I beg to move,
That this House
notes its decisions of 25th November 2002 and 26th February 2003 to endorse UN Security Council Resolution 1441;
recognises that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and long range missiles, and its continuing non-compliance with Security Council Resolutions, pose a threat to international peace and security;
notes that in the 130 days since Resolution 1441 was adopted Iraq has not co-operated actively, unconditionally and immediately with the weapons inspectors, and has rejected the final opportunity to comply and is in further material breach of its obligations under successive mandatory UN Security Council Resolutions;
regrets that despite sustained diplomatic effort by Her Majesty's Government it has not proved possible to secure a second Resolution in the UN because one Permanent Member of the Security Council made plain in public its intention to use its veto whatever the circumstances;
notes the opinion of the Attorney General that, Iraq having failed to comply and Iraq being at the time of Resolution 1441 and continuing to be in material breach, the authority to use force under Resolution 678 has revived and so continues today;
believes that the United Kingdom must uphold the authority of the United Nations as set out in Resolution 1441 and many Resolutions preceding it, and therefore supports the decision of Her Majesty's Government that the United Kingdom should use all means necessary to ensure the disarmament of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction;
offers wholehearted support to the men and women of Her Majesty's Armed Forces now on duty in the Middle East;
in the event of military operations requires that, on an urgent basis, the United Kingdom should seek a new Security Council Resolution that would affirm Iraq's territorial integrity, ensure rapid delivery of humanitarian relief, allow for the earliest possible lifting of UN sanctions, an international reconstruction programme, and the use of all oil revenues for the benefit of the Iraqi people and endorse an appropriate post-conflict administration for Iraq, leading to a representative government which upholds human rights and the rule of law for all Iraqis;
and also welcomes the imminent publication of the Quartet's roadmap as a significant step to bringing a just and lasting peace settlement between Israelis and Palestinians and for the wider Middle East region, and endorses the role of Her Majesty's Government in actively working for peace between Israel and Palestine.
At the outset, I say that it is right that the House debate this issue and pass judgment. That is the democracy that is our right, but that others struggle for in vain. Again, I say that I do not disrespect the views in opposition to mine. This is a tough choice indeed, but it is also a stark one: to stand British troops down now and turn back, or to hold firm to the course that we have set. I believe passionately that we must hold firm to that course. The question most often posed is not "Why does it matter?" but "Why does it matter so much?" Here we are, the Government, with their most serious test, their majority at risk, the first Cabinet resignation over an issue of policy, the main parties internally divided, people who agree on everything else—[Hon. Members: "The main parties?"] Ah, yes, of course. The Liberal Democrats—unified, as ever, in opportunism and error. [Interruption.]
The country and the Parliament reflect each other. This is a debate that, as time has gone on, has become less bitter but no less grave. So why does it matter so much? Because the outcome of this issue will now determine more than the fate of the Iraqi regime and more than the future of the Iraqi people who have been brutalised by Saddam for so long, important though those issues are. It will determine the way in which Britain and the world confront the central security threat of the 21st century, the development of the United Nations, the relationship between Europe and the United States, the relations within the European Union and the way in which the United States engages with the rest of the world. So it could hardly be more important. It will determine the pattern of international politics for the next generation.
First, let us recap the history of Iraq and weapons of mass destruction. In April 1991, after the Gulf war, Iraq was given 15 days to provide a full and final declaration of all its weapons of mass destruction. Saddam had used the weapons against Iran and against his own people, causing thousands of deaths. He had had plans to use them against allied forces. It became clear, after the Gulf war, that Iraq's WMD ambitions were far more extensive than had hitherto been thought. So the issue was identified by the United Nations at that time as one for urgent remedy. UNSCOM, the weapons inspection team, was set up. It was expected to complete its task, following the declaration, at the end of April 1991. The declaration, when it came, was false: a blanket denial of the programme, other than in a very tentative form. And so the 12-year game began.
The inspectors probed. Finally, in March 1992, Iraq admitted that it had previously undeclared weapons of mass destruction, but it said that it had destroyed them. It gave another full and final declaration. Again the inspectors probed. In October 1994, Iraq stopped co-operating with the weapons inspectors altogether. Military action was threatened. Inspections resumed. In March 1996, in an effort to rid Iraq of the inspectors, a further full and final declaration of WMD was made. By July 1996, however, Iraq was forced to admit that declaration, too, was false.
In August, it provided yet another full and final declaration. Then, a week later, Saddam's son-in-law, Hussein Kamal, defected to Jordan. He disclosed a far more extensive biological weapons programme and, for the first time, said that Iraq had weaponised the programme—something that Saddam had always strenuously denied. All this had been happening while the inspectors were in Iraq.
Kamal also revealed Iraq's crash programme to produce a nuclear weapon in the 1990s. Iraq was then forced to release documents that showed just how extensive those programmes were. In November 1996, Jordan intercepted prohibited components for missiles that could be used for weapons of mass destruction. Then a further "full and final declaration" was made. That, too, turned out to be false.
In June 1997, inspectors were barred from specific sites. In September 1997, lo and behold, yet another "full and final declaration" was made—also false. Meanwhile, the inspectors discovered VX nerve agent production equipment, the existence of which had always been denied by the Iraqis.
In October 1997, the United States and the United Kingdom threatened military action if Iraq refused to comply with the inspectors. Finally, under threat of action in February 1998, Kofi Annan went to Baghdad and negotiated a memorandum with Saddam to allow inspections to continue. They did continue, for a few months. In August, co-operation was suspended.
In December, the inspectors left. Their final report is a withering indictment of Saddam's lies, deception and obstruction, with large quantities of weapons of mass destruction unaccounted for. Then, in December 1998, the US and the UK undertook Desert Fox, a targeted bombing campaign to degrade as much of the Iraqi WMD facility as we could.
In 1999, a new inspection team, UNMOVIC, was set up. Saddam refused to allow those inspectors even to enter Iraq. So there they stayed, in limbo, until, after resolution 1441 last November, they were allowed to return.
That is the history—and what is the claim of Saddam today? Why, exactly the same as before: that he has no weapons of mass destruction. Indeed, we are asked to believe that after seven years of obstruction and non-compliance, finally resulting in the inspectors' leaving in 1998—seven years in which he hid his programme and built it up, even when the inspectors were there in Iraq—when they had left, he voluntarily decided to do what he had consistently refused to do under coercion.
When the inspectors left in 1998, they left unaccounted for 10,000 litres of anthrax; a far-reaching VX nerve agent programme; up to 6,500 chemical munitions; at least 80 tonnes of mustard gas, and possibly more than 10 times that amount; unquantifiable amounts of sarin, botulinum toxin and a host of other biological poisons; and an entire Scud missile programme. We are asked now seriously to accept that in the last few years—contrary to all history, contrary to all intelligence—Saddam decided unilaterally to destroy those weapons. I say that such a claim is palpably absurd.
Resolution 1441 is very clear. It lays down a final opportunity for Saddam to disarm. It rehearses the fact that he has for years been in material breach of 17 UN resolutions. It says that this time compliance must be full, unconditional and immediate, the first step being a full and final declaration of all weapons of mass destruction to be given on
I will not go through all the events since then, as the House is familiar with them, but this much is accepted by all members of the UN Security Council: the
"Documentation available to UNMOVIC suggests that Iraq at least had had far reaching plans to weaponise VX".
On mustard gas, it says:
"Mustard constituted an important part . . . of Iraq's CW arsenal . . . 550 mustard filled shells and up to 450 mustard filled aerial bombs unaccounted for . . . additional uncertainty" with respect to over 6,500 aerial bombs,
"corresponding to approximately 1,000 tonnes of agent, predominantly mustard."
On biological weapons, the inspectors' report states:
"Based on unaccounted for growth media, Iraq's potential production of anthrax could have been in the range of about 15,000 to 25,000 litres . . . Based on all the available evidence, the strong presumption is that about 10,000 litres of anthrax was not destroyed and may still exist."
On that basis, I simply say to the House that, had we meant what we said in resolution 1441, the Security Council should have convened and condemned Iraq as in material breach. What is perfectly clear is that Saddam is playing the same old games in the same old way. Yes, there are minor concessions, but there has been no fundamental change of heart or mind.
We therefore approached a second resolution in this way. As I said, we could have asked for the second resolution then and there, because it was justified. Instead, we laid down an ultimatum calling upon Saddam to come into line with resolution 1441, or be in material breach. That is not an unreasonable proposition, given the history, but still countries hesitated. They asked, "How do we judge what is full co-operation?"
So we then worked on a further compromise. We consulted the inspectors and drew up five tests, based on the document that they published on
So we constructed this framework: that Saddam should be given a specified time to fulfil all six tests to show full co-operation; and that, if he did so, the inspectors could then set out a forward work programme that would extend over a period of time to make sure that disarmament happened. However, if Saddam failed to meet those tests to judge compliance, action would follow.
So there were clear benchmarks, plus a clear ultimatum. Again, I defy anyone to describe that as an unreasonable proposition.
Last Monday, we were getting very close with it. We very nearly had the majority agreement. If I might, I should particularly like to thank the President of Chile for the constructive way in which he approached this issue.
Yes, there were debates about the length of the ultimatum, but the basic construct was gathering support. Then, on Monday night, France said that it would veto a second resolution, whatever the circumstances. Then France denounced the six tests. Later that day, Iraq rejected them. Still, we continued to negotiate, even at that point.
Last Friday, France said that it could not accept any resolution with an ultimatum in it. On Monday, we made final efforts to secure agreement. However, the fact is that France remains utterly opposed to anything that lays down an ultimatum authorising action in the event of non-compliance by Saddam.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. I took the view that Britain should not engage in military action without a second resolution, but the decision of some members of the Security Council to back away from the commitment that they gave in November to enforce resolution 1441 has made me change my mind. Does my right hon. Friend agree that France's decision to use the veto against any further Security Council resolution has, in effect, disarmed the UN instead of disarming Iraq?
Of course I agree with my hon. Friend. The House should just consider the position that we were asked to adopt. Those on the Security Council opposed to us say that they want Saddam to disarm, but they will not countenance any new resolution that authorises force in the event of non-compliance. That is their position—no to any ultimatum and no to any resolution that stipulates that failure to comply will lead to military action. So we must demand that Saddam disarms, but relinquish any concept of a threat if he does not.
From December 1998 to December 2002, no UN inspector was allowed to inspect anything in Iraq. For four years, no inspection took place. What changed Saddam's mind was the threat of force. From December to January, and then from January through to February, some concessions were made. What changed his mind? It was the threat of force. What makes him now issue invitations to the inspectors, discover documents that he said he never had, produce evidence of weapons supposed to be non-existent, and destroy missiles he said he would keep? It is the imminence of force. The only persuasive power to which he responds is 250,000 allied troops on his doorstep. However, when that fact is so obvious, we are told that any resolution that authorises force in the event of non-compliance will be vetoed—not just opposed, but vetoed and blocked.
If it is the case, as the Government continually say, that the French position was so uniquely influential, why did not the Government and the United States pursue the second resolution, which—if the Government have given us a true reflection of the Security Council's position—would show that the French were isolated?
For the very reason that I have just given. If a member of the permanent five indicates to members of the Security Council who are not permanent members that whatever the circumstances it will veto, that is the way to block any progress on the Security Council. [Interruption.] With the greatest respect to whoever shouted out that the presence of the troops is working, I agree, but it is British and American troops who are there, not French troops.
The tragedy is that had such a resolution ensued and had the UN come together and united—and if other troops had gone there, not just British and American troops—Saddam Hussein might have complied. But the moment we proposed the benchmarks and canvassed support for an ultimatum, there was an immediate recourse to the language of the veto. The choice was not action now or postponement of action; the choice was action or no action at all.
We can argue about each one of those vetoes in the past and whether they were reasonable, but I define an unreasonable veto as follows. In resolution 1441, we said that it was Saddam's final opportunity and that he had to comply. That was agreed by all members of the Security Council. What is surely unreasonable is for a country to come forward now, at the very point when we might reach agreement and when we are—not unreasonably—saying that he must comply with the UN, after all these months without full compliance, on the basis of the six tests or action will follow. For that country to say that it will veto such a resolution in all circumstances is what I would call unreasonable.
The tragedy is that the world has to learn the lesson all over again that weakness in the face of a threat from a tyrant is the surest way not to peace, but—unfortunately—to conflict. Looking back over those 12 years, the truth is that we have been victims of our own desire to placate the implacable, to persuade towards reason the utterly unreasonable, and to hope that there was some genuine intent to do good in a regime whose mind is in fact evil.
Now the very length of time counts against us. People say, "You've waited 12 years, so why not wait a little longer?" Of course we have done so, because resolution 1441 gave a final opportunity. As I have just pointed out, the first test was on
The Prime Minister will carry the House with him in describing the evil of Saddam Hussein and the effectiveness of the threat of force. Can he therefore explain why the diplomacy that has not so far succeeded—not through lack of his effort—should not be continued for a little longer, so that agreement could be reached between all permanent members of the Security Council? Then if force had to be used, it could be backed with the authority of the UN, instead of undermining the UN.
We could have had more time if the compromise proposal that we put forward had been accepted. I take it from what the hon. Gentleman has just said that he would accept that the compromise proposal we put forward was indeed reasonable. We set out the tests. If Saddam meets those tests, we extend the work programme of the inspectors. If he does not meet those tests, we take action. I think that the hon. Gentleman would also agree that unless the threat of action was made, it was unlikely that Saddam would meet the tests.
The hon. Gentleman nods his head, but the problem with the diplomacy was that it came to an end after the position of France was made public—and repeated in a private conversation—and it said that it would block, by veto, any resolution that contained an ultimatum. We could carry on discussing it for a long time, but the French were not prepared to change their position. I am not prepared to carry on waiting and delaying, with our troops in place in difficult circumstances, when that country has made it clear that it has a fixed position and will not change. I would have hoped that, rather than condemn us for not waiting even longer, the hon. Gentleman would condemn those who laid down the veto.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that a criticism can be made of all the countries that make up the Security Council because it has taken 12 years to reach this point? Why was action not taken earlier? The delay and frustration has only encouraged the Iraqi dictator to act as he has, and there is no justification for further delay.
The Prime Minister says that the French have changed position, but surely the French, Russians and Chinese always made it clear that they would oppose a second resolution that led automatically to war. [Interruption.] Well they publicised that view at the time of resolution 1441. Is it not the Prime Minister who has changed his position? A month ago, he said that the only circumstances in which he would go to war without a second resolution was if the inspectors concluded that there had been no more progress, which they have not; if there were a majority on the Security Council, which there is not; and if there were an unreasonable veto from one country, but there are three permanent members opposed to the Prime Minister's policy. When did he change his position, and why?
First, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely wrong about the position on resolution 1441. It is correct that resolution 1441 did not say that there would be another resolution authorising the use of force, but the implication of resolution 1441—it was stated in terms—was that if Iraq continued in material breach, defined as not co-operating fully, immediately and unconditionally, serious consequences should follow. All we are asking for in the second resolution is the clear ultimatum that if Saddam continues to fail to co-operate, force should be used. The French position is that France will vote no, whatever the circumstances. Those are not my words, but those of the French President. I find it sad that at this point in time he cannot support us in the position we have set out, which is the only sure way to disarm Saddam. And what, indeed, would any tyrannical regime possessing weapons of mass destruction think when viewing the history of the world's diplomatic dance with Saddam over these 12 years? That our capacity to pass firm resolutions has only been matched by our feebleness in implementing them. That is why this indulgence has to stop—because it is dangerous: dangerous if such regimes disbelieve us; dangerous if they think they can use our weakness, our hesitation, and even the natural urges of our democracy towards peace against us; and dangerous because one day they will mistake our innate revulsion against war for permanent incapacity, when, in fact, if pushed to the limit, we will act. But when we act, after years of pretence, the action will have to be harder, bigger, more total in its impact. It is true that Iraq is not the only country with weapons of mass destruction, but I say this to the House: back away from this confrontation now, and future conflicts will be infinitely worse and more devastating in their effects.
Of course, in a sense, any fair observer does not really dispute that Iraq is in breach of resolution 1441 or that it implies action in such circumstances. The real problem is that, underneath, people dispute that Iraq is a threat, dispute the link between terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, and dispute, in other words, the whole basis of our assertion that the two together constitute a fundamental assault on our way of life.
There are glib and sometimes foolish comparisons with the 1930s. I am not suggesting for a moment that anyone here is an appeaser or does not share our revulsion at the regime of Saddam. However, there is one relevant point of analogy. It is that, with history, we know what happened. We can look back and say, "There's the time; that was the moment; that's when we should have acted." However, the point is that it was not clear at the time—not at that moment. In fact, at that time, many people thought such a fear fanciful or, worse, that it was put forward in bad faith by warmongers. Let me read one thing from an editorial from a paper that I am pleased to say takes a different position today. It was written in late 1938 after Munich. One would have thought from the history books that people thought the world was tumultuous in its desire to act. This is what the editorial said:
"Be glad in your hearts. Give thanks to your God. People of Britain, your children are safe. Your husbands and your sons will not march to war. Peace is a victory for all mankind . . . And now let us go back to our own affairs. We have had enough of those menaces, conjured up . . . to confuse us."
Now, of course, should Hitler again appear in the same form, we would know what to do. But the point is that history does not declare the future to us plainly. Each time is different and the present must be judged without the benefit of hindsight. So let me explain to the House why I believe that the threat that we face today is so serious and why we must tackle it. The threat today is not that of the 1930s. It is not big powers going to war with each other. The ravages that fundamentalist ideology inflicted on the 20th century are memories. The cold war is over. Europe is at peace, if not always diplomatically. But the world is ever more interdependent. Stock markets and economies rise and fall together, confidence is the key to prosperity, and insecurity spreads like contagion. The key today is stability and order. The threat is chaos and disorder—and there are two begetters of chaos: tyrannical regimes with weapons of mass destruction and extreme terrorist groups who profess a perverted and false view of Islam.
Let me tell the House what I know. I know that there are some countries, or groups within countries, that are proliferating and trading in weapons of mass destruction—especially nuclear weapons technology. I know that there are companies, individuals, and some former scientists on nuclear weapons programmes, who are selling their equipment or expertise. I know that there are several countries—mostly dictatorships with highly repressive regimes—that are desperately trying to acquire chemical weapons, biological weapons or, in particular, nuclear weapons capability. Some of those countries are now a short time away from having a serviceable nuclear weapon. This activity is not diminishing. It is increasing.
We all know that there are terrorist groups now operating in most major countries. Just in the past two years, around 20 different nations have suffered serious terrorist outrages. Thousands of people—quite apart from
Those two threats have, of course, different motives and different origins, but they share one basic common view: they detest the freedom, democracy and tolerance that are the hallmarks of our way of life. At the moment, I accept fully that the association between the two is loose—but it is hardening. The possibility of the two coming together—of terrorist groups in possession of weapons of mass destruction or even of a so-called dirty radiological bomb—is now, in my judgment, a real and present danger to Britain and its national security.
Does the Prime Minister acknowledge that thousands of scientists and civil servants in this country—hundreds of them my constituents at Porton Down—have been warning of those threats for some years and are hugely relieved that he and his Government are taking this seriously? They will support him, as will I.
What could be more calculated to act as a recruiting sergeant for a young generation throughout the Islamic and Arab world than putting 600 cruise missiles—or whatever it is—on to Baghdad and Iraq?
Let me deal with this point first. Let us recall: what was shocking about
Just give me a moment and then I will give way.
Let me explain the dangers. Three kilograms of VX from a rocket launcher would contaminate 0.25 sq km of a city. Millions of lethal doses are contained in one litre of anthrax, and 10,000 litres are unaccounted for. What happened on
Of course, Iraq is not the only part of this threat. I have never said that it was. But it is the test of whether we treat the threat seriously. Faced with it, the world should unite. The UN should be the focus both of diplomacy and of action. That is what 1441 said. That was the deal. And I simply say to the House that to break it now, and to will the ends but not the means, would do more damage in the long term to the UN than any other single course that we could pursue. To fall back into the lassitude of the past 12 years; to talk, to discuss, to debate but never to act; to declare our will but not to enforce it; and to continue with strong language but with weak intentions—that is the worst course imaginable. If we pursue that course, when the threat returns, from Iraq or elsewhere, who will then believe us? What price our credibility with the next tyrant? It was interesting today that some of the strongest statements of support for allied forces came from near to North Korea—from Japan and South Korea.
The Prime Minister is making a powerful and compelling speech. Will he tell the House whether there has been any identification of the countries that have supplied these terrible biological materials—such as anthrax and toxins—to Iraq? Should those countries not be identified—named by the Prime Minister and condemned?
A moment ago my right hon. Friend said that the association between Iraq and terrorists is loose, yet last night President Bush told the American people that Iraq has aided, trained and harboured terrorists, including operatives of al-Qaeda. Was President Bush accurate in what he told the American people?
First, let me apologise to Sir Teddy Taylor. He was making a point in my favour and I failed to spot it.
Secondly, to my hon. Friend, yes, I do support what the President said. Do not be in any doubt at all—Iraq has been supporting terrorist groups. For example, Iraq is offering money to the families of suicide bombers whose purpose is to wreck any chance of progress in the middle east. Although I said that the associations were loose, they are hardening. I do believe that, and I believe that the two threats coming together are the dangers that we face in our world.
I also say this: there will be in any event no sound future for the United Nations—no guarantee against the repetition of these events—unless we recognise the urgent need for a political agenda that we can unite upon. What we have witnessed is indeed the consequence of Europe and the United States dividing from each other. Not all of Europe—Spain, Italy, Holland, Denmark and Portugal have strongly supported us—and not a majority of Europe if we include, as we should, Europe's new members who will accede next year, all 10 of whom have been in strong support of the position of this Government. But the paralysis of the UN has been born out of the division that there is.
I want to deal with that in this way. At the heart of that division is the concept of a world in which there are rival poles of power, with the US and its allies in one corner and France, Germany, Russia and their allies in the other. I do not believe that all those nations intend such an outcome, but that is what now faces us. I believe such a vision to be misguided and profoundly dangerous for our world. I know why it arises. There is resentment of US predominance. There is fear of US unilateralism. People ask, "Do the US listen to us and our preoccupations?" And there is perhaps a lack of full understanding of US preoccupations after
That would have been the right and responsible way for Europe and America to treat each other as partners, and it is a tragedy that it has not happened. I do not believe that there is any other issue with the same power to reunite the world community than progress on the issues of Israel and Palestine. Of course, there is cynicism about recent announcements, but the United States is now committed—and, I believe genuinely—to the road map for peace designed in consultation with the UN. It will now be presented to the parties as Abu Mazen is confirmed in office, hopefully today, as Palestinian Prime Minister. All of us are now signed up to this vision: a state of Israel, recognised and accepted by all the world, and a viable Palestinian state. That is what this country should strive for, and we will.
And that should be part of a larger global agenda: on poverty and sustainable development; on democracy and human rights; and on the good governance of nations.
In a moment.
That is why what happens after any conflict in Iraq is of such critical significance. Here again there is a chance to unify around the United Nations. There should be a new United Nations resolution following any conflict providing not only for humanitarian help, but for the administration and governance of Iraq. That must be done under proper UN authorisation.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way, and I endorse very strongly what he said about the need for the road map of progress in the middle east. However, the problem is that there is a perception that we are engaged in a bilateral action with just the United States. Could he respond to my constituents and others who believe that, and point out how strong is the support for action at this moment to rid the Iraqi people of the oppressive Saddam regime?
I shall certainly do so. The UN resolution that should provide for the proper governance of Iraq should also protect totally the territorial integrity of Iraq. And this point is also important: that the oil revenues, which people falsely claim that we want to seize, should be put in a trust fund for the Iraqi people administered through the UN.
If my hon. Friend will allow me to continue for a moment, I shall come back to him.
The process must begin on a democratic basis, respecting human rights, as, indeed, the fledgling democracy in northern Iraq—protected from Saddam for 12 years by British and American pilots in the no-fly zone—has done remarkably. The moment that a new Government are in place, committed to disarming Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, is the point in time when sanctions should be lifted, and can be lifted, in their entirety for the people of Iraq.
I thank the Prime Minister for giving way. Can he tell the House what guarantees he has had from the Turkish Government and the Turkish military that they will not use the opportunity of a war in the south to invade the northern part of Iraq and destroy the Kurdish autonomous region and the demands of Kurdish people for their own self-determination? There is a very serious fear that the Turkish army has always wanted to destroy any vestige of Kurdish autonomy.
Turkey has given that commitment. I have spoken to the Turkish Government, as have the President of the United States and many others. I have to say to my hon. Friend that it is clear from the conversations that I have had with people in that Kurdish autonomous zone that what they really fear above all else is the prospect of Saddam remaining in power, emboldened because we have failed to remove him.
I have never put the justification for action as regime change. We have to act within the terms set out in resolution 1441—that is our legal base. But it is the reason why I say frankly that if we do act, we should do so with a clear conscience and a strong heart. I accept fully that those who are opposed to this course of action share my detestation of Saddam. Who could not? Iraq is a potentially wealthy country which in 1979, the year before Saddam came to power, was richer than Portugal or Malaysia. Today it is impoverished, with 60 per cent. of its population dependent on food aid. Thousands of children die needlessly every year from lack of food and medicine. Four million people out of a population of just over 20 million are living in exile.
