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House of Lords

Tuesday, 8th January 2002.

Reassembling after the Christmas Recess, the House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Manchester.


Lord Blaker asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is the present state of their relations with Iraq.

The Minister for Trade (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, we have no diplomatic relations with Iraq. Iraq maintains an Interests Section at the Jordanian Embassy in London. British interests in Iraq are looked after by the Russian Embassy, although UK officials from the British Embassy in Oman periodically visit for routine administrative purposes. UK policy is to press for the implementation of all Security Council resolutions, including No. 1284 about weapons inspections and No. 1382 concerning the control of military and WMD-related goods to Iraq while liberalising trade.

Lord Blaker: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. As regards Iraq, should not our most important objective be to secure the return to Iraq of the United Nations inspectors who have not been in that country since 1998, during which time Saddam Hussein has no doubt been busy trying to build up his stocks of weapons of mass destruction?

On 1st January, the Foreign Secretary said:

    "There is a clear agenda for Iraq laid down in UN resolutions. We look to them to implement them".

In case Saddam Hussein is not swayed by that plea, are the Government examining other means of putting pressure on Iraq to secure the observance of the United Nations resolutions? Has the Prime Minister spoken to President Putin, for example, urging him to encourage Saddam Hussein to admit inspectors again, bearing in mind that Russia has been close to Iraq and is a member of the coalition against terrorism?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that one of the absolute priorities is to secure the return of the inspectors looking for weapons of mass destruction. We know that the UN weapons inspectors were unable to account for some 4,000 tonnes of so-called precursor chemicals used in the production of weapons; 610 tonnes of precursor chemicals used in the production of VX gas; and 31,000 chemical weapons munitions. So, yes, there is a great deal to look for, not to mention the fact that we know that Iraq has been doing its best to secure some nuclear weaponry as well.

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As I made clear in my initial Answer, we pursue the issue through pressing for the implementation of UNSCR 1284. I am pleased to say that meanwhile there has been unanimous agreement to press ahead with UNSCR 1382, which was passed at the end of November and which we hope will come into force at the end of May this year.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, will the Government take steps to ensure that sanctions are as closely targeted as possible on Saddam Hussein, his Ministers, his government and his associates? Secondly, will they try to ensure that the proportion of the oil-for-food money which is due to the Kurdish autonomous regions reaches there and is effectively spent?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, indeed. I should tell the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, that Security Council Resolution 1382 looks to implement what is called a "goods review list". That will change controls on Iraq from the current situation in which all exports to Iraq are prohibited unless specifically approved by the United Nations to one in which all goods are automatically allowed, except for the most focused list of goods in the GRL, which are those concerned with the production of weapons, including weapons of mass destruction.

It is important that money goes to where it is needed in Iraq. We believe that sanctions have been very important in securing that end and in denying to Saddam Hussein the ability to spend his oil revenues on whatever he pleases, including weapons. Instead, that money has been directed at food and humanitarian goods needed by the people of Iraq.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Washington Administration has had a number of contacts with the exiled Iraqi national congress? They have been controversial contacts, but they have been at a very high level. Have we had the same kind of contacts here in London, too?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, we have kept in contact with the opposition elements in Iraq. As the noble Lord will know, there has been considerable worry not only about the production of weapons of mass destruction but the humanitarian situation in Iraq and the denial of human rights and cruel punishments within Iraq. They have been the source of a great deal of anxiety for some time. Since the ghastly events of September 11th, the focus on international terrorism has increased. The noble Lord can rest assured that we are keeping in touch not only with those in Iraq who are able to tell us what is going on but also with our allies and their forces, which may be independent of ours.

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, is not the real reason why the rogue regime has been allowed to survive the fact that since the Iraqi war the democratic American Administration has allowed Iraq totally illegally to export oil to Turkey in the north by road and to Dubai in the south by barge? Is it not correct

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that the revenues from those illicit oil sales, about which the Americans were repeatedly told by many Members of Parliament visiting Washington, have funded that rogue regime throughout the period and that we now look to another Administration in America to sort the problem out once and for all?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, there have indeed been concerns about illicit trading to Turkey and other areas in the Gulf region, as the noble Lord knows. We in the United Kingdom have made representations to the governments concerned. I cannot comment in detail about what the noble Lord claims is complicit action on behalf of the United States. I have no knowledge that there has been specific complicit action in the way the noble Lord describes and, to be frank, I would be very surprised indeed if solid evidence to that effect could be produced.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that if Iraq persists in its refusal to allow the international community to monitor its programmes for the development and deployment of weapons of mass destruction, it would be entirely within the exclusive competence of the Security Council to decide what further measures would be required? Does she further agree that any individual action taken by particular members of the Security Council is to be wholly deplored?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the United Kingdom has made it clear that we would prefer to proceed through actions taken by the United Nations. That is why we undertook such an active role in pursuing United Nations Security Council Resolution 1284 in the first place and, indeed, why we have taken an equally active role in pursuing the latest UNSCR 1382. We very much hope that the resolution, which was unanimously agreed but with a forward date of 30th May, will be implemented. That resolution should demonstrate unequivocally that our argument is with a regime that wishes to secure weapons, in particular weapons of mass destruction, rather than with the people of Iraq who badly need food and medicines.

London Underground

2.43 p.m.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they expect to receive the report from Ernst & Young on the public private partnership plan for the London Underground and whether, in making their subsequent decision, they will have in mind the need for responsibilities to be clearly allocated.

The Minister of State, Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): My Lords, London Underground is carrying out a thorough evaluation of bids for the

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Tube modernisation contracts, considering all aspects of value for money. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions has taken on Ernst & Young to give him an independent opinion on the robustness of London Underground's conclusions. The Government will receive and publish Ernst & Young's report before any decisions are taken on whether to sign the contracts.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, can the noble and learned Lord give a categoric assurance that the Ernst & Young review of London Underground's assessment of the value-for-money aspects of its proposals under the PPP will, to quote the words of the Secretary of State, focus on the overall robustness of the conclusions reached? Is the noble and learned Lord aware of the anxiety that contacts—there will always be such contacts—between the Secretary of State or someone acting on his behalf and Ernst & Young may possibly have led to a diminution of that focus, from which could follow a review which would fall short of that which the Secretary of State has promised, and which users of the London Underground very much expect?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I believe that I can give such an assurance. The purpose of instructing Ernst & Young is so that the company can evaluate the robustness of the conclusions that London Underground and PricewaterhouseCoopers come to as regards the value-for-money aspects of the three PPP contracts. The evaluation made by Ernst & Young, which is to test the robustness of the conclusions reached by London Underground and PricewaterhouseCoopers, will be published before any final decision is taken. In answer to the specific question put to me by the noble Lord, yes, it will focus on the precise issue identified by the noble Lord and, furthermore, it will be made available before a final decision is reached.

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