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Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I can confirm that the objective is to disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction. In the case of a material breach of UNSCR 1441, the matter would be referred immediately to the Security Council. At that point, there would be a discussion about the most suitable way forward. I hope that my noble friend will forgive me, but it is not possible to discuss at this juncture precisely what would happen next; that is to say, whether there would be a united determination on the part of the Security Council to go forward or whether there would be what has been termed a coalition of the willing to do so.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, will the Minister take her answer to the noble Lord, Lord Judd, one step further? In the event of an allegation of a material breach not made by UNMOVIC, who would be responsible for interpreting whether there had been a material breach? Does it depend on that statement coming, at least in the first instance, from the UNMOVIC inspectors?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, as regards who would be responsible for determining that material breach, operational paragraph 4 of resolution 1441 states that a material breach arises where there are,

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Of course it cannot give an exhaustive list of what amounts to a material breach. It would be a question of judgment at the time. The noble Baroness is quite right that it might be referred by the inspectorate. But, equally, it might be referred by a member of the United Nations Security Council. There would be an immediate meeting, when no doubt there would be a discussion about how serious such a breach was.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords—

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords—

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, I think the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, has given way twice already.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I am very much obliged. I hope my question is worthy of the privilege. Does the Minister agree that it is wholly inappropriate for this House to seek to advise Her Majesty's Government as to what they should do in wholly unpredictable circumstances? Does she agree that the essence of the problem is that these weapons of mass destruction, one way or another, shall be destroyed?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I have some sympathy with what the noble Lord said. Perhaps the words "wholly inappropriate" are a little sweeping. In a democracy such as we enjoy in this country, naturally Members of your Lordships' House will wish to discuss various eventualities. The noble Lord is absolutely right that the circumstances are unpredictable; we are unable to exhaust every possibility of what might arise. Therefore, tying the Government's hands completely in this respect only helps Saddam Hussein himself.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, perhaps I can ask yet another version of the question by the noble Lord, Lord Judd. If there is a material breach or non-compliance, or if Saddam Hussein lies, as is highly likely, does UN Resolution 1441 allow us to go to war thereafter or is a further resolution on top of a further meeting with the Security Council required before that procedure can take place?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, United Nations Security Council Resolution 1441 does not stipulate that there has to be a second Security Council resolution to authorise military action. Such a stipulation was never tabled as part of UNSCR 1441, which has enjoyed the unanimous support of the Security Council. My right honourable friend has made clear that the preference of the British Government in the event of a material breach is that there should be a second resolution. But we are not about rewriting UNSCR 1441. It says what it says, and it does not say that such a second resolution would be necessary.

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Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, does my noble friend wish to take this opportunity to express the Government's complete confidence in Mr Hans Blix and his team of inspectors? Does she agree that attempts in certain parts of the United States to undermine his authority are most unhelpful?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, Her Majesty's Government have complete confidence not only in Mr Hans Blix but also in Mr El Baradei, who also has a crucial role as part of the IAEA.

Air Traffic: Bilateral Agreements

2.46 p.m.

Lord Berkeley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Following the decision of the European Court of Justice on 8th November that bilateral agreements on air traffic between individual member states and the United States are illegal, what action they plan to take to support the European Commission in future negotiations on behalf of the European Union to ensure equitable rights for European Union registered airlines to operate to and within the United States.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the court found the UK's agreement with the United States to be in conflict with Community law only in so far as it favours UK airlines compared with other carriers. We expect existing arrangements to remain in force until a way forward is decided between member states and the Commission. Giving the Commission a mandate for negotiations with the United States is one option for consideration. We will consider carefully where the balance of UK interest lies.

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that full answer. In the meantime, while all this is being resolved, will he inform the House of the status of current negotiations between the UK and the United States, particularly in relation to cargo airlines? Will he confirm that US cargo airlines will not be given any fifth freedom rights to come into this country unless there is a reciprocal arrangement for UK cargo airlines in the United States?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the Government's position is that the United Kingdom will not agree any new bilaterals or amend existing bilaterals until the issue has been resolved between member states and the Commission.

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the Government's first priority in this matter must be the safeguarding of British commercial and passenger interests rather than the wider European interests, which do not always coincide?

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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I said in my first Answer that:

    "We will consider carefully where the balance of UK interest lies".

That does not mean necessarily that it might not lie in some European action.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, does my noble friend conclude that a battle between British interests and those of Europe is inevitable? What is the alternative? Can Britain go its own way?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I do not come to that conclusion. The matter is now with the Commission and it will be raised again at a meeting with transport Ministers at the end of next week. As I said, giving the Commission a mandate for negotiations is one option for consideration but it is not the only one. The continuation of bilaterals in an amended form is another option.

Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, will the noble Lord reflect further on his answer to the very important supplementary question from his noble friend Lord Berkeley. Can he, or can he not, give an assurance that no fifth freedom rights will be granted to US cargo carriers in the absence of any reciprocal rights from the US authorities for UK carriers?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I believe that the Answer that I gave was very precise. We are not proposing to agree new bilaterals or to amend existing ones. That is not to say that the existing Bermuda II agreement is perfect in every respect; that is far from being the case. However, we will not make any further changes until the issues that are the subject of the Question have been resolved.

Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, I may not have made myself clear. The applications concerned will be made within the context of the existing Bermuda agreements and we are asking for an assurance that no such further permits will be issued in light of the circumstances that I have described.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, they would involve amendments to the existing Bermuda II agreements, and no such amendments will be made.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, if the Government agree that the European Union would be good at running a common air traffic policy, would they be prepared to share with your Lordships' House the reasons why they believe that the corrupt and unsackable octopus in Brussels will be any better at running this common policy than it has been at running all of the other common European policies?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, stripped of the rhetoric, the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, asks for an assurance that any policy decisions that we make will be shared with Parliament. He can have that assurance.

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