North Atlantic Council

– in the House of Commons at 12:30 pm on 11th February 2003.

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Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Shadow Secretary of State for Defence 12:30 pm, 11th February 2003

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement about yesterday's meeting of the North Atlantic Council.

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence

The North Atlantic Council has been examining the technical procedure for tasking NATO military authorities to undertake contingency planning to deter or defend against a possible—[Hon. Members: "Where is he?"]

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission

Order. That is bad manners. I have granted an urgent question, which a Minister is required to answer. The Minister is here and should be heard.

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission

Order. The hon. Gentleman has been here long enough to know that points of order are taken after the urgent question.

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence

Perhaps I should begin again because I do not know whether the country heard the answer that I was giving to the request for an urgent question. The Secretary of State is on his way to Washington to undertake important consultations with a major ally. [Interruption.] I am pleased that Mr. Jenkin shows some sensitivity.

The North Atlantic Council has been examining the technical procedure for tasking the NATO military authorities to undertake contingency planning to deter or defend against a possible threat to Turkey. Yesterday, three allies broke the silence procedure. They sought further information on the timing of such tasking. I emphasise that there is no debate on the need for the alliance to provide assistance to a NATO member if so requested.

Yesterday, Turkey requested consultations under article 4 of the north Atlantic treaty. The North Atlantic Council meeting that was scheduled for this morning has been adjourned until 4.30 pm Brussels time for further consideration of the proposal. It is too early to speculate on the outcome of the continuing deliberations.

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Shadow Secretary of State for Defence

First, it is astonishing that the Government had to be dragged to the Dispatch Box to discuss a major international crisis in NATO instead of voluntarily making a statement. It is even more astonishing that the Secretary of State did not come to the House yesterday, when we asked for a statement, instead of scuttling out of the country, albeit on legitimate business, to avoid cross-examination.

The Opposition broadly continue to support the Government's determination to disarm Saddam Hussein. We gave our fullest support to UN resolution 1441, which demanded

"a currently accurate, full and complete declaration".

That has not been forthcoming. It also stated that Saddam Hussein should

"co-operate fully in the implementation of this resolution".

He has not done that. It further demanded

"immediate, unimpeded, unconditional and unrestricted access".

He has failed to provide that. Resolution 1441 also made it clear that it was a final opportunity for Saddam to comply, and that failure to do that would mean serious consequences.

It is now time for all those who supported United Nations resolution 1441 to hold to their course. Times when international unity is of such paramount importance are rare. The world and the people whom we represent demand clarity, resolve and unity. I warn the Minister that we are worried about the Government's undermining of British public opinion with such appalling, reprehensible and cack-handed initiatives as the dodgy dossier that No. 10 published last week. Can it be overstated how utterly counterproductive that action has proved to be? How can the Prime Minister now restore his personal authority after he has been so abjectly found out? When did the Secretary of State or the Minister first see the document? Did they give their approval for its publication?

Even more importantly, unless Europe and the United States can unite, what hope is there that other nations or our own people will follow our lead? All the Saddam Husseins and bin Ladens of this world must be delighted with the allies' present splits and confusion. The Queen's Speech reaffirmed just a few months ago that NATO was

"the cornerstone of Britain's national security."—[Hansard, House of Lords, 13 November 2002; Vol. 641, c. 4.]

NATO is needed above all today to be the focus of international unity. Instead, it faces an unprecedented crisis because of the French-led refusal to allow it even to plan for the defence of one of its member states. It is a pity that the Secretary of State's prior engagements prevented him from attending the Munich security conference with me at the weekend. All the other NATO Defence Ministers were discussing this issue there. What hope is there for our peace and security in Europe if this cornerstone of our security structure is now crumbling? What action are the Government taking to shore up the Atlantic alliance?

