– in the House of Commons at 8:24 pm on 17th March 2003.

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary 8:24 pm, 17th March 2003

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement in respect of Iraq and the debate that will be held in the House tomorrow.

As the House will be aware, in the Azores yesterday my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, Prime Minister Aznar of Spain, President Bush of the United States and Prime Minister Barroso of Portugal called on all members of the Security Council to adopt a resolution—which would have been its 18th on Iraq—to challenge Saddam to take a strategic decision to disarm his country of his weapons of mass destruction as required by Security Council resolution 1441. Such a resolution has never been needed legally, but we have long had a preference for it politically.

There has been intense diplomatic activity to secure that end over many months, culminating in the past 24 hours. Yesterday evening, our ambassador to the United Nations, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, consulted his fellow permanent representatives from other Security Council member states. Just this morning I spoke to my Spanish, American, Russian and Chinese counterparts.

Despite those final efforts, I regret to say that we have reluctantly concluded that a Security Council consensus on a new resolution would not be possible. On my instructions, Sir Jeremy Greenstock made a public announcement to that effect at the United Nations at about 3.15 pm UK time today.

What we know about the Iraqi regime's behaviour over many years is that there is the greatest chance of their finally responding to the United Nations obligations on them if they face a united Security Council. So, over the months since resolution 1441 was unanimously adopted by the Security Council in early November, the Prime Minister and I, and our ambassador to the United Nations, have strained every nerve in search of that consensus which could finally persuade Iraq, by peaceful means, to provide the full and immediate co-operation demanded by the Security Council.

Significantly, in all the discussions in the Security Council and outside, no one has claimed that Iraq is in full compliance with the obligations placed on it. Given that, it was my belief, up to about a week ago, that we were close to achieving the consensus that we sought on the further resolution. Sadly, one country then ensured that the Security Council could not act. President Chirac's unequivocal announcement last Monday that France would veto a second resolution containing that or any ultimatum "whatever the circumstances" inevitably created a sense of paralysis in our negotiations. I deeply regret that France has thereby put a Security Council consensus beyond reach.

I need to spell out that the alternative proposals submitted by France, Germany and Russia for more time and more inspections carry no ultimatum and no threat of force. They do not implement resolution 1441 but seek to rewrite it. To have adopted such proposals would have allowed Saddam to continue stringing out inspections indefinitely, and he would rightly have drawn the lesson that the Security Council was simply not prepared to enforce the ultimatum that lies at the heart of resolution 1441: in the event of non-compliance, Iraq, as operational paragraph 13 spells out, should expect "serious consequences."

As a result of Saddam Hussein's persistent refusal to meet the UN's demands, and the inability of the Security Council to adopt a further resolution, the Cabinet has decided to ask the House to support the United Kingdom's participation in military operations, should they be necessary, with the objective of ensuring the disarmament of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, and thereby the maintenance of the authority of the United Nations.

From the outset of this crisis the Government have promised that, if possible, the House would have the opportunity to debate our involvement in military action prior to the start of hostilities and on a substantive motion. The House will have that opportunity tomorrow. Copies of the motion, proposed by the Prime Minister and Cabinet colleagues, have been placed in the Vote Office.

In addition to dealing with military action the motion states that in the event of military operations the House requires that

"on an urgent basis, the United Kingdom should seek a new Security Council Resolution that would affirm Iraq's territorial integrity, ensure rapid delivery of humanitarian relief, allow for the earliest possible lifting of UN sanctions, an international reconstruction programme, and the use of all oil revenues for the benefit of the Iraqi people and endorse an appropriate post-conflict administration for Iraq".

In addition, the resolution goes on to endorse the middle east peace process as encapsulated in the imminent publication of the road map. I understand, Mr. Speaker, that you will be specifying the time by which amendments to this motion must be received. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office will make a short business statement immediately after the proceedings on this statement.

To inform the debate, I have circulated several documents to all right hon. and hon. Members today. These include a copy of the response from my noble and learned Friend the Attorney-General to a written question in the House of Lords in which he sets out the legal basis for the use of force against Iraq, as well as a detailed briefing paper summarising the legal background which I have sent to the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee. I have also made available a note summarising Iraq's record of non-compliance with resolution 1441. A new Command Paper comprising key recent United Nations documents, including the 173 pages of Dr Blix's paper on "Unresolved Disarmament Issues: Iraq's Proscribed Weapons Programmes", which was published on 7 March in the Security Council, is now available in the Vote Office.

The debate tomorrow will be the most important in the House for many years. Some say that Iraq can be disarmed without an ultimatum, without the threat or the use of force, but simply by more time and more inspections. That approach is defied by all our experience over 12 weary years. It cannot produce the disarmament of Iraq; it cannot rid the world of the danger of the Iraqi regime. It can only bring comfort to tyrants and emasculate the authority of the United Nations. It is for these reasons that we shall tomorrow be asking the House to endorse and support the Government's resolution.

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State, Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, Shadow Foreign Secretary

May I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement and for giving me early sight of it? His statement is indeed a sombre one. Put bluntly, the talking is over, diplomacy is at an end and tonight we face the grim prospect of war. We are where we are tonight because Saddam Hussein has contemptuously failed to take the final opportunity that resolution 1441 offered him. Hopes that he might accept the inevitable this time and disarm have been dashed. Instead, he has chosen to take the international community to the wire.

There was a chance that a clear, unequivocal and united voice from the international community might yet have persuaded him to disarm or to go. France put paid to that. I hope that in Paris they will reflect tonight on what they have achieved.

There will be many different and deeply held feelings in the House tonight and during the debate tomorrow. It would be very strange if there were not. But while we may not agree with each other, I hope and believe that none of us will do other than totally respect the sincerity with which these views are held.

