HL Deb 17 February 1998 vol 586 cc147-220

3.10 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)

rose to move, That this House takes note of the current situation in Iraq.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, today we debate the crisis in the Gulf at a crucial time. There is still the possibility for a peaceful end to the crisis. We are not set on an inexorable path to military conflict. We continue to work intensively at the Security Council to secure agreement for a new Security Council resolution. Diplomatic contacts with other governments throughout the world are constant.

At every stage we have held out the opportunity to Saddam Hussein to end this crisis. We continue to hold out that prospect. We have no desire to use force. We would willingly stand down our troops and bring back our ships. Our overriding wish has been, and continues to be, to avoid force, to preserve peace, and to preserve lives. There is a peaceful solution to this crisis. It is Saddam Hussein who has declined to take that solution, but he does still have time to do so.

In all our discussions in this House since the start of the present crisis—so far we have had two Statements, one Unstarred Question and three Private Notice Questions—we keep the door to peace as wide open as possible. We are supporting the efforts by the UN Secretary-General to find a solution. We wish him success in his planned trip to Baghdad. Kofi Annan goes with the full blessing of the Security Council and with the united backing of its permanent members. He carries with him a firm message for Saddam Hussein. The international community is united and determined to see Saddam carry out his obligations under the ceasefire agreement he reached at the end of the Gulf War. We hope he agrees to do so. If he does, we will need Iraq to commit itself in writing to full implementation, with clear and explicit penalties for breaking any agreement.

We support the efforts by the French and Russian Governments, among others, and their envoys, to broker a solution with Baghdad that meets the requirements of the international community. Throughout this crisis we have been and remain in constant and intensive negotiations with our Security Council partners. We are sparing no effort to find a peaceful solution. Over the past few weeks my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my honourable friend, Derek Fatchett, and my noble friend Lord Gilbert have all visited the Gulf to confer with our friends in the Middle East on the present crisis.

So we are keeping the door of peace open for as long as we possibly can. But let me be starkly clear. That time is drawing to an end. We may soon find ourselves faced with the need to use force in order to require a dictator to comply with the decision of the international community. Saddam Hussein is a dictator who poses a severe threat to the whole region, as well as inflicting deep misery upon his own people. If force is used, lives may be lost. British lives may be lost. It is a grave matter facing this House. It is not one that any of us faces lightly.

But if we do reach that point, then I can assure the House that we will proceed to achieve our specific objectives. Those objectives will be to secure full Iraqi compliance with the demands of the Security Council and to prevent Iraq from developing or maintaining weapons of mass destruction notably by ensuring UNSCOM has full and unrestricted access throughout Iraq. It is worth remembering the success that UNSCOM has had to date. It has found and destroyed 48 Scud missiles, more than 38,000 chemical weapons, six missile launchers, 480,000 litres of live chemical agents, 30 special missile warheads for chemical and biological weapons, and hundreds of items of CW production equipment. But much still remains to be done. Among the materials that remain unaccounted for are biological weapons agents, key items of chemical weapon production equipment and other lethal materials for weapons of mass destruction. Those include 17 tonnes of growth media for BW agents to grow the anthrax virus; 4,000 tonnes of CW precursors; 31,000 CW munitions and 600 tonnes of VX precursors. They are all weapons of mass destruction and we know that they exist.

I am sure that noble Lords will not expect me to go into details about specific military targets. But I assure the House that our Armed Forces will have an achievable, identifiable mission. We will give them the tools and the mandate to achieve that mission.

In our previous discussions in this House, some of your Lordships asked about the legality of our action. Any action involving UK forces would be based on international law. The charter of the United Nations allows for the use of force under the authority of the Security Council. The Security Council resolution adopted before the Gulf conflict authorised the use of force in order to restore international peace and security in the region. Iraq is in clear breach of Security Council Resolution 687 which laid down the conditions for the ceasefire at the end of the conflict. Those conditions included a requirement on Iraq to eliminate its weapons of mass destruction under international supervision. Those conditions have been broken.

The international community has been accused of applying double standards between Iraq and Israel. Indeed, one or two of your Lordships raised anxieties on that point. This is not the case. In the case of both countries, we insist on respect for international legality and support the implementation of UNSCRs. We must remember too that Iraq is led by an aggressive dictator who persistently flouts UN resolutions and who has used weapons of mass destruction against his own people and against his own neighbours. Israel is a democracy which has engaged in a wide-ranging and potentially fruitful negotiating process.

On occasion, some noble Lords have said that we cannot succeed because international support is lacking. But international support for our position is building. Australia, Canada, Poland, the Netherlands and New Zealand have all undertaken to deploy forces to the Gulf. Germany has agreed to make its bases available for US operations in the Gulf. Within the European Union many of our other partners recognise that if diplomacy fails it will be necessary to resort to force. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State briefed EU colleagues in Panama last week. Following the meeting he stressed the common view of European partners that Saddam Hussein must comply with the relevant UNSCRs and in particular permit UNSCOM to carry out effective inspections of sites where it suspects chemical and biological weapons or vital information are concealed. Recent visits to the Gulf by my noble friend Lord Gilbert, my honourable friend Mr. Fatchett and my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary have shown strong support for our position among our Gulf partners.

There is another important aspect of Iraq's confrontation with the international community. That is the impact on British nationals in the region. Feelings are running high throughout the Middle East. My department is advising people living in or travelling there to be careful. It would be extremely foolhardy for anyone to travel to Iraq at this time. We recommend strongly against it. We are not advising against travel to other parts of the region, nor are we suggesting to those already there that they need to leave. We are advising British nationals to register their presence with the nearest British Embassy, and to take careful note of Foreign Office travel advice. We keep our advice under constant review. Indeed, I did so only this morning. The safety of British citizens is always a priority of the very highest order. I assure your Lordships that it remains so now.

Let us be quite clear about why we are now discussing military objectives. At the end of the Gulf War, seven years ago, Saddam Hussein undertook to abandon building arsenals of weapons of mass destruction. He pledged to stop building nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. He promised to let UN inspectors confirm those pledges. He agreed to destroy any weapons he had accumulated. In response, the UN Security Council made clear that when this process was complete, we could start to talk about the lifting of UN sanctions.

We remain deeply concerned at the humanitarian situation in Iraq. For this reason we have taken the lead at the UN to implement the UN Secretary-General's recent recommendations to improve and expand the "oil for food" scheme. We are leading discussions to reach agreement on a UK draft text and hope that it can be adopted later this week. Our aim is to see the Secretary-General's recommendations implemented swiftly to provide much needed humanitarian relief for the Iraqi people. We have noted objections to the Secretary-General's recommendations from Iraq. This is yet another sign of Saddam Hussein's cruel disregard for the well-being of his people.

Throughout the past seven years it has become clear that Saddam Hussein has systematically broken every one of his promises and every one of his pledges. He has lied, he has cheated and he has deceived. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State released a paper yesterday setting out Saddam Hussein's systematic attempts to conceal his weapons programmes. It describes the decision taken by the Iraqi authorities to deceive UNSCOM from the very start.

Let us also be clear that this is not an abstract debate. It is not an academic argument about Saddam Hussein's weaponry or the scale of it. Sadclam Hussein wants chemical and biological weapons for a reason. He has repeatedly tried to extend his borders. He invaded Iran. He used chemical weapons in that long and bloody conflict. Once that was over he invaded Kuwait. But his ambitions do not end with the possession of chemical and biological weapons. He is not producing anthrax and nerve agents for their own sake. He wants them because he believes that possession of those weapons will give him a decisive advantage over his neighbours. It will give him the potential to wipe out whole cities, vast numbers of people.

If his ambitions are not checked, thousands of people could die. Thousands more could be seriously injured. Whole families could be left in torment. This is not fantasy. It is fact. My Lords, remember Halabja and remember the Marsh Arabs. Her Majesty's Government believe that we cannot allow and we will not allow this to happen. The Gulf would be totally destabilised. Beyond that, the impact on global stability would be massive. If we do not act now, then we may find ourselves having to pay a much higher price before too long. And it will not be only we who bear that cost, but Iraq's neighbours and Iraq's own people as well.

Let us be under no illusions about the nature of the man with whom we are dealing. Saddam Hussein is a dictator. He is a dictator who remains entrenched in power, entrenched in that power through his own ruthlessness. He causes untold misery and suffering to the Iraqi people. This is a man who has used women and children as human shields. He is prepared to do so again. The use of human shields is a contravention of international law and the Geneva Convention.

Saddam Hussein and his apologists are trying to claim that it is we who are being unreasonable, that we want to use force. But that is a lie. This is a view that can be taken only by those who disregard the past and refuse to look at present facts: facts about the weapons and facts about the man who possesses them. For seven years the UN inspectors have been trying to do their job. For seven years they have been obstructed at every turn by a dictator hell-bent on preventing them from succeeding, a dictator who values the prospect of building an arsenal of terror more highly than he values the welfare of his own people. For seven years the Security Council has bent over backwards to solve these problems peacefully, to work around Iraqi obstructions so that UNSCOM can do its job. And after seven years of obstruction and systematic deception, after seven years of lying, can he seriously claim that all we need to do is sit down with him and "work things out"? Those who say the international community needs to show more flexibility should remember that for seven years Saddam Hussein has seen that flexibility as a weakness so he can carry on building chemical and biological weapons. We will take a great deal of convincing that after seven years, he has changed his ways.

In reality, on the ground, what we have seen is UN inspectors harassed, delayed and obstructed throughout their mission. We have witnessed a systematic attempt to deceive the international community, an attempt which has been demonstrated time and again by UNSCOM. We have repeatedly gone out of our way to preserve the peace in the face of continued provocation from Iraq.

Saddam Hussein has hidden behind excuses and smoke-screens. He has invented bogus arguments about the nationalities of individual inspectors. He has tried to declare no-go areas in his palaces and at his presidential sites. Some of them are as big as cities. He has tried to impose time limits on the inspections. He has dressed up his obstruction in the clothes of wanting a discussion on detail. But again and again it has been the same story—deception and buying time. And all the while he is accruing and constructing his weapons of mass destruction. We have had seven years—seven years of discussion. At the end of it Saddam Hussein is still obstructing the UNSCOM inspectors. He is still trying to build his weapons.

My Lords, enough is enough. There must be no more games, no more obstruction and no more deceptions. Saddam Hussein must let UNSCOM do its job. It is simple and it is straightforward. Moreover, it is right. The choice is his. He can give UN inspectors full and unrestricted access. We look to him to do so. It is in his power to resolve this crisis, and we hope he will. We hope he will respond to the huge international effort for peace. If he chooses not to do so, then the position is clear, and he must accept the consequences of his decision. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House takes note of the current situation in Iraq. —(Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean.)

3.28 p.m.

Lord Moynihan

My Lords, in the light of the events of recent days, I am grateful to have this timely opportunity to hear a clear and unambiguous statement of government policy on Iraq. This is not the first time Saddam Hussein has presented a naked challenge to the will of the international community, vested in the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council. It is vital that the Government have a clear, unwavering policy on Iraq, together with our international partners, since the consensus of world opinion presently focused on Iraq doubts that this will be the last time that the Iraqi despot attempts to dictate to the United Nations.

Since the end of the Gulf War Saddam Hussein has repeatedly flouted Security Council resolutions. In 1993 he violated the no-fly zones and last August his attack on Arbil in northern Iraq was a clear violation of Security Council Resolution 688. The US military response to his aggression in northern Iraq, strongly supported by the previous administration, sent an unequivocal statement that such behaviour will not be tolerated. Last November, again he attempted to re-write the Gulf War ceasefire terms agreed in the Security Council resolutions when he expelled the UN weapons inspection team.

So today I take the opportunity to reiterate the Opposition's support for the Government's firm stance in this crisis. But we make this plea. Let there be no confusion or uncertainty in our objectives. Let there be no doubt or ambiguity about these objectives. And let there be clarity about the implications of these objectives. We deplore Iraq's failure to comply with UN Security Council resolutions. In government and now in opposition, we supported the UN efforts to end Saddam Hussein's programme for the manufacture of weapons of mass destruction and to enforce the UN no-fly zone over Iraq. We share the Government's present determination to take all possible diplomatic steps while leaving the military option open—all steps which will lead to Saddam Hussein complying with the resolutions of the UN Security Council, which are not negotiable. No country can determine the composition of UN teams and no country should defy UN resolutions.

As we have heard from the Minister, and as I speak today in your Lordships' House, intensive diplomacy is under way in an attempt to enable a peaceful solution to be reached. We are very glad to learn from the Minister that progress in that direction is being made. It is now looking very likely that the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, will visit Baghdad later this week. That will be a welcome development. We also welcome the fact that although the proposals coming out of Baghdad have fallen short of the UN requirement to date, to a optimist they indicate that Saddam Hussein may at last be bowing to international pressure.

Will the Minister confirm that the mandate given to the Secretary-General by the permanent members of the Security Council will be to negotiate on the basis of full and unfettered access to all sites that UNSCOM wishes to inspect, with no time limits imposed, and that the professionalism and integrity of UNSCOM will be maintained? Any indication that Saddam Hussein could pick and choose the composition of the inspection team or the clauses of the relevant UN resolutions with which he wishes to comply would set a disastrous precedent and the credibility of the United Nations would be at stake.

If the UNSCOM-plus solution—that is, free and unfettered access to the weapons inspectors, but accompanied by diplomats—is sufficient to resolve this crisis and to persuade Saddam Hussein to back down, the Opposition would welcome it. However, since November the work of UNSCOM has been repeatedly blocked, obstructed and hindered. During the crisis in November, Richard Butler did not rule out the possibility that it may have been contrived by Iraq because UNSCOM was getting close to making a real discovery to deflect attention from the real issue of the weapons and to give Iraq time to move the evidence and force the inspectors to start their search all over again. Furthermore, there have been unconfirmed reports that Iraq has smuggled missiles and technology to produce weapons of mass destruction to the sympathetic rogue states of Sudan, Libya and the Yemen. Richard Butler has said that, if Iraq has moved things out of the country, the logic of that is clear. Given this, does the Minister believe that the UNSCOM-plus solution will be a lasting one and that we will not get a repeat of this very same situation in two or three months' time when Saddam Hussein again decides to play hide-and-seek with the international community?

Do the Government agree that a lasting solution is vital to maintain the authority of the international community acting through the Security Council and that we will witness the irreparable erosion of that authority if we do not find a permanent solution to this crisis? Diplomatic and moral authority rests with the Security Council. The international community cannot allow itself to be drawn into a protracted game of cat-and-mouse in which Saddam Hussein ignores the rules defined by the Security Council and invents his own as he goes along.

Yesterday, for the first time, the Government outlined their military objective and gave a clear statement that military strikes would target those sites which they believe would complete the job of preventing Saddam Hussein from developing his weapons of mass destruction that UNSCOM has not been allowed to do. I must admit that some of us were surprised at the Foreign Secretary's announcement of the targets of the military option on Radio 4 this morning. I wonder whether the timing of that announcement was wise, offering, as it does, important military intelligence to Saddam Hussein. From these Benches, while it has been our position that any military action must have a clear objective and must be directly linked to our diplomatic and strategic aims, it is vital that we absorb the bitter lesson that history has taught us—that is, of how the danger of bombing without precise military and political objectives can escalate beyond a government's control. Any ambivalence over the ultimate goals of the operation will inevitably lead to uncertainty and confusion. Should all diplomatic means be exhausted and it proves necessary to take the military option, on behalf of the British servicemen and women whose lives may be put at risk, clear unequivocal objectives must be set.

There will be many questions today about the targeting plans and the military options which have been outlined by the Foreign Secretary. As I understand it, these have been "very carefully" designed to avoid any release of chemical or biological agents into the atmosphere although we have heard defence officials estimate that up to 1,500 Iraqi civilians could be killed in air strikes. The military objective, we hear, will not be the destruction of Iraq but to diminish significantly Saddam's military capability, including his ability to develop weapons of mass destruction and to prevent him from creating such weapons in the future.

But, given the destruction that a suitcase of anthrax or a teaspoon of VX nerve gas can wreak, is it not the case that even the most surgically precise of air strikes runs the risk of releasing chemical and bacterial weapons into the atmosphere with potentially deadly consequences? Can the Government therefore elaborate on their view that a conventional military strike, however precise, is the most appropriate way to prevent the actions of a terrorist deploying both chemical and biological weapons and the means of producing them? For extremely important questions are posed about the global handling of terrorism, which includes the use of these weapons. These questions need to be addressed in full. They include to what extent a conventional response to terrorist acts can be successful, particularly without men on the ground? Furthermore, what assessment have the Government made of the remarks to US senators last week by General Henry Shelton, the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, in which he questioned the ability of an air strike to reduce substantially Iraq's capability to make weapons of mass destruction, given the ease with which Saddam Hussein could convert a hospital or a fertilizer plant into an anthrax or mustard gas manufacturing facility? General Shelton said, I didn't say we could eliminate his weapons of mass destruction. We can't". I would welcome the views of the Minister's replying to the debate on those comments.

This House warmly welcomed the UK initiative to draft the new Security Council resolution condemning Saddam Hussein's repeated obstruction of UNSCOM's work. The Foreign Secretary announced last week that this was a UK initiative and that the UK was taking the lead on drafting a text. I hope that it will be possible to clarify whether the new resolution was intended to provide legal authority from the Security Council for the use of force, or was it to demonstrate the united will of the Security Council?

Still on the subject of the resolution, in addition to the Minister's very important comments about the legal foundation for any military action against Iraq which I followed carefully—I know that we shall return to this point when my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew of Twysden addresses your Lordships—I should like some extra clarification because there is still in my mind and, I believe, in the minds of Members of your Lordships' House, some confusion about whether Resolution 678, which authorised the use of force following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, and Resolution 687, which authorises the UN weapons inspection team, provide adequate authority to validate military action today. Can the Minister confirm that Resolution 678 would apply only to a situation in which Iraq had not withdrawn from Kuwait, while Resolution 687 does not specifically sanction military action although its objective is stated as, restoring international peace and security in the area set out in the recent resolutions of the Security Council"? Can the Minister confirm that Resolution 687 provides adequate authority and, if so, what was the purpose of the Government's proposed new resolution?

I know that Members of your Lordships' House are concerned about the growing opinion that the crisis has revealed rifts in the permanent membership of the Security Council, given that China, Russia and France have all expressed their consistent opposition to military action. It is vital that the Security Council speaks with one voice. It must remain firm and united in the measures that it takes to insist that Iraq co-operates with UNSCOM and complies with the relevant Security Council resolutions. I would welcome the Minister's comments on that issue because it was the United Nations, not the United States, that was defied by the Iraqi leadership during this crisis and it is vital that the Security Council acts together or it will risk compromising the influence of the international community.

I turn briefly to an issue raised by the Minister—support from Iraq's neighbours in the Arab world. We on these Benches widely welcome the growing element of support from around the world for the actions outlined. The success of the Gulf operation in 1991, however, depended greatly on the support of many Arab states. In the event of military action against Iraq, I believe that it is widely accepted that a similar level of support would not be forthcoming now. It is important for your Lordships' House to consider the impact that the refusal of Arab states to endorse a military solution to the Iraq crisis may have on US-Arab relations and what implications it has for the future security of the region and the influence and credibility of the United States to negotiate in a future crisis and in further Middle East peace talks.

I believe that that highlights the importance of the relationship between, for example, sanctions and unfettered access for UNSCOM inspectors. We shall shortly hear from the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, whose views, I believe, will find considerable support in this House. I assure the noble Baroness that, unlike yesterday, I anticipate a smooth transition from my speech to hers! If the noble Baroness concentrates on what I know she believes to be extremely important in this context, I hope that the House will learn from the Minister's reply what influence the Government are exerting to ensure that Saddam Hussein's manipulative strong-arm tactics and repeated defiance of the West do not endow him with kudos among his neighbours.

I should very much like to hear the Minister's reflections on the consequences of the courses of action open to us, both diplomatic and military, for the politics of the region as a whole. During the four Statements and the debate that we have had specifically on Iraq, your Lordships' House has not had the benefit of hearing the Government's assessment of the political, diplomatic and geo-political ramifications on a number of key issues, such as our relations with the Arab League, the implications for the future of the Middle East peace talks and the rehabilitation of Iran.

I have posed many of these issues as questions for the consideration of the House and of the Minister who is to reply. Britain, as one of the five permanent members of the Security Council, has a major role to play in bringing security and democracy to that volatile region. The Middle East is a vital piece in the jigsaw of world peace and prosperity. One dictator cannot be permitted to undermine the security and stability of a region in which we have a particular interest, long-standing friendships, commercial links and close ties between our peoples. Iraq has huge potential once its people are released from the yoke of tyranny under which they are currently enslaved. I emphasise that the international community must stand by to help with reconstruction and renewal to ensure that Iraq takes its place in the family of nations once this crisis is over.

