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Mr. Ancram: The Foreign Secretary is setting out some important facts, and we are grateful to him for doing so. He says that Iraq, which is, I agree, a very important subject, has now been debated three times since Junetwice on Conservative motions and once on a Liberal Democrat motion. If it is so important, why
Mr. Straw: I appreciate that the Opposition are in a state of terminal torpor, but I should have thought that even they would spot the improbability of our tabling, in Government time, a resolution calling for a judicial inquiry into the cause of the war. However, should lightning strike and a Conservative Government appear, perhaps we can look forward to such eccentricity.
On whether I have kept hon. Members informed about issues that relate to Iraq, even my worst enemy would accept that I have been assiduous in going to and from the House. I have made endless statements and I have not waited to be asked here. I have also appeared before the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Intelligence and Security Committee. Several debates on defence motions have taken place in Government time.
Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda): Before the Foreign Secretary was interrupted, he was setting out some of the ongoing issues in Iraq. I am sure that he has noticed that the Conservative motion refers to an inquiry into not only what has happened but into the aftermath of the war in Iraq. Does my right hon. Friend believe that the aftermath is over or has the process of bringing democracy only just begun? Is not the motion at least premature?
Mr. Straw: An inquiry into the aftermath would be a huge diversion of effort. Whatever people's views on the causes of the war, there have already been two full inquiries into the background to the decision to go to war and there is also the Hutton inquiry into one aspect. There has therefore been more extensive investigation into the causes of the military action than into any other such action in our history, leaving aside large-scale wars such as the second world war.
Mr. Leigh: We should all like one central question answered, and my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary posed it in his few remarks. At the time of going to war, was evidence of the existence of weapons of mass destruction available to the Government? If so, will the Foreign Secretary share it with us?
Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak): Has not the Hutton inquiry exposed the inadequacies of the parliamentary inquiries into the reasons for going to war? Would not a full inquiry establish what the Government knew or know about links between the Iraqi regime and al-Qaeda? The Prime Minister said that there were unquestionably links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda and the Secretary of State for Defence said that there were clear links although he did not know precisely what they were. Yet when the Minister for Trade and Investment was asked directly about that, he did not mention any links between the Iraqi regime and al-Qaeda, and the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport told the Press Gallery:
Mr. Straw: We certainly do not need a judicial inquiry to establish a negative. I have been absolutely clear about that, and my hon. Friend can go though all the things that I have said in the House and elsewhere. I never sawtherefore neither did my right hon. Friend the Prime Ministerany evidence linking al-Qaeda with the events which took place on and before 9 September. There was tenuous evidence, at best, relating to possible links after that date.
We never suggested for a second that there were any links, particularly given what I have just said, remotely related to the case for war. As I shall show, that case was directly relatedthat was the heart of the issueto Iraq's palpable failure to meet its obligations under international law in a string of United Nations Security Council resolutions over 12 years.
The issue of Iraq landed on my desk within two weeks of my arrival in my post in June 2001. Why? Because of its palpable failure to accede to its obligations under Security Council resolution 1284, which required the regime to readmit United Nations weapons inspectors. Their position had been made untenable and they had to withdraw at the end of 1998 because of the behaviour of the Saddam regime. In the first half of last year, our concern increased greatly and we wanted the international community to take Iraq more seriously and recognise that the policy of containment was not working.
Moreover, we wanted the matter to revert to the United Nations. The dossier that was issued on 24 September was published in response to many demands, not least from the Foreign Affairs Committee. It set out the case for dealing with the problem of Iraq, but neither purported to make nor made the justification for military action. The history of the period will show that, between the date of its publication and 29 May this year, the dossier was remarkable only for the lack of attention that it received.
Parliament debated Iraq at a recall sitting on 24 September 2002. During the following weeks, I worked hard to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis. Negotiations with my counterparts on the United Nations Security Council culminated in resolution 1441, which was passed unanimously on 8 November.
Mr. Miller: I want to follow up the question that I asked the shadow Foreign Secretary. I presume that the evidence adduced in the resolution was based not on the whims of politicians but on proven facts provided by inspectors.
Mr. Straw: My hon. Friend makes my point. It was based on the experience and judgment of 15 sovereign member states of the United Nations. The entire membership, including Syria, concluded that Iraq posed a threat to international peace and security. That conclusion was reached not as a result of American pressure or any insights from a British dossier but from members' experience of Iraq and their assessment of the threat from the regime.
Syria knows rather more about Iraq than any other member state of the United Nations because of its proximity to that country and its once close association, from which it has subsequently detached itself, with the Ba'athist regime. Those who know Syria and my counterpart there, Dr. ash-Shara, realise that he is no United States puppet, still less does he take orders from us. He knew what the resolution said and he decided that Iraq posed a threat to international peace and security because of its proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. I have been asked what the evidence was and I point out that Syria had sufficient evidence to reach that conclusion. It knew that the rest of the resolution declared that Iraq had remained in material breach of resolutions going back to 678 and 687. Resolution 678 authorised all necessary means and resolution 687 widened the scope of that. Syria's conclusion was based on its experience.
Moreover, the Security Council was clear in resolution 1441. It warned Iraq that it had a final opportunity to comply. It defined a further material breach, having already stated that Iraq remained in material breach. Operational paragraph 13 stated that "serious consequences" would follow if it failed to comply. Diplomatic parlance is often ambiguous, but on that occasion, every nation, including Syria, that voted for the resolutionand Iraq, the subject of itwas under no illusion about what "serious consequences" would entail.
Mr. Straw: I shall give way to the right hon. and learned Gentleman shortly, but I want to concentrate on the heart of the case that the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) made. He argues that there should be an inquiry into the contents of the intelligence dossier. I shall show later that such inquiries have already taken place. They are more substantial and, I dare to say it, independent and systematic than the commission of inquirythe Franks inquirythat the right hon. Gentleman gave as Mrs. Thatcher's example that we should follow. Either that is the nature of the inquiry that the right hon. Gentleman wants, in which