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4.6 p.m.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat in the form of a Statement the Answer given to a Private Notice Question which has been asked in another place on Iraq. The Statement is as follows:

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My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

4.8 p.m.

Lord Moynihan: My Lords, on behalf of the Opposition, I thank the Minister for the Statement. It has our full support. We share the Government's deep concern about the current situation in Iraq, which can be seen as a naked challenge to the authority of the United Nations by Saddam Hussein. We also share the Government's alarm at evidence that Iraq is rebuilding its capacity to make chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, and ballistic missiles.

Likewise, we, too, deplore Iraq's failure to comply with the UN Security Council resolutions. In government and now in Opposition, we supported United Nations efforts to end President Saddam Hussein's programmes for the manufacture of weapons of mass destruction and to enforce the UN no-fly zones over Iraq. These were the conditions laid down by the UN if international sanctions were to be lifted. Today, Saddam Hussein is blatantly flouting these conditions and, in doing so, he is defying the will of the international community. We hope that the talks of the Deputy Prime Minister, Tariq Aziz, in New York today will prove productive and will result in a peaceful resolution to the current stalemate.

However, faced with the current unacceptable situation, we welcome the Prime Minister's support for the position of the US Government and President Clinton's call for strong and unambiguous action to make it clear that Saddam Hussein has no choice but to comply with the United Nations weapons inspectorate in Iraq.

Does the Minister agree with us that the inspection exercise has been, and continues to be, carried out--until recent events inhibited its activities--in a non-political way? Can she assure the House that, if diplomatic methods fail, non-diplomatic methods, including military force, should not be ruled out? Can the Minister tell the House whether Russia, France and China still oppose the proposed travel ban on senior Iraqi military and intelligence officers? What effect do the Government believe such a travel ban would have?

With your Lordships' permission, I should like to ask the following questions. What discussions have the Government had with Russia, China, France and the Arab League concerning the possible use of British

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forces and the rules of engagement in order to enforce the will of the international community? Do the Government have information regarding the security situation in the north of the country? Can the Minister confirm reports of fighting among the various Kurdish factions? How does she see that affecting the security situation in the region as a whole?

The previous Conservative Government, in which I was proud to serve, supported the then United States Government. In 1991 Britain and the United States were united in purpose and stood firmly together against these same forces of tyranny and aggression. We welcomed support from the Benches opposite at that time and, on behalf of the Opposition, I assure the Government of our committed and unconditional support in the action they take to ensure that Iraq co-operates fully with the United Nations.

Lord Steel of Aikwood: My Lords, I believe that the noble Baroness will be aware that two years ago the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester and I visited Baghdad to try to assess for ourselves the effect of sanctions. We came to the conclusion that, if the purpose of sanctions had been to cause an uprising among the people in order to get rid of Saddam Hussein, they had failed--not surprisingly, since Saddam Hussein controls all the means of propaganda within the country, far more so than do the United Nations or the United States. Nevertheless we were concerned about the suffering of ordinary people as a result of the sanctions.

However, if the purpose of sanctions is to secure compliance with UNSCOM, that has the full support of these Benches. The UNSCOM operation is highly creditable and highly skilled and I believe it deserves full support.

If diplomatic means are now being considered to resolve the impasse, can they include the possibility of a progressive lifting of sanctions in return for compliance and satisfaction by UNSCOM rather than waiting for a magic moment in the distant future when all sanctions might be lifted at a stroke? I believe that that is an area worth further consideration. In the meantime, it is right that we stand firm and united in resolve against threats from Saddam Hussein.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Moynihan and Lord Steel, for their warm support.

I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, that UNSCOM has been acting in a non-political way. The noble Lord pressed me on several issues, including some fairly sensitive ones about the way in which we are currently negotiating with our colleagues in France, China and Russia. As he would expect, we are pursuing every channel available to us to find a diplomatic solution to the problem. In answer to the specific question about a military option, we are not ruling out military action at this stage; indeed, we are not ruling out any options at this stage.

The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, asked particularly about the situation in Northern Iraq. The situation there remains tense. The UK and the US continue to attempt

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to broker peace negotiations between the PUK and the KDP. We have heard reports of further activities in Northern Iraq and are looking into those.

In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Steel, the purpose of sanctions is to secure co-operation with UNSCOM. In relation to the progressive lifting of sanctions, nothing is ruled out in the discussions we are having. However, I hope that the noble Lord and all Members of your Lordships' House will recognise that the international situation is tense and serious. In the interests of arriving at the right solutions to some of the issues, it is probably sensible not to go into great detail at the moment.

Perhaps I may quote from the letter that the Prime Minister sent yesterday to President Clinton which expresses the support of Her Majesty's Government for the UN Security Council position with regard to Iraq and the need for allies to support each other:

    "I have no doubt that, as in the past, we must stand absolutely firm and absolutely together".
I am delighted that your Lordships' House is standing absolutely together on this issue.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the policy of brokering peace between the KDP and PUK has been overtaken by events, in that the Turks have intervened massively on the side of the KDP in the intra-Kurdish struggle and that yesterday, for instance, 250 Turkish tanks crossed the border and engaged in hostilities against the PUK and the civilian population east of the River Zab, causing hundreds of casualties and displacing hundreds of families from their homes? Are the Government still committed to securing an agreement between the KDP and the PUK under those circumstances?

With regard to Iraq's defiance of the Security Council, is the Minister aware that not only is there a threat by Iraq to shoot down the U2s but also that Iraqi forces have been massively collecting opposite the cities of Arbil and Dohuk and that it is expected that those forces may well cross the frontier and occupy those cities within the next 48 hours? Has she noticed that the Turkish tanks occupied a number of cities in the region, including Sulaymaniyah and Salahuddin but conspicuously left Arbil free for the Iraqi troops to come in? What would be the response of the international community to such a development? In the use of the military option, does the noble Baroness include the deployment of ground forces in the region?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, Her Majesty's Government are aware of the reports of Turkish activity over the course of the weekend in northern Iraq. The details of what is happening are not entirely clear and Her Majesty's Government are looking into these matters in the way that the noble Lord would expect.

As to where the Iraqi forces are massing and the international response to the situation, for the present

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noble Lords would expect me to say only that Her Majesty's Government and our colleagues on the Security Council are being briefed on these matters. We are pursuing a diplomatic solution. The United Nations Secretary General's delegation returned to New York over the weekend following its investigations in Iraq and the Secretary General will brief the Security Council later today on the results of that visit. I believe that it is probably not helpful to the end that we wish to pursue to speculate on what will happen later today in the Security Council.

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