The brutality of the repression—the death and torture camps, the barbaric prisons for political opponents, the routine beatings for anyone or their families suspected of disloyalty—is well documented. Just last week, someone slandering Saddam was tied to a lamp post in a street in Baghdad, their tongue was cut out, and they were mutilated and left to bleed to death as a warning to others. I recall a few weeks ago talking to an Iraqi exile and saying to her that I understood how grim it must be under the lash of Saddam. "But you don't", she replied. "You cannot. You do not know what it is like to live in perpetual fear." And she is right. We take our freedom for granted. But imagine what it must be like not to be able to speak or discuss or debate or even question the society you live in. To see friends and family taken away and never daring to complain. To suffer the humility of failing courage in face of pitiless terror. That is how the Iraqi people live. Leave Saddam in place, and the blunt truth is that that is how they will continue to be forced to live.
We must face the consequences of the actions that we advocate. For those of us who support the course that I am advocating, that means all the dangers of war. But for others who are opposed to this course, it means—let us be clear—that for the Iraqi people, whose only true hope lies in the removal of Saddam, the darkness will simply close back over. They will be left under his rule, without any possibility of liberation—not from us, not from anyone.
In a moment. This is the choice before us. If this House now demands that at this moment, faced with this threat from this regime, British troops are pulled back, that we turn away at the point of reckoning—this is what it means—what then? What will Saddam feel? He will feel strengthened beyond measure. What will the other states that tyrannise their people, the terrorists who threaten our existence, take from that? They will take it that the will confronting them is decaying and feeble. Who will celebrate and who will weep if we take our troops back from the Gulf now?
I am sorry. If our plea is for America to work with others, to be good as well as powerful allies, will our retreat make it multilateralist, or will it not rather be the biggest impulse to unilateralism that we could possibly imagine? What then of the United Nations, and of the future of Iraq and the middle east peace process, devoid of our influence and stripped of our insistence?
The House wanted this discussion before conflict. That was a legitimate demand. It has it, and these are the choices. In this dilemma, no choice is perfect, no choice is ideal, but on this decision hangs the fate of many things: of whether we summon the strength to recognise the global challenge of the 21st century, and meet it; of the Iraqi people, groaning under years of dictatorship; of our armed forces, brave men and women of whom we can feel proud, and whose morale is high and whose purpose is clear; of the institutions and alliances that will shape our world for years to come. To retreat now, I believe, would put at hazard all that we hold dearest. To turn the United Nations back into a talking shop; to stifle the first steps of progress in the middle east; to leave the Iraqi people to the mercy of events over which we would have relinquished all power to influence for the better; to tell our allies that at the very moment of action, at the very moment when they need our determination, Britain faltered: I will not be party to such a course.
This is not the time to falter. This is the time not just for this Government—or, indeed, for this Prime Minister—but for this House to give a lead: to show that we will stand up for what we know to be right; to show that we will confront the tyrannies and dictatorships and terrorists who put our way of life at risk; to show, at the moment of decision, that we have the courage to do the right thing.
The House and the whole country rightly recognise that we are soon likely to be at war. It is a solemn moment in the life of our nation, and our first thoughts and prayers today must be with our troops and their families as they prepare for action. The Opposition recognise the heavy responsibility that the Prime Minister and the Government have to bear. I remind the House that the Prime Minister's decision comes at the end of 12 years of what was too often indecision by the international community.
I make it clear from the outset that the official Opposition will vote tonight in the same Lobby as the Government. In saying that, I recognise that there are honestly felt and genuinely carried differences of view on both sides of the House about further military action in Iraq. I respect those unreservedly, wherever they are held, and I recognise that they reflect strong differences of view that are felt throughout the country. However, given the differences and the difficulties that they have posed for the Government in general and for the Prime Minister in particular, I say frankly to the House that the official Opposition could somehow have sought to manoeuvre themselves into the No Lobby tonight. After all, we have argued consistently that Ministers have failed to convince the public of their case, and we have sought to hold the Government to account in the House for their mistakes. In particular, we have also pointed out the failures with regard to the humanitarian consequences of war. However, I believe that when the Government do the right thing by the British people, they deserve the support of the House, and particularly of the main Opposition.
Certain issues need to be taken head-on today. The idea that this action would become a recruiting sergeant for others to come to the colours of those who are "anti" any nation in the west is, I am afraid, nonsense. The biggest recruiting sergeant of all has been indecision, and the failure to take action to show that such resolve matters.
There are well-held views that I have respect for, but as I said, we could have sought a way to do something that would have damaged the Government. I understand that the Liberal Democrats will do just that tonight. They are, of course, entitled to their view, but I simply say this to them. One can argue that further military action by our armed forces would be illegal, or that it should be supported. But a political party surely cannot simultaneously argue that military action is illegal but should none the less be supported somehow. Yet that, we gather, is what the Liberal Democrats plan to put as their main case tonight. What is clear is that one cannot have it both ways; one has to make a decision and lead.
We are voting tonight in support of the motion not because we endorse every detail of the Prime Minister's handling of the matter, certainly not because we are eager for conflict—as the House knows, I served in the armed forces, and I have some knowledge of the horror of the aftermath of conflict—and not just because we want to show our support for our troops. That said, I believe firmly that, as the Prime Minister says, they are entitled to our full support today.
Saddam Hussein is a tyrant who tortures and murders his own people. He poses a threat to the safety and stability of the middle east, and he is in complete breach of his obligations to the United Nations and to the international community. However, the main reason why we will be voting for the motion is that it is in the British national interest. Saddam Hussein has the means, the mentality and the motive to pose a direct threat to our national security. That is why we will be voting tonight to do the right thing by our troops and the British people.
I am interested in what the right hon. Gentleman is saying, just as I was in the Prime Minister's speech. However, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, between 1986 and 1991, 12 early-day motions were tabled in this House calling for the abandonment of the supply of arms to Iraq and condemning what happened at Halabja, and that all the 60 Members who signed at least one of those motions—they included me—were Labour Members? Not a single Tory name was included. However, not even the Prime Minister signed any of them; indeed, only two members of the current Cabinet did so. Yet now they are most strident. I think that—
The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful case for supporting the Government's motion tonight, and I expect that he will be in the Lobby in support.
The Prime Minister rightly pointed out that Saddam Hussein has lied to the UN for 12 years. Even now, we do not know the full extent of his arsenal, or of his facilities to develop weapons. He has the means, and as has already been said, it should be evident to everyone that he remains in breach of the obligations under 1441. He has absolutely no intention whatsoever of relinquishing the weapons that he has developed: the remaining al-Samoud 2 missiles; the Scud-B warheads; the R-400 bombs; and the tonnes of VX, anthrax, sarin, soman, botulinum toxin, mustard gas and other deadly weapons, viruses and agents identified by Hans Blix in his report, which I recommend that every Member of this House read before passing judgment.
Saddam Hussein has not only the means but the mentality. To date, his main victims have been his own people. The tale of his rule of lawlessness is a litany of horror. Dissident women are raped, children are tortured and prisoners are trapped in steel boxes until they confess or die. As we have heard, chemical weapons have been used against the Kurds, and Shi'a villages razed to the ground. As the Prime Minister said, when Saddam Hussein came to power, Iraq was a wealthy country: today, it is impoverished.
If that was not enough, Saddam Hussein is also the man who has waged war against Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Israel. Here in Britain, where we are at liberty to protest against any military action, we should recall—as the Prime Minister said—that such liberty does not exist for those who live in Iraq and whose tongues are ripped out if they dare to question Saddam Hussein.
When I had the privilege of visiting our troops in Kuwait, I also had the opportunity of talking to the families of 600 Kuwaiti prisoners of war, taken by Saddam Hussein at the time of the last Gulf war and still missing. I recall talking to one old man whose last sight of his son was when he was being taken away by Iraqi soldiers. He has never been returned. There is no documentary evidence of the existence of those 600 people. Inspection of the prisons is not allowed. At no time has Saddam Hussein agreed to independent inspectors telling their families what happened to them.
Some may say that 600 people do not matter in the great scheme of things, but the equivalent percentage in our population would mean that 60,000 British people were missing. How many Members would not consider that a matter of massive importance and a sign of the distinct distastefulness of that regime?
There is a huge and powerful argument to act. Saddam Hussein is in breach not only on weapons but also in personal terms for those who live and have to suffer under his regime. It is well worth meeting the dissidents and I advise all Members to do so. Their tales about what has happened to their families are harrowing. One man told me that he last saw his brother 18 years ago as he was being taken away for a minor traffic offence. His brother has never been seen again. I promise that no one will shed a tear over the departure of Saddam Hussein.
Saddam Hussein has the means and the mentality. He also has the motive. We in Britain helped to expel him from Kuwait. For more than 10 years, British forces have been enforcing the no-fly zones. We are a crucial part of the coalition that seeks to force UN resolutions upon his regime. The threat that his arsenal poses to British citizens at home and abroad cannot simply be contained. Whether in the hands of his regime or in the hands of the terrorists to whom he would give his weapons, they pose a clear danger to British citizens. To those who doubt that, I point out that only the other day Saddam said that he would strike anywhere,
"by land, sea or sky".
Those who believe otherwise are living in cloud cuckoo land. The reality for them, as for others, is that Britain and its citizens are as much prime targets as anybody in the world.
As the Prime Minister said, Saddam's last hope lies in his ability to string along the international community for as long as possible. People who say that another month and a half would be all right and that it is only a small delay should realise that, in another month and a half, any military action will become nigh on impossible. The delay would not be for a month and a half but would have to last until the autumn, and in the meantime, Saddam's prevarications and games will split the international community and wreck the UN. The blame for further military action lies squarely in the hands of Saddam Hussein. It is his regime only that has made further military action necessary, yet, even now, he has the power to ensure that such action does not take place.
It would be wrong for us not to acknowledge the consequences of that military action. I am sad to say that the Iraqi people may have to suffer yet again, but I hope and believe that, in the decision that the Prime Minister has to take, the suffering of the Iraqi people will be short-lived and that the ultimate end will be peace and security in their country.
That is why the Opposition have constantly urged the Government to set out their plans for humanitarian assistance. Our view of the lack of preparedness was endorsed by the Select Committee on International Development, which warned last week of concern about the "lack of leadership" in co-ordinating the planning and preparation of the humanitarian response to possible military action. The Committee also recommended that the Department for International Development
"immediately issues a statement outlining its basic humanitarian contingency plans".
We welcome the written statement made last week by the Secretary of State for International Development, but it did not explain what is being done to improve co-ordination between the Ministry of Defence and DFID. It did not establish whether DFID would set up a mechanism to co-ordinate the UK humanitarian response. It did not set out what will replace the oil-for-food programme, which feeds up to 60 per cent. of the Iraqi population. It did not spell out DFID's plans in the event of Saddam Hussein unleashing any of his arsenal of chemical and biological weapons on his own people. Nor did it give details of how to cope with the flight of refugees. Those are pressing questions, as it is estimated that up to a million people may seek refuge on the borders. The questions need to be answered.
If those preparations are so ill advanced, why is the right hon. Gentleman so keen on going to war?
The hon. Gentleman betrays a certain ignorance. The reality is that we need to deal with Saddam Hussein regardless of those arrangements. We have rightly urged the Government that arrangements must be made and that there must be a way of dealing with the emergency requirements. I believe that that can take place and I hope that, in their response to the debate, the Government will explain how those matters will be dealt with in the course of events.
I will give way in a second.
We note the renewed commitment of the Secretary of State for International Development to her position, but we remind her of its current significance to the Iraqi people and that her recent detachment and indecision have done them and the House a disservice.
We also accept that the prospect of further military action against Iraq causes widespread anxiety among Muslims throughout the Islamic world and in Britain. It is vital to recall that the majority of Saddam Hussein's victims have been Muslims; their number stretches to the appalling figure of more than 1 million. Two Muslim countries—Iran and Kuwait—were invaded by Saddam and Muslim countries bordering Iraq would not mourn his passing.
Decisions on Kashmir have little to do with what is happening in this case. We want all UN resolutions to be enforced, but these circumstances are particular and peculiar. They relate to the UN resolution under chapter VII, which shows that Iraq is a direct threat to the United Nations and all who inhabit the countries around it. That is the point. It is intriguing that the hon. Gentleman and others hang on to those other resolutions as though that justifies taking no action in this case. It is right to act and we should deal with this matter right now.
Will the right hon. Gentleman take this opportunity to apologise to the Muslim world for supporting Saddam Hussein when he used chemical weapons against his people and killed 1 million Muslims?
I have never supported Saddam Hussein at any time when he has used any weapon, particularly not chemical weapons. What happened in Halabja was an outrage and should be condemned by everyone regardless of their views.
We remain committed to the right of Israel to exist behind secure and legally accepted borders, as the Prime Minister said, with binding guarantees of peace from its Arab neighbours, but hon. Members on both sides of the House are equally committed to the cessation of settlement activity and the establishment of a Palestinian state on the west bank. We are firmly of the view that Israel must withdraw from the occupied territories and believe that now is the time for the Government fully to embrace the process, as the Prime Minister laid it out.
There are welcome indications that the road map will be published soon, paving the way for a full and comprehensive settlement, and we realise that the Muslim world is looking to the implementation of that road map as a way forward that is coherent and consistent. It is imperative to all those committed to that road map now to prove their commitment to it during the months ahead, and I am assured that the Prime Minister will do just that.
The House knows that I have long held the view that Saddam Hussein is a threat to our national interest and that, if decisive action had been taken earlier, we would not now stand on the verge of war, but all that lies in the past, for we are entering the final phase of a 12-year history in relation to Iraq. The 17 resolutions passed since then have put Saddam Hussein under 27 separate obligations, and resolution 1441 gave him a final opportunity to meet those obligations or face the serious consequences named. More than 18 weeks have passed since he was given that final choice. More than 600 weeks have passed since he was given the first chance when the UN first entered Baghdad.
I acknowledge that other hon. Members oppose further military action and some have general doubts and concerns, but I genuinely urge them all to consider the consequences of turning back now. In turning back, we would widen splits in NATO, stir up isolationism in the United States and abandon our allies in Spain, Portugal, Italy, Australia and many countries in eastern Europe, where people know what it is like to live under tyranny and have supported the actions of the Prime Minister and others.
Above all, we would strip the UN of its authority, betray our own national interest and send an unmistakable signal to Saddam Hussein and every rogue state and terrorist group in the world that we lack the will to enforce just demands against those tyrannical regimes. That is the road that France would have us go down, and we must not take that road.
There are matters at stake that rise above party politics. It is the duty of the Government to act in the national interest, and it is the duty of the Opposition to support them when they do so. The Prime Minister is acting in the national interest today. That is why he is entitled to our support in doing the right thing. This is a critical moment for the House. If we vote to give Saddam yet another chance, the moment will pass, our concentration will falter, our energy and our focus will disperse and our nerve will fail, with disastrous consequences for us all.
We cannot funk this challenge and leave it for future generations. We cannot heap up the problems at their door and leave them to face the consequences. We must not deprive our troops of the support that they fully deserve from all quarters of the House. We must shoulder our responsibilities and seize that moment. If we give way now, our failure will be used as a club against us in years to come. We should stand firm, act and show that we have learned from past failures. For the sake of our security and that of the wider world, I urge the House to vote for the motion tonight.
Order. I will call a Back Bencher to move the amendment. I point out to the House that there is an eight-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches and that, on a day like this, it will not be appreciated if hon. Members approach the Chair—whether I or one of my Deputies is in the Chair—regarding when or whether they will speak. I call Peter Kilfoyle to move the amendment.
I beg to move, To leave out from "1441" in line 2, to "in" in line 21 and insert—
"believes that the case for war against Iraq has not yet been established, especially given the absence of specific United Nations authorisation;
but, in the event that hostilities do commence, pledges its total support for the British forces engaged in the Middle East, expresses its admiration for their courage, skill and devotion to duty, and hopes that their tasks will be swiftly concluded with minimal casualties on all sides."
I hope to move the amendment without the rancour and personalisation that has sometimes characterised the debate on the fringes surrounding this issue because I agree with the Prime Minister when he says that this is one of those issues that come along once in a generation. Indeed, it is an issue that transcends many normal ties of party, friendship and even family because the outcomes of the decisions that will be taken here and elsewhere will be so tremendous. As the Prime Minister says, those decisions will set the tone for a very long time to come.
It would be remiss of me if I did not pick up a number of the points that the Prime Minister made in his speech if only to point out that he is rightly credited with being a man of conviction, but so are other right hon. and hon. Members, and with their convictions and their examination of the facts as opposed to the collection of assertions, value judgments and interpretations that seem to make up the Government's case, they seem to draw very different conclusions.
For example, the Prime Minister made much of events back in 1938. Of course, he said that he was not suggesting that anyone was an appeaser. The only person whom I have ever appeased in my life is Mrs. Kilfoyle—not very successfully, I hasten to add. The thing that struck me, of course, was that I do not recall that the League of Nations had inspectors in Germany dismantling the panzers in 1938, as we have inspectors dismantling the weapons in Iraq today.
The Prime Minister rightly made much of the dangers of terrorism, but does that not illustrate the idiocy of fighting the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time against the wrong enemy? We are having a 19th-century gunboat war in the Gulf when the real dangers of terrorism should be isolated and dealt with as the first priority. I accept the argument that those things run concurrently, but I do not accept the linkage that is often made. The Prime Minister said that the linkage is loose, but that it is hardening. He will have privileged information that we are not privy to, but nevertheless the one thing that I can guarantee will harden that linkage is the manifest failure to deal with the underlying causes that have given us the terrorism and the situation in Iraq in the first place.
I note the fact that the Government motion refers to the road map—a road map that was torpedoed within 24 hours by Prime Minister Sharon's insistence that he would not accept a Palestinian state.
No. I am sorry, but I have only eight minutes.
The fourth issue that struck me was the Prime Minister's comment that the US had a preoccupation after 9/11, which changed its world view. The US may have that preoccupation, but the Administration had set out their view long in advance of being an Administration. I refer the Prime Minister to the parliamentary record, which will show references to the letter written to President Clinton in 1998 by the Project for a New American Century in which it set out very clearly what its intentions were and urged President Clinton to mount an attack on Iraq.
Those of us who have put our names to the amendment have done so not with any sense of mischief making or because we do not recognise that those on the other side of the argument hold very sincere views, but because we are conscious of our interpretation of what is said. My own interpretation is that this act would be illegal, immoral and illogical. The Government will tell us that the selected evidence from the Attorney-General that has been published has satisfied the Government and ought to satisfy the House, but I prefer to take the views of the many eminent jurists who have reached very different conclusions. And yes, I also accept the view set out by Kofi Annan that the international community needed a second resolution. I am satisfied that, without that second resolution, we are getting into extremely dangerous ground and setting extremely dangerous precedents.
It is immoral because in waging this war—we should think about what the term awe and shock implies—the United States is aiming to put in 10 times as many missiles and precision bombs in the first 48 hours as it committed in the whole of the last Gulf war. That is against a country that has been decimated year after year. Regardless of the rights and wrongs, the fact is that an already destroyed, effectively third-world country will be further damaged. It seems to me grossly immoral to talk about the reconstruction of damage that one has wilfully caused.
It is illogical because, as I intimated a moment ago, we are going after the wrong enemy at the wrong time and in the wrong way. I do not believe that Saddam Hussein has been anything other than contained. I do not believe any assertion that is made without the evidence being provided that there are linkages between him and al-Qaeda. I do not believe that he has had the wherewithal, or would have it, to be able to attack the United Kingdom directly. There has been an awful lot of scaremongering that does not add to the Government's case.
I am conscious that I am running out of time. I have mentioned once before in the House the advice that was given by Archidamus to his Spartan allies. He said that slow and cautious may be seen as wise and sensible. Many years later, the Athenian superpower, in its impatience, found out that he was absolutely right: impatience had imperilled it and led to its destruction. I say earnestly and honestly to the Government: their impatience will reap a whirlwind, which will affect us and ours for generations to come. I urge hon. Members to support the amendment.
Following Mr. Kilfoyle, I acknowledge with thanks, through him, to Mr. Smith and to all those concerned in all parties in this House, that an honest option has been discussed and agreed in a cross-party way. In the previous debate, the right hon. Gentleman made a powerful contribution to that cross-party basis, which needs to be heard and discussed rationally today.
Although it is sad that we have lost a very good Leader of the House, there is no doubt, having listened to his brilliant resignation statement in the House yesterday evening, that those of us who are supporting the cross-party amendment in the Lobby tonight, as I and my right hon. and hon. Friends will do, have gained a powerful additional advocate for the case that we are sincerely making. Given the events of the past few days and the last few hours, there has been much understandable comment about the drama of the situation. In the next few hours and days, however, we are liable to see even more drama and trauma when what appears to be the inevitable military conflict against Iraq begins. Let us hope, as we all agree, that the conflict can be conducted as swiftly as possible, with the minimum of casualties: first and foremost, clearly, among our forces, but equally among innocent Iraqi civilians, with whom none of us has ever had any quarrel and who have suffered terribly under the despicable regime of Saddam Hussein.
As for those of us who remain unpersuaded as to the case at this time for war, and who have questioned whether British forces should be sent into a war without a further UN mandate having been achieved, there stands no contradiction—as the former Leader of the House and former Foreign Secretary put succinctly last night—between giving voice to that legitimate anxiety and, at the same time, as and when exchange of fire commences, looking to the rest of the country, and to all of us in the House, to give full moral support to our forces. They do not take the civilian political decision in relation to what they are being asked to do, but they must carry out that task in all our names. The shadow Leader of the House expressed that well last night, but, equally, Church leaders, who earlier expressed profound opposition to war in this way at this time, are making the same point. If, later tonight, at the conclusion of this debate, under the democratic procedures that we enjoy in this House, that is to be the decision, it is important that the whole House unites in that genuine support.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, but the answer is no. I will not do so because our consistent line is that we do not believe that a case for war has been established under these procedures in the absence of a second UN Security Council resolution. That is our position—[Interruption.]
The right hon. Gentleman failed to answer my hon. Friend Sir Patrick Cormack. Will he clear up an inconsistency? On the one hand, he said that he wanted to support the troops, while, on the other, he said that he would not support the main motion. He has a split in his party. Mr. Campbell has said that
"legally, no new resolution is required for the use of force to implement resolution 687."—[Hansard, 24 September 2002; Vol. 390, c. 43.]
Lord Goodhart, however, has said that the existing resolutions on the Iraqi situation, particularly 1441, do not authorise armed intervention without a second resolution. Which position is that of the Liberal Democrats, and why do they travel across two separate positions?
First, my noble Friend Lord Goodhart spoke with great authority as an international lawyer in the House of Lords debate last night. My right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Campbell spoke on that issue in September, before resolution 1441 was passed, and 1441 has moved the position on. I want to return to the issue of legality in a moment.
The Leader of the Conservative party chose to open his contribution with one or two remarks about me and my hon. Friends, which is perfectly fair in this debate. In relation to consistency, however, let us remind ourselves about the position of the Conservative party, for instance, on weapons of mass destruction. After Saddam Hussein used such weapons in 1988, the Conservative Government continued to sell arms to Iraq. They provided him with anthrax and other chemical weapons, and they approved the construction of dual-use factories in Iraq. When it comes to humanitarian reasons—
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. If the right hon. Gentleman is in the act of misleading the House, given that the Scott inquiry made it clear that the Conservative Government did not sell any chemical weapons to the Iraqi regime during the 1980s, how can one make him withdraw his remark?
I can help the hon. Gentleman. These are matters for debate, and it may be that some hon. Member may be able to rebut the right hon. Gentleman's case.
To be fair, I am in the process of replying to the right hon. Gentleman's party leader.
If Conservatives speak about the need for consistency on the international stage with respect to humanitarianism, as several have over many months, why did they not support the humanitarian intervention in Sierra Leone or the use of ground troops in Kosovo? Why did they veto 11 United Nations resolutions relating to apartheid South Africa when they were in government?
Order. The right hon. Gentleman is entitled to be heard. Every other party leader has been listened to properly and he should get that courtesy too.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
My concluding remark to the leader of the Conservative party is that if I saw the names of three former Cabinet Ministers who served in the last Conservative Government listed in support of the amendment on the Order Paper, I might try to sort out my own party before I started lecturing other party leaders.
When it comes to the further engagement of our armed forces, it would be proper for hon. Members to raise legitimate questions, as many have in all parties, on the supply and suitability of equipment, the eventual war aims, the participation of British forces and the bombs that might be used. It would be right to ask whether we would desist from resorting to cluster bombs or depleted uranium. It would also be right to ask about the longer term role that we hope British forces will play, if the war ensues, in the humanitarian and reconstruction roles on which they have such a distinguished track record. That is why we have supported the UN route, and it will be a source of great regret if the motion is passed because British troops will be put into action.
There are, however, two specific things on which the Government are right to expect and deserve significant credit over the course of the past six months. The first is that they were instrumental in persuading a reluctant United States to go down the UN route. Everything that I have been party to and privy to over the past six months persuades me that that is the case. The second is that the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and other senior colleagues have been consistent in emphasising to the Americans and others the primary need to re-establish a meaningful middle east peace process.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
What makes this week so sadly ironic is that the very moment when the Bush Administration at last embraced the fresh urgency over the middle east peace process was the very time when they chose to abandon the UN route. Let us face it, having taken the decision to abandon the UN route, the sudden embrace of the middle east peace process with refreshed urgency arouses the suspicion among many that the two are not unconnected and, perhaps, that if they are willing to do one, they may be willing to abandon the other or to go lukewarm at a later stage.
