Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Kilfoyle: I am sure the right hon. and learned Gentleman agrees that if we are ever to arrive at the truth of what happened in the build-up to the war, we must dispose of some of the myths. Will he comment on the statement by the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs
24 Nov 2004 : Column 137
Committee not long ago that Iraq was still in pursuit of a nuclear weapon? Does he accept that that was disposed of by the inspectors and monitors and, indeed, by the Iraq survey group itself?

Sir Menzies Campbell: My recollection is that at the famous meeting of the Security Council, which Mr. Colin Powell has had considerable reason to regret, Dr. el-Baradei gave it as his considered opinion that there was no programme to acquire nuclear capability. That was an interesting meeting, as history has demonstrated, because it now appears that the intelligence on which Mr. Powell gave the strongest assurances of the risk that Iraq presented was of little or no substance.

Donald Anderson: I hope that my memory of the work of the Iraq survey group is correct. I seem to recall it being said that the recipe was still there and that, as with cookery, a recipe could not be unlearnt. Two scientists who were present were encouraged to continue their researches. It was said that there was every indication that the infrastructure was intact and that, had that not been contained, the Saddam Hussein Government would have taken substantial action. The intention was there.

Sir Menzies Campbell: The right hon. Gentleman might take that up with the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle), but I am bound to say that the argument, or assertion, that yellowcake was being obtained from Niger—

Donald Anderson: That is a detail.

Sir Menzies Campbell: It seems to me to be a bit more than a detail, as it involves the very material whereby capability could be achieved. Moreover, it could not be verified that the aluminium tubes that were seen as being so important were of sufficient quality to provide the necessary equipment for—I think—the operation of a centrifuge. There may have been an intention, but we do not go to war on the basis of intentions. If we did, we would go to war on a remarkable number of occasions. Even the Defence Secretary might be forced to concede that the British armed forces were subject to overstretch in such circumstances.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall) (LD): May I return my right hon. and learned Friend to the issue of legal justification for the invasion? Both he and I have pressed the Government to present to the House the full judgment and advice of the Attorney-General. The Government have responded that that would be unprecedented. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that as the House was asked in an unprecedented fashion to take a view on the matter, and was given an unprecedented amount of what we now know to have been dodgy intelligence, it would be right for us to see the full advice given to the Prime Minister by the Attorney-General?

Sir Menzies Campbell: My hon. Friend makes two very sound points. We shall see the legal advice eventually—it will eventually reach the public domain. I am in no doubt about that. Had the Defence Secretary
24 Nov 2004 : Column 138
been present, I would have been willing to make a modest wager with him—in the sum of, let us say, £100, to be paid to a service charity—that the legal advice will contain reference to issues of last resort and proportionality. Such issues did not feature in the legal advice as published by the Government. It is perfectly clear now to those who have looked at the matter in the round that the Attorney-General's approach was, shall we say, on a rather more qualified basis than has been asserted on his behalf.

I have no doubt that Parliament has every right to hold the Prime Minister to account. That is why legislation of the kind envisaged in our amendment would, in my judgment, be in the public interest.

It is inevitable on occasions such as this, because of the wide range of subjects covered, that there will be a certain amount of selection; but I do not think that a debate on foreign affairs at this time could do other than give some consideration to the possibility of progress in the middle east. The change in leadership of the Palestinians—along with, it could be argued, President Bush's second and final term—seems to offer unprecedented opportunities for progress, but that will require strong and even-handed re-engagement with the conflict. President Bush recently reaffirmed his commitment to a democratic, independent and viable Palestinian state. We in the House of Commons are entitled to request and require the Prime Minister to hold him to his word.

The bombings must stop, but so must the building of the wall and the building of settlements on Palestinian land. All are forbidden under international law, and international law is most often respected when it is applied without discrimination. I have no doubt—here I echo what was said by the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex—that enduring peace will be built only on dialogue. A settlement that is unilaterally imposed by Israel, of which disengagement from Gaza is only one component, will not resemble the road map, will not bring stability to the region and will further radicalise Palestinian opinion. Lasting solutions cannot be imposed; they can only be agreed.

I take issue with the Government on Darfur. Last week, to the disappointment of many, the Security Council once again failed to take decisive action. The situation has deteriorated over the past few weeks: violence has increased again, and more than 150,000 people are short of food, water and medicines. Yet the United Nations Security Council can only agree to "monitor compliance" with previous resolutions. We should be arguing with far greater vigour for action to force all the warring parties in Darfur to adhere to their ceasefire commitments. When will this country take that crisis seriously? Some 100,000 lives may already have been lost.

