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1991 - Mr Major’s Commons Statement on the Gulf War - 17th January 1991

Below is Mr Major's statement made in the House of Commons on 17th January 1991 regarding the Gulf War.


The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major) With permission, Mr. Speaker, I shall make a statement on the start of hostilities in the Gulf in the small hours of this morning.

Aircraft of the multinational force began attacks on military targets in Iraq from around midnight Greenwich mean time. Several hundred aircraft were involved in the action, including a substantial number of RAF aircraft. The action was taken under the authority of United Nations Security Council resolution 678 which authorises use of all necessary means, including force, after 15 January to bring about Iraq's withdrawal from Kuwait.

The action was taken after extensive consultation with the principal Governments represented in the multinational force and following direct discussions between President Bush and myself over a period of weeks. It was taken only after exhaustive diplomatic efforts through the UN, the European Community, Arab Governments and others to persuade Saddam Hussein to withdraw peacefully.

The action is continuing. Attacks have been directed at Iraq's military capability, in particular airfields, aircraft, missile sites, nuclear and chemical facilities and other military targets. Reports so far received suggest that they have been successful. Allied aircraft losses have been low. I regret to inform the House that one RAF Tornado from later raids is reported missing.

The instructions issued to our pilots and those of other forces are to avoid causing civilian casualties so far as possible.

Our aims are clear and limited. They are those set out in the United Nations Security Council resolutions: to get Iraq out of Kuwait-all of Kuwait; to restore the legitimate Government; to re-establish peace and security in the area; and to uphold the authority of the United Nations.

As I explained in the debate in the House of Commons on Tuesday, it is only with the greatest reluctance that we have come to the point of using force as authorised by the Security Council. We did so only after all peaceful means had failed and Saddam Hussein's intransigence left us no other course. We have no quarrel with the people of Iraq. We hope very much for a speedy end to hostilities. That will come about when Saddam Hussein withdraws totally and unconditionally from Kuwait. Our military action will continue until he comes to his senses and does so.

Most of all, our thoughts go to the men and women of our forces and their families who wait anxiously at home. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] They have our wholehearted support and our prayers for a safe return home.

Mr. Neil Kinnock (Islwyn) I am grateful to the Prime Minister for his statement.

As the House and the country consider the current conditions in the Gulf region, does the Prime Minister agree that it is relevant and fair to remind ourselves that the first act of warfare which caused the Gulf crisis was taken by Saddam Hussein on 2 August when he invaded Kuwait?

For the reasons that I gave on Tuesday, I had hoped that the combined pressures of blockade, sanctions and military readiness could be employed longer to have maximum effect.

Our forces naturally have our complete support and I join the Prime Minister in his thoughts for the families of the men and women facing danger in the Gulf and in his desire that their loved ones come back home safe.

Will the Prime Minister confirm that the war aims of the allied forces in the Gulf are related directly to achieving the fulfilment of the United Nations purposes of upholding and implementing resolution 660 and of restoring international peace and security in the area? Will he take this opportunity to make it clear that the forces pursuing those purposes of the United Nations are guided by the dual aims of maximising the disabling of Iraqi military strength while minimising any harm to civilians?

I recognise that the conflict is but hours old, but will the Prime Minister, even at this stage, reaffirm that, after the conclusion of the conflict, prominence must be given to proceeding as quickly as possible to international activities through the United Nations to resolve the wider problems of justice, peace and stability throughout the region?

I welcome the fact that the Government are making provision for an early debate. Once again, just in the act of doing that we are demonstrating the superiority of democracy over any form of dictatorship.

The Prime Minister I share the views expressed by the right hon. Gentleman.

I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman's first point. It was the invasion of Kuwait on 2 August which commenced the hostilities. As the House knows, that was conducted without cause and, after the invasion had taken place, repression was conducted without mercy. The aggression was Saddam Hussein's, not ours.

I share the complete support for the forces that the right hon. Gentleman expressed. I can confirm that our aims in the conflict are to uphold the United Nations resolutions - those and no others are the aims for which the British and other forces are fighting in the Gulf.

I also confirm that the instructions that have been given to all the allied pilots are to minimise civilian casualties wherever that is possible, and the targets that they have been instructed to attack are, without exception, military targets or targets of strategic importance.

Finally, the right hon. Gentleman asked for our aims and policy at the conclusion of the conflict. I confirm that we will wish to return, as we have in the past, to the question of a peace conference to deal with the wider problems of Arab-Israel.

Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland and Lonsdale) Does the Prime Minister agree that in the days and weeks ahead, when internal communications in Iraq are likely to be seriously impaired, the work of the BBC's world service is likely to achieve unparalleled importance? Will he check today to ensure that that service is given every opportunity to speak the truth to the people of Iraq?

The Prime Minister That action is in hand.

Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil) May I say how reassuring it was that the Prime Minister laid out so clearly in his statement the limited aims of the operation?

We cannot, of course, rejoice in any loss of life on whatever side, but will the Prime Minister pass on our congratulations and admiration to our forces for their professionalism, skill and courage? The operations so far have clearly been a considerable success, but does the Prime Minister agree that we must not underestimate the scale of the task that has still to be carried out or the dangers that are still to be confronted?

