§ 1.3 p.m.
§ Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean
My Lords, with the leave of the House I shall now repeat a Statement being made by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary in another place on Iraq.
"With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to make a Statement about the situation in Iraq.
"I will deal in a moment with the post-conflict arrangements. Let me start with the military situation. All right honourable and honourable Members will have followed the extraordinary events of the past four days as coalition forces entered Basra and then Baghdad. We can all share the new sense of hope so evident on the faces of ordinary Iraqis who are now tasting freedom, many of them for the first time in their lives.
"I know that the whole House will join me in paying tribute to the courage shown by the men and women of our Armed Forces and those of the United States, and their compassion in dealing with the civilian 371 population. Some of our service personnel and some of the United States service personnel have made the ultimate sacrifice to help remove the threat from Saddam's regime and to secure Iraq's liberation. We mourn them and send our deepest condolences to their families and comrades in arms.
"I also want to express my profound sorrow at the death of innocent Iraqi civilians as well as a number of international journalists. This is, I am afraid, a tragic consequence of military conflict, despite all the care taken by coalition military forces to keep casualties to a minimum.
"Given what we have seen and now know, there is understandable euphoria at the progress made in recent days. But we must recognise that the military task is far from complete. There are still large areas of Iraq not under coalition control, and units of the Iraqi armed forces still engaged in combat. After years of brutal repression, we have inevitably seen excesses and lawlessness as the old regime collapses. Coalition military forces will be doing all they can to provide a secure environment for the Iraqi people.
"For all of the difficulties which may lie ahead, we are without question at the start of a new and much better chapter in Iraq's history. As our control extends, still more of the dark secrets of Saddam's regime are being revealed. Two days ago, ITN's Bill Neely gained entry to Saddam's secret police building in Basra. In graphic detail, a former inmate, Hameed Fatil, described how he was tortured along with his two brothers. Hameed was the lucky one. His two brothers were executed, and Hameed re-enacted their ordeal. There were no TV cameras in Saddam's torture chambers. But there are now: and the truth which they reveal is shocking.
"As for Iraq's programmes to develop chemical and biological weapons, we know that they existed, and in 173 pages of damning detail the weapons inspectors have spelled out all the questions the Iraqi regime had failed systematically to answer. We will now be seeking those answers. We pledged to rid Iraq of these weapons and we stand by that commitment.
"The rapid course of events made all the more timely the discussions on Monday and Tuesday at Hillsborough between President Bush and my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. These were dominated by issues related to post-conflict Iraq. Copies of the joint declaration issued by the two leaders have been placed in the Library of the House.
"Our immediate priority is to ensure the delivery of food, medicine and humanitarian assistance to the people of Iraq. My right honourable friend the International Development Secretary will be making a Statement on this shortly. But, in brief, British forces are already heavily engaged in the provision of humanitarian assistance and organisation of basic services in the areas of the south we control. As the coalition brings security to more of Iraq's 372 territory, so the flow of assistance will increase. We are actively looking at sending police advisers to Basra to assist UK forces as soon as possible.
"But our responsibilities to the people of Iraq go well beyond questions of immediate humanitarian relief. For a generation Iraqi people were starved of information both about developments in their own country and in the wider world. But those days when they had to labour under the lies spread by Saddam's propaganda machine are now at an end. I am pleased to announce that a new Arabic television service, Towards Freedom, is being launched in Iraq today with opening statements from my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and President Bush.
"A major subject of discussion at Hillsborough was how best to help the people of Iraq build a stable and prosperous country living in peace with their neighbours. The Hillsborough declaration emphasised that the United Nations has a 'vital role' to play in the reconstruction of Iraq. The United Kingdom and United States plan to seek the adoption of new United Nations Security Council resolutions which would affirm Iraq's territorial integrity, ensure rapid delivery of humanitarian relief and endorse an appropriate post-conflict administration for Iraq. In that context, we welcomed the appointment by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan of a special adviser to work on this range of issues.
"At Hillsborough we reaffirmed our commitment to protect Iraq's oil and other natural resources, as the patrimony of the people of Iraq, which should be used for their benefit, and for their benefit alone.
