would not it be so much better for Saddam Hussein to end the suffering of the Iraqi people now and surrender immediately?

The UK has embarked on this course alongside our allies to disarm Saddam Hussein because he is a threat. I support the Secretary of State in his warning that, inevitably, there will be events in the days and weeks

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ahead that test our determination. It may take longer than we hope, but we must have the resolve to see this through.

I conclude with the words of Lieutenant Colonel Tim Collins who addressed his 1st Battalion of the Royal Irish Regiment yesterday with these words:

He spoke for our whole nation and we wish him and all our fine armed forces the best of good fortune.

Mr. Hoon: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's observations and for the support of Her Majesty's official Opposition.

On his question about the responsibility of commanders on the ground, I assure him that they will have the delegated responsibilities necessary to allow them to take appropriate action. Equally, I make it clear that those delegated responsibilities are always approved by Ministers, consistent with the usual arrangements.

On the specific involvement of UK forces, President Bush made it clear in his address overnight that these were coalition operations. I do not believe that it is appropriate to specify what particular forces were used for each particular operation. These are coalition operations involving a wide range of military support; at least the number of countries mentioned by the hon. Gentleman.

Consistent with what I said earlier, I do not intend to comment in detail about the considerable number of missiles that have been targeted against Kuwait. We are investigating precisely the nature of the missiles and of the warheads with which they are equipped. I understand, but only from recent news reports, that defensive systems have been used to good effect to deal with at least one such missile.

There is close co-operation between the United States and Kurdish forces in the north of Iraq and I am confident that that will continue. I give the House the assurance that prisoners of war will be dealt with in accordance with international law. There are certainly signs of a growing number of disaffected Iraqis abandoning support for Saddam Hussein. This morning I discussed with my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary the continuing diplomatic initiatives that will be taken. As I have said, the Prime Minister will go to the European Council meeting this afternoon.

Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford): May I thank the Secretary of State for advance notice of his statement and associate myself and my colleagues with his comments and those of the shadow Defence Secretary about the excellence of the men and women of our armed forces? They will perform whatever tasks they are set with extraordinary courage and great skill. They are a credit to our nation. At this time we must remember their families at home. Our troops and their families should know that they have the support of the full House today.

We all hope that this will be a swift and successful campaign with as few casualties as possible on all sides. The Secretary of State outlined today details of the strike that took place in the small hours of the morning.

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We thank him for that and we understand the constraints that he has in saying more. In relation to the reports of the Iraqi attacks on Kuwait this morning, does it appear that the warning procedures set in place by coalition forces have worked extremely successfully?

Finally, I understand that later today the permanent under-secretary will announce that the unmarried partners of members of the armed forces serving in the Gulf will receive proper compensation, should their partners pay the ultimate price. The Secretary of State will know of my concern and interest in this matter. If that is the case, may I thank him? It is most welcome.

Mr. Hoon: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's support. He asked two specific questions. I was enormously impressed by the television pictures this morning of British forces and, indeed, members of the press, reacting quickly to warning procedures. We undoubtedly have concerns about the offensive action taken by Iraq against Kuwait and our deployed forces. Today there will be a ministerial statement on unmarried partners along the lines that the hon. Gentleman advocated.

Laura Moffatt (Crawley): My right hon. Friend has outlined the progress in this campaign. We must win the campaign and not allow our armed forces to go into conflict without the correct weaponry to protect them. Could he say something about the more controversial weapons that may need to be used, such as depleted uranium heads on weapons and cluster bombs, for our constituents who may have concerns about them?

Mr. Hoon: I emphasise that a range of weapons will have to be used to prosecute this campaign successfully and achieve the successful result that my hon. Friend rightly advocates. I will not allow our forces to be prevented from using those lawful weapons that are most suitable for achieving those tasks. I assure her equally that those weapons are used only after the most careful consideration. Depleted uranium and cluster bombs have a particular military purpose. If that purpose is necessary, they will be used; if it is not, they will not be used.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk): The Secretary of State will be aware that a number of my constituents based at RAF Marham are in the Gulf and will almost certainly have played a part in this first phase of operations. They will have shown their normal, high standard of professionalism. Does he agree that they now deserve the 100 per cent. support of all the public? Surely the time has come for these anti-war demonstrations to cease.

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