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25 Nov 2002 : Column 60—continued

Mr. Moore rose—

Mr. David Chidgey (Eastleigh) rose—

Donald Anderson rose—

Mr. Straw: I give way to the Liberal Democrats' spokesman, but I ask him to think carefully about withdrawing the amendment. It does not serve the interests of the Liberal Democrats.

Mr. Moore: I shall return to many of the points that the Foreign Secretary has made in the past two or three minutes in my speech, if I catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, will he accept the proposition that the fact that people debate a substantive motion in the House does not in itself put the lives of our armed forces at risk? Does he accept that the Liberal Democrats have no desire to be party to anything that puts the lives of our forces at risk?

Mr. Straw: The hon. Gentleman is speaking to a different amendment. I have always accepted that most Liberal Democrats are full of good intentions; it is just how it turns out in the wash. That is the problem. There are those with good intentions, but those good intentions are not reflected in the words that they have signed up to. Generally speaking, substantive resolutions do not put British lives at risk but, in particular cases, they easily could. It is the Xin particular" that I am concerned about.

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Donald Anderson: May I remind my right hon. Friend and, indeed, the Liberal Democrats of another useful precedent at the time of the Kosovo conflict when the Security Council was unable to act? I refer to the mandate for the renewal of the United Nations force in Macedonia, which was blocked by the People's Republic of China for wholly capricious reasons, namely, the fact that Macedonia had recognised Taiwan. That surely adds strength to my right hon. Friend's wish to retain a certain reserve in this respect.

Mr. Straw: I am extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend. Those two examples show the practical problems we face. Notwithstanding the practical problems, it was a huge achievement by the whole international community to pass resolution 1441. I believe that if military action proves necessary, we will get a second Security Council resolution, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said. I also know that if we allow those who act capriciously to block the plain obligation of the international community, there will be no chance of resolving the problem peacefully or of ensuring that a decision to take military action lies within the United Nations.

Mr. Chidgey: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Straw: No, I want to make progress because many hon. Members wish to speak.

The real losers of Saddam Hussein's brutal dictatorship have been the Iraqi people themselves. Their suffering has been immense under a regime that murders, tortures and rapes political opponents and ethnic minorities. It has used poisonous gas to kill thousands of its people and ignores the plight of its sick and hungry. Since 1991, the United Kingdom has given more than £100 million in aid to Iraq bilaterally through the European Union. Later today, we expect the United Nations to adopt a British-drafted Security Council resolution extending the oil-for-food programme for another six months.

The Iraqi regime and some of its apologists elsewhere have peddled much propaganda about the oil-for-food programme, yet that UN programme is the Iraqi people's lifeline. While Saddam Hussein spreads stories of rising death rates and drug shortages, the latest United Nations report tells a very different story. It shows that acute malnutrition rates in Iraq are half the level they were before the oil-for-food programme began in 1996. Devastating conditions such as polio, diphtheria and diarrhoea in children are less widespread than they were when Saddam Hussein's forces invaded Kuwait. The programme's delivery of high-tech medical equipment, such as brain scanners, means that ordinary Iraqis have access to advanced medical treatment. Billions of pounds of all types of goods are being delivered under the programme each year.

Our policy has increased the supply of humanitarian goods to the Iraqi people; Saddam's policies have tried to frustrate the oil-for-food programme, and Iraq is currently failing to spend more than £1.5 billion allocated by the United Nations for humanitarian goods. Hon. Members who are sceptical about that should not take my word for it. Instead, they should pull off the internet the latest report by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, dated 12 November

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2002. It spells out in considerable detail exactly the contribution that the United Nations and the oil-for-food programme have made to the people in Iraq. On page after page there is reference to gratuitous obstruction by the Iraqi Government.

To pick up on a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Llew Smith), there are those who say that we should do nothing on Iraq because other countries are also subject to Security Council resolutions. As I said, Iraq is the only country that is in such clear and serious violation of a series of UN obligations under chapter VII. We want other resolutions implemented and we work tirelessly to achieve that in Liberia, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Libya and, of course, in respect of Israel and Palestine.

