HL Deb 13 February 2003 vol 644 cc827-41

3.53 p.m.

The Minister for Trade (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)

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

"The Security Council will meet in New York tomorrow to hear the latest reports from the executive chairman of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspections Commission, Dr Hans Blix, and the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Dr Mohammed El Baradei. I will be joining my fellow Foreign Ministers for that meeting.

"Security Council Resolution 1441, agreed three months ago, placed the onus squarely on Iraq to co-operate fully and actively with UN inspectors in the disarmament of its weapons of mass destruction. It gave Iraq a final warning: comply with the UN's terms immediately or face 'serious consequences'. European Union Foreign Ministers expressed clear support for that goal last month, when they declared unanimously that, 'the Resolution gives an unambiguous message that the Iraqi Government has a final opportunity to resolve the crisis peacefully'. "Tomorrow's briefing will be the fourth update delivered by Dr Blix and Dr El Baradei. The comprehensive reports that they delivered on 27th January painted a disturbing picture. Most damning of all was Dr Blix's observation that Iraq: 'appears not to have come to a genuine acceptance—not even today—of the disarmament which was demanded of it and which it needs to carry out to win the confidence of the world'. Dr Blix concluded that the Iraqi declaration submitted on 7th December was, 'mostly a reprint of earlier documents', and did not, 'contain any new evidence that would eliminate' unresolved 'questions or reduce their number.' "The central premise of Iraq's so-called disclosure—that Iraq possesses no weapons of mass destruction—was a lie. Nor was there any admission of Iraq's extensive efforts to develop WMD since the final UNSCOM inspections in December 1998.

"Dr Blix and Dr El Baradei said that Iraq had failed to account for 6,500 bombs that could carry up to 1,000 tonnes of chemical agent, or for 8,500 litres of biological warfare agent and a large amount of growth media that could be used to produce about 5,000 litres of concentrated anthrax.

"Twelve chemical rocket warheads unearthed by UNMOVIC inspectors were potentially, in Dr Blix's words, 'the tip of a submerged iceberg'. "Iraq had failed to disclose 3,000 pages of documents relating to a nuclear weapons programme recently discovered in the grounds of the home of an Iraqi scientist. Despite repeated requests from UNMOVIC and the IAEA, all interviews with key Iraqi personnel were being conducted in the intimidating presence of official 'minders'. In contravention of UN resolutions, Iraq had developed missiles tested at ranges in excess of the 150 kilometre limit specified in UN resolutions. I remind the House that the Government drew attention to Iraqi work on such missiles in the dossier that we published last September. We need to hear what Dr Blix has to say on the subject tomorrow, but if media reports are correct, the Al Samoud missile programme is clearly a serious breach of Iraq's obligations. We should expect rapid action to eliminate any such illegal programme.

"In drafting Resolution 1441, Security Council members took pains to set two clear tests for a further material breach by Iraq: first, if Iraq made 'false statements' or 'omissions' in the declaration that it submitted on 7th December; secondly, if Iraq failed 'at any time to comply with, and co-operate fully in the implementation', of UNSCR 1441.

"The briefings by Dr Blix and Dr El Baradei—as well as that of Secretary Powell to the Security Council last week—leave no doubt that Iraq has failed to meet both tests. The conclusion is inescapable: Iraq is in further material breach of Resolution 1441. We shall take full account of the reports of the chief inspectors tomorrow.

"The prospect of military action causes obvious anxiety—as it should—here in the United Kingdom, among our allies and in the region. I still hope and pray for a peaceful outcome to the crisis. This will only be possible if we maintain unrelenting pressure on Saddam, including the threat of force, rather than casting around for excuses to delay.

"We have only got this far in exposing the lies, deception and above all the danger from the Saddam regime by that pressure. For the international community now to lose its nerve would significantly undermine the authority of the United Nations and make the world a much more dangerous place as dictators got the message that international law was mere words.