The Prime Minister The right hon. Gentleman is entirely right and I share his views without reservation. Iraq has a substantial number of men under arms. They have sophisticated weapons and, in many cases, they have considerable hardened military experience. There is a great deal yet to be done before the matter is resolved.

Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North) Will the Prime Minister take it from me that all right-thinking people in Northern Ireland are with him in the heavy burden that he is carrying at this particular time? Is he aware that many hundreds of Ulstermen are out in the Gulf, side by side with all the service men from the rest of the United Kingdom who are standing shoulder to shoulder to defeat the aggressor? When the right hon. Gentleman sees Her Majesty the Queen this afternoon, will he invite her to call for a national day of prayer, that we might pray that the war will be over speedily and that Kuwait will be liberated?

The Prime Minister The hon. Gentleman is right to pay tribute to the young men from Northern Ireland, the vast majority of whom are, I believe, serving with 7 Brigade, and have done so for some time with distinction. I shall be delighted to pass on the hon. Gentleman's kind words to their commanding officer. I shall certainly bear in mind his comments about my meeting with Her Majesty the Queen later today.

Mr. William Ross (Londonderry, East) Is the Prime Minister aware that he enjoys the total support of Unionist party Members on these Benches today for the action that has, unfortunately, had to be taken in the Gulf? Is he further aware that he also enjoys the support of the vast majority of the people of Northern Ireland, both Protestant and Roman Catholic, who are well aware that the action that we have been compelled to take in the Gulf is the lesser of the two evils that confronted us in that part of the world? Is the Prime Minister aware that we admire his statement today, because it said remarkably little, and will he follow a similar course of action when making further statements over the period of the hostilities, since least said is soonest mended, and the "need to know" should be paramount in his mind when any statement is being prepared?

The Prime Minister In all that I say, I shall bear in mind first and foremost the need to guard the security and interests of our troops in the Gulf. That has been, and will continue to be, uppermost in my mind. As to the hon. Gentleman's earlier remarks, he and his constituents in Northern Ireland understand the impact of terrorism better than most, and it is against a form of terrorism that our troops are fighting in the Gulf.

Mr. Michael Grylls (Surrey, North-West) As it is likely that some British service men will be taken prisoner during the hostilities, will my right hon. Friend make it clear on behalf of Her Majesty's Government that we expect any such prisoners to be treated according to international convention-because, in view of the Iraqi regime's appalling record of treating its people, we may feel some nervousness about that. Will my right hon. Friend make it clear that, if the Iraqis do not treat prisoners according to international convention, their leaders will be held responsible after the hostilities?

The Prime Minister We certainly expect any of our troops who are captured to be treated in the manner that prisoners of war should normally be treated. We made that absolutely clear to Iraq and we also held discussions with the International Red Cross about that matter.

Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South) The Prime Minister referred to aims and said that there would be an end to military operations when Saddam Hussein withdraws from Northern Ireland-[Laughter.]

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) And so he should.

Mr. Rees Whatever you say, Mr. Speaker, say nothing. I meant to say, when Saddam Hussein withdraws from Kuwait. Would the same apply if Saddam Hussein is driven out of Kuwait?

The Prime Minister The right hon. Gentleman knows precisely what are our aims under the Security Council resolutions. They are to ensure that Saddam Hussein leaves Kuwait and returns to Iraq, and that a legitimate Government are returned to Kuwait. I assume that we shall conclude the existing conflict when that happens.

Mr. Keith Speed (Ashford) Does my right hon. Friend agree that events in the Gulf and, alas, in the Soviet Union, mean that the prospects of an early and substantial peace dividend is now remote?

The Prime Minister We very much regret what is happening in the Soviet Union and we shall have to continue examining the situation there to see what impact it has on our forces. Thus far, we have very little real information about what is happening in the Baltic states. We are seeking to obtain more, but without that information, it is difficult to make a proper judgment.

Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South) Despite the Prime Minister's assertion that he does not believe that Iraq has a nuclear capability and despite the assumption made by some of us yesterday that that was so, there are persistent press reports today that Iraq does have a nuclear capacity. It would obviously be disastrous if nuclear weapons were to be used in the middle east, so will the Prime Minister state categorically that under no circumstances would we use nuclear weapons-[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] - first, but that we will use every means in our power to deter the Iraqis from using such weapons, including the threat of retaliation?

The Prime Minister As to whether Iraq has nuclear capacity, it is certainly the case that it is seeking to attain nuclear capacity. It is our information that it does not yet have nuclear capacity and, on that basis, the remarks that I made earlier about the non-proliferation treaty stand.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South) Reverting to the point made by the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), is my right hon. Friend aware that this morning the Archbishop of Canterbury gave a most wise and unequivocal message of full support for our troops? Is he further aware that your Chaplain, Mr. Speaker, has arranged for a daily service of intercession at 1 o'clock in St. Margaret's while the crisis continues?

The Prime Minister I certainly was aware of the remarks of the Archbishop of Canterbury and I welcome them unreservedly. Of course, as the House knows, the Archbishop has considerable military experience himself, being a holder of the military cross.

Ms. Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood) Will the Prime Minister tell us, as fully and as honestly as he can, what he knows about the level of Iraqi casualties and will he promise us that, throughout this war, we shall be told honestly about the suffering and killing of Iraqi people?

