HC Deb 22 January 2003 vol 398 cc326-406

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Dan Norris.]

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

This is the first opportunity of the Session for the House to debate defence in the broadest context of our interests and commitments throughout the world. The last of these regular debates took place on 17 October 2002. Many themes and concerns remain unchanged, and the two major issues on which I made recent statements to the House reflect that.

Last week, I set out the Government's thinking on the request from the United States to update RAF Fylingdales for missile defence purposes. On Monday, I made a statement on contingency preparations for possible operations in Iraq. It is therefore highly appropriate that, today, the House should debate defence in the world.

It is worth setting out the United Kingdom's singular place in world affairs. The UK is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and a member of NATO, which is the world's most powerful military alliance. We stand at the heart of the European Union and we have interests far beyond its bounds. We have the fourth largest economy in the world and we are a great trading nation with global commercial interests. We belong to the Commonwealth. Just as important, family ties link us to almost every nation in the world.

The Government are well aware of our responsibilities in the world. With our allies and the wider international community, we want to make a positive contribution. We operate in several different ways: diplomatic, economic, legal, social and humanitarian mechanisms are at our disposal. They are used separately and in combination. The role of our armed forces as a force for good is essential to that.

The role of our armed forces is essential because we must be prepared to play our part in confronting threats to global peace and stability. Above all, that threat is threefold—from rogue states, terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. However, those challenges are not separate. Some rogue states support terrorism; terrorists benefit from support; both seek weapons of mass destruction. The risks of allowing the proliferation of weapons to dictators and terrorists are simply too great to ignore.

Llew Smith (Blaenau Gwent)

The Secretary of State said that weapons of mass destruction posed one of the threats. What about Israel, which has the ultimate weapons of mass destruction—nuclear weapons? Has my right hon. Friend held discussions with anyone in the Israeli Government about Mordechai Vanunu, who has been in jail for 16 years for telling the truth about Israel's nuclear capacity when all those around him were lying?

Mr. Hoon

We address our worries about proliferation to friends and allies such as Israel as well as other countries around the world. In the past, representations have been made about Mr. Vanunu on behalf of British Ministers. I am sure that those matters will be raised again with Israel.

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made clear last week, if we do not deal with the sort of threats that I outlined, the consequences will haunt future generations. We are therefore determined to counter such risks through a wide range of diplomatic and political means and ensure as far as possible that the developing threats are not realised.

We must guard against the possibility that political and diplomatic efforts will not succeed. Deterrence has been a central feature of our approach, founded largely but not exclusively on our possession of nuclear weapons. As the new chapter of the strategic defence review confirmed last year, the United Kingdom's nuclear weapons continue to play a role in deterring major strategic military threats and ultimately guaranteeing our security.

We acknowledge that we need to use all the mechanisms at our disposal. As I said to hon. Members recently, I do not rule out the possibility that in future those mechanisms will include active missile defences. If we decide to help others, we must also ensure that the United Kingdom is as secure as we can make it.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Doubtless the Secretary of State has had time to reflect on the announcement that he made last week on national missile defence. Does he believe that we are embarking on the dangerous road of extending the process, which will encourage an opposite reaction from China and other countries that are not included in it? We will thus be in a new ballistic missiles race.

Mr. Hoon

As I shall explain in due course, the point of missile defence and its potential benefit is to protect this country and its allies against a threat from rogue states—that means a state that has a limited number of ballistic missiles. The category does not include, for example, China. I shall deal with my hon. Friend's arguments in my remarks on missile defence, and allow him to intervene if he remains unsatisfied.

Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central)

Does my right hon. Friend recognise the inherent contradiction between his explanation of the central role of nuclear weapons in securing our defence and his wish to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons to other countries? Those countries might take the same view as us and believe that nuclear weapons secure their defence.

Mr. Hoon

I do not accept that there is a contradiction, not least because we are trying to protect ourselves and other friends and allies from threats from countries that might not, for example, be deterred by our possessing nuclear weapons and reserving the right to use them in specific circumstances. It is important to consider missile defence in the context of emerging threats from states that might pay no regard to the safety and welfare of their own people.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West)

On protecting our armed forces, does my right hon. Friend know about the revelations in the hearing in America on the friendly fire killing of four Canadians in an infantry unit in Afghanistan? The United States air force revealed that it had issued amphetamines to its pilots. Has the Secretary of State had an opportunity to consult the US air force about whether the practice will continue in any future military action in which our troops may be at risk? Is it our armed forces policy to issue speed to any of our personnel?

Mr. Hoon

I am aware of the allegations, which have been made during disciplinary proceedings. It is best to allow the proceedings to conclude before making specific comments. To answer my hon. Friend's second question, the Royal Air Force does not adopt such a practice.

Last October, I set out the principles that we needed to consider in order to determine our approach to missile defence. Three months of vigorous debate ensued and, on 17 December, we received a request from the United States to upgrade RAF Fylingdales for missile defence purposes. I came to the House last week to explain our preliminary view that we should accept the request.

I previously emphasised the nature of the threat that confronts us. No responsible Government would fail to give themselves and their successors at least the opportunity to defend themselves and their people against a potentially devastating attack. Nevertheless, hon. Members asked several questions last week and I shall now try to deal with them in more detail.

I do not doubt the sincerity of those who link missile defence with proliferation. However, let us consider the facts. Ballistic missiles and technology have proliferated in North Korea for many years. Iraq used weapons of mass destruction 15 years ago. No one could claim that United States efforts to develop a limited missile defence system caused those events. Surely we cannot ignore the threat to our interests that proliferation in states of concern poses. We have a comprehensive strategy to tackle the threat and we must consider the role that missile defence can play in it.

Missile defence is a defensive system that threatens no one. Indeed, it could work against proliferation. There is little point in a country spending huge amounts of money on acquiring ballistic missiles when it is faced with the probability that any missile attack would fail because of missile defence.

Some hon. Members asked about the possibility of an increased threat to RAF Fylingdales. As I said previously, states of concern that develop a few crude ballistic missiles are unlikely to want to use one of their limited number against the base.

Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North)

As I understand it, the argument was that developing missile defence would deter states such as North Korea from trying to develop missiles. Under Clinton, the US concentrated on diplomacy, and North Korea seemed to be slowing down what it was doing. Under Bush, diplomacy has made way for a concentration on missile defence. Does North Korea seem to be responding to that in a positive way?

Mr. Hoon

I do not think that my hon. Friend has grasped my argument. I suggested that, in pure deterrence terms, a country could be deterred from spending a significant proportion of national income on developing threatening ballistic missiles—as North Korea undoubtedly does—if it were to recognise that there was little or no chance of those missiles getting through.

Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate)

I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way, and I hope that he will put me right if I have failed to grasp the argument. He has said that an anti-ballistic missile system would act as a deterrent to rogue states, as they would not put money into developing their own weapons. How does that chime with mutually assured destruction, the policy adopted by the west and the Soviet Union in the cold war? Has not the defeat of the Soviet Union meant that there is a massive atomic arsenal that cannot be decommissioned with any safety? Is not that where rogue states will obtain weapons of mass destruction?

Mr. Hoon

My hon. Friend at least recognises that the debate has moved on from MAD. In the past, many colleagues—at least on the Labour Benches—consistently criticised that policy. The potential availability of missile defence to the US has encouraged that country to reduce significantly its offensive missile systems, and that reduction is something for which many Labour Members, including my hon. Friend, have worked consistently. That seems to me to be an enormous success, arising out of the efforts of the US. I am slightly surprised that my hon. Friend has not congratulated the US.

Mike Gapes (Ilford, South)


Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield)


Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North)


Mr. Hoon

I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden).

Richard Burden

If missile defence is about increasing security, should not that protection be available to all countries? If so, should it not be under international control—in other words, the UN? What on earth is the justification for its being under the control of just two states, the US and possibly Great Britain?

Mr. Hoon

The US President's statement last year indicated his willingness to extend missile defence to allies in NATO. That is certainly an extension from the original proposals, which were described as "national missile defence". The only other factual point that I would make is that a ballistic missile defence system already exists. It is located in and around the city of Moscow, and has been part of the defensive mechanisms of the former Soviet Union and Russia for many years.

Mr. Chaytor

Will my right hon. Friend clarify the argument in relation to deterrence? He has said that the debate has moved on from MAD, but also that our nuclear weapons provide an effective deterrent. However, he has also said that there are some states against which our nuclear weapons do not provide an effective deterrence. Does nuclear deterrence work, or not?

Mr. Hoon

I do not think that there is any inconsistency in the arguments that I have set out. I recognise that the UK's possession of nuclear weapons is a powerful deterrent to any country foolish enough to challenge us. On the other hand, it is equally true that there are a few states—I make no apologies for mentioning North Korea and Iraq in this connection—that have no particular regard for their own people. Such states might risk the threat of nuclear or other retaliation, regardless of the interests of their own people. It is logical to say that MAD might deter those states rational enough to recognise the risk of significant retaliation. Equally, however, there are regimes—and I have mentioned two of them—that are capable of ignoring that risk because they have no regard whatsoever for the safety and security of their people.

Mike Gapes


Jeremy Corbyn


Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South)


Mr. Hoon

I shall give way once more at this stage, to my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South (Mr. Cunningham). I shall come back to other hon. Friends later.

Mr. Cunningham

My right hon. Friend mentioned by name two states that pose a threat. What other states pose a threat?

Mr. Hoon

There are others, but the states that I named best demonstrate my point.

I was dealing with the terrorist threat to our military installations, and I emphasise that they are well guarded against such a threat. I want to dismiss the rather far-fetched idea that state-sponsored terrorists could blind the missile defence system a few minutes before a ballistic missile attack. The Fylingdales radar was designed during the cold war, when we faced the threat of military assault from the Soviet Union. It is well within the capabilities of the system to withstand a lesser threat. If we were only a few minutes away from a ballistic missile attack, I find it impossible to believe that anyone would prefer that we had done nothing to help protect us, our people or our allies.

Hon. Members have also raised the technological challenges. No one doubts that they are considerable. That is why the US has invested considerable sums in its wide-ranging research and development programme. We have worked closely with the US in that area for many years. A new technical memorandum of understanding will give us full insight into the developing missile defence programme, and allow the close involvement of British industry.

The UK benefits greatly from the role that RAF Fylingdales has played, and will continue to play, in the ballistic missile early warning system.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot)

What the Secretary of State has just said recognises that there are two components to missile defence—upgraded radar, and the interceptor that would bring down any attacking missile. The right hon. Gentleman has been somewhat opaque about Britain's participation in the interceptor programme. Will he confirm that he has not ruled out the possibility that interceptors could be based on British soil? Will he say a little more about the opportunities for British industry arising from participation in this very important US programme?

Mr. Hoon

I indicated the possibilities for British industry once the new memorandum of understanding is resolved. I shall come to the other matters raised by the hon. Gentleman in due course.

Jeremy Corbyn

I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way to me a second time. He has not convinced me of the arguments in favour of national missile defence. When he reads his speech on another day, will he reflect that many of those who wanted a Labour Government in 1997 and 2001 wanted a Government who were committed to global disarmament of nuclear weapons? My right hon. Friend has said nothing about global disarmament, but a great deal about accelerating and exacerbating a very dangerous arms race around the world.

Mr. Hoon

I am sorry that my hon. Friend feels like that. I regret that I have been unable to persuade him, although I live in hope. However, I have mentioned global disarmament. I answered an earlier question, from my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson), by setting out the importance that I attach to the Moscow treaty and the significant reduction in offensive systems agreed by the US and Russia. That seems to me to be something that should be applauded. Given my hon. Friend's record of campaigning on these matters over many years, I am slightly surprised that he has not mentioned that treaty, and congratulated the US on it.

Mr. Harold Best (Leeds, North-West)

I have been listening to my right hon. Friend, and am reminded of the film "Dr. Strangelove", which dealt with the insanity of the MAD approach. I regret that, in arguing for missile defence, my right hon. Friend seems to adopt that approach. Does he agree that the logical consequence of his argument is that more weapons systems will be evolved to overcome missile defences? Indeed, would not that be a cheaper way to develop those weapons systems?

Mr. Hoon

I rather thought that I was arguing precisely the opposite. The availability of missile defence might avoid the nightmare scenario in the Stanley Kubrick film to which my hon. Friend refers. However, it may be that we require more opportunities to debate the issue at greater length than today affords.

Mike Gapes

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Savidge

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Hoon

I have given way once to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Savidge), but I have not given way to my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes).

Mike Gapes

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the debate about these issues has moved on from the 1980s? The Reagan Administration's star wars was superseded by Clinton's talk of national missile defence; now the debate is about some form—as yet undefined—of co-operative missile defence system. In those circumstances, would it not be helpful for my right honourable Friend's Department to produce a briefing dealing with these theoretical and theological aspects of the debate because, unfortunately, a lot of the language and terminology, whether it is Dr. Strangelove or Dr. Kissinger—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal)

Order. The hon. Gentleman must bring his question to a close.

Mr. Hoon

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend; the debate has moved on significantly. Unfortunately, sometimes the arguments have not, so it is important that the work that he describes is undertaken. Whether he is better placed to do it than the Ministry of Defence is a matter for him to decide.

Mr. Savidge

My right hon. Friend has been very generous. When he boasts of the wonders of the treaty of Moscow, is he really suggesting that a four-page document, with a mass of let-out clauses in it, that does not ask for the destruction of a single missile and simply asks for them to be dismantled and put into storage, and asks that its target figures be achieved only by 31 December 2112—the date on which the treaty expires—is really that much better than the START negotiations, which were rather more positive?

Mr. Hoon

Again, I am sorry that my hon. Friend is determined to see the worst side of those agreements. It seems to me to be enormous progress that the United States and Russia have reached those agreements, and although all of us would like to see more such agreements going further than this one, this is a significant start, and one we should applaud.

I was referring to the fact that Fylingdales is controlled and staffed by the RAF, save for a single American military liaison officer. We have access to all the data relating to early warning and missile attack and for the tracking of space objects; not just that provided by Fylingdales, but from the whole system of radars and satellites. Essentially, the same arrangements would continue after the upgrade. These arrangements would include the data generated during the brief periods when Fylingdales was engaged in the more accurate missile-tracking mode required for its new mission.

Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South)

In his very interesting evidence session with the Defence Committee last week, the Secretary of State said that he could find no reasonable reason for not agreeing to the request. What will be the timing for the request to be properly consulted on and then for a decision to be made? When does he expect the upgrade to take place, and when would it be in use?

Mr. Hoon

Clearly, it is necessary for us to notify the United States formally. I said to the Committee that I anticipated that the decision would not be long delayed thereafter. As I said to the Committee, there will be a significant period of preparation and the work will be taken forward in time to meet the US deadline so that a basic system is in place for 2004–05.

Some concerns have been expressed about possible future developments and, specifically, about what is known as X-band radar. I want to make it clear that the United States has not asked us to site an X-band radar in the United Kingdom, nor are we aware of any plans to do so. Nor has the United States requested the use of interceptor sites in the United Kingdom. Interceptors would be required for missile defence coverage of Europe, although there is no need necessarily to co-locate them with the radars. The United Kingdom could, indeed, be protected by interceptors placed elsewhere in Europe, but whether the United Kingdom should acquire missile defence is a quite separate decision for the future. The immediate question is whether we should preserve the possibility of such defences ever protecting the people of the United Kingdom.

Jim Knight (South Dorset)

What is my right hon. Friend's view on theatre missile defence, an aspect of the debate that has not really surfaced? There is concern about the protection of our forces in theatre. Other countries, including some of our European partners, seem to be doing more on this subject. Are we to follow suit?

Mr. Hoon

It is certainly something about which we are concerned and it is something on which we have various co-operative development programmes with a number of allies. However, it is increasingly recognised that there is no clear distinction between what is known as theatre missile defence and the more strategic defences that I am describing. Therefore, the technological challenges are very similar as regards both. I anticipate that the United States work that is under way will inform and assist work on developing a purely theatre missile defence system.

I assured the House that the Government would agree to the request to upgrade RAF Fylingdales only if we were satisfied that ultimately it would enhance the security of the United Kingdom and the NATO alliance. An upgraded radar at RAF Fylingdales would provide us, at no cost to the United Kingdom, with a vital building block on which missile defence for this country and for our European neighbours could be developed if the need arose, and if that is what we decide.

Hugh Bayley (City of York)

What conversations has my right hon. Friend had with his opposite number in Denmark about the United States application to use the Thule base in the same way as Fylingdales? Will he be seeking to co-ordinate the response that he makes with that made by the Danish Government?

Mr. Hoon

There have been discussions; the request was issued in parallel and we continue to be in close contact with Denmark about the issues.

Ballistic missile defence is one significant response to the threat posed by rogue states, but it cannot be our only reaction. We must look also to control the proliferation of the technologies that might arm such missiles or, for that matter, other delivery systems. We are aware of several countries with an interest in acquiring a nuclear capability. Their weapons programmes are all at differing stages of development. Rather more countries already possess chemical and biological weapons and are now seeking to improve their capabilities, and a number of countries that do not yet have chemical or biological weapons harbour aspirations to acquire them.

While the nature of the real danger posed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction may vary over time, when it presents an immediate and real threat to world security, then we must act, and act decisively.

Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

My right hon. Friend refers to the threat of proliferation and the danger changing over time. It is acknowledged that Iraq was a danger in the 1980s and early 1990s, but is now in an impoverished state. Will he describe to us how Saddam Hussein might use his weapons of mass destruction now against the United Kingdom? The Falklands hero Simon Weston raised this matter this morning; he said that he, like many others, could see no positive threat to the United Kingdom from Iraq.

Mr. Hoon

Last year, the Government published a detailed dossier, drawing on a number of sources, about the threat that Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq poses. The dossier contained some detailed supporting evidence, showing that—notwithstanding the undertaking that Saddam Hussein gave at the end of the Gulf war—he has continued with programmes to develop weapons of mass destruction, including determined efforts to develop a nuclear weapon and the means of delivering one. That is a complete answer to my hon. Friend; clearly the risk is a matter of grave concern and one that we cannot ignore at this stage.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde)

The Secretary of State referred a second ago to success in the Gulf war, part of which was down to equipment built by BAE Systems. Recent press reports indicate a strained relationship between his Department and the company. Questions have been asked about orders and about the company's future and balance sheet. At a time when we are putting considerable dependence on companies such as BAE Systems, will the right honourable Gentleman say a word or two about the current situation in order to put the facts on record, as opposed to speculation?

Mr. Hoon

I assure the right hon. Gentleman that the Ministry of Defence has an excellent relationship with BAE Systems, a very successful British and international company, and one that we rely on for a great deal of our defence equipment and I anticipate will continue to rely on for many years to come. It does an excellent job on behalf of the armed forces of the United Kingdom, and we want to ensure that it continues to do so. Indeed, as soon as I am released from my responsibilities here, I have a meeting with the chief executive of BAE Systems. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that relations between the Ministry of Defence and BAE Systems are excellent.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Hoon

I give way to the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis).

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

In response to the question that the hon. Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn) posed about Iraq using weapons of mass destruction, surely there is the point made by the Prime Minister quite forcefully last week, which is that Saddam Hussein could indeed supply terrorist organisations with, for example, biological weapons that he has previously manufactured and then deny all responsibility for them when they were used.

Mr. Hoon

That is indeed a point made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, but I anticipate that hon. Members are now beginning to deliver the speech that I would like to give, if only I were given the opportunity to do so. I want to make progress.

Mr. Doug Henderson (Newcastle upon Tyne, North)

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Hoon

I will give way in due course.

Saddam Hussein's regime poses a clear threat. There can be no question of the potential for Iraq to use its weapons of mass destruction. That has already been tangibly demonstrated—it has used them on its neighbours and on its own people. The international community has for many years demonstrated its concern about the very real threat posed by Iraq's illegal weapon holdings through a series of United Nations Security Council resolutions, and most recently when the Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 1441. That resolution gives Saddam Hussein one last chance to respect the will of the international community. Experience has shown, however, that he is not a man who will do that readily. It is for that reason that the contingency planning that has been carried out by the Ministry of Defence over recent months has in the past days and weeks necessarily moved up a gear.

Mr. Doug Henderson

I am extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way, especially as he has taken so many interventions. May I raise again the point that was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West(Paul Flynn)—the Simon Weston point? Is not my right hon. Friend concerned that there is considerable anxiety among the chiefs in the forces and among the rank and file that the Government might be asking them to do something that lacks the support of the public in this country? Is not that extremely dangerous for the relationship between our political institutions and our military institutions? Would it not be better for the Government to listen to the public, listen to a lot of the advice that they are getting from the senior staffs, and get back into a containment strategy which the public understand—and if not, to go through the United Nations?

Mr. Hoon

I think that we have to treat the snapshot polls as we do such polls on other issues. However, as I understand the latest polling, it showed that when asked a question about the Government's policy and pursuit of the policy through the United Nations, the overwhelming majority of the people in this country do support what the Government are doing, and I have no doubt that that is the case. It is certainly my experience from my constituency and that seems to be the position recorded in at least the most recent poll that I have seen.

Bob Spink (Castle Point)


Mr. Chaytor


Mr. Hoon

I wish to make progress, if the House will forgive me.

On Monday I announced to the House the composition and deployment of a land force of about 26,000 servicemen and women to provide military capabilities for potential operations in Iraq. That force package will supplement the recent deployment of the amphibious task group, which itself comprises in total about 8,000 personnel. As I explained on Monday, we are also actively considering the composition of a balanced contribution from the Royal Air Force. I will update the House once decisions have been taken.

I want to deal now with the stories that hon. Members will have seen in the press, alleging that our troops are poorly equipped.

Mr. Tony Banks (West Ham)

I am sorry to add to the friendly fire falling upon my right hon. Friend and I am certainly not on speed. but may I just ask him a question? We have dispatched a quarter of our forces—26,000, he just said—as a contingency force for possible action in Iraq. Will he explain to us, because we need to understand, why it is that our European partners do not appear to share that concern? They do not appear to have deployed any of their troops. Could my right honourable Friend suggest why their perspective on the matter seems radically to differ from that of the British Government?

Mr. Hoon

I do not accept that it does radically differ. The only European nation that has specifically ruled out the use of force is Germany. Before they have seen the evidence from the weapons inspectors, all other countries, undoubtedly reflecting their different constitutional arrangements, are at various stages in the political process to decide whether or not they would participate, so I do not accept my hon. Friend's assertion that there is any lack of support for the position that the United Kingdom Government has set out.

