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If Mr. Page wants to believe anything, let him read the reports of the inspectors themselves and Hans Blix. I certainly know without any doubt that, whatever measures of progress the inspectors may think they have achieved since resolution 1441 was passed, their reports indicate that there are a lot of unanswered questions about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, that weapons are unaccounted for and that they are seeking to find chemical and biological agents. There is no doubt that there is cause for concern.
Saddam Hussein's track record over the past 12 years shows that, time and again, when he has assured the UN and the world that weapons are not there, he has been found out, and the most telling time was when his own son-in-law gave information to that effect and, as we know, he lost his life as a result.
I personally have always believed that, sooner or later, we would have to come back to the issue of Iraq and the UN resolutions, having been a Parliamentary Private Secretary for two years to a Foreign Office Minister who had that as part of his brief and having sat in the Chamber listening to the debates on sanctions policy and whether the containment policy was working. Some of my colleagues who are against the Government this evening were also against the sanctions policy, as well as the containment policy. Despite the best efforts, we have seen that progress was not being made.
I well remember that the whole issue of sanctions and containment was argued and debated during Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions and in Adjournment and other debates in the House before we broke for the summer recess in 2001. Then we had the disaster of the twin towers and
Why? We would have to come back to Iraq because 17 UN resolutions legally require Saddam Hussein and Iraq to disarm. If we are to challenge and deal with the many different factors that create the very insecure world that we live in—whether organised terrorism, or those who are tyrannical in their repression of their own people and a danger to their neighbours and who have the ability not only to procure weapons of mass destruction, but to develop them and sell them on—we have to have a fresh look at our approach to all those matters. We were therefore bound to come back to the issue of Iraq and Saddam Hussein.
People in my constituency and party members have made their representations to me about the issue. I understand that they sincerely believe that war should not be an option, but sometimes war is needed to secure the peace, and I believe that we are at that stage today. I am mindful of acknowledging those hon. Members and other people who sincerely hold views that are against the Government's strategy, but I have also received letters, e-mails and phone calls from constituents and party members who support the Government, the Prime Minister and myself in voting for the Government this evening.
Those who believe, as I do, in force as a last resort, to be used to achieve the greater good are no less principled than those who do not believe that we should vote in favour of that tonight. I certainly do not believe that I have a monopoly on truth or wisdom or necessarily the moral high ground above anyone else. All hon. Members and many people outside have to look at the information and make a judgment call on what they think is the right thing to do.
We have choices to face about Iraq. Those choices are undeniably hard, but we have to make them because the evidence of weapons of mass destruction is there, the questions are unanswered and the reality is that, if Saddam Hussein had the will to co-operate and the attitude to take part in realistic disarmament, we would have seen evidence of that by now. There is no way that we can continue to make excuses for that lack of co-operation.
I also believe very strongly that only by tackling the issue of weapons of mass destruction can we seek to tackle Saddam Hussein's repression of his own people in his country. I first came into contact with the politics of the Ba'athist party as a student in the early 1980s, when Ba'athist agents in this country were trying to hound and track down exiled Iraqi students, find their names and addresses and put at risk their families back in Iraq. I have known about that for the past 20 years. In the past week, the reality of life for people in Iraq today has been brought to my attention because of the efforts made by my hon. Friend Ann Clwyd.
When the northern Iraqi Prime Minister Barham Salih was asked about war and violence, he said that this was not an issue of war or no war. All 22 million people in Iraq live every day in fear of violence and an internal war against them, and we cannot walk away from that. We have the opportunity not only to deal with weapons of mass destructions and to make sure that resolutions that have been passed time and again are finally enforced but to do the right thing by the Kurds in the north, the Shi'a Arabs in the south and the Iraqi people who are opposed by that regime, and I say that as a democratic socialist.
I refer back to my hon. Friend's comments about Saddam Hussein's son-in-law, whose testimony has often been cited to aid the case for war, but in the transcript of the evidence that he gave, which has not been publicised, he is alleged to have said that Saddam Hussein destroyed all his stocks of chemical and biological weapons before 1993.
I know whom I would give the benefit of the doubt to—it certainly would not be Saddam Hussein. It is interesting to note from reports this week that Saddam Hussein's regime executed Khalis Muhsin al-Tikriti, an engineer who supervised the burial of chemical weapons in the days before the inspectors arrived last November. Indeed, there are now reports that members of Saddam's special security organisation who took part in hiding weapons have already been killed by the regime for fear that they may disclose their whereabouts to the UN.
We are not dealing with someone who can be trusted. We are dealing with someone who has a track record of betraying his own people and lying to the international community. Take our Prime Minister's track record of doubling international aid, fighting repression in Kosovo and supporting people in Sierra Leone. If I were in a room with Saddam Hussein or Tony Blair, it is Saddam Hussein—[Interruption.] It is the Prime Minister I would back.
I was going to say, "How can I follow that?"
Underneath the debate lies the burning question of the power of the sword and where it is vested. I happen to believe that it is an ordinance of God given to mankind, and we have a responsibility to exercise the same. The scriptures make it clear: it is vested in proper authority. I believe that the proper authority for this debate is this House, and I welcome the fact that this debate is taking place. Today, the House has redeemed itself before the whole nation: this is the place where the issue should be settled and decided on. It will strengthen Parliament. I welcome the fact that the Government decided to have this debate and to keep their promise that the debate would take place. It is healthy to have this debate. I prefer this House to make the decision and not the UN. This House should say to the British servicemen whether they are to go to war or not, and not someone else who does not know the ins and outs of the situation.
I trust that, tonight, when the debate ends and the votes are taken, a message will go out from us all to our servicemen, who are already prepared for battle in the Gulf, that we will be backing them all the way as they do the task that we have appointed them to do. The main town in my constituency is Ballymena, which is the headquarters of the Royal Irish Regiment. The Royal Irish Regiment is in the Gulf at present, and members of the Irish Guards are there, as well as many people from Northern Ireland who are in various other regiments of the Army. All of us tonight are thinking of them, and not only of them, but of their wives and families. We sit here and have our debate in relative comfort, but they do not know what the day will bring forth. After we have had this debate, and after the voting is over, I would like to think that there will be a clear message: no matter what opinions have been expressed, the House will back those men, as they do the task to which we have appointed them. My prayers are with them and with their families, which I am sure that all can echo.
The Prime Minister stated at the beginning of the debate that some things cannot stop a tyrant. That is very true. Diplomacy cannot stop a tyrant. We can try to buy off terrorists, but they will not be bought off. As Churchill said, if we appease them they will come back for more: it only feeds their appetite. We need to remember that. When we are dealing with a tyrant, as we are doing in this instance, we are dealing with someone who has no conscience, no law and no faith: he cares only for himself. We have seen the sorrows, troubles and calamity that he has brought to his country: the woes of the people, the cries of the people and the broken homes and families. When talking to exiles here, they tremble when they are asked to discuss Saddam and where they were brought up: the fear is on them. We should ensure that that is dealt with. It should have been dealt with long ago.
None of us in the House tonight are responsible for what previous Governments sold to Iraq. We had nothing to do with that. People cannot come back and say, "Your own Government did this." It was not done with our votes. I am sure that many of us were not even in the House when some of those things took place. We had no responsibility for what happened. It was wrong: the Government should not have had such a relationship with Saddam; we should have had nothing to do with him, but it happened. That should not tie our hands tonight, however. We need to face up to one thing only: if he is not dealt with now, he will never be dealt with. Things have gone too far. The troops are in the Gulf, and if they were withdrawn, he would have a great victory. That victory would spread, and others would be encouraged to follow in his wake. Let us not bluff ourselves about that.
The die is cast. It is imperative that this matter goes forward. It is imperative that we do our best to ensure that the bloodshed is not as grievous as it might be, but that is a very difficult task. We are going into a country where the dictator and his four generals will, it seems, fight to the end. If they are going to fight to the end, they will not mind whom they destroy. They will not mind the havoc that is left. If some country has already made an arrangement to take them in, as may be the case, of course, I totally disagree with any suggestion that any Government in the world should make a deal with them and say that they will never be brought up for the crimes that they have committed. They should all be in the dock, and they should all be tried for their crimes against the people.
I regret that the Prime Minister is not in the House to hear this, but I have said it to his face, to which I am sure that he will be glad to testify: it is a shame that the Government do not take the same view in relation to the terrorist situation in our country. I do not think that there is any difference between an IRA-Sinn Feiner who has killed, maimed and taken a screwdriver and driven it through a man's eye and the type of character that we are discussing tonight. I am sad at heart that in Northern Ireland we have reaped the dark harvest of attempting to appease terrorism. Where has it got us? With our so-called peace process and all our agreements, the Assembly has had to stop four times—
I wonder whether we would be having this debate if Iraq had no oil wells. American companies will be running the oil wells once the war is over—if it happens, and I am sure that it will—and a trust will be set up that will be given money for the Iraqi people. If we look at the evidence in America, at its companies, and at President Bush, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice and Donald Rumsfeld, we see that every one of them has been a board member if not a chairman of an oil company in America. The evidence also shows clearly that the biggest contributors to President Bush's election campaign were oil companies.
If one puts all that together, one begins to wonder: is it a question of oil? We have been told by the Prime Minister and by many others that that is certainly not so. As the Prime Minister said a few weeks ago, if it were, we could cut a deal with Saddam Hussein. But I am not sure. I think that when the Chilean President suggested a resolution asking for another three weeks, and the Americans did not want it, the Americans had the war all set up. I know that I am being anti-American, but other Members have had a good bash at the French this evening, and I am going to have a go at the Americans. I wonder whether it is all for the oil. I am sure that, by this time next year, it will have been proved that oil was the issue. I honestly believe that we would not be discussing the motion and the resolutions were there no oil in Iraq.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the often heard argument that America intends to take all the oil for itself is simplistic and wrong? The real argument is that by ensuring a continuous supply from a compliant country, America can keep the price of oil down. That is where its interest lies.
The two ideas go together and the hon. Gentleman takes us deeper into the argument, but I look at the problem from the perspective of an ordinary Member of Parliament, and that is the way I see it. The Americans never wanted a diplomatic or peaceful solution. They wanted to go ahead with their plan and did not give the inspectors enough time to find the arms and the so-called weapons of mass destruction.
No, I have just given way and want to get on.
What are weapons of mass destruction? They include, of course, chemical weapons because they can kill a lot of people, but so can nuclear weapons. So let us consider who has nuclear weapons in the middle east? Iran might have a nuclear capability, but we are not sure, in the same way as we are not sure that Saddam Hussein has such a capability. Pakistan, India and Israel have nuclear weapons. Pakistan is a dictatorship with a general in charge. The country is unstable and there could be an uprising at any time. That is why members of al-Qaeda hang out in Pakistan. Even bin Laden might be hiding there. Although I do not think that India could fall at any time, Pakistan might and it would become a dictatorship with a regime in the same mould as Saddam Hussein's regime. Then what? Would we send our forces there?
Let us go across the water to North Korea. Its Government have told us that they are testing and developing weapons of mass destruction. What are we going to do about that? Will we have to fight a war there? I have news for hon. Members: the North Koreans will not wave a white flag and give up. They will stand and fight, and we will have a job on our hands. Once we go down the route of taking out tin-pot dictators, wherever they might be, we have to take them all out. There might be no oil in North Korea, but I gather that there is plenty of coal. The big fear is that America is saying to the United Nations, "You're useless. You're hopeless. We're going to be the guardian—the sheriff—of the world and take these people out wherever we see them."
My hon. Friend is taking us on quite a tour of the world. I recall that he was against intervention in Kosovo. Is there anywhere that the international community, or the United States and the United Kingdom together, can intervene?
