May I first express our deep sorrow at the loss of a greatly loved colleague, Ian Gow, and our sympathy to his family; and also express our sadness at the loss of the two other hon. Members to whom Mr. Speaker referred, Mr. Adams and Mr. Wall, who were taken from us so suddenly, and extend our sympathy to their families, too.
The Government have asked for Parliament to be recalled to discuss the grave developments in the Gulf over the last few weeks.
In the early hours of 2 August, Iraq invaded and occupied Kuwait, a peaceful, independent country and a member of the United Nations since 1963. It was a flagrant and blatant case of aggression.
The United Nations Security Council responded promptly, demanding first Iraq's immediate and unconditional withdrawal, and subsequently restoration of the legitimate Government of Kuwait. When after a few days Iraq had failed to respond, the Security Council imposed comprehensive sanctions and later authorised the use of force to implement them.
Meanwhile, in response to requests from King Fahd of Saudia Arabia and other Gulf rulers, the United States, closely followed by Britain, immediately deployed ground, air and naval forces to deter further aggression by Saddam Hussein, and in support of the Security Council's decisions. More than 20 other countries, including several Arab nations, have now sent or committed themselves to sending forces.
British and other foreign citizens in Iraq and Kuwait have been caught up in the crisis, and are being used by Iraq as hostages in a way which has caused revulsion throughout the world. Embassies in Kuwait have been forcibly prevented from carrying out their duty of looking after their citizens.
The Government have responded to this extremely serious situation vigorously and in close co-operation with our allies and friends. Our resolute response has received wide support in this country and elsewhere and the gratitude and appreciation of many Arab Governments.
Hon. Members naturally wished to debate these matters at a convenient moment, and I welcome the opportunity to give the House a fuller account of events and of the Government's actions. Both my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and Defence have just returned from visiting the area and are in a position to give first-hand reports to the House.
I shall first say a word about the origins of the present crisis. In July, Iraq and Kuwait became involved in a dispute over oil pricing and production levels, and over Iraqi debts to Kuwait. Iraq's principal demand was that Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates should cut oil production in order to maintain prices. Iraq also demanded it should not have to repay the loans of many billions of dollars received from Kuwait during the Iran-Iraq war. As the dispute developed, Iraq deployed substantial numbers of troops to positions near the border with Kuwait.
Active diplomatic efforts, notably by President Mubarak of Egypt, were made to defuse the situation. As a result, Iraq and Kuwait agreed to bilateral talks in Jedda on 1 August, with the prospect of a further round of discussions in Baghdad. The Iraqi Government gave explicit and categorical assurances to the Governments of Egypt and Saudi Arabia that they had no intention of invading Kuwait.
Saddam Hussein introduced into this dispute the further question of Iraqi territorial claims on Kuwait. These claims are without legal foundation. The Al-Sabah family has ruled Kuwait since the 18th century, long before Iraq itself was created in the break-up of the Ottoman empire following the first world war.
Kuwait's borders with the newly created Iraq were drawn in 1923. They were accepted by Iraq when it became an independent state in 1932. None the less, Iraq resuscitated its territorial claim against Kuwait in 1961, when British protection of Kuwait came to an end. British forces were despatched at the request of the ruler to protect Kuwait's independence and sovereignty. They were subsequently replaced by an Arab League force. The existing border was then finally reaffirmed between Iraq and Kuwait in 1963.
That is the history. To return to recent events, despite having assured other Arab Governments and leaders that he had no aggressive intent, Saddam Hussein ordered Iraqi forces to invade Kuwait in the early hours of 2 August. They did so under the pretext of responding to a request for assistance from a non-existent revolutionary government, which they alleged had overthrown the Government of Kuwait.
Saddam Hussein then established a puppet regime consisting of Iraqi officers. That so-called government have now disappeared without trace, and Saddam Hussein claims to have annexed Kuwait, which he now describes as a province of Iraq. History has many examples of perfidy and deceit. This ranks high among them and shows that nothing Saddam Hussein says can be trusted. Moreover, it is an outrageous breach of international law.
Iraqi's actions raise very important issues of principle as well as of law. There can be no conceivable justification for one country to march in and seize another, simply because it covets its neighbour's wealth and resources. If Iraq's aggression were allowed to succeed, no small state could ever feel safe again. At the very time when at last we can see the prospect of a world governed by the rule of law, a world in which the United Nations and the Security Council can play the role envisaged for them when they were founded, Iraq's actions go back to the law of the jungle.
The issue is one of importance to the whole world. It affects world security, world oil supplies and world economic stability. It affects the confidence of all small states, not only those in the middle east. We have bitter memories of the consequences of failing to challenge annexation of small states in the 1930s. We have learned the lesson that the time to stop the aggressor is at once.
The international response has been swift and resolute and for that we owe much to the United States and to the co-operation of the Soviet Union.
On 2 August, the very day of the invasion, the Security Council adopted resolution 660 condemning the invasion and calling for Iraq's immediate and unconditional withdrawal.
On 4 August, the European Community and its member states took measures to protect Kuwaiti assets, to freeze Iraqi assets, to embargo oil and to stop arms sales to Iraq. It also agreed to work for comprehensive economic sanctions in the Security Council.
Two days later, as Iraq had failed to comply with the original resolution 660, the Security Council adopted a further resolution—661—which demanded the restoration of the legitimate Government of Kuwait and imposed comprehensive mandatory sanctions on Iraq under chapter VII. A committee of the Security Council was also set up to monitor and report on the implementation of sanctions.
Subsequently, the Security Council has adopted three further resolutions. They declare Iraq's annexation of Kuwait null and void; condemn Iraq's actions against foreign nationals in Kuwait and Iraq, and demand that they be allowed to leave; and resolution 665 calls upon United Nations member states to take necessary measures against shipping to ensure the strict implementation of sanctions. As was pointed out at the time, that includes the use of minimum force.
Not a single country voted against any of those resolutions, although the Yemen and Cuba abstained on some of them.
Let me stress: our objectives are those set out in those resolutions—unconditional Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait and restoration of the legitimate Kuwaiti Government. The preferred method is comprehensive economic sanctions, collectively and effectively implemented.
Iraq is vulnerable to sanctions. Its economy is based almost totally on the export of a single commodity, oil, through a limited number of identifiable outlets. That is why the action of Turkey and Saudi Arabia in preventing the export of Iraqi oil through the pipelines was of such critical importance. Other outlets are being effectively blockaded, and the embargo on the sale of oil from Iraq and Kuwait is so far working well.
Iraq is also heavily dependent on imports of food and other commodities; and it has limited currency reserves following the war with Iran. That is why it was so important to freeze Kuwait accounts and assets abroad on the very first day, and so prevent Iraq from exploiting them. Rigorous implementation of sanctions by the whole world is vital to make the policy work.
The leaders of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey have shown great steadfastness, as have the Gulf Co-operation Council and many members of the Arab League. Saudi Arabia and other members of OPEC have helpfully agreed to increase oil production substantially to compensate for the loss of Iraqi and Kuwaiti oil on the world market.
For a number of countries, backing sanctions will bring serious economic hardship. An international initiative to find financial and other ways to help them is already under way. I saw Secretary Brady yesterday to discuss that, and said that Britain would play its part; and while we must all contribute, it is only fitting that a special effort should be made by those who, for one reason or another, are not contributing to the multinational force in the Gulf.
I have been dealing with sanctions and their enforcement. The question has arisen whether further authority would need to be obtained from the Security Council for military action beyond that required to enforce sanctions.
We have acted throughout in accordance with international law, and we shall continue to do so. Resolution 661, which called for comprehensive economic sanctions, expressly affirms the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence, in response to the armed attack by Iraq against Kuwait, in accordance with article 51 of the United Nations charter. We hope that economic sanctions will prove to be sufficient. That is why they must be strictly enforced. But we are not precluded by reason of any of the Security Council resolutions from exercising the inherent right of collective self-defence in accordance with the rules of international law.
This is the nub of the whole debate. As I understand it, what the right hon. Lady has said is that the United Nations charter, and the resolutions that have been passed, have already, here and now, given her legal authority, if it comes to it and it is decided, to take military action against Iraq. I take it that, if we vote in the right hon. Lady's Lobby tomorrow night, she will claim that to be an endorsement of that view. Is that her view? She knows the real anxiety. People think that America may go to war and Britain, which is quite a minor part of the operation, will be dragged into it before the House resumes.
The nub of the debate is to secure the withdrawal of Iraq from Kuwait and the legitimate restoration of the Government of Kuwait. [Interruption.] If the right hon. Gentleman will wait a moment, he will hear my view when I have finished this section of my speech.
May I repeat what I have said? We have acted throughout in accordance with international law and we shall continue to do so. I pointed out that resolution 661, which called for comprehensive economic sanctions, expressly affirms the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence in response to the armed attack by Iraq against Kuwait. [Interruption.] This is from the resolution, in accordance with article 51 of the United Nations charter.
We hope that economic sanctions will prove to be sufficient. That is why they must be strictly enforced. But we are not precluded, by reason of any of the Security Council resolutions, from exercising the inherent right of collective self-defence in accordance with the rules of international law.
To undertake now to use no military force without the further authority of the Security Council would be to deprive ourselves of a right in international law expressly affirmed by Security Council resolution 661; it would be to do injustice to the people of Kuwait, who are unable to use effective force themselves; it would be to hand an advantage to Saddam Hussein; and it could put our own forces in greater peril. For these reasons, I am not prepared to limit our legitimate freedom of action.
I have made my position absolutely clear. May I repeat it? To undertake now to use no military force without the further authority of the Security Council would be to deprive ourselves of a right in international law expressly affirmed by resolution 661; it would be to do injustice to the people of Kuwait, who are unable to use effective force themselves; it would be to hand an advantage to Saddam Hussein; and it could put our own forces in greater peril.
I have full legal authority for everything that I say on these matters, and for those reasons I am not willing to limit our legitimate freedom of action. I have made the position clear, and there is nothing further that I can add. For the reasons that I have given, I am not prepared to limit our legitimate freedom of action. If right hon. or hon. Members think to the contrary, I am sure that they will have time to put their views. My views have been approved by the topmost legal opinions that we can get.
Our first objective has been to make sanctions effective as a means of bringing pressure on Saddam Hussein to withdraw from Kuwait. Our second but no less urgent objective was to deter further Iraqi aggression. Saddam Hussein could have gone on to invade the north-eastern territories of Saudi Arabia and seize its oilfields. Had he succeeded in that, he could have taken the smaller Gulf states too. It is thanks to rapid action by the United States in sending forces to the area, and prompt support by Britain and France, that the aggressor has been halted.
We have worked throughout in the closest possible co-operation with the United States. I have been in frequent contact with President Bush, and my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and the Secretary of State for Defence have remained in the closest touch with their American colleagues. That pattern has been repeated at every diplomatic and military level. The President of the United States has given a lead that deserves the widest support; and the commitment of American forces has been on a tremendous scale.
The House will be familiar with Britain's response, which of course is on a much smaller scale—and I will summarise it briefly. We have deployed a squadron of Tornado F3 air defence aircraft, a squadron of Tornado ground attack aircraft, and a squadron of Jaguar aircraft for ground support. They are stationed in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Oman. They are backed up by VC10 tanker aircraft and Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft.
One Royal Navy destroyer and two frigates are in the Gulf. A second destroyer is on its way, as are three mine clearance vessels. There are also a number of support ships in attendance. A limited number of ground forces are deployed to defend airfields and to provide security generally.
That is already a valuable contribution to the defence of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, but we believe some additional forces will be needed, and their composition is under consideration.
I wish to stress three points about our armed forces. First, they have been deployed in the area at the request of the Governments of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other Gulf states—and, in the case of Bahrain, that Government have invoked our treaty of friendship.
Secondly, they arrived quickly—a factor that contributed enormously to their effect, because the greatest need to deter was in the very early days of the crisis. Thai is a tribute to the efficiency, skill, and dedication of our service men and service women.
Thirdly, our forces are part of a much wider international effort, including not only United States forces but those of our European allies, of many Arab countries and others, including members of the Commonwealth. It is a truly multinational force.
The plight of British and other foreign nationals in Iraq and Kuwait has shocked everyone. Every norm of law, of diplomatic convention and of civilised behaviour has been offended by the way in which those citizens have been rounded up, treated as hostages, and used as a human shield. It is strange for someone who claims to be the leader of the Arab world, a latter-day Saladin, to hide behind women and children. Through the United Nations and bilaterally, we have done everything possible to press Iraq to let our people go, just as theirs are free to go from Britain. There has been particularly good co-operation with other European countries on this matter. The International Committee of the Red Cross is seeking but has not yet obtained the right of access to all hostages held in Iraq and Kuwait, which they are entitled to under the Geneva convention.
The recent release of some women and children is very welcome, and more are expected in the next few days. But they should never have been detained in the first place; and their release does not make the detention of their husbands, fathers and sons any less evil and reprehensible.
Has the Prime Minister seen the complaint in a letter to The Times today from one of the released hostages, which said that the British presence in Kuwait—the embassy—was not giving sufficient and proper advice to those people who remained? Secondly, it said that there has been no debriefing of those people who have come back from Kuwait. Will the Prime Minister tell us what action is being taken to debrief those who have fortunately been released? Thirdly, will she tell us why the British Airways flight was allowed to land in Kuwait five hours after the invasion had taken place? Why was it not warned and allowed to be diverted?
I shall answer the hon. Gentleman's questions in reverse order. The British Airways flight landed, its passengers disembarked, and the crew handed over to a successor crew and went to their hotels. All that took place before the invasion: the invasion was later. I think that there will be a letter setting out the full facts—a legal letter, so I cannot go further into the matter. Some people would most strenuously argue against some of the misinformation which has unfortunately occurred.
Secondly, with hindsight, people expected us to be able to give advice on things that we could not possibly foresee. Our embassy deserves praise. When it was suggested that our people should go to hotels, volunteers immediately went to those hotels to look after them. We did not know what would occur. There was no one there to meet them, so they returned to their homes. It is suggested that people should have been advised to try to escape. I do not know how the hon. Gentleman can think that we could possibly have given such advice. Will he recall that one of our citizens who tried to do that was shot dead? We have not even been able to recover his body.
The third matter that the hon. Gentleman raised was debriefing. These people arrived back at 4·45 in the morning, having suffered terrible experiences. I and all my right hon. Friends were concerned that somebody from the Department of Social Security should be at the airport to give immediate help if required, also doctors in case medical attention was needed, and that there should be someone there to get accommodation should that be needed. That was at 4.45 am. Had we attempted to debrief them then, we should have been extremely culpable. It would have been said that we were hard and unthinking. Many of those people have already reported, voluntarily, every single thing that they knew. Of course, we shall do everything that we can to ensure that we obtain as much information as possible because it may be helpful to others.
The hon. Gentleman's criticisms are not well-founded, and I should like to thank our people in Kuwait.
The recent release, as I said, is welcome, but these people should not have been detained. Their release does not make the detention of their husbands, fathers and sons any less evil and reprehensible.
Our ambassador and his staff in Baghdad are doing their utmost to help and protect our people. In Kuwait, we and nearly 30 other countries have refused to comply with Iraq's utterly illegal attempt to close foreign embassies.
Although our embassy is surrounded by armed soldiers, and its water and electricity cut off, our ambassador and his small staff of volunteers continue to offer what help they can to the beleaguered British community. The House—most of it—will join me in paying tribute to their work, and, even more so, to the courage and fortitude of all the British people in both countries who are living through this terrible time. Our thoughts go also to their families. We are all very grateful to the work done by the helpline run by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Hayward) and others. It is splendid work, and we thank the many volunteers who have given their time and effort.
The Prime Minister just mentioned the helpline. We all agree that it has been marvellous and has helped in all our constituencies. Does the Prime Minister agree, however, that the families of the people affected should be able to use "Freefone", so that obtaining the information that they need does not cause their telephone bills to build up?
As well as the helpline—which, I believe, is turning itself into a charity so that we are better able to supply it with money voluntarily—there is a 24-hour emergency unit at the Foreign Office which I believe people can telephone without expense.
They cannot telephone without expense yet; however, they are telephoning. People are on duty there for 24 hours a day, and are receiving many calls. We are doing everything possible in that regard.
May I thank my right hon. Friend for her comments about the efforts of the helpline and all its helpers? May I also clarify the position in relation to charitable trusts? We are in the process of forming such a trust, and, if we have enough money we shall give assistance to those who face financial difficulties as a result of the actions taken in Iraq and Kuwait.
I believe that I am right in saying that the Foreign Office is also giving some money to help the helpline in its very valuable work.
We shall do our utmost to obtain the freedom of the hostages, keeping their plight constantly before the world. We shall not give in to threats and blackmail. We have made it known that we shall hold Saddam Hussein and Iraqi officials individually responsible at law under the Geneva conventions—to which Iraq is a party—for any harm that befalls them.
I believe that the House will agree that we cannot be deflected from the determined course of action on which we have embarked, and which alone will ensure that the aggressor is not allowed to benefit from his crime. Indeed, by taking hostages, and by his treatment of them, Saddam Hussein only increases the world's abhorrence and stiffens its determination not to let aggression succeed.
Our resolve, and that of our partners and allies, to bring about Iraq's withdrawal from Kuwait and the restoration of the legitimate Government is absolute. There can be no compromise solutions which limit or diminish that objective, and attempts to devise them only postpone the moment when Iraq realises that there is no option but to withdraw.
I would prefer to go on, because I am now biting into other Members' time.
There are also some wider lessons to be drawn from these events. First, I believe that the whole House will welcome the prompt and effective manner in which the United Nations has responded to this crisis. At last we are seeing the United Nations act with the determination and purpose that its founders envisaged. I cannot remember a time when we had the whole world so strongly together against an action as now.
Secondly, I would make particular mention of the part played by the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. They have worked together to an unprecedented degree to ensure that United Nations action is effective. I believe that in this we are seeing the first results of post-cold war diplomacy: confrontation has been replaced by a new atmosphere of co-operation. We would never have succeeded in getting this response three or four years ago. We hope that the forthcoming meeting between President Bush and President Gorbachev will further strengthen this new accord.
Thirdly, some of the countries bordering Iraq are facing severe difficulties from the flood of refugees—Egyptians, Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, already numbering hundreds of thousands—all fleeing from Saddam Hussein. Those countries, and the refugees themselves, need help until their passage home can be arranged. I can announce today an immediate contribution of a further £2 million to the relevant international organisations. That brings our refugee relief from this crisis so far to £5·4 million.
Fourthly, we must not lose sight of other fundamental issues in the region, above all the need for a just solution to the Palestinian problem. Unfortunately, the Palestinians' support for Iraq's action in seizing the territory of another state has grievously damaged their cause, but nevertheless these events must not stop us from trying to find a solution to this long-standing issue. Peace and security will not come to the region until it is solved.
I should like to get on and finish my speech now.
Fifthly, we will need to look to the future, the time when Iraq has withdrawn from Kuwait, as it must, and the legitimate Government have been restored. There will then need to be arrangements to ensure Kuwait's security and that of other countries in the region. I believe that this will need to involve the United Nations, and it is not too early to plan for this situation now.
Sixthly, while east-west relations have improved enormously, these events remind us that dangers can arise elsewhere in the world, and we must always have a strong defence and the capability to operate beyond the borders of NATO, for threats to our security can arise there just as much as in Europe.
Seventhly, we must renew our efforts to outlaw not only the use of chemical weapons but their possession, and no effort must be spared to prevent Iraq from obtaining the materials or technology to manufacture nuclear weapons.
No. I am not far from the end of my speech and I intend to go straight through to the end of it.
The crisis also underlines the importance of continuing international efforts to prevent the spread of ballistic missiles.
Will the right hon. Lady explain why it was that, when the Kurds were gassed and chemical weapons were used against them—I know that this Government made protests—the United States, for example, ensured that that was not discussed in the Security Council at the time, when there should have been a great movement by the entire world against that terrible thing which Saddam Hussein did?
There should, and we were one of the countries. Indeed, I think that we were the country that made the most vigorous protests in every forum where we were. That was quite right. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for bringing out the point that it was we who made the most vigorous protests.
In the coming weeks we must persist in the determination that we have shown hitherto. There will be those who say that the international effort is costing too much and is not worth it. Some people will forget the awfulness of what Saddam Hussein has done. There will be calls for compromise, attempts to fudge the issues and blur the principles, attempts to undermine the virtually unanimous opposition of the world to what Iraq has done. Of course we prefer a peaceful solution, but that must involve Iraq's total and unconditional withdrawal from Kuwait and the restoration of the lawful Government.
Let us not forget that in Saddam Hussein we are dealing with a person who, without warning, has gone into the territory of another state with tanks, guns and aircraft, has fought and taken that state against international law and against the will of its people. A person who will take such action against one state will take it against another if he is not stopped and his invasion reversed.
We are dealing with a person who has rejected the efforts of the Secretary-General of the United Nations to achieve a peaceful solution on the basis of the United Nations' resolutions.
We are dealing with a person who plunged his country into eight years of war against Iran, costing the lives of countless thousands of Iraq's young men—and many hundreds of thousands more casualties—without achieving anything other than destruction and desolation.
We are dealing with a man who has used chemical weapons even against his own people. Such a man must be stopped; and we shall persevere until he is.
May I, first, join the Prime Minister in her tribute to the late Ian Gow? Clearly he was not a political soulmate of mine, but from the earliest time that I met him—indeed, before he came to the House—I recognised him as a very likeable man and a man of considerable integrity. By killing him, his murderers showed not their strength in the face of democracy but their weakness.
I and my right hon. and hon. Friends have, as the Prime Minister said, suffered two very severe blows in recent weeks with the death of Pat Wall, after a long and very painful illness, and the tragic death yesterday of Allen Adams.
Pat was a man of courage and great humour and his ability to show both, even at a time of terrible illness, was an enormous tribute to him.
Allen Adams was a young man who was well liked and well respected in the House, in his constituency and elsewhere. The suddenness of his death has left myself and my colleagues numb. We send our deepest sympathy and our great sorrow to his wife and, indeed, to Pat's wife and to Ian's wife.
I thank you, Mr. Speaker, and the Prime Minister for agreeing to my request that Parliament be recalled to discuss the situation in the Gulf and its implications. This two-day debate will, I am sure, be wide ranging, as Members on both sides will want to raise a multiplicity of genuine and important concerns ranging from the most global to the most personal and local.
For me, in my contribution, the main focus of the debate must be on the most effective ways of depriving the Iraqi dictator and his regime of any military, economic, political or other gain from their aggression and of preventing him from posing any future threat to the stability and security of the region.
Our unrelenting purposes must be to ensure that Saddam Hussein gets out of Kuwait and legitimate government is restored in that country, that the hostages—all the hostages—are released, that our diplomatic staff, who have shown such great fortitude, be allowed to go about their normal business, and that the United Nations resolutions are unconditionally fulfilled and commitments to stability and security in the region are put into effect. There can be no possibilities of concessions on any of those objectives.
The aggression of Saddam Hussein, his treatment of innocents, the record of his regime and his oppression of the Iraqi and Kurdish people over many years forbid anything but that implacable attitude from this side of the House.
As both I and my right hon. Friends have made clear, we consider that in the circumstances arising from the invasion of Kuwait the action taken in the United Nations and in the commitment of forces was right. In the very nature of Saddam Hussein's aggression, slowness or modesty in response would have been an invitation to him to continue over other borders and into greater excesses. If that had occurred, the task of achieving the purposes of the United Nations resolutions would have been even more complex, even more arduous and even more dangerous than it is now.
If the only response of the world community had been economic sanctions and political condemnation, those actions and words, no matter how strong, would not have had the necessary effect in halting Saddam Hussein's military adventure. All that, to us, is self-evident. Cumulatively, it is the reason for the unprecedented firmness and solidarity of the actions of the United Nations and for the equally strong and equally common reaction of the British people.
There is, of course, natural and justifiable anxiety about the crisis. It is felt most deeply—indeed, desperately—by those poor people whose loved ones have been or still are the hostages of Saddam Hussein. The feelings of those people cannot fail to have an effect on the thinking of all of us in the House. I am sure that Ministers and other hon. Members take the fullest account of the requests that we have had from the hostages and from their families that we should all be measured in our approach, careful in our use of language and persistent in efforts to restore the freedom of those people now held by Saddam Hussein.
The feelings of concern among the people very directly caught up in the events, and in the wider public, are deep and realistic, as well they may be when the possibility of war remains and when it is widely understood that such a war could cause horrific devastation—at its worst, devastation on a scale and of a nature that the world has scarcely ever seen before.
There are other pronounced feelings. They are not simplistic, nor are they bellicose, but they are feelings of great determination. First, there is the very deep-seated conviction that aggression must not pay. All personal encounters with the general public and all measures of opinion testify to that. Both the generation that experienced the 1930s and the 1940s and later generations like my own that did not witness appeasement and war are agreed, across the age barriers, on that.
Secondly, there is a feeling that, while no advantages of any description arise from the action of Saddam Hussein, the co-operation between powers that were, until a short time ago, deadlocked in cold war offers a new prospect for international security. I believe that we in the House should not simply recognise these growing feelings—we should lead them by playing a full part in developing a new and practical design for international peace and order.
Thirdly, Mr. Speaker, it is clear that, in response to Saddam Hussein's aggression, the British people—like the world community in general—share the overwhelming conviction that intense pressure must be rigorously sustained against Saddam Hussein and his regime. Iraq's isolation must be complete. That course is supported not only as a way of avoiding or reducing bloodshed but as the best means of securing an acceptable and enduring outcome to the crisis. The widespread and, in our view, entirely correct approach is that sanctions should be given the fullest possible opportunity of working in order to make Saddam Hussein completely fulfil the requirements of the United Nations resolutions.
There is a widespread and deeply held understanding that the support for securing the objectives, and the action needed to secure those objectives, involve a long haul. Strong sanctions can, of course, have a particular effect against the Saddam regime. Iraq has to rely on imports for well over 80 per cent. of its basic materials. It is dependent for well over 95 per cent. of its export earnings upon the sale of oil, 88 per cent. of which flows through just two pipelines, one through Turkey, the other through Saudi Arabia. In pursuit of the United Nations policy, we have to ensure, with the rest of the world community, that, for the duration, Iraq cannot sell anything to anyone, buy anything from anyone or raise credit from anywhere.
That latter point has not, thus far, had the attention that it properly deserves. The fact is that Iraq, because of its oil wealth, is naturally regarded as a good credit risk. Indeed, so good is it that it is conceivable that—if effective action is not taken—Iraq could have access to substantial credit for a year or even more. That financial tap must be completely turned off. There must be no exceptions.
Clearly, the besieging of Iraq has had and will have grave effects on other economies—most especially on its poorer neighbours and on those who have to rely for a significant part of their income on remittances of their citizens who have been working in Iraq and Kuwait. Substantial and speedy aid must be given to such economies, both for the relief of suffering and to ensure that the force of economic circumstances does not impel them into relaxing the embargo. I hope that, even before that form of support is fully installed, Governments will quickly and generously give help to refugees and private citizens will support Oxfam, the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development and other aid charities in their efforts in the emergency refugee programmes.
I was gratified to note in what the Prime Minister said this afternoon that additional sums are to be made available. I hope that the matter will be kept continually under review because the prospects of mass starvation and of disease as refugees go to the border must horrify us all.
The need to help the poorer economies cope with the economic effects of the Gulf crisis is clearly an obligation on all the richer countries of the world. Mr. Brady's mission is welcome as a reminder to a variety of economies. I must also say that it is the particular duty of the strongest economies in the world—Japan and the Federal Republic of Germany.
Everyone will naturally understand the increasing pressures in the German economy as unification approaches. Everyone will also appreciate the desire of the Japanese people not to compromise their constitution. But as both countries are most certainly part of the world democratic community, as both have very direct interests in achieving the fulfilment of the United Nations resolutions and as both can take economic action without transgressing their constitutions, that action of support must be taken on a generous scale, and I trust that every opportunity will be used by our Government and by other Governments to press that case and to achieve a constructive response.
In the course of the weeks since the invasion of Kuwait, the issue of the extent of the mandate under article 51 of the United Nations charter has naturally attracted attention and raised important questions. The Prime Minister addressed herself to that question. Clearly it must be right for us to consider those questions in this Parliament. Even as we do so, there will, in the process of discussion, be absolutely no reassurance for Saddam Hussein. On the contrary, as far as I am concerned, the issue of this aspect of the debate is how his aggression can be dealt with most completely and conclusively. It is success that we are after.
In the public discussion that has taken place thus far on this issue, two opinions have had greatest prominence. Some assert that there is no essential need for a further specific resolution of the Security Council because, they say, the
inherent right of individual or collective self-defence",
specified in article 51 of the UN charter, gives all necessary authority for any future military action. Others say that there can be absolutely no further military action without an additional specific resolution.
I believe that in the current circumstances, it is not wise to approach the matter from either of those two absolutes. Neither by itself fully addresses both the legal and the political issues at stake. It is those political issues which must unavoidably be taken into account by anyone who wants to ensure that the objectives of the United Nations and, I believe, of just about everyone in this House, are fully realised.
I am rather puzzled, the right hon. Gentleman having admitted that he requested the recall of the House, why there is nothing on the Order Paper in his name or in that of his right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman)—[Interruption.] I put it to him that on the specific point with which he is dealing, he does not wish a vote to take place because he is uncertain that he would get the support of the majority of his hon. Friends—[Interruption.]—because they would be no more prepared to defy Saddam Hussein than they have been prepared in the past to defy the tyrants in the trade union movement.