Bob Russell (Colchester)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hoon

No; I need to make progress, if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me.

I want to reassure the House and the country that British personnel deployed on operations will be properly equipped by the Ministry of Defence, and fully capable of fulfilling the tasks that may be required of them. They will be properly equipped to deal with the environmental conditions that they face. The Ministry of Defence has long had contracts in place to ensure that sufficient stocks of desert clothing and boots are available very quickly. It is simply not practical or sensible to hold, on a permanent basis, vast stocks of clothing for every conceivable operational environment. If we did, we would be rightly accused of wasteful spending. For example, we already hold substantial stocks of desert boots, and are taking delivery of thousands more. The same is true of desert trousers and jackets; we expect an early delivery of 90,000 more of each.

The operational modification programme for the Challenger 2 tank and the AS90 self-propelled guns, improving efficiency in desert conditions by adding side skirts and improving air filtration systems, is now in progress. It will continue while the equipment is in transit, and on arrival in theatre if required. All combat and close support troops will be equipped with the modified and highly reliable SA80 A2 rifle.

Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk)

I am very grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way, and this is a helpful intervention. Can he assure the House that all British armed forces have been equipped with the latest A2 version of the SA80?

Mr. Hoon

If the hon. Gentleman had been listening, he would have heard me say that all combat and close support troops would be equipped with the modified rifle, and that is the position.

The protection of our troops is an absolute priority. Contrary to press speculation, our ability to protect and operate in a nuclear, biological or chemical environment is second to none. Our training and equipment mean that we are prepared to meet this threat if necessary, and make a proportionately serious response should anyone use such weapons against us.

Our combat identification procedures are effective. This is about new technology, situational awareness, target identification, tactics, techniques and procedures. Specific provision has been and is being made to minimise the risks of friendly fire, but the House will understand why I should not go into the specific detail.

New potential operations and new security challenges inevitably result in new requirements, such as those identified through Exercise Saif Sareea. Work to address those has taken place over the last few months, and is now nearing completion.

I hope that hon. Members will not allow misleading and tendentious press reports to divert attention from the fact that our armed forces will be prepared, in all respects, for what we may ask of them.

This significant deployment of credible military capability underlines the United Kingdom's determination to work with our allies to disarm Saddam Hussein's Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction. We do not take these decisions to deploy lightly or easily, but with caution and circumspection.

Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford)

On that point, is pre-emption now officially part of the defence policy of this country?

Mr. Hoon

I have always emphasised, as has every other Minister addressing these questions, that whatever action we take must be within international law, and it has always seemed to me—straying into my former occupation for a while—that pre-emption is simply a form of self-defence, and that is the basis on which it could be and would be justifiable in international law.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Hoon

Indeed, for those who doubt this proposition there are a number of examples of pre-emption as long ago as the 19th century, when these principles of international law were developing.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)

The Government are a member of the United Nations, and the United Nations specifically prohibits pre-emptive and defensive strikes against countries that are not threatening us. What is the threat from Iraq?

Mr. Hoon

I refer my hon. Friend to what I said a few moments ago. The United Nations charter specifically allows for self-defence in article 51, and that is the basis on which I would rest our case.

We are dealing with a regime that has defied a series of United Nations obligations for more than a decade. We are dealing with a regime that has authorised the use, with lethal effect, of appalling weapons both within and beyond its borders. We are dealing with the very real danger that its illegal weapons could find their way into the hands of international terrorists.

As a responsible member of the international community and of the UN Security Council, we must deal with the threat of weapons of mass destruction. In the case of Iraq, we are pursuing that policy through the deployment of a significant force to the Gulf region. We are doing this as part of a process of long and careful deliberation about how best to coerce Saddam Hussein into disarming. We believe that that is the right action to take—that it is the most effective means of achieving our aims, which are in the interests of the Iraqi people and, more widely, of the Gulf region as a whole.

Not just the security of the middle east is at stake, however. If Iraq is allowed to develop its chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programmes it will send a signal to other nations, encouraging them to defy non-proliferation standards. Our policy on Iraq must be seen as part of a global non-proliferation effort.

Mr. Chaytor

May I return to the question of self-defence? Does my right hon. Friend think that the first use of British nuclear weapons in Iraq could be defended under international law on the grounds that it was a form of self-defence?

Mr. Hoon

I do not consider that helpful, and I will not become involved in a debate about it at this stage. The Prime Minister made it clear yesterday that there were limited circumstances in which he might contemplate the use of such weapons, but that they would be extreme circumstances involving self-defence. That has always been, and remains, the policy of the British Government.

I emphasise that we have not yet made any decision to commit our forces to conflict. All our actions have been motivated by the strongest desire to avoid war; no steps under way cannot be stopped should a peaceful solution prevail. We are confident, however, that those who deploy to the region will, in their actions, enhance the outstanding reputation of the United Kingdom's armed forces as a force for good in what is an increasingly uncertain world. They will leave with our strong support, and our best wishes for a safe and speedy return.

Iraq is not the only issue that we and the international community must confront. We should be in no doubt that international terrorism remains a real and potent danger to both the wider world and the people of the United Kingdom. The determination of groups such as al-Qaeda to obtain chemical and other weapons of mass destruction is well known. We know that terrorists will use such weapons. The House will recall that AUM Shinriko attacked the Tokyo subway with sarin nerve gas in March 1995. Given the opportunity, terrorists will use these weapons again. The recent arrests and discovery of attempts to produce ricin here in the United Kingdom have shown that we cannot afford to be complacent.

That is not the only reason why we remain committed to the campaign against international terrorism, however. There can be no illusions about terrorists: they will try to damage us in any way they can. Al-Qaeda's attacks in New York, Bali and Mombasa did not rely on weapons of mass destruction, but the House knows the devastation and loss of innocent lives they caused.

My right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Ministry of Defence will say more about our contribution to the global coalition's campaign against international terrorism, but I remind the House that on 16 October 2001 the Government defined their objectives for that campaign. I want to mention two of them specifically. First, the United Kingdom will do everything possible to eliminate the threat posed by international terrorism. Secondly, it will renew efforts to bear down on the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. I assure the House that our armed forces will play their full part in achieving both those aims, seeking to eliminate terrorism as a force in international affairs.

Llew Smith

If the Government decide to nuke Iraq, will that reduce the possibility of establishing a more democratic regime?

Mr. Hoon

I am rather sorry that I gave way to my hon. Friend. I have already dealt with the first part of his question, and he can deal with the second part himself by consulting the objectives of our policy on Iraq as set out recently by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. My right hon. Friend said specifically that one of those objectives was to restore a representative Government in Iraq, which I consider a proper policy objective.

I do not intend to overlook the military contributions that we are making elsewhere. We remain committed to safeguarding peace and stability in the Balkans. We have more than 1,500 troops serving in Kosovo and another 1,400 in Bosnia, representing a significant commitment to aiding the people of the region. The agreement of Berlin Plus at the Copenhagen European Council opened the way for the European Union to have access to NATO's planning facilities, assets and capabilities, and it will allow the European Union to take on NATO's operational tasks in Macedonia and Bosnia. The strategic relationship between the EU and the NATO alliance with regard to crisis management is now a reality.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex)

Now that the Secretary of State says that the strategic alliance between the European Union and NATO is a reality, can he tell us which operations will be carried out by NATO and which will be carried out by means of the European security and defence policy?

Mr. Hoon

Those are clearly matters for discussion and negotiation among members of the international community, many of which—like the United Kingdom—are part of both arrangements and will therefore have an influential voice. What interests me more—the hon. Gentleman may be able to tell us about it in a few moments—is whether his party now supports those arrangements. As he has opposed them consistently so far, I assume that in the interests of consistency he will continue to do so.

Military operations are significant, but if our armed forces are to be a force for good we must also support and maintain the right security structures and systems. That is why we welcome the recent developments in the North Atlantic Alliance. The Prague summit in November gave renewed impetus with regard to capabilities, command and force structures, modernisation of the NATO bureaucracy and partnership. It also invited seven nations to begin accession negotiations. That is evidence—if evidence were needed—of the continuing relevance, health and vitality of the alliance, for the invited countries know that the alliance is both resilient and flexible in responding to the demands of a fast-changing strategic setting. They want to be part of that alliance.

Member states are also committed to dealing with military capability gaps. The new NATO response force promises to sharpen the cutting edge of the extremely successful high readiness force structure, and the command structure is undergoing fundamental review, making it leaner, more effective and more focused on what really matters in a post-cold war world confronted by proliferation, rogue states and terrorism.

The House may know of NATO's announcement this morning that Lord Robertson will step down as Secretary-General at the end of the year. Let me take this opportunity to express our gratitude for his huge contribution to NATO, and particularly to its modernisation and adaptation, during his time in office.

It is rightly not unusual in defence debates to praise the men and women of the armed forces. The praise is deserved, because they are essential if the United Kingdom is to carry out the responsibilities that our position in the world demands. Without them we could not act to help maintain international peace and security in the face of the dangers, including those presented by weapons of mass destruction and international terrorism. We do not take our armed forces lightly or for granted, because theirs is not an easy job. What we recognise is that they excel in whatever tasks they undertake. That excellence will continue as they prepare to face the risks and dangers of an increasingly uncertain and unpredictable world.

2.38 pm
Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex)

The Secretary of State has made an important speech. It is a shame, perhaps, that it has been overshadowed by other Government announcements today. I hope it receives the publicity that it deserves. We believe the endorsement of missile defence upgrading at Fylingdales is an important decision. I have little to add to what the Secretary of State has said about missile defence, except our welcome for that decision.

The Secretary of State has some explaining to do to his own party—not, I hasten to add, from his own point of view. To his credit, I do not think he is on record as ever having opposed missile defence, but his party was clearly opposed to it in principle, and a champion of the anti-ballistic missile treaty. It will take time for some of his colleagues to become used to the new Government position.

I understand why the right hon. Gentleman wants to go on avoiding the question of whether Britain will participate in the United States global missile defence programme. I do not think that it benefits the United Kingdom to go on avoiding that decision as the right hon. Gentleman attempted to avoid the previous one. I think that he is about as likely to turn down the American request for Fylingdales as to turn down the opportunity to participate in missile defence. The only sad thing is that British—industry the British defence industry—will lose out as a result of the Government's failure to participate enthusiastically in the missile defence programme as it develops. There is also the possibility that we will lose the opportunity to influence the architecture of the system, which we might yet influence to our advantage and that of Europe.

This debate, entitled "Defence in the World", will inevitably be largely preoccupied with the deployments of British forces now under way, and it is very clear that a large number of right hon. and hon. Members wish to speak. As a courtesy to them, I shall try to keep my comments as brief as possible.

The Opposition have consistently supported the broad thrust of the Government's policy of diplomacy, backed by force, against Iraq ever since the Prime Minister first made his position known in the summer, and we continue to do so.

Bob Russell

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way as twice the Secretary of State would not do so. I shall ask him the question that I would have asked the Secretary of State. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the popular support in the country for our armed forces should not be read as popular support for the Government's adventure in Iraq?

Mr. Jenkin

I shall come later in my comments to the question of popular support for the Government's policy on Iraq because it is extremely important, and I am sure that it exercises the Government as much as anyone else.

The Prime Minister is right to maintain, however, that action must be taken to deal with the growing threat posed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. In particular, questions remain about the accurate, full, and complete declaration of weapons capabilities provided by Iraq to the UN on 7 December, as required in paragraph 3 of resolution 1441, from which I quote. The head of the UN inspectors, Hans Blix, has already stated that the documentation contains gaps. Paragraph 4 of the resolution makes it clear how that omission can lead to a material breach. We are still waiting to find out whether the Government believe that there is, or will be, a material breach of resolution 1441.

Our support for the Government, however, is not unconditional. No Prime Minister should—we do not believe that this one will—ever commit Britain to military action on the say-so of another country, even the United States. The Government need to make the case for military action on its own merits if it becomes necessary and make the case that disarming Iraq is in the interests of the British people. We believe that to be so.

Furthermore, if military action becomes necessary, it is certainly preferable that the Government make an effort to achieve the clearest UN endorsement and that will have our fullest support, but a second resolution is not a prerequisite. The danger is that in such circumstances Britain could find its hands tied. The interests of one nation on the Security Council may lead to the interests of the British people being vetoed. There is a precedent: when Britain acted to free the people of Kosovo, Russia would never have agreed to support a UN resolution on that matter. In that case, Britain joined a coalition to free that nation's people from terror. It would be worrying if Britain could not take such principled action again.

Joan Ruddock

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there was a very clear moral imperative in the case that he cites? Present and immediate genocide was under way. That is not the case at present in Iraq, as far as I am aware.

Mr. Jenkin

It is interesting to discuss what motivates military intervention. I submit that there was not only genocide, but a direct threat to the stability of our continent. We are in very dangerous territory. Why not, for example, immediately authorise a military intervention in Zimbabwe, where a massive humanitarian crisis is being inflicted on its people by a vicious tyrant? Why does the hon. Lady believe that a country such as Iraq obtaining weapons of mass destruction and having relationships with terrorist organisations is something from which we can simply walk away? We cannot.

It would be worrying if Britain could not take such principled action again. Military action would still depend on a broad international consensus, particularly among those nations that border Iraq, and provided that any military action remains within international law, we must be prepared to take such action. Now that the Government have committed themselves to a very major deployment, there are many questions that we could ask, including many that I do not expect them to answer, but it would surely help the House if they could clarify some issues.

The Secretary of State did not answer my questions about the command arrangements for British forces in the Gulf. We have read a certain amount about that in the press, and I should be grateful to him if he could inform the House at some stage. Similarly, the Government did not say where the main element of United Kingdom forces would be deployed. Again, at some stage, I am sure that the Secretary of State will wish to ensure that the House is informed. It is important that the public should understand that, although UK forces will operate under overall US command, the UK command can nevertheless retain the discretion to act as a partner rather than a servant of US military commanders.

The force is clearly configured to sustain itself for a considerable period. There should be no doubt about the magnitude of the commitment that the United Kingdom is taking on. If war is avoided—we still hope that it will be—how long might the presence of substantial UK land forces be required? If there is military action, how long will UK forces be committed, and on what scale, to deal with the aftermath of war? After Afghanistan, the Prime Minister assured the people there that we would not just walk away. Does the deployment for a much bigger operation indicate a similar long-term commitment on behalf of western nations?

Bob Spink

My hon. Friend is right to take that line. Does he agree that we should be preparing for political solutions post-Saddam in Iraq, as well as for the possibility of military action there? Does he welcome the fact that the Kurdistan National Assembly reconvened in October? Does he think that we should give more support, recognition and encouragement to such bodies, so that they come forward in Iraq?

Mr. Jenkin

I am anxious not to place prescriptions on the Government, but we have pressed them to be clearer about what they envisage might happen if the Saddam regime collapses, or if Saddam Hussein flees the country or is defeated militarily. In particular, we are anxious to know what role British aid policy will play in the event of such circumstances, and the Secretary of State for International Development has been pretty silent so far on those eventualities.

Yesterday, the Foreign Secretary said in concluding his statement on global terrorism and Iraq: 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."—[Official Report, 21 January 2003; Vol. 398, c. 168.] That statement suggests that Britain is preparing seriously to increase our role as an international policeman. I ask the Minister to tell us in his winding-up speech whether that is the intention. Even if it is not, the deployment raises very serious questions about the sustainability and overstretch of the British armed forces.

Half the Army and a very substantial part of the other two services are now deployed on operations. The Army in particular will take some years to recover the stability of its training and readiness cycle. Is it not now clear that the Army is too small to meet the sustained challenges we now face? It is a sad comment on the Government's commitment to the armed forces that the Army recruiting group should have run out of money at such a time.

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire)

What is the Opposition's position on the role of being an international policeman? How do they tie that in with military action being legitimate only in defence of national interests, as was argued earlier? International policing could go well beyond anything that was a matter of national interest.

Mr. Jenkin

The hon. Gentleman raises a very pertinent question. It really is about adjusting to the new strategic climate in which we now have to operate. The question whether we should play a greater role in international affairs, particularly with our armed forces, must be very much regulated by what we are prepared to spend on defence. The Government must be prepared to match the military commitments they take on with the resources necessary to fulfil those commitments. I question whether that is the case on a sustainable basis at present.

On the other question of the whole climate and how we respond to the new strategic environment in which we now live, I will make some comments later that will address the hon. Gentleman's point.

Hugh Bayley

The hon. Gentleman complains that the armed forces are too small to deal with the tasks they face. Does he not recall that in the last 10 years that his party was in power defence spending was cut by a third, but under our party it has increased each year? Will the hon. Gentleman give a commitment that his party will match pound for pound our party's spending on defence?

Mr. Jenkin

It is unfortunate that on an occasion such as this, when such serious issues are under discussion, the hon. Gentleman should start scoring political points. However, if he wants to trade party political points. I could say that the size of the armed forces has continued to shrink under the present Government, despite the radically changed strategic climate that we are now in. I do not recall his party objecting to any of the reductions in the armed forces that took place under "Options for Change" during the 1990s. On the contrary, I remember his party constantly urging the Government to cut more than we did.

The question that we now need to face is whether we are spending enough to enable our armed forces to meet the commitments that the Government place upon them. There is no doubt that the strategic defence review was premised on an increase in expenditure that was not delivered, and that we are now fulfilling many more military commitments around the world than was originally envisaged.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

Is not the most significant point about the attitude of scores of Labour Members that they are in favour of expenditure on defence forces only as long as those forces are never used? Given that Saddam is both a pathological killer and a proven liar, is it not regrettable that substantial numbers of Labour and Liberal Democrat. Members can offer us only an exercise in sustained hand-wringing?

Mr. Jenkin

My hon. Friend's point makes itself.

With such a large overseas deployment, what is the position of the armed forces left at home, and what sort of circumstances do they face?

For example, the Government have deployed the First Battalion of the Royal Tank Regiment, a nuclear, biological and chemical warfare regiment. That is obviously an appropriate element to deploy to this operation. But what NBC cover is left at home to deal with a potential terrorist attack? Do the Government begin to detect something of a morale problem in line regiments and other frontline forces, which find themselves confined to firefighting and possibly another tour in Northern Ireland for as far as the eye can see?

We are constantly told that the opinion polls show a majority of the British public to be opposed to war. Such polls inevitably depend upon the nature of the question and the timing. No civilised human being wants a war. At this time President Bush and the Prime Minister are seeking to avoid a war. It nevertheless remains one of the biggest challenges the Government face to ensure that the nation will be in true support of our armed forces if the time comes for military action.

The Prime Minister has been passionate in the advocacy of his policy, but, periodically, he has been drawing on different arguments. The need to stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction begs the question: why Iraq and not North Korea? There is no doubt about North Korea's nuclear weapons and long-range missiles programmes—it boasts about them. Moreover, last week the Secretary of State said that North Korea might be able to strike directly at the United Kingdom within weeks.

The Government have also published a dossier on Saddam Hussein's human rights record. That certainly strengthens the moral case, against Saddam Hussein. The hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) might reflect on that. For some, it is certainly a pretext for intervention. If so, why not publish, as I asked earlier, an equivalent dossier on human rights in Zimbabwe? Only recently have the Government started to set out the arguments about links between Saddam Hussein's Iraq, weapons of mass destruction and international terrorism.

Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate)


Paul Flynn (Newport, West)


Mr. Jenkin

What a choice! I give way to the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson).

Glenda Jackson

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman has made the best choice.

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, and indeed my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary in his most recent statement, have been at some pains to point out that there is no evidence linking Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda, where does the hon. Gentleman obtain his evidence for making a direct link between Iraq and international terror as we have experienced it?

Mr. Jenkin

The hon. Lady must have kept herself rather immune from much of the speculation in the press, which is probably based upon sound judgment that there are substantial links between Saddam Hussein and terrorist networks. Saddam Hussein has worked with al-Qaeda in the past and he has sheltered known terrorists. He is today assisting certain terrorist movements. The hon. Lady would have to be blind to have missed that fact. The Government need to make that fact clearer.

Glenda Jackson

As I heard one of my hon. Friends say from a sedentary position. there must be a lot of very blind people here.

The hon. Gentleman referred to Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden working together. I should point out to him that Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein have both worked with, and been funded and supported by, the United States of America.

Mr. Jenkin

I certainly think that the latter was a mistake, and that the Government would admit that it was a mistake. I have heard representatives of the United States Government admit that it was a mistake. The important fact is that, for example, the 1993 al-Qaeda attack on the twin towers was known to have been supported by Saddam Hussein. Most particularly—

Paul Flynn


Mr. Jenkin

I should like to finish the point.

Saddam Hussein was the only world leader at the time to welcome the destruction of the twin towers in New York and the attacks on the Pentagon.

Paul Flynn

I think that the hon. Gentleman was in the House when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence was asked precisely whether there was any proof of collaboration between the Iraqi regime and al-Qaeda. My right hon. Friend said quite specifically that there was absolutely no evidence of any link between Saddam Hussein and what happened on 11 September.

Mr. Jenkin

The hon. Gentleman is entitled to put these questions to his own Government. After all, it is the recent arrests of suspected terrorists in this country, along with the discovery of materials contaminated with the lethal poison ricin, that seem to have galvanised the Prime Minister and his Government to make the link between terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and rogue states.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Jenkin

I wish to make progress. I do not want to detain the House unnecessarily.

During the cold war the west successfully developed a clear doctrine of nuclear deterrence to contain the Soviet threat. It helped to explain to people throughout Europe and the free world the basis for deploying weapons such as Trident. Cruise and Pershing nuclear missiles. Similarly, British counter-terrorist doctrine served this country well after 1945 in such campaigns as Borneo, Malaya and Oman, and, most significantly, against terrorism in Northern Ireland.

Winning the argument is as much a part of modern warfare as winning the war itself. Now we are fighting a war against terrorism, but the Government have not yet succeeded in articulating a comprehensive doctrine for it. There is clearly need for new strategic thinking to meet new strategic twin threats—international terrorist networks linked to rogue states developing weapons of mass destruction.

On 17 October, I set out to the House what the basis of such a strategy might be. The Foreign Secretary's statement yesterday and the new UN resolution on terrorism would appear to be the first steps towards a more comprehensive approach to international terrorism and rogue states. It needs to be fleshed out, but the argument for threatening and, if necessary, using military force against Saddam Hussein can be won with the broad majority of the British people. It is asking far more of our troops than is reasonable to face military action if there is doubt that the nation is behind them. But the job of explaining would be much easier if people could see that the actions that the Government are taking are in a clear, coherent context of policy and doctrine that shows how the leading democracies of the world are acting rationally and in the wider interests of world peace and stability.

