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Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, of course I agree with the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, about support for our Armed Forces. Whatever our differences in the House, and they have been ably demonstrated this evening, if we come to the point of military conflict, I am sure the House will be united in supporting our brave service people overseas.
The noble and gallant Lord asked me about strategic objectives and about sharing those with the United States of America. Although we are now on the brink of a situation where military conflict looks almost inevitable, I am not yet in a position to expose to your Lordships the strategic objectives. I hope that we shall be able to do that properly in a debate tomorrow and to satisfy some of the questions that the noble and gallant Lord raised. I hope that he will bear with the Government Benches for a few more hours. I hope that we shall be able to satisfy his questions in the debate tomorrow. I agree that they are very important issues.
Earl Russell: My Lords, I hope that I may ask the noble Baroness a question that I asked in both the previous debates on Iraq to which she responded. I repeat it as I should really like to know the answer. In assessing the threats to international peace and security posed by alternative courses of action, how far have the Government considered not merely events inside Iraq but also events across the Middle East, across the Muslim world and across the world as a whole? If they have seriously considered that wider context, will they be prepared to share some of their thoughts with us either today or tomorrow?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, of course, the noble Earl must know that a responsible government in considering whether or not to embark upon military action must look at all the exigencies and all the possibilities of that military action. Papers are being circulated. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Bach has seen papers in the MoD and I have seen papers in the Foreign Office which consider all the possibilities of what might happenthe terrible "what if?" papers. Of course, any responsible government would do that.
The noble Earl asks how far we are able to share those thoughts. I am bound to say to the noble Earl that we come, as we often do on these matters, to the great difficulty of my having to say to your Lordships that it is really impossible to discuss these matters openly in public, not because I do not want to share thoughts with the noble Earl, Lord Russell, but because I do not want to share them with a potential enemy. To discuss publicly what the eventualities may be supposing one side decides to up the ante by the use of certain weapons or the movement of troops in a certain way and the consequences of what might happen in those circumstances, which is really what we are talking about here, and not only that, but also what might happen to political relationships in the Middle East, to all the countries of the Gulf and the immediate neighbours of Iraq, Iran and Turkeywe can all think these things through, as I am sure the noble Earl has doneis not in the interests, as I am sure the noble Earl if he thinks about this will agree, of the safety of the people about whom we must care most now. I refer to our own troops in the Gulf and, of course, to those innocent people in Iraq whom we do not want to become the innocent victims of war but who, sadly, as is always the case, inevitably do suffer in such circumstances. We do not want to make their position any worse.
Lord Elton: My Lords, will it, by contrast, be possible tomorrow to be rather more explicit about what Her Majesty's Government and the Government of the United States intend to happen when they have secured Iraq in the matter of re-establishing its coherent independence and the well-being of its people?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I believe that we can be more explicit about that. I can already tell the noble Lord that we believe that the territorial integrity of Iraq must be maintained. We believe that the Iraqi people themselves, in consultation with the international community, should generate ideas for the future political arrangements in Iraq. We also expect a successor regime to be a significant improvement on the existing one in terms of good governance and in terms of respect for human rights as well as in terms of its willingness to comply with its international obligations. We also hope and believe that the United Nations must be at the centre of any transitional administration in Iraq. I believe that that is enormously important. I hope that that concentration on the United Nations will answer some of the doubts that I know many of your Lordships have about what might happen in a period immediately after a military conflict.
Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, although I appreciate the views of those on our Front Bench when they refer to "us on these Benches", does the noble Baroness understand that I and a considerable number of other people agree with the Government and the
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord. That does not come as a surprise to me, because he has talked to me about the issues. What he says demonstrates that the issue cuts across all parties. The government party is not of one mind over it. I understand that those on the Conservative Benches are not of one mind, and it comes as no surprise that the Liberal Democrats are not all of one mind either. I simply hope to reiterate what the noble and gallant Lord said a few moments ago, which was that, if we sadly embark on military action, there will be no division among noble Lords in the support that goes out to our troops overseas.
Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that there has been ample demonstration so far this evening that there is a legal base for what we are about to do? In any case, we have troops sitting in the Gulf. The longer time passes, the more danger to their lives. This is becoming a serious issue which we cannot ignore. It has also rightly been said that many people inside Iraq long to be liberated. What we are doing is exactly what the UN ought to do.
The United Nations would be deeply discredited if we were not to take action and pursue the proper and right goal, which the Prime Minister and the President have initiated. Great patience has been displayed, almost too much, in order to defer to the tender consciences of many people whom I contend have not thought about the actual need of Iraq to be liberated.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I agree that there is a legal base. It has been amply demonstrated by my noble and learned friend the Attorney-General. We know what it is right to do, not only legally but in respect of weapons of mass destruction.
The noble Baroness makes a very powerful point about many people in Iraq itself. Those people could not have a debate such as this. Only last week I read an appalling account of someone who had suggested that the best thing for Iraq might be to see the back of Saddam Hussein. That person died in a very public and horrible way. I am sure that many noble Lords will have read that account.
There are those in the region who also believe that action needs to be taken. I spoke with representatives of many of the Gulf states only a couple of weeks ago when I was in the Gulf. They made their views very clear. Of course they are not necessarily happy to do so
I am sure that our troops will acquit themselves well. We do not want them to tire in the Gulf, of course, but we had to do what we have done. The noble Baroness talked about tender consciences. It was right that we pursued every option as much as we did. The Prime Minister's judgment was right that we should have been seen to exhaust all the possibilities. We can only regret that consensus was put beyond our reach.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, were the Government able to command a majority in the Security Council for the 18th resolution, regardless of the position of France? The burden of blame appears to be placed entirely on France. One wonders whether the Government were satisfied that all the other members of the Security Council were on board.
However, when the noble Lord implies that we were somehow unreasonable in what we said about Iraq, I am bound to say to him that the statement that there would be a veto on the resolution, whatever the circumstances, was very final. It was not that there would be a veto as the resolution stood or that we could talk about it but we might have to think about the use of the veto. It was an absolute statement that there would be a veto, whatever the circumstances. I am not entirely sure how the noble Lord can argue that that does not mean that the door was closed on negotiations.
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