I am most grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way, although it is tempting to ask why he gives way to some hon. Members and not to others. He pays tribute—rightly, in my view—to the Prime Minister for engaging with the United States, but he also believes that it is right to release them into isolationism, which makes progress on the middle east settlement less likely. Why is that?
I do not accept that thesis, and I shall explain exactly why. It is best summed up by the words used by Kofi Annan over the past few days. In the absence of a further explicit United Nations resolution, which is obviously the position in which we find ourselves, he remarked last week:
"The legitimacy and support for any such action will be seriously impaired. If the USA and others go outside the Council and take military action it will be not be in conformity with the Charter."
That raises very serious questions on which we should reflect. Only yesterday afternoon, the Secretary-General said:
"If the action is to take place without the support of the Council, its legitimacy will be questioned" and the international support will be diminished. We are right to reflect on those considerations.
The right hon. Gentleman has not answered the question asked by Jim Knight. Having quite correctly praised the Prime Minister and the Government for the influence that they have exerted on the middle east peace process, will he please explain how his vote tonight will contribute to maximising British influence on that process?
I think that I have responded to that. It is best for the process to proceed through the auspices of the United Nations itself. If we undermine the legitimacy and authority of the United Nations, that cannot assist us in re-establishing the middle east peace process.
Although I have never been persuaded of a causal link between the Iraqi regime, al-Qaeda and
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the reason for the failure of the United Nations and diplomacy is not the threat posed by the French, Germans, Russians, Chinese and the international community, but the American Administration of hawks and oil merchants who have no intention of finding—and no reason to find—a peaceful resolution to the crisis?
There is great anxiety in the country, especially about the more hawkish elements of the Bush Administration. If the people of this country were given the choice of whom they would prefer to vest their trust in, they would undoubtedly go for the present Secretary-General of the United Nations rather than the President of the United States.
No. I shall not give way now; I want to make progress.
Last night, the Foreign Secretary told the House that everyone knew what they were signing up to on resolution 1441. However, we should consider what the British and American ambassadors said when they secured that unanimity. The British ambassador said:
"Let me be equally clear in response, as a co-sponsor with the USA of the text we have just adopted, there is no 'automaticity' in this resolution."
The American ambassador—his counterpart—said:
"If there is a further Iraqi breach . . . the matter will return to the Council for discussions as required".
With China, France and Russia, as permanent members, not acknowledging that an automatic trigger has taken place, it is clear that people agreed to resolution 1441 on different bases. The historians will have to judge why that came about, but that is the position in which we find ourselves. To circumvent the continuing legitimate task of the weapons inspectors, who say, and who have been instructed unanimously in the name of the international community, our own countries included, that they should be given extra space, to cut that process short, will cause all the international disorder, tension and potential chaos that we are warning against and have been for quite some time.
No, I am about to conclude.
Before launching an almighty assault upon Iraq, is it not better to pursue the course of disarmament on the ground in the presence of weapons inspectors? No matter how sophisticated modern technology, even compared with at the time of the last Gulf war, is it not more precise to have weapons dismantled in the presence of inspectors rather than so-called precision bombing trying to take them out?
There is huge public anxiety in Britain. That is the mark of a fundamentally decent society. All of us, whatever our views, whatever our parties, know that the kind of people contacting us are very different from many of those with whom we deal regularly. They are the kind of people who say, "I have never contacted a Member of Parliament before," or "I've never been politically active before." They are the kind of people who have never gone on a march or attended a vigil before. Another significant point is that, whether or not they agree with the Prime Minister, only a tiny fraction ever call into question his sincerity in this matter. I have never done so and I do not do so today. But much as they detest Saddam's brutality, they are not persuaded that the case for war has been adequately made at this point, they are worried about the new doctrine of regime change, they are wary of the Bush Administration's motives, and they do not like to see Britain separated from its natural international allies.
The cross-party amendment is the correct amendment. It is tabled at the correct time, and, if passed, would send the correct signal. It is on those grounds that the Liberal Democrats will vote for it tonight.
Anyone who has studied the document "Unresolved Disarmament Issues" provided by Hans Blix and the inspectors to the United Nations on
There is, of course, much disagreement about the tactics to bring him into compliance. The French, the Germans and the Russians have taken the view that a further series of inspections extending into the months ahead would be a satisfactory and plausible means to make the progress that is needed.
In that document, does not Hans Blix say:
"While a precise description of the disarmament issue to be resolved is generally not too difficult, an exhaustive definition of the ways in which it may be solved is often hard."
He was asking for more time—months, not years, not days. Surely he understands his own document.
Hans Blix spells out the extraordinary complexity and difficulty of his task in 173 pages, and anyone who wants to make a judgment with any confidence needs to study that document. My hon. Friend has done so, as have I, and we disagree in our view of it.
Saddam has strung us along over many years and it is a sentimental view that says that a tyrant who has maintained his regime on the basis of violence is likely to capitulate to non-violent means. The position taken by France is unrealistic because we know for sure that Saddam Hussein is adept at spinning out the whole process, and he will never create a situation in which it will be possible for Hans Blix to come to the United Nations and say, "The process has failed; it has run into the sands." It was only on that basis that France said that it would be willing to contemplate war. It is also evasive because it is not fair or proper to require the inspectors—the officials, the technicians—to take the decision between peace and war. That decision has to be taken by politicians and in the Security Council.
In that context, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the suggestion made by the leader of the Liberal Democrats that the inspectors had already achieved much in the past six months, not some prospective achievement, is, on the basis of Mr. Blix's report, frankly laughable?
The progress is clearly demonstrated to have been minimal and Hans Blix signifies how much more progress would be needed. There is no reason to suppose that a perpetuation of the process that we have observed over the past six months will lead to the conclusion that is needed.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of any offer from France, Russia or China to rotate its forces in the Gulf with the American and British forces in order to continue pressure on Saddam over the months and years ahead of further inspections?
The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister noted earlier in the debate, it is American and British forces that are there, not French forces or forces of other nationalities from the Security Council.
Those who raise doubts about the course of action that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has concluded is appropriate for us ask whether Saddam is truly a threat to us. I remind the House what was in the dossier published by the Government last October. It is not the dossier that was submitted for a PhD; it is the dossier based on the findings of the intelligence community. Among many other important findings, on page 27 we are advised that if Saddam were to be unchecked he would achieve nuclear capability in a period of not more than five years, and that were he to be supplied from the international black market with fissile material and other components that he would need for the programme it might be in as little time as one or two years.
If my hon. Friend will allow me, I shall continue.
That is an extraordinarily dangerous situation and one upon which we need to act, and with urgency. I agree with the Government that the time that has elapsed since then has been ample to enable Saddam to demonstrate his compliance and it is simply too great a risk—
If my hon. Friend will allow me, I shall continue.
It is said that we are not seriously at threat from global terrorism; that there is not a link between Saddam and al-Qaeda. Certainly the Spanish and Czech authorities, as was significantly reported in The Observer at the weekend, believe that there have been operational links. The risk is too great to run, because Saddam must be tempted to recruit and equip terrorists from wherever he can find them. There may indeed be a coincidence of interests between al-Qaeda and Saddam's regime, notwithstanding the fact that they start from profoundly different ideological positions.
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary noted to the House some time ago that Saddam was operating what he described as a permissive regime in Iraq in relation to al-Qaeda. Whatever the case may be about that, it will be compellingly tempting for him to equip home-grown terrorists—terrorists whom he can recruit. Saddam harboured Abu Nidal and offered rewards to suicide bombers in the middle east. He is a sponsor of terrorism and will see the opportunity that is available to him.
Objections to the Government's policy include assertions that in the past appalling mistakes were made—that the UK played some part in arming Saddam, that we failed to dispose of him in 1991, and that during the 1990s he was allowed to continue to build weapons of mass destruction. We may note that those errors were made, but they provide no justification for making further errors.
People cast doubt on the motives and character of those who urge that decisive action be taken now by asking who is on whose payroll, what old scores are being settled and what vanities are in play. I remind the House that the freedom of Europe has depended on the generosity of American intervention. It is arguable that if it were not for the Americans coming to our rescue, we would have fallen under Nazi or Stalinist rule. We should pay tribute to and be grateful for the courage of American military personnel then and now.
No, if my hon. Friend will forgive me.
North Korea might present a threat that is at least as urgent and serious as the threat presented by Iraq. Al-Qaeda and international terrorism are immensely serious threats. But that in no way invalidates the analysis that Iraq is a major threat to us.
People ask how it can be right to go to war to uphold a UN resolution by taking a course of action that risks destroying the UN. Equally, they say, NATO and the EU are damagingly split as a consequence of these events. However, it is arguable that the UN has not been the failure in every respect that some maintain it has been. In recent weeks and months, it has been the cockpit of international diplomacy, and, although it has failed to generate the international consensus that we all wanted so much, its existence provides the legal basis for the action that we need. I support the view of the legality of that action on which the Government base their claim.
Geopolitics has changed since 1945. We moved beyond the cold war, and we moved into a new period especially after
I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
In a world in which the only global superpower feels vulnerable, the development and advancement of a doctrine of pre-emption are inevitable. This action is self-defence, albeit not as traditionally defined in UN terms. We cannot wait until we are attacked.
I rise on this occasion to support the speech of the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, but in opening let me comment on the speech of the leader of the Liberal Democrats.
If the Iraqi army collapse under fire with the same speed, this will be a very short war—[Laughter.]—and I very much hope that it will be. Mr. Kennedy asserted that if his view was defeated, the whole House must rally in unity, but he then informed my hon. Friend Sir Patrick Cormack that if the amendment was defeated he would refuse to vote for the Government's substantive motion. On the grounds that he was poleaxed by that intervention, he refused to take an intervention from my right hon. Friend Mr. Lilley, despite the normal convention of the House that one gives way to a Member to whom one has directly or indirectly referred. My right hon. Friend would have pointed out that he published all 90,000 export licences to Iraq during the period in question and that the only lethal weapons involved were two hunting rifles. I wish that the right hon. Gentleman had given my right hon. Friend the opportunity to do so.
There is a powerful moral case against war—there probably always is—but that was not the case put by the Liberal Democrats today. A more powerful case was put by Mr. Cook, in what I thought was a powerful and impressive speech made in the House last night. It was an impressive resignation, for those of us who are students of resignations. On that subject, I am sorry to see that the Secretary of State for International Development is not here—I have never seen a more spectacular failure to resign than hers over the past 24 hours. Last week, after the right hon. Lady said that the Prime Minister was reckless, it was whispered in the corridors that he would take his revenge in due course. I believe that by persuading her to stay in the Cabinet even for this last 24 hours—[Laughter.]—he has now taken his revenge. Even setting aside any issue of honour and consistency, we should at this time have a Cabinet whose members are absolutely, 100 per cent. agreed on the course of action, especially all the Ministers involved in the course of action, which must surely involve the Department for International Development. We look forward to the Prime Minister continuing to take his revenge over the next few days.
The Prime Minister said that analogies with the 30s can be taken too far, and of course they can, yet in some of the opposition to the Government's stance there is a hint of appeasement. Last night, one hon. Member—I think it was a Liberal Democrat—said that we should not take this action because of the danger of terrorist or other retaliatory action against this country. There is a similarity to the phoney war in 1940, when the commanders in charge of the great guns of the Maginot line—we all know who was in charge—refused to fire those guns in case the Germans fired back. But of course the Germans were always going to fire back, and terrorist organisations that have the capability to hit this country will try in any event to hit this country. Our job is to deter them from doing so and remove their means of doing so.
The Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition stood on the right ground when advancing their policy today. Although there are moral arguments on either side, there are powerful moral arguments on the side of military action, as Ann Clwyd has so graphically demonstrated in recent days—perhaps she will have the chance to do so again in this debate, if she catches your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker. Furthermore, although there are legal arguments on either side, we are not morally obliged to take action—if we were, we would have to take action against many other countries—nor legally obliged to do so, nor legally prevented from doing so. We should take action because it is in the national interest. The Prime Minister was right to make that argument.
Our national interest is wide ranging, given that ours is the fourth largest economy in the world, our trade extends across the world and our citizens may be found throughout the world. However, it is also part of our national interest to act in concert with the United States of America in matters of world peace and stability, and that is what the Government are seeking to do. Every serious attempt to advance peace in the middle east has been advanced under the auspices of the United States of America. Every successful attempt to clean up the Balkans has been undertaken only with the support of the United States of America. Those who will not venture out when a criminal is coming down the street should not complain when someone acts as the policeman. The reason why the USA takes on so many responsibilities in the world is that others shirk those responsibilities, as they have done in the Security Council in the past few weeks.
No, I do not think that we should have supported the invasion of Grenada. The hon. Gentleman will remember the sharp differences between the Prime Minister, Lady Thatcher, and the US Administration. That shows that it is possible to have a firm alliance with the United States while differing with it from time to time. That is exactly the policy of the Government. Of course, there will be differences from time to time, but when major issues of the stability of the world and the future conduct of world diplomacy are at issue, it will generally be in the interests of the United Kingdom to act in concert with the United States of America.
We should remember that whenever we really need help, we turn to the United States of America, and Europe turns to the United States. Without America, France would have lived under dictatorship for decades. Without America, the Germans would not have rescued themselves from a racist ideology. Without America, Europe would have exchanged Nazi tyranny for communist tyranny in the 1940s. We turned to America, and our alliance with the United States is a fundamental attribute of the foreign policy of this nation when it is correctly conducted. For all our many differences with the Prime Minister, I believe that he has understood that from the beginning.
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that those of us who now differ with American policy do so because terrorism is fuelled not by resources and equipment, but by motivation? We feel that the motivation for terrorism has been provided by the very act of attack.
Relieved of my responsibilities of a while ago, I have been lucky enough to travel a great deal in the past year. I have travelled to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, and I have spoken to many people. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that they do not care what happens to Saddam Hussein. They have no time for Saddam Hussein. They care passionately about Palestine and Israel, which is why it is so important that the so-called road map is put forward. They will not shed a single tear for Saddam Hussein, because they know many of the things that have been done to the people of Iraq under the rule of Saddam Hussein. So if the hon. Gentleman believes that it is a recruiting sergeant for terrorism to rid the world of that despotic dictatorship, he is making a serious mistake. We would be setting a new standard of deterrence—a new type of deterrence, which is necessary in a changed world.
We all grew up in the cold war. We are familiar with the cold war and the balance of terror, when it was always necessary to be ready for action, but always necessary to take minimal action so as not to disturb the balance of power in the world. But now the world has changed. Now there is no balance of power and the dangers to world peace are not from all-out nuclear confrontation between superpowers, but from the development of new weapons by rogue states and terrorist organisations.
Deterrence therefore takes on a new character. It is not a matter of being ready for action. It is occasionally and it will occasionally be necessary to take action to make sure that those who aspire to be rogue states or sponsors of terrorism know what happens and know how the western alliance responds to such a threat. That is why it is so important in this case to take action and to set the standard for the future. Those who say that action is not necessary now must remember that we have passed so many deadlines, so many ultimatums, that not to take action now is to reduce the credibility of any action being taken. The time has come for a decision. The Prime Minister has put before the House the right decision. He deserves the support of hon. Members in all parts of the House.
I regret that my right hon. Friend Mr. Cook has resigned. I considered him a very good Foreign Secretary and an excellent Leader of the House, and it is regrettable that he has resigned. Although I understand the reasons, I disagree with them. We shall miss him in government.
While I am on the subject of resignations, I regret the fact that my right hon. Friend Mr. Denham has also decided to resign, but I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development will be staying on.
The present situation reminds me of the time after Kuwait was invaded in August 1990. The United Nations Security Council gave the regime four months to leave Kuwait. Saddam Hussein refused to do so. There are those present today who opposed the liberation of Kuwait, as they had every right to do, and who oppose the motion today. That does not include all the critics, by any means. Quite a number took a different line, if they were in the House, but some, including the Father of the House, argued strongly that we should not take military action to liberate Kuwait. What would have been the position had we not done so? Saddam Hussein would have been strengthened and would have realised that he could commit aggression with no response whatever.
Some of today's critics were no less opposed to action that was taken over Kosovo and Afghanistan. They argued—as I said, they had every right to do so—that we should not take such action. When we are accused of being anti-Muslim, when that vile accusation is directed at us, I would ask the House: why did we go into Kosovo? Was it to help the Christians, the Jews, the Sikhs, or the Hindus? The only reason that we intervened in Kosovo was to help the ethnic Albanians, who happen, as we all know, to be Muslims. That was the only reason and the only justification.
The way to demonstrate again our commitment in respect of the position of Muslims is for the international community, and not least the United States, to bring about a settlement in the middle east. I make no apology for the fact that I have supported the state of Israel from the very beginning, and for all the obvious reasons—what happened to Jews, not only in the holocaust but over 2,000 years—but I support an Israel within the 1967 borders. If the Jews are justified in having a state for all the reasons that I have just explained, the Palestinians are also justified in having a state of their own—not a sort of statelet, but a sovereign state, no less sovereign than Israel itself. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will make sure that the United States pursues that policy in practice, and does not just say certain words at this particular time.
My hon. Friend rebukes me for Afghanistan. Were we so wrong to have doubts? Was not the object to apprehend Osama bin Laden? That has not happened. The production of opium, which three years ago was 185 tonnes, is now 2,700 tonnes. When my hon. Friends visit Kabul, apparently they are not allowed out of the city because of the dangers of the warlords. Is that success?
My hon. Friend has demonstrated again that he was wrong, as he has been on virtually every military intervention, from the Falklands to Afghanistan. The Taliban, who gave room to the terrorists, were defeated, and in my view the action taken was right. I am sorry that my hon. Friend disagrees.
As I said in an intervention on my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, the Security Council has been at fault. It should have been far tougher over the past 12 years. We have reached the present position because some Security Council members took the view that after Kuwait there should be a less tough response to Saddam Hussein, and he has played around. Such a tyrant has exploited every disunity, as he is doing now, on the eve of military action, for his own advantage. It is unfortunate that no tougher action was taken.
In previous debates, I listened to some of my hon. Friends criticising the United States. As I want my own Government to be more radical, I am hardly likely to be a fan of the United States President, but when I listened to some of that criticism made by hon. Members who said not a single word of criticism about the murderous tyrant in Baghdad, I thought that there was a lack of logic somewhere along the line. Surely our criticism should first and foremost be directed at the dictator.
I have always taken the view that if war can be avoided, it should be avoided, because of the casualties. It is no use those of us who support the Government line kidding ourselves. Innocent people will be killed. In the next few weeks, men, women and children—people who should never be killed—will be put to death, but we know that that is the result of war and military intervention. Unlike the critics, I believe that if Saddam is destroyed, it will be a significant victory not only for the international community, but first and foremost for the people of Iraq.
We have been told that there are many dictators in this world. Unfortunately, that is so and I wish it were otherwise, but I do not understand the logic of those who say, "There are many dictators, so why pick on this one?" If, as a result of the regime's refusal to get rid of weapons of mass destruction, one of the most murderous tyrannies is destroyed, surely that is a positive gain. Surely the fact that we cannot take on every dictator or many other dictators is not a reason or justification for not seeing the end of the regime in Iraq. Of course, not a single critic has, on other occasions or today, given any indication of how Saddam Hussein could be got rid of except by military action. No one here today will argue that it is up to the people of Iraq. How can it be? It is only by military action that this tyranny can be destroyed.
I make no apology for saying that the international community as such has on many occasions turned a blind eye to tyrannies. However, I was very pleased in 1979, for example, when Tanzania liberated Uganda from the Amin regime. Was that wrong? When Pol Pot was destroyed by Vietnam, also in 1979, was that wrong? Would anyone here argue along different lines?
In conclusion, I want simply to say that this crisis has been brought about not by the British or American Governments, but by the murderous dictator in Baghdad. If military action is taken, as we all know it will be, I wish the British and allied troops every possible success. I do not believe that we can be neutral in judging between a murderous tyranny and the democracies that will be engaged in fighting it. I believe that right is on our side and that the overwhelming majority of people in Iraq will take the view that the allied armies are liberators, as they will be getting rid of a tyrant that those people themselves cannot get rid of.
For all those reasons, I shall take much pride tonight in voting for the Government motion.
Last night, this House heard a speech of very great distinction from Mr. Cook. What he said was dignified and of great quality, and the fact and manner of his resignation did honour to him and, in a small way, did credit to this beleaguered profession of politics. May I also say to Mr. Denham, who I believe has resigned, that his decision, too, is an extremely honourable one?
The Speaker has been extremely generous to me in previous debates and I know that I have had the opportunity to express my views in some detail on a number of occasions. I shall therefore confine myself today to making but three points. First, so far as the British forces are concerned, war is not inevitable. That may not be true of the United States forces, but it is true of the British ones, for this reason: the Government, very much to their credit, have tabled a motion before the deployment of forces into conflict. The House therefore has a choice. If we accept the amendment and reject the Government motion, British forces will not be deployed into action. That is a choice for each and every one of us to make. So as far as British forces are concerned, war is not inevitable. We have to decide that.
Secondly, in the course of this debate and on previous occasions, a great deal of criticism has been made of the Governments of France and Germany, and of Russia and China to a lesser degree. Of course it is true that when nations vote on policy, they bring into account their own national interests—I have no doubt that national interests were involved—but it should have surprised nobody that we did not secure a consensus in the Security Council. If we are honest with ourselves, we do not have a consensus in the House or in this country. In all probability, there is not support for war. Why? Because the case for war is not overwhelming.
I do not speak of the legalities. I have read what the Attorney-General said about that matter and I do not feel competent to express a view as to whether he is right or wrong, but I am competent to say this: many distinguished lawyers—as distinguished as the Attorney-General—will take a contrary view. In any event, if I am honest, I do not think that the legalities go to the root of the matter. The real question is whether it is right—right expressed in moral terms. Here I have to say that I think that the answer is no, because I do not think that any of the usual characteristics of a just war have been satisfied. If we were dealing with a situation in which Iraq had attacked another country or had mustered troops on the frontiers of another country, or if there were compelling evidence that Iraq was delivering to terrorists weapons of mass destruction with which they could attack another country, I would vote for war, but none of those circumstances exists.
What would the right hon. and learned Gentleman say to the Iraqi Kurds who are suffering under the repression of Saddam and being expelled from Kirkuk at this moment? Would he merely say, "Tough—you are going to have to suffer another 12 or 35 years of it"?
No; I would not express myself in that way. We are talking about the morality of war, and I do not believe that what is going on in Iraq is a sufficient moral basis for war.
As a fellow lawyer, I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way. Can he really suggest that Saddam is not attacking his own people when 2 million have died in tyranny, 7,000 have been gassed, 180,000 men, women and children in Kurdistan have been forcibly removed and the whereabouts of 650 Kuwaiti civilians is still unknown? Is that not an attack on a people?
I was talking about the international risk that Saddam Hussein poses and saying that the normal tests for war have not been satisfied in this case.
That brings me to my last point. I accept that there is a terrible dilemma. Incidentally, it has not come about as the result of policy decisions in the past two or three weeks, but stems from the policy decision made in the latter part of last year, when the United States and United Kingdom Governments decided further to disarm Iraq using force if necessary. I regard that as a critical mistake, because the policies of containment and deterrence had worked from 1991 to 2002 and would have continued to do so. That was the critical mistake.
Now we stand in the dilemma. The Prime Minister has identified it and so has my right hon. Friend Mr. Duncan Smith: if we go to war, we affront the principles of morality to which I referred and the principles of legality, which I think are in doubt; if we do not go to war, it is true that the authority of the United Nations will have been defied and the credibility of the United States and, to a lesser extent, ourselves will be at risk.
So what is the way forward? How do hon. Members and reasonably minded people decide that dilemma? I can only offer my explanation. The right hon. Member for Livingston spoke yesterday of the consequences. If we go to war, the probability is that thousands and maybe tens of thousands of people will be killed or injured on all sides. That seems to me the principal question with which we should concern ourselves. I cannot find a sufficient moral case for condemning thousands or tens and thousands of people to death and injury. For that reason, because I think that war lacks a moral basis, I shall vote for the amendment and against the Government's motion.
With regret, I resigned from the Government this morning. It has been an honour and a privilege to serve the Government and the Prime Minister since 1997. Although some have at times questioned the Government's direction, I say with all honesty that not a day has passed when I have felt that I could not make some difference on the very issues that brought me into the Labour party 27 years ago. I shall certainly miss being part of the Government.
The events of 9/11 must have brought home to us all the fact that we have created a world of great danger and great insecurity. That action must be taken, that we must tackle the sources and causes of insecurity, is not in doubt. But it is not simply a question of whether we take action; how we take action is also important. The reason for that is simple. If we act in the wrong way, we will create more of the problems that we aim to tackle. For every cause of insecurity with which we try to deal, we shall create a new one.
I am not a pacifist. I am not against armed intervention. In 1992, I was one of the Labour Members of Parliament who called for much earlier intervention in Bosnia. I shall never forget the surprised and bemused expression on John Smith's face when some 20 newly elected Labour Members of Parliament went to see him to demand Labour support for a foreign war. I believe that we should have supported it, and that, had we done so, Balkan history might be different. I supported our action in Kosovo, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan.
After 9/11, however, it should have been clear that the scale and nature of the threats to global security required the world community to come together on an unprecedented scale, not only to defeat terrorism, but to tackle the conflicts that give rise to it and other threats. For a time, not least thanks to our Prime Minister, such coming together seemed possible. Today, the prospect is severely damaged, if not in disarray. That has happened not simply or primarily because of one country across the channel, unprincipled and disastrously unilateral in its way though France has been. It has happened because those who wish to take action now, and in the way in which we are considering, have failed to persuade others and thus create international consensus on the need to do so.
