Iraq: Weapons of Mass Destruction

– in the House of Lords at 2:30 pm on 12th July 2004.

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Photo of Lord Lamont of Lerwick Lord Lamont of Lerwick Conservative 2:30 pm, 12th July 2004

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Further to the Prime Minister's remarks on 6 July, what is their current view on what happened to Iraq's 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 (Middle East)

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has acknowledged that, although the Iraq Survey Group has uncovered information about programmes for the development of weapons of mass destruction, it has not found the weapons themselves. He has said that the weapons may never be found, but our overall assessment will be better informed when the Iraq Survey Group next reports.

Photo of Lord Lamont of Lerwick Lord Lamont of Lerwick Conservative

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Is it not the case that the Prime Minister last week, in front of the Liaison Committee of the House of Commons, said that it was possible that Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction had been destroyed, something that he had previously described as "palpably absurd" and against all intelligence? Does that remarkable admission not have some bearing on the legality of the Iraq war? Surely it is not enough to say, "We think that someone has WMD", or, "Someone's behaviour is consistent with having WMD", in order to suggest that something is against a UN resolution and makes the war legal.

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East)

My Lords, it is important to remember that we did not go into a military conflict in Iraq solely on the basis that the weapons of mass destruction were there. However often political analysts go into it, however often the media throw doubt over it, and however much doubt there is genuinely—I acknowledge that there is doubt, as my right honourable friend has said—the reason we went to war was that Iraq ignored or defied the United Nations Security Council resolutions over and again. Those were mandatory resolutions that demanded co-operation with UN-authorised inspectors. I remind the noble Lord that, on 8 November 2002, the Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 1441, which recognised the threat of Iraq's non-compliance with council resolutions and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. It was not only the United Kingdom Government who believed that to be true, but the governments of those on the UN Security Council, including France and Syria.

Photo of Lord Clinton-Davis Lord Clinton-Davis Labour

My Lords, is it not outrageous that the BBC's "Panorama" purportedly prejudged the Butler inquiry last night? Is it not also a fact that Parliament will consider the allegations or otherwise on Wednesday?

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East)

My Lords, I did not see "Panorama" last night, but I understand that it raised a number of questions about the way in which changes were made to the September 2002 dossier on weapons of mass destruction, and a number of other issues. Of course the issues will be challenged—that is right and proper in a democracy with a free media—but the noble Lord, Lord Butler, is due in two days' time to make his report on the gathering, analysis and use of intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq conflict. It is only right that we wait to see what his report actually says.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Crosby Baroness Williams of Crosby Leader In the House of Lords, Leader, House of Lords

My Lords, does the Minister agree, however, that the main argument—it was presented time and again in both this House and another place—for the invasion of Iraq was precisely the likelihood that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and, furthermore, that they could be used at very short notice? Does she agree that that was the sound and solid legal basis for the invasion of Iraq, and that, as long ago as 5 June this year, David Kay, then head of the Iraq Survey Group, said that it would be a delusion to suppose that that group would find any weapons of mass destruction? He said that anyone who had that view would be,

"really delusional. There is nothing there".

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East)

My Lords, it is very easy with hindsight to say a whole range of things. What matters is what was believed at the time. That is why I reiterate the point about Resolution 1441, a motion passed unanimously by the Security Council—not solely by the United States and the United Kingdom, but by governments who believed that Iraq was proliferating weapons of mass destruction, including a government in the region, that of Syria.

The noble Baroness will no doubt recall, as I do very clearly, that we were briefed just before the conflict by the chair of the JIC. We had a discussion about it on the Floor of the House, and my noble friend Lord Richard was a little exercised about it. However, I was briefed then, along with the noble Lords, Lord Howell of Guildford and Lord Wallace of Saltaire, and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley. The noble Baroness was there for the part of the time as well. I did not believe that we were being deliberately misled, and I would never have deliberately misled this House about what we believed was the case on weapons of mass destruction. I do not believe that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister is in any different position.

Photo of Lord Davies of Coity Lord Davies of Coity Labour

My Lords, we all appreciate the value of wisdom in hindsight, but does my noble friend agree that, immediately prior to the war, virtually the whole world believed that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? Is there an explanation of why Saddam Hussein, if he had nothing to hide, denied the United Nations inspectors the opportunity for full inspection?

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East)

My Lords, only Saddam Hussein can answer that question. Some noble Lords may believe that such issues will be exposed during the course of his trial. However, I agree with my noble friend that all those who had intelligence forces delivering security information at the time believed that the weapons of mass destruction existed. I come back to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, about the legality of the war, which was based on defiance of Security Council resolutions about what the whole world believed that Saddam Hussein had in his arsenal.

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

My Lords, these are obviously difficult questions for the noble Baroness to answer, so I shall ask her two helpful ones. First, do we know what happened to the chemical weapons of mass destruction that Saddam Hussein obviously had at one time, which he used to poison a lot of people at Halabja? Secondly, has she noticed the report from the US Senate? While dismissing that details of weapons of mass destruction existed at the time of the invasion, it nevertheless says that Saddam was trying to get uranium from the Niger republic in Africa, in order to build up a nuclear weapons facility. Although that has been apologised for and denied by the intelligence agencies, it seems that there may be some truth in it after all. I appreciate that we shall discuss those matters later in the week on the Butler report, but has she anything in her brief on either of those questions?

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East)

My Lords, I am glad that those were helpful questions—I hate to think what the unhelpful ones might have been like. The assertion in the September 2002 dossier was based on intelligence information from a number of sources. It did not rely on the documents subsequently reported by the IAEA to have been forgeries and UK analysts did not see the forged documents until February 2003.

As regards what happened to the chemicals such as those which were used at Halabja, so far the ISG has uncovered three areas of real interest over whether programmes were being developed. One includes the clandestine network of laboratories and safe houses within the Iraqi intelligence service that contained equipment subject to UN monitoring. Another was documents and equipment used in scientists' homes that would have been useful for uranium enrichment. The third was plans and advanced design work for new long-range missiles with ranges of up to 1,000 kilometres, which was well beyond the then legal limit of 150 kilometres.

Photo of Lord Phillips of Sudbury Lord Phillips of Sudbury Liberal Democrat

My Lords, is there not one undoubted consequence of the invasion; that it proved a weapon of mass destruction for the Israeli/Palestine road map? And was that not brutally underlined by the statement of Mr Sharon on the steps of the White House, which was not contradicted by President Bush, to the effect that the settlements in the West Bank are now there for eternity?

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East)

My Lords, much as I sympathise with the question, this is a serious Question about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and the doubts raised about the intelligence concerned with them. I should be very happy to answer questions on the road map another time.

Photo of Baroness Turner of Camden Baroness Turner of Camden Labour

My Lords, does not my noble friend recall that although France and Germany certainly supported Resolution 1441, they did so on the basis that the inspectors should be given more time? With hindsight, would it not have been a good idea if that had been agreed to?

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East)

My Lords, it was agreed to. Resolution 1441 was passed in November 2002 and there was some four and a half months between then and the forces going into Iraq.