HL Deb 17 December 1998 vol 595 cc1521-52

3.35 p.m.

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington)

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister on Iraq. The Statement is as follows:

"Madam Speaker, with permission I will make a Statement on Iraq.

"Yesterday I authorised the participation of British forces in a substantial US-UK military strike against targets in Iraq. As the House knows, this attack began last night, maximising surprise through the use of sea-launched cruise missiles and precision bombing by navy-based manned aircraft. The operation is now continuing and, as I speak, British Tornado aircraft are engaged in action. I spoke to their commander last night and congratulated him on the bravery and professionalism of his forces. I know the whole House will join with me in wishing them well as they risk their lives to help ensure peace and stability in the Middle East and more widely. We are very proud of them.

"Our policy has always been to seek genuine Iraqi compliance with the demands of the Security Council.

"The objectives of this military operation are clear and simple: to degrade the ability of Saddam Hussein to build and use weapons of mass destruction, including command and control and delivery systems; to diminish the threat Saddam Hussein poses to his neighbours by weakening his military capability. These objectives are achievable and the action proportionate to the serious dangers Saddam Hussein poses to his immediate neighbours, the Middle East region and the international community more widely. The targets, throughout Iraq, have been very carefully selected to reflect these objectives. We are taking every possible care to avoid civilian casualties or damage to ordinary civilian infrastructure.

"The House will forgive me if I say no more about operational details at this stage. To go further could endanger the lives of those involved. But first reports from last night's operations suggest that they were successful and inflicted the kind of military damage we were seeking.

"Madam Speaker, when I spoke to the House on 16th November, after we and the Americans had stayed our hand because of a written Iraqi promise of full co-operation with the UN weapons inspectors, I set out in some detail why we had come to the brink of military action. The House will forgive me if I once again set current events in their proper context. It is vital that people understand that the threat from Saddam is real, not theoretical.

"After the Gulf War had revealed the extent of Saddam's arsenal, Iraq agreed in April 1991 to accept the destruction of all its weapons of mass destruction and not to develop such weapons in the future. They also agreed to a Special Commission to monitor and oversee this process. That was the price they were made to pay for the cessation of hostilities. The capability Saddam had at the time included: a nuclear weapons programme only a few years away from producing an effective bomb; long-range missile stocks able to threaten all his neighbours; a chemical weapons arsenal of huge proportions, which he had already used on the Iranians in the 10-year war he started with Iran, and on his own people; and a biological weapons programme capable of producing enough deadly toxins to destroy the population of the globe several times over.

"It was expected then that the Special Commission, together with the International Atomic Energy Agency, would complete this process in a few months. But it was not to be. What no one fully foresaw at the time was the huge effort Iraq would put into blocking it. The inspectors have been constantly harassed, threatened, deceived and lied to. A special and elaborate mechanism to conceal Iraqi capability was put in place involving organisations close to Saddam Hussein, in particular his Special Republican Guard.

"Despite this, UNSCOM achieved a huge amount, particularly after the defection of Saddam Hussein's son-in-law, later murdered by Saddam, destroying for example more than 38,000 chemical weapon munitions, 48 Scud missiles and a biological weapons factory designed to produce up to 50,000 litres of anthrax, botulism toxin and other deadly agents. But much—too much—remains unaccounted for. Iraq has consistently sought to frustrate attempts to look at the records and destroy the remaining capability. Let us be clear. Saddam still has capability in this area, not least to develop more weapons in the future. To give only one example, over 610 tonnes of precursor chemicals for the nerve gas VX have not been found or accounted for.

"Meanwhile, Saddam's conventional military capabilities remain at a very high level. He has more than one million men under arms, including 75,000 in the Republican Guard and 15,000 members of the Special Republican Guard. Saddam attaches importance to only one thing: his ability to dominate his people and his neighbours by military force. He wants to retain all the weapons he can, including weapons of mass destruction. He has used them before. I am in no doubt of his readiness to use them again if he has any opportunity. His brutality and ruthlessness are too well documented for there to be any doubt of this. The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights issued a new report on Iraq in October. He documented massive and extremely grave violations of human rights, including the widespread and systematic use of torture, a new policy of penal mutilation and amputations introduced by Saddam's son, Uday, and innumerable and illegal political executions.

"After the full extent of the weapons programme was uncovered in 1996 and early 1997, Saddam began to obstruct in real earnest. He cast doubt on the independence of the inspectors. He sought to exclude US and British members of UNSCOM. He sought to declare certain sites out of bounds, on the grounds that they were personal palaces.

"This led to a series of crises with the Security Council and the international community, and a recurring threat of force—first in October 1997, when he eventually backed down, then in February this year. The House will recall that this was eventually resolved by the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan going to Baghdad and concluding a Memorandum of Understanding with the Iraqis. In this, Saddam undertook to co-operate fully with UNSCOM and the IAEA, and confirmed that this meant 'immediate, unconditional and unrestricted access in conformity with Security Council Resolutions'.

"But the pattern continued. Then Saddam broke altogether this agreement with Kofi Annan. In August he suspended co-operation and on 31st October ended it. That was why on 14th November I gave authority for British forces to participate in a US-UK strike against Iraq. That was only averted by another offer from Saddam. The Iraqis agreed in terms that spoke of a, 'clear and unconditional decision of the Iraqi Government to resume co-operation with UNSCOM and the IAEA'. They said `UNSCOM and the IAEA could immediately resume all their activities according to the relevant resolutions of the Security Council'.

"Let me remind you that these resolutions call on Iraq to comply unconditionally with the demands of the Security Council to give up all its weapons of mass destruction, and to co-operate fully with UNSCOM and the IAEA. Resolution 707 of 15th August 1991, for example, passed after the first evidence of Iraqi non-compliance, demanded that Iraq should, `provide full, final and complete disclosure … of aspects of its programmes to develop weapons of mass destruction', and that it should allow UNSCOM and the IAEA, 'immediate, unconditional and unrestricted access to any and all areas, facilities, equipment, records, and means of transportation which they wish to inspect'.

"There were some who thought we should have taken military action on 14th November. But, despite our severe doubts, we went that extra mile. We gave Saddam that last chance. Even at the risk to our own credibility, we were determined to avoid, if we responsibly could, the use of force. At the same time, we and the Americans also gave the clearest possible warning that, should Saddam break his word once more, there would be no further warnings or diplomatic arguments. I told the House on 16th November that if he again obstructed the work of the inspectors we would strike. No warnings. No wrangling. No negotiation. No last minute letters. President Clinton also set out what Saddam had to do: allow unfettered access for UNSCOM and the IAEA and abide by all the relevant Security Council resolutions. Otherwise the US stood ready to act without further warning.

"Saddam Hussein is a man to whom a last chance to do right is just a further opportunity to do wrong. He is blind to reason. We were not unconscious of that but we wanted to show that reason, not vengeance, motivated us. So, acting on the promise of unconditional access, Richard Butler was asked to put his inspectors back in immediately, carry out the full range of his tasks and to report back to the Security Council. He said that he would do so within a month. On Monday last, a month later, he did so. The report was very clear and damning. Copies were placed in the House yesterday. Butler summarises UNSCOM's experiences: limited co-operation in some areas, yes, but otherwise a clear pattern of obstruction over documents, access to Iraqi personnel and above all the surprise inspections of suspect sites so vital to UNSCOM's completion of its task. Co-operation has indeed been less good in some areas even than in the difficult times of the past.

"The evidence is clear, as set out by Butler. Important and relevant documents have not been handed over. Their existence has even been denied in many cases, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The documents are vital because they would reveal how many weapons Iraq has and where they are or may be located. We know that the Iraqis have deliberately destroyed as many of these documents as they can including in the second half of November as UNSCOM was resuming its work.

"The Iraqis have also blocked legitimate inspections including one to the Baa'th Party headquarters. This visit was not an idle provocation because there was reliable evidence of relevant material at the site. In another case, an inspection of the former headquarters of the Special Security Organisation was eventually allowed to go ahead, but only after the building had been emptied not only of any relevant material but also of its furniture and all equipment of any kind.

"Butler's conclusion is clear and unequivocal: 'In the light of this experience, that is, the absence of full co-operation by Iraq, it must regrettably be recorded again that the commission is not able to conduct the substantive disarmament work mandated to it by the Security Council and, thus, to give the council the assurances it requires with respect to Iraq's prohibited weapons programmes'.

