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Business of the House: Debates, 18th and 19th March

8.41 p.m.

Lord Grocott: My Lords, with permission, I wish to make a brief Statement about future business.

Tomorrow, the House will meet at the usual time. After Starred Questions and the Report stage of the Public Service (Disruption) Bill—to which no amendments have been tabled—my noble and learned friend the Leader of the House will move a Motion to take note of the Government's policy towards Iraq.

A list of speakers is now open in the Government Whips' Office. It will remain open until noon tomorrow, as usual. We will not seek to proceed tomorrow with the Northern Ireland Assembly Elections Bill or the Regional Assemblies (Preparations) Bill.

If the House approves the Motion to be moved tomorrow, on Wednesday the first business after Questions will be the Second Reading of the Northern Ireland Assembly Elections Bill. The Public Bill Office will accept amendments from 10 a.m. tomorrow until 30 minutes after the end of the Second Reading debate on Wednesday. Then the House will proceed with the first of the two balloted debates, the remaining stages of the Bill, the second balloted debate and the Unstarred Question.

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8.42 p.m.

The Minister for Trade (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary. The Statement is as follows:

    "With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to make a Statement in respect of Iraq and the debate which will he held in this House tomorrow.

    "As the House will be aware, in the Azores yesterday my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, President Bush, Prime Minister Aznar of Spain and Prime Minister Barroso of Portugal called on all members of the Security Council to adopt a resolution—which would have been its 18th on Iraq—to challenge Saddam to take a strategic decision to disarm his country of his weapons of mass destruction as required by SCR 1441.

    "Such a resolution was never needed legally but we had a preference for it politically. There has been intense diplomatic activity over the past 24 hours to secure that end. Yesterday evening, our Ambassador to the United Nations, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, consulted his fellow permanent representatives from other Security Council member states. Only this morning, I spoke to my Spanish, American, Russian and Chinese counterparts.

    "Despite those final efforts, I regret to say that we have reluctantly concluded that a Security Council consensus on a new resolution would not be possible. On my instructions, Sir Jeremy Greenstock made a public announcement to that effect at about 3.15 p.m. UK time today.

    "What we know about the Iraqi regime's behaviour over many years is that there is the greatest chance of their finally responding to the obligations on them if they face a united Security Council. So, over the months since Resolution 1441 was unanimously adopted by the Security Council in early November, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and I and our ambassador to the United Nations have strained every nerve in search of the consensus that could finally persuade Iraq to provide the full and immediate co-operation demanded by the Security Council.

    "In all the discussions in the Security Council and outside, no one has claimed that Iraq is in compliance with the obligations placed upon it. Given that, it was my belief that, up to about a week ago, we were close to achieving the consensus that we sought on a further resolution.

    "Sadly, one country then ensured that the Security Council could not act. President Chirac's unequivocal announcement last Monday that France would veto a second resolution, 'whatever the circumstances', inevitably created a sense of futility in our negotiations. I deeply regret that France has put Security Council consensus beyond reach.

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    "The alternative proposals submitted by France, Germany and Russia for more time and more inspections carry no ultimatum and no threat of force. They do not implement Resolution 1441 but seek to rewrite it. To have adopted such proposals would have allowed Saddam to continue stringing out inspections indefinitely. He would rightly draw the lesson that the Security Council was not prepared to enforce the ultimatum which lies at the centre of Resolution 1441: that, in the event of non-compliance, Iraq should expect 'serious consequences'.

    "As a result of Saddam Hussein's persistent refusal to meet the UN's demands, and the inability of the Security Council to adopt a resolution, the Cabinet has decided to ask the House to endorse the United Kingdom's participation in military operations with the objective of ensuring the disarmament of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, and thereby the maintenance of the authority of the United Nations.

    "From the outset of this crisis, the Government have promised that, if possible, the House would have the opportunity to debate our involvement in military action prior to the start of hostilities, and on a substantive Motion. The House will have that opportunity tomorrow. Copies of the Motion, proposed by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and Cabinet colleagues, have been placed in the Vote Office. I understand, Mr Speaker, that you will specify the time by which amendments must have been received. My honourable friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Privy Council Office will make a short Business Statement.

    "To inform the debate, I have circulated several documents to all right honourable and honourable Members today. Those include a copy of the response from the Attorney-General to a Written Question, in which he sets out the legal basis for the use of force against Iraq, as well as a detailed briefing paper summarising the legal background, which I have also copied to the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. I have also made available a note summarising Iraq's record of non-compliance with Resolution 1441. A Command Paper comprising key recent UN documents, including Dr Hans Blix's paper entitled, Unresolved Disarmament Issues: Iraq's Proscribed Weapons Programmes, which was published on 7th March, is available in the Vote Office.

