Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am sure, first of all, that the whole House hopes that there will be no war with Iraq. However, Saddam Hussein's history leads us to believe that, if that sad eventuality were to come about, he is capable of trying virtually anything.

All eventualities must be considered, including everything from a direct attack on the state of Israel to the use of agents and terrorist organisations to perpetrate such attacks. I assure the noble Lord that, as he would expect, all those eventualities are being considered. I am sure that he will agree that it would be unwise for me to say anything further about planning for those eventualities.


3.9 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, with the leave of the House I shall repeat a Statement made in another place earlier today by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister.

25 Feb 2003 : Column 128

    "But we will not put it to a vote immediately. Instead, we will delay it to give Saddam one further final chance to disarm voluntarily. The UN inspectors are continuing their work. They have a

25 Feb 2003 : Column 129

    further report to make in March. But this time Saddam must understand. Now is the time for him to decide. Passive rather than active co-operation will not do. Co-operation on process, not substance, will not do. Refusal to declare properly and fully what has happened to the unaccounted for weapons of mass destruction will not do. Resolution 1441 called for full, unconditional and immediate compliance: not 10, not 20, not even 50 per cent, but 100 per cent compliance. Anything less will not do. That is all we ask: that what we said in Resolution 1441 we mean, and that what it demands Saddam does.

    "There is no complexity about Resolution 1441. I ask all reasonable people to judge for themselves. After 12 years, is it not reasonable that the UN inspectors have unrestricted access to Iraqi scientists—that means no tape recorders, no minders, no intimidation, and interviews outside Iraq as provided for by Resolution 1441? So far, this simply is not happening.

    "Is it not reasonable that Saddam provides evidence of destruction of the biological and chemical agents and weapons that the United Nations proved he had in 1999? So far he has provided none.

    "Is it not reasonable that he provides evidence that he has destroyed 8,500 litres of anthrax that he admitted possessing, and the 2,000 kilos of biological growth material, enough to produce over 26,000 litres of anthrax?

    "Is it not reasonable that Saddam accounts for up to 360 tonnes of bulk chemical warfare agent, including one and a half tonnes of VX nerve agents, 3,000 tonnes of precursor chemicals, and over 30,000 special munitions?

    "To those who say that we are rushing to war, I say this. We are now 12 years after Saddam was first told by the United Nations to disarm; nearly six months after President Bush made his speech to the UN accepting the UN route to disarmament; nearly four months on from Resolution 1441; and even now, today, we are offering Saddam the prospect of voluntary disarmament through the United Nations.

    "I detest his regime, but even now he can save it by complying with the United Nations demand. Even now, we are prepared to go that extra step to achieve disarmament peacefully.

    "I do not want war. I do not believe that anyone in this House wants war. But disarmament peacefully can only happen with Saddam's active co-operation.

    "Twelve years of bitter experience teaches that. And if he refuses to co-operate—as he is refusing now—and we fail to act, what then? Saddam in charge of Iraq; weapons of mass destruction intact; the will of the international community set at nothing; the UN tricked again; and Saddam hugely strengthened and emboldened—does anyone truly believe that that will mean peace? And when we turn to deal with other threats, where will our authority

25 Feb 2003 : Column 130

    be? And when we make a demand next time, what will our credibility be? This is not a road to peace but to folly and weakness that will only mean the conflict, when it comes, is more bloody, less certain and greater in its devastation.

    "Our path laid out before the UN expresses our preference to resolve this peacefully; but it ensures that we remain firm in our determination to resolve it.

    "I have read the memorandum put forward by France, Germany and Russia in response to our UN resolution. It is to be welcomed at least in these respects. It accepts that Saddam must disarm fully. It accepts that he is not yet co-operating fully. Indeed, not a single member of the EU who spoke at the summit in Brussels on 17th February disputed the fact of his non-co-operation.

    "But the call is for more time—up to the end of July at least. They say that the time is necessary 'to search out' the weapons. At the core of this proposition is the notion that the task of the inspectors is to enter Iraq to find the weapons, to sniff them out, as one member of the European Council put it. That is emphatically not the inspectors' job.

    "They are not a detective agency. And even if they were, Iraq is a country with a land mass roughly the size of France. The idea that the inspectors could conceivably sniff out the weapons and documentation relating to them, without the help of the Iraq authorities, is absurd. That is why 1441 called for Iraq's active co-operation.

