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18 Mar 2003 : Column 899—continued

Mr. Salmond: If this war goes ahead, the minimum cost if it is quick war will be $100 billion, which is 30 times the annual budget of the United Nations for peacekeeping and 20 times its annual budget for development and humanitarian relief. Can the Foreign Secretary offer us any indication that there will be a change in those ratios?

Mr. Straw: The hon. Gentleman speaks with great confidence about the costs of reconstruction. I do not have his confidence in his figures. I say to him that Iraq is an astonishingly wealthy country. The oil is important to this extent: it has the second largest oil reserves in the middle east. One of the other agreements clearly reached in the Azores, which must also be endorsed by a United Nations Security Council resolution, which we shall propose, is that every single cent and penny of those oil revenues are not plundered by Saddam Hussein and his friends, but used for the benefit of the Iraqi people. I am quite clear that, when that happens, the costs of reconstruction to the rest of the world will be remarkably insignificant. I also tell the hon. Gentleman that we have already provided funds for contingency work to ensure the smooth passage of the reconstruction work. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development is travelling to New York tomorrow to see the Secretary-General of the United Nations further to co-ordinate that work.

Mrs. Mahon: Will the Foreign Secretary tell us now exactly what the cost of this war to the British Exchequer will be? Does he agree that many pensioners

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and students who are in favour of free grants and do not want top-up fees would rather that that money was spent on them, including his own son?

Mr. Straw: My hon. Friend has many arguments against military action, and I respect her for them. However, we cannot reduce the value of doing right to the price of a student grant or loan. We should not indulge in that sort of calculus. Of course, I cannot say precisely what the cost of military action will be. However, I know that if we fail to take action in the face of an obvious evil and an unresolved problem, the costs not only to the international community but, over time, to this country and the rest of the world will be calculable and high.

Sir Patrick Cormack: Will the Foreign Secretary remind those who are considering voting for the amendment that, however pure their motives—I do not dispute the purity—if it is carried, Britain's influence in the world will be destroyed for a generation?

Mr. Straw: I am glad that the hon. Gentleman made that point. Those in government and those who aspire to it cannot have it both ways. Many hon. Members, not in the main parties, claimed that we would never go to the United Nations and that military action would be taken without a mandate. We cannot go to the United Nations and argue for a fresh resolution—as we did, with the House's support—get a mandate, stand up and claim that words mean what they say and subsequently resile from that at the moment of difficulty and withdraw our troops. The hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) is right.

Mr. George Howarth: Does my right hon. Friend accept that those of us who fervently hoped for a second Security Council resolution had the option removed by President Chirac, not the Security Council? Does he further accept that that leaves anyone sensible who has considered the issues no option but to support the Government?

Mr. Straw: It appears as though the French Administration may be changing their position. At 5.22 pm, the BBC News website stated:

I say to the Liberal Democrats that they should not be behind Chirac.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Straw: In a few minutes, we shall vote and I shall therefore not take any more interventions.

We are about to vote on the most crucial issue that has been before the House in the 24 years that I have been privileged to represent my constituency of Blackburn. I have been present when military action by British troops has been debated. However, never before, prior to military action, has the House been asked on a substantive motion for its explicit support for the use of our armed forces. The House sought that, but, more important, it is constitutionally proper in a modern democracy.

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The substantive motion places a heavy responsibility on each of us. We will carry it for years to come. The choice is not easy for any of us. In our previous debate on 26 February on the subject, I said that the issue was the most difficult that I had ever had to tackle. That is truer today. I did not want the country, the Government or the House to be placed in our current position. Like my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and many others, I have worked for months for a peaceful resolution of the crisis. However, I am as certain as I can that the Government's course of action is right.

We are where we are. We all wish that the world was different and that Saddam Hussein had actively, fully and immediately complied with his disarmament obligations. However, he has not done that, and, however much they may have resisted the conclusion, no one, either today or in New York in the four Security Council meetings that I attended, has had the thought in their heads, still less the words in their mouths to claim that Saddam Hussein has fulfilled the full and immediate compliance that was required of him.

