When I heard last Thursday that the Speaker had granted me one and a half hours' debate on Her Majesty's Government's policy on military action against Iraq, I rang the Foreign Secretary's office to suggest that the subject was of such importance that he should follow the precedent set by Douglas Hurd when he was Foreign Secretary and addressed the question in a Back-Bench Adjournment debate on Lockerbie.
We completely understand that the Foreign Secretary could not consider attending the debate today because of the sad events surrounding the death of his father. I would like to express my condolences to him on his personal loss. People often forget that politicians are human, and that we all have personal grief. The loss of a parent is traumatic, however confident and advanced a person may be.
This debate should take place on the Floor of the House of Commons, not in Westminster Hall. Given what the Prime Minister said to the Australian media, he has a duty to hold a full-dress debate with his parliamentary colleagues—he should not just make a statement. He should make a proper speech that outlines his thinking, as Harold Wilson did almost every three weeks.
What the Foreign Secretary proposed in an article in The Times yesterday, and what the Prime Minister is reported as having said in Australia, is of overwhelming importance and concern. It is frankly horrendous to many of us. If there is to be a war, it must surely be a "just war"—in the words of Aquinas. We should consider those words: one of the conditions of a "just war" is that everything possible should be done to avoid war. That means talking to the Government and people of Iraq.
The Prime Minister is quoted as saying that the Iraqis are not like us. My experience is that they are very like us. My hon. Friend Mr. Galloway will recollect that their foreign affairs group met us when we went to Baghdad in 1994. Halfway through the meeting in the Baghdad reception building, my hon. Friend told me that he was the only person of 16 in the room who had not been educated at a British university and did not have a British university degree. Britain has been the second home of those northern Arabs for a long time. Thus there is every reason to hold discussions—which, I am informed, they want very much indeed—on terms of dignity and good sense.
The idea that we could attack and that there would be a Northern Alliance situation—the Northern Alliance might be the Shia—is a crackpot one. Those of us who visited the great mosque of the Shi'ites at Kerbala and have been elsewhere in Iraq know that it is not that kind of society. I deeply regret that no British Minister and, as far as I know, few in the current diplomatic service have been to Iraq. I say this to the Foreign Office: for pity's sake, listen to some of the former British ambassadors, including Sir Stephen Egerton and Sir John Moberly, who urge great caution. If people do not have direct experience of Baghdad, they should at least speak to those who served there with distinction for many years.
These are not maverick views. Others, including Iran, are appalled at the idea of bombing. Four years ago, my wife and I went on holiday to Iran. One striking feature of that country is the war memorials to the terrible Iran-Iraq war that can be seen not only in Tehran, but in Rasht, Hamadan, Kashan, Isfahan, Shiraz and Yazd. No one has greater cause to loathe Saddam Hussein than the Iranians, but the Iranian Government believe that a military attack, particularly a bombing attack, would be counterproductive. They, who have every reason to be critical of Saddam Hussein, are against such action.
Last week, I was in Tunis, because the Foreign Minister of Tunisia—the most moderate of all Arab countries—requested that I visit him. I am authorised to say that that man, who is a former ambassador in Washington and has been Foreign Minister of Tunisia for 11 years, is wholly against an attack of the kind that is contemplated. That view is shared by Kofi Annan, who says publicly that no attack on Iraq should take place at the present time. Incidentally, if there is to be any action, it should be taken through the United Nations. The idea that we can change matters in Iraq by a bombing attack is preposterous.
My hon. Friend Mrs. Mahon and I went to Belgrade. The bridges are still down at Novi Sad, and the old buildings of the Austro-Hungarian empire have been left completely unrepaired. The Pancevo chemical complex is still a danger, and Zastava is just twisted metal. The Government promised that they would rebuild the Balkans, but there has been very little rebuilding.
How much good has bombing done in Afghanistan? It has not caught bin Laden. On 12, 13 and
The idea of bombing Iraq is ill conceived, unwise and, some of us think, wicked. If there are to be 200,000 ground troops, I suggest that someone come to the House of Commons and ask the duly elected Members of Parliament for their view.
I agree with everything that my hon. Friend has said thus far. Does he agree not only that there is widespread concern across the House and in the country about the prospect of a bombing campaign against Iraq, but that Britain's Muslim community, which was so concerned about the bombing of Afghanistan, would find such a campaign very hard to accept?
As my hon. Friend represents Hackney, North and Stoke Newington she can talk with more authority than I can about the Muslim community, so colleagues should take the point from her.
I believe that speeches should be short, so I end with this plea: as a matter of urgency the Prime Minister should set out the Government's thinking, at length and in a proper speech, not in a statement. It should be the kind of speech that Harold Wilson and James Callaghan used to make regularly to the House of Commons—an interruptible speech to prove a case that I believe could lead to terrible consequences for this country.
I shall be brief, as I can see that many hon. Members want to speak. I follow my hon. Friend Mr. Dalyell by asking the Minister at the very least to take on board a number of points and to pass them on to the Prime Minister who has the principal responsibility for addressing them in a debate of the whole House.