Llew Smith

Putting aside the obvious links between the United States and Iraq, does the hon. Gentleman think that it was somewhat of a mistake for the previous Tory Administration, in particular the Department of Trade and Industry, to encourage the export of military equipment to Iraq, as was highlighted and concluded in the Scott inquiry?

Mr. Jenkin

That point is entirely irrelevant to the debate.

The Secretary of State also addressed the question of the NATO summit, and this is the first opportunity that we have had to address the outcome of the Prague summit. I certainly join him in congratulating the noble Lord Robertson on his term of office as Secretary-General of NATO. He has been seeing NATO through an extremely challenging period and has maintained, so far, its relevance, supremacy and centrality to the security of our nation and our continent.

We remain sceptical about some aspects of the outcome of the Prague summit, particularly about the effectiveness of the commitments to increase military capabilities without targeted increases in defence expenditure. We welcome the creation of the NATO rapid response force, although the composition of that force remains unclear. But have the Government truly resolved the institutional relationship between NATO and the EU? I point out to the Secretary of State that the so called Berlin plus agreement is said to be the basis of the new settlement, but Berlin plus was coined at the 1996 Berlin summit when that referred to the European security and defence identity, long before the ESDP had been conceived and long before the ESDP included non-NATO EU members in the arrangements.

The question that I put to the Secretary of State and to which he could not give a clear answer remains. Who decides whether an operation falls to NATO or the ESDP? Every time a crisis arises, there will be a complex and lengthy political question to resolve—whether that crisis requires European military intervention. I raise that now briefly only because future events are bound to expose the problems.

This is an anxious time for many servicemen and women and their families. The time is approaching when we may need to resolve our differences in the House with a debate, a specific resolution and a vote. If that time comes and we resolve to support military action, that will be the time when we must all give our armed forces our fullest support. They are a beacon of excellence to other nations. They believe in our country. Once a decision has been made we must back them with faith in our own judgment.

Several hon. Members


Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. I remind all hon. Members that Mr. Speaker has imposed a 10-minute limit on all Back-Bench speeches.

3.4 pm

Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews (Medway)

The Secretary of State in his opening address to the House set out a list of the dangers that face the world. It was a succinct and clear list and one with which many of us would agree. It contained one glaring omission, which is this: the existence of a single, uncontested, uncontrolled superpower, and the nature of the illegal regime that is presently in control of that country.

There are many in the House and outside it who realise that within America lies the solution, but also within America lies the principal problem. There are many in the House and outside it who understand that within America lies the principal cause for hope, and within America lies the principal cause for apprehension. That American paradox is something that I have lived with all my life.

There is no country on the globe that has a greater breadth of internal freedoms, and there is no country on the globe that is more reviled for the perception—very often the accurate perception—that it actively denies those freedoms to others, and the present example of that, transparently, is the Palestinian Arabs. No country in the world in my lifetime has done more for the cause of peace—and I have in mind the Marshall plan which has underpinned economically the peace that we have enjoyed in Europe—and no country in my lifetime has been a greater cause for war.

There is no country at the moment more committed to the war on the abstract noun "terrorism", and yet there is no country in the world in my lifetime that has given aid, succour and encouragement to more terrorist groups, more military dictatorships and more rogue states.

To simply take a list in no particular order, one recollects the corrupt Diem regime in Vietnam; the military overthrow of the democratically elected Government of Salvador Allende; and the support of the Contra guerrillas in Nicaragua. One recollects now, as we speak, the support for the Sudanese People's Liberation Army, one of the vilest terrorist organisations that are operating in Africa. One recollects the unalloyed support of Saddam Hussein in his war against Iran. In those days, the United Nations weapons inspectors need have gone no further than the Customs of the United States, or even, possibly, the Customs at Dover. One now sees the unalloyed support of the war criminal Ariel Sharon. As was memorably said in the last debate by an Opposition Member, every single Israeli bullet that kills a Palestinian is paid for in the United States.

We would therefore urge the Secretary of State to understand the depth of feeling that there is on this side of the debate and the argument about the nature of the regime that is leading us to war in Iraq. The opposition to the war is not based upon an approbation of Saddam Hussein. On the contrary: it is based on a total aversion to Saddam Hussein. I myself have a total loathing, more than anything else, for authoritarian Governments, which is one of the reasons why I occasionally have so much trouble with our own. Nor is our opposition based—I really ask the Secretary of State and the Government to cease this accusation in public against those who oppose the present war in Iraq—on some form of anti-Americanism in itself.

My family, I am proud to say, fulfilled a number of roles in their generation in the second world war. They never let me forget as a child the debt that we owed to American men and women and to America. Subsequently, when I had the great privilege to debate in many universities in that country during the course of the Vietnam war, I came away not with an aversion to America because of that war, which I loathed, but with an enormous respect and love for American institutions, American vitality and American freedoms.

Those on this side of the House and on this side of the argument—who knows whether the two may yet be synonymous—do not harbour within us festering anti-American feelings. Our opposition is to the nature of the American regime, which is as bad as any that I can remember within that paradox. It is ruled, governed and motivated by a ghastly mixture of fundamental Christian evangelism, ruthless Zionism and the oil economy. That mix, if it is allowed to rule us in our international affairs, will bring us nothing but disaster.

Those of us who oppose this war do so because we believe that it is ill-proven and unnecessary—I am neither by nature nor by inclination a pacifist. If I may respond to the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), who accused me by implication of "hand wringing", I have never done such a thing. If I had coherent evidence that there were weapons of mass destruction trained on my constituents in Medway my opposition to the war would not be based on any form of clammy, wet liberalism. There is no such evidence, however; on the contrary, the evidence points directly against us. The motivation for this war is suspect in the extreme, and those outside the House know that it is so.

Will the Government exercise the considerable influence that they rightly have in Washington to ensure that the progress of the middle east is immensely enhanced by the withdrawal of support for Israel and its present repression of the Palestinian people? At a stroke, that will remove the principal causus belli and the underpinning of terrorism in the world that threatens both them and us. Will the Government also exercise their considerable influence and use the massive sum of £5 billion, which they threaten to expend on this war, in the middle east and particularly in Iraq to give health and succour—and political succour to those who oppose the Iraqi regime? That is not impossible. It was done in Kosovo, as we were reminded only recently. To starve and force Saddam Hussein into submission, although possible, would be done at a terrible price for world peace and for world security. To feed that country back into democracy should be the aim of all of us. I hope that the Secretary of State and Her Majesty's Government understand that those feelings and those sentiments are the basis for much of the opposition here and in the country.

3.13 pm
Mr. Colin Breed (South-East Cornwall)

First, I apologise for the absence of my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch), who is at the moment returning from a visit to Kuwait.

There have been very few times in recent years when there has been such worldwide uncertainty and unease owing to a range of perceptible international threats. Central to this collective sentiment is the prospect of an imminent conflict with Iraq, coupled with the shadow of international terrorism that has already spread over a large number of different countries, and the long-standing problems in the middle east. I associate myself with many of the comments of the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) about Israel and Palestine, which I have visited recently. I have considerable sympathy with his views.

The debate could focus on many different aspects of defence in the world, but the Secretary of State implied in his statement last week that this would be the occasion for the House to debate his proposals in dealing with the request from the US to upgrade the early warning radar at Fylingdales for missile defence. The country and the House also rightly expect to have an opportunity to debate in depth current Government policy in respect of Iraq. The point must be made that if the Government believe that missile defence merits the attention of the House, time should also be set aside for a debate on Iraq. Likewise, the time afforded in today's debate is in no way sufficient to address all the strategic and political questions inherent in many of the significant decisions that will have to be taken in the next few weeks and months. How we are to deal with Iraq, and whether or not to participate in the US missile defence programme may both be subjects covered by "defence in the world", but both need separate consideration, and my party has considerable concerns about Government policy on each.

As announced this week, the deployment of more than 30,000 troops to the Gulf is unique in size and has proceeded without any debate or vote in this House. The Secretary of State will be only too well aware that many consider this to be yet another example of proceeding down a predetermined route in conjunction with the United States. Although he has properly emphasised on many occasions that war is not inevitable, realistically, such actions reduce options and increase pressure to use those forces.

The Prime Minister has emphasised that time must be given for the weapons inspectors to undertake their tasks. We entirely agree with that. It therefore seems at the very least somewhat premature to deploy such a large force at this time, bearing in mind the significant logistical support that will be required over the prolonged period. The Secretary of State seemed to indicate in his statement earlier this week that a force of this size can be maintained in theatre indefinitely, but that is not a view shared by many other experienced commentators. Is it realistic to think that our troops can be maintained over a prolonged period, to enable inspections to be fully completed and weapons inspectors' reports to be received and considered, before any action is taken?

I welcome the Secretary of State's statement on Monday that a substantive vote in the House would precede any commitment of British troops. That has considerable public support. What would happen, however, if the House were to vote no or with only a relatively small majority in favour? Could we realistically opt out of any operation if the Government chose not to support a US-led invasion? Are we not so operationally tied in to the United States plans that if President Bush gives the word, we will have no real alternative but to follow?

As regards the preparations for the deployment of our troops, there are many questions concerning the quality of the regulation kit, the capability of tanks and helicopters to operate under desert conditions and the position in hospitals at home once military medical staff have been deployed. The time available to make the modifications to the equipment and artillery seems, at best, to be extremely tight, with little or no opportunity for full testing to ensure that the alternations have been successful. In particular, the communications problems identified in Oman are very significant so much so that the National Audit Office declared a capability gap until 2004. In an increasingly technological world, communications are clearly vital. Will the Secretary of State or the Minister who winds up the debate confirm just how our forces will talk to each other on the battlefield?

As has been said, it is impossible to exclude entirely the possibility of incidents of friendly fire in warfare. However, everything should be done to ensure that they are reduced to the absolute minimum, so will the Minister indicate what identification friend or foe—IFF—upgrades are not yet complete and what preparations are in hand to ensure that British tanks are not bombed by US planes?

I briefly want to mention defence medical services where the shortfalls in capability are perhaps most stark. Considerable pressure is being placed on the reservists to fulfil other international peacekeeping commitments—let alone those in the middle east. Ministry of Defence hospital units are understaffed and locums are employed to take up the slack. Even the use of private hospitals to treat service members is beginning to fail to cope with the situation. In my local district general hospital at Derriford in Plymouth, the deployment of military medical staff has already brought the closure of a 35-bed surgical ward. I am therefore extremely concerned that any further deployment of such staff will have even more profound effects on a hospital that is already struggling to cope with other related problems.

I applaud the staff and managers alike at Derriford for their manful attempts to keep all hospital services running as normal, but further reductions in key medical staff will inevitably mean that patient care is compromised and that waiting lists will lengthen. What contingency plans have been made by the Ministry of Defence, in conjunction with the Department of Health, to spread the pressure more evenly, so that particular hospitals that have a higher than normal proportion of military medical staff are supported by other units that are not so greatly affected?

I turn now to missile defence. Can the Minister explain the seemingly incredible rush to judgment on an issue that is of huge strategic and political importance? It seems only a matter of days since the Secretary of State received the formal request from the United States, yet here he is, inviting consultation on the one hand, while wishing to sanction the request at the very earliest opportunity on the other. If, indeed, the decision to allow the US to upgrade the radar station at Fylingdales in no way commits us to participate in the US programme, why did the Secretary of State feel the need to make such a lengthy statement extolling the virtues of missile defence if his only purpose was to announce a simple software upgrade? His Department's public discussion document was published just before the Christmas recess, but already a number of serious questions about our participation in a future US programme remain unanswered.

First, is any agreement to this upgrade truly "not at odds with the view of our allies"? The NATO Prague summit agreed to examine options for different kinds of missile defence; it certainly did not issue a statement in favour of the development of a US programme. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with our allies and what do they really think of this US request? What are the terms of the memorandum of understanding that the MOD is apparently negotiating with the US on access to the American missile defence programme? This is an important aspect of any technological integration and needs to be more clearly explained.

Many strategic and technological dimensions to the missile system are not well understood, and the hasty deployment of any system must carry political and strategic consequences, not least among other nuclear powers and for the integrity of the non-proliferation regime. Will the Government set out the clear criteria by which they seem to have already judged their decision on this matter? The Foreign Office deserves recognition for its role in promoting the new Hague code of conduct against ballistic missile proliferation, so are the Government satisfied that this, and other non-proliferation measures, will not be undermined by the missile defence system, whether at the instigation of the US alone or the US with others?

What is certain, however, is that missile defence is not an option just yet, and that the dangers of proliferation represented by North Korea, Iran and Libya, which the MOD consultation document discusses at length, are problems that have to be dealt with now with the tools currently available. Does the Minister agree that, regardless of the development of future defensive measures, the best way to reduce the threat from ballistic missiles is to strengthen the international non-proliferation and monitoring regimes?

I began by saying that we live in an uncertain world. It is unlikely that a war on Iraq will eradicate the fight against international terrorism in one fell swoop. The next few months will be a defining time for the UN and the countries that support it. The threats to world peace now offer far more complex challenges to all countries and their Governments. The UK has played a significant role in the defence of the world and the maintenance of peace, and it must continue to do so using its influence, patience and long-standing policy of military force as the very last resort, having exhausted all other avenues to peace. The British Government must hold on to those principles in the face of what appears to be considerable pressure for more immediate action. They must ensure that firm political control is maintained over their armed forces so that any future decision on their use is retained and not compromised by their deployment as part of an international force.

3.25 pm
Mr. John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan)

I welcome the opportunity to speak in this important debate. As we do not have much time, I shall raise only a couple of points that the Government should consider. Obviously, Iraq is the main focus of our attention, but the debate is about defence in the world. I share the views of the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) to the extent that I, too, am not certain that the Government have fully appreciated the change in the security environment, especially after 11 September.

We all welcomed the new chapter in the strategic defence review and it has made an important contribution to defence thinking in this country. I am not convinced, however, that we have gone far enough. Perhaps that is understandable. The events of 11 September were so unequalled and horrendous that their consequences have not fully sunk in. It was a unique event in human history because it was an attack on a civilian population that was not directly involved in a conflict, disagreement or warfare. No notice of the attack was given. Asymmetrical weapons—non-traditional methods—were used. No one seriously predicted that such a thing would happen. We should bear in mind the fact that the terrorists targeted 50,000 people, not the 3,000 who were killed. It was only a combination of luck and circumstances that so few died.

It should also be borne in mind that the evidence shows that the target of the previous attack on the twin towers some years earlier, which was not taken seriously, was an unbelievable 300,000 innocent civilians. The intention was to blow up the basement of one tower and for it to fall in such a way that it would have a domino effect and destroy half of Manhattan. The planned attack may have been unworkable and unrealistic, but the fact is that it was proposed, and on a scale that we had never heard of before. That has to affect our defence thinking. I am delighted that NATO addressed the problem in the Berlin-plus arrangements by developing a counter-terrorist strategy and a rapid response force, which is important, but we have a long way to go. This country can make a unique contribution to the debate in the changed security environment because of our bitter experience of fighting terrorism over the past 30 years within our isles.

I am worried that in my discussions with the Americans as part of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, of which I am proud and privileged to be a member representing this Parliament, it has become clear that their response does not fully grasp the scale of the security threat that we face throughout the world. We should use our close alliance with that country to get the message across.

I do not have time to develop all these ideas, but I will hint at a couple. The Americans believe that Europe, and they include us in Europe, does not take terrorism seriously after their experience of 11 September. They think that we are soft on terrorists and that we are not prepared to take the tough decisions necessary to sort them out. My reaction is that the Americans have not had the same experience of dealing with terrorists that we have had, and they make a fundamental mistake if they think that the solution to international terrorism is purely military.

That is a lesson that the United Kingdom and other countries in Europe have had to learn the hard way, and we would make a mistake if we did not use those lessons now to tackle international terrorism. Our American military counterparts talk about the changed environment after the cold war, but I do not think that they fully grasp the changed environment after 11 September.

We should also take into consideration the psychology of the United States since 11 September. The average American citizen is terrified. It is some time since the attacks on Washington and New York, but the people there feel physically threatened 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We should be aware of that in any debate about these issues.

The world has changed. We should not—this has been the case since the end of the cold war—take the traditional views of defence policy and military tactics, as portrayed classically by Clausewitz. We should not look at the military tactics set out by Tsun Tsu, or at guerrilla tactics or at the tactics of deception; we should consider the military tactics of Michael Collins in a world environment in which there is access to apocalyptic and elliptic weapons. That is the challenge that we face, and we need to tackle it in a completely new way. I hope that the Government will consider that in due course.

As a founder member of the campaign against repression in Iraq, which was launched just after Saddam Hussein usurped power, I have supported regime change in Iraq since long before it was popular to do so. We argued that that man and his country would be a threat in years to come if we went on selling weapons to him and doing business with him. We all made a big mistake in doing that, but that does not change the fact that he must be dealt with now.

Since 11 September and the threat of mass international terrorism, which takes an unprecedented form, the need to deal with Saddam Hussein has become even more pressing. What has changed is not the threat that he poses but the environment in which he makes that threat and the fact that there are people who will take advantage of, and use, the weapons that he has developed and that he is prepared to develop.

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore)

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Smith

No, I am running out of time.

We should not believe for one second that Saddam Hussein would be going along with the weapons inspectorate if forces were not building up as they are. That man only understands violence and the politics of brute force and power. That is why he has acted, and if we took away the threat, he would stop.

There are those who want to argue in favour of Saddam Hussein—I can think of examples—and say that he is a reasonable, rational man. Someone who, despite being called the defender of the faith by some, can order that the most senior Muslim cleric in his country is arrested, that the man's wife is systematically raped in his presence, that his facial hair is set on fire and that 4 in nails are hammered into his skull while he is still conscious, is not someone with whom any of us can do business. Somebody in that position who has weapons of mass destruction has to be dealt with. My view is that he can be dealt with without a war. He understands power, and if we build up forces and present a serious and credible threat, he will know what to do. I remain hopeful that we can avoid war—I hope and pray that we do. We are going the right way about preventing a war that none of us wants.

Finally, our brave soldiers have embarked on a journey to that part of the world and could face great direct danger, although I hope that they do not. I am glad that anthrax vaccinations have been given to them well in advance of a move forward to the front line. I understand that a lot of soldiers have not taken up the option of vaccination, but may decide to do so later. Will the Minister assure me that the Government will not use pertussis vaccinations as they did last time to speed up the effectiveness—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord)

Order. The hon. Gentleman's time is up.

3.36 pm
Mr. David Atkinson (Bournemouth, East)

I want to make three points to which I would appreciate a response from the Minister in his winding-up speech, and shall then speak about missile defence and Iraq.

First, an inter-parliamentary dimension in European security and defence policy has, as the House knows, been maintained for more than 50 years by the Assembly of the Western European Union. It remains the only way in which directly elected members of 28 national Parliaments can co-ordinate a response to current issues with an input and influence that are impossible for national Parliaments to achieve on their own. With the assets of the WEU now being merged with those of the European Union, it is expected that the fate of its Assembly will be decided at next year's intergovernmental conference. Meanwhile, the Assembly's budget has been cut by 30 per cent., reducing both the quality and quantity of its input. Will the Minister tell the House if he considers that an interparliamentary dimension to European defence policy should be maintained and, if so, how? With the long experience of the WEU Assembly, why reinvent the wheel?

Secondly, further to the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack), can the Minister clarify what the Secretary of State meant when he reportedly told journalists last week that BAE Systems is not a British company and can expect no favours from the Government? If BAE Systems is not British, what is it? Its headquarters are in Britain; its senior management must be British; the majority of board members must be British; the British Government holds the golden share in the company; 50,000 of its employees are based in Britain; a good many more people have jobs supplying BAE, including some in my constituency; half its turnover originates in Britain; and it is Britain's largest defence contractor. Is the Secretary of State saying that that will all be disregarded when contracts are placed, or can the Minister assure us that British jobs matter?

Thirdly, will the Minister respond to the concerns of a constituent who complained to me that his son, who serves in the Royal Marines and is going to the Gulf, has to pay nearly £500 to buy kit, including a sleeping bag, back pack, combat knife and desert boots, which the Marines either cannot supply or, my constituent says, supply as old, worn and second-hand rubbish"? Will he get his money back?

For the past 10 years, I have been the rapporteur for the WEU Assembly on transatlantic co-operation on ballistic missile defence. Following fact-finding visits to the USA and Canada by the Technological and Aerospace Committee in 1994, 1997 and 2000, we presented three reports that were unanimously endorsed by the Assembly, and I shared with the House our principal conclusion that Europe remains defenceless against a ballistic missile attack. Moreover, we are concerned that neither the WEU nor NATO has a firm, clear and coherent response policy. I am therefore encouraged by the Secretary of State's statement to the House last Thursday and by his speech today that he has agreed to upgrade Fylingdales for missile defence. In my view, that decision must be the start of a clear commitment to the development of a missile defence system for the continent of Europe in which the Russian Federation should be invited to participate.

Even before his election, President Bush was clear in his support of a national missile defence system in response to the Tenet report of 1999, in which the then director of central intelligence warned that, in the next 15 years, American cities would face ballistic missile threats from a variety of sources. Some experts even warn that such threats could come much sooner. That warning also applies to this country and Europe. When the Secretary of State said last Thursday that the threat was a combination of intention and capability, he was right also to point out that intentions can change with Governments, that Governments can change overnight and that capability can change as soon as Governments decide to purchase such capability.

In the past 25 years, ballistic missiles have been used to destroy, threaten and intimidate in Europe, the near east, the middle east and Asia. They can affect whole economies and impact on foreign policies. Today, a growing number of third-world Governments are buying and developing missiles. They are easier to maintain and cheaper to acquire than squadrons of fighter aircraft. At least 18 such countries, which are ignoring the missile control regime, have ballistic missiles on which nuclear, biological, chemical and radiological warheads are capable of installation.

Let us remind ourselves that this country was the first in history to experience a ballistic missile attack. It came from the V2 rockets that rained down on our capital city, killing some 2,500 Londoners, and against which we had no defence. I am sorry that some Labour Members representing London seats do not recall that.

Mr. Mark Hendrick (Preston)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that people who speak out against missile defence should be asked whether they would have spoken out against the development of radar during the second world war and in the run-up to it? Would those who did so on the basis that it might have upset the Germans and destabilised relationships with Germany and England say the same thing today?

