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Volume 400: debated on Wednesday 26 February 2003

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I inform the House that I have selected the amendment tabled in the name of the right hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith).

12.42 pm

I beg to move,

That this House takes note of Command Paper Cm 5769 on Iraq; reaffirms its endorsement of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1441, as expressed in its Resolution of 25th November 2002; supports the Government's continuing efforts in the United Nations to disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction; and calls upon Iraq to recognise this as its final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations.

This motion means what it says. It is not an endorsement of military action by United Kingdom forces. No decision to deploy British forces in action has yet been taken. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister spelled out a few moments ago, we will put any decision on military action to the House, and the timing will be subject only to the usual caveats about the safety of our forces. It is as much in the Government's interest as it is in the paramount interest of the House that we should do that before the start of any hostilities. In addition, there will be oral statements to the House on the business of the Security Council, and a full opportunity to debate and vote on the outcome of proceedings on any second resolution.

Let me commend to the House the Command Paper "Iraq", which I presented yesterday. For the convenience of the House, this contains in one document the reports of Dr. Blix and Dr. el-Baradei, statements on the Iraq crisis by the European Union and by NATO, my statements at three recent Security Council meetings, and, above all, the full texts of 13 of the principal Security Council resolutions on Iraq passed since August 1990.

The situation that we face is plainly grave. It is a matter that, across a range of beliefs, arouses great concern and anxiety. So in this debate I want to answer what I think are the central and continuing questions in people's minds. Why Iraq? Why now? Why not more time, more inspectors? Why a second resolution? Why not persist with the policy of containment, rather than contemplate military action? And finally, is not the west guilty of double standards, especially in relation to Israel/Palestine?

Let me deal with those questions in turn. First, why Iraq? The best answer to that question is to be found in the 42 pages of text of the 13 Security Council resolutions that form the first section of the Command Paper. There we see, paragraph by paragraph, the exceptional danger posed by Iraq, and its continued defiance of the United Nations. On 2 August 1990, resolution 660 tells Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait. On 29 November 1990, resolution 678 offers Iraq a "final opportunity"—interesting words—to comply, which it fails to take. On 3 April 1991, resolution 687 gives Iraq until 18 April 1991 to make a full declaration of the "locations, amount and types" of all chemical and biological weapons and of all medium and long-range ballistic missiles. That resolution bars Iraq from ever developing biological, chemical or nuclear weapons.

On and on the resolutions go. Resolution 688 is "gravely concerned" about the repression of the civilian population in many parts of Iraq. In 1994, resolution 949
"condemns military deployments by Iraq in the direction of the border with Kuwait",
three years after the original invasion. In 1999, nine years after the invasion of Kuwait, resolution 1284 establishes a further inspection regime
"as a result of Iraq's failure to implement the Security Council Resolutions fully".
Iraq flatly and completely refuses to comply.

Last November, resolution 1441 recognised
"the threat which Iraq's non-compliance with Council Resolutions and proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction and long range missiles poses to international peace and security"—
and gave Iraq its "final opportunity to comply".

So, for the United Nations, the answer to the "Why Iraq?" question is very clear. Iraq is the only country in such serious and multiple breach of mandatory UN obligations. It is the only country in the world to have fired missiles at five of its neighbours, the only country in history to have used chemical weapons against its own people, and the only country in the region that has invaded two of its neighbours in recent years.

As I have explained to you, Mr. Speaker, normally I take many interventions in debates. Because of the intense pressure on time on this occasion, I do not intend to do so, but I will take a few. I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell).

As a question of fact and before my right hon. Friend leaves the subject of documents, did the dossier that owed so much to that Californian student have the authority of Peter Ricketts and the Joint Intelligence Committee? Did the Joint Intelligence Committee authorise that dossier?

Mr. Ricketts ceased to be the secretary of the Joint Intelligence Committee about two years ago. All the information that was attributed as intelligence came from intelligence agencies and the whole of that dossier was accurate. I thought that my hon. Friend was going to ask me whether we had accepted his advice about taking the issue to the United Nations, because this matter has been the subject of 12 years of United Nations resolutions and 12 months of the most intense and proper debate in the House of Commons and in Westminster Hall.

Last March, when there was some speculation about the course of events and whether, for example, the United States would put its case to the United Nations, my hon. Friend said:
"Incidentally, if there is to be any action, it should be taken through the United Nations." —[Official Report, Westminster Hall, 6 March 2002; Vol. 381, c. 70WH.]
Several other colleagues who have put their names to the amendment agreed. All I say is that on this matter we have listened carefully to what the House has said. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has talked to President Bush and much discussion has taken place about putting the matter to the United Nations. That is exactly what we did and, on 8 November 2002, we obtained a Security Council resolution. All we are asking now of the international community, Iraq and this House, is that we follow through on the words that were agreed by the United Nations on 8 November and by this House on 25 November.


The next question that I raised was, "Why now?" All the resolutions of the Security Council, 12 years of them, also help us answer that question.

Saddam's aim is that "now" shall never arrive. His tactics all along have been to prevaricate in the hope that by exploiting people's natural anxieties about military action he can string out the process for ever and keep his arsenal for good.

Let us look at the recent evidence. On 10 September last year, Iraq declared—I was there in the General Assembly when this was said—that it would never, ever readmit weapons inspectors under any circumstances. Then President Bush made his important and most welcome speech to the General Assembly. Four days later, Iraq said that it would after all readmit weapons inspectors, but made its offer subject to 19 spurious conditions of the kind that it has often come forward with. Fortunately, those were rejected.

There were then two months of intense negotiations inside the Security Council. In response, the international community united, resolution 1441 was passed unanimously and the Security Council agreed to back its diplomacy with the credible threat of force. The inspectors finally entered Iraq on 27 November, looking, as the resolution required, for full, active and immediate co-operation from Iraq.

But since the inspectors' return the story has been all too familiar. We saw first a 12,000-page Iraqi declaration, which Dr. Blix called
"rich in volume but poor in new information … and practically devoid of new evidence."
There have been concerted Iraqi efforts to prevent unrestricted interviews with scientists. The issue of interviews with the scientists is not a trivial matter. It is the most important way in which we can arrive at the truth of Iraq's chemical and biological weapons programmes.

Iraq refused any interviews to begin with. Since the weapons inspectors pressed the Iraqis, there have been three private interviews, all within the closing days up to Dr. Blix's report on 14 February, and, despite what we see in some newspapers about increased co-operation by the Iraqis, not one interview has been granted since. Time after time after time the Iraqis seek to impose conditions that make free and fair interviews almost impossible.

I shall give way to the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) in a moment.

There have been categorical Iraqi denials that the al-Samoud missile has a range in excess of the 150 km limit prescribed by the United Nations, an assertion since disproved by an independent panel of experts from the five permanent members of the Security Council and by UNMOVIC.

Crucially, there have been no answers to the outstanding disarmament issues listed in UNSCOM's final report to the Security Council in February 1999.

As a result, as Dr. Blix himself indicates, in 15 weeks, the inspectors have not been able to close a single outstanding issue. There have been no answers to what has happened to the 8,500 litres of anthrax; no answers to what has happened to the 360 tonnes of bulk chemical warfare agent; no answers to what has happened to the 3,000 tonnes of precursor chemicals; no answers to what has happened to the 1.5 tonnes of the completely deadly VX nerve agent or to the 6,500 chemical bombs identified by Dr. Blix on 27 January. The intimidation of scientists and their families so that they do not give full evidence has continued.

On 6 February, the same day as the dodgy dossier was exposed as a fabrication, the Prime Minister said on "Newsnight", in front of a studio audience, that the only circumstances in which force would be used without a further UN resolution were if the inspectors concluded that they could no longer do their work and if a further resolution was passed by a majority in the Security Council but was subject to an "unreasonable" veto by a single country. Is that still the position of the United Kingdom Government or has it changed again?

I heard the interview too. What my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister also made clear was that our policy is 100 per cent. support for and full implementation of resolution 1441. What the hon. Gentleman is now trying to do— having got resolution 1441 and having signed up to it, having asked for the United Nations to be brought in, having asked us to take the United Nations route—is to rewrite the terms of the resolution.

Can my right hon. Friend explain why we have the motion today and not next week, following the statement by Dr. Blix on Friday? We would all like to know why it is so important.

We have sought to have as many debates as possible, and, on the entirely proper request of hon. Members on both sides of the House, to do so on substantive resolutions, so that hon. Members are not voting on an Adjournment, but are voting on the substance of the issue. Normally the complaint is that we have not had a debate soon enough. I plead guilty to the fact that we have not delayed this debate. We are having it today because we thought it entirely appropriate, given that we have submitted a draft resolution to the United Nations Security Council. As made clear in my opening remarks, once there is a conclusion to the Security Council proceedings—and it may well be before that, too—we shall have a further debate and a vote in the House.

I know that many hon. Members wish to take part in the debate, so the House will have to excuse me if I do not give way.

The next question that I raised was about more time and more inspections. I understand why there are calls for more time and more inspections, but Saddam has not shown that he is ready to break with the past. That is exactly what Dr. Blix said today. At present, it is not even clear whether the Iraqis really want to co-operate. In these circumstances, in the absence of active and immediate Iraqi co-operation, more time will not achieve anything of substance. Nor, without that active co-operation, can it be a question of more inspectors.

It took just nine inspectors to verify the disarmament of South Africa's nuclear weapons programme at the end of apartheid. It did not take 12 years. It did not take hundreds of inspectors. It did not take endless Security Council resolutions. It took three years, nine inspectors and no resolutions. Why? Because South Africa was complying with the inspectors.

It is critical that, in respect of Iraq, we all accept one reality above all, which is that what grudging concessions on process there have been from Saddam have been secured only because of the military build-up. What is the difference between the circumstances now and the circumstances when resolution 1284 was agreed at the end of 1999, the resolution that set up the organisation of weapons inspectors, UNMOVIC? There is some difference in terms of the powers of the weapons inspectors. But the only significant, material difference is that, back at the end of 1999, the world said, "Let us try giving them more time. Let us try by a completely peaceful route to secure the disarmament of Iraq. Let us plead with the Iraqis to do the decent thing. Let us impose some sanctions, too, and hope that they will work."

Saddam's answer was to slam the door in the face of the international community. The only reason for the difference between Saddam's refusal to co-operate with one dot or comma in resolution 1284 and his very reluctant co-operation on some process today, his statement that he will co-operate, is the build-up of the credible threat of force, something clearly recognised by the United Nations charter.

I was glad to note that President Chirac of France—and I pay tribute to him—conceded in an interview last week inTime magazine that it was the military build-up that had made the difference. There is a logic that follows—

I shall give way to my hon. Friend in a moment. I always do. I do not know why.

There is a logic that follows from what I have said that cannot be avoided and is for everybody in the international community. We are now close to the crunch point. Saddam must either embark immediately on voluntary and full disarmament or the Security Council must face up to its responsibility to see that he is disarmed by force. That is the truth. That is the reality.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way.

My point is in connection with what my right hon. Friend said at the beginning of his speech, which seems to contradict what he told the House on 7 November. When he was asked what "serious consequences" in resolution 1441 meant, he replied:
"consequences up to and including military force"—[Official Report, 7 November 2002; Vol. 392, c. 436.]
Is it not right that anyone who votes for the main resolution today will in fact be voting for war?

For one moment, I was worried that I had said something inconsistent back in November—that sometimes happens, even with me—but on this occasion I agree entirely with the words that I uttered then. Indeed, I could not have been more accurate. I wanted then to spell out to the House what "serious consequences" meant. I wanted to tell the House without any dubiety that in voting to support resolution 1441, which we did by a huge majority, we were voting to recognise the serious consequences that would flow from a further material breach by Saddam Hussein, up to and including the use of force.

