HL Deb 16 November 1998 vol 594 cc1017-32

5.24 p.m.

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

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

"Madam Speaker, as the House will know, on Saturday I had authorised substantial military action as part of a joint US-UK strike against targets in Iraq. British Tornado fighter bombers were about to take to the air, and I had already spoken to the detachment commander to thank them for their bravery and professionalism, when we received word that the Iraqis were telling the UN Secretary-General that they had backed down.

"I want to explain to the House why we were ready to take such action, why we decided to stay our hand, and why we remain ready to strike if the Iraqis do not fully comply with their obligations.

"Let me first put these events into context. Security Council Resolution 687 of April 1991, containing the ceasefire terms for the Gulf War, obliged Iraq to accept the destruction of all its weapons of mass destruction and not to develop such weapons in the future. The UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) was established to oversee these processes, with the International Atomic Energy Agency. A further resolution required immediate, unconditional and unrestricted access to any places and records in Iraq inspectors wished to inspect.

"The seven years since then have been a constant struggle between Iraq and the weapons inspectors, backed by the full authority of the UN. The inspectors themselves have been harassed and threatened. Iraq has deceived and concealed and lied at every turn. A deliberate mechanism to hide existing weapons, and develop new ones, has been in place, involving organisations close to Saddam Hussein, in particular his special republican guard.

"Despite all this obstruction, UNSCOM and the IAEA have been remarkably successful in uncovering and destroying massive amounts of weaponry, particularly following the defection of Saddam Hussein's son-in-law, Hussein Kamel, in 1995. He was murdered on his return to Iraq the following year. For example, UNSCOM has destroyed more than 38,000 chemical weapon munitions, 690 tonnes of chemical weapon agents, and 3,000 tonnes of precursor chemicals. Forty-eight Scud missiles have also been destroyed, as has a biological weapons factory designed to produce up to 50,000 litres of anthrax, botulism toxin and other agents. Without the weapons inspectors, this deadly arsenal would have been available to Saddam Hussein to use against his neighbours. Who can say with confidence that he would not already have used it?

"Huge question marks remain, for example, over 610 tonnes of unaccounted for precursor chemicals for the nerve gas VX, over imports of growth media capable of producing huge amounts of anthrax, and over missile warheads, particularly those designed for chemical and biological weapons. Iraq has denied weaponising VX, but analysis of missile warhead fragments in a US laboratory showed traces of VX. Further tests were carried out in French and Swiss laboratories. A multinational group of experts concluded in late October that the original US tests were accurate, that the French laboratory had found evidence consistent with the trace of a nerve gas on one fragment, and that all three laboratories had found evidence of Iraqi attempts to decontaminate the warheads.

"The simple truth, therefore, is that before the Gulf War Iraq had built up a vast arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. It has been trying to hide them, and to acquire more, ever since. Despite UNSCOM, Iraq still has weapons of mass destruction capability. We do not know precisely how much. They still have the skills, the engineers and the equipment to make more. Saddam Hussein has used these weapons before, including on his own people. I am in no doubt he would use them again, given half a chance.

"Let us not forget also that Saddam' s conventional military capabilities remain at a very high level: more than 1 million men under arms, including 75,000 in the republican guard and 15,000 members of the special republican guard; 2,700 main battle tanks; and nearly 400 combat aircraft. That is what he continues to spend his money on, rather than the welfare of his own people.

"In October 1997, Iraq sought to exclude US personnel from UNSCOM teams. In the face of international pressure, the Iraqis then backed down but continued to try to impose controls on so-called presidential sites. In January 1998, Iraq again objected to US and UK personnel, made explicit a ban on access to eight presidential sites, and threatened to end co-operation with UNSCOM if it had not completed its work by May 1998. We, the Americans and others made clear that we would use force if Saddam did not change his mind.

"On that occasion, Kofi Annan, the Secretary-General of the UN, negotiated a memorandum of understanding under which Iraq confirmed its acceptance of all relevant Security Council resolutions and its readiness to co-operate fully with UNSCOM and the IAEA. This averted military action at the eleventh hour. The Security Council's endorsement of this MOU stressed that any violation of it would have the severest consequences for Iraq.

