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26 Feb 2003 : Column 269—continued

Paul Flynn (Newport, West) rose—

Mr. Straw: I shall give way to my hon. Friend in a moment. I always do. I do not know why.

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There is a logic that follows from what I have said that cannot be avoided and is for everybody in the international community. We are now close to the crunch point. Saddam must either embark immediately on voluntary and full disarmament or the Security Council must face up to its responsibility to see that he is disarmed by force. That is the truth. That is the reality.

Paul Flynn: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way.

My point is in connection with what my right hon. Friend said at the beginning of his speech, which seems to contradict what he told the House on 7 November. When he was asked what "serious consequences" in resolution 1441 meant, he replied:

Is it not right that anyone who votes for the main resolution today will in fact be voting for war?

Mr. Straw: For one moment, I was worried that I had said something inconsistent back in November—that sometimes happens, even with me—but on this occasion I agree entirely with the words that I uttered then. Indeed, I could not have been more accurate. I wanted then to spell out to the House what "serious consequences" meant. I wanted to tell the House without any dubiety that in voting to support resolution 1441, which we did by a huge majority, we were voting to recognise the serious consequences that would flow from a further material breach by Saddam Hussein, up to and including the use of force.

I repeat for my hon. Friend what I said at the beginning of this debate. The United Nations is responsible for its resolutions, but the House as a whole is responsible for the motions that it passes. Notwithstanding my hon. Friend's invitation that we should seek a mandate for military action, we are not seeking one today because the Government have not yet got to that point. If we do reach that point, we will come back and seek a vote, through a debate in this House, on a substantive motion.

Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Straw: No. I am so sorry, but as my hon. Friend knows, there is great time pressure.

The next question is why do we need a second resolution now? Resolution 1441 required Iraq's full, active and immediate compliance, as indeed did resolution 687, which was passed 12 years ago. Fifteen weeks after 1441, Saddam's response has been neither full, nor active, nor immediate. He has not complied, and not a single member of the Security Council says otherwise. In place of active voluntary co-operation, we have had a string of cynically timed concessions that are calculated to divide and to delay.

We saw more token concessions last night. According to the newspapers, Iraq has now told Dr. Blix that it has—and I quote—"found" a bomb. Iraq has found a bomb containing biological agents—it simply popped up from some gooseberry bush. Some will be tempted to regard this as evidence that Saddam is being successfully contained, and that the inspectors should be given

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endless time. However, this latest "find" is the same old game of dribbling out small concessions at the last minute.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) rose—

Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Kelvin) rose—

Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) rose—

Mr. Straw: It is completely ludicrous for the Iraqi regime to talk of "finding" weapons of mass destruction, as if it were someone else who made a 12,000-word declaration, claiming that the country had no weapons of mass destruction.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Straw: The conclusion—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Does the Secretary of State wish to give way?

Mr. Straw: I have given way to serious people on both sides of the House.

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker: I am sure that this is not a point of order, but I must listen.

Sir Robert Smith: I seek the advice of the Chair on whether it is in order for the Government to table at this late stage a business motion to suspend the 7 o'clock deadline, which would allow the Secretary of State time to take interventions.

Mr. Speaker: That is not a matter for the Chair.

Mr. Straw: The conclusion that we ought to draw from this overnight admission by Iraq is that we are right to say that it does have weapons of mass destruction, that it has lied about them, that it has tried to hide them, and that it is determined to keep them behind a charade of cynical concessions. Unless we bring this game to a halt, it will go on for as long as Saddam wants. I will not be surprised if, by the end of the week, Saddam is offering concessions on the proscribed al-Samoud missiles—having said that he will never destroy a single one—in the hope, once again, of playing for time. However, if the words "final opportunity", in operative paragraph 2 of resolution 1441, have any meaning, it is that this time we must not let Saddam lure the international community into endless indecision. Resolution 1441 called for disarmament "immediately". We have waited 110 days already, which is stretching the meaning of "immediately" to breaking point.

I ask our friends in France and Germany—who share our goal of Iraqi disarmament, and who fully support resolution 1441—why Saddam is more likely to co-operate actively, fully and immediately in the further

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120 days that they now propose than he was in the past 110. What does he need 120 days for: to have a look for the weapons that he says he has not got, in case he has overlooked something; to search the homes of scientists for the incriminating papers that he ordered them to hide there; to tell those scientists to attend interviews and tell the truth that, through intimidation, he has instructed them to conceal?

Mr. Robathan: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Straw: I shall give way in one second.

No. Saddam would use a further 120 days to bring the authority of the United Nations lower week by week, to tie the weapons inspectors in knots, and to create further divisions within the international community. We know that this is what he will do, because it is what he has always done.

Joan Ruddock: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Straw: I shall also give way to my hon. Friend in a moment.

Worse, this delay would send Saddam the clearest possible signal that his strategy is succeeding. It would tell him that the international community lacks the will to disarm him, and it would tell all those who threaten our security that Saddam Hussein has broken the United Nations as an instrument for defending peace through the force of international law.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Straw: I give way to the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan).

Mr. Robathan: The Foreign Secretary is making a most powerful speech, but in the light of everything that he and the Prime Minister have said, can he clarify for the House, for the people of Britain, who are confused, and for the members of our armed forces, who may be about to lay their lives on the line for this policy, whether there are any circumstances in which this crisis can be resolved with Saddam Hussein's being allowed to remain in power? Is it not a fact that our objective is, and has to be, regime change in Iraq?

Mr. Straw: There are such circumstances, as it happens, and the important point is this. We are committed to implementation of 1441. I do not like the Saddam Hussein regime—I regard it as one of the most revolting and terrible regimes in the world—but the focus of 1441 is not regime change per se, but the disarmament of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction.

In his statement yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister spelled out that if there is full, active and immediate compliance by Saddam Hussein with the full terms of 1441 and the other resolutions referred to, Saddam would remain in government, but his power would be greatly reduced because those weapons of mass destruction would have been removed.

Joan Ruddock: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. On the question of timing and taking a decision, can he tell me why half the UN staff involved in the oil-for-food programme have been withdrawn?

Mr. Straw: I cannot tell my hon. Friend directly, but I am happy to look into the matter. They certainly have

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not been withdrawn on any advice given by us. I have been involved in discussions with the Secretary-General of the United Nations about the humanitarian crisis that has existed in Iraq for the past 12 years, and about the circumstances that would arise if military action had to be taken. All the Security Council partners are of course concerned about that issue, and so is the Secretary-General.

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