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25 Nov 2002 : Column 89—continued

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order.

7.24 pm

Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire): It is entirely right and proper that so many right hon. and hon. Members have dwelt at length on wider middle east issues. I begin by quoting a leading—possibly the leading—Israeli politician, who said of the middle east peace process:

We all know what he means. In many senses, the same is true of the Iraq question. We can see the light—it is getting Saddam Hussein to disarm and return his country to normality. The question is how—where is the tunnel?

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About two weeks ago, as a member of the all-party United Nations group, I had the great privilege of going to the United Nations with the hon. Members for Putney (Mr. Colman) and for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath). There, we had remarkable access to many of the key players in the United Nations and the Security Council. In my brief remarks, I shall pick up some specific points that I learned during that two-day visit but that have not yet been made in the debate.

First, it is right to put on record the fact that there is huge confidence at the United Nations in Dr. Hans Blix. There has been some press comment in this country that he might not be up to the job, and some doubts have been expressed about his ability to deal with the inspections process. I agree with the practical points made by the right hon. Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson) and I acknowledge the huge scale of Dr. Blix's task, but I believe that he understands precisely what it is that he needs to do and how best to achieve it. One of the reasons for the confidence in Dr. Blix is that he was one of the key authors of the 1969 Vienna convention on the law of treaties, which defines what a material breach is, so we can safely say that the task is in extremely good hands.

One name has not so far been mentioned in the debate—Sir Jeremy Greenstock, our permanent representative to the Security Council.

Mr. George Howarth : (Knowsley, North and Sefton, East): He has been mentioned four times.

Mr. Luff: I am sorry—I cannot have been concentrating. I pay particular tribute to Sir Jeremy Greenstock, because although we talk about the achievement of politicians on such occasions, it is often to the diplomats that much of the credit must go. I have no doubt that Sir Jeremy's diplomatic skills with both the Americans and the other members of the Security Council have been largely instrumental in bringing about that remarkable achievement, resolution 1441.

I am not sure that much praise should be given to the Liberal Democrats. Their amendment is regrettable, giving breathing space to Saddam Hussein and having all the disadvantages in relation to our troops that the Foreign Secretary set out so admirably in his speech. I urge the hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Moore) to withdraw the amendment rather than press it to a vote, because it is a serious error of judgment.

One of the things we heard praised in New York is the Iraq programme, for the establishment of which the British Government can take some credit. It is often misleadingly referred to as the oil for food programme—the Foreign Secretary himself used that terminology—but it is so much more ambitious than that. Apologists for Saddam Hussein who sometimes criticise the Iraq programme are levelling their criticism at the wrong target. The problems, such as they are, with the programme are inevitable when the client is a monolithic state such as Iraq, and the programme is administered by a multilateral agency such as the United Nations. However, the main difficulties are caused by Saddam Hussein himself—for example, cutting off the flow of oil for 30 days in solidarity with other, wider, middle eastern questions, and thus removing funding

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for the programme. It is Saddam Hussein and no one else who inflicts misery and suffering on the people of his country.

If I have one criticism of the UN it is that it has not done the job of talking about the Iraq programme sufficiently well. The programme is a remarkable achievement, cited by the Foreign Secretary today, and the UN should be far more up front in talking about it and giving credit to its achievements.

That leads me to my other major concern, which is our humanitarian preparedness in the unfortunate event of a war. If there is a war—every Member of Parliament hopes that there will not be a war; that is common ground between us—it is inevitable that the Iraq programme and that type of humanitarian relief for the people of Iraq will end. We all know how desperately poor the international community's response to the 1990 to 1992 Gulf crisis was: hundreds of thousands of people suffered unnecessarily because we did not think through the humanitarian response to that crisis.

There is a strong view held with great sincerity by many UN member states that to prepare for a humanitarian crisis is to acknowledge the inevitability of war. I do not accept that argument. To prepare for the worst is not to wish for the worst, and we should prepare for the worst. Indeed, that may have the incidental advantage of reinforcing in Saddam Hussein's mind the seriousness of the international community's purpose. Please let us do more to prepare for the humanitarian consequences of a war that none of us want.

There is no doubt that the credibility of the United Nations has been greatly enhanced in the past few weeks and months. That is greatly to be welcomed. I share some of the reservations that have been expressed about the American Government's attitude towards Israel and about the need for even-handedness. However, I remind the House that—the right hon. Member for Swansea, East made this point—Syria voted for the resolution. That is a remarkable achievement. We had the privilege of meeting a representative of the Syrian Government when we were in New York and it is clear why Syria voted in the way that it did. The Arab states themselves view Saddam Hussein as a very serious threat. Members of the House should not forget the unanimity behind the resolution when they cast their votes on the Liberal amendment or on the main motion.

