Estimates Day — [2nd Allotted Day] — Supplementary Estimates, 2002–2003 — Foreign and Commonwealth Office — War Against Terrorism

– in the House of Commons at 12:50 pm on 11th March 2003.

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[Relevant documents: Second Report from the Foreign Affairs Committee, Session 2002–03, on Foreign Policy Aspects of the War against Terrorism, HC 196, and the Government's response thereto, Cm 5739; and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Annual Report 2002, Cm 5413.]

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That further resources, not exceeding £144,807,000, be authorised for use during the year ending on 31st March 2003, and that a further sum, not exceeding £26,460,000, be granted to Her Majesty out of the Consolidated Fund for the year ending on 31st March 2003 for expenditure by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.—[Jim Fitzpatrick.]

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

Before I call Donald Anderson, I inform the House that there is a limit of 15 minutes on Back-Bench speeches, but that does not include the right hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Mr Donald Anderson Mr Donald Anderson Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee 1:03 pm, 11th March 2003

I am grateful both for that information, Mr. Speaker, and the opportunity to open the debate.

Estimates days are always based on something of a fiction—in this case, the relevant estimate is the provision of about £5 million to be spent on increased security for posts in the middle east. The report by the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, however, ranged far more widely—hence there is a double fiction, as I anticipate that much of today's debate will focus on the crisis in Iraq.

As a Welshman, I like to begin with a text, and the appropriate text today is attributed to Voltaire:

"Doubt is uncomfortable, but certainty is ridiculous."

Our first report on foreign policy aspects of the war against terrorism was published in June 2002, and focused on intelligence before 11 September; the formation of the international coalition and military action in Afghanistan; and post-Taliban reconstruction. In my speech in Westminster Hall on that report on 31 October, I promised the House that the Foreign Affairs Committee would keep the issue high on the agenda; hence our second report in the series, published in December, and today's important debate. Our second report, like all reports produced by the Committee during this Parliament, was unanimous, which shows the readiness of colleagues of all parties serving on the Committee to work together to reach a consensus. I pay tribute to the expertise, dedication, and focus of my Committee colleagues for their sustained commitment to that cause.

In 2001, about 3,000 people lost their lives because of terrorism. The action taken in Afghanistan has certainly disrupted the al-Qaeda network, but no one can be in any doubt that it still has the capacity to inflict great damage. In just two weeks last autumn, over 300 people were killed. The Committee's view is that

"al-Qaeda and associated organisations continue to pose a grave threat to the UK and its interests abroad".

We cannot afford to be complacent.

I shall explain how our inquiry was carried out. Since the war against terrorism began on 11 September 2001, we have visited New York and Washington on three occasions, most recently in October 2002. On all our visits, we held meetings with UN officials and representatives of member states in New York, and US officials at the State Department, the Pentagon and the National Security Council. We also met a number of our colleagues and friends on Capitol Hill. Indeed, doors opened wide for us—the special relationship has become a reality—so we are grateful to the US Administration, the State Department and Congress, as well as our own Foreign Office. Our visit to Copenhagen in July enabled us to discuss EU measures on counter-terrorism with our Danish colleagues. In January this year, we met the Greek presidency and learned of the astonishing co-operation between the Greek intelligence agencies and our own which led to the identification of the N1717 November—suspects, responsible, it is said, for the murder of our defence attaché, Brigadier Saunders.

In the course of our inquiry, we heard oral evidence from academics and other experts, including two professors of international law, and from former US officials, who spoke about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Recently, we held a particularly interesting evidence session on Iran, and took evidence from the Foreign Secretary. Our wide-ranging report deals with multilateral developments, developments in US foreign policy, al-Qaeda, Iraq and the anticipation of war. I shall highlight two key aspects.

First, it is hardly surprising that the issue of Iraq figured prominently in our inquiry. We considered the threat, the question of disarming, and the possibility of military action. I remind the House that the report was published on 17 December—obviously, there have been major developments since, particularly at the United Nations Security Council and, indeed, there was a debate in the House on 26 February.

The Committee reached some key conclusions. The possibility that Saddam Hussein might employ terrorist methods must be taken seriously, but there is no compelling evidence linking the Iraqi regime to al-Qaeda.

Photo of Mr Llew Smith Mr Llew Smith Labour, Blaenau Gwent

Does my right hon. Friend believe that the Government have got their priorities wrong, as they seem to have set aside £1.75 billion to fight a war against Iraq or, as they say, against terrorism, although it now seems to be a blank cheque, yet they can find only £100 million to deal with humanitarian emergencies, not just in Iraq but worldwide?

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

I anticipate that, if the commitments of the Government and of our major allies are proved true and if there is a war, there will certainly be ample funds available for the reconstruction of Iraq.

The evidence of Iraq's retention and continued development of weapons of mass destruction is compelling and a cause for considerable concern. Again, we drew attention to the failure to address the threat from Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, which could pose very high risks to the security of British interests in the middle east and the Gulf region. We said that Iraq must not be permitted to continue to defy the authority of the United Nations. We cited the unanimous adoption of Security Council resolution 1441 on 8 November, which states that the obligation to disarm is absolutely clear, and that this is "a final opportunity". It also set out the tests of immediate and unconditional co-operation.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Labour, Birmingham, Hall Green

When the Committee said that Iraq should not be allowed to continue to defy the United Nations and that this was a final opportunity, what kind of time scale was it thinking about? Did it think that Iraq should not be allowed to continue to defy the United Nations for several months, or for years, or into the dim and distant future? Did the Committee think that "final" meant something other than "final", or was it absolutely clear about the words that it was using? Did it understand this to mean that defiance should cease, and that "final" should mean the last opportunity?

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

My hon. Friend will recall that any so-called second resolution will be the 18th resolution, and so long as "immediate" is not defined as "immediate", and "final" not defined as "final", the Security Council will lose credibility for its own resolutions.

I commend the Government's commitment always to work within international law. We recommended that they should do their utmost to ensure the adoption of a further Security Council resolution, as, in our judgment, resolution 1441 would not provide unambiguous authorisation. International law rarely appears to give absolutely clear direction.

Photo of Joan Ruddock Joan Ruddock Labour, Lewisham, Deptford

I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. Perhaps I interrupted him a little too quickly. I think that the phrase involved here is "all necessary means", which I believe is diplomatic-speak for going to war. Does he know whether the resolution currently being circulated in the United Nations includes the phrase "all necessary means", and would he consider that a legal basis for action?

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

"Serious consequences" is the phrase in the relevant paragraph of resolution 1441, which also contains a number of other phrases that have special meaning for diplomats and which may mean something other than the ordinary observer might think. Perhaps the Minister can enlighten us on this later, but there has been a whole series of draft resolutions, and I genuinely do not know what is in the latest one now before the Security Council.

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

I must make some progress. I will give way later.

In our judgment, the Government are right to take a robust stance in the face of the continued defiance of Security Council resolutions by Saddam Hussein. Saddam's defiance does indeed damage the credibility of the United Nations—it also threatens British interests—but the Government must maintain a position consistent with international law. Any military action against the Iraqi regime must be legally justified, and should only be taken

"on grounds other than"—

Iraq's

"past or current involvement with the al-Qaeda network."

I do not intend to digress into speculation on what will or will not happen during the current intense negotiations in New York. The subject was debated fully in the House on 26 February and we hope for an early debate within the next few days.

The second area that I would like to tackle is the doctrine of pre-emptive self-defence. For me, this was one of the most important parts of the report, and it is highly relevant to the Iraq situation. I do not apologise to the House for dwelling on this, because I do not think it has been given sufficient consideration.

We began to investigate the US Administration's thinking on pre-emptive self-defence early in 2002, the President having first outlined the doctrine in January. The doctrine was spelled out more clearly in the national security strategy, which was published shortly before we visited Washington in October last year. In the strategy, the Administration explained:

"We must adapt the concept of imminent threat to the capabilities and objectives of today's adversaries. Rogue states and terrorists do not seek to attack us using conventional means . . . they rely on acts of terror and, potentially, the use of weapons of mass destruction—weapons that can be easily concealed, delivered covertly, and used without warning."

The Administration therefore saw a

"compelling case for taking anticipatory action to defend ourselves, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy's attack."

Accordingly,

"To forestall or prevent such hostile acts by our adversaries, the United States will, if necessary, act pre-emptively."

Two experts in international law appeared before the Committee. They were lawyers with major reputations as academics and practitioners. Professors Brownlie and Greenwood appeared before us on 24 October. It was a fascinating session, we were most grateful to them, and I commend their evidence to colleagues. It does something of an injustice to the sophistication of their arguments to summarise them, but their contribution was so valuable that it must have some mention. Both referred to the famous Caroline dispute, which is the classical definition of the right of self-defence in international law. In 1837, British forces took action in Canada against a US merchant vessel which Canadian rebels and American sympathisers had used as a base for attacks on the British.

Professor Brownlie took the more conservative position. For him, the Caroline case raised the question: what is the level of necessity? He suggested that pre-emptive action was open to abuse, and mentioned the danger that could have arisen if the doctrine had been applied during the cold war in 1962, for example. He believed that is was better not to invent a new umbrella of subjective action, and stated in his memorandum that pre-emptive attacks, as envisaged in US policy statements, would be in violation of the United Nations charter.

Professor Greenwood, on the other hand, took a more expansive account of international law. He believed that we had to take into account the military developments since Caroline. That incident involved a group of men with rifles, which are very different from the chemical, biological or nuclear weapons available today. Obviously, such weapons are much more difficult to detect, it is more difficult to determine the time scale involved in their use, and it would be far more damaging if the threat were to materialise. We agreed that we must start with article 51 of the United Nations charter, but according to Professor Greenwood, it must be interpreted in the light not only of what went before and of the drafters' intentions, but of its interpretation by states since 1945 and of common sense.

Professor Greenwood quoted Judge Higgins, who said:

"Common sense cannot require one to interpret an ambiguous provision in a text in a way that requires a state passively to accept its fate before it can defend itself."

The professor argued that there must be a right of anticipatory self-defence, and that we need to find a balance between too loose a definition, which every state could use as a licence for action, and a definition so restrictive that it would not fit the conditions of today. The problem, as always, resolves itself into where to draw the line.

The Committee was concerned about precedent, and that there would be a risk of other, less law-abiding states using the doctrine to legitimise aggressive force. For example, could India cite the right to take military action against Pakistan, or vice versa? Could China use the doctrine to justify an invasion of Taiwan? At the same time, we recognised the implications of new threats. At paragraph 161 of the report, we concluded that the notion of "imminence" should be reconsidered, and that international law must evolve to deal with new threats.

The Government's response, produced in February this year, was clear. The right to self-defence is well established in international law, not only after attack but before, if an attack is imminent. In the Government's view,

"this right applies as much to imminent threats from terrorism as to the more conventional threats of the past".

I wonder, for example, whether Israel's action against Iraq's nuclear reactor in 1981 would now receive the totally hostile chorus of disapproval from the Security Council that it received at the time. The threat would probably be considered insufficiently imminent, although under a more extended definition, it might be used as a trigger for action against Iran's nuclear reactor.

The broader context of international law encompasses matters raised by Guantanamo bay and the rights of refugees deemed by the US to be unlawful combatants. International legal treaties since the second world war were conceived and drawn up in circumstances very different from the present ones. There is a powerful case, in our view, for revisiting that group of international laws, not to develop an entirely new system, but to build on and adapt existing law to a world where threats are often posed not by states, but by non-state actors. International law is not static; it is a living body. It must, however, remain relevant. If not, powerful states will seek to ignore or circumvent it. The debate is only just beginning.

More recently, I note the open letter by 16 lawyers with the view that a pre-emptive self-defence strike against Iraq would have no justification in international law. It is clearly important to have a wide-ranging and ongoing discussion on the subject. The real problem is perhaps illustrated by the failure in the United Nations to agree a definition of terrorism.

I shall give a quick update since the report was produced last December. Clearly, the war against terrorism continues. In this country, there have been arrests, the discovery of ricin, and the death of DC Oake, and key al-Qaeda operatives have been captured in Pakistan and elsewhere. Iraq continues to dominate the headlines.

How do we carry forward the war against terrorism? There are three major issues central to British security in the medium and long term. What are the implications of the strains in the international community for the long-term war against terrorism and international law generally? If it was the aim of Saddam Hussein not just to buy time, but to divide the international community, he has done so magnificently. We think of the blow to NATO, the divisions within the United Nations Security Council, with the risk that the United States will see the council as irrelevant and walk away from it, the developments within the European Union, making the evolution of a common foreign and security policy a more distant prospect, and EU-US relations at a very low ebb, with Secretary Rumsfeld castigating "old Europe". All those international networks are adversely affected by the crisis in Iraq.

Photo of Mr Hilton Dawson Mr Hilton Dawson Labour, Lancaster and Wyre

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the responsibility for the splits in the international community is due less to the work of Saddam Hussein and a great deal more to the partners, who should be able to work together much more effectively in those coalitions?

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

That is a noble aim, but the divisions would not have come about without the crisis over Iraq, which was provoked by Saddam Hussein. All those relationships are adversely affected by Iraq. The Prime Minister said at his press conference that the most dangerous thing for international security would be a wedge between the United States and Europe. I agree with my hon. Friend that only together can we solve such international problems, as the Foreign Secretary emphasised in his statement to the House yesterday.

The second issue is the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. It is crucial for the international community to develop and agree on strategies to prevent proliferation. Iraq is but one of the many potential sources of weapons of mass destruction. Even if Iraq is disarmed, we must continue to think carefully about how to deal with the wider problem. We know that the cookery books are still available to those who want to use them. We cannot disinvent that which has already been invented. We need renewed international co-operation.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Scottish National Party, Banff and Buchan

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I have read the report. At paragraph 172, on page 48, the Committee unanimously concluded that

"Security Council Resolution 1441 would not provide unambiguous authorisation", and called upon the Government to seek a resolution including the words "'all necessary means'". When Joan Ruddock asked about that, the right hon. Gentleman did not seem to give the answer that is in the Committee report. For the avoidance of doubt, can he say whether he stands by paragraph 172 of the report, adopted unanimously by his own Committee?

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

I emphasised that the report was produced in December, and that that was the unanimous view of the Committee at that time. I would not like to anticipate the views of the Committee today. We are dealing with an evolving situation, as different drafts are tried at the Security Council.

Is regime change the best way to reduce the combined threats of weapons of mass destruction and international terrorism? If the Iraq campaign is perceived to go well, can we expect the United States to continue with a series of regional wars against the "axis of evil", within or without the UN context? We must consider very carefully indeed what role Britain can play as the key ally of the United States.

If we take action in Iraq we will face the challenge of peacekeeping and reconstruction on two fronts—Afghanistan and Iraq. Will that take the focus and vital resources away from the war against terrorism? We asked whether the implications had been fully thought through. With regard to reconstruction, a genuine, well planned and truly multinational effort to keep the peace in Iraq, and a commitment to restoring the livelihoods and rights of the Iraqi people, would help the people of Iraq and their Arab neighbours to see the positive consequences of any intervention, but we cannot overstate the importance of winning the peace. Those who go into Iraq should be seen as liberators, not victors.

Photo of Dr Jenny Tonge Dr Jenny Tonge Liberal Democrat, Richmond Park

Was the right hon. Gentleman's Committee able to establish whether the reconstruction costs after a war with Iraq will come out of Treasury contingency reserves or out of the reserves of the Department for International Development? If the latter, does he agree that that is extremely unfair on the poorest people of the world, who hoped to receive those funds?

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

The short answer is that we produced the report in December, when the costs of reconstruction were not high on the agenda. The matter is foursquare within the remit of our sister Committee, of the Department for International Development. The question should be addressed to that Committee.

Other challenges include how Britain can best help the reformers in Iran to strengthen their democratic structures and promote transparency. We need to ensure that the situation in North Korea is defused peacefully. There must be a different approach there, as it can be argued that North Korea is invulnerable because of the amount of artillery pieces directed against the south. Without disarmament, that could be the position in Iraq in a few years' time. We also need to take careful note of both the achievements and the failings of multilateral arms control regimes, and of measures to destroy stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction in the former Soviet Union.

Thirdly, on the middle east, I recalled the statement made to the House yesterday by the Foreign Secretary. What can we do to minimise instability in the wider middle east region and reduce the level of threat from al-Qaeda? Our report considered the effect of any military action in Iraq on the Arab world. I draw attention to paragraph 200. Images of Iraqi civilian casualties, combined with the voices of al-Qaeda claiming that that is further evidence of the US colonisation of Arabia, could have a powerful effect on disillusioned young people in the Islamic world generally, and even in this country. We need to think carefully about how to ensure that western involvement in the middle east region is seen as positive. There is also a need for a new realism in the Arab world—people there should not see themselves as victims, as many of them do. I refer to the recommendations in paragraphs 209 and 210. I commend to the House the United Nations Development Programme's Arab human development report of 2002, which stresses the need for good governance and economic development in the Arab world.

We also need to persist with efforts to restart the middle east peace process. In our report, the Committee praised the Government's commitment to pressing forward with negotiations and concluded:

"this policy must be pursued in parallel with international efforts to address the threats from al Qaeda and from the Iraqi regime."

The US Government have perhaps been much stronger in declaring the viability of the state of Palestine than in exerting any serious pressure. It may be that President Bush has weighing on his mind the electoral consequences of what his father did in withdrawing loan guarantees in respect of settlements.

The Government have pushed hard for Palestinian reform. The publication of the Quartet's road map, the long-awaited route towards a final two-state solution, is emphasised by Washington. Of course, there is continuing violence in the region. Progress on this issue is crucial. There was some recognition of that fact in President Bush's recent statement, but it is clear that we are far from having a very serious US commitment to bring to bear all the leverage and pressure that it can to bring an end to the continuing conflict in the region.

In conclusion, I should like to quote Burke:

"You can never plan the future by the past".

Certainly, 11 September proved that that is the case. We entered a new era and uncharted territory as we embarked on the war against terrorism. We will need new thinking on the problems of global security. As I said, that includes revisiting the raft of treaties on international law conceived in the post-second world war settlement. Our report commends the Government for their firm and continued leadership in the war against terrorism. Britain has contributed substantially to ensure that the coalition remains a reality. My personal opinion—I think that the Committee would agree—is that much credit lies with the Prime Minister in respect of his tireless efforts and total commitment. We also commend Ambassador Greenstock, who has done an outstanding job at the UN in chairing the Counter-Terrorism Committee.

These are difficult days and we face very difficult decisions, but we cannot wash our hands of our duty. As Ambassador Greenstock said on Friday,

"the Security Council cannot afford to look the facts in the face and turn away from its responsibilities."

Saddam Hussein may not be the only one who is facing a choice of survival. In many ways, this is also a watershed for the international community. Multilateral institutions must be and remain relevant. The only way in which we can overcome the unprecedented challenges of international terrorism and proliferation is if the international community seeks to remain united.

In our judgment, a key task of the Foreign Affairs Committee is to inform the House of the work that we do and provide a platform for informed debate in the Chamber. I believe that we have done that. We will continue to monitor the situation closely and, I hope, publish a further report in the same series in May. I commend our report to the House.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office 1:33 pm, 11th March 2003

I congratulate the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs on a very thorough report on the war against terrorism. With your permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I intend to speak relatively briefly at the beginning of the debate in order, perhaps, to seek your indulgence in allowing me to respond in detail at the end. In dividing up my contributions, if you agree, I shall deal first with the broader aspects of the war on terrorism and deal in my other contribution with some of the issues relating to Iraq.

On the comments of my right hon. Friend Donald Anderson about the legal complexities of the doctrine of pre-emptive self-defence, those issues are indeed important, but they are none the less enormously complex. As a lawyer, I know that if one puts two lawyers in a room, one gets an argument. Indeed, the reason why we have so many court cases is that lawyers often cannot agree on the law. In the present context, going back to the main case of 1837—the Caroline case—it is clear that issues of legality have arisen that will need to be explored for many years to come in order to arrive at a clear and final view. No doubt, many lawyers will venture their deeply considered views in the meantime, but I suspect that final definitions will take a long time to be accepted.

In the next decade, our country faces two key threats—terrorism and the development by dangerous states of weapons of mass destruction. Problems do not come one at a time and they have to be dealt with when they come. On this occasion, two problems have presented themselves and they need to be dealt with. Obviously, we are also concerned that, at some stage, those two issues—terrorism and weapons of mass destruction—may well become linked, and we need to be prepared to deal with that as well.

The terrorist threat from al-Qaeda and related groups remains extremely serious, despite the fact that we have had some significant successes. The detention of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in particular is a major blow to al-Qaeda, but we must not delude ourselves that it is some sort of mortal blow. Al-Qaeda has been dispersed and disrupted, but not decimated. It is ingenious, dedicated, persistent and global, while the loose, secretive nature of the networks makes them difficult for us to target. It will recover and adapt; the threat will continue and we must be prepared to address it.

All indications, including intelligence and al-Qaeda statements, suggest that high-profile political and economic targets remain in al-Qaeda's sights. It poses a threat to the United Kingdom regardless of what happens in Iraq. The past year has shown that terrorists will attack western interests, including British people, in an ever more indiscriminate way. To record but a few recent attacks, 18 people including tourists were killed in Tunisia in April 2002; 17 people died in Mombasa in November; and, most infamously, 202 people, many of whom were tourists, including Britons, were murdered in Bali on 12 October. Churchgoers have been bombed in Pakistan on a number of occasions. Voluntary health workers, diplomats and expatriates have been murdered in the middle east. If terrorist plans had come to fruition more often during the past year, many more people, including Britons, would be dead. It is thanks to the work of our intelligence services and others throughout the world, as well as to the co-operation that has developed between them, that a number of those terrorist threats have been frustrated.

Photo of Gordon Prentice Gordon Prentice Labour, Pendle

I have in my hands the Government's document on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, which was published last September. Does my hon. Friend still hold the view that everything in that document is accurate, even including the references to Iraq's nuclear weapons?

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

The document was published on the basis of the intelligence information available to us at the time. Obviously, when we have published information about particular aspects of Iraq's development of weapons of mass destruction, I very much doubt that, the next day, Iraq will leave in place whatever items it has previously had in place so that they can be discovered. Obviously, therefore, there is a time limit on the value of intelligence information, and we were aware of that when we published the document.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

I shall give way to Mr. Tyrie, but I shall then move on, as I want to make my remarks brief and stick to the issue of terrorism at this stage.

Photo of Andrew Tyrie Andrew Tyrie Conservative, Chichester

Further to the intervention of Mr. Prentice, the same document stated that Iraq might be capable of developing nuclear weapons in as little as a year. Yet specialists have given the Select Committee comprehensive evidence to show that it would take at least several years, and that even then it would be difficult for Iraq to develop such weapons. Was that specialist information available to the Government when they produced their report?

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

I said earlier that when two lawyers are together in a room, an argument ensues. The same applies to specialists. We must take account of the various intelligence reports that we receive, and the assessment of the value of the information by the experienced specialists whom the Government employ. We also take account of the reports of various academics. It is then a matter of making a judgment, and the Government have reached a clear judgment.

In 1990, Iraq was within between 18 months and three years of developing nuclear weapons. Clearly, if it had developed that capability, it would have used the resultant power to intimidate others. That was a serious matter. It is also clear that Saddam Hussein has not changed his spots and suddenly become a peacenik. He remains determined to develop weapons of mass destruction if he can. I therefore have no doubt that, without constraint, he would try to develop nuclear weapons. We have an assessment, which we have published, of the length of time that it would take him. Others will take a different view.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

I am trying to deal with the intervention and I want to make progress.

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

Will my hon. Friend give way on the specific point that he is considering?

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

Will my hon. Friend give way in view of what was said yesterday?

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

I am trying to deal with the intervention of the hon. Member for Chichester. I want to do that and subsequently proceed.

We accept that, at the moment, Iraq does not have a nuclear weapons capability. There is no doubt about that. Its efforts to develop such weapons have been frustrated in the past 12 years, initially because of the inspectors. However, we believe that Iraq has taken steps to try to get around the restrictions, and that, had he the ability, Saddam Hussein would try to develop nuclear weapons.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

Perhaps I can deal with Iraq in my closing remarks rather than answering all the questions now.

I want to focus on terrorism, which is the other issue that is important to British foreign policy. We face a genuine threat. Al-Qaeda may seek cynically to use any military action in Iraq as an excuse for further attacks in the short term. However, if such action proves necessary, we believe that it would remove a large threat to stability in the region.

In the current decade, the threat from terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction are our two top priorities. We have helped to shape and maintain the international consensus on terrorism that is essential to change the odds in our favour so that the British public can go about their lives freely and with confidence.

Counter-terrorism operations are being maintained throughout the globe at an unprecedented level with unprecedented co-operation between countries. We shall continue to work with our traditional close partners—the EU, the United States, the G8 countries, NATO and the Commonwealth. However, we have also built on new relationships that we forged in counter-terrorism to ensure that the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Committee continues to deliver. We have developed new relationships with countries such as Syria and Libya. They, too, perceive al-Qaeda as a threat.

We are backing our commitment with technical assistance to several countries that would benefit from our help. We are currently helping more than 70 countries to improve their counter-terrorism capabilities. We shall also continue to focus on wider issues, including Palestine, about which many of us feel deeply. The injustice done to the Palestinian people must be remedied and we must seek a peaceful resolution in the middle east. That is in the interests of Israel as well as the Palestinians.

The position in Palestine is an underlying cause of terrorism. We must deal with other underlying causes such as poverty and political exclusion.

Photo of Joan Ruddock Joan Ruddock Labour, Lewisham, Deptford

Will my hon. Friend confirm that al-Qaeda is now broadcasting again in Afghanistan? Does he agree that it is vital that the warlords in Afghanistan are disarmed and that there must be a demobilisation programme? Unless that is done, there can be no democracy, which we have promised. Does he further agree that the reconstruction that is currently occurring is not sufficient to bring that country into a condition whereby al-Qaeda can be driven out?

