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11 Mar 2003 : Column 193—continued

Mr. Mike O'Brien: I am not sure that I properly understood my hon. Friend's point. Is he saying that there is no known link between terrorism and Iraq? The Mujahedin-e-Khalq—or MEK—is definitely a terrorist organisation, and we also have clear evidence of Iraqi support for Palestinian suicide bombers. We also have intelligence information about al-Qaeda people in Iraq.

Mr. Illsley: My hon. Friend knows that the evidence shows that some terrorists are staying in Iraq, but in areas where Saddam Hussein's writ does not run. I have read the information about the other terrorist organisations and I remain unconvinced by it.

I accept the argument about suicide bombings, and that payments are made to their families. I abhor suicide bombings as much as anyone else, but I also dislike Israel's response to them, as it has used tanks to fire on unarmed civilians.

Mr. O'Brien: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Illsley: I have only 15 minutes, but I shall give way quickly to my hon. Friend.

Mr. O'Brien: Is my hon. Friend saying that he accepts that the Iraqis are supporting the MEK, which is clearly a terrorist organisation?

Mr. Illsley: I do not dispute that the Government have indicated that Iraq might be supporting that terrorist organisation, but I believe that the links are somewhat tenuous. If they were stronger, the Government might be believed.

Mr. Savidge rose—

Mr. Illsley: I am not giving way again.

In the past two years, I have heard Ministers say at the Dispatch Box that there is no link between Iraq and terrorist organisations. As time has gone on, the Government have changed their argument. They have moved away from suggesting Iraqi involvement in

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11 September and tried to establish that country's links with other terrorist organisations. To avoid further arguments with my hon. Friend the Minister, I say only that those links are somewhat tenuous.

I accept that money has been given to the families of suicide bombers, but it is questionable whether that equates to funding terrorist organisations. Does the money go to the organisations or to the families involved? However, I shall again give the Government the benefit of the doubt, and I do not dismiss their contention out of hand.

Another argument in connection with the threat from Iraq is that it has weapons of mass destruction. The inspection regime is all about those weapons, but my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary told the House yesterday that the International Atomic Energy Agency had found no evidence that Iraq had re-established its nuclear programme. He said simply that he welcomed that: he did not say whether the UN Security Council accepted it, or whether the Government now accept that Iraq has no nuclear programme. However, it appears that there are no nuclear weapons in Iraq.

Hans Blix and his team of inspectors have asked for more time to try and establish whether Iraq will comply with the UN resolutions, and for inspectors to find evidence of biological or chemical weapons. I agree that there is some evidence that Iraq is dealing in such weapons—mainly because we have evidence of what was supplied to Saddam Hussein in the past. It seems that Iraq cannot win: if there is no evidence of nuclear weapons, and no such weapons to find, we cannot say that we believe that Iraq is not complying because we cannot find any nuclear weapons.

The Government's third argument is that our policies towards Iraq are designed to strengthen the international rule of law and the credibility of multilateral institutions, notably the UN. My first reaction is that we are going a funny way about it if our aim is to strengthen multilateral bodies. I shall speak in a moment about NATO, the UN and the EU, but the Foreign Affairs Committee visited the US and was told that that country is now rather tired of multilateral organisations and treaties, and that it will seek to withdraw from them. It has shown its willingness to do that with its actions in respect of the anti-ballistic missile treaty. That shows that the Americans are not committed to strengthening multilateral organisations, and their attitude to the UN has been equivocal in the past.

The Committee fully supports the commitment to the UN, but Britain and the US cannot say that we are upholding the UN by enforcing the resolutions and yet walk away from the UN when we do not get the resolution from the Security Council that we want. We cannot say that we are upholding the UN on the one hand, and then ignore it on the other. We must put our faith in the UN, or walk away from it—as the US probably wants—and allow it to fall into disuse and disrepute.

It was disconcerting to learn from the radio this morning that a British Minister is visiting countries in Africa, just as the French Foreign Minister is doing. It seems strange that another scramble for Africa, to coin a phrase, is going on. Ministers are chasing around Africa, trying to drum up support for the various positions in the UN.

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The UN's credibility is at stake. A considerable split is evident. We should give more time to the inspectors to find evidence of compliance and disarmament, and we should also allow a little more time to ensure that the UN Security Council does not fall apart. The proposed time limit expires on 17 March—in a week's time—and UN member countries are in a sorry state if Ministers are chasing around Africa drumming up support for their differing positions. If a second resolution is not agreed, or if the vote is so narrowly split that it will be argued that it does not constitute a mandate for any further UN action, it will be the worst of all worlds.

