HC Deb 21 January 2003 vol 398 cc167-84 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 on yesterday's ministerial meeting of the United Nations Security Council, which was called to discuss the international community's response to global terrorism. I have placed a copy of my speech to the Security Council in the Library of the House. After the formal meeting, Security Council members discussed Iraq and North Korea in informal session.

The focus of the Council's meeting was the work of its counter-terrorism committee, which was established by United Nations Security Council resolution 1373. This resolution was passed in the wake of the 11 September atrocity, and for the first time imposed a legal obligation on all countries to end safe havens for terrorists, and to stop terrorist financing. The committee has been chaired by our own ambassador to the UN, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, who yesterday received many tributes for his work. I know that the House will want to endorse those tributes, which were fully deserved.

Under the committee's programme, each country's progress in countering terrorism is actively being scrutinised. Where necessary, the committee is helping countries to improve their capacity to deal with terrorism. As we heard yesterday in New York, the vast majority of Governments, about 180, are complying with the new obligations on them. However, two—those of Liberia and, for very separate reasons, of East Timor—have failed to respond at all, and 13 are months behind. Therefore a deadline of 31 March was set yesterday for compliance.

Yesterday's meeting then discussed and unanimously agreed a new resolution on terrorism. Its key elements include the adoption of new measures to improve and to reinforce the work of the counter-terrorism committee; a recognition that the fight against terrorism has to be linked to international action against the proliferation of conventional arms and of weapons of mass destruction; and our agreement that our struggle against terrorism is not biased against any religion—including Islam. People of all faiths and of all cultures have been the innocent victims of terrorist attacks, and people of every faith have a common interest in countering the global threat.

In adopting the resolution, the Security Council recognised the dangerous connection between the terrorists who respect no rules, and the rogue states that know no rules either. It is the leaders of such rogue states who set a deadly example, and—through their illegal programmes to develop chemical, biological and nuclear weapons—provide a tempting arsenal for terrorists.

Eight years ago, the world woke up to the nexus between terrorism and weapons of mass destruction when a sarin gas attack inflicted thousands of casualties in Tokyo. Since then, there has been abundant evidence that the al-Qaeda terrorist organisation is trying to acquire and to develop substances that are just as lethal, if not more so. There can be no doubt at all that al-Qaeda would use such weapons of mass destruction—nerve gases, viruses and even nuclear weapons—if it could lay its hands on them.

There are some who argue that the issue of proliferation is an unwelcome distraction from the campaign against terrorism. This view is profoundly misplaced, however. The global trade in weapons of mass destruction technologies has never been more dangerous. North Korean missile exports undermine security in the middle east. Illegal Iraqi imports of weapons-related technology flout United Nations sanctions, and are re-arming a regime that has previously shown no restraint in using mustard gas and nerve agent to murder thousands of its own people. It would therefore be wildly irresponsible to assume that we can turn a blind eye to this trade on the presumption that lethal materials will not ultimately fall into the hands of terrorists. In today's climate, no responsible Government could take such a risk with their citizens' lives.

The two greatest threats facing Britain and its citizens in the next decade are terrorists and rogue states with weapons of mass destruction. The most dangerous terrorist organisation is al-Qaeda. The most aggressive rogue state is Iraq. Since the adoption of United Nations Security Council resolution 1441 last November, the choice for the Iraqi regime has been clear: resolve the 12-year stand-off with the UN peacefully through full co-operation with weapons inspectors, or face disarmament by force. Typically, Saddam Hussein's response so far has been characterised much more by deceit and delay than by any interest in a peaceful outcome.

The initial Iraqi declaration of WMD holdings submitted to the UN on 7 December contained stark omissions, not least the failure to explain what has happened to the large quantities of chemical and biological weapons materiel unaccounted for by UN inspectors in 1998 and set out in a report of more than 200 pages to the UN by the UNSCOM inspectors—the previous inspectors—in February 1999.

Last week UN inspectors discovered 12 chemical warheads, and a large quantity of hidden documents relating to a possible nuclear weapons programme, which were found within the area of a private house. Neither of these finds had been declared. Dr. Hans Blix and Dr. Mohamed el-Baradei used their visit to Baghdad last weekend to set out their concerns to the Iraqi regime about the lack of Iraqi co-operation, and to remind the regime of the "serious consequences" of failure to abide by the terms of Security Council resolution 1441.

On Monday next, 27 January, Dr. Blix and Dr. el-Baradei will submit their progress reports on the inspection processes to the Security Council. I plainly cannot anticipate those reports, but two things are clear: first, the international community must maintain the pressure on Saddam Hussein to end his games of hide and seek. Secondly, Iraq must comply fully, actively and positively with all its international obligations. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence reminded the House yesterday in announcing further troop deployments to the Gulf, the lesson of the past four months is that diplomatic pressure will have no effect without the visible and credible threat of force.

