Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Desai: My Lords, well, I am the last speaker from the Back Benches. I refer to those of us who are not paid to speak. Sorry about that!

This is my third speech in the past 21 days on this question and I do not want to repeat too much. I have been for the war in Iraq on the grounds of the human rights violations that Saddam Hussein has practised on his own people. The noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg, and my noble friend Lord Hardy expressed that view very eloquently today, and therefore I need not go into the subject any further.

We had a debate yesterday about the legal situation. I say to my noble friend Lady Turner, whom I respect very much, that if she wants to know the legal arguments for everything that has happened over the past 12 years—the bombing, and so on—she has only to read the report of the debate.

18 Mar 2003 : Column 213

My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has always said that he was ready to go to war in the absence of a second resolution. I remember hearing him make that point on the "Newsnight" programme a few weeks ago. He has always made that clear and has never hidden the fact. He always added a caveat. Whenever he was asked, "Would you go only with a second resolution?", he always said, "No, there is a caveat".

The Prime Minister said that there were circumstances under which he would take action even if there were no second resolution. He mentioned the example of an unreasonable veto. But I believe that he always meant to pursue the course that he has taken and that he has not simply been driven there by the United States. He has done so through his own conviction, which, I believe, is that Saddam Hussein cannot be allowed to exist for much longer. The problem must be solved in the interests of our security but, more than that, in the interests of the people of Iraq.

Today, I want to concentrate on the future shape of Iraq. Several noble Lords have said that the integrity of Iraq is very important. That is a good point to make, but I want to go a little further. Although Iraq will be maintained as it is, I hope that it will be a much looser federation than it has been thus far, especially so far as concerns the Kurds in the north. By spilling much of their own blood, they have created for themselves an autonomous region that allows their people far greater freedom and far greater prosperity than that enjoyed in the rest of Iraq. Those of us who know that should value what they have created.

In a sense, I am somewhat relieved that the Turkish Parliament decided not to take part in this campaign—that is what I understand unless matters have changed in the past four or five hours—as I believe that it would further ensure the autonomy of the Kurds in the north. I hope that when a new democratic Iraq is established, as I have no doubt will be the case, it will be a broad, loose federation with a great deal of autonomy for the different cultures and peoples of Iraq. That will be possible only in a democracy; it will not be possible under the current regime and has not been possible for the past 35 years.

I believe that there will be humanitarian problems, as has been emphasised by several noble Lords. But there are two differences compared with the situation in Afghanistan. One is that Iraq is—or, at least, used to be—a middle-income country. It has been ruined but it is a middle-income country and revenue from oil will eventually help to finance some of the humanitarian reconstruction. Some of the money may have been spent but it can be recovered. Therefore, I believe that, although difficult, the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Iraq will probably be far quicker and easier than has been the case in many other situations.

I also believe that the issue in relation to Iraq is not so much what we do in Iraq but what we do about ourselves. Three things follow from that. I have only three minutes left in which to speak and so shall give a minute to each of them.

18 Mar 2003 : Column 214

First, I do not believe that we can delay the reform of the United Nations for much longer. I talked about UN reform long before this debate started. The United Nations was created for a situation in 1945 which no longer exists. The Cold War helped it to continue as it was, but its arrangements—especially the structure of voting on the Security Council—are not feasible. I have advocated qualified majority voting in this House. I believe that before long we shall have to rethink the voting procedures on the Security Council. Unless the United Nations can improve its ways of operating, we shall get into such problems again and again and, as I pointed out yesterday, people will constantly defy the will of the United Nations.

Secondly, I refer to the European Union. I never thought that a foreign policy pillar was ever very strong. It did not work in Yugoslavia. We have to remember that Germany's recognition of Croatia and what the French did with Serbia was at the beginning of the Yugoslav conflict, and that owed some of its elements to the divisions within the European Union. There is no single foreign policy pillar. I hope that in the convention people rethink how we shall reconstruct the European Union. The old federalist dream, to which, I confess, I was very attached, is no longer feasible. We shall have to have a much loser, differential geometry, or a multiple-tier Europe. It would be difficult now to pretend that the Union will have a single foreign policy.

Finally, I also believe that NATO has reached the end of its useful life. It will have to be re-organised, perhaps with a different membership and a different purpose. Perhaps it will have to shift further towards eastern Europe. However, I believe that what has happened as regards NATO shows that it is no longer possible for it to carry on as in the past.

I should like to see a new United Nations, in which only democratic countries are members. It is time that we said that countries which violate human rights will not be allowed to be members of the United Nations. I hope that from this conflict we get a better United Nations, if that is the only thing we get.

8.32 p.m.

Lord Roper: My Lords, as noble Lords would expect, this has been a good but sombre debate on one of the most difficult topics we are likely to have to consider. The decision to move to military action in a democracy is probably the most difficult for any state to take. We are grateful to the Government for the opportunity to discuss this important topic in this House as well as in another place.

In this House, unlike in another place, despite the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, it is not our custom to end with a vote. But if those who follow our debates—I see there are not many from the public prints—read what has been said they will discover that voices have been raising doubts and questions about this policy but have been unanimous on one point. Whatever our doubts, once our forces go into action—I shall return to this point—we must support them.