"Active discussions are under way among members of the Security Council to prepare the ground for these further resolutions. In addition to participating in the Hillsborough discussions, I have myself travelled to Berlin, Brussels, Paris and Madrid for consultations in the past week with Secretary Powell and the foreign ministers of Germany, Russia, France and Spain and of our other NATO and EU colleagues.
"It is our guiding principle that as soon as possible Iraq should be governed by the Iraqi people themselves. We therefore support the early formation of an Iraqi interim authority which progressively will assume the functions of government. The coalition will need to work with the UN in establishing this body. As an initial step, I welcome the initiative taken by British military commanders in the south of Iraq to bring together local tribal leaders. I envisage at the right moment a national conference bringing together credible representatives from all parts of Iraqi society to agree on the establishment of the interim authority.
"Iraq's neighbours too have important interests at stake. They, like us, want to see a stable and prosperous Iraq living at peace in its region. Many of them have given valuable support to the military coalition. All will have an important contribution to make in the reconstruction phase. I saw the Turkish Foreign Minister, Abdullah Gul, last week, and 373 look forward to talking to him again shortly. I shall myself be visiting a number of Gulf states in the next few days.
"My ministerial colleague the honourable member for North Warwickshire will shortly be visiting Syria and I ran. It is important to maintain the dialogue with both these countries. Syria and Iran now have the chance to play their part in building a better future for Iraq. I have maintained a dialogue over the past two years with the Iranian Government and in particular Foreign Minister Kharrazi covering a wide range of issues, including some which cause us concern. As for Syria, we hope that it will now take the opportunity to make a decisive break with the policies of the past and so contribute to a better future for the entire region.
"As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has so often emphasised, nothing would make a more significant contribution to stability in the region than a solution to the Israel/Palestinian issue. This too was a major subject of discussion at Hillsborough. The Prime Minister and President Bush looked forward to the publication of the roadmap as soon as Abu Mazen's Cabinet has been formed. President Bush made clear his commitment and that of his Administration to implementing the roadmap and to expending the same amount of energy in the search for peace as the Prime Minister has done over Northern Ireland.
"For the Iraqi people the search for a lasting peace began yesterday. Iraq has been a country essentially at war with its neighbours and with itself for the past 24 years, its people subjected to a tyranny the full horror of which will become ever more apparent in the coming days and weeks. Twenty-three days ago, this House endorsed the Government's decision to resort to the use of force in order to remove the threat posed by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and to bring the Iraqi peoples long nightmare to an end. In committing our Armed Forces in that way, we took one of the most difficult decisions facing any democracy. But we were right to do so. Today we are well on the way to achieving the objectives we set. In doing so we have taken on new responsibilities to and for the people of Iraq. We will apply the same energy and commitment to fulfilling these as we have done to the military task".
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
§ 1.14 p.m.
§ Lord Howell of Guildford
My Lords, we are all deeply grateful to the Minister for repeating that full and helpful Statement. We warmly and closely associate ourselves with the tributes in the Statement to the Armed Forces and we express our great sadness—which is sometimes almost hard to control—at the news of the deaths or maiming of civilians and military personnel. There have been some tragic pictures that have moved us all.
We too agree that it is too early to declare what some call a victory. I am not sure that "victory" is the right word. A success, yes, against many gloomy expert 374 predictions that it would be impossible to control Baghdad or that it would take many months. But we must never forget that the purpose is to restore Iraq to its people. That will be the true success.
Does the Minister agree that as soon as the shooting is finally contained, to quote a leading Arab thinker in one of this morning's papers,every ounce of effort should go into helping to re-build a democratic and pluralist Iraq",and to defeat the cynics who say that that cannot be done? Should we not be straining every sinew to bring not just succour—and of course, humanitarian help, about which there will be a Statement later—but also dignity back to the Iraqi nation?
Will the Minister accept—I know in this case she will—that the Prime Minister must have his full share of the credit for holding firm to his course, with support from this side but in the teeth of opposition from his own party and several other sources? Does she agree that the wooden spoon must go to the media; particularly the electronic media? Of course I recognise that there have been brave individual journalists and there have been some tragic deaths, which is to be deplored. But at the editorial level it is clear that the media lack the experience or skills to cope with such a war.
