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Lord Kennet: My Lords, my noble friend teases me sufficiently to make me rise. That was not my point. It was not the obvious moral inferiority of Iraq in relation to any other imaginable country that preoccupied me, but the danger of making a comparison, for instance, with Burma, Malaysia or some real country which many people would feel to be quite different from Iraq and that would therefore invalidate my point.

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, I was listening to my noble friend's interjection. I cannot say that I quite follow it. I shall read Hansard tomorrow and if I think of anything new to say to him, I shall write to him.

The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, asked questions about the Caspian Basin. I understand that the Foreign Secretary has already said that the Caspian Basin and access to it is a priority in British foreign policy and will be the subject of increased diplomatic effort on the part of Her Majesty's Government over the next couple of years.

I turn to the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, and the extremely moving remarks that she made in relation to the plight of the Iraqi people. We all know of her long dedication to the suffering of the wretched people, the Marsh Arabs, in the southern part of that country. It bears repeating in your Lordships' House that, while all that military activity yesterday and today has been going on, we have not forgotten that we are enforcing a no-fly zone in both north and south Iraq and, through that, doing what we can to reduce the burden of Saddam Hussein's rule of those wretched people. What the noble Baroness had to say about the cynicism of the Iraqi minister of health was extremely moving, as I am sure all your Lordships will agree.

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I was asked to say what will happen when the guns fall silent. I cannot do better than quote directly from the press notice that was circulated by the body with which the noble Baroness has a close acquaintance, the AMAR UNESCO Standing Conference:

    "When the guns fall silent the suffering goes on and so does our work of rehabilitation".
That task will face the entire international community. As that press conference pointed out,

    "the AMAR international charitable foundation has, day by day, sustained 100,000 refugees who have been forced to flee from Iraq to Iran".
We also have to think of those poor wretches who have not managed to escape from Iraq to Iran.

My noble friend Lord Hardy asked about the proportion of Iraq's gross national product devoted to defence. He rattled off at great speed an impressive number of statistics about the size of the armed forces in Iraq. The figures sounded roughly right to me, but if he wants a precise reply I shall have to check the figures. There is no doubt whatever that Saddam Hussein could have fed his people better and could have provided them with more medicines had he not spent the money he obtained from the sale of his oil on palaces and armaments which threaten his neighbours and his own people.

I am sure that everybody in the House agrees with my noble friend that the children of Iraq should be encouraged to live in peace and have a better education. That is, of course, what we hope for all of them as soon as possible.

I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Monro, for what he said about the standard of our pilots and the ground crews. It is our objective not just to minimise Iraqi casualties but also to minimise the casualties among the brave young men flying in Royal Air Force planes.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, referred to Ramadan and to whether or not the timing had anything to do with Ramadan. There may be some misunderstanding about Ramadan. As I understand it, Ramadan is not a fixed feast. It may be proclaimed on different days in different countries. So there is uncertainty at the moment as to when Ramadan will be proclaimed in any one of the countries in that part of the world.

The timing of this military operation was set simply by two things: first, the fact that Mr. Butler presented his report, saying that he had had absolutely no compliance and, in fact, had had obstruction, deceit and difficulties from the Iraqi Government who were clearly in breach of their responsibilities. The decision taken to engage in military operations obviously reposed on the need to get the UNSCOM inspectors out of Iraq as safely and as soon as possible. I am delighted to say that that operation has been 100 per cent. successful. It was speedily arranged.

Secondly, there was a need, as far as possible, to preserve the element of surprise. That is one of the main reasons why no land-based aircraft were used last night. No British aircraft were used last night because we did not want anyone to see the planes being bombed up.

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The planes that took part in the attack were carrier-based aircraft so no one could see what was happening. There were no journalists aboard the American aircraft carrier. Nobody knew that the Tomahawks were going to be launched by the American forces.

Many other elements of guile were involved, not least the fact that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State went all the way to Brussels for dinner last night because he had that outstanding engagement. He did not want people to know that he was cancelling his appointments because that would have led to suspicion that things were about to start happening immediately. The element of surprise was of crucial importance in deciding the timing. I am glad to be able to report that our evidence is that at the very least we were partially successful, if not wholly successful, in gaining the advantage of surprise.

Perhaps I may say finally to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, that we have constantly been discussing with our Arab friends whether they can see any other way of dealing with Saddam Hussein. However much, from time to time, they might deplore force and talk about the suffering of the Iraqi people--their feelings on that are understandable--I have yet to encounter a senior Arab leader who has come up with any other way of dealing with Saddam Hussein.

My noble friend Lord Jenkins of Putney referred to the need for the great power unanimity rule. I do not want to put words in my noble friend's mouth, but he seemed to imply that, in the absence of that rule, our actions were illegal. I refer him to the fact that the American-British actions in this case were based on previous United Nations Security Council resolutions which were not vetoed. The advice of Her Majesty's Government is that everything we are doing is fully in compliance with international law although my noble friend--

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, the situation is that the unanimity rule is in force and that is why their actions were illegal.

