HC Deb 07 November 2002 vol 392 cc431-51 12.30 pm
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about negotiations on a new United Nations Security Council resolution in respect of Iraq.

A revised draft resolution was circulated to all members of the UN Security Council yesterday. The council is now discussing the text and will vote on it shortly. A vote could come as early as tomorrow night. As we will prorogue later today, I wanted to update the House now as the negotiations are entering their final stage. I have placed a copy of the joint United Kingdom-United States draft in the Libraries of both Houses.

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister reminded the House yesterday, our overriding objective is to disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction through an effective inspections regime. The Prime Minister and I have made the case for UN action here in the House, to our allies and to the wider world. On 10 September, my right hon. Friend told the Trades Union Congress conference that the UN had to be the means of dealing with this problem, not of avoiding it. Two days later, President Bush, in his historic speech to the General Assembly, said that the UN had either to enforce the writ of its own resolutions or risk becoming irrelevant. On 14 September, in the same forum, I called on the UN to meet the challenge posed by Iraq and to defend its own authority.

As one of the five permanent members of the Security Council, the UK has been determined to ensure that the UN emerges from this crisis with its credibility enhanced. During the negotiations, our aim has been to secure consensus on a tough resolution that leaves Iraq under no illusions about the need for disarmament. The text currently before the Security Council is the product of eight weeks of intensive negotiations. The United Kingdom and the United States began to circulate elements of a draft resolution to fellow Security Council members on 25 September, and a draft full text on 23 October.

Throughout these two months, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has spoken to President Bush and other Heads of Government at regular intervals. I have been in daily contact with the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, and I have had detailed discussions on numerous occasions with my French, Russian and Chinese counterparts and with Foreign Ministers of the elected 10 of the Security Council. Our UN ambassador, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, and his team have worked tirelessly in New York.

The draft resolution uses the full powers of the UN under chapter 7 of its charter. The architecture of the draft has been extensively discussed between the permanent members, and I would like now to set out for the House the key points.

First, the text makes it clear in operative paragraph 1 that Iraq has been and remains in material breach of its obligations under previous Security Council resolutions. Secondly, in operative paragraph 2, the text affords Iraq a final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations. Thirdly, it stipulates that false statements or omissions in Iraq's declaration of its weapons of mass destruction holdings and failure by Iraq to comply with the resolution shall constitute a further material breach of Iraq's obligations, and provides that this will be reported to the council for assessment. Fourthly, the text gives significantly enhanced powers to the United Nations Monitoring Verification and Inspection Commission and the International Atomic Energy Agency to conduct effective, intrusive inspections.

Right hon. and hon. Members may be surprised by the level of detail in the resolution, but our experience with Saddam Hussein has made that necessary. I draw particular attention to the following aspects of the resolution: the provision for conducting interviews with Iraqi citizens inside or outside Iraq, without the presence of Iraqi Government minders; the explicit setting aside of previous arrangements that restricted inspectors' access to so-called presidential sites; provisions for freezing a site to be inspected so that nothing is changed within it nor taken from it while it is being inspected; and making legally binding the "practical arrangements" set out by the inspectors themselves and covering issues such as regional bases, the right to encrypted communications, and so on. In sum, it is a basis for an inspection regime designed not to go through the motions, but to achieve disarmament.

The text sets out the procedure to be followed in the case of failure by Iraq to comply: it requires in operative paragraph 4 that any further material breach of Iraq's obligations should be reported to the Security Council. It directs in operative paragraph 11 the executive chairman of UNMOVIC and the director general of the IAEA to report immediately to the council any interference by Iraq with their inspection activities or failure to comply with its disarmament obligations. It provides in operative paragraph 12 that the council will convene immediately on receipt of a report of noncompliance in order to consider the situation.

On timing, the text provides that within seven days of adoption of the resolution Iraq must confirm its intention fully to comply; that within 30 days Iraq must submit a full and accurate declaration of all aspects of its WMD programmes; that within 45 days inspections should resume; and that within 105 days of the passing of the resolution UNMOVIC and IAEA should report to the Security Council. The text concludes by underlining that Iraq has been repeatedly warned that it will face serious consequences as a result of continuous violations of its obligations.

I emphasise again that the detailed wording may change further in negotiation; discussions will resume this afternoon in New York. However, this draft resolution meets the United Kingdom's objectives. It takes into account many points raised in the Security Council by other member states and by the chief inspectors, Mr. Blix and Mr. El Baradei. We are now seeking unanimous support for the resolution in order to send the strongest message to Saddam Hussein.

Britain wants a peaceful resolution to this crisis, and the United States has shown by its engagement in the long negotiations over past weeks that it too is committed to using the UN route in order to resolve this problem. At this point, I should like to pay my own tribute to President Bush and to United States Secretary of State Powell for their great patience and great statesmanship.

History tells us that if diplomacy is to succeed it must be combined with the credible threat of force. As Kofi Annan has said, with direct reference to Iraq: We have learned that sensitive diplomacy must be backed by the threat of military force if it is to succeed. It is that threat which, in recent weeks, has forced Saddam to concede the prospect of readmitting weapons inspectors. The more credible the threat, the more likely it is that Iraq will respond to the demands of the UN.

As the negotiations at the Security Council enter their final stage, we are approaching a critical moment for the whole of the international community and for the integrity of our system of international law. By adopting the resolution, the Security Council will send the clearest possible signal of its determination to uphold the authority of the United Nations, and we will be one step closer to resolving a problem that has undermined the security of Iraq's neighbours, and the wider world, for more than a decade. The task of the inspectors is to find and to destroy the weapons of mass destruction. The choice for Saddam Hussein is to comply with the UN or face the serious consequences.

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes)

I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement and for giving me sight of it in advance.

