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10 Mar 2003 : Column 24—continued

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes): I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement and for giving me advance sight of it. It is a welcome report from last Friday, but I am sure he agrees that it cannot be regarded as a substitute for a proper debate and a vote.

I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's statement on Israel and Palestine. We also welcome the current constitutional changes that the Palestinian Authority is making. However, if the changes are to have a beneficial effect on the peace process, Mr. Arafat's future role should be more ceremonial and less politically engaged. That must be matched on the Israeli side by an end to settlement activity and a genuine readiness to engage in negotiation. We must also look for a cessation of violence on all sides, and press the Israeli Government to exercise maximum restraint in the occupied territories at this time. If the Muslim world is truly to believe that our argument with Saddam Hussein is not a fight with Islam, we must demonstrate that we mean what we say about pursuing two states west of the Jordan, a secure Israel and a viable Palestine. We would welcome immediate American diplomatic engagement to revive that process.

The Iraq situation outlined by the Foreign Secretary is grim. I have to say to him that many serious questions and doubts remain in the country as to whether the case for action has been made. I lay that at the door of the Government because they are the possessor of the information that can be deployed and I say earnestly that I hope that he will use the days that may remain before any action may take place to ensure that that case continues to be made and strongly so. He mentioned the written report from Dr. Blix that was published late last Friday. He gave us one example and I hope that he will take the opportunity in the days ahead to produce more of that information for the British people to absorb.

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On Friday, Dr. Blix confirmed again that Saddam Hussein was not complying completely and immediately with resolution 1441 and that he remained in breach of it. There has been some grudging compliance, but will the Foreign Secretary again confirm that that is not the result of any change in the attitude of Saddam Hussein? That grudging compliance has resulted from the international community sending a clear and united message of its resolve to enforce resolution 1441 one way or another. Does he agree that, if there is a recklessness to be considered in the present context, it is in the sending out of confused and divided messages that allow Saddam Hussein once again to play for time and, in the end, to continue to re-arm?

The Foreign Secretary referred to Dr. el-Baradei's findings. Does he agree with those findings, and how do they sit with his previous statements, which suggested that there was a rather different situation in relation to the development of nuclear weapons? The written evidence presented to the Security Council is, as he says, chilling. I read a report this morning that it included information about a large undeclared unmanned aircraft. Will he explain what he knows about that and what danger that device would pose?

There has been talk of giving Saddam more time. Dr. Blix suggested that disarmament might take months not weeks. Am I not right in recollecting that, in the case of South Africa, once agreement to disarm had been reached with the United Nations, it was carried out not in months, but in a matter of days? Would that not also be the case if Saddam Hussein agreed proactively to disarm as he is required to do by resolution 1441?

In the event of an unreasonable veto on the second resolution, I believe that the Government's position has been made clear, but what would be their position in the event of, say, vetoes from three permanent members? Have the Government fully considered the long-term implications of such a situation or, indeed, of failing to achieve a majority for a second resolution at all? Those questions may be as yet unresolved, but the House has a right to share some of the Government's thinking on those matters.

The draft resolution introduces a deadline. I noticed that the Foreign Secretary did not mention what that deadline was; he was rather coy about mentioning a date. Will he confirm that the date remains what we were told it was last Friday? Is he suggesting that if Iraq has not fully complied with that deadline, military action will automatically follow? If so, who will assess whether that compliance has been effected?

I note the Foreign Secretary's meeting with Kofi Annan to discuss UN involvement in post-Saddam Iraq and I welcome it. What arrangements are being made in practice for urgent humanitarian assistance? What arrangements are there to ensure that a truly representative Administration is ready to take over in Iraq? Is he suggesting—this is quite important—that those arrangements will be underpinned by a United Nations mandate?

Resolution 1441 gave Saddam Hussein a final opportunity to disarm. That final opportunity cannot be open-ended, which is why we support the second resolution. However, we continue to demand that this House must have a substantive say on the outcome. Will the Foreign Secretary assure us that the vote in this

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House will not take place until the Security Council itself has voted, so that we will know what we are being asked to vote for or against?

Let us hope that, even at this late hour, Saddam Hussein will still see sense and make all this unnecessary; but if he does not, we must not falter in our resolve.

Mr. Straw: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his welcome for my statement. I have done my best throughout this crisis to keep the House fully and immediately informed, and I shall continue to do so. Of course, I accept that a statement is no substitute for a debate or a vote.

I note what the right hon. Gentleman correctly said about this not appearing to be a "fight with Islam". We are completely committed to doing everything that we can to secure an early settlement of the terrible conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. I want to see early publication of the road map that was agreed before Christmas, and this morning I discussed that issue, among others, with the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell.

It cannot be repeated often enough that all the conflicts in which British forces and the United Nations have been involved over the past 12 years happen to have been ones in which the victims of aggression were people of the Islamic faith and the people who were saved from that aggression were people of the Islamic faith. If, God forbid, force proves to be necessary in the Iraqi crisis, the same will be true in this case.

We look forward to Iraq's compliance. The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that when the UN Security Council is united in its message, there is a much higher chance of securing Iraq's compliance than there is when differences of opinion are expressed. He asked me about the report made by Dr. el-Baradei last Friday. I described the main conclusion of that report and said that I welcomed it. The whole point of the inspections was to raise concerns that we felt justified in raising. Dr. el-Baradei pointed out that he has not yet signed off the dossier, but I thought it only right to give the House the flavour of the overall burden of his report.

The right hon. Gentleman asked me about the references to unmanned vehicles, or UAVs as they are known. Those were late insertions into the 173-page report by Dr. Blix, which was published late last Friday. The 167-page version, which I read last week, did not include those references, which is why I did not refer to the matter at the Security Council. Page 14 of the longer version states:

The vehicles may also have a facility for launching chemical and biological weapons.

Finally, the right hon. Gentleman asked me about a second resolution. We have made it clear throughout that we want a second resolution for political reasons, because a consensus is required, if we can achieve it, for any military action. On the legal basis for that, it should be pointed out that resolution 1441 does not require a second resolution.

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That issue was discussed ad nauseam in the eight weeks of negotiation for resolution 1441. France and others proposed a clause requiring us to go back to the Security Council for a second resolution, and they voluntarily dropped that proposal. In place of that, France agreed to paragraphs 4, 11, 12 and 13, which state that where there is a material breach—as plainly there already is, as the Council made clear last Friday—that can lead, within resolution 1441, to Iraq having to suffer serious consequences for its failure to meet its obligations.

Mr. Michael Moore (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale): Those on the Liberal Democrat Benches welcome the Foreign Secretary's statement, and I am grateful to have received a copy in advance.

The pressure on Saddam Hussein and his regime to disarm is intense, and progress is being made. As the chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix, stated on Friday, the destruction of missiles constitutes a substantial measure of disarmament. UNMOVIC is now drafting a work programme to tackle the unresolved disarmament issues, as Dr. Blix puts it. Clearly the weapons inspectors believe that they still have a worthwhile job to do, and they need more time to do it. Will the Foreign Secretary accept that there are still diplomatic and political options open to the international community and that the military agenda must not dictate the calendar for inspections? Will he confirm that he believes that war should be the last resort, based on clear objectives and an assessment of the likely consequences?

Nowhere will that be more important than in the middle east. We all seek an end to the sickening cycle of violence and we applaud the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary's efforts to make progress, but will the right hon. Gentleman not recognise that steps to bring peace to the middle east and elsewhere will be damaged if, in prosecuting the case against Iraq, we threaten to ignore the United Nations and in so doing undermine the principles of international law in whose name we act?

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