The Gulf

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:41 pm on 11th December 1990.

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Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney 3:41 pm, 11th December 1990

It is right that the House should debate the Gulf crisis from time to time and that it should require the Government to keep it fully informed, and I have tried to respond to Opposition suggestions on the timing of statements as the situation has developed.

Today is an occasion to step back from immediate events, to look at the crisis as a whole and to consider what is at stake. One immediate event is wholly welcome, and that is the release of hostages which is now under way. The total British community in Iraq and Kuwait was just over 1,100 at the time of President Saddam Hussein's last announcement. Aircraft have been chartered from Iraqi Airways to bring our people home and we have taken space on charters organised by others. The community were informed of arrangements by our embassies and announcements over the BBC World Service.

Ninety-three people arrived early yesterday morning, picked up in Frankfurt by the British Airways aircraft that had been waiting in Amman. A further 11 arrived later in the morning by way of Rome. More than 380 arrived at Gatwick yesterday evening by Iraqi Airways and a further 380 are expected this evening. They will be mainly members of the community from Kuwait who were being taken to Baghdad in two planes this morning by Iraqi Airways. Her Majesty's Government are bearing the full cost of chartering the Iraqi Airways aircraft. British Airways generously contributed the operating costs of its flight yesterday, leaving the Government to pay for fuel and war risk insurance. Other people are making their own way, using scheduled flights via Amman. The Government will meet the costs if travellers do not have recourse to funds and we shall organise further charters if necessary. We are strongly urging everyone to leave.

Our embassy in Baghdad will try to establish the exact whereabouts of all who remain. I believe that reception arrangements here have worked well and that co-operation between Government Departments, voluntary organisations and airport authorities has been good.

In two days from now, Her Majesty's ambassador in Kuwait will be the last remaining ambassador carrying on his duties in that country. Mr. Weston and his colleague Mr. Banks have been keen to stay at their posts, so long as by doing so they could give somehelp to our community in Kuwait. If, as I hope, that community—or all but a small minority who wish to stay—is able to return—is able to return to Britain by way of Baghdad in the coming days, we shall work out with those two brave men how long they should stay. I thank them again for what they have done.

I will comment on the advice that we are giving to British communities in the Gulf region outside Iraq and Kuwait. We are talking of some 50,000 people, more than the community from any other country. At the beginning of the crisis we encouraged some thinning out, but many people have since, for understandable reasons, gone back. At the end of last month, we recommended that school children should not travel out to Bahrain, Qatar or the eastern province of Saudi Arabia for Christmas and that families should get together for the holiday in this country. We also advised that those dependants leaving the Gulf for Christmas should not return until the situation became clearer. We look carefully and constantly at that advice. It is our duty to give the communities the best possible advice, a responsibility which weighs heavily on us. We do not want to cause alarm, disrupt people's lives or separate families unnecessarily. But many British people live in countries which, in the event of conflict, would be at direct risk from Iraqi military action. We keep a close eye on the advice and, because of hon. Members' interest in their constituents, I shall keep the House fully informed of any changes in our advice.

President Saddam Hussein is now complying with one of the three main requirements of the Security Council. Attention can now focus on the other two requirements —the unconditional withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Kuwait and the restoration of the legitimate Government. Ten days ago I was in New York to join in the last Security Council debate on the subject. It was a notable and dramatic occasion. The council adopted, with just two votes against, resolution 678, which empowers the international community to use "all necessary means" to secure compliance with its earlier resolutions if Iraq does not leave Kuwait on or before 15 January next year.