18 Mar 2003 : Column 215

I am told by one of my noble friends that it is one thing to make a speech in this House, but if one wants to have it noticed in the Foreign Office, one has to have it translated into a foreign newspaper. Then, within a day or two, one receives a complimentary letter from a Foreign Office Minister; not the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, but one of her colleagues from another place.

I have not spoken in the earlier debates, although I have listened to them all, and am grateful to have this opportunity. I am also grateful not to have spoken earlier as, I suspect like some other Members of your Lordships' House, I have spent much of the past six months arguing with myself about what is the correct position to take on this extremely difficult decision. However, like many now, having seen the events of the past month or two and particularly of the past few weeks, I feel that this period has represented a tragic failure of diplomacy. That was brought to our attention by the powerful speech of the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, who knows the process of diplomacy professionally as well as anyone else in the House, and by the arguments of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, on the failure of the United States to succeed in its diplomacy in persuading the rest of the international community to accept its word. But for me the point was made particularly powerfully by the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, who in an extraordinarily impressive, but desperately depressing speech, reported just how difficult it was to understand the policies of the current American Administration.

That failure in diplomacy occurred in a number of capitals—a failure that the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, once referred to as too much "megaphone diplomacy". But there was also a failure to assess correctly the position of the other actors and there was a lack of discussion on these critical issues at the highest levels among members of the European Union. I am depressed by the fact that when, less than a year ago, I asked about how much discussion there had been in the appropriate committees of the European Union on this subject, I was told, "Oh, no, we have not talked about that. We put it into the 'too difficult' basket". I happen to believe in the European Union. But if it puts issues such as Iraq into the "too difficult" basket, it will be criticised, as it has been in many respects.

There has clearly been a failure of French diplomacy, for which President Chirac has been over-criticised, but has been also legitimately criticised. It has also been a failure of others. There have been serious failures both in the diplomatic actions of individual states, to which my noble friend Lord Watson referred, and also at the workings of international institutions. There will be a need in due course to examine carefully what went wrong and what are the lessons we need to learn.

In coming today to judge whether the Government were right to reach the decision yesterday to use military force, we must decide whether the potential costs of such a decision outweigh the potential benefits and whether there were alternative policies available

18 Mar 2003 : Column 216

where the net outcome might have been satisfactory. That is not necessarily only the rather polarised choice which the Lord Privy Seal set out in his initial remarks. It is not a choice about doing this and doing nothing and running away. There were a range of choices. We should be careful not to caricature that range. But all the other options were in fact vetoed by the United States. There was in this sense an unreasonable veto which led us into this situation. I think we should not overlook that.

Having said that, I can understand the position of President Bush who, as the noble Lord, Lord Owen, made clear in his intervention last night, in the post September 11th situation is now ready, in a way in which none of his predecessors were, to implement the resolutions on Iraq which the Security Council has adopted. I understand why the president feels that if there is a risk of weapons of mass destruction being transferred to terrorists who might use them against the United States, this problem must be dealt with.

The Lord Privy Seal was quite right in his contribution to refer to that as a possibility. Unfortunately, the President of the United States in his remarks last night suggested that it was already accomplished. The situation is not yet as clear as that.

I can also understand the Prime Minister's position. Perfectly understandably, he feels that in an uncertain world, the maintenance of this country's relationship with the United States is of critical importance. But I share the caveats of the noble Lord, Lord Richard, about the costs and risks of pushing that relationship too far.

We supported the efforts of the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and, indeed, our Diplomatic Service, in ensuring that the United Nations is at the centre of our policies. We have accepted the need for coercive diplomacy—combining the return of the UNMOVIC inspectors and the deployment of armed forces, which, as the noble Lord, Lord King, made clear, was an essential precondition for the inspectors' success. In spite of the problems, that has in substantial part been successful. In that, I share the judgment of the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky.

Where we disagree with the Government is on whether, at this moment, it was right to bring that process to an end by introducing what we consider a precipitate resolution. They were then unable to achieve a majority and, indeed, risked vetoes even if a qualified majority of nine could have been achieved in the Security Council, which is not clear.

We regret yesterday's decision, because the premature use of force with dubious legitimacy, little support in the Commonwealth—as far as I know, only Australia supports it—a seriously divided European Union and a marginalised United Nations, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford said, is a serious mistake. Our judgment is that the potential costs and consequences in the region in the fight with global terrorism—the costs to international institutions, which have been so important in creating an international society during the past half century, and to international order more generally—will outweigh the benefits of that action.

18 Mar 2003 : Column 217

Having said that, with today's debate we have reached the point at which these debates on jus ad bellum must be suspended for the period of the hostilities. However, we must also give notice that, when the hostilities are over, we shall need to return to them to inquire into the various diplomatic, legal and moral issues that we have discussed today and yesterday.

Within days, our forces will be in action, and our first concern will of course be with our Armed Forces and their families—in particular, in the family of this House, with our colleagues, the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, who is appropriately enough serving as Major Attlee in Kuwait, and with the son of the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, who is also serving. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford said, whatever our views of how we have reached the decision, our troops will have our support. We hope that their tasks will be swiftly concluded, with the minimum casualties on all sides.

Opening the debate for the Opposition, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said that he could not understand why we on these Benches could question the legitimacy of the decision to go to war—the issue of jus ad bellum, which we discussed yesterday—and still give our support to our forces when war occurs. My noble friend Lady Williams replied to that, but I suggest that our position is little different from that of the noble Lord, Lord Hurd of Westwell, whose article in last Friday's Evening Standard was cited last night by the noble Lord, Lord Rea. The noble Lord, Lord Hurd, wrote:

    "On balance I believe that a pre-emptive war against Iraq would be wrong and in the long-term unwise".