I have to tell the Minister—he will not wish to be reminded—that I and my colleagues have long been warning that the Government's support for the European Union's foreign and defence policy was playing into the hands of those who would destroy NATO. Today's chaos stems directly from the St. Malo declaration of 1998, which gave birth to an autonomous EU defence capability outside NATO. This was followed by EU declarations from Helsinki, Cologne, Nice, Faro, Copenhagen and, to cap it all, last week's Le Touquet summit with France. What on earth possessed the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister to sign a declaration last week with President Chirac proclaiming, with a certain irony, that

"European security and defence policy should match the worldwide ambitions of the EU's common foreign and security policy"?

It is just a few days later—that declaration has hardly stood the test of time. It just added to the chaos that the Prime Minister first created at St. Malo.

Even if France eventually supports a second resolution, and joins in military action against Iraq, how will the Secretary of State and the Government prevent the minority in Europe from continuing to undermine NATO? The Government's complacency about NATO, about which we have been warning for years, has now been overwhelmed by events. We have always argued consistently that NATO must remain the paramount alliance for British and European security—the cornerstone of Britain's security.

Will the Government now commit themselves to restoring the primacy of NATO in Europe—a move that could command majority support in Europe, as it is France, Belgium and Germany that are now isolated? Will the Government now stop promoting EU security structures outside the NATO alliance, and put their diplomatic money where their mouth is and stop aiding and abetting France and its long-held ambition to destroy NATO?

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence

Let me try to deal with all the salient questions that the hon. Gentleman asked. There were not many. First, the Government have not been dragged to the House on this issue. We have responded to this urgent request, and our assessment of it was set out in the response that I gave to the hon. Gentleman. I hope that he listened to that, but if he did not absorb what I said at the time, he should read it tomorrow in Hansard.

The hon. Gentleman described the Secretary of State "scuttling out of the country". That is a very strange description of a senior Minister meeting our major ally as we seek to deal with one of the greatest crises that we have faced for a long, long time. That relates not to the future of NATO, but to all matters pertaining to Iraq and what will flow from it.

The hon. Gentleman referred to resolution 1441. He should be aware, as I am sure the country is only too well aware, that the Government have made their position clear time after time. We are determined that Saddam Hussein be held to account to the will of the international community. That is set out in resolution 1441, and in the 16 resolutions that preceded it.

The headline, as it were, for the hon. Gentleman's comments was the "dodgy dossier". That dossier is a Government document based, as is stated on the front cover, on a number of sources, including intelligence material. The first and third sections, which gave rise to most of the media coverage of its publication, are based largely on intelligence material. The first describes the extreme lengths to which Saddam has gone to hide his weapons and obstruct the inspectors: fact. The third describes the impact of the regime on the Iraqi people: fact. The second section describes the way in which the regime is structured: fact. Some of that is based on a work by Dr. Ibrahim al-Marashi, which, as has been made clear in retrospect, should have been acknowledged. [Interruption.] I ask the hon. Gentleman and others who find this humorous to bear in mind that I have listed the three facts on which the dossier is based. Do they disagree with any of those facts?

Let me now deal with the great moment in my life that occurred at the weekend, when I recognised that the hon. Gentleman was at the same conference as me in Munich. I did not know he was going; the Secretary of State did not know he was going. Perhaps if the Secretary of State had known that the hon. Gentleman was going, he would have changed his arrangements in order to hear the wonderful contribution that the hon. Gentleman made. The hon. Gentleman will have heard me, at the closing session of the conference, setting out very clearly our position on matters to which I have referred before, and also on some of the debate that was emerging over that weekend.

During a series of questions based on his obsession with the European Union, the hon. Gentleman alighted on his obsession with the French. Let me say this about NATO and the European security and defence policy and all that flows from it. All the NATO countries support this development; America supports it. Our reason for proceeding on those two fronts is to do with lifting capabilities so that there can be the best delivery and best possible interoperability in order to meet the threats that must be faced on a range of fronts.

If there is any doubt in the hon. Gentleman's mind that NATO is the cornerstone of the Government's security policy, I ask him to look at all the answers that have been given time and again. We have never called into question NATO and our commitment to it. Moreover, if the hon. Gentleman examines our present involvement in current decisions on Iraq, he will see that we are standing alongside the majority in NATO, trying to find a resolution to a difficult question.

Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman Chair, Culture, Media and Sport Committee

Mr. Jenkin demonstrated the Conservative party's ability to sink to any occasion. Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that those of us who support the Government's determination to pursue the United Nations route, and who commend the Prime Minister's quest for a second Security Council resolution if need be, are nevertheless deeply concerned about the possibility that the "bull in a china shop" antics of Donald Rumsfeld will inflict serious damage on NATO cohesion, and also demonstrate how important it is for the Government to stress the fact that the next important stage in the essential disarming of Saddam Hussein is the appearance of the inspectors' report on Friday?

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his broad support for the Government's approach. We have said where the Government's preference lies on the second resolution, but I should point out that in fact, it would be not the second resolution but the 18th. I shall not respond to his criticisms of the United States Secretary of Defence, whom I heard at the Munich conference give a very clear exposition of what needs to be done in support of the United Nations. The United States clearly has very strong views on this issue, and I would guess that the vast majority of the countries that were represented at that conference wholly supported his arguments. There were differences among one or two countries on the question of how we move forward, but that is the nature of an alliance. If differences exist, they have got to be expressed and understood by all the other members of the alliance. Then, we must find a consensus in order to move forward.

My right hon. Friend concluded by mentioning the need to ensure that Saddam Hussein does disarm—a point that we have made time and again. If he is not going to disarm in line with the will of the international community, he will be made to disarm.

Photo of Paul Keetch Paul Keetch Liberal Democrat, Hereford

I welcome this timely question from the shadow Defence Secretary, and I congratulate him on it. The reality is that one thing is certain in NATO, in this House and in the country: the case for war has not yet been proved by this Government, and anything that can help to inform the British public about the very important times ahead is to be welcomed. Does the Minister agree that the responsibility for resolving the current crisis in NATO lies with both sides, and that we must not allow multilateral treaties, international law or even the UN and NATO to become collateral damage in the legitimate desire to disarm Iraq? Allies on both sides of the Atlantic should take a step back and tone down the rhetoric.

Does the Minister agree that it is rather contradictory of the French to block planning on the ground that it will endorse war, while at the same time dispatching the Charles de Gaulle to the east of the Mediterranean? Does he also agree that if Turkey requests protection under article 4, it should be granted? France, Germany and Belgium have made their point—they should back down now. Does the Minister further agree that our focus should be on disarming Iraq, preferably through peaceful means, and not on squabbling within NATO? The allies have disagreed before, and no doubt they will disagree again. If Britain has a pivotal role to play, as the Prime Minister claims, now is the time to play it.

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence

Let me disagree with the hon. Gentleman's saying that the case has not been made. I do not think that he has been listening to what Hans Blix reported to the United Nations, or to the questions that he then raised, which still need to be answered. However, if the hon. Gentleman is still not convinced, he should wait until 14 February, when the final report is made; he should not close his mind now and make a prejudgment. This has been a balanced process.

I shared a platform with the hon. Gentleman not that long ago, when he made the bold statement that the Liberal Democrats would tell this Government that they should not be dictated to by the United Nations. I do not know exactly what he meant by that—perhaps he will have the opportunity to clarify his position during another debate. I know that his party is split between those who are anti-war, who will be marching this weekend, and those who are saying, "Let's not march." So they are all over the place on this issue, including the very leadership of the party. He made a typical Liberal Democrat response—[Interruption.]

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission

Order. The House is far too noisy. I point out that there was a great deal of keenness yesterday to get an urgent question. That request was put and, obviously, granted. I ask only that the Minister be allowed to respond. Also, when further questions are asked, they should be very brief.

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence

Mr. Keetch said that the fault for the crisis lay with both sides. I do not accept that at all. Indeed, I see no question of fault in this matter. What I see is argumentation as the different countries in NATO try to articulate their position. The Government's position is clear: we stand with 16 of the 19 NATO members in moving towards providing the very thing that the hon. Gentleman said that he wanted, in the final part of his question.