For the past six years Saddam Hussein has traded in a currency of concealment, lies and deception. We must make it clear that Saddam Hussein's juggernaut on the road to defiance and transgression will not bring power, kudos and legitimacy, but only bankruptcy in its wake. The only route to prosperity and acceptance by the world community is to comply fully and unconditionally with Security Council resolutions. Only in that way will sanctions be lifted.

If modern history has taught us anything, it is the peril of unchecked tyranny. Short-term appeasement will pay us few dividends. Britain, as a permanent member of the Security Council, has a duty to protect the integrity of the United Nations. Britain has a duty to stand firm with our allies against the twin forces of tyranny and aggression, as we did in 1991. We have a duty to remain vigilant to ensure that Iraq co-operates fully with the UN so that UNSCOM inspectors can carry out their full mandate to prevent the acquisition of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. On behalf of the Opposition, I assure the Government of our committed support where they pursue clear and firm policies towards Iraq in order to achieve those goals.

3.46 p.m.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, in this crucial debate, I begin by congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, who spoke on behalf of the Government, and the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, who spoke on behalf of the Conservative Party, on what I believe were two remarkable, clear and strong speeches. Before I say anything else, let me say that there is nothing as important as clarity in a situation in which we may perhaps be about to commit our young men and women to the risk of losing their lives in a cause which all of us believe to be a proper one.

Therefore, I want to say as strongly as I can that anyone who reads the inspectors' reports or the earlier reports of the UNSCOM expeditions from 1996 onwards cannot be under any illusion that Saddam Hussein has not mounted a series of efforts to try to create weapons of mass destruction. I want to state fairly and clearly that if the diplomatic solution is not successful, we understand that the military action which the Government have outlined will become inescapable.

Having said that, I follow the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, in asking the Minister about that diplomatic initiative because, as the noble Lord rightly said, the great advantage of the success of the diplomatic initiative is that it would leave the structures of UNSCOM in place, and UNSCOM has been more successful than any other effort in detecting and destroying Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. If one reads the reports, one realises that UNSCOM has had a remarkable record of achievement. Time and again, the inspectors have seized upon fragments of information to lead them to the factories and hidden sites where Hussein's government have embarked upon weapons experiments, development and production.

The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, was absolutely right that one of the most crucial elements in the crisis is to try to get across to the Arab states and the other states in the region, with which the United Kingdom has worked successfully and closely over many years, the message that we shall go the last mile in an attempt to get a diplomatic solution, with the clear indication that that must lead to an unconditional resumption of inspections in all parts of Iraq where the inspectors believe that weapons or other facilities may be concealed.

In that context I should like to ask the noble Baroness about two initiatives explored in the past two weeks which appear to be most fruitful. The first, which has been explored in particular by the United Nations Secretary-General, Mr. Kofi Annan, and which, encouragingly, the United States has indicated its willingness to consider, is the addition of monitors from the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council to the inspections to be made, if Saddam Hussein is willing once again to allow unconditional access. This is one of the areas that been explored in the diplomatic negotiations between Saddam Hussein and Russia, France and other countries. It has also been explored in visits by the Gulf states to Baghdad. In this context I should like to quote a major article in yesterday's Washington Post: US officials have indicated that Washington probably would agree to this plan as a face-saving device for Saddam Hussein provided Iraq understands and accepts that UNSCOM remains the operational 'core' of such inspections". The first question that I should like to put to the noble Baroness is whether, in demonstrating that we are willing to go that extra mile, she believes that this is still a live possibility. Can she indicate the Government's support for it? She helpfully said that the Government wished the initiative of the United Nations Secretary-General well.

The second question arises in the context of the possibility of a diplomatic initiative. I recognise that the hour is terribly late, but the repercussions of military action are grave. Can the Minister clarify one possible area of vagueness? What is the position about sanctions were there to be an unconditional acceptance by the Hussein regime of a resumption of inspections? The noble Baroness will be aware that yesterday in the Independent there appeared a letter signed by four of Her Majesty's Government's previous ambassadors to Iraq. In that letter they indicated their view, which must be taken seriously, that some indication that sanctions would be gradually eased over a period of time, subject to Hussein fully accepting UNSCOM's presence, might provide a possible basis for a diplomatic outcome. Perhaps the noble Baroness can say a little more about that. I only raise the matter because that may conceivably help in the crisis that we confront.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, I ask the noble Baroness to say a little more about a very difficult area in this crisis; namely, to make absolutely plain that military action, if it occurs, is fully within the terms of a resolution. The Foreign Secretary, in another place, indicated as long as two weeks ago that the United Kingdom Government hoped to table a resolution on these matters. It was subsequently delayed, rightly in my view, in an attempt to get more signatories and support. On 10th February in another place the Foreign Secretary said in response to a Question put by Mr. Tam Dalyell, MP, that there would be a clear and unambiguous resolution on the matter. It is vital that there should be so that the objectives of any military action are absolutely clear and unambiguous. Can the noble Baroness add anything further in response to the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, and my question on this matter?

I should like to mention two other matters before I conclude. The first is the issue of winning the support of the Arab states. I feel obliged to say that while I agree with the noble Baroness that Israel is a very different country from Iraq and indeed has a lively and thriving democracy, in which incidentally critics of the Israeli Government flourish and are free to express their opinions very strongly and loudly, in the Middle East there is a perception of double standards. I believe that we must deal with that perception by making it plain that United Nations' resolutions, to whomsoever they apply and at whatever time they are agreed by the Security Council and the General Assembly, should be obeyed.

My second point is the support, if it should come to that—though I pray that it will not—for military action if there is no alternative. We cannot accept that we bear no responsibility in this matter. Sadly, it is now plain that some of the resources available to Iraq were supplied by this country, France and other EU countries and that in the 1980s some resources were supplied by the United States at a time when she saw Iraq as the great champion against Iran. One of the lessons to be drawn from this crisis is that there must be a much more rigorous regime to deal with the export of either dual use or militarily lethal exports to other countries. I remind the House of the comment in the Scott Report that the Houses of Parliament were knowingly misled about the export of these weapons.

I conclude by saying that I fully agree with the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, and the noble Baroness that we must stand up in this critical moment. But if there is still room for a diplomatic outcome I am sure that the whole House agrees that we should do everything possible to support the Government in pursuing that means of resolving this critical problem.

3.57 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Oxford

My Lords, I begin by giving my most sincere apologies to the House that I will not be able to stay until the end of this important debate due to a previous commitment that I feel obliged to honour. However, I shall read what is said, especially the words of the Minister, with great attention.

In recent weeks I have rung up some of the wisest strategists and military experts I know only to hear a great sigh down the phone and the expression of a sense of bafflement. I believe that we are confronted by one of the most acute dilemmas that has faced the world since World War II. The Minister reminded us of the weapons possessed by Saddam Hussein and the threat of horrendous proportions that they pose. Another factor of hardly less significance is the authority of the United Nations in all future arms control programmes. The future stability of the world depends very much on arms control. That in turn depends on the ability of United Nations inspectors to have free and unfettered access to all possible weapons sites. For those two reasons it is vital that the international community stands firm against the present Iraqi regime. Indeed, its horrific potential for destruction makes it that much more imperative to resist; otherwise, any dictator would think that he could bully the international community if only he raised the stakes high enough. It is crucial that the international community remains firm in its resolve.

The Churches hope and pray that this firmness will have the effect of getting Saddam Hussein to allow access to inspectors without the use of force. When it comes to the possibility of use, those of us who are not pacifists will draw on the criteria of the Just War tradition. I should emphasise that this is not an arcane body of knowledge but the accumulated wisdom of Christian civilisation reflecting on the morality of warfare. All the arguments in the House today will be related, in one way or another, to that tradition. Indeed, we may very well be like the person who was told that he spoke prose all his life without knowing it. Nevertheless, the strength of the Just War tradition, which began with Augustine and was further refined by Aquinas and numerous other figures right up until our own time, provides a structure and a consistent way of approaching the moral dimension of those issues. I hope that it might therefore be of use to the House if I briefly set out those criteria.

First, there must be legitimate authority. In any action against Iraq, that means the authority of the UN. The US claims that that is already implicit in previous resolutions requiring Iraq to destroy its weapons of mass destruction. But, as we know, others argue that on such a serious issue as that a new resolution is needed. Yet such a resolution authorising military force would not at the moment receive the support of China and possibly of neither France nor Russia. The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, raised important questions in that area. They were reiterated by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams. I hope that we shall be able to receive clarification of that crucial issue of legitimate authority.

Secondly, every attempt to resolve the dispute by peaceful means must have been tried and exhausted. There have been seven years of trickery and lies in which Saddam Hussein has exhausted the patience of the international community. It seems that there are no further peaceful steps to be taken. Yet even up until the last moment there are frantic diplomatic efforts going on, and of course we warmly welcome them.

Thirdly, a calculation must be made so that military action would not cause more harm than would be the case if such action did not take place. But that calculation depends very much on what is trying to be achieved, the goal of any action. Furthermore, there is another criterion of the Just War tradition closely linked to that; namely, that there must be a reasonable chance of success. The reason for that is obvious, because a failed attempt would obviously cause more suffering than allowing a dictator to remain. It is also clear that in this kind of calculation, moral, political and military considerations are bound up together. In short, what a government do in trying to calculate the consequences of possible courses of action is a profoundly moral matter. That has always been emphasised by the Christian tradition.

As we know, various aims of military action have been put forward. The most recently stated war aim was put by President Clinton in these words, I think the precise question should be, 'Could any military action, if all else fails, substantially reduce or delay Saddam Hussein's capacity to develop weapons of mass destruction and deliver them to his neighbours'? The answer to that, I am convinced, is 'Yes.' He says, "if all else fails". But such failure would inflict substantial damage on innocent people; it would stop inspectors going in for good; it would enhance Saddam Hussein's prestige, simply because he had survived; and it would unite much of the Arab world against the United States.

The Just War tradition makes a distinction between ius ad bellum, the moral considerations which must apply before a military action, and ius in bello, the morality that applies during the actual combat. The most important principle for ius in bello is that military targets only must be aimed at. Civilians, or more precisely those not directly contributing to the war effort, must not be the object of direct attack. Of course innocent civilians always do suffer. But that brings in the principle of proportion again, the weighing of consequences, which also applies to ius ad bellum. In other words, the suffering inflicted by a military strike must be less than would be the case if that military strike were not undertaken.

It is those criteria and the constraints that arise out of them that are very much in the minds of Church leaders of all the communities at the present time. Nevertheless, we should I believe bear in mind what the most reverend primate the Archbishop of Canterbury said to the General Synod of the Church of England last week: I am aware that the way in which the strategic options are debated publicly in this country can itself affect the chances of a peaceful outcome because of its impact on the perceptions of the Iraqi regime". We are hoping that the threats of force will bring Saddam Hussein to his senses, and it would be wrong for any Church leader to undermine the reality of that threat by any loose talk. Furthermore, it is governments who have the awesome responsibility of making decisions about the military action. They may be in possession of facts unknown to the rest of us, and indeed there may be an actual policy that is different from the declared one. For those reasons a certain reticence from Church leaders is appropriate at this stage.

There is another aspect of this conflict that particularly concerns the Church at this time; that is, the effect of any military action on the Moslem community in this country. After the Gulf War, in some of our larger cities, children were taunted in the playground for being Moslem, and therefore allegedly supporters of Saddam Hussein. The Churches will do all that they can now, as they did then, to build supportive bridges to the Moslem community. But I believe that all of us—Churches, Government and, especially, the press—need to do all that we can to damp down any possible or potential Islamophobia.

There are ancient Christian churches in Iraq, and there are Moslem communities in this country. Most of them, too, think that Saddam Hussein is appalling. We need to disassociate those communities in the public mind from any connection with Saddam Hussein. If military action does take place, I fear that at least some Moslems in this country will feel frightened.

The uncertain outcome of any military strike, the certain suffering of a fair number of innocent Iraqis, and the potentially counter-productive effects of a miliary strike, worry Church leaders as they worry all of us here. Nevertheless, it is important to stand firm, while at the same time exploring other diplomatic means of a peaceful resolution right to the end. That means, too, that if in the judgment of the Government the criteria of the Just War tradition are met, military strikes cannot be ruled out as a last resort. Those are awesome decisions to have to make, and, as I said after the Government Statement on Iraq in this House, the prayers of Christian people everywhere will be very much with those who have to make them in the days and weeks ahead.

4.07 p.m.

Lord Mayhew of Twysden

My Lords, I greatly appreciate the privilege of being able to follow the speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford. It was a speech to which I listened with admiration, reassurance and much sympathy. It would be valueless for me to attempt to develop his important argument. Although there is always a case for reticence on the part of lawyers, and there is, as the right reverend Prelate said, on this occasion, a case for reticence on the part of churchmen, there is one issue upon which it is legitimate, and I hope helpful, at this stage for me to focus.

I preface my remarks by saying that of course there can be no doubt that Saddam Hussein is in flagrant breach of the Security Council resolution to which he signed up. He has broken its provisions. In so doing, there can be equally no doubt that he has posed to the Middle East, and perhaps more widely, a grave threat: his is a breach of international peace and security. That much is beyond any argument. Equally it is plain that the threat could be dispelled, as it should be, by Saddam Hussein himself allowing the Security Council inspectors back in, giving them untrammelled access, and allowing his weaponry to be destroyed under supervision, as required by the provisions of Resolution 687.

However, today we are concerned with the position which obtains and which has arisen through Saddam's refusal to do that. I wish to focus on the legal basis for whatever military action may be carried out by Her Majesty's Government and their allies. I leave aside the important question of military efficacy. It is not a matter on which I have any expertise. I mention it only because if it is deployed I hope that it will be 100 per cent. effective and total in the sense of securing its objective.

It is highly important that the states taking part in military action should know the legal foundation for their action, should identify it, and should make it plain. I do not believe that it is a matter of legal pedantry. It is important for two reasons. First, it is important for world order, largely, although not entirely, based on the Charter of the United Nations. Secondly, it is important in the interests of the service personnel who would be called upon to deliver that military action and those instructing them to do so. Therefore, I welcome the Minister's comments that any military action would be founded upon, and taken in support of, international law.

In August 1990 when Saddam Hussein launched his attack on Kuwait, our Government and the American Government rightly recognised, and at once, that it was essential to found our active response to that invasion upon an impeccable legal base of international law. And we did so. We did it first, and immediately, by invoking the doctrine of collective self-defence. That requires a prior armed attack to have been made upon a state. The doctrine is specifically reserved in Article 51 of the United Nations Charter.

Secondly, as soon as possible we secured, in the first instance, Resolution 660 in August in the Security Council, and thereafter Resolution 678 on 29th November, authorising member states to take all necessary action to restore international peace and security in the area. That area was defined in the earlier resolution as Kuwait, the invasion of Kuwait having been determined by the Security Council as representing a breach of international peace and security. The last resolution, passed in November, provided the foundation for the military action which three months later succeeded so brilliantly in expelling Iraqi forces from Kuwait.

I suggest that by securing those legal foundations, identifying them, and making them publicly known, we greatly assisted the success of the necessary military action. We did so, first, by excluding spurious, or any serious, challenge to its legality and, secondly, by largely forestalling an accusation of western imperialism which could have been anticipated. We upheld the authority of the United Nations and demonstrated that it was capable not only of being a law-making organisation of international character but a law-enforcing organisation, too. Thereafter, military action was kept purposely and firmly within what was alone authorised by Resolution 678; namely, the use of all necessary means to get Saddam out of Kuwait.

The problem today is that whatever else Saddam has done he has elected to remain out of Kuwait. Therefore, I suggest that the question we face is whether breach of the ceasefire resolution, Resolution 687, can properly be relied upon without more as authorising the allies to take military action which may be seen as having a wider purpose than was authorised by Resolution 678 before the ceasefire was agreed.

I do not wish to say more. I acknowledge with sympathy the heavy responsibilities which Her Majesty's Government carry. However, I wish to ask the following questions. Have the Government received clear legal advice that the action which they contemplate is already authorised by Resolution 678? Will military action be limited to what is authorised by Resolution 678, revived, as it is argued to have been, by the ceasefire regulation? Or will the Government feel it desirable to seek some further and wider authorisation? Those are important questions and I am grateful to the House for listening to them.

4.16 p.m.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, I follow conveniently on what was said by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, and go further into the question whether sufficient authorisation already exists. First, I apologise to my noble friend the Minister for having missed the entirety of her speech, which I regret greatly. My absence was due to circumstances which I could not control. I hope only that I shall not ask her questions which she has already answered, or blame her for not having said things which she has already said. If that happens, I ask her to turn around and glare at me.

The International Herald Tribune carried the following story the other day. Mrs. Albright asked one of the ruling Saudi Princes whether at least they would once again help to pay for the attack on Iraq. He told her of the shepherd who was losing a lamb a week to a wolf. The shepherd acquired two sheepdogs to protect his flock, but then found that he had to kill a lamb every day to feed the dogs. So he decided to stay with the wolf.

What support is there for the United States—I mean real support—for action without UNSC approval and not just words which do not actually condemn? In the Middle East, they point out that the Anglo-Saxons are the peoples with the least experience of war on their own soil. Then there are the three obedient NATO postulants, recommending themselves to the US Senate.

Before coming to the world implications, perhaps I may say a few words about the European implications. What about our intended "leadership" in Europe? Is the ever-increasing subservience to Washington what the Prime Minister really intended, or was he swept off his feet by the famous Clinton glow? He went to Washington wearing two hats: the Prime Minister of this country and for six months the Prime Minister of the country holding the presidency of the European Union. The latter hat he threw away, perhaps innocent of any intention of doing so.

I know well from previous debates and so forth that one will be accused of pacifism, disloyalty and so on if one says that an attack on Iraq is not in this country's interest. So let me say that I come from a line of naval officers going back to the 18th century; I fought in the Royal Navy in the Second World War; I did not belong to CND; I supported the recovery of the Falklands; and although I thought that the 1991 Gulf War should have been avoided, when it was not I thought that it should be fought through. Since then, the attacks on Iraq seem mainly to have been for the sake of testing weapons.

Before I come to the long-term significance of the proposed attack, I will raise two more detailed points. If the US or we bomb a BW or CW weapon or precursor stockpile and trigger the release of germs or poisons, are we going to blame Saddam Hussein for the consequences? These, we know perfectly well, are targets of mass destruction, and many times over the Tory governments refused to consider banning attacks on them—something the Swedish Government were proposing long ago. In civil law, those who cause accidents and explosions in such places as Chernobyl, and Seveso, and Bhopal are held responsible. George Robertson told David Frost on Sunday that what we would do would be proportionate. That is required by international law, so there can be no attacks on targets of mass destruction. Perhaps the Minister who winds up will confirm that and tell the House what the Secretary of State for Defence believes our attack should be proportionate to.

In any case, we should not be surprised if Saddam had already got some chemical or biological weapons emplaced here and in the US where they could do much damage, awaiting release in retaliation.

But now to the larger field. When in a civilised state you come to a jam in international affairs and everyone runs about seeking a way forward and one cannot be found, that is the moment to pause and ask where we were going in any case. What kind of a runabout time is this? What is the current trend of our journey through the generations? International affairs are not chaotic and they are not beyond the control of groups of people working thoughtfully and determinedly together. But how many of us ever take advantage of that?

With the leave of the House I shall start a long way back. Do not fear: I shall move fast. Five centuries ago England did not exist as a civil entity: it was just a ragged cloth of hatreds and alliances among cousins and neighbours and their armed leaders, punctuated by sublime cathedrals. But then Welsh Henry made it a state, and put down the private armies, and quite shortly England was accepted, and shortly after again became an object of pride. The Union of England and Scotland came a hundred years later, and lo and behold the wild warrior and the suave exploiter lay down and bred together.

And so it happened all over Europe: a France was made out of sticks and stones of humanity, a Spain out of some large logs, a settled Russia out of half-nomad allegiances, and finally a Germany out of a hundred bourgeois princedoms and an Italy out of fifty mercantile ones.

All this just made the wars bigger and more bloody by making the combatant units bigger and richer. The blood-frenzy culminated in the First World War, where a generation was made to believe that the highest moral glory was to stagger out of a frozen trench and advance a hundred yards into 100 per cent. lethal machine gun fire. That was believed to be God's work.

But that thought-structure was destroyed along with the millions of young men who had been force-fed with it, and we were able to dream of a League of Nations which could be to the whole world as the US was to its component states and as Britain and Germany had long ago been to Wales and Saxony.

Only the most torpid blockhead could fail to ask himself now: what sort of UN can be to Europe, America and Asia as the European Union is to its own constituent nations? If that is imaginable, and it is, then it is our duty—perhaps our highest duty—to take no action which will make it less likely.

The overall political obstacles to the obvious answers to this question have been the same both for the League and for the UN. The US never joined the League of Nations. Thus the rest of us were left without the participation of that great democracy, which had done more than any other country to invent the League in the first place. And we were left without its help in war until we were well and truly on the ropes and Germany saved us by attacking Russia and Japan saved us by attacking Pearl Harbour.