But he then added:

    "But once British forces are in action the position changes for me . . . At that point, people like me shut up and hope that our fears were misguided".

If the noble Lord, Lord Hurd of Westwell, can understand this position, I am sorry that the Opposition Front Bench cannot understand the position that we have taken.

When the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, referred in his intervention to Suez, I was reminded of the fact that I completed my national service and left HMS "Eagle" in Malta in September 1956, six weeks before the Suez operation. Many of my colleagues served in the operation. That act of folly by a British government led me to realise the case for international institutions and the United Nations. The speech of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, with whom I have worked on those issues ever since those days, reminded me of that also.

For a third of a century, since I entered the House of Commons, I have believed that there is no contradiction between being a good European and a good Atlanticist. The past few weeks have been a challenge both to transatlantic co-operation and to the partnership that we are developing with the other countries of the European Union. That was made clear by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Jopling. Whatever our views about the recent decisions, in the

18 Mar 2003 : Column 218

interests of establishing future peace and stability in the world, we need to think about how we can rebuild an effective international system—the international structures of international co-operation that have been so harmed by the events of the past few weeks.

The issue, therefore, of post-war planning must be central to our concerns in the immediate future. My noble friend Lady Northover and the noble Lord, Lord Elton, spoke a good deal about post-war planning for Iraq. I was glad to hear what the noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal said on the role that the Government were trying to ensure that the United Nations would play. But, given the alienation of our partners in the United Nations—several noble Lords referred to this—it will not necessarily be as easy to bring the United Nations in to "do the dishes" as is sometimes suggested.

We must also address two other aspects of post-war planning. The first is the wider issue of post-war planning in the Middle East. The acceleration in the publication of the road map is one of the benefits of recent developments. Let us hope that it is not merely cosmetic, and that it will be accepted by all involved, in actions as well as words.

Perhaps the most important of the three aspects is post-war planning for the future of the international system and international institutions, which the noble Lord, Lord Desai, raised. The United Nations will remain. Nobody can afford to let it fail. The European Union will remain. Nobody can afford to let it go. But we need to re-examine how we could learn from the mistakes made so that both can be more powerful in future. That cannot wait until the end of hostilities. Such planning must be engaged now. This House, with the range of expertise displayed in our debates in recent weeks, has a particular contribution to make.

8.48 p.m.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, listening to this fascinating debate, I have been scratching my head and trying to think how the cascade of expertise and experience that noble Lords bring to debates of this sort could best help the national interest and best add real value to public debate, understanding and confidence at this crucial time. The noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg, is right that, although there is a fine balance, probably a minority of speakers in this debate fully support the Government's policy. The majority, although they expressed strong support for our troops in action—I thank our Liberal Democrat colleagues for making that clear—have been more doubtful or sceptical about the Government's policy. It may not reflect the opinion of your Lordships' House as a whole but it has been the case in this debate. That must be faced. In a sense, the question of whether one is for or against has been overtaken. The die is now cast and our troops are about to enter into hostilities.

We are and have chosen to be an advisory Chamber. Understandably, tonight all eyes are on another place, the elected Chamber. What can we bring to this defining moment for our country and for the world, now that the military operations—I prefer not to call

18 Mar 2003 : Column 219

them "war" in the usual sense—are beginning? In a few minutes, as we close the debate, I shall elaborate on some of the areas in which we can contribute and in which our debates have contributed to the pool of wisdom.

First, there is the central question, to which your Lordships have returned again and again, of whether there is a threat and, if so, how we define and explain that threat. Some of us have insisted all along that that is the key to justifying pre-emptive intervention and to persuading a distinctly doubting public that the case has been made for a military intervention. Mr Cook, who resigned yesterday, is a colourful character and a superb speaker. In his resignation speech he said that he could see no threat. Many noble Lords have said the same thing: they cannot see that there is an imminent threat, and ask why there should be an attack on Iraq. I agree not with that view but with the view that the case for the threat and the explanation of why we need to move urgently have not been well made. All sorts of arguments have been paraded, as some of your Lordships have observed. I think that it was the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, who said that the argument had changed too often to be reassuring and persuasive. My noble friend Lord Strathclyde also made that clear.

That was in the past. Today, things changed a little. This morning the Prime Minister made a fine speech. He had a lot to say about the issue of the threat. His speeches get better and better. I hope that I am not imagining it, but one reason might be that phrases and sentiments uttered a week or two back in your Lordships' House have tended to turn up in the Prime Minister's speeches. Perhaps we are making a contribution in the right place.

This morning the Prime Minister said that Iraq presented a clear and present danger and a threat to this nation and our society, as well as to our interests and the wider interests of global security. He said that Iraq supported, financed and trained terrorists. I believe that that is right. Such matters should have been at the forefront of the case that was being made for the policy on Iraq. I know that there are those who do not believe that or do not want to believe it. They say that such assertions are not proof. Such exchanges could go on for ever, but the Prime Minister was right to put that argument now. Perhaps he should have put it at the centre of things before now.

