I beg to move,
That this House
supports UNSCR 1441 as unanimously adopted by the UN Security Council;
agrees that the Government of Iraq must comply fully with all provisions of the Resolution;
and agrees that, if it fails to do so, the Security Council should meet in order to consider the situation and the need for full compliance.
Before I come to the case for the motion, may I say how sorry I am—and I think that I speak for the whole House—that Mr. Campbell, who speaks for the Liberal Democrats, is unable to be with us today. He attracts great respect in the House because of his contribution to its work. I have been able to talk to him, and I know that the prognosis is good. I would like, through you Mr. Speaker, to wish him a very speedy recovery.
If I may be allowed to make a little progress first, I shall of course give way.
The UN charter provides in chapter VII for mandatory obligations to be binding on all member states, and it makes it clear that these resolutions may be backed by military action.
Today, Iraq stands in breach of nine separate chapter VII Security Council resolutions. It has completely ignored 23 distinct obligations out of a total of 27. That plainly cannot be allowed to continue. As President Bush said to the UN General Assembly on
I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary for giving way and I apologise for intervening so early in his speech, but I do so for a particular reason.
Over the past two days, there have been media reports that the Secretary of State for Defence is likely to make a statement today on troop deployments or calling up the reserves. If that were to be the case, obviously he would not be able to do so until his speech at the end of the debate. That would be totally unsatisfactory, as the House could not debate those issues. If he is likely to make a statement, will the Foreign Secretary outline what is in it so that it can form part of the debate?
I say to the right hon. Gentleman that, as the Prime Minister made clear, we have quite properly, because it is our duty, ensured that the House is kept fully informed and, where appropriate, is able to vote on substantive motions on the issue. That will continue. When and if there is an appropriate moment for a statement to be made on calling up reserves, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, who is in his place next to me, will make it. As it happens, and although I shall speak briefly on the preparedness of our troops, no such statement is currently in prospect.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. As he knows, I receive a large amount of correspondence on this issue, and I have here half my weekend's post on Iraq and the UN resolution. My constituents are concerned that the resolution deliberately makes it difficult and potentially impossible for Iraq to comply, mainly because it requires Iraq to produce within 30 days a full inventory—
Order. I am sorry to interrupt, but interventions should be a little more spontaneous and certainly fairly brief in the context of the limited time available for the debate.
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The concern is that Iraq is being asked to produce within 30 days a full inventory of all activities and all chemical facilities in that country, including non-military areas. Will my right hon. Friend comment so that I can feed back the information to my constituents?
May I say to my hon. Friend, as I say to my other hon. Friends, that I shall deal with that issue and others that I know are of concern to many people in the country? I hope to reassure them. May I also say that nobody who reads the full text of resolution 1441, including paragraph 3, can be in any doubt that it is straightforward for Iraq to comply? It can comply if it wishes.
My right hon. Friend refers to the Government's consistent support for the UN. Would it not be a good idea at this point to place it on record that paragraph 3 of clause IV of the Labour party constitution also says that we should co-operate with the UN and that that part of the constitution was moved by Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn?
I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend—as ever, I have to say. It must be one of the few parts of clause IV that was not amended by people such as me, when we had the opportunity to do so and to modernise it in 1994. He is quite right that it is a timeless part of our constitution and I am very glad that we are so committed to it. It has also to be said, as he tempts me down that path, that I am just old enough to remember when Mr. Wedgwood Benn was one of the leading modernisers—
I still am. Some of us still are—unlike my hon. Friend, who will doubtless go through some contortions to explain why he takes his current position on the Security Council resolution.
I want to make some progress now.
My speech endeavours to deal with key questions that I know are on the minds of many Members on both sides of the House. As I have said, President Bush told the General Assembly on
Negotiations on resolution 1441 were long and intensive. It was some eight weeks in gestation, and that period was one of unrelenting high-level diplomatic contacts. The Prime Minister made frequent telephone calls to President Bush, and spoke regularly to other Heads of Government. I had daily, sometimes hourly, contacts with my counterparts. But the success of that diplomatic activity owes much to the expertise and professionalism of many British diplomats and officials in New York, in London and around the world, and I pay tribute to them.
I want to describe the process of inspection set out in resolution 1441, then to answer four key questions. The questions are these. First, what constitutes a material breach? Secondly, who decides and what happens if there is a material breach? Thirdly, would there be a second Security Council resolution if military action proved necessary? Fourthly, if Her Majesty's Government were to decide that military action was necessary, would the House be able to vote on it, and if so when?
Resolution 1441 has one central aim: the peaceful removal of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction through an effective inspection regime. Although it is a complex resolution, it is carefully constructed. It sets out in its operative paragraphs the steps that Iraq must now take. At its outset, in paragraph 1, it makes it clear that Iraq
Xhas been and remains in material breach of its obligations" under existing Security Council resolutions, in particular through its
Xfailure to cooperate with United Nations inspectors and the IAEA"
—that is, the International Atomic Energy Agency. Paragraph 2 clearly states that this is Iraq's
Xfinal opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations".
Paragraph 9 demands that Iraq confirm within seven days of the passing of the resolution
Xits intention to comply fully with this resolution".
Iraq has now sent two letters in response to that paragraph, one nine pages long and the second—which arrived over the weekend—13 pages long. Despite their verbosity and their argumentative nature, we are treating them as a yes. I say that in particular to my hon. Friend Mrs. Campbell.
The next deadline is
Xaccurate, full, and complete declaration of all aspects of its programmes to develop chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, and other delivery systems".
Dr. Blix and Dr. El Baradei have already given Iraq advice in regard to that disclosure. The inspectors have already sat down with the Government of Iraq to offer them advice on how to comply—not how not to comply, but how to comply. There are no tripwires or traps in the resolution; it sets out a very clear procedure.
Aside from indications from intelligence, some set out in the dossier that we published on
The material included up to 3,000 tonnes of precursor chemicals, up to 360 tonnes of bulk chemical warfare agent, including 1.5 tonnes of the VX nerve agent, more than 30,000 special munitions for delivery of chemical and biological agents, and large quantities of growth media acquired for use in the production of biological weapons—enough to produce over three times the amount of anthrax Iraq had previously admitted to having manufactured.
Inspections by UNMOVIC and the IAEA will resume in Iraq by
Paragraphs 4, 11 and 12 deal with non-compliance, which I shall come to in a moment. Paragraph 13 reminds Iraq that it has been repeatedly warned
Xthat it will face serious consequences as a result of its continued violations of its obligations".
As consideration has obviously been given about going to war with Iraq, has similar consideration been given to going to war with Israel, because it too has weapons of mass destruction, it too is daily breaking UN resolutions, it too is invading another country and it too has a leader in Sharon who is a state terrorist?
The point that my hon. Friend seeks to make is about the proper and full enforcement of all UN Security Council resolutions. We support the proper and full enforcement of all resolutions, including 242, 338, 1397 and 1402 in respect of the middle east. Those resolutions impose obligations not just on the state of Israel—and we want to see them enforced—but on the Palestinian Authority and on the other Arab states. There is a process for dealing with those. The chapter VII resolutions of which Iraq stands in breach impose particular unilateral obligations on the Government of Iraq. We uphold, support and enhance the authority of the UN not by the relativism that my hon. Friend proposes—I infer from what he said that because there has been inadequate compliance in one area, there should be inadequate compliance in the other area—but by ensuring the fullest possible compliance of the will of the UN in every area.
Following the point that the Foreign Secretary has made about the quantities of materials imported by Iraq that are unaccounted for, if the Government of Iraq respond in the next two or three weeks that they no longer possess any weapons of mass destruction, could that response in itself be taken as sufficient evidence of a breach of the UN resolution, sufficient to trigger the next stages in the process?
What the right hon. and learned Gentleman raises is what constitutes a material breach. I will deal with that straight away.
I have already explained that Iraq remains in material breach of previous resolutions but that Security Council resolution 1441 offers Iraq a final opportunity to comply. Paragraph 4 of the resolution says that a further material breach arises where there are
Xfalse statements or omissions in the declarations submitted by Iraq . . . and failure by Iraq at any time to comply with, and cooperate fully in the implementation of, this resolution".
Paragraph 4 therefore defines in general terms what a further material breach will consist of.
As with any definition of that type, it is never possible to give an exhaustive list of all conceivable behaviours that it covers. That judgment has to be made against the real circumstances that arise, but I reassure the House that material breach means something significant: some behaviour or pattern of behaviour that is serious. Among such breaches could be action by the Government of Iraq seriously to obstruct or to impede the inspectors, to intimidate witnesses, or a pattern of behaviour where any single action appears relatively minor but the actions as a whole add up to something deliberate and more significant: something that shows Iraq's intention not to comply.
Operational paragraph 4 makes it clear that a material breach is a failure of disclosure and other failure to comply—there are two parts. Plainly, whether there has been another failure to comply as a result of a failure to disclose depends on the circumstances. I do not anticipate that we will be served up with the usual mantra from the Iraqi Government that they have no weapons of mass destruction. The Iraq regime will have a copy of the 203-page UNSCOM report setting out all the weapons of mass destruction and precursor agents that were unaccounted for when the inspectors left. If the Iraqis are serious about complying, which they now say they are, the first thing they have to do is to say what has happened to that material. The inspectors will test whether they are willing to act in good faith and comply with the will of the international community.
Aside from the particular definition in paragraph 4, a material breach has to be something serious. Nobody, I hope, wants military action against Iraq or any other country to be taken gratuitously. It should happen only as a last resort, and that is the position of Her Majesty's Government.
In The Times today, the deputy political editor says:
XTony Blair looks set to get strong parliamentary backing today for war with Iraq".
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Government's understanding of the motion is that it offers support for the United Nations and its resolution, not for war? Surely, if Saddam Hussein were to come to the conclusion that war is inevitable, as some have said, that would be a disincentive to his disarming. It is clearly important that our allies understand what this vote means, too.
She—I am sorry. There you go. What can I say in response to that gender correction without getting into trouble?
I intend to deal directly with the question of military action. The resolution provides a peaceful solution to Saddam's holding of weapons of mass destruction. It is there to resolve the problem peacefully and to authorise military action only if that is the position into which the Government of Iraq have manoeuvred the international community.
Paragraph 4 concludes by saying that any further material breach will be reported to the Security Council Xfor assessment" under paragraphs 11 and 12. Paragraph 11 directs the inspectors to report to the Security Council any interference or failure to comply with its disarmament obligations, making it clear that these include all the other relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions, as well as 1441.
Paragraph 12 then has the Security Council
Xconvening immediately upon a report under paragraphs 4 and 11 to consider the situation and the need for full compliance with all of the relevant Council Resolutions in order to secure international peace and security."
That brings me to the second question: who decides and what happens if there is a further material breach? If there is evidence of a false statement or omission, together with a failure to comply in other respects, it can be reported to the Security Council as a further material breach either by a Security Council member or by the inspectors. The Council will undoubtedly require the opinion of the inspectors, regardless of who makes the initial report.
There is then a clear requirement for an immediate meeting of the Security Council to make the assessment of which I spoke. Where the breach is flagrant—say, a physical and serious attack on the inspectors—the decision on whether there has been a material breach will effectively have been made by the Iraqis, who will clearly have decided to reject any thought of compliance. In such a case, there will be no decision to be made. The Security Council will undoubtedly then act. It is of course possible, however, that there is credible evidence of a further material breach, but the Security Council is unable to reach a conclusion.
That brings me to the next question I posed: will there be a second Security Council resolution if military action proves necessary? Resolution 1441 does not stipulate that there has to be a second Security Council resolution to authorise military action in the event of a further material breach by Iraq. The idea that there should be a second Security Council resolution was an alternative discussed informally among members of the P5 of the Security Council and the elected 10 during the weeks of negotiation, but no draft to that effect was ever tabled by any member of Security Council, nor put to the vote. Instead, every member of the Security Council voted for and accepted this text.
I should make it clear, as I did on
The right hon. Gentleman has gone a long way to reassure those of us who are uneasy about the morality of war against Iraq. He will go even further to attract us to support the motion if he says that the Government will use their best endeavours to bring forward a motion of authority before the second Security Council resolution, and that they will lay an express motion of authority in this House which we can debate before military action is taken.
I am just about to come on to the substantive motion and I hope to give the right hon. and learned Gentleman and the House satisfaction on that. As far as moving a second resolution is concerned, the moment there is any evidence of a material breach—whether it arises because of Iraq's flagrant action and there is no argument about it or in a report from a member of the Security Council or the inspectors—there will be a meeting of the Security Council at which it is, and always has been, open for any member to move any resolution they wish. Our preference is for a Security Council resolution, and I hope that we would move it.
As I understand it, the only grounds on which an individual member state could take military action against Iraq would be under the right to self-defence or in taking humanitarian action. I cannot see that such a situation applies to this country. On what basis, therefore, could action be taken without a specific UN Security Council resolution?
The United Nations charter on international law is not that precise. I have already said what our intentions are. As for humanitarian action, exactly this issue arose in 1999 in respect of Kosovo. Could there be military action against Milosevic, whom we now know to have been a brutal dictator, in the absence of a clear United Nations Security Council resolution, and given also that the Russian Federation, a member of the P5, moved an unacceptable resolution that we had to veto? The judgment was that the international community could take action, and that has never been challenged.
We have placed great faith in the Security Council and so far that has been reciprocated. We must continue to do so, but to sustain the authority of the United Nations, we have to reserve the position—only reserve it, because I do not believe that this will arise—if a consensus within the Security Council is not possible. I say to my hon. Friend and to the Liberal Democrats, whose amendment I shall deal with shortly, that had we not taken that reservation in 1999, no military action against Milosevic would have been possible in respect of Kosovo, and that tyrannical dictator would still be ruining the lives of millions of people in the Balkans.
The right hon. Gentleman said that the Government's preference was for a second resolution. Does he, therefore, disagree with the Leader of the House who, on BBC Radio 4 last Friday, said that a second resolution would be needed to authorise military action if Iraq defaulted? Was the Leader of the House wrong? Does he not represent official UK Government policy?
Attentive though I am to the remarks of my right hon. Friend, unfortunately I missed that interview, although his deputy, the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office, my hon. Friend Mr. Bradshaw, tells me that the Leader of the House did not say that. I shall send for the record and ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence to come back to that point.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend not only for giving way but also for his willingness to respond to Members' concerns. My question is about the other side of the coin: if the inspectors report that they are receiving full co-operation and that Iraq is moving towards removal of weapons of mass destruction, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is extremely unlikely that the question of military action would arise and that, at the end of the tunnel, we can offer Iraq some prospect that sanctions will be lifted?
Yes, there is a pathway to peace. One or two of my hon. Friends—although not my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe—may entertain the occasional suspicion of the Government—
My right hon. Friend should sit down again—he is not one of them.
Felicitous though all who speak from the Treasury Bench must be with words, the words would not come if Iraq had properly complied with the resolution yet one of us had to come to the House to explain why, notwithstanding that fact, we were going to take military action. The circumstances would not arise. We could not do that. The Cabinet could not do that. The armed forces could not do that. That is the settled view of the international community.
I must make some progress, but I shall give way a couple of times before I finish.
No decision on military action has yet been taken by Her Majesty's Government and I fervently hope that none will be necessary. Resolution 1441 sets out a clear and straightforward pathway to peace for Saddam, if he will only take it. However, we have got this far in terms of Saddam's compliance only because active diplomacy has been backed by the credible threat of force. For that threat to remain credible, it is crucial that we make proper preparations.
As the UN process moves forward, so should our preparedness for military action in the event that the process fails. In that context, our Ministry of Defence has been carefully considering what would be required. It is taking steps to ensure that service men and women are available in the right numbers and that they have the right skills and equipment. The more prepared we are, the greater the likelihood of full compliance by Saddam, without the use of force.
I shall deal with the fourth question that I raised: if Her Majesty's Government were to decide that military action was necessary, would the House be able to vote on it and, if so, when? If force becomes necessary, any decisions made by Her Majesty's Government will be careful, proportionate and consistent with our obligations in international law.
Any decision by Her Majesty's Government to take military action will be put before the House as soon as possible after it has been taken. The issue of a substantive resolution was raised with me by the Foreign Affairs Committee on
As to the appropriate time, I hope that it will be before any military engagement, but as the House has always accepted—and must accept—there are circumstances in which the safety of our forces requires an element of surprise. In those circumstances, it would be utterly irresponsible to come to the House beforehand—[Interruption.] Of course, it would. I hope that Liberal Democrat Members are not suggesting otherwise. [Hon. Members: XThey are."] If we can come to the House without placing our troops at risk, we shall do so, but if it would place our troops at risk we shall have to act in the same way as the Conservative Government did in January 1991—when they had the full support of the present Lord Ashdown, then the leader of the Liberal Democrat party, who accepted that the safety of our troops was paramount. The then Government properly came to the House just five days after the decision was taken.
Will the Foreign Secretary answer a question that a serving member of Her Majesty's armed forces posed to me in my constituency on Saturday? He had been in New York at the time of the attack and had witnessed the vote in Congress, and he asked why the Government has had nine votes on hunting with dogs—important though that may be—since May 1997, but cannot produce a substantive motion now before forces are deployed to gain the support of all sides?
As it happens, the hon. Gentleman asks the wrong person about hunting; I dealt with it when I was Home Secretary—I am happily released from that fate—but it is not something that has ever lathered me up.
The hon. Gentleman is now tilting at windmills. The House properly and rightly asked for a substantive resolution as soon as we had a Security Council resolution. We have one. We are asking the House—apart from the Liberal Democrats, and I shall come to them—to endorse the Security Council resolution, and what is good enough for the United Nations ought, with respect, to be good enough for the House—except apparently for the Liberal Democrats.
On military action, I say again—I hope that the hon. Gentleman listens to these words and I look forward to a speech not by him, but by Mr. Moore, who is standing in for Mr. Campbell—that if we can and it is safe to do so, we will propose a resolution seeking the House's approval of decisions in respect of military action before military action takes place. If, however, it is unsafe to do so because it would place the lives of British servicemen and women at risk, we shall not do so until after the action has taken place. I fail to understand how any serious party that aims to be in government could possibly argue with that position.
I have taken many interventions, and I wish to make progress.
We are not proposing hypothetical resolutions because I very much hope that military action can be avoided; that is the aim of the resolution. So far, Iraq has taken a step to comply with resolution 1441, but we must be realistic; Saddam Hussein's record of deceit, delay and defiance is well established.
Saddam Hussein now faces a clear choice: he can take the pathway to peace set out in the resolution or, by frustrating the inspectors and defying the international community's will, he can provoke military action. He can choose the path of full co-operation, leading to the suspension of sanctions and the re-admittance of Iraq to the family of nations, or he can expose his people to the serious consequences cited in resolution 1441. The choice is his.
If my hon. Friend will allow me, I shall continue.
XI urge the Iraqi leadership—for the sake of its own people, and for the sake of world security and world order—to seize this opportunity, and thereby begin to end the isolation and suffering of the Iraqi people. If Iraq's defiance continues, however, the Security Council must face its responsibilities."
That position is backed by the European Union. In a statement adopted at the General Affairs Council on
Xto grasp this final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations. This is the only way for Iraq to avoid further confrontation."
The Foreign Secretary has referred to the informal discussions that took place between the five permanent members of the Security Council before resolution 1441 was passed. He has said also that no member of the Security Council put forward any objection or amendments to the resolution as it was going through the Security Council. But is it not correct to say that during those informal discussions, the British ambassador gave assurances about the interpretation of resolution 1441, and that the Russian ambassador at the Security Council read out a list of those assurances and told the Security Council that it was only on the basis of the assurances from the United Kingdom that he was going to vote for the resolution? Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that those assurances still apply?
I am glad that my right hon. Friend has asked that question. I did not say that no amendments had been put forward—in fact, after the US and the UK had tabled the resolution, a number of amendments were proposed and we accepted some of them. I will not bore the House by reciting them, but I happen to know almost all of them off by heart—indeed, one night I found myself dreaming about amendments to operational paragraph 4.
In any vote of that sort, there is what is called an explanation of vote, which is read into the record after the vote has taken place. Sir Jeremy Greenstock offered his explanation of vote, gave undertakings and we stand by the undertakings—
They were couched in terms similar to the ones that I have read out today.
The point that I was making to my right hon. Friend Mr. Davis is a different one. No draft resolution proposing that there could be military action only if there were a further Security Council resolution was either tabled before the Security Council—it could easily have been—or voted on. That gives me a cue to deal with the Liberal Democrats, but first I will give way to my hon. Friend Alan Simpson, who has been trying to intervene.
