With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on further deployments of British forces to the Gulf.
It is now three and a half months since Iraq invaded Kuwait and it has continued to defy the United Nations demand to withdraw. Sanctions have left Iraq increasingly isolated; the Royal Navy has played an important part in this embargo. But Saddam Hussein shows no sign yet of complying with United Nations resolutions and ending his barbaric treatment of the Kuwaiti people and the hostages whom he has detained illegally. Moreover, there are now more than 400,000 Iraqi troops in and near Kuwait.
It remains the Government's firm objective to resolve this crisis as soon as possible and by peaceful means. To do this, it is essential to establish a credible offensive military option. Saddam Hussein must be made to realise that he is faced with a military force which will otherwise compel him to withdraw.
The House will be aware that there are now 30 countries involved in this multinational effort by land, sea and air, and of the significant increases in forces now in Saudi Arabia and neighbouring countries. In particular, President Bush has announced very substantial increases in United States forces.
The Government believe that it is right to make a further significant contribution to this multinational effort. My hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces announced last week that we were reducing the notice to move of Army units to allow prompt deployment once the final decision was taken. The Government have today decided to deploy an extra brigade, a divisional HQ and supporting arms. They will join 7 Armoured Brigade in Saudi Arabia to form the 1st Armoured Division.
The additional brigade will be the 4th Brigade from Germany, with an armoured regiment of Challenger tanks, two armoured infantry battalions equipped with Warrior fighting vehicles, an armoured reconnaissance squadron, a field regiment Royal Artillery, together with engineers and other supporting services.
Additional equipment deploying with the division will include M109 and M110 self-propelled guns, tracked and towed Rapier and two multiple-launch batteries. Lynx anti-tank helicopters and additional support helicopters will be sent. In all, some 14,000 additional Army personnel will be deployed, which will bring the strength of 1st Armoured Division to some 25,000, and the total number of United Kingdom forces committed to more than 30,000.
The command arrangements that we have agreed provide for United Kingdom forces to be placed under the tactical control of a United States commander for specific actions where this makes military sense. On the same basis, 1st Armoured Division may have a United States brigade assigned to its tactical control.
Certain key skills required for this deployment will need to be offset by the selective use of reservists. I hope that this can be met by asking individual members of the reserve, particularly those with medical training and experience, to rejoin on short-term engagements and I would be grateful if employers would take a sympathetic view of any such requests.
The Government have also decided to send two more mine counter-measures vessels to the Gulf. These force increases will raise the operating cost of the deployment by £10 million per week and there will be substantial initial costs, too.
The formation of a United Kingdom armoured division will represent a potent increase in the fighting capability of British forces in Saudi Arabia. With the further major American deployments, and the continued build-up of units from 30 other countries in the multinational force, the deployment that I have announced today is the clearest possible message to Saddam Hussein that there is a credible military option and that he must now observe resolution 660, end his aggression, release the hostages, and leave Kuwait.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for notifying the House of the Government's decision. Will he confirm that these troops, like the United Kingdom service men who have already been sent to Saudi Arabia, are going to Saudi Arabia at the invitation of the Saudi Arabian Government, under the provisions of article 51 of the United Nations charter, on which basis Labour Members and our party conference accepted that the sending of such troops is necessary and justifiable?
The Secretary of State gave details of the additional cost. How much of that cost will be met by the Saudi Arabian Government, who already make some contribution to the cost of British troops in that country? Will he confirm that it is the wish of the British Government that the 10 United Nations Security Council resolutions demanding the unconditional withdrawal of Iraq from Kuwait should be implemented by the sanctions policy, reinforced by the air and sea blockades in which the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force participate? Does he agree that those sanctions should be given maximum time to work?
Will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that the United Kingdom Government actively support moves in the United Nations for Security Council authority for any use of force that may be considered? Do the Government agree with President Gorbachev that the Security Council should meet without delay to consider the Kuwait issue? Mr.Gorbachev said yesterday:
There is a need to act and get Iraq out of Kuwait. We must be resolute.
The whole House will agree with his words.
