HL Deb 28 November 2002 vol 641 cc916-56

4 p.m.

Debate resumed.

Lord Skidelsky

My Lords, I rise to support the Security Council Resolution 1441. That a unanimous resolution of this character was passed on 8th November is a tribute to the efforts of the Prime Minister, for which he deserves great credit, which has been freely given from all sides of politics.

Furthermore, our position in international law is much more secure than it was in the case of Kosovo. As Saddam Hussein ignored a succession of Chapter VII resolutions before the Gulf War, calling on him to eliminate his weapons of mass destruction, he is in "material breach" of the obligation imposed on him after his ejection from Kuwait, which, as the noble Lord, Lord King, pointed out, was the condition of his political survival. He is being given a "final opportunity to comply". All that is straightforward.

I want to ask a slightly different question, which is in the nature of a thought experiment. Why is it so necessary and urgent to disarm Saddam Hussein now? It is in my approach to this question that I fear I shall diverge from most views hitherto expressed in this debate. It is important to give a convincing answer to that question, because on that answer hinges the question: how big a failure of Saddam Hussein to comply fully with Resolution 1441 would justify resort to a war to remove him?

So far, the debate has proceeded on the assumption that anything less than total compliance would justify the most extreme measures. The Shadow Foreign Secretary said in another place that to leave Saddam Hussein in possession of the arsenal he is believed to have would be inconceivable. Why? Not only is it conceivable, but it has been the actual situation for the past 10 years. It seems to me inconceivable that Saddam Hussein will launch another foreign adventure of the kind that he launched in 1991. Not only are his conventional capabilities much reduced, but he can be in no doubt about the response of the international community were he to try. As matters stand at the moment, he is thoroughly trussed up. Had Hitler been certain that the whole world would unite against him, I doubt whether even he would have risked war in 1939.

The badness of Saddam Hussein is not in issue: he is a bad man. But evil is a quality of human character. Evil acts depend on opportunity. We have already cut away his opportunities. The argument must then go one step further. It must be that Saddam Hussein sees nuclear, chemical and biological weapons as the means of his liberation from the pen in which the international community has placed him. He could either allow non-state terrorists access to these weapons or spread death and destruction by using them himself. I suggest that there must be considerable scepticism on both counts. In particular, some of the alarmist scenarios conjured up by germ warfare verge on science fiction.

What are the facts? To take nuclear weapons, unlike Israel, Saddam Hussein has no nuclear capacity and is probably some years away from developing it: that will depend on his getting access to enriched uranium and other substances. But let us take the worst case. Suppose he does develop nuclear weapons. Why does the theory of deterrence, on which we were all brought up, not apply to him? The argument must be that he is mad, but no one has suggested that.

Chemical agents, such as nerve gas, can inflict great localised damage to health and life, but they are useless over large areas and cannot be delivered in hulk to distant places. I am told that it takes one tonne of nerve gas to affect one square kilometre. In addition, there has been no successful instance of biological warfare. The scientists to whom I have talked are extremely sceptical about whether effective means of delivering biological agents exist or can be developed or how destructive their effects would be. The anthrax scare in the United States following 11th September resulted in one death. Except for nuclear weapons, therefore, the phrase "weapons of mass destruction" seems to be a misnomer.

We must always remember that 9/11, horrendous though it was, involved no use of the weapons of mass destruction that Saddam Hussein is required to eliminate. Therefore, the logical link between terrorism and those weapons, either in the particular case of Saddam Hussein or in general, is actually quite weak.

In short, I suggest that by accepting without question the assumption that life with Saddam Hussein possessed of his "weapons" would be inconceivable, we would be guilty of worst-case thinking, based on faulty science. I had hoped that the eminent scientists we have in your Lordships' House would have chosen to take part in this debate, either to contradict or reinforce what I am saying.

I conclude by repeating my welcome for the resolution. I sincerely hope that M r Blix and his team will be able to report success. Both Iraq and the rest of the world would be better off without this man, without this regime and without these weapons in his possession.

Lord King of Bridgwater

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. He said that he wishes Mr Blix success. Will he define "success"?

Lord Skidelsky

My Lords. I am about to do so. I was about to say that I am not persuaded that the world would he a significantly safer place if Mr Blix and his team achieved complete success. The conclusion that the world would not be a significantly safer place has to be balanced against the risks and destructiveness of war.

That leads me to my final thought. If, as I expect, the inspection regime is able to report only partial success in the form of the elimination of some weapons but not others, should this automatically be the occasion for war? I say that it should not. In those circumstances, we should be prepared to explore intermediate forms of coercion short of full-scale war. I do not believe that partial success would constitute failure. It would constitute failure in terms of Resolution 1441 and would be a possible trigger for war, but I suggest that it would not necessarily constitute failure. We could live with partial success. If we felt that we could not live with partial success, we should he prepared to pursue intermediate means of coercion short of full-scale war.

It would be immoral to make war on a foreign state unless it presented a clear and present danger to other states. Unless it did so, it would not be a just war. That is why the determination of peace, and war in this case, should be left to the Security Council and why we should continue to oppose any unilateral action by the United States.

4.10 p.m.

Lord Thomas of Swynnerton

My Lords, I speak as n historian, of whom there are too few in this House, although I have the honour of following a most distinguished one. I am not an historian of the Middle East, although I once wrote of Suez, a book published by my dear noble friend Lord Weidenfeld who will speak later in the debate.

As an historian, I cannot forget the role of Britain in helping to break up the old Turkish Empire, a lamentable error, as it would now seem, as often used to be argued by the late Eli Kedourie, an historian whose family originated in Baghdad. We ought now also to remember our role in creating the new state of Iraq after 1918 and our part in establishing there our Hashemite friends as kings. Furthermore, we ought not to forget that the tragic Suez expedition of 1956 helped to create the conditions for the overthrow and murder of King Feisal and of Britain's best friend in the Middle East, Nuri-el-Said.

Going further back, it is not quite irrelevant to recall that at the 1920 Cairo conference on the Middle East, the then Colonial Secretary suggested the creation of an autonomous Kurdish state as a buffer between Iraq and Turkey. The idea was mentioned, not favourably, in our debate today by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby. However, I am sure that a Kurdish state will come about in the long run.

In 1920, the Colonial Secretary was, as we all can guess, opposed successfully by Sir Percy Cox and Dr Gertrude Bell. Those two civil servants had what used to be called "Alpha minds" and were well informed. But the Colonial Secretary, who had a premonition of the long-term future, was, if not an Alpha mind, a genius. His name was Winston Churchill.

I do not believe that in this House today we should entirely forget the work carried out by a great British scholar and archaeologist, Sir Leonard Woolley, in what is now Iraq but which was once Babylon, Nineveh and Ur. In any war in what used to be called Mesopotamia—Mespot to the British soldier in 1915—we should do whatever we can to avoid further ruin of the little which remains of those ancient civilisations.

To speak of the campaign of 1915 is not quite irrelevant since, if the regime of Saddam Hussein is overthrown, I hope that the Commonwealth War Graves Commission will give every help to restore the cemetery of Basra where so many of General Townshend's unfortunate expedition of 1915 lie in graves which, according to The Times recently, have been desecrated.

One final point about the past. I am against appeasement in general, but I do not believe that invoking the examples of the 1930s is always helpful in the 21st century. Sometimes, I remind noble Lords, appeasement has worked. We appeased the Soviet Union, for example, for 40 years between 1945 and 1990 and in the end we won the Cold War.

Coming to the present, I, like perhaps most noble Lords, find it most satisfactory that any attack on Iraq (if there is to be one) will now take the form of something emanating from the United Nations. The fact that the Security Council voted for the severe United States draft resolution represents a victory, it would seem to me, for the US Secretary of State, for our ally France, for the British Prime Minister and the British delegation to the United Nations headed by the admirable Sir Jeremy Greenstock.

Victory over what? It must be said to be a victory over those who believed in the desirability of a direct attack—a pre-emptive attack—on Iraq without previously obtaining the support of the United Nations. The idea of a pre-emptive attack had an attractive simplicity. Perhaps to some it still has. For no one can put forward coherently any defence of the regime in Iraq and few of us have any doubts about Iraq's willingness to use the chemical and biological weapons which it has—its regime has used them previously—even if there must be some doubt about its possible use of nuclear weapons.

But such a pre-emptive attack, mounted by the United States and perhaps supported by ourselves, surely would have been at variance with the policies and practices of this country since 1945. The only possible justification for such a direct attack would have been—might have been—if there were a proven connection between Iraq and Al'Qaeda. But no such proof has been forthcoming. I know that one should not endanger the forces of intelligence, but, as I am sure the noble Lord, Lord King, would agree, intelligence must always be made to serve politics and not politics to serve intelligence.

I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Janner, will not take it amiss if I say that the support known to be given by Iraq to suicide bombers in Israel is not quite the same as approved support for Al'Qaeda, whose ambitions are global, as we saw only again this morning. As the noble Lord, Lord Richard, said, if there is such a connection between Iraq and Al'Qaeda, it must be explained before any combat is embarked on which assumes the connection. I do not believe that the noble Lord, Lord Howell, could be right in saying that one can take the connection for granted or on trust, as he implied.

Even if such evidence were forthcoming, it would be reasonable to demand that it be presented to the United Nations, as President Kennedy, for example, presented the information about the establishment of Soviet missiles in Cuba in 1962.

The United Nations, as all noble Lords, know, is a far from ideal body, but it does have many uses. Action under its auspices offers still a precious framework of law between states which, feeble though that law may sometime seem, is what our country, our European friends and the United States have been patiently trying to build up since 1945.

In 1945—I know I do not have to remind noble Lords—the UN was the achievement of the wartime coalition led by the very president whose condemnation of appeasement the noble Lord, Lord Black, so eloquently invoked earlier, and it was also the product of much hard work by the British wartime coalition led by the Colonial Secretary of 1920, Winston Churchill.

Surely, so far as the UN is concerned in the present crisis, the critical pass was crossed this month. The states members of the Security Council, named by the noble Lord, Lord Richard, will surely, if necessary, vote again in favour of a strong resolution. Of course it is possible that UN approval may again be difficult to achieve and may be necessary to seek patiently, meticulously, as regards words, and carefully, as was done in respect of the resolution which we are discussing today. But that patience, that meticulousness with regard to words and that care is something which our Government, the United States Government—in general anyway—and our allies have shown we possess, making November 2002 a month in which the United Nations, often reviled, has been revived in an unexpected and positive way.

The noble Lord, Lord King—I hope that I do not misrepresent him; I am sure that he will tell me if I do—implied, also eloquently, from the heights of his long experience in defence matters, that in our modern dangerous circumstances the spokesmen of western civilisation—the United States, Britain and our allies, or any allies that can be found—should be willing to act without UN approval if necessary. That could have been the attitude of the noble Lord, Lord Powell of Bayswater, and probably was of the noble Lord, Lord Black. I believe that those noble Lords are being too pessimistic, too negative. Surely if a report of the inspectors finds Saddam Hussein in breach of obligations which he assumed in 1991 and a case is presented for military action, it will be supported by the Security Council.

Action against Iraq's nuclear weapons programme is essentially a continuation of the uncompleted business of 1991. Iraq agreed to abandon that programme after its defeat in Kuwait. To possess, or to seek to possess, such weapons is not in itself—yet—an international crime. The Iraqi case is, in this respect, a matter apart.

