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EDITIONS
Monday, 25 November, 2002, 23:19 GMT
Anti-war MPs rebel over Iraq
Weapons inspectors check in at their Iraq hotel
Weapons inspectors have arrived in Baghdad
Thirty two Labour MPs have defied the government and supported an unsuccessful move to give the Commons a veto over any British participation in a war against Iraq.

They voted with Liberal Democrats calling for the UN to pass a second resolution before any military action against Saddam Hussein.


There is no inevitability about military action

Geoff Hoon
Defence Secretary

The call was rejected by 452 votes to 85 and a government motion backing the UN resolution was passed without a further vote.

The number of Labour rebels does not match the more than 50 MPs who rebelled the last time the issue was discussed.

Reservists preparations

Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon used the debate to announce the UK was looking at the issue of calling up reserve troops for a possible Iraq war.

There were "no immediate plans" to call out reservists, said Mr Hoon, but in due course the government might need to sound out individual reservists and their employers.
Geoff Hoon, Defence Secretary
Hoon said UK troops were not overstretched

UK ministers last week confirmed the UK was among 60 nations to have received a request from America for troops for possible action.

Mr Hoon said discussions continued about how many UK troops could be involved.

But it would be wrong to give details because plans could change and because revealing numbers could help Saddam Hussein's contingency planning.

'Element of surprise'

Mr Hoon, who stressed no decisions had been taken, also fended off Tory accusations that the armed forces were "running on empty".

Earlier, Mr Straw promised MPs a vote ahead of a possible war as long as it did not threaten the safety of British soldiers relying on the "element of surprise".

Jack Straw, Jacques Chirac and Tony Blair at the Nato summit
Blair stressed the strength of Nato's warning

Mr Straw argued it would be "utterly irresponsible" to hold any vote ahead of war which put lives at risk.

But Lib Dem spokesman Michael Moore denying that was the effect of his party's calls.

The foreign secretary said the UK hoped there would be a second UN resolution before any military action, although none was necessary.

Saddam Hussein had "his final opportunity to take the pathway to peace", added Mr Straw.

Conservative shadow foreign secretary Michael Ancram said his party backed the UN resolution and the determination to rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction.

Mr Ancram pressed for clarity on what would constitute a breach of the resolution.

"Whatever happens the integrity and sovereignty of the state of Iraq is maintained," said Mr Ancram, echoing the UN resolution.

'Devastation' forecast

Despite Mr Straw's promise of a vote at the "appropriate time", Labour's Neil Gerrard raised fears MPs could be getting their last chance to have their say before action.

Urging people to support the Lib Dem motion, Mr Gerrard said: "I have real fears about the political consequences of any war on Iraq.

"It could have devastating consequences for the whole of the Middle East region."

Earlier, Prime Minister Tony Blair said Saddam Hussein faced the might of Nato allies if he failed to give up his alleged weapons of mass destruction.

Reporting back to the House of Commons from last week's three day Nato summit in Prague, Mr Blair also warned that the threat of terrorism was "not a war we can avoid".

Mr Blair underlined Nato's "remarkable statement of defiance" against the threat of international terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.

Mr Blair said there was no appeasing fanatics, whose enemy was "anyone who isn't them".

"The threat of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of rogue, unstable states is not part of some different danger," he said.

"It too, like terrorism, represents savage indifference to human life."

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The BBC's Vicki Young reports
"The government worked hard to keep this rebellion to a minimum and it paid off"

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