And now again the US is not able to play any constructive part in steering the UN towards its manifest destiny because it is both in long-standing default on its dues—its normal dues and its peace keeping dues—and it is so selective about the resolutions and the bits of international law it is interested in enforcing. Against Saddam Hussein UN resolutions must be enforced; against Israel they absolutely must not—even though Israel's very existence as a state rests on a resolution of the United Nations.

So it is up to the rest of us to find the actions and inactions which will be the most likely to make the UN more focused and swifter in its actions. This, I had hoped, was a fundamental part of the Labour manifesto—as regards international affairs, the foundation commitment—on which the Government were elected.

Now what does more focused and swifter mean? In this case, I submit, it means having frequent and unimpeded opportunities to debate and decide what is to be done next. There should be a careful structure—there should have been for the last six years—receiving and publicly debating the reports of UNSCOM and other inspectors. The UN official reporting on child health in Iraq, for instance, is as adamant as Mr. Butler about what he sees and knows: that the present situation in his field is not tolerable. He and Mr. Butler should both be reporting to the General Assembly and Security Council, and the secretariat should be sending drafts and memos round the member governments, adjusting, focusing, doing the work of political administration and democracy which is so familiar to us in our own countries.

Little of all this has been done in the present case. If we were to attack Iraq now, without doing any of it, and without a resolution of the Security Council, we should be acting like some species far back up the tree of political evolution: it would be like the Wars of the Roses. If we were to begin to do the necessary work now, at speed, we should stand a chance of wresting human understanding and development from the black jaws of habit. If we were to do the work thoroughly, we should have some hope of earning the blessing of future generations.

We cannot afford a world in which the United States takes on itself to be judge, jury, hangman and universal interpreter of what is law. The Government must look at what "full spectrum dominance" by 2010 and the militarisation of the United States' international behaviour means for the world at large and for this country. We have always opposed military hegemony and should not now be promoting it.

The two great needs are: first, a renewed and now public discussion in the Security Council, leading, secondly, to a clear resolution, either authorising or not authorising an attack on Iraq by a member state or states, which, thirdly, is then observed. Without this, the proposed American-British attack would be legally on the level of the Franco-British attack on Egypt in 1956. I trust that that is not our purpose; that on the contrary, we are labouring to keep the United States within the bounds of law.

4.29 p.m.

Lord Owen

My Lords, with every speech that we have heard so far, I believe that we have found points which indicate that the situation facing us over Iraq in 1998 is both different from and more difficult than the one we faced in 1991. Kofi Annan is a cool-headed, cautious but determined diplomat. I think that he has been quite right to concentrate, before he goes to Baghdad, on trying to reach consensus from the Permanent Five. If anyone can bring a satisfactory, hard-headed solution out of a meeting with Saddam Hussein, I believe that it is Kofi Annan. He is someone for whom I have the profoundest respect. I wish him all good fortune.

Nevertheless, we must recognise that Saddam Hussein went into the invasion of Kuwait and then, in particular, into all the negotiations, mainly with the Russians, about withdrawal before the war, with the clear understanding that he was ready not just to commit his nation to war but also to commit his nation to certain defeat. This is a man who calculates extremely carefully. Indeed, one has only to consider the way that he shielded his helicopters throughout the 1991 war; he never used them, because he knew that he would need them in the aftermath. He knew that communications would be completely destroyed and that, if he was going to stop an insurrection in his country, he would need those helicopters. Very tragically, we fell for that and allowed him to use his helicopters, with tragic results.

I believe that there is a very real chance that Saddam Hussein will deliberately provoke military action by refusing to accept all the different formulations which will be offered to get him off the hook. He has impaled himself deliberately on that hook; and we need to understand that fact. He believes that if he brings military action upon his country he can win a political victory. Against that background, we have to calculate at every level with extreme care. I have in mind the situation where we do not achieve what the Minister of State in her opening speech said was the prime objective; namely, full written compliance with his obligations entered into as a result of the ceasefire. Let us be clear about this. There would not have been a ceasefire if Saddam Hussein had not taken on those obligations. Many people have criticised that ceasefire. I am not one of them. I think that it is easy to second guess that war. The prime task then was to evict Saddam Hussein from Kuwait, to keep the coalition together and to live under the rule of international law, following the resolutions which gave us the power to use force to ensure that he withdrew from Kuwait.

However, we now face a different situation; namely, to change the mind of Saddam Hussein. I have profound doubt that he will ever do so. Even if he signed up to a form of words, I believe that this problem would be with us for months and years ahead. If he does not sign up and we take military action, however careful the strategy embarked upon is—and I am not here to be an armchair strategist—I do not believe that that of itself will bring about a change of mind from Saddam Hussein. In my view, it will be necessary to use force and the Government will have my full support if they are driven into that situation. It would be far preferable for us to get unanimity from the Permanent Five and a Security Council resolution specifically authorising the use of force, which would not run the risk of a veto. Indeed, I heard what the former Attorney-General said about the difficulty of living within the law and the need to live within the law of the United Nations relying on existing resolutions. Although I am no lawyer, I tend to believe that there is enough room for manoeuvre to take action if we had to, but it would be far more preferable to take action with specific authorisation.

During my short time before the House, I should like to concentrate on the political strategy which simply has to underpin the military strategy. I shall argue very strongly against the belief that this will all be settled from 20,000 feet. All experience shows that air power on its own very rarely achieves success. I know that many people think that the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina was settled by NATO air strikes; but that was really not the case. They were a very useful adjunct, but there was basic, successful and on-the-ground military action of the Croatian forces against the Serbs in Krajina and in western Bosnia. There were also British and French forces on the ground in Sarejevo with recently arrived artillery and equipment, which was capable of operating when aircraft were not capable of dealing with Serb positions.

I believe that President Clinton is right to start increasing slowly the military on-ground capacity of his forces. There are 1,800 troops already in Kuwait, with 4,000 others expected to arrive. If we have to take military action, I hope that our Government will feel able to make a contribution. I do not necessarily have in mind the massive ground forces that we assembled in 1991, but there will be a need for a sustained military strategy which could not be sufficiently carried out purely by air forces and which will need an on-ground capacity in emergencies.

There are many obstacles and problems facing us, especially as regards how to restrain Israel if it were to be attacked. That would not be easy, as it was not easy in 1991. Indeed, I believe that it would be almost impossible in 1998. But what political strategy might have to underpin action over a period of months, not weeks, and perhaps even longer? I know of three major negotiations which must be embarked upon. The first relates to the Kurds. What has happened to the Kurdish people from 1991 to the present day is a scandal. A terrible wrong has been allowed to happen. We must learn from the terrible mistakes that were made. Many of us—and certainly our country—have committed errors as well as the United States, and others.

We have to go back in history to the time of the League of Nations and after the end of the First World War. We must look painstakingly at Woodrow Wilson's 14 different principles. We tried to negotiate a treaty in 1920 which would offer a Kurdish state. However, for a variety of reasons, which are very complex and which I shall not touch upon today, that has never been delivered. It may be a Kurdish state but, in my view, that would not be the first step. I now believe that a Kurdish protectorate is absolutely essential. We have been inhibited by this in the past because we have taken the view that the integrity of Iraq is essential in order to contain Iran. That may or may not have been correct. Certainly in the 1980s it had a good deal of intellectual strength behind it. But it has no intellectual strength at all in 1998. That strategy must be revised.

There is already an air exclusion zone operating from the 36th parallel. We need to consider redesigning the parameters of that zone. I believe that we must start negotiations; indeed, it is not just enough to talk to the Kurdish people. We all know from their history how difficult they have always found it to reach agreement and about their fractious nature. We must talk to the Turkish Government. It is important to remember that President Özal did in March of 1991 talk to the Iraqi Kurds and was ready to challenge the hitherto accepted wisdom in Turkey that there could never be a Kurdish protectorate in Iraq.

I believe that it is possible to envisage a Kurdish protectorate, eventually a Kurdistan, totally within the parameters of Iraq. That Kurdish state would have to accept that there could not be any violation of the borders of Turkey and of Iran. However, there will have to be discussions. Turkey has been damaged internally by not dealing with the Kurds. One of the problems of Turkey coming into the European Union stems from the civil rights and other abuses that largely come from an unsolved and, I believe, an unsolvable problem of the Kurds in Turkey under present policy.

So I believe they must be talked to. Secondly, I believe it is also essential to talk to Iran. Some people will not agree with that, but I believe that the stand-off from a dialogue with Iran has gone on for long enough. We have a new president in Iran who has made important moves in the direction of a dialogue with the West, and in particular the United States. The United States may not yet be ready to talk directly with Iran, in which case the United Kingdom is well placed to start that dialogue which should concern the Kurdish situation in Iraq and also—this is essential—the Shi'ite Moslems, because if the Kurds were appallingly treated, the Shi'ite Moslems have been subjected to appalling treatment also. No one knows that better than the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson of Winterbourne. Those things will happen again. We know that if Saddam Hussein becomes stronger again and if he accepts some form of words and continues in power, he will go back to those people who have opposed him and systematically destroy them. We owe it to those people to protect them better this time than we have done over the past seven years. I believe that negotiation is essential.

Then there is a third negotiation which is already going on but which needs to have the commitment of the President of the United States of America; namely, the Arab/Israeli negotiations. I do not believe that we would be having anything like the difficulty that we are currently experiencing in getting friendly Moslem countries to stand with us on the fundamental issues of principle which go to the core of the UN charter; namely, the eradication of biological and chemical weapons—particularly when these chemical weapons have been used by Saddam Hussein—if there were not a widespread belief that the United States is no longer committed to the Oslo peace process, and that there has somehow been a rather fundamental change in these negotiations. Again I do not expect any comment in the wind-up speeches on this matter, but I believe privately that the British Prime Minister, who has handled this whole episode extremely well, should raise this question. I do not share the criticism that he is a poodle or any of the other ridiculous comments. It is a fundamental aspect of British foreign policy that where it is possible we work closely with our principal ally the United States of America.

Most people know that that relationship triumphs when critical advice is given privately. When you have a different view, you argue it from within as an ally and as a partner. We have a legitimate view to put to the United States administration on the handling of the Arab/Israeli dispute, and I hope that we shall do so. We shall do so with the support of many Israelis who are as disillusioned about what has happened over the past year or so as are we on the outside. That is an essential element. Were we to have to take military action I believe that we may embark on a fairly long period of military and political activity. During that time it will be necessary to talk to the Turkish Government, to the Iranian Government and to talk to the Israeli Government and to make it quite clear that there has to be more realistic progress.

This will be a fraught and extremely difficult operation. There is no one who does not hope that there will be a serious diplomatic settlement. However, history tells us that bits of paper are not always enough. It has to be a real settlement this time. I tell your Lordships one essential reason why. The criticism of the present United States—which I have often made—since the end of the Gulf War in 1991 has been that it has not done enough; that it did not do enough in Somalia or in the early years in Yugoslavia; it did not do enough in Rwanda; it possibly did not even do enough in Korea. If, on an issue of substantive principle, the United States has decided to stand firm and defend the United Nations charter and to stand firm on the necessity of getting rid of these weapons of mass destruction and it was to be deserted, and particularly by Britain, the effect would be devastating. I believe it would lead to a real, deep isolationism in the United States and a cynicism about international law. It would probably continue to take unilateral action when that suited but it would be an unconstrained superpower. That would be a situation of extreme gravity.

Therefore there are much deeper issues here than even Iraq or the region that lie behind the British Government's decision to stay firmly and solidly with the United States and keep whatever advice we have when there is a slight difference, and whatever criticism we have, privately and quietly between friends. I end by saying that if we have to take military action I hope and pray for those in the Armed Forces who have to undertake this difficult operation that they will choose wisely in the weeks and months ahead.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, it is difficult to follow so extensive and important an analysis of the political aspects of the crisis we are facing. More immediately, of course, we face—or many people appear to face—a crisis of conscience about the immediate action to be pursued. There must therefore be some concern about the genuine possibility of the United Nations Secretary-General's venture into diplomacy.

Why do we find diplomacy so difficult in this area, and why do we find it difficult to discuss this and the difficulties that it presents us with, as the right reverend Prelate has mentioned? To answer that question we might look at something quite different. As we concentrate on Iraq today the inhabitants of Belgium have something quite different on their minds; a report about a gruesome murderer of little children and the failure of the police and judicial system to bring him to book. What is the nexus? I have not, of course, seen the Belgian official report which was published only today, but it seems to me that one element must be that ordinary people, policemen, magistrates and other citizens, find it almost impossible to imagine the mind of a person whose ambition in life was to find opportunities to torture little children. I have a feeling that one of our difficulties when we discuss how to deal with Saddam Hussein is that most decent people find it almost impossible to enter into the mind of an individual who has massacred thousands of his own citizens, and foreigners as well, and who is apparently determined to give himself the apparatus which would enable him to wreak the same havoc on others, possibly only in the region, but perhaps in the wider world. If we cannot enter into the mind of a person of that kind, our diplomacy becomes difficult.

The noble Lord, Lord Owen, believes nevertheless that Saddam is a rational person and makes rational decisions. If that were the case, one would have to ask what is the objective of these rational decisions? As far as I followed the noble Lord, Lord Owen, in that part of his speech, it is to retain Saddam's political authority in Iraq. But that authority surely is maintained only because he has the force to maintain it. Therefore it is difficult to see why a rational approach to his predicament would lead to anything which would diminish his ability to use that force. I would not disagree for a moment with what the noble Lord, Lord Owen, said about either the Kurds or the Shi'ite Moslems of the south. But assuming that there is still to be the core country of Iraq around Baghdad—the old Mesopotamia—we would hope that the regime would not survive either the diplomacy or, if the diplomacy has to be given up, the conflict that would follow. We clearly must believe that the Iraqi people have the capacity to get something better going.

The trouble is that we may also find it difficult to know how the Iraqi people would respond either to our diplomacy or to our use of force. We see them on television screens apparently applauding Saddam Hussein. We see them denouncing ourselves, the Americans and others. Do we know whether that is genuine or the product of immeasurable fear? Those of us who live in civilised societies may find it difficult to think of political attitudes being conditioned primarily by fear. I suspect that the only people in a position to understand how the Iraqi people behave are those, now not so many in numbers, who lived under Stalin or Hitler. Even later, we have had revelations from the East German archives of how people behave when their personal security and the security of their families are at stake in any political move they make.

Those are the problems which lead people to seek, perhaps desperately, some way of avoiding a conflict. They say, "Well, if we go to war this will increase Saddam's popularity"; or, "It will show that there is no feeling in most countries for action of this kind." I find that sympathetic on the whole as an attitude, although not as expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet. He develops imaginary history of the past and future in order to promote his own stance on these issues. But, for most people, who feel repugnance at the idea of such a conflict, I have nothing but respect and admiration.

The difficulty is that they, too, have no answer. They say, "We rule out the use of force. We accept the powerful arguments against it, moral, possibly legal and certainly political." They then have to say, "What do we think will happen to the weapons of mass destruction?". Even the most pacifically inclined do not deny that they exist in Saddam Hussein's possession. I take it that even the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, will not tell us that it is all imaginary, that there are no weapons of mass destruction. Those people have to say, "We cannot accept the solutions at present on offer." We have to say to them, "Please can you tell us how else it can be done?"

4.55 p.m.

Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne

My Lords, we seem to be preparing to go to war with Iraq again. We are debating it with heavy hearts. But we built up this monster. As Shakespeare would have it, Ay, there's the rub". Although we did not create him, he is an Iraqi. We armed and inflated him. But now we have summoned an armada to bring him low.

Of course the explicit mission is not to destroy him personally. The goal is limited to attack on clusters of weapons production and possibly, if we can find them, his praetorian guard. Perhaps that is because it is clear that whoever else is assaulted, he will be safe deep in bunkers way beneath the surface. But without weapons he falls because he rules by fear and money, force and brutality. And what weapons he has assembled. Perhaps they are not nuclear yet. The French effort of 1981 to make nuclear weaponry was destroyed. But that same year Saddam Hussein sent 75 Scud missiles in just one day into the southern Iranian province of Khuzestan while the heinous policy of dual containment, still, alas, in place today, during that appalling war between Iran and Iraq resulted in weapon sales to both sides from 37 nations, including Britain. That left 1 million dead.

In 1988 his invasion of Iran was finally repulsed and he turned in revenge on the Iraqi Kurds with chemical warfare, in clear contravention of the 1925 Geneva Convention. He retained thousands of Iranian prisoners of war and used them for ghastly experiments as he built up his biological weaponry. That same year he started to drain the historic Sumerian marshlands of Iraq and Iran, and he began to destroy the marshland people.

We in Britain relaxed the guidelines on arms sales to Iraq around that time, ignoring the bloated faces of the dead Kurdish children. We saw their faces in the newspapers and on television. DTI Ministers visited Baghdad to start the process of fresh arms sales from the United Kingdom to Iraq. A Foreign Office Minister, intelligent, intellectual and ignorant, wrote an enthusiastic note urging British arms manufacturers to sell to Baghdad, not hearing the cries of the tortured political prisoners in Al Gharaib Prison just below their feet in Baghdad. Ten thousand people—Tuesdays and Thursdays were the execution days—were picked out by numbers to be killed. They were not what you and I would call political. Some of them were doctors, some nurses, some intellectuals. Britain built up the medical school in Baghdad, the finest in the Persian Gulf. The education system came from Britain. All those people were our friends; they were not politicians. But they opposed a tyranny which is beyond our understanding.

I have a doctor friend, tortured unbearably for months on end. He was one of the people who had to authorise the executions, noting down the dead bodies as they were cut from their stakes. I have talked to the fathers who were given the execution chits showing that their sons had been killed. These were the people who were supposed to be political prisoners.

In that same year on the BBC's "Any Questions" I called for an international war tribunal for Saddam Hussein. I have to say that I found scant support for such a view from the body of informed opinion of my side then. I was told that we needed arms sales to defend ourselves. I was given some sort of warped logic that they had our weapons and therefore it was easier for us to defend ourselves. Were Britain's interests really best served by making a level killing field in the Arabo-Persian Gulf? There is no such thing as a clean war. Saddam Hussein would not bother if there were. He is a cruel man. Events in Kuwait showed us that in 1990.

I talked later to a man in Kuwait. He had rushed out when he saw a dead body on the ground during the invasion. It was the body of his closest schoolfriend. He went to find him on the ground. He was clearly dead, and he put his arms around him. He found that his fingers, his hands, almost his arms went right into the body as he touched it. Every bone in that man's body had been deliberately broken. His body was like a piece of jelly. A monster breeds monsters.

Every family in Iraq has a spy, usually the children, reporting on a daily basis to the authorities about what their parents say. It is a terrible society. As someone who fled from Iraq to the United States said recently, the whole of Iraq is a living concentration camp. When Saddam Hussein's troops were driven back from Kuwait, they took prisoners of war with them. They have not yet been released; they have never been heard of again. He practised his vengeful cruelty in 1991 on Iraqis in north, south and central Iraq alike. The uprising, stimulated or at least encouraged by President Bush, collapsed in a welter of blood and pain.

He went on assaulting his people, this time using the weapons that we, the allies, in the peace treaty after the Gulf War, had authorised him to use. I saw it happen on the ground. There were airborne assaults outside the safe haven—a wonderful concept derived from a British army officer's idea. There were machine guns mounted on helicopters; bombs from fixed-wing aircraft; and chemical drops where masks were needed. I personally saw mustard gas-type injuries on southern Iraqi people inside Iraq. I saw ground-to-ground missiles. I came across a warm spot and a huge amount of earth everywhere. A ground-to-ground missile that was authorised for Saddam's use had gone right across the marshlands near to the Iranian border. Those ground-to-ground missiles kill 25,000 people if they hit a town and go up in flames. Those are, of course, conventional weapons. We authorised him to keep them and use them. As he drained the marshlands, tanks were able to roam freely and plant bombs right up to a point beside the Iranian border.

I found help for the refugees fragmentary and hard to obtain as thousands upon thousands of them flowed across the border between 1991 and 1993–95, as the border was closed, and closed and closed and Iraqi tanks came closer and closer, chasing the refugees in the north and the south. It was also difficult to convince the West that these were people who should be helped. It was difficult to deliver the aid. There was suspicion as to the motives, as if the West's hands were permanently tainted.

Outsiders just would not believe that the victims' pain was not imaginary. I was told that all of them were terrorists. They were Moslems—Shi'ah Moslems to boot; they had to be terrorists, didn't they? As if every single Shi'ah Moslem, all those who somehow had come out of Iraq, were themselves a part of some international terrorist brigade.

I set up a dialogue with the director-general of UNESCO, Federico Mayor. Britain did not belong to UNESCO. Together we have created a permanent standing conference on dialogue between the European Union and Islam—the dialogue of civilisations. Surely that is the way forward. I went to speak to the White House, asking for American help. I tried four times. All that they would talk about was what they perceived as the coming fall of Iran. They had misunderstood the situation. What they were watching was in fact the excitement before a general election and in the following year the excitement of electing the president. The problem of dual containment has meant that the United States appears to believe that Arabs and Persians, Iraqis and Iranians, are just the same; that they will respond in exactly the same way, whatever is done. It is a false assumption.

