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Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

24 Mar 2003 : Column 478

European Council: Iraq

4.1 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, with the leave of your Lordships, the House now having resumed, I will repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in another place earlier this afternoon.

    "With permission, Mr Speaker, I shall make a Statement on the European Council which I attended in Brussels on 20th and 21st March; and report on the conflict in Iraq.

    "This meeting was the fourth of the special summits on economic reform in the European Union. But, of course, the summit was dominated by Iraq.

    "I should like to place on record what I know will be the heartfelt gratitude of the entire House for the valour of British servicemen and women. "I send the deepest sympathy of the Government and the whole House to the families of those who have died. They gave their lives for our safety. They had the courage to take the ultimate risk in the service of their country, and of those who value freedom everywhere in the world. We owe them an immense debt.

    "I would also like to extend my condolences and those of our nation to the families of the American personnel who have sadly been lost in recent days.

    "We are now just four days into this conflict. It is worth restating our central objectives. They are to remove Saddam Hussein from power and ensure Iraq is disarmed of all chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programmes. But in achieving these objectives, we have also embraced other considerations. We want to do this campaign in a way that minimises the suffering of ordinary Iraqi people, brutalised by Saddam; to safeguard the wealth of the country for the future prosperity of the people; and to make this a war not of conquest, but of liberation.

    "For that reason, we did not, as some expected, mount a heavy bombing campaign first, followed by a land campaign. Instead, land forces were immediately in action, securing oil installations, gaining strategic assets and retaining them, not destroying them. The air campaign has been precisely targeted. Of course there will have been civilian casualties. But we have done all we humanly can, to keep them to a minimum. Water and electricity supplies are being spared. The targets are the infrastructure, command and control of Saddam's regime not of the civilian population. And we are making massive efforts to clear lines of supply for humanitarian aid, though the presence of mines is hindering us.

    "By contrast, the nature of Saddam's regime is all too plainly expressed in its actions. The oil wealth was mined, and deep-mined at that. Had we not struck quickly, Iraq's future wealth would even now be burning away. Prisoners are being paraded in

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    defiance of all international conventions. Those who dare speak criticism of the regime are being executed.

    "Let me now give the House some detail of the military campaign.

    "In the south, our aim was to secure the key oil installations on the Al Fawr peninsula; to take the port of Umm Qasr, the only Iraqi port to the outside world; and to render Basra, the second largest city in Iraq, ineffective as a base for military operations by Saddam against coalition troops. In the West, in the desert, our aim is to prevent Saddam from using it as a base for hostile external aggression. In the north, our objective is to protect people in the Kurdish autonomous zone, to secure the northern oil fields and to ensure the north cannot provide a base for Saddam's resistance.

    "Then, the vital goal is to reach Baghdad as swiftly as possible, thus bringing the end of the regime closer.

    "There is a limit to how much I can say about the detail of our operations, especially those involving Special Forces, as I am sure the House understands. But, with that caveat, at present, the British and US troops have taken the Al Fawr peninsula. That is now secure. The southern oil installations are under coalition control. The port of Umm Qasr, despite continuing pockets of resistance, is under allied control; but the waterway essential for humanitarian aid may be blocked by mines and will take some days to sweep. Basra is surrounded and cannot be used as an Iraqi base. But in Basra there are pockets of Saddam's most fiercely loyal security services, who are holding out. They are contained but still able to inflict casualties on our troops and so we are proceeding with caution. Basra international airport has been made secure. The western desert is largely secure. In the north, there have been air attacks on regime targets in Mosul, Kirkuk and Tikrit. We have been in constant contact with the Turkish Government and the Kurdish authorities to urge calm.

    "Meanwhile, coalition forces led by the American 5th Corps are on the way to Baghdad. As we speak, they are about 60 miles south of Baghdad near Karbala. It is a little way from there that they will encounter the Medina division of the Republican Guard who are defending the route to Baghdad. This will be a crucial moment.

    "Coalition forces are also advancing on Al Kut, in the east of Iraq. The two main bridges over the Euphrates, south of Baghdad, have been taken intact. This is of critical significance.

    "The air campaign has attacked Iraqi military installations, the centres of Saddam's regime and command and control centres. A total of over 5,000 sorties has taken place.

    "Thousands of Iraqi soldiers have surrendered. Still more have simply left the field, their units disintegrating. But there are those, closest to Saddam, that are resisting and will resist strongly.

