We now come to the Adjournment debate. As I have already said, many Members wish to speak so I have put a 10-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches. Furthermore, it would not be appreciated if any hon. Member were to approach the Chair while I or any of the Deputy Speakers are in it. That would be most inconsiderate.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister spoke for an hour and a half and took 25 interventions about the case that we make for effective action in respect of the threat posed by Iraq. In view of that, I shall endeavour to be as brief as possible.
I suggest to the House that the issues before us come down to four. First, is the Iraqi regime the threat that we say it is? Secondly, are there not other countries that have developed equally dangerous arsenals of weapons of mass destruction? Thirdly, is not the international community guilty of double standards? Fourthly, even if Iraq is the danger that we claim, is the threat of force, or its use, justified? Let me deal with each of these questions in turn.
First, how much of a threat is the Iraqi regime? My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister set out very clearly the nature of the threat, and that was well endorsed by the House as a whole. The dossier that we have published today sets out a forensically argued case about the nature of the regime.
The main focus of the questions to my right hon. Friend was about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, but I want to detain the House briefly on another aspect of the Iraqi regime—its record on human rights. That record speaks volumes not only about the way in which the regime deals directly with its own people, but with the way in which it would seek to operate in respect of other countries and territories beyond its borders. Taking both the threat from Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and its human rights record, Iraq is in a league of its own—uniquely evil and uniquely dangerous.
On human rights, no other regime now in power anywhere in the world has Saddam's record for brutality, torture and execution as a routine way of life and as the principal means by which the elite stays in power.
I will in a second.
Page 48 of the dossier spells out starkly the number of Iraqis recently executed under Saddam Hussein. However, individual human stories sometimes better bring home the true bestiality of this regime. For example, in October 2000, Amnesty International reported the beheading of dozens of women by the Saddam regime allegedly for prostitution. The victims were executed in front of their homes by a militia created by Saddam's son, Uday. Among those executed for "prostitution" was Dr. Najat Mohammed Haydar, an obstetrician in Baghdad's leading hospital whose only alleged crime apart from prostitution was to be critical of corruption in the Iraqi health services.
As the dossier shows, the Iraqi security apparatus and weaponry are not incidental extras to be used in extremis. They are fundamental to the regime's exercise of power. The Iraqi regime has systematically persecuted and oppressed ethnic and religious groups. No group has suffered more than the Iraqi Kurds. In one year, Amnesty International estimates that more than 100,000 Kurds disappeared or were killed. The world had a glimpse of the genocide in 1988 when Iraqi planes used poison gas to kill 5,000 Kurds in Halabja. By then, Saddam had already shown his appetite for chemical weapons in the war with Iran. Halabja confirmed that Saddam's weapons of mass destruction would be turned against his own people as well as the outside world.
Given the awful atrocities committed by the Iraqi regime, will my right hon. Friend consider a non-violent option for dealing with it? It would involve bringing indictments against leading members of the regime for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. I believe that such an approach should be considered. In Norway this week, we talked to the Attorney-General there about Uday Hussein, whom my right hon. Friend has just mentioned. We took a complaint about Uday Hussein to Norway, because some of his victims are there. There are also victims in the United Kingdom, so why are we not following this approach?
Let me first pay tribute to my hon. Friend's tireless efforts on behalf of the Kurds against the Iraqi regime. She makes an important point—one which I have often discussed with her. She heads up the Anglo-American organisation Indict, which has the aim of bringing to proper justice leaders of the Iraqi regime among others. I support her efforts. Indeed, I was discussing her concerns about the pursuit of the leaders of the Iraqi regime in the manner in which we wish with the Attorney-General only yesterday. But in the world in which we live the possibility of being able to extract Saddam so that he can stand trial in The Hague is, to put it mildly, fairly limited, so we must pursue other means.
However, going back to my hon. Friend's first point, I do not believe that there is anyone in the House or beyond represented on the Security Council who does not wish for a peaceful resolution of the matter. Above all, the responsibility for ensuring a peaceful resolution of the issue of disarming Iraq rests with Saddam Hussein alone. Iraq has fought wars of aggression against two neighbours, and launched missile attacks against three others.
I shall when I have made some progress.
In 1991, following the Gulf war, the United Nations Security Council required inspectors to remove the threat and disarm Iraq. The inspectors did some heroic work during their seven years, as we heard earlier, notwithstanding continued intimidation and harassment. Their achievements are spelt out on page 40 of the dossier. But in 1998, as they closed in on the most vital secrets at the heart of Iraq's chemical and biological weapons programmes, they were forced to leave. As the Prime Minister spelt out, and as page 16 of the dossier reveals, in 1998, the regime still retained an arsenal of matériel for chemical and biological weapons. Since then, Iraq has continued to produce chemical and biological agents and their means of delivery, and to make other attempts to develop nuclear weapons.
Let me turn to my second question, which is implicit in those asked by the hon. Members for Stratford–on–Avon (Mr. Maples) and for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik): what about the other countries that may have amassed equally dangerous stockpiles of weapons? What are we doing about them? As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister told the House on
With Saddam Hussein, the diplomatic route has been constantly and consistently obstructed by his intransigence and duplicity. It has been blocked altogether since December 1998, leaving us no alternative but to consider other options. Iraq, not the UN, has chosen the path of confrontation.
A few seconds ago, the Prime Minister set great store by the American relationship, but might there not be a difference between that and agreement with the United States Administration? Has the Foreign Secretary seen the speech made by former Vice-President Gore in the early hours of this morning in which he argued that by being willing to countenance action outwith the United Nations the Administration were, as he put it, exhausting the reservoir of support built up after
The hon. Gentleman is quoting Mr. Gore with great selectivity. I listened carefully in the General Assembly to the speech made by President Bush of the United States which, as a leading diplomat in the United Nations said to me afterwards, was one of the most positive pro-UN speeches to be made by an American President in many decades. I invite the hon. Gentleman to look at that speech. President Bush was saying that this is a real problem for the world and the world's international institutions need to deal with it—that is exactly what we are doing.
If that speech was so positive about the United Nations, can the Foreign Secretary explain to the House why last Friday we got the Bush doctrine that virtually bypasses the UN and tears up international law because it supports pre-emptive strikes anywhere and at any time that President Bush sees a threat?
If my hon. Friend read the text of the national security strategy that President Bush and Secretary Powell published, she would see that the gloss put on it is not justified. I shall give the House two quotations. First, it states:
"In keeping with our"— the United States'—
"heritage and principles, we do not use our strength to press for unilateral advantage."
Secondly, it states:
"The United States is committed to lasting institutions like the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, the Organization of American States . . . In all cases, international obligations are to be taken seriously."
In the 1980s, Britain, along with many other western countries, was a major arms supplier to Iraq. We continued to supply weapons until the 1989 Baghdad arms fair, more than a year after the atrocity at Halabja. During that time, many thousands of people died in the Iran-Iraq war. Since then, we have supplied countless weapons to Saudi Arabia, Iran and other countries in the region. I understand that we are now supplying highly selective and sensitive military equipment to Iran. Does the Foreign Secretary not think that it is time to reassess the whole arms export strategy? Does he not think for a moment that what goes around comes around, that Iran has developed a nuclear weapons capability just as Iraq may wish to do, and other countries in the region have massive capabilities?
Britain has one of the most effective and rigorous systems of arms export control anywhere in the world—more effective than any of our European partners and on a par with that operated by the United States—[Interruption.] Yes, of course, that is exactly the point I have been dealing with. Other countries have weapons of mass destruction, but the difference is that we are seeking to deal with the threat that they pose by diplomatic means. That process and possibility has been wholly rejected by Iraq, not the international community.
Let me make some progress.
What further distinguishes Iraq from other proliferators is the nature of its intent. It is not just the fact that it has weapons of mass destruction, but that it has much greater intent to use them. Saddam's is the only regime in recent history to have used chemical weapons, the only regime to have been declared in breach of the Geneva protocol on chemical weapons and the only regime that sees those weapons of mass destruction as an active tool of regional and internal dominance. As page 19 of the dossier sets out, Saddam is prepared to use those weapons—they are by no means a last resort.
Would the Foreign Secretary tell us under what circumstances people believe Saddam Hussein would now use his weapons of mass destruction? Is not the most likely circumstance—in fact the only likely one—one in which he was desperate, cornered or beaten and used them as a suicidal gesture? Containment has kept the peace for 11 years. Is it not possible that a military invasion—the Bush agenda—would be likely to bring about the horror that we all fear, which is the use of those weapons and unimaginable consequences for the region and the world?
My hon. Friend has come to the nub of the matter. He believes that Iraq poses no significant threat, and is no different from any other country that has weapons of mass destruction. Our view is very different. Not only does Iraq possess those weapons but, unlike other countries, it has a much greater intent to use them.
There is no need to look in the crystal ball for the reason why—look in the book at Saddam Hussein's record. Look at the fact that he has not only sought to gas people in Iran, an alleged enemy, but has used those biological and chemical weapons against his own people. He has done it once; he has done it twice; he can easily do it again.
I agree that evidence that Saddam Hussein is building up weapons of mass destruction is crucial, but could the Foreign Secretary explain why, in the US Department of State's annual report on patterns of global terrorism, which was put on the website and presented to Congress in May this year, there was no mention under the Iraq heading of any build-up of weapons of mass destruction?
I cannot explain the contents of one document published in the United States, but I can say that the United States Administration have hardly been slow in coming forward in expressing their concern about Iraq.
Today has shown how important it was that Parliament was recalled. It has enabled the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary to set out their case with great clarity to a sceptical House. How much progress have the US and UK Governments made in bringing together a mighty coalition of the western democracies and the Arab states? Does he not agree that the more members of the coalition there are the better will be the chances to increase the pressure and of a favourable outcome?
We have devoted a great deal of work to that and I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his question. While I was at the United Nations General Assembly last week for a week, as was Secretary of State Colin Powell, we both met a large number of Foreign Ministers from Arab and Islamic states to discuss, among many other things, the threat posed by Iraq. Not one of the Foreign Ministers to whom I spoke has anything but contempt for and concern about the Iraqi regime, and they are, above all, praying that the action that we all hope and believe that the international community will now take, will relieve the region of the threat posed by the weapons of mass destruction that Saddam has.
I should like to make some progress. I have taken a number of interventions.
The third question that the House needs me to deal with is whether, in its approach, the international community has been guilty of using double standards, especially with regard to Israel/Palestine. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister dealt with that at some length, but let me explain why we do not accept the argument.
As a permanent member of the Security Council, Britain wants to see the full implementation of all UN resolutions in the middle east and elsewhere. The current situation in Israel and in the occupied territories is dreadful. Our condemnation of suicide bombers and those who organise them is absolute. But despicable though they were at the weekend, the latest terrorist outrages do not justify the latest incursions by the Israeli defence force into Ramallah or Gaza.
I said at the weekend that those forces must be withdrawn. Working with our international partners in the United Nations, in the small hours of this morning, Security Council resolution 1435 was passed with our full support. It demands that Israel immediately cease measures in and around Ramallah, including the destruction of Palestinian security and civilian infrastructure; demands the expeditious withdrawal of Israeli occupying forces from Palestinian cities towards a return to the positions held prior to September 2000; and calls on the Palestinian Authority to meet its express commitments to ensure that those responsible for terrorist acts are brought to justice.
I should like to make some more progress.
United Nations Security Council resolutions 242, 338, 1397 and 1402 set out the steps that all parties in the region must take to secure lasting peace. They impose requirements on Israel, on the Palestinians and on every Arab state. Despite the horrendous violence, there has been some progress in the region. Exactly a year ago, as I have particular reason to recall, even uttering the word "Palestine" caused controversy in some quarters. Now a commitment to a viable state of Palestine alongside a secure state of Israel is the official policy of the UN, provided by resolution 1397, with the full support of the US.
One other aspect of the double standards argument is that the military action taken by the UK and the US during the past decade has been directed against Muslims. Such claims are palpably untrue. The facts speak for themselves. The four major military campaigns that Britain has fought during the past decade have each had the effect of helping oppressed Muslims—Kuwait in 1991, Bosnia in 1995, Kosovo in 1999 and Afghanistan in 2001.
In the case of Iraq, our differences are emphatically not with the long-suffering people of Iraq. With the United States, Britain sponsored a new UN resolution earlier this year to increase the flow of civilian goods to Iraq. But our efforts to soften the impact of sanctions on the Iraqi people have been frustrated by the Iraqi regime, which prefers to spend oil revenues on weapons. Saddam has done nothing to meet the UN's conditions for the lifting of sanctions, condemning the Iraqi people to a life of penury.
Will Israel react to last night's Security Council resolution in the way that it reacted to the one after its rampage through the holy land at Easter when the UN unanimously demanded that Israel accept inspectors from the UN to check reports of mass destruction of refugees in the camp at Jenin? Israel told the inspectors to get stuffed, they got stuffed and not another word has been said about the resolution since.
I hope that the resolution is implemented. I am pleased to note that my hon. Friend is calling for the full implementation of all UN Security Council resolutions. There is a hierarchy of resolutions, to which my hon. Friend Mrs. Ellman referred. Chapter 6, under which all resolutions relating to the middle east have been issued, relates to the pacific resolution of disputes. Above that, there are the mandatory chapter 7 resolutions, which impose the clearest possible obligations, usually on a single state rather than on two or three states, which is what chapter 6 is there for. Chapter 7 imposes mandatory obligations on states that are completely out of line with international law and policy, and the United Nations has decided in its charter that the failure to meet those obligations may be met by the use of force.
I look forward to my hon. Friend saying that he supports chapter 6 and chapter 7 resolutions, and that he wants all the chapter 7 resolutions, which all relate to Iraq, implemented in full.
The fourth question is whether even if Saddam is as great a threat as we say, it is justifiable to use force to deal with the threat. The short answer to that question is yes, provided force is a last resort and its use is consistent with international law.
Law, whether domestic or international, fundamentally depends for its legitimacy on the values it reflects. Law without values is no law at all. But while the moral legitimacy of any law will strengthen the natural consent for that law, there will always be some who reject or despise the values on which the law is based. Against them, the law has to be enforced, ultimately, by the force of arms. But the force which is used has itself to be consistent with the moral and legal framework it seeks to defend. Law without force is no law. Force without law is no law.
I shall not give way.
Those realities about the nature of law have long been recognised within states. The painful experience of the 20th century made us recognise them too in respect of regulation between states. The League of Nations was shown by its specific failure over Abyssinia literally to be powerless. When exhortation ran out, the world community had nothing. The subsequent collapse of the League gave the green light to the tyrannical excesses of Hitler, and in the end, much more force had to be used, and much more blood shed, than if both the system and the world's then leaders had been capable of acting to enforce international norms of behaviour.
The architects of the United Nations learned those lessons.
I know that many hon. Members wish to speak, and I have taken many interventions.
The architects of the United Nations learned the lessons of what happened in the pre-war years. The UN declaration of human rights and the UN charter are the most powerful invocations I know of the moral imperatives behind international law
"to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war".
But the declaration and the charter skilfully combined high idealism with hard-headed realism and, above all, recognised that, as with domestic law, the ultimate enforcement of the rule of international law had to be by force of arms.
If my hon. Friend will permit me, I will carry on.
Diplomacy, of course, should always be tried first, but the paradox of some situations—Iraq is pre-eminently one—is that diplomacy has a chance of success only if it is combined with the clearest possible prospect that force of arms will be used if diplomacy fails. As the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, has said,
"We have learned that sensitive diplomacy must be backed by the threat of military force if it is to succeed."
We have used all the diplomatic instruments at the disposal of the United Nations, but, so far, Saddam has rendered them unworkable.
The recent sequence of events has been a re-enactment of the past 12 years. Only two weeks ago, the Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister, Tariq Aziz, said that Iraq would never readmit weapons inspectors. Then President Bush made his powerful speech to the United Nations General Assembly on
Some assert that the policy of containment has worked. My answer is that containment, backed by the potential use of force, was broadly working while the inspectors were able to do their job and the Security Council's resolve remained firm. But all the evidence suggests that Saddam has used the past four years, without inspectors, to break out of his containment and to seek to re-establish his power. Only free and unfettered inspections, backed by a Security Council united in its determination to disarm Iraq, offer the prospect of dealing with the threat by peaceful means.
A peaceful conclusion is the outcome that is desired on both sides of the Atlantic, both by Her Majesty's Government and by the United States Administration. We should applaud the efforts of President Bush to secure that end. We are now pressing for a new resolution, setting out the case for a tough and intrusive weapons inspection regime. Detailed discussions are taking place as I speak between ourselves and our key permanent five partners.
I am just coming to a conclusion, if my hon. Friend will allow me.
This resolution—if we get it through, as we believe we should—should allow for an early test of whether the latest Iraqi offer is genuine. But if it is to have any effect on Iraq, it must, under chapter 7, carry the implicit threat of force.
We should all be gravely exercised by the potential use of force, because innocent people are killed by the use of force and because we in government expect our troops to go into action and put their lives, and their futures and those of their families, on the line. I hope and pray that it will not come to a use of force. If there is military action, any participation in it by Her Majesty's Government would be strictly in accordance with our obligations in international law, and its purpose would be the disarmament of the Iraqi regime's weapons of mass destruction and an end to its deliberate and persistent flouting of the will of the United Nations.
The choice is Saddam's. He has flouted international law and poses a serious and significant threat to the region and beyond, yet this threat can be resolved without force, by full disarmament verified by the inspectors. I hope that he makes the right choice. It is true that we, too, face some uncomfortable choices. But if Saddam continues to defy the international community, the alternative—us doing nothing—will be much worse. We will have re-empowered a monster.
We faced difficult choices over Kosovo, Afghanistan and Sierra Leone, but does anyone now say that we should not have taken action in respect of those countries? Eleven years ago, we faced difficult choices over Iraq, but to have stood by, then, and allowed Saddam free rein across the Arab world would have had dire and incalculable consequences for the region and for international security.
Abdication of responsibility, and equivocation in the face of evil, led Europe down a desperate path in the late 1930s. From the ashes was born the United Nations, and a new international order. But this international order requires law, and law requires enforcement. That is the issue before us today.
It is right that Parliament has been recalled to debate the serious and unfolding situation with regard to Iraq. It is also right that it does so in the light of the dossier published earlier today. I have to say, though, that it is regrettable that we have not been given more time fully to absorb the contents of that dossier before beginning this debate.
Over the past few weeks, there has been much discussion of the threat of weapons of mass destruction, of the evil intentions and history of Saddam Hussein and of the prospect of war. As a result, there has also been much concern, some of which I suspect we will hear forcefully and sincerely expressed today. I hope that all of us in the House will listen to those views with respect.
We support the Prime Minister's stance today. We share his analysis of the threat. We support the Government's attempts to secure a firm resolution from the United Nations Security Council. We, too, would like to see this issue resolved without recourse to armed intervention but, like the Government, we accept that military action may well in the end be necessary; and if it is, we will support it.
I want to set out our position on this issue as concisely and clearly as I can. I, too, have questions to ask and I will be seeking clarifications. We on the Opposition Benches are not pressing for war. We do not want war, and we do not seek it. I have spent a significant part of my political life working for peace, but not peace at any price: not peace at the cost of evil and destruction; not peace at the expense of the overriding duty to protect our citizens; and certainly not an uneasy peace for the short term leading to a greater violation of real peace in the longer term. If there is to be war, it must be because there is no other effective or lasting way of achieving our prime objective. That objective—as the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have said—has always been and must continue to be the elimination of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.
We now know from the dossier that the weapons exist or, at the very least, are in the course of development. We know that they will pose an increasing threat if their development is allowed to continue. The truth is simple. Biological and chemical weapons are lethal and they know no boundaries in the hands of wicked and unscrupulous men. We know that the next generation of delivery systems that Iraq is trying to obtain from North Korea will bring Europe within the range of these weapons. We know that nuclear capability is not far off, and we know that all this is in the hands of a megalomaniac who will have no scruples about using it to achieve his ends. There is no question but that the threat is there, and that it is real.
On the question of the perpetual nature of the Opposition's dealing with Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, will the right hon. Gentleman look up a question asked in April 1990, in which the then Conservative Government were asked to beef up the International Atomic Energy Agency's inspections of Iraq to see whether it had a nuclear weapons programme? The answer given by the then Member for Bristol, West—the Minister at the time—was that the Government had full confidence that Iraq, as a signatory to the non-proliferation programme, would not develop nuclear weapons, and that they did not intend to take the action urged by the hon. Member in question relating to inspections. Will not the right hon. Gentleman offer at least one mea culpa—
I would need notice of the hon. Gentleman's specific question, as I was not a Member of the House at that time. Let me say to him seriously that this shows how important it is to have the intelligence to know what is going on, and to have inspectors on the ground. He makes the case for the stance that the Prime Minister has taken today, which the Conservative party supports.
On the question of biological weapons, does the right hon. Gentleman accept that it was the United States that supplied Saddam Hussein with much of the material necessary to build up his biological weapons programme? Does he also accept the findings of the Scott report, which confirm that the Tory Government of the 1980s were willing and prepared to supply Saddam with military equipment, including plutonium, and that the export licences were signed to allow that to happen?
If the hon. Gentleman were to check what was going on then, he would find that material was made available also by the Soviet Union and other countries in Europe—[Interruption.] The point is simple: the lesson is that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction today; he is developing them, and they are a threat to the international community. Given what the hon. Gentleman has said about his concerns, I am surprised that he is not supporting the stance taken by his Prime Minister today.
I hope that when the Prime Minister meets the German Chancellor, he will show leadership and suggest to him that he was wrong in the stance that he took in his campaign. The Prime Minister might also remind the Chancellor of the German Republic that, if he is serious about a common foreign and security policy, what we have heard from him over the past few weeks is the complete antithesis of that.
Let me return to my remarks—
No. I shall make some progress because a lot of people want to speak. I shall see how I go; I may well come back to the hon. Gentleman in due course.
We must accept that achieving the objective of eliminating the weapons of mass destruction will almost certainly mean, one way or the other, the end of Saddam Hussein's regime. That is not a self-standing objective, nor should it be. It will, however, almost certainly be an inevitable consequence—or, indeed, even the sole means, in certain circumstances—of achieving our objective of eliminating weapons of mass destruction. That must remain the key objective. We have a responsibility first to pursue with vigour non-violent means of achieving it, but we must face the fact, as the Foreign Secretary did at the end of his remarks, that in the end this may require pre-emptive military action.
So long as and so far as the Government determinedly pursue that objective in those terms, they will have the support of the official Opposition. However, let me put our support in perspective. Our support is not unconditional and it will not give carte blanche to any action the Government might decide to take in the future. The objective of eliminating the weapons of mass destruction is crucial, but it must be done in the right way. There will undoubtedly be temptations to cut corners, and I say that there must be no cutting of corners. The stakes are enormous and go far beyond a limited campaign in Iraq.
The prize for getting it right is significant: it is the removal of a real and growing threat to our security from the continued development of WMD. But the prize is far more than that. The prize is a more stable middle east, no longer threatened by the dangerous ambitions of Saddam Hussein. The prize is a free democratic Iraq. The prize is a world in which dictators and terrorists who want to get their hands on, or to develop, nuclear, chemical or biological weapons of mass destruction will know that the international community will act with resolution to stop them if they try.
If we get it wrong, however, the cost is also significant. We cannot let Saddam get the better of us, once again running diplomatic rings round the international community as he continues to build up his arsenals. Nor can we afford to let the Islamic world believe, as it is inclined to do, that this is somehow about Islam. We cannot allow Iraq to descend into anarchy, or let the brutality of Saddam's regime be replaced by just another dictator or another reign of terror. That is why the way forward must be clearly drawn and the parameters unmistakably set out.
Essentially, that means four things: we must act to the greatest extent with the rest of the international community, as my right hon. Friend Mr. Redwood made clear. We must act legally—the Conservative party puts great store by the rule of law and will want to be assured throughout this process that international law is being pursued. If and when we have to act militarily, we must act with overwhelming and totally effective force. Before we start any such action, we should have a clear vision of the new Iraq that must replace the old and a comprehensive plan for realising it. I shall return to those points, but first I shall give way to Mr. Cook.
The right hon. Gentleman has emphasised the fact that we must not get it wrong. The Prime Minister told us with great firmness today that Iraq has biological and chemical weapons that can be ready in 45 minutes, which is a fraction of the time that we have been discussing this issue. Does the right hon. Gentleman believe that we shall be able to prevent Saddam from launching those weapons and making matters infinitely worse in the time when we are launching our first attack?
If we do nothing and do not deal with the weapons of mass destruction, the threat will be far greater next month and in the months ahead. As I shall make clear later, one comes to a stage in the development of those weapons where it is even more difficult to secure their removal and decommissioning.
I want to look at the four essentials that I have set out, and to make some progress.
First, we must, alongside the United States, vigorously pursue the UN resolution route set out by President Bush in his address to the United Nations. That important speech set out a course within which many international doubters have found reassurance. I know that because I was in Pakistan when that speech was made, and I addressed serious concerns there before and after the speech was made.
We must not, however, invest too much hope in the United Nations. We must recognise that Saddam Hussein sees the United Nations route as some kind of bazaar—one in which, as he has demonstrated over the past 10 years, he is adept at haggling. His price is never constant. He is always seeking to shift it further in his favour, and too often he has been allowed to get away with it. That must stop now.
The first way in which to stop that is by securing the right kind of resolution from the United Nations. That resolution will be a test of the United Nations' will to match up to the standards of its charter: it must be robust; it must contain three unambiguously stated elements; it must set out clearly the requirements that Iraq must meet, including unchallengeable obligations to the weapons inspectorate; it must have a firm and immutable time frame, within which the requirements must be met and the obligations fulfilled; and it must make it clear in unequivocal terms that failure to comply will, with the backing of the UN, immediately open the way for whatever effective action is appropriate to secure the objective of eliminating the weapons of mass destruction.
In describing his party's objectives, the right hon. Gentleman used the phrase "free and democratic Iraq". The Prime Minister did not use that phrase; he used the phrase "the integrity of Iraq". What happens if it is not possible to have both a free and democratic Iraq and the integrity of Iraq? Which is the more important: democracy or the integrity of Iraq?
We first have to achieve the elimination of the weapons of mass destruction. I shall come a little later to what I believe the Government should be addressing in terms of the future of Iraq.
So far as the UN resolution is concerned, there must be no qualifications, no escape hatches and no room for haggling. The message must be clear to Saddam Hussein: one way or other, the game is up, and it is up for ever.
Any action that we take cannot go off at half cock. We must be prepared to contribute to the US initiative all the force and capability required to succeed and succeed quickly. If military action begins in Iraq we must, with our allies, pursue it with overwhelming force and single purpose. Our engagement must be swift and effective.
Our forces are already stretched from Sierra Leone through the Balkans to Afghanistan. Can the Foreign Secretary or the Minister of State reassure the House that the Government will ensure that whatever resources are needed will be made available? Are manpower, equipment and ordnance available and ready for the task that may lie ahead?
The right hon. Gentleman has used the words "overwhelming force" three times already. Does "overwhelming force" include the use of B61-11s? Those are the earth-penetrating nuclear weapons which, we are told, are based in the British Indian ocean territory of Diego Garcia. If there is to be overwhelming force, and if it is to involve nuclear weapons, with the B2 bombers that are based in the hangars at Diego Garcia, ought not the House of Commons to be told about it?
The force that will be required is that which is appropriate and most effective in achieving the objective. I am certainly not going to speculate at this stage on what that force will be. Indeed, at this particular stage we need to make it clear that the United Nations resolution is the first objective to be fulfilled: only if Saddam breaches that will we consider the second option.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that if diplomacy fails and force has to be used, we must do all that we can to ensure the safety of any service men whom we commit to that force, given the threat of biological or chemical weapons? Does he also agree that this time there must not be the haphazard method of immunisation and vaccination that caused so much distress and grief after the Gulf war? If a Defence Minister is to respond to the debate, will my right hon. Friend ask him to give us a substantial assurance that plans now exist to ensure the safety of our troops if they should be committed?
I thank my hon. Friend for that important question. I am sure that the Minister of State for Defence heard what he had to say. We must learn the lessons of some of the problems that have arisen in the past, and I hope that the Minister will reassure us that that is now being done.
We must have a clear vision of the Iraq that we want to see emerge from any conflict, and that we shall need to stand ready to help to build. It is not enough simply to stop Saddam achieving a nuclear arsenal; it is not enough simply to stop his brutal reign of fear. We need to know what comes next. We need to hear from the Government that there is a blueprint—that there are plans and resources—so that a democratic, prosperous and renewed Iraq can quickly enter the family of nations and the global economy.
If we can persuade the world that we are genuinely looking beyond Saddam and that we have worked out the detail of what must come after him, we will be that much more likely to bring the world with us. If we can convey powerfully enough a vibrant vision of the new Iraq, we will be that much more likely to bring the people of Iraq with us as well.
All this will also have important implications in the middle east and the Arab world. I heard what the Prime Minister had to say about the middle east, and I support his call for renewed dialogue to achieve the two-state solution. We must also be aware of the potential knock-on effects in other Arab countries in the region, and of the dangers of destabilisation. The last thing we want is the destabilisation of Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia or the Gulf states in general. We need a clear, positive and saleable picture of a post-Saddam middle east that creates stability and encourages prosperity. How much diplomatic consultation—I ask this of the Foreign Secretary—is taking place to ensure that that happens? How much work is being done to ensure that, post-Saddam, international oil prices, for example, will be objectively balanced rather than politically skewed?
The threat from Iraq's weapons of mass destruction is there, and it is growing. International terrorism and its potential involvement in the use of such weapons compound that threat. But the key question will still be asked, and has been asked today: is all this enough to justify war? I believe that if the robust UN resolution route fails to materialise, or if Saddam Hussein treats it with his usual contempt, the justification for military action exists. The weapons of mass destruction must be eliminated before they can be developed to a level at which they become their own deterrent against their elimination, and an even greater threat as a result.
Then there will remain the question "Why now?" When is the time ever absolutely right for action, and how often has inaction or postponed action led to an even worse threat and greater attrition? There are certain defining moments in history which are either seized or missed irrevocably. The cost of missing them is always high, almost invariably in terms of human suffering and destruction. I believe that we are facing a defining moment now. If we fail to seize it, our responsibility for what could follow will be grave indeed.
We need to ask whether, if between 1933 and 1936 the international community had managed to mobilise the determination and action to prevent German rearmament, the horrors of the second world war might have been avoided. On that occasion timidity and caution, and the principle of avoiding conflict, triumphed. Of course history never repeats itself, but the lessons are there to be learned.
The House is rightly anxious—it would be extraordinary if it were not—but I believe that the worst thing we could do now would be to show uncertainty in the face of what is an undeniably serious and mounting threat to us all. We are all searching for peace—a peace that these weapons of mass destruction threaten. Peace can never be bought cheaply; often it can be found only in grave decisions and in readiness for war. None of us rejoices in the prospect of military conflict, but we know that peace can never sit quietly alongside the horrific development of Saddam Hussein's germs, gas and, eventually, nuclear weapons. That would be the peace of the deliberately averted gaze, and it would end in tears.
Our message to Saddam Hussein today is blunt and simple. "You have reached the end of the road; destroy your weapons or we will do it for you."
History has demonstrated that when the House shows its courage and united determination, it can turn the tide of events. I hope that today we can find that courage and that determination, and send the message across the world that here in Britain the despot and the terrorist will never be allowed to win—and that if we have to fight to achieve that, we will.
This has been a vigorous and questioning debate, as befits a matter of peace and war. I hope that it will be the start of a process involving further debates on the Floor of the House, in Committees and elsewhere, so that a real dialogue can take place between the Government and the public—and, of course, here in Parliament.
We might ask ourselves what would have been different had the debate been held eight days ago, before Saddam Hussein's offer of unconditional entry by weapons inspectors. Before that, the course appeared fairly clear, pointing towards two resolutions—probably United Nations resolutions—the second being tabled in the event of further defiance. Have any of the essentials changed since last Monday?
Tariq Aziz, Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister, argues that there can now be an unconditional return of weapons inspectors. Are sanctions to be lifted? Saddam Hussein himself has given a firm assurance that
"Iraq is clear of all nuclear, chemical and biological weapons".
I hope that no one in the House believes that, and that we shall proceed in a spirit of total scepticism in regard to anything said in that respect. Now, however, the unconditional acceptance of weapons inspectors has been qualified by questions of national sovereignty, and the issue of the palaces looms.
The United States may also be in danger of making fresh demands. Certainly many key figures have considered weapons inspections irrelevant in the past. The President was prepared to allow the Vice-President to make spine-chilling speeches about the irrelevance of weapons inspectors and about what may be a total illusion—that people would be dancing in the streets at the time of regime change. He appeared to be boxing the President in, the only way out of the box being, possibly, military action. The Administration are of course, not noted for their multilateralism.
The essential facts remain, and most of us find them troubling. There are unanswered questions. Has the policy shift from containment to regime change been mainly the result of the change in the US Administration? Would President Gore have followed a different policy? Are the consequences of military action likely to be more positive than negative?
Everyone in the House would have to concede that a powerful case could be made against any form of military action. There is no immediate casus belli as there was in Kuwait or Afghanistan. Serious concerns include the extent of civilian casualties and the fact that unilateral action would be a bad precedent.
We do not want a law of pre-emptive self-defence to be developed, as it could be highly dangerous. How long would the western powers retain the support of their electorates for military action? There is a danger of regional destabilisation, and might not chemical and biological weapons be used against Israel in an attempt to inflame the whole area? There is a danger of Iraq fragmenting. How long would the US be committed? Is there an exit strategy? Any successor regime that is seen to be a client regime of the USA could be unstable. There is also the possibility of long-term damage to relations between Arab states and the west: more terrorism, more hatred, more humiliation.
Equally, there are compelling arguments against inaction. As the Prime Minister cogently said, there is a threat and it has to be dealt with, and that may ultimately require military action. With all the doubts and uncertainties, Saddam Hussein remains a major problem. He is a master of deceit and delay. The claim that Iraq stopped the production of weapons of mass destruction after December 1998 is totally unrealistic, as the dossier shows.
How, then, do we respond? Any steps taken must clearly be through the United Nations. We need a new resolution with a stringent timetable. The credibility of the United Nations is clearly at stake.