    "The issue is not time. It is will. If Saddam is willing genuinely to co-operate, then the inspectors should have up to July, and beyond July; as much time as they want. If he is not willing to co-operate, then, equally, time will not help. We will be just right back where we were in the 1990s.

    "And, of course, Saddam will offer concessions. This is a game with which he is immensely familiar. As the threat level rises, so the concessions are eked out. At present he is saying that he will not destroy the al-Samoud missiles that the inspectors have found were in breach of Resolution 1441. But he will, under pressure, claiming that this proves co-operation. Does anyone think that he would be making any such concessions, that indeed the inspectors would be within 1,000 miles of Baghdad, were it not for US and UK troops massed on his doorstep? What is his hope? Is it to play for time, to drag the process out until the attention of the international community wanes, for the troops go, and the way is again clear for him?

    "Give it more time, some urge upon us. I say we are giving it more time. But I say this: it takes no time at all for Saddam to co-operate. It just takes a fundamental change of heart and mind.

    "Today the path to peace is clear. Saddam can co-operate fully with the inspectors. He can voluntarily disarm. He can even leave the country peacefully. But he cannot avoid disarmament.

25 Feb 2003 : Column 131

    "One further point. The purpose in our acting is disarmament. But the nature of Saddam's regime is relevant in two ways. First, weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a regime of this brutality is especially dangerous because Saddam has shown that he will use them. Secondly, I know the innocent as well as the guilty die in a war. But do not let us forget the 4 million Iraqi exiles, the thousands of children who die needlessly every year due to Saddam's impoverishment of his country—a country which in 1978 was wealthier than Portugal or Malaysia but now is in ruins, 60 per cent of its people on food aid. Let us not forget the tens of thousands imprisoned, tortured or executed by his barbarity every year. The innocent die every day in Iraq, victims of Saddam, and their plight should also be heard.

    "And I know the vital importance in all of this of the Middle East peace process. The European Council last week called for the early implementation of the Roadmap. Terror and violence must end. So must settlement activity. We welcomed President Arafat's statement that he will appoint a Prime Minister, an initiative following from last month's London conference on Palestinian reform. I shall continue to strive in every way for an even-handed and just approach to the Middle East peace process.

    "At stake in Iraq is not just peace or war. It is the authority of the United Nations. Resolution 1441 is clear. All we are asking is that it now be upheld. If it is not, the consequences will stretch far beyond Iraq. If the UN cannot be the way of resolving this issue, that is a dangerous moment for our world. That is why over the coming weeks we will work every last minute we can to reunite the international community and disarm Iraq through the United Nations. It is our desire and still our hope that this can be done".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.22 p.m.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement. I begin on a slightly sour note. The House will remember that at the beginning of last week the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House refused a Statement on the European Union Council meeting on the basis that, if we had taken it, it would have pre-empted the Prime Minister. Can the noble and learned Lord tell us why there is nothing in the Statement on that meeting of EU members and candidate countries? Indeed, this morning in another place the Prime Minister was silent on those matters. Thus the noble and learned Lord and the House have been ill served. Would the noble and learned Lord be willing to lay a document before the House setting out the Government's reactions to the EU summit, the statement of the Vilnius 10 and the other diplomatic events of that weekend?

Governments are strengthened when they come to Parliament and have Parliament behind them. That is why, as we move inexorably, I fear—in the light of

25 Feb 2003 : Column 132

Saddam's intransigence—towards conflict, it is essential that this House and another place have the opportunity to debate what is and will be a crisis of major international importance. Tomorrow, thanks to Back-Bench day, we shall have an opportunity for a debate, but we should not rely on the opposition parties in the weeks and months ahead. I hope that the noble and learned Lord can give the House an assurance that he will get a grip on the government timetable so that time is made available for further debate if and when troops are committed during any conflict and in the difficult days of reconstruction that will follow.

Today the noble and learned Lord has repeated a grave Statement, but we on these Benches at least support the stand that the Government are taking. Saddam's defiance of the United Nations has lasted far too long, while his appetite to secure and hold weapons of mass destruction is proven. He is still hungry for them. Saddam's brutality and his willingness to attack others and then to use such weapons is a matter of record. The world community cannot bury its head in the sand and evade those truths. They should be as evident in Paris today as they are bitterly remembered in Tehran and Kuwait.

I respect greatly the fears of those who oppose war. No one wants war, with all its ugliness and uncertainty. But the cost of peace on Saddam's terms is too high. War will be less likely if the international community shows a united resolve and draws a line under some of the self-indulgent divisiveness of recent weeks.

