some default text...

Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the question of the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, brings me back to my hesitation a moment ago about using the word "linkages". The word has different meanings in different mouths. If one is implying that there was any linkage between Al'Qaeda and Iraq before the dreadful events of 11th September, I have not seen anything that would substantiate such a claim. However, I believe that there is some evidence that Iraq has given safe haven to a number of Al'Qaeda operatives. The noble Lord raised the question of the Al-Jazeera broadcast which we believe was made by Osama bin Laden. Colleagues have been studying the tapes and we believe that they are authentic. They appear to show that Osama bin Laden is trying to make common cause with Iraq very much along the lines of claiming that my enemy's enemy is my friend.

The noble Lord is also right in suggesting that mitigating against that are the descriptions about Iraq being, as Osama bin Laden described, "socialist" and "infidels" thereby making Iraq an apostate regime in the eyes of Al'Qaeda. We can analyse the tapes and what was said. That work is still being undertaken. I hope we will be able to discuss this more fully next week. I hope to give your Lordships a fuller analysis of what we believe the tapes to show.

13 Feb 2003 : Column 837

As regards the issue of the Quartet and the road map, it is a matter we are discussing with our allies in the United States. My right honourable friend Secretary of State Hoon has had conversations on his most recent visit to Washington about this issue. I do not believe that there is any doubt on either side of the Atlantic about the importance in its own right of taking forward the Middle East peace process, through the road map, and that it should have full prominence in our international discussions.

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, I join the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, in expressing the view that we should not go over the top about a 20 per cent increase in the range of the Iraqi missile system. We should not allow that to be spun out of control. In my view it is not credible to describe it as a major breach.

Would my noble friend recognise that if we are to keep up the pressure on the Iraqi regime and maintain the policy of brinkmanship so as to avoid a war and yet secure our objectives, we may have to proceed without the support of the Security Council? I perfectly understand if my noble friend wishes not to reply to that final question.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I agree that in all these matters it is extremely important not to go over the top. This issue is as deadly serious as it could possibly be. A decision to engage in military conflict is one of the worst that any government have to take. It is enormously important that if such a decision is taken it is done so on justifiable and proportionate grounds. Proportionality is enormously important in any such decision.

In responding to what the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, said about the alleged increased range of about 20 per cent and about 30 kilometres, I recognise those figures from the previous dossier. I also said to the noble Lord that we would have to look at this very carefully in the light of what is said tomorrow, which is an enormously important day. We shall have two reports presented to the United Nations Security Council. All the foreign Ministers will be present. There will be a brief opening debate and then a fuller debate among the Ministers present.

As regards what my noble friend said about proceeding without the support of the United Nations Security Council, the fact is that my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary—indeed, all my right honourable friends—have stressed over and over again the importance of proceeding with such support if it is humanly possible. But we have also said that were it the case that a veto was used which stopped our having that support, and we felt that it was being exercised for unreasonable cause, as would have been the case, for example, over Kosovo, that might be grounds to proceed.

The fact that I say that in no way implies that we do not want a Security Council resolution. I do not believe that I can be clearer than that. I am making no more than the point made by the leader of the Liberal

13 Feb 2003 : Column 838

Democrats when he spoke on the Frost programme a week or so ago. It is exactly the same point. I do not believe that there is a material difference between us on this point.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, perhaps the noble Baroness can help me. I am just old enough to remember Suez, unlike the noble Baroness; I am old enough to remember the Falklands, the Gulf War, Borneo and, possibly, Vietnam. In those cases there were at all times people who were very anti-war, but equally there were people who were very pro-war. At the moment I find it extremely difficult to find anyone outside who is in any way happy for the government line on this war.

Could it be that the Government have failed to show that there is a real threat? If there were, then what the French or the Chinese say does not matter to me because it is the duty of Her Majesty's Government to defend her subjects. It does not matter then about the French who sometimes remind me of what David Niven said of Errol Flynn, "You can always rely on Errol, he will always let you down". The case for showing a real threat exists has not been made by the Government.