Because of the noise, I did not hear much of what the hon. Gentleman said in that intervention, but I do not think that I missed anything. I do not know what form of leadership in life in general he is used to, but I must tell him that if there is a Division tomorrow on the motion before the House, I shall most certainly be voting for the Adjournment. I have made that clear all along and there is absolutely no reason for me to change my view. If the hon. Gentleman will listen to the further development of my case, who knows, he may not only be in the same lobby as I, but be there for the same reasons as I shall be there.
I was drawing the attention of the House to what I believe are essential political considerations. The first political consideration of great significance is that the forceful action of the world community, as the Prime Minister said, has resulted from the unprecedented agreement in the Security Council of the United Nations. I do not think that anyone underestimates either the powerful effect or the great possibilities arising from that. The idea of a new world order is shifting from the realms of idealism into the realms of realism.
But it must be said that if military action were taken when sanctions had been in force for only a matter of weeks or months, or when there had been no further provocation, or when there had been no further effort to achieve agreement to a mandate to attack, either in the Security Council or in the military staff committee, that military action could shatter the consensus that has been built.
The new concept of international security would be jeopardised when it was scarcely more than a prototype. The prospects for gaining a new "security structure", which Secretary James Baker has advocated with strong and compelling conviction in his testimony before the Congressional Committee this week, would be greatly dimmed.
In the Soviet Union and China, those forces that are most resistant to co-operation would gleefully enjoy and fully exploit the breakdown, to the disadvantage of leaderships that have come this far in the wake of the cold war. I believe that those crucial considerations and understood in the United States and here and among other countries. I believe that the scale of the risk of political and other losses is recognised.
I do not believe that those considerations forbid all possibility of a strike being made at some time. There are, without question, other pressures present in these conditions, and it would be foolish to ignore them. Even the patent desire of the American leaders to achieve peaceful resolution could not and should not give us a false sense of security, especially in conditions of such speed of movement and considerable danger.
All I do say is that, as we are the first generation ever to have been presented with what Secretary Baker has called the
opportunity to solidify the ground rules of the new order",
enduring peace that is global in its scope",
we had better appreciate the potential for progress in full. We had therefore better think very hard and politically before risking that potential on the basis of even the most distinguished and technically correct legal advice about the extent of article 51.
Saddam Hussein throughout his life—since, we understand, his youngest days as a party functionary, before he discovered or invented a uniform to put on—has been a terrible force for destruction. He must be defeated, but everything possible must be done to try to ensure that in the course of defeating him we do not allow him to be the cause of destroying the beginnings of a new and better world order.
The second political consideration relates to the implications in the region—the middle east and the Gulf area—of taking further military action without further United Nations authority. The fact that legitimacy, the standing of international law, is, in itself, not just a legal issue but an important political one, must not be neglected. With regard to the legalities, it is clear that military action under article 51 is lawful if the now exiled but "legitimate" Government of Kuwait call for it.
Such action is lawful if Saddam Hussein launches further military aggression against any state or armed forces. It is lawful if, at some time, the United Nations judges that the action taken thus far has been "inadequate" for the purpose of fulfilling its resolutions, in which case military action under article 42 of the charter could be taken, either by reference to the Security Council or the military staff committee, or both.
Those who say that there cannot be a public declaration of the possibility of a strike do not take into full account the reason for the existence of the military staff committee. Given the military realities, if it were acceptable that a strike took place against an aggressive enemy, the process would be much more likely to go through the MSC than the Security Council.
The lawful opportunities are without contention. In addition, there are those who say that, on the basis of legal advice, it could be successfully—"technically" is the word the Prime Minister has used—argued that the fact that armed attack has already taken place enables those who have come to the aid of Kuwait to undertake armed attack themselves whenever they deem it necessary. I ask those who hold that view—I know that many hold it sincerely, as a result of their professional experience of the law, and are taken seriously—to consider their position further. I ask them to recognise that, for the purpose not just of getting Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait, but, vitally, of ensuring durable security, it may not be enough to be able to argue, on the basis of legal advice, that a mandate already exists for an attack.
Such legal advice that an inherent right of self defence exists may well be convincing to a Government, Parliament, a court of law or a newspaper in a democracy. It may be possible for calm consideration to take place and the pros and cons of interpretation to be put. That is one, among many, of the immense advantages of democracy by comparison with any other form of government. However, it is not only such bodies of opinion and judgment that have to be convinced in the current conditions. That is not a semantic point or a nicety, but a fact which, realistically, could determine the nature of the outcome of the crisis.
The outcome that we seek—I think that this is a widespread ambition—and the outcome that is necessary for security in the Gulf and stability in the world, cannot be limited only to the liberation of Kuwait, the freeing of the hostages and the removal of Saddam Hussein's ability to mount further military aggression. The outcome that is necessary extends to completely depriving Saddam Hussein of any extra status or any gain to his reputation in the eyes of other Arabs, including those who, for reasons we understand, have long imbibed distrust of the western powers and those who associate with us.
We should all like to be able to help to achieve conditions in which the judgment made by many Arab people was different. But we have to recognise the current reality that the potential consequences of taking action that does not have complete and unarguable United Nations authority include further turmoil, terrorism, an increase in nationalism and fundamentalism, and possibly the destabilising of strategic allies. These are the reasons why it is important strategically, and not because of an intractable dispute between both sides of the House over the precise legalities, that everything possible is done to ensure that, if further military action is necesssary, it should be taken under the full authority of the United Nations.
The only existing but recent precedent must encourage consideration of that view. In the weeks following the invasion of Kuwait the Labour party, through my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), repeatedly said that the powers of naval interdiction necessary to enforce a maritime blockade of Iraq would best be exercised through a specific resolution of the Security Council. The view was advanced by others, both in the Government and elsewhere, that it could be argued with sufficient legal authority that there was an adequate resolution already in place.
On reflection, the Government wisely decided, to their credit, that an explicit resolution would give greater legitimacy and force to any necessary naval intervention. They rightly co-operated in securing resolution 665. That resolution was adopted on 25 August. Only two days later, on 27 August, Saddam Hussein ordered Iraqi tanker skippers to submit to the naval blockade. As I said earlier, the case that we make on appropriate United Nations authority is related not to any abstraction but directly to the effectiveness of action against the aggressor, Saddam Hussein.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the strengthening of United Nations authority in the way in which we are proceeding offers Saddam Hussein an advantage if he were to comply with the United Nations resolutions? The United Nations, so strengthened, could begin to settle some of the other middle eastern disputes, especially that with Israel, which are long outstanding. It would be in Saddam Hussein's interests as well to reinforce United Nations peacekeeping operations.
That is a good point, tellingly made. It is one which we hope will have a wider impact, and it is interesting that in the House there is an even more general understanding of the validity of the argument that the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) advances that there was only a few weeks ago. That atmosphere and that sense of strength of the international community are rightly being encouraged in the current circumstances.
My right hon. Friend is making an extremely powerful case for a new world political order for the 21st century after the east-west conflicts have been removed. Does he recall that the Prime Minister tells us consistently and persistently about the failure of appeasement before the second world war? Does the right hon. Lady recall that there was also a great failure in political collective security, which is what my right hon. Friend is advocating?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that intervention. I think that everybody understands, including the Prime Minister—I mean no disrepect to the right hon. Lady, but the period to which my hon. Friend has referred was a formative one for her, as it would have been for anyone of that age at that time—that in thinking—[Interruption.] It is extraordinary that we still cannot refer to a woman's age, even in this place, without getting a laugh. At the same time we can say anything that we like about a man's age. Is not that strange?
The Prime Minister has drawn strongly on her abomination of appeasement—rightly, in my view—and her understanding of the failure of international resolve in the League of Nations before the second world war. As circumstances change, she may be among those who are more than ready to subscribe strength to the idea of an effective, workable and enforceable international order. I believe that the right hon. Lady can be sufficently forward looking to make that position common between both sides of the House as it is patently of such good sense in terms of the welfare of this country, every other country and all generations.
I am anxious to move on, as I do not want to take up the time of the House when so many hon. Members wish to speak. Many approaches have been postulated in the debate about the directions of policy and action that need to be followed in the conditions arising after the resolution of the immediate crisis. At this juncture, I simply say that, whatever happens after the immediate objectives of the United Nations resolutions have been achieved, it should be founded on the basic fact that the current crisis is a direct result of the invasion of Kuwait and of the wider threat posed to the region by Iraq. Consequently, our dual interrelated purposes must be to accomplish the clearance from Kuwait and to secure the dissolution of that threat.
It is essential, therefore, that, after the primary objectives of the United Nations resolutions have been attained, there must be, first, a complete and sustained embargo imposed both on arms sales and on the provision of arms manufacturing equipment to Iraq. Secondly, Iraq's chemical weapons and its chemical weapon manufacturing capacity must be destroyed. Thirdly, provision must be made for the thorough and continual monitoring of the nuclear plant and weapons-making capability of Iraq. Fourthly—this is not an exhaustive list—Iraq must make reparations, especially to the poor countries that have been further impoverished by its aggression.
I realise that there are those who, even though they want the United Nations objectives to be achieved, say that embargoes, weapon and plant destruction, and international monitoring and reparations are steps too far. To them I say that the nature and the scale of the actions to be taken following the achievement of the immediate UN objectives must relate to the nature and the scale not only of the proven aggression, but of the actual and potential threat in the region. Action to respond to and to prevent the extension of the aggression was and is justified. Action to prevent the continuation of the regional threat is also justified.
It will not be vindictiveness—it will be a basic requirement of justice, order and security. It will not be an unwarranted intervention in the internal affairs of a sovereign country—it will be the legitimate exercise of preventive power by an international community which has suffered, and could again experience, the results of the most unwarranted form of intervention—the armed invasion and occupation of one country by another.
The fate of Saddam Hussein may well—indeed, is most likely to—be affected by the implementation of such reprisals for his actions. There are many who would understandably include his downfall among their list, of publicly stated objectives. I think that it would be far better for them to understand that, however much we long for the ending of tyranny, we cannot include that among our motives in the case of Iraq, as that would amount to a determination to impose a form of government on what is an offending but, nonetheless, sovereign country.
Saddam Hussein may well retain his position in his country in the wake of this crisis. However, he cannot be allowed to retain his power to jeopardise the region. The crisis has been inflicted upon the world by the ambition and aggression of Saddam Hussein. No one will be unaffected by the economic effects of what the Iraqi dictator has done. Millions of people in his country and elsewhere are experiencing and will experience great misery because of his actions. Some, including refugee children, have already died and thousands have lost their liberty. The world must now impose its will upon Saddam Hussein. His defeat must be a victory for the international community. I know that I, my party and, I am sure, the great majority of the British people want to assist in achieving that victory.
It is natural, at a time of crisis, that the country as well as Members of the House should wish to see the House united in its view. I do not today, or tomorrow, see any difficulty about that.
The view that has been expressed in the House and in the country about the invasion of Kuwait is unanimous. The outstanding characteristic of the crisis is that it has been handled by, and is under the control of, the United Nations. That is something which has not happened for many years.
We may therefore forgive those who are somewhat sceptical or cynical at that event when they look back over the past decade and see the number of occasions when matters equally serious have occurred in which no leadership has been given by the United States or by Europe.
As a result, we see a situation in which the President of Iraq may well have made a false judgment about the invasion of Kuwait. If his attack on Iran produced no very great reaction from the western world, and if his use of poison gas in his own country and elsewhere produced no very great reaction, why should the occupation of a small country such as Kuwait produce any great reaction? The fact that it has produced a world reaction—as I say, under the control of the United Nations—cannot fail to make an impact, not only on the President of Iraq, but also on his generals and his supporters in his own country.
We therefore come to the question stated by the Leader of the Opposition to be at the heart of the matter—the use of articles 51 and 42. There is nothing new about that. There was argument about that at various legal levels, right up to the highest, at the time of the Suez crisis and there were those who always had doubts about some of the legal recommendations.
My point of view today is that for practical purposes we can agree. I do not see why we should differ on legal questions of this kind. As I have said, the characteristic is that this is under the control of the United Nations and, for practical purposes, it is there that we wish it to remain and where it must remain. For those practical purposes, therefore, the United Nations must be the governing force.
One must look at the practical questions. If, for example, Saddam Hussein were tonight to launch an attack on Saudi Arabia or on any other part of the Gulf, the response must be militarily immediate. There can be no question about it. We would be absolutely justified, with the Americans and our allies, in taking that action. What is more, I hope that we would, as far as we possibly could in a month, be prepared to take it. Let us not think for a moment that it would be very agreeable or that the results would be other than bloody, because they would be, from many points of view, but that surely is unanswerable as a position.
On the other hand, if there is no direct attack by the President of Iraq on any country, and he remains in his stationary position while sanctions go on, it is difficult to imagine a position in which we would launch a deliberate attack without at least having the authority of the United Nations. That seems to me, from the practical point of view, to be a perfectly clear situation and there is no need for the House to divide itself on that question when we are dealing with such practical matters.
With regard to the other issues, I would ask that the Government, who have acted speedily and efficiently with America and her allies, should be cautious—as, perhaps, should the Leader of the Opposition, too—about the commitments that they make at this stage.
One of the advantages of the House meeting a month after the start of this episode rather than when it began is that it is able to view the matter in better proportions and in perspective. No one can tell what the solution to the crisis will be. If Governments and Oppositions over-commit themselves, the possibility of reaching a solution that will be acceptable will be greatly diminished. I ask for caution in that respect.
I refer to the situation in Kuwait in 1961, which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister also mentioned. As Lord Privy Seal at the Foreign Office, I was responsible for negotiating Kuwait's independence. We always had a private understanding that, if there were to be any serious threat from Iraq, which was the only likely quarter, we would be in a position immediately to reinforce Kuwait because we were still in Bahrain, Aden and Cyprus and could quickly take action. That was always understood. Therefore, when, in the summer of 1961, the Iraqis started massing forces along the Kuwaiti border, we, in close conjunction with the Emir, took immediate action. The result was that the Iraqis withdrew. However, that was not a permanent solution, in Kuwait's view or in ours.
The permanent solution was found by the Arab League—by the Arab countries themselves getting together and saying, "We must have a means of guaranteeing the security of Kuwait as well as that of other countries, and then we can ask the British to withdraw." Having reached such an agreement, the Arab League asked us to withdraw, and we did so. That was part of the understanding in respect of Kuwait's independence.
I ask that we be careful in making absolute commitments, because on this occasion it is possible that Arab countries themselves will work out a solution to the security of their own region. That will not be easy, but it has been done on previous occasions. I refer to the disputes between Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia. They were sorted out, as were the disputes between the emirates, and between Bahrain and Qatar. They have been sorted out in the past two decades, and I hope that it will be possible for the Arab countries themselves to find a permanent solution to their stability and security.
There is no doubt that that is what King Hussein of Jordan and many others want. I believe that such a development would be welcomed by the Saudi Government, who have themselves made plain—in a speech by the Saudi defence minister last weekend—that they do not want to see an attack being made on Iraq unless those concerned are forced into taking such action because of an attack by Iraq itself.
I was glad that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister raised the question of Israel and the Palestinians, because in my view it will not be possible to reach permanent stability and security in the middle east unless the question of the Palestinians and of Israel is first settled. I was pleased that the American Secretary of State said so himself in his speech to the congressional committee. He was quite clear and plain about the matter.
If the Americans are now prepared to use all their power and influence to make Israel observe the United Nations resolutions—and resolution 242 in particular—in the same way that we are saying that the resolutions concerning Iraq must be observed—that marks a major change in American policy, which can contribute to the peace and stability that both the American President and Secretary of State have said they want to see in the middle east. Again, it will not be easy to achieve that, but it is an essential part of the solution.
There are those who say that the two should not be connected—it is perfectly understandable that Israel is among them—but that does not alter the fact that many of the stresses and strains in the middle east are connected with the question of Israel and the Palestinians. Therefore, I strongly support the Government's action and I strongly urge them now to continue—as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in her broadcast on Sunday—operating sanctions. My right hon. Friend said herself that it will take some time to make them as effective as possible
The one proviso that I have concerns Jordan. I personally feel that King Hussein has been badly treated by the American President and by some western countries. He is in no way responsible for the situation or for the crisis, yet his people and country are suffering above all at this particular time. It is not enough to say, "We'll give you some money." Jordan desperately needs food and equipment, but above all it needs an organisation to deal with refugees going into the country. It is not sufficient for us to say, "Well, the Red Cross can help or this or that organisation can do it."
The present situation demands two things. First, a major airlift is needed, which should be centrally organised and ceaseless, like the airlift we organised to Berlin, so that we can get all these people out—incidentally, we could try to increase our staff in Baghdad to help the excellent ambassador there. Secondly, we need to deal with the hundreds of thousands of refugees in Jordan and to get them satisfactorily dispersed. That will mean dealing with a large number of countries. Many refugees come from Indonesia, from other Arab countries and some are from Europe. It is a major operation to arrange their dispersal and it will not be met by contributions to individual charitable bodies but requires a centrally, and highly organised, operation of aircraft and personnel. I hope that the British Government will give a lead to bring that about.
It always seems to be my lot to have to follow the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) in debates on events such as this. It is a difficult task, because he says so much with which I profoundly agree. I do not think that there was a word in his speech with which I would find fault. I hope that the Prime Minister will have listened carefully to the right hon. Gentleman's words about calling on the Government to provide a lead on the issue of refugees.
Having requested the recall of Parliament for the past two or three weeks, my colleagues and I are naturally delighted to have the opportunity to debate this important crisis. Anyone who has listened to the previous three speeches will recognise that this is a serious debate and that, so far, speeches have dealt with the issue with great seriousness and concern. I have a great deal to say which echoes the tone and much of the content of those speeches.
The invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein was a brutal and tyrannous act which contravenes international law, threatens the stability of the Middle East and poses a potent and immediate threat to the peace of the world. My party joins all the other parties in the House in expressing an implacable determination to ensure that Saddam Hussein is defeated in this aggression. The Prime Minister is right: there can be no compromises on the terms of the United Nations resolutions that Hussein's troops must unconditionally withdraw from Kuwait, that Kuwait must be returned to its legitimate Government and that foreign hostages must all be freed.
The Prime Minister has said that the Government's aims in this crisis are, similarly, those and only those laid out in the United Nations resolutions. In that, they are also fully supported by hon. Members on these Benches. The Government also receive and have received our unequivocal support for the actions that they took with the United States and others to respond to Saudi Arabia's request for help, by sending troops to join the multinational forces five weeks ago today. In our view, the swift and decisive action taken then by Britain the United States and others to put deterrent forces in place to prevent further aggression by Saddam Hussein was necessary and right.
The fact that that action was later backed up by a United Nations resolution, which expressed international condemnation of Hussein and gave effect to the means by which sanctions should be enforced, has greatly strengthened the hands of those who now oppose Saddam Hussein and has given hope to those people who believe, as we do, in an enhanced role in the future for the United Nations in preserving world peace.
The Government are entitled to feel satisfaction with their handling of the first military phase of this crisis. We are now in the second, political phase. We have to win this phase as comprehensively as we won the military phase, because it is only by building the strongest international consensus now that we shall establish the strength to ensure that sanctions can be made to bite later.
I especially congratulate the Foreign Secretary on his recent visit to the Gulf, and on the care with which he has been concerned at all times to build up maximum international support for our position. He has remained calm and measured: the voice of reason on all occasions. He appears to understand the vital importance of this attitude in the more difficult political phase of the crisis. He has also been well aware that, however welcome, the close co-operation between this country and the United States, which has been necessary during this crisis, Britain's best interests are as a European power acting primarily in concert with our European partners in the long term.
I urge the Prime Minister to resist any temptation that she may feel to argue that this crisis is a reason for resurrecting a nostalgic illusion of a special relationship with the United States at the expense of fulfilling our destiny in a closely integrated Europe. In the political phase of this crisis, it is vital that we strengthen international—[Interruption.]
In this phase of the crisis, it is vital that we not only strengthen international consensus to provide a foundation for the actions that will be necessary over the next few months, but that we also effectively deny Saddam Hussein his most potent propaganda weapon. The world must know that this is not just a United States/British action. In our attitudes, we have perhaps done too little to stress the international nature of our operation. Frankly, we could be doing much more to emphasise the Arab components in the multinational force. It must be made clear that, if Saddam Hussein attacks, he will be fighting fellow Arabs as well as the western forces.
I hope that no one will underestimate the courage that many Arab states have shown in standing up to Saddam Hussein, often at great cost to themselves. In the west, we should demonstrate that we are sensitive to the views of moderate Arab states and especially to their concerns about the future of the holy places.
The United Nations has rightly chosen sanctions as the weapon to defeat Saddam Hussein. We are told, and the Prime Minister has just repeated it, that that is Government policy and United States policy. That is all very well, but sanctions must be given a chance to work. The Prime Minister has said that that may take a few months. Mr. Jim Baker, the United States Secretary of State, made it clear on Tuesday that it would take a considerable time, and that is what he asked of the American people. We must also provide a considerable time to allow sanctions to work. I doubt if they will really start to bite until perhaps the end of this year at the earliest, and will probably not develop their full effect until some time after that, but I repeat that they must be given the chance and the time to work.
I think that it is right for us to contemplate what action we should take to fulfil the terms of the UN resolutions if sanctions do not work. As all three of the previous speakers have already said, that is the nub and heart of today's debate, bringing us full face with the issue of whether and in what circumstances force ought to be used.
First, I agree with the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup—that, if any further aggression is initiated by Saddam Hussein, it should be clear that the multinational forces will feel free immediately to respond against him with the full measure of our military capability in the area. If such a response to Hussein's further aggression should open a military possibility of freeing Kuwait, well and good—the Government can be sure of the support of my party in any such action—but what about the use of force initiated by the multinational forces if sanctions in the end are seen to fail?
Those who are not prepared to countenance the use of force in such circumstances must be prepared to countenance the possibility that Saddam Hussein will be allowed to hang on to the ill-gotten gains of his tyranny—and that is unacceptable to my hon. Friends. We accept, then, that the use of force may have to be an ultimate option, but it must be just that—the last option.
I have heard talk about pre-emptive strikes and surgical wars. I have learnt from bitter personal experience that when the armchair theorists and the Whitehall generals start talking of a surgical war, it is time to start running for cover. A war is never surgical for those who have to fight it—except in very specific terms, which I am sure are not encompassed in that phrase. It may just be possible to fight a contained war in the south Atlantic, but it is not possible elsewhere in the world, and I believe that it is specifically not possible in the middle east.
If there is a war, I believe that it will have unimaginable and incalculable consequences. We shall place in jeopardy not just the lives of many thousands of human beings, but our chance for stability in the middle east in the long term and, possibly, our hopes for a new world order as well. Force, therefore, must be the last option and when it is used, it must be used on behalf of the community of nations as a whole.
The right hon. Gentleman has military experience. Has he any clear idea—I ask this simply as a question—what the rules of engagement will be for someone holding the kind of rank that he held, who may have to make a vital decision in a very short time? Is there any clarity about those rules?
I know that the hon. Gentleman has a special interest in rules of engagement. Let me tell him, as one who was at the other end of the decision by the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup to send the troops into Kuwait in 1961—I was among the first troops to land there—that I was perfectly clear about what my rules of engagement were: if someone attacked me, I would respond immediately. That seems to be so self-evident that we scarcely need a House of Commons debate to discuss it.
As I have said, if there is a war the consequences will be incalculable. That is why I say that war must be the last resort, and must be undertaken on behalf of the community of nations as a whole. Measured force of last resort, supported by moderate Arab nations, by the European Community and by the Soviet Union, is one thing; a rash Anglo-American military adventure, undertaken unilaterally, would be another. I believe that the Government would find it extremely difficult to carry public opinion in this country—and international opinion abroad—if they were to embark on such an adventure without the backing of the United Nations.
UN support is not of itself the main issue, although a UN Security Council resolution would be the most effective outward and visible sign that the world community shares a common resolve. To shatter that resolve through impatience would be foolish, and even a successful military outcome could nevertheless represent a serious political failure.
Let me say this to the Government: our joint cause, the defeat of Saddam Hussein, stands its best chance if the Foreign Secretary continues to build a common resolve for future action, rather than threatening unilateral action on whatever basis. Let me make it clear that I do not say that we should avoid unilateralism because this is safer; I say that we should preserve international co-operation and support because it makes us stronger. The unanimous, worldwide condemnation of Hussein, and the international support that we have for our actions, should be our greatest weapon in his defeat, and it would be an act of folly to sacrifice such a priceless asset.
It is by ensuring that our actions remain the expression of the voice of the international community that we also provide the greatest degree of safety of our hostages. Saddam Hussein must be made to know that, for his treatment of our hostages, he will be held to account not just by Britain but by the entire world community.
We must also recognise—as the Prime Minister suggested in a very welcome statement—that the middle east will never be the same again after this is over. I do not believe that the resolution of this problem can be achieved except in the context of the resolution of other middle east problems. Jim Baker, the American Secretary of State, implied as much when he spoke earlier this week. The fulfilment of UN resolutions in one area will be bound to give rise to legitimate demands that they be fulfilled in others too.
We are not fighting for a re-establishment of the status quo in the middle east; rather, we should be aiming to establish a new structure for peace and stability in the region. The west may have a role in helping to bring such a structure into being, but our guiding principle must be that we leave the settlement of regional affairs to the nations in the region concerned.
I cannot end without touching on the plight of the refugees now haplessly caught in the demilitarised zone on the Jordan-Iraq border. These are the innocent flotsam and jetsam of this terrible crisis: they are as much the children of Hussein's tyranny as are our children. It would be terrible if, in fleeing death from the tyranny of Hussein, any one of them found death in the desert because of our neglect. The Prime Minister has announced a welcome extra £2 million. Let me say to her that, as this country has led in the process of preserving peace and security in Saudi Arabia, I hope that we shall now lead in preserving the lives of those in the desert. I hope that the Prime Minister will pick up the suggestion made by the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup, and that we shall send a massive airlift out there now to provide rescue for those unfortunate people.
The outcome of this crisis will decide five things. It will decide the freedom of Kuwait, the future of Saddam Hussein, the long-term stability of the middle east, the means by which we provide for world peace in the future and how Britain will play its role in that effort. My hon. Friends and I believe that the most powerful weapon with which to free Kuwait, defeat Hussein, establish stability in the middle east and give the United Nations the role for which we all hope in the future is international action. If the Government act to ensure that Britain continues to play its part within that international framework, they will continue to receive our full support.
The speech of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was both clear and fine—it fitted perfectly this sombre occasion; her leadership is one which we all recognise and admire. So, too, was the speech of the Leader of the Opposition. He spoke well. Although there may be some difference of emphasis, I see in practice no difference between the two Front Benches in their approach to this crisis. Both speeches suggested clearly what the objectives were, and are, of the world powers in this affair.
In recent weeks it has been suggested in the media that the objectives of the world powers and of the allies are blurred, but in all the world crises that I can think of the objective has never been clearer than in this one. It is as defined in resolution 660: the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Iraqi troops from the state of Kuwait and the restoration of the legitimate Government. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, there can be no negotiation about that, because there is nothing to negotiate. That should be the limited and measured, but very clear and unquestioned, aim of all our efforts and endeavours and of all the material and financial resources mobilised worldwide—not just by the west, not just by the Americans—to force Saddam Hussein to shed his spoils and retreat to where he stood on 1 August.
Should one go beyond that, as many would like, and insist on the overthrow of this monstrous man? My belief is that as far as the immediate United Nations objective is concerned, it is wrong to think in terms of higher and further missions and goals. Both my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition confirmed that belief.
We may not like this most unpleasant man. He has the most repulsive habits. He is evil; he takes hostages; he is cruel; he has waded to power through a sea of blood. He has, if I may make a personal reflection, the rather unfortunate habit, when he makes a Cabinet reshuffle, of shooting or strangling the outgoing Ministers. He is not, of course, the only despot in the world who does that, so that in itself would be no reason for the United Nations or the world powers invading his country. We must keep clear the immediate aim that was laid down by the United Nations. The nations of the earth came together and defined that clear aim. That is what has to be achieved.
Ahead lie matters for consideration. It is not too soon for the House to turn its mind to considering the issues raised by my right hon. Friend concerning the new security structure for the Gulf and the middle east. How do we cope with the chemical weapons capacity, and perhaps the emerging nuclear capacity, even of a defeated Iraq—even of an Iraq without Saddam Hussein but with some new gang or despot in Baghdad? There will be nobody except a despot in that area. These issues will be raised in setting up the new security structure. They were the kind of issues to which Mr. Secretary Baker turned his mind in his constructive and valuable comments to Congress yesterday and the day before.
They open up the opportunity to confer again on and address the other problems of the middle east, of which the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) has constantly reminded us. These issues existed before the invasion of Kuwait and they will exist long after that issue has been resolved. The problems of the west bank and of the Palestinians in Israel will have to be addressed in the future, but I counsel against confusing those essential problems, which will have to be resolved, with the immediate and limited task set by the nations of the earth, through the United Nations, of getting the Iraqi dictator out of Kuwait.
On the question of limiting the spread of nuclear weapons, is it not important that the Government should express their strong and continuing support of the United Nations nuclear non-proliferation treaty and the implementation of all its articles, including article 6, which means that the nuclear powers must themselves set an example by diminishing and removing their dependence on nuclear weapons?
