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Baroness Strange: My Lords, does the Minister agree that, although we have had the Hundred Years War with France and other wars, in Scotland we have

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had the Auld Alliance and there have been much longer periods of friendship between our two nations? What are friends for if sometimes we cannot disagree?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Baroness that the strength of friendship means that it is much easier to have disagreements and to deal with them.

Lord Brookman: My Lords, on everyone's mind will be the eventual restructuring of Iraq. To what extent are constructive discussions ongoing with France to that end?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, the House will be aware that with regard to reconstruction in Iraq we seek a further Security Council resolution. Our objective is to achieve the widest possible coalition of support under UN auspices, so we shall work closely with the French and with other Security Council partners on the issue. That is absolutely vital. Noble Lords will know that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister is now on his way to the United States to discuss with the Administration the reconstruction efforts.

Lord Swinfen: My Lords, will the Minister tell the House whether the Government are aware of any pressure brought to bear by France on Turkey as to the United States transfer of troops through Turkey to northern Iraq, particularly in the light of Turkey's application to join the EU?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I am certainly not aware of any such pressure. I am happy to take that question back and to write to the noble Lord if I can add anything.

Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords, the Question refers quite specifically to how Her Majesty's Government intend to improve relationships with the Government and the people of France. Can the Minister advise the House as to the extent to which the French Government and the people of France intend to improve relationships with Britain?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, it would be slightly difficult for me to answer on behalf of the French Government and the French people, although I can hear my noble friend behind me saying "Go on".

In any relationship or partnership things have to be two-way. We should not be able to have discussions with our French counterparts if they were not prepared to have those discussions with us. I can assure the House that we are engaged in discussions with our French colleagues on a whole range of issues. I repeat: although the disagreement on Iraq runs deep, there are a number of different areas—immigration, education and defence. The noble Lord may not know that after the Franco-British summit a proposal was submitted on defence. I am happy to write to the noble Lord about it.

The Lord Bishop of Hereford: My Lords, perhaps we may briefly refer to the gastronomic theme. Is the

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Minister aware, in view of the mention of the fondness of the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, for lunch at La Coupole, that that particular restaurant has an Anglophile menu? The last time I lunched there, on the menu was "Welsh rabbit", which was excellent. When I inquired of the waiter where the cheese came from, he was unable to answer. But, after a foray into the kitchen, he returned, beaming all over his face, with the news, "C'est le Cheddar".

Baroness Amos: My Lords, it would be impossible to say anything that would top what the right reverend Prelate has said.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, will the Minister say whether the French are fully onside with us on the need for regime change in Harare?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, first, it is not British policy to have regime change in Harare. We have consistently said that we want to see a return to the rule of law, the end of harassment, and that one way to achieve that would be to have free and fair elections in Zimbabwe. There were not free and fair presidential elections last year. It is for the people of Zimbabwe to decide who they want to lead their country.

Business of the House: Debates this Day

3.13 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the debate on the Motion in the name of the Lord Chalfont set down for today shall be limited to two-and-a-half hours and that in the name of the Lord Northbourne to three hours.—(Lord Williams of Mostyn.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.


3.14 p.m.

Lord Bach: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place earlier today by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence.

    "With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a further Statement about military action in Iraq. Coalition forces have made significant progress since my Statement to the House last Friday.

    "Saddam Hussein's calculation in this conflict is that western democracies are weak, that they have no stomach for a fight, that they will not stand up and go on standing up for the things they believe in.

    "Tyrants misunderstand and miscalculate the values that are at the heart of our democracies—that we are here in this House only because people are able freely to elect us, and that we uphold and

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    observe the rule of law. They also forget that the members of our Armed Forces volunteer to serve their country.

    "Our Armed Forces comprise free men and women with their own often strongly held individual views and ideas. They serve together and risk their lives together because they choose to, not because some thug stands behind them or their family with threats of torture or execution.

    "Those free men and women choose to risk their lives in the defence of values we share. And when those lives are lost we pay proper tribute to them and to their families, because they stand in our place, and we must in turn resolutely stand up for them.

