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18 Mar 2003 : Column 896—continued

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): This has been a fine debate on a momentous issue. There have, as we heard, been 52 speeches from the Back Benches and I commend them all. I should particularly like to welcome back the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell). It is a real delight to see him in his place. The right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) spoke with feeling and for the House when he said that we have sorely missed him—a point to which I shall return, if tempted, in a moment.

It is invidious to pick out from those 52 speeches any for special mention, but I do pick out two—one made this afternoon by my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham). I greatly regret the fact that he has chosen to resign. I do not happen to share his view, but I have to say, first, that I greatly admired his record as a Minister in two Departments, and I think that the whole House was impressed by the quiet and dignified way in which he made his speech of resignation.

That gives me an opportunity to put on record my appreciation for my right hon. Friend and my friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), my predecessor as Foreign Secretary for four years, a very fine Foreign Secretary, and an excellent Leader of the House. I am sorry that after great years of collaboration in the shadow Cabinet and in government, he has left the Front Bench. That will not reduce our respect or friendship, but it will necessarily reduce our opportunities to work together. I am especially sorry that it should have happened on an issue such as this, on which there are great divisions, and it is not possible for me, and I think I can speak for the whole Government, to support his position.

The other speech I particularly wanted to mention, and I hope that in so doing I do not undermine the great prospects ahead of him, is that of the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), the former leader of the Conservative party—and who knows what is in store in the future? He made a very powerful case for the need for us, not only in the UK, but in Europe and the international community, to work in partnership with the United States rather than separate ourselves from the United States. He is right, because of simple facts that none can gainsay: the United States has one quarter of the world's wealth and income, and armed forces greater than those of the next 27 countries put together. The issue is not whether we can argue that the United States is the only superpower. It is whether and how we encourage the United States to work within the multilateral system, or, by our own actions, push the United States away and force it to become unilateral.

The right hon. Gentleman's dismissal of the leader of the Liberal Democrats will be recorded as one of the great parliamentary put-downs of all time. When he spoke, the House was fairly crowded, and I am sorry that it was less crowded when the Liberal Democrat hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr. Burnett) spoke, because hon. Members missed an absolute gem.

Mr. Burnett: Will the Foreign Secretary give way?

Mr. Straw: I shall in a moment, but I wanted to do the hon. Gentleman honour and flatter him by repeating

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precisely what he said. We were spellbound for seven minutes and 30 seconds as he made a powerful case against the amendment and in favour of the Government's motion. We were waiting to see whether the iron discipline of the Liberal Democrat party would, for once, break down and a man of conscience and principle would stand up—and of course he will in a moment. Then, in the last 25 seconds of his speech, the hon. Gentleman turned on his head, span around and explained how he would vote for the amendment.

Mr. Burnett: Will the Foreign Secretary give way? [Laughter.]

Mr. Straw: Of course, that is only a minor error as far as the Liberal Democrats are concerned. The hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) asked whether, in view of the hon. Gentleman's statement that he would vote in favour of the amendment, he would, if the amendment were lost, then vote with the Government. This is what the hon. Gentleman replied—I wrote it down exactly. He said, "I shall make my position quite clear. I shall probably have to abstain." [Laughter.]

Mr. Burnett: We will see what Hansard says tomorrow. Like other hon. Members, I shall abstain on the motion. I am surprised that the Foreign Secretary plays games on such a serious occasion. I made it clear that there is much in the Government motion that I can support, but, for example, I cannot support the proposition—and there is an overwhelming weight of opinion against it—that

That is simply not the case.

Mr. Straw: Very good. There is nothing more to say. I will just add, before I move on to other matters, that we have seen more each-way bets placed by the Liberal Democrats this evening than ever we see on a grand national.

Before I come to the central issue of Iraq, let me say a further word about the related and very important issue of Israel and Palestine. It is as important for the future stability of the region as the disarmament of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Our aim remains a just and lasting settlement of the disputes between Israel and her Arab neighbours. That settlement must allow for a secure state of Israel and a viable and secure state of Palestine, consistent with United Nations Security Council resolutions and the principle of land for peace.

