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24 Sept 2002 : Column 37—continued

Mr. Frank Cook: The right hon. Gentleman has emphasised the fact that we must not get it wrong. The Prime Minister told us with great firmness today that Iraq has biological and chemical weapons that can be ready in 45 minutes, which is a fraction of the time that we have been discussing this issue. Does the right hon. Gentleman

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believe that we shall be able to prevent Saddam from launching those weapons and making matters infinitely worse in the time when we are launching our first attack?

Mr. Ancram: If we do nothing and do not deal with the weapons of mass destruction, the threat will be far greater next month and in the months ahead. As I shall make clear later, one comes to a stage in the development of those weapons where it is even more difficult to secure their removal and decommissioning.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Ancram: I want to look at the four essentials that I have set out, and to make some progress.

First, we must, alongside the United States, vigorously pursue the UN resolution route set out by President Bush in his address to the United Nations. That important speech set out a course within which many international doubters have found reassurance. I know that because I was in Pakistan when that speech was made, and I addressed serious concerns there before and after the speech was made.

We must not, however, invest too much hope in the United Nations. We must recognise that Saddam Hussein sees the United Nations route as some kind of bazaar—one in which, as he has demonstrated over the past 10 years, he is adept at haggling. His price is never constant. He is always seeking to shift it further in his favour, and too often he has been allowed to get away with it. That must stop now.

The first way in which to stop that is by securing the right kind of resolution from the United Nations. That resolution will be a test of the United Nations' will to match up to the standards of its charter: it must be robust; it must contain three unambiguously stated elements; it must set out clearly the requirements that Iraq must meet, including unchallengeable obligations to the weapons inspectorate; it must have a firm and immutable time frame, within which the requirements must be met and the obligations fulfilled; and it must make it clear in unequivocal terms that failure to comply will, with the backing of the UN, immediately open the way for whatever effective action is appropriate to secure the objective of eliminating the weapons of mass destruction.

Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central): In describing his party's objectives, the right hon. Gentleman used the phrase "free and democratic Iraq". The Prime Minister did not use that phrase; he used the phrase "the integrity of Iraq". What happens if it is not possible to have both a free and democratic Iraq and the integrity of Iraq? Which is the more important: democracy or the integrity of Iraq?

Mr. Ancram: We first have to achieve the elimination of the weapons of mass destruction. I shall come a little later to what I believe the Government should be addressing in terms of the future of Iraq.

So far as the UN resolution is concerned, there must be no qualifications, no escape hatches and no room for haggling. The message must be clear to Saddam Hussein: one way or other, the game is up, and it is up for ever.

Any action that we take cannot go off at half cock. We must be prepared to contribute to the US initiative all the force and capability required to succeed and succeed

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quickly. If military action begins in Iraq we must, with our allies, pursue it with overwhelming force and single purpose. Our engagement must be swift and effective.

Our forces are already stretched from Sierra Leone through the Balkans to Afghanistan. Can the Foreign Secretary or the Minister of State reassure the House that the Government will ensure that whatever resources are needed will be made available? Are manpower, equipment and ordnance available and ready for the task that may lie ahead?

Mr. Dalyell: The right hon. Gentleman has used the words "overwhelming force" three times already. Does "overwhelming force" include the use of B61-11s? Those are the earth-penetrating nuclear weapons which, we are told, are based in the British Indian ocean territory of Diego Garcia. If there is to be overwhelming force, and if it is to involve nuclear weapons, with the B2 bombers that are based in the hangars at Diego Garcia, ought not the House of Commons to be told about it?

Mr. Ancram: The force that will be required is that which is appropriate and most effective in achieving the objective. I am certainly not going to speculate at this stage on what that force will be. Indeed, at this particular stage we need to make it clear that the United Nations resolution is the first objective to be fulfilled: only if Saddam breaches that will we consider the second option.