First, the Prime Minister must understand that a war against Iraq would not be a war against terrorism. Despite the assertions made in the United States immediately after
If the Prime Minister is intent on going to the United States later this month, there is not much point in his going to see President Bush, but a great deal of point in going to see Kofi Annan. Any action in respect of Iraq must be UN led with a fresh UN mandate. Rather than being driven by an outbreak of daisy-cutters, we need an outbreak of diplomacy. In the 10 years of peace since the war against Iraq finished, Britain has spent an average of £5 million a month in undeclared continuing war. The United States has spent a great deal more: it now amounts to £7 billion. Not one penny or cent of that has been spent on diplomacy.
We must engage in direct diplomatic links. There is a compelling case for the UK at the least to send someone such as Lord Levy to Iraq to discuss security and inclusion, which relate to internal scrutiny. As I understand it from discussions that my hon. Friends and I have held during the past week, that is not off the agenda for Iraq. Iraqis constantly tell us that the situation is like rolling probation. There have been inspections, but no lifting of sanctions throughout the whole period. There was an open-ended sanctions regime demanding inspections wherever, but not one jot of movement towards the complete removal of those sanctions. We must therefore offer something that has genuine meaning to Iraq.
If we also argue that the pretext for any military action would be either the continuing defiance of UN resolutions or the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction, we should be aware of just how tentative the ground is on which we would stake out that claim. If we are not to apply it equally, we should not apply it at all. Israel is in breach of several UN resolutions. No matter how much I disagree with the current Israeli regime and its treatment of Palestinians, I would not suggest that it provides a sufficient basis for bombing Israel. We do not apply the same logic to Iraq—Iraq is said to be different.
Ownership of weapons of mass destruction is another criterion, and we know that Brazil and Ukraine possess such weapons. We also know that America and the United Kingdom are likely to endorse the US plan to extend national missile defence, which will be an act of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, about which the rest of the world feels deeply uneasy. Does that provide a legitimate basis for the right to use weapons against us in a military attack? Absolutely not. The failure in our understanding stems from the fact that our thinking has been entirely military-driven, rather than diplomacy-driven.
The Minister must take back to his Cabinet colleagues the reality that any Prime Minister of this country who signs a blank cheque of endorsement of American military action will be signing up to George Bush's war—the war of his daddy's ego—and such a cheque will not be sanctioned or supported by other parts of the international community. Wherever the Prime Minister makes his announcements about UK involvement—in Australia, Washington or elsewhere—he will end up walking down that path alone. What will be perceived throughout the country as a declaration of war against Iraq will be opposed by large sections of opinion—not just the Labour party, but the public as a whole. Many will choose not to endorse that course of action.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. Before I call the next speaker, I want to point out that the previous contribution was commendable in its brevity. Many hon. Members are trying to catch my eye: it would help if contributions were kept as brief as possible, so that not too many people will be disappointed.
I shall be as brief as possible. I echo the comments of the Father of the House, Mr. Dalyell, when he spoke about the importance of talking to the Government and people of Iraq. I recall spending considerable time trying to secure an answer from the Foreign Secretary about whether he had spoken to the Government and people of Afghanistan after
Many people will not understand the degree of trust and the length of the chain of trust required to secure the support of the British people for any action that may follow the Prime Minister's revelations in Australia. Our electors have to trust us. Opposition Members have to trust their leaders and they are happy to do so. I am pleased to trust my hon. Friend Mr. Jenkin and my right hon. Friends the Members for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) and for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith). They have to trust the Prime Minister, who has to trust the President of the United States. A long chain of trust should be built up if military action is to gain support in this country, but I fear that it is not being built up.
I accept that entirely. I was about to say that I can trust my hon. Friend the Member for North Essex because I know him personally. Not all my constituents know me personally and I—even less my constituents—do not know personally the others in the chain of trust.
The hon. Gentleman made exactly the point that I was about to make, without personalising it—that trust must be earned by the President of the United States in the way in which he deals with international issues. He successfully earned our trust following
Similarly, the Prime Minister must earn our trust. I do not wish to make partisan points, but it is difficult for some Opposition Members to trust the Prime Minister as we would wish to do. As the hon. Member for Linlithgow said, it would help enormously if the right hon. Gentleman came to the House and made the case to the British people for the action that he will support. An act of statesmanship and courage is needed to bring round the mass of people who are not convinced either way. They hear appalling reports of what is going on in Iraq and observe the curious behaviour of nations that may be the targets of Iraq, but they hear little or nothing from the Prime Minister.
Labour Members will recall what it was like in the 1980s when President Reagan bombed Libya, with the support of my right hon. and noble Friend the Baroness Thatcher, which I believed she was right to give at the time. Labour Members felt then that the chain of trust had not been built up or was not being sustained.
Some of our constituencies have large Muslim communities. The chain of trust was difficult to sustain throughout the Afghan war. It will be even more difficult now and we will lose the trust of Muslim communities if we bomb Iraq.
The hon. Lady puts it as clearly as I would have done. My concern is not only about the Muslim communities; we need to trust the Prime Minister. In a constituency such as mine, where less than 10 per cent. of the electorate voted for the Prime Minister's party at the last election, large numbers of people do not automatically expect to trust him. Labour Members did not trust the Prime Minister in the 1980s and neither did many Labour voters. I am desperately concerned that unless the Prime Minister comes to the House, goes on television and explains himself, it will not be only the Muslim communities that are fearful of the consequences and unwilling to trust his actions.
