With permission, I shall make a statement on the present crisis with Iraq over the United Nations Special Commission weapons inspections.
The present regime of weapons inspections was put in place in Iraq following the Gulf war, as part of the ceasefire agreement. Its objectives are to eliminate Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, and to prevent Iraq from reviving the capacity to develop, produce, stockpile and deploy such weapons of mass destruction.
Despite repeated obstruction from the Iraqi regime, UNSCOM's achievements have been significant. Since its inception, it has destroyed 38,000 weapons with the capability to deliver chemical and biological agents; it has also destroyed significant quantities of production equipment and associated facilities. But serious gaps remain in Iraq's full, final and complete declarations, particularly in regard to biological weapons.
If UNSCOM's work were halted now, Iraq would be able to generate biological weapons within a matter of weeks, and could achieve a chemical capability within months. It is vital for the continuing security of the region and more widely that UNSCOM be allowed full and unrestricted access to all sites that it wishes to inspect, and as much time as it needs to complete its task.
On 12 January, UNSCOM began a new inspection aimed at uncovering concealed activities. The Iraqi regime blocked the inspection on the specious grounds of an alleged US bias on inspection teams. This inspection, led by Mr. Scott Ritter, a United States citizen with a distinguished record of work for UNSCOM, consisted of 44 personnel from 17 different countries.
UNSCOM's executive chairman, Richard Butler, was in Baghdad last week for talks with Tariq Aziz aimed at resolving the crisis. The results were disappointing. Ambassador Butler's briefing to the Security Council on 23 January, immediately after his visit, made it clear that the Iraqis were determined to persist with their policy of obstruction.
Iraq's attempt to impose a moratorium on inspections of so-called presidential sites, pending the outcome of technical evaluation meetings—announced during Ambassador Butler's visit—is unacceptable, as is the deadline given by Saddam Hussein for UNSCOM to complete its work. It is not for Iraq to dictate terms and conditions to the Security Council. Unrestricted access to all sites is essential for UNSCOM's work, both now and for longer-term monitoring. The technical evaluation meetings, which will look at Iraq's declarations on its past programmes, are an entirely separate issue.
We are actively pursuing a diplomatic solution to Iraq's latest attempts to obstruct the vital work of UNSCOM. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and others are in regular contact with colleagues on the Security Council in an effort to defuse the situation, but we cannot rule out military action if the diplomatic approach fails to shift Saddam Hussein's stance. As a precautionary measure, HMS Invincible arrived in the Gulf on 25 January, and is engaged in work-up training with allied naval forces off the coast of Bahrain. We are keeping the situation under close review, and have not ruled out further deployments should the crisis continue. There are no immediate plans to deploy extra forces, but HMS Illustrious, which is at present in Gibraltar, will embark a detachment of RAF Harriers tomorrow, and will then commence work-up training in the Mediterranean.
Iraq is fully aware of its international obligations, and of what it needs to do for the process of relaxing sanctions to begin. Relevant Security Council resolutions make that perfectly clear. The Security Council is united in its demand for Iraqi compliance. There is no question of entering into negotiations with Iraq; Security Council resolutions are non-negotiable.
The Government remain very conscious of the sufferings of the Iraqi people, with whom we have no quarrel. The UK has provided some £94 million in aid to the Iraqi people since 1991. Much of that money has been used to fund projects by United Kingdom nongovernmental organisations, including the Mines Advisory Group, which is involved in a major mine clearing operation, and the Save The Children Fund, which is focusing on water and sanitation projects aimed at helping children.
The United Kingdom has also co-sponsored successive Security Council resolutions, allowing Iraq to export oil in exchange for humanitarian aid. For several years, Saddam chose not to avail himself of the opportunity to provide for his people under that scheme. Since its implementation in 1996, oil-for-food has faced a number of cynical obstructive tactics by the Iraqi regime. For the sake of the people of Iraq, we remain prepared to discuss with Iraq ways of improving the scheme's effectiveness.
What does Mr. Primakov have to say about military action?