The Prime Minister I must repeat what I said earlier. The instructions that have been given to our pilots are to minimise casualties and all the preliminary evidence is that that is the case. I have no clear evidence yet, nor will I be able to get it for some time, as to the level of casualties in Iraq, but to the extent that there may be any, either now or later, there can be no doubt in the hon. Lady's mind, in mine or in anybody else's, where the responsibility for that must lie.

Miss Emma Nicholson (Torridge and Devon, West) Will the Prime Minister congratulate our pilots on the enormously skilled implementation of their training in the raid last night? Will he remind those of our citizens who complain about the intrusion of forces training in their daily lives in times of peace that it is this training which gives our forces their leading edge and enables them to go in and win?

The Prime Minister My hon. Friend makes a fair and valid point. It is that low flying, which is often such a frustration to people in this country, which is enabling us to minimise civilian casualties in Iraq at present.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington) May I, as someone who has regularly questioned low-flying activities in the Lake District, as have my constituents, ask the Prime Minister to relay to our pilots in the Gulf that they have the support, the hearts and the minds of people throughout the county of Cumbria, and we salute their courage and skill at this important time?

The Prime Minister I will do so with great pleasure.

Mr. Robert Hayward (Kingswood) Will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to welcome not only the courage displayed by the many people to whom he has already referred, but the exceptional courage which has been shown during the first few hours of this conflict by newsmen in places such as Baghdad and other parts of the middle east and by the many foreign citizens and British workers-many of whom are British Aerospace workers-who have remained in the eastern region of Saudi Arabia to provide the support facilities so badly needed by many different troops?

The Prime Minister I think that my hon. Friend makes his own point most eloquently and I agree with it.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax) Is the Prime Minister aware that at a news conference this morning a member of the democratic Iraqi opposition, in emotional tones, talked about the extra suffering that his people would now have to go through, and he blamed the United States for inflicting that suffering - [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker Order.

Mrs. Mahon He also told the news conference how distressed he was that there was so little feeling for the Iraqi people, who have lived under Saddam Hussein's cruelty for many years, and that the west had helped in that cruelty by allowing Saddam Hussein to buy his weaponry and to have export credits? Will the Prime Minister please- I repeat what my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood, (Ms. Short) said -tell the House honestly of all the civilian casualties as they happen?

The Prime Minister I have already responded with all the information that I have about civilian casualties. I hope that the hon. Lady will accept that. As for the gentleman she mentioned, I can only say that that member of the Iraqi opposition might dwell on the matter of those other members of the Iraqi opposition who have been murdered by Saddam Hussein.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge) Has my right hon. Friend seen press reports that suggest that the BBC may have given its correspondents instructions to refer not to "our troops" but merely to "British troops", apparently in the interests of impartiality? Does my right hon. Friend agree that, if those reports are true, it is deeply depressing that-even in a conflict of this sort-the BBC should be unable to distinguish between good and evil?

The Prime Minister I believe that what the BBC is doing, in what has already been some remarkable reporting, is trying to keep a proper balance in that reporting-precisely because so much of the world listens to the BBC and because it is important to this country that they continue to do so and to believe what they hear.

Dr. John Gilbert (Dudley, East) Was there anything encouraging in the reply that the Iraqi Government made to the Prime Minister's representations about the treatment of any prisoners of war who might fall into their hands?

The Prime Minister I regret to tell the right hon. Gentleman that we have received no positive response.

Mr. Paul Marland (Gloucestershire, West) Will my right hon. Friend confirm that our forces have no ambition whatever to topple Saddam Hussein from his position of power in Iraq and that the aim of the conflict is simply to remove his forces from Kuwait?

The Prime Minister My hon. Friend will know the terms of the United Nations resolutions; I set them out earlier. Those are our aims.

Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney) While our armed forces can be confident that they are fighting in a just and, indeed, noble cause-and while they will enjoy the overwhelming support of the British people-can the Prime Minister tell us what is being done to pierce the walls of silence that separate the Iraqi people from the truth, not only about their position but about the hideous role to which Saddam Hussein has brought them?

The Prime Minister The right hon. Gentleman is entirely right. This is a just cause and I think that that is accepted by the overwhelming majority of people throughout the world.

We have been trying to penetrate the fog of misunderstanding that exists in Iraq over a period of months, not least by means of broadcasts but also in other fashions. In a society dominated as Iraq has been for so long, it is terribly difficult to get that message through; I hope, however, that it will be understood very shortly and that the people of Iraq will realise that the way in which they have been led and mistreated by their own dictator in recent years is wholly unacceptable. Let us pray that he is soon gone.

Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North) Let me join my right hon. Friend in congratulating those responsible for the extremely courageous reporting that is coming out of Baghdad in particular. It is of great interest and comfort to the families of our troops out there.

As well as pledging total backing for our troops in the Gulf, will my right hon. Friend confirm that total support will be given, not only during but after the conflict, to the wives, children and families of our service men out there?

The Prime Minister I can certainly give my hon. Friend that firm assurance.

Mr. James Lamond (Oldham, Central and Royton) May I ask the Prime Minister not to allow the fact that the first action of a United Nations operating with the new, full-hearted support that it has found has ended in this dreadful tragedy of war to dissuade him from giving equally strong and full-hearted support to the UN's other proposals to deal with difficulties not only in the Gulf area but elsewhere in the middle east and in the world? Can we count on that?