Of course there is. Treaties and organisations have been set up to bring such countries on board so that they get rid of their weapons, but we cannot ignore the fact that Pakistan and North Korea are testing weapons of mass destruction. The problem is getting worse: everyone wants a weapon. With Russia in the state that it is, people can get hold of such weapons and proliferation is a danger.
I have just read a newspaper article on the new smart bombs. It even gave their prices and made me wonder, "Here are all these lovely smart bombs. They only kill so many people and leave the houses standing, all for £1 million." That newspaper article is a shop window for selling arms, and the biggest contributor to Bush's election was the arms industry. [Hon. Members: "We thought it was the oil industry."] Both industries gave a lot of money.
The new bombs can do all sorts of things. They all have names—the microwave bomb, for instance—and the newspapers act as a shop window for them. It amazes me that the Evening Standard gives their prices.
Hon. Members talk about how Saddam Hussein kills his people, but many dictators have killed their people. That is no excuse for us to kill his people as well. Two wrongs do not make a right. What happened years ago when Pol Pot murdered and plundered half his country? The British Government at the time—it was the Tories, I believe—had diplomatic relations with Pol Pot. So what do we do about dictators? We appease them. But we have a new order now and have to go to war with everyone who might have a weapon of mass destruction.
When the war starts, and it certainly will, moderate young Muslims will be told that that is what the west does to them: it invades a Muslim country and drops thousands of bombs on its people. By doing that, we will push those youngsters towards dictators, just as we pushed youngsters towards the IRA in Northern Ireland. Such action would make it much easier for al-Qaeda to recruit young people to become human bombs in this country. That is what I fear might happen. That is the worst scenario if the war goes ahead. Once we invade a Muslim country, the consequences here could be terrible. I am told that such weapons can be carried in a little container. In fact, two scientists carried a container from the Iraqi border, through Europe and Britain, and into America without being challenged.
There are problems if we push moderate Muslims into a corner. If the young ones see nothing but a big bully—in this case, the Americans and, unfortunately, the British—who bombs them and kills their families, they will be recruited to get into Britain or America—
Mr. Campbell took us on his own unique tour of the world. Although he expressed many views, there was a grain of truth in what he said. He reminded us that if we are to embark on military action against Saddam Hussein, we must have a consistent approach to the way in which we deal with other rogue states subsequently. That was an important point.
I welcome the remarks of Caroline Flint and agree with much of what she said. I, too, formed the same view that if over the past 12 years Saddam Hussein had complied with his obligations, as agreed by the United Nations, we would not be having this debate. Equally, if he had fully co-operated with Hans Blix instead of playing for time and making it ever more difficult either for him to show his weapons of mass destruction or for us to discover them, we would not be here this evening. Indeed, we would not be here if Saddam Hussein had not developed his unique and barbarous approach towards his people and weapons of mass destruction.
One interesting theme has emerged from many speeches, and it is that we should focus for a second or two on what comes next. It is vital—I say this to those on the Front Bench—that if military action is now embarked upon, as seems likely, we should ensure that the Iraqis are left in no doubt about what they can expect. If we are looking for help and acquiescence from the Iraqis, if we are trying to persuade their military that there might be a better life by laying down their arms and not fighting, they must have a clear idea of what will replace Saddam Hussein's regime.
No hon. Member will not have wrestled with their conscience in deciding how to vote this evening, worried about how they will explain that to their constituents, and considered whether they are doing the right thing for the country. Voting for or against war and conflict is never easy, but that is what we are sent here to do. The alternative to supporting the Government's motion, which was, if I may say so, outlined with skill, determination and clarity by the Prime Minister and supported by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, is the amendment. But the amendment appears to be a formulation for having one's cake and eating it, and that is not an option for us this evening.
The amendment talks about
"the absence of specific United Nations authorisation", but why do we not have that authorisation? It is because the French in particular, and the Germans and Russians, have made it extremely difficult for the United Nations to authorise anything. There is no guarantee that, if we went back to the United Nations, they would, as I might say, come to the party and agree some formulation that would, at some unspecified point in the future, resolve the matter.
One of the great mysteries about the diplomatic process has been the lack of seeming efforts by the French, Germans and Russians to use their so-called relationship and good offices with Saddam Hussein to persuade him to change his course of action. There is no sign whatever that Saddam is listening to anybody. If the Russians, Germans and French had been doing their bit behind the scenes, they might have found a way of opening up something in the United Nations with which we could have all agreed. I can only assume that, acting out of their own national self-interest, they are now denying the United Nations the opportunity to exert its power. Earlier, we heard concerns about the power of the United States, but the best counterbalance to that is a strong United Nations, and that, sadly, has been denied to us, in particular by the actions of the French.
One reason why I, after much thought, will be supporting the Government in the Lobby tonight and voting against the amendment is, bluntly, a question of conscience. How long can we in the international community walk by on the other side when people such as Saddam Hussein, and potentially other states, threaten the very peace that we have worked on as a group of international nations working through the United Nations since the second world war? We have enjoyed an unparalleled period of world peace, but, particularly after 9/11, rogue states and terrorist organisations, answerable to no one—no democracy do they report back to—pose a threat to all that we hold near and dear. We have a great deal that is good to contribute to the rest of the world, but if that is put at risk by the Saddam Husseins and al-Qaedas of this world, there comes a time when we cannot walk by on the other side.
I have often regretted that we never did anything about Rwanda where 2 million of our fellow human beings perished while we sat on our hands. If we talk of a new world order, let us not have such matters on our conscience again. If going into conflict against Iraq starts a new process, that has my support.
Today's debate is being broadcast by BBC Radio 4 and, somewhere out in the desert, members of our armed forces may well be listening to our deliberations. They will want to know whether the House of Commons supports the action in which they have been invited to participate. I shall strongly support that. The very Tornados that may be in action within a few hours were made in my constituency of Fylde. I am left in no doubt about the awesome fire power of that weapon system. I am also aware of those who work for BAE Systems out in Saudi Arabia who are potentially at risk. Such matters go round in one's mind when deciding what to do, but on this I have clarity.
We must no longer allow Saddam Hussein to play for time. Leaving him the open option with the United Nations, further discussions and more time, pushes dealing with him not back a few months but possibly another year. We do not have that option. Having read again this morning the article written by Ann Clwyd about the torture and loss of life, the use of gas weapons and the way in which Saddam Hussein deals with our fellow human beings, I am left in no doubt about the correctness of my decision tonight to vote with the Government.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on behalf of my constituents this evening. I sought to speak in the previous debate on the subject, but I was not called. It is important to make the point that on that occasion 121 Labour Back Benchers, of which I was one, decided to support the amendment. I cannot be regarded as one of the usual suspects and I had no intention of voting in order to destroy the Prime Minister, but, as a matter of conscience, I felt that the case for war had not been made.
I welcome today's debate for two reasons. We have an opportunity tonight to decide whether to support the amendment or the motion, and it is proper that the House should have the opportunity. I congratulate the Government on the decision to have that vote in the House of Commons today because it was a hard choice. If our armed forces in the desert are listening, I join all hon. Members who have said that they will support them if the decision for war is taken.
But I hope that the debate will create an opportunity to avoid war. To support the motion would be to give a green light to unleashing the weapons of mass destruction that the United States and the United Kingdom have lined up in the desert at this moment.
The best way to avoid war is to work through the United Nations. The amendment makes it clear that the case for war has not been established, and, especially given the absence of specific UN authorisation, we should not go in that direction. If we pass the amendment tonight, the UN will have the opportunity to continue with the inspections that have been taking place in order to disarm Saddam without bloodshed, and that would be an admirable position.
We are not talking about abandoning the troops and bringing them back. The pressure that they have put on the regime in Iraq has weakened it severely. We have the strength, without a shadow of doubt, to take Iraq at present. Iraq has no opportunity to resist that. I do not believe that it has weapons of mass destruction.
Does my hon. Friend accept that the choice tonight is not whether to prevent war? We cannot prevent war. The choice is either to go in alongside the Americans to topple Saddam Hussein, or to let the Americans go in on their own. It is important that my hon. Friend and others realise that there is no choice to stop war. There will be a war. The question is are we going to be involved in it and extend our influence in the post-conflict Iraq and in the Palestine-Israel peace process? Let's get real.
I believe that I am getting real. If we support the amendment, we can avoid a decision for war. This is a profound matter of conscience, not a loyalty test. If it were a loyalty test, I would fail it tonight. Anyone who examines my record on voting in the House of Commons will realise that this is an issue of conscience and that I do not vote to displace a Prime Minister. I am just not convinced that war is justified now.
We have heard of terrible suffering in Iraq. It has been made clear that for the past 10 or 12 years, the regime in Iraq has created enormous suffering for its people. If we decide to invade Iraq, we will be in precisely the same position—inflicting greater suffering on those people. The best way to deal with the Iraqi regime as a force is by disarming it. If we weaken Saddam Hussein enough, there is a good chance that his own people will overthrow him. That is a far more practical proposition than the one before us now.
I accept that human rights abuses have occurred and that Saddam Hussein rules through fear, but that is true of many countries. If we decide, simply because of that, to tackle Saddam, logically we have to follow through in other countries. We have to talk about North Korea, Syria and Iran. We in this country have to decide whether to be perpetually at war. I think that the population of this country would not accept that.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend.
Britain is no longer a superpower. We can no longer act in isolation and we cannot solve the problems of the world, so it is worrying to find ourselves divorced from the international community, in agreement only with the United States, Spain and Portugal. How do we bring the family that used to exist back into being? Last week, at a meeting in Luxembourg, I listened to Luxembourg's Foreign Minister discuss Iraq with a committee. She believed that Luxembourg was like a child trying to resolve a problem between two warring parents. When our family is at war, we weaken the opportunities that might be available to the international community.
If military action is needed, as it has been before, it must be taken, but I do not believe that now is the proper time. There is an opportunity to continue on the road to peace. If we can do that, we will have achieved some sort of success. I have heard comparisons made between the League of Nations and the United Nations and the claim that the UN will end as the league did if it does not support an international war now. I think that the UN would be discredited if strong pressure from the US and the UK forced it not only to accept war when it did not believe that war was justified, but to join with those forces.
It is important that we deal with the issue as it is now. Who is to decide whether Saddam is a threat? To whom is Saddam a threat? The UK? The US? His neighbours? I believe that he is currently in such a weakened state that he is not a threat. We all understand the US reaction to 9/11. The world genuinely believed that that event would galvanise the international community into action. I accept that the Prime Minister exerted a restraining influence on the President of the United States, but after he had persuaded the US to take the UN route, he could not adopt a different view.
I do not believe that we can bomb the terrorists into submission. An idea, a belief or a cause cannot be killed in that fashion. We must try to change the conditions in which terrorism arises and change the terrorists' minds. If we can do that, we will achieve some success. How can flying a plane into a building be justified logically? We speak of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. When sarin nerve gas was released in the cramped conditions of a Japanese subway, four people died and more than 100 were injured, but a cigarette end dropped in Kings Cross caused far more devastation—
I trust that the House appreciates that this is a special evening. As Rev. Ian Paisley said, tonight sees the rebirth of our democracy. We have heard many fine speeches, including those from Mr. Campbell, Mr. Marshall-Andrews and Mr. Tynan. With great humility, Mr. Randall described how he had been wrestling with his conscience about what he should do.
It is a legacy of Mr. Cook that we are having this debate. I trust that it will set a precedent, for there can be no doubt that we are entering a state of permanent war. After Iraq, other countries will face US might. I trust that the Government will be true to their word and that in future we will be able to debate and genuinely vote on military action before it takes place. The Liberal Democrats have been pressing such a policy throughout.
