The Gulf

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 30th April 1991.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Ronald Brown Mr Ronald Brown , Edinburgh Leith 12:00 am, 30th April 1991

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many units are currently engaged in the Gulf area; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Mr Tom King Mr Tom King The Secretary of State for Defence

There are now some 6,000 service personnel in the Gulf area. An infantry battlegroup with supporting armour is in Kuwait. Further Army units in Saudi Arabia provide its support while organising the return of our equipment to Europe. A squadron of Tornado aircraft is currently based in Bahrain and one destroyer and two frigates continue to patrol the Gulf. Three Royal Navy mine counter-measures vessels and the Royal Engineers are continuing to participate in the international mine clearance operations in the northern Gulf and Kuwait itself. In addition, 20 British officers are serving with the United Nations observation mission, which will take full control of the demilitarised zone along the Iraq-Kuwait border tomorrow.

Photo of Mr Ronald Brown Mr Ronald Brown , Edinburgh Leith

There is a problem about the new imperialism. Why should British troops remain in that part of the world? We must remember that the Security Council has not endorsed that action and that the lives of British troops are being put at risk. Surely the Kurdish problem should be resolved by all the countries in that area, because it goes wider than Iraq. This issue should be resolved through negotiation rather than confrontation. There must—I hope that there will—be a peaceful way out. What will the Minister and the Government do to achieve that aim? Previous Tory Governments have been involved in all sorts of problems in the Gulf area. It is about time that the issue of the Kurdish people was resolved because they have a right to independence.

Photo of Mr Tom King Mr Tom King The Secretary of State for Defence

The hon. Gentleman is now talking about something that was not in his original question. We have no wish to keep British troops in the Gulf in the long term. At the moment, we are there to ensure a safe handover to the United Nations observation mission which, as the hon. Gentleman would know if he had listened to my answer, is due to take over tomorrow. Soon after that, I hope to see the withdrawal from Kuwait of both the American and our own forces.

Photo of Dr Charles Goodson-Wickes Dr Charles Goodson-Wickes , Wimbledon

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the major British contributions to the Gulf campaign was the tri-service co-operation, which was for the good of everybody in the area? Were not regulars, reservists and the Territorial Army able to work together with considerable force for the good of the area both now and in the future?

Photo of Mr Tom King Mr Tom King The Secretary of State for Defence

I certainly endorse that. The reservists, including my hon. Friend, played a valuable part. I need to check the figure, but I believe that some reservists are there at the moment, helping with the withdrawal and recovery of equipment from the Gulf and especially with transport.

Photo of John Reid John Reid , Motherwell North

Will the Secretary of State confirm that British soldiers of the Royal Engineers are to be effectively hired out to a private British company, putting their lives at risk in the dangerous task of locating minefields in Kuwait? Will he further confirm that in that cosy deal both the Royal Ordnance company and the MOD will receive substantial payments for the work, but that none of it will be passed on to the soldiers involved? Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that we are disgracefully misusing our young soldiers if we subcontract them out as cheap labour—and perhaps as cheap lives—to a private, profit-making concern? Does he further realise that that shabby treatment in privatising the operations of our armed forces can do nothing but undermine the morale of our troops after their splendid and courageous efforts in the Gulf war?

Photo of Mr Tom King Mr Tom King The Secretary of State for Defence

That is a disgraceful distortion of what the Corps of Royal Engineers has been doing in Kuwait. The hon. Gentleman does not seem to be aware that since the recovery and liberation of Kuwait, the Corps of Royal Engineers has done excellent work in giving humanitarian relief and in helping the Kuwaiti Government to make it possible for fuel, water and power supplies to be restored, and to remove booby traps from the plants involved. We thought, and the Kuwaiti Government thought it right, that if we were to continue this work, which we have been doing free of charge in a humanitarian cause, they should now pay for the services being provided. Royal Ordnance will be directly responsible for minefield clearance and our engineers will be involved only in locating, surveying and marking minefields. We have said that they will continue that work to enable Royal Ordnance to build up its team to take over. I have specifically insisted that the commander of the 21 EOD squadron should have sole responsibility for deciding on the spot what work shall or shall not be done.

Photo of David Tredinnick David Tredinnick , Bosworth

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is considerable concern among the Gulf units because the £30 water allowance has been stopped? My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Dr. Goodson-Wickes) tells me that that was in the personal gift of the King of Saudi Arabia. Nevertheless, will my right hon. Friend agree to consider the problem as temperatures soar, to ensure that the troops have the water supplies that they need?

Photo of Mr Tom King Mr Tom King The Secretary of State for Defence

A problem arose in the first deployment of troops, but I was not aware that it had arisen more recently. However, I shall consider the issue to see whether it has arisen again.