Mr. Atkinson

Thank God we developed radar and the Spitfire, which managed to defeat the Nazi forces ranged against us. Surely, common prudence and sense should encourage us in the United Kingdom to accept the American offer of a missile defence shield and to contribute to it.

I come now to Iraq. Yesterday, the House was lobbied by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament against a war with Iraq. Those involved were right to lobby and to do so now, but they were wrong to lobby us. They should all have been in Baghdad, outside one of Saddam's many palaces, demanding that he disarm his weapons of mass destruction in response to resolution 1441 and all the other United Nations mandatory resolutions that have called on him to do so over the past 12 years. The issue today is not the threat of war against Iraq, but the threat posed by Iraq to the authority of the United Nations. Since CND would not have been allowed to lobby Iraq, the question that it should have been asking us yesterday was how much longer we in this House were prepared to allow the United Nations to be undermined in such a way, demonstrating to Israel and others that it can be ignored with impunity. If CND and some Labour Members really support the United Nations, they should recall that it was the failure of the League of Nations to demonstrate any will against the dictators that led to the second world war. If we do not enforce the will of the United Nations today, it will be even more difficult to do so tomorrow.

Glenda Jackson

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Atkinson

I am glad to give way to the hon. Lady.

Glenda Jackson

I am most grateful. If it is the will of the United Nations not to accord a second mandate authorising military action against Iraq, and if the United States and the United Kingdom ignore that will and engage in a pre-emptive strike against Iraq, would the hon. Gentleman regard that as an endorsement of international law?

Mr. Atkinson

I ask the hon. Lady to wait for a little more of what I have to say. I am sure that I shall provide her with the answer that she seeks.

I applaud the Prime Minister and President Bush for now insisting that time must run out for Saddam Hussein. They were right to insist that resolution 1441 warn of the consequences of Iraq's failure to disarm. They are right, in learning the lessons of the past, to build up a force which, if Saddam does not comply, will do that for him. I must say to the Father of the House, the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), for whom I have the greatest respect, that it is Saddam Hussein and not the Prime Minister and President Bush who should be hauled before an international tribunal and charged with crimes of war and genocide.

It will be for Hans Blix, when he goes before the Security Council on Monday, to say whether he needs more time, but I have no doubt that he will conclude what is already clear: Iraq has continued to ignore the will of the world community. In that case, the United Nations must insist under a new resolution that Saddam disarms or departs. If he refuses to do so, or if for reasons of narrow, national, ideological self-interest on the part of other dictatorial regimes such a new resolution is not passed or is vetoed, resolution 1441 remains to be enforced by force. Long-term peace on this planet will be at stake if it is not.

3.46 pm
Mr. Marsha Singh (Bradford, West)

I am pleased to take part in this debate. As we approach war with Iraq, it is worth remembering that there are more than 30 conflicts in the world at the moment. As we continue with the war against terror, it is worth remembering some of the causes of terror. During this debate, it is worth remembering some of our responsibilities for the situation in the world today.

In India, for example, we were responsible for partition, and we left behind the dispute in Kashmir. There have been three wars between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, and two have recently been averted. Just last year, 1 million men faced each other across the border between Pakistan and India. Thousands of Kashmiris have died in their struggle for self-determination. Despite countless United Nations resolutions—people talk about UN resolutions—what response has there been from the international community? The answer is that there has been no concerted international response to resolve the dispute in Kashmir peacefully.

The result is two nuclear powers facing each other with barely concealed hostility and aggression. What has been the international response to that and to the near war last year? Our response has been to try to sell India 16 Hawk fighter training aircraft. Russia's recent response has been to sign a multi-million pound deal to sell and lease long-range strategic bombers and nuclear-powered submarines. What price defence in the world?

In Palestine, we were responsible for the creation of the state of Israel. Again, despite UN resolution after UN resolution, the Palestinian people still have no homeland or compensation. Indeed, in direct defiance of the UN, Israel continues to occupy Palestine. Hundreds of Israelis and many thousands of Palestinians have died. Palestinians are living the life of the refugee—or worse—in their own homeland. That has gone on for more than 50 years. What is the response of the international community? It has turned a blind eye and ignored the plight of the Palestinian people.

But there has been a response. Britain has licensed components for F-16 fighters to be sold to Israel, despite the fact that it regularly uses them to attack Palestinians. Germany recently announced the sale of Patriot missiles to Israel; God knows what the United States sells it. With such policies, what price defence in the world?

In the 1980s, we armed Saddam Hussein to fight Iran. We turned a blind eye to his use of chemical weapons against Iranians, never mind his own people. We are responsible for that. Again in the 1980s, the US poured arms into the mujaheddin to fight the Government of Afghanistan and the Soviet Union. The Taliban inherited the weaponry, and the policies led to recent events in Afghanistan. Was that a price worth paying?

Let us consider terrorism. We all know what it is, but is there room for grey areas? Should the war on terror be all embracing? After being ignored by the international community, those who take up the armed struggle in Kashmir see themselves as freedom fighters for self-determination. Palestinians who take up the armed struggle perceive themselves to be freedom fighters, fighting the illegal occupation of their country. More recently, Chechens have regarded themselves as freedom fighters for independence. What is the difference between those people, who have a national cause, and the French resistance? What is the difference between them and the African National Congress? Were ANC members terrorists or freedom fighters? We need to examine our actions—and inaction—which have led to what we call terrorism today.

In the war against terror, the international community cannot continue to ignore legitimate aspirations. Indeed, if we do that we can never win the war against terror.

Mr. Eric Joyce (Falkirk, West)

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Singh


As we prepare for the war on Iraq, I question the logic behind it. It appears to be that Saddam Hussein possesses weapons of mass destruction and that he must therefore disarm or be attacked. That is strange and dangerous logic. If we follow it to its conclusion, do we wage war against every country with weapons of mass destruction? If not, how do we pick and choose? Do we go to war with North Korea, Pakistan, China, India and former Soviet republics?

Mr. Joyce

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Singh

No. If we do not follow our logic, how do we get those countries to disarm? Where do we go after Iraq if we follow the logic to its conclusion?

I have tried, but I find no justification for a war against Iraq. I find that the Muslim world, not only part of it, is completely bemused. It asks why United Nations resolutions are enforced against Iraq but not against Israel; why Palestinians are not given their homeland, and why that is not a priority for the international community. Muslims are asking, "Why is Kashmir not a priority for the international community?" They are bemused, and they have every right to be.

Saddam Hussein has been contained since 1991. He has not posed a realistic threat to anyone since then. Apart from Kuwait, none of Saddam's neighbours has asked us to attack Iraq, or offered to help us. How is Iraq an imminent danger to this country? Will someone please answer that question? No other significant world leader backs the US in this war. Do other leaders see something that we do not?

I do not see why we should spend billions on a war that cannot be justified, when our own people have economic needs, or why we should damage our political and economic relations with the Muslim world. I cannot countenance the deaths of service people and of thousands of innocent Iraqis in this pointless war. I see the danger of regional instability. I agree with the ordinary men and women on the streets of this country who ask, "What has this war got to do with us?"

The best defence in the world is peace. To get peace, we need conflict resolution in the trouble spots. We need to halt the arms trade, cancel third world debt and encourage good and transparent Government. We need disarmament, and we should lead by example.

3.56 pm
Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South)

I am delighted to get the opportunity to speak in this debate. I echo the sentiments of the Secretary of State and the Conservative Front-Bench spokesman in paying tribute to Lord Robertson. I am desperately sorry that he could not be persuaded to take a second term as NATO Secretary-General. I think that all of us would have welcomed that, and that we all appreciate his work in bringing NATO together and making it a more positive force than it has been for some time, especially from a political point of view. He will be sadly missed, and a very tough act to follow.

I also congratulate the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) on his speech. I am disappointed that he is not present just now. I share many of the sentiments that he expressed, and I am sure that many other hon. Members do too. I am a member of the NATO parliamentary assembly, and I am always amazed by the extent to which members of the US Senate and Congress fail to understand why so much of the rest of the world has a problem with the actions that America has taken. In the US, American citizens are even more resentful of the fact that a sizable chunk of the rest of the world does not always perceive their country as a power for good.

The hon. and learned Member for Medway and I are the same age. We grew up seeing the goodness that can come from the US, as well as the awful mistakes made over the past 50 years by various Administrations. I grew up in Portsmouth, and I have often stood on the beach and on the old town's fortifications to wave off Navy and other personnel, among them members of my own family. My earliest recollection is of waving my father off to the Korean war, along with thousands of other servicemen.

A week or so ago, I was there to see the Ark Royal leave. The crowds were as big as usual. Various television crews were interviewing Portsmouth residents and the families of the service men and women on the aircraft carrier. Not a person there did not wish the crew all the best and godspeed, and hope that all of them returned safely. There was no dissenting voice to be heard.

For the first time in my experience, however, I heard serious doubts being raised by the families of the service personnel, in response to questions asked by the domestic and foreign media crews recording the occasion, about the logic and the aims of what those young men and women were being sent to do. Serious questions were asked. My local newspaper has supported the armed forces historically, and still does, but its editorial that week was very questioning of the Government's motives. We need to examine and get answers to these serious questions.

Since 1996, there have been outstanding UN resolutions concerning attacks on Iraq that would have given the same mandate as the Government now suggest they need to use force in Iraq. However, there was no move to enforce those UN resolutions. For some mysterious reason, five or six years elapsed. If one were really cynical, one might think that someone explained to President Bush in the middle of last year that it was going to be very unlikely that he was going to catch Osama bin Laden, which would be a real failure for his Administration and for him. Perhaps he needed a target that was more achievable than the capture of bin Laden. There was then the zeroing-in on Iraq.

The British people, have rightly, demanded that the evidence be forthcoming. Earlier this week, I asked the Secretary of State whether he was satisfied that the right message was being given to people inside Iraq and in the surrounding countries as to why we were sending 30,000 men and women to the Gulf for a potential war with Iraq. He said that he believed it was. That is different from what one hears when one talks to people from the region.

I was in my hospital in Portsmouth at the end of last week, where I spoke to an Iraqi who works there and who told me his family's story about the situation there. I spoke to another Iraqi—a UK citizen, but a former citizen of Iraq who has been in the UK for more than 25 years—who told me of the spin that is put on this subject inside Iraq. Little or no effort is being made to put the Government's case, or the United States Government's case, to the people of Iraq. There is a great deal of ignorance. We will not win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people by convincing the dissidents outside Iraq of the justification of the case. The main bulk of the people within Iraq do not understand or appreciate the sentiments that the Prime Minister and others portray time and time again.

Today, the Secretary of State virtually dismissed the public opinion polls; he said that he had seen the latest one. He cannot have seen The Guardian poll, which was quite clear; 47 per cent. of the British people said that they were not in favour of a war and 81 per cent. said that they would not support a war unless there were a second resolution. The Prime Minister had a question and answer session with Select Committee chairmen, a newspaper report of which said: But again Tony knows best. He said yesterday that the new UN resolution would be "desirable", but that the UN will not be allowed to stand in the way of dealing with Saddam Hussein. The British people have a right to know exactly what that means; the Prime Minister has had many opportunities to explain it. Does it mean that the Germans, who will chair the Security Council from the end of this month—they do not have a veto but are vital in terms of bringing the subject on to the agenda—will say no? Does it mean that the Germans do not believe that we are ready and that the inspectors need more time? Or will it be France, which has a veto on the Security Council and might exercise it? What is the Prime Minister's response? What does he mean when he says, "We are not going to allow the UN to stand in the way of dealing with Saddam Hussein"?

Huw Irranca-Davies

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hancock

We do not have enough time to take interventions and, to be fair—[HON.MEMBERS: "We get injury time."] If we get injury time, I welcome the opportunity of giving way.

Huw Irranca-Davies

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way; the time that I take will be added on at the end of his speech. While I and many others agree that it would be good to have a second resolution, what would be the Liberal Democrat position if all bar one of the United Nations members said that they agreed that there was a case for tackling Saddam Hussein?

Mr. Hancock

That will largely depend on who the one is and their reason for objecting. What the hon. Gentleman has got from me is a lot closer to an answer than anything that any of us have got from the Prime Minister. If the Prime Minister had gone that far, I think that some of us would have been appreciative, but sadly he has not even been prepared to take that question on.

Are we convinced as a nation that we have given all the information that is available to us to the UN inspectors? Has the United States given the UN inspectors the best possible chance to achieve their goal? It is very difficult to get anyone to give a straight answer to that question. If we are sending people to a country such as Iraq—in some instances possibly even putting their lives on the line—to seek out information, and we claim as a nation and a Government, as does the United States, that we have that evidence, and that it is strong and compelling enough for us to send 30,000 people halfway around the world to fight a war, have we left it to the 300 or 400 people on the ground in Iraq to prove it? The answer is that the Government have not given the House an assurance that they have made that information available.

Mr. Joyce

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that if there were such excellent intelligence, if it were given to 400 people it might just possibly be compromised in one way or another?

Mr. Hancock

The likelihood of compromise is always there; our own Security Service has been compromised many times in the past 50 years in various ways. However, if we are to take on a whole country, we must also define the targets that we shall bomb. Presumably those targets will he where we suspect the weapons to be hidden, and I think that we have a right to expect the inspectors to have at least a level playing field in which to operate.

In the few minutes remaining to me, I want to mention the current debate, in the House and in my city, over the future contracts for the two aircraft carriers. The matter is unrelated to Iraq, but it does affect jobs in our area. At the end of the day, the Government will have to decide whether BAE Systems or Thales gets the contracts, and they must make their choice for the right reason, for the right price and for the right product. We need to know that the decision is based on those criteria and not on a vendetta between the Secretary of State and the chief executive of BAE Systems, or on the fact that BAE Systems has done a good wrecking job by suggesting that Thales is a foreign company, although it is itself 54 per cent. controlled by people outside the UK. The Government must insist that the successful contractor live up to the expectations of the House, of the Government and, more important, work forces in shipyards all round the country, and that work for those carriers is evenly spread around the United Kingdom, which of course includes Vosper Thornycroft in Portsmouth.

4.8 pm

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)

Today the German Chancellor and the French President have pledged to work together to prevent a war in Iraq, and the contrast between their courage in standing up to the United States, and our Government's position could not be greater.

Resolution 1441 is not a resolution for war. It does not authorise military action and the Government know that it does not. It does not contain the automatic trigger that the United States wanted; it simply requires that the Security Council must meet if a breach is thought to have taken place.

Mr. Gerald Howarth

indicated dissent.

Mrs. Mahon

The Opposition spokesman shakes his head.

From the moment that resolution 1441 was passed, both the United States and our Government have sought to interpret it as a vote to make war possible, and not a vote for peace. It has not brought the United States back under the umbrella of international law, as many hoped that it would, and the central issue remains: will the British Government defend international law, and by that I mean the charter—not a resolution that has been arrived at by arm twisting, by bribing, by intimidation—which says that when we are not being threatened we should not pre-emptively attack? Or will that fall as a result of United States muscle?

Throughout all this, the Government have refused to recognise the dangers inherent in allowing an unchecked US superpower to set the international agenda. I thank my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) for a brilliant speech about that; I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Singh). Both set out the position with great clarity.

It is a shame that the Prime Minister appears to be set on following President Bush. I think that the Government have shown a great deal of dishonesty in today's debate, and a great deal of cowardice. Not for the first time, they are not prepared to put their position to the vote—but we will call a vote today. I believe that this is our last chance to do so before a war against Iraq.

The Government know that they are prepared to take Britain into a war with Iraq if, or should I say when, President Bush decides to go, and they are prepared to do so regardless of the UN. I believe that when the Prime Minister visited the ranch in Texas he promised that he would give that support. A deception has been carried on for months. I think the Government are too cowardly to face up to opposition among the electorate and admit the truth. They are too cowardly to face up to opposition within their own party, and they are too cowardly to face up to the hostility expressed by many of our constituents.

It is worth going back to the Security Council, many of whose members were against any kind of resolution. They wanted the weapons inspectors to return. During the negotiations on resolution 1441, they supported France's proposal committing Washington to seeking Security Council authorisation. The United States had to do an awful lot of arm twisting to get the resolution through. I think I know why it succeeded.

Some may recall what happened in 1991, when Yemen dared to vote against the first Gulf war. The United States made sure that it withdrew all aid from that impoverished country, and persuaded the Saudis to send the guest workers back, thus wrecking the country's economy. The United States wields enormous economic as well as military clout, and things are no different today. We are left relying on Germany and France, which might be able to use its veto. I think that China will be threatened with the withdrawal of trade with America, on which it relies heavily. The Russians, of course, are worried about oil contracts.

The truth is that the United States, being the only superpower, is corrupting the one international organisation that we should all be protecting. We should be honest about the UN charter: it does not provide for pre-emptive attacks.

I want to say a little about why the United States is going to all this trouble to wage war on Iraq. The point has been well made that the US could not catch Osama bin Laden of al-Qaeda, and needs another villain. But when we talk about Iraq, it is also worth talking about oil. The United States already imports 50 per cent. of the oil that it needs, and that need will increase in the next 20 years. According to the Cheney report—named after the American Vice-President—America will need to import more than 60 per cent. more oil in 2020 than it imports today.

Oil is not just an old bit of economic policy; it is indispensable to a modern economy. The protection of oil is a central plank of America's foreign policy. Washington says it wants to eliminate any threat of interruption of the flow of oil, to ensure that it will be accessible to US oil companies and will not be controlled by Russia, China or any European firms. A different and more compliant Government in Iraq would make that possible.

The Americans say that weapons of mass destruction, not regime change, are the issue. Sometimes they change their minds; we hear different versions. We must ask ourselves, why we would bomb Iraq if some weapons were found. Why have we sent the inspectors in? Have we not sent them in to destroy the weapons if they find any? Why do we have to slaughter hundreds and thousands of innocent civilians if we can get at the weapons and contain the regime? The latest UN figures on projected casualties and refugees make war absolutely unthinkable. How much will going to war so that America can get access to oil cost this country?

Mr. Joyce

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Mahon

No, I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman. He can make his own war-like speech, and I am sure that he will.

How many more recruits will al-Qaeda have if we go to war? What strategy have we to deal with the huge numbers of Kurds and Iraqis who will seek asylum in Britain? When will the Secretary of State for International Development come to tell us about contingency plans? Should the Government be putting taxpayers' money into a needless war when they say that we cannot afford decent public services and when our firefighters are going on strike? Today, we have introduced proposals that will make the price so high that those from low-income families cannot go to the best universities in the country, regardless of talent.

War is not a computer game. I advise my hon. Friends, particularly those who want to sit here and send our young service men and women to war, to read "War Brought us Here"—a Save the Children report on what happens to the children and many millions of innocent victims when we decide to unleash such weaponry on civilians.

I remind the House that it is civilians who die now in any war. People 20,000 ft in the air are relatively safe. Sitting in an inadequate bunker, trying to protect children, or trying to put them to bed somewhere so that they might be alive in the morning, is entirely different. I cannot bear to think about the sheer terror of the parents and mothers in Baghdad at the moment, as the most awesome force in the world surrounds their country and makes ever-more threatening noises.

Little publicity has been given to the civilians who died in Afghanistan. Those people seem to be invisible. I asked the Library how many civilians had died during the successful war in Afghanistan. I believe that the jury is still well and truly out on whether it was a success. Professor Marc Herold of the university of New Hampshire has estimated that, as of 16 January 2003, there have been between 3,100 and 3,600 civilians deaths as a consequence of the US-led war in Afghanistan. Some people think that the figures might be as high as 8,000. The victims of cluster bombs, daisy cutters and depleted uranium should not be invisible. Now and again, we should visit them and have a look at them.

I get tired of people saying that we would not defend ourselves, and I want to give the last word to a man who defended his country. He is one of the bravest men and one of my heroes—after my father. Simon Weston says: This war is wrong. Where is the proof? There is no heart for this one. There is no belief. Do not take us into a war without the British people believing in it, and I think that they do not.

4.18 pm
Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Mid-Bedfordshire)

The speech made by the hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) has one virtue: consistency. I do not share her anti-United States feelings, but I do wish to concentrate on the possible war in Iraq.

Some 17 years ago, on 6 June 1985, I warned the House of the dangers of Iraq and similar states. I said that if nuclear war ever broke out it would be initiated not by the superpowers but by a nation without any sense of responsibility, where power is concentrated in the hands of the evil, the insane, or the bigoted dictator".—[Official Report, 6 June 1985; Vol. 80, c. 537.] I mention that not as a matter of self-appreciation, but because when I argue that although a war against Iraq may become a necessary continuation of political means but that I am not convinced that it has yet been proved necessary, I do so in the clear appreciation that Saddam Hussein constitutes a malevolent threat that cannot be ignored.

In terms of international law, Iraq compounds substantial and undeniable violations in many different areas in ways few states can match. Saddam Hussein has used chemical and biological weapons, and, given the leakage of fissile material from the former Soviet Union, it is likely that he is very close to producing atomic weapons. I am in no doubt that he must be denied the ability to do us harm, and if in that process he and his regime are destroyed, hardly anyone anywhere in the world, including the Arab world, will weep.

However, can a defensive war really be justified on the grounds of possibility? Is there a greater threat from Iraq now than there was before 11 September 2001, and what new evidence is there of proven links between the Iraqi regime and al-Qaeda? I accept that it is impossible to disclose publicly all intelligence without endangering the very sources of that intelligence. But if that vital intelligence exists, it should, as I proposed to the Prime Minister last week, at the very least be made available to the Intelligence and Security Committee, a Committee that the Prime Minister accepts does not leak. To date the Government have not made the case for war or done enough to dispel the impression of the inevitability of a possibly unnecessary war.

So for me the essential questions remain, and asking them should be interpreted as an act not of disloyalty to the armed forces, to which I once belonged, but of rational concern for our enlightened self-interest.

They are as follows. First, can we achieve what our own safety compels us to achieve, short of war? Can we, by showing continued determination and reasoned restraint, make less likely a fundamentalist Islamic backlash manufactured by the political rhetoric of victimisation? If there is a chance that all we need can be delivered without the death of thousands of oppressed Iraqis, should we not at least try all these political possibilities?

