HL Deb 24 February 1998 vol 586 cc559-73

3.45 p.m.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I should like to repeat a Statement on Iraq which has been made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. The Statement is as follows:

"With permission, I will make a Statement on the recent crisis over weapons inspections in Iraq and the agreement signed by the UN Secretary-General and the Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq in Baghdad yesterday. Since the text of the agreement is now in the public domain, I am arranging for copies to be placed in the Library of the House.

"It is worth recalling again the origins of this crisis. One of the main conditions of the Gulf War ceasefire in 1991 was that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction should be destroyed or rendered harmless by inspectors working for the United Nations. This was embodied in Security Council Resolution 687.

"Since then, the UN weapons inspectors have done a tremendous job in finding and destroying these weapons. The full details have been given to the House before, but they included horrific amounts of chemical and biological weapons. The inspectors achieved this despite systematic obstruction, deceit and concealment by Saddam Hussein, which caused repeated confrontation between the UN Security Council and Iraq.

"There was a crisis last November about the composition of UNSCOM teams, which was resolved by Saddam Hussein agreeing to allow the inspectors back in, following a diplomatic agreement brokered by the Russians. Crucially, this was not written down or followed by a fresh Security Council resolution. He almost immediately went back on this agreement, plunging us into the most recent crisis about access to presidential compounds, some of them large and containing hundreds of buildings, and presidential palaces. This has not been an artificial argument about some theoretical threat hut a reflection of real alarm on the part of the UN inspectors about use of these sites to conceal both evidence and actual weapons. The Security Council cannot accept that any areas remain off limits.

"Saddam began by saying that there could be no access to these sites. Then, under intense pressure, not least from the start of the build-up of forces in the Gulf, he eventually agreed that they could be visited once. This was clearly unacceptable, but he refused to move further. Meanwhile, we and the Americans, together with our other allies, continued to make clear that, if he did not back down, we saw no alternative in the end to the use of force. We made preparations to ensure that we were ready to use force, if absolutely necessary.

"Under this renewed pressure, Saddam Hussein began to show readiness to move further. On the basis of a text drafted by Britain, the five permanent members of the Security Council agreed last week that the UN Secretary-General should go to Baghdad to make clear to Saddam Hussein that he had to comply fully and unconditionally with the relevant Security Council resolutions, and to negotiate a written agreement on these lines if he could. It was clear to all that, if Saddam was not prepared to agree, force might have to be used, albeit with the greatest reluctance.

"I am delighted that Kofi Annan, for whom I have the greatest respect and admiration, has succeeded in this mission and has brought back a signed agreement, the details of which have now become public. He will be reporting to the Security Council this afternoon on his discussions with the Iraqi Government.

"The key provisions of the agreement are as follows. Iraq reconfirms its acceptance of the relevant Security Council resolutions, including 687, and its readiness to co-operate fully with UNSCOM and the International Atomic Energy Agency. Iraq undertakes to accord immediate, unconditional and unrestricted access to UNSCOM and the IAEA. A special group will be established to inspect eight clearly defined presidential sites, composed of UNSCOM and IAEA experts, together with diplomats appointed by the Secretary-General, and headed by a commissioner, also appointed by the Secretary-General. This group will operate under the established procedures of UNSCOM and the IAEA, but also with some extra specific procedures related to the nature of the sites.

"We await clarification of the details of the special group. Three things are essential: the commissioner in charge of this group must be properly qualified for the task; the details of the inspection regime must preserve in full the professional and technical nature of the inspections and the inspectors; and there can be no question of negotiating with Saddam Hussein over the integrity of the weapons inspection process. I am confident from our contacts with the Secretary-General that he understands these points.

"I welcome this agreement and pay tribute to Secretary-General Kofi Annan's achievement in securing it. It has been an important demonstration of the value of the UN and its absolutely vital role in the world. And we should never forget that if we do not stop Saddam Hussein acting in breach of his agreement on weapons of mass destruction, the losers will be not just those threatened by him, but also the authority and standing of the UN itself.

