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7 Jan 2003 : Column 29—continued

Mr. Hoon: The detailed assessment of the declaration has yet to be completed, but as I have just indicated, on a preliminary view it is clear that there are significant gaps, not least relating to the UNSCOM report of 1999, completed after the weapons inspectors were ordered out of Iraq by Saddam Hussein. It is clear that the present declaration does not deal with significant aspects of that report from 1999.

Geraint Davies (Croydon, Central): The Lord Chancellor pointed out today that war could be averted if Saddam Hussein stood down or if the Iraqis voluntarily disarmed. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the sole ground for involving ourselves in military conflict with Iraq will be the material breach of United Nations resolution 1441, and that no other pretext will be used to commit British armed servicemen and women to a war that is designed to bring about regime change in Iraq through a pre-emptive strike?

Mr. Hoon: The Government's position is set out, not least in the statement that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made of the Government's objectives in relation to Iraq. They demonstrate that the key reason for continuing concern about Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi regime is their possession of weapons of mass destruction. It is crucial that they should be disarmed of those weapons. It has been made clear not only by the United States President, but by the British Prime Minister that a key aspect of that could be the removal of Saddam Hussein, and that if he left, the regime thereafter would be in a quite different position, and would be a different regime as far as the international community was concerned.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury): Although I welcome the readiness measures as far as they go, will the Secretary of State expand on his remarks about a wider engagement with the Arab and Islamic world? Can he say, in particular, what will happen to the Downing street initiative to extend the peace process, now that Israel has taken the decision not to allow any of the Palestinian delegates to come to this country?

Mr. Hoon: Obviously, that matter is still under discussion with Israel, but I hope the hon. Gentleman will join me and all other Members of the House in welcoming the Government's initiative as a determined effort to get the middle east peace process back on track.

Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North): After his last statement, my right hon. Friend agreed with me that

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if Saddam formed the impression that war was probable or inevitable, that would be a strong disincentive to disarm. Does my right hon. Friend see any risk that we might be increasing that impression and thus the chances of conflict? Does my right hon. Friend recognise that if there is an unnecessary war, any alleged additional British influence on the Bush Administration would be poor compensation for lost lives?

Mr. Hoon: I can assure my hon. Friend that if it is necessary, ultimately, to resort to military action, that then will be necessary because every other avenue has been exhausted and the opportunities given to Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi regime have been spurned by the Government in Iraq. It is important that we demonstrate our absolute commitment to the enforcement of Security Council resolution 1441 through the kinds of military planning and preparation that I set out to the House today.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex): The Secretary of State told us of the formidable naval deployment that is to take place, and he has mentioned in the House on a number of occasions the work that is being done to make the tanks suitable for desert or semi-desert warfare. Will he therefore tell the House what he has in mind to deploy at this stage by way of armour? If he is able to reveal the extent of the naval deployment, there will be nothing to stop him speaking of the Army deployment. We know the Air Force strength. Why cannot he now confirm that a divisional headquarters and two armoured brigades will be the sort of formation that will be sent as part of Britain's formidable contribution to a war that we all hope will never have to happen?

Mr. Hoon: I am not in a position to confirm that today because that decision has yet to be taken, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that once that decision is taken, I will inform the House at the earliest possible opportunity.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): If and when American and British armour reaches Baghdad, what thinking through has there been of what happens then?

Mr. Hoon: Clearly, there is consideration, as there always is in such a prospective military operation, of what might occur thereafter. Having so recently been engaged in military operations in Afghanistan and equally in the management of the aftermath, we have some very recent experience on which to draw. I invite my hon. Friend to look carefully at the efforts that have been made by the United Kingdom, as part of the international community, to stabilise Afghanistan and provide it with very significant support as it grapples with the difficulties of rebuilding itself, its economy and ultimately, we hope, a democracy.

Mr. David Chidgey (Eastleigh): The Secretary of State was, at best, reticent in giving us details of the impact on the NHS of the call-out of reservists. Has not the decimation of the defence medical services during the past few years, with huge shortfalls in resources as many experienced clinicians have left for better careers, led to pressure on the NHS? What is he doing to address that absolutely dire situation in our defence medical services,

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which is putting pressure on the NHS while also leaving us having to contract out the provision of such services to support our armed forces?

Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, who has both personal and ministerial expertise in the area to which the hon. Gentleman refers, very recently completed the medical manning and retention review, which he announced to the House in November last year. The review was broadly welcomed by hon. Members as a significant contribution to dealing with the historic problems that the defence medical services undoubtedly face. It is an important step towards ensuring that both full-time and reservist medical staff are available to meet the needs of our armed forces. It has always been the case that, in major deployments, we would need to call upon the services of our reserves to ensure that proper medical assistance is available.

Paul Flynn (Newport, West): There is very little support and a great deal of hostility among our constituents with regard to the possibility of sacrificing a single soldier's life in the present circumstances. Other countries in Europe are taking an independent line from that taken by the President of America. Can we have a vote in this House to express the views of those constituents and to give us a chance of escaping from our present link as a junior partner with the United States in this axis of delusion?

Mr. Hoon: May I deal specifically with my hon. Friend's observation about other European nations? To my knowledge—I have been a regular visitor in recent months to most of our partner nations in the European Union—only one country has specifically ruled out the use of military force, for well-known reasons. He needs to check a little more carefully the state of public opinion in the countries that he cites before announcing it to the House. On the question of a vote, I have set out the position and it remains as my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary indicated.

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury): In seeking to uphold the authority of the United Nations by military force, quite rightly if necessary, does the Secretary of State agree that it would be a hollow victory, and that there would be no victory in the fight against terrorism world wide, if no progress was made on the conflict between Israel and Palestine? Will he therefore not be pushed around by the Government of Israel and remind them that there are one or two United Nations Security Council resolutions that we expect them to follow, too?

Mr. Hoon: I indicated earlier the Government's concern to ensure that progress is made on the middle east peace process. The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien), who has ministerial responsibility for the middle east, is present in the House and I am sure that he has heard the hon. Gentleman's remarks. The Government take the matter very seriously and continue to take action on it.

Jane Griffiths (Reading, East): My right hon. Friend referred in his statement to the preparation needed for

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the deployment of reservists. He knows that reservists have homes, jobs and families and cannot be deployed at the drop of a weapons inspector. Does he agree with my constituents who are reservists that the current situation, which we all hope will be resolved speedily and without bloodshed, should provoke a further look at the levels of support that need to be given to reservists in future so that they can fulfil their commitment to serve their country?

Mr. Hoon: I am grateful for my hon. Friend's concern about reservists, and this is precisely why, for several weeks now, we have taken a careful, considered and cautious approach to their position. I am grateful for her interest, and I assure her that her observations will be taken fully into account.

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