Certainly the diminishing of nuclear weapons and the pursuit of disarmament and weapons control has been a major objective of western Governments, with some success. The hon. Gentleman is quite right to say that, after the present crisis is over, the new security order ought to be one that mobilises renewed pressure—possibly with the backing of the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council—to insist on even more rigorous control not only of nuclear weapons but of the filthy and revolting chemical weapons—the so-called poor man's nuclear weapons—that are present in the middle east and threaten not only the middle east but all of us. These are matters to which we shall have to turn our minds in intense detail in the weeks and months ahead. At the moment, however, it is a question of uniting totally around the single objective of getting this man out of Kuwait.
The second point that I want to make is simple. Again, it was emphasised in the clear speech of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. This is not now, nor has it been from day one—the beginning of all this—anything other than an international effort. It has been the aim of Arab propaganda, and of many of those with a deep and instinctive bias against the United States—saying that whatever it does is wrong—to depict the whole exercise as either an American, or an American-British, or an American-British-Zionist imperialist operation which is not supported by the wider international world. I believe that what is taking place is not just an American effort—although undoubtedly the Americans have had to shoulder the logistical burden and probably will have to continue to do so—and not just a western effort.
We have seen the Soviet Union, after a slightly shaky start—understandably, because it is in a very weak state—beginning to give increasingly clear support for the task set out and the methods needed to get Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. We have seen the Arab nations themselves first combine together and secondly call strongly for the support of the western allies in both defending Saudi Arabia and in due course driving Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait.
President Mubarak—one should not underestimate the difficulties that such a man faces, due to domestic internal pressures—has put possibly his life, certainly his political life, on the line. He, King Fahd and the other emirs, who, in a sense, are no more or less democratic in their positions than the despot in Baghdad—although he talks about it in other terms—have put their political lives on the line. They must see—and rightly would feel totally betrayed if they did not see—the fulfilment of the United Nations mission, with America and Britain playing their part in achieving that ambition.
This is a totally international effort. Those who feel that they cannot send logistical support should be pressed, as they are being pressed—rightly so, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said—to make massive resource contributions. As the Leader of the Opposition reminded us, that most definitely includes the Japanese and the Federal Republic of Germany, although the federal republic has huge extra imposts on its budget as the cost of unification grows and grows.
This is the time for everyone to do more than put their hands in their pockets and make fine speeches. They must contribute to the international effort—approved and supported, we hope, at each stage by the United Nations. It must be an international effort at every level. I feel that this is the time not to make accusations against some of the backsliders, although there has been backsliding, but to encourage them and to insist that they should play a growing part in the joint international, world-based task of driving Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. Any alternative, any bickering in our own ranks, any turning round and saying that people are not playing their part carries the danger of sending signals to Baghdad that the west is divided and of giving this wretched man more of an opportunity to continue on his way by trying to expose and expand those divisions.
As to the means of fulfilling the objective on which we are all agreed, Saddam Hussein has excluded the prospect, if it ever existed, of voluntary withdrawal from Kuwait. He has annexed Kuwait, changed the Administration and dug in. He has indicated that he understands only one language—pressure and force. Short of the right pressures and forces being applied, within whatever time scale, he will not budge.
The embargo on the high seas, vigorously applied by the world powers, may do the trick in the months ahead, but the long haul—this is why it is appropriate for the House to gather—may be an empty haul. As the months pass, it may not be possible, through the sea blockade alone, to achieve what the United Nations, the free nations and the other nations of the world have decreed—Hussein's ejection and eviction from Kuwait.
That is why it seems to me that, although today we may believe so far so good, a grim crossroads lies somewhere ahead. I cannot see whether it will be months or even half a year away, but there will come a time when we must ask whether the sanctions embargo by sea has worked, what leakage there has been by the vast fleets of jumbo aircraft, which cannot carry oil but can certainly carry in supplies, and whether other subterranean networks are continuing to supply oxygen to the Iraqi regime. I suspect that more pressure than the embargo and the blockade will be needed.
That amounts to the clear and obvious injunction that we must do nothing in the House, nor should the legislatures of other nations involved, to tie the hands of our Executives and Governments in dealing with and mobilising the necessary pressures in the months ahead.
If this man is left in possession of Kuwait, the message is quite simple: violence will have won. All Arabs—and all despots around the world—will draw their own conclusions. The moderate Arab leaders whom I mentioned will fall and be destroyed and we shall open the way to a decade of endless violence, endless terror and endless world instability. In a few months' time, should Saddam Hussein still be in place, we would find ourselves walking around the rim of the volcano of nuclear and chemical holocaust.
Someone said—perhaps I should be better educated historically—that all the great political decisions are a choice between the disagreeable and the intolerable. If the Governments here in London, Washington and elsewhere now have the courage, as I believe they have, to take disagreeable risks—things cannot be done without some risks—to avoid the much darker and intolerable conditions that would ensue for years ahead, I for one will give them my wholehearted support.
The House will agree that Saddam Hussein will go down in history for at least one unique achievement: he has united all parties in the House of Commons, all permanent members of the Security Council and the overwhelming majority of members of the United Nations both on the objective of getting him out of Kuwait and on the best method of doing so—a blockade supported, if necessary, by appropriate force. I think that those are the words of the resolution.
I believe that the blockade will be effective and will lead to Saddam's withdrawal, even if it is applied to oil alone, because 90 per cent. of Iraq's hard currency has been derived from the sale of oil, and 80 per cent. comes from the sale of oil carried by two pipelines, through Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Even without the naval blockade, the closure of the pipelines is likely to be effective, provided, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) pointed out, countries do not give Iraq credit when it has no currency to offer.
I hope that all Governments, including our own, have learnt something from their experience. Iraq owes about $80 billion to Arab and western Governments, divided roughly equally. It owes an enormous sum to the Soviet Union, although I do not think that figures are yet available, and the west has lost over $10 billion in recent export credits to Iraq. That includes the United Kingdom, which in recent years has given Iraq £900 million in export credits. In the main, that was for civilian goods, but it freed Iraq's hard currency for the buying of arms from various parts of the world.
The combination of the blockade and the denial of credit is likely to work. Indeed, I gather that Iraq has already lost $3 billion of revenue in the short period during which the pipelines have been closed.
The blockade is bound to take time to be economically effective. Most people believe that the minimum period will be four or five months. It might be politically effective in a shorter time, or it might take longer to be politically effective than to be economically effective.
The most heartening feature of the past week is that the American and British Governments have accepted that it will be a long haul—that the blockade can work, but it cannot work within weeks and is much more likely to take months.
Fortunately, because oil-producing countries, particularly Saudi Arabia, have agreed to make good the oil lost to the world because of the unavailability of oil from Iraq and Kuwait, although there will be temporary difficulties with refining the right grades of oil from the crude available from Saudi Arabia and other countries, the direct economic effect of the crisis is likely to be very much less than the oil crisis in 1973—the first OPEC price increase—or the oil crisis in 1979 which was made worse by the Gulf war.
In real terms, yesterday's price levels are still two fifths lower than in 1985, and it is worth bearing that in mind before we panic about the economic effects on the world as a whole. The economic effects for certain countries, however, are catastrophic, particularly Iraq's neighbours, Turkey and Jordan, and for countries that previously relied for much of their revenue on remittances from people working in the Gulf who are now getting out as fast as they can, mainly through Jordan.
I agree with all that has been said about the need to provide help to cushion the shock, and in particular to get the refugees through Jordan back home as fast as is practically possible.
The success of the blockade and the whole operation depends on maintaining unity inside and between the countries concerned. That has been a remarkable and an unprecedented feature of the operation over the past five weeks, but it depends on Governments, singly or jointly, not carrying out a unilateral first strike against Iraq. I fully agree that we cannot rule out the use of force in certain circumstances, such as if we are or our allies are attacked, and possibly in certain other circumstances, but it is important for the House and for the public to recognise that the use of force against Iraq to get it out of Kuwait would be immensely dangerous both politically and economically in any other circumstances than as a response to attack. It could be absolutely disastrous if it did not take place within the framework of the authority of the United Nations.
During my somewhat turbulent holiday over the past few weeks, which I enjoyed as much as I hope that other hon. Members enjoyed their holidays, I was able to read the views of military analysts in the International Herald Tribune, the Financial Times and The Times about what a war against Iraq would involve. I was happy to see that they all disagreed with one another. I share the view of the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) that nobody who has not fought in a war has much right to talk about what will happen if a war takes place. The one thing that one learns if one has been in a war—there are still a number of venerable gentleman present who were—is that sod rules. One never knows at the beginning how things will turn out at the end. Nothing ever happens as one expects.
However, some general considerations should be borne in mind. First of all, in the desert, neither side should rely too much on the advantages of advanced technology. The right hon. Member for Yeovil will recall that our intervention to help Kuwait in 1961 was successful because we did not have to fight. The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) will recall, because he was involved, that our troops were not acclimatised and that if they had been called upon to fight, there could have been a disaster. It is impossible to predict the consequences of fighting in those conditions, particularly if one has to meet the possibility of chemical attack.
The idea of a surgical strike is a fantasy. Mr. Gerasimov, that master of our English language, mixed his metaphors to good effect when he said a couple of days ago that if we tried a surgical strike, our scalpel would turn into a club and have a boomerang effect. That was an entertaining mixture of images, but the House will see the justice of his point.
The record of the United States in making surgical strikes is, frankly, not encouraging. We had the fiasco of the attempted surgical strike against Tehran to rescue the hostages, which ended hundreds of miles short of Tehran in the desert, when sand got into the engines of the helicopters. The Stealth aircraft was used first for a surgical strike in Panama and all the reports from Washington are that it was most inaccurate—about as accurate, the Secretary of State for Defence will not mind me reminding him, as the V-bombers in their attempts to crater the airstrip in the Falklands.
The surgical strike on Colonel Gaddafi was not terribly successful, although that was also carried out by F111 aircraft, which have also been deployed in the Gulf. It killed a lot of civilians, but did not kill Colonel Gaddafi and the intelligence, on which the raid was based was wrong, because Gaddafi was not in Tripoli but in his camp in the desert. A surgical strike requires not only extraordinarily accurate weapons but extraordinarily accurate intelligence, and I doubt whether we have that sort of intelligence on Iraq.
It is said that the objective of the surgical strike should be to get rid of Saddam Hussein. My old friend Henry Kissinger suggested this in a recent article, but he might recall that he carried out a surgical strike on Cambodia. It was not particularly surgical, because he used a lot of aircraft without the authority of Congress to do so. The main result of the strike was to replace Sihanouk with Pol Pot, and the consequences of that disastrous blunder are still being felt, as the Foreign Secretary will know.
Iran has already chosen the Iraqi Shi'ite Muslim fundamentalist whom it will promote to lead Iraq if Hussein is toppled. We must not assume that Hussein, horrible though he is, is the most horrible thing that could ever happen in the middle east. A few years ago, we were saying that Khomeini was so much more horrible that we would escort all tankers going to Iraq so as to protect them againt attacks by Iran. The attacks against ships going to Iran were just as numerous after the patrolling of the Gulf as they were before it, but at least we kept Saddam alive to fight another day. The most worrying factors about the idea of defeating Iraq in war are that it would leave Iran once again the dominant military power in the Gulf, and that could be a terminal setback for the present unsteady movement towards a more pragmatic regime in Tehran.
Worse than that, the destruction of Iraq in war would inevitably unleash a large number of other conflicts. Quite apart from the risk of Iran trying to take the Kurdish areas, there are already signs that Turkey is again considering occupying the oilfields that it lost in 1923. One of the reasons for the current Turkish proposal to allow, for the first time, its troops to fight abroad is to free them for that purpose. There is an interesting article in the Financial Times today on that possibility. The possibility that Syria would turn east is also a real one.
To destroy Iraq or to bring down the Iraqi regime could not be guaranteed to be in the interests of stability in the middle east. Moreover, a war largely conducted by the British and our American and NATO allies would produce a situation in which the monarchical regimes in the Gulf might find it difficult to survive. There would be a wave of Arab nationalism combined with a wave of Muslim fundamentalism.
Most of the Gulf states rely on foreign labour and Arab labour from other countries not only for getting oil out of the ground—there are 350,000 Palestinians in Kuwait alone—but, in the lower Gulf, for a large part of their armed forces. In my day, that included some British forces—I am not sure that it still does. That is why Prince Sultan, who is the Minister for Defence in Saudi Arabia, told the press the other day that he did not believe that it was in Saudi Arabia's interest to carry out a military strike against Iraq and that no such strike should be carried out without Saudi Arabia's agreement. That is why the Saudi Government did not allow the United States to base B52s in Saudi Arabia, although, according to the Arab press, it had asked permission to do so.
I hope that the Foreign Secretary will talk to us frankly about his recent trip round the middle east. Oman is the one country which is comparativesly independent and still a good friend of Britain. In Oman, the Foreign Secretary was advised to rely on diplomacy and on economic sanctions, rather than on military force, to achieve his objective. Surely that is wisdom, not just for Oman, but for the other Gulf states and, indeed, for Britain and for the United States. I was glad to see that, in Amman yesterday, the Foreign Secretary—if he was rightly reported—did not rule out negotiations with Saddam Hussein, once Saddam Hussein leaves Kuwait.
The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup was quite right to say that, if it was possible to produce more stability in the Gulf and in the rest of the middle east through the initiative of the Arab countries, that would be far better—even if they reached agreements of which we should not wholly approve—than trying to impose it by western force.
I must raise another consideration. One cannot be sure what would happen if there were full-scale war between Iraq and its opponents in the Gulf. However, it is at least possible that a large part of the oil facilities on which the whole world depends would be put out of action for a long period by one side or the other. In that case, the world would face the prospect of $50 oil lasting for years, not for weeks or for months.
In the present world economic situation, that would certainly produce a world recession and could produce the collapse of the fragile American financial system, as the hon. Member for East Lindsey (Sir P. Tapsell) will know. It is not an option to be considered lightly and if, in the end, we have to consider it at all, my right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn and the right hon. Member for Yeovil, the leader of the Liberal Democrats—I do not know whether, as an old man, I keep up with the changes of nomenclature—were right to say that it must be done under the auspices of the United Nations. If China imposes a veto in the Security Council, we could find a way of doing it through article 42, which deals with regional security.
No action should be taken without the full public support of all our NATO allies, of all our partners in the European Community, of the Soviet Government and of many Arab Governments. I know that that is a lot for which to ask, but nothing less would suffice.
We must remember that the Sovier Union is far closer to the Arab world than we are. It is about 300 miles from the Iraqi frontier to the frontier of the southern Soviet Union. The Soviet Union has a perfectly legitimate interest in the stability of that part of the world, and it must be involved in any decision regarding the pursuit of the United Nations resolutions. For that reason, it is important that the summit meeting between President Bush and President Gorbachev reaches a reliable and clear agreement this weekend on some of those matters.
I want to turn to the up side of what has hitherto been a rather gloomy story. If we can keep Soviet co-operation in defeating aggression in the Gulf and in increasing stability in the middle east, the way is open for a whole new world of opportunities. As Gorbachev predicted in his first speech to the Communist party congress, the ending of the cold war enables us all to move, groping in the dark as it were, to an interdependent and integral world. We now have, for the first time in history, the opportunity to give the United Nations—a world organisation—the role envisaged for it by its founders. We may need it to develop that role not only in other parts of the middle east, but in Africa and in many parts of Asia, where the tension between Pakistan and India currently threatens to explode into war at any moment.
Thank God we now have the opportunity to learn a lesson from a long concatenation of blunders by all the external powers in their policies towards the middle east. Not only the United States and Britain, but France and, equally, the Soviet Union have made blunder after blunder, from all of which they have gained nothing and lost much. Some of the blunders reflected the strains created by the cold war, such as the "Northern Tier" experiment, which led to the downfall of a moderate Government in Iraq, and the Russian support of Nasser and later of Syria. That factor is no longer there.
However, there is one constant factor to which I must refer—the blind determination of all Governments in arms-producing countries to stuff arms down the throats of all the regimes of the middle east, regardless of their external or domestic policies and, above all, regardless of their stability. The result is that the arms we loaded on to the Shah of Iran in the belief that he would dominate the middle east and the Indian ocean fell, just like that, into the hands of a religious maniac. We found ourselves involved in trying to defeat the Khomeini regime with the help of Iraq. Incidentally, when Iraq invaded Iran, the matter was not raised at the Security Council and sanctions were not imposed.
I hope that Iraq has learnt something from that invasion. Saddam Hussein has killed 1·5 million of his own people for absolutely nothing. In the agreement that he made with Tehran a few weeks ago, the last gain that he could claim from the war disappeared into thin air.
Surely we can learn something from that history. There was no effective protest from Britain when the Syrian Government murdered between 10,000 and 30,000 people at Hama in 1982. There was only the mildest slap on the wrist for Saddam Hussein when he killed 4,000 Kurds inside his own country with poison gas in March 1988. The United Kingdom immediately doubled its export credits to Iraq.
It is no good for the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, to wag his head. If he consults his friends in the Box, they will be able to confirm what I have said. At the Baghdad arms fair which followed in April 1989—just over a year ago—there were 17 British companies, 35 French companies and three Italian companies. None of us has very much to be proud of over that.
When some Labour Members protested against those arms sales in the defence debate last October, we were told by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clark), who is a Minister of State, that we were talking claptrap. It was the same fatuous philistine who was chosen by the Prime Minister to tour the Gulf as a sort of John the Baptist to the Foreign Secretary.
There is not, and cannot be, any guarantee that arms which are sold to such regimes will not be used for aggression and will not be used against us. It has happened too often in the past.
It was a great mistake, and I have the sense to admit it. I did it because I was assured by the Foreign Office—[Interruption.]—that the Shah would be there for ever.
I appeal to the Government to take up the suggestion made recently by Mr. Shevardnadze, the Soviet Foreign Secretary, to ask the General Secretary of the United Nations to organise talks between the major arms suppliers, the overwhelming majority of which were in one or other of the cold war alliances, to see whether we cannot now control the supply of weapons, at least to the third world.
I refer not just to the weapons that we are particularly proud of possessing—nuclear and chemical weapons and missiles—but to conventional weapons generally. The bulk of the 20 million people who have died in wars in the third world since 1945 have not been killed by weapons of mass destruction. Enormous numbers have been and are still being killed, particularly in places such as Beirut, by small arms and hand-portable weapons. If there are to be more wars in the middle east as a result of instability, much of the killing will result from the use of such arms.
We need international control of arms supplies, not just in the middle east but in Africa and Asia. Overwhelming evidence is now coming from United Nations organisations that arms imports are ruining the prospects of economic development in many of those countries.
We must also try to deal with other local problems in the middle east, and I am glad that Secretary Baker, the Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and all who have spoken in the debate have asked for that to be done.
There is no question but that one of the most urgent problems there is that of the Palestinians. Because the world, when it set up the state of Israel, made no provision for the Palestinians who were expelled initially into Jordan, that has been a source of continuing and increasing trouble. That trouble could reach crisis point again in the next year or so if the emigration of up to l million Jews from the Soviet Union leads to the expulsion of the Arabs from the occupied territories of Israel. It is an urgent and dangerous problem and I hope that we shall take advantage of the weather window which Secretary Baker seemed to open in his speech to get down to tackling that issue immediately.
I have enjoyed the right hon. Gentleman's speech. Does he agree that a strength that Saddam Hussein gains throughout the Arab world is the perception that he, and perhaps he alone, can deliver a Palestinian state? lf, as a main plank of western policy, of United Nations policy, we were now to commit ourselves to resolving that problem, would not that undermine some of the strength of Saddam Hussein?
Yes, and one reason why Saddam Hussein is playing that card is that 350,000 Palestinians are living and working in Kuwait, largely involved in producing oil. Indeed, Palestinians of stature are engaged all over the middle east in important managerial roles.
A clear lesson resulting from this affair is that there is no answer to the problem—or to any of the multifarious problems which will torment the world with the end of the cold war—other than a multinational answer under the auspices of the United Nations. I was immensely encouraged by one sentence—there were many others—in the speech of the Prime Minister, when she said that she thought that the future security structure in the Gulf must be under the United Nations. I am glad that she seems to have dropped the ridiculous idea, made in a recent speech, that NATO should take it on.
Like a diminishing band of colleagues in the House, I am getting on in years. I was born in 1917. My boyhood and youth were tormented by the failure of governments after the first world war to turn the League of Nations into an effective instrument of international security. When I left the Army in 1945 after the second world war, I believed, like many young men and women, that we really had a chance to do it under the United Nations. But Stalin destroyed that opportunity, and the last 40 years have been dominated by the cold war between the communist and western blocs.
That war is over. The world now faces its third opportunity to create a world society. It has the instrument to hand. All the great powers have said that they want to use it. I pray to God that we do not fail this third time.
I am grateful to have been called to speak, albeit unexpectedly. We have had an outstanding debate so far, in which the unity between the two Front Benches has been a most encouraging feature of the solidarity that we all feel at this time of considerable history and anxiety for the world.
I have been a visitor to the Gulf for over 20 years, first as a young private secretary to our former colleague Selwyn Lloyd, latterly as a journalist, business man and Member of Parliament. I feel deeply for the peace-loving people of those Gulf countries who in this hour face the possible agony of war. We must be aware of the great anxieties that they feel.
Two scenarios have been outlined in the debate, the first being the policy of patience—the patient long haul by which sanctions are applied—backed up by a blockade. We all hope that that policy of patience will bring down the monster who is dominating the world's headlines, Saddam Hussein.
The problem with playing it long is that it might also mean that we do not win in the end, because there are many worries over the long haul. Its obvious disadvantage is that there could be gaps in the blockade. I am not full of admiration for the course that King Hussein has played in the crisis so far in his apparent reluctance to enforce sanctions.
By playing it long there will be military problems. The American service men now in the desert, in that hostile environment, need their R and R—their rest and recreation—or after a few months troop morale will go stale and the American service men will not be able to perform key functions. However, there are no R and R facilities in Saudi Arabia. There are no Budweiser beers, red light districts or worlds of Suzie Wong in downtown Dhahran.
Therefore, there are anxieties that playing it long will place all sorts of pressures, not just on American service men, but on American political opinion. We are told by the media anchormen that American public opinion cannot stand the problem of many months of waiting for a result. I think that the anchormen may have underestimated the American public's resolve, but, nevertheless, playing it long, being patient, has worrying problems.
Even more worrying are the difficulties involved in being impatient. I entirely agreed with the Leader of the Opposition when he said that there was enormous peril in a first strike policy. I do not believe that the American Government are contemplating such a policy, which would certainly lose that most precious of all assets at present, the international consensus and backing. It must be politically right to have the world united, as it is today. To throw that ace card away would be a foolish mistake.
At the same time, we must recognise that, although there is political wisdom and desirability in keeping the international world united, with the United Nations totally on side and approving—the desirable first prize—should that option be available to us, we should not shrink from using the legal backing of article 51 of the United Nations. I am not sure that the Leader of the Opposition made that distinction in his speech. Article 51 enables this Government, the United States Government or any other Government to act with due legal sanction.
I wonder how the scenario will evolve. One topic that has not yet been mentioned in today's debate is what is happening inside Kuwait at present. I believe that the resistance inside it is more formidable and forceful than generally reported. What the Iraqis are doing in Kuwait has all sorts of sinister signs and portents, and includes mining all the oilfields with high explosives. In what could be going on in Kuwait lie the perfectly justifiable seeds of a request from the Emir of Kuwait, under article 51, for military intervention—somewhere between the patient and the impatient scenario.
Is it not clear from what we have heard from the Kuwaiti ambassador and others that the country is being devastated and laid waste by the Iraqis, even as we debate?
There is no doubt that the position in Kuwait is more horrific than has generally been recognised. It is not surprising that Saddam Hussein, who has been so accommodating to the international television networks, has in no way helped them to gain admission to Kuwait to tell the true story of what is going on there.
The central theme of the debate is what I think the Leader of the Opposition called being interested in success. What is success, and what does it mean? We know the United Nations list of priorities and demands, and I think that we all agree with them. As a House, we should discuss whether those requirements should also mean the fall of Saddam Hussein, which is immensely desirable. However, that is the business of the Iraqi people and not directly ours, which is to ensure that, at the end of the crisis, Saddam Hussein, or his successor, is so politically humiliated and militarily castrated that we cannot be faced with this dangerous volcano once again, fearing that chemical weapons, perhaps even nuclear weapons in two years' time, could be used.
The prize is great; it is not just ending the reign of a monster in Iraq or cooling the highly tense and volatile situation that exists today, but what several speakers have called maintaining the wider new world order. There is a glittering opportunity that out of this terrible act of aggression could come the chance to get justice for the Palestinian people and a settlement that would guarantee stability through a multinational force and a United Nations umbrella. Those are great prizes.
If we stick to the solid and united front that we have shown in the House today, continue to back our allies in the Gulf as we have done, do not lose our nerve and show either too much impatience or go too slowly because we have become too legalistic and keen on the United Nations rubber stamping everything in every eventuality—which would simply be impossible—but strike a firm but middle line, there may yet be a good and sensible outcome to this terrible tragedy.
Having worked for so long on one case of occupation and annexation, I am heartened by aspects of the Government's public response in the face of the current crisis. They have consistently cited the requirements of international law and insisted on the need for that law to be given teeth by the international community in order that the occupying power, in this case Iraq, should understand that no state may tear up the international order and expect to pay no price. They have given proper prominence to the authority of the United Nations and the need for consensus in the international community as a basis for action.
The Government have insisted that their nationals and all civilians in occupied Kuwait are protected persons and have fundamental rights that must be protected. They have reminded Iraq that some acts against those protected persons give rise to individual criminal liability and that those committing such violations may be subject to the equivalent of war crimes trials.
A position based on international law is not only the correct one in respose to violation by a state, in this case Iraq, but the only one holding any hope for a proper resolution of the conflict. Retaliatory measures or unilateral interventions that violate the law will do nothing to resolve the crisis. We must always remember, when citing the law, that illegal measures by states are illegal no matter what the reason for which they were undertaken, whether in pursuit of aggression or in pursuit of confronting aggression. There is no need to resort to measures outside the mandate that already exist for states to react to violations of international law. Despite the frequent bewailing of the inadequacy of the mechanisms of enforcing the basic rules of international law, we have found that there are a variety of structural mechanisms for dealing with states that violate international law and refuse to comply with United Nations resolutions.
I welcome the imposition of stringent sanctions on Iraq and firmly support the role of the United Nations in directing the international community of states in the implementation of those sanctions. Other legal mechanisms of conflict, control and resolution that can be achieved through the forum of the United Nations include various forms of negotiation, arbitration and litigation and, perhaps most appropriately on this occasion, the presence of United Nations forces. I hope that the crisis can be resolved peacefully, through the enforcement of the sanctions imposed through the United Nations, and that all those involved will confine themselves to actions that are unequivocally based on international law and consensus.
All these points are familiar to me. I have frequently addressed them to the Foreign Office in the context of a different conflict in the middle east. For the past 18 months, I and others have been addressing the Government on the issue of the consistent and objective enforcement of the provisions of international humanitarian law, or the laws of war, as a means of providing protection for the civilian population of the Israeli-occupied territories and as a contribution to the search for a just, durable and peaceful resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict.
We have always stressed the universality and the absoluteness of the minimum standards of behaviour of states laid down in major instruments of international humanitarian law—the Hague convention of 1907 and the Geneva convention of 1949. It has been our contention that the rules contained in international humanitarian law, if properly enforced, are sufficient to dissuade and prohibit states from carrying out an illegal agenda of occupation and annexation of the type that the international community now confronts in the form of Iraq.
I have heard the view expressed that it is erroneous to make such a comparison because the circumstances in which Israel invaded and occupied the Palestinian territories in 1967 differ from those in which Iraq invaded and occupied Kuwait this summer. I cannot agree with that view, but to argue it through now would be a distraction from a consideration of the fundamental functioning of the law between states.
As I understand it, the purpose of the law is to lay down minimum standards of conduct for all states and to provide means of insisting upon those standards being applied, regardless of which state is breaking the law.
Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a distinction between the Israeli position and the position that we are debating? It takes two to make peace in the Israeli position, whereas in the circumstances that we are debating, one side wants peace and the other does not.
I shall deal in a minute specifically with what my right hon. and learned Friend has said.
The Prime Minister has made it clear that if the other side in the Israeli conflict accepted certain resolutions and renounced violence and terrorism, she would try to ensure that a peace conference would be held. That has been done; at least the other side has played its part.
The situations in occupied and annexed Kuwait and in the Israeli-occupied territories are governed by international law and are quite properly the concern of the international community from a legal point of view. Both occupations have given rise to unanimous resolutions of the United Nations for the occupying power to withdraw, and these resolutions have been flouted by both nations. Indeed, Israel has flouted them for over 23 years.
In both instances, the fourth Geneva convention applies. It confers certain fundamental protections on civilians in the occupied territories. I have no doubt that, if the occupation of Kuwait continues, we shall have resolutions similar to the almost countless number that now exist, and which call upon Israel to respect the convention and to condemn its violations. Palestinian civilians who are under occupation are entitled to the protection that is provided by minimum standards of behaviour.
In Kuwait, those minimum standards apply to the Kuwaiti population and nationals of many other states, including those of Great Britain. These protected persons are dependent for their welfare upon the firm resolve of the international community to ensure that legal provisions are enforced and implemented until the occupying power complies with the United Nations commands to withdraw.
The major difference in legal terms between the Israeli and Iraqi occupations lies in the reaction of the international community, and especially that of the United States and Britain and its European partners. The difference lies in the willingness and determination of the international community, and especially of the states to which I have referred, to enforce the law against the perpetrator of the offence.