Saddam Hussein, in possession of weapons of mass destruction, is a threat to international peace and security. No one, not even France, denies that. It is not just a threat within the middle east but to the international community at large, including ourselves. That is why we believe that action to disarm him can no longer be delayed. We will, of course, debate all this tomorrow, and we will vote on it. I do not intend to pre-empt that debate or that vote tonight, but there are questions that I must ask.

What discussions has the Foreign Secretary had with his Turkish counterpart to ensure that action in Iraq will not provoke unrest between northern Iraq and Turkey?

What preparations are in place to ensure a swift delivery of humanitarian aid and relief to the people of Iraq, who have suffered for so long under the heel of Saddam Hussein?

What discussions has the Foreign Secretary had with the Secretary-General of the United Nations in accordance with the motion proposed for tomorrow to ensure that a representative Administration can swiftly be set up in Iraq under United Nations auspices to ensure the speedy rehabilitation of that country?

Again, in accordance with the motion proposed for tomorrow, what steps is the right hon. Gentleman taking to follow up President Bush's statements on Israel-Palestine and, in particular, to ensure that there is a genuine and sustained momentum towards the two-state solution? What talks has the Foreign Secretary had with other members of the Quartet, including Russia, to make real progress on that front? And what other steps will he take to reassure the Islamic community that military action in Iraq is not an attack on Islam but can bring long-term benefit and stability to the Muslim world?

Our thoughts tonight must be with our armed forces as they face the prospect of conflict. We ask much on their behalf, and our prayers must be with them and their families. They must know that from these Benches they have our unqualified support. We will offer the Government our support in the decisions that must now be made. We will do so because they have reached the same conclusions as us on the threat posed by Saddam Hussein and the legality of taking action. We believe that they are acting in the national interest, and as long as that is the case we will continue to support them. Her Majesty's Opposition will do what in our hearts we know for our country is right.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his remarks, and shall deal briefly with his points. I picked up the first when he said that we should respect the sincerity with which a wide variety of views are held in the House, which is absolutely right. At the same time, we should accept that nobody—no single individual—has a monopoly of wisdom or morality on this issue. People have both strong views and different points of view. I speak for myself, but I think that I speak for the whole House too, when I say that for each of us the prospect of having to endorse and support military action, whatever the cause, is extremely difficult. Speaking for myself, I shall of course vote for the motion tomorrow, as I endorsed the idea of military action today in Cabinet. I believe that now it is only by the use of "all necessary means", to quote United Nations resolution 678, that it is possible to secure the disarmament of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman that had it been possible for the international community, through the Security Council, to speak with the same united voice as was assembled when we passed resolution 1441, we would not now be in this situation. However, I believe that we have striven as hard as we possibly could for that kind of unity, and I greatly regret that it was not possible to achieve it.

The right hon. Gentleman asked me a number of specific questions, including one about discussions with my Turkish counterpart. I personally have not had discussions with my Turkish counterpart because who he was was in a state of flux. The Foreign Minister in Turkey changed just a few days ago from Foreign Minister Yakis to Foreign Minister Gul. I intend to talk to him in the next couple of days, but our excellent ambassador in Ankara, Peter Westmacott, has been in very close touch with the Turkish authorities.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about measures on swift humanitarian aid, which are indeed spelt out in the text of the resolution. We are not just talking about it—in the event of military action we would seek an immediate and strong United Nations mandate for that. The right hon. Gentleman asked if I had discussed the matter with Secretary-General Kofi Annan. I did indeed, at a face-to-face meeting with Kofi Annan in New York on 6 March.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about relations between Israel and Palestine. I obviously understand that in some quarters in the House there is scepticism about the position of the United States in respect of Israel-Palestine, but I would point out to the House that it is under this US Administration, for the first time ever, that the United States and through it, with a consensus, the United Nations, have supported the concept of a two-state solution, with a secure state of Israel and a viable and secure state of Palestine. That has been encapsulated in resolution 1397. We have been seeking to ensure the implementation of that resolution. I have spoken twice in the past two weeks to Chairman Arafat of the Palestinian Authority, and since the middle of January we have been actively involved with the Palestinian Authority in assisting with the process of its reform. Largely because of that, it has been possible for Chairman Arafat to nominate the excellent Abu Mazen as the Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority, and hopefully for the Palestine Legislative Council to endorse the appointment and for it to be accepted, perhaps tomorrow or the next day. I hope that that will be followed by the full publication of the road map, and I hope that the House will be united in its determination. The message that we send, yes, to the Israelis and the Palestinians, and also to the members of the Quartet, including the United States, is that we are determined to see the full implementation of the road map as early as possible.

The right hon. Gentleman raised two further points. One was in respect of support for the armed forces. It goes without saying that our thoughts are with our armed forces. There cannot be a single Member of the House who does not have constituents with relatives in the armed forces in the Gulf or in the theatre. I have been talking to the parents of my constituents who are out there. I know the anxiety that this period will inevitably cause them. Of course, our hearts and prayers go out to them.

The right hon. Gentleman's very important last point was about the Muslim communities around the world. When I discussed the matter with some of my Muslim friends in my Blackburn constituency on Friday, a leading Muslim told me that he had asked some of his colleagues how many Muslims had been murdered by Saddam Hussein. The answer came back: well over a million. Then he had asked how many countries Saddam Hussein had invaded. The answer is two sovereign nations, both of them Muslim. The simple truth is that Saddam Hussein has murdered and terrorised more Muslims than any other tyrant in recent history. The world, and the Muslim world particularly, will be a great deal better when he is disarmed.

Photo of Michael Moore Michael Moore Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary for his statement and for the advance copy that I received. The whole House will be united in regret that we have reached the point where military action against Iraq is imminent. Our thoughts this evening are with our armed forces and their families.