Hon. Members will not have heard it on the news tonight, but 30,000 children have died. Thirty thousand children—ten times the number of people who died in the twin towers on 9/11—die every single day because of lack of clean water, tuberculosis, cholera and lack of food. Their names will not be known. The might of the media and the internet conveyed terrible images of the terrorist attacks of 9/11, but they do not carry images of the innocent who die. That is why I take issue with the way in which the Government are conducting themselves. This is not a Government crusade against poverty, but a crusade for war. It is a great tragedy and a missed opportunity. Even though the Prime Minister has previously spoken of healing the scar of Africa, he has never been able to deliver on that. He has followed what the US President has been telling him about conducting a war against Iraq.
I want to see a strengthened and reformed United Nations. Last week I was in New York, where I met some senior UN officials. They were aghast at what was going on. They could not believe that the US would not be prepared to compromise. I listened to Hans Blix's statement. He asked not for years, but for months in which to make a true assessment of what was happening in Iraq. More time is not too much to ask for. We can find a peaceful way through. At the very moment that the United Nations is successfully forcing the evil regime of Saddam Hussein to comply, the rug is pulled from under its feet, and it is told to get out of Iraq, to stop its job and not to fulfil previous resolutions, because war must be the answer.
In the 21st century, surely we can start to find better solutions than all-out war with a quarter of a million troops to plough through. The bomb doors will open and the bombs will start dropping in the next few hours. You will have 48 hours of sustained bombing that will kill thousands of innocent people. There are sons and daughters in Basra, and mothers, fathers and grandparents in Baghdad who tonight are living in great fear. They are the innocent. They do not support Saddam Hussein. They have nothing to do with his evil regime, but they will pay the blood price because the American President says, "This is the only way to free you."
Why cannot we look at the alternatives? As Lynne Jones said, there are other ways to achieve a peaceful outcome. That would include a no-fly zone right across Iraq, and UN humanitarian observers stationed throughout Iraq. If you had said 12 months ago that there was no chance of UN weapons inspectors being able to come back into Iraq and fulfil their job, you would not have been able to believe that Iraq agreed to that. But it did agree to that.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the case for war has not been made; that is why I voted for the amendment a few weeks ago. Is the issue before us now whether we have more time? Is not the real issue whether the Americans act on their own or bilaterally with us? That is the only choice. The choice that we have to make tonight is whether the world is made a safer place by the United States acting on its own, or with us having some influence and being alongside it while the war is conducted? My inclination is for the latter proposition. I should like to know the hon. Gentleman's view.
It is for every Member of the House to decide how they will vote tonight. It does not make it any better—any more right—if Britain decides to support the military operation. We should not feel that we are being bullied into that, or that we have to show our willingness to be partners in crime with the US by going into Iraq now. It is a great pity that the Prime Minister did not show more resolve earlier on in order to influence a US President to stop where we are now.
I accept what Mr. Tyrie says. Tonight we are on the verge of war. Thousands of our troops will be putting their lives in danger. I salute their courage and professionalism, and I would not thank—[Laughter.] Please do not laugh. This is a serious issue. We will face dreadful consequences not just in the next few weeks, but possibly for the next 10, 20 or 30 years. We will reap what we sow.
I say to each hon. Member: think so carefully. I want you to be able to look your children in the eye in years to come and say that you did everything you possibly could to stop the war and keep your conscience clear. To answer the hon. Gentleman, I say it is up to you. It is up to each and every one of us.
My apologies, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is up to each and every hon. Member to decide for themselves.
In the final analysis, what kind of peace do we seek? Is it a genuine peace that we strive for? Is it peace in our time or peace for all time? Right around the globe, we all cherish our children's future. We all breathe the same air and we are all mortal. Those were the words of an American President in 1962 after the Cuban missile crisis, when the world almost came to grief. It almost destroyed itself. We have to think so carefully. I would say that hon. Members should vote against the Government tonight and vote for peace. 7.56 pm
The British people do not want war. A million people marched in London against war. None of us wants war. Nine million people signed a pledge before the second world war. We are not a war-loving nation, but war cannot now be stopped. Our choice today is not whether to prevent war—we cannot do so—but whether we join the US in toppling the regime of Saddam Hussein and have influence in the post-war settlement in Iraq and the peace process in Palestine, or stand to one side and watch the US act alone.
No one wants war, and no one has worked harder to prevent war than the Prime Minister. Early last year, the US policy was unilateral regime change through pre-emptive military strike. Saddam Hussein's position was that weapons inspectors would never be allowed back into Iraq, yet the influence of our Government, at great political cost, moved the US from a position of unilateral strike to disarmament through UN weapons inspectors. After 12 years and 16 UN resolutions that had left Iraq a threat to the world, the world united behind resolution 1441 demanding immediate disarmament, backed by the credible threat of US military action. It was only the threat of serious consequences that forced Saddam to let the inspectors back in.
Every concession that Saddam has made has been from fear of serious consequences. Without that threat, Hans Blix would not have been allowed to find weapons in Iraq, any more than we can find IRA arms in Northern Ireland. Yet, tragically, the unity of purpose of resolution 1441 that gave the inspectors their leverage has been weakened by the grandstanding of Jacques Chirac threatening the French veto, corrosively undermining the credible threat of force on which co-operation and disarmament rely.
I find the argument confusing. My hon. Friend says that the credible threat of force is causing Saddam Hussein to react favourably to us. How is the credible threat of force reduced by the French action when everyone, including everyone present in the Chamber, knows that war is about to be unleashed upon Saddam Hussein?
War could have been prevented. We would have had disarmament by now, had the French not been waving their veto and if there had been unity of purpose. As a result of the French corrosively undermining 1441, Saddam has spun out his concessions month after month as he knows we approach the hot Iraqi summer. That provides a safe haven from military action and a chance for further political division spun by the French.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. It is my certain recollection that Hans Blix asked for more time to complete a very successful inspection and destruction mission, but that the United States and Britain refused that extension of time. Hence, we are going to war.
My understanding is that Hans Blix said that there had not been active co-operation and compliance. Time is useful if there is co-operation, but that co-operation is not occurring. No hon. Member who studies the cold-blooded cynicism of the calculating and murderous Saddam Hussein could doubt that he is playing for time. Of course, Jacques Chirac is playing into his hands by using up that time with all this prevarication. If the UN had stayed at one in its resolve, peace would have been possible and we might have been in a position in which disarmament would have been continuous.
Even in the last minute of the last hour, when Britain has offered benchmarks for disarmament in a fixed time frame as the basis for a second resolution to avert war if Saddam disarms, the French have said that they will veto any second resolution, whatever it says. Even if that resolution gave Iraq a year to disarm, the French would still veto it, so the prospect of disarmament that is backed by the credible threat of force—the very basis of resolution 1441—is in tatters now and in future. Saddam knows that the French can be trusted—trusted to veto the will of the UN as expressed in resolution 1441 if it means a timetable for compliance. They want no ultimatum and no threat of force, and they have said so.
We face a stark choice: we can choose war without the express consent of the UN because the French have cast their veto even before the second resolution is framed or else do nothing, accept the veto to timetabled disarmament and hope that Saddam will voluntarily hand over his anthrax and biochemical weapons to UN inspectors whose authority is no longer backed by military force. That is not a credible option.
No, I will not.
The world has accepted through 17 UN resolutions that Saddam is an evil dictator who has slaughtered hundreds of thousands of his own people in gas attacks, torture and execution, invaded Iran and Kuwait, bombed Israel, developed a nuclear programme and holds stockpiles of biochemical weapons. If resolution 1441 is not enforced, the authority and effectiveness of the inspectors will crumble as they did in 1998, Saddam will rearm and dictators around the world will know that they can establish arsenals of biochemical death in the knowledge that the UN does not act to enforce its will.
No Member of this House wants war or wants to face the choice of taking action alongside the US without a second UN mandate or letting Saddam off the hook, but it is not enough to stand on the sidelines and watch the US act alone, lose our influence in making a post-conflict settlement in Iraq that respects all its ethnic groups, as well as its borders and mineral wealth, and lose our influence in bringing a lasting peace to Palestine. Let us be in no doubt—I say to my colleagues that if we are not there, the constitutional arrangements for Iraq will not be framed by the values that we share, but determined by the interests of the US, and the obligation to bring peace to Palestine will not be shaped by our ambition for a quality and lasting peace, but relegated by an all-powerful and all-isolated US that is suspicious of outside countries that choose to stand aside.
This is not a comfortable decision for any of us. We are all driven by what we believe to be right and forced into choices that we do not want to make. I believe that we must act even though there may be consequences that we do not like, as the alternative is a world of worse consequences. Our soldiers must know tonight that this Parliament will give them our support to liberate Iraq from an evil tyrant, remove the threat of biochemical attack and show the world that we will not accept a future of fear of the mass carnage of biochemical terror. However difficult or uncomfortable, we will take action to protect our freedoms, children and people, liberate the people of Iraq and build a world of peace and security where trust can be rebuilt in a future that we all must share.
I am pleased to follow Geraint Davies, who set out his case with passion and clarity.
Each of us must examine our consciences and determine how we will vote at 10 o'clock, for this is surely one of the most significant decisions that we will make as a House of Commons in this generation. It seems to me that the choice we have to make is not between an obvious right and an undeniable wrong. We are being asked to choose between two imperfect propositions. In my judgment, it is not obviously right to go to war now and not obviously right to seek more time for the inspectors to do their work. This is a murky and complicated choice and each of us must balance the arguments and decide where we stand.
In coming to our judgment, it is difficult not to be influenced by the certain imperfections and inconsistencies of US foreign policy over many years. It is interesting that we have had so many different objectives for this potential conflict. We must take into account some of the doubts that have been expressed in this excellent debate about the legality of the action. It is definitely true that the dodgy dossier and some exaggerated claims from the Government have not helped us in forming our judgment.
However, it is equally hard to believe that President Chirac has suddenly become the principled saviour of human rights and international legitimacy. It is hard not to see Saddam Hussein, the father of lies and master of deception, continuing to play cat and mouse with the UN inspectors, however long they are given to do the job. It is hard to imagine that this Iraqi tyrant will be disarmed other than by force. If we do not deal with him now, we will have to do so later. Who knows how many people will suffer in the meantime?
Many of us have said that we hate the prospect of war and I am no different. I hate the thought of war and all its gory consequences, but I hate even more the thought of Saddam Hussein continuing in office. I hate the thought of chemical and biological weapons falling into the hands of suicidal terrorists and of the west once again showing weakness in the face of terror and threat when we should show strength. I have made my decision and I know where I stand: I will support the Government tonight and back the motion to use "all means necessary" to disarm this tyrant. At the same time, I respect strongly those who have reached a different conclusion, but I am convinced that that is the right way forward.
I pay tribute to the leadership that the Prime Minister has given to our country in recent weeks. He first attracted my silent admiration when he said that, for him, the special relationship with America was an article of faith. I also believe that it is our current destiny as a nation that we should support this only superpower. That is the reality of modern-day global politics. The Prime Minister has done his utmost to achieve a second resolution and has articulated the need for action in a clear and compelling way. I also pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, whom I am glad is in his place to listen to this rare tribute from me. He has been steadfast in his position on Iraq not only for months, but for many years. That should be recognised and respected. He is also to be respected for not seeking to exploit the potential political difficulties of the Government on this issue, but focusing on doing the right thing. That is certainly what I came into politics for.
I want to make two other points. I was pleased to see that even the amendment expresses strong support for our troops who are about to go into action. Many of the armed forces now on the brink of conflict live or are based in my constituency—notably the Royal Marines of 42 Commando. They are highly professional and very brave. They will acquit themselves well and we in the south-west are all rightly proud of them.