"Iraq subsequently resumed superficial co-operation, but on 5th August suspended everything but the most routine monitoring when its demand for a declaration saying it had fulfilled all its disarmament obligations was rejected. A further Security Council resolution in September suspended reviews of sanctions in consequence but endorsed the idea of a comprehensive review of Iraq's compliance with its obligations. On 30th October, the Security Council unanimously agreed terms of reference for this review, holding out the prospect of a clear statement of the steps Iraq still had to take, and of the likely timeframe for their completion, assuming full co-operation by Iraq. Astonishingly, this offer was rejected by Iraq on 31st October, and then the Iraqis announced that they were ceasing all co-operation with UNSCOM. The Security Council unanimously condemned this on 5th November as a flagrant violation of Iraq's obligations.

"I have set this out in detail because it is important that we understand what is at stake. We are not talking about technical breaches of UN resolutions, but a pattern of behaviour which continues to pose huge actual risks for Iraq's neighbours, the Middle East and the entire international community.

"Let me now return to the events of the past few days. Following the Iraqi decision to break off co-operation with UNSCOM on 31st October, despite the offer of a comprehensive review, we and the Americans decided that if Saddam Hussein did not return to full compliance very quickly we were ready to mount an air attack to reduce substantially Iraq's threat to his neighbours, in particular by degrading his weapons of mass destruction capability, and his ability to develop, control and deliver such weapons.

"We did not want a lengthy military build-up of the kind there had been in February or endless rhetorical warnings. But we did make clear that if they did not return to full compliance very quickly indeed, they would face a substantial military strike. A private warning was delivered directly to the Iraqi permanent representative at the UN on Thursday, 12th November, giving no details about timing, but leaving no doubt about the scale of what was intended.

"Saturday afternoon London time was set for the start of the attack. I gave final authorisation for the use of force that morning. I did so with regret, and with a deep sense of responsibility. I saw no credible alternative. The UK's weight in the planned strike would have been substantial, including nearly 20 per cent. of the tactical bomber effort.

"Just over two hours before the attack was due to start, we received word that the Iraqis had told the UN Secretary-General that they were responding positively to a final letter of appeal he had sent them the previous night. We decided then that the attack should be put on hold for 24 hours to give us a chance to study the details of the Iraqi response.

"The first Iraqi letter appeared to agree to resume co-operation with UNSCOM and the IAEA. It was described as unconditional by Iraqi spokesmen. But the full text of the letter, and in particular nine assurances they were seeking about the comprehensive review, listed in an annex, left this unclear. We and the Americans therefore spelled out that this was unacceptable and there could be no question of any conditions. During the course of Saturday night and Sunday morning, the Iraqis offered a stream of further written and oral clarifications, making clear that their compliance was unconditional, that the nine points were merely a wish-list—not conditions—that their decisions of August and October to withdraw co-operation had been formally rescinded, and that the weapons inspectors would be allowed to resume the full range of their activities in accordance with UN resolutions, without let or hindrance. I have placed the text of the Iraqi letters in the Library of the House.

"These clarifications, taken together, mean that Saddam Hussein has completely withdrawn his positions of August and October. No concessions of any kind were offered to him in exchange. There was no negotiation of any kind. Nor could there have been. Nor will there be in future.

"We do not, however, take Iraqi words at face value. Long experience has taught us the opposite. But we had asked for unconditional resumption of co-operation. In the face of the credible threat of force—in this case very imminent force—Iraq offered this. In these circumstances, we and the Americans have suspended military action further while we bolt down every detail of what the Iraqis have said, and while we test the words in practice. The Security Council decided last night that UNSCOM and IAEA inspectors should resume their work in Iraq immediately. They will be in Iraq tomorrow. They must be afforded full co-operation in every respect. As ever, we do not rely on the good faith of Saddam Hussein. He has none. But we do know that, under threat of force, we can make him move.

