Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the Government see the role of the UN as providing the authority during any future interim period before the Iraqi state can be governed fully by the Iraqi people. The length of such a period may be very much open for debate. We have so far had the two meetings mentioned

28 Apr 2003 : Column 507

in the Statement—one in Al Nasiriyah a couple of weeks ago and one in Baghdad today. Indeed, your Lordships may have heard more about the outcome of today's meeting in Baghdad than I am aware of as I have been waiting on the Front Bench to make the Statement to your Lordships. In my judgment the meeting in Baghdad must now be drawing to a close.

The United Nations will be the authoritative body under which any administration takes place between the period of ORHA under Jay Garner and an interim Iraqi authority taking up the reins of power in Iraq. I cannot tell how far off that period may be, nor indeed how long it will last, but I do know that the authority of the United Nations will be vital. That is not the same as saying that the United Nations will be the administrative authority, if that was what the noble Lord asked me. That is not necessarily the position at all. But the United Nations should provide the authority for any such administration before the Iraqi people are able to govern themselves.

Lord Elton: My Lords, on the matter of humanitarian urgency, the noble Baroness will remember that she assured us that every time cluster bombs were used the event was recorded with precision. Can she tell us how many have been used in the British sector and, if possible, in the American sector? What steps are now being taken to defuse the up to 9 per cent of the lethal bomblets that they leave unexploded behind them? Are steps being taken to leaflet the areas where they were dropped in the local dialect and with clearly recognisable pictures that the parents of children playing there can see and understand? In future will it be common practice to leaflet those areas from the air when the ordnance is originally used because we shall see a lot of maimed children if something of that sort is not done?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I absolutely understand the noble Lord's concern about the use of those weapons. I am bound to say that they are used only when we have no alternative and, so far as we are able, we do not use them in closed areas where they would undoubtedly do civilian damage. We use them where necessary. They have particular kinetic properties that, in the judgment of our military, are sometimes very necessary to use when coming up against heavy artillery or heavily armoured ordnance from a combatant.

We take very careful note when we use such weapons. We are fully aware of the fact that just under 10 per cent of them do not explode on impact, as the noble Lord indicated. We tell people when we are using them, but I cannot tell him how many we have used, nor how many the Americans have used. If that information is available—I do not know that it is—I will write to him with it and place a copy of my letter in the Library.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, perhaps the noble Baroness will forgive me for speaking again about the UN role. In at least my opinion, that vital role is in need of a bit of vitalisation, of which it has had singularly little so far.

28 Apr 2003 : Column 508

I have three specific points. The first is on the political process. Is it sensible to start the process of bringing Iraqi parties together—that is highly desirable—to get them to work out the basis for a future Iraqi body politic without any involvement of an external kind other than that of the United States and the United Kingdom? Is that the best way to achieve legitimacy for what may issue from that process? Would it not be better if the United Nations were at least involved, although not in the role of the authority, which can clearly not be taken away from the occupying powers? However, it should be involved at an early stage in the evolution of that new body politic.

Secondly, on the question of verification, the arguments against any involvement at this stage of UNMOVIC and Dr Blix are frankly a little thin. Iraq seems filled with civilians, NGOs and others doing absolutely necessary and vital work. No one is saying that they cannot go in because the security situation is so terrible that they might be at risk. Is it not possible that, in some limited way at least, the United Nations inspectors could again begin to give legitimacy to the very necessary work being done by the coalition experts, some of whom, I understand, are civilians anyway?

My third question is on trying Iraqis of the regime for the appalling human rights abuses and other crimes that they have committed. Is it seriously to be believed that they can be tried in an Iraqi court? That does not seem to make much sense. We would not have thought much of that idea in 1945 in Germany. Is it not right that there has to be some kind of international involvement? If there is to be international involvement, would it not be better shared with the United Nations which, for example, in Cambodia is trying to move ahead with trials of war crimes in a mixed format, as it is in Sierra Leone?

On all those fronts, it would be wise to bring a bit more vitality to that vital role.

6.45 p.m.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I agree with a great deal of what the noble Lord says. However, I remind him of the point made in my right honourable friend's Statement that it is only 19 days since the statue of Saddam Hussein came down in the central square of Baghdad, and only two weeks since the serious fighting stopped. I ask the noble Lord to exercise his customary diplomatic skills and patience, and I hope that, by arguing very forcefully for the UN's vital role—we use the word advisedly—we go towards the process of vitalisation that he described so eloquently.

