Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Henley: My Lords, perhaps I may start by echoing all the words of the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip, and in particular those he directed to me. As he said, he and I have worked together in different capacities for some time. We have had disagreements in the past and I dare say that we shall have disagreements in the future. But I hope we can ensure that, as far as possible, the usual channels will continue to operate in the best possible manner. Perhaps I may also echo his words of farewell to the Yeoman Usher, whom we will all miss and whom we thank for all that he has done over the years.

The noble Lord the Chief Whip said that it seemed a long time since the Session started. It seems to me to be a pretty long time since we came back in October. It also seems to be a particularly long time since I took on the onerous duties as Opposition Chief Whip only two weeks ago. Someone may have said that a week is a long time in politics. Well, two weeks has seemed to be a particularly long two weeks. I think I can say on behalf of myself and the entire House that all of us, whether Members of the House, servants or Officers of the House, are very much looking forward to the Recess that is about to start.

The noble Lord almost tempted me to say a word or two about the European Parliamentary Elections Bill. I see the noble Lord, Lord Williams, in his place. My noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish is still in the House but I have asked him not to come back to make a speech which, by this stage, many noble Lords will know fairly well. But my noble friend would be more than happy to do so should noble Lords so wish.

After what has been a very long Session, after what has been a very long spill-over period--from October to the new Session--and after the weeks since then, all of us can say that we need a good holiday. That is particularly true, as the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip said, of all those who serve us through thick and thin, if I may put it that way, over the year. We all owe them the most enormous thanks. In so doing, I think we must warn them that there will be a very busy and,

17 Dec 1998 : Column 1519

as the Chinese might put it, a very interesting year ahead of us. I join the noble Lord the Chief Whip in wishing everyone a very happy Christmas.

Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, I wish to associate myself and my colleagues with the comments of the Government Chief Whip and the noble Lord, Lord Henley, and to echo their words in paying tribute to the work of the Yeoman Usher, who is about to retire.

We have certainly kept very long hours over the past year or more and will undoubtedly sit for many long hours in the next few months. I also pay tribute to the noble Lords, Lord Strathclyde and Lord Carter, for maintaining civilised relations between the usual channels, which is the only way in which this House is capable of operating. I wish to express on behalf of my noble friends our gratitude to the staff of the House, whose dedicated work on our behalf has done so much to make our lives agreeable.

3.30 p.m.

Viscount Allenby of Megiddo: My Lords, I rise on behalf of the independent Peers who sit on the Cross Benches--noble Lords will note that I say "independent"; the Chief Whip said "unpredictable". Whether unpredictable or independent, we are here and we are all of independent mind. I echo the remarks made about the Yeoman Usher. To us he has been a special help, guiding us, or pushing us, whichever way we wish to go. I am told that he is to enter the recycling business. I hope that his future is recycled in the proper direction. We owe him great tribute and wish him and his wife all the best in the future.

I wish to thank a number of those who so far have not been mentioned: the Doorkeepers, whose unfailing courtesy and help has been notable during what has been a difficult Session; the attendance officers whose messages keep flowing and who bewilder us with the speed with which they get messages to us; and those in the refreshment department, who at State Opening performed a miracle in the way in which they kept body and soul together.

Those who are often not mentioned are the telephone operators and security staff. We do not see them all that much, but they do a great deal for us in keeping the House going and keeping everything working. We thank them particularly for the work that they do.

Finally, 1999 will be an unpredictable year for hereditary Peers. I hope that we shall not be booted out on tumbrels as has been threatened in another place, but that we shall go with dignity and with understanding on the part of the Government.

On behalf of these Benches I offer all noble Lords and staff best wishes for Christmas and the New Year.

The Lord Bishop of Ely: My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to add the thanks of these Benches to those already articulated. It behoves the Lords Spiritual to mention in particular the invisible hosts as well as the visible hosts of those who serve us in this House. Speaking for myself and others on these Benches, the pleasure of serving your Lordships is very much

17 Dec 1998 : Column 1520

enhanced by the courtesy and friendliness with which we are so regularly treated. Even at this particularly sombre moment, I wish all noble Lords a peaceful Christmas and a happy New Year.

