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24 Sept 2002 : Column 47—continued

2.23 pm

Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South): I am sure that the Government will welcome the official Opposition's robust abstentions later today. Despite the rhetoric, there does appear to be, if not a consensus, a great deal of agreement on the basic principles on which the Government should proceed in the next few weeks or months or perhaps even early into next year.

In the many years that I have been in the House, there have been grave debates, usually at 10-year intervals—about the same as earthquakes in the west midlands. We had the Falklands in 1982, the Gulf war in 1991 and a cluster of wars around 2000. In almost every case there has been fundamental support from all political parties. There have been dissenters, and I wish to endorse the view that one should not disparage the opinions of those whose views differ from those of the official party leaderships, just as I hope that they will exercise the same acceptance of those who take a different view and interpret evidence in a different way.

I welcome today's document because it goes some way towards convincing the doubters—there are many—that there appear to be substantial grounds for taking firm action, whatever form that might take. I would prefer to proceed along the diplomatic route with the United Nations.

If we vote tonight, we will not be voting to endorse war. It would be a foolish person who would endorse a call to arms without proper discussion and rational consideration. It would be equally foolish to endorse the view that there should be no military action in any circumstances, unless one were a pacifist and deeply religious.

Conflict, if it takes place, is many months away. The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) mentioned a number of principles that he would wish to examine, and any rational politician would do likewise. When the furore erupted five or six weeks ago I wanted to establish the criteria that I would look at closely, not because I had any particular influence but because I wanted to be satisfied about my view before being called on to say whether this country should go to war.

The first and most obvious criterion is that evidence must be presented that is sufficiently coherent and based on a wide variety of sources to prove that there is a threat,

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that Saddam has weapons of mass destruction, that he is acquiring more of them and that he has the intention of using them. I have gone some way towards being convinced of that, but there is still some way to go.

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. George: I am sorry, but I do not have the time.

It is important that the Security Council expresses its view. I hope that it will be in favour of the argument that there must be strong and intrusive inspections. We must not see the Security Council as a bunch of platonic philosopher kings or a dozen Henry Fondas, who weigh up arguments rationally and perfectly and then deliver a judicially perfect judgment. Each country has its own agenda and will be motivated, through its representatives, to take a view that is more likely to reflect what its leadership requires than what is necessary for the international community. I hope that the United States is not simply pretending to go down the route of diplomacy and that it has a dual policy of putting pressure on Iraq by military mobilisation alongside persuasion through the United Nations.

Secondly, I hope that there will be a new resolution that will give the United Nations the authority that it requires for proper inspections by as many inspectors as are required. There should be no restriction on the inspectors' country of origin and they should have the right to roam anywhere they wish at any time. There must be an insistence that the inspectors will not be subverted while trying to carry out their instructions.

One has only to talk to inspectors or read their biographies or read the report from the International Institute for Strategic Studies or the report we have seen today to know that the inspectors were deceived, lied to and spied on. We know that evidence was concealed and redeployed, visits were blocked and documents were forged and that the inspectors were excluded and prevented from doing the job that they were instructed to undertake. Yet, despite that obstruction, they were able to do a reasonably good job. Surely we do not want the UN returning because Saddam Hussein said last week or his spokesman said a week ago, "Yes, come along and inspect", as subsequently he has laid down a number of caveats that show every sign of providing the kind of fatal obstacles that UN inspectors were forced to work around before they were unceremoniously booted out.

My third criterion was that there should be a credible military strategy with considerable thought given to what the consequences would be if war were undertaken and strong consideration given to post-operation peace support.

My fourth criterion was satisfied by what my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary said. Action must be taken to address and, we hope, resolve the crisis in Palestine and Israel. Although it is easy for people to say that there is no linkage between the two issues, in my opinion they are umbilically linked. Unless progress is made on that front, not only will it be wrong not to knock heads together diplomatically and politically, but there will be no likelihood of the middle east giving substantial or even modest support to any action that is taken. I believe that the Government have moved very strongly on that front.

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Fifthly, I said six weeks ago that there should be a parliamentary debate and I am certainly satisfied in that respect. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said that there will be further debates and I am inclined to the view that some consideration should be given to providing more than simply a broad debate.

My sixth criterion was that George Bush Jr. should succeed his father in developing a formal and informal alliance. Not only is that desirable, but the alliance formed during the last Gulf war was imperative in providing legitimacy for military action as well as indicating that it was a world response.

We know that Saddam is hiding an arsenal of potentially lethal weapons. UNSCOM was unable to confirm the destruction of many biological and chemical armaments as inspectors were constantly blocked from entering sites, so now is the time for Saddam Hussein to prove once and for all to the international community that he is willing to work within the UN and to allow inspectors in soon, free from harassment. If that happens, and if he fears there will be rather stronger action if he does not accede, that will improve the likelihood of inspectors being allowed in and of weapons of mass destruction being identified and destroyed and—as I and most right hon. and hon. Members hope sincerely—that will be sufficient to justify the end of the game and there will be no requirement for military action. If it fails however, as the spokesman for the Opposition—or rather the third Opposition said—I fear that military action will be inevitable.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order.

