Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Bach: My Lords, it was not the job of Hans Blix and the inspectors to find such prohibited weapons of mass destruction. It was the duty of the Iraqi authorities to hand such weapons over immediately after the passing of Resolution 1441—well before that, one might say. The inspectors were not supposed to be detectives, and Resolution 1441 was expressly clear on what it required the Iraqi authorities to do.

20 Mar 2003 : Column 392

My noble friend is right. I heard the interview with Hans Blix on the "Today" programme this morning, in which he expressed disappointment. I acknowledge that, but, in his turn, my noble friend must acknowledge that Hans Blix also made it clear that he was disappointed that, after three and a half months of inspection work, following the passing of Resolution 1441, there had been no clear assurances from the Iraqis of the absence of weapons of mass destruction. In my view, that justifies what we are doing.

Lord Eden of Winton: My Lords, I welcome the references in the Statement to media reporting. Does the noble Lord recall the excessive coverage during the previous Gulf War by CNN and the damage that it did to the allied cause? On this occasion, might not the media be reminded that it is not some form of showbiz in which they must compete for coverage? This is for real, and lives will be at risk the whole time. In those circumstances, is it too much to hope that they will show some measure of self-restraint and some sense of responsibility?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I remember the reporting of the Gulf War. The noble Lord makes a fair point, but I must say that there is, as yet, nothing to suggest that the media have not learnt lessons from that experience. There is some time to go before we can make a judgment on that, but what the noble Lord said should be borne in mind by all the media—there are thousands of media people in the Gulf—in their reporting of the news.

The Lord Bishop of Gloucester: My Lords, I was saddened this morning to hear the news that military action against Iraq had begun, in spite of recent strenuous efforts to achieve a peaceful resolution. As we have heard numerous times in recent days, many people in our country and the world, including me and other noble Lords, had great hopes of a diplomatic solution. It is of the greatest concern when such diplomacy fails and armed conflict is perceived to be the last resort in settling the world's problems.

Like many noble Lords, I remain less than convinced that sufficient evidence was produced to justify the action, but that is now history. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford said in the recent debate in your Lordships' House, we must now refocus our concerns. We can and will unite with those who have always supported military action, and we can do so in several ways.

We will pray that the conflict will be over as speedily as possible. We will pray that casualties will be as few as possible. We will hope and pray for the appropriate rehabilitation of Iraq and its civilian population and for proper humanitarian treatment for families, especially the children. We will pray that a new and better Iraq, free of tyranny, will emerge when the conflict ends—soon, we hope.

In the debate in your Lordships' House the other evening, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford drew our attention to the vital ministry of our service chaplains in the conflict. I am glad to draw

20 Mar 2003 : Column 393

our attention to their work and promise them my strong support for their ministry. I assure them and all the members of our armed services with whom they serve and their anxious families and loved ones of our earnest and continuing prayers.

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the right reverend Prelate, but I must ask him to frame a question.

The Lord Bishop of Gloucester: My Lords, will the Minister ask the Churches to continue to pray, to keep their churches open for such prayer and continue to strive, with other faith communities, to stand firm together in this difficult period?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate for those remarks. The United Kingdom Government had exactly the same hope as he and his colleagues had that we could solve the issue by diplomatic means.

I also thank the right reverend Prelate for what he said about service padres. I know that priests of different denominations and faiths already play an important part in keeping British troops—and other troops as well, no doubt—feeling wanted and important. They are helping them at a difficult time for them and their families. We have all seen on television the services that have taken place in the past few days. Importantly, they are inter-faith, rather than being for just one faith.

Finally, I say to the right reverend Prelate that many of us will have listened to his colleague—our colleague—the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford this morning on the "Today" programme and will have heard him use the prayer of St Augustine. I found it very affecting.

Lord Vincent of Coleshill: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his clear and timely Statement and for the helpful information that he made available to the House in his answers to subsequent questions.

The Minister indicated the number and type of the forces deployed out there. If my mental arithmetic is right, we have more there than at the time of the Gulf War, when the Armed Forces were about 330,000 strong. Today, they are 250,000 strong, and 19,000 at home have to stand by to act as fire-fighters. Can the Minister tell the House whether the Government are considering the long-term sustainability of the operation, if it turns out to be a longer and harder struggle than we hope?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and gallant Lord, who had great experience of the first Gulf War some years ago. Undoubtedly, he is right. The fact that 19,000 of our Armed Forces personnel must stand by for possible Fire Brigades Union strikes is shocking. I believe that most members of that union will appreciate how shocking it is at this time, when our troops are putting themselves on the line.

20 Mar 2003 : Column 394

As the noble and gallant Lord will understand better than most, there is much consideration in the Ministry of Defence and elsewhere of the dispositions of our Armed Forces, if the conflict takes any length of time. At this stage, I can tell the noble and gallant Lord only that those discussions are going on.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, we should be grateful to the noble Lord for making the Statement and for the manner in which he made it, whatever side we take on the conflict. However, I must press him on the treatment of prisoners of war. This is an extremely important aspect, bearing in mind that the United States has incarcerated in Cuba, without trial and in not very good conditions, Taliban fighters who are as much soldiers as anyone. It has kept them without access and, apparently, without much representation from our Government.

Will the Government ensure that prisoners of war captured in this war are treated according to international standards? Will the Minister ensure that the Government make representation to the United States and any other country's forces which might be involved in this war that they do likewise? If they do not, we are not acting quite like Saddam Hussein, but nevertheless we are not acting in accordance with the high principles of which this country is rightly proud.

Lord Bach: My Lords, I agree with everything that the noble Lord says. He can rest assured that we shall ensure that any prisoners of war are looked after in accordance with international law. Anything else would be quite wrong. Indeed, if we look forward to a new Iraq, which we should do now, it will be doubly important that those poor conscripts, who in many cases have been dragged into the Iraqi army without any choice, are well looked after. They have a place in the future of Iraq and we must ensure that they do not lose faith in that.

Lord King of Bridgwater: My Lords, I offer my best wishes to the Minister and his colleagues, who are to face a very tough time indeed. In the first 24 hours—or barely that—one can see how the wealth of rumour is spreading and the difficulty that the Ministers will have in trying to give accurate information. There is one particular aspect that I hope Ministers will ensure is followed through. If we were, sadly, to suffer casualties, it is of prime importance that the next of kin are told at the earliest possible moment in a properly sympathetic and considerate way and do not learn it from the media. It is important that if casualties have to be announced the Minister can say then that the next of kin have been informed. That is very important because when casualties are announced everyone thinks that their son or brother is involved—all 35,000 of them. Therefore, from the point of view of morale, it is very important that that information accompanies any announcement. It is a major challenge and a major test, but I hope that that will be met.

20 Mar 2003 : Column 395

Lord Bach: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, for his good wishes to Ministers. He had a very responsible role during the previous Gulf war. He speaks with a great deal of experience from that time. His good wishes are much appreciated by all Ministers.

He is absolutely right about the dangers of rumour. As the noble Lord, Lord Eden mentioned, we live in an age of constant, 24-hour media coverage. There is a real responsibility on the media as regards the prospect of casualties. As he would expect, there are papers in the Ministry of Defence that I have seen that deal anxiously with this particular issue. I reassure him that as far as the Ministry is concerned it will be essential that any announcement of casualties is done in an appropriate way—namely, in the way he outlined.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page