So, in the long run, we should surely consider our long-term attitude to all these weapons. Until the end of the Cold War in 1989, we were, after all, committed to securing nuclear disarmament, even if we were not optimistic about the possibilities of achieving it. Thus, as I suggested in the Spectator last week, when this crisis is over, we, the United States and all our allies should give priority again to consideration of what we want in future in relation to all nuclear weapons, not only those of Iraq.

The United States is now able to assert itself as the most powerful state the world has ever seen. Richard Haas, who is now in the Bush Administration, wrote in the 1990s of the United States as a "reluctant" world sheriff. Perhaps, as I heard the former mayor of New York say only this week, the adjective "reluctant" is now, after September 11th last year, not quite so relevant.

But his country, the United States—our great ally—could j ustify what sometimes seems almost imperial—

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but other noble Lords have been asked to keep to a target time and I should be grateful if he could wind up his speech.

Lord Thomas of Swynnerton

My Lords, may I finish my sentence?

Baroness Crawley


Lord Thomas of Swynnerton

My Lords, I hope it does not seem too long a sentence.

The United States could justify what sometimes seems its almost imperial—certainly imperious—assertions about its current destiny if it, if we, were to pursue a resolution of the global threat of nuclear weapons, which will continue whatever happens to the regime of Saddam Hussein.

4.23 p.m.

Lord Judd

My Lords, it is clear that the Government, ably supported by Sir Jeremy Greenstock and his team in New York and, as my noble friend said, by many diplomats across the world, have played a pivotal role in reasserting multilateralism and the role of the UN and the Security Council. That is exactly how it should be and they are to be congratulated.

During a recent visit to Washington, I was struck by how much more pluralism was still alive, even within the US Administration itself, than is sometimes assumed on this side of the Atlantic. It is important never to undermine those within the US who share our multilateral commitment by simplistically lumping all Americans together and suggesting they are all in the camp of the unquestionably powerful but blinkered fundamentalist right. The challenge is always to work with those who share our sense of global reality and to strengthen their position.

In our dangerous and unpredictable world, stability and security cannot be imposed by the US alone, however powerful. The US is as vulnerable as any other nation. The extremist bubble in the lino syndrome becomes obvious—suppress it in one place and too easily it pops up in another—except that, because of alienation and resentment, there is a growing likelihood that in suppressing it in one place it will pop up in many others.

No, there are no short cuts. Peace and stability have to be painstakingly built. Hearts and minds have to be won. And widespread stakeholding in the stable world we want to see has to become a priority. Redistribution of wealth, greater social justice, sound environmental policies, fairer trade—all these have their key part to play. But these, without redistribution of power, will play into the hands of the alienated extremists and, yes, of the sinister psychopathic manipulators who are waiting for their opportunity to exploit a growing sense of frustration and exclusion.

In all this, the UN has become more relevant, not less. We must all seek to strengthen it. The UN is there, as the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, said, to represent the authority of the glolbal community as a whole, not the authority of a minority of the global community over the rest.

But those of us who argue for multilateralism cannot just protest if unilateralism is contemplated when in the past multilateralism has too often proved weak or ineffective. We have to ensure that in future collective action is effective. In particular, we have to ensure that it is effective in time, wherever possible, making the ultimate use of force—war, in other words—unnecessary.

That is why I am convinced that a strong resolution, in which a firm willingness to use force if need be is spelt out, was so important at the Security Council. Multilateralism cannot be left to vacuous resolutionary politics. It has to be muscular and any necessary resolutions have to be convincing, establishing not only a determination to achieve the stated objective but also a determination to do whatever is required to achieve it. Anything less ill serves the cause of multilateralism.

While I fully appreciate what my noble friend said about the need not to speculate on all the possibilities, there are nevertheless some important questions which I, like other noble Lords, hope my noble friend Lord Bach will answer. How secure is the work by the UN inspectors? Is the operation adequately resourced and funded? If not, why not? The cost of a well resourced inspection is minimal against the cost of war.

When the 8th December return by the Government of Iraq is made on their weapons of mass destruction, will it be the task of the UN inspectors to establish its accuracy? Or do the United States and the UK governments reserve the right to reject it as inaccurate there and then on the grounds of their interpretation of the intelligence independently available to them?

If the return is rejected by the US and UK, will their interpretation of their own intelligence be shared with the Security Council as a whole? The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Swynnerton, referred to this issue. Would they then make the case for immediate military action? If they did, what would be the implications for the inspectors? Is it or is it not the task of the inspectors, in effect, to check the accuracy of the US and UK interpretation of their own intelligence as well as to investigate the accuracy of the return submitted by the Government of Iraq?

All this surely underlines the significance of whether or not further specific Security Council authorisation for military action is required. I hope that when my noble friend replies he will once more return to this issue and leave the House in absolutely no doubt of the Government's position. My noble friend Lady Ramsay of Cartvale and the noble Lord, Lord Black of Crossharbour, spoke powerfully in this context.

As I understand it, the Government's position is that they would favour a further resolution if military action was to be taken. Am I right? But, as I understand it, the Government are also signalling that they reserve the right to review the situation and to act independently, with the US and others, if they are convinced that such military action has become necessary but the Security Council is not prepared to go along that road. Is that right as well?

I should like to put one more question to my noble friend. If there were to be UN military action, would it not be the task of the Secretary-General to call up the necessary military forces on behalf of the Security Council? I was a little perplexed when it seemed that last week the United States might still see it as its responsibility to do this.

If military action is contemplated, the political analysis and strategy—the context—become all the more relevant. The noble Baroness. Lady Williams of Crosby, referred to this point, as did other speakers. Just what are the global and regional implications? What are the political consequences? What will follow? What resources will be needed for reconstruction, and are they being guaranteed? How will human rights and the innocent he protected?

As we all know, perceptions become political facts. How, therefore, will counter-productivity be avoided'? How, for example, will any perception of confrontation with Islam per se be avoided? How will it be demonstrated beyond doubt that any military action is not really about access to oil resources?

Above all, within the political strategy, what precisely will be the war aims? We are told that they would be to rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction and not directly to change the regime. But in Iraq, as has been repeatedly stressed, we are dealing with a ruthless, cruel, dangerous, sinister and calculating regime. There is no doubt about that. How, therefore, do we avoid playing into its hands by winning a vital tactical objective of disarmament, but at the price of alienating and driving into the arms of power hungry extremists still more millions across the world'? How do we avoid fanning the flames of Islamic militancy?

Consistency is imperative. We would be profoundly misguided if we failed to see the connection between our policy on Iraq and that on the Middle East as a whole. No one can condone terrorism by Palestinian extremists. But why are the extremists able to set the agenda? There is no doubt that this is to no small extent because the outside world has failed to deal effectively with the injustices perpetrated by Israel. What we do in Iraq will be seen by millions against what we have not done elsewhere in the Middle East. It will also be seen against our opportunist arms and economic dealings with corrupt regimes whose days are numbered. Indeed, we cannot escape the United Kingdom's own deep and devious involvement in building up the military strength of Iraq in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq conflict, even after the regime had used chemical weapons to kill 5,000 of its own citizens in 1988. No, consistency is at a premium in global politics. Its absence in the past means that the chickens are now coming home to roost.

We have to take seriously the research of organisations such as Saferworld—of which I am privileged to be a trustee—and ISIS. We need to be strengthening, not eroding, our control of arms exports and arms brokering. We need to ask ourselves whether or not we are convincingly working towards a world free of weapons of mass destruction, or whether we seem to be settling for a world in which some states are allowed to retain such weapons but others are not. Why is Israel OK when Iran is not—especially when Israel has refused to sign the nuclear nonproliferation treaty?

Surely, it starts with us. How can the existing principal nuclear powers persuade the world that they are serious about ridding the world of weapons of mass destruction when they give too many indications of a determination to hang on to their own nuclear weapons and when, for example, the United States has insisted upon its right to be able to veto challenge inspections of US chemical facilities?

Multilateralism—to which the Government have commendably committed themselves—is not about the powerful using international institutions and arrangements to dominate the world. It is about building global commitment to the effective policies which humanity must pursue if it is to survive. That means demonstrating our own commitment to what is necessary, not just demanding that commitment of others.

4.34 p.m.

Lord Astor of Hever

My Lords, my noble friends Lord Howell and Lord King mentioned the quality of our military equipment that might be committed to a full-scale war in Iraq—and I take the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, that there is no inevitability as regards military action.

Equipment is a vital issue to young servicemen and servicewomen, particularly in the light of the Prime Minister's comment that he would be willing to pay a -blood price" to resolve the situation in Iraq. I look forward to assurances from the Minister that they will not be sent away—possibly to their deaths—with second-rate equipment and clothing. I know that he, personally, takes this matter very seriously and will answer in the best way he can, mindful that surprise is the key advantage.

While making preparations for a possible war against Saddam Hussein, we must also be planning how to deliver humanitarian aid to the people of Iraq. I hope that the Government are conducting a very serious assessment of the humanitarian impact of any future conflict. NGOs are reviewing contingency planning and their role. Understandably, plans are not being made public for fear of de-stabilising the current situation.

The end-game, rightly, is the eradication of weapons of mass destruction. But we must be prepared to mitigate any humanitarian fall-out in the event of conflict. We must also ensure a principled and effective response to any humanitarian crisis after the conflict is over. Our permanent membership of the Security Council, and of the European Union, and proximity to the US Administration, make us uniquely positioned to help. In addition, we are the second largest bilateral humanitarian donor in real terms.

The humanitarian situation in Iraq is dire. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, pointed out that 14 million Iraqis are dependent on food aid.

The regime of Saddam Hussein is culpable for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of women and children, through systematically denying them food and medicine, and subjecting them to the most gruesome chemical and biological attacks.

If there is a war, Iraq's infrastructure is expected to be targeted, including power stations. A lack of power is likely to cause a serious epidemic, as there would be no way of treating water. The international community must then work together to avoid the rapid spread of infectious diseases, such as cholera and typhoid. In addition, vaccines and blood banks could become ineffective as both products need to be stored in a cool environment.

United Nations overseas staff will be evacuated, and the humanitarian agencies will be winding down just at the time when they are most needed. It is vital. therefore, that the military and NGOs work closely together as early as possible.

Post-war reconstruction is vital, as my noble friend Lord Moynihan pointed out. A great deal of work in repairing bridges and roads will need to be done before NGOs can start to work, which will severely hamper the humanitarian effort.

I hope that consideration is being given, in the event of a conflict, to informing the Iraqi people of the ongoing humanitarian issues using the BBC's Arabic Service. As my noble friend Lord Moynihan said, winning the peace is as important as winning the war. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, rightly said that hearts and minds have to be won.

The probability that Saddam Hussein will use chemical and/or biological weapons, possibly on his own people, possibly to try to save himself, is a major concern to servicemen and servicewomen and to their families. I assume that there will be sufficient vaccine to immunise against the effects of NBC all service personnel and reservists who may be deployed to Iraq. However, troops will need assurances that lessons have been learnt from problems over Gulf War syndrome, and that any side-effects of interaction between the various vaccines are properly understood.

I accept that, for security reasons, the Minister will be careful in any response that he may give.

4.40 p.m.