We congratulate the United States and United Kingdom Governments on the resolution, and I recognise the Foreign Secretary's contribution to it. We hope it will secure the support of the Security Council and not be vetoed by any permanent member. This is a test of the determination of the United Nations to deal with the threat of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of unstable, undemocratic, despotic and aggressive regimes. If the resolution were to fall because of the veto of permanent members with political or commercial interests in so vetoing it, the integrity of the United Nations would be seriously damaged.

The resolution sets out clearly the requirements that Saddam Hussein must fulfil if he is to rectify what the resolution describes as the material breach of its obligations under relevant Resolutions". Those resolutions, which together would achieve the central objective of the elimination of his weapons of mass destruction, are already in place. The resolution stipulates the timetables within which the various requirements must be met and rightly indicates serious consequences for non-compliance. We also strongly welcome the commitment to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Iraq.

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that the resolution must leave no room for doubt or manoeuvring in the mind of Saddam Hussein? There are a number of matters on which the resolution could be still clearer, which I hope he will clarify. Do the words in paragraph 2— a final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations"— mean that in the event of non-compliance no further resolutions will required before appropriate action can be taken? Is it implicit in the resolution that action is already justified by the existing and continuing material breach of Iraq's obligations? What happens if, after seven days, Saddam Hussein has not unambiguously confirmed his intention to comply with the resolution? That does not seem to be covered in paragraph 12.

Who judges under paragraph 3 whether any disclosure of weapons and missiles is full and final given that previous disclosures by Iraq have subsequently been admitted to have been inaccurate? What account has been taken of the use of the past eight weeks by Saddam Hussein to hide his weapons of mass destruction, which was alluded to in the dossier published in September, and what measures are being taken to counter that? What happens if, after the 105 days to which the Foreign Secretary referred in paragraph 5, no weapons of mass destruction have been found but there remain indications that they exist?

Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that the reference in paragraph 12 to restoring "international peace and security" must be read in conjunction with article 42 of chapter VII of the United Nations charter, which states: action can be taken by air, sea or land forces as may be necessary to … restore international peace and security"? What will the Government do if the resolution is vetoed? What preparations is the right hon. Gentleman making to have a full debate on the subject in Government time when the House returns?

The message of resolution and, I hope, the message of the House to Saddam Hussein must quite simply be: Your weapons of mass destruction must go. You can do it yourself or it will be done for you.

Mr. Straw

May I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his generosity in what he said about the work done in the United States and here, including by me?

The right hon. Gentleman asked about a veto. We are not anticipating a veto of the resolution, and I do not want to anticipate that. Nothing is certain until the matter is put to a vote, but we have worked hard over the past eight weeks to bring our colleagues in the P5 and the elected 10 to a clear consensus not on a mushy resolution, but on a clear-cut resolution that sets out the clearest possible obligations on Saddam Hussein. Every Foreign Minister to whom I have spoken in the past eight weeks agrees that the best chance of resolving Saddam Hussein's defiance of the international community lies in the international community showing the greatest degree of unanimity—and toughness.

The right hon. Gentleman asks a series of questions about the "final opportunity" mentioned in operative paragraph 2. The draft resolution is structured to tell Saddam Hussein, in operative paragraph 1, that Iraq has been and remains in material breach"; operative paragraph 2 states that this is "a final opportunity"; operative paragraphs 3 to 10 set out how Iraq has to fulfil what is described euphemistically as an opportunity to comply with its … obligations"; under operative paragraph 11, the inspectors are under a duty to report to the Security Council if they come across any breach; and under operative paragraphs 4 and 11, the Security Council can—and will—resume its meetings to consider the circumstances if there is a breach.

I do not want to anticipate what will happen if there is a breach, except to say that although we would much prefer decisions to be taken within the Security Council, we have always made it clear that within international law we have to reserve our right to take military action, if that is required, within the existing charter and the existing body of UN Security Council resolutions, if, for example, a subsequent resolution were to be vetoed. However, I do not believe that it will come to that.

The right hon. Gentleman asks about the 105 days. There is a clear requirement on the inspectors to report within 105 days, but that, as Sir Jeremy Greenstock made clear yesterday, does not mean that the inspections end when the 105 days have elapsed.

The right hon. Gentleman asks about article 42 of the UN charter. The whole resolution, if it is passed, has to be read against the background of the UN charter.

Finally, the right hon. Gentleman asks whether I am making arrangements for a full debate in Government time. The answer is yes, and we hope that it will be on a substantive motion.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

May I offer apologies on behalf of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell)? He had an unavoidable appointment in Scotland today.

I welcome the Foreign Secretary's statement about a debate on a substantive motion, which would lead to a vote in the House of Commons on this matter.

I welcome the progress that the Foreign Secretary and British officials have made on the resolution. I share the hope for a successful outcome leading to inspection getting under way with the clear intention of removing Iraq's programme for weapons of mass destruction.

Recognising that it was Kofi Annan who referred to the threat of force being essential to the success of diplomacy, which we know to be true in the case of Saddam Hussein, will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the Security Council remains central to the consideration of whether the use of force is required; and that the inspectors and, indeed, interested states are required to report any breaches by Iraq to the Security Council for its consideration?

Although it is welcome that US spokesmen appear in the past few days to have backed away from the idea that regime change can be the objective of or justification for military action, does the Foreign Secretary recognise that there is still widespread anxiety across a broad range of opinion in this country that, fortified by the Republicans' electoral success, those elements in the US Administration who favour unilateral action may again come to the fore? Will he maintain Britain's commitment to an approach that has UN Security Council backing and the best prospects of securing continued international support?

Mr. Straw

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his opening remarks.

The United Nations remains central to consideration of this issue. We have been working hard to ensure that the UN stays involved and enhances its credibility and effectiveness. I repeat: any decisions that we make in respect of military action will be made within the context of the body of international law, of which Security Council resolutions form a part, but not the whole.

