Previous SectionIndexHome Page

24 Sept 2002 : Column 7—continued

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green): Let me start by thanking the Prime Minister for providing me with a copy of his statement and the Government dossier in advance of today's debate. I am relieved that this evidence has finally been made public and hope that hon. Members will have time to digest it before taking part in the debate.

Many will want to argue today about the conduct of American foreign policy, the degree of influence that the UK Government have with the Bush Administration, and whether Britain is simply following the United States. That is not, I believe, what this debate should be about in any way. The key question is whether Saddam Hussein has the means, the mentality and the motive to pose a threat to Britain's national security and the wider international order.

As to the means, we know that Saddam used chemical weapons during the 1980s and developed biological weapons at the same time. David Hannay, our former ambassador to the United Nations, has stated openly that Iraq would have been a nuclear power by the mid-1990s had the Gulf war not intervened. The evidence produced in the Government's report shows clearly that Iraq is still pursuing its weapons of mass destruction programme. As the Prime Minister says, the policy of containment is not working. The ex-head of UNSCOM, Richard Butler, said that the UN was unable to destroy Saddam's biological and chemical weapons capabilities.

The Government dossier confirms that Iraq is self-sufficient in biological weapons and that the Iraqi military is ready to deploy those, and chemical weapons, at some 45 minutes' notice. We also know that three years ago Iraq attempted to get enriched uranium from Serbia in the dying days of the Milosevic regime—evidenced and documented. Today, the report says that Iraq has sought to acquire uranium from Africa and is trying to turn it into weapons-grade material. No doubt during this debate some will want to quote the former UN weapons inspector, Scott Ritter, who apparently said last week:

Let me give them this warning. That was not Mr. Ritter's assessment four years ago when he was inspecting the very sites that he now talks about.

24 Sept 2002 : Column 8

He said then:


He went on to say:

So Saddam has the means. There should be no doubt about his mentality. He has fought a protracted war with Iran costing at least a million lives, gassed his own Kurdish population, persecuted the Marsh Arabs, invaded and occupied Kuwait, and launched missiles against Israel and Saudi Arabia. He has been willing to defy the world order and terrorise and starve his own people in order to continue his weapons programme. He has diverted $3 billion in the last year alone for that very purpose; money that could have gone to feeding his own population.

So the only question remaining is whether Saddam has the motive to strike against Britain, and I believe that it is fair to assume that he has. We have repeatedly supported Security Council resolutions against Iraq, we were a major component of the allied coalition during the Gulf war, and today British forces are still engaged in Iraq policing the no-fly zones to protect Kurds in the north of the country and Shi'ite Muslims in the south.

The report shows that Saddam has illegally retained at least 20 al-Hussein missiles, with a range of 650 km, capable of carrying the various warheads that he needs, and that he is also developing new ones.

I remind the House that there are more than 3,000 British service men and women in Cyprus, 200 in Turkey, 300 in Saudi Arabia and 400 in Kuwait, all of whom are in range of the missiles that Saddam possesses today.

Notwithstanding that evidence, there are still a number of important questions that I should like to ask the Prime Minister.

Will the Prime Minister confirm that any new Security Council resolution must set out the precise terms under which Iraq is to dismantle and destroy its weapons? Will he give a clear timetable for that and an unequivocal declaration that failure to comply will trigger military action?

Given that the Prime Minister has said that Saddam is already in breach of nine existing resolutions, can he confirm the legal advice that he has received and whether we need a new Security Council resolution to take military action under international law?

I am reminded of the words of the Prime Minister's then Foreign Secretary, the current Leader of the House, who, in December 1998, said that we had

to take military action against Iraq, and that those resolutions had warned Saddam of

to stop his weapons of mass destruction programme.

Will the Prime Minister also say what resources Britain would be likely to contribute in the event of any military action? Will he tell us what plans the Government are making should Saddam be removed from power, as he indicated earlier, and whom he has met from many of those Iraqi opposition groups that now seek to take Saddam's place?

24 Sept 2002 : Column 9

No one wants to see British troops or any other troops engaged in war. War should be the last resort when all other efforts have failed, but Britain should never shy away from its responsibilities in a time of international crisis. As King Abdullah of Jordan only a few days ago said:

Those who refuse to contemplate military action at any price must ask themselves how we are to force Saddam to comply with UN resolutions that he has flouted for a decade. They must also ask themselves why only now, under the threat of military intervention, has he talked about letting the UN weapons inspectors back.

History is littered with the desire of decent people to give the likes of Saddam Hussein a second chance, but he has had 10 years of second chances. Now, surely, is the time to act. This matter is now in Saddam Hussein's hands.

The Prime Minister: I think that I can reply to the right hon. Gentleman very briefly, and I thank him for the general support that he has given in his response to my statement.

I want to emphasise these points. First, it is important to remember that we do not merely have British service men in that region; our planes and our pilots are involved in policing the no-fly zone the entire time. It is not something that gets into the news every day, but British service men and women are already out in that area performing a vital task in relation to the Iraqi regime.