This is about solidarity with Turkey and about defending a NATO member. It is not about NATO involvement in any operations against Iraq. The proposals to the NAC amount to prudent planning for defence and deterrence in relation to one ally, Turkey. They are consistent with NATO responsibilities and obligations. They do not imply any automaticity of NATO actions or deployments. We are obviously disappointed that three allies broke silence about what we believed were sensible proposals put forward by NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson. The lack of consensus is to do with timing, not substance. The large majority of allies believe that prudent planning should begin now.

Those discussions continue. The hon. Member for Hereford has used rhetoric and bluster to try to allocate fault and say that one nation is worse than another. That is no way for allies to go forward. The hon. Gentleman asks that the rhetoric be toned down, but he exacerbates it with his bluster.

Photo of Mr Derek Foster Mr Derek Foster Labour, Bishop Auckland

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, although this is a great crisis in NATO, it is more a sad comment on the parlous state of a once-great party? The Conservative Opposition have turned the crisis into an excuse for slagging off the French and the EU. Will not that seriously undermine the prospects for getting a second resolution in the UN, and a peaceful resolution of the Iraq crisis?

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence

My right hon. Friend makes the important point at the end of his question. The aim is to resolve the situation in Iraq. All of us wish that that can be done by peaceful means, but only Saddam Hussein can deliver the peaceful route. He can do that by delivering on what the UN has said in resolution after resolution. I am sure that, if we get a second resolution—although I repeat that it will be the 18th resolution on this matter—all allies will respond to the will of the UN, as set out in that determination. That is what we, collectively, must work to achieve.

I do not believe that this is a great crisis for NATO, as my right hon. Friend Mr. Foster suggested at the beginning of his question. Those who study the history of the organisation will know that it has been at crisis' door before. Problems tend to get resolved, as all the allies share the same objectives—to defend borders and provide security, as well as to ensure peace and stability throughout the world.

Photo of Peter Lilley Peter Lilley Conservative, Hitchin and Harpenden

I am one of those Opposition Members who are predisposed to support the Government on matters of national security. We have urged those of our constituents who have found the case less than compelling to trust the Prime Minister, on the ground that he must have intelligence information not available to us. Does the Minister realise that the publication of a document suggesting that the Government had so little information that they had to pad more than 50 per cent. of the document with material culled from the internet undermines the support that we have given, betrays Labour Back Benchers, and embarrasses those allies that rested their defence in the UN on that document? Who accepts responsibility for publishing the document? Have they resigned?

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence

I do not know whether anyone has resigned yet, but I am sure that, if that were to happen in the future, there would be great excitement among Labour Back-Bench Members about a possible reshuffle. I am grateful for the support of the right hon. Gentleman, and of those hon. Members who have looked at the facts of the situation, at the barbarity of Saddam Hussein's regime, and at the way he has consistently refused to accept the will of the international community. The right hon. Gentleman should think about what I said earlier in response to Mr. Jenkin—that the dossier was based on three significant facts. The right hon. Gentleman should go forward consistently with those messages. In that way, I am sure that he will continue to build support in his constituency for what we believe to be right.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

Does not the Minister accept that the stance taken by the French and some other countries in this time of crisis reflects a desire for peace rather than war? Is not it time that the Government reflected on the feeling, around the world and in this country, that George Bush is leading us by the nose into a war that is neither necessary nor wanted by anyone, and which will result in an awful lot of deaths of innocent people? Is not it time to stop, reflect—and, possibly, to turn around for once?

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence

I do not accept the premise of that question. All countries in the UN, and certainly the members of the Security Council, are committed to peace and not war. That is certainly true of those countries that may find themselves engaged in the conflict. Everything that this country has done with its allies has been aimed at finding a peaceful solution. I should respect my hon. Friend more if, in his question, he had condemned Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi regime. I heard nothing from him about that. We get an anti-American rant all the time, from people who forget that the matter is about the will of the UN. I disagree with my hon. Friend's premise, but I join him in wanting peace. He should come over to our side and help to show a unity of purpose among democratic countries. In that way, that tyrant and dictator can be thrown out.