The Daily Telegraph this morning described BBC coverage as showing "bias, inaccuracy and defeatism". Has the Minister noticed a sharp change of tone in the broadcast reporting approach to the fall of Baghdad, but only now that it has happened?
As to the organisation of the next stage, is she concerned—I am sure that she is and that the Foreign Secretary is—about the looting and lawlessness that is breaking out? Does she think that, while our troops obviously cannot do everything—I know that they have made noble efforts—the Defence Secretary's somewhat lighthearted approach to the issue the other day in another place was a shade misjudged? What advice can we offer, with our enormous experience of Northern Ireland, on the establishment of an armed but trusted policing operation? Can NATO play a role? Or does the Minister suggest that the Arab League or the United Arab Emirates might organise a policing force to help restore law and order, without which Iraq cannot recover?
I need to ask about the US's naming of contractors. Is it the position that while under US law preference has to be given to American contractors in the rehabilitation of Iraq, here the opposite prevails? Aid must not on any account be tied to national suppliers or contractors under our laws and European Union regulations. Will the Minister assure us that that is understood and that the problem is being addressed and not allowed to drift?
I must also ask about oil. I had assumed, like others, that renewed oil revenues from Iraq would be available not only for food but also for reconstruction, especially if oil production could be boosted. Is it true that in practice Iraq's creditors—who are considerable in number—will all have prior claims to the oil 375 revenues and the ownership of the oil itself; and that therefore the oil resources available for Iraq and its immediate help may be far less than hoped?
I should also ask about Kirkuk's oil wells. Are we prepared for the fact that, if the Kurds take control as they are determined to, the Turkish authorities may say that they will find that unacceptable and may have to take action? What did the Turkish Foreign Minister say about that grim prospect?
Can we assume that the interim authority and the military will have to govern until a new Iraqi government is formed, with the UN playing a role—variously described as "vital", "central", or whatever—but not under a UN mandate? We know the names of all the American members of the interim authority because they have been published, but the names of the senior British officials, who will be part of this authority, seem to be missing. Can the noble Baroness give us some names or send them if they are not available so as to confirm the view that this is a coalition—an international authority—not just an American one?
Finally, and more broadly, will the noble Baroness continue, as she has assiduously done thus far, to keep us up to date on the Palestine/Israel front, on Abu Mazen's plans on building his cabinet, and on the prospects for the road map? Secondly, the noble Baroness will have heard it suggested fairly widely that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office apparently wants to mend fences with France and go back to business as usual on building a common EU foreign policy—on Iraq and, indeed, everything else. Does she accept that that would be the wrong approach? In paving the way for new UN resolutions, which the Foreign Secretary says he is doing, surely France needs to mend its fences after appearing to be neutral between Saddam and the West. Surely good Europeans, including ourselves, should now be using the situation to redesign Europe's future and its approach to the Middle East—and, indeed, the Atlantic Alliance—in ways that are no longer dominated by doggedly anti-American French and German thinking.
As the Chinese say, every crisis is an opportunity. This country will not be forgiven if we stand paralysed by pessimism and fail to take the colossal opportunities for a better Iraq and Middle East, a better Europe, and a better transatlantic relationship, which this moment so clearly offers.
§ 1.21 p.m.
§ Baroness Williams of Crosby
My Lords, noble Lords on these Benches also thank the Minister for repeating the very full and detailed Statement made in another place by the Foreign Secretary. We appreciate that this is a major attempt to bring us up to date on a whole number of different areas of concern. I should like to express our congratulations on the way in which the military strategy has been conducted. I have in mind the courage and imagination of the forces in Basra, which is under British control. We hope that the final conclusion as regards the military action takes place very quickly.