To return to the element of surprise, it will come as no surprise to the Foreign Secretary that a large number of hon. Members on both sides of the House are keen to ensure that, if we are willing to take action in furtherance of western democratic values, we practise those values in this Chamber; nor will it come as a surprise that there are large elements within the American Administration who intend to bomb the living daylights out of Iraq, with or without a UN resolution. Will he give a commitment to table at the UN a second resolution seeking specific endorsement for a war in the event of a breach, and to have that discussed in advance by the House?
First, I am as signed up to western democratic values as my hon. Friend is. Secondly, any fair observer might say that I have given serious undertakings to the House about the endorsement of any decisions that Her Majesty's Government have to take. In any of the world's Administrations, the initial decision has to be made by Government, but it has to be subject to endorsement. I accept—I did not take a different view in opposition—that the House has rights and that the Government's duty is to meet those rights. That is what I have been trying to do today.
As for a second Security Council resolution, in answer to Mr. Hogg I said that our preference was for a Security Council resolution, full stop. Within that, our preference is to ensure that we are able to table such a resolution. However, I cannot state precisely what the circumstances will be. I do not want to embarrass my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South or anyone else by reading out quotations from those who, six months ago, were demanding that we go to the United Nations, but I will paraphrase. My hon. Friend said that if there was to be action, it had to be dealt with by the UN. That is exactly the route that we are taking. Six months ago, no one believed that we could get a 15:0 decision, but that is what we have done. There is still an air of disbelief as to whether we will maintain our faith in the Security Council. We will do so.
I have given way many times already. I want to deal briefly with the Liberal Democrats' amendment and then make progress.
I hope that the Liberal Democrat spokesman will recognise that, in so far as any Foreign Secretary could, I have met much of the burden of the amendment—for example, in respect of a substantive motion in the House of Commons, with the caveat that everyone else accepts but which is not in the terms of the amendment. The amendment could not safely be voted on in any event. I say to him seriously that it would place British lives at risk. There is no pointing in his shaking his head. He has had every opportunity to take a different view. One of his hon. Friends sat on the Select Committee when I gave the undertaking on
In addition, I have to tell the hon. Gentleman what the Liberals are doing. I thought of resisting the temptation of saying that this follows a pattern of behaviour in which, to pick up a hunting analogy, the Liberals try to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds. At the same time as they support UN resolution 1441—I hope that they will do when it comes to a vote at 10 o'clock—they want to rewrite it and add to its language terms that no member of the Security Council ever sought formally to include in the resolution.
Finally, I point out to the Liberal Democrats that—to re-emphasise the Kosovo point—the previous leader of the Liberal Democrats played a very honourable role in exposing what was going on in the Balkans and in ensuring that military action was taken, notwithstanding the fact that a security resolution could not be achieved because of a blockage in the Security Council. It is no good saying, XOh well, it was all to do with humanitarian purposes." At the time, that was highly questionable. There were people on both sides of the House who said, XDo not take action." There were people saying that we should take action only with a Security Council mandate.
We do not know the exact circumstances that might arise—God forbid that they do—where military action proved necessary. It could prove necessary on a humanitarian basis as much as anything else. We do not know the circumstances. What the Liberal Democrats are doing through an ill-thought-through, ill-considered amendment is to say that in no circumstances—humanitarian or involving self-defence or anything else—can military action be authorised unless it is authorised by a separate Security Council resolution, even though they know the history of Kosovo, when one member of the Security Council decided to block action that they now accept was justified and justifiable.
I shall return to many of the points that the Foreign Secretary has made in the past two or three minutes in my speech, if I catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, will he accept the proposition that the fact that people debate a substantive motion in the House does not in itself put the lives of our armed forces at risk? Does he accept that the Liberal Democrats have no desire to be party to anything that puts the lives of our forces at risk?
The hon. Gentleman is speaking to a different amendment. I have always accepted that most Liberal Democrats are full of good intentions; it is just how it turns out in the wash. That is the problem. There are those with good intentions, but those good intentions are not reflected in the words that they have signed up to. Generally speaking, substantive resolutions do not put British lives at risk but, in particular cases, they easily could. It is the Xin particular" that I am concerned about.
May I remind my right hon. Friend and, indeed, the Liberal Democrats of another useful precedent at the time of the Kosovo conflict when the Security Council was unable to act? I refer to the mandate for the renewal of the United Nations force in Macedonia, which was blocked by the People's Republic of China for wholly capricious reasons, namely, the fact that Macedonia had recognised Taiwan. That surely adds strength to my right hon. Friend's wish to retain a certain reserve in this respect.
I am extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend. Those two examples show the practical problems we face. Notwithstanding the practical problems, it was a huge achievement by the whole international community to pass resolution 1441. I believe that if military action proves necessary, we will get a second Security Council resolution, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said. I also know that if we allow those who act capriciously to block the plain obligation of the international community, there will be no chance of resolving the problem peacefully or of ensuring that a decision to take military action lies within the United Nations.
No, I want to make progress because many hon. Members wish to speak.
The real losers of Saddam Hussein's brutal dictatorship have been the Iraqi people themselves. Their suffering has been immense under a regime that murders, tortures and rapes political opponents and ethnic minorities. It has used poisonous gas to kill thousands of its people and ignores the plight of its sick and hungry. Since 1991, the United Kingdom has given more than £100 million in aid to Iraq bilaterally through the European Union. Later today, we expect the United Nations to adopt a British-drafted Security Council resolution extending the oil-for-food programme for another six months.
The Iraqi regime and some of its apologists elsewhere have peddled much propaganda about the oil-for-food programme, yet that UN programme is the Iraqi people's lifeline. While Saddam Hussein spreads stories of rising death rates and drug shortages, the latest United Nations report tells a very different story. It shows that acute malnutrition rates in Iraq are half the level they were before the oil-for-food programme began in 1996. Devastating conditions such as polio, diphtheria and diarrhoea in children are less widespread than they were when Saddam Hussein's forces invaded Kuwait. The programme's delivery of high-tech medical equipment, such as brain scanners, means that ordinary Iraqis have access to advanced medical treatment. Billions of pounds of all types of goods are being delivered under the programme each year.
Our policy has increased the supply of humanitarian goods to the Iraqi people; Saddam's policies have tried to frustrate the oil-for-food programme, and Iraq is currently failing to spend more than £1.5 billion allocated by the United Nations for humanitarian goods. Hon. Members who are sceptical about that should not take my word for it. Instead, they should pull off the internet the latest report by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, dated
To pick up on a point made by my hon. Friend Llew Smith, there are those who say that we should do nothing on Iraq because other countries are also subject to Security Council resolutions. As I said, Iraq is the only country that is in such clear and serious violation of a series of UN obligations under chapter VII. We want other resolutions implemented and we work tirelessly to achieve that in Liberia, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Libya and, of course, in respect of Israel and Palestine.
Far too many people on all sides have perished needlessly in the terrible conflict. We mourn them all, but the deaths are always more starkly brought home to us when they are of British citizens. One British citizen, Yoni Jesner, was killed on
I thank the Government for their action in the circumstances and for the prompt way in which they helped the family by saying that they would see what they could do. May I add my condolences to the family of my constituent? He acted in a way expected of someone who was such a loyal and long-standing worker for the United Nations. He had been in equal danger in many other places and could easily have lost his life during the past 20 years.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention. Mr. Hook was one of his constituents, and I shall certainly pass on his thanks to staff, particularly the British Consulate-General in Jerusalem, for their work. That is our duty—the staff rise to their duty on every occasion.
I am sorry, I will not give way as I wish to bring my speech to a close.
Grim as the situation in the occupied territories and Israel is, there are some positive developments that we should not overlook. A process of negotiation is going on under the leadership of the so-called Quartet—the United Nations, the United States, the European Union and the Russian Federation—which is making progress towards agreement on how we get to a settlement. Determined moves to break the cycle of violence in the occupied territories continue. Palestinian reform efforts are continuing. There is now international consensus on the need for a settlement based on two states—Palestine and Israel—living side by side. We support and are engaged in all of this. I assure the House that wherever we can enhance our support in any way, we shall.
We have no quarrel with the Iraqi people. We want to help them to restore Iraq to its proper place in the community of nations, abiding by its international obligations and free from the burden of sanctions. That can only happen once Saddam's weapons of mass destruction have been destroyed, in line with a decade of United Nations resolutions. We hope that that can be done by peaceful means, and we shall give the weapons inspectors every support. Ultimately, however, the choice falls to Saddam Hussein alone. Resolution 1441 is his Xfinal opportunity" to take the pathway to peace, but no one should be in any doubt of the world's resolve if he fails to take it.
I commend the motion to the House.
I rise to support the Government motion, which effectively rehearses the principle of the United Nations Security Council resolution 1441, which we have already welcomed in the House. It emphasises the fact the resolution was carried unanimously by the Security Council, significantly, as the Foreign Secretary pointed out, including the support of Syria. It reiterates the need for full compliance by Iraq. We support resolution 1441, so we shall support the substantive motion tonight.
May I add to the remarks of the Foreign Secretary about Mr. Campbell? I, too, would like to send him our best wishes—we hope he makes a speedy recovery. I also join the Foreign Secretary in his remarks about the tragic death of Iain Hook in Jenin last Friday. We were all shaken by that incident, and I am glad that there is an inquiry. I hope that we shall have its findings soon and make proper representations as a result.
Ideally, I should have liked the motion to be more specific and stronger. It should have reiterated the words of the resolution and said that this is the Xfinal opportunity" for Iraq to comply. I should have liked it to stress that continued violation of its obligations will result in Iraq facing serious consequences. Had it done so, it would have sent a clearer message from the House than the more limited wording before us. In the end, however, it is not the words of motions but their meaning that is important—in this case, the overall message that the House will send to the international community in general and Saddam Hussein in particular.
The purpose of today's debate is, first, to show that the House is every bit as resolved as the United Nations Security Council to see an end, one way or another, to Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction and, secondly, to dispel the uncertainties which still, despite the Foreign Secretary's best efforts, cloud parts of the issue. We need to understand clearly the nature and extent of the task ahead and the way in which it is likely to develop. Saddam must finally be disabused of the notion that he still has room to manoeuvre. Our understanding and his understanding of the meaning of the resolution must be unequivocal.
We must be absolutely clear about the objective which, as it always has been, is to eliminate Saddam's weapons of mass destruction. We can be in no doubt that those weapons, whether nuclear, chemical or biological, will, if developed to completion, pose an unacceptable threat to the region and the wider international community.
Does my right hon. Friend endorse what I take to be an assurance from the Foreign Secretary first, that he will return to the House for the authority of a substantive motion in the event that British forces are to be, or have been, deployed and secondly, if at all possible, that there will be an express motion in the Security Council authorising further action?
I agree with everything that the Foreign Secretary said in relation to our duty to the House in the event of military action being taken, and I certainly endorse what my right hon. and learned Friend said. With regard to a second resolution, I hope that he will allow me to make my points on that in my own time in my remarks.
The concept of Saddam Hussein in possession of such weapons and such systems is intolerable. As the Foreign Secretary said, Saddam Hussein has demonstrated that he is prepared to use similar weapons against his neighbours and against his own people. I have heard it sometimes suggested that he would not use weapons of mass destruction. The survivors of Halabja must shake their heads in disbelief when they hear such comments made. Saddam with a nuclear weapon is unthinkable, not least because such a weapon, once established, becomes a deterrent against its own removal.
The House knows that, as the right hon. Gentleman has just said, Saddam Hussein used weapons of mass destruction against his neighbour, Iran, and against his own people. Can the right hon. Gentleman explain why, when he was a member of the then Tory Government, they did not condemn Saddam's use of weapons of mass destruction at the time?
The hon. Gentleman raises that in every debate on the subject. [Interruption.] He must treat the matter seriously. We are speaking about the development in Iraq at this time of weapons of mass destruction which could be used not only internally against Saddam's own people, as we know he can, but more widely than that. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would join the Foreign Secretary and me in trying to ensure that Saddam Hussein is not in a position to use such weapons, because they have been eliminated.
That is why the unanimous vote of the Security Council on resolution 1441 was so important. It has confirmed and underwritten the objective of eliminating those weapons. It makes it clear to Saddam Hussein that this is the end of the road. The resolution is not part of some diplomatic game; it is stark and it is for real. The wording of the resolution is clear: continued violation by Iraq of its obligations will result in serious consequences—no ifs, no buts.
Xthe consequence is that the weapons will be disarmed by force"— not Xmay be" disarmed, not Xcould be" disarmed, but Xwill be" disarmed by force. That clarity is important. If, as we hope, the objective of eliminating Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction can still be achieved without recourse to arms, there must be no doubt in his mind that if, in the event, armed intervention is required, we have the determination to see it through.
I know that this is an issue that gives rise to genuinely held and sometimes contrary views, and I have said before that we must respect each others' opinions, but I believe that it is vital that we be totally honest and transparent in what we are debating and what we are voting on. This is no time for fudged positions; it is a time for clarity, because when considering potential British military involvement, the Government owe nothing less to the House and to the British people. Clarity is needed also because if, for one reason or another, the House cannot debate military action before any decision to deploy British armed forces might have to be made—we heard from the Foreign Secretary tonight the circumstances in which that might happen—it is vital that we know what we are voting for tonight.
The motion is a little bland in that respect. It leaves a number of key questions unanswered. The resolution itself is not entirely clear. I hope that, despite the Foreign Secretary's best efforts, I can still elicit a little more light about some of the key questions which I believe have still not been answered, but which the House will be asked to support and endorse tonight.
I wish to put to the right hon. Gentleman a point that I had hoped to put to the Foreign Secretary. I should like his opinion on the term Xmaterial breach". If, for example, an American plane was brought down in one of the no-fly zones, which are not legalised by any UN resolution, would that be a material breach?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that question, as I intend to deal later with what would amount to a material breach.
The point is that the Government can no longer shelter behind the shield of not addressing hypothetical situations. The inspectors are now on the ground. There can be no hypothetical situations—only contingencies and options to which the Government must have worked out their responses. Yet there is still some confusion—I say this in all seriousness to the Foreign Secretary—on some of the important questions.
I must ask the Foreign Secretary again: does he agree with the Prime Minister, without equivocation, that if Saddam does not dismantle his weapons of mass destruction, it will be done for him? Will there be no more prevarication, negotiations or long drawn-out international debates in which Saddam can seek to divide and rule? Is he also clear that, while it is preferable to have a second resolution before action is taken, if action has to be taken, there is no requirement for such a resolution? Does he accept that the Xserious consequences" to which the resolution refers mean military action and that, with or without a resolution, as set out in paragraph 12, such action will follow continued violation by Saddam of his obligations?
I want to explore that matter in a little more depth, because it is important. Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that resolution 1441, in conjunction with previous resolutions and article 42 in chapter VII of the United Nations charter, is sufficient in the circumstances to legitimise military action? That appeared to be the case on
Xwe have always made it clear that within international law we have to reserve our right to take military action, if that is required, within the existing charter and the existing body of UN Security Council resolutions, if, for example, a subsequent resolution were to be vetoed."
I ask that question, because on the same occasion, he said at column 438:
Xit remains to be seen whether the Security Council or individual members judge that a further resolution is necessary to deal with the material breach that is presented to them. It is complicated, but it is clear."—[Hansard, 7 November 2002; Vol. 392, c. 435-38.]
I have to say to him, with all the generosity that I can muster, that it may be complicated, but it is hardly clear.
Does the Foreign Secretary agree that article 42 in chapter VII, which, as he rightly reminded us, deals with action in respect of threats to peace, refers in terms to
Xsuch action by air, sea or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security"?
Does not paragraph 12 of the resolution specifically refer to restoring or securing international peace and security? Will he confirm whether that was the basis on which he reserved
Xour right to take military action", to which he referred again today? Is he clear that that precludes a future veto? Does he agree that in the event of non-compliance by Saddam, it would be unthinkable that he could avoid the serious consequences because one permanent member of the Security Council, possibly for their own political or commercial reasons, decided to veto the decision? Will he assure the House that that situation cannot and will not arise? I understand from his earlier remarks that that is probably the case, but it is vital that we deal in this debate not with what is probably the case, but with what is the case under the terms of the resolution.
There is a further point of confusion that I would like the Foreign Secretary to tidy up. On
The words mean what they say. As I said in response to an earlier intervention, there was a process of amendment. However, it is as plain as a pikestaff that the resolution is based on chapter VII. Indeed, the sentence immediately before paragraph 1 reads:
XActing under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations".
Perhaps I have a suspicious mind. I used to wake up after dreaming about words, and I know what negotiating such a text is like. However, words matter and replacing Xrestore" with Xsecure" must have a significance that has not been explained. Hon. Members deserve an explanation because it may be germane to our debate.
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman accepts that all hon. Members want weapons of mass destruction to be removed from Iraq, if they are found there, and elsewhere. However, he has spoken at length about confusion and the precursors to United Nations resolutions. Does he know about paragraph 14 of resolution 687, which demands the removal of nuclear weapons throughout the middle east? Israel is the only nation with proven supplies of nuclear weapons; it has perhaps more than 200 nuclear warheads. Does the right hon. Gentleman believe that there is a link between the confusion and what is perceived—rightly or wrongly—in the Arab world as a partial attitude towards Iraq when Israel can harbour such weapons with impunity?
I do not want to get involved in a long debate about Israel. As the hon. Gentleman knows, Israel is a democracy and would not be described as a rogue state in the same sense as Iraq. I have spoken at length about confusion because many arguments may soon turn on it. It is therefore important that we be clear that there is no room for a veto. Of course, we would prefer a second resolution, but we cannot be put in a position whereby one permanent member of the Security Council can veto necessary action against Iraq. I hope that the Secretary of State for Defence will reaffirm that there can be no veto even if there is a second resolution.
The right hon. Gentleman refers to the need for certainty, but he listened as closely as me to the Foreign Secretary's speech. While the right hon. Gentleman conveyed uncertainty, and spoke hypothetically, using phrases such as Xwould prefer a second resolution", and Xwould, under certain circumstances, be prepared to move," it was clear from my right hon. Friend's language that, in the circumstances that the right hon. Gentleman describes, there will be no second resolution, and that Britain will not move such a resolution. That will happen only if a further resolution that allows military action against Iraq can be obtained on the nod.
Xthe consequence is that the weapons will be disarmed by force".
He did not say, Xafter another resolution has been passed" or Xsubject to another resolution." It is important to be clear about that point. I should hate to return in four or five weeks to find that hon. Members had voted on a misunderstanding tonight. I therefore ask the Secretary of State for Defence to make matters clear.
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman's researcher drew his attention to the joint statement of China, France and the Russian Federation on their interpretation of resolution 1441. It states that the resolution
Xexcludes any automaticity in the use of force. In this regard, we register with satisfaction the declarations of the representatives of the United States and the United Kingdom".
If the right hon. Gentleman succeeded in getting the Foreign Secretary to repudiate the position of Sir Jeremy Greenstock, would that be good for British diplomatic representation at the United Nations?
It is important to be frank in our discussions tonight. There is no point in a debate on a substantive issue if we do not clarify what is currently unclear. I test the position that the Prime Minister has set out against the Foreign Secretary's statement today. He has genuinely tried to explain the matter, but a lack of clarity remains and it must be tackled.
The right hon. Gentleman has referred to the precursor paragraphs in resolution 1441. The second line states that a resolution was made on
That is a constructive contribution, for which I am grateful.
Let us consider material breach. I was asked what would happen if an aeroplane belonging to one of the allies was shot down. That is an important question because we know that our light planes have been fired upon since the resolution was passed. Paragraph 8 stipulates that
XIraq shall not take or threaten hostile acts directed against . . . any Member States taking action to uphold any Council resolution".
That answers the question that Mr. Wareing asked.
Would any further attacks by surface-to-air missiles on allied planes automatically be perceived as a material breach? The United States appears to regard them in that light. Would there be an automatic response? In those circumstances, would the inspectors, who may not know the details, or the country whose plane was involved, report the material breach? More clarity would be helpful.
Paragraph 7 stipulates that the inspectors
Xshall have . . . the right to . . . unrestricted, and immediate movement to and from inspection sites".
It is important to understand what impediment or delay in allowing or facilitating such access will be regarded as a material breach.
My right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Clarke made an important point about what happens under paragraph 3 if, on
The dossier stated that
XIraq has continued to produce chemical and biological agents."
It also stated that
Xit has military plans for the use of chemical and biological weapons . . . That it has developed mobile laboratories for military use . . . That it has illegally retained up to 20 al-Hussein missiles", and so on. There was much more. Would the Government, whose dossier had been contradicted, perceive a failure to declare those items, which existed in September, as a material breach of Iraq's obligations under operational paragraph 4? When the Foreign Secretary was asked such a question, his reply did not satisfy me that he accepted such failure as a material breach. He went on to discuss what would happen if it constituted a material breach.
Paragraph 4 states that
Xfalse statements or omissions in the declarations submitted by Iraq pursuant to this resolution and failure by Iraq at any time to comply with, and cooperate fully in the implementation of, this resolution shall constitute a further material breach".
