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26 Feb 2003 : Column 279—continued

Mr. Ancram: I am even more confused about the Liberal Democrat position than I was before the hon.

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Gentleman intervened, but it is absolutely clear that they behave like weather vanes: every time the wind changes, they change direction, too.

Mr. Kaufman : The right hon. Gentleman asked the Liberal Democrats to have a clear and unambiguous position on this issue. Is he aware that, if the Liberal Democrats had a clear and unambiguous position on this issue, it would be the only issue, ranging from street lighting to council tax, on which they had such a position?

Mr. Ancram: I accept from the right hon. Gentleman that what I said was the triumph of hope over experience.

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Ancram: No. I want to make further progress because many hon. Members wish to speak.

Mr. Paul Marsden rose—

Mr. Simon Thomas: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Speaker: Order.

Mr. Ancram: Many hon. Members have genuine fears and concerns, and the Government must take them seriously. I have to tell the Foreign Secretary that the public have been confused too often by the changing focus of the Government's arguments. It is now time they clarified their objectives and made the case more clearly.

All that I can do is set out my position and that of my colleagues. I believe that Iraq poses a threat to international peace and security, and, therefore, to us. That is why we support the Government today. The UN believes that Iraq poses a continuing threat to international peace and security, which is why 17 resolutions, including 1441, have been passed under chapter VII of the UN charter, which deals specifically with threats to the peace and permits military action. That was the point that I made when the matter was raised earlier. The draft resolution tabled on Monday in the UN Security Council refers specifically to chapter VII. The threat flows neither from the evil of Saddam Hussein nor from the existence of weapons of mass destruction, but from the combination of the two.

Mr. Simon Thomas rose—

Mr. Ancram: Other countries have weapons of mass destruction but they manage them responsibly. There are other evil and murderous leaders, but they do not possess weapons of mass destruction, nor have they shown readiness to use them even against their own people. Saddam in possession of weapons of mass destruction is, in the eyes of the United Nations—not just in the eyes of the House or of those on these Front Benches—a present and current threat to international peace and security. We would fail the people whom we represent if we were to turn a blind eye to that.

Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester): Does my right hon. Friend not accept that the disparity between the

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treatment being meted out to Iraq and that being meted out to North Korea sends a worrying signal to all countries who fear that they will be bullied by the United States? Is not it a cause for concern that everyone in the world is seeing North Korea being treated with kid gloves while Iraq is treated with an iron fist? Is that not an invitation to all other countries that are threatened to try to obtain nuclear weapons?

Mr. Ancram: No. I understand what my hon. Friend is saying, but I was in China last week and I talked to the Chinese Foreign Minister, about North Korea in particular. The point was made to me—this is an important distinction—that whereas Iraq has been subject for many years to mandatory resolutions, North Korea has until recently been abiding by agreements that had been made. What is happening in North Korea is a matter of great concern, but we must be absolutely clear that to confuse that with what is happening in Iraq would be dangerous in terms of the consequences that could follow.

Mr. Simon Thomas rose—

Mr. Barnes rose—

Mr. Ancram: I shall give way to the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas).

Mr. Thomas: The right hon. Gentleman has just advanced two reasons for his party's support for military action, if necessary, in Iraq: first, the weapons of mass destruction that are likely to be present in that country; and secondly, the nature of the regime. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman was present in the House—the Foreign Secretary certainly was—when the Secretary of State for International Development said that it was illegal, and not permitted under international law, for one country to seek the removal of another country's leader. If his party's policy relies on that argument, it is doing a gross disservice to the people of this country.

Mr. Ancram: The hon. Gentleman has not considered the matter fully. What is clear, as we have made plain for some time, is that a sole objective of regime change would be outwith the bounds of international law. But that is not the case in this instance. We are seeking the removal and elimination of weapons of mass destruction that are a threat because they are in the hands of a gangster who uses them not only to threaten his own people but, as we know, to threaten the countries around him. That is why the United Nations believes that he poses a threat to international security and peace.

I understand the doubts that are expressed about whether we have sufficient evidence to proceed in the direction that the Government have outlined. It would help to meet doubts, of course, if weapons of mass destruction could be disclosed or discovered now. I continue to hope that, as far as is consistent with maintaining the integrity and security of our intelligence, the Government may yet produce more tangible evidence than they have done so far. What we know already, however, is that the elements of such weapons of mass destruction and the programmes for

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developing them existed in 1999 when the last team of UN inspectors had to leave Iraq. We heard details from the Prime Minister yesterday of the spine-chilling extent and nature of those weapons: the anthrax, the nerve agents and the thousands of special munitions. We know from UNSCOM and from previous Iraqi declarations—let us not forget that—that those weapons were there then. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, we must believe that they are there now. It is not for the inspectors to prove that they are still there; it is for Iraq to demonstrate credibly that they are not. That is not my demand: Hans Blix made it clear on 27 January, and set it more broadly as the test as to whether Saddam Hussein was genuinely seeking to comply with resolution 1441.

Angus Robertson (Moray) rose—

Mr. Ancram: Although we have not found a smoking gun, we learned in the presentation made to the UN Security Council by Colin Powell on 5 February that there is a lot of smoke. There is no killer fact, but there are vast amounts of circumstantial evidence that the elements of weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles are still there and are still being developed. Those are weapons which, in malign hands, can threaten us directly. As a lawyer, I do not underestimate the importance of such evidence, and those who do are gambling with our future security.

Angus Robertson rose—

Mr. Ancram: We supported resolution 1441 because it gave Saddam Hussein a final opportunity to comply or face serious consequences. He has not taken that opportunity. He has failed to comply with and co-operate fully in the implementation of that resolution. For that reason, we support the draft second resolution, because it makes clear that when the UN Security Council says that non-compliance will lead to serious consequences, it means what it says.

Mr. Marshall-Andrews rose—

Mr. Ancram: My colleagues and I want peace. We see military action as a last resort. That is why we will support the Government in the Lobby tonight. We do not see tonight's vote as the final say of this House on this matter, however, and nor should it be. We will also want a further debate on a substantive motion at the first practical opportunity should military action become necessary. I welcome the undertaking that the Foreign Secretary has given in that regard.

In the interim, however, we need greater clarity on a number of important issues. We need more clarity on the timetable. At what moment will the second resolution be put to the vote? Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that Hans Blix will have reported to the UN Security Council before any vote is taken? That is an important point, to which he may wish to respond now.

Mr. Straw: The answer to that is yes. Dr. Blix is in charge of his reports, not us. He is due to make a report to the Security Council under the provisions of

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resolution 1284, which is his basic authority, on Friday 28 February. I understand that there will be a further report at some stage next week, before any vote.

Mr. Ancram: I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary for that clarification, which will reassure many people. Although I do not have a suspicious mind, will he also say what efforts the Government are making to win the backing of the Security Council, including the three African members, Guinea, Cameroon and Angola, whom the French Government entertained royally in Paris last week?

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