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26 Feb 2003 : Column 266—continued

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) rose—

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Straw: As I have explained to you, Mr. Speaker, normally I take many interventions in debates. Because of the intense pressure on time on this occasion, I do not intend to do so, but I will take a few. I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell).

Mr. Dalyell: As a question of fact and before my right hon. Friend leaves the subject of documents, did the dossier that owed so much to that Californian student have the authority of Peter Ricketts and the Joint Intelligence Committee? Did the Joint Intelligence Committee authorise that dossier?

Mr. Straw: Mr. Ricketts ceased to be the secretary of the Joint Intelligence Committee about two years ago. All the information that was attributed as intelligence came from intelligence agencies and the whole of that dossier was accurate. I thought that my hon. Friend was going to ask me whether we had accepted his advice about taking the issue to the United Nations, because this matter has been the subject of 12 years of United Nations resolutions and 12 months of the most intense and proper debate in the House of Commons and in Westminster Hall.

Last March, when there was some speculation about the course of events and whether, for example, the United States would put its case to the United Nations, my hon. Friend said:

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Several other colleagues who have put their names to the amendment agreed. All I say is that on this matter we have listened carefully to what the House has said. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has talked to President Bush and much discussion has taken place about putting the matter to the United Nations. That is exactly what we did and, on 8 November 2002, we obtained a Security Council resolution. All we are asking now of the international community, Iraq and this House, is that we follow through on the words that were agreed by the United Nations on 8 November and by this House on 25 November.

Several hon. Members rose—

Hon. Members: Give way.

Mr. Straw: No.

The next question that I raised was, "Why now?" All the resolutions of the Security Council, 12 years of them, also help us answer that question.

Saddam's aim is that "now" shall never arrive. His tactics all along have been to prevaricate in the hope that by exploiting people's natural anxieties about military action he can string out the process for ever and keep his arsenal for good.

Let us look at the recent evidence. On 10 September last year, Iraq declared—I was there in the General Assembly when this was said—that it would never, ever readmit weapons inspectors under any circumstances. Then President Bush made his important and most welcome speech to the General Assembly. Four days later, Iraq said that it would after all readmit weapons inspectors, but made its offer subject to 19 spurious conditions of the kind that it has often come forward with. Fortunately, those were rejected.

There were then two months of intense negotiations inside the Security Council. In response, the international community united, resolution 1441 was passed unanimously and the Security Council agreed to back its diplomacy with the credible threat of force. The inspectors finally entered Iraq on 27 November, looking, as the resolution required, for full, active and immediate co-operation from Iraq.

But since the inspectors' return the story has been all too familiar. We saw first a 12,000-page Iraqi declaration, which Dr. Blix called

There have been concerted Iraqi efforts to prevent unrestricted interviews with scientists. The issue of interviews with the scientists is not a trivial matter. It is the most important way in which we can arrive at the truth of Iraq's chemical and biological weapons programmes.

Iraq refused any interviews to begin with. Since the weapons inspectors pressed the Iraqis, there have been three private interviews, all within the closing days up to Dr. Blix's report on 14 February, and, despite what we see in some newspapers about increased co-operation by the Iraqis, not one interview has been granted since.

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Time after time after time the Iraqis seek to impose conditions that make free and fair interviews almost impossible.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Straw: I shall give way to the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) in a moment.

There have been categorical Iraqi denials that the al-Samoud missile has a range in excess of the 150 km limit prescribed by the United Nations, an assertion since disproved by an independent panel of experts from the five permanent members of the Security Council and by UNMOVIC.

Crucially, there have been no answers to the outstanding disarmament issues listed in UNSCOM's final report to the Security Council in February 1999.

As a result, as Dr. Blix himself indicates, in 15 weeks, the inspectors have not been able to close a single outstanding issue. There have been no answers to what has happened to the 8,500 litres of anthrax; no answers to what has happened to the 360 tonnes of bulk chemical warfare agent; no answers to what has happened to the 3,000 tonnes of precursor chemicals; no answers to what has happened to the 1.5 tonnes of the completely deadly VX nerve agent or to the 6,500 chemical bombs identified by Dr. Blix on 27 January. The intimidation of scientists and their families so that they do not give full evidence has continued.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): On 6 February, the same day as the dodgy dossier was exposed as a fabrication, the Prime Minister said on "Newsnight", in front of a studio audience, that the only circumstances in which force would be used without a further UN resolution were if the inspectors concluded that they could no longer do their work and if a further resolution was passed by a majority in the Security Council but was subject to an "unreasonable" veto by a single country. Is that still the position of the United Kingdom Government or has it changed again?

Mr. Straw: I heard the interview too. What my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister also made clear was that our policy is 100 per cent. support for and full implementation of resolution 1441. What the hon. Gentleman is now trying to do— having got resolution 1441 and having signed up to it, having asked for the United Nations to be brought in, having asked us to take the United Nations route—is to rewrite the terms of the resolution.

Mr. Hoyle: Can my right hon. Friend explain why we have the motion today and not next week, following the statement by Dr. Blix on Friday? We would all like to know why it is so important.

Mr. Straw: We have sought to have as many debates as possible, and, on the entirely proper request of hon. Members on both sides of the House, to do so on substantive resolutions, so that hon. Members are not voting on an Adjournment, but are voting on the substance of the issue. Normally the complaint is that we have not had a debate soon enough. I plead guilty to the fact that we have not delayed this debate. We are

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having it today because we thought it entirely appropriate, given that we have submitted a draft resolution to the United Nations Security Council. As I made clear in my opening remarks, once there is a conclusion to the Security Council proceedings—and it may well be before that, too—we shall have a further debate and a vote in the House.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Straw: I know that many hon. Members wish to take part in the debate, so the House will have to excuse me if I do not give way.

The next question that I raised was about more time and more inspections. I understand why there are calls for more time and more inspections, but Saddam has not shown that he is ready to break with the past. That is exactly what Dr. Blix said today. At present, it is not even clear whether the Iraqis really want to co-operate. In these circumstances, in the absence of active and immediate Iraqi co-operation, more time will not achieve anything of substance. Nor, without that active co-operation, can it be a question of more inspectors.

It took just nine inspectors to verify the disarmament of South Africa's nuclear weapons programme at the end of apartheid. It did not take 12 years. It did not take hundreds of inspectors. It did not take endless Security Council resolutions. It took three years, nine inspectors and no resolutions. Why? Because South Africa was complying with the inspectors.

It is critical that, in respect of Iraq, we all accept one reality above all, which is that what grudging concessions on process there have been from Saddam have been secured only because of the military build-up. What is the difference between the circumstances now and the circumstances when resolution 1284 was agreed at the end of 1999, the resolution that set up the organisation of weapons inspectors, UNMOVIC? There is some difference in terms of the powers of the weapons inspectors. But the only significant, material difference is that, back at the end of 1999, the world said, "Let us try giving them more time. Let us try by a completely peaceful route to secure the disarmament of Iraq. Let us plead with the Iraqis to do the decent thing. Let us impose some sanctions, too, and hope that they will work."

Saddam's answer was to slam the door in the face of the international community. The only reason for the difference between Saddam's refusal to co-operate with one dot or comma in resolution 1284 and his very reluctant co-operation on some process today, his statement that he will co-operate, is the build-up of the credible threat of force, something clearly recognised by the United Nations charter.

I was glad to note that President Chirac of France—and I pay tribute to him—conceded in an interview last week in Time magazine that it was the military build-up that had made the difference. There is a logic that follows—

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