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3 Feb 2003 : Column 27—continued

Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough): The Prime Minister referred to weaponised VX nerve gas agents. Can he recall the time when the IRA went to Libya, purchased weapons of destruction—some of which were intercepted on the high seas—and brought them back to Ireland to wage terrorist attacks? Can he tell the House how he would see a world in which a rogue state has VX nerve agents, toxin gases and anthrax, and can link up with worldwide terrorists? What kind of a world would we then be living in?

The Prime Minister: That is why it is so important, as my hon. Friend rightly says, that we regard the issues of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction as linked. The fact is that we know that if the terrorists can get hold of those types of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weaponry, they will do so. That is why it is so

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important that we take this stand now, to ensure that Iraq disarms itself of weapons of mass destruction at the same time as we pursue international terrorism.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex): Given the welcome news that the Prime Minister has made some progress on the question of the middle east peace process, and given that he will clearly not wish to go to war without exhausting every single avenue that is open to the international community, will he work with the Americans to determine whether it would be possible for a heads-of-state-level delegation from the Arab League to go to Baghdad to tell Saddam Hussein that he must honour the UN obligations?

The Prime Minister: I certainly think that we should use every possible route that we can to achieve our objective without conflict if at all possible. Some of the most interesting discussions that I have had over the past few days have been with representatives from Arab states. Without specifically commenting on what sort of delegation it should be or the exact form that it should take, I have no doubt at all that one aspect of what we do over the next few weeks will be to try to mobilise as much as we can of Arab world opinion in order to take the measures that are necessary to do all that we can to ensure that conflict is genuinely the last resort.

Mr. Peter Mandelson (Hartlepool): May I ask my right hon. Friend about Iraq's recovery and reconstruction in the event of Saddam forcing war? In addition to the need for political transition, the humanitarian and refugee demands could be immense. Will he outline to the House what preparation is being made for that at the United Nations and by key members of the international community? What structure for reconstruction is being put in place? In terms of donor funding, will Britain join America—and, I think, Switzerland and Canada—in making an early offer of resources for those purposes?

The Prime Minister: My right hon. Friend is right that we must deal with those vital points. We are in discussion with allies and the United Nations about reconstruction. The Foreign Secretary and I have spoken to the Secretary-General of the United Nations about that. If there is a conflict and Saddam's regime is removed, it is important to give absolute assurances and undertakings to the people of Iraq that we shall deal with any humanitarian consequences. In such circumstances, we must also try to ensure that we move in to help get Iraq back on its feet as quickly as possible. This country is willing to play its part in that with others.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): Can the Prime Minister say whether he will make allowing the inspectors to use helicopters and overfly the whole of Iraq, apart from the no-fly zones in the north and south of the country, and granting them unfettered access to scientists and individuals who have specific knowledge of the Iraqi regime's weapons programme, pre-conditions of Dr. Blix's return to Iraq?

The Prime Minister: It is for Dr. Blix to make the demands that he wants. It is up to him whether he wishes to travel in a specific way or interview specific people.

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However, the hon. Gentleman's basic point is right. I recommend people to read resolution 1441 again. It could not be clearer. Any demand by the UN inspectors must be acceded to. That is not happening. As the hon. Gentleman rightly says, many issues to do with surveillance, interviewing witnesses and unaccounted for material need to be resolved. There is little sign of matters changing. Dr. Blix said that there was no point in continuing unless the inspectors are given the full access that they need and all their demands are met. I agree with that.

Donald Anderson (Swansea, East): Does my right hon. Friend fear that Russia, France or China might "unreasonably", in his words, veto a second resolution? Has the US President now agreed to publish the quartet's roadmap for the middle east peace process?

The Prime Minister: On the latter point, the timing of the roadmap's publication remains open to question. However, I have no doubt that it should and will be published. I return with more hope of progress on the middle east than I have had for some time.

On my right hon. Friend's first point, I do not know what other countries' attitude will be, but I am working on the basis that people hold to both the spirit and the letter of resolution 1441. The process has integrity. Saddam has a final opportunity and he must co-operate fully. If he does not, a fresh resolution will be issued. The logic of that will take people along with us, especially when there are further inspectors' reports to come.

Sir John Stanley (Tonbridge and Malling): Does the Prime Minister agree that although the position with Iraq is serious, the immediate, near-term threat to people in Britain comes from al-Qaeda? Given the huge amount of work that is currently required of the intelligence agencies, special branch and the police to try to uncover the al-Qaeda cells in this country, will the right hon. Gentleman assure us that he will give absolute priority to ensuring that those bodies are fully resourced to do the job while there is still time?

The Prime Minister: Yes, of course. Our intelligence services and our police authorities continue to do superb work in rooting out al-Qaeda cells wherever they are. However, we do not simply have a choice of dealing with one or the other. It is important to deal with both—I believe that they are linked—not least because of the signals that we convey about the firmness of our intention.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle): Like me, many people believe that we are being led by the nose into war. What weight does the Prime Minister give to the emergency resolution that was carried last Thursday by the 44-member Council of Europe, which called for the weapons inspectors to be given time to complete their task and for the imposition of no artificial deadlines?

The Prime Minister: I have said that there should be no artificial deadline, but the issue comes down to the question of what the task is that the inspectors are being sent in to do. If their task is to return to what happened in the 1990s, when they stayed there for long periods of time and tried to work their way around Iraqi

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obstruction, it could take them years to complete it. If, however, their task is to go in there on the basis that Saddam is going fully to co-operate, it will be complete when they make their judgment either that he is doing so—in which case, they can get on and close the matériel down—or that he is not, in which case they do not need to wait months or years. That would be the situation in which, in the words of resolution 1441, there would be a further material breach, because Saddam would not have taken the final opportunity to disarm.

I must point out to my hon. Friend that Saddam cannot be in any doubt as to what he has to do. It is not a great mystery. I am told that he is calling for all sorts of people to come and visit him and talk to him, but there is no mystery about what he has to do. There is a perfectly well-trodden path in relation to UN inspectors, and it involves making a full declaration. South Africa followed it when it closed down its nuclear weapons programme after the change of regime and the end of apartheid. It called in the inspectors, told them exactly what it had, and allowed them full access to all its witnesses. The whole thing was then shut down in a matter of weeks. That is what can happen. The initial stages of it happened immensely quickly, and it could happen again. If the UN inspectors were saying to us, "Yes, Iraq is doing absolutely everything it can", I would not be standing here making this statement. I am making it not because we are being led by the nose into conflict, but because we have set out a process governed by that UN resolution. That process requires full compliance by Saddam, and he is not fully complying.

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): Will the Prime Minister tell us what the right conditions would be for the use of nuclear weapons, as mentioned by his Secretary of State for Defence? Will he rule out any pre-emptive use of nuclear weapons by either the United Kingdom Government or the United States Government? Will he also say how any use of nuclear weapons in any context could be squared with our commitments under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty?

The Prime Minister: In one sense, I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has asked me that, because it allows me to make it clear that all that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was doing was repeating the traditional British doctrine relating to nuclear weapons. We have absolutely no plans to use nuclear weapons in respect of Iraq. He was simply repeating the traditional British doctrine, and nothing of an alarmist nature should be read into that.

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