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    They are the elite that are hated by the local population and have little to lose. There are bound, therefore, to be difficult days ahead, but the strategy and its timing are proceeding according to plan.

    "At the European Council, there were of course deep divisions over the coalition action. That is well known. But it is not that all of European opinion is one way. On the contrary, there was both understanding and support for the British position from many nations represented at the Council, and near unanimous endorsement from the 10 accession countries who joined our Council on Friday afternoon. In any event, whatever disagreements about the conflict itself, Europe came together to set out clearly its wishes and responsibilities in post-conflict Iraq.

    "The Council agreed the need to be active in the humanitarian field, to ensure that the oil revenues are held for the Iraqi people by the UN and that the Oil for Food programme continues.

    "The Council further agreed that the UN Security Council should give the UN a strong mandate for post-conflict Iraq and make sure that the new administration is one that is representative, careful of the human rights of the Iraqi people and allows the people to live at peace inside Iraq and with its neighbours.

    "In addition, the Council stressed the vital importance of the Middle East peace process and the publication of the road map drawn up by the US, EU, Russia and the UN, and now endorsed by us all. I reported on the talks we had had, both with the US Administration and the Palestinian Authority. I welcomed the appointment of Mahmoud Abbas as Palestinian Prime Minister. I also welcomed the US intention to publish the road map for peace as soon as the Prime Minister and his government are in place.

    "I know it seems out of place, but I should say one word on the conventional subject matter of the summit. Though overshadowed by Iraq, this summit on economic reform regained some momentum. In the last few months, energy liberalisation, a single Europe-wide patent and a single Europe sky policy have all been agreed. An employment taskforce, due to report on ways to cut unemployment without generating new regulation, was agreed. This marks progress, though much remains to be done.

    "To return to the conflict, there are, of course, difficulties that have arisen, tragedies and accidents. We grieve for lives lost. That is in the nature of war. And it is in the nature of today's instant, live reporting of war, that people see the pain and blood in vivid and shocking terms. But it is worth recalling the nature of what is not always apparent, what we do not see: a nation, degraded and brutalised by decades of barbarous rule, a country that is potentially rich but whose people go hungry and whose children die needlessly from malnutrition and disease; and a regime to whom repression, torture,

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    the abuse of human rights and the possession of weapons of mass destruction define their very nature. "That is why we must achieve our objectives. Saddam will go; this regime will be replaced. The Iraqi people will be helped to a better future. The weapons of mass destruction, for which a peaceful Iraq has no use, will be eliminated. That we will encounter more difficult and anxious moments in the days ahead is certain. But no less certain—indeed, more so—is coalition victory".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

4.10 p.m.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for repeating the Statement. No one can underestimate the gravity of the present situation. I want to associate this side of the House unreservedly with the remarks that the Prime Minister has made about the conduct of our troops and about their courage and their skill.

Everyone in this House will be immensely proud of them and of all the coalition servicemen. Every time I hear reports in the media—too many, perhaps, for my taste—about the difficulties and failures of the campaign so far, I marvel at the outstanding scale of their progress.

War is an evil, dirty and dangerous business and no one ever pretended that it would be easy. No one ever believed it would be fought without serious loss. That has been tragically underlined in the past few days and we will no doubt face stiff tests of our resolve ahead. Will the noble and learned Lord take to the families of those who have been killed, injured or captured in this campaign this House's deepest sympathy, appreciation and concern? Our resolve must be to ensure that the cause for which those brave young people sacrificed all goes on to prevail.

I must also record our condolences for the families of the journalists and others who have died. The death of Terry Lloyd brought back to television screens film he shot when he was the first man into Halabja after Saddam's use of chemical weapons against the people of that town. Nothing could more eloquently underscore the bestial nature of the Saddam regime. Amidst all the heartrending shots of the casualties of war that the Iraqi Ministry of Information allows us to see, nothing must dim our grasp of that central reality.

Can the noble and learned Lord confirm that the degrading treatment of coalition prisoners was a clear breach of the Geneva Convention and yet more proof of the nature of Saddam's regime? Will he assure the House that those who mistreat captured personnel will be brought to justice? On this subject, can he give the House any word on the fate of missing British personnel?

I do not wish to dwell on the conduct of the campaign. However, I repeat that we on this side have no doubt of the justice of the war and we respect the tremendous efforts being made by the coalition to avoid the loss of civilian life.