The question for me has never been one of narrow legality. I was in the Home Office long enough to know that lawyers are the last thing one needs when things are difficult. It is a question not of one or two votes either way in the Security Council, but of whether we can put our hands on our hearts and say that the majority of those who should support us do so. I do not believe that they do.
I do not blame the Prime Minister for that. No one could have worked harder to forge consensus. His achievements are real, not least in persuading the US Administration to take the United Nations route. However, our Prime Minister has been ill served by those whom he sought to influence. The US Administration appear at times to delight in stressing their disdain for international opinion and in asserting their right to determine not only the target but the means and the timetable, their gratuitous actions apparently designed to make a common voice impossible, not least here in Europe. That has made the international coming together that we need impossible to achieve.
In future, people will ask how one nation could have thrown away the world's sympathy in such a way. Does anyone doubt that a nation of such power, influence and, in many ways, such genuine authority could have built the support that we needed if it believed that necessary? I am not indulging in anti-Americanism, but simply recognising that unilateralism on such a scale, no matter how legitimate the target, brings danger.
The action against Iraq is, I believe, pre-emptive, and therefore demands even greater international support and consensus than other sorts of intervention. We do not have it. Such isolation entails a genuine cost and danger. It undermines the legitimacy that we must maintain to tackle the many threats to global security. It fuels the movements that are antipathetic to our values and way of life, and the view, which is probably the reality, that in an interdependent world, one nation reserves the right to determine which of the world's problems should be tackled, when, where and in what way.
I shall not give way. I have never made a resignation speech before, and I should like to get to the end of it.
Mr. Hague set out a powerful case for support for a United States that acts in the manner I described. If I believed that that would work, I could swallow my qualms and sign up for that with the right hon. Gentleman. But I do not. I believe that the reaction to such a method of working will be as dangerous as the problems that we are trying to solve. It will turn many parts of the world against us, undermine friendly Governments, fuel terrorism and those who will join it in the future, and make it more difficult to sustain international action against common problems.
If the motion were on the honesty, integrity, commitment and sheer courage of our Prime Minister, I would not hesitate to support it. However, we are voting not for that but for the words on the Order Paper and the consequences that will follow in the weeks, months and years ahead. I cannot support it.
My final point is a difficult one. I, too, have constituents who are in our armed forces in the Gulf, and their families at home. The failures of Governments and of the international community are not their failings. Although I clearly do not believe that we should commit our troops to action now, they should not feel that they are on the wrong side, that the enemy they face is not evil or that the world would not be a better place without Saddam Hussein.
If the vote of the House commits our troops to fight, we must stand with them. We may have failed them; I doubt whether they will fail us.
I am pleased to follow Mr. Denham. I congratulate him on the quiet and dignified way in which he made his resignation speech and personal statement. He will be remembered for the principle that he has established and I honour him for that.
At a time of crisis, the House often rises to the occasion. That happened last night when Mr. Cook, who was Leader of the House, made his personal statement and resignation speech. He made a powerful case for his decision. He was a distinguished Minister, not only as Foreign Secretary but as Leader of the House. I admired his commitment in both high offices. I tried to work with him in a small way in his capacity as Chairman of the Modernisation Committee. He has made changes that have benefited the House. He is one of the most entertaining and articulate speakers in the House, and we shall miss him.
Today, the Prime Minister made a brilliant, articulate and powerful case for the motion. I hope that his speech will receive wide publicity. The overwhelming majority of people in this country, many of whom are worried about the Government's intentions, will be persuaded by the transparent and powerful way in which he presented the argument on behalf of the Government. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition fully supported the position in a speech that took up many of the Prime Minister's points.
I will be supporting the Government in the Lobby tonight. I have no disagreement with any part of the lengthy but substantive motion that they have tabled. I am not in favour of war. In fact, I am positively opposed to it. War is brutal, cruel and indiscriminate. Innocent people will undoubtedly die in any conflict that takes place, but there are occasions on which war is inevitable if the civilised world is to defend its civilisation against a despotic tyrant such as Saddam Hussein.
Like a number of other hon. Members, I have served in Her Majesty's forces—not as a regular officer but as a national service officer—and I understand the way in which our armed services live, and their loyalty and team spirit. Like everyone else who has spoken, I express the hope that this will be a short war and that the minimum casualties will be incurred, not only in our armed services but among civilians as well. Members of my own family have served in wars, in north Africa and Burma, at Dunkirk, in Normandy and, more recently, in the Korean war. So, to those who say that people like me who agree with the Government do not know what we are doing, I would say that we do know. Likewise, I honour and respect the position that has been expressed by the right hon. Members for Livingston and for Southampton, Itchen.
My hon. Friend mentioned the great service provided by the members of our armed forces who are ready to serve and to fight. Does he share the concern of my constituents who are related to servicemen and servicewomen in the middle east, who are not at all happy with the standard of equipment and supplies being provided to them? We have a Defence Minister on the Front Bench today, and we need more assurances and more support for our servicemen and servicewomen.
May I say to the hon. Gentleman, for whom I have the very highest regard, as well as respect for the stand that he takes on matters relating to Northern Ireland, that this is not a matter that I would wish to comment on at this time? We want to ensure that the men and women among the troops of Her Majesty's forces have the best possible equipment available. I know, from my own contact with members of the armed services who are currently in Kuwait, that they are ready to go and that they believe that they have the equipment and the support to enable them to do an excellent job.
"make a declaration within 15 days of the location and amounts" of its weapons of mass destruction. It is now 4,380-plus days since that resolution, and we are a further 16 resolutions on. Saddam Hussein has made a mockery of the United Nations. If we are to take the United Nations seriously, and if it is to be an instrument for peace and stability in the world, its resolutions must be implemented and enforced. I congratulate the Government, the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Defence on what they are doing, not only in the national interest but in the international interest.
I would like to raise one issue that might be controversial. I am saddened by what I perceive to be the anti-American views that are being expressed. As someone who will shortly reach his 65th birthday, I believe that the world as a whole owes an immense debt to the United States for what it has done over more than 50 years for peace and stability in the world, and for the humanitarian aid that it has advanced. It has been wrong on occasions, but, my goodness, haven't we all? Overall, I believe that the benefit that the United States and its successive Administrations have brought to the world have been immense, and they should be very proud of that.
I am delighted that the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister have highlighted the importance of achieving peace in the middle east, if at all possible. The road map is absolutely right. It is important that the state of Israel, within its 1967 boundaries, should be guaranteed by the international community, but it is also essential that the Palestinian people, who have suffered so greatly, should be given a meaningful, consolidated state. That would lead to stability in the middle east. If we remove Saddam Hussein in the next few days, as I hope will be the case, the chance of bringing peace to the region will be that much greater.
I have sent a petition to the Prime Minister carrying about 700 signatures from my Macclesfield constituents expressing their concern and their opposition to the war. I say to them, "On this issue, put your trust in the Prime Minister. I fervently believe, as your Member of Parliament, that he is right." We will get it right; we will bring peace to the middle east, and we will restore the credibility of the United Nations.
This is the moment that we have all been dreading—the moment at which we have, individually and collectively, to decide on which side of the line in the sand we choose to stand. War is hell, as an American civil war general once said, but, for the Iraqis, the Iraqi Kurds, the Marsh Arabs, the Kuwaitis or the Iranians who have been the victims of Saddam Hussein, the so-called peace can be hellish, too. Any agonies of conscience that I had have been resolved, and I shall vote with the Prime Minister and the official Opposition this evening on many grounds. That is not to say that I do not have uncertainties and difficulties with the problems facing our armed forces, or with the consequences of our action. Of course I do. I shall certainly not argue that no mistakes have been made by the Americans or the British—little mistakes or bigger mistakes. Perhaps the biggest mistake was to misjudge France, Russia and, possibly, the Turkish Parliament. The biggest misjudgment of all, however, was surely Saddam's, when he desperately hoped that the cavalry—or should I say the French cuirassiers, the German uhlans, hussars, lancers and dragoons, and the Russian imperial Cossacks—would ride to his assistance. It remains to be seen whether 'Smith's Fencibles'—or indefensibles—will succeed where they have failed, later this evening.
I believe that the strategy of the United States and the United Kingdom of combining military and diplomatic pressure could have worked, had it been backed up by the support of the United Nations. The combination would surely have been irresistible for Saddam Hussein, and he and his sons would have jumped on their camels and ridden off into the great unknown—probably somewhere in central Asia or even an expensive flat on the Champs Elysées. That never happened, however. It could have happened, and those who made it not happen must surely have a great deal on their conscience.
President Bush—incidentally, I am not standing for election as chair of the Walsall chapter of his fan club—has gone down the diplomatic route for a long time, and his speech last night showed that he is still prepared to do that, by giving Saddam Hussein one final chance. I support the Government because the Attorney-General said yesterday that there was a legal basis for the war. To those who have argued that UNMOVIC needed more time I say this: the inspectors' work restarted in the spring of last year; the inspections recommenced on
"The provisions of resolution 1284 could be fulfilled within a year if Iraq chose to co-operate".
A year! I do not think that that time is available. He went on to say
"Without co-operation, the inspectors' task is endless."
Surely what the Prime Minister said today was that the task of the inspectors and also the waiting period would be endless, and that that time had run out.
I doubt that the United States and the United Kingdom would wish their troops to endure the wait for any longer than necessary for the purpose of expecting Saddam Hussein to co-operate. He will duck and dive, and use anything to thwart the United Nations. Any enthusiasm that remained after 12 months of waiting would surely be dissipated.
We keep being told that the United States and the United Kingdom stand alone. In a letter in today's Guardian, a lady wrote that perhaps only Spain and Portugal remained holiday venues for the Blairs. It should be said that Australia, the Netherlands, Denmark and almost all of eastern and central Europe support the Prime Minister, and provide wonderful holiday destinations. We could add North Korea, Japan, most of the Gulf—[Interruption.]
South Korea. That is the first thing on which I have agreed with the Liberal Democrats today. South Korea is a possible destination, because of the fear of North Korea, as is Japan, north and south. The cities of Bokhara and Samarkand in Uzbekistan are also available. Many countries are prepared to support the United States and the United Kingdom.
Those who want to judge the results of opinion polls—which, up to now, have clearly shown opposition to the Prime Minister—should wait for the results of polls the day after war starts. The hon. Gentleman may have a rather different perspective then; indeed, I am sure that he will.
On Sunday, at a shop just down the road in my constituency, I met a close neighbour who told me that her son—whom I have known since he was seven—was in the Gulf. Afterwards, I wondered how I could have looked her in the eye and said, "It is true that your son is risking his life, but I want him to know that his cause is unjust, illegal and immoral, and that he may well be dragged before an international court". I could certainly not have done that.
Those who cannot commit themselves to supporting the Prime Minister's case may be persuaded by the argument used before that a military personnel in peril would need our support. A politically incorrect poet wrote this of the British Tommy:
"But it's 'Saviour of 'is country' when the guns begin to shoot."
I suspect that when the guns begin to shoot, not just the Liberal Democrats but most people will be prepared to give their support. Similarly, I was opposed to any British involvement in the Falklands, but when all diplomatic initiatives failed I was prepared to support the Government of this country.
Listening to inane interventions by people like the hon. Gentleman.
I endured the 1970s and the 1980s, when disunity in my party was the norm. I supported Wilson, Callaghan, even Michael Foot, Kinnock and Smith in the Lobbies. I do not think I am prepared to dump the Prime Minister at this moment of crisis.
I agree with Mr. George to the extent that this is, indeed, a momentous debate. I entered Parliament 26 years ago this month, and I cannot remember a more serious debate or a time when the vote was more important.
This is also a very close call for many Members. Those of us who remember the Gulf war—I do, vividly, because I was Tom King's Parliamentary Private Secretary when he was Secretary of State for Defence—and those of us who were out of the House, "resting", during the Falklands war but watching very closely found the necessary decision very easy: a sovereign state had been invaded, and it was essential that we go to its rescue.
More recently, I found it sensible and easy to support the Prime Minister in Kosovo and Sierra Leone. It was clear that a British intervention would be in the interests of peacekeeping, and in the interests of restoring democracy to those countries. Only 18 months ago, an overwhelming majority of us strongly supported the allies' going into Afghanistan. I am sure it was the right decision to remove the Taliban regime, and to try and restore some order to that troubled country.
The right hon. Gentleman recalls the Gulf war of 1991. Does he also recall that although Kuwait and its allies—among whom we were numbered—had an inherent right to self-defence and required no additional authorisation from the United Nations, the United States and the United Kingdom then sought and received specific authorisation from the UN in resolution 678?
I shall come to that in a moment, but on that occasion we were not thwarted by a French veto.
"But what has happened in the past two, three, six or nine months that requires military intervention to be considered that had not happened before? We are not told what weapons of mass destruction he has now that he did not have then."—[Hansard, 16 April 2002; Vol. 383, c. 506.]
I had great doubts, which is why, like most of my constituents, I was delighted when, along with our American allies, we took the UN route with resolution 1441, while also strongly supporting the return of the weapons inspectors.
I think I speak for everyone in the House when I say we all hoped that through UN resolutions, through diplomacy and through the work of the weapons inspectors the crisis might be ended. Sadly, that has not happened. During that period my constituents, whose concerns I share, took the critical view that both the Prime Minister and the American President were not making a proper case for war. They were not helped by the unfortunate "dodgy dossier", which I think caused huge harm to the credibility of the Government's case. They were not helped by the suggestions of the American Administration, and at times our own Ministers, that for some time there have been direct and close links between the Saddam Hussein regime and al-Qaeda terrorists. That was clearly not true. There is never any point in exaggerating one's case, because one will not be believed.
I listened carefully to what I thought was one of the Prime Minister's outstanding speeches. I was convinced and satisfied that the case had now been made. I agree with my hon. Friend Sir Nicholas Winterton, who expressed the hope that the full text of the speech would be given the widest circulation among the British public. I am confident that if it is, there will be a majority in favour of military action later this week.
It was also absolutely right for us and our American allies to send huge numbers of troops to the Gulf. I believe that only by that means—along with resolution 1441 and the presence of the weapons inspectors—could pressure be put on Saddam Hussein. At that point, however—here I return to the intervention from my hon. Friend Mr. Lansley—we were sadly let down by our French colleagues: our French allies. I believe that their behaviour has been nothing short of disgraceful.
I am satisfied that many hon. Members—such as the Father of the House, Mrs. Mahon and others—believe completely and honesty that it is wrong to go to war. However, I do not accept that President Chirac and his Government believe in the same way. They are acting for entirely false reasons.
Their reasons are very selfish. They are acting for commercial gain, and for wider international and political gains. I shall take no lessons from a French President who breaks sanctions and invites the murderous Mugabe to Paris. I shall take no lessons from a French President and his defence Minister who threatened EU applicant states for merely supporting us and the Americans, and for signing a letter of support.
The behaviour of the French has been disgraceful. It ill befits a close ally and friend. I feel sorry for the French people today. I regret that the President was re-elected last year. I believe that he has done great harm to the international community.
In conclusion, every hon. Member faces a simple choice tonight. We must decide which course of action is more likely to bring peace and stability to the world and, in the short, medium and long term, ensure that fewer innocent lives, whether civilian or military, are lost.
I passionately believe that the whole international community would suffer if we and our American allies withdrew our troops from the Iraqi border without Saddam Hussein having complied with the UN resolutions that he has flouted. Every terrorist and tin-pot dictator around the world would be given a green light. The harm and damage that that would do, to us and to future generations, is incalculable. That is why I have reached the conclusion that the right thing to do tonight is to oppose the amendment and support the Government motion.
It is a privilege to speak in a debate that in some ways seems to have started last night, when my right hon. Friend Mr. Cook made his personal statement. I should like to pay a brief but deeply felt tribute to my right hon. Friend. I had the opportunity to work with him, in opposition when I was deputy in his team, and in government. He can look back on hugely significant achievements in all the roles that he has fulfilled in his time in the House of Commons.
It is a privilege to speak in the debate, but somewhat daunting. I find myself in the uncomfortable position of finding it very difficult to decide how to vote at the end of the debate. The arguments on each side are compelling. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made a very powerful speech. I acknowledge and welcome that he said that hon. Members faced a test not of loyalty, but of whether they were convinced by the arguments, and by the rightness of what he proposes. That is a comfort to those of us who are fiercely proud of our Government, and of all their many achievements to date.
When this matter was last debated, I voted with the Government. I felt that they were very vigorously pursuing the UN route. It the culmination of that process that troubles me this evening.
I supported the Government very strongly in relation to Afghanistan and Kosovo. I certainly believe that military action can be justified in certain circumstances, but the motion before the House troubles me in a number of ways. War is a last resort, to be begun only if it is absolutely essential. Despite my keen desire to see Saddam Hussein disarmed—and to see the end of him, if at all possible—I have to ask whether war is essential this week. Is it essential now?
Saddam Hussein has behaved despicably, it is true. As many speakers have noted, he has delayed disarmament over a period of 12 years. However, some progress has been made in the past 12 weeks, perhaps more than in the past 12 years. For that reason, I should like the inspection process to given an opportunity to produce results.
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said, rightly, that dealing with Saddam Hussein was like drawing teeth. However, I think that some teeth are being drawn. For that reason, too, I believe that the inspection process should have some time in which to work—even if that time is of limited duration.
Two countries apart from our own have figured in the debate—the US and France. I want to draw a clear distinction between those countries and their peoples, for whom many will feel a huge affinity. In my case, I have ties of both family and friendship, but many people at present feel totally at odds politically with those countries' Administrations.
I believe that the President of France behaved outrageously in throwing a mega-spanner into the UN works. That follows his equally outrageous statements on EU enlargement. However, I also believe that the American policy has many faults. At times, the Americans' diplomacy has been atrocious, especially in the summer of last year. Then, they were brought back to the UN route only by the efforts of our own Government.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that if we did not support the US now, they would be tempted in future to go down the unilateral route. That worries me, as I do not want to feel intimidated into supporting action now on that basis.
I am worried by some elements of the Government's case. The links between Iraq and al-Qaeda seem tenuous in the extreme. Although the proliferation issue is serious and important, the risk of proliferation is very often to be found more in states where there is very little control. That applies especially to states that used to belong to the former Soviet Union. I consider them a real risk in terms of proliferation at present.
In conclusion, I worry about the timing of this military action, given that weapons inspectors could still pursue their work and that alliance building could still occur. That is why, so far, I remain unconvinced. 3.28 pm
I wished to pick up a point made by both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition about the comparison between the situation we are now in and 1938 that seems to me utterly inappropriate. In the confrontation between the west, and other democracies, and Iraq, the similarity with 1938 has already happened. It happened when Iraq invaded Kuwait, when the House and my party supported military action to confront Saddam Hussein and secure Kuwait's liberation. For the past 12 years, there has been an inconsistent policy towards Iraq, while that country got weaker and weaker and its capacity to inflict damage in the area reduced.
The sad situation that we have reached today is that the United Nations' own agents tell us that they believe that they are making progress towards neutralising the situation. It would be possible to secure international agreement either to accept that we can secure peaceful disarmament through the operation of the weapons inspectors or to give support for military action if the weapons inspectors conclude—after they have been given the time for which they have asked—that they cannot complete the job. Most of us now believe that we are facing a premature and pre-emptive decision to embark on military action before the process has been concluded.
Many of us are also concerned about the possible consequences. We all hope that military action will be swift and clean, with minimal casualties. However, even if not a single life is lost, at the end of that venture—if it is undertaken in the way that is proposed this week—the international community will be fractured in a way that has not been witnessed since the end of the second world war. That is because the approach to dealing with the problem has been totally incoherent, partly because the US Administration decided at the outset what they would do and demonstrated no real commitment to persuading the international community of the merits of their case.
We have been confused about whether the US objective is regime change, the defeat of international terrorism or the elimination of weapons of mass destruction. Regardless of the legal advice—and I am not competent to comment on it—we can all recognise that the only legitimate reason for the United Nations to back action in the case of Iraq would be to deal with weapons of mass destruction. That position should have been sustained throughout. The President's speech about the axis of evil and rogue states has raised many concerns about what will happen after Iraq, especially as the US attitude to the UN has been inconsistent.
At first, the US saw no real role for the UN, or any need for resolution 1441. Thanks to the British Government, resolution 1441 was achieved, with the clear understanding that a further resolution would be required. Then we were told that a second resolution was not needed, because resolution 1441 stood on its own. That leaves us with the United Kingdom divided, Europe divided, NATO divided and the UN divided. Many of us share a deep anxiety—and it grieves me to say so—that those divisions may be exactly the outcome that the Bush Administration wanted.
The US Administration appear to be motivated by a fundamentalist conviction about the rightness of their cause, the absoluteness of their power and their ability to confront the world and say, "We will decide who the good guys are, who the bad guys are and what course of action will be taken. Your job is to back us or make yourself our enemies."
The hon. Gentleman makes the point that that may be the desire of some people in the US Administration. If true, would they not have that in common with the French Government, who are seeking to push the US away from a transatlantic alliance?
Everybody knows that the French have had their own view on transatlanticism for many years, and there is nothing new or unexpected about the position that they have adopted. Those of us with friends and relations in the US will understand the clear anxiety among the US population that they are vulnerable to attack in a way that they have never felt before and they look to their Government to demonstrate strong action to defend them against that attack. The problem is that that anxiety has encouraged a form of US nationalism that is determined to demonstrate that they can hit back hard after the shock of the terrorist attack on mainland America. Many of us were persuaded that that was legitimate in the case of Afghanistan, because the Taliban Administration was clearly harbouring the perpetrators of
Even if this war is quick, effective and decisive, and even if, as Mr. George claimed, opinion polls swing behind the Government because of a short, sharp, successful action—although such polls are not a concern of mine—the problems that I have described will still be there for a considerable time. How do we rebuild the ability of the international community to work together when the American Administration have demonstrated an unwillingness to use international institutions constructively?
With a number of colleagues from this House, I was in Athens yesterday at a meeting of the Western European Union. The meeting was organised by the Greek presidency of the WEU to discuss common mechanisms for Europe and America to defeat terrorism. However, everybody questioned how we could work together without a consistent engagement of trust and purpose with the American Administration, the tactics of which were based on economic bullying and political threats—such as the indication that, if France pursues its present line, it will face significant economic boycotts.
We have to consider how to rebuild the effectiveness of transatlantic co-operation in the aftermath of this war. We have to make clear our absolute determination to work together to defeat international terrorism, which threatens all of us. We need common purpose and we need to share intelligence. However, in return for a guarantee of international support, which we want to give, we are entitled to ask the Americans to acknowledge their responsibility to offer genuine leadership to the world and to show respect towards other democratic countries that do not always share the objectives of the United States and do not see the world as being defined entirely in terms of the economic interests of the United States. I respect the leadership role that the United States can and must give the world. However, if the United States is going to provide leadership for the world, the United States needs to provide a world leader.
I want to say how much I appreciated the opening comments of the Prime Minister. I welcome his respect for the views of all those who have strong feelings on this matter. When Parliament was recalled last September, I tabled an early-day motion making my position clear. I have not moved from that position one jot. This is a challenging time for Members of Parliament and we have a heavy task in front of us in this debate. However, I have never been clearer in my mind about my position. Many people in the country feel that the inspectors have not been given time to complete their task in dealing with weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. I say to my right hon. Friends that, at this time, I fundamentally disagree with the military action that they intend to take.
Much has been made of the road map for Palestine. In the aftermath of
I understand something about road maps from my previous profession: the obvious route is not always the best way to get to one's destination. I do not say that to trivialise the matter. I sincerely believe that this House still has a significant role to play in ensuring that we reach the destination that we all want in terms of the middle east peace process, but it is not just a question of the views of this House, and it never has been. It is about how people in the middle east view the west and how we pursue our foreign policies and about learning the lessons of
Not at this stage.
Much has been made of the use of the veto at the UN, but we are not all innocent in that respect. In the past 30 years, the United States has vetoed 34 resolutions concerning Israel. The veto has been used 250 times, in more than 40 per cent. of cases in relation to issues involving the middle east. Only this week, we have seen yet another attack in Gaza, where 10 people were killed, including a four-year-old child. Even in the days after
The USA provides $2.1 billion of aid every year to Israel. Only last October, there was a request for another $10 billion of aid because the intifada has hit its economy and almost cut it in half. Just by threatening to cross a nought off the end of that aid, we could bring Israel seriously to the negotiating table and sort out the problem once and for all. We need more time and we need to deal with the issues in parallel. If we are to convince the wider world community of our sincerity, why not give the inspectors more time to deal with Iraq in tandem with sealing, progressing and following the route map that has been set out in terms of Israel?
The stakes involved are too high for failure. The UN is right to challenge the USA. For too long, the USA has been able to say to the United Nations, "Jump", and the United Nations has said, "How high?" The UN is absolutely right in this new world order to question whether it should jump in terms of the timing of any action that should be taken. I do not support what France has done during the past week—its actions have hastened the deadline for war—nor do I support its attempt to create a European axis against the United States in a new world order.
The UN is ours, faults and all. It is the route by which we should decide that in future we will negotiate away these difficult situations without the need to resort to military action. The Prime Minister said in his opening statement that the UN should be the focus of diplomacy and of action. I agree. If we are to win the peace for my children and for future generations of children, we have to go back to the UN and give it more time.
