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Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I agree very much with the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall. I repeat that no decision has been taken to launch military action against Iraq. However, it would be quite wrong to take forward military contingency planning without taking into account the humanitarian and post-conflict considerations to which he referred. Any coalition force on the ground would bear responsibility for the immediate future and security of the country in the aftermath of any operation. We take very seriously our current and potential responsibilities towards the Iraqi people. In the aftermath of any conflict, Britain would remain at the forefront of efforts to help them.
Lord Jopling: My Lords, can the Minister give an assurance that when aircraft are deployed, they are properly prepared for combat in that region? We do not want a repeat of the situation in the previous Gulf War when deployed Tornado aircraft had to return to this country so that the cockpit warning lightswhich negatived the crews' infra-red night flying facilitycould be filtered. That situation should have been foreseen, but it was not. Can she give an assurance that such matters have been foreseen this time?
Baroness Crawley: Yes, my Lords, I can give that assurance. Preparatory steps to increase the readiness of air assets in the region through adjustments to existing deployments were announced on 22nd January. We take very seriously the points which the noble Lord makes, and we shall apply them to any future deployment.
Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that if Saddam Hussein is able to maintain his current course much longer, it will represent an enormous international failure and the possible castration of the United Nations as the world authority? My noble friend's Statement today at least means that the finger of blame will not in future be directed at the United Kingdom. Despite the commitment from the United States and ourselves, there is still a risk that Saddam Hussein will pursue the same scorched earth policy that he pursued to great environmental damage and economic cost in the retreat from Kuwait. In order to deter such a development in Iraq should military conflict begin, would it not be appropriate for Iraq to be informed that any damage done in Iraq in pursuit of such a
Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I agree very much with the first part of my noble friend's contribution. Should the decision be taken to instigate military action, I believe that Saddam Hussein will be dealt with very firmly.
Lord King of Bridgwater: My Lords, does the noble Baroness recall that perhaps the single most courageous contribution made at the start of the previous Gulf War was by the RAF pilots involved in the airfield denial programme to prevent the Iraqi air force flying? Today's announcement on similar aircraft and similar requirements is therefore all the more sombre and significant. Everyone hopes that that will not be necessary. However, the single most important contribution to the avoidance of war is the credibility of force so that Saddam Hussein knows that he has no way out.
Our military forces will provide that credibility on the ground. However, it is the duty of their political masters to ensure that there is credibility about the position of the Government, Parliament and people in support of the forces engaged in this undertaking. Saddam Hussein keeps himself very well informed about public opinion and western opinion by means of international television. I am concerned that the wrong signals will be sent. If there is not greater public conviction, which it is the Government's duty to try to achieve, there is a real risk that he will not get the message, perhaps making war inevitable.
Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I agree wholeheartedly with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord King, on the credibility of force. He speaks from great experience in these matters. The message that should be going out to Saddam Hussein is that Iraq has failed both tests of United Nations Resolution 1441 by failing to disclose and failing to co-operate, and is in material breach of the resolution. These deployments, with earlier deployments announced in both Houses, are in support of that resolution. Time is now running out for Saddam Hussein.
Lord Judd: My Lords, does my noble friend accept that the House has heard her comments today in the context of the Prime Minister's commitment to seek a second and specific resolution from the United Nations authorising the use of force? Does she also agree that concern about the political analysis and political objectives is not limited to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, and the Cross Benches, but that, among all of us who are thinking about this desperate situation, there is a real anxiety to know the Government's analysis of the political aftermath in Iraq and in the region should force be used? To deploy men and women to fight on our behalf without being satisfied that that analysis has been thoroughly done would be unsatisfactory.
Does my noble friend also agree that there is concern about the humanitarian dimension, not only on the Liberal Democrat Benches? We cannot have it both ways. We say that the people of Iraq are suffering under a tyrant. While the noble Lord, Lord King, is obviously right to talk about the credibility of possible force, there also has to be a credibility about our commitment to the people of Iraq. Can she assure us that in our preparations, strategic arrangements and tactical planning, the punishment to innocent civilians will be kept to an absolute minimum? It is not simply a matter of cluster bombs, although that is important, but of how the general campaign is conducted.
Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I acknowledge my noble friend's concern in these matters. I also pay tribute to his political work in promoting the route to peace. We are committed to going down the UN route, as we have been from the start. As my noble friend will know from Statements in this House and in another place, we would prefer to have a second resolution, and we are working hard towards having one. He asked about minimising damage. If military action has to take place, and we still hope that it will not, we will regard it as a damage limitation exercise. We are very aware of the problem of civilian casualties. We want to ensure that civilian casualties and infrastructure damage are kept to the minimum. I assure my noble friend of the Government's commitment, and the commitment of all partners in this endeavour, to the ultimate welfare and well-being of the Iraqi people.
Lord Elton: My Lords, the noble Baroness will recognise that an important part of getting the right signals to Saddam Hussein at the moment is securing the unequivocal support of Parliament and the public. Will she convey to the usual channels therefore that the wish for an early and full debate at the present time is not something merely expressed by Front Benchers but is also warmly felt by Back Benchers certainly on this side of the House and, I suspect, elsewhere?
Anti-personnel cluster bombs are among the most hideous of weapons as they are unreliable, a large percentage remain unexploded, and they look rather like things children wish to pick up. The results of doing so are perfectly horrific. We should like to hear something more on that matter than a letter from the noble Baroness to the Liberal Democrat spokesman. It should be the subject of an undertaking given in debate.
Nothing has been said about medical support. I believe that a field hospital has been sent out. Is there extra provision for the RAF? I always understood that British forces are under the command of Her Majesty's Government, but that where they assist other, larger forces, they are often under the command of those forces locally. I assume therefore that there is an American element intervening between Her Majesty's Government and the supreme commander of our forces in the area. The question that some of us would like answered is whether the British contingent as a
Baroness Crawley: My Lords, the support of Parliament and the public is essential. Indeed, Parliament gave its overwhelming support in a vote on 24th November. It is essential in this whole process continually to involve Parliament. Not only Front Benchers but also Back Benchers in this House wish to have a substantial debate on this issue. I shall ensure that noble Lords who have spoken receive copies of any detailed response that I give today on the status of cluster bombs. We, as a country, are signed up to the Ottawa Convention. We take very seriously the fact that we are a signatory of the convention. We would not countenance having anti-personnel cluster bombs at any of our bases or using them in our UK operations.
The noble Lord asked about command and control. I can only repeat what the Secretary of State said earlier; namely, that the British forces will ultimately be under the command and control of the British Government. He does not want at this stage to go into any further detail on planning.
Lord Marlesford: My Lords, am I right in assuming that the Government would not have deployed forces on this scale without having estimated the financial cost of so doing and being satisfied that it is affordable in the present economic situation? If so, will the Minister share with us what that estimate of cost is at present? Have the Government also estimated the cost of possibly committing all these forces to military action? Do the Government have it in mind that other countries which may not take part in the military action, or deploy forces at all, should be asked to contribute to the cost? I think particularly of countries in the Gulf, other members of the EU and other members of NATO.
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