Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:25 pm on 26th February 2003.

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Photo of Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale Labour 4:25 pm, 26th February 2003

My Lords, the case for action against Iraq does not start now, does not start with resolution 1441, does not start with 11th September 2001—in fact, I believe that even without the events of 11th September we should sooner rather than later have had to act against Iraq. The case started 13 years ago, which is clear from Command Paper Cm 5769. So to the questions: why Iraq and not other horrible murdering regimes; or others who have been subject to UN resolutions; and why now, the answers to me are clear.

Saddam Hussein's regime had a war waged against it on an UN mandate in 1991 and the resolutions concerning him are all under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, covering,

"Action with respect to threats to the Peace, Breaches of the Peace, and Acts of Aggression", which uniquely provides for the use of coercive force to counter these threats and authorises collective military action. That is the significant and serious difference between resolutions under Chapter 7 and those under Chapter 6, which covers peaceful resolution of conflict and situations such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Kashmir.

The Chapter 7 resolutions all embody and arise from the ceasefire agreement which Iraq was party to and has evaded for the past 12 years. The activity of the regime through those years, rendering the work of UNSCOM impossible so that it left in 1998, and the accumulating evidence of the regime seeking material for which there was no credible civilian purpose in places such as the Congo and in Belarus—in fact, an Iraqi mission was reported visiting Minsk just before UNMOVIC arrived in Iraq—all mean that Iraq is an ever increasing threat prepared to spend its money, from, among other sources, illegal sales of oil, on luxuries for the Ba'ath elite and its weapons of mass destruction programmes rather than medicine to relieve the suffering of the Iraqi children, which the regime makes such propaganda capital out of and which is the result not of sanctions but of the way the regime chooses to manage its affairs.

The idea advanced that containment is an answer ignores history. Containment most certainly has not been working. I disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, about that. Although it has had its successes in its time, neither the inspectors nor sanctions were inhibiting the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction by this regime. Does anyone doubt that only the real and credible threat of force has achieved the return of the UN inspectors? Resolution 1441 demands full co-operation from Iraq and is a final and last chance which the regime is patently not taking.

Although I am not a lawyer, I really have problems understanding how anyone can raise fears about international law being breached by military action against Iraq. Chapter 7 specifically allows the use of force and Saddam has failed to comply with 23 separate obligations under a series of resolutions under Chapter 7. I said when the House was recalled last September that, as someone who had spent the last 12 months of her government service completely immersed in the Gulf crisis and the war of 1990–91, I felt a sense of de ja vu. It gives me no pleasure to have to say that that sense has only become stronger.

I agree with my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in his intellectually powerful and moving speech in Glasgow, when he said that what we are seeing, in the way Saddam is playing at co-operation with the inspectors, is a repeat of the 1990s. Even the very faces around Saddam's military council table are exactly the same. Those of us who have seen all of this before know only too well how this game goes: the serial last-minute concessions, always with a twist of a qualification; visits and interviews with western politicians; the parading of the Christian religion of Tariq Aziz; and so on and so on.

Twelve years after the UN gave him 15 days to disarm—15 days, my Lords—Resolution 1441 gave him a final opportunity to disarm. As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has said—most recently in his Statement yesterday—if Saddam really takes the opportunity and starts to co-operate, the inspectors can have as long as it takes. But if the evasion continues, there has to be action now. It cannot be that 1441's "serious consequences" turn out only to mean an increased number of inspectors or an extension of inspection time. As my noble friend the Minister made clear today in her comprehensive introduction to this debate, "serious consequences" really have to mean "serious consequences".

As someone who was in the hall in Glasgow listening very carefully to the Prime Minister's speech, which I have subsequently re-read several times, I want to say that the point I heard and understood the Prime Minister making about morality was not, as the media would have it, the case for the morality of war, but rather he was addressing those who are understandably disturbed about the possible consequences of war and the morality of causing those consequences and saying that there were consequences of not taking military action and that these also are disturbing, and morality has to come into that, too.

I have to say to your Lordships that that point has great personal resonance for me. In over 22 years of government service, through many stressful and difficult decisions and situations in my career, there is one outstandingly painful experience which troubles me still, and that is the massacre in 1991 by Saddam of the Shia in Basra and southern Iraq. He was able to massacre them because we stopped our military action earlier than might have been expected. There were issues raised then, too, about international law and a public outcry about continuing to fight and kill Iraqi soldiers after Kuwait had been liberated. But the consequences of us not taking the required action were terrible. Surely there has to be a question of our moral responsibility for not taking action then, and there are surely lessons to be learnt today.

War is always bad but it is not always the worst option. The stark choice is Saddam's: disarm now or be disarmed.