I repeat for my hon. Friend what I said at the beginning of this debate. The United Nations is responsible for its resolutions, but the House as a whole is responsible for the motions that it passes. Notwithstanding my hon. Friend's invitation that we should seek a mandate for military action, we are not seeking one today because the Government have not yet got to that point. If we do reach that point, we will come back and seek a vote, through a debate in this House, on a substantive motion.

No. I am so sorry, but as my hon. Friend knows, there is great time pressure.

The next question is why do we need a second resolution now? Resolution 1441 required Iraq's full, active and immediate compliance, as indeed did resolution 687, which was passed 12 years ago. Fifteen weeks after 1441, Saddam's response has been neither full, nor active, nor immediate. He has not complied, and not a single member of the Security Council says otherwise. In place of active voluntary co-operation, we have had a string of cynically timed concessions that are calculated to divide and to delay.

We saw more token concessions last night. According to the newspapers, Iraq has now told Dr. Blix that it has—and I quote—"found" a bomb. Iraq has found a bomb containing biological agents—it simply popped up from some gooseberry bush. Some will be tempted to regard this as evidence that Saddam is being successfully contained, and that the inspectors should be given endless time. However, this latest "find" is the same old game of dribbling out small concessions at the last minute.

It is completely ludicrous for the Iraqi regime to talk of "finding" weapons of mass destruction, as if it were someone else who made a 12,000-word declaration, claiming that the country had no weapons of mass destruction.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

I seek the advice of the Chair on whether it is in order for the Government to table at this late stage a business motion to suspend the 7 o'clock deadline, which would allow the Secretary of State time to take interventions.

The conclusion that we ought to draw from this overnight admission by Iraq is that we are right to say that it does have weapons of mass destruction, that it has lied about them, that it has tried to hide them, and that it is determined to keep them behind a charade of cynical concessions. Unless we bring this game to a halt, it will go on for as long as Saddam wants. I will not be surprised if, by the end of the week, Saddam is offering concessions on the proscribed al-Samoud missiles—having said that he will never destroy a single one—in the hope, once again, of playing for time. However, if the words "final opportunity", in operative paragraph 2 of resolution 1441, have any meaning, it is that this time we must not let Saddam lure the international community into endless indecision. Resolution 1441 called for disarmament "immediately". We have waited 110 days already, which is stretching the meaning of "immediately" to breaking point.

I ask our friends in France and Germany—who share our goal of Iraqi disarmament, and who fully support resolution 1441—why Saddam is more likely to cooperate actively, fully and immediately in the further 120 days that they now propose than he was in the past 110. What does he need 120 days for: to have a look for the weapons that he says he has not got, in case he has overlooked something; to search the homes of scientists for the incriminating papers that he ordered them to hide there; to tell those scientists to attend interviews and tell the truth that, through intimidation, he has instructed them to conceal?

I shall give way in one second.

No. Saddam would use a further 120 days to bring the authority of the United Nations lower week by week, to tie the weapons inspectors in knots, and to create further divisions within the international community. We know that this is what he will do, because it is what he has always done.

I shall also give way to my hon. Friend in a moment.

Worse, this delay would send Saddam the clearest possible signal that his strategy is succeeding. It would tell him that the international community lacks the will to disarm him, and it would tell all those who threaten our security that Saddam Hussein has broken the United Nations as an instrument for defending peace through the force of international law.

The Foreign Secretary is making a most powerful speech, but in the light of everything that he and the Prime Minister have said, can he clarify for the House, for the people of Britain, who are confused, and for the members of our armed forces, who may be about to lay their lives on the line for this policy, whether there are any circumstances in which this crisis can be resolved with Saddam Hussein's being allowed to remain in power? Is it not a fact that our objective is, and has to be, regime change in Iraq?

There are such circumstances, as it happens, and the important point is this. We are committed to implementation of 1441. I do not like the Saddam Hussein regime—I regard it as one of the most revolting and terrible regimes in the world—but the focus of 1441 is not regime change per se, but the disarmament of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction.

In his statement yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister spelled out that if there is full, active and immediate compliance by Saddam Hussein with the full terms of 1441 and the other resolutions referred to, Saddam would remain in government, but his power would be greatly reduced because those weapons of mass destruction would have been removed.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. On the question of timing and taking a decision, can he tell me why half the UN staff involved in the oil-for-food programme have been withdrawn?

I cannot tell my hon. Friend directly, but I am happy to look into the matter. They certainly have not been withdrawn on any advice given by us. I have been involved in discussions with the Secretary-General of the United Nations about the humanitarian crisis that has existed in Iraq for the past 12 years, and about the circumstances that would arise if military action had to be taken. All the Security Council partners are of course concerned about that issue, and so is the Secretary-General.

No. With the greatest of respect, I have given way a good deal.[Interruption.] I am sorry; I would love to give way, because I always enjoy doing so.

Time is pressing, so let me turn to the next question, which in many ways is at the heart of the amendment. Why not persist with the policy of containment, rather than contemplate military action? After all, some argue that Iraq has not invaded any of its neighbours or used chemical and biological weapons in the past 12 years, and that these weapons have either been destroyed, or do not present a sufficient threat to Iraq's neighbours or to the wider world to justify the use of force to remove them if Saddam refuses to do so peacefully.

I understand the containment argument, even if I do not agree with it. However, let no one be under any illusions: the policy of containment is not the policy of disarmament as set out in resolution 1441 or any of the preceding resolutions. There can be no stable, steady state for Iraq unless it is properly disarmed, and nor can there be stability for the region and the international community. What may appear to be containment to us is rearmament for Saddam.

We do not need to speculate on this, as we have witnessed it. A de facto policy of containment existed between 1998 and 2002 following the effective expulsion of inspectors by Iraq, and Iraq's refusal to comply with resolution 1284.

Far from keeping a lid on Saddam's ambitions, that period allowed him to rebuild his horrific arsenal, his chemical and biological weapons, and the means of delivering them against his enemies at home and abroad. UNMOVIC inspectors chart in their recent reports, which are before the House, how Iraq has refurbished prohibited equipment that had previously been destroyed by UNSCOM, the earlier inspectors. That equipment included rocket motor casting chambers and chemical processors. UNMOVIC has also found that Iraq used the four-year absence of inspectors—the so-called period of containment—to build a missile test stand capable of testing engines with over four times the thrust of the already prohibited al-Samoud 2 missile. All this happened during containment. There is no steady state—the choice is between disarmament or rearmament.

Thankfully, the so-called policy of containment ended on 8 November last year. Containment requires a degree of trust in Saddam that we cannot risk and which runs contrary to all the evidence. It means leaving Saddam as a standing example that defiance pays. We cannot allow Saddam further time and space to strengthen his capabilities and to rearm further. Only disarmament—the aim of all these UN Security Council resolutions—can deal with this issue.

I turn now to the next question. I am often asked, "Isn't the west guilty of double standards, especially in relation to Israel and Palestine?" [HON MEMBERS: "Yes."] Some of my hon. Friends say yes. I accept, as does my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, that there has been a considerable amount to this charge, and to the perception of double standards, which extends well beyond the Arab and Islamic world. However, we deal with this charge not by ignoring outstanding UN obligations, but by working even harder to see all of them implemented. The key ones on Israel/Palestine—242, 338, 1397—impose obligations on three sets of parties—on the Palestinians to end terrorism, on the Arab countries to end support for terrorism and to recognise the state of Israel, and on Israel fully to co-operate in the establishment of a viable state of Palestine with borders broadly based on those of 1967.

In difficult circumstances, we are working actively to implement this UN policy, including the early publication of the roadmap.

I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden).

I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way, and I welcome the Government's efforts to restart the peace process. However, the allegations and anger about double standards are not only to do with the lack of talks. They arise from the fact that, when a house in Gaza is destroyed, perhaps with the people in it, the destruction has probably been caused by an F-16. That aeroplane has probably been supplied by the US and may have parts supplied by Britain. Moreover, when the olive grove is destroyed, the destruction is probably carried out by a bulldozer bankrolled from the US. If we are to avoid the allegation of double standards, we must get talks going, and ensure that UN resolutions are upheld and respected.

As my hon. Friend knows, I entirely agree with that. We have to ensure the full application of international law by Israel, and—as I have told our friends in the Palestinian authority—we have to ensure as well that the Palestinians take even further action to stop the terrorist organisations in their areas. There is no alternative to that. The Arab states must also end giving terrorist organisations active support, finance and supplies.

All those things must happen, but we are committed to ensuring the implementation of the Security Council resolutions in respect of Israel and Palestine.

We are working actively to implement this UN policy, including the early publication of the roadmap.

It must also never be forgotten, however, that the obligations on Saddam are singular, unilateral, and not for negotiation by him. We increase, not undermine, respect for the authority of the UN as a whole—and the prospects of a peace settlement in the middle east—if we implement fully the resolutions on Iraq, and do not shy away from their consequences.

I thank my right hon. Friend. I think that the House will concede that I have been as outspoken as any hon. Member in condemning Israeli policy, and I shall continue to be outspoken on the matter. Given that, does my right hon. Friend agree that anyone who believes that Saddam Hussein gives a twopenny damn for the Palestinians, the Kurds or the Marsh Arabs is living in self-delusion?

As ever, I agree with my right hon. Friend. I knew that it was a wise move to give way to him.

International terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction are the crucial strategic questions of our time. Our answer to these threats will determine the stability of the world for decades to come. This is an awesome responsibility. It calls for courageous leadership. And it requires the vision and foresight to act decisively and, if necessary, with military force.

Once Saddam's invasion of Kuwait had been turned back by the international community, the international community, with our agreement, put on hold the military option, preferring of course to resolve the continuing crisis peacefully, first through weapons inspections and then, from December 1998, through a policy of containment. However, neither of those approaches has worked.

Following the adoption of resolution 1441, Saddam has now to be under no illusions that there will be no further resolutions calling for containment, no further attempts to tinker at the margins rather than to remove his weapons. This has to be a moment of choice for Saddam and for the Iraqi regime.

However, it is also a moment of choice for the UN. As I told the Security Council on 5 February, the UN's pre-war predecessor, the League of Nations, had the same fine ideals as the UN. Yet the League failed because it could not create actions from its words: it could not back diplomacy with a credible threat and, where necessary, the use of force. Small evils therefore went unchecked, tyrants became emboldened, then greater evils were unleashed. At each stage good men and women said, "Not now, wait, the evil is not big enough to challenge." Then before their eyes, the evil became too big to challenge. We had slipped slowly down a slope, never noticing how far we had gone until it was too late. We owe it to our history as well as to our future not to make the same mistake again.

This is the hardest issue that I have ever had to deal with. I know that it causes very great anxiety to the British people and to Members of this House. It does to all of us. However, the issue of what we do about tyrannical states with poison gases, nerve agents, viruses and nuclear ambitions, and which defy international law and the principles of the UN, will not go away. We have to face the issue. We have to give Saddam Hussein a categorical choice, and after 12 long years he has to give us his answer now.

I commend the motion to the House.

1.17 pm

The Opposition support this motion. In many ways, it is a rerun of the debate in this House on 25 November last year, in which we also supported the Government motion. This motion poses no new questions or challenges. We have therefore tabled no amendment.

None of us wants war. For those of us who have spent a significant part of our political lives working to establish peace, it is a desperately sad prospect. However, sometimes conflict is necessary in the short term to achieve peace through the defeat of aggression, and sometimes it is the threat of conflict that can establish peace.