If Britain or the US ignores the UN Security Council, or if we ignore a second resolution because it does not have the wording that we want, we will be giving the green light to any country or organisation to ignore UN resolutions. Last October, members of the Select Committee were sat in Richard Armitage's State Department office when the news came through that North Korea had told the American ambassador that it had a nuclear weapons programme, and what was the US going to do about it? I regard that as a credible and urgent threat—much more than Iraq.

I have mentioned the danger of splits in the UN, but there is also a worry about splits in the EU and NATO. EU countries have lined up in little alliances. France is in alliance with Germany, while Britain is to some extent allied with Spain, which supports our stance. Divisions are opening up. Britain used to be at the heart of Europe and a leader of the EU, but our influence is being affected.

Another crucial issue is the effect on NATO of Turkey's decision about its defence in the event of military action. The headlong rush to take military action in Iraq puts us in danger of causing real divisions in the organisations that I have mentioned, even though our stated policy is to strengthen them. We appear to be getting entirely the wrong result.

The report states that any military action must be on the basis of UN resolutions. I fully agree: as a Committee member, I stand by that statement, and believe that there must be a second resolution before any military action is taken against Iraq. The Committee accepts that Iraq is in breach of several UN resolutions since 1991, but we heard evidence that suggested that the idea that we should take military action to support a resolution relating to the last Gulf war was somewhat tenuous.

The report calls for a second resolution. That is crucial. I hope that the Government will take that on board, and redouble their efforts to achieve one. Moreover, they should accept the resolution as it is passed, and not make noises that any veto would be unreasonable, or that there would be unilateral action without a veto.

The hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) has already referred to the report's final paragraph, which states that the international coalition remains a reality. However, the way that we are going means that there is not likely to be an international coalition, as we are causing splits in so many of the international organisations in that coalition. The difficulty of achieving any such coalition will become greater if the US takes military action in the face of the UN's refusal to back such action, or if a further resolution is vetoed.

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I urge the Government to look at some of those issues. They must consider whether there is an urgent threat from Iraq, and whether we should give more time to the inspectors and the UN so as to stop the damaging splits that are appearing in international bodies.

2.30 pm

Mr. Colin Breed (South-East Cornwall): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Illsley) because I agree with much that he said. There is broad support for his views not only in this House but outside.

We welcome the decision to discuss the report of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs on the foreign policy aspects of the war against terrorism. It is timely and appropriate. We applaud the work of the Committee and welcome its many sensible and constructive recommendations. It is pleasing that the Government broadly agree with the Committee's findings. However, in some areas, the Government must sharpen their focus and be more active.

We join the Committee in praising the Government for implementing many positive policies, such as asset freezing, which has made a major contribution, and the fostering of better links with the Arab world generally. Those policies are welcome. We remain convinced that the campaign against terrorism is best pursued through united and co-operative action with other states within an international framework that is transparent and that gives confidence to our allies and partners.

It is not enough for the Government to say simply that they would always act within the boundaries of international law. As has been pointed out, and as the Committee acknowledges, such law must evolve to meet new challenges. So far, the Government have failed to address concerns over the legitimacy of pre-emptive action and the definition of what qualifies as an imminent threat. As the Minister acknowledged, those issues are important. Many hon. Members would like to know the Government's view on the Committee's recommendation calling for the evolution of international law to reflect the rapidly developing threats that terrorist attacks now represent.

More specifically, will the Government give their views on three perceived aspects of that evolution of international law that seem to have arisen during the past few months as the international community has grappled with the Iraq problem? First, it is widely acknowledged that so-called regime change is beyond the scope of the United Nations; it is specifically excluded in article 2 of the UN charter. Do the Government propose to evolve international law to include circumstances where regime change would become a legitimate reason for intervention—military or otherwise?

Secondly, the United States and perhaps a coalition of the willing—or perhaps even a coalition of the coerced—may be embarking on a pre-emptive strike against another nation state on the premise of a perceived threat. That may be considered as revolutionary rather than evolutionary, but what clear evidence and justification ought to be provided and made public before any such pre-emptive action is authorised or commenced?

Thirdly, we have heard the Prime Minister use the concept of an unreasonable veto when considering whether he feels bound by the decisions of the United

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Nations Security Council. Such qualification surely undermines the whole validity of a veto. Either a veto is a veto or it is not. Is this a further example of the evolution of international law that the Government are seeking? If so, it needs to be much more clearly defined. In particular, the circumstances under which any such qualification can be invoked, and by whom, must be much more sharply defined.

In their response to the Committee, the Government claim:


That denies the possibility that the opposite will happen—that terrorists will take the opportunity to lay hands on hidden reserves of such weapons under cover of the fog of war. Why do the Government believe that Saddam Hussein, who has spent so much time, effort and energy in keeping hold of his weapons, might give them up to a terrorist organisation?


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