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Volume 621: debated on Tuesday 6 February 2001

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2.50 p.m.

What is their policy towards Iraq in the light of the reports that it has resumed production of nuclear weapons.

My Lords, the Government share the concerns of the international community that Iraq may be taking advantage of the absence of United Nations weapons inspectors to rebuild its weapons of mass destruction. The United Kingdom remains fully committed to the full implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1284. We call on Iraq to admit UN weapons inspectors immediately in accordance with its obligations under the relevant Security Council resolution.

My Lords, is not Saddam Hussein, regrettably, scoring successes in the propaganda war; and is that not weakening the position of the United Nations, whether in regard to sanctions or to the proposed resumption of inspections? Is it not a fact that United Nations sanctions have never banned imports of food or medicines into Iraq, and that the security resolution to which the Minister referred increased the limit of the oil that could be sold by Saddam Hussein to fund the humanitarian aid programme; and that, therefore, the privations of the people of Iraq lie at the door of Saddam Hussein's odious regime? What are the Government doing, with our allies, to spread better understanding of those facts?

My Lords, I respectfully agree with the noble Lord's comments. It appears that a propaganda campaign is being waged. We hope that it is not being waged successfully, because the issues are now becoming clear. The noble Lord is right in saying that the responsibility for the deprivation of the people of Iraq rests solely with Saddam Hussein. If any further evidence is required, one has only has to note that the regime has been using revenue from illegal oil sales, not to buy much-needed food and medicine but, for example, to purchase 300 million cigarettes and more than 38,000 bottles of whisky per month.

My Lords, perhaps I may ask the Minister about what appears to be the serious unravelling of UN control over the financial input into Iraq. As I understand it, based on a report in today's Financial Times, there is now a much increased tendency for oil companies, including western oil companies, to pay a surcharge on their oil imports, which then goes directly back to the Saddam Hussein regime. In the light of that successful surcharge by Iraq, and in the light also of the growing willingness of other countries, including Syria, to take new oil imports from Iraq without much question, not under the oil-for-food programme but outside it, will Her Majesty's Government consider suggesting a reconvening of the Security Council to see whether a more effective regime over the control of oil exports could now be instituted?

My Lords, we appreciate the noble Baroness's expression of concern and anxiety in relation to this issue. It is important that the rules are applied and complied with. The Government will examine this issue. I shall write to the noble Baroness in due course if there is something further that we can do in this regard.

My Lords, have the Government, either alone or through the Security Council, explored reports from Iraq that the Iraqi Government are willing to allow some form of weapons inspection back on to the soil of Iraq in return for the lifting of sanctions, which are now increasingly ineffective?

My Lords, first, I take issue with my noble friend when he says that sanctions are increasingly ineffective. The sanctions have had the effect of containing Saddam Hussein for 10 years. We should not underestimate the scale of that achievement. SCR 687 requires a completion of disarmament before sanctions are lifted. We cannot accept the lifting of sanctions before Iraq is in compliance with SCR 687. That would amount to rewarding Iraqi intransigence on its WMD capability. SCR 1284 offers a new way forward by agreeing the suspension of sanctions in return for co-operation with UNMOVIC and IAEA, including on key disarmament tasks. Again, no co-operation from Iraq has been noted as yet. We very much wish for that co-operation to take place.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that two of the most unhelpful nations in respect of encouraging the breaking of sanctions are Russia and France—both of which are members of the Security Council? To what extent does she think that the future health of the common foreign and security policy can be assumed if we find ourselves at odds with France, one of our principal European partners, in this respect?

My Lords, I cannot agree with the noble Viscount that we are at odds with our partner, France. In relation to an area as difficult, complex and sensitive as this, we must continue to strive for comity, clear understanding and joint action. To date, we have been successful in achieving that. It is an end to which we shall continue to strive with great energy and commitment.

My Lords, bearing in mind the perceptive remarks of my noble friend Lord Blaker about the rising success of Iraqi propaganda and the increasing tendency for the international community to ignore the sanctions policy, has not the time come for a much more robust approach? Is not Saddam Hussein—as the Minister recognised—the real cause of the holding back of medical supplies, the holding up of the repatriation of Kuwaiti personnel, re-arming his military, developing weapons of mass destruction and preparing greater freedom to attack his neighbours? Is it not time to be much rougher with those who argue for appeasement of this international monster before he becomes re-enthroned as a kind of hero on the international scene, and one that we should have difficulty in opposing?

My Lords, I understand the sentiment and thrust of the noble Lord's comments. However, I do not agree with him that we are not already being robust. We have a very robust approach. We have made very clear the criteria that must be satisfied before the Iraqis can have the sanctions lifted or suspended, and we wait for compliance. Unanimity on those issues is important, and we are encouraging all our partners to be as vigilant as we are.

My Lords, while recognising that Saddam Hussein may well have re-embarked on the manufacture of chemical and biological weapons, is there any evidence to indicate that nuclear weapons are on his agenda—bearing in mind that that would require either enrichment by gaseous diffusion or by centrifuge, and that these technologies are unlikely to be available to Saddam Hussein within his domestic resources?

My Lords, noble Lords would not expect me to answer in any detail in relation to these matters. We are keeping a vigilant eye on the development of such capacity in Iraq; and we shall remain vigilant for the foreseeable future.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that even if Iraq cannot manufacture nuclear weapons, it is perfectly capable of importing them?

My Lords, we have sought to restrict the opportunities that would enable it to do that. The vigilance that I describe is attached to all imports into Iraq which would enable it either to develop that capacity or to gain access to such use.

My Lords, is the continued Anglo-American bombing of Iraq serving any useful purpose now?

My Lords, again I should like to make it clear so far as concerns bombing that those efforts are made in defence of our air crews, who are under attack and have been for the past two years. It is only in response to unjustified attacks made on us that we respond.