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

One of the key prerequisites for fundamental change in Afghanistan is ensuring that the transitional Government and any other Government elected after 2004 can deliver genuine change for the people of Afghanistan so that the economy is developed. Girls who were previously excluded from school have returned to education. That is enormously important and sends clear messages about the nature of the society that the current Afghan Government want to develop.

However, much more remains to be done. We must extend the authority of the Karzai regime, and that of any other democratically elected Government after 2004, to the wider provinces. Many warlords currently acknowledge the legitimacy of the central Government, but the Government are not capable of exercising their authority by forceful means in all the provinces. Giving them the capacity to do that by training an Afghan national army is important.

As my hon. Friend Joan Ruddock knows, our Government and many others, including the United States Government, want to place various groups of armed forces from Britain, perhaps Germany, and the United States in various provinces. The groups will be small and their objective will not be enforcement. However, they will convey a signal to the warlords of our determination that the process in Afghanistan will be completed. We are determined that there will be a genuine opportunity for democracy, and we want it to be taken. Much work remains to be done in Afghanistan. We can ensure that al-Qaeda does not return only when that work is completed.

Photo of Mr Jon Owen Jones Mr Jon Owen Jones Labour/Co-operative, Cardiff Central

Does my hon. Friend agree that one method of sending a signal to the warlords in Afghanistan is to stop giving them money and arms? Will he comment on American policy, which is to continue to give arms and money to warlords in Afghanistan?

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

We are attempting to build consensus in Afghanistan. My hon. Friend appears to suggest that, rather than getting the warlords to support the central Government, the writ of the central Government should be imposed on the warlords. That approach could produce instability. We are therefore trying to feel our way towards getting the warlords to acknowledge not only the central Government's legitimacy, but their authority. That will take time.

In the meantime, we need to exercise some control over the warlords to stop them causing problems until the central Government have sufficient power and authority to enforce their writ more effectively throughout the country. It will take time—there is no point in suggesting otherwise to my hon. Friend. However, I believe that it is possible to fulfil our programme in Afghanistan. We shall make every effort to do that. The United States, Germany, the Netherlands, Japan and various other countries are making substantial contributions to trying to give the Afghan people the opportunity that they deserve. We shall keep working on that.

Photo of Patrick Mercer Patrick Mercer Conservative, Newark

The Minister mentioned the possibility of small numbers of extra British troops being deployed to Afghanistan. I assume that they will extend the international security assistance force-type mandate into other cities and regions. Will he comment on the possibility of deploying greater numbers of British troops if the position deteriorates further?

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

I must decline that invitation. Obviously we hope that the situation in Afghanistan will remain relatively stable. All these things are relative, and despite the civil war, the difficulties that have afflicted Afghanistan for 25 years, the number of terrorist incidents and the fact that the writ of the central Government does not run throughout a country that remains unsafe, a certain level of stability exists relative to what existed before. We hope that that level can be raised, and that therefore no further commitment of British troops will be necessary. We hope that as things develop we can show that the central Government are capable of delivering, with international help, and that that can bring about the change of attitude that we seek in Afghanistan.

The Bali atrocity confirmed that the divide in the modern world is not, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East suggested, a clash of cultures between Islam and the west, but rather a clash between order and chaos. As he said, we must tackle the mistrust and misapprehensions that bedevil relations between the Islamic world and the west, and in turn allow the terrorists to secure new recruits to their cause. We are determined to work towards that, and we believe that we can do it. We will put in every effort.

We are grateful for the assistance, advice and wisdom of the Foreign Affairs Committee. We will certainly take on board substantial parts of its report, which makes a significant contribution to the development of British foreign policy.

Photo of Richard Spring Richard Spring Conservative, West Suffolk 1:51 pm, 11th March 2003

I pay tribute to the Chairman and members of the Foreign Affairs Committee. They have produced an impressive document, which we debate at a crucial and tense time. In some ways the report's title, "Foreign Policy Aspects of the War Against Terrorism", does not do justice to the wide range of issues covered by the Committee; but we should recognise that the issues of global terrorism, Iraq, Afghanistan and the middle east peace process which are dealt with in the bulk of the document—albeit indirectly in some instances—are interrelated, and that their impact on international security and stability is vastly important.

Conservative Members welcome the Government's dedication and, in particular, that of the Prime Minister, who managed to build an international coalition after the terrible events in the United States involving the twin towers and the Pentagon. As the Committee says, that has helped to build on the special relationship that has proved so valuable in securing resolution 1441, which outlines the dangers presented by Iraq. It has also built a degree of international consensus on actions in Afghanistan.

In the aftermath of the horrendous terrorist attack on Bali, to which the Minister referred, the Foreign Secretary took up a number of suggestions from many Members—including Conservative Members—about facing down terrorism and ensuring the security of British citizens abroad. We welcome the Government's response, which symbolises an approach to the threat that transcends party political considerations.

The continued need to root out terrorist groups is as urgent as the need to expose Saddam Hussein. It is not a question of either/or; we must strive to do both. The problems are not mutually exclusive, in that both have resulted in the death of thousands of innocent people.

The Committee was right to conclude that any military action against the Iraqi regime must be justified on grounds other than its past or current involvement with the al-Qaeda network. That is exactly the approach that the Security Council's members have adopted by unanimously agreeing to resolution 1441. Iraq's biological and chemical stockpiles and its illegal weapons remain the reason for international action, as does its refusal over 12 years to disarm willingly and transparently. I fully support the Foreign Secretary's statement that we must

"also guard against the terrifying prospect of Saddam Hussein passing weapons of mass destruction to terrorists such as Al Qa'ida." ."

The possession of weapons of that kind by a man such as Saddam Hussein always leaves open the possibility that they will fall into the hands of terrorist groups. They are united in one respect: both hate the west and western values.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Shadow Minister (Defence)

Is not one of the strangest and most naive arguments that we have heard during the debate on Iraq and al-Qaeda the suggestion that because they have sometimes been politically opposed they could not co-operate in precisely the way my hon. Friend described? Often, a common enemy brings people with diametrically opposing views together. They want to destroy that common enemy, even if they hate each other as well.

Photo of Richard Spring Richard Spring Conservative, West Suffolk

I entirely agree. As my hon. Friend knows, the Iraqis have already used their resources to finance terrorist groups, including those involved in suicide bombings in Israel.

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

I entirely accept that it would never have been predicted that, for example, Hitler and Stalin would get together at the start of the second world war. When we discuss the concept of pre-emptive war, however, is it not rather frightening to suggest that because at some stage two people who completely oppose each other might get together we should attack them?

Photo of Richard Spring Richard Spring Conservative, West Suffolk

My point is that there is already evidence of the Iraqis' supporting terrorist groups. The possibility of a marriage at some time is entirely likely given the desire of organisations such as al-Qaeda to obtain these weapons, and their wealth. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman read a speech made in the other place by Lady Nicholson about the horrific attacks on Iraqis—particularly Marsh Arabs—by Saddam himself, using these atrocious weapons of mass destruction. It has been a wicked act of genocide, which underlies the reasons for our concern about Saddam's position in the world.

We need only consider the arrest of a senior al-Qaeda leader last week to recognise the important work—much of it necessarily behind the scenes—being done by our intelligence services. It is often dangerous and often unrecognised, but it helps to keep us safe. I pay tribute to those men and women in our intelligence agencies, whose work is often unsung.

As the Committee says, much remains to be done in the tackling of terror, but with the international community united in the task, we can minimise the threat. What assessment has the Minister made of the likelihood that Osama bin Laden is still alive, given reports that the recently arrested Khalid Sheikh Mohammed met him, or was in contact with him, not long ago?

Terrorism of the sort that we have seen in America, Bali, Kenya and off the coast of Yemen is a scourge that we must be resolute in tackling. As my right hon. Friend Mr. Ancram, the shadow Foreign Secretary, said back in September 2001,

"terrorism depends on three elements to succeed: it needs the oxygen of publicity, it needs to show that it works and it needs safe havens in which it can hide."

He spoke with all his experience as a former Northern Ireland Minister who understood the phenomenon all too well.

Such horrific attacks are bound to receive publicity, but we must show by fighting terrorism and never appeasing it that it cannot succeed. Along with the international community, we must make sure that in territories where terrorist boltholes exist, those boltholes are blocked; and we must work with countries where terrorists hide to ensure that the terrorists can find no comfort or shelter from international pursuit and justice. There simply cannot be a hiding place for such people.

Let me now deal with a number of specific topics covered by the Committee's report. As the report says, the Government must show that the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Committee is effective in the long run, and continues to foster international co-operation and good will. In their response, the Government set out many ways in which they intend to do this. However, during his wind-up I hope that the Minister will be able to restore the Government's commitment to the CTC, recognising its important co-ordinating work under the chairmanship of Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the UK representative at the United Nations. What evaluation has the Minister made of its success to date in achieving what the Foreign Secretary describes as

"marked advances in their overall counter-terrorism capacity", especially with regard to legislation and countering the financing of terrorism?

We welcome the passage of the chairmanship, in April, to the Spanish permanent representative, given Spain's strong support for resolution 1441 and for the war against terrorism, and given its role as a close EU and NATO ally. Of course, cutting off the funding of terrorist groups is one of the most effective ways of hitting these organisations, and of causing their operations to wither. The report recommends that the Government set out what further measures they will take to encourage and assist Governments, particularly those in the middle east and Gulf region, to stem the flow of terrorist financing.

I hope that the Minister will agree with me that we must maintain a constructive but robust and critical dialogue with countries that allow money to be funnelled to such groups—whether those groups are characterised by different Governments as terrorists, or as freedom fighters. We welcome the Government's commitment to Security Council resolutions 1373 and 1390. What is the Minister's latest estimate of assets frozen under those resolutions, and has this initiative been judged a success?

It is also, as the report says, important that Britain work constructively with our EU partners on some critical aspects of foreign policy. In the first debate after 11 September, my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary welcomed the way in which the EU had

"in no uncertain terms declared its determination to combat international terrorism."—[Hansard, 14 September 2001; Vol. 372, c. 621, 623.]

I urge it to maintain that commitment. The EU's work with Iran is particularly important, but we must also be realistic—this point has already been alluded to—about the limits of effective EU co-operation. It must never be at the expense of undermining our historic and valuable relationship with the United States, which is of itself such an asset to Europe.

NATO is an organisation that has proved effective in the past in meeting our defensive security needs. At Prague, it showed a willingness to change and to adapt to those needs, as those needs themselves change. The safeguarding of NATO is crucial, given existing tensions within the alliance. As the Foreign Affairs Committee concluded, the Government need to illustrate more clearly how the new focus of NATO, as outlined at Prague, will be implemented to make the organisation relevant in the modern world. I am sure that my hon. Friend Mr. Howarth will want to return to this aspect of the report when he winds up, given his particular knowledge of defence matters.

The Foreign Affairs Committee also concluded that

"international law must evolve to meet new challenges such as the unprecedented terrorist threat".

As foreign policy has evolved to meet this increased threat, as well as the threat posed by rogue states, the doctrine of pre-emption has been much debated. Such a doctrine as it is applied today raises many questions and challenges, in terms of how it fits in with international law. Does the Minister have any suggestions as to how international law can be changed to meet this specific challenge? Has this issue been discussed with any other interested international parties? In particular, will he outline how the Foreign Secretary intends to

"strengthen the credibility of multilateral institutions—and, in particular, the United Nations", as noted?

Of course, much of this debate will inevitably revolve around Iraq, which features prominently both in the report and in current public debate. On Friday, Dr. Blix told the UN that Iraq had failed to produce evidence that tonnes of chemical and biological stockpiles have been destroyed. His comments support the Committee's conclusion that

"evidence of Iraq's retention and continued development of weapons of mass destruction is compelling and a cause for considerable concern".

Dr. Blix outlined areas in which Iraq had not shown "immediate and full" co-operation. Again, this supports the Committee's conclusion that the difficulties facing the UN weapons inspectors in Iraq "are formidable". It is a depressing picture in terms both of weapons, and of non-co-operation in their removal.

Photo of Martin Smyth Martin Smyth UUP, Belfast South

Is the hon. Gentleman prepared to comment on the latest revelation that Dr. Blix did not reveal some of the things that he discovered, and which were a cause of great concern?

Photo of Richard Spring Richard Spring Conservative, West Suffolk

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point. There have been some additions to Dr. Blix's original report. That simply strengthens the argument that, apart from that which we know exists in Iraq—we do not believe that it has been destroyed or abandoned—there may well be other elements in its armoury that we have yet to discover.

Despite all this, many argue that the inspectors should be given more time; they, like me, would prefer to see war avoided altogether. However, to avoid war at all costs, even when Saddam's non-compliance is evident, would be to preserve what would ultimately prove a false peace. It is Iraq's attitude, not more time, that matters. Saddam is still the one man who could prevent war.

We welcome the report's assessment that a

"failure to address the threat from Iraq's weapons of mass destruction could pose very high risks to the security of British interests in the Middle East and the Gulf region".

No hon. Members of this House want or seek war. We welcome the Foreign Secretary's assurance that the Government will

"only take military action in these circumstances as a matter of last resort".

We also welcome the fact that both the United States and the United Kingdom have engaged fully in the UN process to find a peaceful solution to this crisis. We look forward with interest and concern to the outcome of the current deliberations in the UN, and we hope that consensus may indeed be found. Should Saddam fail to disarm—I regret that the signs are not hopeful—we must be prepared to use force, if necessary, to disarm him. This remains our objective, and it is the threat of this that caused at least some co-operation from him in the first place.

We must have a clear contingency plan for both the future of Iraq and for humanitarian aid if we are to win over Arab opinion and fulfil our obligations to the people of Iraq, who have suffered so much under Saddam's rule. We therefore welcome the Committee's recommendation that

"the Government examine carefully the possible models for post-conflict reconstruction in Iraq, including a United Nations transitional authority".

Have the Government any preference in terms of structure, given Iraq's complex make-up? We welcome the conclusion that

"any military action against Iraq should be taken on the basis of Iraq's violation of successive Security Council Resolutions, culminating to date in UNSCR 1441".

Indeed, as has been pointed out, Iraq is in violation of 17 resolutions already. We also welcome the Committee's recognition that the "obligation" is

"on the Iraqi regime to disarm".

Last Friday, we learned that a US-UK-Spain draft resolution will be tabled this week, giving Iraq until 17 March to begin to comply. Those countries that voted four months ago to give Iraq a "final opportunity" to disarm must now uphold that commitment. They must quickly lend their support to this second resolution, making it clear that if Saddam Hussein does not disarm himself, the international community will do it for him.

As the report notes, and as the Government also recognise, the backdrop to much opinion in the middle east is the whole question of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. The Prime Minister is right to pay such attention to this festering sore in the middle east, and we hope passionately that America's vital role in moving the peace process forward is recognised, and can be achieved. However, we, as a country, certainly have a role to play. A viable and independent Palestinian state, alongside an Israel secure within her own borders and free from the horrors of suicide bombings, is the only way that the future stability and prosperity of the region can be assured. Of course, that will not be easy. There is so much complex history, so much tragedy and so much historical baggage in the dispute, but ultimately the way to a settlement is not through violence. It will need a political solution that is based on dialogue and the rebuilding of trust. One can only hope that such a settlement will come sooner rather than later.

Greater freedom and stability has undoubtedly been brought to Afghanistan by military action backed by the UN and NATO. We also have a duty to remain committed to the promise made by the Prime Minister last year when he said:

"We will not desert the Afghan people. We will stick with them until the job of reconstruction is done." —[Hansard, 24 September 2002; Vol. 390, c. 6.]

We should not, however, be sanguine about the situation in Afghanistan. We should recognise that many security problems still exist in parts of that country, and that much of the security and stability that exists is brought about by the presence of international troops.

We welcome the Government's commitment in their response to continue their commitment to Afghanistan, including financial aid. The anti-drugs policies referred to are particularly important and welcome, although an article in The Economist on 10 October last year, which projected a big increase in opium poppy production since the fall of the Taliban, suggests that there is still a long way to go in tackling the heroin trade at its root. While many lessons have been learnt in Afghanistan from a humanitarian perspective, it is important that we sound a note of caution to those who might suggest that it offers a blueprint for humanitarian operations in Iraq. The situations are entirely different.

Important though it is, I will not dwell on the recommendation regarding FCO travel advice, because we had a welcome opportunity to discuss the issue in the House last week.

The importance of engaging public opinion, both here and in the middle east is vital to the future success of the war against terrorism, and equally vital to our own democratic process. Parliament has continued to be kept informed, and that is to be commended. Great efforts are necessary to communicate with the public at this most difficult time, and to keep them fully in touch as developments unfold over the next few days and weeks. I can, however, think of no more appropriate conclusion than to echo the Committee's report and its recommendation in paragraph 11, which states:

"We commend the Government for its firm and committed leadership in the war against terrorism . . . Britain has contributed substantially to ensuring that the 'international coalition' remains a reality, more than a year after the devastating terrorist attacks on the United States".

I hope that it will continue to do so, especially with regard to Iraq.

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

I remind hon. Members that Mr. Speaker has imposed a 15-minute limit on speeches from Back Benchers.

Photo of Eric Illsley Eric Illsley Labour, Barnsley Central 2:12 pm, 11th March 2003

I will keep my remarks relatively brief. I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this important debate on an important report. As a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, I appreciate the comments made by the Minister and his opposite number about the significance of the report and its contents. I also commend my right hon. Friend Donald Anderson on the way in which he introduced the debate. The report and debate are timely, given that the UN is considering the issue in detail today and will continue to do so for the rest of the week.

The report is entitled, "The War against Terrorism", and those who read it will see that the situation in Iraq took over whole sections of the report, in the same way as Iraq will feature heavily in the debate. I make no excuses for mentioning that situation.

We consistently hear people referring to the crisis in Iraq. The only crisis is that Iraq is likely to be invaded in the next couple of weeks. There is no crisis coming this way from Iraq, but we tend to talk up the situation by using such emotive language. I wonder whether the urgency about dealing with the threat from Iraq—if it has weapons of mass destruction, which I question, given the most recent inspectors' reports—has more to do with the window of opportunity for military action before the summer months and the proximity of the US elections next year. The Americans do not want to wait until next winter to take military action. They have thousands of troops stationed in the Gulf—as have we—at significant cost, and the urgency relates to their wish to invade Iraq as soon as possible.

One point made by the report is that we must not be distracted from the war against terrorism. The Iraqi situation takes up most of the foreign affairs debating time in the House, and I am pleased that the recent arrests of al-Qaeda operatives show that our focus on the war against terrorism has not been completely overshadowed by Iraq. The report mentions other areas of concern, including the idea of pre-emptive self-defence, which has been mentioned already. The Committee took much evidence on that, none of which was conclusive. It is questionable whether there is a legal right to pre-emptive self-defence.

A related issue that has not yet been mentioned is targeted extra-judicial killings. Hon. Members may recall that on 3 November, a US helicopter fired a rocket and killed six suspected terrorists as they were driving through Yemen. Israel also performs extra-judicial killings in Gaza and the occupied territories. The report questions the legality of such actions.

The report also mentions the future of the detainees in Guantanamo bay. Those al-Qaeda and Taliban operatives have been detained for some time, with no prospect of a trial or legal action. The Government have responded to the Committee on that issue, but no action is being taken—with any urgency, at least—in respect of the detainees.

Questions have also been posed about the links between terrorist organisations and Iraq, but no such link has ever been proved. It has been commented that there are no links between Iraq and organised terrorism, and the Government have now concluded that there is no link between 11 September and Iraq, although there are links between Iraq and other terrorist organisations. The Committee found no concrete evidence of that. Our report summarises the threat posed by Iraq as the Government set it out for us, and one of the three reasons that they gave was the opportunity to develop terrorist weapons.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

I am not sure that I properly understood my hon. Friend's point. Is he saying that there is no known link between terrorism and Iraq? The Mujahedin-e-Khalq—or MEK—is definitely a terrorist organisation, and we also have clear evidence of Iraqi support for Palestinian suicide bombers. We also have intelligence information about al-Qaeda people in Iraq.

Photo of Eric Illsley Eric Illsley Labour, Barnsley Central

My hon. Friend knows that the evidence shows that some terrorists are staying in Iraq, but in areas where Saddam Hussein's writ does not run. I have read the information about the other terrorist organisations and I remain unconvinced by it.

I accept the argument about suicide bombings, and that payments are made to their families. I abhor suicide bombings as much as anyone else, but I also dislike Israel's response to them, as it has used tanks to fire on unarmed civilians.

Photo of Eric Illsley Eric Illsley Labour, Barnsley Central

I have only 15 minutes, but I shall give way quickly to my hon. Friend.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

Is my hon. Friend saying that he accepts that the Iraqis are supporting the MEK, which is clearly a terrorist organisation?

Photo of Eric Illsley Eric Illsley Labour, Barnsley Central

I do not dispute that the Government have indicated that Iraq might be supporting that terrorist organisation, but I believe that the links are somewhat tenuous. If they were stronger, the Government might be believed.

Photo of Eric Illsley Eric Illsley Labour, Barnsley Central

I am not giving way again.

In the past two years, I have heard Ministers say at the Dispatch Box that there is no link between Iraq and terrorist organisations. As time has gone on, the Government have changed their argument. They have moved away from suggesting Iraqi involvement in 11 September and tried to establish that country's links with other terrorist organisations. To avoid further arguments with my hon. Friend the Minister, I say only that those links are somewhat tenuous.

I accept that money has been given to the families of suicide bombers, but it is questionable whether that equates to funding terrorist organisations. Does the money go to the organisations or to the families involved? However, I shall again give the Government the benefit of the doubt, and I do not dismiss their contention out of hand.

Another argument in connection with the threat from Iraq is that it has weapons of mass destruction. The inspection regime is all about those weapons, but my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary told the House yesterday that the International Atomic Energy Agency had found no evidence that Iraq had re-established its nuclear programme. He said simply that he welcomed that: he did not say whether the UN Security Council accepted it, or whether the Government now accept that Iraq has no nuclear programme. However, it appears that there are no nuclear weapons in Iraq.

Hans Blix and his team of inspectors have asked for more time to try and establish whether Iraq will comply with the UN resolutions, and for inspectors to find evidence of biological or chemical weapons. I agree that there is some evidence that Iraq is dealing in such weapons—mainly because we have evidence of what was supplied to Saddam Hussein in the past. It seems that Iraq cannot win: if there is no evidence of nuclear weapons, and no such weapons to find, we cannot say that we believe that Iraq is not complying because we cannot find any nuclear weapons.

The Government's third argument is that our policies towards Iraq are designed to strengthen the international rule of law and the credibility of multilateral institutions, notably the UN. My first reaction is that we are going a funny way about it if our aim is to strengthen multilateral bodies. I shall speak in a moment about NATO, the UN and the EU, but the Foreign Affairs Committee visited the US and was told that that country is now rather tired of multilateral organisations and treaties, and that it will seek to withdraw from them. It has shown its willingness to do that with its actions in respect of the anti-ballistic missile treaty. That shows that the Americans are not committed to strengthening multilateral organisations, and their attitude to the UN has been equivocal in the past.

The Committee fully supports the commitment to the UN, but Britain and the US cannot say that we are upholding the UN by enforcing the resolutions and yet walk away from the UN when we do not get the resolution from the Security Council that we want. We cannot say that we are upholding the UN on the one hand, and then ignore it on the other. We must put our faith in the UN, or walk away from it—as the US probably wants—and allow it to fall into disuse and disrepute.

It was disconcerting to learn from the radio this morning that a British Minister is visiting countries in Africa, just as the French Foreign Minister is doing. It seems strange that another scramble for Africa, to coin a phrase, is going on. Ministers are chasing around Africa, trying to drum up support for the various positions in the UN.

The UN's credibility is at stake. A considerable split is evident. We should give more time to the inspectors to find evidence of compliance and disarmament, and we should also allow a little more time to ensure that the UN Security Council does not fall apart. The proposed time limit expires on 17 March—in a week's time—and UN member countries are in a sorry state if Ministers are chasing around Africa drumming up support for their differing positions. If a second resolution is not agreed, or if the vote is so narrowly split that it will be argued that it does not constitute a mandate for any further UN action, it will be the worst of all worlds.

If Britain or the US ignores the UN Security Council, or if we ignore a second resolution because it does not have the wording that we want, we will be giving the green light to any country or organisation to ignore UN resolutions. Last October, members of the Select Committee were sat in Richard Armitage's State Department office when the news came through that North Korea had told the American ambassador that it had a nuclear weapons programme, and what was the US going to do about it? I regard that as a credible and urgent threat—much more than Iraq.

I have mentioned the danger of splits in the UN, but there is also a worry about splits in the EU and NATO. EU countries have lined up in little alliances. France is in alliance with Germany, while Britain is to some extent allied with Spain, which supports our stance. Divisions are opening up. Britain used to be at the heart of Europe and a leader of the EU, but our influence is being affected.

Another crucial issue is the effect on NATO of Turkey's decision about its defence in the event of military action. The headlong rush to take military action in Iraq puts us in danger of causing real divisions in the organisations that I have mentioned, even though our stated policy is to strengthen them. We appear to be getting entirely the wrong result.

The report states that any military action must be on the basis of UN resolutions. I fully agree: as a Committee member, I stand by that statement, and believe that there must be a second resolution before any military action is taken against Iraq. The Committee accepts that Iraq is in breach of several UN resolutions since 1991, but we heard evidence that suggested that the idea that we should take military action to support a resolution relating to the last Gulf war was somewhat tenuous.

The report calls for a second resolution. That is crucial. I hope that the Government will take that on board, and redouble their efforts to achieve one. Moreover, they should accept the resolution as it is passed, and not make noises that any veto would be unreasonable, or that there would be unilateral action without a veto.

Mr. Spring has already referred to the report's final paragraph, which states that the international coalition remains a reality. However, the way that we are going means that there is not likely to be an international coalition, as we are causing splits in so many of the international organisations in that coalition. The difficulty of achieving any such coalition will become greater if the US takes military action in the face of the UN's refusal to back such action, or if a further resolution is vetoed.

I urge the Government to look at some of those issues. They must consider whether there is an urgent threat from Iraq, and whether we should give more time to the inspectors and the UN so as to stop the damaging splits that are appearing in international bodies.

