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Earl Russell: My Lords, does the Minister agree that that the House is persuaded that there is a threat from Saddam Hussein, but there is no consensus in the House as to whether a military action against himeven a successful onewould make us, the Middle East, or the world any safer?
Lord Bach: My Lords, that is certainly one of the issues in front of the House. There are others as well. I shall proceed. Saddam Hussein's record since seizing power in Iraq in the late 1970s has been characterisedas has been said throughout the
In the wake of the Gulf War, a major international effort was launched to uncover and then destroy those WMD programmes. The sheer extent of the programmes and how close he came to developing the ultimate horrora useable nuclear weapondeeply shocked the international community. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay of Chiswick, asked how different the events of 199091 would have been if Saddam had completed his nuclear ambitions. We should ponder that when deciding what it is best to do next.
These facts have long been recognised by the United Nations and are graphically exposed in our dossier. I remind the House that since 1990 the Security Council has imposed nine resolutions involving 27 specific obligations. Their aim has been to expose the true dimensions of these programmes and to ensure that they are completely dismantled, yet Saddam has consistently prevaricated and made a mockery of international law. He has defied the United Nations and scorned diplomacy and seeks to rebuild his arsenal. He has broken 23 of the 27 obligations and ignored world opinion. What is more, he has harassed the inspectors, hampered their movements and eventually, in 1998, expelled them from Iraq, only one month after having promised them unconditional access.
I remind some noble Lords that of course we shall go down the United Nations inspection route, but we shall do so with our eyes wide open, never letting up the pressure on Iraq. That pressure must involve the possible use of force. The House has to come to terms with that.
The evidence published this morning leaves no doubt that Saddam is continuing to develop, conceal and protect his weapons of mass destruction programmes. The important point from the dossier is that he is still manufacturing chemical and biological weapons. He also retains a capability to deliver such weapons by missile and is seeking to enhance that capability. All that is contrary to UN resolutions. A judgment is made in the dossier that Iraq has military plans for use of the chemical and biological weapons, including against its own Shia population. That has not been said very much when the dossier has been quoted. It also makes the point that some of these weapons are deployable within 45 minutes of the order to use them.
Saddam's intention to acquire nuclear weapons remains undiminished. He has sought covertly to acquire technology and materials, including large quantities of uranium, and has taken care to retain and use the specialist expertise developed in his pre-1991 nuclear weapon programme.
There is also ample evidence in the dossier that the regime has used the experience of the previous UN weapons inspections in order better to conceal its current activities. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, quoted from paragraph 13 of the dossier. I am sure that he has read paragraph 14 as well. Paragraph 13 talks about inspection achievements, but paragraph 14 begins:
We cannot know all the details of how Saddam Hussein may lash out next time, but one thing is clear and I believe that the House is united upon it. Doing nothing now is just not an option. Saddam Hussein, armed with nuclear weapons, would be even more of a menace than he is to the international community, to its neighbours in the region and to the UK. It is a threat that will not go away. It is a regime that twice launched unprovoked and unjustified wars of aggression upon its neighbours.
We have long made clear our commitment in support of the United Nations to contain Saddam. For more than 10 years, the Royal Air Force has kept much of Iraq safe for its people through its humanitarian patrolling of the no-fly zones in Iraq. That is directly in support of UN Security Council resolutions. It has constrained Saddam from further repression of the Kurds and other minority groups in the North and the Shia in the South. Perhaps I may pay a compliment to the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson of Winterbourne, for the work she has done in this field and for the expertise with which she spoke about the tragedy that unfolded in the south of Iraq.
The Royal Navy has played its part, too, sailing with the international maritime force to enforce United Nations sanctions on Iraq. I myself have just returned from a short visit to the Gulf where I had the privilege of meeting some of the men and women on HMS "Argyll" and at the Ali Al-Salem airbase. It is right in a debate such as this that we pay tribute to the men and women of our Armed Forces who have placed themselvesand still do every dayin harm's way to carry out the vital endeavours.
