HC Deb 08 January 2002 vol 377 cc410-3
9. Jim Knight (South Dorset)

What recent discussions he has had with the US Government on the (a) proliferation and (b) international inspection of chemical, biological and radiological weapons, with particular reference to Iraq. [23001]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs(Mr. Denis MacShane)

We frequently discuss issues relating to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction with the United States Administration. The United Kingdom and the US are committed to securing full Iraqi compliance with its United Nations disarmament obligations.

Jim Knight

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Does he agree that we must make every effort internationally to prevent the proliferation of those weapons? Would he agree, therefore, with Graham Pearson, former director of Porton Down, the chemical and biological weapons establishment, when he said last autumn that the US should urgently reconsider its rejection…of the protocol to strengthen the biological weapons convention"? Should that reconsideration be a prerequisite to the US taking any action against Iraq because of its activities in that area?

Mr. MacShane

We regret the failure of the United States to ratify the latest protocol. We are looking forward to working with the US through to the next meeting on the convention in November to arrive at a satisfactory international agreement. The events of recent weeks and months have shown that we need the strongest national security arrangements in that area and the strongest international verification procedures.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife)

On Iraq and foreign policy in general, is it not something of a hostage to fortune to use terms such as a "pivotal role for Britain", which may come back to haunt those who use them—rather like talking of a foreign policy with an "ethical dimension"? Will it not be a clear indication of the United Kingdom's influence over the United States if we continue successfully to discourage the Bush Administration from precipitate military action against Iraq unless there is incontrovertible evidence of Iraqi involvement in terrorism, or alternatively, if it becomes abundantly clear that the policy of deterrence and containment successfully followed since December 1998, when the United Nations inspectors were withdrawn, has ceased to be effective?

Mr. MacShane

As the Prime Minister and the Government have made clear, there is no evidence linking Iraq with the events of 11 September. The fight against terrorism will have to take on board all who support terrorism, all who continue to defy the international rule of law, and all who refuse to obey UN resolutions on this issue. We cannot speculate on any further action that may be necessary, but until Iraq complies with its United Nations and international legal obligations, it remains a menace to the region and to the world.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

On these legal obligations, would it not at least be prudent to talk to Hans von Sponeck and Dennis Halliday—senior officials at the United Nations who resigned their posts on matters of principle to do with Baghdad—before getting involved in the precipitate and disastrous folly of attacking Iraq?

Mr. MacShane

The requirement that the international community, through the United Nations, has placed on Saddam Hussein is to comply with United Nations Security Council resolutions. Different positions have been taken by different UN officials on this over the years, but I cannot believe that any Member of the House has any doubt that Saddam Hussein remains in violation of international law and of his obligations under United Nations Security Council resolutions.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate)

On 5 December, the Foreign Secretary told the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs: We are very concerned about Iraq's development of these weapons and believe action must be taken. What action does the Minister believe will work?

Mr. MacShane

That is why we have strengthened resolution 1284, and why Britain has taken the lead in ensuring that sanctions do not harm the Iraqi people directly. It is also why our pilots fly over parts of north and south Iraq to ensure that the Iraqi regime cannot attack its own people. The action of this Government and other democratic Governments around the world is very clear indeed.

Mr. Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool, Walton)

Is it not ironic that while we discuss with the United States Administration the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, that Administration seem hell bent on delaying, inhibiting or destroying every international agreement and convention that underpins that non-proliferation? Is it not true that the present Administration of the United States, and the right-wing ideologues who control them, do not give a tinker's cuss about international co-operation or international opinion when it comes to these issues, unless they meet their own immediate political objectives?

Mr. MacShane

It is no secret in the House that Her Majesty's Government do not share the approach of the United States when it comes to strengthening international conventions and agreements to reduce proliferation, but the dialogue must continue. We welcome the fact that, although it was not possible to reach a conclusion at the fifth review conference on the biological and toxin weapon convention in Geneva last year, we are engaged in a dialogue to achieve that final agreement. Events in the United States—not least the anthrax scare—have reinforced public opinion in America as to the importance of national and international agreements in this important field.

Mr. David Chidgey (Eastleigh)

On the question of the reintroduction of international inspections in Iraq, the Minister must be aware that the Iraqi regime has made it clear that it is adamantly opposed to that reintroduction. In those circumstances, will he tell us under what conditions he would support and condone the use of force to reintroduce those inspections, as advocated in some quarters of the American Administration?

Mr. MacShane

The decision has to be clear: either we believe in international law, which requires forms of enforcement, or we do not. I think that the House, the country, and all parties quite clearly do. Speculation at the Dispatch Box about further pressure on Saddam Hussein is pointless. It is important that every Member of this House give him no comfort, and make it quite clear that compliance with the international rule of law and with United Nations Security Council resolution 1284 is indispensable if we are to see peace and security in the region.