The terrorist threat to Britain and our citizens is real. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is co-ordinating the most comprehensive security response our country has seen for many years. Our country can never become an island of security in the face of the global dangers of terrorism and rogue states, so just as we should redouble our efforts to enforce the law at home, our interests demand that we be at the forefront of enforcing the law overseas.

For too long, Iraq has flouted international legal obligations to disarm, and has laughed in the face of the United Nations. Saddam still has a choice to comply and I hope very much that he does so. If he does not, those who are serious about a commitment to a global community based on the rule of law and the United Nations cannot afford to shrink from the challenge posed by Iraq.

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes)

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

I echo the right hon. Gentleman's tribute to Sir Jeremy Greenstock for the work that he has done, and I welcome the new Security Council resolution on terrorism which was passed yesterday.

I agree with the Foreign Secretary's analysis of the current situation and his warnings about the relationships between rogue states and international terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.

We are now moving inexorably, whether by diplomacy, force or voluntary exile, towards the end game in Iraq, in which the central issue of weapons of mass destruction will be resolved. We firmly continue to support the objective of eliminating Saddam Hussein's evil armoury and his arms development programmes.

Since last September I have consistently pressed a number of requirements in pursuance of that objective: the need to pursue the United Nations route; the need to be totally transparent and clear with the British people as to what the options for future action are, and why; the need to concentrate on the elimination of weapons of mass destruction as the key objective; the need to have a clear and comprehensive plan for the future of Iraq; and the need for substantial humanitarian support for the suffering people of Iraq.

On the United Nations route, does the right hon. Gentleman consider that there is now a prima facie case that Iraq is in material breach of resolution 1441, under paragraph 4? In his view, does last week's proven failure to disclose warhead casings and documents, followed by further continuing failure to comply with this and other resolutions, amount to a material breach?

I heard the Foreign Secretary recorded as saying in New York that his patience with Saddam Hussein was running out, and that he was not impressed by Iraq's recent actions. In terms of resolution 1441 and the forthcoming report by the inspectors, what does that mean? Presumably, it is that he believes that Saddam Hussein is continuing to fail to comply, thus establishing material breach.

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise, however, how much work still needs to be done to persuade the British people that Britain's interests and the safety of British citizens will be at risk if action is not taken to eliminate these weapons of mass destruction? It is simply not enough to talk in vague terms about the general relationship of terrorism with rogue states. lf, as the Prime Minister implied last Monday, intelligence suggests that there is a real, present and growing danger, the British people should be given more factual information—and urgently.

Will the Foreign Secretary accept from me that we will support action to protect and defend British interests, and so will the British people, but that we could not support going to war just because another country asks us to?

I realise the risk of compromising intelligence sources, but if these dangers are as substantial as the Prime Minister hinted, surely a formula could be found to inform the British public of their nature and imminence? Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that there is nothing more dangerous in these circumstances than obfuscation or mixed messages? Can he drum that latter point into his divided Cabinet colleagues? Is there not now a compelling case for a further debate in this House in Government time? [HON. MEMBERS: "And a vote."]

What plans are there for a post-Saddam Iraq, brought about by either his leaving or his defeat? Is there a comprehensive plan that would help to create representative government, which would maintain the integrity of the state of Iraq and fully comply with all the various resolutions, especially in relation to weapons of mass destruction? What is being done to create the environment for a prosperous and democratic Iraq in the future?

What plans have the government made to ensure swift and adequate humanitarian aid to the suffering people of Iraq once the weapons problem has been resolved? Have any estimates of the aid required been made? Are, for instance, vaccines being stockpiled in surrounding countries? And why is the International Development Secretary so reluctant to come to Parliament to discuss these issues? When shall we have a statement from her?

This is a time for candour and consistency. If, in the face of potential military conflict, the Government are seeking the people's trust, first they must trust the people.

Mr. Straw

I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's opening remarks, in particular his endorsement of the tributes to Sir Jeremy Greenstock.

The right hon. Gentleman asked me a series of questions. I shall try to answer each.

First, the right hon. Gentleman asked whether I thought there was now a prima facie case that Iraq is in material breach. Under operational paragraph 4 of the resolution, there are two limbs to the definition of material breach. One is a failure in respect of the disclosure. There has also to be some other failure to comply with the obligations of the resolution. There is no doubt that Iraq has already failed the first limb, as it failed fully to disclose all its holdings. It remains to be seen whether it has failed the second test set by the second limb of operational paragraph 4. We in the international community will be in a better position to assess that after next Monday's discussion in the Security Council.