We must acknowledge that, however surgical and technologically inspired a war in Iraq may be, however careful we are to safeguard our own troops and accurately target our own munitions, many in Iraq will perish or lose their families, their homes or their livelihood. Saddam Hussein will undoubtedly continue to place legitimate military targets close to population centres, and we shall have to destroy those targets in order to safeguard our own personnel. Every television company will broadcast to the world, including the Arab world, harrowing pictures of the human catastrophe that warfare leaves in its wake, and the closer war comes to Baghdad, the greater will be the innocent casualties.

I have no doubt that pressure on Iraq, reinforced by the clear threat of military action, is necessary. I have no doubt that Saddam Hussein must not labour under any misapprehension as to international determination. But I believe that before the final decision is taken, we should intensify the pressure on the Iraqi regime so that we can achieve what we need without Iraqi and British lives being lost.

So what measures could we consider? I should like to suggest just a few. First, the no-fly zone should cover the whole of Iraq for all Iraqi military fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft, and friendly aircraft should have complete freedom to roam those skies and destroy any Iraqi military aircraft that leaves the ground.

Secondly, all Iraqi military installations should be listed, and its military personnel and equipment should be required to return to barracks or agreed positions. Any major military excursion should be met by immediate force.

There should be no limit on the number of weapons inspectors or on their capacity to carry out their tasks and there should be no time constraint. At the discretion of the inspectors, interviews with Iraqi personnel should be in private and take place outside Iraq. We must make, what Saddam Hussein will never make—every attempt to protect the lives of the innocent, be they our own people threatened by the upsurge of Islamic terrorism, or those who have for so long been oppressed in Iraq.

If we can achieve what is necessary by peaceful, albeit admittedly, draconian means, that is clearly preferable. The Iraqi regime must be in no doubt that non-compliance would reap dire repercussions, but it is in our own interests that we demonstrate that war is our last resort.

If Iraq is to return to the amity of nations, it will not be enough to disarm it and leave. Much has been said about the need for the future state of Iraq to retain, after any action, the shape and form that it has now. Such decisions should not be a matter for us, Turkey, or anyone other than a free Iraqi people, with the advice of those experienced in democratic reconstruction. It may well be that, given the three or more different areas and ethnic groupings of Iraq, a loose federation of autonomous or semi-autonomous regions might be preferred. If we want to ensure a Balkans-type war in the middle east, we need only impose an unnatural or unwanted union, a democratic façade maintained by our own troops in order to indulge and assuage Turkish fears of a Kurdish state.

If, on the other hand, we are concerned, as we should be, that a new Iraq offers its people safety, prosperity and opportunity, we must make real the empty principle contained in the declaration to the Seven concerning the partition of the Arab states in 1918 —"the consent of the governed".

4.27 pm
Colin Burgon (Elmet)

I am glad to take part in the debate. I do not think for one minute that I can approach the kind of passion displayed by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Singh), but, for what it is worth, I shall try to put over my historical perspective on the situation that we now confront.

As has already been said in the debate, we live in a world where the United States is now the only world superpower. We are living really at the apex of the American century. In our lifetime—looking round the Chamber I am confirmed in this view by the advanced age of most of the Members present we have had what was called the balance of terror between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. But we have also had an international stalemate, notwithstanding the fact that we also had a large number of localised conflicts.

The collapse of communism changed all that. The 20th century is over, but the 21st century opens, I would argue, in twilight and obscurity. We are now sailing in completely uncharted waters. Using an admittedly Western perspective, it is the first time that we have had one global superpower, probably since Spain of the late 1500s or the British Empire in the 19th century.

The decisive question of the 21st century is how the United States will use its power and position. How we react to that question is itself instructive. Are we relaxed about it, or are we apprehensive? What, if any, checks and balances—like the American constitution is itself—should we attempt to put in place to control that situation?

I pick up very much on the comments of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews). I, too, am not anti-American. I find the United States fascinating. It has massive diversity: although some of it is sometimes not worth looking at, I respect its vibrancy and energy. I have American friends whom I value greatly, and I immensely enjoy the study of the history of the United States. I have been lucky enough, for instance, to walk the beautiful states of Virginia and Maryland on their civil war battlefields. To take a diversion, it is worth noting that the American civil war saw more American deaths than every other war and action in which America has been involved. That period of history is well worth studying, as it is part of the American psyche, and it is arguable that we have yet to get the result of the American civil war.

As a friend of America and its people, I say that honesty is central to any proper friendship. If the US has no better friend than the UK, we should be able to tell the US if we think that it is heading in the wrong direction. I therefore agree with the former President of the United States, Bill Clinton—this will not get me any brownie points from the current President—who said: You cannot have an integrated world and have your say all the time. America can lead the world towards that but we cannot dominate and run the world". The test of a mature and confident nation should be its response to such a view, and America's friends hope that it can accept what could be seen as constructive criticism. I am lucky enough to be reading at the moment Eric Hobsbawm's fantastic book, "A Twentieth Century Life". Drawing towards the end of the last century, he writes: Our problem is that the US Empire does not know what it wants to do or can do with its power, or its limits. It merely insists that those who are not with it are against it. Life is sometimes a little more subtle than that.

We must also reflect in this Chamber on the views put to us by constituents. It is clear from opinion polls, not only in this country but in America, that there is a deep reservation about possible action in Iraq. The concerns that I promised constituents who have written to me that I would raise include, to put it bluntly, a profound distrust of President Bush, his judgment and some of the people who surround and advise him. Some of my constituents think that possible action against Iraq is dominated by the domestic American agenda and an attempt to distract attention from the state of economy there. In addition, there is the question of oil supplies, which has been mentioned in the House previously. Many constituents have written to me to say that we are entering a situation the outcome of which is completely unknown. Another group of people, for sincere, pacifist reasons, think that all wars are wrong. I respect their opinion but I do not share it. On balance, I have even had a few letters from people who say, "I oppose everything Tony Blair does, but I support him on this one," which could be a warning sign to us.

Something else that has surprised me—I do not know whether this is reflected in other Members' experiences—has been the paucity of letters that I have received on this subject relative to its importance.

Mrs. Mahon

I have had thousands.

Colin Burgon

I have not. I ask myself why, and I can only presume that people feel powerless—that they feel that events are completely out of their control, and that we are sleepwalking into a war. My view is that the basic preconditions for winning a battle for public opinion in this country are a second resolution from the Security Council, taken in the context of the evidence in the current situation, and a vote in this House.

I have another two concerns to which I hope that Ministers will respond. There is a strong argument that intervention in Iraq represents a massive diversion from the vital struggle against al-Qaeda and all the elements allied with it. That struggle is tremendously important. It is an ideological and military struggle that we cannot afford to lose. The whole basis of western secular society is under threat from the assault from al-Qaeda. Any action in Iraq will divert resources from that battle. It is estimated that we may need 100,000 troops minimum to bring stability to a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq.

If the US and Britain act unilaterally or bilaterally and ignore the UN, any regime that is set up in Iraq will be severely compromised. It will be seen as the puppet of two western powers. Therefore, it is absolutely vital that the UN throws its support behind any intervention, if there has to be an intervention in Iraq.

I mentioned the American civil war earlier. It was the northern general, Sherman, who made the famous remark, "War is hell." We must do our utmost to make sure that the innocent civilians of Iraq are spared that particular experience.

4.36 pm
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)

I warmly congratulate the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Singh) and the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) on their superb speeches. I very much associate myself with their views. The hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Smith) made an interesting speech but, with respect, I do not know of anyone on either side of the House who is pro-Saddam.

Mr. John Smith

It was not my intention to imply that. My intention was to make those who think that they can conduct normal business with such a tyrant realise that they cannot.

Mr. Llwyd

I am obliged for that explanation.

I am pleased to take part in this debate on behalf of Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National party. We all know that much has happened over the past two months or so but, in essence, the main questions remain exactly the same. Could the use of military force against Iraq without UN sanction be lawful? There are two avenues through which such action could be deemed lawful. The first is if there were a material breach of resolution 1441 and a further resolution were sought from the Security Council to authorise such action. The second relates to the inherent right of self-defence as encapsulated in article 51 of the UN charter. Any action that is not caught by one or other criterion would not therefore be lawful.

That is not simply my contention but that of the leading human rights lawyer, Rabinder Singh QC. His opinion was set out with clarity and great detail in a written opinion prepared for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament dated 15 November 2002. I commend that document to anyone in this place or outside who is in any doubt about the legality of a unilateral strike by the United States.

There is no clear or compelling evidence to suggest that the United States or the United Kingdom could invoke the self-defence provisions. One would have thought that the dossier that was the subject of the recall of Parliament in September would have spelt out the case for self-defence. Alas, that document did nothing of the kind. In fact, there was nothing in it that could not have been gleaned from the broadsheets and from the internet. Certainly, there was no urgency in any perceived threat. If anything, the document tended to defuse the case for urgent action. The ifs, buts and suppositions in the document spoke volumes. No one could seriously allege that there is an imminent danger of attack that would legitimise an act of self-defence.

Let us consider whether resolution 1441 authorises the use of force. The proponents of military action argue that it does, but previous Security Council resolutions—for example resolution 678—have adopted strong and very different language to authorise the use of force. States are authorised to use "all necessary means" or take "all necessary measures". Those are not merely issues of semantics. Undoubtedly, the consideration of such words took a lot of time when resolution 1441 was discussed. It is known that the United Kingdom and the United States sought an express authorisation, but such authorisation is manifestly lacking in the final wording. Security Council permanent members, Russia, France and China made their position crystal clear: they did not want the resolution to authorise force.

Instead, resolution 1441 provides at paragraphs 4, 11 and 12 that, in the event of non-compliance, the matter will be referred to the Security Council, which will convene to consider the need for full compliance and so on. That clearly means that it is for the Security Council to decide on any further action that might be taken against Iraq. Having failed to obtain express authorisation for the use of force, having incorporated minute changes to the final draft, the sole purpose of which was to exclude the possibility of hidden triggers and to preserve the role of the Security Council, and having publicly agreed in the explanation of the vote for adopting resolution 1441 that there was no such implied authorisation for the use of force, would it not be extraordinary for the UK and the US to regard the resolution as now providing such authorisation?

Mr. Hendrick

What does the hon. Gentleman take the words "serious consequences" to mean if it is not military action?

Mr. Llwyd

According to diplomatic language and the way in which previous resolutions have been drafted, those words do not authorise military action. Any expert on legal interpretation would confirm that. I am no expert, but I prefer to believe them than the hon. Gentleman.

The Government argue that sending 30,000 troops to the middle east does not make war inevitable. I hope that that is so. Last week, the Prime Minister tried to reassure his Back Benchers that Britain will follow the United Nations route. Like many hon. Members, I hope that that is so. Many of us believe, however, that the United States has decided on war. In less than four weeks' time, 160,000 US troops will be in the region. Is the United States President going to hold them there if, as appears likely, the weapons inspectors request a substantial extension of time on 27 January? What if the prevailing view in the International Atomic Energy Agency is correct and it takes 12 months to complete the inspectors' work, with or without the sanctions argument?

A friend of mine, a highly regarded retired judge, recently wrote to the Prime Minister. He said: Any military action carried out against Iraq, whatever the justification or pretext, without the authority and full consent of the United Nations would be a grave breach of the comity of nations, the basic principle of international law. I wholeheartedly agree. On 11 January, Javier Solana said: The legitimacy of such a war will be determined by the Security Council. The UN arms inspectors derive their legitimacy from the Council … so if there is not any information deemed sufficient by the Security Council … I would find it very difficult to act. Speaking on 14 January, the French Prime Minister said: If there is going to be the use of force, there will have to be a deliberation other than that for 1441, because the source of international law—essential for us—is the UN and the Security Council. Like many others, I feel that we are on an inexorable slide to war. Public opinion is against it. In The Guardian/ICM poll referred to earlier, outright opposition to war is 47 per cent. Some 81 per cent. of those polled say that a further UN mandate is essential. Interestingly, the opposition of Labour voters has risen to 43 per cent. Conservative opposition stands at 41 per cent. The public are saying that a further UN mandate is not just "preferable", to use the Prime Minister's word, but essential. The Prime Minister told the Liaison Committee yesterday that he believed that the public would back a war if Saddam Hussein refused to disarm. I wonder whether he is right.

Plaid Cymru fundamentally opposes the concept of pre-emptive strikes, as proposed by the Bush Administration, and firmly believes that conflict between nations should be resolved through international institutions, such as the UN and the establishment of an international court. The United States and the United Kingdom should allow UN inspectors to complete their inspection and to have as much time as they desire to undertake their investigations. If they do discover evidence of weapons of mass destruction, and of an intention to use them, that would breach resolution 1441. However, that would not sanction the use of military force; rather, further action would be needed which would the take the form of peaceful and diplomatic measures. As I said at the beginning of my speech, we see no evidence of an imminent attack.

I conclude by quoting Kofi Annan, who said that if the inspectors continue to work as aggressively as they are doing, we may be able to disarm Iraq peacefully". I join many in this House, in the UK and throughout the world in hoping that he is right.

4.45 pm
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Following one of the important questions asked by the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd), I think that he may recollect that at Prime Minister's questions, his fellow countryman, my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Denzil Davies), asked a similar crucial question—supposing the weapons inspectors report "no failure", does Britain then go to war? I listened carefully to the Prime Minister's answer, but honestly there was no addressing of that critical question. I say to my Front-Bench colleague that if tonight that question could be addressed, we would be grateful.

Do not British servicemen, when asked to risk their lives and those of possibly hundred of thousands of innocent civilians, have one right in particular, which is to know that it is the overwhelming opinion of their fellow countrymen and women that their cause is just and that what they are being asked to do is important and urgent for the British state? Well, there is no settled conviction. I wonder what servicemen and women in HMS Ocean or HMS Ark Royal make of the Daily Mirror today and yesterday. I am not saying that the Daily Mirror is absolutely right in all that it has said, but it must surely sow the seeds of the greatest doubt whether the majority of their fellow countrymen think that the task on which they have been sent, risking their lives, is worth while.

It is not only the Churches and the usual suspects on the left of the Labour party; there is a new ingredient in the doubt, and that is the senior military: Field Marshal Lord Bramall and Field Marshal Sir John Stanier. When I wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister, which was published in The Times, who should appear in the major letters column, with the lead letter, supporting the general view that I put forward with many of my hon. Friends but Field Marshal Sir John Stanier—no leftie he. The doubts go right across the political spectrum. They have been expressed by the commander of 7 Armoured Brigade, of which I was once a very junior member for two years, General Patrick Cordingley, who was the Armoured Commander in the Gulf last time. When these serious people express doubt, what does that do to servicemen dispatched on this folly of a war?

There is something else. I do not know about the timing. People talk about March, but it is then said that there must be a softening up, which would be aerial bombardment for so many days or weeks. My God—aerial bombardment from 15,000 ft? Of course that will happen, because what is the American imperative? Above all, it is that body bags are not taken back to Alabama, Wyoming and all the states in between. They will make damn certain that they do everything to destroy anything that could risk American lives, and that means huge collateral damage.

I want to ask the Minister a particular question that I asked earlier today of the Secretary of State. What are the facts about inoculations? I refer again to today's edition of the Daily Mirror and, indeed, The Times. There was an undertaking that medically things had been learned since the last Gulf campaign. In particular, jabs and inoculations would be given one after the other, not in multiple doses. However, it appears that some multiple doses have been given. Have people just slipped through the net or, if not, what has happened? The House of Commons deserves the facts.

Like a number of my hon. Friends, I regret that we are having this debate without a substantive motion—an opportunity allowed the Scottish Parliament but denied the House of Commons. I deem it deeply unsatisfactory that at 6.58 pm I shall rise to ask that the question be put. It would have been infinitely more satisfactory to have had the opportunity to divide on a reasoned amendment, when people know what they are voting for and against. In response to the Conservative spokesman who raised the issue, I am not at all clear about whether or not an undertaking has been given that the House of Commons will have a vote. The Leader of the House said that it was "inconceivable"—that was the word he used—that there would not be a vote before or after critical decisions had been made. If the House is not to be demeaned, it should have a vote before any commitment to action. I hope that the House authorities and those who control these things will take that seriously, otherwise the House of Commons will be greatly demeaned.

4.57 pm
Patrick Mercer (Newark)

It is a privilege to follow the Father of the House. If forces' morale is being undermined by the press or Members of Parliament, thank God that we have forces whom we can trust to do their duty, whether deterring oppression or fighting.

The press do the forces a disservice when they say that if they are deployed they must be used. That is not the case—troops can be withdrawn without a shot being fired. I fervently hope and pray that that will be so. I hope that we do not have to fight a war. If we do, I trust that war will be brief and that casualties will be kept to a minimum on both sides. I stick to my premise, however, that war is not inevitable. Whether or not it happens, whatever the press tell us, our terrorist enemies are now operating in this country. I wish that the House would lose its hang-up about the term "al-Qaeda". I do not know whether there is a connection between Baghdad and al-Qaeda, but there is a connection between Baghdad and Islamic terrorism. Those terrorists do not, to use a military phrase, necessarily wear the cap badge of al-Qaeda, but that does not matter—their cause is the same. Anyone who doubts that should ask the wife of Detective Constable Oake, "Who killed that brave officer?" It was probably not a member of al-Qaeda, but someone serving the same cause.

Mr. Dalyell

There is a connection between al-Qaeda and Baghdad—al-Qaeda has twice tried to kill Saddam Hussein.

Patrick Mercer

I am grateful to the Father of the House for underlining the point that I am trying to make. I do not think that that relationship matters. There is plenty of evidence in open sources of connections between Baghdad and Islamic terrorists bent on death, destruction and mayhem in this country. When I put that point to the Foreign Secretary yesterday, he blanked me and said that making public certain information could compromise intelligence sources. I say this to him: if open sources are reporting that information, let us see them brought together. Let the dossier be added to, let us be convinced and let our troops be given a clear indication of where the threat lies.

Mr. Barnes


Mr. Savidge


Patrick Mercer

I have given way once; I shall not do so again for a moment.

Whether or not we go to war, this country lies at risk. I urge the Government to use the troops who remain behind in this country properly, correctly and sensibly. These are trained nuclear, biological and chemical warfare troops who can be equipped to assist in any emergency in this country. Will the Minister investigate, for instance, whether troops currently deployed on firefighting duties are carrying that equipment with them? He will find that the answer is no.

If we go to war—I hope that we will not do so—will our commanders be backed up better than they were during the Afghan campaign? Will the Minister assure me that there will be no more disgraceful conduct of the sort that arose in the case of Brigadier Roger Lane? Will he assure me that the commander of 3 Commando Brigade, 7 Armoured Brigade and 16 Air Assault Brigade will not be subjected to the same sort of public criticism and humiliation?

Whatever happens to the enemy forces, I believe that only two divisions of the Iraqis will fight, if it comes to it. As many hon. Members will know, however, two divisions are a lot of troops. The ultimate fight, as Labour Members have clearly pointed out, will come in Baghdad. There are three options: bombardment, infantry assault—or a combination of the two—and siege warfare. None of those forms of warfare is acceptable. With the media and civilians present, we will not be able to use any of those methods with a clear mind and conscience.

In the event of such fighting, who will be asked to do the job? Let us remember what happened at Tora Bora, when American forces found the going a little bit too tough. The Royal Marines were called for. The force that we have sent is infantry heavy. The Fusiliers, the Black Watch, the Royal Marines and the Parachute Regiment are the men who will be asked to fight, should those circumstances pertain. We must be ready for that, should it happen, and this House must support our troops.

Finally, what happens after the war? What will happen if the regime changes? It does not matter whether we fight or not; I believe that the regime will change. The Americans have said many times that they do not do mountains, but they do deserts and they do not do peace. Well, our troops do peace and they do it well. How well prepared are our forces to rebuild a country and to give humanitarian aid? How well prepared and equipped are they to cope with that altogether gentler but no less important role?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Dr. Lewis Moonie)

Better than anyone else.

Patrick Mercer

I hope that the Minister is right. I ask him carefully to consider our role post-conflict or regime change, because as sure as eggs are eggs, it will be Tommy Atkins and Jack Tar who are asked to remain behind and do the job.

If that happens, a huge number of troops will be deployed. We have already heard that more than a quarter of the Army is deployed and that 50 per cent. is currently on operations of one sort or another. Following on from the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin), I should like to iterate these words: our Army is too small to do this job. On Monday, I asked the Secretary of State for Defence why, in the current circumstances, as we stand on the brink of war and our Army is between 6,000 and 7,000 men under strength, recruiting has been suspended in certain parts of the Army. He answered that it was because recruiting had gone well. I am sure that there was no intent to deceive, but, sadly, he was wrong. I ask the Minister to look closely at what is going on and at why the MOD has chosen to suspend recruiting to the infantry and other divisions between now and the end of the financial year. The Army is between 5,000 and 6,000 men short.

The true answer is that money and resolve have run out. That is a disgrace when our forces are about to go into action. I invite the Minister to ask anybody from the First Battalion the Black Watch what it is like to be in an undermanned battalion as it is deployed to war. I am sure that he would get a trenchant answer.

Whether we approve or disapprove of standing shoulder to shoulder—I use the words advisedly—with the United States, the fact is that our troops, sailors and airmen are now in danger. I believe that they will be subject to terrorist attack in theatre before the fighting starts. We must therefore consider for how much longer we are prepared to stand alongside America as it proceeds with its campaign against the axis of evil. We have uncomplainingly backed America in Afghanistan; we are backing America in its action against Saddam Hussein. Where else might such an approach lead? Let us start to look over the horizon and to decide where our loyalties and our duty lie.

I very much hope that we can avoid war. If we do go to war, I pray that this House will support our gallant soldiers, sailors and airmen.

5.1 pm

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore)

I am pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to this very important debate. I have a twofold message to put to the House. As a relatively new Back Bencher, and having listened to many hours of debate on this issue, I hope to give a considered point of view, sharing the sympathies of many in the House who urge caution and consideration, while recognising the role that the Government have played. The fact that weapons inspectors are now in Iraq and, for the moment at least, the United States Administration are on board for a project that is proceeding through the United Nations is due solely to the role played by the Government and the Prime Minister.

We are reaching a critical period. War, say some, is inevitable. I still feel that it is avoidable and that there are ways for which we should be pushing in order to try at all costs to avoid it. Having said that, it would be wholly unrealistic to say that war is not a very strong possibility. Anybody who took that card away might as well take the weapons inspectors away from their inspections and forget any other possible escape routes by which we can avoid war. I shall explain why.