The current situation that exists in Iraq today is not peace. It is conflict waiting in the wings. It has been there for the past 12 years. As the Foreign Secretary has pointed out, that is what containment has meant. To prolong it in the absence of genuine disarmament would be to prolong the uncertainty and suffering of the people of Iraq. It would leave the conflict and the crisis unresolved. It would also send a message to Saddam Hussein that the urgent requirement to disarm was no longer urgent, that the determination to secure immediate compliance with resolution 1441 was no longer immediate. It would not be peace. It would be the procrastination of a conflict that would be more vicious and more damaging when eventually it came.

I will give way in a moment, but I want to make a few introductory remarks.

I believe that the Prime Minister's last push for peace is important. It is the language that Saddam Hussein understands. It is based on the clear understanding that Saddam Hussein only begins to comply when his feet are held to the flames and the heat begins to take effect. Equally, it is based on the knowledge that, the moment the heat is turned off, he returns to his old threatening ways, as we have heard from the Foreign Secretary.

The peaceful disarming of Hussein may, in the event, not be possible, but I believe that it has been right to try to do it. The Foreign Secretary has painted a very pessimistic picture in that regard today, but we know that, if there is to be a peaceful outcome, it will happen only if the determination of the international community to resort to force if necessary is clear and unambiguous.

Saddam Hussein has always taken ambiguity as a sign of weakness, so the last push for peace depends on his understanding clearly that there is no way out other than to disarm, and that the final opportunity that the Security Council signed up to in resolution 1441 means precisely what it says.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that public opinion would be greatly reassured if Her Majesty's Government undertook to ensure that, before UK and US troops attacked Iraq, a specific resolution authorising war was tabled to the Security Council, and that a specific resolution was put before the House of Commons as well?

If my hon. Friend checks the resolutions that are already before the House in the Command Paper, he will find that there is plenty of cover in every one of them.[Interruption.] I will come to the reason why I say that in a moment because it is very important; but we have supported the idea that a substantive motion should be put before the House, and we have also supported the second resolution before the UN because, although we do not believe it to be legally necessary, it is desirable to have it.

I will in a moment.

I want to ask whether the Government have asked France—politely, of course—what it understands by the phrase "final opportunity". I took the trouble to look up the French version of resolution 1441, and it talks about the "dernière possibilityé". Although my French may be a little rusty, I believe that both phrases mean exactly the same thing. The French signed up to resolution 1441, but when I saw their counter-proposal, which they tabled on Monday, it seems anything but final in the proposals and demands it makes. It must give Saddam Hussein a very real hope that he might just get away with it once again, and with his weapons intact.

I hope that France and those who are tempted to support her position will think very clearly about the importance of the message that they signed up to in resolution 1441, as it is crucial to the last push for peace. It is worth recalling that the Arab League, the European Union and every member of the Security Council, as well as all the parties in the House, expressed their support for resolution 1441.

A few moments ago, the right hon. Gentleman said that it was the Conservative party's policy to seek a substantive motion in the eventuality of hostilities breaking out. Will he confirm whether that substantive motion would be tabled in the House before the commencement of hostilities, not after?

We in the Opposition will obviously not be as aware as the Government are of when military action is likely to start. We have made it clear that, ideally, we would like that to happen before any such action, but there may be circumstances—the hon. Gentleman was a Defence Minister, so he must know this—where military action, for all sorts of security reasons, might have to begin before the House can debate it, and we should be very careful to do nothing that undermines the ability and security of our armed forces by setting improper and unworkable conditions.

The concern in the country about any future action against Iraq runs right across all sectors of our community, not least among the 1.5 million Muslims who live in the United Kingdom. Will my right hon. Friend support me in a request to ask the Foreign Secretary whether he will meet Dr. Siddiqui—my constituent and the leader of the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain—to listen to the views of those Muslims as expressed through the Muslim Parliament?

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for having raised that issue. The Foreign Secretary will have heard what she said, but it is vital in the days and weeks ahead that hon. Members on both sides of the House continue to make it clear that this is a conflict not with Islam, but with a gangster who has weapons of mass destruction and who needs to be dealt with.

Today's debate will be one of deep but conflicting views. I have the greatest respect for those who hold strong and principled views on this difficult issue, even if those views may differ from mine, but I have no time for those who might seek to play politics with this issue, although it would have been easy to do so. It is far too serious for that. I also have very little time for those who have sought to face both ways. I look down the Benches to my left, at the leader of the Liberal Democrats. Yesterday and today, he criticised what he called the pre-emptive draft resolution. Is this the leader of a party which, ever since resolution 1441 was passed, has insisted on a second resolution? Indeed, is this the leader of a party whose foreign affairs spokesman, the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell), told the House last year that
"legally, no new resolution is required for the use of force to implement resolution 687."
He went on to say
"that from a political and diplomatic point of view, a new United Nations resolution is essential".—[Official Report, 24 September 2002; Vol. 390, c. 43–44.]

Well, he was talking not about a second resolution, but about the resolution that turned out to be 1441, which he had already said was not legally required for force to be used. It really is time that the Liberal Democrats decided what their position on such resolutions is. Is this the party leader who told the recent anti-war rally that he would not support military action without a second UN resolution, only two weeks after his defence spokesman, the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch), when asked, in my presence, whether he would feel bound by a second resolution endorsing military action announced that his party's foreign policy would not be dictated by the UN? What a tangled web! The House has a right to know the clear and unambiguous position of the Liberal Democrats, and I hope that we will hear it today.

No, I will give way to the hon. Member for Hereford if he wishes to explain what he meant when he was talking to all those students the other day.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that invitation. It simply demonstrates why the official Opposition are so concerned about the Liberal Democrats: this party has been calling for support for our troops in the Gulf. As for what I said during Westminster Day, it has never been the case that the UN is the sole repository of international law. Indeed, if we had waited for a UN resolution, we would not have deployed troops into Kosovo—an action by the Government that this party rightly supported.

Hon. Members: More.

I am even more confused about the Liberal Democrat position than I was before the hon. Gentleman intervened, but it is absolutely clear that they behave like weather vanes: every time the wind changes, they change direction, too.

The right hon. Gentleman asked the Liberal Democrats to have a clear and unambiguous position on this issue. Is he aware that, if the Liberal Democrats had a clear and unambiguous position on this issue, it would be the only issue, ranging from street lighting to council tax, on which they had such a position?

I accept from the right hon. Gentleman that what I said was the triumph of hope over experience.

Many hon. Members have genuine fears and concerns, and the Government must take them seriously. I have to tell the Foreign Secretary that the public have been confused too often by the changing focus of the Government's arguments. It is now time they clarified their objectives and made the case more clearly.

All that I can do is set out my position and that of my colleagues. I believe that Iraq poses a threat to international peace and security, and, therefore, to us. That is why we support the Government today. The UN believes that Iraq poses a continuing threat to international peace and security, which is why 17 resolutions, including 1441, have been passed under chapter VII of the UN charter, which deals specifically with threats to the peace and permits military action. That was the point that I made when the matter was raised earlier. The draft resolution tabled on Monday in the UN Security Council refers specifically to chapter VII. The threat flows neither from the evil of Saddam Hussein nor from the existence of weapons of mass destruction, but from the combination of the two.

Other countries have weapons of mass destruction but they manage them responsibly. There are other evil and murderous leaders, but they do not possess weapons of mass destruction, nor have they shown readiness to use them even against their own people. Saddam in possession of weapons of mass destruction is, in the eyes of the United Nations—not just in the eyes of the House or of those on these Front Benches—a present and current threat to international peace and security. We would fail the people whom we represent if we were to turn a blind eye to that.

Does my right hon. Friend not accept that the disparity between the treatment being meted out to Iraq and that being meted out to North Korea sends a worrying signal to all countries who fear that they will be bullied by the United States? Is not it a cause for concern that everyone in the world is seeing North Korea being treated with kid gloves while Iraq is treated with an iron fist? Is that not an invitation to all other countries that are threatened to try to obtain nuclear weapons?

No. I understand what my hon. Friend is saying, but I was in China last week and I talked to the Chinese Foreign Minister, about North Korea in particular. The point was made to me—this is an important distinction—that whereas Iraq has been subject for many years to mandatory resolutions, North Korea has until recently been abiding by agreements that had been made. What is happening in North Korea is a matter of great concern, but we must be absolutely clear that to confuse that with what is happening in Iraq would be dangerous in terms of the consequences that could follow.

The right hon. Gentleman has just advanced two reasons for his party's support for military action, if necessary, in Iraq: first, the weapons of mass destruction that are likely to be present in that country; and secondly, the nature of the regime. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman was present in the House—the Foreign Secretary certainly was—when the Secretary of State for International Development said that it was illegal, and not permitted under international law, for one country to seek the removal of another country's leader. If his party's policy relies on that argument, it is doing a gross disservice to the people of this country.

The hon. Gentleman has not considered the matter fully. What is clear, as we have made plain for some time, is that a sole objective of regime change would be outwith the bounds of international law. But that is not the case in this instance. We are seeking the removal and elimination of weapons of mass destruction that are a threat because they are in the hands of a gangster who uses them not only to threaten his own people but, as we know, to threaten the countries around him. That is why the United Nations believes that he poses a threat to international security and peace.

I understand the doubts that are expressed about whether we have sufficient evidence to proceed in the direction that the Government have outlined. It would help to meet doubts, of course, if weapons of mass destruction could be disclosed or discovered now. I continue to hope that, as far as is consistent with maintaining the integrity and security of our intelligence, the Government may yet produce more tangible evidence than they have done so far. What we know already, however, is that the elements of such weapons of mass destruction and the programmes for developing them existed in 1999 when the last team of UN inspectors had to leave Iraq. We heard details from the Prime Minister yesterday of the spine-chilling extent and nature of those weapons: the anthrax, the nerve agents and the thousands of special munitions. We know from UNSCOM and from previous Iraqi declarations—let us not forget that—that those weapons were there then. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, we must believe that they are there now. It is not for the inspectors to prove that they are still there; it is for Iraq to demonstrate credibly that they are not. That is not my demand: Hans Blix made it clear on 27 January, and set it more broadly as the test as to whether Saddam Hussein was genuinely seeking to comply with resolution 1441.

Although we have not found a smoking gun, we learned in the presentation made to the UN Security Council by Colin Powell on 5 February that there is a lot of smoke. There is no killer fact, but there are vast amounts of circumstantial evidence that the elements of weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles are still there and are still being developed. Those are weapons which, in malign hands, can threaten us directly. As a lawyer, I do not underestimate the importance of such evidence, and those who do are gambling with our future security.

We supported resolution 1441 because it gave Saddam Hussein a final opportunity to comply or face serious consequences. He has not taken that opportunity. He has failed to comply with and co-operate fully in the implementation of that resolution. For that reason, we support the draft second resolution, because it makes clear that when the UN Security Council says that non-compliance will lead to serious consequences, it means what it says.

My colleagues and I want peace. We see military action as a last resort. That is why we will support the Government in the Lobby tonight. We do not see tonight's vote as the final say of this House on this matter, however, and nor should it be. We will also want a further debate on a substantive motion at the first practical opportunity should military action become necessary. I welcome the undertaking that the Foreign Secretary has given in that regard.

In the interim, however, we need greater clarity on a number of important issues. We need more clarity on the timetable. At what moment will the second resolution be put to the vote? Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that Hans Blix will have reported to the UN Security Council before any vote is taken? That is an important point, to which he may wish to respond now.

The answer to that is yes. Dr. Blix is in charge of his reports, not us. He is due to make a report to the Security Council under the provisions of resolution 1284, which is his basic authority, on Friday 28 February. I understand that there will be a further report at some stage next week, before any vote.

I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary for that clarification, which will reassure many people. Although I do not have a suspicious mind, will he also say what efforts the Government are making to win the backing of the Security Council, including the three African members, Guinea, Cameroon and Angola, whom the French Government entertained royally in Paris last week?

As will be expected, we are in active discussion with all our partners in the Security Council. As it happens, the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my noble Friend Baroness Amos, is currently visiting the Cameroons, Guinea and Angola.