A few hours ago, the Secretary-General of the United Nations said that if military action takes place without the backing of the Security Council, its legitimacy will be questioned and the authority for any action will be diminished. In the light of those comments, does the Foreign Secretary accept that the disarmament of Saddam Hussein's evil regime should continue under United Nations auspices? Does he also accept that at this moment, when the weapons inspectors have been preparing timetables to complete their work, the right decision would be to allow them to continue their endeavours and not to go to war at this time?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

Of course it would have been better if it had been possible to achieve a consensus in the United Nations for a second resolution, but there is no question about the legality of the action that we propose to take. [Interruption.] No. That goes back to resolutions 678 and 687. I put the resolutions before the House, so they are plain for everybody to see. I am extremely familiar with the negotiating history of resolution 1441. As I have told the House on many occasions, France and Russia informally proposed that there should be a lock in resolution 1441 requiring that before any military action or any enforcement of the system of disarmament proposed—by force—there had to be a second resolution. France and Russia dropped that proposition. They never even put it forward as a formal amendment. Instead, what was finally agreed in the resolution was a process by which it was declared in operational paragraph 1 that Iraq had been and remains in material breach; in operational paragraph 2, a final opportunity to Iraq to disarm; in operational paragraph 4, a statement of what constitutes a further material breach—namely, a false declaration and other failure to comply; then a process, if Iraq was in further material breach, which it has been for weeks, setting out further discussions in the Security Council, which have already taken place; and in operational paragraph 13, which states in words that everybody understands that if Iraq failed to comply, serious consequences would follow. It is in pursuit of the authority of the United Nations that we are moving the motion tomorrow in order to secure the disarmament that the United Nations has been seeking for the past 12 years.

So far as a further timetable for the inspectors is concerned, let me say that this issue arises under Security Council resolution 1284. One or two members of the Security Council are now clutching resolution 1284 as if it were their own. Resolution 1284 was finally agreed by the Security Council after very difficult negotiations in 1999. France sought to water down the inspection regime time and again. It was agreed in order to get any resolution through, for example, that presidential palaces would be exempted from the inspection. France then refused to back that resolution, and because it was not supported by any credible threat of force, Iraq refused to comply with it. What that tells us is that unless we have a tough resolution and back it with a credible threat of force and, as we are now getting to the point, the use of force, we will never ever get this tyrannical regime to comply with its United Nations obligations.

Photo of Mr Clive Soley Mr Clive Soley Labour, Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush

Is it not a fact that, if the United Nations had acted in 1991 when the ceasefire was first breached and the following resolutions of that year were also breached, we would not be in our current position? Is not the awful lesson of the 12 years that have intervened, in which there have been so many deaths and genocidal activities in Iraq, that we cannot go on passing resolutions unless we are resolved to act?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I say to the House that we need to think about where we would be if we failed now to act. We know that this man has weapons of mass destruction. That sounds like a slightly abstract phrase, but what we are talking about is chemical weapons, biological weapons, viruses, bacilli and anthrax—10,000 litres of anthrax—that he has. We know that he has it, Dr. Blix points that out and he has failed to account for that. If we allow these weapons to remain in the possession of Saddam Hussein and do nothing about it, we cannot complain when the regime becomes further empowered to act in a tyrannical way with his neighbours and also if such weaponry finds its way into the hands of other rogue states or terrorist groups and then inflicts destruction very much nearer home.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Chair, International Development Committee, Chair, International Development Committee

I am sure that the Foreign Secretary will agree that we as a nation will be judged not only on the effectiveness our military campaign, but on the efficiency of the humanitarian relief that we bring to Iraq. Will he give a clear undertaking to the House that Her Majesty's Government shall will the means to ensure that proper humanitarian relief is provided for the people of Iraq and also that we will provide the leadership that is necessary to supply humanitarian relief to a country where, tragically, two thirds of the people are already dependent on food aid? Whenever the Cabinet considers the military campaign, can it please also consider the humanitarian campaign?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I entirely endorse what the hon. Gentleman says. I read out a key part of the motion that will be put before the House tomorrow, in which we shall seek a new Security Council resolution that deals with the whole question of humanitarian relief.

I also point out that one of the many terrible things that Saddam Hussein has done to his own people has been to impoverish a very rich nation. This was a nation that had the same living standards, if you please, as Portugal or Malaysia 25 years ago. It is now one of the poorest nations on earth, where 60 per cent. of the people have been plunged into poverty not because of sanctions, but because of a quite deliberate policy by the Saddam Hussein regime to divert money that should and could have gone to the wonderful people of Iraq to its military spending and luxury goods for the regime's friends.

Photo of Kali Mountford Kali Mountford Labour, Colne Valley

The people of Iraq have now languished under the tyranny of Saddam for far too long. Is not this cynical use of the process of the United Nations bringing it into disrepute? Are we not now in a position where, after the cynical protection of oil interests in Iraq, the cynical attempt to hide the fact that France vetoed any effort to indict Saddam and shying away on sales of weapons to Iraq, there is no prospect of unity in the United Nations and thereby no prospect of saving the people of Iraq?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

It is for each member state of the United Nations to explain its own policy, and I am happy to explain ours. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. We passed resolution after resolution in respect of Iraq, which I have presented to the House first in this Command Paper, then in the supplementary Command Paper. I say to any hon. Member who is still unpersuaded about the need for action and the fact that Iraq has failed to comply with its disarmament obligations that they should simply read that which is now available to every Member in the document in the Vote Office—the 173 pages of Dr. Blix's report published on 7 March. That sets out chapter by chapter—in 29 chapters on more than 100 separate disarmament obligations—how Saddam, after 12 years, plainly has no intention whatsoever of meeting his disarmament obligations.

Photo of Ian Taylor Ian Taylor Conservative, Esher and Walton

Does the Foreign Secretary recognise that many of us believe that the United States, having looked for Osama bin Laden, has quickly focused on the tangible target of Saddam Hussein, and that the irony is that the person who will be most pleased in the next few days is Osama bin Laden because of the risk from terrorism? Is he aware that the way in which the United States has conducted its campaign over the past few months has led to the fracture of the United Nations, the fracture of NATO and the fracture of the European Union? How is that in the British national interest?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. I just say this to him: I do not believe that the fight against international terrorism and the need to deal with rogue states are alternatives. They are not alternatives at all. We have to deal with international terrorism; we have to deal, too, with the threat of rogue states. I understand what the hon. Gentleman says, but the simple truth is that if that was the reason why the United States had gone to the United Nations, no other member of the United Nations would have supported it. It was because the case against the Iraqi regime, spelled out in 17 successive resolutions of the United Nations, is overwhelming. It is the United Nations that has been saying over 12 years that Iraq represents a threat to international peace and security.

