HC Deb 10 March 2003 vol 401 cc21-39 3.30 pm
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on Iraq and Israel/Palestine.

On Friday last, 7 March, I attended a ministerial meeting of the Security Council in New York—the fourth such meeting since late January. I have placed in the Library copies of the chief inspector's latest reports, together with the text of the speech that I gave to the Council, and a copy of the amended second resolution of which the United Kingdom is a co-signatory.

The Security Council's meeting on Friday took place four months after the adoption of Security Council resolution 1441, which gave Iraq a "final opportunity" to comply with a series of disarmament obligations. Significantly, during the hours of intensive debate last Friday, not a single speaker claimed that Iraq was in compliance with those obligations; neither did a single speaker deny that Iraq has been in flagrant breach of international law for the past 12 years.

Dr. el-Baradei's and Dr. Blix's reports were about the continuing work of the inspectors. As I did in New York last Friday. I should like to pay tribute to them and their teams for their work in very difficult circumstances.

First, let me deal with the International Atomic Energy Agency. As the House will be aware, nuclear facilities are intrinsically more difficult to construct and less easy to conceal than equivalent facilities for producing biological or chemical weapons. Dr. el-Baradei reported on Friday last that after three months of intrusive inspections, the IAEA had found no evidence or plausible indication of the revival of a nuclear weapons programme in Iraq. That is welcome.

On UNMOVIC on the other hand, Dr. Blix reported movement in some limited areas: for example, the partial destruction of prohibited al-Samoud missiles. That is, however, only the tip of the iceberg of Iraq's illegal weapons programme. The full extent of that iceberg was revealed in a document compiled by UNMOVIC entitled "Unresolved Disarmament Issues: Iraq's Proscribed Weapons Programmes", which was made publicly available late on 7 March. I have also placed copies of that document in the Library. I commend it to all Members. It sets out, in 173 pages of painstaking detail, the terrible nature of the weapons that Saddam has sought with such determination to develop. It is a chilling catalogue of evasion, deceit and feigning co-operation while in reality pursuing concealment.

The sheer scale of Iraq's efforts to develop those weapons and to hide them can be grasped only by reading the whole document, as I have done. But, from the 29 separate sets of unresolved issues, let me give the House just one illustration: anthrax—easily inhaled and the death rate for untreated victims may be 90 per cent. or more. Only tiny amounts are needed to inflict widespread casualties. Contrary to Iraqi assertions, the inspectors found evidence of anthrax where Iraq had declared there was none. Again, contrary to Iraqi assertions, UNMOVIC believes there is a strong presumption that some 10,000 litres of anthrax were not destroyed in the early 1990s and may still exist. Iraq also possesses the technoalogy and materials to allow it to return swiftly to the pre-1991 production levels for anthrax.

Let me now deal with the issues of inspections and more time. I fully recognise the temptation to believe that the inspections are working and all that is needed is more time. But Saddam Hussein is a master of playing for time. Frankly, as anyone can see from reading the UNMOVIC document, to continue inspections with no firm end date will not achieve the disarmament required by the Security Council. This is, however, the suggestion in the recent memorandum from France, Germany and Russia. As the memorandum itself acknowledges, that cannot be achieved without the fulfilment of a prior condition—namely, Iraq's full, active and immediate co-operation.

Once more last Friday, the Iraqi permanent representative to the United Nations claimed that Iraq had no more weapons of mass destruction. It is the same old refrain that we have heard from the regime for the past 12 years. Yet whenever the inspectors have caught the regime out, it has first protested, then conceded that narrow point, but then mendaciously claimed that there are no more.

The choice before us is whether we stand firm in pursuing our objective of disarmament or settle for a policy that, in truth, allows Saddam to rebuild his arsenal under cover of just enough co-operation to keep the inspectors tied down for years to come. We should not deceive ourselves. The alternative proposals before the Security Council amount to a return to the failed policy of so-called containment. But the truth is that containment can never bring disarmament, nor is it the policy of the United Nations as expressed in resolution 1441 and in all the preceding resolutions going back to 1991.

Dr. Blix reported on some further recent activity by Iraq in respect mainly of the al-Samoud missiles. We must ask: what has caused this further recent activity, albeit limited as it is? It is not our policy that has changed, nor international law, nor the degree of diplomatic pressure. The reality is that the only thing that has changed has been the willingness of the United States and the United Kingdom to deploy their armed forces for the sake of achieving the objective very clearly set out by the United Nations. The other reality is that Saddam responds only to pressure. The clear conclusion to draw from this is that we must further increase the pressure on him. We have to put him to the test clearly laid down by the United Nations.

The Government have made clear all along their desire to secure a peaceful outcome to this crisis. It is for this reason that I took the initiative in the Security Council last Friday to circulate a revised version of the UK-US-Spain draft second resolution. This specifies a further period beyond the adoption of the resolution for Iraq to take the final opportunity to disarm. Negotiations on its important detail have continued over the weekend and again this morning. We are examining whether a list of defined tests for Iraqi compliance would be useful in helping the Security Council to come to a judgment.

What we are proposing is eminently reasonable. We are not expecting Saddam to have disarmed in a week or so—let me make that absolutely clear, as I did last Friday—but we are expecting the Iraqi regime to demonstrate by that time the full, unconditional, immediate and active co-operation demanded of it by successive UN Security Council resolutions since 1991. There is no reason whatever why, within a matter of days, Iraq cannot make clear its desire fully and actively to co-operate. There is no reason at all.