What do the Chinese say about military action?
What do the French say about it?
My hon. Friend the Minister refers to Scott Ritter's distinguished record, but is it really necessary to have a former captain of the US Marine Corps as the leader of this very delicate operation in the Arab world?
How can there be United Nations military action without the unambiguous support of the Security Council?
Can the Minister name just one Arab country that is in favour of military action? As one who went on holiday in October to Iran, I can say that even the Iranians, who had casualties of first world war proportions—more than 1 million—as a result of that awful Iran-Iraq war and Saddam Hussein's aggression, do not think that an American attack, inevitably on the Iraqi people, would be a sensible proposition.
Three years after the Gulf war, I visited the Amariya and was taken, as is every first-day visitor to Baghdad, to see the impregnated bodies carbonated against the concrete of a destroyed shelter. I suggest that an Exocet attack without massive numbers of ground troops will simply strengthen the position of Saddam Hussein rather than weaken it.
What is the precise purpose of military action? Would not it be sensible to try serious, dignified dialogue of a kind that, to many of us, seems not properly to have been tried?
Finally, as a former member of the executive of the British-American parliamentary group and a friend of the United States, may I ask whether, before military action is taken, there is concern that in the present febrile atmosphere in Washington we shall not slide into what was somewhat indelicately called in the Arab press
the war of Clinton's penis"?
The composition of the UNSCOM inspection teams will and must remain a matter for Richard Butler who heads that organisation. The composition of those teams is not negotiable and their members are picked on merit, not on nationality. That will continue to be Richard Butler's aim. As head of UNSCOM, Richard Butler was in Baghdad last week and engaged in patient negotiations with the Iraqis. He conducted the negotiations in good faith, but Tariq Aziz and the Iraqi regime did not respond.
I should like to establish that it is most certainly the case that this country is looking to every diplomatic avenue to end the present situation, consistent with our achieving our objectives, which are unrestricted access to all sites in Iraq; a recognition that there can be no time constraint on the operations of the inspections teams; and no restriction on the personnel in those teams. To achieve that through diplomatic mechanisms is most certainly the intention of the British Government, and should be the intention of us all. However, I must tell my hon. Friend that if that does not have the required impact, we—like the whole world, recognising Saddam Hussein's outrageous history—would not be in a position, at this stage or any other, to rule out a military option.
The Minister is right to emphasise the importance of exploring every diplomatic option, but what progress has been made in enforcing the will of the United Nations and the international community since the Minister for the Armed Forces answered a private notice question from me on this subject on 14 November? Is it not the case that Saddam Hussein has continued to cock a snook at the United Nations and continued to ignore the welfare of his people?
Can the Minister confirm that Security Council resolution 687 provides sufficient authority for military action to be taken if necessary, without any further resolution from the Security Council? Can he give us an assurance that Britain's aircraft carrier capability—he referred earlier to both HMS Invincible and HMS Illustrious—which is clearly regarded as an important element in the present situation, will not be in any way diminished after the strategic defence review?
I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his initial remarks. He was absolutely right to say that since the parliamentary exchange in November, Saddam Hussein has not modified his behaviour in any material sense; rather the opposite: he has continued to find specious reasons for blocking UNSCOM's progress in a way that is not only unacceptable, but is threatening for his near neighbours, perhaps for his own people, and for the world.
We believe that Saddam Hussein continues to have the capacity to fill two missiles with anthrax every week. That capacity is well documented. I do not need to tell the House how potentially dangerous that is. Within that framework, of course we will continue to pursue every diplomatic avenue, but I repeat that we will not rule out the military option. The right hon. and learned Gentleman was right to point out that Security Council backing for that already exists.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman will forgive me if, during a period when concentration inevitably must be on the use of aircraft carriers for purposes to do with Iraq, I do not respond to his question about the strategic defence review. I am sure that he understands that there will be an opportunity to raise that question on another occasion.