"Anyone who has followed at all the pattern of events in Iraq in recent years must come to the same inescapable conclusion. Whatever the arguments about particular incidents Saddam's attitude to the inspectors and their work cannot remotely be described as full co-operation. It has instead been as much deliberate obstruction as he thought he could get away with. Moreover, he has also consistently sought in the past 18 months to use this obstruction deliberately to try to blackmail the international community into lifting sanctions—a step which we support when he has complied with his obligations but which is quite unacceptable before he has done so and while the threat remains.

"Madam Speaker, in these circumstances we had a stark choice. Either we could let this process continue further, with UNSCOM becoming more and more emasculated, including its monitoring capability, Saddam correspondingly free to pursue his weapon-making ambitions and the one-sided and unjustified bargaining over sanctions continuing, or, having tried every possible diplomatic avenue and shown endless patience despite all Saddam's deception, we could decide that if UNSCOM could not do its work we should tackle Saddam's remaining capability through direct action of our own. In these circumstances there is only one responsible choice to make. We are acting now because Butler's report, delivered on time, was so clear. And because, if we were going to act, it was obviously better that we should do so without giving Saddam unnecessary time to prepare his defences, and disperse whatever he could to new locations.

"In particular we were very sensitive to the imminence of Ramadan and very reluctant to have to start a military campaign during Ramadan, out of our respect for Moslem sentiments. On the other hand, waiting until after Ramadan would have given Saddam a month to prepare. It would have been highly risky in military terms, and likely to reduce significantly the effect of our attacks.

"I want to deal with one thing straight on. There are suggestions that the timing of military action is somehow linked to the internal affairs of the United States. I refute this entirely. I have no doubt whatever that action is fully justified now. Had it not been taken now, it would have been with my personal disagreement. I know that President Clinton reached the same conclusion for the same reasons. Had he acted differently, out of regard to internal matters of US politics, that would have been a dereliction of his duty as President. Instead, not for the first time, he has shown the courage to do the right thing and he has my full support.

"Other questions arise about this military operation. Let me deal with some of them. Is it a specific objective to remove Saddam Hussein? The answer is it cannot be. No-one would be better pleased if his evil regime disappeared as a direct or indirect result of our action, but our military objectives are precisely those I have set out. Even if there was legal authority to do so, removing Saddam through military action would require the insertion of ground troops on a massive scale—hundreds of thousands, as the British Chief of the Defence Staff, Sir Charles Guthrie, made clear this morning. Even then there would be no absolute guarantee of success. I cannot make that commitment responsibly.

"What will happen once the military operation is over? The answer to that depends at least as much on Saddam as it does on us. I hope he will finally come to his senses and recognise that the only way to find support in the international community and light at the end of the tunnel is full compliance with the Security Council's requirements. UNSCOM must remain ready to resume its work and to accomplish the task set by the Security Council and agreed to by the Iraqis.

"Alternatively, if Saddam will not see reason, then after this military operation is concluded, we will work to ensure that Saddam's weakened military capability cannot be rebuilt and that the threat he poses is fully contained. We have the ability to do so, even without UNSCOM if necessary. We will certainly be better placed after this military strike than if we had to go on dealing with a Saddam Hussein whose military capability had not been weakened and with an UNSCOM increasingly impeded from any serious work. We will maintain and enforce rigorously the existing sanctions. If necessary, and if we have serious evidence from our intensive surveillance, or from intelligence, that his capability is being rebuilt, we will be ready to take further military action. Saddam should have no doubt of our continuing resolve.

"We will in any case do all we can to ensure that the present arrangements of oil sales for food and medicine can continue. I trust that this time Saddam will allow the mechanism to work properly for the benefit of his people, rather than spreading lies about the effect of sanctions. He has the means to care for his people if he chooses to use them. Let me be absolutely clear once again. The Iraqi authorities can import as much food and medicines as they need. If there are nutritional problems in Iraq, they are not the result of sanctions—let us not forget that Iraq is continuing to export food to her neighbours. We also constantly look at ways we can do more to help the suffering of the Iraqi people, for example, whenever we review the workings of the sanctions and oil for food regimes, and through our own aid effort.

"The decision to take military action against Iraq was taken with great regret. It is a heavy responsibility. There will be casualties in Iraq, despite all our efforts, although I hope all concerned will be fully alert to Saddam's very well-documented modus operandi of fabrication of evidence.

"I am encouraged by the international reaction. Most of our allies have offered full support. Others who have felt unable to do so have shown their understanding. I believe that, among the Arab countries, the view expressed at their meeting in Doha in November, that Saddam must bear the responsibility for what happens, holds good.

"As I said last night, we have absolutely no quarrel with the Iraqi people. We have no desire to jeopardise the territorial integrity of Iraq. We look forward to the day when Iraq will have the government its people deserve and will once again be a great country. We have the deepest respect for Islamic sensibilities, here and in the region. But we have acted because we must act to counter a real and present danger from a tyrant who has never hesitated to use whatever weapons come to hand.

"Madam Speaker, I would rather that we had not had to do this. I am aware of the risks we are asking our forces to face. I do so, not lightly, but with a profound sense of responsibility.

"But I do so confident they will achieve our aims, and convinced we have taken the right course of action. For whatever the risks we face today, they are as nothing compared to the risks if we do not halt Saddam Hussein's programme of developing chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction.

"I ask the House for its support".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.56 p.m.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, first, on behalf of the Official Opposition in this House I thank the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for repeating this full Statement. I also welcome the fullness of the Statement. I hope that the House will understand and recognise that if my words are considerably briefer than the Statement offered it is no criticism of the length of the Statement which we very much support. Is the noble Baroness also aware how much the House values the fact that when a Statement of such national importance is made by her right honourable friend in another place the Leader of the House is able to repeat it in this House?

On behalf of the Opposition we on this side express our full support for the action which has been taken by Her Majesty's Government, while deeply regretting the behaviour of the Iraqi dictator which made it necessary, and expressing the hope that casualties to Iraqi citizens, with whom we have no quarrel, are minimal.

The Statement includes a particularly grim record of agreements made and broken by Saddam over many months and years, and that in itself is to be deeply regretted. Is the noble Baroness aware of the unqualified admiration and unreserved support of this House for those British servicemen who are involved in Operation Desert Fox, and how much our thoughts and prayers are with them and their families at this time?

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, we have, I believe, the very best trained and best qualified pilots of any armed force in the world. Will the noble Baroness ensure that the support of this House is made known to those involved in this action, not just the front line troops but also those who work behind the scenes to make these operations possible?

On the more substantive parts of the Statement, can the noble Baroness inform the House what diplomatic activity is being carried out in parallel with the military operation to maintain good relations with our allies and to broaden as much as possible the coalition against Saddam Hussein? Is she in a position to tell the House which countries in the European Union have offered messages or assurances of their support to this operation—that was not entirely clear from the Statement—and whether any of our partners in Europe have criticised the operation?

I recognise what the noble Baroness said in the ministerial Statement about the timing of the development. However, can the noble Baroness tell the House whether the Prime Minister discussed the timing of the beginning of the United States part of the operation with the President of the United States? Was he among those who urged the President to start the operation at this time?

Is the noble Baroness the Leader of the House also aware that one of the concerns of British citizens is the potential risk of direct or proxy terrorist action against British nationals or their property here or abroad? Will the noble Baroness assure the House that all possible steps have been taken to guard against such threats?

It is also important that the political objectives of military action are clear. I should be grateful if the noble Baroness will therefore again confirm to the House the purpose of the operation. Am I right in understanding from the Statement that its aim is to destroy known or suspected weapons of mass destruction and the ability to make them: that it is to degrade the Iraqi military capability overall, presumably by killing soldiers and destroying material and command and control systems, but that it is not to unseat the Saddam regime? Can the Minister also say whether, after this action, the British Government will be prepared to resume efforts to negotiate with Saddam Hussein?

Finally, and on a slightly different note, can the Minister inform the House of the plans that she and the Government have to ensure that Parliament as a whole, and this House specifically, is informed and consulted in the event of any major change in the operation or its objectives during the coming Recess? I understand the special arrangements which are being taken today to deal with the Statement. I am also aware that I have asked many questions and I will accept answers at the end of the debate from the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert.

It is coming up to Ramadan in the Middle East and Christmas in the United Kingdom and the western world. It is a particularly sad time for the world to come into conflict. As I said earlier, our thoughts and our prayers should be with all those involved.

4 p.m.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, in the absence of my noble friend Lord Rodgers as a result of a family bereavement outside London, I rise to support the Statement on behalf of the Liberal Democrat Benches. In the circumstances, it was unavoidable that Britain should take action with the United States. Clearly, Saddam Hussein has broken all the terms of the UN conditions attached to his regime. Under those circumstances, we had no choice but to intervene. The hardest question to answer is: what follows? How do we avoid endless destructive confrontations with the Iraqi regime?