The second issue is legality, with which your Lordships dealt last night. I fear that we sent out a bit of a mixed message. I agree with the noble Lords, Lord Rees-Mogg, Lord Campbell-Savours, Lord Desai and Lord Hardy of Wath, that the humanitarian case for intervention is a lot stronger than some of the legalists allow. If we bring into the judgment that element of common sense and consider the wider context that the noble Lord, Lord Grabiner, mentioned last night, we reach a more sensible and sober conclusion than if we concentrate on narrow legal niceties.

18 Mar 2003 : Column 220

Thirdly, the Prime Minister spoke this morning about the divisions that had sprung up in Europe. He said—I think that he was right—that behind the quarrels and the views adopted by Paris and Berlin appeared to lie what he called the fallacy in some European minds that the world was divided into two rival poles of power and could be organised on that basis. I am glad that the Prime Minister now sees things that way and sees what we see. It is indeed a fallacy, leading to much cant and hype about Europe's voice in the world and the need for Europe as an entity to strut on the world stage. To me, that is chilling language. I am glad that the Prime Minister and, presumably, the Government now see the dangers of that kind of perspective. Perhaps I may put in one sharp note of criticism: I do not understand why the Prime Minister believes that now, but I am glad that he does. He spoke about Europe as a "super power". Why did he ever let a speech writer put that phrase into his famous Warsaw speech? But he did and I am pleased that apparently he has changed his mind.

No one can deny that the forceful comments made by Mr Chirac have hindered the efforts to achieve the second resolution. For the moment, France, through its excessive outspokenness and criticism, has forfeited its leadership in Europe. That is especially so not so much because of the veto promise, but because of the very uncouth attacks on the smaller nations of Europe, which were and are dangerous and have done enormous damage.

Nevertheless, we must understand some of the reasons why the French think the way in which they do. We must not forget that there are 5 million Muslims in their country. They have a real wish, as we all have, for stability throughout the Arab world and the Maghreb. If only on this point, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, that too much France-bashing and trading of insults will get us nowhere. Some of the Foreign Office and official Government utterances on this matter should be calmed down. The truth is that when the pieces fall into place again, we and France—our nearest neighbour—will always need each other and will have to work together.

Fourthly, there is the question of the conduct of the war. This morning the newspapers carried a chilling story that our pilots will have to take legal advice on targets before they drop a single bomb. We want to know from the Government today—a question that I and my noble friend Lord Strathclyde have raised—how developments in international law have changed the way in which the fighting will be conducted. I asked yesterday about the Rome statute and the International Criminal Court, which is now open for business. My noble friend repeated the request earlier today.

Now that war crimes are on our own statute book, listed in great detail, could our fighting men, generals and, indeed, the policymakers be exposed to a cat's cradle of new legal restraints which might seriously impede them? We need to know about that. We cannot just push it aside. I know that yesterday the noble Baroness did not have time to address that central issue but I hope that she will have time today.

18 Mar 2003 : Column 221

The question of Turkey is central. It has not been mentioned to a great extent in our debate—although I believe that my noble friend Lord Onslow mentioned it in a slightly different context, as did the noble Lord, Lord Desai. We should like to know what has gone wrong. How can we disentangle the Kurdish worry? There are 13 million Kurds in Turkey and another 4.5 million in northern Iraq. The Kurds are terrified of the Turks and the Turks are terrified of Kurdish independence which might lead to the carving up of their own country. It seems that a great deal of experience and diplomacy of the kind that this country is rather good at needs to be deployed rapidly there if matters are not to get worse rather than better.

There is the question—perhaps the most important in your Lordships' minds and the one on which there has been the most comment—about the aftermath of the war and the rehabilitation of Iraq. I think that it is now government policy—perhaps we shall learn in a moment—that there should be a United Nations trust fund into which the revenues of Iraq's present oil flows should go. Of course, with proper repair and attention after hostilities, the output of oil from Iraq would be raised from, say, 2 million barrels per day to anything up to 4 or 5 million barrels per day. I believe that 4.7 million barrels is one target figure. That would put Iraq almost in the top league—in the range of Saudi Arabia in terms of prosperity and revenues. That would raise very important problems and opportunities for the ways in which that enormous flow of wealth could be used to the benefit of Iraq.

Those are important questions which require more thought from us all. I do not expect answers from the Government tonight. But we must start to think about how Iraq is to be managed and governed, and how the military will detach themselves, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, rightly questioned. There can be no doubt that the prize of having a prosperous and benign Iraq in the centre of the Middle East region instead the present poison source which for decades has devastated and destabilised the entire region is absolutely enormous.

Much could go wrong. We have heard the long list: the firing of oil wells; the destruction of the Tigris dam; possible refugee flows; destabilisation of neighbouring countries; more terrorism and more anti-Americanism. As my noble and learned friend Lord Howe reminded us, and as did my right honourable friend John Major, the former Prime Minister, those are all possibilities. But I would say to those who put too much emphasis on the negative possibilities that some of them are already features of the Middle East. I have seen burning oil wells in the Al Burgen oilfield. It is a terrible sight and smells so evil that one has to wear a mask because it is impossible to breath in the fumes. However, at least in Kuwait the wells were swiftly capped and restored—much more swiftly than had been suggested by the pessimists.