"The agreement refers to the desire of the Iraqi Government for the lifting of sanctions. No timetable is set for this. The sanctions have always been there for a reason, to ensure full compliance of Iraq with the relevant Security Council resolutions. Once this is achieved, the issue of lifting sanctions can be properly addressed.

"Let me also deal with one false assertion often made by the Iraqi regime. It has never been our intention to undermine Iraq's territorial integrity, or its security, or the dignity of the Iraqi people. The issue has always been to ensure that there are no weapons of mass destruction left in Saddam Hussein's arsenal. The agreement repeats this and makes it clear.

"While the agreement signed in Baghdad is welcome, it is not in itself enough. A piece of paper signed by the Iraqi regime plainly cannot be enough. The Saddam Hussein we face today is the same Saddam Hussein we faced yesterday. He has not changed. He remains an evil, brutal dictator. The only thing that has changed is that he has changed his mind in the face of effective diplomacy and firm willingness to use force. Nothing else would or could have brought about this success. Nothing else will ensure that it is followed up by satisfactory implementation on the ground and the total elimination of his capacity to obtain or produce weapons of mass destruction.

"Let me be absolutely clear. We will not tolerate any repetition of the Iraqi behaviour which has led to this agreement. We are not going to play more elaborate diplomatic games that allow Saddam Hussein to thwart the inspections regime which has now been agreed.

"That is why there are now two essential requirements in the coming days. First, we need to embody the agreement in a new Security Council resolution. This must make clear that any further prevarication or obstruction by Saddam Hussein of the smooth operation of the inspections, in accordance with previous Security Council resolutions and the latest agreement, will not be accepted by any member of the Security Council and will inescapably be followed by the most severe consequences for the Iraqi regime.

"Secondly, the implementation of the agreement must be tested soon. This will require inspections by UNSCOM without any Iraqi obstruction—whenever and wherever it wishes to inspect. There will be no immediate change in the readiness of British or US armed forces in the Gulf until this is clear.

"Throughout the dispute, our aim has been a peaceful, diplomatic settlement. There was no desire on either side of the Atlantic to use force. But it was also clear to us throughout that Saddam Hussein only understands and respects force. Those who have criticised ourselves and the Americans for our willingness to use force in the last resort have to explain how such an attitude could have recovered Kuwait in 1990 and could ensure Saddam's compliance now. I do not believe they can convincingly do so. As Kofi Annan said in Baghdad: You can achieve much by diplomacy, but you can achieve a lot more when diplomacy is backed by firmness and force. With Saddam, diplomacy plus force equals success.

"Our task now is to do everything we can to ensure that the agreement reached by Kofi Annan is smoothly, effectively and rapidly implemented. We played a key diplomatic role in the negotiations leading up to his mission. We will continue to play the same role in the follow-up. I have already discussed this with presidents Clinton, Yeltsin and Chirac in the last 24 hours. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary is in close touch with his counterparts. We are agreed on the need for a rapid and clear Security Council resolution to ensure that we cannot find ourselves in the same position again in the future. That will be the main focus of our immediate efforts.

"I have made clear that when Saddam Hussein has complied fully with the Security Council resolutions, the UN inspectors have completed the disarmament stage of their work, and the threat from his weapons of mass destruction has gone, we can consider the lifting of sanctions. If Saddam had not blocked the implementation of UNSCOM's work so systematically, this could have happened long ago. The long-suffering Iraqi people deserve our sympathy and our help. Our quarrel was never with them.

"We led the way in New York last week in the adoption of a new Security Council resolution more than doubling Iraq's ability to sell oil for food, even though food and medicine have never been subject to sanctions of any kind. I hope that this time Saddam will allow the scheme to be utilised properly for the benefit of all his people. Meanwhile, we will maintain and, if possible, increase the direct bilateral help we give to the Iraqi people through appropriate NGOs.