I welcome the declaration in the Statement that it is not the intention of the British Government that the action is intended to remove the current regime and the recognition that it is impossible for us to do so. Does the noble Baroness note that within the United States much comment has been that the objective ought to be the removal of Saddam Hussein? Are we clear that from the British Government's point of view, our objectives remain limited?

I also note in the Statement the suggestion that UNSCOM is unlikely to be able to continue with the task and that from now on we are into the business of containment and surveillance most likely from the outside. We on these Benches recognise that the most useful way forward is sharper military containment with the further easing of economic sanctions to aid the civilian population.

I wish to ask the Minister about some of the wider issues within which the confrontation has to be seen. After all, it is part of the whole problem of western policy towards the Middle East. This morning I was told by one of my friends that in Amman one can buy pictures of Saddam Hussein and Yassar Arafat together. There is an unavoidable linkage between the Arab confrontation with Israel—the Israeli/Palestine peace process—and the extent to which the current Iraqi regime is able to count on popular support within other Arab countries. One recognises that Saddam Hussein's chances of destabilising other regimes in the Middle East is considerably increased by the collapse in the international oil price and that not only weakens other regimes in the Gulf but, potentially, Saddam Hussein himself.

How far do the British Government consider that in dealing with the future of Iraq we must also look at the immensely complicated Kurdish question which overlaps Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Iran and which nearly brought Syria and Turkey into a conventional armed confrontation only some weeks ago?

Does the Minister believe that there is more that the British Government might be able to do in the current extremely delicate process of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations? I understand that today the Israeli Finance Minister resigned and has called for the formation of a government of national unity in Israel as a means of furthering the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. From these Benches we welcome that. It seems to us that that is a step forward in the direction that we and other European governments would welcome. Are the Government now pursuing much closer European co-ordination in relation to future policy towards the Middle East as a basis for a closer US-European dialogue?

I ask two other final questions. Given that the build up in arms throughout the Gulf, the original build up of Saddam Hussein's original capacity, was aided by arms sales from the West, and others, to that region, do the Government now consider it important to reduce future arms sales to the Middle East? Do we believe that there is potential in building a closer understanding among the major member states of the United Nations so that it is possible on future occasions to build a Security Council consensus which, unfortunately, on this occasion we have been unsuccessful in building?

4.7 p.m.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to both noble Lords who have commented and asked questions on the Statement. In particular, I thank them for their general support for the action which the British Government have taken with, as both noble Lords made clear, great regret which I know is shared on all sides of the House.

I reinforce the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, about the support of this House for the servicemen serving in the Gulf. I shall, of course, convey that support and the good wishes which he expressed to them on behalf of the whole House. It was important that he also mentioned those who served behind the scenes and not simply those in the front line. Again, I shall make that very clear to people when I pass on those messages.

The noble Lord asked about the reaction of our European allies, and, in particular, whether comments had come from them. They are still coming in. There are a variety of actions. For example, a French news agency quotes the French Foreign Minister as saying that he regretted that Saddam Hussein had not demonstrated the necessary co-operation and he deplored the serious human consequences that would follow. On the other hand, he supported the necessity for the air strikes on Iraq for which, he said, Saddam Hussein bore the prime responsibility. The Spanish Government has issued a statement saying that Iraqi behaviour has forced the international community to have recourse to force. Italy has said that the crisis caused by Iraq's continuing obstructive attitude produced this result. Saddam Hussein has demonstrated a persistently negative attitude. From Austria it was said: We understand the action and we hold Saddam Hussein responsible". That is not a comprehensive record of everything which has come through diplomatic channels but those remarks are still coming in. The Prime Minister of the Netherlands has said that the air strikes are necessary.

The noble Lord asked also—and this was reflected in some of the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire—about the diplomatic efforts that are continuing alongside military action. The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, as well as the Secretary of State for Defence and the Minister of State, Mr. Fatchett, who has special responsibilities for that region, have all had, and continue to have, extensive contacts with a wide variety of countries in the region, including those about whom the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, was particularly concerned. That responsibility to continue diplomatic efforts, in so far as is possible in this very complicated military situation, is continuing. There is no question of those efforts being suspended or ignored.

The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, referred to the reaction from the Arab world. As I said in repeating the Statement, we understand that those countries stand by the statement made at the beginning of November when they met in Doha on the question of the responsibility for any military action lying firmly with Iraq. It is important to look more broadly at the issues which the noble Lord rightly raised in relation to Israel and they will be part of the ongoing diplomatic initiative which I described as continuing with my right honourable friends in the Foreign Office and in the defence department. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Gilbert will speak later about his own efforts.

The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, asked whether the President of the United States and the Prime Minister had spoken on the subject of the timing of this military action. I can confirm that they have done so and I believe that they did so yesterday before any announcements were made. On the question of terrorism, we are all aware of the difficulties that that potentially poses to citizens of our own country and the necessary steps are being taken to minimise that threat.

Both noble Lords asked about the purpose of this military action and, without unnecessarily repeating the words used in the Statement, perhaps I can paraphrase that again. As the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said, it was a long Statement and the purpose was given at the beginning. The purpose was, to degrade the ability of Saddam Hussein to build and use weapons of mass destruction and to diminish the threat that Saddam Hussein poses to his neighbours by weakening his military capability to threaten them across a broad front. It is not—as was said in the Statement—the explicit purpose to remove Saddam Hussein himself; it cannot be. In any form of international legal situation it would be impossible for that to be an explicit aim. But, again to quote from the Statement and as the Prime Minister said in another place: No one would be better pleased if his evil regime disappeared as a direct or indirect result of our action". But the military objectives remain the clear and simple ones described in the original Statement.

The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, asked whether it would be possible for UNSCOM to continue, whatever the result of the military action. That is the aim of the allies involved and of those involved from the United Nations perspective in this international work. We hope that it will be possible for UNSCOM not merely to resume, but also to complete its original task and do so with greater vigour, clarity and support than has been possible in the many years since it tried to start to do this work.

The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, asked what arrangements will be made for this House to be kept informed over the Christmas Recess. We are aware of that on this side of the House and I know that my noble friend the Chief Whip has in his mind—as he always does—various fall-back arrangements which could be invoked if that became necessary. I am sure that will be taken forward through the usual channels and the usual constructive dialogue will help us all to achieve what we need to do.

Mention of the Recess re-emphasises the point made by both noble Lords; that is, that this is a sad moment to have to make this kind of Statement and to respond to noble Lords at the time of the beginning of the Christmas holidays. I know that we all feel the weight of responsibility which the Prime Minister personally described for this action and hope that it will have at least a satisfactory outcome without extending the appalling suffering which we know the Iraqi people have been enduring for many years.

4.13 p.m.

Lord Craig of Radley

My Lords, as Chief of Defence Staff during the Gulf War I have great sympathy for the Government and my successor as members of a war Cabinet which must decide whether or not to commit forces. It is of course the Government's responsibility to decide when to commit hem but there must always be a clear understanding of what the military objectives are. The Prime Minister said last night, and it was repeated again this afternoon in the Statement, that, Our objectives in this military action are clear. To degrade his capabilities to build and use weapons of mass destruction and to diminish the military threat he poses to his neighbours. The targets chosen therefore are targets connected with his military capability". The two words "degrade" and "diminish" are not precise. I am not necessarily asking for precision, but I believe that it is very important, when military forces are committed, that there is a clear understanding between those who are committing and those who are committed on how the objectives are to be measured.

In the Gulf War I set out to ensure that there was a very clear military objective. It was perhaps easier then than on this occasion. In the Gulf War of 1991 the objectives were to evict the Iraqis from Kuwait and to destroy and damage the Iraqi military capability, particularly the Republican Guard, so that they could not return immediately to Kuwait when the coalition forces had departed. That second part was generally taken to mean that there was about a 50 per cent. reduction in the fighting capability of the Iraqi Republican Guard.

My intention is not to seek any particular percentage but to suggest, I hope, that such measurements are clearly understood between our Government and the American Government and between the two armed forces. Now that Saddam Hussein is aware that we are seeking to diminish and degrade his capabilities, he will be extremely tempted to delude and deceive us on those two scores. Our intelligence and reconnaissance of the results of our attack will be extremely important so that we can judge whether the diminishment and degradation have been sufficient.

I finish with one other thought. At the moment we are relying entirely on military action to achieve the objective of stopping Saddam Hussein—I hope, for good—but no other methods of dealing with that objective appear to have been addressed with quite the same clarity. I may have misunderstood the position. It would have been nice to have heard more about an Iraqi government in exile which was getting greater and greater support. It would have been nice to know that internal resistance in Iraq had been helped and aided much more than appears to have been the case, at least from what one reads in the newspapers.