"The Franco-German proposals announced this week to bolster the inspection regime will not deliver the assurance the world needs about Iraq's weapons. They are unrealistic and impractical. They shift the burden of proof from Iraq to the inspectors. And they send Saddam Hussein the signal that defiance pays. What is the point of sending three times as many inspectors for Saddam to deceive? As Dr Blix himself said on Monday, the principal problem is not the number of inspectors but rather the active co-operation of the Iraqi side, as we have said many times". "Iraq was found guilty in possession of WMD 12 years ago. The role of inspectors has always been to verify Iraqi compliance, not to engage in a 'game of catch as catch can', to use Dr Blix's terms.

"I am glad to see that other proposals attributed to the French and German Governments—such as the establishment of a No Fly Zone over the whole of Iraq, and the insertion of armed UN troops—have now been officially denied.

"Let me now turn to the position within NATO. Discussion began in the Alliance in mid-January of the need for contingency planning to cope with potential threats to the security of a NATO ally, Turkey, in the case of military action over Iraq. Sixteen NATO allies—including 14 European nations—all supported this entirely reasonable and responsible proposal simply to set in hand some military planning for very limited defensive mutual assistance. France, Belgium and Germany have resisted, on the grounds that a NATO decision on this very limited mutual assistance would somehow pre-empt any Security Council consideration of Iraq's further material breach. Faced with this deadlock, Turkey on 10th February requested consultations under Article 4 of the Washington Treaty. These discussions are continuing, with the United Kingdom fully supporting Lord Robertson's efforts to achieve consensus.

"But it is worth reminding the House that at the Prague Summit less than three months ago, NATO leaders pledged their full support for the implementation of UNSCR 1441 and their commitment to ensure full and immediate compliance by Iraq, without conditions or restrictions.

"Given the obvious risks, and the possibility that military action may prove necessary, we are keeping under very close review the safety and security of both visiting and resident British nationals in the Middle East. We make assessments on a case-by-case basis for each country in the region and will make announcements as necessary.

"Even at this late stage, armed intervention is not inevitable. A peaceful resolution of this crisis remains in Saddam Hussein's hands. Full Iraqi compliance with the terms of UNSCR 1441 will deliver the outcome the UK and the entire international community wish to see: an Iraq no longer posing a threat to its neighbours and the region.

"But in the absence of full compliance by Saddam Hussein, UN inspectors will not be able to fulfil their mandate to verify Iraqi disarmament. In this event, UNSCR 1441 warns Iraq to expect 'serious consequences'. By now even Saddam Hussein can be under no illusions that this means disarmament by force".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

4.4 p.m.

Lord King of Bridgwater

My Lords, in the absence in Japan of my noble friend Lord Howell, and of my noble friend Lady Rawlings, I thank the Minister for the Statement. No noble Lord is in any doubt about the gravity of the Statement. It has been made in advance of a very important report to the UN by Dr Blix, but it already contains a judgment and conclusion by Her Majesty's Government that there has been a further serious material breach; and the implications of that will be well recognised in your Lordships' House.

On a separate point, we on this side of the House strongly support the Government's position and that of the majority of countries in NATO. It is extremely important, at all times but at this time above all, for the unity which NATO has preserved over so many years to be sustained. We support the application of Turkey.

We would say this to our friends in the United States. While there is understandable anger and criticism—at this time of some difficulty for the United States the activities of France, Germany and Belgium may be singularly unwelcome—some of the language used and threats of retribution are not wise when there is a need for some calmness, rebuilding of bridges and unity. The current situation requires unity as we move forward. The Blix report will be made to the United Nations tomorrow. The spotlight will shift to the United Nations.

