Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:16 pm on 26th February 2003.

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Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Chair, Tax Law Rewrite Bills (Joint Committee), Chair, Tax Law Rewrite Bills (Joint Committee) 2:16 pm, 26th February 2003

We have had 12 years, in two or three of which people have done nothing at all. We have had 11 weeks of the present policy and we must judge whether a few weeks more are required.

Let me make clear the origin of my doubts about the very persuasive case that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary sometimes put. I cannot rid myself of doubts that the course to war upon which we are now embarked was decided on many months ago, primarily in Washington, and there has been a fairly remorseless unfolding of events since that time. I am not alone in having heard and met American politicians of great distinction who gave the impression that a change of regime in Iraq was determined upon long ago and that the use of military force in a pre-emptive strike was justified in order to achieve that. I believe that in most cases the motives have been worthy and they genuinely believe that they are ridding themselves of an evil regime. I do not believe the conspiracy theorists. One can go on to hear theories about the installation of democracy in the Arab world, unfinished business from a previous Administration, and a reaction to the understandable state of political opinion in the United States of America in the aftermath of 11 September.

If war happens in the next few weeks—that is a genuine possibility—hon. Members must ask themselves whether it is legitimate to believe that such action had already been determined and had been remorselessly unfolding for many months. Many people believe that. It is why middle England and those of moderate political opinions have so many doubts. To many of my constituents, the answer to the questions, "Did Washington determine such action many months ago?" and "Could the President seek re-election without war and the removal of Iraq's president?" is as obvious as the reply to "Does the emperor have clothes?" The Government must respond to that formidable case.

However, I praise the Government for their actions: first, they put themselves in the classic Churchillian position, followed by every subsequent Government, of being America's closest ally in a great diplomatic crisis to gain the maximum possible influence over the exercise of power. I trust that any Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary of this country would have done that. Secondly, they went to the United Nations and led it towards the path of diplomacy and peaceful coercion, which, I trust, the House would prefer if it achieved the desired effect. The result was resolution 1441, for which I voted. It plainly paves the way to war, if necessary, in setting out the conditions for endeavouring to put together an international coalition that would enforce the United Nations' will when all other means had been exhausted.

The resolution turns on the question whether a material breach has occurred. Although other concerns cannot be brushed aside, the revolting nature of the Iraqi regime and its cruelty, much though we deplore it, is not a legal basis for war. We must concentrate on whether there are weapons of mass destruction, whether disarmament can be induced and, if not, whether force will be used to effect it.

The Government introduce other matters to strengthen their claim. Even today, the Prime Minister asked us to listen to Ann Clwyd. I shall do that, doubtless with a sense of shock and shared anxiety about the Iraqi regime's outrageous behaviour. The word "attitude" has also been used today, as though the Iraqi regime's attitude to disarmament is a new and exciting concept.

However, the question that we must ask is whether a material breach has occurred. To me, that means considering whether demonstrable evidence exists to show that biological and chemical weapons are held in conditions and circumstances in which they pose a current threat to neighbours or to us. There is no evidence of links with al-Qaeda and I do not believe that Iraq poses a threat to New York or London. To claim that is to insult our intelligence. However, I wish to know whether demonstrable evidence exists of sufficient quantities of weapons to pose a threat. I doubt that.

I am glad to say that Iraq's army is degraded and in a weaker position than in 1991. I do not believe Saddam Hussein; he probably has material around Iraq that he has not disclosed and we need to pursue that rigorously. However, is it in a condition to be deployed as a threat to anybody? That has not yet been demonstrated and we should not go to war until it has.

Use of threat and reverting to the policies of international diplomacy and deterrence that we used in the cold war have been successful. Every speaker so far has conceded that coercion has moved Saddam. That shows that the policy is working. It does not mean that we have reached the stage of abandoning deterrence, coercion and threat and deciding that the weather is unfortunately getting warmer in Iraq, that 250,000 people, including a large part of the British Army, are there and either we must bring people home in the next few weeks or they must open fire.

Any war will be won easily. I am glad that if we go to war, it will not take long. However, we should consider alternatives because of the consequences of war. How many terrorists will we recruit in the greater, long-standing battle against international terrorism? It will be far harder to win. What will we do to the stability of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan or Egypt? What sort of leadership will replace that which might be deposed? The Government never address those questions satisfactorily, as my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary said. However, they will have to live with the answers.

The next time a large bomb explodes in a western city, or an Arab or Muslim regime topples and is replaced by extremists, the Government must consider the extent to which the policy contributed to it. That is why hon. Members should pause and why, unless evidence is produced for a breach and a material threat, my judgment today is that we should not go to war. I therefore support the amendment that the right hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury tabled.