HC Deb 29 April 2002 vol 384 cc664-6
13. Mr. George Osborne (Tatton)

If he will make a statement on preparations for future military action in Iraq. [50952]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon)

We have made plain our concerns about Iraq's continued development of weapons of mass destruction and the potential threat the Iraqi regime poses to the international community. Allowing those programmes to continue unchecked is simply not an option. However, no decision on military action has been taken and no such action is imminent. Any decision that we make will be taken carefully, cautiously and in accordance with international law.

Mr. Osborne

Both the Prime Minister and the American President have made it clear that military action against Iraq is at least an option, even if no decisions have been taken. Can the Secretary of State reassure the House—or at least, the Opposition—that intensive preparations are under way for the contingency of military action, including a possible ground campaign; otherwise, the threat against Saddam Hussein is hollow?

Mr. Hoon

Intensive efforts are being made to require Iraq to comply not only with a series of resolutions of the United Nations Security Council, but with international law. Specifically, weapons inspectors, who have not been in Iraq since 1998, should be allowed to return. It is vital that we see for ourselves whether or not Saddam Hussein is, as we suspect, continuing in his efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction. That is the diplomatic and international political route that we continue to take.

Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North)

Do the Secretary of State's recent comments concerning the possible use of nuclear weapons against Iraq signal a change of Government policy, whereby Britain is reneging on assurances given to non-nuclear weapons states under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty? Indeed, are the Government abandoning the policy of successive British Governments of regarding nuclear weapons as a deterrent of last resort?

Mr. Hoon

There has been no change in the British Government's policy—the use of nuclear weapons is still a deterrent of last resort. However, for that to be a deterrent, a British Government must be able to express their view that, ultimately and in conditions of extreme self-defence, nuclear weapons would have to be used.

Rachel Squire (Dunfermline, West)

Does my right hon. Friend share my concern about today's press reports, suggesting that weapons are being smuggled from eastern Europe, through Syria and into Iraq? If so, will he investigate the matter? Does he also agree that, if the reports are true, they are a further indication that Saddam Hussein has no intention of voluntarily complying with the UN resolutions and allowing an inspection team into Iraq? His sole interest appears to be his own power, rather than a peaceful future for the Iraqi people.

Mr. Hoon

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. She is quite right: the matter must be investigated. So far as we have been able to discern, the Iraqi regime have no obvious intention of complying with either international law or the UN Security Council resolutions.

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)

The Secretary of State referred to the possible use of nuclear weapons in circumstances of "extreme self-defence". Can he help the House by explaining what that phrase means? People either defend themselves, or they do not.

Mr. Hoon

I accept that there are those—some of whom may well be sitting on the Labour Benches—who do not believe in the use of nuclear weapons in any circumstances, but that is not the position of the Government or of the Labour party. It is therefore important to point out that the Government have nuclear weapons available to them, and that—in certain specified conditions to which I have referred—we would be prepared to use them.

Forward to