Previous SectionIndexHome Page


3. Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): If he will make a statement on Government policy on Iraq. [39566]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): The Iraqi regime represents a severe threat to international and regional security as a result of its continued development

12 Mar 2002 : Column 744

of weapons of mass destruction. It has an appalling human rights record using torture and mass execution of political detainees.

Iraq continues to defy the United Nations. Of 27 separate obligations imposed on it by the UN Security Council, Iraq is in clear breach of at least 23. Her Majesty's Government are playing a leading role in establishing a new control regime which better targets the importing of military-related goods to Iraq, while allowing normal civilian goods to be imported without restriction.

The international community's most pressing demand is for Iraq to let the weapons inspectors back and, this time, to allow them to do their job without obstruction.

Mr. Heath: Does the Foreign Secretary agree, in the absence of compelling evidence of complicity, and given the certainty of the disintegration of the international coalition, and given the expectation of mobilisation by Iran and Kurdish separatists, that massive military confrontation with Iraq is certainly not inevitable and would indeed be foolhardy? If so, will he tell us what alternatives he proposes to ensure Saddam Hussein's compliance with UN resolutions?

Mr. Straw: As far as compliance with the United Nations resolutions is concerned, we in the United Kingdom Government are doing a huge amount of work, in which I have been involved from the day I assumed this office, to secure a more targeted regime of controls of exports to Iraq. We now have the agreement of the Russian Federation for the principle of what is called a goods review list; I hope very much that, when resolution 1382 comes up for renewal, it will be put fully into effect.

As for compelling evidence, I simply say to the hon. Gentleman that there is a huge amount of published compelling evidence about the complicity of Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi regime in the production of weapons of mass destruction. When they were in Iraq, the United Nations weapons inspectors discovered chemical and biological weapons and missile parts buried in the desert, and concealed in caves and railway tunnels. They also discovered large quantities of chemical warfare agents, including Sarin, Tabun, mustard and nerve gases. Iraq was also producing biological warfare agents such as anthrax, botulinum toxin, gas gangrene and aflatoxin. The weapons inspectors were unable to account for 4,000 tonnes of so-called precursor chemicals used in the production of weapons, 610 tonnes of precursor chemicals used in the production of nerve gas and 31,000 chemical weapons munitions.

In these circumstances, in our judgment it is more important than ever that inspectors from the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission and the International Atomic Energy Agency be given access to all relevant sites, to be allowed to inspect freely wherever they want to, at whatever time they wish to. That is the action which Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi regime must take to come back into the international community, for what lies at the heart of this issue is the rule of international law.

There have been nine United Nations Security Council resolutions, none of which Saddam Hussein has complied with in full, and 27 separate obligations upon Saddam Hussein of which he is in blatant breach of at least 23,

12 Mar 2002 : Column 745

notwithstanding the overwhelming and compelling evidence of his involvement in developing and producing weapons of mass destruction.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley): As my right hon. Friend has said, the Iraqi regime is guilty of the most awful human rights abuses. He also said that international law was important.

I chair an organisation called Indict. It is funded by the United States Congress, and its main aim is to collect evidence against the Iraqi regime on charges of human rights abuses. Two years ago I took a file to the Attorney-General containing evidence, which can be tried in British courts under universal jurisdiction and the Taking of Hostages Act 1982, of human rights abuses perpetrated by the Iraqi regime.

Why, two years later, when a leading Queen's counsel says that we have enough evidence to bring this case to a British court, has the Attorney-General kicked it into the long grass by sending it to Scotland Yard? Why is a case not being brought? Surely that is a better option for dealing with the Iraqi regime than some of the options that are at present being considered.

Mr. Straw: I pay tribute to the work that my hon. Friend has done over many years in standing up for the cause of human rights and against the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq. My hon. Friend will appreciate that the main point that she raises is a matter for the Attorney-General, but given the seriousness of the matters that my hon. Friend has raised with me, I will readily take them up with the Attorney-General and have a meeting with her.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): Does the right hon. Gentleman understand that many of us are very concerned about the talk of pre-emptive military action against Iraq? Many of us do not believe that it is as yet established that there is a sufficient requirement for that. Would the right hon. Gentleman ensure, first, that before he has further substantial discussions with the United States Government he holds a full debate in the House, so that the views of hon. Members can be identified? Secondly, will he ensure that if we are to have military action at any stage, that will be made the subject of a substantive vote on which the House can express its opinion?

Mr. Straw: I would welcome a debate on the matter. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman will understand from his experience as a Minister, this is a matter for the usual channels to sort out.

As for further debates, the right hon. and learned Gentleman is aware of the conventions of this House about the basis on which military action is decided. There is an argument for those conventions to be changed, but those are the conventions. But of course, as far as this and preceding Governments have been concerned, whenever military action has been determined, the House has had a crucial role to play. In respect of matters following 11 September, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister ensured that Parliament was recalled from recess not once

12 Mar 2002 : Column 746

but twice, and there were five separate debates—all in Government time—on Afghanistan between September and December.

David Winnick (Walsall, North): Is my right hon. Friend aware that if military action were to be taken against the Iraqi dictatorship, many of us who fully supported the campaign in Afghanistan would have to be satisfied, first, that it is absolutely essential, secondly, that it is according to international law—I cannot emphasise that enough—and, thirdly, that the Iraqi dictator has not allowed the weapons inspectors back in? A great deal depends on the line that he takes over allowing back in those inspectors, who can check and verify weapons of mass destruction.

