HL Deb 21 January 2003 vol 643 cc564-75

3.18 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Amos)

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

"With permission, I should like to make a Statement on yesterday's ministerial meeting of the UN Security Council which had been called to discuss the international community's response to global terrorism. I have placed a copy of my speech to the Security Council in the Library of the House. After the formal meeting Security Council members discussed Iraq and North Korea in informal session.

"The focus of the Council's meeting was the work of its Counter-Terrorism Committee, established by United Nations Security Council Resolution 1373. This resolution was passed in the wake of the 11th September atrocity and for the first time imposed a legal obligation on all countries to end safe havens for terrorists and to stop terrorist financing. The committee has been chaired by our own Ambassador to the UN, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, who yesterday received many tributes for his work. I know that the House will want to endorse those tributes which were fully deserved.

"Under the committee's programme, each country's progress in countering terrorism is actively being scrutinised. Where necessary, the committee is helping countries to improve their capacity to deal with terrorism.

"As we heard yesterday in New York, the vast majority of governments—about 180—are complying with the new obligations on them. But two—Liberia and, for very separate reasons, East Timor—have failed to respond at all and 13 are months behind. A deadline of 31st March has been set for compliance.

"Yesterday's meeting then discussed and unanimously agreed a new resolution on terrorism. The key elements include: the adoption of new measures to improve and reinforce the work of the counter-terrorism committee; a recognition that the fight against terrorism has to be linked to international action against the proliferation of conventional arms and weapons of mass destruction; and agreement that our struggle against terrorism is not biased against any religion, including Islam. People of all faiths and cultures have been the innocent victims of terrorist attacks, and people of every faith have a common interest in countering the global threat.

"In adopting the resolution, the Security Council recognised the dangerous connection between the terrorists who respect no rules, and rogue states who know no rules either. It is the leaders of such rogue states who set a deadly example and, through their illegal programmes to develop chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, provide a tempting arsenal for terrorists.

"Eight years ago, the world woke up to the nexus between terrorism and weapons of mass destruction when a sarin gas attack inflicted thousands of casualties in Tokyo. Since then, there has been abundant evidence that Al'Qaeda is a terrorist organisation trying to acquire and develop substances just as lethal, if not more so. There can be no doubt that Al'Qaeda would use them if it could.

"There are some who argue that the issue of proliferation is an unwelcome distraction from the campaign against terrorism. That view is profoundly misplaced. The global trade in technology related to weapons of mass destruction has never been more dangerous. North Korean missile exports undermine security in the Middle East. Illegal Iraqi imports of weapons-related technology flout UN sanctions, and are rearming a regime which has previously shown no restraint in using mustard gas and nerve agent to murder thousands of its own. It would be wildly irresponsible to assume that we can turn a blind eye to that trade on the presumption that lethal materials will not ultimately fall into the hands of terrorists. In today's climate, no responsible government could take such a risk with their citizens' lives.

"The two greatest threats facing Britain and its citizens in the next decade are terrorists and rogue states with weapons of mass destruction. The most dangerous terrorist organisation is Al'Qaeda. The most aggressive rogue state is Iraq.

"Since the adoption of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1441 in November, the choice for the Iraqi regime has been clear: resolve the 12-year stand-off with the United Nations peacefully through full co-operation with weapons inspectors; or face disarmament by force.

"Typically, Saddam Hussein's response so far has been characterised much more by deceit and delay than any interest in a peaceful outcome. The initial Iraqi declaration of WMD holdings, submitted to the United Nations on 7th December, contained stark omissions. Not least was its failure to explain what had happened to the large quantities of chemical and biological weapons material unaccounted for by UN inspectors in 1998, as set out in a report to the United Nations of more than 200 pages by UNSCOM in February 1999.

"Last week, United Nations inspectors discovered 12 chemical warheads, and a large quantity of hidden documents relating to a possible nuclear weapons programme, found within the area of a private house. Neither of those finds had been declared. Dr Hans Blix and Dr Mohammed El Baradei used their visit to Baghdad last weekend to set out their concerns about the lack of Iraqi co-operation, and to remind the regime of the 'serious consequences' of failure to abide by the terms of Security Council Resolution 1441.

"Next Monday, Dr Blix and Dr El Baradei will submit their progress report on the inspection process to the Security Council. I plainly cannot anticipate that report, but two things are clear. First, the international community must maintain the pressure on Saddam Hussein to end his games of hide and seek. Secondly, Iraq must provide fully active and positive compliance with all its international obligations. As my right honourable friend the Defence Secretary reminded the House yesterday in announcing further troop deployments to the Gulf, the lesson of the past four months is that diplomatic pressure will have no effect without the visible and credible threat of force.