I am very grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's welcome for my statement. We wish sanctions to be pursued as effectively as possible and look to achieve the maximum possible agreement and support through the Security Council in support of the sanctions and of the resolutions to ensure the ending of the aggression against Kuwait. When I was in Saudi Arabia, I received confirmation that the host Government would provide free food, fuel, water, transport and accommodation for our forces, which we much appreciate. We have had offers, through the Western European Union, from Germany, which is offering us help with medical supplies, the fitting out of a complete field hospital and substantial amounts, we believe, of cash support. We appreciate that, and other countries in the Western European Union are helping.
I can also confirm that these further forces follow on from the original invitation that my right hon. Friend received from his Majesty King Fahd. When I was in Saudi Arabia last week, I discussed the possibility of reinforcement. Both King Fahd and Prince Sultan made it clear that that would be very welcome. I am pleased to say that Opposition spokesmen and the Select Committee are on their way to see our forces there tomorrow. They are due to meet King Fahd, as we have arranged for a meeting with him, and I think that they will hear how welcome our forces are, and how much the Saudi Government appreciate our response to their invitation.
Order. I know that the House appreciates the importance of the debate that follows this important statement. There is also a business statement today. I propose not to allow questions on this statement to run beyond 4 o'clock. I ask hon. Members who feel that they could put a question on another occasion to do so.
Will my right hon. Friend understand that, once the Government had taken the right and proper decision to support the international force in the Gulf, it was essential that the military capability of that force had total credibility? Will he therefore recognise that the announcement that he has made this afternoon carries the wholehearted and unanimous support of all hon. Members on this side of the House?
May I say to my right hon. Friend how much I appreciate his making that position absolutely clear, and that we stand together? I appreciate, and I have never doubted, that we have the total support of Conservative Members and I am grateful for the support of all responsible Members from both sides of the House for our position.
Is the Minister not being slightly hypocritical when he says that he is sending a credible military force to the Gulf'? Will he confirm that the tanks in the Gulf at present are using spares—including engines and guns—supplied from tanks that he is now going to send to the Gulf? When they have no spares, how can they be a credible military force?
My right hon. Friend has spoken about the commitment of Britain as one of 30 countries involved in the Gulf. Will he take the opportunity to assure the House that he feels confident that the process is mirrored in other participating countries and say whether other Arab countries—given their significance—will continue to play a part, just as we are doing?
Obviously, the contributions vary. I have announced forces which amount to a British division and can confirm that Egypt has already sent one division and is likely to send another. Syria already has a brigade there and is likely to build it up to a division.
May I tell the Secretary of State that his announcement has our support as part of the international effort to persuade Saddam Hussein to withdraw peacefully from Kuwait? There is no doubt that, if that effort is to be successful, it must be backed by a credible military option. Will he confirm that, even if express United Nations authority is not obtained, it will still be the policy of her Majesty's Government not to participate in any military operation, unless it is as the result of an international decision to do so?
We have always made it plain that the legal position is quite clear, if we are invited by Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, exercising their legitimate right of self-defence. None the less, we want the widest possible international support for this. Everyone must take great encouragement from the discussions that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary had in Paris and their outcome, and from all the signs that there is a real sense of unanimity informing the actions of the Security Council, in a way that we have perhaps never seen before.
In warmly supporting my right hon. Friend's statement, which recognises that we must have a credible military option, may I ask when these troops are likely to arrive in the Gulf?
The reconnaissance party will leave this afternoon and the first logistic movements will start at the weekend, perhaps on Friday. The forces will fly there and arrive progressively after Christmas and at the very beginning of the new year.
Is the Secretary of State aware that there is a growing feeling in the United States Congress that the only United States NATO ally whose contribution in the Gulf can be taken seriously is the United Kingdom? In view of the Secretary of State's statement, is not it clear that Britain needs to do nothing further to remove the impression that American youth is once more being called on to die in defence of Europe's interests?
We have made no secret of the fact that we would like to see the widest possible international contribution. It is true that Germany has a problem with its constitution and its legal position, but it has made it clear that it wishes to give assistance. I pay tribute to the very real assistance that the German authorities have given to the British Army of the Rhine and our other forces in Germany, with special extra training needs. We seek the greatest contribution from all countries. France is making significant contributions. I hope that those contributions can be properly knitted into an effective allied multinational effort.
We are not adding to the air resources in this announcement. There are, of course, substantial air resources in Saudi Arabia and neighbouring states. There is good co-operation between the United States, Saudi Arabian, United Kingdom and other air forces in the area. It is proving to be an area of effective co-operation.