I profoundly hope that the Iraqi regime will, even at this late stage, seize the chance to disarm peacefully. The only other peaceful alternative would be for Saddam Hussein to heed the calls of a number of other Arab leaders for him to go into exile and to hand over to a new leadership prepared to conform with the Security Council's demands. However, if he refuses to co-operate, the Security Council has to face up to its clear responsibilities under the United Nations charter.

In the event that military action proves necessary, the international community will have, among many other duties, a duty to build a secure, prosperous future for the Iraqi people. Last Thursday, I met the United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, in New York to discuss the humanitarian position and UN involvement in any reconstruction of Iraq. At that meeting, I proposed on behalf of Her Majesty's Government that the UN should take the lead role in co-ordinating international efforts to rebuild Iraq, and that they should be underpinned by a clear UN mandate.

As the crisis enters this phase, there are fears that, in securing Iraq's compliance with international law, we may exacerbate tensions elsewhere in the region. Emotions are understandably inflamed by the position in Israel and the occupied territories, where, tragically, there appears to be no end to the spiral of killings. Since September 2000, more than 2,300 Palestinians and more than 700 Israelis have been killed. We mourn the loss of life on all sides.

However, we cannot allow the cycle of violence to destroy hope for a better future. There is ground for optimism. The international community today shares our vision of a lasting settlement as set out in a series of Security Council resolutions for a viable Palestinian state based on the 1967 boundaries, and an Israeli state free from terror, secure in its borders and recognised by the Arab world.

We are actively encouraging both sides to fulfil their obligations. We are playing a full part in the international effort to help the Palestinian Authority to do more to build democratic institutions and a sound civil administration. As hon. Members know, I chaired a meeting in London on 14 January to discuss those issues with Palestinian leaders. It was unfortunate that that happened through video link because they were prevented from travelling outside the occupied territories. The discussions also included representatives from the region and the Quartet—the UN, the European Union, the Russian Federation and the United States.

The United Kingdom hosted further meetings, which were attended by Palestinian representatives in person, between 18 and 20 February. I have spoken to Chairman Arafat of the Palestinian Authority twice in the past seven days. I greatly welcome his decision to nominate Abu Mazen, who is also known as Mahmoud Abbas, to the post of Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority. I hope that the Palestinian legislative council approves that nomination.

Those who know Abu Mazen realise that he has a fine track record in peace negotiations with Israel and that he will lead the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinians well as putative Prime Minister. We hope that that appointment and other reform measures by the Palestinian Authority will help to restore a meaningful peace process, as set out in the road map that the Quartet devised.

Likewise, we look to Mr. Sharon, the Israeli Prime Minister, and his new team of Ministers to work with the international community in restoring hopes for peace. I shall talk to the new Israeli Foreign Minister, Silvan Shalom, tomorrow.

A lasting settlement in the middle east will remove one great threat to security in the region and the wider world. In confronting the danger from Iraq's weapons, the UN can remove another great threat. We must not let Saddam turn his "final opportunity" to disarm, as set out in resolution 1441, into endless opportunities to delay. The future not only of the region but of UN authority is at stake.

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes)

I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement and for giving me advance sight of it. It is a welcome report from last Friday, but I am sure he agrees that it cannot be regarded as a substitute for a proper debate and a vote.

I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's statement on Israel and Palestine. We also welcome the current constitutional changes that the Palestinian Authority is making. However, if the changes are to have a beneficial effect on the peace process, Mr. Arafat's future role should be more ceremonial and less politically engaged. That must be matched on the Israeli side by an end to settlement activity and a genuine readiness to engage in negotiation. We must also look for a cessation of violence on all sides, and press the Israeli Government to exercise maximum restraint in the occupied territories at this time. If the Muslim world is truly to believe that our argument with Saddam Hussein is not a fight with Islam, we must demonstrate that we mean what we say about pursuing two states west of the Jordan, a secure Israel and a viable Palestine. We would welcome immediate American diplomatic engagement to revive that process.

The Iraq situation outlined by the Foreign Secretary is grim. I have to say to him that many serious questions and doubts remain in the country as to whether the case for action has been made. I lay that at the door of the Government because they are the possessor of the information that can be deployed and I say earnestly that I hope that he will use the days that may remain before any action may take place to ensure that that case continues to be made and strongly so. He mentioned the written report from Dr. Blix that was published late last Friday. He gave us one example and I hope that he will take the opportunity in the days ahead to produce more of that information for the British people to absorb.

On Friday, Dr. Blix confirmed again that Saddam Hussein was not complying completely and immediately with resolution 1441 and that he remained in breach of it. There has been some grudging compliance, but will the Foreign Secretary again confirm that that is not the result of any change in the attitude of Saddam Hussein? That grudging compliance has resulted from the international community sending a clear and united message of its resolve to enforce resolution 1441 one way or another. Does he agree that, if there is a recklessness to be considered in the present context, it is in the sending out of confused and divided messages that allow Saddam Hussein once again to play for time and, in the end, to continue to re-arm?

The Foreign Secretary referred to Dr. el-Baradei's findings. Does he agree with those findings, and how do they sit with his previous statements, which suggested that there was a rather different situation in relation to the development of nuclear weapons? The written evidence presented to the Security Council is, as he says, chilling. I read a report this morning that it included information about a large undeclared unmanned aircraft. Will he explain what he knows about that and what danger that device would pose?