376 Does the Minister agree that, quite probably, sporadic military, or paramilitary, action will continue over the next few weeks? Does she also agree that we must be prepared for such action and recognise that part of winning the peace, which is now the essential challenge before us, involves being able to deal effectively with such sporadic actions? Like the noble Lord, Lord Howell, I should like the Minister to give us the most recent report on matters in northern Iraq, which create considerable concern because of what one might describe as the "race towards Kirkuk"? Can she tell us how that outcome might affect relations with Turkey?
I have one specific question with regard to casualties of war. We share profoundly the deep sense of regret of the House about the losses to British and American forces. We also acknowledge the extraordinary courage with which they have conducted themselves. However, there have been unfortunate casualties among innocent Iraqi civilians. I shall not go into the issue of humanitarian aid at this point because that will be dealt with by a further Statement later today, but can the Minister say whether the United Kingdom can assist in getting medicines and, if possible, even expert medical help to the hospitals in Iraq that are now dealing with overwhelming numbers of casualties among civilians? Can she say whether such assistance could be expedited so that we might be seen to be immediately dealing with some of the tragic consequences of war?
As to the issue of winning the peace, can the Minister give us further information on the present situation with regard to order on the ground, especially in the regions of Baghdad and Basra? According to the BBC lunchtime news, looting of the UNICEF headquarters, of the German Embassy, and of other sites in Baghdad, is now taking place. Can the Minister say whether it is perceived to be the responsibility of the Armed Forces, at least for the time being, to keep order, as implied by the Geneva conventions, until some form of policing can be established? In that context, we very much welcome the possibility of police advisers who would echo the thought that it is urgent to establish some sort of police help in these cities as quickly as possible, from whatever sensible and authorised source they might come. I support the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, who suggested the possibility of bringing in police from Arab countries with experience of dealing with such situations.
With regard to the attempt to try to track down weapons of mass destruction, have the Government given thought to inviting the UN inspectors to return to Iraq? I echo the thought expressed from these Benches by my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire that to persuade the world of the existence of the existence of weapons of mass destruction, it is important that they should be authenticated by a UN source. We understand that the UN inspectors are still employed by UNMOVIC. Can the Minister say whether any thought has been given to inviting the inspectors to authenticate the discoveries made by our troops, those of the United States and of other members of the coalition?
377 On the question of setting up the Arabic television station, which will obviously have some difficulty in establishing its credibility, can the noble Baroness tell us the position with regard to Al Jazeera? Can she say whether the studios, which we understand came under attack by way of a military missile, are now operating? Will they be able to resume services relatively soon?
I have two further major questions. The first, which was also raised by the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, relates to what one can only describe as the "substantial confusion" over the issue of a post-war administration of Iraq. There have been a number of recent reports, especially as regards Mr Ahmed Chalabi, with the Pentagon differing to some extent from reports from the State Department. Indeed, one has to say that Washington gives the appearance of a continuing argument between different departments of state. Can the Minister say whether the proposed summit that was to be held this weekend in Iraq has now been postponed sine die, or to another date?
The Minister made reference to a national conference to be set up with support from the British forces in southern Iraq. Can she say under whose auspices such a national conference would be held, and what role, if any, the UN would take in such proceedings? The noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, asked about the oil revenues. Can the Minister say whether existing debtors would represent the first demands made on them, or whether, as we understand from reports about the resumption of the Oil for Food programme—the basic requirements under UN Resolution 1472—the needs of Iraqi people, especially for food and medicine, would take priority over any other demands made in that respect?
I turn to the troubling communiqué from the United States Administration in Washington to the Government of Israel, reported in The Times on 4th April, which suggested that the US would now be looking at the position with regard to Syria and Iran; and in particular, would be taking action to stop the development of terrorist activities in those countries. I understand that the communiqué specifically said "not necessarily by military means". It is obviously of great importance, but it has not been published in the UK. The Minister may be able to throw some further light on the matter.
Finally, as regards the road map, perhaps the Minister can say whether the Sharon Government have now accepted, as the Statement implies, that once a cabinet has been established by the Palestinian Authority under the new Prime Minister, Mr Abu Mazen, that would count as the first stage having been met in terms of the continuation of the road map? Alternatively, as later reports suggest, will the process be delayed until that cabinet is "working effectively"—a rather vague phrase, which could mean either a long or a quick movement towards the next stages of the road map?