"Saddam Hussein has spent seven years playing for time, but has been thwarted by the resolve of the international community. It is now clearer than ever that his games have to stop once and for all. If they do not, the consequences should be clear to all.

"Throughout our objectives have been plain: to do everything in our power to destroy Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction; to hold out the prospect of relief for the Iraqi people; and to uphold the will of the United Nations. That is what we have done and that is what we will continue to do."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.58 p.m.

Lord Moynihan

My Lords, on behalf of the Opposition, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made in another place and for updating the House on this latest development of the diplomatic efforts of the UN on behalf of the international community to find a peaceful resolution to the Iraqi crisis.

From these Benches, we welcome the prospect of a diplomatic solution and we join the Minister in paying tribute to Kofi Annan for the courage and skill with which he has carried out his mission. From these Benches, too, we continue to remain constant and unwavering in our support for a diplomatic solution underpinned by the military option; to persuade Saddam Hussein to comply with the will of the international community expressed in terms of Security Council resolutions.

A few hours ago I returned from a brief visit to New York and Washington where I spoke at length to our ambassadors to the United States and the United Nations. I take this opportunity to congratulate them and their staff on their professionalism and diligence. I wish also to place on record our strong support for our Armed Forces currently in the Gulf.

I hope that the Minister can give me some further details, first, as regards a number of provisions outlined in the Memorandum of Understanding between the United Nations and the Republic of Iraq and, secondly, on the nature of the assurances obtained from Saddam Hussein, given his past record of trickery and of deceit. In particular, what is meant by the UNSCOM undertaking to respect the legitimate concerns of Iraq relating to national security, sovereignty and dignity? Will the Minister give an assurance that the inclusion of these words will not result in their use by Saddam Hussein as a pretext for further delay and obstruction? Further, will the Minister give her assurance that the inclusion of the phrase "territorial integrity" will not serve to give Saddam Hussein carte blanche to continue his oppression of the Kurdish people? What guarantee do we have that he will not renege on this agreement as he did on the agreement reached last November, and what will the consequences be if Saddam Hussein fails to comply with this agreement?

Further, will the Minister tell the House if there is any division between the position of our Government and that of the United States Government, both in respect of the provisions contained in the MoU and the course of action that will be followed if Saddam Hussein fails to honour his undertakings according to this agreement? But perhaps the most important issue that will tax the United Nations this week is the drafting of an appropriate UN resolution. As to the proposed Security Council resolution, can the Minister explain the necessity for this, given her previously expressed view that existing resolutions of the Security Council provide a sufficient basis for military action?

I accept that it will be difficult for the Minister to answer all these questions before the deliberations currently under way at the UN are concluded. However, this is one question which I believe requires an answer today. I refer specifically to paragraph 1 of the MoU which I quote for your Lordships' convenience, The Government of Iraq reconfirms its acceptance of all relevant resolutions of the Security Council, including resolutions 687 … and 715". Will the Minister confirm unequivocally that the reference to "all relevant resolutions" contained within paragraph 1 of the MoU includes Resolution 678, which is the one resolution which specifically authorises the use of force? Does she not agree that a widely publicised but unsuccessful attempt to obtain a fresh resolution authorising the use of force would be a profoundly undesirable outcome?

We need assurances that Saddam Hussein will now do what needs to be done to get food and medical supplies to the people of Iraq. Notwithstanding paragraph 7 of the MoU, will the Minister confirm that sanctions will not be lifted until Iraq has been given a clean bill of health in terms of its compliance with United Nations Security Council resolutions, and that there is no change in the Government's position on this?

Finally, the Iraqi crisis has served to illustrate one thing. There seems to be a unique opportunity for Britain to launch a comprehensive diplomatic initiative and to take a lead in addressing a number of closely-related issues within this region, particularly during our presidency of the European Union. Such issues include the position of the Kurdish people; the stalled Middle East peace process; the thawing of relations with Iran and the geopolitical ramifications of this; and the need for a co-ordinated response to such international crises with our European partners. Does the Minister agree that this opportunity must now be taken?