Whenever I speak to a soldier, marine or person in the Navy or the Air Force, I am always most impressed by the fact that they are trained for action and, when the time comes, they want to undertake it on behalf of their nation. They are ready to do that despite the risks. It is vital, as they cross the desert, risking their lives in the national interest, that they know that the country is behind them. I hope that, after we vote tonight, the House will unite and send to our troops with one voice the clear message that they have our full backing.
It is also crucial that their loved ones at home know that. My family is experiencing its first taste of the personal agony of war. Our daughter married a fine young trooper in the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment only two and a half months ago. She remains by the television, constantly awaiting news of the conflict. However, she is surrounded by people in her university—we Streeters marry young—who demonstrate against what her husband is risking his life to do. That does not help. I therefore implore those outside who are planning their protests, marches and placards to think, once battle is engaged, of the thousands of troops who risk their lives and of their families at home. I ask people to show some common humanity and postpone their political protests until the conflict is over.
I appreciate that that was a moment of fine rhetoric, but I had not finished.
I want to speculate briefly on the future of the international community. We need a credible United Nations if we are to try to build a safer world. However, the stark reality, whether we like it or not—some colleagues have stated today that they do not like it—is that the world has only one superpower. It is not perfect, and often speaks and acts in a way that baffles many of us. We should certainly not give it a blank cheque. However, without positive American engagement, the United Nations would be a useless talking shop. The Prime Minister was therefore right to go the extra mile in persuading the US President to take the UN route. He is also right to make full use of our special relationship and be the closest ally to the only superpower.
President Chirac plays a dangerous game when he waves his veto around, reckless about the consequences. Driving the USA out of the UN would be one of the most serious things that could happen to global security. President Chirac and everyone else would rue the day.
Today is the first occasion on which I have spoken in a debate about Iraq and I am grateful for the opportunity.
It is a time to draw on one's inner beliefs and vote according to principle. I want to put my views on record for my constituents and the community where I live and which I work hard to represent so that they know and understand what I do today.
I shall vote against the war and for peace. I shall walk through the Lobby with many members of the socialist Campaign group, but one will be missing. My hon. Friend Mr. Skinner will not be with us tonight, and I send him our best wishes for a speedy recovery.
Last week, in a desperate attempt to gain support for war, the Ministry of truth at No. 10 tried to portray the Campaign group's position as a challenge to the party leadership. Let us make it clear that today's vote has nothing to do with the leadership. It is a vote on principle: one is either for war or against it.
The Prime Minister said that he wants people to vote not out of loyalty but on the basis of understanding and supporting the argument. I respect him for that. I would respect him even more if he gave us a free vote instead of a three-line Whip, and if the Whips were called off from trying to persuade people in their normal manner.
I shall vote for peace tonight because the Bush war plan is immoral. It fails the test of the basic just war principles of not only last resort but right intention. I do not accept that Rumsfeld, Cheney, Perle and Bush have the right intention for the future of Iraq.
I believe that war is illegal. We cannot simply erase the US ambassador's commitment to UN Security Council partners that resolution 1441 contained no hidden triggers and "no automaticity". Many will perceive war against Iraq as an act of international vigilantism by a superpower state that increasingly appears out of control. We will reap unforeseen and incalculable consequences for the world, our citizens and constituents for generations. People will suffer and die. No matter how few die, it will be too many for me.
If we go to war, we must be clear that we have the support of our people.
We will work through the UN. We will use weapons inspection and implement the proposal for UN human rights inspectors. We will support the Iraqi people because a tyrant falls best and hardest when he is pushed by his people. We will not bomb but support them.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way with his usual courtesy. Did not we hope that the Iraqi people would get rid of Saddam Hussein in 1991 when we left it to them? They rose up and were massacred.
With great respect to the hon. Gentleman, I do not believe that the Basra road is a good example of supporting the Iraqi people. We inflicted carnage on them. Many were simply conscripts who did not wish to fight.
If we go to war, we need the clear support of our people. In the past 12 months, we have been treated to a global propaganda exercise to persuade us of the need to attack Iraq. We have been subjected to a global stream of new-Labour-like publicity stunts, cynical in intent and increasingly ineffective. The lasting inheritance is the perpetrators' inability to tell the difference between truth and falsehood, even when lives are at stake.
Most people have seen through the global propaganda exercise. The great persuaders have failed to persuade. People have seen through the dodgy dossiers and the forged nuclear weapons evidence. They have been offended by the use of the memories of those who died on
Even those who believed Bush and would have been held to the principles of the UN by the Prime Minister have been rapidly disillusioned. We now know that the Bush military regime had set a timetable for invasion of Iraq that was based not on the outcome of the UN weapons inspections but on the climatic conditions of the middle east. A second UN resolution was not an act of faith in the UN and the rule of international law. It was simply another part of the propaganda exercise to bring states, and especially the British electorate, on side. When not enough states could be bought or bullied, the UN route was cast aside.
We reached the height of cynicism last week when we were promised the Palestinian-Israeli road map. It comes from a President who was forced by world opinion to send Colin Powell to Israel when Sharon sent his tanks to demolish Jenin. To give Sharon the time to murder enough Palestinians, Powell took the longest route from Washington to Tel Aviv in the history of travel. Where was the road map then? Where was it this week when Israeli bulldozers drove backwards and forwards over the peace demonstrator, killing her outright?
When rational argument fails, we find a scapegoat. Who better than the traditional enemy, the French? The language that has been used in the debate against the French verges on xenophobia. Yet any criticism of the Bush regime is pounced on as anti-American.
It might be impossible to prevent the Bush regime from going to war, but we can still prevent Britain from being party to this international atrocity. Our vote tonight could withdraw any moral or political authority to take this country to war. Without the overwhelming support of the House, no Prime Minister can be confident that he has the backing of the British people for war, or the right to lead our people into this unknown risk.
If the Prime Minister proceeds to take us to war in this coalition—not of the willing, but of the killing—I shall say clearly, "Not in my name. Not in the name of thousands of Labour party members up and down the country. Not in the name of the British people." To our communities, we say, "Continue the campaign for peace, to shorten this war and to prevent the next." To the British troops, we say, "Safe home." To the Iraqi people—the parents—we say, "Hide your children deep in the shelters, but we wish you safety. We will stand by you when the bombing stops." To the peoples of the world, we say very clearly, "We will not let this coalition destroy the United Nations as the arbiter of international order." We must form a new coalition to build institutions of global governance capable of safeguarding the world from the new superpower that is globally dictating its policy to the rest of the world.
We conduct this debate, 18 months after the horror and tragedies of
Many will ask how we got ourselves into the position in which we find ourselves tonight. I have sat here for months listening to Ministers confidently predicting that those institutions would accept the challenges before them. I have waited for Ministers to produce the killer piece of evidence that they gave the impression was there. It has not materialised. With hindsight, their optimism was misguided, misplaced and misleading. There is no smoking gun. There is no clear link between international terrorism and Saddam Hussein. The dodgy dossier and the false claims of attempts to buy uranium in Africa have undermined the argument. There is some evidence that the tyrant is disarming. These are all strong arguments for opposing involvement in this conflict, yet I pause. What would be the consequences of turning our backs on this motion tonight? In my judgment, it would simply make things worse and, if I had any doubts, I was persuaded by the speech of the Prime Minister this afternoon.
As a young politician, I was brought up to believe that democracies do not start wars. It is not for civilised nations to interfere with the internal affairs of another country, no matter how much we disapprove. But now, the tyrants hide behind that principle and terrorise their own people, believing that they are immune. We need no further evidence than the stream of refugees fleeing from cruelty and torture in Iraq. If we couple that with the new emergence of the unseen enemy who leaves no fingerprints and dies for his cause—the suicide bomber and the man who flies a plane into a building—we realise that the rules of the game have changed.
We must never forget the horror and traumas of the
The cry of those who oppose this war—for whom I have huge respect—is not to leave Iraq alone, but to persuade that country to disarm by peaceful means. That is well meaning and well intentioned, but, in my judgment, it is unachievable. If we were to give Saddam Hussein an extra six months to comply, we would be back here in six months' time having the same debate. He has already flouted endless UN resolutions. That is what has brought us to this point. If France said that it would support a UN resolution, provided that certain conditions were met, I would understand—we all would. But if it continues to prevaricate, I cannot see the point of further delay. Despite serving in the Royal Navy for nine years during the cold war, I am as appalled as anybody by the threat of war. However, I believe that it is only a matter of time before
Failure to solve the Israel-Palestine conflict is at the root of the discontent in the Arab world. The announcement of a new impetus to solve that crisis once and for all is persuasive and warmly welcomed. Along with rebuilding Iraq and restoring confidence in our institutions, that must be our priority.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the Palestinian crisis. Does he not think that 50 years of arming, financing and not condemning Israel, and allowing it to possess nuclear weapons, are contributory factors to the destabilisation of the whole political process in the middle east?
The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful point, but that is not the question before us tonight. The question that we are being asked to address is about the here and now, and whether we involve ourselves in this war. Of course his point is relevant, but it is not the central point.
A successful outcome to this conflict will not end terrorism, but it will contain it. It will send a message to those who engage in or support terrorism that there will be a price to pay. In a powerful speech, the Chief Rabbi recently said that we were not looking at the difference between night and day. He said that we were in the twilight areas of dawn and dusk, and that this was not about the difference between right and wrong, but about which of the two wrongs we should choose.
This is a defining moment in world history. Our policy of being at the heart of Europe is in ruins. We are witnessing the emergence of new principles in international affairs. We must play our part in the new order that will emerge from the rubble of this conflict. It is with a heavy heart that I will support this motion tonight, but to me it is the lesser of two evils.
May I say that it is with a heavy heart that I will not be supporting the Government's motion this evening? I feel it necessary to put a few things on the record about what one is not, when explaining what one intends to do.
I am certainly not anti-American. I agree very much with the points made by Mr. Hague about what we owe to the United States. I am sorry that he is not in his place at the moment. As ever, he made a characteristically strong and authoritative speech. There must be many Conservative Members who wonder why he ever stood down and left them with his father as leader. I endorse his point that we owe a great debt of honour to the United States. If it had not been for the intervention of the United States in the last war, who knows, we would probably have been overrun by the Nazis, and many people in the Chamber would have been growing small moustaches and polishing their jackboots—those, that is, who had not already been eliminated.
I am not pro-Saddam Hussein. I was speaking against him in the early 1980s when the then Conservative Government, the German Government, the French Government and the Russians were all arming him, trading with him and sustaining him. I need no lectures on how evil Saddam Hussein is, but to compare him with Hitler is absurd. There is no comparison between the ramshackle state of Iraq and the military and industrial might of Germany in the 1930s. This is not the occupation of the Rhineland; it is not Czechoslovakia; it certainly is not Poland. And George Bush sure is not Winston Churchill.
I am not one of those who think that all leadership automatically leads to treachery. The Prime Minister has worked himself almost physically to a standstill to try and resolve this issue peacefully and through the United Nations, which is enormously to his credit. But, tragically, we have failed in the process, simply because the case for war has not been persuasive in the United Nations, in Europe or in this country as a whole.
It is far too convenient to blame the French. Legally, of course, we might or might not have needed a second resolution as well as resolution 1441—you get your lawyers, and you get whatever view you are prepared to pay for—but politically, securing that second resolution was crucial. If it truly was only the French who opposed it, we should have pushed for a vote in the Security Council in order to isolate them. Their veto would then have been seen as unreasonable, if they had used it. But the threat of the veto was not, in fact, what it was all about.
While we are talking about vetoes, let me say that it really is time that we proposed getting rid of the veto in the UN Security Council. It is a legacy of the old cold war. Anyway, I do not think that this was about the threat of a French veto. We did not push for a vote to see whether we could isolate the French, because we knew that we would have been in the minority in the Security Council. It is simply not credible for us to say now, having not done that, that we propose to uphold the authority of the United Nations. What is being proposed will undermine the authority of the United Nations and replace it with Pax Americana.