Mr. Michael Mates (East Hampshire): Does my right hon. Friend agree that if diplomacy fails and force has to be used, we must do all that we can to ensure the safety of any service men whom we commit to that force, given the threat of biological or chemical weapons? Does he also agree that this time there must not be the haphazard method of immunisation and vaccination that caused so much distress and grief after the Gulf war? If a Defence Minister is to respond to the debate, will my right hon. Friend ask him to give us a substantial assurance that plans now exist to ensure the safety of our troops if they should be committed?

Mr. Ancram: I thank my hon. Friend for that important question. I am sure that the Minister of State for Defence heard what he had to say. We must learn the lessons of some of the problems that have arisen in the past, and I hope that the Minister will reassure us that that is now being done.

We must have a clear vision of the Iraq that we want to see emerge from any conflict, and that we shall need to stand ready to help to build. It is not enough simply to stop Saddam achieving a nuclear arsenal; it is not enough simply to stop his brutal reign of fear. We need to know what comes next. We need to hear from the Government that there is a blueprint—that there are plans and resources—so that a democratic, prosperous and renewed Iraq can quickly enter the family of nations and the global economy.

If we can persuade the world that we are genuinely looking beyond Saddam and that we have worked out the detail of what must come after him, we will be that much more likely to bring the world with us. If we can convey powerfully enough a vibrant vision of the new Iraq, we will be that much more likely to bring the people of Iraq with us as well.

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All this will also have important implications in the middle east and the Arab world. I heard what the Prime Minister had to say about the middle east, and I support his call for renewed dialogue to achieve the two-state solution. We must also be aware of the potential knock-on effects in other Arab countries in the region, and of the dangers of destabilisation. The last thing we want is the destabilisation of Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia or the Gulf states in general. We need a clear, positive and saleable picture of a post-Saddam middle east that creates stability and encourages prosperity. How much diplomatic consultation—I ask this of the Foreign Secretary—is taking place to ensure that that happens? How much work is being done to ensure that, post-Saddam, international oil prices, for example, will be objectively balanced rather than politically skewed?

The threat from Iraq's weapons of mass destruction is there, and it is growing. International terrorism and its potential involvement in the use of such weapons compound that threat. But the key question will still be asked, and has been asked today: is all this enough to justify war? I believe that if the robust UN resolution route fails to materialise, or if Saddam Hussein treats it with his usual contempt, the justification for military action exists. The weapons of mass destruction must be eliminated before they can be developed to a level at which they become their own deterrent against their elimination, and an even greater threat as a result.

Then there will remain the question "Why now?" When is the time ever absolutely right for action, and how often has inaction or postponed action led to an even worse threat and greater attrition? There are certain defining moments in history which are either seized or missed irrevocably. The cost of missing them is always high, almost invariably in terms of human suffering and destruction. I believe that we are facing a defining moment now. If we fail to seize it, our responsibility for what could follow will be grave indeed.

We need to ask whether, if between 1933 and 1936 the international community had managed to mobilise the determination and action to prevent German rearmament, the horrors of the second world war might have been avoided. On that occasion timidity and caution, and the principle of avoiding conflict, triumphed. Of course history never repeats itself, but the lessons are there to be learned.

The House is rightly anxious—it would be extraordinary if it were not—but I believe that the worst thing we could do now would be to show uncertainty in the face of what is an undeniably serious and mounting threat to us all. We are all searching for peace—a peace that these weapons of mass destruction threaten. Peace can never be bought cheaply; often it can be found only in grave decisions and in readiness for war. None of us rejoices in the prospect of military conflict, but we know that peace can never sit quietly alongside the horrific development of Saddam Hussein's germs, gas and, eventually, nuclear weapons. That would be the peace of the deliberately averted gaze, and it would end in tears.

Our message to Saddam Hussein today is blunt and simple. "You have reached the end of the road; destroy your weapons or we will do it for you."

History has demonstrated that when the House shows its courage and united determination, it can turn the tide of events. I hope that today we can find that courage and

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that determination, and send the message across the world that here in Britain the despot and the terrorist will never be allowed to win—and that if we have to fight to achieve that, we will.

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