There are, I know, many criticisms, and many were expressed today, of the position of the United States Administration in respect of Israel and Palestine. That debate is for another time. However, I draw attention to the fact that in addition to resolutions 242 and 338, we now have Security Council resolutions 1397, 1402 and 1405. Those were put on the Security Council statute book with the support and at the instigation of President Bush of the United States. Never before had the United Nations committed itself to a two-state solution. It has done so now, and I commend the President of the

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United States, as well as the Security Council, for taking that bold step. It is crucial that we ensure that progress is made towards the implementation of that vision of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side.

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield): I applaud the efforts of my right hon. Friend and those of the Prime Minister in bringing about the road map. Let us all hope that it turns out to be rather more than the basis for discussion, as President Bush said. There are three people who are likely to use the situation in Iraq for their own ends and use the Palestinians to that end. One is Saddam Hussein, who will attempt to dupe the Palestinians into thinking that he is their saviour, and he is not. The second is Osama bin Laden, who will try to use the situation to create the idea of a general war between Islam, and Christianity and Judaism. The third is likely to be Ariel Sharon, who may well use the situation in Iraq to strengthen the occupation inside the west bank. If he attempts to do that, perhaps as the price of his non-participation in the war in Iraq, can my right hon. Friend give an assurance that that will be resisted absolutely?

Mr. Straw: I understand my hon. Friend's concerns and I greatly applaud his work on behalf of the Palestinians. Whatever reservations he or others in the House may have about Prime Minister Sharon, Prime Minister Sharon is the elected head of a democratic Government. I do not happen to agree with my hon. Friend and I do not believe that it is fair or reasonable, therefore, to compare Prime Minister Sharon with the tyrant Saddam Hussein or the terrorist Osama bin Laden. Of course, if there is military action, as well there may be, it is incumbent on all Governments and states, especially democracies—that includes Israel and Turkey—to act responsibly, and I believe that they will do so.

Mr. Francois: The Foreign Secretary has just described Saddam Hussein as a tyrant, and I entirely agree. Throughout the debate, Members in all parts of the House have criticised Hussein's regime as evil. Is it not appropriate tonight, therefore, to remember Burke's famous dictum that all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing? Should not hon. Members bear those words in mind as they prepare to go through the Lobby?

Mr. Straw: That is good advice, but I also say to the hon. Gentleman, as I said yesterday, that none of us should claim a monopoly of morality or a monopoly of wisdom. Each of us must respect the position of the other.

As the Prime Minister spelt out earlier today, we greatly welcome the process of Palestinian reform, which has led this evening to the passing of legislation by the Palestinian Legislative Council to create a Prime Minister with Cabinet-making powers. It has confirmed the nomination of Abu Mazen as Prime Minister. That legislation has this evening been signed and approved by the President of the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Arafat. After a few formalities, which we expect to occur today, and when the appointment of Abu Mazen is confirmed, we expect the immediate publication of the

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Quartet's road map. I greatly welcome President Bush's announcement last Friday to that effect. That will be another very important step forward.

The road map charts a clear course to a resolution of the conflict of the kind that I have described within three years. The promise that I give to this House is that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, I and the Government as a whole will fully and actively support the Quartet and the parties in its implementation of the road map. We will hold all the parties to the promises and pledges that they have given.

During the course of this debate, a large number of questions have been asked about humanitarian relief. I should say that the House has been greatly assisted in its consideration of questions of humanitarian relief in Iraq by the fourth report of the Select Committee on International Development, which was presented just a week ago. One of the propositions in a list of recommendations made by that Select Committee was that there had to be a new United Nations Security Council resolution to provide proper authority for reconstruction and redevelopment work, and, in addition, a proper mandate for any Government who are to operate within the territory of Iraq once Saddam Hussein is removed. As the Prime Minister, President Bush and Prime Minister Aznar agreed in the Azores on Sunday, such a new resolution will be put before the Security Council. I hope very much that it will attract the fullest possible support, whatever position Security Council members have taken on the issue of military force in Iraq, and that the United Nations will be fully and actively involved in the reconstruction effort.

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