Instead of mournful lists, now that the die is cast I prefer to view the situation as an opportunity to move on towards a much bigger diplomacy, one that engages the nations of the world in a combined effort to solve the Israel/Palestine problem in ways that almost

18 Mar 2003 : Column 222

everyone except the immediate participants has now agreed. Apparently the Israeli Government still do not understand the point. That higher diplomacy demands a combined effort to corral North Korea, which will take much more than America acting alone. We need to make Iran think again about its illegal nuclear weapons programme, which could be very dangerous.

Furthermore, we need a diplomacy that could restore the non-proliferation treaty before it crumbles completely and would cage terrorism wherever it springs up. As the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Richmond, hinted, that diplomacy would bring Russia and perhaps even China—under their fast-changing government they now have a completely new team in Beijing—into the consortium of global governance. That is where minds should turn as we watch the unfolding situation.

Above all, here in London we need to take a lead in the rebalanced and less centralised Europe than the one that existed before the Franco-German detachment. We also need to rebuild transatlantic relations, probably on a totally new basis. Perhaps we even need to seek reform of the United Nations itself, as was ambitiously suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Desai.

As friends, we can say to the United States what critics and anti-Americans cannot necessarily voice; namely, that it never was on the cards for the US that it could or should go it alone. The noble Lords, Lord Jopling and Lord Watson, were very interesting on US attitudes, having been to Washington. I believe that it would have been disastrous for the Americans to have gone down that route and unthinkable for us not to stand beside them now that they are moving forward.

It is important not only for us to be beside them; now there is a growing list of other allies, including Australia and Poland. I believe that shortly the list will grow very much longer. Outside of immediate military help there is of course Japan, which is extremely supportive. When the numbers are added up in terms of population, over half of the enlarged Europe has declared for the coalition.

Globalisation and interdependence mean what they imply: that in this network age no power, not even the mighty America, can go it alone or act without allies. We should not be shy of saying that to the Americans, even those of us who support them so strongly. Why is that? Because of the asymmetry of terror and because intelligence is the key to success. Here in the United Kingdom we have two centuries of experience in that area which other countries lack. Furthermore, as America discovered, size is vulnerable and weight of arms is not everything. Indeed, dominance and size may escalate terror, as the noble Earl, Lord Russell, suggested in a fascinating intervention.

That is a message which noble Lords could find worth sending to our American friends as they embark, with what I hope is now our full support, on yet another fight for a freer and safer world. Indeed, there is no better way of sending that message than by

18 Mar 2003 : Column 223

wishing our own troops, fighting alongside their troops, every blessing and success in the long days and dangerous nights that lie immediately ahead.

9.5 p.m.

The Minister for Trade (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, this has been an important and sombre debate at a time of enormous international and domestic importance. Probably for many of us it is the most important debate in which we have participated. The noble Lord, Lord Rogan, has a clear and direct reason for his concern. We send his son and all the other sons and daughters, all the other husbands and wives and all the other loved ones—including our own colleague, the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, now Major Attlee—our warm support, admiration and good wishes.

I am sure that I speak for everyone in the Government, in this House and in the whole country when I say that this is a moment that we hoped we would not reach; a moment that my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, and many others, have worked immensely hard to avoid through our huge diplomatic effort.

The debate has highlighted many clear differences, which have been expressed many times before in your Lordships' House, on how the international community should respond to the threat posed by Iraq. But let me begin by referring to the area of much greater agreement across all the contributions made today. For all the intensity of our debate today one matter has been striking—that is, the breadth of agreement that the Iraqi regime is evil, cruel and has palpably failed to disarm and meet a series of UN obligations placed on it.

The key questions raised by your Lordships in the debate and in previous discussions are about whether we have really exhausted all possibilities except that of armed conflict; about the legality of any military action; about the legal position of those engaged in any conflict; about the immediate impact on Iraq itself; about the longer-term issues of rebuilding that country; about the effect on our broader international relationships, including the Middle East peace process; and about whether or not the conflict is morally justifiable. By that I mean not whether it is legal or whether the timing is right, but whether in and of itself it is the right thing to do. I shall now do my best to answer some of those points.

The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, referred to weapons of mass destruction and questioned the issue of the means of delivery. She was echoing a point made yesterday by my right honourable friend Robin Cook. I refer her—and, indeed, my right honourable friend—to the 173-page document from Hans Blix entitled Unresolved Disarmament Issues. The noble Baroness will find that it is not correct to say that Iraqi WMDs do not pose a strategic threat or that there is no missile capability. There are up to 20 al-Hussein missiles. With a range of 650 kilometres, they are capable of reaching Jerusalem, Nicosia, Tehran and Riyadh. UNMOVIC has been unable to account for 50 CBW warheads for these terror weapons.

18 Mar 2003 : Column 224

As we know from before—I shall not go into the details—there are thousands of chemical and biological bombs. But let me return to means of delivery. There are the aerial spray devices for chemical and biological weapons mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Blaker. There are the Al-Samoud 2 missiles, which have a range of just under 200 kilometres and are capable of delivering weapons to parts of Turkey and Saudi Arabia and to all of Kuwait.

Iraq has never come clean on its UAV programme but has admitted in the past to investigating the use of drones to deliver CBW. Earlier this month, the inspectors found a large drone called the Al Mussayara 30A which Iraq never declared. There are numerous other examples in the document.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, is right—150 inspectors simply will not find the weapons of mass destruction in a country the size of France. Indeed, it was not their job to do so. It was the job of the Iraqi regime to co-operate and it was the inspectors' job to verify what they were told, as clearly pointed out by my noble friend Lord Hardy of Wath.