"We will be watching with extreme care and a high degree of scepticism. Our forces remain in place and on high alert. We and the Americans remain ready, willing and able to go back to the use of force at any time. There will be no further warnings. The inspectors will now carry out their work.

"There are, in my view, two substantial and fundamental differences between the Iraqi climb down this time and in February. First, there is now a very clear diplomatic basis for action without further need for long discussion in the Security Council or elsewhere. In February we allowed a long time for negotiations. This time we allowed only a short period. If there is a next time, there will not even be that. If there is a next time, everyone knows what to expect, and President Chirac and others have made this clear. Secondly, the world can now see more clearly than ever before that Saddam Hussein is intimidated by the threat of force. Many so-called experts told us that Saddam wanted military action—even needed it—to shore up his position internally and in the region. His complete collapse on Saturday gives the lie to this bogus analysis. When he finally saw, correctly, that we were ready to use force, and on a substantial scale, he crumbled. I hope other countries, more dubious of the use of force, can now see that Saddam is moved by a credible threat of force. He has now exposed the fact that his fear is greater than his courage. Let us learn the lessons from that.

"If there is a next time, I will have no hesitation in ordering the use of force. President Clinton's position is the same. The US and the UK, with far greater international support than ever before, now have Saddam Hussein trapped. If he again obstructs the work of the inspectors, then we strike. No warnings. No wrangling. No negotiations. No last-minute letters. The next withdrawal of co-operation and he will be hit.

"We have no quarrel with the people of Iraq. On the contrary, we support the desire of the overwhelming majority of them for freedom from Saddam Hussein. They find themselves in a desperate position. I have no doubt of the genuine suffering of many, though not the élite and those who keep them in power. We do what we can through our aid programme. Under the oil for food arrangements, the Iraqis can import as much food and medicines as they want. I hope we will hear no more echoes here of cynical and hypocritical Iraqi propaganda about this. If Saddam Hussein wants to import more, he can do so freely. If he wants the sanctions position to change, the solution is in his hands, through fulfilment of his obligations.

"This is far from over. It is merely in a different phase. Our course is set. Complete compliance and nothing less, and we shall not be moved from that course."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

5.41 p.m.

Lord Moynihan

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement. From these Benches we support and endorse the Government's willingness to use force to ensure that Saddam Hussein complies unconditionally with United Nations resolutions. While such a threat remains necessary, we shall continue to pledge our backing for the use of force. We also supported the decision of the Prime Minister on Saturday to authorise the use of RAF Tornados. We commend the bravery of those RAF personnel involved in the proposed mission. We also pay tribute to the Secretary-General of the UN, Kofi Annan, for the part that he played in seeking to defuse this latest Iraqi-engineered crisis.

We join the Minister in welcoming the statement by Saddam Hussein that he will allow UNSCOM inspectors complete and unconditional access to suspected illegal weapons sites. We support the Prime Minister in his statement that if there is any future breach of the undertakings which Iraq has once again given to the international community, air strikes will be launched without further warning. I am sure that the Minister will agree that in these days of ultimatum-led foreign policy in Kosovo and Iraq we must prove as good as our word, or else we risk devaluing the diplomatic expedient that is the credible threat of the use of force.

The Minister no doubt shares our concern that, although the crisis was defused at the eleventh hour, it may be only a temporary respite before Saddam Hussein tests the patience and resolve of the international community and reneges on his commitments yet again. Solemn undertakings were given to the UN Secretary-General in February, only to be broken in November. How long will it be before these new promises, so freshly given, are broken?

I am glad that the Minister agrees that we cannot allow international policy towards Iraq to become a passive and indefinite policy of crisis-response. We are only too well aware of Saddam Hussein's audacious game of brinkmanship; we are only too well aware of the consequent divisions in the international community. Each Iraqi-engineered crisis has, sadly, brought disunity to the Security Council and to the Gulf allies. Does the Minister agree that perceptions of weakness, particularly in the Security Council, serve only to embolden Saddam Hussein and to encourage him in seeking to exploit differences of opinion within the international community? Does the Minister agree that it is deeply detrimental to the authority of the international community and that Saddam Hussein must at all costs be denied the opportunity to cause such damage?