I understand perfectly that the Prime Minister may think that he has more urgent and important things to attend to, but on this occasion he must secure the trust of the British people for any action that he decides to support. Whether we think it is right or wrong depends on what the Prime Minister says, and so far he has not said it.
First, I congratulate the Father of the House, my hon. Friend Mr. Dalyell on securing the debate on this important subject. He spoke with his customary eloquence and passion and, although it will not surprise him to hear that I do not agree with every particular, I know that he also spoke with sincerity.
The central issue that we must determine is in the form of a question—is it possible to deal with rogue states under the auspices of Security Council resolutions, and is Iraq a serious enough threat to warrant the type of action that seems to be under consideration? If the United Nations is to deserve and continue to enjoy a good level of support, it is vitally important that Security Council resolutions and the sentiments that the UN attaches itself to, in this issue as in others, are taken seriously and amount to more than mere words on paper.
Courtesy of the Prime Minister, who has given me rather more time for such things than I previously had, I have recently been reading more of what one of my hon. Friends—who shall remain nameless but is present today—calls improving texts. One issue that I have examined more closely is the role of the League of Nations in the 1930s. Historians are disputatious on such matters and it is often difficult to claim a consensus, but everyone agrees that the failure of the League of Nations was based on its failure to act against the expansionist tendencies of Germany in the 1930s.
Although I do not make any direct comparison, if an institution such as the UN is to represent everything that we want, it must have respect. It must be known that those countries that support the UN and everything that it stands for consider Security Council resolutions to be more than mere words.
I shall give way to my hon. Friend in a moment, but I do not intend to give way further as I am anxious to make progress and be brief.
"The international community's most pressing demand is for Iraq to allow UN officials to return and inspect his weapons programme. Saddam broke his own word, and has been in breach of his international obligations, since he effectively threw out the UN weapons inspectors three years ago."
That is the crux of the matter and we should take my right hon. Friend's words seriously.
My hon. Friend mentions UN Security Council resolutions. Resolution 1284, adopted after several months of painstaking negotiation in December 1999, provides exactly the way out of the problem. As he says, if the Iraqi Government had been prepared to engage with and carry through the resolution, there would have been increasing official exports of oil and the prospect of the sanctions ending within a specified period. The conflict could have been resolved. Unfortunately, those of us who have visited the border with Kuwait and seen the need to provide protection to the Shias in the south and the Kurds in the north, know that unless that UN approach is followed, we will have to protect large numbers of people in the region from Saddam Hussein's aggressive intentions for many years.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention—a rare one because he made my next point for me and my speech will be probably that much briefer as a result.
There can be no doubt that Saddam Hussein is developing weapons of mass destruction of different kinds. No reasonable person can doubt that Iraq's deplorable human rights record deserves attention. Nor can there be doubt that our security is threatened by what might happen if no action is taken. What should be done? The Foreign Secretary's position, as outlined in his article in The Times, and the words spoken by the Prime Minister, point us in the right direction. I have no difficulty in supporting them, nor would I if it became obvious that an appropriate form of intervention was necessary.
However, I believe that my hon. Friend the Father of the House has a point about the role of Parliament. A debate and a vote on the subject are not constitutionally necessary—there are plenty of precedents to the contrary—or politically essential. I do not believe that there is an issue of trust, although I accept that we must take into account the many links in that chain, not least the position of Muslims in our country. However, it would be worth debating and voting on the subject, as it would have two consequences. First, it would demonstrate that our parliamentary democracy gives serious consideration to such matters, debates them, weighs them in the balance and then makes a decision. I am sure that any such decision would be one of which the Government would approve. Secondly, provided that the argument was put properly—I am sure that it would be—it would demonstrate that there was overwhelming support for the sort of action that is likely to be proposed. I should have no difficulty supporting the Government and I am sure that most Members would feel the same way.
In summary, there is a case for action, but it must be cautious, considered and carefully weighed, and it would be wise to consult the House before it is taken.
First, I congratulate Mr. Dalyell, the Father of the House, on securing the debate. I agree that it is timely. I endorse his view about the fact that it is being held in Westminster Hall. The fact that we have held this debate should not be used as a barrier or excuse to prevent the matter from being debated on the Floor of the House, where it properly belongs.
This is the first occasion on which I can recall it being so crowded at this end of the Chamber in a Westminster Hall debate. Normally, when I attend Westminster Hall I see a row of Government Back Benchers who are keen to sit close to the Minister and make helpful speeches and interventions. There is a gulf between the tone of Government Back Benchers' contributions and what we have heard from Ministers in the press in the past few days, which is well represented by the physical gulf between them today in Westminster Hall. I feel some sympathy for the Minister, who is out on a limb in the face of all the aggressive pacifism from this end of the Chamber.