    "The debate tomorrow will be the most important in the House for many years. Some say that Iraq can be disarmed without an ultimatum, without the threat or use of force, but simply by more time and more inspections. That approach is defied by all our experience over 12 weary years. It cannot produce the disarmament of Iraq; it cannot rid the world of the danger of the Iraqi regime; it can only bring comfort to tyrants the world over, and emasculate the authority of the United Nations. It is for those reasons that we shall be asking the House to support the Government's Motion tomorrow".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

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8.48 p.m.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement made by the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary, which is sombre.

To use President Bush's phrase, the moment of truth has now arrived. Diplomacy—at least in relation to the issue of Iraq—has failed; and so has the UN process. It is clear that the will is simply not there in the United Nations to enforce its own stream of resolutions, about which we have heard during the debate that surrounds the Statement. In fact, by declaring its resolution to veto any resolution, France, our neighbour, has in effect pulled the plug on the United Nations process.

All this is deeply regrettable and we shall discuss it in detail tomorrow. There is room for criticism from these Benches on the handling of the situation, but this is now where we are. I should make it clear that we endorse the position that the Cabinet has taken and for which it seeks approval from the other place in a debate tomorrow.

I shall state the main issues for tomorrow—indeed, for all time. First, there is the legality question, which we are in the middle of debating in your Lordships' House. This ought to have been settled long before we reached the point at which the troops are going into action, which is about to happen. Resolution 687 laid down the ceasefire and the total defeat of Saddam. People forget how he was defeated. But the ceasefire conditions have all been broken. Sixteen other resolutions have also been defied, culminating in Resolution 1441.

I feel some unease—even regret—that the legal basis of this action is still being questioned in debate here tonight. The noble Lord, Lord Owen, said that it would send out a clear message, but I can tell him and others that this debate will settle nothing. As the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, rightly observed, lawyers can go on disagreeing for ever, and they will do so. We are adding nothing to the certainty, and something to the uncertainty of the message going out from this nation. I hope, along with the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, that the Attorney-General will be here later to favour us with his thoughts following his Written Answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay of Cartvale. She made a superb speech to which I shall refer later. It would be a pleasant courtesy, if I may put it that way, if the Attorney-General were to join us. It would also be very helpful to the Government's case. We are left a little sore at how that matter has been handled.

Secondly, there is the issue of imminence and danger of a threat, which was not so much mentioned in the Foreign Secretary's Statement tonight. Obviously, it is the conviction of the Prime Minister, Mr Blair, which some of us share, that just ahead there is a dark rendezvous between fanaticism and weapons of mass destruction. It is difficult to prove, but I have to ask whether there is more evidence on that aspect that can be brought out in tomorrow's debate. There is no doubt that the presentation of the case for intervention has been poorly put forward until late in the day, which has added greatly to the tensions, difficulties

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and divisions. I noted that the Foreign Secretary did not attempt to repeat the wider case for action in his Statement. Will the Prime Minister do so tomorrow?

Other issues include mending the divisions. Let us have something on that tomorrow. I and others will be putting forward some thoughts on the way in which to bind together all the terrible wounds that have been caused. I would caution against too much bashing of France or Germany. That is for the tabloids, not for statesmen. The ragings of Ministers, such as Mr Peter Hain, are something that the Government will live to regret when it comes to rebuilding European unity on new foundations and reconstructing the trans-Atlantic alliance.

There was no mention of Turkey in the Statement. What has gone wrong there? Will the Turkish allies co-operate with the United States, or will their doubts, which are democratically based, slow down the whole operation?

There was not much mention of Israel, which was certainly referred to in the Azores. What precisely are the next steps in reactivating the road map? What part will the United Kingdom be playing? What part will the Russians, who are members of the quartet, be playing? Should we now be thinking of a bigger world summit to get a combined approach, not just on Palestine but North Korea, Iran's illegal nuclear weapons and all sorts of other things? Can we be assured that these issues will be the context in which matters will be debated tomorrow?

There is very little time but we want to raise a whole other tranche of issues, such as the state of our Armed Forces, whether they have all the equipment that they need and the possible use of new and terrifying weapons like the thermobaric bomb, of which details are carried today in the International Herald Tribune. Some of these thoughts should be shared before we go much further.

In view of time and the need to get on with the debate, which addresses an important element of this issue, I conclude by saying that the best thing is to pray that the intervention will be swift; that casualties will be minimised; and that, whatever the doubts and fears, we will present the kind of national unity and solidarity, both in Parliament and in the Cabinet, which our troops deserve as they go about their awesome and challenging duties in the name of a better and safer world.

8.55 p.m.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. I shall be brief because we are in the middle of a debate which touches on some of these issues and we shall discuss them again tomorrow.

We recognise that the Statement brings diplomacy to an end and commits us to armed conflict. We on these Benches much regret the absence of a second resolution and we recall that only a week ago the Prime Minister was strongly committed to a second resolution. We note that it was not only the French Government who made that impossible; the British

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and Americans failed to persuade a clear majority of the Security Council, even without the prospect of a French veto, that the action was justifiable. There has been a failure of diplomacy—sadly, a failure of American diplomacy in particular.