Saddam Hussein is a past master at playing for time and breaking his promises. What assurances do the Government have that, this time, he will not try his hand at brinkmanship once again, at a time of his choosing, when he believes he can secure his objectives of getting sanctions lifted without surrendering his arsenal of biological and chemical weapons?

Will the Minister accept the continued strong support on this side of the House for maintaining a consistent and tough line against Iraq until the destruction of that country's biological and chemical weapons capability is completed? Furthermore, will the Minister give the House an assurance that, should air strikes prove necessary, they will be undertaken within the context of a coherent and unambiguous policy towards Iraq, so that any use of force will achieve more than a straightforward demonstration of military might? Will the Minister give a further assurance that the use of military force will have clearly-defined objectives, particularly given the plans, presently on hold, to reinforce the military build-up in the Gulf with ground troops?

I welcomed the Minister's comments about humanitarian aid. Given the fact that Iraq can now sell over 10 billion dollars of oil annually to pay for food, medicine and other humanitarian goods, should not the blame for the privations being suffered by the Iraqi people be laid firmly at the door of Saddam Hussein, who chooses to build new palaces instead of new hospitals and who wants to buy missiles instead of medicines?

Given that it has proved impossible to negotiate in good faith with Saddam Hussein, to what extent do the Government associate themselves with President Clinton's statement that: what we want and what we will work for is a government in Iraq that represents and respects its people … and one committed to live in peace with its neighbours"? Do the Government support the negotiations which the United States is conducting with Iraqi opposition groups with a view to forming a viable opposition to Saddam Hussein's regime? What plans do the Government have to join the United States in pursuing such a proactive political strategy? What assessment have the Government made of concerns that the Iraqi opposition is too weak and fragmented to mount a credible challenge? Will the Minister therefore assure the House that the Government will be clear in their direction and targeting of support to such groups?

Finally, we on these Benches shall be interested to learn whether the Minister believes that Saddam Hussein's record of broken promises, his breaches of faith and the continuing threat to peace that he presents not only to the region but to the world, mean that the open and acknowledged objective of western policy, even given the formidable difficulties involved, should be his removal from power.

5.48 p.m.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, first, I commend the Government and the Government of the United States on the resolution and strength that they have shown. I believe that we should all commend the Armed Forces on the excellent state of preparation in which they found themselves.

But that is not the end of the story. It may, indeed, be the beginning. We know that the coalition behind previous actions in regard to Iraq is not a strong one; that the absurd actions of Saddam Hussein on 31st October reunited the Security Council behind the willingness to take military action, after a long period during which members of the Security Council were profoundly at odds.

We must now examine the strategy that lies beyond the success that the United Kingdom and United States Governments have undoubtedly had in compelling Saddam Hussein once again to accept the UNSCOM inspectors. For we cannot see this scenario repeated time and again.

Therefore, will the Minister look beyond the present situation and ask whether the satisfaction of UNSCOM inspectors' right to enter any areas they choose to investigate any weapons that might be used for mass destruction—as they had so successfully done until the breach in relations occurred—could be linked to a willingness to see food for oil as a gradually expanding programme and to address the desperate humanitarian plight not of the government of Iraq but of the people of Iraq?

Will the Minister and her department give further consideration to a matter which I raised many weeks ago; namely, the necessity to focus and shape sanctions in such a way that some at least are directed at the political ruling class of Iraq and not so much at the ordinary people who have carried the great burden of suffering over the past eight years? In that context, might further sanctions on the travel of Iraqi political groups and on their financial holdings, and sanctions which would specifically involve their interests, be considered by members of the Security Council with a view to focusing the effects of what has happened on those who are responsible for what has happened and not on those who are not?