There has been talk of giving Saddam more time. Dr. Blix suggested that disarmament might take months not weeks. Am I not right in recollecting that, in the case of South Africa, once agreement to disarm had been reached with the United Nations, it was carried out not in months, but in a matter of days? Would that not also be the case if Saddam Hussein agreed proactively to disarm as he is required to do by resolution 1441?

In the event of an unreasonable veto on the second resolution, I believe that the Government's position has been made clear, but what would be their position in the event of, say, vetoes from three permanent members? Have the Government fully considered the long-term implications of such a situation or, indeed, of failing to achieve a majority for a second resolution at all? Those questions may be as yet unresolved, but the House has a right to share some of the Government's thinking on those matters.

The draft resolution introduces a deadline. I noticed that the Foreign Secretary did not mention what that deadline was; he was rather coy about mentioning a date. Will he confirm that the date remains what we were told it was last Friday? Is he suggesting that if Iraq has not fully complied with that deadline, military action will automatically follow? If so, who will assess whether that compliance has been effected?

I note the Foreign Secretary's meeting with Kofi Annan to discuss UN involvement in post-Saddam Iraq and I welcome it. What arrangements are being made in practice for urgent humanitarian assistance? What arrangements are there to ensure that a truly representative Administration is ready to take over in Iraq? Is he suggesting—this is quite important—that those arrangements will be underpinned by a United Nations mandate?

Resolution 1441 gave Saddam Hussein a final opportunity to disarm. That final opportunity cannot be open-ended, which is why we support the second resolution. However, we continue to demand that this House must have a substantive say on the outcome. Will the Foreign Secretary assure us that the vote in this House will not take place until the Security Council itself has voted, so that we will know what we are being asked to vote for or against?

Let us hope that even at this late hour, Saddam Hussein will still see sense and make all this unnecessary; but if he does not, we must not falter in our resolve.

Mr. Straw

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his welcome for my statement. I have done my best throughout this crisis to keep the House fully and immediately informed, and I shall continue to do so. Of course, I accept that a statement is no substitute for a debate or a vote.

I note what the right hon. Gentleman correctly said about this not appearing to be a "fight with Islam". We are completely committed to doing everything that we can to secure an early settlement of the terrible conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. I want to see early publication of the road map that was agreed before Christmas, and this morning I discussed that issue, among others, with the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell.

It cannot be repeated often enough that all the conflicts in which British forces and the United Nations have been involved over the past 12 years happen to have been ones in which the victims of aggression were people of the Islamic faith and the people who were saved from that aggression were people of the Islamic faith. If, God forbid, force proves to be necessary in the Iraqi crisis, the same will be true in this case.

We look forward to Iraq's compliance. The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that when the UN Security Council is united in its message, there is a much higher chance of securing Iraq's compliance than there is when differences of opinion are expressed. He asked me about the report made by Dr. el-Baradei last Friday. I described the main conclusion of that report and said that I welcomed it. The whole point of the inspections was to raise concerns that we felt justified in raising. Dr. el-Baradei pointed out that he has not yet signed off the dossier, but I thought it only right to give the House the flavour of the overall burden of his report.

The right hon. Gentleman asked me about the references to unmanned vehicles, or UAVs as they are known. Those were late insertions into the 173-page report by Dr. Blix, which was published late last Friday. The 167-page version, which I read last week, did not include those references, which is why I did not refer to the matter at the Security Council. Page 14 of the longer version states:

Recent inspections have revealed the existence of a drone with a wingspan of 7.45 metres that has not been declared by Iraq. Officials at the inspection site stated that the drone had been test-flown. Further inspection is required to establish the actual specification and capabilities of these RPVs and whether Iraq has UAVs / RPVs that exceed the 150 kilometres limit as we believe they do. The vehicles may also have a facility for launching chemical and biological weapons.

Finally, the right hon. Gentleman asked me about a second resolution. We have made it clear throughout that we want a second resolution for political reasons, because a consensus is required, if we can achieve it, for any military action. On the legal basis for that, it should be pointed out that resolution 1441 does not require a second resolution.

That issue was discussed ad nauseam in the eight weeks of negotiation for resolution 1441. France and others proposed a clause requiring us to go back to the Security Council for a second resolution, and they voluntarily dropped that proposal. In place of that, France agreed to paragraphs 4, 11, 12 and 13, which state that where there is a material breach—as plainly there already is, as the Council made clear last Friday—that can lead, within resolution 1441, to Iraq having to suffer serious consequences for its failure to meet its obligations.

Mr. Michael Moore (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale)

Those on the Liberal Democrat Benches welcome the Foreign Secretary's statement, and I am grateful to have received a copy in advance.

The pressure on Saddam Hussein and his regime to disarm is intense, and progress is being made. As the chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix, stated on Friday, the destruction of missiles constitutes a substantial measure of disarmament. UNMOVIC is now drafting a work programme to tackle the unresolved disarmament issues, as Dr. Blix puts it. Clearly the weapons inspectors believe that they still have a worthwhile job to do, and they need more time to do it. Will the Foreign Secretary accept that there are still diplomatic and political options open to the international community and that the military agenda must not dictate the calendar for inspections? Will he confirm that he believes that war should be the last resort, based on clear objectives and an assessment of the likely consequences?