So the false statement or omission to which my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe referred would, under this provision, automatically constitute a material breach.
I want to ensure that my right hon. Friend is clear as to which direction I am coming from on this question. I have spoken to two authoritative and influential Americans recently, both of whom thought that a nil return would, in itself, represent a material breach and, therefore, give sufficient authority under resolution 1441 for military action thereafter. I am quite prepared to contemplate military action if there is a material breach of that resolution, but I would hope to see much more material support of the assertion that a nil return constituted a breach, before we went any further. A dossier of imports, without any report from the inspectors or any further opportunity to follow it up, would be a rather reckless basis on which to proceed or to state that there is now international authority for an attack.
That is why I am pursuing this question. The paragraph to which I have referred makes it clear that
Xfalse statements and omissions . . . shall constitute a further material breach".
It does not say Xmay constitute"; it says Xshall". The only question, therefore, would be whether they were false statements or omissions. The Government have told us that they have evidence, which they produced in their dossier, that these materials exist. If Saddam Hussein said that they did not exist, would that, in the Government's view, constitute an omission or a false statement and, therefore, a further material breach that would have to be pursued in the way described by my right hon. and learned Friend?
If there were also evidence, as the dossier suggested, that weapons had been actively hidden over the last few months, either within Iraq or outside it, would such evidence amount to a material breach? We need clarification on that point, too.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way, and I hope that I can be of some assistance to him. At the Prime Minister's press conference this morning, he was specifically asked about the possibility of a nil return from Saddam Hussein—albeit perhaps not using those particular words. The Prime Minister stated categorically that the British Government had evidence that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and that, if there were a nil return, it would be a material breach. The consequences of that would, of course, be a different matter.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that clear, and I think that the Foreign Secretary should have put that on record. That is certainly my interpretation of the resolution. It is better, however, that such statements should be made in the House, before elected Members, rather than to members of the media at a press conference. I wonder whether the Foreign Secretary disagrees with the interpretation that the Prime Minister gave this morning.
May I pursue the point made by my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Clarke? It seems to me that we shall get into difficulties if the inspectors are given a free and unfettered right to search for weapons of mass destruction, if that continues without interference, and if they are unable to find any such weapons. Surely we could not, at that point, say that, because we believe that those weapons were there last September, a nil return would justify an attack on Iraq. That would be difficult to explain to the British people.
To try to meet the realities, I mentioned not only a nil return but what I called a gratuitously irrelevant return. There have been suggestions that Saddam Hussein might fill the document with all sorts of little items such as screwdrivers—which may or may not be used in the making of weapons—and say, XNow I have fulfilled my declaration." We must be clear on this, because this uncertainty—which has been demonstrated on both sides of the House—is more dangerous than anything else.
I shall not give way; I must make some progress.
I want to ask the Foreign Secretary about military preparedness. When I asked him about it earlier, he said that he would deal with the issue, so that it could be a matter for the debate. I do not think that he did so; if he did, he did it so quickly that I must have missed it. It is important, if there is a possibility of a decision being taken before the House can be reconvened to debate it, that we should have a little more information on that at an early stage of this debate rather than hearing it from the Secretary of State for Defence at the end. I would be happy to give way to the Foreign Secretary if he wants to give us any information now. How is the ability of our armed forces to participate affected by the firefighters' strike? What is the preparedness of our armed forces for such involvement, in terms of both manpower and equipment? These are important questions that need to be answered if we are fully to debate this issue.
I also want to raise an issue that has not been mentioned. The resolution contains a reassertion of the
Xsovereignty and territorial integrity of Iraq".
I have said in an earlier debate that that is an important element of this resolution, and I wonder whether the Foreign Secretary or the Defence Secretary might tell us what steps are being taken to ensure that, whatever happens, the integrity and sovereignty of the state of Iraq will be maintained as set out in the resolution.
These are the essential questions that must be answered. The House has a right to know the answers, and so does the country at large. It is clear that we face an evil that cannot be ignored, and we have a duty to act. We have no right to leave the consequences of preventable evil to those who will succeed us. This is the evil of a man who has already shown that he has no scruples about using weapons of mass destruction against his own people, about invading his neighbours, and now, allegedly, about harbouring international terrorists. This is a man who sees state and non-state terrorism as inextricably linked.
None of us wants war, but to secure peace, it is sometimes necessary to prepare for war. Sometimes, it is even necessary to undertake it to secure peace. The Government are right to stand alongside the United States and the United Nations in supporting the objective that, one way or another, these arms must go. We support the Prime Minister and the Government in this stance. We face a sombre situation, and of course, hon. Members are anxious. We would not be human if we were not. I am reminded, however, of the old saying: XAnxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but it can empty today of its strength."
The Prime Minister and the American President have shown great courage and strength all along. On
I welcome this debate, but I think that Front Benchers could have been a little more considerate and taken a bit less time over their contributions; there is now less time for Back Benchers.
There is but one question that needs to be answered, both in the House and throughout the world community: will the world be a safer place if we go to war with Iraq? If the answer is no, we should do everything in our power to avoid such a war. We know that Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990. The United Nations Security Council condemned that occupation and ordered a complete withdrawal, giving a deadline of
The UN-backed economic sanctions were imposed as a tool to enforce the ceasefire. By early 1992, however, it had become apparent that Iraq still possessed chemical and biological weapons. It was not co-operating with UN arms inspectors in providing accurate information and allowing inspections of sites suspected of hiding and manufacturing weapons. That ended in 1998 with the UN inspectors being withdrawn. Since then, there has been intense international pressure to disarm Iraq.
In America, there is a newly elected President, although some might disagree that he was elected, and a new Administration who seem to be consumed by a policy of regime change. President Bush and his Administration seem to be determined that military action must be used to disarm Iraq, thinking that only by eliminating Saddam Hussein can the west stop the military threat to his neighbours and that of international terrorism to the wider world.
Such a policy has found little support among other countries, other than the United Kingdom. Our Prime Minister has given some considered, qualified support on the question of regime change. There is a split in the American Administration between those who want to take unilateral action, known as the gung-ho brigade, and those who support the counter-argument from the State Department, where Secretary of State General Colin Powell, who was President Bush senior's chief of armed forces during the Gulf war, wants to legitimise any military action to disarm Iraq through agreement in the UN Security Council.
General Powell's strongest ally has been the Prime Minister, who is seen as having been influential in persuading the Bush Administration to move nearer to General Powell's position. I do not have to praise our own Prime Minister, save to say that a lot has been said about his involvement and relationship with the American Administration. I recall President Clinton saying at this year's Labour party conference that if the Prime Minister had not been there to pull the American Administration back from gung-ho conflict, who else would have been? Some credit should be taken by our Prime Minister for holding the US within the UN Security Council and achieving the resolution.
Saddam Hussein's newly declared willingness to let the UN arms inspectors back into Iraq unconditionally muddied the waters for the White House hawks, who want military action as a prerequisite to regime change. There are clear signs of tension in the White House. The Security Council has drawn up a resolution on disarmament that ensures that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction will be eliminated. Along with other hon. and right hon. Members, I argued that there should be no unilateral action and that the question should go through the Security Council. That being the case, I shall support the Government motion in the Lobby tonight.
I, too, must comment on the middle east. The reaction of the Arab states and the Muslim world to the threat of military action against Iraq is fierce. The same can be said for the majority of European Union member states that do not support unilateral action, the consequences of which could see an Islamic fundamentalist uprising throughout the region, particularly in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. That could result in a regime change far removed from that envisaged by the American Administration. Neither should we underestimate the folly of the continued laissez faire policy of the United States on Israel's continued illegal occupation of Palestinian territories. The west can no longer ignore Israel's tragic, inexplicable and disproportionate actions against Palestinians.
The United States and its allies failed to dispose of Saddam Hussein in the Gulf war, and although his country remains poor, his popularity remains. That is a thorny issue similar to that of Gaddafi in Libya. Both are tyrants and despots, but their peoples prefer them to what they see as would-be pro-western puppet regimes. That reality puts great pressure on America to explain its end game when it talks of regime change. The surrounding countries—Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait—would need to be on side, as would Turkey and Syria, but there is no evidence of such support, other than a questionable press release from the Kuwaiti Foreign Minister. It is unlikely—
I beg to move, To add at the end of the Question:
Xand believes that any decision that Iraq is in material breach of Resolution 1441 is for the UN Security Council as a whole to determine and that no military action to enforce Resolution 1441 should be taken against Iraq without a mandate from the UN Security Council;
and further believes that no British forces should be committed to any such military action against Iraq without a debate in this House and a substantive motion in favour.".
I preface my remarks by apologising on behalf of my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Campbell for his unavoidable absence. We trust that he will be back in his rightful place on these Benches before too long.
This is an important debate on perhaps the most significant issue facing the country and the international community at this time. It involves not simply Saddam Hussein's evil regime and the nature of the threat posed by it to world peace, but how the world in general and this country in particular deal with the consequences of that threat.
The House last debated those issues during the September recall of Parliament, when my right hon. and learned Friend set out the clear principles that should underpin our consideration of these matters: no country should ever exclude the use of military force to protect the safety and security of its citizens, but any military action must be consistent with the principles of international law and be considered only as a last resort. Furthermore, any decision to commit British forces to armed conflict should be subject to a debate in the House on a substantive motion.
The previous debate occurred a few days after Saddam's offer of unconditional and unfettered access to UN weapons inspectors was made. Today's debate takes place as more inspectors arrive in Baghdad, given authority by the unanimous Security Council resolution of
As resolution 1441 makes clear, the inspectors enjoy the full support of right-thinking people wherever they are in the world. Saddam Hussein has no choice but to comply with it. This time, he must not call the international community's bluff. We argued from the beginning that the UN must be at the centre of all efforts to resolve the situation in Iraq. We opposed, and continue to oppose, the threats against Baghdad of unilateral action, which seemed all too possible throughout August.
Therefore, we should recognise the achievement of the Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, and the UN officials, working with the Security Council members, in producing a resolution that enjoys unanimous support. We should also acknowledge the efforts of the Foreign Secretary and the British UN mission in achieving that unanimity. Ministers have shown that they can exert influence over America to work within the proper constraints of international law. We commend that approach and hope that it continues to be the model for transatlantic relations.
The resolution forms the basis of the Government motion that we are debating and which we shall support. Nobody contests the need for the Iraqi regime to
Xcomply fully with all provisions of the Resolution", or the fact
Xthat if it fails to do so, the Security Council should meet to consider the situation and the need for full compliance", or
Xthat continued violation of its obligations will result in Iraq facing serious consequences", as the proposed Conservative amendment made plain.
The Liberal Democrat amendment sets out additional matters that we want clarified, specifically the continuing role of the United Nations and the position of the House in determining the nature of any British military or other contribution to that process. In the circumstances, we are glad that our amendment has been selected, and hope that it will receive support throughout the House.
Resolution 1441 rightly points out that Saddam
Xhas been and remains in material breach" of successive UN resolutions, and that this is a Xfinal opportunity" for him to comply with his obligations; but it would be foolish to exclude the possibility of further breaches of UN resolutions by the Iraqi dictator. Failure to comply with and co-operate fully in the implementation of the resolution will constitute further Xmaterial breach", which the executive chairman of UNMOVIC or the director-general of the IAEA should report to the Council to allow its members to Xconsider the situation".
Would not Saddam Hussein's agreement to readmit the UN inspectors have been inconceivable had there not been a credible threat of military action? Is it not now inconceivable that Saddam Hussein will completely and fully disarm, as required by the UN, without the threat of military action? Why, then, does the hon. Gentleman's party give Saddam Hussein breathing space by saying that no military action should be taken until or unless the issue is returned to the UN?
If the hon. Gentleman listens to all of my speech, as I hope he will, he will realise that what I consider important is the fact that the UN, not the threat of war, is driving this process.
There must be no doubt that the senior inspectors will determine that a breach has occurred, rather than the intelligence agencies of the United States or other countries. When the inspectors report, it must be the whole Council that determines whether the breach is material, and what action must be taken.
The resolution warns Iraq of the serious consequences of
Xcontinued violations of its obligations".
The nature of the Council's response will inevitably depend on the contents and the circumstances of the report from senior UN officials in Baghdad. Liberal Democrats believe that we cannot rule out the possibility of military action, but that it must be the last resort, when all other options have been exhausted. It must also be proportionate to the circumstances. We will listen carefully to the Defence Secretary's comments on any deployment of UK forces.
We must also keep the situation in the middle east in mind. Throughout the period during which the tension over Iraq has been building up—indeed, long before that—the fragile security situation between Israel and the Palestinians has caused great concern. Let me add my condolences to the family of the constituents of Mr. Gummer at this time of their loss.
A war with Iraq would complicate matters immeasurably, not only in Israel but in the wider Arab world. Such considerations cannot be ignored lightly. Nor can we lose sight of the terrible price that would be paid by innocent Iraqis in any war with their country. The complexity of these issues underlines the need for any military action to have a mandate from the Security Council. Ideally, the mandate would be in the form of a new resolution, but Council members may not consider that necessary.
Given the Government's position on Iraq and the statements of support for the United States, we are only too aware that British forces may be committed to a war in Iraq, even in the face of international opinion and opposition from other Security Council members. We cannot judge the circumstances in advance of their existence. We can, however, set out the way in which we will consider the Government's plans in the event of our military forces being committed to action.
Sending military personnel to a war is one of the most serious decisions that any Government ever make. We do not underestimate the seriousness with which the Prime Minister and his colleagues treat that responsibility, but we in the House must play our part too. We are sent here by our constituents to make the Government accountable, and to ensure that proper consideration is given to the decisions that Ministers make. We do not believe that in calling for a motion in the House we put our forces' lives at risk. We would not expect the Government to do so.
It was suggested earlier that any reference back to the Security Council would somehow give Saddam Hussein a breathing space. Is not the point that if we are to proceed with military action against Iraq it should take place within the framework of international law, and that only by keeping it firmly within that framework will we allay the problems of instability that such action might pose?
I entirely agree that the framework of international law must govern the whole debate, and the actions of our Government and Governments elsewhere.
When British lives are to be put at stake—and other lives too—owing to this country's actions, it is only right for the House of Commons to be involved in the process. Not least when there is no new UN resolution and when the circumstances of the UN mandate for military action are in doubt, the House must be allowed to make a judgment and to have a vote—and that must be on the basis of a substantive motion setting out the nature of the commitment of British armed forces to war.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that it cannot be right for the Government to be accused of putting British lives at risk when, in a debate here, some of us at least wish to argue that British troops should not be sent to take part in a war in which we should not be engaging? Does he also accept that the motion leaves it open for troops to be deployed with no further endorsement either specifically by the UN or by the House? I am talking about a democratic armlock that we should apply.
I understand the hon. Gentleman's point about some people never wishing to commit British troops in circumstances such as this. That is a position that anyone is entitled to take, and one that we can respect. As I have said, I do not believe that by considering these matters in the House we necessarily put lives at risk. I reject what the Foreign Secretary said about that.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in his explanation after the vote, the US ambassador to the UN made it clear that if the US believed it was under some kind of threat from Iraq it would take action anyway, irrespective of any UN resolution?
With respect, I think any country that believed it was under threat would invoke the self-defence provisions of international law. [Interruption.] Any material breach of the provision of this resolution must come back to the Security Council—[Interruption.] The Foreign Secretary need not get so excited. Any such breach must come back to the Security Council on the basis of reports from the UN inspectors. We cannot judge the circumstances before they exist.
No one here today underestimates the seriousness of the situation in Iraq, or the deadly consequences of any failure to resolve the pressing issues before us. In the face of contempt from Saddam and scepticism in the United States, we have seen that international law, implemented through the United Nations, is the proper way in which to tackle Iraq. That approach requires resolve not just from the Government, but from Parliament. Difficult decisions lie ahead, but the manner of dealing with them is straightforward.
As we say in our amendment, we must ensure that at all times all Governments act through the United Nations. We in the House must assert ourselves, and ensure that any military action undertaken by British military forces has been properly debated here and enjoys the support of the House of Commons. In this country, we properly assert our superiority to Saddam Hussein and his regime by our commitments to the principles of international law and parliamentary democracy. We must continue to demonstrate those commitments.
I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in this debate, particularly as I may be expressing a minority view in the House. However, it is important that that be heard.
The Foreign Secretary clearly set out his position and the case for the motion that the Government have asked us to support. I do not underestimate the effort that he and the Government have put in here and at the UN in reaching that position, and I recognise what he said about his future position and what he would like to happen—he would prefer a resolution at the UN and a resolution of the House—but I am still fundamentally opposed to an attack on Iraq.
I will not vote for the Government motion this evening. I hoped to have the opportunity to vote for the amendment in the name of my hon. Friend John McDonnell and others, but I will not have that opportunity—the amendment has not been selected. The amendment that has been selected is that of the Liberal Democrats. I shall support that amendment, not because I entirely agree with it but because it is nearest to my view.
I say to colleagues who are considering how to vote that I suspect they will not have a second chance. Please do not support the Government motion in the belief that, at some point, before any military action, there will be the opportunity to vote on that military action. I do not believe that they will have that opportunity. I ask every hon. Member to think about that before deciding how to vote.
I have only eight minutes. I must disappoint my hon. Friend.
A lot of the debate has been about the legality of the situation and about UN resolutions, coupled with the arguments that the UN must act or it will be discredited, and that Iraq is different from other states ignoring UN resolutions because of chapter VII. Much of that debate has taken place as if over the past few months the UN has arrived at resolution 1441 through the freely expressed wishes of all the other states in the UN, and as if enormous pressure has not been exerted by the US, with the threat that it would take unilateral action if the UN did not act. That comes from a country that has routinely chosen to ignore UN resolutions in the past and did not pay its subscriptions for much of that time.
One of the key problems is that we are being asked in the motion to support the UN, yet at the same time we are being told that the US Government and our Government reserve the right to ignore anything that the UN says, if they do not like what the UN decides when it looks at the weapons inspectors' reports. What would happen if we had a second resolution that explicitly called for military action and there were a veto? Would that prove that the UN had failed? We have been willing to use the veto in the past, as has the US. Are we saying that we will never use the veto again? That seems to be the implication of choosing to reserve our right to ignore a possible veto from another country. We cannot have it both ways. We cannot say, XYou must support the UN" and at the same time say, XWe reserve the right to do whatever we want if we do not like what the UN decides."
I have listened carefully to my hon. Friend. What he has just described is a parody of the circumstances that I set out. I also made it clear that any decisions that we took in respect of military action would in any event be careful, proportionate and consistent with our obligations under international law, the basis of which is, principally, the UN charter. He must deal with the real circumstance, which has been described not only by me but by many of my right hon. and hon. Friends, that arose in respect of Kosovo and Macedonia. That is what we are having to take account of and that alone.
I understand what my right hon. Friend says, but the argument in respect of Kosovo was that we took action under international law and under the UN charter because humanitarian action was needed. I cannot see at present the humanitarian argument or the self-defence argument applying to Iraq. The situation may change, but I cannot see that at present.
The argument about chapter VII and Iraq being different—the argument that this situation is different legally from the situation that applies to Israel and the way in which Israel ignores resolutions—may sway politicians but it will not cut much ice with the public in most Arab countries.
Another issue is the political argument. The fact that an action may be legal does not necessarily mean that it is sensible. I can think of situations where legally I could personally use violence but where it would not necessarily be sensible. I have fears about the political consequences of any war on Iraq. I believe that it could have devastating consequences for the whole of the middle east.
I have not seen one country neighbouring Iraq, the ones that should be feeling most under threat, demand that military action be taken—not one. The nightmare scenario would be an attack on Iraq that provoked the involvement of Israel. That is a real worry.
I do not for one moment support Saddam Hussein. I do not think any of us does. We all know that he is an evil dictator, but he was an evil dictator when Donald Rumsfeld was shaking his hand and when this country was supplying him with weapons. Anyway, we are told that this is not about regime change.
There is no evidence of links between Iraq and al-Qaeda. I am sure that the Foreign Secretary, the Prime Minister and George Bush would be glad to provide such evidence if it existed. I do not believe that at the moment we are threatened militarily by Iraq. Such a situation would justify us taking some action.
Who will suffer from an attack? Who are the people who will die? The nature of modern warfare means that it will be innocent civilians who will die. When we vote on whether we should go to war or not, we should remember that. People may argue that that is necessary and for the greater good, but I ask hon. Members not to vote for war without recognising that they would be voting for the death of many innocent people. I am not prepared to have that on my conscience.
We all agree that Saddam Hussein is a wicked man. I first went to Baghdad in 1950 and I have met every leader of Iraq from Nuri Pasha to Saddam Hussein. With the exception of Nuri, who was a great man, they have all been very rough customers whose behaviour would have raised eyebrows even in the Whips Office, so it is not on that that we are concentrating.