I accept that the Prime Minister has been a restraining influence on the US Administration, but it is becoming clearer by the day that President Bush and/or his advisers have always wanted a war with Iraq. Now he needs one; he desperately needs that war for his own domestic agenda. For the Americans, Saddam Hussein has become a symbol of everything that is wrong in the world. No one could seriously suggest that Saddam Hussein poses a direct threat to the security of the United States, but the world has changed for the United States, dramatically and traumatically, and the Americans need the war for that reason. They need a war against the symbol, Saddam Hussein. Unfortunately—if I may use that old Texan cowboy cliché—we in this country, the British Government, have been led into a box canyon.
Of course I accept that. We could equally say that we have the money to send large numbers of troops to the Gulf, but we cannot get the Central line running.
What really worries me, though, is that we in this country are now trapped between a bunch of right-wing religious bigots in the White House and Islamic terrorists in the middle east. That worries me, and it should worry all Members. We are being dictated to by the demands of United States domestic politics. Just think about it: would we be here if the Democrats were still in control of the White House? Would we still be arguing the case for the invasion of Iraq if the Labour party were in opposition? Thank God we are not, but I think that if we were I would hear people saying "No, we must stand by the United Nations. We in the Labour party have always been an internationalist party, and we must do nothing that would undermine the authority of the United Nations".
I am old enough to remember Suez. I recommend a reading of Anthony Eden's memoirs, which, ironically, are entitled "Full Circle". In that book, Eden suggested that the British Government wanted to use the invasion of Suez "to secure a solution of middle eastern problems". That is exactly what we are now being promised in the context of the invasion of Iraq. We have now come up with something called the road map. Well, it is a pity that we did not have that road map 46 years ago. Where has that road map been for the last 46 years? I can only say that it must have been in the hands of Mark Thatcher.
In 1957, we were forced out of Suez by the Americans—by President Eisenhower. I believe the Americans were right then, but they are wrong now. Regrettably, we were wrong then and it looks as though we are going to be wrong now. Clearly, we in this country learn very little from history.
I am not a rebel, and I really object to being described as one because I happen to disagree with what the Government propose.
I do not accept that at all. We have all agreed that this is a matter of conscience and judgment. I think that this is the place, in a democracy, where we can have disagreements, although I do not want them to be rancorous. I do not want the Prime Minister to get a bloody nose. I am not one of those who want to see him go. The Prime Minister has led this country and our party well, and I want to sustain him. On this occasion, I am afraid I cannot do that—but that merely underlines the strength of my loyalty, for I feel very unhappy that I will be voting against the Government tonight.
Ultimately, my decision not to support the Government is not a result of my wrestling with my conscience all night and then clinging to office. My decision to vote against the Government is based on a cold calculation of what I think is in the best interests of the country. The disadvantages of this clearly outweigh the advantages. Yes, we will get rid of Saddam Hussein, but the potential problems are enormous: a Pandora's box could be opened in front of us. We will have a divided country, a divided party, a divided Parliament, a divided UN and a divided European Union, which I think is terrible; and there will always be the chance of more terrorism in this country and around the world.
That is my analysis. If I am wrong there is no damage, but if the Government are wrong we really are in deep do-do.
Tonight's vote is not about whether there is war or peace. It is a vote about whether there is war with us or without us, and, by extrapolation, about whether there is reconstruction with us or without us—and, by further extrapolation, about whether there is a rebuilding of international institutions with us or, perhaps, not at all.
I will go into the Government's Lobby tonight after travelling a rocky and reluctant road, and without enthusiasm. I want to explore why so many people are concerned about the prospect of war, and why this war has commanded so little general support in comparison with previous conflicts.
When the Prime Minister put British troops into Sierra Leone, I thought that that was an act of outstanding courage. There were no votes in it, and no issues that would sway British electors; the Prime Minister saw it as a moral concern. When we participated in Kosovo and Afghanistan, it was apparent to me that that was the right thing to do. Humanitarian and security issues were at stake, and ethics and politics met.
I do not have the same conviction over Iraq. For one thing, we have been told specifically that it is not a humanitarian issue. The Foreign Secretary has said clearly that, if Saddam were to give up his weapons voluntarily and easily, he would stay in power. He would then be free to continue his activities, in power. It may be that, by accident and miscalculation, we can turn this into a humanitarian issue, but we did not embark on this venture for humanitarian purposes.
It is a pre-emptive war in its conception. However much I share the loathing for the Iraqi regime, I believe that there must be special reasons for embarking on a pre-emptive war. Of course there is a generic threat to the UK from the existence of weapons that lend themselves to terrorism. That is the reason that President Bush used in his broadcast much earlier today, but it has not been demonstrated that there is a specific threat to the UK.
The Prime Minister says that the national interest is at stake. It is, in the general sense that our national interest is to have a world that is well ordered and democratic rather than one that is unstable and run by despots. However, I and many other people cannot see how that national interest is more threatened today than it was three, five or 10 years ago. Indeed, my understanding is that over that period Iraqi capability has been degraded, and that Saddam has been debilitated and pegged down—that deterrence, in a nutshell, is working. We must remember that, in many ways, the war started a long time ago, with the constant aerial intervention over Iraq.
People say, "Well, the Prime Minister must know something we don't." We have all rather taken in refuge in the belief that the Prime Minister must have access to information that we do not have. The Government speak with such categorical certainty about Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction that one is inclined to believe them. But does Saddam Hussein have such weapons? Will we find the arsenals that we believe are there?
The nuclear inspectors have talked about the matter, but not with the apparentness to which public opinion responds. Moreover, the Government have made some statements that have been at odds with statements in the document that they issued in September, especially in connection with the building of nuclear capacity.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. It is unlikely that I will be called to speak, so I am adopting all his arguments, but is not the logic of the American position regime change? Trust has broken down so much that the Americans could never be sure that Saddam would ever give up all his weapons. Ever since
I agree with my hon. Friend, but the problem is that America's reasons for the war have changed often. The Americans have given a number of reasons for the war, and the UK has always been careful to exclude regime change from our rationale, but there is a dislocation between the logic being brought to bear in Washington and the logic here.
The Government seem to postulate a choice between the forcible disarmament of Saddam, and the inevitable rebuilding of his weaponry. Given the degree of surveillance constantly applied to Iraq, I wonder whether that really is the only choice at hand.
The Government say that they will fight to uphold the will of the UN or of the international community, but we chose the UN route knowing its rules. The Government pulled President Bush down that route, and we all applauded when they did. It is difficult now to invoke a mandate based on furthering the interests of the international community in the UN when we acknowledge that the UN would not deliver the endorsement that we sought.
The problem is that the US has given the impression that its only interest in the UN was to get its approval for war, and not to exploit the potential for progress by non-military means. Every report from the weapons inspectors has invariably been greeted by Washington as a causus belli. The US has shown a palpable distaste for the whole UN operation.
Of course I believe that the French actions would have been a great deal more plausible had President Chirac said that, if Saddam did not conform to UN requirements after a certain period, French troops would take their place alongside other troops in the Gulf. That he did not say that is a signal failure on his part. French policy has failed but, if France stands accused of wanting to veto war whatever the circumstances, many observers drew the conclusion that that was in reaction to an apparent US predetermination for war. The Americans' reasons for war kept changing, but their military build-up was remorseless.
I have real concerns about the position of the UK. I respect the depth and power of the Prime Minister's conviction that the policy is right, but there is a real danger that the UK will fail to meet US expectations, while at the same time it is burning its boats in respect of relations in Europe. I have doubts about whether the policy—if it is the Government's policy—that the UK can act as influence, harness, guide and tutor to the exercise of power by the world's only superpower is, in the long term, any more than a historical intellectual conceit.
Is not another problem with UK involvement in this adventure that we are the old imperial power in Iraq? People in Iraq and throughout the Arab world must understand that. Even in 1955, we had Crown territories in the area, and Iraqi military recruits had British officers. Will not that pose a serious problem for how the Arab world perceives the UK?
I suspect not, as a matter of fact. I think that that history has died. I believe what is said about the relationship of the Iraqi people to their regime.
However, the question of how we cope with the world's only hegemon, especially after
All European states ultimately have an enormous stake in the EU, the UN and NATO. Those structures are now badly fractured, but they are still of proven resilience.
I share the bewilderment of millions of Britons as to how we got here. It is reasonable for that unease to be registered in this Chamber tonight, but one thing that we must conclude is that the UK has to think hard about its role in the world, and about how its interests are best served in that world.
The decision tonight is not about whether there should be peace or not, because that decision has passed us by. If it had not passed us by, I should have had no hesitation about going into the Lobby that stands for peace. However, I must decide what my country's legitimate role and influence are. I have to decide how best I can propel my country to be that force in world affairs that is part of our historical destiny and which, to use a Gallic word, is our vocation.
That is why, with much heart rending, I shall go into the Government Lobby tonight. We must throw open the debate to deal with what happens in the aftermath of war. We must discuss how we reconstruct and rebuild, and how we can avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. If we do that, the conflict—which we all pray will be as short and clean as conflicts ever can be—will have taught something to us, as well as to our enemies.
We all face a difficult choice tonight, whichever way we decide to vote, but we will all respect the choice that each individual Member makes. When I came here today I intended, reluctantly, not to support the Government, but I have listened to Members on both sides and that has made my life very difficult. The expectation that we will do the right thing makes life difficult, and life is about difficult choices.
This week we have been told that the Prime Minister is reckless, but I do not believe that. No one could have done more than the Prime Minister. I must also support the Foreign Secretary for the way in which he has backed our Prime Minister. It is difficult and hard, and I wonder how we have ended up in this position. Hindsight is a great thing and we can look back and say that we would have done things differently. Unfortunately, we cannot change things now, and we all face a tough decision tonight. I am not yet sure how I will vote tonight. At first, I was fairly confident that I could not support the Government, but the conviction that I hear from both sides persuades me that I must question right up to 10 o'clock whether I am doing the right thing.
The Prime Minister deserves credit for what he has done to avoid war so far. Without doubt, we would have been at war already without our Prime Minister. What worries me—my quandary—is how we can rebuild the UN. I said that our Prime Minister has been called reckless, but the French Government and President are the reckless ones. I do not seek to blame them, but they have been reckless in this matter.
The credibility of the Government is what will count tonight. I am concerned about the credibility of the map that has been drawn for the future of the middle east. We will be united by the fact that we all fully support the British troops whose lives will be put at risk. It is not easy for me to say, "Go to war and risk your life." It will not be my life on the line, but that of an 18-year-old from my constituency and many others. Every hon. Member has constituents who will be put at risk. Two Territorial Army regiments have already been called up from Chorley, together with many full-time regulars. Their lives will be put at risk. I would like to think that we still had the opportunity not to put their lives, or the lives of civilians in Iraq, at risk.
That would be an interesting scenario and I think we would then pull back our troops. The Government would be left with no alternative. The point is that the troops are now ready to go. We could have had an easy choice tonight if the Prime Minister had already committed the troops. We could all have got behind him and our lives would have been made easier. But tonight is not about easy choices: it is about difficult choices. We all face a difficult choice. I cannot easily face up to that choice, but I must do so later.
Many of my constituents genuinely believe that there should be an alternative to war, and I fully support that view. I wish that I could give them an answer, but we no longer have an alternative. It has now gone, and that is the difficulty. The press, the Churches, the constituency parties, other hon. Members and the general public all have their views, and we should listen to them and uphold their wishes, but sometimes we have to stand up and be counted.