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I want to ask three brief questions. Can the noble and learned Lord assure the House that the tragic loss of an RAF Tornado to friendly fire has been fully investigated and that those problems are now being successfully dealt with? Can he say something of the extent to which Iraqi regular forces are adopting civilian clothes and hiding in civilian areas as part of their overall strategy? And can he give us the latest information he has about the deployment of Turkish troops in northern Iraq?

Turning to humanitarian aid, one consequence of the bold strategy being pursued by the coalition is that large cities are being left neutralised, but not occupied, behind coalition lines. Does the noble and learned Lord agree that this presents new humanitarian challenges? Do the Government have plans to create humanitarian corridors to these cities or would the Red Crescent be allowed to cross coalition lines? What threat would be presented to that by Iraqi irregulars?

What is the current status of the Oil-for-Food programme? Can the noble and learned Lord confirm that it has been suspended? Can he say something of the coalition plans to open oil supplies again in the light of the continuing attempts by Saddam's forces to destroy oil installations? And what is the current state of the seaway to Umm Qasr? The Statement indicated that it was being cleared of mines, but when is it estimated that the first ships will come into port with humanitarian aid?

The whole House will be aware of the dreadful levels of malnutrition among the Iraqi people. Is it not further evidence of the brutality and cynicism of Saddam that part of his survival strategy is to disrupt the flow of humanitarian aid to his own long-suffering people?

There are now serious concerns about the condition of people living in the city of Basra. What steps can be taken to put this right? Could the noble and learned Lord tell the House how soon aid can be deployed in Iraq and who will be in charge of the delivery?

Against the background of these immense events, to spend much time on what was clearly a depressing and disappointing EU summit would be inappropriate. But does he share my disappointment that there was no shred of condemnation of the Saddam regime or any understanding of the justification for this war in 20 pages of presidency conclusions?

The Prime Minister again signed up in Brussels to words about the need to strengthen the capacity of the EU in the realms of common foreign and defence policies. Is there no recognition at all of how the present crisis has changed things—probably for good? Is no reassessment under way inside government about the reality of EU common defence and foreign policy ambitions? If not, I suggest it is high time that there should be.

Finally, can the noble and learned Lord confirm the latest position of the IGC on the Convention on the Future of Europe? When will that take place? Has it been delayed? Can the noble and learned Lord tell us anything about the status of this important constitutional issue?

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In conclusion, I again underline the full confidence we have in the prosecution of the war by our Armed Forces. War is the last time in which to accentuate the negative, particularly when so much success has already been achieved.

4.17 p.m.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, on behalf of these Benches, I, too, thank the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement made by the Prime Minister in another place. We are grateful for the efforts being made to keep Parliament fully informed and appreciate that it puts yet another burden on heavily burdened Ministers.

I share with the noble Lord the Leader of the Conservative Opposition a great sense of our grief for those who have been lost in battle and in particular for those who are missing because that puts a terrible strain on their families. Each loss is a tragedy for the family concerned and we, too, echo the hope that the Leader of the House will make known to the families concerned how great is the sympathy and feeling from all parts of Parliament about the losses.

We also share the concern about the loss of American lives and hope that the prisoners of war will be restored in good health, having been properly treated according to the Geneva Convention. Perhaps I may also put on record our deep sympathy for the Iraqi civilians who have lost their lives, or whose children or loved ones have done so in the course of the conflict.

With regard to the issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, about the Patriot missile, I do not want to pursue the matter far because I understand the sensitivities, but I want to ask one question. I understand that it is relatively easy to distinguish between a missile and an aeroplane because of the high speed of the former compared with the latter. Given that there are no Iraqi planes at all in the air over any part of Iraq, perhaps we can be assured that the matter will be looked into. Perhaps the noble and learned Lord will give the House some idea of when he hopes to be able to report that investigation and the steps taken to ensure that such incidents never happen again in the course of the conflict.

I turn to the difficult situation in Basra. Clearly, there was hope in some quarters that Basra would prove to be a relatively soft target and that there would be a strong response from people who have long defied, and greatly disliked, the regime of Saddam Hussein. It is obvious that there must be some strengthening troops in that city.

As to the humanitarian situation, it is very good news that emergency repairs have been undertaken to the water system, which had effectively been cut off. I understand that the electricity system has also been cut off. Has the ICRC been able to get into the city? Are there any reports on the humanitarian situation?

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Given the statement made by President Bush yesterday that food aid would be reaching Basra within 36 hours of his return from Camp David—which means by tonight—what steps are being taken to get emergency supplies into the city? We appreciate that it is an extremely difficult situation with quite fierce battles still going on in Basra—we do not wish to ask for the impossible—but we hope that President Bush's promise will be kept.