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Conservative, Suffolk Coastal

Does the Minister accept, on reflection, that the Government are not convincing large numbers of people? Does it not therefore behove the Government to show that they are open in these matters? Would not it have been better if the Secretary of State for Defence had come to the House of his own volition yesterday and made the statement that the Minister has now made? Would it not have been better if someone had explained to the House before about what has come to be called the "dodgy" document? Would it not be better now if the House were to have a proper debate of this matter, on a substantive motion, so that the public could be reassured? The Minister must understand that many of us would like to say, "Trust the Prime Minister," but that we are unable to do so, given the evidence that is before us. Will he accept that this is a serious crisis, in this country as well as everywhere else?

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence

I do not think that the Government have said anything to indicate that we are not aware of the significant amount of doubt in people's minds, both in Britain and internationally. That doubt is evident in the US and every European country, and in other countries too. We have to accept that. As to openness, we have lost count of the number of statements made and of the number of the debates held on the matter. The arguments have been given proper ventilation. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that the matter will be determined not in the House, but in the UN. To my mind, and I suspect that the right hon. Gentleman agrees, Secretary Powell made a powerful and convincing case for the current position in Iraq, based on the inspectors' analysis. Another report will be made on 14 February. The strength and quality of the arguments in that report will be what convinces people in this country, across Europe and in the US. When that is explained, we have to ensure that we stand behind the UN when and if it determines through a second resolution that further action is required, if Saddam Hussein, at that stage, is still not complying with the will of the UN. It has to be determined at the bar of that house as well as at the Bar of this House.

Photo of Glenda Jackson Glenda Jackson Labour, Hampstead and Highgate

Is it not the case that the Government have markedly failed to convince the British people, most centrally because people have lost trust in that Government? It was not the dossier that my constituents found dodgy but the Government's attempt to present it as exclusively the work of British intelligence agencies and as containing up-to-date material. My constituents are also concerned that the Prime Minister gave a clear commitment that a decision on whether to deploy British troops would be for our Government, our House of Commons and our people—a commitment that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence completely overturned last Thursday, using the somewhat lame argument of security. Surely the Government must understand that, if the people of this country are to be convinced, far from setting themselves up against the proposals that have been made by France, Germany and, yes, plucky little Belgium, and if the Prime Minister is determined to go down—

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence

In my earlier answer, I tried to deal with the way in which we are taking forward the debate on whether we had trust. We have to make the arguments and win them. That is clearly the case for any matter of great importance. I recall, however, some of the lurid language that was used in the House—mainly by my hon. Friends—when we debated Afghanistan. They asked what would happen if there were bombing attacks on Afghanistan and said that if we put troops into the country the whole Islamic world would go up in flames and we would be faced with a cataclysmic response such as we had never seen before. They were wrong then and I ask them to reflect on that this time.

I note that my hon. Friend Glenda Jackson spoke about trust in "that" Government. I remind her that the Government are her Government. She stood on that manifesto and I hope that she can find trust both in the Prime Minister and in the Ministers who are trying to take forward some difficult decisions on behalf of the party to which I am proud to belong and to which I hope she, too, remains proud to belong—

Hon. Members:

Oh!

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence

On the question of commitment and the deployment of our troops and resources, that rests with the Government and with this country and, ultimately, with the House of Commons.

Photo of Mr Michael Portillo Mr Michael Portillo Conservative, Kensington and Chelsea

I draw attention to a registered interest.

Does the Minister agree that the action that has been taken by France, Belgium and Germany is a severe blow to the alliance? Does he not recognise that that display of disunity within the alliance actually makes it less likely that this matter can be resolved peacefully? Will he confirm that in Kosovo and in Bosnia Europe was unable to settle matters and had to call upon NATO to do so? Does he, therefore, agree that the result of this action is more likely to damage Europe than the United States? Finally, is it not naive of the Minister not to admit that a longstanding French objective has been to achieve defence arrangements for Europe that do not involve America?

