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Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD): This is a rather ambivalent occasion on which the House is both united and divided. Truly, the murder of Mr. Bigley was an act of gross inhumanity and barbarism. Words are inadequate to describe the fear, humiliation and pain that he must have experienced as his life was cruelly and wantonly taken from himan act later to be made the subject of a macabre video.
As the Foreign Secretary has generously acknowledged, the Liberal Democrats supported the Government on this matter. I hope that he will understand when I say that we did so with a heavy heart, because we could foresee the consequences. Like the Foreign Secretary, we, too, wish to acknowledge the dignity and courage of Mr. Bigley's family, on whose emotions his captors played with a total lack of moral scruple.
I very much regret that in spite of the spirit of the first part of the Foreign Secretary's statement, I am unable to share the Government's conclusions about the ISG report. The Foreign Secretary acknowledges that the report shows that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and no programmes of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. He tells us that there was an intention. There was indeed an intention, but, to quote the report, there was
"no formal written strategy or plan for the revival of WMD after sanctions".
That prompts me to ask the Foreign Secretary how the regime can be said to have been working flat out to rebuild its WMD capability if it had no strategy or plan for doing so. Does he now accept that there was no "real and present danger", no "serious and current threat", and, as revealed by the leaked Foreign Office documents, from some of which the Foreign Secretary emerges with some personal credit, the true objective, 12 months in advance of military action, was regime change? Does he accept that regime change is illegal in international law, as is military action based on an unspecific intention to acquire weapons of mass destruction in future?
Mr. Straw: First, I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for what he had to say in respect of the Bigley family. As I said, notwithstanding other differences on Iraq, I greatly appreciate that the whole House and the whole country came together as they did. It made my life a lot easier having the full co-operation of the right hon. Gentleman and also the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram).
Let me deal with the ISG report. For the convenience of the House, I have appended the relevant document to the written text of my statement. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is right to say that there was no formal written plan, but that needs to be seen in the context of the ISG report.
The hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell)I almost referred to him as a right hon.
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Member, but I do not want to undermine the integrity of the Privy Council. [Interruption.] Hon. Members say that it is just a matter of time. The hon. Gentleman said that there was no plan, but in fact there was. It is clear from the ISG report that Saddam operated at the level that he did, not by formal written documents, but by making clear his intentions to others and by running a reign of terror. In discussing the ISG's conclusions in an interview with Jon Snow last week, David Kay, Duelfer's immediate predecessor, said:
"This regime of Saddam Hussein acted as if it had weapons."
That leads me on to the right hon. and learned Gentleman's final point, concerning whether Iraq was a danger. Well, the whole international community came to that judgment. As page after page of the ISG report shows, Saddam was working to degrade the sanctions effort by playing it long with, and seeking to divide, the international community, and by seeking to bribe many of its key actors. At the same time, he was working to maintain his capability of rebuilding very quickly his chemical weapons programme in particular, and part of his biological weapons programme. By God, if he had been allowed to succeed, he would indeed have re-emerged very quickly as a greater threat than before.
Donald Anderson (Swansea, East) (Lab): It is of the utmost importance that the full election timetable be continued until Januaryeven if there are certain no-go areas, where there will have to be some postponementbecause any major postponement would be construed as a victory for the insurgents. I was struck by my right hon. Friend's saying that he stressed to the UN Secretary-General that it is vital that the UN increase its presence. Does that imply that he is currently not satisfied with the number of UN personnel present? Of course, the movement of key personnel is restricted to the green zone because of the outrage in August last year. If my right hon. Friend is so dissatisfied, what are the prospects of the UN increasing its presence?
Mr. Straw: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right about postponementwe have to drive ahead with this timetable. The UN's presence is not as adequate as we all hoped, including the Secretary-General. The key problem is security and ensuring close protection for deployed UN personnel, so that they can get outside, and for their bases. This morning, I was on the telephone to one of the contributor countries to the multinational forceI shall not mention which oneto ensure that it provides active support and supplies protection equipment for one of the countries that, we hope, will be deployed very quickly. The situation is, I think, going to get better. Meanwhile, I pay tribute to one member of UN personnel who is already on the ground: Mr. Carlos Valenzuela, the UN elections expert. He is doing a brilliant job in guiding and advising the already established independent elections commission for Iraq, and he is ensuringuntil now, at leastthat the elections programme is on time.
Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park) (LD):
The report states in its key findings that, if Saddam had acquired weapons of mass destruction, he would have used them
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primarily against Iran and Israel and to improve his status in the Arab world. Does that not again highlight the importance of the middle east peace process, and is it not essential that we do something now, together with our European Union partners, rather than waiting until after the American elections in November?
Mr. Straw: I completely agree that a resolution of the entire middle east problem, and above all of the conflict between Israel and Palestine, is fundamental to stability in that region and in the rest of the world. The European Union is doing what it can, but it is just a fact of life that the United States is one of the four key partners in the Quartet. Everybody in the EU understands that unless we can bring the United States with us, our ability to influence one of the key parties to the conflictIsraelis limited.
Mr. Robin Cook (Livingston) (Lab): I fully accept the statement of my right hon. Friend that, at the time of the invasion, there were questions unanswered. Will he accept in return that, whatever else the ISG report might show, it comprehensively demonstrates that there was no immediate threat from Iraq? Would it not have been wiser to give Hans Blix the extra few months that he asked for to find the answer to those very questions?
On the current position in Iraq, has my right hon. Friend seen the recent figures from the Iraqi Ministry of Health, our own allies, which show that two thirds of the civilians killed in the last six months died as a result of coalition bombing? Will he redouble his efforts to convince the Pentagon that, if we are to succeed in winning over Iraqi opinion, they need to show the same restraint shown by British forces, and to remember that they are in Iraq to keep the peace, not to wage a war?
Mr. Straw: In a spirit of friendship and comradeship, I will not embarrass my right hon. Friend by pointing out all the things that he said when he was in my position about the threat posed by Saddam and his weapons[Hon. Members: "Go on."] No, I will leave that aside. The heart of the argument in March 2003 was whether we could allow Dr. Blix and his colleagues more time to complete their inspections. The problem was that, although we wanted to allow Dr. Blix more time, there was not an effective international consensus for doing so. I made a statement on 10 March that year, following the failure on 7 March in respect of the sixjust sixkey points that the Security Council published for Saddam to consider. We would have accepted his agreementwe were going to take yes for an answerand I should also point out that Dr. Blix went through those six key points. The whole purpose was to establish a clear template by which we could judge whether or not Saddam was complying with Security Council resolutions. It was Saddam who refused.
Meanwhile, there was a fact of life that we had to deal with. One permanent member of the Security Council said that "whatever the circumstances"the exact phrase usedFrance would veto any decision in respect of military action. The only reason we got inspectors back into Iraq, following their being driven out by Saddam in late 1998, was thanks to the massing of troops and the threat of military action. A failure to follow through that threat would have led not to
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Dr. Blix being able to complete his task, but to the degradation of the whole policy of containment. Saddam would have got what he wanted.
That was the argument, and I accept and respect the fact that my right hon. Friend took a different view. But I can honestly say that I have been through this issue many times, and that we did our best to persuade Saddam to give us a yes for an answer. We would have taken it, and no, we would not then have sought regime change. It would have been impossible for the Prime Minister or me to come to this House and seek support for military action if Dr. Blix had at any stage said that Saddam had complied. However, he had not.
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