Sadly, I fear that war is very likely. Perhaps it will be further off than some people had originally imagined, but I am not optimistic that Saddam Hussein will ultimately comply with the terms of a very tough resolution. However, there is a substantially enhanced chance that any such military action will take place on a multilateral basis. The mood in the United Nations and the Security Council is clear, resolute and firm. They understand what they have signed up to in resolution 1441. That is to be welcomed. There will be disagreements over what is meant by a material breach, and there will be matters of interpretation. However, all the members of the Security Council understand the seriousness of the situation that they now face.

We know that war is not an attractive or an easy option, and no one should wish for war. I do not think that anyone does. We know all the options open to

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Saddam Hussein in the event of a war. For example, he could effectively take the people of Baghdad hostage as the price for negotiations with the international community. It would be a bloody and awful business.

I saw a sign on the wall of an office in the United Nations. It did not belong to the current occupant of the office but to a previous one. It read:

That rather light-hearted but serious interpretation is relevant now. There are no easy choices in situations such as this. Those who wish that Saddam Hussein would deal with the situation himself or would miraculously disappear seem to believe that there is an easy path out of this tremendously difficult situation. I am afraid that they are whistling in the dark. I hope against hope that there will be no war, but the world must grapple with evil and not avert its gaze or pass by on the other side.

7.32 pm

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton): In the summer, I expressed serious misgivings about the possibility of military action against Iraq. I was extremely worried that unilateral action would be taken by the United States with the support of the United Kingdom. I was also extremely worried about the consequences for Israel and Palestine, as a result of Saddam trying to involve Israel in any war that might take place. However, it has to be said that the latter worry continues while the former does not.

Just as I did in 1990–91, I have looked for a Security Council policy. I was not looking for the policy of the British Government—Labour now, Conservative in 1990—but for a clear United Nations policy that I could support. That is the only way in which world order can be maintained. Therefore, what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, with my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, has achieved has changed the position from the summer. We now have a unanimous United Nations Security Council resolution.

The resolution is not a brief expression of opinion, but sets a programme and timetable. It provides trip wires that make it clear that at the end of the process—if that process is followed through right to the end—is military action. What is important is not so much the fact that it is a unanimous resolution of the Security Council, although that is greatly to be welcomed, but the fact that it has been accepted by the Government of Iraq. If they had rejected the resolution, that would have created an immediate danger of war. However, once they accepted the resolution, they accepted its content and its consequences. That being so, it is impossible for anyone now to say that, should military action take place at the end of the process, that would be somehow springing a trap on the Iraqi Government. The moment on 8 November that the resolution was passed and the moment the following week that the Iraqi Government accepted it, they accepted what would happen if they did not comply with it.

I disagree with those hon. Members who believe that the position is obscure. It could not be plainer. There is a timetable, and it moves forward by stages, if necessary,

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until the beginning of March. If, by the beginning of March, Saddam Hussein has not complied with the resolution, the United Nations gets a report from the inspectors and the Security Council automatically convenes. We do not have to ask for it to convene; the resolution tells it to do so and to receive a report. If that report is unfavourable, the Security Council resolution talks about the serious consequences that can follow. Those serious consequences will not be a surprise to us in the House or a surprise to those in Baghdad. Baghdad has gone down this road before. It was warned of serious consequences but it believed that they would not be imposed. They were imposed, so nobody can now be in doubt about what would take place if the resolution were defied at any point.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has performed a service not simply to the House, but to world order by the way in which he has influenced the United States President. It is perfectly clear in my mind that this approach was not the preference of the United States President, and it certainly was not the preference of Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice—the three witches of this particular confrontation. Toil and trouble is what they are looking for. Powell, who had been sidelined, has been listened to, and I am sure that, to a considerable degree, that is the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.

I go further. When my right hon. Friend spoke on these issues at the Labour party conference, he built into his approach the need to have implementation of Security Council resolutions on Israel and Palestine as well. He talked about action before the end of this year and, even given the fact that the Israelis will have an election in January, that is the next part of the programme that he should follow. It is intolerable that the Israeli Government should refuse to sit down and talk with the Palestinians.

Of course, the Israelis suffer from utterly grievous terrorist acts, which are to be condemned and which have the most appalling human consequences. However, the fact that they are suffering from such acts is no excuse for them not to participate in talks. Indeed, some terrorist acts, such as the one on the Jewish settlement a few days ago, are a direct consequence of the Israeli Government's policies in maintaining settlements and exposing their soldiers—something that Yitzhak Rabin hated—to being killed to protect people who should not be there.

I know that the situation is difficult. Not only does Israel have its worst Prime Minister ever, but it has its worst Defence Minister and Foreign Minister ever. That does not mean that we should slacken in our efforts; indeed, it makes it much more important that we continue in them. It is all very well to say that trigger-happy Israeli soldiers are not killing people deliberately, but they are still killing them. We need an overall settlement because the middle east will not settle down unless both Iraq and Israel are forced to comply—

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