I am very pleased to be called to speak in this debate at such an early hour. I believe that I have perhaps one small advantage over other Members of this House, which is that I have personal experience of being bombed by the Pentagon while in a capital city. I was in Belgrade, and then in Pristina, during the Kosovo campaign, when B-52s and cruise missiles were deployed in an operation conducted, after all, by Mr. Cook, whose moving speech I listened to with great attention last night. Of course, that operation was carried out without UN endorsement. I remember writing some very angry articles while in Belgrade about the way in which that war was conducted, because I honestly hated the methods that were used. I despised the bombing from 30,000 ft, which seemed to me to be cruel and erratic. I also loathed some of the anti-Serb rhetoric, and I became, among the many unfashionable aspects of my beliefs, rather pro-Serb.
I saw lives ruined and families destroyed by bombing, and I saw civilians grieving for their loved ones, who had been killed by NATO. We all saw the results of the Pentagon's tragic mistakes: the slaughter of people in a convoy of tractors, the train that was blown up on the bridge, and the killing of the make-up girls who worked for Serbian television. I in no way retract all my criticisms of those methods, but as I look back now on that reporting, I must admit that my anger obscured a separate truth: the aim was a good one, and it was a good idea to force Milosevic to stop his persecution of the Kosovar Albanians, and to do what we could to force him from office. One would have to be rather perverse not to agree that the world is better for his going; indeed, Serbia is better and the whole of the former Yugoslavia is better. There are no more hideous pogroms whipped up by ruthless politicians, setting one ethnic group against another. There is no more torching of houses, no more rape camps, and all the rest of it.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we should be even-handed and mention the 300,000 ethnically cleansed Serbs, Roma and Ashkali who are now living in dreadful camps in Serbia?
I accept fully what the hon. Lady says. I am not pretending that life in Serbia is perfect now, and it is of course true that there are a great many refugees, and that many injustices have been done. However, it would be rather extremist and irrational to say that life in Serbia is not better, because it is. As I drove around the former Yugoslavia after that conflict, I was surprised at how few casualties there were, and at how few casualties the Serbs claimed.
If one were to ask me now whether that mission was worth it in order to end a culture of violence, hate and savage ethnic murder, I would say yes, it probably was. That is the lesson that I learned.
The hon. Gentleman is describing how he became sympathetic to the Serbs on account of the suffering that he saw. However, does he not accept that those are exactly the ingredients that can lead to a resurgence of terrorism, and that there are analogies between how he felt, and the paramilitary recruiting drive that took place in Northern Ireland immediately after Bloody Sunday?
I listen to the hon. Gentleman's point with great interest, but to be frank, I wonder why his party now stands against action to help the people of Iraq, given that its previous leader, Paddy Ashdown, was so vigilant and fierce in his demands for humanitarian action on behalf of the Kosovar Albanians. I find that a very curious reflection on how times have changed for the Liberal Democrats, and I wonder whether it has anything to do with opportunism and how they see the public opinion polls moving. I do not really understand their motivation.
There is much that I admire about the former Leader of the House, the right hon. Member for Livingston. I noted with interest the acclaim with which he was greeted on the Government Back Benches last night, which may or may not be ominous for the Prime Minister. There was one striking omission from the right hon. Gentleman's speech, however. He dwelt at length on the threat that Saddam might, or might not, pose to western security—I thought that he was too optimistic about that—but he said not a word about the condition of the people of Iraq. How many people has Saddam Hussein killed? Is it 100,000, 200,000—a million? We have all met Iraqi people who yearn for that man to be removed. I am thinking in particular of an Iraqi computer technician who said, "You guys have got to get rid of Saddam Hussein because no matter how many people Bush kills it will not be as many as Saddam kills in a year".
The right hon. Member for Livingston spoke of a long-standing Anglo-American agenda to get rid of Saddam Hussein. Like many others, the right hon. Gentleman wanted to know "why now?" and "why Saddam Hussein?". Such objections are logically frail and hardly amount to an argument for doing nothing now. If anything, they are an argument for wishing that we had done something earlier and, indeed, in other places. To people who ask, "What about Mugabe?", I reply, "Indeed, why don't we do something there?"
It is possible to criticise many aspects of the way in which the Government have prepared the country for the course of action that we are about to take. I shall not delay the House further with repetition of my objections to the dodgy dossier and the UN bungling. I do not know who made the diplomatic assessment of the likelihood of French accession to a second UN resolution but he obviously blundered.
We can dilate until the cows come home about what the situation means for the so-called common European security and defence policy, which has nothing in common, nothing to do with security and barely amounts to a policy. I shall not go further into the curious hermaphroditic policy of the Liberal Democrats.
We should all like a second UN resolution but that is not going to happen. Tonight, we have to decide whether to give authorisation for British forces to engage in enforcement of UN resolution 1441 and, indeed, the 17 other UN resolutions that Saddam Hussein has continually flouted. Having learned the lessons from what I saw in Serbia, I shall vote for the motion. There are several reasons but one is paramount. It will mean the enforcement of the will of the UN and the removal of Saddam Hussein will make the world a better place, but, above all, it will make the world better for the millions of Iraqis whom he oppresses.
I deeply respect the hesitations of people on both sides of the House, but, as they make up their minds, I urge them to think of those people in Iraq and to decide whether, by our votes and actions tonight, we shall be prolonging their misery or bringing it to an end.
There are two reasons why I supported the Government and shall continue to support them tonight: one is moral and the other is political.
The moral argument has been clear to me for a long time and it is constantly reinforced. Every time that a psychopathic killer takes over a nation state, they drive people out; they commit genocide, murder and torture of a type that is hard to imagine and, because I represent a west London constituency, I see their victims in my waiting room. I have seen the victims of the Shah of Iran, the Ayatollah, Milosevic and Saddam Hussein, but only in one case—Saddam Hussein—have I seen people tremble at the mere mention of his name.
The regime is gruesome in the extreme and it is dangerous. Although I can accept the moral case on either side of the argument, it has always struck me as odd that democratic, freedom-loving, tolerant politicians can get ourselves in a moral mess when we are confronted with such people and try to determine who is morally right in the argument about whether we should go to war. The only person who is morally bankrupt in that argument is Saddam Hussein. We should never have illusions about that, and it also reinforces our views about what is right and what is wrong.
I have also heard in the debate, unlike perhaps some of the others, ambivalence about the United States, varying from Mr. Hague, who takes the view that the United States saved us in the second world war. I do not take that view—it ignores the contributions of Britain, the fact that the Russians broke the back of the German army and a whole range of other things—nor do I take the view, which comes from various quarters of the House, that somehow everything that the United States does is bad.
Yes, the reality is that the United States is the dominant power of the day and, yes, it is true—we ought to remember this more than anyone else—that George Bush looks increasingly like Lord Palmerston in drag. I accept that the United States is doing the great power act and throwing its weight around in the world, but that does not make it wrong on such an issue.
The true criticism of the international community, the United States and all hon. Members is that we have done nothing about what has been happening in Iraq since 1991. The real criticism of all us is that we did nothing when Iraq first started to breach not just the 1991 resolutions, but the ceasefire itself, which Saddam had never put into effect. That ceasefire was signed with the UN, not the United States, and he breached it time and again with genocide, torture, human rights abuses, weapons of mass destruction and terrorism—the lot—and we did nothing, because of which many people have died and the misery continues.
I am interested in the fact that my hon. Friend says that we have done nothing since 1991 in relation to Iraq. Does he count the sanctions, the over-flying of the no-fly zone, the work of the weapons inspectors who destroyed 95 per cent. of the weapons of mass destruction as nothing?
I regard that as ineffectual. [Interruption.] Let me say why. The one bit that was effective was the no-fly zones. It tells us an awful lot that there is no starvation, no torture and plenty of medical supplies in either of those areas, and they use the same oil-for-food programme as that available to the rest of Iraq. Of course what failed was the sanctions regime itself. Why? Because Saddam Hussein did what all psychopaths do in such situations—he used the weapons against his opponents. He starved the people who did not support him and he fed the people who did. We need only look at the television broadcasts from the time when he organised demonstrations in Baghdad against the sanctions and, lo and behold, they involved well-fed, well-dressed people—his own supporters. Those broadcasts did not show the real misery and how Saddam himself had caused it.
I tell hon. Members that we really do have a duty—this is where I come to the political bit—to face up to the UN's failure to deal with those people. We call them tyrants and dictators, but if they were the people beating up their wives or children in a house down the road, we would call them psychopaths and send for the police who would arrest them and put them inside. We only started doing that 50 years ago. Before then, we used to walk by with our fingers in our ears, saying "We cannot intervene; it is his own house, you know." That is what we do with the nation state, and it is why Mr. Hogg is wrong about the morality. His morality is based on the concept of the nation state. I take the view that the UN ultimately needs to intervene more effectively when those psychopathic killers take over nation states. We need to be able to do that. We do not want to do it by force with an armed invasion straight away, but we have to find ways to deal with such things because every time we leave them, not only do we sentence those people to absolute misery, but we destabilise the area.
Many Arabs live in my constituency, and I will tell hon. Members that Arabs have no less a commitment to democracy, freedom and tolerance than anyone else. They do not like Saddam Hussein. Many of them do not support the war, but they all want rid of him. The reality is that—this is the other part of the political equation—if we want a settlement in the middle east, particularly of the Palestine-Israel situation, we also have to deal with Saddam Hussein; the two are linked in that sense. If the world wants to move forward and face up to the problems of terrorism, we must also deal with states that produce weapons of mass destruction. Instead of just reading Dr. Blix's abbreviated report to the Security Council, hon. Members should go to the House of Commons Library, get the full document, and look at the list of things that Dr. Blix says that Saddam Hussein has got, some of which I have never heard of before. Unless we find ways of dealing with that, we risk the future of this world, too.
The dangers opening up to us are severe and real.
The United Nations is the hope, but it has failed for 12 years. We cannot let it go on failing. I deeply regret that we do not have a second resolution, but the biggest failure is the failure to act. I say this particularly to some of my hon. Friends and to the Liberal Democrats, who say that delays are the answer: the reality is that we cannot go on passing resolutions unless we are resolved to act on them. It is better not to pass them in the first place, not to take risks, to let it happen and not get involved. Let us not pass resolutions unless we are resolved to act.
I have a great deal of experience of commending my right hon. Friends the Members for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) and for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) on the speeches that they have made as Leaders of Her Majesty's Opposition. I have much less experience of commending the Prime Minister, but I do so today without reservation. I would use his statement as the basis for a reply to any letter that I got from a constituent, as I feel that it represented broadly my analysis of and my reaction to the events that we face today.
I will not reiterate the Prime Minister's arguments, but I want to pick out two points. First, he said that the psychology of the United States changed, without qualification, on
Secondly, I want to highlight the Prime Minister's comment that there is no point in willing the ends if we are not prepared to will the means. That remark was addressed to his party and to our party—it was pointless addressing it to the Liberals, as they would not understand it. It is fundamental to the whole debate. Sooner or later, we must face up to some realities. This is not a debate about how much legality is on one side, and how much morality is on the other. I am just a simple Belfast boy: to me, it is a question of whether we have the will to do what we believe and know to be right, after having prevaricated for a long time.
Most of us in this House are parents. When we went through parenting, the one thing that we were told repeatedly was, "Don't say no to the children unless you mean it and unless you will make it stick." That was because every time we said no and they ignored it, and we ignored their ignoring of it, we made it more difficult to put in place a discipline framework for the future. Internationally and nationally, we have been guilty of saying no, and then ignoring the ignoring of that instruction. It is now time to take action, and I support the Government's intention.
Having said that, the Foreign Secretary made the point in his statement last night that the second resolution
"has never been needed legally, but we have long had a preference for it politically."
We should not run away from the fact that our failure to secure it represents a political failure with which we must deal. When that point was put to the Foreign Secretary later, he said:
"France and Russia informally proposed that there should be a lock in resolution 1441 requiring that before any military action or any enforcement of the system of disarmament proposed—by force—there had to be a second resolution. France and Russia dropped that proposition. They never even put it forward as a formal amendment."—[Hansard, 17 March 2003; Vol. 401, c. 703–708.]
That was an extremely good answer in the field of diplomacy, but it was no answer in the field of politics. We are faced with the fact that there has been a political failure and a political breakdown. The Government must start to address that political failure quickly otherwise some of the more dire consequences that have been predicted may come back to haunt us, although I do not believe that they invariably follow from the Government's action.
There are two reasons why we need to reaffirm our will to act and focus on repairing the political damage. The first is that unless the damage is repaired, it will become more difficult to get new resolutions on humanitarian aid and the restructuring of Iraq through the United Nations. The situation might become more protracted, which is not to our advantage or to that of our troops, and it is certainly not to the advantage of the people of Iraq. The second reason, which my hon. Friend Mr. Johnson mentioned, is that part of the political opposition in the country to the Government's proposals exists because they have not talked about an exit strategy. The House has no idea about how we intend to get out of the situation after the war is over. I believe that the absence of any conversation about an exit strategy is fuelling concern about, and antipathy toward, the actions that the Government must take.
In summary, I support what the Government are doing and I shall join them in the Lobby this evening. However, I urge them to take seriously the political failure at the heart of the issue and to take steps quickly to address it for the benefit of the national interest, as well as the people of Iraq.
There is only one issue that we must consider today: whether we should go to war at this time and set what is, to me, the terrible precedent of starting a pre-emptive war on a dubious legal basis without the support of the United Nations. Nothing else should matter. The issue should transcend party politics. We know how the Front Benchers, Whips and others will argue that support for the war is a vital party loyalty test—whether that is support for the Conservative party or for the Labour party—but the issue is too serious for that. It should transcend our careers, whether we are Back Benchers or Front Benchers, because in this context we should regard ourselves as here today, gone tomorrow politicians. I do not remember the Prime Minister's exact words, but he summed it up when he said something to the effect that we are talking about the future safety of the world and therefore we should be concerned about the future of our children and future generations.
It is not a matter of whether or not we like France as a result of what it has done. It is not a matter of trade-offs: this will not become a just war simply because we say as a trade-off that we will do something about the middle east peace process or that we will tidy up in the aftermath in a very decent way.
Let us be clear about the position on UN support. The three original proposers had support from only one other member of the Security Council. Five other states said that they were opposed and there were six swing states. The Prime Minister made a lot of the position of Chile, but it proposed a delay of three weeks and was turned down out of hand by the United States. There are others who have been "unreasonable". Those of us who put a lot of faith in the Prime Minister's promise that war would be regarded as a last resort fear that the Bush Administration have not regarded war as a last resort.
The question put to the Prime Minister by Mr. Salmond in respect of the unreasonable veto was not satisfactorily answered. If it was really just a question of France, why did we not put the issue to the Security Council? If the vote had been 14 to one in favour, we could have done what we did with regard to Korea and gone to the General Assembly and asked whether we had its support. We know that we would not have done that because we did not have the support of the majority of Governments in the world, and those Governments who do support us do not have the support of the majority of their population.
The UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, has suggested that if we go ahead in this form we will be breaching the United Nations charter. I respect the Attorney-General's view on legality, but we must respect the fact that a wide range of senior international jurists take a different view. Therefore, the only basis on which we could go ahead would be if there was an immediate threat to justify immediate war.
Reference has been made to weapons of mass destruction. Iraq does not only not have nuclear weapons, but, in answer to the point made by my right hon. Friend Alan Howarth, Dr. el-Baradei has said that so far he sees no evidence for the suggestion that Iraq has restarted its nuclear weapons programme. Iraq has had most of its biological and chemical weapons—if it still has them, and I suspect it has—for several years. Do we believe that there is an immediate intent to attack the United Kingdom, the United States, neighbouring states or other states?
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that Iraq had an active nuclear weapons programme in the early 1980s and that the main reason that it did not develop the nuclear bomb was that its nuclear reactor at Osirak was destroyed by military action?
I accept that it had such a programme and I have no doubt that Saddam would like to develop a nuclear bomb, but it is important to be realistic about the nature of the threats from different countries.
My hon. Friend refers to weapons of mass destruction. Has he read page 98 of the Blix report, which makes it clear that
"Iraq currently possesses the technology and materials, including fermenters, bacterial growth and seed stock, to enable it to produce anthrax"?
That is very possible. The major threat that is suggested is not that Iraq intends to attack anyone with such weapons but that it would pass them to terrorist organisations. I have already quoted what George Tennet said on behalf of the CIA on that, and I repeat that it is important when talking about what connections countries have with terrorism to distinguish between unconditional terrorist organisations, which would be liable to wish to use weapons of mass destruction, and political terrorist organisations, which, however unpleasant or vile, probably would not have a purpose in doing so. I am talking about groups such as the Mujaheddin-e Khalq Organisation and Hamas, with which I accept that there is evidence that Iraq has had connections. As for al-Qaeda, my right hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East referred to evidence given by Vaclav Havel; in fact, Vaclav Havel later said that the information provided no clear evidence of a connection between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein.
The Prime Minister said today that the question before us is how Britain and the world face the central security threat of the 21st century. I believe that he was referring to weapons of mass destruction, which brings us to an extremely important point. The general belief in the House has been that we should deal with that problem through a regime of non-proliferation and multilateral disarmament. That has been the common view of UK parties. That does not rule out the possibility of a counter-proliferation strike against a country that is disobeying that regime. However, we have to recognise that the Bush Administration are adopting a wholly different scheme, whereby counter-proliferation, as they call it, takes absolute precedence. In a sense, they are saying, "It is okay if our friends develop nuclear weapons, but not if our enemies do," and they choose who are the friends and who are the enemies. Let us remember that Iraq was regarded as a friend and was supplied during the 1980s, but is now regarded as an enemy. I find that approach capricious and destabilising.
Even more worrying is that the policy of the Bush Administration seems to be tending towards saying, "We can develop new nuclear weapons or try to make nuclear weapons more usable, and we can decide to breach the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and the security assurance that we gave under that treaty." That is a serious aspect of the overall problem of weapons of mass destruction, especially when it is added to the doctrine of pre-emptive war.
I have heard the Prime Minister speak twice today, and I apologise for not being able to remember whether he said this at a meeting of the parliamentary Labour party or in the House, but it is not an internal party matter in any case. He made the point that war on Iraq was not on his agenda when he became Prime Minister in 1997, and he said that George W. Bush had told him that two days before
That raises another question. If war with Iraq was not on the Prime Minister's or the President's agenda in 2001, can we forget that it was not on their agenda for 10 years and say that we have been waiting for 12 years? If full-scale war was not on the agenda, why is it on the agenda now? Is it a logical response to
The Prime Minister said that we can view the United States as a major power and seek a rival pole, as a unilateral power or as a partner. I want partnership, but I have doubts. I am not happy about partnership if it means that the United States takes the decision and the rest of us are expected to follow—that to me is not partnership—or if, as seems to be happening, the Bush Administration decide what action should be taken and what should be done immediately, and allow us to supply some of the rhetoric or some of the long-term wish list.
If we vote for a pre-emptive war against Iraq now, we should ask ourselves what precedent we will be setting, because the hawks have already said that they have plans for other pre-emptive divisive wars. We should contrast their plan of the world with the inspirational vision set out by the Prime Minister in Brighton in 2001, when he spoke of
"the moral power of a world acting as a community".
I know that Mr. Savidge has been waiting to make that speech in a number of debates. He used his time extremely well; it was a very informed contribution. I shall continue directly from one of the points that he made about the new world order into which we are moving.
Fundamentally, the debate is not about Iraq, Saddam Hussein, weapons of mass destruction or even oil, though oil is certainly a factor. The debate is about a new world order, with an unrivalled superpower adopting a doctrine of pre-emptive strike, and how we accommodate that and come to terms with that new world order. Eighteen months ago the United States had an atrocity committed against it and it is still in a trauma. The point was made a few minutes ago, and it is undoubtedly correct: on
Now, 18 months later, that enormous world coalition has been dissipated. I do not take the position that it was only a gang of four who gathered in the Azores. I accept that there are more countries—or at least countries' Governments—who are signed up, but the coalition of the willing for the campaign against Iraq is very narrowly based. Anyone who wants confirmation of that should just count the troops: 300,000 United States and British troops, and I understand that 1,000 Australians have been asked for, and 100 Poles have been offered. That is a very narrowly based coalition indeed.
The Prime Minister believes, as the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North identified, that the way to accommodate the situation is to accept that the United States will be predominant and that the rest must fall into line. They can try to restrain it, but they will have to fall into line with the views of the United States Administration. That is a wrong-headed policy, and it is taking people into ridiculous positions.
In his undoubtedly powerful speech today, the Prime Minister argued that the weapons inspection process had never worked. He came close to saying that it had all been a waste of time. I remember a speech on
"the inspections were working even when he"—
"was trying to thwart them."
I watched that speech on television. Many hon. Members were there. The speaker was President Bill Clinton. The television was doing cutaways to Ministers, including the Prime Minister. They were all nodding vigorously last October when President Clinton said that through the 1990s that policy worked and destroyed far more weapons of mass destruction than were destroyed, for example, in the Gulf war. The Prime Minister now seems to be denying what he accepted only last October.
We are told that the majority of the Security Council would have voted for the second resolution, if it had not been for the nasty French coming in at the last minute and scuppering the whole process. Let us get real. Have we listened to what other countries were saying? The Chileans proposed an extension of three weeks, but they were told by the United States that that was not on. In the debate in the General Assembly, country after country expressed their anxieties about not letting the weapons inspectors have a chance to do their work. They were told that the nasty French—I am not sure whether the Conservative party dislikes the French more than the Liberals, or vice versa—were being extremely unreasonable, but the French position, and the Chinese position—
The old alliance was important. Somebody should speak up for the French, because their position has been consistent, as has that of the Russians and the Chinese. The Chinese, the French and the Russians issued a declaration on the passage of resolution 1441. It sets out exactly how the British and the United States ambassadors agreed that it was not a trigger for war. The reason that those countries did not want a second resolution was not that it would be a pathway to peace—I wonder who dreamed that up in Downing street. The reason was that they saw it as a passport to war, so obviously they opposed a resolution drawn in those terms. The majority of smaller countries in the Security Council and the General Assembly countries did not want to rush to war because they saw that there remained an alternative to taking military action at this stage of the inspection process.
We are told that the Attorney-General has described the war as legal. We could go into the legalities and quote professor after professor who has said the opposite, but one thing is certain: when the Secretary-General of the United Nations doubts the authorisation of military action without a second resolution, people can say many things about that action, but they cannot say that it is being taken in the name of the United Nations.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. I wish to make one brief point: the French and Russians signed up to resolution 1441 after the words "all necessary means" were specifically taken out.
In order to become acceptable, resolution 1441 had to be amended. Everything has been consistent in the opposition of countries that are against a rush to military action.
Will the approach that is being taken work? The argument is that it will be a salutary lesson, that a dictator will be taught a lesson and that that will help us in dealing with other dictators. I suspect that the cost of the action—I do not doubt the military outcome for a second—will be so high in a number of ways that it will not provide a platform for an assault on North Korea or Iran, which form the rest of the "axis of evil". I do not think that the policy of teaching one dictator a lesson and then moving on to other dictators can work. Most of us know that it will be a breeding ground for a future generation of terrorists. That is not the case because people like Saddam Hussein. The images that will be shown throughout the Muslim world will not feature him, although, without any question, he will be more attractive as a martyr when he is dead than he has ever been while alive. The images that will be shown are those of the innocents who will undoubtedly die in a conflict that will be a breeding ground for terrorism.
Will the nation-building work? The record of the United States on nation-building has not been impressive. Let me say something about one of the other countries that is being reviled at present—Germany, which commits far more troops as a percentage of its armed forces to helping to secure the peace in the various trouble spots of the world for the United Nations.
We are told that the Prime Minister—this is the essence of his case—will try to restrain some elements in the United States Administration and make them take a multilateral approach, but that, if that does not happen, when push comes to shove he has to go along with their policy. I say that there is a broader United States of America than the United States Government. I believe that many sections of opinion in America would welcome a vote from this Parliament today that says "Not in our name", because the real America wants to see a stand for peace, not a rush for war.
After my right hon. Friend Mr. Cook made his personal statement to the House last night, I felt it necessary to drive back to my constituency and speak with a number of people whose opinions I trust and value—people who are close friends and who have been members of the Labour party for many years. Not one of them wanted war, and neither do I. My constituency chair said to me, "Barry, you have to remember that this is our party leader and I trust him. He is our Prime Minister and, even though I disagree with the war, I want to give him our support now." I will not support the Prime Minister out of loyalty. I will support him out of the conviction that what he and the Government are doing is right.
Does not the hon. Gentleman understand that a genuine problem exists? The Government have experienced great difficulty in convincing the public about the rectitude of their position because people do not trust the Prime Minister. They do not trust him on health, education or crime. Why, therefore, should they trust him on Iraq?
I normally have great respect for the hon. Gentleman because he usually speaks with some sense. His comments on Iraq are ill judged. The people of this country know that our Prime Minister has behaved with absolute integrity on that issue. He has campaigned solidly for an international coalition. He went to the United States and brought George Bush to the United Nations to submit the power of the United States to the bridle of the United Nations. The people of this country therefore trust the Prime Minister on Iraq.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the Prime Minister has experienced so much difficulty in persuading the people of this country because he did not even admit that there was a problem until September last year? He did not genuinely start to try to persuade people until six weeks ago.