Photo of Colin Breed Colin Breed Liberal Democrat, South East Cornwall 2:30 pm, 11th March 2003

It is a pleasure to follow Mr. Illsley because I agree with much that he said. There is broad support for his views not only in this House but outside.

We welcome the decision to discuss the report of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs on the foreign policy aspects of the war against terrorism. It is timely and appropriate. We applaud the work of the Committee and welcome its many sensible and constructive recommendations. It is pleasing that the Government broadly agree with the Committee's findings. However, in some areas, the Government must sharpen their focus and be more active.

We join the Committee in praising the Government for implementing many positive policies, such as asset freezing, which has made a major contribution, and the fostering of better links with the Arab world generally. Those policies are welcome. We remain convinced that the campaign against terrorism is best pursued through united and co-operative action with other states within an international framework that is transparent and that gives confidence to our allies and partners.

It is not enough for the Government to say simply that they would always act within the boundaries of international law. As has been pointed out, and as the Committee acknowledges, such law must evolve to meet new challenges. So far, the Government have failed to address concerns over the legitimacy of pre-emptive action and the definition of what qualifies as an imminent threat. As the Minister acknowledged, those issues are important. Many hon. Members would like to know the Government's view on the Committee's recommendation calling for the evolution of international law to reflect the rapidly developing threats that terrorist attacks now represent.

More specifically, will the Government give their views on three perceived aspects of that evolution of international law that seem to have arisen during the past few months as the international community has grappled with the Iraq problem? First, it is widely acknowledged that so-called regime change is beyond the scope of the United Nations; it is specifically excluded in article 2 of the UN charter. Do the Government propose to evolve international law to include circumstances where regime change would become a legitimate reason for intervention—military or otherwise?

Secondly, the United States and perhaps a coalition of the willing—or perhaps even a coalition of the coerced—may be embarking on a pre-emptive strike against another nation state on the premise of a perceived threat. That may be considered as revolutionary rather than evolutionary, but what clear evidence and justification ought to be provided and made public before any such pre-emptive action is authorised or commenced?

Thirdly, we have heard the Prime Minister use the concept of an unreasonable veto when considering whether he feels bound by the decisions of the United Nations Security Council. Such qualification surely undermines the whole validity of a veto. Either a veto is a veto or it is not. Is this a further example of the evolution of international law that the Government are seeking? If so, it needs to be much more clearly defined. In particular, the circumstances under which any such qualification can be invoked, and by whom, must be much more sharply defined.

In their response to the Committee, the Government claim:

"Disarming Iraq removes the very real and catastrophic threat of international terrorists getting hold of weapons of mass destruction."

That denies the possibility that the opposite will happen—that terrorists will take the opportunity to lay hands on hidden reserves of such weapons under cover of the fog of war. Why do the Government believe that Saddam Hussein, who has spent so much time, effort and energy in keeping hold of his weapons, might give them up to a terrorist organisation?

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Shadow Minister (Defence)

It is not a question of Saddam Hussein giving up his weapons of mass destruction to terrorists. If he has retained a large quantity of anthrax, for example, he could easily spare some of it for terrorists, if he wanted to, without giving up the potential to use it himself.

Photo of Colin Breed Colin Breed Liberal Democrat, South East Cornwall

I accept that it depends on how much he has. He may retain some and give up some; however, we have yet to determine whether he has any. He has made strenuous efforts not to divulge his weapons and to keep them as secret as he can.

The Liberal Democrats remain concerned that the Government's Iraq policy may exacerbate, and not decrease, the threat from terrorism, on the one hand by increasing antipathy towards the west among many communities, and, on the other, by fracturing the carefully constructed alliance against terrorism that has achieved much in the past 18 months. We need only look to Afghanistan to see an example of how military attack, when not backed with a commitment to security and substantial financial and humanitarian aid, can provide only a short-term solution. The current situation in Afghanistan is shameful. When put into context, the Government's pledge of £200 million looks modest. The total $5 billion of funds that was pledged at Tokyo was only half the estimated necessary cost of rebuilding Afghanistan, and most of that has already been spent on emergency humanitarian aid.

The Prime Minister promised not to let the world

"walk away from Afghanistan, as it has done so many times before."

What evidence can the Minister provide to reassure the House that that promise remains true with regard to Afghanistan—and then with regard to Iraq in the event of military action?

Finally the Government have made it clear that they will continue to tackle what they see as the linked problem of rogue states and the sponsorship of terrorism

"until the threat to this country is dealt with."

In the context of the questions I posed earlier, will the Minister outline some of the specific criteria that the Government will use when assessing whether a country is a sufficient threat to this nation to justify unauthorised pre-emptive military action?

The chairman of the Select Committee, Donald Anderson, gave us a text and a quotation. I will end with a sentiment with which I know he is familiar. It is the peacemakers who are blessed.

Photo of Mr Malcolm Savidge Mr Malcolm Savidge Labour, Aberdeen North 2:38 pm, 11th March 2003

I congratulate the Select Committee on producing an admirable report. Even though it contains items with which some people may disagree, it is, as the Chairman said, very informative and useful at this time. I agree with the Committee that the UK was right to take a leading role in the campaign against terror. We were right, after the terrible events of 11 September, to identify fully with the United States. It was also right to say that 11 September should not be regarded solely as a US tragedy but as a global tragedy that the world should work together on. In many ways, it is a pity that the Bush Administration have not recognised that sufficiently.

Mr. Spring spoke graciously about the way in which the Prime Minister helped to build a broad international coalition. We have a major danger to tackle, and the greatest danger of all is the possible combination of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. As I have previously suggested in this place, a suicide bomber driving around this neighbourhood with a nuclear device in the back of his van could wipe out the whole of Westminster, Whitehall and Buckingham palace, creating a major disaster against which we could do little to defend ourselves.

It is terribly important to use accurate definitions. There is an important difference, which was well defined in what the Prime Minister said immediately after 11 September, between unconditional terrorists and political terrorists, although both are appalling. By unconditional terrorists, I mean groups such as al-Qaeda, the Aum sect or other apocalyptical or fanatical sects, whose goals are not really attainable and which feel that destroying vast numbers of people is a desirable aim.

We should distinguish between that form of terrorism and political terrorism, such as that of the Northern Ireland paramilitaries and some of the other groups that have been mentioned in the debate. As such groups have specific political aims, it is not in their interest to try to destroy large numbers of people. That would counteract their aims. Evil though all terrorism is, it is important to make those distinctions, despite the fact that there can be overlap between the bad acts that such people commit.

It is also important to define the term "weapons of mass destruction" much more carefully. The US National Academy of Sciences has said that it is dangerous to use that term because it blurs the distinction between nuclear weapons and the whole range of radiological, biological and chemical weapons, many of which are not really weapons of mass destruction. A tremendous fuss has been made about ricin. It is lethal as a means of assassination but it is not particularly easy to use as a weapon of mass destruction. It is important to make that distinction clear.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Shadow Minister (Defence)

Surely the distinction is not between nuclear weapons and the other weapons that the hon. Gentleman describes but between the lethality of the weapons concerned. Just as there are nuclear weapons that kill many people and mini-nuclear weapons that are not weapons of mass destruction, so ricin is not a weapon of mass destruction, but anthrax is.

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

Experiments in the US suggest that even anthrax needs to be highly weaponised. There are considerably difficulties in using it as a weapon. The distinctions are important.

International unity is vital in the campaign against terrorism. There is no doubt that Iraq has been a great cause of division in the international community. However, its military forces are weak and the missiles that it has retained are limited in range, accuracy and number. Its unmanned aerial vehicles—UAVs—can travel 500 miles at most, so it is absurd scaremongering on the part of the United States President to say that Iraq could attack the US with biological and chemical weapons at any moment.

The Iraqis do not have nuclear weapons—they were destroyed—and the impression formed by the inspectors so far is that the nuclear weapons programme has not been restarted and that the evidence produced to show that it had was fake. That point is crucial and I thought that it had been accepted by the Foreign Secretary, although the Minister seemed to question it.

On biological and chemical weapons, dossiers have been produced by the Government, the International Institute for Strategic Studies and the CIA. I do not accuse them of not making intelligent guesses, but the evidence from the inspectors tends to the view that we have probably overestimated the number of such weapons that remain in Iraq. Certainly, the amount is considerably less than it was in the 1980s and 1990s.

On Iraq's links with terrorism, there are no proven connections between Iraq and 11 September. Connections with al-Qaeda have usually proved false. Havel denied the truth of the Czech connection that he had previously suggested. The video of Osama bin Laden was absurdly latched on to by Colin Powell; it gave no proof.

Photo of Mr Paul Tyler Mr Paul Tyler Liberal Democrat, North Cornwall

Was the hon. Gentleman as impressed as I was by the clear definition given by Mr. Clarke during our debate on Iraq of the dangers of creating an even more fertile atmosphere for terrorism by a pre-emptive strike from the United States, possibly supported by the United Kingdom? Terrorism and Iraq are two connected yet separate issues.

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

I take the hon. Gentleman's point completely and will try to deal with it at the end of my speech.

Our intelligence services say that there are no current links between Iraq and al-Qaeda. It is unfortunate that the Prime Minister has found an ambiguous formulation, which seems to imply that there could be links although there is no evidence for them. In fact, the strongest link between Iraq and al-Qaeda is that at one time both were supplied with weapons by some of the right-wing hawks who now demand war against Iraq.

There are links with certain terrorist groups, but I would make the distinction that those groups are political terrorists. George Tenet was forced by the Senate to declare the results of the CIA investigations, which were that the CIA believed there to be no evidence that Saddam Hussein was currently likely to use whatever weapons of mass destruction he held, or to pass them on to terrorists, but that the risk of that would be greatly increased by an invasion.

As Donald Anderson, the Chairman of the Select Committee, pointed out, Iraq is only one of the many sources of weapons of mass destruction, but others are more likely to pass them to terrorists. Mr. Breed referred to an unfortunate phrase in the Government's response to the Select Committee report, which stated:

"Disarming Iraq removes the very real and catastrophic threat of international terrorists getting hold of weapons of mass destruction."

That is extreme and dangerous language. It removes only one of the lesser threats. Of course, it is vital that Iraq should be disarmed, and that will be achieved by the military pressure that is being applied.

The choice is not between going to war and doing nothing; it is about continuing with intrusive inspections and proper flight surveillance. The inspectors say that can be achieved within months with the degree of co-operation that has been obtained. There can then be monitoring and constant verification and containment.

The demand that Saddam give positive, active and enthusiastic compliance like South Africa did is meaningless. South Africa was getting rid of weapons voluntarily; we know that Saddam is not doing that. The proper comparison would be with decommissioning in Northern Ireland.

The difficulties of decommissioning have been grossly exaggerated. We have much better technical facilities and much more intrusive inspections are being undertaken than in the 1990s. Terrible exaggerations are being made. Everyone believes that Iraq is the same size as France, yet France is a quarter as large again. Saddam controls less than half of Iraq and most of that is sand and desert where the type of cat and mouse game suggested by Colin Powell is much more difficult to play.

Continued exaggeration and distortion is a tragedy and a cause of grave, grave worry. The Select Committee found that the dodgy Downing street document was accepted by the Prime Minister; it was commissioned by his office and presented by him to the House. That is a matter of grave concern when we are discussing something as serious as being led into pre-emptive war.

I fear that in the US scaremongering is leading to warmongering, and we must not let that happen. There is danger in the fact that the arguments for war are constantly being changed, especially when we are talking about that dangerous concept of pre-emptive war to which the Chairman of the Select Committee referred. The UN resolutions are not sufficient grounds for starting a war. There is no immediate or imminent threat of attack from Iraq. We need evidence of a real threat, plus a second resolution, for war conceivably to be justified.

I do not know what talk of "unreasonable vetoes" means. Perhaps we should be talking about "unreasonable proposed resolutions" or "unreasonable presidents". I hope that we do not have to talk about "unreasonable Prime Ministers".

If there is no second resolution, it is surely not acceptable that this country should be led to war without Parliament at least being consulted first. That is absolutely vital. We do not want this country to be led to a war without a second resolution and then Parliament to be told that we would betray our troops if we criticised the war. Frankly, if we were led to war in those circumstances, that would betray the troops. It would betray the British people and the principles that we should be standing for, and it would certainly betray the UN.

I want to conclude by giving some of the reasons why this would be an extremely dangerous war to get involved in: it would be in breach of international law—that is certainly what most international jurists have said—and it would be terribly damaging to the UN. There is the danger that, if biological and chemical weapons were used against Israel and that led to a nuclear response, the human catastrophe, plus the follow-on effects, would be beyond belief.

If Iraq is invaded, there is a much greater danger that whatever personnel or materials Saddam has from a weapons of mass destruction programme will be dispersed across the world. In fact, the danger is that, by that very attack, we will increase the push for proliferation, particularly given the US policies suggesting that it might break its agreements under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Invasion could open the Pandora's box in the middle east referred to by King Abdullah of Jordan. It could distract from and undermine the campaign against terrorism. It could provoke much greater resentment in the Arab countries and perhaps the whole Islamic world and, for that very reason, it could inflame terrorism, rather than reduce it.

We face a particular threat in Britain. While in the United Kingdom most people may regard the Prime Minister as having played a moderating role in relation to the Bush Administration, people elsewhere will see him as the essential co-conspirator in bringing about a war, so we will have an extra threat of suffering from terrorism.

Let us suppose that most of the fears that I have expressed were not realised and that there was a quick war. I would still say that there are two other appalling dangers, the first of which is embarking on the whole concept of pre-emptive war. Whom does the west attack next? Who follows our example? What is the difference between this and what was condemned in the first two counts of the Nuremberg tribunal in 1946—conspiracy towards war and crimes against the peace?

The final point that I would make is that if, as Nelson Mandela has suggested, this is a recipe for international anarchy, in a world where we cannot disinvent weapons of mass destruction, surely the future for the whole of humanity would be extremely bleak.

Photo of John Maples John Maples Conservative, Stratford-on-Avon 2:53 pm, 11th March 2003

Mr. Savidge has pretty effectively exposed most of the chinks in the Government's case. I listened with interest to what he had to say, but I hope that he will forgive me if I do not follow him down that path. I wish to deal with two aspects of the Select Committee's report in relation to development in the Arab world and the Arab-Israeli peace process, but before I do so, I should like to follow up a point that I made with the Foreign Secretary yesterday.

One of the things that bothers me about all that is going on with Iraq—by and large, I support the Government's policy on Iraq—is the damage that it appears to be doing to the western alliance. We have the spectre of a German political leader running his general election campaign on an anti-American platform. We have the absolutely preposterous fact of a French Foreign Minister travelling the world, drumming up opposition to their main and supposed allies.

It is easy to indulge in a lot of French bashing about that, but we must rebuild some of those bridges. If we believe in multilateralism, all of us have to play our part in that. One can lay some of the blame at the door of the United States for not mounting a big enough diplomatic effort before it launched this policy. The policy seems to have come first and a lot of diplomatic effort came second. That was perhaps a mistake. There should have been more diplomatic effort earlier. It seems that the policy was led not by the State Department, but by the Pentagon. If it had been led by the State Department, perhaps there would have been more diplomatic bridge building beforehand, and perhaps the French and Germans would not have behaved in quite the way they have done.

It is difficult to understand what the French are trying to achieve. My belief is that the Germans will come back on side fairly quickly—they have gone rather silent recently—but I do not know how the French will extricate themselves from this mess. There seems to be a delusion in the Elysée palace—perhaps if someone is going to have delusions, that is the place to have them. Nevertheless, there seems to be a delusion that France is still a great power. It certainly has not been a great power since 1918; it certainly has not been a world-beating great power since about 1815. That is an extraordinary policy for France to pursue, and it has left the common foreign and security policy in ruins.

The likelihood of France being the leader of European foreign policy, particularly in the new European Union with 25 or 26 members, is now completely unrealistic. That may put us in a rather stronger position, although it may make the common foreign policy meaningless. By and large, I am not a huge supporter of that policy, but European countries need to do some things in common where they have common interests. The prospect of that has been seriously damaged. Perhaps more worryingly, NATO has been damaged. The Select Committee is going to visit NATO tomorrow, so perhaps we will return with a better impression of what is happening.

After this is over, we have to try to rebuild the western alliance. If we succeed in Iraq at the expense of permanently damaging the western alliance, it would be a very high price to pay indeed. I hope that the Government will devote considerable effort, along with our American colleagues, to preventing that, and I sincerely hope that the French and German Governments will realise that they have damaged themselves and the western alliance in pursuing their policies and that they will participate in that effort, too.

Photo of Mr Paul Tyler Mr Paul Tyler Liberal Democrat, North Cornwall

The hon. Gentleman's thesis is perfectly proper, but does he agree that it is no more acceptable to bash the French than to bash the Americans if we are trying to rebuild the bridges, as he suggests? Does he accept that the Americans also have a responsibility in this matter?

Photo of John Maples John Maples Conservative, Stratford-on-Avon

I thought that I had said that. I tried to be fairly even-handed by saying that the American diplomatic effort should have come earlier and been stronger.

Photo of Mr Paul Tyler Mr Paul Tyler Liberal Democrat, North Cornwall

That does not seem to be the hon. Gentleman's colleagues' view.

Photo of John Maples John Maples Conservative, Stratford-on-Avon

I am speaking for myself in this debate. One of the luxuries of being a Back Bencher is that I can be dangerous and irresponsible if I want to be, but I do not have to express anyone else's views. Of course multilateralism requires everyone to behave like a multilateralist.

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack Conservative, South Staffordshire

My hon. Friend is a very valued member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, but does he not agree that many of us believe that the French have behaved utterly disgracefully, and it is not the first time that they have endangered NATO either?

Photo of John Maples John Maples Conservative, Stratford-on-Avon

I thought that I had said that; I did not put it in quite the words that my hon. Friend uses, but I said that it was pretty preposterous for the French Foreign Minister to be doing what he is doing, that I do not understand how the French will get out of the mess, and that that has seriously damaged the western alliance. However, after this is over, we have to try to rebuild the alliance, so we cannot indulge in bashing anyone; our Government and those of the other countries involved will have to start rebuilding the bridges.

I turn now to the development of the Arab world, which we addressed in the report and in the previous one, too. The Government have responded positively to the concept of needing to help our allies in the region to become more stable and better allies. We believe that that needs to be done through political and economic development in those areas. A lot has been said about that recently, and the United Nations Development Programme report on Arab human development is a damning indictment of a part of the world that democracy and free markets seem to have bypassed completely. We have had a revolution in the past 13 or 14 years, in which the world has been overwhelmed by democracy and free markets, but somehow the Arab world has been exempt from that—it has bypassed it—and we have to ensure that that does not continue.

The report highlights deficiencies in the education system and in the involvement of women, as well as the lack of basic, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law. It highlights the problems that are being presented by demography. An incredible percentage of the population is under the age of 20. Gross domestic product per head, even in a prosperous country such as Saudi Arabia, is half what it was 20 years ago.

We are seeing the difficulty of rentier economies living off oil incomes, trying to convert themselves into industrial economies. They are simply not setting about that in the right way. We are seeing corruption, the confusion of Governments with ruling elites, as well as the confusion of their money, and the complete absence of democracy, although we are seeing tentative steps to change that in Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait and Jordan; perhaps those steps can be built on and will be examples to others.

There are 260 million people in the Arab world, but they produce less than 40 million Spaniards do. The Arab world represents only 1 per cent. of non-oil world trade. Those are damning figures for countries that, on the whole, have long histories of being civilised and educated, and of having educated elites.

As I said, we have raised these issues twice, and the United States has started to address them. Both Richard Haass, the policy director in the State Department, and Colin Powell, the Secretary of State, have made interesting speeches recently on this subject. The US-middle east partnership initiative has been established. I hope that we are supporting that, and perhaps we could even have one of our own. Colin Powell said:

"The spread of democracy and free markets, fuelled by the wonders of the technological revolution, has created a dynamo that can generate prosperity and human well-being on an unprecedented scale. But this revolution has left much of the Middle East behind . . . Still, too many Middle Easterners are ruled by closed political systems. Too many governments curb the institutions of civil society as a threat, rather than welcome them as the basis for a free, dynamic, and hopeful society. And the language of hate, exclusion, and incitement to violence is still all too common throughout the region."

He continued:

"The authors of the Arab Development Report have found that 'education has begun to lose its significant role as a means of achieving social advancement in Arab countries, turning instead into a means of perpetuating social stratification and poverty.'"

That is a long list of things that need to be done.

What worries me, however, is that Saudi Arabia seems ripe for an Iranian-style revolution unless it mends its ways. In those circumstances, it is not a stable ally. We want it to remain a friend and an ally, but sometimes we must tell our friends that they must change their ways if they are to be useful in that partnership. We are seeing possible developments in Iran that are very encouraging: we do not know whether the democratic forces will win out in the end; I suspect that they will, but it may take longer than we think. Perhaps, however, we are seeing the development of the rule of law and democracy in Iran. It has taken 24 years since its revolution to even start to see the glimmerings of that, but we need to encourage those moves. We need the Arab word to start to feel some self-confidence and pride in developing its economy and institutions. It must not identify itself with Osama bin Laden, terrorists and suicide bombers in Israel.

When the Minister replies, I hope that he will tell us in greater detail and more specifically what the Government are doing, in conjunction with European Union partners, in conjunction with the United States initiative that I mentioned, or on their own, to encourage this process. They responded in warm but generalised tones to our report on the matter, but I would be interested to hear a more specific response.

Thirdly, I want to ride a hobby-horse that I have been riding for some time, but there is no harm in repeating such points—I am sorry if anyone present has been in the audience before. The Arab-Israeli peace process is going nowhere. Anybody who thinks that the Quartet group, its road map, all the other pretentious trappings that go with it, and its international conferences, will get Ariel Sharon and Arafat to do a deal that could not be done by Barak and Arafat at Taba in the spring of 2001 is deluding themselves. There is some diplomatic value in pretending to go through a process, and appearing to take it very seriously, but a solution to the problem will not be achieved through the Quartet group. People say that it will come only through dialogue, agreement and confidence building. It will not come through any of those things. It will come if it is imposed by the rest of us. It is time we addressed that as a serious alternative to years and years of international conferences, initiatives, and confidence-building measures, none of which have worked.

President Clinton devoted an enormous amount of the time of his Administration to trying to solve this problem. The talks at Camp David collapsed—or did not succeed—and they were reinstated at Taba a few months later. We all know that the deal on the table at Taba is the deal that is going to be done: two states; capitals in Jerusalem; and a limited solution to the refugee problem. All those were on the table, but Arafat and Barak could not do that deal. The reason Arafat could not do that deal is domestic; it has to do with his constituency. Either he is terrified of getting assassinated if he does the deal, or he does not want to be the Palestinian leader who finally sells out and agrees to a permanent state of Israel in the middle east.

If Barak could not persuade Arafat to do that deal, it is highly unlikely that Sharon will persuade him to do it, as my guess is that there is no way Sharon will ever offer as good a deal as Barak offered. We are therefore stuck. The idea that the Quartet group will solve the problem by marching through the diplomatic niceties of international conferences is not realistic. Some very serious arm-twisting will have to be done.

I do not feel that I am taking sides by proposing that we should seek to enforce the deal that was on the table at Taba. It is as fair a deal for both sides as it is possible to conjure out of the difficult history and strong feelings that abound in this dispute. I suggest to the Government—the Minister has heard me make this point before—that it is now time for us to use the United Nations to pass a mandatory resolution under chapter VII imposing that settlement. More negotiation could go into the niceties of which settlements are in or out, and whether the borders are 1 km this way or that way. Basically, however, we know what the deal will be, and we need a UN Security Council mandatory resolution passed under chapter VII saying, "That is the deal. You can decide whether you accept it or not, but you can no longer use some minor negotiating point as an alibi for not agreeing or implementing it." That is what they all do at the moment. They say, "We couldn't agree with that because it didn't deal with this settlement," or "We couldn't agree with that because it didn't deal with the refugees." If all those issues were dealt with in the resolution, the parties would then have to consider whether to implement it or not. If we had the United Nations Security Council and the leading countries in the Arab world on side—in this context, that means the Governments of Saudi Arabia and Egypt—that would be enough diplomatic pressure to twist their arms into accepting it.

Photo of Colin Breed Colin Breed Liberal Democrat, South East Cornwall

If such a resolution were vetoed by the US, would the hon. Gentleman consider that unreasonable?

Photo of John Maples John Maples Conservative, Stratford-on-Avon

I am trying to construct a solution to a problem, and the hon. Gentleman is throwing an artificial hand grenade into the middle of it. Of course, if somebody vetoes it, and the UN Security Council cannot agree to it, it cannot happen. The United States, however, wants and needs a solution to the problem. It has difficulties, as we all do, with the history of the problem and how we approach it. It can work only if the UN Security Council agrees and if Saudi Arabia and Egypt agree, too. At the Beirut Arab summit, back in the autumn of last year, Israel was essentially offered that deal, under which, if the various conditions were accepted, the state of Israel would be recognised. Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has said the same thing. There is real mileage in that.

It is time our Government, the United States Government and the UN concentrated on trying to find a solution in that way. If, in the context of having to concentrate on the problems of the middle east, we could help to find a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, and help the development of civil society, freedom, and, eventually, democracy in the Arab world, we would have a chance of bringing stability to a region that has troubled our security and our interests for far too long.

Photo of Richard Burden Richard Burden Labour, Birmingham, Northfield 3:07 pm, 11th March 2003

I join other Members in congratulating the Select Committee on a comprehensive report. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I will address the majority of my remarks to the sections of the report dealing with the situation in Iraq and some related issues.

One of the strengths of the report is that it avoids some of the caricatures that are creeping into comments being made on both sides of the debate on Iraq. I am one of those who voted for the amendment two weeks ago and who are sceptical about military action. But those who take that view need to be cautious about characterising all those who take a different view as people who think that war is a desirable outcome. Those of us who argue for a different course must also avoid caricaturing us as soft on Saddam and not willing to face up to responsibilities.

