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25 Nov 2002 : Column 57—continued

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Straw: I have taken many interventions, and I wish to make progress.

We are not proposing hypothetical resolutions because I very much hope that military action can be avoided; that is the aim of the resolution. So far, Iraq has taken a step to comply with resolution 1441, but we must be realistic; Saddam Hussein's record of deceit, delay and defiance is well established.

Saddam Hussein now faces a clear choice: he can take the pathway to peace set out in the resolution or, by frustrating the inspectors and defying the international community's will, he can provoke military action. He can choose the path of full co-operation, leading to the suspension of sanctions and the re-admittance of Iraq to the family of nations, or he can expose his people to the serious consequences cited in resolution 1441. The choice is his.

Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South): Will the Foreign Secretary give way?

Mr. Straw: If my hon. Friend will allow me, I shall continue.

The UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, spoke for the world community as a whole when, as resolution 1441 was passed, he said:

That position is backed by the European Union. In a statement adopted at the General Affairs Council on 18 November, it urged the Iraqi government

Alan Simpson: Will the Foreign Secretary give way?

Mr. Straw: I regret not.

At the NATO summit in Prague last Friday, a similar statement was issued and explicitly endorsed by all 19 members. I should also say that, following resolution 1441, the Arab League made it clear that Iraq should work with the inspectors.

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I come to the Liberal Democrat amendment—

Mr. Terry Davis (Birmingham, Hodge Hill): Before that, will the Foreign Secretary give way?

Mr. Straw: Yes, of course.

Hon. Members: Ah!

Mr. Davis: The Foreign Secretary has referred to the informal discussions that took place between the five permanent members of the Security Council before resolution 1441 was passed. He has said also that no member of the Security Council put forward any objection or amendments to the resolution as it was going through the Security Council. But is it not correct to say that during those informal discussions, the British ambassador gave assurances about the interpretation of resolution 1441, and that the Russian ambassador at the Security Council read out a list of those assurances and told the Security Council that it was only on the basis of the assurances from the United Kingdom that he was going to vote for the resolution? Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that those assurances still apply?

Mr. Straw: I am glad that my right hon. Friend has asked that question. I did not say that no amendments had been put forward—in fact, after the US and the UK had tabled the resolution, a number of amendments were proposed and we accepted some of them. I will not bore the House by reciting them, but I happen to know almost all of them off by heart—indeed, one night I found myself dreaming about amendments to operational paragraph 4.

In any vote of that sort, there is what is called an explanation of vote, which is read into the record after the vote has taken place. Sir Jeremy Greenstock offered his explanation of vote, gave undertakings and we stand by the undertakings—

Mr. Hogg: What were they?

Mr. Straw: They were couched in terms similar to the ones that I have read out today.

The point that I was making to my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr. Davis) is a different one. No draft resolution proposing that there could be military action only if there were a further Security Council resolution was either tabled before the Security Council—it could easily have been—or voted on. That gives me a cue to deal with the Liberal Democrats, but first I will give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Alan Simpson), who has been trying to intervene.

Alan Simpson: To return to the element of surprise, it will come as no surprise to the Foreign Secretary that a large number of hon. Members on both sides of the House are keen to ensure that, if we are willing to take action in furtherance of western democratic values, we practise those values in this Chamber; nor will it come as a surprise that there are large elements within the American Administration who intend to bomb the living daylights out of Iraq, with or without a UN resolution. Will he give a commitment to table at the

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UN a second resolution seeking specific endorsement for a war in the event of a breach, and to have that discussed in advance by the House?

Mr. Straw: First, I am as signed up to western democratic values as my hon. Friend is. Secondly, any fair observer might say that I have given serious undertakings to the House about the endorsement of any decisions that Her Majesty's Government have to take. In any of the world's Administrations, the initial decision has to be made by Government, but it has to be subject to endorsement. I accept—I did not take a different view in opposition—that the House has rights and that the Government's duty is to meet those rights. That is what I have been trying to do today.

As for a second Security Council resolution, in answer to the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) I said that our preference was for a Security Council resolution, full stop. Within that, our preference is to ensure that we are able to table such a resolution. However, I cannot state precisely what the circumstances will be. I do not want to embarrass my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South or anyone else by reading out quotations from those who, six months ago, were demanding that we go to the United Nations, but I will paraphrase. My hon. Friend said that if there was to be action, it had to be dealt with by the UN. That is exactly the route that we are taking. Six months ago, no one believed that we could get a 15:0 decision, but that is what we have done. There is still an air of disbelief as to whether we will maintain our faith in the Security Council. We will do so.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Straw: I have given way many times already. I want to deal briefly with the Liberal Democrats' amendment and then make progress.

I hope that the Liberal Democrat spokesman will recognise that, in so far as any Foreign Secretary could, I have met much of the burden of the amendment—for example, in respect of a substantive motion in the House of Commons, with the caveat that everyone else accepts but which is not in the terms of the amendment. The amendment could not safely be voted on in any event. I say to him seriously that it would place British lives at risk. There is no pointing in his shaking his head. He has had every opportunity to take a different view. One of his hon. Friends sat on the Select Committee when I gave the undertaking on 25 September, and appeared to acknowledge the terms in which I gave it for the reasons that I have spelled out.

Mr. Michael Moore (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale): Will the Foreign Secretary give way?

Mr. Straw: I will give way in a second. The Liberal Democrats still say that there must be a separate resolution in advance of any commitment to military action.

In addition, I have to tell the hon. Gentleman what the Liberals are doing. I thought of resisting the temptation of saying that this follows a pattern of

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behaviour in which, to pick up a hunting analogy, the Liberals try to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds. At the same time as they support UN resolution 1441—I hope that they will do when it comes to a vote at 10 o'clock—they want to rewrite it and add to its language terms that no member of the Security Council ever sought formally to include in the resolution.

Finally, I point out to the Liberal Democrats that—to re-emphasise the Kosovo point—the previous leader of the Liberal Democrats played a very honourable role in exposing what was going on in the Balkans and in ensuring that military action was taken, notwithstanding the fact that a security resolution could not be achieved because of a blockage in the Security Council. It is no good saying, XOh well, it was all to do with humanitarian purposes." At the time, that was highly questionable. There were people on both sides of the House who said, XDo not take action." There were people saying that we should take action only with a Security Council mandate.

We do not know the exact circumstances that might arise—God forbid that they do—where military action proved necessary. It could prove necessary on a humanitarian basis as much as anything else. We do not know the circumstances. What the Liberal Democrats are doing through an ill-thought-through, ill-considered amendment is to say that in no circumstances—humanitarian or involving self-defence or anything else—can military action be authorised unless it is authorised by a separate Security Council resolution, even though they know the history of Kosovo, when one member of the Security Council decided to block action that they now accept was justified and justifiable.

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