Nowhere will that be more important than in the middle east. We all seek an end to the sickening cycle of violence and we applaud the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary's efforts to make progress, but will the right hon. Gentleman not recognise that steps to bring peace to the middle east and elsewhere will be damaged if, in prosecuting the case against Iraq, we threaten to ignore the United Nations and in so doing undermine the principles of international law in whose name we act?

Mr. Straw

Again, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his remarks. He is entirely right to say that the pressure is intense, but that raises the question of why it is intense. I wonder what would have happened if there had been Liberal Democrat pressure—if that is not an oxymoron. There is a blunt reality about why inspections are now working and no one must resile from it. In last Friday's report, as in his previous reports, Dr. Blix made it absolutely clear when he spoke of "serious outside pressure". Yes, the pressure is serious; it is just outside, in Kuwait; it is the armed forces. It is important that the hon. Gentleman and his party understand that.

Of course war is a last resort—war should always be a last resort. I believe that that is the sentiment of every single Member of this House, whatever their party. No one has a monopoly of wisdom or of morality on this issue.

As for steps to bring peace to the middle east, I agree that we must not be diverted from our efforts to ensure peace in the middle east between the Israelis and the Palestinians as we have to make difficult decisions on Iraq. The purpose of my making a statement today on the twin subjects of Iraq and Israel/Palestine is to emphasise to the House, the country and the region our profound commitment to pursue peace in the middle east in any event. The matter is urgent. It would be urgent without Iraq, and it becomes even more urgent with Iraq. That is a point that I continue to emphasise with our American friends.

As for ignoring the United Nations, that is a canard—it is totally untrue. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has moved heaven and earth to ensure that the whole issue of Iraq is dealt with through the United Nations. It was he more than anyone else who ensured that the process of negotiation through the United Nations began in August and September and led to a satisfactory conclusion; and he, with many Foreign Ministers and Heads of Government, is seeking to ensure that there is a proper conclusion now.

Everybody in the United Nations has responsibilities under the charter—not only the United States and the United Kingdom among the permanent members, but all the other permanent and non-permanent members of the Security Council, all of whom have signed up to the charter, including chapter 7, which spells out that sometimes force is necessary where there is defiance of the clear obligations under chapter 7. In the present case, force may indeed be necessary.

Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough)

Does the Foreign Secretary recall the statement of the French Foreign Minister that threats of force and diplomacy have brought Saddam Hussein to partial compliance? Is it not odd that the French now seek to block a final resolution under which diplomacy and the threat of force would converge, so that Saddam Hussein knew once and for all that, in the interests of Iraq and of the Iraqi people, he must comply fully?

Mr. Straw

I agree. Both diplomacy and a credible, but therefore rising, threat of force are needed. However, it is the credible threat of force that is making the difference. This is our best and only opportunity to resolve the issue in a peaceful way.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for a statement that was the reverse of reckless. Is he aware that many of us who supported, without a United Nations resolution, action in the former Yugoslavia, believe that action is even more justified in this case?

Mr. Straw

I note what the hon. Gentleman has to say. I have already made clear our view about the legal base that is provided by resolution 1441, going back to resolutions 687 and 678. However, we continue to follow the route that we have outlined of securing a new consensus within the Security Council because it gives us a greater opportunity of resolving the issue in a peaceful way.

Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone):

I listened with interest to my right hon. Friend's reply to the Liberal spokesman, the hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Moore), on the question of the United Nations second resolution. Given the arm twisting that we know is going on at the UN, could a second resolution ever give legitimacy to action? Does my right hon. Friend not think that the way forward, given that situation, is that we should be giving more time to Hans Blix and the inspectors?

Mr. Straw

It just happens that in international diplomacy there are some robust discussions. I am willing to speculate that my good friend Dominique de Villepin, who is currently perambulating round Africa, to Cameroon, Angola and Guinea, to take three countries at random—[Laughter]—is not just having a cafe and a little conversation with those he is meeting. I suspect he is reminding them about their loyalty to francophone Africa and how that loyalty can be both proved and disproved.

On the issue of time, if Iraq comes into compliance, and how it can do so realistically is set out clearly in the document, it can have all the time in the world, just as happened with the inspections in South Africa. Actually, it would not take very long. But if Iraq does not come into compliance, time is irrelevant. There will be time after time, and we will be back again having to face a decision about compliance. It is compliance first and then time, not the other way round.

Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon)

I think that the Foreign Secretary knows that I support the Government's policy on Iraq, but like many people I am deeply worried about the damage that it appears to be doing to the western Alliance. We saw the difficulties in the run-up to UN Security Council resolution 1441. These things seem to have become much more difficult now with, as the right hon. Gentleman has described, the French Foreign Minister drumming up opposition to a resolution proposed by two of France's supposed main allies. At one level, I suppose that the Foreign Secretary would say that that is just French mischief-making, but is it not also a demonstration of a failure of diplomacy? Should we not have put much more effort earlier into building the coalition diplomatically before the policy was launched? What are the right hon. Gentleman and the British Government doing to rescue the damage that is being done to the western Alliance?

Mr. Straw

We are putting a great deal of effort into that. I greatly regret the impasse that so far has been reached. I still hope that we may be able to avoid it. However, on 8 November last, after intense negotiations, we achieved a 15-0 result on resolution 1441. The words meant what they said then, and they mean what they say today.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

On Dr. el-Baradei's report and the question of uranium transactions between Iraq and Niger, Dr. el-Baradei said that Based on thorough analysis, the IAEA has concluded, with the concurrence of outside experts, that these documents—which formed the basis for the reports of recent uranium transactions between Iraq and Niger—are in fact not authentic. What does the Foreign Office know about "not authentic" documents?