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence

The right hon. Gentleman accuses me of being naive, but I do not think that I was asked a question on that point, so it is not a matter of refusing to admit to anything. We can all have a view on the geopolitical stance of our allies and neighbours, and every country comes to its conclusion in a different way. That is what makes the strength of the alliance; we can hold and articulate different points of view and find a way forward. I think I have already replied on the way forward for the European Union, the European security and defence policy and NATO—they are complementary and NATO remains a cornerstone of our security policy.

I do not accept that this situation is a severe blow, because it depends on how one defines "severe"—[Hon. Members: "Oh."] Well, Lord Robertson may use a different definition from the right hon. Gentleman's. Lord Robertson has said that, yes, there are difficulties. However, consultations are going on and there will be another discussion at 16.30 and there may be further discussions. What are those discussions about? Reaching consensus. Let us wait and see the end of the process and not jump in halfway through, as the right hon. Gentleman's party has done.

Photo of Mr Donald Anderson Mr Donald Anderson Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee, Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee

Would my right hon. Friend confirm that the fundamental purpose of NATO is to provide mutual self-defence for its members—one for all and all for one? To deny a loyal ally—Turkey—that defence when it is needed undermines the very purpose of the alliance. If that door is blocked by certain countries, will my right hon. Friend confirm that we will ensure, in co-operation with the United States and the Netherlands, that our ally, Turkey, receives that help in terms of Patriots, AWACS, aircraft and planning? Will my right hon. Friend also give the Government's position on Monday's proposed EU conference on Iraq? Is it not true that, at this stage, that can only further illustrate the disunity in the European Union and cast doubts on the possibility of a common foreign and security policy?

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence

With respect to my right hon. Friend, may I ask him to put some of those questions to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office? They do not relate specifically to what is happening in NATO and the discussions that are taking place.

I accept that there are linkages, but the way forward will be progressive. There is potential for damage at the moment, but any breaches that arise will be healed. That is the history of NATO and the same will apply—if it does not already—in any ESDP or in the relationships between EU countries.

The role of NATO is about mutual self-defence. I have set out exactly what is happening. If Turkey comes under attack or is threatened by attack, the countries that are currently seeking a different approach— France, Germany and Belgium—have made it clear that they will stand 100 per cent. by their commitment to NATO. There is no question about that. Let us put the matter in its true context.

Photo of Francis Maude Francis Maude Conservative, Horsham

Is not the point that Turkey needs protection before it comes under immediate threat? I strongly support what Donald Anderson said: Britain should be prepared to come Turkey's aid even before there is a NATO resolution.

On the dossier, which the Minister has accepted was unfortunately misrepresented, why cannot he just say sorry?

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence

Well, the right hon. Gentleman—[Interruption.] I am a bit perplexed as to why we are talking about the dossier when the question was about NATO and the current situation that some people are calling a crisis. However, I understand that the linkages can be made, that the matter is for discussion and that as I am the first relevant Minister to come to the Dispatch Box, I am being asked all these questions about it. I answered in depth on the Government's approach to the dossier. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to look again at the facts in the dossier; if he then disagrees with the dossier, he can call it anything that he wishes.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about whether Turkey needed support now. Perhaps I have not been clear enough and he has not understood the Government's position. The answer is yes, but as I have said, 15 out of the 19 countries also support that decision. We are clear about what we want from the NAC.

Photo of Stuart Bell Stuart Bell Second Church Estates Commissioner

May I ask the Minister not to cease repeating the fact that 16 nation states in the NATO Assembly support the resolutions and upholding the constitution? Will he repeat that Turkey's request under article 4 is before NATO today? It is very important to use tact and diplomacy at this time. Is it not a fact that the 18th resolution will enable every nation state in the Security Council to decide whether it wishes to uphold resolution 1441 and the charter of the United Nations and to render a signal service to the international community in relation to Saddam Hussein?

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence

I agree entirely with the three points that my hon. Friend makes, and I repeat that 16 out of 19 states wish to comply with his request. That is a significant figure which all of us should remember.

On my hon. Friend's point about the need for diplomacy, my opening response and, I hope, all my answers have indicated that that process is currently under way in the North Atlantic Council. Of course our ambassador to NATO will be working with those allies who are on side and those with whom we may have a disagreement to find a resolution. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for picking up the fact that this is the 18th resolution, not the second resolution. We have got to ensure that Saddam Hussein and his regime comply wholeheartedly, without question, with the will of the international community. That way lies peace.

