HC Deb 02 February 1998 vol 305 cc719-31


Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe)

(by private notice): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the latest developments on Iraq.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Robin Cook)

I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for this opportunity to update the House on the latest developments.

On Saturday, I held a two-hour meeting with US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The primary purpose of the meeting was to discuss how best to deal with Iraq's continuing refusal to grant full and unrestricted access to United Nations Special Commission teams. The meeting formed part of intensive efforts to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

I met Russian Foreign Minister Primakov on 26 January, and I spoke to French Minister Vedrine on 29 January. Our permanent five partners are also active: President Chirac has sent an envoy to Iraq; the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister is returning from there after his talks with Tariq Aziz. We support those latest efforts to end the deadlock.

The United Kingdom is currently taking the lead in the Security Council. We have prepared a draft Security Council resolution, which we shall be discussing with our Security Council partners. The resolution makes it clear that Saddam Hussein must obey the will of the international community. He must allow full and unrestricted access to all UNSCOM teams and reveal all details of his weapons of mass destruction programmes.

Saddam Hussein is persisting with his attempts to thwart UNSCOM's vital task of destroying and dismantling Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. UNSCOM cannot carry out its duties while Saddam continues to deny access to presidential sites. Neither can there be any deadlines for UNSCOM to complete its work. The Security Council must be assured that all of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and related facilities have been destroyed. Even then, UNSCOM may have to continue working and monitoring for some time, to ensure that they are not rebuilt.

Saddam must be left in no doubt about our determination to secure his compliance with Security Council resolutions. Although we are pursuing a diplomatic solution, we have not ruled out, nor will we rule out, the use of force. The best way for us to achieve a diplomatic solution is to prove to Saddam that we are prepared to use all means necessary to ensure that he complies. As a precautionary measure, HMS Invincible has been deployed to the Gulf and has engaged in work-up training with allied naval forces in the northern Gulf waters. In due course, it will be replaced by HMS Illustrious.

The United Kingdom Government are very aware of the sufferings of the Iraqi people. We have no quarrel with the Iraqi people. The difficulties and hardships that they face result from Saddam's failure to meet his international obligations. Even when offered a chance to provide for his people through oil-for-food arrangements, he repeatedly refused to avail himself of the opportunity. Since the scheme's introduction, he has repeatedly obstructed its implementation. The United Kingdom has been in the lead in proposing and steering through the Council resolutions on oil for food. We are especially pleased that the Secretary-General will be reporting to the Security Council later today with recommendations to improve and expand that programme. We shall give his proposals our strong support.

Iraq's weapons of mass destruction remain a serious threat. Iraq has developed the know-how and equipment to produce biological and chemical weapons on an industrial scale. Despite all that UNSCOM has achieved, we cannot be certain that important parts of that capability are not being retained. Without effective UNSCOM monitoring, Iraq could produce enough anthrax every week to fill two missile warheads and could within weeks be producing a large volume of nerve gas. It is vital for regional and international peace and security that Saddam Hussein is stopped. He should not underestimate our resolve to make sure that he is stopped.

Mr. Howard

I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary for his statement. As he knows, we share his determination to take whatever steps are necessary to make Saddam Hussein comply with the resolutions of the Security Council and relieve the world of the threat that he will use weapons of mass destruction. We all hope that that can be achieved by diplomatic means. If, however, force proves necessary, will the Foreign Secretary assure the House, not least for the sake of the British service men and women whose lives may be put at risk, that clear objectives will be set?

The Foreign Secretary told us a little about the new Security Council resolution that the Government intend to sponsor and to which reference was made in this morning's newspapers. Does he agree that it would be far better if new initiatives of this kind were reported to the House rather than leaked to the newspapers? How would the new resolution fit in with resolution 687? Is it the Government's position that resolution 687 provides sufficient authority for military action to be taken? If so, what is the purpose of the new resolution?

Finally, I welcome from the Conservative Benches what the Foreign Secretary said about his support for the proposal made by the Secretary-General of the United Nations for the expansion of the oil-for-food programme. We agree with what the Foreign Secretary said about the suffering of the people of Iraq. It is not with the people of Iraq that we quarrel, but with Saddam Hussein.