Lastly, we on these Benches welcome the joint statement by the Foreign Secretary and M. Villepin of France. We hope that the indications of much closer co-operation in bringing humanitarian aid and insisting on the reconstruction of Iraq can, indeed, be realised.
§ 1.30 p.m.
§ Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean
My Lords, I thank both the noble Lord. Lord Howell of Guildford, and the noble Baroness for the tone of their responses. I join them in their tributes to our servicemen and women and those of the United States who have laid down their lives in this military conflict. Like them, I acknowledge not only the extraordinary courage of those who have participated in the military conflict but, in many ways as importantly, the compassion shown by our service people towards Iraqi civilians.
I have little time in which to reply and I shall do my best to get through all the questions. I agree with the noble Lord that it is too soon to declare what he called "success". I direct him back to the Statement, which made clear that the military task is still far from complete. I believe that that point was also made by the noble Baroness.
The noble Lord went on to say that when the military conflict stopped, every ounce of effort would need to be directed at construction. I agree with him. I believe that this is an enormously important issue, and it is a point to which your Lordships have returned on a number of occasions. The reconstruction of Iraq—perhaps it would be better to say the "post-Saddam construction of Iraq", because so little was done over so many years to put Iraq into proper working order—will be of real importance. I believe that the word "dignity" was a very apposite description of what we should be searching for in relation to the Iraqi people.
I thank the noble Lord for giving my right honourable friend the Prime Minister his full share of credit. I also pay tribute to the noble Lord's Benches for the stalwart way that they have supported this military action. We have been very pleased to see that type of reaction from the Conservative Benches.
The noble Lord talked about giving the wooden spoon to journalists. Of course, some very brave journalists have been out in Iraq. As the noble Lord acknowledged, some of those journalists lost their lives in the pursuit of truth. It is important that we do not tar all journalists with the same brush.
I also consider it important to have seen on our television screens what the excesses of war really mean. It is important that we know what is done in our name. Those of us who have to take these terrible, heart-wrenching decisions must know the real consequences of those decisions, not only for our military personnel but for the people on the ground. What I have found most objectionable is the mixing of editorialising and reporting. Reports have not been clear. They have been editorialised to a degree that I believe many people have found unacceptable.
Personally, I believe that some of the BBC reporting has been excellent, but some parts of it have been just plain silly. We may well have time to examine whether that has been a result of 24-hour reporting. But I emphasise to the noble Lord that the role of journalists in this type of conflict is vital, and many of them are very brave men and women.
379 On the question of looting, as the Statement reported, we hope—we are considering how to arrange it—that police experts will go to the south of Iraq where Her Majesty's Government's forces are currently dominating. We have also been talking to tribal leaders in that part of Iraq to try to ensure that they offer proper leadership to young people who have undertaken some of the looting in an effort to stop it on the ground. I say to the noble Lord that the reports that we are receiving this morning from the military seem to indicate that much of the looting in Basra has subsided, although there is still cause for concern in Baghdad this morning. But I suggest to your Lordships that this is part of a fast-moving picture. When military forces enter a region, there is bound to be a period when a certain degree of lawlessness takes place.
I turn to the question of the US and the naming of American contracts. There is a different law in the United States. In my view, we are right not to tie our aid to our trade. We have persuaded the United States not to tie their aid to their trade in the same way as they untied their aid in relation to Kosovo and other conflicts. They are now prepared to see the subcontracts go to contractors from other parts of the world. I have already explained to your Lordships that British companies are actively involved in that.
Of course, the oil should be for the Iraqi people. The question of debtors must be discussed, and I have already seen the question of debt cancellation crop up in papers. A number of very big debtors will have a great interest in the issue. It is a matter of open knowledge that Russia, Germany and France are among the substantial debtors, and they will no doubt take a great interest in what happens next.
