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11 Mar 2003 : Column 230—continued

Mr. Mike O'Brien: My hon. Friend is ignoring the fact that the requirement for the inspectors to carry out their task is that Saddam Hussein should immediately provide a full and complete declaration of all his weapons of mass destruction, and he has simply failed to do that. My hon. Friend is assuming that Dr. Blix, by providing the report, is suggesting that the declaration is unnecessary. That is not my understanding of the report; Dr. Blix wants compliance with resolution 1441, as does the Security Council, and that requires a full declaration to be made now.

Mr. Chaytor: With respect to my hon. Friend, I am not ignoring that. Indeed, it is self-evident that Iraq has not yet fully complied. The issue is whether a declaration of war at this stage is a proportionate, effective response to that lack of compliance or whether the existing bureaucratic procedure authorised by the UN would be more effective.

Mr. O'Brien: That is not the issue. The issue is compliance with resolution 1441. My hon. Friend is suggesting that the resolution does not have to be complied with. He ignores the fact that it requires an immediate declaration. Will he deal with that part of the argument? Without that declaration, Dr. Blix is obliged to act like a detective looking for clues as to where the stuff is buried, rather than auditing a declaration, which is the job that the Security Council gave him.

Mr. Chaytor: The Minister is trying to make me an apologist for Saddam Hussein's regime, and I shall resist that. I am trying to argue the case for the most effective way of dealing with the problem that the regime presents to the international community. That is the only point that I am making.

Without question, the declaration required by resolution 1441 has been made, but it is inadequate. The issue is whether the response by the international community to the inadequacy of the declaration is immediately to take military action or whether it uses other, long-established means to secure a fuller declaration from Iraq. I do not know whether the fuller, accurate declaration can be obtained in the next few days or weeks. All I am saying is that we ought to give Iraq the opportunity to make that full declaration before taking action of last resort, which would be military action.

Mr. O'Brien: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for indulging me by giving way again. Does he not understand that the nub of his argument is that Saddam Hussein does not have to comply with the requirement to make an immediate and full declaration? We are saying that Saddam Hussein has to comply with resolution 1441, but my hon. Friend appears to be saying that if he does not want to comply by providing that full declaration, we should find a different, bureaucratic way for the UN to stave off the requirement for him to do so. My hon. Friend is trying his best to put together an argument, but it simply does not add up unless we invalidate resolution 1441.

Mr. Chaytor: I am not saying that we should try a different, bureaucratic way; I am saying that we should

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persist with the process that we have already established. In the Foreign Secretary's statement on Monday, shortly after he accepted, rather reluctantly I thought, the evidence in Dr. el-Baradei's report that the Iraqi nuclear weapons programme had been terminated in 1998 as a result of the inspection regime from 1991 to 1998, he argued that it was useless to continue with inspections because the inspection regime had no effect. There is a contradiction there, because we know that the work done by the inspectors between 1991 and 1998 had some effect, although obviously not the total desired effect. We also know that the work done by the inspectors in the past few weeks has had some effect—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order.

4.54 pm

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): I express my appreciation of today's debate and the report produced by the Select Committee. The subject that we are debating today was last debated in Westminster Hall on 31 October, when I made it clear on behalf of Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National party that the Government had not begun to make a case for military action against Iraq. That debate followed the publication of the first dodgy dossier, an entirely unpersuasive document if ever there was one, of dubious veracity and authorship. It was followed by a second dossier that has been largely discredited.

Plaid Cymru and the SNP continue to believe that the case for war against Iraq has not been made, and have been utterly consistent in that belief since talk of action began. Contrast that with the Government's action after 9/11, and the first scenario that they supported of war on terrorism. War on terrorism is a misnomer, as war cannot be declared on a concept. However, as some of us pointed out at the time, the wording was intentional, as we were meant to believe that war was inevitable. The initial targets were bin Laden and al-Qaeda, but bin Laden could not be found, so it became necessary to find a causal link between al-Qaeda and Iraq. The Prime Minister is on the record as saying in November 2001 that unless a clear and unambiguous link between al-Qaeda and Iraq was found, there would be no justification for action against Iraq. Needless to say, that is not the current position.

