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House of Lords

Wednesday, 22nd January 2003.

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

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Southwark.


Lord Roberts of Conwy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have plans for the ending of a possible war with Iraq.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Amos): My Lords, we have repeatedly made it clear that no decision to launch military action against Iraq has been taken, and military action is not inevitable. Our policy is to ensure that Iraq complies with its obligations and the relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions. UNSCR 1441 has served notice on the Iraqi regime that it must now give up its weapons of mass destruction or face serious consequences. Should military action become necessary, its precise objectives and endpoint would depend on the circumstances at the time.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Bearing in mind that the present threat of war is arguably the result of the premature ending of the first Gulf War which left Saddam in place, does the Minister agree that a clear statement of the aims and objectives should be made before our forces are committed to any substantial action? Is she aware that there is considerable confusion in the public mind as to the ultimate nature of those aims and objectives?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I repeat that no decision on military action has been taken. However, our aims and objectives are absolutely clear and have been set out in Security Council Resolution 1441—that is, disarmament.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the decision or recommendation of the inspectors to be given more time to complete their work is very relevant in respect of whether we proceed to military action? Does she also agree that the more optimistic views of the impact of any war on Iraq on the Palestinian-Israeli situation are not shared by Her Majesty's Government?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, of course the view of the inspectors would be important and relevant, and the Security Council will discuss their report on Monday. It is also important to remind the House that none of the resolutions is time limited. For example, monitoring does not stop if and when disarmament takes place. It would only stop if and when the UN

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decided that that should happen. A lot of focus has been put on the date of 27th January, but I remind the House that that is when the inspectors will report to the Security Council, which will then make a decision.

With respect to the impact on wider Middle East questions, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, knows the Government's view very well. We feel strongly that Iraq needs to be dealt with. We also feel strongly that issues related to the Middle East, the peace process and the situation between the Palestinians and Israel need to be sorted out, and we are working very hard to achieve that goal.

Lord Bridges: My Lords, the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, is extremely pertinent. It is of course right for the Minister to reply that the decision to embark on a war has not yet been taken. However, it is also necessary to think about the consequences of such a war and the means by which we might hope to pacify Iraq at the end of it, which is possibly even more difficult than the war itself.

Baroness Amos: My Lords, my noble friend Lady Symons dealt with this the last time she answered a Question on Iraq. If there were a war there would of course be serious humanitarian consequences and serious consequences for the infrastructure of Iraq. Those issues would need to be considered and addressed. Again, I repeat that no decision has been taken with respect to military action.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, irrespective of the consequences, in view of the Question asked by my noble friend, is it not right that the object of the exercise, if we have to go to war, is to destroy the weapons of mass destruction, one way or another, which have not been accounted for? We know they exist but, as yet, no explanation has been given as to where they are to be found.

Baroness Amos: My Lords, in answer to questions yesterday when I repeated the Statement on the UN, terrorism and Iraq, I made it clear that Iraq has obviously not declared everything to the UN because the inspectors have already found empty shellcases which were not declared. I repeat that our policy is to ensure that Iraq complies with its obligations under UN Security Council Resolution 1441. Ultimately, of course, the choice rests with Iraq. If it fails to comply, the Security Council will have to think carefully about the action that it wishes to take to secure compliance. Disarmament and compliance with Security Council Resolution 1441 remain our foremost policy objectives.

Lord Clark of Windermere: My Lords, although it is clearly right to go down the UN route, at the end of the day there are other difficulties. Can the Minister tell us about the difficulty of overflying the sites where there may be weapons of mass destruction?

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Baroness Amos: My Lords, I am unable to give that information, but I can tell the House that we and the United States have shared with the weapons inspectors the information that we feel that we can share to enable them to carry out their job effectively.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, returning to the Question of my noble friend Lord Roberts, did the Minister notice that American policymakers have again been emphasising that their aim and objective is the liberation of Iraq and removal of Saddam Hussein? Is that our objective and, if not, are there not some difficulties about planning a campaign in which our allies have one objective and we have another?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, my responsibility in this House is to answer for the policies of the United Kingdom Government and not for those of the United States Government. I have made the UK Government's position clear: we intend to go down the UN route. We have said that our policy is to ensure that Iraq complies with its obligations under UNSCR 1441. There will be a meeting of the Security Council on Monday, and the weapons inspectors will make their report. The Security Council will then make decisions with respect to the next step.

Works of Art: Funding for Purchases

2.44 p.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action they propose to take to preserve Britain's artistic heritage, in light of the conclusion of the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art that "through a lack of funding the system has failed totally to achieve its objective".

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the Government already enable heritage items to be saved for the nation by means of temporary export bars and the acceptance in lieu scheme. Under the scheme, our sponsored galleries acquired works with a tax value of almost 37 million in the past five years. Museums and galleries decide how much of their grant-in-aid to devote to acquisitions. They also use self-generated income, grants from the lottery and donations for purchases.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply and for information of which I was aware. Nevertheless, how does he account for the judgment, quoted in my Question, that the system is not working in spite of campaigns against the escalation of prices conducted by that admirable magazine, the Jackdaw, to which I hope all art-loving people subscribe? I have no interest to declare. Despite the admirable work of the National Art Collections Fund, the fact remains that prices have escalated beyond all bounds and the Government are unable to do anything about it. Have they no strategy to improve on that situation?

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Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the noble Lord will recognise that we have substantially increased the amount of money available to our museums and art galleries. It has gone up by 17 per cent since 1997–98. We are, of course, very concerned about our arts heritage.

The noble Lord has identified the issue. The escalation in values raises enormous problems for this country. For example, the Raphael "Madonna of the Pinks" is a great work of art that is the subject of discussion and an appeal by the National Gallery, which hopes that it can retain a painting that has been on its walls for several years. It has a market value of 35 million and a bid is in from the Getty Museum in California.

Lord Strabolgi: My Lords, when shall we see the report of the quinquennial review being undertaken by the department into the workings of the Waverley committee, its future policy and whether any changes need to be made?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, my noble friend is right in thinking that we need to keep the situation under constant review. We are aware of the difficulties. He will appreciate the fact that one of the oft-canvassed solutions to the issue—that we should ensure compulsory retention in this country for the Waverley list of exceptional items of national heritage—was considered in 1992 by the then Secretary of State, David Mellor, who considered, for very good reasons, such as the damage to the art market and the problems of enforcing such a concept, that it was not practicable. Therefore, we do not see it as a potential route forward.

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