Lord Weidenfeld

My Lords, in this, the first week of the countdown on Iraq, I was forcefully struck by two different messages. In an Al'Qaeda videotape, a voice, credibly that of bin Laden, threatened us with terrible vengeance if we used force against Saddam's Iraq. In a letter to the editor of The Times, an ordinary Iraqi living in London quoted President Bush's vow—echoed by the Prime Minister—that liberty for the Iraqi people is not only a great moral cause but also a great strategic goal. He adds: I was very hopeful that the day my country was freed from oppression was getting closer but the language seems to be changing". He concludes: America should not abandon the moral cause it believed in only two months ago". We all hope that the inspectors will flex their muscles. Dr Blix lauded the atmosphere of collegiality so far discernible in Baghdad. Somebody suggested that the idea of flying scientists out of Iraq for interviews with their families might prove impracticable and be regarded by the Iraqis as constructive desertion. Are those signs of softening attitudes to the inspectors' mandate?

I wish to confirm something that the noble Lord, Lord Janner, said. Four years of interruption have given the Iraqis a tremendous lead time for concealment. There are reliably more than 6,000 full-time Iraqi personnel charged with hiding and securing sensitive assets and sites. They face 80 to 100 inspectors who will only be fully operational by Christmas. There is an aura of ambiguity about what will constitute noncompliance. Over all this uncertainty hovers the delicate phrase "regime change".

In the heated debate about a possible military intervention, most European governments make clear that they would prefer a process of ongoing altercation and reasoning with the regime in Baghdad to any show of force. In the case of compliance, Saddam would not be dislodged, and, as to his future, speculations diverge. Some think that, once de-fanged, his humiliation would lead to his downfall and he would be overthrown internally. Others hope that, even earlier, he might he persuaded to emigrate like Idi Amin, Baby Doc Duvalier or, more respectably, King Faruk and the Shah of Iran.

History negates the proposition that a defeated dictator in the Arab world is necessarily discredited. Gamal Nasser was grimly beaten in the Six-Day War. his airforce destroyed in hours and his army crippled in three days; yet he lived on, not only staying in power, but becoming a romantic legend in the Arab world. I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, and find myself in a rare show of disagreement with my dear noble friend Lord Thomas.

Saddam Hussein as a survivor, remaining in his seat of power, will be a mighty magnet for terrorists of every hue, hailed as the man who won the 30 years' war against the Goliath of the West. The war on terror would be intensified rather than diminished, and relations between the USA and Europe would worsen. A stampede of fawning entrepreneurs bidding for his favours would make him a triumphant hero.

In one way, time is on Saddam Hussein's side. Economic downturn in the Western world, a state of suspense and nervous unease all detract from the zeal to punish a culprit and effect seismic changes in the neighbourhood. European attitudes to the Iraqi opposition tend to be coloured by this ambivalence so, consciously or subconsciously. the significance and effectiveness of this opposition is constantly played down. I quote a great expert on the Middle East, Professor Bernard Lewis, who takes the view that the opposition is potentially much more effective than we believe it to be. Are those opposing forces to be let down again?

The obverse side of the great blessings of democratic transparency is that hand-wringing and agonising in public are eagerly noted by Saddam and the whole international camaraderie of terror and appeasement. They all have fine-tuned ears. Browsing through the abundant literature of protest against President Bush, it is a strange feeling for some of us who have lived through the age of dictators and the Munich crisis that there is so much thunder on the Left and passion in the liberal centre for policies that would preserve the most heinous illiberal regimes, and that it takes a Right-wing Republican American President to stand up for the unseating of criminal despots.

I say this in the full knowledge of the welter of conflicting strategic, commercial and self-seeking national interests that lie at the root of the complex issues relating to the Iraqi problem. But it is broadly true that a regime change in Iraq, with all the perils it might entail, is preferable to the present impasse that harbours future catastrophes to humanity. Should the inspection lead to peaceful change through compliance, the world will sigh with relief. But should Saddam Hussein defend his nefarious assets, hidden or revealed, for the sake of which he sacrificed reliably more than 150 billion dollars and pauperised his people, we must not stand in the path of those who argue for punitive action, preferably, but not necessarily, with the consent of the United Nations.

In all diffidence, and with full respect, this great institution has in its 50-odd years performed many outstanding feats in the service of mankind. But, alas, mankind, according to a great philosopher, is made of crooked timber. So, too, is the United Nations. It is an institution that, with all its great achievements, suffers from serious shortcomings. By dint of geographic rotation, Colonel Gaddafi of Libya may become head of a commission on human rights. Syria, with a regime that lags behind that of Iraq in material wealth but not in moral turpitude, may preside over the Security Council. States practising vivisection or genocide may sit in judgment over which governments practise racism or lack a civil society.

If the United States feels that the security of her people and the civilised world to whose open society she has contributed so richly is to be seriously endangered, she will act. I hope that the British Government and other governments would not stand in the way, and that they would participate in the pursuit of what the Iraqi correspondent to The Times described as a "moral cause".

4.46 p.m.

Lord Desai

My Lords, we have had a very good debate. I wish to respond to some comments, notably those of the noble Lords, Lord Skidelsky and Lord Thomas, and my noble friend Lord Judd. The noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, invited us to indulge in a flawed experiment. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas, gave us a historical account and asked some pertinent questions, as did my noble friend Lord Judd.

I welcome Resolution 1441. Having carried out expert consultation with my neighbours, it seems that this is only the third time in the history of the United Nations that there has been a Chapter VII resolution. I will be happy to be corrected if I am wrong, but, as far as I know, the Korean War and the Gulf War are the only two previous instances of a Chapter VII resolution. Resolution 1441 is very special; it is unlike any other resolution. The fact that, after much negotiation, Resolution 1441 was arrived at unanimously implies that it is not just the US or the UK, but many countries, who regard the threat of Saddam Hussein seriously.

People ask: why is Saddam being singled out? Why now? What harm would it do if we did not pursue him? I do not know the answers to all those questions. But if a Chapter VII resolution has been arrived at, which does not happen often—this is not a UN Chapter VI resolution, which can be, and is frequently, ignored—the situation is serious. Why is this so? Why are the Americans so sensitive about compliance with this resolution? I tried to address this question in my speech in the debate on the Address. I will briefly repeat my point. America is the only superpower because of both its economic and defence strength. But, at the moment, America is feeling very fragile as a result of 11th September.

I do not know whether your Lordships remember seeing the film "King Kong". King Kong was a nice gentle giant, but if aroused he became rather disturbed and went slashing all around. America is in a similarly delicate position. It is hard to believe that it is simultaneously both a very powerful nation and a very fragile one. It regards the particular event of 9/11 as unique and prioritises its own self-defence above everything else, including all the other programmes that my noble friend Lord Judd mentioned for creating a peaceful world, eliminating poverty, improving the environment and so on. There are many reasons for that, some of which are sound.

The world must be able to come to the help of this fearful giant and tell it that we shall not ignore its need for reassurance in its fragility. This may sound strange, but. I have been reading literature and talking to people from the United States and that is the vision that emerges. That is why it is important that 1441 was passed, keeping America within the multilateral family. I add my tributes to the many others that have been paid to the Prime Minister on that.

At the same time, it is important not to forget the seriousness of 1441. My noble friend Lord Judd talked about muscular mull ilateralism—more in hope than in experience, I think, considering the record of the United Nations. During the Cold War it did very little, being stymied by the counter vetoes of the two great powers. Since 1991, we have had one successful multilateral intervention in the Gulf War, but we failed to gel a United Nations resolution on Kosovo. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, disagrees, but I still believe that it was right that we intervened in Kosovo and stopped the genocide that was going on. Let us clearly face the fact that had we waited for a United Nations Chapter VII resolution, like we have got on Iraq, by now many more people would have died and perhaps Milosevic would still be in power and people would still he reasoning with him to change his ways.

There is a distinct possibility that a material breach will occur. If it does, we, together with other non-US members of the Security Council, will have to take that seriously on board and not make new excuses and alternatives just to postpone the evil day. If that happens, the United States will definitely lose its fragile faith in the UN. We could not blame a country for losing that faith if it genuinely felt its self-defence was at stake.

When a material breach occurs, our main task will be to try to follow up with a second resolution based on fairly muscular multilateralism that will deliver on the threat it has made. If a UN resolution is not obeyed, the United Nations should act on that and not pass another resolution that says, "Well, we know you did not obey that one, but you almost obeyed it, so we shall give you another chance not to obey us again, and perhaps we will really, really mean it this time".

What my noble friend Lady Ramsay said is very important. I am not saying this just to make an excuse. The most important aspect of the Saddam regime to me is not even its weapons of mass destruction, but its record of torture and violation of human rights. I read that when the current Prime Minister took office in 1997, doing something about Iraq was on his list of priorities, both because of its continued flouting of previous UN resolutions and because of its record on torture and human rights.

Even if 9/11 had not happened—and whatever the connections between 9/11 and Saddam Hussein may be—the world community would have had to come to thinking seriously about regimes that violate human rights to such an intolerable extent. The United Nations failed miserably in Rwanda. In a sense it also failed in Kosovo, but, thank God, other people acted. There are some vile regimes in the world, but when it comes to violation of human rights Saddam Hussein is special. If those violations continue, the world will have to devise for its muscular multilateralism some code of intervention for countries that, although they may be sovereign, should not be allowed to violate human rights in that way.

Finally, we ought to guard against the speculation by Richard Perle and others in America that after this war America will redraw the map of the Middle East. There are big utopian ideas that the Hashemites will go hack to Iraq and all the Palestinians will be thrown out of Palestine and put into Jordan. In the Gulf War in 1992, only the UN resolutions' objectives were achieved and no further activity was carried out in Iraq, such as going into Baghdad. We must strongly urge the United States that we ought to stick to the UN resolution again this time. If it is achievable without a war, fine, but if not, we should attempt only to achieve that and nothing else.

4.57 p.m.

Lord Selsdon

My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister, who has demonstrated that often the fairer sex have perhaps a better understanding of these events. She has spoken on everything to do with Iraq with directness, frankness and openness, on a nonpolitical basis. I congratulate her more than I would her right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary, who sometimes shows the soles of his feet in the Arab world, which is not really acceptable, or even the Prime Minister. Today I am trying to focus my mind on what we are here for. I assume it is to try to find the formula whereby we can achieve the disarmament of Iraq and its reintroduction into the international community, setting all things aside. Here there are certain unanswered questions and areas of confusion.

I have declared my involvement before. We were the principal bankers to the Government of Iraq. For many years I went backwards and forwards. Probably even today I am one of the few who has been there frequently. I like the Iraqi people. I understand something of their history. I enjoyed the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas. I have a brief quote for him from the letters of Gertrude Bell: We treat Mesop— not Mespot— as if it were an isolated political unit, instead of which it is part of Arabia, its politics indissolubly connected with the great and far reaching Arab question". Let us put the great and far-reaching Arab question aside and return to where we are now. What are the motives and objectives of those involved? The noble Lord, Lord Black, has just left the Chamber, probably because I was to remind him that we have never thought of the United States as a great St Bernard dog. Has he ever had the difficulty of holding a great St Bernard dog on a lead when it smells a bitch on heat? He is in danger of suggesting that the United States is now a free-ranging rottweiler. That is his view. He spoke in the same way last time he contributed. As your Lordships may know, I have many family in the United States and was partly brought up over there.