Is the Minister aware that the bombing raids during the Gulf war equalled in force seven Hiroshimas, yet failed to bring down Iraq? Is he aware that the United Nations has confirmed that 1 million children in Iraq are starving and that 500,000 have died? Is he aware that 54 Catholic bishops in the United States have appealed to President Clinton to end the sanctions? Did he note, over the weekend, that the anthrax in Iraq was supplied by the United States and that the leader of the biological research department in Baghdad had attended a seminar on anthrax in 1988?
Is the Minister aware that, despite the fact that the United Nations Security Council has demanded compliance by Iraq, there is absolutely no United Nations authority for military action by the United States or Britain; nor is there in the Arab world? Is it not time that Britain stood up to the United States and spoke for Europe during the period of the British presidency, instead of going along with a war that might be convenient for the present American Administration for quite different reasons?
No. It is most certainly time that this Government stood up for the people of Iraq who are not represented by Saddam Hussein and who have experienced being attacked by Saddam Hussein's chemical weapons. It is about time that this Government continued to stand up for the rights of the people in the region who are threatened by Saddam Hussein and for the rights of the world, which has every reason to take tough and consistent action against a dictator who wants to create weapons of mass destruction, both biological and chemical, and thereby jeopardise the peace not only of Iraq's people but of people throughout the world.
Does the Minister remember that, after the invasion of Kuwait but before the outbreak of the Gulf war, we had six months of serious dialogue with Saddam Hussein during which he proved himself to be as intransigent and obstructive as he has since? Will the Minister confirm that there are no sanctions against imports into Iraq of either food or medicine, and that the Iraqi Government are entitled and able to import as much food and medicine as they choose? In that unpredictable set of circumstances, is not the one thing that we can be clear about that, if the military option were to be withdrawn, immediate efforts would be restored in Iraq to achieve weapons of mass destruction, which Saddam Hussein undertook to destroy as part of the peace settlement?
The hon. and learned Gentleman is absolutely right that, as part of the peace settlement, Saddam Hussein undertook to destroy precisely those weapons of mass destruction. It has been his failure to complete that undertaking which has led us to the current situation. The hon. and learned Gentleman is equally right to say that both food and medicine are outside any Security Council restriction. It is therefore up to Saddam Hussein not to play with the system, as he has done in the past, but to use that opportunity to feed and to care for the needs of his own population. The fact that he chooses not to do so will be judged not only by the House but by the world as a measure of the man and as a measure of his brutality against his own people. Such considerations count significantly in this type of exchange.
The position of the British Government, who were sponsors of the original oil-for-food deal, is that, of course, we will examine carefully any suggestion of relaxation, specifically in ensuring that food and medicine are available for the suffering people of Iraq. In turn, we call on Saddam Hussein to show the same consideration for his own people.
Is my hon. Friend aware that if the voices of appeasement of Saddam Hussein—which are still to be heard—had prevailed seven years ago, Saddam Hussein would still be in occupation of Kuwait and probably also of wide tracts of the middle east? Does he agree that, seven years or more after Saddam was driven from Kuwait, it is utterly intolerable that there should still be any question of his having the ability to manufacture weapons of mass destruction? Is it not obvious to all but the purblind that that man is the greatest menace to world peace and world equilibrium since Adolf Hitler?
Is my hon. Friend aware that the House will certainly support the Government's and the United Nations' efforts to achieve a peaceful diplomatic solution, but that if the necessity arises to take military action, the Government will have the overwhelming support not only of the House but of Labour Members?
I strongly welcome my right hon. Friend's remarks. He is right to say that Saddam Hussein would have shown no voluntary willingness to move himself from Kuwait had it not been for the actions of the United Nations. Equally, since then, Saddam has been prevented from committing the type of excesses to which he was attracted before the UN action only because of the regime that has been maintained. Saddam' s ability to manufacture weapons of mass destruction threatens both the region and the world, and the world expects the United Nations to act decisively to put a stop to it.
For the sake of the peace of the region, and because of the dire precedent that it would set for the international world order were the United Kingdom and the United States of America to back down in the face of the flagrant challenge to the United Nations posed by Saddam Hussein, the hon. Gentleman and his policy deserve support.