Lord Carter: My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Royal Assent

3.34 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker (Lord Elton): My Lords, I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that the Queen has signified her Royal Assent to the following Act:

Consolidated Fund (No. 2) Act.

Business

Lord Carter: My Lords, perhaps I should say a word about how the Government intend to handle the debate this afternoon. These are unusual circumstances. As I informed the House this morning, the proceedings will not exactly follow those on a normal Statement. The purpose of that variation from our normal proceedings is to allow noble Lords more flexibility in taking part in debate.

In view of this and the fact that the Statement in another place is being followed by a debate in which Ministers from the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence will take part, my noble friend the Leader of the House will begin proceedings by repeating the Statement that is being made in another place. The Front Benchers will then speak in the usual way. My noble friend the Leader of the House will then open the debate by responding to the Front Bench speeches.

It is then proposed that any Back-Bencher who wishes to speak should do so, we hope with reasonable brevity. Then there should be a single wind-up speech from the Government Benches at the end of the Back-Bench contributions. My noble friend Lord Gilbert will respond to the debate.

I hope that the House will agree that this way of proceeding will reflect the desire of the House, expressed through the usual channels, that proceedings this afternoon should not be confined to those for a Statement but should reflect more closely those for a debate.

I should also add that allowing my noble friend Lord Gilbert to wind up in a single speech rather than intervening immediately on points from Back-Benchers will, perhaps, contribute to the feeling that this is more of a debate than a normal Statement.

17 Dec 1998 : Column 1521

Iraq

3.35 p.m.

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister on Iraq. The Statement is as follows:

    "Madam Speaker, with permission I will make a Statement on Iraq.

    "Yesterday I authorised the participation of British forces in a substantial US-UK military strike against targets in Iraq. As the House knows, this attack began last night, maximising surprise through the use of sea-launched cruise missiles and precision bombing by navy-based manned aircraft. The operation is now continuing and, as I speak, British Tornado aircraft are engaged in action. I spoke to their commander last night and congratulated him on the bravery and professionalism of his forces. I know the whole House will join with me in wishing them well as they risk their lives to help ensure peace and stability in the Middle East and more widely. We are very proud of them.

    "Our policy has always been to seek genuine Iraqi compliance with the demands of the Security Council.

    "The objectives of this military operation are clear and simple: to degrade the ability of Saddam Hussein to build and use weapons of mass destruction, including command and control and delivery systems; to diminish the threat Saddam Hussein poses to his neighbours by weakening his military capability. These objectives are achievable and the action proportionate to the serious dangers Saddam Hussein poses to his immediate neighbours, the Middle East region and the international community more widely. The targets, throughout Iraq, have been very carefully selected to reflect these objectives. We are taking every possible care to avoid civilian casualties or damage to ordinary civilian infrastructure.

    "The House will forgive me if I say no more about operational details at this stage. To go further could endanger the lives of those involved. But first reports from last night's operations suggest that they were successful and inflicted the kind of military damage we were seeking.

    "Madam Speaker, when I spoke to the House on 16th November, after we and the Americans had stayed our hand because of a written Iraqi promise of full co-operation with the UN weapons inspectors, I set out in some detail why we had come to the brink of military action. The House will forgive me if I once again set current events in their proper context. It is vital that people understand that the threat from Saddam is real, not theoretical.

    "After the Gulf War had revealed the extent of Saddam's arsenal, Iraq agreed in April 1991 to accept the destruction of all its weapons of mass destruction and not to develop such weapons in the future. They also agreed to a Special Commission to monitor and oversee this process. That was the price they were

17 Dec 1998 : Column 1522

    made to pay for the cessation of hostilities. The capability Saddam had at the time included: a nuclear weapons programme only a few years away from producing an effective bomb; long-range missile stocks able to threaten all his neighbours; a chemical weapons arsenal of huge proportions, which he had already used on the Iranians in the 10-year war he started with Iran, and on his own people; and a biological weapons programme capable of producing enough deadly toxins to destroy the population of the globe several times over.