In the middle east, failure by the international community to apply the principles and the rule of international law neutrally and consistently has led to the law falling into disrepute, at least to a certain extent. It may be said that the breakdown of these principles led the Arab regime into believing that it could break the law with impunity. We have discovered to our cost, and to the cost of many of our nationals, the ultimate implication of allowing any state to break the law that applies to states generally without paying the price of illegal actions.
Had the west not tolerated other illegal actions in the middle east, by failing to act upon its frequent but only verbal condemnations, and had instead reacted routinely to violations of international law and United Nations resolutions in the way which we are now seeing, the stakes would have been raised. It would have been much more difficult for any other political leader in the area to contemplate and carry out such actions. States—especially those with vulnerable economies—would have known that they would face economic collapse if they contemplated going beyond the legitimate constraints of state action.
The enforcement of international law thus has an exceedingly practical effect, as well as a humanitarian value, but only if it is implemented consistently and without regard to the identity of the violating state. International law is assailable only if it is selectively enforced and implemented to coincide with political expediency. Past weakness, with the consequent devaluation of the law, is one factor in the context of the current crisis.
We have before us a problem and an opportunity. We have shown resolve to seek compliance with the only standards that all states have in common beyond language, culture and religion, and that is the minimum provisions of the law of war and the binding resolutions of the United Nations. We have seen the consequences of the wilful ignoring or idiosyncratic interpretation of international law. Regional instability, threats to national interests and threats even to world security arise when we permit departures from minimal rules.
Having cited the rules in the context of the dispute that we are debating, and acted upon them within the context of international consensus, we must show a firm commitment to the rules and not one that is based merely upon who is breaking them. If that commitment is not maintained in future, the future for international law and order will be at stake. If we do not provide the law with necessary and legitimate teeth in other contexts, we may never again cite it as a basis for action. Instead, it will be merely an excuse in the terms of a political agenda, and effectively there will be no law.
I am not suggesting that two wrongs make a right—that, unless the international community takes action to restrain Israel from its violations, it has no right to restrain Saddam Hussein from his. I firmly support all efforts made within the terms of international law to restrain Saddam Hussein, but in future we must fulfil the same legal obligations without a hint of selectivity. If we fail to do so, and there is, in effect, only one right, there will be a great many wrongs. That will injure those in the middle east who have suffered most already—civilians suffering in time of war and belligerent occupation. These wrongs will necessarily have a fundamental effect on our own interests in future.
In 1990, Britain and its European partners, and even the United States, have recognised the importance of international law. There was that recognition in 1945, which led to the framing of the United Nations charter. Similarly, in 1949, agreement was reached on the text of the Geneva conventions. They were seen as major instruments to govern the conduct of states in time of war and belligerent occupation. It is a pity that we have had to wait until certain more visible interests were involved to remember the importance of these principles and the utility of enforcing their contents. When the crisis is resolved in accordance with fundamental rules, we must not allow them to be forgotten again. Selectivity in enforcing the law, as we have seen in the middle east, can lead only to its devaluation and inevitable violation.
Some Opposition Members seem to be hypnotised by the concept of a surgical strike. I do not know to whom they are referring, as they have not been specific. There is one body from which I do not hear talk about a surgical strike, however, and that is Her Majesty's Government. It is time that someone paid tribute to the Government for the great skill with which they have handled what I regard as the most dangerous international crisis since 1945.
The Government have not put a foot wrong. In particular, they have acted with great skill in the United Nations. Suggestions have been made by Opposition Members that the Government may not have paid much attention to the United Nations and the five resolutions of the Security Council. I have no doubt that the Government played an important role in securing those resolutions, and not least resolution 665, which was the most difficult to secure of them all.
Several hon. Members have said that we are in a new phase at the United Nations. I have observed the United Nations for nearly 40 years, including two complete General Assembly sessions some time ago. We all know that, until now, it has been bedevilled by being used as a forum for one nation to make points against another rather than as a forum for securing results.
With the end of the cold war, we all agree that there is now a real possibily that we can make the United Nations a more useful place. However, it would be a great error to argue, as some have done, that the allied forces ranged against Saddam Hussein should take further military action only if authorised by the Security Council. The right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey)—who, I regret, is no longer in his place—said that the use of force must be within the framework of the United Nations. We can all agree with that, because article 51 is within the framework, of the United Nations. The point is not whether the use of force, if it became necessary, should be within or without the United Nations; it is whether it requires a further Security Council resolution.
I welcome what the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) said on that point. He referred to a number of examples where force could be used legitimately without a further Security Council resolution such as, a request by Kuwait or further aggression. There could be other examples. To deny ourselves the ability to take further military action without another Security Council resolution would delight Saddam Hussein. It would certainly make him more stubborn and it would reduce the chances of achieving what we all want to achieve, which is the evacuation of Kuwait by peaceful means. That would be the perverse result of such self-denial.
If, as I believe, the right hon. Member for Islwyn is saying that it is desirable that further military action has the backing of the United Nations, I can only agree with him. However, I emphatically disagree with the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), who said recently that further military action must have a further Security Council resolution.
The House should be aware of why article 51 is part of the charter. It is not an unimportant article. It was greatly debated during the three years between 1942 and 1945 when the United Nations charter was in the process of gestation. The founders of the United Nations—who, in general, were the victors of world war two—believed it necessary to include such an article because they were not prepared, especially the major powers, to deny themselves the right to take military action against aggression or against a threat to peace simply because it might not be possible, because of the veto, to obtain the sanction of a Security Council resolution. Article 51 is essential to chapter VII, which deals with threats to the peace and with acts of aggression, and it was central in the minds of the founders of the United Nations.
The right hon. Gentleman is accurate about the reason for article 51 being included in the charter. It was because there could be no certainty that there would be a general agreement among the United Nations. However, where a consensus is attainable, would it not be a step back to rely on the right of self-redress?
I agree with what the right hon. Member for Islwyn said—that it is desirable to have the clear backing of the United Nations if that is attainable. However, we should not deny ourselves the opportunity to act even if it is not possible to obtain a Security Council resolution. As the House will recall, we relied on article 51 for our action in the Falklands.
The Soviet Union recently suggested that there should be a comprehensive conference dealing with both Iraq's aggression and the question of Palestine. I do not know why it made that suggestion, which I believe is unwise. It would risk obscuring the main issue, which is to ensure that Saddam Hussein does not profit from his aggression. We must obtain his withdrawal and ensure that there is no possibility of further Iraqi aggression against Kuwait or its small neighbouring countries. Measures must be taken to deal with Iraq's nuclear and chemical weapons capability, and a security regime must be established in the Gulf.
Is there not a danger that in agreeing to an international conference—which I hope will not be the case—it would give the dictator of a criminal regime the status to say, in effect, that what he has done in Kuwait has led to an international conference to deal with all sorts of other issues? Those of us on the Labour Benches who were strenuously opposed to the Suez aggression in 1956 made it clear that we did not want an international conference, but an end to the aggression—which was supported at the time by France and Israel. Our view remains the same. The aggression that began on 2 August must be ended before there is an international conference to deal with all the other issues, including the position of the Palestinians which, at some early stage, must also be discussed and resolved.
The hon. Gentleman made a number of valid points. An international conference would enhance the status of Saddam Hussein. An additional, important point which was implicit in what the hon. Gentleman said is that it would enable Saddam Hussein to divert world attention to the question of Palestine and unite the Arabs behind him in opposition to Israel, which would be highly undesirable.
The world faces enough problems over the Gulf without adding the question of Palestine in the same forum. Of course we must not lose sight of the Palestine problem, but if we attempt to treat both those issues in the same forum at the same time, we are in danger of failing on both. We must first concentrate on solving the problem of Iraq's aggression. If we are successful, we may then find the further momentum to tackle, as we should, the question of Palestine.
Many hon. Members have said that this is the gravest crisis that we have faced since 1945, and I share that view. In the light of that, can anyone doubt that it was right to recall the House of Commons so that we could debate the matter outside the television and radio studios and without relying upon the mass media? There has also been a demand—quite properly in a crisis—for a degree of unity, and that unity has been present in a number of important respects. No hon. Member supports the act of aggression by Saddam Hussein against Kuwait. So far as I know, no hon. Member is other than strongly supportive of the sanctions taken by the United Nations against Saddam Hussein and the resolution for their enforcement. We also have something else in common—none of us will be killed if a war breaks out.
But as Members of Parliament, we have responsibilities which cannot simply be subordinated to the role of the Government. This is not the place to deal with it, but under our constitution, military deployments, acts of war and treaties of peace come under the Crown prerogative. Parliament has no legal or constitutional right whatever to decide the matters that are before us for debate.
But we have a duty to represent people. We have a duty to represent—as far as I can make out, some Conservative Members have done it with tremendous energy—British citizens in Iraq and Kuwait. We have a responsibility for them and their families. That has hardly been mentioned except as an instrument for denouncing, quite properly, the man who is detaining them. We have service men and women in the middle east, and perhaps more are to go there if the stories in today's papers are right. They and their families are entitled to have Members of Parliament to represent them. There are the refugees, thousands of them without water and food, and as human beings we have a responsibility to them. I might add that the tragic pictures that we have seen of people in the desert without proper food or shelter would be as nothing to what would happen if war broke out.
As you know, Mr. Speaker, because we discussed it yesterday, I intend to oppose the motion tomorrow that the House should now adjourn. The motion to adjourn the House is usually a formal one. The House adjourns at night and meets again at 2.30 pm. But this is the one rare occasion when whether we should adjourn for another six weeks while events take their course is the real question.
If anyone says to me, as some have said in the face of the crisis, that we should send a united message to Saddam Hussein, I remind the House that on 5 May 1940, when Hitler was at the gates, there was an Adjournment debate on the handling by the Government of the Campaign in Norway, and a vote. The then Prime Minister won the vote and resigned, and Winston Churchill became Prime Minister. So let us not be told that the duty of the House of Commons is to unite behind whatever the Government of the day does, because that is not what the House is there to do. We are here to represent people and to contribute our own opinions as best we can. I have no complaint of any speech made today about how we feel that the crisis should be handled.
I will use plain language. I fear that the United States has already decided that, when it is ready, it will create a pretext for a war. That is what I believe. I acquit the Foreign Secretary of being in that hawkish clan because, in so far as one can penetrate the inscrutable corridors of power and the minds of their inhabitants, he seems to be a bit of a dove. But let me say this, too, without offence. Britain is a minor player in this game. We have had a debate today as though everything hinged on whether the Prime Minister decided to go to war. The Prime Minister, too, is a minor player in this unfolding tragedy. She decided to go in with President Bush, perhaps because of the transatlantic relationship, the so-called "special relationship", or as thanks for the Falklands, or because she did not want to get mixed up with the EEC.
But she is a minor player and once she and the Cabinet decided to commit even a notional number of forces—including the RAF and the RAF regiment and now the troops—she was locked into what President Bush intended to do. It is important that we should not discuss, as if we were in a position to decide the post-cold-war order, what the Prime Minister will be doing here and there. We are a minor partner in an American strategy.
It must be known by now that I am opposed to a war against Iraq. I am opposed to action outside the United Nations. I believe that it would divide the Security Council. It might not exactly unite the Arab world, but it might bring many Arab countries together against us. The outcome of such a war could not be sure, because President Saddam Hussein would certainly have the capacity, were he to choose to do it, to destroy so many oil installations that, even though he himself might be destroyed, it would inflict a burden on the world economy and the middle east which could not be contemplated.
No, I am not saying that at all. I said at the beginning of my speech that there is unanimity for sanctions. I share the view of, I think, either the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) or my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), that a country dependent for its revenue on oil cannot survive when its oil pipeline is cut.
No, I shall not give way again.
I believe, therefore, that the sanctions will be effective; but that has to be put against what would happen otherwise.
I must also say something else to the House without in any way being offensive. Governments of any colour in any country are not the main practitioners of morality. America went into Panama and 3,000 people were killed. America went into Grenada. America supported Iraq when it attacked Iran. America did nothing when Cyprus was invaded and partitioned by Turkey. America has no moral authority, any more than any other super-power. The same would be true of the Soviet Union after Afghanistan, or wherever. It has no moral authority.
Nor, might I add, because these things must be said and nobody else has said them, can we defend the Emir or the King of Saudi Arabia, neither of whom practise any democracy. I am not saying that they are not entitled to the protection of the UN charter—I have already said that they are—but, given the denunciations of the breaches of human rights in eastern Europe by Ministers, one might have expected one of them, in this dispute, to point out that a person found guilty of shoplifting in Riyadh will have his hand chopped off. Are we to live in a world where morality is seen as the product of a parliamentary majority?
The real issue is this. Everybody knows it and nobody has mentioned it. The Americans want to protect their oil supplies. I think that I am right in saying that not one Member on either side of the House has drawn attention to what the former Attorney-General of the United States, Ramsey Clark, said on the radio last night. He said that the United States forced Saudi Arabia to accept its army there because it wanted to protect its oil.
We are experienced as an imperial power and that will not shock the Conservatives. I am not asking anyone to be shocked, only to recognise the fact that stares us in the face. America has benefited much recently from cheap middle eastern oil. It was reported in the Financial Times that it has reduced its oil production and increased its oil imports from 31 per cent. to 52 per cent. It has become hooked on this cheap fluid that now has to be controlled by the American army. That is honestly the position. The United States wants a permanent base.
I have not had a distinguished military career like my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East, but I served in Egypt in 1945 and I still have my identity card saying that I was exempt from Egyptian law. I looked at it the other day. We had a base at Tel-el-Kebir in Egypt from 1888, when Mr. Gladstone put it there, to 1956. If one talked to any Egyptians, all they did was read a list of promises by successive British Governments about when we would withdraw our base. We withdrew in 1956 and were in again with the support of the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery)—he and I clashed at the time—within a few weeks.
Then there is the arms trade. That has been brought out a bit. A couple of years ago, in Algiers, I met a former Egyptian Foreign Minister who told me that there had been a seminar in Cairo about the crusades and that during the crusades European arms manufacturers supplied arms both to Richard Coeur de Lion and to Saladin. Nothing has really changed. Arms manufacturers have made billions of pounds from selling instruments of mass destruction, partly to hold down those colonial people so that the sheikhs will supply cheap oil, and partly because it is highly profitable to sell arms. I shall not try to differentiate between Governments, because the Labour Government did it too.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East said that it was wrong, and I shall have to put footnotes to that effect on every page of my diary—but at the same time, we did it too. The arms trade is a corrupt trade. If our troops have to fight those of Saddam Hussein—I hope that that does not happen—they will be fighting against modern weapons in part sold by Britain, France, America and Russia for profit. That is a major issue.
If we go to war—and there are those who think that we might—what will be our war aims? That is not an unreasonable question. Will it be to free Kuwait, to topple Hussein, or to destroy Iraqi weapons? My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition went further than the Prime Minister in setting the objective. She said that it was to arrest Saddam Hussein and to bring him before an international crimes tribunal. The Prime Minister said that on television. Are British troops to be sent in to fight before their objective has been clarified? The Government have never made clear what is their aim. However, it is clear that the United States, having helped to arm Hussein, is determined to bring him down and to establish a new base.
I do not need to dwell on the consequences of war. They include a massive loss of life and possibly an air attack on oil installations. In the peculiar circumstances, we would to some extent, if not in every sense, be taking on Islam. Stalin is remembered for asking a very silly question. He asked how many battalions the Pope had. [HON. MEMBERS: "Divisions."] We should ask how many divisions the prophet Mohammed had. There are 105 million Muslims in India alone. We have some here, too. I am sure that the BBC World Service will explain that that has nothing to do with the situation, but there are people who will see our action as an attempt to reimpose a white, rich control over an area once dominated by the British empire.
The Prime Minister courteously gave way to me when I asked what I hope was a relevant question. She said three times—so she must have meant it—that she already has the legal right to attack Iraq and that no further stages are necessary. The only consideration is that that will be done not at her discretion but at that of President Bush. I say to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition that anyone who goes into the Lobby with the Government tomorrow night will be endorsing the view that no further action is needed to legalise an attack on Iraq.
Those who vote with the Government tomorrow will be voting for giving the Prime Minister a free hand or a blank cheque. Those who vote against the Government will be accepting the view expressed in my early-day motion, which calls on the Government
to make a clear and unequivocal statement that it will not commit British Forces to offensive military operations against Iraq that have not been explicitly authorised by a Resolution passed by the Security Council, and under the provisions of the UN Charter, which deal with the use of force by the United Nations and under its military command.
I referred to two points of view, but others may think that it is better to reserve judgment and not to vote at all. Even those who cannot go with my view may not want to give the Prime Minister a free hand between now and 15 October.
Yet another view has been constructively touched upon by other speakers—the belief that peace is possible, but that one must take a broad view of the factors involved. One must look both at the withdrawal of Iraqi troops from Kuwait and UN resolutions relating to the west bank. One cannot pick and choose between Security Council resolutions. One must have both a Palestinian state and security for Israel. One must deal also with the oil companies that are busy exploiting the situation as much as they can.
There has been a 7 per cent. fall in oil production worldwide but a 100 per cent. increase in its price. How is that justified? Thank God for Winston Churchill, who in 1914, when he was First Lord of the Admiralty, nationalised the Anglo-Iranian Petroleum Company for £2 million. His speech on that occasion made the strongest case for public control and ownership of oil companies that one can find. Winston Churchill said that countries were being squeezed by the oil companies.
If there is to be a peace-keeping force, it would be better if it were Arab, but I turn to the longer, post-cold-war perspective to which our attention has been properly drawn by a number of speeches. One cannot have a new order for the middle east based on the redeployment of white power in the form of a permanent American army in Saudi Arabia. That will not work. One is no longer dealing with the natives who featured in Rudyard Kipling's poems but with a quite different world. For me, the United Nations is the General Assembly, not the bigwigs, permanent and rotating members who sit on the Security council. I personally would like to see direct elections to the General Assembly. They might only return one British Member of Parliament, but I would certainly be a candidate, if that were possible.
We are always being told that we must come to terms with reality and that we must not live in the past. The fact remains that we live in a very small world of many religions. There are fundamentalist Christians. When President Reagan spoke of an evil empire, he was declaring a Christian jihad against communism. Anyone who has visited America and listened to those Christian fundamentalists, who have not got into trouble and been removed, will know that they make their reputations out of their religious wars against communism. However, as right hon. and hon. Members know very well, the Americans stimulated Islam to defeat communism—but when communism changed, fundamentalism remained.
We shall have to plan and share the world's oil. America has only 2 per cent. of the world's population but uses 25 per cent of the world's resources. That situation cannot be allowed to last, even if America has a big army. The real function of the United Nations is to act as the custodian of social justice. It should not serve just as a policeman. The first meeting of the UN General Assembly took place in Central Hall, Westminster in 1945. Then, Gladwyn Jebb was its acting secretary-general. Some people may remember that. I was just back from war. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East and a former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup, know that the UN was the great hope to end wars. However, it was more than that. It was meant to promote social justice.
Those right hon. and hon. Members who support the Government's interpretation of the law, and their readiness to use their discretion without referring back to the House again, will vote with the Government in the Lobby tomorrow. Those who oppose the Government will vote with us, while others should abstain. I urge caution, because many other western European nations are being very cautious and have not sent troops. Many of the non-aligned countries are not really behind the action being taken by America and Britain.
It is time to try to take some of the hatred out of the situation. I shall never forget the day I was first elected to Parliament. No one ever does. It was 30 November 1950. That same day, President Truman said that he might drop an atom bomb on China. We were then using against the red Chinese the language that we are now using against Saddam Hussein. They were seen as worse than the Russians. Nevertheless, there was a Peace for China Committee, and China was later admitted to the United Nations. Whatever the Chinese Government may have done in Tiananmen square, no one wants a war with the Chinese, otherwise they would not have been given Hong Kong—[Laughter.] So much for the right of self-determination.
Does not my right hon. Friend agree that it is not just a question of giving the Chinese Hong Kong but that the Americans have just agreed that they should have a special relationship and make special economic arrangements with China, despite the events of Tiananmen square?
I know that my hon. Friend, whom I much respect, will agree with me that morality and power march uneasily together in public life. At the time of the Suez crisis, the Father of the House and I clashed—something of which he generously reminds me occasionally. What was said then about Nasser is exactly the same as what is being said now about Saddam Hussein.
The Falklands may be too close for comfort. Not all that many people looking back, think that that huge expenditure was justified—[Interruption.] I do not think so. I have been in a minority before, and I might be in one now, but that does not worry me—[Interruption.]
In 1986, there was the bombing of Libya which tried to kill Gaddafi—it killed his god-daughter, I believe. Our bases were used for that. Some people took the opposite view.
I urge caution because it is not the hardware of military weapons that frightens me. A gun cannot go off by itself. It is the hatred which makes people want to use weapons. That is the fuel of war and in the past few months we have had the most vicious war propaganda pumped down our throats. The temper of peace, of which Pandit Nehru used to speak, is what we need, and we want to be cautious and to let it work its way through the United Nations. For that reason, Mr. Speaker—it would not have been possible without some help from the Chair—I intend to divide the House against the Adjournment motion tomorrow.
As the 10-minute rule applies, I shall not be able to deal with a number of the points made in an eloquent speech by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn). He always speaks eloquently, but his conclusions are usually wrong. In any event, it is absurd for anyone who knows the middle east to compare Nasser with Saddam Hussein. Their records and their respective countries are totally different.
Undoubtedly there is massive support in the House and in the country for the Government's policy on the Gulf crisis. The facts are abundantly clear. President Saddam Hussein's attack on Kuwait, which was a member not only of the United Nations but of the Arab League, was an act of blatant aggression. It was callous and unprovoked and was particularly beastly because for eight years, while Iraq fought for its life against Iran, Kuwait gave Iraq generous and unstinting support. Saddam Hussein's accusations launched at the Emir of Kuwait were a grotesque distortion of the truth. Sheikh Jaber al-Sabah is one of the most independent-minded and wise of Arab leaders.
I have been a member of the Kuwait Investment Advisory Board—an interest which is duly recorded—for many years and I was therefore able to witness at close quarters Kuwait's munificence to Iraq during the war and, for much longer, the enlightened investment policies pioneered by the Emir. There are not many countries whose principal investment portfolio is the "future generations fund", which is precisely what its name indicates. It was established to support future generations of Kuwaiti citizens without having to rely on oil revenues.
The Government obviously are right in what they have done and said. This act of aggression must not be allowed to succeed. Co-operation between the United States and the Soviet Union has been the most encouraging aspect of the crisis, and it is essential that it should continue. Saddam Hussein's two crucial miscalculations were, first, that a puppet Quisling regime would speedily emerge in Kuwait and, secondly, that the Soviet Union and the United States would immediately be at loggerheads about how to respond to his aggression.
Hopefully, the economic action taken will have the desired effect. Sanctions should start to bite before too long, and bite severely. Eventually it is not unreasonable to expect that Saddam Hussein or his successor will be forced to comply with the United Nations resolution calling for the immediate Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait. Should that not happen, we must accept that action, under article 51, will have to be contemplated.
As has been said, the legitimate Government of Kuwait would be entitled to ask for the removal of the Iraqi presence from Kuwait. Should action become unavoidable, it is essential that the United States and the Soviet Union should act in concert. British and European Community diplomats should employ all their skills to help to cement the new Russo-American understanding.
I shall now mention the wider scene in the middle east. It is simply not good enough for the United States and the world community to deal exclusively with one act of aggression. It would not be acceptable to the Arab masses, who cannot and should not be lightly dismissed, if the United Nations, under American leadership, dealt speedily with one outrage while allowing others to continue festering. Why is King Hussein, one of the best friends of Britain and the west, so disturbed? Why is the Arab world partially divided over Iraqi aggression? The answer is relatively simple for anyone willing to take an objective view of the area and its history. It is Palestine and the running sore of the Arab-Israeli dispute, which is still unresolved and where efforts to do so have been at best half-hearted and often contemptible.
Twenty-three years have passed since Israel was called upon to withdraw from Arab territories occupied by force in 1967. United Nations resolution 242 is quite explicit, but Israel has not budged, and, what is more, it has continued to pursue a policy of savage repression against the Palestinian people on the west bank and in Gaza and no one has bothered to do much about it.
In the past two years alone, 159 Palestinian children under the age of 16 have been slaughtered and thousands wounded. What has the international community done about that? Some years ago, Israel invaded Lebanon, and its artillery mercilessly bombarded Beirut for weeks on end. What did the international community do then? Some years ago Israel bombed Tunis—the capital of a sovereign state—which was a clear act of international piracy. Again, the international community failed to take appropriate action.
Regrettably, the realities of internal American politics in the past have not allowed the United States to act even handedly in the area. This continuing exercise in double standards has created a seething and unfathomable sense of bitterness, frustration and anger in the Arab world.
President Bush and Mr. Baker have rightly said that they want a stable middle east, but they will not get it unless they face up to this reality. Therefore, it was most encouraging that Mr. Baker seemed to recognise this fact when he told the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee that
America accepted that regional stability in the Middle East must include a settlement of the Palestinian issue.
Subsequent reports from Washington seem less encouraging, but I hope that the quotation I have cited
represents the authentic view of the American Administration and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, who has just returned from an important and successful visit to the area, will be able to confirm that that is so.
We now face a genuine opportunity for good and one for evil. For good, after Iraq has agreed to withdraw from Kuwait, the United States and the Soviet Union should jointly sponsor an international conference to deal with all the middle east's territorial and economic problems, especially the Palestinian problem, and the role of the United Nations should become genuinely effective.
For evil, there exists a real danger that King Hussein may fall and be replaced by a fanatically anti-western fundamentalist regime. The King is facing gigantic economic and political problems, and needs major help and understanding—not the kind of idiotic comment that was made by some American senator or congressman the other day, describing him as a wimp.
Should Jordan be destabilised, this could be the moment for which the Shamir Government have been waiting for in order to implement the transfer solution so beloved by Likud racialists: that is, to expel the bulk of the west bank population. Such a move would have catastrophic and irredeemable consequences for western interests, and for the whole of the middle east. Wars and chaos would rage. It must not be allowed to happen: the opportunity for good must be seized, and, after the Iraqis have been obliged to leave Kuwait and the Emir and his legitimate Kuwait Government have been restored, the Palestinian problem must be dealt with immediately. That unresolved cancer, which is at the root of almost all the dangerous turmoil in the middle east, must finally be tackled and resolved.
I hardly need to assure you, Mr. Speaker, that I share most of the sentiments expressed in that excellent speech by the right hon. Member for Westbury (Sir D. Walters), who is an old political friend of mine.
No apologist could clear Saddam Hussein of his crimes. The Iraqi dictator has an appalling record of repression, torture and murder; he has brought upon himself the near-universal condemnation of the world community. His occupation of Kuwait was a criminal misjudgment which could drench that region in blood.
I deplore the invasion of Kuwait, and pray that sanctions may succeed; but it is only fair to Iraq itself—not to the dictator—to state that there may be some validity in its claim to Kuwait, which lay in that region of the Ottoman empire and which was a British creation in the colonial post-first world war carve-up. Are we going to go to war every time some country in Asia or Africa or the middle east has a boundary dispute over the colonial boundaries that we drew? Of course we are not.
There was a special factor in Kuwait, and that was American interest. The United States has jumped at the opportunity to benefit from Hussein's action. It has clear war aims; do not let us fool ourselves about this. The first is, in the memorable phrase of an American commentator,
to make the world safe for gas guzzlers".
The Americans intend to control the supply of oil from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states to ensure their immense
consumption of oil. To do that, their second aim is to destroy the Iraqi regime and, by their continued military presence, to ensure a compliant successor. [Interruption.]
Oh, they can mumble away; they do not want to know, because they do not want to learn.
The Americans intend to control the supply of oil from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states to ensure their immense consumption of oil. To do that, their second aim—I am repeating this for the benefit of those who did not want to hear—is to destroy the Iraqi regime and, by their continued military presence, to ensure a compliant successor. They are playing the role that we played earlier in setting up regimes which would conform to our requirements for the supply of oil.
But their third aim is the most sinister: to bring about the dominance of Israel in the area. Even most Members of the House probably know nothing of the strategic alliance that Reagan set up between Israel and the United States. No one so far has mentioned it. Of course, one should never underestimate the ignorance of the House of Commons on major matters.
Reports have it that Israeli politicians and strategists are urging America to war. Military commentators are urging, "Do it now," and, once the war starts, under the strategic alliance—which hon. Members should perhaps learn something about—and its web of options, there will undoubtedly be attacks by Israel on Iraq's strategic targets: nuclear and chemical sites and missiles and communications.
No. I have 10 minutes, and I am going to use every moment.
In leading their great moral crusade, what hypocrisy the United States Government display! Their aggressions since the last war have been flagrant: in Vietnam, the war they lost—America can lose wars: against Nicaragua: in Panama; and in the great military victory in one of Her Majesty's realms, Grenada. Why, when Israel invaded Lebanon, was no such stringent action, led by the United States, taken against Israel? Instead, the United States supplied Israel with its latest weapons to try out against the Lebanese civilians, who died in their thousands.
What action does the United States pursue to bring to an end the Israeli Government's harassment, torture and murder of hundreds of Palestinians in the illegally occupied territories? What is the difference in moral terms between occupied territories in Palestine, Lebanon and Syria, and occupied territory in Kuwait? What nauseating hypocrites American politicians are—and that, of course, applies also to some of our own home-grown variety.
