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Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): May I say to the Secretary of State that the formula whereby a decision has yet to be taken is beginning to wear a little thin, particularly in respect of the deployment of a reinforced armoured brigade? Informed commentators have been assuming for months that such a deployment will be Britain's main contribution to these operations. If a decision has indeed not been taken, that is wholly irresponsible, given the length of time needed properly to train and to form up those troops and to transport them to the region. It would help if the Secretary of State were rather more candid with the House.

Mr. Hoon: I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that I am being anything other than candid with the House—but if he is, I invite him to reconsider his observation. I have already answered the question that he raises and made the position clear, and I have nothing to add to what I said earlier.

Mr. John Lyons (Strathkelvin and Bearsden): If the UN decides to take no military action against Iraq, will British troops join American troops in invading Iraq?

Mr. Hoon: The position of the United Nations has been set out by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. The Government would clearly prefer that there should be a second Security Council resolution, and that has been our position. However, it equally follows that it is the responsibility of the Security Council to ensure that its previous resolutions are properly upheld and properly enforced.

Sir Michael Spicer (West Worcestershire): Gaps in the declaration made by Iraq before Christmas have not been satisfactorily explained away. Will that be sufficient cause for a declaration of war?

Mr. Hoon: Resolution 1441 sets out clearly not only that it is necessary that there should be a failure properly to declare Iraq's holdings of weapons of mass destruction, but that they should not co-operate effectively with the international inspection as authorised by the resolution. However, it is important that we take time to assess properly the declaration's contents and, as I have said, to compare it with our previous knowledge of the state of the WMD programme in Iraq.

Mr. Eric Joyce (Falkirk, West): A constituent of mine is a full-time member of the Scottish Ambulance

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Service—an organisation with a slightly unfortunate acronym—and a part-time member of the Territorial Army infantry in Scotland. My constituent is unhappy, as am I, with the fact that the stated policy of the Scottish Ambulance Service is not to release personnel for service with the armed forces where no stated legal obligation exists. Indeed, it goes further by actively discouraging TA personnel from remaining in the TA. Will the Secretary of State support me in urging the Scottish Ambulance Service to consider changing its policy?

Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that issue, which he has raised from time to time on behalf of several private sector employers that give support to their TA employees. It is important that the public sector match that, and I shall certainly take up the issue, as he suggests.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): From time to time we are told that if Saddam were to step aside, that would resolve the situation. On what basis can we have confidence in such a view, bearing in mind that he heads a non-democratic regime with its own agenda?

I also want to press the Secretary of State on the preparation of our troops. I appreciate that he gave a very good answer to Liberal Democrat spokesman, the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch), but in the light of the changes that we read about, is the Secretary of State persuaded that every solider is being properly prepared medically for the engagement?

Mr. Hoon: On the hon. Gentleman's last question, I am confident that every effort is being made and that lessons have been learned from previous conflicts, especially in respect of operations in the Gulf. We are determined to ensure that all our armed forces have the right preparation and equipment to enable them to conduct a military operation, if that becomes necessary.

Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow): My right hon. Friend said that the US had asked more than 50 countries for military assistance and that virtually none had ruled out military action. Will he name one other country that is taking steps similar to those that he has announced today?

Mr. Hoon: Clearly, each country must make its own response to the US. I am not aware of the responses that the US has received, but I assure my hon. Friend that a number of countries are offering assistance in different ways to the US.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): Will the Secretary of State reflect on the fact that although a strategy of maintaining a close relationship with the US is necessary and right, it is not a sufficient justification for UK participation in a war against Iraq? Does he not understand that many people do not believe that the threat posed by Iraq is sufficiently imminent or grave to constitute a moral basis for war?

Mr. Hoon: The issue is not simply whether there is a moral basis for war, but whether there is a legal basis for it. The Government have consistently made it clear that we will take decisions based on the appropriate

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international legal position. I am absolutely confident that, as the Government have made clear on a number of occasions previously, we will go through a proper process in the UN and internationally before we take any decisions about military action.

Mr. Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central): I am intrigued by my right hon. Friend's view that there is a need only for a legal basis for action, not a moral basis. I hope that he will expand on that. In that context, does he agree that there must be a national consensus before we can be prepared to commit the men and women serving in our armed forces and put their lives at risk? Where is the evidence that that national consensus in favour of war exists? What evidence will he bring to the House to show that it exists before we go to war? Does my right hon. Friend accept that the prevailing mood in the country remains very sceptical and that a huge number of people believe that Britain is acting not in its own interests or in the interests of middle east peace, but solely in the interests of the relationship with the US?

Mr. Hoon: I do not think that my hon. Friend should get ahead of the position that I have set out. I have repeated consistently that the Government have taken no decision about military action. As I have explained, that will depend on the legal justification and—for the avoidance of doubt—also the moral basis. I was not suggesting in any way that the legal basis excluded the moral basis. However, in respect of my hon. Friend's remarks about consensus, the House voted overwhelmingly before the Christmas recess in support of the Government's position on UN Security Council resolution 1441. I have also pointed out that the Government have said that there would be a further vote in the House at an appropriate stage when military decisions have been taken and military action decided on.

Mr. Adrian Flook (Taunton): Last October, I visited 40 Commando Royal Marines—a unit based in Taunton—when it was on a desert training exercise in the US. I spoke to a number of Marines, who all voiced concern about the quality of their equipment. They were especially worried about the reliability of the Clansman radio. By the third week of that exercise, only 22 of the 70 radios that the unit had taken were working. Will the Secretary of State assure the House that if our troops go into a theatre of war in Iraq, they will be properly equipped?

Mr. Hoon: I can give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. As I told the House before the Christmas recess, a number of urgent operational requirements are currently being procured. That will certainly cover effective communications.

Ms Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North): Although my right hon. Friend has said that war is not inevitable, may I press him still further on his medical contingency plans? Can he tell us what detailed plans exist for a medical plan, military hospitals and the requirements for convalescence that could be needed if this is pursued to its ultimate end?

Mr. Hoon: That point underlies the call-out of a number of our reservists. It is important that we have

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the right kind of medical support for our armed forces if military action is decided on, and I can assure my hon. Friend that her remarks will be taken fully into account before any resort is made to military action.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): Is the Secretary of State seriously telling the House that he believes that there is a consensus of public opinion in this country and across Europe in favour of conflict with Iraq at present? He says that the measures that he has announced today are purely enabling, but does he appreciate the concern shared by many of us that those deployments and the vastly greater deployments by the United States carry their own momentum, making conflict almost inevitable? Does he appreciate the danger of being on a conveyor belt towards war?

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