"The terrorist threat to Britain and our citizens is real. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary is co-ordinating the most comprehensive security response our country has seen for many years.

"Our country can never become an island of security in the face of the global dangers of terrorism and rogue states. Just as we should redouble our efforts to enforce the law at home, so our interests demand that we are at the forefront of enforcing the law overseas.

"For too long, Iraq has flouted international legal obligations to disarm and has laughed in the face of the United Nations. Saddam still has a choice to comply. I hope very much that he does. But if he does not, those who are serious about a commitment to a global community based on the rule of law and the UN cannot afford to shrink from the challenge posed by Iraq".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.26 p.m.

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, I am sure that all noble Lords will be grateful to the noble Baroness for repeating the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary's Statement. Let me say straightaway that we welcome the new resolution on terrorism, and endorse all that has been said about the excellent work of Sir Jeremy Greenstock at the United Nations. I gladly reiterate our support for a credible and visible threat of military force. That means a threat that is indeed credible and demonstrates our up-to-the-minute preparedness to wage war if it should come to be necessary.

I am afraid that I have much less support to offer the Government when it comes to their and the Prime Minister's efforts to convince the public of the rightness of their cause. The opinion polls confirm that they are obviously not doing very well in those efforts, although we should never be guided by those and should seek to shape opinion. All along the Opposition have argued that, in presenting the case for force, if necessary, there was first an imperative need to identify clearly the British direct interests in ridding Iraq of weapons of mass destruction. Secondly, there was a need to convince people that attacking Iraq would make the world a safer place. Thirdly, it needs to be shown that Iraq and global terrorism are linked and feed off each other, and that Saddam Hussein is a lead contractor of terror. Fourthly, there is a need to show that the Iraq issue, far from distracting us from Palestine and other matters as some noble Lords understandably fear, opens the way for a Palestine settlement.

I happen to believe in the validity of all those propositions, but my belief does not derive from the words of Her Majesty's Government or the utterances made by the Prime Minister and others. On the contrary, until recently the Government repeatedly assured us that Iraq had nothing to do with global terrorism or the Al'Qaeda organisation. Actually, it is not an organisation at all; it is a movement, to which any fanatic in Kilburn or elsewhere can sign up.

What will the Government do to present a much more convincing case? We have heard many generalities about rogue states and terrorism, but they are frankly not enough. Are some killer facts about to be discovered by Mr Blix and his inspector colleagues, presumably with the guidance and help of the intelligence agencies? Is that the news to come? Is it judged that Saddam is already in material breach of paragraph 4 of Resolution 1441, with his unfortunate forgetfulness over chemical warhead containers?

What do the Government have to say about our EU partners such as France, whose Foreign Minister was reported this morning as saying: Nothing justifies encouraging military action"? I also refer to the even more outspoken view from Germany, which wants nothing to do with the threat of force and will not support any second resolution that is called for.

We are at a critical moment. If action is about to begin, we must know not only the full justification for war—that is essential—but also what is planned thereafter. Our American allies are being increasingly explicit about their plans to rid us of Saddam. They want regime change and to build a liberated Iraq in a transformed Middle East. While reiterating our support for the strategy, we are entitled at this stage at least to ask: what is the British contribution to this thinking, and is that our objective as well? We really are entitled to know.

3.30 p.m.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, in thanking the Minister for the Statement, I begin by pointing out that the Foreign Secretary's speech was not in the Library of this House when I asked for it 10 minutes before the Statement was delivered. I am grateful to the Library for finding me a copy on the Internet and for finding copies of other speeches made in the Security Council.

From these Benches, I express our acute disappointment at the Statement and the Foreign Secretary's speech in the Security Council—parts of it were illogical and ill founded. This meeting involved a review of the counter-terrorism committee, and did not deal with Iraq. As the Foreign Secretary has admitted several times, no evidence is yet available of a link between the Iraqi regime and Al'Qaeda. Perhaps the Minister can tell us whether some has arrived in the past few minutes. So far as we know, nothing has yet been discovered.

The Statement referred to the group that used sarin gas in Tokyo. That group had no connections with any sponsoring state. Terrorism is a wider phenomenon that is fed by ideological anti-modernism, political and religious fundamentalism and fears and anxieties that are projected on to outside powers. Counter-terrorism therefore requires a wide strategy that deals with the roots of those fears and anxieties, and does not feed them by action against states that is not fully justified by the legal approval of the international community.

In relation to rogue states, we should consider the fact that there are other states that perhaps appear to have a larger role in sponsoring intervention and interference in the affairs of other states; I refer to Libya, for example, and the apparent activities that it is sponsoring across west Africa. That is a much clearer case than either Iraq or North Korea.