5.50 p.m.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, for their support. In particular, I thank them for their tributes to the British servicemen who were so ready to go into action over the weekend, the courage and professionalism of whom is second to none. It is important that there is this cross-party support in your Lordships' House over such a crucial matter of foreign policy. My right honourable friend this afternoon expressed his thanks in another place to both the official Opposition and the Liberal Democrats for their support. It is essential that at this time we in the United Kingdom should stand shoulder to shoulder. Nothing could please Saddam Hussein more than to see a fragmentation in the response of parliamentarians in the United Kingdom to what happened over the weekend.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, that we have been as good as our word over this issue. When dealing with a Statement in your Lordships' House about 10 days ago, I was able to tell the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, that our fire power in the region, though not exactly the same, had been maintained.

Of course, we are aware that Saddam Hussein has blatantly broken his word on a number of occasions. As the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, indicated, the way in which he broke his word to the United Nations' Secretary General Kofi Annan brought a degree of unity of purpose to the Security Council, which was most welcome. The Security Council has been remarkably united in this respect, particularly in contrast to the attitude on previous occasions, as the noble Baroness pointed out. Security Council Resolution 1154 spoke of the severest consequences which would follow a breaking of the Kofi Annan memorandum of understanding and Security Council Resolution 1205 described Iraq's most recent attitude as a flagrant violation of that understanding.

Experience has taught us that there can be no assurances in relation to what Saddam Hussein has said. That is why we must continue to be vigilant. If air strikes are necessary, we must be clear that they will be used to bring Iraq back into compliance, to strike at the weapons of mass destruction, which are, after all, the issue between Iraq and ourselves, and to degrade Iraq's ability to strike at its neighbours. It is very important to get to the weapons of mass destruction and to ensure that Iraq's capability to use military force against its neighbours is as low as we can make it.

With regard to humanitarian aid, it is important to stress that the blame for the privations in Iraq must be laid fairly and squarely at the door of Saddam Hussein. The élite in Iraq are not suffering from want of food or medicines. As the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, said, Saddam Hussein is building palaces, not hospitals. At one point he even tried to use some of the oil-for-food money to purchase liposuction medical aid. That is the kind of thing that has been going on in Iraq.

The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, asked some important questions about our support for the Iraqi opposition. Of course we want the Iraqi people to be governed by a regime other than that of Saddam Hussein. Of course we agree with President Clinton and are looking at ways of supporting the Iraqi opposition. But it is up to the Iraqis to decide who their leaders are. Since the end of the Gulf War we have consistently supported the Iraqi opposition. It is important that people hear alternative Iraqi voices, not just the propaganda put out by Saddam Hussein's regime. Opposition helps to expose the truth about life under Saddam Hussein in Iraq and it is very important that those voices are heard.

The noble Baroness asked about the possibility of targeting sanctions at the elite in Iraq rather more than at the moment. We shall look carefully at that issue over the next few days. She asks me to look beyond the present situation. It is the present situation which we must bolt down. Let us not think that the crisis period of the past few days is safely behind us. We hope that it is safely behind us, but, as my right honourable friend's Statement in other place made clear, we must "bolt down every detail". It is important over the next couple of days to achieve absolute clarity with regard to what was said in the letters that we saw over the weekend from Iraq and also with our neighbours and allies in the United Nations.

Finally, the noble Lord asked me what the real objective was. The real objective is to ensure that Saddam Hussein's Iraq comes into compliance with United Nations' resolutions, to rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction and to reduce Saddam Hussein's capability to threaten his neighbours in the way that he has done in the past.

5.57 p.m.

Lord Shore of Stepney

My Lords, my noble friend deserves congratulations, as do the Prime Minister and the President, on their firm and resolute handling of this latest crisis. I particularly like the threat that we have made, with the Americans, that if Saddam Hussein plays cat and mouse again and tries to interrupt the work of UNSCOM there will be no further warning; there will be action. That is a threat which we have never used before and I believe it will be one of great importance in the future.