My first question relates to the Gulf War and what ultimately happened. We are dealing with a strong man and a strong regime—two qualities the Arab world likes because it has often known nothing else. The problems arise when there is a weak regime. Why did we stop after we managed to get Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait? There are many views on the subject. The first is that the mandate from the UN only allowed us to take him out of Kuwait, and that was it. Secondly, there is the belief that we did not want to be seen on television screens to be killing lots of innocent Iraqi citizens. Thirdly, there is the view that the Americans did not want to have any body bags; and, fourthly, the fear that, if they got nearer to Baghdad, the chemical warfare might open up. I am not sure that the Minister will be able to deal with that question today, but I should rather like to know the answer sometime. Indeed, the Iraqis themselves are slightly confused, because they saw a weak chink in the armour.

Now we find ourselves in a very difficult position. We need to know why Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction. The noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, could refer, as I do, to Section 5, or whatever, of the anti-terrorism Bill, which lists all the pathogens. If you analyse them all, as I asked people to do, it appears that none of them alone can create mass destruction. To some extent they are terrifying, but only in the quantities that exist in that country. As noble Lords, will remember, when the allies, if I may call them that, began to bomb Baghdad from England, the Americans would not come to London because they thought that they could be bombed from Baghdad. There are many prejudices and doubts involved.

I want to know why Saddam Hussein and his regime are keeping up this game. Perhaps it is because, as we know, the Iraqis play poker from the age of about four or five. There is a poker game going on during which masses of chips are being added to each person's bank, with no day of reckoning. There must be a day of reckoning, and that day is now. It is not just a UN resolution; it is something deeper. Unless we can return Iraq to an acceptable status that will enable it to join the international community, many opportunities will be lost. I still cannot understand what is going on.

When I used to visit Iraq, I found that the regime was getting stronger and stronger over a period of about 30 years, and that, logically, all opposition had been eliminated. Sometimes I would adopt something of a socialist attitude, and say "Where is Mr So and So?" "He is no longer with us", was often the response. I did not realise at first that the words "no longer with us" meant not just that he was no longer in the ministry but that he was in another place—a superior place! Over time I have noticed the disappearance of many people who I may or may not have known either directly or indirectly: they have been eliminated. So in Iraq at present there is no opposition.

Let us just imagine the scenario that a good poker player would put forward; namely, that there were no weapons of mass destruction and that there would be a call in Baghdad for free and open elections. The Council of Europe would then send a delegation to the country and everyone would inspect everything and, suddenly, we would find that Saddam Hussein was elected with a full majority because there was no opposition. That sort of thing is possible, though it is not the same as the situation in Zimbabwe. We know that strong leaders do use the death threat. Iraq over time—that is, over centuries—has suffered from that strong leadership and persecution. It goes way back into the mists of time. Let us not forget that it was meant to be the original headquarters of the Tower of Babel, which I am told never in fact existed.

My worry is that if we do not move now, we shall be seen as being weak. I do not believe in any more resolutions that go running around through the United Nations, nor do I believe in allowing the United States to put itself into the position of being the world's enemy for the rest of this century by taking unilateral action. The resources are difficult. The bald eagle may believe that it can achieve success just by bombing from the skies, and that is possible. We may go for a full war at the end of the day where we say that we are not planning to remove a regime, which is what has been said, and that we are not on an anti-terrorist war. But I have never understood it when people talk about the war of terrorism; it is sometimes like the "War on Want" or the "War on Pollution". It is not a real war: it is a battle.

So what will happen next, and what is the end game? The Iraqis must be left in absolutely no doubt of the seriousness of this resolution and of those who support it. They must see no weakness, no chink in the armour. No one must introduce factors such as a link to world terrorism. It is straightforward "go for the throat". They must give up what they have. But what will they receive in return? If I were young enough. I would be out in Baghdad again looking at the fantastic potential of the country both industrially and agriculturally; and, indeed, as regards oil.

Iraq could very quickly produce 8 million barrels of oil a day. It has always worried the Saudis that it holds the whole reserves that could be put on stream in a world conflict, and they do not like that because it makes them feel insecure. With my permission to speak, I have had the doubtful privilege of meeting many people to discuss economic matters and how they could pay for the war bearing in mind all the obligations that they have from the Gulf War. One suggestion I made was that they should just hand it hack to the British. I said, "Give us the oil fields. We will discuss it with the Bank England and pay off your debts. We'll sort it out and finance your industrial redevelopment. But, for goodness sake, give up this charade that you want to have weapons to attack someone. Who do you want to attack?"

Then you get the classic answer. The right hand goes across the left breast and the official says, "Excellency, I am not authorised to discuss this at my level". I respond by asking, "Were you trained with the Midland Bank like me?", because that is the sort of thing you expect. Then the next official responds in the same way. Finally, you meet a minister, or member of the revolutionary command council, and the same response is made. After the minister's initial "Hello", which is delivered with no smile at all, the rhetoric begins. It comes in the whining voice of the interpreter. "His Excellency says that your Excellency is a lackey of capitalist imperialistic pro-Zionist policies that have destroyed the stability of the world and caused the death of many innocent women and children". That discourse goes on for another 20 minutes after which you have your turn. I have learnt to give a rhetoric that makes me cringe even to think about it. I have used words that I would never dare use in your Lordships' House. After my response, we smile and are friends.

It is possible that the friendship with Iraq could return if the Iraqis could be persuaded to realise that they have a chance, economically, of being a greater nation than they ever can be militarily.

5.7 p.m.

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, I am glad that we have been given another opportunity to debate Iraq, and the prospect of a possible war. I participated in the special debate held on 24th September. I then commenced my contribution by saying that I was opposed to war with Iraq. I continue to hold that view, although I am just a little more optimistic about the possibility of avoiding war than I was at that time. There is at least the UN resolution that we are discussing this afternoon, and inspectors are back in Iraq. So far, they have been able to say that there is full co-operation with the Iraqi authorities. But concerns remain.

The resolution is a tough one. It is clear that some United States' politicians want to be able to claim "material breaches" so that they can go to war. Some examples of the rhetoric involved were quoted this afternoon by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams. There is talk of the possibility of Saddam Hussein "playing games". In the mean time, the United States and ourselves are continuing to bomb Iraq. There is apparently no UN mandate for these raids. Indeed, Kofi Annan's spokesman made it clear in a recent television interview that other members of the Security Council had never supported the so-called "no fly zones". It was, therefore, not possible to agree with the claims made by some US spokesmen that firing by the Iraqis at the planes was a breach of UN resolutions. If that is so, it seems to me that the Iraqis are within their rights in firing on the planes, as the UN charter permits countries to act in self-defence. A violation of what the Iraqis see as their air space. plus the bombing, must surely count as aggressive actions against which they are entitled to defend themselves.

But we live in a world where nations as powerful as the United States may do as they please with little hindrance. Other countries do not want to offend the United States. Of course, if America wants to go to war with Iraq, everyone knows that it will eventually do so. It does not really need the support of others, alt hough plainly President Bush would prefer to have that support, if only to silence his domestic critics. And those critics do exist. A1'Gore has been extremely critical and has apparently refused to be silenced even by elements in the hierarchy of his own party, the Democrats. There are also other well-known critics.

I remain against a war. I am horrified at the casual way in which the possibility of war is often discussed. We are told that if Saddam Hussein does not cooperate he must be disarmed by force. I sometimes think that our present ruling elites—and not just political elites but the elites who run our media—do not entirely understand what war entails. Mostly they are too young to remember the last war, and that is why they sometimes make the ludicrous comparison of Saddam with Hitler. Those who are against the war are accused of appeasement. That kind of talk really does annoy me: it undervalues the courage of the generation who fought that war against Hitler. Hitler's Panzer divisions threatened the whole of Europe. We knew, when Hitler was finally challenged, what had to be faced. In schools, gas masks were handed out; we hung them round our necks in boxes. Air raid shelters were built in suburban gardens. We expected and we got prolonged aerial bombardment.

Iraq is a battered country. After two major wars, punitive sanctions for a decade and constant bombing, the idea that it is capable of threatening ourselves or the United States is absurd. Nor is there any evidence of a link with A1'Qaeda. No one expects to see Iraqi bombing planes over London, and the few Scud missiles Iraq possesses are no threat to us. Many people in this country understand that. They are unwilling to be dragged into a war at the behest of the United States. This feeling is widespread across Europe. The French and German Governments take the line they have because of public opinion in their countries. Yet, we are being manoeuvred in this country into an acceptance of the view that war is almost bound to happen.

There is constant emphasis on the unpleasant character of Saddam Hussein. Many of his past sins took place when he was an ally of the United States and receiving financial support plus weaponry from America. He is not the first tyrant to be supported when it suited and then demonised when it did not. Moreover, by concentrating on Saddam Hussein and his atrocities—and there are other atrocious regimes in the world—attention is diverted from the undoubted fact that war will be fought against the Iraqi people. They will be the sufferers, as if they had not suffered enough already.

We are told that there is no quarrel with the Iraqi people, but we know from past experience that the war will start with a massive air attack. Remember how shocked—indeed devastated—we were when the Bali terrorist bomb killed 180 mostly young people? That was high explosive in a car. Is it really imagined that high explosive dropped from a fleet of planes flying at 15,000 or 20,000 feet is somehow less destructive of human beings? No, if there is a war with Iraq, the Bali bomb casualties will be replicated over and over and over again. We shall be told about targeting: that it is possible with "smart" bombs to target accurately so that civilian casualties are minimised. Well, that did not happen in Kosovo, where schools and hospitals were hit as well as the Chinese embassy, and cluster bombs were used on the civilian population of towns such as Nis. Nor did it happen in the last Gulf War, when 400 mainly mothers and children sheltering in a large bunker in Baghdad died as the result of a direct hit.

It is not only those immediately killed or injured; the civilian infrastructure is usually destroyed as well, leaving the unfortunate inhabitants without clean water and lacking in power supplies. Food supplies are also affected, as we saw in Afghanistan. People who often have not much anyway lose whatever they have as their dwellings are destroyed. They become homeless refugees in their own country. Yes, for a civilian population, modern war is a truly terrifying prospect. With Iraq, there is also the possible destabilising effect on surrounding countries.

Only in the most extreme circumstances should war be even contemplated. In my view, those circumstances do not exist in relation to Iraq. I have no doubt that the United States, with its vast technological superiority, can win a war and occupy Iraq. But what then? And what about existing commitments in Afghanistan and in the Balkans? What about the cost of such a war? The world economy is already in recession. Those who were persuaded to invest in the stock market in the 1990s have seen the value of their investments go into sharp decline. War is unlikely to aid recovery. War has to be paid for. But most important of all, there is the cost in lives.

For those reasons, I am glad that a few points have been made quite strongly in this debate—that the statement contained in Resolution 1441 does not automatically lead to war; that there will be a necessity to go back to the United Nations Security Council to discuss what should happen even if there is an allegation of a material breach; and that that does not automatically lead to a military intervention. I believe that there are other means of dealing with this situation which have been dealt with very eloquently by other speakers. I hope that we take every possible step to ensure that the situation is resolved without military conflict.

5.15 p.m.

The Earl of Sandwich

My Lords, the nearer we get to the brink of war with Iraq, the louder are the humanitarian voices being raised outside Parliament, especially among the non-governmental organisations and the Churches. Some have warned against war itself, and we have just heard a very sincere example of that, but the most recent warnings have come from those who anticipate the consequences of war both for the Iraqi people and for the Middle East as a whole.