Saddam Hussein has, as a criminal lawyer would say, form as long as your arm. Scepticism is amply justified. We can point to a long list of his previous acts of deception, and it seems that the game of cat and mouse is about to begin again. Already, he is apparently qualifying the "unconditional" offer of acceptance, and the dossier shows very clearly that he is already attempting to hide weapons and information from future inspectors. "Unconditional" should be non-negotiable. The goal is not just inspections but practical disarmament. We should keep our eye on the ball: disarmament and the removal of weapons of mass destruction, not regime change. That is a key difference between ourselves and our US team-mates.
There is of course concern about the US approach and the new doctrine of pre-emption. Is the US serious about dealing with weapons of mass destruction? If so, it would co-operate more with international arms control treaties. For example, we would like to see a more constructive attitude towards the protocol to the biological weapons convention. Is there a broad US strategy for the middle east?
On our own Government's role, the evidence is clear that the Prime Minister has been a key and positive influence—along with others, including Baker, Scowcroft and Secretary of State Powell—on the US President, persuading him to take the UN route, against considerable pressure from others in his entourage, even though it effectively means the President vacating the driving seat, and bringing him round to linking this with the middle east peace process, which he was not initially prepared to do.
The Government have a key role to play at the UN, drafting a resolution and building an international coalition. We must pursue the UN route realistically. I commend the Government on providing the dossier, which is a very British document, low-key and with no hyperbole, but sober and chilling. I also commend today's recall. Parliament and the public, especially given their considerable scepticism, must be very much a part of the debate. I am delighted that the Foreign Secretary is to appear before the Foreign Affairs Committee tomorrow, and that the Prime Minister is following the precedent of last September and is prepared to see—regularly, I hope—representatives of all the Select Committees.
This is a continuing process, and no action is immediately in contemplation. It is a dynamic situation, with many unknowns. We hope that some of those will be clarified in the process. There is likely to be a considerable time before key questions on the military option arise. In the meantime, we should certainly concentrate on the UN route, with deliberation and with firm resolve, and we must ensure, as far as we can through diplomacy and the UN, that Saddam Hussein disarms.
Towards the end of his statement, the Prime Minister robustly asserted the value of the relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States of America. There was much in what he said with which I agreed, but when the lives of British service men and women may be put at risk, it is neither anti-American to question the policies of the Bush Administration nor unpatriotic to question those of our own Government. Our ultimate duty is to those who send us to Parliament, not to the foreign policy of our allies, however sympathetic we may feel and however close our relations, both personal and strategic, may be.
These are complex matters, so I want to set out some of the principles that I shall try to use as a guide. No country should ever exclude the use of military force if that is the only way to protect the security and safety of its citizens, but as both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have already confirmed today, to be consistent with the principles of international law, war must be a last resort, after all other diplomatic and political alternatives have failed. There is no principle of international law that authorises regime change by means of military force. Indeed, article 2 of the UN charter expressly prohibits it.
All UN Security Council resolutions should carry equal weight, whether they impose unilateral or bilateral obligations. All members of the Security Council have a duty to see that those resolutions are carried out, and permanent members have a particular responsibility in that regard.
We can all agree—it has already been a measure of the debate—that Saddam Hussein is an evil tyrant with no regard for the sanctity of human life, for either his own citizens or the people of other countries. We all agree that he is in flagrant breach of a series of UN resolutions, and in particular those relating to his duty to allow the inspection, and indeed participate in the destruction, of his weapons of mass destruction. We can also agree that he most certainly has chemical and biological weapons and is working towards a nuclear capability. The dossier contains confirmation of information that we either knew or most certainly should have been willing to assume.
I hope that we can also agree that we have a moral and a legal obligation to test the validity of the stated unconditional offer of
It may well be true that, legally, no new Security Council resolutions are required for the resumption of inspections. It may well be true that, legally, no new resolution is required for the use of force to implement resolution 687. Indeed, the existence of that authority was the only possible legal foundation for the actions taken in December 1998. However, I have no doubt that, from a political and a diplomatic point of view, a new United Nations resolution is essential.
I fully agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman that we must explore the apparent offer of inspections. We cannot be in the position of not taking yes for an answer. However, does he agree that if some kind of military enforcement is needed, the choice is not necessarily between doing nothing and a full-scale invasion and regime change, and that it might be possible to threaten the destruction of specific sites to which we are not given access and where we believe weapons to be?
As the hon. Gentleman remembers, the military action taken in December 1998 consisted of a sustained bombing campaign against those installations from which the inspectors had been excluded. That was thought to be appropriate and sufficient at the time. If we are driven to military action, a range of options is always possible.
Against the legal and factual background that I have set out, I believe that we are entitled to test Government policy and to ask questions to which the House and the public are entitled to have answers. Will the Foreign Secretary confirm what he has been reported to have said—that if unconditional, unfettered and effective inspections take place, military action will recede to the point of invisibility?
Where is the evidence that containment and deterrence have failed to the point at which military action is deemed necessary? Do the Government and the House agree that if a fraction of the resources that would be spent on military action had been spent on containment, containment might have been much more effective than it has been? On deterrence, where is the evidence that someone who has devoted his whole life to self-preservation would take action that would result in massive and inevitably fatal retaliation? Where is the evidence that Saddam Hussein now rejects the unequivocal assertion made by James Baker to Tariq Aziz on the eve of the Gulf war that if weapons of mass destruction were used, the response would be disproportionate?
What are the answers to those lethally eloquent questions of Mr. John Major last week, which, surprisingly, were not taken up today by the Leader of the Opposition? What is the exit strategy? Who will replace Saddam Hussein? How long would coalition troops be required to remain in Iraq? Will Iraq split up?
If, as is eloquently demonstrated by the dossier and if, as we are entitled to assume, Saddam Hussein has chemical and biological weapons, what assessment is being made of the likelihood that he would use them against attacking forces? What assessment is being made of the likelihood that he would use them against Israel? What would be the consequences for the stability of the middle east if Israel were attacked and felt compelled to respond with nuclear weapons?
These are not fanciful questions, nor are the anxieties that they convey confined to one party. They are felt by many of our constituents, as the correspondence that we have received in our postbags in the past few weeks confirms beyond any question.
As we are in the game of asking questions for answers, perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman would answer a specific question. When Mr. Kennedy first made his position clear on the "Today" programme, he was pressed on a number of occasions to say whether he thought that military action was conceivable if Saddam Hussein did not comply fully with the UN resolutions. He refused point blank to accept such a prospect and kept saying that the only action was diplomatic. Today we hear from the right hon. and learned Gentleman that somehow the Liberal Democrats have slid across a position that they held earlier. Is not the real question the position of the Liberal Democrats with regard to military action?
The transcripts of interviews on the "Today" programme speak for themselves. There is no doubt whatever about the position of the Liberal Democrats on this matter. If there is any question of military action, it is a matter of last resort when other diplomatic and political initiatives are removed.
If the right hon. Gentleman is now concerned about a willingness to commit British troops, let me remind him of the occasions when Lord Ashdown challenged the Government from the Liberal Democrat Benches to commit troops to Bosnia, to support the so-called safe havens of Srebrenica and was shouted down by the serried ranks of Conservative Members, most of whom are no longer in the House. Let me remind the right hon. Gentleman that when he and I were covering similar responsibilities, there was, shall we say, a certain reluctance on his part about Kosovo. Let me remind him that his Conservative spokesman said that we should not send a battalion of Gurkhas to East Timor.
When it comes to committing military force for clear political objectives, we will take no lessons from the right hon. Gentleman. [Interruption.] If he is so anxious about the anxieties that I have expressed, I suggest that he takes them up with Mr. Ainsworth who, in an eloquent article in The Spectator last week, spoke, I suspect, for many in the House and in the country. The right hon. Gentleman might also discuss these anxieties with Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Lord Hurd, two distinguished former Conservative Foreign Secretaries. There will be some in the House and outside who, for strong moral reasons, are opposed to military action. We should recognise and respect that.
We must remember that the United Nations is not some third party to whom we have subcontracted our security responsibilities. It is no more and no less than the sum of its members.
We should also never forget that after Halabja in March 1998 and after the ceasefire in the Iran-Iraq war in August 1998, in which Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons, the United Kingdom continued to allow credit facilities to Iraq for the purpose of arms-related equipment. If right hon. and hon. Members need any text or any foundation for that, I recommend that they read page 462 of volume 1 of the report of the inquiry conducted by Sir Richard Scott, as he then was.
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I will try to make progress.
It is not enough to question; one has an obligation on these occasions to set out the course of action that one would follow oneself. I believe that the stated willingness to admit inspectors must be tested, and in good faith. I believe that the Government should do everything in their power to see that inspection, destruction and disarmament can be made to work. However, I also believe that any new United Nations resolution must be framed in terms that are not deliberately designed to provoke. A new resolution should set deadlines for stages of inspection that are realistic and consistent with the technical programme of Hans Blix. If there is to be a new resolution, it must be in terms strong enough to allow the inspectors to go into every nook and cranny in Iraq, including the so-called presidential palaces. If, having fulfilled all those obligations and responsibilities, we have sought to implement Saddam's offer and he fails to meet deadlines or thwarts or obstructs inspections, military action may be necessary. If he repeats the previous pattern of behaviour, he will have lost the last shreds of any defence that he might have had against military action.
The Prime Minister was at pains not to link directly the middle east peace process with Iraq, but one does not have to go very far in Arab capitals before senior Government members raise the issue of the middle east peace process and link it to Iraq. The Prime Minister was right to say that the need for progress in the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians is vital for its own intrinsic worth, but we cannot escape the fact that, in the minds of many in the middle east, our failure to develop sufficient impetus behind that undermines any claim that we might have to sincerity over the matter of Iraq.
I have followed the right hon. and learned Gentleman's comments closely and agree with much of what he has said. However, on his point about Iraqi non-compliance and military action being necessary, can he say who should decide at that point whether such action should be taken?
It must be the United Nations, under its resolution. It must be responsible for determining whether the resolution has been breached and whether, in those circumstances, military action will be required. I am sorry that I did not spell that out, I thought it was implicit in what I had said.
I thought that I had gone to some lengths to say that the question of whether deadlines were being met or whether inspections were free and unfettered must be for the technical judgment of Mr. Hans Blix, not the political judgment of others, who might have a different approach.
I make my next point with a certain amount of reticence, but it is important to say that Mr. Sharon must be advised that any attempt to use the focus on Iraq as cover for illegitimate action against the Palestinians will not be tolerated. I believe that military action involving the United Kingdom should be endorsed by a substantive vote in the House of Commons before any of our forces are committed. In some senses it would be a constitutional innovation, leaving aside the Scottish National party's motion of some 10 years ago, but were I in the Prime Minister's position, I would welcome such a vote.
I do not shrink from the conclusion that military action may be required, but I am firmly of the view that it must be the last resort. It must be consistent with international law and must be authorised by the United Nations and endorsed by the House of Commons.
I am sure that the Government will welcome the official Opposition's robust abstentions later today. Despite the rhetoric, there does appear to be, if not a consensus, a great deal of agreement on the basic principles on which the Government should proceed in the next few weeks or months or perhaps even early into next year.
In the many years that I have been in the House, there have been grave debates, usually at 10-year intervals—about the same as earthquakes in the west midlands. We had the Falklands in 1982, the Gulf war in 1991 and a cluster of wars around 2000. In almost every case there has been fundamental support from all political parties. There have been dissenters, and I wish to endorse the view that one should not disparage the opinions of those whose views differ from those of the official party leaderships, just as I hope that they will exercise the same acceptance of those who take a different view and interpret evidence in a different way.
I welcome today's document because it goes some way towards convincing the doubters—there are many—that there appear to be substantial grounds for taking firm action, whatever form that might take. I would prefer to proceed along the diplomatic route with the United Nations.
If we vote tonight, we will not be voting to endorse war. It would be a foolish person who would endorse a call to arms without proper discussion and rational consideration. It would be equally foolish to endorse the view that there should be no military action in any circumstances, unless one were a pacifist and deeply religious.
Conflict, if it takes place, is many months away. Mr. Campbell mentioned a number of principles that he would wish to examine, and any rational politician would do likewise. When the furore erupted five or six weeks ago I wanted to establish the criteria that I would look at closely, not because I had any particular influence but because I wanted to be satisfied about my view before being called on to say whether this country should go to war.
The first and most obvious criterion is that evidence must be presented that is sufficiently coherent and based on a wide variety of sources to prove that there is a threat, that Saddam has weapons of mass destruction, that he is acquiring more of them and that he has the intention of using them. I have gone some way towards being convinced of that, but there is still some way to go.
I am sorry, but I do not have the time.
It is important that the Security Council expresses its view. I hope that it will be in favour of the argument that there must be strong and intrusive inspections. We must not see the Security Council as a bunch of platonic philosopher kings or a dozen Henry Fondas, who weigh up arguments rationally and perfectly and then deliver a judicially perfect judgment. Each country has its own agenda and will be motivated, through its representatives, to take a view that is more likely to reflect what its leadership requires than what is necessary for the international community. I hope that the United States is not simply pretending to go down the route of diplomacy and that it has a dual policy of putting pressure on Iraq by military mobilisation alongside persuasion through the United Nations.
Secondly, I hope that there will be a new resolution that will give the United Nations the authority that it requires for proper inspections by as many inspectors as are required. There should be no restriction on the inspectors' country of origin and they should have the right to roam anywhere they wish at any time. There must be an insistence that the inspectors will not be subverted while trying to carry out their instructions.
One has only to talk to inspectors or read their biographies or read the report from the International Institute for Strategic Studies or the report we have seen today to know that the inspectors were deceived, lied to and spied on. We know that evidence was concealed and redeployed, visits were blocked and documents were forged and that the inspectors were excluded and prevented from doing the job that they were instructed to undertake. Yet, despite that obstruction, they were able to do a reasonably good job. Surely we do not want the UN returning because Saddam Hussein said last week or his spokesman said a week ago, "Yes, come along and inspect", as subsequently he has laid down a number of caveats that show every sign of providing the kind of fatal obstacles that UN inspectors were forced to work around before they were unceremoniously booted out.
My third criterion was that there should be a credible military strategy with considerable thought given to what the consequences would be if war were undertaken and strong consideration given to post-operation peace support.
My fourth criterion was satisfied by what my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary said. Action must be taken to address and, we hope, resolve the crisis in Palestine and Israel. Although it is easy for people to say that there is no linkage between the two issues, in my opinion they are umbilically linked. Unless progress is made on that front, not only will it be wrong not to knock heads together diplomatically and politically, but there will be no likelihood of the middle east giving substantial or even modest support to any action that is taken. I believe that the Government have moved very strongly on that front.
Fifthly, I said six weeks ago that there should be a parliamentary debate and I am certainly satisfied in that respect. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said that there will be further debates and I am inclined to the view that some consideration should be given to providing more than simply a broad debate.
My sixth criterion was that George Bush Jr. should succeed his father in developing a formal and informal alliance. Not only is that desirable, but the alliance formed during the last Gulf war was imperative in providing legitimacy for military action as well as indicating that it was a world response.
We know that Saddam is hiding an arsenal of potentially lethal weapons. UNSCOM was unable to confirm the destruction of many biological and chemical armaments as inspectors were constantly blocked from entering sites, so now is the time for Saddam Hussein to prove once and for all to the international community that he is willing to work within the UN and to allow inspectors in soon, free from harassment. If that happens, and if he fears there will be rather stronger action if he does not accede, that will improve the likelihood of inspectors being allowed in and of weapons of mass destruction being identified and destroyed and—as I and most right hon. and hon. Members hope sincerely—that will be sufficient to justify the end of the game and there will be no requirement for military action. If it fails however, as the spokesman for the Opposition—or rather the third Opposition said—I fear that military action will be inevitable.
As my right hon. Friend Mr. Ancram said, the central question that the House has to face is whether we are prepared to authorise war or a course of action likely to lead to war. I recognise that we can only make a judgment on the facts as they are known today. Those facts may change, and if they do, as individuals we must be ready to change our conclusions.
Facing the facts as they are known to the House today, I have come to the conclusion that war is not justified. My principal conclusion and the reason for that conclusion is that I do not think the threat we face is either sufficiently grave or sufficiently imminent to provide the moral basis for war. I shall develop that argument in a moment, but first let me say that I believe there are a number of practical, military, political and diplomatic objections to war, many of which were touched on by my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes in the questions that he posed.
I would like to illustrate the nature of those problems by raising a number of questions that I do not purport to be able to answer today. First, what is the military strategy, how many troops will be engaged, where are the bases and what are the military risks? Secondly, will the Arab states rally behind the purpose and provide bases for a coalition? Thirdly, what will Prime Minister Sharon do if Iraq attacks Israel? Fourthly, would Iraq survive as a unitary state, and if it seemed likely that Iraq would collapse, what would be the impact on regional stability in the middle east? How long would coalition forces have to remain in Iraq after an attack and, perhaps most profound of all, what is the likely impact on middle eastern opinion or perhaps on our wider relationship with the Islamic world if we commit ourselves to war?
I do not know the answers to those questions, but the probable answer to most of them raises a powerful case against war which only the most powerful arguments in a contrary sense would surely displace.
My real objection to war is a moral one. I do not believe now, looking at the evidence that we have, that there exists a moral justification for war and I do not wish to sanction a range of policies likely to lead to that event.
I am not a pacifist. I am a strong supporter of American engagement in world defence. I accept too that war, even pre-emptive war, can be justified. Proportionate self-defence accords with one's notions of international and national law, personal morality, and indeed, common sense.
For obvious reasons, I have to concede that at the time of the last Gulf war I was the Foreign Office Minister of State immediately responsible for departmental decisions concerning the middle east. In that capacity, I supported and participated in decisions that resulted in war. However, we must always keep in mind how terrible war can be. We have been extremely lucky in the conflicts of the past 20 years. In the Falklands, in the Gulf, in Yugoslavia and in Afghanistan the costs have been remarkably low, but when we authorise war we sanction action that may result in the deaths of thousands or in injury to many thousands of our own troops and citizens, but also to the Iraqis, in this case, many or perhaps even most of whom will be wholly innocent of blame.
If the concept of self-defence is to provide a moral justification for the giving of such authority, either the state against which that military action is being taken must have embarked on an act of aggression or there must be compelling evidence that such a state poses a grave and imminent threat of aggression either within its region, to its neighbours or to ourselves and our friends and allies.
We had to fight the second world war because of the German acts of aggression. The attack by what is now North Korea justified the action in Korea. We were right to use force in the Falklands, Kuwait and Afghanistan. To use another example, had the United States been aware of the Japanese carrier fleet sailing towards Pearl Harbour a pre-emptive strike would have been justified. Surely the nature of those illustrations where self-defence was invoked indicates how rare the cases really are. Surely we have to adhere closely to the proposition that we can invoke self-defence only when we face an act of aggression or it seems likely that one is imminent. Here we have to make a judgment and I am the first to admit that judgments in this sphere are extraordinarily difficult.
Saddam, as the dossier makes plain, is an evil, wicked man, an aggressor and a killer who has acquired weapons of mass destruction and has no moral inhibitions about using them. However, I do not think that he is irrational. He must know, and I believe that he does know, and he must understand, and I believe that he understands, the consequences to Iraq, himself and his regime if he uses force against his neighbours or the western alliance. Throughout the cold war we based our security on the concept of deterrence. Ultimately the Soviet Union collapsed. In this case, too, we should base our security on a concept of deterrence, not on a pre-emptive strike.
I have two final points to make. First, in a democracy public opinion will sustain a war only if the justification for it is overwhelmingly clear—so clear that the public will view the horror shown on their television screens being done in their name and comment, "It has to be done." I do not believe that public opinion will be satisfied that war in Iraq is justified. To lead a country into war without overwhelming public support seems not just wrong, but profoundly dangerous.
Secondly—this point follows on from what the Father of the House said and from what I have articulated here previously—in a democracy no Government should commit forces to war without the authority of this House expressed on a substantive motion, so that those who oppose war can seek to change the policy by their vote. To commit Britain to war relying on the royal prerogative and without the explicit authority of this House seems to be an affront to democracy.
I echo what Mr. Hogg said about the affront to democracy. I shall set an example by making a speech which is much shorter than 10 minutes. It is in the form of a question, and it is apposite that a Minister from the Ministry of Defence should be answering this debate.
My hon. Friend Jeremy Corbyn and I have been much involved in the case of the Chagos islanders. Their lawyers told us of a problem with the Ilois returning to Diego Garcia because of the building of six huge temperature-controlled hangars. We were asked what we would do to protest to the Government about that. We asked what the hangars were for. Apparently they are for B52 bombers and, particularly, B2 bombers that have to be repaired and maintained in a particular temperature. Why does one have B2 bombers? It is particularly to carry earth-penetrating nuclear weapons, specifically the B61-11.
My question, which I hope will be addressed in the reply, is this: we are talking about a British base, the British Indian Ocean Territory, of which Diego Garcia is a part and which is a House of Commons responsibility. The House of Commons should be told if nuclear weapons, albeit tactical, earth-penetrating nuclear weapons to destroy bunkers—one can understand why the American air force may wish to have this particular weapon in relation to Iraq—are to be launched from British soil, with or without agreement by the United States air force. We should be told in the winding-up speech tonight.
I have only a few points to make and I shall endeavour to be brief.
First, the issue is not about human rights in Iraq. The Foreign Secretary made great play of them and the dossier covers them. We need no persuading that Saddam Hussein's regime is about the most evil in the world today. It has committed atrocities on a scale unseen almost anywhere else, but that does not justify armed intervention in Iraq. If I may say so, it is something of a red herring. The debate is about something wider, more important and of greater application to the world outside Iraq.
Secondly, there can be no controversy about the evidence that Saddam Hussein has developed, and is continuing to develop apace, weapons of mass destruction. The dossier, which puts forward the evidence in a calm and measured way, makes the case conclusively. Surely that can no longer be a matter of dispute.
Thirdly, does Saddam having and developing such weapons amount to a threat sufficient in immediacy and gravity to justify armed military intervention, even as a last resort? As my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Hogg said in a powerful, lucid and cogent speech—I am afraid that I did not agree with much of it—the threat issue is a matter of judgment. Everyone has to make their judgment about the gravity and immediacy of that threat.
We must look at other countries that have developed weapons of mass destruction, especially nuclear weapons, and ask ourselves what it is that distinguishes Iraq from, for example, India, Pakistan or even Iran. The answer is that there is clear evidence from the history of the Saddam Hussein regime that it is fundamentally an aggressive regime. He has developed these weapons, not as an instrument of deterrence to deter attacks on Iraq, but as weapons of aggression. In the past 20 years, the regime has twice invaded its neighbours. On a number of occasions, it has launched ballistic missiles against neighbouring states. It is not a regime under external threat that has developed these weapons to create a mutual deterrence, as is the case with India and Pakistan—regrettably, perhaps, but one can understand the reason for them doing so. Those considerations do not apply to Iraq.
In my judgment, this threat is clear, serious and present enough to justify decisive intervention by the international community in whatever shape that takes to enforce a disarmament of the regime.
My fourth point is about the threat to the stability of the middle east and was raised by my right hon. and learned Friend and others. We should be very clear about this: the greatest threat to the stability of the middle east is Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction. Quite apart from the actual attacks that he has mounted against his neighbours in the past 20 years, the fact that he consistently sponsors suicide attacks by Palestinians helps to prevent the peace process that we all yearn to be restarted from resuming. It is hard to see how the successful disarming and removal of Saddam Hussein can do anything other than contribute to the stability of the middle east.
Of course, the same concerns were expressed before the Gulf war, 12 years ago, but in fact the successful conclusion of the Gulf war was the trigger for the start of the Oslo process—
Sadly, it has come to a halt, but there has been massive progress in that time. There is not the chasm that existed between the positions of Israelis and Palestinians at that time. Unfortunately, the movement has, been insufficient, but there has been movement and that has created greater stability in the region.
My fifth point relates to the legitimacy of potential military intervention. I earnestly hope that there will be a further Security Council resolution, to test out the offer—if we can call it such—that Saddam Hussein has made to allow in inspectors without conditions, but such a resolution is worth while only if it allows the sincerity of that offer to be tested very quickly indeed, with very specific conditions. It must set out specific locations, which must be open to inspection in a completely unfettered way, very quickly—in a matter of weeks rather than months, or at most of very, very few months. A Security Council resolution that permitted Saddam Hussein a prolonged period in which he could exercise his undoubted skills of procrastination, which diffused and dissipated the will in the international community to enforce the already settled resolutions of the United Nations, would be a grave mistake. If no such resolution can be procured, I believe that the existing resolutions, if they are further ignored and obstructed, would legitimise military enforcement by the international community. That international community may, I concede, consist of no more than the United States and the United Kingdom, but it would be acting not in the interests of American imperialism, as was rather offensively suggested yesterday, but genuinely in the interests of upholding the will of the international community as already expressed in United Nations Security Council resolutions.
I have only a moment left and I have another point to make, so I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me.
My final point is about that relationship with the United States. I do not believe that British foreign policy should be a pale reflection of American foreign policy, I do not believe that the Prime Minister should be, in that rather offensive phrase, a poodle of the American President, and I do not believe that the current Prime Minister is behaving in that way. But I do believe that it is a completely legitimate aim of British foreign policy to uphold and support what has been the most important relationship for security and peace in the modern world. Unhelpful references to imperialism—particularly coming, as they did, from people who only recently were lamenting American isolationism—gravely damage that relationship.
I hope, as everyone does, that it will be possible for military intervention to be avoided, but I believe that if the will of the international community, through the Security Council resolutions, continues to be ignored and obstructed, the House should steel itself to do what it has always been ready to do in such circumstances, which is to accept the use of military force to enforce those resolutions.
Looking around the House today, I see relatively few Members who were present when I spoke in a previous debate resulting from the recall of Parliament. I see my hon. Friend Mr. Soley, who at the time represented Hammersmith, and my hon. Friend Mr. Dalyell, who were there. That was on
On that occasion we were debating the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands and the then Tory Government's decision to use military force to regain them. I was one of the very few Members, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow, who then opposed sending the taskforce. In the debate, I said:
"I am against the military action for which so many have asked because I dread the consequences that will befall the people of our country and the people of the Falkland Islands."—[Hansard, 3 April 1982; Vol. 21, c. 661.]
I think that my hon. Friend will recall that some years later, when I was an Opposition foreign affairs spokesperson, I vigorously opposed the United States' invasion of Grenada. Given the same circumstances, I would do exactly the same on both occasions again. Therefore my predisposition has been, and still is, to oppose military force unless there remains no alternative, and I have not been uncritical of the United States on a number of occasions when I thought it justified.
I also recognise, however, that we need to learn from experience. It can be argued that in both Argentina and Grenada the return of multi-party democracy was at least in part due to the military intervention. I wish that some of my hon. Friends had the humility to enable them to learn from the past. For example, as my hon. Friend David Winnick said so eloquently in a previous debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow was spectacularly wrong in his dire predictions on Kuwait, Kosovo and Afghanistan, so why is he more likely to be right now in his judgment on Iraq? A few—I am glad that it is just a few—of my hon. Friends seem more willing to accept the word of a dictator, who has twice invaded his neighbours and who has gassed to death thousands of his own people, than that of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, the leader of our party. I find it astonishing, and it smacks of ulterior motives.
I came to this debate with four specific concerns. First, I share the view that the United Nations Security Council should be centrally involved in the debate on action against Saddam. But, as we heard earlier, that is exactly what our Government have been in the forefront of ensuring. Secondly, I believe that an all-out military invasion must be seen as a last resort. Incidentally, there are many ways in which our forces can be mobilised short of an all-out military invasion. The mere hint of the threat of force has already resulted in Saddam's first concession. To keep the dictator to his word and to move him forward, that pressure must be maintained, not withdrawn.
Thirdly, I hope that the Government will take a further initiative to prepare for the situation in Iraq when Saddam finally goes, by whatever means. The Iraqi people have suffered too much already, and they deserve at least a chance of a decent Government when the dictator goes.
My final concern, which has been expressed by others, is that we give as much attention to bringing justice to the Palestinians as we are now devoting to Iraq. I know, from my visit to the Israeli Labour party conference, and from my discussions with the Prime Minister—he also said so again today—that there is greater determination in both to achieve a peaceful solution in the middle east than they are often given credit for. We shall all be able to give more time and greater attention to that when we are rid of the Iraqi dictator and his threat to us all.
As my four concerns have been met by the Foreign Secretary and by the Prime Minister today, I give my full, wholehearted support to the Government.
I have not finished yet; I have got a few more minutes.
My support is certainly more wholehearted than the Opposition's, but I want to say one last word about media coverage. After my premature exit from the Government in May, I was approached on two or three occasions by the "Today" programme. When those involved found out that I was not critical of the Government, like some other ex-Ministers, I heard no more from them. Last week, the Financial Times asked my view on Iraq, but it never appeared in its report—too supportive of the Government, no doubt.
No doubt, once again, it will be the usual suspects who hit the headlines and, no doubt, that will delight them. Whether it is innate anti-Americanism—there is some—whether it is a grievance against the Government because of ambitions thwarted or cut short, or whether it is a love of the limelight, there is no excuse for giving comfort to the dictator and making it more likely that he uses the chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. If, by their action, they halt or even delay action to stop Saddam and, as a result, he causes death and destruction once again, it must be on their consciences.
I sympathise with Mr. Foulkes about his blackout from the "Today" programme. I also thought that his departure from the Government was premature, although I am not sure about that after his speech. May I tell him that there would be no dissent across the House if this debate were about Saddam Hussein's being a vile and murderous dictator? There would be complete agreement on that, and that is true across all the parties among those who have real concerns about the direction in which the Prime Minister seems to be going.
Some of us opposed Saddam Hussein's vile regime when he was the blue-eyed boy of successive United State's Administrations, supported, armed and financed in pursuing his assault on Iran. The House may also recall that British Ministers and companies did not have clean hands either. The United States may have provided Saddam Hussein with weapons, hardware and military intelligence, but as Sir Richard Scott reminded us, previous Conservative Governments misled the House about the United Kingdom's dubious record on arms sales to Iraq. Nor is the debate for most people about whether Saddam Hussein should be persuaded or forced to give up weapons of mass destruction.
The Prime Minister's much delayed dossier describes evidence of wish, intent and enormous cruelty, although not of immediate capability in nuclear weapons or, indeed, of links with international terrorism, even though at least some people in the United States said initially that that was the pretext for action. However, the real debate in my view turns on what does or what does not constitute a United Nations mandate or sanction for action. That is why this crisis is not only hugely important for every one of us in itself, but for the future.
Those who flout the will of the international community—whether Israel in Palestine, India in Kashmir, or even the United States itself in relation to the International Criminal Court—often have recourse to the idea that international agreements, even those involving the United Nations itself, are not really worth the paper they are written on. That is a totally cynical attitude.
Unfortunately, the Prime Minister came close to describing the UN as such during his Sedgefield news conference on
In many ways a gung-ho campaign of regime change in Iraq, without the explicit sanction of the Security Council, would be just as foolish and just as damaging in its consequences as the west's covert but extensive support for Saddam Hussein some 20 years ago. I do not think that we should rest on the murky and self-defeating doctrine of "my enemy's enemy is my friend". For many of us, the UN still possesses real potential to give order to international affairs.
The shadow Foreign Secretary said that we must not place too much faith in the UN. Well, some of us—not just in the House, but across the world—still place enormous faith in the UN's capability. There is no reason since the end of the cold war why UN action cannot be effective, as indeed it was 12 years ago in the first Gulf war. Indeed, if the US had not taken action under article 51 last year—it was entitled to do so because its nation was under attack—but had opted for an explicit Security Council motion in relation to defeating international terrorism, I have absolutely no doubt that the international community would have given its assent to pursuing the campaign.
There is no evidence that the UN is permanently immobilised; nor does the UN Security Council consist of the five permanent members, something that I sometimes read in the press. There are 15 nations on the UN Security Council, currently including the small European nations of Ireland and Norway. Before I came to the House today, I had a quick scan through the press comments in those Security Council nations, and I should like to inform the House of what has been said in those countries and how distant it is from some of the attitudes of the United States Administration—and, indeed, some of those in the United Kingdom Cabinet.
There is an expectation in those countries that arms inspectors will return to Iraq. There is no assumption that access will be unfettered initially or that it is all going to be easy, but there is a determination and expectation that further action will be required if that access is denied. There is, however, widespread disbelief that, even while we are going through that process, there may be the risk of unilateral action by the United States, supported by the Prime Minister, to enforce UN resolutions when the UN itself has not sanctioned that action.
In this debate so far, the issue was best expressed by Mr. Campbell, who spoke for the Liberal Democrat party. He went through the process of legality and, in particular, unveiled the fudge, which I detected from those on the Government Benches earlier, about who should suggest the use of force if all else failed. The right hon. and learned Gentleman's answer was clear: it should be the UN Security Council. Only it can act on behalf of the international community—the real international community, not the bilateral international community.
The worst-case scenario if that is not done is a near armageddon, unrest in the Arab world, the disruption of Saudi oil supplies and the entire world economy, and the possible extension of the conflicts in Israel and perhaps Pakistan. Even if that were avoided, on a best-case scenario, such action would be problematic, costly in human life—Iraqi civilians and our armed forces—and the stability of the world economy.
I am sorry, but I do not have time to give way now.
Presumably, the Prime Minister has an eye on the stock market, the oil markets, and people's concerns about their pensions, their jobs and the lives of their sons and daughters in the armed forces.
Of course genuine multilateral action, sanctioned by the UN Security Council, also carries risks and costs in human life, but it is inherently more containable, and upholding the rule of international law has long-term dividends.
Of course it is possible that the Prime Minister and the American President are playing a game of brinkmanship—talking tough to ensure a peaceful solution. The trouble is that they could just topple over the edge, and take us all with them. The House had better acknowledge that there is substantial public scepticism and distrust of the American President's motivations—indeed even of those of the British Prime Minister. I hope that some of the base motives, some of which were referred to earlier by Labour Members, are not the real reason for the countenancing of unilateral, as opposed to genuinely international, action. However, I wish to offer another thought to the House. Might it be that in the aftermath of last year's attack on the twin towers—the atrocity—much of American opinion, but by no means all of it, is still in shock because of that atrocity? Might not many people across the world still be desperately anxious to support America, as our solidarity last year demonstrated?
