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Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, as my noble friend pointed out, for so long as the no-fly zones are in place, we must ensure that our aircrew are properly protected. My noble friend went on to question the relevance of the no-fly zones. I do not think that my noble friend should believe for one moment that the threatening stance adopted by Saddam Hussein towards the Kurds in the north of his country and the marsh Arabs in the south has in any way abated. Indeed, my noble friend himself pointed out that, within the past few weeks, Saddam Hussein has once again threatened Kuwait. That being the case, I believe that we are justified in drawing the conclusion that Saddam Hussein still harbours very considerable territorial ambitions in the region and that he continues to be extraordinarily ruthless. We are well aware that he has the ability to feed his people. However, Saddam simply does not care to feed some of his people. That has resulted in a great deal of the anguish and difficulty within Iraq itself.
My noble friend asked what we can do here. We have a vehicle with which to deal with Saddam Hussein; namely, the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1284. We should not lose sight of the importance of that Security Council resolution. It was secured through the United Nations. It has enjoyed and still enjoys the support of the entire United Nations. It does, of course, point the way towards sanctions, but it should be remembered that those sanctions could cease tomorrow if Saddam Hussein
Lord Renton: My Lords, while fully supporting the action which has been taken, for the removal of doubt will the noble Baroness confirm that the joint decision with the United States Government had nothing to do with a Republican, President Bush, being elected as President of the United States?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am happy to confirm that. The decision was taken in order to protect coalition aircrew. It was a legitimate decision which had nothing whatever to do with the political parties to which anyone belongs. I am absolutely confident that, were the opposition party to be in power in the United Kingdom, it would have taken the same decision as Her Majesty's Government. On that, I do not think there can be any doubt.
The Lord Bishop of Birmingham: My Lords, in the Churches we are aware of the brutal character of Saddam Hussein's regime towards his own people. Furthermore, one must remain aware of issues of safety for our pilots. One appreciates the dilemma in which Her Majesty's Government found themselves when faced with escalating attacks last month, which the noble Baroness described to us. Nevertheless, one hopes that the Government are aware of the considerable and longstanding disquiet in the Churches about the effects of this country's policies towards Iraq and its people. This disquiet is grounded in no small part on our contacts with the considerable Christian communities whose ancient home is in Iraq. Does the Minister accept that history will judge last Friday's actions above all by two criteria: first, in the wider context, will they turn out to have served peace or the increase of tension; secondly, what will they have done for the ordinary people of Iraq?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I do not think that anyone could fail to be aware of the disquiet felt not only in the Churches, but also among many people of good will about the effects, as they see them, of sanctions in Iraq. However, I would say to the right reverend Prelate that that is not the direct effect of sanctions; it is the direct effect of the way in which Saddam Hussein chooses to use sanctions as an excuse to withhold from his people the food, medicines and humanitarian equipment that they could so easily be given under the auspices of UN Security Council Resolution 1284.
We have no quarrel with the Iraqi people. I do not know how many times I have said those words from this Dispatch Box. My noble friend Lady Scotland of Asthal has said exactly the same. However, when the right reverend Prelate asks me how history will view this action, I answer by saying that I hope that history
I understand absolutely the fears and concerns articulated by the right reverend Prelate as regards the ordinary people of Iraq. However, I hope that history will remember that, over the past few years, Saddam Hussein has built no fewer than 48 palaces, many of them furnished with gold-plated taps and other accoutrements. A splendid new park has been created for the pleasure and delight of senior officials, which ordinary people will never see. While children may fail to be given food, there are no shortages whatever of whisky and cigarettes for those in favour in Iraq.
Lord Merlyn-Rees: My Lords, what is the nature of the joint activities announced today between the armed forces of the United States of America and Israel in southern Israel? Given the timing, is there any connection whatever between what is taking place in Israel and the coalition forces for Iraq?
Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, does my noble friend accept that, if our aircrew are required to fly in harm's way, then the Government are obliged to seek to reduce the peril that they face? Does my noble friend further accept that the Government would be justified in suggesting to politicians of member states of the EU and those in other parts of Europe that, if they tacitly accept, perhaps endorse, or in some cases, service this abominable regime, then they are hardly entitled to criticise actions taken either by the Government or our aircrew, who are implicitly serving the humanitarian cause?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I believe that not only are we right to keep our aircrews out of harm's way as far as possible, but that it is our absolute duty so to do. Those who choose to criticise what has happened over recent days must ask themselves about the realistic alternative to what we have done. The alternative would be to abandon the no-fly zones and thus to expose innocent people living in the north and the south of Iraq to a brutal, murderous regime. I put it in those terms not because we think that it might happen, but because we know that it has happened and we are quite sure that it would happen again.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the noble Lord is, of course, quite right; the coalition consists of the United States and the United Kingdom. I did not mean to imply anything more or less. I thought I had made it perfectly clear who was involved in the coalition and I certainly did not mean to imply otherwise. I do not think that the noble Lord really thought that I did.
The fact that others do not wish to join the coalition does not mean that what we are doing is not right. Sometimes one has to have the courage to do what is right, even where others choose to criticise. It is not illegal either. It was not illegal to establish the no-fly zones--which were established when the noble Lord's party was in office--and it is not illegal for us to defend our aircrew having established those no-fly zones.
The noble Lord will know that Her Majesty's Government offer friendly, critical advice and concern where it is merited to other countries. It is not fair to imply that no such criticism is ever made of actions elsewhere when we believe it is merited. Where it was due, I have certainly offered such criticism from this Dispatch Box, as has my noble friend Lady Scotland. I do not think that it is right and proper, in all conscience, to compare the democratically elected regime in Israel to the brutal repression of innocent people which has taken place so barbarically in Iraq.
Lord Judd: My Lords, while my noble friend has, very convincingly, explained the Government's position so far as concerns the actions over the weekend--the whole House will respect that--does she agree that it is true, as the noble Lord, Lord Gilmour, emphasised, that central to what we face is the continued presence of Saddam Hussein and everything that he represents? Can she assure the House that when the Prime Minister goes to Washington in the near future, high on the agenda will be the need to agree with the Americans and others a political strategy for a lasting solution in the area involving the effective dispatch of Saddam Hussein? We can then stop talking about what is necessary for containment and start talking about how we build peace and security in the region.
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