HL Deb 28 June 1993 vol 547 cc615-24
Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat in the form of a Statement the. Answer to a Private Notice Question which has been asked in another place on the United Nations Security Council's consideration of the United States attack on targets in Baghdad. The Statement is as follows.

"On 26th June United States forces launched a military operation against the headquarters of the Iraqi intelligence service in Baghdad. The action follows discovery by the Kuwaiti authorities of a plot to assassinate former President Bush in Kuwait City in mid-April by detonating a car bomb. The consequences if the bomb had detonated would have been devastating and would have lead to great loss of innocent life. On 27th June the Americans immediately reported the action to the Security Council as required by Article 51 of the charter and briefed it on the evidence of Iraqi involvement in the plot and the threat presented to the United States by Iraqi terrorism. The operation was a justified and proportionate exercise of the right of self-defence and a necessary warning to Iraq that state terrorism cannot and will not be tolerated.

"That act of terrorism by the Iraqi regime has to be seen in the context of a pattern of attempted defiance and obstruction by Iraq of the United Nations.

"Iraq also continues to detain illegally nationals of Kuwait and other countries. Three British citizens, Paul Ride, Michael Wainwright arid Simon Dunn, have been given grotesque prison sentences along with nationals of the United States, Sweden and Germany. We are doing everything that we can to secure their release.

"The resolve of the international community has achieved much progress in dismantling the Iraqi regime's capacity to attack its neighbours and in deterring attacks on its own citizens. But the attempt to kill former President Bush is a reminder that the Iraqi state is still a sponsor of terrorism. Only through firmness can Iraq be persuaded to conform to the standards of behaviour required of it by the international community".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

4.59 p.m.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, the House will be grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement made in another place in answer to a Private Notice Question. Will she accept that those of us on this side of the House who would claim to be the real friends of the United States and of President Clinton, and who also abhor the brutal Iraqi regime, are, nonetheless, deeply troubled by the unilateral action on the part of the United States?

Is the Minister aware that we take the view that the much-vaunted claim of the establishment of a new-world order during and after the Gulf War demands adherence to an international rule of law and the enhancement of the standing and authority of the United Nations neither of which, in our submission, has been sustained by this unhappy episode?

Is the Minister further aware that the strongest doubts exist about the legality of this raid, notwithstanding her own comments about it? That is so having regard to the fact that invoking the right of self-defence presupposes an ongoing or imminent armed attack, that in this case the alleged assassination attempt (which happily failed) occurred some three months ago, and that those accused have not yet been tried.

Moreover, can the raid truly be said to have been proportionate, as the Minister has alleged, taking into account that it took place on a crowded city centre and that, fairly predictably, some of the missiles missed their target and caused death and injury to a number of innocent civilians—a situation euphemistically referred to as "collateral damage"? Does the Minister not recognise that the alliance, which was painstakingly built up during the Gulf War, has now been damaged and that the situation has played into the hands of apologists and propagandists for the Saddam Hussein regime, causing great political embarrassment for moderate Moslem countries, such as Egypt, already embattled with fundamentalism?

Will the Minister tell the House what consultation took place before the raid occurred? Was the Secretary-General of the United Nations informed, let alone consulted? If not, why not? Did the Prime Minister, who was evidently told about the impending raid a short time before, ask whether the United States proposed to seek the authority of the United Nations for this action?

The Minister referred to the cases of Paul Ride, Michael Wainwright and Simon Dunn who are imprisoned unjustifiably in Iraq. How is their cause likely to be supported as a result of this action? What do the Government propose to do about the situation which clearly has worsened as a result? Do the Government not have a scintilla of doubt about the legality, propriety, morality and good diplomatic sense of this unilateral action on the part of the United States?

5.2 p.m.

Lord Bonham-Carter

My Lords, I too thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made by her right honourable friend in another place. I wish to associate myself with a great deal of what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis. Those of us who may express some scepticism about the American action should not be interpreted as in any way condoning the activities of Saddam Hussein, the terrorists activities in which he indulges or the policies which he pursues.