Furthermore, the Al'Qaeda tape of the day before yesterday shows an unholy alliance. It is the fact that Osama bin Laden has come to the aid of Saddam Hussein—I know the morality of it is different—in the way in which Churchill came to the aid of Stalin. Churchill did not like Stalin and Al'Qaeda does not like Saddam Hussein. But they are put into the same basket by the outside pressure applied to Baghdad.

I really want to support the Government on this matter. I want to believe them to be right. But as yet they have not made the case that the threat is real and dangerous to Her Majesty's subjects.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I do remember Suez so I imagine that the noble Earl remembers it quite well! When the noble Earl says that many people are anti-war, my answer is that that is good. I am glad that the people of this country are anti-war, and it is right that people should be so. It would be a dreadful thing if we lived in a country which was pro-war. But I do not believe that there are many people in this country who do not believe that Saddam Hussein is an evil man, that he runs an evil and pernicious regime or that there is not a threat. The United Nations Security Council resolution has made that absolutely clear. Do not let us forget that the resolution was passed unanimously.

There is an alternative to war and that is what the British people are telling us. It is not we who need convincing on that point. There is an alternative to war, which is full co-operation from Iraq with the terms of Resolution 1441. The noble Earl talks of a failure to show that there is a real threat and then urges

13 Feb 2003 : Column 839

me to say that there is an unholy alliance between Al'Qaeda and Iraq, which comes back to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond.

I am not going to try to persuade your Lordships that we should forge ahead with military action on the basis of an alleged link between Al'Qaeda and Iraq unless I am sure that that is true. It would be entirely wrong if I were to do that: it would be outrageous for a Minister to do that. I believe that there is sufficient cause in the weapons of mass destruction; sufficient cause in what has been going on in the United Nations; sufficient cause in the material breaches that have been demonstrated already; sufficient cause in the lack of information coming out of Iraq; and sufficient cause in Iraq's lack of co-operation.

I agree that for many people it would bring the cause home even more if there were a demonstrable link between Al' Qaeda and Iraq—that is what were are examining at the moment—but if the noble Earl were to examine the text of Osama bin Laden's broadcast of 11th February he would notice that the position is not straightforward. He gave a confused exposition about relationships with the United States, with the apostate states, with the infidels, with the socialists. But I agree that he is talking about a common cause—and that is a very dangerous position for us to be in.

I was urged yesterday in your Lordships' House that the case was good enough without dollying it up with all kinds of extras. I put the point back to the noble Earl. The case is good enough as it stands. We have to proceed on the basis of what we know to be true, not on what might be convenient if it were to be true.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth: My Lords, is the Minister aware that everything she says underlines the fact that over the next few days and into next week the decisions taken at the United Nations will be critical as to whether the Iraq problem can be dealt with by peaceful means or by means of military action? Is she aware that the nation will not understand if both Houses of Parliament cannot make themselves available over the next week to deal with whatever decisions are taken at the United Nations before British troops may be sent into action in connection with those decisions?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am absolutely aware that the next few days may well be critical. They may not be, but that depends on what comes out of the United Nations tomorrow and how it is judged by Ministers on the United Nations Security Council. I remind the noble Lord that it is not only a question of what goes on in the United Nations; it is a question of what goes on in the EU next Monday when the heads of government meet, and a question of what happens over the course of the week-end in relation to NATO.

But, in all honesty, the Government's record on this issue has been very good over the past few weeks. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has been over to the United States, back to report to another place, back to the United States. He came in today to make a report to another place and goes back to the

13 Feb 2003 : Column 840

United Nations tomorrow. He has been assiduous in keeping everyone up to date. We should remember the Government's previous record on urgent international matters. Whenever such matters have demanded the attention of both Houses of Parliament, the Government have never failed to do their duty of ensuring that opportunities are properly offered to discuss them.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page