4.3 p.m.

Lord Steel of Aikwood

My Lords, on behalf of my noble friends I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made in the other place and also for copying the Memorandum of Understanding between the UN and the Republic of Iraq, which, I may say, has the great merit of being a good deal briefer than the Government's own Statement.

I welcome the outcome of these negotiations and add to the congratulations given to Mr. Kofi Annan and his team. We also recognise that this outcome could not have been achieved without the strong resolution and determination to use force if necessary on which the Government enjoyed the support of all parties in both Houses of Parliament. Will the Minister recognise that, given the track record of Saddam Hussein, it is right that he should be judged in future by his deeds and not by his words, and therefore we fully understand and support the view of Her Majesty's Government that eternal vigilance is required? Perhaps, unlike the spokesman for the Opposition, I therefore understand the need for and desirability of securing a fresh, clear and unambiguous resolution of the Security Council. I wish Her Majesty's Government well in that endeavour.

Will the Minister accept that the few of us who have been to Baghdad since the end of the Gulf War also recognise the importance of the initiative that is being taken, which she mentioned in the Statement, in increasing the quantity of oil for food sales? As the Minister said, there is no quarrel with the people of Iraq but it is they who are suffering terribly under the present sanctions regime.

Throughout the tensions of the past few weeks Her Majesty's Government and other governments have stressed the importance of adhering to the letter of United Nations Security Council resolutions, in particular Resolution 687. Will she recognise the geopolitical importance now of turning attention to other Security Council resolutions? I, as a young MP, was present at the UN when the late Lord Caradon so successfully piloted through Resolution 242 on the Middle East peace process. That was back in 1967. Thirty years later we are still not much nearer peace in accordance with Resolution 242. Perhaps more relevant are the more recent resolutions condemning the invasion of parts of Lebanon.

Nothing could be more damaging to the authority of the United Nations, and indeed to our own relations with the Arab world, than to leave the impression that there are two standards of enforcement of Security Council resolutions, one for a hostile dictatorship but another for a friendly democracy. That clearly cannot be allowed to continue. The Minister will be aware that over the past few weeks the Atlantic Accord has quite understandably been much in evidence but there has not been much evidence of the common foreign and security policy to which we are supposed to subscribe. I join with the Opposition spokesman in suggesting that in our presidency of the EU in this six months' period we should use our best endeavours to put back on the rails the Middle East peace process.

4.7 p.m.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I thank both the noble Lords, Lord Moynihan and Lord Steel, for their support. Like them, I feel enormous relief that we have a diplomatic solution to this terribly difficult problem which we have discussed on a number of occasions recently. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, and the noble Lord, Lord Steel, for joining in the tribute to Kofi Annan, as expressed by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. I am sure that all your Lordships will wish to join in that tribute. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, for his kind words about our ambassadors in Washington and New York. I shall make sure that they see the appropriate extract of Hansard.

The noble Lords asked a number of specific questions which I shall now try to address. The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, was concerned about the issues in the Memorandum of Understanding concerning the dignity of Iraq and territorial integrity. The territorial integrity of Iraq has been supported by Her Majesty's Government on numerous occasions before. I recall that on several occasions I referred to the importance of territorial integrity. I do not believe that the reference to it now in the Memorandum of Understanding should cause us any difficulty at all. I do not believe that this is so much a question of the Kurdish element, but the noble Lord, and I am sure other noble Lords, will remember that we have had occasion in the past to debate some of the Turkish incursions into Northern Iraq which have caused your Lordships' House a little worry in the past.