In judging the whole matter, two questions must be answered. First, what has it achieved? Secondly, how will it be perceived? One cannot deny that on the grounds of a precedent of some years ago it may have achieved something. I refer to the comparable attack on Libya. That appears to have had an almost measurable reduction in Libyan terrorist activities. However, it is unwise to see Saddam Hussein as a carbon copy of Gaddafi. The impact of the attack on Saddam Hussein may be very different.

I cannot see, as was suggested in the Statement, that the attack will in any way help the prospects of the prisoners wrongly imprisoned by Iraq. Indeed, I should have thought that it would hinder them. Certainly in many quarters it will be perceived to be as much of a response by President Clinton to the difficulties of his domestic situation, as a need to show that he is capable of taking a decision and making a proportionate and sensible response to a foreign threat. Certainly in the Arab and Moslem worlds it will he perceived as yet another demonstration of the double standards and the lack of even-handedness of the West in dealing with them.

It will be perceived as an immediate forceful and damaging response to an Iraqi plot but with no effective action to protect Bosnian Moslems from ethnic cleansing. As the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, said, it will put our friends in the Arab and Moslems worlds in some difficulty. Whatever the Statement may indicate, it seems to me hard to justify under Article 51 of the UN Charter, which preserves the right of any state to act in its own self-defence. That does not seem to me fully to justify an attack on a city centre which was bound, as it did, to involve civilian casualties. It does not seem to me a proportionate response to allegations of an assassination plot which has yet to be resolved in the courts. One's reaction to the event must be that of scepticism.

5.6 p.m.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, as the Prime Minister made clear on Sunday, we fully support the US action. We regard it as entirely justified. The reason we do so is that the Americans made it absolutely clear that they were acting in self-defence based on incontrovertible evidence of Iraqi intelligence involvement in the attempt on the life of former President Bush. The Iraqis deliberately took that action and that is why the United States has sought a proportionate response directed at the centre from which the assassination attempt was itself directed.

The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, asked why not wait until the end of the trial of those deemed to be guilty of having perpetrated the attempt on the life of former President Bush? The Americans clearly had incontrovertible evidence of the Iraqi Government's intention. The individuals on trial in Kuwait were literally tools of the Iraqi regime. But it is also necessary to deal with the ring leaders in Baghdad, and that was exactly what the United States response was designed to do.

I was asked about consultations, and I can tell your Lordships that the US Government have kept closely in touch with us since soon after the assassination attempt was made. They told us that they would respond if evidence of the Iraqi involvement was clear. President Clinton sent the Prime Minister a message early in the afternoon of Saturday 26th June. The White House also spoke to Downing Street because it was impossible at that moment for the President to speak directly to the Prime Minister who was in Northern Ireland. The President sent a private message which was immediately relayed to Belfast.

The noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, asked about civilian casualties. Of course, we are all anxious about civilian casualties. But I have to say to the noble Lord that this was a United States operation and it must justify the detail. The target of the operation was the headquarters of the Iraqi intelligence service. Her Majesty's Government much regret any civilian casualties. We know that the United States tried to keep to an absolute minimum the damage to places other than the Iraqi intelligence service.

I was also asked by the noble Lords, Lord Clinton-Davis and Lord Bonham-Carter, about the proportionate response and about the effect on the prisoners Ride, Wainwright and Dunn —and, I might say, other foreigners similarly unjustly imprisoned in Iraq. They have nothing to do with the situation, but I have no reason to think that their safety was in any way threatened because of the US action any more than Ian Richter was a casualty as a result of the Gulf War. He was not maltreated during the Gulf War. As your Lordships will know, the Russians regularly visit Messrs. Ride, Wainwright and Dunn on our behalf, and we help where we can. In fact, the head of our consular department is currently in Iraq and will be seeking to visit them.