We endorse strongly the comments made about Resolution 1441. We recognise that Resolution 1441 is not a new invention of the United Nations. It is an extremely belated attempt at last to gain compliance with the undertaking that Saddam Hussein himself gave to achieve a ceasefire in what otherwise may have been a further crushing defeat. He gave solemn undertakings which he has singularly failed to observe. The reason that he was able not to observe them is that over that period the threat of a credible military force to make him appreciate that there was no alternative but to comply was unable to be sustained. If Resolution 1441 for the disarming of weapons of mass destruction and the observance of United Nations resolutions are to be successfully achieved, that threat of credible military force has to be sustained. While I hope that every noble Lord respects genuine, deeply-held moral convictions on these issues, the reality is that unless the threat of credible military force is sustained there will be a continuance and probably an acceleration of the programme for weapons of mass destruction and an even greater threat to that region.

It is said that the spotlight now moves to the United Nations. The Statement made no mention of any second resolution. Can the Minister say anything about the Government's position on that? Does the tone of the Statement imply that, as there has been further material breach and even Saddam Hussein could be in no doubt as to what Resolution 1441 meant, the Government believe that no further resolution is required?

Can the Minister comment on the somewhat strange statement which appears to have been made by the Secretary of State for International Development—and reported in another place—when asked about humanitarian aid in Iraq, that there will be no aid unless there is a second UN resolution? Is that the Government's position? I welcome anything that the noble Baroness can say about humanitarian aid. It is an important issue. Were the situation to move forward to military force—we would all regret that and hope it can be avoided—it is important to have confidence that the UN would be able to support a programme of humanitarian aid for those who might suffer, with an active programme of preparation for alternative arrangements in Iraq.

At present, there is welcome news that Mr Ariel Sharon has had talks with Mr Abu Ala from the Palestinian Authority. Will the Minister confirm our view that any action in and around the Middle East needs to go hand-in-hand with a revival of the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians, without which there will never be stability in the wider Arab world?

At this time, when the chances of avoiding conflict are critically dependent on the absolute conviction by Saddam Hussein that he faces military force unless he complies, it is vital that the United Nations speaks with a united voice and that there is seen to be clear will in this country by the Government, Parliament and the people in support of UNSCR 1441 and any action that may flow from it. We repeat the plea from this side of the House in respect of our concern to improve the presentation of the Government's policies. They are perfectly respectable policies but have not been adequately explained and have been tragically undermined by such issues as the issue of the dossier—which invited nothing but criticism at the time. Furthermore, we are concerned at the less than adequate and clear demonstration of some of the issues—for example, the link between Al'Qaeda and Iraq—to which obviously the Government have attached importance, but have lacked the ability to convey that conviction to the public. It is critically important that if our forces are asked to go forward—we hope that that will not happen, but if it does—they will go knowing that they have the support of their fellow countrymen.

We strongly support the Minister's final conclusion. The matter is now in the hands of Saddam. He lied before. He said that he did not have weapons of mass destruction. He had them and they were found. There are not many people who believe that there are not significant quantities of weapons of mass destruction still present in Iraq. It is not a question of hide-and-seek or 'catch as catch can', it is a question of total compliance with United Nations resolutions to make available, to indicate and to guide inspectors to the materials and to organise their destruction.

If that is done, war can be avoided. The only way in which that is likely to be achieved is if we show resolution and firmness at this time.

4.13 p.m.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, we also thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. However, we reiterate that while Statements—including regular Statements on what the Leader of the House described to the leader of my group as a very fast-moving situation—are welcome, your Lordships' House and another place need a full debate on the situation in order to give people from all sides the opportunity to state their views. We need a good, long debate.

It is most important that we wait for tomorrow's report. I heard very little that is new in the Statement. At present, inspections appear to be making rather good progress—that is what they are supposed to do. Can the Minister give us any information on how much extra range the Al Samoud missile has? My information is that it has now added a further 30 kilometres to its 150 kilometres. Whether that is a massive increase is something that one may want to question.

The pressure must be maintained. I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, said. However, we must also be concerned with the maintenance of the rules of international order. I reiterate what is said in the Statement regarding the concern that the authority of the United Nations must not be undermined because that would make the world a more dangerous place. The authority of the UN is already at risk in this situation from a number of possible sides.