    "That is why on behalf of the Government I extend our condolences to the families and friends of those servicemen who died—20 individuals with 20 grieving families. Whether they died in tragic accidents, or from enemy fire, these men gave their lives in the service of their country and in defence of the highest ideals. We owe them and their families a profound debt of gratitude for their sacrifice. They will not be forgotten.

    "We have all seen the reporting from the 24-hour media over the last few days. Inevitably, such reporting reflects the immediate situation around specific journalists. It does not always give an overall picture or strategic perspective.

    "I would therefore like to set out the context by reporting progress against the tasks identified in the Government's military campaign objectives published on 20th March.

    "After six days of conflict, the coalition has made steady progress, following the main outline of our military plan, towards the objective of overcoming resistance from the Iraqi security forces. The Al Fawr peninsula, Umm Qasr and the southern oilfields have been secured, and Iraqi resistance in those areas defeated. 3 Commando Brigade is in control, and the United States 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit has been released to return to the lst Marine Expeditionary Force which is now heading towards Baghdad.

    "16 Air Assault Brigade is deployed in the southern oilfields and the 7th Armoured Brigade dominates the Basra area. Resistance in nearby Az Zubayr has been defeated and British forces are in place in much of the area around the city of Basra.

    "US forces are spearheading an advance northwards with lead elements at Karbala, 60 miles south of Baghdad. US Marine combat units have also crossed the Euphrates and are proceeding northwards. Honourable Members will have seen accounts of the serious engagement near al Najaf last night in which US forces from the 5th Corps repelled an attack by Iraqi forces.

    "Over 5,000 sorties have now been flown in the air campaign, and we have achieved significant degradation of Iraqi regime and command and control facilities. The focus of our effort will now shift towards close air support of coalition ground forces advancing on Baghdad.

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    "On our most important campaign objective—namely, to deny Iraq use of its weapons of mass destruction—our efforts have centred on disabling the command and control facilities through which the Iraqi regime would order the use of such weapons. Our experts have already begun to investigate potential weapons sites in coalition-controlled areas. To date, we have no evidence of Iraqi use of weapons of mass destruction during this campaign. But it is impossible to know whether this is the result of successful military operations or a deliberate tactical judgment of the Iraqi regime. Indeed, we know from prisoners of war that protective equipment was issued to southern Iraqi divisions.

    "As the Prime Minister has made clear, it will be the removal of Saddam Hussein's appalling regime which will ultimately lead to Iraqi disarmament. To achieve this, we have been seeking to isolate the regime at all levels in every part of Iraq—in Baghdad, Tikrit, Mosul and in Basra—primarily by the use of precision attacks against regime and military targets. Although the regime has not yet collapsed—Saddam Hussein's thugs continue to resist in some areas—the regime has effectively lost control of southern Iraq. The regime must know that its days are now numbered.

    "British forces have made a key contribution towards the objective of ensuring that essential economic infrastructure is secure. The southern oil fields and associated infrastructure have been secured with very little damage. Umm Qasr, the country's one significant port, is under coalition control and is in working condition. A mine countermeasures task force under Royal Navy command and including US and Australian elements is making steady progress in clearing the Khawr Abd Allah waterway of any mines. That is necessarily a slow and painstaking process.

    "In the areas now under our control, British commanders are making contacts in the local communities in order to begin the process of restoring normality.

    "We seek to deter wider conflict both inside and outside Iraq. The situation in coalition-controlled Iraq is generally stable, although we are keeping a close watch on events in Basra. I can assure the House that the welfare of the people of Basra is at the forefront of the concerns of coalition commanders. Coalition forces are engaging groups of enemy forces as they try to flee the city and we have successfully struck key regime targets within it—notably, overnight, the Ba'ath Party headquarters.

    "Northern Iraq remains stable and we intend to preserve that position. The situation remains calm along Iraq's other borders. Much of coalition-controlled Iraq bordering Iran is under British command, but the suggestion that the Royal Marines were sent to guard against Iranian forces is

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    simply not true. We are seeking close contacts with the Iranian authorities to reduce the scope for any misunderstanding.