Mr. Straw

What I would say is this—the idea of putting faith in inspectors is to put faith in inspectors. There were perfectly legitimate reasons—

Mr. Dalyell

Answer the question.

Mr. Straw

With great respect to my hon. Friend, I am answering the question. There were perfectly legitimate reasons for having the greatest suspicion about the possibility of Iraq having a continuing nuclear programme. After all, I remind my hon. Friend that Iraq did not exactly volunteer the existence of its nuclear programme in 1991 and onwards. It took defections before it did so. Dr. e1-Baradei's report goes on to say: However, we will continue to follow up any additional evidence, if it emerges, relevant to efforts by Iraq to illicitly import nuclear materials. And they have not closed the dossier either.

Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth)

When the Prime Minister came before the Liaison Committee recently, I asked him about the situation in Iraq if there was a war and what British forces would be doing afterwards. Can the Foreign Secretary confirm that it is quite likely that British forces would assume a disproportionate amount of the burden in a post-war Iraq? Can he further confirm that it is a commonly held view that one of the greatest failings of this Government has been their inability to sell their policy on Iraq to the people and to their Back Benchers?

Mr. Straw

British forces, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence has reminded me—I apologise, as I did not hear the end of the hon. Gentleman's question—will of course be available to share the burden of securing the peace as well as the burden of fighting in any military action that is required.

James Purnell (Stalybridge and Hyde)

I welcome the work that the Foreign Secretary continues to do on the middle east peace process, particularly his commitment to security as well as a viable state for the Palestinians. However, does he agree that a more democratic regime in Iraq, given Saddam Hussein's role in funding suicide bombing, would make peace in the middle east more likely, not less likely?

Mr. Straw

I agree absolutely. While there has been speculation about the extent to which the Iraqi regime funds some terrorist organisations, there is no doubt at all about the fact that it has been funding and training rejectionist terrorist regimes operating in Israel and the occupied territories.

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park)

Despite the damage that the USA and the Government have already inflicted on the United Nations and the European Union, the Foreign Secretary now claims to be going down the United Nations route. Does that mean that he has dropped the concept of an unreasonable veto?

Mr. Straw

Oh God! I do not know what to say to the hon. Lady except that sometimes I give up with the Liberal Democrats. I just say through you, Mr. Speaker, that I do not know what she thinks we have been doing for the past five months if not going down the United Nations route.

David Winnick (Walsall, North)

If war comes, it will be the responsibility of Saddam Hussein, but is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us would wish to see the United States play an active role in a peace process between the Palestinians and the Israelis leading to a viable Palestinian state—a state no less viable than Israel itself? Is the United States willing to play such a role?

Mr. Straw

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I believe that the United States is willing to play such a role, but we wish to continue—I am glad that my hon. Friend has raised this—to push the United States for the earlier publication of the road map, which is in the interests of the Israelis and the Palestinians, as well as wider security in the region.

Mr. John Baron (Billericay)

What is the Foreign Secretary's response to the increasing weight of legal opinion, both at home and abroad, that suggests that there is little that resolution 1441 in its own right can do to justify war against Iraq?

Mr. Straw

I have already given a detailed response in which I referred to 1441, going back to 687 and 678. I should also like to make it clear that Her Majesty's Government will always act, have always acted, and continue always to act within their obligations in international law. Nothing that we do will be contrary to those obligations.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

Can I take the Foreign Secretary back to his reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (David Winnick) a few moments ago? Can I tell my right hon. Friend, as I did in the Foreign Affairs Committee the other week, that he is too generous to the United States., which is being tardy in relation to the Quartet's road map on the resolution of the conflict between Palestine and Israel? We must ask him to use his good efforts and contacts to make it abundantly clear that the House of Commons expects the United States to get a move on and be proactive, as it is not at the moment. Finally, all of us who support and sustain the Front Bench believe in the basic elementary concept in the British constitution of Cabinet collective responsibility, and I hope that he will take that back to his right hon. Friends—there must be no more of the nonsense that we had last night on the radio.

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

Mr. Straw

Thank you very much. I agree with my hon. Friend's last point, and I also agree with his first point. I do not think that I am being too generous to the United States. I am sometimes too generous to the Liberal Democrats, but that is a different matter. It is important that there should be maximum understanding in Washington about the impatience of Members on both sides of the House and in all parties for the road map to be published and I shall be very happy to pass that point on.

Mr. Robert Walter (North Dorset)

The House will be pleased that the Foreign Secretary had discussions with the Secretary-General on the humanitarian consequences. Sixty per cent. of the Iraqi people are totally dependent for their food on the oil-for-food programme, which costs about $5 billion in any six-month period. Will the Foreign Secretary tell us who is going to feed the Iraqi people following the outbreak of a conflict, if there is no oil to pay for the food and no Iraqi Government to distribute it?

Mr. Straw

The Iraqi people will be fed, let me make that clear. There is money in the escrow accounts in the United Nations to pay for that. This has been a matter of the most intense discussion in Washington by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, by me and by many others, to ensure the absolute imperative that, while the conflict lasts, the Iraqi people are properly fed. The fact that 60 per cent. of them are dependent on the oil-for-food programme is but one further indication of the desperate nature of this regime.