On these Benches, our assessment as to what needs to be done is in line with a number of principles. We are concerned to disarm the regime—not to change the regime, unless that is a necessary consequence. Therefore, we support very much the implications of the final paragraphs. We are also concerned, unavoidably, that any intervention in Iraq—if it proved necessary—should not make the struggle with the threat of terrorism worse. It must be managed so as to alleviate the terrorist threat and not to provoke a further surge of terrorism.

We are also concerned that any intervention in Iraq or any attempt to disarm Iraq is about Iraq itself and should not be seen as part of a larger plan—as too many people in Washington are already saying to—remodel the whole of the Middle East. So far as possible, Britain should maintain co-operation with its European partners. I agree strongly with the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord King, concerning the unhelpfulness of the current very aggressive anti-French rhetoric being heard from the United States. The fact that we are also hearing it on British radio and television does not help to swing the British public in support of American motives.

On the question of Turkey, I should like to ask the Minister specifically whether she is confident that the Turkish Government put in their own request. My understanding is that this was an American request to provide forces to support Turkey. It was only on 10th February, under American pressure, that the Turkish Government formally asked for support. I note that on 11th February, the Turkish Prime Minister said that Turkey does not need these extra forces. He said: Turkish Armed Forces is already very strong. There is not a need for this". On Turkish television yesterday, Mr Erdogan, the leader of the AK Party said: Turkey is beside neither U.S. President Bush nor Saddam in case of a war. We are only beside interests of Turkey. We support peace. We defend Turkey's interests in political means". I have some sympathy with the actions that the French, the Germans and the Belgians have taken—though not the way in which they have done it—in that their argument is that the United States was using this to try to bounce NATO into accepting the logic of preparations for war. We do not yet accept that there is an unavoidable logic for war. I welcome the restatement in the Statement that the Government still believe war may be avoided.

I urge the Government to provide accurate information for a mature democracy. Misleading representations do not help. The phrase in the Statement about the Iraqi report including a reprint of earlier documents could also be applied to some of the things which the British Government have provided, but which have not helped to sway public opinion.

We need a debate in both Houses before a second UN resolution is agreed. If the Russian Duma can be allowed that, perhaps the British Parliament might be considered sufficiently part of a mature democracy to be allowed that too. The British people, as we all know from public opinion polls as well as from conversations, are not yet persuaded of the case for military intervention in Iraq. At present, a great many people in all parties and both Houses are not persuaded of the case for war.

It is a matter for concern that there are many within the Bush Administration who appear determined to go to war to remove the current Iraqi regime whether—the UN permits it or not—and to move on from there to reshape the Middle East as a whole. I ask for reassurance that Her Majesty's Government do not share that objective and will not follow the US Administration in such an enterprise without clear and decisive support, through the UN, through a second resolution.

I have one final question. We hear in the Washington debate various comments about planning for after the war. It is suggested that British troops will be used mainly to mop up and occupy afterwards. I trust that this will not mean—as has often been stated in Washington op-ed columns—that the Americans do the fighting and the Europeans do the washing-up. Is it intended that the British will be washing up?

4.20 p.m.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I thank both noble Lords for their broad welcome for my right honourable friend's Statement. In particular, I welcome the noble Lord, Lord King, to his job of substituting, which he did so ably today.

The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, asked about a debate on Iraq. I understand that conversations are taking place in the usual channels at present. I hope that we will manage to resolve them successfully and reach a mutually agreed understanding on when a debate will take place.

The noble Lord, Lord King, said that the tone of the Statement suggested that we had already made up our minds that there was a further breach. That is true. The Statement says it quite clearly; but it is based on what Dr Blix and Dr El Baradei were able to report in January on the questions that had remained unanswered by the Iraqi regime in the document that they submitted to the United Nations in December, and on what was described as Iraq's lack of active co-operation in their dealings with the United Nations inspectors. There are around 20,000 security and intelligence personnel in Iraq, and only just over 100 United Nations inspectors to cover a country the size of France. It is not the inspectors' job to run around to try to find the evidence that Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction. It is the job of the Iraqi regime to show the inspectors that that is the case. Sometimes the failure of some of our international partners to grasp that essential point about what the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1441 says has led to some of the misunderstandings in recent days.