What are the alternatives to war? There has been speculation among different Governments on the possibility of exiling or finding an escape route for Saddam Hussein and many members of his family. Donald Rumsfeld has said: I think that would be a fair trade to avoid a war", but stopped short of offering immunity. He avoided that interesting question. Would the House consider palatable a horrible compromise or trade-off that allowed villains such as Saddam Hussein and his many lieutenants—many of whom are members of his family—to escape the reaches of international law? Would we allow such a solution in order to avoid the collateral damage, civilian casualties in their thousands and military casualties on both sides that would result from conflict? I would welcome more details from the Government about whether it is a realistic possibility. The Foreign Secretary said that offering any immunity would be unpalatable, but if the alternative is war, most people would swallow hard and accept it. However, I urge caution. The possibility was mooted in 1991 and Saddam's regime dismissed it out of hand, while many Arab nations laughed at it. Even the Opposition paper, Al-Mutamar reports: The thought of escaping cruises in the hearts of many of those close to Saddam. Even in the Arab nations it is acknowledged that the hierarchy of Saddam's regime is beginning to crumble. That is partly due to the weight of diplomatic and military pressure that is being brought to bear. Hon. Members should consider and debate the matter in full.

Does a precedent exist for such a horrible compromise? There are examples of compromises that were not necessarily engineered. The murderous Idi Amin, whose regime murdered up to 500,000 people in Uganda in the 1970s, is now 77 and sits fishing in the Red sea off Jeddah with a monthly stipend as president for life. Mengistu Haile Mariam, who tortured and killed tens of thousands of people in Ethiopia in the 1970s as part of the red terror campaign, lives in exile in Zimbabwe. The list goes on, including Baby Doc Duvalier, Ferdinand Marcos and Bokassa. Those names fill hon. Members with distaste and revulsion. However, when we consider the revulsion to which casualties, including civilian casualties, and war give rise, we should fully consider such immunity. We should urge the Arab nations, our Government and other western countries to put their weight behind it.

In the world of diplomacy, with its clever words, it would be wonderful if we could allow such people to go into exile without holding out the hope of complete escape from international persecution for genocide and other crimes against humanity.

The Saudi Foreign Minister, Saud al-Faisal, told reporters: The concept is if you have a decision by the UN to go to war, give a chance for diplomacy to work before you go to war". I urge the Government to do that. War is not inevitable. It may happen, but let us continue to use every diplomatic means. It is wrong to call for a vote now. I understand the principle, but we do not have the evidence that the UN weapons inspectors are putting to the Security Council and we have not yet made the decision to go to war. It is therefore vital to continue the pressure.

There is another way out. Mounting pressure may cause the Iraqi regime to topple internally, either by a coup led by the generals or by internal opposition. If that happens, let us hope that it has the full support of the international community. The opposition should not be left to hang out to dry, as has happened previously.

We hear that 3,000 Iraqis in exile are currently in training at a US base in Hungary. Whether that is correct or not, we should try to find a solution that delivers democracy to the Iraqi people for the Iraqi people, not simply at the behest and for the good of western nations. Arab and western nations will benefit from getting rid of Saddam; nobody pretends otherwise. However, if we are to do it, we must be clear that our priority is to return power to the indigenous people.

There are other agendas, but the primary purpose must be restoring democracy, stability and peace to the middle east, and thereby to the world. We are considering not simply missiles being aimed at us today, but what will happen one year, two years and five years hence.

All the options to avoid war that I have set out still depend on increasing the diplomatic and military pressure. They all recognise that it is inconceivable that Saddam Hussein should remain in power. That is a bold-as-brass statement, and it is based on the fact that we are not talking about weapons of mass destruction only. If we want to end the suffering of the Iraqi people and to restore democracy, Saddam Hussein has no more part to play in Iraq.

We are faced with a classic example of what-if history—otherwise known as contrafactual history. What happens if there is a military invasion, or if we leave Saddam Hussein in place? The latter option is inconceivable and we must not take it, for the sake of peace in the world as much as in the middle east, and for the sake of the Iraqi people.

Saddam has a track record. He has used biochemical weapons, and he clearly would do more, if he was able. There is no provable link between Iraq and terrorism, but the lines are not as clear as those shown on organisational charts. We are talking about dotted lines and informal channels: weapons of mass destruction and biochemical weapons pass among nations and terrorist groups in a very fluid way. That is what we need to be afraid of.

I urge the House to continue to support the Government. There is still time to avoid a military conflict and the civilian and military casualties that would be incurred. If we can avoid that, we should, but we must face up to the possibility that the decision to wage war will have to be made sometime. The House cannot hide behind UN resolution—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman's time is up.

5.12 pm
Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham)

The debate about Iraq has been moving and often effective. I apologise for interrupting it. Despite what the Father of the House has warned, I think that we will get an opportunity to debate this immensely important subject again. However, we may not get another chance to debate a matter that I believe will come before the Cabinet tomorrow—the question of who will win the aircraft carrier contract. The first stage of that contract is worth around £3 billion, and the full contract could be worth as much as £10 billion.

I do not expect Ministers to give any hint of what decision will be made, but it is legitimate to ask about the principles and processes involved. Earlier, my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) briefly but effectively set out what those principles should be. The primary concern should be to secure the systems that the armed forces need for national security, and the other key consideration should be value for money.

What should not be at issue is flag-waving nationalism. Moreover, although I am sure that most hon. Members would be pleased to have additional business in their constituencies, the contract should not be determined by the length of the gravy train of subcontractors that will be generated.

It is clear that the two major consortiums involved in the bid are excellent companies, with high levels of expertise among their scientists, engineers and skilled craftsmen. Whichever company wins the contract, it will place most of its development and manufacturing work in the UK. However, if the Government were to be advised that the Thales contract was the best, it would take a lot of political courage for them to take that decision. If they are advised to opt for the Thales contract, they should do so, in the interests of the armed forces and of the taxpayer. I would fully support that decision.

The contract could provide an opportunity to adopt a more mature approach to the matter of defence contracting.

Mr. Hendrick

Clearly the Government would like all the work to be carried out in the UK, irrespective of which contractor gets the contract. Does the hon. Gentleman believe that, in the long-term strategic interests of the defence of this country, it is important that much of the development of the new technologies that will go into building these aircraft carriers—including the intellectual property and the expertise—must remain in this country and not go to France? Is it not also important to consider whether France would have carried out a similar exercise and allowed British companies to bid?

Dr. Cable

My understanding is that the intellectual property remains in this country, whichever of the two bids wins. The hon. Gentleman is right that it would be very much in the interests of Europe, Britain and France if the French became less nationalistic in their approach to these matters. However, that should not prejudice our decision about what is good for the British armed forces.

I hope that we will advance to a more mature way of looking at these things. For example, when the Government make a decision on a new generation of cancer drugs, they make that decision on the basis of what is necessary for patients and issues of cost. They do not make the decision on the basis of the distribution of the shareholding of the companies that may have patented the different competing varieties; or, indeed, of whether the research and development have been done in British, French or American laboratories. We should apply the same logic to our defence decisions.

I should like to commend the Government at this point for making a considerable advance in terms of the maturity with which we approach these decisions, in two key respects. The Secretary of State has made it clear—he is to be commended for this—that no company should have a guaranteed monopoly, which companies have demanded. He has made it absolutely clear that there should be competition and smart procurement. That is a big step forward.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, there was an enormous amount of waste in defence procurement. Brigadier Kincaid, who retired in 1997, gave a figure of 25 per cent. in terms of the total waste in the defence procurement budget from soft contracts from guaranteed suppliers. It is very important that we move—as I think the Government want to do—to genuine competition; but genuine competition means that different companies may win big contracts.

The second thing that the Government have done right—I hope that they will have the courage to follow this through—is to say that when commercial companies enter into binding contracts, they should be made to adhere to them. When there are major overruns of cost that are the fault of the company and not the fault of the Government, the contracts should be honoured; the shareholders are then responsible for the overrun and not the taxpayer. In this case, there are enormous cost overruns in the Nimrod and the submarine contracts. It is not just BAE Systems; all the contractors have for many years got away with padded contracts and large overruns and then got the Government to pay for them. That must stop, and hopefully that will be an integral part of the decision.

Having complimented the Government, I must say that, to a degree, they have got themselves to blame for the expectation that had been built up in BAE Systems that it had some automatic right to this and other big contracts. The reason for that is the way in which the Government behave in other contexts. We have become used to the idea that British Ministers are free, in some cases, to subvert foreign policy and development objectives by promoting arms sales to countries that often do not need the equipment or cannot afford it. The worst case in recent months was the Tanzania contract for air traffic control systems.

BAE Systems executives who have been used to having such support—with Ministers, effectively, acting as their salesmen—are now rather confused. Are the Government there to promote them or to promote competitive contracts? The opportunity now exists for the Government—I hope that they will exercise it in this case—to insist that, in the interests of the armed forces and the taxpayer, there is real and effective competition; and if necessary, not to flinch from unpopular decisions that may have to be made here.

5.19 pm
Llew Smith (Blaenau Gwent)

Some 33 years ago, the Labour Prime Minister was faced with a foreign policy dilemma: whether we should support the American action—indeed, American war—in Vietnam. So concerned was my predecessor, Michael Foot, that he managed to obtain an urgent parliamentary debate on the issue, and I think that all hon. Members would benefit if they took the time to read his speech.

It is worth quoting a few of the comments that Michael made that day. He warned: The events … can have the gravest consequences for us all. In my opinion, it is sheer despair for people to say that nothing that we can do or say can have much influence on such distant occurrences, and that, therefore, we should keep our mouths shut, and possibly keep our eyes closed as well. I believe that we should debate these matters". Sadly in my opinion, the present Prime Minister wants us to keep our mouths shut and our eyes closed. He wants a Parliament which, in the face of war, remains silent, and where the words and voices of the peacemakers are gagged. Hopefully, Labour Back Benchers, unlike the Prime Minister, will learn from history and have the same wisdom and courage as did Labour Back Benchers in 1970, when they forced the Labour Government not to support that war with British troops. We must warn the Prime Minister that, unlike him, we will not act as some puppet for the American Government or as their 51st state.

Our Prime Minister is in danger of being seen as a warmonger, and he would be wise to read the speech by Michael, who to this day is still very much an "inveterate peacemonger".

Michael also warned in that speech that the United States could create a wilderness and desolation", but it could never win a victory. He said that the best friends of the Americans are those who join the growing host of brave Americans who themselves are telling the truth about this war."—[Official Report, 5 May 1970; Vol. 801, c. 208, 214.] Michael was also wise to remind us that our refusal to support America's military ambitions did not make us anti-American, as our present Prime Minister on occasion seems to imply.

Some of us realise that there is a need to make a distinction between those great American people—those who, in the face of adversity, had the good sense and courage to ensure that the voice of the peacemakers was, and still is, heard; those who campaigned and often gave their lives so that all people could be treated equally; and those who were, and still are, determined to defend free speech, while others around them merely pay lip service to that concept—and the bloodthirsty and oil-grabbing American Administration, headed by Bush, who are determined to plunge us into a war with Iraq. Bush would like us to believe that that war is about weapons of mass destruction, about the breaking of UN resolutions, about a threat to world peace, and about Saddam Hussein, who in the opinion of the American Administration represents all that is evil, when we all know that it is about George Bush Jr. finishing the job that his father started many years ago. It is about who controls the Gulf; it is about the need to set up an American puppet Government in that region, and linked to that, and most important of all, it is about oil.

When my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) made that suggestion at last week's Prime Minister's questions, the Prime Minister implied that he was just pushing some ridiculous conspiracy theory, but, as on so many occasions, my hon. Friend was right. The Prime Minister was left muttering the American line, which, in my opinion and that of the vast majority of the people in the United Kingdom, is divorced from reality. The Prime Minister should remember that it was the oil barons who financed Bush, who wrote his manifesto and who now control his Administration. Working together, they are determined to control the second biggest oilfield in the world.

If I am wrong, why has the United States failed to declare war on Israel; failed to condemn its possession of the ultimate weapons of mass destruction—nuclear weapons; failed to protest at the jailing of Mordecai Vanunu, who has been rotting in an Israeli jail for 16 years now for telling the truth about Israel's nuclear weapons when all around him were lying; failed to stop their daily attacks on the Palestinian people and their breaking of the UN resolution; and failed to expose Sharon for what he is—a state terrorist?

I do not wish to go to war with Israel, but the hypocrisy and double standards of the Administrations of both the UK and the US are highlighted by their decision to ignore Israel's wrongdoing, while being more than willing to go to war with Iraq. In an answer to a question from me, the Prime Minister demonstrated the lack of concern about Israel's behaviour and the threat that it poses by admitting that he had not had any discussions with the Israeli Government about their weapons of mass destruction in the last 12 months.

It is obvious that the US and UK Administrations believe that Israel's weapons of mass destruction are harmless, that they do not threaten world peace, and that it is OK to jail anyone who says otherwise. They are weapons in a war machine that the west has helped to finance; but the weapons of mass destruction that those Administrations say Iraq has are nasty—a threat to world peace and to democracy.

I take the view that all weapons of mass destruction, including our own, are unacceptable and a threat to world peace. I do not believe that Britain should have a foreign policy based on the idea that "my enemy's enemy is my friend". That is how the west ended up backing Saddam Hussein's tyranny in Iraq. He too was opposed to the fundamentalist militants in Iran who, in turn, hated the Americans. Our foreign policy and, dare I say, our aid policy should be based on ethical judgments of what is right.

Not just the Government but the Conservative Opposition are guilty of hypocrisy. The Opposition also stand shoulder to shoulder with the American Administration in wanting to go to war with Iraq. They did not always have such anti-Saddam policies. Indeed, not so long ago, they stood shoulder to shoulder with Saddam. In 1989 the Department of Trade and Industry assisted British exporters to the Baghdad arms fair, advising them on "current bilateral commercial relations". We now know that the DTI's trade Minister, the late Alan Clark, encouraged exporters with a nod and a wink to sell military equipment and arms to Iraq. Anyone who doubts that should take time to read the conclusions of the Scott inquiry.

The Tories supped with the devil of Baghdad. That should be a warning that we should not sup with the devils of Washington. If anyone believes that the word "devil" is an offensive description of members of the American Administration, he or she should pause for a while and consider some of their appointments. Bush has appointed as his ambassador to the UN John Negroponte—a man who at best turned a blind eye to, but probably supported, the death squads in central America in the 1980s, when Reagan supported the Contras and other terrorists in despicable crimes against humanity.

Elliot Abrahams, whom Bush has appointed senior director of the National Security Council Office for Democracy Human Rights and International Operations, is even worse that Negroponte. He has defended the actions of death squads and dictators, denied the existence of massacres and lied to Congress about the Reagan Administration's support for the Contras. He has been described in The Washington Post as the "pit bull" of that Administration, who promoted the policy in Central America of 'better dead than red'". We have nothing to learn from the George Bushes of this world, or from the oil barons of this world; but I believe that Labour Members, at least, can learn from our internationalism and our socialism that peace with justice is the only way. If we fail to heed that advice, once again the losers will be not only our soldiers, but tens and tens of thousands of Iraqis—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman has had his time.

5.29 pm
Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)

The guiding principle in foreign policy for centuries—indeed, it is associated with the treaty of Westphalia in 1648—has been respect for national borders and the concept of the nation state, but the viability of that model has been threatened and eroded with increasing speed in recent years.

In a speech at Reykjavik, the Prime Minister proposed the concept that, where events take place within the borders of a nation where people are being oppressed, tortured and murdered, it is appropriate to cross national borders to rectify the situation. He used that as an argument in favour of intervening in Kosovo. I am not at all sure about that concept, but I am certain that, where a realistic threat to the world and our own security comes from within a national border, crossing national borders can be justified.

With global communications increasing all the time, with media communications increasing so that messages, signals and pictures can be flashed around the world instantaneously and with transport links improving so that aircraft can travel half way round the world, missiles can travel enormous distances and weapons of mass destruction can threaten other countries from many thousands of miles of away, it sometimes becomes necessary to say that one cannot just respect national borders and that it is necessary to take action within them.

The threat of weapons of mass destruction is very considerable. One of the sub-committees of the political committee of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, of which I am a member, has been studying that subject in some depth in recent years. The threats of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons are very dangerous and frightening. The only reassuring factor is that weapons of mass destruction tend to be quite difficult to deliver.

World leaders cannot stand aside from that threat. In fact, there is one leader in the world: the United States, which, as we all know, now spends as much on defence as the next 14 countries put together. The United States takes its responsibilities profoundly seriously, so I would take issue with the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Llew Smith), whose speech preceded mine.

I know many Americans and have spent much time in America. I have great respect for that country, although it is a rather insular nation. Some 7 per cent. or 8 per cent. of the population of the United States have passports, and some Members of the Senate and the House of Representatives boast of not having a passport and not needing to travel outside its borders. Nevertheless, the United States is the world leader and it takes its responsibilities deeply seriously.

The United States was and remains shaken by the events of 11 September, the first major occasion on which terrorism was brought to American soil. They and we cannot allow Security Council resolutions to be ignored and flouted. They and we believe that action is necessary. Saddam Hussein must be made to comply. Although I recognise that it has been an extremely difficult path for the Prime Minister to follow, I respect what he and the Government are seeking to do.

My constituents will be thinking and praying for the men and women in the armed forces who are proceeding now to the middle east and those who may be sent there. We must hope that war does not become an inevitable event—we must hope that it can be avoided—but we must use military threats if we are to achieve any progress.

This debate is not on Iraq and the threat of war in the middle east, but on defence in the world. Of course, it succeeds the two-day debate on the defence estimates and the separate one-day debates on the Army, Navy and Air Force that we used to have. So although the threat of Iraq is overwhelmingly important, I would prefer to move off that subject and say a few words about the reserve forces—a completely different, but extremely important subject, on which I should like to put down a marker.

The 1998 strategic defence review announced a 3,000 increase in the size of the regular Army, but, because of recruitment and retention problems, the strength of the armed forces has decreased, making it much more important that we should have viable reserve forces of sufficient strength.

We need reserve forces for four reasons: first, as a framework for expansion in case it is necessary to expand our armed forces to cater for the unforeseen; secondly, to reinforce our regular forces during wartime or operations other than war, such as peacekeeping, either at home or overseas; thirdly, to provide aid to the civil community in times of emergency or natural disaster; and, fourthly and very importantly, to act as a link between the armed forces and the civil community.

The regular Army is dependent on the Territorial Army to complete its mobilised order of battle. The TA and the regular Army share a common doctrine; they operate within the same command structure; they have the same reliance on the regimental system; and they use the same equipment. But the Territorial Army is different. Many of its members are young. They are not all in full-time regular employment and can regularly and easily be deployed if necessary, but a significant cadre are much older and have secure peacetime employment, which makes it quite difficult to deploy them.

The Territorial Army should therefore be big enough to be deployed without calling on its members too frequently; we must ensure that we have a sufficient cadre of territorial solders to be deployed from time to time. The announced reduction by the Labour Government from 59,000 to 41,200 was too great. I maintain that 59,000, the number established by the previous Conservative Government, is approximately right. If we need that number of Territorial Army soldiers, we need it to be available at all times. We must remember that there is a 30 per cent. turnover, especially in the first year. In order to have 59,000 troops always available, we need approximately 78,000 to allow for depletion. Therefore, I urge that consideration be given to a significant increase in the Territorial Army, from its present level of about 40,000 to 70,000-plus.

The United Kingdom is now the only major country in the world with such a limited capacity to reconstitute its regular forces. The United States, which is about four times our size, has 10 regular army divisions, supported by the equivalent of 13 reserve divisions. Australia, which is about a third of our size, is planning a force structure based on two and a half regular brigades supported by five and a half territorial brigades. We are out of step with the rest of the world in having such thin reserve forces capable of reconstituting our regular forces. I urge that consideration be given to a significant increase.

Moreover, the strategic defence review identified the proliferation of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, terrorism and drug-related crime, environmental damage and possible technological attack, perhaps through information technology, as significant threats to the nation. In all those areas the reserve forces, with their high degree of external experience and the ability to be called up if necessary, are ideal to take on those possible threats. Other countries do much more than we do in this area. The United States, as the Minister will well know, has taken considerable steps to prepare against nuclear, biological and chemical attack. The reserve forces should be used to prepare this nation similarly.

5.39 pm
Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate)

In common with other hon. Members who have taken part in the debate, I pay tribute to the contribution of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews), who, with no small eloquence, demolished the somewhat patronising attempt of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to dismiss opposition to a war in Iraq as being anti-American. I, like my hon. and learned Friend, am by no means anti-American. I can remember those care packages that came after the war, and I have always paid tribute to the Marshall plan. But I am most certainly opposed to the present American Administration.

The hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed), who again I regret is not in his place, in a thoughtful contribution posed the question: is Saddam Hussein more of a danger now than he was before 11 September? The answer to that has to be no. I would argue that Saddam Hussein is no more of a real and present danger now than he was in 1998.

The argument that one sometimes hears that Saddam Hussein is hiding his weapons of mass destruction I find utterly unacceptable. The President of the United States has stated that he is personally tired of this game of hide and seek. If one accepts that Iraq has been overflown by American spy satellites year after year and probably hour on hour and that the aeroplanes that are engaged in the no-fly zone are exclusively fighters and, if one accepts that, as the Prime Minster has said, the flow of intelligence from Iraq is increasing, but that does not persuade one that that would furnish the UN inspectors with no small detailed information as to where they should look for these supposed weapons of destruction, I do not know quite what would.

The hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer), who, again I regret is not in his place, clearly spoke from direct experience of military action. He too asked some searching questions, not only how a war, if it goes ahead, would actively be conducted, but what would happen when the war was over. He asked whether we would, in effect, keep faith with the Iraqi people whom we have been urging to overthrow Saddam Hussein.

I well remember the encouragement that was furnished to the Iraqi opposition at the end of the Kuwait war by the then Prime Minister of this country, Margaret Thatcher, and the then President of the United States, George Bush, urging and encouraging opposition by the Iraqi people. But support from the United Kingdom and the United States was conspicuous by its absence, and those people who had attempted to overturn their Government were slaughtered.

The point I am attempting to make here is that the same kind of promises were made by the western nation states to Afghanistan. I entirely supported the military action in Afghanistan. I entirely supported what I understood at the time were firm promises on the part of the western nation states to assist Afghanistan to rebuild itself as a democratic society, but although those promises are only minutely being delivered with regard to Kabul, the wider area of Afghanistan is reverting to the state that it was in before. The opium is flourishing and being sold in probably greater amounts than ever before, the warlords are taking over and women are again being denied education and the opportunity to work.

