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Foreign Office Questions

3. Mr. Bill Michie (Sheffield, Heeley): What UN Security Council meetings 
are planned in the next three months to discuss policy towards Iraq. 

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Brian Wilson): 
To date, the Security Council has scheduled meetings on Iraq issues on 8 
March, 31 March and an unspecified date in April. In addition, the Iraq 
sanctions committee meets on a regular basis to discuss all aspects of Iraq 

Mr. Michie: The situation is serious and future loss of life on both 
sides--by accident or design--is a stark reality. Since I accepted what was 
at the time the King's shilling and wore uniform, I have been convinced that 
politicians who vote for war and armed conflict should be the first on the 
front line, thus possibly avoiding future
conflicts throughout the world. Will my hon. Friend talk to my right hon. 
Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs to find 
an alternative to break the deadlock before more lives are lost, because two 
wrongs do not make a right?

Mr. Wilson: My hon. Friend would agree that continuing a wrong does not make 
a right, and that is what we confront in the Iraqi regime. I am pleased to 
spell out the differentiation. Nothing that we or the United Nations do is 
intended to hurt the Iraqi people; that is not the purpose. The purpose is 
most definitely to prevent the
Iraqi regime from developing weapons of mass destruction, from attacking its 
neighbours--as it did 10 years ago--or from using chemical weapons against 
its own people, as it also did in the not-so-distant past. Let us keep the 
balance right and implement policy as effectively as possible. We must not 
abandon our resolve to
prevent the Iraqi regime from acting in the way that I have described.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife): May I welcome the Minister to what I 
believe is his first Foreign Office Question Time? If any information were 
required on the need to review policy towards Iraq, was it not to be found 
in the rather cold and frigid reception for Colin Powell as he toured Arab 
capitals over the
past two or three days? With three out of five of the permanent members of 
the Security Council no longer supporting the

27 Feb 2001 : Column 698

sanctions regime and no Arab Government, apart from Kuwait, being prepared 
to offer public support for the regime, is it not now time to do what the 
Minister was hinting at over the weekend, which is to institute a full-scale 
review of policy towards Iraq, out of which should come a sanctions regime 
that is related to military and
dual-use equipment, but excludes non-military sanctions?

Mr. Wilson: The purpose of the sanctions regime and that of United Nations 
Security Council resolutions is to achieve exactly what the right hon. and 
learned Gentleman has described: to target the military capacity of Saddam 
Hussein. Of course, there are items that fall into the dual-use category.

It is no part of my intention, or anyone else's, that humanitarian goods 
should be caught up in the sanctions regime. As I have said, if there are 
concrete examples of that happening, they should be drawn to the attention 
of the Government and the UN sanctions committee. Merely to assert that 
there are such examples plays into the propaganda efforts of Saddam Hussein, 
in whose interests it is to claim that, by definition, if we prevent him 
from building weapons of mass destruction, we are visiting humanitarian 
suffering upon his people.

That is not true. Saddam Hussein is inflicting that suffering, as I am sure 
the right hon. and learned Gentleman well knows. There is $11 billion lying 
in bank accounts that Saddam Hussein could be using for the humanitarian 
good of his own people. He chooses not to do so because he prefers the 
propaganda value of that $11
billion to the practical effect of the money.

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington): My hon. Friend the 
Minister has said that anyone who points to the dire humanitarian 
consequences of the sanctions regime against Iraq is a dupe. He will be 
aware that two successive UN co-ordinators in the regime have both said 
clearly and publicly throughout the world that there are massive 
humanitarian consequences of the sanctions regime, and that, as relevant UN 
officials, they cannot support it. Does he believe that
they too are dupes?

Mr. Wilson: I said absolutely no such thing. I respect the many people who 
are genuinely concerned about the sanctions regime and the way in which 
sanctions are implemented. I am not speaking negatively about those who hold 
that view which, doubtless, is shared by my hon. Friend. It is positive to 
say that we must distinguish between two approaches. One is directed against 
weapons of mass destruction, and one is purported to be directed against the 
humanitarian interests of
the Iraqi people. In so far as there is purported to be confusion, it serves 
only Saddam Hussein. That is why he seeks to imply that one approach is the 
inevitable consequence of the other.