Those sort of actions—a government in exile and assisting resistant forces—paid enormous dividends in World War II. This is a much smaller type of engagement, but I do not think that it necessarily means that those types of activities should be overlooked. Certainly, to all those on the military side who are committed, and who are willingly and bravely doing that which is required of them, I believe that those other activities have a very important part to play in the overall strategic objective of Her Majesty's Government.

The Lord Bishop of Ely

My Lords, the outbreak of hostilities between nations and the use of deadly force is never anything less than an evil from which we pray to be delivered. On occasion, it may be the lesser of evils, when the threat to peace and justice is so concrete, so actual, and so insistent that no more constructive or hopeful alternative exists.

The most reverend Primates the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have issued their own statement urging the importance of clear objectives and well-defined limits in a conflict that is unsought and which the leadership in Iraq has had the means to avoid.

For most of us, the circumstances of modern democracy and the extraordinary reach and penetration of the media give the lay public the illusion of knowing what has driven those who were ultimately responsible for the decision to fight to their sombre conclusion. In fact, so bewildering is the flood of instant comment and opinion that the outcome is, if anything, a deepening of public feelings of helplessness.

However, I still believe that two things are beyond dispute. The first is the fact that our own Prime Minister and his immediate advisers are fully conscious of the gravity of the course upon which they have embarked and they have publicly acknowledged the risk to innocent lives. At this time, he and they deserve our prayers and understanding, as they wrestle in the days ahead with agonising choices. Secondly, it is the case that the men and women in our Armed Forces, committed by our democratically elected Government to serious dangers including the loss of their own lives, deserve our support and prayers. For their sakes, and for the sake of the innocent people who will inevitably be caught up in the outcome of this conflict, I believe that none of us can hope and pray for anything other than that this time may be very short; nor, I believe, are we permitted to suspend the requirement of prayer for those who at the moment are our enemies in battle.

At the same time, we can, and should, be extremely clear about the evils which have been committed by the regime which we oppose and its potential for still worse. Only time will clarify the wisdom of our past policies and actions or of our present decisions, but opposing this evil with courage and resolution commands respect.

I pray—I ask others to join me in praying—that justice and peace will quickly be restored to Iraq and the Middle East and to all who believe in the one God, especially at this poignant season of Advent and Ramadan. Men and women of Christian and of Moslem faith never cease to believe in the ultimate victory of good over evil and to long for the triumph of justice, compassion and peace within human affairs.

Lord Shore of Stepney

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that comprehensive Statement and in particular for bringing together the most powerful and persuasive reasons why it was necessary to take effective military action against that odious and threatening dictator.

My noble friend will be aware that a considerable debate will now begin not only in our country but probably throughout the world on whether this was the right thing to do. It would help us to convince people if the Government could marshall in some suitable form those very persuasive arguments to which I have just referred and which my noble friend was good enough to put before us.

In putting such material together will my noble friend have in mind three particular targets? The first is public opinion here, which cannot be taken for granted. Secondly, I refer to our friends in Europe who, although I am glad to hear that a number of positive reactions have been recorded, seem to lack a full understanding of, and concern about, what is going on outside the Continent of Europe but in an area which should be of enormous importance to them. Thirdly, and finally, will the Government continue to increase, if they can, the flow of information? I refer not only to our Arab friends in the Gulf and the Middle East because if we could find a way of penetrating the "Iron Curtain" around Iraq and of reaching the Iraqi people I am sure that that would only be to our very great benefit.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, following the remarks of my noble friend Lord Shore, I should like to point out that the Government have already anticipated his requirement for a statement on their position on the subject. A remarkably fair statement was in fact issued a few hours ago. I very much regret that I find myself unconvinced by it, but it is a good statement of the position. It shows that this matter is a pretty close run thing. We have not heard much dissent so far and, therefore, I hope that your Lordships will forgive me if I enter one or two notes in that regard.

When the Prime Minister announced what he felt to be the position into which he had been forced, I believe that he should have added a few words to his conclusion. He said: We act because we must". But I believe that he should have added to that the following, in spite of the Russian and Chinese dissent". If he had done so, because it was being done in that light, the attack could not have taken place. However, it had in fact already started, so the Prime Minister was announcing something that had already happened. Therefore, I think that I am contradicting myself there. Nevertheless, your Lordships will understand what I mean.

The great power unanimity rule would have applied. There is a rule in the Security Council that, in this kind of matter, there must be unanimity among the great powers—and Russia still rates as a great power in the Security Council, although it is only a single superpower now—otherwise the action taken is illegal. That was the original position taken by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary. He made it clear during the course of discussions that he needed unanimity from the Security Council. However, he did not get it. The matter was then put to one side, and we are now proceeding on what is basically an illegal operation. That, to say the least, is unfortunate.

I do not know whether my noble friend the Leader of the House was asked about this or whether she volunteered it. I have in mind the question of what will happen after the military operation is over. In effect, my noble friend said that discussions would then take place with the Government of Iraq. My view is that those discussions should have taken place before the military action rather than after it. The situation will remain roughly the same after the military action. There was no reason why a further step could not have been taken in an attempt to find a solution.

I join enthusiastically in the descriptions which have been made of the leader of Iraq. Indeed, no words could describe the sheer impossibility of dealing with this man. Nevertheless, certain steps could have been taken before the military action and will have to be taken after it. I shall give your Lordships an example of one thing that might have been done. The Russians and the Chinese could have been asked to provide a force to protect the UNSCOM people. That prospect could have been discussed and this action might then have been avoided. The trouble with war is that, although one knows the point where it starts, one never knows where it will end. We do not know where this one is going to end; it might end in an almost unimaginable disaster.

The Russian ambassador to the United Nations said that he "rejected outright" the justifications given by the US and UK—I am reading from a government document—and declared that no one country could act for the council or, assume the role of a world policeman". The Chinese ambassador said: There is absolutely no excuse for attacks to use force against Iraq. The use of force not only has serious consequences for the implementation of the security council resolutions but also pose a threat to international peace as well as regional stability". France was more guarded in its remarks, stating it deplored: the spiral which led to the American military strikes against Iraq and the serious humanitarian consequences they could have for the Iraqi population". Without much further ado, I have indicated to your Lordships the line along which I think we should have gone. We should not have embarked upon an unannounced military attack; we should have made further attempts, of the type that I have indicated, to reach the peaceful settlement that at some stage in these proceedings will still have to be made.

Lord Munro of Langholm

My Lords, I have heard what the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said about the Royal Air Force. May I add, as the Secretary General of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force, that the standard of airmanship of the Royal Air Force is the highest in the world and the standard of our ground crew is quite exceptional. We wish all of them the very best over the next few days and weeks and hope that they all come through unscathed.

As the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, and the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, will recall, the build-up took rather longer during the Gulf War and that war looked as though it might continue for a longer time. Some of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force squadrons were called out then in support of the Royal Air Force, particularly the medical squadron and the movement squadron. As a reserve in the order of battle, all of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force squadrons are keen and anxious to fulfil any duty called upon them in support of the Royal Air Force. We are keen and anxious to be involved, if required, but I hope that this short, sharp, quick strike over the next few days will make that unnecessary. I hope that we are extremely successful and come through the whole operation with the minimum number of casualties.

Lord Bramall

My Lords, like many other noble Lords, I get no great satisfaction from the events unfolding in Iraq, but many of us must feel that we have no alternative but to support selective military action by the Americans at this time. You cannot go on making threats and giving final warnings and not being as good as your word. I give everyone freely the benefit of the doubt that the timing has had more to do with the imminence of Ramadan, and perhaps other military factors, than with impeachment proceedings in Washington.

I naturally support our Armed Forces, some of whom, yet again, may have to put their lives at risk at the drop of a hat—the ultimate commitment. I hope that none of us forget that. We can only hope and pray that the Smart weapons of the United States will live up to expectations and surgically take out the relevant targets at which they are aimed.

Is it not high time that we tried to introduce a more positive side to our policy towards Iraq and the Iraqi people, as opposed to the clearly negative side of the necessary present air offensive? You cannot go on making a desert and calling it peace. Our military offensive may succeed in doing irreparable and irretrievable damage to Saddam Hussein's capacity to make weapons of mass destruction and then to employ them, but if with all the intelligence at our disposal we cannot do this, I cannot see much point in attempting it at all. Would this not be a good moment, having administered the stick and from a position of strength, to offer some carrot to the Iraqi people, with whom, as the noble Baroness said, we have no quarrel? This could be in the form of a pan-Arabian Marshall Plan or the full, partial or gradual withdrawal of sanctions. Yes, of course this may, at least for the time being, confirm Saddam's position; although no more, I suspect, than a stronger, non-Arab power with little risk to itself knocking hell out of a weaker Arab one with as yet little capacity to hit back.