Mr. Cook

I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his support. In response to his last point, it should be understood in all corners that there is no sanction against the import of food or medicines by Saddam Hussein. The international community has at no stage sought to stand in the way of those essential humanitarian supplies. On the contrary, the international community has a better record in trying to provide the oil which can pay for them than Saddam Hussein.

Of course, I can assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman that there will be clear objectives for any use of force. He would not expect me to say what they are, and he will understand that they are kept under close review.

As for the Security Council resolution, I felt that the right hon. and learned Gentleman was a bit hard in accusing us of leaking it when we formally made clear what we were doing. There are Security Council resolution initiatives by Britain every week, and it would not be normal to report them in advance to the House on every occasion. However, the right hon. and learned Gentleman asked about the purpose of the new resolution. He is quite right to say that resolution 687 and the successor resolutions repeatedly condemned the Iraqi violations of the terms on which the Gulf war ended. He is absolutely right to say that there is plenty of authority in those resolutions for pressure to be put on Saddam Hussein.

However, it is very important that it is clearly seen that it is not just the United States or not just Britain, or not even just the permanent five that are concerned about Saddam Hussein' s flouting of those resolutions; it is important that the whole of the Security Council makes it clear that it condemns the present impasse and the obstruction of the UN monitors. It must be understood not only that Saddam Hussein poses an immediate and very serious threat to countries in his region, but that if the Security Council resolutions cannot be enforced, the whole authority of the Security Council is undermined.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Is it not clear that if, as we all hope, Saddam Hussein backs down over weapons inspections, it will be only because of the threat of military force? Does my right hon. Friend agree that Saddam Hussein, the murderous dictator, has never backed down without the threat or deployment of military force? In respect of critics in the House, is it not clear that, had we listened to them at the time, the liberation of Kuwait would never have taken place in 1991? Should we not bear that in mind when we are denounced as warmongers?

Finally, does my right hon. Friend agree that if, as he rightly said, we have no quarrel with the people of Iraq, who were the very first victims of that murderous regime, it is absolutely essential that any military action should concentrate first and foremost on the weapons of mass destruction and that, if possible, the people of Iraq should not become the victims of bombing? Although military action can provide no guarantees, it is important that the United States, ourselves and others involved in such action should bear it in mind not only that is military action possible, but that there may well be a need for propaganda campaigns to demonstrate that the international community is acting for one reason alone, as stated by my right hon. Friend: to destroy the weapons of mass destruction.

Mr. Cook

My hon. Friend is absolutely correct to say that Saddam Hussein uses fear and force quite explicitly as a political weapon. It is therefore important that we make sure that he understands that we are prepared to go all the way, if necessary, in enforcing his compliance with Security Council resolutions. The paradox is that if we want a diplomatic solution, we have to demonstrate that we are prepared to use military force. Those who counsel against military force, but want a diplomatic solution, make it more difficult to obtain by undermining the credibility and possibility of military force.

Finally, I echo what my hon. Friend said about the oppression of the Iraqi people. Nobody has done more to increase their suffering than Saddam Hussein. As we consider the importance of dismantling his chemical and biological weapons, we should remember that this year, it will be 10 years to the year since Saddam Hussein used nerve gas against his own people in Halabja, and that a leader who is prepared to use chemical weapons against his own people will be prepared to use them against others.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome)

Does the Foreign Secretary recognise that there is a wide consensus that those who cheat on international law will not and must not prosper? Does he agree that every possible diplomatic avenue must be explored strenuously and with expedition to secure agreement, particularly with Mr. Primakov and Mr. Vedrine, so that all the international community is moving in the same direction? Will he continue—as far as is consistent with military security—to make clear the full horror and scope of the terrifying destructive capacity of the aggregation of weapons of mass destruction on which Iraq has embarked? Finally, in extremis, does he recognise that Britain must not flinch from joining the international community in taking effective but proportionate action? If he does, he will have our support, but in turn he must make clear the political objectives of such action and the end result that would be desired.

Mr. Cook

Let me respond straight away to the hon. Gentleman's final question. The objective of any action would be to achieve compliance with the Security Council resolutions. That compliance is easily measured by unconditional and unrestricted access to the sites that UNSCOM wishes to visit. The reason why we must achieve that unconditional and unrestricted access is precisely to prevent Saddam Hussein from retaining the capacity to which the hon. Gentleman referred. Currently, he has 17 tonnes of growth media for biological weapons agents. He cannot be allowed to retain that capacity. We must find the material and destroy it, as the UNSCOM team has done on other occasions.