We agree with the Prime Minister that the issue is not a matter of time; it is a matter of huge substance. It is a question of disarmament and peace or of defiance and war. That choice is for Saddam. If he makes the wrong choice, it is a matter in which, in the name of world order, we must prevail. If Saddam successfully defies the UN; if he successfully faces down the resolution of the United States, the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy and all the other nations that have called on him to disarm, where then is world stability and the authority of the United Nations?

The Prime Minister is right to ask those questions. We shall support him so long as he acts resolutely against terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. Does the noble and learned Lord agree that he can take great satisfaction in the praise of the Prime Minister from President Bush and Prime Minister Berlusconi who so closely share his sense of what needs to be done?

Does the Leader of the House also share my disappointment that the Prime Minister's lead here—given with great integrity in the face of the many doubts that exist—has not been matched by Chancellor Shroeder in Germany? Does he accept that the divisions displayed in Brussels last week and the arrogant dressing-down of 10 sovereign European democracies by M. Chirac render any idea of a common European diplomatic policy increasingly an utter pipe-dream?

The proposals by France and Germany for more time for the inspectors to pursue detective work offer no further way forward. Does the noble and learned

25 Feb 2003 : Column 133

Lord appreciate that we on this side of the House agree that it is not for the inspectors to search weapons out? Their job is to validate co-operation, not to play cat-and-mouse games with Saddam and his lackeys.

Is there any recent evidence of active links between Saddam and the regime in North Korea? Can the noble and learned Lord tell the House what is the latest position on the resolution of the Turkish Government on facilitating and supporting operations in Iraq, should they be needed? In the event of war, are agreements in place with Iran and Syria for the proper treatment of military personnel should they wish to seek refuge in those countries? When do the Government expect the resolution tabled with the United States and Spain to come to a vote, and can he report on any initial reactions from Security Council members?

If the noble and learned Lord cannot answer those questions today, perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, will be able to take them up in the debate which is to take place tomorrow. Perhaps she will also consider whether it is worth setting out the provisions that will be made for humanitarian aid in the event of war.

Over the next weeks and months, how will the Government advance the search for a solution to the Palestinian problem, in our view an indispensable strand of policy alongside any conflict with Iraq? Finally, does the noble and learned Lord share President Bush's view that if Saddam's defiance continues, no further United Nations resolution, however desirable, is strictly necessary and that Resolution 1441 gives us the power to act even in the event of a French veto?

I welcome the careful and cautious approach of the Prime Minister. Saddam has been given time, plenty of time, to opt for peace. He must take the chance and I hope that he does so. But if he does not, we must be prepared to face the difficult and dangerous days that will follow. As we speak, far away, our Armed Forces are training for an eventuality that both we and they hope will never come. They must know of the confidence that this House places in them. I ask the noble and learned Lord, through his colleagues, to send to them a message of our good wishes and support. The House may be divided on many things, but never on that.

3.29 p.m.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I too wish to thank the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement made in another place. We are glad that the Government have decided to take up the offer made from these Benches of time from their own allocated debates for the purpose of a debate on Iraq which we believe to be well timed and extremely important. We are also grateful that the Government have decided to take the opportunity for a debate in both Houses.

We on these Benches agree that Iraq has in the past developed weapons of mass destruction and that there may well still be precursors for such weapons in that

25 Feb 2003 : Column 134

country. We also recognise that military pressure by the United States, the UK and others has helped to bring Saddam to the point where he is now beginning to co-operate seriously with the inspectors. But, while we completely share the view that disarmament must be the first and primary objective of the pressures brought to bear on Saddam Hussein's government in Iraq, we do not believe that all other measures short of war have been exhausted.

In that respect we share the view, not only of France and Germany but of Russia and China, that it is still possible to give a little more time for the inspectors to reach a conclusion about the work that they are doing. We are concerned that the placing of this resolution at this time will go some way towards pre-empting the report from Hans Blix and Mr Muhammad al-Baradi scheduled for 28th February. We believe that it would have been better for that report to have been allowed to come forward, especially given some of the indications that Iraq is beginning to move.

Among those indications is the acceptance by Iraq, at long last, of air surveillance on a regular basis across the whole of Iraq. The noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House will know that that air surveillance has only recently been put in place and that some of the measures for using and assessing the data from it have not yet been completed. Many people do not fully recognise how slowly the full sophistication of the measures of inspection has been put in place. It is fair to say that it is probably only over the past couple of weeks that the full resources have been made available to the inspectors to complete their work.

