BUSINESS QUESTION – IRAQI CBW STOCKS – 9 January 2003

Dr Julian Lewis: Surely the point about [the English cricket tour of] Zimbabwe is that no Minister has made a formal statement to the House and thereby subjected himself to questioning?

May we have a statement from the Foreign Secretary on a subject first raised by my hon. Friend the Member for North Essex (Mr Jenkin), the shadow Defence Secretary, with the Secretary of State for Defence on Tuesday, namely, the attitude of the Government to the UN inspectors and their role in Iraq? It is clear that Saddam Hussein had four years in which to produce chemical and biological weapons stocks, then to destroy the plant that produced them and conceal the stocks in any hole in the ground anywhere in Iraq. The House needs to know what the Government's attitude will be if, as expected, the inspectors fail to find any of those stocks and the Americans decide nevertheless that the danger is so great that they must proceed with military action. This is an important matter. It was raised by the Conservative Opposition and has been taken up by Labour Back Benchers and the Liberal Democrat leader. The House deserves to have its say on the matter.

[Robin Cook: It would be impertinent for the House or any member of the Government to try to anticipate what the UN inspectors might say to the United Nations. It will, after all, be only another three weeks before we hear about progress from the head of the inspection team. I expect that he will necessarily say that he will require further time to carry out the task. Surely, the appropriate and responsible attitude for any Government—especially when they are a permanent member of the Security Council—is to say that we want to ensure that the inspectors can carry out that task, that they have adequate time and resources to do so and that the authority that they have been given by the Security Council is fully respected by the Government of Iraq. This should not be a business of the inspectors trying to discover that Iraq is concealing anything. The resolution is explicit in saying that the duty is also on the Government of Iraq to declare what they have.]