While I strongly support United Nations Resolution 1441 as a means of cajoling the Iraqi leadership into co-operation. I am well aware of the real differences which remain among the UN members over the necessity of a second resolution. Having heard Richard Perle in the Committee Room upstairs last week describe the work of weapons inspectors as a more or less pointless exercise, I can foresee another inevitable split in the next round of the Security Council in which France and Russia once again try to pull us out of our happy honeymoon with the United States. I cannot follow the noble Lord, Lord Desai, in his description of the United States as a kind of warm, cuddly teddy bear; that is just not the image that I have. Given that the United States will be prepared to go it alone and ignore any further resolutions, I fully expect Britain to join the campaign. However, I personally cannot recommend it unless there is a further meaningful resolution.

My noble friend Lord Thomas questioned the assumption made by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, about a connection with A1'Qaeda. I think that we all look forward to hearing the Government's view on that. I certainly do not believe that the case for such a connection is convincing.

I spoke in the Queen's Speech debate about our neglect of our wider obligations to the coalition against terrorism and to our friends in the Middle East. I am against any kind of appeasement. However, I recognise the differences between this war and the air strikes against the Taliban a year ago. I look forward to hearing the comments of my noble and gallant friend Lord Bramall on that subject. It is not possible to win an Iraq war without a ground war, and the number of civilian casualties is bound to be much greater than that in Afghanistan.

The noble Lord, Lord Astor, has already outlined a part of the grim humanitarian scene in the event of war. I should like to quote from a Christian Aid statement of 22nd November, and I declare an interest as a trustee. Christian Aid states: If there is war, Iraq's poorest communities, already suffering as a result of government policies"— which makes it clear that the suffering is caused by government policies— weakened by years of conflict and undermined by economic sanctions, will be among the first to suffer. There are currently 700,000 Iraqi people who have been made homeless in their own country. Military action, as well as potentially resulting in a loss of civilian life, could force more people to leave their homes and become cut off from their food supplies. The international community has an obligation to plan for and implement an effective humanitarian response, which guarantees resources and access to independent assistance for all those in need". I therefore hope that the Minister does have an answer for the noble Lord, Lord Astor.

I could repeat several similar statements from CARE International, Save the Children, the Middle East Council of Churches and many other organisations that are now working in Iraq, both in the Kurdish area and in Baghdad. The Caritas figures have already been quoted. Those organisations say that leaving aside the thousands of casualties from military action, the consequences of war for children under 14, who now constitute almost half the population, are almost unimaginable. Children who are already chronically malnourished—an estimated one n five—would face death from hunger or ill-health. Children in some urban areas would be instantly deprived of water and other services, let alone health and education. Food distribution by the World Food Programme and the NGOs under the nationwide Oil For Food programme would simply come to a halt.

It is easy to forget that Iraq is not a developing country like Afghanistan, although Saddam Hussein has done his best to make it so. It has a highly sophisticated infrastructure and technical capacity, as weapons inspectors know all too well. That also means that the scale of any destruction will be proportionately greater and will have a more devastating effect in Iraq. The civil service, although seriously underpaid, includes many with high standards of training in education and professional skills. Those people cannot run the country without an adequate infrastructure and properly functioning services. Essential spare parts, even now, for hospitals, schools, pumping stations and water supplies are lacking to the point at which a nursing sister cannot even find a spare light bulb. That is where sanctions have already failed: they failed to hurt the rulers of Iraq and, worst of all, they have succeeded in hurting the people who are already suffering enough.

It is true that the Oil For Food programme has been improved, as have the smart sanctions under Security Council Resolution 1409, which was passed in May last year. Despite the efforts of the various UN panels, those changes have not solved the fundamental challenge of keeping people alive and children healthy.

I accept that Resolution 1441 has been a great landmark for the United Nations. As the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said, it has enhanced the authority of the United Nations, which we should all welcome. Here I pay tribute to the UN Secretary-Gene ral, Kofi Annan. While much has been said about our Prime Minister's role in restraining the US President and reminding him of his international obligations—in case he had forgotten them—few recognise how much success is due to the personality and perseverance of the Secretary-General and his staff over many years. He achieved the latest resolution, I suggest, much against his own inclination.

Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Judd, as always, made the important connection between Iraq and the Middle East; some of us did so during our debate on the Queen's Speech. I was encouraged that the Foreign Secretary gave more space to the Middle East peace process in his opening remarks on Monday. Some of that was echoed by the noble Baroness the Minister this morning. That is a welcome trend in government statements. There are signs that the Americans recognise that the Middle East may be part of the price for our support. There is an important difference between our position and that of the United States. I hope that that is the case. However, there is not much movement in the peace process. We have many words about progress from the Foreign Secretary and the noble Baroness the Minister but we do not see any movement. We should not expect very much to happen before the elections but at the same time those elections in the Middle East are no excuse for inaction. Finally, a Government who have just doubled their arms exports to Israel are hardly in a position to convince the British public, let alone the Palestinians, that they are making progress towards a lasting peace settlement.

5.24 p.m.

Lord Rea

My Lords, I am among the many in your Lordships' House and throughout the country who have no love for Saddam Hussein but who do not see the pressing need for a war on Iraq at present. There are better and less destructive ways of persuading a country to disarm than threatening to pulverise it with vastly superior airpower and then to invade it, however distasteful its regime. In that regard, I seem to differ from my noble friend Lord Desai.

As my noble friend Lady Symons said, Security Council Resolution 1441 gives us and Saddam Hussein a window of opportunity to achieve peaceful disarmament despite, perhaps, its rather draconian wording. I agree with the Liberal Democrat amendment, which received 85 votes in another place on Monday: when UNMOVIC reports early next year, the situation should be reassessed by the Security Council and a further resolution passed before any military action is launched. That was the Russian and French position initially, and also that of the Syrians, which they changed only after intensive discussions with US representatives. Many believe that both carrot and stick methods of persuasion were used. Even now those governments believe that the Security Council should carefully consider the situation again before a US-led attack is endorsed.

I am glad that my noble friend was able to confirm the statement that the Foreign Secretary made in the debate in the Commons on Monday; that is, that the UK also takes that position. He even went so far as to say that a second resolution would be desirable if' it were possible. Despite strongly supporting the American position publicly—perhaps too strongly for many people—the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and our ambassador, Sir Jeremy Greenstock and his team at the UN, have been quietly successful in moderating the US position. They did so by persuading them first to work through the United Nations route, leading to SCR 1441, but also to agree that there should be further Security Council deliberation before any military action is taken.

However, the hawks in the clearly divided US Administration, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and my noble friend Lord Judd referred, are still powerful. I am afraid that the American public and the American Congress have been groomed to support a war. I was one of a number of noble Lords and Members of Parliament—several other noble Lords have mentioned this—who heard Richard Perle, the chairman of the US defence policy board, speak in Committee Room 9 last week. Like many others present, I was somewhat alarmed by his position. He said that even if Hans Blix and UNMOVIC do not detect any weapons of mass destruction or destroy all those that they do detect, he would not be satisfied that Iraq was not hiding further stocks somewhere. Dick Cheney has said much the same thing. He implied that an attack was inevitable although of course he stopped short—only just short—of saying that explicitly. He also said, partly in jest, that only if Saddam were to adopt the US constitution would there be enough of a regime change for the United States to allow him to remain in power and avert a military confrontation. He also played down the effect that a military strike would have on the people of Iraq because of the greatly increased accuracy of American weapons and smart bombs, which he said would he used only on military targets and communications systems. He was confident that Iraqi troops would quickly lay down their arms when confronted by overwhelming US air power. He seemed to think an urban battle for Baghdad unlikely. But even if a war were to end quickly, the damage to the country's infrastructure and the impact on its people would be profound. My noble friend Lady Turner and the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, amplified that.

In 1991, immediately after the Gulf War but before sanctions had begun to bite, a United Nations report was produced by Martti Ahtisaari, who was then a UN under-secretary-general. He said: The conflict wrought 'near-apocalyptic' results on the economic infrastructure of what had been a fairly highly urbanised and mechanised society. Now, most means of modern life support have been destroyed or rendered tenuous. Iraq has, for some time to come, been relegated to a pre-industrial age, but with all the disabilities of post-industrial dependence on an intensive use of energy and technology". Desert Storm stopped short of invading Iraq and yet caused the damage that I and other noble Lords have described. Surely a war aimed at overthrowing the regime will be at least as destructive and probably a great deal more so.

I am aware that Mr Perle is not a member of President Bush's administration but he certainly has great influence and several members of that administration hold very similar views. So convinced are they that a war is the only solution to the problem that they are likely to try to use even a minor infringement of UNMOVIC's protocol as a casus belli.

As my noble friend Lady Turner pointed out, already there has been a US complaint about Iraq's defence of its airspace against one of the now more frequent attacks on ground installations by allied aircraft in the no-fly zones. I need not repeat her argument that those no-fly zones are not authorised by the United Nations. But I note that the United Kingdom did not recognise this as an interference with the United Nations resolution. That is another example of the United Kingdom acting as a restraining influence on the more impatient elements behind US policy formation.

But we could do much more to avert this impending war which, if it occurred, would be likely to have disastrous repercussions, as other noble Lords have said, throughout the Muslim world and increase rather than decrease the likelihood of A1'Qaeda inspired terrorist attacks. This is exactly the converse of the avowed purpose of the confrontation. Perhaps today's bad news from Kenya is a precursor of more bad news to come if this conflict takes place.

There are stronger ways in which we could persuade the United States to draw back, the most obvious being to withhold our military support. We did that in Vietnam without the "special relationship" being unduly disturbed. In the case of Iraq it is less likely that the Americans will "go it alone"; we therefore hold a critical position. I hope very much that Her Majesty's Government will not be afraid to use this trump card skilfully so that the doves rather than the hawks prevail in Washington and a potentially disastrous and unnecessary war is averted.

Before concluding. I ask my noble friend—and follow on from the noble Lord. Lord Astor—about the humanitarian situation which is likely to arise in Iraq should we not be successful in preventing conflict. The Iraqi people have had a disastrous decade due to the twin effects of the war on the infrastructure of the country and continued sanctions which have destroyed the economy and delayed its recovery. Although there are now signs of improvement, the standard of living of Iraqi citizens has dropped to that of the third world from one approaching first world levels before the Gulf War. I am aware that Saddam himself, by not disarming to UNSCOM's satisfaction, is perhaps largely responsible, although the full story of the sanctions is far more complex.

Discussing the effect of the sanctions may seem a diversion from today's topic but it is relevant when considering the effect of a future war on the population. There is still widespread poverty and undernutrition in Iraq. Tun Myat, the UN humanitarian co-ordinator in Iraq, said six months ago that even though the Oil for Food programme is now preventing overt malnutrition, many poorer people have to sell part of their barely adequate ration to pay for rent and clothing. Interruption of the Oil for Food programme, which would be inevitable in case of hostilities, would find many Iraqis in a very vulnerable condition and might have a disastrous effect. Can my noble friend say what advance planning is going on—here again I very much echo the words of the noble Lord. Lord Astor—to ensure that in the event of hostilities adequate food and medical supplies will rapidly be made available to the population?