As for the hon. Gentleman's point about the fracture of the United Nations, it is a fact, so far as NATO is concerned, that NATO, at its Prague summit at the end of November, fully and unanimously endorsed resolution 1441. I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that if he is thinking about the issue of assistance to Turkey, the decision to provide assistance to Turkey was supported by 16 of the 19 member nations of NATO and opposed by only three.

Photo of Jim Dowd Jim Dowd Labour, Lewisham West

Will my right hon. Friend accept my thanks for his efforts, application and dedication in seeing UN resolution 1441 brought to fruition and pursued? Does he accept that had everybody who voted unanimously for that resolution meant what they said at the time, we would not now be in this position? Can he tell me when he first realised that those who signed up for "serious consequences" for non-compliance actually meant "zero consequences" for non-compliance? Can he tell me that the Government, once the current storm has abated, will do all that they can to resurrect the worldwide credibility of the UN, which has been so seriously undermined by those who have been playing games with what the international community should have done many years ago?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his opening remarks. We have done all that we can to secure a peaceful resolution to the crisis. It is still possible, let me say, for it to be resolved peacefully by Saddam Hussein's agreeing to go into exile. Should that be the case, as I have said on a number of occasions, we would support a United Nations Security Council resolution to provide Saddam Hussein with immunity from prosecution so that he could go into exile and enjoy a retirement of the kind that he has denied to so many of his own people. I am willing to accept that terrible compromise to try to avoid a war. I hope and believe that the whole House would also do that.

My hon. Friend asks whether I concluded that some members of the Security Council were trying to rewrite 1441. I reached that conclusion a week ago, but I had suspected it for some time. I attended successive Security Council meetings in which Dr. Blix and Dr. el-Baradei pointed out that Iraq had not complied with clear obligations to make full and complete disclosure by 7 December. Instead, it recycled the incomplete, mendacious and deceitful disclosures that it had made in the past. It failed in every other respect to comply fully with the resolution.

The issue raises a question about United Nations authority, which is at stake. It is incumbent on all Security Council members to mean what they say and to say what they mean. We have done that; I regret that others have failed to do so.

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

But is not the reality that the Government do not have a majority in favour of their position on the Security Council and that they have never had a majority for early recourse to war? Most countries perceive a clear alternative and doubtless believed the United States ambassador when he told them that 1441 was not a trigger for war. Instead of blaming the French, will the Government reflect on their responsibility for turning a 30-nation coalition that expelled Saddam Hussein from Kuwait into the four countries whose representatives met yesterday in the Azores? Two of them are not even committing troops to the engagement.

We are all worried and we all support our troops—[Interruption.] But are there worse circumstances under which to take a country to war than no consent at home and no consensus in the international community?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I have been in the House long enough to recall that the hon. Gentleman described our action in Kosovo, which was entirely right, as an unpardonable folly.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick Labour, Walsall North

If the military action that everyone now expects takes place, will not British troops be fighting a murderous tyranny? Do not those troops deserve support from all hon. Members because they will be doing right? Does my right hon. Friend agree that a large majority of people in Iraq will welcome liberation from tyranny? They have been imprisoned long enough, and it will be surprising if our troops are not treated as liberators when the time comes.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I entirely agree. My hon. Friend has been steadfast in his support for implementing 1441.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Minister (Trade and Industry)

Four years ago, the Foreign Secretary was part of a Government who committed British troops to an offensive operation with no United Nations authority. Four years later, those troops remain deployed. Does he believe that criticism of his strategy today, when operating under United Nations authority, with an exit strategy of an Iraq free of tyranny—and free of foreign troops in months if not years—is justifiable from those who were a party to the decision to launch the Kosovo operation?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

The hon. Gentleman raises the legal base for the action in Kosovo. That was questioned because there was a threat of a veto from Russia and securing a resolution was therefore not possible. I well remember that the action, which I fully supported, was controversial. However, events have shown that it was justifiable. We are currently following through the recent injunctions of resolution 1441, which the United Nations passed unanimously only four months ago.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

Does the Foreign Secretary accept that rejecting the road of peace and a legal solution to the problem means that tomorrow or the day after, cluster bombs, depleted uranium, cruise missiles and a panoply of weapons of huge destruction will be unleashed on the people of Iraq? Many will die. Many soldiers on all sides will die. What, in the Foreign Secretary's view, will be the long-term consequences for other conflicts throughout the middle east?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

What I say to my hon. Friend first is that, as I said earlier, no one in the House has a monopoly on wisdom or morality on this issue, and I hope that we all respect each other's positions. Decisions about military action are very difficult because—my hon. Friend is right—people will be killed if military action is taken. Innocent civilians will be killed. However much the military strive, as they do, to avoid civilian casualties, some will be killed.

My hon. Friend asked what would be the result of military action. Yes, people will be killed, but the result will be better than the result of not taking military action. I am quite clear about that. If we fail to take military action, many thousands more will perish at Saddam Hussein's hand, and the ongoing instability of the region—caused by Saddam Hussein's armaments and weapons of mass destruction—will continue. It is my belief that, just as we found in Afghanistan—an imperfect country, but far, far better than the Taliban regime before—that military action has helped to stabilise the regime and, above all, to liberate the benighted people of that country, so we shall find the same in respect of Iraq.

Photo of John Barrett John Barrett Liberal Democrat, Edinburgh West

How will the Foreign Secretary proceed if the Government lose the vote tomorrow, or would that be dismissed as an "unreasonable" vote?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

We are not intending to lose the vote tomorrow, although we are certainly not relying on the Liberals. [Interruption.]