The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, asked what was different this time as compared with the last occasion; namely, the deal that was brokered by the Russians in November last year. There are three main points. First, on this occasion we have a memorandum of understanding which has been written down. As the noble Lord, Lord Steel, said, it has the advantage of being admirably short and clear. It also has the advantage of having been signed by the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq. Secondly, as was set out in the Statement, we are seeking a new Security Council resolution. Thirdly, the forces of Her Majesty's Government and the United States will remain in the Gulf while we are testing whether the Iraqis are committed to this agreement in the way that is implied in the memorandum of understanding. So there are three crucial differences this time which distinguish this round of negotiations from those of last November.

The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, asked whether a Security Council resolution was really necessary. The position is exactly the same as when we discussed it last time. Her Majesty's Government have always believed that a further Security Council resolution was desirable. I have made that clear in this House. It remains desirable, to demonstrate the unity of purpose across the United Nations in backing the memorandum of understanding signed on our behalf by the Secretary-General.

The noble Lord also asked whether the first paragraph of the memorandum of understanding covers Security Council Resolution 678. He read Out the first paragraph. Perhaps I may read it again. It states: The Government of Iraq reconfirms its acceptance of all relevant resolutions of the Security Council". That includes Resolution 678.

The noble Lord also asked whether I could give an assurance that sanctions would not be lifted until such time as we are satisfied with the compliance of Saddam Hussein. Perhaps I may repeat what I said in reading the Statement a few moments ago. My right honourable friend said that he had made it clear that when Saddam Hussein has complied fully with the Security Council resolutions, the UN inspectors have completed the disarmament stage of their work, and the threat from his weapons of mass destruction has gone, we will consider the lifting of the sanctions. There are three clauses there. All must be fulfilled before we consider the raising of the sanctions.

I agree with the noble Lords, Lord Moynihan and Lord Steel, that we now have an opportunity of building our alliances not only across the Atlantic but within Europe. Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Steel, that, although it may not have received a great deal of publicity in the past few weeks and particularly the past few days, the diplomatic effort behind what has gone on in Baghdad over the past few days has been second to none. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State at the Foreign Office has been tireless, as indeed has his honourable friend Mr. Fatchett, in talking to our friends in the EU and trying to reach understandings. Indeed, we had a majority of our colleagues in the EU moving in exactly the same direction as we were at the time that Mr. Annan went to Baghdad.

The noble Lord, Lord Steel, raised again the perplexing and difficult question of what he described as a different standard that is applied in relation to Security Council resolutions and their implementation—in relation on the one hand to a hostile dictatorship, and on the other to a friendly democracy. When I have addressed this question previously in this House, that is not the only distinction that I have made in regard to the ways in which we are addressing the issue. The fact is that we are discussing a Middle East peace process with the Government of Israel. We may not be happy with the way that is moving, but there are still discussions under way. Our problem with the government in Baghdad was that we were unable to negotiate, and in those circumstances had to resort to far more drastic means. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Steel, that we are also in the very unhappy position of dealing, in Saddam Hussein, with a man who has an unenviable record of breaking his word and using weapons of mass destruction, not only on his neighbours as he did in Iran, but on his own people as he did in Halabja. So there are a number of crucial differences, not just the one pointed out by the noble Lord.

I hope that we can now look forward to a building process with our colleagues. As my right honourable friend said, that is being discussed this afternoon in the Security Council. We look forward to the resolution that we hope will be forthcoming in the Security Council, and we look forward, I hope, to a period of peace and stability in the Gulf.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Shore of Stepney

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend and her colleagues on the skill and resolution that they have shown through this difficult and dangerous period. But of course Saddam Hussein remains in power in Baghdad. His evil purposes will continue. What consideration has been given to successfully prosecuting the battle for hearts and minds not only in Iraq but throughout the Middle East, where the image of Saddam Hussein appears to be far different from what we know and see it to be here in the United Kingdom, in other parts of Europe and in America? As I am sure my noble friend will agree, we need a positive attempt to win opinion in those very important lands.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his congratulations. My noble friend used the phraseology, "the battle for hearts and minds". That is exactly the phraseology that I and my colleagues have been using over the past few weeks. However, the fact is that my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary, my honourable friend Mr. Fatchett and my noble friend Lord Gilbert have been engaged in a clear diplomatic offensive, if I may put it that way, in the Gulf in trying to ensure that the battle for hearts and minds is being engaged.