I take the hon. Gentleman's chastisement in the spirit in which it is offered. I have been a Member since June last year and am deeply conscious that, in the company of hon. Members such as the Father of the House, I am a parliamentary minnow. I therefore approach the subject with some humility. I may not have learned much since last June, but the one thing that I have learned is never to say never when dealing with such issues. That would be my general approach to the question of military action against Iraq. I would not say never, but I would say not now and certainly not until a lot more has been done to resolve several of the festering sores that exist in Israel Palestine, for example, and Kashmir—situations that we were told would be taken seriously and dealt with properly in the aftermath of
The Father of the House referred to the Prime Minister's speech that suggested that Iraqis were not like us. I beg to differ. Cut them and they bleed like us, kill their children and their parents grieve like us. We must remember that what we in this House say and decide will have a human impact. That must be justified in any action that we take. The thrust of Government policy and the tone of their recent pronouncement must be deeply regretted.
I am delighted that my hon. Friend Mr. Dalyell secured this debate. I am dismayed that once again we are not having it on the Floor of the House and that we might be being led into military action without any serious debate. I was alarmed by both the Prime Minister's statement in Australia and yesterday's article in The Times by the Foreign Secretary.
I tabled an early-day motion this week to express the feeling of deep unease among Members on both sides of the House, about which we are hearing today, at the prospect that Her Majesty's Government might follow and support the United States' military action against Iraq. The motion states that we agree with Kofi Annan, who has warned that further military action or an attack on Iraq would be unwise at this time. There is a real danger, of course, that that could threaten the coalition that we have built up to fight terrorism, which would be a disaster. The Governments of some Muslim countries, such as Pakistan and Indonesia, have taken great risks with their own populations. They could face a backlash if their militant groups turn round and say, "Well, you could never trust the west. We told you so."
We are about to hear huge spin about how many weapons of mass destruction exist in Iraq. When we receive the dossier, no doubt we will read that some such weapons are more sophisticated than those in the Pentagon. I expect that, and I shall read about it with interest.
I do not think that there is a United Nations resolution that gives the Americans the right unilaterally to take action while we run alongside as little bag carriers. The United Nations Association of Great Britain and Northern Ireland—I am sure that it has faxed or written to everyone—agrees with me. It says:
"We certainly do not believe that at present a UN security council mandate exists authorising the type of military action that is currently being discussed regarding Iraq."
It continues to say that it is not convinced that that is the best way forward. However, it does insist that we get the weapons inspectors returned by using all means that we can, including diplomacy, as my hon. Friend Mr. Simpson said.
Last week, I attended a meeting of NATO parliamentarians with the Russians—we now have dialogue with them again. The Russian Federation Members from the Duma were totally against unilateral military action in Iraq, as were other European Members of Parliament of all parties. The Russians pointed out that they are in a good position to help to negotiate the return of the weapons inspectors, and we should take up their offer. I know that such help is on offer because I spoke to people from the Russian embassy yesterday. Why are we not using that? Why is it sacrosanct to use military action rather than diplomacy?
I was born into a party that was proud that conflict resolution and peaceful methods were at the heart of every part of its foreign policy. I know that some of us who signed the early-day motion were described as the awkward squad, but many Labour Members who signed the motion are not the usual members of the awkward squad. We do not believe that the Prime Minister has the right unilaterally to make us support unilateral action by the United States. The party that I was born into has a proud record of seeking peaceful solutions to conflicts, but, at present, it seems that we go to war at the drop of a hat.
I agree with what Mr. Carmichael said. If we support the Prime Minister, who loves his children dearly, when he sends war planes to bomb another country, we must accept that other people who love their children and whose humanity is exactly the same as ours—whether they are in Iraq, Afghanistan or Yugoslavia—will often end up picking up little body parts because of that action. That is why I totally oppose such action and I urge the Minister to use diplomacy and seek a peaceful solution.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on the issue that the Father of the House raised. During the action in 1991, I was horrified while people in the American Cabinet sat round calculating how many lives would be lost. It was calculated that about 63,000 lives would be lost and 319,000 people would be injured. The Americans asked Scotland to calculate the beds that would be needed if the war continued. The figure was something like 7,500 beds for long-term casualties, and they wanted 500 beds a day. The Americans spent something like $500 million dollars a day on that war and it was costing Britain about $4 million.
Biochemical weapons and long-range missiles were discussed. The other night, I asked the Minister which countries have the capability to produce them. Does Syria have that capability, or Iraq, or Iran, or China, or Japan? I had also asked NATO that question. It said that it could not name a specific country, but some of them might have those capabilities. However, the Minister knew better than NATO—or the United Nations, or any other organisation and country that was sitting around the table, including the Americans—because he named North Korea.
There are many countries outwith those to which I have referred that have a lot of biochemical weapons. Great Britain, America and Russia have polluted the waters. If we are really worried about biochemical weapons, we should focus on the 387,000 tonnes of polluted matter that is being dumped into the North sea and in places such as Denmark, Sweden and the Baltic states. They were told that the 50 years was up in 1997, and, as far as Russia is concerned, the matter was declassified. We could have an ecological disaster, regardless of our worries about countries such as Iran. America and Britain have asked for another 20 years before they declassify the matter, but they should be concerned about what is going on in the Baltic and the North sea as the Russians have discovered that there have been explosions in some of the ships there. That has implications for marine life and we do not want the food chain to be affected.
If America were really interested in peace, it would not withdraw from the anti-ballistic missile treaty by using article 15. That caused the Russian Federation and the rest of Europe to hold up their hands in horror and NATO was not a great help, because it was a shrinking violet.