The threat of Iraq is now a clear danger to our society, as the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, rightly reminded us. I am grateful to the noble Lord for his remarks about my right honourable friend's speeches getting better and better. I am sure they will go on doing so.

Let us turn to the point about whether the diplomatic course has come to a closure. This was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, and my noble friend Lady Turner. We discussed the position of France and whether, in relation to all UN routes, we have now exhausted negotiations. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said that she had spoken to the French embassy today; they told her that the veto was not absolute and should be seen in the context of timing.

This is a very important point. President Chirac said that he would veto quelque soit les circonstances—whatever the circumstances. As the noble Baroness would expect, there have been a number of conversations across the Channel on this point. As I understand it, President Chirac would talk about timing—the noble Baroness is quite right. He would talk about tests, but he would not talk about the authority to use force, the very point at issue, the credible threat of which he is recorded as saying was so important in getting inspectors back into Iraq. I am not French-bashing; I simply am trying to answer the point that the noble Baroness put so passionately. Instead of UNSCR 1441 and another period of looking at what possibilities lay ahead and then, if warranted, through non-cooperation, going ahead with the military option, we would be back to a position of perpetual negotiation. In our view, that was unreasonable. As my noble friend Lord MacKenzie said, it left us no scope for negotiation. I thought his analysis was entirely right on that point. We either retreat from 1441 or we go ahead with the second resolution—or, rather, the eighteenth resolution.

18 Mar 2003 : Column 225

The danger of inaction must be clear: no one, including the French, thinks that we would have got this far with inspections were it not for having 250,000 troops in the region. The real choice was and is: back away from 1441, entered into four-and-a-half short months ago, or face up to what it says.

I believe our friends in France may have meant well, but we now face the position where negotiation is beyond our reach. The noble Lord, Lord Roper, and others have been right—it is a failure of diplomacy. That much is self-evident. Those harshest of judges, time and history, will no doubt apportion blame.

The legal issues were initially raised by my noble friend Lord Richard, who said that there was a variety of opinions on the legal question. That is true. But he went on to quote from only one of your Lordships in the debate last night, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick. He might have quoted from the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Grabiner, the noble Lord, Lord Owen, or the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, a former Attorney-General. In the end, divisions of legal opinion on international law are nothing new. But the Attorney-General has had access to all information and he has delivered a clear view. I remind the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, that he has said it is legal. I advise all your Lordships to read the second FCO paper in the Printed Paper Office which gives some more background.

Let me also say to my noble friend Lord Richard that we never said a second resolution did not matter. We wanted a second resolution very much indeed. It was politically desirable, but it was never legally essential, as the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, and my noble friend Lord Desai said. If I may say so, I thought that my noble friend Lord Richard over-egged his pudding. No one doubts the importance we attach to that second resolution—or eighteenth resolution, depending on how you look at it. No one could have worked harder to attain that resolution. It was enormously important to us politically but not legally. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater. My noble friend Lord Richard seemed to set on one side the enormously long history of UN resolutions on Iraq—Chapter 7 on mandatory resolutions, beginning with 660 in August 1990. The noble Lord, Lord King, was right—progress came only when Saddam Hussein really believed that he was facing a credible threat of force. My noble and learned friend Lord Williams laid out the history. There have been five final declarations—every one of them false, every one a story of sustained lying and deceit, every one an example of cynical defiance of the UN.

The legal position was also challenged by my noble friends Lord Judd, Lord Ahmed and Lady Turner. I hope that they will read carefully again both sides of the arguments put. I repeat briefly that UNSCR 687 was suspended but did not terminate the authorisation to use force in UNSCR 678. The formality of acceptance of its terms was not sufficient. Iraq was, and is, required to comply with those terms. My noble friend Lady Ramsay of Cartvale was quite right in the view that she put forward. What came out in

18 Mar 2003 : Column 226

Resolution 1441 was not the first of the final opportunities; it was the final "final opportunity", as was recognised by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharples.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, was quite right. Our forces will be upholding 17 UN Security Council resolutions. The latest, Resolution 1441, was unequivocal in demanding Iraqi co-operation, and in demanding that it was immediate, unconditional and active. On all three counts Iraq has failed.

I remind the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, that this war, if it comes, was never motivated by regime change. Fervently as we may desire that change, it is now, and always has been, about disarmament in terms of weapons of mass destruction. We are quite clear on that.

The noble Lord, Lord Howell, was right when he said that, although that is the main point, we also wish to see the back of that regime for its support of terrorism, for its appalling humanitarian record and for the threat it poses to its neighbours and to world peace.

What is the legal framework for those fighting? I was asked that question by the noble Lord and by his noble friend Lord Strathclyde. Military planning is very careful to minimise civilian casualties. The planning and action of our forces will take full account of the requirements and obligations of international humanitarian law, including the Geneva conventions and The Hague regulations.

But that has been true since the emergence of this body of law. It is true today; it will be true tomorrow. The Government's signature to and ratification of the Rome Statute establishing the International Criminal Court—the point that particularly concerned the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde—and our full support of the ICC do not in any way change the obligations that we have had in our Armed Forces to act in accordance with international humanitarian law.