It is of course difficult to know how far one is succeeding on those issues. But it was very evident by the end of last week that the stance taken by Her Majesty's Government was gaining much greater support in the Gulf states than we had at the beginning of the initiative.

I also hope that the clear statements made by Her Majesty's Government on the humanitarian interest that we have in the Iraqi people do not go unnoticed in that country. As I said, we have taken the lead in ensuring the expansion of the oil for food resolution. We have more than doubled the amount of oil for food going into Iraq every six months from 2.2 billion to over 5 billion US dollars. That is something in which Her Majesty's Government can take some pride. We have always said that our argument was never with the Iraqi people; it has always been one of pinning down Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction. We must go on saying that, and I agree with the noble Lord that we must ensure that the battle for hearts and minds is not now put on one side but that we continue to engage in it.

4.18 p.m.

Lord Hurd of Westwell

My Lords, on exactly that point, will the noble Baroness accept that most of us, following my noble friend, believe that the Government are quite right to accept the result of the Secretary-General's negotiation, subject to the points that she made, and to link that acceptance to a new insistence that if Saddam Hussein were to breach the terms of the new agreement, he would at once be forcibly punished.

But will she also accept, following points made from all parts of this House, that if we are now going to sustain pressure over weeks and months of the kind she indicated, we need a firmer basis of support from Arab governments and Arab public opinion than we have at present? I was much struck by the absence of support in Egypt last week. It is one thing to have tepid acquiescence—that may be enough if you are in for a short sharp strike. But if you are in for sustained pressure over weeks and months, you need more than that.

As the noble Baroness has already said, there is no valid comparison between the conduct of Iraq and the conduct of Israel. But is it not important that the Government should now use their support for the United States, which has been total and in my view correct, to ask and press hard that the United States insist that the Prime Minister of Israel carry out Israel's obligations as regards the peace process so that the process can have some life breathed back into it?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I believe that Her Majesty's Government have always made clear that the president of Israel and the Israeli Government should comply with Security Council resolutions. In particular, we have expressed enormous concern about the annexing of the whole of Jerusalem and the illegal settlements. Of course, we need a firm basis of support in the Gulf over the coming weeks and possibly even months.

However, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, accepts that the support we have had in the Gulf from a number of states may not have been articulated as loudly as we might have liked. Nonetheless there was a great deal of support. We must understand that for a number of Gulf states, saying what they did to us in private might not have been entirely judicious in public because of the threat of retaliation to which they felt they were susceptible. But, yes, the basic point that the noble Lord made that this is now a sustained effort and we must not let the diplomatic initiative fall away is well taken.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, will the noble Baroness accept congratulations from a reactionary anachronism? That may possibly embarrass her, but it seems to me that the Government have played their hand extremely well. They have been further helped by the fact that the French and Russians were saying: "No, we don't agree with the British and the Americans but. O Saddam Hussein, if you don't do something, the British and Americans will thump you!" Consequently, that shows it is much better to have a slightly diverse European foreign policy with people acting in concert in Europe in their own diplomatic interests than to try to run a committee on foreign policy. That will obviously not work if we have an Austrian or a Luxembourger sticking his oar in.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I may say that I am never embarrassed by a compliment which is well meant. I shall certainly convey it to my right honourable and honourable friends who have done so much of the hard work in relation to Her Majesty's Government's efforts on the matter. The noble Earl made the point about a diverse European foreign policy. The point is that we need effective foreign policy. On this occasion we have had it.

Lord Craig of Radley

My Lords, the mandate refers to eight presidential sites in Iraq which will be subject to the special procedures. Do we have absolute confidence that eight is the final number and that there are not additional presidential sites which might be added at some future stage?