I note that yesterday Mr. Rumsfeld said that Chancellor Schroeder's comments were poisoning the relationship between Germany and the United States. Is it not rather more possible that some of Mr. Rumsfeld's comments are poisoning the relationship between America and the rest of the world?
Might it not be true that, at this particular moment, with so much at stake for all of us, what America desperately needs is a candid friend to tell the truth, not a cheerleader willing to pay a "blood price"?
I share the scepticism expressed about the motives of President Bush, but we have been asked in this debate to focus on the Prime Minister's belief that Saddam Hussein has developed weapons of mass destruction and what should be done about it.
The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have made it clear that the Government have two aims: first, to ensure the return of United Nations inspectors to Iraq; and secondly, to ensure the destruction of any weapons of mass destruction discovered by the inspectors. They have also made it clear that they believe that the threat of military action should be used to achieve those aims, but those aims and that threat raise two questions which the Government have yet to answer in this debate. First, when should the decision to use military action be taken? Secondly, who should take the decision that military action is necessary?
The answer to the first question must be that no decision can or should be taken until we know the response of Saddam Hussein to United Nations' insistence, expressed in a new resolution, on the return of UN inspectors—or, if they return, until we know the results of those inspections. A decision cannot and must not be taken in advance. We should take care—the Government should take care—that any new UN resolution does not contain any loose words or phraseology that could be used or abused at some time in the future and without any reference to the UN to authorise or to claim authority for military action that was not intended by the UN.
As for who should authorise military action, I share the view expressed by several Members in this debate that the decision to do so should be taken by the Security Council of the United Nations. It is not enough for the decision to be taken by one man—not even President Bush, or perhaps especially President Bush. The United Nations should decide whether the inspectors' findings, and Iraq's response or lack of it to them, justify the use of military action. Of course United Nations resolutions should be enforced, but the method of enforcement should be specifically authorised by the UN Security Council and not determined by a self-appointed vigilante.
This question and the answer to it are important because President Bush made it clear in his speech to the United Nations—and those authorised to speak on behalf of his Administration have also made it clear in their statements—that he believes that the President of the United States, with at most the authority of the US Congress, is entitled to take the decision to enforce UN resolutions. I do not agree; I think that a lot of Members do not agree with President Bush's position. I hope that our Government do not agree either and will make it clear to the United States that it is not acceptable to many of us that it should take such decisions alone and without the authority of the United Nations.
I wholeheartedly support the position taken from the Front Bench by my right hon. Friend Mr. Ancram. I particularly pay tribute to the brave speech of my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Hogg, who spoke so powerfully about his objections to going to war. I should add that many of us in the House would profoundly agree with the admirable speech of Mr. Foulkes.
The House should have been recalled some time ago in order to discuss these matters. Britain is not a country lost in some futile pacifist dream. This is a mature democracy, whose people have every right to be told in a timely manner the truth about the reality of the great issues that must be dealt with, and whose long history, fortified and sustained over many years by the experiences of many similar hard and difficult days, should have absolutely required the Government of the day to have had the confidence to produce all the information at least six weeks ago, as well as to recall Parliament earlier.
Many of my constituents and my friends are truly affronted by the Government's patronising impertinence in not coming before Parliament much earlier to make a perfectly good, sound case, as the Prime Minister did this afternoon. That task has been made much harder by their ineptness and by the bellicose rumblings of our allies, which are now mercifully more suitably directed.
However, I congratulate the Prime Minister, the Government and British diplomacy on the role that they have together played in persuading our allies of the essential requirement to obtain United Nations backing to deal with this matter. Indeed, President Bush was—admirably—right in his speech to the United Nations when he asked whether it was truly prepared to see the UN's will flouted and wronged and cast aside, and whether the authority and credibility of the UN were to be trampled in the dust or upheld. If that authority and credibility is not upheld, there will be anarchy and the UN's credibility will be destroyed for ever.
Ultimately, any foreign policy or established international order that allows a country such as Iraq to acquire and retain weapons of mass destruction while violating solemn UN and other guarantees and agreements is in breach of all its obligations and is a guarantee of a world on the edge of greater terrors to come. This matter must now be brought to a conclusion in order to prevent what President Bush rightly called the gravest possible danger to our freedom, which lies at the crossroads of terrorism and technology. We must have a clear and unequivocal new UN resolution, containing obligations of absolute crystal clarity, fortified by a non-negotiable timeline and with the clear message that, if Iraq defaults, steps will immediately and effectively be taken to force it to remove and destroy all illegal weapons.
As we all know, however, there will be the most tremendous consequences to all this. There will be the welcome liberation of the people of Iraq from an appalling and cruel regime. Huge effort will be required to bring stability to that country. There will be the unavoidable requirement—I welcome the fact that it has been much echoed in this debate—for the United States, Europe and all nations of good will to press ahead with resolving the Palestinian question and seeing to the future security of Israel. There will have to be a commitment from all involved to a new strand of policy to start achieving democratisation, greater freedom and prosperity throughout the Muslim world and in particular stability among our friends in the Gulf.
What the Arab world needs particularly—and if there is indeed as a result of these actions to be regime change in Iraq—is a model that works: a progressive Arab regime that by its very existence would create pressure and inspiration for a gradual democratisation and modernisation around the whole region. That would provide an engine to deal with the widespread poverty, ignorance, repression and humiliation that form the lethal cocktail driving Islamic extremism, especially among the young, and whose consequences remain such a terrible danger to us all.
We are living at a time when we cannot predict, as we did in the cold war, how the enemy will react or behave. We face a number of undetectable threats for which we will have no warning. Given what we know of the Iraqi regime and its weapons, and given the necessity to uphold the authority of the United Nations, we must press on and deal with this issue by acting and operating, as Britain always has, within the full authority of international law. This is no time for us to avoid the hard choices that have always placed Britain alongside her allies in doing what is right and necessary.
It is a pity that the House was not recalled earlier and it is a bigger pity that we will not be permitted a vote on a substantive motion today.
The biggest pity of all is that the dossier—the dance of the seven veils—finally came to light just a couple of hours before this debate began. Many of us would have liked the opportunity to check with our sources many of the claims that are in the Prime Minister's dossier. I have just done that with that well-known Saddamist organ, The Daily Telegraph whose foreign correspondent was awaiting my call so that I could read him the places mentioned in the dossier. He and other British correspondents then climbed into a waiting car and proceeded immediately to the very venues mentioned in the dossier. Therefore, we perhaps will not have to wait for at least a preliminary report or for the inspectors to go back in a couple of weeks. The Daily Telegraph will tell us tomorrow and give us at least a preliminary idea whether the statements made in the dossier are pulp fiction or have some validity. I hope that we will not get into the situation in which Groucho Marx found himself in that great movie "A Day at the Races". As a horse doctor posing as a top physician, he was finally debunked and forced to fall back on the phrase, "Who are you going to believe—me or those crooked X-rays?"
The truth is that the inspectors—not people with a propaganda interest in drawing up dossiers—are the only people who can be trusted with this information. We will have the inspectors back soon enough unless President Bush makes good on his threat last Thursday to block their return unless the Security Council toes his line.
However, if this were really about the return of the inspectors and weapons of mass destruction, we could all go home and we would not have to divide the House this evening when many Members will vote for us and many more will abstain. However, everyone knows that the issue is not whether the inspectors are going back and whether disarmament can proceed. The issue is whether this Government are prepared to join a pre-emptive attack on Iraq by the United States that is not sanctioned by the UN Security Council.
I tell the Government that there are two problems with that approach. The first is the leadership qualities of George W. Bush. The Prime Minister tells us, as George Bush himself might put it, that we have been misunderestimating the President. The problem with that view is that the British people have seen and heard the President and they think they are estimating him just about right as not a man whom we would want to be at the wheel of the car as we drive along the edge of a cliff with ourselves sitting in the back seat.
Are we misunderestimating the President's friends? Are we misunderestimating Donald Rumsfeld whose picture appeared in The Guardian the other day shaking hands with Saddam Hussein in the middle of the Iran-Iraq war after he had just handed over the latest American satellite surveillance equipment so that the Iraqi regime could better target the Iranians who were our foes in that war? Are we misunderestimating Paul Wolfowitz, a man who used to make even Ronald Reagan's blood run cold? Are we misunderestimating the Vice-President, Dick Cheney, a man who voted in the United States Congress against the resolution for the release of Nelson Mandela from prison?
I am principally speaking to my friends and I have to tell them how much more comforting it is to be on the side of Nelson Mandela in this argument than it is for some of them to be on the side of Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and George W. Bush. I ask Labour Members how we ended up on George Bush's side of an argument with Al Gore, the Democrats' presidential candidate. Would it not have been better if new Labour had strengthened the new Democrats or even the peace party within the Republicans rather than siding with Cheney, Rumsfeld and Bush?
My friends have to answer why they are on George W. Bush's side of the argument and not on the side of Gerhard Schroder, the leader of the German Social Democrats, our sister party in the Socialist International.
The second problem is even more substantial. The British people instinctively know that adding another war to the middle east where there are quite enough wars already does not seem like a sensible idea. People see the Israel that the Foreign Secretary told us had received new instructions from the Security Council last night demolishing brick by brick the solemn commitments in the Oslo agreement. They see the bulldozers, like some prehistoric animal, tearing down President Arafat's compound.
The British people saw on the news this morning that nine Palestinians were killed just last night in just one city in Gaza. They see the devastation and the flames in Palestine, the unresolved conflicts in Afghanistan and the rising tide of Islamic fundamentalism and hatred against the west and they instinctively know that it is extremely unlikely that the world can be made a safer place by launching yet another war in that region—a war of 60 days and nights of intensive carpet bombardment followed by 250,000 western soldiers invading and occupying an Arab Muslim country. The British people instinctively know that that does not sound like a recipe for security and peace in the world or like a recipe for the diminution of terrorism.
The Prime Minister used a rather chilling phrase in his introduction. He talked about chemical weapons causing a painful and excruciating death, as indeed they do. That is why some of us were outside the Iraqi embassy demonstrating against the brutality of the Iraqi regime when British Ministers—the previous Government's Minister's—and business men were inside the embassy selling the Iraqi regime guns and gas.
If Members read the Scott report, they will see just how true that is.
The fact is that innocent Iraqi civilians will die in their thousands if this war goes ahead. They include the children who are even now terrified every night before they go to sleep about when the dive bombers will come. Siamese twins were born at the weekend in Baghdad. Usually when Siamese twins are born we start discussing which of the two unfortunates is going to have to die so that the other one may live. Pretty soon, George Bush, in a bizarre King Solomon-like decision, may well decide that both of them have to die. The question is, is Britain going to be with them?
We have just heard a vintage speech which has raised the temperature of the House—it may have been more of a rant than a logical argument.
We may have forgotten that while a high percentage of people in Iraq may be from the Muslim community, the Iraqi Government are not—they were recently described to me as a secular socialist Government—so I believe that many people in the region would be glad to see them changed. How that change comes about only time will tell. We are fortunate to be able to debate those issues here and express diverse views knowing that none of us will be taken away afterwards to the Tower of London to await trial. Unfortunately, dissidents in Iraq face an immediate sentence from a man who gave permission to his in-laws to return, apparently granting them safe conduct, only to execute them himself. We in Northern Ireland have faced a similar situation. A distinguished politician gave permission to a woman to bring her son back to Londonderry, then ordered his execution. That is the world we are living in.
None of us should take the moral high ground because we are all culpable. People point a finger at one another, but we must face the fact that Governments have very few friends—they have only interests. Some people have spent a long time attacking the Americans and George Bush but we would do well to remember that we are in this state today because in the Gulf war the armed forces followed the United Nations resolution, and ceased to pursue the republican guard and others and complete their campaign. The UN resolution was just to liberate Kuwait.
I know something of the problems because my Kurdish friends have concerns, which have been expressed this afternoon, about what happens if Saddam Hussein is deposed. Bearing in mind that the main purpose of action is to destroy weapons of mass destruction, his deposal is another matter, but it will be up to his own people sooner or later. I remember the Kurds telling me that they were concerned about what might happen after his deposal, so we should think ahead to the end, and not just the beginning, of a campaign. Most of us would be happy if the UN reached a security agreement that allowed things to be done lawfully, but it has been argued here today that the law regularly requires force for its implementation. If it cannot be enforced, we will be in a situation I have often described. A Belfast housewife is annoyed because she sees her child misbehaving in front of people in the street and says, "Wait until I get you home—I'll murder you." The youngster just smiles because he knows that getting home is all that will happen—there will not even be a rebuke.
None of us should therefore pride ourselves on the use of force. The nub of the argument is who will use it. When the UN makes such a declaration, it relies to a large extent on the British-United States axis and allies to form an enforcement body. We would be delighted if others joined us, but the hard core will be composed of those of us who espouse and enjoy democracy. Yes, we have made mistakes. Early in the debate, Sir Brian Mawhinney said that we who believe in the force of evil may take a certain line. There was some laughter, as if it was strange to discuss that concept in a political arena. The tragedy is that because the evil in all of us is not under control at times, the Saddams of the world arise. Frankly, I cannot understand how we can attain moral authority if we shilly-shally about the way in which world Governments work together to deal with that problem.
In that context, let me pose a question. Perhaps because I am a child of the 1930s, I remember the debates in the old Chamber which was destroyed by Hitler's bombing. I remember British statesmen and politicians travelling the world saying that we should not deal with him—some even took that line during the war. We should be honest. Some of our American friends say that they declared war on Germany, but they did not. Certainly, some of them helped us freely and voluntarily at the outset, but the United States only entered the conflict when Germany declared war on it after Pearl Harbour.
When do the members of the free world, with their undertakings to help one another, begin to act? Do we wait until another 1 million people perish, as happened in Poland, before we accept that we have international obligations? None of us want war—only fools do—but sooner or later we may have to face that possibility. The House should at least give the Government its blessing as they co-operate with their allies in the UN and elsewhere to try to do something positive to free the world from the menace of weapons of mass destruction and, perhaps, the madman who will use them. 3.37 pm
There are two things that we know for certain in our debate. First, a common theme in many speeches has been that Saddam Hussein is a repressive, inhumane dictator dedicated to retaining and expanding his own power. Secondly, we know that he has been, and may well still be, developing chemical, biological and possibly nuclear weapons.
Precisely at what stage that development is remains unclear. Today's dossier helps a little, but it does not resolve the issue. We should, however, accept that there is a desire to attain such weapons. It is undoubtedly true that the world would be a safer place—we would all be safer—if we could ensure that Saddam Hussein, with his history, track record, ambitions and grip on internal power, did not have access to weapons of mass destruction. That much is incontestable, but how best do we, the international community, secure that aim? That is the question that we need to address and discuss, and it should be the focus of our debate.
Two choices immediately follow that question. First, is our aim the eradication and decommissioning of weapons of mass destruction, or is it what has become known as regime change? One thing that has emerged from today's discussions—probably the most valuable thing to emerge so far—has been a crystal clear statement from the Prime Minister that the focus of our activity is weapons of mass destruction, not regime change. I very much welcome that statement.
The second choice is whether the process of securing the decommissioning and destruction of weapons of mass destruction will be carried out through the United Nations and with international agreement, or will be a United States-led exercise alone.
It has been absolutely right to take the issue to the UN, and for any role that our Prime Minister has played—as I believe that he almost certainly has—in persuading the United States to do so he deserves the gratitude of us all. But do not we hear many voices in the United States Administration saying that they will take military action anyway? Here lies the great danger.
Going to the UN means doing this properly. It means building step by step, with care but with determination, an international consensus, using that to bring pressure, drawing support from the Arab states across the region—not assuming the right to take action, announcing the intention to do so and then seeking UN approval as a cipher for something already decided.
America is a great nation. Its willingness to use force at times in the past 100 years, not just in its own defence but in the cause of humanity, has served us all across the globe. Where would the people of Bosnia, the people of Kosovo, or, now, the people of Afghanistan be without it? But that does not mean that every decision made by this American President, and every goal announced by his Secretary of Defence, is necessarily right.
Let us grieve with the people of the United States for the losses that it suffered just over a year ago. Let us thank the United States for its engagement with causes of justice around the world, let us be resolute with it to bring an end to terrorism wherever it may be, but let us test this proposition about Iraq against the evidence, against the shared aims of the international community, and against the need for a stable world.
I say to my own Government, in all candour, if, as it may well do, it comes down to a choice between a UN-led, UN-decided process and a decision to deploy force inspired by the US President alone, our cause must surely lie with the international community and the UN.
Let us remember what the consequences might be of a US-led, US-inspired attack on Iraq with perhaps only Britain and one or two others alongside. First, there is the sheer military difficulty of the operation. This is not an easy "drop a few bombs and then walk away" exercise. It is difficult, dangerous and risky.
Secondly, there are the humanitarian consequences. The loss of innocent civilian life in any serious conflict is likely to be huge. Indeed, it may be deliberately engineered to be so by Saddam Hussein himself, but that does not negate the point.
Thirdly, there are the real dangers of regional instability, what might happen in such an event—an attack on Israel by Saddam Hussein followed by reprisals; an end to any remnants of hope for a new peace process between Israel and Palestine; uprisings in other Arab states where Governments are perceived to be too pro-American in their attitude; new repression in others; the turning of Saddam Hussein, bizarrely, into a hero for millions across the Arab world; the fracturing—undoubtedly—of the coalition against terrorism so painstakingly built up a year ago, including by our own Prime Minister?
All of those are potential—indeed probable—consequences of an American go-it-alone decision to attack without the broadest possible international agreement and specific endorsement of the UN.
Again, I say to my own Government, with all the sincerity that I can:
"Do not go gentle into that good night".
In the 19 years that I have been a Member of the House, I have not sought to speak in the debates that have preceded this country's military excursions. That is mostly because, like everybody else, I have a great reluctance to support causes of war, but I am sometimes persuaded that war is necessary in order to achieve peace, stability and the liberation of oppressed peoples. I hope that I remain somebody who listens to the argument and wants to hear a persuasive case.
The dossier produced and sincerely presented by the Prime Minister makes a persuasive case for the threat posed by Saddam Hussein. I share the view that we, the international community, must confront that threat, not pretend that it is not there. However, I would have grave concerns if we were drawn into a situation where the rule of international law was brought into question.
We are moving into a new era where the doctrine of deterrence is being changed to the legitimisation of pre-emptive strikes, possibly even pre-emptive nuclear strikes. At no time since the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki has any of us in the western alliance ever supported pre-emptive strikes. This is a massive change of tactic and one that I reject but that, in any case, cannot be taken on the instigation of one politician in one country, however powerful that country is. That is something that we must address.
I was one of a number of British politicians—not only Ministers but members of all political parties—who attended the earth summit in Johannesburg. It is important to share with the House the feeling of anger and resentment felt by the 21,500 people at that summit who were trying to find ways to give the poorest people on earth the possibility of real improvements in their quality of life by the developed world agreeing to create space for them to do so. That anger was the result of the American President not being there while his civil servants were specifically there to block agreements and were successful in doing so. Not only that, but the media daily broadcast speeches from the American Administration making the case for a war against Iraq at a time when 109 nations and their Heads of Government were gathered to try to create a platform for peaceful development in the future. The juxtaposition was ironic in the extreme.
The hon. Members for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) and for Glasgow, Kelvin (Mr. Galloway) referred to the fact that the former Vice-President and presidential candidate of the United States, Al Gore, made a powerful speech yesterday, in which he said that he feared that America was squandering the good will that had been built up around the world since
I give credit to the Prime Minister for the influence that he has apparently exerted on the President to go to the United Nations. I also believe that the President made an effective speech there, but it has been seriously undermined by what has been said since by other members of his Administration, using the language of a John Wayne wild west movie: "We're going to hunt him down and we're going to get him, regardless of what the United Nations does." Certain people are also apparently putting pressure on the United Nations to agree to a specific American-inspired resolution, without which they will not allow the inspectors to go back in. Clearly, there is a general view that the inspectors must be given the chance to prove that Saddam Hussein is now responding to the pressure that has been put on him.
In one of his answers, the Prime Minister really put his finger on a genuine and sincere concern of mine. He said that it was an article of faith for him that there should be the closest possible relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States. I have many friends in America—I have visited the United States many times—and I completely accept that, on many occasions, American intervention has been essential for freedom and liberty. We are grateful to the Americans for that, for the resources and, indeed, for the American lives that have been laid down to secure that.
I do not believe, however, that we can accept a situation in which America is able to write its own version of international law. Nor do I believe that the United Kingdom's national interest is built solely on an article of faith about British-American relations. We also happen to have serious relationships with Europe and with the Commonwealth. My concern is that, if we found ourselves the lone supporter of the United States in pursuing international action without the sanction of the international community, not only would we have failed to stand up for the rule of international law—the point that Al Gore was making—but we would have deeply damaged Britain's national interests vis-a-vis the rest of the world. That is a matter to which we must give serious consideration.
I do not have time.
I am a member of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly—I shall be visiting it during the rest of this week—of which there are 44 member countries. I am frequently asked by MPs from other countries exactly what the British gain from their unequivocal and totally supportive relationship with the United States. I am also sometimes asked why our Prime Minister does not use the influence that he clearly has to persuade America that, if it wants to give moral leadership and authority to the world, it should engage with the world as a partner in international enterprises. For example, it is specifically suggested that America should support the International Criminal Court and engage in the ratification of Kyoto, and that it should not send its civil servants to world summits to block agreements on how to defeat poverty.
The point that we wish to get across to our American friends is that they risk squandering the very real reservoir of good will that exists if they treat international organisations on a pick-and-mix basis—using them if they support their interests but reviling them if they do not—and if they alone decide to write the rules in a different way from any other participant. The Prime Minister has a unique opportunity to ensure that America recognises its responsibility in that regard.
The Prime Minister also has a duty to British interests to ensure that the United Kingdom is clearly standing up for the right kind of relationship with the United States. It should not be a relationship in which there is not a cigarette paper between our Prime Minister and the President, but one in which support is based on a coherent public debate about international interests, and on the coherent application of international agreements. In that way, the Prime Minister would earn a great deal of respect and gratitude, as well as showing strong support for the interests of the United Kingdom's long-term influence in the world. People see this country as having a contribution to make, but if we are indistinguishable from America—if we are just its proxy, its surrogate—the very leadership that we can give is undermined and qualified.
We shall not have a substantive vote at the end of this debate. We shall, however, have established a recognition—I detect it right across the House—that there is very little support for the British Government to engage in American-led unilateral action that does not have the clear, unequivocal legal backing of the Security Council of the United Nations. If the Government have not got that message, they really have not been listening.
Probably no hon. Member's life has been more affected by Iraq than mine. In 1995, I was sacked by my right hon. Friend, now the Prime Minister, for going to northern Iraq, which changed my life in the House somewhat. I have also been involved with the Iraqi opposition since 1979. Iraqi students were present at Cardiff university at that time, and they used to tell me about the atrocities that were going on in their country. I did not believe them—their allegations sounded so outrageous—but I found out subsequently that what they said was true, and that the situation was even worse than they had described.
Since 1984, I have chaired CARDRI—the campaign against repression and for democratic rights in Iraq—an organisation that has published several books on Iraq and puts out regular newsletters. During the last five years, I have chaired Indict, a campaign that started here in the House of Commons, backed by John Major—the then Prime Minister—Margaret Thatcher, Bill Clinton, President Mitterrand, as well as the present Prime Minister, and the great and the good from all over the world.
The aim of Indict was to collect evidence on Iraqi war crimes. There is no ad hoc tribunal on Iraq, as there is on Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. There ought to be, and even now I believe that the United Nations Security Council should agree to set one up. The atrocities committed by the Iraqi regime are horrific. There is not time to give details today but many are described in the Government's report and others in that produced by the American Administration.
Indict ran for two years without any funding. Everybody said that they supported us, but no one gave us any money until the US Congress gave us some. It did so because it is possible, in Europe, for individual countries to bring indictments against leading members of the Iraqi regime. Some people have scoffed at that and think that it sounds impossible. Even the Foreign Secretary told me today, in reply to my intervention, that we could not indict Saddam Hussein because it was not possible to get hold of him.
That response is incredible, given that, two years ago, on behalf of Indict, I took to the Attorney-General detailed evidence against Saddam Hussein and Tariq Aziz relating to the taking of hostages in Kuwait. They included more than 1,000 British hostages, some of whom were killed and some raped. Many still suffer from the trauma of their ordeal. They were British hostages, yet we are saying that we cannot indict Saddam Hussein because it is physically impossible to get hold of him. Let me remind colleagues that Milosevic was indicted while he was still head of state and, a year later, that helped to bring about the fall of his regime. He is now standing trial in The Hague. Nobody can tell me that it is impossible to indict one of the Iraqi war criminals because that simply is not true.
We have now taken evidence to five other countries. Last week, I was in Norway, where I met the Norwegian Attorney-General's staff. We took them evidence about Iraqi victims who now live in Norway, who were tortured by Uday Hussein, Saddam's eldest son. That information has now been passed to the Norwegian Attorney-General. The response of the his office, his staff and other members of the Government was totally different from that which we have had in the United Kingdom. I have to ask why we are not prepared, on the evidence that has been presented, to indict Iraqi war criminals.
Perhaps one answer comes from the former American ambassador for war crimes under the Clinton Administration, with whom I have had a lot of dealings over the years. Just a few weeks ago, he wrote in the New York Times:
"Yet no Iraqi official (at least 10 are of extreme interest) has ever been indicted for some of the worst crimes of the 20th century. My efforts to obtain UN Security Council approval for an ad hoc international criminal tribunal encountered one obstacle after another in foreign capitals, in New York and even within the Clinton administration. The usual excuse was that a tribunal would jeopardise either the United Nations' inspections regime or its sanctions regime. We needed Hussein's co-operation, which a criminal indictment might discourage."
The ambassador went on to say:
"We know from the ad hoc criminal tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, and now for Sierra Leone, that indictments of alleged war criminals who lead tyrannical and genocidal regimes can destroy their political careers, isolate them internationally, end their regimes and even achieve justice. Whether or not the Security Council authorizes use of force against Iraq if credible inspections collapse, the world should build an anti-Hussein coalition through old-fashioned law enforcement."
My message to the House is that that is another option. It is an option that can be considered alongside the other options. And this option is backed by international law.
I find it incredible in this country, which I thought would lead the world on this issue, how often we have heard from our leaders on the Front Bench that war criminals can no longer hide in safety anywhere in the world. Lawyers say that if other countries took the same approach as the UK, no effective prosecution would ever be mounted and the hundreds of thousands of international victims would be left without redress.
Indict's lawyer, one of the top human rights lawyers in Britain, says that, short of a confession signed in blood, it is hard to think of what else is required by the Attorney-General.
That was not a helpful contribution at this point.
Indict is concerned about the continued suffering of hostages, whose lives have been ruined by those crimes. We have interviewed hundreds of victims. I shall not begin to describe to the House the circumstances that they endured. They deserve redress, apart from any other consideration. If the best efforts of the UK Government and Indict cannot secure a prosecution, the fact should be openly acknowledged and debated, because I believe that that debate might also provide an impetus for an international tribunal.
I cannot believe that, once it knows the facts, this House will not add its support to the call that I am making. Hostage-taking is a grave breach of the Geneva convention. All signatory states, including the United Kingdom, have not only a right but an obligation under international law to prosecute or extradite offenders. If Tariq Aziz were to visit a country that had signed the Geneva convention, that country would have an obligation to arrest or extradite him if a UK arrest warrant were sent to it.
Given that there is a war on terror, why would not the UK wish to arrest a war criminal, or at least send a message to the world that war criminals and those who perpetrate acts of terror should no longer be allowed free movement internationally?
The House will be amazed at some of the issues taken up by Ann Clwyd. I am sure that we are all concerned about them and will play our necessary part in putting pressure on the people who can act in these matters.
Today we have a very serious issue before us—whether the threat from Iraq is of such a nature as to warrant the intervention of British armed forces. However, the debate takes on a greater significance: we must determine whether, as a free and democratic nation, we are prepared to face up to the threat of international terror and violence emanating from Saddam Hussein.
"No king, no lord, no master or whatever ruler he be hath an absolute power in the world. His power is limited."
His power has to be limited.
We have to say today how far we shall allow terrorism and Saddam Hussein to go. It is all right to put up reasons and to worry about the future, but what will the future be if he gets his way and can release on the world what he no doubt has in his mind?
I was amazed by the statement of the Prime Minister, who said that we should read not just about the 1 million dead in the war against Iran. Our country was not without blame in that war. There was substantial backing from the United States and our own country in that war, so we are responsible for a degree of the blood-shedding.
Today, we come up against the great problem of credibility. If this House, our Government and the Governments of other countries are not consistent in the war against terrorism and choose whom they want to prosecute and with whom they want to enter into agreements, the other countries of the world will say, when we take a stand against Iraq, "What business is it of yours? You are not even consistent. When certain decisions suit your policies you enter into judgment, but when they do not suit your policies you do not enter into judgment."
Iraq must not be allowed to continue to conceal weapons of mass destruction. It must not be allowed to continue to stockpile such weapons and prepare for their use. When, four years ago, the Iraqi weapons arsenal was investigated to a degree, the inspectors had to withdraw. Would any of us like to put a figure on the immense gathering of arms that has now gone into that arsenal? How much power has Saddam in his hands today, as we meet here?
In those circumstances, I welcome the fact that the British Government are facing up to their international responsibilities. It saddens me, however, to have to say that the Prime Minister appears ready to challenge terrorism in the middle east—and rightly so—but refuses to challenge the activities of terrorists who are operating in a part of this United Kingdom. It is hypocrisy to join President Bush in upholding the causes of freedom and democracy, while continuing to support the retention of IRA-Sinn Fein in the Government of Northern Ireland.
I have raised the matter personally with the President of the United States. He was dumb when I said to him, "What if I suggested that you invite the bombers of Oklahoma to the White House and give them tea and buns and jam, because they were not really bad men?" But I, a democratically elected person, am being told that I must sit down and enter into government with the very person mentioned today by my hon. Friend Rev. Martin Smyth—a man who brought one of the aliens put out of our country home to Londonderry and told his mother "Nothing will happen to the boy." When the boy came home he was sent for by the allies of that same gentleman, and murdered.
We must be consistent. The world is looking for consistency, and the Prime Minister can only strengthen his hand by being consistent.
The House should know that IRA-Sinn Fein Members who refuse to take their seats, although they have offices here, are keen supporters of Iraq. Repeatedly, day after day, facts are leaked concerning the alignment of IRA-Sinn Fein with world terrorist organisations in, for instance, Colombia. Yet we say that these people are fit to be members of the Government of part of the United Kingdom.
I welcome every step that has been taken. I welcome what the Prime Minister has done. I welcome the fact that tonight we have at least an opportunity to put our feelings on record. I believe that the Prime Minister needs to be encouraged; but I say to him and to President Bush, "Until you be of one mind and, without expediency, consistent in your opposition to terrorism throughout the world, the world will not turn and listen to you when you want to put up a coalition to fight terrorism."
All terrorism does the same thing. I have attended too many funerals in my own country, of both Protestants and Roman Catholics, not to know what terrorism has done. I also know the dread of people who cannot leave their homes in the morning certain that they will return in the evening, because of terrorist strikes. All terrorism is wicked, and it has to be dealt with. When a man like Saddam gets arms together, we can only have a terrible nightmare about what could happen if he unleashed those weapons on innocent people. We have a duty to take a stand in the House today, and I trust that we will take that stand.
I can at least thank Rev. Ian Paisley for allowing us to return to the essence of the debate. We have travelled a long way from this morning's statement by the Prime Minister, and the opening speeches of the Foreign Secretary and Mr. Ancram. We are talking about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction—about Saddam Hussein's biological and chemical weapons, and the possibility of nuclear weapons. The Prime Minister made it clear that those weapons could pose a threat not just to the region but to our own interests.
Many years ago, in the 1930s, Winston Churchill complained—on a very cold and quiet night in the House—that the Government were putting the cart before the horse. He made gestures depicting the cart and the horse, and he was so eloquent that those present could see them proceeding through the Chamber. We have done a lot of putting the cart before the horse today. We are talking about the prospect of a new United Nations resolution, not about a declaration of war. A declaration of war is not imminent. It is not the policy of either Her Majesty's Government or the Government of the United States of America. There is no point in our discussing numerous possible scenarios that do not yet exist.
Malcolm Bruce said, very pertinently, that there had been a policy change in the United States. There has been such a change. Until 1941, the policy of the United States was one of isolation; between 1945 and the fall of the Berlin wall, it was a policy of containment and deterrence. There was no clear policy between the fall of the wall and the events of
I agree with Mr. Salmond. No one here will say that Saddam Hussein is other than an evil man. No one will say that he does not possess biological and chemical weapons, or that he is not on the way to acquiring weapons of mass destruction. Mr. Bellingham said that this was not a debate about human rights, but I think that it is: it is about the human rights of those who live in Iraq.
To my right hon. and hon. Friends who seem somehow to think that President Bush might be more evil than Saddam Hussein, I say that international socialism does not stop at the borders of Iraq. We have an interest in the people of Iraq. We have an interest in the 60 per cent. of the Iraqi population who are Shi'ite Muslims. They have suffered terrible oppression during the years of Saddam Hussein, and they are still being oppressed, in the south and in the north. How many Members have mentioned the no-fly zone today? How many have mentioned that British airmen fly over those zones every day to protect Marsh Arabs in the south or Iraqi Kurds in the north?
Why should the population of Iraq suffer under sanctions when, as the Prime Minister said, $3 billion worth of oil a year is being exported on the black market and is illegally going into the pocket of Saddam Hussein, who does nothing to relieve the poverty of his own people? Why should those people have to suffer for ever under a regime of sanctions?
In the speeches of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I detected no confidence whatsoever in the United Nations. The Foreign Secretary spoke of the failure of the League of Nations to act at the time of Abyssinia. We saw the consequences of that, in the form of Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler. As the Foreign Secretary said, the United Nations was built on the ashes of the second world war, and to prevent a failure similar to that of the League of Nations, a Security Council was created. According to my reckoning, it has passed 16 resolutions on Iraq since resolution 1901, nine of which—according to Mr. Ancram—have not been respected.
