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11 Mar 2003 : Column 189—continued

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): Is the hon. Gentleman prepared to comment on the latest

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revelation that Dr. Blix did not reveal some of the things that he discovered, and which were a cause of great concern?

Mr. Spring: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point. There have been some additions to Dr. Blix's original report. That simply strengthens the argument that, apart from that which we know exists in Iraq—we do not believe that it has been destroyed or abandoned—there may well be other elements in its armoury that we have yet to discover.

Despite all this, many argue that the inspectors should be given more time; they, like me, would prefer to see war avoided altogether. However, to avoid war at all costs, even when Saddam's non-compliance is evident, would be to preserve what would ultimately prove a false peace. It is Iraq's attitude, not more time, that matters. Saddam is still the one man who could prevent war.

We welcome the report's assessment that a

No hon. Members of this House want or seek war. We welcome the Foreign Secretary's assurance that the Government will

We also welcome the fact that both the United States and the United Kingdom have engaged fully in the UN process to find a peaceful solution to this crisis. We look forward with interest and concern to the outcome of the current deliberations in the UN, and we hope that consensus may indeed be found. Should Saddam fail to disarm—I regret that the signs are not hopeful—we must be prepared to use force, if necessary, to disarm him. This remains our objective, and it is the threat of this that caused at least some co-operation from him in the first place.

We must have a clear contingency plan for both the future of Iraq and for humanitarian aid if we are to win over Arab opinion and fulfil our obligations to the people of Iraq, who have suffered so much under Saddam's rule. We therefore welcome the Committee's recommendation that

Have the Government any preference in terms of structure, given Iraq's complex make-up? We welcome the conclusion that

Indeed, as has been pointed out, Iraq is in violation of 17 resolutions already. We also welcome the Committee's recognition that the "obligation" is

Last Friday, we learned that a US-UK-Spain draft resolution will be tabled this week, giving Iraq until 17 March to begin to comply. Those countries that voted four months ago to give Iraq a "final opportunity" to disarm must now uphold that commitment. They must quickly lend their support to this second

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resolution, making it clear that if Saddam Hussein does not disarm himself, the international community will do it for him.

As the report notes, and as the Government also recognise, the backdrop to much opinion in the middle east is the whole question of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. The Prime Minister is right to pay such attention to this festering sore in the middle east, and we hope passionately that America's vital role in moving the peace process forward is recognised, and can be achieved. However, we, as a country, certainly have a role to play. A viable and independent Palestinian state, alongside an Israel secure within her own borders and free from the horrors of suicide bombings, is the only way that the future stability and prosperity of the region can be assured. Of course, that will not be easy. There is so much complex history, so much tragedy and so much historical baggage in the dispute, but ultimately the way to a settlement is not through violence. It will need a political solution that is based on dialogue and the rebuilding of trust. One can only hope that such a settlement will come sooner rather than later.

Greater freedom and stability has undoubtedly been brought to Afghanistan by military action backed by the UN and NATO. We also have a duty to remain committed to the promise made by the Prime Minister last year when he said:

We should not, however, be sanguine about the situation in Afghanistan. We should recognise that many security problems still exist in parts of that country, and that much of the security and stability that exists is brought about by the presence of international troops.

We welcome the Government's commitment in their response to continue their commitment to Afghanistan, including financial aid. The anti-drugs policies referred to are particularly important and welcome, although an article in The Economist on 10 October last year, which projected a big increase in opium poppy production since the fall of the Taliban, suggests that there is still a long way to go in tackling the heroin trade at its root. While many lessons have been learnt in Afghanistan from a humanitarian perspective, it is important that we sound a note of caution to those who might suggest that it offers a blueprint for humanitarian operations in Iraq. The situations are entirely different.

Important though it is, I will not dwell on the recommendation regarding FCO travel advice, because we had a welcome opportunity to discuss the issue in the House last week.

The importance of engaging public opinion, both here and in the middle east is vital to the future success of the war against terrorism, and equally vital to our own democratic process. Parliament has continued to be kept informed, and that is to be commended. Great efforts are necessary to communicate with the public at this most difficult time, and to keep them fully in touch as developments unfold over the next few days and weeks. I can, however, think of no more appropriate

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conclusion than to echo the Committee's report and its recommendation in paragraph 11, which states:

I hope that it will continue to do so, especially with regard to Iraq.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): I remind hon. Members that Mr. Speaker has imposed a 15-minute limit on speeches from Back Benchers.

2.12 pm

Mr. Eric Illsley (Barnsley, Central): I will keep my remarks relatively brief. I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this important debate on an important report. As a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, I appreciate the comments made by the Minister and his opposite number about the significance of the report and its contents. I also commend my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson) on the way in which he introduced the debate. The report and debate are timely, given that the UN is considering the issue in detail today and will continue to do so for the rest of the week.

The report is entitled, "The War against Terrorism", and those who read it will see that the situation in Iraq took over whole sections of the report, in the same way as Iraq will feature heavily in the debate. I make no excuses for mentioning that situation.

We consistently hear people referring to the crisis in Iraq. The only crisis is that Iraq is likely to be invaded in the next couple of weeks. There is no crisis coming this way from Iraq, but we tend to talk up the situation by using such emotive language. I wonder whether the urgency about dealing with the threat from Iraq—if it has weapons of mass destruction, which I question, given the most recent inspectors' reports—has more to do with the window of opportunity for military action before the summer months and the proximity of the US elections next year. The Americans do not want to wait until next winter to take military action. They have thousands of troops stationed in the Gulf—as have we—at significant cost, and the urgency relates to their wish to invade Iraq as soon as possible.

One point made by the report is that we must not be distracted from the war against terrorism. The Iraqi situation takes up most of the foreign affairs debating time in the House, and I am pleased that the recent arrests of al-Qaeda operatives show that our focus on the war against terrorism has not been completely overshadowed by Iraq. The report mentions other areas of concern, including the idea of pre-emptive self-defence, which has been mentioned already. The Committee took much evidence on that, none of which was conclusive. It is questionable whether there is a legal right to pre-emptive self-defence.

A related issue that has not yet been mentioned is targeted extra-judicial killings. Hon. Members may recall that on 3 November, a US helicopter fired a rocket and killed six suspected terrorists as they were driving through Yemen. Israel also performs extra-judicial killings in Gaza and the occupied territories. The report questions the legality of such actions.

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The report also mentions the future of the detainees in Guantanamo bay. Those al-Qaeda and Taliban operatives have been detained for some time, with no prospect of a trial or legal action. The Government have responded to the Committee on that issue, but no action is being taken—with any urgency, at least—in respect of the detainees.

Questions have also been posed about the links between terrorist organisations and Iraq, but no such link has ever been proved. It has been commented that there are no links between Iraq and organised terrorism, and the Government have now concluded that there is no link between 11 September and Iraq, although there are links between Iraq and other terrorist organisations. The Committee found no concrete evidence of that. Our report summarises the threat posed by Iraq as the Government set it out for us, and one of the three reasons that they gave was the opportunity to develop terrorist weapons.

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