Previous SectionIndexHome Page

13 Feb 2003 : Column 1059—continued

Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton): My right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), the shadow Foreign Secretary, is in China, and apologises for not being here today. I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement, and for giving us a copy in advance.

The statement comes at a time when diplomatic relations between the United States and both France and Germany are, to put it mildly, scratchy. Public opinion here suggests that people are losing trust in the Prime Minister, and, crucially, we may be witnessing historic strains on the stability of a number of institutions that we have taken for granted for decades, such as NATO, the European Union and even the United Nations itself. However, we offer the Government our full support in their efforts to enable NATO to send missiles to defend Turkey. While we can understand America's fury at the attitude of France and Germany, we ask the Foreign Secretary to join us in urging our counterparts in Congress not to be drawn into recriminations against them. Whatever their feelings, we surely do not want relations between western democracies to slide into disarray.

The Foreign Secretary has said that we must wait for Dr. Hans Blix's statement to the United Nations tomorrow, and of course he is right. Any decision about Iraq requires an agonisingly difficult moral assessment. Resolution 1441 enshrines a judgment, which we share, that the cost of doing nothing is greater than the cost of doing something. Does the Foreign Secretary accept that if we are on the brink of military conflict, as seems likely, the issue must above all be approached with honesty and clarity? Given that resolution 1441 is fundamentally about Saddam Hussein's arsenal of weapons, and given the doubting mood of public opinion, do not talk of Iraqi links with al-Qaeda and links with terrorism, conflicting comments from Ministers, and the publication of an utterly substandard dossier only divert attention from the main issue and severely dent the Government's credibility?

A fortnight ago, a second UN resolution seemed a dead cert, but now it seems touch and go. The Foreign Secretary made no mention at all of a second resolution in his statement. Is it his intention still to go for one, and if so, when does he expect it to be voted on? If Hans Blix tomorrow reconfirms that Iraq is in material breach of

13 Feb 2003 : Column 1060

resolution 1441, the Foreign Secretary said that "rapid action" will be taken, apparently, from what he said, by force, but how rapid is rapid? I think the Foreign Secretary and I agree that we respect those who take a principled stand against any military action. We also hope that they respect our shared view that we should not resile from implementing UN resolution 1441. Does the Foreign Secretary not agree that it is impossible to have any respect for a party leader who says that we must wait for Hans Blix, and then announces in advance of tomorrow's statement that he is going to go on the anti-war march on Saturday? After sitting on so many fences at once, it is no wonder that the leader of the Liberal Democrat party finds it so difficult to walk straight.

If Saddam Hussein goes, it is the clear intention of all involved in removing him to replace his regime with a democratic one if at all possible. But is it not a fundamental concept of any democracy that any Government should be accountable for their action to their electorate either directly or through Parliament; and is it not therefore a fundamental right of the British people that any UK military action should be subject to a substantive motion in the House of Commons?

The Secretary of State for International Development has so far refused to reveal any plans she may have for humanitarian aid to Iraq, and in The Guardian today she says that there will not be any aid anyway if there is not a second UN resolution. It is therefore doubly worrying that the Foreign Secretary made no reference to a second resolution today. At the very least, will he say what the Government's plans are for humanitarian aid, even if his Cabinet colleague will not? I welcome the news this week that Ariel Sharon has had talks with Abu Ala from the Palestinian Authority. Will the Foreign Secretary once again confirm our shared view that any action in or around the middle east needs to go hand in hand with a revival of the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians, without which there will never be stability in the wider Arab world?

Mr. Straw: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Of course I understand the absence of his right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary.

Going through the points that the hon. Gentleman made, I accept that it is wise if we want to resolve this matter and ensure the cohesion of those key alliances of which we are members—NATO and the European Union—and, above all, maintain the authority of the United Nations, that we should seek to lower, rather than raise, the temperature of relations with countries with which we have great friendships, both within Europe and across the Atlantic.