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack Conservative, South Staffordshire

Will the Minister ask the wholly admirable Lord Robertson, who is doing such a splendid job, gently to remind the Germans, French and Belgians of just what they owe to the United States, this country and the collective security that NATO has provided?

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence

All the nations attended the Munich conference, and those points were made. There was no question at all in the minds of the three countries to which the hon. Gentleman refers but that they remember all too graphically what we went through in the middle of the last century and what spawned NATO, as well as the purpose of NATO and why it has to remain the cornerstone of our collective security; but I will certainly pass on his comments to my noble Friend Lord Robertson.

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks Chair, Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is hardly helpful to restoring NATO unity for US politicians and members of the US Administration to make insulting remarks about our close allies—the French and the Germans?

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence

I will certainly draw my hon. Friend's remarks to the attention of my US friends, some of whom are US politicians, but it is not surprising that people descend to name calling at a time of what some would call crisis. It is right to say that we have got to take the heat out of all this. Let us get into the meeting and find a resolution to the current difficulties.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Conservative, Worthing West

Will the Minister tell the French that the way the French ambassador in Washington, who was president of the Security Council the day after the events of 11 September, explained the need for collective action in dealing with Saddam Hussein and the horrors that he has visited on his own people and his neighbours was very convincing? I hope that the meeting this afternoon will lead to an overcoming of the difficulties.

Does the Minister agree with me and, I hope, the British people in general that the best way to stand with the people of Iraq, their neighbours and Turkey is for us to go on standing with the United States?

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence

I do not know whether I will get the chance to say anything to the French President, but again, I am sure that those from that country who study the debates in this House will ensure that the hon. Gentleman's comments are reflected through their diplomatic channels to their Government. There is no question at all but that all the countries, including the one he mentions, are resolute in their determination to ensure that Saddam Hussein complies with the wish of the United Nations. The debate is about the route to that, wherein lie some of the differences.

On seeking the resolution to support Turkey, if there were an ultimate threat to or an attack on Turkey, the three countries to which reference has been made would not say, "No, we will not stand by NATO." They have consistently said that they will do so. So this is more about timing than substance. I am sure that diplomacy will prevail, and we have to await the outcome of that diplomacy.

Photo of Professor Ross Cranston Professor Ross Cranston Labour, Dudley North

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is wrong to over-dramatise this? Article 4 of the treaty imposes an obligation to consult. That has to be done in good faith. Certainly, since the 1950s, an obligation of solidarity has grown up in practice, but this is not an unprecedented crisis; it is nothing like a breach of the treaty and NATO is certainly not crumbling.

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence

In the interests of brevity, I agree entirely with everything that my hon. and learned Friend has said.

Photo of Ian Taylor Ian Taylor Conservative, Esher and Walton

Does the Minister understand that some people in this country admire what the French are doing to hold us back from over-precipitate action? Some of the damage to NATO has been caused by our American friends, not at least in the disdainful way they treated the triggering of article 5 just after the events of 11 September and in the way that, over the past few days, Donald Rumsfeld has been virtually pre-empting Hans Blix's statement, which will come on Friday and which will in itself determine whether the United Nations believes that there should be war. I hope that he will convey that to President Bush, because we must reconcile the damaging threat to NATO's credibility, but that will not happen just by putting pressure on France.

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence

Of course the hon. Gentleman has a right to respect any country that he wishes and to criticise any other country. That does not happen in Iraq, and I know that he would stand four square behind what we are seeking to do to disarm Saddam Hussein and to bring stability and, I hope, peace to that country and that troubled region. I do not accept what he says about the United States pre-empting the United Nations. The US is setting out its case. That is part of open diplomacy. We are asked for our views because we are a democracy. Does the hon. Gentleman expect Secretary Rumsfeld to say, "I have nothing to say until 14 February"? That would be a ridiculous position to adopt.

