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7 Jan 2003 : Column 35continued
Mr. Hoon: I answered the question about consensus a few moments ago. I am confident that there is an overwhelming consensus in support of the Government's policy on Iraq. At each stage, the Government have sought to set out their policy clearly to the House and, indeed, to the country, and that has been strongly supported. I do not believe that there is any inevitability about conflict, not least involving the United States, because it is in no different position from that of the United Kingdom in that it agreed to a United Nations process and it wants that process to be properly implemented and enforced.
Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield): I welcome what Ministers have said today about the need to broaden the agenda beyond Iraq and I join other hon. Members in urging Ministers not to be deflected from pursuing a just peace for Israel and Palestine. However, on Iraq, may I tell the Secretary of State that many of us want the weapons inspectors to succeed? Although we accept the need to keep the pressure on Saddam, we are worried about others using that as a pretext and a cover to get to 27 January and then to call time on those weapons inspections in support of adopting pre-emptive strikes, to which this House has not signed up. What reassurance can he give me on that?
Mr. Hoon: I can give my hon. Friend the reassurance that he will find in the speech made by the President of the United States at the United Nations General Assembly on 12 September, when he committed his country to a UN process, negotiated a Security Council resolution, and sought at every stage to ensure that it is properly enforced. That continues to be the policy of the United States and, indeed, of the United Kingdom.
Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire): Notwithstanding other hon. Members' comments about public opinion from the perspective of those who oppose war, does the Secretary of State understand the concern among many of us who broadly support the Government's policy that the British public do not really understand what this is all about and that, if it does lead to war, the Government have a huge task ahead to convince the British people that they are doing
Mr. Hoon: I do not accept that, but I recognise, as I have sought to explain to the House, that this is a step-by-step process and that it is not possible to secure overwhelming public support for military action before the explanation for that military action has been given and, therefore, before the justification for that military action has been identified. We have not yet reached that point in the process, and unless and until we do I accept that we cannot explain the justification for military action.
Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central): Will my right hon. Friend concede that it would help the moral basis for war if one of the Government's stated objectives was to form a democratic Government in Iraq? The Government's stated objective is to have a unified Iraq, but not to have an Iraq whose Government reflect the will of the people. Given that former British Governments have helped to hinder and frustrate the development of democracy in Iraq, would not it be right for the Government today to say that their objective is to form a democratic Government in Iraq? Of course, we remember the promises that were hinted at about democracy in Kuwait.
Mr. Hoon: I refer my hon. Friend to the written statement made by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary earlier today, to which I referred in my statement, in which we have set out our objectives in relation to Iraq, which include, among others, providing effective and representative Government for the people of Iraq.
Sue Doughty (Guildford): I share with other Members a deep concern for our servicemen and women who do not know what the future holds for themand for innocent men and women in Iraq, too, who do not know what the future holds. Will the Secretary of State give an assurance that as our Government and that of the United States work with other countries to provide a peaceful solutionor, if they see it as necessary, a military solutionother benefits of war, such as Iraq's reserves, will form no part of those negotiations?
Mr. Hoon: That is the Government's position, and I make it clear to the House, as I have done already, that the basis for our concern about Saddam Hussein's regime involves his possession of weapons of mass destruction. Our objective is to remove those weapons of mass destruction from his control.
Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate): As, I presume, it will take a defined time to prepare reservists for possible military action, was today's announcement triggered by evidence from the UN inspectors of a possible material breach, or by the United States Administration's clear belief that a successful attack against Iraq must begin in February?
Mr. Hoon: That is a matter for the Armed Forces Pay Review Body, to which I gave evidence before the Christmas recess. I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's observations and I am sure that they will be taken fully into account by the body before it produces its report.
Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire): It is a long time since I was last in Iraqit was during the Suez crisis of 1956. Is my right hon. Friend aware that, at that time, a whole host of reservists refused to be called up? Does he feel that, in the absence of a consensus, he might face that problem again? If so, what are his contingency plans?
Mr. Hoon: Certainly, we have sought to take into account, in the careful way in which we have approached the question of reservists, their particular and individual circumstances. I certainly take my hon. Friend's observations into account, although, at the time, I was not in a position to match his service.
Mr. Mark Prisk (Hertford and Stortford): The Secretary of State omitted to mention in his statement the F/A2 Sea Harrier and its deployment. Was that omission intentional? Alternatively, does it mean that the Secretary of State is now sending our Royal Navy taskforce to sea and possibly to conflict without a single jet engine designed to provide air defence?
Mike Gapes (Ilford, South): My right hon. Friend will be aware that, yesterday, Saddam Hussein referred to the UN inspectors as spies. Will he assure me that as the inspectors carry out their work over the next three weeks and, if necessary, beyond 27 January, they will be given full protection and support and whatever assistance they need to find what is being hidden in Iraq?
Mr. Hoon: I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. I do not believe that the House should take notice of typical bluster by Saddam Hussein. A very determined effort has been made in the design and operation of the work being carried out by UNMOVIC to avoid some of the mistakes made in the past in relation to UNSCOM and previous inspections. I can give him the assurance that this country and other countries will fully support the efforts of the weapons inspectors.
Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead): May I probe further on the comments that the Lord Chancellor made on the XToday" programme this morning? Was he correct in saying that war could be averted by either Iraq disarming or, separately, Saddam Hussein standing down? In the latter instance, why would weapons of mass destruction not be a factor that warrants war? Why and when did regime change become a purpose of the Government's war preparations?
Mr. Hoon: The objective is the disarming of Saddam Hussein and his regime. If he were to stand downwe believe that that would enormously improve the situation in Iraq and advance regional security and stabilitythat would clearly produce a very different regime in Iraq. We would want to see that any succeeding regime was not a threat and did not rely on weapons of mass destruction, so the removal of weapons of mass destruction from the control of the regime remains a prerequisite. However, as the US President has made clear, Iraq without Saddam Hussein would be a very different country indeed.