There are things on which we all agree. We can all agree that Saddam is duplicitous; there is no doubt about that. We can all agree that he has failed to meet, and has tried to avoid, his obligations under UN resolutions for many years. We can all agree that his regime is brutal and ruthless, particularly towards his own people. When the Prime Minister posed the question on several occasions—whether we honestly believed that the weapons inspectors would be back in Iraq today without the threat of force—he was right to do so. Pressure on Saddam has been vital in getting the weapons inspectors back into Iraq. That brings us to the nub of the argument: how can that pressure be used and best be taken forward in a way that achieves the results that we want and does not produce unwanted results that could be serious not only for Iraq but for the entire world?

As the world stands on the brink of a possible war, the international community is divided in a way that could threaten the credibility of the United Nations as a multilateral institution for many years to come. We should not be surprised by that or by the fact that Saddam is trying to exploit the situation. However, no one has a monopoly on seriousness in saying how we deal with the issue. That is why we should take account of the messages that are being sent.

We must recognise that the international community has perhaps avoided for too long facing up to how it deals with Saddam. That is the first message that we need to understand. However, I say to the Government in all seriousness that they need to understand that many people in the House and outside do not accept that the United States Administration want to use force as a last resort or use the threat of force as a means of pressuring Saddam into achieving disarmament by peaceful means. They believe that the Administration in the White House decided almost a year ago that military action would be taken. That Administration decided to pause to go down the UN route, and all credit to the Prime Minister for his efforts in achieving that. However, it was a just a pause.

The United States has not treated the United Nations as a partner. It has issued ultimatums to the UN for a course of action that has already been decided. The result is not in doubt—there is an inexorable move towards military action. That is why some of us found it chilling to hear President Bush say a month or two ago that he was bored with the results of non-military action in the same way that he gets bored with watching a tired old B-movie. That is no way to build consensus in the international community about how we confront Saddam.

The real tragedy is that we have backed ourselves into a corner. We are reluctant to admit that our actions are producing results, albeit partial results. Instead of considering how we can take the pressure forward and use and exploit the movement by Saddam that has occurred, we are reluctant to admit that movement is even taking place. We are almost saying that anything short of an invasion will somehow let Saddam off the hook or will involve easing the pressure on him even if, objectively, we ratcheted up the pressure on Saddam. The end result is that the United States and, sadly, our Government have ended up at odds with many of their greatest supporters in this place and many people outside. We must move beyond that.

The question often asked is, "All right, what would you do?" I shall therefore make a few points about what we could do. The beginnings of a solution can be found in the Blix report of last week. He did not talk about refusing to face up to Saddam; he talked about a clear work programme, based around inspections—not for weeks, not for years, but for months—that could keep up the pressure on Saddam. That could be compatible with the UK proposal that I thought I heard on the airwaves today about setting a series of tests for Saddam to establish how far he is prepared to face up to his obligations. There is a slim chance at the eleventh hour that a consensus could build around such a proposal.

It would take two things for such a proposal to work. The first is that those of us who take a different view from the Government must be clear that the pressure must be kept up and must be real. There is no doubt that Saddam will continue to try to avoid his responsibilities. However, the UK and US Governments must also stop basing everything around ultimatums and predetermined time scales, even if those ultimatums and time scales are time scales plus one or two weeks. In other words, the tests must be real rather than hair triggers that are set up to fail.

The authority for such tests is there and ready for us to take. It lies with the Blix team. The UK and US Governments cannot set themselves above the process by setting their own tests and almost challenging the Blix team to go along with them. We must recognise that Blix has the expertise and that his team is the route that we should use.

Let us not just be cautious about ultimatums towards Saddam. Let us also be cautious about ultimatums towards our allies. If we are to avoid the risks of such ultimatums, we must stop sending mixed messages about the role of the UN. Somehow, the impression has been given that we will go along with the UN when that suits us, but that we will not if it does not suit us. It is not the prerogative of the US President to arbitrate when global pre-emptive strikes are appropriate and when they are not. That is the UN's prerogative. That is why we created and fashioned it.

My second suggestion about what we could do recognises that it is not enough just to tackle the issue of disarmament. There is also a moral case for considering how the international community can give practical assistance to the people of Iraq to help to protect them from Saddam and, I hope, to rid themselves of such a tyrant. There is certainly a case for ensuring that the emerging democracy that is developing in north Iraq and in the Kurdish areas is supported and protected. My hon. Friend Ann Clwyd has spoken graphically and eloquently on the issue, and we need to be firm in relation to the no-fly zone.

That also means that we should consider creative ways of changing the sanctions regime to ensure that aid goes to those areas. In doing that, we could issue a challenge to Saddam. He must co-operate and allow us to get supplies and aid into the emerging areas of democracy in Iraq. That would pose him with a dilemma. If he allowed that to happen, his regime would start to get a bit shaky. His authority in his country would be undermined, and a good thing too. If he did not go along with us and blocked the convoys and aid and perhaps even attacked them, there would be a different case for military action. That case would command wide support in the House and internationally.

No one will be surprised to hear that my third suggestion relates to tackling the issue of double standards. The problem is real and it will not go away. Those people who say that the road to peace in the middle east goes through Baghdad are not only a bit geographically challenged but a bit politically challenged as well. Perhaps it is not surprising that people keep talking about road maps. Someone would need a road map of the middle east to work out where such a road would go.

The charge is real that we have not treated Israel and Palestine in the same way. Time and time again, we are told that we need to get the peace process going. Yes, that is true. We are told that the answer is more talking and, yes, we need more talking. We are told that Iraq is subject to chapter VII resolutions that require enforcement, but that the resolutions for the situation in Israel and Palestine are chapter VI resolutions that do not carry the same enforcement mechanisms. Technically that is absolutely true. It is also absolutely true that chapter VI resolutions are as equally legally binding as chapter VII resolutions.

Thousands of people died in the twin towers in America and the fact that so many people died rightly had a cataclysmic effect on American public opinion. However, what do we say to the Palestinians given that more than 2,000 of them have died since September 2000, or to the Israelis given that 700 of them have died since then? If that happened in Britain, the equivalent figures would be 7,000 Israelis or 37,000 Palestinians dying. If that happened in the United States, it would be the equivalent of 33,000 Israelis or 174,000 Palestinians dying. Faced with those figures—those lives—try telling anyone in the Arab world that the place for action is in Iraq and that all the people in Israel and Palestine need are words. If we look at the problem that way, we begin to understand why they are so bothered and angered about double standards.

I support the efforts to get the peace process going. I also support my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary in calling for early publication of the road map, but we need to do more than that. We need to consider how the will of the United Nations will not just be talked about, but upheld. Mr. Maples had some interesting ideas on that. We need to face up to the fact that we have a responsibility to achieve results. It is not enough merely to engage in talk that makes us feel better, and the United States has the clearest responsibility of all.

We all rightly condemned the appalling Haifa attack last week. It was also the first fatal attack on Israeli civilians since the middle of January. During that time, 174 Palestinian men, women and children have died in attacks from Israeli tanks, missiles and aircraft, many of them supplied by the United States. There is effectively an arms embargo against the Palestinians—we know that from the furore arising from an allegation of arms shipments going to them last year—but there is no arms embargo against Israel. Faced with carnage on that scale and the Sharon Government, who refuse to respond even when there is a lull in fighting, the time has come for the United States to do something. If it means what it says about wanting peace in the middle east and about its actions in Iraq not being an attack on Islam, it must face up to the consequences that flow from that. One of those is that it is time that the United States stopped its arms shipments to Israel, and we, as its closest ally, may be best placed to tell it that.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Shadow Minister (Defence) 3:22 pm, 11th March 2003

I would have been more impressed with the analysis of the middle east by Richard Burden had he addressed what my hon. Friend Mr. Maples said about a middle east settlement. The settlement is on the table and is clear. It was nearly achieved before and the only way in which it will be achieved in the foreseeable future will not be as a result of recriminatory speeches about one side in the middle east dispute, like that of the hon. Gentleman, but for both sides to be forced to reach a compromise agreement so that they have their own states and the security that they require.

The Select Committee produced a thoughtful report that was thoughtfully presented by Donald Anderson. However, I do not agree that the problems raised in it are entirely new—except, perhaps, in one respect: the threat that terrorist organisations might acquire weapons of mass destruction that have so far only been available to state actors. Some of the problems are similar to the age-old problems that have faced democracies in conflict situations whenever they arise, such as how far a democratic country should go down the route of the enemy that it is striving to defeat in time of war or other conflict.

Hon. Members may know that, during the second world war, the film producers Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger created a masterpiece, "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp", based on David Low's famous character of a stick-in-the-mud, though brave, British officer. Churchill was said to be very upset about the film being produced in wartime because it portrayed a German, who was one of the main characters, extremely sympathetically. Churchill had not seen the film, as is so often the case with people who criticise in ignorance, but the sympathetic German character was saying that the Colonel Blimp approach—the honourable approach; the play-it-by-the-rules-in-time-of-war approach—could not always be sustained in moments of grave crisis. Indeed, the German character argued that total war meant that difficult decisions which would not be regarded as acceptable in times of peace might have to be taken in times of war.

Photo of Andrew Tyrie Andrew Tyrie Conservative, Chichester

My hon. Friend has mentioned one of my favourite films and he makes an interesting analogy. Does he take that logic to mean that we should justify the use of torture on terrorist suspects?

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Shadow Minister (Defence)

That is precisely one of the dilemmas that countries face in such circumstances. It would not be right for a country to institutionalise the use of torture to extract information. However, I defy my hon. Friend to deny that that will not happen under the pressure of events if that pressure is great enough. I am glad that he has raised that example. Some hon. Members would undoubtedly find it easy to say that under no circumstances should improper pressure ever be applied to a prisoner; but if bin Laden had been in American hands shortly before 11 September and it had been known that al-Qaeda was about to launch a deadly attack, although it was not known when or where it would fall, who could say that it would be a cut-and-dried recommendation that under no circumstances should he have been subjected to what we would usually regard as improper pressure? The truth of the matter is that there can be no absolute rules in such cases. Each case has to be judged on its merits in the circumstances that apply at the time. If people say that that is totally unacceptable, I say that their attitude is totally unrealistic.

I remember reading how, at the start of the second world war, British bombers were not allowed to bomb anything other than German ships at sea because only then would they have the assurance that innocent civilians would not be caught up as casualties. How long did that restriction last under the pressure of war?

Photo of Peter Kilfoyle Peter Kilfoyle Labour, Liverpool, Walton

Leaving aside the fact that the United Nations charter explicitly rules out the use of torture and that the hon. Gentleman seems to advocate a relative morality that would sit ill with him on other occasions, may I posit another possibility? He will have read what Prime Minister Sharon said at the weekend about potential nuclear facilities or developments in Iran. In that instance, does he accept that another pre-emptive strike would be acceptable on the grounds that Iran may or may not develop nuclear weapons from its civil programme?

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Shadow Minister (Defence)

That is a very good scenario to consider, and I shall do so in a moment. I should like to correct the hon. Gentleman. I am not trying to say what is or is not acceptable; I am trying to make the House think about what is or is not realistic. It is not realistic to think that in issues of war and peace, even the finest rules, the finest laws and the finest conventions drawn up by the finest lawyers will be enough to ensure that every circumstance is catered for because, believe me, under the pressure of events, we find that they are not.

In giving the example that he did, the hon. Gentleman anticipated that I was about to refer, as the right hon. Member for Swansea, East did in his opening remarks, to the Israeli bombing of the Iraqi reactor in 1981. That is a classic example of a case that is not open and shut. At the time, I felt that the Israelis had a pretty good case for doing what they did. Retrospectively, more people believe that, but it is clear from the thoughtful remarks of the right hon. Gentleman, the Chairman of the Select Committee, that although the Committee thought that there was an arguable case for the action, on balance it felt that the Israelis were too pre-emptive in acting against a possibility that was too far in the future.

I return to the main point of this part of my presentation, which is that these matters are not black and white; they are not open and shut; and they cannot be decided by rules alone. There will always be scope for argument within the circumstances of the particular case. I shall give another example: the question of targeted assassination. One could say that a double standard has been applied by our American allies in this matter. They have, as far as I know, consistently condemned the Israelis for using targeted assassination against Hamas militants. Yet the Americans were over the moon when, not so long ago, they had a successful similar attack against a number of leading al-Qaeda suspects in a car. The truth is that when one is at war those rules will be stretched to the point where sometimes they will be broken.

There is nothing new in talking about targeted assassination. Which is better—targeted assassination against a known Hamas leader, tanks rolling into a base where Hamas people are mixed in with innocent civilians, or doing nothing and letting one's own people be attacked with impunity? Such dilemmas have come up time and again, and there are arguments for all those courses. The issue goes back a long way. Sir Thomas More, writing in his famous book "Utopia", recommended as one solution to the problem of war that when armies formed against one another, a group of shock troops from one's own army should target the enemy general and attack him, and only him, in wave after wave until he was eliminated, and thus bring the battle to a speedy end—a policy of targeted assassination.

Churchill, in 1944, faced with the V-weapon threat, ardently advocated the use of gas against the V-weapon sites, pointing out when people objected that in the first world war there had been an absolute bar on the bombing of cities but gas was used freely, and now, in the second world war, every one was bombing cities, but no one was thinking of using gas. In the end, the reason that gas was not used was not a moral one: the chiefs of staff convinced Churchill that gas would be less effective in those circumstances than ordinary high explosive. Let us not fool ourselves into thinking that such dilemmas, conflicts and wars can be resolved by sets of rules. Rules help us but they cannot do the whole job.

Photo of Peter Kilfoyle Peter Kilfoyle Labour, Liverpool, Walton

It is highly erroneous of the hon. Gentleman to suggest that what would be, in modern military parlance, an attack on the command and control centres—the general in charge—is targeted assassination. It is far removed from that. Targeted assassination was the subject of much debate in this House in relation to the shoot-to-kill policy in Northern Ireland. Does he accept that it was right to shoot to kill in Northern Ireland?

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Shadow Minister (Defence)

It would depend on the circumstances. If an IRA cell, as at Loughall, was trying to mount a lethal attack and was ambushed, I would not shed any tears for the people whose lives ended under such circumstances.

The hon. Gentleman has brought me neatly to my next point. Terrorists cannot have it both ways. They cannot claim on the one hand to declare war on people but, on the other, that they should be immune from the lowering of standards that inevitably occurs during war. Make no mistake, war has been declared by terrorists who have rightly been described by Mr. Savidge as apocalyptic. In war, some liberties are inevitably sacrificed to preserve liberty overall. My argument is simple, and I shall reiterate it—there are no easy answers, each case must be considered on its own merits, and the application of abstract principles can never be absolute, however desirable that may be.

There is a war on two fronts. There is a war involving rogue states that are creating weapons of mass destruction, and there is a war involving terror groups hellbent on using them. The ability to fight a war on two fronts is often called into question, but in this case entirely different resources are required to fight on each front. The resources required to fight the rogue states creating weapons of mass destruction are conventional, but the resources required to fight groups such as al-Qaeda are intelligence and security measures. The two battles that are being fought simultaneously are complementary—they are not in competition with each other.

Terrorism has complicated the problem of Iraq and has proved retrospectively that it was wrong to set the preservation of the coalition in 1991 above the desire to topple Saddam Hussein at that time. Because of terrorism, it is wrong to put all our faith in the United Nations now, just as it was wrong to put all our faith in the League of Nations in the 1930s. The United Nations, like the League of Nations, is not a world government and is easily undermined if its members fail to face up to the need for action. Future generations will find it incomprehensible as well as bizarre that a lethal, tyrannical bully like Saddam should have been tolerated for so long by so many people who created so large a protest in such a thoroughly bad cause.

Photo of Mr Hilton Dawson Mr Hilton Dawson Labour, Lancaster and Wyre 3:38 pm, 11th March 2003

It is remarkable that I should follow Dr. Lewis. I will not join him on the slippery slope. Considering his history of CND-baiting, he has just made a tremendous if oblique plea for the principles of pacifism.

We have had an excellent debate on a very good Select Committee report. As someone who has listened for some hours on this and other occasions to debate on Iraq, I am pleased finally to have the opportunity to say something about the situation there. I pay tribute to several of my colleagues, including my hon. Friends the Members for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Illsley) and for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Savidge), but particularly my hon. Friend Richard Burden. I very much agree with all their excellent contributions.

We should recognise the progress that has been made on Iraq. Thanks in large part to the efforts of this Government, United Nations resolution 1441 was passed unanimously. We also have United Nations weapons inspectors back on the ground doing an effective job. The most recent report from Dr. Blix engages with the whole range of difficult issues and problems that he faces, but he reports that, at least in part, disarmament is taking place.

We have a clear way forward, and it is not one that accepts that a vile regime can carry on pursuing the repression and weapons development that it has been conducting. We need to keep up the pressure, and it is military pressure that has got us to the current position. We need to set Iraq rigorous targets for further disarmament and for improving the well-being of the people who are living in the most dire circumstances in that appalling country. To do that, however, we need to maintain the international coalition, and to build respect for United Nations resolutions and a commitment to the institution of the United Nations. We also need to put ourselves in a position in which we can effectively move on to build peace across the middle east and to address realistically, properly and emphatically the issues of Israel and Palestine. We cannot do any of that if we make the colossal mistake of rushing to war, because that will destroy thousands of civilian lives—those of children, women and men. I would argue that, even with the support of the United Nations Security Council, rushing to war is no answer.

What credibility will the United Nations have if it allows vast pressure to be brought to bear on small nations by bribing, bullying and coercing them to fall into line? What is the point of a UN that sets its inspectors to do a job, but calls them off before they have finished because the imperatives of a war machine cannot be kept waiting? Warts and all, the UN is doing a fine job. Let us just allow it to get on with it. I believe firmly, as I did a couple of weeks ago, that the case for war has not yet been made. We can still work together to ensure that the world comes together to disarm Iraq without the need for war.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is a fine leader, a great leader, and I think that he will go down in history as a great Prime Minister for this country, but he should not lead us into war now. He should use his great leadership skills as much as he possibly can to persuade George Bush that to go ahead with war now might advance the hegemony of the United States and advance a new world order in which a military America tried to dominate a world run for its benefit and the benefit of a small coterie of allies, but that to do so would make the problems of terrorism worse. It would increase the alienation of people in ways that have already been graphically described this afternoon. In destroying the United Nations, it would destroy the chances of peace in Israel and Palestine, and the hopes of so much of the world.

I shall be 50 later this year, and I shall soon have been a member of the Labour party for half my life. I did not join the Labour party, work for the Labour party for many years or work to become a Labour Member of Parliament in order to be in this position, and I do not support a fine Labour Government in this position.

We should consider the case of our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development. There has been, without exception, no finer member of the Government than her. She is renowned across the world. She has brought hope, passion, commitment, and enormous development and hope of progress to people living in the most appalling poverty and in the most dire circumstances across the world. We should all listen to what she says, and ensure that she is supported so that she can carry on doing the magnificent work that she has done so far.

If my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister wants to be in the present situation, he, as much as my excellent right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development, should consider his position. In going into any war without the sanction of the United Nations, the prospect of another fine Labour Government will disappear, and there is the distinct possibility of the Labour party being brought to its knees.

There is no case for war with or without the United Nations at this stage. Our Prime Minister has succeeded in a very important goal: the weapons inspectors are doing their job. We should reunite around the United Nations. We in this country should support all pressure to keep the United States of America working for a peaceful resolution of the crisis, and we should all move on. I firmly believe that via the United Nations, working together in the institutions of the international community, we can disarm Iraq without necessarily going to war. The Government are a fine Government who could yet be a great Government.

If we get to the point where we are at war, my constituents who fight in that war—women and men—will be able to rely on my 100 per cent. support, but until we recognise that we can disarm Iraq without necessarily going to war, I will not support the Government on this matter.

Photo of Peter Kilfoyle Peter Kilfoyle Labour, Liverpool, Walton

We all aspire to the removal of weapons of mass destruction, but following the logic of Dr. Lewis and tracing those who provided such weapons to terrorist organisations—the weapons all emanate from somewhere—does my hon. Friend agree that the countries that provided those weapons or the wherewithal for other countries to propagate such weapons, including France, Russia, the United States and the United Kingdom, ought to be arraigned in a court before international public opinion?

Photo of Mr Hilton Dawson Mr Hilton Dawson Labour, Lancaster and Wyre

I cannot go into that, as I have almost finished speaking. My hon. Friend makes an important point. The issue of arms supplies and arms exports needs to be addressed even more fundamentally than we have done so far.

Photo of Andrew Tyrie Andrew Tyrie Conservative, Chichester 3:49 pm, 11th March 2003

This is an outstanding report. It provides much of the material that we all need to form a judgment on what our foreign policy should be in the months and years ahead. First, I should like to set out why I think America's foreign policy on Iraq has been a miscalculation. Secondly, I will try to suggest what British foreign policy should be now and what the stance of this Chamber should be. Thirdly, I want to address what I think is the most important question of all—what kind of western foreign policy will best enhance our security after Iraq? Will the new world order, conceived by George Bush since 11 September and energetically supported by the Prime Minister, enhance or imperil our security?

First, on Iraq, most of the arguments have already been well rehearsed. For my part, I am not convinced that Iraq is planning or even capable of an imminent attack on the west or western interests. Virtually no evidence has been produced to show that Saddam Hussein has sought to develop links with terrorists, apart from the Palestinians, in respect of whom almost all the Arab states, many of which are our allies, are also complicit. Nor am I convinced that the policy of containment and deterrence has yet failed. War in Iraq may well create the conditions for more extremist fundamentalism and terrorism, not least by alienating moderate Muslim opinion throughout the middle east, as well as Muslims in Europe. An invasion of Iraq is also more likely than not to destabilise the whole middle east. It could shake apart the pro-western Governments in the middle east on whom the west has so painstakingly worked since the Yom Kippur war, just as the Suez crisis and invasion fuelled middle eastern nationalism in the 1950s and 1960s.

I recognise that I might be wrong about all that. It is possible that, although the evidence has not been forthcoming, Iraq has plans to engage with global terrorists. That would represent an imminent threat. It is possible that the vigorous and muscular deployment of American force could coerce extremists and trigger the spread of democracy throughout the middle east, as several in the US Administration claim it will. It is possible that, with the removal of the potential threat to Israel posed by Iraq, the conditions may be better, not worse, for a Palestinian settlement. That is the kernel of the argument that we have heard from President Bush and Prime Minister Blair. I disagree with it and so does middle England, much of America and a good deal of the mainstream foreign policy elite in Washington. They do not believe that the case for war has been made.

In parenthesis, I feel that, to some extent, attempts have been made to manipulate public opinion by, for example, binding together talk of biological weapons with talk of nuclear weapons, which pose a quite different order of threat, as Mr. Savidge pointed out, alleging that there is a far greater risk than in fact exists at present of Iraq obtaining nuclear weapons and linking strategic and humanitarian justifications for action. None of those things has helped to win the argument, but I think that it would have been lost anyway.

But saying that does not take us very far. The next question is: what should the UK do right now? In that regard, it is worth bearing in mind some crucial and basic points. First, our security and prosperity depend on the United States. We share its open society values, and I personally feel that extremely strongly.

Secondly, we owe the Americans a great deal. To take one analogous example, they were there for us when we needed them in respect of the Falklands, even though they thought that we were foolish to try to liberate what they considered nothing more than a few sheep and said that our demands for their support would tear up their Latin American foreign policy. In the end, they backed us. They are true friends and allies, and it is worth bearing that in mind in this discussion.

Thirdly, whatever we may do or say, the Americans are going to go ahead unilaterally anyway. If we let them do so, that will imperil everyone's security, including theirs, leaving the west divided and weakened and emboldening its enemies.

Fourthly, there is no European defence initiative worthy of the name, and nor will there be. There is no substitute for a foreign policy based on security provided by the United States. It is absurd to imagine that we should try to rely on the quasi-pacifist continental Europeans for our defence or on the viscerally anti-American French.

For all those reasons, we cannot afford—and should not try—to walk away. The Americans may have taken themselves and us to the top of the wrong hill, but we cannot simply leave them there. If that is Tony Blair's private reasoning for backing America, he deserves credit. He deserves even greater credit if he persuaded the Americans to go down the United Nations route and abandon their initial unilateralism. Consequently, resolution 1441 at least provides what my right hon. Friend Mr. Ancram revealingly described as some legal cover for action.

The House of Commons also deserves credit. The threat of MPs' support for an amendment may have spurred Tony Blair to fight more vigorously against American unilateralism.

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. The hon. Gentleman must not refer to hon. Members in that way. He must use their correct parliamentary titles.

Photo of Andrew Tyrie Andrew Tyrie Conservative, Chichester

I meant the Prime Minister. I beg your forgiveness, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

In the past few weeks, the House of Commons has played a crucial role in international affairs. That has probably not happened often in the past 50 years, and it is to be commended.

Britain's stand now gives us greater scope for a privileged dialogue with the United States. For what should we press? Certainly not the foreign policy of George Bush. The US Administration's rhetoric to justify military action is dangerous for us all. They are adopting a foreign policy for creating a new world order, based on the twin doctrines of pre-emptive action and regime change. If that rhetoric becomes reality in the years ahead, we will put ourselves on the road not to a new international order but to new international anarchy. We all have a huge interest in orderly relations between states. That applies especially to America. Order is a value, and when it is put at risk, so are we.

The international system's stability depends on the mutual recognition of states' legitimacy. It is a common-sense principle: do not invade my house and I will not invade yours. George Bush is setting that doctrine aside. The doctrine of regime change advocates the removal, by force if necessary, of the leaders of states who do not share western values.

Photo of Peter Kilfoyle Peter Kilfoyle Labour, Liverpool, Walton

The hon. Gentleman and I have held conversations along similar lines. However, does he accept that matters are even more disturbing when one considers the military policy that underpins the developments that he describes? It includes "Joint Vision 20/20", which aspires to full spectrum dominance of air, sea, land, space and communications, and the repudiation of the no nuclear first strike policy. The latter policy had been in place for more than 50 years.