The Iraqi health services, already running well below capacity, will not be able to cope with the immediate needs of the physically and mentally traumatised population which will probably include many thousands of internally displaced persons, let alone offer them any longer term rehabilitation. Perhaps learning a lesson from Afghanistan, are we prepared to put in the necessary resources after a conflict to restore a doubly damaged economy, which even now is only beginning to recover from the effects of the Gulf War? I hope that my noble friend will spare some time to address these important economic and social concerns which need to be taken into account before any military intervention is contemplated.

5.35 p.m.

Lord Bramall

My Lords, I must first ask the indulgence of your Lordships' House as I was unavoidably detained and unable to attend the opening of this important debate. Nevertheless, I feel it my duty to try to make some modest and short contribution despite my waywardness in respect of the rules of your Lordships' House. I hope that noble Lords will accept my apology.

The unanimous resolution of the United Nations Security Council to get observers back into Iraq while threatening Saddam Hussein with serious consequences if he obstructed them was a diplomatic triumph, as the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Swynnerton, said in his powerful speech. All concerned, not least our Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary, deserve heartfelt congratulations and thanks. It must be recognised, however, that this could not have come about, let alone been accepted by Iraq, without a credible and continuing threat of force by the Americans.

But surely we now need to build on that consensus, which must be the only right way of handling international relations in the modern world, and not deviate from the Security Council unless it becomes literally the only way to achieve the indisputable aim of destroying or disarming Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, as required and demanded by the Security Council itself. That objective must somehow be brought about.

However, the date of 8th December, by which time Saddam Hussein is required under the resolution to disclose and list any such weapons in his possession, may, if he prevaricates, provide a flashpoint for military action. That causes me some concern. It must be better for the observers, armed with all the intelligence at their disposal from the United States and others, which must be considerable and detailed, to find whatever weapons exist and destroy them rather than that we should use a quibble over paperwork as an excuse for going to war prematurely and without further UN sanction.

There are, after all, to coin a phrase, more ways of killing a cat. However much the British Government may want, quite understandably, to be seen to be supporting the United States, I hope that the Prime Minister will not forget that wise observation of the renowned Chinese general of 500BC, General Sun Tsu, who said that the supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy—notice the phrase "subdue the enemy"—without fighting. Incidentally, that is a philosophy which seemed to suit the Americans at Yorktown.

Finally, I hope that war will not become inevitable. Whatever success there may be early on, any—even temporary—occupation of Iraq will, I believe, create more problems than it solves. But, if it does become inevitable, can the Government assure us flat the British forces that they send to participate in any American action—if, indeed, that is the intention—will, in every sense, be properly prepared for whatever lies ahead of them?

Will they, for example, be properly equipped? That has been mentioned previously. There have been some ominous rumours about equipment. Much work needs to be done in that area. Will they be properly supported, particularly in the medical field, given that the medical services are struggling to keep their head above water? In view of the pressures on them and the over-stretch highlighted by the Chief of the Defence Staff, will they be properly trained? Can we be assured that the views of the Chiefs of Staff will he listened to and respected and that, as a result, our forces will have clear-cut, attainable objectives, both in the short and longer terms? Judging by Afghanistan, they could be there for quite a while.

In short, can we be assured that our forces are not being asked to take unnecessary risks? All armed forces take risks and they do it willingly and consciously. But we want to be assured that they are not taking unnecessary risks. It is absolutely lueicrous to think that war can somehow be cash limited. Either something is worth fighting and making sacrifices for or it is not.

I hope that the Minister will try to give assurances on the points I have raised. At least my contribution, which comes so close to his winding-up speech, should be comparatively fresh in his memory. After all, we would be asking men and women to risk their lives for reasons which, to say the least, are more obscure and contentious than those which prevailed in World War II, Korea, the Falklands or the Gulf. So the Government had better get it right.

5.42 p.m.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, I can hardly resist adding to the reference to Yorktown made by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall. I had pleasure in reading that Yorktown was not, as I had originally understood, a British/American conflict but fiat the German regiments in the British Army surrendered to the Irish regiments in the French Army as the siege came to a conclusion. We often forget how confused and multi-national our past conflicts were.

This has been a very thoughtful and intelligent debate. It began with a thoughtful, helpful and constructive speech from the Minister. We all welcome Resolution 1441. It was carefully drafted, tight and tough. It was well worth the weeks of multilateral negotiation which led to its unanimous agreement. I repeat what I said in the Queen's Speech debate: we on these Benches congratulate the Government on the very useful contribution that they made to that outcome. However, we all recognise that the Government are maintaining a delicate balance of critical support for the United States, holding together the multilateral coalition with a great deal more of the tightrope still to cross before safety and a safe conclusion are reached.

The Minister's speech underlined the significant differences of understanding between London and Washington. In London there is a much greater emphasis on disarmament than on regime change. We welcomed the explicit comment that there is a settled preference within the British Government for a second resolution. We also welcome the Minister's clear statement that our definition of material breach is as a deliberate and significant breach and not, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, remarked, a mistake on the paperwork.

We also note and welcome the Minister's acceptance that there is an unavoidable link with the Israel-Palestine conflict and that the international community needs to press forward on that, not simply to make occasional speeches reminding the world that we have accepted in principle a two-state solution even as action on the ground in the West Bank and the Gaza makes a two-state solution more and more difficult week by week.

One hesitation I had with the introductory speech of the noble Baroness was her reference to Iraq as a bad regime. I worry about those in the United States who divide the world into good guys and bad guys; a very simple Manichaean view of the world, which is one of the worries many of us have about the current debate within Washington. The world is full of greys rather than blacks and whites. Most regimes with which we have to deal around the world are on the murky side of grey. Sadly, international diplomacy is not a matter of knowing who is with us and who is against us but a matter of how we have to deal with unsatisfactory governments elsewhere around the world.

We welcome the Government giving strong but critical and qualified support for the United States. As many noble Lords have said, we all have concerns about the current debate within Washington. The noise of the neo-Conservative right in the Op-Ed pages, the think tanks, and so forth, is extremely worrying. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, referred to Theodore Roosevelt's comment that one should speak softly and carry a big stick. A Conservative right in Washington, as Richard Perle made clear to us, believes that one should speak loudly and thrash around with a big stick. That is not necessarily the same desirable approach.

The justification for the war on Iraq as a response to September 11th is one which we have to resist. Yes, the American people felt wounded by that massive terrorist attack, but there is no evidence of any direct link between Iraq and A1'Qaeda in that attack on New York. The fact that the American people feel that they are at war, as the noble Lord, Lord Black of Crossharbour, said, does not suggest that political leadership should simply follow them.

There have been occasions in the past year when I have thought both of Britain and the United States in 1898 and 1899 when a press war swept the United States into war with Spain, and when a similar jingoistic crowd swept Britain into war with those silly little Boer Republics in South Africa and thought that the transfer of a few regiments from India, where they had been fairly successful putting down the Afghan tribes would sort things out in six months. On both occasions the states were carried away by jingoism and stopped thinking about the rational and long-term implications of their actions.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Desai. We are dealing with a fearful giant in the United States and we need to ensure that we make it less fearful and that we do not feed its fears. I am not sure that I would go quite as far as the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, in saying that the United States is not a St Bernard but a Rottweiler. That seems to me to be rather over the top. There are distortions and taboos in the American domestic debate of which we all have to be carefully aware.

The noble Lord, Lord Black of Crossharbour, gave us a flavour of that right-wing debate. He talked of the United States having a righteous cause. I have heard people in Washington talk about the United States as a righteous nation and on that basis justify stating that the United States does not need to obey international law in the same way as we do because we are much less righteous. With respect, that is a fundamentalist approach, which we all have to resist. We must resist Christian fundamentalism in the United States as much as we resist Muslim fundamentalism in the Middle East. The United States does not have a casus belli against Iraq now. September 11th did not provide the United States with that cause. Throwing around phrases such as "appeasement" and "treachery" simply does not help.

The United Kingdom and other European allies therefore need to be more vocal in their participation in the debate within Washington and across the United States in persuading the United States that war against terrorism is not the answer, but that an engagement with other countries from which terrorists draw support is what we all have to do.

The question of links between the war on terrorism, the war on Iraq and Israel/Palestine is therefore a key element of this debate and of a number of future debates. The noble Lords, Lord Howell and Lord King, in effect accepted that these two are the same; that the war on terrorism and the war on Iraq are part of the same conflict.

There are links, but they are not direct. A1'Qaeda feeds on anti-Americanism, but at its core is based on fundamentalist Islam, is anti-modernisation, is anti the current Saudi regime and is also anti a number of regimes in the Middle East. Saddam is not—as I think I heard the noble Lord, Lord Black of Crossharbour, suggest, a radical Islamist; he is a cynical secularist who actually is trying to modernise Iraq and stands against many of the things promoted by the A1'Qaeda network.

Iraq gives support to specific terrorist groups which are anti-Israel, as indeed do some within Iran. But that has a limited geographical spread. It is equally to be condemned, but clearly to be understood as not part of the same problem. Israel is a symbol and an excuse for radical Islamic terrorists, but we need to be careful what it is that we are fighting.

A number of noble Lords—most impressively I thought the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan—have spoken about the implications of a war on Iraq for the wider war on terrorism and for the Middle East as a whole. I was at an extremely interesting conference in Washington in September about the threat that anti-Americanism would grow in the event of a war with Iraq. I was very happy to know that a number of people within the Washington policy community are actively concerned about that. Thus, the West has to take great care that in approaching any necessary and unavoidable conflict with Iraq—if we reach that stage—we do not emerge with an American protectorate which looks as though the West is attempting to occupy part of the heart of the Arab world.

The containment of terrorism, as the British have learned painfully over the past 30 years, requires a long-term commitment with great determination and great patience, and a recognition that there can never be a complete victory over terrorism. There are still unreconciled terrorists in Ireland. There are still too many unreconciled terrorists in the Basque country. The red brigades in Italy have not entirely disappeared. But, by drying up the pool of support from which these gained their activists, we have managed in all those cases to reduce the threat. That is the way we have to deal with A1'Qaeda. That is why the reconstruction of Iraq, if there is to be a war, has to be very carefully managed on a multilateral basis. That is also why the reconstruction of Afghanistan, in which currently the West is close to failing, is an important indication of how our approach to that entire region should go forward. And we have to resist at all costs those noisy voices on the Washington right that suggest that after a victory in Iraq the United States and its allies should roll forward from there across Iran and the rest of the Middle East.

One or two noble Lords—in particular the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall—have talked about the question of military preparedness. That is an important issue about which I hope that the Minister will say something in his speech. It seems to me that that is not the major thrust of today's debate but it is something to which we shall need to return.

The question of containment versus invasion, however, is one about which a number of noble Lords have spoken—again most impressively and at an early stage, the noble Lord, Lord Richard, who carefully went through the exact resolution. Containment has not failed. Inspections are not a charade. We all have to remember that between 1992 and 1993 UN inspectors with much less good equipment than the team now has managed to destroy a substantial amount of the ABC weapons which Iraq had. To suggest that inspections have no chance of succeeding again seems to be a gospel of despair which all the evidence we so far have does not support. I note the concern of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark and the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, that we are likely to be subject to all sorts of tricks and diversions from the Iraqi regime, but that, too, was so before. Containment must therefore be tried.