    "It was expected then that the Special Commission, together with the International Atomic Energy Agency, would complete this process in a few months. But it was not to be. What no one fully foresaw at the time was the huge effort Iraq would put into blocking it. The inspectors have been constantly harassed, threatened, deceived and lied to. A special and elaborate mechanism to conceal Iraqi capability was put in place involving organisations close to Saddam Hussein, in particular his Special Republican Guard.

    "Despite this, UNSCOM achieved a huge amount, particularly after the defection of Saddam Hussein's son-in-law, later murdered by Saddam, destroying for example more than 38,000 chemical weapon munitions, 48 Scud missiles and a biological weapons factory designed to produce up to 50,000 litres of anthrax, botulism toxin and other deadly agents. But much--too much--remains unaccounted for. Iraq has consistently sought to frustrate attempts to look at the records and destroy the remaining capability. Let us be clear. Saddam still has capability in this area, not least to develop more weapons in the future. To give only one example, over 610 tonnes of precursor chemicals for the nerve gas VX have not been found or accounted for.

    "Meanwhile, Saddam's conventional military capabilities remain at a very high level. He has more than one million men under arms, including 75,000 in the Republican Guard and 15,000 members of the Special Republican Guard. Saddam attaches importance to only one thing: his ability to dominate his people and his neighbours by military force. He wants to retain all the weapons he can, including weapons of mass destruction. He has used them before. I am in no doubt of his readiness to use them again if he has any opportunity. His brutality and ruthlessness are too well documented for there to be any doubt of this. The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights issued a new report on Iraq in October. He documented massive and extremely grave violations of human rights, including the widespread and systematic use of torture, a new policy of penal mutilation and amputations introduced by Saddam's son, Uday, and innumerable and illegal political executions.

    "After the full extent of the weapons programme was uncovered in 1996 and early 1997, Saddam began to obstruct in real earnest. He cast doubt on the independence of the inspectors. He sought to exclude

17 Dec 1998 : Column 1523

    US and British members of UNSCOM. He sought to declare certain sites out of bounds, on the grounds that they were personal palaces.

    "This led to a series of crises with the Security Council and the international community, and a recurring threat of force--first in October 1997, when he eventually backed down, then in February this year. The House will recall that this was eventually resolved by the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan going to Baghdad and concluding a Memorandum of Understanding with the Iraqis. In this, Saddam undertook to co-operate fully with UNSCOM and the IAEA, and confirmed that this meant 'immediate, unconditional and unrestricted access in conformity with Security Council Resolutions'.

    "But the pattern continued. Then Saddam broke altogether this agreement with Kofi Annan. In August he suspended co-operation and on 31st October ended it. That was why on 14th November I gave authority for British forces to participate in a US-UK strike against Iraq. That was only averted by another offer from Saddam. The Iraqis agreed in terms that spoke of a, 'clear and unconditional decision of the Iraqi Government to resume co-operation with UNSCOM and the IAEA'. They said 'UNSCOM and the IAEA could immediately resume all their activities according to the relevant resolutions of the Security Council'.

    "Let me remind you that these resolutions call on Iraq to comply unconditionally with the demands of the Security Council to give up all its weapons of mass destruction, and to co-operate fully with UNSCOM and the IAEA. Resolution 707 of 15th August 1991, for example, passed after the first evidence of Iraqi non-compliance, demanded that Iraq should, 'provide full, final and complete disclosure ... of aspects of its programmes to develop weapons of mass destruction', and that it should allow UNSCOM and the IAEA, 'immediate, unconditional and unrestricted access to any and all areas, facilities, equipment, records, and means of transportation which they wish to inspect'.

    "There were some who thought we should have taken military action on 14th November. But, despite our severe doubts, we went that extra mile. We gave Saddam that last chance. Even at the risk to our own credibility, we were determined to avoid, if we responsibly could, the use of force. At the same time, we and the Americans also gave the clearest possible warning that, should Saddam break his word once more, there would be no further warnings or diplomatic arguments. I told the House on 16th November that if he again obstructed the work of the inspectors we would strike. No warnings. No wrangling. No negotiation. No last minute letters. President Clinton also set out what Saddam had to do: allow unfettered access for UNSCOM and the IAEA and abide by all the relevant Security Council resolutions. Otherwise the US stood ready to act without further warning.

