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11 Mar 2003 : Column 257—continued

Mr. Maples: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. O'Brien: I will not give way on this matter, as I want to get on to Iraq.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Mr. Hamilton) said that we cannot impose a settlement that does not win the hearts and minds of the people, and my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) said that we should bring passion to the need to push forward the middle east peace process. However, I should tell him that that passion is there. The historical injustice done to the Palestinians must be dealt with, and the violence done to the Israelis must end. Peace requires a Palestinian state. We have respect in the middle east now because of the personal commitment of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to the peace process, and I can offer an assurance that that will continue. However, we must ensure that we get the United States on board as well. The US is essential in ensuring that Prime Minister Sharon is delivered to the peace table, and I can assure the House that we will do all that we can to work with the United States on moving forward the middle east peace process.

In turning to the points that were raised about Iraq, I should begin by making it clear that I do not want a war and nor does this Government. It is a matter of great sadness that we must even contemplate such a possibility. This is a Labour Government. We are a Government of the left, and our default position is to oppose wars, but sometimes we have to ensure that we deal with United Nations resolutions in a way that recognises their importance. After 12 years, 17 UN resolutions—we are now contemplating the 18th resolution—and more than four months since the adoption of resolution 1441, which gave Iraq a final opportunity to disarm, the time has come when we must decide where we stand.

No one can seriously doubt that Saddam Hussein possesses a fearsome range of weapons of mass destruction and is a threat to his own people, to his neighbours and, ultimately, to the whole of the middle east. The basis of Saddam's regime is his possession of WMD. He has used them against his own people—notably in Halabja, in 1988—and against his neighbours, with horrific results in both instances. Much of his power comes from the possession of WMD, which are held by a small elite, and which he uses to intimidate his army and his people. Our aim is not regime change, but if Saddam Hussein does not disarm, we may have to change the regime in order to disarm him. If he remains in power with WMD, there is no question but that he will continue to murder his own

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people and to threaten the region. WMD are an integral part of his regime. A Saddam Hussein without WMD is a weakened Saddam Hussein.

Mr. Savidge: The Minister mentions 17 resolutions during 12 years. How many resolutions does he think that there would have been during three times that period, but for the US veto over the issue of Israel?

Mr. O'Brien: Is my hon. Friend saying that, because the United States may have vetoed some resolutions, we must say that we will not seek to enforce UN resolutions on Iraq? [Interruption.] He shakes his head, and of course he is not saying that. No, let us focus on the issue that we have to confront in the next days and weeks, which is Iraq. I have no problem in agreeing with my hon. Friend that we need to move forward on the middle east, but we also need to recognise that we have obligations in relation to Iraq.

Mr. Chidgey: The Minister says that Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction are integral. However, given that experts tell us that it is impossible to be sure that we can destroy, or even find, all those weapons, is not regime change inevitable in the light of America's policy as it relates to deterrence? If we cannot be sure that we have found all the weapons of mass destruction, surely America will press for regime change in defence of its own interests.

Mr. O'Brien: I shall come to that point but Saddam Hussein knows what he has to do. He has to declare all the weapons of mass destruction. We have some information about what he has, and we can use that information to check how much he is holding back when he claims to make a full declaration, which he has not yet done. If he covers all the areas that we know about, we will know to some extent that he has made a full declaration. We have the capacity to make that judgment.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire): The diplomatic code for the use of force is usually the phrase "all necessary means", which does not appear in resolution 1441 or the present draft resolution. Does the Minister believe that reference to "serious consequences" authorises force in this case under international law?

Mr. O'Brien: If my hon. Friend had been in his place earlier in the debate he would know that we heard a learned opinion on that point. A number of legal phrases are used to authorise the use of force and no one can be in any doubt about the meaning of "serious consequences". Everyone who signed up to that resolution knew what that meant. They knew then and they know now.

In a serious speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) asked about the UK's resolution and the inclusion of a number of tests. We are considering the inclusion of tests and how we can use Hans Blix's written report—his cluster document—which raised several specific questions, to bring the Security Council together.