As to the Pentagon, I showed them photographs of the marshland children out of their environment and in despair in camps. They said contemptuously: "Oh, they don't look as though they are starving. We get better photographs of starving children from Africa. These won't get you any sympathy." I went four times to the State Department to ask for help, to ask for aid for those people. I was given the names of various charities in the United States which were supposed to help refugees. The biggest one of all begged me for visas. I said, "I'm sorry, I'm not a travel agent." The person with whom I was speaking said, "But I have to go there. I have to see." I said, "I can give you the film and the photographs." He went on begging me for visas. Eventually, as a sort of joke over the telephone, I said, "I can't understand why you can't get your own visas. Do the Iranians think that you used to be head of the CIA?" There was a long pause. "Funny you should say that", he said, "I was." And the people went on suffering.

I talked to representatives in France. They were making contracts with Iraq—contracts for oil extraction from the marshlands later on. I talked to representatives in Germany. Of course, they were busy, as we now understand, furnishing Saddam's arsenal. I went to talk to people in the Netherlands—until I discovered that Netherlands engineers were building the dams in the marshlands. Meanwhile, the drainage of the marshlands went on. The size, the scale and the horror of the suffering is unbelievable, happening in a place half the size of Wales, the size of New Jersey. And we knew it was going on.

It was not believed. Ministers who knew refused to act, or even to release the knowledge. Why? Because, as one—only one, I agree—said to me, "If the public knew what was going on, they would want us to do something."

Today, the western appeasers of the tyrant claim that we must not cause further environmental damage. I have here a halfway-house report on the drainage of the marshlands. Who noticed the environmental damage then, in 1993? Who noticed the small town that went way back into history as 10,000 people were totally wiped out? A small boy in a camp today, aged just 13, with sisters of 11 and 9, has no parents. His mother was killed in Iraq. His father died on reaching the refugee camp. He begs from the other beggars to try to survive. There is a blind family—six of them, all blind as a result of the damage—with only the mother who can see. She begs all day to survive. Amar himself, the boy with 45 per cent. third degree burns is now in Britain, saved thanks to Guy's Hospital.

We should remember that sanctions exclude aid. Do not imagine that aid would not be there if it was possible to achieve. Aid through Baghdad is impossible to achieve. I have offered half-a-million pounds-worth of medical aid to Baghdad, not once but several times. I even met Iraqi ministers to discuss it personally. They rejected it. There is no aid to the south of Iraq and I believe it is minimal elsewhere.

A woman watched her husband being run down by a tank, one of a line of men killed by that method of execution in front of their wives and daughters. She said to me frantically, "Take my voice to the West. Let the West hear what suffering we are going through."

Yet we did not learn the lesson. In 1996, when 135,000 northern Iraqi refugees fled across the border as Saddam invaded the north of Iraq, the safe haven area, there was western inaction and disbelief. The numbers were not believed. I went out there myself immediately and stood on the border as the bombs came over, counting the refugee numbers and making a "Today" broadcast through Landsat to try to convince people that, yes, those numbers were there. Instead of help, I feel that we have sent into Iraq the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse—war, famine, disease and death.

The Iraqi people have suffered too much. They cannot be helped with a despotic maniac owning all government power and position—a real tyrannus rex. If we have any heart, and any concept of real human rights, we should now start to work towards a fairer government in Iraq; we should assist in trying to restore the marshlands, to help Iraq towards a better future.

For ourselves, we should make a firm resolve, from which we should never deviate, that we should not build our own prosperity upon the broken bodies of another people. Arms sales restraint should surely be our watchword, a real code and one that we should bring into the wider world.

As for Saddam, it is not for us to deal with him. We should work hard to crush and destroy his power base, which threatens the region and a wider area, by taking away his weapons. After that, let the Iraqis make up their minds and decide on their own future. If they say that those who live by the sword should die by the sword, then let us work hard for an international war crimes tribunal so that the lessons learned need not be repeated. Auschwitz and Belsen echo down the ages; Al Gharaib Prison will, too. I support the Government.

5.11 p.m.

Lord Gilmour of Craigmillar

My Lords, no one has a greater or more intimate knowledge of the horrors perpetrated by Saddam Hussein on the marsh Arabs than has the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson. I am sure that the whole House has immense respect for the extraordinary and dedicated work she has for so long devoted to this cause.

There was an impressive consensus among the three Front Benches in support of the Government's line on this issue. Unfortunately I do not share it and find my views much closer to those expressed in the three succeeding speeches by the right reverend Prelate, my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew and the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, and to what the noble Lord, Lord Owen, so eloquently said about the Kurds.

It seems to me that the proposed military action, which we all still hope will be avoided, will be futile, damaging and hypocritical. It will be futile because it seems extremely unlikely that it will work. Like my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew, I am unable to judge the military efficacy of these matters, but I have taken the trouble to speak to many people who know about them. I have not found one who has much faith that the bombing will achieve its objectives. And one does not have to confine one's knowledge to private contacts, because a number of doubts have been publicly expressed by people who have considerable expertise on the subject. Previous evidence shows that bombing in these circumstances does not achieve its objective.

I believe that it would be damaging, mainly because of its considerable consequences elsewhere. As President Mubarak of Egypt said to the Financial Times in an interview yesterday: I think things will become much more serious with air strikes". There is very little doubt that air strikes will lead to a considerable increase in Islamic fundamentalism. It will do considerable damage to pro-Western regimes in the Arab world and will create alarm, not only in the Arab world but also elsewhere. It will, I believe, destroy whatever faith still exists in the United States and Britain as useful mediators in the Middle East.

The noble Lord, Lord Owen, said that it was unfair and wrong to call the Government the poodle and parrot of America, but I believe that on this issue that is exactly what they have been. The noble Lord also said that it would be very damaging to America if we did not always follow their line. That is not a view that is even shared by the Americans themselves. The headline to a striking article by a former State Department adviser in the Herald Tribune before Christmas was: Too Special a Relationship Makes Britain a Feeble Ally". The writer, Mr. Charles Maechling Jr., went on to say, British parroting of U.S. foreign policy has so diminished Britain's standing as an independent force in world affairs as to make it more of a diplomatic encumbrance than an asset". He went on to talk about Britain's "abdication of independence" and other matters of that kind, which we certainly seem to have seen in this crisis. I believe that not only Britain's reputation but also her interests will be damaged in the Middle East.

Military action would be hypocritical because, as the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, said, America is very selective with regard to the United Nations resolutions that it chooses to seek to enforce. We had a good example of that when the current American Secretary of Defense went to Russia. He said that one of the reasons for the crisis was that we had to see that Saddam Hussein observed the United Nations resolution. Yet when he was a senator, Mr. Cohen spent much of his time urging the United States to recognise Jerusalem as the single, undivided, eternal capital of Israel, which would be in complete defiance of the United Nations resolution and of history, justice and truth, and a good many other things.

In her impressive opening speech the noble Baroness denied that the West were operating double standards. She said that Saddam Hussein was an evil dictator—I should think every person in this House and indeed outside fully agrees with that—whereas Israel was a democracy. I do not suppose she meant to imply that democracies have a greater licence over the United Nations resolutions that they choose to obey, but there seemed to be an implication to that effect. Although Israel is a democracy as far as Israelis are concerned—and all credit to her for that—she is certainly not a democracy as far as the Palestinians are concerned, who have suffered a malign, brutal and savage occupation for the last 30 years; so much so that the daughter of a holocaust survivor, Sarah Roy, recently talked about the de-development of Gaza.

The fact is that the double standards are blatant. Saddam Hussein has weapons of destruction and will be punished for disobeying United Nations resolutions. Israel too has weapons of destruction and is consistently rewarded by the United States for doing exactly the same thing. She is showered with billions of dollars and has just been given the latest American military equipment.

It is all very well for the noble Baroness to shake her head, but that is true. She said that we must see that Israel obeys United States resolutions. We say that, but in fact she has been disobeying them for 30 years and there is no reason to believe that she will not go on doing so because she knows that she always has the covert—and occasionally overt—support of the American administration. There is so little support for America in this crisis because of the blatant double standards involved. The noble Baroness talked about the strong support from our Gulf allies. So strong is that support that, for the reasons that I have given, not a single one of the major allies supports military action.

What should be done? First, we should start being even-handed. Then we should remember the importance of the strategy of deterrence. After all, deterrence kept peace in Europe for 50 years. I cannot see why the same principles do not apply in the Middle East. Assuming that Saddam has these weapons—and I do assume that he has them, although it is not absolutely certain—if he used them on Israel or anyone else, he would be obliterated almost straightaway. The idea that he would use them seems to me extremely unlikely.

We should then put forward a plan. There should certainly be unrestricted access to Saddam's sites. There should be proper teams, on the lines of Mr. Ekeus rather than of Mr. Butler, who seems an extremely unfortunate choice. There should be a proper international distribution in the teams. We should put a time limit on that process and give a definite undertaking that, provided no obstruction has taken place up to that time limit expiring, sanctions will end.

That seems to me to be a feasible negotiating position and something I hoped the Government would put forward. However, they seem to be doing entirely what the Americans say and have not put that position forward. It may well be that the Americans want a war—it would help President Clinton in his current difficulties—but we certainly do not want a war. I regret therefore that the Government have not been more active in trying to prevent one.

5.20 p.m.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, following what was said by the noble Lord, I do not believe that the action will stop at an aerial bombardment. I am inclined to believe that it has already been decided that the aerial bombardment will not be successful in bringing about the end that we seek. Aerial bombardments, damaging and disastrous though they are to those on the receiving end, seldom achieve the object they seek. In the end that must be done on the ground by the poor bloody infantry. I do not see any reason to suppose that this operation will be any different.

I have always been opposed to war. I was born six years before World War I, which was the war to end all wars. I had some difficulty in persuading myself to join in the proceedings of World War H. but I finally did succeed in persuading myself that the evil against which we fought was so great that it was desirable that I should play my small part in resisting it. And so I joined the Royal Air Force, similar to my noble friend who spoke earlier.

The reason that I am opposed to war is that it seldom achieves the end it seeks. If I could be persuaded that this war was desirable, the passionate and well-informed speech we heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, would have persuaded me. And if I believed that the war would achieve its aim, then I would be in favour of it; but I do not believe it will.

The noble Lord, Lord Beloff—who speaks without notes, and I wish I did—wondered whether I should touch on the question of the weapons which have been gathered together by the tyrant in Baghdad. I have no difficulty in doing so. My noble friend in the Foreign Office was kind enough to supply me with the report of the commission which investigated the whole matter. Insufficient praise has been given to that group. At considerable risk it disclosed a situation which some perhaps do not realise to be as alarming as it is.

I need quote only one short paragraph from the report which sets out at the beginning what it achieved. It achieved a great deal. It uncovered a considerable amount of highly dangerous material which had been gathered together under the regime. At the end of the report it says why there is still anxiety and shows clearly that there is every reason for anxiety. The report dealt with various armaments that had been gathered together and continued that, Over 600 tonnes of VX precursors are also not accounted for. These could make 200 tonnes of VX. One drop is enough to kill. 200 tonnes could wipe out the world's population". That is not a headline from a tabloid, as I thought it was when I first heard it on the radio; it is the considered view of the expert inspectors who carried out that examination.

What do we do in those circumstances? Do we go ahead with the war? It seems to have been forgotten that those weapons will be used by Saddam Hussein in the war which we are proposing to launch. We shall therefore create a situation which will probably be worse than the one with which we started. That is nearly always the way with wars. I remember in the last war we carefully avoided killing civilians, bringing back bombs—I was not in Bomber Command; I was in Fighter Command, but it was well known at the time—to drop them in the sea if the exact military target could not be found. We ended up with blockbusters which were intended to frighten the civilian population and in fact killed women and children also. That was the end of that war to cure barbarism; we became barbaric ourselves, and ended up with Hiroshima.

At the beginning of this century around 3 per cent. of the casualties in war were women or children; now 60 per cent. of the casualties are women and children. They are the target of modern war, and that is barbarism. Modern war is a form of barbarism and if we stick our hands into it we become barbaric ourselves.

I am therefore not in favour of starting this war. People may ask, "All right, you are not in favour of the war, but what are you in favour of?". To some extent I follow the line indicated by the noble Lord, Lord Gilmour; that is, that there is an alternative method of approaching the problem. However, it is an alternative which presents us with considerable difficulty because we have to give something to the monster. The problem we are up against is that the methodology which we have so far been following has failed to separate the monster from his people; in fact, it has solidified the situation. He is the hero because he is the man who fights the West.

We must therefore take action over a longer period. At the moment we can express the hope that the Secretary-Genera] who will be going to Baghdad shortly will be successful in finding a solution to the problem. If so, all the fears expressed in our debate will not come about. But suppose he is not successful; what then? What can be the next step if we do not go to war? It must be the kind of action mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Gilmour, and by the noble Baroness when she spoke of the possibility of an approach to the monster.

It has to be done because the alternative is worse. We have to bargain. We have to say that in return for future verified reductions or the disappearance of the materials he has been gathering together illegally and wrongly and in return for allowing back the inspectors we will gradually remove sanctions. That is the only way to deal with the problem. The alternative is to fight out a war which will not be successful and which could lead to the termination of the human race.

5.30 p.m.

Baroness Cox

My Lords, I speak with some trepidation in a debate to which so many experts are contributing. However, I wish to focus on some of the wider ramifications of the challenge Saddam Hussein is posing to the international community, with particular reference to his policies of exporting weapons of mass destruction to other countries, and to ask the Government for their response to the implications of these policies.

A great deal has been said and written about the effectiveness of air strikes against targets within Iraq. However, even if they achieved everything they are intended to accomplish, they would provide only a short-term solution. For they would still leave untouched the stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons which Iraq has exported to other countries and the plants which Iraq is helping to establish for the further development of the weapons of mass destruction in those countries. My noble friend Lord Moynihan referred to "unconfirmed reports" of exports of such weapons. But there is considerable evidence. Therefore, in my contribution, I should like to highlight the very disturbing evidence of Iraq's involvement in the development of weapons of mass destruction outside Iraq; for example, in Sudan and Libya. Sites of storage of weapons of mass destruction and the development of new weapons in these countries are unchecked by United Nations inspection teams.

The transfer of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction started before the outbreak of the Gulf War. In 1990, when Saddam Hussein realised that intensive bombing of Iraq would occur, key sensitive elements were smuggled out. Further dispatches of materials and of experts to safe havens took place in the spring of 1991. Two of the most important weapons of mass destruction programmes were transferred to Iraq's close allies, Sudan and Libya. I will quote some of the information which has been made available by reliable sources from Sudan and I will draw heavily on a significant report released on 10th February, just last week, which was prepared by the United States House of Representatives Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare. I shall be using those sources for information on both Sudan and Libya.

The Iraqi-Sudanese strategic co-operation was established during the Gulf War and has developed in subsequent years with the delivery by Iraq to Sudan of weapons and of personnel with specialist expertise. In March/April 1991, the Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister, Tariq Aziz, asked Sudan's President Omer El-Bashir for permission to move Iraqi chemical weapons and Scud missiles to Sudan to avoid their destruction by the UN teams. Later, in 1991, as UN inspections became inevitable. Iraq transferred a large number of Scuds—estimated at about 400 missiles—and chemical weapons for "safe keeping" to Yemen and Sudan. Those sent to Yemen were subsequently transferred to Sudan.

The American report details further movement of supplies, including nuclear material, to Sudan in 1992. Subsequently, Iraq has been enhancing its relations with Sudan, providing support of many kinds for the fundamentalist Islamic military regime in Khartoum—the National Islamic Front. The NIF has been waging a war, which it has publicly declared a jihad, against its own people, including the predominantly Christian or Animist Africans of the south, the people of the Nuba Mountains, many of whom are Christians, others Animists or Moslems; and more recently, people in eastern Sudan, including the Moslem Beja people. Therefore, this war in Sudan is not a straight Christian/Moslem war. Indeed, many moderate Moslems are opposing a regime which is supported by Iraq; and that cruel conflict has already claimed more than 1.5 million lives and created the displacement of more than 5 million people.

The first joint Iraqi-Sudanese weapons of mass destruction project was built to provide facilities for chemical weapons near Wau, in Bar-El-Ghazal, southern Sudan. There have since been credible reports from reliable sources in Sudan of the deployment of chemical weapons around Kadugli in the Nuba Mountains and in the south. Witnesses have reported that deaths and injuries occurred among residents and there was a significant change in the colour of corpses and of animals and trees, similar to changes observed in Afghanistan and South-East Asia. Intelligence reports identified the agents as low quality mustard taken from an early consignment shipped to Sudan from Iraq just after the Gulf War. Since then there have been reports of the actual use of mustard gas canisters against the Sudanese People's Liberation Army by Sudan government forces on at least two occasions—in 1995 in southern Sudan; and in 1997 in eastern Sudan.

Even more disturbing, perhaps, if it is possible, than the reports of the use of chemical weapons are reports of the development of new complexes for their production. In May 1997, Iraq began the secret transfer to Sudan of equipment for the production of weapons of mass destruction which had so far been kept hidden in Iraq as a strategic reserve. Iraqi experts arrived in Sudan to prepare for the production and storage of biological weapons which Saddam originally planned to use against the Kurds.

Recent reports from sources inside Sudan claim that the NIF regime has now established two more complexes for the manufacture of chemical weapons, missiles of different sizes and artillery units. The first complex was commissioned in 1997 and is based in a district in Khartoum North. It contains an administration building, a chemical factory disguised as a pharmaceutical factory and a five-star hotel for hosting foreign experts. The second base is in the Yarmouk complex south-west of the fuel depot in the Al Shagara area south of Khartoum. This complex was commissioned on 15th August 1996 and sources from inside Sudan claim that chemical weapons have been manufactured with Iraqi finance and expertise. There are further reports that Iraqi weapons and equipment have been buried underground in an area south-west of Khartoum and that there is another complex south of Khartoum at the Jebel Awlia military base.

The report by the Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare also details the development of relationships between Iraq and Libya. I quote just one excerpt typical of many disturbing examples: In late 1995, Saddam Hussein … authorised the transfer to Libya of the secrets of Iraq's most sensitive armaments programmes—particularly the biological weapons programme…With the UN inspectors expected to remain in Iraq for the foreseeable future, Baghdad decided to retain in Iraq only the operational biological bombs and warheads, as well as the equipment required to sustain them in operational posture. In 1996, Saddam ordered the surviving sophisticated development and production systems as well as the extensive know-how and related documentation to be transferred to Libya". I have described these developments in some detail because they raise issues which are germane to the discussions surrounding the current situation in Iraq and to the proposed air strikes. Of course I believe that there can be no room for complacency or leniency with Saddam Hussein, with his track record of the production of weapons of mass destruction and of his ruthless use of them against his own people. I have visited the Kurds in Northern Iraq—or Iraqi Kurdistan—and seen how they still suffer from the aftermath of Saddam's brutality. Indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord Owen, rightly emphasised, they are still suffering horrifically and they require a Kurdish protectorate.

But I believe that Saddam's ruthlessness cannot be underestimated. His policies of exporting so much of his arsenal of weapons of mass destruction and the capability for their further and continuing development for safekeeping to regimes that cannot be trusted to refrain from their use raises far-reaching questions. May I therefore ask the Minister three of those questions?

First, does this dispersal of much of Saddam Hussein's arsenal of weapons of mass destruction outside Iraq and also the means for continuing to create those weapons of mass destruction have any bearing on decisions to undertake air strikes and other military offensives against Iraq? Secondly, is there a case for urgent consideration of measures to investigate the extent to which Iraq has exported materials and expertise for the development of weapons of mass destruction to other countries, particularly to Sudan and Libya? Thirdly, do the Government have any policy with regard to working with other UN member states to try to achieve the detection and the control of the development and use of weapons of mass destruction in those countries working in conjunction with Saddam Hussein, particularly Libya and Sudan?

I am aware that these additional questions may not be very welcome at a time when the situation in Iraq itself poses questions which are urgent and of enormous significance. But to focus predominantly, even exclusively, on Iraq may play into Saddam Hussein's hands, if he has already anticipated this attention, and if the contents of his "treasure chest" of sinister weapons have already been shared with allies capable of carrying out equally ruthless destruction in pursuit of equally ruthless policies. I suggest that we ignore them at our peril.

5.41 p.m.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, I hope to make my intervention in this debate a relatively brief one, partly because there is a long list of speakers and most of what needed to be said—and some that did not need to be said—has already been mentioned. The second reason is that I believe there is a very strong argument that at this particular stage of this crisis the less we say about these things and the less that we engage in speculation about the details, the better. I believe it is clear from today's debate that there is a great deal of common ground which we can accept and, I believe, dismiss.

I believe that few people would argue that Saddam Hussein should not be prevented from making weapons of mass destruction and stockpiling them. He should be forced to comply with the relevant United Nations resolutions; but, furthermore, he should be brought to his senses, if possible by diplomatic action. I do not believe that anyone seriously dissents from that. No sane person wants a war. When the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, says that he is opposed to war, for once I can agree with him. I am opposed to war also.