However, although the United Kingdom has the presidency of the European Union, where is the much-vaunted common foreign and security policy? Is it not more true that, as ever, we stand shoulder to shoulder with our American allies in defence of peace and liberty than that our European friends are rallying to the cause of those virtues?
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's earlier remarks in which he gave his support for the Government's position and for the UN. That is very welcome. I repeat that the UN will search for every possible diplomatic solution, but there can be no question of backing down. That is the position of the UN which, I must say to him, involves the whole world. Our opposition to Saddam Hussein must continue on that basis.
Is it not the case—as my hon. Friend the Minister has suggested—that we are not dealing with a rational human being; that Saddam Hussein is not a man with whom one can negotiate; and that, 10 years ago this March, he practised genocide against his own people when 5,000 died at Halabja? Anyone who wants to see bodies, or people injured by Saddam Hussein rather than by the Americans and the allies, should look at the survivors and the graves at Halabja.
Is it not the case that not only has the resolution allowing UNSCOM access to sites in Iraq been flouted, but Saddam Hussein is still practising ethnic cleansing against his own people? In the past few months, thousands of refugees have been forced into northern Iraq because Saddam Hussein has thrown them out of their own homes. Recently—through a prison cleansing system—he has executed hundreds upon hundreds of prisoners, including Kuwaiti prisoners, in Iraqi gaols. My hon. Friend the Minister would have my full support for any action he took to get rid of this terrible war criminal who ought to be hounded out of existence.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend's remarks. She knows as well as most about the intolerable burden faced by Iraqi people of all backgrounds who have suffered under Saddam Hussein, and she referred to the destruction of Halabja. Since then—and certainly since the end of the Gulf war—Saddam Hussein has continued to persecute significant parts of Iraq's population indiscriminately and brutally. The recent report from the UN representative, Mr. van der Stoel, indicated that the humanitarian situation at the moment was horrendous. None of that can take away from the responsibility of Saddam Hussein and the indifferent, callous and brutal way in which he chooses to treat his own people.
Given what the Minister has said, does he accept that there will be a widespread welcome for his proposition that the option of military force cannot be ruled out because it is imperative that Saddam Hussein should be denied access to weapons of mass destruction? Accordingly, may I ask him to reflect further on his reply to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), the shadow Foreign Secretary, on the importance of the British aircraft carrier fleet? Once this incident is over, will he make representations to the Ministry of Defence and the Treasury on the usefulness of that aircraft carrier capability for our foreign policy?
The fact that the aircraft carriers have been deployed demonstrates their value in these circumstances. The hon. Gentleman will have noticed that my hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces is sitting beside me. He will have registered the hon. Gentleman's remarks and will reflect on them in days to come.
I find it amazing that hon. Members can, quite rightly, condemn Saddam Hussein for his atrocities but say nothing about Israel and its atrocities against the Palestinians and others. Will my hon. Friend the Minister answer a straight question with a straight answer? Who supports Britain and the United States in the Security Council? Does France, China or any other member support Britain and the US? Or is this yet another occasion on which Britain trails behind the coat tails of the United States of America and does not have the courage to stand on its own two feet?
I am very disappointed with my hon. Friend. We can hardly compare the issue of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a dictator such as Saddam Hussein with almost any other issue. Britain stands firmly behind the United Nations Security Council resolutions that make it clear to Saddam Hussein that he must destroy his weapons of mass destruction. We shall make every diplomatic effort to secure a peaceful resolution, but it is vital for the world's future that the United Nations stands firm on the issue and insists that those weapons are destroyed.
Is it not important that two things should be made clear? The first is that the difficulties, crisis, or whatever, in Washington will not in any way deter Britain and the United States from taking the necessary action. Secondly, the Cabinet should know that if military action is necessary—I and many other hon. Members incline increasingly to the view that there is no longer an alternative—it will have the overwhelming support of hon. Members of all parties and, perhaps even more important, of the public.