The first resolution, the ceasefire resolution, called for not just the sending in of weapons inspectors but the repatriation of Kuwaiti and Arab prisoners of war. That has not happened to this day. It also called for the return of confiscated Kuwaiti property, which has not happened either. There has been no respect for any UN resolution up to now.
We have had six crises concerning Iraq in recent years. The Foreign Secretary said that a new UN resolution would be tabled in the next few days. That resolution should be clear and precise and should come under chapter 7, making it mandatory on the Iraqi regime. All the earlier resolutions, including those on the confiscation of Kuwaiti assets, on the return of Kuwaiti prisoners of war and on giving the inspectors totally unrestricted access, should be rolled into the new resolution, which should have a strict term of compliance with a fixed deadline.
Why should such a resolution not be accepted by the Security Council, which exists under a mandate from the United Nations, which itself exists to promote international peace and security? Why should we be pessimistic and assume that the UN will not do its duty? Some Labour Back Benchers think that the focus of the debate will go to the Labour party conference next week, but it will not: it will go to the Security Council. If the Security Council wants to uphold international order, peace and security, it will roll the resolutions of the past 11 years into one and force Iraq to comply.
The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary said that we, as a nation state, will not act outside international law, so let us have more confidence in the UN than has been demonstrated today and let us not put the cart before the horse, talking about military action and what will happen after it. Let us stick with the UN and see what the resolution is and how Saddam Hussein responds. Whatever action takes place will follow a UN resolution, not a resolution of the House.
If I were a pilot patrolling the no-fly zone or a soldier going into action on behalf of the British Government, I wonder how I would feel about sitting around waiting to see which Members voted in which way. Many young men from Middlesbrough join up. They go into the armed forces voluntarily. Their parents have an interest in them, and so do we. Why should they sit around waiting for a vote in the House? It is for the Government, acting with the United States of America on the back of Security Council resolutions, to tell the House what action is to be taken if the resolutions are not complied with.
Let us not get carried away with matters of organisation, administration or procedure. These are major issues. As the right hon. Member for Devizes said, the House can rise to the occasion when it has to. The time may come for that, but for now we should send the focus to the United Nations and see what the Security Council has to say next week.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The last two contributors to this debate have had to contend with a continual low chatter throughout the Chamber, which is extremely insulting to them. I look to you for a ruling on the matter.
This has been an interesting debate so far. I hope that I am not overstating the case in saying that there has been a clear difference of view, as exemplified in the speeches of Mr. Foulkes and Mr. Galloway.
Mr. Bell mentioned Churchill. In another famous debate on whether to go to war, in 1940 on the Norwegian campaign, somebody—Lloyd George, I think—said that Churchill should not allow himself to become an air raid shelter for the shortcomings of the Treasury Bench. I hope that the right hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley will not become an air raid shelter. It is up to the Prime Minister now. Whatever the sensitivities in his own party, he must speak directly to the British people and make a justification for war. He started to do that today, and we need more of that and a more serious debate on the issue.
We need a real debate on whether we are talking about acting alone or under the auspices of the UN, and whether we are talking about regime change or the removal or weapons of mass destruction. We have started to make progress. Our constituents are worried and look to the House for answers to these questions.
I want to make a stab, in my own inadequate way, at answering some of the questions. I do not believe that it is the job of the UN—or, even more problematically, of the US backed by the UK—to change a regime in the middle east. Leaving aside questions of international law, what are the practicalities? There are nearly 30 Arab nations, and not one is a democracy. Trying to impose our ideas of democracy on Iraq may unleash democratic Kurdish and Shia movements that could lead to the dissolution of the country. It would be wrong to believe that, from the Arab point of view, our system is necessarily superior to theirs.
This may not be the view of everybody in my party, but personally I reject the idea of regime change. If Saddam is in breach of UN resolutions, in my view it is right for the UN to use force, and I accept that without its use he is unlikely to make any movement at all. He would be extremely stupid to refuse to co-operate, but he has already proved himself a master of prevarication and brinkmanship, so we can look forward to weeks and months of frustration.
We have not really heard from the Treasury Bench whether this nation and this Parliament are prepared to act alone, with the US, to force the issue. US policy makers may be worried that the components of a nuclear weapons capability are so easy to disperse and hide that it would be necessary for the US to take over the country for a time. That may be their real aim, even if they have little confidence in restoring democracy in the long term.
An attack, or the threat of an attack, may be justified on the basis of the breaking of UN resolutions, but I suspect that that will not be the real trigger—many countries are in breach of UN resolutions. Let us be serious. There are three sides of a triangle to justify a war: capability, means and intent. Does Saddam have the capability to manufacture weapons of mass destruction? We have the dossier, and I am prepared to accept that he does, but I would like to hear more about the weapons of mass destruction held by other countries in the region—Iran, Syria and Israel—and by other rogue states, notably North Korea.
Does Saddam have the means to deliver those weapons of mass destruction to the west? Nobody seriously suggests that he can do so militarily: he does not have the long-range missiles, and he would be met by an overwhelming, annihilatory response. We know from John Major that Saddam was given an explicit private warning before the Gulf war that any use of chemical or biological weapons would meet with immediate devastating retaliation. We know that Sir Michael Quinlan, the former permanent secretary at the Ministry of Defence, takes the view that deterrence has worked, and will work in the future.
The suggestion, then, is that Saddam will deliver the weapons not by conventional military means but by clandestine means. Where is the evidence of his links to al-Qaeda? What would he gain by such links? Are there terrorists already capable of inflicting devastating damage on our economy? Would not our acting alone make us a more likely target for Muslim fundamentalists? Are we not uniquely vulnerable to terrorist attacks, as an open society with no identification cards, and with the London underground, Heathrow and the channel tunnel? Means of delivery—the second side of the triangle—is problematical, not proven.
The most difficult of the three factors is intent. What would Saddam gain by attacking the west, apart from his own immediate destruction? Has he not outlived all his foreign and domestic opponents by being at least rational and not suicidal? I do not think that anyone seriously suggests that he intends to attack the west. Would he attack Israel, which already has a nuclear deterrent?
A correspondent posed two questions to me: is it Saddam's intention to obtain atomic weapons and, were he to do so, would he use them, either physically or as a means to blackmail other countries? My correspondent says that if the answer to those two questions is yes, an attack is justified. I suspect that that is behind US thinking. We are frightened that possession of such weapons would give Saddam an ability to blackmail other countries in the region. That is a justifiable point of view. However, I suggest that other countries in the region which Saddam might wish to blackmail are under, or could be under, the American nuclear and military umbrella.
Is the proposed attack really about a new concept of global thinking? That is the issue. Is the Truman doctrine—the concept of deterrence that has preserved peace and stability for more than 50 years—to be replaced by a new Bush doctrine of using a pre-emptive strike to overthrow dangerous regimes that could pose a threat? Truman coined his readiness to use force to protect existing democratic regimes from communist takeover. He was obviously thinking in the context of 1947 and the defence of western Europe. We pay tribute to the foundation of NATO.
I believe that the Bush doctrine, if there is one, is very much more dangerous. I am strongly pro-American, and to equate their love of liberty with the regimes they oppose is ridiculous. However, the United States is a superpower, and with ultimate power comes great risks. With hundreds of billions of dollars of defence expenditure, it can crush any enemy in the world. I do not believe that absolute power will corrupt the US, but there are risks. Like all other superpowers in history, it will come to realise the limits of force. We already know that overwhelming military power cannot, for instance, defeat suicide bombers.
Yesterday I received a letter from some Iraqi exiles. They oppose war with Iraq because they believe that it will bolster Saddam's claim that he is a champion of the Palestinian cause. We can destroy Saddam, but can we destroy his adopted cause of Palestinian autonomy? The best way in which to deal with Muslim terrorism is for America—and only America can do this—to put pressure on Israel to abide by UN resolutions and withdraw completely from the west bank.
Where will the Bush doctrine take us? Where will it stop? What are the tests? A military junta is allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon in Pakistan but not in Iraq and, presumably, not in North Korea or Iran. Pakistan was only righting the balance with India, and Saddam would claim that he was righting the balance with Israel.
I do not believe that the case for attacking Iraq unilaterally, without the UN, has yet been made. That is not to say that it is wrong to threaten force—that is the only language that Saddam understands. No doubt there will be weeks of frustration. No doubt when the UN teams go in there will be more frustration and delays. However, the fact remains that after 1998, the UN contained Saddam and kept him on some sort of leash.
Finally, I remain of the belief that it is safe to contain rather than to threaten destruction of Saddam's regime. If he is threatened with destruction, he could act irrationally, with incalculable consequences for the world community. Let us march in step with fellow permanent members of the UN Security Council and insist on weapons inspections, backed by the use of international force if they are not complied with. That is the right path to take.
The House of Commons is at its best on occasions such as this, and so it should be, because there is nothing more important than war and peace. There is no more important debate than that about whether the Government will send our forces to war. We know what war means—the killing of civilians and our service men and women.
There is agreement across the House about a satisfactory outcome to the problem. It would be the reintroduction of the United Nations inspectors on a basis that enabled them to do their work properly. It would be the identification of the locations of all weapons of mass destruction, the facilities for manufacturing them and their destruction. The achievement of that outcome without the use of military force is surely what everyone in the House of Commons wants.
I believe that the document published by the Government today is an intelligence assessment which we should accept. I accept the document's basis that since the UN inspectors left Iraq, the regime has produced chemical and biological weapons, tried to further its attempts to develop a nuclear weapon, and extended the range of its ballistic missile programme. In so doing, the Iraqi regime is flouting the authority of the United Nations. That is an important point. We are not talking about India or Pakistan. The Iraqi regime is supposed to be complying with the successive UN Security Council resolutions to which many right hon. and hon. Members have referred.
What is to be done? In the final analysis, can force be justified in these circumstances with United Nations authority? There is an overwhelming consensus on this side of the House that any use of force to achieve the objectives must be authorised by the United Nations Security Council. However, I think that no one in their right mind would want force to be used.
The importance of the United Nations cannot be underestimated. I welcome the fact that a considerable number of speakers, including my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, Mr. Salmond and my hon. Friend Mr. Bell, have referred to the importance of the United Nations. When the institution was born in 1945 in San Francisco, in the aftermath of the second world war, there were hopes that it would enable us to develop a world in which we did not go to war on the scale that we had in the past, and that we would rise to the challenge posed by man's ability to produce weapons of mass destruction which, if ever they were used, would make the planet uninhabitable for the majority of the human population.
Giving the Security Council the power to enforce resolutions was deliberate. That was the basic structure of the UN. Once the resolutions were passed and the decisions taken democratically by the community of states throughout the world, the Security Council would be the marshal and have the responsibility of ensuring that there was no proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. In those days, the focus was on nuclear weapons, following Nagasaki and Hiroshima, but today, rightly, there is an increasing focus on and concern about chemical and biological weapons—all weapons of mass destruction.
Reference has been made to the important change in the US military doctrine, which was confirmed last week. I see many people today in the House who took part in debates during the cold war. Indeed, the bulk of my political life took place during the cold war. We did not agree on a lot of matters but, funnily enough, we are beginning to agree more now. Cold war policy was based on mutually assured destruction—a willingness actually to use nuclear weapons. It was a dangerous situation and the world was a dangerous place.
The national security strategy document published last week by the United States is very important. In it we can see the effects of two great changes in the military and security landscape that have taken place in the past two decades. There was genuine concern that the cold war would become a real, hot war between NATO and the USSR, with both sides armed to the teeth with nuclear warheads. The cold war came to an end and it is true to say that the world was a safer place for it. However, it is far harder to say that the world remains a safer place now. Since the atrocities of
The US strategy paper states:
"None of these contemporary threats rival the sheer destructive power that was arrayed against us by the Soviet Union. However, the nature and motivations of these new adversaries, their determination to obtain destructive powers hitherto available only to the world's strongest states, and the greater likelihood that they will use weapons of mass destruction against us, make today's security environment more complex and dangerous."
The development of the policy of pre-emption, as my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough rightly called it, is important. I am sure that the House will want to return to it in the weeks ahead.
When the House debated the annual report of the Intelligence and Security Committee last July—a Committee of which I am pleased to be a member—I set out my concerns about the threat of international terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. International terrorism is many years old and nations have been developing weapon of mass destruction for decades, but together they pose a terrifying combination. The risk of hostile nations giving international terrorists access to weapons of mass destruction is a real issue that needs to be addressed. It is no secret that international measures to contain the development of weapons of mass destruction leave a lot to be desired. We must make greater progress towards blocking such access.
We should all be concerned at the build-up towards a new military operation in Iraq and the United States' apparent disregard for the international community and the United Nations—that has been referred to by Labour members. There is widespread concern in the country, which has been provoked by some of the statements from Rumsfeld and Cheney. The United States is the only superpower and we want to see it support the United Nations; and if it takes action, we want that action to be authorised by the United Nations. A particular cause for alarm is the impact that a unilateral attack would have on the stability of the middle east and on the coalition against international terrorism that has been pieced together since
The situation is fast changing and there is scope for a UN mandate to tackle it, avoiding fresh military action. Weapons inspections to enforce Iraqi compliance with UN Security Council resolutions must be effective, and the inspectors must be allowed to do their work without limits.
It remains my sincere hope that this situation will be resolved without the use of fresh military action against Iraq. The enforcement of UN resolutions must be strict and effective. I am sure that I join many of my colleagues in urging the Government to do what they can to pursue a resolution to this crisis within the international community and without recourse to war.
Although I did not agree with everything that he said, my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Hogg made some important points, one of which was that, if we are ultimately forced to go to war, it is extremely important that the population of this country feel that what we are embarking on is the right thing to do, and that they have a clear understanding of the situation and what the consequences are likely to be. Despite some extremely informative Back-Bench contributions today and after listening to the Front-Bench spokesmen, I still feel that there will be some confusion, particularly when I think of the letters that I have received from some of my constituents. I hope that today is a beginning and that the Prime Minister will take further opportunities to spell out the Government's view and to put information in the public domain through this House.
It has been a confusing six or seven months. In December last year, when the Anglo-French summit took place in London, it was reported that the Prime Minister had given the strongest signal yet of his opposition to any prospect of widening the military campaign against terrorism to include Iraq. It was reported that he stood shoulder to shoulder with Mr. Chirac outside No. 10, both of them taking that view. Therefore the public are right to ask, as I have, what has led to this escalation over the past few months, to the point where American politicians are talking about pre-emptive action. It is important to get the chronology of events right and to get all the evidence into the public domain.
I have no doubt—I had no doubt even before seeing the dossier this morning—that Saddam Hussein is a dangerous and evil man. That has been shown by his attitude to the weapons inspectors and his cavalier attitude to the UN resolutions. I believe that, unlike the old guard in the Kremlin during the cold war, he would be willing to use weapons of mass destruction. During the cold war I always argued, sometimes with Labour Members, that I believed that the weapons of mass destruction held by the Soviet Union were in the hands of people who were extremely cautious and understood the consequences of their use. I do not think that Saddam Hussein is like that, and I suspect that he is not unique. If we as a nation really believe that he will use such weapons and that he is in the process of acquiring nuclear capability, we have to deal with it. The question is how we do that. How can we take it to the nth degree to try to ensure that we can remove these weapons without having to commit our troops to war?
I agree with my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench and with the Prime Minister that we must deal with this through the United Nations. There must be succinct resolutions that are unambiguous in content and in the timetable set out. Clearly, time is not on our side. Another year, 18 months or two years might go by if Saddam Hussein is allowed to prevaricate, as he has in the past. I am totally behind the plan that has been set out today to try to use all possible legitimate means to ensure that we remove the weapons from him. If one of the consequences of that removal is a change of regime, which seems likely under such circumstances, so be it. I believe that that is all to the better. Removing those weapons and ensuring that there is no possibility of their being transferred to third parties—another important issue—must be our priority.
Over the past few weeks we have heard from American politicians—our friends and allies who are seeking our support—statements that give cause for concern. Like other hon. Members who approach this from different positions, I can quote Mr. Cheney, who said that even if inspectors went in, it would provide no assurance at all, and other such comments. It is therefore imperative that the Prime Minister use every ounce of his influence with the American Government to ensure that they fully understand that, although we are their friends, it is not a love that asks no questions. Sometimes friends are the only ones who can say what the problem is and how they should behave. If they will not take it from their friends, they will take it from no one else. It is critical that, over the next few weeks, the Government use that friendship and influence to ensure that the American Government fully understand that we are here to support them, but that actions must be taken in a structured way to try to achieve the best outcome.
The big question is: if the UN's activities do not work and there is no clear UN mandate to take action, what should be done then? That is something that we as Members of Parliament will have to ask ourselves. Each of us will have to ask that question if there is a vote. I truly believe that this crosses party lines. We answer to our consciences on this matter as well as to the people outside and to those whom we might deploy in the battlefield. In considering what the consequences will be if the UN resolutions are not successful, it is important that we ask ourselves whether we believe that military action is in the British interest, whether the British interest is threatened by weapons of mass destruction, and whether, even without a UN mandate, it is incumbent upon us to accept and support military action. The answers will depend upon how, in the next few weeks, the Government develop their argument and upon the information that they have started to put in front of us today in order to persuade Members of Parliament, and more particularly the wider public, of the facts that they have to prove that this situation is a threat to us.
We must be quite clear. We may believe that the situation is not a threat to the British interest, but is a threat to the wider international community so we must be quite up front and say that, although it may not be British subjects who will be attacked, we believe that it is our duty—and it is our wish—to support the wider international community and on that basis we will join forces with the Americans and any other allies who want to take a stand on this. Alternatively, if we believe that Britain is under threat, we must identify what that threat is.
"warned last night that Saddam Hussein was a 'very real threat to Britain'".
If that is true and if it is the Prime Minister's belief and that of the people out there that it is imperative that we support a war in order to protect Britain, we shall need a little more information than what is before us today.
I am old enough to remember the cold war, when Governments of all persuasions believed that we could be subject to a nuclear attack. There were regular briefings and information on civil defence—I remember having them at school. There are certainly important questions to be asked about what provision is being made in terms of vaccines if we are at risk from chemical attacks—
It is not often in a debate of this nature that I begin by congratulating an Opposition Member, but today I commend the speech by Mr. Leigh for drawing attention to the really big issues that the House will have to address sooner rather than later. If the world is being asked to move away from a doctrine of containment and deterrence and towards a different doctrine of pre-emptive strikes, regime change, attacks and displacements of potential enemies or unsympathetic regimes, the implications for the planet are enormous.
We have to begin the process by at least engaging with the notion presented to us today that we face a choice between greater or lesser threats from Saddam Hussein, who would seek to exploit a dishonest peace, or from George Bush, who would wish to pursue a disreputable war. My belief is that we may not be in a position to stop the United States waging such a war. If there is a war, it will have very little to do with the pursuit of human rights and everything to do with the redistribution of oil rights. We have to recognise that the international threat that we face relates to the potential collapse of the existing global order of rules-based systems.
We also have to recognise the relevance of the dossier that has been presented to the House this morning, albeit at very short notice. On the positive side, the best one can say is that the dossier can at least allow us to move on from the pursuit of press rumours and to present a document for the weapons inspectors to address, scrutinise and evaluate. However, in reality there is no smoking gun to be found in this dossier. At best it is a deeply flawed, partial and superficial document. It is heavy on supposition and light on fact. It is closer to propaganda than it is to scrutiny. If it had been produced by those on the Opposition Front Bench, I suspect that the only difference would have been that it would have appeared under the title "Saddam's Evil Eyes".
As my hon. Friends take away the document and subject it to scrutiny, they should look at some of the contradictions and flaws that scream out from its pages. A great deal is mentioned about the conduct of Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war, and the wretched use of chemical weapons in that war and against the Kurds, but there is not a single reference to our own involvement in that process, or that of the United States. There is no mention of the fact that the United States continued to supply crop-spraying helicopters to the Iraqi regime during that period and provided technical assistance and advisers to assist with the targeting of bombings. There is reference to the fact that the UN made a presidential statement criticising Iraq, but it had to do so in default of the fact that Britain refused to support any of the resolutions that were before the UN at that time, seeking to criticise Iraq, and that America vetoed those resolutions. We ought to put ourselves accurately in the frame.
The dossier treats us to a long list of the weapons of mass destruction that we are told Saddam Hussein is in the process of acquiring. We are also told that he has been on a shopping tour in Africa. That is very interesting but it needs to be set against the fact that Hans Blix, the chief weapons inspector, has said within the past two weeks that he has received no evidence of Iraq acquiring new weapons of mass destruction. Had he received any such evidence, he would have brought it to the attention of the Security Council. So we have to move from allegations to evidence and put that evidence in the hands of the inspectors.
Great play is made of Saddam Hussein's search for weapons of mass destruction in the form of long-range missiles, but no reference made to the part of the UNSCOM inspectorate report stating that by the end of 1997, 817 out of 819 long-range weapons held by Iraq had been destroyed.
There is also talk of the inspections regime having been disrupted and a great deal on page 34 about non-co-operation and sensitive sites, but there is no mention of the specific agreements negotiated by Richard Butler and then by Kofi Annan for more extensive inspection regimes which allowed full inspection of those sites. We have to be very careful not to write those out of history as it would be very easy for the United States to demand a new inspections regime that no longer had to adhere to the memoranda of understanding negotiated by the UN.
We are also told that a compelling case for preparing for war is to be found in Iraq's intentions. This part of the dossier takes a Mystic Meg approach to international planning. There is no basis on which weapons inspectors—or even the United Nations until the beginning of this year—could say that Iraq presents a clear and present danger, or a threat internationally or to the middle east. Instead we are presented with the clear knowledge that there has been no threat from Iraq to the United States, the UK, Europe or anyone else during the past 10 years, throughout which we have systematically bombed Iraq on a daily or weekly basis during this strange, bizarre peace.
We have to ask ourselves what has changed in a year. Last year we said that this imperfect peace was not a problem, but we are now saying that it is a very real problem. Logically, we have to address the point raised by the hon. Member for Gainsborough by asking what on earth would prompt Saddam—who may be a tyrant, but who is a calculating, surviving tyrant—to change his mind and say that he now feels obliged to acquire weapons of mass destruction and threaten to use them knowing that he would be destroyed as a consequence. Iraq's crime has not been to threaten anyone, but to renegotiate oil contracts; not with American companies, but with Russia and France. That is why the American Administration are demanding not just the return of the weapons inspectors, but regime change. That will mean the reallocation of oil contracts to those who support American bombing.
The Bush agenda of a pre-emptive strike would lead us into a new era of adventurism. It would be the imposition of a new set of international values; not the values of the west, but the values of the wild west. It would justify all the presumptions made by terrorist organisations about the right to take unilateral action against anyone with whom they disagree. Sadly, Bush will hit Iraq in much the same way that a drunk will hit a bottle. He needs to do that to satisfy his thirst for power and oil.
I must tell the Prime Minister that the role of a friend in such circumstances is not to pass the drunk the bottle; rather it is to divert the drunk from a path which would be as destructive to their own interests as it would be to everyone in their path. The Prime Minister must also understand that it would be perilous to take Parliament and the country down this path. Once the British public understood exactly what the war was about they would not support it. The Prime Minister may be able to command the support of his Cabinet in such circumstances, but not that of his country. He may even be able to get the support of Parliament, but not that of the public.
It is the duty of this House to remind the Government that there is no moral mandate to follow this path. It cannot and will not be acceptable to suggest that Britain is willing to pay a blood price for an oil contract.
After five and a half hours of debate, there is still a great deal to be said. The speeches with which I identify most closely have been those of my right hon. Friend Mr. Maude and my hon. Friend Mr. Soames and the remarkable speech of Mr. Bell, which was brimming with common sense.
Some 12,000 of my constituents are working at the sharp end of this debate. Hundreds of them are world-class scientists, technologists and engineers, thousands of them are members of Her Majesty's forces who are prepared to die for their country and thousands more are civil servants and private sector support staff. All of them are just as much citizens of our country as you or I, Mr. Deputy Speaker. They and their families are part of our community. They go to work, come home, go to the pub, play sport and share our values and aspirations for our country and the world. I salute them and their families. Too often we either take them for granted or assume that the people who will do the Government's bidding are a separate group of people. They are a part of us.
Perhaps it is because for nearly 20 years I have represented so much of the British Army in and around Salisbury Plain that I found were few surprises in the dossier published today. Perhaps it is because I represent the people who work at the Centre For Applied Microbiology and Research at Porton Down who develop the vaccines. Perhaps it is because I have learned so much from the people who work at the Chemical and Biological Defence Establishment at Porton Down whose job it is to find detection systems and develop systems for protecting our military personnel, vehicles, ships and aircraft, or because I represent so many people who work at the Nuclear Biological and Chemical Centre at Winterbourne Gunner, who are responsible for training, not just British forces, but other forces to protect themselves against chemical, biological and nuclear attack.
Of course the Government should not give us raw intelligence—their most secret intelligence—but they must tell the British people enough to gain their trust. I believe that the Government have achieved that. It may be a cliché to say that the world changed on 9/11 last year, but many people have not got that message yet. We have to face the fact that when we are dealing with regimes like Saddam's or terrorist movements, the old cold war concept of deterrence simply will not work any more. Saddam Hussein does not see weapons of mass destruction as weapons of last resort; he sees them as tools of current policy to be used as he has already used them and, I am confident, will use them again. Consequently, we must recognise that the traditional interpretation of the United Nations charter may need to be rethought. We have to be realistic about the definition of "immediate threat" as a justification for pre-emptive action. The old thinking of the cold war simply will not do, and Saddam knows that.
For 10 years, the west has not been prepared to defend its values. The United States—it has no greater admirer than myself—was weak through the Clinton years in failing to respond to the earlier attacks on the World Trade Centre, failing to respond adequately to attacks on its embassies in Africa, and failing to respond to the attack on the USS Cole and to the expulsion of the UN weapons inspectors. The USA has now thrown down the gauntlet to the United Nations to test its authority. That is a crucial point. Our objective must be to find a new United Nations resolution which is focused on the destruction of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend Mr. Ancram for laying that out so clearly as the Opposition's policy.
Regime change may be a consequence of that and we should not recoil from that concept. The rules have changed and we must think this through maturely, not least because Saddam Hussein is making it harder to make progress in resolving the Israel-Palestine crisis. After all, he is also causing untold suffering to his own people, especially children. The impact on the neighbouring states, particularly our brave ally in NATO, Turkey, but also Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria, will be great.
We underestimate the reasons why the Arab and Islamic world has been so united in its opposition to military action against Saddam to date. It has been partly out of fear—win or lose, anyone who thwarts Saddam is in trouble. It is partly out of the recognition that he and al-Qaeda provide a focus for millions of disaffected people who either have nothing to lose in their miserable lives of poverty and hopelessness or who resent our affluence and the domination of the world by the nations of the west. This group includes a large number of people who live in the United Kingdom, so this is nothing like the Gulf war and we should realise that.
I hope and pray that we will not go to war, but if we do I believe that our cause is just. War would be a last resort, but we would win. The evil and damage that war necessarily entails would be proportionate to the evil and damage prevented. It would, then, be a just war in terms of the western, Christian, ethical tradition. I listen with respect to Christian leaders whose job it is to promote peace. They are right to do so for the greater the risks and the more devastating the impact of conflict on military personnel and civilians alike, the more cautious we should be. Such caution is a strength of western civilization. It underlines the weakness of terrorists and tyrants alike who have always exploited our preference for peace and our reluctance to do battle.
How long do we watch and wait until a judgment has to be made? I trust our Prime Minister in this matter. I agree with him that knowing what we know about Saddam I would not want it on my conscience that we let him carry on unhindered.
Many of us today will have received briefing documents from organisations, particularly charities, and none more important than the Save the Children document. I read it carefully. The briefing note which points out what is happening in Iraq is the best argument yet for quick intervention against Saddam. It is outrageous that he is allowed to get away with such actions in his own country. That briefing note had the opposite effect on me to that which was intended.
Looking beyond this crisis, I think that it is extremely important that we, as a nation and as an ally of the strongest nation on earth, should ensure that a new world order includes a deliberate policy of ensuring that the rich and powerful nations of the world do very much more to assist, and sometimes to persuade, the poorer nations to reduce poverty and invest in health, food, education and water. I ask the Government, whether or not we go to war, what is their intention when it comes to reconstruction—to building the confidence not only of Iraq but of other countries in future? We must harness our science and technology in their interests as well as our own, because poverty breeds fear and instability. That suits Saddam fine, even in his own country, where he deliberately starves children of food and medicine.
In my view, physical and intellectual prosperity is the enemy of dictatorship. That is why, if we do not get the United Nations resolution, and if we do not get the inspectors back and the removal of the weapons of mass destruction, in my judgment regime change would indeed be justified—if necessary, by military means.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Because hon. Members have today rightly focused their attention on the debate in the House, they may be unaware of the fact that earlier today there took place a devastating terrorist attack on worshippers at one of the largest Hindu temples in the world, the Swaminarayan Akshardham Mandir in Gandhinagar, in which I understand that 28 people have been shot. Would it be in order to advise Members of this, so that they might express their horror and sympathy?
That is not, strictly speaking, a point of order for the Chair, but the House will have heard the points that the hon. Gentleman has made, and Members will make their own judgments and have their own thoughts about them.
I suppose that it is far too early to try to reflect on who could have been responsible for this atrocity, but I think that the whole House will share in the shock and dismay at this news, and would want to express sympathy for all those who have been injured and their families.
I suppose that the news also tempers some of the comments that we might want to make in the debate. We have been trying to respond as a group of parliamentarians to a threat that we know exists—a threat that we have seen demonstrated. The continuing failure of the international community to respond to the various problems that exist in all parts of the world will put even more pressure on all of us who take part in the debate to measure the words that we use in this Chamber and to ensure that we do not ourselves inflame any of those organisations or individuals who feel at the moment that they are not being listened to.
The news also demands from us that we send a clear message to those who have used this method of raising their particular grievance—shooting innocent people at a place of worship is no way to resolve a grievance. People should be able to go to such a place to join with others to celebrate or commemorate, or just to exercise their free will as far as their religious beliefs are concerned. They should be able to trust that they can do so without fear that it will bring their life to an end. We need to send a clear message that, whether it is in India, Kashmir, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the middle east, New York or anywhere else, democracy will respond by ensuring that those who use terrorisim to highlight their grievances will not win. If that message goes out from this Parliament today, although it will not reduce the pain of people who are suffering, it will at least assure them not only that our thoughts are with them but that we are determined to build a better world in which some of these problems might well be resolved.
Before the recall of Parliament, many people expressed an initial scepticism that any evidence existed of anything except the fact that some people believed that we had a United States President who had a hit list of two or three countries and was determined to finish some unfinished business that his father had not managed to secure some 10 or 11 years ago. I believe that all of us, whichever side of the debate we are on today or tomorrow, were anxious to ensure that our Parliament, our political processes, would not be directed into that scenario. We were looking forward to finding some way of coming together as a group of elected politicians in a democratic forum and having a meaningful discussion about any evidence that might exist.
The document that was produced today does not prove or disprove any side of the argument. It re-emphasises some things that we knew. It re-emphasises the fact that we knew that Saddam Hussein's regime was uniquely evil—we knew that it had used weapons of mass destruction against its own population. In that sense, the document did not provide any new and telling evidence, but it did assemble in one place enough evidence to suggest, I would hope, to most reasonable people that there was a need to deal with the issue now.
When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, I was discussing with my right hon. Friend Mr. Kaufman, who was then a shadow foreign affairs spokesperson, what our reaction should be as an Opposition. I think that we took the right decision. Although we were concerned about other issues—I was particularly concerned about the middle east peace process, as I am now—we were convinced that the latest intervention should be dealt with there and then. We now need to answer the questions whether the regime needs to be dealt with and how should we deal with it.
The way in which the Government have suggested that we move forward—the way the Government have used their best influence on the American Administration, who were quite clearly split and probably still are quite split, as to how to resolve this issue—has been a lesson for us all.
I welcome the fact that we have been able to hear our Prime Minister tell us the role that the United Kingdom has played. It is clear that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have been able to help those in the American Administration who regarded international law as the way forward, in preference to the approach of drawing up a select hit list, followed by removal.
Those of us who have argued in the Chamber, on many different occasions, for the supremacy and legitimacy of international law and who wish to see it implemented much more rigorously all over the world should be heartened by the fact that we have been determined to help the United States of America to get in line with international law—to bring the matter back to the United Nations.
I should have hoped that my right hon. and hon. Friends who have disagreed with actions that have been taken in the past, and who have argued that the Security Council resolutions were ambivalent here or there, would welcome our determination to go back and obtain a new Security Council resolution. I have doubts as to whether it can be as specific as it needs to be—I have yet to read a UN Security Council resolution that was so specific that it did not allow someone to point to some ambiguity in it. However, I hope that our determination to go back and secure a new Security Council resolution will be enough to allow my hon. Friends who feel that they want to have some other debate to stay with us tonight and allow us to go to the United Nations Security Council and introduce that resolution.
Does my hon. Friend agree that a large part of that resolution should be about the removal of sanctions in the event of Iraq's compliance with a UN resolution to allow UN weapons inspectors unfettered access to destroy weapons?
That is exactly what the resolutions say, and we might have had that debate today if Saddam Hussein had complied with those Security Council resolutions. I would have hoped that all my hon. Friends would be with us tonight in our determination.
I want to make one last comment. Many hon. Members have referred to the role of international law. I am someone who has specifically argued that it is a failure of the international community and the United States to allow international law to apply to the Israel-Palestine question that has got us into the situation that we are in today in the middle east.
The action of the Israeli defence forces in Ramallah was proof positive that unless we insist that international law is brought into the middle east peace process, we will not see an end to the way in which Israel treats its neighbour. The actions of the Israeli defence forces during the weekend in pulling down the Palestinian flag and raising the Israeli flag at the centre of the Palestinian presidential compound sent a simple message to the Palestinians: they do not exist. We need to remind Israel that, if there is to be peace, it has to have a partner, and that partner has to be a Palestinian community with rights equal to those of Israel.
When we are in an internationally dangerous situation, our first reaction should be to hold on tightly to international law. I was therefore pleased when the Prime Minister made his remarks earlier today to hear that he is clearly grounded in respect for the UN and reference to UN resolutions. However, the same cannot be said, unfortunately, about President Bush.