What happens next? Many noble Lordsthe noble Lords, Lord Hurd, Lord Wright, Lord Campbell-Savours, Lord Grenfell, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, and othersasked what would happen after all this was over. As my noble friend Lady Symons made clear, there are questions that we honestly cannot yet answer fully. But I can assure all noble Lords that Her Majesty's Government are very aware of the peril of winning the war and losing the peace.
Obviously, in the end, the Government of Iraq must be a matter for the people of Iraq. I believe that Her Majesty's Government have good credentials on this issue. We have had some good precedents over the past few years. I mention Kosovo, East Timor and Sierra Leone. Despite all the criticisms that we have heard today, I also include Afghanistan. Obviously there will be more to come on that matter. I know that that is not a fully satisfactory answer to the questions that are posed but it is an issue that Her Majesty's Government are thinking about a great deal.
I assure the House that military action by ourselves or our allies is neither imminent nor inevitable. Members of this House know perhaps better than anyone else the tragic cost of war. Here, I pay tribute to the noble and gallant Lords, Lord Vincent, Lord Craig, Lord Inge, Lord Bramall and Lord Guthrie, all of whom took the trouble to speak today and are courteous enough to be here this evening. As always, they spoke with authority from their enormous military experience. We may well hear more from them in due course.
Of course, we would all agree that a diplomatic solution that fully satisfied our concerns would be the preferred outcome. We are doing everything in our power to achieve that. However, if diplomatic action does not succeed we must be prepared to take further steps. We in the Ministry of Defence will take prudent steps to ensure that our servicemen and women are ready, fully trained and fully equipped to undertake any task that their country may ask of them. We would not take such action lightly but nor will we shirk our international obligations.
Recent operations, from Sierra Leone to Afghanistan, have demonstrated that, as part of an international coalition, our military strength can provide regional stability, root out terrorism and give local people a chance to rebuild their nations and their
Noble Lords will remember hearing a long time ago nowthis morningmy noble and learned friend Lord Williams reading the Prime Minister's Statement. Towards the end of that Statement, he dealt with the Middle East peace process. Noble Lords also heard from my noble friend Lady Symons that the Foreign Secretary himself will in a few weeks visit that part of the world. The Government take that issue extremely seriously, as the Prime Minister's words show.
We continue to insist that all parties must abide by UN resolutions and that the road to peace begins with acceptance by all sides of UN Resolution 1402, which involves Israel's withdrawal from Palestinian towns, an effective ceasefire and the return to negotiations.
The noble Lord, Lord Hurd, asked about the elections in Palestine, the West Bank and Gaza. We support well-prepared and effective elections and we are urging the Palestinian Authority to set a realistic date for those elections and Israel to allow conditions suitable for them to take place. However, we must not let our concerns about the Middle East peace process cloud our determination to deal with Saddam Hussein. That point was not lost, frankly, on those in the region with whom I was fortunate enough to have discussions last week. We have heard a great deal about the street and about Arab sentiment; much of it, I am sure, is correct. However, my experience over the past week was that some distinction was made between those issues. I do not think that we should immediately assume that all Arab countries take precisely the view that those two issues are necessarily interlinked all the time.
Let us not forget that Saddam Hussein has murdered more Muslims and Arabs than perished in the four great wars that took place between Israel and the Arab states during the 20th century. It is only free from the danger that Saddam poses that the people of the region have a chance to build peace.
We have had a free and open debate. Saddam should not mistake such a debate for evidence of uncertainty on our part. We draw strength and unity from our democratic principlestyrants always misunderstand that. We must and we will face up to our responsibilities towards this appalling regime and the threat that it poses towards us and our allies. I conclude by thanking all noble Lords who have spoken, particularly the right reverend Prelates who spoke from the Bishops' Bench. I single out the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester for his fine contribution.
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