A war against Iraq is totally and utterly unacceptable unless up-to-date, verifiable evidence can be presented that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction and the means of and intent to deliver them, and unless there is a second mandate from the UN endorsing military action. If war takes place, it will undoubtedly be won by what many hon. Members have defined as the most powerful nation in the world; it will be a war which in the first instance will be conducted by, I imagine, saturation bombing from the air, where the victims will not be Saddam Hussein and his Government but, again, the innocent. I do not believe Saddam Hussein's protestations that he will stay and fight with his people; that he will repel the Mongol horde. I believe that he will go. Equally, I do not believe that having won the war we, the United Kingdom and the United States, will be prepared to commit the money, people, material and time to create a new democratic society in Iraq.

Mr. Joyce

Can I take it from what my hon. Friend just said that if there were a new UN resolution, she would agree with subsequent military action?

Glenda Jackson

As I have always argued, if the evidence is presented to the United Nations that Saddam Hussein indeed has weapons of mass destruction, it would certainly be for the Security Council to place a second mandate on the table and to begin to define the parameters of any military action against Iraq. Let no one be in any doubt: if the United Kingdom and the United States, without a second mandate from the UN, engage in a pre-emptive strike against Iraq, the people who will die will not be military forces. They will be men, women, children, the elderly and the ill—all civilians. The engagement of ground forces, as the hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) pointed out in his thoughtful contribution, will essentially be for the taking of Baghdad. By that time, I repeat that in my interpretation Saddam Hussein will be long gone; he will be in another country, and, as I have had occasion to say previously in this House, he will act as a focus for undermining any kind of Government that either a combination of the United States and the United Kingdom or the wider United Nations attempt to impose.

I also find totally unacceptable—and this has its own dangers at home—the Government's attempts to link Saddam Hussein with Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. The most recent example of that was in the statement by the Foreign Secretary yesterday on the most recent Security Council meeting. I freely admit that I paraphrase, but he said that the most overwhelming danger facing the United Kingdom was from international terrorism and rogue states. He went on to say that the most dangerous international terrorist was Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda and the most aggressive rogue state was Iraq and Saddam Hussein, despite the fact that he and the Prime Minister have said on the Floor of the House that there is no evidence linking Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. How could there be? They are miles apart philosophically. Their avowed aims are entirely different. One wishes to maintain a secular dictatorship, while Osama bin Laden wishes to see a fundamentalist religious Islam take over the world.

Mr. Hendrick

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Glenda Jackson

I beg my hon. Friend's pardon. He also cannot recognise men from women.

Mr. Hendrick

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. Does she not also remember the Foreign Secretary referring to Hezbollah and Hamas as international terrorists that may be supported by the regime in Baghdad?

Glenda Jackson

There is no question but that Saddam Hussein supports Hamas. He supports it by funding the families of suicide bombers, which no one would support or endorse, but that is not the point that I am attempting to make. What the Government have attempted to do is to convince the British people—for whom my admiration goes up in leaps and bounds, as the Government have significantly failed to convince them—that the need for a war in Iraq has nothing really to do with whether Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction but that it must be a central and essential part of the Government's fight against international terrorism and the defeat of international terrorism.

We saw yesterday a mass lobby of people protesting outside the House that there should be no war against Iraq without evidence and a mandate from the United Nations. That protest, which included every age group and, I would argue, every economic group, was a simple request to the Government to think again. The Government have not convinced the people of this country of the rightness or justness of a war against Iraq. I am deeply ashamed that my Government—a Labour Government—should consider for a second a pre-emptive strike against another nation state that is offering no real, immediate and present danger to this country or, I would argue, to our allies. My admiration for the British people goes up by leaps and bounds because of the way in which they have not been convinced by arguments from the British Government that essentially attempt to delude and, in some instances, to deceive.

I spoke earlier of what I regard as the British Government's dangerous policy on this issue. Their insistence that there is a link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda has caused concerned about terrorists being in this country. The risk has certainly been inflated by the press, and that is having a knock-on effect on race relations. The most immediate alleged terrorist attack in this country, which was prosecuted with desperate success, was carried out using a kitchen knife. The argument that terrorists are holed up in this country—the example has been given of the minute amounts of ricin that were discovered in Wood Green—bears absolutely no relation to reality. One can get a recipe to create ricin and other weapons off the internet—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)


5.51 pm
Mr. Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater)

I want to consider not only the issue of Iraq, but that of procurement.

I joined the Territorial Army in 1979, and what has changed since then? The boots fell to bits, the uniform did not fit—the trousers were especially renowned for falling to bits—and anyone who could get the helmet to stay on was doing better than most. The radios were old and did not work. The one good thing that we had was a rifle, but that had had all its teething problems 20 years earlier.

Where have we now got to on procurement? We can get an army to the front line and get it ready to do its job, but if we do not equip it and do not provide information and back-up, such as the material that people are developing at home, it will not achieve anything. I have an enormous amount of sympathy for the troops who go overseas and who say that their kit is not up to the job. I certainly remember buying kit; we always used to. That was a normal part of being a soldier. We bought an early version of Gortex and sleeping bags that did not leak. On occasions, we bought our own helmets because they would fit and would not give us headaches after we had worn them for 12 or 13 hours.

We had a debate last July on defence procurement. Where have we got to all these months later when we are deploying British troops overseas? The Defence Procurement Agency has an annual budget of £6 billion; it is the single biggest purchaser of manufactured goods in the United Kingdom. At any one time, it is has 4,300 staff managing about 13,000 contracts. They purchase everything from field radios to submarines, and they are responsible for getting what the military needs to the front line and in good order and ready to go.

There are always delays in supplying the equipment, and we have faced that problem for years and, I suspect, for generations. For example, if one's radio switches itself off after a burst of fire or after an explosion, one is in real trouble, but we are not yet ready to supply the new radios to our forces. The Hercules transport aircraft is late and we all know that the Apache attack helicopters are in garages. The Merlin HC3 support helicopter still faces problems. In the past year, the agency has delivered equipment worth £3.5 billion, but it has slipped on the delivery of 40 per cent. of that. We cannot continue to have such problems because, if we do, we may encounter other problems of which we are not yet aware.

The total budget in Europe for defence procurement is £95 billion and Lord Robertson, the Secretary-General of NATO, has said that the public is not getting value for money. I am not in favour of a European army, but the cost of defence procurement for such things as Eurofighter and Merlin requires us to have partners, and such orders are slipping badly.

Lord Robertson said: There are two million troops in uniform in Europe, half a million more than the Americans, but only a fraction are deployed with the kit that they are meant to have. That is obviously wrong. He also said that there are 2,800 attack aircraft. The Americans have half that number, but only 10 per cent. of our attack aircraft can fly at night and in all weather. The British have discovered that low flying in the Gulf is not always a good idea. Again, the necessary equipment is not ready and the Eurofighter is unable to perform a support role.

The US Arms Export Control Act says at the outset: In furtherance to world peace and the security and foreign policy of the United States, the President is authorised to control the import and export of defense articles and defense services and to provide foreign policy guidance to the persons of the United States and its allies. Let us consider that in the context of BAE Systems, the main defence contractor of the DPA with responsibility for supplying our forces with goods that are up to date, workable and operational. BAE Systems is in a complete shambles. The Secretary of State is in a meeting with the company now. I would love to know what he is saying because it has to pull its socks up. I strongly believe that it is a British company. It supplies British goods to British troops, and it must stay that way.

However, BAE Systems has taken on a contract for the biggest armaments factory in the world. It is in Tennessee, and it may well move the manufacture of the explosive and bullet capacity of our shells and ammunition there. If such production is not in line with American foreign policy, the President can stop any country, friend or foe, getting hold of those goods. I accept that some countries do not have a great record on exporting arms, but what if we were to do another Suez and the Americans were unhappy with our involvement in that part of the world? They could stop us getting ammunition—the propellant and the rest of it—because BAE Systems has been given millions by the American military to upgrade the plant in Tennessee. That is not right. British troops should be supplied with British equipment. If we break the security of supply, we will have to depend on people who may not always be friendly to us and our aspirations, now or in the future. We would have a major problem if an American President decided to cut off our supply on a whim.

Procurement also starts at home. I am glad that the Under-Secretary of State for Defence is in the Chamber because I received a letter from him on 15 January. The Ministry lost 20 anti-tank missiles in the Bristol channel. Perhaps that is carelessness or just something that happens, but the letter says that the final report is classified. Why is the report on equipment that has been accidentally lost classified? Perhaps the Under-Secretary can give us a clue. I signed the Official Secrets Act when I joined the military and, as far as I am aware, I am still bound by it. Why is it not possible for me to find out what happened to anti-tank missiles that are slopping around in a puddle of water?

The BAE Systems contract for the carriers is vital. We should not allow the French to have it for the simple reason that we will not get anything from them to build in return. BAE Systems is a British contractor. It is owned by the British and, I hope, will continue to be so. We cannot give away contracts of that size and complexity when we have no guarantee of getting anything in return. Surely the art of trade is being able to trade; it is not about giving things away.

5.59 pm
Mr. Eric Joyce (Falkirk, West)

It is a privilege to take part in the debate after a number of excellent speeches. My hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), who is no longer in his seat, made a number of excellent points that are worth following up.

I do not know whether this is a consequence of the change in the way in which this place operates, but I cannot help noticing that a number of hon. Members who have taken part in this debate seem to have joined an all-party group on town crying, of which I was not advised. I tried to make interventions, but it seems to be taken as normal by some Members, none of whom is in his place at the moment, simply to stand up, read out a polemic, take no interventions and then complain that they did not get a chance to debate the issue in the House. It seems to me that they are not taking part in this debate.

Mr. Barnes

If I have an opportunity to speak, I will read out a polemic and readily offer my hon. Friend an opportunity to intervene.

Mr. Banks

You have given him an extra minute.

Mr. Joyce

My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) is a scholar and a gentleman, and he has given me an extra minute, for which I thank him, although I may not need it.

I have been listening to this debate and, over the past weeks and months, to other similar debates. I thought that I would label one or two of the generic arguments that have been applied to Iraq and the possible military action. Hopefully, it will not take place. The hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer), who spoke very well, said that he hoped that it would not come to that. Some of these specious generic arguments have been deployed today, and it is worth giving them a label and quickly running through them.

For one argument I have simply written down in my notes the word "oil". I keep hearing, in debates such as this, that the only reason behind any possible action in the Gulf is oil. President Bush wants to get his hands on the oil; it is as simple as that. However, there are many sources of oil supply, and the United States, the United Kingdom and all the other users of petrol and oil products in the world do not go about invading countries simply to get their oil. I am sure that if we wanted to, and if it were simply a matter of oil, we could cut a deal with Saddam Hussein for his oil. That argument seems so transparent that it is preposterous that it is made again and again, yet it is.

Another argument that I have heard, which I call the parasite argument, was encapsulated extremely well by Simon Tisdall in The Guardian on Monday. Simon Tisdall and, in the past few weeks, a number of others have said that under no circumstances should we take any action in Iraq, regardless of UN resolutions; we should simply rely on UNMOVIC's inspection regime. That is entirely incoherent and parasitical because it relies on the threat of military action poised over Saddam Hussein, which is implied by UNMOVIC being in Iraq in the first place.

My hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon), who is not in her place, deployed the Catch-22 argument. Those who previously argued that there must be a second UN resolution now realise that, if such a resolution is necessary, it is highly likely that there will be one, so they suddenly want to undermine it. They say that any second resolution will indicate only that the Americans have strong-armed everybody else into passing it, so it is effectively invalid. Yet much of the time the same people argue that the UN is important.

The third argument I call the missionary position, because I have heard it deployed by a number of Lords Spiritual in the other place. This is essentially the argument for containment. It says that for the past 12 years we have managed nicely to contain Saddam Hussein within his own boundaries and he has posed no direct threat to this country, so we should just let him crack on, persecuting his people and murdering as many people as he wants. As long as he is not bothering us directly, we should do nothing. It seems ludicrous, but it is true, that that argument is deployed alongside one that stresses the importance of humanitarian principles. How people can produce the containment argument while ignoring the humanitarian implications is beyond me.

Mr. Savidge

Is my hon. Friend saying that he is opposed to Government policy? Is the aim to try to disarm Saddam Hussein, and does my hon. Friend believe that we should go to war with him and other countries simply on the basis of human rights issues?

Mr. Joyce

My hon. Friend should not draw that conclusion from what I said, and I am at a loss to explain how he did so. My answer is no—I do not know why he drew that inference. Perhaps we can discuss this later, as there is a gap in his logic.

The hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) offered what may be called the "shoot the messenger" argument. If there is any intelligence whatsoever that reveals bad things about Saddam Hussein, such as his having weapons of mass destruction, we should say so and tell The Sun. We should record it in the national press, then there will be no adverse effects. While we need to know as much as possible, we must consider the implications of revealing such information for individuals who may be killed as a consequence—we must be wary of compromising our position.

I shall quickly run through the argument deployed by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Singh), which could be called the "others" argument. If we are not dealing with all the other problems in the world, why should we deal with the Iraq problem? That is the most ludicrous shift imaginable. Of course, there are many problems in the world, such as those in Palestine and Kashmir, but the idea that we should not therefore deal with an immense threat is too ridiculous for words. I would have asked my hon. Friend if he was arguing for intervention in Iraq and all those other places, but he would not accept interventions, which is a great pity.

Mr. Banks

Will my hon. and gallant Friend address in his thoughtful speech the question whether we should view Saddam Hussein and the regime in Iraq as uniquely threatening to this country? There are a lot of nasty regimes, as he has said, but we have to be satisfied that Saddam Hussein poses a unique threat because we are treating him as such.

Mr. Joyce

I thank my hon. Friend. Saddam Hussein probably does pose such a threat, but it is not necessarily the most serious threat—that may come from North Korea or another country that has already acquired nuclear weapons. Iraq does not have such weapons, and—if Members will excuse the use of a word to which some of them object—we want to pre-empt acquisition because, once it has them, there is much less that we can do. We believe that Saddam has weapons of mass destruction, but we can do something about that and prevent a scenario in two or three years' time in which, it is not impossible to imagine, Iraq has a nuclear capability, however modest, and terrorists are travelling the world in search of an easy source of such weapons, and the two come together. Saddam probably does represent a unique threat in that respect.

Joan Ruddock

If my hon. Friend believes in pre-emption, does he acknowledge that it can operate legally and morally if inspectors have the time to find weapons and destroy them, for which provision is made in UN resolution 1441?

Mr. Joyce

I am not convinced that the inspectors' role is to destroy equipment, but whether it is or not, this is not a game of hide and seek. That brings me back to the argument that I was parodying at the beginning of my speech. If the inspectors find something—the smoking gun, as it were—that may be viewed as evidence for their continuing to inspect, rather than evidence that Saddam Hussein is concealing a great deal and that we should take action in response to that threat. A subjective view can be taken, but I think that if we find something very significant, it will be a reason to take direct action on Saddam. My hon. Friend may think that that would be reason to stall and do nothing, but that would simply increase the risk.

I shall conclude my remarks, as I only have about a minute left. There is no question but that all of us want to see this whole Iraq business concluded without military action, but the fact is that there is a significant threat—I think that it is beyond serious doubt—and it has to be neutralised. Of course, debates have to take place in the House. It would be good if hon. Members at least recognised that such debates were taking place and if I did not have to talk on the radio tomorrow, as I probably shall, to an hon. Member whose complaint is that no debates take place. It would also help the quality of public discourse if some of the specious arguments that I have described today were not deployed. If people want to produce a pacifist argument—and I think perhaps most people do not—they should. What they should not do is produce an argument that is essentially pacifist but which is based on some other, rather weak proxy argument.

6.11 pm
Sue Doughty (Guildford)

At the beginning of the debate, the Secretary of State referred to a vigorous three months of public debate, which reminded me of what happens when a council makes an unpopular proposal to close a school and conducts a consultation process that is not genuine. I am very concerned about the remarks made by the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Joyce), which suggested that he sees any opposition to his point of view as a specious argument. He and one of his colleagues managed to make a large number of interventions and yet expressed astonishment that even more were not taken.

We have heard some tremendous contributions. The hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) made a very powerful speech in which he set straight the attitude of hon. Members by stating the fact that people who are not in favour of this war are not automatically enemies of the United States. All of us have friends there with whom we constantly communicate; we discuss things with them and we share our concerns. We are all opposed to Saddam Hussein. Nobody in this House carries a brief for what he does, but that does not necessarily justify the actions that are being proposed.

We have heard many very powerful arguments and I shall not deal with all of them. I was especially moved yesterday by the constituents who came to see me—some of them from the far left. Pacifists would never countenance any war, and we know that some people will be of that persuasion. Others were of a school of thought in which, like the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson), they can say, "I supported the Afghanistan war, possibly with reluctance, because I saw no alternative." Yet the objectives of that war have not been met. I saw people who will support a war if the cause is just and the action is appropriate, but they are not supporting war in Iraq. I also saw people from the more right-wing end of my constituency, which includes the prosperous Surrey villages, bringing messages of good will from their neighbours. Those are not the naturally left-wing and anti-war people. Indeed, the opposition that has been so eloquently expressed by many hon. Members stretches across the House.

We all have many causes for concern. As my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) said, our servicemen and women have gone to the middle east with our hopes, prayers and good wishes. Of course, we are desperately anxious about them. We are also anxious about the innocent men, women and children of Iraq, who will inevitably face slaughter in any military action. The numbers will not be small. It seems a strange sort of justice where we put matters right for them, but they die along the way. Possibly, those who are in favour of military action will square up those issues, but I do not think that I can do so.

One of the issues that I am concerned about in any proposed military action is what we will do, why we will do it and what we will hope to achieve? Will we be aiming for regime change or securing oil? What will be the objective of such action? How will we know when we have achieved it? That was one of the dreadful unanswered questions of previous military action against Iraq. We did not quite know whether we had achieved our objective, but seeing the pictures of aircraft strafing conscripted boy soldiers as they went home, having admitted defeat by the combined forces, brought a sudden end to the war in many people's minds. A day or two afterwards, that is just what happened—the public would not stomach the conflict any longer.

We have yet to establish sufficient evidence. There are still unanswered questions about what will happen if the arms inspectors need more time. I understand the need for confidences—perhaps we in Parliament are not allowed the information—but negotiations with some of our European partners such as France and Germany will surely have entitled them to see the evidence as part of the argument. Evidence is shared among those with a need to know, yet such countries are not buying the argument. Russia and China are not convinced either. There is a lack of international consensus.

The issue of oil has been touched on. There is likely to be a lot more than the 115 billion barrels of petroleum reserves in Iraq about which we know. Venezuela is in an impossible situation and Saudi Arabian oil is less secure than it used to be, so we cannot deny that oil is an issue. I ask Ministers to answer a question that we have posed before. When, as the Secretary of State has said, we are seeking consensus with other countries, will the Government ensure that the possible presence of oil does not form part of any negotiations? To many members of the public, it appears that alliances are being sought on those grounds. Those questions are present in many people's minds.

Another query has been reinforced by the leader of the Iraqi National Congress. He told The Washington Post in September 2002: American companies will have a big shot at Iraqi oil. There are many arguments about why the Americans have not been able to do a deal on that oil before now. After a war, they might be able to do so. Those arguments need exploration; we need more information about the part that oil plays in the proposals.

The issue of arms exports plays an important part in a debate about defence in the world. As part of the war on terror, the United Kingdom Government have, to a certain extent, relaxed export controls. They did so after 11 September and, as a result, arms were exported to countries that were perceived to be on side—but not necessarily with a guarantee that such arms would not be used on their own people. We are talking about countries such as Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, which were criticised in the 2001 Foreign Office human rights report. None the less, licences were granted. That is not acceptable.

Let us consider the human rights record in Uzbekistan. Human Rights Watch noted: Torture and other abuses in Uzbek prisons and police precincts remain commonplace. There have been 11 deaths in highly suspicious circumstances in custody in the past 16 months. Yet we are talking about exporting arms to such people.

In 2001, the UK licensed 6,780 assault rifles to Nepal, yet the Nepalese Government face a serious insurgency from Maoist opposition groups. We are not sure what part those arms will play in that. The Government must be most certain that in exporting arms they are not conveniently buying support from the wrong people in order to do what they want to do. We must look most carefully at that in future.

Another aspect of proposed military action that worries me deeply is the outstanding issue of child soldiers and the fact that the United Kingdom continues to allow boys and girls who are under 18 to take part in military action.

Mr. Keith Simpson

That is not true.

Sue Doughty

If it is not true, I want the Government's assurance about that. Several commentators suggest that it is true.

Despite the comments of the hon. Member for Falkirk, West, we need today's debate and also a specific debate on Iraq. We need to understand the reasons for proposed military action, the exit strategy and the effects of war to enable our Parliament, alone in Europe, to decide whether to support the action. The Government must make time for that and allow us to vote on a specific motion for or against the action.

6.20 pm
Ross Cranston (Dudley, North)

The response to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait was Security Council resolution 678 in 1990. It authorised the use of all necessary means to end Iraq's occupation of Kuwait. After enforcement action against Iraq, resolution 687 imposed an obligation on it to disarm. After only four months, Security Council resolution 707 condemned Iraq's failure to comply as a "serious violation" and a "material breach" of its obligations. "Material" alludes to the language in the Vienna convention on treaties. It means a breach so serious that the other party to a treaty can end it. There is a good argument that a material breach of a Security Council resolution constitutes a breach of the United Nations charter.

Other Security Council resolutions followed. They include 1060, which condemns Iraq's "clear violation" of its obligations; 1134, which refers to a "flagrant violation" by Iraq, and 1205, which also mentions a "flagrant violation" that the Security Council found. In November's resolution 1441, the Security Council decided by 15 votes to 0 that Iraq had been and remained in material breach of its obligations. Paragraph 2 affords Iraq a final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations. Paragraph 12 states that the Security Council must convene immediately on receipt of a report by the inspectors, to consider the need for Iraq's full compliance with its obligations.

What is the upshot of the various Security Council resolutions? First, Iraq has an obligation to disarm. Secondly, it has failed to comply. Not only has it failed, but in the language of the resolutions, it has committed a "serious", "clear" or "flagrant" violation of its obligation to disarm. That is a material breach of its international law obligations. Thirdly, the resolutions that set out Iraq's obligations were passed under chapter VII of the United Nations charter.

