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13 Feb 2003 : Column 1054—continued

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): May we please have an urgent debate in Government time on support for enterprise? Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that although the Ernst and Young enterprise survey published last month showed that the proportion of entrepreneurs who believe that the Government attach a high priority to entrepreneurship had doubled over the past 12 months, ministerial pride in that fact should be qualified by the reality that the rise is from 1 per cent. of respondents to 2 per cent.?

Mr. Cook: I am encouraged that the trend is in the right direction. We must continue to raise it towards 100 per cent. as fast as possible.

Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North): May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to early-day motion 716 on British participation in a war in Iraq?

[That this House does not believe that British forces should be required to participate in a war against Iraq unless all of the following conditions are met (a) that there is clear evidence that Iraq poses an imminent threat to peace, (b) that there is a substantive motion of this House authorising military action, (c) that there is an express resolution of the Security Council of the United Nations authorising the use of military force against Iraq and (d) that all other policy options have been exhausted.]

Although some names were too late to include on today's printed copy, by last night—in just one and a half days—it had attracted the support of more than 100 Members of Parliament. I suspect that that is just a partial reflection of the grave concern felt by hon. Members on both sides of the House, and probably not just on the Back Benches. Does my right hon. Friend recognise that it would be an appalling denial of basic democracy if we were effectively committed at the UN to pre-emptive war while Parliament was in recess?

Mr. Cook: I understand the continuing interest in Iraq. It may be for the convenience of the Chamber to move on to the forthcoming statement on Iraq so that some of the points can be debated in substance rather than tangentially through me. Although I have the fiercest attachment to the prerogatives and rights of the House of Commons, we cannot tell the Security Council that it cannot debate a matter or take a decision because the British Parliament happens to be in recess for a week. Should any decision be reached in New York, we will, of course, put that to the House at the earliest opportunity. As I said, we stand ready to recall Parliament should that be required, but I do not anticipate that happening at the present time.

Sandra Gidley (Romsey): We have just had the regular 10 minutes of questions to the Minister for

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Women, but their focus is narrow and many submitted questions are transferred. Will the Leader of the House give some thought to supplementing those questions with a regular cross-cutting question session to Ministers in various Departments along the lines of the recently successful questions on youth issues?

Mr. Cook: I entirely agree that the recent experiment in cross-cutting questions on youth issues was a great success. [Interruption.] Well, I am sorry that the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing) was not there, because it attracted the largest attendance that Westminster Hall has seen.

Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest): I was there.

Mr. Cook: Members who attended found it a success. At a time when we are not always held in the highest of regard and esteem outside this place, I was encouraged by the fact that the young people who attended also regarded it as a success and were impressed by it.

On the questions to the Minister for Women, I shall reflect on the comments of the hon. Member for Romsey (Sandra Gidley). As there is provision for that in the Chamber, it would be more appropriate to continue those arrangements than to transfer them to Westminster Hall. However, I shall convey her enthusiasm to my right hon. Friend to have as many questions as possible and, in particular, not to have questions transferred.

Ms Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley): May I, too, draw my right hon. Friend's attention to early-day motion 607 on the change in hours? Does he agree that we would expect working practice changes in, for example, the fire service to be given more than a bare 14 days before firefighters expressed concerns about any problems encountered? Will he counsel hon. Members to have a little more patience with the changes and, dare I say, a little more imagination in resolving the teething problems, which would occur in any organisation that took on such changes?

Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend expresses herself with great clarity and persuasiveness. Tact suggests that it would be wrong of me to try to improve on such an excellent statement.

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Iraq

1.46 pm

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about Iraq. I thought that it would be helpful, given that the House is in recess next week.

The Security Council will meet in New York tomorrow to hear the latest reports from the executive chairman of UNMOVIC, Dr. Hans Blix, and the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Dr. Mohamed el-Baradei. I will be joining fellow Foreign Ministers for that meeting.

United Nations Security Council resolution 1441, which was agreed three months ago, placed the onus squarely on Iraq to co-operate fully and actively with United Nations inspectors in the disarmament of its weapons of mass destruction. It gave Iraq a final warning: comply with the UN's terms immediately or face "serious consequences." European Union Foreign Ministers expressed clear support for that goal last month when they declared unanimously that


It is also worth recalling that at the summit in Prague, NATO Heads of Government—every one of the 19 present—explicitly endorsed resolution 1441. They said that it was a final opportunity and that serious consequences would follow.

Tomorrow's briefing will be the fourth update delivered by Dr. Blix and Dr. el-Baradei. The comprehensive reports that they delivered on 27 January, just over two weeks ago, painted a disturbing picture. Most damning of all was Dr. Blix's observation that Iraq


Dr. Blix concluded that the Iraqi declaration submitted on 7 December, in accordance with resolution 1441, was


and did not


unresolved


The central premise of Iraq's so-called disclosure—that Iraq possesses no weapons of mass destruction—was, and remains, a lie. Nor was there any admission of Iraq's extensive efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction since the final UNSCOM inspections in December 1998 when it was effectively excluded from Iraq, as the inspectors made clear in their final report to the Security Council in February 1999.