The elder President Arif told me that one of the party tricks of Qassim, the general who overthrew the Hashemite royal family, was to invite friends for a meal and then to have one of his opponents tied by his wrists and ankles to four jeeps that drove off at full speed in opposite directions. Those are the sort of people who have been governing Iraq since 1958. However, the thing that differentiates Saddam Hussein from the appalling Governments who have preceded him is that he clearly is a threat to the rest of the world; the others were not. If he has weapons of mass destruction, clearly, we should take pre-emptive action to disarm him, but we cannot sensibly view Iraq in isolation. It is not only part of a critical region; to some extent at the moment, it is the focus for a world crisis.
The real problem facing the west is our double standards in dealing with the Arab world. One can see that in two obvious respects, although there are many others. First, we talk about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction without acknowledging that Israel also has such weapons. I heard it on fairly good authority that it has 104 nuclear warheads, both tactical and strategic, and a few minutes ago we heard a figure quoted of more than 200. Of course, no one will ever confirm or deny those figures. There is no doubt that Israel has nuclear weaponry vastly in excess of what it needs to defend itself from its immediate neighbours—more than twice the nuclear capacity of France, I am told. We do nothing whatever about that.
Secondly, there is the question of Security Council resolutions. I thought that the Foreign Secretary's remarks about our attitude to resolution 242 of 1967 were disingenuous, to say the least. Of course it is true that we would like to impose a settlement of the Palestine problem and that every Foreign Secretary of every party has tried his very best to do it, but we all know why it has not been done: because the Americans have prevented it. The Arabs all know that, and the sense of double standards embitters the entire situation and is one of the reasons why even the most moderate Arabs, who used to hate and fear Saddam Hussein, are beginning to have considerable sympathy for him.
In the days when I used to visit Vietnam, the Americans were talking a great deal about the battle for hearts and minds. Of course, they did not win that battle and they did not win the war. As far as I can see, since the terrible attack on the twin towers, there has been no serious attempt to win the hearts and minds of the Arab or Islamic worlds, but the battle needs to be fought and won if any progress at all is to be made in the wider war on terror. That will be a much more difficult task for the west than the disarming of Iraq.
Only about nine months ago, the United States Congress voted $4 billion a year for the next four years to supply armaments to Israel. Everybody in the middle east knows that every tank that they see on CNN, every bomb and missile, every bullet that kills or maims a Palestinian has been paid for by the United States. I have been a lifelong admirer and friend of the United States. I have often regretted that I was not born an American. I would love to have been a US federal Senator. If I had been, with my seniority, I would be chairman of the top committee there. I have been there innumerable times since, from Oxford, I debated there with 50 American universities. I was in New York on the morning of
Clearly, I am not remotely anti-American, but the fact is that America has grossly mishandled the Palestine problem for many years, and is beginning to drag Britain into a very dangerous situation. Neither the Romans, nor Byzantium, nor the Ottoman empire, nor the British empire was so universally hated as America is today by the poor people throughout the world, and that is a great tragedy for the most historically generous nation that the world has ever seen.
We all know Emma Lazarus's famous words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty:
XGive me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free".
For well over a century, the United States superbly lived up to that invocation, but today the sad truth is that the huddled masses of the poor world have turned against the United States. That is sad, and it is dangerous.
Israel is fully entitled to absolute security within its legal frontiers, and we must ensure it, but we must not continue antagonising a billion members of the Islamic faith, and we must stop dismissing them with the contemptuous word Xfundamentalist", because how would we like to be called Christian simpletons, mercenaries or materialists? Many of my Islamic friends are men of immense culture, intelligence and sensitivity.
I do not wish to emulate Sir Peter Tapsell, for whom eight minutes was just about enough—he was about to have a heart attack. I agree with him absolutely, however, that it is absurd that the United States is not putting pressure on Israel, if only for the purposes of expediency in the weeks and months ahead—although one would hope that it would do it because it is right to put pressure on Israel to achieve a balanced and fair outcome of a dispute in the middle east that is so destructive to the international community, and especially to those who live within firing distance of the various weaponry used by both the Israelis and the Palestinians.
This is yet another debate on Iraq. Looking at the inventory of discussions in the Chamber and in Committee and of the meetings between the Prime Minister and the Chairmen of the relevant Committees, I do not get the impression that the Government are ducking or trying to stifle debate.
In fairness to the Foreign Secretary, I thought that he was reasonably clear about the Government's aspirations and intentions on a second resolution. I have no problem with the views that he expressed and I desperately hope that there will be agreement in the United Nations Security Council should it need to determine whether military action should be taken—but I hope that no such need will arise because Iraq will have complied fully with the terms of resolution 1441.
Not only do I support the motion, I do so enthusiastically. There are those in the House and outside who fervently believed that the US would act without a UN Security Council resolution. To my relief, it went down the Security Council path, it compromised and it was patient. We should recognise the role played by the Prime Minister, Colin Powell and Members of Congress, along with many other people in the United States, who put pressure on President Bush and the Administration and pushed them down the path that could secure the most support in the international community.
Some people in the House and outside are opposed to the build-up of US forces in the region, but let me offer a quotation:
Xsometimes diplomacy must be backed by the threat of military force if it is to succeed."
That was not Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz or Richard Perle—in fact, it was Kofi Annan. The United Nations Security Council has enormous moral authority, but I doubt that a thousand of its resolutions would convince Saddam Hussein of the need to open his presidential palaces and all the other sites in Iraq. No, it is the threat—and I hope only the threat—of the use of military force that will ensure that he complies.
What President Bush has said on regime change is not crystal clear. He was in favour of it initially, but I am encouraged by the view that he will be satisfied—as I hope, most others will be—if Iraq acquiesces in and supports, even if not enthusiastically, the United Nations resolution. Should Iraq disarm, I hope that there will be no need for any military action. I do not want an occupation force such as the United States deployed in the aftermath of dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
I shall return to more mundane but very important issues. On the deployment of 10.2 per cent. of the whole of the British armed forces—Army, Air Force and Navy—to Operation Fresco, it does not take a genius to work out that that is a significant number. We must hope that a fair agreement is eventually signed between the Fire Brigades Union and the local authorities, the Government, or both. The firefighters' dispute is clearly having an adverse effect on whatever preparation might be required for our armed forces. Over the weekend I met firefighters from the Royal Regiment of Wales who are serving in my constituency. They did not sign up to be supplementary firemen but, without patronising them, I must say that they are doing a magnificent job.
I should have said earlier that the members of the Defence Committee send our best wishes to our colleague, Mr. Campbell. There are few people in the House with greater authority or who are more popular among colleagues on both sides of the House than the right hon. and learned Gentleman, and we desperately hope that his recovery is swift and total. We also send our best wishes to his wife, who must be having a difficult time.
In conclusion, let me say that I read The Daily Telegraph, and an article today under the description XCountdown to war" had the headline, XCuts will leave Army struggling in the sand." The Defence Committee has criticised the Ministry of Defence on more than one occasion for underspend and overstretch—indeed, its dissatisfaction with one or two things in the Ministry of Defence is well known. However, this article, not uncharacteristically for The Daily Telegraph, is somewhat over the top. Looking through my notes, I would certainly challenge much that it contains. It says that DROPS, the vehicle for unloading, is ancient. Well, it is 20 years old and still useful. The Bowman saga of radiocommunications goes back many years. The Government were absolutely right to dump it and relaunch the competition. The in-service data will now be from late 2003 onwards. In the meantime, personal role radios, non-secure, are in use—
I am very pleased that I shall be able to support the Government's motion this evening. I would not have been able to support the first proposal put before the United Nations because I believe that we cannot act unless we take the United Nations into consideration as far as is humanly possible. I put it very carefully because it cannot be possible that in all circumstances, notwithstanding who wishes to impose a veto and what we feel to be the interests of free people everywhere, we can give a total veto to the Security Council of the United Nations. However, I find it difficult when I hear the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary talk about the principled position of Mr. Bush, the President of the United States, in going to the United Nations. There should be no question of that—it should not be a matter of discussion. It is the feeling that he has done us a favour that I find difficult to take.
I also find it difficult to take a good deal of the hypocrisy in all these discussions. Our newspapers have, with their usual strong balance, pointed to the hypocrisy in the French and Russian positions, owed so much as they are by Iraq. I note that the moment the polls closed it was possible to come to a compromise, but not one minute before.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. Will he remind the House of whether Mrs. Thatcher went to the United Nations before invading the Falkland islands?
When one's own territory is invaded and one goes to defend it, one can hardly ask anyone else's permission. If we had not gone, we would not have been deserving of the name of a sovereign state. However, that is not the situation here.
All the nations involved have mixed motives. However, I want to bring home to the Foreign Secretary and, indeed, to my right hon. and hon. Friends, the necessity of acting within international law if we are not to set this part of the world alight. Behind the situation is an attitude towards the Arabs and Islam, which I believe to have been unacceptable for many years. My hon. Friend Sir Peter Tapsell pointed to the continued massive support of one side in the Arab-Israeli battle. I remind the House of my constituent who was killed in the course of the United Nations seeking to make sense of a situation in which one nation is constantly being invaded by its neighbour, which is, in turn, constantly being terrorised by suicide bombers. We are all at risk until the Arab-Israeli conflict is brought to a conclusion.
I am worried that so often the situation seems to be black and white when it is really extremely complicated. Until Israel is secure behind her legal borders and does not believe it right to build settlements and constantly invade her neighbour, and until she is safe from her neighbour's constant incursion—usually, although not publicly, supported by its Administration—we cannot have peace in that part of the world. We will not get there, however, if the United States does not recognise its role in not behaving with even-handedness, which is crucial to the situation.
I warmly commend what my right hon. Friend says—he and I agree entirely on these matters. Does he agree that many of us who support the Government tonight might not support them in future if they were to act without the authority of the UN?
I was much cheered by the words of the Foreign Secretary. I have had occasion in the past to be critical, so I must be honest in my support of what seemed to be an unequivocal statement that in all the possible circumstances he would seek a return to the UN and would put a motion in front of the UN and in front of this House, provided that the safety of British troops was not thereby imperilled. Of course the Liberals do not understand that. I am not a warlike person until I hear the Liberals—they have an effect on me. If only there was a bit of rationality. They run with the hare and hunt with the hounds. Why was the Foreign Secretary surprised? That is the definition of a Liberal Democrat.
In the world in which we live, it is not right for a nation, however strong and powerful, to decide of its own volition to use force against another, unless there is no alternative. I ask the Foreign Secretary to try to explain to the United States that no war on terrorism can be successful unless there is also a war on inequality and poverty. We cannot have a world in which the effect of American subsidy for its cotton crops is that the state of Mali receives $137 million in aid but has $143 million taken from it.
The war on terrorism must have a moral and ethical centre or it will not be successful. Those of us with grave doubts about the actions and words in this battle share those doubts with all the patriarchs of all the Christian denominations, led by the Pope, who normally do not speak with a single voice in this part of the world. We cannot choose one part of the equation and try to find justice only in one place while forgetting everything else. We want the British Government to be more clearly supportive of a wider view of how we can deal ethically with terrorism.
If only I could hear an occasional word from the Government that sounded as though they were prepared publicly to disagree with the United States. I am sure that much is being done behind the scenes, but every now and again, despite all the disadvantages, we have to say XThank God for President Chirac". He at least made a demand. I hope that the British Government will sound a bit more independent and a bit more willing to bring home publicly what I am constantly assured they say privately.
We could be America's very best ally by ensuring that the United States realised that the war on terrorism could not be limited to a chosen enemy, when circumstances were electorally satisfactory, but that it had to reach out in situations that are extremely difficult electorally. I should find the situation much more credible if President Bush took strong, continued, even-handed and imaginative action to deal with the Arab-Israeli issue. If he could do that, he would win Arab support for what may be a very necessary war.
The House should welcome the election of Amram Mitzna as the leader of the Israeli Labour party. At last, there is an opportunity to open up real debate that could put policies such as land for peace back in the mainstream of Israeli politics, as well as compromise and the removal of settlements.
I am a friend of Israel. I believe that the only hope for peace in the middle east is security for Israel, within recognised borders, vis-à-vis all its Arab neighbours, and that a viable Palestinian state must be committed to living in peace alongside Israel and not act as a base for incursions or terrorist action against it.
Our only hope is for a change of politics and of Government in Israel, so I welcome the fact that Mr. Mitzna said that he wants, without preconditions, to open a dialogue with Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority. I appreciate all the difficulties in Israeli society at present, so that is a brave political position. Those of us with the interests of the state of Israel at heart realise that it is necessary for the future.
I want to address my remarks to some of the comments made earlier by my colleagues. There is a clear distinction between resolutions adopted under chapter VI of the UN charter and those adopted under chapter VII. Chapter VI requires both the state of Israel and the Palestinians to meet certain obligations. There is a range of resolutions under chapter VI. However, chapter VII is mandatory and specifies the state of Iraq. If we require full implementation of all the UN resolutions—242, 338 and so on—it is important to realise that they impose obligations on both sides and that, in different ways, both sides have broken the resolutions over a number of years.
The international community must put pressure on both sides to return to negotiations. As in the case of the fire dispute, the only way to achieve resolution is to go back to the negotiating table.
We must also realise that whatever conflict exists between Israel and the Palestinians, it can never be used as an excuse for inaction against the brutal fascist regime in Iraq which has systematically oppressed its own people and attacked its neighbours. It is not only that terrible things were done to the Kurds: Scud missiles were fired on Saudi Arabia and Israel, and chemical weapons were used in the invasion of Iran.
Saddam's record is such that I have deep reservations as to whether he will comply with the terms of the UN resolution. However, if he did so, we could lift sanctions and open up a new chapter in the region. In time, the people of his country would have the confidence to rise up and overthrow the oppressive regime under which they have had to suffer for so many years.
There are many refugees in my constituency: Iraqi Kurds, Shi'as and Sunnis have visited my surgery recently. A Wahabi man who visited me had to flee from Saddam's regime because of his religious beliefs. Some of my Iraqi Kurd constituents are in wheelchairs because they have been shot. There are people whose relatives died from gassing and people who have been tortured. They all tell me that they do not want a war, but they definitely want to get rid of the terrible regime that has oppressed them.
Those of us who say that we should do nothing about that or that we should merely pass another Security Council resolution have to answer this question: at what point does the international community enforce the decisions that have been taken? My Labour colleagues should remember what we decided at our party conference this year. Composite 5 stated:
XConference believes that the authority of the UN will be undermined unless it is enforced, and recognises that in the last resort this could involve military action."
It is not true, as some people allege, that the policy is an American-inspired plot and that it does not reflect our views. We held that debate at our party conference and the choice was made.
I did not believe that the Americans would take the UN route. I did not believe that it was possible to achieve a unanimous resolution of the Security Council. I did not believe that the UN could adopt a united position in favour of the implementation of total disarmament of the weapons of mass destruction of the Iraqi regime. I say that as someone who has been an officer of the UN parliamentary group for a number of years and is currently its vice-chairman.
I believe in the UN; I want the UN to be strong. I do not like a world where there is one superpower, or where Europe is weak and the United States is such a dominant force in the modern world because of its economic, political and military power. I want a strong UN, but the way we get a strong UN is not just by passing resolutions but by implementing them, and this is a great opportunity to achieve that.
In the very short time left to me in this debate, I wish to say that we have to make it clear that Saddam faces a choice. If there is to be a war, it is not of our making; it is of his making because he can announce tomorrow that he is fully complying and taking the necessary steps to achieve that. I hope that that will be the case, but if there is a material breach in January, February, March or whenever, we have to be ready to follow through the consequences of that action on behalf of the world community, the credibility of the UN and, above all, the long-suffering people of Iraq.
It is clearly necessary that UN resolutions on Iraq be upheld and that weapons of mass destruction be removed. It is clearly also in the national interest and in that of the whole world that that be done. In a sense, what there is to say about this subject should be almost as simple as that, but not quite. Once again, I wish to raise my Muslim constituents' perspective on resolution 1441 because I believe that their views are worth being held in respect by the House. I want to say at once that I do not agree with every point made by all of them, but their point of view is worth hearing none the less.
My constituents are extremely sensitive to the signs of the times, and they note the American Government's determination to address Iraq's breach of UN resolutions, but they ask—various hon. Members have raised this already—if UN resolution 1441 and other UN resolutions are to be applied to Iraq, whether it is not also reasonable that UN resolutions should be applied elsewhere with similar force and effort.
My constituents refer in particular to two conflicts: often to the one in the middle east, which has been so well ventilated today that I do not propose to do so further, and, of course, to the one in Kashmir. Many of my constituents originate from Azad Kashmir and have friends or family who originate from there or from behind the line of control. They point out to me that, although UN resolutions on Iraq are mostly relatively recent, some UN resolutions that apply to the conflict in Kashmir have existed for almost 50 years and ask that the people of Kashmir should be allowed to determine their own future, but my constituents see no prospect of those resolutions being implemented. They also point out that, although Saddam invaded Kuwait in the early 1990s and the Iran-Iraq war began in the 1970s, India has illegally occupied part of Kashmir since the late 1940s, and as far as the international—
I shall certainly return to resolution 1441. I was going to say that, although my constituents note that UN resolutions pertain to all those things, they do not see those resolutions being as urgently addressed as resolution 1441 and the other resolutions on Iraq. I find it hard to overestimate the frustration, cynicism and hopelessness that my constituents of Pakistani and Kashmiri origin report to me when they read the signs of the times and when they see so much effort being expended on UN resolution 1441 and the other resolutions that affect Iraq, but so little effort, as they see it, being applied to those that apply to Kashmir.
I believe, and many hon. Members on both sides of the House agree, that the Government have good reason to take the resolutions that affect Kashmir as seriously as resolution 1441 and the others that affect Iraq because, like Iraq, India and Pakistan also possess weapons of mass destruction, and we know from the events of last May how serious the threat of a conflict involving those weapons is.
Now that America is the policeman of the world and has a position in the world rather like that exercised by Britain in the 19th century—it has very great power—I ask the Government to ask the Americans not merely to concentrate their attention on matters that affect Iraq, but to understand that if the Muslim world is to be persuaded that it is important to resolve the situation in Iraq, it must also be persuaded that the Americans and the Government take the situation in Kashmir as seriously as they take that in Iraq. That is my plea to the Government this evening on behalf of my constituents.
I begin by endorsing wholeheartedly the chorus of good wishes to our right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Campbell.
I note that we have before us a motion that asks us to endorse a UN Security Council resolution that has been agreed unanimously, even with the participation of Syria—the only member of the Arab League on the Security Council. It is therefore hardly surprising that it is very difficult to oppose the motion. Of course resolution 1441 is clear and, indeed, the language is very strong; it talks of Xmaterial breach",
Ximmediate, unimpeded, unconditional unrestricted access" and Xserious consequences", but perhaps its most important element is that it talks of a Xfinal opportunity".
The UN Security Council is looking back over the history of non-compliance and telling Saddam Hussein and his regime, XYou have one more chance. This is the final opportunity." Of course if there is a further Iraqi breach, the matter will return to the Security Council, as is required in paragraph 12. During the two months' negotiation, the concerns of France and the Russian Federation were met on
XIf there is a further Iraqi breach . . . the matter will return to the Council", as the motion states.
What are the possible outcomes of the resolution? Of course it is possible that Saddam Hussein will wholly comply. It is possible that the United States, with its view of itself as the universal world enforcer, will go off on its own irrespective of any decision of the Security Council. Those outcomes are less likely than the third outcome: Saddam Hussein, as a master of the game of deception, is likely to drag out the process for as long as possible and will seek to divide the international community and to play until the campaign for the US presidential election begins at the end of next year.
Where do we draw the line? Clearly, the international community has a very difficult task ahead. We put enormous responsibility on the weapons inspectors. As Dr. Blix has said very clearly, they are the servants of the Security Council. They do not make decisions; they refer their findings to the Security Council, which interprets whether the breach is trivial or sufficiently substantial to merit the Xserious consequences".
We have to be realistic about what the weapons inspectors can achieve. Those who participated in the Wisconsin project in June this year raised the most powerful doubts, in particular, about the ability of UNMOVIC to receive and use intelligence, and about the experience of the personnel. The experience of previous inspectors is clear: Wyn Bowen told a recent meeting in the House of Commons that UNSCOM never managed to achieve surprise, despite tactics such as splitting the team and revisiting sites. Iraq has had substantial time to move and conceal material. The new team is relatively inexperienced: two thirds of its members are wholly new to Iraq, and it takes time to learn the tradecraft. It is therefore a huge job to cover the 700 or so sites that have been named.