But the question here is not whether war is a good or a bad thing in isolation. The argument is whether Saddam Hussein can be brought to his senses and back into the international community of civilised nations by diplomatic means if those diplomatic means are not backed up by the threat of military action.

Although, as I say, I am opposed to war as a human activity, I have always believed that armed force, or the threat of it, is a legitimate instrument of legitimate foreign policy. Part of my reason for believing that has been the support that is given to that view by the Christian doctrine of the just war. Although he is not in his place at the moment, perhaps I may say what an intellectual delight it was to hear the doctrine of the just war outlined so clearly and brilliantly by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford. I believe that that is true in this case. It is valid, right and legitimate that in the pursuit of legitimate diplomatic ends we should pose, if necessary, the threat of military action.

That is why I have found over the past weeks that the endless discussion of strategic and military details has been somewhat vacuous and counterproductive. Going around London in the past few weeks one could be forgiven for thinking that the only military experts in this country are in newspaper offices, television studios or driving London taxis. That, of course, is not the end of the matter. There should be discussion about this issue of a restrained and intelligent kind. It is a matter of legitimate concern—and the point has been made several times in this House this evening—that whatever military action is embarked on it should have clearly defined, valid and limited objectives. But there is nothing new in that. That should always be behind the planning of any military operation in any context. But I believe that endless speculation about such matters as whether air strikes on their own will be enough; what will happen if we hit a target of weapons of mass destruction; and all the detail that must have been considered many times by the military planners themselves, is probably only of help to the regime in Baghdad. As soon as it feels that there is the slightest doubt about our resolution in this case its position will be strengthened.

When we think about the possibility of armed force having to be used in this context, it is arguable that the British and American Governments—the two countries most likely to be mounting military action in this case—probably have the best military and diplomatic advice available to them of any country in the world. At least, that has been my experience from both ends of the spectrum. In my view it is extremely unlikely that this or the previous government—or any government of this country that I can contemplate—would embark on some mad, trigger-happy military venture without careful planning and careful thought about its content and its consequences.

Certainly, there would be no demand for that from the military. There have been suggestions in some of our newspapers that our generals and air marshals are simply drooling with delight at the thought of dropping bombs on Saddam. I believe that perhaps it is not sufficiently realised that those most anxious to avoid war and military action are those whose business it is; those who have had experience of it and who know at first hand what a wasteful and barbaric business it is.

Before I sit down perhaps I may enter a more than usually sombre note. I am encouraged to do so because the noble Lord, Lord Gilmour, in his extremely interesting speech, touched on it himself. It is the frequent mention of the danger that Saddam Hussein may at some stage use his weapons of mass destruction outside the region and even use them against us. I would articulate perhaps more strongly what the noble Lord said, which is that Saddam Hussein should not forget that we, through the prudence of several successive governments, have the means to deter not only nuclear attack but any attack. Any attempt by Saddam Hussein to use weapons of mass destruction against this country would risk the most terrible retribution. I hope that he realises that.

But if Saddam Hussein, as a result of listening to the uncertain sound of some of the cracked trumpets in the international community, decides that the threat of armed force is an empty one, that is the moment when it is most likely to have to be used. The Government deserve support for the courageous stand that they are taking in this crisis. I am delighted to discover, if this debate is any indication, that the Government have that support.

5.49 p.m.

Lord Bethell

My Lords, I do not want to go to war either; I would much prefer that we could settle this matter by diplomatic means, but I found the solution proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, unconvincing. I do not think that even the prospect of the removal of the sanctions imposed on Iraq would in itself be enough to persuade Saddam Hussein to give up his arsenal of weapons of mass destruction.

We have heard from other noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Gilmour, that such weapons may not be in the hands of Iraq only, but may have been given to other countries with which Saddam Hussein has a relationship. We are led to believe that there are nuclear weapons in the hands of Israel, Pakistan, India and perhaps South Africa and other countries. I do not know whether I speak for a majority, but I have an instinctive feeling that undesirable though that fact is, there is probably no very great danger at the moment from nuclear weapons being in the hands of the countries that I have just mentioned.

We must also bear in mind that weapons of mass destruction, such as the bacteriological and chemical weapons held by Iraq, are in some ways more dangerous. Those terrible weapons can easily be distributed. There are international treaties forbidding their manufacture and use. We in this country have forsworn the use and the manufacture of bacteriological and chemical weapons. The mega-powers, Russia and America, have done or are doing the same.

There are grave concerns about this matter. I do not believe that one can accept absolutely at face value the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, that the less said about it the better. I have a feeling that there is genuine concern among ordinary people in the country about what may be about to happen in the next few days. The Government and the usual channels were right rather belatedly to put the matter before Parliament and to hold debates both here and in another place on the wide-ranging issues raised by the situation in Iraq. This country may very well be involved in military conflict in the next few days and it is essential that the country supports the Government in this. For what it is worth. I offer my own support. I wish that the same could be said about all our allies. It is said that, as happened over Bosnia, Europe is displaying a patchwork of attitudes.

I turn now to one specific point which I find particularly worrying. I have in mind Russia's attitude to this crisis. It is widely hoped that Russia is on our side, generally speaking, over the Iraqi crisis. I have heard it said that our aims are the same—that is to say, the aims of America and Britain are the same as those of Russia—and that only the methods used are a little different. It has been said that the methods used by Russia and ourselves complement one another because our approach, containing as it does a threat of force, is that much more effective when reinforced by Russia's diplomatic efforts. However, a large question mark has to be raised over Russia's position and we have to ask whether the Russians have been entirely frank with us over the question of chemical and bacteriological weapons. I gave notice to the Minister this morning about this point and I very much hope that the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, will be able to respond to it.

We very much hope that Russia is our partner in the building of peace and world order, but recent reports coming from the American Government have indicated that that may not be the case over Iraq. It may not be as simple as we would like to hope. It is said that Russia is rather enjoying the West's discomfiture over Iraq and profiting from it, frying or catching its own fish largely because of its resentment at having suffered so many losses during the past decade. It would be alarming if we had to conclude, as a result of this crisis with all its other perils, that Russia is taking an adversarial position towards the West over Iraq and that Russia has become a reckless, lawless land, with cowboys in charge of weapons of mass destruction, or even that it is helping to supply Iraq with weapons of mass destruction. Again, various American sources have made that point.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, that one cannot go into too much detail. We cannot inform through ministerial Statements here or in another place our adversary and enemy in Iraq of what we propose to do or what we have discovered about how he gets his weapons. It has been said that Iraq has received substantial and valuable equipment from Russia to help it to build up its capacity for bacteriological warfare. We need to know the basic presumptions on that and other issues on which our foreign and defence policies are based if we, the people, are to continue to support the Government as it is very desirable that we should.

It has also been suggested by senior American officials, and widely reported in this country, that Russian members of the United Nations Special Commission have been giving information to Iraq via the Russian intelligence service, thus frustrating the efforts of the United Nations monitors. I do not necessarily believe what has been said, but I am concerned about it and I should be glad if the Minister could give me some reassurance.

I have also heard that supersonic Cruise missiles have been made available to the Iranian Government and that they are at the moment deployed in the Gulf not too far away from the British and American vessels which may be taking part in conflict in the next few days.

The Government have a problem here. They clearly cannot reveal their hand to the House because anything said here will no doubt be studied by those with whom we may be in conflict in a few days' time. However, I should be grateful if the Minister could tell us as much as he can, particularly about Russia's attitude to the problems that we face with Saddam Hussein. Is Russia on our side? Is it our partner in peace, or is it still the same old dangerous Russian bear?

5.58 p.m.

Lord Thomas of Swynnerton

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford spoke of the "horrific weapons" held by Saddam Hussein, and my noble friend Lady Cox referred to the fact that some of those weapons have already been exported to other countries. As we have heard, and as we all know, in 1991 Saddam Hussein agreed to abolish such stockpiles as he had and to cease the production of such weapons. He has not done so. What are we to do about the situation? It may appear to be gratuitous to put that question at this time.

After all, we and the United States, with some very modest assistance from other countries, have assembled a large task force whose main purpose, I imagine, is to try to browbeat Saddam Hussein into acceptance of the return of the United Nations inspectors. I think that most of those who planned that task force would assume that if the browbeating were successful we would have achieved a triumphant victory of the kind which Clausewitz would have referred to as the best kind of victory—one achieved without the firing of a single shot. If the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Kofi Annan, can achieve it, it will also be a great triumph for the United Nations. That is a triumph that I believe is highly desirable in the complex circumstances of the late 1990s.

As we have heard very eloquently, particularly from the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, Saddam Hussein is not a rational man. He is not the kind of person who would react as we ourselves would react in such circumstances. In that respect he is similar to Hitler. As Mr. Neville Chamberlain discovered, it was very difficult to deal with someone about whose reactions and background one had no knowledge. It is therefore possible that we shall find ourselves going ahead with air strikes, the purposes of which have been discussed and defined.

Many Members of your Lordships' House have expressed anxiety about the consequences of those air strikes without criticising the reason for them but simply wondering whether they are the best course. The obvious anxiety derives from the fact that there are very few examples, if any, of victory being achieved purely by air strikes. There is a possibility that some such strikes might go wrong, as the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, pointed out, and perhaps result in the escape of the poisons that we are trying to control. It is also the fact that however brave, even heroic, pilots and crews may well turn out to be, it is only too easy to represent military action from the air as a cowardly undertaking, particularly in a poor country. There is also uncertainty as to exactly the long-term end of the air strikes.

I should like to put forward an alternative suggestion. This does little more than expand slightly on what the noble Lord, Lord Owen, suggested was desirable in his remarkable and important speech; namely, that the political background and implications of whatever military action is decided upon should be considered more carefully than they have been. I hope that this does not offend the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, who remarkably for a noble Lord of his wide democratic experience suggested that the less we talked about these matters the better. Nevertheless, I wish to take the risk and perhaps this is something that he will not condemn.

I believe that we should give much greater support—money and arms—than we have so far to the Iraqi opposition, including to the Iraqi National Congress, whose chairman normally lives in this country. We could support those gifts of money and arms with covert action of the kind which this country surely over many generations has shown itself particularly well equipped to carry out, particularly in this part of the world. Some suggestions along these lines were made by the United States ex-Deputy Secretary of State, Mr. Richard Perle, in a widely distributed article last week. Meantime, the assault force already assembled should be kept in being, thus keeping the Iraqi government guessing and keeping Saddam Hussein uncertain as to what our motives are but showing endless patience of the kind that police forces now show when they deal with a kidnapper whom they have besieged.

Of course, it will be represented that a policy based on what I have suggested is either too late—I am not sure that that is the case but as this is the first debate that we have had on this matter I do not see how I could have proposed it earlier—or risks the break-up of Iraq. That is something that may have to be faced. It has been suggested that that should be opposed because Iraq's allies would be against it. Let us suppose that there were to be a triumphant victory in Iraq and we managed to establish democratic government. Surely, such a break-up would be likely anyway. The Marsh Shia Arabs, after all, have very little in common with the Kurds.

The noble Lord, Lord Owen, made a comment about the Kurds with which I am in full agreement. He referred to the possibility of the establishment of Kurdistan as a separate state. That matter has been discussed since the break-up of the Ottoman Empire. The noble Lord referred to a conference in Cairo in 1921 when the question of the future of the Kurds was decided. On that occasion the idea of backing the establishment of an independent Kurdistan was proposed by the Secretary of State for the Colonies, but he was dissuaded from pursuing that by civil servants, Sir Percy Cox and his oriental secretary, Gertrude Bell. I need hardly remind your Lordships that the colonial Secretary of State who made that proposal and who would have backed it further was Winston Churchill.

I should like to make three further points. First, I support the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, on one other matter. If the United States is to go to war over Iraq in the interests of the United Nations, I believe that the time has come for it to pay its dues to that organisation.

Secondly, I believe that the British position should have been consistently discussed with our European partners, particularly at a time when we were about to assume the presidency of the European Union for the first six months of this year. It is only too easy to imagine how France would have reacted to this situation had she found herself in these circumstances. The French President would have announced that the voice of Europe could not be silent in deciding the destiny of the Middle East. I dare say that the name of the operation would have been much more "European" than "Operation Bolton", which scarcely seems to be an appropriate name for this undertaking.

Thirdly, we are discussing the possibility of war in the Middle East. Nevertheless, there is no suggestion that we are going to declare war or that the laws which in the past used to operate when wars occurred should apply in these circumstances. I dare say that there are certain disadvantages in a government saying that they will declare war. Nevertheless, for those who are fighting it there are many advantages. For example, it would be possible to insist on either a much tighter level of censorship than is possible in these circumstances or indeed complete censorship. At the very least those conducting the combat would not be distracted by the CNN news bulletins in Baghdad. I believe that much more thought should be given to this matter than has been the case. I made a proposal along these lines in this House at the time of the Falklands War. It was pooh-poohed by the Minister concerned. The word "war" was not used until historians started writing about it later. The same has happened on almost every occasion since 1945 when military action has had to be taken.

We are led to conclude that the problem could be described by the question, "When is a war not a war?", and the answer, "When it is fought at the end of the 20th century". That is something worth bearing in mind, because there will be other hags. My noble friend Lady Cox suggested where they might be. Similar problems will occur in the future which can be overcome provided of course that we manage the present situation successfully and happily.

6.10 p.m.

Lord Blaker

My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Swynnerton, but with much less historical knowledge, I shall refer to Hitler. My first political recollection was of Hitler marching in to the Rhineland in 1936. We remember what happened. The western powers failed to react in any way. The US had opted out of Europe. Hitler concluded that he had free rein, without any opposition, to pursue his ambitions. So he moved into the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia, Austria and Poland.

We now know from the records that if the French and British had responded vigorously to Hitler's move into the Rhineland he would have retreated. The whole history since that time might have been different. He felt that the West would never oppose him.

We are at a comparably critical point at present. In contrast to the Rhineland affair, at the time of the Cuban missile crisis in the early 1960s, the West, in the form of President Kennedy, responded vigorously, strongly, firmly and sensibly. The Soviet Union withdrew. The whole history of relations between the Soviet Union and the West was altered in a favourable way.

We all want a peaceful solution if it can be achieved. The question that faces us, as we all agree, is whether, if a peaceful solution is impossible, force should be used. I agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford that this is one of the most acute dilemmas faced by the British Government since the Second World War. The decision is much more difficult than the one relating to the Iraq affair in 1990–91, and the question of whether we should have attempted to rescue the Falklands in 1982. It has much more serious implications for us and for the world.

I see very little room for compromise. Saddam Hussein is saying that he will decide what sites the inspectors can inspect and who may be members of the inspection teams. He is saying that they can visit a particular site only once, and not return to monitor that site again. He is saying that because the inspectors have been pretty effective. We have heard from the Government reports of how much material they have discovered and how much has been destroyed, and that they believe he has much more. We cannot concede any of the points upon which Saddam Hussein is insisting. I do not believe, for example, that we can accept President Mubarak's suggestion that there should be a time limit on inspections. We can accept what is called UNSCOM plus, as my noble friend Lord Moynihan suggested.

Of course military action has its problems. The first problem is the squeamishness of people who spend their time watching television reports in this country, in the US and other countries in the West when they are faced, as they would be faced, with pictures of weeping women in Baghdad and seriously wounded children. Saddam knows that. I feel confident that he is counting upon the squeamishness factor which he will ensure comes into force, because somehow he will make sure that we see those pictures on television. He is counting on that factor to result in our not having the will to carry the matter through. It may take some time, and I shall return to that point. We must remember that the Vietnam war was won by the North Vietnamese in the sitting rooms of America.

The second problem with military action is that the intelligence sometimes, and possibly often, will be wrong. My experience of war tells me that that is often the case. That is not necessarily because the intelligence people are inefficient but because events in war move very fast and the other side is always doing its best to confuse us. It is not surprising that we are sometimes confused. I hope that if we take military action our intelligence will be more effective than it was in 1991. Perhaps, when he replies, the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, will say something about the statements I have seen that our intelligence capacity has improved considerably since 1991.

The third problem with military action is the difficulty of defining the objectives. As reported in the Observer last Sunday, the Prime Minister said: The aim of any military action will be to diminish significantly Saddam's ability to deploy, conceal and re-create his weapons of mass destruction capability, or threaten his neighbours. That will he done, either by ensuring the inspectors can resume their work, or by destroying as much of that capability directly as we can and undermining his ability to sustain it militarily". The Foreign Secretary, whom many of us will have heard on Radio 4 this morning, talked in a similar fashion to the Prime Minister when he spoke about attacking the capability of Saddam Hussein, not the stocks. I welcome the fact that he excluded the stocks, because it would be dangerous to attack the stocks. That might spread lethal weapons all over the atmosphere. I welcome the way in which the objective has been formulated.

It needs frequently to be repeated that aerial attack alone will not solve the problem—far from it. The noble Lord, Lord Owen, made that point. It was made also by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney. For the first time in 30 years I found myself agreeing with him, and I am sorry that he is not in the Chamber at present. He and I have jousted frequently over military matters during the past 30 years. It is a fundamental point.

The destruction of Saddam's capability can he achieved only by the people on the ground. It cannot be done by aerial attack. If we succeed in diminishing—to use the Prime Minister's word—Saddam Hussein's capability for conducting war by chemical or biological means, it will nevertheless not be enough to change his attitude towards inspection. I suspect that we shall have to return. It will not be a matter of just a week. It will be a return engagement later to try to change his mind a second time. If it comes to military action, I believe the affair could last a considerable time. That brings me back to the question of the possible squeamishness of the population of the West in the face of casualties in war.

The fourth difficulty about military action was referred to by my noble friend Lord Gilmour of Craigmillar, and the noble Lord, Lord Owen. It is that we have so little support from the Arab countries. That is attributed—I believe rightly—to the policies of the present Government of Israel and the failure of the US to put pressure on that government to conduct their affairs more appropriately, more in keeping with international law. I deeply regret the fact that the US Government have not put that pressure on. I hope that they might learn from this affair the importance of doing that.

On the other hand, the renouncing of the use of force has dangers which I believe are greater than the use of force. The first is the large scale of Saddam Hussein's chemical and germ warfare capability and the enormous size of his stocks. A terrifying number of casualties could be caused by small quantities of these lethal agents. We know that Saddam Hussein has already used chemical warfare and we know that because of the portability of the weapons the threat is not limited to his neighbours but is world-wide. It certainly affects this country.

Secondly, Saddam Hussein has shown that he is unlikely to make concessions unless he faces the strongest pressure. The strongest pressure is the use of force. If Saddam Hussein were to agree to a United Nations resolution, believing that force would never be used against him, how long would be keep the resolution and observe any agreement that he might make? Thirdly, if Saddam Hussein gets away with it this time, not only will the United Nations be seriously weakened, but other countries, some of which were mentioned by my noble friend Lady Cox, will regard themselves as having free rein to follow his example.

Diplomacy cannot go on for ever. It has been right to try at length, but it would be wrong to accept a half baked proposal such as that adopted last November at the instigation of the Russians. I was interested to hear the comments of my noble friend Lord Bethell about the Russians. I hope that the Minister will respond to my noble friend's question because last week saw reports about the alleged activities of the Russian intelligence services in relation to informing Saddam Hussein of the plans of the inspectors which had detrimental effects on their ability to carry out those inspections.

We hope for a good agreement with Iraq reached by the United Nations and properly carried out. That is much the best way ahead. If that is not possible I take the view of the majority of your Lordships: force will have to be used. On 12th February, General Sergeyev, the Russian minister for defence, asked the American Secretary of State for Defence whether the uncompromising and tough stand of the United States on the issue of Iraq helps to strengthen stability and security in the world. My answer is yes.

6.22 p.m.

Lord Stone of Blackheath

My Lords, I promised myself that I would not speak too soon after my maiden speech and that if I did I would not be pugnacious. However, I guessed what would be said in today's debate and therefore put my name down to speak, and I was right. The Middle East is an area where in ancient times unbelievable stories were told. In their re-telling they became the truth in the minds of many. Today, a strange phenomenon is emerging in the debate over Iraq. Too often, when the Iraqi crisis is raised Israel is mentioned. Israel is not directly involved in the latest crisis over Iraq. That is a myth. Israel hopes to remain disengaged from the conflict.

The charges against Israel are bizarre, but are repeated again and again in parliamentary debates, in the media and again here today. These myths have assumed a kind of credibility that cannot be ignored. The first is that the US is demanding Iraqi compliance with UN resolutions, but it makes no reciprocal demands on Israel for similar resolutions from the UN. The second is that the Arab world would not support military intervention against Saddam Hussein because of "Israeli foot-dragging in their peace process". The third is that Israel should be subject to Iraqi-style UN inspection of its weapons. The last of those charges is not worrying. Most reasonable people accept that Israel's presumed nuclear arsenal is of a purely defensive and deterrent nature and no more threatens regional or world peace than similar weapons held in the hands of other democracies such as Britain and the United States.