    "Overall, our campaign aims to secure a better future for the people of Iraq. Our fight is not with the people of Iraq. There can be no greater demonstration of that than the efforts that we are making to provide immediate humanitarian support and assistance where we can. Let us be clear: there has long been a humanitarian crisis in Iraq caused by Saddam Hussein's misrule and plundering of that country's resources for military spending, including his programmes to develop weapons of mass destruction. Many Iraqis have long been dependent on aid from the UN Oil for Food programme, and more than half of Iraqis living in rural areas have no access to safe water.

    "The first stage in providing that help to Iraq must be defeating Saddam Hussein's forces and establishing a secure environment. That is necessary before we can begin to conduct humanitarian operations. The Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessel "Sir Galahad" is loaded with water, medical supplies, food and equipment for providing shelter. It is waiting to enter Umm Qasr as soon as the sea lanes have been cleared of mines. At the same time, in a co-operative effort with Kuwait and the United States, Royal Engineers are constructing a water pipe from Kuwait into Iraq to provide drinking water.

    "That humanitarian effort will build up over the coming weeks. It is impossible to know for certain the full extent of the resources that will be required. But, in conjunction with the Department for International Development, we have plans to address what we know are likely to be the most immediate and pressing needs. That must be part of a wider international effort, and the International Committee of the Red Cross is already providing support to the Iraqi people in Basra and elsewhere.

    "After six days of military operations against the Iraqi regime, the coalition has made steady progress. Our servicemen and women have played a pivotal role in what has been achieved and we can be proud of their courage, resilience and determination in combat. But there is much more to achieve, and much more that we can offer the people of Iraq. The Government's position is clear. We will remain resolute until our objectives have been met."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.24 p.m.

Lord Vivian: My Lords, from these Benches we are grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement made in another place. I say at the outset that all our thoughts and sympathy are extended to the families of the courageous troops who have lost their lives and been wounded. We are grateful for the overall view of the campaign repeated by the Minister, as television reporting covers a mass of small incidents that can on occasion be misleading and unhelpful.

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On balance, it is clear that the coalition forces are doing well, that things are going to plan and that there has been no real set-back for our forces. In fact, significant progress has been made.

However, it is with great regret that casualties have occurred. It is regrettably likely that more may occur, but we must stiffen our resolve in that respect. With regard to the tragic friendly fire accident of a Queen's Royal Lancer tank being destroyed by our own troops, I do not feel that it is wise to comment further until we know the outcome of the inquiry, but of course it does demonstrate how essential it is that our own Challenger tanks and Warrior armoured vehicles have proper, working Identification Friend or Foe systems. In particular, I send all my sympathies to the families of the two tank crewmen who were killed and the two who were severely wounded.

I have several questions for the Minister. Why has it taken so long to silence the Iraqi television and broadcasting system? Although the main transmitters have been destroyed, other systems keep it running. If we want the people of Iraq to rise up, it is essential that speeches by Saddam Hussein are not seen or heard. Why should we have to listen to commentary by Saddam's generals broadcast by the BBC?

Will the Minister say a little more about the role of 16 Air Assault Brigade in the Ramaliah oil fields and of the Royal Marines on the Iranian border, to which he referred? I am not asking about their missions, but I should be interested, as I expect the House would be, to know a little more about their overall roles.

We have achieved what the plan required so far. Those achievements are excellent. We must keep stressing those achievements, and 7th Armoured Brigade is to be congratulated on its operations around Basra. The clearance of the Umm Qasr port and the waterways by the Royal Navy and its minesweepers has been an exemplary operation. It is to be congratulated on having done such a dangerous job so well.

I am sure that all sides of the House wish to convey our messages of good fortune to all our soldiers, sailors and airmen. We pray for their safe return. We owe them a vast debt of gratitude and I pay respectful tribute to them all.