The right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) said that he heard me say that my patience was running out. In fact, I said that the international community's patience was running out. [Interruption.] And mine too, but I do not presume to speak for the community as a whole. However, from a personal point of view, I was not impressed with the 10-point plan that Iraq has apparently agreed with the inspectors. Every one of those 10 points is non-negotiable under UN Security Council resolution 1441—they include matters such as overflights by surveillance aeroplanes and non-intrusive interviews with Iraqi scientists—and Iraq should have been complying with them since 8 November, when resolution 1441 was passed.

Of course I accept that we have to take the British public with us on this matter, and we have worked hard to do so. That is well illustrated in our contacts with the British people. There will be great debate about public opinion polls, and all of us, whatever we say, take account of them. The polls show that there is very significant support for the UN route, which is precisely the route that we have followed.

The right hon. Member for Devizes asks about more intelligence being made available. This Government have been more open about publishing what intelligence we can than any previous Government, but the right hon. Gentleman knows and accepts that we cannot publish intelligence if the result would be to compromise the source or to end the flow of intelligence. I suggest that those two factors must remain, for the time being, the more important considerations.

The right hon. Member for Devizes asks about further debates. Yes, there will be a full day's debate tomorrow—[HON. MEMBERS: "It will be a defence debate."] I do not know whether the Opposition have noticed, but a quarter of Britain's troops are just about to go to the Gulf, with the possibility of being involved in military action in Iraq, if that is justified. I hazard a guess that tomorrow's defence debate will be dominated by the issue of Iraq.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex)

What is the motion?

Mr. Straw

There are five defence debates a year. Of course I accept that there should be maximum parliamentary consideration of this crucial issue. [HON. MEMBERS: "And a vote?"] And a vote as well, as we have already emphasised.

The right hon. Member for Devizes asked about representative Government and humanitarian aid. When I am in Washington tomorrow and Thursday I shall be discussing with Secretary Powell the issue of representative Government in Iraq on what might be called the day after. A good part of yesterday's discussion with Kofi Annan was dominated by UN plans for humanitarian assistance to Iraq, again on the day after. Kofi issued a plea, which we of course accept, for the maximum number of donors to come forward in advance of any possible conflict so that humanitarian assistance can be in place, if necessary.

Mr. Michael Moore (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale)

I welcome the Government's statement and appreciate having a copy provided in advance. I should like to associate the Liberal Democrat party with the tributes to Sir Jeremy Greenstock, and I also welcome the passage of the new resolution.

International terrorism is a real threat to the world, and it is right that we treat it seriously. Likewise, murderous regimes in possession of weapons of mass destruction are a danger to many countries around the world. However, the Prime Minister has stated repeatedly that there is no link between Iraq and terrorism. In dealing with Saddam Hussein, UN Security Council resolution 1441 sets out in considerable detail how the international community should handle matters, including promising serious consequences if the regime fails to comply.

Last week, Dr. Hans Blix said that there was "no smoking gun" arising from his work so far, but the Foreign Secretary told the UN yesterday that there comes a moment when our patience must run out. We are near that point with Iraq. In view of the Foreign Secretary's latest comments and the announcement of the military build-up in the Gulf, will he confirm that the Government remain committed to the process set out in resolution 1441? Does he agree that the Security Council as a whole should consider the reports of the inspectors, that the successful continuation of their work should be the primary focus of the United Nations, and that the process should not be prejudged by impatient or precipitate moves towards war by any Security Council members?

Mr. Straw

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

On the question of whether there is a link between Iraq and terrorism, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has given precise answers—as he did earlier today before the Liaison Committee. When he said that there has been no link between Iraq and terrorism, he was explicitly referring to al-Qaeda in the run-up to 11 September. There is of course a lot of linkage between Iraq and terrorism generally. One of the international terrorist organisations that I banned—proscribed under the Terrorism Act 2000—was the MEK, an Iraqi-backed terrorist organisation operating in Iran. Moreover, the Iraqi regime actively supports several rejectionist terrorist organisations, including Hamas and Hezbollah which operate inside Israel and the occupied territories. We have to recognise the possibility of great danger if we fail to deal both with what the hon. Gentleman described as international terrorism and with the murderous regimes in rogue states. Al-Qaeda would have been a shadow of what it was had it not been able to base and feed itself in a rogue state—at that stage, Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether the Government are committed to the route set out in 1441. Yes. It should never be forgotten that it was a joint United States/United Kingdom draft resolution that the Security Council passed on 8 November.