The Prime Minister As the hon. Gentleman will have heard me say in my speech the other day, many people throughout the world will have been very pleased about the growing authority of the United Nations over recent years. That certainly embraces my view. As for Arab-Israel, I made it clear earlier that we would continue to pursue a peace conference once the present conflict was ended.

Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith (Wealden) Does not my right hon. Friend agree that, in view of the events of the past 24 hours and the past five and a half months, we should be grateful for the strength and determination of the United States in the cause of freedom?

The Prime Minister I very strongly agree with my hon. Friend's view. We have 35,000 troops and an enormous amount of aircraft and armour there, but the United States has a far greater amount and is paying a substantial price to ensure freedom in Kuwait.

Mr. Jim Sillars (Glasgow, Govan) May I refer the Prime Minister to the penultimate paragraph of his statement, in which he said that military action will continue until Saddam Hussein withdraws unconditionally from Kuwait? Given that we are now at war and that casualties and disruptions are part and parcel of that, is he really saying that, if Iraq announced at any time its willingness to accept and implement the United Nations resolutions, but required a short time to gather people together to leave peacefully, that would not be acceptable?

The Prime Minister I did not say that that would not be acceptable. I have made it clear that the war cannot end until we know that Saddam Hussein is out of Kuwait or it is clear beyond doubt that he is going to get out of Kuwait. We need to know exactly what he means if such an offer is made, but we would wish to examine it most carefully.

Mr. Alistair Burt (Bury, North) Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in answer to those of our constituents whose sincere and genuine views lead them towards pacifism or a belief that the continuation of sanctions would be the best way to proceed, it is necessary to say simply that sometimes a better world cannot be hoped for or prayed for but has to be fought for?

The Prime Minister I do agree with my hon. Friend about that. Many people, for religious and other reasons, have a genuine and mortal hatred of war. I understand that - none of us likes it. For some people, it is a hatred that they are unable to overcome. We must continue to explain to them, to borrow the words of the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore), that this is a just war by any count.

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield) Did the Prime Minister notice that, in the course of the night, the Secretary-General of the United Nations said that he had not been told that the attack was about to take place? As this is supposed to be a United Nations operation, can the Prime Minister tell the House what role he sees for the Security Council in monitoring the operation? Everybody knows that, when the bloodshed ends, there will be a peace conference that will have to meet all the problems.

On the question of casualties, the right hon. Gentleman must have stayed up through the night watching the bombing of Baghdad as the greatest aerial bombardment in the history of air warfare was launched, which we watched in person on our televisions. Did he not feel that, when the commentator said that it was like a firework display on 4 July while human beings were being killed by that bombardment, such a comment ran contrary to the spirit of what the Prime Minister said about minimising the casualties on both sides?

The Prime Minister The attacks and military action that the right hon. Gentleman saw through the night were on military establishments for a military purpose to achieve the liberation of Kuwait. It operated under the authority of the United Nations, freely given by the United Nations, and there was no specific need to refer back to the Secretary-General.

Mrs. Edwina Currie (Derbyshire, South) May I commend my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for the way in which he has conducted himself and for his dignity and restraint, which reflect well on this country? Does he share my concern that most of the news coming out of the Gulf is from nearly 400 United States correspondents, while the reports from British correspondents, including the BBC, are coming from only a handful who are having to pool their reports? We need British news about British service men and women, from British correspondents. Will the Prime Minister please see what can be done about that?

The Prime Minister We went to some trouble to ensure that there were appropriate visas so that British reporters were able to be in the Gulf area during this conflict. I must tell the House that we are concerned also about the safety of British correspondents there and we have made it perfectly clear that we do not expect them to stay in areas of great danger to themselves.

Mr. John Fraser (Norwood) Will the Prime Minister recognise that, as well as achieving the objective of the United Nations of freeing Kuwait, it is important to preserve political stability in the area and the advance to freedom in other countries? Will he be ever mindful of the effect of an extended conflict on the stability of countries such as Jordan and other Arab countries? Will he undertake to work for a cessation of hostilities at the earliest possible moment and for the minimisation of casualties?

The Prime Minister There is no way in which, at the conclusion of the conflict, the status quo ante will immediately reappear. One of the matters that I was able to discuss in my recent visit to the Gulf was precisely what might happen at the end of the conflict. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are already thinking, consulting and liaising with our allies about a proper security structure to ensure that this dreadful conflict does not recur.

Mr. Churchill (Davyhulme) Is my right hon. Friend aware that the House's admiration of the courage and skill of our pilots knows no bounds and that our thoughts and prayers are with the families of crewmen who are missing and of those who will not return from this conflict?

The Prime Minister I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He expresses sentiments which the whole House will share.

Mr. Tony Banks As the Prime Minister has reminded us several times that this war is being pursued in the light of United Nations resolutions, when can we expect some briefings and statements from the United Nations rather than from General Powell and President Bush? Does he intend to ask for the reconvening of the Security Council and the Assembly so that there can be broader discussion of what is going on in the Gulf?

The Prime Minister There is no need to reconvene the United Nations Security Council. The resolutions and the authority are clear. The United Nations is not directly involved in the conflict; its member states are, but under the authority of the United Nations.

