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11 Feb 2003 : Column 773—continued

Mr. Ingram: I do not accept the premise of that question. All countries in the UN, and certainly the members of the Security Council, are committed to peace and not war. That is certainly true of those countries that may find themselves engaged in the conflict. Everything that this country has done with its allies has been aimed at finding a peaceful solution. I should respect my hon. Friend more if, in his question, he had condemned Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi regime. I heard nothing from him about that. We get an anti-American rant all the time, from people who forget that the matter is about the will of the UN. I disagree with my hon. Friend's premise, but I join him in wanting peace. He should come over to our side and help to show a unity of purpose among democratic countries. In that way, that tyrant and dictator can be thrown out.

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal): Does the Minister accept, on reflection, that the Government are not convincing large numbers of people? Does it not therefore behove the Government to show that they are open in these matters? Would not it have been better if the Secretary of State for Defence had come to the

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House of his own volition yesterday and made the statement that the Minister has now made? Would it not have been better if someone had explained to the House before about what has come to be called the "dodgy" document? Would it not be better now if the House were to have a proper debate of this matter, on a substantive motion, so that the public could be reassured? The Minister must understand that many of us would like to say, "Trust the Prime Minister," but that we are unable to do so, given the evidence that is before us. Will he accept that this is a serious crisis, in this country as well as everywhere else?

Mr. Ingram: I do not think that the Government have said anything to indicate that we are not aware of the significant amount of doubt in people's minds, both in Britain and internationally. That doubt is evident in the US and every European country, and in other countries too. We have to accept that. As to openness, we have lost count of the number of statements made and of the number of the debates held on the matter. The arguments have been given proper ventilation. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that the matter will be determined not in the House, but in the UN. To my mind, and I suspect that the right hon. Gentleman agrees, Secretary Powell made a powerful and convincing case for the current position in Iraq, based on the inspectors' analysis. Another report will be made on 14 February. The strength and quality of the arguments in that report will be what convinces people in this country, across Europe and in the US. When that is explained, we have to ensure that we stand behind the UN when and if it determines through a second resolution that further action is required, if Saddam Hussein, at that stage, is still not complying with the will of the UN. It has to be determined at the bar of that house as well as at the Bar of this House.

Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate): Is it not the case that the Government have markedly failed to convince the British people, most centrally because people have lost trust in that Government? It was not the dossier that my constituents found dodgy but the Government's attempt to present it as exclusively the work of British intelligence agencies and as containing up-to-date material. My constituents are also concerned that the Prime Minister gave a clear commitment that a decision on whether to deploy British troops would be for our Government, our House of Commons and our people—a commitment that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence completely overturned last Thursday, using the somewhat lame argument of security. Surely the Government must understand that, if the people of this country are to be convinced, far from setting themselves up against the proposals that have been made by France, Germany and, yes, plucky little Belgium, and if the Prime Minister is determined to go down—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I asked for brief questions, not three questions.

Mr. Ingram: In my earlier answer, I tried to deal with the way in which we are taking forward the debate on whether we had trust. We have to make the arguments and win them. That is clearly the case for any matter of

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great importance. I recall, however, some of the lurid language that was used in the House—mainly by my hon. Friends—when we debated Afghanistan. They asked what would happen if there were bombing attacks on Afghanistan and said that if we put troops into the country the whole Islamic world would go up in flames and we would be faced with a cataclysmic response such as we had never seen before. They were wrong then and I ask them to reflect on that this time.

I note that my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson) spoke about trust in "that" Government. I remind her that the Government are her Government. She stood on that manifesto and I hope that she can find trust both in the Prime Minister and in the Ministers who are trying to take forward some difficult decisions on behalf of the party to which I am proud to belong and to which I hope she, too, remains proud to belong—

Glenda Jackson: I am not.

Hon. Members: Oh!

Mr. Ingram: On the question of commitment and the deployment of our troops and resources, that rests with the Government and with this country and, ultimately, with the House of Commons.

Mr. Michael Portillo (Kensington and Chelsea): I draw attention to a registered interest.

Does the Minister agree that the action that has been taken by France, Belgium and Germany is a severe blow to the alliance? Does he not recognise that that display of disunity within the alliance actually makes it less likely that this matter can be resolved peacefully? Will he confirm that in Kosovo and in Bosnia Europe was unable to settle matters and had to call upon NATO to do so? Does he, therefore, agree that the result of this action is more likely to damage Europe than the United States? Finally, is it not naive of the Minister not to admit that a longstanding French objective has been to achieve defence arrangements for Europe that do not involve America?

Mr. Ingram: The right hon. Gentleman accuses me of being naive, but I do not think that I was asked a question on that point, so it is not a matter of refusing to admit to anything. We can all have a view on the geopolitical stance of our allies and neighbours, and every country comes to its conclusion in a different way. That is what makes the strength of the alliance; we can hold and articulate different points of view and find a way forward. I think I have already replied on the way forward for the European Union, the European security and defence policy and NATO—they are complementary and NATO remains a cornerstone of our security policy.

I do not accept that this situation is a severe blow, because it depends on how one defines "severe"—[Hon. Members: "Oh."] Well, Lord Robertson may use a different definition from the right hon. Gentleman's. Lord Robertson has said that, yes, there are difficulties. However, consultations are going on and there will be another discussion at 16.30 and there may be further discussions. What are those discussions about?

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Reaching consensus. Let us wait and see the end of the process and not jump in halfway through, as the right hon. Gentleman's party has done.

Donald Anderson (Swansea, East): Would my right hon. Friend confirm that the fundamental purpose of NATO is to provide mutual self-defence for its members—one for all and all for one? To deny a loyal ally—Turkey—that defence when it is needed undermines the very purpose of the alliance. If that door is blocked by certain countries, will my right hon. Friend confirm that we will ensure, in co-operation with the United States and the Netherlands, that our ally, Turkey, receives that help in terms of Patriots, AWACS, aircraft and planning? Will my right hon. Friend also give the Government's position on Monday's proposed EU conference on Iraq? Is it not true that, at this stage, that can only further illustrate the disunity in the European Union and cast doubts on the possibility of a common foreign and security policy?

Mr. Ingram: With respect to my right hon. Friend, may I ask him to put some of those questions to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office? They do not relate specifically to what is happening in NATO and the discussions that are taking place.

I accept that there are linkages, but the way forward will be progressive. There is potential for damage at the moment, but any breaches that arise will be healed. That is the history of NATO and the same will apply—if it does not already—in any ESDP or in the relationships between EU countries.

The role of NATO is about mutual self-defence. I have set out exactly what is happening. If Turkey comes under attack or is threatened by attack, the countries that are currently seeking a different approach— France, Germany and Belgium—have made it clear that they will stand 100 per cent. by their commitment to NATO. There is no question about that. Let us put the matter in its true context.

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