Photo of Andrew Tyrie Andrew Tyrie Conservative, Chichester

I am worried about many aspects of the new American foreign policy. The hon. Gentleman refers to a number that need careful attention. I want to concentrate on the two key new doctrines that the American Administration have espoused and articulated in detail.

The doctrine of regime change is inherently destabilising because it implies removing by force the leaders of states who do not share western values.

With the doctrine of pre-emptive military action, the Americans argue that they may take military action even in the absence of a clear and imminent threat to their interests or those of their allies. If pre-emptive strikes are undertaken without evidence of an imminent attack, we shall be in a global free-for-all.

The doctrine of regime change is just as corrosive. It prompts the question of who should decide whether a country's leadership should be changed. Other countries are on to this. The Foreign Ministry of North Korea recently suggested, using similar language to that of the American Administration, that it may need to engage in a pre-emptive strike. Even more recently, Vladimir Putin virtually read out part of one of George Bush's speeches on pre-emptive strikes to justify his recent bombing of Georgia. Militant Muslim fundamentalists also argue for regime change.

Photo of George Osborne George Osborne Conservative, Tatton

Does my hon. Friend claim that the sovereignty of nations should always take precedence over humanitarian concerns? Were we therefore wrong to intervene in Kosovo and right not to do so in Rwanda, where most people believed that we should have intervened? Should vile regimes always be left in place simply because that preserves the nation state?

Photo of Andrew Tyrie Andrew Tyrie Conservative, Chichester

Shortage of time prevents me from developing a detailed argument in response, but humanitarian intervention can and should be justified when a very broad-based international coalition can be assembled in favour of it. That is what happened in the case of Idi Amin: all countries supported Tanzania's action to get rid of him.

Photo of Andrew Tyrie Andrew Tyrie Conservative, Chichester

Kosovo is a more complicated example, as in that case there was no such universal support. A crucial member of the Security Council dissented. It is actually not clear that the humanitarian intentions of those who invaded Kosovo—us, basically—secured an improvement in humanitarian conditions in the region. Nor am I certain that we precipitated the fall of Milosevic. That might have happened had we not intervened; in fact, as many leading Serbs argue, it might have happened more quickly. I am sorry that I cannot develop the point further, for it is a crucial point, but of course there is a role for humanitarian intervention in the world, both within and beyond what is prescribed by law under the United Nations.

What we must do now is also consider what effect some of these doctrines will have on weaker countries that do not share American values, and how they may react to the coercion implied by America's new doctrines. I believe that it will encourage them to seek protection in the possession of nuclear weapons. A protective proliferation would be a huge price to pay for America's new rhetoric. The difference between the treatment meted out to North Korea, which has just expelled inspectors, and the treatment of Iraq, which has just let inspectors in, sends a clear and dangerous signal about the value of nuclear weapons to small countries.

The long-run price of George Bush's new world order may well be the opposite of his intention: a new global disorder. President Bush does not seem to realise how unsettling his rhetoric is for much of the international community. He does not seem to see that pre-emptive military intervention and regime change can never become accepted doctrines of the international community. They are inherently revolutionary in scope, even if inspired by benign motives.

In justification of the new doctrines, the US Administration say, and the Prime Minister says, that the threats of terrorism and nuclear proliferation are new, and that a new order is required to counter them. I believe that both assertions are wrong, although I have little time in which to explain why.

What certainly has changed is the United States. The harsh truth is that the Americans have overreacted to 11 September. In dealing with terrorism they are on a steep learning curve, on which we have been for many more years. They seem not to have grasped the most basic point—that an overreaction is exactly what terrorists seek. Force has a role, but it can also be counterproductive. By alienating moderate Muslim opinion, and much western opinion too, George Bush's new world order may be playing straight into the hands of Muslim extremists.

Our Prime Minister has a difficult judgment to make. If by ensuring that there is not even a chink of light between us and the Americans he has acquired a greater leverage on the US Administration behind the scenes, he can do us all a great service. What worries me is that I have seen no evidence that he is clear about what he needs to tell the Americans, and about how to use that leverage. On the contrary, from time to time he seems to indulge in the rhetoric of new world orders that concerns me so much. I hope that he will use the extra influence that he may have over the Americans to remind them that America's current global ascendancy is not a result of sheer force, but the product of decades of careful alliance building and restraint in the exercise of power. The greatest casualty of all may turn out to be the western alliance—an awful prospect.

In that regard, let me read part of the letter of resignation written by John Kiesling, a senior American diplomat, to his boss. He said:

"The policies we are now asked to advance are incompatible not only with American values but also with American interests. Our fervent pursuit of war with Iraq is driving us to squander the international legitimacy that has been America's most potent weapon . . . We have begun to dismantle the largest and most effective web of international relationships the world has ever known. Our current course will bring instability and danger, not security."

I believe that that American diplomat got it exactly right. That is precisely what concerns me most.

It was primarily by winning the argument about the superiority of open society values, backed by military containment, that the Americans won the cold war, bringing freedom and democracy to half the continent. It is by returning now to that policy of containment and deterrence—by returning to America's post-war global conservatism, rather than turning to messianic radicalism, that the world can be made a safer place.

Photo of Professor Ross Cranston Professor Ross Cranston Labour, Dudley North 4:05 pm, 11th March 2003

In 1956, the then Government tried to justify their actions in the Suez canal. Led by Lord McNair, who had just finished serving on the International Court of Justice, international lawyers said that the Government were wrong, and they were right.

Last Friday, The Guardian published a letter from some of the leading international lawyers in this country. They wrote:

"On the basis of the information publicly available, there is no justification under international law for the use of military force against Iraq."

After setting out the "only two exceptions" for the use of force that are allowed under the charter—self-defence, and action authorised by the Security Council—the letter continued:

"Before military action can lawfully be undertaken against Iraq, the security council must have indicated its clearly expressed assent."

In my view—I state it bluntly, even though some of the signatories to the letter are friends and colleagues—that is wrong. In my view, the Government have been, and continue to be, legally correct in the course that they are pursuing over Iraq.

The excellent Foreign Affairs Committee report that we are considering today provides a springboard for consideration of some of these important legal issues. That report and the Committee's fourth report on Kosovo, from the 1999–2000 Session, are a mine of information on the legal arguments. It is not at all clear that anyone who read those reports could reach the absolutist conclusion contained in the letter in The Guardian. Let me try to consider that letter in the light of the justifications in international law for the use of force, the first of which is self-defence.

Individual and collective self-defence are recognised expressly under article 51 of the UN charter. The Committee's report contains a useful discussion of the right of self-defence, and especially the notion of pre-emptive self-defence as set out in the American document entitled, "The National Security Strategy of the United States of America", which was published last year. Pre-emptive self-defence seeks to address potential, not just imminent, threats. On self-defence in general, I agree with the views of Professor Greenwood as set out in paragraphs 146 to 148 of the report. He argues that the law in relation to article 51 has to be interpreted in the light of the world that we now live in, which is different from that of 1945, and in the light of common sense.

My right hon. Friend Donald Anderson mentioned the Caroline case. The world has certainly moved on from that 19th century decision in terms of the gravity of the threats that we face—from nuclear weapons, and so on—as opposed to the cross-border raids then contemplated. Secondly, the method of delivery of the threat has changed. It is now more difficult to determine the time scale within which a threat of attack by terrorist means will be launched.

So far as pre-emptive self-defence is concerned, the Committee pointed out the dangers of that doctrine. It cited the situation in India and Pakistan, and in China and Taiwan. It concluded that, if the Governments of the United States, Britain and other countries should seek to justify military action against Iraq by using the notion of pre-emptive self-defence, they would be in serious risk, and I agree with that. In responding to the Committee's report, the Government have taken the conventional view—which I agree with—that it is well established in international law that there is a right to take necessary and proportionate military action in self-defence, but that that applies only when an attack is imminent. Self-defence in that way does not arise in the current Iraqi crisis. There is some discussion in the report about that, but I shall pass over it and move on to the second justification in international law for the use of force: action authorised by the Security Council as a collective response to a threat to peace, to a breach of the peace, or to an act of aggression.

I dealt with that issue in my contribution to the debate on 22 January and set out the basics of chapter VII enforcement action. I asked two questions—what would happen if the UN did not explicitly authorise the use of force, and could one or a number of states take enforcement action to give effect to a Security Council resolution? I said that those possibilities could not be ruled out.

The example of Kosovo has been mentioned and is referred to in the report in paragraph 143. The signatories to the letter in The Guardian claimed that the UN charter outlaws the use of force with only two exceptions, as I have outlined. However, neither exception applied in Kosovo, although some Security Council resolutions were agreed. For example, resolution 1199 of September 1998 called for a ceasefire, recognised the impending humanitarian catastrophe and affirmed the threat to peace and security, but it did not authorise the use of all necessary means.

Resolution 1203 of October 1998 affirmed the existence of a threat to peace and welcomed the agreement that had been achieved through the threat of force. Resolution 1244 of June 1999 authorised the international security presence in Kosovo to use all necessary means to fulfil its responsibilities. However, there was no express approval by the Security Council of the action that NATO had taken. The reason was simple, and it was the threat of a Russian and Chinese veto.

How do we justify what happened in Kosovo?

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

Does my hon. and learned Friend accept that there was an ongoing pattern of aggression in the area at the time? The action was taken in response to a series of wars and acts of aggression.

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

Our justification was that a humanitarian catastrophe was occurring. The UK has consistently used that reason to justify what we did in Kosovo, but not everybody agrees. One of the most eminent international lawyers in this country, Professor Brownlie, still doubts the legality of what happened in Kosovo. Other international lawyers say that one can draw out from the Security Council resolutions that I mentioned an authorisation—to some extent, post facto—of what was done. However, that humanitarian intervention is no justification for what might happen in Iraq, although its record of human rights abuses is appalling. My point is that the letter in The Guardian is wrong to suggest that the use of force can never be legitimate unless it is in self-defence or expressly authorised by the Security Council. The case of Kosovo also demonstrates that international law has to move with the times and in accordance with state practice.

I turn to the issue of express authorisation of enforcement action under chapter VII. It happened before the Gulf war in Iraq. Security Council resolution 678 authorised all necessary means to liberate Kuwait. The Security Council has expressly authorised enforcement action in a range of other resolutions, for example in Somalia and Haiti. The letter in The Guardian also said that there was no case for disregarding a veto. However, it seems to me that such an argument might be made for disregarding an arbitrary veto. An example that could be cited is the Chinese veto in February 1999 against the extension of the term for the UN preventive deployment force in Macedonia. At the time, it was commonly believed that China had imposed the veto because Macedonia had just established diplomatic relations with Taiwan.

I do not believe that that example is arguable in the present context. I do not think that we can regard any veto imposed by France, Russia or China, either individually or collectively, as arbitrary. Any veto imposed by those countries would be a considered veto. There might be an argument that a veto could be disregarded, but I do not think that it would apply in that case.

I have mentioned Kosovo, but there are other examples of force being used without the express authorisation of the UN Security Council, and I shall give two. The first example occurred in west Africa in 1990, when the Economic Community of West African States intervened in Liberia to stop a civil war. There was no explicit Security Council authorisation for that, although subsequent actions by the Security Council tacitly accepted and praised the intervention.

The second example occurred in 1991, in the context of the first Gulf war. Russia and China opposed the deployment of military forces to protect Iraqi civilians without Iraq's consent. The US, the UK and France took action to provide safe havens for Kurdish refugees in northern Iraq, and to enforce the no-fly zones. However, there was no express Security Council authorisation.

I turn now to Iraq, in relation to which there have been 17 UN Security Council resolutions. They include resolution 678, to which I have referred already and which authorised the use of all necessary means. On the ceasefire, resolution 687 of 1991 imposed an obligation on Iraq to disarm. The ceasefire was based on Iraq's acceptance of that disarmament obligation. I do not have time to go into the other resolutions that followed, although I referred to them in the debate in January.

We then come to resolution 1441, which is discussed in the report from the Foreign Affairs Committee. The nature of the substantive provisions of resolution 1441 is well known. For example, paragraph 1 states that Iraq

"has been and remains in material breach", while paragraph 4 deals with

"false statements or omissions in the declarations submitted by Iraq", and states that any failure "at any time" to comply or co-operate with the resolution will be a further material breach. Also, paragraph 13 recalls that the Security Council has repeatedly warned Iraq that it will face "serious consequences" as a result of its continued violations of its obligations.

One element of resolution 1441 has not been discussed. Recital 10 in the preamble contains an express invocation of resolution 687—the ceasefire-disarmament resolution in 1991. Recital 10 recalls:

"in its resolution 687 (1991) the Council declared that a ceasefire would be based on acceptance by Iraq of the provisions of that resolution, including the obligations on Iraq contained therein."

Recital 11 states that the Security Council is determined to ensure

"full and immediate compliance by Iraq without conditions or restrictions with its obligations under resolution 687 (1991)".

It seems to me that resolution 1441 revives resolution 687 and the obligation imposed on Iraq. Also, it reminds us that the ceasefire, under 687, was based on Iraq's acceptance of that disarmament obligation. My conclusion is that the use of force in enforcement action, other than in self-defence or in accordance with an express authorisation by the UN Security Council, can be legitimate in international law. I have given a number of examples of that—including Kosovo, west Africa, and the protection of the Kurds after the Gulf war. Resolution 1441, coupled with resolution 687, provides a legitimacy for action to disarm Iraq if there is non-compliance with its obligations. There is no absolute necessity for a second resolution. Any action that follows must, as in Kosovo, bolster legitimacy. A UN administered Iraq would be one contribution to that.

Photo of Gerald Howarth Gerald Howarth Shadow Minister (Defence)

The hon. and learned Gentleman has treated the House to a valuable opinion. He justified resolution 1441 but cited the article in The Guardian and the views of other eminent lawyers who take a different view from his. Who, on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, determines what constitutes the correct interpretation of international law?

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

One of the difficulties with international law as opposed to domestic law is that no body has jurisdiction over the whole range of issues. In some situations, the world court can come in, but many issues are not justiciable.

My party has always had a strong internationalist bent, part of which has been an abhorrence of armed force. That is as it should be. War is a failure and a terrible thing—both for those who are actively involved and for those civilians who are caught up in the conflict. Even those who escape physically unscathed can be mentally affected by the horrors that they experience for the rest of their lives. However, sometimes war is necessary to deal with an aggressor or tyrant, to avert a humanitarian catastrophe, or to uphold good order in the international community. Parts of my party have always found that difficult to accept. When, in 1934, the party produced a document entitled "War and Peace", which recognised that British armed forces might need to be used against an aggressor, people such as Stafford Cripps opposed it. In defending the document, Clem Attlee said that, in the light of what was happening in the world, the party could not wash its hands of its responsibilities. So too today.

Photo of Martin Smyth Martin Smyth UUP, Belfast South 4:22 pm, 11th March 2003

It is a privilege to follow Ross Cranston, who gave us a balanced argument. Earlier, the argument seemed to be over whether there is any justification for war and, specifically, for pre-emptive strikes. In a moment of cynicism, I might say that the only time that war can really be justified is if it is successful. In such situations, the winner takes all. One has only to consider a situation such as that with China and Tibet. The world has kept very quiet about the mammoth Chinese takeover of little Tibet.

People have spoken about humanitarian issues. We have gone into action in Europe but we have failed lamentably to deal with what we might call "black upon black" issues in Africa, where millions have perished with no world intervention—other than some humanitarian aid to put a little bandage on a deep sore.

I wanted to speak because I have growing concerns. At the beginning, I supported the Government but I also made it plain that colleagues and friends in northern Iraq among the Kurdish people were concerned about what might happen when Saddam was set aside. We always have to think of the consequences before we start action. There may be unforeseen consequences. Mr. Maples spoke about developments in Iran, saying that things had taken 25 years. It could take even longer than that. I could not help but think about how long it took us, as a kingdom, to come to a full sense of democracy.

Wars were fought among different groups in Scotland, England and elsewhere to bring about democracy. The process took many, many years, so we should not expect the warlords of Afghanistan suddenly to settle down, be good boys and listen to a central Government when they might want to take over and govern by their own traditional methods. Sometimes, we need patience and understanding.

We are debating a very good report on international terrorism prepared by the Foreign Affairs Committee and we have spent a lot of time discussing Iraq. It was interesting to hear Labour Members give illustrations based on Northern Ireland. I am sorry that Mr. Kilfoyle is no longer in his place. He asked whether Dr. Lewis accepted that the shoot-to-kill policy in Northern Ireland was justified, which implies that there was such a policy. That has been alleged over the years, but I recall my father, who was a sharpshooter during the first and second world wars, asking me, "How are they training the British Army these days?" I said, "Why, dad? What's gone wrong?" He said, "It's been reported that they were fired at and returned fire, but claimed no hits".

When we talk about a shoot-to-kill policy in Northern Ireland, we do a disservice to the men and women of our armed services and of the police, who conducted themselves tremendously well and made sacrifices to protect culprits. In that context, I recall a person who undertook security duties with me. He had formerly been a member of the Ulster Defence Regiment and had actually saved the life of Gerry Adams.

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

There is another possible parallel with the situation in Northern Ireland. For example, if the hon. Gentleman and I were asked whether the IRA still retained Semtex, we should probably agree that it does, but if someone asked where the Semtex was, we would not know. The same argument could be used about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Photo of Martin Smyth Martin Smyth UUP, Belfast South

Recently, at business questions, I asked whether a Foreign Office Minister could answer questions about the international impact of terrorism in Northern Ireland. The answer that I received from the Leader of the House was surprising, although it did admit that there was an international aspect. He said:

"internal terrorism in Northern Ireland is not an international matter but is firmly one for the United Kingdom Government to pursue as a domestic issue."—[Hansard, 6 March 2003; Vol. 400, c. 966.]

The fallacy is that we can pick and choose when dealing with international terrorism; we fail to recognise that, by neglecting the international aspect and branding terrorism in Northern Ireland as merely a domestic issue, accusations of double standards can arise.

To answer Donald Anderson, the authorities have a fair idea where the weapons are. The papers are full of it. Republican sources admit that many of the weapons are hidden around Monaghan and Cavan. On the international connection, tonnes of weapons came in from Libya, which was especially due to our nation's identification with the United States in its bombing missions against Libya. As a result, both in England and in Northern Ireland we suffered because of weapons from Libya.

I repeat a question that has been asked previously. What contacts have Her Majesty's Government made with the Dublin Government to ensure that the hiding places in Munster are put out of action? Their existence is contrary to the Dublin Government's obligations to their own people because, according to the laws of the Irish Republic, there can be only one standing army and weapons should not belong to others.

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

On the hon. Gentleman's subject of double standards, does he see a contrast between what is accepted as decommissioning in Northern Ireland and what is accepted as co-operation with decommissioning in Iraq?

Photo of Martin Smyth Martin Smyth UUP, Belfast South

I do see a double standard. In Iraq, the Government want weapons to be decommissioned, handed over and destroyed; in Ireland, particularly Northern Ireland, they have placated terrorism by providing places in Government without seeing the decommissioning taking place. There is even speculation from the pen of one of leading apologists for the IRA, Danny Morrison, suggesting that we are not likely to see much going on in the next few weeks. So there is a double standard in which our American cousins have been involved. They have said that Iraq continues to purchase and procure arms; we have been party, even in the Florida situation, to acknowledging that the IRA was rearming with modern weapons while it was supposed to be decommissioning.

We speak of the international impact, but to suggest that the IRA had no international context is to live in cloud cuckoo land, when it has held courses in Dublin, Belfast and elsewhere, as well as internationally with ETA, the Palestinian Liberation Front and others. I must confess that, at times, the FBI does not seem to know who people are, as was shown by the recent case in South Africa. The FBI identified a person from Iraq who was moving into the FARC area, and the Colombian authorities did not arrest him, but exiled him to Ecuador.

When we speak of the international connection, we must face the fact that the bombings that have caused tremendous havoc in Israel and Colombia have all the hallmarks of the terrorist school of car bombings perpetrated by the IRA. Although it did not provide suicide bombers, it tied people to a lorry and compelled them to drive and blow themselves up in a bombing escapade.

Leaving aside Northern Ireland for a moment, I wish to raise an issue to which the Minister rightly referred: the attempt to say that this is a campaign between the west and Islam. The reality is that Iraq is technically not an Islamic country. Yes, Islamic people live there and some of them, especially Marsh Arabs, have suffered at the hands of Saddam's regime. However, his regime is not Islamic; it is a reactionary socialistic regime, perhaps more in the style of Nazi Germany than what we would call modern socialism.

When we think of the religious context, we should bear it in mind that the Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister, a former Foreign Minister, comes from one of the Christian community groups in Iraq, so we must send the very clear message that this is not a campaign by the west against the Muslim community because the Islamic community, which has another axe to grind through al-Qaeda, are taking out Hindus, moderate Muslims, Buddhists and Jews, as well as Christians. One of the messages that we should send out from the Chamber today is that some of the emotional, superficial arguments against taking action against Iraq should be re-examined.

I never rise to speak in the House without seeing Airey Neave's coat of arms and realising that, in my judgment, the IRA declared war on our people and the nation and that one of my predecessors was murdered by the IRA as he was serving his people. Other Members have been put to death by the IRA terrorists, but their coats of arms are not here to give them a place of honour in serving their country and their people.

I can understand the emotion, but there is something naive about a person who says to the Prime Minister, "We do not want to see another Bali bombing." Turning one's back from al-Qaeda and allowing despotism to reign in Iraq will not save us from further bombings. It will only encourage people. Tragically, there are those of us in Northern Ireland who believe that, by paying off the terrorists and acceding to their demands, we have encouraged international terrorists to keep at it. If they play by the rule of law—this was the point of Dr. Lewis—they lose. I ask the Minister to consider the implications of international terrorism continuing even after Iraq.

Photo of David Chaytor David Chaytor Labour, Bury North 4:36 pm, 11th March 2003

I congratulate the Chairman and all the members of the Foreign Affairs Committee on producing such an excellent report. I endorse and identify myself closely with the views and sentiments expressed by several of my hon. Friends, especially those of my hon. Friends the Members for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Savidge), for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Illsley) and for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden). I also recognise the enormous difficulty faced by the Government, and especially by the Prime Minister, and the great skill with which the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and his team have pursued their course of action over the past few months, particularly in the way that they have brought the United States within the United Nations framework.

Although the report is about all aspects of terrorism, I want to speak specifically about Iraq, as I have not yet had the opportunity to do so during the past five or six months. I fully supported the use of force in the Gulf war in 1990, in the Balkans in the mid-1990s, and, later, in Afghanistan, and am completely prepared to support the use of force to deal with the problem of Iraq—in the right circumstances, at the right time, and with the right authorisation. At the moment, none of those three conditions applies, which is why I have serious reservations about the course of action that seems likely to be pursued in the very near future by the United States and possibly the United Kingdom forces. That is also why the overwhelming majority of my constituents and the British people share those views and that scepticism.

After the awful events of 11 September, I visited my friends in New York and saw the devastation that had been wrought by the terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre. In the last week of January 2002, I visited my American friends again, this time in Washington DC, during the week in which President Bush made his state of the union speech. On the evening of the state of the union speech, I was on Capitol Hill as a guest of the American embassy, along with a small number of colleagues from the House and a small number of Canadian MPs, and we watched the President's motorcade drive up to Congress. We enjoyed the hospitality of the Canadians, and we watched the speech on large-screen television—I mean extremely-large-screen television. Having watched that speech, there was no doubt in the minds of anybody—the British delegation, the Canadian parliamentarians present or any American politician or citizen—that the axis of evil speech amounted to a commitment there and then to regime change and to a declaration of war, and, implicitly, that it recognised a timetable for that war, as the timetable had to be completed before the start of the 2004 election season, which I judge to be autumn this year. This is the difficulty that we all face. Whatever our Government have done with the very best of intentions over the past few months has been constrained by the fact that the United States effectively announced the decision to attack Iraq in the state of the union speech in the last week of January 2002.

I mentioned my visit to New York after the attack on the World Trade Centre, because the link between that act of terrorism and the multifaceted problem presented by the Iraqi regime has determined the terms of the debate over the past few months. It also explains why our Government have not been able to convince a majority of the British people that unilateral action against Iraq is justified. I shall focus on why I believe that the majority of the British people and the majority of my constituents do not believe at the moment—this may change—that unilateral action by bombing Iraq to deal with terrorism is justified.

We must understand that the electorate in Britain and western Europe are probably more sophisticated than at any time in our history. They certainly have far greater access to a wide range of information about world affairs than ever before, including the previous Gulf war in 1990. We have ignored the impact of the growth and accessibility of satellite television. It enables western electorates to gain a perspective that previously had been held only by people in other parts of the world. We have also ignored the impact of the internet, and we have done so at our peril.

The speed and comprehensiveness of the new communications technologies mean that citizens in all countries can instantly gain access to original source material—speeches, documents and research papers—that were previously the preserve of Governments and their propagandists. One of the difficulties that the Government have faced over the past few months has resulted from their use of material to justify their actions. That material has immediately and rightly been challenged by leading opinion formers throughout the United Kingdom. I shall return to that point later.

The lack of clarity about the precise objectives of the military action has also been our downfall. The Americans clearly want regime change, but UN resolution 1441 speaks solely and entirely about the need for disarmament. It does not authorise regime change. In fact, a succession of UN resolutions seem implicitly to reject regime change as they lay the conditions for the future inspections that will continue after the disarmament process has been completed. There has been confusion about whether the objective is eliminating weapons of mass destruction, bringing an end to international terrorism, liberating the Kurds, human rights, or simply removing the leader of a regime without whom everyone agrees the world would be a far better place.

On the basis of a series of flawed statements and dubious evidence that has been provided by our Government and by the US Government, the public have concluded that, at this stage, war in Iraq will not solve the problem of terrorism. In fact, it is far more likely to exacerbate the problem, encourage the growth of new terrorist movements and inspire a whole generation of unskilled, uneducated and unemployed young men from throughout the middle east to be attracted by the possibility of taking up arms against the west.

That is a dangerous course of action.

The Government have not succeeded in persuading the electorate of the solidity of their case, but there are ways of doing that. Apart from underestimating the growth and importance of satellite television, the internet and the better-informed electorate, we have also underestimated the extent to which electorates defer to authority figures. The growth in scepticism—justifiable, in my view—about leadership figures and authority means that people are more prepared to question what they are told.