Photo of Mr Martin O'Neill Mr Martin O'Neill Chair, Trade & Industry Committee, Chair, Trade & Industry Committee

Does my right hon. Friend realise, as one of those who opposed the march on Baghdad, that we now face a very different situation from the one that we faced 12 years ago? Is he also aware that those who choose to oppose resolution 1441 now are doing so in the certain knowledge that there will be no military action or military sanctions until November or December of next year, and that to do that is to give away to Saddam Hussein an inordinately long period of negotiation and obfuscation, which has marked the way in which he has behaved in the international arena all these years? We must act now, and we must act quickly.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I agree with my hon. Friend. I must also point out to the House that the reason why there was not a march on Baghdad was that the United States Government and the chief of their military staff, the then General Powell, wished to follow United Nations resolutions and decided that they had no United Nations mandate to complete the action on to Baghdad. Many will say, "Would that they had been able to undertake that action to rid the world of Saddam," but I certainly supported the decision not to take action at that stage, because it would have been against the mandate of the UN.

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes Labour/Co-operative, Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, with the publication of the road map for Palestine having given real hope for the people of Palestine, the agreement that Iraq's oil should be for the benefit of the people of Iraq and that the United Nations should lead a massive programme of reconstruction and humanitarian support, and the likelihood that we would have got a second UN resolution if it had not been for the French veto, there are now no valid reasons whatever for any Labour MP not to support our Government tomorrow?

Hon. Members:

Want to bet?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

Yes. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that very difficult question, and I agree with him. Of course this is a difficult issue, but I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends, as well as Opposition Members, who take a different view to spell out in detail what the alternative is.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I hear an hon. Member saying "Inspectors", but all I say is that to continue with inspectors and to offer more time is not to disarm Saddam Hussein but to allow him to re-arm.

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Shadow Minister (Home Affairs), Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

The Foreign Secretary knows of the absolutely solid support that he has from the Conservative Benches at this difficult time for the actions that will be undertaken shortly by the men and women of our armed forces. May I ask him, none the less, whether he agrees that the real test of the operation will be whether moderation or fundamentalism ends up being strengthened in the region as a whole? Will he accept it from the many Members of the House with experience of that part of the world that the key test for moderate Arab and Islamic opinion will be whether we and the Americans deliver on the so-called road map, and do not merely talk about it afterwards?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

Yes, I entirely agree with what the hon. Gentleman says. If we think of all the issues that have led to an alienation of Arab and Islamic countries from the west, Iraq is not among them. Most of them are contemptuous of Saddam Hussein, whom they regard, quite correctly, as a terrible follower of Islam. The issue in question is justice for the Palestinians, as well as a viable state of Palestine, within the borders broadly laid down under resolution 242 in 1967, with its own capital, and not just an end to settlements but a removal of settlements and a solution to the refugee crisis. That is absolutely essential at all times, and that need is reinforced by the current crisis.

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

I welcome what the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Government motion say about the fundamental importance of the road map to middle eastern peace, but will my right hon. Friend give the House an assurance, especially taking into account the terrible slaughter of Palestinian children by Israeli forces during the past few days, that it will not be Ariel Sharon's Government who make the decisions about progress on the road map, but that that will be done by the Quartet and by our own Government, and that the Government will yield nothing on moving towards a just peace settlement with security for Israel and a decent national settlement for the Palestinian people?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

Yes, I give my right hon. Friend that assurance, and I point out to him, in support of that, that when, I think in great error, the Prime Minister of Israel decided to ban representatives of the Palestinian Authority from travelling to the United Kingdom for a meeting to discuss Palestinian Authority reform, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was determined that that meeting should go ahead. Therefore, we indeed went ahead by using video screens. That was far less satisfactory than a face-to-face meeting, but it sent out a very clear message that we wished, whatever the obstacles, to assist the Palestinians in their reform process and, in doing so, to bring justice to the Palestinians. We shall continue in that endeavour.

Photo of Martin Smyth Martin Smyth UUP, Belfast South

We on the Ulster Unionist Benches supported the Government seeking a second resolution and we regret that it has not been achieved, but is it not unfair of people to undertake an anti-American vendetta and fail to recognise that perhaps Russia and France have their own interests as well? May I therefore press this question: we talk about humanitarian relief afterwards, but what percentage of the $30 million that has already been subscribed to the UN's $130 million humanitarian appeal fund has come from the dissenting nations in the UN? If they are not joining the effort to get rid of Saddam, are they joining the effort to look after the humanitarian interests of the people?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I am sorry that I do not have a detailed answer for the hon. Gentleman, but I shall write to him.

Photo of Mike Gapes Mike Gapes Labour/Co-operative, Ilford South

My right hon. Friend knows that the Saddam regime practised ethnic cleansing of the Shi'a Marsh Arabs and of the Kurds. He will also be aware that, in the past week, 600 Kurdish families have been driven out of Kirkuk. Does he find it surprising that some people who were prepared to support military action against ethnic cleansing in Kosovo without a UN resolution in 1999 are now prepared to oppose action in support of UN Security Council resolutions 1441, 678 and 687?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

My hon. Friend points to an inconsistency and he is right. People are now passionate about this issue, but I remind the House that people became very passionate and, to a degree, divided over Kosovo; yet in many ways the decisions that we took then were more difficult, because there was no clear legal base, than the decisions that we ought to be taking now in respect of Iraq.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Shadow Minister (Defence)

Given that, in the past, the Government successfully took military action in the Balkans without authorisation from the United Nations, has it not turned out to be a serious mistake by the Prime Minister to expend so much effort in persuading our American allies to go down the flawed route of an unnecessary second United Nations resolution?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

No, I do not accept that. Yes, we played our part in persuading the United States Government to go down the UN route but, in the end, they are, of course, responsible for their own decisions. It is my belief that the standing of the United States in the world, as well as the authority of the United Nations, has been greatly reinforced by the decision that President Bush made, and announced on 12 September last year at the General Assembly, to support the UN, not only in respect of its actions on Iraq but in many other ways. If, as I believe it is, it turns out to be necessary for military action to occur in Iraq, international consent will be greatly broadened by the fact that we tried every diplomatic means possible to resolve the crisis peacefully and under the aegis of the United Nations. What we are now doing is seeking to enforce the authority of the United Nations when it said many years ago, and repeated just four months ago, that, if necessary, serious consequences would follow for Iraq for its failure to comply with UN obligations.

