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13 Feb 2003 : Column 1065—continued

Mr. Prentice: The evidence?

Mr. Straw: My hon. Friend says that there is no evidence, but I look forward with interest to hearing what the inspectors say about the 3,000 pages of documents relating, I understand, to a nuclear programme conducted by Iraq. The documents were found not in filing cabinets in an Iraqi Ministry of Defence establishment marked "nuclear weapons programme", but in the private home of an Iraqi scientist. We would have found it odd if that had happened in this country and I believe that my hon. Friend would have found it so too.

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Finally, I say to my hon. Friend—I do not believe that he is naive, but I am anxious to protect him from that charge—that it is also worth bearing in mind the fact that Iraq said for four years that there was no evidence whatever of any biological weapons programme. Saddam Hussein said that it was absolutely untrue that such a programme existed and the inspectors could not find any evidence. As my hon. Friend is not naive, I know that he would not have stood up and said, "Therefore, the programme does not exist." That would have been very wise, as it took the defection of Saddam Hussein's son-in-law to spill the beans and reveal that Iraq had the most terrifying programme. We know about this man. We know that he is not only a liar, but a man who has amassed terrible weapons to destroy his own people and the region. That is why we have to deal with the situation.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby): I accept, in general, the evidence that the Foreign Secretary puts forward, but will he accept from me that last week's publication of the dossier, which was substandard at the least, undermined the Government's case, muddied the water and left those of us who broadly support the Government's position somewhat confused about their policy aims? Will the right hon. Gentleman tell me about those aims? He said earlier, "I still hope and pray for a peaceful outcome to the crisis." Can he foresee the achievement of such an outcome while Saddam Hussein is left in power in Baghdad?

Mr. Straw: Yes, and that has always been in prospect. Let us make this clear. It has been anticipated by the United Kingdom Government and by President Bush in an important speech that he made in Cincinnati late last year. I do not think that anybody in the House, on any side of the argument, has any brief for Saddam Hussein, but the objective of resolution 1441 was to secure his disarmament, hopefully by peaceful means. What President Bush said—I endorse these words entirely—is that if there was full and peaceful disarmament by Saddam Hussein, the nature of his regime would change. That is true. In any event, the objective is peaceful disarmament and Saddam Hussein has it in his hands to disarm peacefully and survive. I would not like the latter, but it would be an acceptable consequence of his full compliance with the will of the United Nations. That is why it is absolutely true when we say that he has a real choice. I hope that, even at this late stage, he exercises it.

Mr. Kevin Hughes (Doncaster, North): I am not a warmonger, and perhaps I should declare an interest: like thousands of others, my son has been called up for active duty. That will be worrying for me and my family, but it will not blur my judgment about difficult decisions that may need to be taken. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, if Saddam does not choose the peaceful route—it is still available to him as we speak—we may need to engage in military action, despite the shenanigans of Germany, France and Belgium?

Mr. Straw: I should like to place on record my huge respect for my hon. Friend and above all for his son. Like many other hon. Members, he has somebody in his family who will place their lives on the line if military

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action takes place. It is worth remembering that that is a long and honourable tradition for this country and that the freedoms that we hold dear and take for granted have been protected only as a result of the willingness of British servicemen and women to do what his son is now willing to do.

As for the action that we have to take, we hope and pray that the situation can be resolved peacefully. If it cannot be resolved in that way, we hope and pray for unity in the United Nations and the international community, but in the end, we also have to make our own decisions.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): Have not Ministers told us in the past that there should and would be a second resolution of the United Nations? But today the Foreign Secretary tells us that that remains in prospect. Since he likes transcripts, I have a transcript of the Prime Minister's words on "Newsnight" exactly a week ago. The Prime Minister told the studio audience that the only narrow circumstances in which the United Kingdom would proceed to military action outwith a second resolution were those in which there was a majority in the Security Council that was subject to an unreasonable veto. It now seems that even that position has changed. Does the Foreign Secretary realise the hopeless position of going to war in the name of the United Nations without its full authority?