The Secretary of State talked about key skills among reservists. How about the skill of putting out raging oil fires? As there is only one Red Adair team, would someone on either Front Bench like to explain what will happen if a series of oilfields goes on fire in Iraq and Saudi Arabia? That is the reality and someone somewhere had better answer that question pretty soon before we talk about further deployment.
If we respond in that way to every threat from Baghdad, what message shall I, or the hon. Gentleman, give our hostages in Kuwait and Iraq? Shall we tell them that the aggression will not be ended because we are not prepared to face the challenge?
Given the large increase in the numbers of troops who are to go to the Gulf and the importance of morale, will my right hon. Friend reconsider telephone facilities for troops who want to call home? During a visit to the Falklands garrison, I was told that the special concessionary rates for troops were of crucial importance in maintaining morale there. Will he apply the same principle to our garrison in the Gulf?
Very considerable efforts are being made to establish effective telephone communications for our service men at, we hope, a welfare rate. My hon. Friend will be aware that the ability to call not only the United Kingdom but Germany is important, because many of our soldiers' families live there.
On behalf of the Ulster Unionist party, may I welcome the Secretary of State's statement? While many of us hoped and prayed that sanctions would be effective, we did not believe that they would be. As Saddam Hussein is in the process of moving another 250,000 troops into Kuwait, we feel that the time for action is perhaps upon us. Does the Secretary of State feel confident that, with the transitional state of our Government today, he has the scope to take the crucial decision that may have to be taken at any moment?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his support. It is probably the first time that I have had it, even in my earlier incarnations. I certainly appreciate what he has said on behalf of his party. I hope that he agrees that, as some of the important exchanges have shown, there is no question about the Government's authority and ability to take decisions in the national interest. I am aware of the support of the House in recognising that, if our service men are to be asked to go forward in this way, they must have time for acclimatisation, be properly trained in the theatre and have our support. I am grateful to both sides of the House for their support and recognition of that fact.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that our reserves, the Territorial Army, the Royal Auxiliary Air Force and the naval reserves, are only too keen to support our forces in the Gulf? Would it not be easier to introduce legislation under Order in Council so that their jobs are guaranteed while they are away?
I certainly recognise that. This afternoon, my office had a call from another Government Department about a civil servant who has asked permission to go. I look to the Government to set a good example to employers to take a sympathetic view. There is no doubting the willingness of many reservists to play their part if possible. I shall certainly consider my hon. Friend's important point.
Will the Secretary of State explain why the increased deployment of troops is occurring now, when sanctions have not been given enough time to work and the United Nations Security Council is being urged to meet again to consider the situation? Is it because the Americans are preparing to take us into a bloody war in the Gulf?
The hon. Lady will understand that it will take time for our forces to reach the Gulf. That gives an opportunity for UN action which we hope will be successful and it sends a clear warning. I do not know how long she is prepared to allow the atrocities and outrages in Kuwait to continue. I am sure that she is not seeking to defend them but is looking for the earliest possible end to the aggression. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House believe that this aggression will not end peacefully until Saddam Hussein is convinced that, otherwise, he faces the certainty of military action.
Following my right hon. Friend's visit to the Gulf, will he confirm that the morale of the service men remains high? Does he agree that they are fully aware that, whoever leads this great party of ours, the party will continue firmly to support service men in the Gulf?
I can confirm that morale is extremely high. I delivered precisely that message standing in the sand in Saudi Arabia a week ago. I said that, whoever led the Government in future, there was no questioning the total commitment of the Government and the party. I confirmed that to Sir Peter de la Billiere this morning.
Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to congratulate the employees of Vickers in Leeds and, particularly, in Newcastle for producing conversion kits for tanks so quickly? Will he also take this opportunity to say a word about the arrangements that he has put in train for paying at least assistance towards additional insurance premiums for service men stationed in the Gulf?
On the latter point, we are paying 90 per cent. of any additonal premium. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to pay a tribute to British industry. Some amazing things are happening in factories throughout the country in support of our forces in the Gulf. I am extremely grateful to the many people whose work is enabling the achievement of delivery dates which in normal circumstances would be thought quite impossible.
