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24 Sept 2002 : Column 44—continued

Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe): I fully agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman that we must explore the apparent offer of inspections. We cannot be in the position of not taking yes for an answer. However, does he agree that if some kind of military enforcement is needed, the choice is not necessarily between doing nothing and a full-scale invasion and regime change, and that it might be possible to threaten the destruction of specific sites to which we are not given access and where we believe weapons to be?

Mr. Campbell: As the hon. Gentleman remembers, the military action taken in December 1998 consisted of a sustained bombing campaign against those installations from which the inspectors had been excluded. That was thought to be appropriate and sufficient at the time. If we are driven to military action, a range of options is always possible.

Against the legal and factual background that I have set out, I believe that we are entitled to test Government policy and to ask questions to which the House and the public are entitled to have answers. Will the Foreign Secretary confirm what he has been reported to have said—that if unconditional, unfettered and effective inspections take place, military action will recede to the point of invisibility?

Where is the evidence that containment and deterrence have failed to the point at which military action is deemed necessary? Do the Government and the House agree that if a fraction of the resources that would be spent on military action had been spent on containment, containment might have been much more effective than it has been? On deterrence, where is the evidence that someone who has devoted his whole life to self-preservation would take action that would result in massive and inevitably fatal retaliation? Where is the evidence that Saddam Hussein now rejects the unequivocal assertion made by James Baker to Tariq Aziz on the eve of the Gulf war that if weapons of mass destruction were used, the response would be disproportionate?

What are the answers to those lethally eloquent questions of Mr. John Major last week, which, surprisingly, were not taken up today by the Leader of the Opposition? What is the exit strategy? Who will replace Saddam Hussein? How long would coalition troops be required to remain in Iraq? Will Iraq split up?

If, as is eloquently demonstrated by the dossier and if, as we are entitled to assume, Saddam Hussein has chemical and biological weapons, what assessment is being made of the likelihood that he would use them against attacking forces? What assessment is being made of the likelihood that he would use them against Israel? What would be the consequences for the stability of the middle east if Israel were attacked and felt compelled to respond with nuclear weapons?

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These are not fanciful questions, nor are the anxieties that they convey confined to one party. They are felt by many of our constituents, as the correspondence that we have received in our postbags in the past few weeks confirms beyond any question.

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green): As we are in the game of asking questions for answers, perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman would answer a specific question. When the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West (Mr. Kennedy) first made his position clear on the "Today" programme, he was pressed on a number of occasions to say whether he thought that military action was conceivable if Saddam Hussein did not comply fully with the UN resolutions. He refused point blank to accept such a prospect and kept saying that the only action was diplomatic. Today we hear from the right hon. and learned Gentleman that somehow the Liberal Democrats have slid across a position that they held earlier. Is not the real question the position of the Liberal Democrats with regard to military action?

Mr. Campbell: The transcripts of interviews on the "Today" programme speak for themselves. There is no doubt whatever about the position of the Liberal Democrats on this matter. If there is any question of military action, it is a matter of last resort when other diplomatic and political initiatives are removed.

If the right hon. Gentleman is now concerned about a willingness to commit British troops, let me remind him of the occasions when Lord Ashdown challenged the Government from the Liberal Democrat Benches to commit troops to Bosnia, to support the so-called safe havens of Srebrenica and was shouted down by the serried ranks of Conservative Members, most of whom are no longer in the House. Let me remind the right hon. Gentleman that when he and I were covering similar responsibilities, there was, shall we say, a certain reluctance on his part about Kosovo. Let me remind him that his Conservative spokesman said that we should not send a battalion of Gurkhas to East Timor.

When it comes to committing military force for clear political objectives, we will take no lessons from the right hon. Gentleman. [Interruption.] If he is so anxious about the anxieties that I have expressed, I suggest that he takes them up with the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) who, in an eloquent article in The Spectator last week, spoke, I suspect, for many in the House and in the country. The right hon. Gentleman might also discuss these anxieties with Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Lord Hurd, two distinguished former Conservative Foreign Secretaries. There will be some in the House and outside who, for strong moral reasons, are opposed to military action. We should recognise and respect that.

We must remember that the United Nations is not some third party to whom we have subcontracted our security responsibilities. It is no more and no less than the sum of its members.

We should also never forget that after Halabja in March 1998 and after the ceasefire in the Iran-Iraq war in August 1998, in which Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons, the United Kingdom continued to allow credit facilities to Iraq for the purpose of arms-related equipment. If right hon. and hon. Members need any text or any foundation

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for that, I recommend that they read page 462 of volume 1 of the report of the inquiry conducted by Sir Richard Scott, as he then was.

Geraint Davies (Croydon, Central): Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Campbell: If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I will try to make progress.

It is not enough to question; one has an obligation on these occasions to set out the course of action that one would follow oneself. I believe that the stated willingness to admit inspectors must be tested, and in good faith. I believe that the Government should do everything in their power to see that inspection, destruction and disarmament can be made to work. However, I also believe that any new United Nations resolution must be framed in terms that are not deliberately designed to provoke. A new resolution should set deadlines for stages of inspection that are realistic and consistent with the technical programme of Hans Blix. If there is to be a new resolution, it must be in terms strong enough to allow the inspectors to go into every nook and cranny in Iraq, including the so-called presidential palaces. If, having fulfilled all those obligations and responsibilities, we have sought to implement Saddam's offer and he fails to meet deadlines or thwarts or obstructs inspections, military action may be necessary. If he repeats the previous pattern of behaviour, he will have lost the last shreds of any defence that he might have had against military action.

The Prime Minister was at pains not to link directly the middle east peace process with Iraq, but one does not have to go very far in Arab capitals before senior Government members raise the issue of the middle east peace process and link it to Iraq. The Prime Minister was right to say that the need for progress in the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians is vital for its own intrinsic worth, but we cannot escape the fact that, in the minds of many in the middle east, our failure to develop sufficient impetus behind that undermines any claim that we might have to sincerity over the matter of Iraq.

Mr. Salmond: I have followed the right hon. and learned Gentleman's comments closely and agree with much of what he has said. However, on his point about Iraqi non-compliance and military action being necessary, can he say who should decide at that point whether such action should be taken?

Mr. Campbell: It must be the United Nations, under its resolution. It must be responsible for determining whether the resolution has been breached and whether, in those circumstances, military action will be required. I am sorry that I did not spell that out, I thought it was implicit in what I had said.

Mr. Frank Cook: Would not that condition require the chief of the inspectors to report to the United Nations on this occasion, rather than to the United States?

Mr. Campbell: I thought that I had gone to some lengths to say that the question of whether deadlines were being met or whether inspections were free and unfettered must be for the technical judgment of Mr. Hans Blix, not the political judgment of others, who might have a different approach.

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I make my next point with a certain amount of reticence, but it is important to say that Mr. Sharon must be advised that any attempt to use the focus on Iraq as cover for illegitimate action against the Palestinians will not be tolerated. I believe that military action involving the United Kingdom should be endorsed by a substantive vote in the House of Commons before any of our forces are committed. In some senses it would be a constitutional innovation, leaving aside the Scottish National party's motion of some 10 years ago, but were I in the Prime Minister's position, I would welcome such a vote.

I do not shrink from the conclusion that military action may be required, but I am firmly of the view that it must be the last resort. It must be consistent with international law and must be authorised by the United Nations and endorsed by the House of Commons.

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