I am relieved to hear that.

Given that it is accepted by all that Saddam Hussein is not complying and is not showing the change of attitude that Hans Blix was seeking, what further information—perhaps this will be answered by the Minister in his winding-up speech—will be required to trigger or justify a postponement of a vote? Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that a last-minute agreement by Saddam Hussein to dismantle his illegal missiles will not be enough? I think that that was what the Prime Minister was implying yesterday, but we would like some clarity on the matter.

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman a question that I would have asked the Secretary of State had I been given half a chance? I will put it to the right hon. Gentleman as he may well have information that Labour Members do not. If the weapons inspectors report that Saddam Hussein is complying with their demands, but it is revealed that the original Iraqi declaration was false and misleading, will it be the position of the Opposition that that would legitimise war?

I was in the United Nations when Hans Blix reported on 27 January. The test that he set is correct—that Saddam Hussein must show that his attitude has changed and that he is prepared to comply directly with the requirements of resolution 1441. That is not a question of time; it is a question of attitude. Hans Blix will be able to report on whether what is happening in Iraq convinces him that such a change of attitude has taken place.

My right hon. Friend has rightly highlighted the danger of cynical, last-minute gestures by Saddam that are designed purely to save his own skin. Given that Saddam has demonstrated over a long period that he is a mass murderer and a compulsive liar, would my right hon. Friend agree that, in practice, the elimination of weapons of mass destruction will also require the removal of Saddam and his hated regime?

We are all aware that, unless Saddam Hussein decides voluntarily to disarm, the likely outcome of the removal of weapons of mass destruction will be the removal of Saddam Hussein. That brings me on to my next point, and I will take no more interventions because I know that many hon. Members want to speak in this debate.

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition asked yesterday for information on contingency planning for the administration of Iraq after Saddam. I asked for such information as long ago as September. It is of grave concern that such information has not been forthcoming. With potential military action imminent, it is incredible that such contingency planning is not well advanced—although we were told yesterday that it was being discussed in the United Nations. We must be assured that there is no question of a long-term military administration and that early steps will be taken to see in place an administration that represents the interests and concerns of all parts of Iraq and all factions within it.

A key objective must be the preservation of the integrity of the sovereign state of Iraq. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that any break-up of Iraq would create enormous tensions and instability in the region? Does he also agree that, unlike Afghanistan, Iraq has a highly educated population and a suppressed but strong middle class? Within a relatively short period, it should be possible to establish a stable, representative and effective administration in Baghdad.

We need to know more about contingency plans for ensuring that immediate, adequate and effective humanitarian aid is available to the people of Iraq. That prospect would do much to reassure people in Iraq and the region, should military action prove necessary. The Secretary of State for International Development has shown a marked reluctance to come to the House to talk about this—she is not even in her seat today. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien) will give us some information when he replies to this debate.

With great respect, the Secretary of State for International Development has been extremely concerned about this issue and very forward in telling the House what she is doing about it. To my certain knowledge—because I heard her say it between 11.30 am and 12 noon today—she has spelled out what she is doing and the work in which she is involved.

I have to admit that I was not here for that, but for a very good reason. My hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan), who spoke on my behalf, tells me that he received no information from the Secretary of State for International Development, other than a stream of abuse.

There is another important question on which we need reassurance. Everything that we are being asked to support is on the basis of the existence of weapons of mass destruction. We are told that they are well hidden. Are there contingency plans to ensure that, in the event of the toppling of Saddam Hussein, such material does not fall into the hands of terrorists or weapons dealers, or simply remain as a hidden arsenal that will be available to others in future? Even if we cannot be given the details, can we be reassured that clear plans exist to ensure that weapons of mass destruction and programmes to develop them will be well and truly eliminated by whatever action is taken?

I welcome what the Foreign Secretary has said about progress on the other area of concern in the region—the nearer middle east. It is essential for the reassurance of other countries in the region that that issue is not put to one side during the next few weeks.

If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I will not give way. I really must draw my remarks to a close.

This is one of the most serious debates to be held in this House for many years. The Prime Minister faces momentous decisions in the days and weeks ahead. We have always made it clear that, so long as he is acting in the national interest, we will support him. That support has never been unconditional. We have been critical from time to time of the Government's failure to set out its case properly.

Some crucial questions remain to be answered and I have sought to pose them today. Most important is to do what is right. No international crisis is ever simple. No international questions are ever black and white. What is right and moral is sometimes difficult to discern. As I am sure we shall hear in this debate, matters are open to different interpretations. However, I am clear in my mind that, in the light of what we know, the direction and position of the Government in relation to this crisis is right. That is why, although it is not always the most comfortable or easy course, I believe that we owe the Government our support today. In the interests of the long-term security of our people, that is right. I urge my hon. Friends and right hon. Friends to support the motion.

Order. I remind all right hon. Members and hon. Members that M r. Speaker has imposed an eight-minute time limit on all Back-Bench speeches.

1.46 pm

I beg to move, To leave out from "destruction" to end and add

"but finds the case for military action against Iraq as yet unproven."
The amendment stands in my name and the names of 115 hon. Members and right hon. Members from all sides of this House. Let us make no mistake. The Government motion before us talks—rightly—of the United Nations process. I welcome that. However, if the Government motion is passed unamended by this House, a signal will have been given that this House endorses the timetable that is now upon us—which will lead, I fear, inexorably to war within the next three to four weeks.

Three main arguments appear to be mounted in support of early military intervention in Iraq. The first is: "They have had the time to comply: they don't need more time." Actually, Iraq has had 11 weeks since the weapons inspectors went in this time round. Let us not forget that, from 1991 to 1996–97, the weapons inspection process produced substantial results. Substantial amounts of chemical and biological warfare capacity were destroyed by the process. I would argue that a strongly supported weapons inspection process—one that is given the time to complete the job—is what the international community should be arguing for.

I have only eight minutes, so I will carry on.

The second argument is that there has not been full and complete co-operation with the weapons inspection process. That is true. However, there has been a substantial amount of co-operation. Are we seriously saying that, because Saddam Hussein has complied by 70 per cent. rather than 100 per cent., that is a cause for going to war?

There is no basis whatsoever—from any sentence of the Blix reports or any other evidence—for saying that Saddam has complied by 70 per cent. or by any fraction approaching that.

I have to disagree with my right hon. Friend. Everyone agrees that Saddam Hussein has not given full co-operation and is not complying completely. However, in such a situation, we must ask ourselves whether the degree of co-operation that he has given and which has undoubtedly been extorted out of him by the pressure from the international community falls so far short of what is required that it is a cause for going in and wreaking substantial havoc and destruction on Iraq. That case, as yet, is not made.

The third major argument that is used is that we will give comfort to Saddam Hussein by sending the wrong message. That is true only if we fail to maintain the pressure on him. There may well be a time for military action. I do not take the view that military action is never, ever likely to be required. There may well be a time when it becomes necessary.

At the moment, the timetable appears to be determined by the decision of the President of the United States and not by the logic of events.

The other argument that has been made is that those of us who urge caution are failing to be strong and that, by doing so, we are somehow appeasing a tyrant. That is the shallowest argument of all. Strength does not lie simply in military might. Strength lies in having an unanswerable case. It lies in making the right moral choices. It lies in maintaining the pressure, and it lies in securing the fullest possible international agreement. That is where our efforts should now be directed, but I fear that we may be cutting short those efforts by the timetable that is now upon us.

Let us not forget what we are talking about. We are talking about going to war. We are talking about thousands—possibly hundreds of thousands—of innocent lives being lost. We are talking about casualties almost inevitably among our own forces. We are talking about instability across the whole middle east. We are talking about making the achievement of a solution to the Israel/Palestine question infinitely more difficult. We are talking about the alienation of moderate Muslim opinion across the world. One does not undertake such things lightly. One must have the clearest possible reasons for doing them, and I do not believe that those reasons are there.

This may be the last chance before our forces are committed to military action that the House has to make our view known. It grieves me that I am seeking to amend a motion tabled by my Government—a Government whom I applaud and support. However, these are serious times and the House must make a serious judgment. We must say here today in this Chamber that now is not the time, that the case has yet to be fully made and that war, with all its consequences, cannot be the present answer.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. For the ease of the debate and so that interventions are taken for debate to take place across the Floor of the House will you clarify that, when interventions are taken, time is added to the time allowed for the speeches?

I can confirm what the hon. Lady says. Taking up to two interventions provides an additional two minutes for the speaker.

1.54 pm

In the previous debate on this topic, the Liberal Democrats tabled an amendment to the Government motion. We have done so again today and it sets out our party's position. There is no question but that we share the doubts expressed in the amendment tabled by the right hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) and in his speech. We will support him and others in the Lobby. On the assumption that the amendment is not passed, we will vote against the Government's motion.

We welcome the opportunity that this debate provides to discuss the critical issues facing the country. After three months and repeated requests for a debate, it has been a long time coming. However, it comes at a key moment in the development of the international situation.

We must send out an absolutely clear message. Saddam Hussein must be disarmed and his evil regime with it. Nobody disputes that. The question for us is how we go about that. Throughout the process, we have supported the United Nations and urged our Government and the United States of America to work through it. The international community is taking on Saddam Hussein because he defies international law, so it is absolutely essential that, as we tackle him, we follow the United Nations route; otherwise we will undermine the very principles and institutions in whose name we act.

It has not always been clear that that the United States of America has recognised that requirement. Even in the past 24 hours, the United States President has restated his belief that a second resolution against Iraq is not required before military action can begin. That is a lonely view in the world but, sadly, an important one.

We acknowledge the United Kingdom's role in persuading the United States Administration to pursue their case via the United Nations in the first place. However, all of us must be concerned about the threats made to members of the Security Council if they ignore America's will, and concerned that, if they do, the United States will go its own way.

In similar vein, the Prime Minister has introduced the concept of an "unreasonable veto". This, too, is a dangerous notion. Will it allow other permanent members of the United Nations Security Council to disregard a future use of the British veto? This pick-and-mix approach to international diplomacy is bad for Britain and it is worse still for the international community.

There is no doubt that the possibility of military action has been the catalyst for the return of the weapons inspectors and for the co-operation received from the Iraqi regime so far as it goes. However, there must be a difference between getting the military forces ready and using them. Much of the anxiety in the public's mind at present is because the United States' and the United Kingdom's rhetoric suggests that, once the build-up is complete, the military will go into action. Many fear that there is an unstoppable momentum towards war that is accentuated by the attempt to force the pace with a new draft resolution. Never mind the United States Administration's ambivalence about the role of the UN and even the need for a second resolution. We must have a credible threat of force, but not a certain threat of force; otherwise the international order has everything to lose and Saddam Hussein has nothing to gain except by pre-emptive action of his own.

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, but is his point not inconsistent? How can there be a credible threat to Iraq if we make it clear at the outset that the threat is not credible because we are not prepared to use it? Is that not an inconsistent position?

That is not what I was saying. If the hon. Lady will bear with me and listen to the rest of my case, I hope that that will become absolutely clear to her.

International law is clear that war can only ever be justified as a last resort. In upholding it, we must show conclusively that that is so and that we will go to war only if all other diplomatic and political options have been exhausted. That is far from being the case at this point.

The current action against Saddam is justified by resolution 1441. The resolution was a supreme effort of international diplomacy that took eight weeks of patient negotiation. It was unanimously agreed and was all the stronger for that. It put a clear onus on Saddam, marked out the fact that this was his final opportunity, and gave a warning in respect of further material breaches and the serious consequences that would flow from them. Saddam Hussein must know that that involves the real possibility of military action, but we do not believe that the current resolution that was drafted and put before the United Nations is sufficient to justify any such development.