So, what are the responsibilities placed on us? First, we have clear duties to our troops in the field. I do not claim this as a conclusive argument—of course not. I do say, however, that if our troops go into battle, those young men and women—constituents of every Member of this House—need to know not that this motion has scraped through, nor that some here have willed the end but not the means, but that they, our troops, have the fullest conceivable support from each one of us.

Then there are the responsibilities that lie at the very heart of this debate—namely whether we seek the exile of Saddam Hussein, and, if that fails, his disarmament by force. For me, now, there is no other alternative, and nothing that I have heard today seriously suggests otherwise. I have already dealt many times with the issue of containment, but let me repeat that containment is not the policy set out in resolution 1441. Containment failed when the inspectors had to leave in 1998. We first had to resort to Desert Fox to set back Iraqi WMD facilities. Then, in December 1999, there was Security Council resolution 1284, which represented an attempt to offer Iraq a new way to peaceful disarmament while containing the Iraqi threat. Months of negotiation followed, and a new inspection regime. But three permanent members failed to support the resolution, Saddam said no, no inspectors were allowed to return, sanctions were eroded, and containment was left weaker than ever.

The world did nothing—until last year, that is, when President Bush's speech to the United Nations General Assembly on 12 September invited the UN to reconsider its approach. The United Nations embraced that invitation, and what it agreed—which was encapsulated in 1441—was not containment but a realisation that containment and the exhortation of Saddam Hussein had run their course and had failed. In their place, there was a new strategy for the active disarmament of the regime, backed by a credible threat of force—a threat that, if it is to be credible, has to involve the actual use of force if and when the threat itself has failed to work. As Sir Jeremy Greenstock told the Security Council when resolution 1441 was passed, there was indeed "no

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automaticity" about the use of force: it was entirely conditional on Saddam Hussein's compliance or otherwise with the resolution.

In the debate today, some have said that we should have shown more flexibility and offered more time. We did both. We offered great flexibility and clarity about the terms of the ultimatum, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister spelled out. We also said—I said—to our five permanent colleagues that if the only issue between us and them over the ultimatum was more time than the 10 days that we had allowed, of course we could negotiate more time. But no country that has asked for more time has been prepared to say how much more time should be allowed before time runs out. None of them is prepared to issue an ultimatum. In reality, they are not asking for more time. They are asking for time without end.

The fact is this: Saddam will not disarm peacefully. We can take 12 more days, 12 more weeks, or 12 more years, but he will not disarm. We have no need to stare into the crystal ball for this. We know it from the book—from his record. So we are faced with a choice. Either we leave Saddam where he is, armed and emboldened, an even bigger threat to his country, his region and international peace and security, or we disarm him by force.

I impugn the motives of no one in the House. The different positions that we have taken all come from the best, not the worst, of intentions. But as elected Members of Parliament, we all know that we will be judged not only on our intentions, but on the results, the consequences of our decisions. The consequences of the amendment would be neither the containment nor the disarmament of Saddam's regime, but an undermining of the authority of the United Nations, the rearmament of Iraq, a worsening of the regime's tyranny, an end to the hopes of millions in Iraq, and a message to tyrants elsewhere that defiance pays.

Yes, of course there will be consequences if the House approves the Government's motion. Our forces will almost certainly be involved in military action. Some may be killed; so, too, will innocent Iraqi civilians, but far fewer Iraqis in the future will be maimed, tortured or killed by the Saddam regime. The Iraqi people will begin to enjoy the freedom and prosperity that should be theirs. The world will become a safer place, and, above all, the essential authority of the United Nations will have been upheld. I urge the House to vote with the Government tonight.

Question put, That the amendment be made—

The House divided: Ayes 217, Noes 396.

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