I turn to the points raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, and the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont—and I thank them for their remarks about my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. I do believe that the five tests that we have put forward as our compromise—and the sixth added by Hans Blix—were straightforward. Incidentally, I think it is sad that France rejected that compromise even before Iraq had done so.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, raised some of the longer-term questions about Iraq after the conflict. In this he was joined by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford, the noble Lords, Lord Redesdale and Lord Wright of Richmond, and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover. These are matters that we have discussed at length. I did so myself when was in Qatar recently.

I will write to all noble Lords on this. I know how much your Lordships are concerned with it. However, perhaps I may make a few brief points. Our work is aimed at helping to minimise the risk of humanitarian suffering as well as alleviating it when it occurs. That has guided all our planning.

18 Mar 2003 : Column 227

In the event of a conflict in Iraq, the DfID would have two humanitarian roles. One will be to help to advise the Ministry of Defence and the Armed Forces on how best to discharge their humanitarian responsibilities under The Hague and the Geneva conventions. The other is to use the funds, expertise and influence available to the department to support the direct delivery of impartial humanitarian assistance by the international humanitarian community.

There have been discussions with a number of different agencies. But I stress to your Lordships that it is likely that in the first stages of any conflict UN agencies and NGOs would not be fully operational, particularly if there is credible use of chemical and biological weapons. Military forces might have to have the primary responsibility for the initial delivery of humanitarian assistance. They might have to provide secure environments for other organisations to deliver humanitarian assistance. It is important to be clear about this. A great deal will possibly ride on the shoulders of our military in those first few days. But the principles that we apply will be the same as anywhere else. They are not determined by the nature of the conflict or subject to military strategy or diplomatic considerations. We shall respect international humanitarian law and relevant human rights laws and conventions.

The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, and my noble friend Lord Ahmed were rightly worried about the humanitarian situation. Iraqi people's lives are perilously fragile. About 60 per cent of the population are now completely dependent on food rationing introduced in the Iran/Iraq war. Almost a third of all the children in the centre and south suffer from chronic malnutrition. In Baghdad-controlled Iraq, the under-five mortality rate has shot up to 131 per 1,000 live births. More than half of the Iraqis living in rural areas have no access to safe water.

The situation is difficult, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford and the noble Lords, Lord Desai, Lord Redesdale, and Lord Howell, were right to concentrate on what will happen in the longer term. We are acting, with the UN, through the Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, to try to establish a leading role on the co-ordination of humanitarian activity, including the vital function of pooling and sharing information about priority needs. There is also close liaison, not only with UN agencies, into whose contingency planning we are already feeding, but into the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Affairs in the US Department of Defence, which is now leading American planning on humanitarian issues that would arise in any conflict. We have a secondee to the United States for that issue.

What can we do? We can work to ensure that any military campaign is as swift and carefully targeted as possible; we can work with the UN and the international community, as I have described. We must enable Iraqis to establish their own effective representative government. We must also achieve a swift end to sanctions as soon as Iraq is in compliance with the UN Security Council resolutions. We want

18 Mar 2003 : Column 228

also to support Iraq's reintegration into the region and the wider international community. We want to promote increased aid from the international community, promote investment into Iraq's oil industry, and encourage renewed cultural and educational exchanges.

I have spent some time on those issues, as it is important and so many of your Lordships were concerned about it. Many of your Lordships will know about the paper, A Vision for Iraq, to which the noble Lord, Lord Elton, referred and which was published after the meeting in the Azores at the weekend. That paper sets out the kind of programme that I have outlined, which has been agreed with the United States. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Elton, that I will write to him with detailed answers to the questions that he raised about the Azores paper.

I shall also write to those of your Lordships who raised questions about Afghanistan. Some of your Lordships have continued to exaggerate the problems there, and I would welcome the opportunity to discuss the situation with many of you, but in the first instance I shall write.

I turn to the questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, about the international coalition that he said was so desirable. Of course, I agree. Many countries—and that is not an exaggeration—have indicated their support. Many say that they will give their support, logistically and possibly militarily as well. That includes countries in Europe, in the region and much further afield. I warmly support the points made on that by the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford. He is absolutely right.

The noble Lord, Lord Jopling, was uncharacteristically rather gloomy about the United States. He should judge the administration by its actions, not by its words—or, to put it more accurately, by the words of some of the administration. The United States did choose to go down the UN road; it did work with us and others on UNSCR 1441; it is working with us and others to strengthen UNMOVIC's capacities; it worked with us and others on a further resolution—now, sadly, put beyond our reach.

We now need to work with the US and with others—I assure our friends on the Liberal Democrat Benches of that—to ensure and facilitate the work of the UN in the coming months. Kofi Annan has spoken on that matter in the past few days. I remind all your Lordships about the Azores declaration, which says:

    "We plan to work in close partnership with international institutions, including with the United Nations".

That statement was agreed only last weekend.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Richmond, that the vision must be for an international perspective pursued with determination, professionalism and courage—those were his words. I can, and do, assure the noble Lord that that is a priority. I agree strongly with the noble Lord, Lord Roper, that we must turn our minds to how those international relationships can flourish in future.

