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25 Feb 2003 : Column 129—continued

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman asked about post-conflict Iraq, if it comes to conflict. I have made it clear that the UN must have a key role; exactly what that role will be is another thing that we are discussing with the UN and with allies now. As for the military chain of command, it will be as it has been in previous military conflicts. We will set out all the answers to those questions very plainly if it comes to military conflict. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that there is any problem in the military chain of command itself, because I think that that would be irresponsible and unfair to our armed forces.

There is one issue on which I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. He said that it would be preferable for the disarmament of Iraq to take place by means of the UN route. I agree: that is exactly why we have tried to use the UN route. With respect, however, the question is this: if disarmament cannot happen by means of the UN route because Saddam Hussein is not co-operating properly, then what? We shall be left with a choice between leaving him there, with his weapons of mass destruction, in charge of Iraq—the will of the UN having therefore been set at nothing—and using force.

The right hon. Gentleman described the resolution as pre-emptive. I must take issue with him. Resolution 1441 has this logic—to which I see no answer in what the right hon. Gentleman said. It called on Saddam Hussein to disarm voluntarily, and to comply fully, unconditionally and immediately with the inspectors. It said that he was in material breach, and that this was a final opportunity. Now, is Saddam Hussein co-operating fully? No. Not a single person disputes that. He is therefore in breach of resolution 1441. This was supposed to be his final opportunity. With the greatest respect, it is not us who have to justify why we are putting down a resolution stating what is a fact—that he is not co-operating fully and is in breach of resolution

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1441—it is for others to say why, having given him the final opportunity that he has not taken, we still should not act. My worry in that situation—no doubt it is Saddam's hope—is that what people really mean when they put forward these alternatives is that we are not prepared seriously to force him to disarm.

On the chances of conflict, I should tell the right hon. Gentleman that the bitter irony of some of what has happened in the past few weeks is that unless Saddam gets a clear and united message—unless he knows that there is no alternative to voluntary disarmament—he will not disarm. That is the history of 12 years in which we played this game of to and fro, back and forth with him.

Let me deal with one other point. The argument about regime change has not changed. I have always said that the purpose of any action has got to be the disarmament of Iraq of weapons of mass destruction. That is the purpose, but the nature of the regime is relevant in two ways. This is not a regime that has weapons of mass destruction but is otherwise benign; it is—as I hope the right hon. Gentleman agrees—a deeply murderous, barbaric regime that subjects its people to terrible humiliation, and which, every time it has been able to do so, has conducted external aggression. [Interruption.] Well, some of the right hon. Gentleman's colleagues may disagree, but I think that objective people will agree with that proposition. Those people who say that the regime is not relevant ignore the fact that weapons of mass destruction in the hands of Saddam are a greater threat precisely because of the nature of the regime, and because of the fact that he has used them.

The second point is that there is a reason why I responded to a moral case, namely, that a moral case was being put against action. It was being said that, of course, innocent people will die in conflict, and that is true. Innocent people do die, which is why we have striven so hard over 12 years to avoid going back into conflict with Saddam. However, it is also right, in responding to that moral case, to point out the utter misery and deprivation of the people in Iraq, and to state what is a fact: that those who have most to gain from the end of the regime of Saddam Hussein are the Iraqi people themselves.

Donald Anderson (Swansea, East): As we enter a crucial three weeks that will decide whether there is peace or war, my right hon. Friend has made a very powerful case. It is clear that Saddam Hussein responds only to pressure, and that his aim is to divide the Security Council and to buy time. My right hon. Friend and the Cabinet have tabled a motion for tomorrow, so he clearly agrees with its observation that Iraq has a

Does he equally accept that, as the likely amendment to it states, the case for military action is as yet unproven, until Dr. Blix reports to the Security Council this Friday and during the following week on whether Saddam Hussein has complied with his disarmament obligations?

The Prime Minister: The truth is, of course, that it is clear that Saddam is in breach of resolution 1441, because he was supposed to co-operate fully and is not

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doing so. However, because we want—consistent with the attitude that we have taken throughout—to give every single possible chance for him to co-operate fully, we are prepared, even at this stage, to delay in order to give him that chance. What my right hon. Friend implies is absolutely right: Saddam is not co-operating fully, and there is no great mystery in what is being asked of him. Anyone would think that the problem with Saddam is a failure to communicate with him adequately—that, somehow, he is not quite sure what this disarmament process means. He is probably more familiar with the ins and outs of UN inspectors and with the demands of UN resolutions than any one of us. However, the fact is that at the moment he believes that he can trick us back into the game that he played in the 1990s. That is why I honestly say that if there is any chance of getting him to change his mind and his heart, it will happen only if we send the strongest possible signal at this stage.

Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks): Will the Prime Minister accept—[Interruption.] This may not help him, but will he accept from a long-standing critic and opponent that his policy is absolutely in the interests of this country and the wider world? Will he explain to the leader of the Liberal Democrats that British and American forces have been familiar with a shared chain of command since D-day in 1944 and before? Will the Prime Minister stress that any lifting of the threat of invasion of Iraq would set Saddam Hussein off once again on the search for nuclear weaponry, with probable success? On the implications for European policy making, does the Prime Minister consider that if an EU diplomatic service—as will be proposed by the Convention on the Future of Europe—were now in existence, it would be lobbying for his resolution or against it?

The Prime Minister: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his support and for showing us what we are all missing—[Interruption.] Including me. I agree with the points that he makes, but I wish to make one thing clear about the European convention. There is no way that the foreign or defence policy of this country will be conducted by an EU diplomatic service. It will carry on being conducted by the Government of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central): My right hon. Friend's statement did not refer to what must be the main argument for a potential war—the nature of the threat that Saddam Hussein's regime poses to this country and others, especially through weapons of mass destruction and whether they might fall into the hands of terrorists. I would also like some analysis of the level of that threat and what happens to those threats in the event of a war that is not supported by the international community, especially given the backdrop of the current bloody conflict in Palestine. Would we end up, post-war, in a world more threatened by terrorism, not less?

The Prime Minister: On the nature of the threat, it is the UN resolution that described Saddam Hussein's programme of weapons of mass destruction as a threat,

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so that was established by the international community. I have not gone into the arguments about the link with international terrorism again, but I believe that link to be real. It is important that we understand that if we allow rogue or unstable states to develop or proliferate weapons of mass destruction, the links with international terrorists who are trying to acquire those weapons will be all too clear. I agree with my hon. Friend that if this is done with a unified UN and against the background of progress in the middle east, it will become easier to unite the international community. That is why I am trying to ensure that both things are done.

We should know enough about terrorists to realise—although I understand why people worry when we take a strong profile on the issue that we may make our country a target in some way—that they will strike at us wherever and whenever they can. A trial took place in the last few days in Germany of international terrorist groups. A big cache of arms was found near Charles de Gaulle airport in France a short time ago. All over the world such groups are being arrested. Who would have said that Indonesia was a great supporter of America, or the war against terrorism? Who would have said that Bali had made itself into a threat? The terrorists will not leave us alone if we are pleasant to them, but will come after us whenever they can. That is why the best signal to send them is a signal of strength.

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