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11 Mar 2003 : Column 236—continued

Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon): The hon. Gentleman talks about the destabilising effect of American interests in the middle east, but is not Saddam's continuing presence a destabilising factor in a possible middle east peace process? We know that his ambitions in the first Gulf war extended far beyond Kuwait to Saudi Arabia and other countries. His presence was destabilising then and remains so.

Mr. Chidgey: I accept the hon. Gentleman's comments. I am not presenting a case for no action; I am trying to understand why we are in a position whereby America leans heavily towards overrunning Iraq.

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I am trying to get the message across—to convey why we are where we are. I am not saying that Saddam Hussein is not a huge threat to the stability of the region, but it is the effect on America's foreign policy interests that has put us in our current position.

Mr. Swire rose—

Mr. Chidgey: I want to make progress, as time is limited.

We are talking about extending the concept of an axis of evil to that of an axis of capability to deter the United States from acting to maintain its interests. That capability has been confirmed by intelligence sources. Furthermore, given Iraq's capability to do that—as a member of the axis of evil—we must ask whether it has the intent. Intelligence sources can identify its capability, but it is for politicians and diplomats to decide whether there is the intent. In that context there is a lack of mature reflection and ability among those who advise our Governments, particularly the counsellors of the Government on the other side of the Atlantic.

In the axis of evil, only Iraq has demonstrated a willingness to use weapons of mass destruction. Iran and North Korea have yet to join that category: as the hon. Member for East Devon (Mr. Swire) said, it is Iraq that has established that willingness to use weapons of mass destruction, against its neighbours and against its own citizens.

That brings me to the nub of the issue. We know that Iraq has the capability; we know that it has demonstrated the intent. It poses a threat to American interests, and America is clearly not prepared to accept that. Moreover, the United Nations clearly cannot accept the continued flouting of resolutions requiring Iraq to disarm. The inspection regime is in place with the task of verifying Iraq's compliance with resolution 1441, but how can that compliance be verified? Who will confirm it? What constitutes a full declaration?

Yesterday the Foreign Secretary said that he profoundly hoped that the Iraqi regime would, even at this late stage, seize its chance to disarm peacefully. When I raised the issue of measuring compliance, however, the Minister's reply seemed to rely on a checklist prepared by Dr. Blix—a dossier consisting of a cluster of issues.

Let us take one example of a weapon of mass destruction. Dr. Blix says that 10,000 litres of anthrax may be unaccounted for. Is that since 1998? Would the amount be added to by estimates of production since 1998? How can the inspectors verify compliance? We already know that we would never have found chemical weapons in the first place if one of Saddam's sons-in-law had not defected to the west to tell us where they were.

As evidence given to the Committee shows, it is not possible for inspectors to find substantial amounts of biological weapons. What, indeed, do we mean by substantial amounts? According to Dr. Blix, 1,000 litres is a substantial amount. That is one tenth of the known stocks, let alone what may have been produced later. Just one litre of anthrax is enough to kill thousands of people.

The Minister has argued many times that Saddam has demonstrated his intent to use weapons of mass destruction. The inspectors are unable to find them,

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certainly in the case of biological weapons. It is virtually impossible to ensure that Saddam will comply with resolution 1441. The logical extension of that, in terms of American foreign policy, must be that if America is to achieve its policy aim of protecting its interests in the middle east, it is unlikely to believe for a minute that it can rely on the UN inspectors. America will not even rely on an invasion, because even that will not discover the weapons. It is clear to me that the United States will rely, in its interests, on regime change. That is the only logical conclusion. The challenge for this Parliament, and for our Government, is to use every effort to deflect the United States from pursuing that draconian measure. If we do not do that, we will lose the struggle between conflict and diplomacy, the struggle between international law and the power of a single massive state, and the struggle for the survival of the United Nations.

5.25 pm

Mr. Fabian Hamilton (Leeds, North-East): I commend the many Members who have said their piece about the war against terror and commented on the Foreign Affairs Committee's report on the foreign policy aspects of that war. Many have referred to the current crisis in Iraq, to what the United Nations, the USA and Great Britain are trying to do, and especially, of course, to the imminent threat of war in that country. I simply want to add my few words, and express my deep concern not by saying that Saddam Hussein is not evil or does not possess weapons of mass destruction, nor by saying that Iraq itself is not a huge threat to regional, and even world, stability and peace but rather by arguing that, as the amendment to the Government motion a fortnight ago stated, the case for military action has not yet been made. That is not to say that the case will not, or may not, be made but it has yet to be made, and I voted for that amendment accordingly, along with many colleagues and other Members of this House.

The press has often portrayed this so-called rebellion as anti-Blair or anti-Government, but that is wrong. Many of us support the strength and conviction that the Prime Minister has shown in trying to fight for the United Nations to resolve this crisis. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) said so clearly, we are concerned about rushing to military action when there could be unforeseen consequences.

One scenario that I have been describing for the past few weeks is this. Let us imagine that, with his back against the wall, Saddam Hussein fires missiles at Tel Aviv, as he did in 1991, with the sole intention of getting Israel embroiled in the conflict—only this time, they are armed not with explosive-tipped warheads, but with chemical, biological or even nuclear warheads. What happens then? Does Ariel Sharon react in the same way that his predecessor Yitzhak Shamir reacted, under strong influence from the United States, and take no action at all? Alternatively, does he take what is in my view the much more likely action of firing equally destructive weapons back at Iraq, producing a conflagration that the United States and the allied forces advancing into Iraq did not intend and cannot control? That is one of my big fears, and it is shared by many of my constituents: the unpredictability of military action

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once it starts. One cannot know how even the best plan in the world will unfold, even if one is the greatest military nation on earth, as the United States is.

Mr. Eric Joyce (Falkirk, West): Does my hon. Friend recognise that, according to his hypothesis, he accepts that Saddam Hussein possesses weapons of mass destruction that he is capable of deploying?

Mr. Hamilton: Indeed. I and many of my colleagues who voted for the amendment believe that those weapons are there; our problem is the yawning gap between what the Government are saying about the need to disarm Saddam Hussein and Iraq immediately, and the public's belief that, although Saddam may well be a threat, they should be shown the evidence. Hans Blix has yet to come up with that smoking gun. I have received correspondence from many hundreds of constituents ranging right across the spectrum of beliefs—as hon. Members know, I represent many different communities—and the overwhelming view has been, "Show us the evidence of chemical, biological or nuclear warheads and yes, we will go along with you, even if it does mean military action."

People want one other thing—I know that the Prime Minister and the whole Government are working very hard to achieve it—and that is a second resolution of the Security Council of the United Nations. In the end, the population of Great Britain—the constituents whom we represent—believe that this should be a United Nations action, with the world acting in concert to disarm a dangerous dictator, rather than the USA simply acting as the policeman of the world.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): The hon. Gentleman expressed his fear that a missile tipped with a chemical weapon would be fired at Tel Aviv. If he is frightened by that possibility, why is he so reluctant to undertake measures that would remove it by disarming Saddam Hussein, even if the UN is unwilling to do so?

Mr. Hamilton: The UN is willing to do so. It has inspectors in Iraq, but they have not found the evidence. Once they find that evidence, the opinion of many of the sceptical countries—even France and Russia—will change. If the evidence of weapons of mass destruction is clear, I am sure that all the Security Council nations will come on board. I am not reluctant to see Saddam disarmed, but there is a gap between public opinion—in my constituency and the rest of the country—and what the Government are doing.

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