We should not allow ourselves to get hung up on the question of whether this is or is not genocide. I understand that certain legal obligations might spring from a determination that what has taken place is indeed genocide, but let us leave that to one side for the moment. Let us look at the nature of the tragedy. Rape, disengagement, expulsion and ethnic cleansing have taken place under the nose of the international community, yet what the Security Council can best do is to "monitor compliance" with previous resolutions. It is shameful, and our Government should be robust in
24 Nov 2004 : Column 139
persuading the international community and those responsible for such matters to be far more engaged than hitherto. Robust and targeted sanctions are urgently required. There should be an arms embargo, an assets freeze and a travel ban on the leaders of the Sudanese Government. The no-fly zone should be strictly enforced, the peacekeeping forces offered by the African Union should be strengthened, and deadlines for progress should be imposed.

Let me turn to Iran. The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons, has to be dealt with through a variety of strategies, including counter-proliferation, containment and, yes, hard-edged engagement as well. That is why I welcome the progress made by the so-called EU 3, and in this regard the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and his French and German colleagues deserve congratulation on their efforts. There are some questions about the agreement to suspend uranium enrichment; none the less, it is a step in the right direction. When these long-term negotiations begin next month, the EU 3 should press hard for a permanent end to enrichment and reprocessing activities, and for much closer monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

As I said, there must be hard-edged engagement, but it must be accompanied by economic and political incentives. I welcome the Foreign Secretary's saying that any military strike against Iran is inconceivable. He is perfectly correct, of course, because any such strike would provoke fierce retaliation and could generate dangerous instability in the middle east and, indeed, in Iraq. However, I cannot rid myself of some apprehension at the suggestion percolating down from Washington that Israel might be seen as a surrogate for military action on behalf of the United States.

Jeremy Corbyn : The right hon. and learned Gentleman is absolutely right about the dangers that exist. What action does he think should be taken in respect of Israel's holding of nuclear weapons and its failure to comply with, or endorse, the non-proliferation treaty? Does he see any way forward in next year's conference?

Sir Menzies Campbell: Israel has of course refused to become a signatory. There is a very strong argument in favour of a WMD-free zone in the middle east, but that can be achieved only if the two-state solution is achieved. I hold no brief for Mr. Sharon's Government, but at the moment I would be unlikely to advise them to rid themselves unilaterally of their nuclear weapons in the absence of a comprehensive settlement. Issues such as those referred to by the hon. Gentleman are germane, of that there is no doubt. But they can form only part of a comprehensive settlement that deals with all the issues, and which is based on—as the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex rightly said—an acceptance of Israel within secure, recognised and guaranteed borders, and on a viable homeland and justice for the Palestinians.

Given that this debate also embraces defence, let me make some observations on it. I do note, however, that, as has been pointed out, there have been a number of recent whole-day debates on the armed services and on procurement. It is conventional to mention with
24 Nov 2004 : Column 140
gratitude and pride our servicemen and women, but on an occasion such as this, when we know that so many of them are actively engaged in dangerous operations, we have a duty to recognise yet again their courage and distinction, and to acknowledge that soldiers have given their lives in Iraq or suffered severe injuries. We should pay tribute to their bravery and their continuing service on behalf of our country.

As the Defence Committee has been at pains to point out, there are strains on defence. The Government have to take this issue more seriously, because it is hard to see that our commitments will reduce. More United Kingdom troops may well be required in Afghanistan, and we may have to take on more responsibility in the Balkans as NATO hands over to the European Union. Indeed, further commitments may arise as a result of the new EU rapid reaction force.

It is right for the Government to argue that we should move to network-enabled capabilities and effects-based warfare, although I wish that we could find a vocabulary that conveys more lucidly exactly what those terms mean. In essence, the Government are saying that our forces need to be modernised and to have the capacity to fight high-intensity wars. Of course that is true, but we must also retain a capacity for conventional warfare, and for conflict prevention and peacekeeping duties.

There can be no question of the Army's standing still, but I argue the case for reform, not reduction. A few weeks ago in Westminster Hall, the Defence Secretary made a powerful case for reform of the Army. Anyone who heard it could not but be impressed and persuaded by it, but what he did not make was a case for reducing the number of infantry battalions from 40 to 36. I do not believe that the necessary reform, which we would all in general accept, can be achieved only through the subordination of existing Scottish regiments and their combining into one super-regiment. I cannot believe that it is impossible to effect necessary reform without breaking the traditions, geographical connections and community relations that have been enormously important to those regiments.

Perhaps it is an improper thing to do, but I have a special case to make on behalf of the Black Watch, which recruits within my constituency. It is being asked to do a difficult and dangerous task, yet in the process of carrying it out, its very future as an independent regiment is under scrutiny. It says a great deal for the morale and professionalism of the Black Watch that it went to do its duty, and that it did so with the distinction and commitment that it has demonstrated in the circumstances. The Government should not abuse that morale or take advantage of that professionalism and commitment. There surely is a solution that would allow the reforms that the Chief of the General Staff thinks essential, and which most of us accept are necessary, without destroying a regimental system in Scotland—I make no apology for this partial, special plea—that has been of enormous importance not only to the Army itself, but to the communities with whom these regiments are associated.

Next Section IndexHome Page