The hon. Gentleman is wrong. The speech that the Prime Minister made on the day after
I respect all hon. Members who disagree in principle with using military force in Iraq. However, I do not understand how anyone who supported resolution 1441 can espouse that position. What did such people believe that "final" meant when Iraq was given a "final opportunity" to comply: "final" before tabling another resolution; "final" before a few more weeks passed; or "final" before a few more months elapsed?
The hon. Gentleman's memory is selective. Resolution 1441 provides that the matter would revert to the Security Council for consideration, and that has happened. The resolution states that the Security Council will remain "seized of the matter". The hon. Gentleman's interpretation of "final" is odd if he believes that a final opportunity is not final before force is applied, in accordance with chapter VII of the UN charter.
Other words in resolution 1441 include "immediate", "full" and "unconditional". Are any hon. Members prepared to stand up and say that Iraq has complied—
I would urge my hon. Friend to read the words of the chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix, because he—[Hon. Members: "Answer!"] If hon. Members will listen, they will find that I am answering the question. Hans Blix is quite clear that Iraq remains in breach. Indeed, every member of the Security Council is quite clear that Saddam Hussein remains in breach, and that there has been no full, immediate or unconditional compliance. There is an option to go down the containment route, and some hon. Members have suggested that in their speeches today. It is not an option that I agree with. I believe that we have to maintain what we said at the United Nations Security Council in resolution 1441, which was that we have to disarm Iraq.
There are those who have said that they cannot now support military action because there has been no second resolution in the United Nations. That is the worst reason of all for not supporting it. If it were right to engage in military action, to kill innocent Iraqi people and to put our troops on the line to die for this country with the support of a second resolution at the United Nations, it has to be morally right to do so without one. The morality of our actions does not depend on who is prepared to carry out those actions with us; it depends on the judgment that we make about whether it is right or wrong. The Government are taking the right course of action. It is the only course of action that will achieve the disarmament of Iraq, and disarmament is the only way of ensuring that a further, far more bloody conflict does not happen in the future.
I plan to reach the same destination as Mr. Gardiner, but I propose to take a slightly different route.
We are witnessing the most spectacular failure of diplomacy in my political lifetime. Here we are with the most sophisticated, best-resourced international institutions that the world has ever seen, peopled by the most civilised, best-educated diplomats in history, assisted by every modern communication device that technology can provide, and working at a time when many of the barriers that used to divide the world have come down—yet they have failed, with the inevitable apocalyptic consequences for Iraq.
First, those close to Iraq—those who may take a different view from that of the United States and the United Kingdom—have totally failed to convince Saddam that his country and his people were going to be hit hard by American and British troops, and that he would be annihilated, unless he agreed to what was being put before him. Many thought that Saddam would give way at the last moment, obliging the American and British troops to go home and leave him in control, without a regime change. But those close to Saddam, geographically and culturally, have failed to bring home to him the fate that lies in store, and that is the first diplomatic failure.
The second failure is more important. The world's democracies have failed to get their act together to present a coherent and united front to an obnoxious regime. It is that institutional failure, rather than the underlying case against Saddam, that has led to the equivocal response from public opinion.
We will need to revisit the whole architecture of international institutional peacekeeping, and re-engineer it radically to avoid future failure. I do not give that as a reason for going to war, but I happen to believe it will be easier to make the reforms that are necessary once the Iraq crisis has been resolved, than to do so with the crisis hanging over the United Nations indefinitely.
I believe there was a need for greater clarity at the inception of the resolution process, a need for more visible and better-defined milestones as we went along, and for greater certainty about the nature of the consequences if there was no progress. The traditional skills of diplomacy involve getting people to agree to something by persuading them that it means what they want it to mean, and saying that there is no harm in "signing up" because the eventuality is remote. All that has come horribly unstuck. There has been too much ambiguity and obfuscation in the process.
The public squabbling about what resolution 1441 actually means baffles our constituents, as do discussions on "Newsnight" and "Today" between expensive barristers about whether the war is legal. I believe that if the process had been more open and transparent—if there had been more clarity—we would be receiving a more supportive response from our constituents, because the underlying case is strong.
That, however, is for tomorrow. What should we do today? I agree with my right hon. Friend Mr. Mackay that the decision is close to call. I believe that, in a nutshell, the debate concerns the credibility of the United Nations on the one hand, and its unity on the other. The Prime Minister's view is that unless firm action is taken now, the UN's credibility will be fatally undermined. The alternative view is that moving too fast will shatter the unity of the UN, thus fatally undermining it.
With the benefit of hindsight, we may think it might have been possible for the United States and the United Kingdom to go a little more slowly, not to give Saddam more time, but to give the rest of the world more time. That is not possible now, though. The unity of the UN is no longer there—which makes it more important to assert its credibility.
When we last debated this issue I had some sympathy with the amendment that had been tabled, but I did not support it, for this reason: the best prospect for peace at that time was convincing Saddam that we were prepared to go to war. It seemed to me that the more people voted for the amendment, the more Saddam would get a picture of a country that was not prepared to go to war. Voting for the amendment ran the risk of encouraging Saddam to call the bluff. Having looked at the amendment tabled today, I feel that anyone who genuinely believes that the case for war has not been established should vote against the war. The amendment seeks to square a circle that is incapable of being squared.
Whatever the doubts and reservations about the process that brought us here, here we are. My constituency, like others, has a high military profile. Many of my voters are sitting on the hot yellow sand in Kuwait, wondering whether they will see the cool green fields of Hampshire again. I believe that they and their families are entitled to know that their Member of Parliament backs the risks they run in removing an obnoxious regime, and I shall therefore support the Government tonight.
We have reached the time of day when we have already heard many speeches, and I am not sure that I can add anything dramatically new.
Like many ordinary Members of Parliament, however, I have wrestled with this issue for several months. I did not start with the view that we should necessarily take military action in Iraq. Naturally, I have spent a good deal of time listening to the criticisms of those who are worried about the prospect of war. It has occurred to me that there have been a number of recurring themes in the arguments of those who believe that we should not go to war. Obviously, nothing I say will have any impact on those who are already implacably opposed to war, but over the past few days many colleagues have told me that they are not sure about it, because they feel that the issue is very finely balanced. I wondered which matters people were not certain about. I regularly hear that the case regarding weapons of mass destruction has not been made. Some people are certain that Saddam Hussein has none at all, and others say that he has neither the capability nor the capacity to use them.
How did we end up in this position? We must assume either that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is misleading the House whenever he comes to the Dispatch Box to talk about his fear of those weapons of mass destruction and about the intelligence reports that he has been reviewing, or that the intelligence community is deliberately misinforming him. We must draw those conclusions if we say that the story about WMD is utterly wrong. Moreover, whenever there is a report from a respected journalist that a scientist has been assassinated or detained because he has knowledge of the weapons programme, we must believe that that journalist is seeking to mislead us.
Last week, my hon. Friend Ann Clwyd arranged for representatives of the INDICT organisation to come to the House. They gave a graphic description of the people held in Saddam Hussein's detention centres. After those people have been subjected to every sort of torture and humiliation, they are then gassed with mustard gas. Where does all that mustard gas come from, if all that sort of stuff has been degraded or destroyed? We cannot assume that there are no WMD in Iraq. The inspectors' reports repeatedly indicate that there are.
We do not know with any certainty the extent to which WMD exist, but anyone who believes that Saddam Hussein has no such weapons, and no viable chemical or biological weapons, should not vote for the amendment tonight. I agree with Sir George Young: anyone who honestly believes that Saddam Hussein has no weapons of that variety should vote straightforwardly against the Government motion. In those circumstances, it would be absurd to vote for the amendment.
People have been preoccupied by the question of the additional UN resolution. I have been troubled by the way in which that resolution has been regarded. For weeks, there has been a systematic effort from certain quarters to convince people that any such resolution would have been irrelevant anyway, as it would have been secured by buying people off, or by arm twisting. No hon. Members who are party to the view that the resolution would have been worthless anyway have a right to come to the House and say that they will not vote for the motion because that resolution was not secured.
I happen to be one of those who believe that the Government were right to try to secure a second resolution. I commend the efforts of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to go the full distance to try and achieve that, but it would be absurd to put to the vote a resolution that has effectively been blown out of the water already. There is no getting away from the fact that that was the consequence of the French President's behaviour.
We have therefore been left without a second resolution and, as a result, Saddam has been given a further advantage. We might have been able to say today that we were all at one about how to deal with the man, but we find ourselves sidetracked into dealing with the question of the resolution. The second resolution in itself is important only if we disregard everything that went before, but the reality is that there have been umpteen resolutions in the past 12 years. For a full year, the House has had virtually no other topic for debate than the question of what we should do about Saddam.
Some hon. Members say that they would have supported the Government under other circumstances, but that the lack of a second resolution—a resolution which, a couple of weeks ago, the same people were calling dubious—has made the decision for them. With all due respect to the people involved, that is an extremely hard case to believe.
The other question that I have pondered is why the situation is suddenly different now. I read the amendment with interest, but it is the "Groundhog Day" scenario. It says that, despite everything that has happened, we want to go back to the beginning and start again. The amendment is saying, "Well, we think that Saddam might have some weapons and the UN might be well advised to take some action against him, but we think that the Prime Minister should start all over again and see whether he can get another resolution. If he gets a resolution this time, however, we think it should give Saddam an unspecified period of time." The amendment calls it a "defined period", but that could mean three days, 30 days or 30 years. Those who support the amendment think that we should start again, allow everything that has already happened to happen again and then, if we are no further forward, consider military action.
I am no fan of the prospect of military action, but the time has come to draw a line if we are to justify what we have said. The talking must end and we must show that our intent is real. Any other course of action diminishes everything that has happened.
Many people have raised the legitimate point that there are two issues that we cannot walk away from. If we resort to military action—
It is pleasure to speak in such a full Chamber. My normal lot is to speak when the Chamber is almost empty, which is probably a good thing. I am afraid that when the gift of making good speeches was handed out I must have been somewhere else, but I shall try to explain why I intend to vote for the amendment tonight. I shall do so with a heavy heart, and the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition nearly persuaded me to vote with them. Unfortunately, Mr. Kennedy nearly persuaded me not to vote with him.
There are many reasons for my decision and I cannot give them all. One of the principal reasons is the action in Yugoslavia, which I opposed. Although I understand the reasons given by other hon. Members—notably my hon. Friend Mr. Johnson—I find it disturbing that that action has been portrayed recently in debate as a great victory and success. Anybody who knows the current situation in Kosovo will realise that we certainly have not finished what we started. It is one of my great worries that the same will happen in Iraq.
Enough has been said in some excellent speeches, but I have lost my faith in what happens in war because in the past the truth has been blatantly abused by our propagandists. I do not seek to make a party political point, but I thought that our Government were above that. If we want to keep the faith and trust of other countries, we must not try to hide the truth. Military considerations aside, we must try to tell the truth.
This is a difficult decision. Although I would normally say that the Whips are a fine body of men and women, and it is usually a good idea to do exactly what they say, on this occasion I suggest to all hon. Members that it is best to make up their own minds. Those who are voting with the Government are not warmongers; those of us who are voting for the amendment are not appeasers. Everyone has their own opinions and it is very difficult to come down on one side of the fence.
America is not a villain. I would like to count myself as a friend of America. However, as all good friends should, we sometimes have to speak out and tell our friends that they are doing something that they should perhaps think twice about. All I mean by that is that they should just hold back a little longer. I can understand that the military build-up is like water behind a dam. We cannot keep it there forever. That is why I think that what is going to happen is inevitable.
I was brought up to believe in serving my country. I also believe in doing my duty. My duty is first and foremost to my country, then to my constituency, and then to my party. However, one of the things that I have always been frightened of in the Whips Office is when people listen to the arguments. Listening to the arguments today has been a salutary lesson. Another expression that we have in the Whips Office is, "I'm afraid I'm all over the place."
Many of my constituents from RAF Uxbridge are already in the Gulf, and many others will soon join them. The last thing that I want is for them to feel that I am undermining them. If the amendment falls, I shall seriously consider the political and moral gymnastics of whether I can support the Government. I am not sure at this stage whether I can do that, but I can promise my constituents out there that I wish them well. Once I have said my piece, I shall shut up and let them get on with their job. I hope—I have never hoped this so much in my life—that I am wrong about some of the possible consequences. I will be the first to admit that, if I am wrong, I shall be delighted.
There was a quiet eloquence about the hon. Gentleman in spite of his disclaimer. What I liked about his speech was his considerable respect for those on both sides of the argument and his readiness to express honest doubt. I have felt little respect for those who have total confidence in either side of the argument. There are many high risks and many uncertainties, and many questions that have not been answered—indeed, there are some questions that cannot, as yet, be answered. However, we are not a university debating society and we are not a seminar of professors. We have to make decisions. People will make decisions, exercising their judgment as best they can.
We are faced with this problem as we seek to come to a decision: should we now stand down our troops, and should we fundamentally change our strategy? In theory, we could indeed fold our tents and glide away, forgetting about the fact that there are men and women representing our country on the borders of Kuwait and Iraq. We have chosen to be engaged. In my judgment, we made a correct strategic decision way back last summer. We remain engaged with our US allies. To withdraw at this stage would be unthinkable. To suggest that we could was the essential flaw in the argument of my right hon. Friend Mr. Cook last night. His speech was highly compelling. Moreover, he has, in a short time, made a major and positive impact on the procedures of the House and on the House generally. The fact is, however, that we cannot easily now turn back without undermining our own credibility and the authority of the United Nations. The wording of 1441 was clear. One does not need any special knowledge to know that "immediate" should mean immediate and that "unconditional" should mean unconditional. Only in an Alice in Wonderland world do words mean what I say they mean: elsewhere, the word "immediate" must surely mean immediate. After four and a half months, Dr. el-Baradei said clearly that there would have to be a dramatic change on the part of Saddam Hussein if there was to be compliance. Given Saddam Hussein's record, one would need faith in a Damascene conversion to imagine that such a dramatic change was likely to happen. It was reasonable to assume that the words meant what they said. If we backtrack now, no future Security Council resolutions will have any credibility. We can make all sorts of pious declarations but a giant leap will be required if there is not the will to enforce them.
I turn to the role of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. He promised in good faith to pursue the diplomatic path, and he has indeed gone the extra mile, as many of us demanded. The Prime Minister undertook to make possible a debate in this House before action. That was wholly unprecedented and wholly against all the practices and conventions of our constitution. I applaud his having done so; it is a major victory for Parliament. The Prime Minister stated clearly that he wished to act in conformity with international law—of course, there are weighty lawyers on both sides, but the opinion of the Attorney-General is very clear on this point; not one Member of this House could have tried harder than the Prime Minister to continue negotiations to avoid war; not one Member could have shown more commitment or more courage.
My right hon. Friend said that the opinion of the Attorney-General could not be clearer, but in fact the Attorney-General's advice rests on a 10-year-old UN resolution. It is not as clear as my right hon. Friend thinks.
Perhaps my hon. Friend should see a lawyer. I have confidence in the Attorney-General. He chaired the Bar Council, he has his reputation among his fellow lawyers to maintain, and he is a man of stout independence. I urge my hon. Friend to look carefully at the conclusions that he reached.
Our Prime Minister made a strategic decision to stand alongside the United States on the basis that it would give him influence—it certainly has given him influence in terms of the UN route and of the middle east peace process—and on the basis that Saddam Hussein, given his past conduct, only responds to pressure with the credible threat of force. I am confident that that was the correct decision at the time. We could not have foreseen that the UN route could lead to the current impasse. One or two hon. Members have spoken of a spectacular failure of diplomacy, but all the advice available to our Government—not only from our diplomats but from conversations with leading members—was that there was a likelihood that 1441 would be obeyed.
The US has many vocal critics—I have frequently raised my concerns about its unilateralist policies in other areas—but the blame for the collapse of the diplomatic process lies with the wilful obstruction of the French Government, who said in terms:
"Quelles que soient les circonstances la France votera non".
The French is clear: whatever the circumstances, France will vote no. There is nothing clearer than that. The French ruled out negotiations on the proposals put forward by the UK Government even before the Iraqis did. That approach, which has led to a crisis in the international organisations and put at risk the transatlantic alliance, is based essentially on a Gaullist view of the world—the idea that Europe can be an effective rival or counterweight to the megapower of the United States. France has played into the hands of Saddam Hussein by blocking the UN route. Do we seriously expect Saddam Hussein to make concessions and to co-operate with the weapons inspectors now that the pressure has been taken off him—or would have been taken off him if the French had had their way? In short, France has dealt a mortal blow to any hopes of a peaceful, negotiated outcome.
I recognise the uncertainties and the high risks, and I share many of my colleagues' suspicions about the unilateralism of the US Administration. However, I am confident that the French position can only encourage that unilateralism, while our policy will help to keep the US engaged internationally, and will ensure our national influence for the good. Despite all the uncertainties and anxieties, I fully supported the Prime Minister when he lined up with the President to disarm Saddam Hussein voluntarily, or by force. That was done for the best motives, and on the basis of a correct analysis at the time, and it has had significant results. Disarmament is now impossible through the preferred route, so serious consequences are now imminent and inevitable. In my judgment, if we prevaricate, we lose credibility. To uphold the UN's credibility, we should hold our course. I shall support the Government tonight.
We could be at war in days, if not hours, and in meeting here today, we have perhaps one last chance to reflect on that fact. The Prime Minister has set out a powerful case. We can all understand his commitment and applaud his efforts; unfortunately, we cannot support his conclusions. Many of today's contributions have reflected the passions and concerns surrounding this issue. The House will, of course, unite on one key issue: that Saddam Hussein is an evil tyrant who should not be in possession of weapons of mass destruction; he must be disarmed. The fault line in the debate is about how we do that. We take him on because he ignores international law, and in so doing we must respect the principles of international law, in whose name we act. War must be a last resort.
We believe that the military build-up was the right thing to do. Saddam and his regime have undoubtedly had their minds focused, but an important distinction surely exists between a credible threat of force, and the certain use of force. We must not go to war simply because the forces have turned up and are ready to roll. Resolution 1441 contained no automaticity. It was, of course, a significant achievement, and all the more powerful because it was unanimous. It did indeed talk about a "further material breach", a "final opportunity", and "serious consequences". We are all familiar with the litany; indeed, the Foreign Secretary can quote it unsighted, and has firm views on its meaning.
However, there is one part of resolution 1441, in paragraph 12, that often gets overlooked. It states that the Security Council
"Decides to convene immediately upon receipt of a report in accordance with paragraphs 4 or 11 . . . in order to consider the situation and the need for full compliance".
In weighing up the best way to tackle Saddam, it is the Security Council as a whole that must judge the course of action to take. The Government's efforts in recent days to persuade Security Council members about their course of action shows that they recognise this truth; however, their arguments have not prevailed. The core of 1441 is about the weapons inspectors. Doctors Blix and el-Baradei have made progress. The US and UK Governments may not be persuaded, but that does not alter the position. Dr. Blix said recently that the time allowed "is a little short". He also said that he needed
"not years, not weeks, but months".
The process set out in 1441 is not exhausted; alternatives to war have barely been explored. In the past few days, we have seen diplomacy laid bare, considered discussion subverted by shouting matches, and force of argument now replaced by force of arms. It has been ugly, but the downward spiral of international debate must not distract us from the underlying truths of the situation. The Governments of the USA and the UK have not won the arguments; not simply because a majority in the international community believe that the weapons inspectors should continue their work but, just as significantly, because there is disagreement about the war objectives—disarmament only, or regime change. There is also concern about the consequences of action, which could be horrific and extremely serious, whether in humanitarian terms in the middle east region or through a spur to international terrorism. All those issues weigh heavily on us and they should tip the argument towards continuing with the UN route.
We are not yet at war, but in all likelihood our armed forces will be engaged in military conflict in the next few days. Our thoughts are with them and their families. As the cross-party amendment notes, in the event that hostilities commence, we pledge total support for the British forces. We express admiration for their courage, skill and devotion to duty, and hope that their tasks will be swiftly concluded with minimal casualties on all sides.
We still have a final moment for reflection. Late last week, President Bush issued a plea. He said:
"Let us move beyond entrenched positions and make moves for peace."
He was talking about the middle east peace process, but his words also apply to Iraq. We should still be working through the United Nations. We have not yet exhausted all the diplomatic and political alternatives.
We should not be going to war.
I shall talk about only one aspect of this issue: the humanitarian consequences of the action of my Government and the United States in going to war on Iraq.
In this debate we have been obsessed, as we have been for many months, with the wickedness of Saddam Hussein. There have been countless words of vilification, but for my constituents they were hardly necessary; they are fully aware of his behaviour. What bothers my constituents—it is one of the reasons why the Prime Minister fails to persuade them of the rightness of his approach—is that little or no attention is being paid to the consequences of the action that we are about to take.
If damaging consequences are set loose by our actions, we must take the morality of that into account. If, as we are likely to do, we take action that strongly increases the probability of the use of weapons of mass destruction, we must question whether such a policy is wise or moral. If we take action that involves the use of our own weapons of mass destruction in a horrific onslaught against the people of Iraq, that, too, has to be put on the moral scales. Half the people whom we are going to kill are children. None of the people whom we are going to kill had any say in the imposition of Saddam Hussein as their tyrant. We must take that into account.
We are going to invade a country of Balkanesque complexity where occupying forces will be unable easily to withdraw. We are rapidly in danger of becoming piggy in the middle for every discontented ethnic or religious group in the area. There seems little doubt of speedy, initial victory, but it is worth remembering that the six-day war in the middle east is still going strong after 35 years. This war has similar potential.
It is currently not easy to get countries to volunteer for armed service in Afghanistan. Which countries will have troops of the right quality to assist the Americans and us? Have we faced up to being an army of occupation?
Above all, we are being led by an American President who is completely honest about what his Administration intend to do with the world. I have recently been reading Bob Woodward's book, "Bush at War"—on his first war in Afghanistan—which is a real love story. Bob Woodward says of Bush:
"His vision clearly includes a radical reordering of the world through pre-emptive and, if necessary, unilateral action."
We have not just to look at the history, as we keep doing, but to think through the consequences.
I have been concerned by the lack of reporting to the House on the humanitarian consequences of an invasion. When I backed the Government in going down the UN route, the intention was certainly not that we would just debate and vote in the Security Council and then the Iraq issue would be simply handed over to General Tommy Franks. Obviously, the conduct of the war has to be done by the military, but what happens alongside and afterwards must be an UN operation.
The Government have been very remiss in reporting on what the operation will involve. The only people who have been clear about what will happen are the Americans, and they did so most clearly five to six weeks ago in a report to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by Douglas Feith, the Under Secretary of Defence.
The Pentagon would be in control. I quote:
"US post war responsibilities will not be easy to fulfil and the US by no means wishes to tackle them alone. We shall encourage contributions and participation from coalition partners, non-governmental organisations, the UN and other international organisations and others."
"The coalition officials"— that is us—
"responsible for post-conflict administration of Iraq—whether military or civilian, from the various agencies of governments, will report to the President through General Tom Franks and the Secretary of Defense."
That is simply not acceptable as a way of administering a country that has been invaded. That is not conjecture; it is a statement of policy by the American Government. The expectation is that the Americans, not the UN, would have the lead role and that foreign Governments and organisations would report to the United States President. That had been planned without reference to the Secretary-General of the UN or any UN organisation.
Stories are now going around that, in fact, the Prime Minister has negotiated the lead role for the UN under a new UN resolution that will be proposed. I am puzzled by that story because it is not in the motion and it was not in the Prime Minister's speech. [Interruption.] It is not in the motion. If hon. Members read the motion, they will see that it does not refer to a UN-controlled mandate post-conflict. If that is there, it is very welcome. If it is true—this story is going around as well—that Kofi Annan will be in charge of the oil-for-food programme, that is a big step forward, but perhaps the Minister would tell us in his winding-up speech exactly what has been negotiated with George Bush to make the situation much more acceptable when the conflict is over, rather than what is in the motion at present. I would very much welcome that.
We have to consider the scale of the humanitarian problem. Iraq is a huge country, the size of France. We have to think about feeding 26 million people instantly. That has to be done by the UN, not by the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance after the election. No one has paid any attention to that very important issue, but I hope that the Minister will be able to make it absolutely clear in his winding-up speech whether the UN or the American generals will be in control after the election.
It is my belief—I say this with a heavy heart—that war at this moment is wrong for a number of reasons. First, war should always be the measure of last resort, when all other approaches have been exhausted and are futile. Indeed, war can be justified only if there is no other possibility. As we stand today, however, that is not the case. The threat of force is yielding some results. UN inspectors want more time and are finally making some progress, slow though it may be, and no one can dispute that.
Many who advocate war point out correctly that Iraq has had 12 years to disarm but has not done so, and cite that as a reason to go to war now. However, many of those years were wasted by the international community. To resort to war now, having made some progress during the last 12 to 13 weeks of the present policy, makes little sense.
Does my hon. Friend accept, however, that it is not the inspectors' job to go on doing what they have been doing over the last few weeks in acting as detectives? If they are to perform their task properly, they need to be actively shown where the forbidden weapons are, and they are not being shown where they are.
I accept my hon. Friend's point, but he must accept that the UN inspectors' reports request extra time because they believe that some progress is being made and there are tentative signs that the regime may be changing its view. An extra 45 days, or a couple of months, would determine whether that was true. Time would tell.