Mr. Spencer Batiste (Elmet) Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the ability of our forces in the Gulf to perform the tasks asked of them depends not only on their courage but on the quality of the equipment with which they are supplied? Will he confirm that the British defence industry has performed unstintingly all the tasks that have been asked of it, and more, in these difficult times? Will he ensure that in future our troops will never be asked to undertake tasks for which they are not supplied with the best equipment available? Is that the policy of his Government?

The Prime Minister Our troops most certainly have the best equipment available. My hon. Friend would be pleased to know precisely what the troops think about the excellent way in which the Challenger tank is performing in the desert. They have excellent equipment and that equipment is in excellent hands with our troops in the Gulf.

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North) On this more sombre day, when the Prime Minister has expressed his reluctance to have taken military action and his willingness to consider the possibility of Iraq deciding to withdraw from Kuwait, does he accept that it is necessary to have absolute clarity on the war aims of the United Nations coalition? Will he reflect on his answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees), in which he said that he assumed that, if the forces physically went into Kuwait, they would stop at the border? If we are to look for Saddam Hussein or for those of influence in Iraq who may be more peacefully minded and prepared to accept an end to the conflict by withdrawing from Kuwait, will he make it clear that it is not part of the war aims of the coalition to invade and occupy Iraq?

The Prime Minister I have made it clear that that is not our aim. Our aim is to enforce the United Nations resolutions. That, and only that, is the aim for which the allied troops are in the Gulf.

Mr. Robert Boscawen (Somerton and Frome) Will my right hon. Friend accept my commendation to the decision takers of the United Nations force for having taken advantage of the great benefits of the principle of surprise and attacked straight away, which will save the lives of friend and foe alike by bringing this conflict to an earlier conclusion than would otherwise be the case?

The Prime Minister My hon. Friend has a distinguished war record and a distinguished military record. His commendation will mean more to the commanders than mine, and I will pass it on.

Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill) Will the Prime Minister recognise that those of us who oppose going to war at this stage, who are not pacifists but who are simply saying, once again, that it is wrong to go to war until all approaches have been exhausted, are not showing any lack of support for our troops? Of course we want them to have the medical and food supplies that they require. That is not an issue in this conflict.

Will the right hon. Gentleman recognise that the best thing that we can do for our troops is to bring a speedy end to the conflict - not just to defeat Saddam Hussein in Kuwait but to bring about peace and justice in the middle east? I am extremely disappointed that the Prime Minister's war aims seem to be so limited. We do not think that there will be a satisfactory end to the conflict if it merely ends in the removal of Saddam Hussein from Kuwait.

May I further ask the right hon. Gentleman - [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] If this is a democracy, if this is part of what we are talking about, if other opinions are to be heard -

Mr. Speaker Order. Of course this is a democracy, but the hon. Lady must take account of the other Opposition Members who wish to participate.

Mrs. Fyfe I just want to finish on this point. Is Monday's debate to be yet another Adjournment debate or will the Government make a clear statement of the position?

The Prime Minister The latter point will be discussed between the usual channels in the usual way and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will make a statement in due course. All of us are seeking peace and justice in the middle east, in Kuwait and beyond, but I fear that, for Iraq and Kuwait, peace and justice require the action that we are taking and the defeat of Saddam Hussein.

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford) Is my right hon. Friend aware that the maintenance of the confidence and morale of our armed forces in the middle east crucially depends on this country's calm, courageous, steadfast leadership, all characteristics which he has exemplified perfectly during the past few days and, indeed, since he took office? Will my right hon. Friend explain to Saddam Hussein that the only way in which a ceasefire can take place is if he withdraws from Kuwait?

The Prime Minister I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He sets out the absolute precondition for a settlement and I agree with him.

Mr. John McWilliam (Blaydon) Will the Prime Minister accept my regard for the professionalism, training and expertise of all our forces, whom I had the opportunity to meet in the Gulf just before Christmas? They have now been committed to action and I hope that they will come through safely. I shall understand if the right hon. Gentleman has difficulty in answering my next question: what is the current attitude of Jordan and Iran to what is happening?

The Prime Minister I shall certainly pass the first half of the hon. Gentleman's remarks on to the commander in the middle east. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not respond directly to his second question.

Mr. John Browne (Winchester) Does my right hon. Friend accept that the action of the Governments and armed forces of our country, the United States of America and the Arab allies has been bold and effective, thus lending new and awesome consequence to the implementation of United Nations resolutions, which have been made possible by the new peace of detente between the great powers? Does my right hon. Friend agree that the success of this worthy enterprise will lead to greatly enhanced peace, freedom and stability not only in the middle east but in the world in general?

The Prime Minister I certainly hope that the action taken on this occasion will in future deter any aggressor who may feel that he can march into a small adjacent and peaceful country. I think that we all hope that the United Nations action on this occasion will guarantee that no such future conflicts need arise.

Mr. John Evans (St. Helens, North) As the military action launched against Iraq last night was in pursuance of United Nations resolution 678 and as the Secretary-General was not consulted before the attack, will the Prime Minister give an undertaking that the Secretary-General will be involved in determining whether the terms of that resolution have been met?