I ask the Foreign Secretary and the Minister now present, the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend Dr. Moonie, whether they are confident that UNMOVIC will have sufficient resources in terms of personnel and translation services. Is the international community prepared to respond positively to any request for further resources? The great danger is not that Saddam Hussein will refuse to answer on
One of the most difficult tasks is to determine what constitutes a material breach—a point made by Mr. Ancram. There is a difference between the UK and US Governments on that point. The US has claimed that breaches of the no-fly zones could constitute a breach, but the UN Secretary-General, who is the interpreter of the resolution, has firmly stated that that would not be a breach. Equally, the US president has said that denial by Iraq of any weapons arsenal could
Xinvite the severest of consequences", whereas British sources have been far more circumspect.
A further question is whether we can deal with Saddam Hussein in good faith—can he be trusted? Previous experience and the history of concealment suggest that he cannot be trusted, but that does not mean that he should not be given a fair chance to comply this time. However, there is already some evidence that Iraq is playing games, and we must carefully examine the rather ambiguous letters that Naji Sabri, Iraq's Foreign Minister, sent on 13 and
In passing, I note that we need to plan for the post-conflict position now, rather than imagining that it will solve itself.
There will be strains during the coming period, so it is extremely important that the international community remain united and continue in the spirit of the unanimous vote of
I come finally to the parliamentary—
It is entirely right and proper that so many right hon. and hon. Members have dwelt at length on wider middle east issues. I begin by quoting a leading—possibly the leading—Israeli politician, who said of the middle east peace process:
XWe can see the light but we cannot find the tunnel."
We all know what he means. In many senses, the same is true of the Iraq question. We can see the light—it is getting Saddam Hussein to disarm and return his country to normality. The question is how—where is the tunnel?
About two weeks ago, as a member of the all-party United Nations group, I had the great privilege of going to the United Nations with the hon. Members for Putney (Mr. Colman) and for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath). There, we had remarkable access to many of the key players in the United Nations and the Security Council. In my brief remarks, I shall pick up some specific points that I learned during that two-day visit but that have not yet been made in the debate.
First, it is right to put on record the fact that there is huge confidence at the United Nations in Dr. Hans Blix. There has been some press comment in this country that he might not be up to the job, and some doubts have been expressed about his ability to deal with the inspections process. I agree with the practical points made by Donald Anderson and I acknowledge the huge scale of Dr. Blix's task, but I believe that he understands precisely what it is that he needs to do and how best to achieve it. One of the reasons for the confidence in Dr. Blix is that he was one of the key authors of the 1969 Vienna convention on the law of treaties, which defines what a material breach is, so we can safely say that the task is in extremely good hands.
One name has not so far been mentioned in the debate—Sir Jeremy Greenstock, our permanent representative to the Security Council.
I am sorry—I cannot have been concentrating. I pay particular tribute to Sir Jeremy Greenstock, because although we talk about the achievement of politicians on such occasions, it is often to the diplomats that much of the credit must go. I have no doubt that Sir Jeremy's diplomatic skills with both the Americans and the other members of the Security Council have been largely instrumental in bringing about that remarkable achievement, resolution 1441.
I am not sure that much praise should be given to the Liberal Democrats. Their amendment is regrettable, giving breathing space to Saddam Hussein and having all the disadvantages in relation to our troops that the Foreign Secretary set out so admirably in his speech. I urge Mr. Moore to withdraw the amendment rather than press it to a vote, because it is a serious error of judgment.
One of the things we heard praised in New York is the Iraq programme, for the establishment of which the British Government can take some credit. It is often misleadingly referred to as the oil for food programme—the Foreign Secretary himself used that terminology—but it is so much more ambitious than that. Apologists for Saddam Hussein who sometimes criticise the Iraq programme are levelling their criticism at the wrong target. The problems, such as they are, with the programme are inevitable when the client is a monolithic state such as Iraq, and the programme is administered by a multilateral agency such as the United Nations. However, the main difficulties are caused by Saddam Hussein himself—for example, cutting off the flow of oil for 30 days in solidarity with other, wider, middle eastern questions, and thus removing funding for the programme. It is Saddam Hussein and no one else who inflicts misery and suffering on the people of his country.
If I have one criticism of the UN it is that it has not done the job of talking about the Iraq programme sufficiently well. The programme is a remarkable achievement, cited by the Foreign Secretary today, and the UN should be far more up front in talking about it and giving credit to its achievements.
That leads me to my other major concern, which is our humanitarian preparedness in the unfortunate event of a war. If there is a war—every Member of Parliament hopes that there will not be a war; that is common ground between us—it is inevitable that the Iraq programme and that type of humanitarian relief for the people of Iraq will end. We all know how desperately poor the international community's response to the 1990 to 1992 Gulf crisis was: hundreds of thousands of people suffered unnecessarily because we did not think through the humanitarian response to that crisis.
There is a strong view held with great sincerity by many UN member states that to prepare for a humanitarian crisis is to acknowledge the inevitability of war. I do not accept that argument. To prepare for the worst is not to wish for the worst, and we should prepare for the worst. Indeed, that may have the incidental advantage of reinforcing in Saddam Hussein's mind the seriousness of the international community's purpose. Please let us do more to prepare for the humanitarian consequences of a war that none of us want.
There is no doubt that the credibility of the United Nations has been greatly enhanced in the past few weeks and months. That is greatly to be welcomed. I share some of the reservations that have been expressed about the American Government's attitude towards Israel and about the need for even-handedness. However, I remind the House that—the right hon. Member for Swansea, East made this point—Syria voted for the resolution. That is a remarkable achievement. We had the privilege of meeting a representative of the Syrian Government when we were in New York and it is clear why Syria voted in the way that it did. The Arab states themselves view Saddam Hussein as a very serious threat. Members of the House should not forget the unanimity behind the resolution when they cast their votes on the Liberal amendment or on the main motion.
Sadly, I fear that war is very likely. Perhaps it will be further off than some people had originally imagined, but I am not optimistic that Saddam Hussein will ultimately comply with the terms of a very tough resolution. However, there is a substantially enhanced chance that any such military action will take place on a multilateral basis. The mood in the United Nations and the Security Council is clear, resolute and firm. They understand what they have signed up to in resolution 1441. That is to be welcomed. There will be disagreements over what is meant by a material breach, and there will be matters of interpretation. However, all the members of the Security Council understand the seriousness of the situation that they now face.
We know that war is not an attractive or an easy option, and no one should wish for war. I do not think that anyone does. We know all the options open to Saddam Hussein in the event of a war. For example, he could effectively take the people of Baghdad hostage as the price for negotiations with the international community. It would be a bloody and awful business.
I saw a sign on the wall of an office in the United Nations. It did not belong to the current occupant of the office but to a previous one. It read:
XMore than at any other time in human history, humanity faces a crossroads.
One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness, the other to total extinction.
Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly."
That rather light-hearted but serious interpretation is relevant now. There are no easy choices in situations such as this. Those who wish that Saddam Hussein would deal with the situation himself or would miraculously disappear seem to believe that there is an easy path out of this tremendously difficult situation. I am afraid that they are whistling in the dark. I hope against hope that there will be no war, but the world must grapple with evil and not avert its gaze or pass by on the other side.
In the summer, I expressed serious misgivings about the possibility of military action against Iraq. I was extremely worried that unilateral action would be taken by the United States with the support of the United Kingdom. I was also extremely worried about the consequences for Israel and Palestine, as a result of Saddam trying to involve Israel in any war that might take place. However, it has to be said that the latter worry continues while the former does not.
Just as I did in 1990–91, I have looked for a Security Council policy. I was not looking for the policy of the British Government—Labour now, Conservative in 1990—but for a clear United Nations policy that I could support. That is the only way in which world order can be maintained. Therefore, what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, with my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, has achieved has changed the position from the summer. We now have a unanimous United Nations Security Council resolution.
The resolution is not a brief expression of opinion, but sets a programme and timetable. It provides trip wires that make it clear that at the end of the process—if that process is followed through right to the end—is military action. What is important is not so much the fact that it is a unanimous resolution of the Security Council, although that is greatly to be welcomed, but the fact that it has been accepted by the Government of Iraq. If they had rejected the resolution, that would have created an immediate danger of war. However, once they accepted the resolution, they accepted its content and its consequences. That being so, it is impossible for anyone now to say that, should military action take place at the end of the process, that would be somehow springing a trap on the Iraqi Government. The moment on
I disagree with those hon. Members who believe that the position is obscure. It could not be plainer. There is a timetable, and it moves forward by stages, if necessary, until the beginning of March. If, by the beginning of March, Saddam Hussein has not complied with the resolution, the United Nations gets a report from the inspectors and the Security Council automatically convenes. We do not have to ask for it to convene; the resolution tells it to do so and to receive a report. If that report is unfavourable, the Security Council resolution talks about the serious consequences that can follow. Those serious consequences will not be a surprise to us in the House or a surprise to those in Baghdad. Baghdad has gone down this road before. It was warned of serious consequences but it believed that they would not be imposed. They were imposed, so nobody can now be in doubt about what would take place if the resolution were defied at any point.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has performed a service not simply to the House, but to world order by the way in which he has influenced the United States President. It is perfectly clear in my mind that this approach was not the preference of the United States President, and it certainly was not the preference of Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice—the three witches of this particular confrontation. Toil and trouble is what they are looking for. Powell, who had been sidelined, has been listened to, and I am sure that, to a considerable degree, that is the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.
I go further. When my right hon. Friend spoke on these issues at the Labour party conference, he built into his approach the need to have implementation of Security Council resolutions on Israel and Palestine as well. He talked about action before the end of this year and, even given the fact that the Israelis will have an election in January, that is the next part of the programme that he should follow. It is intolerable that the Israeli Government should refuse to sit down and talk with the Palestinians.
Of course, the Israelis suffer from utterly grievous terrorist acts, which are to be condemned and which have the most appalling human consequences. However, the fact that they are suffering from such acts is no excuse for them not to participate in talks. Indeed, some terrorist acts, such as the one on the Jewish settlement a few days ago, are a direct consequence of the Israeli Government's policies in maintaining settlements and exposing their soldiers—something that Yitzhak Rabin hated—to being killed to protect people who should not be there.
I know that the situation is difficult. Not only does Israel have its worst Prime Minister ever, but it has its worst Defence Minister and Foreign Minister ever. That does not mean that we should slacken in our efforts; indeed, it makes it much more important that we continue in them. It is all very well to say that trigger-happy Israeli soldiers are not killing people deliberately, but they are still killing them. We need an overall settlement because the middle east will not settle down unless both Iraq and Israel are forced to comply—
It is a pleasure to follow Mr. Kaufman. I am always concerned when people call for absolute clarity or precision in foreign affairs. Unfortunately, foreign affairs tend to be a messy business. Although there are fixed points in the process, we can have no illusions about the character of the Iraqi regime and there is little doubt that there is either the capacity or the propensity for it to build weapons of mass destruction. I also hope that there is little doubt that the effects of a prolonged and large conflict in that country would be disastrous not only in Iraq but in the region as a whole.
The circumstances in which the elements come together change as circumstances of the international community change. There is a world of difference between unilateral posturing and a unanimous resolution of the Security Council, and between a material breach as defined by one or two members of the Security Council and an action agreed by all. I was greatly influenced by the visit to the United Nations to which Mr. Luff referred, which gave me the opportunity to talk to some of the representatives of the permanent five and the elected 10 on the Security Council. I concur entirely with the view that Sir Jeremy Greenstock has done an excellent job on behalf of the British Government and the British people in the United Nations. The Foreign Secretary has also played a significant part.
Members of the Security Council have passed a unanimous resolution, which they believe re-establishes the primacy of international law and the United Nations. That is important. They believe that they have achieved, at least pro tem, an effective containment of Iraq and, in the long term, its disarmament. Let us hope that that is the case. They also believe that they have perhaps thwarted the unilateralists in the United States Administration and put them back in their box while strengthening the position of the State Department and, by extension, Secretary Colin Powell. That is also welcome.
I intervened on Mr. Ancram to highlight the fact that it is clear that the Security Council supported the resolution on the basis of no automaticity. The understanding was that the issue would return to the Security Council, as the letter from the Chinese, French and Russian permanent representatives makes clear. It is also clear that they received assurances to that effect from the British and the American representatives. It is right that the issue should return to the Security Council. The argument that it is possible to set aside the decision or the future considerations of the United Nations Security Council if someone does not agree with them is the argument of the vigilante through the ages: if the law does not agree with me, I will decide what is the law. I do not accept that argument, nor does my party.
I strongly formed the view that Hans Blix enjoys the confidence of members of the United Nations. He deserves that confidence. He demonstrated to us his independence, integrity, intelligence and understanding of his role. The same applied to Mohammad el-Baradei, who represented the International Atomic Energy Agency. They have a difficult role to perform. Their position would be strengthened by the addition of more inspectors from the Arab world to the ranks of the UNMOVIC inspectorate. I hope that the British Government press others to provide that.
The process will be long. It will take time just to baseline—or re-baseline—on nuclear weapons. It is no good the Americans or anyone else getting impatient with the process if it does not provide them with the evidence to which they think they are entitled. It is clear that the process must be: first, to receive reports from the independent inspectors: secondly, to have an assessment by the Security Council; and, thirdly, to make a decision on the correct course of action.
If I have a concern it is that no genuine post-conflict analysis of what will happen in Iraq if military action takes place has been demonstrated in this country or elsewhere. In terms of contingency planning, I echo what the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire said. We know that military planning is going ahead apace. That may be necessary to strengthen the position of the United Nations Security Council. I also want humanitarian planning, although I understand the reluctance not to do that openly. If there is a major conflict in Iraq, a massive number of displaced persons will try to find their way to Kuwait and the Gulf states. It is right to plan for that now. The Pentagon may not like it, but I hope that the British Government do and will start to think in those terms. We need to think about maintaining Basra as an available port for humanitarian support and a safe haven for displaced persons in the event of a conflict taking place.
My conclusion is still that military action is likely to be the wrong option. The war will not be carried out from 50,000 ft. It cannot be subcontracted to the Northern Alliance or anyone else. This time it will mean American troops and, if we join in, British troops on the ground in an unpleasant action. It will have serious consequences for the region. The domino effect could be disastrous. It is literally a matter of last resort for us to act in that way and the decision can be made only by the Security Council, as the amendment moved by my hon. Friend Mr. Moore provides.
I do not understand some of the points made in criticism of the amendment. We ask for two things: the first is that the matter be referred back to the Security Council, and the Foreign Secretary agrees with that; the second is that the House decide whether young men and women are sent on behalf of this country to offer their lives in support of the United Nations or the British position. That is a decision for a sovereign Parliament to take. It does not put anyone's life at risk. I hope that even those who have doubts will not take the preposterous position adopted by some and will support us in the Lobby.
I support UN Security Council resolution 1441. It is important to understand why it is necessary to undertake the inspections and why there might be a need for military action. We know that Iraq started two major wars, one against Iran in the 1980s and the other against Kuwait in 1991. The Iraqi Government face international sanctions and the threat of war. They have chemical and biological weapons, of which the former has been used on tens of thousands of their civilians, both in experiments on them and to murder them, and they are close to developing their own nuclear weapons, which they would not hesitate to use if they were allowed to do so.
The Government's 50-page dossier highlighted various concerns. As I said, Iraq has military plans for the use of chemical and biological weapons, which it has used even against its own population. Saddam is just one or two years away from building a nuclear weapon, and if he managed to obtain weapons-grade material from abroad, chemical and nuclear programmes would be well funded by the illicit earnings of the Iraqi regime.
Iraq has tried covertly to acquire technology and materials that could be used in the production of nuclear weapons, and it has continued to produce chemical and biological weapons, some of which can be deployed within 45 minutes of an order to use them. It retains weapons from pre-Gulf war stocks, and remains capable of producing chemical agents such as mustard gas, tabun, sarin, cyclosarin and VX. It still has a missile programme, producing missiles with ranges of 650 km, and is developing weapons that will go even further. We cannot allow that to continue.
We are coming to the end of a long and tortuous process. On
What will happen now? I have listened with interest to the arguments by Labour colleagues and Opposition Members. Iraq has until
XIt won't be a world war III as the US military is vastly more powerful than 10 years ago at the time of the Gulf war, while Iraq's capabilities have declined."
The ground combat in the Gulf war lasted just 100 hours. Mr. Rumsfeld also said:
XI can't tell you if the use of force in Iraq today would last five days, five weeks or five months, but it certainly isn't going to last any longer than that."
I noted with interest that the Chairman of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs asked what would happen at the end of such a war. Saddam would almost certainly be toppled as the Americans took control of Baghdad. In that scenario, there are two possible outcomes that are not mutually exclusive. The first would involve an occupation plan, with Iraq governed by an American military commander, in the way that Japan was governed after the second world war. In the second, the country would disintegrate into three parts, with the Kurds taking control in the north, the Shia Muslims in the south and the Sunni Muslims in the centre. Saddam Hussein must be aware of both possible outcomes—all the more reason why there should be full co-operation with the inspectors and why resolution 1441 is a chance for the Iraqi regime to follow a new path. The UN has shown that it is willing to make itself relevant in the face of threats that confront us in the 21st century. Now the Iraqi regime must prove itself by complying with resolution 1441. If it does not, its future will not be in its own hands.
I congratulate the Government and the United States Administration on once again confounding the critics, many of whom have spoken today and have predicted that they would act recklessly, precipitately, and without the authority of international law. Those critics are wrong—resolution 1441 is proof of that. I am happy, as an Opposition Member, to pay tribute to the work of the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister in securing the resolution.
Behind some of today's contributions is an attitude and prejudice towards the United States that simply cannot go unchallenged in the Chamber. First, there is a view, exemplified by Mr. Hood, the first Government Back Bencher to contribute to the debate, that the US Administration are a bunch of cowboys who, in the words of Alan Simpson, cannot wait to bomb the living daylights out of Iraqis—[Interruption.] I see that that view has support from Government Members, but it is a patronising attitude, and was expressed in a milder, slightly more sophisticated way by the Liberal Democrats, who said that only wiser British counsel has cooled the American hotheads. It is a modern version of Harold Wilson's idea that we are Athens to America's Rome, but it is a patronising approach both to one of the most sophisticated foreign policy communities in the world and the US Administration. It is wrong and has not been borne out by events during the past year.
I remind Members that there was no knee-jerk reaction to the events of
The hon. Gentleman may be right in his analysis of the American defence and intelligence community, but does he accept that reports authored by Dick Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz dating back to 1998, including the report produced by the Project for the New American Century, make it clear that regime change in Iraq has been part of the policy of people who now advise on and set foreign policy for the American Government?
Regime change was also the policy of the Clinton Administration—I did not hear the hon. Gentleman make the same criticisms of that Administration. People like Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice and even Richard Perle, who spoke in the House a week ago, are some of the most intelligent and sophisticated people in the international community—[Interruption.] Members may disagree, but that is the case. Those people are extremely sophisticated and intelligent. The idea that they are a bunch of cowboys and rednecks is a misunderstanding of the way in which the US Administration operates, and beggars belief.
Would the hon. Gentleman be referring to the same President who talked about wanting bin Laden dead or alive and an Xaxis of evil"? Would he be referring to the regime that holds international law in contempt by refusing to sign the convention establishing the International Criminal Court?
I am talking about the American President who, immediately after
The second presumption in many contributions today is that it would never be right to take pre-emptive military action against Iraq or any other dictator. That argument takes several forms—for example, XWhy now? Why not wait? Iraq is not a threat to us today." That is the argument for appeasement down the ages. It is always a persuasive argument and many Governments have fallen victim to it, including Conservative Governments. However, it always makes matters worse to avoid the threat now in the hope that it will go away.
There are parallels with the way in which we have dealt with international terrorism during the past 20 or 30 years. A very persuasive book by Alan Dershowitz, one of the United States' leading legal authorities, entitled XWhy Terrorism Works", was published this month. He makes a powerful and persuasive case that the root cause of terrorism is not poverty or injustice, as there are many people in poverty and many who suffer injustice who do not resort to terrorism. The root cause of terrorism, he argues, and I agree, is that terrorism works for the people who use it. It advances their cause, brings publicity to what they do, achieves their ends and, more often than not, gives them a seat at the negotiating table.
Ever since the first international terrorist act in 1968, when a plane was hijacked by the Palestine Liberation Organisation, the international community has appeased terrorists, bought them off, released them from jail and given them top seats at the negotiating table. We cannot allow the same approach today to international terror. We cannot allow such an approach, whether it applies to international terrorists, al-Qaeda, suicide bombers in Israel or rogue states such as Iraq. The United States, with the support of the Prime Minister, has led the way in strengthening the resolve of the international community. It has done so with my support and the support of the Government, and I hope that the motion is evidence of that. I support it entirely.