The fact is that Resolution 1476—the Oil for Food programme resolution—is pretty vitalising. Work is going on in the United Nations to try to establish how the future might be resolved in ways that not only bring the Iraqi parties together, but that involve some authority from outside. I agree that it is important that a wide coalition of bodies be brought together. So far as I understand it, the Iraqi conference in Baghdad

28 Apr 2003 : Column 509

today represents enormous diversity. The regional, tribal, political and ethnic groups that have come forward have been much more varied than those able to attend in Nasiriyah.

However, I am bound to say that the security situation in Iraq remains very fluid. For example, we in the United Kingdom are still advising against travel to Iraq. Although we are aware of the important work of the humanitarian aid workers and others who may be able to give important advice on, for example, the re-establishing of civil society in Iraq, it is not a permissive environment at the moment. It is becoming more so on a day-by-day basis, as the Statement was able to describe, in terms of not only law and order, for example, but the provision of clean water and electricity. Those are very important elements in bringing stability to the country.

We are trying to ensure that we get UN expertise into Iraq. There is a sensitive and difficult question about the proper means of going forward with any trials or administration of justice against those who may be thought guilty of war crimes. The noble Lord will know that Iraq is not a party to the International Criminal Court, but I take his point that it may not always be wise for people to be tried in courts where there may be some local scores to settle. It is important that we keep an eye on ensuring that, however the trials take place, the demands of justice are met.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, the Minister mentioned looting in the Statement and that it was almost inevitable. It came as no surprise to anyone that looting took place; it is only unfortunate that it took place in the Baghdad museum. That is particularly unfortunate to members of the all-party archaeological group, considering that the noble Lords, Lord Renfrew and Lord Lea, and I wrote a letter to the Minister before Easter specifically pointing out the areas at particular risk. Nothing was done at any of those sites.

Obviously it would be wrong of me to say that something should have been done, because it has not been done. However, what will now be done to protect the very rich and varied archaeological heritage of Iraq? It is likely that such heritage will be ransacked in the period when the interim authority has not got to its feet and will not be able to protect it.

Further to the question about cluster bombs, were maps made of where depleted uranium munitions were used? A very worrying recent report talks about the combination of not only their low-level radioactivity, but their increasingly worrying high-level toxicity. That means that we could have been using munitions that will be incredibly dangerous for many years to come. What is being done to clear up those munitions? What steps are we taking to protect our own soldiers in such a toxic environment, as well as Iraqi civilians?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I do not think that the looting was particularly unfortunate because three Members of the House wrote to say that it might happen; it was a dreadful thing to happen anyway. Looting of cultural and archaeological sites

28 Apr 2003 : Column 510

such as took place in the Baghdad museum is a matter of enormous concern. Coalition forces have taken direct action where possible to post military personnel at vulnerable sites. However, every time the troops stopped, they were shot at. The noble Lord must remember that our forces and the American forces were involved in a real, full-scale military engagement. The absolute priority was the saving of civilian life and the lives of our own coalition forces. No one could argue with that.

Of course such items must be looked after. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State at the DCMS and her colleagues are looking beyond the immediate problems of looting and acting to prevent the treasures of Iraq coming on to the international art market. We believe that some of the looting took place almost to order by individual collectors who knew what was in the museums and paid criminals to go in and fetch out the items. I understand that FBI agents have joined Interpol in a recovery operation for those stolen works. I am able to tell the noble Lord that a seminar to be held tomorrow at the British Museum will be attended by representatives of a number of national museums, including the Baghdad museum.

I hope that the noble Lord feels that we are doing everything we can. I am bound to say to him that it was not a simple case of telephoning someone and saying, "Please stop the looting of Baghdad museum". The noble Lord fails to understand what was really going on in Baghdad in the days immediately following the fall of Baghdad.

As to the matter of depleted uranium, we shall consider the questions raised by the noble Lord. At present I am not able to tell him the full range of the munitions used. As I have already undertaken to write to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, on the question of cluster bombs, I shall ensure that my letter also covers the issue of depleted uranium. I absolutely understand that it is a matter of real concern to your Lordships and one that they have addressed on a number of occasions.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page