Should the Security Council consider the reports of the inspectors? Yes. That is set out in the resolution. Should we ensure that we do not prejudge the results of inspections? Yes: but it should never he forgotten by those who see Iraq through rose-tinted spectacles that there were no inspectors in Iraq between the end of 1998 and the beginning of this year because Iraq had excluded them, in flagrant violation of international law. It was only active US-UK diplomacy, backed by a credible threat of force, which led, first, to the passage of 1441 and then to the readmission of inspectors. Yes, of course the inspectors have to do their job, but we make it easier and more effective by keeping up the pressure and reminding everyone that the closing paragraph of 1441, signed up to by every member of the Security Council, including Syria and many others, spelled out that if Iraq failed to meet its obligations "serious consequences would follow". The words "serious consequences" have only one meaning—the use of force.

Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)

My right hon. Friend is correct in what he said about Iraq and about the work of Sir Jeremy Greenstock on the counter-terrorism committee, but does he agree that, on proliferation, North Korea is the arch proliferator of ballistic missile technology? For example, North Korea supplies that technology to Pakistan and gives Pakistan uranium enrichment facilities. Was North Korea specifically mentioned in the new resolution and did Pakistan, which has received that help from North Korea, support the resolution?

Mr. Straw

North Korea is also a proliferator, but this is not a competition; we have to deal with both Iraq and North Korea and with other proliferators. As I said in my speech to the Security Council yesterday, we should attempt to resolve all those challenges patiently by diplomatic means. That is what we are doing with North Korea. By God, it is what we have tried to do, and are still trying to do, with Iraq, 12 years after that country first fell into defiance of the United Nations.

North Korea was discussed, not in the formal Council session but at an informal meeting afterwards; there was an active discussion, not least between the United States, the Russian Federation Foreign Minister, Chinese Foreign Minister Tang and myself, as four members of the P5. The UK is one of the few European Union countries to have diplomatic representation in Pyongyang. We regard that as important, and we are actively working within the P5 and with the four key countries in the region to try to find some architecture for multilateral discussions, in which North Korea could safely air its anxieties about its current situation and we could also put it back on the route to compliance with its obligations. I hope and believe that that can be done diplomatically—if so, no one would cheer more than me.

Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle)

Everyone will agree that rogue states pose a tremendous problem, but the essence of the problem is that there are so many of them. Although the regime in Iraq is terrible, my impression has always been that its links with international terrorism have so far been less than those in several other states, including Syria. If we are to make real progress in the war against international terrorism, we need a much clearer strategy. If it is seriously argued that, having dealt with Iraq, we should then go on to deal with all the other rogue states, including Saudi Arabia which financed the attack in New York, we shall find that world opinion will not be with the politicians. We must have a much clearer world strategy.

Mr. Straw

The hon. Gentleman has an odd view of human behaviour, especially for a Member on the Conservative Benches. Time without number during my 24 years as a Member of the House, I have heard more members of his party than of mine say that we should set clear examples in respect of criminal behaviour in this country, not only in dealing with immediate cases of criminality but also by ensuring that there is clear deterrence. I share that view and I believe that the same principles apply in dealing with the international criminals who run those rogue states.

We cannot do everything at once—the hon. Gentleman is right—but that does not mean that we should do nothing. There is much that we can do and we have to deal with the worst case. That is the strategy. Iraq is clearly in a league of its own. It is the only member of the United Nations that is in flagrant violation of 23 separate UN obligations.

Sir Peter Tapsell

What about Israel?

Mr. Straw

There are no sanctions against Israel. There are no mandatory resolutions against Israel. A series of resolutions apply to Israel and the occupied territories—to the Palestinians and the Arabs—and we want them all to be implemented, but we are not going to resolve the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians by military action. However, we may be in a situation in which the only way to resolve Iraq's defiance is by military action.

In any event, through the action that we are currently taking and the resolve of the international community in respect of Iraq we not only deal with Iraq but we also raise the game against all other proliferators. In my judgment, if we do that we shall ensure that compliance with international law on the non-proliferation treaty and much else besides is much easier to achieve, because those other countries will see the consequences that follow flagrant violation.

Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough)

The House will have noted the Foreign Secretary's comments on the 23 obligations with which Iraq has failed to comply. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is for the United Nations Security Council to uphold its mandatory resolutions in accordance with article 2(4), and that if the UN fails to do so it would badly let down the international community?

Mr. Straw

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. We have responsibilities, but so, too, does the whole international community, within the Security Council, have a responsibility to ensure compliance with 1441 or. if not, to take effective action.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham)

The right hon. Gentleman has characterised Iraq as the most aggressive rogue state. While that may be historically true, will he give the House what evidence he has that Iraq is now plotting aggression against its neighbours or anyone else? Why should we not be able to rely on the policies of containment and deterrence that have been effective since the last Gulf war?

