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I made it clear that there was a change in both the quality and the quantity of the threat to our aircrew. During January, there were as many attacks on our aircrew and aircraft as there had been throughout 2000. We judged that it was right to make efforts to protect aircrew during their legitimate and lawful patrols over the southern no-fly zone. I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman that Saddam alone is responsible for the situation. He is the author of the policy that leads to the attacks on our aircrew. We understand that he offers a substantial bonus to anyone who is capable of bringing down a coalition aircraft.
I accept the hon. Gentleman's observations about the importance of identifying precisely what Saddam Hussein is capable of producing in the way of weapons of mass destruction. That is why we were so determined, as part of the negotiations leading to UN Security Council resolution 1284, that an effective system of inspection should be in place. It is important that we should be able to inspect whatever it is that Iraq is trying to produce, given its history, our suspicions and the revelations that are made from time to time.
I accept that there is criticism of the effectiveness of certain sanctions. That is why we consistently review them to try to find ways of making them still more effective in damaging Saddam Hussein's regime, rather than allowing them to be targeted against the people of Iraq, with whom we have no quarrel.
I resist the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that there is a difference of opinion with the United States. Our regime- change policy is that of successive British Governments, and the hon. Gentleman knows that full well. In relation to the television interview, that is the only area where there is a difference of opinion between this Government and the United States Government. It is a difference of opinion that has been shared by successive United Kingdom Governments. There is no other difference in policy between the two countries.
Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield): Is the Secretary of State aware that the United Nations charter explicitly prohibits military action by one country against another without the authority of the Security Council, which has never authorised either the no-fly zones or the bombing? Is it not clear that, for that reason, any persons killed in Iraq could in law be regarded as victims of international terrorism, if not war crimes, and that by following American policy, Britain is absolutely isolated in the international community? Not one other country supports the policy--except for Israel, which has weapons of mass destruction, has invaded the Lebanon and is persecuting the Palestinians.
Is it not true that after 10 years of the policy which the Secretary of State praises, Saddam is stronger than he has ever been and has more support among his neighbours, whom the Government claim he threatens? Has the time not come to end sanctions and open proper peace negotiations to enable the Palestinians, the Israelis, the Iraqis and their neighbours to be brought to the table, which is the only way in which problems of this sort have ever been satisfactorily dealt with in the past?
Mr. Hoon: I do not agree with my right hon. Friend's interpretation of international law. The legal position is that we are entitled to patrol the no-fly zones for humanitarian reasons. We are there to protect people on the ground, whose condition would be significantly damaged if we were not present. That deals also with my right hon. Friend's second point, which was about whether Saddam is or is not stronger. Had we not taken the action that we have over the past 10 years, Saddam Hussein would undoubtedly have been still stronger and still capable of threatening his own people and other peoples in the region. Our policy has certainly improved the condition of people, not least in the northern no-fly zone, where they have been able to go about their lives without interference by Saddam Hussein's regime. In the southern no-fly zone, people are undoubtedly in a much better position than they would have been if we had not pursued our policy.
Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife): May I begin by saying that the Secretary of State is right to assert that whenever British forces are deployed it is the Government's duty to take every possible step to protect them? I remind the right hon. Gentleman that Liberal Democrat Members have supported military action when necessary against Iraq since the invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein about 10 and a half years ago. He will know that I have raised with him and his predecessor the fundamental question, which is whether RAF aircraft should be operating over southern Iraq. Resolution 688 does not give express authority, and there are widespread doubts about the legality of the operations, not least in the Arab capitals, whose political support we urgently require to maintain a coalition of political opinion against Saddam Hussein.
Is it not the case that air operations have not had the effect of protecting Shias from ground operations by Iraqi forces? Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that, for some weeks prior to the air strikes, the Ministry of Defence was considering withdrawing RAF aircraft from the southern no-fly zone operations?
Does not this all underscore the urgent need for a review of Government policy towards Iraq, including a review of a sanctions regime that is withering on the vine? It has had no effect on Saddam Hussein, nor on his programmes of manufacturing weapons of mass destruction. It has given him a heaven-sent propaganda weapon, which he has used to justify the brutal repression of the Iraqi people. Can we not now accept that non-military sanctions should be lifted, and that a policy of containment can be continued with the credible threat of military action, but with a sanctions regime confined to military and dual-use equipment?
Were we not patrolling the no-fly zone in the south, the position of the Shias on the ground would be significantly worsened. That is strong justification for the action that we are taking. We have not contemplated withdrawing RAF aircraft, but it is right that we constantly review the operation of our forces, as we constantly review sanctions. We need to ensure that sanctions are effective and are having the consequences that we desire. We recognise that in some areas they are not working as we would hope. It is important that we target sanctions still more effectively against Saddam Hussein's regime, not against Iraqi people.
Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton): Is it not weird that, 10 years after the liberation of Kuwait, when we recall the murder, torture, rape, looting and pillaging that accompanied Saddam Hussein's annexation of Kuwait, there should be Members who still seem to have greater sympathy for the murderer than for those he murdered? Is it not a fact that, whatever fraying there may be of sanctions, if we had not taken action and if we were not continuing to do so, which my right hon. Friend has said is wholly within international law, Saddam Hussein would by now be in occupation of at least parts of Saudi Arabia, parts of Iran and other parts of the middle east? When Members talk about "international terrorism", it is not the Government and our United States ally who are responsible for such terrorism, but a killer who has no hesitation in killing his own people in vast numbers. It is about time that people thought before they uttered ridiculous and stupid statements, which they stick to after 10 years.
Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his support. I simply add to his observations the fact that very recently, Saddam Hussein repeated his claim to the territory of Kuwait and made it clear that, given the opportunity, he would again invade that country and subject it to appalling atrocity. Many Kuwaitis are still missing as a result of the original invasion more than 10 years ago. I agree with my right hon. Friend, and he is right to make his points so sharply.
Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex): Will the right hon. Gentleman please pass my respects and admiration to the Royal Air Force crews who so bravely pressed home those militarily necessary attacks? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that we need to give serious consideration to reforming the sanctions regime? It is imperative that we get the weapons inspectors back into Baghdad to assess clearly the continuing weapons programme of that wicked man.
In order to get the weapons inspectors back, we should offer the carrot of a revised sanctions regime along the lines proposed by the nearly-always-right spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell). Does the Secretary of