Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:30 pm on 10th February 1998.

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Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Shadow Secretary of State 3:30 pm, 10th February 1998

The House will be grateful to the Foreign Secretary for his statement, and I hope that we shall have an opportunity to debate the situation in Iraq in full in the near future. As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and I have consistently made clear, we support the Government in their efforts to ensure that Saddam Hussein respects the will of the UN and the world community. We agree that he cannot be allowed to flout Security Council resolutions—to which he himself agreed—with impunity. We agree that every diplomatic avenue must be pursued, but that if diplomacy fails, it would be right to contemplate military action.

We have also said consistently that the military action must have a clear objective. Last Monday in this House—and again on the radio this morning—the Foreign Secretary said that the objective of any military action was to ensure that the UNSCOM inspectors could complete their task. Last Friday in Washington—with the Prime Minister beside him—President Clinton said that the objective was to reduce Saddam's ability to use weapons of mass destruction against his neighbours. On Sunday, the Secretary of State for Defence was talking about the risks to the survival of Saddam Hussein and his regime. Is there not a danger that those different descriptions of the objectives will lead to uncertainty and confusion? Do we not owe it to the British service men and women whose lives may be put at risk to spell out a clear objective and to stick to it?

On the Security Council resolution to which the Foreign Secretary referred, could he tell us a little more about what it is intended to achieve? Is it the Government's position that resolution 687 provides sufficient authority for military action? What would be the effect on any such military action of the presence of Turkish troops in Iraq?

Finally, could the Foreign Secretary tell us a little more about the attempts that he has made, as President of the European Union Council of Foreign Ministers, to secure a consensus in the European Union on this question? Does not the complete absence of any such consensus illustrate yet again the emptiness of ambitions to develop a common foreign and defence policy in Europe?