On what is happening in NATO, it is bound by solemn undertakings of the partners. We believe that the request made by Turkey is in its interests and those of NATO. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, suggested that possibly it was not a request by Turkey, and that some of the recent statements from Turkey indicate that it can manage nicely on its own. I suggest to the noble Lord that one should be careful about some public statements. Many of our friends near the region have difficultly nuanced positions. From my own recent trip to Saudi Arabia and Egypt, I know that there is sometimes much difficulty in people explaining in public what they can say to us in private. I had understood that the position of the noble Lord's right honourable friends in another place placed a rather different emphasis on what has happened regarding NATO.

Meetings are continuing in NATO to try to resolve the issue. Our permanent representative, Sir Emyr Jones Parry, will be representing the United Kingdom. The work will continue throughout the weekend. The permanent representatives are meeting both in the morning and the afternoon. Sixteen countries agree on the position; three do not. As the noble Lord, Lord King, said, and the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, agreed, it is very important that we lower the temperature of the rhetoric on both sides of the Atlantic. It is not just those on one side of the Atlantic who have made statements that have made others concerned. The rhetoric in both directions should now be one of much more studied discussion about how the issue can successfully be resolved.

I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord King, says about the importance of credible military force to back up the position on UNSCR 1441. If credible military force is not maintained, it will undermine the authority of the United Nations, and. as the noble Lord, Lord King, rightly said, it will increase the threat from the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Since we passed Resolution 1441, it has always been our view that a second resolution is desirable. That is the position of our allies throughout. We will examine whether, and in what light, we can take forward our desire for a second resolution in the light of the statements tomorrow. My right honourable friend's Statement did not dwell on the matter, because we thought that it was right to listen to what Dr Blix and Dr El Baradei say to the United Nations tomorrow on whether they have further information to help resolve how the second resolution might be taken forward.

We hope to hear more about the Al-Samoud missile in tomorrow's statements in the United Nations. But, as my right honourable friend's Statement made clear, we raised questions about the al-Samoud missile in our dossier put forward in September. The noble Lord is right that the range then was said to be around 180 kilometres, 30 over the United Nations specification. But we will want to look carefully at the outcome of the inspectors' own view on that missile. I understand that a team of international experts is also looking at the point.

We have been discussing aid. We are in regular contact not only with our allies in the United States but with a range of UN humanitarian agencies. Everybody is making detailed contingency plans. We are confident that UN preparations are as good as they can be, given the risks and the uncertainties. We support a leading UN role in the response to any humanitarian crisis and thereafter. In response to the noble Lord's point on what he claimed my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development said, I have not seen those words. I wish to study them carefully before responding to the noble Lord, but I will do so in due course.

I agree with the noble Lord that any attempt to lower the temperature of the difficulties that prevail in the Middle East is to be much welcomed. We join the noble Lord in wishing that an outcome of any dialogue established will be an improvement of the security situation in that part of the world.

We shall discuss the links between Al'Qaeda and Iraq in more detail in the Question raised by the noble friend of the noble Lord, Lord King, to be discussed next week. The Government have said on several occasions that it is perfectly clear that Iraq has had considerable—I hesitate over the word "linkages" because it means different things to different people. It is clear that Iraq has given succour to different terrorist organisations, including Abu Nidal and others who have been espousing the cause of terrorism in the Middle East.

I do not think that anyone is in any doubt that it is up to Saddam Hussein now to prove to the world that he does not have those dreadful weapons; it is not up to the rest of the world to prove that he has.

4.28 p.m.