Those who are calling for no action are precisely those who did not want Kuwait to be liberated: the appeasers who, time and again, have pleaded for no sanctions and no military action. They do not speak in any way whatever for the British people, except perhaps for a tiny minority: the same percentage that they now represent in the House of Commons.
My hon. Friend asks, in essence, about Britain's motives for contemplating the actions of which I have spoken. Let me repeat, again and again, that we will make every effort to find diplomatic solutions to the present impasse. That is right and proper, as long as those solutions involve the destruction of the weapons of mass destruction and no restriction of UNSCOM's right to carry out inspections as the United Nations has charged it to do.
Talk of a possible military option inevitably involves any British Government and Parliament in the most serious debate. We are talking about putting our own people's lives at risk, and no one should talk about that frivolously or lightly. Let me earnestly impress on the House the fact that to begin to divert the issue into a matter of internal politics elsewhere is to deprive ourselves of the opportunity to make a rational decision of the most profound importance to our people in the British armed forces.
Could this military action be undertaken without the direct approval, by a vote, of the United Nations? What incentive has Saddam Hussein to comply when the United States has said categorically that, come what may, sanctions will not be lifted in any significant form for as long as he remains in power? Will not the victims of any military actions, like the victims of the sanctions, be innocent Iraqi people, not the regime?
Let me make it quite clear that the resolution of the present impasse lies firmly in Baghdad and in the hands of Saddam Hussein. The House, the country and the whole world must understand and acknowledge that fact. Saddam Hussein can, if he so chooses, resolve that the situation should come to an end. The sanctions regime can come to an end if he undertakes to destroy the weapons of mass destruction, as he has already agreed to do. No one in the Government or in the House should talk up the possibility of military action, but if it were to come to that, responsibility would lie firmly with Saddam Hussein and people in Baghdad.
Does not the gravity of the mounting crisis demand the greatest possible unity of purpose in the House, among the wider public and among the Gulf war coalition, to face down the Iraqi dictator, who is using his people for his own ends? Is it not sad that the Gulf war coalition is having difficulty re-establishing itself because of Arab hostility to the Israeli Government's views and because of the policies of some of our allies? Does my hon. Friend fear that the personal difficulties of the US President may impede the unity of purpose and direction that is necessary in this conflict?
I assure my hon. Friend and the whole House that the motivation of the British Government and the United Nations must be confined solely to the situation in Iraq and the debate about the destruction of weapons of mass destruction. Of course, we are bound to seek to build the widest coalition for diplomatic or any other form of action against Saddam Hussein. It is right and proper that we do that, and we will continue to do so. Our motivation, our preoccupation, is the insistence that Saddam Hussein destroys the weapons of mass destruction.
My hon. Friend has the overwhelming support of the majority of hon. Members. Saddam Hussein deals in wishful thinking rather than analysis. Anyone who thinks that it is possible to have a reasonable conversation with the man needs only to meet him to understand that. It is obvious that when there is a hiatus in the middle east peace process, no one in the Arab world is going to make clear publicly their feelings. However I can say, as one with some knowledge of the matter, that all his neighbours are concerned that he may be allowed to regain the power that he had before we gained the ability to remove some of it through UNSCOM and other mechanisms.
There have been recent reports from the UN Secretary-General and his special envoy in Baghdad suggesting that the oil-for-aid resolution that we promoted is not meeting the requirements of the people of Iraq. If Kofi Annan brings to the UN Security Council proposals to increase oil for aid from $2 billion to $3 billion so that humanitarian aid can be given to the Iraqi people, will we support them?
My hon. Friend is as knowledgeable about support in the Arab world as anyone in the House. I am grateful for his observations. I have no doubt that the situation is as he described it, and that there is considerable support in the Arab world for restraining Saddam Hussein and for a solution that ensures that he cannot offer threats to his neighbours in the middle and long term.
