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House of Commons

Tuesday 5 November 2002

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]


Double Taxation Relief

THE VICE-CHAMBERLAIN OF THE HOUSEHOLD reported Her Majesty's Answer to the Address, as follows:

I have received your Addresses praying that the Double Taxation Relief (Taxes on Income) (United States of America) Order 2002 and the Double Taxation Relief (Taxes on Income) (Lithuania) Order 2002 be made in the form of the drafts laid before your House on 22 and 23 July respectively.

I will comply with your request.


London Local Authorities Bill [Lords]


Lords Message considered accordingly.


Message to the Lords to acquaint them therewith.

London Local Authorities and Transport for London Bill [Lords]


Lords Message considered accordingly.


Message to the Lords to acquaint them therewith.

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Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—


1. Pete Wishart (North Tayside): If he will make a statement on developments at the United Nations with regard to weapons inspections in Iraq. [77161]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): Iraq has been in clear defiance of a series of United Nations Security Council resolutions for many years. We are working with colleagues in the Security Council to secure a robust resolution so as to ensure that the weapons inspectors can find and destroy the weapons of mass destruction held unlawfully by Iraq.

Pete Wishart : I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that reply. Does he agree with me and many other hon. Members that a United Nations approach to this crisis is essential? Will he congratulate and praise the Government of France on continuing to promote a diplomatic and multilateral solution to this crisis?

Mr. Straw: I congratulate all Governments who promote a diplomatic solution to this problem, including the Governments of the United States, France, Russia, China and the United Kingdom.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North): Is the Secretary of State aware that the weapons inspectors could have been back in Iraq some weeks ago if the Iraqi Government's offer to allow unfettered access had been taken up? Will he explain why Britain and the United States seem to be pursuing a resolution in the United Nations that will give President Bush the sole power of decision making and veto over the future of any weapons inspectorate or any bombing or invasion of Iraq?

Mr. Straw: My hon. Friend's interpretation of the draft resolution is not correct. I know that he feels the same detestation of Saddam Hussein as we all do, so it is all the more surprising that he has been taken in by what Saddam said. Everyone knows that Saddam is in complete defiance of a series of United Nations resolutions on weapons inspectors, and that there were fundamental flaws in the previous inspectorial regime, especially the fact that it allowed Saddam to put his weapons of mass destruction into so-called presidential sites, which incidentally, are larger than the whole borough of Islington, and thus avoid inspection.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife): I commend the Secretary of State for his robust opposition to Mr. Sharon's proposal that if military action is taken against Iraq it should be followed by military action against Iran. Will he assure the House that any resolution supported by the United Kingdom will not bestow on any member of the Security Council an automatic right

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to take military action if that state alone considers Iraq to be in breach of its obligations? Will he also give the House an assurance that if military action is considered necessary as a last resort, it is for the Security Council as a whole to make that decision? Will he resist any attempt to put military action on a hair trigger to be pulled by any state that so chooses?

Mr. Straw: I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Member for his support for our position on Iran. I made it clear on the radio that, although we understand the acute sense of fear felt in Israel, we do not remotely support the suggestion of Prime Minister Sharon that the appropriate way to deal with problems in Iran is to launch an attack on that country. There is a significant difference between Iran and Iraq. Iraq is a totalitarian dictatorship, whereas Iran is an emerging democracy. I take the same view in respect of the holding of Iran's weapons of mass destruction as we have taken in respect of the more serious problem of North Korea. So far as is humanly possible, we should pursue a diplomatic route if that remains remotely feasible.

There is no suggestion from any member of the Security Council that the resolution should permit a hair trigger. Both the United Kingdom and the United States have said that we reserve the right to take military action against Saddam Hussein's defiance of international law, but within international law, if the United Nations fails to meet its clear responsibilities. Our preference, however—which I know is shared by the United States—is for a robust resolution or resolutions to be passed by the Security Council as soon as possible to provide for full inspection of Saddam's holdings of weapons of mass destruction, followed by the destruction of the weapons.

Ian Lucas (Wrexham): Given the time it is taking for the resolution to be discussed at the United Nations, it will clearly be complex if agreed on. Would it not be appropriate for the House to consider its terms in detail if and when it is passed? Will my right hon. Friend give an undertaking that we shall have such an opportunity?

Mr. Straw: Yes. I intend—with your permission, Mr. Speaker, and provided that Parliament is sitting—to make a statement as soon as possible, when and if a resolution is passed. As for any issue relating to the authorisation of military action, which is not on the agenda at present but is obviously a possibility, I, like my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, have made clear the Government's wish for a substantive resolution to that effect.

Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid-Kent): For many of my constituents, one of the critical planks in the whole question is the link between the regime in Iraq and international terrorist organisations. Does the Foreign Secretary consider that that link exists now, and is there a real threat that it might exist in the future?

Mr. Straw: We work on the basis that the Hussein regime is so evil that it has, for certain, the capacity to develop links with all kinds of international terrorist organisations. Certainly, it actively supports terrorist organisations operating in Israel and the occupied territories. I have seen no direct evidence of the Iraqi

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regime's involvement in the al-Qaeda operation before 11 September, but were such evidence presented to me I would not be surprised.

David Winnick (Walsall, North): If it were suddenly announced that there would be no military action in any circumstances, would not the chance of the weapons inspectors going back into Iraq be as remote as the possibility of that criminal and murderous regime turning itself into a parliamentary democracy? It is a pity that the critics do not recognise that.

Mr. Straw: Exactly, and I must tell my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) that, to the extent that Saddam Hussein has made any change in what he is saying—by saying that he will allow inspectors in—the only reason he has done so is the existence of a credible threat of the use of force against him.

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes): The Prime Minister said yesterday that we were

in regard to a United Nations Security Council decision. Does that actually mean agreement, or does it mean that the crunch moment for a decision is coming?

As the House may well be in recess when that point of closure is reached, and unable to question the Foreign Secretary, will he clarify one or two points now? If the French veto the United States-United Kingdom resolution and propose their own softer resolution in its place, will the United Kingdom veto, support or abstain on that resolution? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the disarming of Saddam Hussein and the elimination of his weapons of mass destruction cannot be held to ransom by the political and commercial interests of one or two permanent members of the Security Council? Did I understand the right hon. Gentleman to say earlier that if there was no United Nations resolution as a result of such a veto, the Government would in principle support the United States in taking any legal military action, even without United Nations backing?

Mr. Straw: We are working on the basis that an agreed resolution will be possible. I have been working very closely with the United States Secretary of State, Colin Powell, and my other opposite numbers, particularly the P5's French, Russian and Chinese Foreign Ministers. We engage in daily, sometimes hourly, discussions about the text of the resolution, and I share the Prime Minister's view that we are approaching closure.

I do not want to speculate about what decisions we would take if agreement within the permanent five were not possible, except to say that we would vote for or against resolutions on their merits. However, we have always been clear about the need for robust resolutions, or a robust resolution, in respect of Saddam Hussein. The strongest possible chance of securing a peaceful outcome to this crisis of defiance by the Saddam Hussein regime is if we can be as tough as possible as early as possible. That is what we are working towards.

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I accept what the right hon. Gentleman says on the political and commercial interests of members of the United Nations, whether they are on the Security Council or otherwise. I made the position clear on the possibility of taking military action if there is no Security Council resolution but we would always act within our obligations in international law.

Of course I understand the frustration, which I feel too, that the House may be prorogued when and if in the next few days a resolution is agreed but I promise the House that I will take steps as soon as I can to ensure that there is a full discussion in a statement on the resolution, if it is agreed.

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