The noble Lord asked about the names of the senior British officials who are involved in ORHA. I was able to report to noble Lords yesterday that there are such officials. I understand that I am not able to reveal the names to your Lordships, but I shall do so as soon as I can. I shall seek to obtain clearance of the names, which I have in my briefing. I specifically sought to find out whether I could reveal them to your Lordships, but I am advised that at present that would not be proper. But I shall do so as soon as I am able. We shall of course keep your Lordships up to date on all these important issues.
I have used up the 20 minutes that I understand I am allowed but I have not reached the end of the very detailed questions from the noble Baroness. However, perhaps I may try to weave those in in answering other questions.
§ 1.36 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth
My Lords, I am sure that the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, who returns even as we speak from his less high-profile but vitally important programme on interfaith dialogue, would want to associate himself with the graciousness and thoroughness of the Minister's Statement.
380 Does the noble Baroness agree that it is very important that we pay tribute to members of the Armed Forces for the way that they have carried out an extremely difficult job? I believe it is true to say that we are now in an age where war of whatever kind will be debated in a way that it has never been debated before. As Bishop of a Navy city, I can say, without letting cats out of bags, that the people with whom I have had contact have truly and honestly debated whether our forces should be there, what they have carried out and what they have been ordered to do. Surely the Minister agrees that it is important that, as we think of the next stage, we should be generous in extending a measure of support to all sides in this debate.
I want to press the Minister very gently with a second point. I shall then sit down and let others intervene. I do not believe that we should allow our relations with the UN and our severed relations with our former allies just to go by the board. I am sure the Minister will agree that it is not enough to take a rather triumphalistic view.
§ Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean
My Lords, I join the right reverend Prelate in the tribute that he paid to the most reverend Primate, who is returning from Qatar as we speak. We welcome him back and I thank the right reverend Prelate for the warm things that he said. I agree with him. The fact is that we are able to debate war as never before. I believe that that is right. War is a terrible thing. We must see what it entails if we are to make judgments about whether we are right to risk the lives of our own servicemen and women and whether we are right to risk the lives of those in the country where we pursue such military action.
What I have found difficult is not so much the 24-hour coverage as the constant questioning of every decent motive. We were told that this would be a war about oil. I hope that what I have been able to say to your Lordships has demonstrated beyond peradventure that nothing could be further from the truth. It has been about weapons of mass destruction.
I pick up a point made by the noble Baroness. Of course, we should talk with the coalition and the United Nations about the role of the inspectors. However, I say to the noble Baroness that if we find weapons of mass destruction during the course of the continuing military action, I hope that the noble Baroness and others will not question the veracity of those who make those finds. I hope we shall not find that people rush to say that, because the coalition found the weapons, somehow that veracity is undermined. I consider that to be a very important point.
I return to the question of the United Nations. I believe that what was said yesterday at Hillsborough about the vital role of the United Nations chimes in rather well with what President Chirac said. It is important that we establish and re-establish our relationships. The noble Lord questioned whether this was the wrong approach. But I remind him that we have to work in multilateral forums. That is the nature 381 of international relations these days. We have to work in the UN. We have a huge international programme on terrorism. We have to work through the EU. It will be vital in the WTO, and we also have to work in the G8. I hope that we shall there be working with France on some of the very important issues that we have to face in Africa.
§ Lord Fowler
My Lords, I congratulate the Government on the action they have taken and in particular on the determination of the Prime Minister. I pay my own tribute to the courage and bravery of our forces. About the need for a wider settlement in the Middle East, I add that in 1967 I reported the Middle East war when the Occupied Territories became the Occupied Territories; 35 years later my stepson has reported this war and is now in Baghdad. So if the House will forgive me, I shall not join in the criticism of the press and television. I endorse entirely what she says. I believe that some of the reporting has been both distinguished and courageous.
My point is that I do not believe that we can afford remotely to waste another 35 years before we reach some fair and good settlement to the Palestine/Israel position. If we do that, the instability in the Middle East will continue and continue.
§ Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean
My Lords, I shall reply briefly to that last point. Her Majesty's Government agree whole-heartedly with the sentiments noble Lords have expressed about the enormous amount of effort that has gone into the Middle East plans, to the quartet and to the roadmap. We are very pleased that this week there was the Statement from my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and the President of the United States which endorsed that roadmap and gave a commitment to implement it when it is published, which we hope will be after Abu Mazen has appointed his government.