Of course, we shall continue to have close dialogue with Russia and France on the issue. They both share our objective of making sure that UNSCOM is able to operate effectively. Nothing would do more to improve our chances of getting Saddam Hussein to back down than confronting him with the unity of the permanent five.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

What happens when a bomb hits 17 tonnes of biological agents? What happens to the spores when a bomb hits an anthrax installation?

Mr. Cook

My hon. Friend raises a serious issue which will be addressed in the targeting plans. I assure him that if military force is used, any civilian damage or threat will be reduced as much as is within our power.

Mr. Dalyell

Will they be targeted?

Mr. Cook

My hon. Friend must not suggest that we are planning that planes will target the dumps that he describes. There is a lot of technology required for chemical and biological weapons that does not necessarily require the agents. My hon. Friend must accept the logic of his question, which admits that Saddam Hussein possesses such weapons. My hon. Friend was among those who condemned Saddam Hussein when he used such weapons against the Kurds in 1988. He cannot accept our standing back while Saddam Hussein retains that capability.

Sir Peter Emery (East Devon)

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that, while the Conservatives accept the Government's support for the Americans, the issue goes further than that? There is a great need to keep the same alliance with the Arab nations surrounding Iraq that we have had before. Does he realise that one of the major criticisms that holds back certain Arab opinion is that we appear to have two voices—one against Iraq and another against Israel? If we were seen to be pursuing the United Nations Security Council resolutions against Israel, it might be much easier for the Americans and our Government to maintain the alliance that we want. Many Arab countries understand even better than we do the dastardliness of the Hussein regime.

Mr. Cook

The right hon. Gentleman raises a serious issue. I recognise the basis of his concern. We are trying to achieve the maximum understanding and support in the Arab world for our policy towards Saddam Hussein. I hope to be in contact with some of those countries later this week. The right hon. Gentleman is also correct to say that there is a perceived link between the two issues in some Arab capitals. We have repeatedly and robustly criticised the Government of Israel for their obstruction of the middle east peace process. We have called on them repeatedly to refrain from gestures that obstruct that process, such as the expansion of settlements, and to carry out a realistic and acceptable further redeployment that would put the peace process back on the road. We shall continue to do everything that we can to remove those obstructions to the middle east peace process. I tell every Arab leader whom I meet that they are more at risk than anyone from Saddam Hussein's ambitions and are on the front line from the chemical and biological weapons if he is allowed to retain them.

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Arab countries understand better than any others the difference between the noxious and loathsome policies of the Israeli Government and the internationally aggressive and dangerous policies of Saddam Hussein? Does he further accept that it is strange that an hon. Friend should intervene to say that we must not attack Saddam Hussein because he is so dangerous that we dare not? Will he pay no attention to those who scurried off seven years ago to truckle favour with Saddam Hussein when he was occupying Kuwait and holding British citizens hostage?

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in going to the United Nations and seeking to secure a resolution to authorise the actions that the Government regard as appropriate, he is following Labour party policy of the past eight years? The Labour party has consistently based its policy on support for the Security Council. That support was inserted into the Labour party constitution by certain hon. Members, who seem to forget that they did so. We do not want war, but let Saddam Hussein understand that if he brings us to war, it will be his responsibility.

Mr. Cook

I am not sure whether many of my right hon. Friend's questions were addressed to me and not to others who prompted such observations. I agree with him particularly on two points. First, it is important that everybody in politics in Britain and in the international community shows unity on this question. What encourages Saddam Hussein is a sign of division in the international community. We know that he began the original obstruction because of the appearance of division among the permanent five in October. It is important that we convince him that there is a unity of resolve and that he must recognise it.

Secondly, I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend about the importance of the United Nations both to Labour party policy and to the international community. If Saddam Hussein is allowed to ignore and flout Security Council resolutions, there will not be much point in the Security Council meeting on future occasions to pass resolutions.

Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East)

If we do not know where these dreadful weapons of mass destruction are located, will the Minister explain how on earth we shall go about destroying them when the British and American Governments go all the way? Will he also indicate whether the Government have sought the opinions of the Government of Iran and their people, who suffered hugely in the Iran-Iraq war, when the Iraqi dictatorship, at the same time as it was killing Kurds, appeared to have the full and undivided support of the United States of America and indeed, much of the western world?

Mr. Cook

On that count, the hon. Gentleman needs to answer for the Government who were in charge of Britain at the time. Many Opposition Members at that time were indeed critical of the tolerance that was shown to Saddam Hussein. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that—possibly—if a more robust attitude had been shown to Saddam Hussein in the 1980s, we might not now be having this exchange in the late 1990s. Having recognised the threat, and having also—perhaps—understood better than the hon. Gentleman's colleagues in government could have done in the 1980s the extent to which Saddam Hussein is willing to be aggressive and the way in which he took over a neighbouring country, it is important that we do not leave him with such a capability again.

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that, while there is absolute unanimity in the House on the hatred of Saddam Hussein's regime and the dangers that might follow from it, Britain and America are not the international community? Nor, indeed, does he speak for the Security Council, which has not authorised military action by two countries only, contrary to the charter. He does not speak for the European Union, of which Britain is President, and in which there are different views. Jean-Pierre Chevenement, a member of the French Foreign Affairs Commission, recently came out very strongly against intervention. My right hon. Friend does not speak for the Gulf war coalition, because the Arab League is opposed to it.

Before British troops and service men are exposed to what would be another war with Iraq, will my right hon. Friend give a clear undertaking that there will be not just a series of statements but a debate in the House, in which the Government's objectives, of which he says today he cannot tell us, can be fully explored, and in which the House can determine whether it wishes to follow this course of action, which will inevitably cause many more casualties among not only American and British troops but Iraqi civilians?

Mr. Cook

The question of a debate in the House is a matter for the usual authorities. I, personally, would have no problem in defending our position and putting forward the case that I have made to the House today at greater length. I did not say that I could not tell the House what our objectives are. They are quite clear: to ensure compliance with Security Council resolutions. What I cannot tell the House, and what the House would not reasonably expect me to tell it, are our precise targeting plans in the event of any military action.

My right hon. Friend is, of course, right that the United States and the United Kingdom are not the international community. That is precisely why the Government, whom he supports, are taking the lead in the Security Council to secure a further resolution, to demonstrate that Saddam Hussein is taking on the international community. The greater the unity that we can achieve in the international community, the better the chance we have of winning.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

If the most powerful democracies in the world cannot curb the aggressive potential of Saddam Hussein, will it not be a grave precedent for the international community and for the world order generally? Is it not the case that there are other countries with despotic Governments who are equally capable of flouting United Nations regimes on the manufacture of weapons of mass destruction? Would they not gain encouragement were Saddam Hussein to remain in power and to increase his arsenal?

Therefore, is it not crucial that the Foreign Secretary secure that wider consensus, beyond the permanent five of the Security Council that he spoke about? Is he, in any sense, encouraged by the attitude that he discovered in his French counterpart, given that the French are leading members of Western European Union, a collective security organisation, and given that the French, with ourselves, are the best able among the European countries to project the military power necessary to underpin the diplomatic efforts?

Mr. Cook

I obviously agree with the hon. Gentleman. As I have said in response to several questions, what is at stake is not just the issue of Iraq and Saddam Hussein, but the authority of the Security Council and, therefore, its ability to intervene on any future occasion when we are faced with similar threats.

I have learnt from my conversations with my French opposite number and my Russian opposite number that they both deeply share our concern at the way in which Saddam Hussein is flouting the resolutions. That feeling of impatience is especially felt by the Russians, who feel that he has broken an agreement that they understood that they had achieved in November 1997.

Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee, West)

I support everything that my right hon. Friend has said in the House today, as I did the answer to the private notice question last week by the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Lloyd).

I welcome our intention to return to the Security Council to obtain a further resolution. The middle east countries that may find it difficult, in isolation, to say publicly what we know they are saying privately, may find themselves able, in a debate on a new Security Council resolution, to say exactly where they stand.

I welcome our intention to support the report of Kofi Annan, the Secretary-General, which said that oil for aid should be increased from $2 billion to approximately $3.2 billion. I also welcome the fact that my right hon. Friend said that we shall support that move when the Secretary-General brings the matter to the Security Council.

