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17 Mar 2003 : Column 712—continued

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North): Does the Foreign Secretary accept that rejecting the road of peace and a legal solution to the problem means that tomorrow or the day after, cluster bombs, depleted uranium, cruise missiles and a panoply of weapons of huge destruction will be unleashed on the people of Iraq? Many will die. Many soldiers on all sides will die. What, in the Foreign Secretary's view, will be the long-term consequences for other conflicts throughout the middle east?

Mr. Straw: What I say to my hon. Friend first is that, as I said earlier, no one in the House has a monopoly on wisdom or morality on this issue, and I hope that we all respect each other's positions. Decisions about military action are very difficult because—my hon. Friend is right—people will be killed if military action is taken. Innocent civilians will be killed. However much the military strive, as they do, to avoid civilian casualties, some will be killed.

My hon. Friend asked what would be the result of military action. Yes, people will be killed, but the result will be better than the result of not taking military action. I am quite clear about that. If we fail to take military action, many thousands more will perish at Saddam Hussein's hand, and the ongoing instability of the region—caused by Saddam Hussein's armaments and weapons of mass destruction—will continue. It is my belief that, just as we found in Afghanistan—an imperfect country, but far, far better than the Taliban regime before—that military action has helped to stabilise the regime and, above all, to liberate the benighted people of that country, so we shall find the same in respect of Iraq.

John Barrett (Edinburgh, West): How will the Foreign Secretary proceed if the Government lose the vote tomorrow, or would that be dismissed as an "unreasonable" vote?

Mr. Straw: We are not intending to lose the vote tomorrow, although we are certainly not relying on the Liberals. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order.

Mr. Martin O'Neill (Ochil): Does my right hon. Friend realise, as one of those who opposed the march

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on Baghdad, that we now face a very different situation from the one that we faced 12 years ago? Is he also aware that those who choose to oppose resolution 1441 now are doing so in the certain knowledge that there will be no military action or military sanctions until November or December of next year, and that to do that is to give away to Saddam Hussein an inordinately long period of negotiation and obfuscation, which has marked the way in which he has behaved in the international arena all these years? We must act now, and we must act quickly.

Mr. Straw: I agree with my hon. Friend. I must also point out to the House that the reason why there was not a march on Baghdad was that the United States Government and the chief of their military staff, the then General Powell, wished to follow United Nations resolutions and decided that they had no United Nations mandate to complete the action on to Baghdad. Many will say, "Would that they had been able to undertake that action to rid the world of Saddam," but I certainly supported the decision not to take action at that stage, because it would have been against the mandate of the UN.

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley): Does my right hon. Friend agree that, with the publication of the road map for Palestine having given real hope for the people of Palestine, the agreement that Iraq's oil should be for the benefit of the people of Iraq and that the United Nations should lead a massive programme of reconstruction and humanitarian support, and the likelihood that we would have got a second UN resolution if it had not been for the French veto, there are now no valid reasons whatever for any Labour MP not to support our Government tomorrow?

Hon. Members: Want to bet?

Mr. Straw: Yes. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that very difficult question, and I agree with him. Of course this is a difficult issue, but I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends, as well as Opposition Members, who take a different view to spell out in detail what the alternative is.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax): Inspectors.

Mr. Straw: I hear an hon. Member saying "Inspectors", but all I say is that to continue with inspectors and to offer more time is not to disarm Saddam Hussein but to allow him to re-arm.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury): The Foreign Secretary knows of the absolutely solid support that he has from the Conservative Benches at this difficult time for the actions that will be undertaken shortly by the men and women of our armed forces. May I ask him, none the less, whether he agrees that the real test of the operation will be whether moderation or fundamentalism ends up being strengthened in the region as a whole? Will he accept it from the many Members of the House with experience of that part of the world that the key test for moderate Arab and Islamic opinion will be whether we and the Americans deliver on the so-called road map, and do not merely talk about it afterwards?

Mr. Straw: Yes, I entirely agree with what the hon. Gentleman says. If we think of all the issues that have led

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to an alienation of Arab and Islamic countries from the west, Iraq is not among them. Most of them are contemptuous of Saddam Hussein, whom they regard, quite correctly, as a terrible follower of Islam. The issue in question is justice for the Palestinians, as well as a viable state of Palestine, within the borders broadly laid down under resolution 242 in 1967, with its own capital, and not just an end to settlements but a removal of settlements and a solution to the refugee crisis. That is absolutely essential at all times, and that need is reinforced by the current crisis.

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton): I welcome what the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Government motion say about the fundamental importance of the road map to middle eastern peace, but will my right hon. Friend give the House an assurance, especially taking into account the terrible slaughter of Palestinian children by Israeli forces during the past few days, that it will not be Ariel Sharon's Government who make the decisions about progress on the road map, but that that will be done by the Quartet and by our own Government, and that the Government will yield nothing on moving towards a just peace settlement with security for Israel and a decent national settlement for the Palestinian people?

Mr. Straw: Yes, I give my right hon. Friend that assurance, and I point out to him, in support of that, that when, I think in great error, the Prime Minister of Israel decided to ban representatives of the Palestinian Authority from travelling to the United Kingdom for a meeting to discuss Palestinian Authority reform, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was determined that that meeting should go ahead. Therefore, we indeed went ahead by using video screens. That was far less satisfactory than a face-to-face meeting, but it sent out a very clear message that we wished, whatever the obstacles, to assist the Palestinians in their reform process and, in doing so, to bring justice to the Palestinians. We shall continue in that endeavour.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): We on the Ulster Unionist Benches supported the Government seeking a second resolution and we regret that it has not been achieved, but is it not unfair of people to undertake an anti-American vendetta and fail to recognise that perhaps Russia and France have their own interests as well? May I therefore press this question: we talk about humanitarian relief afterwards, but what percentage of the $30 million that has already been subscribed to the UN's $130 million humanitarian appeal fund has come from the dissenting nations in the UN? If they are not joining the effort to get rid of Saddam, are they joining the effort to look after the humanitarian interests of the people?

Mr. Straw: I am sorry that I do not have a detailed answer for the hon. Gentleman, but I shall write to him.

Mike Gapes (Ilford, South): My right hon. Friend knows that the Saddam regime practised ethnic cleansing of the Shi'a Marsh Arabs and of the Kurds. He will also be aware that, in the past week, 600 Kurdish families have been driven out of Kirkuk. Does he find it surprising that some people who were prepared to

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support military action against ethnic cleansing in Kosovo without a UN resolution in 1999 are now prepared to oppose action in support of UN Security Council resolutions 1441, 678 and 687?

Mr. Straw: My hon. Friend points to an inconsistency and he is right. People are now passionate about this issue, but I remind the House that people became very passionate and, to a degree, divided over Kosovo; yet in many ways the decisions that we took then were more difficult, because there was no clear legal base, than the decisions that we ought to be taking now in respect of Iraq.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): Given that, in the past, the Government successfully took military action in the Balkans without authorisation from the United Nations, has it not turned out to be a serious mistake by the Prime Minister to expend so much effort in persuading our American allies to go down the flawed route of an unnecessary second United Nations resolution?

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