Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, listening to this fascinating debate today serves to remind us of the enormous depth of expertise and experience that noble Lords bring to discussion of subjects of this gravity. These thoughtful contributions add real value and understanding to the public debate at this crucial time. I join other noble Lords in expressing my heartfelt sympathies, and those of these Benches, to the people of Beslan and to the Russian people as a whole. I, too, would like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, for introducing this debate on Iraq with the authority and intellectual rigour that we have come to expect from her.

Before turning to Iraq, I should like to touch on the events in Darfur. The situation is undoubtedly horrific, with murder, hunger and destruction widespread. The scenes are heart-rending and, if the UN's response and this Government's response are half-hearted, another tragedy will be added to the catalogue of calamities afflicting Africa. I hope the Minister can reassure the House that we will have an opportunity to debate it at the length it deserves in the near future.

At this late hour, I ask for your Lordships' understanding if I do not refer to all the excellent speeches, or the big picture so ably set out by my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford and others. I shall seek to address the present situation in Iraq itself.

First, I should like to reinforce totally what the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, so rightly said on the excellent, long-awaited maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Wolfson of Sunningdale. We are all very much aware of the tremendous contribution he has made to our national life outside the House, and very much hope that he will continue to make that contribution within it. I hope that his forensic speech today is but the first of many, and a sign of things to come.

This country and this Parliament, as we have heard today, have engaged in an intense debate on the rights and wrongs of military action in Iraq, as well as the use of intelligence in coming to the decision to engage in conflict and the aftermath of that conflict. Strong views have been expressed by all sides throughout. They are genuinely held views, consistently argued, and, as such, deserve to be listened to and respected, regardless of whether they might or might not accord with our own perspectives.
7 Sept 2004 : Column 546

In the post-Cold War world, new threats have emerged. Rather than two organised blocs of states facing each other in conventional ways, we now have WMD proliferation, international terrorist groups and even women suicide bombers, resulting in civilian casualties and tragic events as we have witnessed these last few days in North Ossetia. All these I have mentioned spill across borders to inflame whole regions and threaten regional and international stability.

In the case of weapons of mass destruction proliferation and in tackling terrorists and rogue states, it is not always practical to wait until the threat physically manifests itself. The American Government recognised that new geo-political environment when they developed their foreign doctrine of pre-emption designed to prevent attacks occurring. But such a doctrine is dependent upon reliable intelligence and, in a democracy, upon public faith in the intelligence upon which so many foreign policy decisions must now be based.

Like my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford, I supported the decision to take military action against Iraq to address the threat to both regional and international stability, and to enforce the UN Security Council resolutions that Saddam Hussein had for so long so openly disregarded. Many noble Lords agree that war must always be the last resort, but if we had not acted against Saddam when we did, the threat he represented would still be before us. It would still have to be tackled and possibly with far greater risk.

I, like the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Foreign Secretary, still believe that the action we took in Iraq was right. As a responsible Opposition, however, our support for the conflict was not unquestioning. The Government still owe the House and the British people an explanation for the failings in the way they presented their case or for their failure adequately to plan for the post-Saddam Iraq.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, spoke with great wisdom on the necessity of post-conflict planning, as did the noble Lord, Lord Garden. In the run-up to and during the conflict the shadow Foreign Secretary pressed the Government for a clear post-Saddam reconstruction plan. No such plan appeared and it is true that we could have achieved far more by now if an effective plan had been in place.

Many noble Lords including the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, have discussed the Butler report and highlighted the failures of the Government in the use made of intelligence material in the lead-up to the conflict. It was most interesting to hear the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Butler, today, especially after reading carefully his fascinating report this summer. There continues to be grave concern over the conduct of this Government and whether proper use was made of the intelligence. As my noble friend Lord Strathclyde said in his response to the Butler report,

7 Sept 2004 : Column 547

This could be highly damaging should he need to make a similar case in the future.

