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25 Nov 2002 : Column 54continued
Mr. Straw: I am just about to come on to the substantive motion and I hope to give the right hon. and learned Gentleman and the House satisfaction on that. As far as moving a second resolution is concerned, the moment there is any evidence of a material breachwhether it arises because of Iraq's flagrant action and there is no argument about it or in a report from a member of the Security Council or the inspectorsthere will be a meeting of the Security Council at which it is, and always has been, open for any member to move any resolution they wish. Our preference is for a Security Council resolution, and I hope that we would move it.
Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak): As I understand it, the only grounds on which an individual member state could take military action against Iraq would be under the right to self-defence or in taking humanitarian action. I cannot see that such a situation applies to this country. On what basis, therefore, could action be taken without a specific UN Security Council resolution?
Mr. Straw: The United Nations charter on international law is not that precise. I have already said what our intentions are. As for humanitarian action, exactly this issue arose in 1999 in respect of Kosovo. Could there be military action against Milosevic, whom we now know to have been a brutal dictator, in the absence of a clear United Nations Security Council resolution, and given also that the Russian Federation, a member of the P5, moved an unacceptable resolution that we had to veto? The judgment was that the international community could take action, and that has never been challenged.
We have placed great faith in the Security Council and so far that has been reciprocated. We must continue to do so, but to sustain the authority of the United Nations, we have to reserve the positiononly reserve it, because I do not believe that this will ariseif a consensus within the Security Council is not possible. I say to my hon. Friend and to the Liberal Democrats, whose amendment I shall deal with shortly, that had we not taken that reservation in 1999, no military action against Milosevic would have been possible in respect of Kosovo, and that tyrannical dictator would still be ruining the lives of millions of people in the Balkans.
Annabelle Ewing (Perth): The right hon. Gentleman said that the Government's preference was for a second resolution. Does he, therefore, disagree with the Leader of the House who, on BBC Radio 4 last Friday, said that a second resolution would be needed to authorise military action if Iraq defaulted? Was the Leader of the House wrong? Does he not represent official UK Government policy?
Mr. Straw: Attentive though I am to the remarks of my right hon. Friend, unfortunately I missed that interview, although his deputy, the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw), tells me that the Leader of the House did not say that. I shall send for the record and ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence to come back to that point.
Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe): I am grateful to my right hon. Friend not only for giving way but also for his willingness to respond to Members' concerns. My question is about the other side of the coin: if the inspectors report that they are receiving full co-operation and that Iraq is moving towards removal of weapons of mass destruction, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is extremely unlikely that the question of military action would arise and that, at the end of the tunnel, we can offer Iraq some prospect that sanctions will be lifted?
Felicitous though all who speak from the Treasury Bench must be with words, the words would not come if Iraq had properly complied with the resolution yet one of us had to come to the House to explain why, notwithstanding that fact, we were going to take military action. The circumstances would not arise. We could not do that. The Cabinet could not do that. The armed forces could not do that. That is the settled view of the international community.
No decision on military action has yet been taken by Her Majesty's Government and I fervently hope that none will be necessary. Resolution 1441 sets out a clear and straightforward pathway to peace for Saddam, if he will only take it. However, we have got this far in terms of Saddam's compliance only because active diplomacy has been backed by the credible threat of force. For that threat to remain credible, it is crucial that we make proper preparations.
I shall deal with the fourth question that I raised: if Her Majesty's Government were to decide that military action was necessary, would the House be able to vote on it and, if so, when? If force becomes necessary, any decisions made by Her Majesty's Government will be careful, proportionate and consistent with our obligations in international law.
Any decision by Her Majesty's Government to take military action will be put before the House as soon as possible after it has been taken. The issue of a substantive resolution was raised with me by the Foreign Affairs Committee on 25 September, and as I told the Committee in evidence, we in the Government have no difficulty about the idea of a substantive motion on military action in respect of Iraq, at the appropriate time.
As to the appropriate time, I hope that it will be before any military engagement, but as the House has always acceptedand must acceptthere are circumstances in which the safety of our forces requires an element of surprise. In those circumstances, it would be utterly irresponsible to come to the House beforehand[Interruption.] Of course, it would. I hope that Liberal Democrat Members are not suggesting otherwise. [Hon. Members: XThey are."] If we can come to the House without placing our troops at risk, we shall do so, but if it would place our troops at risk we shall have to act in the same way as the Conservative Government did in January 1991when they had the full support of the present Lord Ashdown, then the leader of the Liberal Democrat party, who accepted that the safety of our troops was paramount. The then Government properly came to the House just five days after the decision was taken.
Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford): Will the Foreign Secretary answer a question that a serving member of Her Majesty's armed forces posed to me in my constituency on Saturday? He had been in New York at the time of the attack and had witnessed the vote in Congress, and he asked why the Government has had nine votes on hunting with dogsimportant though that may besince May 1997, but cannot produce a substantive motion now before forces are deployed to gain the support of all sides?
Mr. Straw: As it happens, the hon. Gentleman asks the wrong person about hunting; I dealt with it when I was Home SecretaryI am happily released from that fatebut it is not something that has ever lathered me up.
The hon. Gentleman is now tilting at windmills. The House properly and rightly asked for a substantive resolution as soon as we had a Security Council resolution. We have one. We are asking the Houseapart from the Liberal Democrats, and I shall come to themto endorse the Security Council resolution, and what is good enough for the United Nations ought, with respect, to be good enough for the Houseexcept apparently for the Liberal Democrats.
On military action, I say againI hope that the hon. Gentleman listens to these words and I look forward to a speech not by him, but by the hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Moore), who is standing in for the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell)that if we can and it is safe to do so, we will propose a resolution seeking the House's approval of decisions in respect of military action before military action takes place. If, however, it is unsafe to do so because it would place the lives of British servicemen and women at risk, we shall not do so until after the action has taken place. I fail to understand how any serious party that aims to be in government could possibly argue with that position.