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24 Sept 2002 : Column 148—continued

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Jenkin: I am not going to give way because there is so little time.

We clearly cannot rule out the prospect of military action after so many years of defiance from Saddam Hussein. It is too early to say what kind of military action may be involved, or to ask the Government what sort of preparations are being made for such action. It is fair to

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say, however, that we will be asking many questions about the preparedness of the United Kingdom's armed forces to contribute meaningfully to any military action.

The one point on which I agree with the hon. Member for Hereford is that we have to clear up the question of the SA80 rifle before we send our troops into action. We must also learn the lessons of Saif Sareea that were so ably set out in the Public Accounts Committee report under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh). I endorse very strongly the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates), who asked what preparations were being made for the inoculation of our troops to prepare for the possibility of exposure to chemical and biological attack. I ask the Minister expressly to address this point, because we do not want to go through what we went through in the aftermath of the Gulf war.

There has also not been enough preparation from the Government for the consequences of military action. Given that regime change is the most likely outcome of such action, we must be prepared to envisage the post-Saddam scenario to make the threat of military action credible. What talks have the Government had with opposition groups in Iraq? I know that the United States Administration are in constant dialogue with a number of such groups. What discussions are we having? What preparations are we making for humanitarian relief, police training, military training and all the other necessary building blocks to ensure that a new interim Administration can quickly become established?

Nothing can conceal the challenge that faces our country, the international community and the House. We have to face the fact that, even if nobody wants war—and nobody does—we cannot rule out the use of military force. We must stay within the rule of international law, pursue the widest possible international co-operation through the United Nations to achieve the best possible coalition, and be prepared to take the necessary action when the time comes.

Our obligation is fundamentally to future generations, who would not thank us for ducking these challenges. Like other hon. Members, I have been to Kabul and seen the result of the military action that we took in Afghanistan. I have no doubt that the people of Iraq would welcome such military action when it finally came to be made.

9.45 pm

The Minister of State for Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): Let me begin—

Mr. Salmond: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The House is becoming crowded around the Division Lobby Doors. Is there any chance that they will be free by the time we get to a Division, if we do so?

Mr. Speaker: The problem will be resolved.

Mr. Ingram: Let me begin again by thanking all right hon. and hon. Members for their contributions to the debate, which has been passionate, wide-ranging and thorough. The number of interventions on the Prime Minister was 25, the Foreign Secretary took eight and there have been 50 Back-Bench speakers. A range of opinions has been expressed. The people of this country

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can take confidence from the fact that their fundamental concerns, fears and wishes in respect of how we deal with the threat posed by Saddam Hussein have been comprehensively aired during the debate.

My right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary set out two critical questions that we had to address in this debate: has the threat from Saddam Hussein increased; and should we take action to address that threat and, if so, what action?

It is clear that there is unanimity in this House on the central fact that Saddam Hussein's regime is barbaric and evil. The dossier published today sets out in graphic detail the extent of the horrors that Saddam Hussein has imposed on his own people month in, month out, year in, year out. The deaths and deprivation that he has imposed have been rightly condemned across the House by all who have contributed to the debate, from those who accept the Government's case to those who retain doubts and those who will probably never be convinced of the present course of action on which the Government are embarked.

I cannot possibly answer all the points that have been raised in the debate in the time available, but let me deal with a few of the contributions made. The right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) and the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) asked about the health and welfare of our troops and what action we have taken since the 1990–91 Gulf conflict. The well-being of the personnel we deploy is of the greatest importance to us, and we have made some important improvements based on that experience. We have put in place a range of measures. We now ensure that all troops are immunised routinely with the standard service immunisations. We commission up-to-date medical intelligence briefings for parts of the world where UK troops may operate, and force health protection plans are then prepared for specific operations.

New equipment for the detection and the hazard management of chemical and biological warfare threats has been introduced. We have introduced a new operational medical record form intended to ensure that health events while on deployment are more systematically recorded than in the past. We cannot of course guarantee that deployed forces will not suffer ill health, but we are doing everything we can to minimise the risks.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson) made a thought-provoking speech. He raised a number of vital questions, all of them pointing to the complexity of the problems that we face, now and in the future. He rightly pointed to the preference for a stringent UN resolution with a strict timetable. Other right hon. and hon. Members made the same point. The Government agree with that.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) seemed to support the main thrust of the Government's approach, and echoed the views of my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East. However, I have one point of difference with him: I do not wholly go along with his assertion that the problem of Iraq can be solved only once the problem of the middle east is resolved. I would suggest to him that dealing with Saddam Hussein as we propose could greatly assist the peace process in the middle east.

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The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) asked whether the Foreign Secretary stood by his commitment to the primacy of the United Nations. Let me read again what the Foreign Secretary said in opening this debate. He said:

A peaceful conclusion is the outcome desired on both sides of the Atlantic, by Her Majesty's Government and by the United States Administration.

My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) asked whether United States air force aircraft at Diego Garcia carried nuclear weapons. As he knows, it has been the practice of successive Governments never to confirm or deny the presence of nuclear weapons at any particular location or at any particular time. I have no intention of deviating from that line—unless I end up, like my right hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes), with a premature end to my career.

My right hon. Friend asked about the situation in Iraq after Saddam Hussein, as did others. If and when Saddam Hussein leaves power, whenever that is, it will be for the Iraqi people to determine their future government. I suggest that such discussions are premature. The task facing us now is the disarming of Saddam Hussein: that is our aim on which we are focused.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Kelvin (Mr. Galloway) reminded the House that in the 1980s he was outside the Iraqi embassy protesting about the atrocities being committed in Iraq. Let me point out to him that most of us are still outside the Iraqi embassy, because the atrocities and the barbarism have continued. We need to tackle Saddam Hussein with resolve, rather than offering encouragement by directing our criticisms elsewhere.

The hon. Gentleman asked whose side we were on. Perhaps he should ask himself whose side he is on.

Mr. Galloway rose

Mr. Speaker: Order. The Minister is not going to give way.

Mr. Galloway rose

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman will have to make a point of order.

Mr. Galloway: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Minister has attacked me specifically by name, and does not have the guts to give way.

Mr. Speaker: We have kept the debate calm throughout the day, and we want to keep it that way.

Mr. Ingram: Let me say in passing that the hon. Gentleman did not give way to Members seeking to intervene on his speech.

Mr. Galloway rose

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