Mr. Cook

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support for the position that we have taken. I emphasise that expanding the oil-for-food programme is in no way a concession or a carrot to Saddam Hussein. Indeed, he hates the oil-for-food programme because it takes away his alibi about the hardship and the suffering of the Iraqi people. Interestingly, it is the Security Council, not Saddam Hussein, that at present is seeking a way to bring help to the people of Iraq.

Sir David Madel (South-West Bedfordshire)

Can the Foreign Secretary confirm that, if the new British resolution before the Security Council does not get the support of the Security Council, existing Security Council resolutions allow the use of force as a last resort?

Mr. Cook

There are plenty of resolutions, and those resolutions clearly provide a basis for the authority of the Security Council, and a basis for authority to enforce the Security Council resolution. However, I would say to the hon. Gentleman that the purpose of our efforts—which are intensive—in New York at present, is to ensure that we find as tough as possible a text that is acceptable to members of the Security Council. We believe that, irrespective of the legal niceties, it is important that we carry a resolution that demonstrates the condemnation of the international community.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead)

Has not the threat of force been counter-productive to the real aim, which is to get rid of Saddam Hussein? Did my right hon. Friend see that, in a few days, one in 20 of the Iraqi population signed up to support the regime because of the threats from the west? Would it not be a misuse of force to slaughter a "Dad's army" to strengthen a dictator?

Mr. Cook

I fear that my hon. Friend is mistaken if he imagines that the chemical and biological capabilities of Saddam Hussein are equivalent to a Dad's army. I agree with him that it would be entirely desirable if we got rid of Saddam Hussein, and if I had the opportunity, I would certainly vote for that outcome. The tragedy is that Saddam Hussein makes sure that the Iraqi people do not get the chance of that vote, and do not get the chance of choosing a leader for themselves.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)

Leading on from that point, everyone in the House agrees that there is no argument with the people of Iraq. The argument of the international community is with the regime and, more personally, with Saddam Hussein. Will the right hon. Gentleman further personalise the argument? I am not a student of international law, but there should be means by which we could do that. In Bosnia, the President of the Republika Srpska was indicted as a war criminal. Are there means in the United Nations whereby we could take on the argument in Iraq and indict Saddam Hussein? Should not there be such means, if they do not already exist?

Mr. Cook

In the case of the Bosnian war criminals, a specific international war crimes tribunal was appointed on the authority of the United Nations to try those who carried out war crimes during the conflict in Bosnia and more widely. No such war crimes tribunal has been appointed in relation to the Gulf war or the activities in Iraq. One of the positions adopted by the Government, in a rather more advanced form than under the previous Administration, is strongly to support the creation of an international criminal court on a permanent basis. Were such an international criminal court already created, it might well decide that Saddam Hussein and those around him merited trial.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that the United States is calling for military action, and the only country that supports that is Britain? No other country has endorsed the use of its own forces for that purpose, and none has offered the use of its territory from which to launch an attack on Iraq, other than Kuwait. No Arab country has come forward to support the proposal. Does the Foreign Secretary recognise that the use of force against Iraq will strengthen the position of Saddam, that it will probably cause enormous problems in relation to the Arab world, and that there are no internal opposition forces in Iraq that support the idea of bombing raids on their country? Does he not think that we should be looking towards a truly peaceful solution to the problem?

Mr. Cook

Yes, of course we would want to look for a truly peaceful solution to the problem. In my hon. Friend's rather lengthy question, it was difficult to see where the germs of that peaceful solution were to be found. If we want a successful diplomatic solution, we must show that we are prepared to use military force if it is necessary. I recall—because at the time of the Matrix Churchill trial, I went through all the papers—the vigorous and eloquent way in which my hon. Friend condemned Saddam Hussein for using nerve gas against the Kurds in Halabja. Having condemned Saddam Hussein for using nerve gas on that occasion, my hon. Friend must understand why we cannot now walk away and leave Saddam in possession of nerve gas.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

Is the Foreign Secretary aware of the report in The Mail on Sunday yesterday by Chris McLaughlin, which purported to give details about the SAS already being in Iraq? Will he join me in condemning any journalism that puts the lives of our troops in danger when sensitive preliminary operations are possibly being undertaken?