As regards the UN resolutions on Israel, yes, since the signing of the Oslo accords the General Assembly has passed no fewer than 36 non-binding resolutions condemning Israel. But more serious, because they are binding, are the Security Council Resolutions 242, 338 and 425, which form the basis of the land-for-peace negotiations between Israel and her Arab neighbours. These resolutions have been endorsed by successive Israeli governments. They have provided the negotiating basis and the legal framework for Israel's agreement with Egypt and Jordan. They will play a similar role in eventual agreements with the Palestinians, the Lebanese and the Syrians. The point is that these resolutions are not unilaterally enforceable. They take two to tango, and we hope that they will.

Yes, this latest crisis in Iraq should remind us that the Israeli and Palestinian dilemmas are of great urgency. But they cannot be glossed over in a desire for swift progress at any cost. And their plight in Israel and Palestine is not helped by linking their issue with Iraq. On the contrary, Israelis and Palestinians are again queuing up for gas masks, hoping that we will do the right thing in Iraq.

The charge that Israel is somehow responsible for the break-up of the Arab coalition against Saddam is a red herring. Arabs all over the world fervently hope that the US and Britain will broker a diplomatic solution and know that Saddam's weapons point to his own people, his neighbours, Israel and the whole world.

We know that some people would have liked there to be no Israel. But even if Israel did not exists now, at this time Saddam Hussein would still be sitting on thousands of litres of anthrax. We Jews thrive on guilt. We are pleased to be blamed for most of the problems in our families, in our community, within Israel and with our immediate neighbours. But we feel for the ordinary people of Iraq. They have suffered enough. Their pain is the dictatorship under which they live. Israel, the only democracy in the region, did not cause this crisis.

The resolution of the situation in Iraq will be along the lines of the blend of diplomacy and force put to us by the Minister and not by creating more myths and legends.

6.26 p.m.

Lord Marlesford

My Lords, there has been a suggestion that we would do better not to talk too much about these matters. I sometimes believe that in the apparent privacy of your Lordships' Chamber we have an advantage over another place in being able to discuss such matters frankly.

If ever there were a moment when it was necessary to disentangle morality from expediency and to identify the scope for diplomacy as a substitute for war this must be it. I believe it crucial to set a fresh diplomatic objective which is politically, legally and morally justifiable. If military action proves necessary in order to achieve that, military action must be viable.

In a real way, the problem of Saddam Hussein goes back to the Iran-Iraq war when he was backed by the West as a useful surrogate against the Ayatollahs. There was the understandable belief that the rise of Islamic militancy in Iran would be to the disadvantage of the West. On the other hand, the Gulf War was an example of where a resolute and morally right combination of diplomacy and force was successfully used to fulfil a clear objective.

However, since then there has been a belief that somehow the overthrow of Saddam Hussein could fragment Iraq and destabilise the Gulf. That belief, referred to several times today, was strong in 1991 and still lingers. There have been many examples of the failure and immorality of such political expediency in history. The noble Lord, Lord Owen, mentioned the Kurds and I was reminded that it was to keep the balance of power in Europe that determined Castlereagh and Metternich to support the Turks in their repression of the Greeks. It was not until Canning went back to the Foreign Office in 1822 that the Turks were told, "Enough is enough."

My noble friend Lord Blaker referred to the obvious analogy of Hitler. More recently there was the rather shameful way, after the invasion by Vietnam of Cambodia, in which both China and the United States, for their own reasons, continued to support the odious Pol Pot.

The crucial lesson now is that diplomacy and the threat of force must have not just the same objective but one which can be achieved. We are told constantly, most of all by President Clinton, that the object is not to remove Saddam from power but the reintroduction and full acceptance of the UN weapons inspectorate. Even if that were to be achieved, does anyone really think that Saddam would cease to build his secret arsenal or that he would cease to torture and murder his unfortunate citizens?

Saddam has proved repeatedly that there can be no salvation for his people or the security of the region until he is removed from power. The noble Baroness, Lady Symons, made the case for that in her speech. It is not even today on the Security Council agenda and at least two of the permanent members of the Security Council are doing their best to give Saddam the impression that they are using their diplomacy to save his bacon. The Russians, to whom my noble friend Lord Bethell referred, have huge rewards to gain from the oil deals which they have done with Saddam and the French are once again seeking to re-establish their commercial hegemony in the Gulf.

As for Saddam, if he remains in power and sanctions are lifted, he could become far wealthier than he was before the beginning of the Gulf War. There would then be much less chance of his removal and his evil and the potential instabilities would be 10 times worse. We have passed the point at which disarmament, as a condition for the removal of sanctions, is enough. The clear and stated objective of the United Nations should now be the removal of Saddam and his family. No bombing of Baghdad or any number of presidential palaces will achieve that, at least not at a price which is acceptable to world opinion today or to history tomorrow.

Before the Gulf War started, I asked a friend of mine who had served in Baghdad what is the most important thing to remember about Saddam. He said that it is that Saddam is a Samson who would pull down the walls with him rather than give in or give up. That proved to be the case before the Gulf War started. He is as clever as a fox and is as ruthless as any of the most notorious psychopaths in history. I believe that he is seeking to lure the West into a trap. It is true that he does not understand the West. But he does understand his own people. He is now posing as a devout Sunni Moslem and indeed has incorporated the Koran into his flag. He is seeking to build up regional alliances. However, fortunately, Arab alliances are fickle and these are mere gestures against the West. I believe that they will disappear as soon as the West changes its tactics.

If there were to be air strikes now, Saddam would be out of Baghdad before the first shot was fired. He might go to his own village of Tikrit, a mere 75 miles north of Baghdad, but with a nest of bunkers beneath it, or to the mountains. I doubt whether there would be any military opposition to the Americans. Saddam would simply wait for the American forces to defeat themselves in the eyes of the Arab world. The Gulf War ended when it did partly because the West wanted to keep Saddam in power but also because the world was sickened by the slaughter on the road from Kuwait. The right answer now is to start a fresh round of diplomacy, not in support of a shooting war but in support of a psychological war. I so much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Swynnerton, about that.

Meanwhile, the international community, through the Security Council, should declare Saddam a war criminal. That proposal was made by my right honourable friend John Major some months ago. The noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson of Winterbourne, horrified us with more than enough evidence for an indictment of that sort. Indeed, what he did at Halabja, that unfortunate Kurdish village in north-east Iraq, in itself would be adequate justification for such an accusation. We should use broadcasts, leaflets and all forms of subversion of his regime from outside, including finance of the government in exile. We should perhaps offer the Iraqi people a bill of rights. I believe that the Iraqi people need to be persuaded that they have a chance to get rid of Saddam. He is already deeply unpopular. The pictures of him which used to be all over Iraq have gone, although they are put back from time to time for the sake of the television cameras. The overthrow of Saddam will come. He will probably end up being shot by his own Republican Guard.

Our Prime Minister has great international stature and considerable influence with President Clinton. Our diplomats are second to none with their skill and knowledge of the Arab world. Britain must act now. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Owen, that we must act quietly and try to persuade the Americans that the futile and dangerous direction of Clinton's policy must be changed. Policy should become the permanent removal of Saddam Hussein and all his works.

6.35 p.m.

Lord Bramall

My Lords, first, I must apologise and crave the indulgence of your Lordships for not being present during the earlier part of the debate. Therefore, apart from anything else, I lay myself open to being guilty of repeating what other noble Lords have said already. But I was in Yorkshire attending the funeral of my World War II commanding officer, and I know that no noble Lord would wish to dissuade or deter me from that.

The last thing that I want to do is to weaken in any way support for Her Majesty's Government in their determination that Saddam Hussein should not be allowed to go on producing and stockpiling NBC weapons and must comply with the Security Council resolution on free inspection which makes possible that prohibition. With so many imponderables, difficulties and dangers, it is not at all easy to arrive at the best solution. But clearly if diplomacy is to work, as is to be hoped, Saddam Hussein must have a threat of very dire and effective consequences hanging over him. Any suggestion that the United States and ourselves and those who stand with us do not somehow mean business would therefore be most unhelpful.

But when it comes to the actual use of force, if and when that becomes necessary, then I believe from my experience and what I might call informed memory of such matters—which I share with other noble Lords going back a long way, far further than many in Whitehall today—I am entitled to ask three basic questions. First, as with any military operation anywhere at any time, what is the aim of the exercise? Field Marshal Montgomery, if no one else, impressed on us all how vital is the selection and maintenance of the aim as a first principle of war.

In the Gulf War the aim was clear. In some people's minds it was not exactly the right one but it was clear enough: to get the Iraqis out of Kuwait as soon as possible and teach Saddam Hussein a lesson. Perhaps he was not taught a sufficient lesson, but the American coalition, under the clear authority of the Security Council, had assembled enough military resources on the ground, in the air and at sea, to be able to do the job properly, come what may.

I remember well that, after the attack on Kuwait, I went out with a parliamentary delegation under the leadership of the noble Lord, Lord Pym, which included the present Leader of the House. I came back convinced that the combination of most precisely-targeted and disruptive air attacks and, in due course, concentrated armoured assault would achieve the aim; and it did, or more or less did, in a very short time.

This time, the aim is much more obscure. Is it just to destroy the NBC weaponry which exists and Saddam Hussein's present capacity to improve and increase it—that is, if we know where those sites are and will continue to be? Is it to reduce Iraq to such a stone-age condition that never in the future will it be possible for Saddam Hussein to recreate the capacity to make such weapons? Is it, as has just been said by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, to ensure the removal of the dictator, either by death or by other unspecified means? I do not ask the Minister for highly sensitive answers, but I beg the Government, with the advice of the Chiefs of Staff, to get the aim absolutely clear and to stick to it.

My second question is whether the Government consider—nay believe—that sufficient and correct forces have been or will have been assembled to do the job. I say this because I can think of no case where military aims and objectives have been achieved by air attack alone. Massive destruction of German cities was not sufficient to remove Adolf Hitler in World War IL nor did President Nasser throw in the towel, as was confidently expected in 1956, when the Royal Air Force destroyed the Egyptian air force on the ground and bombed Cairo. It might not be a bad thing for Ministers to re-read the history of the Suez crisis, where there was little international authority for what we did.

Even the high-tech and very smart weapons which did so much damage to Iraq in the Gulf War were not sufficient by themselves to recapture Kuwait, let alone remove Saddam Hussein. Even if one feels disposed to quote the two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki—and I do not imagine that the Government have such things in mind—their aftermath required the early arrival of an occupation force. Yet there seems to be little sign of a land back up to support and, if necessary, exploit air and sea based strike forces—a land element which, of course, as far as this country is concerned, becomes, as a result of the endless defence studies and reviews over the past 10 years, ever more difficult to provide.

Finally, I turn to my third and last question. Has any proposed operation been thought through to the bitter end, which is the hallmark of good generalship? Have we, at the Chiefs-of-Staff level, clawed through every detail of the American plan, because undoubtedly it has to be an American one? I do not see, as there was in the Gulf, a de la Billière to stand alongside the American commander on the spot and, where necessary, give him wise advice.

Further, what if, after the air and missile strike, the NBC weapons have still not been destroyed, or only partly so—and, of course, we may never know because all ground inspection will by then have ceased? Do we go on and, if so, what are the targets? What if, after devastating destruction in Iraq, Saddam Hussein is still there? Again, do we go on and on and, if so, in what way? If, as a result of an Anglo-American attack, Saddam Hussein retaliates with his own Scud missiles from mobile launchers, which he may still possess, targeted on Kuwait, on Saudi Arabia but, above all, on Israel who this time, without perhaps the assurances provided by the desperate efforts of special forces, hits back at Iraq? Have we considered the consequences for the stability of the whole of the Middle East? There is also the possibility, I suppose, that Saddam Hussein may introduce bacterial agents into, say, water supplies around the world or indulge in other forms of terrorism. Have we made all the necessary counter-preparations for that situation?

Again, I am not asking for answers which might be embarrassing. I only ask for the deepest possible reflection and thought in depth. If, after weighing up the balance of advantage and disadvantage, of good versus evil, and of success versus failure, a war option is decided upon, and under the circumstances is considered morally justified, it must, as I am sure other noble Lords have said, be done properly.

In modern war there are seldom any soft options; no quick fixes which give pain and grief only to your opponent and no body bags for yourself. In the Falklands crisis the whole thing was thought through and the risks weighed up carefully—and, as it happened, accurately. The aim was clear. It was thought worth it. It was morally justified and it was done properly. The same could be said of the Gulf War in 1990. I only hope that the same rigorous thought processes are being applied this time.

6.45 p.m.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, it is impertinent for a rather bad former soldier in Her Majesty's Life Guards who plays with a Lee Enfield rifle to get up and actually ask the same question as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall. I believe that the case for war could not have been made better than by the noble Baronesses, Lady Nicholson and Lady Cox. They both pointed out that Saddam Hussein is evil beyond peradventure. The supreme irony is that he is named after one of the Prophet's small nephews who was massacred by a Umayyad general.

Saddam Hussein's assassination would be a blessing; his removal but a service to humanity. In that I am in complete agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford. However, I should gently remind him that it was under the premiership of Wellington that the battle of Navarino was fought not under the Foreign Secretary, Mr. Canning, who is referred to as an unfortunate incident in the Queen's Speech. However, that is just a minor quibble regarding an otherwise excellent speech, with which I am in complete agreement.

I, too, want to return to exactly the same point made by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall. Ever since Thucydides it has been established that infantry on the ground are the only thing, and even they cannot always control an area. It does not matter whether you are a hoplite in Persepolis, a legionary on the wall, Rifleman Costello at the seige of Bala Hauz or a soldier on the streets of Belfast, you must have infantry on the ground.

That brings me to the question which is exactly the same as that asked by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall. Let us assume in this action that the Prime Minister appears to say that we are not going to attack Saddam Hussein's stocks of weapons. The RAF, the USAF, the Royal Marines and the Fleet Air Arm bomb for 10 days, a week, a fortnight or even three months. It does not really matter. As has been pointed out, Saddam Hussein shows not the slightest concern over the welfare of the people. He uses Iraq for his own personal benefit without a thought for humanity or for the rule of law. So, eventually, this comes to a stop. The weapons of war are not destroyed and the likelihood of the inspectors going back in is nil. Where do we go from there? What happens then?

The other alternative is this. Again, the noble and gallant Lord nicked my speech from me. Peradventure there are four Scud missiles in existence. Peradventure two of those missiles are knocked out by bombing; and, peradventure two are fired and one of them is knocked out by a Patriot missile. However, the other, loaded, if noble Lords will excuse a mixed metaphor, to the gunwales with anthrax, lands in a suburb of Tel Aviv. Would the present Israeli Government stand idly by? They are not renowned for following the rule of law, and, indeed, they are not renowned for listening to even friendly advice. Indeed, they have never hesitated to oppress Palestinians. So what would they do? They would almost certainly use their own nuclear arsenal because, as has been said, it would be in self-defence. But where do we go from there?

Those are the two questions that I ask. I have no knowledge of what the answers will be. I find it incredibly difficult even to give a smidgen of helpful advice. I just know that they are questions which have to be asked and I know that we face a very serious future. I wish the Government all the luck in the world. I am awfully pleased I am not in it.

6.49 p.m.

Lord Islwyn

My Lords, the Gulf War took place seven years ago and the immediate military objectives of the United States, aided by the United Kingdom, were quickly realised. It is estimated that in that war between 16th January and 27th February some 88,000 tonnes of bombs were dropped on Iraq. I understand that is equivalent to seven Hiroshima-sized bombs. Casualties in Iraq were heavy. There have been various estimates of anything between 100,000 and 400,000 casualties. By comparison America suffered only 137 dead.

Such horrifying details are significant enough, but the consequences of economic sanctions have been far greater in humanitarian terms. According to the World Health Organisation 500,000 Iraqi children under the age of five have died as a result of malnutrition and lack of medicine following the economic embargo. There have been outbreaks of various diseases, including typhoid and cholera. In addition there is also a massive lack of necessary medical supplies, including medication for epilepsy, diabetes and asthma, and shortages of antibiotics. There are high levels of anaemia and shortages of vaccinations for children. Many Iraqis are now drinking unpasteurised milk, particularly in rural areas. These are just some of the massive problems that Iraq is now facing and it will take decades to recover. Yet these economic sanctions are ineffective, as the noble Lord, Lord Healey, pointed out in the foreign affairs debate on 28th January. He said economic sanctions are ineffective, because a dictator can always blame the foreigner for the sufferings inflicted upon his people".—[Official Report, 28/1/98; col. 239.] The Jordanian Foreign Minister, Fayez Tarawneh stated, We have seen seven years of sanctions—seven years of no results". The legitimacy of a military action to drive the Iraqis out of Kuwait was not difficult to comprehend. But where is the rationale for using air power systematically to destroy or cripple Iraqi infrastructure and industry, electric power stations, refineries, petro-chemical complexes, telecommunications centres, bridges, roads, highways, railroads, hundreds of locomotives, radio and television broadcasting stations, cement plants and factories producing aluminium, textiles, electric cables and medical supplies? The list is endless. But apart from this whole-scale destruction, are we to engage in another military strike when civilian casualties will inevitably be heavy? In all conscience I find it difficult to go along with that argument.

It seems to me, too, that America has yet to learn the lesson of Vietnam. Saddam Hussein is a ruthless dictator and I feel that we are fully justified in isolating him diplomatically and assisting in his removal by any legitimate or obtainable means. The immediate crisis was brought about because Iraq objected to the presence of United States members of the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM). Saddam Hussein claimed that UNSCOM was under the control of the United States and was infiltrated by members of American military intelligence. He further complained that the high percentage of United States inspectors hindered the completion of the work and that the United States had made it clear that it does not want sanctions lifted until Saddam Hussein is removed. Is this the policy of Her Majesty's Government, because these inspections have already been carried out for over six years? There have been United Nations representatives in Baghdad in the past few days. Apparently they are there to prepare the way for a visit by the Secretary-General with a view to bringing about a diplomatic settlement of the present crisis. I hope that will unfold and that further military conflict can be avoided.

It is worth pointing out, as numerous noble Lords have already done, that the present crisis is different from that of 1991. Then Egypt and Syria led the Arab contingent that expelled Iraq from Kuwait. But today these countries lead the chorus of Arab protests against American and British threats. The Gulf states are divided and Saudi Arabia has said that it will not allow its territory to be used for strikes against Iraq. There have undoubtedly been divisions in the Security Council. As I understand it, it is three to two against military action. So where is the legitimacy for that action? That point was made forcefully earlier this afternoon by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew.

France has adopted rather an aloof attitude but the wild card has undoubtedly been Russia. First, we had a warning from President Yeltsin that a military strike against Iraq could even lead to a third world war. Last Friday I was fascinated to read in the Daily Telegraph of the Russian Defence Secretary accusing the Americans of rushing into battle and endangering world stability. The noble Lord, Lord Blaker, has already made this point. Ironically the Russian Defence Secretary quoted to the Americans the words of Abraham Lincoln: Force is all conquering but its victories are short lived". Many commentators and people with military expertise cannot understand how the proposed bombardment of Iraq will achieve its objective of wiping out Saddam Hussein's chemical and biological weapons. Apart from this, what will such military action do for America's standing in the Middle East, for Arab states will be bitterly resentful? Unfortunately we seem to be tied to America's apron strings and the ill feeling will undoubtedly extend to us. Meanwhile France, which has been described as the jackal of Europe, will be waiting to pick up the lucrative contracts which will eventually become available with the rebuilding of Iraq.

Finally, there is the charge of double standards in the treatment of Israel and Iraq. Some will argue—as did the noble Lord, Lord Stone, this evening—that the comparison will not stand up in the present situation. Nevertheless Israel occupies one-third of the Lebanon at the present time and the Golan Heights belonging to Syria. Both countries are in violation of United Nations resolutions and each has weapons of mass destruction. In turn, the United States bombs Iraq and at the same time supplies Israel with military hardware. At the time of the 1991 crisis, America promised the Arabs it would endeavour to settle their dispute with Israel. The reality though has been altogether different, for the peace process has been left in abeyance and illegal settlements go on without hindrance from Washington. One cannot help but gain the impression that America's hands are just not clean. So I am a little disturbed that a Labour Government are allowing themselves to be dragged along the same path. The noble Lord, Lord Wright, a former head of the Foreign Office, in a debate he initiated on 28th January, said at col. 235 of Hansard: Our relationship with the United States has sometimes been depicted … as an Anglo-Saxon 'Trojan horse' within the walls of Europe … we are prepared to give uncritical support to all American policies". He went on to say that this is not the way we can hope to influence the United Nations administration or Congress.

As a country we have had a long and unique experience of the Middle East. There is now a belief that we are little more than the poodles of Washington. Our political and economic interests are being damaged as a result.

7 p.m.

Lord Holderness

My Lords, one advantage of speaking late in the debate—it has been a fascinating discussion—is that it enables one to take part in it rather than to add to a long list of carefully prepared speeches.

