The inspection reports of the International Atomic Energy Agency, circulated as United Nations Security Council documents, provide the most detailed information on Iraq's nuclear capability. Copies of the first eight IAEA inspection reports are available in the House of Commons Library. The IAEA has issued a press statement on the latest inspection, the ninth, a copy of which will also be placed in the Library.
In view of the assessment by a nuclear expert from the United Nations Commission that Iraq has the technology and the means to produce up to four nuclear weapons a year, is my hon. and learned Friend satisfied that the United Nations inspection procedures are adequate to prevent the manufacture of those weapons? Is he satisfied that an effective deterrent system is in place to prevent their deployment?
There are perhaps two important questions wrapped up in my hon. Friend's remarks. I think that the intrusive system of inspection that we have introduced through recent Security Council resolutions is probably adequate, provided that it is vigorously enforced, to prevent the Iraqis from developing a weapon. One cannot be certain about that; one can only express an opinion as to the probability.
A different point—again a very important one—relates to the general powers of the IAEA and to its ability to monitor civil programmes to prevent covert programmes. There we are working hard to boost the inspection powers of the IAEA to try to address problems of the kind that were thrown up in Iraq.
I think that Saddam Hussein is much less potent than he was, but I accept that it is a brutal regime and that it poses a threat to world peace. The question whether we should have proceeded with the Gulf war is another issue, but I remind the House of the repeated statements by my right hon. Friend, President Bush and others as to the limited purpose of that operation. We were acting under the authority of the Security Council for the purpose authorised by the Security Council, and that did not extend to the invasion of Iraq otherwise than for the purpose of driving it out of Kuwait.
Will my hon. and learned Friend take the opportunity to pay tribute to the United Nations inspectors in Iraq who suffered harassment while carrying out a vital duty on behalf of us all? May I wish my hon. and learned Friend well in getting proper safeguards over the vexed problem of undisclosed sites?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The House will know that 46 British inspectors have been involved in the process of inspection within Iraq. Certainly I pay tribute to them and to their colleagues from other countries.
On the second part of my hon. Friend's question, yes, it is important to enhance the verification and inspection powers of IAEA. I hope that we shall succeed in doing that, especially with regard to special inspections of previously undeclared sites.