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3 Feb 2003 : Column 23—continued

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green): The Prime Minister spoke about the destruction of the space shuttle Columbia. I join him in sending my deepest condolences to the American and Israeli people. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those who died on board.

I thank the Prime Minister for advance sight of his statement. I welcome his agreement with President Bush on the middle east peace process. On Iraq, we fully support the UN route, and I hope that a second resolution will be possible. Although it is not a prerequisite for future action, it is highly desirable. Saddam Hussein still has time to cease his non-co-operation, change his attitude and start to disarm himself. However, as Hans Blix indicated, we should not deceive ourselves. The fundamental problem is not a lack of time, but the attitude of Saddam Hussein. I also

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agree with the Prime Minister that if the international community backs away from dealing with Saddam Hussein now, that will be seen as a green light by every rogue state and terrorist group around the world.

The Prime Minister quoted Hans Blix. Does he believe that those comments indicate that resolution 1441 has already been materially breached? Last week the Foreign Secretary said that Iraq was already in breach. Does the Prime Minister share his Foreign Secretary's opinion that Saddam is in breach now? Dr. Blix's main concern was that Iraq is not actively co-operating with the weapons inspectors. Does the Prime Minister agree that it is clear from the resolutions that it is not, as some continue to say, for the inspectors to find the weapons; it is for Iraq to account for discrepancies in her weapons declaration and to co-operate fully with the inspectors?

Secretary Colin Powell will this week reveal US intelligence that will outline the dangers that Saddam Hussein poses to the United States—in particular, how weapons inspectors have been deceived. Many British people, we know, are still anxious about the possible use of military force, and they are entitled, of course, to as much information as possible. Will the Prime Minister publish not only Colin Powell's presentation, but the Government's assessment of that new information? Notwithstanding the information that Downing street published over the weekend, will he also make available any further intelligence especially relevant to the security of the United Kingdom or its citizens? Will his entire Cabinet take that information to the British people to make the case?

We welcome the letter sent by eight European leaders in support of resolution 1441. Can the Prime Minister confirm reports that France and Germany were not asked to sign it? What reaction has he had from the leaders of France and Germany to the letter? The Prime Minister meets President Chirac tomorrow. Will he remind the President that he was a signatory of 1441, which warns unequivocally that "serious consequences" will follow any violation of the resolution? And after that letter, what assessment has the Prime Minister made of the circumstances under which France would support a second resolution?

Does the Prime Minister agree that taking a tough stance on Iraq has already yielded results? It has focused the United Nations on taking action to tackle the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq; it has secured the entry of inspectors; and it has brought Saddam Hussein under pressure to comply with his international obligations.

Does the right hon. Gentleman also agree that, if and when a second resolution is secured, those who have to date opposed action to disarm Saddam Hussein have a stark choice? They can either back that second resolution, and any military action that follows, or have the courage to admit that they are opposed to military action in any circumstances.

Saddam Hussein's day of reckoning is fast approaching. Peace or war—the choice is his. Disarm, or face the consequences.

The Prime Minister: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his general support. I think that we are in agreement on the main issues.

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With regard to the middle east peace process, I am now more hopeful than I have been for some time that in the medium term we can make progress. I had a very good and constructive set of talks with President Bush on that issue.

I agree entirely with what the right hon. Gentleman says about resolution 1441. We shall, I am sure, make available Colin Powell's presentation on Wednesday and our assessment of it.

We issued further intelligence over the weekend about the infrastructure of concealment. It is obviously difficult when we publish intelligence reports, but I hope that people have some sense of the integrity of our security services. They are not publishing this, or giving us this information, and making it up. It is the intelligence that they are receiving, and we are passing it on to people. In the dossier that we published last year, and again in the material that we put out over the weekend, it is very clear that a vast amount of concealment and deception is going on.

Obviously there are different positions in Europe. But people can come round behind the UN process, because resolution 1441, as the right hon. Gentleman rightly points out, was passed by a unanimous Security Council. The integrity of that process is very clear. There is a duty fully to comply. If Iraq is not fully complying, having been given a final opportunity, a fresh resolution should issue. There is an inexorable logic to that, which will in the end bring people round. If we can do this and manage it through the international community, that will be a huge boost not just for dealing with the threat of weapons of mass destruction, but also for the integrity of the UN.

Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Inverness, West): I join the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Conservative party, on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, in extending our sincere sympathy over all those who were lost as a result of the terrible tragedy in the United States at the weekend. We hope that their families are aware of the heartfelt sense of sympathy that exists internationally.

With regard to the Prime Minister's statement this afternoon, he is well aware, as we all are in the House, of the extent of public anxiety about the development of events. In particular, an awful lot of people right across the political spectrum and otherwise have a sense that we seem to be hastening into war ahead of events. Will the Prime Minister recognise that over the whole developing history of this matter, going right back to the recall of Parliament last September and the publication of the security services' dossier then, the Government have from time to time been perceived to be issuing mixed messages, not least in recent weeks from the Foreign Secretary and the Defence Secretary? That needs to be said, because that is what people in the country feel.

