Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean (Minister of State (Trade), Department of Trade and Industry; Labour)
My Lords, I can confirm that the dossier does not show a link with the events of 11th September; nor does it show any direct link with Al'Qaeda. There is a view that some members of Al'Qaeda have escaped to Iraq and have been harboured by the Iraqi regime. However, I agree with the noble Lord that the issue of Iraq stands by itself: we would be debating it irrespective of what happened last year. None the less, the events of last year taught us many dreadful lessons about the failure to deal with threats staring us in the face.
Over the past few weeks, I have heard several commentators remark that we cannot prove that Saddam Hussein would use the weapons. I heard that view expressed again this morning on the radio. It is said that, even if the weapons exist and the means to use them are growing greater, the essential factor—the intention to use them—cannot be proved. That is true, of course. However, we can consider Iraq's record on the issue. Iraq is the only country to be condemned by the United Nations for breaching the Geneva Protocol on the use of chemical weapons. The Iraqi regime has fought wars of aggression, in which millions have died, against two neighbours and has launched missile attacks against five of its neighbours.
Saddam Hussein's brutal disregard for human life is directed not just at those outside Iraq. He has used poison gas against ordinary Iraqis, deliberately murdering unarmed civilians. Halabja has become a terrible by-word throughout the world for the horror perpetrated there. Elsewhere in Iraq, the fate of 100,000 Kurds and 200,000 Shia Muslims is evidence enough of Saddam Hussein's callous disregard for innocent life. In all that, Iraq has not just persistently mocked the authority of the United Nations but has done more than any other country to undermine the global consensus against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. As the dossier makes clear, the brutality continues. There is routine murder, rape and torture, some of it personally supervised by Saddam Hussein and his sons.
Of those who say, "Prove that Saddam will use the weapons", we ask, "What more proof do we need than his record?". I will ask another question: how would we—any of us—justify doing nothing while such a man ran such a regime, in defiance of the United Nations, until it was too late? Edmund Burke famously said:
"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing".
We have all heard it argued that, once Saddam used the weapons, the full force of international community would be used against him. But how many innocent lives would be lost in his first strike? How, in the days after those lives were lost, would we justify having done nothing to prevent him?
Our objective is the UN's objective. It is clear: it is to disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction. We have tried to do it peacefully and methodically under UN auspices. After the liberation of Kuwait, Saddam Hussein had no alternative but to admit UN weapons inspectors. Then, over a period of seven years, he systematically deceived, obstructed and intimidated those inspectors. Since the end of the Gulf War, Iraq has ignored 23 out of 27 separate UN obligations. Even more tellingly, Iraq has not, in that entire period, complied with any of the 14 separate obligations relating to weapons of mass destruction.
In refusing to comply over and over again, Saddam took a calculated gamble. He calculated that divisions in the Security Council would render the UN unable to enforce its own resolutions. We are now at a crossroads: the UN must deal with the growing, flagrant threats to international peace and security. Otherwise, its ability to protect our security against present and future threats from any source will be undermined and irreparably damaged by the will of one regime. Dictatorship and force will override the work of the international community and the rule of law.
Last week's tactics were of course to be expected. First, the Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister declared that inspectors would not be readmitted—then, two days later, the Foreign Minister said that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction. That was a blatant lie. He went on to say that inspectors might return to Iraq. We are all too familiar with those distraction techniques. The same promises were made by the Iraqi regime in November 1998—and Iraq did not deliver on that promise. Indeed, the inspectors were forced to leave only one month later. So the latest offer must be treated with deep scepticism.
We must not let Iraq sidetrack the United Nations. Now is not the time to let up on any pressure on the Iraqi regime. In light of experience, we need a tough, uncompromising, all-encompassing inspection regime. It should be embodied in a United Nations resolution—and that resolution should carry the implicit determination to use force if there is further non-compliance.
Some of your Lordships may ask why this is so pressing now. After four years without inspections, all the indications are that the weapons programmes are growing again. As many of your Lordships will have read in the paper in the Library, the intelligence assessment published today shows that Saddam Hussein regards his chemical and biological weaponry as more than weapons of last resort. In the four years since we last had an inspectors' report, all the evidence is that Saddam Hussein is continuing to add to his biological and chemical arsenals and is once again at work on his nuclear programme.
Some of your Lordships may ask why this regime is uniquely dangerous. There are other countries developing terrible weapons too. Are they as bad or worse proliferators? What are we doing about them? Yes, there are others. There are other threats to the international consensus on non-proliferation. The difference is that with the other countries involved, we have a working relationship through which we can effectively urge restraint. In each case, we are endeavouring through active diplomacy to encourage the governments concerned to come fully within the ambit of the international regulatory systems, and meanwhile to ensure that those systems are kept safely and not used.
There has been intensive diplomatic effort in that regard with India and Pakistan. It is raised regularly with Israel, which can be in no doubt of our very clear views. In respect of North Korea, the Foreign Secretary has authorised an upgrading of our diplomatic representation; similarly with Libya. My honourable friend Mike O'Brien visited in August—the first British Minister to do so in 23 years. Iran potentially has a key strategic role in the region and beyond. We aim at deepening our relationship with that country and to encourage the forces of democracy within it. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has visited Iran twice in the last 12 months and hopes to do so again in the near future.