The resolution does not deal with regime change: it deals with Saddam Hussein's flouting of Iraq's obligations in respect of its weapons of mass destruction. However, we need to be aware that the Iraqi regime is one of the most revolting regimes in the world.

Mr. Beith

That is not justification for military action.

Mr. Straw

It is one of the most revolting regimes in the world. I look forward to the international community being more effective than it has been in, for example, dealing with the flagrant violation of human rights within Iraq, which has been going on for the past 12 years.

Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South)

At the risk of being seen as sycophantic, which I am not, may I express my delight and relief that the United States has been prepared to persevere through the Security Council route, which may minimise the risk of a military solution?

I ask my right hon. Friend to give us a little more information about what he thinks the phrase "serious consequences" may be. Has that been discussed? Is there some form of continuum of potential serious consequences that may run from a slap on the wrist, to a fine or military action?

Mr. Straw

My right hon. Friend should not worry about being sycophantic for a second. It is a perfectly honourable position to adopt.

I know that there is some scepticism about this among some of my right hon. and hon. Friends, but it is right to applaud the work of President Bush and his colleagues in the US Administration. They had the power to go down the unilateralist route, and there was nothing that the international community could have done about that. They made a choice to stick with the multilateralist UN route, and we should applaud them for that and for what President Bush has done to enhance the system. As for my hon. Friend's specific question, "serious consequences" means serious consequences up to and including military force.

Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon)

The Foreign Secretary has brought us welcome news, but I think that the House should face the high probability that military action will be needed to enforce the resolution. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that those who oppose military action should recognise that the risks of doing nothing in these circumstances probably outweigh the risks of doing something? However, there are risks involved in military action of exacerbating the terrorist threat that we face. It seems to me that there are two things that we could do to reduce that threat. One is to put renewed efforts behind getting a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. I realise that Israeli politics make that difficult but we need to be seen to be doing more. Secondly, whatever interim Government are imposed on Iraq after military action is taken should be not just a western Government but should involve as wide an international coalition as possible.

Mr. Straw

The hon. Gentleman speaks with great wisdom. The resolution is good news but I emphasise that it has not yet been passed. I am making a statement today rather than after the Security Council resolution has been passed because the House will be prorogued and there will not be another opportunity this Session.

As for military action, we are working on the basis that the resolution will prove effective. I have always said that the best chance of a peaceful solution to the crisis is through unanimity of the international community and a clear and credible threat of force if there is not compliance. Of course we must plan for the possibility of military action, but I remain quite optimistic that if we get unanimity, or near unanimity, the process can work. I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman about the need to push forward with the middle east peace process.

Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet)

I am absolutely delighted that the work of the Government whom I support has given the world at least an opportunity to remove peacefully what I regard as a serious threat. However, for the avoidance of doubt, will my right hon. Friend assure me that under paragraph 3 Saddam Hussein is required to make a complete disclosure? If, subsequently, inspectors prove that he lies in making that disclosure, will that be taken as indicating serious intent to deceive the international community, requiring further action?

Mr. Straw

The simple answer is yes. The words mean what they say.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough)

I join the Foreign Secretary in his warm remarks about the United States Administration. I hope that the United Kingdom Government will continue to act constructively with the United States irrespective of the criticism that they may receive from those on the Government Back Benches. I have not yet seen the text. Does it define precisely what is meant by "material breach"? Who, in the event of a discussion about what is or is not a material breach, will have the final say?

Mr. Straw

The text does not define "material breach", because it is a term of art familiar in international law, equivalent to the breach of a fundamental term, which the hon. and learned Gentleman and I are familiar with from English law of contract. It amounts to what it says: a material breach. There has been some discussion about who is to decide. It will become patent whether there has been a material breach, and what follows will in the first instance be a matter for discussion inside the Security Council.

Ms Oona King (Bethnal Green and Bow)

I welcome the fact that Saddam Hussein is being given a final chance to disarm through the United Nations route. Will my right hon. Friend consider the situation facing the Iraqi people? No one has done more than Saddam Hussein to visit misery upon misery on them. Will the Foreign Secretary comment on reports that the resolution holds out some prospect that sanctions might eventually be removed? Under what circumstances might that happen?

Mr. Straw

Of course we have very great concern for the plight of the Iraqi people—a concern not shared by Saddam Hussein. Millions of people are in poverty and worse as a result of his totalitarian, fascist dictatorship. As my hon. Friend suggests, the resolution provides the last best hope of a peaceful solution. The position on sanctions remains as in UNSCR 1284, which sets out procedures for the lifting of sanctions and the resumption of normal commercial and social relations, provided that Saddam Hussein complies with all his obligations under Security Council resolutions. It is very simple. It remains to be seen whether he will accept those obligations.

Mr. George Osborne (Tatton)

I, too, congratulate the Government and the American Government on the work that they have done on the resolution. Will the Foreign Secretary be clear about the process? If Iraq is in material breach of the resolution, will UN-authorised military action require a new resolution?

Mr. Straw

The processes set out in the resolution are complicated, because this is a complicated matter and we have had to try to nail down all kinds of possibilities of what the Iraqi regime might do, bearing in mind how it has twisted and wriggled out of its obligations in the past. False statements or omissions or failure to comply, as set out in operative paragraph 4, will amount to a material breach, and any reporting by the inspectors may turn out to show a material breach. Then, under operative paragraph 12, the Security Council will meet to discuss the matter. Any member of the Security Council can table a resolution, and it remains to he seen whether the Security Council or individual members judge that a further resolution is necessary to deal with the material breach that is presented to them. It is complicated, but it is clear.

Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North and Sefton, East)

I, too, congratulate my right hon. Friend, the Government and the American Government on providing a realistic prospect of a tough Security Council resolution being passed in the near future. Will he confirm that the time for Saddam Hussein to play games is now rapidly running out?

Mr. Straw

Yes, time is running out. If the resolution is passed unanimously, there will be clear deadlines for compliance, and that will serve the interests of the Iraqi people, as much as those of the security of the international community.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

Does the Foreign Secretary accept that the issue that previously divided the United States from other members of the Security Council and the UK Government from many Members of Parliament is whether action in the name of the United Nations can be explicitly sanctioned by the Security Council alone? Will he tell us, clearly and unambiguously, whether the proposed resolution is a mandate for weapons inspections and a report back to the Security Council on non-compliance, or whether it is in itself a mandate for war—and does the American Administration share his interpretation?

Mr. Straw

I ask the hon. Gentleman to read through the resolution. We have always made it clear that any action that we take will be taken within the context of each of our obligations in international law, and the same applies to the United Nations. That remains the position. I have already said to the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) that the Security Council resolutions form part of international law but not the total corpus, and whether military action is justified in international law, with or without a second resolution, depends on the circumstances. I cannot predict those circumstances; moreover, I do not particularly want to, because what I want to see is a peaceful resolution of the crisis. The best way of getting such a peaceful resolution is, yes, by threatening force—we have to, because of the nature of Saddam Hussein—but also by backing that threat of force with a credible effective weapons inspection regime of the kind laid down in the draft resolution. If we do those two things, as we in the United Kingdom and the United States Government have been doing, we can have a peaceful outcome to the crisis.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)

It is clear to many commentators, and I too believe it, that this is a war resolution. The United States, with the help of our Government, shamefully, appears to have bullied and intimidated people into coming on line, and, perhaps, also promised the spoils of war—oil. The resolution is mined with trip wires to trigger a war. It should be named after the film "Wag the Dog", because if Iraq does not trip up soon, I am pretty certain that the United States will make sure that it does.

I have two questions for when we go to war. First, can we have an absolute assurance that our Government will have nothing to do with the use of nuclear weapons, bunker busters or depleted uranium? Secondly, can we be told the truth about civilian casualties this time? Whenever there is a statement on Afghanistan, nobody in the Government seems willing to tell us how many civilians have died there.

Mr. Straw

I am sorry that my hon. Friend takes that view, and I have to say that I profoundly disagree with everything she has said. The very intensive discussions that I have been involved in over the past eight weeks with Foreign Ministers and Governments—those of Mauritius, Cameroon, Ireland, Syria, Mexico, Norway, Bulgaria, Singapore, Colombia and Guinea, as well as those of the Russian Federation, France, China and the United States—are not discussions between people who are not equal. The P5 and the elected 10 are all equals, because we have a similar vote within the Security Council. It strains credibility to suggest that if there is, as I hope there will be, a 14:1 or 15:0 vote on the resolution, it has come about only because of bullying. That is not the case. The reason why it has come about—or rather, will have come about, if it does—and the reason why there is now a great emerging consensus, is that everybody in the civilised world recognises that Saddam Hussein has been in the most terrible breach of international obligations under Security Council resolutions, and that the time has come to require that awful, terrible regime to put right those breaches of obligations. Sadly, we have to do so by threatening force, but backing it in this way with such an inspection system. There are no trip wires in the resolution; we have been extremely careful to ensure that there is none. For example, it gives realistic time scales. If he wishes, Saddam Hussein can comply with every dot and comma of it. It is what it says it is: a final opportunity.

Sir John Stanley (Tonbridge and Malling)

Will the Foreign Secretary give an assurance that in the event of non-compliance by Iraq with the terms of the resolution, and the future commencement of large-scale military operations, the Government will at that point come to the House and make it clear whether the objective of those operations is disarmament alone or disarmament plus regime change?

Mr. Straw

I shall not speculate about the circumstances in which military action may or may not operate, but I will tell the right hon. Gentleman, as I said in my statement, that there will be the fullest possible discussion in the House as things develop. For example, I am arranging with my right hon. Friends the Chief Whip and the Leader of the House for an early debate on the substantive resolution so that the House has a full opportunity to debate the matter.

Mike Gapes (Ilford, South)

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the remarks of Tim Trevan, the former United Nations inspector, who referred to Saddam's consistent policy of "cheat and retreat"? Does he agree that the real crunch point is likely to come not now or even before Christmas, but some time in the spring of next year, if the Saddam regime—as has always been the case—carries out a policy of lying and misleading, and cheating on its obligations? Can my right hon. Friend be sure that the international inspectors will be given the fullest possible support, so that they can really reveal what is going on in Iraq?

Mr. Straw

I do not think that we can yet be sure of anything so far as Saddam Hussein is concerned. We work on the basis that this man is a liar and a cheat. We spent a long time drafting the resolution to ensure that it covers every possibility that we can conceive of; and that is why, annexed to the resolution but being made into Security Council law, is a very detailed letter from Mr. Blix and Mr. El Baradei to the Iraqi regime, setting out further very important conditions on the operation of the inspection regime. We cannot be sure that Iraq will comply—it is in its interests to do so—but we can be sure that if it fails to do so, it will be in material breach. That will then be reported to the Security Council, and serious consequences will follow.

Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester)

I am not sure that my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Mailing (Sir John Stanley) got a full answer to his question, so perhaps I might try to put it this way. If Saddam complies in full with this resolution and remains in power, will that, in the Government's view, constitute regime change?

Mr. Straw

Well, if he is still there, it will not constitute regime change.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Hull, North)

In the event of Saddam Hussein's failing to meet the terms of this resolution, do the British Government intend to table a resolution to the United Nations, seeking its support for the use of force, whether or not that resolution will be supported by the Security Council? Furthermore, will he confirm that the draft resolution will not anticipate a carte blanche for British troops to intervene in Iraq without the obtaining of further permission from the House?