3.27 p.m.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, we echo that support for our soldiers fighting in Iraq at present and our regret for those who have died, especially through friendly fire. That is obviously one of the worst situations that the Armed Forces can face. Considering how complicated and dangerous is the operation that has been embarked on, it is almost to be expected. When soldiers are fighting at night and in sand, such tragedies may well take place. I hope that the Government will ensure—as I am sure that they are doing—that the systems that safeguard our troops against friendly fire incidents are satisfactory.

The Iraqi regime has not collapsed in the way that we were led to believe, mostly by the press. I hope that the Government will continue their careful and

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cautious policy, and that the constraints protecting Iraqi civilians from the overwhelming firepower of the coalition forces will not be relaxed.

It is extremely welcome that no chemical weapons have yet been used. However, there was a report in the press that a chemical weapons factory had been discovered. Was there any truth in that, or was it press speculation?

One issue that is now coming to the fore as ground is taken is humanitarian aid. It is a source of some relief that I believe that half of the water supply in Basra is now back on-line. It will be important for troops to get into Basra to normalise the situation, because it is not just the lack of food and water that will cause real upset, it will also be the inability of Iraqi farmers to take their tomatoes to market and sell their produce.

Although that is just a short-term crisis, in the long term it will affect how the Iraqi people view the coalition forces. I believe that only three countries have given military support to the action in Iraq. Can the Minister indicate how many countries have committed forces or units for humanitarian relief? I ask that question particularly because, until the situation is settled in Iraq, the military will have to guard humanitarian convoys and allow non-governmental organisations to work in safety. That will cause a great drain on our military resources in the Gulf.

Obviously, our thoughts are with the soldiers in Iraq. But our thoughts are also with the people of Iraq who face such fear and danger.

3.30 p.m.

Lord Bach: My Lords, I thank both noble Lords from the Front Benches for their helpful and supportive comments at this time. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, perhaps I may say a word about the sad deaths of the two soldiers in the Challenger tank. The noble Lord did not mention it but I know, and your Lordships House would want to know, that the soldiers came from the same regiment that the noble Lord served in so notably for many years. While we all feel the pain of that appalling incident, I dare say that the noble Lord feels it as much, if not more, strongly. I am sure that your Lordships would want to ask the noble Lord to pass on our best wishes to that brave regiment.

There is an ongoing inquiry into the incident. The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, asked questions about it. He will forgive me if I say very little, save that a range of equipment was fitted to Challenger 2 tanks before the operation to contribute to the combat ID capability. Whatever is or is not fitted, I regret that the ghastly truth is that in war—I dare say this was true of olden days as well as in modern times—there can never be 100 per cent guarantee that these particularly appalling incidents of friendly fire do not occur. That is all I shall say on that topic now.

The noble Lord, Lord Vivian, asked questions about some British forces and whether I could give more detail. I am afraid that I am not in a position to give that information to him today.

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As regards weapons of mass destruction, the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, asked a question in relation to the site about which we have all read in the newspapers. The position has not advanced much since those reports. We are aware of reports that a so-called chemical weapons factory has been discovered near Najaf. The Pentagon will not be drawn on these reports—quite understandably—while they are unconfirmed. Of course, we will not be drawn either. But I assure noble Lords that extremely careful research is going on to establish whether there is anything in that newspaper story.

On humanitarian relief, I cannot give the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, an exact number for the nations involved. Indeed, I am not sure that knowing precise numbers of nations involved in various aspects adds very much. I am neither confirming nor denying the statement that he made; namely, that three countries are involved in war fighting at present.

The point is that the military action against the regime to enforce disarmament of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction is supported by a broad coalition of well over 40 countries. Some 20 countries are providing or have offered military forces or host nation basing to the coalition and supporting activity. A large number of other nations are providing logistical support as well. Many countries have expressed their desire to help the crucial humanitarian assistance part of this campaign.

Finally, I confirm to the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, that my understanding, too, is that 50 per cent of the water supply to Basra has now been restored.

3.35 p.m.

Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: My Lords, the Minister no doubt in error overlooked the question about television being disabled.

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