I am quite convinced that, eventually, destiny and retribution will catch up with him. But at least such a move would give our policy in that part of the world some constructive end gain which I believe would be increasingly widely welcomed by Arab countries, by the third world, by some of our European partners and, above all, by the United Nations.

I remember so well, when I went out to the Middle East with a parliamentary delegation under the noble Lord, Lord Pym, soon after Iraq invaded Kuwait, how all the Arab governments were adamant that, however much they wanted Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait and taught a lesson, they did not want Iraq broken up as a country. That for the moment meant, and may still mean, Saddam Hussein for a little longer. So I do hope that the Government can come up with some constructive thoughts about the future as opposed to merely having to justify what we have to do at this particular moment.

Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne

My Lords, I call for pity for the Iraqi people. Tomorrow is Ramadan, when all serious Moslems fast from dawn to dusk to mark the sanctity of their faith. For the Iraqi people, Ramadan has lasted for more than seven years. Their starvation, lack of drugs and lack of clean water supplies have been laid bare in front of us as sanctions have continued. The tragedy is that they have been misled by those in their government.

I made great efforts recently to meet the Iraqi minister for health. I obtained an invitation to visit a World Health Organisation conference in which I had no part to play but where the Iraqi health minister was to be. With great efforts I managed to arrange a meeting with him. He did not want one at all. Your Lordships will be saddened to hear that when I offered millions of pounds of aid—in food, clothing, medicines, bedding and civil engineering projects to assist in creating clean water supplies and sewage treatment facilities—the health minister refused the lot. He said to me personally and before witnesses that the Iraqi people had no need of anything at all. Your Lordships can weep for the Iraqi people because of the evil people they have as their leaders.

As wars roll on and follow other wars, the victims of earlier tragedies are forgotten. Today I wish to place before your Lordships the plight of the prisoners of war from Kuwait. We rescued Kuwait, and a number of people were kidnapped by Iraqi forces as we drove them out of the city. Those people have never been seen or heard of again. I ask your Lordships: please do not forget them. Those prisoners of war from Kuwait have families who mourn for them.

Probably the next war in the Gulf will be over water. I draw the attention of the House to those poor people, the Marsh people of Mesopotamia, who have lost their water, their living, their capacity to survive. I have assisted in the caring for hundreds of thousands of those people and other Iraqi refugees inside the Islamic Republic of Iran. Their suffering is devastating.

During this debate noble Lords have called for solutions other than those of military assault. I see no other immediate solution. What can we do? Surely, even this assault cannot contain the biological weaponry. This is a dreadful man in charge of huge weaponry that can be used against us all.

I thank the noble Baroness the Leader of the House, the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, and other colleagues who assist in dialogue. Where the US is so suspected in the Gulf, Britain, as a leading member of the European Union, has a major role to play. AMAR and UNESCO have together been carrying out dialogue in recent days with 50 eminent thinkers on Islam. Here we can in the long run play a strong part in altering the hearts and minds of those inside Iraq and around Iraq in bridging the gap that has arisen between Islam and the European Union, so wrongfully, in recent years. The conference has concluded that there is no faultline between Islam and Europe. Let us join hands, cross that bridge, and together work hard for peaceful solutions through dialogue and other constructive methods. I support the Government wholeheartedly.

Lord Hardy of Wath

My Lords, will my noble friend confirm the proportion of Iraq's gross national product that is devoted to defence? Is it not the highest in modern history? Will my noble friend confirm that Iraq, with a population of barely 20 million, has almost a million people in full-time military service, with hundreds of thousands more in a reserve capacity? Is it not the case that the children of Iraq are in great need but that Iraq maintains 500 helicopters, over 300 combat aircraft, and 3,000 tanks and armoured vehicles? Does that not present a very serious threat to its neighbours? If the world were to allow that regime to develop the more horrifying weapons that Saddam Hussein wishes to develop, it would be madness.

Is it not the case that the natural wealth of Iraq, even with sanctions in place, provides it with a capacity to feed its children? Would it not be better for the children to be fed? Is it not the case that Iraq cannot maintain a literacy rate of 50 per cent? Would that not be a better use of its resources? Is it not the case that in Iraq three-fifths of children are denied secondary education? Would it not be a very good idea if those children had that opportunity, and an opportunity to live in peace, which is currently denied? Would it not be appropriate for us to remind the Middle East and those who are concerned, as we ought to be, about Ramadan, that Saddam Hussein and his executioners and torturers have never been particularly scrupulous in their observation of that festival? Would it not also be appropriate for us to remind Russia, China and those who are hesitant in relation to the Middle East that it would be better for them to act as statesmen rather than salesmen and to help us in seeking to secure peace and decency in that part of the world?

4.45 p.m.

Lord Glentoran

My Lords, first, I wish to congratulate the Government and the Government of the United States on taking this decision. The decision to free Kuwait in the first stage was right. The decision to cease the Gulf War at the time we did was right. And the decision not to attack Saddam Hussein a few weeks ago was also right. I believe and hope it will be proved that the decision to attack him yesterday was right.

However, there are one or two matters which concern me, one of which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Craig: the objectives. I was a military man for a long time. The objectives are not all that clear, either politically or, so far as we understand, militarily. They need to be more clearly defined. I hope that that has already been done for the benefit of our servicemen on the ground.

Perhaps we do not want to obtain full compliance from Saddam. We will never get it. He may pretend, but we will never get it. Perhaps what we are trying to do is to create an environment for his replacement that will facilitate his being replaced by, we hope, a more reasonable regime.

Secondly, I am concerned about the real support we have had from our European partners. I believe that some people have an eye—and I have, because it is an interest of mine—on the Caspian Basin. It is close to Iraq and Iran and holds the core, the nub, for the future of the petrochemicals industry and petrochemicals of the world. Control of the Caspian Basin, not so much the minerals there but the routes out, is critical. I am not sure how much interest our European partners have in it, other than those on the Black Sea. I ask the Government to look over their shoulders to see whether the interest is perhaps—cynically—a little economical.

Lastly, having spoken to a few people today such as taxi drivers, I ask the Government to ensure that the reasoning behind the decision—which I and all noble Baronesses and noble Lords in the House support—is understood clearly. It has nothing to do with the timing of Mr. Clinton's problems in Washington. It is sad that it is Ramadan and Christmas. I understand the difficulties, as I am sure everyone in the House does. One question is: can we achieve what we want between now and Ramadan? Shall we take any notice of Ramadan as a religious festival starting tomorrow? Alternatively, shall we continue the war if we have not achieved our objectives? I hope the Minister will not answer if it is a security problem.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, a few weeks ago we had a discussion here in the middle of the night. The House was packed—there were six people. We talked about the United Nations and international law and the rights and wrongs of commencing military action. I do not wish to repeat it, although it would be interesting to go over some of the fundamental points again.

Two days ago, my noble friend Lady Symons, answering a question from the noble Lord, Lord Judd, spoke eloquently about the importance of the United Nations acting co-operatively together, with or without clear legal justification. I ask the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, to tell the House what is the news from the United Nations today—this morning, as it is there. Have there been any developments since what was reported in the morning press here today?

You can legally make war on another country—and this is an act of war—in self-defence against aggression. That is one justification, but that is not the case here; there has been no aggression against the United States or this country. Alternatively, you can do it under a UN Security Council resolution. There has been endless argument about whether the existing Security Council resolutions would justify, or do justify, this type of action. However, it jumps to the eye that the Security Council is divided; that is extremely obvious. If it had not been divided, no doubt we should have been going there as quickly as we could, obtaining the agreement of at least all the permanent members. As it is, the Americans and ourselves are taking the action. The Russians and the Chinese have entered the most vivid dissent and France has taken a position one can describe only as one of extreme reserve. I have hardly ever seen a cooler note struck without it being an outright disavowal of a course of action.

I wonder whether the Government have reflected sufficiently. Let us remember that we are not talking about the general attitude they should take to Saddam and Iraq, we are talking about the quite specific choice of backing by our own military force the action taken unilaterally without us by another permanent member of the Security Council. I wonder whether the Government have thought sufficiently about the repercussions of this on Europe and on the Government's new hopes of achieving a European defence identity, the St. Malo agreement and all that, and whether there is a sufficient basis for going ahead with the, in some ways, rather easy course that we are taking with the Americans—strike now and think later—and rejecting the more difficult course of going back to the machinery of world co-operation.