To wage war now makes little sense when all the other possible approaches and measures have not been exhausted. Waging war is the ultimate act of politicians, yet such an act recognises the futility of their endeavours. Until we know that all other avenues have been exhausted, our consciences cannot be at ease. What is to be lost by giving the UN inspectors what they want: a few more months to see whether the task can be completed? Do we seriously believe that Iraq's biological and chemical weapons, in whatever state and quantity, pose such an immediate threat to the US, the UK or Iraq's neighbours that if we do not act this week or this month, we put our citizens at serious risk? I do not believe so.
Iraq's army is a shadow of its 1991 standing. Iraq is probably the most watched-over country in the world at present. It would not pose any more of an immediate threat to our citizens during this period than it has done over the past 12 years. The prize for being patient, however, could be great: we would have a much greater chance of the UN speaking with at least a moral majority, if not one voice, on this issue.
That leads me to my second concern, which is for the UN. For whatever reasons, it is clear that the UN does not believe war to be justified, and will not vote for it. Unlike the action in relation to Kosovo, we cannot even get a moral majority for this action. The UN imposed the sanctions, and, on this issue, the UN should decide whether war is a necessity. By taking unilateral action, the US and the UK have undermined the organisation, which saddens me greatly. Having served with the UN, I have seen the tremendous potential for good that it possesses. It is not perfect, and blame can be laid at its door over the last 12 years, but it is the best that we have got, and could do much more if we put our minds to it. At a time when the UN should come together as never before to fight global terrorism and other threats after
Since the second world war, the threat of force, deterrence and containment have been successful policies, during the cold war and when dealing with rogue states such as Libya. The broad unity that has made that possible is at risk of fracturing, and that could be a serious consequence of this action.
I will not. I must make progress or I will run out of time.
We have debated the broad legality of the action long and hard, and I accept that, if one puts several lawyers in a room, one will probably not receive only one answer. Resolution 1441, for which I voted, clearly implies that war is possible, but only if other means have been exhausted. I thought that it was passed in that spirit and, as we all know, the American ambassador to the UN was at pains to emphasise at the time that there were no hidden trigger points for war in the resolution. However, we have been told that the resolution is sufficient justification for war in its own right. If that is the case, certain questions must be answered.
Why did the US and UK try to secure a second resolution if not to provide legal cover for war? Why has Kofi Annan cast doubt over the legality of war without a second resolution? Why does a growing body of opinion, both at home and abroad, question whether resolution 1441 is sufficient justification for war? The countries that signed up to 1441 believed that it could justify war only if there were no alternatives. We all agree that Iraq has a revolting regime—there can be little doubt about that—but that is insufficient justification to go to war.
Insufficient thought has been given to the consequences of the action and urgent questions must again be answered. Who and what will replace Saddam Hussein? What plans exist for humanitarian relief? We know little about that. What effect will the action have on the stability of neighbouring states? My right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary has consistently asked those questions but the Government have failed to answer them, broadly speaking. Any plans have not been assisted by the fact that the USA has cited different objectives at different times: regime change, links with al-Qaeda, weapons of mass destruction and morality. We need to be clear about the objectives when taking such important decisions.
I wish to address the view expressed in some quarters that we are somehow letting our troops down by questioning our policy here and now. It is only right that we question the policy given that we are probably about to go to war. I am sure that I speak for everyone in the House when I say that we will wholeheartedly support our troops if and when they are sent to war. They deserve our fullest support and I know that they will not fail us, although we may have failed to address the issue adequately.
War now is not the right action. I have no doubt about the result of the conflict because the combined military power of the US and the UK will ensure a quick military victory. However, an easy victory does not make the war right. I am not anti-American—quite the opposite, I have great respect for America—but that is not the issue. Good friends need to point out where policy is going wrong.
The UN can only be weakened by unilateral action by certain members at a time when it clearly does not believe that action is justified, despite all the talk over the weekend in the Azores. That is why I cannot support the Government's action and I shall vote for the amendment.
We have just heard a courageous speech, although I am not sure how well it will go down with warlike taxi drivers from Billericay.
It is customary on these occasions to wish our forces well when they carry out the thankless task that we ask them to do in our name. In my capacity as the civilian president of 444 Squadron, Shoreditch—I proudly wear its tie today—I hope against hope that all our airmen and women, soldiers and sailors will return home safely from the war. I also hope that men, women and children in Iraq will be safe. With apologies to Churchill, I hope that this will not signal the end, or even the beginning of the end, for our Prime Minister. However, my gut instinct tells me that he will face almost insurmountable problems because of the position that he has taken. The scale of his misjudgment on this issue is enormous.
Who would have thought that the actions of a Labour Prime Minister would have given rise to the biggest demonstration in our history against his own Government? Who would have thought that his actions would give rise to the biggest parliamentary Back-Bench rebellion in modern political history? How did he manage to poison the idea of European unity? The attempts to make France the scapegoat for the miserable failure of British diplomacy have demeaned both our Foreign Secretary—I regret to say that—and our Prime Minister. Listening to some of today's debate, one would think that there is such an anti-French feeling that people have started to read the editorials in The Sun. It will be a long time before the civilised citizens of our continent forgive them.
How came it that our Prime Minister allowed a road map for peace to become a road map for war, thereby sowing deep division in the United Nations? Did he really think that the United States Government could bully and bribe all the nations of the UN to acquiesce in armed conflict? It is sad that, both as a politician and as a lawyer, the Prime Minister should have forsaken the ideal of a tolerant and liberal internationalism in favour of the frightening concept that might is right.
We are supposed to admire the Prime Minister because he is a man without doubts and one shorn of scepticism—two of the greatest qualities that the British people have. He just knows that he is right and is therefore prepared to ignore the advice of virtually all the leaders of the great religions in the world, including the Pope and our own archbishop. I find that approach rather frightening.
Worse than all that, the Prime Minister shows himself to be oblivious of and careless towards the shrewd moral judgment of the majority of the British people. No, we do not govern by opinion poll and focus groups, but in a modern democracy we need something stronger to hold on to than the slogan, "My Prime Minister, right or wrong."
In this catastrophe the Prime Minister, a self-avowed admirer of Baroness Thatcher, has ignored the principal lesson of her demise. He should know, as the rest of us do, that when arrogance turns to hubris, come-uppance is never far behind.
No, I will not give way.
The public find much of the background to this war difficult to comprehend. So do I. Shortly after Saddam Hussein did use chemical weapons of mass destruction against his own people, I sought to go to Iraq with my hon. Friend Ann Clwyd and a chemical weapons expert to find out just what had happened. I do not remember any of us being given any support, either by the then Government or by the then Opposition. The heroic efforts of my hon. Friend, for whom I have unstinting admiration, to help the Iraqi Kurds, were met with her dismissal by the Prime Minister on the advice of the then Labour Chief Whip . I find that appalling.
More recently, my hon. Friend has been thwarted by the Attorney-General in her attempts, as an alternative to war, to indict Saddam Hussein and his henchmen for crimes against humanity. The Attorney-General's response, as my hon. Friend told the House in withering terms, was woeful. His legal opinion, which I have seen myself, was scorned by experts.
So now it is to be war on the basis of another bad legal opinion by the Attorney-General. I have it here in my pocket. I do not want to be rude to the Attorney-General, but he is a commercial lawyer who, frankly, seems to be out of his depth when trying to deal with this problem. Let us not forget too—I apologise to my learned Friends for this—that the law is a marketplace and if one shops around, one can always get some poor soul to give the opinion that one wants.
Of course there are laws, domestic and international, and they should be adhered to, but it takes people of clarity and understanding at the top to enable systems to work fairly and properly. In my view, we lack such people at the moment. History frequently tells us that tragedies are rarely as bad as they seem at the time they occur; ominously, however, it sometimes tells us that they are worse. I suspect that the latter will prove to be the case this time. In the end, politics, like most other things in life, is about trust. Sadly, I do not trust some of the people who are leading us in this issue, so they cannot rely on my support tonight.
I shall pick up the point about legality and spend a few minutes examining it. Seventeen United Nations Security council resolutions and the opinion of the Attorney-General are enough for me—although apparently not for some people—and I cannot see how one more resolution can make moral something that is otherwise immoral. However, to examine the issue strictly in terms of legality, the opinion of the Attorney-General seems to me powerful and well argued. No doubt, as the hon. Gentleman said, if one got a different lawyer, one would get a different opinion. I note that the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament commissioned an opinion from a QC and got an opinion that was precisely the opposite of the Attorney-General's. How surprising. There is no point in paying one of those expensive people if they are not going to say what one wants to hear.
I wish to explore the views of many of those who are rebelling against the Government over Iraq but were perfectly content with the action that the Government took in Kosovo. We did not get even one United Nations Security Council resolution for Kosovo. We relied on a doctrine of so-called humanitarian intervention that almost certainly does not exist—certainly the point had to be stretched. The United States may be stretching the concept of pre-emptive self-defence if it uses that as an argument for intervening in Iraq, but at least that doctrine exists, unlike the doctrine of humanitarian intervention. What we did in Kosovo was illegal.
A great many Labour Members and some Conservative Members seem to have problems with what the Government are doing now, when there is a strong case that the action is legal, even if the case is not watertight. In Kosovo, the action was clearly illegal. There were three major debates in the House on that action, and no one voted against it, even though they could have forced votes on the Adjournment. There was nothing like the plethora of activity that we are seeing now. One cannot help wondering what prejudices this policy on Iraq has tickled.
The leader of the war party at the time of Kosovo, Mr. Cook, who spoke yesterday—I told him that I would refer in this debate to what he said—is now apparently the leader of the peace party. At the time, he argued strongly for the intervention in Kosovo on what I consider were powerful and compelling moral grounds. There was indeed a strong moral case for intervening, but there was not a legal case for doing so. Are we now saying that Milosevic was a bigger threat to international peace and security than Saddam Hussein, or that Milosevic was committing worse breaches of human rights than Saddam Hussein? Milosevic did not have weapons of mass destruction; Saddam Hussein almost certainly did.
Those who wrap themselves in principle and say that on this occasion they are behaving out of principle, as the right hon. Gentleman does, at least owe us consistency. If people base their views on foreign policy on principle and morality and they are inconsistent, one is entitled to ask about their sincerity. Those who will oppose the Government tonight out of their principles cannot have been acting on the same principles when they supported the Government on Kosovo.
In the Balkans, Milosevic had started a series of wars in the recent past, and Kosovo was just one more, whereas Saddam Hussein, evil though he is, has been contained for more than a decade.
I do not want get sidetracked into the history of the Balkans, as we could be there for a very long time. All I will say is that our intervention in Kosovo was an intervention in the internal affairs of a sovereign state. Kosovo was part of Serbia. The then Foreign Secretary engineered a conference at Fontainebleau at which Milosevic was presented with a wholly unacceptable set of terms and conditions, which was then used as a pretext for starting a war. We intervened in the internal affairs of another sovereign state, without any legal basis for that action. I do not argue that there was no moral basis; there certainly was, and in that respect the intervention was successful, but nobody could argue that it was legal.
No, I have taken an intervention on that point and I want to pursue my own argument.
We must understand that the world has changed since
The idea that our foreign policy can be carried out legally and morally only if it is the subject of a United Nations Security Council resolution is a dreadful hostage to fortune. It gives any of the five permanent members of the Security Council a veto over what we decide to do.
On my second point, I turn to what will happen or not happen tonight. I have read the amendment with more than 100 signatures against it. Presumably, rather more hon. Members will vote for it. The case could have been made until two or three weeks ago, but do those hon. Members really think that it is sensible, at this late stage in the day, to try to defeat the Government on the matter? Let us consider what the consequences would be if the Government were defeated.
If, on the verge of battle, with our troops and their command structure integrated into an alliance with the United States, playing vital small parts in that military effort, they were withdrawn, that would destroy the credibility of British foreign and security policy for a generation. Just reflect what happened at Suez. It took 26 years, till the Falklands war, for the credibility of British foreign policy to be reasserted. If we withdraw—
No. I am in the middle of making my main point.
If we withdrew our support for the alliance at this late stage, we would destroy the credibility of our foreign policy for a generation. We would damage immensely, if not terminally, our alliance with the United States. We would damage our relations with a great many countries in Europe that support the stance that the Government have taken, and I venture to say that we would never be trusted again while most of us are in the House, and probably long beyond.
I believe that the Prime Minister's actions will be vindicated. Even if one disagrees with what he is doing, the time has come to stop criticising and undermining him and to let him get on with the job. The best that most of the rest of us can do is hope and, dare I say, pray that the conflict will be short and that very few people will be killed.
In July last year the Prime Minister took the decision to work through the United Nations. He was the first person to call for UN weapons inspectors to be readmitted to Iraq. France was not calling for that, nor was Germany, nor was the peace movement and CND, nor was the United States, so it was a major achievement to gain unanimous support in November for resolution 1441.
I deeply regret the divisions on the Security Council that have opened up since then. Those divisions, as I said earlier, have had the effect of disarming the United Nations, rather than disarming Iraq. On
"The unity of the Security Council must be preserved."
So why the talk of a veto? Why not negotiation with other members of the Security Council? Why not compromise on a defined period for disarmament to be followed by military action, as was proposed by our Government?
I wanted to see a second resolution carried in the Security Council before UK troops were committed to military action, but unfortunately the opportunity for that debate has been taken away by the French decision to wield its veto. I do not agree with the French or German view that if we give Saddam Hussein a little more time, he will change his mind and disarm, but I respect the German position when they say that they will not participate in military action. I would respect the French position if they said the same, but I cannot accept that France, Russia or China have a right to use their veto to prevent others from enforcing UN resolutions.
In the absence of the second resolution that I wanted to see, I simply ask two questions. First, has Saddam complied and disarmed? The answer is no. Secondly, does it matter? As far as I am concerned, the answer is yes. Given that we, the Americans and others have built up forces in the region, we now face only two alternatives—to commit those troops in the very near future to military enforcement of the UN resolutions or to pull them out of the theatre. If we pull them out, Iraq will immediately end what limited compliance it has shown with the UN's requirements. We cannot keep those forces on stand-by in tents in the desert and bobbing up and down in ships on Indian ocean for a further 120 days, as the French proposed. Every Member of this House knows that. Indeed, France knew that when it put forward its 120-day proposal.
I detest the prospect of war every bit as much as the many constituents who have written to me opposing it, but I do not believe that we can ignore the threat that Iraq poses to neighbouring states, the gross violation of the human rights of the Iraqi people or the risk that the Iraqi regime will at some point in future supply chemical or biological agents to terrorists who might use them in this country or elsewhere in Europe.
I am deeply concerned about the humanitarian consequences of war. There is an urgent need to ensure that responsibility for distributing food under the oil-for-food programme is transferred from the Iraqi authorities to the United Nations and that there is adequate funding to ensure that that happens, because 60 per cent. of Iraq's population depends on that food aid. We need to ensure that neighbouring countries open their borders to refugees and that refugee camps have water, sanitation and health facilities. As my hon. Friend Tony Worthington said, we need to ensure that the UN runs the post-war reconstruction of Iraq. Without UN leadership, many donor countries simply will not make the contributions that will be necessary to rebuild Iraq.
I am pleased that our Prime Minister has put Palestine on to the agenda. There cannot be peace in the middle east without the creation of a Palestinian state and security for the state of Israel. Members of this House cannot ignore the fact that security for the state of Israel will be impossible as long as Saddam in Iraq is providing funding and support to the families of suicide bombers.
Finally, and importantly, I pay tribute to the almost 600 men and women of 2 Signal Regiment from my city, York, who are currently on active service in the Gulf. We in this House do not face the dangers that they face and we in this country are fortunate to have brave and professional soldiers in the British Army, and our other servicemen and women. They are deeply respected for their professionalism throughout the world and my thoughts are with them now.
Securing the approval of the United Nations has become the rallying cry for some who oppose military action in Iraq. For them, no war without a second UN resolution has actually meant no war at all in any circumstances and whatever the provocation. That evasion is deliberate. However, the United Nations cannot absolve us from exercising our own critical or moral judgment. Although UN approval is useful in garnering international support, a democratic sovereign nation state has the right to defend itself from external aggression, even if the UN or its Security Council has not given its blessing.
The judgments that we must make today are whether our country is right to go to war, and, if so, whether it is necessary to go to war now. Anyone who, like me, has voluntarily joined Her Majesty's regular armed forces is unlikely to support the "no war ever" brigade. No one who believes that a major war would probably be initiated by a nation where power was concentrated in the hands of the evil, the insane or the bigoted dictator can be in any doubt that Saddam Hussein poses a potential threat.
I have no doubt that Europe owes its freedom, and that some of its people owe their very existence, to the people and Governments of the United States. We owe that great nation a debt that too many in Europe ignore. Despite all that, I believe that the case for a war now has not been made. Too little has been done to put irresistible pressure on Saddam Hussein to effect the changes that our safety demands.
Any threat has two components: the available weapons and the likelihood of their use. In the past, the Iraqi regime has manufactured chemical, biological and probably nerve agents. They are weapons not of war but of terror, of which Saddam Hussein must undoubtedly be deprived. However, the Government have not demonstrated that they are easily available for use now. Neither have they shown that, contrary to all Saddam's previous actions, Iraq intends to threaten us with their use. I asked the Prime Minister on
"what new threat, proven threat or imminent threat is there to justify war?"—[Hansard, 12 February 2003; Vol. 399, c. 860.]
The question remains unanswered.
We were first told that war was necessary as the Iraqi regime had a history of supporting al-Qaeda. Undoubtedly the regime has supported terrorism, and so have Syria, Iran and Libya. But al-Qaeda? Hardly. A godless, ruthless dictator with a history of oppressing his own Islamic people is inimical to such a fundamentalist terrorist organisation.
I thank the Father of the House for reminding hon. Members of that fact. It makes my point that Saddam Hussein is inimical to al-Qaeda.
Secondly, we were told that war was necessary because Saddam Hussein had a variety of foul weapons. When the inspectors did not find them, the Prime Minister changed his "just cause for war" again. In answer to my question on
I agree absolutely. Saddam Hussein should have done that. I intend to show why he would never do it.
Would the people of Iraq be better off if Saddam Hussein were dead or in exile? The answer is undoubtedly yes. Does the Iraqi regime have weapons of mass destruction? It almost certainly does. They are possibly so well hidden that they would be difficult to use immediately. Has Saddam Hussein supported terrorist organisations? Again, the answer is yes, but, as far as I am aware, to a lesser extent than Syria. None of those factors justifies immediate military action.
Much more could and should have been done to bring irresistible pressure to bear on Saddam Hussein by, for example, extending the no-fly zones to cover the whole of Iraq, by requiring Iraqi military personnel and equipment to be returned to agreed positions or by demanding that the weapons inspectors had unfettered access to sites and Iraqi personnel. Such draconian measures might have received international approval, and might reluctantly have been accepted by Saddam Hussein, provided that the visible threat of war continued. They certainly would have degraded the Iraqi regime's ability to resist military action if it came. Obviously, I cannot prove that my ideas, or any others, would have worked. I believe, however, that much more could have been done, and that much more should have been done differently, so that the effect of prevarication or cheating would have been obvious. We did not do that, however. Instead, we made demands that the Iraqi regime was always unlikely to accept, and which, if it did pretend to accept them, would be easy to cheat or lie about, as its dishonesty was hard to prove.
So, we are faced with war. It is a war whose justification will not be accepted by most of the Muslim world. Too little fresh thinking has been employed in trying to avert it, and its rationale has changed as each reason has remained unproven. It is portrayed as a war of last resort, yet it appears to be born of frustration with a regime and a leader without whom the world would be better off. I will give my unswerving support to those whom we have sent to fight in our name, but I will not support a premature decision to wage war. I hope that we will not come to regret this, but I fear that we will.
I would like to begin by paying tribute to my right hon. Friend Mr. Cook. When I was a Member of the European Parliament, I worked closely with him when he was shadow Foreign Secretary and Foreign Secretary, and I have a deep respect for his genuine internationalism.
Like many Members of the House, I have thought long and hard about this complex issue. I have great respect for everyone who has spoken in this debate and for the many people with whom I have had discussions on the issue over the last couple of weeks. I want to say clearly that I support the Government. I do so not out of any sycophancy or blind loyalty, but because I believe that the position that they have adopted is morally correct.
Equally, I would like to say that I am not naturally a great ally or fan of the United States of America. I remember going to Nicaragua on two occasions in the 1980s, and I saw at first hand the extremely negative aspects of the US foreign policy of the time for the people of that country. Furthermore, when I turn on the television and see George W. Bush, I frequently cringe when I hear the vacuous rhetoric that he often employs. That is not a reason, however, to oppose the US position on Iraq. It is incumbent on all of us carefully to study precisely what the American position is, and what it means in practice.
Like many Members of the House, I had strongly hoped that we would have had a second United Nations resolution. However, having studied carefully the transcripts of various statements by President Chirac of France, there is no doubt in my mind that the French are primarily responsible for the fact that we do not have such a resolution. They threatened to use their veto in a quite unreasonable way, and many of us who wanted a second resolution did so on the assumption that all parties on the Security Council would approach the issue in a constructive, objective and fair way. That clearly has not happened.
We have to ask ourselves why the French have adopted this position. Some people might cite French commercial and oil interests. We have to bear in mind, however, that the French are playing a longer and bigger game plan here. They are concerned, it would seem, with developing an alternative global vision to that of the United States. They see themselves as the new and natural leaders of the European Union. I find that perspective extremely worrying, and I think that we in our country must ensure that there is a bridge between the United States and Europe enabling us all to work together as far as is humanly possible.
We must also never forget that, time and again, Saddam Hussein has been given the opportunity to resolve the situation. The onus has rightly been placed on him. If he had said at any moment—not during the last few days or months, but at any time during the last 12 years—that he was prepared to comply with United Nations resolutions, we would not be in our present position. We should never, ever forget that.
A clear choice is before us today. Many have talked of the consequences of military action; let me briefly refer to some of the consequences that I envisage in the event of no military action. First, I believe that the UN's influence would be reduced still further. Our Prime Minister's approach has, I believe, been the right approach. We must ensure that once military action has been taken, the UN continues to play a major role in world affairs and, in particular, plays a leading role in the creation of the democratic Iraq that we want to see. If we abdicate our responsibilities, the chances of that will be significantly less. Secondly, I believe that if we vote against military action there will still be a war: there will be a war if the United States alone attacks Iraq. I think that that more than anything else would reinforce the inclination of many in the US Administration to go for unbridled unilateralism, which would constitute a huge step back for the global community. I fear, too, that the much-discussed road map would be that much more difficult to fulfil.
If the United States and we do not take action, however, Saddam Hussein will have been given the all-clear to keep his weapons of mass destruction. Moreover, he will have been given the OK by us to develop them still further. Let us not forget, too, that when we talk of weapons of mass destruction we talk of some of the most appalling weapons that humankind has developed—anthrax, mustard gas, VX gas, sarin gas and so on.
Finally, let me say this. If we do not take action—if we abdicate our responsibilities—the consequences for the people of Iraq will be dire. No one can doubt the barbarities of Saddam Hussein's regime: the torture, the persecution, the intimidation, the rape, the murder, the sheer inhumanity of the Ba'athist regime. My hon. Friend Ann Clwyd has depicted that inhumanity more graphically than anyone else I can think of. If we back down now, we will not be forgiven by thousands of ordinary people in Iraq.
Yesterday I was privileged to attend a meeting with the Prime Minister of Kurdish northern Iraq. The message was crystal clear: "Please stand by us. Please stand by the people of Iraq, the Kurds and the Shi'ites, so that we can have a better life—a life free of tyranny and free of the tyranny of Saddam Hussein".
Like all other Members, I have given this issue careful consideration. I believe that there are powerful and genuine arguments on both sides; but I also believe that at this crucial time we must stand by the people of Iraq, do what we believe is right, and support the Government's motion.
As someone remarked earlier, there is a sense that this debate is a continuation of what we discussed at some length a few weeks ago. I dare say that we will come back to the subject in the next week or two.
Many arguments have been made and points touched on, but Mr. Baron and Mr. Hogg spoke of containment and deterrence as a way of dealing with the problem. Those concepts worked well during the cold war, but the world has changed since the cold war ended. We must recognise that containment and deterrence will not work in the situation that confronts us.
In the modern world, we face danger from what are called rogue states, terrorist groups and weapons of mass destruction. As a consequence of the cold war, there is a lot of expertise and matériel floating around the world that is not as well guarded as it should be. Perhaps we did not fully appreciate the problem before
That different approach was symbolised last year by the passing of resolution 1441. The international community decided to proceed by a route different from that offered by containment and deterrence, and to go back to the weapons inspections that had taken place immediately after the Gulf war. In that way, a serious effort was made to disarm Saddam Hussein.
As I noted in the previous debate on the matter, there was a paradox in the attempt to disarm Saddam Hussein through weapons inspections. The paradox was that disarmament was not going to happen unless inspection was backed up by a credible threat of force. That was how it turned out: Saddam Hussein was not going to disarm voluntarily, and any moves made in that direction would happen only if he believed that massive force would be used against him if he did not comply.
The paradox was that the peaceful, diplomatic route was credible only if a major power was ready to use force, if necessary. However, that approach was no longer tenable after Monday of last week, when the French said that they would veto a resolution whatever the circumstances.
People have talked about the position of other countries, and about the position of Russia in particular. I shall talk about Russia again in a moment, but the French took a unique position because they said that they would veto any resolution that appeared to authorise force, whatever the circumstances. The French were not going to say, "Give it another month or couple of months." If the French position had been to give the approach a little more time, it would have been possible to maintain the credible threat of force. However, as soon as the French said that they would exercise their veto whatever the circumstances, they destroyed the credible threat of force used through the UN channel.
