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26 Feb 2003 : Column 358—continued

Mr. Duncan: You may not think it, Mr. Speaker, but the Conservative party research department is ever resourceful. I found the Liberal Democrats' poster for the following week. As hon. Members can see, it says "Lib Dems Say Yes". [Laughter.] This shows the wonderful and glorious ambivalence of the Liberal Democrats. Let me say to them—which is it?

Mr. Moore: The hon. Gentleman has made the point before that people are entitled to take a principled position on this issue. Some members of our party—as, indeed, some members of the Conservative party—are

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opposed to war. The position that we have taken throughout in the House of Commons and that my right hon. Friend the leader of the Liberal Democrats made clear on the march is that we are in favour of the United Nations process. We are not against war in all circumstances. War must be a last resort.

Mr. Duncan: It is so nice to get from the Liberal Democrats a definite maybe. Such is the hon. Gentleman's position on the fence post—it is like that of his leader—that it will soon have to be surgically removed. [Interruption.] I would love more time.

The third and perhaps the most important issue to which I want to devote attention and which I know that the Minister will consider are the repercussions of anything that might happen. The repercussions might affect the whole region. As has been said, they include the potential fall of the al-Sauds and the Hashemites. There is a danger that some approaches to societies in the middle east show insufficient understanding of their thinking. We need to see the middle east peace process immediately revived so that we can be, if I might coin a phrase, tough on terrorism and tough on the causes of terrorism. We need to see humanitarian aid with massive resources and logistical support. We need to know what will follow and we hope that the optimistic scenario discussed today, given that there is an intelligent and educated middle class, oil revenues and a broadly secular society, will give hope to that country.

But I have no time. I must leave it to the Minister. All I say to the House today—I hope that everybody is listening—is that whereas we could have pursued narrow party advantage, this matter is too serious for us to do so. We will not do so, and in the interests of global security and anything that might need to be done under the authority of the United Nations, we will give this Government our unstinting support.

6.45 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Mike O'Brien): This has been a fine debate with a number of excellent speeches. Indeed, in many ways, it has been a very passionate debate, as should be the case given that we are dealing with the issue of whether this country is to take further action and what sort of action it should be, with the need to go back to the UN with a second resolution and with the need to ensure that we express the views of people throughout the country who rightly want to know that this House is reflecting their concerns. Today, in this debate, the House has reflected views and concerns across the country.

I thank hon. Members for their contributions. In particular, I thank the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) for what I thought was an excellent performance. We especially enjoyed his yes/no interlude, which illustrated something with which Labour Members are just as familiar as Opposition Members. I should also like to thank a number of my right hon. and hon. Friends—my right hon. Friends the Members for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), for Walsall, South (Mr. George) and for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes), and my hon. Friend the

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Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths). I give particular thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), who made a powerful speech. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King); I thought that she was getting a bit wobbly at one point, but she convinced me that she was not. I thank all hon. Members for their support today.

On the Opposition Benches, I acknowledge the very robust performance from the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) that we expect of him.

I also congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow, Kelvin (Mr. Galloway) on his oratorical flourish. I praise him only because I know that it will irritate him greatly to be praised from the Labour Front Bench—and even though I disagreed with the content of his speech.

The motion before the House is not an endorsement of military action by UK forces. No decision has yet been taken to deploy British forces in action. The motion supports the UN route to disarmament. Let me be clear: the Government will put any decision on military action to the House, subject in terms of timing only to the safety of our forces. It is in our interests as a Government to ensure that the House has the chance to vote before hostilities. We will also want a full opportunity to debate and vote on the outcome of proceedings at the UN on the second resolution, so there is an opportunity for another vote.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. O'Brien: If I may proceed for a moment, I shall give way shortly.

The body of evidence that Saddam Hussein possesses a fearsome range of weapons of mass destruction is substantial. The evidence comes from the UN reports, from Dr. Blix, from our own intelligence and indeed from Saddam Hussein himself, who last night, oddly, admitted that the Iraqis had found a biological bomb and wanted to show us. Let us be clear: Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction and he is a threat to his people, his neighbours and ultimately the middle east and the wider world. The UN Security Council is in no doubt about that. That is why its resolution 1441 gave Saddam Hussein a final opportunity to comply with a string of legally binding obligations imposed on him over the past 12 years. Nearly four months later, Saddam Hussein has not taken that final opportunity. I cannot put the matter more crisply than Dr. Blix. He has reported that Iraq

Indeed, Dr. Blix said today that at the moment it is not even clear whether the Iraqis really want to co-operate. My right hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) said that Saddam Hussein had co-operated by 70 per cent. Well, Dr. Blix disagrees. My right hon. Friend accepts that the declaration provided by Saddam Hussein is inadequate. Indeed, the UN resolution requires it to be a full and final declaration of all the weapons of mass destruction held by Saddam Hussein in order to allow the inspectors to audit that declaration. If that declaration is not full and if it is not final, there has been no co-operation at all,

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because the only co-operation has been not on substance but on process. Saddam has shown throughout the past 12 years that he will continue to co-operate on issues of procedure, but he does not co-operate on the substance of disarmament. That is where we must not allow him to play games with Members of this House, with this country or with the United Nations.

Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe): I will not support the amendment because I do not believe that we and our service men can teeter on the brink month after month while Saddam plays games with us. However, I share with Members who put their names to the amendment the belief that war should be the last resort. Will the Minister confirm that if Dr. Blix says that Saddam, at the last moment, is co-operating fully, Britain will put war on hold and that it will be the last resort for us?

Mr. O'Brien: We have always been totally clear that if there is full and complete co-operation as required by 1441, there will not be a case for military action.

The report from UNMOVIC and the International Atomic Energy Agency, which we have all seen, demonstrates that Saddam has no intention of co-operating fully and proactively in the way that is required by resolution 1441. Iraq is seeking to deceive the Security Council. There is no semblance of wholehearted co-operation—nothing like voluntary and active disarmament and nothing that suggests a regime that has a clear conscience and has nothing to hide. Those who advocate more time must face up to the fact that there is a limit to what the inspectors can do in circumstances where there is not a complete and full declaration. They cannot audit something that is not full and complete—that simply does not make sense.

Tony Wright (Cannock Chase): Is it not the case, though, that if the UN process was to work, the crisis was to be resolved and Saddam was to be disarmed, it would be a triumph and a vindication for the Prime Minister and the British Government, but it would be a humiliation and a failure for the American President, because it would subvert the whole strategy of regime change that has been put in place? Is not that why, whatever we say and do today, there is going to be war?

Mr. O'Brien: That is a complete and utter misreading of the situation. Has my hon. Friend not read the speech given by the President in Cincinnati last year, in which he made it very clear that if Saddam disarms and the nature of the regime changes, that will satisfy him? If my hon. Friend thinks that the Americans are determined on this course whatever, he has not listened to what they have so plainly said. Our position and that of the Americans is that if Saddam complies with 1441—and he must comply fully and completely—the case for military action falls.

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