I was rather shocked by the extent to which the Foreign Secretary used the term "rogue state" in his speech. I remind the Minister that the concept of a rogue state was invented by Colin Powell when he was chief of the American general staff as a justification in 1990–91 for maintaining a high level of conventional military spending and forces in the United States by identifying Iraq, Libya, Iran and Korea as threats that could be matched by conventional means. I also remind the Minister and Members of this House that weapons of mass destruction are not dependent on sponsoring states for their proliferation. As we have recently discovered in this country, it is possible to begin to make biological weapons of mass destruction in backstairs kitchens in London using instructions that one can get off the Internet.

On Iraq, the reference in the Foreign Secretary's speech to the failure of diplomatic means and to our patience running out would have been better made by President Bush than by our own Foreign Secretary; it is President Bush's patience that is running out. Diplomatic means have not yet failed In Iraq and they are being used, so far as we can see, relatively successfully in North Korea. There must be time for the inspectors to do their work. There are two aspects of compliance in Iraq: one is to make sure that the Iraqis comply with Resolution 1441 and the second is that our Government and others should give the inspectors full support in their work and not push them through.

I have read other speeches from yesterday's Security Council debate. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Howell, I found a good deal of sense in what the German Foreign Minister and the French Foreign Minister said. Joschka Fischer said: we … fear possible negative repercussions [of intervention in Iraq] for the joint fight against … murderous terrorism". So do I. His French counterpart added that: We should not take the risk to fuel terrorism". I hope that the Minister accepts that there is a risk that action in Iraq, if not very carefully justified, may fuel terrorism. There is a danger that Iraq is not only a distraction but might provoke, in the case of intervention, a surge of anti-Americanism and anti-westernism across the developing Muslim world, which would endanger Britain in its turn.

3.35 p.m.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that it is important that we work to shape public opinion; that is exactly what the Government have been doing. I do not agree with him that we have not made the case. There is a serious debate going on in this country and our citizens have expressed some concerns. That debate must continue and the Government will play their part in that.

The noble Lord referred to the importance of dealing with the issues in the Middle East peace process. Again, the Government have been actively involved in those discussions. As the noble Lord will know, there was a recent conference, chaired by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary, looking at the issue of Palestinian reform. We will continue to remain engaged.

It is important to clarify the position with respect to the points made by the noble Lords, Lord Howell and Lord Wallace of Saltaire, about the link between Iraq and terrorism. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary made it absolutely clear that we have no evidence to link Iraq with Al'Qaeda in the run-up to 11th September. However, there are clear links between Iraq and terrorism—there are many examples of that. It is important for that distinction to be well understood. On the emergence of any "killer facts" from Hans Blix and his team, we should await the outcome of the report of the inspectors to the Security Council, which will happen on Monday.

The noble Lord, Lord Howell, asked whether we thought that Iraq was already in material breach. UN Security Council Resolution 1441 contains two elements, the first of which is failure in terms of disclosure. We already have some evidence that Iraq has failed in that regard. The second element is failure to comply with the obligations of the resolution. It remains to be seen whether Iraq has failed with respect to the second element.

The noble Lord, Lord Howell, also asked about our EU partners and referred to Germany and France in particular. France is a member of the Security Council and is fully supportive of the UN resolution.

On the humanitarian situation, noble Lords will know that we have given a considerable amount to Iraq in terms of humanitarian assistance. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary had discussions with the UN Secretary-General yesterday about humanitarian assistance; such discussions will continue. I again make it absolutely clear to the House that our policy priority is disarmament with respect to weapons of mass destruction.

The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, raised the importance of giving the inspectors time to do their work. We have made it absolutely clear that the report that we will receive on Monday is part of a process. That report will be made to the Security Council and the Security Council will assess it and make a decision about the next steps. I cannot agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, that dealing with Iraq is a distraction. That country has consistently flouted UN Security Council resolutions. It must be dealt with if the will of the UN is to prevail.

3.40 p.m

Lord Carrington

My Lords, if nothing more incriminating is discovered by the inspectors by 27th January, which, I understand, is the important date, will the Government wish the inspectors to continue or not?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, we have made it absolutely clear that Monday's report is part of the process in which the inspectors are engaged. The inspectors have only recently reached full strength. It will be for the Security Council to discuss the content of the report and to make decisions on next steps.

Lord Wright of Richmond

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Howell, referred to the theory widely aired in the United States that an attack against Iraq would in some way ease the Palestinian problem. Does the Minister share that view? If so, can she explain why logically that might be the result? Secondly, can she tell us the view of the other participants in the recent London conference?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, there has been no decision to take military action in Iraq. That has been said a number of times in this House and in the other place. Therefore, the question being raised is entirely hypothetical.