In respect of the new UN Security Council resolution, its precise terms are obviously a matter of discussion but we should be absolutely clear and unambiguous about what is expected from Saddam and about what will follow if he does not comply. In respect of the legal advice, we do not disclose such advice but, of course, we will always act in accordance with international law.

In respect of any military options, we are not at the stage of deciding those options but, of course, it is important—should we get to that point—that we have the fullest possible discussion of those options and of how we ensure that we enforce the will of the international community. I have not personally seen the opposition Iraqi groups but I know that the Government are in touch with them.

It is worth emphasising that the purpose is the disarmament of Iraq, and that decision—as the right hon. Gentleman mentioned a moment ago—is for Saddam. I do not think, however, that people should be in any doubt or have any illusions about this. The people who would rejoice the most at getting rid of Saddam are the Iraqi people.

Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Inverness, West): This important opportunity provided by the Prime Minister's statement, the publication of the accompanying dossier and the debate that will follow gives all of us a chance, after the long summer recess, to reflect the legitimate anxieties of our constituents and, in particular, the representations that many of us have received from the Muslim community in this country. This also gives us the opportunity to raise legitimate questions, a number of which have not yet been adequately answered for many of us, either by the Prime Minister's statement or by the dossier.

24 Sept 2002 : Column 10

There is, of course, general consensus that Iraq constitutes a grotesque, amoral regime, and that that must be dealt with. I say to the Prime Minister, however, as I did when I questioned him in the House just before the summer recess, that there are two important issues involving founding principles. The first is the role of the House of Commons. There is no specific proposal before the House today, but, if and when there is one, there must be an absolute, up-front opportunity for the House to vote on any proposal involving the possible use of British forces. In his statement today, the Prime Minister said that the House would be kept fully "in touch". Does "in touch" mean a democratic Division in the Lobby of the House?

The second consideration is the overriding supremacy of the United Nations. In the penultimate paragraph of the preface to the dossier, the Prime Minister states:

weapons of mass destruction—

That stands, at least rhetorically, in contrast to some of the recent statements that we have heard, this week alone, from the American Administration.

I do not believe that the Prime Minister has been subject to fair criticism over the intensive international effort that he has made since the events of 11 September, or the efforts that he has made to invest the United Nations with its proper authority. I urge him, however, to continue to resist calls—whether they come from certain people in this country or from others in the United States—for precipitate action. In that context, he is surely right to lay emphasis on the fundamental need to restart the middle east peace process.

Those of us who have never subscribed to British unilateralism are not about to sign up to American unilateralism now, either.

What we must be clear about—the Prime Minister touched on this at some length—is the notion of regime change, which is ill-defined, and remains so today. It would set a dangerous precedent in international affairs. We have to be clear about the possible consequences of a regime change. What will the reaction be in the rest of the Arab world? If Saddam's regime falls, what kind of government system is envisaged as a replacement?

In his statement, the Prime Minister spoke about the need for Iraq to be led by someone who variously can abide by international law, bring Iraq back into the international community, make the country rich and successful, and make its Government more representative of the country. However, he was silent on the question of who or where that person or set of people is. The Prime Minister, quite rightly, with our support and that of others, was able to point to the mobilisation of forces in Afghanistan, which could lead to an alternative, more acceptable Government there. Is there the capacity or potential for a similar mobilisation to take place within Iraq?

In the context of Afghanistan, the Prime Minister made it clear that, if such a course of action proved successful—which it did—this country and the international community would then not walk away. Is a similar

24 Sept 2002 : Column 11

approach being identified for Iraq? Does such an approach encompass the mindset of the present American Administration? If we were not to walk away following the toppling of Saddam, who would provide the necessary presence to police and create the ongoing stability in Iraq that would be essential because of the shell-shocked nature of that country?

When the American Defence Secretary speaks of a "decapitation strategy" with a view to Iraq does he reflect the mind processes of the British Government? Should we not instead be talking about the longer-term need for a rehabilitation strategy for Iraq, not least for its innocent, oppressed people with whom none of us has any argument whatever?

On the question of the UN weapons inspectors, the report makes it clear that, despite the conduct of the Iraqi authorities towards them, they have

They are therefore best placed to assess the situation, and that is why the political emphasis must be on getting the UN inspectors back in. The worry from this side of the Atlantic has to be that, even if that were conceded, it is no longer of primary interest to the United States Government. That must be a deep concern, which we in this House are correct to reflect.

Finally—[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] I am only asking questions unasked by the leader of the Conservative party. Does the Prime Minister truly believe that, on the evidence published today, a sufficient case has now been made that both clarifies Iraq's present capacity, as well as its intent?

There is much that will unfold, but it is vital that the British Government maintain their moral authority, the authority of this House and of the United Nations, and do not at any stage in the weeks and months ahead overlook the decent moral instincts of our country, which deserve to be heard here today.

Next Section

IndexHome Page