James Baker, the United States Secretary of State, is now attempting another gloss—the establishment of a new security structure. The purpose of the operation is to lead the world towards a middle east settlement to remove the region's threat to global order. Are the Americans going to induce Israel to give up the occupied territories? Are they going to cease to provide Israel with the newest armaments which give them control of the region? James Baker's scheme to remove the region's threat to global order entails the removal of Iraq's chemical, nuclear and ballistic missiles. What about Israel's nuclear and chemical threat, and its ballistic missiles? Are they to go to remove the region's threat to global order, or are they to remain in site to guarantee Israel's and America's control of the area? What utter, nauseous hyprocrisy this is.
What about our Prime Minister's role in all this moral charade? She always has to be more macho than the male, of course. She leapt in to support the United States. She thrives on the whiff of grapeshot, but she really does not know the background to developments in the Gulf—or anywhere else in the world, come to that. She is ignorant of history, and unaware and unconcerned about the beliefs and cultures of people in the world outside. She committed British troops—with the support of the "Gotcha!" and gutter British press—but she delayed consulting the House of Commons. We are just to rubber-stamp her jingoistic jaunt. But, most significantly, she backed the United States Government's policy in the middle east without any reference to our EC colleaugues, which shows her disregard for our European involvement. Then she proceeded to insult most of them for not tagging on quickly enough.
Can there be a resolution without war? The redrawing of a colonially imposed boundary would be a small price to pay for peace. It appears that Saddam Hussein has offered to link some Kuwaiti realignment with Israeli withdrawal in Palestine and Syrian withdrawal in Lebanon. Might it not be worthwhile to examine such an arrangement? But, better still, might it not be advisable, before war breaks out—as it will if we continue on this course—to respond to Mr. Gorbachev's proposal to hold a middle east conference where all these necessary steps could be pursued, and justice achieved for all the aggrieved parties: Lebanese as well as Palestinians, Kuwaitis as well as Syrians? It would make much more sense, and be juster and much more successful, I guess, than Mr. Baker's pursuit of a pax Americana—which might have very little "pax" about it.
Like the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) managed to inject the music of controversy into the debate, but without—as far as I could see—really disagreeing with the fundamental proposition that the Iraqis have to withdraw from Kuwait. It cheered us up, but it did not add a great deal to the debate.
The right hon.—and gallant—Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) reminded us of the dangers of war. He was quite right: on that journey, men know where they start but not where they will end up. The right hon. Gentleman then treated us to a charming autobiographical account of his own ideological progress. He has occupied a distinguished career, which could, I think, be described as the triumph of intellect over consistency. If anyone is responsible for the debate that we are holding today—although I would not want to attribute too much to any one man—it is the right hon. Member for Leeds, East. We are discussing the crisis today because he initiated the dismantling of the British security system in the Arabian peninsula without ensuring that an alternative system was put in its place.
It is easy to see what I mean. In 1961, when the Iraqi dictator of the day threatened Kuwait, the British Government—the Macmillan Government—said, "Is this for real or is it bluff?" We could not tell. Intelligence reports gave us the troop figures, but we did not know what would happen. We said that we could not take the risk, so we put in the Army, the Air Force and the Navy. The Iraqi dictator retreated and was toppled. We could not have done that unless we had had a major base in Aden and facilities in Oman and Sharjah, an advance base in Bahrain and stockpiles in Kuwait.
When, a month ago, the present Iraqi dictator concentrated his troops on the borders of Kuwait, the Americans had no facilities, even if they had had the will, to meet the crisis. Their nearest base was Diego Garcia, 2,000 or 3,000 miles away. There were no stockpiles and no facilities that they could have used, so Kuwait fell. We were lucky that Saddam Hussein did not push his luck further and go for the eastern province of Saudi Arabia.
The lesson is clear. The states of the Arabian peninsula, friends as they have been to us over the years, do not have the resources, the population or the strength to protect the oil resources that are vital to the economies of America, Europe and Japan. They cannot defend those oil resources by themselves.
I am sorry that he is not here, but I take issue with my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath). I do not believe that, by itself, an Arab solution would work. The Arabs are bitterly divided. They make European union look like federation. We could not rely on them to protect the oil resources. A great many of them are interested in the issue only because they hope to get some of the oil wealth for themselves.
We—when I say "we" I mean the United States, which is quite rightly playing the leading role, Europe and Japan—will have to accept the responsibility for a regional organisation. I was glad to see that Secretary Baker gave his support to that concept. It has as yet to be developed, whether under the United Nations—that would be ideal—NATO, or an offshoot of NATO—perhaps. Something new is needed that includes those Arab countries that want to join us. But there will have to be an organisation with bases and facilities to protect those interests that are so vital to the role of the industrial world.
I shall be told that this is neo-imperialism. I do not believe that it is. The states of the Arab peninsula never wanted us to go. King Feisal begged us to stay in Aden and offered to subsidise the maintenance of the British base, until the right hon. Member for Leeds, East rejected the proposal as turning British forces into mercenaries. There was a chance then, and there is a chance again today, for the industrial countries of the west and Japan to contribute both forces and finance in order to set up a regional organisation to protect those resources on which the industrial world depends.
We in Britain are playing a supporting role. I do not believe that we should become too deeply involved militarily unless we are also involved in planning the strategy. However, we have unique experience of that part of the world. We have something else, too. Our continental European friends have not shown quite the response that I had hoped for to the crisis in the middle east. In December, we shall be talking to them about financial and political union. I hope that we shall drive home the lesson that there is not much point in talking about financial union if they are not prepared to defend the most important economic interests of the west, and that there is not much point in talking about political union if they are not prepared to come together with us to meet the threat that faces us. Here is an opportunity for us to give the lead.
It may be useful to consider what Saddam Hussein is planning at this stage, because then we might be better able, in the words of the Leader of the Opposition, successfully to prevent him. He intends to sit tight. Having annexed Kuwait, he intends to absorb it fully into Iraq. He does not intend to provoke a conflict. He has already instructed his forces not to respond to any United Nations naval intervention on the high seas. He intends to allow his aeroplanes to put United States, Saudi and British aeroplanes on full alert by flying close to the border, but he will not cross it. Unless there is a miscalculation, he does not intend to provoke war; he will just sit tight.
Some people say that sanctions will bring him down. I should like to be able to believe them. We must tighten the air embargo. At the moment, considerable air traffic is going into Iraq, so that sanction must be tightened. There are long borders around Iraq and there are traditional black market routes along which, over the centuries, goods have entered Iraq. This leader does not care about privation for his own people. His country had to put up with tremendous privation during the Iran-Iraq war. Given that, for humanitarian reasons, we cannot starve Iraq, it will be very difficult to make sanctions work. They will work only if there is the fullest support from the Soviet Union.
Easily the most hopeful event is that at last the Security Council is working as it was envisaged that it would work. The creation of the military staff committee is immensely important. I hope that the United States will give up some of its anxieties about the military staff committee being made fully effective. I hope that the Soviet Union and China will be involved fully and absolutely in the implementation of the embargo. It would be no bad thing if the military staff committee discussed some of the problems of the multinational force on the ground in Saudi Arabia. There is no reason why they should not be discussed.
Technically speaking, because of the way in which the military staff committee has been constructed, it will not be provided with a full mandate to discuss the United Nations embargo. However, it is operating flexibly and developing new techniques. It is massively important that President Bush is to speak to President Gorbachev on Sunday. It is understandable that President Gorbachev is faced with an immense dilemma.
There are many who call for United Nations action and who rule out any other action. It is nonsense to rule out action under article 51. If Saddam Hussein is to be pressurised to come out of Kuwait, he has got to fear the possibility of a massive attack. Let us be clear about this talk of a first strike. The only first strike was that by Saddam Hussein of Iraq against Kuwait. Any action that is taken in consequence of that is secondary.
I believe and hope that, by means of diplomatic pressure and in particular the involvement of the Soviet Union, we can make Saddam Hussein give up Kuwait by the further tightening of sanctions, economic pressure and more Arab unity. I believe, however, that that man would prefer to give up Kuwait as a result of a military battle, and I am afraid that that is what eventually it will turn out to be.
Some say that we have to wait indefinitely. Some of the speeches—I regret the speech of the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath)—gave the impression that we could wait indefinitely. We cannot wait indefinitely. A very sophisticated army is building up in Saudi Arabia and in the Gulf which is on full alert. It can be on nothing other than full alert, day after day, in the most appalling conditions. Some people believed that our task force off the Falkland islands could wait indefinitely for a diplomatic solution and for a UN peace settlement, which we now know General Galtieri had no intention of giving.
There will come a judgment, and it may be before Christmas, when people will have to consider whether Saddam Hussein will give up Kuwait without force. All that has been said about using force is absolutely true, and nothing is truer than the comments of some of those who have experienced war. This will be a bloody fight, because there is little doubt that he will use gas. He used it at the start of hostilities, and frequently, against Iran, and he has used it against the Kurds. It will be difficult to combat.
For all these reasons, it would be a tremendous advance for a new security order if the Soviet Union could be persuaded to use article 39 and do what happened in Korea, and for the United Nations to vest responsibility for a United Nations force in a United States commander. I know that the circumstances were different—Russia was not participating and China was represented by Chiang Kai-shek—but if one looks back from our new world and reruns 1950, one sees what a difference there would have been if a military staff committee had operated as it is now. What a difference there would have been if we had been able to involve Russia and communist China. Had that united action taken place, the Korean war would have been over in months and we would never have seen the Russian and mainly communist Chinese push.
Historic parallels are always flawed and there are many flaws in this. It is almost impossible to believe that Gorbachev could endorse such a United Nations force under article 39, but the inconceivable has been happening in the Soviet Union over the past few months—more than any of us predicted—and it is worth going every mile to try to achieve that. That may mean giving Gorbachev an assurance that the United States will take very seriously the resolution of the middle east, involving the west bank, Israel and Syria. Syrian forces are on the ground as part of the multinational force, and Syria is not a moderate Arab state but a radical revolutionary Arab state. Gorbachev has the right to know that the United States will take the principles of international law and the authority of the United Nations fully into account—not overt linkage, because the problems are separate and different—in trying to get an Arab-Israeli solution as well.
Gorbachev wants many other things from the western democracies. His economy is virtually collapsing around his ears. He is no longer a super-power and it is doubtful whether he could commit forces in a major way. If he cannot get over that article 39 threshold, and I understand why he may not be able to, we have at least the hope that he will understand why we may be forced, under article 51, to take military action involving other Arabs at the request of the legitimate Kuwaiti Government and the Saudi Arabians. If we maintain the consensus that has developed among the multinational force—it is a historic miracle to have got those forces together—there might be military action that would not last very long and would not involve a great deal of loss of life.
Listening to this debate, if I had been Saddam Hussein I would have been pleased to hear a few of the speeches that have been made. They seemed to be an invitation for him to go on sitting tight, spinning it out and letting people get generally exasperated. I pray that force will not be necessary, but history shows us that, when dealing with aggressors who have no regard to international law and to the lives of their own citizens, let alone citizens of other countries, one must be ready to use force.
It would be a massive mistake if from this debate in the House of Commons came a message that Britain was not ready, in the right circumstances, backed by international law and the multinational effort of many different colours, creeds and beliefs, to uphold international law.
When the House met in emergency session in 1982 to debate the invasion of the Falkland Islands, the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) made one of the most compelling and responsible speeches. If I may say so, I think that he did so again on this occasion. His speech was a timely if sombre reminder that we shall have to use resolve and patience in this crisis.
The speeches of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition matched the overwhelming view and mood of the House and, indeed, of the public at large. Although there are undoubtedly differences of inflection in the legal interpretation of the UN resolutions, we should all pay respect to the alacrity and clarity with which the Opposition came to the support of the Government in supporting the United States and British deployment shortly after the invasion.
As a House, we should pay a wholehearted tribute to my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary, the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and Ministers at the Ministry of Defence. They have worked extremely hard and have dealt with the issue sensitively, forthrightly and with a keen understanding of where the national and international interests lie.
Arabs have been taking over each other's wells since time immemorial, but the stakes on this occasion are of a different order. It is not so much the sovereignty of Kuwait or the supremacy of the al-Sabahs which is paramount, although these are important to reinstate. There are greater issues at stake. Not only is there the security and independence of other Kingdoms in the Gulf region but there is the economic self-interest of the western world. The right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) seemed almost to deride this as a criterion that we should not consider. It certainly is legitimate to consider our own sources of essential energy supplies. The cost would indeed be great if we were to allow a disproportionate amount of oil supplies from the Gulf to be vested in the hands of one aberrant and abhorrent dictator. The cost would be great for mankind and for the world. We simply cannot allow it to happen.
There is, however, a principle at stake which transcends even the regional or economic issues—the basic sovereignty and independence of nation states and the principle of self-determination embodied in the United Nations charter. If we stand aside and allow invasion and subjection to take place in wilful disregard of international law and civil liberties what country can proclaim its freedom and what hope can there be for a more secure world order?
So far, the world has held together in this crisis. We all know that it will take time. It may cost lives, it will certainly cost money and public patience may wear thin as the possibility of humiliation eats away at public resolve. Those are the times for the House, which can lead public opinion, to say to the Government that they can count on us for support. As a House, we trust the individual judgments of the Prime Minister and of Ministers vested with responsibility.
However, there will be a real problem if we voluntarily give away the right to take what military action is necessary under resolution 661. One of the considerations that the President in Baghdad will take into account—I am among those who have met the man and he does seem to change his opinions from day to day—is the likelihood of military action being taken against him. If we voluntarily relinquish that, we have to rely entirely on the hope of sanctions. If we then say, "Let us rely on secure sanctions," what happens in three, six or nine months? Let us suppose that we are here in a year's time and, against all probability, the status quo continues. If we return to the United Nations, does anyone seriously believe that the United Nations will agree unanimously, "Yes, we will go to war against Iraq next week"? Even if it did, what would be left of Kuwait by then? What is left of Kuwait already? That land has been laid waste and its assets have been raped.
In my judgment, as in the judgment of the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport, it may be in the near future that decisions have to be made of a pre-emptive nature and of a selective nature to back up secure sanctions with the firm use of military power. What counts is not just the deployment and possession of military power but being seen as being willing to use it. Saddam Hussein must understand that we, with others, will stand up for international rights. If we fail to do so, we shall be failing our people and any hope of a new world order.
This recalled Parliament—especially those hon. Members who have supported the arguments of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition—has a vital opportunity to clear its mind about what sort of fight we are engaged in with Mr. Saddam Hussein, and about what outcome we seek. It is vital that our American ally is also clear about these matters. Two of the aims of President Bush have been declared. The unspoken third poses an increasingly worrying prospect.
The first of the stated purposes was to draw a line in the sand along the Saudi border. The second was to get Iraq out of Kuwait. So far, the path towards these goals has depended crucially on sustaining the international consensus that aggression shall not pay and the legal and moral basis for that, set out in the United Nations Security Council resolution.
Some voices, notably that of The Sunday Times on Sunday last, have asked what will happen when sanctions fail to force Iraq to retreat from Kuwait. The Sunday Times went on to argue that there will then be no choice but a full-scale war aimed not only at the total defeat of Iraq but at the toppling of Saddam Hussein. I trust that the United States and the United Kingdom will contemplate such a course of action with great reluctance.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) said, there is no such thing as a clinical action in warfare. My right hon. Friend knew combat conditions and there are still some hon. Members who knew not only combat conditions but combat roles. If there is one recollection above all that I carry with me, it is of the unpredictability of stratagems.
Even an invasion of Kuwait would be fraught with great difficulty and risk, and an invasion of Iraq would mean a battle with the whole of its 1 million man army. American air superiority would be decisive after a time, but the ground war would be the main hazard. What is required is not naval or air forces, but land forces. The United States will not have enough land forces or tanks, and unless there are vastly increased land forces, in place and provided with stiff logistical backing, there will be problems. Those of us watching closely know how far that is going astray and how far behind is the timetable.
The pursuit of any one of these aims would run the risk of there being a heavier toll on America and its allies than many people have assumed. Already, reinforcement and supply have encountered serious delay. I hope that the United States will entertain such options only after the gravest consideration. Therefore, I join those who have called for caution.
Furthermore, Iraq is a good deal less vulnerable than has been assumed. Even our key weapon—sanctions—involves a prolonged confrontation in which twists, turns and pitfalls aplenty will test nerve and resolve. If it holds tight, the embargo could be decisive, given that Iraq normally imports 80 per cent. of its food. However, such a strategy needs time, and how much will President Bush give it? He has to calculate whether, with only an embargo and blockade, he can hold out for victory over Mr. Hussein.
I have recent experience of opinion within North Atlantic Assembly circles, as I led a delegation to the middle east in the past two or three weeks which included representatives of 13 of our allies. The US senators and congressmen in that delegation said that they do not want unilateral action by their country. They want multilateral action. They want allies. They do not want to be left to go it alone.
I notice that several of America's allies, and ours, while supporting what Mr. Bush says, would still like to draw a more distinct line. They would like to pause for breath between enforcing the UN embargo and deciding what to do about Mr. Hussein's regime. Is it not premature, at this critical juncture, to proceed on the basis of too flexible an interpretation of article 51? None of us will believe that Mr. Hussein is not aware of this. We know that, if he is smart, he will sit tight and hope that the resolve of his enemies will crack before his does. His speech yesterday suggests that he will try to exploit the gap between the peoples and the Governments of the Arab world.
Mr. Hussein's appeal will almost certainly grow as the confrontation continues. Two strong currents flow through Arab politics—the secular nationalism that made Nasser a hero in the 1950s and 1960s and an older but newly reviving faith in militant Islam. Usually, these currents flow in different directions. Mr. Hussein, sitting tight, will portray himself as a proud Arab under siege by the west, and will try to merge the Arabs behind him. To many Arabs, Mr. Hussein offers the prospect of two things they have long wanted—a rediscovery of Arab unity and the power to defy the west.
So far, relations between the Saudis and the United States forces have gone well, but there are dangerous undercurrents. One must not underestimate the forces of conservatism that remain the bedrock of modern Saudi Arabia. The non-Gulf Governments in the Arab League—even that of Egypt—are uneasy about the growing western army in Saudi Arabia. The divisions among the Arabs may grow if they come to believe that America wants not just to free Kuwait but to overthrow Mr. Hussein. Difficulties will undoubtedly arise for the Prime Minister and the President if the Iraqis start mistreating hostages or if the Americans decide on military action before any United Nations discussion on the further use of force. How would American and British public opinion react to the bloody reality of a shooting war or to weeks of television of pictures of haggard hostages and their relatives?
As Saddam Hussein plays his cat and mouse game with the hostages, the United States, Britain and their allies should make it their highest priority to maintain the international unity of purpose that is their most powerful and legitimate weapon. The time for negotiations is not yet ripe. Sanctions first have to bite and even diplomacy would be ill-timed and futile before full British and American military power is in place to back it up. Until that time, what is needed, as other hon. Members have said, is a steadiness of nerve and political determination, and avoidance of defeatism.
If conflict becomes unavoidable, we shall have to gird our loins, because the alternative would be only a wringing of hands. As time goes on and appeasement proposals proliferate, the strains on our allies' unity will undoubtedly grow. All wars are popular for the first few weeks, but if shooting starts, much blood will be shed and it will not be just Iraqi blood.
I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) and to stress, as he said—he was, of course, right—that it is important that we take action with the greatest degree of international support. That is exactly what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary have been endeavouring to do so vigorously over the past few weeks. I am sure that that will continue to be the Government's main objective.
I cannot help but reflect on the speech of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn). I do not think—I hope that I am right—that Saddam Hussein will have heard of the right hon. Gentleman. I suppose that that is some consolation, because it would be very bad if his speech were the message which got across to Iraq as the clear message was that, in the right hon. Gentleman's view, aggressors should be allowed to get away with aggression. That is entirely unacceptable.
The right hon. Gentleman also has an instinctive prejudice against the United States. However, without the immediate reaction of the United States in deploying forces at the request of the Saudi Arabian Government, Iraqi forces would be in Saudi Arabia now. The price that we would have to pay for the pursuit of the right hon. Gentleman's policies would be wholly and utterly disastrous for the world. I watched the right hon. Gentleman's expression carefully as he spoke. Clearly, he was enjoying himself. I am not absolutely convinced that he was convinced by what he was saying, but that is a matter for him to justify.
I want to join other colleagues in congratulating my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and her colleagues on the skill, wisdom and resolution with which they have tackled this very difficult crisis over the past few weeks. We are embarking on a course in which there cannot be one hon. Member in the Chamber who does not want a peaceful outcome. However, many of us know that there is a real prospect that some measure of force will have to be used. When we are risking the lives of our own service men, it becomes all the more essential that we maintain our clarity of purpose in the exercise and that we keep our sights on the real objective.
To that extent, I welcome most warmly the robust speech by the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock), the leader of the Labour party. That, rather than the message of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield, is the important message going out from the House. The message from leaders of all parties is that aggression must not pay, and the Iraqis must take notice of that message. We all know what is at stake. In the interests of international order, we must demonstrate that aggression never pays.
We also know that there are interests not just for the western world, but for the Japanese, for the Americans and for many others. We depend on the middle east for so many of our oil supplies. If they get into the hands of a tyrant who can control the supply and prices of the oil, he could hold the world to ransom.
We should not forget that this country has many friends of long standing in the Gulf. Throughout the bulk of this century, we have worked closely with them, and it is right that we should continue to do so.
We must keep our sights on the main objectives—the defence of the Gulf states, the withdrawal of Iraq from Kuwait and the re-establishing of the legitimate Kuwaiti Government. All of us in this Chamber agree that that must, if possible, be achieved by peaceful means, so we must hope that sanctions will work. The history of sanctions this century does not give us a very encouraging signal. Nevertheless, because it is possible for geographical reasons to exercise tight control on the supply of oil to Iraq, sanctions may bring results over a short time span.
It would be fatal if we gave a message to the Iraqi leaders that, at the end of the day, we were not prepared to maintain a military option. We must send the right signal on that from this Chamber. It would be fatal if we were to tie the hands of the British Government, the United States Government or any other Government who are prepared to contribute militarily to the middle east. I am glad that many hon. Members have endorsed that, and that we agree that article 51 provides the umbrella. We wish to do all that with the fullest possible international support. We have achieved it so far and we must go on working for that aim.
The third objective is to secure the longer-term stability of the region. I am glad that quite a lot of the discussion has been on that issue and that many hon. Members have welcomed the excellent speech made by Secretary of State Baker.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) made an important speech on the Gulf. Until the early 1970s, Britain played the leading role in protecting the Gulf states. If they wished to call on British forces to defend them, we were there and ready to do so. That has not been our position for the past 15 years, but my right hon. Friend is right to look to the longer term in the Gulf and to say that we must have multinational arrangements, with as much United Nations co-operation as possible, and with Arab participation.
However, to expect the Arab world to work on its own in the present context would be unrealistic. It was, of course, right in 1961 when we had that special link with Kuwait for us to be able to put in forces and to deter invasion. An Arab League force was formed soon after that, but in the current circumstances, with the strength of the Iraqi forces, it is not realistic to expect the Arabs to do it on their own.
We must be ruthless internationally in the enforcement of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and in dealing with the chemical problem. We must also be careful about the Palestinian issue. There is an indirect link. We must solve the problem of the Iraqi invasion before we can deal, as we must, vigorously and internationally, with the Palestine issue. So long as that issue is unsolved, we shall be sitting on a powder keg which could go up at any time.
Other positive factors, such as the end of the cold war era and the sudden emergence and willingness of the United Nations, with some Soviet encouragement, to act more positively, are working in our favour, and we can build on them. It is important to bring the Soviet Union as closely into this as we can.
Although many of us feel that European Community countries and other European nations have been slow to respond with contributions to the middle east, we must get across to our European allies the fact that we have exactly the same interest in seeing stability in the middle east, and that it is wrong to leave the whole matter to the United States.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence will speak tomorrow. There is a clear message for our defences in this country. We know perfectly well that, although we may have seen the end of the cold war era, the prospect of regional disputes is as strong as ever and we cannot risk diminishing the strength of our defence forces.
The message going out today and tomorrow must be absolutely clear, and there must be no misunderstanding by Saddam Hussein. In 1984, I visited Iraq and had one hour with Saddam Hussein. It is not an experience that I should like to repeat. I was told then that he modelled himself on Nebuchadnezzar, who specialised in expanding his empire. Our message to Saddam Hussein must be that aggression will not pay. He would do better to spend his time recreating the excellent hanging gardens of Babylon.
Like other hon. Members, I do not rule out the use of force to prise Kuwait away from the Government of Iraq. But we have not reached the point when a decision on that must be made, and it has been an error of the debate for the House to be considering, as it were, simply the status quo—effective universal mandatory economic sanctions—having in view, after that, the need for the use of force and circumstances, legal and otherwise, under which force might be used. We must address ourselves more realistically to the interim period, of some months, before we may be faced with the possibility of using force, when the battle for hearts and minds in the middle east and elsewhere will be waged fiercely.
I hope that when replying to the debate the Foreign Secretary will comment on the fact that we have not heard anything about efforts being made to discredit Saddam Hussein in the middle east and in his own country. Do we have broadcasting mechanisms in Saudi Arabia, Cairo and elsewhere by which the exiled Kuwaiti Government can broadcast to their people in Kuwait, giving encouragement and answering the lies and arguments of Saddam Hussein, all the time pointing out the total lack of legitimacy of himself and his rotten party's rule in his country? We should be making that type of counter-move.
If sanctions are to be really effective, we must look after those countries that are more vulnerable even than Iraq to them. We should be in no doubt that, for example, Jordan is in a state of acute crisis and that Egypt and Turkey are facing enormous difficulties and dangers. If the sanctions policy is not to be undermined, the international community must come to the aid of countries which are behaving well in terms of the United Nations collective endeavour but which are at great risk in their economies and even in their political systems.
If we are to help those countries and sustain their will to enforce economic sanctions, we must be prepared to engage in burden-sharing for the cost of the whole operation. It cannot be met by the United States alone. The whole world community must contribute, and if that means that we as a country must face an additional special international security levy in the coming Budget, we—hon. Members on both sides of the House—should be prepared to accept it.
I have only 10 minutes in which to speak and cannot give way.
We must take effective action on the whole issue of oil. There has been immense disparity between the oil price as quoted immediately before August 2 and the price today. It has moved from $16 to about $30 a barrel. Now that we have an OPEC guarantee to make up the balance of lost production from Kuwait and Iraq on the world market, the time has come to examine international stockholdings of oil. We have 90 or more days' supply. We should try to operate on the market to bring down the price to a more reasonable level. It should now be not $30 but in the region of $25 to $27. We have large reserves, and we should use them.
It is important for us to take seriously the economic problems that arise from the conflict, and I take a contrary view to that of some of my hon. Friends on this issue. The United States is not being the world's greatest beneficiary from what is happening. America is not the country that most needs middle eastern oil. Continental Europe, Japan and above all, third world countries which are not themselves oil producers are the main beneficiaries. We recall the misery that was suffered as a result of the vast indebtedness that afflicted many third world countries in 1974.
It is not a question of American imperialism grabbing the oil of the middle east. It is vital that the world in general—all of us, and above all the developing countries of the third world—has access to oil supplies at a price that exploits neither the producers nor consumers of oil. We should be thinking about such measures now, and I hope that the Foreign Secretary will deal with those issues when he replies to the debate.
We would be wrong to allow ourselves to become involved too deeply in what I regard as the excessive legalisms of articles 51 and 42. The legal arguments are finely balanced and, like other hon. Members, I could make a decent case to justify the use of force under either article. We must consider the political judgment, wisdom and effectiveness of what we do, and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition adduced a good argument when dealing with that issue.
If we get substantial agreement in the United Nations—it may fall short of unanimity in the Security Council—among the nations of the west, of the third world and of the Arab world, for the use of military action to free Kuwait, we shall then have every reason to pursue that course, if we must do so and if economic sanctions do not work.
It must be said, in balancing economic sanctions with the possible use of military sanctions, that terrible things are going on in Kuwait. While we talk about the problems of mobilising military force and keeping troops at the ready, let us remember that the people of Kuwait fear not only the collapse of the state but the real meaning of annexation, which is a problem of population movement affecting Kuwait. There are only 800,000 or so Kuwaitis. Now that Kuwait has been declared part of the province of Basra, what is to stop Saddam Hussein moving people in large numbers out of Kuwait and replacing them—there is evidence that this is starting—with people from other parts of Iraq? Should we sit back and watch that being inflicted on the people of Kuwait? If we do, and if such a ruthless policy is undertaken, there will be no gain at the end of the day for us if Kuwait has been destroyed.
I do not believe that it is possible to take seriously the United Nations as an institution if we do not accept that the meaning of collective security—above all in this post-cold-war age—means the willingness to use international force, economic or, if need be, military, to achieve the goals of international security and justice which many of us came out of the second world war determined to achieve.
This has been an interesting debate, marked by unanimity between the two Front Benches. It is a change to speak in the House without the need to use the slanging political phrases that we use too often against each other and to be able to apply our minds to perhaps the most serious situation that we have had to face internationally since 1945.
I was at a NATO conference in Hamburg in 1988, and there was a party on board a British frigate. I asked a German general who was at that party where he was in 1936. I told him that I was in the second brigade of the first division. He replied, "It is curious that you should talk about 1936, because I was thinking about 1936 when I came on board this British frigate. I was only so high in 1936, but my father was a company commander of the German troops that went into the Rhineland. He had orders that if there was any sign of resistance on the part of the British or the French, he was to withdraw."
That is a lesson that we should think about now. We should consider what is in our opponent's mind as well as some of our fears. That is why I was so encouraged by the immediate action taken by the United States President, having listened to the advice of our Prime Minister, when he reacted to the aggressive, Hitlerite seizure of Kuwait. I am certain that that decisive action preserved the independence and security of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states.
