HL Deb 19 March 1998 vol 587 cc816-8

3.24 p.m.

Baroness Cox asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their response to reports that Saddam Hussein has exported chemical and biological weapons, and experts and materials for the establishment of plants for the manufacture of such weapons, to foreign countries, including Sudan and Libya.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, we are concerned about reports that Iraq has exported weapons of mass destruction, materials and expertise to other countries. We are monitoring the situation closely, hut to date we have no evidence to substantiate these claims. Nor has the United Nations Special Commission reported any evidence of such transfers since the Gulf War conflict and the imposition of sanctions in 1991.

Baroness Cox

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her Answer. It is encouraging to know that the Government take these reports seriously and will be monitoring the situation. As Sudan is currently subject to United Nations sanctions for its record on terrorism and human rights, will the Government consider raising concerns generated by recent reports, particularly that of the US Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, with the Security Council to discuss the possibility of some action?

Is the Minister aware of the urgency of the situation, because the government of Sudan have already used weapons of indiscriminate destruction against their own people—weapons deemed to have been made in Iraq? I have seen cluster bombs dropped on playing fields where children are playing and I fear that that government will not be inhibited in using any weapons at their disposal unless deterred by the international community.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the noble Baroness asked a number of questions. Of course we view with concern any reports which allege the transfer of weapons of mass destruction. We have indeed studied the paper to which the noble Baroness referred in great detail and against all other sources. However, the noble Baroness should know that we are unable to corroborate many of the details. Moreover, we know that some of the claims made in the paper are untrue. The United States Administration have said the same. The White House response is: We have no credible evidence that Iraq has exported weapons of mass destruction technology to other countries since the Gulf War". The defence intelligence staff in the MoD have similarly written a critique which does not support the report's findings. But of course this is an issue on which we should be extremely vigilant.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that UNSCOM has the power to investigate collaboration between Iraq and other states in the development of prohibited weapons and in the transfer of technological capacity from Iraq to those states? Will the Government therefore consider requesting Mr. Richard Butler to carry out a thorough study of all the allegations which have been made and to report back to the Security Council as soon as possible?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the remit of UNSCOM is specific to Iraq. That begs two questions. First, it begs the question of whether Iraq has exported weapons of mass destruction. Secondly, it begs the question about whether there are weapons of mass destruction in other countries in the area.

Iraq has admitted to a number of joint ventures with other countries in the missile area prior to the Gulf War. However, UNSCOM has not reported any evidence of the transfer of technology, materials or know-how since then and since sanctions were imposed. However, it is worth remembering that Iraq sought to shelter war planes in Iran during the Gulf War. None of those planes was subsequently returned. Whether in the light of that experience Iraq would want to risk losing a major part of its weapons of mass destruction arsenal by entrusting it to a neighbour is a pretty moot point.

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that Saddam Hussein's military strategy of delivering weapons of mass destruction is a serious threat to the American strategy, which is based on sheer size and high technology? Does she further agree that it is most important for Britain now to work in close partnership with our American colleagues to ensure that we can fend off this evil dictator in the best way possible?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I am sure the whole House will agree with what the noble Lord said about the evil and destructive force of weapons of mass destruction.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, the Minister has accepted the evidence of my noble friend Lady Cox that weapons of mass destruction have been used by the Sudanese Government against sections of their own people. If they were not provided by Iraq, are we to understand that the Minister believes that the Sudan itself is capable of the manufacture and delivery of such weapons, in which case we have another major threat to think about?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, Sudan has chemical plants as part of its industrial infrastructure which could be used to produce weapons of mass destruction. But we have no evidence from any source to corroborate claims that Sudan has attempted to acquire, either indigenously or through procurement, any form of weapons of mass destruction.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, will the Minister accept at the very least that there is a mass of substantial allegations of a regular supply of Iraqi chemical and biological weapons and know-how to the Sudan with, incidentally, the co-operation of Iran, which is an extremely anxious issue? Will the Minister accept that that is a threat to all the African nations bordering on the Sudan, given the fact that the Khartoum Government have already threatened the Ugandans with a chemical attack?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, Iraq had admitted to concealment mechanisms which UNSCOM is continuing to investigate. We do not rule out the possibility that the gaps in Iraq's disclosure may indeed be attributable to the transfer out of Iraq of weapons with a mass destruction capability. However, I have told your Lordships' House that, while that is a possibility of which Her Majesty's Government are fully aware, we do not have credible evidence to support that view.

If I were to provide further details, I am afraid that I should have to draw on material collected by the intelligence agencies. Of course, it has been the practice of successive governments not to comment on that.