The Prime Minister As I explained some moments ago, there was no need to consult the Secretary-General because the Security Council had given the necessary authority for the attack to take place.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North) Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the reasons why the aerial onslaught has been so professional thus far is that the United States, the United Kingdom and others regularly practise and work together, at all levels up to Ministers? That has made it possible for us to carry out an action that could not otherwise have been conducted. The low-flying exercises that go on throughout the United Kingdom, in which United States pilots, RAF pilots and others are involved, have brought about such an operation. We should be grateful for the good and professional way in which the pilots have conducted themselves now and in the past.

The Prime Minister My hon. Friend is entirely right. There has been such close consultation in NATO for many years.

Mr. John P. Smith (Vale of Glamorgan) I welcome the Prime Minister's message of support to the families of soldiers in the Gulf and the measures taken by the Minister of State for the Armed Forces in offering special facilities to obtain information about what is happening. However, will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to confirm that, when there are casualties on our side, after military considerations have been taken into mind, it is the families who are notified first, so that they do not have to hear about such casualties through the media?

The Prime Minister The hon. Gentleman raises a most important question. It will be our invariable practice to ensure that the families are made aware of any casualties before they are made public. They should hear about them not from a third source but from the Ministry of Defence. That will be our intention.

Mr. William Cash (Stafford) Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is not only the RAF pilots who have shown superb skill and bravery in what they have done? They in their turn owe an enormous amount to the ground crews and to the maintenance and repair people, including those from RAF Stafford, who give them such superb back-up.

The Prime Minister I entirely agree with that. In my visit to the Gulf, I took the opportunity precisely to meet those back-up crews.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow) If, God forbid, our forces suffer heavy casualties in this appalling war, it may mean, in terms of the counselling of the families and of the advice given to their loved ones, that the fine people employed by the Soldiers', Sailors' and Airmen's Families Association may be overwhelmed by the demand.

What contingency plans have the Government made to call on the professional services of social workers and others employed by social work departments and by social services departments? Do not the tragic events at Lockerbie show the way ahead for the application of professional counselling services for those who have suffered tragic bereavement? What are the Government doing for the provision of such counselling services?

The Prime Minister The Ministry of Defence will be in close contact with the appropriate services. The hon. Gentleman raises an important point.

Mr. Tim Devlin (Stockton, South) As yet, the promised strike against Israel has not taken place. Will my right hon. Friend say what the allies' reaction would be if such an attack or any other incursion into other neighbouring territories took place?

The Prime Minister The allies have repeatedly made it clear that they would take a very … If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I should prefer to put it a different way. I hope very much that there is no attack on Israel. There is no justification for it and, if such an attack were to occur, the allies would be absolutely justified in responding most severely and most swiftly.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East) Is the Prime Minister aware that in order to keep Israel out of the war, which would have broken up the Arab aspects of the alliance, the United States gave a commitment to Israel that it would not agree to a peace conference which could have discussed the Palestinian issue and others and could have avoided the war? Is it not clear -[Interruption.] History will prove me right. Is it not clear what a malign role Israel plays in the middle eastern tragedy?

The Prime Minister The hon. Gentleman is not right. He says that history will prove him right. That sort of history, as Henry Ford said, is bunk.

Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch) Will my right hon. Friend and the whole House spare a moment to think of the continuing plight of our three hostages being held in the Lebanon? For the avoidance of doubt, will my right hon. Friend make it clear that the Government have no territorial ambitions in the Gulf and no intention of seeking long-term military bases there?

The Prime Minister I am certainly content to make that point clear. I would add that in no sense have our hostages in the Lebanon been forgotten. They are of great concern to us and the subject of constant interest and activity on the part of the Foreign Office, which seeks to secure their release. We very much hope that they will be home.

Mr. Edward O'Hara (Knowsley, South) May I press the Prime Minister further on the important question whether the Secretary-General of the United Nations will have any part in determining whether the terms of United Nations resolutions 660 and 678 are fully met?

The Prime Minister The Secretary-General is the servant of the Security Council. The Security Council has made its position clear. The allied forces are operating under the authority given to them.

Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West) Does my right hon. Friend agree that what happened last night was a great credit to British and allied planning? Will he confirm that the fact that Scud missiles in Iraq have been knocked out makes it unlikely that the Iraqis will be able to make an attack on Israel and that that means that Saddam Hussein will not be able to divide the allies and split off the Arabs, which is clearly his intention?

The Prime Minister As I said a moment ago, I very much hope that no such attack takes place. If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I can make no comment on the effectiveness of the attack on the Scud missiles.

Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend) Given that so much blood is now to be spilt following the actions of Saddam Hussein and over his desire to gain control of the oil reserves of Kuwait, has the Prime Minister had any discussions with President Bush or King Fahd about some control of the oil markets of the world, to prevent people from profiteering in the current crisis?

The Prime Minister No, Sir.

Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher) As this is a just war, being fought to carry out United Nations resolutions, does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be welcome if those nations which, for whatever reason, cannot take part in the military action themselves, would now reaffirm their support for what happened last night and give moral and, it is to be hoped, practical support in the way that they consider most appropriate-including financial support?

The Prime Minister My hon. Friend's addendum is equally important. I hope that nations that have made no material contribution may reconsider - if they have not yet done so - the possibility of making a financial contribution towards dealing with the difficulties faced not least by the front-line states in the Gulf area, which face such economic disruption as a result of the whole affair.

Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Hillhead) Is the Prime Minister aware that every one of the news correspondents based in Baghdad and broadcasting throughout the night said that they did not see a single aeroplane - so high were the aeroplanes flying that were dropping the ordnance on the streets of Baghdad? Does he not realise that the concepts of pinpoint bombing, surgical strikes and quick and clean bombing actions are a fantasy of the armchair strategists in their sandpits in the television studios.

In so far as Saddam Hussein is a brutal dictator, does it not follow that his own people are by definition his victims, just as much as the hostages and the people of Kuwait? Does it not give the Prime Minister a moment's pause for thought that those are the very people who, as we speak, are being dragged dead and mutilated out of the rubble of the centre of Baghdad?

The Prime Minister The hon. Gentleman may speak for himself, but he speaks for no one else.

Several Hon. Members rose -

Mr. Speaker Order. I notice that several hon. Members were not previously rising but now are doing so. I shall call only those who have been rising and then we must move on.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) Has my right hon. Friend heard that CND has set up a chatline via British Telecom? Does he agree that it would be unlikely to be allowed to do so in Baghdad? Does he further agree that, while people may be certain of their moral superiority, there is room for a certain humility if they remember that the freedoms that they so take for granted have been bought with the lives of successive generations of British and other service men?

The Prime Minister My hon. Friend makes his own point most eloquently.

Mr. Giles Radice (Durham, North) Does the Prime Minister accept that, although no one wants this war, now that it has come we must get it over with as speedily as possible and with the minimum loss of life? In that connection, does the Prime Minister consider that UN forces yet have command of the air?

The Prime Minister It is far too early to make that judgment. From all that one can see and all the evidence that we have, the first 24 hours have been extremely successful from the allied point of view. I must reiterate to the House most passionately that there is a great deal yet to be done before we can be certain how the course of the conflict will be run. We cannot yet say that there is command of the air. The operation has begun remarkably well and we must hope and pray that it continues equally well.

Mr. Ian Bruce (Dorset, South) The whole House will agree that possibly the bravest people in the conflict are the families who have to stay behind and worry about their loved ones. In areas such as mine, where we have a naval and an Army base, support groups are already being set up. May I have an assurance from my right hon. Friend that he will ensure that people who are isolated, perhaps in areas that do not normally have bases, are given full support during these difficult days? I am sure that the whole House is concerned about those people and the lonely wait they have.

The Prime Minister As my hon. Friend says, it is often hard to wait and wonder. The units of the men involved will keep in close touch with people in those circumstances. The Ministry of Defence has made it clear that it expects that to be done on a wide basis and sensitively.

Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East) The Prime Minister has said that we will not use nuclear weapons. However, last night President Bush told the American people that this war would not be another Vietnam and that this time the American military would not fight with one hand tied behind its back. Is not that not a clear indication from the President that the green light has been given to the American military to use tactical nuclear weapons if necessary? As part of his extensive consultations with the President, was the Prime Minister consulted on that matter? Did he agree to give the American military a free hand to use whatever weapons it thinks necessary?

The Prime Minister There was nothing in President Bush's remarks that remotely approximated to the conclusions that the hon. Gentleman has drawn from them.

Sir Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead) Does my right hon. Friend agree that a great contribution has been made by the St. John Ambulance Brigade, the Red Cross and the national health service in making provision for emergency treatment in this country?

The Prime Minister Yes, the national health service has been remarkably co-operative and has made substantial provision. We all hope that that provision will not be necessary. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health made clear yesterday, to the extent that extra expenditure is required for that purpose, it will be made available.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) In view of the precipitate abandonment of sanctions and the onslaught of this bloody conflict, will the Government learn some lessons? For example, the arms and ammunition used against our service men will have been sold to Iraq by western nations. Indeed, components for the manufacture of arms have been sold from this nation. Will the Government make serious efforts to develop an arms embargo to curtail the wretched trade in arms throughout the rest of the world and make sure that the opportunity for conflicts such as this is limited? Or do the Government intend to put profit before peace?

The Prime Minister The hon. Gentleman is ill informed. We have had strict control of arms sales to Iraq for a considerable number of years. As to sanctions and their abandonment, they have not been abandoned, but have been added to by the military force now operating. There was no abandonment. Even if there had been total abandonment, it would not have been precipitated; it would have been inevitable because of the way Saddam Hussein has been behaving.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington) Does my right hon. Friend agree that, the battle having been started, it would be wise and desirable if public discussion on the tactical details and public comment on what is happening were kept to the minimum?

The Prime Minister It is self-evidently in the interests of a successful outcome to the conflict that we are all responsible about what we say on tactical matters.

Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough) Is not it noticeable by the House that the debate has revolved around the fact that we are in the Gulf to support United Nations resolution 678? Is not that resolution the 12th in a line of resolutions going back to 2 August? Therefore, it is appropriate that all the action should be under the United Nations. Can the Prime Minister reaffirm again that we have Saudi Arabian and Kuwaiti airplanes in the sky and nail the lie that this is somehow a British-American operation?

The Prime Minister The hon. Gentleman is quite right, and I can certainly confirm that. I would add that we have French aircraft in the skies as well.