I was listening to people talking about the United Nations. I was disappointed in it the last time and I have been disappointed in it for the past 30 years, because we would not have the chaos in Palestine and Israel if it implemented the resolutions that have been on the books for 33 years. That concerns me.
We are listening to a right-wing, reactionary American Government and they are dictating to us. Does anyone honestly think that that is right? They did not ask the UN or NATO or anyone else when they bombed Iraq the last time. As a socialist and a pacifist, I am opposed to sending boys—especially from Scotland—to die in the sands at 17 years of age, when they are not old enough to have a drink in a pub. It is sad that we are calling them heroes, when 2,000 veterans of the last war are suing the Ministry of Defence to get compensation for injuries that they received.
I am against all wars and I do not have any admiration for Tony Blair, Bush or the Iraqi president, Saddam Hussein. The only people who suffer in wars are the poor and the defenceless. It is time, as socialists and as a Labour Government, that we showed the way, not by dropping bombs, but by sitting around the table to create a situation in which a world government can be set up to stop the war from happening.
We can now laugh about the non-proliferation treaties because nobody is abiding by them. That—and especially the NMD system that America is going to put up in the sky—has implications for countries such as India. I have always said that one has the right to defend one's country using reasonable defences, but one does not have that right with regard to nuclear defences because everyone is involved, such as European and world organisations. The Americans do not care. They do not even pay their affiliation fees to such organisations—in fact, they have just paid their affiliation fees. They do not really care about Britain, or anywhere else. They just take their own decisions.
It is a case of like father, like son. When Bush's father was in power, America invaded countries as if it was peanuts. It intervened in Grenada, Nicaragua and Panama for instance. I am against that. I hope for a strong, vigorous attack against our Government—against those Ministers who are pontificating about war and killing, although I think that it was President Chirac who said that shields are not as mighty as swords.
My hon. Friend Mr. Howarth spoke eloquently about the United Nations. For the avoidance of doubt, I must say that the Secretary-General of the United Nations has stated explicitly that there is no authority and no justification for launching a war against Iraq. Given their public statements, the majority of members of the Security Council of the United Nations are likely to express themselves similarly. Just as Britain and America did not ask for United Nations authorisation to launch the previous war against Iraq in December 1998—a time to which I shall return—my hon. Friend must know that the United States has no intention of seeking Security Council authority before it launches the war against Iraq. If he is worried about the integrity and importance of the Security Council of the United Nations, he should be on our side of the argument, not on the Government's side.
I listened carefully to what my hon. Friend said, as I always do. I clearly recollect that he was anxious for the credibility of the United Nations to be maintained and believes that its centrality to world events is extremely important. As a member of the Labour party, how could he think otherwise? The last organisation in the world that is likely to authorise George Bush's attack on Iraq is the United Nations. If I am right about that, I look forward to receiving support in the Lobby. My hon. Friend Mr. Dalyell was right to say that the matter of opposing the war should be dealt with in the Lobbies and in the Chamber.
If the answer to the political crisis in the middle east were the overwhelming use of force, blood, ire, fire and war, General Sharon's Israel would be the most peaceful place on earth. For 17 months, his Government have launched overwhelming fire power at Arab nationalist aspirations—at the Muslim and Christian people of Palestine. The friends of Israel shake their heads to the embarrassment of those sitting next to them, but no one in the Chamber is in any doubt that the policy of war, war rather than jaw, jaw as a means of resolving political disputes is the policy of the Government of Israel.
I say to my hon. Friend Mr. Simpson that in the list of countries that possess weapons of mass destruction, that occupy other people's land and disobey United Nations Security Council resolutions, the one country that he forgot to mention was Israel. It is sitting on top of a mountain of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons, which we know about thanks to the brave Jew, Mordechai Vanunu, now in his 15th year in solitary confinement in an Israeli prison. As well as sitting on top of the land of other people, in defiance for decades of international resolutions of the Security Council, Israel is also sitting on top of a mountain of weapons of mass destruction. Yet the only sanction contemplated against Israel is forcing it to take part in the Eurovision song contest.
I am astounded that people are seriously contemplating launching another war in the middle east, at a time when, in Afghanistan, the American forces are engaged in—and I quote last night's news bulletins—
"the heaviest fighting of the war".
The most intense confrontation of the Afghan war is taking place this week, yet we are discussing whether to start a new war alongside it.
There is already another war in the middle east. The holy land is on fire. People are being killed by the dozen—sometimes, two dozen—each day. F15s, F16s, tanks, heavy artillery, mortars, kalashnikovs and stones are filling the air of the middle east and threatening to drag the region into total war. Yet on top of that conflagration, we are seriously discussing starting another middle east war at the same time. We would have to be insane to depart down that track.
Let us be clear about the scale of the war. Bloody and disastrous though the Afghan war has been, it is a Vauxhall conference war. Another war would be a premier league war, with weeks, if not months, of carpet bombardment of Iraq, followed by an invasion of an Arab country by 200,000 foreign solders, most of whom would be American. Some who invade Iraq may be British. The figures are not mine; that is the Pentagon's own plan. Those foreign soldiers will crush military resistance, including civilian militias, town by town, city by city, village by village. They will occupy and garrison that country and install a puppet government there. That puppet government will be sustained for an unlimited time. That is the enterprise that we are discussing.