§ Lord Morris of Manchester
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Bach responded very helpfully recently to an inquiry about the more than 600 Kuwaiti prisoners taken by the Iraqis in Gulf War I, who were never accounted for by the regime of Saddam Hussein. Further to the Minister's moving reference today to the regime's "dark secrets", is there anything more my noble friend can say now about the fate of the Kuwaiti prisoners, and will she keep us urgently informed of any development in this deeply important matter?
§ Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean
My Lords, I associate myself with everything that my noble friend Lord Bach said about the Kuwaiti prisoners. It must be a matter of continuing anguish to the families, parents, husbands and wives of those who are unaccounted for. Sadly, as yet, I cannot give the noble Lord any further information about that, but I assure him that as soon as information becomes available it will be made public, consistent with, of course, anything that has to be said first to the families of those directly involved. I think we owe it to them in the first 382 instance, as the loved ones of those who may have lost their lives, to give them the information as quickly as we are able.
§ Lord Maginnis of Drumglass
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for bringing the Statement to this House.
§ Lord Maginnis of Drumglass
To be brief, I associate myself with the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, both in terms of his gratitude and that of your Lordships' House to all our servicemen who have contributed to the success of this campaign and also in terms of his criticism of the BBC. I was one of the first in your Lordships' House to suggest a wooden spoon for the BBC.
However, I think your Lordships will agree that there are lessons to be learned from this campaign. One of those must be that economic boycotts do nothing to hinder evil regimes. Those economic boycotts that we saw in the case of Iraq did little other than handicap the most vulnerable within a regime such as that of Saddam Hussein.
Have we now learned that we must first of all not rush to mend our bridges with France, which has supported the Saddam regime? In addition, we must look carefully at whether in fact the United Nations is properly geared—I use that word advisedly—to carry out those things that we expect from the United Nations, or whether in fact we need to reform, in terms of the year 2001, that which was put in place subsequent to 1945.
§ Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his remarks about our servicemen and women. I have stated my own position about the criticisms that have been made of journalistic coverage. At this stage, that is all I wish to say about that, except to pick up the point that the noble Baroness made about the Towards Freedom broadcasting. I was sorry to detect almost sniggering on the Liberal Democrat Benches about the broadcasting that is beginning. It is important to give the Iraqi people a view, for the first time, of what is happening in their own country and in the outside world which has not gone through the appalling filter of the Saddam Hussein regime. I do not understand why that was thought to be something that should have attracted wry smiles.
As regards Al-Jazeera, I am not in a position to give the noble Baroness any more information on that. We very much regret all civilian deaths which occurred during the conflict. We are investigating what happened to the Al-Jazeera building. I am still not in a position to give her any definitive news on that. Again, I hope that we can return to that matter. 383 As for the question of not rushing to mend our fences with France, the noble Lord said that it had supported the Saddam Hussein regime. That is going much too far. I must say to the noble Lord that we should not forget that France was with us over United Nations Security Council Resolution 1441. We all know that we had differences after that and what those differences were. But constantly to pick away at that wound will not help us to build a better future for Iraq. The role of our friends in France in doing that is an important one. It is a member of the P5. We shall need its support in any future United Nations Security Council resolutions, and I am afraid that we must work with them. For my part, I do not find that difficult. I understand that some of your Lordships do, but it is a matter of fact that working together will be essential if we are to do what we have all said is vitally necessary; that is, to build a brighter future for the people of Iraq.
§ Lord Maclennan of Rogart
My Lords, does the noble Baroness recognise that, as conquering powers, we cannot be perceived by everyone in the role of the agents of the international community, with the independence with which we might seek to judge our own actions? Does she also recognise that it is reasonable to be concerned that the revelation of weapons of mass destruction is indeed authenticated by an international inspection body, if that is possible? It would hugely support the understanding more generally of the reasons why we were supposed to have gone to war.
