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Tuesday, 20 August, 2002, 06:21 GMT 07:21 UK
Iraq to dominate Labour conference
Tony Blair and George Bush
Blair has said no decisions have been taken on Iraq
The prospect of military action against Iraq is set to dominate Labour's annual conference after the party's general secretary admitted that no-one could stifle debate on the controversial issue.

David Triesman said not even the party's leadership could prevent discussion on a topic that has inflamed Labour's left-wing.


If there is a sufficient body of opinion at conference that wants a debate, they get a debate

David Triesman
Mr Triesman's remarks follow Labour rebel Bob Marshall-Andrew's warning that UK support for a US-led attack on Iraq could cause the biggest rift in the party for 20 years.

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott has already admitted there are differences of opinion in the Cabinet over possible military action.

Grave issue

Mr Marshall-Andrews, MP for Medway, described the growing rift over Iraq as akin to one of Labour's bouts of internal "mass destruction".

"I have never known anything as serious as this," he told BBC's Breakfast with Frost.

Last week, Mr Prescott dismissed as "prattle" reports of a Cabinet split on the issue of Iraq.

He insisted there was no "serious division" among senior ministers, despite press reports that Robin Cook is ready to lead opposition to US-led military action.

Former Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson said the reports were "making a bit of a mountain out of a molehill".

But he stressed: "I would be disappointed if there were not views expressed, contrasting views, by members of the Cabinet."

Vote urged

Former Labour minister Lord Richard told BBC Radio 4's The World this Weekend: "You really cannot go to war without a national concensus.

"At the moment, I don't think there is a national consensus."

Trade unions are urging the prime minister to gain the backing of the Houses of Commons and Lords before committing British troops to a conflict with Iraq.

During an interview with BBC Radio 4's Westminster Hour, Labour general secretary David Triesman said Tony Blair would not be able to prevent the issue being debated at the party's Blackpool conference.

"If there is a sufficient body of opinion at conference that wants a debate, they get a debate."

He added: "I don't see how anybody could stifle debate, even if they wanted to."

UN approval?

Meanwhile, the government has reportedly ordered a legal review of a possible attack on Iraq.

Robin Cook
Mr Cook is said to be concerned about war
Attorney general Lord Goldsmith has been asked for a legal opinion by next month on whether or not United Nations (UN) security council approval would be necessary, according to The Sunday Times.

The newspaper says Ministry of Defence and Foreign Office legal advisers are divided on the issue.

Chief of the defence staff Admiral Sir Michael Boyce is thought to have questioned Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon about the legality of an attack and the potentially high numbers of British casualties, The Sunday Times reported.

Cabinet debate

Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Menzies Campbell has said the Cabinet has a "moral duty" to debate possible military action in Iraq.

"The British public will find it extraordinary if by now the Cabinet has not discussed, at least in principle, the issue of a British contribution to military action against Iraq.

"If the lives of British servicemen and women are to be endangered, they are entitled to know that the Cabinet as a whole has made a systematic, detailed, and considered appraisal of the issues and the risks involved," he said.

Meanwhile chief weapons inspector Hans Blix has insisted getting his team into Iraq under acceptable terms remains the UN's only target.

"The worry they may retain weapons of mass destruction is a very important element," he told BBC1's Breakfast with Frost programme.

But Mr Blix added: "If the Iraqis conclude an invasion by someone is inevitable then they might conclude it is not very meaningful to have inspections."


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THE IRAQ DOSSIER
See also:

19 Aug 02 | Politics
26 Jul 02 | Politics
29 Jul 02 | Politics
24 Jul 02 | Politics
16 Aug 02 | Politics
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