Let us think for a moment what would happen if there were at this moment a Sino-Russian bombardment taking place against some country—I shall not name it as it is impossible to find an equivalent to Iraq in this context—without clear UN cover. What would the United States and ourselves say about that? This is a mirror image, in a way, of what is happening. It is always useful to glance in the mirror from time to time, even if the glass is a little distorting.

Viscount Waverley

My Lords, I hope that these events produce a conclusive answer. I fear not, but hope that I am wrong. Is the Minister aware that a cruise missile destined for Iraq landed in the Iranian city of Khoramshar causing damage? That is regrettable and has, in part, produced a negative attitude in the near region.

By extension, what is known about the approach of the Israelis? Will they contain themselves, or be contained, in the event of any Scud missile attack on Israeli territory? Is there a broader strategy in the event that this bombardment is unlikely to remove totally Iraq's capacity to develop weapons of mass destruction, as I fear this time Baghdad will possibly react by expelling UNSCOM, thereby terminating the international community's inspection and monitoring capacity?

Finally, can the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, say whether we are finally to be rid of the scourge of Saddam, together with his ne'er-do-goods and arsenal?

Lord Marlesford

My Lords, I add my support to the Prime Minister and the Government for the resolution and the action that they have taken. I wish to raise one or two questions and points. First, during the Gulf War the cost of operations was largely borne by the Gulf states themselves. Have any arrangements been made, or are they envisaged, in respect of the costs which the British forces, at any rate, will incur in this action?

Secondly, on the question of dealing with Saddam Hussein, I noted at the time—as I am sure many others did—that the Memorandum of Understanding signed on 23rd February, which ended the earlier crisis (the memorandum of Secretary General Kofi Annan), was not signed by Saddam Hussein but by Tariq Aziz. I wondered at the time whether this meant that Saddam did not feel himself bound by it. If at the end of this action Saddam is still in place and if—I accept that we do not know—there is again an agreement made of any kind with the Iraqi Government (if it is still led by Saddam Hussein) I hope that on this and any future occasion we ensure that he personally signs any such document. It is perfectly clear that no one else can act in his name.

The noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, referred to the Russians. It is well known that given their present economic situation the Russians are desperate for sanctions to end in order that they can get the dividend that they would otherwise get from their very large investment in the development of new oil reserves in Iraq. We are talking about billions of dollars of revenue to Russia per year. Mr. Primakov, the former Foreign Minister who now heads the government although not the state of Russia was very active in attempting to negotiate the end of sanctions for this purpose. We should take into account the motives of the Russians in being at the very least lukewarm in their support of what has happened. I am not concerned by the reaction of the Russians in considering whether or not we should be taking this action.

What is to happen in the future? The question is whether Iraq will survive as a country. There may well be a possibility of civil war in Iraq. There will be real dangers from other countries on its borders. For example, on its eastern border with Iran there are a number of Iraqis, and perhaps Iranians dressed as Iraqis, waiting to go in. Of course, the Turks have a considerable interest in Turkestan. It must be in the interests of that part of the world that the territorial integrity of Iraq survives. Possibly the best outcome is a non-Saddam-led provisional government. I hope that anything that can be done to support that will be done.

We in Britain have two particular contributions to make in addition to the professionalism, valour and integrity of our Armed Forces. First, we have a great deal more knowledge, understanding and empathy with the Middle East than the United States who are, and probably always will be, regarded with deep suspicion. Secondly, we are quite good at strategic thought for the future. I am not convinced that America has taken that on board. I hope we ensure that we are really plugged into the major decision-making apparatus in Washington which we presently support in its military action. I hope that we can make a real contribution to strategic thought as to what happens next.

4.58 p.m.

Lord Rea

My Lords, a leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, Mr. Abraham Ahmed, is quoted in today's Evening Standard as saying that although he is sure that Saddam Hussein must go before any progress towards democracy or decent government can take place in Iraq, the present action will not help but will have the converse effect. Does the noble Lord who is to wind up the debate have any fears that as a reaction to the US-British attack Saddam will once again turn on the Kurds in the north or the Shiah in the south?

To echo the words of the noble and gallant Lords, Lord Craig of Radley and Lord Bramall, how will this action encourage opposition to Saddam within a positive plan? Reading comments by various residents of that area and neighbouring countries, I am afraid that it may well have the opposite effect.

5 p.m.

The Earl of Carlisle

My Lords, I welcome the Statement and I wish both the teeth arms and their supporting services every success in bringing this application of force to a successful conclusion. What in fact, we might ask, is a successful conclusion? One in which Saddam Hussein goes back to the United Nations and complies with its requests? Not enough mention, I believe, has been made in the Statement of the role played by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Kofi Annan. I hope that the Minister, in his reply, will not only recognise that but will also state that we shall give every support to the Secretary-General if he has to go back again to Baghdad to discuss further matters with Saddam Hussein and his Government.

Secondly, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, suggested offering a carrot in the way of reducing the application of sanctions. I ask the Government to be very wary of that. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, for stating in Written Answers to me that Saddam Hussein depends on the export of oil. Cut off the money from that export of oil, and he will not be able to pay his Republican Guard.

Thirdly. a question about Saddam Hussein's neighbours. Are we doing enough, ourselves and the Americans, to safeguard those neighbours while we are applying force? We know what happened over Scud missiles in the last Gulf War and that the Americans and ourselves have assisted the Israelis with Patriot anti-missiles.

Finally, we always have to talk about our own resources and housekeeping. Can the Minister assure us that the costs of the operation will not be borne out of the Defence budget entirely and that the Treasury will be generous in its assistance so that our Strategic Defence Review is not knocked sideways by this conflict?

Lord Monson

My Lords, unless Saddam Hussein is insane, which is a theoretical possibility although not many experts seem to believe that he is, he must have realised that an attack was likely if he continued to defy the United Nations resolutions. Why therefore has he exposed his country to aerial bombardment? Either he has something exceptionally nasty up his sleeve for the countries doing the bombarding or he calculates that the attacks will somehow result in medium-term or long-term benefit for him and his clique, or both.

The noble Baroness did her best to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that the Government were well prepared for coping with the first danger. One hopes that her optimism is justified. Obviously she cannot give any details publicly; but I wonder whether she or the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, can comment on the second danger. That is to say: is there any possibility that the attack could in some strange way strengthen rather than weaken Saddam in the long term?

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, as one who has had a fairly long time in political life both before and during the war, and some very minor military experience during the war itself, I feel bound as a member of my party to give my full support to the Prime Minister for the very agonising decision that he must have had to make. It is a very comfortable posture to be able to sit on the fence and take the middle line on the basis of indecision, possibly lack of knowledge or possibly a regard for a future political career. But a decision has to be made, and I feel sure that the Prime Minister has made the correct decision. It is not the custom of Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom on such important matters to sit on the fence. Decisions have always contained an element of risk, and the rights are not always overwhelmingly on one side.

For those of us who had experience of the last war, the decision at that time was comparatively simple. Our war aims were clear because they were immediate and involved our own survival. It is much more difficult to make a decision on a world-wide scale concerning a part of the world with which the British population as a whole has had little contact.

In the time that has elapsed since the repeated breaches of undertakings offered to the world and to the United Nations by Saddam Hussein, one's mind must have vacillated considerably one way and another. But bearing in mind the necessity for making a political and military decision, I am convinced that the Prime Minister has made a correct one; subject only to this. It is offered not by way of criticism in the slightest but because the pressure of events must bear heavily upon the time of any individual at the head of his own country. I refer to the definition of the aims and the purpose of the whole exercise. In that respect I agree with the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, who has enormous experience. One of the first things before embarking on a military operation, either on one's own or in conjunction with allies, is to make quite sure, and to articulate clearly, precisely what one's military aims are. I believe that in that respect we should do so quickly within the next few days. Provided we do that, and provided our aims are honourable, I have no doubt that ultimately right will prevail.

Lord Vivian

My Lords, I fully support the action that the Government have taken to date and agree in particular with what the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, said especially in regard to the support of the Iraqi Opposition.

I should like to emphasise one aspect. It is absolutely vital that the current military action is 100 per cent. successful, and, to ensure that, it must be given sufficient time for it to succeed. Perhaps the Minister will reassure the House on that point.

5.7 p.m.

Lord Thomas of Swynnerton

My Lords, noble Lords will remember that in Kipling's novel Kim the hero on one occasion pressed his face to the window of an officers' mess in the north-west frontier and overheard the colonel saying to the adjutant, "Remember, remember, this is punishment not war".

