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Volume 405: debated on Monday 12 May 2003

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If he will make a statement on operations in Iraq. [112226]

Decisive combat operations in Iraq have been completed. Saddam Hussein's regime, which had for years brutalised Iraq and threatened the wider region, has collapsed.

In most areas of Iraq, coalition forces are now focusing upon stabilisation operations, setting the conditions for the restoration of the country's political and administrative structures. We will continue the humanitarian efforts already under way.

British forces have played a major part in the removal of Saddam Hussein's regime. They have once again demonstrated their professionalism and expertise, combining combat operations with support for the civilian population. They are now helping the Iraqi people to take the first significant steps along the road to greater political and economic freedom and security.

The Americans apparently plan to publish their report on the friendly fire incidents on the internet this week. Given the sensitivity of the subject, not least for those units and regiments, such as my own, which lost soldiers in tragic incidents of that sort, will the Secretary of State tell the House precisely how many British personnel are involved in the investigations, when they intend to publish their findings, and what consultations they have had with our US allies on the subject?

There have been extensive consultations. As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, the investigations are conducted in parallel form through the national chain of command. We are represented in the American process, as they are represented in ours. However, as he says, it is important that there be full transparency of both the conclusions and any action that is then required to be taken.

Am I the only one to be utterly astonished that, after interviewing goodness knows how many Iraqi scientists who were allegedly involved in developing weapons of mass destruction, the only thing that we have found to date is the transporter to which my right hon. Friend referred earlier? How many Iraqi scientists have been interviewed, and what has transpired as a result?

My hon. Friend had better prepare himself for further astonishment, because I have to tell him that sometimes when they are interviewed, people do not tell us the truth. It is therefore necessary for us to continue investigations into where weapons of mass destruction have been hidden. As I said earlier, the Iraqi regime had many months in which to hide weapons of mass destruction; we have to have a similar period in which to locate them.

Further to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Hugh Robertson) about friendly fire, will the Secretary of State say more about what work has been done since the end of the conflict? Will he give the House a commitment that any progress made by the Americans will be matched by us? In particular, has he done any research into BCIS—battlefield combat identification system—developed by Northrop Grumman, an American company, which puts transponders into American tanks so that they have technical facility to deal with friendly fire? It is important that our kit for our soldiers is as good as the Americans'.

I think that the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members will accept that the most important work that needs to be done in the light of the conflict is to investigate thoroughly the friendly fire incidents in question, so that we can properly understand what went wrong—clearly, things did go wrong—before we take decisions on potential solutions. The Ministry of Defence and I are willing to consider any solution that guarantees the safety of our services personnel.

My right hon. Friend will know that 2,000 extended range bomblets and shells were used in the British battle for Basra. Will he ensure that the impact points of those munitions will be made available to the United Nations mine action service and to non-government organisations? Will he warn civilians of the consequences of unexploded bomblets? Does he agree that it would be more appropriate for the funding of such clean-up operations to be provided by the MOD rather than by the Department for International Development?

My hon. Friend is right. Determined efforts are made to identify the location of unexploded bomblets. Records are kept, and members of Britain's forces are routinely engaged in making safe any unexploded ordnance. That work is under way in Iraq as I speak, and it will continue. There is no difficulty about the funding of that work: it is carried out by the British Government.