Mr. Straw

The right hon. and learned Gentleman says that that may have been historically true. That is absolutely right. Of course I am relying on the history, but it is very recent history. I have not made this up, and I am relying on the fact that, during the history of Saddam Hussein's regime, which is still in place and running that country tyrannically, he has invaded two of his neighbours—both Muslim countries—Iran and Kuwait. He has launched missile attacks on five of his neighbours, including Iran and Kuwait. He has murdered hundreds and thousands of Iranians and thousands of Kuwaitis, and he has also killed thousands of his own people. He is in a league of his own. We are now asked to give the benefit of doubt to that same man, and we cannot do that.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman then asks about containment. The simple fact of the matter is that containment may well not have worked. That is why we have the inspectors. If containment had worked, the inspectors would not have faced a situation where they could not properly inspect. They had to leave in November 1998. They then said that thousands of tonnes of chemicals to make biological and chemical weapons were still unaccounted for in Iraq. That is why the onus is on Iraq to explain fully to the inspectors that it is now clean. The choice is still Iraq's, but the jury is out.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)

The policy of merging the issue of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq with the aims of the war on terrorism is no substitute for any hard evidence of weapons of mass destruction or, indeed, a link with al-Qaeda. Does the Foreign Secretary realise that many will view this attempt as disingenuous? It is also a disaster for good international relations and, in terms of protecting the people of this country, it is downright dangerous. Why does not the Foreign Secretary stop listening to the hawks in the White House and start listening to the people in this country who elected him? This latest attempt to prove that there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and the link with al-Qaeda is just futile.

Mr. Straw

I do not agree with my hon. Friend. Frankly, she is wrong. The UN Security Council, including Germany, Pakistan and Syria, unanimously said yesterday that there is a growing and serious danger of terrorist access to and use of nuclear, chemical, biological and other potentially deadly materials, and therefore a need to strengthen control on these materials". The only way—[Interruption.] Yes, of course, to strengthen control, okay, and the way to strengthen control—

Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate)

Exclusively in Iraq?

Mr. Straw

Of course not exclusively in Iraq, I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson). I have already dealt with the issue of North Korea. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson) will have to wait until I call her before she puts a question.

Mr. Straw

Meanwhile, I am happy to deal with my hon. Friend's sedentary intervention. Not exclusively in Iraq, but for the reasons that I have explained, Iraq is the worst case. I only say to her and to other hon. Friends who are uncertain about the link between international terrorism and rogue states, let us not wait until the terrorists have such material and we then have some explaining to do to our constituents. Let it not be forgotten that, certainly in the past two weeks, a very dangerous nerve gas, which cannot be produced by terrorists alone, has been discovered in this country.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

I welcome the Foreign Secretary's statement. Earlier, we had a reference to consistency, which raised a wry smile around the House because politicians and Governments have never been really successful at being consistent. Does he agree that if it has been difficult in the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, as part of the United Kingdom, to find illegal weapons that have caused tremendous destruction, it is a little naive of people to say that there is no evidence for the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? Does he also agree that it is foolish to threaten if one is not prepared to fulfil the threat if people do not respond to it because, at the end of the day, that holds the whole international community up to disdain?

Mr. Straw

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. We have to take action against the illegal holding of weapons of all kinds. That is why we, together with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development, have been very active in this country in seeking far better control of the use, marketing and manufacture of small arms.

Mr. Bill Tynan (Hamilton, South)

I hope that my right hon. Friend will forgive me if I tell him that the statement smacks of desperation—desperation to attack Iraq. He has indicated that the public accept a UN route. Does he not accept that the majority of the people of this country do not accept, and are not convinced at this time, that there is justification to declare war on Iraq? On that basis, will he ensure that public opinion is fully taken into account in any discussion with the USA?

Mr. Straw

I hope as surely as my hon. Friend does that it is possible to resolve the Iraq crisis peacefully. None of us wishes military action to be taken against Iraq unless that becomes absolutely justified and the only possible course to enforce international will, but I ask him to consider that we have to face the fact that Iraq has been in the most flagrant violation not of our rule or that of the United States, but of the rule of the UN. If the international community is to mean anything at all, it has to mean that its will can be enforced. For that reason, 15 member states of the Security Council quite voluntarily signed up to the terms of resolution 1441, including the mandatory resolution and the last paragraph, which says that there had to be serious consequences if Iraq failed to comply, and we are now following through that UN resolution.

Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid-Kent)

What discussions has the Foreign Secretary had at the UN and elsewhere with his counterparts in those countries into which our troops are about to deploy? What is his assessment of the terrorist risk that they face?

