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17 Mar 2003 : Column 702—continued

8.12 pm

Rev. Ian Paisley: All I say on behalf of the electors whom I represent is roll on 29 May. Let us have the result of the election and let the House take proper democratic note of the same.

8.13 pm

Lembit Öpik: The Minister heard the earlier debate. It is vital that the Government define acts of completion. They must also ensure that there is parity of treatment in terms of information for Northern Ireland parties.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.

Madam Deputy Speaker: The House will now be suspended for 10 minutes. The Division bell will ring for three minutes before we commence the statements.

8.14 pm

Sitting suspended.

On resuming—

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8.24 pm

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement in respect of Iraq and the debate that will be held in the House tomorrow.

As the House will be aware, in the Azores yesterday my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, Prime Minister Aznar of Spain, President Bush of the United States and Prime Minister Barroso of Portugal called on all members of the Security Council to adopt a resolution—which would have been its 18th on Iraq—to challenge Saddam to take a strategic decision to disarm his country of his weapons of mass destruction as required by Security Council resolution 1441. Such a resolution has never been needed legally, but we have long had a preference for it politically.

There has been intense diplomatic activity to secure that end over many months, culminating in the past 24 hours. Yesterday evening, our ambassador to the United Nations, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, consulted his fellow permanent representatives from other Security Council member states. Just this morning I spoke to my Spanish, American, Russian and Chinese counterparts.

Despite those final efforts, I regret to say that we have reluctantly concluded that a Security Council consensus on a new resolution would not be possible. On my instructions, Sir Jeremy Greenstock made a public announcement to that effect at the United Nations at about 3.15 pm UK time today.

What we know about the Iraqi regime's behaviour over many years is that there is the greatest chance of their finally responding to the United Nations obligations on them if they face a united Security Council. So, over the months since resolution 1441 was unanimously adopted by the Security Council in early November, the Prime Minister and I, and our ambassador to the United Nations, have strained every nerve in search of that consensus which could finally persuade Iraq, by peaceful means, to provide the full and immediate co-operation demanded by the Security Council.

Significantly, in all the discussions in the Security Council and outside, no one has claimed that Iraq is in full compliance with the obligations placed on it. Given that, it was my belief, up to about a week ago, that we were close to achieving the consensus that we sought on the further resolution. Sadly, one country then ensured that the Security Council could not act. President Chirac's unequivocal announcement last Monday that France would veto a second resolution containing that or any ultimatum "whatever the circumstances" inevitably created a sense of paralysis in our negotiations. I deeply regret that France has thereby put a Security Council consensus beyond reach.

I need to spell out that the alternative proposals submitted by France, Germany and Russia for more time and more inspections carry no ultimatum and no threat of force. They do not implement resolution 1441 but seek to rewrite it. To have adopted such proposals would have allowed Saddam to continue stringing out inspections indefinitely, and he would rightly have

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drawn the lesson that the Security Council was simply not prepared to enforce the ultimatum that lies at the heart of resolution 1441: in the event of non-compliance, Iraq, as operational paragraph 13 spells out, should expect "serious consequences."

As a result of Saddam Hussein's persistent refusal to meet the UN's demands, and the inability of the Security Council to adopt a further resolution, the Cabinet has decided to ask the House to support the United Kingdom's participation in military operations, should they be necessary, with the objective of ensuring the disarmament of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, and thereby the maintenance of the authority of the United Nations.

From the outset of this crisis the Government have promised that, if possible, the House would have the opportunity to debate our involvement in military action prior to the start of hostilities and on a substantive motion. The House will have that opportunity tomorrow. Copies of the motion, proposed by the Prime Minister and Cabinet colleagues, have been placed in the Vote Office.

In addition to dealing with military action the motion states that in the event of military operations the House requires that

In addition, the resolution goes on to endorse the middle east peace process as encapsulated in the imminent publication of the road map. I understand, Mr. Speaker, that you will be specifying the time by which amendments to this motion must be received. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office will make a short business statement immediately after the proceedings on this statement.

