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[casi] Iraq: House of Lords - 19th March 2002

19 Mar 2002 : Column 1229
House of Lords
Tuesday, 19th March 2002.
The House met at eleven of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.
Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Oxford.

11.14 a.m.

Lord Howell of Guildford 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.

The Minister for Trade (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): 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.

Lord Howell of Guildford: 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?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, of course I agree with a great
deal of what the noble Lord
19 Mar 2002 : Column 1233
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
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 thorough 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.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: 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
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?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: 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
19 Mar 2002 : Column 1234
"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
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.

The Lord Bishop of Oxford: 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

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: 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.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: 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?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: 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

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