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24 Sept 2002 : Column 41—continued

1.57 pm

Donald Anderson (Swansea, East): This has been a vigorous and questioning debate, as befits a matter of peace and war. I hope that it will be the start of a process involving further debates on the Floor of the House, in Committees and elsewhere, so that a real dialogue can take place between the Government and the public—and, of course, here in Parliament.

We might ask ourselves what would have been different had the debate been held eight days ago, before Saddam Hussein's offer of unconditional entry by weapons inspectors. Before that, the course appeared fairly clear, pointing towards two resolutions—probably United Nations resolutions—the second being tabled in the event of further defiance. Have any of the essentials changed since last Monday?

Tariq Aziz, Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister, argues that there can now be an unconditional return of weapons inspectors. Are sanctions to be lifted? Saddam Hussein himself has given a firm assurance that

I hope that no one in the House believes that, and that we shall proceed in a spirit of total scepticism in regard to anything said in that respect. Now, however, the unconditional acceptance of weapons inspectors has been qualified by questions of national sovereignty, and the issue of the palaces looms.

The United States may also be in danger of making fresh demands. Certainly many key figures have considered weapons inspections irrelevant in the past. The President was prepared to allow the Vice-President to make spine-chilling speeches about the irrelevance of weapons inspectors and about what may be a total illusion—that people would be dancing in the streets at the time of regime change. He appeared to be boxing the President in, the only way out of the box being, possibly, military action. The Administration are of course, not noted for their multilateralism.

The essential facts remain, and most of us find them troubling. There are unanswered questions. Has the policy shift from containment to regime change been mainly the result of the change in the US Administration? Would President Gore have followed a different policy? Are the consequences of military action likely to be more positive than negative?

Everyone in the House would have to concede that a powerful case could be made against any form of military action. There is no immediate casus belli as there was in Kuwait or Afghanistan. Serious concerns include the extent of civilian casualties and the fact that unilateral action would be a bad precedent.

We do not want a law of pre-emptive self-defence to be developed, as it could be highly dangerous. How long would the western powers retain the support of their electorates for military action? There is a danger of regional destabilisation, and might not chemical and biological weapons be used against Israel in an attempt to inflame the whole area? There is a danger of Iraq fragmenting. How long would the US be committed?

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Is there an exit strategy? Any successor regime that is seen to be a client regime of the USA could be unstable. There is also the possibility of long-term damage to relations between Arab states and the west: more terrorism, more hatred, more humiliation.

Equally, there are compelling arguments against inaction. As the Prime Minister cogently said, there is a threat and it has to be dealt with, and that may ultimately require military action. With all the doubts and uncertainties, Saddam Hussein remains a major problem. He is a master of deceit and delay. The claim that Iraq stopped the production of weapons of mass destruction after December 1998 is totally unrealistic, as the dossier shows.

How, then, do we respond? Any steps taken must clearly be through the United Nations. We need a new resolution with a stringent timetable. The credibility of the United Nations is clearly at stake.

Saddam Hussein has, as a criminal lawyer would say, form as long as your arm. Scepticism is amply justified. We can point to a long list of his previous acts of deception, and it seems that the game of cat and mouse is about to begin again. Already, he is apparently qualifying the "unconditional" offer of acceptance, and the dossier shows very clearly that he is already attempting to hide weapons and information from future inspectors. "Unconditional" should be non-negotiable. The goal is not just inspections but practical disarmament. We should keep our eye on the ball: disarmament and the removal of weapons of mass destruction, not regime change. That is a key difference between ourselves and our US team-mates.

There is of course concern about the US approach and the new doctrine of pre-emption. Is the US serious about dealing with weapons of mass destruction? If so, it would co-operate more with international arms control treaties. For example, we would like to see a more constructive attitude towards the protocol to the biological weapons convention. Is there a broad US strategy for the middle east?

On our own Government's role, the evidence is clear that the Prime Minister has been a key and positive influence—along with others, including Baker, Scowcroft and Secretary of State Powell—on the US President, persuading him to take the UN route, against considerable pressure from others in his entourage, even though it effectively means the President vacating the driving seat, and bringing him round to linking this with the middle east peace process, which he was not initially prepared to do.

The Government have a key role to play at the UN, drafting a resolution and building an international coalition. We must pursue the UN route realistically. I commend the Government on providing the dossier, which is a very British document, low-key and with no hyperbole, but sober and chilling. I also commend today's recall. Parliament and the public, especially given their considerable scepticism, must be very much a part of the debate. I am delighted that the Foreign Secretary is to appear before the Foreign Affairs Committee tomorrow, and that the Prime Minister is following the precedent of last September and is prepared to see—regularly, I hope—representatives of all the Select Committees.

This is a continuing process, and no action is immediately in contemplation. It is a dynamic situation, with many unknowns. We hope that some of those will

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be clarified in the process. There is likely to be a considerable time before key questions on the military option arise. In the meantime, we should certainly concentrate on the UN route, with deliberation and with firm resolve, and we must ensure, as far as we can through diplomacy and the UN, that Saddam Hussein disarms.

2.6 pm

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife): Towards the end of his statement, the Prime Minister robustly asserted the value of the relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States of America. There was much in what he said with which I agreed, but when the lives of British service men and women may be put at risk, it is neither anti-American to question the policies of the Bush Administration nor unpatriotic to question those of our own Government. Our ultimate duty is to those who send us to Parliament, not to the foreign policy of our allies, however sympathetic we may feel and however close our relations, both personal and strategic, may be.

These are complex matters, so I want to set out some of the principles that I shall try to use as a guide. No country should ever exclude the use of military force if that is the only way to protect the security and safety of its citizens, but as both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have already confirmed today, to be consistent with the principles of international law, war must be a last resort, after all other diplomatic and political alternatives have failed. There is no principle of international law that authorises regime change by means of military force. Indeed, article 2 of the UN charter expressly prohibits it.

All UN Security Council resolutions should carry equal weight, whether they impose unilateral or bilateral obligations. All members of the Security Council have a duty to see that those resolutions are carried out, and permanent members have a particular responsibility in that regard.

We can all agree—it has already been a measure of the debate—that Saddam Hussein is an evil tyrant with no regard for the sanctity of human life, for either his own citizens or the people of other countries. We all agree that he is in flagrant breach of a series of UN resolutions, and in particular those relating to his duty to allow the inspection, and indeed participate in the destruction, of his weapons of mass destruction. We can also agree that he most certainly has chemical and biological weapons and is working towards a nuclear capability. The dossier contains confirmation of information that we either knew or most certainly should have been willing to assume.

I hope that we can also agree that we have a moral and a legal obligation to test the validity of the stated unconditional offer of 16 September to allow the resumption of inspections. If I am correct in understanding the second to last paragraph of the foreword to the dossier, to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West (Mr. Kennedy) referred earlier, that, at least, is accepted by implication by Her Majesty's Government.

It may well be true that, legally, no new Security Council resolutions are required for the resumption of inspections. It may well be true that, legally, no new resolution is required for the use of force to implement resolution 687. Indeed, the existence of that authority was

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the only possible legal foundation for the actions taken in December 1998. However, I have no doubt that, from a political and a diplomatic point of view, a new United Nations resolution is essential.

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