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17 Mar 2003 : Column 718—continued

Hon. Members: More!

Mr. Speaker: Order. [Interruption.] Order.

Jane Griffiths (Reading, East): In the difficult days and weeks that lie ahead, will my right hon. Friend find the opportunity to continue his efforts to persuade his counterparts across the channel in France of the effect that their perfidious action in treating the United Nations with contempt could have, not necessarily for Iraq, but for conflict resolution in the wider world in future?

Mr. Straw: It is fair to say, listening to this debate and taking part in it, that on the whole hon. Members have been unimpressed by the position taken by the French Government.

Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate): In the light of my right hon. Friend's previous replies, does he wish the House to believe that the requests, twice made, of the UN inspectors for more time, most recently not for weeks, not for years but for months, was not a genuine request on the part of those UN officials but a request made at the behest of France, Russia, China and Germany?

Mr. Straw: My hon. Friend raises an important issue. She refers, I believe, to the last report of Dr. Blix, the short one, that he presented to the Security Council on 7 March and to which I referred when I spoke in the Security Council that afternoon, but the simple fact of the matter is that Dr. Blix—his report is published in the Command Paper before me—was referring to the possibility of the inspection process taking not weeks, not years but months in the context of Iraq's full compliance. As I pointed out to the Security Council that afternoon, no one—not the inspectors and no member of the Security Council—has

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ever been able to say that Iraq is in full compliance with the Security Council resolutions that were required of it on 8 November.

Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow): Does the Foreign Secretary not recognise that what really destroys the credibility of the United Nations is not France or any other country following the rules of the UN, but Governments preparing for months for war and planning for war while simultaneously saying that they are going down the UN route but will not accept the use of the veto? As for the use of the veto in the UN, the UK and US Governments between them are responsible for more than 40 per cent. of the occasions on which it has been exercised. The US alone has used it 75 times, mostly on the middle east.

Mr. Straw: Each member of the permanent five of the Security Council has made use of the veto to a varying extent. Let us be clear about this: the difference between 1284 and 1441 was not just the words on the paper, although that was a big difference; the only reason for the difference between Iraq's refusal to let in the inspectors at all after the passage of 1284, and our getting them back, at least, with the passage of 1441—with some compliance on process, but reluctant compliance on substance—is the fact that we backed our diplomacy with a credible threat of force. My hon. Friend must face up to the fact that that is spelled out in chapter VII of the United Nations charter, and that it is others who are undermining the UN's authority if they fail to back this credible threat of force in order to maintain the authority of the UN.

Mr. Tony Banks (West Ham): May I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend, and to the Prime Minister, for all their efforts to get a peaceful resolution to this situation, and for using the United Nations in doing so? However, ultimately we have to accept that we have failed. Regrettably, we are now almost isolated in Europe, which must be very bad for this country. Will my right hon. Friend tell the House what military and political support we expect to get from our European colleagues when the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq takes place?

Mr. Straw: I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for the warm tribute that he paid to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and me, and in view of it I very much look forward to his support in the Lobby tomorrow evening. However, it is a parody to suggest that this issue has separated Europe from America, or the Anglo-Saxons from the Europeans. That is simply not the case; more European countries, across the 25 current or putative members of the European Union, support the position that we take than support the opposite point of view. That has been made very clear in a number of letters from the Vilnius 10 and from the Group of 8, and in a succession of resolutions passed by the European Council and by the NATO Council, which endorse the position that we have taken.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): Would not those countries that believe in proper reconstruction

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of Iraq as a peaceful nation do better to come to London, rather than go to Paris and follow in the footsteps of Mugabe?

Mr. Straw: The French have the chairmanship of the G8, and we look forward to constructive discussions with them about the reconstruction of Iraq.

Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford): Sadly, I am unable to support my Government in this action, but I should tell my right hon. Friend that I believe that the whole House will appreciate what he has said about keeping civilian casualties to a minimum. For many of us, the test of that policy will be no cluster bombs, no depleted uranium weapons, and no targeting of water and food supplies.

Mr. Straw: I acknowledge what my hon. Friend says, and I am sorry that she feels unable to support the Government in the Lobby tomorrow. I will have a separate discussion with her about what she feels are the alternatives, now that we have reached the end of the diplomatic road, I am afraid to say. If I felt that there were a further peaceful alternative apart from the exile of Saddam Hussein, I would take it, because, like everybody else in this House, I hate the idea of war. I no more want military action to be taken than does anybody else.

As for targeting, we have to acknowledge the fact that people will be killed if there is military action, and that some of them will be innocent people. That is the nature of warfare, but I can tell my hon. Friend that every effort is being taken, and will be taken, to ensure that, so far as is humanly possible, the targeting will be very careful, proportionate and designed, obviously, to attack military and legitimate targets, and not anybody else.

Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda): Notwithstanding the statement by the French President last week that he would veto a second resolution in any circumstances—if anything has been reckless in the past few months, that was—surely France and Russia will be critically important if we are to rebuild Iraq, especially if we are also to maintain its territorial integrity. When and how does the Foreign Secretary hope to start negotiations with France and Russia to ensure that that happens?

Mr. Straw: As I have already explained to the House, discussions with our French and Russian—and, indeed, Chinese and German—colleagues continue, and I have made it clear that while there is unquestionably a difficulty between us on this issue, we must not let that get in the way of co-operation on a wide range of other issues, including the humanitarian reconstruction of Iraq should that prove necessary.

Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough): Is it not the case that having decided to go down the collective route through the United Nations, which carried the unanimous approval of this House, and securing resolution 1441, it was incumbent on the Government to continue to go with the collective view of the UN? Does not the failure of the US and Britain to carry their point of view through the Security Council stand us in poor stead as a precedent for dealing with further difficulties that may arise this century?

Mr. Straw: As my hon. Friend knows from her involvement in one of our party's policy commissions on

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foreign affairs, it was the Labour party's preference to seek a second resolution, but it was not a requirement. We have sought to follow the policy of the party as laid out in a clear mandate at party conference and on 27 January. It is a matter of regret that we were not able to achieve a consensus in the Security Council, but it was not for want of trying.

The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell)—whose absence is regretted on both sides of the House—said:

My regret is that some members of the Security Council, having said one thing in the resolution in November, decided to change the meaning of that resolution this year.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East): Tomorrow's Government motion refers to

What does "imminent" mean in that context? Does it mean tomorrow? Will we be informed of the contents of the road map so that we may have a properly informed debate tomorrow?

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