It is little wonder that no link has been found, as al-Qaeda has more than once attempted to assassinate Saddam Hussein. Little by little, the ground has shifted, and the hunt for a link between al-Qaeda was, we believe, put on the backburner. A second scenario was then created—regime change, which has been referred to today on several occasions. It is a novel concept in international law and involves the right to take precipitative military action to enforce regime change, pure and simple. A similar form of de facto action was taken in Afghanistan, but the result there could not be described as encouraging. Someone, somewhere could have disabused the United States and the Government of the notion that it was encouraging, but that seems to have gone out of the window.

In the next linked scenario there was a so-called moral case against Iraq because of Saddam Hussein's behaviour towards his people. I fully accept that the man is an evil dictator and that his treatment of his own

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people, the Marsh Arabs and the Kurds, within the borders of Iraq is deplorable. No sane person could ever try to defend that action or mount an apology on Saddam's behalf. However, the very people who have been harmed by Saddam have, in the past 10 years, been harmed by the joint sanctions that the Government have helped to impose, so double standards are operating.

Another scenario followed—Saddam is in breach of resolution 1441, so immediate military action can be taken. As we know, Dr. Blix has reported on several occasions that definite progress is being made. I listened carefully to the speech of the hon. Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor), and the Minister's attempts to try to get him to say that he is calling for nothing to be done. That was far from the truth—no sane person would be saying that.

Recently, missiles have been destroyed and, at this juncture, we should remember that 90 per cent. of Saddam's armaments were, in fact, destroyed in 1992. Let us also remind ourselves that the apparent policy of containment has ipso facto succeeded since then. In any event, the weapons inspectors say that Saddam is co-operating at the moment and are asking for more time.

Who is to be the judge of whether Saddam is co-operating? Clearly it is the Security Council, on the advice of the weapons inspectors. President Bush and the Prime Minister seem to think that they are in charge, and that it is their decision. That is very dangerous. The Prime Minister moved from a position of confirming that a second UN resolution was necessary, to saying that it would merely be preferable. Now, apparently, it would simply be as well if one were possible. On "Newsnight" on 6 February, the Prime Minister said that the only circumstances in which force would be used without a further UN resolution would be if the inspectors concluded that they could no longer do their work, and if a further resolution were passed by a majority of the Security Council but was subject to an "unreasonable" veto by a single country. Will the Minister tell the House whether that is currently the Government's position? There has been a considerable amount of vacillation between one justification and another all along the line.

The fourth scenario put forward by the proponents of military action and their apologists is that, having failed to find a link with al-Qaeda or a trigger in resolution 1441, there is always the inherent right to self-defence under article 51 of the United Nations charter. I submit that that is a preposterous argument, coming as it does at the very end of all other discussions. It does not stand up to legal scrutiny. There has to be a real, palpable, urgent threat to the UK or an ally for that provision to come into play. To come to rely on it at this late stage is nonsense, for obvious reasons. However, it forms another part of the Government's vacillations on this matter. It seems strange that Iraq is currently perceived as a threat to the United States when it has 10 per cent. of the military strength that it had in 1990 before the Gulf war, and has lost 90 per cent. of its armaments since then.

It is indeed ironic that a Government reared on the power of spin cannot give a clear and credible message on this exceedingly important issue. Let us consider the mixed messages sent out by the botched second dossier borrowed from a research student and dressed up as intelligence material, and the different emphases on the

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second resolution over the past few months. Let us contrast that with the anti-war view, which I am proud to say that my party and the SNP share. For the past six months or so, we have consistently said that resolution 1441 does not contain a trigger for military action. I would go further and say that it is nothing short of disingenuous for the Government to allege that it does, when everyone knows that the compromise words "serious consequences" were negotiated into the resolution at the behest of China, France and Russia as a price for their support. Those words were never meant to be an automatic trigger for the right to engage in military action, and there is really no point in arguing that they were. The words "all necessary means" have been taken to mean that in the past, but they are clearly absent from resolution 1441. I have put forward this argument in the House on at least two previous occasions, and I believe that it is right to argue it again. I have been greatly assisted by the opinion of one of the experts in the field, Rabinder Singh, QC.

The Minister, who entered the House at the same time as I did, is a lawyer. He was careful to say at the beginning of this debate that if two lawyers are put together in a room there will be an argument. He has jumped up and down about 30 times this afternoon whenever anyone on his side had anything critical to say about the Government. He is obviously still a lawyer.

Reference has been made to the letter in The Guardian, and to the eminent international jurists.

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