Mr. Straw

I have already sought to explain to Members how the procedure set out in the resolution would operate. If there is a further material breach, meetings of the Security Council will be called, and there will be discussions. It is open to any member of the Security Council—including, obviously, the United Kingdom—to put forward a resolution or resolutions about the circumstances that will then obtain. We of course reserve the right to do so, but I cannot at this stage anticipate what could happen in a series of hypothetical situations. I have already given undertakings on the issue of matters being debated, discussed and determined by this House. I am strongly in favour of this House playing a full role whenever the Issue arises of military action being taken by forces on behalf of this country.

Norman Lamb (North Norfolk)

Like others, I warmly welcome the progress made by the United Nations towards achieving compliance. The Foreign Secretary talked about the need to progress the middle east peace process, which is clearly essential. The Prime Minister proposed the setting up of a new conference on that process, but little progress seems to have been made. In the light of the imminent election in Israel and the possibility of an even more right wing Israeli Prime Minister, does the Foreign Secretary see matters progressing beyond mere words? Such developments are essential to getting the process moving.

Mr. Straw

The hon. Gentleman raises a serious and important issue. As I said in response to an earlier question, we have to push forward with the middle east process with even greater firmness and determination precisely because of the situation with Iraq. We must not allow it to hold us back. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the various obstacles. Intensive discussions have taken place between the quartet—the United Nations, the Russian Federation, the United States and the European Union—about the so-called road map. I gave an interim progress report during Foreign Office questions on Tuesday. I am hoping for progress, not least now that there is some political space in the United States.

Mr. Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool, Walton)

A few minutes ago the Foreign Secretary said that, internationally, we are all equal. I do not doubt, however, that some are more equal than others. Given the atrocious nature of the regime in Baghdad—but also given what many believe to be the incontrovertible fact that the United States Administration have browbeaten the United Nations in an unedifying spectacle, on the basis that might is right—can the Foreign Secretary explain to me and to people of a like mind how it serves our wider national interest to be associated with such diplomatic tactics?

Mr. Straw

I cannot offer my hon. Friend an explanation because the assumption behind his question is simply untrue.

Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield)

I welcome what the Foreign Secretary has said today, which underlines the tremendous skill shown by our diplomats in New York and elsewhere in working to achieve what he describes. I wish to underline a point that has been made only twice today so far. If international action follows, as I fear it will, the widest possible coalition of international support in the middle east should be sought, so that we receive, if not the active support, at least the passive acquiescence of those countries that will suffer most from the fallout of that action.

Mr. Straw

By the process of intensive discussion that has taken place over the past eight weeks—and through this whole calendar year—the United States and this country have shown that we fully recognise the need for a broad coalition of opinion behind such a use of the international community's power. That intent will continue.

Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough)

I wish to build on the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King), and remind the House that the Iraqi people would be the greatest beneficiaries from the removal of sanctions if Saddam Hussein complied with the resolution. If a time of crisis is a time of opportunity, is not this a great and unique opportunity for Saddam Hussein to return to the international community, to live by the rule of international law, to ease tension in the Gulf and to benefit his people by full compliance with the 17th United Nations resolution?

Mr. Straw

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend.

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal)

Will the Foreign Secretary accept that the motion before the United Nations is a considerable improvement on the previous motions, and that this process—in which he has played an important part—has been vital in obtaining a consensus internationally and among many who are concerned about the legality and the way in which any action might be viewed in future? Will he emphasise to the United Nations how important it is that the motion is not a compromise but something better? Will he also bring home to the United States the necessity of using the same efforts to solve the problems between Palestine and Israel at the same time?

Mr. Straw

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his comments. All of us who have been involved in the process are aware of the anxieties of the public, which I share—as do the Prime Minister and the United States—about the prospect of military action being used. Military action should never be used except as a last resort when all other possibilities have been exhausted. It should not be used because innocent people get killed in military action, because unintended consequences may occur and because we put the lives of our troops and the future of their families on the line. Those are serious responsibilities that we have to shoulder and ensure that they are reflected in our work. They have been so reflected here and, I believe strongly, in the United States. All my reading suggests that public opinion in the United States, and in the Administration, is no different in almost all particulars from that here or elsewhere.

As for the resolution of the Palestine-Israel question, I agree that that is viewed slightly differently across the Atlantic. As I have said, we must work closely with our American friends, as well as with those in the Russian Federation, the EU and the P5 group to secure justice for Israelis and Palestinians.

Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate)

If Iraq fails to comply and military action—the most serious of consequences—ensues, would that require a mandate from the UN? Would this country support a coalition of nations undertaking that military action if such a mandate were not forthcoming? Under what legal verification would that be possible?

Mr. Straw

As I have said on a number of occasions in answer to questions, we would prefer to stay with the UN Security Council route. However, we must reserve the right, within our obligations under international law, to take military action if we deem that necessary, outwith a specific Security Council resolution being passed in the future.

I repeat that the UN charter, Security Council resolutions and customary international law are the basis of international law. They have to come together. Judgments about whether military action is necessary and justified in international law must be made on that totality.

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell)

If Iraq fails to comply with the resolution and we then deem it necessary to take military action with our American allies, does the Foreign Secretary share my concern that public opinion in this country does not support that? That is especially true of people with previous military experience, despite the publication of the dossier by the Prime Minister last month. In those circumstances, I urge the Foreign Secretary to reveal further information that would satisfy the British people about the very real threat that Iraq poses, and about its close links with international terrorism. To date, he has failed to do that.

