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25 Nov 2002 : Column 50—continued

Llew Smith: As consideration has obviously been given about going to war with Iraq, has similar consideration been given to going to war with Israel,

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because it too has weapons of mass destruction, it too is daily breaking UN resolutions, it too is invading another country and it too has a leader in Sharon who is a state terrorist?

Mr. Straw: The point that my hon. Friend seeks to make is about the proper and full enforcement of all UN Security Council resolutions. We support the proper and full enforcement of all resolutions, including 242, 338, 1397 and 1402 in respect of the middle east. Those resolutions impose obligations not just on the state of Israel—and we want to see them enforced—but on the Palestinian Authority and on the other Arab states. There is a process for dealing with those. The chapter VII resolutions of which Iraq stands in breach impose particular unilateral obligations on the Government of Iraq. We uphold, support and enhance the authority of the UN not by the relativism that my hon. Friend proposes—I infer from what he said that because there has been inadequate compliance in one area, there should be inadequate compliance in the other area—but by ensuring the fullest possible compliance of the will of the UN in every area.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Straw: I give way to the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke).

Mr. Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe): Following the point that the Foreign Secretary has made about the quantities of materials imported by Iraq that are unaccounted for, if the Government of Iraq respond in the next two or three weeks that they no longer possess any weapons of mass destruction, could that response in itself be taken as sufficient evidence of a breach of the UN resolution, sufficient to trigger the next stages in the process?

Mr. Straw: What the right hon. and learned Gentleman raises is what constitutes a material breach. I will deal with that straight away.

I have already explained that Iraq remains in material breach of previous resolutions but that Security Council resolution 1441 offers Iraq a final opportunity to comply. Paragraph 4 of the resolution says that a further material breach arises where there are

Paragraph 4 therefore defines in general terms what a further material breach will consist of.

As with any definition of that type, it is never possible to give an exhaustive list of all conceivable behaviours that it covers. That judgment has to be made against the real circumstances that arise, but I reassure the House that material breach means something significant: some behaviour or pattern of behaviour that is serious. Among such breaches could be action by the Government of Iraq seriously to obstruct or to impede the inspectors, to intimidate witnesses, or a pattern of behaviour where any single action appears relatively

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minor but the actions as a whole add up to something deliberate and more significant: something that shows Iraq's intention not to comply.

Mr. Clarke: With respect, that does not quite answer my question. The Foreign Secretary has defined what a material breach is. Would a statement by Iraq that it no longer possesses any weapons of mass destruction be a material breach in itself?

Mr. Straw: Operational paragraph 4 makes it clear that a material breach is a failure of disclosure and other failure to comply—there are two parts. Plainly, whether there has been another failure to comply as a result of a failure to disclose depends on the circumstances. I do not anticipate that we will be served up with the usual mantra from the Iraqi Government that they have no weapons of mass destruction. The Iraq regime will have a copy of the 203-page UNSCOM report setting out all the weapons of mass destruction and precursor agents that were unaccounted for when the inspectors left. If the Iraqis are serious about complying, which they now say they are, the first thing they have to do is to say what has happened to that material. The inspectors will test whether they are willing to act in good faith and comply with the will of the international community.

Aside from the particular definition in paragraph 4, a material breach has to be something serious. Nobody, I hope, wants military action against Iraq or any other country to be taken gratuitously. It should happen only as a last resort, and that is the position of Her Majesty's Government.

Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North): In The Times today, the deputy political editor says:

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Government's understanding of the motion is that it offers support for the United Nations and its resolution, not for war? Surely, if Saddam Hussein were to come to the conclusion that war is inevitable, as some have said, that would be a disincentive to his disarming. It is clearly important that our allies understand what this vote means, too.

Mr. Straw: Distinguished though the deputy political editor of The Times is, he does not speak for the Government.

Mr. Savidge: She.

Mr. Straw: She—I am sorry. There you go. What can I say in response to that gender correction without getting into trouble?

I intend to deal directly with the question of military action. The resolution provides a peaceful solution to Saddam's holding of weapons of mass destruction. It is there to resolve the problem peacefully and to authorise military action only if that is the position into which the Government of Iraq have manoeuvred the international community.

Paragraph 4 concludes by saying that any further material breach will be reported to the Security Council Xfor assessment" under paragraphs 11 and 12.

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Paragraph 11 directs the inspectors to report to the Security Council any interference or failure to comply with its disarmament obligations, making it clear that these include all the other relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions, as well as 1441.

Paragraph 12 then has the Security Council

That brings me to the second question: who decides and what happens if there is a further material breach? If there is evidence of a false statement or omission, together with a failure to comply in other respects, it can be reported to the Security Council as a further material breach either by a Security Council member or by the inspectors. The Council will undoubtedly require the opinion of the inspectors, regardless of who makes the initial report.

There is then a clear requirement for an immediate meeting of the Security Council to make the assessment of which I spoke. Where the breach is flagrant—say, a physical and serious attack on the inspectors—the decision on whether there has been a material breach will effectively have been made by the Iraqis, who will clearly have decided to reject any thought of compliance. In such a case, there will be no decision to be made. The Security Council will undoubtedly then act. It is of course possible, however, that there is credible evidence of a further material breach, but the Security Council is unable to reach a conclusion.

That brings me to the next question I posed: will there be a second Security Council resolution if military action proves necessary? Resolution 1441 does not stipulate that there has to be a second Security Council resolution to authorise military action in the event of a further material breach by Iraq. The idea that there should be a second Security Council resolution was an alternative discussed informally among members of the P5 of the Security Council and the elected 10 during the weeks of negotiation, but no draft to that effect was ever tabled by any member of Security Council, nor put to the vote. Instead, every member of the Security Council voted for and accepted this text.

I should make it clear, as I did on 7 November, that the preference of the Government in the event of any material breach is that there should be a second Security Council resolution authorising military action. However, the faith now being placed in the Security Council by all members of the United Nations, including the United States, requires the Council to show a corresponding level of responsibility. So far, it has done so and I believe that it will do so in the future, but we must reserve our position in the event that it does not. In any event, Saddam Hussein needs to be in no doubt of the resolve of the United Nations to require him to comply. That is the reason why the language of Xserious consequences" is used in paragraph 13 in the event of his non-compliance. So the discussion that will take place in the Security Council, in the event of material breach, will be on the understanding that action will follow.

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Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): The right hon. Gentleman has gone a long way to reassure those of us who are uneasy about the morality of war against Iraq. He will go even further to attract us to support the motion if he says that the Government will use their best endeavours to bring forward a motion of authority before the second Security Council resolution, and that they will lay an express motion of authority in this House which we can debate before military action is taken.

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