It is right that we are reluctant to threaten military action, but we have shown that we have been right in the past to take action, for example in Afghanistan, Sierra

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Leone and Kosovo. We were right to take military action in those places, even though many people had doubts at the time. In each of those cases, we showed leadership in urging the international community towards resolute action and in being ready to take a key role in it ourselves. The alternative—doing nothing—was worse. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dudley, North (Ross Cranston) explained, in the case of Kosovo and other situations, we did so without a UN resolution, because it was the right thing to do. The risk of military action must be measured against the risk that somehow inaction will make the world safer—it rarely does.

No one who looks objectively at the record can doubt the great efforts that have been made, and that are still being made, to disarm Iraq peacefully. Since 1991, the UN has tried all the tools at its disposal, including inspections, sanctions and persuasion to disarm Iraq. Security Council resolution 1284, passed in 1999 after the inspectors had been forced to leave, offered Iraq the prospect of the lifting of sanctions in return for disarmament. We spent the next three years trying to persuade Iraq to co-operate, but it again refused.

As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dudley, North said in an erudite exposition of the law, Security Council resolution 1441 gave Saddam a "final opportunity" to comply with the string of legally binding obligations imposed on him over the past 12 years. It is telling that, at last Friday's meeting of the Security Council, not one speaker—despite obvious differences of view—claimed that Saddam Hussein and Iraq had complied "immediately, unconditionally and actively" as required by resolution 1441. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East said, nothing was immediate, nothing has been unconditional and there has been precious little activity from Saddam Hussein. We have never had the full declaration of all Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. The inspectors have never had the basic document required to do their job. They have struggled along valiantly with a partial document.

Dr. Blix reported to the Security Council that

Dr. Blix went on to report some of the small steps taken, only recently, by Iraq, including the destruction of al-Samoud missiles.

He described that as a

However, no objective observer can conclude that this patent last-minute window dressing amounts to anything like the immediate, unconditional and active co-operation demanded by resolution 1441.

As someone said to me when I was in Damascus, Saddam Hussein is dealing with the matter as if he were a trader in the soukh. He wants the least possible amount of disarmament to get the UN off his back. He seems to think that he can negotiate, but resolution 1441 is very clear. Full compliance is required: that is what he must give, and it is what he has so far failed to give. That

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is typical of the way in which Saddam Hussein has used tactics for the past 12 years. He dribbles out scraps of information and small concessions, but he continues to conceal the extent of his arsenal.

If we believe that inspections with no firm end-date will achieve the complete disarmament of Iraq, then we deceive ourselves. Iraq has proved itself to be more than adept at exploiting the existing sanctions regime. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor) said, Dr. Blix's report entitled "Outstanding Issues Concerning Iraq's Proscribed Weapons Programme" shows what Iraq is still up to.

The report showed that Iraq repaired equipment in the chemical area previously destroyed by UNSCOM, and refurbished chemical facilities; in the biological field, there was a new emphasis on higher education in biotechnology, and a new genetic engineering facility was established. There was a surge of activity in the field of missile technology. The report identifies 29 specific areas in which Iraq is known to have engaged in prohibited activities. They include work on Scud-type missiles, VX gas, anthrax, tabun, sarin, botulinum toxin, and many other elements specifically related to weapons of mass destruction.

Dr. Blix's report shows that a huge number of questions remain unanswered. Iraq's weapons of mass destruction are there, and we need to find them. It sets out more than 100 specific actions that Iraq must take to resolve these issues. A spasm of activity is insufficient. We need more than that; we need full compliance by Saddam Hussein. He knows what he has to do, and what facilities he has to reveal. Sharing this information with the inspectors can hardly be said to require months of work. The evidence must be produced, and quickly.

We need to present Saddam Hussein with a clear choice. We must therefore send him the message, "You will be disarmed—peacefully if we can, but forcefully if we must."

If we fail in this effort, if we do not disarm Saddam Hussein, there will be three messages: UN sanctions can be ignored, international law will not be enforced, and other dictators with the political will and money to develop weapons of mass destruction—and there are many of them—will conclude that they can do so with impunity. The world would then be a much more dangerous place for our children than it has been for this generation.

If we succeed in disarming Saddam—peacefully if we can, forcefully if we must—the messages will be: UN resolutions do matter, international law will be enforced, and other regimes contemplating developing weapons of mass destruction must think very hard before doing so.

This is something that we must do. It is the right thing to do—and we had better get on with it.

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