Mr. Dennis Canavan: (Falkirk, West) Will the Prime Minister dissociate himself from those euphoric warmongers who naively imagine that last night's air raids guarantee a quick and conclusive military victory? Does not the US army war college report - until recently a secret document - which concludes that air raids alone will not be able to drive the Iraqi forces out of Kuwait and goes on to predict a long and bloody ground battle, with many casualties on both sides, reinforce the case for calling a halt now to hostilities and starting genuine peace negotiations which have not even been tried yet?

The Prime Minister I have made it clear twice already this afternoon that there is much more to be done. That must be self-evident to everyone. The whole purpose of the way in which the campaign is being conducted is to minimise civilian casualties. I have also made that clear. What will happen as the conflict continues, it is impossible yet to say. More has to be done. How it will fall out, we cannot yet know. What I am confident about is, first, that our forces will continue to operate with the professionalism that we have seen in the last 24 hours, and, secondly, that we will continue to have in the forefront of our minds the safety and security of our troops and our firm intention to minimise civilian casualties.

Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East) Will the Prime Minister accept that the Ulster Unionists and the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland respect his resolute leadership during the Gulf crisis? Will he also accept that the conflict could be helped to an early conclusion if all the nations that up to date have withheld their full support for the United Nations would now come behind it and fully support the troops in the Gulf?

The Prime Minister The hon. Gentleman is quite right; I wholeheartedly agree with him.

Ms. Mildred Gordon (Bow and Poplar) The Prime Minister accepted with approval the word "just" to describe the war. Will he explain where the justice is for the Kuwaiti people caught between the violence of Saddam Hussein and allied bombing, fearful that they will be ground into the earth, while the Emir and the royal family are living in safety and luxury?

The Prime Minister The hon. Lady is mistaken. The Kuwaiti people are actually caught under the oppression of Saddam Hussein.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West) Does the Prime Minister recall that, in 1940 and in 1967, the Soviet Union used the preoccupation of the world with events of this kind to send the Red Army into the Baltic states and into Hungary? Is not there a grave danger of history repeating itself? Will the Prime Minister take up as a matter of urgency the invitation given yesterday by Mr. Tamara Ringa of the Latvian Popular Front and the foreign secretary of the Lithuanian Parliament to send observers from Britain to the Parliaments of Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius?

The Prime Minister As I made clear to the House earlier, we take an extremely serious view, which is well known to the Soviet Union, of the events in Vilnius. We are examining what is happening to determine what else we may be able to do.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) As this American-led war continues - [HON. MEMBERS: "UN war"] - American-led war, to protect American oil interests - and as the number of British casualties arising from it increases, will the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether he has any plans to requisition private hospitals and to use the royal yacht Britannia as a hospital ship?

The Prime Minister The hon. Gentleman's tasteless intervention overlooks the fact that we have had an American and British-led peace in this country for 40 years - from which he has benefited.

Mr. Ron Brown (Edinburgh, Leith) Does the Prime Minister recall that, during the recess, I wrote to him to say that the Iraqi Assembly wanted to send a peace mission to this country to brief Members of all parties? I received no acknowledgement from his office apart from a curt note from his private secretary. Why the rush to war? Why can he not reply on this basic issue? Is not peace important? Is it the case that he is really the puppet of the President of the United States?

The Prime Minister It is justice that is important in the Gulf region. The hon. Gentleman may have his own views about the nature of the regime; I have mine. I believe that Saddam Hussein and his regime are thoroughly evil. It is entirely right for the United Nations to give the authority that it has and I am delighted that it has the overwhelming support of this country, even though I regret that it does not have the support of the hon. Gentleman as well.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East) Was this war really necessary in terms of United Nations resolution 678, as sanctions have not been given a full chance to operate?

The Prime Minister Yes, it was necessary - absolutely, totally and completely necessary. If the hon. Gentleman does not think so, he is in a minority.

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East) How do the Prime Minister's instruction to British pilots, reported this afternoon, to minimise civilian casualties square with what President George Bush said at 2 am? He said that, unlike Vietnam, American forces in this war ‘would not fight with one arm tied behind their backs".’ Since that war cost 57,000 American lives and 2 million Vietnamese lives, the right hon. Gentleman should, instead of defending cheap oil, stable monarchies and American strategic interests, call a ceasefire. Before the land war develops and tens or hundreds of thousands of young men and women lose their lives, the right hon. Gentleman should call a ceasefire and bring the troops home.

The Prime Minister American pilots have had the same operational instructions as British pilots to minimise casualties. Those instructions come from their commander-in-chief, President Bush.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) Is the Prime Minister aware that, throughout the United States, western Europe and the entire Arab world, millions of people are opposed to this war? They are appalled that, already, in the first 12 hours of war, more explosives have been dropped on Iraq than were dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. How many deaths do there have to be before the oil interests of the United States and western Europe are satisfied, or is the Prime Minister prepared to go back now to the United Nations to seek an early end to this war and a ceasefire, so that negotiations can take place on all the problems of the region?

The Prime Minister How much longer would the hon. Gentleman have let the people of Kuwait suffer under the oppression that they have had? How much longer? The Security Council resolutions are entirely clear and we shall prosecute them until they are fully met.