Tonight we have to make a difficult choice, and hon. Members on both sides of the House will be represented in both Lobbies. The split will not be straightforward, down party lines, because this is a matter of conscience. We should have a conscience on this issue. We should consider not what will happen to us, but what will happen to our armed forces. They will risk their lives, and that is what worries me. People say that the troops signed up for the job that they do, and that is true, but we should always seek to explore any alternative to war. We should grasp any opportunity to avoid war as firmly as possible, but my worry is that it is not there for us to grasp. That is what makes our choice tonight so difficult. When I vote tonight, I will upset people whichever way I go. I hope that we can all make the right decision.
I am one of those who have wondered whether, after 12 years, a few more weeks mattered. I believed that, if the opportunity was there to allow a few more weeks, I would support that. However, during those 12 years, we have failed, along with American Governments. When we saw the Marsh Arabs and the Kurds rise up against Saddam's regime—one of the most evil regimes that we know—we failed them in their hour of need. When they wanted us, we turned our backs. Are we going to mislead them again? There is a danger that they will rise up, thinking that they have the backing of this Government and the American Government.
My hon. Friend is struggling, as we all are, with these difficult issues. Some hon. Members have portrayed this as a simple issue—one Lobby for war and one for peace. Does he agree that it is not as simple as that and that there is no peace in Iraq to maintain? It is a country in which there is murder, barbarism, torture and oppression. Walking away from that will not help the Iraqi people one bit.
I agree that there is no simple answer. This is a difficult time for all of us. It will be a matter of conscience. I will not condemn anybody, no matter how they vote, because they will be voting for what they think is right. It is important that we will be voting for what we believe in and not for what we have been told to vote. People may say that we have been put under pressure. There is pressure from all sides, but I will not vote because of pressure but because I hope that what I am doing is right for my constituents.
There is no doubt that innocent civilians will be killed, because we cannot protect everyone. That is a price that I do not wish to pay. However, I am beginning to believe that we are left with little choice. The decision will be hard. I will swing between being with the Government and against the Government. As I say, this is a tough time. We have to make our minds up and do the right thing. We have to make the choice. I must make the right decision—not because of what happens to me but because of what happens to the people of Iraq and our troops on the ground. I must stand by my decision and explain it to my constituents if I let them down.
Nobody who has listened to the Prime Minister over the past few months and, indeed, this afternoon, when he made a powerful speech, could doubt his conviction and sincerity on this matter. I agree with the Foreign Secretary when he says that no one has a moral monopoly.
I find myself in the same position as Mr. Banks. Before I start, I want to set out my reasons for taking the view that I have taken. I am certainly not anti-American. Indeed, having shared, at least in a superficial way, the events of
Having taken all those factors into account, I still feel that, at this stage and under these circumstances, the option of war is wrong. I believe that for three reasons. First, I do not believe that the alternatives have been exhausted. That has been largely because of a gross failure of diplomacy. My criticism is not of the energy levels of the British Government and our representatives in pursuing a consensus, but because I believe that the consensus that they were pursuing was on the wrong basis. Throughout the process, there was a ticking clock, and I agree with Sir Crispin Tickell, who asked who started the clock ticking. The British Government were trying to find a consensus on a military timetable rather than on a process of disarmament.
The case for war has not yet been made, certainly not to my satisfaction, but also not to the satisfaction of the people whom I represent in my constituency. Why is that important? Because, as a democracy, we can declare war only with the consent of the people of this country, and that consent is not presently there. The reason why they are not persuaded is partly because of the Government's changing position: first, the pretext was weapons of mass destruction, then regime change, and then some humanitarian impulse. At the last Defence questions, the Secretary of State for Defence seemed to be saying that, if British troops were put into Iraq, they would be attacked by Saddam Hussein's forces, so that was a pretext for putting British troops into Iraq.
Those arguments do not ring true to the British people. We have had a superfluity of dubious evidence that has been countermanded by the inspectors themselves when they have looked at it. We heard about the yellow mud from Niger, which turned out not to have been imported at all, and the mobile biological laboratories that proved to be ordinary trucks. There probably is significant evidence available to the security services, but it has not been shared with the British people.
Any progress that the inspectors have made has been belittled and demeaned by the American Government, and sometimes by the British Government as well. That is not helpful in persuading world opinion that the British and American Governments were serious about disarmament rather than about finding a pretext for war. Any number of fallacious arguments have been put forward, whereby anyone who does not agree with the Government's position is held to hold views that are absurd. It does not do much for the body politic for such arguments to be advanced.
The third reason why I find myself in difficulty is that I believe in the United Nations. I do not believe that when the Security Council has not been able to reach a conclusion we can be said to be acting in its name. Without that agreement, action would be illegitimate and wrong. I personally have doubts about action even with that agreement, because it would then be legitimate, but folly. There are very many arguments for not taking military action in the present circumstances. I do not want to get hung up on international law, which is often a chimera that can take any shape that the strongest country chooses to adopt for it, but I do believe that the political legitimacy that the United Nations Security Council offers is a significant factor that has now been thrown away.
As regards the position from now on, I share the view of every Member of this House. I am arguing against war. I am not persuaded for one moment by the ridiculous proposition that, because our troops may be employed, it is wrong for us to argue against their being deployed. This is the only opportunity that we have to make that point. Once the troops are in the field, however, I will give them my every support, and I expect every Member so to do.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that those of us who will vote against war and will later, when war starts, be opposed to it, are not thereby against our troops in any way, and that we will wish to support and sustain them as well as we can, even though we think that they should have been pulled out? Indeed, it would be difficult for me to adopt any other position. When I was 18—many moons ago—I was in Iraq as a member of the forces, never having heard a shot fired in anger.
The hon. Gentleman speaks with singular personal authority on that issue. I do not doubt the sincerity of any hon. Member , and nor will I doubt their credentials. I wonder whether we have paid sufficient attention to the humanitarian consequences of war, and whether the promised regional initiatives will come to pass. However, my biggest concern is that the consequences of this war are incalculable. I hope that they will be very much less than may prove to be the case, but I fear that there will be a knock-on effect not only in the region, but across the world.
In my more despondent moments, I feel that since
I am glad to have the opportunity to speak in this debate—it is a very difficult debate—in making a decision on which way to vote. I have been approached by many of my constituents, by party officers and by others in this House in the past 24 hours, and they have given me advice as to which way I should vote. I say that the debate is difficult because, as an officer in the Labour party for some 45 years, this is one of the most difficult decisions that I have had to take. The last thing that I want to do is to damage the Labour party and the Government, who are so ably led by our Prime Minister. They have done an excellent job since 1997, and I recognise the part that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have played in the past few weeks in trying to get a second United Nations resolution.
At the end of the day, of course, the decision has to be mine. I have decided that I will vote for the amendment, although I would have preferred one that included a timetable. I would have liked to incorporate amendment (b), which was not selected, into amendment (a), on which we will vote. I would have preferred a timetable, because a line must eventually be drawn in terms of how long we are prepared to give Saddam Hussein to disarm, and of how long the exercise can go on. I shall abstain on the main motion. I cannot support it because it contains a passage that effectively gives the power to go ahead to war now; however, I do support almost everything else in it. It refers to what will take place after the conflict, assuming that it happens, and I fully support that. It is with great regret that I will not be able to support the Government tonight.
I accept that Saddam Hussein is an evil tyrant and that he possesses weapons of mass destruction, although exactly what they are we do not know. However, I recognise that the weapons inspectors have asked for more time, and it is for that reason that I will vote for the amendment. It is wrong for Hans Blix's report to be rejected. He has clearly said that he wants more time—months, not years—and I believe that we should give him that time.
I also believe that it is very important that we do not fall into the trap that some seem to have fallen into today. They say that war is inevitable in any event, regardless of tonight's vote, and in doing so they are implying that it is essential for us to go ahead, so that we can influence the United States after the conflict has taken place, and that if we do not join them, they will totally ignore us in future. That would be an appalling tragedy for the whole world. I want us to strengthen the United Nations.
I did not say that; I said clearly that I would abstain. We all have to make our decisions and defend them. I shall defend my decision because it is based on my personal view of the situation. It is my vote and I shall vote for the amendment and abstain on the motion.
As I was pointing out, I do not believe that if the US chose to disregard the views of this country, there would be no future for unity or for the credibility of the United Nations.
I am concerned about stability in the middle east. We must also consider countries such as Pakistan where the National Assembly was prorogued last Thursday. I am a supporter and sympathiser of President Musharraf; he should be assisted. I want the infant democracy of Pakistan to succeed. If Musharraf fell, there would be an extremist Government, which would be appalling.
Wars do not result only in death and injury; there are also massive refugee movements. On my last visit to Pakistan, I saw refugees from Kashmir and the 2 million refugees from Afghanistan. They had not fled from recent events in Afghanistan but from the Soviet invasion of 20 or 30 years ago. There are many such displaced persons all over the world.
I can remember the end of the second world war. I was living in London when the flying bombs and rockets started so I know what it is like to be bombed. Indeed, to this day, I remember my seventh birthday. Just as I picked up my present, we heard a flying bomb overhead. We panicked because the engine cut out and we thought it was coming straight at us, so I never saw my present again. After that, we moved north to Burnley, which is why I ended up as its Member of Parliament. Burnley suffered as a result of my evacuation.
My hon. Friend Mr. Banks referred—[Interruption.]
Order. Conversations are breaking out throughout the House. I appreciate that we are coming to the end of the debate, but the House should do Mr. Pike the courtesy of listening to what he is saying.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Ham referred to the Suez invasion. I am no pacifist and I was doing my national service at that time as a member of the Royal Marines. I was not called to Suez although I should have been if the conflict had continued.
Suez shows that some conflicts do not yield the aims that we set out with. That is why I am worried about the present situation. As my hon. Friend pointed out, the aim of Suez was to end the middle east problem and to keep the canal open: but what happened? Ships were sunk in the canal and it was blocked for years. We had to develop supertankers because we could not use the canal.
The other fiasco was that there were tragic deaths. A marksman in my squad was killed by the Egyptians as he was disembarking from a helicopter. I shall never forget that. We were only 18 or 19 years old. The consequences of war can be extremely serious.
I do not think we have reached the stage where we need to go to war. We need a few more months to allow the weapons inspections to be completed. The inspectors should be allowed to say whether disarmament is taking place. We could then make a decision.
The action that we are taking is tragic. I realise that
We also need to solve the problems of poverty and illiteracy throughout the world. Our Prime Minister is committed to that and I give him my full support, but I cannot vote with him tonight.
This has been a remarkable and extraordinary debate. We have heard from 55 hon. Members—too many for me to refer to them all, I am afraid, and I hope that those to whom I do not refer will forgive me. It has been a passionate and sincere debate in the best traditions of the House, and may I say what a pleasure it is to see Mr. Campbell in his place this evening? We could have done with him earlier in the debate.
None of us can derive any pleasure from where we find ourselves tonight. We had all hoped that the UN would provide a route to disarming Saddam Hussein of his weapons of mass destruction. As my right hon. Friend Mr. Curry said, sadly, we were wrong in that hope. We had all hoped that a united international voice would bring Saddam Hussein to his senses. We knew that only a united and determined voice, backed by the credible threat of force, would work.
Now, sadly, we will never know whether a second resolution would have brought Saddam Hussein to disarm voluntarily. What we know is that that chance has been sunk by the ill-considered action of France, and I hope that, as the transient euphoria and popularity fade, the French will reflect on the chilling consequences of their ill-considered action. I agree with my right hon. Friend Mr. Mackay and Mr. Trimble in their judgments on France; I do not believe that history will treat France kindly.
Although it is extremely unfortunate that President Chirac used the words "regardless of the circumstances", is it not time to consider a more accurate portrayal of what he actually said in the context of the assessment that the weapons inspection process was working and the acknowledgement of the role that the threat of force has played? President Chirac says:
"My position is that, regardless of the circumstances, France will vote "No" because she considers this evening that there are no grounds for waging war in order to achieve the goal we have set ourselves—to disarm Iraq."