Far too many people on all sides have perished needlessly in the terrible conflict. We mourn them all, but the deaths are always more starkly brought home to us when they are of British citizens. One British citizen, Yoni Jesner, was killed on 19 September in a suicide bombing set by terrorists. Another, Iain Hook, a UN worker under contract from the Department for International Development, was killed on Friday last in Jenin, it seems as a result of fire by a member of the Israeli defence force. As soon as I heard the news, I spoke to the Israeli Foreign Minister, Mr. Netanyahu, who promised an immediate investigation. We are also seeking an investigation by the United Nations. The House should also know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development and I sent messages of condolence to his family.

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal): I thank the Government for their action in the circumstances and for the prompt way in which they helped the family by saying that they would see what they could do. May I add my condolences to the family of my constituent? He acted in a way expected of someone who was such a loyal and long-standing worker for the United Nations. He had been in equal danger in many other places and could easily have lost his life during the past 20 years.

Mr. Straw: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention. Mr. Hook was one of his constituents, and I shall certainly pass on his thanks to staff, particularly the British Consulate-General in Jerusalem, for their work. That is our duty—the staff rise to their duty on every occasion.

Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) rose—

Mr. Straw: I am sorry, I will not give way as I wish to bring my speech to a close.

Grim as the situation in the occupied territories and Israel is, there are some positive developments that we should not overlook. A process of negotiation is going on under the leadership of the so-called Quartet—the United Nations, the United States, the European Union and the Russian Federation—which is making progress towards agreement on how we get to a settlement. Determined moves to break the cycle of violence in the occupied territories continue. Palestinian reform efforts are continuing. There is now international consensus on the need for a settlement based on two states—Palestine

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and Israel—living side by side. We support and are engaged in all of this. I assure the House that wherever we can enhance our support in any way, we shall.

We have no quarrel with the Iraqi people. We want to help them to restore Iraq to its proper place in the community of nations, abiding by its international obligations and free from the burden of sanctions. That can only happen once Saddam's weapons of mass destruction have been destroyed, in line with a decade of United Nations resolutions. We hope that that can be done by peaceful means, and we shall give the weapons inspectors every support. Ultimately, however, the choice falls to Saddam Hussein alone. Resolution 1441 is his Xfinal opportunity" to take the pathway to peace, but no one should be in any doubt of the world's resolve if he fails to take it.

I commend the motion to the House.

5.36 pm

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes): I rise to support the Government motion, which effectively rehearses the principle of the United Nations Security Council resolution 1441, which we have already welcomed in the House. It emphasises the fact the resolution was carried unanimously by the Security Council, significantly, as the Foreign Secretary pointed out, including the support of Syria. It reiterates the need for full compliance by Iraq. We support resolution 1441, so we shall support the substantive motion tonight.

May I add to the remarks of the Foreign Secretary about the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell)? I, too, would like to send him our best wishes—we hope he makes a speedy recovery. I also join the Foreign Secretary in his remarks about the tragic death of Iain Hook in Jenin last Friday. We were all shaken by that incident, and I am glad that there is an inquiry. I hope that we shall have its findings soon and make proper representations as a result.

Ideally, I should have liked the motion to be more specific and stronger. It should have reiterated the words of the resolution and said that this is the Xfinal opportunity" for Iraq to comply. I should have liked it to stress that continued violation of its obligations will result in Iraq facing serious consequences. Had it done so, it would have sent a clearer message from the House than the more limited wording before us. In the end, however, it is not the words of motions but their meaning that is important—in this case, the overall message that the House will send to the international community in general and Saddam Hussein in particular.

The purpose of today's debate is, first, to show that the House is every bit as resolved as the United Nations Security Council to see an end, one way or another, to Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction and, secondly, to dispel the uncertainties which still, despite the Foreign Secretary's best efforts, cloud parts of the issue. We need to understand clearly the nature and extent of the task ahead and the way in which it is likely to develop. Saddam must finally be disabused of the notion that he still has room to manoeuvre. Our understanding and his understanding of the meaning of the resolution must be unequivocal.

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We must be absolutely clear about the objective which, as it always has been, is to eliminate Saddam's weapons of mass destruction. We can be in no doubt that those weapons, whether nuclear, chemical or biological, will, if developed to completion, pose an unacceptable threat to the region and the wider international community.

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