President Bush has continually said that Iraq must adhere to UN resolutions, but he has also said, without any sense of irony, that the US retains the right to take action unilaterally without UN approval if Iraq does not adhere to those resolutions. That somewhat weakens his case for enforcing resolutions on other countries. There is a further irony perhaps: if the US were able to mobilise the kind of coalition that was mobilised before the events in Afghanistan, the President may have more support around the world today, but very little effort has been made to do that.
Instead, President Bush has sought to dictate to the world what has to be done and has held a pistol to the UN, as we heard earlier, saying that unless the UN resolution is in the terms that the US wishes to have, it will block the return of weapons inspectors. That is not the behaviour of a multilateral partner in the international world today; it is the behaviour of the playground bully. It believes that it can dictate to the rest of the world because it is the only superpower. We have seen that behaviour in the contempt shown for the International Criminal Court, for Kyoto and, most recently, as my hon. Friend Malcolm Bruce said, at the Johannesburg summit.
There is a widespread perception—in a way it does not matter whether it is a perception or a reality—that the US motives in this episode are far from pure. They are not altruistic and intended to defend; they are in the self-interest of the US. Alan Simpson referred to oil. I should like to refer to a piece published in The Daily Telegraph on
"Larry Lindsey, President George W Bush's economic adviser, said increased oil production in a free Iraq could drive down oil prices."
I quote directly from the White House. He said:
"When there is a regime change in Iraq"— when there is—
"you could add three million to five million barrels [per day] of production to world supply. The successful prosecution of the war would be good for the economy."
In other words, if we are able to deal with Saddam Hussein—no doubt, killing a few people in the process—we can keep down the price of petrol. Those are not my words; they are those of the White House, and it has set out those intentions quite openly.
There is a widespread perception—again, it is not important whether it is a perception or a reality—that the mid-term elections are a factor. There is also a widespread perception that because President Bush has sadly failed—along with coalition allies across the world, including this country—to deal with Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda that he is looking for an alternative focus for military action. So we have a choice.
I apologise for not giving way; I must make progress.
The most important message that we must send out is to adhere rigidly, to stick limpet-like, to the UN and its resolutions. I want the UN to deal with Iraq, and I want it to deal with a lot of other resolutions across the world that have not been dealt with. For example, the resolutions on Tibet have been gathering dust for 42 years in the UN and no one has bothered about enforcing them against China. The resolutions on Israel and Palestine seem to be rather further down the agenda. So, as my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Campbell said earlier, let us deal with the resolutions and give them equal weight, not simply pick one out, as the Americans have done.
I am extremely worried by the concept of a pre-emptive strike—a matter raised by hon. Members on both sides of the House. A pre-emptive strike is not allowed under the UN charter. There may be a case, as Mr. Hogg put it, for saying that we would have wanted to take action if we had learned about Pearl Harbor 30 minutes in advance and that such action could have been justified, but that is an exception rather than the rule. There must be a very good reason indeed to take pre-emptive strikes. They are acts of aggression in international law, so what is the justification for such an act on this occasion?
It is certainly the case—the Prime Minister has made this very clear and I accept the evidence that he has put forward—that Saddam Hussein is accumulating really unpleasant and quite dangerous weapons of mass destruction. That is clear, but it is not clear who he is threatening or what his intentions are in respect of those weapons. I have no wish to defend him at all—he is a deeply unpleasant person—but so far as I am aware he has never threatened the United Kingdom, the European Union or the US. He has been in power for some time, which shows his political skills. He is not an irrational man. He is able to stay in power, and the last thing that he would do is to pick a fight with someone if he would lose, so I do not perceive a threat in that way to the UK at present.
I also query why we have moved away from the theory of deterrence. For 50 years, we have been told that this country has to have nuclear weapons because they are a deterrent and that, otherwise, we would be more open to attack. We are now being told that we are still open to attack from someone, even though we could respond in kind and obliterate him. Does Saddam want to be obliterated? He is a coward, who will pick on his own people and on Kuwait, but I suggest that he will not pick on the United States or the United Kingdom in that way.
I have only three minutes left.
We have to consider the risks of action, which were eloquently set out earlier by Mr. Smith, such as the humanitarian consequences and the breakdown of international law. International law is not, as Mr. Maude suggested, the UK and the US acting together. That is a ridiculous definition of international law.
We must consider the fact that there is no obvious endgame. Who will replace Saddam Hussein? We must also consider the fact that the region will be destabilised, affecting our allies and those of the US, such as Saudi Arabia; that it will give Israel carte blanche to intensify its actions against the Palestinians while US attention is turned elsewhere; and that the Muslim world will be united and will regard Saddam as a hero. Those who saw the reports of the Johannesburg summit will know that evidence of that is already in place, unfortunately.
We must consider the fact that oil supplies and international markets will be disrupted and, perhaps most important, that such action will provide a recruiting ground for tourism—[Interruption.] Sorry, not for tourism; I have a south-coast seat. It will provide a recruiting ground for terrorism.
The way forward is that our Prime Minister has to make a choice. He said earlier that he regards the relations between this country and the US as a bedrock and vital, and I understand exactly why he does so. He also recognises the value of the UN, and he has made that very clear in his contributions today and on other occasions. However, he may not be able to bridge the gap. He may have to jump at some point and choose either to support unilateral action by the US or to support the UN and let the US go it alone. I think that the US will go it alone whether we agree with it or not. If that happens, we should be on the side of the UN, not on that of the US.
My final point is that we should not be involved in any military action unless there is an explicit UN mandate for it. That is one bottom line. The second bottom line is that we should not be involved in any military action unless the House of Commons has seen the terms and has voted on it.
A number of those who have spoken and who have expressed doubts about the Americans' approach to this crisis have called on the Prime Minister to use his friendship with President Bush to influence American policy. It is worth my saying at the outset that that is precisely what the Prime Minister has done. I have no doubt that if he had not done so, this matter would not be as it is today—the United Nations Security Council being determined in the way that I believe that it will be.
That is important because it is the responsibility of the whole international community to build up the United Nations and to make it into the hard instrument of collective international action that it was originally designed to be. If we see this business through and play it properly, as I believe that the Government are, the United Nations will be strengthened in precisely the direction that we on the Labour Benches, who are passionate internationalists, want it to evolve.
I will not, if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me.
Dealing with Saddam is now a very challenging test for the United Nations—its greatest in recent memory, and one that I passionately believe it must not fail for the sake of the organisation's future credibility. Acting toughly and decisively through the UN, with its use of diplomacy backed by the threat of coercive action if necessary, offers the only possibility in this crisis of both avoiding war and removing the danger posed by Saddam's chemical, biological and nuclear programmes. That should be our compass. However, that will be achieved only if the UN Security Council stands resolute and united in any action that it undertakes. Diplomacy alone, as we all know, will easily be brushed aside by Saddam. Knowing that this time the international community means what it says is the only way to make him see sense and decide to disarm.
We are not talking about some old grenades, a few rusty rifles and a couple of bags of Semtex. We are talking about weapons with a capability that threatens Iraq's neighbours, destabilises the region and can be transferred only too easily to international terrorist networks. We should base our actions on a judgment of capability not of intent. Having said that, I ask Members why Saddam should wish to retain these weapons if he does not intend or wish to retain the ability to use them.
Of course people want to avoid war, especially action that will harm innocent people. I share that aim, but the way to avoid war is to make the UN route work effectively—confronting Saddam by that means in the expectation that, if the international community is genuinely united, tough and determined enough, Saddam will give way to the UN and disarm. The UN Security Council therefore needs to agree a clear, fresh statement of its views so that there is absolutely no ambiguity about where the international community stands on the matter.
The last thing that we should do now is lift the pressure on Saddam. He is at last listening to what the United Nations is saying, even though he still refuses at this stage to come into line. We must maintain and increase the pressure on him so that he complies with UN demands, and not allow disagreement in the Security Council to continue to paralyse the UN's essential role, as we have seen during the past decade and before.
We should not allow our resolve to be shaken in any way by Saddam's recent ploy of purporting to invite the weapons inspectors to resume their work—reverting to the relatively weak three-year-old set of inspection arrangements that got us absolutely nowhere before. Saddam wants the evasion and obfuscation to start again. I became familiar with that dynamic—rather, an undynamic—in dealing with arms in Northern Ireland, but in this case it is so much more serious because of the nature of the weapons involved.
We must be clear what it would mean to indulge Saddam's tactics, as I am afraid some of those who have spoken seem to want to do, and to permit the weapons inspection regime to be compromised. It would mean without doubt leaving Saddam's weapons programmes in place. Those who criticise the Government's more assertive approach must be honest. They have to say candidly that they are prepared to leave Saddam's weapons in place because they do not like the risk or the unattractiveness of the alternative course of action. Judging by the performance today of the leader of the Liberal Democrat party and his speeches and past radio comments, he must face up to that and be clear about it. At the moment, his lack of consistency and his incoherence mean that he is trying to have this all ways and will have it no way.
If we do not take the decisive action that needs to be taken by the UN Security Council, we will not only leave the unique danger of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction in place but reinforce in the United States precisely the trend that America's critics say that they deplore. If the UN does not follow through, if the Security Council does not stay firm and bring forward the clear resolution that it needs to, American confidence in the United Nations, such as it is, will simply collapse. The Americans would conclude that they were right to question going along the UN route in the first place, and American unilateralism would be boosted, with all the dangers that that would hold for the world.
Some in Europe seem to fear American unilateralism more than they fear Saddam's weapons of mass destruction, but if they do not stand up to Saddam this time, American unilateralism will be strengthened. It will not be forced into retreat. Is the collapse of the UN, which would only strengthen and boost the hawks in the American Administration, really what such critics want? Does anyone imagine that that would hold out anything that is good for the world? We must follow a policy that avoids both Saddam retaining his weapons and American hawks being strengthened in the process.
The bargain that we want to strike with the United States is that it temper its unilateralist approach to international affairs in return for the rest of the world making multilateralism work as it should and needs to in the United Nations. It is above all Europe's responsibility to make that happen. It must use its weight and skill to partner the United States in international affairs in order to strengthen the multilateralist approach in the American Administration as we want. The consequences of the failure to do that were brought home to me on a recent visit to south-east Asia where I met and addressed Muslim organisations in a number of countries. It would be a recipe for polarisation between the world's peoples—
It is because I think that we will have to take action against Saddam Hussein's regime that I am so concerned by the way in which the debate has been going in this country and in the United States. It is precisely because we have to face up to the threat of Saddam Hussein that we must be careful that we do not allow the debate in the west to continue in the way that it has. If it continues in that way, I do not believe that public opinion will be firmly behind any action. It will be extremely dangerous even for America, with all its military might, to take action with a fragmented international coalition.
Just under a year ago, we had a debate in the Chamber on the consequences of the disaster on
America has taken the more unilateral route that I was worried about a year ago. It has done so not just in the military sphere but, for example, in the way in which it introduced subsidies for farmers, in how it almost swept aside the international environmental treaties and in its reaction to the International Criminal Court. Those are worrying signs.
The United States and, certainly, the Bush Administration have decided that they are at war. America has failed to find Osama bin Laden, so one has the feeling that it has decided that it has to find someone else to be at war with. It happens to be Iraq. Do not misunderstand me. The evidence in the dossier is credible and probably understated. However, if we are to take action on that, we must believe that it is the real focus for international attention and not compensation for the fact that the Americans cannot tell their electorate before the elections on
America has recently announced its new security strategy. Some of the things in it are very worrying. It says:
"We will not hesitate to act alone, if necessary, to exercise our right of self-defence by acting pre-emptively against such terrorists."
I have to say to my American friends that if they are not careful, the very action that they take in the international arena will provoke far more terrorism than we have yet seen. Incautious action against the evil regime in Iraq could well destabilise neighbouring countries in the middle east and send a message to Muslim and other terrorists worldwide that America is now fair game.
American cloaks its strategy with words from a sort of gospel, saying:
"In the war against global terrorism, we will never forget that we are ultimately fighting for our democratic values and way of life."
I understand that, and the strategy later says:
"The lessons of history are clear: market economies, not command-and-control economies with the heavy hand of government, are the best way to promote prosperity and reduce poverty."
I happen to agree with that. However, if that is the rallying call that the United States is using, it is being insensitive to the reality of the rest of the world, which does not necessarily share those values.
The shrewd American commentator Joseph S. Nye, in the book "The Paradox of American Power", drew attention to precisely the fact that, at the point at which America is most capable militarily of conquering any other nation, it might misunderstand the fact that that very power will alienate other people to the extent that they decide to take terrorist action against the United States. It is incumbent on the most powerful nation in the world to use the other machinery that it has available—the soft policy that Joseph S. Nye mentions. It should have the ability to persuade the rest of the world that American culture is not something that it should be alienated by but something that is there to help the lives of people throughout the world.
America should also try to articulate with us what sort of future the people of Iraq will have without Saddam Hussein. In many people's minds, there is still the danger that Iraq may end up with a more fundamentalist regime that could cause other problems. We have not articulated those issues. Indeed, until today, I had not heard Opposition Front Benchers articulate the questions so ably put by my hon. Friend Mr. Leigh. They are essential if we are to engage the British public. Unless we engage them, no amount of dossiers on the threat that Saddam Hussein poses will be convincing.
We must also re-engage and reanimate the United Nations, an organisation that admittedly from time to time becomes flabby and concerned merely with its own structure. It has to take the threats seriously, but we must make it equally clear to the UN and to our fellow members of the Security Council that the UN, and not the American President alone, must start to worry about the world order and where terrorism is most likely to have a disruptive effect. If we can do that, we can at least begin to engage other people. For example, we are not engaging President Putin of Russia, a country that was much mentioned in our debates after
If we are not careful, the fragmented international coalition will start to create other problems that will ultimately affect the United States and we will be swept along somewhere in the middle, powerless to intervene. We must not allow a discontinuity of interest between Moscow and Washington to occur, and nor must we allow—a point that Mr. Mandelson made—Europe to become fragmented. Schroder was far too opportunistic in the way that he used the issue of Iraq in German politics, but we should use our influence, with the Prime Minister meeting him, to try to rebuild a more common policy in Europe that will have its own influence in the UN so that its will is strengthened and so that it will not be brushed away by regimes such as that run by Saddam Hussein.
I believe that there will be a great danger to world stability if we take action that is not channelled through and endorsed by the United Nations. I do not believe that it is even in America's best interest to take pre-emptive or unilateral action. If we in the House can raise our voices loud enough to be heard not only in Washington but around this country, and make it clear that we are not simply acceding to American leadership but attempting to ensure that American military power can be used for good in the world, we will have achieved something by the recall of Parliament. We will be playing our proper role in the democratic process, and we might even achieve a greater prospect of peace.
I congratulate Mr. Taylor on a speech that crystallised the central and essential concerns of the British people. I have heard those concerns directly from my constituents and via my postbag, to which my constituents and people from the wider United Kingdom contribute.
The hon. Gentleman spoke of the paradox of American power. My constituents are confused by what they perceive as the paradoxical attitude of the United States Administration to the United Nations. They are equally bemused by their own Government's perceived attachment to what they define as an abuse of the United Nations, which came into being at the end of the second world war with a very simple idea—that there was a better way for nation states to solve their problems than going to war. My constituents are confused, as I am up to a point, by the way in which Saddam Hussein, for whom neither they nor I hold any brief, has become the quintessence of evil when, not long ago, he was actively supported, maintained and financed by, for example, the United States. How has he has become a greater danger in the past year than he has been in the previous 11 on the issue of weapons of mass destruction?
I was grateful that the Government responded to concerns and agreed to the recall of Parliament. I am less happy about the fact that in some cases being able to voice our constituents' concerns has been presented as a privilege for the House, not a right. I am not particularly pleased that the dossier was published only at 8 o'clock this morning. However, to be honest, I did not expect, as has already been said, to find a smoking gun within its pages—there is no such gun.
Mr. Leigh highlighted concerns felt across the United Kingdom—what is the desirable outcome if we go to war against Iraq? I feel strongly about any kind of military action being entered into without the validation of the UN, and I know that my constituents do too. I feel equally strongly about the fact that at one point we were being told that it was imperative that we go to war against Iraq because it had the temerity to ignore UN resolutions. It is not the only nation state to ignore UN resolutions, so are we setting a pattern for the future? Having flattened Iraq, will we go into Israel, Pakistan, India and Turkey?
More than once this afternoon the argument has been made that Saddam Hussein is the quintessence of evil because he has an appalling record on human rights—no one would contest that—but if the argument is that the way in which nation states treat their citizens can warrant military action, what about Burma? I cite Burma because my constituents and I feel strongly about the issue, but should the abuse of human rights become an immediate argument for a pre-emptive strike against a nation state the list of such states would be endless. The idea that we are in real and present danger from one rogue state has yet to be proved to the satisfaction of myself and my constituents, who are concerned that we could dragged along on the coat-tails of the American Administration. I use the word "Administration" advisedly as "America" and "Americans" have sometimes been used too loosely in this afternoon's debate. I have many American friends and have always been treated with great generosity and courtesy by America and Americans. There is a powerful body of opinion in the nation state of America that is appalled by its own Government's proposals and the way in which they keep pushing for some form of validation for an attack on Iraq.
As I have said, I hold no brief for Saddam Hussein or his regime, but I am extremely concerned about the fact that we may act without proper examination or without calling his bluff. It is as simple as that—call his bluff. He has said that he will allow UN inspectors in, so they should go—let us see whether he affords them open access to all the areas they wish to examine. Heaven knows, they know which areas they wish to examine. If, indeed, he puts barriers in their way, the UN should act, but we should delay for quite a long time before we risk military action against Iraq.
There is no question but that the war would be won by the most powerful nation in the world, but I am concerned about who will win the peace. We have had quite a few history lessons this afternoon and the second world war has been cited on more than one occasion. At the end of that war, the world was almost destroyed and the two major aggressive nations were put into a process that transformed not only their political basis but their cultural attitude to politics and what a nation state should be. I am obviously thinking about Japan and Germany. In Japan, that task was almost exclusively the preserve of the United States, but in Germany it required co-operation between four countries that have since become permanent members of the UN Security Council. A great deal more was required—these nation states were clearly committed to staying in Germany for a considerable period. Year after year, there was a massive commitment of money, materials and personnel to bring about change.
Are we prepared to commit ourselves to that in Iraq? As hon. Members have said, the idea that regime change will automatically bring in an infinitely better Government is absurd. The three Opposition parties in Iraq cannot agree with one another and it is highly unlikely that they could create any kind of Government who would receive a modicum of respect or loyalty from the Iraqi people. Do we really think that Saddam Hussein and his cohorts will sit quietly in one of his palaces until they are killed or captured? Of course not. Women, children, the elderly and the sick will, as always, be victims of attack, but Saddam Hussein and his cohorts will be outside the country, plotting and acting as a focus for opposition to any Government who are imposed on Iraq. As hon. Members have said, they will act as the best kind of recruiting sergeant for extremist fanatics from any religion the like of which the world has not seen before.
The argument for a pre-emptive military strike against Iraq has not been thought through sufficiently by the main protagonists. There should be an immediate return to the United Nations. If we need another mandate, we should not make it impossible for Saddam Hussein to acknowledge its time scales. I have heard it said that the American Administration are pushing for military action by the new year because if they leave it any later it will be too hot and dangerous for their troops and any others who may be engaged in fighting in the desert.
The weapons inspectors are ready to go back in. They have made it clear that it will take time for them to get there and examine the areas that they believe could be dangerous. It should be in the interests not only of this country and the United States but the whole free world and that vast stretch of the world that longs to be free to afford those inspectors the time to make a genuine inspection and report. Only then should we seriously consider some kind of military action against Iraq.
I shall not follow the points made by Glenda Jackson in her powerful speech, save to say that I prefer the advice given to the House by Mr. Mandelson. We are not about to go to war either this week, next week or next month, and some of the points made by the hon. Lady are based upon a misunderstanding, perhaps an exaggerated misunderstanding, of the situation.
It is never easy to take part in debates such as this because, despite the publication of the dossier of information before us today, only a few people in government can know the whole truth. What we have today is what they want us to have, and I welcome what we have been given, but we are arguing this matter from a position of some ignorance. We do not have the detailed intelligence reports, and we do not have access to the signals traffic or the material that the Prime Minister or the Foreign Secretary have from people on the ground or from their discussions with the United States Government.
It would have been helpful to our deliberations had the dossier been published some time before this morning. I am sure that there is nothing in it that was not available last week, and if it is right to let us have the information today it was surely right to let us have it last week or even earlier.
Equally, this debate is taking place too late. Had it been open to us to question the Government, and in particular the Prime Minister, earlier about their plans, their policy, their hopes and their fears about the worsening situation in Iraq and in our relations with that country's regime, and their discussions with the President and Administration of the United States, much good, I suspect, would have flowed from that and far less of comfort to Saddam Hussein. The delay has allowed frustrations to grow, and, unwittingly no doubt, has allowed the impression to be gained in Iraq that we are not resolved to do anything, that we do not have the political will as a country to shoulder the responsibilities of which the Prime Minister has spoken.
If it is said that we had nothing of substance to debate earlier than today, I fundamentally disagree. The prospect of war is substantial enough for Members of this House to want to express their collective or individual views, and if information of the kind that can be shared by the Prime Minister becomes available subsequently, the House can be recalled once more if necessary. This is not an argument between Parliament and the Executive, or about the prerogative powers of the Crown in matters of foreign policy. It is a matter of common sense not to allow tempers to remain too hot for too long as elected Members of this House accumulate their frustration and anger at being apparently ignored while events outside the House that concern us continue.
I welcome the recall of Parliament, but at this time of crisis we need to see the Prime Minister metaphorically, if not literally, chained by one wrist to the Dispatch Box, so that he and the Government are reminded of their relationship with the electorate. At this time of crisis we should not only do our duty to the electorate and our country in standing up for the rights of Parliament, but show the regime in Iraq that parliamentary democracy matters and that parliamentary democracy can play its part in vanquishing terror. That does not mean that Parliament should listen only to the electorate. It also means that Parliament and Members of it have a role in shaping and leading public opinion.
The burden on a national leader at times like this is great. I sympathise with the Prime Minister. Indeed I do more than that. I support him and the stance that he is taking in being prepared to face head on the issues that a man such as Saddam Hussein puts before us. The right hon. Gentleman has been derided for behaving as though he were no more than President Bush's poodle, jumping to his every wish and command in order to increase his standing as a world leader at home at a time when domestic politics are proving less inviting. He is accused of being out of step with the majority of the parliamentary Labour party and the party's membership outside.
The Prime Minister's behaviour is made all the worse, his critics say, because the United States Government are headed by a President with an eccentric command of the English language, a man on a personal mission to finish off what his father failed to complete in 1991, and a man who heads an Administration staffed by men and women with no real understanding of the delicate state of the political world in the middle east. Indeed, it is fashionable in some quarters here to belittle the imagination, the sophistication, the ability to think strategically and the generosity of spirit of the American people, their President and his close advisers. If the Prime Minister is on side with them, say his critics, he must be badly awry.
Those critics may be sincere, they may be reflecting the views of many others in this country and for all I know they may represent the majority. But they are wrong and they are giving the cause of peace in the middle east and in the wider world no assistance, either by the style of their criticism or by its content. The caricature that they paint of the President and his advisers, and thus of the Prime Minister, is inaccurate and is, in my view, at the very lowest, unhelpful in bringing Saddam Hussein to see reason. No one who has sent troops to war can be unaware of what that could mean for the individual service men and women involved or for their families. But if we avoided preparing for war because we knew that it would bring casualties, we would not have a Government worthy of the name, nor a country or a way of life worth living in or protecting.
No President of the United States will lightly decide to commit forces overseas just because he has almost unlimited military might at his disposal. A wrong decision by the world's only superpower has repercussions for it as well as for the rest of the world and I find it unbelievable that President Bush is mindlessly about to set off on an adventure for the sheer bravado of it. Any operation against Iraq—if it comes to that, and we are a long way from that—will be considered with great care and, I have no doubt, with advice and warnings from his own staff, Congress, the press, the academic world, members of the United Nations Security Council and other opinion formers, as well as, and this is not an insignificant factor, from the British Government.
While other countries who stand to benefit from what the United States and Britain are having to contemplate shuffle uneasily from one side of the argument to the other, it is reassuring to find that the United Kingdom Government is not proving so pusillanimous. The United Kingdom has a long-standing and high reputation for persuasive diplomacy and resolution drafting at the United Nations, and now is the time that our Government must urge those who are working for us in New York to demonstrate those skills quickly and effectively.
Hussein is a murderous tyrant who unfortunately survived the Gulf war to continue his regime of terror, torture, assassination and extermination of racial groups and individuals who have inconvenienced him. We know from his pre-1991 behaviour that he is not a man to be trusted and that his military and political subordinates are either as bad as him or terrified into obedience. We know that since 1991, despite the best efforts of the United Nations weapons inspectors, he has been producing chemical and biological weapons and attempting to produce nuclear weapons with long-range delivery systems. We know that his interest in their manufacture is not merely academic. A man who is prepared to use chemical weapons on his own citizens is hardly likely to be too scrupulous to use them on the citizens of other countries. A man who was prepared to fire missiles at Israel and risk another regional war between Israel and the Arab world with the chance that it might lead to war on a far wider scale will not now shrink from doing so again if that is what he thinks will achieve his ends.
I said on
But the threat to this country may not come from warships or aircraft, from nuclear missiles sent from Baghdad or a land army invading one of our allies. The modern adversary may well travel by bus, with a belt loaded with explosives or a briefcase full of germs in one hand and a laptop computer in the other. He will not wear a uniform, he will not announce his coming and he will not share his plans. But what he may well be is a person trained, funded and armed by Saddam Hussein, prepared to kill himself and many others so that Saddam's murderous aims can be fulfilled. It is that sort of threat that Iraq poses and it is that sort of threat that we must compel the United Nations to take on board.
It is no good us asking the Security Council to pass further resolutions unless we and it are prepared to take action when they are ignored or broken. The new Security Council resolution that has been spoken of today will be ignored or broken by Saddam Hussein, just like the others since 1991, unless he knows that he is faced with countries and leaders with the determination, the resolve, the political will and the military might to deal with him swiftly and decisively in the event of default. That means—
I welcome today's debate on Iraq. It is about time Parliament had the opportunity to discuss the Government's position. Everybody else in the world seems to have been doing so for months.
I want to make two points. The first concerns the dossier that the Government have finally managed to publish after all this time—we have been asking for its publication since March. The second concerns the wider significance of the issues before us.
The Government have done their very best in today's debate narrowly to cast around for the evidence—or otherwise—of Iraq's capability of developing weapons of mass destruction. The contents of the dossier have been trailed in the press and on the air for days, but Members of the House received it only a few hours before the debate and have had little time to read or digest it. If I were being cynical, I might say that that was deliberate, so that anyone who is a sceptic, like me, might have less time to expose all the holes in the Government's case. There are many others who are sceptical about the Government's position.
I believe that this is an attempt to put an official seal of approval on speculation. The fact that all of us in the House believe that Saddam Hussein is a very bad man does not make a case for war. Indeed, some of us have a more honourable record of opposition to his antics, going back many years, than some who have spoken today. Indeed, I remember my hon. Friends the Members for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) and for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) leading campaign after campaign to highlight the wickedness of this particular regime.
The Government are doing their best to confuse two issues, and we have to ask ourselves why. I could not disagree more with hon. Members who have said that all the evidence is here in the dossier. Because I have been sitting here for eight hours, I have now had the chance to read it three or four times. It is light on fact, and heavy on conjecture. It is also light on argument and heavy on emotion. In fact, if it were an A-level answer, the examiners would downgrade it with no hesitation whatever.
Speculation is no longer necessary, because the United Nations weapons inspectors are due to return in a few weeks. We have to ask ourselves why, after having procrastinated for half a year, the Government have rushed the dossier out now, at the very point when the situation is poised to be resolved without recourse to war, and when a non-military solution is practical, possible and immediately on the agenda. Why should we bother to speculate, when the United Nations is on the point of being able to observe the situation for itself, and when Hans Blix has told us that he can have the inspectors in, and up and running, by the middle of October?
Why move the goalposts now? It could not be—could it?—that the Prime Minister is hunting for a way to support President Bush and the United States in going to war. I think that that is their intention, with or without UN approval, regardless of whether weapons monitoring is re-established. The Prime Minister has already said, when he addressed the press in Sedgefield, that he would support the United States. A lot of Members of this House think that the Prime Minister wants to support the United States regardless of the UN, and I agree with them. What other reason is there for the Government to publish a dossier that we have all been clamouring for since the beginning of the year, allowing it to be leaked and speculated on in the press for days, but withholding it from this country's elected representatives until three hours before the debate in this Chamber?
I want to turn briefly to the broader issues—issues that the Government are seeking to obscure in the flurry of speculation about this redundant document. Saddam Hussein has not used these so-called weapons of mass destruction. He did not use them in 1991, when we were flattening his country and killing his people. He has not used them for 12 years, and he would invite annihilation if he used them now. I go along with the annihilation argument. I think that he is rational, even if he is wicked, and I do not think that he would invite his own annihilation.
It is clear that George Bush has decided to go to war against Iraq, regardless of the matters before us in the Government's dossier. It has been said that the Prime Minister was instrumental in getting President Bush to go to the United Nations, where he made his speech. Well, if he was, President Bush has betrayed him, because just a few days later, we got the Bush doctrine. We found out that President Bush was taking it upon himself and America to launch pre-emptive strikes if he came across anybody he thought was against America's interests. Colin Powell announced that months ago, when he said on American television:
"US policy is that, regardless of what the inspectors do, the people of Iraq and the people of the region would be better off with a different regime in Baghdad. The United States reserves its option to do whatever it believes might be appropriate to see if there can be a regime change."
That is the United States' case, and it has betrayed the Prime Minister if he was intent on persuading it to go down the United Nations route.
It is clear that President Bush is set on regime change, not because Saddam Hussein has, or is capable of developing, weapons of mass destruction—the United States bears considerable responsibility for encouraging Iraq to acquire them in the first place—but because George Bush wants a different Government. We have to ask ourselves why. It is because Iraq is sitting on top of huge oil reserves, and the United States—the world's biggest oil consumer—wants to make sure it can get its hands on them.
Before we are prepared to participate in what the United States is doing, we should ask ourselves an important question—particularly in the light of the Bush doctrine revealed last Friday. Who is next? Will it be Syria, Iran, North Korea, Yemen? The list is endless. Who will be next if we allow ourselves to go down this route?
The Bush Administration are taking upon themselves the power to decide which country is likely to pose a challenge to United States interests in future, and to act in advance to stop that happening—by force, if need be. Who made George Bush the judge and jury of the world? Who gave him that absolute right? If this is allowed to happen, we can kiss the rule of international law goodbye. We can kiss goodbye to arms limitation treaties and arms inspections as well. More countries will be looking for access to weapons of mass destruction, seeing them as their only means of counterbalancing a rampant United States. The Bush security doctrine represents the militarisation of American foreign policy. It makes me shudder to think about the kind of future my children and grandchildren have in store, and it should make every sensible Member in this Chamber shudder too.
The matters that we are considering today could end in the Government following the United States to war against Iraq. They would be doing so without the support of the majority of the British electorate. Although some of us have been able to speak today, many have not; many are still hoping to be called. It is a travesty of democracy that we have not been allowed a proper vote on this matter. The only option for those who want to show our disgust that we might be dragged down this route to war is to vote against the motion on the Adjournment tonight. The public are expecting that. It is a betrayal of public trust that we have not been given a vote.
I was born into a party in which a Prime Minister crossed the Atlantic to prevent his friends from using nuclear weapons in Korea. Another Prime Minister kept us out of the Vietnam war, with all the horrors that that involved, when the United States used chemical weapons and killed 2 million Vietnamese and 55,000 of its own young people. I want my Prime Minister to pursue pathways to peace, and to pursue non-military solutions to what is a very difficult problem for us all.
I have just returned this morning from the United States of America, having flown out there on
On my return today, I am therefore disappointed—although not entirely surprised—to find comments being reported in the press from the Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton, in which their leader stated there that there was
"more than a hint of imperialism" about what America was doing. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear!"] I hope that the record will show Liberal Democrats cheering those remarks. Another Liberal Democrat Front-Bench spokesman is similarly reported as having described the United States' democratically elected Government as a "regime"—[Interruption.] I hope that the record will show Liberal Democrats laughing and sneering in support of those remarks in today's debate.
We heard today the Liberal Democrat hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) describe the United States, after all that it has been through in the past year, as nothing better than a "playground bully". A little more surprising than the facile and hostile comments of the Liberal Democrats are the remarks of my hon. Friend Mr. Taylor, who seems to think that the United States has not had significant success in the war against al-Qaeda. I beg to differ. Any look at the recent record of what has been happening in the war against al-Qaeda bears out the interpretation that the United States has been doing very well indeed.
It has been asked today whether a state can act without United Nations' authority. I suggest to the House that there is at least one set of circumstances in which a state can do so: when the United Nations fails to enforce its own resolutions if those have been flagrantly disregarded. I have in mind the letter that was quoted in part during the Prime Minister's statement earlier today by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. The letter was sent by the weapons inspector, Scott Ritter, at the time of his resignation in 1998, before he suddenly decided, years later, that Saddam Hussein did not pose a threat from mass destruction weapons after all. The letter stated:
"The sad truth is that Iraq today is not disarmed anywhere near the level required by Security Council resolutions . . . Iraq has lied to the Special Commission and the world since day one . . . the Commission has uncovered indisputable proof of a systematic concealment mechanism run by the Presidency of Iraq and protected by Iraqi security forces."
Mr. Ritter concluded:
"The issue of immediate, unrestricted access is, in my opinion, an issue worth fighting for."
If even Scott Ritter, who has become something of a hero to Labour Members who are against war, felt at the time when he had adequate knowledge that the enforcement of those resolutions was worth fighting for, perhaps the Prime Minister is not too far adrift in expressing a similar opinion in the light of his up-to-date knowledge—his full knowledge, awareness and concern, which we as a loyal Opposition have supported consistently—about what Saddam Hussein may well try to do.
