Previous SectionIndexHome Page

22 Jan 2003 : Column 341—continued

Mr. Jenkin: I shall come later in my comments to the question of popular support for the Government's policy on Iraq because it is extremely important, and I am sure that it exercises the Government as much as anyone else.

The Prime Minister is right to maintain, however, that action must be taken to deal with the growing threat posed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. In particular, questions remain about the

22 Jan 2003 : Column 342

weapons capabilities provided by Iraq to the UN on 7 December, as required in paragraph 3 of resolution 1441, from which I quote. The head of the UN inspectors, Hans Blix, has already stated that the documentation contains gaps. Paragraph 4 of the resolution makes it clear how that omission can lead to a material breach. We are still waiting to find out whether the Government believe that there is, or will be, a material breach of resolution 1441.

Our support for the Government, however, is not unconditional. No Prime Minister should—we do not believe that this one will—ever commit Britain to military action on the say-so of another country, even the United States. The Government need to make the case for military action on its own merits if it becomes necessary and make the case that disarming Iraq is in the interests of the British people. We believe that to be so.

Furthermore, if military action becomes necessary, it is certainly preferable that the Government make an effort to achieve the clearest UN endorsement and that will have our fullest support, but a second resolution is not a prerequisite. The danger is that in such circumstances Britain could find its hands tied. The interests of one nation on the Security Council may lead to the interests of the British people being vetoed. There is a precedent: when Britain acted to free the people of Kosovo, Russia would never have agreed to support a UN resolution on that matter. In that case, Britain joined a coalition to free that nation's people from terror. It would be worrying if Britain could not take such principled action again.

Joan Ruddock: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there was a very clear moral imperative in the case that he cites? Present and immediate genocide was under way. That is not the case at present in Iraq, as far as I am aware.

Mr. Jenkin: It is interesting to discuss what motivates military intervention. I submit that there was not only genocide, but a direct threat to the stability of our continent. We are in very dangerous territory. Why not, for example, immediately authorise a military intervention in Zimbabwe, where a massive humanitarian crisis is being inflicted on its people by a vicious tyrant? Why does the hon. Lady believe that a country such as Iraq obtaining weapons of mass destruction and having relationships with terrorist organisations is something from which we can simply walk away? We cannot.

It would be worrying if Britain could not take such principled action again. Military action would still depend on a broad international consensus, particularly among those nations that border Iraq, and provided that any military action remains within international law, we must be prepared to take such action. Now that the Government have committed themselves to a very major deployment, there are many questions that we could ask, including many that I do not expect them to answer, but it would surely help the House if they could clarify some issues.

The Secretary of State did not answer my questions about the command arrangements for British forces in the Gulf. We have read a certain amount about that in the press, and I should be grateful to him if he could

22 Jan 2003 : Column 343

inform the House at some stage. Similarly, the Government did not say where the main element of United Kingdom forces would be deployed. Again, at some stage, I am sure that the Secretary of State will wish to ensure that the House is informed. It is important that the public should understand that, although UK forces will operate under overall US command, the UK command can nevertheless retain the discretion to act as a partner rather than a servant of US military commanders.

The force is clearly configured to sustain itself for a considerable period. There should be no doubt about the magnitude of the commitment that the United Kingdom is taking on. If war is avoided—we still hope that it will be—how long might the presence of substantial UK land forces be required? If there is military action, how long will UK forces be committed, and on what scale, to deal with the aftermath of war? After Afghanistan, the Prime Minister assured the people there that we would not just walk away. Does the deployment for a much bigger operation indicate a similar long-term commitment on behalf of western nations?

Bob Spink: My hon. Friend is right to take that line. Does he agree that we should be preparing for political solutions post-Saddam in Iraq, as well as for the possibility of military action there? Does he welcome the fact that the Kurdistan National Assembly reconvened in October? Does he think that we should give more support, recognition and encouragement to such bodies, so that they come forward in Iraq?

Mr. Jenkin: I am anxious not to place prescriptions on the Government, but we have pressed them to be clearer about what they envisage might happen if the Saddam regime collapses, or if Saddam Hussein flees the country or is defeated militarily. In particular, we are anxious to know what role British aid policy will play in the event of such circumstances, and the Secretary of State for International Development has been pretty silent so far on those eventualities.

Yesterday, the Foreign Secretary said in concluding his statement on global terrorism and Iraq:

That statement suggests that Britain is preparing seriously to increase our role as an international policeman. I ask the Minister to tell us in his winding-up speech whether that is the intention. Even if it is not, the deployment raises very serious questions about the sustainability and overstretch of the British armed forces.

Half the Army and a very substantial part of the other two services are now deployed on operations. The Army in particular will take some years to recover the stability of its training and readiness cycle. Is it not now clear that the Army is too small to meet the sustained challenges we now face? It is a sad comment on the Government's

22 Jan 2003 : Column 344

commitment to the armed forces that the Army recruiting group should have run out of money at such a time.

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire): What is the Opposition's position on the role of being an international policeman? How do they tie that in with military action being legitimate only in defence of national interests, as was argued earlier? International policing could go well beyond anything that was a matter of national interest.

Mr. Jenkin: The hon. Gentleman raises a very pertinent question. It really is about adjusting to the new strategic climate in which we now have to operate. The question whether we should play a greater role in international affairs, particularly with our armed forces, must be very much regulated by what we are prepared to spend on defence. The Government must be prepared to match the military commitments they take on with the resources necessary to fulfil those commitments. I question whether that is the case on a sustainable basis at present.

On the other question of the whole climate and how we respond to the new strategic environment in which we now live, I will make some comments later that will address the hon. Gentleman's point.

Hugh Bayley: The hon. Gentleman complains that the armed forces are too small to deal with the tasks they face. Does he not recall that in the last 10 years that his party was in power defence spending was cut by a third, but under our party it has increased each year? Will the hon. Gentleman give a commitment that his party will match pound for pound our party's spending on defence?

Mr. Jenkin: It is unfortunate that on an occasion such as this, when such serious issues are under discussion, the hon. Gentleman should start scoring political points. However, if he wants to trade party political points, I could say that the size of the armed forces has continued to shrink under the present Government, despite the radically changed strategic climate that we are now in. I do not recall his party objecting to any of the reductions in the armed forces that took place under "Options for Change" during the 1990s. On the contrary, I remember his party constantly urging the Government to cut more than we did.

The question that we now need to face is whether we are spending enough to enable our armed forces to meet the commitments that the Government place upon them. There is no doubt that the strategic defence review was premised on an increase in expenditure that was not delivered, and that we are now fulfilling many more military commitments around the world than was originally envisaged.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Is not the most significant point about the attitude of scores of Labour Members that they are in favour of expenditure on defence forces only as long as those forces are never used? Given that Saddam is both a pathological killer and a proven liar, is it not regrettable that substantial numbers of Labour and Liberal Democrat. Members can offer us only an exercise in sustained hand-wringing?

Next Section

IndexHome Page