This country has been in greater danger than it is today, but, as a number of noble Lords have pointed out, the difficulties and the challenges that we face at present are in many ways more challenging than anything that is easily in our memories. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, pointed out that the challenge in the Falklands and the Gulf was in a sense much simpler to understand and to meet. We now await the mission of the Secretary-General, we pray for its success and we understand that if it fails the Government are determined to join in military action against Saddam Hussein. As some noble Lords have pointed out, that shows what a vast amount we have learned in the 60 years since Hitler was unopposed when he walked into the Rhineland. Many of us with long memories are well aware that the failure of Britain then to resist the illegal breaking of a treaty was quickly rewarded by six years of a bloody and destructive war. That failure to resist was not repeated either in answer to the Falklands or the Gulf, and the Government, if I may say so, deserve a great deal of credit for being determined to resist it today.

The noble Baroness, Lady Symons, in a clear and comprehensive speech, drew attention to the objectives now before us if our diplomatic efforts fail. My noble friend Lord Moynihan and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, emphasised the great need for clarity in our objective. To me it is utterly important that those who are prepared, as I am, to give full support to the Government should be completely certain of their aim.

The Foreign Secretary has repeatedly stressed—the noble Baroness repeated it today—that our aim is, first, to ensure compliance with United Nations resolutions and, secondly, the provision of unrestricted access for the UNSCOM inspectors. As I understand it, not on the agenda is the removal of Saddam—highly desirable though most of us would feel that to be—or an attack on his special republican guard. Nor, I understand, in the first instance is it on the agenda to protect Iraq's neighbours from these diabolical weapons. A number of noble Lords have drawn attention to the danger that threatens those nations that surround Iraq. But both the destruction of the weapons themselves and the prevention of recreating weapon-making capacity now seems to be clearly one of our military objectives.

The Foreign Secretary said recently in another place, If we succeed in removing a large part of those arsenals, and the equipment and capabilities that produce them, I would regard that as having secured an objective of military action". I do not think that one could be clearer than that. But, as we are well aware, diplomatic effort has not yet failed. The noble Lord, Lord Owen, made clear his view that the United Nations Secretary-General is admirably fitted to achieve a settlement, if such a settlement can be achieved by anyone on earth. In view of Saddam' s vile record—and no speech was more descriptive of it than that of the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson of Winterbourne—it is difficult for any of us to brim over with optimism about the achievement of such a settlement with Iraq.

As to other noble Lords, I find it hard to understand the absence of unity, even in regard to the diplomatic effort, quite apart from any question of military action, among nations which are surely well aware of the enormous danger that now threatens the world. Meanwhile I believe that Great Britain and the United States have taken the only course open to us in preparing for military action in the hope of increasing the diplomatic chance of success. I believe that a triumph of diplomacy offers much greater possibilities of achieving a constructive agreement than war. For if diplomacy fails—and it looks likely that our diplomatic effort will fail now—it will not only decrease the authority of the United Nations; it will face the Government with the difficult task of turning such a failure into military success.

The debate has shown a remarkable consensus and solid support for the policy of Her Majesty's Government. But this has not removed all doubts which have been expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Owen, my noble friend Lord Gilmour, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, and the noble Earl, Lord Onslow—it is a doubt that I share—about the prospects of military action achieving all the Government's objectives. I do not believe that I am alone in believing that some statements about the weapon destruction achievable by a week of military action are wildly optimistic. Therefore, any reassurance that the Minister can give us when he replies will greatly increase my enthusiasm for the course upon which we are now embarked.

7.8 p.m.

Lord Craig of Radley

My Lords, much has been said in recent days, and repeated during the course of this debate, about the purposes or objectives of military action should that option be chosen because Saddam Hussein refuses to abide by the United Nations resolutions. I raised this point during the Statement on Iraq on 26th January. I did not then receive a very positive answer.

I echo the calls for clarity such as that made by the noble Lord, Lord Holderness. There is still confusion in the minds of many on the right response of the Government on this crucial question. I heard the Secretary of State for Defence say in a radio programme at the weekend that the purpose of military action, in the event of a failure of diplomatic initiatives, would be to coerce Saddam Hussein to allow UNSCOM to continue its work unimpeded in Iraq. That seems to be the language of threat rather than military purpose. This morning the Foreign Secretary indicated on the "Today" programme that, if diplomacy failed and military action was taken, it would be to disrupt and damage the Iraqis' chemical and biological weapon capabilities.

The strategic objective, set out a number of times by the noble Baroness, Lady Symons. of enabling UNSCOM to complete its task is clear enough. But how does military action best contribute to that? How quickly after death and damage have been inflicted on Iraq from the air will it be possible for UNSCOM to return to its ground inspections without threat to its members? Obviously, the Government will have that consideration in mind. Perhaps the Minister will be willing to say more on that issue when he replies.

But now, with so many of our forces deployed, trained and ready for action, is no longer the time to be throwing large measures of doubt on the Government's purpose in relation to the threat of or use of force. Our service men and women deserve and need the support of the whole country if they are committed to operations, even though some questions as to their purpose still hang in the air. The more clearly and unambiguously the Government can state the purpose of military action, the better. There is room to improve the rhetoric, to get more "on message", so that we are clear about the contribution to our overall strategic objectives in carrying out air or other operations.

What we can be sure about is that every television channel in the world will display pictures of the first bombs and missiles landing in Iraq, with voices over drawing conclusions for viewers about the choice of targets. Those pictures will be preceded with live shots or library footage of aircraft taking off and Tomahawk missiles being fired from ships. They will be followed by the inevitable live questions to British and American spokesmen, probing questions as to why we have attacked such and such a target in such a way and what we expect to gain from it. Whatever purpose and objectives we had in mind will be exposed to the most detailed and confrontational journalistic scrutiny. Commentators will look to find divergences of view on every aspect of the operation. We shall need to ensure that what is said live in Washington, London, Kuwait city or wherever receives a common, concise and distinct response. Without that, public support and recognition for the efforts of our forces could be lost, no matter how many effective sorties have been flown into Iraq.

With all that in mind, I conclude by returning to another question which I posed during the Statement on Iraq last week. How will the decision to use force be taken? Shall we merely follow the American lead, or is there now agreement that it will be a joint decision by the two governments and others who may be taking part? Do we need further United Nations approval? That question has been asked a number of times. Once again, answers to those key questions will be expected, if not beforehand, then at the very first media briefing or conference after the initial raids have been mounted.

I am confident that no British government are going to allow others to commit our forces to their first attack. That, of course, Her Majesty's Government must do. But if, as some maintain, the bombing attacks have to go on and on for some time, what international command and control arrangements do the Government perceive? What has been agreed? Are we to have a war cabinet? Have we a clearly established national line of command to our front-line forces and their supporting units, so that if Her Majesty's Government wish our forces to stop, that can be immediately arranged?

I ask those questions not to seek to trap or embarrass the Government, but to help to foresee the answers that we must provide in the days and weeks ahead to ensure that our responses have been considered and are readily available to our spokesmen in theatre or at home. With so much professional experience and expertise to help a new administration, I am sure that sound advice is being tendered from many quarters. We can be confident that it is also being listened to and heeded.

Our Armed Forces will give a good account of themselves if they have to be committed. They will deserve the whole-scale and heartfelt backing of this country and the wider international community in their actions. The Government can give us that lead and express their confidence in the forces achieving that which may be asked of them.

As a final postscript to those who believe in a diplomatic solution, I ask: does it provide a final solution, or only a rest period, an interval, in the difficulties we face in the on-going confrontation with Saddam Hussein? Until he has gone, neither diplomatic nor military solutions will solve our problem.

7.16 p.m.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I labour under at least one difficulty. It is my habit on entering a debate of this length and importance to look down the list of speakers and see whose speeches I can possibly miss in order to take refreshment outside the Chamber. On this occasion I could find only my own name as being one worth missing, and consequently I am speaking on an empty stomach. I apologise to my noble friend Lord Gilmour of Craigmillar for having been out to take a meeting, and with less enthusiasm to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, who is not present to hear my remarks.

The Government have come to this House and the other place with a simple question: will you trust us and will you support us in a military assault, if it is necessary, on Iraq? From the general tone of this debate it must be clear that the answer is yes. But it is a qualified yes. We then come across a second difficulty; namely, the need to remember the Chalfont rule—the more you expose your resources and objectives, the more you weaken your effectiveness. So we cannot be too specific in this debate without doing harm to our cause.

However, first, we may usefully examine the context of the confrontation. I cannot help reflecting on how lucky my generation is, and indeed the generations of all your Lordships, because we have lived for over 50 years in a world in which one weapon of mass destruction is now fairly generally available. I refer to the nuclear weapon. The reason we are so lucky is partly human common sense, partly the strict restraint which the powers possessing the weapons have been able, until recently, to impose upon their proliferation and partly that we live under the beginnings of an effective international law. We have to remember that, if we fight, we are fighting in a glasshouse. We have to fight in such a way as not to break the glass.

That brings me to the remarks of my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew. I merely ask whether the Government will pay proper attention to his question. The rule of law depends in the end always upon the acceptance and support of the great majority of those who are ruled by it. Justice must therefore not only be done but be seen to be done. If justice is not seen to be done, and if operations carried out in the Middle East are seen as an Anglo-Saxon assault upon Arab institutions—which is how the propagandists opposed to us would like the situation to be seen—that will do us infinite damage. It will also do infinite damage to the matrix of the rule of law.

As to the resources and objectives, we can only ask questions. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, focused those questions sharply on three issues.

The second qualification I would put on the support which your Lordships would be wise to give the Government is that they should be able to satisfy the criteria set by the noble and gallant Lord. They will have to choose the objective with care. Although I sympathise with the instincts of my noble friend Lord Marlesford, I cannot find any provision in international law—if there is one I should be glad to hear of it—which allows for a war to depose an individual or party from the rule of a country unless that individual is a war criminal. There is merit in the suggestion that Saddam Hussein should be labelled a war criminal because that would open another objective.

The second issue is the adequacy of resources, as pointed out by the noble and gallant Lord and the right reverend Prelate. It is necessary to satisfy the rules of jus ad bellum that the means of successful prosecution should be available at the beginning.

Finally, it should be thought through to the end. Just as the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, one of our two remarkable and intrepid travelling Baronesses, has shown us the iniquity of Saddam's rule at home, so my noble friend Lady Cox, an equally intrepid and frequent traveller, has shown how this genie is out of the bottle. If our objective is to stop the deployment of these weapons, we need to think through what will happen after we put the cork in one bottle and find that there are at least two, if not three, more to cope with.

We have not talked much about morality, although the right reverend Prelate spoke about it. We must remember that the decision to go to war is a horrendous one which inevitably leads to loss of life for friend and foe and which is to be avoided at every possible opportunity. Therefore, while we regard diplomacy and war as part of the same continuum, if we think of Clausewitz—and we are at present progressing through diplomacy into war—if it is at all possible to achieve the end of containing this evil and maintaining international law without going to war, the Government will have even more enthusiastic support from me and others than I offer them already.

7.22 p.m.

The Earl of Sandwich

My Lords, an Anglo-American initiative, if it is backing up a UN decision to force an evil regime to destroy its chemical and biological weapons, must be applauded. The public will reasonably cheer our side if it launches its missiles, and our Armed Forces will certainly do their utmost. But this is not a medieval crusade, a Vietnam-style raid or even a re-enactment of the Gulf War when there were, as we heard, clear objectives.

As the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Swynnerton, so interestingly said, this is a completely new form of warfare. We cannot expect results from weapons alone, even from a superpower. As the noble Lord, Lord Owen, said, whatever happens this week will only be a move in the game; something else will have to follow. Aerial strikes, if not ordered by the UN, must be a component of a much wider international consensus, with the backing of the Security Council. We look forward to the Minister's response to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, and also to comments in the media by Sir Harold Walker and others during the past few days.

The noble Baroness the Minister said last week that it was desirable to get maximum unity of purpose in the UN. That sounds like an opt-out. I believe not that it is desirable but that it is essential. The air strikes will be merely a catalyst. It will require a lot more diplomacy to achieve the desired purpose of Resolution 687. Humanitarian aid is, in my view, a necessary strand in that diplomacy.

But have we been leading, or following, a lead? The impression given to our European neighbours and one-time Gulf allies, until the past few days at least, has been that we are backing up a superpower, not that we belong to a new coalition which represents the international community's view and offers a lasting solution, as my noble friend Lord Moynihan put it. We have moved further in our diplomacy. We now at least have ground support from Germany and others. But surely, above all during our EU presidency, we should have listened more carefully to our European and Arab friends? They still need persuading that we have no quarrel with the Iraqi people. They need persuading that we are not just hurling missiles against a madman but are simultaneously concerned about humanitarian aid reaching ordinary citizens and helping the country get back on its feet. That message has not been received. I wonder whether, in our preoccupation with chemical weapons, we have really tried to send it.

As my noble friend Lord Gilmour and others said, it might help if we showed more interest in the cause of the Palestinians and the Oslo peace process. How can we tell them that Security Council Resolution 687 has to be implemented immediately when they are still waiting for other resolutions on the occupied territories? Is our diplomacy based on US protection of Israeli fears? Why do we ourselves not send more missions to the Middle East, as Europeans, instead of waiting for tours by the Secretary-General and other Security Council members?

There is a sense abroad that Britain is a pig in the middle, with neither leadership nor integrity of purpose, unable to delay the Americans by more than a few days. I do not myself believe that to be the case as far as this Government are concerned. As I have said before in these debates, I believe that we have a strong commitment to the Iraqi people, which this Government well understand, and that we can make more of our role in providing humanitarian aid to Iraq, not necessarily through oil for food but in our own right. As was made clear in last week's Statement, we have been prominent in co-sponsoring the 2 billion dollar oil-for-food programme since 1996 under SCRs 986 and 1111 and in supporting the Secretary-General's present initiatives to extend the programme. We are the second largest donor of humanitarian aid to Iraq. Yet no one seems to notice that—neither our media nor the British public who are subscribing to it.

Are we ashamed of helping Iraq? Can we not advertise the fact that we are seriously engaged in another war, a war with hunger and malnutrition in a once wealthy oil state which now ranks among the world's poorest countries? Admittedly it is poverty of another kind—of real deprivation of services. As a wealthy nation we can appreciate what the Iraqi people feel when their water or electricity are cut off and when there is literally no medicine or healthcare for large numbers who have come to expect it. This is surely another campaign which deserves support during the current crisis.

It is true that there are considerable problems in implementing oil for food, and some doubt the wisdom of increasing it when there are other channels of support. The Minister may like to say whether the report of the implementation unit mentioned in the noble Baroness's Statement of 26th January is sufficiently satisfactory for an increase. I have here the Secretary-General's November report, and I have spoken to some of the aid agencies. The UN programme falls far short of what we might expect. There are acute shortages of spare parts, delays in transportation and inequalities in distribution. Hospital deliveries are often incomplete or inadequate. For example, urine bags arrive without catheters or drip syringes without saline solution. The Iraqi ration system is highly regarded, I understand, by the international agencies in Iraq, and yet greed and bureaucracy inevitably play their part. There are also adverse effects on Iraqi agriculture in importing large quantities of wheat and flour which then compete in the market with local produce. On top of all this, there are, as we have heard, US and Iraqi objections and there is bound to be doubt that Iraq can meet its oil targets while—ironically—protecting its installations from possible air strikes. Nevertheless, one assumes that the general effect of the programme is still beneficial. I would be grateful for the Minister's confirmation on that point. However, I am doubtful that we should rest our commitment to humanitarian aid to Iraq on the principle of the oil-for-food deal alone.

The Iraqi people are facing critical shortages, as others have said, and, in the case of children, severe malnutrition which has increased the under-five mortality rate by eight times during the past decade. But we do not admit that we are among the nations trying to help Iraq, regardless of air strikes and chemical weapons. For example, the Prime Minister's Observer article hardly mentions humanitarian aid. Their needs on the ground which have been exacerbated by our sanctions as well as by one man's tyranny are just as important as our military and diplomatic offensive.

We have an active aid programme through the DfID as well as through some of our best-known voluntary agencies both in northern Iraq and in and around Baghdad. We have been engaged in a basic form of chemical warfare of another kind in Iraq. In more than 3,000 villages around Dohuk, Erbil and Suleimanya, we have been training farmers in the use of insecticide spraying as part of agricultural extension work. We are working through the Mines Advisory Group—the only de-mining agency—on mine detection and clearance in the north. We are assisting UNICEF with the control of diarrhoea and vitamin A deficiency; we are supporting the Kurdistan Children's Fund with the resettlement of displaced families; we are helping the Save the Children Fund with a large-scale programme of rehabilitation; and we are keeping water supply and sanitation systems going through Care International and maintaining health and education programmes in Baghdad and in some of the worst affected areas.

All that is going on against a background of acute deterioration of the Iraqi infrastructure and government services, an unstable economy and a chaotic political system, quite apart from the fear engendered by the oppressive regime and the international crisis it has brought about. Infant mortality and malnutrition rates are rising despite foreign aid which is only a fraction of the 100 billion dollar revenue lost to Iraq since the Gulf War. There are huge problems for the United Nations agencies and NGOs working in Iraq. Some may ask, "What is the point of humanitarian aid when it is so undermined by the political crisis?"

Nevertheless, I believe the international agencies, especially the NGOs, are running effective aid programmes and they and all aid workers—whose purpose is solely the relief of the suffering of people, though they are well aware of the events going on around them—deserve much more recognition for what they are doing in one of the world's most difficult countries. Above all, they need to be seen as an integral part of the international effort, not just to make Iraq's leaders see sense, but to keep our military involvement in its proper perspective. Whatever the outcome of a just war, the people will still be there to judge it.

7.32 p.m.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, this has been an excellent debate with a great deal of expertise and sober comment from all sides. I have learnt a lot and I hope that we have contributed to the Government's thinking on this extremely difficult subject.

We all recognise the hard choices in the present crisis. We understand the appalling character of the Iraqi regime and of Saddam Hussein as its dictator. We understand the gross misuse of resources within Iraq and the obscene stockpile which Saddam Hussein and his supporters are building up. There may be no alternative to the use of limited force. But, in saying that, many of us share the views William Waldegrave set out in yesterday's Daily Telegraph, which I felt expressed not only my opinion, but also that of many of my Liberal Democrat colleagues. He said, We now have a decision—not for the first time—between a badly conceived American policy and no American policy at all … Meanwhile, it seems that nothing is being done … to move forward peace between Israel and what must emerge as a Palestinian state. The resentment thus caused sours Western relations throughout the Middle East … Our Prime Minister is therefore right. But I just hope he and his advisers are pressing the President hard on what will follow when the bombing raid fails". That is a sober assessment from a Member of Her Majesty's official Opposition. But we should not have reached this point and should not have to start from here. I want to talk now about the broader context. Why has Saddam found the opportunity to exploit Arab opinion and divide Western governments? The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, talked about the other conflict—hunger—but there is a third conflict; that is, the battle to capture the support of Arab public opinion throughout the Middle East, at which Saddam Hussein, like other dictators before him, is a great expert. He is actively wooing public opinion in other countries against their own governments, in particular in cases where their governments are our friends.

We must ask why the Gulf War coalition has faded away; why European governments—sadly, including the British—have been so incoherent and impotent in Middle Eastern politics. We cannot disentangle the current and immediate crisis from the wider question of Western policy toward the Middle East—by that, I mean American policy, British, French and German policies; European policies as a whole.

The current Iraq crisis affects the stability of the Gulf: that includes the stability of the current Saudi Arabian regime—extremely important to us—the future stability of the smaller Gulf states and of Jordan, a key Western friend in this region; the stability of the current Egyptian Government; and relations with Iran on which British and other European perceptions currently differ from those of the United States. We have to deal with the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the question of Western, including American, attitudes to the United Nations. The opportunity for Saddam Hussein to exploit Arab sympathies was created by the election of the Netanyahu Government and its backsliding on the Oslo accords and by the US administration's failure to press that government to reconsider. I regret that. Many of my Israeli friends deeply regret it also. We all understand how divided are Israeli society and the Israeli political elite over current policies. There is much unhappiness in Israel itself.

I must disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Stone of Blackheath; this is deeply connected with the Iraqi crisis. Madeleine Albright herself said that at the outset. This has given the window of opportunity for Saddam Hussein to think that he can get away with baiting the West without the West attracting the support of moderate Arab regimes.

American policy sometimes appears to be domestically driven. The strategy of dual containment was partly driven by those who saw Iran and Iraq as double threats to Israel. I see that Zbigniew Brzezinski is quoted in today's Financial Times as saying, Our policy of dual containment to isolate two countries has been a smashing success…the only problem is that the two countries are the United States and Israel". That is part of the problem. In this case the British Government are clearly right, that we need to welcome the moves within the Iranian Government towards a more moderate policy; to build other coalitions within the Middle East and not simply to be driven by, in this case, the dynamics of New York state politics, Senator d'Amato and others, pushed out on to the world. There are those in the United States who talk about a clash of civilizations between the West—what someone called a "Judaeo-Christian" civilization—versus Moslem fundamentalism.