We on these Benches recognise the efforts that all Members of Her Majesty's Government have made over the past few months to maintain a balance between European and American approaches to the issue and a multilateral approach to it. As I shall comment later, some of us fear that the United States and Britain are entering an armed conflict with different underlying objectives.

I note the declaration, and I thank the Government for providing a number of supporting documents, from the summit in the Azores. It remarked that our alliance rests on a common commitment to democracy, freedom and the rule of law. It repeats the blurring of the distinction between the problem of Iraq and the longer and wider-term conflict against terrorism. We note that it reaffirms the vision of Middle East peace. I wish that I did not so heavily suspect that that appears because Her Majesty's Government asked the Americans to include it, but that the American Government are not fully committed to a vision of Middle East peace. That is one of the issues that greatly concerns these Benches.

We note the reference to maintaining—and, we hope, strengthening—the authority of the United Nations. Our concern about the current action is that we risk weakening the authority of the United Nations. We therefore greatly hope that the conflict to which we are now committed will be as short and as bloodless as possible; that on the conclusion of the conflict Her Majesty's Government will do their utmost to put the United Nations back in the middle of resolving the outcome of the conflict; and that they will do their best to bring European governments back together in their approach to the broader problem of security and peace in the Middle East as a whole. In that I strongly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford.

8.58 p.m.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Howell of Guildford and Lord Wallace of Saltaire, for their receipt of the Statement. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, is right in saying that it is a sombre Statement. Who could fail to agree with that? We are all facing a difficult moment and, sadly, I must agree with his point about France's position. I do so not in a raging way, as he indicated others have done, and not in a sense of bashing anyone, but very sadly.

The noble Lord, Lord Howell, pointed to some of the issues we shall be debating tomorrow, but I believe that the legality of the position is indeed settled. I do not think we have ever had such a clear statement from the Attorney-General at a juncture like this. As the noble Lord cited to me, the Attorney-General's advice has been exposed before in relation to the Maastricht Treaty. However, the present situation relates not to a

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treaty which has been signed but, first, to continuing international negotiations and, now, the very real and terrible possibility of war. I believe that this Government have gone further than any other Government to put that advice into the public arena, and the Law Officer with principal responsibility has given a clear statement of his opinion.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, that there are so many opinions that it would take years to litigate. I suspect that that statement is likely to excite relish and gloom in equal measure on the part of your Lordships, but I am bound to say that, as we have seen already this evening, there will always be a variety of opinions on these issues.

I heard what the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said about more evidence in respect of tomorrow's debate. However, I remind him that we have already put into the public arena a full history of the United Nations Security Council resolutions, starting with 660 and going through the 17 relevant resolutions. That is in Command Paper 5769. We have also published a detailed statement on the legal basis—a fuller statement than that which my noble and learned friend gave in answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay of Cartvale. There are other documents, including that which contains Dr. Hans Blix's comments on the unresolved disarmament issue. So a range of documentation is available to your Lordships on this issue.

The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, said that a week ago the Prime Minister was strongly committed to this second resolution—or, indeed, the eighteenth resolution, as it should more accurately be described. I am bound to say that I thought that the noble Lord, uncharacteristically, did not completely hear what I said regarding the statement and how we had thought those votes were secure. If the noble Lord does not want to take it from me, he can take it from our ambassador to the United Nations, Sir Jeremy Greenstock. My noble friend Lady Amos has worked tirelessly with the three African countries and there were also exchanges with our friends in Latin America. But I am afraid that the bald and sad position is that the unequivocal statement from President Chirac that he would veto the resolution whatever the circumstances, no matter what it said, demonstrated the futility of those negotiations with other countries. I am afraid that in doing that, France put a consensus on this issue beyond reach.

The noble Lord said that he suspects American motives about what has been said over the publication of the road map and the Middle East peace process. We will have to see. I hope that the road map is published. I have been answering questions in your Lordships' House on the Middle East peace process for many weeks; I have gone on and on, probably to the irritation of some of your Lordships, about how important it is that the road map is published. I, for one, greeted the statement from the United States on that point last week with very great pleasure, and I look forward to the publication of the road map in due course. But as the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, reminded us, we will have an opportunity

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to debate all these issues fully tomorrow. I do not suppose any of us look forward to that debate but I am sure all of us will take it very seriously.

9.3 p.m.

Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. I hope that this House, while tonight disunited on semantic matters of international law, will be fully united in its support for the Armed Forces involved in any conflict against Iraq. Can the Minister confirm that the strategic objectives are agreed with the United States Government? Will she spell out those objectives for the record? Will she confirm that our forces and those of the United States have been given the same directives for military action?

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