Iraq

– in the House of Lords at 11:14 am on 19th March 2002.

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Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 11:14 am, 19th March 2002

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What evidence they have received of support by Saddam Hussein and the Government of Iraq for the Al'Qaeda terrorist network.

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Trade), Department of Trade and Industry, Minister for Trade and Investment and Deputy Leader of the House of Lords (also Department of Trade and Industry), Minister of State (Trade and Investment) Deputy Leader of the House of Lords (also FCO)

My Lords, so far Her Majesty's Government have seen no convincing evidence of support by the Iraqi regime for the Al'Qaeda network. However, we continue to share the concerns of all responsible governments about Iraq's support for terrorism and its development of weapons of mass destruction.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that reply. Does she accept that, although we fully recognise the duplicity of Saddam with his murderous chemical and biological weapons and the remaining essential and urgent need to end his regime, and although we applaud the efforts of President Bush in continuing with his coalition-building efforts, it would be valuable for both the other place and this House to hold an early and full debate on the whole issue before any decisions of an irrevocable nature are taken? Does she also agree that, when it comes to evidence, it would be useful for noble Lords and, indeed, the other place to have made available a dossier of the kind which has been published in the United States in this week's New Yorker magazine? That dossier sets out fully the detail of the links between Saddam and Al'Qaeda and the danger that he may be supplying terrorists with horrific weapons which would threaten not only Israel, but also Europe.

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Trade), Department of Trade and Industry, Minister for Trade and Investment and Deputy Leader of the House of Lords (also Department of Trade and Industry), Minister of State (Trade and Investment) Deputy Leader of the House of Lords (also FCO)

My Lords, of course I agree with a great deal of what the noble Lord has just said. The duplicity of Saddam Hussein speaks for itself. His use of weapons of mass destruction, which is already a matter of record—given what happened in Halabja where thousands died as a result of the use of those weapons—points out the urgent need for all nations to take control on the question of weapons of mass destruction. It is this which makes the return of the weapons inspectorate to Iraq as soon as possible so important.

On the question of a full debate, of course that is a matter that will need to be resolved through the usual channels. I have a great deal of sympathy with the point made by the noble Lord with regard to a dossier of evidence about what is happening in Iraq. Perhaps I may remind the House, as I have through the Whips' offices and through the office of the Convenor of the Cross Benches, that tomorrow at 1.15 p.m. I shall hold a briefing meeting in Committee Room 3A. I hope to be able to brief further those noble Lords who have a particular interest in this matter.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Crosby Baroness Williams of Crosby Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords

My Lords, we thank the Minister for that commercial and we shall all take full note of it. Perhaps I may draw her attention to an article that appeared yesterday in the Washington Post commenting specifically on the article in the New Yorker magazine referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Howell:

"The thrust of the article could be news to some U.S. officials, because the CIA has largely discounted the proposition that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has maintained links with al Qaeda".

Reports from intelligence sources have also suggested that Saddam Hussein personally specifically rejected an Al'Qaeda initiative to try to involve Iraq.

Given that we could be standing on the edge of a major escalation of war, may I press the Minister with regard to the recent statement made by Mr Mubarak of Egypt, who has written to Saddam Hussein insisting that he should allow inspectors back, and to the position taken by the vice-president of Iraq, Mr Taha Yassin Ramadan, to the effect that Iraq would be willing to accept the inspectors back, although admittedly on the condition that a timetable is laid down, along with a specific list of sites to be visited? Could it not be the case that, although admittedly under US pressure, Iraq may now be willing to accept back the weapons inspectors? Can the Minister assure the House that the British Government are doing everything in their power to try to get the inspectors back into Iraq on terms acceptable to those of us who are so deeply concerned about weapons of mass destruction?

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Trade), Department of Trade and Industry, Minister for Trade and Investment and Deputy Leader of the House of Lords (also Department of Trade and Industry), Minister of State (Trade and Investment) Deputy Leader of the House of Lords (also FCO)

My Lords, first, it was not a commercial; rather it was a genuine and serious attempt to fill in some of the gaps in what I know is almost impossible ground to cover on this subject in the seven or eight minutes that we have available to respond to Questions.

I was very careful in what I said in answering the original Question about evidence put by the noble Lord, Lord Howell. I stress again to the House that I have used the words "so far", along with the word "convincing". Yes, of course, there are rumours; but in answering seriously and factually the Question put to me, I must say to the House that so far Her Majesty's Government have not seen any compelling or convincing evidence.

As to the question of United Nations inspectors returning to Iraq to look at weapons of mass destruction, we have seen and believe that Iraq is accelerating its weapons programmes in a number of respects. However, I stress that Iraq cannot lay down conditions acceptable only to itself for the way in which the United Nations inspectorate should operate. The United Nations inspectorate must operate under the ceasefire mandate laid down in UNSCR 687 and it must do so to the best of its ability. It should be able to go where it needs to go, and not under a timetable preordained by Iraq.

Photo of The Bishop of Oxford The Bishop of Oxford Bishop

My Lords, do Her Majesty's Government or the United States Government have any plans to go to the United Nations to seek a new resolution in relation to Iraq, particularly if any action is contemplated?

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Trade), Department of Trade and Industry, Minister for Trade and Investment and Deputy Leader of the House of Lords (also Department of Trade and Industry), Minister of State (Trade and Investment) Deputy Leader of the House of Lords (also FCO)

My Lords, any action of a military nature contemplated by Her Majesty's Government—I stress that no decision has as yet been taken—would follow the procedure that all such decisions follow; that is, it would be taken under the auspices of international law. Any decision would be taken after a careful and cautious assessment of what is needed. It must have a realistic chance of achieving its objective and it must be proportionate to the threat posed. That applies to any military action contemplated by Her Majesty's Government.

Photo of Lord Hannay of Chiswick Lord Hannay of Chiswick Crossbench

My Lords, does the Minister agree that whether there is a direct link between Iraq and 11th September is not the whole story? Can she say what, if anything, Iraq has done to fulfil its obligations under the 1991 resolution not to support in any way terrorism and how this squares with its actions? Does she further agree that the first order of business should be to ensure that a Security Council resolution is passed which requires Iraq to meet its obligations by implementing Resolution 1373 of last September, and all the resolutions on weapons of mass destruction which it is currently flouting?

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Trade), Department of Trade and Industry, Minister for Trade and Investment and Deputy Leader of the House of Lords (also Department of Trade and Industry), Minister of State (Trade and Investment) Deputy Leader of the House of Lords (also FCO)

My Lords, Iraq poses a threat to the international community. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has made the point on several occasions that there have been nine Security Council resolutions in the past 10 years, placing 27 obligations on Iraq—and 23 of those obligations have been flouted. Iraq's record in this area relates not only to the specific issue of Al'Qaeda, but also to the general climate of terrorism, and very particularly to Iraq's ability to produce weapons of mass destruction and its seeming acceleration of such production.