We must also have progress on the Israel-Palestine dispute. The most dangerous phrase that one hears in Washington and reads in the American press is that the road to Jerusalem lies through Baghdad, as if an invasion of Iraq will somehow resolve the Israel-Palestine dispute by removing what is seen as the source of support for Palestinian terrorism. The noble Lord, Lord Black, said that we must understand what this looks like to the Americans. We in the West must also think what this looks like to Muslims in the Muslim world. Heavy American support for Israel, vast financial support for Israel and repeated retreats from bringing pressure to bear on Israel look like an appalling imbalance.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Powell, for reminding us that President Bush 41, as he called him, promised firm American leadership and a Middle East conference to push for a settlement once the United States and its allies had liberated Kuwait from Iraq, but that that was forgotten once the Gulf war had successfully ended.

We may hope for changes in domestic policy in Israel and Palestine; we must hope that they move away from confrontation towards peace. We certainly need more impetus from the quartet, which the Minister mentioned—a quartet now, sadly, operating at relatively middle-ranking official level, rather than at the political level at which it began. We certainly need pressure on both sides in the dispute and an early peace conference but, above all, we need pressure now on Israel to step back from its attempted destruction of the economy and society of the West Bank, which looks to Palestinians and other Muslims like a preliminary to the expulsion of the population—what is called a Jordanian solution.

So we support the government position as set out by the Minister in her careful speech: a step-by-step approach, delicately balanced, with critical support for the United States, recognising all of America's strengths and weaknesses. We want closer and more explicit co-operation with other European Governments—we may not have obtained the resolution without both the British and French Governments' efforts. We want that to be developed a good deal further. But in all that, we want the Government to push forward with the intention of strengthening international institutions and law, to demonstrate that even in the case of states such as Iraq, multilateral diplomacy, enforced by effective inspection, can provide an effective answer to global problems.

5.58 p.m.

Earl Attlee

My Lords, I welcome the Motion so ably moved by the noble Baroness. It is particularly gratifying that throughout the debate we have been attended by both Ministers.

The House knows that we on these Benches fully support the Government's strategy. However, first, I must declare an interest as a serving Territorial Army officer with a Group A commission—that is a very direct interest.

Many noble Lords have commented on the desirability of UNSCR 1441, which is vital to demonstrate the resolve of the international community that Saddam must give up his weapons of mass destruction. We must at all costs avoid any risk of a perception by Saddam or his generals of a lack of resolve on our part. I regret that his perception of our firemen's strike will be just that.

The strike also divides the attention of the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State and the service chiefs. The Fire Brigades Union and its members are compromising the security of the United Kingdom. The services' view of the firefighters is practically unprintable. However, I do not believe that the strike reduces our ability to deploy a substantial force. That is because of the way that units have been allocated by the staff. On the other hand, as we know, it means that some units have had to endure painful cancellations of post-operational tour leave.

Parliament's anxiety stems from two concerns: first, the need for further resolutions before the start of any conflict and, secondly, the need for UK parliamentary authority. Obviously, that authority will come primarily from the other place rather than your Lordships' House, but we will, of course, give our counsel.

We may be missing one point. It may be necessary to deploy a coercive force; certainly, it will be necessary to prepare to do so. I am not convinced that we are properly prepared. I will say more about that later.

I am confident that the Government will not give us any nasty surprises in Parliament. All UK governments have a good record of making appropriate announcements to Parliament. However, it would be nice if Parliament heard before the media.

The military difficulty is this: we cannot sustain even a brigade for the type of operations being planned. It is not a simplistic issue about tank engine air filters. In Germany during the Cold War we planned for a war of two weeks' duration, with short and reducing lines of communication. Now, we face an operation with long lines of communication in extremely hostile terrain. In addition, large numbers of armoured vehicles will cover long distances using manoeuvre warfare tactics. That will result in a high logistic load. I am not giving anything away; any military analyst can confirm those facts. Noble Lords will also be aware of other problems such as those relating to the Defence Medical Services and the impact that they will inevitably have on operations and services in the NHS.

Several years ago, at this Dispatch Box, I admitted that DCS 15 was not a perfectly developed policy. However, this is the sixth year of this Government: what have they achieved since then? It will be no use hanging on to the United States' coat-tails so far as concerns logistics. Surprisingly, they have their own logistical challenges. It would be suicide to deploy ill prepared. Doing so would demonstrate a lack of genuine resolve and could lead to operational failure.

With two caveats, we on these Benches supported the Strategic Defence Review. Indeed, we were pleasantly surprised by it. However, there were two exceptions. First, there was the destruction of the TA infantry. How would we keep the rear areas secure? There was also the 3 per cent year-on-year efficiency saving, which has caused so much difficulty at the Ministry of Defence. SDR rightly recognised that, in future, we will be engaged in expeditionary warfare, which is just what we are talking about. Four years after the SDR, the Government have failed to implement the plan completely.

I fully accept that there have been significant and welcome shop-front improvements, but the chickens are coming home to roost. For instance, there is no effective fleet of off-road fuel-carrying vehicles. Under the Smart procurement initiative, the Government toyed around with a PFI solution for a few years and then realised that there would be no third party revenue for an off-road fuel tanker. Apparently, the Government are now going for outright purchase, but no orders have been placed for that vital capability. We still use the low-mobility tankers that I was trained to drive 25 years ago. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, is just about to nod his head.

Another concern is the general level of stocks of matèriel—spare parts and so on. It would not be helpful to go into greater detail on the shortfalls. Whether or not the Government judge it necessary to deploy, will the Minister assure the House that he will fully implement the SDR plan so that in future we do not have sustainability gaps?

Much comment has been made about exercise Saif Sareea. I was on it. It was an extremely good and valuable exercise. Of course, there were difficulties and disappointments. Incidentally, my biggest problem was accidentally separating the Secretary of State from his tactical communications operator and then almost killing the unacclimatised operator by making him trot, not run, for 150 metres, which gives some indication of the difficulties of operating in that part of the world during the summer. It is very important to understand that only France and the United States, and possibly Russia, could deploy a brigade for combat operations at a strategic distance from the home base.

Many noble Lords spoke about chemical and biological weapons. The noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, and others made some interesting observations about the difficulty of delivering chemical and biological attacks. In terms of attacks on our own troops, it is important to understand that chemicals are only another weapon. They can inflict casualties and horrible injuries, but they are not comparable to a nuclear attack. The real military problem is the need to wear chemical protection suits and associated clothing requirements in very high ambient temperatures, which significantly degrades operational capability. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, possibly underestimated the difficulty of removing a persistent nerve agent should our equipment become contaminated.

Many noble Lords spoke about Iraq after all threats have been eliminated, perhaps post-conflict, perhaps not. I have been involved with post-conflict reconstruction in Bosnia and Rwanda. The process of observing improvements on a week by week basis can be rewarding. The concern must be about the number of states that have to be rebuilt and the challenge of identifying funds to do so.

We do not hear much in the media about our efforts in Kosovo. That is perhaps not surprising because the process, especially with elections, has been going rather well. Of course, there are challenges; organised crime; drugs; and trafficking in human beings.

The real question that arises is: can we deploy a credible, sustainable force in order to help convince Saddam and his generals that UNSCR 1441 must be complied with? I am certain that we can, and, as many noble Lords have noted, we need to be able to do so in order to exert a suitable strong influence on the US Government.

The Minister no doubt has a rather large shopping list for any possible deployment. The Minister has said that no decisions have been made. What worries me is that I believe him. The Government's plan must contain timescales. It would not be wise to suggest the when, what, how or why of those timescales. But it essential that, when required, Ministers make decision without hesitation. Some of the decisions will be extremely expensive, as suggested in today's Daily Telegraph. Interestingly, mobilising the TA would not be one of the first overt actions.

However, it is not possible to deploy at brigade strength, or greater, without extensive use of reservists, by which I especially mean volunteer reserves, such as the T.A. The Secretary of State in another place indicated that reservists would informally be sounded out to ascertain their availability for operations. Twenty-five years of experience in the TA informs me that the vast majority do not want to volunteer to be called up. They want to be compulsorily called up, so that they can tell their families and their employers that they are legally and morally bound to go. But being compulsorily called up will be a momentous event in their lives. It is important that they are mobilised by their parent unit and with officers and men whom they trust. There will be some who cannot go due to family reasons or because they are essential to their employers. RFA 96 provides a means of appeal, and commanding officers are best placed to determine these matters.

Finally, on these occasions we invariably lavish fulsome and well deserved praise on our Armed Forces, and I do so again today. However, we must not forget the position of the inspection teams in Iraq. They are doing an extremely difficult and dangerous job and I believe that they are displaying the highest levels of physical and moral courage.

6.10 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Bach)

My Lords, today's debate has illustrated yet again the great wealth of experience on all sides of this House. We are lucky indeed. I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in today's excellent debate. We have heard about Saddam the dictator and oppressor of his own people; we have heard about his misdeeds against his neighbours and against Iran and Kuwait in particular; but we have also heard about the risks of military action and the need for the Government to consider carefully what the consequences might be.

It is a statement of the obvious that for any responsible government, military action is always a grave step and a last resort. No member of this Government, or of any other government, wishes to risk British lives unnecessarily. But let there be no doubt that our goal, the disarmament of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, is a peaceful one and the UNSCR 1441 offers Iraq a process towards peace and disarmament.

The issue of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction is the focus of our efforts because that is the major threat which Saddam poses to the international community. That includes the danger that Iraqi WM') will proliferate to terrorist organisations. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, asked about direct links between Saddam and terrorist organisations. Other noble Lords also referred to that topic. There is a long history of that, including Iraqi support to Palestinian terror groups such as Abu Nidhal and the MEK in Iran. Although we keep an open mind on links to A1'Qaeda, nothing we have seen so far suggests that Iraq was behind 11th September attacks. We do not have evidence of a direct link. I am not prepared—no Minister would be—to say more about matters so closely based on intelligence, partly with new information that is coming forward each day.

UNSCR 1441 has been the result of much concerted effort both at the United Nations in New York and bilaterally, too, between nations. The Government have been credited with playing a key role in this process and I am grateful for the compliments that have been paid. Other countries, too, must take credit, including the United States. It has led to the achievement of a considerable international consensus. Noble Lords have raised many questions about Resolution 1441. I will address as many of them as I can.

I begin with material breach. The noble Lords, Lord Howell and Lord Powell of Bayswater, and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, and others asked about that issue. They asked what would constitute a material breach and how it might lead to military action. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary set that out in some detail on Monday in another place and I am sure that noble Lords have read what he had to say in Hansard. My noble friend Lady Symons today dealt with that point fully. It is important.

In the course of his comments, my right honourable friend explained that Resolution 1441 offered Iraq a final opportunity to comply with the wishes of the international community. Paragraph 4, about which we have heard a great deal, states that a further material breach would arise where there are, false statements or omissions in the declarations submitted by Iraq and failure by Iraq at any time to comply with and co-operate fully in the implementation of this resolution". The Government's interpretation of the clause was given by the Foreign Secretary, who said: As with any definition of that type, it is never possible to give an exhaustive list of all conceivable behaviours that it covers. That judgment has to be made against the real circumstances that arise, but … material breach means something significant: some behaviour or pattern of behaviour that is serious. Among such breaches could be action by the Government of Iraq seriously to obstruct or to impede the inspectors, to intimidate witnesses, or a pattern of behaviour where any single action appears relatively minor but the actions as a whole add up to something deliberate and more significant: something that shows Iraq's intention not to comply".—[Official Report, Commons, 25/11/02; cols. 51–52.] However, as has been said both in this debate by my noble friend and the Foreign Secretary on Monday, no one wants military action to be taken against Iraq, or any other country, in some gratuitous manner. Resolution 1441 is a peaceful process, properly authorised under international law. It is now up to Saddam Hussein alone to comply with the wishes of the international community and to rid his country of weapons of mass destruction.