Mr. Straw

I do not accept the burden of the right. hon. Gentleman's question. The fairest thing to be said is that, although there is a wide spectrum of public opinion in this country, in Europe and in the US, there is no doubt that there is a much higher level of support for firm action within the UN route than outwith it. That is one of the many reasons why we have been determined, as far as humanly possible, to follow the UN route and to stay with it.

David Winnick (Walsall, North)

The UN resolution is tough, and I hope that it will be adopted by the Security Council, but does my right hon. Friend accept the criticism that it should have been adopted after the liberation of Kuwait in 1991? If that had happened, the matter would have been resolved one way or the other.

We all hope that military action can be avoided. However, if it cannot be avoided, and action is taken, will it be made absolutely clear that there will be no foreign occupation of Iraq? There have been stories in the press and elsewhere to the effect that the US would remain in occupation for some years. That would be unacceptable to the international community, and especially to the Arab world. Will my right hon. Friend clear that matter up now?

Mr. Straw

I do not want to get drawn too far into hypothetical situations. We want the matter to be resolved peacefully. If the resolution is agreed by the UN, it will provide a means to resolve it peacefully, without any need to speculate about foreign occupation. If military action is taken, a range of possibilities will open up, but we would also seek to ensure that the government of Iraq was in better and more representative hands than at present. The history of countries all over the world, and not just in the Arab world, shows that Governments are better when they are run by the peoples of their countries, and not by dictators or foreign occupiers.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that, whereas the plant needed to make nuclear weapons can be detected fairly easily by an efficient inspection regime, the plant required to make chemical and biological weapons is much more difficult to detect? Saddam Hussein has had since 1998 to build up stocks of chemical and biological weapons and even to dismantle the plant that produced them. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that there is a danger that it will be very difficult indeed for an inspection regime to discover those stocks, which could be hidden anywhere in the vast area that is Iraq? Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that, even under the most rigorous inspection regime, we can have confidence that Saddam Hussein will not be able to maintain such stocks and, if he wishes, supply to them terrorist groups abroad?

Mr. Straw

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about the greater ease with which one can hide chemical and biological weapons and facilities for developing nuclear weapons. That is true and it has had to be factored in to the powers being given to the weapons inspectors. No one can guarantee what is going to happen now. We cannot predict the future. The powers that the resolution will give to the weapons inspectors are the toughest possible powers to secure the best outcome73x2014;we hope—but the resolution also requires compliance and co-operation by the Saddam Hussein regime. It needs to know that if it fails to comply with any of the particulars, it will be in material breach and serious consequences will follow.

Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

I hope and pray that my right hon. Friend is right when he says that the draft resolution represents a genuine wish by the United States authorities to bring about effective weapons inspection by peaceful means. Will he give the House further details of the enhanced powers that the resolution gives to UNMOVIC and the International Atomic Energy Agency? Which provisions of resolution 1154 does the resolution override? Has the chief of the weapons inspectors requested that they should be accompanied by security guards? How many such guards would he expect to be dispatched and which countries are they likely to come from?

Mr. Straw

The third tiret of operational paragraph 7 overrides the provisions of resolution 1154 in respect of presidential sites. The fifth tiret states: Security of UNMOVIC and IAEA facilities shall be ensured by sufficient UN security guards". They will come from a number of countries.

Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell)

The Secretary of State will be aware that discussions on the resolution are taking place against the background of increasing reports of international terrorist threats. Is he aware of any indicators that suggest that there are links between Saddam Hussein's regime and those threats? I do not expect him to be able to give details of the intelligence that he might have, but are there any indications of a linkage?

Mr. Straw

There is clear evidence of linkage between the Iraqi regime and terrorist organisations of a very pernicious kind operating in Israel and the occupied territories. I have seen no evidence to link the Iraqi regime to al-Qaeda in respect of what happened before 11 September, but as I told the House on Tuesday, if such evidence is produced I would not be surprised.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)

I recognise the efforts that my right hon. Friend has made to bring about an acceptable wording for the resolution. We all hope that it will avoid war. What progress has he made on another matter that I have raised many times in the Chamber—using international law and calling on the United Nations to set up a war crimes tribunal on Iraq, which would be the best way to bring about a regime change without military action? What progress is he making in indicting leading members of the regime, using international law, which can be used in this country, for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide?

Mr. Straw

I thank my hon. Friend for her generous remarks and place on record my admiration for her work for the Kurdish people and the other oppressed peoples of Iraq. She has undertaken that work at times when it has not been popular as well as when it has become more noteworthy.

We have been making as much effort as we can in respect of indicting the war criminals in Iraq. I recognise my hon. Friend's feeling that that is not sufficient and I will continue to pursue indictment in the United Kingdom. As she knows, I speak to my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General about this from time to time. I shall be seeing him again this afternoon for a further discussion. We certainly do not rule out an international tribunal trying Saddam Hussein and others in his Government for war crimes.

Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle)

As welcome as this resolution will be, we all nevertheless recognise that its time scale moves us closer to the possibility of conflict. In the light of a possible large-scale conflict in the middle east, can the Foreign Secretary tell the House what Government and cross-departmental contingency plans have been made to deal with the huge humanitarian disaster that could follow as a result of an exodus from the conflict zone?

Mr. Straw

I do not believe that if the resolution is passed it will advance the prospect of war. I think that the prospect of military action will recede. I have always been clear about that. We cannot put a mathematical number on the possibilities, but I have always been clear that the more unanimous we are in the international community and the tougher we are at first, the less likelihood there is of us having to use military action, but we may have to use it.

All sorts of contingency plans are of course being prepared.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex)

What are they?

Mr. Straw

If the hon. Gentleman thinks that I am going to disclose these to the House, and therefore to Saddam Hussein, he needs to think again.

Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge)

What will my right hon. Friend say to the hundreds of my constituents who have written to me because they are concerned that the United States and the United Kingdom are hell bent on war, whatever the actions of the Iraqi leader? Can he give me an assurance that, should Saddam Hussein fully comply with the UN resolution, there will be no military conflict?

Mr. Straw

The answer to my hon. Friend's second question is that I do not anticipate any circumstances in which there would be military action in which we would participate regarding Saddam Hussein's defiance of his obligations under United Nations Security Council resolutions if he suddenly decided to comply. Operative paragraph 2 spells out very clearly that this is a final opportunity for Saddam to comply.

Of course I understand the anxieties of my hon. Friend's constituents. We all share them. They believed that the United States and the United Kingdom would go it alone to be unilateral. That has not happened, and now that we have chosen to use the United Nations route—I hope successfully—those who have been calling for it must not now call for something different. I am afraid that one or two colleagues in the House—not my hon. Friend—are changing their tune because the first one has not worked.

Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee, West)

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on securing the resolution. In the debate held during the recall of Parliament. I said that I would find it difficult to imagine a resolution that would be so specific. As an avid reader of UN resolutions, I have never read one as specific as this, and I hope that it goes through in its entirety in New York.

I agree with right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House who have reminded my right hon. Friend of the need to reassure people in the middle east that not only are we determined to be firm about this but to set a road map and resolve the Israel-Palestine question as speedily as possible.

Mr. Straw

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. He has already heard what I said about the middle east, and I share his opinion on that. The UN resolution is very specific—that is one reason why it has taken such intensive discussions to negotiate. However, we are not there yet. We hope to be, but we have to get the other 14 members of the Security Council to vote for it.

Mr. Hilton Dawson (Lancaster and Wyre)

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that all the work that he and Government colleagues have done over the past many weeks and months has been in the interests of international peace and law, and that it has not been a question of the countries of the west getting their hands on Iraq's oil? Will he also confirm that the action being taken at the United Nations could strengthen its authority and standing? Does he hope that other countries in the middle east that are in breach of UN resolutions will take careful note of the work that has been done to achieve compliance with these resolutions?

Mr. Straw

Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend. The issue was the authority of the United Nations and thus the authority of the whole international community. We want Saddam Hussein's compliance with this resolution. We also want compliance with all UN Security Council resolutions. By definition, the United Kingdom, as a permanent member with a veto, has always supported, or at least not opposed, those resolutions, although we have particular responsibilities to see that they are subject to full compliance.

Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton)

I congratulate my right hon. Friend and our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on their work in bringing about this multilateral UN approach, which many people would not have thought possible a few months ago. It will come as a huge relief to my constituents, who all express the view not only that this is a last chance for peace but that it affects the credibility of the United Nations.

In respect of that credibility, although I realise that my right hon. Friend does not want to anticipate a situation whereby there has to be an immediate recall if there is action under paragraph 4, and bearing it in mind that in 1991 Saddam Hussein failed to declare any biological weapons, will my right hon. Friend comment in general terms on whether he thinks there is seriousness fully to support the disarmament work of the weapons inspectors rather than the ambivalence that was too often displayed by the Security Council between 1991 and 1998?

Mr. Straw

I hope and believe that there is that seriousness. Under the leadership provided by President Bush, the UN recognised that it faced a serious moment in its history, when its own credibility was at stake. My hon. Friend is right to refer to the fact that Saddam Hussein was able to play games with the international community because the international community was not united in its resolve to secure the disarmament of Iraq. I hope and believe that the new arrangements indicate a new approach by the international community, but we must ensure that all its members and the Security Council fully back the resolution if, as I hope, it is passed.

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire)

Although it was a long time ago, I lived in Iraq for two years, so I have great concern for the well-being of the Iraqi people. Is it not the case that, under Saddam Hussein's regime, the people of Iraq have suffered considerably—from the Iraq-Iran war, the Gulf war, economic sanctions, economic collapse, hyperinflation and Saddam Hussein's internal oppression? Should Anglo-American invasion or attack on Iraq be added to that devastating list?

Mr. Straw

I have already said that we do not want military action. I know of my hon. Friend's concern for the plight of the Iraqi people, but everything that he listed was caused by one man—Saddam Hussein.

Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North)

As someone who has expressed concern about Government policy, may I welcome the general terms of the resolution and, in particular, the provision that compliance should be determined by the inspectors and that non-compliance should be reported to the Security Council? Will my right hon. Friend recognise that for many of us it is vital that the appropriate response to any breach is decided by the United Nations and we rely on the Prime Minister's assurances that war will be regarded as a last resort?

Mr. Straw

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for those remarks, which I greatly appreciate.

Yes, the Prime Minister was right when he said that we see the prospect of military action very much as a last resort. I repeat that if we can pass the resolution in its current form, or close to it, the prospect of military action will recede.

Mr. John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan)

May I take this first opportunity to thank personally my right hon. Friend and his Department for securing the release of my constituent, Peter Shaw, yesterday? We all hope that the resolution is passed and we understand what the phrase "serious consequences" means, but is my right hon. Friend confident that the Iraqis and the Arabic-speaking world know what it means?

Mr. Straw

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for what he said about the work of our diplomats in London and in the region in securing Mr. Peter Shaw's release from the terrible incarceration that he has suffered and, through my hon. Friend, I should like to pass on to Mr. Shaw and his family my very good wishes. I heard him on the radio late last night, and he and his daughter were remarkably phlegmatic given the most appalling situation in which he had been.

As for Iraq, I do not think that Saddam Hussein has any doubt at all about the phrase "serious consequences"; he knows what it means. However, he faces a clear choice: whether to continue down the road of deception and double dealing, which is second nature to him, or whether to recognise that the words in the resolution mean what they say. This is a final opportunity for Iraq to comply.

