HL Deb 14 May 2003 vol 648 cc237-9

3 p.m.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

asked Her Majesty's Government:

To whom the British members of the Iraq Survey Group are responsible.

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

My Lords, the Iraq Survey Group is not yet fully operational. Precise terms of reference for any United Kingdom contribution are still being developed, but it is likely that they will be similar to the arrangements for other UK personnel in the coalition; namely, that United Kingdom personnel assigned to the Iraq Survey Group would be under operational command of the UK Chief of Joint Operations and under tactical control of the US Commander of the Iraq Survey Group.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that informative reply, and for confirming that the Iraq Survey Group is necessarily an American-led group, which will be searching for evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Does he accept that questions of trust and transparency are now extremely important in that search, and that British participation in an American-led group that is not more widely accountable will not build the trust necessary so that, if and when weapons of mass destruction are found, they are found in circumstances that the whole world will accept? Does he accept that the United Nations ought to play a vital role in that, as well as in other aspects of reconstructing Iraq?

Lord Bach

My Lords, we certainly appreciate the need for credible, independent validation of evidence of Saddam's programme to develop weapons of mass destruction. The United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspections Commission and the International Atomic Energy Agency could be a means to provide such validation. We are in the process of discussing independent verification with our coalition partners and with the international community. Ultimately, decisions on the future role of the UN in Iraq will be for the international community, not just for the United Kingdom.

I should add that the Iraq Survey Group will not just be looking for weapons of mass destruction; it will also be unearthing other matters—investigating possible war crimes and support by the regime for terrorism. It will be looking for the black side of the Iraqi apparatus.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean

My Lords, given that the objective of the war was to prevent weapons of mass destruction falling into the hands of terrorists and other groups, and given that anything of any marketable value seems to have been looted during the immediate aftermath of the fall of Baghdad, what reassurance can the Minister give the House that those weapons of mass destruction have not found their way into the hands of the sort of people about whom we were concerned when the war was initiated?

Lord Bach

My Lords, we are carefully considering the issue of looting that may or may not have taken place on such sites. Coalition forces have acted to secure such sites, both to preserve any evidence of illegal weapons programmes for subsequent investigation and to protect the Iraqi population from any hazardous substances that may be present. Bearing in mind the evil of the regime that has been toppled, about which we hear more every day. I cannot give any guarantee that, in the last analysis, it did not do the sort of thing that the noble Lord suggests. We are determined, for the sake of the Iraqi people and of the world, to ensure that we discover any weapons of mass destruction that are still present.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, will my noble friend take steps to protect the hitherto accurate papers that have been produced on various subjects, and to ensure that the publications that the Government have produced concerning weapons of mass destruction are corrected, because most of those so far issued by Her Majesty's Government have been grossly inaccurate?

Lord Bach

My Lords, I cannot agree with my noble friend about that. We always take great pains to ensure that what we say is accurate. Frankly, there can be no doubt that Saddam's regime continued to develop weapons of mass destruction in breach of UN resolutions and that evidence of those programmes will be found. In the United Nations the Security Council itself was convinced of that fact last November, when it passed Resolution 1441, unanimously agreeing that Iraq, because of its possession of weapons of mass destruction, was a threat to international peace and security.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, will the Minister say more about the wider remit that he mentioned? In particular, will a survey be conducted of the huge number of people who were internally displaced or sent into exile by the Iraqi regime? Should we not be systematically recording the names and former addresses of those persons so that they can, if possible, reclaim their property under a legal system?

Lord Bach

My Lords, I can tell the House the proposed mission of the survey group. It is to coordinate and conduct intelligence exploitation throughout Iraq; to locate, disable and eliminate Iraqi weapons of mass destruction production and storage facilities and materials; to complete the removal of the Iraqi regime and enable the prosecution of war crimes and crimes against humanity; to determine the status of Kuwaiti prisoners of war, which has been a running sore, to put it mildly, since the first Gulf War—and, of course, the American Captain Speicher, who was captured during that first war; and to remove the threat from Iraqi WMD and assist the global war on terrorism. Those are its draft functions, which are much wider than merely looking for weapons of mass destruction, important though that is.

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, will the survey group play any part in investigating the killing fields that have in the past two or three days been revealed outside south Baghdad, to bring home to the wider world that we are dealing not just with an Iraqi dictator but someone who seemed to engage in the practices of Pol Pot?

Lord Bach

My Lords, I cannot say for sure whether the Iraq Survey Group will do that or not, but I expect that that will be very much a part of considering the black arts of that ghastly regime. I must agree with the noble Lord when he says that what has already emerged—without the Iraq Survey Group—is so shocking that those who took the view that somehow or other the conflict was not justified may be carefully thinking about what they said at the time.