The weapons inspectors are the key to dealing with Saddam. They have got clear instructions; indeed, they could not be more specific. So far, the outcomes have been mixed, co-operation has been patchy and the inspectors have not been helped by the slow build-up in their resources and numbers, but can anybody doubt their seriousness, purpose or independence? It is their judgment that is crucial in this debate. Overnight, we have seen the release of new information—an important development that would suggest that the regime is cooperating with them—but we face an early test this weekend regarding the al-Samoud missile system and Iraq's willingness to dismantle it. Overall, this is a finely judged case, but in the circumstances, we must surely listen to the chief inspector when he says:
"Eight years of inspections, four of no inspections, then 11 weeks and call it a day? It's a little short".

Does the hon. Gentleman not realise that this is a case not so much of the al-Samoud missiles, which are the delivery system, as of the nerve and biological agents that could be delivered? Those agents could be delivered by all sorts of other means, including manned aircraft and many others. Merely to focus on one particular aspect of the offensive capability of the Iraqi regime is wholly naïve.

I appeal to the hon. Gentleman to listen carefully to what I am saying. I was not saying that the requirement was the only one with which Saddam must comply, but I pointed out that it was an important test of his willingness to comply. It is for the chief inspector and his colleagues to judge this matter. The chief inspector has said that he should be able to reach that judgment within months—not hours or days, but months. He must be given sufficient time.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the interview given by Dr. Hans Blix toDie Zeit newspaper? In the interview, which will be published tomorrow, he appeals again to be allowed a number of months to complete his task. Should not the international community listen to his advice and give him some months to complete that task?

Alas, I am not as well connected with the editorial desks of foreign newspapers as the hon. Gentleman, but I will take his word for it. His intervention reinforces the point that 1 was making: the inspection regime needs a number of months to carry out its work and we should not be short-circuiting it at this point.

Prior to the passing of resolution 1441, we relied on containment and deterrents to look after Saddam.

It is hard to understand the Liberal position. First, we heard the hon. Gentleman's party leader saying at the "stop the war" demonstration that he did not support the war, but the Liberal Democrats' amendment says that they would support war if it were sanctioned by a resolution of the United Nations Security Council. What is their position?

Secondly, is it not the case that, if the United Nations passes a second resolution, the Liberal Democrats would support military action against Iraq within weeks, not months, which contradicts what he has just said?

May I suggest that the hon. Gentleman not listen to what the spin doctors from Millbank, or wherever they are now located, say about what my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West (Mr. Kennedy) has said. He said not that he was opposed to the war, but that we were in favour of resolving the situation through the United Nations and that war must be the last resort after all other options had been exhausted. That is a world away from the hon. Gentleman's characterisation.

I am sorry, but I have given way numerous times and I intend to continue.

At this point, the weapons inspectors are still in Iraq and are still saying that they have a worthwhile job to do. In response to the draft resolution tabled by the British and American Governments, the French have offered an alternative, supported by Germany and Russia. It talks about needing a clear programme of action, reinforced inspections and timelines for inspection and assessment. The Foreign Secretary drew attention to the contrast between Iraq and South Africa, but surely one of the key differences is that, in South Africa, the very points that the French memorandum sets out—a clear programme and timelines for inspection—were contained in the inspection regime. We must not dismiss that out of hand, as the Government appear to have done.

If we are to proceed to war, we must be a lot clearer about what the objectives might be. There is currently an enormous lack of clarity. It is not clear whether war would be only for disarmament purposes or for regime change. The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have both referred to regime change in previous contributions. Those mixed messages do not instil confidence in the international community—

Will the hon. Gentleman allow me to intervene on the subject of mixed messages?

Tempted as I am to draw attention to the mixed messages of the hon. Gentleman's party—some Opposition Members are signed up to the amendment while others are not, and Front Benchers who talked previously about not needing a second resolution now favour one—it would be as well to leave the matter to one side.

Apart from the objectives, we must also reflect on the consequences of any action. The most important starting point will be the humanitarian aspects of the situation in Iraq and in neighbouring countries. As yet, it is not at all clear what humanitarian preparations the Government or international bodies are preparing for. In the context of the situation in Afghanistan, where the President has complained about lack of follow-up to the conflict that occurred there a couple of years ago, that issue is very worrying.

We must also not lose sight of the dangers in the middle east conflict and its potential to spill over in what is already a very sensitive and difficult time, as the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) made clear. As the right hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury put it, the prospect of upsetting and putting at risk the support of moderate Muslim opinion throughout the world is very serious and we must not overlook it. There are many things that we must sort out. In doing so, we must be clear what we are setting out to do.

Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House how many Muslims he thinks Saddam Hussein has killed?

With due respect to the Foreign Secretary, that is not the point at issue—[Interruption.]

Order. The hon. Gentleman is on his feet responding to the intervention.

It is beyond doubt that Saddam Hussein's evil regime has murdered thousands of his fellow citizens. That is not the point. The point at issue is the consequence of any action in the middle east that is not supported by international resolutions. The Foreign Secretary must think very carefully about that.

Many things have got to be sorted out. In sorting them out, we must be clear about what we are setting out to do and how we will deal with the consequences. We are far from having reached that position at this point. It is important that, in due course, if there is to be a further resolution, we must have a debate in this House and a vote when UK armed forces are to be committed. At the key moment, when another UN resolution has been passed, that is absolutely vital. This debate cannot suffice.

We believe that the decision by the British, Americans and Spanish to table a new resolution at the United Nations is premature. All of us want to see the Iraqi regime disarmed and Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction destroyed.

Under the existing resolution, the weapons inspectors are carrying out a clear mandate to inspect and to report to the Security Council. They must be given sufficient time to carry out and to complete their task. War can only be a last resort once all other political and diplomatic options have been exhausted. We have not reached that point. The case for war has not been made.

2.10 pm

I will not repeat what the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary said so eloquently yesterday and today, but I want to put on record that I support my Government—not out of loyalty, although that is not a bad reason, but because I think that they are right, and I want to add a few points.

First, supporting the Government today does not mean that one is in favour of war. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, yes it does."] It does not mean that, as the media and—I was about to say idiots, but I had better not—Liberal Democrat Members say. War can be avoided by one simple act—Saddam Hussein complying with the resolutions of the United Nations. All the pressure—not just our pressure, but the pressure from everywhere—should be on Saddam Hussein, not on Blair and Bush. The pressure should be on Saddam Hussein to comply with the resolutions. I am no fan of President Bush, but the hyperbole of the attacks and the comparisons that he has suffered is incredible. That does no one's cause any good. The United Kingdom and United States Governments are working through the United Nations. We have heard that the weapons inspectors have found non-compliance on anthrax, on nerve agents and on long-range missiles. The evidence is now overwhelming, and we should be supporting the Government.

I do not doubt the sincerity of the majority of those who oppose Government policy, but I agree with the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) that the Liberals and, I would add, the Scottish National party, are attempting to use this issue—an issue of life and death—for party political purposes. As I said yesterday, that is irresponsible opportunism. They should be aware that Saddam Hussein is cleverly exploiting everything that they do, including my ex-right hon. Friend's patsy interview with him on television. I saw the marches that some of my colleagues took part in. They were reported with joy and glee on Iraqi television and they gave great succour to the dictator. I saw no placards on those marches saying, "Saddam must go". I saw no mention of the 2 million dead in the two wars, the Kurds who were gassed, the Iraqis who were exiled, or the hundreds of children who starve each day now because of Saddam Hussein's manipulation of the sanctions. Yet each day that passes without action to disarm Saddam Hussein means that more of those children will die and more members of the opposition will be persecuted. My colleagues should remember that there are consequences of inaction, as well as of action.

If the right hon. Gentleman reads the record, he will know that both sides of the House have condemned Saddam Hussein for years. Surely he understands that those of us who marched, and were proud to march, did so because we believe that when advisers to the Security Council—experts—say that they want more time and that they might be able to achieve disarmament if they had it, that is a road to disarmament by peace that must be preferable to a road to disarmament by war.

The hon. Gentleman and those who support him are not just na?ve; they are being duped. They are also inconsistent, and I shall point to another inconsistency. Members on the Opposition Benches and others who oppose the deployment of troops now urge us to give more time to the inspectors, but the inspectors would not be there had we not deployed the troops, and we would not have deployed the troops if we had taken the advice of some Opposition Members. That credible deployment of force needs to be maintained and intensified to make Saddam Hussein realise and understand that we are serious.

In conclusion, I have repeatedly asked critics of Government policy—I have asked them here, I have asked those with whom I have appeared on the media, I have asked people in my constituency who come to see me—what credible way they propose to disarm a brutal dictator. I get no reply and no credible alternative. I therefore believe that we should support the Government. We are not here just as people to do the bidding of everyone who writes to us; we are here to make our own judgment about what is right and what is wrong. I think that the Government are right and that, as there is no credible alternative, we as elected representatives have a responsibility to go back to our constituencies to explain the Government's policy, to bring people along with us, to support the Government and to get rid of a brutal dictator.

2.16 pm

I am as strong a supporter of the Atlantic alliance as anyone in this House. I believe that the continued maintenance of that alliance is absolutely vital to our security, to that of other European nations and to that of the United States itself. I have no hesitation, in the right circumstances, in facing up to my responsibility to vote for the use of military force in the defence and support of vital national and international interests, so long as it is plain that it is a necessary last resort and all other means of proceeding have been satisfactorily exhausted. So I begin—obviously, I trust—from no anti-American, left-wing, peacenik position in approaching—the problem.

Today's debate is the time to put down a marker to say that the other approaches—the diplomatic, deterrent policy and the use of threat in order to get compliance—have not yet been exhausted. I find myself attracted to the motion tabled in the name of the right hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith), in that if we ask ourselves today whether the case for war has yet been established, the House should say that it has not and that there is still a case for giving more time to other, peaceful alternatives for enforcing our objectives.

We should take as much time as is necessary to achieve disarmament, and we should resort to warfare once it is plain that all other methods are exhausted.

We have had 12 years, in two or three of which people have done nothing at all. We have had 11 weeks of the present policy and we must judge whether a few weeks more are required.

Let me make clear the origin of my doubts about the very persuasive case that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary sometimes put. I cannot rid myself of doubts that the course to war upon which we are now embarked was decided on many months ago, primarily in Washington, and there has been a fairly remorseless unfolding of events since that time. I am not alone in having heard and met American politicians of great distinction who gave the impression that a change of regime in Iraq was determined upon long ago and that the use of military force in a pre-emptive strike was justified in order to achieve that. I believe that in most cases the motives have been worthy and they genuinely believe that they are ridding themselves of an evil regime. I do not believe the conspiracy theorists. One can go on to hear theories about the installation of democracy in the Arab world, unfinished business from a previous Administration, and a reaction to the understandable state of political opinion in the United States of America in the aftermath of 11 September.

If war happens in the next few weeks—that is a genuine possibility—hon. Members must ask themselves whether it is legitimate to believe that such action had already been determined and had been remorselessly unfolding for many months. Many people believe that. It is why middle England and those of moderate political opinions have so many doubts. To many of my constituents, the answer to the questions, "Did Washington determine such action many months ago?" and "Could the President seek re-election without war and the removal of Iraq's president?" is as obvious as the reply to "Does the emperor have clothes?" The Government must respond to that formidable case.

However, I praise the Government for their actions: first, they put themselves in the classic Churchillian position, followed by every subsequent Government, of being America's closest ally in a great diplomatic crisis to gain the maximum possible influence over the exercise of power. I trust that any Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary of this country would have done that. Secondly, they went to the United Nations and led it towards the path of diplomacy and peaceful coercion, which, I trust, the House would prefer if it achieved the desired effect. The result was resolution 1441, for which I voted. It plainly paves the way to war, if necessary, in setting out the conditions for endeavouring to put together an international coalition that would enforce the United Nations' will when all other means had been exhausted.