Mr. Straw: The hon. Gentleman needs to read the terms of resolution 1441. The full authority of the United Nations is there. We want a second resolution and we have always made that clear. As to whether there will be a second resolution, that remains to be seen.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax): May I tell the Secretary of State that his tactics of exaggerating the negative and ignoring the positive in the inspectors' reports fool no one? War based on what we know so far would be totally disproportionate. May I bring him back to the public and the members of his own party? One recent poll showed that 46 per cent. of people in this country would not support a war against Iraq on the basis of what we know now, with or without a second UN resolution. In those circumstances, if he sends our servicemen and women into great dangers without the backing of the country, he will be betraying them and, I also think, disgracing his high office.

Mr. Straw: I do not think that my hon. Friend's comments are justified or worthy of her. I know that she feels strongly about this matter, but others are entitled to take a different view and feel just as strongly. I do my best, as I always have done in this House, accurately to reflect and summarise documents that we are discussing. It is impossible to read the reports of Dr. el-Baradei and Dr. Blix without concluding that they show in terms that I have already quoted that there has not been the active co-operation that was sought by resolution 1441—a lack of co-operation that goes back 12 years. I say to her that no one is exaggerating the problem and no one has invented the fact that Iraq had the programme. Until it proves otherwise—the onus is on it to do so and the evidence suggests the reverse—it looks as though it

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continues to have the programme. We owe it to our own people, but even more to the people of the region, to eliminate that danger before it is too late.

Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon): What evaluation have the Government made of the latest so-called bin Laden tape? The United States has leapt upon it as proof positive of a link between terrorism and Iraq, but the Foreign Secretary has not even mentioned it today. The British Government seem to be much more circumspect in making this link. Does the right hon. Gentleman believe that there is a substantive link between al-Qaeda and Iraq, or is this an area in which there is some difference between our appreciation of the evidence and that of the United States?

Mr. Straw: The Prime Minister and I have both said on a number of occasions that we have seen no evidence that links al-Qaeda with the Iraqi regime in respect of the events that happened before and on 11 September. I have also added that I would not be surprised if such evidence came forward, but I have seen none. As for other links—again, this has been made clear by the Prime Minister and me—there is some evidence of links between the al-Qaeda organisation and Iraq, in terms of the Iraqi regime allowing a permissive environment for the operation of al-Qaeda operatives, and there is overwhelming evidence of Iraq's active support for terrorist organisations operating in Israel and the occupied territories.

Mr. Stephen McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green): Like every other sane person, I would prefer to have peace, but the prospect of peace at any price frightens me because it probably means war postponed. Is it not the sad truth that the time has come when we must have overwhelming evidence of Saddam Hussein's compliance with the UN? If not, is not the blunt choice that we can either have a controlled, planned and deliberate use of force to disarm him or await the postponed war that will surely come? Such a war would come at the time, and in the place and circumstances, of Saddam Hussein's choosing.

Mr. Straw: My hon. Friend speaks very wisely on this issue. We will gain nothing by procrastination. Deferring decisions and refusing to face up to the clear evidence will not make this easier to deal with, but very much harder.

Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire): Earlier this afternoon, in the other statement, the Home Secretary took issue with my hon. Friends who raised the issue of what has been described as the "dodgy document", and said that it had nothing to do with the threats to Heathrow and elsewhere. Last week, the Prime Minister told us—the Foreign Secretary reiterated this a few minutes ago—that there were clear links between the Iraqi regime and international terrorism. Yesterday, the Prime Minister referred only to the compassionate reasons for dealing with the Iraqi regime, namely to release the Iraqi people from the situation that they are in. Today, the Foreign Secretary's statement has, quite rightly, concentrated on resolution 1441 and the resolutions that have gone before it. Given all this, is it surprising that the British

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people are becoming more and more confused by the different messages coming from the Government, and that they do not fully understand the reasons for our being on the verge of entering into a military conflict? It is not that people are wholly opposed to it; they simply do not understand, because they are confused by the messages coming from the Government.

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