I am not an expert on middle east affairs, but for the past 10 years I have served with the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy), who is now president of the North Atlantic Assembly. In the endeavour to reach agreement and win the cold war against the Russians, we have been dependent on the weapon of nuclear flexible response—a nasty thing to have. We had to face the reality of what would happen if we used a flexible response. I hope most sincerely that, in exactly the same way, sanctions will fulfil their purpose in these circumstances. If we were to do away with the military option that is needed, I fear that we should not achieve victory in the crisis we face today without the shedding of blood.
Let us remember the ghastly confrontation and the forces on each side of the cold war. We must pay tribute to President Reagan and our Prime Minister for having won the cold war without the shedding of blood. That would not have been achieved if we had not kept cruise missiles, Pershings and flexible nuclear response. That is why I advise the House that, horrid as it may seem, especially to those of us who have fought in war, prepared for war and faced the fact that we should have gone into the Rhineland, in these circumstances we must follow through decisively. We must realise that we won the cold war because we had a flexible response.
President Reagan and our Prime Minister won the cold war at great cost to the American people. In 1980, America was the biggest creditor country, today it is the biggest debtor country in the world. We now live in a post-cold-war period and are trying, as we all wished when we established the General Assembly down the road from here in the Methodist central hall in 1946, to achieve peace in our time for the generations who suffered in the war. We had to suffer the awful period of the cold war and now, for the first time, the Security Council can act as many of us wished it to act at the end of the war. I am sure that that is the long-term solution for many of today's ills.
I am optimistic that in the end we shall be able to prevent what is happening in the middle east without the shedding of blood. The military option is vital. How encouraging it is today that the five Security Council members are in agreement.
The right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), who made an excellent speech, underlined the importance of our relations with Russia and China. If we can use our diplomatic skills through the United Nations and the Security Council we shall be able to deal not only with the middle east problem, but the much more serious problem of the proliferation of nuclear and chemical weapons. If the matter comes under the Security Council, with all the great powers in agreement, I am hopeful that, without fighting a battle of Waterloo to preserve a pax Britannica, as we did in the 19th century, we shall now, with our deliberations and wisdom, be able to create a world in which the Security Council will solve some of our problems. We should do so collectively.
There has never been a time when the world has been more interdependent than it is at present. It is important that those not taking military action on the ground should contribute financially to the grave burdens that the United States and many of the world's other debtor countries are playing today. I am sure that the richer countries will do that, but it is vital that we all do so together, or we shall all sink together.
May I be allowed, first, to join the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and Mr. Speaker in paying tribute to colleagues who are now deceased? I sympathise with their parties and families on behalf of my hon. Friends and, as I believe everyone will understand, particularly on behalf of the people of Northern Ireland in respect of Ian Gow, who showed himself a solid Unionist, determined to maintain his position against all terror. It is apt that, on a day when we are dealing with one who, by terror and destruction, would seek to impose his mind and will on a region of the world, we should pay tribute to one who resisted terror in our own nation.
I have been a little happier with some of the more recent speeches than with some that took place in the middle of the debate. I welcomed the general unanimity on the Front Benches as right hon. and hon. Members tackled the issue. The right hon. Member for Shoreham (Mr. Luce) omitted to say that, if Saddam Hussein is modelling himself on Nebuchadnezzar, he is in for a sticky end.
I noticed some confusion during the debate and among the advice given, and was reminded of the old statement to the effect, "I don't know what you are doing to the enemy, but you are certainly scaring me." In my judgment, some of the contributions gave more succour to President Hussein than they did to either the hostages or the men and women stationed in the Gulf region at present at the behest of our and other Governments. During this debate, we have a responsibility to give them succour. I know that, in these hours of uncertainty and torment, we dare not forget the welfare of those Britons and other nationals who are trapped in Iraq and occupied Kuwait. I am sure that all my colleagues will agree that their safety is paramount amid all the talk of hostilities.
I put on record our tribute to Douglas Croskery, who was murdered while helping others in a brave bolt for liberty. I praise the efforts of my friend the hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder) in seeking to help Douglas Croskery's family.
Without any qualification, I express the general support of my party for the way in which Her Majesty's Government have responded to the crisis, which is, in the final analysis, a dispute between the forces of peace and international harmony on the one side and despotism, tyranny and subjugation of the liberties which we cherish on the other.
I suggest that those who have been ready to throw stones at the Americans might also have been the first to throw stones at them if they had not come into the fray on the side of Kuwait and the international community.
As I see it, we have two clear choices. We either appease a dictator and allow both ourselves and the United Nations to fall into the same depths of mendacity and shame as our predecessors pre-1939 or we stand for those hallowed principles that we profess so vehemently in times of tranquility. Those who look back to 1938 and are reminded of the horrors that ensued must not be ignored, because the threat remains the same. A dictator, revelling in the cult of personality which he has constructed for himself, has run roughshod over the rules of international behaviour and morality which we, as a nation, are pledged to defend. The integrity of Kuwait has been violated. Are we to accept that as a fait accompli? Is it to be treated as another Czechoslovakia so long as Britain does not become embroiled in a conflict which, some say, does not involve us?
Surely Britain's national interests cannot be regarded as so inward looking as some have suggested. Are we so selfish that we should turn our backs on the oppressed and bullied of the world simply to preserve our own position? Surely we are not involved merely because of the interests of our economy, or those of any other nation's economy and the oil industry. There are other issues at stake.
Appeasement of a dictator breeds only the hunger for more territory, an insatiable desire for living space for a vibrant and thrusting state which the tyrant feels he has created. Here, the threat is compounded by a desperation to roll back the physical and psychological losses of an eight-year conflict. That leads inevitably to an irrationality that is blatantly oblivious to the codes of international morality.
I am happy that the consensus that is emerging from the debate is that our nation must show the world that our resolve to resist aggressors shall not be weakened and that our love of freedom and national integrity are not merely the ostensible ramblings of a once influential world power.
The politics of Saddam Hussein must never be allowed to become excusable in the world. His actions threaten more than a delicacy of relations between the powers in the middle east. The appeasement of Hitler and Mussolini in the 1930s was practised in the mistaken belief that both were basically honest and rational men who practised the accepted art of diplomacy, but with only a little more zeal, to achieve their objectives. We must not fall into the same naivety in our handling of Saddam Hussein.
Over the past two years, many of us have warned those who have gleefully advocated the disarming of NATO and the world in the aftermath of the bi-polar cold war. Those advocates should stand corrected. The crisis in the Gulf should demonstrate to all that the world will never be immune from the threat of megalomania or the evil designs of the despot. Our nation, with its friends and allies, must remain on guard against that threat and those designs.
The Foreign Office has, to this moment, faced the challenge of Saddam Hussein. I pay tribute to those who are representing our nation. They are few in number, but they have done tremendous things in seeking to be helpful, and under tremendous odds. The Foreign Office as a whole will need to have the courage and conviction that, in my judgment, has been so demonstrably absent from its deliberations on Northern Ireland, where it provided a framework whereby British interests and the interests of Britons would be undermined.
As we and the United Nations look into the future, we should take steps to have all territorial claims on neighbouring territory withdrawn. Such claims historically foster strife. In Northern Ireland, the claim inspires terrorists to implement the constitutional imperative of the Republic of Ireland. As we look to the future, those issues must be faced, as well as the crisis in the Gulf. We must stand on guard against all hostilities.
I take issue with the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) on just one small, cavilling point. That is his comment that, if Saddam Hussein had been able to hear our debate he might have taken comfort from it. I do not think that he could take comfort in any way from it. I believe that it reflects overwhelmingly the view of the British people that a great wrong has been done and that Britain is determined to play its full part in putting it right. That is the only conclusion that anyone who has listened to the debate could draw. It is positively healthy that there has been the occasional speech, representing a negligible quantity of opinion, in which a different view has been taken. The very isolation of those speeches indicates the strength of the overwhelming majority in this place.
The Government's position I find exemplary. I have said consistently, as have so many others, that the Government have taken precisely the right view from the beginning of the crisis. However much we may have been out of touch during the past two or three weeks—we followed events as best we could, often only through the media of other countries—it is obvious that the process adopted by the Government has continued as it began.
The position that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister set out this afternoon is clear and exactly right. It is completely compliant with resolution 661 of the United Nations. The Prime Minister has set out for none to misunderstand her interpretation, backed by the best legal advice available to her. She has made clear, on behalf of the British Government, what she believes the resolution to mean. It means that we shall apply mandatory sanctions, that we shall enforce them and that, within certain circumstances, as my right hon. Friend defined, that might need the use of force.
It is necessary to have read only the occasional speech of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary to know that the last thing that he wants, the Government want or our allies want is the use of force. No one can have any doubt, however, that in the mind of the Government, and presumably in the minds of our close allies, that context is not ruled out. It is not anticipated in any way in the short term but it is within our interpretation of resolution 661.
We are an open society and part of the open world. If there are those in the United States who believe that we have misinterpreted the resolution and who wish to disown what we claim to be the meaning of the vote that they cast, they have plenty of time to make their position clear. They can start to do that now. They can react at once to what we are saying the resolution means by saying that, when they voted for it they thought that it meant something else. If they do not do so, they cannot complain if we act upon the interpretation that we set out at an early stage.
The issue is whether we should return to the United Nations for further clarification if sanctions do not achieve the desired objective. Powerful arguments were put by the Leader of the Opposition and reinforced by the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey). It is not that the law may be defective, but that there is a political dimension to the enforcement of that law which it might, on some subsequent occasion, be wise to pursue as opposed to legally necessary.
I wish to put another view. We all want the sanctions to work—that is not in question—but let us suppose we reach a stage where it is perceived that they are not working. We are not playing cricket. The object then would be to win at the lowest possible, though doubtless awful, cost. A lonely judgment will have to be made by a limited number of people about whether their action, unheralded, would be more or less likely to secure the objectives of the original resolution. They would have to weigh that against the advance warning of a change of tactics that going back to the United Nations would imply.
The announcement of a new dimension to the policy could provoke a first strike—or, as the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport said, a second strike, but from the Iraqis. Do we want that? I can think of no argument for saying that in a few weeks or a few months we should alert the Iraqis to a new dimension to our policy. Our task then will be to win quickly and decisively. That is the overwhelming reason why I hope that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, in replying to the debate, will give no further assurances. All the necessary assurances have already been given in the clearest language. To do so would only undermine the strength and clarity of our position in a way that he would be the last person to want to do.
The tragedy of the crisis is that it is dynamic and events are unfolding. I have agreed with the right hon. Member for Devonport from the beginning—I do not think that the Iraqis will launch an attack on us or move into Saudi Arabia, because that is the way for them quickly to lose. They will try to bust the sanctions. By now, they will be combing the world to find ways to do what sanctions busters have always done, which is to get around the sort of peaceful coercion that the United Nations has imposed. No one knows whether they will succeed, but that is their best chance of success.
If that happens, the dynamics will unfold and the moderate Arab leaders will begin to wonder whether they can win. The advocates of fundamental Islam will latch on to a new hero who is likely to advance their cause. The kingdoms of the Gulf will begin to wonder whether they can contain the ever larger numbers of people injected into their societies to spread the word that their days are numbered. All over the world, people will begin to say, "It is the Americans, the imperialists, the western powers and no one else." Indeed, they will probably say that it is just the Americans. We have heard that today, but, to the source from which it came, it is always just the Americans. If the Iraqis got out of Kuwait as quickly as the Americans got out of Grenada or Panama, who would be complaining as loudly as we are likely to have to do?
The most difficult point of the debate—it is not just enmeshed in this particular policy dilemma—is that the reason why the Americans are hated is because they can act. They are prepared and they have the strength and the coherence to move decisively and quickly—
That is a judgment that the hon. Gentleman must defend, as he did in his speech. This House overwhelmingly believes that, in this case, the Americans are right.
The issue is whether the Americans want to be isolated, alone and the big brother. Like so many right hon. Members, I served as a Defence Secretary in the NATO alliance. I agree that the Americans hustled us along. We have been trying to get the initiatives right and trying to keep our nerve. It would be a brave hon. Member who said that we could have done it without them. I could not say, with my hand on my heart, that all the European members of the NATO alliance were always in such agreement that they could be relied upon. I remember the footnotes and the qualifications. I remember the phone calls from national Parliaments saying, "Don't do this, qualify that, hold back, wait a minute." It was always the Americans who took the lonely, tough decisions, and that is where we are today. They have taken those decisions, and because our Government were the first to back them, we have contained the appalling damage of the occupation of Kuwait.
Now we want to try to help, but how? The way to help is to strengthen the American support. Other nations of like mind to ourselves should increase their commitment, whether military or financial, to the American endeavour. The greater the endeavour that we make, the more we can ask to be consulted and the more influential we shall be in—
I am sure that we all regret the fact that we did not hear the end of the speech of the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), but we understand that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, must enforce the rule across the Chamber.
There is a clear consensus in the Chamber, as there should be at such a time. In enunciating the consensus, we are in the process of elaborating a principle that will play a great part in the future destiny of this planet. The purpose of the debate is to formulate what that principle is and what it is not.
The principle is not that we are prepared simply to support the Americans. In this instance, our objective of resisting military aggression by Iraq is one that we share with President Bush, but it does not follow that our motivation is the same as his. For this purpose, it does not greatly matter. His reason may be that he does not share the political views of the Iraq Government, and nor do we. But I hope that we would not make it part of our foreign policy to overthrow Governments with whose views we politically disagree.
It is fair to say that nothing has been said during the debate to commit us to that principle. Indeed, there are many influential people in Washington who are now questioning the sort of policy, typified in Vietnam, of seeking to establish around the world miniature clones of Uncle Sam. Washington itself is now a very different place. However, that is not the issue in this debate.
I do not believe that the principle is about maintaining the supply of oil. Indeed, our motivation should not be even to enforce human rights in Iraq. Some of us have sweated blood over many years to find ways to compel all tyrants and potential tyrants to have regard to human rights. We have had our successes when we managed to persuade enough people to care about human rights to do something about it. We have drawn attention to the victims of infringements in Iraq—the Kurdish people who have been treated with such inhumanity, and also individuals within Iraq.
However, I hope that that is not the issue in this debate. I hope that we are not establishing the principle that we are prepared to enforce international law against Governments with a bad record on human rights but not against Governments with a better record. That is not the way to secure the observance of human rights.
The principle that has emerged in the debate is that a flagrant breach of international law, by whomsoever, will be resisted by the entire international community. That is the new world order to which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition referred. If it can be established that gross infringements of international law do not pay and that they will not be permitted, we will have begun the process of making the world safer—safe for small nations, safe for human rights, safe for human life.
That is not a matter of dividing the world into good and bad guys. If we are classifying individuals, President Saddam is a bad guy by any standards: we would all agree on that. But that is not why he should be compelled to comply with international law. If we see someone stealing, we do not, before we decide whether to arrest him, inquire about his views on privatisation, Salman Rushdie or transubstantiation, nor about the standard of his morals. We arrest him because, unless the law is enforced against each and any individual, we are all at risk. That applies, and it must be made to apply, in the middle east, Africa, Asia and central and south America.
Establishing the rule of law on a global basis is likely to be a lengthy and difficult undertaking, not because of the shortcomings of international law; there is in existence a substantial body of recognised international law. We need to do more in extending and clarifying it by agreements and conventions. We need to improve and to expedite the procedures of the various international courts and tribunals. In the process of that we may be building a consensus, as we did recently in Copenhagen, which will make it difficult for individual Governments to disregard it.
But minds will be concentrated on all that only when everyone knows that international law will be effective and that decisions will be enforced. That is an urgent problem, and it is becoming more urgent with every day that passes. With the proliferation of nuclear and chemical weapons and the continual increase in the number of national Governments in a position to launch war on a devastating scale, the time left to us may be running out.
It is not only in relation to military aggression that activities of nation states need to be brought within the rule of law. If the planet is to survive, a wide range of human activities can be safely regulated only on a global scale. Energy policy can no longer be confined within the frontiers of nation states—not since Chernobyl, nor acid rain, and certainly not since the dependence of international economies on oil prices.
But all that depends on the principle that activities which need to be regulated by international law are the concern of the international community, and that they will be enforced by the whole community. Today, we are discussing a situation in which we can take that first step towards establishing the principle because we have achieved a virtual consensus among the whole community.
If that principle is to be established, it requires three conditions. First, the sanctions to be applied must be no more than are required for the purpose. No one in his right mind would want to resort to military action if there was a prospect of achieving results by economic sanctions, for reasons that have been fully ventilated in the debate, and also because that is the only way to achieve an enforceable international law. It is vital that economic sanctions should be made to work.
That leads to the second condition. Those who seek to apply the sanctions should act, and be seen to act, with the authority of the international community if that can be achieved. This is not the occasion to embark on an analysis of article 51, but it is worth pointing out that it was included, that the right of self-redress was reserved in the charter, because it was recognised that it might not always be possible to achieve consensus. If that consensus can be achieved, to resort to self-redress would simply be a step backwards. So I hope that we will seek to proceed on the basis of clearly worded United Nations resolutions.
The third condition is to recognise that, if the rule of law is to be maintained, it matters not only what people do but the reasons that they give for doing it. They need to say that they are acting to enforce legality, not for other reasons. I do not want to introduce a sour note, but I would have been happier if the Prime Minister had made fewer references to our allies, partners and friends. We are talking about the international community.
This is only the first step. I believe that ultimately there is no alternative to securing a monopoly of war-making potential in the hands of an international authority. Anarchy in Britain ended in the 13th and 14th centuries, when the Government established a capacity for enforcing law and order which could not be challenged by any robber baron, or ultimately by any combination of robber barons.
That was not the end of local government or pluralism. We may have come close to that in the past 10 years, but that is not because the Government can enforce law and order. The rule of law enforced by a single authority is not inconsistent with a full range of other powers to individual states and local communities within those states. That is not an objective that I have just formulated. I can quote the authority of Emmanuel Kant, William Penn, Jeremy Bentham, Richard Cobden, Lord Tennyson, Teilhard de Chardin and Clement Attlee.
I recommend to the House a book by a former colleague in the House, Henry Usbourne. He is now well into his eighties but he is still reflecting on these matters. His book, "Prescription for Peace", will amply repay time spent in reading it. I believe that nation states as we know them will no longer have a part to play in the 21st century. President Saddam has provided us with the opportunity to take the first step. I hope that that will be the message which goes out from the House tonight.
We can all agree or we can have a debate. In this democracy we should not be fearful of having a debate. I have visited Iraq and the Gulf as a guest of the respective Governments, so the House will make its own judgment about whether I am better informed or biased.
I agree with all that the Government have done to date. They have handled the matter brilliantly. We were right, when the United States found their interests threatened and felt that they had to go into the Gulf, to go along with them. The special relationship demanded nothing less, and we want to retain influence over events as they unwind.
We are also totally right to insist on the enforcement of United Nations sanctions. Publicly, we are right not to rule out offensive action. But privately, I trust that we do not contemplate it. Some of my colleagues seem to believe that there is a switch which can be turned and out will go Saddam Hussein; that there will be victory marches in Whitehall by Christmas. War is much more difficult and dangerous than that.
We have heard a lot about Britain's aims, but what about our interests? We have British citizens in Iraq and Kuwait whom we wish to bring home with dispatch. The cornerstone of our foreign policy is our relationship with the United States. We want to see the United Nations grow and flourish after the ending of the cold war. But, unlike Germany and Japan, we are not dependent on the oil of the Gulf and the middle east. Apparently, they have a constitutional embargo against supporting international action. Perhaps they just lack the constitution for it.
The United States is highly dependent on oil from the middle east, and United States politics is heavily dependent on support of the state of Israel. It may be in the interests of the United States to consider offensive action and war, but it is not necessarily in our interests as well.
There is a temptation to look upon these events and foreign policy as a moral issue. I hope that my country's foreign policy is moral, and that moral arguments can be used to sustain it. However, foreign policy is always dictated not by moral issues but by national interests, for the very good reason that different people have different moral outlooks. It is proper and one can ask a man to die for his country but I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, who has been brilliant throughout this difficulty, would not wish anyone to die for his personal views of morality.
What is it about Saddam Hussein that may make it proper to contemplate an offensive war against him? His evil has been compared with that of Hitler. Many speakers in today's debate seem to have returned to 1939, saying that we were threatened then by a major country in Germany and had to stand up and fight against it. The present situation is not like that. As other right hon. and hon. Members have said, Iraq is a long way away. We are not the major player in this issue. We must consider our interests, so any comparison with Hitler does not ring true.
Perhaps it is that we want to make the world a safer place, by proving that no nation can with impunity assault, attack or take over its neighbour. Anywhere in the world? Indonesia, Indochina or Israel? Why have we decided, specifically in Britain's interests, to draw the line at Iraq?
That brings me to the Arab question—the question that will be asked by the Arabs—not by the Egyptians, who are the second biggest recipients of United States aid or by the feudal overlords, with whom we have had good relations in the past for very good reasons—but by the Arab in the street.
Israel has exploited, humiliated or imprisoned 1·5 million Palestinians, and has denied them human rights, for generations. The Israelis have invaded Lebanon and laid waste Beirut, and at a weekly whim have been aerially murdering a few Palestinian families in refugee camps. When Israel invaded Lebanon, the casualities were far greater than those reported when Iraq went into Kuwait.
That is the question that will arise in the minds of the Arabs after the event as well. Israel annexed Golan and has a Quisling Government in southern Lebanon. Saddam Hussein may have chemical weapons, but Israel has nuclear weapons. The question asked by the Arabs will be why we are using force against Iraq when we have not used force against Israel. Is it because there are more Jews than Arabs in New York? If the Kuwaitis grew carrots rather than pumped oil, perhaps different attitudes would prevail.
This is meant to be a serious debate.
Let us consider the military scenario. There is an idea that there can be a quick, surgical strike, but I suggest that my hon. Friends read carefully the wise speech of the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey). I am no military expert, but I wore a uniform for 11 years, and for all the ordnance and technology that the Americans have at their disposal, recent United States military experience has not been happy. Iraq's armed forces also have military technology and although—like any other forces—they probably have major weaknesses, Iraqi forces have just sustained eight years of war without flinching.
Rather than turn tail at the first sighting of the United States Air Force, is it not more likely that they will turn towards Jordan and Israel? What effect would that have on the alliances that have been carefully built up? What then is the likelihood of the use of chemical or even nuclear weapons? What will happen to Arab opinion when the perception is that Arab blood is being shed by western imperialists selfishly seeking to secure for themselves cheap oil and seeking to destroy the only Arab state capable of standing up against Israel? How secure then will be the heads that wear the feudal crowns?
There are many fundamental differences in attitude between Europeans and Arabs, but there is one of particular importance that we should bear in mind. We are British first and European second. The French are French first and European second. Any Arab—be he a Jordanian, Iraqi, Libyan or Moroccan—is an Arab first. If there is a war and blood is spilt, it will be Arab blood that is spilt. Supposing that the hawks predominate—and there seem to be plenty around me at the moment—and there is a magnificent military success, will we then see a United States army of occupation on Iraqi soil? How long would it remain there, and how would that stabilise radical Arab opinion? We have see the ayatollahs at work in Iran—what if they cross the Gulf'?
If there is no army of occupation, what then will happen to Iraq under whatever leadership then obtains? Iraq is rich in resources. It has oil, two major rivers, potential agricultural wealth, and 17 million people, many of whom have highly developed skills. If one takes away Iraq's chemical and nuclear weapons potential—
I do not support such action. What is my hon. Friend suggesting? I am saying that if Iraq is humiliated, that potentialy powerful and wealthy country will resent that humiliation and will be more aggressive in the future than it has been in the past.
I am not concerned about appeasement, but about British interests.
Psychologically, the Government are right to wave a big stick and not to rule out the use of force. However, the reality is that the use of force would solve nothing but would make things worse. It is easy to start a war but difficult to predict its outcome, apart from the deaths of thousands of people, the destruction of thousands of homes, and the legacy of many crying and desolate women and children in starvation. No British interests can be served by such a war.
I put it to my right hon. Friend, who seems more hawkish than I, that it is not his life that would be at risk but the lives of British service men. What have we to say to the young men who will be expected to put their lives on the line?
This is the first emergency recall of Parliament since the Falklands war in 1982. At the end of that debate, which was on a technical Adjournment motion, there was no vote, and afterwards the Prime Minister tried to use that as a mandate from the entire House of Commons for her subsequent conduct during the Falklands war, which included the dispatch of the task force and its deployment, the sinking of the Belgrano, and the escalation of a conflict which cost more than 1,000 lives. In retrospect, many people in this country realised that that was a needless conflict.
The fact that the Prime Minister received a virtual blank cheque on that occasion meant that she was able to do more or less what she wanted. Three weeks or more after that initial debate, some right hon. and hon. Members managed to divide the House. About 30 of us voted against the Government in a subsequent debate on the Falklands. I do not regret my action on that occasion. My only regret is that we did not take it earlier, so that we could have stifled at birth the myth that the Prime Minister had the unanimous consent of Parliament for her subsequent action.
We should not make that same mistake twice. A full-scale conflict in the middle east could be far more destructive and devastating, and involve far greater loss of life, than any conflict in the south Atlantic—particularly when one bears in mind that it could escalate into chemical or even nuclear conflict at some future time.
I hope that we are all unanimous in unequivocally condemning Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait, the destruction of human life that has taken place already, and the hostage-taking, as absolutely unjustified aggression. However, our response must be firm and measured, and it must have the support of the international community. There is widespread—well nigh unanimous—support within the international community, and virtually unanimous support in the House, for the use of sanctions, but they take time to have their full effect and there is therefore a need for patience and caution, especially in our attitude to the possible use of force.
I should make it clear that I am not an absolute pacifist. I believe in the basic right of self-defence and the right to go to the defence of others who are the victims of unjust agression, but history and experience have surely taught us that in many instances the precipitate use of violence merely begets more violence. If force is to be used, it ought to be minimum force, and it ought to be used as a last resort.
I am concerned about the possible use by the United States—and the United Kingdom might get involved—of some sort of pre-emptive strike action, which could make the situation worse rather than better. I am also concerned about the double standards of some people who rightly support the use of sanctions against Iraq in the present situation, and yet did not support the use of sanctions against South Africa. I am concerned about the double standards of people who rightly deplore the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq and want to see the removal of Iraqi forces from Kuwait as soon as possible, and yet did not deplore the Israeli invasion of the West Bank but kept strangely silent about it, and still do.
Those double standards confirm my suspicions that the United States of America and the United Kingdom are taking stronger action over the invasion of Kuwait simply because of the threat to western oil interests in the Gulf. Oil is important, but people are more important, and an awful lot of people stand to get hurt or annihilated if there is a full-scale conflict in the middle east.
There is more chance of the whole crisis escalating into a full-scale conflict if it is the perception in large parts of the Arab world that the heavy military build-up in the Gulf is predominantly an American, neo-colonial force, backed up by the United Kingdom and other American allies. In terms of Arab perception, it is very important that there is United Nations control and explicit United Nations approval for the conduct of the whole operation.
I was very unhappy when I heard the Prime Minister earlier this afternoon, with her legalistic interpretation of article 51 of the United Nations charter. It makes me suspect that she may indeed be hell bent on trying to use her interpretation, or misinterpretation, of article 51 to resort to force without the explicit approval of the United Nations. We have witnessed her warmongering jingoism before, and I for one do not trust her. I certainly do not trust her enough to give her another blank cheque, and that is why I intend voting against her and her Government tomorrow.
Timing is the essence of crisis management. It was absolutely right to recall Parliament now. To have done so earlier, before the blockade authorised by the United Nations Security Council had been put into place and when Saudi Arabia, with oil resources so important to the world economy, was wide open to attack, might not have commanded the unanimity that has been emerging in this debate.
More than in any other crisis debate I have heard in the 40 years I have sat in the House, I was struck by the clear lead given by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, the effective response of the Leader of the Opposition and the clear, effective and thoughtful speeches from experienced former Ministers—for example, my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), and the right hon. Members for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), and for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore)—from different parties but all of whom have had extensive experience of foreign and defence affairs. I now feel sure that we are moving towards a unanimous view which justifies the timing of the debate.
The situation that we now face is fraught with grave dangers and, unlike others, I shall not speculate—nor is there time to do so—on what might yet happen. There are too many imponderables. However, I remind my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow)—whose speech surprised me—that in Saddam Hussein we are dealing with a man who has not hesitated to murder any individual who stood in his way, who has used poison gas to snuff out the lives of thousands of men, women and children in his own country—in Iraqi Kurdistan—and whose fruitless eight-year war against his Muslim neighbour, Iran, cost over 1 million lives. Who can say what he might yet do if he is not soon tumbled? But as a student of history, who has watched the passage of events from the sidelines, I know that one thing that one does not do is to announce in advance what steps one will take in an emergency to enforce the will of the United Nations, when one is dealing with a man of that kind.
By now we should know where we in Britain stand on this grave issue. The United Nations resolutions are not negotiable. The aggressor must withdraw from Kuwait and make reparation for the damage inflicted upon that small state and that must be seen to be done, not at the behest of the Americans or of the British, but by the command of the world community.
The taking of hostages is a crime under international law. Every single one of them must be released, and appropriate compensation paid. That is not merely the British or American stance, but the agreed position of the United Nations and of the Foreign Ministers of the 13 Arab League countries who met in Cairo last week.
All this begs the question, "Where would we be if the Americans had not been prepared to act?" Would we have been able to do anything on our own, even if the desire had been there? We must keep all this in perspective.
