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24 Sept 2002 : Column 34—continued

Mr. Hilton Dawson (Lancaster and Wyre): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Straw: I am just coming to a conclusion, if my hon. Friend will allow me.

This resolution—if we get it through, as we believe we should—should allow for an early test of whether the latest Iraqi offer is genuine. But if it is to have any effect on Iraq, it must, under chapter 7, carry the implicit threat of force.

We should all be gravely exercised by the potential use of force, because innocent people are killed by the use of force and because we in government expect our troops to go into action and put their lives, and their futures and those of their families, on the line. I hope and pray that it will not come to a use of force. If there is military action, any participation in it by Her Majesty's Government would be strictly in accordance with our obligations in international law, and its purpose would be the disarmament of the Iraqi regime's weapons of mass destruction and an end to its deliberate and persistent flouting of the will of the United Nations.

The choice is Saddam's. He has flouted international law and poses a serious and significant threat to the region and beyond, yet this threat can be resolved without force, by full disarmament verified by the inspectors. I hope that he makes the right choice. It is true that we, too, face some uncomfortable choices. But if Saddam continues to defy the international community, the alternative—us doing nothing—will be much worse. We will have re-empowered a monster.

We faced difficult choices over Kosovo, Afghanistan and Sierra Leone, but does anyone now say that we should not have taken action in respect of those countries? Eleven years ago, we faced difficult choices over Iraq, but to have stood by, then, and allowed Saddam free rein across the Arab world would have had dire and incalculable consequences for the region and for international security.

Abdication of responsibility, and equivocation in the face of evil, led Europe down a desperate path in the late 1930s. From the ashes was born the United Nations, and a new international order. But this international order requires law, and law requires enforcement. That is the issue before us today.

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1.36 pm

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes): It is right that Parliament has been recalled to debate the serious and unfolding situation with regard to Iraq. It is also right that it does so in the light of the dossier published earlier today. I have to say, though, that it is regrettable that we have not been given more time fully to absorb the contents of that dossier before beginning this debate.

Over the past few weeks, there has been much discussion of the threat of weapons of mass destruction, of the evil intentions and history of Saddam Hussein and of the prospect of war. As a result, there has also been much concern, some of which I suspect we will hear forcefully and sincerely expressed today. I hope that all of us in the House will listen to those views with respect.

We support the Prime Minister's stance today. We share his analysis of the threat. We support the Government's attempts to secure a firm resolution from the United Nations Security Council. We, too, would like to see this issue resolved without recourse to armed intervention but, like the Government, we accept that military action may well in the end be necessary; and if it is, we will support it.

I want to set out our position on this issue as concisely and clearly as I can. I, too, have questions to ask and I will be seeking clarifications. We on the Opposition Benches are not pressing for war. We do not want war, and we do not seek it. I have spent a significant part of my political life working for peace, but not peace at any price: not peace at the cost of evil and destruction; not peace at the expense of the overriding duty to protect our citizens; and certainly not an uneasy peace for the short term leading to a greater violation of real peace in the longer term. If there is to be war, it must be because there is no other effective or lasting way of achieving our prime objective. That objective—as the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have said—has always been and must continue to be the elimination of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.

We now know from the dossier that the weapons exist or, at the very least, are in the course of development. We know that they will pose an increasing threat if their development is allowed to continue. The truth is simple. Biological and chemical weapons are lethal and they know no boundaries in the hands of wicked and unscrupulous men. We know that the next generation of delivery systems that Iraq is trying to obtain from North Korea will bring Europe within the range of these weapons. We know that nuclear capability is not far off, and we know that all this is in the hands of a megalomaniac who will have no scruples about using it to achieve his ends. There is no question but that the threat is there, and that it is real.

Paul Flynn: On the question of the perpetual nature of the Opposition's dealing with Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, will the right hon. Gentleman look up a question asked in April 1990, in which the then Conservative Government were asked to beef up the International Atomic Energy Agency's inspections of Iraq to see whether it had a nuclear weapons programme? The answer given by the then Member for Bristol, West—the Minister at the time—was that the Government had full confidence that Iraq, as a signatory to the non-proliferation programme, would not develop nuclear

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weapons, and that they did not intend to take the action urged by the hon. Member in question relating to inspections. Will not the right hon. Gentleman offer at least one mea culpa—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. The hon. Gentleman is making a speech.