That recollection is relevant for two reasons. First, the colonel was wrong. I think that the implication of all we have heard today in this extremely interesting and important debate following the powerful and important Statement made by the Minister is that we are not involved in a punishment activity. We are concerned with the first stages of what could be a long conflict—a war in fact. The war aims have been mentioned several times and they should be looked on as such. That is why all noble Lords were so impressed by the powerful speech of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig.

When talking about supporting the Iraqi Opposition, for example, one is plainly not concerned only to diminish and degrade Iraqi military force. One is concerned with the implicit as well as the explicit background to the whole affair, which might involve the destruction of the Iraqi Government. "Destroy" might be a better word than "degrade" and "diminish".

The story is also relevant because in these circumstances the colonel is the President of the United States and the adjutant is the Prime Minister. The Government ought to explain to your Lordships and to the public at large why, during the past years, we have elected to give such strong support to the United States in respect of Iraq. Is it because we have such long experience of the Middle East, particularly of Iraq which this country invented and ran during the first 30 years of its independence? Is it because of the special capacities of our Armed Services? Is it because we have some particular weapons which the United States does not have and needs? Is it because we want to be involved in the war or punishment process? I do not say that that is a wrong identification, but it is desirable for us and our European allies to know exactly why we are there and they are not thought to be essential.

5.11 p.m.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Gilbert)

My Lords, I begin by addressing the last point made by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Swynnerton, as to why we find ourselves always alongside our American friends and allies in dealing with the dictator in the Middle East. I submit that it is for none of the reasons which the noble Lord put forward. It is simply that our two Governments totally agree as to the right course of action to take in the circumstances which we face. We are two responsible Governments who believe that we should live up to our international responsibilities. We take it upon ourselves to enforce the spirit of the international community as set out in successive United Nations Security Council resolutions. That is all that needs to be said and I am pleased to see that the noble Lord nods his assent.

We are not involved in punishment. I make it absolutely clear that we are not punishing the Iraqi people. We are trying to get compliance and in failing to do so we are determined to do what we can to reduce the military capabilities of Saddam Hussein and, most particularly, his capabilities in respect of the production and possible use of weapons of mass destruction.

The noble Lord, Lord Vivian, asked whether we would give the operation time to succeed. I am sure that your Lordships would not expect me to share with them my knowledge about the operational plans of the British and American commanders. However, I draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that the language that has been used on several occasions, and not just in the past few days, is that this time the action against Saddam Hussein will be substantial and sustained. Sustained is the word which matters.

I was grateful for the support of my noble friend Lord Bruce for the Prime Minister. He is right in saying that it is easy to sit on the fence and to do nothing. I entirely agree with him about the necessity for our military aims to be clear. That point has been repeated many times by noble Lords who have contributed to the debate. I can do no better than refer your Lordships to the text of the Prime Minister's remarks which will appear in Hansard tomorrow morning. I shall not repeat them because I am sure that your Lordships will find that the Government's position is set out very lucidly in that Statement which was repeated by my noble friend the Leader of the House at the beginning of the debate.

The noble Lord, Lord Monson, asked why on earth Saddam Hussein should have exposed his country to aerial bombardment. He offered various possibilities and theories as to why that may have been the case, including that he might have something nasty up his sleeve. There are many other possibilities. From what I know, this time, Saddam Hussein has made a very serious miscalculation. It is quite possible that he thought he had far more time. He thought he could go again this far to the brink and then, as he did in November, put his hands up and make some conciliatory gesture and get away with it. He thought that he would get the armed forces of the United States and the United Kingdom all psyched up so that they would have to be wound down again. He thought that he would win another psychological victory over us. This time, he has miscalculated very badly. It is most improbable that any attack on Saddam Hussein, in the long run or even in the short run, will strengthen his regime because I am quite sure that the effect on the targets which we attack will be so devastating that it will be clear to the Iraqi people the devastation which he has brought down upon them.

The noble Earl, Lord Carlisle, talked about he role of Kofi Annan, the United Nations Secretary-General. I am sure that Her Majesty's Government will give him full support at such time that it is appropriate for him to go back to Baghdad, as we have always done in the past.

The noble Earl suggested that we should be chary of giving a carrot to Saddam Hussein, which was an argument rather in the contrary direction to that advanced earlier in the debate by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall. There is constantly on offer to Saddam Hussein and any successor Iraqi government the carrot of total suspension and removal of sanctions as soon as there is full compliance with Untied Nations Security Council resolutions. The matter is as simple as that. I do not believe that any other carrot is appropriate. We hope that, as a result of the activities of today and yesterday, Saddam Hussein will be aware of his responsibilities to his people and will realise that he has currently embarked upon a path of insanity.

I was asked about the costs of the operation by the noble Earl and whether or not they would be borne by the defence budget. I am not aware yet that my Secretary of State has had any discussions with the Chancellor of the Exchequer but normally, costs of military operations are borne by the contingency reserve.

My noble friend Lord Rea asked whether or not Saddam Hussein would turn again on the Kurds and the Shi'ites. I must be perfectly candid with your Lordships. It is quite possible that he will, if not turn on them, seek to make absolutely certain that there is no threat to his regime from either of those directions. With any luck, the result of the allied attacks will be a weakening of the revolutionary guard and its ability to impose the sort of iron discipline on Iraqi society which we have seen in the past. But it is quite possible, in the short term, that he will step up his reign of despotism in relation to those two wretched groups of people.

The noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, asked whether or not a cruise missile had landed in Iran. When I came from the Ministry of Defence, we were still concerned about that report. We are inquiring into it. I regret that I can give your Lordships no further information on that matter but I am sure that, as soon as we have the answer to that question, it will be put in the public domain as soon as possible.

The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, asked whether or not there were any agreements with Arab states on cost sharing. I am not aware of there having been any negotiations in that regard. However, one of the crucial elements in the decisions of the past two days was to create, as far as possible, an element of surprise. The last thing we wanted to do was to go around tipping our hand throughout the Gulf, having negotiations with people and saying, "Next week or the following week we are contemplating doing this or that. Will you divvy up a certain proportion of the cost?".

Discussions will take place when the present operations are over but that is as far as I can go in answering the noble Lord's question today. His idea of having Saddam Hussein sign any future document is an intriguing one. I do not know why he thinks that Saddam Hussein's signature on a piece of paper will be any more reliable than any other guarantee he, or any member of his government, have given in the past.

The noble Lord talked of civil war in Iraq and dangers from bordering countries. I can assure him that it is firmly the policy of Her Majesty's Government and that of our American allies to preserve the territorial integrity of Iraq. We have no desire whatever to see greater turbulence in that part of the world which might result from the break-up of that country. The noble Lord asked whether or not we contribute to the United States' strategic thinking. The answer is that we do, regularly, at every level of government both between the State Department and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office here, between the Ministry of Defence and the Pentagon, and of course between the Prime Minister and the President.

My noble friend Lord Kennet asked whether there was any news today from the United Nations. As far as I know there is none but it is still fairly early in the morning in New York. I suggest—this is not intended as a flippant remark—that any news bulletins will be more up to date than my information by the time they come to his screen.

My noble friend talked of possible unfavourable repercussions with our friends and allies in Europe. It is always possible to find arguments for doing nothing. If we have disagreements with our friends in Europe, they were not at the top of our considerations in the decisions we were taking today. We know that a lot of our friends in Europe support us; some disagree. Many of our friends throughout the world support us and we rely on that support and our belief in the rightness of our actions. I must tease my noble friend a little because he fairly admitted when he asked what we would do if there was a Russo-Chinese attack on another country like Iraq, that it was impossible to find an equivalent of Iraq. My noble friend answered his own question.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, my noble friend teases me sufficiently to make me rise. That was not my point. It was not the obvious moral inferiority of Iraq in relation to any other imaginable country that preoccupied me, but the danger of making a comparison, for instance, with Burma, Malaysia or some real country which many people would feel to be quite different from Iraq and that would therefore invalidate my point.

Lord Gilbert

My Lords, I was listening to my noble friend's interjection. I cannot say that I quite follow it. I shall read Hansard tomorrow and if I think of anything new to say to him, I shall write to him.

The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, asked questions about the Caspian Basin. I understand that the Foreign Secretary has already said that the Caspian Basin and access to it is a priority in British foreign policy and will be the subject of increased diplomatic effort on the part of Her Majesty's Government over the next couple of years.

I turn to the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, and the extremely moving remarks that she made in relation to the plight of the Iraqi people. We all know of her long dedication to the suffering of the wretched people, the Marsh Arabs, in the southern part of that country. It bears repeating in your Lordships' House that, while all that military activity yesterday and today has been going on, we have not forgotten that we are enforcing a no-fly zone in both north and south Iraq and, through that, doing what we can to reduce the burden of Saddam Hussein's rule of those wretched people. What the noble Baroness had to say about the cynicism of the Iraqi minister of health was extremely moving, as I am sure all your Lordships will agree.