There again, our interests differ from theirs. I used to fight elections in West Yorkshire. I recall that the fatwa against Salman Rushdie originated from the political divisions within the Bradford Asian Moslem community. Our Moslems too are affected by this crisis. Our perceptions, therefore, differ from many of the American elite.

The American antagonism to the United Nations, which has also been partly driven by domestic perceptions that the UN has been over-critical of Israel, does not help us in a situation in which we are wishing to stand on the legality of international law and on insistence that all UN resolutions must be accepted. Western policy towards the Middle East over the past 15 to 20 years has focused too much on military build-ups and arms sales and not enough on long-term stability—first supporting the Shah's Iran against the Soviet Union, then supporting and arming Iraq against Iran, and now supporting and heavily arming Saudi Arabia against Iraq and Iran, and of course doing the same with Israel and Turkey.

We need American leadership and we need American projection of power to maintain international order. Therefore, in the last resort, we have to give our support to the United States. But our interests are not the same as those of the USA and our perceptions are not the same as those of the American press or the US Congress. We should therefore offer the Americans our critical support and should do that in concert with our European partners, not pursuing the illusion that Britain alone can influence the American policy debate. That is a major failure of British policy so far—the failure to concert with our European neighbours.

After the invasion of Afghanistan, the then British Government, particularly our then Foreign Secretary, the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, set out to establish better crisis procedures for European political co-operation. That led to the London report, under a previous British presidency. Here again we have a British presidency and we are told that the Foreign Secretary used the occasion of a meeting in Panama to consult his European colleagues. The British presidency should have convened a meeting of Foreign Ministers in Europe at an earlier stage, as we on these Benches suggested two weeks ago. We received a reply from the Government that this was not a European matter but a UN matter.

At the weekend I was re-reading the Amsterdam Treaty. I note that Article 19 provides: Member states shall coordinate their action in international organisations … Member states which are also members of the United Nations Security Council will concert and keep the other Member States fully informed. Member States which are permanent members of the Security Council will, in the execution of their functions, ensure the defence of the positions and interests of the Union, without prejudice to their responsibilities under the provisions of the United Nations Charter". Yesterday, the Government moved the Second Reading of the European Communities (Amendment) Bill, which incorporates the treaty into British law. I am not entirely sure that they have absorbed the full implications of Article 19 and of the whole CFSP chapter.

We do not face a hostile continent. Europe operates effectively only if the three major European states—Britain, France and Germany—work together. It is too simple to say, as the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, has just whispered, "What will we do about the French?" All three governments, ourselves included, have failed.

If we are to take European co-operation further, we also have to take European action on the control of arms sales a great deal further.

We are just publishing a new code on European arms sales which begins with the statement: European Union member states are committed to a strong defence industry". If that means that we have to go on selling arms, the major arms market in the world, accounting for nearly 40 per cent. of arms sales, is the Middle East. That is where we have been selling them. That is where we have to go on hoping that we can sell them. That contributes to the situation which we now again face. We need a stronger arms code—I note that even the Financial Times says today that the British/French proposal is too weak—and we need to recognise that that means that in future the British and the French will be selling fewer arms abroad. But we also need to look again at European policy towards the Mediterranean, including Libya, towards Palestine and towards Jordan. If it is indeed the case that Saddam Hussein has transferred some of his weapons to Libya and to Sudan, that directly affects not just ourselves but also Italy, a neighbour of Libya. After all, Italy is the only member state of the European Union which has had hostile weapons fired against it since the Second World War—Libyan weapons against the island of Lampedusa—and Italy is also affected directly when Kurds from northern Iraq attempt to flee to the European Community. So we have failed so far to use our position as president of the European Union to deal with some of the wider ramifications of this crisis.

We have a number of questions for the Government. Do we need a new UN resolution? I thought that the speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew of Twysden, was extremely powerful on this point. What are our wider objectives in the Middle East? If we accept—I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, would wish to agree with this—that war is a continuation of diplomacy, then after a short war we need to continue our diplomacy. We need to know where we go after we have dropped the bombs and fired the weapons. If we agree that we need to pursue more active European co-operation, how do the Government propose to do it? What sort of critical support do we intend to give to the United States, including urging the US Administration to give clearer and less ambiguous support to the United Nations? What proposals do we have for tougher control of future supplies of arms and dual use equipment to dangerous areas like the Middle East? Lastly, what incentives can we offer to Iraq in terms of the oil-for-food proposals, which the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, mentioned—ways out which can provide us with an opportunity to influence Arabic public opinion and Moslems at home as well as abroad?

If it must be done, military action will have to be taken. But military action can be only an instrument in a longer term approach to the Middle East as a whole. We need to see more clearly from the Government that they have a longer term strategy, that they have explained it to, and co-ordinated it with, others, and that they are not just following the United States.

7.46 p.m.

Lord Burnham

My Lords, this has been an occasion for very many noble Lords to put their cards on the table. In fact, I think that all those who have spoken have put their cards on the table except, as my noble friend Lord Elton pointed out, the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, who clearly prefers to play poker with the cards face downwards.

I congratulate the Minister on her clear, forthright and robust exposition of the Government's policy. It is clear that she spent yesterday afternoon well. A similar debate is being held at the moment in another place. I am sorry that I am not a schizophrenic in that I might be able to listen to the debate there, but I doubt whether in another place they have had the benefit of the skills and knowledge which have been displayed by the speakers in this Chamber. There are, I would suggest, very few there with the specialist knowledge and expertise of such as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew of Twysden, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford, the noble and gallant Lords who have spoken, and the noble Lord, Lord Owen. I hope that the other place can benefit from what has been said here.

Almost everything that can be said on the subject has already been said, but there is one thing I will say—and it does not matter how many times it has been said before. On these Benches we are broadly in line with the policy of the Government. This comes as a small surprise as in past years, particularly at the time of the 1990–91 Iraq crisis, not all of those who now sit on the Government Benches held entirely the same views as they do today. But the Conservative Party now shares the Government's determination to take whatever steps are necessary to make Saddam Hussein comply with the resolutions of the UN Security Council. That is not as easy as it was in 1991 and the issues are not as clear-cut. There is not, of course, a physical occupation of another country. However, there is terrifying evidence of an enormous stockpile of chemical and biological weapons which Saddam Hussein has the power to unleash on anyone whom, in his paranoia, he believes to threaten Iraq—most probably Israel.

The United States has decided that it is its duty to implement the terms of UN Security Council Resolution 687. It does that on the basis that it is the best way of keeping the long-term peace. There seems to be no other way. We can only hope that it can be achieved by diplomatic means.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, I had planned to—and indeed I shall—quote from William Waldegrave's article in the Daily Telegraph yesterday. I point out to the noble Lord that, despite being an eminent Conservative, Mr. Waldegrave lost his seat at the last election and is not a member of the official Conservative Opposition. His views, while greatly respected, are his own. He said that it is the first and unchanging interest of this country to support whatever system is available—whether a balance of power or a legal framework—which seems best able to do this. Imperfect though it is, the only candidate for our support is the hegemony of the United States, embedded, more or less, in the legal framework of the United Nations.

In his usual manner, my noble friend Lord Moynihan fired a series of questions at the Minister, to which I hope he will get satisfactory answers. However, I accept that my noble friend is a machine gun, of small calibre but exceedingly powerful, and the noble Lord may not be able to reply to all his questions at this time, but I hope that the answers will be given in due course. I would like to feel that I was his caddy, but the caddy is the man who hands the weapons to his player and I cannot fulfil that function. I have hopes of becoming his change bowler.

One aspect of the situation covers the important point of Saddam Hussein and his relationship with the Iraqi people. The international community has made it abundantly clear that the great suffering of the Iraqi people is a direct result of Saddam Hussein's actions. Sanctions are still in place not because of a capricious desire for humiliation and revenge within the international community; they are still in place because of Iraq's failure to comply with its international obligations. The Iraqi people are suffering because Saddam Hussein prefers to purchase weapons instead of food and to build monuments instead of buying medicine. I say to the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, that the deaths of over half-a-million children cannot be blamed on the sanctions resulting in poor nutrition and lack of medicine. Food and medicine have never been the subject of sanctions, which are the symptoms and not the cause of this tragedy. In his relentless pursuit of his personal agenda, Saddam Hussein is responsible for the deaths of every one of those children. He is responsible for the starvation and deprivation of his people, which has gone on for far too long.

But what now are we going to do? In the 1939–45 war the American air force was not totally famous for the accuracy of its bombing. In the last days of that war this did not really matter as Germany was a high-density country and bombs did not have to hit their target to achieve the effect of demoralising the German people and destroying its industry. However, that may run counter to the right reverend Prelate's views of jus in bello.

But now American aircraft can achieve pin-point accuracy which is fortunate as it must be the object of any bombing to destroy the sites where Hussein's nefarious weapons are made and stored. Above all, it must be the object of the United Nations to destroy Hussein or his reputation, which enables him to keep supreme power as the leader of his people. It is the custom of Arabic nations to follow their leader, whoever he may be, in a fanatical manner and to the exclusion of every other consideration. It is not only in Iraq that this habit shows; Algeria, Libya and Iran are other notable examples. It was the West's most serious error, especially in the opinion of the Israelis, not to give Hussein's son-in-law full support at a moment when he might have been put forward as a possible alternative leader. Now it would do no good whatever to damage the interests of the common people or to kill large numbers by bombing. Whatever happens Hussein will no doubt make full use of any bombing as a propaganda weapon and will show large numbers of bodies slaughtered by the dastardly Americans. We must do everything we can to reduce his chances of doing so effectively.

Finally, on a matter which, I suspect, will draw groans from the Minister, I would like to depart slightly from the subject of this debate by asking not only what part this country is able to play but what part it would be able to play in a similar crisis in a few years' time if the impending strategic defence review is after all, as we all fear, Treasury-led and the Armed Forces suffer very serious cuts. In the context of today's Iraq crisis the most urgent question relates to the replacement of the two aircraft carriers now in the Gulf. Without them or their replacement in due course, it is clear that the United Kingdom will not be able to play any real part in ensuring peace among the nations.

We have been told that the review will be in accordance with the Foreign Office view of future events. I hope that the Foreign Office will have taken note that the end of the Cold War has not meant the end of the need for all the three Services to be maintained in a state of readiness at a level where they are able to play a significant part in any crisis that may arise. We have had the Falklands, Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Iraq (one) and now Iraq (two). Who can tell where the next will come from? All we can be certain of is that there will be a next and we must be ready for it. It will not suffice to have all our ships in mothballs and our servicemen at such a low state of preparedness that they cannot be sent into action within months, if at all.

I have no doubt that the heart of the Minister is in the right place on this issue. That goes also for his honourable and right honourable friends in the Ministry of Defence in another place. I hope they may be able to convince those who have their greedy hands poised to purloin parts of the financial cake for other purposes that this money needs to be spent on defence.

This has been a very useful, indeed, a vital debate. I hope that the Minister will be able to cheer and reassure all those who are disturbed by, even if they support, the action the Government are taking. Nobody can be other than disturbed. Let us hope that, like the Arabian Nights, it all comes right in the end. But to all those who oppose the policy of this Government, I would say, "In that case, what will you do?" I do not know the answer and I doubt if they do either.

7.56 p.m.

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

My Lords, this has been one of those rare debates which, I suspect, will repay reading, just as it has been very worth while listening to it this afternoon and this evening. Before I wrestle with the substance of the debate, I thought it might be helpful to your Lordships to give noble Lords a short report on my very recent visit to the Gulf and tell you about the morale of the forces out there and their state of preparedness. I am sure that your Lordships will be delighted to know that their morale is exceedingly high.

I visited the RAF Tornados at Ali Al Salem in Kuwait; I visited the TriStar, the Nimrod and VC10 forces in Bahrain. I was also able to go on board HMS "Coventry", which is one of our Armilla Patrol ships. She was tied up in Bahrain when I was there. I have to say that the speed with which the Royal Air Force has managed to deploy and get itself in operational order in Kuwait is nothing short of miraculous, particularly considering the fact that they are using an airfield from which RAF planes have not deployed since 1961. They are well aware of their responsibilities. I was able to tell them how proud we were of them all. I am sure that your Lordships share those sentiments.

While I was in that part of the world I met the Deputy Prime Minister and the Defence Secretary of Kuwait. I met the Emir, the Prime Minister and the Foreign and Defence Ministers in Bahrain and also the Emir and Foreign Minister in Qatar. There are several things that I would like to tell your Lordships about those meetings. They are part of a pattern by which either Foreign Office or Defence Ministers have visited every country in the GCC in the past few days. The Foreign Secretary has been to Saudi and briefly into Kuwait as well. His honourable friend, Mr. Fatchett, has visited Egypt, the Emirates and Oman. I believe that what they found was similar to what I found. The mood was sombre. There was concern. In fact, many of the concerns that have been expressed in this debate tonight echo what our friends in that part of the world said to me.

Some of our friends in that part of the world said that they were reluctant to see military action. I assured them that we are also extremely reluctant to see any military action in the Gulf not only because we do not want to impose casualties on Iraqi civilians or servicemen, but because we do not want to put the lives of our young men at risk.

Our friends in that part of the world were also concerned—this matter has been touched on several times in the debate—at the alienation of opinion in their own countries from the United Kingdom and the United States because, as has been said several times, there is clearly a widespread perception in that part of the world that double-standards are being applied. They feel that we are not even-handed, particularly with respect to the peace process. Again, that point has been raised several times tonight. I pointed out that Her Majesty's Government have made some firm and unambiguous statements. In particular, the Foreign Secretary condemned the settlements in the West Bank. I also said that we have exercised our influence with our friend, the United States, to try to get the Netanyahu Government to move more quickly on the peace process. All of those to whom I spoke clearly recognised that, far from being a poodle of the United States, the British Government's record was one to be admired in those respects. They understood that we were doing what we could to advance the peace process as far as possible.

Our friends in that part of the world also made it clear that if negotiations failed, they would support us. We are already extremely grateful to the governments of both Kuwait and Bahrain for the host nation support that they are giving to our forces. The Kuwaiti Government and the Crown Prince said that Her Majesty's Government were to be given every possible facility. I met the colonel in charge of the air base there. Relations between our forces there and the Kuwaiti Government and their representatives are first-rate. We are very grateful to our friends for that.

I turn now to the question of whether or not the current resolutions that have already been passed by the Security Council will be sufficient justification in themselves for the United Kingdom to embark in due course on military action if Mr. Kofi Annan is not able to extract from Saddam Hussein the guarantees that we all consider necessary for UNSCOM to be able to continue its activities without hindrance.

I am pleased to tell the House something that was reported in the other place this afternoon by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary. The five permanent members of the Security Council met until late last night to agree on a common position which would first provide a brief for the Secretary-General's discussions with Saddam Hussein. The Foreign Secretary said this afternoon that the remaining areas where agreement has not been reached are narrow and that he hoped that an agreed conclusion could be reached later today after the representatives in New York had had an opportunity to consult their capitals. He was therefore very optimistic that, with our co-members of the Security Council, he could secure an agreed authority for the Secretary-General to travel to Baghdad. Indeed, that may already have been achieved by now.

I turn now to the position with regard to legal advice. I know that I put myself at risk in talking about legal matters but, as I understand it—different countries receive different legal advice on such matters—we do not need an additional Security Council resolution, but we would far prefer to have one if possible.

I turn now to some of the other issues mentioned in the debate. I should like particularly to deal with some of the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. I was glad to have had some forewarning of the questions that she asked. Indeed, only about an hour before I came over to the House this afternoon, I asked what information we had from the best source available to me with regard to those matters. I have not been able to get any authoritative information on those matters, but I shall be happy to study the questions which the noble Baroness raised—the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, also raised them in his opening remarks—about whether Saddam Hussein has been, as it were, "parking" some of his weapons of mass destruction and stores of agents in other rogue states. I consider those matters to be extremely important and I undertake to the House and to the noble Baroness that I personally will ask for an investigation within the United Kingdom Government of every single one of the points which the noble Baroness raised. Indeed, if the noble Baroness would like to write to me with any other details, I should be happy to receive any such information as she wants to give me.

Like several other noble Lords, I was particularly struck by the speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford, who is not in his place at the moment, and by his description of what constitutes a "just war". He asked whether the resources deployed in such a war were proportionate to the requirements of the situation. That came very close to one of the questions asked by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, who referred to proportionality and asked whether we have adequate resources at our disposal. As the noble and gallant Lord will know, and as several other noble Lords have been good enough to say, Her Majesty's Government are extremely fortunate in the technical expert military advice at their disposal. We would not dream of deploying our forces out there if we did not think that they were adequate to the task being laid upon them.

I have been asked many questions implicitly and sometimes explicitly tonight about our targeting policies and whether we have considered the effects of hitting such-and-such a type of target. I do not think that your Lordships will expect me to answer any such questions because they are matters of high security classification. In any case, the answers might change from time to time. However, in answer to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, I can say that we are, of course, having detailed discussions with our American friends about targeting plans. In the last resort, authority over our servicemen will remain with our forces. They will not be subordinate to the United States should at any time a matter arise where we thought that it was inappropriate for our forces to continue to be deployed in the activities for which they have been sent there.

The noble Lord, Lord Owen, made an extremely helpful speech, saying, as I have just said, that he thought that there was enough room to act under existing resolutions but that it would be better still to get P5 unanimity if possible. That is Her Majesty's Government objective, as I am sure noble Lords will accept.

I cannot agree with what the noble Lord said about the creation of a Kurdish protectorate. I make it absolutely clear that the preservation of the integrity of Iraq is something that Her Majesty's Government fully support. It is no part of our policy to see the disintegration of the Iraqi state into two or three parts, as is often suggested would be a helpful development. I cannot emphasise that strongly enough.

It is also no part of the policy of Her Majesty's Government to use air strikes on Iraq, if they take place—I emphasise "if"—as a method of getting rid of Saddam Hussein; nor is it a requirement of the ending of the sanctions that Saddam Hussein be removed from power. We would be extremely pleased to see the removal of Saddam Hussein from power, but it would be sufficient for the sanctions policy to come to an end if the UNSCOM inspectors were allowed to return and have absolutely unfettered access to all sites at all times. When they have reported that they have completed their task the sanctions will be raised.

The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, and other noble Lords referred to the oil-for-food resolutions. The only reason why the Iraqi people do not have enough food and medicines is that Saddam Hussein prefers to build monuments rather than buy medicines. He prefers to spend money on armaments rather than foodstuffs. This country has taken the lead in trying to double the oil-for-food programme from 2.5 billion dollars to 5 billion dollars a year. Only one person is responsible for the suffering of the Iraqi people, and that is Saddam Hussein. I revert to my visits to the Middle East. I am glad to say that every single leader I met in that part of the world was totally of that view. They were also of the view that Saddam Hussein had to be made to subscribe to the United Nations Security Council resolutions and that it was intolerable that he should continue in impudent challenge to the authority of the Security Council.

The noble and gallant Lords, Lord Craig and Lord Bramall, asked me to clarify the military objectives of Her Majesty's Government. At this stage I do not believe that I can add anything to what the Foreign and Defence Secretaries have already said about military aims. It is difficult to go further than to say that our objective is to diminish Saddam Hussein's stocks of weapons and agents and greatly damage his capability to regenerate them at any time in the future. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, said that we might be faced with a good number of questions on television as to why we had attacked such and such targets. I very much doubt that there will be television cameras positioned at the targets that we shall be attacking when that day comes. I can assure both him and the House that we shall not attack residential areas and shall confine ourselves to military targets.

The noble Lord, Lord Burnham, touched on the one great difference between 1991 and 1998; namely, that today precision-guided munitions are much more accurate than they were a mere seven years ago.

Lord Bramall

My Lords. I apologise for interrupting the Minister, but can he inform the House whether a Commander British Forces Gulf has been appointed, like General de la Billière? If that were done I believe that it would give this House confidence that there was wise advice on the spot alongside the American commander and that British forces would be used in the correct manner.

Lord Gilbert

My Lords, as always, I am obliged to the noble and gallant Lord. We have already appointed a commander, JCO or JOC—I forget all these initials—of our forces out there. I do not believe that the noble and gallant Lord should have any concerns about the sensible deployment of our forces if, unfortunately, we have to use the military option.

Our forces are there and they are in good heart. I told those whom I was able to meet how very proud of them we were and that we very much hoped that we would not have to call on their courage and skills in the days and weeks ahead, but I could give them no guarantees that that would not be the case.

I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, asked me to give a guarantee that these events would not recur in two or three months' time even if we got a satisfactory temporary military solution. Unfortunately one can give absolutely no guarantees of that kind. Such is the nature of Saddam Hussein that at the last minute he might back down, we would all go home and he would start his capers all over again in six months' time. There are risks in action and in inaction. We very much hope that it will not come to military action, but if need be our forces are ready and I am sure that they will have the full support of the House. I commend the Motion to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at seventeen minutes past eight o'clock.