§ 3. Mr. Bill Michie (Sheffield, Heeley)
What UN Security Council meetings are planned in the next three months to discuss policy towards Iraq.
§ The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Brian Wilson)
To date, the Security Council has scheduled meetings on Iraq issues on 8 March, 31 March and an unspecified date in April. In addition, the Iraq sanctions committee meets on a regular basis to discuss all aspects of Iraq policy.
§ Mr. Michie
The situation is serious and future loss of life on both sides—by accident or design—is a stark reality. Since I accepted what was at the time the King's shilling and wore uniform, I have been convinced that politicians who vote for war and armed conflict should be the first on the front line, thus possibly avoiding future conflicts throughout the world. Will my hon. Friend talk to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs to find an alternative to break the deadlock before more lives are lost, because two wrongs do not make a right?
§ Mr. Wilson
My hon. Friend would agree that continuing a wrong does not make a right, and that is what we confront in the Iraqi regime. I am pleased to spell out the differentiation. Nothing that we or the United Nations do is intended to hurt the Iraqi people; that is not the purpose. The purpose is most definitely to prevent the Iraqi regime from developing weapons of mass destruction, from attacking its neighbours—as it did 10 years ago—or from using chemical weapons against its own people, as it also did in the not-so-distant past. Let us keep the balance right and implement policy as effectively as possible. We must not abandon our resolve to prevent the Iraqi regime from acting in the way that I have described.
§ Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife)
May I welcome the Minister to what I believe is his first Foreign Office Question Time? If any information were required on the need to review policy towards Iraq, was it not to be found in the rather cold and frigid reception for Colin Powell as he toured Arab capitals over the past two or three days? With three out of five of the permanent members of the Security Council no longer supporting the 698 sanctions regime and no Arab Government, apart from Kuwait, being prepared to offer public support for the regime, is it not now time to do what the Minister was hinting at over the weekend, which is to institute a full-scale review of policy towards Iraq, out of which should come a sanctions regime that is related to military and dual-use equipment, but excludes non-military sanctions?
§ Mr. Wilson
The purpose of the sanctions regime and that of United Nations Security Council resolutions is to achieve exactly what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has described: to target the military capacity of Saddam Hussein. Of course, there are items that fall into the dual-use category.
It is no part of my intention, or anyone else's, that humanitarian goods should be caught up in the sanctions regime. As I have said, if there are concrete examples of that happening, they should be drawn to the attention of the Government and the UN sanctions committee. Merely to assert that there are such examples plays into the propaganda efforts of Saddam Hussein, in whose interests it is to claim that, by definition, if we prevent him from building weapons of mass destruction, we are visiting humanitarian suffering upon his people.
That is not true. Saddam Hussein is inflicting that suffering, as I am sure the right hon. and learned Gentleman well knows. There is $11 billion lying in bank accounts that Saddam Hussein could be using for the humanitarian good of his own people. He chooses not to do so because he prefers the propaganda value of that $11 billion to the practical effect of the money.
§ Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)
My hon. Friend the Minister has said that anyone who points to the dire humanitarian consequences of the sanctions regime against Iraq is a dupe. He will be aware that two successive UN co-ordinators in the regime have both said clearly and publicly throughout the world that there are massive humanitarian consequences of the sanctions regime, and that, as relevant UN officials, they cannot support it. Does he believe that they too are dupes?
§ Mr. Wilson
I said absolutely no such thing. I respect the many people who are genuinely concerned about the sanctions regime and the way in which sanctions are implemented. I am not speaking negatively about those who hold that view which, doubtless, is shared by my hon. Friend. It is positive to say that we must distinguish between two approaches. One is directed against weapons of mass destruction, and one is purported to be directed against the humanitarian interests of the Iraqi people. In so far as there is purported to be confusion, it serves only Saddam Hussein. That is why he seeks to imply that one approach is the inevitable consequence of the other.
If the approach can be better, of course it should be better. Everyone agrees about that and is trying to take the agenda forward. The logical conclusion is not to abandon sanctions, to allow the means of developing weapons of mass destruction—including the development of the chemical weapons programme—and to allow another attack on Kuwait or anywhere else. It is in our interests to distinguish the two objectives, and we shall do that more effectively in future than in the past. The objective remains clear. The primary objective—which is in the 699 interests of the world, and of the region—is to stop Saddam Hussein developing the potential that we are discussing.
§ Mr. Tom King (Bridgwater)
If we ask our brave pilots in the RAF to undertake challenging and dangerous missions, are they not entitled to expect the widest support in the United Kingdom and throughout the world community for the task that they are carrying out, which is of the highest humanitarian order? If there is concern about whether people understand why the task is being undertaken, is it not beholden on the Government to ensure that there is a much clearer picture in people's minds in the United Kingdom and more widely of the real threats that are posed to the southern Shia people and the marsh Arabs, given the brutality and awfulness that was suffered by the people of Kuwait? Will the Government make a great effort to support our pilots in the task that they have been given?
§ Mr. Wilson
The raids of a fortnight ago were launched precisely in pursuit of that objective and were not an extension of policy towards Iraq. We were merely saying that if we ask aircrews to cover the southern no-fly zone, we must make sure that they have the best protection possible. I find it difficult to believe that we cannot achieve full consensus on that point, even if on no other. If we ask our aircrews to do a job, we must protect them. It is as simple as that.
Like me, the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) went to Kuwait at the weekend, and there are plenty of reminders there that we are not talking about some hypothetical threat. It is not an invention of paranoid minds that Saddam Hussein might do certain things in the region; he did them 10 years ago. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would join me in wishing to mention the people whom we met in Kuwait—mothers, daughters and children of 660 prisoners of war who have never been accounted for. The Iraqi regime has made no attempt to tell those prisoners' loved ones whether they are alive or dead or to describe their treatment. Those people are not propaganda, but real, flesh-and-blood human beings. If we had some movement from the Iraqi regime on such questions, some of the other claims made on its behalf might be a little more credible.
§ Mr. Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green)
What discussions does my hon. Friend plan to hold with the Indian authorities and at the United Nations about the alleged activities of the Delhi-based company NEC Ltd, which is alleged to be supplying missile material and biological weapons material to the Iraqi regime? Is that not exactly the type of activity that must be ended if there are to be any developments in policy towards Iraq?
§ Mr. Wilson
Any alleged breach of sanctions should be investigated, including that one. Breaches of sanctions are occurring; we cannot have sanctions without breaches. However, that does not invalidate the case for sanctions, which will play the key role in stopping Saddam Hussein developing weapons of mass destruction. I undertake to write to my hon. Friend on the specific case to which he referred.
Discussions are taking place, and that is one reason for Colin Powell's presence in the region during the past few days. He has talked with representatives of neighbouring 700 countries to try to persuade them that sanctions must be enforced. Sanctions were not invented by the Government or by the United States; they are carried out under United Nations Security Council resolution 1284. The way out for the Iraqi regime is to allow the inspectors in to see what is going on. If that happens, sanctions can be suspended and, ultimately, lifted. That is a simple, straightforward way ahead, but it requires Saddam Hussein not to develop weapons of mass destruction or chemical weapons, and not to attack his neighbours. The House was united on all those objectives 10 years ago, and it should be united now.