Who can sanely contemplate such action? It is not Labour policy; 86 in 100 Labour MPs, polled by the BBC's "On the Record" programme, expressed opposition to such a war. Only seven in 100 Labour MPs expressed support for it. One Government personality said to a friend, "I wonder who the seven were." The policy is American. It is the policy of a right-wing, republican American Administration. I say to Labour colleagues who contemplate supporting the George Bush war mark 2 that my hon. Friend Mr. Wray was right: the White House is not a Clinton White House; it is not a third-way White House nor is it a social democrat White House. It is the Reagan-Bush era White House reconstituted.
What sort of Labour Member of Parliament will support in the Lobby a war launched by such a grizzly crew? What justification is there for launching such a war? Iraq had nothing to do with the terrorism on
You will recall, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that we were told in the Chamber about the five-year-old boy who was imprisoned for throwing a stone at a picture of the Iraqi President, Saddam Hussein. When we asked for further details, the Foreign Secretary referred us to the Defence Secretary. When we asked the Defence Secretary, he referred us to the Minister of State. When we asked the Minister of State, he took shelter behind the protection of intelligence sources.
We all know about the babies in the incubators in Kuwait city and the professional public relations firm that was hired in the US to build the propaganda case for war. The daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador posed as a nurse. She said that she had watched Iraqis in a Kuwaiti hospital unplugging incubators from the wall, which killed the babies, and shipping those incubators north to Iraq. We found out only later that she was a professional actress and that the whole stunt had been paid for as part of the war propaganda.
We remember the presidential palaces. The former Member for Hamilton, South, now the Secretary-General of NATO, held up a map of my constituency in the Chamber and said that the palaces were larger than the area of Paris. However, when they were mapped, they turned out to be smaller than Paddington. We were told that all sorts of weapons of mass destruction could be found in them. When the UN inspectors searched them, they found not so much as a bow and arrow.
I say two things to hon. Members who suspect that Iraq still has weapons of mass destruction. Scott Ritter—the former senior official of the arms inspectorate—who spent years in Iraq destroying weapons, told an audience in this Chamber that Iraq had been effectively disarmed by 1998. He also said that that meant that every child who had died under the sanctions since then had died under false pretences, and that the campaign on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction was the longest running hoax in the international community. Neither my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow nor I know what weapons exist in Iraq or in any other country. However, Scott Ritter is in a better position than either of us to know whether Iraq has such weapons, as he spent years destroying them as an employee of the United Nations Special Commission.
There is a better way. Last week, Iraq told Britain that if it believed that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, it should send a team of weapons experts to Iraq. Why was that offer dismissed so out of hand? Why was it laughed off as a propaganda ploy or a game? If we make allegations about a country, why do not we take up that country's invitation to send anyone we like for any length of time that we like?
My hon. Friend has spoken eloquently about the need to maintain the United Nation's authority in the matter. Does he believe that Britain can act unilaterally as a weapons inspector? Should not that be done under the auspices of the United Nations?
I am glad that the Minister said, "Hear, hear" to my hon. Friend's intervention because I want to ask the Minister a blunt question. If Iraq readmits the United Nations weapons inspectors, whom the British and American Governments withdrew, does he agree that war in those circumstances would be unconscionable? I invite him to rise in response to that point, or at least to deal with it in his speech. The House should know whether the war is off the agenda if Iraq admits those weapons inspectors.
I talked about a five-year old boy in the context of Iraq. Yesterday I spoke to a five-year old Palestinian boy on the west bank. I asked him what he was doing in these horrendous days when play and school were impossible. He told me that he was gathering a pile of stones. When I asked him why that five-year old boy said, "I am going to be a martyr. I dreamed that I went to heaven and God was there and we played and he gave me sweets and chocolate." That is the prevailing mindset among children in the middle east about the current conjuncture of events. I warn the Government that to launch another devastating war in the middle east on top of the war already raging there will bring forth a torrent of hatred and bitterness against us that will never subside.
I doubt that I can match the eloquence of Mr. Galloway, but I will seek to emulate his clarity. No Government committed to the security of their citizens can sensibly exclude in all possible circumstances the use of military force. But the use of military force should be a last resort. In saying that I echo the words of the Minister when he replied to an Adjournment debate on Monday.
Military action should never be undertaken without clear and realistic political objectives that are capable of achievement. The duty of a Government in their foreign policy is to secure the interests of their citizens, even if at the expense of alliances. Those are not my sentiments alone. I heard them expressed by Mr. Richard Perle at the Munich security conference just a few weeks ago.
"Saddam Hussein is an international criminal, brutal to his own people and an unrepentant enemy of any world order the UN attempts to invigilate."
In the capitals of the middle east there is little or no sympathy for Saddam Hussein and his regime. But we know that there is considerable sympathy for Iraqi citizens who have paid a terrible price for Saddam Hussein's intransigence. Since December 1998, when the UN withdrew its inspectors because Richard Butler was not satisfied that they could do their job properly, a strategy of surveillance, containment and deterrence has been effectively pursued against Iraq.