The Lord Bishop of Guildford

My Lords, does the Minister accept that it is possible that the public have heard the Government's case very clearly but are not convinced? Therefore, if the Government and the United States are to win over public opinion, they need to put forward a far more substantial and evidenced argument. Does she accept that there is a widespread anxiety which may be misplaced but which needs to be addressed—that is, with all the troop movements taking place at present, people have a sense that we are being drawn inexorably into conflict? They do not believe that, unlike the Grand Old Duke of York, we shall quite so easily be able to march the troops up the hill and then turn them back again. Those anxieties are in the public mind.

Does she further accept that, with the level of power that the United States manifestly exercises in the international scene, people wonder why it is necessary to be drawn into military conflict in relation to issues such as this?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I repeat what I said earlier in answer to questions from the noble Lords, Lord Howell and Lord Wallace of Saltaire. The Government feel it is very important that we take the British public with us and we are engaged in a debate and a discussion on these issues. I believe that the polls show clearly that there is significant support for going down the UN route. Following that route remains the cornerstone of this Government's policy. But it is important that we remember that we would not have inspectors in Iraq if there had not been a visible and credible threat of force, which took us to the position of obtaining the UN resolution. It is most important that we remember that.

There are anxieties. No one wants us to go to war but, as my right honourable friend the Defence Secretary made clear in his Statement yesterday, no decision has been taken with regard to military action. However, we are well aware that our work in going down the diplomatic route must be matched by a visible and credible threat of force. That is the only thing that is moving us forward.

Lord Blaker

My Lords, with regard to Al'Qaeda and Iraq, does the noble Baroness recall that in a statement that he made to the Foreign Relations Committee of the United States Senate, Mr Richard Butler, the former head of UNSCOM who left Iraq in 1998 or 1999, said that members of Al'Qaeda had attended a terrorist training school in Iraq at a place called Salman Pak? If the Government agree with that statement, why have they never made more of it?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, again, I believe that our position has been made absolutely clear. We have certainly seen no evidence of a link between the Iraqi regime and Al'Qaeda. However, there is clear evidence of a link between the Iraqi regime and other forms of terrorism and other terrorist organisations. That is the Government's position and it is one that we have repeated on a number of occasions.

Lord Eden of Winton

My Lords, can the Minister say which countries provide the main source of finance for the terrorist movement and also for the strategic military ambitions of Iraq and North Korea? Are any efforts being made to curtail those sources of finance and, if so, with what success?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the noble Lord will know that in the wake of the 11th September atrocities the United Nations as a whole and the British Government as a member of the UN put in place far stronger legislation with respect to terrorist financing. I am happy to write to the noble Lord about the outcome of that process. It is part of the review in which the Counter-Terrorism Committee of the UN was engaged.

With regard to the other element of the noble Lord's question, I am not able to give that information. Some of it comes from intelligence sources which I cannot reveal. But the sources and the endgame of some of these rogue states are not always clear.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury

My Lords, is it not the case that the Prime Minister correctly diagnosed the situation that we are in as being a battle for hearts and minds? With regard to the state of public opinion in both this country and Europe, is it not fair to say that the majority of that public believes that "weapons of mass destruction" could be represented by the air force of the United States and by our own RAF if they were to proceed to an aerial bombardment of Iraq? That would have devastating humanitarian consequences and, in terms of the battle for hearts and minds, could have devastating consequences for the spread of the very terrorism which it is our avowed intent to combat. Consequent upon that, does the noble Baroness accept that any support by this country for a physical assault on Iraq which does not have the support of a second resolution of the United Nations cannot but be against our interests and against the war against terrorism?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, again, my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have made the Government's position clear. We have worked very hard in going down the UN route. We must ensure that the British public understand the arguments that we are making, the serious threat posed by weapons of mass destruction and the possible proliferation of those weapons. That would particularly be the case if those weapons were to get into the hands of terrorists and especially into the hands of Al'Qaeda.

These are arguments we have to make. It is clear that the British public support us going down the UN route. We shall continue to do that. We have worked extremely hard at that through diplomatic channels. We shall continue to give a great deal of priority to working in that way.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, is it the intention of the Prime Minister to address the nation and, if so, when?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, as my noble friend knows, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister addressed these issues in another place this morning in speaking to the Liaison Committee. I am sure that if he thought it appropriate, he would at that point make a statement to the nation.