Perhaps I may also take the opportunity of asking whether Her Majesty's Government will bear in mind the importance of the ability to deploy forces rapidly and sustain them overseas at some distance from home in contributing to the successful outcome that we have achieved?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I am sure that we all join the noble and gallant Lord in his compliment to Her Majesty's forces who are doing such an excellent job on our behalf.

The noble and gallant Lord asked whether eight presidential sites were enough. It is eight presidential sites that will be subject to the special provisions which were referred to in my right honourable friend's Statement which I read to the House. However, the noble and gallant Lord must remember that none of the sites is excluded. If the sites are not among the eight they will be in other sites which are covered quite unequivocally in what has been agreed in the memorandum of understanding. The memorandum of understanding is triggered immediately, unconditionally and without restriction. To say anything more at the moment would not be sensible. Indeed, I cannot do so, as the matter will be discussed in the Security Council this afternoon. I hope that the details will emerge in due course.

Lord Elton

My Lords, at present we have inspection teams in Iraq under the cover of a series of resolutions and an agreement that they shall complete their work. When they have completed their work and are confident—if they ever are—that all weapons of mass destruction have been destroyed, presumably they will be withdrawn. It occurs to me that in the debate on her last Statement, the noble Baroness was convincing in telling us that any brewery or chemical factory could swiftly be turned into a factory for making weapons of mass destruction. Presumably, when their task is completed, the inspection teams will be withdrawn and the resolutions will cease to have force. Can the noble Baroness assure us that thought is already being given to how we then secure the interests of the rest of the world against a further onslaught of this kind?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the Statement that I read to the House referred to Saddam Hussein complying fully with Security Council resolutions. That includes Security Council Resolution 687 which refers not only to the destruction of current weapons of mass destruction but also the destruction of the means of making more.

My right honourable friend's Statement also referred to making sure that the very threat from the weapons of mass destruction was also gone before Security Council resolutions are lifted. So it is perfectly clear that those who are looking at the detail of these issues are looking not only at the weapons which already exist but at the way in which such weapons might be manufactured in the future. For that reason, it is important that we find the precursors which we know exist for the biological and chemical weapons which so far UNSCOM has been unable to find. So I can give the noble Lord, Lord Elton, the assurance that he needs on this important question.

Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne

My Lords, during this crisis a number of the Iraqi people in Iraq and the surrounding countries have been in touch with me. Perhaps I may, on their behalf—if it does not seem forward—offer their gratitude to the British Government and to the noble Baroness for the exceptional work they have carried out in assisting in the facing down of Saddam Hussein. I offer their gratitude for ensuring that the British Government and the British people are in the forefront of this effort. They are deeply grateful. There should be no misunderstanding about that.

However, also on their behalf perhaps I may ask the noble Baroness whether we can now think profoundly as a nation about their human rights. We should recognise that Saddam Hussein has dragged their rights down to the pit of hell, that Iraq as a modern state has the capacity to be successful and wealthy. That has been destroyed by Saddam Hussein himself. The rights of the Iraqi people as well as those of the Kuwaiti and Iranian prisoners of war inside Iraq should now be uppermost in our minds.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for what she said. I also thank her because it is reassuring to know that, despite the deplorable regime running Iraq, the truth of the situation is getting through, albeit perhaps only to small groups of people. It is reassuring that we know that in Iraq itself there is knowledge of what is happening outside Iraq on these questions.