The American Secretary of State told us about satellite images that reveal attempts by the Iraqi regime to disguise and conceal installations related to weapons of mass destruction, but that was almost immediately countered by Dr. Blix in his statement to the Security Council. In such circumstances, the case presented by the United States crumbled. Equally, the dossier presented to the House last autumn by our Government emphasised the acquisition by the Iraqi regime of aluminium tubes, but Dr. el-Baradei countered that in his report last Friday. He said that there is no evidence that the tubes were acquired by Iraq for the purpose of uranium enrichment, and that increases public scepticism.

There is however a way for the Government to persuade the majority of British people that military action may ultimately be necessary. We must almost forget what has happened and the tactics that have been used over the past few months. We all know that truth is the first casualty in war, and in the war against terrorism it has been an early casualty. We need to focus entirely on the process that has been set in place. Much has been made of the phrase in resolution 1441 about the "final" opportunity. We should dwell on what constituted the final opportunity. It was clearly not the passing of 1441, because otherwise military action would have started the day or week after that. Resolution 1441 merely authorised the process that is taking place.

It is clear in earlier reports by Dr. Blix and Dr. el-Baradei that they saw the final opportunity as the beginning of a substantial and detailed process. Any hon. Member can get a copy of their reports off the internet. Many millions of our citizens can download such documents and read them for themselves. They are not inaccessible or difficult to read. In the reports of 27 January and 14 February, Dr. Blix in particular referred to his plans, which implied that there would be weeks and weeks of inspections. He referred to opening a new office in Basra, which clearly had not been completed by 14 February, to the help that the New Zealand and German Governments were giving, and to the new supplies and specialist equipment that were due to arrive in the near future. Dr. Blix recently published his substantial 173-page document, authorised by a resolution in 1999, which sets out the process to be pursued to pick up and deal with the remaining issues.

In my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary's statement to the House on Monday, he referred to the 173-page document. He said that he had read it. I took up the challenge and got my copy from the Library. Although I did not read all 173 pages, I had a good look through it. It is clear that Dr. Blix sees it as a summary of the existing position. There is an interesting and informed statement on the unanswered questions, but the report is the beginning of a further process to deal with those. His report to the Security Council last Friday used the same terms. He said:

"While cooperation can and is to be immediate"— and everyone must agree with that—

"disarmament and at any rate the verification of it cannot be instant . . . It would not take years, nor weeks, but months . . . it must be remembered that in accordance with the governing resolutions, a sustained inspection and monitoring system is to remain in place after verified disarmament to give confidence and to strike an alarm, if signs were seen of the revival of any proscribed weapons programmes."

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

My hon. Friend is ignoring the fact that the requirement for the inspectors to carry out their task is that Saddam Hussein should immediately provide a full and complete declaration of all his weapons of mass destruction, and he has simply failed to do that. My hon. Friend is assuming that Dr. Blix, by providing the report, is suggesting that the declaration is unnecessary. That is not my understanding of the report; Dr. Blix wants compliance with resolution 1441, as does the Security Council, and that requires a full declaration to be made now.

Photo of David Chaytor David Chaytor Labour, Bury North

With respect to my hon. Friend, I am not ignoring that. Indeed, it is self-evident that Iraq has not yet fully complied. The issue is whether a declaration of war at this stage is a proportionate, effective response to that lack of compliance or whether the existing bureaucratic procedure authorised by the UN would be more effective.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

That is not the issue. The issue is compliance with resolution 1441. My hon. Friend is suggesting that the resolution does not have to be complied with. He ignores the fact that it requires an immediate declaration. Will he deal with that part of the argument? Without that declaration, Dr. Blix is obliged to act like a detective looking for clues as to where the stuff is buried, rather than auditing a declaration, which is the job that the Security Council gave him.

Photo of David Chaytor David Chaytor Labour, Bury North

The Minister is trying to make me an apologist for Saddam Hussein's regime, and I shall resist that. I am trying to argue the case for the most effective way of dealing with the problem that the regime presents to the international community. That is the only point that I am making.

Without question, the declaration required by resolution 1441 has been made, but it is inadequate. The issue is whether the response by the international community to the inadequacy of the declaration is immediately to take military action or whether it uses other, long-established means to secure a fuller declaration from Iraq. I do not know whether the fuller, accurate declaration can be obtained in the next few days or weeks. All I am saying is that we ought to give Iraq the opportunity to make that full declaration before taking action of last resort, which would be military action.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for indulging me by giving way again. Does he not understand that the nub of his argument is that Saddam Hussein does not have to comply with the requirement to make an immediate and full declaration? We are saying that Saddam Hussein has to comply with resolution 1441, but my hon. Friend appears to be saying that if he does not want to comply by providing that full declaration, we should find a different, bureaucratic way for the UN to stave off the requirement for him to do so. My hon. Friend is trying his best to put together an argument, but it simply does not add up unless we invalidate resolution 1441.

Photo of David Chaytor David Chaytor Labour, Bury North

I am not saying that we should try a different, bureaucratic way; I am saying that we should persist with the process that we have already established. In the Foreign Secretary's statement on Monday, shortly after he accepted, rather reluctantly I thought, the evidence in Dr. el-Baradei's report that the Iraqi nuclear weapons programme had been terminated in 1998 as a result of the inspection regime from 1991 to 1998, he argued that it was useless to continue with inspections because the inspection regime had no effect. There is a contradiction there, because we know that the work done by the inspectors between 1991 and 1998 had some effect, although obviously not the total desired effect. We also know that the work done by the inspectors in the past few weeks has had some effect—

Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Defence) 4:54 pm, 11th March 2003

I express my appreciation of today's debate and the report produced by the Select Committee. The subject that we are debating today was last debated in Westminster Hall on 31 October, when I made it clear on behalf of Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National party that the Government had not begun to make a case for military action against Iraq. That debate followed the publication of the first dodgy dossier, an entirely unpersuasive document if ever there was one, of dubious veracity and authorship. It was followed by a second dossier that has been largely discredited.

Plaid Cymru and the SNP continue to believe that the case for war against Iraq has not been made, and have been utterly consistent in that belief since talk of action began. Contrast that with the Government's action after 9/11, and the first scenario that they supported of war on terrorism. War on terrorism is a misnomer, as war cannot be declared on a concept. However, as some of us pointed out at the time, the wording was intentional, as we were meant to believe that war was inevitable. The initial targets were bin Laden and al-Qaeda, but bin Laden could not be found, so it became necessary to find a causal link between al-Qaeda and Iraq. The Prime Minister is on the record as saying in November 2001 that unless a clear and unambiguous link between al-Qaeda and Iraq was found, there would be no justification for action against Iraq. Needless to say, that is not the current position.

It is little wonder that no link has been found, as al-Qaeda has more than once attempted to assassinate Saddam Hussein. Little by little, the ground has shifted, and the hunt for a link between al-Qaeda was, we believe, put on the backburner. A second scenario was then created—regime change, which has been referred to today on several occasions. It is a novel concept in international law and involves the right to take precipitative military action to enforce regime change, pure and simple. A similar form of de facto action was taken in Afghanistan, but the result there could not be described as encouraging. Someone, somewhere could have disabused the United States and the Government of the notion that it was encouraging, but that seems to have gone out of the window.

In the next linked scenario there was a so-called moral case against Iraq because of Saddam Hussein's behaviour towards his people. I fully accept that the man is an evil dictator and that his treatment of his own people, the Marsh Arabs and the Kurds, within the borders of Iraq is deplorable. No sane person could ever try to defend that action or mount an apology on Saddam's behalf. However, the very people who have been harmed by Saddam have, in the past 10 years, been harmed by the joint sanctions that the Government have helped to impose, so double standards are operating.

Another scenario followed—Saddam is in breach of resolution 1441, so immediate military action can be taken. As we know, Dr. Blix has reported on several occasions that definite progress is being made. I listened carefully to the speech of Mr. Chaytor, and the Minister's attempts to try to get him to say that he is calling for nothing to be done. That was far from the truth—no sane person would be saying that.

Recently, missiles have been destroyed and, at this juncture, we should remember that 90 per cent. of Saddam's armaments were, in fact, destroyed in 1992. Let us also remind ourselves that the apparent policy of containment has ipso facto succeeded since then. In any event, the weapons inspectors say that Saddam is co-operating at the moment and are asking for more time.

Who is to be the judge of whether Saddam is co-operating? Clearly it is the Security Council, on the advice of the weapons inspectors. President Bush and the Prime Minister seem to think that they are in charge, and that it is their decision. That is very dangerous. The Prime Minister moved from a position of confirming that a second UN resolution was necessary, to saying that it would merely be preferable. Now, apparently, it would simply be as well if one were possible. On "Newsnight" on 6 February, the Prime Minister said that the only circumstances in which force would be used without a further UN resolution would be if the inspectors concluded that they could no longer do their work, and if a further resolution were passed by a majority of the Security Council but was subject to an "unreasonable" veto by a single country. Will the Minister tell the House whether that is currently the Government's position? There has been a considerable amount of vacillation between one justification and another all along the line.

The fourth scenario put forward by the proponents of military action and their apologists is that, having failed to find a link with al-Qaeda or a trigger in resolution 1441, there is always the inherent right to self-defence under article 51 of the United Nations charter. I submit that that is a preposterous argument, coming as it does at the very end of all other discussions. It does not stand up to legal scrutiny. There has to be a real, palpable, urgent threat to the UK or an ally for that provision to come into play. To come to rely on it at this late stage is nonsense, for obvious reasons. However, it forms another part of the Government's vacillations on this matter. It seems strange that Iraq is currently perceived as a threat to the United States when it has 10 per cent. of the military strength that it had in 1990 before the Gulf war, and has lost 90 per cent. of its armaments since then.

It is indeed ironic that a Government reared on the power of spin cannot give a clear and credible message on this exceedingly important issue. Let us consider the mixed messages sent out by the botched second dossier borrowed from a research student and dressed up as intelligence material, and the different emphases on the second resolution over the past few months. Let us contrast that with the anti-war view, which I am proud to say that my party and the SNP share. For the past six months or so, we have consistently said that resolution 1441 does not contain a trigger for military action. I would go further and say that it is nothing short of disingenuous for the Government to allege that it does, when everyone knows that the compromise words "serious consequences" were negotiated into the resolution at the behest of China, France and Russia as a price for their support. Those words were never meant to be an automatic trigger for the right to engage in military action, and there is really no point in arguing that they were. The words "all necessary means" have been taken to mean that in the past, but they are clearly absent from resolution 1441. I have put forward this argument in the House on at least two previous occasions, and I believe that it is right to argue it again. I have been greatly assisted by the opinion of one of the experts in the field, Rabinder Singh, QC.

The Minister, who entered the House at the same time as I did, is a lawyer. He was careful to say at the beginning of this debate that if two lawyers are put together in a room there will be an argument. He has jumped up and down about 30 times this afternoon whenever anyone on his side had anything critical to say about the Government. He is obviously still a lawyer.

Reference has been made to the letter in The Guardian, and to the eminent international jurists.

Photo of Gerald Howarth Gerald Howarth Shadow Minister (Defence)

The hon. Gentleman has made the case that the words "serious consequences" do not, in his view, justify resorting to military action. Will he share with the House what he believes the words to mean? I, for one, would be interested to know. He suggested that some kind of negotiation had gone on behind the scenes, but, even so, those words were used. What do they mean?

Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Defence)

They mean that a further resolution would come before the Security Council, and that that resolution would give an automatic, clear indication of military action. That is not my view; it is the view of the international panel of jurists. Any one who reflects on it will see that it is common sense.

Much has been made of the opinion of those foremost jurists from Oxford, Cambridge and London, and the eminent gentleman from Paris, that there is no right to take action under 1441. Professor Robert Black of Edinburgh expressed a similar view recently in The Times, where he dissected the words "serious consequences", arguing that the term was

"not synonymous with, or a warrant for the use of, armed force", and contrasting it with the received meaning of "all necessary means". The argument has been advanced for many months; I make the point again in response to the hon. Gentleman.

Those of us who oppose a military strike on Iraq have an advantage over the Government: we have consistency on our side, as well as growing support. The closer we are to a possible strike on Iraq, the greater the public concern in the United Kingdom and beyond, and rightly so. I hope that the Prime Minister takes note of the fact that Mr. Bush senior has intervened to make it plain to his son, President Bush, that the UN road is the only way forward. If Mr. Bush senior can see that, why cannot the Prime Minister?

If a second UN resolution that clearly and unequivocally specifies military action is not obtained, the Prime Minister and the Government will be acting illegally, and that will be the first stage in the destruction of the United Nations. There are those who say that because 30,000 of our brave troops are already out there, action is inevitable, but that is not the case. I, for one, would applaud and respect the Prime Minister if he decided to keep our troops there for humanitarian purposes only, in the event of a unilateral strike on Iraq.

Even at this eleventh hour, I hope that conflict can be avoided. We know who will suffer if it takes place. Elizabeth Byr, the Geneva spokesperson for the UN humanitarian effort, said that an updated appeal for $120 million had been made in February, and so far $30 million had been received. The result of conflict can be seen outside the Kurdish town of Soran—no tents, no sanitation, just a vast muddy plain beneath a freezing, snow-capped mountain. That is the terrain that will be occupied by the 2 million Iraqis who will be made homeless by military action.

The United Nations is concerned about the oil-for-food programme. About 16 million people, or 60 per cent. of the Iraqi population, depend on it. We in this place frequently discuss humanitarian aid—properly so. We recently heard the views of one member of the Cabinet who is not unconnected with that subject, whose opinion and whose work I greatly respect. If this illegal and immoral war occurs, the Government will be jointly creating a humanitarian disaster and committing a disgraceful act. Even at the eleventh hour, I hope that wise counsel will prevail and that the Government will draw back from what could be the most shameful hour in the history of this Parliament.

Photo of Mr David Chidgey Mr David Chidgey Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 5:09 pm, 11th March 2003

The debate has been thoughtful, sometimes challenging, and at times a little bizarre, but in general it has reflected the wide cross-section of opinion in the House on the grave issue set out in our Foreign Affairs Committee report. I am very proud to have been a member of the Committee and to have helped to produce that report. In particular, I should like to refer to the contributions of Richard Burden, who made a telling speech, Mr. Savidge, who made a challenging speech, and my colleague on the Committee, Mr. Illsley, who said in the early stages of this debate—it seems some hours ago; indeed, it probably was—that the real crisis was the imminence of the invasion of Iraq. He also said that that was being accelerated by the fact that, to use his words, Iraq was being pressed to prove a negative.

I think that I am making a valid point in saying that it appears to me and many colleagues that the United States sees Iraq and the war against terrorism as synonymous. It is revealing that opinion polls conducted at the beginning of the week in the United States showed that most Americans believed that the terrorists who attacked the World Trade Centre were Iraqis. As we all know, not a single Iraqi was involved. Before anybody gets the impression that I am having a pop at our American cousins, let me say that I am sure that we would get the same result if a similar opinion poll were held in this country.

Members of the Foreign Affairs Committee were fortunate in having many valuable and expert resources available to us. They allowed us to gain an insight into the thinking of the political establishments on both sides of the Atlantic. I want to concentrate my remarks on the conclusions of the report in connection with disarming Iraq. Followers of the report will know that I refer to paragraphs (p), (q), (r) and (s). I shall not repeat those conclusions, which deal with the need for our Government to work closely with the US to produce a strong and unanimous United Nations resolution. That was written in December; oh how hopeful things seemed then. The report also concluded that the difficulties facing the weapons inspectors were formidable. Of course, that has proved to be precisely the case.

In particular, I want to address how disarming Iraq appears to have come about as an issue because President Bush designated it as a member of the axis of evil. We all remember from that famous speech that the axis includes North Korea, Iran and Iraq, but the question that I want to test is why those three countries were chosen. Many other nations could be added to the list of potential rogue states and harbourers and supporters of terrorism. As the report says,

"there is no compelling evidence linking the Iraqi regime to al Qaeda."

We know that there has been some evidence of involvement with middle eastern terrorism in Iran, but I am not aware of any such evidence concerning North Korea. Why are those three countries linked together as the axis of evil? Other countries have supported terrorism in the past and may still be doing so. Hon. Members have mentioned in other debates the training by Libya of terrorists who have been active in Northern Ireland. We know for a fact that there has been an amazing amount of fundraising in Saudi Arabia—I am not suggesting that it is Government-inspired—to support al-Qaeda, but we are not suggesting that that country is part of an axis of evil. Why have Iraq, Iran and North Korea been put together by President Bush as an axis of evil?

I believe that the key link between those three countries is their involvement and interest in the development of weapons of mass destruction. We are well aware that, as has been mentioned, North Korea is now flaunting its emerging arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. We also know from evidence to our Committee that Iran has developed its civilian nuclear programme to the point where it will have the option of creating nuclear weapons at short notice. The history of Saddam Hussein in Iraq is well known. His well-documented desire to possess nuclear weapons as soon as possible remains.

The common factor in President Bush's axis of evil is the desire to secure, pursue or possess weapons of mass destruction—nuclear, biological or chemical—and thereby pose a threat to the ability of the United States to defend its interests. The evidence of Dr. Stephen Pullinger, director of the International Security Information Service, is tucked deep in the report in appendix 9. Paragraph 21 of evidence 80 states:

"The US does not want a nuclear-armed Iraq to use its military muscle to acquire control over a vast portion of the world's oil reserves and then to hold the world to ransom through threat of nuclear or biological use if anyone tries to reverse Iraqi conquests. Under this scenario it would be the rest of the world, including the US, that would be deterred from acting."

Paragraph 23 states:

"Yet, it is beyond peradventure that Iraq's possession of WMD, especially if capable of reaching major European targets and beyond, would at the very least destabilise the region and prove a constant source of political and economic uncertainty."

The United States' future inability to defend its interests not only in the middle east but throughout the world is the crux of the matter.

The current position arose after 11 September when it became clear that the United States was alarmed by the threat of acts of terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to its ability to defend its interests at home and overseas. The greatest perceived threat to US foreign policy was the capability of rogue states that possessed weapons of mass destruction to provide an effective deterrent to the prosecution of US policy.

A good example has been mentioned in previous debates. Immediately after the Gulf war, one brave journalist interviewed Saddam Hussein and had the courage to ask whether he believed that he had made any mistakes in invading Kuwait. The journalist lived to tell the tale. The answer was that Saddam Hussein had made the mistake of not waiting until he had weapons of mass destruction—nuclear weapons—before invading.

Evidence from the International Institute for Strategic Studies was interesting. It suggested that had Saddam possessed nuclear weapons before invading Kuwait, there would have been no Gulf war. Iraq would not have been invaded to restore the statehood of Kuwait, which would remain an Iraqi enclave. For the United States, the axis of evil is shorthand for an axis that is capable of thwarting the Americans' policy of defending their interests throughout the world.

I am not going off on an anti-American tangent. I merely try to draw hon. Members' attention to what lies behind American foreign affairs policy and has led to our current position.

Photo of Hugo Swire Hugo Swire Conservative, East Devon

The hon. Gentleman talks about the destabilising effect of American interests in the middle east, but is not Saddam's continuing presence a destabilising factor in a possible middle east peace process? We know that his ambitions in the first Gulf war extended far beyond Kuwait to Saudi Arabia and other countries. His presence was destabilising then and remains so.

Photo of Mr David Chidgey Mr David Chidgey Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

I accept the hon. Gentleman's comments. I am not presenting a case for no action; I am trying to understand why we are in a position whereby America leans heavily towards overrunning Iraq.

I am trying to get the message across—to convey why we are where we are. I am not saying that Saddam Hussein is not a huge threat to the stability of the region, but it is the effect on America's foreign policy interests that has put us in our current position.

Photo of Mr David Chidgey Mr David Chidgey Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

I want to make progress, as time is limited.

We are talking about extending the concept of an axis of evil to that of an axis of capability to deter the United States from acting to maintain its interests. That capability has been confirmed by intelligence sources. Furthermore, given Iraq's capability to do that—as a member of the axis of evil—we must ask whether it has the intent. Intelligence sources can identify its capability, but it is for politicians and diplomats to decide whether there is the intent. In that context there is a lack of mature reflection and ability among those who advise our Governments, particularly the counsellors of the Government on the other side of the Atlantic.

In the axis of evil, only Iraq has demonstrated a willingness to use weapons of mass destruction. Iran and North Korea have yet to join that category: as Mr. Swire said, it is Iraq that has established that willingness to use weapons of mass destruction, against its neighbours and against its own citizens.

That brings me to the nub of the issue. We know that Iraq has the capability; we know that it has demonstrated the intent. It poses a threat to American interests, and America is clearly not prepared to accept that. Moreover, the United Nations clearly cannot accept the continued flouting of resolutions requiring Iraq to disarm. The inspection regime is in place with the task of verifying Iraq's compliance with resolution 1441, but how can that compliance be verified? Who will confirm it? What constitutes a full declaration?

Yesterday the Foreign Secretary said that he profoundly hoped that the Iraqi regime would, even at this late stage, seize its chance to disarm peacefully. When I raised the issue of measuring compliance, however, the Minister's reply seemed to rely on a checklist prepared by Dr. Blix—a dossier consisting of a cluster of issues.

Let us take one example of a weapon of mass destruction. Dr. Blix says that 10,000 litres of anthrax may be unaccounted for. Is that since 1998? Would the amount be added to by estimates of production since 1998? How can the inspectors verify compliance? We already know that we would never have found chemical weapons in the first place if one of Saddam's sons-in-law had not defected to the west to tell us where they were.

As evidence given to the Committee shows, it is not possible for inspectors to find substantial amounts of biological weapons. What, indeed, do we mean by substantial amounts? According to Dr. Blix, 1,000 litres is a substantial amount. That is one tenth of the known stocks, let alone what may have been produced later. Just one litre of anthrax is enough to kill thousands of people.

The Minister has argued many times that Saddam has demonstrated his intent to use weapons of mass destruction. The inspectors are unable to find them, certainly in the case of biological weapons. It is virtually impossible to ensure that Saddam will comply with resolution 1441. The logical extension of that, in terms of American foreign policy, must be that if America is to achieve its policy aim of protecting its interests in the middle east, it is unlikely to believe for a minute that it can rely on the UN inspectors. America will not even rely on an invasion, because even that will not discover the weapons. It is clear to me that the United States will rely, in its interests, on regime change. That is the only logical conclusion. The challenge for this Parliament, and for our Government, is to use every effort to deflect the United States from pursuing that draconian measure. If we do not do that, we will lose the struggle between conflict and diplomacy, the struggle between international law and the power of a single massive state, and the struggle for the survival of the United Nations.

Photo of Fabian Hamilton Fabian Hamilton Labour, Leeds North East 5:25 pm, 11th March 2003

I commend the many Members who have said their piece about the war against terror and commented on the Foreign Affairs Committee's report on the foreign policy aspects of that war. Many have referred to the current crisis in Iraq, to what the United Nations, the USA and Great Britain are trying to do, and especially, of course, to the imminent threat of war in that country. I simply want to add my few words, and express my deep concern not by saying that Saddam Hussein is not evil or does not possess weapons of mass destruction, nor by saying that Iraq itself is not a huge threat to regional, and even world, stability and peace but rather by arguing that, as the amendment to the Government motion a fortnight ago stated, the case for military action has not yet been made. That is not to say that the case will not, or may not, be made but it has yet to be made, and I voted for that amendment accordingly, along with many colleagues and other Members of this House.

The press has often portrayed this so-called rebellion as anti-Blair or anti-Government, but that is wrong. Many of us support the strength and conviction that the Prime Minister has shown in trying to fight for the United Nations to resolve this crisis. However, as my hon. Friend Richard Burden said so clearly, we are concerned about rushing to military action when there could be unforeseen consequences.

One scenario that I have been describing for the past few weeks is this. Let us imagine that, with his back against the wall, Saddam Hussein fires missiles at Tel Aviv, as he did in 1991, with the sole intention of getting Israel embroiled in the conflict—only this time, they are armed not with explosive-tipped warheads, but with chemical, biological or even nuclear warheads. What happens then? Does Ariel Sharon react in the same way that his predecessor Yitzhak Shamir reacted, under strong influence from the United States, and take no action at all? Alternatively, does he take what is in my view the much more likely action of firing equally destructive weapons back at Iraq, producing a conflagration that the United States and the allied forces advancing into Iraq did not intend and cannot control? That is one of my big fears, and it is shared by many of my constituents: the unpredictability of military action once it starts. One cannot know how even the best plan in the world will unfold, even if one is the greatest military nation on earth, as the United States is.

Photo of Eric Joyce Eric Joyce Labour, Falkirk West

Does my hon. Friend recognise that, according to his hypothesis, he accepts that Saddam Hussein possesses weapons of mass destruction that he is capable of deploying?

Photo of Fabian Hamilton Fabian Hamilton Labour, Leeds North East

Indeed. I and many of my colleagues who voted for the amendment believe that those weapons are there; our problem is the yawning gap between what the Government are saying about the need to disarm Saddam Hussein and Iraq immediately, and the public's belief that, although Saddam may well be a threat, they should be shown the evidence. Hans Blix has yet to come up with that smoking gun. I have received correspondence from many hundreds of constituents ranging right across the spectrum of beliefs—as hon. Members know, I represent many different communities—and the overwhelming view has been, "Show us the evidence of chemical, biological or nuclear warheads and yes, we will go along with you, even if it does mean military action."

People want one other thing—I know that the Prime Minister and the whole Government are working very hard to achieve it—and that is a second resolution of the Security Council of the United Nations. In the end, the population of Great Britain—the constituents whom we represent—believe that this should be a United Nations action, with the world acting in concert to disarm a dangerous dictator, rather than the USA simply acting as the policeman of the world.

Photo of Desmond Swayne Desmond Swayne Opposition Whip (Commons)

The hon. Gentleman expressed his fear that a missile tipped with a chemical weapon would be fired at Tel Aviv. If he is frightened by that possibility, why is he so reluctant to undertake measures that would remove it by disarming Saddam Hussein, even if the UN is unwilling to do so?

