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House of Lords

Wednesday, 19th May 1999.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Carlisle.

The Lord Chancellor: Leave of Absence

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): My Lords, before the Business begins I take the opportunity to inform the House that I am to make an official visit to Rome where I will have meetings with members of the Italian Government and judiciary and will deliver a lecture at the Academia de Lyncei on Monday, 24th May, when the House will sit. Accordingly, I trust the House will grant me leave of absence.

Iraq: UN Reports on Disarmament Obligations

Lord Blaker asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have yet received the report of the panel set up by the United Nations to consider Iraq's programme for developing weapons of mass destruction; and, if so, what are the report's conclusions; and what is their response.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, I have arranged for copies of the reports by the three UN panels set up in January this year to be placed in the Library of the House. The disarmament report explicitly recognises that Iraq has not met its disarmament obligations and that important questions remain to be answered. This is a vindication of UNSCOM's position and of our own.

We believe that the Security Council should now move quickly to translate into action the work of all three UN panels. We and the Netherlands have circulated a draft resolution on which negotiations continue.

Lord Blaker: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that reply. Does she agree that in the absence of any inspection on the ground for a good many months now it is quite possible that President Saddam Hussein is turning his attention to rebuilding his stocks of weapons of mass destruction? If that happened, that would be a serious matter. Is the noble Baroness aware that I believe she will have the support of Parliament for every effort that the Government make to ensure that this important situation is not overlooked and to ensure that the Security Council proceeds as fast as possible to a satisfactory decision?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, of course it is important that there is monitoring on the

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ground, but that is not to say that alternative means of monitoring do not exist. I am sure that the House would not expect me to go into detail on those points but I assure the noble Lord that we are keeping an eye on what is happening. He is quite right that Iraq could regenerate chemical weapons within months and biological weapons within weeks. It could build more Scud missiles from scratch within a year and could begin to develop nuclear missiles. It is for that reason that the UN panel has stressed the importance of ensuring that there is a body that has the rights to monitor on the ground, a body which would have all UNSCOM's powers, its rights and responsibilities, but would also offer a fresh start and an opportunity for the remaining disarmament questions to be cleared up quickly.

I thank the noble Lord for his assurance that the Government will have the support of the House in pursuing this objective and we hope very much to gain maximum support from our colleagues in the United Nations in endeavouring to get agreement on the draft resolution that we and the Netherlands have put forward.

Lord Kennet: My Lords, since hostile military intrusion into the airspace of any country is not likely to make it more amenable to international inspection of its military programmes, can the noble Baroness remind the House--because all this has dropped out of sight in the press--how frequent have been the Anglo-American air patrols over northern and southern Iraq and how frequently they have bombed?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the no-fly zones were established in April 1991 in the north of Iraq and in August 1992 in the south of Iraq. I remind the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, that the coalition initiative was in support of the UNSCR 688 to end the brutal Iraqi repression of the Kurds and the Shias. They are justified under international law in response to a situation of overwhelming humanitarian necessity. UK and US aircraft have continued to enforce the no-fly zones as usual. When specifically threatened allied aircraft have responded as in the past in self-defence in a proportionate manner. If it were not for the threats to our aircraft, they would not have to retaliate in that way. We are, of course, concerned about any casualties that may result therefrom, but I stress to the noble Lord that our primary concern must be the safety of our air crews in carrying out their essential task which was sanctioned under international law.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, have the Government a settled view of the report of the humanitarian panel which suggested that sanctions might be eased and private investment allowed in Baghdad for oil exports?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the humanitarian panel notes that around 275 million dollars worth of medicines and medical supplies are still languishing in warehouses and awaiting distribution by the Iraqi Government. It recommends that the Government of Iraq do their utmost to ensure the timely

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distribution of humanitarian goods, in particular medical supplies, and clear the existing unjustifiable bottlenecks in warehouses at the moment.

Our resolution reflects our commitment to help the Iraqi people as much as possible and picks up most of the recommendations from the humanitarian panel. If implemented, it will bring an additional 470 million dollars into the oil for food programmes over a six-month period. I hope that that information gives the noble Lord not only an assurance about what the panel said but about the Government's reaction in our draft UNSCR.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, what progress has been made in setting up the new UN Commission on Investigation, Inspection and Monitoring, as recommended by the report of the UN panel, in order to continue UNSCOM's efforts to answer outstanding disarmament questions through a reinforced monitoring and verification system?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the report specifically endorses the intrusive inspection regimes provided for in earlier resolutions; it advocates a reinforced monitoring regime integrating the disarmament and monitoring functions; and it recognises that this will in some ways be more not less intrusive than the previous regime. It also provides a larger and better resourced organisation, reflecting the fact that Iraqi intransigence has made it necessary to introduce a more intrusive regime. The reports are under discussion at the moment. Not only have the United Kingdom and the Netherlands put forward a draft UNSCR but at least one other draft is being discussed at the moment. We very much hope that, through the discussions I have outlined to your Lordships, agreement can be reached on the setting up of the new body and the way in which it will operate.

Lord Gisborough: My Lords, as the only way the regime can be brought down is from within, how much information is being beamed down so that the inhabitants of Iraq know what is going on and know, for example, about the medical supplies in the warehouses?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, as the noble Lord rightly implies, getting information into Iraq is not an easy matter; it is an extremely repressive regime. We do all that we can to ensure that straight news reporting gets into Iraq as part of our efforts to ensure that there is a voice of opposition there. We have regular meetings at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office with representatives of the Iraqi opposition. The most recent meeting was on 2nd February with my late right honourable friend Mr. Derek Fatchett. The meetings have focused on key areas where we are looking to work with the opposition, including ways of articulating to the Iraqi people that there is an alternative if they choose one.

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Scientific Advisory Committees: Membership

2.44 p.m.

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their policy on the background of members appointed to expert scientific advisory committees.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville): My Lords, all appointments made by Ministers are governed by the overriding principle of selection based on merit. More specifically, the Chief Scientific Adviser's Guidelines on the Use of Scientific Advice in Policy Making require scientific advisory committees to include a wide range of scientific opinion of the highest calibre; the Nolan guidance makes clear the conduct of integrity and openness expected of committee members; and where scientific advisory committees are defined as advisory non-departmental public bodies, the Commissioner for Public Appointments' guidance applies.

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his reply. Is he aware that from previous questions I have established that there is a preponderance of links with industry among these key committees, in some cases amounting to more than 80 per cent of their membership? Will he ensure that his ministerial colleagues--notably in MAFF, health and the environment--are alive to the need to recruit from a wider culture of scientists and lay people?

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