HL Deb 07 November 2002 vol 640 cc869-72

11.25 a.m.

Lord Judd

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What progress has been made towards an agreed position in the United Nations Security Council on Iraq.

The Minister for Trade (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)

My Lords, negotiations on a new United Nations Security Council resolution are still in progress. We hope that those negotiations will be completed and a resolution adopted soon.

With the leave of the House, I shall later today be repeating a Statement being made on this matter in another place by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary. As noble Lords will understand, I cannot pre-empt that Statement. I shall therefore be able to answer the questions of noble Lords on this important issue more fully later today.

Lord Judd

My Lords, while thanking my noble friend for that reply and completely understanding that she cannot pre-empt the Statement, I am aware of the vagaries of chance when it comes to contributing to the debate on a Statement, and would like to pursue my Question briefly. Will my noble friend accept that it is deeply reassuring to find how consistently and firmly the Government and the Prime Minister have pursued the multilateral and UN road, as distinct from the unilateral road? Does she agree that it is crucial to be clear about the issue of specific UN authorisation for any military action that may be necessary? Does she also agree that it is essential to be clear that there is a genuine commitment to the success of the work of the inspectors? Does she further agree that if the policy is to be effective, there has to be consistency in approach towards the Middle East as a whole, not least to the deplorable situation in Israel?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his comments on the Government's pursuit of a multilateral track in this regard. He is quite right. The negotiations have been going on for some six weeks. As I said in my initial Answer, although the Security Council resolution has not yet been adopted, we very much hope that it soon will be.

I will shortly be in a better position to address the question of specific action after the Statement of my right honourable friend in another place. As we have discussed many times in your Lordships' House, we all agree on the importance of consistency and following through United Nations Security Council resolutions. The resolution to which my noble friend refers in relation to Israel should also include obligations placed on Palestinians. We also know that other countries have been or may be developing weapons of mass destruction. As I have said on previous occasions, we have been having discussions with those countries in order to try to pursue what we believe is right for them as well as pursuing the course that we have adopted in relation to Iraq.

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, the arrangements that the noble Baroness suggests are acceptable to us. We look forward to the Statement later on and to pursuing the questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Judd.

Lord Wright of Richmond

My Lords, I must risk asking the Minister to do what she says she is unable to do. I regret that I shall not be able to be here this afternoon. Is she prepared to give an assurance to the House that the sole purpose of any Security Council resolution and of any military action in which we might subsequently take part is to provide for the full inspection and destruction of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction and not for regime change in Iraq, Iran or anywhere else in the Middle East?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I give the noble Lord the assurance that the purpose of the resolution is to pursue full inspection and destruction of weapons of mass destruction. But let me not leave the noble Lord, Lord Wright, in any doubt that, were that to result in regime change, Her Majesty's Government would not be sorry.

Lord Carlile of Berriew

My Lords, irrespective of what happens in relation to Iraq, can the noble Baroness assure the House that the Government are aware of the problem that there can be no enduring peace without settlement of the Palestinian question? Can she assure the House that Her Majesty's Government are pursuing both with the United States and separately energetic efforts to bring about a settlement of the Israel/Palestine question?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I accept, as I always have done, that in the minds of many the two issues are linked. However, they are two separate issues. It is enormously important for Her Majesty's Government to pursue the questions relating to a peaceful settlement between Israel and the Palestinian authority. My right honourable friend has made that clear at every opportunity and, most notably, in the remarkable address that he gave to the Trades Union Congress in September. He has been very clear that pursuing peace in Israel and Palestine is enormously important. We are pursuing it internationally.

Lord Elton

My Lords, is there not an unfortunate coincidence in the juxtaposition of this Question and the previous one, and does not the Answer of the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House to the previous Question underline the importance of assessing accurately the final cost and the political sustainability of any project into which we enter with another country—particularly America?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I believe that accurate assessments are always important and I am sure that my noble and learned friend the Leader of the House would agree.

Lord Marlesford

My Lords, I add my very warm tribute to the Prime Minister for having persuaded the United States to go down the United Nations route. I also pay tribute to the Minister's right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary for the crucial part that he has obviously played in obtaining a resolution which looks as though it will go through the Security Council.

However, perhaps I may raise a point which I suspect will not be dealt with in the Statement but which I believe to be important in relation to the general issue of Iraq. It is a question of which the noble Baroness has first-hand knowledge from her earlier ministerial job. Can she assure the House that, in the event of British troops being committed into action in the Gulf in the future in respect of Iraq, they will not be allowed to do so with the obsolete and inefficient Clansman communication system? Given that Bowman, the secure digital system, will not be available in the foreseeable future in the timescale that we are talking about, will she give an undertaking that the Government will ensure that our troops are equipped with the American communication system because the communication system of an army in warfare is a crucial weapon for defence and offence?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, for what he said about my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary. Without preempting the Statement, I can assure him and the rest of the House that both my right honourable friends have worked tirelessly on this issue day by day for the past six weeks.

I turn to the question raised by the noble Lord in relation to communication systems which may be used in the eventuality—it is by no means an inevitability—that our troops go into action on this matter. Were that to happen, I cannot give him an assurance about an American system. However, I can tell him that, during my time as Minister for Defence Procurement, I undertook to put in place interim measures which would mean that the troops would not be entirely reliant on a radio system which, I believe, all of us acknowledge is inadequate. Supplementary measures have been taken. I shall check exactly how far those have come into operation and I shall write to the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, on that point.

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, will my noble friend comment on recent press comments that there seem to have been enhanced bombing raids on Iraq which go well beyond protection of the no-fly zones? Do those raids have UN authority or are the press reports misleading?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords. I can tell my noble friend that all the activity has been in relation to securing the no-fly zones and that it has been entirely lawful and within the ambit of the U N SCRs which have been passed.

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