I was asked to say what will happen when the guns fall silent. I cannot do better than quote directly from the press notice that was circulated by the body with which the noble Baroness has a close acquaintance, the AMAR UNESCO Standing Conference: When the guns fall silent the suffering goes on and so does our work of rehabilitation". That task will face the entire international community. As that press conference pointed out, the AMAR international charitable foundation has, day by day, sustained 100,000 refugees who have been forced to flee from Iraq to Iran". We also have to think of those poor wretches who have not managed to escape from Iraq to Iran.

My noble friend Lord Hardy asked about the proportion of Iraq's gross national product devoted to defence. He rattled off at great speed an impressive number of statistics about the size of the armed forces in Iraq. The figures sounded roughly right to me, but if he wants a precise reply I shall have to check the figures. There is no doubt whatever that Saddam Hussein could have fed his people better and could have provided them with more medicines had he not spent the money he obtained from the sale of his oil on palaces and armaments which threaten his neighbours and his own people.

I am sure that everybody in the House agrees with my noble friend that the children of Iraq should be encouraged to live in peace and have a better education. That is, of course, what we hope for all of them as soon as possible.

I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Monro, for what he said about the standard of our pilots and the ground crews. It is our objective not just to minimise Iraqi casualties but also to minimise the casualties among the brave young men flying in Royal Air Force planes.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, referred to Ramadan and to whether or not the timing had anything to do with Ramadan. There may be some misunderstanding about Ramadan. As I understand it, Ramadan is not a fixed feast. It may be proclaimed on different days in different countries. So there is uncertainty at the moment as to when Ramadan will be proclaimed in any one of the countries in that part of the world.

The timing of this military operation was set simply by two things: first, the fact that Mr. Butler presented his report, saying that he had had absolutely no compliance and, in fact, had had obstruction, deceit and difficulties from the Iraqi Government who were clearly in breach of their responsibilities. The decision taken to engage in military operations obviously reposed on the need to get the UNSCOM inspectors out of Iraq as safely and as soon as possible. I am delighted to say that that operation has been 100 per cent. successful. It was speedily arranged.

Secondly, there was a need, as far as possible, to preserve the element of surprise. That is one of the main reasons why no land-based aircraft were used last night. No British aircraft were used last night because we did not want anyone to see the planes being bombed up. The planes that took part in the attack were carrier-based aircraft so no one could see what was happening. There were no journalists aboard the American aircraft carrier. Nobody knew that the Tomahawks were going to be launched by the American forces.

Many other elements of guile were involved, not least the fact that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State went all the way to Brussels for dinner last night because he had that outstanding engagement. He did not want people to know that he was cancelling his appointments because that would have led to suspicion that things were about to start happening immediately. The element of surprise was of crucial importance in deciding the timing. I am glad to be able to report that our evidence is that at the very least we were partially successful, if not wholly successful, in gaining the advantage of surprise.

Perhaps I may say finally to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, that we have constantly been discussing with our Arab friends whether they can see any other way of dealing with Saddam Hussein. However much, from time to time, they might deplore force and talk about the suffering of the Iraqi people—their feelings on that are understandable—I have yet to encounter a senior Arab leader who has come up with any other way of dealing with Saddam Hussein.

My noble friend Lord Jenkins of Putney referred to the need for the great power unanimity rule. I do not want to put words in my noble friend's mouth, but he seemed to imply that, in the absence of that rule, our actions were illegal. I refer him to the fact that the American-British actions in this case were based on previous United Nations Security Council resolutions which were not vetoed. The advice of Her Majesty's Government is that everything we are doing is fully in compliance with international law although my noble friend—

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, the situation is that the unanimity rule is in force and that is why their actions were illegal.

Lord Gilbert

My Lords, my noble friend and I will have to part company on this one—

Lord Jenkins of Putney

It is admitted in their own Statement.

Lord Gilbert

My Lords, I repeat to my noble friend that the advice that we have is that we are fully in compliance with the requirements of international law. Our actions are based on former United Nations Security Council resolutions. Nobody attempted to veto those resolutions.

I was not quite clear what my noble friend had in mind when he referred to the possibility of the Russians and the Chinese going into Iraq to protect UNSCOM officials. I do not think that they have been physically under threat. The problem is that we have not succeeded in achieving compliance with UN resolutions.

My noble friend Lord Shore of Stepney rightly referred to the importance of public opinion in this country and said that it could not be taken for granted. I hope very much that the message that goes out today from both this House and another place will make clear why the Government have taken the steps that they have and that in these circumstances the Government have the support of the overwhelming number of Members of both Houses of Parliament.

My noble friend is absolutely right: my ministerial colleagues and I, in both Houses, will be at pains to try to convey, through every element in the media that is open to us, our arguments for doing what we are doing. An opinion poll conducted today in the United States shows that something like 74 per cent. of the American people support this action, with between 14 and 15 per cent. against. I have yet to see any figures from an opinion poll taken in this country, but I should be surprised if the proportions here are very different.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ely rightly drew our attention not only to our own forces' need for our support and prayers but also, as one would expect from him, to the fact that many innocent people will be caught up in this conflict. Although we shall be attacking military installations, there will, unfortunately, be civilian casualties. I should like to make a few brief comments on that. Some of the casualties, particularly in civilian areas, will be caused by the enormous amounts of armaments that the Iraqis fire up into the air and which eventually come down again, hitting people and houses and injuring people. That will certainly be one of the elements in central Baghdad which will cause injuries.

There is evidence to suggest that we have not been hitting civilian targets. I can do no better than to draw your Lordships' attention to the sights on our television screens of cars driving perfectly normally around the centre of Baghdad while the attack was going on. So it is perfectly clear that citizens in Iraq in the centre of Baghdad have been going about their business in a perfectly normal way, while the attacks have been taking place on military installations far away from the centre.

There is one further point that I should like to make clear relating to a comment of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall. He talked about the precision of American weapons. I believe that the noble and gallant Lord may not have realised quite how more precise our own weapons have become since the Gulf War in 1991. At that time we were relying, not exclusively but very largely, on what are known as dumb bombs without any sophistication or precision guiding systems available to them. On this occasion, I can tell your Lordships that Her Majesty's forces will be using exclusively precision guided weapons. They will be either Paveway 2 or Paveway 3, which are laser guided thermal imaging systems with a remarkable degree of accuracy. Those will be the only types of weapons which Royal Air Force planes will be dispensing in these circumstances.

I turn, finally, to the remarks of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, whose experience in these matters makes me highly diffident about coming to this Dispatch Box. As he reminded us, he was in fact in charge of Britain's defences at the time of the Gulf War. I listened very carefully to what the noble and gallant Lord had to say. I entirely agree that it is absolutely essential for us to convey not only to the British people but also to the British forces the precise nature of our military objectives. I can assure the noble and gallant Lord that we are sparing absolutely no effort in that direction.

The noble and gallant Lord also asked whether or not the objectives were understood between governments and armed forces. I am sure that he will accept my assurance that there is total clarity and agreement between the governments as to what needs to be done and as to what the objectives are. Again, I am sure that he will understand from his past experience that we have senior British officers talking daily to one another. The Chief of the Defence Staff is talking to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs almost every day; indeed, he must be talking to him every day now. The American general in Florida has a British two-star officer accredited to him and similar arrangements apply in the Gulf. So there is the most intimate collaboration and understanding between the armed forces and the governments of our two countries.

The noble and gallant Lord thought that it would be wonderful if we had an Iraqi government set up in exile and suggested that it would be excellent if such a government could feed assistance through to an opposition resistance in Iraq. All I can say is Amen to all of that. Unfortunately, I am afraid, the world is not quite as simple as that. Not long ago, one of my right honourable friends at the Foreign Office entertained some Iraqi Opposition groups. I think that 15 or 16 of them came in, and they found it very difficult to come to an agreed message; they found it very difficult to accept that they could work closely together; and they found it rather difficult to agree on objectives. We will be working further in that direction, but these matters are, unfortunately, not wholly within our hands.

I have taken up too much of your Lordships' time but I wanted to be sure that I had addressed as many of the remarks as possible of each and every one of your Lordships who have spoken on this extremely solemn and sombre occasion. As we speak, I repeat that brave young men in Royal Air Force uniforms are in the air at this very moment over Baghdad. As the right reverend Prelate said, our prayers must go with them all.

House adjourned for the Christmas Recess at twenty minutes before six o'clock until Monday, 11th January next.

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