Orders of the Day — UN Security Council Resolution 1441

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:24 pm on 25th November 2002.

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Photo of Peter Luff Peter Luff Opposition Whip (Commons) 7:24 pm, 25th November 2002

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.