To inform the debate, I have circulated several documents to all right hon. and hon. Members today. These include a copy of the response from my noble and learned Friend the Attorney-General to a written question in the House of Lords in which he sets out the legal basis for the use of force against Iraq, as well as a detailed briefing paper summarising the legal background which I have sent to the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee. I have also made available a note summarising Iraq's record of non-compliance with resolution 1441. A new Command Paper comprising key recent United Nations documents, including the 173 pages of Dr Blix's paper on "Unresolved Disarmament Issues: Iraq's Proscribed Weapons Programmes", which was published on 7 March in the Security Council, is now available in the Vote Office.

The debate tomorrow will be the most important in the House for many years. Some say that Iraq can be disarmed without an ultimatum, without the threat or the use of force, but simply by more time and more inspections. That approach is defied by all our experience over 12 weary years. It cannot produce the disarmament of Iraq; it cannot rid the world of the danger of the Iraqi regime. It can only bring comfort to

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tyrants and emasculate the authority of the United Nations. It is for these reasons that we shall tomorrow be asking the House to endorse and support the Government's resolution.

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes): May I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement and for giving me early sight of it? His statement is indeed a sombre one. Put bluntly, the talking is over, diplomacy is at an end and tonight we face the grim prospect of war. We are where we are tonight because Saddam Hussein has contemptuously failed to take the final opportunity that resolution 1441 offered him. Hopes that he might accept the inevitable this time and disarm have been dashed. Instead, he has chosen to take the international community to the wire.

There was a chance that a clear, unequivocal and united voice from the international community might yet have persuaded him to disarm or to go. France put paid to that. I hope that in Paris they will reflect tonight on what they have achieved.

There will be many different and deeply held feelings in the House tonight and during the debate tomorrow. It would be very strange if there were not. But while we may not agree with each other, I hope and believe that none of us will do other than totally respect the sincerity with which these views are held.

Saddam Hussein, in possession of weapons of mass destruction, is a threat to international peace and security. No one, not even France, denies that. It is not just a threat within the middle east but to the international community at large, including ourselves. That is why we believe that action to disarm him can no longer be delayed. We will, of course, debate all this tomorrow, and we will vote on it. I do not intend to pre-empt that debate or that vote tonight, but there are questions that I must ask.

What discussions has the Foreign Secretary had with his Turkish counterpart to ensure that action in Iraq will not provoke unrest between northern Iraq and Turkey?

What preparations are in place to ensure a swift delivery of humanitarian aid and relief to the people of Iraq, who have suffered for so long under the heel of Saddam Hussein?

What discussions has the Foreign Secretary had with the Secretary-General of the United Nations in accordance with the motion proposed for tomorrow to ensure that a representative Administration can swiftly be set up in Iraq under United Nations auspices to ensure the speedy rehabilitation of that country?

Again, in accordance with the motion proposed for tomorrow, what steps is the right hon. Gentleman taking to follow up President Bush's statements on Israel-Palestine and, in particular, to ensure that there is a genuine and sustained momentum towards the two-state solution? What talks has the Foreign Secretary had with other members of the Quartet, including Russia, to make real progress on that front? And what other steps will he take to reassure the Islamic community that military action in Iraq is not an attack on Islam but can bring long-term benefit and stability to the Muslim world?

Our thoughts tonight must be with our armed forces as they face the prospect of conflict. We ask much on their behalf, and our prayers must be with them and

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their families. They must know that from these Benches they have our unqualified support. We will offer the Government our support in the decisions that must now be made. We will do so because they have reached the same conclusions as us on the threat posed by Saddam Hussein and the legality of taking action. We believe that they are acting in the national interest, and as long as that is the case we will continue to support them. Her Majesty's Opposition will do what in our hearts we know for our country is right.

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