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25 Nov 2002 : Column 115—continued

9.9 pm

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park): It is with some sadness that I rise as only the second woman to speak in the debate. I remind the House and my sisters who are not present that, since the second world war, the overwhelming majority of casualties in conflict have been women and children. Women Members should be here to make our voices clearly heard.

I have no illusions about Saddam Hussein. Many years ago, a very good friend of mine was imprisoned by him and spent eight years in Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad. The previous Government were not very helpful at that time—it was before the Gulf war and they were somewhat friendly with the Iraqi Administration. They certainly gave the campaigners for that man's release no help whatever. I know from their stories and from those of others what a terrible dictator Saddam Hussein is. We know that he runs an evil regime and that he has damaged his people. That has been the case for decades, so we must ask why we have to take military action now. If there is a good new reason, we must be shown the evidence, and any action must have the full approval of the UN Security Council and the House of Commons.

In the interests of joined-up government, before we go to war again will the Secretary of State consider the unfinished business that we face all over the world? Do we have the capacity to cope? In Afghanistan, only $1 billion has so far been committed out of the billions that were promised, and 70 per cent. of that has been spent on humanitarian aid. There is no security in Afghanistan outside Kabul. Afghanistan has asked for an extension of the international security assistance force, but where will the extra help come from? Will it come from the United States or from Britain? Where will it come from if we are facing war in Iraq and the middle east? Very little progress has been made in Afghanistan despite the promises of the Prime Minister. It is unfinished business.

Many Members have rightly referred to the difficult situation in the middle east. It is worse than ever. The Palestinians have no hope and Israel is seen as the United States in the middle east. More unfinished business is sowing the seeds of, and continuing to fuel, Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism. The Government are strangely silent on the middle east—more unfinished business.

For many people, the Balkans are a distant memory, but it is still a very unstable region. Tens of thousands of people were displaced recently as a result of trouble in Macedonia. This year, only 6 per cent. of the aid promised in the famous Marshall plan for the Balkans has been delivered. That is yet more unfinished business. We are very good at destroying but not so good at rebuilding. I have not even mentioned Africa and, sadly, there is no time to do so. It has the most unfinished business of the lot.

It is unclear just what the situation is in Iraq. However, we know that the oil-for-food programme has failed in recent years. Saddam Hussein has recently allowed oil imports to drop and negotiations have stalled because of the current crisis. What tiny progress was being made on the programme has been destroyed and will be further destroyed if we go to war. Hundreds of thousands of people in Iraq will suffer. My hon.

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Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) pointed out that there had been no mention so far of the humanitarian relief plans to be put in place for Iraq. The problem was bad enough in Kosovo. It was a long time before the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees got its head round dealing with the refugees there. Iraq presents an immensely greater problem, but we do not know what will happen.

What about the war on terrorism? Where is the connection with Iraq? Where is the proof? How can we afford to start a new war with Iraq when we face all these other problems? Can we risk further inflaming the world of Islam? As I said at the beginning of my speech, I want to see the back of Saddam Hussein as much as anyone else. However, we must ensure that, if we wage war on Iraq, it will help the war on terrorism and not make matters worse. We must wage war only with the authority of the UN Security Council and after a debate and vote in the House.

9.14 pm

Mr. Tony Colman (Putney): As the hon. Members for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) and for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) said, as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on the United Nations I led a cross-party delegation to the UN prior to the return of Hans Blix's team to Iraq. We met all five representatives of the permanent members of the Security Council, the representatives of the 10 elected members, Hans Blix and Dr. el-Baradei's first deputy. To reassure my neighbour, the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge), we also met those at the UN who were working on humanitarian planning. As the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire said, we were most impressed by work on the oil-for-food programme in Iraq. The programme is a success and is restricted only by the obstacles put in its path by Saddam Hussein.

I support the main motion, especially in the light of the assurances and explanations given by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. I look forward to those being repeated by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence.

Ms Abbott: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Colman: No, I do not have time.

In my eight minutes, I want to make two points that demonstrate clearly the use of UN Security Council resolution 1441, which gives the best possible route through immensely difficult terrain and ensures that the UN remains the ultimate linchpin of international law. First, it is important to appreciate that UNMOVIC is superior to its predecessor UNSCOM, which was discredited by accusations of infiltration and bias. Hans Blix made clear to us his determination to keep UNMOVIC independent and operationally objective. Dr. el-Baradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency has expressed similar priorities.

Independence is also necessary to ensure that common sense prevails in reporting possible obstructions to the inspection team's missions. Clearly, both team leaders are experienced and will not blow up minor incidents into major breaches. Yet at the same time they will be sufficiently thorough to ensure that the

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Security Council receives a full briefing of any problems encountered in-country. In that respect, Hans Blix has been quoted as rightly stating:

If Iraq chooses to create problems for the inspectors, they will report that to the Security Council.

Hans Blix made it clear to the all-party parliamentary group delegation that the Security Council—not he, UNMOVIC or the IAEA—would decide whether Iraq has committed a material breach. UNMOVIC will report the facts only. In deciding what constitutes a material breach, he also expects the Security Council to refer to the 1969 Vienna convention on the law of treaties, which he had a hand in writing, as the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire explained. As the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome said, Hans Blix expects weapons inspectors to come from middle eastern countries, but so far only Jordan has offered to participate. He suggested that qualified inspectors could come from Egypt, Algeria and Morocco. It is imperative that the UNMOVIC team is fully representative.

My hon. Friends the Members for Clydesdale (Mr. Hood) and for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) raised questions about support for the resolution in the middle east. The Syrian representative on the Security Council explained the wish of the Arab League for Iraq to declare and destroy its weapons of mass destruction. It is important in such circumstances for the Arab League to encourage its members to provide qualified experts to train as UNMOVIC weapons inspectors.

My second point is that the Iraqi notional timeline of events runs to March 2003. I very much hope that the Iraqi statement on 8 December will settle the matter in the pathway to peace, as the Foreign Secretary called it. However, if it does not and Hans Blix reports the facts to the Security Council, the second and highly pivotal factor in the motion and of the text of resolution 1441 will come into play. I want to emphasise that no option is given for military action without the matter returning to the Security Council. The lack of automaticity has been talked about already, but it is worth emphasising that that aspect of resolution 1441 has brought real unity to the Security Council—a magnificent achievement in this context. In his explanation of vote, US ambassador John Negroponte, whom the delegation met, stated:

I should like to pay tribute to the people who lobbied in private to ensure that that matter returned to the United Nations, given that just a few months ago it looked as though the US was ready to act unilaterally, sidelining the UN. A resident of my constituency, the distinguished diplomat Sir Brian Barder, wrote to me arguing that the Prime Minister's visit to Camp David may go down in the history books as equally significant as the visit made by Clement Attlee to Washington to persuade President Truman not to use nuclear weapons in the Korean war.

The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary should be commended on bringing the United States back to the UN and back to international law. Likewise, credit

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is due to Colin Powell for encouraging the present US Administration to work within the UN-authorised coalition. Sir Brian Barder also highlights the fact that it is imperative that we continue along that route. The UN has demonstrated its strength and we, in return, must show our commitment to its ultimate authority.

Finally, I am sure that my Putney constituents will be pleased that the motion commits us to return to the Security Council before taking any further action. I know that they will be glad that those events have strengthened the credibility of the UN as the final arbiter of the rule of international law.

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