When is pre-emption justified? I suggest it is when someone with evil intent seeks to acquire devastating capability. It would be very hard to justify overthrowing Saddam if he were seeking mass destruction weapons for deterrent purposes, but that man's record is not one of deterrence; rather, it is a record of aggression, invasion and mass murder.
When Afghanistan was attacked and the Taliban were overthrown, far fewer voices were raised against Anglo-US action than are being raised in today's debate. Why is that? It is because the attacks against the United States had already taken place out of the blue. I was impressed by the Prime Minister's argument, used in his earlier press conference although not in the House today, about pre-emption. He pointed out that had he or President Bush come to their electorates on 9 or
The difference between those two situations is this: it is one thing for a terrorist group to kill 3,000 innocent people without warning out of the blue, but it is quite another for a mass murderer, a dictator and a tyrant to be able to launch out of the blue an attack with mass destruction weapons, especially when—I was delighted when my hon. and learned Friend Mr. Garnier brought this out in his speech—it may be done by proxy. It may be done by means of supplying the weapons of mass destruction to third parties, while Saddam Hussein sits back, washes his hands and says, "It's nothing to do with me."
The Arab world has a pretty good idea of what Saddam Hussein is like and is unlikely to be set ablaze in the cause of protecting him. I remember well when, in 1991, Saddam tried to declare a holy war and claim that his aggression was part of a jihad. In reality, the Arab world took little notice.
I conclude on a hopeful note. A recent report of the comments of the Saudi Foreign Minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, shows that perhaps after all Saudi Arabia will allow the US to strike Iraq from Saudi bases. That is against what the Saudis were saying previously, but they know that ultimately Saddam Hussein is no friend of the Arab cause any more than he is a friend of democracy or of the Iraqi people.
I went to the United States 10 days ago. It is the fifth time that I have visited it this year and the seventh time since 9/11, as the Americans say. I was scheduled to return on
Mr. Hogg made a remarkable statement. It is astonishing for me to make that admission in here, as it is for me to commend Mr. Leigh, who also made a thoroughly good contribution. The defence spokesman for the second Opposition party also made a contribution with which I could agree in great measure. I should, however, give the real credit to colleagues such as my right hon. Friend Mr. Davis, who delivered a characteristically sharp analysis of the situation in which we have been placed. My hon. Friend Mrs. Mahon did fairly well too, although she is not present to hear me say so. So did my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and whatever the other part of the constituency is. [Hon. Members: "Highgate."] Yes, my hon. Friend Glenda Jackson.
I was not very pleased about the sniggers and smirks that were evident in some quarters during the speeches of my hon. Friends the Members for Nottingham, South (Alan Simpson) and for Glasgow, Kelvin (Mr. Galloway). Although I might not have used the same emphasis or the same forms of expression, I feel that much of what they said deserves careful consideration.
A good deal of what I wanted to say has already been said, so I will not repeat it. I will concentrate on the attitude that I left in the United States. I know the United States quite well, because we have a house there. Every time I walk the dog, I see "America At War". I see that on every newscast, every day and throughout the day. It has continued for 12 months. The only way of gaining a balanced view of what is happening in the world is to tune in to the Canadian Newsline International, which transmits excerpts from various national programmes with a voice-over interpretation. We must, of course, trust the Canadians to interpret the situation correctly. They do not always interpret accurately, as we well know from our experience of the NATO parliamentary assembly. Anyway, Newsline International is good.
Last week the Pax channel broadcast a programme putting together the words of St. Malachy, 1,000 years old, and those of Nostradamus, 600 years less old. The combined prophecies identified the Islam of today, and their predictions included the European Union, which would join Islam to bring about Armageddon. Armageddon would mean the destruction of the world—but there was something to stop that: President Bush.
Anyone who believes in predictions—and I suppose that someone who quotes St. Malachy and Nostradamus must have some faith in them—is hardly going to believe that a President of the United States will be able to withstand the onslaught of Armageddon. If the predictions are so reliable, how come Armageddon will be so uncertain that Bush will be able to overturn it?
Why should America be so keen to whip up the crazy state of mind that suggests there is no alternative to the attack on Iraq that is described so incessantly and in such detail? Could it have anything to do with Enron, WorldCom, Xerox and a number of other court actions currently in train? Could it have anything to do with the fact that in less than two months a major election process will take place in the United States? For some time there have been predictions that Bush will lose support in both Houses. Could it be that this is a means of distracting attention from such serious considerations? I suggest that there is probably a connection.
What, though, is the real danger of pursuing this folly? Members should consider today's press reports about Mr. Rumsfeld. Apparently, he is seeking support in NATO for a NATO pursuit of rogue states. We must assume that by "rogue states" he means Iraq. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate said, if we pursue Iraq and sort it out, who will be next?
We have talked about human rights, and about UN resolutions that have been ignored. We have talked about the possession of weapons of mass destruction. I suppose that must mean that the next candidate will be China. Can we seriously consider that China might even begin to enter the list of probabilities? Obviously not.
The simple truth is that Iraq poses no risk to the United Kingdom, or to the United States. If, as is stated on the front page of today's Evening Standard, Iraq has the capacity to strike within 45 minutes, as soon as we launch an attack it can launch a reactive, rather than pre-emptive, attack on us—and then the whole world will go crazy. Is there any sense at all in this? I suggest that there is not.
We are friends of America. We always have been, and I hope we will always stay that way. As I have confessed, I have a vested interest. I think that, as friends, we ought to tell the Americans that it is not the emperor but the President who has no clothes. He is displaying himself as, sadly, somewhat less than well informed. Perhaps, with the election in mind, he will drop the idea once his campaign is over—for that is, I think, his main motivation.
Like, I am sure, many colleagues, I have spent part of the recess seeing rather more of my constituents than is usually possible. I have toured my constituency, visiting about 100 villages. I was astonished to find that the one topic they all wanted to discuss with me was precisely the topic we are discussing today. I was also surprised by the fact that they wanted to make almost identical points.
There were three issues. First, my constituents were astonished that the House had not been recalled yet, and that the Government were showing every sign of reluctance to allow a recall. Secondly, they were astonished that I, as their Member of Parliament, would not have an opportunity to vote—on a substantive motion—for or against the action that the Government proposed to take. Thirdly, they wanted to express deep concern. What surprised me about that was that the sentiment applied across the political spectrum, from people whom I knew to be convinced Conservatives to those of quite different political persuasions. It included retired military personnel, and people connected with the present military. I think we have a duty to express such views today, as many Members have.
The danger today was first that we would be subject to a distraction, and secondly that we would be subject to caricatures. The distraction would have been a discussion of the nature of Saddam Hussein's regime. We do not need to discuss how appalling Saddam Hussein's regime is; we know that from past evidence. We did not need the dossier to tell us. We are convinced, and there is no dissent in the Chamber.
As for the caricatures, some portray those with doubts about military action as either wishing to support the Iraqi regime or being engaged in a pacifism that does not take account of circumstances. I think a great deal of respect is owed to those who have deeply pacifist views, but many, myself included, do not have such views, and are quite prepared to see British military forces used in the right circumstances. We would argue, however, that these are not the right circumstances.
Another caricature is the suggestion that those opposed to military action are engaging in a crude anti-Americanism. I reject that caricature, but I reject equally the caricature suggesting that the Prime Minister is engaged in this process simply because he wishes to curry favour with the Administration in the White House. I think that those who heard the Prime Minister's statement today accept that he sincerely believes that there is a threat to British interests, and wants to address it. I am prepared to accept that at face value, and to accept that his discussions with the US Administration may have had a beneficial effect, but I find it hard to accept that we should offer a blank cheque, before any negotiations, saying that we will support any American position unconditionally. That supine position is unworthy of any politician or party in this country. When parties' policies change with a change of policy in America, we have to ask whether the British interest is being properly taken into account.
There are dissenting voices in America, too. I was there on holiday a few weeks ago and I heard a vigorous debate going on. I heard real doubts expressed not only by Democrats but by leading Republicans about the wisdom of the course that the Administration were taking. Doubts were being expressed even within the Administration, and I think that those are at the core of President Bush's renewed attempts to seek United Nations approval.
We must ask not whether we support an action through the United Nations to remove weapons of mass destruction from the Iraqi arsenal but what happens next, if the action fails. What concerns many hon. Members and our constituents is that we hear warlike noises and an apparent unilateralism from across the Atlantic, seeming to signal a determination to take action irrespective of the views of the United Nations and the actions that may be taken by the Security Council and the inspection regime that we want. We hear a doctrine of pre-emptive strikes, and many of us find it hard to equate that with international legality and a coalition for action.
The Prime Minister's statement made no mention of the United States, which is odd, given that there cannot be any lack of understanding of the central role that the US plays, and we have had no analysis of the future intentions of the American Administration or of our priorities as we, quite rightly, to use the cant phrase, stand shoulder to shoulder with the US in fighting terrorism. Those of us who were in Washington on
We have had no analysis of the military consequences of any conflict. I have no doubt that the military strength of the US and the UK can defeat Saddam's forces, although not without difficulty—there are certainly logistical difficulties along the way. The Prime Minister said:
"there is no way that this man, in this region above all regions, could begin a conflict using such weapons and the consequences not engulf the whole world."
I accept that view, but what does it matter who starts the conflict? If that is the situation, where is the analysis of the consequences for the region and the world? He made no analysis of the effects on the Kurdish population and the knock-on effects on Turkey, or the effects on the Shi'ite population or Iran, not to mention the wider Muslim world and the potential increase in extremism and terrorism in central Asia, for instance—in Uzbekistan or Turkmenistan, perhaps. Do we want to create new Afghanistans, harbouring more terrorists?
Setting aside any consideration of the benefits of legality, it is in British and American interests to work within international law. The argument for taking preventive action alone is the argument of the vigilante. We reject that in domestic law, and we should do the same internationally. We cannot take the law into our own hands. The President of the United States is not the law west of the Pecos.
Everything that we do in the House, in the Government or in our diplomatic relations with others should be based on the overwhelming principle that we must take an international legal view that encompasses the United Nations, exerting the greatest pressure possible to persuade the Iraqi Government to conform. Any action must be within that compass, but the Prime Minister has not persuaded me or, I suspect, many of our colleagues that he is necessarily committed to pursuing that line in the coming months.
Like one or two other Labour Members, I am strangely in agreement with sentiments expressed by the hon. Members for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor) and for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh). I find more resonance in what they said than in the Prime Minister's statement or the Foreign Secretary's speech.
I certainly did not understand the comments of my right hon. Friend Mr. Mandelson, who seemed to be saying that it was the rest of the world that was out of step with the United Nations, and that we should get in step with the United States because that is the realpolitik of the world today. I remind him that it was not the rest of the world that stopped making its contributions to the UN or that set out to scupper the UN and its agencies. It certainly was not the leader of the rest of the world, whoever that may be—although perhaps that, too, is George Bush twice over—who went to the UN and said that it should back him in what he wanted to do, or he would do it anyway. That is the rub.
I have listened carefully to what has been said today, and of course I read the dossier. I share the reservations expressed by Government and Opposition Members about that. I do not think that it adds anything to the sum total of our knowledge of what a nasty regime there is in Iraq and what a nasty man Saddam Hussein is. I wonder about the timing of the document, and why it came into being at all. As I recall, it was promised in lieu of the kind of debate that we are having today, and it was only because of the pressure of the House and of public opinion that we have had the document and are having this debate. Without that pressure, and similar pressure from like-minded people in the United States, I do not believe that the US would have gone to the United Nations at all.
Let me sound a note of caution about the Joint Intelligence Committee. Anyone who knows anything about these matters knows that the quid pro quo for military co-operation with the US is that it shares intelligence with us. I hazard a guess that many of the dossier's allegations are based on American-led intelligence. They may be true—I do not know—but let us remember that these are the same intelligence services that misled Congress at the outbreak of the first Gulf war, when they said that 350,000 Iraqi troops were massed on the Kuwaiti border. It was Congress, not I, that declared that it had been misled.
It was the same intelligence services that said that a chemical factory in Khartoum was manufacturing weapons of mass destruction, which has since been found not to be true. They were the ones who failed to analyse the information that they had before the dreadful events of
My second point is about the confusion between the British and American Governments. Is this about eradicating weapons of mass destruction or regime change? I distinctly heard the Foreign Secretary emphasise that the objective was to eradicate weapons of mass destruction. Before we place too much faith in Hans Blix, let us remember that in April this year, Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defence, ordered a CIA investigation into Hans Blix, presumably because it was felt that he could not be relied upon to deliver the goods.
If this is not about eradicating the weapons of mass destruction, it is about regime change. Senior members of the US Administration have a long record of advocating this. On
"In the long term, it means removing Saddam Hussein and his regime from power. That now needs to become the aim of American foreign policy."
I am sure that many lunatics write to Presidents, as they do to Prime Ministers. However, the signatories included Donald Rumsfeld, now Defence Secretary, the aforementioned Paul Wolfowitz, now Deputy Secretary of Defence, and John Bolton, Richard Perle and Richard Armitage, all luminaries of the current US Administration. We know exactly what their objective is.
It is certainly true that on that dreadful day of
In this debate, we must contextualise what is going on. There is no doubt in my mind that the US Administration have set themselves certain strategic targets. They have effected a change to their national security policy in which pre-emption, not deterrence, is the order of the day. They have revisited their nuclear policy so that they can use tactical and strategic nuclear weapons in a pre-emptive way but also against non-nuclear powers. They have also adopted a military strategy—joint vision 20:20—that states quite explicitly that their aim is full-spectrum dominance in air, sea, land, space and information.
There is no secret about this; it has been discussed in right-wing circles in the USA for many years. It has been adopted by the Administration—that is their right as an Administration, whether we like it and approve of it or not. We must decide whether the path that we are taking best serves the interests of this country and best reflects public opinion and, more important, fears about the direction in which the US Administration are taking America.
I share the view of my hon. Friend Glenda Jackson and others that we make a distinction between the Administration and the people of America. I receive a huge number of e-mails from concerned people in America and they go right across the spectrum. They are as concerned as we are, but their national situation is different, as is the way that their media operate.
My particular concern is that if we are not careful and it is Iraq today, I am sure that it will be Iran tomorrow and Syria the day after. I am sure that Donald Rumsfeld's prediction last year that China is the ultimate enemy will come to pass. I hate to say it, but we have a group of people in key positions driving an Administration who, in my view, are almost paranoid. I describe these cold war warriors not as hawks but as pterodactyls because they mix views of a dim and distant past with the new technologies and realpolitik of the 21st century.
We must be very careful about understanding where we might go. I hope to goodness that we do not go in that direction; I hope that the attempts at diplomacy are successful. However, we must be careful not to tie ourselves to a strategy that most people do not begin to understand, much less appreciate, once they know about it.
I am delighted to catch your eye in this important debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and to follow Mr. Kilfoyle. He is one of the true independent voices in the House and speaks a great deal of common sense.
I am grateful to the Prime Minister for, rather belatedly, acceding to the request of my right hon. and hon. Friends to hold a debate on this important subject. He should have published the dossier before 8 o'clock this morning to allow right hon. and hon. Members time in which to digest it prior to the debate. I hope that the House will be immediately recalled to debate any future developments. The number of people here shows how important the debate is.
I have had scores of letters from constituents on this subject. People are very concerned about the prospect of going to war with Saddam Hussein. They are right to be so because the basis and the evidence need to be absolutely clear before we take such a step.
There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein is one of the most evil dictators the world has ever seen. We know that more than 1 million people were killed in the Iran-Iraq war. We know that he launched mustard gas attacks against Iran and against his own people. In the Gulf war not only did he annex Kuwait but he launched Scud missiles against Israel and Saudi Arabia. We know that his is an extremely evil regime. However, those who really suffer are the people of Iraq. Those 22 million people live in a country that has the world's second largest proven oil reserves, yet in 1996 they had a gross domestic product income per head of just under $600.
Iraq has a highly educated middle class. Some 54 per cent. of people in the urban population are middle class and educated, yet they still have an appalling standard of living. In the 1990s, the number of child deaths from water pollution either doubled or trebled, according to which source one believes.
This is an evil regime, yet we must deal with it properly, otherwise we will not take the world coalition of front-line Arab and other states with us. We had that coalition in the Gulf war; it is essential to maintain it again, whatever action we take against Saddam Hussein.
This is a very important debate. It comes at a time when the United Nations is deciding what sort of resolution it might draw up and pass. People seem to have forgotten the history of the matter. In 1998, UNSCOM, the weapons inspectors, finally had to leave Iraq. Britain and the United States have tried repeatedly to get strong resolutions so that they could go back but they have been thwarted by other nations on the Security Council. I hope that this debate will form part of the process so that we can get a strong and clear renewed UN mandate. That mandate must set clear goals and a clear timetable. That must be followed, if there is still non-compliance by Saddam Hussein, by a proper ultimatum. Only then should we consider committing our troops and forces to war.
Using the royal prerogative and committing troops to war is one of the most serious things that any Prime Minister can do. The right hon. Gentleman needs the support and backing of this Parliament. That is why I urge him to recall Parliament quickly in all future developments.
It is essential to consider what sort of regime could come after any action is taken against Saddam Hussein. Surely, before we go to war, the ultimate aim must be to get the weapons inspectors back. I do not believe that the dossier published this morning contains much new evidence that is not known by the international community. Let us get the weapons inspectors back into Iraq, backed up by force if necessary. If they have unfettered and unhindered access to the whole of Iraq, including the presidential palaces, we will know for certain what facilities Iraq has. If Saddam Hussein does not comply with a tough UN resolution, we must back it up by force, but I hope that we are some way off that yet.
We need to consider the effect of any action on what might come afterwards. It did not happen in the Gulf war, but it might be that if Saddam Hussein and his regime were no longer in power, the fragile coalition that exists there might break up. If Iraq breaks up, stability in the region could be in serious jeopardy. The old doctrine used to be that Iraq and Iran should be roughly equal. We are postulating taking action against Iraq, which might have nuclear capability, but we know for certain that its neighbour, Iran, does have such capability.
We must also be careful about stability in the region because of Islamic fundamentalism within Arab countries and within countries that have large Arab populations, such as the United States and the United Kingdom. We do not wish to inflame Arab temperaments by taking action that is pejorative. That is why we need UN resolutions.
If we take action against Saddam Hussein, we will be calling for restraint from the Israelis, particularly the Israeli Prime Minister. They behaved with great restraint during the Gulf war when Scud missiles were being launched at them and I appeal to them, as will the international community, to show the same restraint if we have to take action against Saddam Hussein.
We need to look at what will happen to international oil supplies. I have already said that Iraq has the world's second largest proven oil reserves, but it is not just Iraq's potential 3.5 billion barrels a day that must concern us, but the production of oil in the entire middle east. We must take steps to minimise any disruption to oil supplies to the west. We all know that the three-day war in 1973 was followed by a huge period of inflation.
I will not use up all my allotted time because I know that many others wish to speak. This is an important debate and is a possible precursor to our country going to war. I ask the House to consider the most important question, which is whether action is more risky than inaction. I suggest that since
I want to make only one main point. This has been a useful debate, but we all know that we will be back here again in a few weeks. There will be a crunch time when the United Nations tries to put together a resolution that will be acceptable to the middle east countries and to other members of the Security Council. If we do not get that resolution, we will be back here to decide how to respond. If we do get that resolution, we will be back here either to accept the inspector's report showing that certain things have been found and certain things have been done and that it is acceptable to the Security Council or because the inspectors have been obstructed or have found things to which the Iraqi Government are not prepared to respond. The United Nations and the British Government would then have to decide what to do.
I have read the document published by the Government this morning but it does not take us much further along the road. Presumably, its contents are the intelligence community's best belief about the situation in Iraq. I do not know whether that is so, but when the public here and in other countries are deciding whether they believe what is being said by our Government, they will not be persuaded by what the Joint Intelligence Committee has said. I am not saying that the committee is wrong, just that the public will not be persuaded.
I believe that people will be persuaded—certainly those in my constituency who have been lobbying me—only if there is a just cause that must be addressed by the international community. When people are making up their minds about whether there is a just cause, they will ask themselves whether the United Nations backs what has been suggested. Any diplomatic and political strategy should be carried out through the United Nations, and I am glad that our Government are committed to taking forward the strategy in that way.
The Government must also say that, if we get into difficulties with diplomacy and need to take things further, it will also be done through the United Nations. It would be extremely dangerous for Britain and America to go ahead on their own with some military adventure in Iraq. It would cause more problems than it would solve. There is no doubt that Britain and America have the military power to destroy whatever they want to destroy in Iraq, but what happens afterwards? If we do not start with a coalition of public support, it will be impossible to build any stable society in Iraq and neighbouring countries afterwards.
I was in the middle east about 10 days ago and I spoke to many people in both the political and commercial sectors. They all believed that, ultimately, it was about oil and that that was why there was such focus from the international community. They also believed that without an international coalition, the instability caused by any action would cause huge problems for oil supplies. I do not believe that the Government will have public support unless there is a coalition through the UN from the beginning.
We cannot get such a coalition without persuading Iraq's neighbours that they must support whatever action is being proposed. It is not good enough for the dossier simply to say that there is a problem. The people in the neighbouring countries have to believe that there is a problem and want the support of the international community, just as the Kuwaiti community did during the Gulf war. We must not ignore that issue.
I do not want to say any more other than that it would be wrong for our nation and Government to enter into action in Iraq, either political or military, without international support. Any action must be through the United Nations and there must be support from other members of the Security Council and other Arab and Islamic states in the region that might be threatened.
I should like to say a few words about Iraq, the threat of terrorism and descriptions of a new world order that are now being articulated to justify military action.
On Iraq, my reservations have already been voiced by my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Hogg and my hon. Friend Mr. Leigh. I will not rehearse those arguments again. Like them, I am not convinced by the evidence so far provided that Saddam has the capability and the intention to attack the west. I think that the biggest single risk from current developments is that if we engage in military action and Saddam is cornered, he may attack Israel and provoke it to the point of triggering a general middle east conflagration.
It is, of course, right that the UN should try to resolve the crisis through a resumption of weapons inspections. However, I differ from my colleagues in one important respect. In a crisis such as this, so much depends on intelligence information, which, except in general terms, Prime Ministers cannot share with us. Only the Prime Minister can judge the scale of this threat. He says that he is convinced that it is very serious and very real. Ultimately, I will have to trust his reasons for forming that judgment, but in the coming weeks I hope that he will go far further than he has so far today in explaining the need for war.
The crisis now developing has its roots in the terrorist atrocity of 9/11. Britain can make a significant contribution to reducing the risk of further terrorist threats. The most important thing that we can do is to get the Americans to grasp the full implications of the fact that terrorism cannot be overcome solely by military means. They must grasp that the level of anti-western terrorism from the Islamic world will be determined partly by the battle for the hearts and minds of moderate Muslim opinion, and that must mean addressing the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.
The Prime Minister has implied, and briefed the press, that he has a lot of influence behind the scenes with the United States. Publicly, he backs almost everything that the Americans say. If he really has a unique and special relationship with President Bush, the acid test must surely be whether the Prime Minister can persuade him to moderate Israeli military action in Palestine. That is not only morally right, but it is in the security interests of Britain and the west. It would do more to reduce the threat of Islamic terrorism in the west than any number of military operations.
No. If the hon. Lady will forgive me, I have only 10 minutes to make my speech.
Let me say a few words about the rhetoric of new world orders that has been put around recently. Over the past year, the Prime Minister has made speeches calling for a new world order in which the west should be justified in intervening to prevent abuses of human rights. However, there is a gap between that rhetoric and the hard reality of the campaign against terrorism. If we are to tackle terrorism, we must be prepared to accept that we will have to do business with many countries whose human rights records make us feel uncomfortable to say the least. The list includes Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Malaysia, China and Egypt. We have been dealing with all those countries to try to break down the al-Qaeda network. We do so because they have repudiated terrorism even though their human rights records are awful. That is the contradiction at the heart of the Prime Minister's new order. His attempt today to justify action against Saddam partly on the ground of human rights abuses in Iraq is at best disingenuous. We are not launching a humanitarian expedition.
Some of the rhetoric coming from the Bush Administration is even more worrying. The Prime Minister will discover that his new world order is very different from that espoused by the American President. The Prime Minister's new world order is internationalist and based on human rights; America's is unilateralist and designed to facilitate the expression of US power. It is underpinned by two new doctrines. The first is the doctrine of regime change: the removal by force, if necessary, of the leaders of rogue states. The second is the doctrine of pre-emptive military action: the view that in the case of rogue and failed states, military action may be taken even in the absence of a clear and imminent threat from those countries to America's interests.
Those doctrines are inherently destabilising of international relations. The notion that pre-emptive action may be taken without clear evidence of an imminent attack undermines the most basic principle of the relations between states—that military action can be justified only by self-defence. The doctrine of regime change is equally corrosive. Who should decide when a country's leadership should be changed?
Those doctrines could all too easily be used by other countries to justify their actions and secure their objectives. Vladimir Putin has already articulated President Bush's rhetoric in a speech to justify recent bombing in Georgia. Such arguments will not be lost on the Chinese or Prime Minister Sharon, among others.
America and the west will not be able to prevent that. Preponderant though the US is, she is not strong enough to impose her will on the whole world; she must seek allies and balance forces, as all previous superpowers have done, and do that within the existing system of states.
The stability of the international system has at its core a mutual recognition of the legitimacy of other states to exist, to secure their frontiers and to maintain law and order. I am not making a narrow point about international law, nor do I think that no action can ever be taken unless the UN sanctions it. I believe that it is simply a common-sense principle. It is what the US was building on when Truman and Acheson developed the doctrine of containment after the second world war as a means of managing Soviet expansionism. It was Henry Kissinger's achievement, through detente, to engage with the Soviet Union to the point where the Soviet Union had a greater interest in recognising the rights of other states to exist than it did in seeking to undermine them.
The multilateralism of the US in the post-war era has done the world a huge service, not only by keeping the peace, but by providing the necessary stability to enable European recovery and lay the foundations for western prosperity. We owe the Americans a great debt, but those parts of the US policy-making machine that now want to create a new international order need to know—and to be told by our Government—that they are shaking that system to its foundations.
If an attack on Iraq is justified on the grounds of the new doctrines of regime change and pre-emptive action, there is far more at stake than the uncertainty that inevitably comes with large-scale military action, the possible disintegration of Iraq or even the destabilisation of the whole middle east. If action is justified by the doctrine of regime change and pre-emptive action, the overthrow of Saddam will provide many states with the opportunity to take action using the same rhetoric in breach of the traditional restraints on the use of force. It will cut at the roots of international order and in the long run it will make us less secure, not more secure.
The greatest contribution that the Prime Minister can make now is not just to drop some of his own rhetoric about a new international order, but to persuade George Bush of the dangers of his own.
Earlier today, the Prime Minister gave us a powerful description of the nature of the regime in Iraq. Nobody on either side of the debate or on either side of the House has disagreed with it. Partly because of that description, I wonder why the call by my hon. Friend Ann Clwyd for a proper indictment of Saddam Hussein has not been taken up with greater vigour.
I also think that the emphasis that my hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary placed on the context in which they may be considering military action made some sense although I have some questions. It was couched very much in terms of maintaining pressure on Saddam in order to avoid that action. However, I have great difficulty reconciling what was said in the Chamber today about using threats to pressure Saddam with the messages that have been coming rather more consistently from the White House and the United States. They do not appear to be arguing that if international law and UN resolutions are to be obeyed, it is not enough to exhort and set processes in train and that it is necessary to ensure that there is the will and the ability to enforce them. Rather, the message is that a conclusion has already been reached and that the procedures of arguing the case in the United Nations and winning international support are stages on the way to reaching that conclusion rather than means of avoiding that conclusion and trying to ensure a peaceful resolution to the problem that we face. That is worrying and profoundly troubling. If we are to play a role in international affairs which maximises our leverage and influence over the United States, we need to draw out some of those distinctions, say that the conclusions have not yet been reached and act accordingly.
Although it is to be welcomed that President Bush went to the United Nations, I find it troubling that that was rapidly followed by an enunciation of the new doctrines to which many hon. Members have already referred: the doctrines in the US national security strategy of pre-emptive strikes. The United States appears to take to itself the power and the responsibility of acting as some kind of global emperor—of deciding which states and actions are legitimate, which states and regimes may remain in place and which will not be allowed to remain. As many hon. Members have said, that is not only profoundly destabilising of the reality of international politics, but undermines the very principles on which the United Nations was based. There can be no shortcuts round the United Nations. No state can set itself above the United Nations as the arbiter of international affairs.
As my hon. Friend Mr. Henderson said, if the United States and perhaps Britain launched military action against Iraq in support of those doctrines, it is true that in the short term and the narrow military sense a victory could be secured. But we must ask what the consequences of that would be for the region and the wider world. I have travelled to the middle east many times and the allegation there from both the Governments and the people in the street is of double standards. Their perception is that somehow international law and United Nations resolutions are more precious in one part of the world than they are in another.
I welcome the fact that the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary have sponsored a new United Nations resolution on the middle east and I welcome their support for a new initiative to get the peace process going. If for Iraq we say that it is not enough to exhort and set processes in train and that we must ensure that the will of the United Nations and of the international community is upheld, that applies equally to Israel. We need to say that.
No, I have not got time. There is only 10 minutes for my speech. The intervention was perhaps predictable.
If we are to overcome those allegations of double standards, we have to demonstrate by our actions that we do not take that approach. We must put ourselves in the position of a refugee in Gaza who is not allowed to go from one part of Gaza to another because it has been closed off, and whose home may have been destroyed by an Israeli aircraft supplied by the United States and perhaps with components made here in Great Britain. It is not enough to say to that person, "There is a difference because for your situation the UN resolution is covered by chapter 6 rather than chapter 7." The reality is the same. We must show by our actions that we are serious about those matters. We must show that simply exhortation and setting processes in train is no more sufficient for the middle east crisis than it is for Iraq.
I say that not just from the point of view of justice; I say it because it is vital for our credibility in making any challenges to the threats posed by Saddam Hussein. In the Gulf war in the early 1990s Saddam responded entirely predictably. He is no friend of the Palestinians, but he poses as one. He launched Scud missiles against Israel. Fortunately, Israel did not respond. Do we honestly think that Saddam Hussein would behave differently this time? I do not think so. There may be a key difference in that there is a different kind of Government in Israel. In the aftermath of
It is right to take this issue seriously. It is right that we meet the threat posed by Saddam's nuclear weapons programme and his acquisition of other weapons of mass destruction. But we need to be absolutely clear that that can be done only in the context of international law. The instrument that we have fashioned to uphold international law is the United Nations and there can be no shortcuts or ways round it. If we are to ensure that that instrument can be fashioned to deal with Saddam and Iraq, we have to show by our actions, and America must accept, that international law and United Nations resolutions are indivisible. They are as important in their application to the Palestinian in Gaza as in dealing with the threat posed by Saddam.
"In war, whichever side may call itself the victor, there are no winners, but all are losers."
As some Members may know, that is a quote from Neville Chamberlain in July 1938. While history has not been kind to him, it would be astonishing if we did not all sympathise, although perhaps not agree, with those sentiments.
As we discuss war or military action tonight we should remember how ghastly it is. There is always death and every soldier, British, Iraqi, Serb or Afghan, is some mother's son. Nobody who has seen war will relish seeing it again. Chamberlain's sentiments were based on experiences of the first world war.
War may be the lesser of two evils. If Saddam Hussein would comply completely with all UN resolutions, there would be no need for this debate or, for any military action and certainly no need for war. I come to this debate with a slightly different perspective. Excellent speeches have been made, but I should like to discuss the issue from my minor experiences of the Gulf war in 1991 when I rejoined as the chief of staff of the prisoner-of-war guard force in Iraq, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. It is only limited experience, but I saw something from ground level.
First, the Iraqi army—we captured some 8,000 prisoners of war—was not well motivated. Almost as soon as British troops appeared morale collapsed and they surrendered. I am not suggesting that we should be complacent about any Iraqi troops now, but we should know that there was no morale and no motivation. The soldiers were not well equipped. Far from it. Most of their tanks were T55s built in 1955. They were all Soviet tanks and by 1991 Soviet tanks had progressed to T82s, as I recall. It was old, obsolete equipment. Their kit was dreadful.
In field hospitals I saw soldiers that we were treating who had been shot by their own side when they tried to surrender, because that was how they made people serve. We saved many Iraqis from starvation, from dehydration and from dying of cold. The first Iraqis that I encountered on the first day of the war were all very swarthy, dressed in British NBC—nuclear, biological and chemical protection kit. I wondered why they were all dressed like that. The answer was that they were dying of exposure and we saved them. We put in a special Chinook helicopter filled with water, because we took so many prisoners who were dying of thirst because their side had not tried, or not been able, to feed or water them.
When these conscripts saw that they were not in danger, and that they were in a prisoner-of-war camp being well treated and fed, it became like a school outing because they were so happy. Imagine British soldiers with bayonets fixed—18-year-old boys wondering what to do when these unarmed Iraqis would crawl under the fences between the cages to get a second meal. They did not want to shoot or bayonet them, so in the end the Iraqis just got two meals. They were very happy to be under our protection; there was no question about that.
The prisoners were not in any way pro Saddam Hussein. Some of them had literally been rounded up in the fields or in factories. They had been taken away and press ganged; that is well documented from the Iran-Iraq war. They were certainly not in favour of the war and, like all conscripts, they wanted to go home to their families. They wanted peace. They were terrified of informers—Iraq was a police state then as it is now—but I spoke to many in private who were willing to say how desperately they wanted to get rid of the Saddam Hussein regime. That was not true of the Republican Guard—they were a different matter—but it must be said that they also surrendered when they were confronted by superior force.
The huge majority of these people wanted the end of Saddam Hussein and we let them down. I was told that many, when they were finally taken back some six months later by the Iraqi regime, were murdered or imprisoned by the regime.
A lot of nonsense is talked about the end of the war in 1991—about how we could not go on and occupy Baghdad. All that we had to do was fight on for about another two days. It was not easy; we were coming to the end of our supply chain and lines of communication were very stretched, but if we had moved on at the same pace for another two days we would have cut off the bulk of the Republican Guard, who were north-east of Basra, and if we had done so we would have cut off Saddam Hussein's support.