    "Saddam Hussein is a man to whom a last chance to do right is just a further opportunity to do wrong. He is blind to reason. We were not unconscious of

17 Dec 1998 : Column 1524

    that but we wanted to show that reason, not vengeance, motivated us. So, acting on the promise of unconditional access, Richard Butler was asked to put his inspectors back in immediately, carry out the full range of his tasks and to report back to the Security Council. He said that he would do so within a month. On Monday last, a month later, he did so. The report was very clear and damning. Copies were placed in the House yesterday. Butler summarises UNSCOM's experiences: limited co-operation in some areas, yes, but otherwise a clear pattern of obstruction over documents, access to Iraqi personnel and above all the surprise inspections of suspect sites so vital to UNSCOM's completion of its task. Co-operation has indeed been less good in some areas even than in the difficult times of the past.

    "The evidence is clear, as set out by Butler. Important and relevant documents have not been handed over. Their existence has even been denied in many cases, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The documents are vital because they would reveal how many weapons Iraq has and where they are or may be located. We know that the Iraqis have deliberately destroyed as many of these documents as they can including in the second half of November as UNSCOM was resuming its work.

    "The Iraqis have also blocked legitimate inspections including one to the Baa'th Party headquarters. This visit was not an idle provocation because there was reliable evidence of relevant material at the site. In another case, an inspection of the former headquarters of the Special Security Organisation was eventually allowed to go ahead, but only after the building had been emptied not only of any relevant material but also of its furniture and all equipment of any kind.

    "Butler's conclusion is clear and unequivocal: 'In the light of this experience, that is, the absence of full co-operation by Iraq, it must regrettably be recorded again that the commission is not able to conduct the substantive disarmament work mandated to it by the Security Council and, thus, to give the council the assurances it requires with respect to Iraq's prohibited weapons programmes'.

    "Anyone who has followed at all the pattern of events in Iraq in recent years must come to the same inescapable conclusion. Whatever the arguments about particular incidents Saddam's attitude to the inspectors and their work cannot remotely be described as full co-operation. It has instead been as much deliberate obstruction as he thought he could get away with. Moreover, he has also consistently sought in the past 18 months to use this obstruction deliberately to try to blackmail the international community into lifting sanctions--a step which we support when he has complied with his obligations but which is quite unacceptable before he has done so and while the threat remains.

    "Madam Speaker, in these circumstances we had a stark choice. Either we could let this process continue further, with UNSCOM becoming more and more emasculated, including its monitoring capability,

17 Dec 1998 : Column 1525

    Saddam correspondingly free to pursue his weapon-making ambitions and the one-sided and unjustified bargaining over sanctions continuing, or, having tried every possible diplomatic avenue and shown endless patience despite all Saddam's deception, we could decide that if UNSCOM could not do its work we should tackle Saddam's remaining capability through direct action of our own. In these circumstances there is only one responsible choice to make. We are acting now because Butler's report, delivered on time, was so clear. And because, if we were going to act, it was obviously better that we should do so without giving Saddam unnecessary time to prepare his defences, and disperse whatever he could to new locations.

    "In particular we were very sensitive to the imminence of Ramadan and very reluctant to have to start a military campaign during Ramadan, out of our respect for Moslem sentiments. On the other hand, waiting until after Ramadan would have given Saddam a month to prepare. It would have been highly risky in military terms, and likely to reduce significantly the effect of our attacks.

    "I want to deal with one thing straight on. There are suggestions that the timing of military action is somehow linked to the internal affairs of the United States. I refute this entirely. I have no doubt whatever that action is fully justified now. Had it not been taken now, it would have been with my personal disagreement. I know that President Clinton reached the same conclusion for the same reasons. Had he acted differently, out of regard to internal matters of US politics, that would have been a dereliction of his duty as President. Instead, not for the first time, he has shown the courage to do the right thing and he has my full support.

    "Other questions arise about this military operation. Let me deal with some of them. Is it a specific objective to remove Saddam Hussein? The answer is it cannot be. No-one would be better pleased if his evil regime disappeared as a direct or indirect result of our action, but our military objectives are precisely those I have set out. Even if there was legal authority to do so, removing Saddam through military action would require the insertion of ground troops on a massive scale--hundreds of thousands, as the British Chief of the Defence Staff, Sir Charles Guthrie, made clear this morning. Even then there would be no absolute guarantee of success. I cannot make that commitment responsibly.

