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4.28 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat in the form of a Statement the Answer given by my right honourable friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary to a Private Notice Question asked in another place on Iraq. The Statement is as follows:

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My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

4.33 p.m.

Lord Moynihan: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her Statement. The Opposition remain resolutely supportive of the Government's objective to explore every possible diplomatic initiative available to resolve the current crisis. We continue to deplore Saddam Hussein's open flouting of the will of the international community through his now protracted refusal to comply with United Nations Security Council resolutions. One can only be suspicious that his prevarication masks his determination to move his arsenal of weapons of mass destruction to new sites, linked directly to impede the monitoring progress.

Our position remains as set out in your Lordships' House on an earlier occasion. If Saddam Hussein wants sanctions to be lifted, the key to achieving this lies in his own hands: full compliance with Security Council resolutions, including as a first step unrestricted and unconditional access for UNSCOM inspectors and an acceptance that it is for the chairman of UNSCOM to determine the composition of inspection teams, and not Saddam Hussein.

Equally, we on these Benches remain supportive of the Government's decision to keep open the military option should all these diplomatic efforts fail. We fully

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endorse the Government's decision not to speculate at this time of painstaking negotiation on the manifold military options available. If, however, force proves necessary, can the Minister give an assurance that clear objectives will be set and announced to the House at the appropriate time so that the many questions put to the Minister from noble Lords on all sides of this House are answered in full?

Can the Minister also inform the House about Britain's decision to draw up a new Security Council resolution to canvass support for the course of action being pursued by the United States and Britain? I was sorry to learn that this most important initiative was first announced to The Times and not to Parliament but, be that as it may, what are the objectives of this resolution? Will it focus exclusively on unrestricted access or will it be drafted wider to cover Saddam Hussein's breach of his international obligations?

Finally, given the terrible suffering imposed on the people of Iraq by Saddam Hussein, we welcome the proposal to improve and enhance the oil-for-food programme, because this can directly benefit the people and not the Government of Iraq. Can the Minister kindly enlarge on the details of these proposals, especially since the Government have announced today their support for them in this House? I reiterate our support for the Government in standing firm against the forces of tyranny and aggression. On behalf of the Opposition, I assure the Government of our continuing support for the actions they are taking to ensure that Iraq co-operates fully with the United Nations.

4.37 p.m.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, this is the second Statement on Iraq within the past few days and I suspect it will not be the last. We welcome the Government's willingness to keep both Houses informed of progress and to insist that diplomatic objectives and resources must be explored fully first but that force cannot be entirely ruled out and that all necessary measures have therefore to be pursued. We all accept that the problem of dealing with the Government of Iraq and the personality of Saddam Hussein, dominating as it is, is a very serious one.

We also accept that what is now taking place with the UNSCOM teams provides a precedent for what undoubtedly will be other inspections for biological and chemical weapons with particularly appalling international regimes. May I ask the Government to clarify a little more what the objectives of any limited use of force would be? I was rather concerned to see the American Secretary for Defence, Mr. Cohen, quoted in this morning's newspaper as saying that military action can provide no adequate substitute for having UN inspections scrutinising sites on the ground. The question of what the purposes of limited military force in Iraq might therefore be, how far that takes us and what potential escalation might be involved does therefore seem to be a very serious one.

Secondly, stressing that we are acting on behalf of the international community, may we be assured by the Government that our allies in the United Nations and

2 Feb 1998 : Column 458

particularly our allies in the European Union are being actively consulted as this progress goes on? Can the Minister also assure us that the UNSCOM teams which, as the Government have informed the House, have been rather overstaffed with British and American participants, will be clearly representative of that full international community?

Lastly, as Mrs. Albright herself recognised this weekend that actions by the United Nations towards Iraq and actions towards Israel are closely linked, and that indeed the threat which Iraq provides is also a threat to Israel, can we be assured that the British Government in these consultations are concerned to make sure that UN policy towards the Arab/Israeli dispute also leads to acceptance of UN resolutions as well as in the case of Iraq? Opinion in the Arab world is being exploited by Saddam Hussein. The perception within the Arab world that the Israeli Government are able to get away with not accepting UN resolutions whereas the Iraqi Government are expected to accept them all in full is one of the problems with which we have to deal. Diplomacy has to be concerned with restoring peace to the whole of the Middle East as well as to Iraq.

4.40 p.m.

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