As has already been said, there is no evidence to link Baghdad with the events of
If Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction it would, if attacked, use them against its adversaries or the allies of its adversaries. If Israel were attacked with weapons of mass destruction, or even with conventional weapons, retaliation would be likely. Its failure to respond under heavy American pressure during the Gulf war is unlikely to be repeated. If Israel were attacked, by whatever means, the prospect of an Israeli nuclear strike in return cannot be ruled out.
The most immediate cause of instability in the middle east at present is the terrible escalating violence between Israel and the Palestinians. Military action against Iraq would severely increase the already formidable difficulties of launching a peace initiative. However, if Russia could be persuaded to enter into dialogue with Iraq, Security Council resolution 1284 could still provide the basis for the return of the inspectors and a regime of targeted sanctions. We should surely pursue that option. Speaking last week at the London school of economics, the Secretary-General of the UN used delicate diplomatic language when he described military action as "unwise".
On the basis of all those facts, conclusions and inferences—none of which is unreasonable—we cannot claim that the case for military action against Iraq has been proved. We cannot conduct our foreign policy on the basis of the principle "my ally right or wrong". The United States has never done so. The events of the 1956 Suez crisis demonstrated that; US unwillingness to support the pound, which, as a reserved currency was under severe pressure, was a compelling factor in causing the United Kingdom to withdraw from that ill-fated and ill-conceived adventure.
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I thank Mr. Dalyell for securing this debate. He has shown a sustained interest in the subject and, although I am rarely in total agreement with him, his long-standing concern for the region reflects especially well on him, as it does on the House. I join him in extending condolences to the Foreign Secretary on the sad death of his father.
Saddam Hussein's Iraq refuses to acknowledge international norms or its own international agreements. It is run by a regime that oppresses its own people and appears intent on developing weapons of mass destruction—we would be naive to see them as being merely defensive in purpose. Iraq under Saddam Hussein represents a clear danger to international security and regional stability and represents a clear affront to human rights—a point about which I would have thought Labour Members would feel especially strongly,
We must be clear that discussion about Iraq is entirely separate from the events of
Containment has been our first aim in tackling Saddam Hussein. It is the policy that we have followed so far—with some success—but we must face the reality that containment alone is not enough to defeat the evil of the Iraqi regime and its weapons programme. Saddam Hussein is abusing the patience of the world and is developing far more destructive potential than he has yet possessed. We must question whether it is any longer realistic to pursue the policy of containment and whether that policy is sufficient to guarantee the safety and security of Iraq's immediate neighbours and the wider world. In an article that I am sure all will want to read in today's Daily Express, The Prime Minister says clearly that containment is now insufficient.
As we assess the latent threat that we face from Iraq, we should not rule out any course of action. I visited Washington in December and was reassured by the mature, intelligent and open way in which those at the heart of the Bush Administration were considering all the options and weighing them up before taking action.
On that, I sense that we are all in agreement. Yes.
Conservative Members support the Prime Minister in his determination to tackle the issue and not shy away from it, as some would wish. His full support for President Bush shows an appreciation of the gravity of the issue and we await the outcome of their talks in April. There is clear and present danger and we must face it. Saddam has ignored United Nations resolutions, misused the oil-for-food programme and tortured and killed his people. The no-fly zones are an important policy for protecting the Kurds. I should like to discuss them, but we are squeezed for time and I know that the House will want to hear from the Minister.
There are those who question Saddam's capacity to produce the chemical, biological and even nuclear weapons that we feel are a growing threat. I say to them, where are the thousands of tonnes of precursor chemicals, suitable for chemical weapons use, that are still unaccounted for? Saddam Hussein has not yet complied with UN Security Council resolution 687 regarding inspection, so what is he hiding?
Recently, it has been suggested that Saddam Hussein might once again be prepared to admit inspection teams into Iraq. We would welcome that, but let him say so to the UN and prove to us that it is a realistic option. In the absence of that progress, our options include military action parallel to that undertaken in Afghanistan but, as the hon. Member for Linlithgow says, on an altogether different scale. We should not think that some rebel force, similar to the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, will take that military action. On that, too, the hon. Gentleman was absolutely right.
If we or the Americans were to use the Kurds as pawns, they would be massacred. It would be wrong and reckless to sacrifice them on the altar of our ambitions to topple Saddam Hussein. If we are to topple him, we must look for other means, which must include winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqis and not simply expecting to win through force. As in Afghanistan, we must always remember whose country it is. We must also be certain to win the peace as well as any war. That means considering a post-Saddam Iraq before we act. We must consider reconstruction, humanitarian aid and the massive difficulty of filling the political vacuum left by the regime of a dictator.
We must be firm in our resolve that there can be no support for any form of separatism or any breakaway state. The integrity and unity of the Iraqi state is a must for regional geopolitics and for the continuing viability of the country. We do not want a triangular split into Sunni, Shia and Kurds. If there is to be a change of regime in Iraq, it must be achieved quickly and cleanly. We should be clear that Arab opinion will not tolerate a long, drawn-out campaign, but demands, if it is to tolerate any action, a rapid and decisive conclusion. We must make it clear that effective and conclusive action would constitute liberation, not invasion.
