HL Deb 16 March 1998 vol 587 cc457-9

2.57 p.m.

Lord Hardy of Wath asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether other European Union member states have been requested to participate in the military force deployed in the Gulf area in order to maintain the pressure required to secure Iraq's continued compliance with the United Nations agreement.

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

My Lords, during the recent crisis we did not request military participation from EU partners. The majority of EU states supported the UK position. In addition, some either contributed directly to the military presence in the Gulf or offered logistical support. The details are as follows: Belgium agreed to send a frigate; the Netherlands agreed to send a frigate; Denmark agreed to send one C130 Hercules transport aircraft; Germany agreed to make air bases available; Portugal agreed to the use of available air bases and Spain agreed to make air bases available. In addition, Finland, Italy, Austria and Sweden acknowledged that military action would be necessary if diplomacy failed.

Lord Hardy of Wath

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer, which is a little disappointing since our partner states would share in the rejoicing if the effort so far proceeding resulted in the removal or destruction of Iraq's quite horrid weaponry. Is it not the case, however, that those countries which are not making particularly significant contributions are among those most fervently calling for the establishment of a European defence pillar, and that one cannot be sure that they would contribute very much towards it?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, my noble friend says that he finds the Answer a little disappointing. In view of the fact that so many at the time claimed that the United Kingdom and the United States were isolated in their stance on Iraq, I disagree with my noble friend's assessment. Noble Lords may be interested to learn that in addition a number of other countries either offered direct contributions to the military presence in the Gulf or made available logistic support. Those countries included Australia, Canada, Poland, Norway, Romania, New Zealand and Argentina. I believe that the alliance that was established was quite wide ranging.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, can the Minister assure the House that the Government consulted their European Union partners as fully as possible in the run-up to the Iraq crisis? The United Kingdom has the presidency of the Union. It appeared a little odd that we did not convene a special meeting to discuss this question, given that the Treaty of Amsterdam contains a special clause which provides that permanent members of the Security Council shall inform and consult EU partners. How much was done?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, that question has been raised in your Lordships' House in the past. I reiterate that Iraq was discussed regularly at all levels in the EU. During February alone the Iraqi crisis was discussed at five different high-level EU meetings, including twice by EU Foreign Ministers. The crisis arose due to Iraq's non-compliance with the UN's Security Council resolutions, and therefore it was logical that the UN should take the lead in the crisis. The noble Lord may like to know, however, that the WEU contributed to the international action in the build-up to the Gulf War by co-ordinating the European naval contribution to the blockade of Iraq.

Lord Burnham

My Lords, I note that the countries cited by the noble Baroness in her first Answer were all western European. In her second answer the countries to which she referred were also "white", if that is not an improper term, and included countries in eastern Europe. What approaches were made to Middle Eastern and Arab states and what was their response?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his question. I felt that my previous answers were becoming too long and perhaps testing your Lordships' patience. However, as the noble Lord asks the question, the countries were Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait and Qatar as well as the Czech Republic and Hungary, who also offered practical support during the recent crisis.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, what help has the European Union been asked to give in resuscitating the Iraqi National Congress which, after all, affords a much better long-term prospect for changing the system of government in Iraq and replacing Saddam with a democratic system? Is it right that the Americans have given 38 million dollars to the promotion of a more vigorous policy by the INC, and how much will the Europeans give to supplement that?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, as I understand the noble Lord, he asks about the establishment of an effective opposition within Iraq. We support and encourage, as do our European Union colleagues, the formation of a united representative opposition to Saddam's regime.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford

My Lords, now that the crisis is over, as one of my noble friend's Back Benchers who gave her some awkward moments, at the great risk of damaging her career, perhaps I may place on record my deep and sincere appreciation of the way in which she has mastered this very, very difficult brief. I shall be in the Bishops' Bar in half an hour's time.

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