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

Does my right hon. Friend accept that for many Labour Members—and, indeed, for many people in the country—the key to unlocking the support for military intervention in Iraq is a second UN resolution? Does he also accept that if there are to be exceptional circumstances, it will be necessary that everyone fully understands exactly what those circumstances are and why they are important? I would be grateful if my right hon. Friend could give the House an undertaking on that.

Mr. Straw

I would say to my hon. Friend, whose position on this matter I greatly respect, that of course I understand the great preference that we all have for a second resolution, and the political desirability of such a resolution, because it would represent clear consensus in the international community. I have dealt with the issue of the legal base. What I want to aim for is the passing of that second resolution, and for that reason—with respect to my hon. Friend—I do not want to get drawn into issues of where we go. It might be helpful if I point out that the position adopted by Her Majesty's Government is identical to the position adopted by the Labour party in a statement by the relevant policy commission dated 27 January.

Mr. Mark Simmonds (Boston and Skegness)

Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that there will be a debate and a vote on a substantive motion immediately after the vote of the UN Security Council on the second resolution?

Mr. Straw

Yes. If there is a vote and the matter comes to a conclusion, I am sure that the usual channels will arrange that. For the record, I enter the usual caveat that the only circumstances in which that could not take place would be if we thought that the safety of our troops would be put at risk. I also hope that hon.

Members have some faith in the Government's record on coming to the House immediately there is anything to discuss here.

Ms Oona King (Bethnal Green and Bow)

Is it not the case that Israel has flouted UN resolutions, invaded its neighbours' territory and developed weapons of mass destruction without provoking any rebuke at all from George W. Bush, and that, despite George Bush using the words "viable Palestinian state", he has done nothing to make it a reality? What further pressure can the Government bring to bear on the American Administration, and what will we be pushing for, other than a speedier publication of the road map?

Mr. Straw

It is certainly true that Israel is in breach of a number of Security Council resolutions, but so too are the Arab states—it is a point that I have made often enough. I understand the debating point, although it is more than that, that is made here, but there is a difference between the resolutions in respect of Israel and Palestine, all of which ought to be implemented, but which impose complex obligations on a series of parties—the Palestinians. Israel and the Arab states—and the unilateral mandatory obligations imposed on Iraq under chapter VII.

At the risk of being castigated by my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay), I am afraid that I do not accept that the United States Government have "done nothing". As it happens, they have moved the policy on within the UN further than even the Clinton Administration, because they moved what became resolution 1397 and then resolution 1402, providing for the first time for there to be Security Council policy laying down that there must be a viable Palestinian state.

What we now have to do—we continue to press for it, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister does so particularly—is, in the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King), make a reality of that much better policy. That is what we are doing.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere)

Is there not a real danger that Saddam Hussein might seek to widen a conflict, as he did in the first Gulf war when he launched 39 Scud missiles at Israel? Does the Foreign Secretary agree that there is an overriding need for all parties in the region to exercise restraint and that everything possible must be done to protect all those who live there from the evil predations of Saddam Hussein?

Mr. Straw

I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on what I thought was a robust and passionate speech that he made at the UN, but may I ask him why the case is not being made that there are strong grounds to intervene in Iraq on human rights grounds alone, as we intervened in Kosovo and Sierra Leone. I listen to spokesperson after spokesperson, and I remember resolution 688, which called for an end to repression of the public in Iraq, but the end to repression has not taken place. In fact, torture, ethnic cleansing and executions go on every day of the week in Iraq.

Mr. Straw

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for what she said and, if I may say so, the very robust way in which she has prosecuted the case against Saddam Hussein on humanitarian as well as wider security grounds. There is, of course, a strong humanitarian case against Saddam Hussein. We concentrate on disarmament because of our subscription to international law. The basis for any military action in the region will be implementation of resolution 1441 and its predecessors, but of course my hon. Friend is right to imply that a consequence of that will be freeing the Iraqi people from the terrible burden and humanitarian catastrophe that is the Saddam Hussein regime.

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion)

Will the Foreign Secretary please remind the House exactly of which part of resolution 1441 authorises war? Can he point to a similar resolution with the same wording under which war has been prosecuted and say which of the 37 UK Government vetoes were used unreasonably, and which uses of the veto by other countries were unreasonable?

Mr. Straw

I am delighted to do so. We start with paragraph 1, which says that the Security Council Decides that Iraq has been and remains in material breach of its obligations under relevant resolutions, including resolution 687 … in particular through Iraq's failure to cooperate with United Nations inspectors and the IAEA, and to complete the actions required under paragraphs 8 to 13 of resolution 687". We then go to paragraph 4, in which the Security Council

Decides that false statements or omissions in the declarations submitted by Iraq pursuant to this resolution and failure by Iraq at any time to comply with, and cooperate fully in the implementation of, this resolution shall constitute a further material breach of Iraq's obligations"— obligations of which it is now in breach. We then turn to operative paragraph 13, in which the Security Council Recalls, in that context, that the Council has repeatedly warned Iraq that it will face serious consequences as a result of its continued violations of its obligations". The text of all those paragraphs is available in the Vote Office.

Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby)

Will my right hon. Friend explain to the House how the raining of death upon innocent men, women and children can be an acceptable alternative to a policy of containment that is working? Will he listen to the people of this country, who are fed up and tired of him appeasing the United States and the hawks in the White House?