Photo of Robert Marshall-Andrews Robert Marshall-Andrews Labour, Medway

The Foreign Secretary will be aware that many Members on both sides of the House and many people in the country believe that the much-demonised French are not isolated in the Security Council or in international chambers in their opposition to this war. In those circumstances, why have we not had the courage to go back to the Security Council in order to test, at the very least, the true weight of world opinion?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I thought that I had explained that to the House. [Hon. Members: "No."] I am not demonising anybody; I am simply laying out the facts of the matter and they are straightforward. My hon. and learned Friend is acquainted with the words of the law so I am sure that he will be almost as familiar as I am with the terms of 1441. As I have already explained to the House, that laid out a clear set of obligations on Iraq and a process for the United Nations. We were following that process because of Iraq's non-compliance. We were close to achieving a consensus and were in exactly the same situation as we were shortly before we achieved consensus on 1441. Then, a week ago today, President Chirac came along and said in terms that, whatever the circumstances, France would veto a second resolution. That is what he said and it paralysed the negotiation process. The responsibility for there not being a second resolution, which was never needed legally although we would have preferred it politically, does not rest on the shoulders of the United Kingdom Government.

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker Conservative, Bexhill and Battle

Although we now face the bleak prospect of war, the Foreign Secretary has gone out of his way in recent weeks and months to keep the House up to speed with all the developments in the diplomatic field. Likewise, we have received numerous statements about military preparations. However, we have been kept woefully ignorant about contingency planning for the humanitarian crisis that will surely follow military action. When can we expect the Secretary of State for International Development to stop grandstanding in the media and actually come to the House, face up to her responsibilities, make a statement and answer questions. If she will not come to the House, will the Foreign Secretary send her successor tomorrow?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I believe—I say this in all seriousness—that no one in the House has done more for the cause of international development than my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. That happens to be true. Her dedication and commitment to the cause is huge.

The hon. Gentleman asked a serious question. We were reluctant to come to the House and spell out the detailed arrangements with respect to humanitarian aid because we were hoping against hope that there could be a peaceful, diplomatic solution to the crisis which, yes, would keep Saddam Hussein in place—so the issue of humanitarian relief would not arise—but would at the same time disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction. I accept that we have almost certainly passed that point, and of course in the days and weeks ahead statements will be made to the House about our plans for humanitarian relief and reconstruction; but those plans are already contained, in outline, in the motion that we will present to the House tomorrow.

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang Labour, Edinburgh East and Musselburgh

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that when resolution 1441 was passed China, Russia and France issued a joint statement making it clear that their support for the resolution did not constitute an endorsement of military action? Far from the credibility of the UN being safeguarded, is it not the case that this war is not backed by a second resolution because there is currently no support in the Security Council for an attack on a sovereign state?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I think there is support for the enforcement of the will of the United Nations. This should not be parodied as an attack on a sovereign state. The only state that has gratuitously attacked other sovereign states without any justification or cause in the last 15 years is Iraq, which attacked first Iran and then Kuwait.

It is true that China, Russia and France each issued what is called an explanation of vote—as did we—saying that resolution 1441 did not provide for automaticity in respect of the use of force. We said the same. There was never provision of an automatic figure for the use of force. What resolution 1441 did anticipate was that if Iraq failed to comply with its obligations there would be a process, and serious consequences would follow. That is exactly the procedure, and the law, that we are following.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Liberal Democrat, Montgomeryshire

The Foreign Secretary has the capacity to evade this question, but I hope he will answer it with candour. How will he and the Government respond if over time it can be shown that an attack on Iraq has prompted or caused sustained international terrorism in the United Kingdom and abroad rather than preventing it?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I am afraid I do not accept that the way to oppose terrorists is to appease tyrants.

Photo of Stuart Bell Stuart Bell Second Church Estates Commissioner

Should the House not be encouraged by the fact that, tomorrow or the day after, it will have an opportunity to vote for a motion calling on Her Majesty's Government, on an urgent basis, to return to the UN Security Council to pass a resolution providing for Iraq's borders, for the release of its oil, for humanitarian aid, and for human rights for all Iraqis—Shi'ites, Kurds and those in Saddam City?

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the French President will shortly host a meeting of G8 nation states in Paris? Will that not provide an opportunity for members of the international community to join the Security Council in enhancing the international reconstruction to which he has referred?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

My hon. Friend mentioned the G8 meeting. There are of course differences—well aired today by Members, including me—between international partners; but in all the discussions I have had in the past week with my fellow Foreign Ministers, including the French, Russian, Chinese and German Foreign Ministers, I have emphasised the need for us to ensure that the United Nations stays together as far as possible, and also that we use other international institutions, including the G8, as a means of providing funds for reconstruction.

We say in our motion that the Security Council resolution that we will seek will aim to secure a swift end to sanctions. I think the whole House is united on the need for a swift end to sanctions in appropriate circumstances. Again, I ask those who doubt the wisdom of military action what is their alternative. How do we end not only the tyranny of Saddam Hussein but his impoverishment of his own people over 12 weary and long years?