Lord Wright of Richmond

My Lords, perhaps I may press the Minister further on two points mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord King. The first, on which she touched at the end of her reply, is the alleged link between Saddam Hussein and Al'Qaeda. Does she agree that the broadcast on Al-Jazeera earlier this week tends to undermine claims that there are links between Saddam Hussein and Al'Qaeda, far from supporting them as alleged in Washington? Secondly, the noble Lord, Lord King, also referred to the importance of parallel progress on the Arab-Israel situation, which I endorse. What is the present state of play on the activities of the Quartet and the roadmap? What is Washington doing, if anything, to try to bring about further progress on the Palestinian problem?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the question of the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, brings me back to my hesitation a moment ago about using the word "linkages". The word has different meanings in different mouths. If one is implying that there was any linkage between Al'Qaeda and Iraq before the dreadful events of 11th September, I have not seen anything that would substantiate such a claim. However, I believe that there is some evidence that Iraq has given safe haven to a number of Al'Qaeda operatives. The noble Lord raised the question of the Al-Jazeera broadcast which we believe was made by Osama bin Laden. Colleagues have been studying the tapes and we believe that they are authentic. They appear to show that Osama bin Laden is trying to make common cause with Iraq very much along the lines of claiming that my enemy's enemy is my friend.

The noble Lord is also right in suggesting that mitigating against that are the descriptions about Iraq being, as Osama bin Laden described, "socialist" and "infidels" thereby making Iraq an apostate regime in the eyes of Al'Qaeda. We can analyse the tapes and what was said. That work is still being undertaken. I hope we will be able to discuss this more fully next week. I hope to give your Lordships a fuller analysis of what we believe the tapes to show.

As regards the issue of the Quartet and the road map, it is a matter we are discussing with our allies in the United States. My right honourable friend Secretary of State Hoon has had conversations on his most recent visit to Washington about this issue. I do not believe that there is any doubt on either side of the Atlantic about the importance in its own right of taking forward the Middle East peace process, through the road map, and that it should have full prominence in our international discussions.

Lord Campbell-Savours

My Lords, I join the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, in expressing the view that we should not go over the top about a 20 per cent increase in the range of the Iraqi missile system. We should not allow that to be spun out of control. In my view it is not credible to describe it as a major breach.

Would my noble friend recognise that if we are to keep up the pressure on the Iraqi regime and maintain the policy of brinkmanship so as to avoid a war and yet secure our objectives, we may have to proceed without the support of the Security Council? I perfectly understand if my noble friend wishes not to reply to that final question.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I agree that in all these matters it is extremely important not to go over the top. This issue is as deadly serious as it could possibly be. A decision to engage in military conflict is one of the worst that any government have to take. It is enormously important that if such a decision is taken it is done so on justifiable and proportionate grounds. Proportionality is enormously important in any such decision.

In responding to what the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, said about the alleged increased range of about 20 per cent and about 30 kilometres, I recognise those figures from the previous dossier. I also said to the noble Lord that we would have to look at this very carefully in the light of what is said tomorrow, which is an enormously important day. We shall have two reports presented to the United Nations Security Council. All the foreign Ministers will be present. There will be a brief opening debate and then a fuller debate among the Ministers present.

As regards what my noble friend said about proceeding without the support of the United Nations Security Council, the fact is that my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary—indeed, all my right honourable friends—have stressed over and over again the importance of proceeding with such support if it is humanly possible. But we have also said that were it the case that a veto was used which stopped our having that support, and we felt that it was being exercised for unreasonable cause, as would have been the case, for example, over Kosovo, that might be grounds to proceed.

The fact that I say that in no way implies that we do not want a Security Council resolution. I do not believe that I can be clearer than that. I am making no more than the point made by the leader of the Liberal Democrats when he spoke on the Frost programme a week or so ago. It is exactly the same point. I do not believe that there is a material difference between us on this point.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, perhaps the noble Baroness can help me. I am just old enough to remember Suez, unlike the noble Baroness; I am old enough to remember the Falklands, the Gulf War, Borneo and, possibly, Vietnam. In those cases there were at all times people who were very anti-war, but equally there were people who were very pro-war. At the moment I find it extremely difficult to find anyone outside who is in any way happy for the government line on this war.

