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26 Feb 2003 : Column 279continued
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: 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. 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 Nationsnot just in the eyes of the House or of those on these Front Benchesa 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. 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 methis is an important distinctionthat 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. 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 Housethe Foreign Secretary certainly waswhen 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
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.
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. 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. 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?