I was asked about the legal basis for the use of force in self-defence. Force may he used in the exercise of a state's inherent right of individual or collective self-defence, as recognised in Article 51 of the UN Charter. There are three instances in which that force may be used in self-defence. The first is where there is good evidence. There was evidence that the Iraqi intelligence headquarters would otherwise have continued to be used by Iraq to support terrorist attacks against nationals of another country—in this case America. The second circumstance is where there is effectively no other way to forestall further imminent attacks—on US nationals in this case. The third situation is where the force employed is proportionate to the threat. Because the attack was aimed at the Iraqi intelligence headquarters and because—thank goodness!—the main part of the attack landed there, we believe that it was proportionate.

5.10 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that many of us regard the maintenance of strong Anglo-American friendship as crucial to the future of world peace and of this country? In those circumstances, it is very important that Her Majesty's Government should act as they have and give and loyal and helpful support to the American Government when faced with the very difficult situation which confronted them over this incident. Is she therefore aware that many of us are very glad indeed that Her Majesty's Government have loyally supported our friend and ally?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter for that comment. Of course it is right that we should act against an aggressor such as Iraq. That indeed is what the United States have done; and we have supported them.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, can we be clear on one point concerning a question of communication? Can the noble Baroness confirm that No.10 Downing Street was informed on the date mentioned by the noble Baroness that an attack was to be launched, that there was no consultation but that later the Prime Minister communicated with the President to say that he approved of the attack? Is that the position?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I must say to the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, that I believe that to be the case. I have not spoken to the Prime Minister; but that is what I understand to be the position.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, is not the monstrous conspiracy which it has now emerged was to have taken place against the former President of the United States very much aggravated by the fact that Kuwait, in which the crime was to have been committed, was the target of the aggression which triggered the Gulf War and was entirely unable to protect itself without outside help?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham is absolutely right. All the problems which still exist in relation to the demarcation of the border between Iraq and Kuwait and the fact that the Iraqi regime is not complying fully with Security Council Resolution 833 means that there is still a real problem in the area. It is not simply a question of what occurred in August 1990, it is Iraq's continuing failure to comply with Security Council resolutions which means that we must be ever watchful of what goes on.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that some of us who have been involved in countering terrorism—especially state terrorism—for many years are astonished at some of the reactions to this act on the part of the United States of' America.? Is she aware that all the old arguments against doing anything against terrorists are being deployed over and over again: proportionality; wait until something happens? We have heard people say that we should not have retaliated because the attack on ex-President Bush was not successful. Were we to have waited until he was assassinated before taking this action?

We have also heard complaints that the attack was on a target in the centre of a city. I am sure that the Minister will agree that the Iraqi intelligence headquarters are in the centre of a city, and if one is going to attack them that is where they have to be attacked. Finally, does she not agree that the only way of getting rid of international terrorism, and especially state sponsored terrorism, is to terrorise the terrorist? Will she give the House an undertaking that whenever a civilised government takes action to bring these international criminals to order, Her Majesty's Government will strongly support them?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, for what he has just said. Countering state terrorism from any state is one of the most difficult but necessary actions of any sovereign state. I can give him the assurance that the British Government will stand firm against terrorists. That is why we have always sought to encourage our partners, whoever they may be, to stand firm and, in this case, to keep up the pressure on Iraq to implement all the UN resolutions in full. Iraq continues to defy the UN's authority across the board, including the mandatory requirements of Resolution 687 which established the ceasefire. I do not believe that the evidence of the past two years should give us any grounds for believing that Iraq will comply with Security Council resolutions while Saddam Hussein is in power.

