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25 Feb 2003 : Column 132—continued

Tony Baldry (Banbury): What does the Prime Minister say to the statement by Hans Blix the day before yesterday that after eight years of inspections and four years of no inspections, to call it a day after 11 weeks of inspections seems a bit short?

The Prime Minister: I would say to him what I have said to him and others throughout—the time is relevant only if the will is there to co-operate. If it is not, nobody seriously suggests—and in my conversations with Dr. Blix, he has not suggested—that if Saddam is not co-operating, the inspectors can go in and search out the weapons. The best proof of that is what happened in the 1990s when there was a complete denial of the existence of an offensive biological weapons programme. For four years the inspectors were in there searching for it and they did not find it, because it is very difficult to find it if there is no co-operation from the authorities. Then Saddam's son-in-law defected to Jordan and said that there was an offensive biological weapons programme. The Iraqis then admitted as much, and at that point the programme was at least partially shut down. The son-in-law was then lured back to Iraq and murdered.

I think that all the evidence of the past 12 years shows that disarmament cannot be accomplished without the full co-operation of the Iraqis. That is why I say that time is not the issue. The issue is that Saddam must decide to change the nature of his regime from one that relies on weapons of mass destruction to one that does not. All the evidence that we have, and all the intelligence evidence, shows that he has no intention of doing so.

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton): May I thank my right hon. Friend for the strong emphasis that he continues to place on the utterly essential nature of a peace process in the middle east between the Israelis and

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the Palestinians? In light of the daily almost casual slaughter of Palestinians by Israelis, and of the threat to the Israelis from terrorism, will my right hon. Friend give an undertaking that, regardless of the outcome of this crucial confrontation with Iraq, he will continue to ensure that this Government will yield to no one in their assurance that there will be a middle east peace process that will give dignity and safety to the Palestinians, and security to the people of Israel?

The Prime Minister: I agree with that entirely. That is precisely what we will do.

Sir John Stanley (Tonbridge and Malling): Does the Prime Minister agree that, where major issues of security are concerned, the clear responsibility of the elected Government is to lead, and not to follow, and that this is the moment for clear-sighted and brave leadership?

The Prime Minister: I do.

Joyce Quin (Gateshead, East and Washington, West): I recognise the huge efforts that the Government have made to work through the UN, and to encourage and persuade the Americans to do the same. I also recognise that without the threat of action the inspectors would not be back in Iraq. However, will my right hon. Friend reassure me that the timing of the renewed push against Saddam Hussein arises from evidence and knowledge of his activities, and not from a political agenda on the part of President Bush?

The Prime Minister: I can assure my right hon. Friend on those points, which are precisely the ones that concern people. That is why we decided to take the issue back through the UN last year. In his speech to the UN—which was, I think, very well received—President Bush corrected a lot of the problems that had existed between the US and the UN. At the time, I had conversations with President Bush in which I said—and he accepted entirely—that, if the UN ended up being able to disarm Saddam voluntarily, that would be an end to the matter, detestable though the regime is. That is why we took such care to ensure that the resolution made it clear that it offered Saddam the truly final opportunity to disarm. The difficulty is that he has not taken that final opportunity. I think that that is because he believes that it is still possible, somehow, to divide the international community and play us all off against each other, and thereby to manage to retain his capability. However, I assure my right hon. Friend that when we went back through the UN, we did so in the full knowledge that if Saddam Hussein complied, that had to be an end to the matter. That is precisely why I still hope and believe that the UN can be the instrument for resolving it.

Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire): The Prime Minister has made a very convincing argument, with which I wholly agree. I agree especially about the need to threaten war in order to try prevent it and to make Saddam comply. However, although we all hope that there will not be a war, it is becoming ever more likely. Is it not perhaps time for the Prime Minister to share with the House the overall aims of the war? He

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says that the objective is disarmament, but does he expect that to be achieved by allied forces occupying Iraq and seeking out weapons of mass destruction, or simply by defeating the present regime and installing one that will comply with 1441?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman makes an entirely fair point. The objective is the ridding of Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, and while Saddam's regime stands in the way of that it is an obstacle that has to be removed if it is not prepared to disarm voluntarily. Whatever successor regime comes in must of course comply with the UN instruction, because it is an instruction to Iraq, and whoever the Government of Iraq are, the WMD programme has to be dismantled. I am sure that that can be achieved—if Saddam maintains his present position—by a different regime. What is more, in those circumstances the sanctions can be lifted and the country can revive, grow and prosper. It is potentially a very wealthy country.

Mr. Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central): My right hon. Friend has the whole House with him on the fact that Saddam's regime is an odious one. However, what he has not demonstrated, not only to many hon. Members but to the country as a whole, is the fact that the threat posed by Saddam to us and to his neighbours is sufficiently serious to warrant the act of war—a war that will have many human casualties. Does my right hon. Friend believe that between now and any potential military conflict that evidence base will be put into the public domain in this country?

The Prime Minister: The threat from Saddam is serious, and the fact that the UN has tried so hard over such a long period shows that the international community accepts that it is serious. When the UN came together last November, the whole basis of resolution 1441 was that he did indeed constitute a threat, as he still does. Moreover, there is a whole set of related dangers to do with unstable states developing or proliferating such material and with potential links with terrorism. That is why, in the end, the world has to take a very strong view of the matter and deal with it.

I agree, of course, that the dangers of military conflict are clear. That is why it should only ever be a last resort. That is why, as I stand here today, we are not at war—there is not a military conflict in place at the moment. What is important is to ensure that the will of the United Nations is upheld. Otherwise, what we will have said as an international community is that yes, the threat is serious, but we lack the will to do something about it. I assure my hon. Friend that if there is any military conflict we will do everything that we possibly can, as we have in previous conflicts in which this Government have been engaged, to minimise any potential civilian casualties.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): I note the Prime Minister's reference to his part welcome, at least, for the German, French and Russian memorandum, and I welcome his reference to continued efforts to disarm Iraq via the UN. I nevertheless contrast that with the publicly known behaviour of America towards Germany and the current bribing and cajoling of other Security Council members in order to secure a

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UN mandate. How can that be part of the right hon. Gentleman's moral case for war? Does he realise that such behaviour will not only undermine the UN, but may well be the beginning of the end for the UN?

The Prime Minister: Despite what is put across in various conspiracy theories, I have had many conversations with UN Security Council members—those who are in the permanent five and those who are not—and each of those conversations has related simply to the justice or otherwise of the case against Saddam. The idea that this is about bargaining, commercial contracts or any of the rest of it is nonsense. It is a genuine desire to make sure that Saddam ceases to be a threat to the world.

As for the UN, I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is important that the UN's authority is upheld, but I still cannot understand the answer to this point: we gave Saddam a final opportunity with which he was supposed to co-operate fully; nobody accepts that he is co-operating fully, so why has he not taken his final opportunity?

Someone asked earlier, "Is not war now inevitable?" Of course it is not. However, part of the reason for such a question is that nobody, even those who oppose military action, seriously believes that Saddam wants to co-operate fully. People sense that matters may come to conflict because they know that he has no intention of changing his heart or mind. However, that is his choice, not ours. Our choice, preference and desire are to resolve matters peacefully through the United Nations.

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