Could it be that the Government have failed to show that there is a real threat? If there were, then what the French or the Chinese say does not matter to me because it is the duty of Her Majesty's Government to defend her subjects. It does not matter then about the French who sometimes remind me of what David Niven said of Errol Flynn, "You can always rely on Errol, he will always let you down". The case for showing a real threat exists has not been made by the Government.

Furthermore, the Al'Qaeda tape of the day before yesterday shows an unholy alliance. It is the fact that Osama bin Laden has come to the aid of Saddam Hussein—I know the morality of it is different—in the way in which Churchill came to the aid of Stalin. Churchill did not like Stalin and Al'Qaeda does not like Saddam Hussein. But they are put into the same basket by the outside pressure applied to Baghdad.

I really want to support the Government on this matter. I want to believe them to be right. But as yet they have not made the case that the threat is real and dangerous to Her Majesty's subjects.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I do remember Suez so I imagine that the noble Earl remembers it quite well! When the noble Earl says that many people are anti-war, my answer is that that is good. I am glad that the people of this country are antiwar, and it is right that people should be so. It would be a dreadful thing if we lived in a country which was pro-war. But I do not believe that there are many people in this country who do not believe that Saddam Hussein is an evil man, that he runs an evil and pernicious regime or that there is not a threat. The United Nations Security Council resolution has made that absolutely clear. Do not let us forget that the resolution was passed unanimously.

There is an alternative to war and that is what the British people are telling us. It is not we who need convincing on that point. There is an alternative to war, which is full co-operation from Iraq with the terms of Resolution 1441. The noble Earl talks of a failure to show that there is a real threat and then urges me to say that there is an unholy alliance between Al'Qaeda and Iraq, which comes back to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond.

I am not going to try to persuade your Lordships that we should forge ahead with military action on the basis of an alleged link between Al'Qaeda and Iraq unless I am sure that that is true. It would be entirely wrong if I were to do that: it would be outrageous for a Minister to do that. I believe that there is sufficient cause in the weapons of mass destruction; sufficient cause in what has been going on in the United Nations; sufficient cause in the material breaches that have been demonstrated already; sufficient cause in the lack of information coming out of Iraq; and sufficient cause in Iraq's lack of co-operation.

I agree that for many people it would bring the cause home even more if there were a demonstrable link between Al' Qaeda and Iraq—that is what were are examining at the moment—but if the noble Earl were to examine the text of Osama bin Laden's broadcast of 11th February he would notice that the position is not straightforward. He gave a confused exposition about relationships with the United States, with the apostate states, with the infidels, with the socialists. But I agree that he is talking about a common cause—and that is a very dangerous position for us to be in.

I was urged yesterday in your Lordships' House that the case was good enough without dollying it up with all kinds of extras. I put the point back to the noble Earl. The case is good enough as it stands. We have to proceed on the basis of what we know to be true, not on what might be convenient if it were to be true.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth

My Lords, is the Minister aware that everything she says underlines the fact that over the next few days and into next week the decisions taken at the United Nations will be critical as to whether the Iraq problem can be dealt with by peaceful means or by means of military action? Is she aware that the nation will not understand if both Houses of Parliament cannot make themselves available over the next week to deal with whatever decisions are taken at the United Nations before British troops may be sent into action in connection with those decisions?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I am absolutely aware that the next few days may well be critical. They may not be, but that depends on what comes out of the United Nations tomorrow and how it is judged by Ministers on the United Nations Security Council. I remind the noble Lord that it is not only a question of what goes on in the United Nations; it is a question of what goes on in the EU next Monday when the heads of government meet, and a question of what happens over the course of the week-end in relation to NATO.

But, in all honesty, the Government's record on this issue has been very good over the past few weeks. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has been over to the United States, back to report to another place, back to the United States. He came in today to make a report to another place and goes back to the United Nations tomorrow. He has been assiduous in keeping everyone up to date. We should remember the Government's previous record on urgent international matters. Whenever such matters have demanded the attention of both Houses of Parliament, the Government have never failed to do their duty of ensuring that opportunities are properly offered to discuss them.