Mr. Straw: I entirely applaud my hon. Friend for being concerned about military action, because we all should be. It cannot be ruled out in this situation, but no one who is serious should contemplate the prospect of military action unless, as he said, there is the clearest possible evidence of the necessity for it and, alongside that, unless there is a clear need for military action to be taken when other practical measures have failed. I do not believe that anyone looking at this matter inside and outside Government is taking any different approach from that.

Certainly, we want the weapons inspectors to go back, but that has to be on the basis that they are admitted in circumstances in which they can properly do their job and are not subject to the kind of restrictions that Saddam Hussein imposed upon them in the period up to 1998.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife): The Foreign Secretary was right to remind us of those UN resolutions of which Saddam Hussein and Iraq are in breach. Does he understand, as Mr. Cheney will find as he tours Arab capitals, that there is a strong sense among Arab Governments that we are inconsistent in our determination to apply some UN resolutions, but not all, and that there are other countries in the region that could well be taken to task for their failure to implement UN resolutions, not least 242 and 338? Does he agree that military action and the abandonment of the strategy of containment and deterrence can be contemplated only after all other reasonable alternatives have been explored, and with a proper understanding of the possible political and military consequences, including the break-up of the coalition against terrorism and, equally, the break-up of Iraq? As the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) drew to our attention, should not any British participation in military action be dependent upon an affirmative vote in the House of Commons; not just for the Members of the House of Commons, but so that the people of the United Kingdom can be satisfied that these issues have been properly explored?

Mr. Straw: I dealt with the right hon. and learned Gentleman's last point in answer to the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford, etc. [Interruption.] It is his penalty for having such a long constituency name. I strongly accept that we do not take military action without clear and compelling evidence—I have read out some of that—and take it only where it is clear that it is, as it were, the last resort. So far as the view of the Arab community is concerned, it is profoundly concerned about

12 Mar 2002 : Column 747

the middle east and it wants to see 242 and 338 implemented; so do the rest of us. However, there may at least be a process to achieve that.

At the same time, many Arab leaders whom I have met express, privately if not publicly, the gravest possible concern about the threat that the Iraqi regime has posed and continues to pose to the stability of the region, as well as about the appalling record of that regime—unparalleled in its depravity—against the Iraqi people themselves.

Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North): I appreciate that—so far—the response to 11 September has been calm and measured, as the Prime Minister said, but does my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary understand the concern caused by those members of the Bush Administration who seem gung-ho about starting wars with various unconnected countries, and who even contemplate nuclear first strikes against countries that do not possess nuclear weapons, as well as against those that do?

Mr. Straw: If I accepted the assumption behind my hon. Friend's question, I would share his concern, but I have not met members of the Bush Administration who are gung-ho. [Interruption.] The ones whom I have met are careful and cautious. Of course, I understand the anxieties, which are expressed on both sides of the House. However, if we judge people by their actions and decisions—rather than by the noises off of their most extravagant supporters—the fact is that every decision that President Bush has taken in the international field since assuming his very high office has been careful, cautious, proportionate and within international law, and has enjoyed the support of the international community. I have no reason to believe that future decisions that he takes will be any different.

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes): The Foreign Secretary has already clearly shown that Saddam Hussein possesses a vast arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, and that he continues to develop such weapons. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that Saddam has shown that he is prepared to use them aggressively, not least against his own people; that he regards the United Nations and its resolutions and inspectors with contempt; and that, unchecked, he poses a growing threat to the union and beyond? Is it not an overriding responsibility and objective to stop Saddam, and to decommission his weapons of mass destruction before he uses them—or gives or sells them to others to use? Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that he shares that serious objective with our American allies, and that nothing—nothing—must be ruled out as a means of achieving it?

Mr. Straw: I have already put on the record a synopsis of some of the compelling evidence against Saddam Hussein, the danger that he poses and his continual flouting of the obligations of the international community and the Security Council of the United Nations. We should not rule out possible actions if Saddam Hussein does not comply with international law, but we have to be very careful in this situation. We must be cautious and proportionate, and ensure that the decisions that we take have the support of the international community and are consistent with international law. As I said a moment ago,

12 Mar 2002 : Column 748

nothing in my discussions with members of the Bush Administration suggested that they have in mind anything other than proceeding in that way.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): What is the Foreign Secretary's response to the King of Jordan, one of this country's best friends in the middle east, who says that a military attack on Iraq would be a catastrophe?

Mr. Straw: We understand the vulnerability of Iraq—[Hon. Members: "Jordan."] Sorry—we understand the vulnerability of Jordan. I think that it receives all its oil from Iraq, so it is in a very difficult position. At the same time, I greatly applaud the stand taken by the King of Jordan and his Government. If military action is in contemplation—it is not directly in contemplation at the moment—there will be the fullest possible consultation with all Arab states, and particularly with allies such as Jordan, before any decisions are taken. However, my discussions with the Government of Jordan demonstrated that every single member—from the highest level downwards—is profoundly concerned about the threat that the Saddam Hussein regime poses to their people and to the stability of the region.

Next Section

IndexHome Page