First Minister's Question Time — Prime Minister (Meetings)

– in the Scottish Parliament at 3:11 pm on 13 March 2003.

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Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party 3:11, 13 March 2003

To ask the First Minister when he next plans to meet the Prime Minister and what issues he intends to raise. (S1F-2569)

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

I spoke with the Prime Minister last night and we plan to meet later in the month.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

This morning we debated the international situation and I return to one of the questions in that debate. Will the First Minister support military action in Iraq in the absence of a specific mandate from the United Nations?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

I was asked that question this morning and, as I said then, there are different views on the extent to which resolution 1441 provides a mandate. As I also said this morning, I think that the absolute priority for the United Kingdom and for the international community at this time is to secure that second resolution that the Prime Minister has earnestly, genuinely and hopefully for the United Kingdom suggested should include a set of clear targets for Saddam Hussein and a clear deadline for meeting them. That one final chance seems to be the right way forward for the United Nations and I hope that it takes it.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

While we were debating the issue this morning, the Prime Minister told the leader of the Conservative party in London that a second resolution was now probably less likely than it had been at any other time. Now that the Prime Minister is facing up to the reality that a second resolution is not going to be forthcoming, will the First Minister do likewise? I ask him once again: does he support a war without UN backing?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

I have just answered the final part of Mr Swinney's question by saying that, as was made clear in today's debate, there are different views about the extent of the existing mandate. However, in my view, there is a clear preference among politicians in Edinburgh and the United Kingdom and among the British public and the Scottish public that the United Nations should take its responsibilities seriously and pass a second resolution. People would welcome the Prime Minister's initiative to ensure that the resolution had a clear deadline.

The Prime Minister's strategy over the past six months has been instrumental in ensuring that the United States of America does not take precipitate action in Iraq. I believe that, if it were not for the actions of Tony Blair, the USA would already be at war. Whatever is happening elsewhere—and whatever might be said by the media elsewhere or by politicians in another place—I do not believe that the chamber should undermine the Prime Minister's efforts at this vital stage.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

That was the third time today that I have asked the First Minister that question and, again, a clear answer was not forthcoming. It is the material question before the Parliament decides on the issue at decision time later today. When our Parliament meets again next week, this country might be at war with Iraq. The people of Scotland are entitled to hear the views of our First Minister on this vital issue. On the final time of asking, will the First Minister support a war without UN backing?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

I am sad at the fact that—[ Interruption. ] This is a serious subject and it deserves a serious response. Just as, in my view, simplistic views are wrong in Washington and in Paris, they are wrong in this chamber. This is not a simple matter with one answer that is right or wrong. This is a complex matter that requires sensible, cool heads at a difficult time to make the right decisions. I do not envy Tony Blair, our Prime Minister, the decision that he might have to make in the next few weeks, but I will not contribute to this chamber's undermining his efforts to get the United Nations to do the right thing. He is attempting to achieve that, he is right to do so and I hope that he succeeds.