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25 Nov 2002 : Column 73—continued

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman's time is up.

6.15 pm

Mr. Michael Moore (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale): I beg to move, To add at the end of the Question:

I preface my remarks by apologising on behalf of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) for his unavoidable absence. We trust that he will be back in his rightful place on these Benches before too long.

This is an important debate on perhaps the most significant issue facing the country and the international community at this time. It involves not simply Saddam Hussein's evil regime and the nature of the threat posed

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by it to world peace, but how the world in general and this country in particular deal with the consequences of that threat.

The House last debated those issues during the September recall of Parliament, when my right hon. and learned Friend set out the clear principles that should underpin our consideration of these matters: no country should ever exclude the use of military force to protect the safety and security of its citizens, but any military action must be consistent with the principles of international law and be considered only as a last resort. Furthermore, any decision to commit British forces to armed conflict should be subject to a debate in the House on a substantive motion.

The previous debate occurred a few days after Saddam's offer of unconditional and unfettered access to UN weapons inspectors was made. Today's debate takes place as more inspectors arrive in Baghdad, given authority by the unanimous Security Council resolution of 8 November. That represents significant progress, which we on these Benches welcome.

As resolution 1441 makes clear, the inspectors enjoy the full support of right-thinking people wherever they are in the world. Saddam Hussein has no choice but to comply with it. This time, he must not call the international community's bluff. We argued from the beginning that the UN must be at the centre of all efforts to resolve the situation in Iraq. We opposed, and continue to oppose, the threats against Baghdad of unilateral action, which seemed all too possible throughout August.

Therefore, we should recognise the achievement of the Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, and the UN officials, working with the Security Council members, in producing a resolution that enjoys unanimous support. We should also acknowledge the efforts of the Foreign Secretary and the British UN mission in achieving that unanimity. Ministers have shown that they can exert influence over America to work within the proper constraints of international law. We commend that approach and hope that it continues to be the model for transatlantic relations.

The resolution forms the basis of the Government motion that we are debating and which we shall support. Nobody contests the need for the Iraqi regime to

or the fact


as the proposed Conservative amendment made plain.

The Liberal Democrat amendment sets out additional matters that we want clarified, specifically the continuing role of the United Nations and the position of the House in determining the nature of any British military or other contribution to that process. In the circumstances, we are glad that our amendment has been selected, and hope that it will receive support throughout the House.

Resolution 1441 rightly points out that Saddam

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of successive UN resolutions, and that this is a Xfinal opportunity" for him to comply with his obligations; but it would be foolish to exclude the possibility of further breaches of UN resolutions by the Iraqi dictator. Failure to comply with and co-operate fully in the implementation of the resolution will constitute further Xmaterial breach", which the executive chairman of UNMOVIC or the director-general of the IAEA should report to the Council to allow its members to Xconsider the situation".

Hugh Bayley (City of York): Would not Saddam Hussein's agreement to readmit the UN inspectors have been inconceivable had there not been a credible threat of military action? Is it not now inconceivable that Saddam Hussein will completely and fully disarm, as required by the UN, without the threat of military action? Why, then, does the hon. Gentleman's party give Saddam Hussein breathing space by saying that no military action should be taken until or unless the issue is returned to the UN?

Mr. Moore: If the hon. Gentleman listens to all of my speech, as I hope he will, he will realise that what I consider important is the fact that the UN, not the threat of war, is driving this process.

There must be no doubt that the senior inspectors will determine that a breach has occurred, rather than the intelligence agencies of the United States or other countries. When the inspectors report, it must be the whole Council that determines whether the breach is material, and what action must be taken.

The resolution warns Iraq of the serious consequences of

The nature of the Council's response will inevitably depend on the contents and the circumstances of the report from senior UN officials in Baghdad. Liberal Democrats believe that we cannot rule out the possibility of military action, but that it must be the last resort, when all other options have been exhausted. It must also be proportionate to the circumstances. We will listen carefully to the Defence Secretary's comments on any deployment of UK forces.

We must also keep the situation in the middle east in mind. Throughout the period during which the tension over Iraq has been building up—indeed, long before that—the fragile security situation between Israel and the Palestinians has caused great concern. Let me add my condolences to the family of the constituents of the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) at this time of their loss.

A war with Iraq would complicate matters immeasurably, not only in Israel but in the wider Arab world. Such considerations cannot be ignored lightly. Nor can we lose sight of the terrible price that would be paid by innocent Iraqis in any war with their country. The complexity of these issues underlines the need for any military action to have a mandate from the Security Council. Ideally, the mandate would be in the form of a new resolution, but Council members may not consider that necessary.

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Given the Government's position on Iraq and the statements of support for the United States, we are only too aware that British forces may be committed to a war in Iraq, even in the face of international opinion and opposition from other Security Council members. We cannot judge the circumstances in advance of their existence. We can, however, set out the way in which we will consider the Government's plans in the event of our military forces being committed to action.

Sending military personnel to a war is one of the most serious decisions that any Government ever make. We do not underestimate the seriousness with which the Prime Minister and his colleagues treat that responsibility, but we in the House must play our part too. We are sent here by our constituents to make the Government accountable, and to ensure that proper consideration is given to the decisions that Ministers make. We do not believe that in calling for a motion in the House we put our forces' lives at risk. We would not expect the Government to do so.

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington): It was suggested earlier that any reference back to the Security Council would somehow give Saddam Hussein a breathing space. Is not the point that if we are to proceed with military action against Iraq it should take place within the framework of international law, and that only by keeping it firmly within that framework will we allay the problems of instability that such action might pose?

Mr. Moore: I entirely agree that the framework of international law must govern the whole debate, and the actions of our Government and Governments elsewhere.

When British lives are to be put at stake—and other lives too—owing to this country's actions, it is only right for the House of Commons to be involved in the process. Not least when there is no new UN resolution and when the circumstances of the UN mandate for military action are in doubt, the House must be allowed to make a judgment and to have a vote—and that must be on the basis of a substantive motion setting out the nature of the commitment of British armed forces to war.

Alan Simpson: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that it cannot be right for the Government to be accused of putting British lives at risk when, in a debate here, some of us at least wish to argue that British troops should not be sent to take part in a war in which we should not be engaging? Does he also accept that the motion leaves it open for troops to be deployed with no further endorsement either specifically by the UN or by the House? I am talking about a democratic armlock that we should apply.

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