When collective security was established under the UN charter after the second world war, it provided for the maintenance of international peace and security, and granted the Security Council the prime responsibility for that. Under article 25 of the charter, the Security Council's decisions are binding on all member states. It provides for two avenues: chapter VI and chapter VII.

Chapter VI deals with the peaceful settlement of disputes. Resolutions under that chapter are recommendations. That does not mean that chapter VI resolutions are less important than those under chapter VII. Hon. Members have mentioned resolutions on Israel and Palestine. My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Singh) mentioned an early Security Council resolution: 47, of 1948, on Kashmir. Perhaps they are chapter VI resolutions because of geopolitical realities, but I want to make two points.

First, two parties are involved in these chapter VI resolutions—Israel and Palestine, India and Pakistan—and the best hope may be a negotiated rather than an imposed outcome. The second point is the character of the issue. Disarmament at one level is relatively straightforward, whereas finding a solution to the middle east or Kashmiri conflicts is more complex, because more than one party and mutual obligations are involved.

Resolutions on Iraq involve chapter VII, which enables the use of force under article 42 of the UN charter. Despite early expectations, it became clear that the UN was not by itself capable of extensive enforcement action. Over the years, it has authorised states to use force under chapter VII. I have already mentioned resolution 678, in relation to Iraq, and there was resolution 749 in relation to Yugoslavia. Other resolutions were passed in relation to Rwanda and Haiti in 1994, and Albania and the Central African Republic in 1997.

It is inconceivable that the Security Council will not authorise the use of force in the same way if the inspectors find a material breach by Iraq. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister asked yesterday, if the UN does not act in this case, how can it have any credibility in relation to North Korea? Moreover, although I support the UN unreservedly, I believe that it would be weakened almost fatally if it did not authorise the use of force in this case. Kofi Annan has said: If Iraq's defiance continues … the Security Council must face its responsibilities. I acknowledge that very important considerations are in the balance. They include the impact of enforcement action on neighbouring countries in the middle east, and the opportunity that conflict with Iraq would give to Islamic fundamentalists to portray the west as hostile to Muslims. However, I believe that a more important consideration is the future of the UN's system of collective security.

As I have said, I think it inconceivable that the Security Council will not act if a material breach is found, but the hypothetical question has been asked about what would happen if the UN did not explicitly authorise the use of force. Could one or a number of states take enforcement action to give effect to a Security Council resolution?

As a matter of international law, that possibility cannot be ruled out. Authorisation does not necessarily imply prior approval. There are arguments about automaticity into which I do not have time to go this evening, and about the resurrection of Security Council resolution 678, but one example is worth giving. In 1990, the Economic Community of West African States intervened militarily in Liberia without explicit authorisation from the Security Council, although the Council subsequently approved the action that was taken.

In the present case involving Iraq, the argument would be that, if the Security Council was thwarted by the arbitrary action of one permanent member, enforcement action approved by the other states could be sanctioned. In fairness, however, I should add that the view that commands more support among international lawyers is that explicit authorisation of enforcement action is necessary, and is required by the fundamental values underpinning the UN charter.

I shall conclude with three brief points. First, Iraq has been in material breach of its obligations under the UN charter. Secondly, if the inspectors find that it continues in that breach, it would be almost inconceivable for the Security Council not to authorise enforcement action. Thirdly, if the Security Council did not act in those circumstances, that would undermine the credibility of the UN and the principles of international law.

6.28 pm
Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot)

I am sure that the Government will have noted the sound—and free—advice given by the hon. and learned Member for Dudley, North (Ross Cranston), the former Solicitor-General. I have a relatively short time-15 minutes—to wind up a debate so modestly entitled "Defence in the World". As my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) pointed out, we used to have two-day debates on the defence estimates, and individual debates on each service. I hope that the Government will recognise that Opposition Members believe that a procurement debate is long overdue. My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Liddell-Grainger) and the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) said that they had concerns about that subject, as do many hon. Members on both sides of the House with defence industrial interests in their constituency. We need a procurement debate in the very near future, particularly given that there are major procurement issues coming up shortly for decision by the Government.

The debate, inevitably, has been dominated by Iraq; indeed the Secretary of State invited Members to use this opportunity to raise concerns. At one point, it looked like a reunion meeting of CND—of which, of course, no Minister has ever been a member. However, the Government had a hard time from most of their Members. I would like to inflict some damage—not intentionally, but I fear that this might be the effect—on the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Smith), who made an important, interesting and thoughtful speech. I hope that he will have an opportunity to expand his remarks, and I shall be watching for any retaliatory attempts on him for having expressed his views so eloquently and courageously in the House.

We have had interesting contributions from the hon. and gallant Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Joyce), and from my hon. Friends the Members for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson), for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed) and for Newark (Patrick Mercer).

My hon. Friend the Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) has set out the reasons for our support, in principle, for the Govt's position on Iraq. But there are a number of issues that need to be addressed, some of which my hon. Friend has mentioned. I should like to single out the following ones. First, the maritime taskforce, led by HMS Ark Royal, has embarked without its Sea Harrier air superiority fighters. The Minister knows that we have consistently opposed the decision to scrap the Sea Harriers, and now we see a major capital force of ships deployed without that air cover. Although the Iraqi air force is unlikely to present a major threat, what plans do the Government have to protect the taskforce from air attack? Will the taskforce be relying upon United States air cover for that purpose?

Secondly, I should like to refer to vaccinations. Clearly there is concern among many hon. Members at what their constituents are reporting about inoculations given to those who are being deployed to the Gulf. I have had two cases drawn to my attention today by the National Gulf Veterans and Families Association, and others have approached me as well. The first of the two cases concerns a Royal Navy man whose mother stated that he has had a number of inoculations at the same time; notwithstanding the Secretary of State's assurance to the House that there would not be a plethora given at the same time. The second involves a young female attached to 16th Air Assault Brigade, who—despite having the anthrax inoculation—still had to sign a waiver to state that no further action would be taken in the event of illness and that she had had the injection voluntarily. I have heard from other sources that they are being required to sign a waiver.

Dr. Moonie

Not true.

Mr. Howarth

The Under-Secretary says that that is not true. These reports are coming to hon. Members; if the honourable Gentleman wants to assure the House and the country that these things are not happening, this is an opportunity so to do.

The third issue is the International Criminal Court. As has been pointed out—particularly by Melanie Phillips—the forces of Iraq and of the United States will not be covered by the International Criminal Court, because neither country has signed up; but the United Kingdom has. Given all the uncertainty about what may happen and about possible military operations—whether they flow from a second United Nations resolution, or from a belief that the current resolution 1441 is sufficient—it is important that our forces, who are embarked to take part in possible military operations, be assured that they have the full protection of the law in carrying out the duties imposed upon them by their senior officers, themselves acting on behalf of Ministers of the Crown.

Fourthly, I shall discuss homeland defence, the importance of which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Newark, and emphasised by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson) on 17 October, in our previous defence debate. It is crucial that we have sufficient protection at home, particularly in the event of hostilities in Iraq. It is clear that the contingency reserve reaction forces are not yet up and running, and are not intended to be until the end of March at the earliest. It would help if the Minister would say something about what will happen on that front.

I have been told that there is a lack of toxicologists in this country—indeed, that there are only six whole-time equivalents. That is the unusual formula that the national health service uses. Given the risk to the country, which the Prime Minister articulated as recently as yesterday, we need the assurance that we have the requisite skills to identify and deal with possible chemical attacks on the people of this country.

We also need to be sure that we can deal with possible fifth columnists at home. I do not know whether the Minister has read an article in today's Evening Standard. It is headed, "Muslim extremists out to harass the Army's 'soft targets'". It continues: A group of Islamic extremists has launched a campaign against army 'soft targets' in a bid to harass the military as it prepares for possible war against Iraq. Our forces are entitled to proper protection. I hope that the clearest possible message will go out from all quarters of the House that people in this country, enjoying the privileges of citizenship or residence in this country, must not attempt to take any action against our armed forces doing their duty on behalf of Queen and country, because it is only right that they should receive that protection.

The Government are losing the battle for the hearts and minds of the people at home. They are obviously unable to persuade some of their hon. Friends, and they are failing to persuade people in the country.

Let me make an following observations on behalf of the official Opposition. First, our firm view is that war is not inevitable. Secondly, Saddam Hussein has a long history of brutality at home and has attacked or invaded four sovereign states: Kuwait, Iran, Israel and Saudi Arabia. He finances Hezbollah, offering large bounties—paradoxically in United States dollars—to suicide bombers to help perpetuate the Arab-Israeli conflict. He has failed to account for chemical weapons components identified by the United Nations weapons inspectors in 1998 and, as the hon. Member for Falkirk, West pointed out, the weapons inspectors are back there again only because the United Nations has taken action and said that there will be serious consequences unless Iraq complies with UN resolution 1441 and the 23 other resolutions of which Iraq stands accused of being in breach at the present time.

To my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire and others, I say this. If they are wrong and Saddam Hussein does succeed in developing evil weapons and using them himself, or handing them to terrorists to be deployed on the streets of Halifax, or Bedford, the people of Britain may not forgive us for having given the benefit of the doubt to a man with such a proven disgusting record. It is important that we should be clear about that. These are not easy decisions. It is not the job of the Opposition to make the case for the Government, when the Government are in possession of documents and intelligence that they cannot publish and to which we do not have access, but I do say that if the Government want the support of the British people to enforce the United Nations resolutions, they must make a better effort than they are making at the moment.

Mr. Sayeed

It possibly was my fault. Maybe what I said was not adequately clear. I said that war may be necessary, but that I was unpersuaded that it was necessary yet, and that other things could be done to ratchet up pressure on Saddam Hussein.

Mr. Howarth

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, who has pre-empted what I was about to say. The United States in particular, but we too, must redouble our efforts to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. There can be no either/or; work must be done to show the Arab world that we are serious about trying to resolve that conflict, notwithstanding the difficulties faced by Israel.

If there should be conflict in Iraq, at a time when our forces are already so heavily committed, we cannot afford to have them tied down in one theatre for any length of time. In Afghanistan there was a clear plan for British troops to be replaced by troops from other nations once the principal battle was over. Even then, we were committed for six months longer than the Government had originally intended. The House will therefore expect the Government to provide us, in due course, with information on the exit strategy should conflict with Iraq take place. I think it important for them to share with us their ideas of what will happen, in the event of conflict, to the governance of the people of Iraq. I think the House and the country are entitled to know what plans, or ideas, they may have.

That leads me to the inevitable issue of overstretch. Our armed forces are overstretched. Both my hon. Friend the Member for North Essex and my hon. Friend the Member for Newark pointed out that there has been a freeze on recruitment. I find it inexplicable that the Government should freeze recruitment at a time when we are 5,000 soldiers under strength. We have not heard an adequate explanation—but we think we know the truth, which is that the Government are not funding the Army Training and Recruiting Agency to the extent that they should. It is no good saying that that is not having an impact on troops. I am told that there are now 10 months between tour intervals for the Royal Engineers, which is putting a great strain on soldiers and their families.

This is a debate about defence in the world, and I think we need to look beyond the horizon of the post-Iraq world. North Korea has been mentioned. I think the Government should tell us a little more of their thoughts about the risk that it poses to the rest of the world. Last week the Secretary of State confirmed to the Defence Committee that North Korea has a missile system capable of flying some 4,000 miles. It has that capability, and now that it has dismissed the International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors we must not take our eye off the ball. We do not want suddenly to be faced with a flare-up in the region because we have not been duly attentive to developments that may be taking place there. The Taepo-Dong II missile could reach the United Kingdom, and we need to do something about it.

The Secretary of State made an articulate case on missile defence, but he has spent an entire year stalling, saying that no request had been received from the United States and that therefore we need do nothing. As Members have pointed out, however, no sooner did the right hon. Gentleman receive that request than he made up his mind—but he could not share the thought process that he underwent before making up his mind during the year in which he waited for that little letter from Donald Rumsfeld.

We support the decision, of course. We agree that the Secretary of State eventually made the right decision.

Mr. Savidge

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Howarth

I hope the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not. I have only two minutes in which to finish my speech.

The Government did eventually make the right decision, but we need to exploit Britain's support for the US programme by striking a hard bargain on British industrial participation in the development of the interceptor programme. If we do not take advantage of that, the Government will sell British industry short. There is an opportunity here. The Government should also bite the bullet and say that they are prepared to participate in the interceptor programme, and to consider having interceptors on UK soil.

Let me say a word about the Government's current industrial policy. I think they have done a great disservice to BAE Systems. They bounced the company into making a stock exchange announcement wiping millions of pounds from their share value, and the Secretary of State then had the temerity to say that it was not a British company. The Government need to re-establish an industry policy that puts British business first.

Finally, I am sure that I echo the words of all hon. Members—I hope that I echo the sentiment of all hon. Members—when I say that, whatever differences of view we may have about the events that are unfolding in the middle east, the House has enormous pride in the men and women in our armed forces, who join up to put their lives on the line if necessary. They are the most professional forces in the world. They have never let us down. Their worry is that they may be stretched to such a point that, one day, they may not be able to deliver that which they have always been able to deliver in the past. I hope, therefore, that the House can unite tonight in saying that all the men and women in our armed forces—whether on their way to the Gulf, or fighting fires in the United Kingdom, or simply defending us—have our full support, and we wish them well and every success in what they do.

6.45 pm
The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram)

I should like to begin by thanking hon. Members for their contributions to today's debate. As hon. Members have acknowledged, these are challenging and testing times. I, too, would like to pay tribute to the continued hard work and dedication of our armed forces and the civil servants who support them in the defence of this country. I echo the sentiments with which the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) closed his speech.

As ever, the issues raised are diverse, and it is not possible in the time available to address all the points in depth. Given the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) has indicated that he will eat into my time by calling for a vote before I have finished my full time allocation, it is probably best that I do not take any interventions, but let us see how things progress.

Following the terrible events of 11 September 2001, the past year has been marked by further terrorist outrages in Bali and Kenya and many other thwarted attempts worldwide and in the United Kingdom. Those recent developments have served only to strengthen our resolve to deal decisively with the threats posed by groups, such as al-Qaeda, and by rogue states, such as Iraq.

In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the United States, the Government set out objectives that would guide our efforts in the international campaign against terror. We declared a new focus in our diplomatic efforts to break the links between states and terror groups. We committed ourselves to the reintegration of Afghanistan into the international community, and we reiterated the need to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

We acknowledged the depth and complexity of the threats that we face. We recognised that a solely military response would not be enough and that addressing the root causes of hostility and conflict is just as important as military action itself to counter the challenges that terrorism and rogue states pose. My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Singh) made a similar point, although I would take issue with the other points that he made in his contribution.

Against those objectives, there have been important achievements recently, with terror plots foiled and key members of al-Qaeda and affiliate groups arrested. In large part, those successes have been due to unprecedented levels of intelligence co-operation between allies—both old and new—and the ability that that provides to pre-empt planned attacks. I should like to pay tribute to our own intelligence and security services, including the police, for their unstinting efforts in dealing with those threats, often in dangerous circumstances.

Our battle against terrorism is fought on a broad front and is not easy. Although much has been achieved in the short term, the reality is that it may take years of continuing, unremitting effort to achieve our objectives, but we are right to persevere.

I shall now deal with some of the specific points raised by hon. Members during this debate. The hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) asked about the command arrangements that will apply if the armed forces are required to go into action and about the mix of those forces as our options become more defined.

We have consistently informed the House as and when we needed to take preparatory steps, such as the call up of reserves, the procurement of equipment and of course the deployments that we have already announced. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made clear in his opening speech, when we have reached final decisions on the composition of a balanced contribution from the RAF we shall make a further announcement to the House. We already maintain a significant presence in the region as part of the United Kingdom's contribution to the patrolling of the no-fly zone. Again I pay tribute to the servicemen and servicewomen who daily face the threat from Iraqi anti-aircraft fire as part of the work of patrolling those zones.

Clearly, in managing our deployments in the region we shall need to ensure the availability in due course of the sort of air capabilities that may be required in the event of operations in Iraq. We may therefore make some adjustments to existing deployments in order to facilitate this, but I can assure the House that we will continue to keep it properly and appropriately informed.

The hon. Member for North Essex also asked about troops trained for nuclear, biological and chemical warfare being deployed to the Gulf and what that means for our protection at home. May I gently tell him that he does not quite understand the role of those troops. Their capabilities are to meet the needs of forces in a deployed environment. The question of NBC protection in the event of any such attack is a matter that rests elsewhere; it is a responsibility of the Home Office. Increasingly, our posture and response are having to be increased to meet those growing pressure points.

I turn to matters relating to Iraq. I recognise the strong opinion voiced by those opposed to the current posture that we are adopting to deal with the threat posed to the international community by Saddam Hussein. Strong arguments have been put forward. I understand the views advanced by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews), the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall (Mr. Breed), my hon. Friends the Members for Bradford, West (Mr. Singh), for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) and for Elmet (Colin Burgon), the hon. Member for Guildford (Sue Doughty) and the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd). They reflect a body of public opinion. That cannot be denied.

However, in response I say this: it is clear what they want us not to do, but they fail to set out what should be done to make Saddam Hussein and his barbaric regime comply with international obligations. It is a case of where the negative lies, not how we move forward on that vital agenda.

It was argued that we should give the United Nations inspectors more time. Time they will get. However, it is not unlimited time that the inspectors need; it is truth. Adherence to truth has been manifestly missing in all of Saddam Hussein's dealings with the United Nations over many years, and it is missing now, despite the new demands set out in United Nations Security Council resolution 1441. In six days Hans Blix will give his interim report to the Security Council. We cannot anticipate that report. However, two things are clear.

First, Iraq must comply fully, actively and positively with all its international obligations. Secondly, diplomatic pressure, without the visible and credible threat of force, will not bring that about. Let us be clear that the only reason the inspectors are back in Iraq is the threat of force. If Saddam Hussein eventually complies, which all of us want him to do in order to avoid conflict, it will be because that threat of force has been increased over recent weeks. Sadly. it is the only language that Saddam Hussein seems to understand. My hon. Friends the Members for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Smith) and Falkirk, West (Mr. Joyce) made very powerful contributions on that very point, as the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) said.

The solution now lies in Saddam's hands. He can avoid war by openly and verifiably disarming his weapons of mass destruction. I ask those who criticise the Governments of the United Kingdom and the United States and other allies, for doing what is right in facing up to that challenge, to turn their campaign and energy towards stopping Saddam Hussein doing what is unquestionably wrong. The more they campaign, the more they encourage him not to disarm. I know that that is not their intention, but that is likely to be the effect in the mind of that particular dictator.

I come now to missile defence. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State set out a balanced case as to why we agreed to the US request for an upgrade at Fylingdales, as he did in a statement last week. The hon. Member for South-East Cornwall (Mr. Breed) and others argued that by taking this decision we have pre-empted and foreclosed a major discussion on the future of the missile defence system. I do not accept that. As my right hon. Friend pointed out, this is the beginning of a process, not an end. The time for fuller decisions lies in the future, but I am sure that the debate will continue in this House and outside, and the Government welcome that.

Equally, I do not accept that it is proven that the development of that system will lead to a new arms race. It may be an opinion that is sincerely held by those hon. Members who expressed it, but sincerity and passion do not establish a fact. My right hon. Friend explained why we do not accept the logic of the inevitability of proliferation. No doubt we shall return to that time and again, and I again look forward to that debate.

My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) and the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) raised the question of vaccinations and matters relating to that. It is our policy to ensure that all troops are vaccinated routinely and it should not be necessary to administer several vaccinations upon deployment. Should circumstances arise where individuals are not up to date with their vaccinations, immunisation takes account of any other treatment or medication that an individual may be receiving at the time. However, independent medical advice is that it is better to administer vaccinations with reduced time scales between them than expose individuals to the risk of infection. We should remember that a routine vaccination schedule, as in civilian practice, involves some use of multiple immunisations.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will be placing a full report on all those matters in the Library of the House and will communicate that to the major Opposition parties, setting out the position on that point.

I come now to matters relating to equipment. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made clear at the beginning of the debate, our armed forces will be properly equipped for any task that may be asked of them. All service personnel will be issued with the necessary personal kit. I can assure the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall that our forces will be provided with adequate secure communications systems, which will include the Bowman personal role radios.

Other major equipment, including the AS90 gun and the Challenger 2 tank, are receiving modifications, and the SA-80A2 rifle will be issued to all combat and close support troops. We continue to make the best provision possible in equipping our personnel.

I come now to matters relating to the procurement of the new aircraft carrier, about which concern has been expressed. The MOD has been assessing the proposals of BAE Systems and Thales since the end of last November when the second stage of the future carrier assessment phase was successfully completed. The choice of a preferred contractor represents a key decision in one of our largest and most significant new equipment projects. It is vital that we make the right decision and we are assessing carefully all the available information covering a wide range of technical and industrial factors. We hope—

Mr. Dalyell

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.

Question put accordingly, That this House do now adjourn:—

The House divided: Ayes 0, Noes 53.

Division No. 59] 6:59 pm
Tellers for the Ayes: Andrew Bennett and David Taylor
Abbott, Ms Diane Clapham, Michael
Austin, John Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Barnes, Harry Cohen, Harry
Beggs, Roy (E Antrim) Corbyn, Jeremy
Berry, Roger Cryer, Ann (Keighley)
Best, Harold Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Breed, Colin Dalyell, Tam
Burden, Richard Etherington, Bill
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Fisher, Mark
Flynn, Paul (Newport W) Price, Adam (E Carmarthen & Dinefwr)
Francis, Dr. Hywel
Galloway, George Salmond, Alex
Hamilton, David (Midlothian) Sawford, Phil
Hancock, Mike Sedgemore, Brian
Hermon, Lady Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Jackson, Glenda (Hampstead & Highgate) Singh, Marsha
Skinner, Dennis
Jones, Lynne (Selly Oak) Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Lewis, Terry (Worsley) Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Llwyd, Elfyn Vis, Dr. Rudi
McDonnell, John Wareing, Robert N.
Mahon, Mrs Alice Weir, Michael
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Williams, Betty (Conwy)
Marshall-Andrews, Robert Williams, Hywel (Caernarfon)
Morgan, Julie Wishart, Pete
Organ, Diana Wood, Mike (Batley)
Owen, Albert Tellers for the Noes:
Page, Richard Mr. Kelvin Hopkins and
Perham, Linda Sue Doughty

Question accordingly negatived.

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