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Even if Saddam Hussein will only be disarmed by force, can the Foreign Secretary explain why the interests of Britain and Europe, international security and the authority of the UN are better served by taking action this week, backed by only two permanent members of the UN, with no majority in the Security Council, when six or seven more weeks of giving peace a chance and the inspectors a chance might produce all the permanent members, the Security Council and the Secretary-General of the UN, and have real authority? Why is that a less good option?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I think that the hon. Gentleman was trying to give a rather poor imitation of the French, German and Chinese proposals.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

Let me just explain. Those proposals were to make use of the provisions of resolution 1284, for which those countries did not vote in the first place and which have no teeth whatever. What France is proposing is exactly what the hon. Gentleman is proposing—that there should be 140 days and then a report, then another 140 days and then a report, and then another 140 days.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

That is exactly what the hon. Gentleman is proposing. It is a means not of dealing with the issue but of avoiding the issue, which is exactly where the Liberals are on every issue.

Hon. Members:


Photo of Ms Jane Griffiths Ms Jane Griffiths Labour, Reading East

In the difficult days and weeks that lie ahead, will my right hon. Friend find the opportunity to continue his efforts to persuade his counterparts across the channel in France of the effect that their perfidious action in treating the United Nations with contempt could have, not necessarily for Iraq, but for conflict resolution in the wider world in future?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

It is fair to say, listening to this debate and taking part in it, that on the whole hon. Members have been unimpressed by the position taken by the French Government.

Photo of Glenda Jackson Glenda Jackson Labour, Hampstead and Highgate

In the light of my right hon. Friend's previous replies, does he wish the House to believe that the requests, twice made, of the UN inspectors for more time, most recently not for weeks, not for years but for months, was not a genuine request on the part of those UN officials but a request made at the behest of France, Russia, China and Germany?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

My hon. Friend raises an important issue. She refers, I believe, to the last report of Dr. Blix, the short one, that he presented to the Security Council on 7 March and to which I referred when I spoke in the Security Council that afternoon, but the simple fact of the matter is that Dr. Blix—his report is published in the Command Paper before me—was referring to the possibility of the inspection process taking not weeks, not years but months in the context of Iraq's full compliance. As I pointed out to the Security Council that afternoon, no one—not the inspectors and no member of the Security Council—has ever been able to say that Iraq is in full compliance with the Security Council resolutions that were required of it on 8 November.

Photo of Neil Gerrard Neil Gerrard Labour, Walthamstow

Does the Foreign Secretary not recognise that what really destroys the credibility of the United Nations is not France or any other country following the rules of the UN, but Governments preparing for months for war and planning for war while simultaneously saying that they are going down the UN route but will not accept the use of the veto? As for the use of the veto in the UN, the UK and US Governments between them are responsible for more than 40 per cent. of the occasions on which it has been exercised. The US alone has used it 75 times, mostly on the middle east.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

Each member of the permanent five of the Security Council has made use of the veto to a varying extent. Let us be clear about this: the difference between 1284 and 1441 was not just the words on the paper, although that was a big difference; the only reason for the difference between Iraq's refusal to let in the inspectors at all after the passage of 1284, and our getting them back, at least, with the passage of 1441—with some compliance on process, but reluctant compliance on substance—is the fact that we backed our diplomacy with a credible threat of force. My hon. Friend must face up to the fact that that is spelled out in chapter VII of the United Nations charter, and that it is others who are undermining the UN's authority if they fail to back this credible threat of force in order to maintain the authority of the UN.

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

May I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend, and to the Prime Minister, for all their efforts to get a peaceful resolution to this situation, and for using the United Nations in doing so? However, ultimately we have to accept that we have failed. Regrettably, we are now almost isolated in Europe, which must be very bad for this country. Will my right hon. Friend tell the House what military and political support we expect to get from our European colleagues when the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq takes place?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for the warm tribute that he paid to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and me, and in view of it I very much look forward to his support in the Lobby tomorrow evening. However, it is a parody to suggest that this issue has separated Europe from America, or the Anglo-Saxons from the Europeans. That is simply not the case; more European countries, across the 25 current or putative members of the European Union, support the position that we take than support the opposite point of view. That has been made very clear in a number of letters from the Vilnius 10 and from the Group of 8, and in a succession of resolutions passed by the European Council and by the NATO Council, which endorse the position that we have taken.

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack Conservative, South Staffordshire

Would not those countries that believe in proper reconstruction of Iraq as a peaceful nation do better to come to London, rather than go to Paris and follow in the footsteps of Mugabe?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

The French have the chairmanship of the G8, and we look forward to constructive discussions with them about the reconstruction of Iraq.

Photo of Joan Ruddock Joan Ruddock Labour, Lewisham, Deptford

Sadly, I am unable to support my Government in this action, but I should tell my right hon. Friend that I believe that the whole House will appreciate what he has said about keeping civilian casualties to a minimum. For many of us, the test of that policy will be no cluster bombs, no depleted uranium weapons, and no targeting of water and food supplies.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I acknowledge what my hon. Friend says, and I am sorry that she feels unable to support the Government in the Lobby tomorrow. I will have a separate discussion with her about what she feels are the alternatives, now that we have reached the end of the diplomatic road, I am afraid to say. If I felt that there were a further peaceful alternative apart from the exile of Saddam Hussein, I would take it, because, like everybody else in this House, I hate the idea of war. I no more want military action to be taken than does anybody else.

As for targeting, we have to acknowledge the fact that people will be killed if there is military action, and that some of them will be innocent people. That is the nature of warfare, but I can tell my hon. Friend that every effort is being taken, and will be taken, to ensure that, so far as is humanly possible, the targeting will be very careful, proportionate and designed, obviously, to attack military and legitimate targets, and not anybody else.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Labour, Rhondda

Notwithstanding the statement by the French President last week that he would veto a second resolution in any circumstances—if anything has been reckless in the past few months, that was—surely France and Russia will be critically important if we are to rebuild Iraq, especially if we are also to maintain its territorial integrity. When and how does the Foreign Secretary hope to start negotiations with France and Russia to ensure that that happens?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

As I have already explained to the House, discussions with our French and Russian—and, indeed, Chinese and German—colleagues continue, and I have made it clear that while there is unquestionably a difficulty between us on this issue, we must not let that get in the way of co-operation on a wide range of other issues, including the humanitarian reconstruction of Iraq should that prove necessary.

