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26 Feb 2003 : Column 273—continued

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Straw: No. With the greatest of respect, I have given way a good deal. [Interruption.] I am sorry; I would love to give way, because I always enjoy doing so.

Time is pressing, so let me turn to the next question, which in many ways is at the heart of the amendment. Why not persist with the policy of containment, rather than contemplate military action? After all, some argue that Iraq has not invaded any of its neighbours or used chemical and biological weapons in the past 12 years, and that these weapons have either been destroyed, or do not present a sufficient threat to Iraq's neighbours or to the wider world to justify the use of force to remove them if Saddam refuses to do so peacefully.

I understand the containment argument, even if I do not agree with it. However, let no one be under any illusions: the policy of containment is not the policy of disarmament as set out in resolution 1441 or any of the preceding resolutions. There can be no stable, steady state for Iraq unless it is properly disarmed, and nor can there be stability for the region and the international community. What may appear to be containment to us is rearmament for Saddam.

We do not need to speculate on this, as we have witnessed it. A de facto policy of containment existed between 1998 and 2002 following the effective expulsion of inspectors by Iraq, and Iraq's refusal to comply with resolution 1284.

Far from keeping a lid on Saddam's ambitions, that period allowed him to rebuild his horrific arsenal, his chemical and biological weapons, and the means of delivering them against his enemies at home and abroad. UNMOVIC inspectors chart in their recent reports, which are before the House, how Iraq has refurbished prohibited equipment that had previously been destroyed by UNSCOM, the earlier inspectors. That equipment included rocket motor casting chambers and chemical processors. UNMOVIC has also found that Iraq used the four-year absence of inspectors—the so-called period of containment—to build a missile test stand capable of testing engines with over four times the thrust of the already prohibited al-Samoud 2 missile. All this happened during containment. There is no steady state—the choice is between disarmament or rearmament.

Thankfully, the so-called policy of containment ended on 8 November last year. Containment requires a degree of trust in Saddam that we cannot risk and which runs contrary to all the evidence. It means leaving Saddam as a standing example that defiance pays. We cannot allow Saddam further time and space to

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strengthen his capabilities and to rearm further. Only disarmament—the aim of all these UN Security Council resolutions—can deal with this issue.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Straw: I turn now to the next question. I am often asked, "Isn't the west guilty of double standards, especially in relation to Israel and Palestine?" [Hon Members: "Yes."] Some of my hon. Friends say yes. I accept, as does my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, that there has been a considerable amount to this charge, and to the perception of double standards, which extends well beyond the Arab and Islamic world. However, we deal with this charge not by ignoring outstanding UN obligations, but by working even harder to see all of them implemented. The key ones on Israel/Palestine—242, 338, 1397—impose obligations on three sets of parties—on the Palestinians to end terrorism, on the Arab countries to end support for terrorism and to recognise the state of Israel, and on Israel fully to co-operate in the establishment of a viable state of Palestine with borders broadly based on those of 1967.

Llew Smith (Blaenau Gwent): rose—

Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow) rose—

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) rose—

Mr. Straw: In difficult circumstances, we are working actively to implement this UN policy, including the early publication of the roadmap.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham): rose—

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park) rose—

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) rose—

Mr. Straw: I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden).

Richard Burden: I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way, and I welcome the Government's efforts to restart the peace process. However, the allegations and anger about double standards are not only to do with the lack of talks. They arise from the fact that, when a house in Gaza is destroyed, perhaps with the people in it, the destruction has probably been caused by an F-16. That aeroplane has probably been supplied by the US and may have parts supplied by Britain. Moreover, when the olive grove is destroyed, the destruction is probably carried out by a bulldozer bankrolled from the US. If we are to avoid the allegation of double standards, we must get talks going, and ensure that UN resolutions are upheld and respected.

Mr. Straw: As my hon. Friend knows, I entirely agree with that. We have to ensure the full application of international law by Israel, and—as I have told our friends in the Palestinian authority—we have to ensure as well that the Palestinians take even further action to stop the terrorist organisations in their areas. There is no

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alternative to that. The Arab states must also end giving terrorist organisations active support, finance and supplies.

Llew Smith rose—

Mr. Gerrard rose—

Jeremy Corbyn rose—

Mrs. Gillan rose—

Dr. Tonge rose—

Mr. Straw: All those things must happen, but we are committed to ensuring the implementation of the Security Council resolutions in respect of Israel and Palestine.

Mr. Gerrard rose—

Jeremy Corbyn rose—

Mrs. Gillan rose—

Mr. Straw: In difficult circumstances—

Mr. Speaker: Order. The Foreign Secretary does not appear to be giving way.

Mr. Straw: We are working actively to implement this UN policy, including the early publication of the roadmap.

It must also never be forgotten, however, that the obligations on Saddam are singular, unilateral, and not for negotiation by him. We increase, not undermine, respect for the authority of the UN as a whole—and the prospects of a peace settlement in the middle east—if we implement fully the resolutions on Iraq, and do not shy away from their consequences.

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Straw: No, as I am coming to my closing remarks.

Mr. Kaufman: Will my right hon. Friend give way specifically on this matter?

Mr. Straw: I will.

Mr. Kaufman: I thank my right hon. Friend. I think that the House will concede that I have been as outspoken as any hon. Member in condemning Israeli policy, and I shall continue to be outspoken on the matter. Given that, does my right hon. Friend agree that anyone who believes that Saddam Hussein gives a twopenny damn for the Palestinians, the Kurds or the Marsh Arabs is living in self-delusion?

Mr. Straw: As ever, I agree with my right hon. Friend. I knew that it was a wise move to give way to him.

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International terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction are the crucial strategic questions of our time. Our answer to these threats will determine the stability of the world for decades to come. This is an awesome responsibility. It calls for courageous leadership. And it requires the vision and foresight to act decisively and, if necessary, with military force.

Once Saddam's invasion of Kuwait had been turned back by the international community, the international community, with our agreement, put on hold the military option, preferring of course to resolve the continuing crisis peacefully, first through weapons inspections and then, from December 1998, through a policy of containment. However, neither of those approaches has worked.

Following the adoption of resolution 1441, Saddam has now to be under no illusions that there will be no further resolutions calling for containment, no further attempts to tinker at the margins rather than to remove his weapons. This has to be a moment of choice for Saddam and for the Iraqi regime.

Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews (Medway) rose—

Chris McCafferty (Calder Valley) rose—

Mr. Straw: However, it is also a moment of choice for the UN. As I told the Security Council on 5 February, the UN's pre-war predecessor, the League of Nations, had the same fine ideals as the UN. Yet the League failed because it could not create actions from its words: it could not back diplomacy with a credible threat and, where necessary, the use of force. Small evils therefore went unchecked, tyrants became emboldened, then greater evils were unleashed. At each stage good men and women said, "Not now, wait, the evil is not big enough to challenge." Then before their eyes, the evil became too big to challenge. We had slipped slowly down a slope, never noticing how far we had gone until it was too late. We owe it to our history as well as to our future not to make the same mistake again.

This is the hardest issue that I have ever had to deal with. I know that it causes very great anxiety to the British people and to Members of this House. It does to all of us. However, the issue of what we do about tyrannical states with poison gases, nerve agents, viruses and nuclear ambitions, and which defy international law and the principles of the UN, will not go away. We have to face the issue. We have to give Saddam Hussein a categorical choice, and after 12 long years he has to give us his answer now.

I commend the motion to the House.

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