18 Mar 2003 : Column 229

I turn to the points raised by the noble Lords, Lord Blaker, Lord Chan, Lord Wright of Richmond, and the noble Earl, Lord Russell, about the Middle East peace process. Our aim remains a just and lasting peace in the dispute between Israel and her Arab neighbours. That settlement must allow for a secure state of Israel and a viable and secure state of Palestine. Yasser Arafat has nominated the excellent Abu Mazen as the Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority, and the Palestinian Legislative Council met today. It has passed amendments to the Palestinian law required for that appointment. That is a very significant step and a tribute to the value of engagement by the United Kingdom and others. As soon as the appointment of the prime minister is confirmed, we expect immediate publication of the quartet road map. I understand the cynicism of the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, but this is a step which many of us, including the noble Lord, have wanted for a long time. Whatever its genesis, I welcome it wholeheartedly. However it happened, it is important that it has happened. I believe that it was partly got on its way by our influence.

I turn to the questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, about Mr Mugabe and North Korea. The noble Lord asked whether what we are doing would be a bad example to them. I hope that they will see what is happening and note that some nations are prepared to understand that words mean what they say. I think that not to act would be a far more potent message to North Korea, to Mugabe, to whomsoever. As my noble friend Lord MacKenzie, said, we need to get over the message that tyranny can and will flourish if good men and women look the other way.

Some noble Lords asked about the political challenges of the future. The noble Lords, Lord Watson and Lord Jopling, obviously had a very depressing time when they visited Washington. The noble Lord, Lord Watson, said that he had heard about a nightmare with regard to the possibility of terrorism in United States cities. Does the noble Lord really wonder why that is? It is only 18 months since America really did wake up to precisely that nightmare. The issue, again, is the linkage between weapons of mass destruction and terrorism, also mentioned by the noble Lords, Lord Mackie of Benshie and Lord Howell of Guildford. As the Prime Minister said, there is a strategic anxiety over terrorism and WMD. It is a fear which Her Majesty's Government share. Proliferation of WMD in the hands of a state with a history of mass murder and defiance of the UN is truly appalling. The possibility of such weapons leaking into the hands of terrorists is one that we have to guard against as, if that occurs, it will not result in the deaths of 3,000 people but 30,000 or 300,000. That would be a terrible situation.

The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, was right to say that war is a last resort—a point echoed by my noble friend Lord Judd—but when the noble Lord said that he was ashamed of the Government I say to him that others might be equally ashamed if we did not act. This is the last resort. It could not have been made clearer

18 Mar 2003 : Column 230

in Resolution 1441. It was stated there—the final opportunity after 12 years, 17 resolutions, and four and a half months.

I turn to some of the points raised by noble Lords about whether or not the action is right. For 12 years the international community has shown great patience, yet for 12 years the regime has responded with persistent defiance—12 years and 17 resolutions. What is remarkable is not that patience ran out but that it lasted so long. For all those years Saddam has shown himself to be adept at tricks and manoeuvres to divide the world. Each time he succeeds, each time he is further emboldened, each time he is further empowered. There is always the last minute discovery, "Oh, we do have a bomb we overlooked", or that last minute concession, "We shall destroy the al-Samoud weapons". There is always an attempt to buy more time. But it is an attempt, sadly, to do something far more damaging; to sow that awful seed of doubt in the minds of good and decent men and women, the doubt that says, "There is another way. There might be another way out. Let us not resort to force. Let us try one more time". And so the number of resolutions rises from 1990 to 2003 and we try over and over and over again to discover what we always knew, namely, that we are dealing with a liar and a tyrant. What we hoped, namely, that the goal of a peaceful settlement was achievable, was, sadly, all too wrong.

Our purpose is disarmament. But in taking military action I have no doubt that the Iraqi people will be liberated from a life of tyranny and a repression which has imprisoned them for so long. Those were points put forward very movingly by many noble Lords today. Saddam has turned Iraq from a prosperous Arab country of great potential into a poverty stricken nation dependent on food aid and suffering horrible, horrible human rights abuses. In the event of military action and the overthrow of his terrible regime, we shall enable the Iraqi people to reclaim their country, their natural resources and their own future. We shall thereby secure the long-term reconstruction and the renewal of Iraq. I agree strongly with the moral case for action put forward by my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours. He put his case as powerfully as the noble Earl, Lord Russell, and the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, put theirs to the contrary. I believe that my noble friend was right. The United Nations must face up to its responsibilities. I hope that he was right that, as a result of the awful conflict that we face, a new future for Iraq will demonstrate to the UN what should be done.

I was grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford for everything he said, for his visit to the garrison in Colchester and, in particular, for his remarks about the chaplains. His views are different from mine, but I hope that we can both respect the sincerity of our respective positions. We all recognise that in Britain we are fortunate to be served by the highest quality military forces in the world. I am sure that all noble Lords support me in sending the strongest possible message of support to those Armed Forces in the Gulf, and to their loved ones who wait at home.

18 Mar 2003 : Column 231

The mission of our Armed Forces is to enforce the will of the United Nations and the international community—that is to disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction, and in so doing make the region a safer place for its people. Although I disagree with my noble friend Lord Judd, I agree wholly with his heartfelt hope that any conflict is brief and quickly over and that loss of life is kept to a minimum. I also

18 Mar 2003 : Column 232

hope that we shall uphold the moral case described so ably by my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours to uphold UN resolutions, secure a better future for the long-suffering people of Iraq and make the longer-term future of the region and the world safer and more secure.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

        House adjourned at twenty-eight minutes before ten o'clock.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page