Mr. Straw

I have had many discussions. In early October last year, I visited Egypt, Kuwait, Jordan and Iran, and had detailed discussions there with the Heads of Government and Foreign Ministers. Many other discussions have been held since. All states in the middle east and the Gulf area are very well aware of the threat from terrorism, and it needs to be remembered, as I pointed out yesterday at the Security Council, that a large number of the victims of terrorism are Muslim citizens of those states.

Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North)

I am appalled at the extent to which the simplistic ideology and language of the US hard right is coming to dominate this Government, with talk of rogue states and the pretence that the most likely source from which unconditional terrorists would obtain weapons of mass destruction is Iraq.

On Iraq, while the threat of military action is undoubtedly putting pressure on Saddam Hussein to co-operate with the inspectors, is there not a danger that the build-up of massive military forces may discourage disarmament by giving him the impression that war is inevitable, while creating an unstoppable momentum towards war both militarily and politically?

Mr. Straw

None of us has to go across the Atlantic to alight on the adjective "rogue" to describe Saddam Hussein. That is being rather gentle about a man who is absolutely tyrannical in the way that he treats his own and other people, but I am happy to call Iraq a tyrannical state. Those who run those states are rogues—they are psychopathic killers—and the experience of their people is totally outwith any of our experiences.

As far as the build-up of military force is concerned I know that there are strong feelings on this issue, which will continue, as is right in a democracy—I notice that the debate has shifted, and there is now wide acceptance that Saddam must comply with his United Nations obligations, to which my hon. Friend accedes. We have only achieved the return of the inspectors because we have employed a credible threat of force. I last went to the United Nations Security Council on 10 September last year, the day on which the Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq issued a formal statement on behalf of his leader, Saddam Hussein, saying that there were no circumstances whatever in which Iraq would readmit weapons inspectors. That has changed for one reason only: a credible threat of force is being exercised. I am sorry to say that that is the only language that that tyrannical rogue understands. If there is to be a credible threat of force, the consequences are that that threat must be increased the closer one gets to its deployment. I still hope and pray that the message gets through to Saddam Hussein that the game is up and that he must now comply fully and actively with all the Security Council obligations. If he does so, there will be no military action, and no one would be more pleased about that than me.

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

Does not the Foreign Secretary recognise that the formidable UN- backed case for disarming Saddam Hussein of his weapons of mass destruction does not depend on and is not helped by an attempt to establish a link with al-Qaeda and other terrorist forces, replacing the search for the smoking gun with the search for the missing link? Surely the assembly of rogue states, failed states and proliferating states that pose a short-term and long-term threat in the assistance that they can give to terrorist movements will have to be addressed by the international community, which will have to be brought and held together in a war against terrorism. Our strategy in relation to Iraq needs to assist that war against terrorism, not undermine it.

Mr. Straw

As far as Iraq is concerned, neither I nor the Prime Minister—I refer again to the evidence that he gave to the Liaison Committee this morning—has ever suggested that we have seen any evidence of a connection between al-Qaeda and the Iraqi regime in advance of 11 September, and I have not suggested that in this House. An obvious link exists, however, between proliferators, rogue tyrannical states and terrorist organisations generally. That was part of the centrepiece of the resolution that was passed unanimously by the Security Council yesterday. It would be irresponsible not to recognise the nature of that link.

Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

I thoroughly welcome my right hon. Friend's active involvement in the counter-terrorism committee, as the widespread opinion of people in this country is that the threat of terrorism must be dealt with under the aegis of the international organisations and the United Nations. A growing concern exists that the United States insists on leading this debate in one direction, which is diminishing the authority and role of the weapons inspectors. Will he assure me that the Government are now fully complying with paragraph 10 of the resolution in respect of offering the weapons inspectors all the intelligence that they have? Will he also assure me—

Mr. Speaker

Order. One question will suffice.

Mr. Straw

Of course, I am aware of anxieties about some remarks that are sometimes heard in the United States. As far as the United States Government are concerned, however, they have been very positively in support of the United Nations. In respect of the middle east, for the first time, we have a Security Council resolution calling for a separate viable state of Palestine with their backing, which we also have in this respect. Back in August, September and October last year—right up to 7 November—many of my hon. Friends expressed grave scepticism about whether there would ever be a good Security Council resolution with United States backing. There was one, and it was backed unanimously by those countries, including Syria. I do not therefore perceive a lack of support from the United States Government, from the top downwards, for the United Nations. Whether or not it is a paradox, the Bush Administration, by their actions, happen to have been very committed to that route. We must make sure that it works.

As for paragraph 10 of resolution 1441, we are co-operating fully with the inspectors in the provision of all kinds of information to them.