Perhaps I may put a point to my noble friend and raise a question. We need to win the battle for hearts and minds in the Middle East generally, in the Gulf area and in Iraq. Yes, we support the Iraqi opposition, but can we not find some way of reaching more directly the people of Iraq, through radio or other means of communication, so that they are made aware not only of the monstrous behaviour of their ruler but also of the humiliation that he has brought upon himself? It would be an enormous asset if we could bring that about.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his kind words. I agree with him that the position which Her Majesty's Government and the Government of the United States have now adopted does not leave any room for doubt. If there is not compliance, there will be no further warnings. It is crucial that the UNSCOM inspectors have access where and when they wish. Those are two very important points.

My noble friend asks about reaching the hearts and minds of our friends in the Middle East and perhaps most particularly in the Gulf and Iraq itself. I remind my noble friend that the declaration of the eight Arab states in Damascus on 12th November was that Ministers held Iraq responsible for any consequences that might spring from Iraq's refusal to rescind its decision to halt co-operation with UNSCOM. That statement was made by the following states: Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, the UAE, Bahrain, Egypt and Syria. We have not seen such a statement before. I believe that that should give noble Lords considerable food for thought.

In many ways we have already started to secure greater support in the hearts and minds of people. My noble friend asks whether it is possible to do this within Iraq. I believe that that would be extremely difficult. Over the past weekend the people of Baghdad have been out in the streets celebrating Saddam Hussein's victory. The people of Iraq may not necessarily have the freedom of action that we enjoy in this country. If they are urged to go out by the great numbers of guards—the Statement points out that there are 1 million men under arms in Iraq—I do not believe that many people will say that they prefer to stay at home rather than demonstrate support for Saddam Hussein. To hope that the people of Iraq will respond in that way is a pretty tall order. Let us remember what is taking place in the prisons in Iraq, the forced amputations that have been introduced this year and the hideous and repressive regime under which most Iraqis live. I believe that we may be up against it (to use that colloquialism) in trying to get to the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people in a visible way.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, it is generally agreed that our mistake at the end of the Gulf War was not to require Saddam Hussein himself to give the surrender. Given Mr. Primakov's extremely close relations over many years with Saddam Hussein, is there any hope that we can bring pressure to bear on the Russians to insist that this latest acceptance by the Iraqis of the requirements of the United Nations should be stated publicly by Saddam Hussein? The Russians have great influence in that country. I believe that we are wasting that asset. Obviously, there are ways that we cannot discuss publicly to bring pressure to bear on the Russians, but it seems to me that this is a perfectly open question. If they want to have peace in the Middle East and a better outcome in Iraq, Saddam Hussein himself must be made to say publicly that he has capitulated.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness that it would be excellent if we could obtain an unequivocal statement from Saddam Hussein. I do not believe that it escaped the attention of anyone that the agreement reached with Kofi Annan earlier this year was fronted by Tariq Aziz. At the time one or two noble Lords remarked to me privately that they felt that it would have been far more satisfactory had Saddam Hussein taken the full brunt of those negotiations. But I do not believe that that was an accident, any more than I believe it is an accident that the signatories to the letters received over the weekend are not those of Saddam Hussein.

The fact is that Saddam Hussein is guarded by the Republican Guard and his position in Iraq at the moment probably does not allow pressure to be brought to bear upon him. I note what the noble Baroness said about the position of the Russians. I am sure that those matters will be discussed this week in the UN and elsewhere. Whatever the differences over the use of force have been, on one matter the United Nations Security Council has been absolutely united; namely, that Saddam Hussein is in flagrant breach of the agreement that he made. I am sure that discussions will continue about ways to try to ensure that such a breach does not arise again.

Lord Craig of Radley

My Lords, while we are waiting to see how Saddam responds and our Armed Forces and those of the Americans remain on high alert, can the Minister advise the House as to whether any other nations are prepared to support militarily the present actions that we and the United States have taken? Bearing in mind that there is no intention to give any further warning, what advice is the Foreign Office giving to British nationals about returning to Baghdad?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I do not believe that the question of support by other nations is likely to be under active consideration at the moment, although I am sure that discussions will continue with our allies in a number of friendly countries. We have received a number of messages of support from the eight Arab states, New Zealand, Australia and the EU. A number of states have been supportive of the general position of Her Majesty's Government. I am sure that discussions about the most effective way to mobilise that support will continue.

