|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am sure that we all agree that it is right that we should have a free press. However, a free press comes with a price: it should offer restraint and reason in reporting the views of those who are convicted. I join my noble friend in condemning the publication or attempted publication of outrageous memoirs. The Government--and, I am sure, all Members of the House--will continue to adopt a very hostile attitude towards such publications.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am at one with the noble Lord's comments about freedom of speech. We, as a democracy, must value a free press. It is an important part of our democratic constitution and the way in which government works best. The press and the media generally should reflect on that when they seek to publish outrageous memoirs which can cause only offence, abuse, ill-feeling and unhappiness to those who may be victims of crime.
Lord McNally: My Lords, is not the truth that it is impossible to draft the law to match the indignation? Will we not have to rely on either the sense of good taste and decency of newspaper proprietors and editors--not a very hopeful thought--or on a much-strengthened press complaints code of conduct? Would it not be better for Ministers, having spent so
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, we should give the Press Complaints Commission some credit for the important work that it has undertaken. The noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, met my noble and learned friend Lord Williams to discuss the issues which the noble Lord has quite properly just raised in his question. We should always keep under review the way in which such bodies operate. I believe that they do an important job. Although it may be difficult to draft the legislation that the noble Lord is evidently seeking, I think it is important that in public life we play our part in setting standards. We should inform and advise people that such criminal memoirs should not be published in the way in which many seek; namely, to get around the law and to profit from it.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, I hope the House will be pleased to know that sanctions do not prevent Iraq importing the goods mentioned by the noble Lord. Imports of food and medicine have always been allowed. And under the oil-for-food arrangements Iraq is permitted to export oil to fund the purchase of these and other civilian goods including medical equipment, educational materials and spare parts to repair the electricity, water and sanitation and oil sectors. Some 5 billion dollars has been set aside already this year for the purchase of such goods.
Lord Beaumont of Whitley: My Lords, I am delighted to hear the Answer from the Minister. What steps are Her Majesty's Government taking to ensure that such very necessary goods are in fact reaching those people they should reach bearing in mind that until recently there was in that country a death rate of infants aged under five of something in the order of 4,000 or 5,000 a month? Is there nothing that Her Majesty's Government can do to see that appalling figure reduced?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, much of course must depend on Iraq itself and Saddam Hussein. Since the sanctions were imposed, arrangements have been in place to allow Iraq to import food, medicine and other essential civilian goods. Under the oil-for-food arrangements, Iraq is permitted to import a wide range of humanitarian goods, in part to rehabilitate the Iraqi civilian
Lord Moynihan: My Lords, from these Benches I warmly congratulate the Minister on her first appearance at the Dispatch Box answering a Question on foreign affairs. I have given her private office notice of the question I wish to raise. What action are the Government taking to pressurise the Iraqi regime to allow the United Nations to take a larger role in the distribution of medicine and food in southern and central Iraq given that child mortality rates have fallen in northern Iraq where the UN controls distribution under the oil-for-food programme but have increased tragically and disturbingly in southern and central Iraq where Saddam Hussein's regime is in charge of distribution?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the Government continually call on Iraq to engage more constructively with the UN in the implementation of the oil-for-food programme. Our new draft resolution would allow the UN to take a greater role in the programme. There are high rates of infant and maternal mortality, and that is a matter of serious concern. The United Kingdom has advocated and supported initiatives aimed at targeting the humanitarian effort to help the most vulnerable. The whole of Iraq is subject to the same sanctions regime, but the UNICEF report notes--as the noble Lord pointed out--that rates in the north of Iraq, which is not controlled by the Baghdad regime, are substantially lower. We would suggest that that is more evidence that it is the Baghdad regime which is primarily responsible for the suffering of the Iraqi people. Of course it is entirely in Saddam Hussein's own hands as to how most effectively to address this issue. This Government strongly urge him to address it as a matter of priority for the Iraqi people.
Lord Monkswell: My Lords, from this side of the House I warmly welcome my noble friend to the Dispatch Box. Is she aware that Iraq is one of the most fertile parts of the Middle East and as such has the capacity to grow food to feed its people? There is no real need for it to import food. Can she confirm that the unrestricted import of agricultural machinery and spare parts for agricultural machinery is allowed under the sanctions regime?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I can confirm that. I can also confirm that when it comes to food, Iraq is so well placed that it is selling food to some of its neighbours and trying to sell food to other neighbours. I believe that that emphasises the information we have that it is very much Saddam Hussein's own determination that he wishes the people
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, we on these Benches also congratulate the Minister. Although we shall greatly miss her predecessor on foreign affairs Questions, we are sure that she will bring both radiance and brilliance to the Government Front Bench. I wish to ask a slightly wider question based on the replies the Minister has already given. With regard to the United Nations resolution supported by France, is consideration being given to the possibility of offsetting sanctions against a resumption of United Nations inspections, which I understand is today a lively issue in London, Washington and Paris?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the position as regards sanctions remains very much the same. The noble Baroness will know that the UK has been at the forefront of Security Council efforts to find a comprehensive way forward on Iraq. In particular we have been working closely with the rest of P5 and we have made good progress on bridging the few remaining gaps. We believe that with a little more flexibility on all sides, there is scope for further agreement. The UK and the Netherlands have circulated a draft Security Council resolution which, if adopted, would implement the vast majority of the recommendations of the three panels established by the Security Council in January. Our draft would create a new body to continue UNSCOM's efforts to answer the outstanding questions on disarmament and to implement the panel recommendation that these be dealt with under a reinforced monitoring system.
Lord Rea: My Lords, what are the obstacles to the British-Dutch proposals mentioned by my noble friend? Will she see that they are accepted by the United Nations as soon as possible because the effects of the sanctions on the ordinary people of Iraq are at the moment very severe? They do not harm Saddam and his friends.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, Her Majesty's Government are doing all they can to persuade all the members of the council of the force of their arguments. There is of course a measure of flexibility and difference of opinion, but we shall not refrain from continuing to force those arguments. Overall, our solution seeks to offer Iraq a clear path to the suspension and eventual lifting of sanctions while maximising humanitarian assistance to the Iraqi people and giving us the assurance we need on weapons of mass destruction. A Security Council united behind the proposals will provide the best chance of persuading Iraq to re-engage with the UN and to avert a further crisis. However, we do have to
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|