Patrick Mercer (Newark)

While noting the Foreign Secretary's comments about links between Baghdad and international terrorism, and his comments about the protection of intelligence sources, none the less, open and authoritative sources are talking about organisations such as Ansar al-Islam that may be behind the ricin plot, which has fortunately been foiled. When do the Government intend to pull together the loose ends, publish the missing chapter of the dossier and convince us that the threat is real?

Mr. Straw

Because legal proceedings are pending in respect of the ricin find, I do not wish to comment further on suggestions about its provenance. On missing chapters of the dossier, I said earlier in response to the shadow Foreign Secretary that the current Government have been more forthcoming about publishing information based on intelligence than any of our predecessors, and we will be as forthcoming as we can in the future. We must ensure, however, that any information that we make publicly available compromises neither our sources—including their lives—nor the continuing flow of information.

Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet)

As long ago as February 1998, I made a speech to the House in which I pointed out that Saddam Hussein was known to have tried to acquire weapons based on camel pox, haemorrhagic conjunctivitis, human rotavirus, botulinum toxin, mycotoxin, aflotoxin, ricin and anthrax, some of which have terrorist potential. Does my right hon. Friend agree that to transfer knowledge to terrorists on how to make those materials is an act of supporting terrorism, that that is all that it is necessary to do with some of these materials—one does not have to transfer materials—and that although weapons inspectors may destroy these agents, they cannot guarantee that the process of making them has been unlearnt?

Mr. Straw

I have a feeling that I remember my hon. Friend's speech, and I will refresh my memory—I think that it was during a Home Office debate. He is right, of course, to raise the risks. The fact that that knowledge cannot be unlearnt emphasises the need for even more effective controls over those who have access to this technology than would otherwise be the case, and for a real system of law enforcement for the international will.

Angus Robertson (Moray)

I thank the Foreign Secretary for the advance copy of his statement. Like most people in the country, I commend all proportionate, consistent, ethical and just efforts to combat terrorism and rogue states, but—like the majority of people—not as a pretext for war in Iraq, and certainly not without a full debate invoked on the matter and a second United Nations Security Council resolution. If the Foreign Secretary will not listen to me about that, perhaps he will have listened to the overwhelming majority of Labour Members who have spoken following his statement.

On consistency, ethical considerations and the Foreign Secretary's concern with regard to proliferators, can he confirm whether the Government have continued to license any arms sales to the Governments of Israel, India or Pakistan?

Mr. Straw

On arms sales, we continue to issue licences for those three countries, but they are subject, as are all arms sales, to the consolidated criteria approved by the House. On the other two points, I do not know why the hon. Gentleman keeps raising the issue of a vote in the House. We have already said, as I spelt out in the debate here on 25 November, that there would be a vote on a substantive resolution on military action. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister spelt it out again this morning before the Liaison Committee, and we have also spelt out that it is our earnest hope that such a vote will take place in advance of military action. The only circumstances in which a vote would have to take place shortly after military action commenced would be if it were unsafe for our troops to have it in advance. We hope very much that it will take place in advance.

We have also said that we will seek a second resolution. That is our policy. Our preference is for a second resolution if military action is judged necessary, but to pick up a point raised earlier by one of my hon. Friends—we have to reserve the right if the Security Council itself does not live up to its responsibilities.

Mr. Tony Banks (West Ham)

When my right hon. Friend was at the UN yesterday, what discussions did he have with our European partners on this matter? What indication have they given him of the number of troops that they have deployed for possible action in Iraq?

Mr. Straw

There are four European member states on the Security Council—Germany, France, Spain and ourselves—of whom two are permanent members. Of those, the position of the United Kingdom is well known. Joschka Fischer, the German Foreign Minister and Vice-Chancellor, spelt out that there were no circumstances at all in which Germany would participate in military action even if there were a material breach. France's position was not mentioned by Dominique de Villepin, the French Foreign Minister, yesterday, but President Chirac has indicated in Paris that he would be willing to send troops to enforce the United Nations' will. I believe that Premier Aznar of Spain has done that too.

Mr. Mark Prisk (Hertford and Stortford)

At the beginning of the statement, the Foreign Secretary referred to the problem of the proliferation of weapons—whether they be conventional weapons or weapons of mass destruction—to terrorists. Does he therefore anticipate the need for any new laws to tackle this problem, or does he believe that existing controls are sufficient?

Mr. Straw

I think that the answer is that new laws will almost certainly be needed. That is why we have to have a continuing review of the effectiveness of the operation of both international and domestic law.

Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate)

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Only last week, my right hon. Friend stated that 27 January should not be regarded as a deadline. Having worked so very hard to get the UN weapons inspectors back into Iraq, why does there now seem to be a rush to get them out of Iraq and to make decisions even before they have had any chance genuinely to search that country to see whether there are any weapons?

