HL Deb 18 June 2002 vol 636 cc617-9

2.44 p.m.

Lord Judd

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their policy towards the need for explicit authority by the United Nations Security Council for any military action against Iraq.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Amos)

My Lords, as we have always made clear, any military action that the UK undertakes anywhere in the world will be carried out in accordance with international law.

No decision has been taken on military action against Iraq. Iraq's obligations are unambiguously set out in the relevant Security Council resolutions; and Iraq is clearly in breach of them.

We do not rule out the need to take further military action in future. Whether explicit authorisation by the United Nations Security Council is needed would depend on the circumstances at the time.

Lord Judd

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Does she agree that it would be unfortunate to alienate any sections of world opinion—upon which we would be very dependent for success in anything we tried to do—by the way in which we take action and by failure to consult fully? Is not the point about "explicit"—as distinct from "implicit"—Security Council endorsement for any action, the fact that it represents worldwide broad support for what is being done? To contemplate action in this grave situation without such worldwide support could be hazardous and counterproductive.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I think that I made it absolutely clear in my original reply that any military action that we undertake anywhere in the world is carried out in accordance with international law. That remains the position. Yes, I think that it is important that there is worldwide broad support. We saw that worldwide support following September 11th and the action that was taken in Afghanistan. We shall continue to consult with our international partners in the way that we have always done.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, do the Government regard as still in force the Security Council's resolutions passed more than 10 years ago after Saddam's invasion of Kuwait? And, after September 11th, have the Government sought agreement within the council on action over Iraq's harbouring of international terrorists?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, there have been a number of Security Council resolutions in relation to Iraq. Many are several years old, as the noble Lord has noted. We consider that those resolutions are still in place. We continue to discuss with our international colleagues our concerns about the situation in Iraq. We shall continue to do that.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, does the Minister agree that, apart from collective action in pursuance of a Security Council resolution, the use of armed force across an international frontier is only permissible in self-defence under Article 51 or in accordance with the new principles in international law developed in the case of Kosovo to prevent an overwhelming humanitarian disaster?

Was the action taken in Iraq under Desert Fox a matter of self-defence? Does the noble Baroness agree that, since the Security Council never endorsed that operation, it cannot be said to have approved it and that we should go back to the Security Council if we intend to embark on any further military operations?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, in general terms, we would regard a use of force against Iraq, or indeed any other state, as lawful if it is authorised by the United Nations Security Council or was in exercise of the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence or, exceptionally, was carried out in order to avert an overwhelming humanitarian catastrophe. Those are the bases used.

Lord Howe of Aberavon

My Lords, perhaps I may press the Minister to take that discussion a little further. Does she agree that there is no doubt whatever about the legitimacy in international law of self-defence and the inclusion in that concept of the notion of deterrence? There is no doubt whatever about the concept of pre-emptive intelligence. I welcome the additional resources made available for that in the light of the recommendations by our own Intelligence and Security Committee.

On the other hand, does she recognise that the concept of pre-emptive retaliation, which has been canvassed in some quarters, raises very different questions—questions of extreme difficulty—which require the utmost care and consideration?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I recognise that over the last couple of days there has been much in the press about the issue of pre-emptive retaliation. That has been widely reported. It is important that we recognise that at this stage, those are press reports and we need to be careful about how we interpret them. I entirely agree with the views of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, with respect to legitimacy and preemptive intelligence.

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, bearing in mind the wise remarks of my noble and learned friend Lord Howe, is it not important to distinguish between pre-emptive action necessary to prevent another September 11th—it is too late if we wait until afterwards—and a pre-emptive strike with nuclear weapons, which raises different and much more serious issues?

Saddam Hussein has, after all, been responsible for the starvation and killing of tens of thousands of women and children and has, indeed, gassed his own people. Does the Minister agree that in the name of common humanity, the case for a regime change, to use the American phrase, in Iraq is very strong indeed? To what extent has there been dialogue with the Americans recently about their latest plans to tackle that? What dialogue have we had with Iraqi resistance and exile groups such as the Iraqi National Congress? Have we also encouraged them in the general move to get rid of Saddam?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, noble Lords will know, because it has been widely discussed in this House, that there is a view that regime change is important in Iraq because without regime change, we will not have the kind of leadership there that will work for the people of Iraq. Having said that, it is important to recognise that we are in constant dialogue with our international partners, including the Americans. That dialogue will continue. We are discussing serious issues here; we are well aware of that. We shall continue to discuss with and consult our allies and others and we shall see where those discussions lead us.