On humanitarian aid, I repeat that we have no doubt that responsibility for the suffering of the Iraqi people lies firmly with Saddam. He chooses not to make food available to his own people or to allow the oil-for-food programme to work properly. Nevertheless, Benon Sevan, the head of the UN sanctions implementations unit, is working on a report for the Secretary-General. We would inevitably look sympathetically at any practical steps on the oil-for-food programme that would ease the plight of ordinary people. However, that would of course still depend on the so far unforthcoming assistance of Saddam.
I do not wish to be one of those who seek to appease Saddam Hussein, but my hon. Friend said that one of our objectives should be to liberate the Iraqi people from his clutches. The Gulf war seven years ago failed to do that; sanctions since have failed. Why should we have any confidence in further military action leading to that desirable objective?
I must remind the House that it was military action which threw Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait, which was not insignificant in its own right. Since then, it has been the continuation of military and other activities which have prevented Saddam from terrorising his neighbours, even if they have not, sadly, prevented him from terrorising his own people. Within that context, the fact that Saddam has continued to flout both UN and world opinion by the production of weapons of mass destruction is something which we must deal with now. We choose to do so through diplomatic mechanisms, but we do not rule out the military option.
May I assure my hon. Friend that the vast majority of British people will recognise that nothing would undermine the possibility of a successful diplomatic solution more than to rule out the possibility of the use of military force? Does he also accept that the numbers involved in the coalition who are willing to say that they will not rule out military force is equally important to strengthening the diplomatic efforts? If we act, is there not a need to ensure that we do so in conjunction with the largest possible number of allies? Are there any conditions that the Government would set on our direct involvement in military action?
I repeat that Britain and the United Nations are still engaged in active diplomacy on this matter. Richard Butler visited Baghdad last week on behalf of the UN, but I am afraid that his report back to the Security Council was not a happy one. Nevertheless, he was engaged precisely in the process of trying to bring Saddam to his senses without the inevitable consequences that would come from military activity. No one ought to talk up the possibility of the military option at this stage, and no one wants to. We are seeking to ensure that world opinion is firmly of the view that the possession of weapons of mass destruction by Saddam, an unstable dictator, is a threat to the region and the world. That threat must be dealt with by a coalition of public opinion on a worldwide scale. We will keep in touch with that opinion without ruling out any of the options that we have discussed today.
Does the Minister agree with me that it is somewhat unfortunate that comment across the House today appears to be polarising, and that references to immediate military action and appeasement are both equally inappropriate at this stage while there is still scope for diplomacy? Does he further agree that if we are to move the diplomatic effort forward, we need to show the same sort of willingness to take risks as the Government have shown with regard to Northern Ireland? Will he assure me that we will give that type of leadership to the diplomatic effort on Iraq?
Can my hon. Friend further assure me that he has remembered, as others in the House seem to have forgotten, that Saddam Hussein acquired such weapons of mass destruction under the current regime of inspections? Does he agree that even when such inspections have gone ahead unfettered, that inspections regime has proved to be ineffective? The outcomes of diplomacy must include not only avoiding military action but putting in place a system of inspection and weapon destruction that gets rid of those weapons and does not allow Saddam Hussein to continue to build them up.
My hon. Friend is right to remind the House that no one should talk up the possibility of military action beyond its current standing, which is that the military option exists and will not be discounted or discarded. That will remain the case until the situation is resolved.
Flexibility in negotiations and a willingness to take risks were displayed last week in Baghdad by Richard Butler, the head of UNSCOM, but that was not reciprocated by any willingness on the part of Tariq Aziz and the Iraqi Government to take risks. They are to be deplored all the more for the fact that they are not showing any signs of wishing to seek a proper solution.
I must correct my hon. Friend on one point: he says that UNSCOM has not been successful, but during the period in which UNSCOM has been in operation some 38,000 weapons have been destroyed as a direct result of its activities. UNSCOM has been a success and we should say so clearly. It has not been the complete success we want, but that is because of Saddam Hussein's intransigence. That is why we insist that UNSCOM should be allowed to do the job in the way it needs to do it and should finish the job, which means the destruction of all the weapons of mass destruction.