Of course we should always try the path of diplomacy to resolve potential threats and conflicts for international security—but that requires reciprocity, an acceptance of norms and standards of behaviour. Those norms, those standards and that reciprocity are wholly absent in the Iraqi regime.
When we have discussed the issue in the past, some of your Lordships have suggested that by threatening to enforce international law in the case of Iraq, we are guilty of double standards with regard to Israel and Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. Those resolutions did indeed place certain obligations upon Israel, which have not been met. The resolutions also imposed on all Israel's Arab neighbours the obligation fully to recognise and make peace with Israel. Those obligations have not been met either. The critics who say that we cannot deal forcefully with Iraq because we are not equally dealing with Israel fail to address how we can deliver freedom and statehood to Palestinians and lasting security to Israel.
There is progress. It is slow and painful—and it is halting—but progress now is seen in the growing consensus that peace and security in the Middle East will come with the creation of a viable Palestinian state and an Israel within its borders and at peace with its neighbours. In the past few months, that shared recognition has been set out by the President of the United States and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. We remain committed to that policy and to pursuing it through the early resumption of negotiations in the United Nations Security Council.
My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary will take that message with him when he visits the Middle East in a few weeks. Of course we recognise that the Middle East conflict is not an integral part of the problem with Iraq but, like many of your Lordships, we cannot ignore the importance of the issue itself and in the context of the politics and international relationships of the region. The truth is that there is widespread scepticism among many of our Arab friends about the willingness of the West to address those issues. My right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have done so consistently, patiently and diligently. They will continue to do so—as the Prime Minister's statement made clear.
My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary will also leave no doubt in the minds of all his hosts in the region, when he visits them, about the threat posed by Iraq's weapons. We shall continue to deny Saddam Hussein's attempts to portray our confronting that issue as an attack on Islam. We shall continue to make it clear to our own Islamic communities in the United Kingdom that our argument is not with Islam and not with the people of Iraq but with a pernicious and brutal regime.
Our objective must be to force that regime to abandon its weapons of mass destruction. If Saddam Hussein is toppled from power in that endeavour, so be it—we would welcome his departure. Neighbouring countries would welcome his departure. The world would welcome his departure.
But our objective is to disarm Iraq through rigorous and determined United Nations inspections. To achieve that, we need to be ready to use force if necessary. The experience of the past decade demonstrates that Saddam Hussein shows no respect for negotiation, no respect for UN resolutions and no respect for international law. He responds only to force or the intention to use force. Any United Nations resolutions need to be backed up by that intention—an intention upon which we must be ready and willing to act.
That is a terrible eventuality to contemplate. The prospect of armed conflict, inevitable loss of human life and the individual suffering of innocent people caught up in events that they can neither influence nor understand is an awesome responsibility. But awesome too is the responsibility of failing to deal with the threat that is now so clear. If the Security Council does not press for unconditional and unrestricted access for UN inspectors, we must prepare for the eventuality that a uniquely aggressive dictator will ultimately use the monstrous weapons that he is developing. The threat would then be beyond our control and beyond that of the United Nations.
Many will ask what will happen next if there is armed intervention. How will it be done? When and how would those undertaking such action withdraw from Iraq? What is the exit strategy? The truth is that discussion of those questions in detail is not for today. If it comes to armed conflict, we shall need our forces to be as secure as possible. As always, the security and safety of our Armed Forces is paramount. As my right honourable friend's Statement made clear, the Government will keep Parliament in touch with all developments—particularly any that would lead us to military action, as we did over Kosovo and Afghanistan.
I can say that the government of Iraq is a matter for the Iraqi people. They deserve a better government—one based on the rule of law and respect for human rights; economic freedom; and a return to full membership of the international community. For its part, the international community has the right to look forward to an Iraqi regime that co-operates with the United Nations and plays a normal and peaceful role in the region and the world.
Hoping that things will get better is no answer. Delay will only worsen matters. Delay will allow Saddam Hussein to amass more anthrax, more VX, more sarin. It will allow him to develop the range of his missile systems. It will allow him to acquire fissile material to incorporate into his nuclear weapons and to integrate into his programmes. It will allow him to manipulate the UN, the very organisation on which we all depend to uphold the peace, security and international rule of law. That cannot be allowed to happen, for the sake of this generation and for our descendants. We have to be able to rely on the United Nations to uphold its ideals in principle and in practice.
The Government fully accept the gravity of the present moment. Today's recall of both Houses of Parliament is a clear testament to the seriousness of the threat facing us. But let us be equally clear that the message of the document the Government published today is a compelling and dreadful one: that in Saddam Hussein and his development of weapons of mass destruction, the man and means form a unique and terrible combination. It is a combination which is a threat to his own country, to his region and to the world. We now all look to the United Nations to have the determination to dismantle that threat.
As my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary made clear—unflinchingly, to all our friends as much as to others—the United Nations is the right place to pursue our determination. We believe that the time may be coming when we all have to turn that determination into action.
We do not seek this conflict. But we shall not turn our faces away. We shall confront this threat; and we shall continue in our determination to secure peace and stability for all countries of the region and the world. I beg to move.
Moved, That this House takes note of the situation with regard to Iraq and weapons of mass destruction.—(Baroness Symons of Vernon Dean.)