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17 Mar 2003 : Column 709—continued

Tony Baldry (Banbury): I am sure that the Foreign Secretary will agree that we as a nation will be judged not only on the effectiveness our military campaign, but on the efficiency of the humanitarian relief that we bring to Iraq. Will he give a clear undertaking to the House that Her Majesty's Government shall will the means to ensure that proper humanitarian relief is provided for the people of Iraq and also that we will provide the leadership that is necessary to supply humanitarian relief to a country where, tragically, two thirds of the people are already dependent on food aid? Whenever the Cabinet considers the military campaign, can it please also consider the humanitarian campaign?

Mr. Straw: I entirely endorse what the hon. Gentleman says. I read out a key part of the motion that will be put before the House tomorrow, in which we shall seek a new Security Council resolution that deals with the whole question of humanitarian relief.

I also point out that one of the many terrible things that Saddam Hussein has done to his own people has been to impoverish a very rich nation. This was a nation that had the same living standards, if you please, as Portugal or Malaysia 25 years ago. It is now one of the poorest nations on earth, where 60 per cent. of the people have been plunged into poverty not because of sanctions, but because of a quite deliberate policy by the Saddam Hussein regime to divert money that should and could have gone to the wonderful people of Iraq to its military spending and luxury goods for the regime's friends.

Kali Mountford (Colne Valley): The people of Iraq have now languished under the tyranny of Saddam for far too long. Is not this cynical use of the process of the United Nations bringing it into disrepute? Are we not now in a position where, after the cynical protection of oil interests in Iraq, the cynical attempt to hide the fact that France vetoed any effort to indict Saddam and shying away on sales of weapons to Iraq, there is no prospect of unity in the United Nations and thereby no prospect of saving the people of Iraq?

Mr. Straw: It is for each member state of the United Nations to explain its own policy, and I am happy to explain ours. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. We passed resolution after resolution in respect of Iraq, which I have presented to the House first in this Command Paper, then in the supplementary Command Paper. I say to any hon. Member who is still unpersuaded about the need for action and the fact that

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Iraq has failed to comply with its disarmament obligations that they should simply read that which is now available to every Member in the document in the Vote Office—the 173 pages of Dr. Blix's report published on 7 March. That sets out chapter by chapter—in 29 chapters on more than 100 separate disarmament obligations—how Saddam, after 12 years, plainly has no intention whatsoever of meeting his disarmament obligations.

Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher and Walton): Does the Foreign Secretary recognise that many of us believe that the United States, having looked for Osama bin Laden, has quickly focused on the tangible target of Saddam Hussein, and that the irony is that the person who will be most pleased in the next few days is Osama bin Laden because of the risk from terrorism? Is he aware that the way in which the United States has conducted its campaign over the past few months has led to the fracture of the United Nations, the fracture of NATO and the fracture of the European Union? How is that in the British national interest?

Mr. Straw: I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. I just say this to him: I do not believe that the fight against international terrorism and the need to deal with rogue states are alternatives. They are not alternatives at all. We have to deal with international terrorism; we have to deal, too, with the threat of rogue states. I understand what the hon. Gentleman says, but the simple truth is that if that was the reason why the United States had gone to the United Nations, no other member of the United Nations would have supported it. It was because the case against the Iraqi regime, spelled out in 17 successive resolutions of the United Nations, is overwhelming. It is the United Nations that has been saying over 12 years that Iraq represents a threat to international peace and security.

As for the hon. Gentleman's point about the fracture of the United Nations, it is a fact, so far as NATO is concerned, that NATO, at its Prague summit at the end of November, fully and unanimously endorsed resolution 1441. I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that if he is thinking about the issue of assistance to Turkey, the decision to provide assistance to Turkey was supported by 16 of the 19 member nations of NATO and opposed by only three.

Jim Dowd (Lewisham, West): Will my right hon. Friend accept my thanks for his efforts, application and dedication in seeing UN resolution 1441 brought to fruition and pursued? Does he accept that had everybody who voted unanimously for that resolution meant what they said at the time, we would not now be in this position? Can he tell me when he first realised that those who signed up for "serious consequences" for non-compliance actually meant "zero consequences" for non-compliance? Can he tell me that the Government, once the current storm has abated, will do all that they can to resurrect the worldwide credibility of the UN, which has been so seriously undermined by those who have been playing games with what the international community should have done many years ago?

Mr. Straw: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his opening remarks. We have done all that we can to secure

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a peaceful resolution to the crisis. It is still possible, let me say, for it to be resolved peacefully by Saddam Hussein's agreeing to go into exile. Should that be the case, as I have said on a number of occasions, we would support a United Nations Security Council resolution to provide Saddam Hussein with immunity from prosecution so that he could go into exile and enjoy a retirement of the kind that he has denied to so many of his own people. I am willing to accept that terrible compromise to try to avoid a war. I hope and believe that the whole House would also do that.

My hon. Friend asks whether I concluded that some members of the Security Council were trying to rewrite 1441. I reached that conclusion a week ago, but I had suspected it for some time. I attended successive Security Council meetings in which Dr. Blix and Dr. el-Baradei pointed out that Iraq had not complied with clear obligations to make full and complete disclosure by 7 December. Instead, it recycled the incomplete, mendacious and deceitful disclosures that it had made in the past. It failed in every other respect to comply fully with the resolution.

The issue raises a question about United Nations authority, which is at stake. It is incumbent on all Security Council members to mean what they say and to say what they mean. We have done that; I regret that others have failed to do so.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): But is not the reality that the Government do not have a majority in favour of their position on the Security Council and that they have never had a majority for early recourse to war? Most countries perceive a clear alternative and doubtless believed the United States ambassador when he told them that 1441 was not a trigger for war. Instead of blaming the French, will the Government reflect on their responsibility for turning a 30-nation coalition that expelled Saddam Hussein from Kuwait into the four countries whose representatives met yesterday in the Azores? Two of them are not even committing troops to the engagement.

We are all worried and we all support our troops—[Interruption.] But are there worse circumstances under which to take a country to war than no consent at home and no consensus in the international community?

Mr. Straw: I have been in the House long enough to recall that the hon. Gentleman described our action in Kosovo, which was entirely right, as an unpardonable folly.

David Winnick (Walsall, North): If the military action that everyone now expects takes place, will not British troops be fighting a murderous tyranny? Do not those troops deserve support from all hon. Members because they will be doing right? Does my right hon. Friend agree that a large majority of people in Iraq will welcome liberation from tyranny? They have been imprisoned long enough, and it will be surprising if our troops are not treated as liberators when the time comes.

Mr. Straw: I entirely agree. My hon. Friend has been steadfast in his support for implementing 1441.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): Four years ago, the Foreign Secretary was part of a Government who

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committed British troops to an offensive operation with no United Nations authority. Four years later, those troops remain deployed. Does he believe that criticism of his strategy today, when operating under United Nations authority, with an exit strategy of an Iraq free of tyranny—and free of foreign troops in months if not years—is justifiable from those who were a party to the decision to launch the Kosovo operation?

Mr. Straw: The hon. Gentleman raises the legal base for the action in Kosovo. That was questioned because there was a threat of a veto from Russia and securing a resolution was therefore not possible. I well remember that the action, which I fully supported, was controversial. However, events have shown that it was justifiable. We are currently following through the recent injunctions of resolution 1441, which the United Nations passed unanimously only four months ago.

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