Mr. Straw

I honestly say to my hon. Friend that no attempt whatever is being made to get the inspectors out of Iraq. The only attempt that is being made is to create an environment in which they can do their job properly. It does not depend on us, the United States or any other member of the Security Council; it all depends on the Government of Iraq. When Dr. Blix and Dr. el-Baradei went to Baghdad at the weekend, their message to the Iraqi regime was that it had to co-operate. That is the message that they are delivering.

As to next Monday's discussion, I wanted I stand by this—to ensure that people understood that resolution 1441 did not lay down in its terms that this was a deadline or the end of the inspection process. When the inspection process happens is a matter, first of all, for Saddam Hussein and his choices but, secondly, for the Security Council, which is literally the employer of Dr. Blix and Dr el-Baradei and gives them their instructions.

Mr. George Osborne (Tatton)

A couple of weeks ago, the Foreign Secretary put the chances of avoiding military action at 60:40 against. Not everyone thought that that was helpful, but it gave a clear indication of his thinking. In the light of the weapons inspectors' discoveries of the last couple of weeks, have those odds shortened?

Mr. Straw

I am not going to discuss the numbers here. What I would say to the hon. Gentleman is that the question of whether military action takes place is, in practice, in the hands of Saddam Hussein. No decisions have been taken about military action none whatever—by us or the United States and we both hope very much that no decisions will be taken. However, the choice is before Saddam Hussein. If he complies fully and completely with resolution 1441, the inspectors say so and the Security Council accepts that, that will be the end of the matter.

Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central)

Will the Foreign Secretary provide the House with a reasonable definition of terrorism and rogue states so that we can distinguish between freedom fighters—which many countries, including our own and frequently the United States, support—and terrorists? It would also enable us to establish what is a rogue state. When one was using weapons of mass destruction and chemical weapons against Iran and against its own people, it was supported by this country and particularly by the United States, but, when it stops using them, it becomes a rogue state.

Mr. Straw

I just say to my hon. Friend that it is literally untrue to say that this country supported the use of gases by Iraq. There are many myths, and it does not strengthen my hon. Friend's view on this issue, which is perhaps in contradistinction to that of his Government, to rely on information that is simply incorrect. There are very many myths but it is simply not the case—we were not in government so I could easily disavow this—that, if one looks at the record, the previous Government in the 1980s supported Iraq in the use of chemical or biological weapons.

Mr. Jones

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Straw

On my hon. Friend's invitation to me to define terrorism, I am very happy to provide him with the various definitions of terrorism laid down, for example, by this House in the Terrorism Act 2000 for which he voted or in the draft comprehensive convention on terrorism. I made the point to great approbation at the General Assembly in September last year that I do not accept that terrorists can excuse themselves by labelling themselves as freedom fighters. It is my belief that there is never justification—except in very limited circumstances—for innocent lives to be put at risk in pursuit of political ends.

Mr. Paul Marsden (Shrewsbury and Atcham)

The Foreign Secretary has said that the most aggressive rogue state is Iraq and that, to make it comply with UN resolutions, force may be required. Is he seriously suggesting to the House that by bombing Iraq and killing the innocent, that somehow Israel, which is in flagrant breach of various UN resolutions, will comply with those resolutions or that North Korea, which is now throwing out the UN inspectors and developing a nuclear bomb, will somehow be frightened into complying with the international community?

Mr. Straw

I do not begin to understand the logic of the hon. Gentleman's question. The UN charter clearly sets out and lays down that force may have to be used as a last resort to enforce its will. I have said before, and I repeat it, that we have to try every other avenue—yes, in the middle east, North Korea and Iraq—before we contemplate the use of force and, still less, use it. However, if we wish to have an effective international system that does not go the way of the UN's predecessor, the League of Nations, we have to back the will of the UN by force. It was a failure by the international community—not least, by members of my own party in the mid-1930s to back the League of Nations not over Germany but, as it happens, over Abyssinia, that led to an environment in which tyranny won.

Mr. Tom Harris (Glasgow, Cathcart)

I echo my right hon. Friend's tribute to Sir Jeremy Greenstock for the work that he and his team have done in leading the counter-terrorism committee in the UN. My right hon. Friend said in this statement that those countries that have yet to comply with the obligations placed on them by the committee will have until 31 March this year in which to do so. Can he tell us whether the UN is considering sanctions on those countries that fail to comply and, if so, what might those sanctions be?

Mr. Straw

No, the decision yesterday was that, if countries had failed to comply by 31 March, they would be reported by the counter-terrorism committee to the Security Council for non-compliance. It would then be a matter for the Security Council to decide what action, if necessary, should be taken.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. We must move on.

Back to