In their update on 27 January, Dr. Blix and Dr. el-Baradei said that Iraq had failed to account for 6,500 bombs, which could carry up to 1,000 tonnes of chemical agent. It had also failed to account for 8,500 litres of biological warfare agent and a large amount of growth media, which could be used to produce about 5,000 litres of concentrated anthrax. They said that the

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12 chemical rocket warheads unearthed by UNMOVIC inspectors were potentially, in Dr. Blix's words,


They said that Iraq had failed to disclose the 3,000 pages of documents discovered not in an office but in the grounds of the private home of an Iraqi scientist, relating to the nuclear weapons programme of that country. They said that despite repeated requests from UNMOVIC and the IAEA, in accordance with resolution 1441, all interviews with key Iraqi personnel were being conducted in the intimidating presence of official "minders". They also said that in contravention of United Nations resolutions, Iraq had developed missiles that had been tested at ranges in excess of the 150 km limit specified in UN resolutions.

I remind the House that the British Government drew attention to Iraqi work on such missiles in the dossier that we published last September. We look forward to hearing in detail what Dr. Blix has to say tomorrow, but if media reports are correct, the al-Samoud missile programme is clearly in serious breach of Iraq's obligations. We would expect rapid action to eliminate any such illegal programme.

In drafting resolution 1441, Security Council members took pains to set two clear tests for further material breach by Iraq. In the first operational paragraph, they declared that Iraq


of a score or more of obligations that date back to 1991. That is still the case. As for the two tests, a further material breach would have occurred, first, if Iraq made "false statements" or "omissions" in the declaration that it submitted on 7 December, and secondly, if it failed


of resolution 1441. The briefings by Dr. Blix and Dr. el-Baradei, as well as Secretary Powell's presentation to the Security Council last week, leave no doubt that Iraq has failed to meet both tests. The conclusion is therefore inescapable: Iraq is in further material breach of resolution 1441. We shall take full account of the reports of the chief inspectors tomorrow.

The prospect of military action causes obvious anxiety—as it should—here in the United Kingdom, here in the House, among our allies and in the region, and of course among the people of Iraq. I still hope and pray for a peaceful outcome to the crisis, but that will be possible only if we maintain unrelenting pressure on Saddam Hussein, including the threat of force, rather than casting around for excuses to delay. It is only through the pressure we have been exercising that we have got as far as we have in exposing much more of the danger represented by Saddam Hussein's regime, and exposing his lies and deception as well. If the international community lost its nerve now, that would significantly undermine the UN's authority and make the world a much more dangerous place, as dictators got the message that international law consisted of mere words and nothing else.

The Franco-German proposals announced this week to bolster the inspection regime will not deliver the assurance that the world needs about Iraq's weapons. Those proposals, I am sorry to say, are unrealistic and

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impractical. They shift the burden of proof from Iraq—which is where the Security Council has said it must be—to the inspectors, and they send Saddam the signal that defiance pays. What is the point of sending three times as many inspectors simply for Saddam to deceive them? What purpose is served by that? As Dr. Blix himself said on Monday,


Those are the words of the chief inspector, not my words.

If the inspectors were to say that Iraq was actively co-operating, one might see a possible case for more inspectors; but I ask my hon. Friends, as well as Opposition Members, to consider what it is like to inspect anything without the co-operation of the organisation being inspected.

Iraq was found guilty of possession of weapons of mass destruction 12 years ago. The role of inspectors has always been to verify Iraqi compliance—this being based on the premise of Iraqi compliance—and not to engage in a


to use Dr. Blix's term.

I am glad to learn that other proposals attributed to the French and German Governments, such as the establishment of a no-fly zone over the whole of Iraq and the insertion of armed blue-helmeted UN troops, have now been officially denied. Had those proposals been implemented, they would have required an even higher degree of co-operation from the Iraqi regime than was required by resolution 1441. The creation of a no-fly zone over the whole of Iraq would have required the complete grounding of the Iraqi air force and its regular inspection to that end, and the insertion of blue-helmeted UN troops in a benign environment would have required all armed troops from Iraq to retreat to barracks. That too would have been the subject of inspection by the United Nations.

Let me now turn to the position in NATO. In mid-January, discussions began in the alliance of the need for contingency planning to cope with possible threats to the security of a NATO ally, Turkey, in the event of military action in respect of Iraq. Sixteen NATO allies, including 14 European nations, supported that entirely reasonable and responsible proposal simply to set in hand some military planning for very limited defensive mutual assistance. France, Belgium and Germany have resisted on the ground that a NATO decision on that very limited mutual assistance would somehow pre-empt any Security Council consideration of Iraq's further material breach. Faced with that deadlock, on 10 February Turkey requested consultations under article 4 of the Washington treaty. The discussions continue, with the United Kingdom fully supporting the efforts of NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson to achieve consensus.

I remind the House again that at the Prague summit, less than three months ago, NATO leaders pledged their full support for resolution 1441.

Given the obvious risks and the possibility that military action may prove necessary, we are keeping under very close review the safety and security of both

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visiting and resident British nationals in the various countries of the middle east. We make assessments on a case-by-case basis for each country in the region, and will make announcements as necessary.

Even at this late stage, armed intervention is not inevitable. A peaceful resolution of the crisis remains in Saddam Hussein's hands. Full Iraqi compliance with the terms of Security Council resolution 1441 will deliver the outcome that the United Kingdom and the entire international community wish to see: an Iraq that no longer poses a threat to its neighbours or to the region. In the absence of full compliance by Saddam Hussein, however, United Nations inspectors will not be able to fulfil their mandate to verify Iraqi disarmament. Resolution 1441 warns Iraq to expect "serious consequences" in that event. By now, even Saddam Hussein must be under no illusions: that can only mean disarmament by force.


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