The noble and gallant Lord asked about travel advice. We advised against non-essential travel to Kuwait, Israel and the occupied territories on 11th November. We have been reconsidering that advice. Our advice against travel to Iraq stands. We now no longer necessarily advise nationals against travel to Kuwait, Israel and the occupied territories, but we suggest that all Britons should register with the nearest British embassy and keep in touch with regional developments. Therefore, the travel advice to Kuwait, Israel and the occupied territories has been stepped down, although we advise vigilance and continued contact with the embassies, but advice against travel to Iraq stands. I hope that that is clear to noble Lords.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, my noble friend has spoken of the need now to bolt down this matter. That is a very vivid and valid image. I think that all can agree that that is the need. Will the noble Baroness and the Government bear in mind that the best bolts are those of the United Nations because people do not like to try to break them, at least not visibly? Further, is there anything to be said yet about the ways in which the United States, and presumably the United Kingdom, will seek to get rid of Saddam? In a case of this kind it is obvious that anything that is ill-considered, heavy-handed, secretive, violent or illegal would have a counter-productive effect.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I agree that there are good bolts in the United Nations, but I must point out to my noble friend that one of the best bolts that we have had is the credible use of military power. I do not believe that that can be gainsaid in any way. It was when Saddam Hussein believed rightly that the United States and the United Kingdom were prepared to make good their threat of military action that he withdrew. I ask noble Lords to remember that while it is always important to be able to secure agreement by talking at the United Nations, in the end it was not that which forced Saddam Hussein to agree that UNSCOM could resume its vital work in Iraq, but the threat of force.

The noble Lord asked about overthrowing Saddam Hussein. I ask your Lordships to believe me when I say that that is not our objective. I am not suggesting for a moment that tears would be shed if he were toppled from power, but it is a question of whom the Iraqis themselves want to be their leader. So our priority is to ensure that as long as Saddam Hussein stays in power he cannot keep his capacity for weapons of mass destruction with which he has been threatening regional peace and security. I told the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, that we shall stay in touch with the United States as it develops the ideas put forward by President Clinton in his statement of 15th November concerning the opposition. I stress to your Lordships that ultimately the leadership of Iraq is a matter for the Iraqis themselves.

Lord Marlesford

My Lords, perhaps I may ask the Minister three short points. Was The Times of last Friday correct in saying that the Government had distributed briefing material to Members of the House of Commons on the then situation and, if so, why was it not distributed to Members of this House? Secondly, are the Government confident that the other three members of the Security Council, France, Russia and China, are in agreement that, if necessary, there should be military action without further warning? Thirdly, can the Minister really believe that the leadership of Iraq is for the Iraqi people when they clearly have no means whatsoever of getting rid of Saddam Hussein?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the noble Lord is right. Briefing material was circulated in the House of Commons on Friday. My noble friend Lord Gilbert was in touch with my office. We hope to circulate some briefing material very shortly to your Lordships. I hope that that will meet the need that the noble Lord has pointed out. As regards the position of France, Russia and China, they all agreed with the UNSCR 1205 concerning the flagrant breach committed by Saddam Hussein. In relation to the legal basis of any action that might have taken place, I was able to tell your Lordships when we last discussed this matter that Her Majesty's Government would not act unlawfully. We were absolutely confident that we would have been acting lawfully had the air strike planned for the weekend gone ahead.

Lord Redesdale

My Lords, under the best case scenario, if Saddam Hussein were to allow the inspectors to visit all sites and were to act in a co-operative manner, which he has never done before, can the Minister give a timetable under which sanctions could be relaxed and how accelerated that process could be?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, it is not the best case scenario, it is an only case scenario.

