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Iraq has maintained that it has never weaponised VX. That claim has been shown to be untrue by the United States' tests on warhead fragments. In addition, those tests have been verified by further tests in France and Switzerland. Those who claim that this is merely the word of the United States, have seen that word corroborated by other analyses in Switzerland and France. That demonstrates that the word of Saddam Hussein cannot be trusted by the international community.
Moreover, the humanitarian situation in Iraq is very grave indeed. We have already discussed the position concerning humanitarian aid, but the extent of human rights abuse in Iraq is very grave indeed, as Mr. Van Der Stoel's latest report has exposed. The violations include arrest, summary execution, torture, ethnic cleansing, the persecution of minorities and denial of freedom of speech. The list is endless.
Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, I acknowledge entirely the point that the Minister has made about the possibility of all options being considered. Does she agree that the contribution which the armed forces make to the overall position of Her Majesty's Government is absolutely essential, and that the arming, equipping and manning of the armed forces--in this case particularly the Royal Air Force--to achieve the position required is essential?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I agree wholeheartedly with the noble and gallant Lord. The contribution made by Her Majesty's armed forces--and in this instance particularly by the RAF--is absolutely vital in maintaining the credible threat of force. We have seen a consistent pattern of Saddam Hussein not complying with the diplomatic effort unless he believes that the credible option of force is open to us. I know that on occasions I have been reluctant to discuss in detail in your Lordships' House the equipment and dispositions of the armed forces. The noble and gallant Lord will fully understand the reasons for that. He is entirely right that the armed forces must be properly equipped for the very grave task that they may have to undertake.
The Earl of Carlisle: My Lords, I support the Government's Statement, and in particular the imposition of sanctions. I have two questions for the noble Baroness. First, how effective have those sanctions been? Secondly, does she know of any nation or company which is breaking the sanctions? If so, what representations will Her Majesty's Government make to the United Nations in order to discourage and dissuade those countries and firms from breaking the sanctions?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I have no information on particular companies. I will make inquiries and, if it is possible to put any information into the public arena on that issue, I shall write to the noble Earl and place a copy of my letter in the Library of the House. I do not know whether such sanctions have been broken; nor whether Her Majesty's Government have information on that issue or whether it is proper for such information to come into the public arena. I shall make inquiries.
The noble Earl asked how effective have these sanctions been? One could argue that the sanctions have been effective to the extent that Saddam Hussein has been contained within his ambitions concerning
Lord Shore of Stepney: My Lords, I appreciate the difficulty facing the Government, the United States' Government and all those who are concerned--as we should be--at the prospect of Saddam Hussein retaining weapons of mass destruction. We have surely reached the point where we cannot afford to mobilise ourselves and our opinions once again--this will be the third time this year--and then make an obvious compromise which would, I fear, undermine the credibility of the United Nations and, indeed, the credibility of the United States and the United Kingdom.
My strong feeling is--and I hope my noble friend can assure me on this point--that if we are not prepared to back up our words with deeds, we should on this occasion decline to mobilise ourselves in the pretence that we are going to do so. We cannot afford to bluff any more. I hope that the Government will make the correct decision to demand from Saddam Hussein really bankable assurances before we agree the next time not to use the force that might well be required.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the question of bankable assurances from an individual who has been proved to have lied on a number of occasions may be a very tall order. I assure the noble Lord that this is not a question of bluffing anybody. Her Majesty's Government are firmly resolved on this issue. The noble Lord said that we cannot afford to mobilise ourselves and then make a compromise. In a sense, of course, we are already mobilised. As I was able to assure the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, our firepower remains ready and in place should it be needed. That firepower is the same now as it was earlier this year.
It is right for Her Majesty's Government to pursue the path of diplomacy. It would not be right to move straight to the option of force without looking at the diplomatic option first. But no one should be in any doubt that the exploration of that diplomatic option is a sign of weakness. It is a sign of wanting to ensure that no military action is taken unless it is absolutely necessary. We are all very well aware that once force is used there will be the potential for loss of life. That is a very grave step to take--it is a very grave step to take for our Armed Forces and a very grave step to take for the people of Iraq. It is right and proper that we pursue the diplomatic option first but no one--no one in your Lordships' House and certainly no one in Iraq--should be in any doubt that we will look at other options if that does not prove to do the trick.
Lord Mishcon: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it may not be a coincidence that this brazen statement of Saddam Hussein has been made at a time when the United States has been weakened by the threatened impeachment of its President? While that matter must be one for the American people and for the American Congress, can she, through the diplomatic
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I think it is quite a matter for question and speculation whether the United States has been weakened by the threatened impeachment of the President. If the United States opinion polls are anything to go by, that question is open to a good deal of analysis. I am not in a position-- I do not believe anyone in your Lordships' House is in a position--to judge what is motivating Saddam Hussein to take this action at this time. We know that he started down this path in August. He was given further options, as my right honourable friend's Statement in another place described and as I have been able to tell your Lordships. Only this weekend he has made it clear that he will no longer co-operate with UNSCOM. Why now? There may be a whole range of reasons. The fact is that we are where we are. The international community has been threatened by Saddam Hussein, the authority of Kofi Annan has been undermined and it is now up to the international community through the United Nations Security Council to try every diplomatic course open to us to make the position clear to Saddam Hussein that he simply cannot behave like this.
Lord Burnham: My Lords, I have to admit to slight surprise when I heard what the noble Baroness said in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Shore. Will she confirm what she said that there has been no diminution in the capacity of this country and other countries of the United Nations to take military action--no diminution in military terms in their ability so to do?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I take it that the noble Lord's surprise was in relation to what I said about the fire power available. I have taken advice on this point. It is quite an obvious point for us to raise at the moment. The assurance I have given to the noble Lord is one I was given before making the Statement to your Lordships' House today. If there is any reason for me to review that assurance, I shall of course make that position clear. I shall write to the noble Lord and make that clear. But the answer I gave to the noble Lord, Lord Shore, was, as I understand the position, in relation to Her Majesty's forces. I cannot at the moment answer the question in relation to other fire power available.