Lord Maginnis of Drumglass

My Lords, is it not unwise for Parliament to be preoccupied, almost as a matter of self-indulgence, with the technical issues while, outside Parliament, well-intentioned people are so ill-informed that they will be enticed onto the streets over the coming days and weeks to protest?

Is it not time that we spelt out the issues simply? Iraq was the country that attacked Iran; the country that invaded Kuwait; the country that killed off its own people, the Marsh Arabs and the Kurds. Those are the issues that preoccupied the United Nations when it brought forward Resolution 1441. It is important that our people recognise that the United Nations is the corporate voice of those nations which seek to safeguard world peace. That must not be reduced—as it appears France and Germany would have it reduced—to a role in which the United Nations becomes a dog with a loud bark and no bite.

Should not people be reminded that to abandon what the United Nations has already decided would be to abandon the world stage to despots, dictators and terrorists? Our country, along with America and other honourable countries, should lead the way towards ensuring that those evil influences do not dominate.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I hope that the Government do spell out the issues simply. Saddam Hussein does have forbidden weapons of mass destruction. He has lied about those weapons. He went on lying about them until his own son-in-law revealed to the world that weapons of mass destruction were being made in Iraq—and, as we all know, Saddam murdered his own son-in-law as a result. He then went on to use those weapons of mass destruction to murder his own people.

Saddam Hussein has a uniquely terrible record. He presides over a cruel and dreadful regime. Although I hesitate to go back to the document which was published on the security apparatus, I should point out that it lays out the most extraordinary series of organisations which protect each other in Iraq, with Saddam Hussein and his sons at the middle, looking out to the next grouping, which looks out to the next grouping, each one spying on the other. It is an extraordinary and pernicious regime.

It is not wrong to look at what the noble Lord describes as the "technical issues". When we talk about weapons of mass destruction, it is important that we understand what Saddam Hussein is doing; how much anthrax we believe he has got; how many chemical agents we believe he has got; what kinds of missiles could be used. These are absolutely vital issues.

The noble Lord referred to people being enticed on to the streets. Of course I regret that people are not persuaded, as yet, by the Government's arguments on these points, but I thank everything I believe in that I live in a country where people can go out on the streets and demonstrate against their government.

Lord Hardy of Wath

My Lords, does my noble friend accept that, although many people are opposed to the prospect of military action, many seem opposed to sanctions as well? Does my noble friend consider that those who are opposed to sanctions fully understand that, even with sanctions, large resources are available to feed and cure people in Iraq? Instead, Hussein has used his resources to maintain an army three or four times larger than he needs for defence purposes and to develop weaponry of the kind already referred to—that is, missiles with much larger measurements, and much longer and developing ranges, than the ones to which Iraq agreed eight years ago.

Does my noble friend consider that France, Germany and Belgium should ask themselves what kind of warhead could be put into these missiles of extending range? If they do not reconsider their position, they could well see the world enter a cycle of history which would take us back towards Abyssinia in 1936.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I agree with much of what my noble friend says about the way in which sanctions operate. Billions of dollars are available for the purchase of civilian goods and there is no reason for the Iraqi people to want, except for the Iraqi regime's callous decision to deny them relief for its own propaganda purposes.

Briefings by the World Health Organisation's sanctions committee only last year suggested that there had been an improvement in the quality of healthcare available to the Iraqi regime. Meanwhile the regime spends money, which should be for the health and welfare of people, on items such as chewing-gum machines, television sets, sunglasses, cigarettes and whisky. We have heard the list many times before in your Lordships' House.

Of course if people oppose sanctions on the one hand and military action on the other, they have to answer the question of what should be done about this regime. What should be done about a regime which has openly flouted—not only over the past few months, not only over recent years, but for 12 long years—the international community on matters where, through its resolutions under Chapter 7, the mandatory chapter in the United Nations, the international community has made it very clear that Iraq must divest itself of weapons of mass destruction or else face the consequences?