Previous SectionIndexHome Page

14 Apr 2003 : Column 624—continued

The Prime Minister: My right hon. Friend is exactly right. There is now a great chance for peace and stability in the middle east. It obviously depends in part on Iraq making the transition that we want to see. It depends, as my right hon. Friend rightly says, on us making progress in the middle east peace process. I hope that Prime Minister Sharon's interview today indicates that he is aware of Israel's responsibilities in that regard. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to point out that we have to deal with those who would try to upset any peace process by terrorism. That means not just the individual people carrying out terrorist acts, but also the states, groups or people who support terrorists in that work. Every terrorist activity undermines the prospect of the peace process working.

Sir John Stanley (Tonbridge and Malling): Does the Prime Minister agree that, while the continuing danger to our forces on the ground most certainly must be recognised and given the highest priority, it is of fundamental importance in this sensitive period of transition to peace that the firing self-discipline of all coalition forces continues to be maintained?

The Prime Minister: I agree with that entirely.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): The Prime Minister said that there were "no plans", as he put it, to invade Syria or to take action against Syria, but does not he know that there are people in Washington with an agenda—James Wolsey in particular—who go on and on about the need for regime change in other countries of the middle east? Do we have the unambiguous assurance that the British Government will not in any circumstances support military action against Syria?

The Prime Minister: I said that there are no plans whatever to invade Syria. All sorts of things may come

14 Apr 2003 : Column 625

out of the newspapers about various conspiracy theories to do with parts of the American Administration, but I have the advantage of talking regularly to the American President and I can assure my hon. Friend that there are no plans to invade Syria. What people are saying, however, is that it is important that Syria does not harbour people from Saddam's regime or allow any transfer of material from Iraq to Syria. I have spoken to President Assad and he has assured me that that is not happening. I have told him that it is important that he makes sure that that assurance is valid.

Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire): Does the Prime Minister agree that one of the unfortunate consequences of the conflict in Iraq has been that, while the eyes of the world are understandably concentrating on Iraq, other evil tyrannies and despots are taking advantage of that to increase the oppression of their people? Will the Prime Minister show the same qualities of political courage and resolve that he has shown in the conduct of the military campaign in Iraq in a diplomatic campaign to deal with such evils? I am thinking especially of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, where the British Government have not shown sufficient determination.

The Prime Minister: We must make sure that we take every action that we can in respect of what is happening in Zimbabwe, which is a terrible and appalling situation. It is something that we discuss regularly not only with our American allies but with others in Europe. There must also be concerted action by countries in the region.

Mr. Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley): The Prime Minister will be aware of the valiant role of service personnel from Northern Ireland, including those in the Royal Irish Regiment and the Irish Guards. We now have a problem in policing the new situation. Will the Prime Minister consider drawing on the expertise of officers who served in the Royal Ulster Constabulary for 30 years and who took premature retirement?

The Prime Minister: May I, first, join in congratulating the Royal Irish Regiment and the Irish Guards on performing quite superbly in Iraq? We should look at using retired RUC officers. Indeed, the Defence Secretary tells me that representatives of our UK police have gone out to Iraq to see what assistance we can give. Obviously, former members of the RUC, for very obvious reasons, have particular expertise.

Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South): How convinced is my right hon. Friend that the Americans will take an even-handed approach to the Palestinians and to the Israelis in getting a middle east settlement? I am sure that he knows that there is deep suspicion in Muslim communities that those approaches are not very often even-handed.

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is right; there is a lot of scepticism—indeed, cynicism—in certain quarters about whether the words that we have spoken recently in relation to the middle east peace process are meant and are genuine. I believe that what President Bush has said he means, and it is worth pointing out that the road

14 Apr 2003 : Column 626

map is important in part because it was drawn up by the US, but also by the EU, Russia and the UN. That is an indication of it being even-handed. The point about the middle east peace process now is that we have an objective that is agreed by everybody—President Bush was the first American President to articulate it—and it is a two-state solution, based on Israel confident of its security and a viable Palestinian state. That gives us a sound basis for hope in the future.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough): There is obviously a pressing public relations need to have coalition troops patrolling the streets of Iraq's towns and cities as quasi-policemen, maintaining law and order, but will the Prime Minister assure the House that nothing will be done unnecessarily to damage the security of our troops, given that Iraq is still a very dangerous place?

The Prime Minister: Yes, and that is a very valuable point, and it is why the judgment must be left to the commanders on the ground. Where they can and do judge that it is safe for soldiers to patrol in berets and so on and move to a different method of patrol—almost a policing method—they do so, but that has to be their decision, and it would be wrong to put the security of our troops at risk in any way. I simply say that, in the aftermath of the collapse of the regime, it is inevitable that there will be a certain amount of disorder and problems, but it is interesting that in some of those cities, not least Basra, where a week ago those problems were very serious, they are at least now looking a lot better. There is still a distance to go, but they are looking better.

Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge): If it is found or strongly suspected that members of Saddam's regime are taking shelter in Syria, or that Syria is hiding weapons of mass destruction, what action would my right hon. Friend take to persuade Syria to give them up?

The Prime Minister: We have said that Syria should hand any people from the regime who may take refuge in Syria to the coalition forces. I have to say in fairness that the President of Syria has said that he does not believe that there are any such people in Syria. In relation to chemical weapons, I have nothing to add to what I said earlier, but there are conventions governing these things to which countries who have such weapons should be signatories.

Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher and Walton): The excellent military campaign that has got rid of Saddam Hussein's regime is, obviously, to be welcomed, but will the Prime Minister clarify something that he said in his statement? He said that the war was about ending the brutalised state under Saddam Hussein. Was that actually the war objective?

The Prime Minister: No. The objective is to make sure that Iraq is effectively disarmed of weapons of mass destruction, but while Saddam's regime refused to co-operate fully with the UN inspectors and refused to give up those weapons, its removal became an objective of ours, so things proceeded in that way. I think that I have said before, and I will say again, that although the

14 Apr 2003 : Column 627

reasons for our action and its legitimacy had to be contained within the issue of weapons of mass destruction, the appalling nature of the regime is a reason why we did take and should have taken that action with a strong heart and a good conscience.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax): May I put it to the Prime Minister that the whole world saw the priorities of the United States when it guarded the oil ministry but stood by while other ministries were trashed by looters, and while the national museum and three or four hospitals were trashed? Many of us who opposed the war did not believe that the reason for it was to get rid of the elusive weapons of mass destruction, and are even more convinced that the United States and the United Kingdom invaded Iraq to get at the oil.

The Prime Minister: I have learned that nothing that I can say will eliminate people's conspiracy theories. The UK is a net exporter of oil, so we have no need of the Iraqi oil. Secondly, we and the US have made it clear that any oil revenues will go to the Iraqi people. Some indication of our good intent was surely shown in the renewal of the United Nations oil-for-food programme.

In relation to ministries in Baghdad, it is important to realise that the soldiers were going into a situation in which there were up to several thousands of snipers and people fighting in the streets, who were not necessarily armed with heavy weaponry but who intended to kill as many American soldiers as possible, and they could not provide immediate security cover to all the parts of Baghdad that they would have liked to have covered. It is important to have a sense of awareness of the dangers that American forces still face in those areas. It is not an easy environment in which to exist, but I know that they will do their level best to protect hospitals and sites of interest as soon as they can do so.

I simply say to my hon. Friend that I have had discussions on this matter for months and months, before the conflict began, and, clearly, I have intensive discussions on a daily basis. Not a single discussion that I have had with the American President has been about our desire, need or intention to get our hands on Iraqi oil.

Next Section

IndexHome Page