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, my noble friend and I will have to part company on this one--

Lord Jenkins of Putney: It is admitted in their own Statement.

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, I repeat to my noble friend that the advice that we have is that we are fully in compliance with the requirements of international law. Our actions are based on former United Nations Security Council resolutions. Nobody attempted to veto those resolutions.

I was not quite clear what my noble friend had in mind when he referred to the possibility of the Russians and the Chinese going into Iraq to protect UNSCOM officials. I do not think that they have been physically under threat. The problem is that we have not succeeded in achieving compliance with UN resolutions.

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My noble friend Lord Shore of Stepney rightly referred to the importance of public opinion in this country and said that it could not be taken for granted. I hope very much that the message that goes out today from both this House and another place will make clear why the Government have taken the steps that they have and that in these circumstances the Government have the support of the overwhelming number of Members of both Houses of Parliament.

My noble friend is absolutely right: my ministerial colleagues and I, in both Houses, will be at pains to try to convey, through every element in the media that is open to us, our arguments for doing what we are doing. An opinion poll conducted today in the United States shows that something like 74 per cent. of the American people support this action, with between 14 and 15 per cent. against. I have yet to see any figures from an opinion poll taken in this country, but I should be surprised if the proportions here are very different.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ely rightly drew our attention not only to our own forces' need for our support and prayers but also, as one would expect from him, to the fact that many innocent people will be caught up in this conflict. Although we shall be attacking military installations, there will, unfortunately, be civilian casualties. I should like to make a few brief comments on that. Some of the casualties, particularly in civilian areas, will be caused by the enormous amounts of armaments that the Iraqis fire up into the air and which eventually come down again, hitting people and houses and injuring people. That will certainly be one of the elements in central Baghdad which will cause injuries.

There is evidence to suggest that we have not been hitting civilian targets. I can do no better than to draw your Lordships' attention to the sights on our television screens of cars driving perfectly normally around the centre of Baghdad while the attack was going on. So it is perfectly clear that citizens in Iraq in the centre of Baghdad have been going about their business in a perfectly normal way, while the attacks have been taking place on military installations far away from the centre.

There is one further point that I should like to make clear relating to a comment of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall. He talked about the precision of American weapons. I believe that the noble and gallant Lord may not have realised quite how more precise our own weapons have become since the Gulf War in 1991. At that time we were relying, not exclusively but very largely, on what are known as dumb bombs without any sophistication or precision guiding systems available to them. On this occasion, I can tell your Lordships that Her Majesty's forces will be using exclusively precision guided weapons. They will be either Paveway 2 or Paveway 3, which are laser guided thermal imaging systems with a remarkable degree of accuracy. Those will be the only types of weapons which Royal Air Force planes will be dispensing in these circumstances.

I turn, finally, to the remarks of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, whose experience in these matters makes me highly diffident about coming to this Dispatch

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Box. As he reminded us, he was in fact in charge of Britain's defences at the time of the Gulf War. I listened very carefully to what the noble and gallant Lord had to say. I entirely agree that it is absolutely essential for us to convey not only to the British people but also to the British forces the precise nature of our military objectives. I can assure the noble and gallant Lord that we are sparing absolutely no effort in that direction.

The noble and gallant Lord also asked whether or not the objectives were understood between governments and armed forces. I am sure that he will accept my assurance that there is total clarity and agreement between the governments as to what needs to be done and as to what the objectives are. Again, I am sure that he will understand from his past experience that we have senior British officers talking daily to one another. The Chief of the Defence Staff is talking to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs almost every day; indeed, he must be talking to him every day now. The American general in Florida has a British two-star officer accredited to him and similar arrangements apply in the Gulf. So there is the most intimate collaboration and understanding between the armed forces and the governments of our two countries.

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The noble and gallant Lord thought that it would be wonderful if we had an Iraqi government set up in exile and suggested that it would be excellent if such a government could feed assistance through to an opposition resistance in Iraq. All I can say is Amen to all of that. Unfortunately, I am afraid, the world is not quite as simple as that. Not long ago, one of my right honourable friends at the Foreign Office entertained some Iraqi Opposition groups. I think that 15 or 16 of them came in, and they found it very difficult to come to an agreed message; they found it very difficult to accept that they could work closely together; and they found it rather difficult to agree on objectives. We will be working further in that direction, but these matters are, unfortunately, not wholly within our hands.

I have taken up too much of your Lordships' time but I wanted to be sure that I had addressed as many of the remarks as possible of each and every one of your Lordships who have spoken on this extremely solemn and sombre occasion. As we speak, I repeat that brave young men in Royal Air Force uniforms are in the air at this very moment over Baghdad. As the right reverend Prelate said, our prayers must go with them all.

        House adjourned for the Christmas Recess at twenty minutes before six o'clock until Monday, 11th January next.

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