I hear people say that we had to stop the war because of the coalition. It seemed to me that all members of the coalition were astonished that we stopped, and indeed the Arab leaders were very distressed that we had not deposed their enemy, Saddam Hussein. We read self-justification in the papers now, but I remember being told, when I was woken in my basha on the Iraqi sand, that there was a ceasefire coming, which would be exactly 100 hours after the invasion started, because they wanted a 100-hour war. That decision was taken by George Bush Sr. There was no consultation. Douglas Hurd—he can correct me if I am wrong—now Lord Hurd, who was Foreign Secretary, was in Washington DC and he was not consulted. I remember seeing James Baker, then the Secretary of State, standing on the steps of the White House saying, "We have taught Saddam Hussein a lesson." I believe that he misjudged the situation terribly. Now, 11 and a half years on, Saddam Hussein is still a bloody tyrant who terrorises his own people.
I will not dwell on the million people killed in the Iran-Iraq war, or the fact that 600-odd Kuwaiti prisoners of war and deportees who were taken to Iraq have still not been accounted for. Although I will not dwell on it, we should remember that the Iraqis set light to all those oil wells, creating ghastly pollution in the Persian gulf in 1991, and that Saddam killed 5,000 people in Halabja. I will mention the fact that Saddam butchered his own sons-in-law in 1996, having given them a guarantee of safety, and that he has butchered thousands of others. Since 1991, he has defied endless UN resolutions.
Saddam has been compared to Hitler, which people say is completely inappropriate, but I do not think that it is. It is much more appropriate than comparing the foreign policy of George Bush to that of Hitler. I do not believe that Saddam's brutality and his actions against Iraqis are enough to force a war because, with my hon. Friend Mr. Tyrie, I do not believe that it is our right to impose regime change on Iraq—although I think that it may occur.
However, Saddam Hussein continues to work to threaten us, and we see that in the dossier. Nothing much in it is new, but it does show that he has the intent to threaten other people. He is a threat to his own poor people and, I believe, a threat to the peace of the world, the region and the middle east. Those who dismiss that assertion should judge him by his past actions.
Saddam launched Scuds against Israel in 1991. Would he launch a nuclear missile against Israel now if he had one? I do not know, but I think that it is a possibility because, as people have identified, it would bring all the Arabs to his side. Perhaps he might.
We should have learned from the experience of the past 12 years, or indeed the 23 years that Saddam has been in power, that we cannot trust him. We cannot negotiate with him. We cannot ride this crocodile.
War is never easy and always ghastly. We have heard some navel-gazing from the Liberal Democrats in particular, asking, "What if this? What if that?" It is very fair that these questions should be asked, but could the result of, for example, Iraq's breaking up be worse for the Iraqi Kurds or the Iraqi Marsh Arabs or the Shi'ites than it is now? They have lived a ghastly life under this regime. If the Iraqi Kurds want self-determination, is not that to a very large extent up to them? It seems to me that it should be, within the United Nations.
Saddam Hussein has flouted the United Nations for well over 12 years. He is certainly a threat to his old enemies, such as Iran, and perhaps also Saudi Arabia. I think that he is a threat to us in the United Kingdom and the United States, who are also his old enemies. However, the legal position, which has been addressed, is very important. United Nations resolutions are very important. We should remember that Saddam Hussein has no legitimacy himself. He got there by force; he keeps himself there by force. He oppresses, tortures and executes his people. The greatest beneficiaries if, God forbid, we should have to go to war, of his defeat and—I believe it should be an object also—his subsequent removal from power would be the poor, oppressed, benighted people of Iraq.
I thank my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary for so clearly stating today the case for the rule of international law, the return of the UN weapons inspectors and the necessity of destroying the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
I too believe that doing nothing is not an option. But as the Prime Minister said today, we have not been doing nothing. Our right hon. Friends have said that the policy of containment has not worked. Well, perhaps not. But we need to ask, could we have done more and differently? Could the threat of war have been avoided, and can actual war now be averted? I believe that the answer to all three questions is yes.
Last year my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister spoke movingly of a new world order—the primacy of multilateral agreements, not just in tackling terrorism but in poverty alleviation, development and reconstruction. Since that time, by contrast with the exemplary behaviour of our own Government, the United States has opted out of effective multilateral co-operation and developed an increasingly unilateralist and pre-emptive military stance. Furthermore, I believe that President Bush has sought to use international support for the war against terrorism to justify regime change in Iraq. That connection deserves examination.
A year ago, the United Kingdom was committed to military action against al-Qaeda. I supported that action, as I did the military action in the Gulf. I accepted the justification of self-defence under international law, but I do not believe that at present we have the same justification of self-defence in respect of the Iraqi regime. I do believe that the risks involved in war against Iraq are greater than the risks of pursuing the alternative strategy of diplomacy and UN inspections, and I do not underestimate how difficult, time-consuming and frustrating that will be.
I have just returned from a conference in Egypt, hosted by the first lady, Suzanne Mubarak. Immediately before that I was in Afghanistan. I believe that both experiences are relevant to today's debate.
The year-long war against terrorism in Afghanistan has been waged by 10,000 combat and support troops but, despite the disruption of the al-Qaeda operation in that country, very few al-Qaeda militia have been captured and US intelligence believes that their leadership largely remains intact. It is commonly acknowledged that al-Qaeda's threat to the west derives from its primary aim of replacing the house of Saud, establishing an Islamist state and ridding Saudi Arabia and the middle east of American bases and influence. Nothing, I suggest, could provide al-Qaeda with more ready recruits and the pretext for further attacks on the west than Saudi support for a US strike on Baghdad.
Even more of a paradox in the prosecution of this war against terrorism is the deterioration in the security situation in Israel and the occupied territories. Despite the constant cycle of violence, the suicide bombings, assassinations, detention, punishments and the horrific events of the past few days, the US Administration continues to arm and support Israel unconditionally. So where is the justice? Where is the security? Where is the new world order?
We have to ask ourselves whether a military attack on Iraq would enhance or undermine justice and security in the middle east and whether a military attack would increase or decrease the threat of terrorist attack against the west. I believe that such a war risks huge loss of life, massive environmental damage and the possible destabilisation of the very states in the middle east that the US says it seeks to protect from Saddam's weapons of mass destruction. Surely a strategy of regime change by military means, as other hon. Members have said today, risks Saddam using the very weapons of mass destruction that we so fear.
During the past few days in Egypt, I have talked extensively to women from a number of Arab states. Without exception, they are opposed to the Iraqi regime and, without exception, they are opposed to military action. Each confessed to being afraid—afraid for their own countries, for their economies and for their environments, and deeply angry at the prospect of the Iraqi people having to suffer more pain. Being there in Egypt gave me a profound sense of being one of them, looking at us and wondering how we could contemplate such a war—a feeling which is further reinforced by talking to women from the United Nations, who are quietly preparing the camps, transport and food sources for the anticipated humanitarian crisis.
That brings me to Afghanistan. I was there on
The transitional Government are vulnerable, with a serious ethnic imbalance. There is as yet no trained police force and no army loyal to the central Government. Nearly 2 million refugees have returned to Kabul, yet not a single home has been built by the transitional authority. All calls for an extension of ISAF have failed to get results, and warlords continue to rampage through the rest of the country. Many of the financial promises made in Tokyo have yet to materialise, and the World Food Programme has just put out an appeal for funds because it does not have the money to buy the wheat for the essential winter feeding programmes.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister rightly reminded the House today that the international community made a solemn promise not to walk away. I have no doubt about his sincerity, but I tell the House that in Afghanistan people believe that the United States is about to move on. We cannot make promises to the people of Iraq unless we are absolutely certain that we will honour those that we have already made elsewhere.
In conclusion, I urge my right hon. Friends to continue vigorously to pursue their efforts to secure the peaceful re-entry of the UN inspectors, to build more effective alliances in the region and to reinvigorate the middle east peace process. Only with greater justice do I believe that war can be avoided and that the goal that unites us all—the destruction of the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction—can be realised.
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.
The Prime Minister helpfully set out in his statement this morning that, first, the return of weapons inspectors to Iraq was high on his list of priorities, and secondly that for him the objective was the destruction of the weapons of mass destruction held by Iraq. Although that was very helpful, the Prime Minister's case has been massively undermined by the confusion that has arisen as a result of very senior sources in the American Administration talking consistently about regime change and very different objectives.
That voice, heard in this House and throughout Britain, has led to an extraordinary degree of cynicism about the American Administration's real objectives. I share that cynicism because I know of no way that this Government would be in a position in the end to constrain the actions of the United States Administration. The United States most certainly has the capacity to make war unilaterally and to win that war in military terms if it chooses to do so.
The most bizarre thing about the recent announcement of the new American doctrine of pre-emptive strikes and unilateralism is that it flies so much in the face of what we thought that the Americans and the world had learned when this House met just 12 months ago in the aftermath of the events of
The odd thing at the moment is that, as one of my hon. Friends said, we should be calling Saddam Hussein's bluff. We should be saying, "Look, if you accept weapons inspectors into Iraq again, we will ensure that we get them in and that existing and, indeed, new UN Security Council resolutions will be a basis for that." Like others, I call strongly for a resolution to make clear at every stage the expectations of Saddam Hussein and—this is important—of the world community, including Great Britain and the United States. It is important that there is no room for doubt over where the world goes from here.
It is important, for example, that if the weapons inspectors return to Iraq and discover default, obfuscation or deliberate attempts on the part of Saddam to prevent them from carrying out their activities, that it is reported not by politicians but by the inspectors themselves. Then it would be for the world community to make a decision. Under those circumstances, with UN support, I would support military action to enforce the UN resolutions, as at that point it would be clear that Saddam Hussein was intending to flout them. Long before that, however, we must get those inspectors into the country and call Saddam's bluff. That would give us the opportunity of a peaceful resolution.
I must say iconoclastically that no one has answered the question about what happened to the policy of deterrence. Perhaps the deterrence argument has disappeared, yet such an argument still exists and my hon. Friend Mrs. Mahon made it. There is no doubt that Saddam is an evil man. He has done some horrendous things to his own people and his neighbours. I watched him over many years when Saddam-watching was not a high priority in the House, but I do not think that he is suicidal. I do not agree that he would resist the concept of deterrence if it were clear that he would meet overwhelming force from the United States and, indeed, Great Britain in the event of use of weapons of mass destruction against ourselves or his neighbours.
Although the concept of deterrence is still important, the argument has gone beyond it. We are now committed either to weapons inspectors or to war. Therefore, I must say that the deployment of weapons inspectors is massively cheaper in global terms than the alternative of a conflict.
Various Members on both sides of the House have drawn parallels with past events, 1991, and so on. We most certainly take on board the fact that there is a fragile world opinion, especially in the Arab world, which sees itself as having been humiliated over recent years. We must consider not just what the house of Saud thinks but what is thought by 15 and 16-year-olds growing up in Saudi Arabia and by people throughout the middle east. We must disabuse ourselves of the perception that Saddam is always seen as the villain. Although he most certainly is a villain, we would be very stupid if we did not recognise that we have allowed him to paint himself as the hero of the dispossessed and of those who feel that there is no justice on this planet for them and their condition.
That brings us to the situation in the context of Israel and Palestine. I disagree with my hon. Friends who say that Iraq is only as important as Burma. That is not true. Iraq probably possesses weapons of extraordinary capacity, unlike Burma, and could threaten peace in the middle east and the world. However, the one situation that threatens that even more is that between Palestine and Israel. I ask our Government and the American Government to put just one tenth of the effort directed towards Iraq into resolving that situation. Then we could begin to transform this world and opinion in favour of action against those such as Saddam. We must say clearly to the present Government in Israel that their actions are now so far beyond any level of acceptability that they are part of the whole problem and most certainly not a separate issue that can be dealt with later.
The stakes that we are playing for are quite extraordinary. There are circumstances where, under proper UN mandate, Saddam would legitimately face military action of which Britain should be part if he continued to default on his obligations. We should certainly be part of building such a coalition around the world in the event that we find ourselves in that unhappy position, but at the moment we should be building a coalition to ensure that weapons inspectors return to Iraq, maximum diplomatic pressure is brought to bear on Saddam and that the message is conveyed to a world ready for such action that the UN, as the Prime Minister pointed out, faces a challenge. Its challenge is not to conform to United States doctrine. Quite rightly, it is under the challenge of ensuring that previous UN resolutions come to fruition. That is a challenge for us all, because those of us who believe in the UN have to see its resolutions backed. The way to do that now is to call Saddam's bluff, get the inspectors in and begin that process. If we do that, there will be huge agreement across the House and it will be possible to move forward on that agenda. The challenge to our Government is to say to the Americans that there are no circumstances under which we would now accept pre-emptive military action, because such military action would destroy the fragile balance that exists. It would not be part of making peace for the long-term future.
I fear that the Government's behaviour shows that they underestimate the cynicism and detachment that affect politics in this country and the hard work that they will have to do if they are to persuade the British people to back the action that the Prime Minister proposes. This dossier makes a strong case, but it is evident from remarks made by Members on both sides of the House that it has not persuaded all of us of the justification for that action. However, it is not us but the public at large—both in the United Kingdom and elsewhere—who need to be persuaded.
The Prime Minister has not merely delayed for six weeks, as Mr. George suggested. The Prime Minister has delayed for six months or more. That delay has created in the eyes of many people a serious leadership gap. Six months ago in the debate on
On many occasions since
"When judgments are made, I shall ensure that the House has a full opportunity to debate them."—[Hansard, 10 April 2002; Vol. 382, c. 23.]
That was the formula virtually throughout.
"Instead of focusing on Washington, we should be mobilising public opinion to support the UN, and uniting to apply pressure to Saddam Hussein".—[Hansard, Westminster Hall, 25 April 2002; Vol. 384, c. 175WH.]
What is the evidence of the Government's success in meeting that ambition? The Prime Minister said in his statement earlier today that the issue of Iraq has come over his desk every week in the past year. Yet he also told us that he came back a few weeks ago and realised that he had to go out to explain the issue to people. That has been his failure. He held a conference in Sedgefield and he spoke to the TUC, but until then he had shown disregard for the British people. The Prime Minister's failure to recall the House until now has again shown his disregard not for us but for the British people whom we represent. In his failure to produce this dossier until a few hours before this debate, he showed his disregard for the British people.
Because of that disregard, the Prime Minister has yet to earn our people's support for the course of action on which he is set. That failure will have a price both at home and abroad. At home, there is great distress and great cynicism among many of our constituents. That has been shown to me by my constituents of all parties and of none. Some of them are robust—retired army officers and their wives—and they are not habitually weak kneed in the face of a real threat. However, they say, "Why stir up a hornet's nest in the middle east, which has nothing to do with us?" Some are cynical, and believe that the Prime Minister needs to explain the issue better than he has done so far. They have no belief in the Prime Minister or many other politicians and they use words like "poodle" and "pocket handkerchief Churchill". Some are frankly frightened. A former Labour voter came to me in tears and said, "I fear for the innocent Iraqi women and children. I fear even more for my friends in this country and especially those who live or work in London. But I am angry at my Prime Minister who places his friendship with George W. Bush above the interests of the British people." Those are the sentiments that are expressed to me and it is the Prime Minister's job to answer them.
Many people—it may be news to Labour Members—do not trust the Prime Minister. They did once and they could do so again, but he has to re-earn that trust. He needs to address the issues relating to this conflict that matter to our constituents. International law and the interpretation of UN resolutions, which have taken so much of our attention, are not high on that list of interests.
I am sorry if that is the hon. Gentleman's impression, but those are the sentiments expressed to me by people of all parties, including the Labour party, and of none. For example, people ask whether the Muslim world will see an attack on Iraq as an attack on it. Will it not see it as an extension of United States support for Israel in Palestine? What about the Muslims in this country? On
This debate has been too much about international law and too little about domestic peace of mind. If the Prime Minister wants the British people's assent to the commitment of British troops, he has a duty to get them on his side. He has a duty to secure their peace of mind; he has a duty to fill the leadership gap. It would grieve me not to be able to support the United States—our best and truest friend as a nation—but the case has still to be made.
As other Members have said, the dossier that we received this morning shows conclusively that Saddam Hussein is an evil man. We already knew that. He is a brutal dictator, and he has been a brutal dictator for many years. He has used genocide and poison gas against his own people. He launched a war against Iran albeit with some support from the west, and that resulted in more than 1 million people being killed. He invaded Kuwait, and when he left he caused an environmental disaster by torching the oilfields.
I have no doubt whatever that Saddam Hussein is engaged in making chemical weapons and is seeking to acquire a nuclear capability. Based on his past behaviour, I have no doubt that he will play games with the UN weapons inspectors when they go to Iraq. The world and the people of Iraq will be well rid of him. Indeed, as Mr. Robathan said, if George Bush had allowed Desert Storm to continue for a little while longer, the allies would have been at the gates of Baghdad and Saddam Hussein might well have been deposed by now.
I am sorry, but I have only a short time.
I want to make it clear that, although I fully support the United Kingdom working through the UN, I can envisage situations in which either the United Kingdom or America take unilateral action because they feel that their national interests are under threat. However, having said that, I cannot understand the political logic behind an attack on Iraq.
After the events of 9/11, the civilised world united in its determination to combat and root out international terrorism. We rightly supported action against the Taliban in Afghanistan who were harbouring the al-Qaeda organisation. However, because we were unable completely to destroy al-Qaeda at a stroke we seem to have changed our emphasis and are now considering an attack on what George Bush called part of the "axis of evil". That could have serious consequences, not least because if we attack Iraq on the basis that it is ruled by an evil and brutal man, what are we to do about Iran and North Korea, which are also part of the axis of evil?
I represent a constituency in which almost 50 per cent. of the electors are Muslim. When I tell them that I am a strong supporter of the American ethos and of America, I am not always popular. I do, however, support America and believe that overall it has done much more good than evil in the world, but I must tell my friends in America that their country does not understand Islam or the Muslim world. That was demonstrated when President Bush called the war against terrorism a crusade. Everyone knows that one does not use that word in the context of an attack on international terrorism. One can talk about evil people, but talking about crusades resurrects centuries-old enmity between Muslims and non-Muslims. That was not a clever thing to do, but it was done out of ignorance. As I said, the Americans do not understand the Muslim world or Islam.
If America, with the support of the United Kingdom, launches a pre-emptive strike against Saddam Hussein, he will become a hero throughout the Muslim world, creating, as others have said, enormous problems for countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt, neither of which could be described as the most democratic countries on earth. They are, however, pro-western, and Saudi Arabia is the greatest oil producer in the world. It would not be in the interests of the west or the economies of the United Kingdom or America for Saudi Arabia or Egypt to fall under the control of Iranian fanatics—there would be enormous consequences for all of us.
How would such an attack help the war against international terrorism, bearing in mind the fact that many al-Qaeda operatives captured in Afghanistan were dissidents from Saudi Arabia and Egypt? As has been said, they would love to displace the house of Saud and the present Egyptian Government. I always thought that one of the perks of being a tyrannical dictator was having absolute power to do what one wants, bleed one's country dry and appoint all one's friends to top positions. I cannot believe that Saddam Hussein would want to put that at risk by attempting or threatening to carry out a pre-emptive strike against America or Israel. He knows perfectly well that the consequences would be nuclear annihilation. I do not think that Saddam Hussein is an idiot. I do not believe that he wants to be the dictator of a pile of rubble in Baghdad. Saddam Hussein has probably caused more suffering and deaths, particularly of Muslims, than anyone else alive today, but the British Government's priorities and those of the Americans should be to pursue international terrorism and the al-Qaeda organisation. I cannot see the political logic or sense of embarking on an adventurist campaign against Iraq, with all the inherent consequences and dangers.
Finally, America, Britain and the western world must pay attention to the reasons why international terrorists emerge. International terrorists are born in the refugee camps in Palestine because they latch on to the issues that they use to justify their terrorist acts. The two biggest issues in the Muslim world used to justify international terrorism are Palestine and Kashmir. Until the western world takes those issues seriously and works to redouble its efforts to resolve them, those refugee camps, whether along the Kashmir border or in Palestine, will continue to be a breeding ground for people who believe that they have God on their side when they fight, as they see it, for the liberation of their people. We must address those issues—if we ignore them, we do so at our peril.
All Members would agree that the House of Commons has been at its best today, with thoughtful and independent- minded speeches from Members on both sides of the House. It is a source of great regret to me and, I am sure, many hon. Members that it has taken so long for the House to be recalled. The ability to recall the House should lie with hon. Members. If a majority want a recall, that should be the case.
I was rather surprised by the expression in the Prime Minister's otherwise extremely thoughtful and well-argued speech this morning about the Chamber being kept "in touch" with the situation, which is reminiscent of a phrase I might use about a relationship with a distant relative. The House of Commons deserves considerably more than that. I echo the anger and frustration of many hon. Members in saying that we had but three and a half hours this morning to look at the dossier. I did not want to read it in the Chamber—I wanted to listen to hon. Members—so that was a discourtesy to the House which, I hope, will not be repeated.
I speak today with some personal feeling because my brother, his wife and two young children were living in Kuwait when it was invaded by Saddam Hussein many years ago. My brother told me how he looked out of his apartment window and saw Kuwaiti soldiers and civilians being shot and mown down in cold blood. As a family we have been affected by what Saddam Hussein has done. I completely accept—there has been agreement on both sides of the House about this—that our overwhelming purpose is to eliminate weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. We must do so through the only organisation able to achieve that—the United Nations. Incidentally, why are the inspectors not being sent in now, as we are being told that evidence is being destroyed? Why must they wait until mid-October? Surely there is an urgent need to get them in as soon as possible. We must, however, use the UN, and there is agreement on both sides of the House about that. It is vital that we stick within the confines of international law and act legally—there is widespread agreement on that.
I support indicting Saddam Hussein. We have seen Milosevic being tried in The Hague. There may be huge practical difficulties in getting Saddam Hussein there, but we should subject him too to the process of international law. Regime change is not and should not be the objective, but I think that we all know in our hearts that it may be and could well be a consequence of what we are talking about.
Why has the issue become so urgent and why are we discussing it now? Has not the doctrine of mutually assured destruction, which we have had for many years, kept the peace? What has changed? The answer could be that since
We have heard that UN authority has been flouted for 11 or so years with regard to Iraq. Many UN resolutions have not been implemented and should be, but it is no argument to say that because they have not all been implemented, some cannot be. We were right to provide humanitarian help in Rwanda. It was not argued that we should not do so there because we were not doing so elsewhere, and the same logic applies now.
We have heard a lot today about the international community, and I support what has been said. Is not the tragedy the fact that so often America and Britain have had to stand alone? We must remember that it was not, as some might have thought, the rather more suave and sophisticated President Clinton who patiently assembled an alliance of many, many nations before advancing against Afghanistan after
We must also remember our history. We have heard today about the League of Nations and Abyssinia in 1935. We have heard about German rearmament between 1933 and 1936. I commend the film "The Gathering Storm" to those who have not seen it. We should think of what the House went through in that period, and how its opinion changed over time. We need to reflect on that. We have heard more recently about Kosovo, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan, about which some people here had doubts who perhaps later felt that the action taken had been justified.
In the foreword to the dossier the Prime Minister says:
"I believe this issue to be a current and serious threat to the UK national interest."
That may well be the case but the reasons for that do not spring out from the pages before us. Is it because we are worried that Iraq is about to buy missile systems from North Korea which would reach these shores? What is the risk assessment on that? Are the Government concerned about that? Or is it because we are concerned about the release of weapons of mass destruction from Iraq to a terrorist group that will come to this country, or because we are concerned about agents coming to this country and releasing poison in the underground, as happened in Tokyo? We need a much more detailed assessment. The document does not contain sufficient answers. The British people will need that explained to them by the Government. We know that, for security reasons, the Government cannot share all that they know with us, but we need to have the threat explained much more clearly.
The Iraqi opposition e-mailed many Members yesterday with the proposals that the no-fly zone be extended; that Iraqi assets be unfrozen and given to opposition groups; and that Iraqi foreign representation around the world in embassies and so on be changed to reflect the opposition in Iraq. I do not know how practical those proposals are, but we have a duty to examine every option. Again, I should like to hear the Minister's response to that point.
We have to bear it in mind that there will be dictators all over the world looking at the international community. This is a defining moment and we have to believe that what we do here will be looked at. If Saddam Hussein is allowed to get away with his behaviour, he may well be copied by other dictators. That is a serious and onerous responsibility that rests on all hon. Members.
If we should decide to go to war with Iraq, it will not be a war against Saddam Hussein, weapons of mass destruction, or terrorism. Nor will it be a war about liberty, democracy, human rights, or the defence of the Kurds and the Marsh Arabs. As is often the case in war, this war will be about money and power, who controls the Gulf, and setting up a puppet Government in the middle east. Linked to all that, it will be about oil.
We are told that the war will be about weapons of mass destruction and Iraq's threat to use such weapons against the world. That is an ironic claim coming from the United States, which has 25,000 nuclear weapons and warheads, and from the United Kingdom, which has a massive nuclear arsenal. Not even Iraq's neighbours believe that such weapons are a threat to them or the rest of the world.
That claim has been made by the United States, a country that bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing hundreds of thousands of Japanese citizens with atomic bombs—weapons of mass destruction. It has been made by the very same country that carpet-bombed Vietnam with napalm, destroying its crops, environment and the lives of millions of its citizens, once again with weapons of mass destruction, weapons which in theory the United States and the United Kingdom are opposed to. The irony and hypocrisy of America's warning against rogue states, and, in particular, Iraq, having weapons of mass destruction, is also highlighted by its continued economic and military support for Israel—a nuclear weapons state.
Mordecai Vanunu is rotting in an Israeli prison when his only crime was to tell the truth about Israel's nuclear capability when all around him were lying. If this war is about liberty, what have the UK and the US done about Vanunu's liberty? I am ashamed to say that we have done nothing.
We are not simply concerned about nuclear weapons because, as former President Clinton declared in a state of the union address, in the context of Iraq, there is a need to
"confront the new hazards of chemical and biological weapons and the outlaw states, terrorists and organised criminals seeking to acquire them."
The hypocrisy knows no limits. It was the United States who supplied Iraq with much of the matériel required for it to build its biological weapons programme. Those exports continued at least until 1989, despite the fact that Iraq had been reported to be engaged in chemical, and possibly biological, warfare against the Iranians, the Kurds and the Shi'ites since the early 1980s. Yet we are now informed that one of the reasons for war is to protect those very same people.
During the Iran-Iraq war between 1980 and 1988, the United States gave military aid and intelligence information not only to Iraq but to both sides. Saddam Hussein was then, as now, an evil psychopath—but then he was the west's evil psychopath and a favoured recipient of weapons and of export credits to subsidise them. Even the Tory Government were prepared to sell him military equipment, including—would you believe it?—plutonium. They actually agreed to the export licence that allowed that to happen.
The United States and the UK also tell us that the war is necessary because of the refusal of Saddam Hussein to allow in the weapons inspectors. Or, at least, they said that before Saddam had agreed to those inspectors going into Iraq. Now that he has agreed, they give the impression that that was not the most important issue. It must also be remembered that the weapons inspectors were in Iraq for about six years after the last war.
For the United States to consider going to war to pursue the goal of weapons inspectors is hypocrisy. Less than a year after the United States Congress passed an Act to implement the chemical weapons convention, the US Senate allowed it to ignore the convention and deny weapons inspections at US facilities. It was agreed that, if there were to be such inspections, the United States could decide who the inspectors would be.
Never short of reasons to go to war, the United States also tells us that this is a punishment for Iraq intervening in or attacking other countries. By that logic, we should also attack Israel, which is invading Palestine and breaking UN resolutions on a daily basis. Will the Government also answer the question posed by Mo Mowlam, when she asked:
"Russian forces should be used to enforce UN resolutions against Israel?"
Putting aside that point, it is still hypocritical for the United States to justify war on the ground of one country attacking or intervening in another, when we consider its own record. We should not forget that, since 1945, the United States has intervened in or invaded Albania, Angola, Brazil, Cambodia, China, Chile, Congo, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, East Timor, El Salvador, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Indonesia, Iran, Panama, South Korea, Nicaragua, the Philippines, Uruguay, Vietnam and Zaire. The list goes on, yet little or nothing has been done in response to those acts of aggression or intervention.
We are also led to believe that the war is a crusade against terrorism. Bush uses the tragedy of
"the United States has no quarrel with the Iraqi people; they've suffered too long in silent captivity. Liberty for the Iraqi people is a great moral cause and a great strategic goal. The people of Iraq deserve it."
But if the UK and United States bomb Iraq, the liberty of many Iraqi people will be achieved only by their death. Is that the kind of victory President Bush and our Prime Minister are seeking? Have not the people of Iraq suffered enough in the last war and from the ensuing sanctions, which resulted in the death of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi citizens?
Some years ago Madeleine Albright, then UN ambassador, was reminded of the tragic death of so many people in Iraq as a result of the war and the sanctions, and was asked whether the price was worth it. She replied:
"I think this is a very hard choice, but we think the price is worth it".
I do not, and that is why I will be joining the demonstration against the war on Saturday in London, and why I will use every opportunity not only to protest but to use my vote against the possibility of such a war.
It is somewhat daunting to speak at this stage of the debate, when so many good speeches from both sides of the Chamber have included points with which I agree, but I feel strongly moved to exercise my privilege to speak up, both on my behalf and on behalf of the many constituents who have contacted me about the current military situation.
My resolve was, in many ways, motivated by the words of the Prime Minister, who said that he would not like to have it on his conscience that he had foreseen something awful happening yet done nothing to stop it. As I came to feel increasingly strongly that the prospect of unilateral action against Iraq would cause an appalling international catastrophe, as well as death and destruction for many people, I did not want to have on my conscience the fact that I had not used opportunities available to me to speak up against that unilateral military action.
I am disappointed that there is no substantive motion before us today. I hope that people outside this House will have heard the message from the Chair that it was entirely in the Government's hands as to whether we would have a substantive motion. People outside ask questions. Ordinary people ask, "Why aren't you in Parliament speaking on our behalf? What's the point in electing you lot if you can't debate the issues of the day on substantive motions and express your democratic views by voting in the Division Lobbies?" They do not understand parliamentary procedure.
I hope that two messages have got through: that parliamentary recall and whether we debate substantive motions on such days are utterly dependent on the will of the Government. I commend the work of Mr. Allen in trying to stir up some debate on procedure, because none of our procedures should be set in stone. I have felt muzzled in exercising my duty to speak up for my constituents.
In the few moments available to me, I want to concentrate on what should have been the fifth condition set out by the Foreign Secretary. He set out four conditions for judging whether military action would be appropriate. The fifth condition, to which many Members have referred, is an assessment of whether military action against Iraq undertaken without the UN's authority—the freely given authority of the UN—would result in the world's being a safer or a less safe place. My concern is that regime change in Iraq may result in "all change" across the middle east, and that we would end up with a very uncertain world that would be considerably less safe than would be the case without military action.
I am disappointed when the spectre of appeasement is raised, as it has been several times. Those of us with concerns are told about appeasement and Germany in the 1930s. The situations of Iraq in 2002 and Germany in the 1930s are totally different. According to the Government's own dossier, Iraq is a country of 23 million people, who mostly live in poverty, not a major military power in the sense that Germany, in the European context, was in the 1930s.
Furthermore, Iraq will never be left alone. Since the invasion of Kuwait, it has been contained more or less successfully, and there is no prospect of its being left entirely alone. Whatever judgment we come to, whether it is in favour or military action, diplomatic or other means, nobody suggests that we just walk away and leave Iraq alone. Had we decided to take action against Germany in the 1930s, which would have been a good idea, we may have taken precisely the kind of measures that we are trying to take against Iraq. There should be no presumption that the only way to deal with a threat is by military action. There are other means, and sometimes those are more appropriate. Sometimes, those other means may avoid pouring petrol on the fires that, as we have been reminded again today, are already burning in the middle east.
My real fear is that a hawkish approach could lead to precisely the kind of west versus Islam war that the terrorists of
The United Kingdom has seen some of the outcomes in Northern Ireland, where certain actions were taken that resulted in a breeding ground for terrorist recruits. It is often the brothers of the victims who sign up and take forward the terrorist banner. Although we may believe and can demonstrate that they are guilty, they believe that they are innocent or were somehow justified in their actions. I can see that military action could give us a lull, but a lull in terrorist activity will be no good whatsoever if the activity returns with a vengeance some years from now.
I was brought up in the context of constant fear of an attack by the Soviet Union. That is what motivated me to become engaged in politics. Lady Thatcher was Prime Minister, and I had no confidence in her ability to protect me and mine from the prospect of nuclear attack. It was literally at that point that I decided that I must sell my soul, join a political party and engage in the regular partisan process.
I do not want another generation of children to grow up with the fears that I had. If I woke up at night during a thunderstorm, I would wait for the crash to come and for the blast wave to roll through. I am making a serious point about the way in which we were brought up. Living in fear is not a pretty prospect, and people are speaking out against it now. We do not want to be in a permanent state of war.
I am afraid of what Saddam Hussein and Iraq may do; anyone would be right to be afraid of that. But we have another fear that I think is very justified: the fear that in seeking to remove one obstacle we shall end up creating a structure of permanent war. If the wrong judgment is made, there is a real prospect of a war that will roll on for years.
I wish that a motion were before us today that allowed the expression of what I consider to be a broad consensus. I refer to those who say, "We are happy for the Government to negotiate and work in our name under the auspices of the UN, but not outwith those auspices. If they want to do that, they should come back later and seek authorisation." Regrettably no such motion is before us, but I think there has been a strong expression of will from the House making it clear that war should be the route of last resort and that it is the UN route with which people feel comfortable.
I believe that any presumption that the United Kingdom should sign up to a United States policy that seeks to make weapons inspections fail in order to justify military action that the US already wants, and to which it is already committed, would receive no support in the House or the country.
Let me say at the outset that I support the way in which the Government have handled this situation in recent months, in terms both of the objectives they have pursued and the manner in which they have pursued those objectives. They have been strengthened in their resolve by the speech the Prime Minister made to the TUC a few weeks ago, and by today's publication, albeit necessarily limited, of the dossier. They have also been heartened—I shall return to this shortly—by the speech made by President Bush to the United Nations.
