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House of Commons

Tuesday 10 December 2002

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]


Queen's Speech

The Vice-Chamberlain of the Household reported Her Majesty's Answer to the Address, as follows:

I have received with great satisfaction the loyal and dutiful expression of your thanks for the Speech with which I opened the present Session of Parliament.

Double Taxation Relief

The Vice-Chamberlain of the Household reported Her Majesty's Answer to the Address, as follows:

I have received your Addresses praying that the Double Taxation Relief (Taxes on Income) (South Africa) Order 2002, and the Double Taxation Relief (Taxes on Income)(Taiwan) Order 2002 be made in the form of the drafts laid before your House on 30 October 2002, in the last Session of Parliament.

I will comply with your request.

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—


1. Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire): What assessment he has made of Iraq's compliance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1441. [84320]

2. Mrs. Jackie Lawrence (Preseli Pembrokeshire): If he will make a statement on progress made by UN weapons inspectors in Iraq. [84321]

7. Mr. David Ruffley (Bury St. Edmunds): What recent discussions he has had with the US Secretary of State about UN weapons inspectors in Iraq; and if he will make a statement. [84326]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Mike O'Brien): I apologise for the non-attendance of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, who is attending the General Affairs and External Relations Council in Brussels. I understand that you, Mr. Speaker, and the spokespersons for the Opposition parties received notice of that.

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Inspection activity in Iraq resumed on 27 November. To date there have been no reports of serious or deliberate obstruction of the inspection teams. The teams have so far principally concentrated their efforts on revisiting sites identified as being of concern under the previous inspection regime, although they have also gained unrestricted access to a presidential site that had previously been denied.

Under the terms of the United Nations Security Council resolution 1441, Iraq handed over a declaration running to more than 11,000 pages to the UN in Baghdad on 7 December. It is now being analysed by UNMOVIC and the International Atomic Energy Agency. This process will take some time.

We maintained regular dialogue with the US Secretary of State and with other countries throughout the drafting of resolution 1441, and will continue to do so.

Mr. Luff : Is the Minister satisfied that the arrangements made by the Security Council and with the United States of America for consideration of the 11,807 pages, 352 pages of supplements and 529 megabytes of data are satisfactory and will enable a full and transparent interpretation to be made in good time?

Mr. O'Brien: Yes, I am satisfied that the process is being handled properly. At the request of the Security Council presidency, the United States is helping with the formidable task of reproducing the documents for the permanent five members, who will then be in a position to assist UNMOVIC and the IAEA in removing material of proliferation concern from the declaration, before it is circulated more widely. There is no question of denying or delaying access. Copies were handed to all the P5 in Washington or New York last night, and I understand that we now have a copy here in London.

Mrs. Lawrence: I thank my hon. Friend for his reply, and hope that the UK will support the inspectors in their work and not denigrate them, as is happening in some quarters in the United States. Will he explore all possible alternatives to war, including using international law to indict Saddam Hussein and his regime for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide?

Mr. O'Brien: We certainly do strongly support the inspectors and want their tasks to be carried out to the full: there needs to be a full and proper inspection to ensure that Iraq is dealt with in terms of its development of weapons of mass destruction. Resolution 1441 is an opportunity to find a pathway to peace, disarming Saddam Hussein and removing the threat of weapons of mass destruction. We want him to take that pathway, which we have made open to him, to avoid war and ensure that the threat of weapons of mass destruction is dealt with. In that sense, the ball is in Saddam's court. We need to ensure that we are not threatened, and we hope that the pathway to peace will be taken.

Mr. Ruffley: Does the Minister truly believe that 17 weapons inspectors constitute an adequate number to do the job, and if he does not, can he tell the House what Her Majesty's Government will do about that?

Mr. O'Brien: Seventeen weapons inspectors are there, 25 are in transit, and 100 should be there before

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Christmas. If UNMOVIC and IAEA require further inspectors, they will be in a position to request them. Obviously, inspectors need to be properly qualified. They are not that easy to come by, but opportunities do exist to recruit further inspectors, and to request members of the UN to provide qualified people. At this point, we believe that a steady increase in the number of inspectors, allowing for the capacity of equipment and buildings available to them, is the proper way to deal with the situation, and we hope that they will be able to do the job efficiently and effectively.

David Winnick (Walsall, North): Does my hon. Friend recall that in 1995 two sons-in-law of Saddam Hussein defected to Jordan and revealed the extent of the biological weapons programme that previously the regime had strenuously denied having? Why should we believe that this hide and seek game with the inspectors will lead to anything, bearing in mind the amount of time that Saddam Hussein has had to conceal the weapons of mass destruction? This is a murderous and lying regime that cannot be trusted under any circumstances.

Mr. O'Brien: It is true that defectors revealed the development of weapons of mass destruction, particularly biological weapons, in 1995. This should not be a game of hide and seek. Let us be clear: UN resolution 1441 places the obligation on Saddam Hussein and Iraq to show that they are not developing weapons of mass destruction. The obligation is not on the inspectors; they are there to verify claims made by Saddam Hussein, and we need to ensure that we support the inspectors, and that the threat from Saddam Hussein is dealt with.

Mr. Michael Moore (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale): The Minister will be aware that resolution 1441 requires the Iraqis to supply an accurate, full and complete declaration of all aspects of their programme to develop chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. Does he agree that American interference in the distribution of the Iraqi submission will undermine the United Nations process, weaken the international consensus against the Iraqi regime and offer Saddam Hussein a completely unnecessary propaganda victory?