2.34 pm

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): As my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) said, the central question that the House has to face is whether we are prepared to authorise war or a course of action likely to lead to war. I recognise that we can only make a judgment on the facts as they are known today. Those facts may change, and if they do, as individuals we must be ready to change our conclusions.

Facing the facts as they are known to the House today, I have come to the conclusion that war is not justified. My principal conclusion and the reason for that conclusion is that I do not think the threat we face is either sufficiently grave or sufficiently imminent to provide the moral basis for war. I shall develop that argument in a moment, but first let me say that I believe there are a number of practical, military, political and diplomatic objections to war, many of which were touched on by my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes in the questions that he posed.

I would like to illustrate the nature of those problems by raising a number of questions that I do not purport to be able to answer today. First, what is the military strategy, how many troops will be engaged, where are the bases and what are the military risks? Secondly, will the Arab states rally behind the purpose and provide bases for a coalition? Thirdly, what will Prime Minister Sharon do if Iraq attacks Israel? Fourthly, would Iraq survive as a unitary state, and if it seemed likely that Iraq would collapse, what would be the impact on regional stability in the middle east? How long would coalition forces have to remain in Iraq after an attack and, perhaps most

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profound of all, what is the likely impact on middle eastern opinion or perhaps on our wider relationship with the Islamic world if we commit ourselves to war?

I do not know the answers to those questions, but the probable answer to most of them raises a powerful case against war which only the most powerful arguments in a contrary sense would surely displace.

My real objection to war is a moral one. I do not believe now, looking at the evidence that we have, that there exists a moral justification for war and I do not wish to sanction a range of policies likely to lead to that event.

I am not a pacifist. I am a strong supporter of American engagement in world defence. I accept too that war, even pre-emptive war, can be justified. Proportionate self-defence accords with one's notions of international and national law, personal morality, and indeed, common sense.

For obvious reasons, I have to concede that at the time of the last Gulf war I was the Foreign Office Minister of State immediately responsible for departmental decisions concerning the middle east. In that capacity, I supported and participated in decisions that resulted in war. However, we must always keep in mind how terrible war can be. We have been extremely lucky in the conflicts of the past 20 years. In the Falklands, in the Gulf, in Yugoslavia and in Afghanistan the costs have been remarkably low, but when we authorise war we sanction action that may result in the deaths of thousands or in injury to many thousands of our own troops and citizens, but also to the Iraqis, in this case, many or perhaps even most of whom will be wholly innocent of blame.

If the concept of self-defence is to provide a moral justification for the giving of such authority, either the state against which that military action is being taken must have embarked on an act of aggression or there must be compelling evidence that such a state poses a grave and imminent threat of aggression either within its region, to its neighbours or to ourselves and our friends and allies.

We had to fight the second world war because of the German acts of aggression. The attack by what is now North Korea justified the action in Korea. We were right to use force in the Falklands, Kuwait and Afghanistan. To use another example, had the United States been aware of the Japanese carrier fleet sailing towards Pearl Harbour a pre-emptive strike would have been justified. Surely the nature of those illustrations where self-defence was invoked indicates how rare the cases really are. Surely we have to adhere closely to the proposition that we can invoke self-defence only when we face an act of aggression or it seems likely that one is imminent. Here we have to make a judgment and I am the first to admit that judgments in this sphere are extraordinarily difficult.

Saddam, as the dossier makes plain, is an evil, wicked man, an aggressor and a killer who has acquired weapons of mass destruction and has no moral inhibitions about using them. However, I do not think that he is irrational. He must know, and I believe that he does know, and he must understand, and I believe that he understands, the consequences to Iraq, himself and his regime if he uses force against his neighbours or the western alliance. Throughout the cold war we based our security on the concept of deterrence. Ultimately the Soviet Union collapsed. In this case, too, we should base our security on a concept of deterrence, not on a pre-emptive strike.

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I have two final points to make. First, in a democracy public opinion will sustain a war only if the justification for it is overwhelmingly clear—so clear that the public will view the horror shown on their television screens being done in their name and comment, "It has to be done." I do not believe that public opinion will be satisfied that war in Iraq is justified. To lead a country into war without overwhelming public support seems not just wrong, but profoundly dangerous.

Secondly—this point follows on from what the Father of the House said and from what I have articulated here previously—in a democracy no Government should commit forces to war without the authority of this House expressed on a substantive motion, so that those who oppose war can seek to change the policy by their vote. To commit Britain to war relying on the royal prerogative and without the explicit authority of this House seems to be an affront to democracy.

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