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17 Oct 2002 : Column 510—continued

Mr. Sarwar: Eleven of those involved in the attacks of 11 September—in fact the majority of those involved—were Saudi nationals. The hon. Gentleman is accusing Iraq; is he saying that Saudi Arabia has links with terrorism?

Mr. Jenkin: I do not think that the Saudi Government have willing links with terrorism, but if the hon. Gentleman is referring to the origin of some of the money for terrorist organisations, I certainly share his concern. The difference between the Iraqi Government

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and the Saudi Government is that the Saudi Government recognise that this is a problem but the Iraqi Government make it their policy.

Geraint Davies: Is the hon. Gentleman aware of a report released today by the Council on Foreign Relations, written by a group headed by the former heads of the CIA and the FBI, which complains about Saudi Arabia's intransigence on the subject of providing al-Qaeda with access to funding sources in Saudi Arabia, and indicates that George Bush is not using the USA's full power and influence to combat terrorism funding from Saudi Arabia? Is the hon. Gentleman concerned about that?

Mr. Jenkin: I will not be sidetracked on to that subject. We all know that there are problems with a number of regimes in several regions, and we can bounce them all off the problem of Iraq. The fact is that Iraq is the most immediate threat and the one that we must deal with as a priority.

A recent letter to Senator Bob Graham, chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, from George Tenet, director of central intelligence, made it clear that

George Tenet confirms:

The letter goes on. Should not we trust the representatives of democratically elected Governments rather than the word of an evil dictator such as Saddam Hussein?

Mr. Doug Henderson (Newcastle upon Tyne, North): Will the hon. Gentleman concede that the same person said in the same communication with Congress that Saddam Hussein was not an immediate threat to the United States and that his greatest threat to the US would be from the use of chemical weapons in retaliation to a pre-emptive strike?

Mr. Jenkin: The corollary of that point is that the hon. Gentleman would not support even UN-sanctioned military action against Iraq. If we are to be deterred by the possibility that Saddam Hussein might retaliate, we had better pack up and go home now. I do not think that that is the hon. Gentleman's policy. Furthermore, I think that he is misconstruing George Tenet's letter, which was occasioned by some people in the United States trying to misconstrue the evidence provided by a witness. The letter said:

Would the hon. Gentleman like to let the arsenal of weapons of mass destruction grow, along with the threat that they represent, or would he prefer to deal with them now?

Mr. Henderson: Will the hon. Gentleman consider that the question whether a threat grows as an arsenal

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grows is different from the question whether Saddam Hussein's current arsenal is a threat to the United States in the absence of any awareness by Saddam Hussein's regime that Iraq is likely to be the subject of a pre-emptive strike?

Mr. Jenkin: The hon. Gentleman is going to the heart of the matter, which is why I invited the Secretary of State to join in the debate about how we assess an imminent threat as we consider our self-defence in the new strategic environment. Again I invite the Secretary of State to join in. This is an important debate, and to gloss over it and pretend that there is nothing new in the philosophy of our defence in the new environment is not reassuring. We should be seeking openly to debate it and provide reassurance. There is no doubt in my mind that Saddam Hussein constitutes an imminent threat, and that may be the difference between him and me.

Dr. Julian Lewis: Surely, the point of even considering pre-emption is that it should be undertaken before the threat becomes so severe that we dare not take any action. On the very important passages that my hon. Friend read out about possible links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, if such links exist, is there not a strong possibility at this very moment that the wave of al-Qaeda atrocities that is building up is designed precisely to try divert the west from attacking Saddam Hussein?

Mr. Jenkin: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend on that last point. That is why I am appalled that some people argue that we are fighting two different problems and say that the problem of Iraq is in a separate box. Such people argue that we should leave the Iraq problem—this is Liberal Democrat policy—and fight the war on terrorism. That is exactly what the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) said and I have debated the matter with him. The idea that those problems are completely different is mistaken. They may be different theatres, but they are the same war, and in practice, the idea that we should allow two bombs in Bali to be an excuse for allowing the United Nations to let Saddam off the hook would be a disaster. What an invitation to terrorism that would be. The bombs in Bali must stiffen our resolve to confront threats wherever they emerge in the new security environment, and we should not be listening to the likes of the right hon. and learned Gentleman.

Mr. Keetch: The hon. Gentleman is falling into the same trap as the Leader of the Opposition did when my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) rightly destroyed him during the recall debate. We will take no lessons from his party, which did not support the Government's deployment of British troops to Sierra Leone or East Timor. We have said that we would be prepared to entertain the idea of military action against Iraq as a last resort, but only if it is consistent with international law and is supported by the House. We would also take into account the consequences of such action on the coalition of the campaign against terrorism that the Prime Minister and the President have so successfully brought together.

Mr. Jenkin: I am amazed that the hon. Gentleman should have the arrogance to believe that the Prime

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Minister and the President of the United States would use military force except as a last resort. The idea that our democratically elected Prime Minister would rush into war when it is not a last resort is extraordinary. I am afraid that those who express such views are playing on people's false fears instead of trying to reassure them, which I think is the job of politicians in this House.

David Winnick: With all due respect, I imagine that I am about the last person on the Labour Benches who would come to the defence of the Liberal Democrats. It happens that my views are very much the same as those expressed from the two Front Benches. However, when we debated the same subject on 24 September, much to my disappointment, a number of Opposition Members expressed views resembling those of Labour and Liberal Democrat critics. It is as well to bear in mind that, although the three main parties seem to be divided, a large majority fortunately seems in favour of the sort of action that may well be necessary to deal with somebody whom the hon. Gentleman rightly described as the very evil mass murderer and war criminal who continues to rule in Iraq.

Mr. Jenkin: I entirely accept the hon. Gentleman's point. It is sad that anybody should try to score political or personal points in respect of such a serious matter instead of trying to debate the substantive issues.

Mr. Bill Wiggin (Leominster): Does my hon. Friend agree that the essence of a threat to the Iraqi regime is that it can be substantive only if we are united? Any Liberal Democrat cracks in that coalition will be exploited by the very people who we least want to exploit them.

Mr. Jenkin: I believe that unity is an advantage in an international coalition and at a national level, but it should never stifle debate. Although I disagree with what some hon. Members say in the House, I will do my damnedest to ensure that they have the right to say it. We must never forget that right, but I do not think that we should seek to score personal points on this matter.

Paul Flynn: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Jenkin: I think that we have spent enough time on this topic. Will the hon. Gentleman forgive me for continuing, or does he wish to move on?

Paul Flynn: I only want to ask the hon. Gentleman why he does not agree with the CIA, which says that Iraq would be most likely to use weapons of mass destruction and to collaborate with terrorists not in the current situation or without an invasion, but if, following an invasion, Saddam Hussein saw himself as defeated, became hopeless, suicidal and desperate and let loose his biological and chemical weapons in an act of vengeance or allowed them to be used by al-Qaeda. Is not that the greatest danger that we face?

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