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25 Nov 2002 : Column 93continued
The circumstances in which the elements come together change as circumstances of the international community change. There is a world of difference between unilateral posturing and a unanimous resolution of the Security Council, and between a material breach as defined by one or two members of the Security Council and an action agreed by all. I was greatly influenced by the visit to the United Nations to which the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) referred, which gave me the opportunity to talk to some of the representatives of the permanent five and the elected 10 on the Security Council. I concur entirely with the view that Sir Jeremy Greenstock has done an excellent job on behalf of the British Government and the British people in the United Nations. The Foreign Secretary has also played a significant part.
Members of the Security Council have passed a unanimous resolution, which they believe re-establishes the primacy of international law and the United Nations. That is important. They believe that they have achieved, at least pro tem, an effective containment of Iraq and, in the long term, its disarmament. Let us hope that that is the case. They also believe that they have perhaps thwarted the unilateralists in the United States Administration and put them back in their box while strengthening the position of the State Department and, by extension, Secretary Colin Powell. That is also welcome.
I intervened on the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) to highlight the fact that it is clear that the Security Council supported the resolution on the basis of no automaticity. The understanding was that the issue would return to the Security Council, as the letter from the Chinese, French and Russian permanent representatives makes clear. It is also clear that they received assurances to that effect from the British and the American representatives. It is right that the issue should return to the Security Council. The argument that it is possible to set aside the decision or the future considerations of the United Nations Security Council if someone does not agree with them is the argument of the vigilante through the ages: if the law does not agree with me, I will decide what is the law. I do not accept that argument, nor does my party.
I strongly formed the view that Hans Blix enjoys the confidence of members of the United Nations. He deserves that confidence. He demonstrated to us his independence, integrity, intelligence and understanding of his role. The same applied to Mohammad el-Baradei, who represented the International Atomic Energy Agency. They have a difficult role to perform. Their position would be strengthened by the addition of more inspectors from the Arab world to the ranks of the UNMOVIC inspectorate. I hope that the British Government press others to provide that.
The process will be long. It will take time just to baselineor re-baselineon nuclear weapons. It is no good the Americans or anyone else getting impatient with the process if it does not provide them with the evidence to which they think they are entitled. It is clear that the process must be: first, to receive reports from the independent inspectors: secondly, to have an assessment by the Security Council; and, thirdly, to make a decision on the correct course of action.
If I have a concern it is that no genuine post-conflict analysis of what will happen in Iraq if military action takes place has been demonstrated in this country or elsewhere. In terms of contingency planning, I echo what the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire said. We know that military planning is going ahead apace. That may be necessary to strengthen the position of the United Nations Security Council. I also want humanitarian planning, although I understand the reluctance not to do that openly. If there is a major conflict in Iraq, a massive number of displaced persons will try to find their way to Kuwait and the Gulf states. It is right to plan for that now. The Pentagon may not like it, but I hope that the British Government do and will start to think in those terms. We need to think about maintaining Basra as an available port for humanitarian support and a safe haven for displaced persons in the event of a conflict taking place.
My conclusion is still that military action is likely to be the wrong option. The war will not be carried out from 50,000 ft. It cannot be subcontracted to the Northern Alliance or anyone else. This time it will mean American troops and, if we join in, British troops on the ground in an unpleasant action. It will have serious consequences for the region. The domino effect could be disastrous. It is literally a matter of last resort for us to act in that way and the decision can be made only by the Security Council, as the amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Moore) provides.
I do not understand some of the points made in criticism of the amendment. We ask for two things: the first is that the matter be referred back to the Security Council, and the Foreign Secretary agrees with that; the second is that the House decide whether young men and women are sent on behalf of this country to offer their lives in support of the United Nations or the British position. That is a decision for a sovereign Parliament to take. It does not put anyone's life at risk. I hope that even those who have doubts will not take the preposterous position adopted by some and will support us in the Lobby.
Mr. Mark Hendrick (Preston): I support UN Security Council resolution 1441. It is important to understand why it is necessary to undertake the inspections and why there might be a need for military action. We know that Iraq started two major wars, one against Iran in the 1980s and the other against Kuwait in 1991. The Iraqi Government face international sanctions and the threat of war. They have chemical and biological weapons, of which the former has been used on tens of thousands of their civilians, both in experiments on them and to
The Government's 50-page dossier highlighted various concerns. As I said, Iraq has military plans for the use of chemical and biological weapons, which it has used even against its own population. Saddam is just one or two years away from building a nuclear weapon, and if he managed to obtain weapons-grade material from abroad, chemical and nuclear programmes would be well funded by the illicit earnings of the Iraqi regime.
Iraq has tried covertly to acquire technology and materials that could be used in the production of nuclear weapons, and it has continued to produce chemical and biological weapons, some of which can be deployed within 45 minutes of an order to use them. It retains weapons from pre-Gulf war stocks, and remains capable of producing chemical agents such as mustard gas, tabun, sarin, cyclosarin and VX. It still has a missile programme, producing missiles with ranges of 650 km, and is developing weapons that will go even further. We cannot allow that to continue.
We are coming to the end of a long and tortuous process. On 28 February 1991, the Gulf war ended, leaving Iraq subject to UN sanctions. Six and a half years later, in October 1997, the Iraqi Government started to obstruct United States weapons inspectors before allowing UN weapons inspectors to enter a year later in November 1998. A month later, they were ordered out of the country after UNSCOM chief Richard Butler reported that Iraq was not co-operating. A year later, in December 1999, UNSCOM was replaced by UNMOVIC and Iraq again rejected the resolution. Three years later, Iraq has finally accepted resolution 144111 years after the Gulf war ended and five years after the first weapons inspectors were rejected.
What will happen now? I have listened with interest to the arguments by Labour colleagues and Opposition Members. Iraq has until 8 December to declare its chemical, biological, nuclear and missile programmes. Inspections, as we know, are just days away and the first progress report will be written within 60 days of their commencement. Let us hope that Iraq co-operates fully and declares everything to the inspectors. The consequences of not doing so, as resolution 1441 euphemistically says, will be Xserious". US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said: