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Volume 301: debated on Tuesday 25 November 1997

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The UK has had no diplomatic relations with Iraq since 6 February 1991. Last week, I chaired a meeting of the five permanent members of the Security Council, which demanded that Iraq accept the unconditional return of UN inspectors. I am pleased that Iraq has now accepted the return of those inspectors, including US inspectors, but we continue to be vigilant to ensure that the inspectors can carry out in full their mandate to prevent Iraq acquiring nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.

Can the Minister inform the House what we are doing to investigate the biological warfare programme of the Iraqi Government?

The report that has been heard in the past week by the United Nations monitoring organisation makes very sober reading, in relation to both the biological and chemical capacities of Iraq. It was reported that Iraqi stocks of VX nerve gas keep increasing and that Saddam Hussein can currently produce sufficient anthrax for two missiles a week. Those are serious and sobering figures that stress the importance of the United Nations being able to carry out in full its mandate to inspect the suspect facilities and to ensure that the world does not allow Saddam Hussein to develop weapons of mass destruction.

As the Foreign Secretary knows, the Government have the full support of Her Majesty's Opposition in their stance on Iraq. Is he confident that the inspectors will be able to make up the ground that they lost during the period when they were denied access to facilities in Iraq?

We have full confidence in the inspectors: it should be remembered that they have managed to destroy more weapons in Iraq during the period of inspection than were destroyed during the Gulf war. Their continuing to achieve that will depend entirely on whether or not the inspectors get full compliance from the Iraqi authorities and we are carefully monitoring that. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is right to draw attention to the damage done by the interruption to the inspection regime. We believe that Saddam Hussein has used that period to shift material to secret sites; it might take some time to uncover those, but we are determined that it should be done.

Will my right hon. Friend continue to press the UN Security Council to set up a permanent war crimes tribunal, so that Saddam Hussein and his closest associates can be tried for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide?

My hon. Friend will know that the Government fully support the two existing war crimes tribunals—one on the former Yugoslavia and one on Rwanda. It is also our position that a prosecution for a war crime or genocide should not depend on an ad hoc resolution of the Security Council. It is for that reason that the Government firmly support the case for an international criminal court where such crimes could be tried and where we could make sure that international law was firmly applied and that nobody could commit war crimes and genocide with impunity.