Mr. Mark Hendrick (Preston)

Does my right hon. Friend believe, as I do, that the resolution in its current form constitutes a test for the United Nations of its relevance in the 21st century?

Mr. Straw

Yes, it does. That is why we have said throughout that this is not just a matter of our showing faith in the UN; in turn, the UN has to take responsibility for such a flagrant breach of its own obligations.

Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend)

Like all hon. Members, I hope that the UN will pass the resolution later today or tomorrow and that the Security Council will give it its full support. It is much more preferable that the will of the Prime Minister and people such as Colin Powell has prevailed in Washington, rather than that of people such as Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz, who, at one time, seemed intent on our going to war straight away. Countries such as Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world, will be very pleased that it seems as though things will be resolved peacefully through the UN.

Can my right hon. Friend tell us what will happen to the no-fly zones if everything goes ahead as the resolution indicates? What lessons will there he for the role of the UN in dealing with other hot spots? The middle east has already been mentioned, but what about the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the half dozen other nations involved in that struggle, very much to the detriment of their own peoples?

Mr. Straw

First, I hope that the resolution will be passed by tomorrow, but I would rather the vote were delayed if the result of that delay was that we gained unanimity or a larger vote. I would personally be very happy to wait until the beginning of next week if by doing so we get 14 or 15 signed up to the resolution rather than a lower number.

On the no-fly zones, decisions will have to be taken about them in the light of circumstances. Self-evidently, they operate not under this resolution but under previous resolutions, but neither we nor the United States have an interest in continuing to operate the no-fly zones longer than necessary.

On the DRC, my hon. Friend will know that a UN peacekeeping force—MONUC—is already there, and we want MONUC to have an enhanced role in the emerging peace process.

Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead)

Although I acknowledge the work put into the resolution, are not the Russians right in saying that it still contains ambiguities? For example, would not inspection teams under the resolution be likely to be US-dominated? Why have UNMOVIC and the IAEA got the right to destroy any records at will? Why has Iraq got to justify everything that is not related to weapons production or materials? That could include any pharmacy shop. Why cannot the Secretary of State explicitly say that economic sanctions will be lifted if Iraq complies with the final UN resolution?

Mr. Straw

With great respect, on the last point, I have already said that resolution 1284 lays out the circumstances for lifting economic sanctions, which are not directly dealt with by this resolution. The sanctions could be lifted tomorrow by the Security Council if Saddam Hussein complied with his obligations; it is his failure to do so that causes the sanctions to continue. Moreover, let us be clear that it is not the economic sanctions that have plunged the Iraqi people into poverty but Saddam Hussein's decisions. He could feed every man, woman and child in Iraq today, under sanctions, if he chose to do so.

So far as the Russians are concerned, there has been a lengthy iterative process of discussion and negotiation with all five permanent members of the Security Council which has resulted in a meeting of minds with the Russian Federation and others. The Russians' view is a matter not for me but for President Putin and his Foreign Minister, Igor Ivanov. A few issues remain to be discussed, but just before I came to the House I had a good conversation with Mr. Ivanov about aspects of the resolution, and I believe that these matters can and will be resolved.

Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central)

As it seems likely that, one way or the other, there will be regime change in Baghdad within six months or a year, do the Government have a clear view about whether the interests of Iraq's neighbours in ensuring the integrity of Iraq are more or less important than a possible conflict with the democratic wishes of the Iraqi people?

Mr. Straw

All the neighbours are clear about the importance of maintaining the territorial integrity of Iraq. One of the preliminary paragraphs of the draft resolution reaffirms the commitment of all Member States to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Iraq, Kuwait and the neighbouring states".

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside)

I thank the Foreign Secretary for his work in bringing us to this point. Does he agree that the special status of this resolution under chapter VII of the United Nations charter, which deals with acts of aggression, puts special responsibility on the United Nations to secure its enforcement?

Mr. Straw

Yes, which is why I drew the attention of the House to the fact that this is a chapter VII resolution. That does not mean that other resolutions should not be enforced, but this resolution places categorical obligations on one member state. Other resolutions, such as 242 and 338, are more complex because they place obligations on a number of member states and on the Palestinian Authority, and we have therefore to enforce them through a different route.

Roger Casale (Wimbledon)

I welcome the resolution, which offers us the best hope of achieving what we all want—a peaceful resolution of the crisis. I know that my right hon. Friend will accept, however, that while we all hope for the best, it is the Government's special responsibility to prepare for the worst. I know that he will pursue the United Nations route to the end, but he is right to emphasise that if it is not possible to resolve the crisis in that way, we must retain the right to act in the face of the threat posed by the Iraqi regime. Will he confirm that, in the future as now, it is in this country's best defence interests to have a strong multilateral, international system, but we will not achieve that by failing to stand up to dangerous, aggressive dictators such as Saddam Hussein?

Mr. Straw

I thank my hon. Friend for his remarks, and I agree with every word.

Mr. Ancram

The Foreign Secretary will agree that it is important that we and our American allies interpret the resolution and its outcome in the same way. My hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) asked him whether he would regard full compliance as a regime change, and his answer was that if Saddam Hussein is still there, the regime has not changed. He may remember that yesterday Richard Armitage, the US Deputy Secretary of State, when asked the same question, said that if there were full compliance, the American Government would consider that the regime had changed. I hope that the Foreign Secretary is not trying to take a harder line than the American Government, and I offer him the chance to reconsider his answer.

Mr. Straw

Richard Armitage is a great man. I would not dream of disagreeing with him—no one who had seen his size would do so. This is a question of ambiguity, and an important issue is involved. There is an issue of regime change and of removing the current regime under Saddam Hussein from office. Is that the purpose of the resolution? No. It is not mentioned once in the resolution. As a matter of interpretation, if Saddam Hussein has his weapons of mass destruction removed, does that, in turn, change the nature of the regime? Yes.