My right hon. Friend knows that a large number of people are now being thrown out of Kuwait or are leaving under their own steam. I am sure that all the able-bodied Kuwaiti citizens would like to go back to fight, if necessary, to recover their country. Are we giving them the opportunity to enlist, to be armed and organised and even to perform jobs behind the scenes in support of the armed forces in the area?
I can confirm that a significant number of Kuwaitis have enlisted. We are willing to give any assistance we can, as is Saudi Arabia. Those people are training at this time.
If the Secretary of State will not accept it from me, as the Prime Minister would not accept yesterday, that it is possible for the Ministry of Defence to estimate casualties were a war to take place, what does he say to Colonel David Hackworth, the most decorated American soldier in Vietnam? He has estimated that there will be 50,000 casualties in the first two weeks of the war—only 7,000 less than the total of American dead in 12 years in Vietnam. At what level would the Government decide that the casualty rate was too high for thousands of young men and women to lose their lives for a feudal autocracy that happens to have a couple of oil wells?
I have not seen that forecast, but the hon. Gentleman may understand that the precise reason for the enlargement of the American deployment and part of the reason for my announcement today is to ensure that our military force is totally credible. That gives us the best possible opportunity for this matter to be solved by peaceful means—by the threat of force without the use of it. If there were to be conflict, that enlarged deployment would also give us the best possible chance of minimising casualties.
As a reservist, may I ask my right hon. Friend to have a word for me with the pairing Whip?
On a serious note, will my right hon. Friend pay tribute to those civilian personnel in Saudi Arabia, such as those from Perkins Engines in Shrewsbury, which builds the engines for the Challenger tanks, for the part that they are playing in supporting our service men? Will he also pay tribute to their families who are backing them from home?
I am grateful for my hon. Friend's offer, which I shall certainly consider. On the latter point, it is true that there are a number of companies whose employees are out in Saudi Arabia. They are giving direct support to our troops through their work on the equipment and I am very grateful for that.
While I welcome the Secretary of State's reference in his previous answer to the need to solve this crisis by peaceful means, does he accept that, when sanctions were introduced, no one seriously suggested that they would work within four months or so? It was never supposed that those sanctions would be effective on food supplies; rather that they would affect Iraq's earnings from oil and spares. We would need at least a year before anyone could reasonably suggest that the sanctions have not worked. Will he bear that in mind?
And will the hon. Member or I tell our hostages in Kuwait and Iraq that they have the certainty of no further effort being made to achieve their liberation? Are we to allow the total destruction of a country before our eyes for a further year while the Security Council sits paralysed, making no contribution to its resolution?
There is no doubt that my right hon. Friend has given outstanding leadership to the free world on this issue, as she has on so many other matters. She would be the first to say that there is no question but that we stand united as a Government, and I believe as a country, to see the aggression ended, the removal of Iraqi troops from Kuwait and the restoration of the legitimate Government.
Will the Secretary of State please explain to the House why Japan, which must obtain the majority of its energy supplies from the middle east, is making such a sparse contribution to the Gulf effort? Can he also give me some explanation about communications from the Gulf back home, which I can pass on to my constituents? I raised this matter earlier. I do not want people to have to sell blood to pay for telephone calls home. What steps is the right hon. Gentleman taking to make cheap and effective communications available to my constituents so that they may communicate with their loved ones?
We are keen to improve communications. I am told that the mail has improved considerably and I hope that that is true. I shall be interested to receive from hon. Members who are going out there tomorrow any reports showing whether that is the case.
The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question about the contribution of Japan is that, obviously, we would welcome the maximum contribution. I know that the hon. Gentleman appreciates the constitutional situation that Japan faces. So far, that country has given $2 billion towards some of the costs involved. Obviously, we are anxious to see the maximum contribution being made, in terms of military help and financial resources, from wherever such contributions may come.
Is my right hon. Friend satisfied with the arrangements that have been made for the control of the media in respect of the sensitivity of information relating to the deployment of our troops? Is he satisfied that there will be no repetition of the incident during the Falklands campaign, when troops deployed on a clandestine operation in San Carlos water switched on the world service of the BBC to hear all about their deployment?
There are memories of events in the Falklands from which we all, including the broadcasting authorities, have sought to learn. Matters will be more difficult if we come to conflict in the Gulf because of the difference between a seaborne force and a large country with many accesses. I believe that the broadcasting and other media authorities are conscious of some exceptionally difficult problems that could arise.