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Dr. Lewis: I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I have barely begun to be pious; I have a lot more piety left in me. In referring to Falluja, he has reminded me of the report that says that after the attack on Falluja, al-Zarqawi was in the hands of American forces but unfortunately was not recognised and was allowed to go free. I am happy to acknowledge that that was a failure—but had he been recognised and not been allowed to go free, that operation would have been justified by his capture alone.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea spoke with massive authority, and although I do not agree with him on this occasion, it is always an intellectual treat and an object lesson to hear him present his case. I was slightly surprised at the rather strict criteria that he applied to the basis for military interventions. He said that they should happen
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only when a country is attacked, or where a treaty with another country triggers us to go to war. I was surprised that he did not also mention the newer criterion of humanitarian intervention, although I would not argue that it was cited in the case of Afghanistan or Iraq.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind: I did in fact mention a third consideration that might justify war: when there is a sufficient degree of international support, through the United Nations Security Council or even some other method, to give legitimacy to action that would otherwise not be defensible.

Dr. Lewis: That is exactly what my right hon. and learned Friend said, but he did not say that when the country in question is not being attacked or about to be attacked—be it one's own country or a country for which one has responsibility—there is a newer, more debateable criterion: that a humanitarian disaster is unfolding in that country. I am sure that he had that in mind in outlining his third criterion, but he did not mention it. I make that point because it illustrates that international law is not set in stone; it evolves as time goes on.

We have to recognise that the threat currently faced by western countries is so irregular and so unmindful of existing laws and conventions—indeed, those responsible for that threat deliberately set out to flout them—and so new, involving as it does the existence not only of weapons of mass destruction but of groups who, if they got their hands on those weapons, would unhesitatingly use them, that international law may need reviewing. Those who do not recognise that point presumably argue that in no circumstances should we intervene—not even if the country in question makes the most reckless and bellicose pronouncements, and not even if there is high-grade intelligence suggesting that its Government are about to acquire weapons that could well be passed to groups that would unhesitatingly use them.

That was the basis on which the Prime Minister convinced the House of Commons that we needed to act, and at that time Ministers had good reason to believe that that was the true situation. I only regret that certain notorious spin doctors were allowed to over-egg the pudding. The lesson of history is that if we are honest with the British people about the limitations and content of our knowledge they will trust us, and that we betray that trust at our peril.

Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge) (LD): I am listening to the hon. Gentleman very closely. He made the case for a pre-emptive strike where there is an imminent threat, but he seemed then to wander away from that, almost implying that a case exists for pre-emptive strikes in general. Does he think that such a case could be made in respect of Iran?

Dr. Lewis: What I am saying is that there are conceivable circumstances in which military action might be necessary even if a threat was not imminent, if a country that was not bound by the normal conventions, understandings and value systems of the international community were about to acquire mass destruction weapons. I do not think that, under the existing narrow interpretation of international law, such a situation would count as an imminent threat. I say
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quite clearly that I believe that there are some circumstances in which some regimes should be prevented from acquiring weapons of mass destruction. I make no apology for saying that—and particularly not to the hon. Gentleman, who came late to the debate, although I was delighted to take his intervention.

I will conclude my remarks by making a couple of brief references to the other contributors. The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Havard) made a strong defence of Parliament having its say, even when it can be embarrassing to one's own side. My hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Holloway) made a strong point about the apparently conflicting motives of our strategy in Afghanistan, but I have referred to that already. In support of what he said, I draw the House's attention to an article in today's Financial Times, "Afghan officials face public fury as farm aid fails to materialise". It refers to one of the more northerly provinces and quotes the district governor in that impoverished area as saying:

The disappointment that has arisen in that part of Afghanistan at the failure of compensation for not growing opium to arrive is clearly proving a source of grave irritation, friction and potential danger for our forces.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) took the radical view that a process of managed partition—what he called a velvet revolution—might be the answer to the situation in Iraq. I commend him for persevering with a view that at present may seem unorthodox. The strange thing is that solutions that start out by seeming unorthodox sometimes end up being adopted and vindicated in the future.

The hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell), as always, spoke up for the Army units based in his constituency. Again, he took the very robust view that we should stay as long as the Iraqi Government want us to. I have already referred in suitably complimentary terms to the excellent contribution by my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate.

In conclusion, the Committee has done a great service to the House of Commons, both by putting the Ministry of Defence on the spot about the inadequacy of the detail with which the estimates have been put forward and also, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea pointed out, by giving us an opportunity to debate some of the substantive issues that the Government have not been in a hurry to bring to the Floor of the House, at least since the general election. The Government should have the courage of their convictions. There is nothing to be afraid of in airing these matters in the House of Commons. Various Labour Members have debated them time and again when the opportunity has arisen. We debate these matters without rancour. We do not always come to an agreement, but at least we agree that the opportunity for a debate provides the best possible way of allowing an intelligent electorate to make up their minds.

6.13 pm

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): Any debate that has the word "defence" in it usually ends up being wide ranging and the situation is
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no different today. We have covered quite a gamut of subjects, but there has been a core to the debate. I will do my best to reply to all the points that have been raised. It is always useful in a winding-up speech to be able to say, "If time permits," but I am conscious of the fact that there is quite a lot of time available, which will mean that I may have to expand on some answers because I do not have answers to other points.

Let me just make this point in passing to the right hon. Member for North-East Hampshire (Mr. Arbuthnot), who opened the debate. It was not long ago that he was a Minister. I suppose that if he had laid down new reporting procedures for the Department when he was there, this debate would be taking place in a different context. Only he can say why he did not think it necessary at the time to push for that. However, the Committee has raised issues that have provoked debate on matters of interest, which I will seek to address—perhaps not wholly satisfactorily today, but I will indicate the way forward on that. I also thank him for the considered way in which he opened the debate. He could have taken longer, as it turned out, and helped me by leaving a shorter time for my winding-up speech. His favourable comments on the role of the Defence Procurement Agency—there is also the Defence Logistics Organisation, which he did not mention—in the processing of urgent operational requirements were well made. Those organisations work extremely hard. The issue is not just about those who are seeking to purchase; as he knows only too well, it is also about those who are seeking to deliver. Sometimes the industry is in-house, sometimes it is external, but it really delivers for us in these times of urgent need. I will deal with the key elements of the report.

I want to deal with two major contributions, although I will try to deal with all the contributions. I welcome the hon. Member for North Devon (Nick Harvey) to his new role. This is a more substantial debate than he experienced in his early introduction to that role. He should keep a close eye on the Order Paper because he is likely to be busy in the period ahead and he may reflect on why he took on such a task. I do not underestimate the massive learning curve experienced by all of us who become engaged in defence, but if that means that there is an opportunity to score political points off him, I will. I was not clear whether he supports the expenditure that we are now committing to the conflict in Iraq.

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