Mr. O'Brien: Frankly, what the hon. Gentleman has just said is complete nonsense. The Americans have not interfered; at the request of the presidency of the Security Council, they have assisted it in distributing the material. As far as we are aware, and according to the evidence available to us, that has been done entirely properly. We have a copy of the documents here in London, and the suggestion that this constitutes American interference that will somehow weaken the coalition is complete and utter nonsense.

Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate): Despite my hon. Friend's reply, surely it is US insistence—under the guise of assistance—that has limited access to the Iraqi declaration to the five permanent members of the Security Council. The entire Security Council voted for resolution 1441, and the rest of the world will undoubtedly see this as the exercise of undue influence

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by the US Government, who still seem absolutely determined, regardless of the evidence, to go to war against Iraq.

Mr. O'Brien: There is concern about proliferation information that may be contained in the declaration: in other words, concern exists that Iraq will be supplying information on the whereabouts of materials, equipment and other issues—dual use or otherwise—that may be of interest to terrorists or to other countries. The view has therefore been taken that the five permanent members—they are nuclear powers—should have a full copy of the declaration. On that basis, distribution is being examined to see whether the material can be passed to members of the Security Council that are not nuclear powers, and to ensure that, if appropriate—this issue has yet to be determined, but the Security Council will look at it—some of the material in the declaration is not widely distributed. The concern is proliferation, not any attempt by the Americans or anyone else—as far as we are aware, there has been no such attempt—to prevent proper application of the terms of resolution 1441, or of the wishes of the UN Security Council.

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes): If there are discrepancies between Iraq's declaration of last weekend and the Government's dossier of 24 September—in connection, for instance, with the existence of the 20 al-Hussein missiles, the L29 jet trainer or of VX nerve agent, all of which were mentioned in the dossier—is the onus on Iraq to prove that the dossier was wrong, or on the Government to show why their dossier should be believed? Do the Government consider that the assertions in the dossier would be sufficient, under paragraph 4 of resolution 1441, to constitute a material breach, if omitted from the declaration?

Mr. O'Brien: Paragraph 4 of resolution 1441 requires that, for there to be a material breach, the declaration should be false and there should be a failure to co-operate. So far, Iraq has put forward a declaration, which we are examining. That will take some time. It is true that Saddam Hussein has a record of lying, so we should be sceptical about the information that he provides. However, we will examine seriously the documentation that he has provided, and see how it stands up to the information that we have received from various sources. We will then consider how to proceed. Obviously, it is for the inspectors to examine whether Saddam Hussein and Iraq continue to possess weapons of mass destruction.

Mr. Ancram: I must press the Minister further. Surely he stands by the dossier that he published on 24 September? He told us that there was evidence that the weapons that I mentioned were in existence. If those weapons are omitted from the declaration made by the Iraqi Government on Saturday, is that a material breach? If the Minister insists that his information is correct, there must therefore be an omission from the declaration and, under paragraph 4, that would constitute a material breach.

Mr. O'Brien: The right hon. Gentleman does not seem to have listened to what I said. Paragraph 4 of

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resolution 1441 contains a requirement that, for there to be a breach, the declaration of information must be false and there must be a failure to co-operate. We shall examine the contents of the declaration seriously. The Government certainly stand by the contents of the dossier, but we also know that there is some recent information that Saddam Hussein has been seeking to hide weapons of mass destruction. If the right hon. Gentleman is asking whether the fact that the items that he mentioned are not in the precise place specified in the dossier proves that Saddam Hussein does not have them, my response is that we must look at all the evidence. We must consider all the intelligence information and look at the detail of the dossier. That must be done carefully. These are serious matters and they need to be dealt with seriously. This is an attempt to avoid going to war yet achieve the end of ensuring that Saddam Hussein does not have weapons of mass destruction. That is an end that we will achieve.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): Is there not a danger that our rightly firm resolve to make Saddam blink may leave us unable to recognise our success? If there is no material breach or nothing disclosed, can we remind the US—and, indeed, the Opposition here—that that should be a cause not of disappointment but of rejoicing? Will my hon. Friend the Minister say what is pencilled in the diaries of my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary to ensure that discussions are held with the US before that country fires off its judgment without consulting its very loyal and patient allies?

Mr. O'Brien: I assure my hon. Friend that we are in full consultation with the US. We will look at the declaration and consult on the issues that it raises with the US and other permanent members of the Security Council, and indeed with other members of that council. If it were found that the declaration was genuine and full, and that the inspectorate was able to carry out its inspections completely unhindered and for a prolonged period of time, that might represent some evidence that Saddam was prepared to follow the pathway to peace.

I hope that we can avoid war and that we will find a pathway to peace. I know that the choice rests with Saddam Hussein.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): The Minister refers to the pathway to peace, and I am sure that we all agree with that. If there is an alleged breach of resolution 1441, will the Minister confirm that it remains the Government's view that any further action should be a matter for the Security Council, because many in the United States Administration view resolution 1441 as the pathway to war, not to peace?

Mr. O'Brien: Resolution 1441 does not stipulate that, for example, there needs to be a second resolution to authorise military action. It says that the UN Security Council must be given the opportunity to consider any report or other information. As the Foreign Secretary has said, in the event of a material breach, the Government's preference is for a second resolution. So far the Security Council has, as Kofi Annan said, faced up to its responsibilities, and we believe that it will continue to do so. However, we must reserve our

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position in the event that it does not. Iraq should be in no doubt that the message of resolution 1441 is clear and that any failure to comply will have serious consequences.

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