The Government have still to make a credible case. That case, for any fair-minded person viewing it, has to be based on credible evidence, which has not so far been forthcoming.

Would the Prime Minister also acknowledge that the weapons inspectors need time to complete their task; that this Government must, if push comes to shove, be seen to subscribe, as he rightly acknowledged in his

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statement, to the United Nations route; and that if the Americans decide to take some form of pre-emptive action ahead of the weapons inspectors being able to complete their task, this country will have to be clear cut as to where its sense of allegiance lies? Does it lie with the United Nations route that the Government have rightly prosecuted with full support across all parties in the House, or will it lie with the United States?

The weapons inspectors are searching for that evidence on behalf of the United Nations and the entire international community. Does the Prime Minister recognise, given his statements over the weekend, that making it appear that war is somehow now inevitable makes it hard for the public to believe that the President of the United States and he are objective about the task in front of the weapons inspectors? If Colin Powell produces on Wednesday this week the hard evidence—the so-called smoking gun—that convinces the Security Council of the need for war, will that not prompt another question? If such evidence is concrete, clear cut and so persuasive, why was it not put in the hands of the weapons inspectors sooner rather than later? Did the Prime Minister express that opinion in his discussions with the President of the United States over the weekend? If not, why not? If the weapons inspectors come back and in due course say that they need more time and request that time, will Britain actively and publicly speak up in their support; or if the Americans decide to take pre-emptive actions come what may, will we side with the United States?

Finally, did the Prime Minister clarify with the President, and can he now clarify with this House of Commons and the country, the exact command and control structure for the forces that are now being deployed in our name on behalf of Britain in that region?

The Prime Minister: First of all, I think that the right hon. Gentleman said that we were hastening into war ahead of events. We have gone through 12 years of this process—12 years in which we have tried to get Saddam to disarm. We then came together last November and passed a resolution saying that there should be one final opportunity. That is hardly hastening into a war. If he does not comply with that UN resolution—he is not complying at the moment—we are not hastening into it ahead of events, but responding to the fact that Saddam has refused point blank, as he has done throughout 12 years, to do what the United Nations has asked him to do.

As for saying that credible evidence has not been forthcoming that Saddam is in breach of the resolution, the resolution says that he must make a full and honest declaration. I simply ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he thinks that a declaration that does not even disclose what has happened to the thousands of munitions and tonnes of nerve, chemical and biological agents that we know were left over from 1999 is full and honest. Does he really believe that a failure even to declare what has happened to that is an honest undertaking and declaration of what has happened? Does he think that the refusal to allow Iraqi experts to be interviewed—a vital part of the inspection process—unless they come with so-called Iraqi minders is acceptable? None of us can be so naive as to think that such people are present merely to offer the odd cup of coffee and comfort.

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If Saddam is carrying on in breach of those obligations, as Hans Blix himself says that he is, that is the credible evidence that he is not co-operating. With the greatest respect, the right hon. Gentleman seems to suggest, when he says that we are not objective, that somehow it is for us to come along and prove that Saddam is a guilty party. No; the United Nations decided that he was in breach of the UN resolutions and he has got to produce the evidence that he is now co-operating fully— and he is not doing so.

Now that is not simply our view—it is the view of Dr. Blix and the UN weapons inspectors. The right hon. Gentleman says that they should have time to complete their task. Yes, they should, but their task is not to engage in an elaborate game of hide and seek with Saddam whereby the UN inspectors go in and try to find the stuff while he tries to hide it—if they find it, they win; if he hides it, he wins. That is not how the system is supposed to operate. That was how it operated in the 1990s, however, so that a weapons inspections process that was supposed to take weeks ended up taking years. This time, therefore, the resolution—1441—said, "You've got a final opportunity; you've got to make an honest declaration; you've got to co-operate fully with the inspectors." The time that they need, and the time that we need within the United Nations, is the time to make a judgment on whether that co-operation is forthcoming. At present, it is not. All we are saying is that if that does not change, Saddam is continuing to play the game that he has been playing for 12 years, which is unacceptable. That is not a sign of our failing to be objective, but a sign of our failing to be weak in the face of a threat that is posed to us in the world community.

Finally, I simply say this to the right hon. Gentleman. I know, of course, that there is huge anxiety, and that many criticisms are made of the United States, but it would be quite wrong if we used this issue to try to polarise the United States and the international community. The United States chose to go through the UN process last November, when many people thought that it would not. It was right to do so, and we should carry on through the UN process, but that process should be a way of dealing with this issue once and for all, not of kicking it into the long grass again and avoiding it altogether.

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