More particularly, can the noble Baroness say something more about the position of this Government with regard to Syria? Few things have been more menacing and troubling in the past few days than the utterances of Defense Secretary Rumsfeld on that subject. The Statement that she read out stated:As for Syria, we hope that it will now … make a decisive break with the policies of the past".It is only a matter of months since the President of Syria paid a state visit to this country and our Prime Minister visited Damascus. What is the implication of that statement today? Are we being caught up in the rhetoric—and perhaps worse—emanating from the American Administration about the future of their relations with Syria?
§ Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean
My Lords, I take issue with what the noble Lord said about our being a conquering power. I emphatically tell him that that is not how we have seen ourselves; that has not been said at any point by any of those in the coalition. We conceive our role as that of liberating powers. The noble Lord has only to look at the faces of the Iraqi people in Baghdad yesterday. They were not the faces of conquered people; they were the faces of liberated people who were themselves pulling down the statues of Saddam Hussein.
I turn to the question of the authentication of any weapons of mass destruction that may be found. I have not ruled out—no one would dream of doing anything 384 so silly—the authentication for which the noble Lord asked. What I said to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, was that it was quite possible, if any weapons of mass destruction are found, that they will be found by coalition forces. The fact that they had been found by them should not lead one then to say that there was somehow a doubt about the veracity of what they had found.
I fear that by pursuing their line, the Liberal Democrats may well argue themselves into the position, if weapons of mass destruction are found by the coalition forces, in which somehow the whole world will be able to say, "They were not real, because they were found by coalition forces". It is quite possible that they will be found by those forces, but the role of the United Nations in then inspecting what has been found has not been ruled out. It is a matter to be discussed with the UN and the forces on the ground.
I turn to the question of Syria. There is nothing sinister in the statement that has been made about Syria. There have been questions about Syria's attitude to Iraq. That is clear. Those statements have been made openly. We are concerned about Syria's attitude. We do not want succour to be given by the Syrians to the fallen regime of Saddam Hussein. That is the point at issue. But there is nothing sinister in our asking my honourable friend Mike O'Brien to go to Syria, as my right honourable friend has done. As the Statement makes clear, having such a dialogue with Syria is the sort of thing that we need to be doing. That is precisely what the Government are doing—nothing sinister, but sensible diplomacy.
§ Lord Lea of Crondall
My Lords, I want to raise a question that has not hitherto been appropriate. In the light of the looting, and so on, I have given notice to my noble friend of my question, which I raise on behalf of the All-Party Group on Archaeology. One dimension of winning hearts and minds among significant groups in Iraq is recognition of their pride in their history. The heritage of Iraq has considerable potential for the crucial task of forging national unity. All groups in Iraq share a common pride—a pride successfully exploited by Saddam Hussein.
For a number of reasons, it is desirable for any reconstruction plans to include some provision for safeguarding those sites.
§ Lord Lea of Crondall
Does my noble friend agree that the question of protecting archaeological sites against looting, borders and so on, should be given urgent attention now that the issue of policing is on the agenda? Would it be helpful if an Arab League country such as Tunisia was also involved in such a policing operation?
§ Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean
My Lords, that is a serious matter that the Government take seriously, but we must be careful. Military action in Iraq is not yet over. There may well be serious questions of security, not only in some of the outlying regions—we 385 have been discussing Kirkuk and other problems raised by your Lordships relating to different parts of Iraq—but there is obviously still fighting going on in Baghdad. That is an important issue, but we must take things carefully at present, not move to some of the points that, however important they may be, are not as important as safeguarding the lives of the people on the ground—our own servicemen and women and civilians.
However, we are considering how we can help the Iraqi people to preserve their archaeological heritage. We are in touch with archaeologists and other experts to discuss ways forward. I know that the matter concerns my noble friend. I have been trying to contact colleagues in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, who of course have the primary responsibility in that area. If I cannot find someone who can help the noble Lord immediately, I am willing to meet him and his colleagues who take an interest in the matter one day early next week.
§ Lord Mayhew of Twysden
My Lords, does the noble Baroness recognise that, by reason of the way in which, from the outset of this matter, she has shouldered her anxious responsibilities to the House, she has put us greatly in her debt?