    "What will happen once the military operation is over? The answer to that depends at least as much on Saddam as it does on us. I hope he will finally come to his senses and recognise that the only way to find support in the international community and light at the end of the tunnel is full compliance with the Security Council's requirements. UNSCOM must remain ready to resume its work and to accomplish the task set by the Security Council and agreed to by the Iraqis.

17 Dec 1998 : Column 1526

    "Alternatively, if Saddam will not see reason, then after this military operation is concluded, we will work to ensure that Saddam's weakened military capability cannot be rebuilt and that the threat he poses is fully contained. We have the ability to do so, even without UNSCOM if necessary. We will certainly be better placed after this military strike than if we had to go on dealing with a Saddam Hussein whose military capability had not been weakened and with an UNSCOM increasingly impeded from any serious work. We will maintain and enforce rigorously the existing sanctions. If necessary, and if we have serious evidence from our intensive surveillance, or from intelligence, that his capability is being rebuilt, we will be ready to take further military action. Saddam should have no doubt of our continuing resolve.

    "We will in any case do all we can to ensure that the present arrangements of oil sales for food and medicine can continue. I trust that this time Saddam will allow the mechanism to work properly for the benefit of his people, rather than spreading lies about the effect of sanctions. He has the means to care for his people if he chooses to use them. Let me be absolutely clear once again. The Iraqi authorities can import as much food and medicines as they need. If there are nutritional problems in Iraq, they are not the result of sanctions--let us not forget that Iraq is continuing to export food to her neighbours. We also constantly look at ways we can do more to help the suffering of the Iraqi people, for example, whenever we review the workings of the sanctions and oil for food regimes, and through our own aid effort.

    "The decision to take military action against Iraq was taken with great regret. It is a heavy responsibility. There will be casualties in Iraq, despite all our efforts, although I hope all concerned will be fully alert to Saddam's very well-documented modus operandi of fabrication of evidence.

    "I am encouraged by the international reaction. Most of our allies have offered full support. Others who have felt unable to do so have shown their understanding. I believe that, among the Arab countries, the view expressed at their meeting in Doha in November, that Saddam must bear the responsibility for what happens, holds good.

    "As I said last night, we have absolutely no quarrel with the Iraqi people. We have no desire to jeopardise the territorial integrity of Iraq. We look forward to the day when Iraq will have the government its people deserve and will once again be a great country. We have the deepest respect for Islamic sensibilities, here and in the region. But we have acted because we must act to counter a real and present danger from a tyrant who has never hesitated to use whatever weapons come to hand.

    "Madam Speaker, I would rather that we had not had to do this. I am aware of the risks we are asking our forces to face. I do so, not lightly, but with a profound sense of responsibility.

    "But I do so confident they will achieve our aims, and convinced we have taken the right course of action. For whatever the risks we face today, they are

17 Dec 1998 : Column 1527

    as nothing compared to the risks if we do not halt Saddam Hussein's programme of developing chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction.

    "I ask the House for its support".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.56 p.m.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, first, on behalf of the Official Opposition in this House I thank the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for repeating this full Statement. I also welcome the fullness of the Statement. I hope that the House will understand and recognise that if my words are considerably briefer than the Statement offered it is no criticism of the length of the Statement which we very much support. Is the noble Baroness also aware how much the House values the fact that when a Statement of such national importance is made by her right honourable friend in another place the Leader of the House is able to repeat it in this House?

On behalf of the Opposition we on this side express our full support for the action which has been taken by Her Majesty's Government, while deeply regretting the behaviour of the Iraqi dictator which made it necessary, and expressing the hope that casualties to Iraqi citizens, with whom we have no quarrel, are minimal.

The Statement includes a particularly grim record of agreements made and broken by Saddam over many months and years, and that in itself is to be deeply regretted. Is the noble Baroness aware of the unqualified admiration and unreserved support of this House for those British servicemen who are involved in Operation Desert Fox, and how much our thoughts and prayers are with them and their families at this time?


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page