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10 Mar 2003 : Column 30—continued

Mr. Straw: I agree absolutely. While there has been speculation about the extent to which the Iraqi regime funds some terrorist organisations, there is no doubt at all about the fact that it has been funding and training rejectionist terrorist regimes operating in Israel and the occupied territories.

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park): Despite the damage that the USA and the Government have already inflicted on the United Nations and the European Union, the Foreign Secretary now claims to be going down the United Nations route. Does that mean that he has dropped the concept of an unreasonable veto?

Mr. Straw: Oh God! I do not know what to say to the hon. Lady except that sometimes I give up with the

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Liberal Democrats. I just say through you, Mr. Speaker, that I do not know what she thinks we have been doing for the past five months if not going down the United Nations route.

David Winnick (Walsall, North): If war comes, it will be the responsibility of Saddam Hussein, but is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us would wish to see the United States play an active role in a peace process between the Palestinians and the Israelis leading to a viable Palestinian state—a state no less viable than Israel itself? Is the United States willing to play such a role?

Mr. Straw: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I believe that the United States is willing to play such a role, but we wish to continue—I am glad that my hon. Friend has raised this—to push the United States for the earlier publication of the road map, which is in the interests of the Israelis and the Palestinians, as well as wider security in the region.

Mr. John Baron (Billericay): What is the Foreign Secretary's response to the increasing weight of legal opinion, both at home and abroad, that suggests that there is little that resolution 1441 in its own right can do to justify war against Iraq?

Mr. Straw: I have already given a detailed response in which I referred to 1441, going back to 687 and 678. I should also like to make it clear that Her Majesty's Government will always act, have always acted, and continue always to act within their obligations in international law. Nothing that we do will be contrary to those obligations.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): Can I take the Foreign Secretary back to his reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (David Winnick) a few moments ago? Can I tell my right hon. Friend, as I did in the Foreign Affairs Committee the other week, that he is too generous to the United States, which is being tardy in relation to the Quartet's road map on the resolution of the conflict between Palestine and Israel? We must ask him to use his good efforts and contacts to make it abundantly clear that the House of Commons expects the United States to get a move on and be proactive, as it is not at the moment. Finally, all of us who support and sustain the Front Bench believe in the basic elementary concept in the British constitution of Cabinet collective responsibility, and I hope that he will take that back to his right hon. Friends—there must be no more of the nonsense that we had last night on the radio.

Hon. Members: Hear, hear.

Mr. Straw: Thank you very much. I agree with my hon. Friend's last point, and I also agree with his first point. I do not think that I am being too generous to the United States. I am sometimes too generous to the Liberal Democrats, but that is a different matter. It is important that there should be maximum understanding in Washington about the impatience of

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Members on both sides of the House and in all parties for the road map to be published and I shall be very happy to pass that point on.

Mr. Robert Walter (North Dorset): The House will be pleased that the Foreign Secretary had discussions with the Secretary-General on the humanitarian consequences. Sixty per cent. of the Iraqi people are totally dependent for their food on the oil-for-food programme, which costs about $5 billion in any six-month period. Will the Foreign Secretary tell us who is going to feed the Iraqi people following the outbreak of a conflict, if there is no oil to pay for the food and no Iraqi Government to distribute it?

Mr. Straw: The Iraqi people will be fed, let me make that clear. There is money in the escrow accounts in the United Nations to pay for that. This has been a matter of the most intense discussion in Washington by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, by me and by many others, to ensure the absolute imperative that, while the conflict lasts, the Iraqi people are properly fed. The fact that 60 per cent. of them are dependent on the oil-for-food programme is but one further indication of the desperate nature of this regime.

Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North and Sefton, East): Does my right hon. Friend accept that for many Labour Members—and, indeed, for many people in the country—the key to unlocking the support for military intervention in Iraq is a second UN resolution? Does he also accept that if there are to be exceptional circumstances, it will be necessary that everyone fully understands exactly what those circumstances are and why they are important? I would be grateful if my right hon. Friend could give the House an undertaking on that.

Mr. Straw: I would say to my hon. Friend, whose position on this matter I greatly respect, that of course I understand the great preference that we all have for a second resolution, and the political desirability of such a resolution, because it would represent clear consensus in the international community. I have dealt with the issue of the legal base. What I want to aim for is the passing of that second resolution, and for that reason—with respect to my hon. Friend—I do not want to get drawn into issues of where we go. It might be helpful if I point out that the position adopted by Her Majesty's Government is identical to the position adopted by the Labour party in a statement by the relevant policy commission dated 27 January.

Mr. Mark Simmonds (Boston and Skegness): Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that there will be a debate and a vote on a substantive motion immediately after the vote of the UN Security Council on the second resolution?

Mr. Straw: Yes. If there is a vote and the matter comes to a conclusion, I am sure that the usual channels will arrange that. For the record, I enter the usual caveat that the only circumstances in which that could not take place would be if we thought that the safety of our troops would be put at risk. I also hope that hon.

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Members have some faith in the Government's record on coming to the House immediately there is anything to discuss here.

Ms Oona King (Bethnal Green and Bow): Is it not the case that Israel has flouted UN resolutions, invaded its neighbours' territory and developed weapons of mass destruction without provoking any rebuke at all from George W. Bush, and that, despite George Bush using the words "viable Palestinian state", he has done nothing to make it a reality? What further pressure can the Government bring to bear on the American Administration, and what will we be pushing for, other than a speedier publication of the road map?

Mr. Straw: It is certainly true that Israel is in breach of a number of Security Council resolutions, but so too are the Arab states—it is a point that I have made often enough. I understand the debating point, although it is more than that, that is made here, but there is a difference between the resolutions in respect of Israel and Palestine, all of which ought to be implemented, but which impose complex obligations on a series of parties—the Palestinians, Israel and the Arab states—and the unilateral mandatory obligations imposed on Iraq under chapter VII.

At the risk of being castigated by my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay), I am afraid that I do not accept that the United States Government have "done nothing". As it happens, they have moved the policy on within the UN further than even the Clinton Administration, because they moved what became resolution 1397 and then resolution 1402, providing for the first time for there to be Security Council policy laying down that there must be a viable Palestinian state.

What we now have to do—we continue to press for it, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister does so particularly—is, in the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King), make a reality of that much better policy. That is what we are doing.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere): Is there not a real danger that Saddam Hussein might seek to widen a conflict, as he did in the first Gulf war when he launched 39 Scud missiles at Israel? Does the Foreign Secretary agree that there is an overriding need for all parties in the region to exercise restraint and that everything possible must be done to protect all those who live there from the evil predations of Saddam Hussein?

Mr. Straw: I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on what I thought was a robust and passionate speech that he made at the UN, but may I ask him why the case is not being made that there are strong grounds to intervene in Iraq on human rights grounds alone, as we intervened in Kosovo and Sierra Leone. I listen to spokesperson after spokesperson, and I remember resolution 688, which called for an end to repression of the public in Iraq, but the end to repression has not taken place. In fact, torture, ethnic cleansing and executions go on every day of the week in Iraq.

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