Iraq and Weapons of Mass Destruction

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:44 pm on 24th September 2002.

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Photo of Robert Walter Robert Walter Conservative, North Dorset 7:44 pm, 24th September 2002

The decision to go to war is not one taken lightly by any democratic Government. I believe that the job of a Member of Parliament is often to question that decision, preferably before British troops have been committed. Neither I nor, as I know from today's debate, anyone else in the Chamber has any sympathy with Saddam Hussein or with the excesses of Islamic fundamentalism, or any other kind of fundamentalist or oppressive dictator for that matter. I do not believe that responsible nations should stand idly by while others suffer or die from oppression, invasion or hunger.

I will be the first to support, albeit reluctantly, the pursuit of evil dictators who pose a threat to my own people and to others who should otherwise live in freedom, but I will not blindly concur with decisions to commit the lives of British service men and women, unless I am convinced of both the justice and the sense of that action.

The United States seems determined to force a regime change on the people of Iraq, and we all know, given the current state of Iraqi politics, that that cannot happen democratically. We all know that the devastation of the Gulf war, the imposition of no-fly zones, the economic sanctions and the general hatred of Saddam have done nothing to weaken his regime.

The Iraqi regime has a record of human rights abuse and genocide that would be defended by no one. Its record is, however, by no means unique; other nations in history have perpetrated equally indefensible acts that have gone unchecked.

The real question now is about Saddam Hussein's current capabilities and his future intentions. The question is not just whether Saddam Hussein has chemical, biological and nuclear technology, for that is all in the dossier that we saw this morning, but whether he has the weapons, the delivery mechanism and, most importantly, the intention of using that capability in an aggressive manner. If I were particularly inward-looking, I could further ask: if he has all that, is he likely to use it against Britain or British interests?

As an elected representative of the British people, the question that I ask our Government is simple: does Saddam Hussein present such a threat that I should be prepared to sanction and support military action that would lead to the loss of British service men and women? Such action would also lead to the deaths of many hundreds of innocent Iraqi men, women and children. Such action might lead to the destabilisation of the near and middle east, including ethnic conflict in our NATO ally, Turkey, and an escalation of the Israel-Palestine conflict.

This is not a debate about pacifism, as was so bravely put by my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Hogg, and many of his sentiments were also expressed by my hon. Friends the Members for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh), for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) and for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor). Nor is this a question of nimbyism. This is a simple question about political and military right.

Can George Bush convince the United Nations, including the Arab world, that Saddam Hussein has the capability and the intention to destroy the world order? Can the Prime Minister convince me and other hon. Members that that man poses a threat to Britain of such magnitude that we have to go to war?

The dossier that we saw today still has many unanswered questions in it and much speculation. Saddam's record is not in question, but as of today, he is not at war with Iran and he is not in occupation of Kuwait. There is a peace, however imperfect, which has been secured by UN resolutions, no-fly zones and economic sanctions. If we launch an attack, we will destroy that peace. We will have launched the first strike.

The second question, if the catalogue of weapons of mass destruction in the dossier is correct—I have no reason to doubt it—and if such capability can be put into action in just 45 minutes, is: what steps can we take to protect our troops, the people of Iraq and our friends in the region from that horror?

There are many other questions, but my final one in this debate is: what will the region look like after Saddam Hussein? I talk not just of Iraq, but of Jordan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and our NATO ally Turkey—not to mention Israel and Palestine. For this is not Afghanistan; this is a much more complex ethnic and political jigsaw.

We must have an endgame before we start. If in the end I can be convinced that this crusade is justified, I will with all my might seek to convince my electors that their sons and daughters should join the crusade so that we can rid the world of this evil regime. I will do that with great reluctance—my own children could see action in that conflict—but I will do it because I believe that, once the decision is taken, we must give our wholehearted support to the thousands of British service men and women who will risk their lives for what will be the most just of causes.