Given all the talent in evidence in the Chamber, I am grateful to be called. I was amused by the contribution that we have just heard from Mr. Osborne. Does he recall that the wonderful and sophisticated country that he so admires is the same country which, under a previous Administration, succoured Saddam Hussein as a trusted ally and built him up into the demagogue that he became? The hon. Gentleman should reconsider his analysis.
I congratulate the Government and my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister on restraining the sophisticated Government of America, so that the matter was put in the hands of the United Nations, which is where it should be. That gives the entire international community a fresh chance to establish the rule of international law, which has always been a patchy process and has for too much of the time depended on which state or group of states was the most powerful, rather than on the rights of any case. That is why resolution 1441 is a considerable achievement. It is very important that it be honoured.
The resolution must be honoured on both sides. Although there is a mandatory obligation on Iraq to conform to 1441, there must also be a moral obligation on all Security Council members to take careful account of Iraq's response to 1441. If Iraq is seen by Hans Blix and his team of inspectors to have conformed with 1441 when they make their final report to the Security Council, that has to be the end of the story. That will have done a tremendous amount for the establishment of international law.
We are all uncomfortably aware that some loud voices have been raised among the sophisticates in Washington who clearly do not believe that Iraq has any intention of confirming to 1441, which is a prescriptive, strict and demanding resolution. We can all think of commentators close to the American President who do not believe that Saddam will conform and who probably do not want Saddam to conform. They will gladly seize on any excuse to say that he has substantially breached the resolution and use that as an opportunity for promoting unilateral action. That would be extremely reprehensible. It would be taking a match to the powder keg that is the middle east. Should that happen, Britain must have no part of it.
If we are to have true international law, it must be seen to be even-handed and to be upheld by all communities. It is a fair criticism, which I am happy to hear made tonight by Opposition Members, that the United States has not been even-handed in its approach to international law. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the middle east. If the United States were as enthusiastic about the implementation of resolution 242 in Israel and Palestine, we would be getting somewhere.
Earlier this year our Prime Minister promised a fresh impetus to try and restart peace negotiations in the middle east between Israel and Palestine. We should not wait for the hiatus of the coming Israeli general election. The process should be restarted now and the Prime Minister should make it clear to the President that if he is looking for British support anywhere along the line, the political price that he needs to pay is to put some American muscle into the Palestine peace process. As it is, the United States is simply arming Israel with a virtually unlimited supply of weaponry and it is condoning the most incredible illegal acts by the Israeli Government.
So long as that festering sore exists, there will never be true peace between the world's enormous Islamic community and—for want of a better description—the Christian west. It is hardly surprising that the Christian west is looked on with distrust, which will always lead to unrest throughout the world.
It is vital that we direct our focus through the United Nations. Although I slightly regret the fact that a Liberal amendment has been selected, so that the Liberal Democrats are seen to take the moral high ground—which is a bit bogus, but never mind—the principles expressed in the amendment are correct and unarguable. The simpler amendments that call for a vote in Parliament would have been adequate because they would have taken account of the first part and left the Foreign Secretary enough room for manoeuvre in the event of blocking action in the Security Council. None the less, the Liberal amendment is right in principle and it is consistent with the main Government motion, so at the end of the day—
Despite the complete unacceptability of Saddam Hussein's regime in any right thinking forum, there is no provision in international law to enforce regime change. Indeed, not only is there no provision, but it appears that regime change would be directly in conflict with resolution 637, which confirms
Xthe commitment of all Member States to the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of Iraq."
It would therefore be astonishing if such provision were used as the justification for any impending aggression against Iraq. If the US and the UK acted unilaterally and without UN sanction, they would be acting outside the law. They have said that if resolution 1441 had not been adopted, there might well be a case for unilateral action. The Prime Minister has not ruled that out and on several occasions we have heard remarks similar to what the Foreign Secretary said even on
Xwe would very much prefer decisions to be taken within the Security Council . . . we have always made it clear that within international law we have to reserve our right to take military action, if that is required, within the existing charter and the existing body of UN Security Council resolutions, if, for example, a subsequent resolution were to be vetoed."—[Hansard, 7 November 2002; Vol. 392, c. 435.]
That leads us to consider under what rule of international law the use of force against Iraq could be justified. I should like to refer to the opinion given by Rabinder Singh, QC, and Charlotte Kilroy, dated
XThe use of force against Iraq would not be justified under international law unless:
(a) Iraq mounted a direct attack on the United Kingdom or one of its allies and that ally requested the United Kingdom's assistance; or
(b) an attack by Iraq on the United Kingdom or one of its allies was imminent and could be averted in no way other than by the use of force; or
(c) the United Nations Security Council authorised the use of force in clear terms."
Clearly, that situation has not arisen, and there appears to be a difference of opinion about whether resolution 1441 authorises the use of force. The proponents of military action suggest that it might do so, but in my submission it does not authorise any member state to use force.
Previous Security Council resolutions, such as resolution 678, have adopted clear and strong language to authorise the use of force. States are authorised to use Xall necessary means" or take Xall necessary measures". Those are not merely issues of semantics. Undoubtedly, the consideration of such words took a lot of time when resolution 1441 was discussed. It is known that the UK and US sought an express authorisation, but such authorisation is manifestly lacking in the final wording. Security Council permanent members Russia, France and China made their position clear: they did not want the resolution to authorise force.
Instead, resolution 1441 provides at paragraphs 4, 11 and 12 that, in the event of non-compliance, the matter will be referred to the Security Council, which will convene to consider the need for full compliance and so on. That clearly means that it is for the Security Council to decide on any further action that might be taken against Iraq. Would it not be extraordinary if the UK and the US, having failed to obtain an express authorisation for the use of force, having incorporated minute changes to the final draft whose sole purpose was to exclude the possibility of automaticity and hidden triggers and to preserve the role of the Security Council, and having publicly agreed in their explanation of the vote for adopting resolution 1441 that there was no such implied authorisation for the use of force, nevertheless regarded the resolution as providing such authorisation?
Of course, the UN charter refers to implied authorisation for conflicts. The implied authorisation arguments of the US would permit states to make unilateral decisions on the use of force, but that is exactly what chapter VII and the charter as a whole are designed to avoid. Furthermore, it is only the Security Council that has power under article 39 to determine whether there has been a breach of the peace or a threat to peace, and to decide whether to take action under articles 41 and 42. It is only with an express delegation of that power that a member state may use force against another member state to force it comply with a Security Council resolution. Professor Colin Warbrick, an expert in this matter, stated in a recent opinion:
XI am particularly sceptical of claims that the failure of diplomacy justifies resort to force 'as a last resort'."
He develops his argument, but there is no time for me to quote the rest of it. None the less, I commend that opinion to the House.
Some reports have suggested that Government officials are asserting that resolution 1441 contains no language that explicitly rules out the use of force, so force would be covered and the UK and the US would not be handcuffed in any way. It is unnecessary to insert wording into a resolution expressly requiring member states to obtain an authorisation to use force when the charter makes it clear that the only exception is the inherent right of self-defence, which is dealt with in article 51. On the self-defence argument, the dossier submitted to the House on
I trust that the Government will await referral of the weapons inspectors' reports to the Security Council and not allow themselves to be part of an illegal attack on Iraq, with all the awful repercussions that might ensue.
I want to refer to two groups of people in relation to the issue of possible military action against Iraq. The first are those who will suffer most as a result of military action. They are the sort of people whom I saw last May when I visited hospitals in Basra. I saw cancer patients, including a pretty 25-year-old girl, who had a huge tumour around her neck that made her head almost double its normal size. A tiny child sat on her bed. She will never see the child grow up; indeed, she is probably already dead. Many others are in the same position. Incidence of cancer has increased by 10 per cent. in the areas where bombs that contained depleted uranium were dropped.
Our troops have suffered from what we call Gulf war syndrome. The number of children who are born deformed has increased. The photographs have to be seen to be believed. Leukaemia has also increased. That is the reality of war. When people, especially those who have never experienced war and do not, for example, remember the second world war, talk lightly of bombing Iraq, it makes me freeze. They do not understand what war means. I am not a pacifist and I accept that sometimes we have to defend ourselves. We had to do that against Nazi Germany. Saddam Hussein, evil monster though he may be, has not the capability of an Adolf Hitler. It is nonsense to claim that he has.
The sanctions that have been imposed on Iraq have not weakened Saddam Hussein but they have hurt the people with whom, we claim, we have no argument. How often have I heard Foreign Secretaries say, XWe have no argument with the people of that country", when we are about to bomb it? Yet the sort of people I saw are affected. I wish that my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister would arrange to see for themselves the reality of war. They have never experienced it, but they should go and see what they are letting people in for.
The bombing did not stop in 1991. It continued in the so-called no-fly zones, which no UN resolution sanctions. Sometimes people cite resolution 688, but it does not refer to no-fly zones. They are not covered by any UN Security Council resolution.
Let us consider the second group of people, who will be most pleased if we bomb Iraq. It is a secular state, which is not administered by extreme Islamists, and those who will perceive bombing Iraq as marvellous are therefore the members of al-Qaeda. We should fight the genuine international terrorists. Saddam Hussein does not threaten us through the London Underground or on our street corners, but that applies to al-Qaeda.
I respect my hon. Friend, but I am sure that he understands that I have only a short time in which to speak.
Al-Qaeda must be gloating. The leaders of Arab countries may support President Bush in his aggressive war, but we can rest assured that, when photographs of civilians being torn to pieces by American bombs are shown in, for example, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Oman, the masses of Arab people will stir. The genuine threat to the middle east is not the madman in Baghdad—perhaps he is not so mad, since he wants to survive—but President Bush and the hawks around him. I call them the Cheney gang and I fear them most. Most people in the middle east do not like Saddam Hussein, but they will stand by the civilians who will suffer if Bush and his hawks get their way.
The hawks are still there. Richard Perle has been in London. Heaven knows how anyone could describe him as sophisticated. If he is sophisticated, the word applies to many other people who would not normally register in that category. Genghis Khan was probably sophisticated, but I do not believe that we would want him for an ally.
The Foreign Secretary and his colleagues should consider carefully before they appease the United States Administration under President Bush. I am against that because, as Nelson Mandela said, that Government are as dangerous as any other Administration in the world. The sooner the decent people of America, of whom there are so many, are able to elect a President who is not a Xmoron"—as one Canadian Minister has called Bush—who knows where Iraq is, and who has some ideas behind him, the better it will be for all of us and for the people of Iraq.
It is a pleasure to follow the trenchant views of Mr. Wareing, who brings a refreshing reality to the Chamber in the context of the realities of war. Although I cannot agree with all his views on the American presidency, I am fascinated to hear his insight into what war actually does to people. I am grateful to him for teeing me up for what I am about to say.
I rise to support UN resolution 1441, and I would like to pay tribute to the comments made by my hon. Friend Mr. Luff, who talked about preparation for war. That will be the only way to make deterrence work, and to avoid violence. I believe that we can avoid violence, as long as we are realistic about the dangers that lie ahead.
I entirely agree with comments made by the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby about the enemy being not only Iraq but international terrorism. The Government must take a firm grip of the preparations for the attacks that are bound to fall on this country as the path to war becomes more tortuous and peace becomes more difficult to preserve. The Government's cack-handed handling of the recent threats from al-Qaeda illustrate this point well. Since the start of Ramadan, there have been more than 30 attacks world wide, and this weekend saw a pulse of activity across the world in which several people died. Yet, until recently, the Government have been happy, like an ostrich, to keep their head firmly in the sand.
I would rather not, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind.
XThe FTSE could easily be 3000. If there was a terrorist attack tomorrow, the market would be at 3000."
People are expecting this sort of trouble, and these kinds of difficulties. We must, however, be realistic, and the Government must prepare us. An apposite point at the moment is that we live with the possibility of fire every day. Fire is a reality of life, and we prepare for it. Just outside the Chamber there are fire extinguishers; we know what to do in the event of a fire. Furthermore, we have lived with terrorism for 30 years in Northern Ireland, and we have come to terms with it. I say to the Government that, if we are to deter Saddam Hussein, and to deter violence, and if peace is to have a chance, we must be effectively prepared for the worst eventuality.
I want to concentrate on the forces that are available to achieve that deterrence. I disagree with Mr. Heath, who talked about the nasty shooting war—I hope he will forgive my paraphrasing him—that is likely to happen in Iraq should war break out. I do not believe that that is the Government's intention at all. I believe that they intend to do what was done in Afghanistan and in Kosovo, which is to fight the opening phases of the war with a small number of special forces, aircraft and submarines, and to avoid a shooting war if at all possible. I believe that they intend to commit British troops only when a shooting war has finished.
I would like to remind the Government of a couple of quotes from the Prime Minister. He said that he would be willing to pay a Xblood price", and that we would be alongside the United States Xwhen the shooting starts". He also said:
XAt moments of crisis" the United States
Xdoes not need to know simply that you are giving general expressions of support and sympathy."
This comes from a man who has never seen war or heard a shot fired in anger, yet is about to commit young men and young women into harm's way, without understanding the full implications. He does not understand that the Xblood price" will not be paid by him. If the Government mean to stand shoulder to shoulder with their ally, and to be there when a shooting war breaks out, they must honour those words and not be hypocritical.
Like everybody else who has been there, I do not want a war. There could be no better news for this country's soldiers, sailors and airmen than the fact that war will not start, but the sure and certain way to undermine the coalition's credibility is to ensure that British forces are not there when the shooting war starts and that they have nothing but hollow rhetoric to back up those phrases about the blood price.
In 1939 and 1940, Britain was fighting a phoney war and our enemies took the propaganda advantage of describing the Government as fighting to the last Frenchman. I hope that, this time, Mr. Blair understands what the commitment must be.
The aim of the resolution is perfectly clear and unequivocal, and it gives Saddam Hussein every opportunity for peace and to avoid military intervention. It is not about President Bush or the Prime Minister, and the comments of Patrick Mercer do the debate a great disservice. By and large, it has been excellently conducted.
The only obstacle to a peaceful resolution is Saddam Hussein, through obfuscation and deliberately misleading the weapons inspectors. It has taken most of the past 14 months to get to this position—one that many thought we could not reach. It took
I beg to disagree with my hon. Friend Mr. Wareing, as I do not believe that we face a choice between a hierarchy of dangers—either winning the war against terrorism or dealing with Saddam Hussein. Those are part of the same strategy for security, which, to be successful, requires not unilateral action, but a global coalition against the prospect of catastrophic terror. That is why Iraq is central to the strategy for security and dealing with global terrorism.
The problem that Saddam Hussein represents is not any form of conventional military threat—by all estimates, he is a great deal weaker than in 1991—but the danger he poses both to his own people and through the laboratories that are working to produce chemical and biological weapons. They are probably working to produce nuclear weapons, if they have any weapons grade plutonium. We know that not only from our own intelligence, but from people who have defected and from what he has done to his own people. We shall soon know from the weapons inspectors more of what they believe.
We should be confident and optimistic that resolution 1441 represents a huge step forward in the international community's work. It recognises the genuine threat posed by weapons of mass destruction and the need to fight that with multilateral, not unilateral, work. Multilateralism has emerged over unilateral action. My right hon. Friend Mr. George referred to the UN's moral authority and he was right to refer to the importance of Saddam being cowed by military threat, but who the military threat is is even more significant. Who provides that military threat against him is most important—more important than even the threat itself.
The UN today looks much stronger than it did six months ago, when it very nearly resembled a beleaguered League of Nations. As we sit here, most of us feel content with the progress we have made; but there is a terrible irony in this position. It is the irony that if Saddam complies, the UN, through its resolution, may well have become his protector. My hon. Friend Mike Gapes raised some interesting questions in that regard. Saddam's regime will be disarmed of weapons of mass destruction one way or another; the question is, will he continue?
The Iraqi people, not only witnesses but victims, silenced and butchered by this tyrant, will continue to live in terror indefinitely as helpless prisoners and victims of the tyranny. There is no military power in the Gulf region that can overthrow Saddam, as Vietnam did in ousting Pol Pot. If Saddam remains, complying with the resolution, our victory may be more Pyrrhic than we think.
We may criticise Bush for turning his attention on Saddam only because of
The Opposition have asked a number of questions about the resolution. They have asked what would constitute material breaches. I think that that is pretty clear in the resolution. We have critical dates before us. Only if Saddam tells the truth will the regime remain a tyranny unchanged. If he is lying, the material regime will be changed. It will be disarmed, and Saddam may well go too. In truth, who will mourn his departure? The consequences, however, will reveal whether our global coalition acts only out of united self-interest, or works genuinely towards a greater humanitarian goal.
Military intervention would certainly lead to the disarming of Saddam, but it would also lead to a series of consequences for the people of Iraq, both during and after the intervention. Our last engagement in the Gulf was hardly covered in moral glory, given our hasty withdrawal from the battlefield, leaving hundreds of thousands of people in Iraq to endure a continuing axis of despair. There is a huge difference between our motivation now and our motivation then, but the contrast between the despair and poverty that people endure and what they see here contributes to a deep distrust of our actions now. In the huge contrast between those lives reside the roots of a clash of civilisations.
As President Clinton recently observed, we cannot seriously build the world that we want with a security-only strategy. XPrevent and punish" is not enough. We need a world with more partners and fewer terrorists. As General Marshall said at the end of the second world war,
XWe ought to take a little of this money and make a world with fewer enemies and more friends".
Let us bear in mind the humanitarian crisis that may follow our actions. Turkey is already saying things that should worry us about what may happen on its borders. The regional governor of south-eastern Turkey said today
XIn case of a massive influx, it would be necessary to take measures to keep them away from our border. We have our own experience of 1991 in mind. We naturally do not want it to be repeated."
I ask the Foreign Secretary what steps will be taken to prevent refugees from flowing on to the Turkish borders and being deprived of humanitarian aid in the event of military intervention.
This is a crucial debate. I support the Government—
I am pleased to follow Mr. Woodward because he raises some interesting points, not least that it is difficult to find any way of disagreeing with the motion. Its most notable facet is what it leaves out. I agree with hon. Members' comments that it is rather bland.
The key point is what happens next. What happens should Iraq fail to comply fully with all the provisions of Security Council resolution 1441? What happens should Iraq be found attempting to conceal weapons of mass destruction? In that context, from evidence that we have seen on the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, it would be folly to depend on the inspectors who have just entered Iraq to prove the lie of concealment. In the previous inspections programme, the UN inspectors were on the verge—literally within days—of giving Iraq and Saddam Hussein a clean bill of health as free from weapons of mass destruction. One of Saddam Hussein's brothers-in-law defected to the west and produced plans of where the particular sites were.
I shall not give way. When I tried to intervene earlier, it was not picked up, so I shall carry on.
We were within days of giving Iraq a clean bill of health. Only through other evidence were we able to prove that we were totally misled. We are advised that, even with the latest techniques that the new inspectors have, it is not possible to detect small quantities of chemical and biological weapons components. When we say Xsmall" in that context, we are talking about 20 tonnes.
Clearly, the strategy of disarming Saddam Hussein is focusing not on the effectiveness of the inspections but on the threat of the scale of the response if Saddam does not reveal all in his catalogue of weapons of mass destruction. To have any credence, that strategy must mean a preparedness for rapid escalation into full-scale military intervention against Saddam Hussein. The Prime Minister said recently in the House and in public that to avoid war we have to be prepared for war, yet all we are debating at the moment is whether
Xthe Security Council should meet in order to consider the situation and the need for full compliance."
It is the duty of the Government and their Ministers to come to the House to debate the consequences of the likelihood of Iraq's failure to comply with resolution 1441. It is the Government's duty to seek the approval of the House before taking this country to war against Iraq or anyone else—not just when they consider it Xappropriate" to come here to seek approval.
It is somewhat disingenuous for the Government to claim that they put our armed forces at risk by giving the House prior notice through debating our intent. I am not a military man but I can work out that for some months we have been building, with our allies the Americans, huge forces on Iraq's boundaries. Saddam Hussein is not stupid. They are not there for no reason. They are there to act and to go to war against him if he fails to comply with the resolution. How much notice does he need of our intentions?
It is a fact that no other western democracy that is a serious military player allows its leader to launch a war without the prior approval of its Parliament. There is no fear in the United States Senate that prior approval puts US forces at risk. Why are we unique in that matter? Is it because we are so used to the standard answer to a difficult parliamentary question that the information is too difficult to compile? Hon. Members will be familiar with that.
The consequences of war against Iraq are far-reaching and long-term, and the stability of the region is at risk, through reaction in the Gulf states, which is likely to be dramatic. Many of the Governments there are at best fragile, and the reaction of Arab and Muslim peoples could result in the overthrow of the Saudi, Jordanian or Egyptian Governments, for example, which would create tremendous problems for our foreign policy objectives. At the very least, there could be extreme repression of mass dissent in those countries.
