Weapons of Mass Destruction

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 12th May 2003.

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Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 2:30 pm, 12th May 2003

If he will make a statement on the searches which have taken place for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

Photo of Andrew Rosindell Andrew Rosindell Conservative, Romford

If he will make a statement on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

There is no doubt that Saddam's regime continued to develop weapons of mass destruction in breach of United Nations resolutions, and that we will continue to find evidence of these programmes. Coalition forces are actively investigating sites, documentation and specific individuals connected with Iraq's WMD programmes. Both the United States and the United Kingdom have deployed specialist personnel and will send more in the near future.

These investigations will take time. The Iraqi regime had every opportunity to hide these programmes, given their considerable experience in concealment. Gathering and collating evidence of WMD programmes from the various sources will be a long and complex task.

I can confirm that UK experts have conducted preliminary assessments of the suspect mobile vehicle referred to by members of the US Administration last week. It is clear that this vehicle is military, and is a transportable system designed for producing micro-organisms. As such it should have been declared by Iraq under United Nations Security Council resolution 1441, but it was not. It appears to match the information on Iraqi mobile biological agent production facilities described in our dossier of last September and by the US Secretary of State to the Security Council in February.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Given that Amir al-Saadi, the chief chemical weapons scientist, and Dr. Salih Ammash, the senior biological scientist, have been held in custody for some time, why does the Secretary of State think that the Americans have withdrawn their weapons inspectors and replaced them with the smaller Iraq survey group?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

The purpose of the Iraq survey group is to provide a core of experts drawn from several different countries, including the United Kingdom, to pursue the necessary scientific inquiries that such investigations require. There is no diminution at all of the coalition's efforts to identify weapons of mass destruction and, indeed, to publicise them when appropriate.

Photo of Andrew Rosindell Andrew Rosindell Conservative, Romford

Has the Secretary of State had the opportunity to observe what was published in yesterday's Washington Post? It said that the 75th Exploitation Task Force, which is charged with finding weapons of mass destruction, has found places that have been "looted and burned". Is there evidence that potential terrorists have looted any of those weapons, or that they could be used against the west?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

I am aware of those reports and they are being investigated. There are reports of looting, although I cannot confirm them. It is obviously a matter of concern, which is why it is so important that we have detailed investigations on the ground carried out by experts.

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

Does my right hon. Friend recognise the importance of re-establishing UN inspection teams, first, to reassert the UN's authority, which is also vital for the administration of Iraq, and, secondly, to provide credibility because there are growing suspicions that the immediacy and extent of the threat from Iraqi WMD—the reason given for the rush to war—was massively hyped on the basis of the selective use of unreliable or even specious intelligence information?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

As the Prime Minister and the President agreed at Hillsborough, the UN has a vital role to play in the continuing efforts to rebuild Iraq. We have made it clear that it would be useful to have an independent source of verification for findings of weapons of mass destruction, and that might well include a role for the UN. As far as my hon. Friend's final observation is concerned, I have just drawn the House's attention to the discovery of a facility that was set out in the dossier on the basis of intelligence available to us last September which was also referred to by the US Secretary of State. I hope that my hon. Friend might reconsider his observations.

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Labour, Manchester Central

My right hon. Friend will recall that one argument for the invasion of Iraq was the discovery of weapons of mass destruction and the need to destroy them, especially as there was a danger that they would pass into the hands of terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda. Does he think that there is any possibility that weapons of mass destruction may have been transmitted to terrorist organisations in the present period?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

I have no specific evidence of that at this stage, but it is obviously a concern while we are unable to identify precisely elements of the weapons of mass destruction that we referred to previously. As I told the House, the effort goes on and is proving to be successful.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Shadow Minister (Defence)

Given the great importance of uncovering Saddam's weapons of mass destruction and, indeed, his links with terrorist organisations, will the Secretary of State explain how it was possible that British journalists were able to obtain key documents from Ministries several days after the fighting had ceased when such documents should previously have been secured by British and American intelligence officers?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

The hon. Gentleman knows full well that for a short period there was serious disorder and looting in parts of Baghdad in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime. That was specifically aimed at elements of the regime, in particular the governing part. Not surprisingly, journalists on the spot were able to get access to documents that were not secured by the coalition. That should not come as a great surprise to the hon. Gentleman.