Turning to Iraq itself, many noble Lords welcomed the impressive and often unsung progress that has been made in rebuilding the country and in the handover of sovereignty to the Iraqi interim Government under the direction of Prime Minister Allawi. Positive steps have been made in sectors such as health and education but, in welcoming that, we should not forget that there is still much to be done. Our Armed Forces deserve much of the credit for helping to create the conditions in which such a handover was possible, as well as in their humanitarian work, policing civilian life in Iraq and rebuilding the country. Their professionalism and bravery in the face of considerable risks is an example to us all.

The noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, and my noble friend Lord Selsdon raised certain questions on the provision of security, which should be the first priority. Without security, the investment and NGO participation that is so vital to rebuilding Iraq will not flow. Recent reports have indicated growing unrest in parts of Iraq, including parts of the British sector, as we heard from my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford.

I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to explain in her winding-up speech what steps are being taken to remedy those problems, and I look forward to her answer to my noble friend Lord King of Bridgwater on the press blackout.

In a centralised authoritarian state such as the Ba'athist state of Iraq, the state, via the armed forces, is often the key employer. A point that was wisely made by the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, in her lucid and informed speech, was the decision to abolish the Iraqi security forces, army and police, which instantly undermined both the means to enforce law and order, and created vast unemployment, affecting millions of Iraqi families.

We all hope and pray that, despite setbacks, Iraq will emerge as a functioning and successful democratic state, and that investment can be generated, making Iraq a beacon for the region. The noble Lords, Lord Gilbert and Lord Owen, and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, stressed that we should stay, as we were there for a long haul and could not walk away.

Like my noble friend Lord King of Bridgwater, I was encouraged to read that the BBC World Service is now operating well in Iraq.

We cannot be complacent about the huge task ahead in Iraq in tackling other weapons of mass destruction proliferation issues and the omnipresent threat of terrorism. The sad truth is that the Government's handling of the case for conflict with Iraq may have made it far more difficult to persuade the British people in the future to support military action should a future threat emerge.
7 Sept 2004 : Column 548

9.52 p.m.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, as I am sure we all anticipated, this has been a wide-ranging and animated debate. We have covered a great deal of ground, including the legal justification for war, intelligence reports, the prosecution of the conflict, security issues, the future political process, reconstruction, our Armed Forces and the impact of the conflict on the Middle East, Russia, Guantanamo Bay, Afghanistan and Darfur.

I very much appreciated the interesting—indeed fascinating—contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson of Sunningdale. It was a maiden speech, despite its lengthy incubation period of 15 years. Custom in your Lordships' House rightly dictates that I should not be challenging in my response—perhaps not as challenging as the noble Lord was in his maiden speech. I look forward to the opportunity of making a less inhibited response in the future. I hope that I shall not have to wait for another 15 years to do so.

Some of the arguments are now very familiar, as the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, demonstrated in relation to the role of the United States, the relationship between the United States and the UK Government, and the role of the Prime Minister in particular. There were contentions about Arab views of the conflict in relation to the role of Israel, as demonstrated by the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley.

Much of that contrasted sharply with the views of the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings. I agree with her that it was necessary to deal with Saddam when we did or face a far worse situation later.

I shall do my best to answer the issues raised, but I shall concentrate on Iraq. I believe that both the noble Lords, Lord Owen and Garden, were right. Success in Iraq is far from certain, but it is hugely important. I tried very hard to be balanced in my opening presentation of the situation in Iraq and could not help feeling that some of your Lordships concentrated almost exclusively on the negative.

There is a great deal that causes concern and anxiety and a great deal to arouse indignation and frustration. But there is, too, much on which we can congratulate those who are striving hard to achieve a better future for Iraq and its people.

Let me deal with the issues of security raised by so many of your Lordships. I strongly agreed with the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, on global terrorism. The trends towards extreme violence against huge numbers of defenceless people is sickening. We should be under no illusion; if the terrorists could kill thousands rather than hundreds they would. The points made by the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Richmond, were highly apposite in this respect.

While I do not agree with parts of the thesis put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan of Rogart, I strongly agreed with his point that the international community needs better means than
7 Sept 2004 : Column 549
currently available to us to deal with international conflicts, whether generated by fear of terrorism or by the threat of weapons of mass destruction.

I noted the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, on terrorism, but I have to ask her whether she honestly believed that this was the right time to say what she did about Beslan while so many children remain to be buried and grief is so raw. With respect, I felt that she came perilously close to allowing those responsible for the repellent events of last week to evade responsibility for what they did.

The noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, repeated the points about the links to terrorism. However, I agreed with the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, that the evidence is not there to substantiate that thesis. I know that the noble Lord felt this was a powerful argument for intervention, but it has not been an argument—except in the general sense of regimes which challenge international law giving succour to terrorism—substantiated by the evidence available to us at the time, as the noble Lord, Lord Butler, made clear in his powerful intervention.

Perhaps I can turn to some of the broader issues raised by the noble Lords, Lord Howell, Lord Skidelsky, Lord Rea and Lord Mackie of Benshie, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, and to the points I was specifically asked to answer by the noble Lord, Lord King. Now more than 200,000 Iraqi personnel are on duty as part of the Iraqi security forces. That includes 93,000 police officers, 40,000 Iraqi national guards, 16,000 border police, 74,000 facilities protection services and 35,000 new Iraqi army personnel. However, the latter two are still undergoing training in large numbers. Furthermore, 10 of the 27 planned army battalions are under basic training and another six are operating at full operational capacity.

The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, gave us a characteristically balanced and sensible contribution. He was right to remind us that although the Butler report pointed out mistakes in handling intelligence—some particular and some systemic mistakes—it was not—emphatically not—an indictment of the whole of our intelligence operation. Again, I agreed strongly with the well informed views of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, and my noble friend Lady Ramsay. The apocalyptic judgments of some of your Lordships in attempting to rewrite the conclusions of the noble Lord, Lord Butler, simply were not borne out by the report itself.

Let me turn to the Butler report and the intelligence issues, matters on which the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, the noble Lords, Lord Howell, Lord Holme, Lord Wolfson, Lord King, Lord Goodhart and Lord Armstrong, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, and my noble friends Lord Gilbert and Lady Ramsay concentrated together with the noble and gallant Lords, Lord Craig and Lord Inge. I thought that the report was very good. It was clear and it was balanced, as the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, said. However, I did not think it was damning, not even in Civil-Service speak, as the noble Lord, Lord Holme, suggested, or, perhaps
7 Sept 2004 : Column 550
even more fancifully, in Mandarin, as the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, said. Many of your Lordships have tried to say that what the Butler report states is not what the report really means. It was described as "brilliant" by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and as "excellent" by the noble Lord, Lord Lamont. But then, together with the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, they seemed to think that they knew better what the noble Lord, Lord Butler, really meant to say in the conclusions of his report.

The report is clear. The JIC process is robust; the assessments that result are respected (paragraph 43). Broad conclusions of the UK intelligence community, although perhaps not all details, were widely shared by other countries (paragraph 457). The point has been put that the Government were over-enthusiastic or perhaps deliberately selective in making the intelligence fit the policy. Policy decisions were taken on the basis of Iraq flouting the will of the UN, as the noble Lord, Lord Butler, concludes clearly in conclusion 9 of his report. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, went as far as to say that the assertion that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction was demonstrably wrong. That simply is not borne out by what the committee said at paragraph 474, where it states:

I dread to think that the noble Lord would really embrace the epithet of being rash.

The noble Lord, Lord Butler, stated his case over Mr Scarlett and his post as head of the SIS. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, sadly demanded that someone should pay the price for intelligence shortcomings. The noble Lord, Lord Butler, answered her far better and certainly far more authoritatively than I can. Just because public opinion would like to see an individual take the blame, it does not mean that it is fair or right to apportion blame to an individual where it is not merited.

Several of your Lordships expressed high regard for John Scarlett. The Government share that regard, as articulated by my noble friend Lady Ramsay in her characteristically clear-sighted contribution. There were specific points raised by the noble Lord, Lord King, in relation to the ISG report. John Scarlett wrote to Mr Duelfer in March following a request from Mr Duelfer to set out items from the earlier classified ISG report which we believed could usefully be included in the ISG report then under consideration. That was Mr Duelfer's suggestion. Mr Duelfer himself made it absolutely clear that the decision to publish a shorter interim report was entirely his and not the result of pressure from the British Government or any other government. The noble Lord—

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page