I am sorry that I gave way to the hon. Lady; I had not realised that she is an apologist for the French President. The French President knew exactly what he was saying when he said it, and he knew its impact.
Serious concerns have been expressed today and, as we have said throughout, we must respect the sincerity of one another's views. I heard the views of my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Hogg; my hon. Friends the Members for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed), for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) and for Billericay (Mr. Baron); and Mr. Denham. I do not agree with their conclusions, but I respect their views and pay tribute to them for the way that they expressed them today.
I also tried to listen with respect to the leader of the Liberal Democrats. He knocked me off that attempt very early in his remarks. He lectured us on the need to listen to the voice of the House if it were to vote against the Government tonight. He then told us that he would not accept the judgment of the House if it voted for the Government motion tonight—some democrat. He made false accusations that the Government sold arms to Saddam Hussein after he gassed the Kurds, and then he refused to accept an intervention from my right hon. Friend Mr. Lilley, who would have proved him wrong—not much moral fibre in that. He talked of consistency; his only consistency is his inconsistency. He makes the Grand Old Duke of York look like a paragon of decisiveness.
The debate has revolved around a number of key questions. First, does Saddam Hussein—[Interruption.]
First, does Saddam Hussein really pose a risk to international peace and security? Well, the UN certainly thinks so, and it has thought so for the past 12 years because all but one of the 17 resolutions was passed under chapter VII of the UN charter, which deals with threats to international peace and security and which, under article 42, permits the use of military force if necessary to deal with them.
It was interesting that the words of resolution 1441 deliberately replicated the language of article 42. Nobody who signed up to it, including France, can be in any doubt as to what that resolution means. They knew at the time when they signed, and they still know it. Nobody denies that Saddam Hussein has failed to comply with resolution 1441. It is incomprehensible that any of the signatories did not accept the need for the action that must flow from it.
The second question is: does Saddam pose a threat to us? The Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, in powerful speeches today, made a compelling case, to which I do not need to add. Hans Blix's
Why should we act now? There is no doubt, as my hon. Friend Mr. Maples argued effectively, that if we were to withdraw from action now and withdraw our troops, we would not only destroy the credibility of ourselves and our policy but of the United Nations and international security, too. There can never be an absolutely right time, but history teaches us that action delayed or postponed is rarely action avoided. Putting off what needs to be done almost always leads to more dangerous challenges later. As my hon. Friend Mr. Streeter said, if we do not deal with it now, we will have to do so later. To me, that is the most compelling reason why we must vote for action tonight.
My right hon. Friend Sir Brian Mawhinney said that it was not enough to know what must be done if we do not do it. We do not have the moral right to turn our backs on a threat in the certain knowledge that we will leave to those who come after us something far worse and far more dangerous. There can be no more dishonourable political act than that.
The next question is: is military action legal? I accept the Attorney-General's advice. It is not the advice of an individual lawyer or legal expert but the considered legal advice of the person who is charged with the constitutional duty of advising the Government and the House on the legality or otherwise of actions. The House should give exceptional weight to that advice.
Does my right hon. Friend recall that, in 1991, in the Gulf war, an inherent right of self-defence enabled us to repel Iraqi aggression against Kuwait, but the British and US Governments sought and received specific approval from the United Nations? Many, such as me, feel that we should have continued down the path of seeking specific approval from the UN. In the absence of that, however, the question we must resolve tonight is: will we vote for this amendment, the only result of which would be for the American Government to go it alone, knocking away the last remaining central pillar of British foreign policy, after all the damage that has already taken place?
I agree with my hon. Friend on his last point. On his first point, if he looks at the Attorney- General's advice, he will see that, under resolution 1441, consequent on the previous resolutions, the legal authority is there.
What we must realise tonight is that we vote but our armed forces fight. We must never forget our armed forces as we debate conflict. We must never take them for granted. They are brave, professional and courageous. They will do what is asked of them, and they will perform magnificently. They must know that they have our unequivocal and wholehearted support.
What we are doing is right in the national interest, but it must also show positive results in meeting all our objectives, and I was pleased to see that those objectives are set out in full in the motion. My hon. Friend the Member for Billericay was correct in saying that the House and the Government must address them. The first of those is the elimination of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. We must not forget that that is the objective of the United Nations resolution: it was never regime change; it was the elimination of those weapons.We need to be sure that our military operations will specifically target Saddam's weapons of mass destruction—whether it is the nerve agents, the mustard gas, the illegal warheads or the other vile weaponry that we have heard about.
We know from the experience in South African that if a country is committed to disarmament, the United Nations can achieve it extraordinarily quickly. I remember that nuclear disarmament in South Africa was carried out in a matter of days once the Government decided to go down that route. I hope that arrangements are being made with the United Nations to ensure that once relevant areas of Iraq are secure from Saddam Hussein's regime, it will finally be able to complete its mission fully and disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction.
We also want to hear the Foreign Secretary outline clearly that the Government are making adequate provision for the swift delivery of humanitarian aid. That is not only to reassure the House and the British people but, more importantly by far, to let the people of Iraq know that with the removal of Saddam Hussein, the aid that they so desperately need will be immediately forthcoming. It is important to get that message to them as early as possible. We are told that all that is in hand, but we have not yet heard what is in hand or how it will be delivered. My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge rightly pointed out, in a moving speech, that in Yugoslavia we started but we did not finish. This time we must finish.
We must also ensure that what replaces Saddam Hussein's brutal regime is a truly representative Government, accepted by the Iraqi people and, as Kofi Annan said and the Azores meeting agreed, under the auspices of the United Nations. The new regime should allow the fledgling, functioning democracy of Kurdish northern Iraq to continue to meet Kurdish aspirations for a degree of autonomy. It should recognise the long-ignored Shi'a majority rights and their claim to a share in the Government. It should safeguard the rights of the Sunni Arabs of central Iraq and of smaller minority groups, such as the Turkoman population in the north and the small Iraqi Christian population. If the Administration are not representative—if they are not balanced—they will fail. I hope that the Government are well appraised of that in their conversations with the United Nations. Above all, we must preserve the territorial integrity of Iraq, as the United States, the United Kingdom and the United Nations have all recognised. Coupled with representative Government, that is vital in order for that country to move forward to the domestic cohesion, stability and prosperity that it so wants and, I believe, deserves.
But we cannot look at Iraq in isolation, especially when we talk about stability in the region. We know that the focus of so much anger emanates from the continuing Israel-Palestine dispute There will never be a settled peace in the wider Arab world until there is a lasting peace between the Arabs and the Israelis. If action is to be taken in Iraq, as my hon. Friend Sir Nicholas Winterton said, there must also be immediate progress in the nearer middle east. We must urge the United States not only to publish the road map, but to promote discussion and implementation of it. We must also press both Israelis and Palestinians urgently to engage in genuine negotiations that lead to a secure Israel sitting alongside a viable Palestine.
Once that is done, further immediate challenges will face us all in rebuilding, reforming and renewing those institutions that have been the victim of the divisions in the past months. As my right hon. Friends the Members for North-West Cambridgeshire, for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) and for Fylde (Mr. Jack) said, the events of the past months have called into the question the ability of the United Nations to act with unanimity when international security is threatened. The events raise serious doubts about the current structures and procedures of the United Nations. When the crisis is over, we will need to generate a debate on how it can be made effective again.
We will also need to look at NATO. We cannot let a body that has assured our peace and security for 50 years to become a footnote in history, but that is what we face today. Recent events have shaken NATO to its foundations. They have sown severe doubts in the minds of the United States and many new members. We must fully embrace the vision advanced at Prague last year for NATO to develop greater capabilities and specialisations to deal with new threats, crisis management, non-proliferation and, indeed, missile defence. Above all, as my right hon. Friend Mr. Hague in a remarkable and typical speech said, we must ensure that the United States remains fully engaged in NATO and that the Atlantic partnership remains its foundation.
Recent events have also created fundamental rifts in the European Union. They have proved that a unified European foreign policy is a fantasy. I have to say that the Opposition have always said that it was. We need to repair Europe and to restore damaged relations, not within a coercive structure, but as part of a true partnership, and I hope that the lessons of the last months will be well and truly learned before the Convention on the Future of Europe resumes its work.
This debate has highlighted the evil with which we are faced, and it has made it clear why that evil now needs to be removed. It has shown clearly that Saddam Hussein with weapons of mass destruction is a threat, that the threat is current and real, that Saddam will not disarm voluntarily, and that the people of Iraq have suffered under this tyrant for long enough. As my hon. Friend Mr. Johnson said, we can choose tonight to prolong the misery or bring it to an end.
The time for decision has come, not just for the Prime Minister, not just for the Government, but for the House. The motion asks us to authorise "all means necessary" to remove Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. We know what those words mean. Those words mean military action and military action means war. This is not easy for any of us. I say in all seriousness that voting for war is the most serious vote that can be cast in the House. Voting for war in the knowledge that we are committing our armed forces, that lives may be lost, that injuries will be sustained and damage caused, is hard. It is a grave moment for us all. But as Conservatives on these Benches we know what we must do.
Our party has always stood for the national interest. Our party has always stood for the security of its citizens. Our party has always stood for what is right. These are our principles, our instincts, our traditions, and we will remain true to them tonight. We know where the British national interest lies. This debate has confirmed that the Government are acting in that national interest and we will support the Government in doing so.
Tonight we will do what is right. We will be true to our country, to our principles and to ourselves. I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to oppose the amendment and support the Government in the Lobby tonight. 9.32 pm
This has been a fine debate on a momentous issue. There have, as we heard, been 52 speeches from the Back Benches and I commend them all. I should particularly like to welcome back Mr. Campbell. It is a real delight to see him in his place. Mr. Ancram spoke with feeling and for the House when he said that we have sorely missed him—a point to which I shall return, if tempted, in a moment.
It is invidious to pick out from those 52 speeches any for special mention, but I do pick out two—one made this afternoon by my right hon. Friend Mr. Denham. I greatly regret the fact that he has chosen to resign. I do not happen to share his view, but I have to say, first, that I greatly admired his record as a Minister in two Departments, and I think that the whole House was impressed by the quiet and dignified way in which he made his speech of resignation.
That gives me an opportunity to put on record my appreciation for my right hon. Friend and my friend Mr. Cook, my predecessor as Foreign Secretary for four years, a very fine Foreign Secretary, and an excellent Leader of the House. I am sorry that after great years of collaboration in the shadow Cabinet and in government, he has left the Front Bench. That will not reduce our respect or friendship, but it will necessarily reduce our opportunities to work together. I am especially sorry that it should have happened on an issue such as this, on which there are great divisions, and it is not possible for me, and I think I can speak for the whole Government, to support his position.
The other speech I particularly wanted to mention, and I hope that in so doing I do not undermine the great prospects ahead of him, is that of Mr. Hague, the former leader of the Conservative party—and who knows what is in store in the future? He made a very powerful case for the need for us, not only in the UK, but in Europe and the international community, to work in partnership with the United States rather than separate ourselves from the United States. He is right, because of simple facts that none can gainsay: the United States has one quarter of the world's wealth and income, and armed forces greater than those of the next 27 countries put together. The issue is not whether we can argue that the United States is the only superpower. It is whether and how we encourage the United States to work within the multilateral system, or, by our own actions, push the United States away and force it to become unilateral.
The right hon. Gentleman's dismissal of the leader of the Liberal Democrats will be recorded as one of the great parliamentary put-downs of all time. When he spoke, the House was fairly crowded, and I am sorry that it was less crowded when the Liberal Democrat hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr. Burnett) spoke, because hon. Members missed an absolute gem.