Mr. Straw

If I thought that there was a viable policy of containment that could work to ensure Saddam's disarmament I would support it, but that is palpably not the case. It is still possible for this matter to be resolved peacefully, but sadly that is Saddam's choice, not ours. With respect, I remember my hon. Friend saying something similar against military action in Kosovo. In the end, that proved necessary and was also right.

Mr. George Osborne (Tatton)

Does the Foreign Secretary agree with the International Development Secretary's description of the Prime Minister's policy as "reckless"? If not, has collective Cabinet responsibility broken down?

Mr. Straw

Like all my right hon. and hon. Friends, I believe that the policy that Her Majesty's Government are following is right.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)

Have the Government estimated the number of civilian casualties there will be if the war against Iraq takes place and 800 cruise missiles are targeted on Baghdad, as spelled out in the US war plan "Shock and Awe"? Has my right hon. Friend drawn up contingency plans for the plight of the children, when they are subjected to such terror bombing with weapons of mass destruction?

Mr. Straw

If there is military action, people will be killed, and some of them will be innocent. In any case, I do not even want guilty people to be killed unless that proves absolutely necessary. That is the nature of military action. I respect the pacifist tradition, but I do not support it. Unless we are pacifists, we have to acknowledge, as does the United Nations charter, that military action is sometimes necessary in pursuit of a greater good. It is my belief that if military action proves necessary the prime responsibility for that will be on Saddam's head. Although sadly people will be killed, the number of people saved by military action will greatly exceed the number killed.

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal)

The Foreign Secretary has helpfully characterised the second resolution as a mechanism for ensuring that there is no lack of clarity, and that there is no lack of a date or timetable to pressurise Saddam Hussein, because he will know that at that moment he will reap the whirlwind. Will the right hon. Gentleman give the House an assurance that, irrespective of the result of the United Nations vote, neither the United Kingdom nor the United States will pre-empt that timetable?

Mr. Straw

I have to speak for the United Kingdom Government: I do not speak for the United States Government, as I made clear in a television programme yesterday. I repeat the undertakings that I have given before, which are there for all to see. We have repeatedly come to the House, and we have introduced proper, substantive votes on these resolutions. That is entirely appropriate. Subject to the caveat that I have entered about the safety of troops, we will come back immediately there is anything to report—as I have done today, even though there is no conclusion to the current Security Council considerations—and when there is a substantive result or lack of result.

Mr. Tony Clarke (Northampton, South)

Recently, the Prime Minister and President Bush have been dismissive of any use of the veto in the Security Council on a second resolution, yet on the Israel/Palestine question the USA has used its veto 34 times in the past 30 years. Given the USA's poor record on using its veto, is the Foreign Secretary happy about British support for military action in the face of a veto after a second resolution?

Mr. Straw

Our preference is clearly to get a second resolution, and plainly we can get that only without a veto. On many occasions, I have had to say that we reserve our rights as to what judgments we make if we cannot get a second resolution, but of course I understand that the authority of the United Nations will be one of the important considerations that we will have to take into account in any difficult decisions we then have to make.

Mr. Michael Portillo (Kensington and Chelsea)

I have registered an interest.

What future does the Foreign Secretary believe NATO can possibly have now that the Foreign Secretary's good friend, dear Dominique, is touring Africa canvassing opinion against France's NATO allies, the United States and the United Kingdom?

Mr. Straw

I think that it has an interesting future. It certainly has a future—I am clear about that. These institutions, which have served, in the case of NATO, the western alliance and, in the case of the United Nations, the whole world, so well over the past 60 years are too robust to be undermined too far by temporary problems. We must all have a care, however, to ensure that those institutions continue to operate effectively.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside)

I commend the very hard work that lies behind the Foreign Secretary's statement. Is he concerned, however, that the joint organiser of the anti-war marches and demonstrations is the Muslim Association of Britain, with its associations with the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, who are committed as a religious requirement to the annihilation of the state of Israel?

Mr. Straw

I know how strongly my hon. Friend feels about that. I have to say to her that in a free, democratic country, unlike Iraq, people come together in broad alliances to organise marches. I know from my long experience of being on marches that one sometimes finds oneself with the most curious of marching companions.

Mr. David Chidgey (Eastleigh)

The Foreign Secretary says in his statement that he profoundly hopes that the Iraqi regime will, even at this late stage, seize the chance to disarm peacefully. I am sure that we all recognise that sentiment. However, the right hon. Gentleman has also said on several occasions that it is in fact impossible to find Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction in a country the size of France without his support and without his offering them up for verification. So my question is: what is the yardstick? Should the event arise whereby he does offer to disarm, how do we measure his compliance? Is it against the list that we had in 1998 or the future projection? How can we be sure that he has actually disarmed should he offer to do so?

Mr. Straw

The hon. Gentleman raises a really important question, which I touched on, but only lightly, in my statement. There are two issues here: first, how one measures whether Saddam has, over a matter of days, come into compliance; then, when and if he has come into compliance, how one measures whether he has disarmed completely. One measures whether he has come into compliance on whether he is co-operating with the 29 separate clusters set out in this very detailed UNMOVIC report. As I indicated in my statement, we are discussing whether some of those can be distilled into a few possible markers or tests by which the Security Council would be able to make a judgment about whether there was compliance.