Photo of Mr Malcolm Savidge Mr Malcolm Savidge Labour, Aberdeen North

Having regard to the Prime Minister's repeated promises to treat war as a last resort and to the opinion poll in The Times today, showing that 86 per cent. of the British people believe that inspections should be given more time, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether serious consideration can be given to the proposals from our German, French and Russian allies or to any alternative option to allow more time to try to disarm Iraq peacefully?

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence

We have made it clear that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has repeatedly promised that that war must be the last resort. I hope that my hon. Friend takes that as a sincere and total commitment by the Prime Minister, the Government and every Minister who has responsibility in this area. I have said in response to earlier questions that peace, not the alternative, is a route that we want, but we cannot deliver that alone; only Saddam Hussein can do so. How can he do so? By complying with the wish of the UN.

My hon. Friend has consistently argued that we should recognise the will and wishes of the UN. We now have resolution 1441. I ask him to read it again and to realise that very clear commitments are laid down in that resolution. He now argues for more time and more inspectors, but how many more? How much more time does he want, and whom will that satisfy? It will satisfy Saddam Hussein, and it will continue his tyranny over the people of Iraq.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Committee, Chair, Public Accounts Committee

Does the Minister acknowledge the primacy of the House of Commons' right to be kept informed and to take decisions on such matters? Does he acknowledge that he has been unable or unwilling, perhaps for very good reasons, to intimate to the House in detail during the statement what the Secretary of State is doing and saying at this moment to resolve this crisis? Will he give an undertaking now that, when the Secretary of State returns, he will come to the House to make a full statement on his meeting?

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence

The hon. Gentleman misunderstands what I said. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is not going to Brussels to involve himself in the NAC; he is going to meet senior—[Interruption.] Well, he will go a bit beyond that, but he will certainly meet Secretary Rumsfeld and others to consider—[Interruption.]

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence

I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker. I am trying to get to the nub of the question, in case there is any doubt in the mind of the hon. Gentleman. I accept the primacy of the House of Commons, as do the Government, and that is why we have had so many statements. I remind the House that we had a substantive vote on 25 November, and we will have another if we have to come to the ultimate decision that we do not want to reach.

Photo of Andrew MacKinlay Andrew MacKinlay Labour, Thurrock

May I associate myself with the comments by my right hon. Friend Mr. Kaufman? I am one of the people who have put their trust in the Government, but I wish to address the question of the dossier. It must have been printed on rice paper and all been eaten, because no copies are available in the Vote Office. The Minister of State mentioned the facts, but part one of the dossier implies that Hans Blix and the other inspectors have been intimidated by the Iraqis. Where does that evidence come from? Surely if there was any sense of intimidation on the narrow issue of the inspections, Hans Blix would not be there. It must have been made up.

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence

That is a question of interpretation. I welcome the strong position that my hon. Friend has taken, and the resolute way in which he has continued to pursue what he believes to be right. He also constantly questions the basis on which he has come to his conclusions, while keeping in mind the centrality of what we seek to do. If he thinks that the inspectors have not been frustrated, I ask him to read again what Hans Blix reported to the United Nations. It is a central feature of what we seek that unrestricted access should be allowed to key people in Iraq, many of whom know where the dangerous weapons—and the means to build more—lie. The inspectors have had a difficult job to do, so let us wait to see what the report says on 14 February.

Photo of Hywel Williams Hywel Williams Shadow PC Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Health)

Will the Minister dissociate himself from the intemperate remarks on the "Today" programme by Washington-based hawks, in which they rubbished the efforts of France, Belgium and Germany in the attempts to disarm Iraq? Will he assure the House that the Government have given serious consideration to those countries' proposals?

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence

I speak for myself, not for those whom the hon. Gentleman calls hawks. I have set out the Government's position and I hope that the hon. Member agrees with us on the need to stand by the United Nations. I am glad to see that he nods at that, because that is progress. Will he also stand by the 18th resolution, if it means that Saddam Hussein has not complied with the will of the international community? If war is inevitable, will he support that position? I do not see him nodding to that.