I feel that today the House may, to an extent, have been in danger of overstating the role and capability of the United Nations. Let me make it clear that I am not against the United Nations; along with, presumably, every other MP, I am a strong supporter of it. I believe that the UN is all that we have, and that we need to work with it as vigorously and constructively as possible. Nevertheless, while the United Nations has power to wish for the ends, it often has no power to deliver them. That is a difficulty that we have seen repeatedly over many years, not least in respect of world opinion on Iraq.
How do we resolve the difficulty? It is not easy. My hon. Friend Glenda Jackson and, I think, my hon. Friend Mr. Lloyd said that we should call Saddam's bluff. I agree with that, but we cannot do it simply by passing another Security Council resolution, important though that is. I hope that the Security Council will pass a resolution stating what should happen, with a deadline for various stages of arms inspection, but we know from experience that Saddam is likely simply to ignore it.
If we are to call Saddam's bluff, it is first necessary that he believes that if he flouts a further Security Council resolution there will be action. For him to believe that, he must believe that we believe it. If he believes that debates here and in other forums are all about words and not about actions, he will carry on in his own sweet way, as he has in the past, because he knows that he can get away with it.
I want to touch on two further issues. First, my hon. Friend Mr. Kilfoyle was the most coherent exponent of a view echoed by many others, and he gave detailed evidence to support his contention that the American Administration want to go far further than most hon. Members, and perhaps even our own Government, would want to go over Iraq and perhaps other issues. It is difficult to respond to that. He gave detailed quotations and named names, quoting what people had said not only in office but before they were elected.
Clearly, there is cause for concern, but we are not responsible for the American Administration. My right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have some influence in that direction, but we cannot accept responsibility for what may at any time be in the mind of people in the American Administration. What we have to go on is what President Bush said on his most recent visit to the United Nations, which I believe was perfectly reasonable, even if I am not entirely happy with elements of his argument. His general thrust and policy direction were clear, and they are certainly not as my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton and others portrayed them.
I do not know precisely what is in President Bush's mind—I certainly do not know what is in the mind of the many advisers who have been referred to today—so all I have to go on are the words that he used in a very important international forum. We should accept those words for what they are: they were sensibly measured and on the whole a reasonable statement of America's position, although I have some reservations, and not a thousand miles from the sentiments expressed by our Government over recent months.
The second issue was referred to by Mr. Taylor: the question of where Russia fits into all this. Courtesy of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central and I, along with others, were invited to speak to Members of the Duma in Moscow, in an effort to forge better relationships and better understanding there. I was grateful for that interesting experience, even though it was minus 20 degrees there at the time. I make a plea to the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend Mr. MacShane, who is sitting on the Treasury Bench: if the Government want me to go on any such ventures in future, I would rather that it was somewhere slightly warmer than Moscow in December.
It became clear to us on that visit that President Putin and those in the political system in Russia want to do the right thing. They want to play the full part that they are entitled to play, given their status on the world stage, but they feel on occasion that they are pulled in certain directions without there being any proper understanding of their own problems. I am not talking about a quid pro quo situation, with Russia getting something that it wants in return for supporting action in Iraq. However, Russia has concerns about terrorism in Chechnya, its developing role in NATO and its continuing and growing relationship with the European Union, particularly in the light of enlargement. I believe that greater regard needs to be paid to Russia's concerns. Whatever happens in the coming months, Russia will clearly play a part.
In conclusion, I believe that until now we have done the right thing. What is proposed—the actual words spoken by the Government and others—is supportable. I also believe that the alternative of words without the threat of action would mean that Saddam Hussein had won. Iraq would pose a continuous threat in the middle east and, above all, the people of Iraq would have no hope for the future.
It seems sad that in a debate in which we are contemplating the quality of life for families in the middle east and the worry and anxiety of people across the world, so few women have spoken.
Like my hon. Friend Mr. Allan, I wish to express my concerns about the debate and where we will go as a result of what we have heard today. I am sure that no Member remained unmoved on
Like many others, I have had masses of letters, e-mails, telephone calls and messages from my constituents, all asking me to reflect their opposition to war and to action in Iraq. I am glad that Parliament has been recalled; I am grateful to the Prime Minister for recognising the depth of concern that is felt. However, it is still late, and I am concerned that if we do not obtain satisfaction from Iraq, we will send troops into Iraq pell-mell without having the opportunity to vote on such action. I sincerely hope that we will be given that chance.
In considering the possibility of military action, I ask myself why we are going. What will we do there? What do we hope to achieve? How will we know when we have achieved it? What will the damage be along the way, and is that damage and loss of life justified? I do not believe that the dossier has given us sufficient information to go back into Iraq at this stage. It does not provide proof that Iraq is a threat to the United States. The map does not show missiles that are coming in the direction of the United Kingdom. It does not show us much of which we are not already aware.
We are aware that Iraq is trying to rebuild its biological and nuclear weapons programmes and we are aware of the risk of weapons of mass destruction, but such weapons are held by many other countries including Israel, Pakistan, India and Brazil. Israel has refused to comply with UN resolutions and I was pleased to hear the Prime Minister announce today that there will be much more effort towards securing the long overdue peace in the middle east. It should have been a greater focus of our attention in the past.
Iraq oppresses its people and its human rights record is appalling. We cannot support that. There is no support for war from the Iraqi people, either those living in Iraq or the critics of the regime who have sought sanctuary in other countries. The support comes from those in the United States who are looking to put in place an alternative to the current regime. Is there a natural replacement for Saddam Hussein, despicable as he might be? We do not see an obvious replacement and we are looking at the prospect of civil war in Iraq and in that region for years to come.
A civil war would mean enormous loss of life, particularly of children and families because we know that Saddam has deployed armaments in schools and in the suburbs, but that does not make it acceptable for us to take military action.
Many have said—I agree with them—that Saddam Hussein is unlikely to launch a pre-emptive strike on his neighbours. He knows what it would bring. However, if we were to launch a pre-emptive strike on Saddam, we know that it would involve his neighbours. We know that Israel is capable of launching an immediate further attack and that it is likely that there would be proliferation across the middle east with untold damage and destruction and no way of putting the genie back in the bottle. I do not want that to happen in my name and that is why we are here today.
We need firm evidence that any attempt by Iraq to rebuild its military has a more menacing aim than defending its own security. Our prime concern must be what will happen to the Iraqi people. The Government have said very little about that, although we know that the Secretary of State for International Development is unhappy.
Any action would mean a massive loss of civilian lives and, as in the Gulf war, would involve tens of thousands of Iraqi conscripts. Also, there is no doubt that the battle would be drawn into populated urban areas. War would inevitably interrupt the supply of food and medicine. A total of 60 per cent. of northern Iraqis are already dependent on food rations. There would be a huge displacement of people. There are already between 700,000 and 1 million displaced people in Iraq. Many would flee areas in which fighting was taking place and there would undoubtedly be a humanitarian disaster.
I have talked about regional stability and mentioned the problems for some of the countries of the middle east such as Saudi Arabia, but what would happen to Turkey with its ailing Prime Minister? Would it continue to be a western-facing secular state? What would happen to the Turkish Kurds if the Iraqi Kurds attempted to declare an independent Kurdistan? We would also see the collapse of the coalition against terrorism, which has had support from the Arab nations.
There is much more that we can do on the diplomatic front. We need the inspectors to go in as soon as possible. We do not want them to go in in two or three weeks, we need them to go in now. However imperfect the arrangements might be, they must be more perfect than plans for a possible war. We must give inspectors the opportunity to continue their work so that they can identify the problems. We must allow them to produce their reports so that they can be taken back to the Security Council of the United Nations.
We have to examine our role in the arms trade and the stability of the middle east. We have to find out who is supplying arms and lean on them. We also have to consider future efforts to encourage stability by restricting arms exports. There is much more that we can do.
This is an issue for the UN. It also requires increased diplomatic work with our partners in Muslim states, asking them what pressure they can bring to bear. It is certainly not an issue for unilateral action. Instead, we have to do all that we can to bring peace to a most troubled part of the world, remembering that if we take action it will not be just us who suffer, but many people in the middle east. We will have to accept our part in any action that takes place.
This has been a good debate. I shall concentrate on some of the points that have been made, particularly by those who have expressed scepticism or opposition to the course of action outlined by the Prime Minister in his statement this morning.
A number of hon. Members have mentioned the doctrine of pre-emptive strike or attack. Most hon. Members who have expressed some scepticism about the British and American positions have mentioned this notion. I agree that the notion of a pre-emptive strike is a problematic doctrine that most of us would not rush to embrace. I also agree with my hon. Friend Mr. Kilfoyle that it is important to look at the wider context. Nevertheless, the emphasis on the concept of pre-emptive action has obscured what is at the heart of the issue.
Nobody is suggesting a Pearl Harbour—a pre-emptive attack upon Iraq completely out of the blue. The issue is not pre-emptive action; it is long delayed and long overdue enforcement of UN resolutions which cover the disarmament of weapons of mass destruction and which Iraq has been flouting for more than 10 years. Moreover, it has not been emphasised strongly enough during the debate that the terms of these resolutions, particularly 687, were part of the conditions of the ceasefire agreement at the end of the Gulf war in 1991. So by refusing to implement those resolutions from 1991 until today, Iraq is in breach of the ceasefire agreement that it signed in 1991 as well as of numerous UN resolutions since.
In our efforts to get Iraq to comply with the resolutions, we have been grappling politically and militarily with the Iraqi regime for a decade. We have made regular bombing attacks to enforce the no-fly zones and international sanctions have crippled the Iraqi economy. All this has been done at a cost in lives and in misery for the Iraqi population. It has also been done at considerable diplomatic and political cost for western countries, particularly in respect of their perception by the Arab world.
That is the background against which we have to weigh up the course of action before us and decide between the various options. One option that has been advocated today is simply to continue this pattern of bombing and sanctions year in, year out, into the future. Nobody has said how long it might be necessary to continue that mix of bombing and sanctions. Would it be another five years, 10 years, 20 years or whenever Saddam's son, who is even more unstable, succeeds him? If we pursue that option Saddam will continue to defy the United Nations, to develop his weapons of mass destruction and to keep the Iraqi people in the grip of poverty and tyranny. Under the status quo option the credibility of the UN will continue to erode and crumble.
Let us recall the terms of resolution 1154 of March 1998 which said that non-compliance by Iraq would lead to "the severest consequences". Iraq did not comply, but there were no consequences. That has been the pattern for the last 10 years. The result has been a steady but critical erosion of the credibility of the UN and an erosion, too, of the willingness of the international community to see the resolution enforced.
Another option, which has been mentioned in previous debates on the topic but which has not been suggested today, is to lift the sanctions and stop policing the no-fly zones. If we follow that course, it will give Saddam all the revenue he needs to accelerate his weapons programmes, and allow him to take revenge at a time of his choosing upon the Kurds and others who have defied him, and it would in effect reward the Iraqi Government for 10 years of persistent and flagrant breaching of UN resolutions. The Security Council would be shown to be toothless.
Caught between those two alternatives, the international community is right to try a new approach. The UN must make it absolutely clear to Saddam that he must uphold UN resolutions and disarm without any preconditions. There not being any preconditions is an important part of these resolutions. The UN must make it absolutely clear to Saddam that he must comply or else risk the end of his regime.
Of course that means a return of inspectors and allowing those inspectors time to carry out their task. Those who call so strongly for the return of the inspectors as the necessary way forward out of the current impasse must accept the consequence of the inspectors coming back to the UN and reporting, as they did over the last decade, that they have not been allowed to carry out their task.
This must genuinely be the last warning. If Saddam resists or tries to get round the UN disarmament requirements in any way whatsoever, the international community must make him comply by force. There must be no more last chances. The UN must not shrink from enforcing its clear and repeated resolutions.
Those who worry about the consequences of a confrontation express genuine concerns, but we should not overstate the strength of the Iraqi regime. Where a Government lack popular support and where they are no longer able to enforce their will through terror, recent precedent shows that they can quickly collapse.
I want to emphasise what is for me the central point. For 10 years the UN has been trying to get the Iraqi Government to comply with its resolutions on weapons of mass destruction. For 10 years the Iraqi Government have defied the UN. Sanctions have been only partially successful and at considerable cost. Earlier, somebody suggested offering to lift sanctions in return for disarmament. That offer has already been made. It was made in resolution 1284 in 1999, which laid out a timetable for lifting sanctions, but that too was rejected by the Iraqi Government.
Some argue that Saddam is at bottom rational, so presents no threat to the west. Those who argue that Saddam is rational must explain why, over those 10 years, instead of giving up his weapons programme, he has preferred his country to be a diplomatic pariah and an economic cripple. If he is rational, he must have a truly frightening use in mind for these weapons to risk so much to hold on to them.
Others have asked why deterrence cannot work in the way that it supposedly has for the past number of years. Deterrence cuts both ways. If Iraq would hesitate to use weapons of mass destruction because of the danger of massive response from us, the same would apply to us if Iraq possessed an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. Saddam would also make us hesitate in future about how we chose to confront him, and that would change the regional balance critically.
Sanctions have been tried. Diplomacy has been tried. The waiting game has been tried. Ten years is long enough. It is time for the UN to enforce its will.
It is more than appropriate that this issue is at last being discussed here, in the House of Commons. After all, this Chamber where we, the elected Members of Parliament of this country, sit should be the fulcrum of our national debate. It is more than absurd that the possible further deployment of British armed forces has been the subject of debate everywhere, but has only now been brought to the House for discussion.
It has been an excellent debate and I particularly want to comment on some of the wonderful speeches that we have heard from the Back Benches. The speeches by Mr. Hogg and by the hon. Members for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh), for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) and for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor) were truly remarkable. They questioned the Government in a way that Members on the Conservative Front Bench have not done. Indeed, the only questioning of the Government has come from Conservative and Labour Back Benchers, and indeed from the Liberal Democrats.
I remind the House that it was not the leader of the Conservative party who first called for this Chamber to be recalled; it was actually the leader of the Liberal Democrats. I would suggest to those Conservatives who have questioned our resolve, in the final analysis, to take military action that they read the Official Report tomorrow and see the response of my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Campbell when he was intervened on by the Leader of the Opposition. I am afraid that his response to the Leader of the Opposition was not proportionate: it was overwhelming.
The publication of the dossier today has been welcomed, although it could have been published earlier. However, I am not convinced that this publication has thrown any light on the issues that we are discussing. The objectives of a course of action remain unclear. Yes, Saddam Hussein must give up his weapons of mass destruction. Yes, he must not seek to develop them and yes, disarmament should be the first objective of international action. But if Britain is to join with others in ensuring that Iraq complies with its obligations to disarm, are we clear in our mind about what the role of any military force may be?
The Foreign Secretary has claimed that regime change is not the policy of the Government, nor will it be an objective of military action; so how do the Government propose to enforce Iraqi compliance with UN resolutions, should that be necessary? Would it be by bombing Baghdad? Would it be by invading Baghdad with ground troops?
Regime change appears to many to be outside international law, so how do the Government and our US allies intend to conduct a military campaign that does not have regime change as an objective? In short, what exactly is it that we are threatening Saddam with?
It is quite clear that the anti-Liberal Democrat unit set up by the Conservative Opposition has gone into overdrive because they are concerned that Liberal Democrat Members are asking these questions.
If diplomacy fails, would the Prime Minister be willing to support military action that is not supported by the United Nations or even by some of our NATO allies? I hope not. Has he considered the consequences for our other joint military operations? I hope so. Will there be, as has been called for on both sides of the House, a further debate, with a full vote, before more of our armed forces are committed to further military operations? There ought to be such a vote, because President Bush is prepared to give one to the US Congress, and the British people would find it hard to understand why a British Prime Minister, with a majority the size of the current one and the unflinching support of the official Opposition, would not be prepared to allow such a vote in the House.
Some hon. Members have said that we are about to start military action, but of course we are already engaged in military action above Iraq in the no-fly zones. I should like to reiterate that the Liberal Democrats believe that further military action should be a last resort; it should be considered only if Iraq's recent offer to re-admit inspectors is violated, if clear and incontrovertible evidence is presented to the international community to show that disarmament cannot proceed in any other way, if all possible steps have been taken to obtain a new UN resolution, if there are clear military objectives, and if the military action carried out is designed so far as possible to avoid civilian casualties.
Moreover, we should also consider the implications for the wider middle east and the complications for the so-called campaign against terrorism. Where will that leave us? The Government should consider carefully and prepare for the humanitarian consequences of any action that takes place.
It has been said that our quarrel is not with the ordinary people of Iraq. That is true. Yet again, this crisis shows that occasionally our armed forces will be called upon to fulfil war-fighting as well as peacekeeping roles. If we ask them to defend us, we have a duty to ensure that they have the best equipment and resources to do the job.
As the Minister of State will know, the recent British exercise, Saif Sareea II, in Oman highlighted many technical shortcomings in our military equipment in the desert. I need not remind him about the concerns that have been expressed about the SA80 rifle, the boots that melt in the sun and the tanks that jam in the sand. If there is to be action, will our troops be properly equipped?
We all know that Saddam Hussein is adept at exploiting divisions in the international community to buy time, so the Liberal Democrats believe that we should keep up the pressure on Iraq, but at the same time we must keep the door to diplomacy open. So I say again that the Liberal Democrats are united—[Interruption]—unlike the Conservative party, in our scepticism of the Government's strategy.
We remain unconvinced that the case for war has as yet been made. We believe that a diplomatic approach could still work and in the priority of ensuring the return of weapons inspectors. We are firm in our resolve that Saddam Hussein should know that prevarication has consequences, and we speak for many people beyond the House in saying that, if military action is to be considered, there should be a substantive vote in the House of Commons.
There can be no hon. Member who does not have some constituents in the armed services, but some of us have thousands, as has been mentioned, and early in the career of any such Member comes the constant preoccupation—if it is not already there—to monitor and consider such issues, the scale of the threat and the proportionate action to that threat.
In addition to that consideration, my constituency has been host to a small community of Iraqi asylum seekers during the past two years, and their concerns and those of the volunteers and religious communities who help them with their legal, health and education services are a constant reminder of just how vile the regime that we talking about is. It is also a reminder of the strength of longing and the preparedness of the Iraqi community in exile in this country to return and to try to build a better country when they may be given the chance to do so.
Many hon. Members have mentioned their constituents' concerns, and I am a great believer in not just waiting for people to come to me with their concerns because that very often gives a slanted and skewed version of the range of our constituents' concerns. So, over the past month, I have been trying to be proactive—ringing my constituents and party members to ask them what they make of the present situation. I have been asking not the sort of closed question that is so often put to people, "Are you in favour of war?" but the more open question, "What do you make of the current situation?" Many have expressed much more thoughtful and considered views than the natural response to the closed question, which, inevitably, is "No" in about 90 or 95 per cent. of cases.
People have expressed concern mainly by saying, "Well I'm not sure; I don't think there is a threat that warrants the sort of action that people are talking about," or, "I just don't know enough about it. There ought to be some more information available to us to help us share the problems that are surrounding us." There are others who say, "Yes, I do believe that there is a scale of threat that warrants some action, but nevertheless I feel that I need some more information."
Those of us for whom the issue is a preoccupation know that much of that information has been present for a long time. It is evident in the books that have been written by the weapons inspectors—by Butler, Ritter and Tim Evan among others. It is there on the United Nations website, and in the reports of UNSCOM and the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission. It is there in the dossier of the International Institute for Strategic Studies that was published last week. We also receive a host of briefings from the House of Commons Library and, indeed, I am not sure that I heard any Member make particular reference to an excellent briefing from the Library which was published on
The report that we have received today does not add that much more information to what is available from all those sources, but it serves a very useful purpose by bringing the information together and by putting into language that is accessible to our constituents the breadth and depth of the suspicions that many of us have shared, that thousands of scientists in Iraq have been very busy.
The dossier has made such information more accessible, but sadly it confirms that the devil has found work to ensure that those scientists have not been idle. It is clear that there are now greater and growing resources of weapons, matérials, know-how and, indeed, means of their delivery. Doing nothing to stem that growth is no longer an option—[Interruption.]
The emphasis on the role of the United Nations, which has emerged more clearly over the past week and today, is very welcome. The likelihood of weapons inspectors standing any chance of being allowed to do their job quickly, fully and effectively, bringing to an end the 11-year cat and mouse game, which one commentator has called cheat-and-retreat flouting of the UN resolutions, has been one of the big worries for my constituents and myself. I must say to Mr. Galloway that to think that journalists can rush around Iraq verifying something that stretched and challenged highly skilled, equipped and trained weapons inspectors is laughable.
Like most in this House and in my constituency, I have attached great importance to doing everything possible to work through the United Nations as the international body that fulfils the capacity to meet our aspirations of a more stable world, rather than failing our aspirations and leaving us hopeless. To achieve that, when dealing with someone of Saddam's character and track record, we must face him with a credible threat of force that will have the certainty of removing what he so assiduously seeks to retain in building up his lethal armoury in the way that today's assessment makes clear that he is doing. I have a very strong preference for making sure that every effort is made to do that through the UN. That policy would underline the point about its importance, as it is the best available way of building the broad coalition of interests that, in the long term, will stand us in the strongest stead in meeting the challenges that this century is clearly going to hold for us.
Two years ago, four or five of us went to the UN with a delegation to look at how the body could work to bring peace and stability to the world. As a first time visitor to New York as well as to the UN, I was struck by the labyrinthine nature of the UN and the huge challenges of trying to make the body work in all our interests. It is now under the leadership of Kofi Annan and he has gone a long way to making the body more workable. However, we should not underestimate the grave difficulties that lie right at the heart of it in the Security Council to bring about the effective leadership that can make the task that we face in Iraq work. One has only to read the accounts of what happened in 1998 and 1999 to understand that there was ambivalence right at the heart of the UN about the work of the weapons inspectors. That shows what a difficult task they will face when they return to Iraq.
Two years ago when I was on that delegation, I bought in the bookshop at the UN a copy of Dag Hammarskjold's meditations "Markings". I cannot remember the exact quotation so I paraphrase one of his earliest meditations. He said that, to find the right road, we should not look down at every next step but keep our eye on the far horizon. In fact, we will need to do both in the months ahead. However, like most people in the House and in my constituency, I strongly believe that the best chance of stability, security and sanity in the world must have the UN firmly at its compass.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. There is an extraordinary rumour sweeping the Palace that, having failed to table a substantive motion, the Government will not even have the courage to vote for the Adjournment at 10 o'clock. So afraid are they of the large number of Labour Members of Parliament who would not be with them in the Lobby. They are frightened to face—
It has been a long day but an important and interesting debate for the House to have held. I follow the speech of Linda Gilroy. Many of us have service men in our constituencies, and I put it to her that every Member of the House takes seriously the responsibility to our service men. Of course, it is the loneliest and hardest decision for Ministers to make when they determine whether to commit our service men to military action. We share that serious responsibility with them.
Mr. Keetch made a different speech from most others in the Chamber. We perhaps heard today the third position from the Liberal Democrats. [Interruption.] Yes, from those on the Front Bench. We originally heard the leader of the Liberal Democrats, who would not comment on whether military action should be contemplated, but I am pleased that those on the Liberal Democrat Front Bench have come in our direction on that question. His colleague Mr. Campbell made it clear that military action could not be contemplated without another UN resolution, which he regarded as "essential". However, the hon. Member for Hereford used an altogether different form of words and said that action should not be considered unless
"all possible steps have been taken to obtain a new UN resolution", not making it clear whether it had to be obtained or not. I leave it to hon. Members on both sides of the House to try to work out the Liberal Democrats' position.
The main purpose of our debate has been to allow the Government to set out their case for the policy that they have adopted in recent weeks on Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction. Not only was the Prime Minister broadly supported by the Leader of the Opposition, but my right hon. Friend Mr. Ancram supported the Foreign Secretary. I commend in particular two speeches, that of my right hon. Friend Mr. Maude, who set out clearly five points in support of the Government's policy, and that of Mr. Mandelson, which Labour Members should take seriously.
Our debate is both necessary and long overdue. It was essential to publish the dossier, for which we have been calling for a considerable time. I join my hon. Friends the Members for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames), for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) and for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), who all said that the dossier should have come much sooner. I commend my hon. Friend Mrs. Browning for pointing out that only a few months ago the Government were trying to shut down discussion of the prospect of military action against Iraq, which has made it more difficult for them to make a clear and unambiguous case.
A broad consensus has emerged on the dossier and the evidence, which is broadly accepted by Members on both sides of the House. The nature of the regime is accepted on both sides of the House and I would even go so far as to say that its mentality and intentions, as well as the potential threat that it poses, are broadly accepted by the House. Differences have emerged about two substantial issues, the first of which is regime change. I shall deal with that briefly as the argument is in danger of becoming one about angels on a pinhead. Obviously, to set out to change a regime as a policy objective is questionable in international law—we agree with the Government's position. To deny, however, that that might be a consequence of one's actions is a completely different matter. I put it to people who cavil about regime change that forcing Saddam Hussein to dismantle his weapons of mass destruction and the means of their production, research and concealment is unlikely to be achieved without regime change. People who talk openly about regime change, like the Prime Minister, are only being realistic. To put it in perspective, President Clinton declared himself in favour of regime change on
The other outstanding difference concerns the role of the UN. The main question is whether a further resolution is required to legitimise military action if Saddam Hussein refuses to comply. It was clear from questions put to the Prime Minister this morning that he is keeping that option open. He is not ruling out moving to military action even if we run into difficulties and are unable to secure unanimity on a UN resolution. The Opposition have no doubt that the Prime Minister is right to make that clear in his military and strategic point of view.
There has been much complaint about the United States attitude and its new strategic doctrine, but it is as incumbent upon the House to try to understand the United States as it is upon the United States to understand attitudes in Europe. One of the most dangerous features of the international scene since September 2001 has been the drifting apart of Europe and the United States.
The United States understands perhaps better than we in Europe do how the strategic environment has changed. That is the link that exists between
My right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Hogg said that surely Saddam Hussein would have to be irrational to use his weapons of mass destruction. [Interruption.]
I am grateful, Mr. Speaker.
Every dictator in history has acted irrationally—Hitler acted irrationally, Galtieri clearly acted irrationally, and Saddam Hussein acted irrationally when he invaded Kuwait. Given how irrational Saddam Hussein can be, he may well choose to deliver his weapons of mass destruction himself or through some proxy terrorist organisation, as my hon. Friend Dr. Lewis made clear in his speech.
There has been much talk in the Chamber this evening about the relevance of deterrence, but deterrence no longer works. It is rather ironic that throughout the cold war many Labour Members said that deterrence—mutually assured destruction—was a crazy concept, but now that it no longer works, they all support the doctrine of deterrence. History has moved on.
I have little time. I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon. I shall be as quick as I can.
Let us study the new Bush doctrine. I beg the House to bear with me while I read out a short part of President Bush's national security strategy. It states:
"For centuries, international law recognised that nations need not suffer an attack before they can lawfully take action to defend themselves against forces that present an imminent danger of attack. Legal scholars and international jurists often conditioned the legitimacy of pre-emption on the existence of an imminent threat—most often a visible mobilisation of armies, navies, and air forces preparing to attack."
"We must adapt the concept of imminent threat to the capabilities and objectives of today's adversaries."
Those who are unable to embrace a new strategic doctrine for the defence of our own countries are people who are unable to adapt to the reality and objectives of today's adversaries.
The Government are showing every evidence of fully understanding that reality, and although no defence policy document has been produced they are adopting the same policy of pre-emption by supporting President Bush in his attitude towards Iraq. Is that dangerous or is it just common sense? I put it to the House that it is common sense.
How would it be if the Prime Minister came to the House in a year or two's time after a terrible terrorist atrocity had been committed against our own country and said that it was known that there was a threat but the Government did not think that they could take any action because of the state of international law. Of course, that is not the state of international law. International law would never be such an ass.
Are the Government prepared to show the courage expressly to embrace the Bush doctrine on pre-emption? They behave as though they are, and it is incumbent on them to explain the legal basis of it in international law. In 1998, Mr. Cook expressly stated:
"As to the United Nations, we are absolutely clear that we have thorough clear backing in UN resolutions" for military action. He went on to say that
"the resolutions . . . give us clear United Nations authority."
The right hon. Gentleman said that in 1998, but we need to know what is the legal basis of such a statement today. That is why we have been asking the Government to produce their legal opinion for the House. That is not unprecedented; it not an unreasonable request. There are other opinions, such as that produced by Rabinder Singh QC and Alison Macdonald, who make it clear that, in their view, any attack against Iraq
"would not be justified under international law unless:
Iraq mounted a direct attack" or it could be demonstrated that an attack
"was imminent", or
"the United Nations Security Council authorised the use of force in clear terms."
The Government have clearly not accepted this particular legal advice. What legal advice have they accepted?
I am not going to give way because there is so little time.
We clearly cannot rule out the prospect of military action after so many years of defiance from Saddam Hussein. It is too early to say what kind of military action may be involved, or to ask the Government what sort of preparations are being made for such action. It is fair to say, however, that we will be asking many questions about the preparedness of the United Kingdom's armed forces to contribute meaningfully to any military action.
The one point on which I agree with the hon. Member for Hereford is that we have to clear up the question of the SA80 rifle before we send our troops into action. We must also learn the lessons of Saif Sareea that were so ably set out in the Public Accounts Committee report under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend Mr. Leigh. I endorse very strongly the point made by my hon. Friend Mr. Mates, who asked what preparations were being made for the inoculation of our troops to prepare for the possibility of exposure to chemical and biological attack. I ask the Minister expressly to address this point, because we do not want to go through what we went through in the aftermath of the Gulf war.
There has also not been enough preparation from the Government for the consequences of military action. Given that regime change is the most likely outcome of such action, we must be prepared to envisage the post-Saddam scenario to make the threat of military action credible. What talks have the Government had with opposition groups in Iraq? I know that the United States Administration are in constant dialogue with a number of such groups. What discussions are we having? What preparations are we making for humanitarian relief, police training, military training and all the other necessary building blocks to ensure that a new interim Administration can quickly become established?
Nothing can conceal the challenge that faces our country, the international community and the House. We have to face the fact that, even if nobody wants war—and nobody does—we cannot rule out the use of military force. We must stay within the rule of international law, pursue the widest possible international co-operation through the United Nations to achieve the best possible coalition, and be prepared to take the necessary action when the time comes.
Our obligation is fundamentally to future generations, who would not thank us for ducking these challenges. Like other hon. Members, I have been to Kabul and seen the result of the military action that we took in Afghanistan. I have no doubt that the people of Iraq would welcome such military action when it finally came to be made.
Let me begin again by thanking all right hon. and hon. Members for their contributions to the debate, which has been passionate, wide-ranging and thorough. The number of interventions on the Prime Minister was 25, the Foreign Secretary took eight and there have been 50 Back-Bench speakers. A range of opinions has been expressed. The people of this country can take confidence from the fact that their fundamental concerns, fears and wishes in respect of how we deal with the threat posed by Saddam Hussein have been comprehensively aired during the debate.
My right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary set out two critical questions that we had to address in this debate: has the threat from Saddam Hussein increased; and should we take action to address that threat and, if so, what action?
It is clear that there is unanimity in this House on the central fact that Saddam Hussein's regime is barbaric and evil. The dossier published today sets out in graphic detail the extent of the horrors that Saddam Hussein has imposed on his own people month in, month out, year in, year out. The deaths and deprivation that he has imposed have been rightly condemned across the House by all who have contributed to the debate, from those who accept the Government's case to those who retain doubts and those who will probably never be convinced of the present course of action on which the Government are embarked.
I cannot possibly answer all the points that have been raised in the debate in the time available, but let me deal with a few of the contributions made. Mr. Ancram and Mr. Jenkin asked about the health and welfare of our troops and what action we have taken since the 1990–91 Gulf conflict. The well-being of the personnel we deploy is of the greatest importance to us, and we have made some important improvements based on that experience. We have put in place a range of measures. We now ensure that all troops are immunised routinely with the standard service immunisations. We commission up-to-date medical intelligence briefings for parts of the world where UK troops may operate, and force health protection plans are then prepared for specific operations.
New equipment for the detection and the hazard management of chemical and biological warfare threats has been introduced. We have introduced a new operational medical record form intended to ensure that health events while on deployment are more systematically recorded than in the past. We cannot of course guarantee that deployed forces will not suffer ill health, but we are doing everything we can to minimise the risks.
My right hon. Friend Donald Anderson made a thought-provoking speech. He raised a number of vital questions, all of them pointing to the complexity of the problems that we face, now and in the future. He rightly pointed to the preference for a stringent UN resolution with a strict timetable. Other right hon. and hon. Members made the same point. The Government agree with that.
My right hon. Friend Mr. George seemed to support the main thrust of the Government's approach, and echoed the views of my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East. However, I have one point of difference with him: I do not wholly go along with his assertion that the problem of Iraq can be solved only once the problem of the middle east is resolved. I would suggest to him that dealing with Saddam Hussein as we propose could greatly assist the peace process in the middle east.
Mr. Campbell asked whether the Foreign Secretary stood by his commitment to the primacy of the United Nations. Let me read again what the Foreign Secretary said in opening this debate. He said:
"only free and unfettered inspections, backed by a Security Council united in its determination to disarm Iraq, offer the prospect of dealing with the threat by peaceful means."
A peaceful conclusion is the outcome desired on both sides of the Atlantic, by Her Majesty's Government and by the United States Administration.
My hon. Friend Mr. Dalyell asked whether United States air force aircraft at Diego Garcia carried nuclear weapons. As he knows, it has been the practice of successive Governments never to confirm or deny the presence of nuclear weapons at any particular location or at any particular time. I have no intention of deviating from that line—unless I end up, like my right hon. Friend Mr. Foulkes, with a premature end to my career.
My right hon. Friend asked about the situation in Iraq after Saddam Hussein, as did others. If and when Saddam Hussein leaves power, whenever that is, it will be for the Iraqi people to determine their future government. I suggest that such discussions are premature. The task facing us now is the disarming of Saddam Hussein: that is our aim on which we are focused.
Mr. Galloway reminded the House that in the 1980s he was outside the Iraqi embassy protesting about the atrocities being committed in Iraq. Let me point out to him that most of us are still outside the Iraqi embassy, because the atrocities and the barbarism have continued. We need to tackle Saddam Hussein with resolve, rather than offering encouragement by directing our criticisms elsewhere.
The hon. Gentleman asked whose side we were on. Perhaps he should ask himself whose side he is on.