The Gulf

Part of Prayers – in the House of Commons at 12:30 pm on 7th September 1990.

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Photo of Mr Giles Radice Mr Giles Radice Chair, Treasury & Civil Service Sub-Committee 12:30 pm, 7th September 1990

This has been an excellent debate which has totally justified the recall of Parliament. It is in marked contrast to the Falklands debate on that Saturday in March 1982. I recall returning from the Anglo-German Konigswinter conference at Cambridge for the debate. When I returned to that conference, my German friends expressed amazement at the shrillness, jingoistic nature and excitability of the British Parliament in reacting to the Falklands crisis.

This debate has been sober, realistic and practical. There has been a wide consensus among hon. Members. We have all condemned the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and its subsequent occupation and annexation. Most hon. Members have supported the impressive international response and particularly the blockade that has been undertaken in accordance with United Nations Security Council resolutions.

There has also been general recognition that we are in for a long haul. There has been little support for the idea of a quick, unilateral, surgical strike, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) pointed out the dangers and inadequacies of such an approach.

Most of us recognise that there may come a time when, in support of United Nations resolutions, force may have to be used. But, as the Leader of the Opposition said in his excellent speech yesterday, it is essential that any action has the widest possible international support and is taken in accordance with United Nations resolutions, the UN charter and under international law.

President Bush and his chief Ministers have so far handled t he crisis with great skill and intelligence. If any of my hon. Friends doubt that—we have heard one such expression—I urge them to consider what would be the situation if President Reagan were still in office. There would not have been the concern to create such a wide-ranging international consensus, or to work through the United Nations, or the circumspection and restraint that have so far been the hallmark of the speeches and statements of President Bush and Secretary of State James Baker.

Naturally, the Americans want to protect their oil supplies—[Interruption.] This is a serious debate and it would be sensible for hon. Members to take it seriously. We all want to protect our oil supplies, and that goes for Japan, the countries of Europe and, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) said yesterday, the developing countries of the third world. We all want to protect our oil supplies and we are entitled to do so.

I do not believe that—as my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) hinted—it is the intention of the United States to set up a virtual protectorate in the Gulf. The reality, as we have seen from the tour by Secretary of State Brady, is that the United States can no longer afford permanent involvement on the scale that may well be required if security is to be maintained in the middle east.

I ask my hon. Friends to mark this point well. The new development in American foreign policy—and I believe that we must welcome it—is the realisation in the United States that although the United States remains a super-power, it must act within the widest possible international support. It is only sensible and wise for us to mark that.

My next point—the new and most welcome accord between the United States and the Soviet Union—has been mentioned by a number of hon. Members. It is not true to say that the Soviet Union is no longer a super-power if we judge that by the possession of nuclear weapons and of substantial armed forces. In that sense, the Soviet Union is a super-power. If we had had a middle east crisis on this scale five years ago, we could now be on the brink of world war. The fact that we are not marks the real change and shift that has occurred. In this crisis, the United States and the Soviet Union are co-operating in the Security Council.

The Soviet Union is taking a resolute line with Iraq, its former client. That was illustrated by the polite, but firm reception given to the Iraqi Foreign Minister in Moscow this week. This weekend, President Bush and President Gorbachev will meet in Helsinki, at the request of President Bush, to discuss common strategy over the crisis. That is an enormously welcome development.

The new relationship between the Soviet Union and the United States has breathed new life into the United Nations and has helped to make the response to the Iraqi invasion so international and so effective. We must welcome that and we must hope to build on and develop that constructive accord, which is so promising for the world and for the future of peace.

There is general agreement in the House that we must look beyond the immediate situation and that we must try to reach a long-term settlement in the middle east. It is interesting and significant that both Secretary of State James Baker and the Foreign Minister of the Soviet Union, Eduard Shevardnadze, have been talking about longer-term objectives and, above all, about the need to create a more stable order in the middle east, an area which is so vital to the world.

I do not have time to run over what should be included in that long-term settlement. Clearly, we must settle some of the basic disputes, especially, of course, the Palestinian issue. It is vital that we settle that. It is also vital that we come to our senses about exporting arms to the middle east. None of us should forget—and we all have a responsibility here—that the west helped to build up the military might of Iraq. We must draw the appropriate lesson from that and about chemical bans as well.

We must have a new security guarantee in the middle east. I was pleased to hear the Prime Minister talk about the possible role of the United Nations. The Arabs must be involved as well.

I will join my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition in voting for the Adjournment today, not because I am giving the Government a blank cheque—none of us should give any Government a blank cheque—but because I support the Government's actions so far and, above all, because, like my right hon. Friend, I support the case for an effective international response to a clear case of aggression by Iraq.