Lord King of Bridgwater

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that, having been involved in the resolution more than 10 years ago which Saddam Hussein has continued to flout ever since, I strongly support the argument she put? Unless there is credible military force, there is not the slightest prospect of successful action in dealing with weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

If we are to maintain a credible military force, the other need is for strong public opinion in support of the action the Government are taking and of the United Nations. In that respect, is the noble Baroness aware that, in dealing with terrorism, it is important, first, to get right the balance between encouraging proper vigilance by the public and an undue sense of alarm? I am very concerned indeed at the suggestion made today, and which has also come from intelligence agencies, that there is a certainty of attack by Al'Qaeda. There is not such a certainty. We have substantial defences against such occurrences. I hope that people will recognise that. There is a need and a call for vigilance—not a call for panic—in this country at this time.

If this Statement is the Government's start on improving their presentation to the public, it is not sufficient for Iraq to win at hide-and-seek with the UN inspectors until 27th January. The inspectors have to report that they are genuinely satisfied that there has been total compliance by Saddam Hussein and a totally honest and palpably open presentation of Iraq's capabilities in that respect.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord King. The threat of visible and credible force has been an important element backing up our diplomatic efforts. I also agree that we need strong public opinion. I am encouraged by the fact that public opinion is supportive of action through the UN route. I also agree with the noble Lord about getting right the balance between proper vigilance and creating an undue sense of alarm.

This is where I disagree with the noble Lord. The Statement is clear, as I repeat, that the terrorist threat to Britain and our citizens is real. There is no reference to that threat coming from one particular group. The reference is to the fact that Britain cannot become an island of security in the face of the global dangers of terrorism and rogue states. That is a fact to which we must alert our public. I agree with the noble Lord that at the same time we have to ensure that there is not an undue sense of alarm. As someone who has been dealing, for example, with travel advice to the public, I am well aware of that.

Lord Richard

My Lords, do the Government still believe in the theory of strategic deterrence? It served us pretty well in Europe for 50 years. Does it not apply at all in the Middle East?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, there have been questions over our position on Israel and Palestine linked to our position on Iraq. I make clear that our prime aim with respect to Iraq is disarmament of weapons of mass destruction. As regards what is happening in the wider Middle East, again the Government's position is clear. Lasting security can be achieved only through a negotiated settlement. We want to see a state of Israel free from terror and a viable Palestinian state. Those are the planks of our policy and shall remain so.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, at the weekend the Foreign Secretary stated that his patience was running out. That was an unfortunate statement unless there was a terrible and imminent threat to this country. Is there such a terrible and imminent threat? If not, are not negotiation and patience far better than going to war in which many thousands of innocent people will be killed? Surely, we should heed the Churchill dictum that, "Jaw jaw is better than war war".

Baroness Amos

My Lords, negotiation and patience are critical. The UN has been negotiating and patient with Saddam Hussein for over 12 years. As noble Lords know, we are going down the route of negotiating with North Korea in the wake of disclosures from there. However, noble Lords should recall that the inspectors last had to leave Iraq because they were unable to carry out their functions effectively. We were able to secure their return to Iraq only because diplomatic efforts were backed up by the threat of force. Iraq is the one country which has consistently and repeatedly flouted many UN Security Council resolutions. Clearly, that is an issue which we must address.

Lord Roberts of Conwy

My Lords, Resolution 1441 refers to serious consequences for Iraq for failure to comply with the terms of the resolution. Those serious consequences are now being defined by the noble Baroness as disarmament by force. Will we not be in some difficulty if the inspectors give Iraq a clean bill of health on 27th January and pronounce that they have not discovered any traces of weapons of mass destruction?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I am not sure why the noble Lord thinks I said that the serious consequences would be disarmament by force. I said that we would not have got to where we are if our diplomatic efforts had not been backed up by a visible and credible threat of force. Our priority remains to go through the UN. The inspectors will make a report on Monday. The Security Council will assess that report and decide what next it wants to do.

Lord Rea

My Lords, I am not sure whether my noble friend has fully answered the point made by the noble Lords, Lord Wallace and Lord Phillips, that an attack on Iraq is likely to inflame and increase the danger of international terrorism rather than the reverse. It is likely to play into the hands of the terrorists, particularly if a just solution towards the Palestinian problem is not fully addressed. The conference in London last week was a paper exercise. Israel prevented the people who hold the power and influence in Palestine from attending.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I do not agree with my noble friend that last week's conference was a paper exercise. It was extremely worthwhile and decisions were taken about a next meeting.

Perhaps I have not made myself clear, but no decision has been taken regarding military action in Iraq. My noble friend says that an attack on Iraq will exacerbate problems and will make terrorism more problematic for us. I repeat: no decision has been taken to attack Iraq.

Back to