The resolution turns on the question whether a material breach has occurred. Although other concerns cannot be brushed aside, the revolting nature of the Iraqi regime and its cruelty, much though we deplore it, is not a legal basis for war. We must concentrate on whether there are weapons of mass destruction, whether disarmament can be induced and, if not, whether force will be used to effect it.

The Government introduce other matters to strengthen their claim. Even today, the Prime Minister asked us to listen to the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd). I shall do that, doubtless with a sense of shock and shared anxiety about the Iraqi regime's outrageous behaviour. The word "attitude" has also been used today, as though the Iraqi regime's attitude to disarmament is a new and exciting concept.

However, the question that we must ask is whether a material breach has occurred. To me, that means considering whether demonstrable evidence exists to show that biological and chemical weapons are held in conditions and circumstances in which they pose a current threat to neighbours or to us. There is no evidence of links with al-Qaeda and I do not believe that Iraq poses a threat to New York or London. To claim that is to insult our intelligence. However, I wish to know whether demonstrable evidence exists of sufficient quantities of weapons to pose a threat. I doubt that.

I am glad to say that Iraq's army is degraded and in a weaker position than in 1991. I do not believe Saddam Hussein; he probably has material around Iraq that he has not disclosed and we need to pursue that rigorously. However, is it in a condition to be deployed as a threat to anybody? That has not yet been demonstrated and we should not go to war until it has.

Use of threat and reverting to the policies of international diplomacy and deterrence that we used in the cold war have been successful. Every speaker so far has conceded that coercion has moved Saddam. That shows that the policy is working. It does not mean that we have reached the stage of abandoning deterrence, coercion and threat and deciding that the weather is unfortunately getting warmer in Iraq, that 250,000 people, including a large part of the British Army, are there and either we must bring people home in the next few weeks or they must open fire.

Any war will be won easily. I am glad that if we go to war, it will not take long. However, we should consider alternatives because of the consequences of war. How many terrorists will we recruit in the greater, longstanding battle against international terrorism? It will be far harder to win. What will we do to the stability of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan or Egypt? What sort of leadership will replace that which might be deposed? The Government never address those questions satisfactorily, as my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary said. However, they will have to live with the answers.

The next time a large bomb explodes in a western city, or an Arab or Muslim regime topples and is replaced by extremists, the Government must consider the extent to which the policy contributed to it. That is why hon. Members should pause and why, unless evidence is produced for a breach and a material threat, my judgment today is that we should not go to war. I therefore support the amendment that the right hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury tabled.

2.25 pm

It may surprise some hon. Members, even Labour Members, to know that my instincts are those of a party loyalist. The Foreign Secretary laughs, but I suggest that he examine the record. I have long taken an interest in the subject, and although my view has been consistent, I, like the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), have noticed the Foreign Secretary's inconsistency and the various attempts to shift the goalposts. I therefore support the amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith), the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) and 113 others who joined us.

When the Foreign Secretary opened the debate, he gave the impression that we would have the opportunity later to hold a substantive vote on whether this country commits troops to action in Iraq. At the very least, the Government could get their act together. My right hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, North and Bellshill (Dr. Reid), the appointed chairman of the Labour party, made it clear on "Today" this morning that the Government will go ahead without a substantive vote. He said that that was in accordance with a tradition that was hundreds of years old.

I also heard the interview to which my hon. Friend refers. My right hon. Friend the chairman of the Labour party made it clear, as on other occasions, that a substantive vote would take place in the exact terms that I set out earlier. It is our hope and intention that that happens before any military action occurs. That is in the Government's interest as well as that of the House. Let me also give a separate undertaking that the result of the proceedings on the second resolution will be the subject of a debate and a vote in the House on a substantive motion.

I do not want to disagree with the Foreign Secretary, but my understanding, from sitting in the studio and listening, was that the party chairman made an unequivocal statement. I accept the Foreign Secretary's view, but I should like to dispose of the myth that having a substantive debate before troops are committed somehow prejudices their security. If we have not already signalled a firm intention to attack Iraq, I do not know what we have done. The President of the United States has to go to Congress under the war powers Act. Surely the House should also be allowed to express an opinion.

The Foreign Secretary said two things in answer to the question, "Why Iraq?" He subdivided them into two further points. First, he claimed that Iraq posed an exceptional danger, and he gave defiance of the United Nations as the second reason. Many arguments have been presented about defying the UN. Indeed, the Foreign Secretary mentioned UN resolutions that referred to all countries in the middle east, including Israel, and specifically to making that region a nuclear-free zone.

Although there are differences of opinion, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe presented very well the case against a thoroughly emasculated Iraq posing an exceptional danger. Like him, I anticipate that the overwhelming force in place to deal with Iraq is of such a nature that a campaign would, hopefully, be relatively short and sharp. What we cannot guarantee, however, is the amount of collateral damage that would ensue— apart from the wholly undesirable political outcomes, of course.

The Foreign Secretary asked the rhetorical question, "Why now?" People who think that it is a matter of us running out of patience misunderstand the mechanics of what is going on. The decision was made not in Downing street or the Foreign Office, but in the White House. We are all Philadelphia lawyers now and know all about the fascinating weapons of mass destruction, but anyone with the most rudimentary knowledge of American military doctrine since Colin Powell and the first Gulf war knows that we are missing the obvious. It has taken until now, and it is still not finalised, to mobilise and deploy the troops and units needed to hold a campaign that accords with an American military doctrine that is nearly coming to a conclusion. Oddly, hon. Members will have noticed from today's new reports that space has been allocated in the middle east for only seven of the 70-odd British planes. The hard reality is that it will be an American military campaign.

The reasons for the campaign are complex. It is not just a matter of oil or of the President avenging daddy's unfinished business; the ideological hawks in the US Administration have set out their stall for many years. They have set out, transparently and consistently, the different hopes and aims to which they aspire. I mentioned the undesirable outcomes. We must not forget, as our Prime Minister confirmed at the Dispatch Box when his Back Benchers heckled him, that North Korea will be next. We can write the script: Iran, Syria, Libya. People in Iran must be worried, and we do not know where it will end. That is not conjecture; the objectives of the new pax Americana have been set out clearly and unequivocally.

We should leave it to Hans Blix and el-Baradei to make the definitive statement on weapons of mass destruction and let the United Nations decide whether a material breach has taken place. There are two prerequisites for British public opinion on that.

No, I will not.

The first prerequisite is that a United Nations resolution is essential. It must be based on credible evidence, and that will not be provided by the political imperatives of the US or UK Governments, or anyone else for that matter. I recommend that people read Senator Riegle's report, published by his Senate Committee, on where the biological weapons originated. It is a matter of congressional record and anyone can get a copy. There were 73 separate consignments, including everything from botulinum toxin to other horrors, such as anthrax. Those were exported to Saddam by the United States. None of us is lily white. I know that that does not help to deal with the problem, but it ill behoves people to stand up as purer than Caesar's wife on the issue.

I urge hon. Members on both sides of the House to consider the fact that it is extremely unlikely that we will be afforded an opportunity to debate the problem substantively. I hear what the Foreign Secretary said, but I also heard what the Labour party chairman said. I wage that it will be extremely problematic for Members of this House to connect with public opinion in our constituencies, parties, the nation at large and internationally, and to express our views. We can do that now only by accepting the amendment. It rules nothing out; it asks only that we consider that the case is not yet proven. That gives all concerned the leeway to make their case. Hon. Members should not miss out on the opportunity to reconnect with the overwhelming consensus of the British people.

2.35 pm

I draw attention to my registered interest.

I begin with the connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda. During the weekend following 11 September 2001, I was at a dinner party in Islington. While the corpses were still being taken out the wreckage of the World Trade Centre, the majority of people at that party were convinced that America had it coming. They thought that in the preceding years, the United States had arrogantly thrown its weight about in the world. My view is the opposite. The background to 9/11 was a decade in which the west had failed to show fixity of purpose and had neglected to offer deterrence to its enemies. The United States, in particular, had repeatedly come under attack from extremists without offering any effective response.

In the 1990s, there was the first attack on the World Trade Centre. That was followed by the bombing of American barracks in Saudi Arabia, the bombs at American embassies in east Africa, and then the attack on the US warship Cole. Those outrages represented a classic escalation. In retrospect, each inadequate response to each outrage showed a lack of determination that was taken as a sign of weakness, and that emboldened our enemies.

What is the connection between the incidents that the right hon. Gentleman describes and the activities of the Iraqi Government?

The hon. Lady should have waited for my next paragraph.

In parallel, the west was failing to respond to the escalation of activities by Saddam. He failed to co-operate with United Nations inspectors immediately after the Gulf war. There were further atrocities against his people and violations of the no-fly zone. He harassed the inspectors until they were forced to leave. The west again made no adequate response to any of those things. If there is a criticism of the Prime Minister, it is that he, in common with others, did not seek to take effective action in 1998 and 1999, but that does not make him wrong today.

That is a bit rich coming from a member of a Government who supported Saddam Hussein.

I am explaining the history of the west's lack of response. Of course that includes the Government of whom I was a member, but I am analysing the important point at which we now stand.

Let me make some progress.

During the 1990s and beyond, Russia and France undermined the sanctions regime. They advertised to Saddam the infirmity of purpose of the west. Both Saddam and al-Qaeda, separately, could take comfort from the clear evidence that the west was not willing to take firm action. That is the connection between al- Qaeda and Saddam. I think it reasonable that after 11 September 2001 the United States reviewed its security and the failure of deterrence. It concluded that if we continued to let Saddam to get away with things and to go his own way, our vulnerability would increase.

The world has its fair share of wicked leaders and terrorists, and they will do whatever they can get away with. They listen to what we say but, more to the point, they watch what we do. As the Prime Minister rightly says, if the civilised world is not prepared to make its words stick now, its determination will always be doubted because political will is crucial.

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall a question that sought to persuade the Government to beef up the International Atomic Energy Agency inspections of Iraq's nuclear weapons programme? Does he also recall the answer in which the Government said that they had full confidence that Iraq, as a signatory of the non-proliferation treaty, would abide by its international obligations and not work on a nuclear weapons programme? According to the response, the Government had no intention of doing what the question asked, which was to increase the weapons inspections. That answer was given in the House on 19 April 1990 by the Government of whom the right hon. Gentleman was a prominent member and of whose record he seems so proud.

I think I have covered that point. I must admit that, in my view, Members who persist in saying "We have been wrong over a period of 12 or 13 years, and we must therefore be wrong to try and put our mistakes right now" are on very weak ground.

In an important sense, Saddam and Bin Laden are co-belligerents. They share a hatred of the west, and a belief in the efficacy of terror. Let me add that if Britain tried to stand aside—here I disagree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke)—that would not spare us from the terror. A display of weakness will bring more terror, not less; and I think it is a dangerous myth to believe that terrorism is in some way beyond deterrence.

The Prime Minister's task has been made more difficult—I admit this—because America has not been willing to say much about the middle east peace process. I think that the United States is strictly correct to reject any link between Iraq and the regional peace process, but there are many indirect links. Certainly, I believe it might have been easier for the Government to try to establish direct connections between Iraq and the Palestine Liberation Organisation than to try to establish them between Iraq and al-Qaeda. It is clear that Saddam is the hero of the Palestinian suicide bombers.

Many today have focused on the dangers to the region if there is a conflict. Of course there are dangers, but I say that if Iraq is disarmed there are opportunities too. The United States will then engage in the middle east peace process; but it will do so with an unambiguous hostility to terrorism. A new Palestinian leadership will then understand that terrorism will not work, and that therefore political engagement may.

