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17 Mar 2003 : Column 715—continued

Mr. Straw: No, I do not accept that. Yes, we played our part in persuading the United States Government to go down the UN route but, in the end, they are, of course, responsible for their own decisions. It is my belief that the standing of the United States in the world, as well as the authority of the United Nations, has been greatly reinforced by the decision that President Bush made, and announced on 12 September last year at the General Assembly, to support the UN, not only in respect of its actions on Iraq but in many other ways. If, as I believe it is, it turns out to be necessary for military action to occur in Iraq, international consent will be greatly broadened by the fact that we tried every diplomatic means possible to resolve the crisis peacefully and under the aegis of the United Nations. What we are now doing is seeking to enforce the authority of the United Nations when it said many years ago, and repeated just four months ago, that, if necessary, serious consequences would follow for Iraq for its failure to comply with UN obligations.

Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews (Medway): The Foreign Secretary will be aware that many Members on both sides of the House and many people in the country believe that the much-demonised French are not isolated in the Security Council or in international chambers in their opposition to this war. In those circumstances, why have we not had the courage to go back to the Security Council in order to test, at the very least, the true weight of world opinion?

Mr. Straw: I thought that I had explained that to the House. [Hon. Members: "No."] I am not demonising anybody; I am simply laying out the facts of the matter and they are straightforward. My hon. and learned Friend is acquainted with the words of the law so I am sure that he will be almost as familiar as I am with the terms of 1441. As I have already explained to the House, that laid out a clear set of obligations on Iraq and a process for the United Nations. We were following that process because of Iraq's non-compliance. We were

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close to achieving a consensus and were in exactly the same situation as we were shortly before we achieved consensus on 1441. Then, a week ago today, President Chirac came along and said in terms that, whatever the circumstances, France would veto a second resolution. That is what he said and it paralysed the negotiation process. The responsibility for there not being a second resolution, which was never needed legally although we would have preferred it politically, does not rest on the shoulders of the United Kingdom Government.

Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle): Although we now face the bleak prospect of war, the Foreign Secretary has gone out of his way in recent weeks and months to keep the House up to speed with all the developments in the diplomatic field. Likewise, we have received numerous statements about military preparations. However, we have been kept woefully ignorant about contingency planning for the humanitarian crisis that will surely follow military action. When can we expect the Secretary of State for International Development to stop grandstanding in the media and actually come to the House, face up to her responsibilities, make a statement and answer questions. If she will not come to the House, will the Foreign Secretary send her successor tomorrow?

Mr. Straw: I believe—I say this in all seriousness—that no one in the House has done more for the cause of international development than my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. That happens to be true. Her dedication and commitment to the cause is huge.

The hon. Gentleman asked a serious question. We were reluctant to come to the House and spell out the detailed arrangements with respect to humanitarian aid because we were hoping against hope that there could be a peaceful, diplomatic solution to the crisis which, yes, would keep Saddam Hussein in place—so the issue of humanitarian relief would not arise—but would at the same time disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction. I accept that we have almost certainly passed that point, and of course in the days and weeks ahead statements will be made to the House about our plans for humanitarian relief and reconstruction; but those plans are already contained, in outline, in the motion that we will present to the House tomorrow.

Dr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East and Musselburgh): Will my right hon. Friend confirm that when resolution 1441 was passed China, Russia and France issued a joint statement making it clear that their support for the resolution did not constitute an endorsement of military action? Far from the credibility of the UN being safeguarded, is it not the case that this war is not backed by a second resolution because there is currently no support in the Security Council for an attack on a sovereign state?

Mr. Straw: I think there is support for the enforcement of the will of the United Nations. This should not be parodied as an attack on a sovereign state. The only state that has gratuitously attacked other sovereign states without any justification or cause in the last 15 years is Iraq, which attacked first Iran and then Kuwait.

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It is true that China, Russia and France each issued what is called an explanation of vote—as did we—saying that resolution 1441 did not provide for automaticity in respect of the use of force. We said the same. There was never provision of an automatic figure for the use of force. What resolution 1441 did anticipate was that if Iraq failed to comply with its obligations there would be a process, and serious consequences would follow. That is exactly the procedure, and the law, that we are following.

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire): The Foreign Secretary has the capacity to evade this question, but I hope he will answer it with candour. How will he and the Government respond if over time it can be shown that an attack on Iraq has prompted or caused sustained international terrorism in the United Kingdom and abroad rather than preventing it?

Mr. Straw: I am afraid I do not accept that the way to oppose terrorists is to appease tyrants.

Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough): Should the House not be encouraged by the fact that, tomorrow or the day after, it will have an opportunity to vote for a motion calling on Her Majesty's Government, on an urgent basis, to return to the UN Security Council to pass a resolution providing for Iraq's borders, for the release of its oil, for humanitarian aid, and for human rights for all Iraqis—Shi'ites, Kurds and those in Saddam City?

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the French President will shortly host a meeting of G8 nation states in Paris? Will that not provide an opportunity for members of the international community to join the Security Council in enhancing the international reconstruction to which he has referred?

Mr. Straw: My hon. Friend mentioned the G8 meeting. There are of course differences—well aired today by Members, including me—between international partners; but in all the discussions I have had in the past week with my fellow Foreign Ministers, including the French, Russian, Chinese and German Foreign Ministers, I have emphasised the need for us to ensure that the United Nations stays together as far as possible, and also that we use other international institutions, including the G8, as a means of providing funds for reconstruction.

We say in our motion that the Security Council resolution that we will seek will aim to secure a swift end to sanctions. I think the whole House is united on the need for a swift end to sanctions in appropriate circumstances. Again, I ask those who doubt the wisdom of military action what is their alternative. How do we end not only the tyranny of Saddam Hussein but his impoverishment of his own people over 12 weary and long years?

Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): Even if Saddam Hussein will only be disarmed by force, can the Foreign Secretary explain why the interests of Britain and Europe, international security and the authority of the UN are better served by taking action this week, backed by only two permanent members of the UN, with no majority in the Security Council, when six or seven more weeks of giving peace a chance and the

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inspectors a chance might produce all the permanent members, the Security Council and the Secretary-General of the UN, and have real authority? Why is that a less good option?

Mr. Straw: I think that the hon. Gentleman was trying to give a rather poor imitation of the French, German and Chinese proposals.

Simon Hughes: Why is it less good?

Mr. Straw: Let me just explain. Those proposals were to make use of the provisions of resolution 1284, for which those countries did not vote in the first place and which have no teeth whatever. What France is proposing is exactly what the hon. Gentleman is proposing—that there should be 140 days and then a report, then another 140 days and then a report, and then another 140 days.

Simon Hughes indicated dissent.

Mr. Straw: That is exactly what the hon. Gentleman is proposing. It is a means not of dealing with the issue but of avoiding the issue, which is exactly where the Liberals are on every issue.

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