On the issue of the dossier, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister dealt with that yesterday. We accept that parts of the document should have been made clearer, but I tell the House and the hon. Gentleman that the document itself was accurate in every particular—the part that was claimed to be from intelligence was from intelligence. As regards the second resolution, the reason why I did not explicitly mention the prospect of one is that we are waiting to hear what Dr. Blix and Dr. el-Baradei say. It is our decision as to whether or not we move a second resolution, and of course one remains in prospect. My view is that, rather than speculate about whether or not we move a second

13 Feb 2003 : Column 1061

resolution and about what it says, having heard what Dr. Blix and Dr. el-Baradei said on 27 January, we should wait and see what they say tomorrow, then make our decisions. Subject only to recesses, our decisions will be reported to the House as quickly as possible. I also reinforce the point made by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House at business questions—the fact that the Security Council meets at times other than when the House is sitting means that we cannot always ensure that decisions made there coincide exactly with our sittings.

The hon. Gentleman made some interesting remarks about the leader of the Liberal Democrats. It is a matter for the right hon. Gentleman as to whether he goes on this march, but I have read all his statements carefully. The more I read them, the more completely confused I believe he is. For those who believe either that he is against any military action in Iraq or that he believes, as he said on 25 November in the House, that military action can only take place if there is a second resolution, I commend to the House the transcript of his interview on the "Today" programme on 27 January, in which he openly admitted that while a second resolution was his preference—he prayed the Prime Minister and myself in aid of that assertion—he then said that we might have to go without a second resolution—[Interruption.] Well, we look forward to further elucidation.

The hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) referred to a substantive resolution. I agree, and always have done. I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will acknowledge that we have made a policy of introducing substantive resolutions in the House. That happened on 25 November, when we had a very good debate. There was a clear choice before the House—rather than a choice of whether we went home or not, there was a choice about the policy that we should follow. The Government's policy, which was supported by the Opposition, was backed by a vote of about 450 to 80, which I take to be a mandate on any basis.

As for a substantive resolution on military action, again, we have made it very clear first, that there will be a substantive resolution and, secondly, that it is our earnest intention and hope that that should take place in advance of any military action save in the one circumstance in which we judge that our troops would be put at risk. On such an occasion, the arrangement, as happened with the Conservative Government in January 1991, would take place a few days afterwards. That, too, however, would be very much second best. The overwhelmingly important issue, apart from all the other issues, is that the legitimacy of any action that we take as a British Government should be endorsed by the House, so that if our troops go into any action and place their lives on the line, they do so in the knowledge that they have the support of the British people as represented in the House.

Finally, on the middle east peace process, I entirely endorse what the hon. Gentleman said about the paramountcy of pursuing that process, which is why the Prime Minister and I were determined to go ahead with consultations with the Palestinian Authority notwithstanding the banning by Mr. Sharon of attendance at that meeting. On humanitarian aid, I do not recognise the description of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development. The

13 Feb 2003 : Column 1062

Department for International Development is already providing millions of pounds to Iraq, and my right hon. Friends the Defence Secretary, the International Development Secretary, the Prime Minister and I had a detailed discussion this morning, as we have done for many weeks, about the nature of further humanitarian assistance and its conditions should military action prove necessary against Iraq.

Mr. Mark Oaten (Winchester): I start by thanking the Foreign Secretary both for providing prior notice of his statement and for coming to the House in advance of those critical meetings rather than after them. The Government have repeatedly made it clear that the international community can only deal effectively with Iraq if we are united. Does the Foreign Secretary therefore accept the concern that to ignore the vetoes in the Security Council may have serious consequences for that unity and would undermine the Security Council's role? Does he also accept the need to tone down the rhetoric on the part of Government to minimise the damage currently being done in relations with NATO and our EU partners, and with Russia and China? Will he use this opportunity to distance himself clearly from the suggestions being made in America that Germany and France should face economic sanctions or that American troops should be withdrawn from Germany as a result of this week's disagreements?

In his statement, the Foreign Secretary dismissed the French and Russian proposals that were put forward this week. Can he tell the House whether he has sought meetings with the French and the Russians about those proposals, and why he so quickly dismisses the option of further UN inspection and containment?

At the Security Council meeting tomorrow, I hope that Britain will lend its support to the work of the inspectors. If the inspectors believe that with more time, co-operation and space, progress could be made, they should be given more time. Will the Foreign Secretary commit himself to that, and recognise that the vast majority of members of the public who will be marching this weekend support the view, as does the Liberal Democrat leader, Charles Kennedy, that we should put our faith in the United Nations and allow the inspectors more time?

Finally, may I ask the Foreign Secretary to give a firm commitment that if a UN resolution is tabled next Monday, the House will be recalled on Tuesday for a full debate on that resolution?

Next Section

IndexHome Page