The problem may not be confined to the Gulf states. There are large Arab and Muslim populations in London, Bradford, Leeds, Paris, Marseille, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta. All those people will not take our military action against Iraq casually. Military action is not some quick fix, even if it would remove the threat of weapons of mass destruction. We need to discuss the worldwide consequences of starting a war, however good the justification for it.
We should recognise the impact of any such action on the tens of thousands of young men and women in the Gulf states and elsewhere who are well educated but generally jobless and excluded from economic and social advancement. Is it any wonder that so many are attracted to quasi-religious-inspired terrorism? Would not a war against Iraq create millions more willing recruits to al-Qaeda's evil agenda?
Iraq's failure to comply with 1441 will inevitably mean military action, but that will not be a quick fix. The reactions will challenge global prosperity and security for decades to come. That is why the Government should be debating those issues today, and why it should be for the House to sanction military action against Iraq through a substantive motion.
This debate is obviously welcome and important, and it is good that the role of Parliament and the need for the Prime Minister to seek its approval to take our country into war are at last being discussed. If we took it one stage further, perhaps we could bring the whole operation of the royal prerogative under control, which would indeed be an enormous step forward.
It is a matter of regret, however, that under our parliamentary system only the Speaker can choose the amendments for debate. Without wanting to criticise the Chair, I deeply regret the fact that the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend John McDonnell was not selected for debate, because it would have given some of us an opportunity to express a clear view on the war. As it is, I will support the Liberal amendment, as it provides an opportunity at least to express part of the view that some of us have in opposition to the putative war against Iraq. We are being asked—
Order. I should say to the hon. Gentleman that the House entrusts the Speaker with that responsibility, and I do not think that it is something that the House as a whole would want to challenge.
I intend no offence whatever to Mr. Speaker. I am merely saying that perhaps the procedures should be re-examined.
The UN resolution came about after weeks if not months of prevarication, arm twisting and negotiation among the five permanent members of the Security Council—the five declared nuclear weapons states, the five who have a power of veto—while the rest of the world looked on.
There are some questions to be asked. If one reflects on the influence and power that have been exercised by the United States in obtaining that 15-nil vote, one recalls that when Yemen had the temerity to vote against a UN resolution in 1991 it promptly lost $75 million of US aid, while a lot of Yemeni citizens were expelled from Saudi Arabia and sent back home. The message from the US was, XDon't mess with us; we are more powerful than the rest of the world."
It might be time to consider the need for changes and improvements and for genuine democracy to be introduced to the United Nations' operations. The 1945 post-second world war settlement is not necessarily the best way to go into the 21st century. The majority of the world's population live not in Europe or north America; they are poor and they live in the southern countries, and they feel that they are spectators at the UN's table.
No, I will not give way because of the time limit.
Let us look at what has been done since
The American regime that we are told is engaging with the rest of the world refuses to sign up to the International Criminal Court. It refuses to sign the Kyoto convention and the President refused even to attend the earth summit in Johannesburg. Yet we are told that this is not a war about resources or oil. I beg to differ. This is not a war about human rights, democracy or peace; it is a war about US commercial control in the middle east. If it were anything else, there would be far greater sanctions against Israel for its numerous breaches of UN resolutions. There would be a far more serious approach to the problems in the region and far less of the bellicose, gung-ho approach of George Bush and his close advisers.
What are we doing here tonight? We have been asked to approve a motion in support of a UN resolution that either does or does not guarantee the right to go to war. Mr. Llwyd drew attention to the legal opinion that the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament has obtained. In summary, it says:
XSecurity Council Resolution 1441 does not authorise the use of force by member states of the UN."
It goes on:
XThe UK would be in breach of international law if it were to use force against Iraq in reliance on Resolution 1441 without a further Security Council Resolution."
Yet under close questioning, American and British representatives have said that they will go back to the Security Council but will not necessarily seek a resolution from it. Likewise, the US ambassador said in his summary that the US would not necessarily seek a further resolution.
I never said that we would not necessarily seek a further United Nations resolution. Indeed, I said that we would much prefer to seek such a resolution. Aside from self-defence and other issues, the problem within this framework arises only if there is a clear prospect that the right thing to do is likely to be vetoed by other members of the Security Council, as happened over Kosovo in 1998.
I am puzzled by that intervention. It seems to be okay for us to go to the United Nations as long as there is no danger of someone disagreeing with us. We have to do better than that.
The people who are meeting, marching and demonstrating for peace represent the fundamental mood of many people throughout the world. They do not support the bombardment of Iraq and they want a peaceful resolution of the conflicts in that region. 8.56 pm
I welcome both this opportunity to debate resolution 1441 and the fact that the Foreign Secretary said that the House will be able to debate, on a substantive motion, any future commitment of British forces to possible action in Iraq.
Unlike Jeremy Corbyn, I believe that the debate is really about the present role and function of the UN and what they could be in the future. We have an exciting opportunity to fashion a genuinely new world order in which the rule of international law, as exemplified by the UN, will be enforced throughout the world to a greater degree than occurred in the second half of the 20th century.
We do not want the United Nations to go the way of the League of Nations in 1924 during the Abyssinian campaign. Nor do we want a repeat of the situation between 1933 and 1936 when Germany was rearming. If the international community had taken those events more seriously and backed the actions proposed by the League of Nations in respect of Abyssinia, international law could have been enforced.
We have an opportunity to ensure that the writ of the UN really runs throughout the world. That is an exciting prospect and the House should welcome it.
The question of double standards has rightly been raised by many Members; for example, as regards UN Security Council resolution 242 in respect of Israel. The issue of double standards is important. If we insist on the enforcement of one Security Council resolution, it is right to state that it is wrong to prioritise some resolutions over others. I look forward to the time when the UN takes seriously all the resolutions of its Security Council.
We need to understand the importance of that, especially in the Arab world, when UN resolutions on Israel are not enforced. The UN should pay particular attention to that. However, it is not valid to argue that because some Security Council resolutions have not been honoured, we should not enforce resolution 1441. That is like the arguments that I heard when we were making a humanitarian intervention during the crisis in Rwanda. People asked why we were doing that and said that because it was not possible to intervene everywhere, we should not intervene at all. I do not agree. If we can do some good in some part of the world, we should certainly do so.
I look forward to the day when the UN will have more military forces at its disposal, so that its resolutions can be enforced. It should not have to go cap in hand to the United States, the United Kingdom or any other country to ensure that its resolutions are enforced.
We need to encourage countries to give troops to the UN voluntarily. It needs to have troops at its disposal so that it has the muscle to enforce its resolutions in times of conflict and uncertainty. If we are to have a new world order in which international law is upheld, we need seriously to consider the UN's resources.
Our constituents deserve a clearer explanation of why Britain may be involved in supporting resolution 1441. Is it because of the genocide that has occurred within Iraq's borders for a very long time? There would be a respectable moral case if that were the reason. We all know that hundreds of thousands of people have lost their lives. Is it because of the need to ensure the safety and security of Iraq's neighbours? We know that a million people were killed in the Iran-Iraq war and that Kuwait was invaded. My brother was taken hostage during that period. Is it because of a direct threat to the United Kingdom? Will missiles be able to reach these shores from Iraq? Will they be fired from a third-party country so that they can reach this country? Or is it because Iraq is backing al-Qaeda and other terrorist organisations that could unleash poison gas in the London underground or commit other atrocities in the United Kingdom?
Any or all of those could be perfectly valid reasons for us to commit British troops in support of UN resolution 1441, but our constituents need to know more clearly. The Government are not afraid and are capable of making a case when they want to, but the British people have not heard the explanation to which they are entitled at a serious time such as this.
We have heard about the military planning. It is absolutely essential that proper humanitarian planning starts now for the civilian casualties that will be involved if a conflict takes place in Iraq. We are right to prepare militarily, as we hope that the threat of force will avoid war, but it is absolutely right and imperative—there is a strong moral case for this—to ensure that the humanitarian plans are put in place now. That is not war mongering; it is just acting responsibility, and we need to ensure that that happens. Contingency planning in the United Kingdom is also not in the state that it should be, and the Government need seriously to consider that as well.
I am sorry that Mr. Llwyd is not in his place, as I should like to answer a point that he made. I did not think that I would have to correct a solicitor, but he said that there is no way to achieve regime change using international law without a war. That is simply not true. I note the point made by Andrew Selous, who talked about his brother being taken hostage in Kuwait.
International law must be a weapon used against the Iraqi regime. Individual countries, or preferably an international criminal court under the auspices of the UN Security Council, should hold Saddam and members of his regime to account for their many crimes by bringing indictments against them. There is a way to achieve regime change—I want to force it into people's minds tonight—by using international law and bringing those people before a tribunal or a court in a country where universal jurisdiction applies. That is not a fanciful notion, because bringing indictments against Milosevic and his associates in the former Yugoslavia was a vital means to de-legitimise that regime inside and outside its borders.
Let me remind the House that Milosevic was indicted while he was still Head of State, and no one thought that he would appear before the court in The Hague a year later. The setting up of a tribunal by the United Nations in that case also created an impetus to break with the past and allowed a new generation of leaders to come to the fore in that country.
Evidence against Saddam and his officials is certainly not lacking. I chair an organisation called Indict, which I have spoken about in the House many times. It is funded by the US Congress and has been for the past five years. Ironically, some members of Congress and of the Clinton Administration wanted indictments against members of the Iraqi regime, but there was a policy of containment and they never went after those indictments. However, it was possible, and it is possible now. Organisations such as Amnesty and Human Rights Watch have damning and disturbing testimony detailing extra-judicial killing, torture, rape, genocide and widespread corruption. It does not prejudice the case against them to say that more than enough evidence exists to charge Saddam, Tariq Aziz, Ali Hassan Al-Majid, the sons of Saddam, and other senior officials for war crimes and crimes against humanity immediately.
Even now, however, many of Saddam's officials travel to many parts of the world, apparently without hindrance, on official business and for personal reasons. Isolating them within their own country would surely undermine their standing and limit their ability to conduct dealings, including the conclusion of commercial agreements with certain countries and attempts to secure additional weaponry, which help to sustain them in power. As David Scheffer, the former US ambassador on war crimes, has said:
XWe know from the ad hoc . . . tribunals for the former Yugoslavia . . . Rwanda and for Sierra Leone that indictments of alleged war criminals who lead tyrannical and genocidal regimes can destroy their political careers, isolate them internationally, end their regimes and even achieve justice."
That brings me to the point made by the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire. It is often forgotten that many of Saddam's many victims were British nationals. At the start of the Gulf war, more than 1,000 British citizens were taken hostage. Some died, some were raped, others were tortured, and all suffered fear and humiliation. By taking concrete action to ensure that British victims obtain justice, the UK Government could show that they will do everything to promote the rule of law and fight impunity for the most serious crimes, and that the UK's support for the International Criminal Court is more than just lip service.
More generally, deterrence—especially as regards the conduct of any future Iraqi Government who might follow the current regime—demands justice. It has been said that international law cannot be enforced in Iraq without the use of force—that indictments as well as resolutions are not worth much unless they are underwritten by the world's most powerful armies. Conversely, however, whatever action the international community eventually decides is necessary, the law, and ultimately justice, must underpin such action. The moral case for dealing with the threat posed by Saddam that engages both hearts and minds demands that justice be done for the victims and that the standard by which any future Administration are judged be clearly laid down.
It would seem that indictments, like military intervention, are a matter of political will. I ask my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, whose motion I will support tonight, why, if Governments are willing to commit the lives of members of their armed forces, they cannot also commit themselves to law and legal procedure through recourse to the courts.
It is with some sadness that I rise as only the second woman to speak in the debate. I remind the House and my sisters who are not present that, since the second world war, the overwhelming majority of casualties in conflict have been women and children. Women Members should be here to make our voices clearly heard.
I have no illusions about Saddam Hussein. Many years ago, a very good friend of mine was imprisoned by him and spent eight years in Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad. The previous Government were not very helpful at that time—it was before the Gulf war and they were somewhat friendly with the Iraqi Administration. They certainly gave the campaigners for that man's release no help whatever. I know from their stories and from those of others what a terrible dictator Saddam Hussein is. We know that he runs an evil regime and that he has damaged his people. That has been the case for decades, so we must ask why we have to take military action now. If there is a good new reason, we must be shown the evidence, and any action must have the full approval of the UN Security Council and the House of Commons.
In the interests of joined-up government, before we go to war again will the Secretary of State consider the unfinished business that we face all over the world? Do we have the capacity to cope? In Afghanistan, only $1 billion has so far been committed out of the billions that were promised, and 70 per cent. of that has been spent on humanitarian aid. There is no security in Afghanistan outside Kabul. Afghanistan has asked for an extension of the international security assistance force, but where will the extra help come from? Will it come from the United States or from Britain? Where will it come from if we are facing war in Iraq and the middle east? Very little progress has been made in Afghanistan despite the promises of the Prime Minister. It is unfinished business.
Many Members have rightly referred to the difficult situation in the middle east. It is worse than ever. The Palestinians have no hope and Israel is seen as the United States in the middle east. More unfinished business is sowing the seeds of, and continuing to fuel, Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism. The Government are strangely silent on the middle east—more unfinished business.
For many people, the Balkans are a distant memory, but it is still a very unstable region. Tens of thousands of people were displaced recently as a result of trouble in Macedonia. This year, only 6 per cent. of the aid promised in the famous Marshall plan for the Balkans has been delivered. That is yet more unfinished business. We are very good at destroying but not so good at rebuilding. I have not even mentioned Africa and, sadly, there is no time to do so. It has the most unfinished business of the lot.
It is unclear just what the situation is in Iraq. However, we know that the oil-for-food programme has failed in recent years. Saddam Hussein has recently allowed oil imports to drop and negotiations have stalled because of the current crisis. What tiny progress was being made on the programme has been destroyed and will be further destroyed if we go to war. Hundreds of thousands of people in Iraq will suffer. My hon. Friend Mr. Heath pointed out that there had been no mention so far of the humanitarian relief plans to be put in place for Iraq. The problem was bad enough in Kosovo. It was a long time before the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees got its head round dealing with the refugees there. Iraq presents an immensely greater problem, but we do not know what will happen.
What about the war on terrorism? Where is the connection with Iraq? Where is the proof? How can we afford to start a new war with Iraq when we face all these other problems? Can we risk further inflaming the world of Islam? As I said at the beginning of my speech, I want to see the back of Saddam Hussein as much as anyone else. However, we must ensure that, if we wage war on Iraq, it will help the war on terrorism and not make matters worse. We must wage war only with the authority of the UN Security Council and after a debate and vote in the House.
As the hon. Members for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) and for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) said, as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on the United Nations I led a cross-party delegation to the UN prior to the return of Hans Blix's team to Iraq. We met all five representatives of the permanent members of the Security Council, the representatives of the 10 elected members, Hans Blix and Dr. el-Baradei's first deputy. To reassure my neighbour, Dr. Tonge, we also met those at the UN who were working on humanitarian planning. As the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire said, we were most impressed by work on the oil-for-food programme in Iraq. The programme is a success and is restricted only by the obstacles put in its path by Saddam Hussein.
I support the main motion, especially in the light of the assurances and explanations given by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. I look forward to those being repeated by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence.
No, I do not have time.
In my eight minutes, I want to make two points that demonstrate clearly the use of UN Security Council resolution 1441, which gives the best possible route through immensely difficult terrain and ensures that the UN remains the ultimate linchpin of international law. First, it is important to appreciate that UNMOVIC is superior to its predecessor UNSCOM, which was discredited by accusations of infiltration and bias. Hans Blix made clear to us his determination to keep UNMOVIC independent and operationally objective. Dr. el-Baradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency has expressed similar priorities.
Independence is also necessary to ensure that common sense prevails in reporting possible obstructions to the inspection team's missions. Clearly, both team leaders are experienced and will not blow up minor incidents into major breaches. Yet at the same time they will be sufficiently thorough to ensure that the Security Council receives a full briefing of any problems encountered in-country. In that respect, Hans Blix has been quoted as rightly stating:
XThe question of war and peace remains, first of all in the hands of Iraq".
If Iraq chooses to create problems for the inspectors, they will report that to the Security Council.
Hans Blix made it clear to the all-party parliamentary group delegation that the Security Council—not he, UNMOVIC or the IAEA—would decide whether Iraq has committed a material breach. UNMOVIC will report the facts only. In deciding what constitutes a material breach, he also expects the Security Council to refer to the 1969 Vienna convention on the law of treaties, which he had a hand in writing, as the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire explained. As the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome said, Hans Blix expects weapons inspectors to come from middle eastern countries, but so far only Jordan has offered to participate. He suggested that qualified inspectors could come from Egypt, Algeria and Morocco. It is imperative that the UNMOVIC team is fully representative.
My hon. Friends the Members for Clydesdale (Mr. Hood) and for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) raised questions about support for the resolution in the middle east. The Syrian representative on the Security Council explained the wish of the Arab League for Iraq to declare and destroy its weapons of mass destruction. It is important in such circumstances for the Arab League to encourage its members to provide qualified experts to train as UNMOVIC weapons inspectors.
My second point is that the Iraqi notional timeline of events runs to March 2003. I very much hope that the Iraqi statement on
XAs we have said on numerous occasions to Council members, this resolution contains no 'hidden triggers' and no 'automaticity' with respect to the use of force. If there is a further Iraqi breach, reported to the council by UNMOVIC, the IAEA, or a member state, the matter will return to the council for discussions as required by paragraph 12."
I should like to pay tribute to the people who lobbied in private to ensure that that matter returned to the United Nations, given that just a few months ago it looked as though the US was ready to act unilaterally, sidelining the UN. A resident of my constituency, the distinguished diplomat Sir Brian Barder, wrote to me arguing that the Prime Minister's visit to Camp David may go down in the history books as equally significant as the visit made by Clement Attlee to Washington to persuade President Truman not to use nuclear weapons in the Korean war.
The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary should be commended on bringing the United States back to the UN and back to international law. Likewise, credit is due to Colin Powell for encouraging the present US Administration to work within the UN-authorised coalition. Sir Brian Barder also highlights the fact that it is imperative that we continue along that route. The UN has demonstrated its strength and we, in return, must show our commitment to its ultimate authority.
Finally, I am sure that my Putney constituents will be pleased that the motion commits us to return to the Security Council before taking any further action. I know that they will be glad that those events have strengthened the credibility of the UN as the final arbiter of the rule of international law.
The Government have tabled an uncontentious motion, but I hope that the Secretary of State for Defence will reply to the questions asked by my right hon. Friend Mr. Ancram and others who have spoken in our debate. The Foreign Secretary made clear what the House would be voting for. If there is a serious breach, it is not essential for the UN Security Council to carry another resolution for military action to be taken. Nevertheless, it would be desirable, and I am sure that the House is grateful for the Foreign Secretary's assurance that he would try to obtain one.
Her Majesty's Opposition cannot support the amendment tabled by the Liberal Democrats. Indeed, I invite hon. Members to vote against it. The amendment states, unlike UN resolution 1441, that
Xit is for the UN Security Council as a whole to determine" whether there has been a material breach. The resolution also does not stipulate that an express mandate from the Security Council is required for resolution 1441 to be enforced.
I listened carefully to the speeches by my hon. Friend Sir Peter Tapsell, my right hon. Friend Mr. Gummer, and my hon. Friend Mr. Goodman, who argued that any military action, whether carried out or just threatened, must be within international law. That is our position and it is also the commitment that the Government constantly give—we will hold them to that commitment.
It is perfectly clear from the resolution that that is entirely a matter for the weapons inspection team and Hans Blix. It puts a huge and onerous responsibility on him, and it is incumbent on all of us to give him our absolute trust and backing. He has the trust of Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary-General, the United States and our own Government, and we should trust his judgment.
The Liberal Democrat amendment tempts the House to exercise power over the Government by insisting on a further substantive vote. Again, the House should take comfort from the Foreign Secretary, who assured us of his best efforts in that regard, but we should also bear in mind the difficulties that such a stricture could create. The amendment surely raises much wider constitutional issues than the one that we are debating this evening. It is certainly an important issue, which the House should discuss, but such an innovation should not be introduced in the heat of the moment. I invite the Liberal Democrats to withdraw their amendment.
I assure the hon. Gentleman that the policy was not produced by my party in the heat of the moment. We have argued the same thing in the past. May I ask the hon. Gentleman a specific question? The Foreign Secretary said that our amendment might in some way put British troops in harm's way. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not agree with that. If he did, he would have automatically assumed that President Bush and the Senate were putting US troops in harm's way by their constitutional procedure. The amendment sets out a sensible procedure for getting all sides of the House behind such a resolution.
I am afraid that I do not agree. The hon. Gentleman is changing the rules of the game half way through the game. If we had a system whereby it was mandatory for the Government to get express backing from the House before military action, I expect that the Government would long ago have come to the House of Commons, in the same way as the President has gone to the United States Congress, and got a blank cheque to take whatever military action was necessary.