In as grave a crisis as any since the second world war, the firm stand taken by our Prime Minister in support of President Bush, the diplomatic skills shown by our representatives at the United Nations and in the Gulf and, throughout, the calm and sensible approach of our Foreign Secretary, all deserve the highest praise. I like to think that I know what my constituents are thinking from what they write to me, and that view is very widely expressed. It can best be expressed to the world as a whole by this freely elected Parliament giving full endorsement to what has already been done to uphold the rule of law, and by giving our unanimous support to the Government in their determination to see this crisis through.
I was sorry to hear the speech of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn). I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Luce), who said that he was not sure whether the right hon. Gentleman really believed in what he was saying: there was a gleam in his eye and a smile on his face. He is an engaging person, and in a way I felt sorry about the speech since I did not think that it added much to our knowledge.
Let me assure my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North that I know of no Conservative colleague who wants war to happen. That means that we must make our purpose clear. There can be no return to normality until Iraq disgorges Kuwait, releases the hostages and bows to the will of the United Nations. It would be fatal to give the impression that we would be willing to tie our hands in advance as has been suggested—laughable, but fatal. By all means let us not lose sight of our present objective, but we must never allow ourselves for a moment to forget that the world is now too small a place for dicatators anywhere to do what they like with impunity where their weaker neighbours are concerned.
That brings me to a specific point. When I say that there can be no assurance of peace or stability in the middle east until Iraq's nuclear and chemical capabilities have been destroyed, I hasten to add—I think that this is in keeping with the spirit of our debate—that I do not see that problem in isolation. Some good may come out of this crisis. For there simply must be a fresh look at world security problems as a whole, and firm action will have to be taken with regard to the traffic in sophisticated weapons of mass destruction.
It is shameful that European companies have supplied Saddam Hussein with the means of killing en masse, including his own people. It is obscene, and it must end. I hope that, as a result of this experience, the world as a whole will adopt a new posture, and I think that there is real hope of that: the changes that have taken place in eastern Europe and the new attitude of the Soviet Union give promise that we can look forward to a better world, if we are bold and resolute now and do not exhibit the weakness and flabbiness of the recipe advanced a short time ago by my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North. We have an immediate problem, but let us never lose sight of what ought to be on the agenda for the future.
For the moment, then, we must steel ourselves to face the prospect that the blockade may continue for quite some time. It will not be easy to maintain substantial forces in continuous readiness in the difficult conditions of the Gulf, but it must be done. We need to send a clear message to Saddam, and also to our friends, about where we stand.
Last night, opening a book at random, I read the words that Winston Churchill uttered in the darkest days of the Second World War, in March 1942:
We must confront our perils and trials with that national unity which cannot be broken, and a national force which is inexhaustible. We must confront them with resilience and ingenuity which are fearless, and above all with that inflexible willpower to endure and yet to dare for which our Island race has long been renowned.
If there is to be a vote, I hope and trust that this Parliament, like its predecessors in times of great peril, will rise to the occasion and demonstrate to the world that our people have not changed.
I am grateful for the opportunity of following the Father of the House, the right hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine). He has referred to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), whom I am glad to see in the Chamber. My right hon. Friend mentioned Saladin, and he was in good company, because the Prime Minister did so as well. He also mentioned the question of the General Assembly of the United Nations being directly elected, and said that he would be a candidate.
There has been talk of Richard the Lionheart too, and the right hon. Member for Shoreham (Mr. Luce) mentioned Nebuchadnezzar in connection with his meeting with Saddam Hussein in 1984. I, too, think of Nebuchadnezzar and I wonder whether Saddam Hussein has read the Book of Daniel lately. That book tells us that Nebuchadnezzar was once so powerful that
all the peoples, nations and languages trembled and feared before him, but when his heart was lifted up and his mind hardened in pride, he was deposed from his kingly throne and they took his glory from him.
As my hon. Friend says, he was a Kurd.
I see Saddam Hussein more as the Ozymandias of the poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley:
My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Shelley describes the huge monument in the desert which had been broken and dislocated:
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away".
I surmise that that will be the ultimate future of Saddam Hussein. However, at this moment we know that the lone and level sands stretch far away with the refugee camps of those who have come from Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Philippines, the Yemen and Palestine. All those people who were living and working in Kuwait had a certain standard of living—a life style, and savings in the bank, all of which disappeared in four hours with Iraq's invasion of Kuwait.
My right hon. Friends the Members for Chesterfield and for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) have given quotations from the Labour Government of 1964–70. I am glad to see my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) in his place. He may recall a conversation which took place in, of all places, what was formerly Lockets, between the late Dick Crossman and Lord Jenkins of Hillhead. They were discussing public expenditure cuts, how to balance the books and the prospect of restoring the prescription charge. Crossman put forward the idea that, to save £12 million, we might be able to withdraw from east of Suez. We made that decision as a Government in 1967–68. We agreed to withdraw from east of Suez and from the Persian Gulf, although it was the Government of the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) who actually carried out that policy.
We left a vacuum in the Gulf, which the United States sought to fill with Iran, making it a super-power there. As a consequence, the Shah was overturned and we had the Ayatollah. Twenty years later, there is another vacuum and a crisis waiting to happen.
I was interested by a comment made in London yesterday by the Crown Prince and Prime Minister of Kuwait. When asked why Kuwait had supported Iraq's military build-up, he replied that the Kuwaitis had supported the build-up because they had believed that Saddam would help to liberate occupied Palestine—"but, unfortunately, the Iraqi army was used against our country." That oil-rich state has poured thousands and thousands of millions of pounds into Iraq in the vain hope that Iraq would turn its gaze to the north and avert it from the south and from taking over Kuwait.
We have heard a great deal today about the state of Israel and about how the problem between the state of Israel and the west bank of the Jordan should be resolved. When Secretary of State Baker referred to this he called it a "fester". It cannot be in the interests of the state of Israel that this problem should continue to exist. We live in a world of chemical and nuclear weapons and of long-range nuclear missiles which can be fired into Israel from a far distance.
We should also examine what the Palestine Liberation Organisation has done in this crisis and think about the 350,000 Palestinians in Kuwait who overnight lost their livelihoods, jobs, security and money in the bank. After having lost all that they had, can they thank Yasser Arafat for that? What of the Saudi Arabians? Four years ago I was in Saudi Arabia with the hon. Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken). We talked with the Saudi Arabian Government, who were concerned about the state of affairs on the west bank of the Jordan and deeply anxious about self-determination for the Palestinians in the area. After having poured thousands and thousands of millions of dollars into the PLO, what must have been their reaction when they saw Yasser Arafat go by aeroplane to Baghdad to support Saddam Hussein?
When we talk about self-determination for the Palestinians, which is necessary even for the state of Israel, how do we place the PLO in that context? How can it have a role to play? How can we have a new state created on the west bank, linked to that kind of regime in Iraq coming in through Jorden to threaten and menace the state of Israel? That cannot be a consequence of the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq. There cannot be a linkage between the affairs of the state of Israel and the west bank of the Jordan and a resolution of this problem. They are separate problems and they need to be addressed separately. It is in the interests of the state of Israel that this problem should be resolved, but certainly not as a consequence of the dispute and certainly not with the PLO, whose deputy to Yasser Arafat during the last few days has said that in the event of a war the PLO would unleash upon the west a terrorist campaign the likes of which we had never seen before. That may be one of the unforeseen consequences, if there is a war in the area.
We have heard a great deal about United Nations article 42 and article 51, but it is clear that the Government and this Parliament cannot send tele-messages and greetings telegrams to Saddam Hussein saying what we will or will not do in a particular situation. It is not for us to do that; it is for us to keep him guessing about what the consequences will be if he defies the sanctions that have been laid upon him.
Can anyone really believe, however, that the United States of America—subject to a pre-emptive strike on 7 December 1941 by Japan, without any warning or any knowledge that the attack was coming, for which Japan was to pay grievously—will launch a pe-emptive strike against Iraq? There would be no purpose in it. There would be no purpose in taking this issue out of the global consensus that we have entered into in this new, global village of ours. I believe that our Government believe that it will be a long haul and that sanctions will not work quickly. They will have to work hard and it will take a long time. The House is united in believing that a long-term attempt should be made to make sanctions work. At the end of the day, I believe that they will work.
A time of crisis is a time of opportunity and as my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) pointed out, the United Nations, after 45 years and the days of Stalin, now has an opportunity to show that there can be a new world order. The Father of the House, the right hon. Member for Castle Point, quoted what Winston Churchill said in 1942. In his final volume, "Triumph and Tragedy" about the end of the war, he said:
the great democracies had triumphed and so were able to resume the follies that had so nearly cost them their life.
Out of this crisis we have to find long-term solutions and a sense of peace in the world for future generations.
It is a time for patience, for diplomacy and, above all, for leadership—for the leadership of people weaned on a television diet of quick fixes and facile solutions, a diet that requires overstatement and oversimplification of complex issues, but which does not permit a nation state to assess its priorities or even its duties. There must therefore be statesmanship to persuade people that we are in for a long haul in the Gulf, that sanctions will work sooner or later, and that if it is to be later rather than sooner, so be it. Time is not on the side of Saddam Hussein. Time, like the justice of the cause, is on the side of the world community.
I welcome the unanimity that we have seen today and the strong expression and analysis of the problems in the Gulf by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. The message from the House will be clear—that we are resolved, that we know what we are doing, and that in the long term we shall triumph.
Saddam Hussein is an evil despot who has long maintained himself in power in Iraq by a tyrannical regime, run for the most part by a small group of his personal henchmen, drawn from his own home village. He has eliminated, often after torture, any of his political colleagues who have attempted to stand in his way. It is widely reported that immediately before the act of aggression against Kuwait he had a number of his senior officers executed who opposed this attack on a fellow Arab state. We are dealing with a monster: let us be perfectly clear about that.
The debate has reflected the feeling in the nation as a whole, overwhelmingly, that this act of aggression against Kuwait and its occupation has to be reversed and that Kuwait has to be liberated. I, like many hon. Members, spent most of the month of August abroad. I did not meet a single person of any nationality who was not in favour of bringing pressure to bear to ensure that Kuwait was liberated. I spent the first half of this week in my constituency. Every constituent whom I met said to me that we have got to get the Iraqis out of Kuwait. This debate has sent a clear message to Saddam Hussein, and the world, that Britain is united behind her Government in the steps that they have taken by giving full support to President Bush's magnificent leadership on this issue.
The question one has to ask is how we are to achieve the objectives on which we are all agreed. I am not convinced that the long haul is a practical solution. I first went to Iraq 40 years ago. I have been there seven or eight times since. It is easy for those who have not been to Iraq to imagine that that country holds certain characteristics in common with western European countries. However, despite the great potential oil wealth of that country, the great mass of Iraqis still live in grinding poverty. They are much less subject to the kind of economic pressures that sanctions would impose than those that would face a more prosperous country. They have been through the ghastly war with Iran, for which Saddam Hussein was entirely responsible. Despite having endured all that, they cannot escape his rule because of the machinery of terror that he operates inside Iraq. Anybody who tries to criticise him is liquidated. I have an Iraqi friend in London whose brother was hanged by Saddam Hussein last year simply because my friend had made a critical speech about Saddam Hussein in London. He will stop at nothing.
That is one side of the problem, but the other side is whether the American troops will be able to face month after month of sitting it out in the desert. I spent nine months in the desert at Aqaba when I was 19 and 20, but I had the advantage of having spent 10 years at boarding schools immediately before, so a warm slit trench in the desert seemed rather luxurious accommodation. Some of the specialist American technicians, who are used to operating the most advanced weaponry, have not had the advantage of having been at public school for many years before going to the desert and, although this is not a criticism of them, spending month after month in the heat and dust will take a considerable toll of their morale.
The dust will also get into their machinery. We saw what happened when helicopters landed at Desert Strip One outside Tehran and were on the ground for only a few hours. There is no doubt that there will be great technical problems with advanced weaponry being on the ground in such terrain and climate for a long period.
The right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) said that this is the most dangerous situation that the world has faced since 1945, and several right hon. and hon. Members have echoed that sentiment. I accept that it is a dangerous situation, but we must not make our position more difficult by exaggerating the dangers. I do not believe that it is the most dangerous situation that we have faced since the war. The Berlin blockade and the Cuban missile crisis were much more dangerous because of the danger of confrontation between the two great powers of the world, America and Russia, and of nuclear weaponry being brought into play. Mercifully, as a result of glasnost and President Gorbachev, that danger does not arise. Therefore, do not let us tell our constituents and ourselves that the situation is anything like as dangerous as some of the crises that we have had to face since the war.
I hope that President Bush's meeting with President Gorbachev in a few days will clear the way for American military action, because it will not be in the interests of the United Nations for us all to continue with a blockade that may last for six or nine months.
The right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) spoke of the possibility of oil prices reaching levels which might put the American banking system in danger. There will be great economic strains on the world economy if this long haul is pursued. I am sure that the Prime Minister was absolutely right when she said earlier today that we must keep our options open under article 51 to use military force if that seems necessary, and I believe that it will become necessary. I hope that when that time comes, and when the American chiefs of staff are confident that effective and quick action can be taken, we will give full support to the Americans in that action.
Many hon. Members have said that it is easy and ludicrous to be an armchair warrior. I understand that but, in the desert, air command is of dominant importance. It is not like Vietnam which, like many hon. Members, I visited many times and where I flew in choppers low over the jungle where one could not see the Vietcong. In the desert, even in Allenby's campaign of 1916 and 1917, the aeroplane was of vital importance. A tank cannot be moved in the desert without its being visible from a great distance, even to infantry on the ground.
With modern aircraft dominating the skies, in a few weeks the American air force will be in a position completely to take out the Iraqi air force within a matter of days, as the Israelis did to the Egyptian air force in 1973. Once it has done that, the Iraqi tank force will be absolutely useless. Tanks are dependent on petrol, ammunition and water, and with an enemy dominating the skies nothing could be more frightening than to be an Iraqi tank commander, with his tank blowing up if a rocket lands anywhere near it. We should not exaggerate the military dangers that would be involved.
The Americans intend to take military action. I think they will take it very effectively and will win. Saddam Hussein is a clear loser, and Arabs throughout Arabia are beginning to realise that.
We support the action taken by the Government to invoke the United Nations procedures. We also support what the Government have done in respect of the naval blockade to support the Security Council's decision on sanctions. We also support action taken to engage in a multi-military organisation to protect Saudi Arabia from possible Iraqi aggression, which, as I understand it—I stand open to correction—is an entirely separate matter from the United Nations Security Council decisions in respect of Kuwait.
I wish to make three points. One concerns a matter raised by the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), who said that it is important that we try to take on board Saddam Hussein's tactics. He said that they probably are simply to sit tight, having, in a sense, annexed Kuwait, and to hold that territory. We must understand that when dealing with Saddam Hussein, as well as dealing with an evil individual, we are dealing with someone who is by no means stupid and who has displayed considerable political ability inside the Arab world. He already has one political mark in his favour: he split the Arab League and, from his point of view, that was a considerable thing for him to have done.
If we are dealing with a man of that capability who has decided to sit tight, we must, as a matter of tactics, consider the military option. It would be foolish for anyone on the United Nations side to rule out the military option.
There is a link between maintaining the military option and the possible success of sanctions, and I shall explain how I see that link. If we said that the military option was not on, it would be seen by Saddam Hussein as a failure of a test of will of those under the United Nations umbrella. If that military option were seen by him to be withdrawn, not only he but other states in the international community would get a very clear message—that if it came to the crunch we would not have the will to sustain the pressure on him to withdraw from Kuwait.
Hon. Members have rightly said that sanctions have perhaps a better chance of operating than when they have previously been applied, and they have mentioned the oil crop economy of Iraq.
The Leader of the Opposition made the important point that credit facilities, from whatever source in the international community, should not be made available to Iraq. It will be difficult to tighten up this loophole. There is another downside to sanctions. They will result in a severe economic cost for all the member states which apply sanctions and the severest cost will be borne not by the United Kingdom, western Europe, Japan or the United States, which will be able to sustain it better than anyone else, but by the third world countries. They will be the weakest link in the application of sanctions. If the message is that, when the crunch comes, the military option will not be available, some of those states, for reasons that we cannot condemn, may crack. Once sanctions crack, without the back-up of a military option, Saddam Hussein will win the game in which he is engaged.
My second point is about the role, status, power and influence in the world community of the United Nations. The Leader of the Opposition and I are of the same generation and come basically from the same ideological root. As I listened to him, I began to be carried away by his idealism about the emergence of a new world order. There is unprecedented unanimity among the five permanent members of the Security Council. However, I doubt whether a new world order will emerge, or even that we are seeing something like that emerging now.
As hon. Members know, international law is made up of state practice, which is based on power, and upon treaties and conventions, but power is the key factor. Last week, on the BBC World Service, I heard Sir Anthony Parsons say "No" to the blunt question, "Is international law based on a moral code?" As he said, it boils down to power. The United Nations has tried to make moral law against genocide and aggression and for human rights, but when it comes to the crunch question whether it will agree to the enforcement of this law, the answer must be in the negative, because it is power that matters.
We have to be frank about this. The United Nations Security Council has acted in the Gulf crisis not out of some new sense of moral purpose but simply because of the fortuitous conjunction of state interests among the five permanent members and the majority of the rest of the Security Council with the United Nations charter. The United States and the west are involved because of oil. Some cynical United Nations official said that, if Kuwait manufactured tins of beans, we should not have seen the same reaction from the United Nations. The Soviet Union has developed a quasi-dependence upon the United States and the West, and particularly western Europe. China is paddling her own canoe so as to get back into the good graces of the United States and to resurrect the special relationship with it.
Sadly, the agreement goes no further than this conjunction. That may sound cynical and I hope that I am wrong and that we are seeing something new develop, but I doubt it. It is unprecedented for the Security Council to take such a decision and it is fine that it has done so. However, what will happen in two or three months' time when the Security Council permanent members do not agree and a next step is required? The United Nations and the Security Council are still on trial, and the verdict has not yet been reached.
My third point concerns the good speech made by the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore). He told the Government that we must engage in a battle for the hearts and minds of the Arab people. Given Saddam Hussein's ability to split the Arab League, we have to admit that he is ahead of us on that. I shall try—I do not think that I can do it as I do not think that any hon. Member can—to put myself in the mind of the man in the Arab suit. How does he see debates such as this and western reaction? Unless we can understand that, we shall not win the propaganda battle for the hearts and minds of folk in the Arab world.
The Arab sees people in the west, including us and the United States, as double-dyed hypocrites of the first order because we apply a different standard to Arab nations than we apply to the state of Israel. He has good grounds for taking that point of view. Tonight, we are telling Iraq that it should obey Security Council resolutions and that if it does not, sanctions will be applied against it until it does so, when the United States did not take that attitude to Israel.
The hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) is a wee bit like Arthur Scargill in that his language is sometimes extravagant and his style goes over the top. He got a lot of barracking from his hon. Friends today. I shall try to speak in a quieter tone. We have to accept that the Israeli authorities treat the Arab people of the west bank and Gaza appallingly. They deliberately break bones and demolish houses in retaliation and incarcerate thousands of people in desert encampments. That is unacceptable in a civilised international community, but Israel has been allowed to get away with it. I have told Arab friends that I am appalled that they are not condemning Saddam Hussein and they have replied, "My enemy's enemy is my friend." I am told not to complain about that because westerners have operated on that principle many a time.
I have to convey to the Government as best I can the feeling of my friends that, while the situation in Israel continues, the west will continue to feed people like Saddam Hussein with the ammunition that will carry them to the top. In the three or four months ahead, while sanctions are being applied, we should take the opportunity to bring to the top of the world agenda the rights of the Palestinian people to a homeland and a state of their own. Unless we are prepared to do that and are capable of doing that, we may lose the critical war for the hearts and minds of the Arab people. My Arab friends have told me that the biggest problem in the middle east is that the Israeli-Palestinian situation poisons the whole atmosphere. We have to draw the poison if we are to get stability in the region.
I find it strange and disappointing that so little has been said about the tens of thousands of refugees in Jordan. I was pleased to note that the Prime Minister announced further aid for the refugees, but more needs to be done. It is appalling that men, women and children are suffering and dying from heat, hunger and disease while the western world is spending billions on armaments and ignoring their plight. It is a shame that their plight has been so ignored. The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) spoke of the airlift that should take place. More immediate action is needed and greater help should be provided.
The leader of the Liberal Democrats used the term "flotsam and jetsam" in regard to the refugees and I believe that he used the term innocently. However, that sounded arrogant to me. Our hearts should go out to these people and some of the money that has been spent on armaments should be used to save their lives. More refugees will die in Jordan than have died so far in this crisis in the middle east. Food, medicines, clothing and tents should have gone out ages ago and must now go out immediately. If, instead of being Asian, Egyptian or from the middle or far east, those people had been English, Australian, American, German, French or Canadian, there would have been an outcry, and action would have been taken ages ago. We must not forget these people now.
Much has been said in the debate about hostages in Iraq. For me, that term applies peculiarly to those who are incarcerated in the Lebanon. I refer to a constituent of mine—Brian Keenan—who has just been released. He was held as a hostage there for more than four years, and he has been to hell and back again. We can see the agony in his eyes and in his language. I pay tribute to his two sisters who campaigned relentlessly for his release. Our hearts go out to Brian Keenan. I know that some people in Northern Ireland resented the fact that use was made of his having a passport from the Republic of Ireland. However, I believe that the sisters were perfectly entitled to use any key to release him from his purgatory.
We must think at this time about the other hostages who are still held there. We must think about Terry Waite, about John McCarthy and about the others. Greater pressure must be applied to Iran to ensure that those people, who have suffered so much for so long, are released without further delay.
I find it disturbing that Iran has become an ally in the campaign against Iraq, yet Iran was indirectly—and some would say directly—responsible for the fiendish nightmare of the hostages, and for their years of imprisonment in conditions that are an outrage to humanity. We must also remember Mr. Cooper who has been imprisoned in Iran. His imprisonment is an insult to the rule of law.
I refer also to Douglas Croskery, who was shot dead in Iraq near the border with Saudi Arabia and who was the son of a constituent of mine. The sympathy of the whole House goes out to his mother, my constituent, Marion Croskery, to his wife, to his children, to his brother and to all the other members of his family.
I spoke at some length with the ambassador of the Republic of Iraq about the necessity of an intensive search to find the remains of Douglas Croskery. He, as a Muslim, assured me that he and all the other Muslims in Iraq would be most anxious that the body should be found and returned for decent burial. The anguish of his wife, of his mother and of his family would be lessened to an extent if his remains could be brought back to the United Kingdom.
I have a number of constituents who are detained in Iraq and in Kuwait at present, including one who is a student of 19. He went out on a summer exchange during the university vacation. When I saw the ambassador, I argued that, on humanitarian grounds, all the foreigners who were then detained in Iraq and in Kuwait should be released and that, as a first step, the children and women should be released on humanitarian grounds. I was glad to see that President Saddam Hussein is in the process of releasing the women and children.
I believe that reasoned argument carries far more weight with the President and with the authorities in Iraq than do all the insults that I have heard. Words such as "cowboy", "dictator" and "outlaw", and similar expressions do not make President Saddam cower in the basement of his palace. His reaction would be to turn the screw and we should avoid that. It is all right to impress the British voter by talking tough, but it does not do anything to President Saddam.
We now need less of the language of conflict and more of the language of diplomacy. I know that if people are prepared to talk, a way forward can sometimes be found. I was impressed by what the Iraqi ambassador said to me. He said that the Iraqis were prepared to engage in diplomacy and I noted what the Foreign Minister of Iraq said about the need to seek a diplomatic solution to the crisis.
As the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars) said, we must consider the Arab perception of the situation. Whether right or wrong, the Arabs see the might of the United States poised in Saudi Arabia. Many Arabs regard the presence of foreign armies as a defilement of the holy places of Islam. I use the word "invited". However, some considerable time elapsed before Saudi Arabia invited them and I believe that certain pressure was brought to bear on the Saudi Arabians to invite the Americans into their land.
It is now accepted by many people that Iraq will not invade Saudi Arabia. The Arabs also view the American presence as a means of obtaining relatively cheap oil for the western world. As has been pointed out in the debate, other countries have been invaded, but we have had no great reaction from America or from the west. If a precedent has now been established, let us ensure that we do not ruin the unanimity of the United Nations.
Let us also ensure that we seek a settlement and that we pursue the policy of sanctions. I am sure that they will work and that they will bring a settlement in this region which will last for a long time to come. If war takes place, there will be a legacy of hatred which will last for decades to come. There will be instability and acts of terrorism, and I doubt whether the oil will flow as readily as it has flowed in the past. That is why I urge all concerned to cool it and why it is necessary to defuse the present explosive situation. I hope that we shall have more diplomacy and less belligerency.
I pay tribute to the Secretary General of the United Nations for his efforts on behalf of peace. I pay tribute also to King Hussein of Jordan, who is tireless in travelling the capitals of the world in search of a decent settlement.
Billions of dollars have been spent on the armed might that is now assembled in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf. I question whether that money might have been used to search for alternative sources of oil. It might have been better invested that way. Better still, those billions of dollars could have been used in searching for alternative sources of energy.
We should think about those who are detained in Iraq and Kuwait. Let us do nothing which might endanger their situation. There appears in The Times today a letter from a woman who has come from Iraq. She fears that the words of the Government may act as kerosene in the heat of the present situation.
The House has been united in its condemnation of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. The speeches of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition fully reflect the views of the overwhelming majority of the British people. Indeed, they reflect opinion throughout the world. The world has not just condemned the invasion but, through the United Nations, has committed itself to taking effective economic action, backed by force if necessary, to secure the withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Kuwait and to see the freeing of the hostages unharmed.
The main point of my contribution is to emphasise the supreme importance of the Government giving their full support to the United Nations in that role. That is the central thrust coming from hon. Members on both sides of the House, and I hope that the Government may be relied on to heed it.
I do not believe that there is a viable alternative, not at this stage. When we see on our television screens, as we have seen time and again, leading republican senators speaking in terms of taking out Hussein, of destroying the Iraqi air force and of having learnt the language of surgical strikes, we must accept that the situation is not like that.
In our heart of hearts we surely know that, if we were to go down the road of a United States-initiated attack on Iraq, perhaps supported by the British Government, it would not be an easy option. It might be possible within a reasonable time to destroy the Iraqi air force and their military and key economic installations, but it would not follow that Iraqi forces would withdraw from Kuwait.
The most likely scenario in the use of military action to secure the withdrawal of Iraqi forces would be that of a prolonged ground war involving large losses. The remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) and of the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) were pertinent in that respect.
We cannot be certain of the consequences of taking military action. Indeed, we could not, as a result of military action, be sure of the political consequences. Many hon. Members, particularly on the Opposition Benches, fear that we could find the United States leading us into a war which would be seen in due course as a war between western imperialism and Arab nationalism and fundamentalism. Before long, the fundamental issue of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait would be lost in the minds of many Arabs. It is crucial, therefore, for us to reject at this stage any idea of unilateral action by America, supported by other western countries.
I listened with interest to the speech of the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine). I shall not get involved in the argument whether Security Council resolution 661, with its reference to article 51, gives authority for taking military action. I do not agree with him that it would be wrong militarily to approach the United Nations for such authority. The American forces are in such a state of readiness that there would be nothing to benefit the Iraqis making an initial strike against those forces.
If, at the end of the day, military force is to be used, that should happen only through the auspices of the United Nations. If, sadly, sanctions were not working, the final bit of pressure on Saddam would be the very fact of the United States, Britain and other countries going to the United Nations for that authority. He would know at that point that he had a final chance to withdraw, and that otherwise he would encounter huge forces ranged against him.
The most important point to make in this debate is to encourage the Government to do all they can to make sanctions work. As a range of other hon. Members have said, we are talking about economic sanctions. There is good reason to believe that we can make them effective and cripple the economy in Iraq, destroy the living standards of the people in Iraq and, in so doing, bring enormous pressure—as much as can be mobilised in the world—against the Iraqi leadership. That is not an easy option and it means using huge amounts of resources to help the countries in the front line.
Other hon. Members have seen an interesting piece in this week's Newsweek International magazine, in which the Crown Prince of Jordan spells out just how dependent the Jordanian economy is on Iraq and the enormous consequences of sanctions for Jordan. It will be a huge task to compensate and seek to protect Jordan and the other countries in the vicinity, which are poor, from the effects of the sanctions, but it must be done. It will need action, money and commitment from the British Government, wealthier Governments and the world generally. It also means—I am glad that the hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder) referred to it in his speech—that we must adopt a more radical and comprehensive approach to the desperate plight of the thousands and thousands of refugees pouring out of Kuwait and Iraq all the time.
We had better be quite clear in our minds that we are talking about an economic embargo, not one aimed at starving the Iraqis. We must be clear that, when it comes to the crunch, we must allow food and medical supplies to move into Iraq.
The remarks of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars) were pessimistic. Unlike him, I believe that the crisis gives us a great opportunity in relation to the future of law and order in the world and the United Nations. We can look back on the incidents that have occurred and ask why no action was taken then, but our approach should be to look forward and consider the tremendous opportunity and achievement of having the whole world united in taking effective action to try to ensure—indeed, we must ensure—that this aggressor does not succeed or benefit as a consequence of his actions.