Another particularly troubling situation is emerging on which the noble and learned Lord may be able to shed a little illumination. Again, we will fully understand if he cannot. There has been a conflict of information about the position of Turkish troops in the Kurdish area of northern Iraq. On the one side, Prime Minister Erdogan said yesterday that substantial numbers of Turkish troops will be going into that area—I believe that he mentioned the figure of 40,000—and that this action had been agreed by the United States. Shortly afterwards there was a statement to the effect that there were some 3,000 Turkish troops in northern Iraq who had been there for many years; it is not a new deployment. Clearly, if the Turks believe that they can rapidly deploy more troops into northern Iraq and are claiming that the United States Government have agreed to that, and if the Kurds are, at the same time, expressing deep concern about any such deployment, we could face a difficult situation in northern Iraq. Can the noble and learned Lord tell the House what is the truth—if, indeed, it can be determined by anyone?

I have two further questions, both of which refer to difficult problems. The first question relates to humanitarian aid—which is likely to be on a very large scale—at the point at which, please God, the war ends. The United States has said that the oil revenues from Iraq will be used partly for the reconstruction of Iraq. At the same time, it has been made clear by the European summit that it would hope to see the Oil for Food programme continue and that it perceives the relief of the people of Iraq being met from that source. We now understand that at least 1 billion US dollars-worth of contracts are being currently let by USAID exclusively to American firms and that they have been told that another 50 billion US dollars-worth of contracts will emerge gradually as the reconstruction of Iraq continues.

None of this would be disturbing if there were some agreement—or some understanding that there would be an agreement—on how the issue of the administration of Iraq is to be dealt with. My understanding is that the Prime Minister has pressed very hard for a United Nations element in the civil administration of Iraq after, it is to be hoped, a victory is achieved, whereas, at the same time, the United States has made it plain that that administration would be entirely under American command. It would appear that a difficult situation is coming down the track.

I understand also that the World Bank, the IMF and other major sources of funding can operate only under a UN mandate and not under a unilateral or bilateral national mandate.

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Finally, I should like to ask the noble and learned Lord about the road map. All noble Lords will appreciate the Prime Minister's efforts to get an effective agreement on a road map and wish him all possible success. There are many problems but perhaps the noble and learned Lord will be able to answer a question which does not immediately affect the war. What amendments to the road map will be permissible and will there be a deadline after which no further amendments can be lodged? I understand that already many amendments have been lodged and that there is a danger that we might see incremental conditions being set by either side. This would simply mean the whole purpose and motivation of the road map being undermined by a series of detailed attempts by the two sides to strengthen it in their favour.

4.25 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord and the noble Baroness for what they said about sending the sympathies of the whole House to those who have suffered in the way described.

The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, made a very good point about journalists. We frequently criticise journalists for their occasional undoubted deficiencies, but we cannot have a free society without a free press. The journalists and their colleagues were unarmed, in danger, and we all owe them a debt of civilisation, if I may put it that way.

The noble Lord is right—the degrading treatment of the prisoners of war is an undoubted breach of the Geneva Convention. Those responsible are guilty of criminal offences.

I can tell the House nothing about missing United Kingdom personnel. I have approached the issue in a cautious way because it is very easy with raw, unrefined intelligence to give misleading information. That would be a disservice to the House and an unnecessary cruelty to those who have deep concerns and worries.

Both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness asked about the Tornado. The facts, as I have them, are that on 23rd March a Tornado GR4 was returning from an operational mission when it was engaged near the border with Kuwait by a Patriot missile battery. An investigation is under way. The MoD will provide further information when it is available. I am not able to put a timescale on that. Your Lordships would not expect me to.

The aircraft was fitted with a combat identification capability, part of which would have been the latest friend-or-foe transponder identification, which would have been tested prior to take-off and during flight. Other than that, I have no further details that I can share with your Lordships.

Both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness asked about Turkish troops in northern Iraq. We are absolutely committed as a Government to Iraq's territorial integrity. We are in close contact with the Turkish authorities and the Kurds in northern Iraq. One has to remember that the Turks have been helpful

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in the past because they have allowed aircraft which have been patrolling the northern no-fly zone—for some years now, let it not be overlooked—to use their bases. That degree of commitment to protecting the Kurds in the north from the regime in Baghdad is well recorded. We have called upon all concerned to do nothing to raise the temperature in that difficult situation. I cannot tell the noble Baroness the numbers because there are conflicting reports. As I have said, I prefer to be cautious.

