HL Deb 01 November 2004 vol 666 cc1-4

Lord Redesdale asked Her Majesty's Government:

In the light of references in the Iraq Survey Group report to two vehicles found in Iraq suspected of being involved in the production of weapons of mass destruction, what were the components of British manufacture and the companies that produced them.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)

My Lords, the vehicles were carefully examined by the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), which concluded that it was not practicable to use them for the production of biological agents. Valves found in the vehicles had been supplied by a British company, but they could have had a number of applications in general-purpose machinery and were not subject to control under UN sanctions on Iraq.

Lord Redesdale

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her Answer. However, she completely failed to answer the Question, which clearly referred to the companies involved. This is not an abstract question: the companies that supplied those parts could be traced and we could find out whether those vehicles were part of the order supplied by Marconi.

If that is the case, it very difficult to understand how those vehicles could ever have been associated with the weapons of mass destruction programme. If that is so, there are very serious questions that must be asked of the Government about why, when I asked the question the first time, they used exemption from freedom of information as a reason for not giving me the answers. Can the Minister give the names of the companies and the parts' numbers?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, no, I cannot. I shall try to explain to the noble Lord. These vehicles were not part of the weapons of mass destruction programme. That is what the ISG concluded. The noble Lord will know that if he has read the report. We do not think that they are the same vehicles that were identified by Secretary of State Colin Powell in March 2003.

Although there has been no question of the parts having been exported to Iraq in breach of export controls, the MoD and the agencies have said that we should not name the companies publicly. That might lead to unfounded speculation that the company had been involved in the export of goods which had a WMD application. Such speculation would be damaging to the reputation of the company.

I know that the noble Lord has been worried about that, but he must read the report sensibly in order to understand that this has nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction, that the valves have nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction and that nothing in this will help him on his fishing expedition.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, in the circumstances as they exist today in Iraq, what is the conceivable constructive purpose of this Question?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, to be fair to him, has been fairly consistent in his questions about these two vehicles. The problem is that the two vehicles in the report are not the two vehicles that originally excited the noble Lord's attention.

Lord Campbell-Savours

My Lords, now that the Duelfer report, which was published last month in the United States, has revealed that anthrax supplied by the American Type Culture Collection Company was the exclusive strain used in the Iraqi biological weapons programme—strain No. 14578—is there not a basis now on which we can legitimately criticise the United States for its export policies during the 1980s?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, it would not be the first time that criticism has been made not only of the United States but also of many countries, including this country, about export policies in the 1980s. However, I remind my noble friend that this Question is about the ISG report on the production of weapons of mass destruction in relation to these particular vehicles. That is why I am answering the Question in that way.

The noble Lord may have some very relevant points about wider issues, including United States' exports. I am sure that those other issues—indeed, there are many more to be examined in depth in the ISG—would be a very satisfactory subject for further discussion.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, these mobile laboratories played a very large part in the evidence adduced for the run-up to the Iraqi war. In January 2003, President Bush in his State of the Union address directly referred to mobile weapons laboratories. The following month Colin Powell referred to mobile production facilities. Reference was further made both in the second dossier that the Government produced in September 2002 and in the Hutton report. The so-called mobile weapons laboratories have played a very central part.

As I understand it, the Minister has said that they were different vehicles. First, can she therefore point to why it was that my noble friend in his persistent questioning received no reply in answer to several questions on this issue? Secondly, what mobile laboratories had the Government in mind when they produced the evidence that they put in their own dossier in September 2002?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I shall have to check this out, but I think that what we had in mind was exactly what Secretary of State Colin Powell referred to in his evidence to the United Nations in 2003. However, the fact is that the two vehicles to which the noble Lord referred in his Question have been examined by the ISG. They are similar in design but they do not match the vehicles that were described by Secretary of State Powell.

These vehicles were subsequently discovered in northern Iraq shortly after the end of the conflict. They have been fully examined by coalition experts who concluded that their purpose was for the production of hydrogen to fill meteorological balloons. That is a very different point from that raised by the noble Lord in relation to weapons of mass destruction. If there is a point that he wants to go back on over those vehicles, I am afraid that he will have to readdress his Question.

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, as, in the Minister's own words, the ISG report raises many new issues and as, under the toxic and biological weapons convention, it has long been completely illegal to export any weapons or items connected with weapons of mass destruction anywhere—Iraq or anywhere else—can the Minister say whether, in the light of the ISG report, reports from the new Iraqi Government and the 12,000-page dossier from the old Iraqi Government before the invasion, there is any evidence that is leading to new proposed prosecutions or, indeed, announced prosecutions against any firms that may have indulged in those illegal activities?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, again, I am afraid that the noble Lord's point is well wide of the Question. This Question concerns vehicles that have nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction: neither the vehicles nor the valves within them; and there is no question of illegal export. That is why I have answered the Question in this way. There may well be other issues arising from the ISG on which I would welcome a further discussion. No one knows better than noble Lords on the Liberal Democrat Benches how much I enjoy our robust exchanges on these matters.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, do we know what has happened to the original vehicles to which Colin Powell referred? Have they been somehow lost in the interim? Where did the two different vehicles come from?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, oddly enough, in a country the size of Iraq I cannot help the noble Lord regarding the whereabouts of two particular vehicles. What I can help the noble Lord with is the two vehicles looked at by the ISG which, it concluded, were different from those referred to by Colin Powell.

Back to