Mr. Cook

I am happy to assure the House that that report was probably as unreliable as most reports that I have read in The Mail on Sunday recently.

Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Kelvin)

The first to use chemical weapons in Iraq was the Royal Air Force, under the command of Winston Churchill in the 1920s. [Interruption.] That is a matter of fact. The reason why we know that there is the potential for making weapons of mass destruction in Iraq is that British and European companies sold Iraq those capacities in years gone by. The Iraqis will be relieved to hear from the Foreign Secretary that the British Government have no quarrel with them, but are we not in danger of killing them in order to save them? The United Nations Children's Fund, the World Health Organisation and Harvard medical teams have all reported that more than 1 million people have died over the past seven years as a result of sanctions.

Will the Foreign Secretary address this question pointedly? Does he understand that, in the Arab street, no one can understand why Israel is allowed to have nuclear weapons of mass destruction, regularly to defy international law, and regularly to occupy other people's countries without a scent of sanctions being imposed, let alone a single bullet being fired in its direction—

Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington)

Israel is not a dictatorship.

Mr. Galloway

That is not how it looks to the Palestinians under Israeli occupation, nor how it looked to the Jordanians, the Syrians or the Egyptians under Israeli occupation. It is these double standards that turn the stomachs of Arabs, Muslims and right-thinking people the world over—the hypocrisy of British and American policy.

Mr. Cook

I entirely agree that we should have regard to the interests of the Palestinian people. The Prime Minister met Chairman Arafat earlier this week to discuss the progress of the talks in Washington. Britain and the European Union remain resolved to try to achieve progress in the middle east peace process. The EU is the major funder of the Palestinian economy and of those activities that relate to the peace process. It is not reasonable, therefore, to criticise either Britain or the European Union for turning their back on the Palestinian people—

Mr. Galloway

What about sanctions?

Mr. Cook

I was just going to add that no one at any stage in those conversations raised with us, on behalf of the Palestine National Authority, the question of sanctions against Israel. On the contrary, the Palestinians are desperate to achieve progress on their economy—progress with which sanctions against Israel would be wholly inconsistent.

Finally, we are dealing with a country that cannot reasonably be compared with Israel. I have many criticisms of the Israeli Government, but we should remember that they were elected with the support of half the population of Israel. Half the population, to be sure, voted for contrary policies—but they had the chance to do so. It would be extremely helpful if Saddam Hussein were even to contemplate allowing his people the same expression of their democratic will. Until he does so, he is in a very different category from Israel.

Mr. Llew Smith (Blaenau Gwent)

As military action failed on the previous occasion to remove Saddam Hussein, will the Foreign Secretary tell us what is new, and why it should be successful on this occasion? And as military action on the previous occasion successfully killed so many of the Iraqi population, can the Foreign Secretary inform the House what is new, and why history should not repeat itself?

Mr. Cook

One of the difficulties of carrying the international community or the Arab world with us in the robust position that we have adopted against Saddam Hussein is the fact that the achievements of the United Nations are so often written off. Over the six years of its existence, UNSCOM most certainly has not been a failure. On the contrary, it has dismantled more weapons than were ever dismantled during the Gulf war; including 38,000 chemical weapon munitions, 480,000 litres of live chemical weapon agents, 48 missiles, six missile launchers, 30 special missile warheads for chemical and biological weapons, and a whole factory dedicated to producing biological weapons. The reason why we are still here six years later, with sanctions and a monitoring regime, is Saddam Hussein. It is vital that we do not walk away until the job is completed.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Is not one of the impediments to bringing about an internal insurrection by the civil population in Iraq the fact that they fear an interregnum? Why do not the western democracies, in particular the United Nations, substantially reinforce the international credibility of the Iraqi National Congress, one of whose main bases is here in London—the other being in Washington? That, surely, is the way forward in terms of offering an alternative Government to Iraq. When the Iraqi people see that there is a credible organisation outside that is internationally recognised, they may find the courage to rise up and deal with this tyrant once and for all.