Photo of Fabian Hamilton Fabian Hamilton Labour, Leeds North East

The UN is willing to do so. It has inspectors in Iraq, but they have not found the evidence. Once they find that evidence, the opinion of many of the sceptical countries—even France and Russia—will change. If the evidence of weapons of mass destruction is clear, I am sure that all the Security Council nations will come on board. I am not reluctant to see Saddam disarmed, but there is a gap between public opinion—in my constituency and the rest of the country—and what the Government are doing.

Photo of Sylvia Hermon Sylvia Hermon Shadow Spokesperson (Women), Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I apologise for not being in my place earlier, but I had other commitments. I ask the hon. Gentleman to bear in mind the experience in the Republic of Ireland. In the mid-1980s, one shipload of tonnes of armaments was intercepted on its way into Ireland. It was known that three other shipments had already reached Ireland from Gaddafi and the Republic of Ireland was closed down for five days or so while the Irish army and the Garda swept the island. They did not find the weapons because there were too many places to hide them. Ireland is small and Iraq is huge. The inability to find the weapons should not be used as an excuse for not going to war and disarming Iraq.

Photo of Fabian Hamilton Fabian Hamilton Labour, Leeds North East

I hear what the hon. Lady says, but we should look not for excuses to go to war, but excuses not to go to war. We have to remember the violence that war inflicts on the innocent. If war were a case of taking out Saddam Hussein cleanly and destroying his Government and weapons of mass destruction, I would be in favour. But it would not work like that. In a war, the innocent die and therefore before we embark on that course of action we must be sure that we have explored every avenue to try to avoid it.

Photo of Fabian Hamilton Fabian Hamilton Labour, Leeds North East

I must make some progress. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me.

The report also discusses the situation in the middle east with Israel and Palestine. We quote the views of Richard Haass, the director of policy planning in the US State Department. His bookcases were so full of books that I had to ask him if had read every single one and was impressed—as my right hon. Friend Donald Anderson, the Chairman of the Committee will recall—when he said that he had read them all, and many more. He has wide knowledge, reading and understanding and he says:

"No one should confuse promoting democracy with holding parliamentary elections the next day—in which, yes, the Islamists would do well, because they're the only ones who are currently allowed to organise. Parliamentary elections are not the first step."

Instead, Mr. Haass recommends several reforms that should precede elections, some of which are similar to those recommended in the Arab human development report. They include

"educational reform, especially for girls; establishment of the rule of law; strengthening civil society; establishment of freedom of assembly and freedom of the press".

In our debate some 11 months ago, I said that I am in an unenviable position in discussing Israel and Palestine because I represent about 10,000 Jews and 10,000 Muslims. I cannot win, whatever I say. That still applies, but the point is that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield said earlier, we have to pursue the course of peace between Israel and Palestine. That means the establishment of a state of Palestine. Mr. Maples, who is also a member of the Committee, suggested the Maples peace plan—if I can call it that—under which a peace solution might be imposed if the parties were unwilling to agree to discussions on peace and kept raising minor issues to try to stop the drive towards peace.

That raises many unanswered questions. However, Amram Mitzna, the leader of the Israeli Labour party, met colleagues here in the House of Commons just before the Israeli general election. He failed disastrously to persuade the Israeli public to vote for him, but he came up with a similar approach. He used to be mayor of Haifa, a city where Arabs and Jews live side by side in peace—a model for what the region could be like. He said that if Arafat and the Palestinian Authority would not accept his proposals for a peace plan—and he advocated withdrawal of the settlements in the occupied territories—he would impose that plan on them.

In many ways, it is tempting to go down that road. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will comment on the idea of an imposed solution. However, one can never impose a solution from outside unless one wins the hearts and minds of the people involved. That is my deep worry. I pointed out at the time that we must ensure that a proper state of Palestine is established, with international co-operation and help. There must be a civil society, and all the reforms described by Richard Haass when we visited him.

In last year's debate, I recounted what Jerusalem's Palestinian mayor, Ziad Abu Ziad, told me over lunch the last time that I visited his city on a Labour Friends of Israel trip. He said:

"If you are truly Labour Friends of Israel, you must also be Labour Friends of Palestine. That means that you must support a Palestinian state, a true state that lives not back to back but face to face with Israel in peace."—[Hansard, 16 April 2002; Vol. 353, c. 507.]

The only route for the people of that area is peace. It will come, eventually. As I said at the time, the only question concerns the number of people who will die in the meantime.

I want to speak briefly about another topic discussed in the Committee—Iran, which is crucial to stability in the middle east. The Committee hopes to visit Iran later this year, and I hope that we will find out more about how it works and about the prospects for its transition from theocracy to secular democracy.

Someone in the US State Department—I cannot remember who—told us when we visited last year that, in 10 years, Iran could be the west's greatest friend in the middle east. He said that we had to encourage the reformist elements centred on President Khatami and the reformist Majlis, or Parliament. We must encourage them to reform Iran and take the road to secular democracy. At present, 65 per cent. of Iran's population are under 25. They do not remember the 1979 revolution. They see the mullahs and the defenders of Islamic democracy as the conservative elements—I mean no slur on Conservative Members—in society, the ones who hold back economic reform.

Iran's economy has suffered a huge decline since 1979. Its gross domestic product is some 30 per cent. lower than 24 years ago, when the revolution took place. That is unsustainable, and I am sure that—with encouragement from the west and, I hope, from our Government—the reformist elements in the powerful, cultured and historic nation of Iran will win through and push out the mullahs and the support for terror that has plagued Israel for the many years since the Islamic revolution. I want a genuine, secular democracy to be established in Iran, so that people can live in freedom, as Muslims, in a democratic country.

Photo of Patrick Mercer Patrick Mercer Conservative, Newark 5:39 pm, 11th March 2003

It is a pleasure to follow Mr. Hamilton, and I will come back to his speech in a moment.

There are two things that I regret very deeply. The first is that it seems that war is inevitable. Some might argue—and I strongly suspect that they are right that with the policy in the no-fly zones having gone from being strictly defensive to now being offensive, with holes being cut in the fence between Kuwait and the southern part of Iraq, and with rumours of an airfield at Ar'ar in Saudi Arabia being occupied by American forces, making access to Baghdad very simple, that the first rounds in this war have been fired. I regret that. I support it, but I regret that it looks inevitable that we will take military action.

The second thing that I regret is that troops from this country are being committed without the support of the Government firmly and unequivocally behind them. In the two campaigns in which I have taken part, I have always had the comforting feeling that, no matter what my enemies may have been up to, and no matter how much we may have been undermined by things such as a wholly nonsensical, so-called shoot-to-kill policy, I had the support of my Government. I knew that there were no divisive arguments in the Cabinet. I very much regret that the men and women of this country look as if they will get stuck into a war with public opinion divided and with no firm resolve from the Cabinet to back them up. I ask the Minister to note what happened to the American military effort in Vietnam. That effort was defeated not militarily but emotionally, by the lack of support of the American people and, ultimately, the lack of support of the American Government.

I have found it hard to be persuaded by any of the arguments for going to war—except one. I will not rehearse all the arguments. I think that I recognised that war in Iraq was going to happen one day or another, but I saw no reason for imminent war, except for one particular point. The humanitarian argument is good but it is by no means unique. Also, there is the argument on the use of weapons of mass destruction, and I do not doubt that Saddam Hussein owns such weapons. However, until the weekend at least, I doubted that he had the means to deliver them and I doubted the need for imminent action. I draw the attention of the hon. Member for Leeds, North-East to the fact that, at the weekend, the first undiscovered weapons programme that had not been declared to the United Nations came to light. We are told that it concerns a number of drone aircraft that can be fitted to deliver weapons of mass destruction. The Government Front Bench has been remarkably quiet about what some people call the smoking gun. I do not know, but it is interesting that so little has been made of that particular subject.

The one thing that does convince me of the need for imminent action is the terrorist threat. If there is one thing that threatens this country and needs to be dealt with quickly, it is the ability of Baghdad and its associates to deliver a fatal, swingeing blow against this country. Interestingly, we have not heard anything tonight about terrorism, except about al-Qaeda. I want to quote from the report of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and from the Government's response to it. The Committee said that

"there is no compelling evidence linking the Iraqi regime to Al Qaeda."

The Government's response was:

"We have no evidence that Iraq was involved in the September 11 attacks. But there are links between Iraq and Al Qa'ida."

Why have the Government not made more of what they say? Why have the Government been inconsistent? For insistence, Colin Powell talks not about al-Qaeda but about an organisation led by al-Zarqawi. In his presentation to the United Nations on 5 February, Colin Powell talked about al-Zarqawi travelling to Baghdad in May 2002 and staying in the capital for months while he recuperated to fight another day. During his stay nearly two dozen extremists converged on the capital and established a base of operations there. Those al-Qaeda affiliates based in Baghdad now co-ordinate the movement of people, money and supplies into and throughout Iraq for his network. They have been operating in the capital for more than eight months.

Colin Powell went on to point out that that organisation was behind the plots that so threatened north London a few weeks ago. Al-Zarqawi does not necessarily carry the flag of al-Qaeda, but he is a terrorist who has direct connections with Baghdad and if it were not for the work of our security services, he would have struck successfully at this country.

People can rubbish what Colin Powell says; they can believe that his comments are a figment of the imagination if that is what they want to do. However, the fact remains that public opinion could be influenced if the Government made a compelling case—not the curious nonsense of the unconvincing dossier in which a student's information was used to try to persuade the public, but a convincing case that is not just touched on but stuck to throughout.

I very much regret that the Government may end up by being convinced of the dangers of that terrorist organisation in the same way as the Australian Government were convinced: by a bomb in Bali that killed hundreds of their people. The Government should think carefully and be far more consistent in their case on terrorism. They should not be constantly hung up on al-Qaeda, but should look to the other organisations that threaten this country so very gravely.

My next point relates to the Government's response to one of the Select Committee's report. The Government state:

"Disarming Iraq removes the very real and catastrophic threat of international terrorists getting hold of weapons of mass destruction."

That is wholly wrong. The situation in Iraq, if and when our troops properly go into action, will actually become more dangerous. We shall lay ourselves open to a host of terrorist organisations, operating both in this country and against our interests abroad.

The Government have a duty to make it clear that, unless we do something about that threat, weapons of mass destruction will be handed, willy-nilly, to terrorists by a rogue state. If we take action now, we may be in a position to control what could be an extraordinarily difficult situation. We need look no further than the proliferation of fissile raw material that has come out of the former Soviet Union and consider how difficult that is to control. Let us not underestimate the threat that faces us. That is obviously an extremely good reason for not going to war at all, but I return to the fact that unless we take control and get a grip of the situation, it is likely to be wholly out of control rather than partially out of control.

My last point relates to the Committee's conclusion that

"the Government must continue to address with the utmost seriousness its obligation to keep the British public informed of developments in the war against terrorism".

My point to the Minister and to the Government is simple: let us not be mesmerised by that gentleman, bin Laden, or by the word "al-Qaeda", but let us see those people for what they are.

This is not the first time that the British nation has been threatened by tyrants and bullies. We had a cure for that in the first and second world wars when we laughed at the Kaiser and at Hitler. Rightly or wrongly, that was how we dealt with those threats. I do not suggest that we laugh at the terrorists, but I suggest that we keep them in proportion.

We should remember how we managed to handle the Irish Republican Army at the height of its campaign. We got used to the fact that any incident that looked as though it could be the work of the Provisional IRA would be claimed by that organisation, so we got our punch in first. So, for example, the British Government made it absolutely clear from the first moment that the infamous Chinook helicopter crash was not an act of terrorism. Again, we made it clear that the burning of Windsor castle was not an act of terrorism. We swept the ground from under the terrorists; we came to terms with the sort of tactics that they would use.

These are not giants against whom we are fighting. Let us bear in mind the fact that, when Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was arrested, he had all his contact information on his laptop and a series of written notes around his bedroom. Let no one be in any doubt about where the information is coming from at the moment. That is not someone who is standing up against interrogation; that is a birdy that is singing. They are people who give things away and whose standard operating procedures are amateurish.

Let us also bear in mind the fact that bin Laden was very nearly tracked down by using a mobile phone. The meanest tuppeny-ha'penny drug dealer in Nottingham knows not to use a mobile phone if he wants to carry on with his business. We are talking not about giants of terrorism, but about people who get things wrong, and I ask the Government to keep that enemy in proportion and to communicate sensibly and realistically with the public to diminish fear—by doing so, we stand a better chance of winning.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Labour, Gedling

I had not intended to contribute to the debate, but having listened to some of the remarks and realised that there was an opportunity, I want to make a couple of comments and take up a few minutes of the House's time. It is always good to follow my colleague, Patrick Mercer, whose constituency neighbours mine, and it was interesting to hear some of his remarks.

Clearly, any war against terrorism has many different sides and many rights and wrongs. One of the important things that has come out in the debate is that no one, on whichever side, has a monopoly of wisdom or morality, as the Foreign Secretary said yesterday. We all agree about the need in the modern world to combat terrorism. We sometimes disagree about how to do that, but we all accept that it is far preferable for any Government to take action through the UN. Wherever we end up with the Iraqi crisis, I hope that the Government will take the opportunity, when things calm down, to review the way in which the UN has operated so as to find out whether any lessons can be learned.

My hon. Friend Mr. Hamilton highlighted one of the issues that we all face: UN resolutions need to be applied equally irrespective of the country to which they relate. He made a powerful speech in relation to Israel and Palestine. When people talk to me about the current crisis with Iraq, even people who believe that the Government are pursuing the right course and that there is a very real threat from Iraq, they ask why the international community—whether the US, our Government or the UN—does not bring the same determination, desire and passion to bear on resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict as it is currently bringing to bear in relation to Iraq.

If people believed that there was a uniformity of desire to resolve such issues wherever they arose, the Government would not face some of the problems that they have in relation to Iraq. People believe that we are not demonstrating the same passion towards Israel and Palestine as we are towards Iraq, and it is important to deal with those problems even-handedly.

The reason I wanted to contribute particularly to this debate—having made those few comments and given guarded support to the Government so far, and hoping very much, as are many of my colleagues, for a second resolution—is that we must also discuss and think about the humanitarian consequences of any war with Iraq. I have just been to a meeting organised by Save the Children, Christian Aid and other non-governmental organisations, and deep concern exists about the planning for the humanitarian consequences of any conflict. Clearly, it is difficult, as, if one starts to plan for a war, a presumption exists that war will take place. I can understand the dilemma felt by people in that situation. We must consider those humanitarian consequences, however, and start to think about answers to the problems that will inevitably arise.

We know that millions of people may be displaced as they flee from war. Where will those people go? Will they be able to get into Turkey? Will there be safe havens in the northern part of Iraq and in the Kurdish area in northern Iraq? How will people travel the hundreds of miles across that part of Iraq that leads to Jordan? Will people have access there? What about the southern part of Iraq and people fleeing into Kuwait? What planning have the Government made with respect to that?

If we are to have a war against terrorism, and it is against the regime of Saddam Hussein, the Government, the United Nations and others who will be involved need to plan for those consequences. That will demonstrate clearly in a practical way that the war is against the regime and what it stands for, and not against the ordinary Iraqi people. What discussions have the Government had with the armed forces of this country and the United States about the preservation of vital infrastructure in Iraq, so that food aid or any other aid to that country can get to the people who need it? What planning have we made to get aid, whether food or medical resources, to the people of Iraq should conflict emerge?

These are all questions on which Parliament has not had much debate. As much as people come to me to debate the rights and wrongs of whether we should go to war, many people also raise issues with me about the humanitarian consequences of a war. Will my hon. Friend the Minister also say what kind of regime we would expect to see in Iraq following a war? What would be the involvement of the United Nations in that?

In relation to the war against terrorism, the Chancellor has announced increases in the military budget: the latest, a couple of weeks ago, was an extra £750 million, taking to £1.75 billion the amount of money that the Government have set aside for military operations in Iraq. What increases in aid budgets have there been to tackle some of the humanitarian issues that I have raised? Are those increases in absolute amounts or diversions from one aid budget in one part of the Government's programme to the possible humanitarian consequences in Iraq? I know from the meeting to which I referred earlier what is happening to Palestinians in the occupied territories. One of the worries is that some of the money and aid programmes to that area will be diverted to Iraq.

While we talk about the rights and wrongs of a war against terrorism, and about the military side of any campaign, it is important, if we are to demonstrate that what we are doing is against the regime in Iraq and not against the people, that we plan for the humanitarian consequences of any conflict, and that we do what we can to protect the ordinary people of Iraq.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East referred to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and to Iran. It is important to understand the consequences for the rest of the region, and we need clear policies on that.

When we consider the foreign policy aspects of a war on terrorism, we must realise that poverty, inequality, social dislocation and a sense of alienation exist in some parts of the world. To combat terrorism we must, as a world order, do what we can through the United Nations to examine what we can do to alleviate the problems that provide the breeding ground for terrorists. To say that does not excuse terrorism or suggest that terrorism is the answer. However, we must try to resolve the difficulties that exist.

Let us prosecute the war against terrorism through the United Nations as far as we possibly can, but let us not forget that, alongside the military preparation and planning, we need the same desire and enthusiasm to consider what we can do about the humanitarian consequences of any action. In that way, we will demonstrate that the enemy are the evil regimes that are found in many parts of the world, not the ordinary people who live in those countries.

Photo of Desmond Swayne Desmond Swayne Opposition Whip (Commons) 6:01 pm, 11th March 2003

It is a privilege to follow Vernon Coaker. I hope that I will be even briefer, but I doubt that I will achieve the clarity of his speech. Like him, I did not intend to speak in the debate, but spotted the opportunity that resulted from one of the few benefits of modernisation.

I wish to speak because my views on terrorism and how to deal with Iraq have changed in recent weeks. I started to receive considerable numbers of letters in the late summer, and the process has continued since them. Up to a few weeks ago, people would receive a fairly dusty response from me. I would say that I was far from persuaded that the war aims were clear, that there certainly was not an exit strategy that I could discern and that I was not persuaded that there was an imminent threat to the United Kingdom or its vital interests that would warrant military action.

I have changed my mind to a considerable extent, and I shall explain my reasons. The middle east has become almost the crucible of the world. For so long, it has been the focus of the three great monotheistic religions, but it is now the location, if not the cause, of most of the terrorism in the rest of the world, and particularly that which scars the middle east itself. For the war on terrorism to be prosecuted successfully and for there to be peace in the world, there must be progress and peace in the middle east. For there to be peace in the middle east, Israel will have to make substantial concessions. We have heard talk in the debate of the need for a Palestinian state with all that that would imply. However, I do not believe that that degree of concession—more than even Prime Minister Barak was prepared to make before the second intifada began—will be possible while regimes, such as that in Iraq, remain dedicated to the complete destruction of Israel and have the will and the intention to acquire arsenals such as we have heard described and such as those for which the weapons inspectors are searching. So regime change is, in addition to disarmament, a perfectly legitimate objective of our policy to secure progress in the middle east.

We must consider to what extent military action is a legitimate tool in securing regime change in Iraq and other terrorist states because there are many ways to skin a cat. People often say that military action must be the last resort. I am not sure that I share that view. I understand why we might say that military action should be a last resort in practical terms because we have to weigh up the practicalities and make a decision that takes into account, for example, the humanitarian consequences, to which the hon. Member for Gedling referred. In those circumstances, we would have to weigh up the probabilities and the costs of military action against the benefits.

In practical terms it would be legitimate to decide that military action is a last resort, but I do not understand why we would say in principle that it should be the last resort. There could be a humanitarian argument for precipitate military action. If we have made a proper estimate that military action is likely to be swift and believe that it will produce a relatively low level of collateral damage and civilian casualties, it might be preferable to entertain that action rather than putting up with years of a regime while we attempt to change it or disarm it by other means. We simply have to come to a judgment on such decisions. I must confess that while the regime in Iraq continues to export its poison to the rest of the middle east and to fund Hamas and the suicide bombings, the quicker we deal with it, the better it will be.

Who should decide when military action is appropriate? Should it be the United Nations, or should there be unilateral action on the part of Britain and the United States? I am a member of the United Nations Association. I passionately believe that the time will come when the UN has immense authority and will be fit to take such decisions. At that time, it will be proper to challenge anyone who gainsays the United Nations, but that time has not yet come. The authority of the United Nations does not stem from it just being a body that represents a number of nations; surely its authority stems from the nature of the regimes of which it is constituted. While it remains a fallible human institution, reflecting the fallible states that make it up—most of which are strangers to democracy—I do not understand why we should attach particular attention to its decisions.

If we say that the United Nations second resolution is an absolute condition of any decision to attack Iraq, we effectively hand over the moral decision that we have made on whether that is right and proper to the processes and the conflict of interests that are the reality of debate and decision making in the United Nations. It stretches credulity to say that its decisions are based on an ideal that we might have of it representing the people of the world. I do not believe that a United Nations resolution is a necessary condition. It is for us to decide what we believe to be right and, having made that decision, to pursue it with all the consequences that that will entail having made a proper estimate at the outset.

Hon. Members may recall that some years ago the state of Israel unilaterally attacked and destroyed Iraq's nuclear programme by taking out its nuclear reactors that were allegedly for civilian power generation. There was an absolute furore at the UN and enormous criticism of the state of Israel. The world is now rightfully thankful to Israel for having had the courage to take that action and to challenge the received opinion at the UN, and the world may in future be thankful to us for reaching similar conclusions in our deliberations over the next few days and weeks.

Photo of David Burnside David Burnside UUP, South Antrim 6:10 pm, 11th March 2003

My experience of terrorism, although big to me, is parochial and small in worldwide terms. It related only to Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom more generally until the mid-1990s, when I flew to Beirut for the first time. It was just at the end of the war there, and I saw what terrorism had done to a society that had been civilised for almost 20 years. That was part of an international conflict in the middle east, but it was also terrorism from all quarters. It was terrorism mixed with religion and fundamentalism from every sect and sector of society in Lebanon. That conflict in the middle east still exists in a combination of nationality and religious fervour, much of which those of us who come from a country with a great deal of religious fervour find distasteful and alarming.

My experience at the end of the war in Lebanon in the 1990s led me, after the attack on the twin towers on 11 September, to ask myself many times what changed because of that event. In the House, many of my colleagues and I have often asked—perhaps we have been misleading ourselves—whether there is any difference between international terrorism of that size and magnitude of evil and the terrorism of the individual bomb, whether in Harrods, Canary Wharf, Enniskillen or the nightclub in Colombia only a few weeks ago. There is no difference in the degree of evil—all those acts are terrorism, justified in some way by the organisations behind them, but still terrorism.

I believe, however, that there was a fundamental change after the tragedy of the twin towers: the world has changed in its fight against terrorism. That is why we can now win. In the '60s, '70s and '80s, Members would argue in the House about whether individuals were freedom fighters or terrorists. The days of terrorists calling themselves freedom fighters are well and truly over. If, in the world order in the United Nations and the national order in the United Kingdom, we can have a set of conditions and criteria that define terrorism, and if we can maintain a national and international fight against it, proscribe it, ban it, stop terrorists being armed and put them out of business through intelligence and, if necessary, military action, good will have come out of the evil that took place in that massive act of international terrorism in the United States. That is why the world has changed.

In addition, we now live in a different world order in which we no longer have a conflict between east and west in which terrorism is justified between western democracies and the eastern communist bloc. That is a major and fundamental change, which means that the world order, whether in western democratic countries or emerging democratic countries in eastern Europe, Africa and the middle east, can act internationally against terrorism. That is why 11 September changed things.

I have at times been very pessimistic about the willpower of our Governments, Labour and Conservative, to defeat the terrorism that affected my small part of the UK for over 30 years and, I hope, is slowly but surely coming to an end. However, I think that international opposition from the world order, expressed, hopefully, through the United Nations, will defeat terrorism.

That brings me to the current fear and uncertainty. If I belonged to a terrorist organisation in Iraq or Afghanistan, I would like the disunity and division that I see in the United Kingdom press and on CNN and BBC reports. In the past week, newspaper front pages have revealed major divisions in the Government, the media and the international community, with France—I believe that it has declared this—and Russia going for a veto. That is no way to run a world order, and the credibility of the UN institution is up for grabs in the next couple of weeks. Unless the UN stands by the United States and the United Kingdom, and hopefully a strong and united world order, terrorists, rogue states and the Saddam Husseins of the world will think, "Divide, rule and conquer." As they read the papers and watch the television, they see a weakening world order—we are not sending out a good message. Saddam Hussein poses a threat, as do international terrorists such as bin Laden and others. The world order should be united and stand together.

I believe that good can come of evil, and I am optimistic that both fundamentalist terrorism and terrorism of the type perpetrated in Europe from the late 1960s by the Baader-Meinhof gang—we experienced the dreadful continuation of that for 30 years in the Provisional IRA—can be defeated. However, it can be defeated only by national unity in this country, a great deal more unity in the House than there has been in the past week, and much more unity in the United Nations, an organisation that should be a world policeman putting international terrorists out of business. I hope that we will have great unity in the House in the coming days, weeks and months—if we send that message to terrorists, both at home and abroad, we will defeat them.

Photo of Gerald Howarth Gerald Howarth Shadow Minister (Defence) 6:17 pm, 11th March 2003

Before I speak about the Select Committee report, it is appropriate to point out that we are debating estimates that provide for a substantial grant of further resources, in this case to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to cover the excess expenditure that it has incurred on foreign policy aspects of the war against terrorism. The eighth motion on estimates, which cannot be debated, calls for the provision of more than £600 million of excess expenditure by the Ministry of Defence to be authorised by the House tonight. I am sorry that we are not going to have that debate; perhaps the Minister will convey to his colleagues in the Ministry of Defence the message that it would have been sensible for Parliament to have had such a debate, as we believe that some of that expenditure is the result of the withdrawal of the Sea Harrier, which is an important part of our defence system and maritime capability.