That is not the constitutional position in this country. [Interruption.] I hear Mr. Keetch say that it ought to be. Let him change the law, rather than trying to rush through an instant change in the heat of the moment. I point out to him that passing a resolution of the House would not alter the Crown prerogative. If he wants to change the Crown prerogative he needs to bring a Bill before the House. I suggest that he does that, so that we can have a proper debate about the issue, which he clearly thinks is important.
Unlike the hon. Gentleman, I do not mistrust the Government—[Laughter.]—on the matter. I accept the Foreign Secretary's assurances that he will do his utmost to consult the House on any future military action, and that he would convene the House as soon as possible after any military action if it became necessary to take such military action before the House had been able to meet.
I move on to the military affairs that arise from the debate. Last week the Secretary of State for Defence—[Interruption.] I shall quote the Secretary of State, so he might listen to the point—[Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman says that he is busy. That is what he is here for—to be busy. He told a now-famous press conference last week:
XWe have had a request for forces from the United States, but no decision has been taken on that and it does seem to me appropriate that I should set out in more detail our thinking on Monday in the parliamentary debate".
Much of the debate has been about the right of the House to be consulted on the decision to initiate military action. The people of this country have a right to know what is being committed in their name, and in his comments last week the Secretary of State seemed to recognise that. So far in the debate the House has not had the slightest indication what kind of military commitment the Government may be contemplating, despite the fact that there have been numerous indications in the press and media that the Government have quite a clear idea.
Last week, the Washington Post reported:
XBritish officials have said they expect at least two British units, the 1st Armoured Division and a light helicopter-borne air assault regiment, to take part in any offensive in Iraq".
Can the Secretary of State make any formal comment on that announcement? The approaching deadlines contained in UN Security Council resolution 1441 make it all the more extraordinary that the Government have not just failed to make any announcement, but have failed to give any warning orders to the Army units that might be required. All that is in the context of the comments made last week by the Chief of the Defence Staff. Those remarks deserve to go on the official record. When asked about the effect of the fire strikes on the armed forces, he said that he was Xextremely concerned" for two reasons.
With the permission of the House, I shall quote further. The Chief of the Defence Staff said:
XFirst I am concerned on the military effectiveness of our armed forces and secondly I am concerned at the impact on our individuals who are helping out in the firefighting situation. Clearly we don't have a box of 19,000 people standing by to be called upon to do firefighting. They must be drawn from operational units . . . and they have now been standing by since September when we started training for the duties, they are not doing their tasks of training for whatever eventuality may come in the future."
He went on to say:
XThere is also the problem . . . of impact on individuals because a lot of people have come straight off deployment from, say, Bosnia or Afghanistan and gone straight on to these duties without the benefit of any home time. That leaves a morale problem to be addressed as well."
He pointed out that Navy ships are tied up in port, RAF stations are not operating at full efficiency and soldiers are being withdrawn from battalions training in Germany. He explained that
Xwe are trying to husband some operational capability, but clearly we can't perform at the fullest end of our operational capability."
That bears out the warning that he gave to the Select Committee on Defence on
XIf there were a medium-sized operation, we would have great difficulty in coping with that."
That is a savage indictment of Labour's five years in office.
The strategic defence review, which everyone broadly supported—[Interruption.] Yes, that includes, broadly, the Opposition. The review envisaged that the UK would have the military capacity to sustain at any one time one major military operation, equivalent to the 1991 Gulf war, one minor operation, such as peacekeeping in the Balkans, and continued operations in Northern Ireland, Cyprus and so on. Is it not now abundantly clear that the armed forces do not begin to have the capacity to manage that level of commitment? Are we not now paying the price for a Government who have continued to spend less on defence in every year since the Conservatives left office? [Interruption.] The Secretary of State says that that is rubbish. I would bandy figures from the Library with him, but I do not think that the House wants to waste time on that.
The Government have left Britain totally unprepared for the unexpected. Despite the indications given by the Secretary of State last week, given the state of our armed forces, I doubt whether he is in a position to say much tonight that will add anything to the sum total of our knowledge. What military commitment has the US asked for and what are we likely to agree? If he cannot tell the House now, when will he be able to tell us? How long will it take to get our military commitment deployed and ready for carrying out military operations against Iraqi forces? Given that it takes eight to 12 weeks to get from the issuing of a warning order to deployment to move an armoured brigade into position, do not the Government intend to take very little risk at the outset of military action, because the main British force simply will not be there, as my hon. Friend Patrick Mercer pointed out?
Given the cuts in stocks and spares in the Ministry of Defence, what measures is the Secretary of State taking to ensure that UK military action will be sustainable for anything more than a few weeks? When will reservists be called up, how many will he call up and what warning will they get? What protection will British forces have against chemical and biological weapons, and particularly the VX nerve agent, to which the Foreign Secretary referred in his opening remarks? What preparations are the Government taking to deal with the humanitarian crisis that would be likely to follow military action if it becomes necessary—a point raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) and for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous)?
We are supporting the Government's motion, but that should not stifle our criticism of their defence policy. The nation is braced for the possibility of terrorist attack.
I am just finishing; the right hon. Gentleman will have plenty of opportunity.
At the same time, the Prime Minister is saying that we must be prepared to pay what he rather chillingly calls the Xblood price" of military action against Saddam. As the firemen start their strikes, we finally have it confirmed—the armed forces have been running on empty. There is nothing left in reserve.
The Government have taken on far more military commitments than they are prepared to fund. Overstretch has become a byword for the Government's defence policy. Our armed forces remain a benchmark of excellence; they are the finest in the world. The Government have let them down.
I regret the fact that Mr. Jenkin is not prepared to give way during a speech that criticises Her Majesty's armed forces and their consistent success. He cannot give a single example of failure by the armed forces in the five years since the Government took office. In a fairly typical contribution, the hon. Gentleman simply criticised and carped. He did not give any inkling of the official Opposition's policy, and he did not advocate an approach different from that of the Government. If he wants to criticise the way in which the armed forces operate, he should set out alternatives. He singularly failed to do that. Everyone, especially members of the armed forces, will note the Opposition's lack of a constructive contribution.
History should have taught us the dangers of not dealing effectively with ruthless dictators. We have no quarrel with the Iraqi people, but Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction must be destroyed to restore Iraq to its proper place in the international community. Today's debate has reinforced a straightforward position and demonstrated why the Government's approach to Iraq is right.
We have heard a great deal about the threat that Saddam Hussein poses to the international community and about his appalling human rights record. There will always be a range of sincerely held opinions on any international political issue. However, hon. Members are united on the necessity for Saddam Hussein to rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, as my hon. Friend Mr. Hendrick made clear. The Government are fully committed to that goal, as expressed in United Nations Security Council resolution 1441. With the United States and other members of the Security Council, we devoted many weeks of diplomatic effort to its negotiation. That is the answer to the various points that my hon. Friend Mr. Gerrard made. The unanimous adoption of the resolution is a significant diplomatic achievement. I hope that my hon. Friend Jeremy Corbyn will reflect on the fact that Syria voted for it. It is crucial to ensure that the resolution is implemented in full.
The Secretary of State mentioned history. Does not history show that although it is possible to kill individuals in a movement, that often serves to reinforce the group? The right hon. Gentleman implies that global terrorism and Saddam Hussein are connected. What is his response to those who believe that war could exacerbate the terrorist threat?
As I shall explain shortly, the point of securing the unanimous Security Council resolution is to give the Iraqi regime a last opportunity to rid the country of weapons of mass destruction. The Security Council agreed unanimously on that, and it is consistent with the main Liberal Democrat proposition. However, if Lembit Öpik believes that there are no circumstances in which the Security Council resolution should be supported through resort to force, he should say that more clearly.
I pointed out that Syria voted for the resolution. The recent history of the middle east is also relevant. Attacks on Iran and the invasion of Kuwait were hardly conducive to stabilisation in the middle east, but that is the sort of regime with which we must deal.
I emphasise that our approach is based on Iraq's disarmament, as my hon. Friend Mr. Hood underlined. Neither Britain nor the United States is looking for a pretext for military action, which is always a grave step, and which will certainly be a last resort. No member of the Government will risk British lives unnecessarily.
In 1967, Israel occupied Palestinian land. In that same year, the United Nations Security Council passed resolution 242 unanimously, demanding that Israel withdraw its armed forces from the occupied territories. Any proposal to implement that resolution was vetoed by the United States of America. Israel has defied 32 United Nations resolutions. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, without bringing peaceful resolution to the middle east conflict, there can be no peace?
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary dealt with those issues at some length in his opening speech, and I do not intend to repeat all that he said. I want to make it clear, however, that the Government want to see the implementation of United Nations resolutions. We are not discriminating between different resolutions. Those to which my hon. Friend Mr. Sarwar refers should indeed be enforced. We want to see them enforced—involving, as they do, obligations on a number of different states.
We expect Saddam Hussein to have the survival instinct, at any rate, to co-operate with UNMOVIC and to comply with resolution 1441, but we cannot exclude the possibility that he will fail to do so. Let us not delude ourselves. All our experience shows that Saddam Hussein has only ever complied with the will of the international community when diplomacy has been backed by a credible threat of force. That point was made extremely well by my right hon. Friend Mr. George.
My right hon. Friend is rightly outlining the Saddam paradox, in which the more unambiguous the international community becomes in threatening the use of force, the less likely that might be to have to take place. The Foreign Secretary also mentioned that. May I put to my right hon. Friend what I might call the Rumsfeld paradox? That is that the more unambiguous the international community becomes, the greater will be the danger of creating an ambiguity about how far the United Nations should be part of the process. Will he tell the House how that paradox can be resolved?
Like a good lawyer, I am tempted to ask for further and better particulars on that question. The whole point of our approach is to give Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi regime one last opportunity to accept the will of the international community, as unanimously expressed in the Security Council resolution. That will be far more effective if it is backed up by the use of force.
I really need to make progress. I cannot take interventions on my replies to interventions at this stage. I will, however, give way to my hon. Friend in a second.
Our only responsible course is to continue with the prudent preparations and planning necessary for military action. This does not mean a commitment to undertake such action in any circumstances, but it does mean that we will continue to take appropriate steps to ensure that British forces are ready, and that they have the training, equipment and support that they need to be able to undertake military action, should it prove necessary. Large numbers of troops are, of course, currently engaged in providing emergency fire cover, and that represents a considerable commitment for our armed forces. They have responded with their customary professionalism and flexibility, but we all hope that the firefighters' dispute will be quickly resolved.
I visited troops providing emergency fire cover on Saturday morning, and I was struck by their enthusiasm for taking part and helping the British people here at home. Having routinely served Britain overseas, they were clearly delighted to play their part in the United Kingdom. But, to deal with one of the questions raised by Mr. Ancram, it is important to put this commitment in context. There are 19,000 service men and women, out of a total of some 190,000, committed to firefighting duties. Around 6,000 of their colleagues are currently on overseas deployments, such as those in Afghanistan and the Balkans, and 13,500 are in Northern Ireland. In June 1999, at the height of the Kosovo campaign, 44 per cent. of the Army was committed to operations. In October this year, it was 27 per cent. Now that we are committed to providing firefighting cover, the figure has risen to 35 per cent. I do not underestimate the extent of our commitments at home and world wide. The armed forces are certainly very busy, but they have been busier. I can give the House this assurance: our troops are ready to undertake any task that their country may ask of them.
I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way, and he has indeed moved on a little. Does he agree that resolution 1441 gives the Iraqis every opportunity, not least because the time that they have to disclose the existence of weapons of mass destruction has been doubled compared with that provided for in any previous UN resolution?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. As a number of Members have said, this is a thorough resolution unanimously agreed by the Security Council, and it gives Iraq and the regime there every opportunity to accept the international community's terms.
The Secretary of State referred to troops whom he visited on Saturday. Were they troops whose exercise has been cancelled, such as the Scots Guards who should be out in Kenya training on an exercise for which they have been preparing for over 12 months? Were those troops supposed to be elsewhere on duties that they are trained to perform, or were they simply waiting to perform the duties of the fire service?
No one has ever sought to disguise the fact that those 19,000 members of the armed forces should be doing something other than providing emergency fire cover. I am amazed that the hon. Gentleman thinks that he has asked a devastating question in pointing that out. It has been clearly stated by Ministers and, of course, by the Chief of the Defence Staff. Those troops should be exercising or training. Many—let us make it clear—should be on leave, but they are providing the cover that the country needs.
One disappointment about the speech made from the Conservative Front Bench is that it failed to recognise that as an issue which the Opposition, just as much as the Government, must grapple with. Responsible political parties have to think through such issues and not simply set out a series of criticisms. We are dealing with those issues and setting out the course that a responsible Government have to take. Frankly, the Opposition and the hon. Gentleman coming to the House with such a cynical view does not, I am afraid, say a great deal about how they are preparing themselves.
No, I will not.
The Opposition are preparing themselves for opposition; there is no sign whatever of them preparing for government.
A number of Members raised the issue of what would constitute a material breach of the UN Security Council resolution and how that might lead to military action.
Others have linked that issue to the position of coalition patrols of the Iraqi no-fly zones. The coalition patrols in the no-fly zones are in support of UN Security Council resolution 688. As participants in the coalition, our aircrew face daily attacks from Iraqi anti-aircraft artillery and surface-to-air missiles. I pay tribute to the service men and women who are and who have been deployed in the region, carrying out that difficult and dangerous humanitarian task.
Coalition patrols are justified under international law. As Members will recall, they were set up in response to an overwhelming humanitarian necessity. Let me be clear about this: Iraqi action against our aircraft is contrary to international law, but the focus of resolution 1441 is disarmament of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and UNMOVIC provides a mechanism to take that forward. It is for UNMOVIC to verify the accuracy and completeness of Iraq's declaration.
Mr. Clarke raised the question of a nil or trivial declaration from Iraq. It would clearly not be difficult for UNMOVIC to disprove such a declaration and report it to the Security Council. It is clear that the first step on receipt of such a report or a report of Iraqi non-co-operation would be for the Security Council to meet. Equally, I draw Members' attention to the final part of paragraph 3 of the UN Security Council resolution, which refers to the fact that
Xas well as all other chemical, biological, and nuclear programmes"
Iraq has an obligation to include
Xany which it claims are for purposes not related to weapon production or material".
My right hon. Friend Donald Anderson asked how well prepared UNMOVIC is. There are two important points to make. First, UNMOVIC is backed by a tougher inspection regime, as set out in resolution 1441, than was its predecessor, UNSCOM. For example, the so-called presidential and other sensitive sites no longer provide Saddam with havens for his weapons of mass destruction.
Secondly, the international community is more determined than ever to support UNMOVIC and see an end to Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Her Majesty's Government are fully committed to the provision of the necessary support to UNMOVIC and we are in direct discussions with the UN on how best we can assist if it finds that it needs further help.
Let me now deal with the request for support by the United States. As Members will know, the United States has approached a number of countries, including the United Kingdom, seeking support in the event that military action proves necessary. Although no decision has been made to commit UK forces to military action, discussions with the US will continue so that an appropriate British contribution can be identified should it prove necessary.
It is important to put the request in its proper context. There is no inevitability about military action. The US is clear about the fact that the issue is Iraqi disarmament—a process that will benefit the whole international community, including the Iraqi people themselves, not simply the United States. As President Bush said at the Prague summit last week,
XOur first choice is not to use the military option. Our first choice is for Saddam Hussein to disarm".
Those who have accused the US of unilateralism should consider carefully. The US Government have followed an impeccably multilateral approach, first in building unanimous Security Council support for resolution 1441 and now in seeking to build broad-based support for military action should it be required. Achieving the resolution's aims is our goal, but we must recognise that the process will break down if Iraq fails to co-operate. None of us can predict whether, how or when that might happen; but within the limits imposed by these uncertainties, we have been considering the contribution we might be able to make if military action ultimately becomes necessary.
At this stage it would be inappropriate to go into details of the size and shape of forces that might be involved, for two specific reasons. First, as events unfold and time passes, plans will inevitably evolve. It would be misleading to describe specific force packages today as if they had some permanent and definitive status. I am sure that even Mr. Jenkin is able to understand that. Secondly, as I am sure the House appreciates, I have no intention of assisting Saddam Hussein's contingency planning.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way—although my sitting down five minutes early gave him a good deal of extra time.
It is fair to ask what the right hon. Gentleman intends to have ready. He will presumably have to tell the forces concerned what he will have ready. The fact that he has nothing ready yet suggests that we will not be in the theatre of potential conflict until long after many of the UN deadlines have passed.
I am willing to arrange for the hon. Gentleman to be given a comprehensive briefing in the Ministry of Defence on the kinds of forces that the UK routinely has ready. It is, in fact, a question of readiness. As I have said, I will not describe the full range of equipment and personnel that could be made available. As I have also said, we cannot assist Saddam Hussein's contingency planning by giving information such as that for which the hon. Gentleman has asked. If he thought about it for a few more minutes, he would probably realise that giving such information would not be sensible.
The same answer can be given to the various points made by the Liberal Democrat spokesman, the hon. Member for Tweeddale. I am sorry; I cannot remember the rest of his constituency. [Hon. Members: XTweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale".] Yes, Mr. Moore.
It is not possible to give that kind of detail. I think the hon. Gentleman's speech left many Labour Members rather puzzled. Having put his name to an amendment that is to be voted on, he barely addressed the reasons for that amendment—which, I am afraid, left many believing that this might be an example of the sort of opportunism about which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister complained earlier today. It was surprising that the hon. Gentleman devoted much of his speech to anything other than the Liberal Democrat amendment.
The right hon. Member for Devizes asked for details of military preparations. I know that the House will understand my reasons—which I have given—for not wishing to be drawn on all the details of our contingency planning, but it may be helpful if I say a word about reserve forces—about which a number of Members have asked questions in recent weeks—and military equipment.
Let me make it clear that we have not called out any reservists for possible military action against Iraq, and have no immediate plans to do so. As the House is well aware, however, any substantial military operation would require a contribution from the reserves. As part of our contingency planning, therefore, we are clarifying the requirement for such a contribution in support of any military operations in Iraq. We will be doing exploratory work initially, within the chain of command and more widely with other Departments. In due course, however, it may become necessary, on an informal basis, to sound out members of reservist formed units or individual reservists, and their employers, as to their circumstances and hence their availability for operations, in advance of a formal call-out. That will not involve reservists entering into any formal commitments. I have no doubt that, as soon as we begin such soundings, that will be misinterpreted and misrepresented as mobilisation by stealth, but I emphasise that at this stage I have only authorised planning activity.
I can also assure the House that when we judge that we need to call out reservists in preparation for potential military action, there will be a formal call-out order under the Reserve Forces Act 1996, and any decision to make such a call-out will, of course, be announced first to the House; but the House should be clear: we are not yet at that point. Nor do we need to be at that point.
Similarly, as part of the planning and preparation processes, we have been considering potential additional military equipment capability requirements. The Government are committed to equipping the armed forces for a range of contingencies, but specific operational environments and scenarios often require special priority to be given to particular capabilities. That is why we have been taking action to meet certain capability requirements as quickly as possible. In many cases, that involves accelerating existing programmes; in other cases, it involves new procurements against short time scales.
For example, we are bringing forward the purchase of further temporary deployable accommodation, and we are enhancing our medical support through improved hygiene facilities in deployed field hospitals and improvements to our ambulances. We will further improve the ability of our forces to handle and to exploit secure communications.
A number of lessons have been identified based on equipment performance in Exercise Saif Sareea 2, particularly with regard to the performance of the Challenger 2 tank, the AS 90 and desert clothing and boots. As I am sure the hon. Gentleman and the House are aware, problems with Challenger 2 were mainly related to the ingestion of large quantities of sand. The filters were dealing with in the order of 25 kg of dust each hour. The AS 90 performed reliably for much of Saif Sareea 2 but suffered certain difficulties owing to extreme operating temperatures.
Those matters have been addressed. The MOD is working to ensure that the necessary modifications are made to improve the performance of Challenger 2 and the AS 90 in desert conditions. I can assure the House that United Kingdom forces will be fully prepared in good time for any future operations. I doubt that the House would expect me to go into precise detail as to all the modifications, but I can assure right hon. and hon. Members that the equipment will perform as necessary in those particular conditions.
The contract, for example, for Challenger 2 has now been let, and the work will be proceeding in order to ensure that those lessons are learned. [Hon. Members: XWhen?"] There is no point in hon. Members shouting out XWhen?", because the answer to that question—[Interruption.] Again, Opposition Members should think about it calmly and sensibly. I am not going to give the answer because that would give away a significant aspect of what we are preparing for. Any sort of careful thought on the matter would give Opposition Members the opportunity to realise that.
As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary—
rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.
Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.