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26 Feb 2003 : Column 276—continued

1.17 pm

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes): The Opposition support this motion. In many ways, it is a rerun of the debate in this House on 25 November last year, in which we also supported the Government motion. This motion poses no new questions or challenges. We have therefore tabled no amendment.

None of us wants war. For those of us who have spent a significant part of our political lives working to establish peace, it is a desperately sad prospect. However, sometimes conflict is necessary in the short

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term to achieve peace through the defeat of aggression, and sometimes it is the threat of conflict that can establish peace.

The current situation that exists in Iraq today is not peace. It is conflict waiting in the wings. It has been there for the past 12 years. As the Foreign Secretary has pointed out, that is what containment has meant. To prolong it in the absence of genuine disarmament would be to prolong the uncertainty and suffering of the people of Iraq. It would leave the conflict and the crisis unresolved. It would also send a message to Saddam Hussein that the urgent requirement to disarm was no longer urgent, that the determination to secure immediate compliance with resolution 1441 was no longer immediate. It would not be peace. It would be the procrastination of a conflict that would be more vicious and more damaging when eventually it came.

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Ancram: I will give way in a moment, but I want to make a few introductory remarks.

I believe that the Prime Minister's last push for peace is important. It is the language that Saddam Hussein understands. It is based on the clear understanding that Saddam Hussein only begins to comply when his feet are held to the flames and the heat begins to take effect. Equally, it is based on the knowledge that, the moment the heat is turned off, he returns to his old threatening ways, as we have heard from the Foreign Secretary.

The peaceful disarming of Hussein may, in the event, not be possible, but I believe that it has been right to try to do it. The Foreign Secretary has painted a very pessimistic picture in that regard today, but we know that, if there is to be a peaceful outcome, it will happen only if the determination of the international community to resort to force if necessary is clear and unambiguous.

Saddam Hussein has always taken ambiguity as a sign of weakness, so the last push for peace depends on his understanding clearly that there is no way out other than to disarm, and that the final opportunity that the Security Council signed up to in resolution 1441 means precisely what it says.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough): Does my right hon. Friend agree that public opinion would be greatly reassured if Her Majesty's Government undertook to ensure that, before UK and US troops attacked Iraq, a specific resolution authorising war was tabled to the Security Council, and that a specific resolution was put before the House of Commons as well?

Mr. Ancram: If my hon. Friend checks the resolutions that are already before the House in the Command Paper, he will find that there is plenty of cover in every one of them. [Interruption.] I will come to the reason why I say that in a moment because it is very important; but we have supported the idea that a substantive motion should be put before the House, and we have

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also supported the second resolution before the UN because, although we do not believe it to be legally necessary, it is desirable to have it.

Mr. Barnes rose—

Mr. Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool, Walton): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Ancram: I will in a moment.

I want to ask whether the Government have asked France—politely, of course—what it understands by the phrase "final opportunity". I took the trouble to look up the French version of resolution 1441, and it talks about the "dernière possibilité". Although my French may be a little rusty, I believe that both phrases mean exactly the same thing. The French signed up to resolution 1441, but when I saw their counter-proposal, which they tabled on Monday, it seems anything but final in the proposals and demands it makes. It must give Saddam Hussein a very real hope that he might just get away with it once again, and with his weapons intact.

I hope that France and those who are tempted to support her position will think very clearly about the importance of the message that they signed up to in resolution 1441, as it is crucial to the last push for peace. It is worth recalling that the Arab League, the European Union and every member of the Security Council, as well as all the parties in the House, expressed their support for resolution 1441.

Mr. Kilfoyle: A few moments ago, the right hon. Gentleman said that it was the Conservative party's policy to seek a substantive motion in the eventuality of hostilities breaking out. Will he confirm whether that substantive motion would be tabled in the House before the commencement of hostilities, not after?

Mr. Ancram: We in the Opposition will obviously not be as aware as the Government are of when military action is likely to start. We have made it clear that, ideally, we would like that to happen before any such action, but there may be circumstances—the hon. Gentleman was a Defence Minister, so he must know this—where military action, for all sorts of security reasons, might have to begin before the House can debate it, and we should be very careful to do nothing that undermines the ability and security of our armed forces by setting improper and unworkable conditions.

Mrs. Gillan : The concern in the country about any future action against Iraq runs right across all sectors of our community, not least among the 1.5 million Muslims who live in the United Kingdom. Will my right hon. Friend support me in a request to ask the Foreign Secretary whether he will meet Dr. Siddiqui—my constituent and the leader of the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain—to listen to the views of those Muslims as expressed through the Muslim Parliament?

Mr. Ancram: I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for having raised that issue. The Foreign Secretary will have heard what she said, but it is vital in the days and weeks ahead that hon. Members on both sides of the House

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continue to make it clear that this is a conflict not with Islam, but with a gangster who has weapons of mass destruction and who needs to be dealt with.

Today's debate will be one of deep but conflicting views. I have the greatest respect for those who hold strong and principled views on this difficult issue, even if those views may differ from mine, but I have no time for those who might seek to play politics with this issue, although it would have been easy to do so. It is far too serious for that. I also have very little time for those who have sought to face both ways. I look down the Benches to my left, at the leader of the Liberal Democrats. Yesterday and today, he criticised what he called the pre-emptive draft resolution. Is this the leader of a party which, ever since resolution 1441 was passed, has insisted on a second resolution? Indeed, is this the leader of a party whose foreign affairs spokesman, the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell), told the House last year that

He went on to say

Well, he was talking not about a second resolution, but about the resolution that turned out to be 1441, which he had already said was not legally required for force to be used. It really is time that the Liberal Democrats decided what their position on such resolutions is. Is this the party leader who told the recent anti-war rally that he would not support military action without a second UN resolution, only two weeks after his defence spokesman, the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch), when asked, in my presence, whether he would feel bound by a second resolution endorsing military action announced that his party's foreign policy would not be dictated by the UN? What a tangled web! The House has a right to know the clear and unambiguous position of the Liberal Democrats, and I hope that we will hear it today.

Mr. Paul Marsden (Shrewsbury and Atcham): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Ancram: No, I will give way to the hon. Member for Hereford if he wishes to explain what he meant when he was talking to all those students the other day.

Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford): I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that invitation. It simply demonstrates why the official Opposition are so concerned about the Liberal Democrats: this party has been calling for support for our troops in the Gulf. As for what I said during Westminster Day, it has never been the case that the UN is the sole repository of international law. Indeed, if we had waited for a UN resolution, we would not have deployed troops into Kosovo—an action by the Government that this party rightly supported.

Hon. Members: More.

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