To take the issue of interviews, for example, anybody who feels that they should give the Iraqi regime the benefit of the doubt need only to look at the record in this report and in the successive reports of Dr. Blix and Dr. el-Baradei concerning the point-blank refusal of the Iraqi regime to facilitate any free interviews outside Iraq whatsoever, notwithstanding the very clear requirements of 1441. So if they were suddenly to say, "Yes, we are going to comply with that and co-operate", and the relevant people appeared, and their relatives and friends were not murdered, that would be one indicator among a number. If we got to that point, the inspectors would go in and could have the time that they needed—I made that point to my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham). It would then be a matter of the inspectors saying, "Well, we have gone through each of these areas of the dossier and each of these clusters of issues, and they have dealt with what is required of them over a period of time." First, however, they have got to show that they are in compliance.

Mr. Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool, Walton)

Rather than cherry-pick the bits of the reports that bolster what is, to many of us, a wholly unconvincing Government case, and further to the question by the Father of the House, will the Foreign Secretary now confirm that the forged evidence on uranium purchases that was submitted to the IAEA was provided by the United Kingdom? Will he also confirm, given his comments on anthrax as an alleged biological weapon in Iraq, that the anthrax was provided by the United States, as set out in Senator Riegle's report?

Mr. Straw

I have to say gently to my hon. Friend that I do not know quite where he is coming from, because the Iraqis had an illegal nuclear weapons programme that they did not initially disclose. Far from cherry-picking the report, I felt it my duty to make clear the burden of what Dr. el-Baradei was saying, which I duly did. For information on anthrax, my hon. Friend needs to read section a, in chapter IV, on biological clusters, of the lengthy report. There, set out in detail, he will see the charges against the Iraqi regime. Contrary to Iraq's assertions that no other facilities had been used to produce anthrax, UNSCOM found evidence of anthrax in two places. Details of that are given. The report says: Based on all the available evidence, the strong presumption is that about 10,000 litres of anthrax was not destroyed and may still exist. As far as I know, that anthrax did not come from the United States. However, even if it did, while it would have been wrong of the United States to supply it, it would have been even worse of Iraq, in complete defiance of the United Nations, to continue to hang on to it and to maintain facilities to produce it.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire)

How does the Foreign Secretary expect to get public support when a senior member of the Cabinet has described his policy as "reckless"?

Mr. Straw

We have had that question. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] The answer is that I would describe the policy that we are following as fully in accordance with United Nations policy, and right.

David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde)

Is one of my right hon. Friend's grounds for optimism the repeated findings of opinion polls of ordinary Israeli citizens that show that 70 per cent. or more of them consistently support a two-state settlement, including the removal of most, if not all, of the settlements? Given that fact, should the United States not move forward with that process? Far from abandoning Israel, as some have claimed it would be doing—and which I do not want it to do—the United States will be ensuring that the will of ordinary Israeli citizens comes to pass.

Mr. Straw

I acknowledge what my hon. Friend says about Israeli public opinion. However, it also has to be said that Israeli public opinion was expressed in a recent general election, with a slightly different indication in the result. The United States Government have to take account of such indications of public opinion, as do we. What I know for sure is that establishing a democratic Palestinian Authority with sound public administration and good people running it—as we now have—and ensuring that such a move is properly reciprocated by the Israeli Government, are two steps that can lead towards peace in the occupied territories and the beginnings of democracy, and peace in Israel, which is in the interests of both communities.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney)

Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that, in the event of the House of Commons having a vote on a decision to commit British troops to a war in the Gulf, the Government will treat that vote as an issue of confidence?

Mr. Straw

We will treat that vote as the issue laid down in the resolution.

Mr. Doug Henderson (Newcastle upon Tyne, North)

If the further resolution fails to obtain a majority, or is vetoed in the Security Council, how will my right hon. Friend, in the event that Britain then goes to war, demonstrate to the British public that we are taking the UN route? Is there not a danger that the British public will see that we are in favour of the UN when it suits us, and not when it does not?

Mr. Straw

I have already set out to the House our understanding of the legal base for any such action. I know that my hon. Friend has strong opinions on this issue, but if he goes through all the resolutions—from 1441 back to 687 and 678—he will see beyond peradventure why Iraq is in material breach, why the ceasefire provided for by those earlier 1991 resolutions is not operative, and why serious consequences may follow. I repeat that our preference is for a second resolution. That is what we are working to achieve.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

Is it not the case that UN resolution 1441 gives all the criteria and more against which to set the non-compliance of the Iraqi regime? That being the case, may I say to the Foreign Secretary that he should not be dissuaded by any outcome over a second resolution in the event that French diplomacy, for example, is successful? Should he not bear in mind the fact that President Mugabe was recently feted and hosted by the French Government, and that the French Government are in danger of looking like a friend of murderous, dictators?

Mr. Straw

I am very clear that the Government of France have no better opinion of the Iraqi regime than we do. They supported 1441 and said back in November that Iraq was in material breach of it. The issue between us is not whether it is a hateful regime, but how we deal with that hateful regime. I regret the position that the French Government have taken on the merits, because that is less likely, not more likely, to lead to a peaceful resolution of the crisis.

David Hamilton (Midlothian)

May I push the Minister on the following point? Time and time again he refers to how we must support the United Nations, but if one, two or three permanent members reject and veto our position—or, indeed, if a majority are against us—will we still go ahead with America and the conflict in Iraq?

Mr. Straw

I spelled out the background to, and the legal base and details of, 1441. The Security Council of the United Nations is a political institution. We are working to achieve a second resolution. We have to reserve our position on what decisions we may take if we cannot achieve that, but we will not make those decisions unless and until we have to face them.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Speaker


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