I was asked about the Oil for Food programme. The noble Baroness is right—a new resolution would be needed to give the Secretary-General of the United Nations authority to continue to operate the programme. We hope that a new resolution will be passed soon.

The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, is also right—the Oil for Food programme continues while the Government of Iraq remain in place. However, the Secretary-General of the United Nations has confirmed that he has withdrawn all his staff, so effectively—I take the noble Lord's point—Oil for Food has been suspended.

The noble Lord is also right to refer to new humanitarian challenges. I can give a little detail about what DfID is doing. Population movements in northern Iraq are of an unconfirmed 300,000 to 450,000 people. They are being absorbed mainly into local communities. There are few refugees confirmed at Iraq's borders but we are making preparations for camps. Water supplies to Basra were cut off for approximately 24 hours. They have been partially restored by Red Cross/Red Crescent teams.

DfID had deployed five humanitarian and civil/military advisers to Kuwait, one to Tehran, one to Amman. There will be a liaison officer from DfID at the humanitarian information centre in Cyprus from today. The Red Cross/Red Crescent movement released Iraq appeals on 20th March totalling 159 million dollars. My right honourable friend Clare Short was in New York and Washington on 19th and 20th of this month underlining the importance, which I know your Lordships endorse, of a swift Security Council agreement on allowing the Secretary-General to take over authority for the Oil-for-Food programme. DfID has emergency health kits for 300,000 people for three months. There is a strongly co-ordinated effort on the lines referred to in the questions put.

As to the sea route into Umm Qasr, in the nature of things the sweep and the de-mining will take a few days. I cannot be more precise than that. I do not think anyone could reasonably expect that to be so.

The European summit was mentioned. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde expressed his disappointment that there was no detailed reference to Iraq. There are references, however, on page 31 of the Presidency Conclusions:

    "The EU is committed to the territorial integrity, the sovereignty, the political stability and the full and effective disarmament of Iraq in all its territory, as well as to the respect for the rights of the Iraqi people, including all persons belonging to minorities".

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There are other paragraphs about Iraq on the same page.

The final question put by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, related to the IGC. He wanted me to put forward a timetable. He will be amazed to know that I shall tell him that it has still not been decided. It is an extremely important question. It is my belief that we are looking at next year.

I think that I have dealt with all the general questions put. I have no further details on the contracts let by USAID. I have read reports. Many are internally self-contradictory. I am not sure that I should benefit the House by making any assertions of which I am not reasonably certain in my own mind.

Finally, the noble Baroness raised a specific question in relation to the MEPP and the road map—and I know that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, has been concerned about the matter. The question was: when will the road map be published? The answer is: as soon as possible after confirmation of the new Prime Minister in government. We want the road map to be published in those circumstances. As to what amendments to it are permissible, I have no answer other than that all parties will want to study it with great care. The noble Baroness's underlying point was that the dynamic behind that process—in which Her Majesty's Government have been extremely influential—is critically, centrally important. It will be a real and continuing tragedy for that part of the world, indeed for all of us, if we do not pursue that road map vigorously following the clear policy of Her Majesty's Government, which remains: two independent states able to live peacefully one with another.

4.33 p.m.

Lord Richard: My Lords, whatever one's views might have been on the wisdom of this war—the House may know that I have expressed those views—now that the war has started, it is incumbent on those of us who had those doubts to refrain from doing or saying anything which will inhibit our Armed Forces in the exercise of the duties imposed on them by the Government. Therefore, I propose to say nothing whatever about the conduct of the war save that, to a layman, it seems to have been reasonably successful so far.

In giving his account of the European Union summit, my noble and learned friend said that there was a generally expressed view in favour of a strong United Nations presence in the administration of Iraq after the war. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, pressed that point and I want to reinforce it. Is it the policy of Her Majesty's Government that the UN should run the country and be the civil administration of the country in the period of reorganisation immediately after the war has ended? If it is, I assume that that is now the policy of the EU collectively, including the French. As the noble Baroness indicated, it raises the question: what is the view of the United States Administration on this? The prospect of Iraq

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being turned into a satrapy of the United States of America, run by a military viceroy, is not one that I personally should find very attractive. The extent of UN involvement in the civil administration after the war is crucial. I should be grateful if my noble friend would expand on this matter.

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