The UN route was therefore blocked. The Government and the US Government spent a week seeing whether they could unblock it, or find some way around the blockage. I am surprised that they spent so long coming to terms with the French position, which effectively closed down the UN route.
Why have the French done this? Their actions are different from the normal French way of operating, with which we are all familiar. In the past, yes, the French have been awkward and difficult. They have hung on until people have met the requirements of what the French regard as their national interest, or until people have recognised the French position. They do not like being taken for granted, but in the past they have usually come into line.
There were indications that the Russians were going to do the same. Whatever their public position, the Russians had a shopping list. I am very glad that the Americans were not tempted to accede to the list, as the reports that I have heard suggest that it contained some pretty gruesome items. Be that as it may, the Russians were operating in their normal way, and one expected the French to do likewise. The question is, why did the French adopt the position of saying that they would exercise the veto, whatever the circumstances?
Mr. David was getting close to the answer to that question when he said that it went back to the French view of themselves in Europe. The hon. Gentleman said that the French believe that they should lead Europe, and that Europe should be another pole of power in the world—a challenge or a rival to the US. However, they discovered that that was not the view of the majority of European countries. That goes a long way to explain the French position and I hope that the Government will bear that in mind when we come to the accession of the eastern European countries to the European Union. I hope that that will not be subject to a veto. We should also remember that point when we consider the outcome of the Convention on the Future of Europe.
For present purposes, we must recognise that the UN route ended on Monday last week. What do we do now? We are not where we wanted to be and the situation is not ideal, but we must operate in the circumstances that now prevail. Are we just going to strike camp and go away? Will the United States allow itself to be humiliated by the French? No, it will not, and nor could anyone reasonably expect that. Nor would it be reasonable to think along those lines ourselves. If resolution 1441 is right, ensuring compliance with it is also right. The French action, therefore, is an unreasonable exercise of the veto.
The Prime Minister made a powerful and compelling speech. I agreed especially with the comments that he made towards the end of it. We must make a choice in the present circumstances. We must consider the consequences of that choice, some of which are unknowable and unpredictable. There is an element of risk in the choice that we make, but we must make it. The situation is imperfect—this is an imperfect world—and the issue cannot be easily compartmentalised. In the present situation, however, we do not have much of a choice and that is why my colleagues and I will support the Government in the Lobby tonight.
I am pleased to follow Mr. Trimble, because, as leader of his party, alongside the other party leaders in Northern Ireland, he has shown the way in going the extra mile when the point is reached at which they are as frustrated with the peace process as any Member of Parliament is with the present international impasse. Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned from that.
The imagery of the past few weeks has included some disturbing contrasts. We have seen 1.5 million people on the streets of London—one of the biggest demonstrations ever. We have seen the images of the Iraqis sending old al-Samoud missiles off to the knacker's yard and the awesome sight of an army of modern weaponry on the border of Iraq, prepared to invade and occupy a small but strategic and historic country in the middle east. There is always something distasteful and unpleasant about overweening might being used in war against a much smaller nation. It is the imagery of David and Goliath, the bully in the playground, the Soviet invasion of Hungary or the tanks rolling into Czechoslovakia, the bombing of La Moneda palace in Chile in 1973 and, indeed, the despotic acts of Saddam Hussein in oppressing minorities in Iraq.
I disagreed with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister today when he compared this situation with that in 1938. In that situation, we faced a country that itself was using overweening force to impose its will on other smaller countries. It was right to challenge the US Administration and go through the UN last autumn, but it became apparent that that approach could be interpreted in two ways. The danger was that the US would see the UN approach as a vindication of something that it always intended to do and would pay only lip service to resolution 1441. On the other hand, resolution 1441 could be seen as the consensus between those nations—I count Britain among them—that genuinely felt that it offered the potential of disarmament without military action.
The effectiveness of the peaceful approach was undermined every time that we saw Donald Rumsfeld or other members of the US Administration on television saying, "We will take military action to enforce our will in Iraq, but we would prefer a UN resolution." It was undermined every time that Britain failed to offer a strong rebuttal of such statements or to demand publicly that the US should declare that it was prepared not to use military force if that was the consensus reached in the UN. It was undermined whenever Members of Parliament said that the UN mandate would not prevail and that nothing would stop the US. It was undermined when the President of France, Jacques Chirac, threatened recently to veto rather than negotiate the terms of a second resolution, which we all wanted desperately to see negotiated in the Security Council.
Resolution 1441 required that the Security Council consider the outcome of the weapons inspections and it clearly left the UN in control of whether action was taken. Our Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary understood that very well, and I applaud their efforts. The collective view has not been secured, however, and that imposes constraints on everyone, whether they comply or not. As matters stand, we are no longer in compliance with the international will and Kofi Annan has not lent his authority to military action.
When I was in Africa last week I was struck by the shock and incredulity of people in the small country of Malawi at the British position. They said, "But we thought that Britain was on our side. We thought that you would support small, developing countries that have only international bodies to protect them." Only six months ago, a large group of young constituents came here on the fair trade lobby, feeling totally in tune with a Government who had a proud record of tough international action on the issue. That has been a hallmark of this Labour Government and we have been in tune with the new generation, reflecting their growing recognition that the world is now a smaller place and that we are now more dependent than ever on a collective approach not only to security, but to the joint occupation of this planet.
Two weeks ago, I supported the amendment that considered that war was not yet inevitable. The decision and judgment for MPs is more difficult today, because further efforts have been made and there is a serious question about where we should go from here. First, we are all united in supporting the troops. Secondly, we hope that the new smart bombs that are supposed to be able to destroy everything within 600 yd will try not to destroy too many people. Thirdly, we hope that the excellent section of the Government motion—if it is passed tonight—on Israel and Palestine will be realised.
I remain sceptical about any war that is said to end wars; I remain sceptical that this war will secure defence against international terrorism; and I remain sceptical, finally, that this will reap—
Our difficulties in this debate are as nothing to those that confront our armed forces, who deserve our unqualified support. It has been a principled decision of my party to uphold international order and institutions—in particular, the United Nations. We have consistently argued, first, that military action should not take place to enforce resolution 1441 without a mandate from the United Nations Security Council, and, secondly, that no British forces should be committed to any military action without a debate in the House and a substantive vote in favour. I personally have engrafted a further condition to my constituents—I would in no circumstances do anything that I consider would undermine our armed forces.
I am grateful to the Government for—uniquely, I believe—providing an opportunity for this debate and vote. The whole country is well aware of the lengths to which the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and his team have gone to secure the further resolution from the United Nations to authorise military action. There has, however, been a failure of diplomacy. Considerable criticism has been directed at the United States Administration for adopting a bulldozer approach and displaying a cavalier insensitivity towards a number of our allies and a number of their potential, and crucial, allies. However, I support our strong links with the United States. Despite one or two hiccups, for the past century our close links with the United States have served both countries well.
The position of France has always been pivotal to the negotiations on a further resolution of the United Nations. It is deeply disappointing that France's final position was that, whatever further resolution was passed, it would veto any measure that provided authority for the use of military force in the event of failure. France's position was pivotal: if she had been prepared to vote for a resolution, not to vote at all, or not to veto a resolution, I believe that it would have caused a domino effect and that the resolution would have passed. Whatever criticisms can be directed at the allies, France does not come to this matter with clean hands. France has her own view of the world and the French have major contingent contracts and commercial interests with Saddam Hussein's Iraq.
The Prime Minister has not spared himself in endeavouring to secure a second resolution, which demonstrates the importance that he and his Government attach to that second resolution. It would have been crucial to my party's support for any military intervention. The courageous men and women of our armed forces are now about to be sent into battle. They simply cannot be kept hanging around any longer. I offer them my wholehearted support. In the terms of the main amendment, I express my
"admiration for their courage, skill and devotion to duty".
I not only hope but believe that their tasks will be swiftly concluded with minimal casualties on all sides.
I cannot vote against a motion that offers support to Her Majesty's armed forces who are now on duty in the middle east. Of course, there are matters in the Government motion with which I do not agree and which I cannot support. Nevertheless, there is much in the Government motion with which I do agree and which I can support. I shall, however, vote for the main amendment. I concede that it took the imminent threat of overwhelming force, but the weapons inspectors were having significant success. I strongly believe in world order, the reverse of which is anarchy and chaos.
The hon. Gentleman was following impeccable logic until the last moment. If his preferred amendment is defeated, will he—given what he has just said—vote in favour of the main motion?
I will make my position quite clear. I shall probably have to abstain. There are aspects of the Government motion that I support and aspects that I cannot support.
Pre-emptive action must be reserved to deal with the threat of an attack on a nation or its allies, or there must be compelling evidence of imminent, impending attack, or there must be the sanction of the United Nations Security Council. There has been a diplomatic failure, which I deeply regret. However, for all its flaws, I believe in the United Nations and the rule of international law.
In his speech, Sir George Young described the decision on this amendment as finely balanced. I very much agree with him. He went on to say that this debate was a battle for the credibility or the unity of the United Nations. I submit that the United Nations cannot be credible without unity.
There is an old and famous observation about the relationship between murder and international power politics: if someone murders one person, they go to prison for life; if someone murders 15 people, they are put in a sanatorium; and if someone murders 150,000 people, they get invited to a peace conference. Those words were much in my mind yesterday when I listened to the Foreign Secretary talking about the prospect of Saddam Hussein resigning power voluntarily. The Foreign Secretary said that Saddam Hussein would be offered and would receive amnesty and indemnity internationally for the crimes that he had committed.
In these debates in the House, there has been no shortage of people who have set out in graphic detail the crimes and the iniquities that Saddam Hussein has committed against his own and other people; the individual and collective tortures that he has visited on those people; and the gassing, the burning and the mutilations for which he has been responsible. If that indemnity is to take place, those who have suffered those injustices will have no justice.
Whether there is a greater right or greater wrong in offering such indemnity is not the reason behind my observations, but I wish to reflect on these questions. By whose authority is that indemnity offered? Whose writ runs here and whose may be abrogated? On what authority would that be done? Who decides which mass murderers should be the subject of indemnity and pardon, and which should be the subject of indictment? Who decides which mass murderers should be the subject of condemnation and which should be hanged? Who decides that Milosevic should be in The Hague, as he undoubtedly should be for his complicity in the murder of thousands in Bosnia? Who decides that Ariel Sharon should be supreme in Israel, which he undoubtedly should not be because of his complicity in the murders at Sabra and Shatila? Who decides that Hamas is a terrorist organisation, which it undoubtedly is, and that the Contras were a freedom-fighting organisation, which they undoubtedly were not? Who decides that the hundreds who are held without trial or civil rights in Zimbabwe present an affront to international justice? Who decides that it is necessary for international security to hold hundreds in Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo bay in Cuba, which undoubtedly it is not?
Who decides on the form of international justice that the Foreign Secretary talked about? The Foreign Secretary, of course, was echoing and acting as a mouthpiece for Donald Rumsfeld, who has already set it out.
I can say straight away that it is not the UN that decides such matters. When one reads resolution 1441, one finds, despite its inordinate length and impenetrable prose, absolutely nothing that speaks of any form of clemency for, or acquittal of, Saddam Hussein.
In practical terms, is not the logic of what the hon. and learned Gentleman advocates that he rejects a free Saddam and a free Iraq, and favours, by contrast, a free Saddam and a subjugated Iraq?
That is not the position that I advocate, as the hon. Gentleman will realise if he listens for a while. My point is this: who creates this form of international justice? I am not arguing about its merits, but pointing out that the perception that concerns this House and creates aversion outside it is that this international power is wielded not by the United Nations, nor even by the United States, but by the Bush Administration from within the United States. What concerns my constituents and those throughout the country and the world is the prospect of the uncontrolled, unbridled power now exercised by America, as America chooses and America pleases. My constituents perceive, although they would not put in these terms, that we now have a de facto international monarchy—an autocracy that rules by its own version of divine right. The genesis of that divine right can be found in its charter—the project for a new American century.
Much has been said today about America. As I have said before, America is the greatest paradox in the world. There is no greater force for peace in my lifetime than America, and I have never known a greater cause for war. No country holds a torch for freedom that burns as brightly as that of America, and in my lifetime no country has so often been vilified—on many occasions, rightly—for the perception that it denies those freedoms to others, as it has on many occasions, notably in Latin America. That is the great paradox.
What matters about America is who governs it and what is done in its name. We are now in a black period of American history, and that fact is perceived darkly by our constituents. That is why, sometimes apparently incomprehensibly, they oppose the overthrowing of a dictator because they believe that the method is unacceptable.
The American Administration wish to overthrow Saddam Hussein. That was set out in the project for a new American century even before George Bush obtained the power that he has in the White House. They will do it by whatever means that they can, and that is also known to those who observe, but they will not do it by war: it will be done by slaughter. It will be done by the means that we saw exercised on the Basra road and the Mitla ridge, when Newsweek reported that American soldiers, white-faced and vomiting, were standing underneath bridges ankle-deep in Iraqi blood and saying, "Jesus, did we do that?" That is the prospect that we face in the coming days. Of course it will be short: no such slaughter could be anything else.
I long—I really do—for a time when we have an international system that means that we no longer have to walk by and listen to the screams in our neighbour's house, and when the duty to intervene in Rwanda and in Bosnia will be undertaken by the international community, not taken by anybody as a capricious right. That day, which I long for both as a lawyer and as a politician, will not be brought a second, a minute or an hour closer by the exercise of arbitrary and capricious power.
So many hon. Members wish to speak—I have never known a previous occasion on which there have been so many at this stage—that I shall speak very briefly just to mention three points that I hope Ministers will bear in mind when they wind up.
The main point that hon. Members have addressed is the appalling weapons controlled by Saddam Hussein and the terrible damage that they could do to so many people. I hope that before we vote, the Government will help to clarify where those weapons and biological materials came from. I have tried for quite a while to get information about that. About three weeks ago, in Question Time, I asked the Secretary of State for Defence to confirm where they came from and whether they had perhaps come from America. We were told that the Americans had denied it. Earlier today, when I intervened on the speech of the Prime Minister, I asked him to help to identify where the weapons had come from and who was responsible for them. Hon. Members may recall that he said that Iraq had made most of them itself.
I would suggest that there is abundantly clear evidence that, instead of taking a high-handed and upmarket view of ourselves, we should accept a considerable measure of the responsibility for what has happened. Now that our sittings finish at 7 o'clock, I am engaging in reading books, which is something that I have not done for a long time. If any hon. Member wants to know about the subject, they should buy a book called "The Death Lobby: How the West Armed Iraq", by Kenneth Timmerman. It is a rather dramatic book that gives full details of where all the materials came from, and we simply have to accept some responsibility for that.
What kinds of materials are we talking about? I have managed to get full details not only of the materials that were sent, but when they were sent—on which days—from the United States to Iraq's Atomic Energy Commission and Government. It is an astonishing list. It includes bacillus anthracis, which is just anthrax—a very substantial amount; clostridium, which is the source of a toxin; histoplasma, which causes a disease resembling tuberculosis; brucella, which damages major organs; another material that causes gas gangrene; E. coli; and seven others. Those materials were not produced by Iraq, but provided and sold by the western powers. We should show a little humility and decency, and say that part of the problem came from ourselves.
Will my hon. Friend explain whether the book and the documents that he has been reading actually say whether Governments or private companies supplied those things and, if it was the former, for what purpose they thought that they were supplying them?
It is abundantly clear that the US Department of Commerce approved every single thing that went from the United States to Iraq. It was not a question of secret firms doing nasty things; this was approved by Government. It is difficult to prove that one wants to use a material such as anthrax to help in the improvement of animals, or to achieve better forms of production.
I, too, have read the book that the hon. Gentleman mentions, as well as documents issued by the House of Commons Library detailing arms exports to Iraq before the previous Gulf war. Will he confirm that 75 per cent. of all conventional weaponry exported to Iraq before the Gulf war came from two states, France and Russia; that 90 per cent. of the nuclear weapons technology given to Iraq came, of course, from France, in a deal signed personally by Jacques Chirac and Saddam Hussein; and that the overwhelming bulk of chemical technology came from Germany?
I would not question that in any way—of course Germany and France provided materials, and the Soviet Union and the United States did so as well. I am simply saying that, in arguing that here is a bad state doing evil things, we should remember that lots of other countries—including the United States, Russia and France—were involved in providing such material. It would be very wrong indeed not to accept some degree of responsibility.
My second point concerns our responsibilities in international law. The Government's biological Green Paper states that there was an "internationally legally binding instrument", and that
"those at every level responsible for any breach of international law will be held personally accountable."
That refers to the export of biological and toxic materials. The danger is that we are throwing away a great deal, and that, to some degree, we might be responsible for such matters. It is totally wrong to say that some people in the world are good and some are bad, because we have a great deal of responsibility for them.
There is a great feeling among us that we are going to intervene, improve matters and restore democracy, freedom and liberty, but where is the evidence that such intervention has been successful in the past? For example, a great deal has been said about Afghanistan, a country that I know a little about, but can we say that things there are much better as a result of the intervention that took place? Rather, it is a pathetic country, run by a group of people who have no democratic responsibility whatever.
I am sorry, but I have no time. As we well know, the production of materials that run rife in that country—drugs—has increased dramatically. There is a danger in thinking that we can solve things too easily and too quickly.
I accept that we have a responsibility towards British troops, and that Saddam Hussein would probably have made no move at all had the troops not been there. However, as I said, there is a danger in not accepting our responsibility. The United Nations has a very important role to play, but we must ask ourselves honestly whether we are using that facility in the proper way. For example, the Government of Chile—an unusual little country—proposed that three weeks be allowed before intervention. Of course, they were told that that was not even a consideration.
At the end of the day, we will regret it if we destroy the United Nations. I shall in no sense go against France, as some of my colleagues have done. They have voted to hand over most of our national sovereignty to such countries, and they seem now to regard France as a great enemy. I regard no country in that way. We need to show a little humility, and not think that we can provide the answer to everything by running the world and becoming the emperors of it. If we can show such humility, this will be a better debate, and there will be a better outcome for all concerned.
During the past six months, I have listened to my friends, to colleagues in my constituency party, to constituents, and to colleagues in this House today and during previous debates. Like every other Member, I have agonised over whether I could be party to a decision that will result in the death of innocent people, because that, inevitably, is what war involves. I hoped that we would not reach this day, that reason would somehow prevail, and that Saddam would come to order. However, the day has come, and we have to make a decision.
For us tonight, there is nowhere to hide. We will have to be honest with our constituents and, first of all, we have to be honest with ourselves. That is infinitely difficult if we cannot be certain that the decision that we take, individually or collectively, will be right; and it is all the more difficult when there is no unanimity on which is the right course.
I believe in just wars. I believe that they are commissioned in defence of freedom, and against oppression. I also believe that, for them to be just wars, they must be the last resort. Diplomacy must come first, but if we are ultimately to prevail in defence of what we believe to be right, there must also be a limit to diplomacy.
Is it not much easier to decide what constitutes a just war a long time after the event, and much more difficult to make that assessment at the time one decides to go to war?
My hon. Friend makes precisely the point that I was trying to make, but far more eloquently. We do not have the gift of hindsight, and we will not have it for many years. Nevertheless, tonight we must make a principled and rational decision.
Like other Members, I believe in the United Nations, for all its imperfections and deficiencies, and for all its sins and omissions. It is the best hope that we have, and it provides the best opportunity to build international consensus, and to impose and sustain a world order that believes in the same principles that we hold dear. I wish that the United Nations had been more consistent, and that we, too, had been more consistent. When we intervened in Kosovo without a UN mandate, I said that I hoped that this was the beginning of a new world order. I hoped that we would be emboldened to intervene, when required, before genocide was committed in Rwanda, rather than wringing our hands afterwards. Had we been more consistent, perhaps we would be facing less difficulty now over the legitimacy of intervening in Iraq. If we do intervene, as seems inevitable, I hope that we will in future take to heart the lessons about consistency, and that we will be prepared, together as an international community, to intervene to prevent genocide and oppression, and to deter dictators.
For the past six months, I have characterised my views on Iraq as being open-minded but sceptical: that I could be persuaded that this would be a just war, but that I had yet to be so persuaded. I was looking for the killer fact. We all acknowledge that Saddam has weapons of mass destruction, and we know that he has used them brutally against his own people and against others. However, we, too, have weapons of mass destruction. The key point is: is he prepared to use them again? If he is—if we have that intelligence—the case for war is unanswerable. However, we have not had that killer fact.
In listening to the debate that took place in this Chamber three weeks ago, I had sympathy with the amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend Mr. Smith. He said that the case had not been made. He and his colleagues argued that we needed a second UN resolution desperately—in fact, it would have been the 18th resolution—because wars are always evil, and innocent people get killed in wars. They argued that without a second resolution, we would light the blue touch paper to a conflagration in the middle east and recruit people to terrorism, but that if we got that resolution and Saddam still failed to come to order, undertaking military intervention would be justified. However, would innocent people still not die in those circumstances? Would we still not risk a conflagration in the middle east? Would we still not recruit people to terrorist causes? Wars do that, with or without resolutions.
I say to my colleagues that convictions are not enough; we also need courage and clear-sightedness to see the world not as we would like to see it, but as it is—as Saddam has made it. For 30 years he has oppressed his people and butchered Iraqi minorities; he has invaded his neighbours and threatened us all with weapons of mass destruction and for 30 years, yes, we have tolerated it. Some western nations supplied and fuelled his ambitions and his barbarity. We should indeed be humble, as Sir Teddy Taylor suggested, but that does not mean that we should do nothing.
Last November, it appeared that the United Nations had woken up to its responsibilities. There was unanimous support for resolution 1441, which spoke of final opportunities and serious consequences. Four months later, when Saddam has failed to comply with that resolution, the international community has shown that it is not serious about "serious consequences".
I was prepared to support the drive for a second resolution, not because I felt that we needed its legitimacy, but because the decision before us would have been much more straightforward if the international community had been united and also because public opinion demanded it. However, as colleagues have suggested, the French put that diplomacy beyond reach; their President foreclosed on diplomacy.
A stark choice faces us: we can walk away from our international responsibilities and our obligations to the Iraqis and cede victory to Saddam and to every fascist dictator who chooses to emulate him; we can decide not to decide; or we can take the decision that no one who loves peace chooses to make or ever thought that they would have to make—to fulfil our obligations and go to war to secure peace.
Do those who say no to war in their name want Saddam to continue his barbarity in their name? Are we to abandon his victims in their name? Just as they warn us of the consequences of the war that we may commit, it is right to warn them of the consequences of inaction. I share the misgivings expressed by right hon. and hon. Members about United States policy and about US contempt for the UN, which is in stark contrast to the commitment and consistent principles that we have adopted in pursuit of diplomacy; but if might is not always right, being strong is not always wrong either. Whether we like it or not, we have to accept that the US is the only global superpower. We can either try to influence it within the international community or abandon the world to its often cynical self-interest.
Now is decision time. If we are to set aside our prejudices and accept that doing nothing is not an option, if we accept that diplomacy is at an end and that Saddam continues to defy and threaten us, what is the alternative to war? It is not the Prime Minister's war. It is not the American President's war—it is Saddam's war. We must join it and end it as soon as possible.
I am no peacenik. I supported action in the Falklands and the Gulf. I supported the Prime Minister's excursions in Kosovo. When the Serbian army withdrew, its condition was such that I was glad that Milosevic had decided not to fight. If he had, the outcome could have been much more bloody and horrific.
If there is a war, I, like everyone in the House, will give our troops full support. The Iraqi regime is rotten and the war could be short, so we shall be in the reconstruction and rebuilding phase quicker than we might anticipate. I wonder whether the Government have spent enough time looking at reconstruction, rather than knocking things down.
I made it clear that unless there was a second resolution I would not support the Government. I shall vote for the amendment, but I shall do so with reluctance and regret; in 26 years as a Member of the House, this will only be the second or third time that I have voted against my party.
There are additional reasons for my views. The proposed action will crack unity—if it has not cracked already—in NATO, the EU, the Security Council and the United Nations. I am not saying that Humpty Dumpty can never be put together again, but it will take a long, long time. I take no pride in hearing clever-clever remarks knocking other countries, because sooner or later we shall have to get together and rebuild things. We shall have to bring about international agreement on the way forward. Smart remarks against the French and remarks such as those made by the American Secretary of State are not helpful and I greatly regret that they were made.
The Government produced various arguments that were apparently the best thing to do at the time, which seems to be part of their policy. They have proposed the morality argument. I go along with that. Saddam Hussein is an evil man. I am one of the few Members who have actually met him. If he were to be found dead tomorrow, I would not lose sleep. But where do we stop? It is Saddam Hussein today because he is an evil, wicked man, but who will it be tomorrow? I would have more respect for the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary if they had condemned what was happening in Rwanda at the time and said that we should put forces into that country to stop the terrible genocide. The standard punishment for young girls at that time was to take off their hands at the wrist.
Where will the moral argument take us? I am concerned that the Americans will become the international peacekeepers; they will be Matt Dillon while we are Chester, limping along behind. We must think carefully when we take the path of ending tyrannical regimes.
To try to bolster their case, the Government produced documentation, rightly described as dodgy documents. To lift vast chunks of a person's work, which was already several years old, lard it with words such as "terrorism" and try to pass it off as one's own work is less than satisfactory.
Another argument is that Saddam attacked other countries. He fought Iran and Kuwait. However, as my hon. Friend Sir Teddy Taylor p