We are not responsible for the fact that the Iraqi Government placed the headquarters of their intelligence network in the centre of the city. They placed it there. They must have known that if they continued to use those headquarters against other nations, there was bound to be a danger to other buildings in the vicinity.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, there is no division across the House about the iniquities of the Iraqi regime. I do not believe that there are any divisions across this House as to whether all the Security Council UN resolutions should be carried out and insisted upon by the Security Council. However, both the American administration and the Minister this afternoon have based most of their argument on Article 51 of the UN Charter. I believe that selective quoting is not adequate. Article 51 refers to: the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a member of the United Nations, until the security council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security". It is quite clear that the article does not provide an opportunity for punishment or any other indication of dissent. It is based on the right of a country to defend itself. We applaud the fact that the brutally planned attack on the former President of the United States failed. We welcome the fact that a number of people are now detained awaiting trial for that crime. However, does the Minister recognise that the decision of the British Government fully to support the Government of the United States on this matter will be damaging, not only to the task of the United Nations in standing by its own charter but also in breaching the alliance which has stood together since Operation Desert Storm?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ennals. I do not believe that this action by the United States Government, which we believe was justified, puts the UN Charter in the difficulty he seeks to describe. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, expressed the matter correctly. Did we have to wait until the former President of the United States had been killed before the United States could take any action? It would have been quite ridiculous, when there was continuing evidence that the Iraqi intelligence headquarters was behind that and other actions to ignore the fact that that was where the trouble was most concentrated.

Lord Gilmour of Craigmillar

My Lords, the American action can no doubt be justified as an act of retaliation against a brutal and tyrannical regime. Do the Government really believe that the action is likely to weaken the tyrannical dictator? Is it not much more likely to strengthen him? Will my noble friend say something about the position of our prisoners, who she rightly said had been grotesquely sentenced? Is it correct that a Foreign Office official arrived in Baghdad yesterday to negotiate their release? If so, was not his visit rather ill-timed?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I stated a little earlier that the head of our consular department was on his way to, and is now in, Iraq. It takes quite a long while to arrive in Baghdad via Amman in Jordan and then some 14 hours over land. It was inevitable that he would use Saturday and Sunday for his journeying and would be well on his way before we had the slightest information about what was likely to happen on Saturday night our time. Therefore I do not believe that our attempts—they must continue—to try to help Ride, Wainwright and Dunn should have been interrupted. I made the point —my noble friend may note it—that when Ian Richter was in prison all through the Gulf War he was not dealt with any differently from before the Gulf War. I sincerely hope that the Iraqi regime will treat Ride, Wainwright and Dunn properly, in particular as it has served out to them completely disproportionate sentences. We shall do all that we can to keep in contact with the three of them and ease their conditions of detention.

My noble friend also spoke of the difference of opinion that he may have with me on this point. I can only say that in seeking to stop this state-engendered terrorism one has to take a strong stand. The United States Government took that. We believe that the only way to stop state-sponsored terrorism is to stand firm.

Lord Monson

My Lords, will the noble Baroness agree that, while we all greatly regret the civilian casualties referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, it should be remembered that hardly a week goes by without large numbers of Iraqi civilians, notably the Marsh Arabs in the south east of the country, being killed by Saddam Hussein's forces? That somewhat puts matters into perspective.

Having said that, does the noble Baroness agree that the effectiveness of the raid must be judged, first, on whether, as the noble Lord, Lord Gilmour, pointed out, it strengthens or weakens Saddam Hussein—and on anything but a short-term point of view it seems unlikely to weaken him? Secondly, such a raid must be judged on whether it makes the Islamic world more friendly and well disposed to the West or less so. Because of the shameful failure of the West either to protect the Bosnian Moslems or to allow them the means with which to protect themselves, the conclusion must be that, unfortunately, the raid will make the Islamic world more hostile to and suspicious of the West.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right about the shocking behaviour towards Kurdish people in Iraq and the Marsh Arabs which continues all the time. The very way in which the marshes have themselves been drained, now denying a living to many of those Marsh Arabs, is one continuing instance of the Iraqi regime's attitude towards those who do not immediately support Saddam Hussein.