If, as I believe, the Government have considered Iraq's long-term requirements, they should enjoy our support—the support of all those who have a long-term, serious view of what is needed and of those who genuinely have the interests of the Iraqi people at heart. Those who continue to argue that containment is sufficient must answer the charge of naivety.
I apologise in advance as I do not intend to take any interventions. I have barely 10 minutes to respond to hon. Members' questions and to put Government policy on the record, especially in the light of the 16 minutes taken up by my hon. Friend Mr. Galloway.
First, I shall take head-on the points raised in the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow began by making a point that, strangely, is often made when a debate has been secured on an issue: he complained that we never have enough time to debate these things. That view was echoed by Mr. Turner, who spent all his time addressing that matter rather than the subject.
I do not need to remind hon. Members that the Prime Minister has spent more time in the House answering questions and making statements than either of his two predecessors. I shall bring the matters raised by my hon. Friend and the hon. Gentleman to the attention of my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary.
The Father of the House talked about proposals; there are no proposals, only speculation. The hon. Gentleman said that everything possible should be done to avoid military action; I agree with him. He urged the Government and the international community to talk to the Iraqis. As I am sure he knows, Kofi Annan is tomorrow holding a meeting with an Iraqi delegation in New York and we await the outcome with interest. Our doors are always open to the Iraqis with whom we have contacts in this country and at the United Nations. However, we have nothing to say to them in private that we do not say in public. We wait to see whether they are serious; Saddam Hussein has embarked on charm offensives before and they have come to nothing.
I was grateful to the Father of the House who, in contrast to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Kelvin, at least quoted Kofi Annan accurately. He included the phrase "at the present time" in the Secretary-General's views on military action.
My hon. Friend Mr. Simpson made the point that this has nothing to do with the war on terrorism. We do not quite agree; Iraq is a state sponsor of terrorism. But, we make no secret of the fact that our main concern about that country is its determination to build weapons of mass destruction and the threat that it poses, not just to its neighbours, but to the rest of the world.
My hon. Friend urged the Prime Minister to speak to Kofi Annan. The Prime Minister speaks to him on a regular basis. He called for an outbreak of diplomacy; I am not sure where he has been for the past 12 years. Britain has been in the lead as the architect of the oil-for-food programme and in trying to get a new sanctions regime instituted at the United Nations, which we are confident will be done in May, having won support from the Russians. It is wrong to suggest that Britain has been inactive on the diplomatic front.
My hon. Friend questioned whether there would be any legal base in the hypothetical circumstances that there is military action. The legal view, with which I have some sympathy, is that Iraq is in flagrant breach, not just of United Nations resolutions, but of the ceasefire agreement that it entered into at the end of the Gulf war, which makes that ceasefire no longer valid. My hon. Friend went on to say that other countries possess weapons of mass destruction. That is stating the obvious, but he must accept that Iraq is unique in the history of the world in that it has used chemical weapons against its neighbours and its own people, killing tens of thousands in both cases. He went on to suggest that any action against Iraq would break up the international coalition against terrorism and would go down extremely badly in the Arab world.
It is worth making the point that all Labour Members who have spoken in the debate in opposition to the Government's policy opposed our policy in Afghanistan and opposed our policy in Kosovo. They were wrong then, and they are wrong now. They also raised the spectre of a disaster in the Arab world over Afghanistan—and look what has happened. I know from my contacts with leaders in the Arab world as recently as last week at the Gulf Co-oporation Council and the EU summit at Grenada in Spain that, as Mr. Campbell said, there is no love lost between the Arab countries and Saddam Hussein. If anything does happen, their main concern is that it works.
I am grateful for the sympathy of Mr. Carmichael, but I do not need it. He suggested that the layout in Westminster Hall meant that the Government were isolated. That was a rather bizarre statement, coming immediately after a supportive speech from my hon. Friend Mr. Howarth and a supportive intervention from my hon. Friend Mike Gapes. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland said some wise things about the middle east, but he suggested that, before there was talk about taking military action against Iraq, we needed to solve every other problem in the world. That is a strange argument.
My hon. Friend Mrs. Mahon spoke about the Labour party being the party of conflict resolution. Yes, we are the party of conflict resolution and peaceful solutions. But she and her hon. Friends have to ask themselves—as they failed to do in the instances of Kosovo and Afghanistan—what do they do, faced with a brutal, dictatorial regime that is building a weapons of mass destruction programme and threatening its neighbours and us? It has used those weapons on its neighbours and on its own people.
My hon. Friend Mr. Wray spoilt his argument about United States isolationism because he said that he had no confidence in the United Nations either. I do not know where that leaves us.
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Kelvin made his familiar views known in his inimitable way. Some of the good points that he made on the middle east peace process would, I believe, carry more credibility if he had not made a career of being not just an apologist, but a mouthpiece, for the Iraqi regime over many years.
An allegation of dishonourable conduct has been made against me by the Minister. It is an assumption in the House that Members are honourable gentlemen and ladies. His imputation that I am a mouthpiece for a dictator is a clear imputation of dishonour. He is the one who should be withdrawing, not me.
Order. I have no alternative, but to report this matter to the House. I must immediately suspend the sitting for 10 minutes.