HC Deb 31 March 2003 vol 402 cc652-4
5. Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham)

If he will make a statement on the dangers posed by weapons of mass destruction in the war in Iraq and the preparedness of British forces to meet those dangers. [105451]

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

Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction pose a threat to his own people, the stability of the Gulf region and, potentially, the rest of the world. His grim record demonstrates that he is prepared to use them to kill many thousands of people.

Planning and preparation for this operation have taken full account of the threat from those terrible weapons to our personnel, who are afforded a comprehensive defence against chemical and biological weapons, including detectors, warning and reporting systems, physical protection such as NBC suits, decontamination procedures and medical countermeasures.

Dr. Cable

What independent verification has emerged over the past week of the various reported findings, from the capture of a chemical weapons plant to this morning's report in a leading daily that there is final proof of large-scale ricin manufacture? Does the Minister feel that there is a useful wartime role for the UN weapons inspectors in making an independent assessment of the various evidence and claims as they emerge?

Mr. Ingram

I cannot confirm the newspaper report to which the hon. Gentleman refers. Clearly, when we get confirmation, that will be relayed through the normal channels. It may well be to the House in the first instance. The role of the UN inspectors is a matter for the UN.

Rachel Squire (Dunfermline, West)

I join others in expressing my deep sympathy for the families and friends of those who have lost their lives in our armed forces so far, and I pay tribute to the exceptionally high standards shown by our armed forces in the past 12 days. What further evidence does the Minister have of Saddam Hussein's intent to use weapons of mass destruction, particularly in chemical and biological warfare, and does he think that the findings of training equipment made south of Basra yesterday by British troops add further proof of Saddam Hussein's willingness to use unconventional methods of warfare?

Mr. Ingram

I share my hon. Friend's opening sentiments, and she makes some valuable points. The Secretary of State, in his statement of 20 March, issued the warning that we should not underestimate the risks and difficulties that we may face against a regime that is the embodiment of absolute ruthlessness, with an utter disregard for human life."—[Official Report, 20 March 2003; Vol. 401, c. 1087.] Of course, we have seen examples of that over recent days, including some of Saddam Hussein's paramilitaries operating in civilian clothes and the abuse of prisoners of war. We have discovered stocks of chemical weapons, and other things related to nuclear, biological and chemical threats. A clear conclusion can be drawn—[Interruption.] Well, there is certainly evidence of chemical and biological threats because of the suits that were found.

Saddam has the capability: that is why we are there in the first place. It must remain our assessment that he has and intends to use the weapons.

Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell)

One of the anxieties expressed in the past few days is that Saddam might try to throw missiles at Israel, possibly containing weapons of mass destruction, in an attempt to broaden the conflict. I do not want to draw the Minister into talking about the operational side, but can he reassure us that our forces have been able to minimise that threat?

Mr. Ingram

We have a range of objectives in seeking to minimise all the threats posed by Saddam Hussein's forces. That is obviously one of those threats, and we are taking appropriate action to minimise it.

Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow)

How many sites that have been identified by US and UK intelligence as chemical weapons storage sites have so far been inspected, and what has been found?

Mr. Ingram

I cannot give the figures, because, as I said earlier, such verification is not yet available to us. I only hope that my hon. Friend shares my view that Saddam Hussein has the capability, and has been developing it. That was Hans Blix's conclusion in the 173-page document that he produced on 7 March. It is only a matter of time before we find the weapons, and produce verification accordingly.