Prime Minister Sharon may be ruthless in war, but he would also be ruthless in peace. The peace will require Israel to give up land, positions and settlements, and Mr. Sharon is the man to force such an outcome on the Israelis.

As the Prime Minister said yesterday, Iraq is a potentially rich country. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes said today, it is a country with a middle class and educated people. If economic and political freedoms are returned to Iraq, that can have a powerful effect on a region in which those liberties are largely absent. Perhaps Iran too will flip towards the moderates.

This crisis has cost the west dearly in terms of the damage to its institutions. New institutions may be required. I am a great supporter of NATO, but it is damaged, and in any case it is geographically very limited. I believe that we should look for a new organisation, not to replace NATO but to stand alongside it. The aim of that organisation would be to counter terrorism, and its focus would be global. The United States, Britain and Australia would certainly be founder members of the new organisation; perhaps its headquarters would be in Prague or Madrid. Whatever the precise form of that new organisation, I believe that its time has come.

2.43 pm

Last August, at the invitation of the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson), I wrote an article inThe Spectator setting out my reservations about a possible war on Iraq. Six months later, I stand by every one of the arguments I advanced then. They included my concerns about the effect on Muslim opinion; about the need for any action to take place under United Nations authority; about the apparent double standards involved in enforcing UN resolutions on Iraq while neglecting those on Israel and the Palestinians although I recognise that the resolutions on Iraq are mandatory, while those on Israel are not; about the danger of Iraq's spreading any such war, with the consequent perils of a middle east in turmoil and serious economic consequences; about the hazards of war—including the certainty of civilian casualties; and about the role played in such a conflict by the most unappetising United States Administration I have ever known. I repeat that I said that then and believe it still.

If tonight's vote were a vote of confidence in George W. Bush—appointed by the United States Supreme Court rather than being elected by the American people—I would be the first into the No Lobby. Under Bush the United States is a bad world citizen—bad on global warming, bad on the International Criminal Court, and bad on steel tariffs. What we are debating today, however, is not a vote of confidence or otherwise in Bush, or even a vote about my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister—although I support and trust my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. The issue at stake in this debate, and in whatever action follows from it, is the United Nations as the only upholder of world order, however faulty and inadequate the United Nations may be.

In mySpectator article I emphasised the primacy of the United Nations, a primacy stated in clause IV of the Labour party constitution. As it happens, it was included in that constitution on the initiative of one Anthony Wedgwood Benn, who at that time was a staunch supporter of the United Nations rather than the toady to Saddam Hussein that he has since become.

The fact is that the United Nations has passed a series of mandatory resolutions on Iraq following that country's serial aggressions and violations of human rights, and Iraq has violated every one. Since I expressed my concerns last summer the Security Council has passed resolution 1441. 1 must say that the constant moving of the goal posts is a sign of the inadequacy of some of the arguments being advanced. First, Members said "Let us have a resolution"; we got a resolution. Then some Members said "Let us have a second resolution"; a second resolution has been tabled. Now there is a motion on the Order Paper referring not just to a second resolution but to lots of other conditions, including a debate in the House before military action. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has conceded that as well. At what point do we have a consistent position? At what point do we lay down conditions and say that those conditions must be met?

Resolution 1441 reiterates all the previous resolutions since 1990, and lays down a process for its implementation together with a statement of the consequences if it is not obeyed by Saddam Hussein. The resolution could not be clearer; I assume that all Members have read it. While a further resolution may be regarded as desirable—and my right hon. Friends are attempting to obtain one—it is certainly not indispensable. Resolution 1441 lays down all the necessary conditions.

What happens if resolution 1441 is not implemented? Yesterday my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister set out the consequences for world order—

Order. The right hon. Gentleman is obviously not going to give way.

As I was saying, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister set out the consequences for world order if resolution 1441 is turned into a flouted expression of unfulfilled requirements. What he said was incontrovertible. If Saddam can get away with the games he is playing, stringing out the process until it is vitiated and nullified, the consequences for world order will be catastrophic. I cannot understand my colleagues who argue that, given a little or a lot more time, Saddam will suddenly display a change of heart. It is what Hugh Dalton used to call the doctrine of unripe time, and it is the basis of the amendment.

Yet there is a further consequence. I have expressed in clear terms my distaste for the present United States Administration. Only with immense difficulty and effort has my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister persuaded Bush and his cronies to take the United Nations route. The House should have no doubt that if that UN route fails on this issue, the Bush Administration will wash their hands of the UN altogether and go it alone whenever they believe that their national interests are at stake.

Neither we nor any other ally will be able to influence Bush otherwise. That may be a despairing argument for voting for the Government motion tonight, but it is realistic and, I believe, incontrovertible. Moreover, if the role of the United Nations is set aside, we have no hope whatever of solving the agonising Israeli-Palestinian confrontation. Even now, it is possible for our Prime Minister to persuade Bush to participate in the initiatives necessary to obtain peace in the middle east. Success in this issue may persuade Bush that there could be success in that issue too. However, I do not believe that a middle east peace process would be possible if the United States retreated into self-interested isolationism, which is only too prevalent in the White House and the Pentagon. Every hon. Member will search her or his conscience in deciding how to vote tonight. I have searched mine and, as I said, all my colleagues will have done so. Even though all our hearts are heavy, I have no doubt that it is right to vote with the Government tonight.

2.50 pm

I am sure that the article by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) was excellent. I hope that he was suitably paid—perhaps there will be another commission shortly.

The Chamber is a marvellous place, and is at its best in a debate such as this one. I listened to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), whom I proudly supported when he stood for the leadership of my party. I also listened to the Foreign Secretary. Strange to say, I find myself in great disagreement with my right hon. and learned Friend, but in total agreement with what the Foreign Secretary said today and what the Prime Minister said yesterday. This is the second debate on Iraq that I have listened to in two days. Yesterday, I sat in Church house, Westminster as a member of the General Synod of the Church of England and listened to a debate on Iraq.

The hon. Gentleman is using unparliamentary language about being duffed up. In fact, in a debate in which I did not take part, I listened to a series of speeches from good, well-intentioned men and women who, for the most part, were misguided and did not understand the realities of what they were talking about.

No, I will not.

I listened in particular to three Church of England bishops who effectively paraphrased the words of St. Augustine—"Make us tough, but not yet." All of them underlined the appalling nature of the despicable regime in Iraq, but were not prepared to face up to the consequences, which the Prime Minister, as a national leader, has had the courage and calmness to do. I make no apology to any Opposition Member or anyone in the House for saying that I believe that the Prime Minister has behaved in an exemplary fashion since 11 September in the field of foreign affairs. I cannot say the same for him in other fields.

No, I will not.

The Prime Minister has given a lead, although that has not been easy for him. We must all accept that his party has an honourable tradition of pacifism, so it cannot have been easy for him to make certain speeches before certain audiences. I remind Government Members who disagree with him that he has made one fundamental mistake in his six years in Downing street. He has relied too much on spin, which has undermined his credibility and made people less trusting of him. I believe that that is one factor in the unease of the nation as a whole. However, I wish to tell Government Members and people outside the House that in this particular area the Prime Minister has behaved with probity and great courage. He deserves support as a national leader of considerable renown.

I am interested in the hon. Gentleman's praise for the Prime Minister's role in the issue since 11 September 2001. With all the effectiveness of Government machinery, spin doctors and publicity, why is there still a huge majority in the opinion polls against going to war? Why did the biggest ever demonstration in British history take place on 15 February, when a lot of ordinary people who had never been on a demonstration before marched through the streets of London because they do not believe that there would be a just war?

I have seen people march before on Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament demonstrations, including the Prime Minister in the past—[Interruption.] Perhaps not a million people, but the numbers approached that. The hon. Gentleman spoke about spin. I said that, paradoxically, that has helped to destroy the Prime Minister's credibility, which I greatly regret.

I have limited time at my disposal, so I will not give way again.

I wish to say two things in particular. Yesterday, in the exchanges after the Prime Minister's admirable statement, I put it to him—the Foreign Secretary made this point this afternoon—that if we allow the international community to be set at naught by a tyrant whose evil, if not without parallel, has not been exceeded in the past half century or more, the United Nations will go the way of the League of Nations. At stake—this was implicit in the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo)—is the credibility of the international order in standing up uncompromisingly to evil. Like everyone else, I hope that we will not have a war, but action against Saddam Hussein will be wholly justified if he continues to flout the will of the international community.

In that context, let us remember that the weapons inspectors are not employed as weapons discoverers. They are there to inspect what Saddam Hussein declares. He has repeatedly made false declarations, and the evidence is before us. The Command Paper that the Government provided for every Member as background reading for this debate makes it plain that time after time this man has thumbed his nose at the international community and has wrought terrible havoc on his own people. I urge Liberal Members to go to the National Liberal Club and look at the portrait of Mr. Gladstone. They should remember those amazing speeches that he made during the Bulgarian atrocities in which he talked about clearing out the Turks
"bag and baggage from the province they have desolated and profaned."
If anybody has desolated and profaned the province over which he rules it is Saddam Hussein.

We are now at a critical juncture in the history of this new century. If we allow this evil tyrant to get away with it, we will advance into the century with no credible international organisations and with our own credibility, and therefore the defence of our very people, at risk. I urge the House to reject the well-meaning amendment tabled by the right hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) and support the Government without any equivocation in the Lobby tonight.

2.58 pm

The approach to war is dangerous for combatants and non-combatants, and poses enormous problems for ordinary Members of Parliament. We are buffeted by pressure and arguments on all sides but, at the end of the day, we are impelled to make a rational decision. I have looked at the resolution, and shall vote on it, and not one that may be made in future. There is nothing exceptional about that—I do not feel prejudiced, nor is my conscience undermined by decision to go into the Lobby with the Government and the official Opposition.

I have long believed that the US and the UK should go down the Security Council route. I have unequivocally supported all those who supported 1441, and I have strongly supported, at the United States Congress, as has the Defence Committee, a further resolution—not that it is necessary legally, but it is certainly necessary politically to gain endorsement and justification from a larger number of individuals and nations than have hitherto given support. The Defence Committee went to Washington and New York a couple of weeks ago. We met the Senate Armed Services Committee and senior people from the National Security Council, the Department of Defense and the State Department. There was hardly anybody whom we met, bar the commissionaire in the Watergate hotel, whom we did not press strongly for a second resolution. I am delighted that efforts are being made to achieve that.

Is Saddam co-operating fully with 1441 and the other 16 or 17 resolutions? Of course he is not. Dr. Blix and others have said that he is co-operating reluctantly with the process, but he is not co-operating in substance. It has been said endlessly, and I repeat, that UNMOVIC's role is not to search down holes or in caves but to verify whether Saddam Hussein has been compliant. Dr. Blix said that in his speech to the United Nations; and the Defence Committee was privileged to listen to him privately for one hour and five minutes the day before he made his presentation and, I am sure, before he had written it.

During his formal presentation, Dr. Blix said:
"The declaration submitted by Iraq on 7 December, despite its large volume, missed the opportunity to provide the fresh material and evidence needed to respond to the open questions."
He continued:
"Although I can understand that it may not be easy for Iraq in all cases to provide the evidence needed, it is not the task of the inspectors to find it.
Iraq must squarely tackle this task and avoid belittling the questions."
So the inspectors are seeking assurances, which up to now have not been provided.

The example of the al-Samoud missile is well worth considering. There are three variations of it, two in existence and one on a drawing board. It is obvious from what Dr. Blix has seen that Iraq is in material breach in relation to the missile, which in 13 out of the 40 tests has shown that it is capable of flying farther than the distance laid down for it by the United Nations.

If one considers each of the flagrant breaches, the obfuscations, the untruths and all the evidence that has been provided, one reaches the inescapable conclusion that Saddam Hussein has hidden, is hiding and is not compliant. One asks how much longer should one search. Yes, weeks more—there must be flexibility—but if anyone argues that Dr. Blix should be given 10 or 12 months to complete the job, I am afraid they are barking.