We have had an excellent debate. The universal consensus is that the report of the Foreign Affairs Committee is comprehensive, thoughtful and, in the view of my hon. Friend Mr. Tyrie, outstanding. In some respects, it is the counterpart of the Defence Committee's equally impressive report on defence and security in the United Kingdom, which was published last July. I, too, congratulate the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee and his colleagues on a first-class piece of work. Both reports illustrate some of the extremely impressive parliamentary work of Members who strive to reach a consensus across the political divide. Consequently, unless that work attacks the Government, it commands little or no press coverage.

One merit of the Foreign Affairs Committee's report is that, despite the turmoil of recent weeks, it has in most respects stood the test of experience. That is no mean feat. The Committee raised a number of fundamental issues that the Government have failed to address in their response, and on which I wish to press the Minister. Before doing so, however, let me agree with the Committee's conclusion that the Government's decision to align themselves closely with the United States in the war against terrorism has enhanced Britain's influence over current policy decisions and helped to foster the special relationship in the long run. The United Kingdom has proved itself to be a real and valuable ally.

British Ministers are now in a strong position to secure better terms of trade with the United States, but they need to take advantage of that position and to capitalise on it. My hon. Friend the Member for Chichester said that we deserved a privileged dialogue with the United States as a consequence of our stalwart support—particularly that given by the Prime Minister. I make no apologies for raising a defence issue in this debate, because defence has frequently been mentioned in connection with the report. The United States should be pressed very hard to provide British industry with greater access to its programmes, not as subcontractors but as full partners. That is the very least that the United States owes to an ally that has been so staunch when many countries on which it was entitled to rely for support deserted it.

I am sure that I am not alone in expressing concern at the reports that I heard on the radio this morning about the construction contracts for the post-conflict reconstruction of Iraq being closed to all but United States companies. I hope that the Minister will make representations to his counterparts in the United States that British companies, at least, should get a look-in. I remember what happened in the Gulf war last time. The then Chief Secretary to the Treasury, David Mellor, wanted money from the Kuwaitis to bolster the United Kingdom's Exchequer, and the French wanted the contracts. If there are any contracts arising in the future, the United Kingdom should be the beneficiary of them.

My hon. Friend Mr. Spring, who so ably opened for the Opposition in the debate, referred to the need to strengthen NATO. The Committee has called for the Government to set out how NATO's new military concept for defence against terrorism will be implemented. In their reply, the Government stated that the NATO response force was intended to reach initial operational capability by next year, and to be able to respond to what they called "existing and emerging threats". That objective is laudable, and we take the view that NATO is the organisation best able to guarantee the protection of the member states. However, the recent serious divisions over defensive missile deployment to Turkey illustrate the reality of a post-cold war world order.

The Committee described the emergence of what it called

"significant differences between some EU leaders and the United States over the overall conduct of the war against terrorism . . . going to the heart of how to deal with threats of international terrorism."

Can anyone, in the light of those remarks and of the debacle over Turkey, believe that there is the remotest prospect of establishing a common European foreign and security policy? I noted that the Le Touquet declaration from the Prime Minister and Mr. Chirac contained some extraordinarily high-flown remarks about the EU's worldwide ambitions. I found that rather chilling. If they cannot agree in the face of a clear threat from international terrorism and rogue states, the prospect of their being able, as a collection of sovereign nation states, to exercise worldwide ambitions is very remote. NATO is the tried and trusted guarantor of European security. My hon. Friend Mr. Maples was entirely right to say that NATO was important, and that it was very bad for the organisation that those divisions had occurred. He talked about rebuilding bridges with our NATO partners, and he was right. It is imperative that we should do so.

Until 1989, there was a clear, overt and unanimously agreed threat in the form of Soviet Russia. The terrorist threat that we now face is covert, asymmetric and more difficult to define. It is also more difficult to define the military capabilities necessary to counter that threat. For example, a chemical or biological attack on London would be unlikely to be delivered by long-range aircraft; it would be more likely by means of a suitcase.

What about the press reports that have recently emerged, and to which my hon. Friend Patrick Mercer drew attention, about drones—unmanned air vehicles? Hans Blix is reported to have knowledge of a UAV capable of delivering biological agents, yet there was no mention of that in his report on Friday. What do the Government know of that? What of reports of a cargo ship containing Iraqi chemical agents? Are we sufficiently protected against that threat? What are we doing to try and deal with threats on the high seas? What would be the authority for intervention in such cases, and how do these developments affect the inspections regime?

I note that the Committee's report concludes that the difficulties faced by the inspectors remain formidable, but that would not be the case if Saddam Hussein had offered full and immediate co-operation with them, as United Nations resolution 1441 and all 16 previous resolutions require him to do. We see further in the Government's response to the report that they believe that a material breach has occurred. What are the implications of that? Is Saddam to be given a further final, final opportunity, or do the Government believe that there is already sufficient justification for military action?

The fact remains that whatever justification is offered for military action, large sections of the public will retain deep misgivings about it. That is understandable. However, the situation has not been helped by the Government's reluctance to address some of those misgivings head-on. The mistakes in the dossier were mentioned. The Government have refused to acknowledge that there has been a change in the regime for the no-fly zones. The no-fly zones were designed to protect areas from infiltration by Iraqi aircraft, and the arrangement was that there was justification for retaliation in the event that our aircraft came under attack or were locked on to by Iraqi missiles. Recently, surface-to-surface missile batteries have been taken out. What is the justification for that? Why do the Government not make it clear that there has been a change in policy because those batteries are identified as possibly putting our soldiers at risk?

What about the refusal of the Foreign Secretary yesterday to answer the points made by the hon. Members for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle) and for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), the Father of the House, about the forged evidence on uranium purchases that were submitted to the International Atomic Energy Agency, and that that was provided by the United Kingdom? Those were specific points raised by the chief weapons inspector in New York on Friday, and the Government have not given an answer. They are serious matters. What authority can the Government command in their campaign to win public hearts and minds if, on key issues, there is evidence that they have made a mistake or are not coming clean with the truth? We believe that the public should be brought onside on these issues. I hope that the Minister will take the opportunity today to answer.

The report draws attention to the possibility of a backlash in the middle east as a result of military action. It states:

"A US-led war on Iraq could have a substantial impact on already tense and unstable societies in the Arab . . . world". such points have been made by hon. Members in the debate. Also touted is the prospect that war could result in a recruitment bonanza for al-Qaeda and other like-minded organisations. We accept the Government's assurances in their response, when they state that they believe the long-term benefits of their approach will considerably outweigh any cynical move by al-Qaeda to exploit military action for its terrorist ends. That is a crucial point in winning over British public opinion if force is to be used, but there has not been sufficient discussion of it to date. Can the Minister elaborate and give assurances that the United Kingdom's safety and that of our citizens will not be compromised by the use of force, if it comes to that?

The issue of legality has been an interesting part of the debate. In canvassing, it has been clear that there are conflicting opinions regarding the legality of military action to enforce resolution 1441 without a second resolution. The report concludes:

"UN Security Council Resolution 1441 would not provide unambiguous authorisation for military action".

Ross Cranston made a very interesting speech in which he gave the Minister a valuable opinion that did not cost him a penny piece—[Laughter.] Of course, free advice is sometimes said to be not worth having. Nevertheless, in a carefully considered speech, the former Solicitor-General made some very interesting and persuasive points that the Government would do well to take on board. I asked him—I did so not to catch him out, but because I wanted to know the answer—who decides against all the conflicting opinion what constitutes international case law. Who decides on the international authority for taking such action? I am told by senior military people that the Attorney-General makes that decision, but we read that he has not got a lot to say about the matter. What would happen if he concluded that some lawyers—I have to say that they would mostly be left-wing ones—were suggesting that there was no justification in international law for military action?

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

Given that my hon. and learned Friend Ross Cranston expressed the same concern that many people have expressed about pre-emptive war, does the hon. Gentleman agree that, in those circumstances, it is particularly important to have very solid grounds in international law before considering taking such action?

Photo of Gerald Howarth Gerald Howarth Shadow Minister (Defence)

The hon. and learned Member for Dudley, North came up with a number of reasons as to why he felt that there was justification. He was very clear about that and I shall not rehearse his opinions for the benefit of those who were not present. They can read his speech tomorrow; it is certainly worth reading.

There is a serious practical worry, as the Minister must also address the question of what happens in the event of a challenge or a suggestion that the United Kingdom has not acted within international law. I am advised that our troops are now so embedded in joint military structures with the Americans that the situation recently put to me by a soldier will be brought about, so he will be answerable to a United States senior officer. If the International Criminal Court were to feel in such circumstances that it had some jurisdiction regarding actions taken as a result of a conflict in Iraq, what would be the status of our soldiers? The United States has not signed up to the International Criminal Court, Iraq has not done so and France has a seven-year exemption—not that we need to trouble ourselves too much about France in these matters. Nevertheless, those are serious issues that affect the confidence of our troops and could affect the manner in which they can conduct military operations if they are called upon to do so.

I turn now to post-conflict reconstruction. Even if Vernon Coaker made a late entrance, he certainly made some valuable points. It was well worth his while to come along and take pot luck as to whether he could get in on the debate. He took up an issue to which the Committee has rightly drawn attention. It states:

"We recommend that the Government examine carefully the possible models for post-conflict reconstruction in Iraq, including a United Nations transitional authority. We recommend that, in its considerations, the Government bear in mind the necessity for country-wide peacekeeping, civil policing, transitional justice, and representation of all groups in Iraqi society".

The Government's reply states:

"The Government is carrying out prudent contingency planning, examining all the points raised by the Committee."

Last week, I told the Secretary of State for Defence—and I tell the Minister now—that the Government are missing a trick. The hon. Member for Gedling is right. If we are to win the hearts and minds of the British people, let alone the Iraqi people, the Government and the Americans must make the case that they have the interests of the Iraqi people at heart. Detailed plans for dealing with post-conflict circumstances in Iraq are essential.

When I was in New York and Washington, the Americans were much more forthcoming than officials here. They are working on detailed plans. We were told that no one could buy bottled water anywhere in the Gulf because the Americans had bought it all for providing essential supplies to the people of Iraq. Even Kofi Annan told us that he had briefed the United Nations that morning about the possibility of post-conflict reconstruction. That is not based on a presumption of war; it is simply a sensible precaution.

The Government should be much more open. I appreciate that they have no firm plans yet and that there is a state of flux and uncertainty. However, I urge the Government to share the ideas that are currently being discussed to enable the transition from Saddam Hussein to a reasonable regime and to secure peace and prosperity for the people of Iraq.

The Minister should also take it into account that a peaceful transition to a secure future for Iraq is likely to involve British troops. They are already heavily overstretched. From where does the Secretary of State for Defence believe that he will get extra troops to undertake that obligation, which will be part of reconstruction, especially if Afghanistan is providing further problems that he must take into account?

Where do we go from here in trying to sort out future problems in the world? I believe that North Korea represents a threat and we should take it seriously. However, in the aftermath of whatever happens in Iraq, we must accept that there must be a limit on the number of sequential or simultaneous actions that one can take against regimes that one does not like. The United States must face that issue because it is the only superpower in the world. My hon. Friend the Member for Chichester made some interesting observations about that.

It is also essential to address the Arab-Israeli conflict. I have a feeling in my bones—I cannot justify it further—that the United States acknowledges that if it is not to be reviled in the Arab world, it must bring as much pressure to bear as possible to try to resolve once and for all the problem of Palestine. The resolution must secure the borders of Israel, protect the Israelis from suicide bombing and give the Palestinians a proper stake. That must be done.

We have had a good debate in which the Foreign Affairs Committee's excellent report has acted as a catalyst for a considered and measured assessment of the threat from international terrorism and the way ahead in dealing with Iraq. We have some way to go in formulating a comprehensive defence against terrorism. As my hon. Friend David Burnside said, Irish republican terrorism has been the main threat to this country for the past 30 years. It remains, but we have been able to contain it in part, or at least come to terms with it.

The new threat emanates from Islamic fundamentalism, which is willing to resort to chemical and/or biological weapons, and operates through networks that may be harder to penetrate. It is a tribute to the security services that they have secured such successes, but a formidable challenge lies ahead. My hon. Friend the Member for Newark made the important point that we cannot ignore the ability of Baghdad and its associates to launch an attack on the United Kingdom through terrorism.

A wide range of views has been expressed articulately if predictably on Iraq. Some hon. Members argued for more time, but they are unwilling to specify its length. We all agree that Saddam Hussein is vile and that his time has come. If we are serious about upholding United Nations authority—resolution 1441 must be upheld—the Government owe it to the House to tell us what they intend to do if there is no second, or 18th, as the Americans call it, resolution. The Americans have taken the United Nations route. The Government must tell us what they plan to do if a second resolution is not forthcoming.

As we sit here tonight, we should bear in mind the difficulties of our troops who are poised like coiled springs out there in the desert. It is not possible that they can be maintained at that tempo for ever. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say, but I think that we should end the debate by thinking of our troops out there, serving the interests of our country and defending our freedoms.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office 6:40 pm, 11th March 2003

With the leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall reply to some of the points that have been raised—and, as is the custom, leave a minute or two for my right hon. Friend Donald Anderson to comment. I echo the congratulations expressed to him and all Committee members by Members in all parts of the House on an excellent report. Our debate on terrorism and weapons of mass destruction has also been excellent, and serious. I am surprised that more Members were not present throughout.

I have many questions to get through. I want to deal with most of the initial ones quickly, and I will therefore respond to no interventions at that stage so that I may be able to respond to some on Iraq.

I was asked a number of questions by Mr. Spring. Do we know whether Osama bin Laden is still alive? We believe that he is. We are still awaiting the results of the questioning of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. As for the nature of the relationship between the European security and defence policy and NATO, we are very pleased with the growing agreement and progress on that. I was asked how NATO would implement the Prague agreement. The Government's reply to the Foreign Affairs Committee's report makes it clear that detailed plans are being drawn up to deliver the new concepts for defence against terrorism. They include the development of the NATO rapid response force, a mixed force able to deploy quickly in the face of emerging threats. The changes will give NATO an enhanced capability to protect us from a range of threats, including terrorism.

The hon. Member for West Suffolk asked how the Government would strengthen the United Nations. We are working hard to ensure that its resolutions are enforced, and if its resolutions are complied with, its authority will be enhanced. Countries will know that resolutions are not mere hot air. If resolutions on Iraq are important, so are resolutions on Palestine. If resolution 1441 is not enforced, what price resolutions 242, 338 and 1397?

My hon. Friend Mr. Savidge raised the distinction between different kinds of terrorism. He rightly condemned all kinds of terrorism, but distinguished terrorists with a negotiable political agenda—an agenda making it possible to negotiate an end to their terrorism, as we hope we have done in Northern Ireland—from terrorist groups with whom we cannot negotiate because their demands are too extreme. Although he has a good point, he will surely agree that we must not fail to condemn all kinds of terrorism. As David Burnside pointed out, after 11 September, the days of the terrorist calling himself a freedom fighter are gone.

Mr. Howarth spoke of the need for political change in the middle east. We all need to see that there is political change in the middle east. The west needs to recognise that real, long-term stability in the middle east must rest not with regimes of stability—that has been the case all too often in the past—but with economic reform and democracy. Iran is an example, in that in the past we supported regimes like that of the Shah. We were wrong to do so: it produced political extremism. In the long term, the only way to deal with the middle east, as with any other part of the world, is to promote economic reform and the spirit of democracy. If we believe that that is best for our people, we should believe that it is right for all people. We must also recognise that in the future, stability will require real reform. That is right for the Arabs, and right for the west.

Mr. Maples suggested that we should enforce a settlement in the middle east. I agree that the outlines of an agreement are clear, but the devil is in the detail, and it is the details that are crucial. He was unclear about the nature of the enforcement that he favours if, for example, Israel or the Palestinians say no. Frankly, it is difficult to see what further sanctions could be applied against the Palestinians if they decided to say no, given the extent of the sanctions already against them. It is an interesting idea, but it requires agreement from the Security Council, and as we have seen, such agreement is not that easy to achieve.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

I will not give way on this matter, as I want to get on to Iraq.

My hon. Friend Mr. Hamilton said that we cannot impose a settlement that does not win the hearts and minds of the people, and my hon. Friend Vernon Coaker said that we should bring passion to the need to push forward the middle east peace process. However, I should tell him that that passion is there. The historical injustice done to the Palestinians must be dealt with, and the violence done to the Israelis must end. Peace requires a Palestinian state. We have respect in the middle east now because of the personal commitment of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to the peace process, and I can offer an assurance that that will continue. However, we must ensure that we get the United States on board as well. The US is essential in ensuring that Prime Minister Sharon is delivered to the peace table, and I can assure the House that we will do all that we can to work with the United States on moving forward the middle east peace process.

In turning to the points that were raised about Iraq, I should begin by making it clear that I do not want a war and nor does this Government. It is a matter of great sadness that we must even contemplate such a possibility. This is a Labour Government. We are a Government of the left, and our default position is to oppose wars, but sometimes we have to ensure that we deal with United Nations resolutions in a way that recognises their importance. After 12 years, 17 UN resolutions—we are now contemplating the 18th resolution—and more than four months since the adoption of resolution 1441, which gave Iraq a final opportunity to disarm, the time has come when we must decide where we stand.

No one can seriously doubt that Saddam Hussein possesses a fearsome range of weapons of mass destruction and is a threat to his own people, to his neighbours and, ultimately, to the whole of the middle east. The basis of Saddam's regime is his possession of WMD. He has used them against his own people—notably in Halabja, in 1988—and against his neighbours, with horrific results in both instances. Much of his power comes from the possession of WMD, which are held by a small elite, and which he uses to intimidate his army and his people. Our aim is not regime change, but if Saddam Hussein does not disarm, we may have to change the regime in order to disarm him. If he remains in power with WMD, there is no question but that he will continue to murder his own people and to threaten the region. WMD are an integral part of his regime. A Saddam Hussein without WMD is a weakened Saddam Hussein.

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

The Minister mentions 17 resolutions during 12 years. How many resolutions does he think that there would have been during three times that period, but for the US veto over the issue of Israel?

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

Is my hon. Friend saying that, because the United States may have vetoed some resolutions, we must say that we will not seek to enforce UN resolutions on Iraq? [Interruption.] He shakes his head, and of course he is not saying that. No, let us focus on the issue that we have to confront in the next days and weeks, which is Iraq. I have no problem in agreeing with my hon. Friend that we need to move forward on the middle east, but we also need to recognise that we have obligations in relation to Iraq.

Photo of Mr David Chidgey Mr David Chidgey Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

The Minister says that Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction are integral. However, given that experts tell us that it is impossible to be sure that we can destroy, or even find, all those weapons, is not regime change inevitable in the light of America's policy as it relates to deterrence? If we cannot be sure that we have found all the weapons of mass destruction, surely America will press for regime change in defence of its own interests.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

I shall come to that point but Saddam Hussein knows what he has to do. He has to declare all the weapons of mass destruction. We have some information about what he has, and we can use that information to check how much he is holding back when he claims to make a full declaration, which he has not yet done. If he covers all the areas that we know about, we will know to some extent that he has made a full declaration. We have the capacity to make that judgment.

Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour/Co-operative, North West Leicestershire

The diplomatic code for the use of force is usually the phrase "all necessary means", which does not appear in resolution 1441 or the present draft resolution. Does the Minister believe that reference to "serious consequences" authorises force in this case under international law?

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

If my hon. Friend had been in his place earlier in the debate he would know that we heard a learned opinion on that point. A number of legal phrases are used to authorise the use of force and no one can be in any doubt about the meaning of "serious consequences". Everyone who signed up to that resolution knew what that meant. They knew then and they know now.

In a serious speech, my hon. Friend Richard Burden asked about the UK's resolution and the inclusion of a number of tests. We are considering the inclusion of tests and how we can use Hans Blix's written report—his cluster document—which raised several specific questions, to bring the Security Council together.

It is right that we are reluctant to threaten military action, but we have shown that we have been right in the past to take action, for example in Afghanistan, Sierra Leone and Kosovo. We were right to take military action in those places, even though many people had doubts at the time. In each of those cases, we showed leadership in urging the international community towards resolute action and in being ready to take a key role in it ourselves. The alternative—doing nothing—was worse. As my hon. and learned Friend Ross Cranston explained, in the case of Kosovo and other situations, we did so without a UN resolution, because it was the right thing to do. The risk of military action must be measured against the risk that somehow inaction will make the world safer—it rarely does.

No one who looks objectively at the record can doubt the great efforts that have been made, and that are still being made, to disarm Iraq peacefully. Since 1991, the UN has tried all the tools at its disposal, including inspections, sanctions and persuasion to disarm Iraq. Security Council resolution 1284, passed in 1999 after the inspectors had been forced to leave, offered Iraq the prospect of the lifting of sanctions in return for disarmament. We spent the next three years trying to persuade Iraq to co-operate, but it again refused.

As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dudley, North said in an erudite exposition of the law, Security Council resolution 1441 gave Saddam a "final opportunity" to comply with the string of legally binding obligations imposed on him over the past 12 years. It is telling that, at last Friday's meeting of the Security Council, not one speaker—despite obvious differences of view—claimed that Saddam Hussein and Iraq had complied "immediately, unconditionally and actively" as required by resolution 1441. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East said, nothing was immediate, nothing has been unconditional and there has been precious little activity from Saddam Hussein. We have never had the full declaration of all Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. The inspectors have never had the basic document required to do their job. They have struggled along valiantly with a partial document.

Dr. Blix reported to the Security Council that

"while the numerous initiatives, which are now taken by the Iraqi side with a view to resolving some longstanding open disarmament issues, can be seen as 'active', or even 'proactive', these initiatives, 3–4 months into the new resolution cannot be said to constitute 'immediate' cooperation. Nor do they necessarily cover all areas of relevance."

Dr. Blix went on to report some of the small steps taken, only recently, by Iraq, including the destruction of al-Samoud missiles.

He described that as a

"substantial measure of disarmament—indeed the first since the middle of the 1990s."

However, no objective observer can conclude that this patent last-minute window dressing amounts to anything like the immediate, unconditional and active co-operation demanded by resolution 1441.

As someone said to me when I was in Damascus, Saddam Hussein is dealing with the matter as if he were a trader in the soukh. He wants the least possible amount of disarmament to get the UN off his back. He seems to think that he can negotiate, but resolution 1441 is very clear. Full compliance is required: that is what he must give, and it is what he has so far failed to give. That is typical of the way in which Saddam Hussein has used tactics for the past 12 years. He dribbles out scraps of information and small concessions, but he continues to conceal the extent of his arsenal.

If we believe that inspections with no firm end-date will achieve the complete disarmament of Iraq, then we deceive ourselves. Iraq has proved itself to be more than adept at exploiting the existing sanctions regime. As my hon. Friend Mr. Chaytor said, Dr. Blix's report entitled "Outstanding Issues Concerning Iraq's Proscribed Weapons Programme" shows what Iraq is still up to.

The report showed that Iraq repaired equipment in the chemical area previously destroyed by UNSCOM, and refurbished chemical facilities; in the biological field, there was a new emphasis on higher education in biotechnology, and a new genetic engineering facility was established. There was a surge of activity in the field of missile technology. The report identifies 29 specific areas in which Iraq is known to have engaged in prohibited activities. They include work on Scud-type missiles, VX gas, anthrax, tabun, sarin, botulinum toxin, and many other elements specifically related to weapons of mass destruction.

Dr. Blix's report shows that a huge number of questions remain unanswered. Iraq's weapons of mass destruction are there, and we need to find them. It sets out more than 100 specific actions that Iraq must take to resolve these issues. A spasm of activity is insufficient. We need more than that; we need full compliance by Saddam Hussein. He knows what he has to do, and what facilities he has to reveal. Sharing this information with the inspectors can hardly be said to require months of work. The evidence must be produced, and quickly.

We need to present Saddam Hussein with a clear choice. We must therefore send him the message, "You will be disarmed—peacefully if we can, but forcefully if we must."

If we fail in this effort, if we do not disarm Saddam Hussein, there will be three messages: UN sanctions can be ignored, international law will not be enforced, and other dictators with the political will and money to develop weapons of mass destruction—and there are many of them—will conclude that they can do so with impunity. The world would then be a much more dangerous place for our children than it has been for this generation.

If we succeed in disarming Saddam—peacefully if we can, forcefully if we must—the messages will be: UN resolutions do matter, international law will be enforced, and other regimes contemplating developing weapons of mass destruction must think very hard before doing so.

This is something that we must do. It is the right thing to do—and we had better get on with it.

Photo of Mr Donald Anderson Mr Donald Anderson Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee 6:59 pm, 11th March 2003

With the leave of the House, I rise to give a brief final blessing to the debate. It seems a long time ago that I rose to commend the report of the Foreign Affairs Committee to the House. I spelled out the aim of the Committee: to use our privileged position to provide information to the House. I believe that it shows the relevance of Select Committees in providing that information, and in providing a monitoring device to place a check on the Executive. In a professional world, the legislative body must itself be expert.

In my judgment, the debate has lived up to expectations. The many contributions have included the case for war and peace, a look at the law behind that case, a discussion of post-war reconstruction and the middle east peace process.

I congratulate all hon. Members who contributed to the debate, which has been more reflective than the one that may take place in the next week or so. That will be a debate on whether there should be war or peace. We are at a crucial stage, and events taking place now in New York will determine the future.

This worthwhile debate has given the House an opportunity to look at key issues. I congratulate all my colleagues, and I know that those hon. Members who serve with me on the Foreign Affairs Committee will be confident that our labours have been very well justified.

It being Seven o'clock, Mr. Deputy Speaker proceeded to put forthwith the Question relating to Estimates which he was directed to put at that hour, pursuant to Standing Order No. 54(5) (Consideration of estimates).

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That further resources, not exceeding £144,807,000, be authorised for use during the year ending on 31st March 2003, and that a further sum, not exceeding £26,460,000, be granted to Her Majesty out of the Consolidated Fund for the year ending on 31st March 2003 for expenditure by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

It being after Seven o'clock, Mr. Deputy Speaker proceeded to put forthwith the Questions relating to Estimates which he was directed to put at that hour, pursuant to Standing Order No. 55 (Questions on voting of estimates, &c.)