There is unanimity in the Security Council, and the Arab countries of Egypt, Syria and Morocco are lined up in the middle east in support of the decision. A tremendous opportunity has opened up for the world as a result of the new relationship between the Soviet Union—still an enormously powerful country with tremendous interests and links with various countries throughout the world—and the United States, the most powerful military country in the world. It is because of the change in the relationship between those two countries that the United Nations has been able to develop as it has and has progressed so far.
If the United Nations action can succeed, what is being achieved is more important than the short-term outcome in relation to what happens in Kuwait, although the whole thing is destroyed if the United Nations fails. If its actions succeed, what is being achieved is bigger than one incident and could lay down a new world order and a new climate in which individual nation states recognise that if they take such aggressive action there will be a united world response.
In his speech to the Trades Union Congress, the Leader of the Opposition said that Hussein had challenged the world and it was important that the world should share in his defeat. That sums up the position well. We could be moving into a great, important new period of international law and order. I trust that the Government will do all that they can to prevent the United States or anyone else damaging that opportunity.
I entirely support the Government's approach as it has been outlined today. The recall of Parliament is a constitutional issue, and it was right that Parliament should be recalled to discuss the events in the Gulf. It would have been remiss of us to fail to discuss the issue. Our serious debate has demonstrated the necessity and usefulness of the recall. Parliamentary democracy means that Ministers should be cross-examined by Opposition spokesmen and Back-Bench Members. Similarly, the Government must return to the House to be tested from time to time. That is an essential component of our constitution.
There has been a debate throughout the country on the Government's policy. If the House does not meet, debate will be led by the media as if the House is redundant or even non-existent. In fact, the House sits for about nine months of each year to discuss many different issues, some of which are irrelevant to many people outside. When a major issue arises which is a challenge to the western world and its preservation, it would be thought by those whom we represent that if we did not meet our values would be shown to be different from theirs.
There are precedents for this recall. Military issues such as Suez, the Falklands and the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia—the third incident did not threaten British troops at the time—have led to Parliament being recalled. Parliament has been recalled because of sterling crises. We have assembled on recall during the summer recess because of Northern Ireland problems. We did so when faced with the three-day week. It would have been remiss of us not to have assembled on recall for today's debate.
As others have said, there are those who look back to what was happening during the late 1930s. At that time I was a young schoolboy. In the later years of the war I served in the Royal Navy, and I continued to do so when the war had ended. Those in my generation will never forget the sanctions that did not work at the time of the invasion of Abyssinia. Sanctions were not introduced when the march into the Rhineland took place. The lessons of history must be learned. If we fail to learn them we shall be presented with the same lessons. Henry Ford may have described history as bunk, but history is a thread that runs through generations. We must remember that certain forms of behaviour bring certain responses.
The issue before us is not confined to ensuring that Iraq gets out of Kuwait. We are concerned also with the fall of Saddam Hussein. We must deal also with the chemical warfare capacity of Iraq and its threat to develop nuclear weapons. If these issues are not dealt with, we shall have to pay the penalty in future. That will be the price of failing to learn the consequences of appeasement in the 1930s.
Until recently, there was talk of a peace dividend following the end of the cold war. Suddenly, we are faced with the threat of a hot war. I do not believe that human nature has changed since the events that took place in the Garden of Eden. Irrespective of whether one is an evolutionist or a creationist, human nature is the one thing that is static. We are faced with a fallen world. Communists and religious fanatics have tried to transform this world in one generation after another but have failed to do so. The lessons of history must be learned, because if we fail to work with the grain of human nature it will react against us. If a cat is stroked in one way it will purr, but if it is stroked in another it will growl. We must examine human nature and decide how to make it work. We must try to ensure that it does not growl, as it were, at what is being done to it.
The first task of Government is to ensure the preservation of the nation state against external attack. That task cannot be undertaken by an individual. The second task of government is to ensure the maintenance of the Queen's peace so that we can walk the streets of our country in security. Any country that cannot defend itself and cannot impose the Queen's peace upon its streets is not fulfilling its obligation to provide the basics for the nation.
We have been taught a lesson—that not only do we need to maintain a strong defence force to protect this country, but that we need to do so to help our friends. It is no good passing resolutions and emitting nothing but hot air—we need weapons, ships for a blockade, air cover and so on. I hope that the lesson has been deeply learnt not only in this House but in the country. We must not disarm; we must maintain strong defences, both for our preservation and to play our part with our allies and with the United Nations to make life tolerable throughout the world. Dictators always say that they want to make life good, but it always becomes intolerable. Democracies try to make life tolerable, and the necessary components of that are the Queen's peace on the streets and the Queen's peace in external defence.
It was right to recall Parliament, because parliamentary democracy means that Ministers must be responsible to Parliament. The country would not understand if we did not debate the crisis here when it is being debated outside. We would be redundant, although I do not know whether we would be entitled to redundancy pay. We do not want the appeasement of the 1930s that my generation witnessed. Unless we learn the lessons of history, we will suffer.
It is evident from today's speeches and the way that the Government have worked with the United Nations, America and our allies, together with our own strength, that the lessons of the 1930s have been learnt, especially by Opposition Members. People listening to the debate today will say, "Thank goodness the House of Commons was recalled; thank goodness it was so responsible in its support of the Government."
Sympathetic consideration will certainly be given to those hon. Members who have sat through today's debate, but I regret that even then it is unlikely that I will be able to call all of them tomorrow. My sympathy is with them and I shall do my best.
There were some, both inside and outside the House, who suggested that the recall of Parliament might be unnecessary, that it might be unproductive, that it could be nit-picking and that it might even be divisive. On the contrary, those who have listened to and watched the debate—and the World Service is carrying the debate live and in full to those listening in Iran, Kuwait and the rest of middle east—will have found it sober, serious, valuable and worth while. It has been part of the way a true democracy deals with such serious events.
At the heart of the saga has been the remarkable and refreshing unity and solidarity of the world community in the face of such a breach of international law and of acceptable behaviour. The strength and purpose of the whole world, east and west, has been unprecedented, and notably it has included many in the Arab world who have rightly recognised the threat of brutal Iraqi adventurism. The United Nations has played—as it was always intended to do, but rarely has had the chance to do—the central part in dealing with this act of aggression. The fact that it has acted decisively and unanimously has produced order where there could so easily have been chaos. It has acted with speed and with measure to tighten effective sanctions against Iraq. In turn, that has strengthened its credibility and the credibility of international institutions.
I add my tribute to that of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition to our United Nations ambassador Sir Crispin Tickell and his staff who did so much to make the United Nations' work so effective. It is also right that we pay tribute to the arduous work that has been put in by our ambassador in Kuwait and his staff in such appalling circumstances and to the ambassador in Baghdad and his staff.
It is important, and it does no harm at all, to reiterate just what was involved in the events that we are considering. I realise that, as a trickle of freed hostages deliberately manipulated by Baghdad dominates our headlines, there is a danger that they, rather than the act of aggression which engulfed them, will become the issue. We cannot allow the natural joy and relief at the reuniting of families to overshadow the illegality and indecency of their being held in the first place, and the continuing outrage that the men and the remaining women and children are still being held.
The naive and crude manipulation of the television screens of the world will, if we allow it to, divert attention from the way in which Iraq invaded the sovereign state of Kuwait on 1 August. Iraq invaded a friendly Arab nation state. Its troops pillaged it and now the Iraqi regime has annexed it. Iraq has forcibly held against their will thousands of foreign civilians, the uninvolved citizens of a dozen countries, and has compounded its flouting of international law which that represents by moving some of them to strategic locations in violation of even the Geneva convention's rules of war. It is instructive that that tactic brought condemnation even from among that small group of Arab friends that Saddam Hussein's regime has. Attracting condemnation is something that Saddam Hussein is used to, but to be attacked by Colonel Gaddafi for going too far is really some achievement.
There is no doubt that Kuwait was only the beginning of Saddam Hussein's ambition: an ambition which threatened most of his neighbouring states—more, certainly, than just Saudi Arabia—and, in the process, threatened the whole world. To be the new super-power of the middle east, to be the military power and arbiter of events in that area. to have a stranglehold on the world's oil supply, was his obvious ambition, and that had to be stopped.
Saddam Hussein and his regime started, conducted and lost an eight-year-long war with Iran at the expense of 1·5 million casualties and unimaginable horror. They have not only manufactured and deployed chemical weapons but have used them first in the battlefield against Iran and then, when that war was lost, against their own Kurdish population. This is a man and a regime who eliminate internal opposition by a process called grass cutting, by which any potential opponents are mowed down. It has been reported that more than 120 senior army officers were executed simply for raising their voices against the invasion. This is a man and a regime whose contempt for civil and human rights has produced a society of such cruelty and barbarity that torture, terror and bribery are the only intruments for retaining power. This is a man and a regime who can make, and literally have made, the flesh creep.
The world watched, and at Halabja it even made the television screens, when the lethal gases were massacring the Kurds. But then trade mattered more than condemnation and punishment. The world watched as Farzad Bazoft, the journalist from the Observer, was murdered after a farce of a trial, but not one Iraqi diplomat was sent home. The world saw the nuclear triggers discovered at Heathrow and bits of the supergun emerge all over Europe, and heard the threats chemically to extinguish Israel, but the world went on trading and dealing with Saddam's Iraq.
There is a great and shared culpability in the world that a man and a regime of such an accepted capacity for evil were provided with the means to perpetrate their aggression. We must collectively share that awful responsibility for creating the monster which brought about this crisis. The weaponry which faces the multinational force in the Gulf and confronts British troops as well is not home grown. The tanks, rockets, warheads, chemical weapons, chemical plants and nuclear technology on which the Iraqis are still working have been imported. They all came from nations that knew where all that was going and the sort of regime to which it was going.
Over the years, Saddam Hussein has built up a network of companies and contacts with the active connivance of many Governments, in feeding weapons, technology and know-how to the military machine that has caused so much trouble. On "Panorama" the other night, we saw how a company based in this capital, the Technology and Development Group, operates openly and without restriction as an arm of the official Iraqi military procurement operation. Its tentacles spread to many other countries. Such operations should be stopped in Britain immediately and banned for good—in the same decisive way that the Iranian arms procurement office in London was closed two years ago.
This whole episode must teach us—it is an expensive lesson—that we must all take far greater care in future with the technology of death. The end of the cold war and the unique new collaboration between the Americans and Russians evident in the United Nations over the past few weeks should see the end of the cold war and the replacement of the apparatus of controlling strategic exports. We should complement the nuclear nonproliferation treaty with one covering chemicals and the deadly new high-technology weapons as well.
The debate has rightly reflected the wide range of views that exist in this country. It is proper that we should rejoice in one thing alone in this country. I refer to our right as free representatives of our people to give voice to our diverse views. Would that it were the same in Baghdad. Some right hon. and hon. Members and others outside say that we should enter Kuwait right away and use force to liberate it, and argue that only by military force will Saddam Hussein leave that country. They do so despite the declared view expressed last week by General Norman Schwarzkopf, the American commander in Saudi Arabia, that there will be no war unless the Iraqis attack, and that of the Saudi Defence Minister, who also commented last week that no offensive action will begin in Saudi Arabia.
If Iraq attacks, a response will have to be made. Any military threat must be met, resisted and repelled by the same world solidarity that we have already seen. However, let us be clear that a war in the Gulf would be a war such as the world has never seen before. Where there are chemical weapons and those mad enough, irrational enough or desperate enough to use them, there is no such thing as a "surgical strike". Where there are mustard gases and toxins such as sarin, tabun, and anthrax, the missiles to deliver them and the willingness to use them, there can be no such thing as a short, sharp conflict. Any war involving chemical weapons will bring suffering, casualties and death on a scale that we have not seen in a century, and which we had good reason to believe was outlawed for ever.
A war in the Gulf, or any conflict that is not started by Saddam Hussein or conducted clearly within the authority of the United Nations, could have incalculable and irreversible political consequences in a part of the world where future oil supplies might be the least of the resulting problems. Many right hon. and hon. Members drew attention to those political dimensions.
There are those who say that the troops should be pulled out, while simultaneously condemning the Iraqi aggression and recommending that everything should take place under UN control. However, it is an irrefutable fact that only the United States could have taken action on a scale sufficient to protect Saudi Arabia from the grave and imminent threat that it faced after the invasion of Kuwait, when it could have been immediately overwhelmed.
The United States and Britain, as well as the other 10 countries, have forces in the area because article 51 allowed, indeed dictated, that Saudi Arabia asked for and received international help.
In the five weeks since the invasion no military action has been taken by any of the defending forces without the explicit backing of a resolution of the United Nations Security Council.
There are those who say; do a deal—negotiate with Saddam Hussein. United Nations resolution 660 states that there should be negotiations between Iraq and Kuwait, but only when Iraq has withdrawn unconditionally from Kuwait. A few yards of territory, an island here or there, a part of an oilfield or some financial gesture would not force the aggressor to retreat and to learn that armed invasion and annexation do not pay, and should never pay.
There are those who have preached ultra-caution, but the reality is that only relentless continuing pressure and an unremitting tightening of the sanctions until the Iraqis know that there is no way out, will produce a just outcome. The sanctions are working; the noose is tightening; the friends are deserting and we have to stick with that tactic until it works.
The majority of hon. Members here today reflect the vast majority in the country who believe that it is these unprecedented mandatory sanctions with the international solidarity that they represent and the pressure that they are putting and will continue to put on Saddam, that will bring about his defeat.
Quite rightly the debate today has also looked ahead. We must be constructive about what we can do now. In so doing we are right to remind ourselves that Saddam Hussein is not Iraq and Iraq is not Saddam Hussein. We cannot and should not write off 17 million subjugated Iraqi people for the crimes and perversions of their dictator and his cohorts.
Iraq is a terrorised, frightened, war-weary nation, but it is one where the germ of freedom and decency is still alive. There are people in Iraq—they must be remarkably brave and courageous peole—who represent an alternative to Saddam's regime. They must be encouraged and sent a signal from the world outside that their courage and sacrifice is worth while and that it is supported. The best way to send that signal is for the opposition leadership in exile to be given the same attention, recognition and moral support that we so willingly, rightly and successfully gave to the Walesas, the Havels and Sakharovs, when they fought for their freedom in eastern Europe. Our support would stiffen the resolve of those for whom opposition means risking liberty, sanity and all too often their lives and those of their families.
The world must also ensure, as so many hon. Members have properly said during the debate, that help is given to those countries paying the heaviest price for the United Nations campaign against Iraq. It is not merely the front-line states, like Jordan, with its appalling and urgent refugee problem, that we should be helping immediately and generously, but also Egypt, Syria and Turkey which are also paying the price. On top of those, and equally important, are the poorest countries on earth: Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and so many of the African countries where the oil price rise is yet another savage blow to an already dire condition. Above all, we must make it clear that our overriding objective in this whole exercise, after the liberation of Kuwait and the full release of all the hostages, is real stability in the middle east.
This rare display of unanimous United Nations support for international law must not be lost for ever, especially in a region which has for too long been a shop window for broken international laws.
After 1990—like Europe after 1989—the middle east will never be the same again. One feature brought out in many of the speeches today is the new, valuable and constructive role that has been played by the Soviet Union in the United Nations, alongside the United States of America. The future role of the Soviet Union in both Europe and the middle east will be a major factor in the outcome for both regions. It is a significant and historic step forward, which we should recognise and welcome.
Many hon. Members on both sides of the House have drawn attention to the way in which the world has now concentrated its concern on the part of the world affected by the invasion. That concern will not end; it will not go away, however the matter is resolved—even after the defeat of Saddam Hussein. The message of our debate today has been clear enough: we stay tough, we stay cool, we stay united—because, for as long as Saddam Hussein threatens his neighbours, he threatens us all.
Today the House has spoken for our nation as only the House can speak. The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) spoke well in winding up the debate for the Opposition, and we have heard some other outstanding speeches, led by the magnificent speech of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. Let me also pay tribute to the speech made by the Leader of the Opposition, and to the fine speeches of the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) and, of course, to the splendid speech of the Father of the House, my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine).
The whole House is united on certain objectives. Aggression cannot be allowed to pay. A pirate state with a strong army cannot be allowed simply to loot resources that it may need because it has got itself into debt. Above all, once engaged as they are now engaged, the international forces of law represented by the United Nations cannot be allowed to be defeated. If that were to happen, anarchy would be loosed on the world.
Some have said, "Why the excitement? There have been other invasions and other territorial disputes." They should remember this: never before, since the foundation of the United Nations, has one member state attempted to obliterate another. That is the difference between this and many other crimes and problems of the past.
The strategy formed by the United Nations and the allies of the legitimate Government of Kuwait is also clear and, I believe, has received the almost unanimous backing of the House. The first weapon to be tried was the economic embargo; second came the rapid movement of forces from an amazing variety of nations to defend the other vulnerable states. I was pleased that the hon. Member for Hamilton's speech did not contain that strain of anti-Americanism which, I thought, spoiled one or two speeches made by his hon. Friends. He paid tribute to the extraordinary effort which the United States has made, and which only the United States could have made. We have contributed; but 20 other nations, from literally every other continent of the globe—from Australasia, from Asia and, of course, from the middle east, including the majority of the Arab League—are there as well.
Then comes the next stage. Who knows? We cannot rule out anything, as long as it is firmly based in international law. In the absolute unity that the nations have shown and that the House has shown today, we are all agreed that we should give no comfort whatever to Saddam Hussein.
There have been some dissentient voices. After listening to the speech of my former neighbour, now the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), I asked myself whether I would feel more secure in my arguments if he was agreeing with me, and came to the conclusion that I would not.
I cannot refrain from repeating the Leader of the Opposition's sotto voce remark—"Welcome to the club".
Let us pause for a moment—as did the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) in a useful intervention—to consider Saddam Hussein's strategy. It is pretty clear. He will try to divert us from his central act of aggression: he has been doing so with the inhumane and intolerable treatment of the hostages. He will find other strategies of this kind. He will encourage other people, some of them well meaning, to look for half-baked solutions, conferences, intermediary stages and means to divide those United Nations resolutions by two. We must be alert to that strategy. The hon. Member for Walsall, North did not fall for that strategy—nor, in a fine speech, as I have already said, did the right hon. Member for Devonport and my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Sir P. Blaker). The hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) did fall for it in his speech—understated, as is his wont.
No. The hon. Gentleman would try to divert us, but he would not succeed. I cannot give way to interventions; I have little time.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Luce) said, rightly, that Saddam Hussein likes to liken himself to Nebuchadnezzar and spoke of the hanging gardens. May I direct the attention of Saddam Hussein, who may not be familiar with this verse, to the book of Daniel, chapter five, verse 21, after the deposition, which is referred to in verse 20;
And he was driven from the sons of men; and his heart was made like the beasts, and his dwelling was with the wild asses; they fed him with grass like oxen.
I must concentrate a little on one section of the Leader of the Opposition's speech, not necessarily because I disagree with it but because I am not sure that I understood it. Several hon. Members have said that clarity of speech is important here. There is no disagreement with the legal position as set out by the Leader of the Opposition. We totally share it. However, there are three international grounds for military action: first, article 51, after a request from Kuwait; secondly, a response to an attack—what after today we may call the Yeovil rules; thirdly, an explicit United Nations mandate. Any of those three would do. The Leader of the Opposition's legal analysis was entirely justified. Where we departed from him—perhaps we did, perhaps we did not—was when he and the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang) seemed to predict a scenario ahead of time that cannot be predicted. We do not know which of those grounds would be the best to use to bring about the objective that all of us share: to avoid the defeat of international order.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East sketched one scenario where there was total unity for military action. That might be one scenario, but let us not predict in advance. We cannot rule out any action, so long as it is based—as it would be based, as the Leader of the Opposition made clear—on article 51 after a request from Kuwait.
The right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) in his interesting speech—the former beachmaster at Salerno, and at Anzio, which was even more dangerous—speaking with the authority of having been under fire, made the same point. Just for a moment, I thought that he was going to say that we must go back for another resolution under any circumstances, but he did not. He said that we must get as much support as we can. That must be the objective of British, American and Arab League majority diplomacy. However, what we must not do is to take the further fatal step of predicting now that in every circumstance we must go back for a new resolution. That would be most unwise.
The Minister said earlier that it would be a mistake to allow Saddam Hussein to stand on the moral high ground. He must know that the real danger is that many people in the Arab world believe that the west is deeply hypocritical because of its different evaluation of the situation of the Palestinians in the occupied territories and the situation in Kuwait. Does he not agree that the west could be accused of bias, that it needs to stand firm on international law and that it would be a disaster, unless there were further aggression, if there were to be any offensive military action without a United Nations resolution and without the agreement of the whole of the Arab world?
I have just explained why the opposite would be a disaster—a far more profound disaster that might endanger the whole operation and put the basis of international order at risk: that is, if we were to try now to play the game of prediction as to what exactly the circumstances would be in which sanctions were presumably being judged by the wider community not to be working and we went for further action. We cannot judge that now. I shall return to the other issues in the middle east. That is vital. The hon. Lady has made a point with which I have more sympathy and to which I shall return in a moment.
Let us not forget that the refugees are Saddam Hussein's refugees. It is a most attractive capacity of the western democracies to take all burdens upon themselves and usually to blame themselves for everything. We are already talking as if in some way we are responsible for those refugees. We are not: Saddam Hussein caused those children to die in the desert by driving out Palestinians, Egyptians, Indians and Philippinos who were working and supporting their families back home with remittances.
We must act, and we must, above all, help the nations from which those people come to get them home. We do not want to institutionalise this crisis. We do not want another lot of Gaza camps with permanent refugees in the area. We want to help them to get home. That is why the money that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced today is going not to the non-governmental organisations in the ordinary way of a famine crisis but to a specific organisation designed to deal with this situation—the International Organisation for Migration, which was set up in 1951 to deal with displaced people. We have given it that money to help those migrants to get home.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) said, an airlift may be needed. We may have to help the poor countries from which many of the refugees come to finance that airlift, and we will do so. Several hon. Members said that we must help, and we will do so.
I do not dissent from the proposition that the refugees are Saddam's refugees. While there must be a massive airlift to get them home, they must remain alive to be taken home. We have a desperate responsibility to do that for the refugees now and to sustain them.
We already are. The Overseas Development Administration has joined many others in the world in providing immediate aid, which is arriving. The refugees are trying to get home. That is what they want and it is the best way of preventing the tragedy from continuing indefinitely. We have given that money to the International Organisation for Migration as well as to the immediate humanitarian organisations—the Red Crescent, Red Cross, Oxfam and so on—to support them in the meantime.
That brings me, naturally, to a subject of some interest to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and to every taxpayer in this country—burden sharing, who is going to pay. After the titanic contribution of the United States, we have made perhaps the second largest contribution in terms of military aid. The French have also provided major military support, but it is legitimate to look to countries that have not provided very much on the military side, and that point was made by the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney. It is legitimate to say to them, "The world is under pressure: what will you do to help?" I shall go at some intolerable hour tomorrow morning to Rome, fortified by the support of the Leader of the Opposition, to address in tactful style, I hope, with some of our colleagues the idea that, although no frigates are available, some money could be supplied.
I must pay tribute to the Japanese, who have already talked in large sums. This is perhaps the first international crisis in which the Japanese, who are talking in terms of $1 billion, have started to put big money on the line. The fact that the Japanese, for the first time, are saying, "We share the responsibility with the rest of the world for seeing this matter through," seems a very important step forward. Others, we hope, will follow. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made that point very clearly in her speech.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) and other hon. Members referred to the underlying tensions in the middle east, which it is not unfair to say have contributed to regimes such as that of Saddam Hussein. It is easy to try to shift the blame from individuals and say that they are created by the conditions, and we must not fall for that, but it is noticeable that regimes in the middle east, with the great exception of Egypt, have become more radical since the Arab-Israeli wars and the further defeats and humiliations, as they were seen in so many parts of the Arab world, of Arab people. I am not saying that those wars were caused by the Israelis, but the conflict and injustices to the Palestinians that have emerged out of it have contributed to the situation.
Three or four months ago, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary came back from the middle east and rightly described the whole region as a tinder box. My right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup, the Leader of the Opposition, and the right hon. Member for Leeds, East, in a powerful speech, all made that point. The hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) rightly pointed out that two wrongs cannot make a right, so although that situation has not been corrected, it does not undermine the rightness of the action that we are taking in regard to Saddam Hussein.
The hon. Member for Warley, East made his point in his inimitable style but many others made it slightly more moderately and carried the House with them more. One factor that has emerged today is an extraordinary unity across the parties on the issue of the injustices done to the Palestinian people.
The right hon. Member has referred to me twice, and I am grateful to him for giving way. If he disagrees so much with the burden of my speech, would he care to make his own comments on the implications for the situation in the Gulf of the strategic alliance between Israel and the United States?
The interesting point about it is that it has no implications. What strikes me is what a small part Israel is playing in any of these events. That may lead certain people in the United States Congress to learn a lesson. Some people think of their relationship with Israel in terms of a strategic alliance, but they should realise that it is not particularly useful if it cannot be used in a crisis like this. In such a situation, the United States is bound to want invitations from the Arab nations, and to seek allies in the wider Arab world. The dog that has not barked in the night is interesting. Israel has kept out of this because, as has been said, were it to be involved, the result would be consequences and instabilities that would be difficult to handle.
With the support of the House, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary asked me to establish contacts with the PLO leadership after it had made the Geneva declaration and its London declaration about its new strategy in relation to a peace process. Therefore, along with many others, I was saddened by the way in which the PLO missed a wonderful opportunity, which it should have judged right.
Palestine is a small country, resting on international law and suppressed by a stronger neighbour, and if the Palestinians had stood by that international law, they could have pointed out to the international community that they had supported this principle when it cost them a great deal and now they should be helped. Their already just case would then have been unanswerable in all the forums and Parliaments of the world. Many in the Palestinian movement are beginning to understand that, and are shifting their position. We understand the pressures on that disparate movement, but many hon. Members have, like myself and many of my Palestinian friends, have been disappointed by the position taken initially by the leadership of the PLO. We hope to see that position revised. I was glad to see that the Opposition did not pursue that line.
The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) made an interesting speech the other day. He did not, in a Saddam Hussein way, want to link the issues together, but he called for a conference to look at all the wider issues at the same time. Mr. Shevardnadze made a slightly similar speech.
I think that the right hon. Member for Gorton came first.
Who knows what the correct conference structures will be? I beg the right hon. Gentleman—and I think that he shares this view—to agree that we should not be trying to introduce grand conferences and complicated issues before we have settled the issue of the sovereignty of Kuwait.
I am gratified to see the right hon. Gentleman nodding. Resolution 660, in relation to Kuwait and to Iraq, refers to negotiations when people have returned to their own countries. That is fine. We could then negotiate about any underlying problems that may have contributed to the conflict in the first place. The same is true in relation to the far more complex and deeper issues of the Palestinians in relation to Israel. That must come afterwards and those who seek to drag across the trail the idea of grand conferences at this stage are contributing to what I call the Saddam Hussein strategy of trying to take our eye off the central issue of his aggression, off the central issue of obedience to international law and off the central issue of absolute concurrence with the Security Council resolutions. None of those points can be divided by two, and none is up for negotiation now. It is only when those resolutions are obeyed that other issues can be addressed.
We hope—and I believe that this will be so—that the middle east will never be quite the same again and that the whole world, even those countries that were not concerned and that have not been interested in the problems, will now focus on the underlying causes of conflict, of dissent and of danger in the middle east. If we can bring back, as I am sure that we shall, the Palestinian leadership into a position of diplomacy and of commitment to diplomacy, there will be progress. I hope and pray that that will be so.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the central issue is not what he has just described? It is not about democracy. There was precious little of that in Kuwait even before the invasion. The central issue is cheap oil. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with a former United States Assistant Defence Secretary? He said that it boils down to the great powers defending their interests and that if Kuwait grew carrots, we would not give a damn.
The central issue is of obedience to international law. The hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) will find flip remarks from former politicians round the world. If Saddam Hussein and the current leadership of Iraq are allowed to win against the painfully assembled forces of international legality, the world faces anarchy. All that Saddam Hussein has to do is to withdraw. That is a clear issue.
These events will define the nature of the world that will succeed the world in which I was brought up and in which I now live—the world of the cold war. This is a defining event. We cannot allow the forces of international law to be faced down and we cannot allow the United Nations, in its first rebirth, to be defeated. Ernie Bevin must be proud of what is happening now at the United Nations. This is what the founding fathers meant it to do. If, the first time that we have this unity, with the Security Council working as it is supposed to work and with the military staff committee for the first time in its history meeting with a substantive agenda, we allow them to be defeated, the world will face unparalleled anarchy. That cannot happen.
Aggression must not be allowed to pay. We must not let the message get out that the old stalemate of the cold war was the only way to keep peace. We hear backward-looking people—funny old Russian generals with rows of medals—say, "Those were the days."
Doubtless there are equivalents elsewhere. They say, "Let us go back to the safe old days of the cold war." If that is the message, what a depressing message it will be. Without the cold war, there is far more room for flexibility, for danger, for shifts, for movements and for changing alliances, so we need the structure of international co-operation and of international law.
There is no question about on which side of the argument the House and the Government come down. Our hearts are out there with our hostages, but their safety and the safety of innumerable innocent people round the world depend on the strength of the House and its equivalents in the other nations of the alliance which is supporting international law. If anarchy is loosed upon the world, not only their lives will be at risk but innumerable unpredictable other people's lives will be at risk for ever.
Some people doubt the staying power of democracy. I do not. Democracies are slow to anger but, once angered, they go on right to the end of the road. The message has gone from the House today that this British democracy is ready to play its part in that process. I do not doubt that the House and the British people will see it through.