Some have linked the issue of material breach to the position of coalition patrols of the Iraqi no-fly zones. This issue has not featured much in the debate but it has been said outside the Chamber. In order to understand it, we need to consider the context in which these patrols operate. Coalition aircraft patrol the no-fly zones in support of UNSCR 688, which states that Saddam must end the brutal repression of his people, both in the north and in the south. The House will know that these patrols were set up in response to an overwhelming humanitarian necessity. That is the justification for our patrolling of those zones under international law.

In carrying out this task, coalition aircrew face attacks daily from Iraqi anti-aircraft artillery and surface-to-air missiles. Any response they make is entirely in self-defence, a right enshrined in Article 51 of the UN Charter.

We should be proud of our servicemen and servicewomen who contribute to the maintenance of the no-fly zones. A few months ago, I was fortunate and privileged enough to visit Ali Al Salem in Kuwait to see some of those who act with such courage on our behalf and on behalf of the persecuted minorities in Iraq.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, paid an extremely well merited tribute to those servicemen and servicewomen. He asked about medals—he was good enough to give me warning that he would do so—and I have an answer here for him. I hope that he will forgive me if I do not read it out in full. I shall write to him with that answer because I have much to say about this issue, but I have reason to believe that he will not find the answer unpleasant reading.

The focus of Resolution 1441 is on the disarmament of weapons of mass destruction and UNMOVIC provides the mechanism for taking this forward through its inspection regime.

As to the inspection process itself, there have been many justified questions and queries about it—some of which I may be able to answer and others I will not—but under Resolution 1441 Iraq must complete a final declaration of its WMD and other prohibited holdings by 8th December this year. It will then be for UNMOVIC to verify the accuracy and the completeness of that declaration through the inspection process.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark asked about the 60 days. The first progress report from UNMOVIC, from Dr Blix, is due by 26th January 2003. Obviously no one can speculate about it, but the resolution provides for further reports until the Security Council considers the work of UNMOVIC and its sister organisation to be complete.

The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, asked about time-frames. The time-frames agreed and explicitly set out in the resolution were debated thoroughly. It is important to note that Dr Blix and Dr El Baradei's teams were consulted on the drawing up of the time-frames.

So far as concerns funding, the inspectors are paid for by the oil for food programme, which runs a healthy surplus. There is no shortage of money for this mission. As regards the number of inspectors, Dr Blix has said that he is content that he has enough inspectors: some 300 on UNMOVIC's books to carry out the task set. On the timetable for inspections, the calendar set out in the resolution was discussed in detail with the leaders of the two teams.

My noble friend Lord Judd asked how capable UNMOVIC would be in carrying out what is certainly a challenging task. I make just two points. Dr Blix has, of course, the full backing of the United Nations, and member nations are more determined than ever to see a successful inspection regime. We are, for example, in direct discussion with the UN on how best we can assist UNMOVIC if it requires further help. Secondly, it must be remembered that Dr Blix and his team are hacked by a much tougher Security Council resolution than were their predecessors. There are, for example, no off-limits sites, as were the so-called presidential or sensitive sites.

Let me make it clear that the Government's goal is to seek Iraqi compliance with the inspection process set up by the resolution and with its disarmament obligations under earlier UN resolutions. We look to UNMOVIC to carry out thorough inspections and to report any non-compliance, whether it is Iraq's failure to co-operate or the discovery of illegal WMD, direct to the Security Council. On receipt of such a report, the first step will be for the Security Council to meet and consider what further action needs to be taken. The resolution makes clear that any failure of compliance by Iraq will have serious consequences.

We have debated widely the use of military force and the sequence of events that might lead to military action. Resolution 1441 is neither a pretext for military action, nor does it stipulate that a second Security Council resolution would be needed to authorise military action. We have made it clear, and I do so again. that our preference is for a second UNSCR in the event of a material breach of Resolution 1441 and that it should authorise the use of military force. In doing so, the Security Council will continue to face up to its responsibilities, as it has done so far.

But my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary was right the other day—my noble friend Lord Desai mentioned it today—to reserve the Government's position on the necessity of a second resolution. As the Foreign Secretary said, had we not similarly reserved our position in 1999, no military action against Milosevic would have been possible in respect of Kosovo.

I can assure the House that the Government will only consider the case for military action in full compliance with international law. This can be considered only against the background of the circumstances that we find at the time. I shall not attempt to second-guess those circumstances. Of course the House wants certainty and clarity now, but those who seek certainty must bear in mind that it would be helpful not only to the House; it could be helpful to Saddam himself.

The question was raised whether there should be a vote on military action. My noble friend Lady Symons made clear the Government's position on the matter in her opening speech. I shall not go into it again. Let me emphasise, however, that no decision on military action has been taken, and there is no reason why such a decision must follow.

Saddam has it in his power to comply with the will of the international community. But, frankly, experience shows that he has only ever complied when diplomacy has been backed by credible force. Does anyone seriously consider that we would be where we are today, with inspectors in Iraq and at least the promise of co-operation from Saddam Hussein, if there had not been that threat of force? Obversely, does anyone consider that, if that threat was dissipated in any way, Iraq would simply revert to former attitudes? We do not need a crystal ball; just read the history books.

It is on that basis that, with the greatest respect, I cannot accept the analysis brilliantly made by the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky. He asked what made Saddam so different, and why he should want to start a new war against the united position of the United Nations. Perhaps for the same reasons as he began two wars in his region some years ago, one of which resulted in more than a million people dead; for the same reason as he has killed his own people in tens of thousands; and for the same reason as he has defied (that is an understatement)—laughed at—the clear position of the United Nations for 10 long years. If he thinks he can act with impunity as he has done until now, he will carry on doing so. That is why it is time for the United Nations not just to pass resolutions, hut, if necessary, to act upon them. Even if the noble Lord is right that Saddam has changed and no longer sees any advantage to be gained, rationally or irrationally, by acting as before, no responsible government could take a risk on that.

I shall now discuss military preparations. Our goal is to achieve the aims of Resolution 1441. But it would he unrealistic not to plan for the contingency that those aims cannot be achieved by peaceful means alone. Not only would it leave our Armed Forces ill-prepared; it would send exactly the wrong message to Saddam Hussein. My right honourable friend the Defence Secretary set out in the other place some of the preparatory steps that we arc taking, in particular with respect to reservist members of the .Armecl Forces and military equipment, which I shall summarise.

Before that, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, whose words are ringing in my ear because they were spoken so recently, needs to be reassured. I hope that I can do so. He would not expect me to say anything else. Required preparations will be made so that, if it proves necessary to send British Armed Forces into war, they are not unprepared.

The House should be clear that we have not called out any reservists for possible military action against Iraq; nor do we have immediate plans to do so. But any substantial military operation will require a contribution from the reserves. We are therefore clarifying the requirement of such a contribution in support of any military action against Iraq, a process that in due course may involve sending out members of reservist-formed units, individual reservists or their employers. The House should note that only planning activity is authorised at this stage. I assure the House that, should it be judged that we need to call out reservists for potential military action, there will be a formal call-out under the Reserve Forces Act 1996. Most importantly, that will be reported to Parliament.

As regards military equipment, in response to the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, it is nonsense to suggest that the Strategic Defence Review is riot being implemented. The concept of high-readiness flexible forces able to respond rapidly to events was a core tenet of that review. We introduced the joint rapid reaction force to deliver this and equipment such as the introduction of the C-17s and HMS "Ocean" to deliver our forces in theatre and to sustain them. There are real-life examples of our ability to deploy and sustain our forces, whether one looks to Afghanistan, Sierra Leone or East Timor.

As part of this planning and preparation we have also been considering potential additional capability requirements. We are of course committed to equipping the Armed Forces for a range of contingencies, but specific operational environments and scenarios require special priority to be given to particular capabilities. That is why we have been taking action to meet certain capability requirements as quickly as possible. We have a comprehensive and diverse programme under way, ranging from the provision of increased numbers of boots and desert clothing through temporary deployable accommodation to the modification and enhancement of our Challenger 2 and AS-90 armoured vehicles.

Importantly, we also have measures in hand to improve the provision of medical care to our Armed Forces both at the sharp end, where we are upgrading our battlefield ambulance to facilitate treatment during transit, and through the modernisation of our field hospital infrastructure to provide a much improved level of secondary care. We take very seriously the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, about equipment and clothing in particular.

The noble Lord, Lord Howell, and others have mentioned costs, asking about the announcement made by my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer yesterday in another place that a £1 billion special reserve had been allocated to cover the costs of military and overseas operations this year. I assure the noble Lord that the figure represents a prudent allocation at this time but makes no assumption about the nature of any UK contribution to international efforts in Iraq or elsewhere. Any media reports that we are somehow holding back on military preparations because of Treasury reticence are simply wrong.

Many noble Lords, too numerous to mention by name, have talked about post-conflict and humanitarian thinking. Those are important points. However, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, said—unless I misunderstood him—this is not the main point of the debate today. Maybe I am misquoting him. I apologise. My comments on the subject are important but strictly limited. I stress straightaway that the Government are working to avoid the conflict and, while we are taking military contingency planning forward, it would be wrong to do so in isolation, ignoring the humanitarian and post-conflict considerations. Of course, any coalition forces on the ground will clearly bear responsibility for the immediate future and security of the country in the aftermath of any operation. It is therefore incumbent on military planners to take those factors into account now. I assure the House that to the extent that military planning can be taken forward now, it is happening. We agree with the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, that the whole international community should be involved in the humanitarian and civil effort that would be needed after a conflict. The Government take seriously their potential responsibilities towards the Iraqi people. In the aftermath of any potential conflict, we, Britain, will of course remain at the forefront of efforts to help the Iraqi people. I do not intend to say any more about that today, but I am sure that the subject will come up again and again.

Before concluding, I shall say a word about the Middle East peace process, which many noble Lords have rightly mentioned, as happened in the last debate on the subject. The Government believe that the Middle East peace process and Iraq are separate issues. Sadly, the difficulties in the Middle East predate Saddam Hussein. However, the Government recognise that to many, particularly in the Arab world, the two are inextricably linked. That is one reason why the Prime Minister has been so clear that it is vital to use every endeavour to move the Middle East peace process on and to resolve it and why my noble friend made a point of addressing the issue when she opened the debate this morning.

We believe that we are taking the right steps to prepare for what may come. We are drawing on the lessons of recent conflicts. I hope that we have reassured the House that the Ministry of Defence is doing everything it can to ensure that our servicemen and women are properly equipped if it becomes necessary to call them into action. As my noble friend made clear, the responsibility rests solely with the Iraqi regime to dismantle its weapons of mass destruction.

We believe that our position is a reasonable one. We have no quarrel with the Iraqi people; indeed, it is in everyone's interest, including theirs, that Iraq should comply with the resolution placed upon it. As my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence said in another place on Monday, history should have taught us the dangers of not dealing effectively with ruthless dictators. Therefore, we can be grateful that the international community is definitely resolved to deal with Saddam Hussein through the process set out in UNSCR 1441.

On Question, Motion agreed.