The noble Baroness raised, as she has done on previous occasions highly persuasively, the issue of human rights. Yes, of course they must be addressed in Iraq. We know the capacity that there has been in that country for slaughter of its own citizens. The fact is that within the past few weeks we know there have been mass executions in Iraqi gaols. Hundreds of people have been slaughtered in Iraqi gaols in the past few weeks. When one uses the word "hundreds", the numbers are so great that one cannot comprehend the magnitude of what we are discussing. But every one of those was an individual, and every one may not have been guilty of any great crime. They may have been in the unfortunate position of being in opposition to the Iraqi Government. I thank the noble Baroness for what she said and agree with every word about the humanitarian concern which must be pursued.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, the noble Baroness has twice answered questions about the double standards which have been in operation in the policy of America and ourselves between Iraq on the one hand and Israel on the other. In answer to questions on each occasion she has mentioned the peace process. This is of course not such a vital matter but there is a double standard there. The row with Iraq has been about working with weapons of mass destruction. Can the noble Baroness say whether there is any hope that we shall press our American friends to try harder to get Israel to do something about their weapons of mass destruction?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, if I may say so to my noble friend, I think I have answered such questions considerably more than twice—and not only in answer to questions. I tackled the matter in a quite forthright way when I addressed your Lordships in a debate last week. We do not stop tackling these issues in relation to Israel. We do so constantly, bilaterally, and by other means at our disposal. I have every confidence that we shall continue to tackle these questions with Israel in the forthright and robust way which your Lordships' House would expect.

Lord Marlesford

My Lords, in the words of the Prime Minister, given that Saddam remains an evil and brutal dictator, and given that he did not himself put his signature on this agreement, does the noble Baroness agree that if this agreement is broken the time for reimposing arms inspections will have passed and the time will have come to remove Saddam and his regime? Does she agree that this will best be done not necessarily by a shooting war but by psychological warfare? Would it not be desirable to start making contingency plans to that end fairly soon?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I can only reiterate what my right honourable friend said in another place this afternoon. He said that any prevarication or obstruction by Saddam Hussein of the smooth operation of the inspections in accordance not only with the current agreement but in accordance with the previous Security Council resolutions will not be accepted by any member state and will inescapably be followed by the most severe consequences for the Iraqi regime. I do not think I have to be more explicit than that at this stage.

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux

My Lords, perhaps I may take the opportunity of congratulating the Government on the way in which they have handled what has clearly been an extraordinarily difficult diplomatic situation. In the Statement by the Prime Minister it was clear that Saddam Hussein must never be allowed to carry on with breaches of this kind ever again. Under the new agreement, what will now actually trigger the use of force and how will that differ from the current agreement?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, what will trigger the use of force is prevarication or obstruction by Saddam Hussein which is tantamount to flouting the memorandum of understanding, a copy of which will be placed in the Library of your Lordships' House. I think also that my right honourable friend's Statement makes clear that although we have progressed a very long way over this weekend, thanks to the skilful negotiation of the Secretary-General, we also have a very long way still to go. Our task is by no means over.

Lord Gilmour of Craigmillar

My Lords, can the Minister elaborate on what she said about double standards? The noble Baroness sought to draw a distinction between Israel and Iraq, and said that we could not negotiate with Iraq but that we could discuss with Israel. In fact, however much we discuss with Israel, Israel goes on expanding her illegal settlements and stealing Palestinian land. What value does the noble Baroness think applies to these discussions with Israel, and is it not really a distinction without a difference?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I think that the events of the past few days have served only to underline that what I have said on this matter in the past is right and that there are no double standards. The fact is that once we were able, through the Secretary-General, to get into a discussion with members of Saddam Hussein's regime, and once we were able to secure an agreement, the threat of force has been withdrawn. The forces are still in that part of the world but there is no imminent threat of war. The fact is that we are still discussing and negotiating with our friends in Israel about how we can ensure that they do comply with Security Council resolutions. It would be absurd to threaten force when discussions are going on, but the scale of the two problems is entirely different. I would draw the attention of the noble Lord to the fact that this is not just a question of compliance with Security Council resolutions and not just the difference between a regime that has used weapons of mass destruction and one which has not. It is also a question of dealing with people who are willing to try to talk through the very real differences that exist. I think that everything that has happened in the last few days has shown that the policy of Her Majesty's Government has been entirely vindicated.