In that context, the Russian Foreign Minister recently said:

    "the inspectors are being subjected to very strong pressure in order to provoke their departure from Iraq . . . The international community should offer them all vital political assistance and not put pressure on them".

The Russian Foreign Minister, together with Mr Putin, sent a special envoy to Iraq, who has reported back that in his view, given what has been said by its Government, Iraq will now co-operate fully with the United Nations. I do not know if that is true. All I know is that a serious representative of a serious country has reported his belief that that may well be possible. We on these Benches believe that the implications of a war are so grave that we should take every conceivable step to bring about disarmament in Iraq without resort to military action.

There has been some confusion which I hope the noble and learned Lord will help to clear up. It is still not absolutely clear whether the UK Government's major objective is disarmament—a view that we fully share—or whether it is regime change, which is not an objective recognised under international law. I mention this because two sets of justifications have been referred to—one in regard to regime change and one in regard to disarmament. Important and welcome as it would be to see a change of government in Iraq, we believe that it is important to stick to a single message so that people are not confused.

25 Feb 2003 : Column 135

Perhaps I may ask the noble and learned Lord one or two questions. Does he, as a distinguished lawyer, regard the combination of the first and second resolutions as endorsing future military action without any further resolution being required?

Can the noble and learned Lord say anything about the proposed command structure under which United Kingdom troops would operate? In that context, the former leader of the Conservative Party in another place today implied that the United States had been the sole command structure since the end of the Second World War. That is not correct. Joint command has been the pattern in NATO and in the wars fought by or within the structures of NATO since the Second World War. It is therefore of vital importance that we learn whether a United States command or a joint command would operate in the case of any military action against Iraq.

Can the noble and learned Lord say anything about the future administration of a defeated Iraq and whether it would be a United Nations administration or an administration conducted by either the United States or by what is sometimes called, rather oddly, the coalition of the willing?

Does the noble and learned Lord regard the use of financial incentives such as the refusal of aid or an increase of aid as being valid ways of persuading other countries to support a resolution with which, in other circumstances, they might not be in agreement? Can he say whether or not the United Kingdom Government would wish to see such measures used by themselves?

3.36 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, for offering, without any shred of party advantage, good wishes and support for the Prime Minister in what is, on any judgment—agree or disagree with him—an exceptionally difficult time. I respond in this way. Agree or disagree with him, it is perfectly plain to any independent, fair-minded commentator that he is basing his stand on principle and not on political advantage. Agree with him or not, many would consider that to be a rather attractive aspect of his tenure of the post of prime minister at this time.

The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, asked a perfectly reasonable question about various documentation. As always, my right honourable friend Jack Straw has not pre-empted but pre-thought about the question. There is a useful Command Paper, No. 5769, in the Printed Paper Office where one can find a number of the documents referred to by the noble Lord, and more, at pages 89 to 91 inclusive. There is the European Council declaration in Copenhagen in December 2002; the General Affairs and External Relations Council conclusions in Brussels on 27th January this year; and then there is the European Council conclusions on Iraq in Brussels on 17th February, which the noble Lord particularly asked for.

It is right that what was being asked for last week was a Statement limited to the European Council discussions. That was going to be on Monday. When

25 Feb 2003 : Column 136

the date was altered, I know that the usual channels were notified last Thursday. The Prime Minister took the judgment—I respectfully suggest rightly—that the better way forward was to deal by way of a Statement with a rapidly changing picture, added to the fact that these documents were produced in the Command Paper. As the noble Baroness has frequently said, with which I agree, things are changing so rapidly. The Prime Minister is trying to give the fullest, most appropriate update.

Of course tomorrow was supposed to have been a Liberal Democrat Back-Bench day. We were perfectly happy to have the debate, making it plain, as I repeat now, that the day given up is not lost forever; it will have to be repaid. So the Government have been a shade more generous than the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, may have hinted.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde—I hope that in doing the work that I do for your Lordships I demonstrate this—that it is very important that Parliament is kept fully informed, first because it is Parliament and, secondly, because any government in these circumstances would want, if at all possible, the willing, freely-given support of a Parliament that is as well informed as it is practical to make it.

The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, asked me to comment on Chancellor Schroeder and President Chirac. All their actions, statements, devices and stratagems are essentially a matter of taste and judgment. The Prime Minister of this country has shown immaculate taste and impeccable judgment.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page