It is important that we are absolutely clear on that. The UNSCOM inspectors must be able to go where they want and when they want. That is the only way in which Saddam Hussein will secure compliance. It will take as long as it takes. It will take as long as UNSCOM needs in order to be able to send reports to the United Nations that they are satisfied that they have rooted out all weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Lord Hardy of Wath

My Lords, perhaps I may join in the congratulations which have been offered to my noble friend and also concur with her assessment that the critical situation continues. But while it does, will it be necessary for a state of high alert to be maintained, for that of itself can be very demanding of Her Majesty's Forces? If that is to be ended at an early stage, can my noble friend say whether the inspectorate will begin its work with dispatch and determination so that the state of alert can be ended or restricted at an early stage? Would my noble friend care to comment, if possible, on reports that Iraq has already transferred technology and military production capacity to Sudan? Does such a link exist and are there plans to ensure that it is severed at the earliest possible date?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the critical state of high alert will continue. We hope that the inspectorate will be able to begin its work as quickly as possible. Decisions on inspections are for UNSCOM and the IAEA alone. We have always fully supported their decisions. We wish to see the inspections begin again this week. My noble friend also raised the possibility that some of the technology for weapons of mass destruction may have been exported, notably to the Sudan. I believe that that matter has been raised in your Lordships' House before. It has been drawn to the attention of the relevant authorities. It is probably unwise for me to pursue that point any further other than to say that Her Majesty's Government have already taken it on board.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, as regards the Minister's reply to my noble friend Lord Marlesford concerning the briefing handed out in the House of Commons, why was it not given to this House at the same time? Is not the plain truth of the matter that the House of Lords was overlooked?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, as noble Lords will see, I am taking advice on this point from my noble friend Lord Gilbert. I understand that there were some technical reasons concerning timing. I hope that your Lordships are assured that my noble friend and I put our heads together on Friday, realising that the point that the noble Baroness has raised would occur to your Lordships very quickly and that your Lordships might indeed feel overlooked. Your Lordships have not been overlooked by my noble friend and myself. We shall do what we can to ensure that the briefing reaches your Lordships. If anyone feels a little miffed by not having the briefing, I apologise and say that the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, and I will do what we can to put the matter right.

Lord Judd

My Lords, we are dealing with what must clearly be one of the most ruthlessly cynical regimes in history. Therefore, I join with all those who applaud the resolute, firm and courageous way in which the Prime Minister and others, and the Armed Services themselves, have been prepared to do what is necessary. My noble friend has said that the Government are convinced that any action we would have taken would have been legal. We know of the cynicism of the regime. If we have to maintain a state of readiness in order to do what is necessary without further warning, over a period of time the regime will certainly set out to destabilise the situation within the United Nations and the Security Council. Therefore, can my noble friend assure us that everything possible will be done to maintain the explicit support of the Security Council for the line that we have taken?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I know that the legal basis for the projected action has been a matter of concern in your Lordships' House, and understandably so. We have discussed it on a number of occasions. It is important to remember that we are considering a highly complex network of United Nations Security Council resolutions. Perhaps I may remind your Lordships that there is Resolution 678 demanding that Iraq left Kuwait. There is Resolution 687, which set out the ceasefire arrangements, the position of UNSCOM and the necessity for Iraq to comply with it on an unconditional basis. There is also Resolution 1154, which concerns the memorandum of understanding with the United Nations Secretary General and which speaks of the severest consequences if that memorandum was broken. There is Resolution 1205, which speaks of the flagrant violation which the United Nations Security Council believes has been committed by Iraq.

I believe I have been very clear that Her Majesty's Government were not in any doubt that there was a clear legal basis for the planned military action at the weekend. Similarly, I give your Lordships an undertaking that any action taken by Her Majesty's Government in the future will be lawful. I am sure that Her Majesty's Government recognise the very important point made by my noble friend Lord Judd that it is enormously important that we do everything we can to keep the members of the United Nations Security Council as close to each other as we can in what I believe are bound to be some difficult days, and possibly weeks, ahead regarding this crucial matter of international stability.

Lord Thomas of Swynnerton

My Lords—

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale

My Lords, I am sorry, but we have spent about 20 minutes on this matter.

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