If the approach can be better, of course it should be better. Everyone 
agrees about that and is trying to take the agenda forward. The logical 
conclusion is not to abandon sanctions, to allow the means of developing 
weapons of mass destruction--including the development of the chemical 
weapons programme--and to allow another attack on Kuwait or anywhere else. 
It is in our interests to distinguish the two objectives, and we shall do 
that more effectively in future than in the past. The objective remains 
clear. The primary objective--which is in the

27 Feb 2001 : Column 699

interests of the world, and of the region--is to stop Saddam Hussein 
developing the potential that we are discussing.

Mr. Tom King (Bridgwater): If we ask our brave pilots in the RAF to 
undertake challenging and dangerous missions, are they not entitled to 
expect the widest support in the United Kingdom and throughout the world 
community for the task that they are carrying out, which is of the highest 
humanitarian order? If there is concern about whether people understand why 
the task is being undertaken, is it not beholden on the Government to ensure 
that there is a much clearer picture in
people's minds in the United Kingdom and more widely of the real threats 
that are posed to the southern Shia people and the marsh Arabs, given the 
brutality and awfulness that was suffered by the people of Kuwait? Will the 
Government make a great effort to support our pilots in the task that they 
have been given?

Mr. Wilson: The raids of a fortnight ago were launched precisely in pursuit 
of that objective and were not an extension of policy towards Iraq. We were 
merely saying that if we ask aircrews to cover the southern no-fly zone, we 
must make sure that they have the best protection possible. I find it 
difficult to believe that we
cannot achieve full consensus on that point, even if on no other. If we ask 
our aircrews to do a job, we must protect them. It is as simple as that.

Like me, the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) went to Kuwait at 
the weekend, and there are plenty of reminders there that we are not talking 
about some hypothetical threat. It is not an invention of paranoid minds 
that Saddam Hussein might do certain things in the region; he did them 10 
years ago. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would join me in wishing 
to mention the people whom we met in Kuwait--mothers, daughters and children 
of 660 prisoners of war who
have never been accounted for. The Iraqi regime has made no attempt to tell 
those prisoners' loved ones whether they are alive or dead or to describe 
their treatment. Those people are not propaganda, but real, flesh-and-blood 
human beings. If we had some movement from the Iraqi regime on such 
questions, some of the other claims made on their behalf might be a little 
more credible.

Mr. Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green): What discussions does my hon. 
Friend plan to hold with the Indian authorities and at the United Nations 
about the alleged activities of the Delhi-based company NEC Ltd, which is 
alleged to be supplying missile material and biological weapons material to 
the Iraqi regime? Is that not exactly the type of activity that must be 
ended if there are to be any developments in policy towards Iraq?

Mr. Wilson: Any alleged breach of sanctions should be investigated, 
including that one. Breaches of sanctions are occurring; we cannot have 
sanctions without breaches. However, that does not invalidate the case for 
sanctions, which will play the key role in stopping Saddam Hussein 
developing weapons of mass destruction. I undertake to write to my hon. 
Friend on the specific case to which he referred.

Discussions are taking place, and that is one reason for Colin Powell's 
presence in the region during the past few days. He has talked with 
representatives of neighbouring

27 Feb 2001 : Column 700

countries to try to persuade them that sanctions must be enforced. Sanctions 
were not invented by the Government or by the United States; they are 
carried out under United Nations Security Council resolution 1284. The way 
out for the Iraqi regime is to allow the inspectors in to see what is going 
on. If that happens, sanctions can be suspended and, ultimately, lifted. 
That is a simple, straightforward way ahead, but it requires Saddam Hussein 
not to develop weapons of mass
destruction or chemical weapons, and not to attack his neighbours. The House 
was united on all those objectives 10 years ago, and it should be united 

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