I shall in a moment, but I wanted to do the hon. Gentleman honour and flatter him by repeating precisely what he said. We were spellbound for seven minutes and 30 seconds as he made a powerful case against the amendment and in favour of the Government's motion. We were waiting to see whether the iron discipline of the Liberal Democrat party would, for once, break down and a man of conscience and principle would stand up—and of course he will in a moment. Then, in the last 25 seconds of his speech, the hon. Gentleman turned on his head, span around and explained how he would vote for the amendment.
Of course, that is only a minor error as far as the Liberal Democrats are concerned. Mr. Duncan asked whether, in view of the hon. Gentleman's statement that he would vote in favour of the amendment, he would, if the amendment were lost, then vote with the Government. This is what the hon. Gentleman replied—I wrote it down exactly. He said, "I shall make my position quite clear. I shall probably have to abstain." [Laughter.]
We will see what Hansard says tomorrow. Like other hon. Members, I shall abstain on the motion. I am surprised that the Foreign Secretary plays games on such a serious occasion. I made it clear that there is much in the Government motion that I can support, but, for example, I cannot support the proposition—and there is an overwhelming weight of opinion against it—that
"the authority to use force under Resolution 678 has revived and so continues today".
That is simply not the case.
Very good. There is nothing more to say. I will just add, before I move on to other matters, that we have seen more each-way bets placed by the Liberal Democrats this evening than ever we see on a grand national.
Before I come to the central issue of Iraq, let me say a further word about the related and very important issue of Israel and Palestine. It is as important for the future stability of the region as the disarmament of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Our aim remains a just and lasting settlement of the disputes between Israel and her Arab neighbours. That settlement must allow for a secure state of Israel and a viable and secure state of Palestine, consistent with United Nations Security Council resolutions and the principle of land for peace.
There are, I know, many criticisms, and many were expressed today, of the position of the United States Administration in respect of Israel and Palestine. That debate is for another time. However, I draw attention to the fact that in addition to resolutions 242 and 338, we now have Security Council resolutions 1397, 1402 and 1405. Those were put on the Security Council statute book with the support and at the instigation of President Bush of the United States. Never before had the United Nations committed itself to a two-state solution. It has done so now, and I commend the President of the United States, as well as the Security Council, for taking that bold step. It is crucial that we ensure that progress is made towards the implementation of that vision of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side.
I applaud the efforts of my right hon. Friend and those of the Prime Minister in bringing about the road map. Let us all hope that it turns out to be rather more than the basis for discussion, as President Bush said. There are three people who are likely to use the situation in Iraq for their own ends and use the Palestinians to that end. One is Saddam Hussein, who will attempt to dupe the Palestinians into thinking that he is their saviour, and he is not. The second is Osama bin Laden, who will try to use the situation to create the idea of a general war between Islam, and Christianity and Judaism. The third is likely to be Ariel Sharon, who may well use the situation in Iraq to strengthen the occupation inside the west bank. If he attempts to do that, perhaps as the price of his non-participation in the war in Iraq, can my right hon. Friend give an assurance that that will be resisted absolutely?
I understand my hon. Friend's concerns and I greatly applaud his work on behalf of the Palestinians. Whatever reservations he or others in the House may have about Prime Minister Sharon, Prime Minister Sharon is the elected head of a democratic Government. I do not happen to agree with my hon. Friend and I do not believe that it is fair or reasonable, therefore, to compare Prime Minister Sharon with the tyrant Saddam Hussein or the terrorist Osama bin Laden. Of course, if there is military action, as well there may be, it is incumbent on all Governments and states, especially democracies—that includes Israel and Turkey—to act responsibly, and I believe that they will do so.
The Foreign Secretary has just described Saddam Hussein as a tyrant, and I entirely agree. Throughout the debate, Members in all parts of the House have criticised Hussein's regime as evil. Is it not appropriate tonight, therefore, to remember Burke's famous dictum that all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing? Should not hon. Members bear those words in mind as they prepare to go through the Lobby?
That is good advice, but I also say to the hon. Gentleman, as I said yesterday, that none of us should claim a monopoly of morality or a monopoly of wisdom. Each of us must respect the position of the other.
As the Prime Minister spelt out earlier today, we greatly welcome the process of Palestinian reform, which has led this evening to the passing of legislation by the Palestinian Legislative Council to create a Prime Minister with Cabinet-making powers. It has confirmed the nomination of Abu Mazen as Prime Minister. That legislation has this evening been signed and approved by the President of the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Arafat. After a few formalities, which we expect to occur today, and when the appointment of Abu Mazen is confirmed, we expect the immediate publication of the Quartet's road map. I greatly welcome President Bush's announcement last Friday to that effect. That will be another very important step forward.
The road map charts a clear course to a resolution of the conflict of the kind that I have described within three years. The promise that I give to this House is that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, I and the Government as a whole will fully and actively support the Quartet and the parties in its implementation of the road map. We will hold all the parties to the promises and pledges that they have given.
During the course of this debate, a large number of questions have been asked about humanitarian relief. I should say that the House has been greatly assisted in its consideration of questions of humanitarian relief in Iraq by the fourth report of the Select Committee on International Development, which was presented just a week ago. One of the propositions in a list of recommendations made by that Select Committee was that there had to be a new United Nations Security Council resolution to provide proper authority for reconstruction and redevelopment work, and, in addition, a proper mandate for any Government who are to operate within the territory of Iraq once Saddam Hussein is removed. As the Prime Minister, President Bush and Prime Minister Aznar agreed in the Azores on Sunday, such a new resolution will be put before the Security Council. I hope very much that it will attract the fullest possible support, whatever position Security Council members have taken on the issue of military force in Iraq, and that the United Nations will be fully and actively involved in the reconstruction effort.
If this war goes ahead, the minimum cost if it is quick war will be $100 billion, which is 30 times the annual budget of the United Nations for peacekeeping and 20 times its annual budget for development and humanitarian relief. Can the Foreign Secretary offer us any indication that there will be a change in those ratios?
The hon. Gentleman speaks with great confidence about the costs of reconstruction. I do not have his confidence in his figures. I say to him that Iraq is an astonishingly wealthy country. The oil is important to this extent: it has the second largest oil reserves in the middle east. One of the other agreements clearly reached in the Azores, which must also be endorsed by a United Nations Security Council resolution, which we shall propose, is that every single cent and penny of those oil revenues are not plundered by Saddam Hussein and his friends, but used for the benefit of the Iraqi people. I am quite clear that, when that happens, the costs of reconstruction to the rest of the world will be remarkably insignificant. I also tell the hon. Gentleman that we have already provided funds for contingency work to ensure the smooth passage of the reconstruction work. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development is travelling to New York tomorrow to see the Secretary-General of the United Nations further to co-ordinate that work.
My hon. Friend has many arguments against military action, and I respect her for them. However, we cannot reduce the value of doing right to the price of a student grant or loan. We should not indulge in that sort of calculus. Of course, I cannot say precisely what the cost of military action will be. However, I know that if we fail to take action in the face of an obvious evil and an unresolved problem, the costs not only to the international community but, over time, to this country and the rest of the world will be calculable and high.
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman made that point. Those in government and those who aspire to it cannot have it both ways. Many hon. Members, not in the main parties, claimed that we would never go to the United Nations and that military action would be taken without a mandate. We cannot go to the United Nations and argue for a fresh resolution—as we did, with the House's support—get a mandate, stand up and claim that words mean what they say and subsequently resile from that at the moment of difficulty and withdraw our troops. Sir Patrick Cormack is right.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that those of us who fervently hoped for a second Security Council resolution had the option removed by President Chirac, not the Security Council? Does he further accept that that leaves anyone sensible who has considered the issues no option but to support the Government?
It appears as though the French Administration may be changing their position. At 5.22 pm, the BBC News website stated:
"Later on Tuesday, Paris' US ambassador Jean-David Levitte said France would join US-led action if Iraq used biological and chemical weapons."
I say to the Liberal Democrats that they should not be behind Chirac.
In a few minutes, we shall vote and I shall therefore not take any more interventions.
We are about to vote on the most crucial issue that has been before the House in the 24 years that I have been privileged to represent my constituency of Blackburn. I have been present when military action by British troops has been debated. However, never before, prior to military action, has the House been asked on a substantive motion for its explicit support for the use of our armed forces. The House sought that, but, more important, it is constitutionally proper in a modern democracy.
The substantive motion places a heavy responsibility on each of us. We will carry it for years to come. The choice is not easy for any of us. In our previous debate on
We are where we are. We all wish that the world was different and that Saddam Hussein had actively, fully and immediately complied with his disarmament obligations. However, he has not done that, and, however much they may have resisted the conclusion, no one, either today or in New York in the four Security Council meetings that I attended, has had the thought in their heads, still less the words in their mouths to claim that Saddam Hussein has fulfilled the full and immediate compliance that was required of him.
So, what are the responsibilities placed on us? First, we have clear duties to our troops in the field. I do not claim this as a conclusive argument—of course not. I do say, however, that if our troops go into battle, those young men and women—constituents of every Member of this House—need to know not that this motion has scraped through, nor that some here have willed the end but not the means, but that they, our troops, have the fullest conceivable support from each one of us.
Then there are the responsibilities that lie at the very heart of this debate—namely whether we seek the exile of Saddam Hussein, and, if that fails, his disarmament by force. For me, now, there is no other alternative, and nothing that I have heard today seriously suggests otherwise. I have already dealt many times with the issue of containment, but let me repeat that containment is not the policy set out in resolution 1441. Containment failed when the inspectors had to leave in 1998. We first had to resort to Desert Fox to set back Iraqi WMD facilities. Then, in December 1999, there was Security Council resolution 1284, which represented an attempt to offer Iraq a new way to peaceful disarmament while containing the Iraqi threat. Months of negotiation followed, and a new inspection regime. But three permanent members failed to support the resolution, Saddam said no, no inspectors were allowed to return, sanctions were eroded, and containment was left weaker than ever.
The world did nothing—until last year, that is, when President Bush's speech to the United Nations General Assembly on
In the debate today, some have said that we should have shown more flexibility and offered more time. We did both. We offered great flexibility and clarity about the terms of the ultimatum, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister spelled out. We also said—I said—to our five permanent colleagues that if the only issue between us and them over the ultimatum was more time than the 10 days that we had allowed, of course we could negotiate more time. But no country that has asked for more time has been prepared to say how much more time should be allowed before time runs out. None of them is prepared to issue an ultimatum. In reality, they are not asking for more time. They are asking for time without end.
The fact is this: Saddam will not disarm peacefully. We can take 12 more days, 12 more weeks, or 12 more years, but he will not disarm. We have no need to stare into the crystal ball for this. We know it from the book—from his record. So we are faced with a choice. Either we leave Saddam where he is, armed and emboldened, an even bigger threat to his country, his region and international peace and security, or we disarm him by force.
I impugn the motives of no one in the House. The different positions that we have taken all come from the best, not the worst, of intentions. But as elected Members of Parliament, we all know that we will be judged not only on our intentions, but on the results, the consequences of our decisions. The consequences of the amendment would be neither the containment nor the disarmament of Saddam's regime, but an undermining of the authority of the United Nations, the rearmament of Iraq, a worsening of the regime's tyranny, an end to the hopes of millions in Iraq, and a message to tyrants elsewhere that defiance pays.
Yes, of course there will be consequences if the House approves the Government's motion. Our forces will almost certainly be involved in military action. Some may be killed; so, too, will innocent Iraqi civilians, but far fewer Iraqis in the future will be maimed, tortured or killed by the Saddam regime. The Iraqi people will begin to enjoy the freedom and prosperity that should be theirs. The world will become a safer place, and, above all, the essential authority of the United Nations will have been upheld. I urge the House to vote with the Government tonight.
Question accordingly agreed to.
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.