Mr. Cook

The Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett), has met representatives of the Iraqi opposition, and we shall continue that dialogue. In fairness to the Iraqi people, we should not underestimate the immense dangers and problems of trying to achieve what my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) described as an uprising against Saddam Hussein. Saddam Hussein explicitly and deliberately uses fear and brutality as a political weapon, so it is not surprising that many people in his country are not prepared to take a stand against him. Their silence should not be taken as a sign of support.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)

I believe that my right hon. Friend speaks for the majority of hon. Members and the people of Britain when he says that the main aim is to ensure that Saddam Hussein complies with United Nations resolutions. If Saddam Hussein had allowed UNSCOM to do its job, in which it has so far been very successful, we would not now face this problem.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Saddam Hussein continues to flout other United Nations resolutions? For example, he continues to repress the Kurds in the north and to carry out ethnic cleansing—he has just thrown nearly 2,000 Kurds out of the Iraqi cities into the north. Countless other UN resolutions are also being flouted; it is not this one alone.

I chair the group Indict. Our main aim is to bring Saddam Hussein and eight of his closest henchmen before an international tribunal on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. We have the support of the Prime Minister, the previous Prime Minister and President Clinton, and we would welcome further Government support. Many people in Iraq are very much opposed to Saddam Hussein's rule and would like the west's support. In the past, we have encouraged the Kurds, but we have always let them down. They have been involved in several uprisings, but we have never been there behind them. Please will my right hon. Friend give the Iraqi opposition the support that they deserve to get on with the job?

Mr. Cook

I am happy to repeat the Government's expression of support for any moves that would bring Saddam Hussein to book—in particular, for the organisation to which my hon. Friend refers. She touches on a profoundly important point, on which we should all reflect. Saddam Hussein is a dictator who has shown himself to have a cavalier disregard for the lives, civil liberties and rights of his people to live a normal life. He has killed thousands of his people, using what weapons and military force he has. We should be in no doubt that if he acquired the capacity to produce weapons of mass destruction, he is one of the rulers who might well be prepared to use it.

Mr. John Hutton (Barrow and Furness)

May I offer my full support for the Government's actions to date, to ensure full Iraqi compliance with the terms of UN Security Council resolutions? In denying access to sites in Iraq, the Iraqi dictator is continuing to flout the Security Council's authority. He must not be allowed to succeed in that. Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the Iraqi dictator was let off the hook, a terrible price would be paid by not only the world community, but the people of the middle east?

Mr. Cook

My hon. Friend's last point is very important. It is the countries that border Iraq that are most at risk. Privately, many of them are as anxious as any hon. Member to ensure that Saddam Hussein is not the victor in the present crisis.

Several hon. Members


Madam Speaker

Thank you.

Mr. Benn

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. May I ask your advice? As you know, last week I asked for an emergency debate and there was a private notice question. Today, there has been another private notice question, which I welcome. The Foreign Secretary says that he has no objection to such a debate, but the difficulty for the House is that making war is a royal prerogative—it requires no parliamentary consent. Our forces might be engaged in a conflict without the House having had any opportunity to consider the matter.

Time is short, as the diplomatic options are clearly running out. I shall not ask for an answer now, but will you, Madam Speaker, consider how, from the Chair, you can protect the right of the House to have a debate on this matter, such as occurred at the time of Suez, the Falklands and the Gulf war? I was present at and interested in all those debates.

Mr. Kaufman

On a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker

It is obviously related.

Mr. Kaufman

Yes. Many hon. Members would greatly welcome an early debate on Iraq, to enable the House to demonstrate its overwhelming support for the Government's policy.

Madam Speaker

I take seriously the point of order raised by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn). I shall of course look into the matter. It is a very serious situation, and I have no doubt that the Government will want to come to the House before taking any further action.

I am also grateful for the point of order raised by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman). The Foreign Secretary is present in the Chamber, and perhaps one day we shall have a major debate about those issues.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)

On a different point of order, Madam Speaker. You will know that, between the previous sitting of the House and today, this place has been occupied virtually continuously by people inspecting and repairing the ceiling of this august Chamber. I hope that you will allow me, as Chairman of the Accommodation and Works Committee, to put on record the Committee's thanks to the craftsmen who worked literally every hour of the weekend to ensure that our proceedings were not disrupted. I also thank the Officers of the House, from the Serjeant at Arms and the Director of Works onwards, who took the remedial, urgent and necessary action with great expedition.

Madam Speaker

I am sure that we all appreciate the work that was carried out over the weekend.