On the noble Lord's second point—it was a point referred to also by my noble friend Lord Gilmour—on whether the action by the United States will strengthen or weaken Saddam Hussein, certainly to have lost his rebuilt Iraqi intelligence headquarters must indeed deal him a blow. One cannot believe that the headquarters is duplicated elsewhere because of its size, extent and complexity.

In respect of the noble Lord's question on the Islamic world, let me say this to him. Many countries in the Islamic world have an enormous problem with the actions of Iraq and certain other countries. While they will not be happy that this action was taken by the United States—no one would expect them to be so —I believe that many of them see that having moderate Moslem countries able to govern themselves properly is very important and that the very existence of Iraq is indeed a threat to moderate Moslem communities across the world.

This obviously has no relation whatsoever to the Bosnian situation. We shall continue to do our humanitarian work in Bosnia as well as trying to reach a settlement in the best interests of all the Bosnian people.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, one does not deal with terrorism by becoming a terrorist. One does not deal with a war criminal by committing a war crime. One does not benefit the United Nations by trying to pretend that Article I conceivably covers this action. There has been no support for the Government's action on this side of the House. I think that that must give them pause.

Finally. I say this. One does not really help one's friend when he commits a grave error by pretending that he has not done any such thing and is in the right. My noble friend on the Front Bench made the point, and it is most important, that those of us who respect America and who have American friends have the right to speak tonight and to say loud and clear, "This has been a dreadful mistake".

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I would be the last to deny any of your Lordships or any citizen of this or another country the right to speak his mind on the issue. But I believe that so serious was the attempt on the life of former President Bush, and so conclusive the evidence in the hands of the United States of America, that, frankly, it had no option but to stand firm.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, does the noble Baroness not agree that, however well deserved and well intended may be American actions in the Middle East and towards the Moslem world—whether in Baghdad, Bosnia, Tripoli or with regard to the Arab-Israeli talks —they have had one inescapable result: they have embarrassed and weakened the friends of the West and they have greatly strengthened Islamic fundamentalism which is a grave and growing menace to peace? As Her Majesty's Government have greater freedom of action than the United States Government on some of those questions, I beg the Government not to follow American policy immediately and unreservedly as they have done in this case.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, let me assure the noble Lord that we have no intention of following American policy without question. In this case the Americans took action on their own account. We were informed about it. We had no say in what happened. On the other hand, I believe, and the Government believe, that it was absolutely right to strike this blow. It is a blow for freedom and against international terrorism. In that I cannot fault the decision that was taken in the United States.

Lord Pitt of Hampstead

My Lords, perhaps the Minister will answer this question. In terms of international law and international relations, and in support of law and order in the world, would it not have been better for the United States, having obtained its evidence, to take that evidence to the United Nations Security Council to secure a resolution condemning Iraq and granting permission for action to be taken against it?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I believe that the noble Lord has this wrong. I k now that many others may agree with him. But hindsight is the greatest gift—with which none of us is blessed in advance. Had the detailed evidence in the hands of the United States been taken to the United Nations, the whole heart of Iraqi intelligence would not have been stopped.

Lord Marlesford

My Lords, given the crucial distinction between state terrorism and all other types of terrorism which has been emphasised by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, am I right in thinking that the use of state terrorism against another state gives to that other state an authority which predates the charter of the United Nations—an authority which may be supplemented by but is not replaced by the charter—to respond militarily against the state which has exercised the state terrorism?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I am no expert in these long-established treaties. However, let me simply say that I believe that to be the case. I also believe that the real evil in the whole of the attempt on the life of the former President Bush and other matters which go on is that the Iraqi intelligence has been plotting day in and day out for whatever perpetration of terrorism it can carry through. One of the two main suspects in the attempted bomb action against President Bush, an Iraqi national, says that he was recruited specifically for the purpose of assassinating President Bush in Kuwait. The other has said that he was there to make sure that he guided people to the site of the plot and ensured that it succeeded.