Photo of Mrs Helen Jackson Mrs Helen Jackson Labour, Sheffield, Hillsborough

Is it not the case that having decided to go down the collective route through the United Nations, which carried the unanimous approval of this House, and securing resolution 1441, it was incumbent on the Government to continue to go with the collective view of the UN? Does not the failure of the US and Britain to carry their point of view through the Security Council stand us in poor stead as a precedent for dealing with further difficulties that may arise this century?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

As my hon. Friend knows from her involvement in one of our party's policy commissions on foreign affairs, it was the Labour party's preference to seek a second resolution, but it was not a requirement. We have sought to follow the policy of the party as laid out in a clear mandate at party conference and on 27 January. It is a matter of regret that we were not able to achieve a consensus in the Security Council, but it was not for want of trying.

Mr. Campbell—whose absence is regretted on both sides of the House—said:

"We must remember that the United Nations is not some third party to whom we have subcontracted our security responsibilities. It is no more and no less than the sum of its members." —[Hansard, 24 September 2002; Vol. 390, c. 45.]

My regret is that some members of the Security Council, having said one thing in the resolution in November, decided to change the meaning of that resolution this year.

Photo of Brian Iddon Brian Iddon Labour, Bolton South East

Tomorrow's Government motion refers to

"the imminent publication of the Quartet's roadmap".

What does "imminent" mean in that context? Does it mean tomorrow? Will we be informed of the contents of the road map so that we may have a properly informed debate tomorrow?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

"Imminent" means that we are hoping to see the full publication of the roadmap once Abu Mazen has been endorsed and has accepted the post. There will then be an interlocutor for the Quartet to deal with. Informal copies of the road map are publicly available on the website and I shall ensure that one is placed in the Library of the House.

Photo of Tony Wright Tony Wright Labour, Cannock Chase

I thank my right hon. Friend for fulfilling his commitment to enable the House to vote again on this issue, although we all recognise that we are probably at the end of the road tonight. Does he understand why some of us who are not anti-American or pacifists, and who have supported every other military action that the Government have taken, have found it difficult in these circumstances to support this military action? We knew that Saddam Hussein could be disarmed only through a process that was like drawing teeth, and that we had to back that with the use of force, but is not this the first time in this country's history that we will wage war on a country that is actually getting rid of some of its weaponry under UN auspices?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. I have been in the House now through four different sets of military action and it is fair to point out that this is the first time—and I am glad that it has been supported on all sides—that the Government have followed a clear process of ensuring that every debate takes place on a substantive resolution. I know that there was some scepticism that we would not introduce a resolution until after military action had taken place, but I hope that the House is reassured that we are doing exactly what we said we would do and are ensuring that the House has both the power and the responsibility in respect of this matter before any action is taken, not after. I am glad that we have set that precedent for the future.

Let me pick up on my hon. Friend's analogy about drawing teeth. Drawing teeth is not just difficult but is possible only if the patient has his mouth open. In the case of Saddam Hussein, if I may continue the analogy, we have a patient who most of the time has his mouth closed and who from time to time bites the dentist. In those circumstances, achieving compliance from this so-called patient to draw the teeth becomes impossible.

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

I acknowledge the efforts of my right hon. Friend and the enormous efforts of the Prime Minister to try to secure the additional UN resolution that so many of us wanted. Is not the choice before us now stark? People can, however unintentionally, give further succour to this dangerous, evil tyrant, or they can support our armed forces and show the will and determination that are needed finally to disarm this butcher.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

Like my hon. Friend, I do not impugn the motives of anybody in this House, but we all have to think very carefully about the consequences of what we are doing. If we were to weaken our resolve at this stage, it would be Saddam Hussein who would be emboldened and millions and millions of Iraqis who would be plunged into further desperation and despair as they saw the one hope of liberation disappear.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington

I hope that we will have time tomorrow to debate the rights and wrongs of this war, but may I make this one appeal? I return to the point that was raised by my hon. Friend Joan Ruddock about civilian casualties. Today, reports are coming through from Baghdad of parents who are desperately trying to find room on buses to Jordan for their children. Would it be possible—through the United Nations and perhaps through an independent country such as Jordan—to make an offer to evacuate the children of Baghdad before the bombing starts?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I doubt very much whether that would prove possible. [Hon. Members: "Why?"] I am about to explain why. The reason why I think that it would not be possible is that I do not think, for a start, that there would be any compliance by Saddam Hussein. I recall, during the last Gulf war, that, far from trying to ensure that children in Baghdad were placed in safe places, he ensured that they were used as human shields.

Photo of Mr Tony McWalter Mr Tony McWalter Labour/Co-operative, Hemel Hempstead

My right hon. Friend has given a clear indication tonight that he does not think that the process of inspection could ever produce the effective decommissioning of weapons of mass destruction—which is the object of this whole enterprise—even though that process did achieve significant results in 1998. As the inspectors themselves have never claimed that the process would prove futile, does my right hon. Friend have no confidence in the weapons inspectors whatsoever?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I have every confidence—and I have expressed that confidence—in the weapons inspectors. With respect, my hon. Friend misunderstands what I have been saying. Weapons inspection systems can work, and weapons inspectors can work, where there is compliance by the country concerned. When South Africa came into compliance, I understand that it took nine inspectors just three months to verify South Africa's disarmament of its nuclear installations. Twelve years after Iraq was ordered within 45 days fully and completely to comply with its disarmament obligations and to begin the disarmament process with the inspectors, the weapons inspectors have still laid out 29 separate chapters, in 173 pages, of incomplete disarmament obligations. As long as this regime is in place, and as long as it is refusing to co-operate, the inspection process becomes well-nigh impossible.