Mr. Ancram: I would need notice of the hon. Gentleman's specific question, as I was not a Member of the House at that time. Let me say to him seriously that this shows how important it is to have the intelligence to know what is going on, and to have inspectors on the ground. He makes the case for the stance that the Prime Minister has taken today, which the Conservative party supports.

Llew Smith (Blaenau Gwent): On the question of biological weapons, does the right hon. Gentleman accept that it was the United States that supplied Saddam Hussein with much of the material necessary to build up his biological weapons programme? Does he also accept the findings of the Scott report, which confirm that the Tory Government of the 1980s were willing and prepared to supply Saddam with military equipment, including plutonium, and that the export licences were signed to allow that to happen?

Mr. Ancram: If the hon. Gentleman were to check what was going on then, he would find that material was made available also by the Soviet Union and other countries in Europe—[Interruption.] The point is simple: the lesson is that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction today; he is developing them, and they are a threat to the international community. Given what the hon. Gentleman has said about his concerns, I am surprised that he is not supporting the stance taken by his Prime Minister today.

Mr. Redwood: Given the importance of producing the strongest possible coalition against that evil regime, what advice would my right hon. Friend offer the Prime Minister for his forthcoming discussions with the German Chancellor, who seems to be undermining the attempt to put pressure on Iraq?

Mr. Ancram: I hope that when the Prime Minister meets the German Chancellor, he will show leadership and suggest to him that he was wrong in the stance that he took in his campaign. The Prime Minister might also remind the Chancellor of the German Republic that, if he is serious about a common foreign and security policy, what we have heard from him over the past few weeks is the complete antithesis of that.

Let me return to my remarks—

Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Ancram: No. I shall make some progress because a lot of people want to speak. I shall see how I go; I may well come back to the hon. Gentleman in due course.

We must accept that achieving the objective of eliminating the weapons of mass destruction will almost certainly mean, one way or the other, the end of Saddam

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Hussein's regime. That is not a self-standing objective, nor should it be. It will, however, almost certainly be an inevitable consequence—or, indeed, even the sole means, in certain circumstances—of achieving our objective of eliminating weapons of mass destruction. That must remain the key objective. We have a responsibility first to pursue with vigour non-violent means of achieving it, but we must face the fact, as the Foreign Secretary did at the end of his remarks, that in the end this may require pre-emptive military action.

So long as and so far as the Government determinedly pursue that objective in those terms, they will have the support of the official Opposition. However, let me put our support in perspective. Our support is not unconditional and it will not give carte blanche to any action the Government might decide to take in the future. The objective of eliminating the weapons of mass destruction is crucial, but it must be done in the right way. There will undoubtedly be temptations to cut corners, and I say that there must be no cutting of corners. The stakes are enormous and go far beyond a limited campaign in Iraq.

The prize for getting it right is significant: it is the removal of a real and growing threat to our security from the continued development of WMD. But the prize is far more than that. The prize is a more stable middle east, no longer threatened by the dangerous ambitions of Saddam Hussein. The prize is a free democratic Iraq. The prize is a world in which dictators and terrorists who want to get their hands on, or to develop, nuclear, chemical or biological weapons of mass destruction will know that the international community will act with resolution to stop them if they try.

If we get it wrong, however, the cost is also significant. We cannot let Saddam get the better of us, once again running diplomatic rings round the international community as he continues to build up his arsenals. Nor can we afford to let the Islamic world believe, as it is inclined to do, that this is somehow about Islam. We cannot allow Iraq to descend into anarchy, or let the brutality of Saddam's regime be replaced by just another dictator or another reign of terror. That is why the way forward must be clearly drawn and the parameters unmistakably set out.

Essentially, that means four things: we must act to the greatest extent with the rest of the international community, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) made clear. We must act legally—the Conservative party puts great store by the rule of law and will want to be assured throughout this process that international law is being pursued. If and when we have to act militarily, we must act with overwhelming and totally effective force. Before we start any such action, we should have a clear vision of the new Iraq that must replace the old and a comprehensive plan for realising it. I shall return to those points, but first I shall give way to the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook).

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