Surely the logic of the argument that the right hon. Gentleman has just spelled out is that if the arms inspectors—Dr. Blix and his colleagues—ask for more time, they should be given it.

As I tried to explain earlier, there is a great deal of flexibility in the system. The Prime Minister has succeeded in persuading the United States to go down the Security Council route. I fear that there will be an opportunity for Dr. Blix to search further and longer, but it must not be for an indefinite period.

The hon. Gentleman has only been in the Chamber for half an hour, and has already intervened once. I have no intention of giving way to him.

There are many hon. Members who are not persuaded by the evidence so far presented, and I respect their views. It would be much easier for Members of Parliament and our Prime Minister to succumb to domestic and international pressure, but when I asked the Prime Minister a rather convoluted question before the Liaison Committee, about what factors he would take into account before he made a decision, he said:
"is it right and is it do-able"
He believes, and others believe, that the route he is taking is right.

If we look at the Prime Minister's record so far, it is clear that he faced a lot of opposition to the UK intervening in Sierra Leone. He was right. There was a lot of opposition in all parts of the House to intervention in Macedonia. He was right. On Kosovo, there was even more opposition. He was right. On Afghanistan, he was right. Therefore I am prepared to give his judgment further endorsement. I have heard no reason why his perspective should be trashed, as many have suggested.

I approach war, if it is to take place, with trepidation. It is not something to which anyone looks forward. The more one speaks to military personnel, the clearer it becomes that war must be undertaken as a last resort. I hope very much that there will be a second resolution and that pressure will be put on Saddam Hussein. I, like many others, have said over the months that the only way to put pressure on him so that war will be superfluous is to let him see that the various countries of the world are so united that he has no option. Ironically, the greater the pressure, the less likely he is to resist.

There was an amazing demonstration a week ago; it was extremely impressive. I have read a number of biographies of Keir Hardie. There was a massive antiwar demonstration on 2 August 1914, organised by the Independent Labour party. On 3 August 1914 overwhelming support was given in this place by the parliamentary Labour party to the British expeditionary force. One of the very few who opposed the Labour party was the great hero of the Labour party, Ramsay MacDonald. The following day war was declared.

Although one must pay serious attention to public opinion, ultimately—this sounds an appalling argument, using Burke, who was not a democrat—we owe our constituents our judgment. I have spoken to so many people, been to so many meetings and read so much documentation, and my own view is that Saddam Hussein is not to be trusted. I hope that there will be a second resolution, and I hope that the pressure on him will be so enormous that there will be no need to go to war. That is what I yearn for.

3.7 pm

Hearing my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) is an exhilarating experience. He is like a bottle of 1970 port, which improves with maturity. Today he showed, as he always does, sound judgment. He brings to these debates an engaging Barchester view. We get a report from Church House, and it is not irreverent, as mine would be—all gas and gaiters. He is serious in his criticism of the Synod of the Church of England and says that it is seriously misguided, as it is, and as are so many of those who have signed the amendment tabled by the right hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury.

I was saddened by the amendment and by the fallacious arguments adduced by the right hon. Gentleman. First, he said that Her Majesty's Government were not giving Iraq time, as though 12 years since the end of the Gulf were not time enough. One should recall that the ceasefire at the end of the Gulf war was conditional on the full implementation by Iraq of UN resolutions. Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman said that perhaps there was not total co-operation, but possibly 70 per cent. —a figure challenged by the Foreign Secretary, and rightly so. There is virtually no evidence of any significant co-operation with the arms inspectors or of compliance with UN resolution 1441. The right hon. Gentleman then said that the Government were anxious that his amendment might give comfort to Saddam Hussein. Nothing gives greater comfort to Saddam Hussein than the infirmity of purpose and the divisions that we have seen in the House of Commons.

Fourthly, the right hon. Gentleman said that Saddam Hussein believed that caution was appeasement and that this was an utterly wrong belief on the part of the President of Iraq. It is perplexing, naïve, simplistic and highly dangerous to think, as the right hon. Gentleman does, that Saddam Hussein is open to moral persuasion. Strength is the only thing that he understands. The right hon. Gentleman might think that strength lies not only in military might, but Saddam Hussein and his ilk most certainly do not agree.

The notion of peaceful coercion, as advanced by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), is a thoroughly dangerous illusion. It is a contradiction in terms. The earlier sedentary intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) put it very well: it is like feeding the crocodiles. That was his comment to the Liberal spokesman, and it was highly pertinent. If we wish to deter the dangerous process of weapons proliferation, and particularly the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the way to do it is to deal effectively with Saddam Hussein and to do it fast. Time is not on our side; that is why he is trying to string us along. The faster military action is taken, the better. We all know that it will be much harder for the allied forces in the summer season. We cannot keep them marching up and down the frontiers of Iraq, and there comes a time when enough is enough. That time is approaching fast. If effective action is taken, it is much less likely that the dictator who runs Korea will maintain his weapons programme, and other potential proliferators such as the Iranians and the Libyans will be deterred, too.

Unity of purpose is absolutely crucial, however. We learned that when facing down the dictators during the cold war. I find it so sad that the allies who brought succour to the beleaguered people of West Berlin in 1948—the United States, the United Kingdom and France—should not be wholly together and that France should be diverging its purposes today. I recall, too, as will many other hon. Members, the deployment by the Soviets of SS20 ballistic missiles. We faced down that crisis in the face of public opposition and opposition in some quarters of the House, especially in the Labour ranks. We did so, and there was unity of purpose in the alliance, not least on the part of the federal German Government, who were courageous then, but today seem frankly to be on the other side. That grieves me. It is also interesting to note that those with the firmness of purpose that we seek are those who have suffered most from dictatorship. It is not we western Europeans who are showing total resolution—this Government are, to their credit—but the central and eastern Europeans: the Poles, the Czechs, the Bulgarians and others. The Poles remember what happened to their people at the time of Solidarity when martial law was imposed by Jaruzelski. The Czechs remember the Soviet tanks rolling into Prague in '68. The Hungarians remember what happened to Imre Nagy in 1956. It is sad that the Liberal party has become so wayward today.

Saddam Hussein knows that those who are not against him are for him. It is therefore crucial for the future of our alliance and the security of our continent that the European members of the alliance as a whole should get behind the United States as we are, see that resolution 1441 is fully implemented—and fast—and that Saddam Hussein is seen down.

3.14 pm

How extraordinary that my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) should pray in aid of this war what happened in Britain in 1914. That war was one that neither side wanted to fight, but because they had both turned up for the show, they thought that they had to go through with it. Yes, my right hon. Friend is right: despite Keir Hardie, the first world war was fought and there are a lot of white crosses in France and the low countries to prove it—an anthem for doomed youth that killed the flower of European civilisation.

We were told here that this was not a resolution for war, and that it was the last push for peace. Well, listening to the consensus between the two Front Benches, it sounded awfully like war to me. I do not know what it did for the enemy, but it didn't half frighten me. It is entirely possible that the teenage scribblers who made that spin earlier this week on the Prime Minister's behalf that today's resolution was about peace, not war, have not read George Orwell's "1984". After all, the same teenage scribblers told us last week on the Prime Minister's behalf that this was going to be a six-day war, drawing on the illusion of the apparent triumph of the Israeli armies over the Arabs in 1967. They entirely missed the point that, on the day that the six-day war ended, the 35-year war began. That is precisely the point that the supporters of this amendment—which merely asks us to conclude that the case for war has not yet been proven—are making. However short and sharp this war is—I place on record that I do not believe that it will be either short or sharp—its consequences, its reverberations and its seismic impact will disfigure life in this country and around the world for as long as the Members here present are still with us.

This is a defining moment. For the first time in many years, Parliament has an opportunity truly to shape world events. I have spent the last months talking virtually daily to American broadcasters and journalists, and I can tell the House that if this Parliament sends the message tonight that the British people are not with this adventure, it will have a decisive impact on opinion in the United States of America. We are always told that it is too early to vote on war until it is too late. This is our last opportunity meaningfully to affect the course of these great events, and hon. Members are fooling themselves if they do not acknowledge that. We all know what the public want. Every Member knows what their constituents would like to read about them in the newspapers tomorrow. Every Member on the Labour Benches knows what the members of their constituency party would like to read about them tomorrow. Let me quote our leader:
"The people are the masters. We are the servants of the people. We will never forget that, and if ever we do, the people will very soon show that what the electorate gives, the electorate can take away."
Those words were spoken by our Prime Minister when that new dawn broke in 1997.

This debate is about one man, and it is not the man they want us to think it is about. This is about George W. Bush.[Interruption.] I know that they do not like to hear this. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) said, this is the most distasteful American Administration that he has seen in his long lifetime. This is an American presidency that people on the Labour Benches would not have been seen dead with. This is an Administration who made Texas the execution chamber of the world, who broke all the international treaties, who walked away from every international effort held dear by Labour Members.[Interruption.] They don't like it up 'em because they know that what I am saying is the truth. They are standing against Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Tutu, Thabo Mbeki and with George Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle. That is the bottom line.

This matter can be resolved by the man prayed in aid by the Foreign Secretary eight times in the course of his address—Dr. Hans Blix. The Foreign Secretary may not know it, but in the German press tomorrow, Dr. Blix will ask for exactly what our amendment this evening asks. It is no good pretending to be with the UN and Hans Blix and then slapping him in the face when he asks for more time to complete the job that he has already begun and which is bearing fruit.

There is no doubt that the United States Administration would like to go forward into this war. There is no doubt in Labour Members' minds and hearts, however much they protest, that that born-again, right-wing, Bible-belting, fundamentalist Republican Administration in the United States want war, but they cannot have their war without the support of Great Britain. The vast majority of people in Great Britain are against the war. We know that to be true: we are asking Parliament to reflect it. We have a great opportunity this evening and I hope that my hon. Friends will not throw it away.

3.22 pm

There comes a time in one's life when one finds oneself in peculiar company. The feeling is probably mutual, and others will be as embarrassed as I, but that should lead people to listen carefully to the group that has come together to point out something that should be self-evident—that the case for military action against Iraq is yet unproven. First, it is unproven to the British people. They are not convinced, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) has been assiduous in pressing the Prime Minister to convince the British people. He has failed so far to do so.

No, I really will not. Secondly, the wider world has not been convinced. Of course, we could be right to go to war even if neither of those groups were convinced, except that there has to be life after war. That is the problem. If we go to war in circumstances in which neither our own people nor the wider world are convinced, we will not be seen for what we believe ourselves to be, which is merely the handmaid of the United Nations and the enforcer of peace in circumstances in which there was no alternative.

The alternative is the issue. There can be no just war unless it is the only possibility. That is the number one explanation of the basis on which a nation may go to war. It defends itself because it can do nothing else. It goes to the aid of someone else because that person is being attacked. However, it must have an absolute assurance that it could not do anything else. That is why it is right to suggest that the case for military action against Iraq is as yet unproven.

Hans Blix believes that he can make great gains if he is given time. Of course, he cannot have a veto on the matter. I do not support those who suggest that he can go on asking for more time for as long as he likes. However, it is not unreasonable when a man has had 11 weeks in this stage of the process to give him some more time. People argue that Saddam Hussein has had enough time, but I am not asking for time for him: I am asking for time for Hans Blix, which is rather different.

We are now in a situation in which the western world—to some extent, the whole world—has devoted large resources to press, to squeeze and to demand of Saddam Hussein. We have not yet gone as far as we could, short of war. Much of what is being done could be enlarged, short of war, inexorably to press Saddam Hussein so that he knows that it is not the preamble to a gradual reduction of pressure, but the slow and certain steps that will lead in the end to war.